Happy Birthday to Reservoir – Come and See

Birthday blessings…

John 1:35-51 (Common English Bible)

35 The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples.

36 When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!”

37 The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.

38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”

39 He replied, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

40 One of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.

41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Christ).

42 He led him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

43 The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”

46 Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”

Philip said, “Come and see.”

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son. You are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these!

51 I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.”

I’ve shared this story before, but it’s a good one, so I’m going to share it again. Almost nine years ago this church left our old evangelical church association and was renamed as Reservoir Church. To help with the whole branding and website process and all, we worked with a communications professional who knows and loves this community well. 

And at one point, she asked me:

if your church was a person from the Bible, who would it be?

And I thought? That’s a weird question. I have no idea. So I asked her:

who do you think we’d be?

And without hesitation, she said:

Oh, you’re Philip. 

Philip, one of the less known of Jesus’ inner group of students. 

Why? Well, because of this story. 

Phillip is a minor character even in this story. 

There’s Andrew – a very religious person. A student of a counter-cultural radical rabbi out in the countryside, and when that rabbi – John – more or less refers his students to Jesus, Andrew gets to know him. 

There’s Peter – Andrew’s brother. He was apparently not quite so religious, but there was something in his brother’s experience meeting Jesus that is compelling to him. And he begins to have a really important and complicated relationship with Jesus and with the whole movement that gathers around him. 

Later there’s Nathaniel, another complex character. He’s kind of judgy. But he has this transformative experience that the gospel here only hints at the depths of. But it results in a really profound hope that Jesus can show him the way to God, which Jesus encourages.

But in the middle of these three more dramatic encounters, there is Phillip

Phillip isn’t especially religious. Not everything about his encounter with Jesus is dramatic. He gets caught up in this way of Jesus not because he’s looking for it but because it finds him. 

He’s from the hometown of Andrew and Peter, and the text just says Jesus found him. 

So many of your stories with Jesus, and so many of your stories with this church are like this. 

You inherited the Christian faith of your family and something about Jesus in it grabbed you. 

Or you started rejecting the forms of Christianity you inherited but the way of Jesus was too important, too good to let go of. 

Or you came into connection with someone in this church who did you a kindness or stumbled across the building or the website and you decided to visit and it felt like home. 

Our stories are all different. Not just our stories of faith but our whole life stories. This is a really diverse community.

But what connects so many of us is that like these early disciples, we’re finding some of the important things we’re looking for in life in a community of faith connected to the good news about God and life and ourselves we find in the way of Jesus. 

We’re finding friendship, we’re finding ways to anchor our purpose, finding a way of loving God without a lot of the garbage we thought went with being religious, maybe even just learning to love ourselves more. 

This is what it means to be Phillip, to realize that something good is finding us in the way of Jesus. And to then turn around and say “Come and see” to someone else who’s looking too.

In this story, Phillip’s the first one that uses the words of Jesus – “come and see,” even to a skeptic. He doesn’t argue about religion or God or try to convince anyone of anything – that’s a waste of time. Nobody wants that. 

He just shares his story in an authentic relationship with his friend. 

And we are known for this as well. We’re known for a community that isn’t pushy or pressuring but is welcoming and authentic. Like Phillip, this too is who we are.

We’re releasing some stories on video from the 25 years of this church. There are five or six out so far, all from the early years. And today we’ll watch two of them. Keep an eye out on our social media and YouTube page as more keep coming. I think they’re really great. We hope you enjoy them and consider sharing any that you especially enjoy.

Here’s a story from 2000, from someone who’s still with us. It’s his version of how the way of Jesus found him and how this church invited him to come and see.


Thank you, Manny. I love you and I love everything about that story, how like me, you’ve found yourself sobbing in worship here, how you’ve experienced feeling different and relieved when you feel like a God of love is with you, how in your faith story, you’ve not only learned how to pray, but you’ve “learned about yourself, got to know yourself, and began to love yourself.” 

That’s really powerful. Friends this is your story too, your spiritual path as Manny calls it, to be found by a loving God who knows your name, who wants you to love yourself, and find peace. 

It’s in this community’s DNA for this to happen here for us and for us to say “come and see” when we find someone else looking. 

I want to play one more of our videos – this one a 2003 story. It’s got another “We Are Phillip” aspect to it. A different way we say “come and see” together. 

The movement that follows Jesus’ death and resurrection tried out a lot of names before they were called Christians.

Sometimes they were called “Followers of the Way.” I like that, that faith isn’t mostly about what you do or don’t believe, it’s about a way you follow. 

And sometimes they were called “the Body of Christ.” For some reason, I don’t like how that phrase sounds quite as much. It sounds super-religious to me, and a little uncomfortable, like overfamiliar to think of a faith community as all members of a body. 

But even though the vibe doesn’t grab me as much as “Followers of the Way,” I like the meaning of this metaphor too, the idea that to be in the way of Jesus is to be connected to a God that looks like Jesus, and it’s to be connected to one another too. And it’s to be the body of a loving God to the world, to be God’s hands and feet, as it’s said.

Friends, most of what makes me proud of this community is you – the ways you live this story day in and day out in the world. Most of what makes this church special is what happens outside the church. 

I find myself all the time telling my friends stories about the amazing people I meet here. The way you’re great friends to one another and help each other out, the cool stuff you’re doing to make your part of the world more decent and human and good as you coach youth soccer and do cool and creative and important things in your job, as you live with integrity and stand up in your communities for what’s good. 

Again, most of what makes this church special happens through you out in your communities. I hope what happens when we’re together gives you love and hope and support and ideas that inspires all that being the body of Christ.

But some of what is special here is also what we do together. The impact we have in our community for instance. We started a youth soccer program over a dozen years ago that’s still going strong. I hope many of you will volunteer with it next month. The link for that was in last week’s newsletter. But just three days ago, we together awarded four more scholarships to graduating high school seniors from the neighborhood who grew up participating in this Soccer Nights program and volunteering in it and are now the first members of their families to go to college in America.

It’s so great. I love how this church loves the city, loves the world, lives the story of the love of God for us all together. 

And so we’ll watch one more video about the joy of doing that, Adam and Ann’s story. I play this one for us because sometimes being the body of Christ together is really mundane. It can show up in making coffee and laying out cable for a sound system for worship. And it can show up in how we give to a church campaign to invest in our future, as we last did 20 years ago and are doing again now. 

In the end, the invitational way of Phillip, the way of Jesus and the Body of Christ is real simple sometimes.

To love well, you have to plant roots somewhere. You have to plant roots with people and a place. This story is about Adam and Ann planting roots in this church, and planting roots in this city where neither of them are from. I hope some of you will do the same over the next 25 years. 

And then it’s about loving who and what you find yourself connected to. Friends, our world needs a lot more of that generous love. And so I charge us to keep being a generous, abundantly loving community together. 

Here’s Ann and Adam’s story.


What Forgiveness Is and Isn’t

I experienced a trauma in my childhood that was significant enough that I couldn’t reckon with it until I left home. But at 18, I was old enough and had enough space that I could start.

One of the places I started talking about this was with people in the Christian student movement I was part of. They were to me what we call the body of Christ, the hands, the feet, the kind and accepting listening ears of God to me. I’m very grateful I landed in such supportive community. 

But in one case, I told a young staff member in this movement about the trauma I was trying to reckon with, and he made some not so great choices. 

He offered to pray with me, which I appreciated. I appreciate that impulse, that offer still. But looking back, I don’t appreciate what happened when we prayed. He tried to engage the trauma with me too much, in a way he really had no business doing. He was in his mid-20s, not much older than me and had no real training or experience in this. 

His intentions were good, but impact was not. 

There are so many other questions he didn’t ask me.

He didn’t ask me if I needed a therapist.

I had seen one but way too briefly and I really needed to go back. 

He didn’t ask me if I’d reported the crime done to me to the authorities. It had been years, but not too many and I think that might have really helped me at the time. It certainly may have helped some other people. 

There were actually a lot of things he didn’t ask me.

But he did ask me if I felt ready to forgive a perpetrator of the trauma in my life. He was wondering if I wanted to forgive my enemy. 

Again, I get it. Forgiveness – God’s forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness of others, is a big deal in the way of Jesus. 

But I want to ask:

Was this encouragement to forgive appropriate or not? 

And more broadly, when it comes to what we might expect when we’ve harmed others, and what Jesus wants for us when we’ve been harmed, what is the role of forgiveness? What is it or isn’t it?

Let’s read one of a number of teachings from Jesus that touches on this topic.

Matthew 18:21-35 (Common English Bible)

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times.

23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

24 When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold.

25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment.

26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’

27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan.

28 “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’

29 “Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’

30 But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.

31 “When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened.

32 His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me.

33 Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’

34 His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.

35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

So Jesus is really into forgiveness. Can you see that? Seven times, seventy-seven times… that’s a lot of times to forgive your brother, your sister, your enemy, anyone really.

Jesus is serious about the way of forgiveness, so serious he tells this story that is so weird in at least three ways. 

I mean how does one come to owe 10,000 bags of gold? The term Matthew uses is meant to be obscenely large – it’s something like 160,000 years of wages. That’s even more than a mortgage in Boston these days. Yeah, a lot of money.

And who settles their debts by selling whole households into slavery? Well, it turns out a lot of people do that around the world. We used to do stuff like that in Massachusetts too. But it’s horribly cruel. 

So the first weird thing about this story is that the details are all way over the top.

The second weird thing in Jesus’ story is that the cruel, rich money-lender suddenly has a change of heart and wipes out the whole debt. Paid in full. Someone’s life, their whole household is in ruins, the kind of ruin that is going to curse the fates of multiple generations to come. And, was  canceled.

It’s weird that Jesus would make any kind of comparison between God and this crazy mafia boss figure. But I think the connection is about God’s intentions, to initiate this kind of extravagant transformation in the world, to so release people from ruin and shame and bondage that generations find freedom and blessing because of the power and impact of God’s love. 

That’s an awesome word, that God wants to do something so deep among us. 

But the story doesn’t end here. There’s a third weird part, which is that this first person who’s managed to rack up all that debt runs into an old gambling buddy who owes him maybe a few hundred, maybe a few thousand bucks, and he is after him. He’s like:

If you can’t pay me, you’re getting payback. 

Have you ever had a blessing enter into your life? Unexpected favor or kindness or happiness or good luck or whatever, but find yourself still nursing a grudge, still bitter, still easily provoked? 

Jesus is like:

This is worth interrogating. This is worth paying attention to. 

Then the story ends with a twist. That bitter, ungrateful fool gets arrested by the authorities after all, who go ahead with the original sell-this-man’s-family-into-slavery-for-generations plan, because if he’s gonna be like this, then he’s going pay every last cent of that multi-million dollar debt, no matter how long it takes, no many how many people have to suffer.

Thus sayeth the Lord. Amen. 

Friends, Jesus drew crowds. He was an entertaining and provocative story-teller. He knew how to get people’s attention.

But sometimes, the church has misconstrued Jesus and spun his teachings with a meanness and a rigidity that I don’t think he meant to convey.

So, you get a degraded interpretation of this teaching that goes like this:

Forgiveness is transactional. 

We are so thoroughly evil in God’s eyes, that God’s disappointment in us is like a billion dollar debt. One that merits us an eternity in hell. God, though, is willing to cancel that debt, rescue us from everlasting suffering, if we forgive other people the smaller harms they do us. Don’t go for payback, no revenge, be nice instead. And maybe God’ll be nice to you. 

Now, if the church had followed even that teaching for centuries, we might be better off. There would have been a lot less war, a lot fewer prisons.

But still, it’s a degraded teaching, to treat forgiveness like a transaction and say if you do or don’t do this, then God will or won’t do that. 

We can do better than this. 

I read this teaching more like Jesus is describing a whole economy of forgiveness. There is a way of Jesus. There is a way of Jesus that we can more or less live within, and the way of Jesus is about mercy. 

We get a negative example. The newly debt-relieved servant is like my working class European ancestors who (as soon as they found themselves accessing a little bit of security and standing in American society) joined the people above them in anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-indigenous attitudes and policies. 

And I think Jesus would say:

That’s not the way of grace. That’s not the way of mercy. 

Jesus is announcing an economy of universal spiritual liberation that he puts in terms of debt and status and all to emphasize that everything is spiritual, that the economy of God’s mercy should touch everyone and everything. The way of Jesus has no room for profiting off others’ misery. No room for harshness, bitterness, punching down. Jesus wants to be in the way of mercy, to be vessels of kindness and mercy. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

But Jesus also isn’t teaching isn’t some kind of spiritual obligation that will keep vulnerable people more vulnerable. 

As Lydia preached, forgiveness is not a summons to stay in relationship with someone who harms you.

As Keri preached last week, forgiveness is also not a license to leave injustice or bad behavior alone. 

Forgiveness is not necessarily a change in our feelings, so that we feel warmly and kindly to people and forces that harmed us. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. 

What is forgiveness? 

In our small, day to day annoyances with each other, forgiveness a lot of the time probably looks like a way of empathy, of understanding, of letting go. Most people don’t mean harm most of the time. Love covers a multitude of evils, the scriptures tell us, so day to day, a lot of forgiveness is probably just letting go.

But in this love our enemies series, we’re talking about the bigger stuff, the stuff we can’t, we should just ignore and let go. 

So what does forgiveness look like with our enemies, with the big debts, the big harms? 

It’s two nos, and one yes. 

No #1. Forgiveness is not seeking payback. It rejects the cheap resolution of retaliation or revenge.

No #2. Forgiveness is also not forgetting or minimizing the harm. In fact, forgiveness is how we deal with the very real hurts we still remember. 

And now the YES: in between retaliation and forgetting is a way of mercy, where we reckon with past hurts we can’t change, and where we hope for a new way forward that is redemptive for us, and maybe in time even for our perpetrator. 

But this reckoning doesn’t start with forgetting or niceness. It doesn’t start with good feelings or reconciliation. It starts with grief.

That campus minister who prayed with me, who wanted to know:

Have you forgiven your abuser? 

This is what he should have asked. He should have asked:

Have you grieved yet? This is such a big hurt. This is such a big hurt. Would you like to grieve some more together? 

One of the surprising aspects of the good news economy of forgiveness is that forgiveness starts with grief. 

My friend Matthew Ichihashi Potts, who’s the minister of Harvard’s chapel, has helped me see this better. He has a fascinating scholarly book about this called Forgiveness: an Alternative Account. 

Minimizing and retaliation are both ways to keep us from the pain of grieving. Minimizing and retaliation pretend on the one hand that it’s not that bad, and on the other hand, that we can make it better by payback.

But the truth is that we can never undo our past hurts. There’s no reverse gear in life. Never. 

We can’t make our childhood traumas, if we have them, not have happened. Impossible.

We can’t take back words said, trusts betrayed, failures to act – whether they were ours, or whether they happened to us. 

What we can do, though, is grieve. And as the scriptures say, we can grieve as people of hope, grieve as people who believe in resurrection.

We’ve been taught there are five stages of grief. A lot of folks in the field have expanded this list. It’s called the Kübler-Ross Change Curve and it talked about seven aspects of grief.

They’re not linear, step by step in a row. They’re not a path or a guide, they’re a reference to recognize what grief looks like.

The eight aspects are:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger and frustration
  • Depression
  • Experimentation with how we live in our new situation.
  • Decision to move forward in our new reality.
  • And Integration 

When it came to my childhood trauma, I had plenty of shock and denial as a child, as a teen. When I first faced what was happening, I had some depression too. 

But all this encouragement to forgive and move on for me actually kind of slowed down the grief, slowed down the healing, and so slowed the deeper work of mercy.

A number of years ago, I discovered that decades after that person encouraged me to forgive, there was still a buried well of anger and frustration in me. And a number of years ago, circumstances drew that out, and with the help of God and friends, I was ready to feel it and face it. 

I needed that anger and frustration over a lot of things I’d lost. I needed a lot of it. And friends, I needed some help for that to not eat me up, and I needed some help and some hope to integrate this anger and frustration into my life. 

Only after significantly completing this grief do I have freedom around this trauma. I can’t erase the past. There are still impacts on me. But I feel full and loved and whole, including in those parts of my past. And I don’t always want to be connected to the people involved, but I see their own hurt and weaknesses now, and not only do I wish them no harm, but I wish them wellness if they can find it. You might call that love. 

I would. Now I love the ones who harmed me. I’m not in relationship with them all, but I’m free from them. They don’t define me. And I wish them well. 

That’s what forgiveness looks like. 

Friends, knowing that forgiveness takes grief means I can do it a little faster now, faster than decades at least. Maybe you can too.

And this is the miracle I’ve experienced during this series.

When Ivy preached on making space in our second week, I thought of an old friend with sadness. I thought: too much space, too much space. And I prayed as I have many times:

God, I’d love for that friendship to get better.

But in the moment, as has been true in many other moments, I felt:

There’s nothing for me to do just now but hope and pray and wait.

This is a friend who in some big ways had let me down. I hadn’t been perfect myself by any means myself, but the hurts I experienced were enough to need to recalibrate my expectations of this relationship. 

I had noticed some things that had been true before, would probably always be true. And there wasn’t a way for me to undo that. Again, the way toward mercy, the path of forgiveness was in grief. So I spent some time with this space, where I could work through the the shock and denial, the anger, frustration, and sadness around this deteriorating friendship before deciding what to do next. 

And my decision was: I still wanted the friendship in some form. We all know that you don’t just replace people in your life. Some you need to let go, but some you fight to keep. And I thought, this is a keeper, even if the friendship can never go back to what it was. I want it in some form still. 

So I decided I’d accept friendship back in a different form, and I’d pray for and look for an opportunity. 

A few days after that sermon and that prayer, it came. The person reached out. They didn’t reach out about how they’d let me down. They reached out for other reasons, but we had a warmer, more honest conversation than we have in years.

There was even a window where it was appropriate for me to share one of the ways I’d been hurt. And I found myself able to do that in a way that was real, but also that wasn’t like unloading on my friend. I could share the truth in a way that was also constructive for my friend to hear. And they did. 

And as Jesus says, friends, the truth will set you free.

Something is resurrecting here. I won’t get the old friendship back. But I’ve got something, something that looks like it’ll be different but still pretty good.

And forgiveness, which looked a lot like grief, paved the way for that on my end. 

Friends, here’s the teaching.

Forgiveness for our enemies is a command of Jesus. It’s one part of his way of mercy for us all. No shaking it.

But forgiveness is not a lot of bad things. It’s not forgetting, it’s not minimizing, it’s not necessarily reconciliation, it’s not always good feelings, and it is not changing or undoing the past.

Forgiveness is actually the refusal to minimize and the refusal to retaliate.

Forgiveness is participating with God in God’s great arc of love and redemption and mercy.

It starts and sometimes it ends with grief. 

You can’t rush it.

But when you grieve honestly and well, you find the truth setting you free in all kinds of ways. And one way or another, you make room for resurrection.

A Conversation With Keri Ladouceur

This Sunday Steve talks with Keri Ladouceur -the executive director of a brand new church support network the Post Evangelical Collective.  The Post Evangelical Collective is a home for churches committed to the Way of Jesus, full inclusion, holistic justice, deep and wide formation, and a gracious posture.


How To Have An Enemy (And What To Do Next!)

Born in the 70s, part of the soundtrack to my childhood was the album Free to Be You and Me. 

It taught us boys and girls can grow up to be anything they want, have any jobs they want. It told us boys can love dolls and everyone can use a good cry now and then. 

It was mostly awesome!

But one of its songs captures a way I wasn’t as prepared for the real world as I might have been. It was the tune “Sisters and Brothers.”

Sisters and brothers, brothers and sisters

Ain’t we, everyone

Brothers and sisters, sisters and brothers, 

Every father’s daughter, every mother’s son.

Yeah, groovy tune. 

It was the early 70’s, it didn’t have today’s more fluid gender identity language or anything but the message was, we’re all in this together. One big human family. Let’s all love each other. Let’s all get along.

Great message, great song.

But how I heard it as a kid was:

if we can all share, if we can all be nice to each other, we will all get along, all the time. 

I picked this up in a lot of other places, it wasn’t just the song. But all this didn’t prepare me for a world where a lot of the time, nobody’s very nice. 

And what do we do when they aren’t? 

In my early childhood, a guy who worked at one of my parent’s part time jobs lived in our basement for a while, and he had an aggressive dog that attacked me. Being nice to that dog, being nice to its owner didn’t help me feel safe.

A little later, I remember when a neighborhood bully, a mean and tough older kid took one of my brother’s jackets from him and pushed him down a hill. My family’s response to that didn’t seem adequate to me and it left my brother vulnerable. I didn’t think being nice was working there.

Later, in my teenage years, I got opened to just how dangerous the bigger world was. Learning about my grandparent’s war – World War II – was devastating. I vividly remember the first time I heard a survivor of the Holocaust speak. Sacred, important memory. Still true. This afternoon, I’ll represent our church and our faith as an ally at Boston’s annual remembrance of the Shoah, the destruction, which is what Jews mostly call the Nazi attempt to exterminate their people. I remember learning about the terrifying violence our species is capable of.

And then I remember learning about the US firebombing and atom bombing of Japan. It was taught to me like it was a necessary evil, but when I first heard a Japanese survivor speak, that logic didn’t sit right with me. I remember thinking:

my country is also capable of the most terrifying violence.

I remember learning that I lived in a town, a small outer suburb of Boston, that had zoning laws that were intentionally designed to keep poor people out of the community, and really also to keep it white. And this is totally legal. Still is. It’s something our GBIO Housing justice campaign is trying to address in 2023. My own town was the enemy of goodness this way. Evil so close to home.

And then, as an older teen, I had relationships and experiences where I realized I was capable of evil too. There are many enemies in the world, some far, some quite near, and some even within me and my capacity to hurt others. 

“Sister and brother”, “we are the world” aspirations hadn’t prepared me for a world of evil. And niceness and sharing didn’t seem equipped to handle a world of enemies. 

Sometimes niceness made it worse, for everyone – the person who got hurt, and even for the enemy too.

In a world of conflict, in a world of evil, in a world full of enemies – without and within – the good news of Jesus is unique and clear and absolutely difficult. 

The call is to love our enemies. Hard to understand, harder to do, but absolutely central to our hope of salvation. 

Our pastors decided it was time to go here together. We won’t say everything there is to say, but we’re teeing up five weeks of loving our enemies. 

Here’s the teaching of Jesus that is most famous on this. 

Matthew 5:43-48 (Common English Bible)

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you

45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.

46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?

47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?

48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Once Jesus said that all the scriptures could be summed up like this.

Love God with all your being. And love your neighbor as yourself.

A lawyer, who didn’t like the simplicity of all that, asked:

But Jesus, who is my neighbor?

Lawyers. Geesh. 

And Jesus told him a story that made it clear. Your neighbor is everyone. Your neighbor is even your enemy.

And now Jesus says:

love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.

And so we, or at least the lawyers among us, might ask:

But Jesus, who is my enemy?

So this is today’s sermon.

  • Who are not our enemies?
  • Who are our enemies?
  • And what is one way that love looks like? Not the only way, not the last way, but maybe the first way.

So who are not our enemies?

This is the briefest part. The people who hold us accountable when we need to grow or change are not our enemies. 

Let me tell you an embarrassing story I’ve never shared with you before. 

I got a college education at a school that was majority Jewish. They were interesting, mostly positive years of my life. I met my future spouse Grace there, that has worked out astoundingly well, for me at least. (Mixed bag for her.) Really sexy meet-up story, we were assigned to lead a Bible study together in our tiny little Christian student group. 

The sparks didn’t fly at first, but the friendship did, and sparks followed eventually. 

Anyway, though, in that tiny little Christian student group on a majority Jewish campus, founded in 1948, just after the attempted extermination of the Jewish people at the hands of baptized Christians. In this context, one year our leadership team wanted to put pamphlets for our Christian student group in every single student’s mailbox, to flier the whole school. And we, or at least I, was so offended when the administration did not grant us that permission. Like how dare they crack down on us like this? 

I thought that the school leadership was discriminating against us, the Christian minority, and that made them the enemy.

I thought it was my first experience of persecution for my faith. When actually it was my first experience of a persecution complex. 

Yeah, inventing enemies when they weren’t there. This can happen with religious people unfortunately. When other people don’t go along with our bad behavior, we can think they’re our enemies when really they’re just being reasonable. Or maybe they are providing a boundary for our bad behavior or accountability or consequence for our need to grow. 

So this is not what it means to have an enemy. This is the world inviting us to change. 

But who are our enemies?

I want to acknowledge that the naivete I grew up with around enemies is not everyone’s story. Some of you know exactly who your enemies are. 

I live with a woman of color as my partner. 

She knows in her body (in a way I don’t) what it’s like for people to stand against her, to seek to diminish her and do her harm. Some of us have had lived experience where our enemies have made themselves quite clear. 

It’s easy to wonder if you have enemies when your social location is privileged or protected, where you don’t experience people out to do you harm very often. 

But even for those of us who have clarity about who in the world is not our for our good, we too may have been raised with the obligation to be nice to everyone, not to name someone as an enemy, which seems aggressive maybe. Or we may know who are enemies are but have no idea what to do about them.

In preparation for this series, I thought about some of my evolution over the past 35 years that I’ve been following Jesus. And I’ve also read the marvelous book by Melissa Floreer-Bixler, How to Have an Enemy.

Here are just a few things I learned about who our enemies are and why it’s helpful to name them as such.

Our enemies are the people and the systems who harm us. 

I am a victim, a survivor, of childhood sexual abuse. I did a lot of work on this in my late teens, my 20’s, my 30’s, but it took until the #metoo movement (which to be clear, was not at all about me), but it took until that movement, which started in my 40’s, for me to really find or let out the anger in me to the one who did me harm. 

An abuser is your enemy, worthy of your protective, righteous anger. And naming them as your enemy doesn’t shut down healing, it allows for the kind of clarity of what’s going on that can be part of enabling healing.

Let me go somewhere else with this that is for most of us very different and also kind of awkward but I think important. 

Those of us who are parents, we mostly do the best we can. But we know if we’re honest that we have all kinds of limits.

Same with our parents. Our folks mostly did the best they could. But we can only pass on what we have. We can only give what we’ve been given. And so at one point in adulthood, I came to realize that sometimes my parents have been my enemy. Not willfully, intentionally, but in the places they have been a source of harm, there is at least an enemy dynamic in that relationship. 

Now it’s awkward to call your parents your enemy. And maybe for most of us, that’s not a thing we ever need to say to our parents. Maybe that’s not what love looks like. But again, naming this enemy dynamic when we find it, even in our most intimate relationships, can be clarifying. It can just be truthful, and the truth Jesus says, will set us free. 

Enemies aren’t just personal, though, and they aren’t just about us. 

Our enemies are the people and the systems who harm who and what we love. 

Cancel my favorite TV show or my favorite candy bar and watch out, you’re my enemy. I kid, but seriously, experiencing the enemy nature harming who and what we love is a growth in love and solidarity.

There’s been no war on straight white Christian men in my life, where I live. Maybe some people have alleged that, but I don’t see any harm where I live to the bodies or the rights of my social identities. 

But I have over my adult life come to start to experience as enemies the people and the system who harm women, who harm people of color, who harm queer people. And it’s not because I suddenly got more altruistic or protective. It’s because of my love for the people in my life, in my inner circles, with these social identities that have often been under attack. It’s a growth in love and maturity to experience other people’s enemies as mine. 

And this is not about demonizing or dehumanizing these people and systems, it’s again just about the clarity and freedom of telling the truth. Do harm to who and what I love, and you are my enemy. 

Sometimes, we can even embrace Jesus’ call to love God enough that we can experience the people and systems who harm what God loves as our enemy.

The system Jesus most called an enemy was this force he called Mammon – the existential, spiritual impact of money, of wealth. Jesus was colonized, oppressed, crucified by the Roman empire. He knew what it meant to have enemies. But he spoke his harshest words really for the dehumanizing power of wealth, what he personified as Mammon. He says you can only have one god, you can only love one god. And then he says, so you can’t love God and wealth, or mammon.

Saying two things at once. Money, wealth, is a god. We fear it, we long for it, we think it protects us and makes us secure. It has a lot of power in the world. It’s a god. But it’s also an enemy. Chasing it, longing for it, hoarding it does harm to our souls and tends to make us neglect or do harm to others. So wealth is an enemy. 

Even parts of ourselves harm what God loves. We have parts of ourselves that are resentful, even hateful, that diminish our loves for others and so harm what God loves. We have parts of ourselves that crave convenience and are hasty and don’t do what our indigenous siblings exhort us to do, which is think of everything with the impact on seven generations to come, so we harm the earth and we harm our descendants, making us the enemy of what God loves.

We have parts of ourselves that are compulsive, that draw us toward addiction, that resist our own belovedness and belonging, and so we lessen our own joy and freedom, harming ourselves, whom God loves so much. So we are our own enemies too. 

I think this clarity about the enemies that abound is important. And it’s important because it invites us to wonder: how do we engage? What do we do with all these enemies? What does love look like? (And what does it not look like?)

Well, we’ve got four more weeks, so let’s just start. Not the final word on how we love our enemies, but maybe the first word, a place to start. 

Jesus says love your enemies and pray for those who harass you. Pray for them. And when we pray for our enemies, there are two ways we can pray. We can curse them, and we can bless them. I actually strongly recommend we do both. Yeah, really, cursing and blessing prayers.

The Bible’s prayer book, called the psalms, actually mostly curses our enemies. 

Here’s a sample:

Psalm 104: 33-35 (Common English Bible)

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;

    I will sing praises to my God while I’m still alive.

34 Let my praise be pleasing to him;

    I’m rejoicing in the Lord!

35 Let sinners be wiped clean from the earth;

    let the wicked be no more.

But let my whole being bless the Lord!

    Praise the Lord!

Not subtle. Wipe them out, God. That their bodies and even the memory of them be no more. 

There’s plenty more where this comes from. In the psalms of lament, here are some of the things we get to pray for our enemies:

for a rain of sulfur upon them (old school, Psalm 11),

for blindness and genital pain (vivid, Psalm 69),

for the amputation of their tongues and lips (super specific, Psalm 12),

even that

their clothing be replaced by “shame and dishonor”,

whatever that fashion line looks like (Psalm 109). 

So have it, friends. Ask God to do all kinds of nasty stuff to your enemies. I’m serious.

Why? Well, I can think of at least three good reasons.

  1. This gives us a moral clarity about the evil in the people and systems we experience doing harm. We tell the truth to ourselves and to God that this is not OK, that this has got to change.
  2. It’s empowering to us. We will often never get power over our enemies in this life. And even if we do, Jesus wants us to use that for their good, not their harm. We’ll get back to this. So to pray this way helps us express the terror, the danger, and the trauma our enemies evoke. It helps us not shove this down but give it voice. Sometimes, anger is better than sadness, because it goes somewhere other than staying inside and festering.
  3. We’re giving this voice to God. We’re not cursing our enemies to their face. We’re not enacting vengeance. We are placing our real and understandable desire for vengeance in God’s hands, not ours. And by doing this, we are getting it out of ourselves and we are practicing faith in a holy and just God to handle things better than we could. 

So the cursing prayers have a purpose. 

But hopefully, they’re not where we step. Because Jesus also wants us to dare to pray prayers of blessing as well. 

He’s like:

send good your enemies’ way.

It’s easy to love those who love us. It is holy, it is complete, it is God-like to love those who do not love us. And we can do this in our prayers. 

We can say,

Loving God, please do good to my enemy. Help them be satisfied with you God, and what you have given them, that they may be healed. 

So whether I’m praying for an enemy out there in the world – a person or a system doing harm do people I love, or whether I’m praying for an enemy close at hand (like a person in my life who claims to love me but has a side of them that does me harm) or whether I’m even praying for a part of myself that keeps doing me or someone else harm, I can pray curses. 

I can say,

God, destroy this person or this part of this person. Let death-dealing weather or genital pain or dishonorable fashion mess up their game for a while. 

And then I can also pray blessing. Like,

loving God, help this person know you as a kind and generous parent. Help them find satisfaction and healing in you. May they be grounded, secure, beloved, healed enough to stop doing harm any more. 

And this is actually where our cursing and our blessing can become united in love. 

The book I mentioned, How to Have an Enemy, retells a story from the talmud where a second century rabbi was facing criminals in his community’s neighborhood, wreaking all kinds of havoc. This famous rabbi was drawn to the cursing psalm we read today. 

But instead of praying that “the wicked be no more”, he prayed that these criminals should repent, and there will be no more wicked people in the neighborhood.

He prayed for them and they repented. They stopped the thieving and violence, and so indeed wickedness was no more.

Jesus’ call to love our enemies is not a call to be nice. It is not a call to fantasy, to pretend that the world as it is lives in harmony, sisters and brothers, brothers and sisters. 

Jesus’ call to love our enemies is a call first to notice them. They are real among us and within us. And it is a call to long for, to pray for, and to participate in making a world where our enemies are no more, where all people and all systems acknowledge and respect the beloved belonging of all humans and all creation.

Nothing less than this is the will of God for us all in Christ.

More next week. For now, let’s pray.

Gardner Jesus and the Renewal of Creation

So, this winter, I’ve watched a couple of dystopian TV shows. They’ve felt a little like documentaries to me, just more interesting. Like, here’s one crazy, but not entirely unbelievable, version of our future. 

One of them is called The Last of Us. It imagines a world that’s been destabilized by pandemic – it’s fungal, not viral, and it’s far more devastating than covid. It doesn’t just make you sick when you get it, it turns you into a zombie. And in The Last of Us, the small bands of remaining uninfected humans are with their fear and grit, trying to find ways to survive. 

I’m not necessarily recommending the show – it’s really scary and grim. But what I find compelling is that despite all that, life keeps finding a way. The Last of Us universe is a greener world than we know, as grasses, moss, and trees reclaim our urban ruins. And unlikely friendships are forged. Old griefs try to slowly heal. People fall in love when they didn’t think that was possible anymore. New creation keeps growing up out of the dirt. 

At the heart of the whole show is this human vessel of new creation, a teenage girl that just might hold the hope of human healing and new life. She too has been infected by this zombie-making fungus, but unlike any other known human, she has survived. And people hope that her body might hold the key to humanity’s salvation. 

There’s this one episode where Ellie – that’s her name – has made a sweet friendship with a kind of surrogate little brother she’s met. Only, he gets infected too. He knows, we know, this is the end. But not Ellie. She’s like: hold on, I can save you.

She thinks just a little bit of her blood, entering her friend’s body, can infuse him with her immunity, make him whole. And I’m on the edge of my chair, like: come on, Ellie, and your blood of salvation. Let it work. 

But of course it doesn’t, and I’m about as devastated as I can get from a TV show. Why do I care so much? 

I care because in a world where things fall apart, in lives that have had many reasons to shed tears, there are so many places where I long for things to be made new. 

And I care so much because Ellie reminds me of Jesus, and I hope that there’s still something in the story and spirit of Jesus that can help save us all.

Friends, Easter has room for us however we got here today. Easter has room for all our fear and grief and grit. On Easter, we remember a day that began with tears and terror, with hopes unfulfilled and dreams dashed. Today’s Bible text we’ll read takes place by a tomb, where the human some thought make all things new was buried. 

And yet Easter insists upon resurrection, that where death has increased, life can abound yet more and more. Easter says that the risen Jesus is among us still as a gardener, tending to the seeds and shoots of new life among us, daring us to cultivate them in hope.

On Easter, amidst all the grief and wounds and scars and fear, the Spirit of Jesus comes to us still, asking us:

Why are you crying? What are you looking for?

And calling us by name, saying friend, all can be made new. Drawing us toward the peace of hoping, believing that it’s true. 

Let’s read this Easter text from the gospel of John, and let’s talk about its new creation theology of resurrection, and how we can lean into it in our times.

John 20:11-21 (Common English Bible)

11 Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb.

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

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

She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”

14 As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

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

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).

17 Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.

19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”

20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy.

21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 

So there is a lot here. We could talk about anti-semitism. This line that gets repeated in John, “the Jewish authorities” has for centuries fed violent Christian anti-semitism.

But Jesus and the great majority of other people in the gospels are all Jews. There are rivalries and conflicts among the people, they get worse and worse over the years. But anyone who calls themselves a Christian owes their faith, their Bible, their Jesus to the Jewish people. So Christian anti-semitism is an affront to one’s past and an offense to God. And beyond that, hating on other faiths out of insecure anxiety about the truth or supremacy of our own is something we’ve all got to grow out of as a people, isn’t it? 

We could talk about hopelessness. Jesus’ disciples are in hiding. One of their friends has ended his life in despair. The rest have watched the Roman state execute their teacher, their friend. Now they think that leaders among their own people are coming for them. And Mary, another friend of Jesus, out here, working through her own grief, just looking for a grave to tend. It’s beautiful in its own way, but it’s heart-breaking too.

We could talk about the tenderness. Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus. Post-resurrection, no one does. But Jesus doesn’t give her a hard time. In fact, Isn’t it like Jesus to ask her questions, to be curious and draw her out? The tears of grief, the stunned confusion, the cry of relief – my teacher – and then when she recognizes her friend, the embrace. It’s all so tender.

We could talk about the slow spread of hope. If I was crucified by my powerful enemies and then if I came back to life and got another chance, I’d want a big and bold vindication. I’d want to come after somebody. But Jesus seems delighted for vindication to happen differently – person to person encounters where faith births hope out of the ashes of despair. It’s more humane, it’s what love looks like. 

So we could talk about a lot. But I want to focus on what seems like a little thing, the little mistaken identity moment when Mary thinks Jesus is the tomb’s gardener. 

“Thinking he was the gardener….” It’s a funny little moment, but I think it’s not so much a mistake as a clue. It’s a clue to the story John wants to tell about Jesus and new creation.

From the beginning of the gospel of John, he’s been telling us that Jesus is here for just this, to renew all creation. 

The first chapter of John is a remix of the Bible’s creation story. It starts with the same words,

“In the beginning…”

In the creation story, we read that amidst a watery chaos, God spoke order and beauty and life into being. John tells us that in Jesus, this Word of God has become flesh. The invisible God materializes as a human being, the poor son of a carpenter on the Eastern edge of a mighty empire. 

And John says this same person is light and truth and grace. Jesus is a human life giving expression to all the creative goodness of God. 

And then throughout John, we see Jesus doing these oddly provocative and beautiful things John calls signs. They’re rooted in Jesus’ Jewish tradition – stuff about wine and shepherds and bread from heaven and new life made out of the muddy dirt. But in each sign what’s happening is that God is empowering Jesus to make new creation possible. To say and do things that transform our ordinary, earthy experience for the good. 

And it all comes to a climax in these final two chapters of resurrection. Jesus appears as a gardener, tending to the birth and growth of peace and joy and possibility in his friends, encouraging them to do the same throughout creation. To make the whole earth green with hope and love and life. 

Pastor Ivy gave this great sermon earlier this year on this same text. She taught us a word drawn from the First Nations Potawatomi people, the word puhpowee. It’s a word for the power that makes mushrooms burst forth from the ground. It’s a word for “the unseen energies that animate everything.” It’s qi. It’s spirit. Life force.

Mary discovers, as Ivy taught us, that God’s puhpowee is at work in Jesus now, who has sprung to life from his tomb. And as Jesus commissions his friends to peace amidst distress, and to love and feed others on his behalf, Jesus says

this force can be in you as well.

He breathes his Spirit onto his people, shares his puhpowee force with us all so that we too can live resurrection life. 

Friends, we are alive in a moment when we could use the vitality and peace of God in us, aren’t we? Where would we love to see this greening, this renewal, of creation? 

The Boston Globe published a piece a couple weeks back around the biggest fears of students on area college campuses. And they are serious, serious stuff our young adults are wondering about. 

Stuff like:

  • Can we afford to live?
  • Is racism getting worse?
  • Will A.I. make us irrelevant? 
  • Can I find work that has real purpose? 
  • Is there enough help for all our anxiety and depression?
  • Sex and dating is a hot mess right now, isn’t it?
  • And will climate change ruin everything, for all of us?

Heavy questions, aren’t they? I expect you could add more of your own. 

  • Is a hopeful disposition about life reasonable? 
  • Is God still making creation new or not?
  • What can grow from all the ashes of our age? 

Everything, Jesus says. Everything.

On the way into Jerusalem, just a few days before his death, Jesus tells his own little puhpowee eco-story. He says:

I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.

This is the way of wheat. Seeds don’t bear fruit unless they are buried in the ground, shed their coat, and then in a miracle of biochemistry… puhpowee, burst forth as something new. 

It’s the story of Jesus’ resurrection life. Betrayed, arrested, tortured, humiliated, terrorized, crucified, yet he is risen – scarred but very much alive, and bringing delight and peace, restoration and purpose in every one of his encounters. 

It has also been our experience and certainly the experience of our ancestors – those in our own lineage and our ancestors in the Way of Jesus as well. We have hit the end of our rope, absolutely run out of resources or next steps, rock bottom all around, and life has found us. 

Maybe it hasn’t happened to you recently. But you’re here and alive because it happened for your ancestors, and the Way of Jesus persists 2,000 years later because again and again, those that came before us in the faith have found the dying but risen Jesus come through for them. 

I’ve been thinking lately about one of the times this happened for me. It was one of the saddest and loneliest times of my life. I was 14 years old. I had very few friends. I was sitting with some significant trauma that had come my way but that I hadn’t managed to tell a single soul. 

I was kind of brilliant but I was bombing my high school classes, not doing any of the work. I was sad and scared and no one knew it. 

But one day, in this high school chorus I was in, with like a hundred other kids in my school, the choir director called on me to lead the little solo that was part of our warm ups. How did she do this? Get high school kids to sing on the spot solos in front of nearly a hundred of their peers?

I have no idea, but you didn’t say no to Ms. Sunny Prior, you just did it. So I sang. 


I was so nervous, and I know a lot of people speed things up when they’re nervous, but I slowed way down. 


I was almost done. People were repeating after me. One more.


And then silence. Ms. Prior started getting this energy in her face, everyone was looking at her now, and she burst out –

that Steven Watson, listen to that boy sing! 

I am sure my face lit up red in embarrassment. But it meant the world to me. 

She saw me and called out what I didn’t know was there in me. I auditioned for a second choir with her the next year. And then I joined a third and fourth choir, higher and higher levels, and tried out and got the lead in the school musical.

On the one hand, extracurricular activity – who cares? But it was much more than that. I was getting attention for this thing I enjoyed and was good at, and making friends and feeling more confident and connected. And these then ended up being the same years that I started to find a more personally meaningful faith in God.

In ways I can’t explain, that was connected to the singing too. I wouldn’t have had any of these high-faluting words for it at the time, but it was like I was finding hope, faith that there was beauty, that there was goodness, that Creator God and loving Jesus hadn’t passed me by.

Sunny Prior was part of saving me. 

It was a puhpowee, resurrection moment in my story – life bursting forth out of death. It saved me.

In John, the resurrection means that the new creation work of Jesus continues. It means that the Spirit of God we come to know through Jesus can breathe resurrection power into our lives and times still. It means that the Spirit of Jesus is still gardening among us, inviting us to welcome new life and partner with God in making it so. 

That’s my story. That’s the story of our resurrection faith. And that’s what I’m counting on still. 

Friends, this Easter season, I want to encourage you to look out for signs of resurrection, and I want to encourage you to get out a hoe and start gardening.

Here’s what I mean. 

Look for signs of resurrection.

The other week, I was telling my pastor about what most discourages me. And I talked, my grief and anger was coming through. Like Mary:

they have taken my Lord – where is he?

I was going over my disappointments, asking:

what is happening here? Why isn’t God coming through? 

And my pastor listened and talked with me, but eventually he said:

can I share a perspective?

And I said,

of course.

And he said:

actually, I think what you’re seeing is resurrection.

And he pointed out that in these people and areas where I felt God’s absence, I was actually seeing more signs of life than were true a year ago, significantly more. I just was frustrated by how much more I wanted. I was frustrated by the slow spread of hope.

And he reminded me: what’s one thing we know about the risen Jesus? It’s that he rose with scars. He shows his friends his wounded, healing, still scarred hands and side. 

And isn’t all resurrection like that, he suggested. New life bursts forth – a gift from God – but the scars of our wounds remain. 

And that has changed me. It’s given me a new set of lenses I can put on when I look at the death-scarred discouragements of my own life or our larger world.

  • With these lenses of resurrection faith, I can ask, where is God making new life possible?
  • Where are the beginnings of resurrection, even if it’s marked by scars? 

 It’s encouraged me to look for signs of resurrection, look for possibilities of new creation life everywhere, even in the bleakest places. 

Because as Ilio Delio says, resurrection is not an event that might happen in some remote future,but it is the power of the new being to create life out of death, here and now, today and tomorrow.

Friends, in your greatest discouragements and disappointments, don’t try to put a happy face on things. Be real with yourself and be real with God. But do ask… are there seeds or even first shoots of resurrection here. Where are the signs of new life?

You’ll usually be able to see them. If you can’t, friends can help you. But it will make faith real to you – to hope and believe and bear witness to new life in all the ashiest places of death. 

So join Mary in looking for signs of resurrection. And then also, join the risen Christ, and get out a hoe and start tending to the renewal of creation yourself.

This is where our guest speaker Randy Woodley left us a few weeks back. He’s like, you want to learn from indigenous wisdom, you want a more holistic faith, you should garden. 

So maybe that’s it. Plan a tree. Grow some tomatoes. Or maybe it’s more too.

You’ll notice Mary gave Jesus a big embrace, and then Jesus was like:

don’t cling to me, go tell the rest of the friends too. Be a recipient, but also be an agent of new life. 

Bear witness to the resurrection you’ve experienced. Go tell the story. 

Ilio Delio again:

We who say “yes” to the dying and rising of Jesus Christ say “yes” to our earth, our lives as the stuff out of which the New Creation can emerge.

You go be the gardener too. There’s a cynical, pessimistic world that needs some unguarded, unmeasured, uncynical love, hope, and encouragement. Each of you is unique as a child of God – unique gifts, unique opportunities, unique calls. But each of you needs to let your light shine. Love deep, sew wide, encourage big!

And just you wait and see what God grows through that. 

Now is the moment of resurrection. Now is the beginning of a new earth. Live by the power of love alone. Act as if you were now free. Begin to trust in this freedom to do new things. Because Christ is risen, and God is making all things new.

Letting Jesus Be Our Teacher

We’re entering the second half of this season of Lent, invited to sit with some of the teachings of Jesus through this year’s theme of our connections to the rest of the Earth. 

Last week, we heard from indigenous wisdom teacher and theologian Randy Woodley. He taught about the Bible’s way of shalom – harmony, wellness, just peace – and the Way of Jesus as it is contextualized into the indigenous cultures from which we call home. 

Part of why I so love the work of my friend Dr. Kiran Martin, the founder of Asha, is that the same is true for her. She is animated by the love and wisdom of Jesus, but in Asha’s work our church supports, serving destitute Hindu and Muslim residents of urban North India, she and her team contextualize the Way of Jesus into an empowering way of life that does not require religious conversion to participate in. 

I’m also meeting people throughout the country who are doing this in the weird religious moment that our world is in. Amidst growing rigidity and fundamentalism, in response to change and fear, amidst the increasing revelations of abuse of power and harm in the American evangelical movement, a national church network I’ve been invited to participate in is getting off the ground.

The thing is called the Post Evangelical Collective. It’s a community for pastors and churches who have some roots and history in the evangelical Christian movement, but because of the way we’re following Jesus in this age, with radical commitments to justice and inclusion, we don’t fit there any more. And this post-evangelical collective is emerging to resource and connect churches like us all around the country and beyond. 

I’m really excited to be part of this movement and I hope as it gets going, for our church to be part of it too. This May, we’ll be hosting the first New England gathering of the Post Evangelical collective. You won’t see it, because it will be a small thing for pastors, but a mentor of mine and friend of this church David Gushee will be in town for the gathering and we’ll offer some kind of class or conversation in the evening you’ll all be invited to. 

I’m so excited about this venture, that I’ve already started planning for next year’s gathering, and I’ve already scheduled another great national leader to come be with us and also to preach one weekend here at Reservoir. This new friend of ours is Drew Hart. Drew’s a theology professor and a leading speaker and author on antiracism, justice, and activism in the church.

All to say, pray for our church and for this new venture, the Post Evangelical Collective, if you can. That it be healthy, that it be a way for us to better connect with, learn from, and support like minded churches, and that it be a place where the wisdom and love and power of Jesus can sit well and be fruitful in our generation and in the generations to come. 


Alright, as I said, in our theme of earth – about our connection with all of creation, encouraging humility, gratitude, and openness – we spend the third quarter of our guide, starting today, looking at the earth teaching of Jesus. We look at his quaint little stories about seeds and crops and birds and trees and see if the Spirit of Christ, who is always with us, can teach and provoke us anew.

I had planned to have us sit with three or four different teachings of Jesus in this sermon, letting them speak anew to us but I got so deep in the first one, the shortest one to which I was drawn, that that’s mostly all we’ve time for, a little one verse, one sentence teaching of Jesus. 

Here it is: 

Matthew 13:33 (Common English Bible)

33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.”

Last week, I was at a Board meeting for the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. There were some new Board members there and we were doing this team activity about the values we wanted to see represented in the work, and I just wasn’t drawn to all the words on the table like courage and equity and creativity and all that. Nothing wrong with those values, it’s just they seemed kind of bland and abstract. And I’m not believing much in bland, abstract ideas these days, if I don’t see them in action.

Jesus didn’t give people adjectives to live by or aspire to, he told stories. So I thought of values that were embedded in stories. I quoted Howard Thurman, spiritual mentor to the civil rights movement, whose work one of my community groups has been reading. 

And I was like one value I have is “contact, with fellowship.” My group had been talking about Thurman’s phrase in Jesus and the Disinherited, where he talks about the danger of the opposite, how contact without fellowship breeds contempt. This is why white people with superficial, transactional contact with people of color can actually become more racist. Or it’s why some teachers, not most teachers, but some come to hate their young students. 

It’s contact without fellowship. And I was like: I want fellowship, real, respectfully engaged relationships in everything we do.

And the other thing that came to mind with me was this story Jesus told. So I wrote on my values card: a fistful of yeast that feeds a village. 

People didn’t really know what to do with that. Like what kind of value is a fistful of yeast? 

So I told this little story – there was a woman with a fistful of yeast, who hid it in a whole bushel of flour, until it worked its way through all the dough. 

Admittedly, who knows what it means? Single, celled fungi are amazing. Science! There’s one take away.

Or little things can have a lot of power. There’s another, I guess.

But I was like:

How about this? Jesus honors the skill, the labor, the contributions of working class women. How about that for a value? 

It’s a tiny story, but I love it. Jesus picturing this woman kneading yeast into the dough, working it through, picturing all the bread it’s going to make. 

What does he mean when he says this is what the kingdom of God is like? This is the Beloved Community, this is the reign of God.

I wonder if it means the beloved community is about feeding people, about more than enough bread for everyone. 

There’s a bit we miss in translation, this bit about the bushel of flour. This woman isn’t making a loaf, she’s making dozens of loaves, maybe a hundred. A bushel of flour is like 40 pounds or more. Like five-10 of those big bags of flour you find in the supermarket.

It’s an obscene amount of bread, if you’re cooking for a family. It’s just right, though, if you’re cooking for a village. This is bread enough for a temple, a synagogue, a neighborhood. 

When you cook, set a wide table, and make enough for everyone. This is beloved community.

It’s cool that this is in reach of a working class woman. Most people who get celebrated in history are rich and powerful men. When meals get remembered, people talk about the guest of honor, or the folks who had enough resources to hire caterers. 

But most people, with skill and care, can feed a community. A pretty poor person can save up enough funds to buy 10 bags of flour and a few jars of yeast. 

And maybe that’s beloved community too – when you take what you have, and with the help of God and friends and fungal food chemistry, you work it to maximum impact. That’s a story worth telling too.

Or maybe again, it’s just recognizing the power and honoring the labor of working class women, and anyone else that gets overlooked. 

This is why I brought this up in GBIO. We have plenty of workplaces and government units and communities that honor the gifts and labor of the best educated and wealthiest and highest status people among us. 

We don’t need more of that. 

Most of these abuse of power stories I talked about in my sermon on repentance, they wouldn’t have happened, or they would have been cut off fast, if people hadn’t been so trusting and protective of the status of powerful men, if we’d been honoring the voice and power of ordinary women and children.

We need more companies and cultures that will recognize and celebrate the voice and power of ordinary people, of marginalized people.

On Thursday, some of us were part of an action for housing justice on the steps of the state house. It was awesome. More than 300 people, coming to the governor and the heads of the Mass State house and senate, having built a coalition and done our homework to insist on the kinds of funding and policies that ensure dignified, affordable housing for all people, in all our communities. 

If you want to get involved in this work, talk to Pastor Lydia. She was actually leading the action on Thursday. Oh, and friends, you should have been there. Wow, Lydia was on fire! So skilled, so articulate, incredibly moving and impassioned, with brilliant attention to detail. You should be so proud to have a pastor that can lead like that in public life. I was just beaming watching my colleague lead this work.

Really special.

You know what was just as special, though, and maybe even more a sign of the work of the Spirit of Jesus, it was when two working class women, tenant leaders who live in local public housing, advocated for the budget it would take to actually maintain the low income, public housing of our state.

Bishnu talked about what it’s like to be a South Asian, Hindu immigrant and be told you can’t take off your shoes in your own home. All the asbestos, all the cockroaches you see night and day are too big a risk for your skin, so keep your shoes on. 

And at the state house, with crowds of followers, Bishnu told the press and the government, we deserve apartments clean enough so that we can take our shoes off indoors.

And then Arleen talked about growing up as a serial victim of all manner of trauma, moving from house to house only to be abused again and again in other people’s homes. And she called out to the leaders of our state, all of us deserve our own place to call home where we can shut and lock the door and be safe. 

We were led by these working class women whose voices in the past have been disregarded, shut down, told “you can’t” again and again. Not by Jesus, though. The kingdom of God is the power of working class women to effect radical generosity, community-transforming change. 

To these women, Jesus says: I see you. I hear you. You can do it. You have the power. Spirit of God is doing this still, friends. I saw and heard it happen this Thursday. 

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.

It reminds me of another scripture, from the letter called I Corinthians, where the faith leader, apostle Paul, writes, in the first chapter:

God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong.

28 And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing.

29 So no human being can brag in God’s presence. 

I’ve shared before that Reservoir is part of a faith tradition, the way of Jesus, a way that as a religion has been called Christianity, is badly in need of massive reform.

I often call that reform the decolonizing of the faith. Finding all the abuse of power, the controlling theology and ethics, the spiritual and community practices that don’t bear good fruit and replacing it all with what helps us get free. Uncovering the Way of Jesus in dialogue with the times and culture we live in for a renewed, healthy, powerful faith.

Some of that is peeling off a lot of stuff that Christianity accrued over centuries as a European, colonizing religion. It’s the humbling of the Western Christian tradition. Taking a lot of what was considered extra something and reducing it to nothing. 

But I was thinking this week: what’s some of the gold of this tradition we’re keeping. What are the babies of European or Western Christianity we’re not throwing out as we try to drain the toxic bathwater? 

And I was realizing that a lot of this is the good stuff that was born out of humble people. It’s wisdom and power drawn from the spiritual yeast of people who met God in their trauma. 

I think of Brother Lawrence. He was a 17th century monk at a time when prayer was pretty formal, the reading and chanting of words written by others. But he developed this mode of prayer which was not formal at all. In fact, it was not necessarily even saying much at all, but kind of reminding oneself throughout the day, whatever you’re doing, that you’re a child of God and all of you is loved by all of God. 

He called this practicing the presence of God. And he had such great joy and peace from this that people flocked to him to learn his secret. It was disarmingly simple. While he peeled potatoes, or mended shoes or whatever, he’d simply remember:

God is there. And I am God’s child, loved so very much.

And that gave him the freedom to think and feel and say whatever he thought and felt knowing God was attuned to him, paying loving attention to him. And so he felt at peace, and so he loved God too. That was it. 

So simple, but enduringly influential through this day. How did this spiritual breakthrough occur? How did Brother Lawrence learn to pray like this? 

Well, it was born of trauma. 

I was listening to an interview with Carmen Acevdeo Butcher, a scholar with a new translation out of the 17th work of the monk Brother Lawrence, famous for the practice of the presence of God. 

Lawrence grew up dirt poor, he was uneducated. As a teenager, with no school, no resources, he ends up being drawn into the army, as poor people often are. He served for a few years in the Thirty Years’ War, a brutal, long, violent religious war in Central Europe. He was injured in war, permanently disabled. He suffered chronic pain over the next 50 years. He ended up in the monastery because he failed at other jobs. And in the monastery, he had a low rank. He cooked soup, washed dishes, mended shoes. And he said people told him all these complicated ways to pray – that with his low education maybe, with his anxiety or PTSD just didn’t work for him. 

But out of his own need for healing, he discovered he could remember again and again that God was with him, knowing and loving him always, and then he could silently communicate whatever he felt and thought to God. And he described this as a returning again and again to love, a returning to love, and that slowly healed him. 

Breakthroughs in our faith, born out of pain, disability, living on the edges of the tradition. This has been true again and again. People seek God, or they find God seeking them, in trauma, and they become our guides. 

Julian of Norwich, Julianna of Norwich I call her, taught us the mother-love of a God who mostly by then was seen only as male, Father. She had a wildly hopeful, optimistic faith, which disarmed the angry, wrathful God she was taught and helped us see that all of God is love.

How’d she get there? A vision of Jesus while so sick with the plague she thought she was dying. Traumatized by the death that was everywhere around her – some people think she had a baby child who died of the plague – in this grief and trauma, in her weakness, God found her, and she became one of our great teachers of prayer and of the love of God.

Again and again this has been so. 

This is the way of God on earth – working class women with a fistful of yeast to feed a village, or a story to tell that gets housing for a community. A disabled veteran who can’t pray the right way until God shows him a better way. A traumatized young widow on her sickbed, who has a vision of bloody Jesus that becomes God her friend, God her love, God her mother, and she knows all will be well somehow, everything will be well. 

God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong.

28 And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing. 

If you ever are accounted by yourself or by others as foolish or weak or low-class or low-life, know that you are the one God chooses. You are the means for the miracle. 

And if you are ever accounted by yourself or by others as wise or strong or high class, know that you might need to look to others to lead you in the best ways of God. 

Jesus says, that woman with nothing but yeast and flour will lead us. The scriptures say a child will lead us. 

Don’t despise weak people and small things. 

A couple weeks ago, a third grader in our church found me on his way outside, and stopped to show me what he had done in kids church that day. With my adult eyes, I was inclined to see a kid’s tiny cheap pot of earth, nothing more. Cute maybe, but a kids’ craft, nothing much. But this child, Junia, he helped me see what he saw. He said: look, a sunflower. I didn’t see the sunflower. I saw a tiny bit of dirt in a child’s hand. But Junia saw a new life he had co-created, a seed in the dirt that was on its way to a giant, golden sunflower that just might get taller than him. 

Is that charming and cute? 

Or is it just true? Is it the Beloved Community reign of God?

We so easily despise the people of the earth we account as weak or small, don’t we. Not Jesus. Spirit of Christ says the Beloved Community reign of God flows from their yeast and flour, their hospitality and voice, their advocacy, their truth, their trauma, their spiritual and religious innovations.

Pay attention. Learn from them. Honor them. If you’re one of them, let your light shine. It just might be the very light of God we need.

And we so easily despise new beginnings. Because new beginnings of Beloved Community, of the reign of God are small. All new beginnings are small. 

If the Way of Jesus is going to be uncovered, found winsome and empowering again in this country, it’s going to start in new beginnings – small but beautiful things like Reservoir Church and the Post Evangelical Collective and our friend Mariama’s beautiful New Roots Church in Dorchester and many other small, but powerful ventures. 

If we’re going to see our world’s massive urban slums become healthier, more just places, where – as the Bible puts it – ash heaps are resurrected to garden communities of hope – it’s going to start city by city, with new life born of seeds and flours like Asha and Cheza sports.

When we learn to pray again, when we learn that God loves us and our faith is renewed, when justice breaks forth like the sun at morning dawn, it’s going to burst forth from the wisdom of the Juliannas and Lawrences, those that met God through trauma, it’s going to burst forth from the powerful truth of working class women like Bishnu and Arleen. 

Friends, every plant, every life is born of tiny, dying seed.

The most beautiful things of God burst forth from people and places some of us considered nothing, a fistful of yeast. 

Don’t ever patronize, condescend to, or despise God’s presence and truth in the people and places that some of the world considers low class and low life. Don’t ever patronize, condescend to, or despise God’s presence and truth in the parts of your own self you consider nothing.

And friends, don’t ignore or despise small beginnings, because all beloved community, all of the reign of God, every great love story, every miracle of resurrection looks pretty dang small at first. 

When you perceive it, celebrate, give thanks, pour out all your love and hope onto small beginnings. It’s the way of Jesus, it’s the way of the God, it’s the hope of the world.

I Am Because You Are

The other week during the school vacation, I got to take a road trip with my 16 year old John. 

If you ever get to take a road trip with a teenager, do that. Because the world is a beautiful place, and it’s so fun to travel around with someone who hasn’t seen as much of it yet. And teenagers are often learning to drive, and if teaching a teenager to drive is five parts terrifying, then it’s also like 10 parts great because you’re watching them do it, and they’re actually listening to you. Like really listening, hanging on every word you say listening, and you talk but you also just sit there, and this person is actually driving you around for a change. And then there’s something about all the conversation you have when for hours, there are no distractions and there’s nowhere else to go. 

Anyway, it was a great time.

But as I said, John is 16, and he is our youngest. Grace and I had three kids kind of fast, and even though that seems like yesterday, now they are 16, 18, and 20, and they are all starting to find their way in the world.

In the case of John, we were road tripping because we were looking at a few colleges that he might consider applying to. 

Now when you are sending your kid out into the world, a lot of weird things happen to you. I mean, part of me is pumped, like: get going, kids. Leave home. I believe in them. I’m excited to see what choices they make and all the ways they’ll make us proud and make themselves proud. And now and then, I have thought, hey, we’re going to have more space soon where we live, and more time, and more freedom. And sometimes that seems pretty great. Get going, kids. You can do it. But then of course, sometimes that letting go is terrifying. And I felt a little bit of all of that on this trip. Get going, John. But also, stay here, don’t go!

This time isn’t just a weird time for a parent, though. It’s a weird time to be a teenager too, isn’t it? 

I mean, the world has always been telling our teens: go out into the world, it’s time for you to grow up, while also telling them: it’s scary out there, watch out, be careful! And man, have we said that to our teens a lot in recent years, telling them: you can’t go to school, it’s shut down. Actually, you can’t go anywhere. And we wonder that they seem stressed out these days. 

And then for our kids that go on to higher education, the messages the colleges give them are a little weird too. We got this college brochure and in big letters on the front, it just said:

It’s all about you.

It’s all about you.

I think this was supposed to be encouraging, exciting. Like it’s your time to make choices. It’s your time to live how you want, study what you want, pursue your dreams.

“It’s all about you.”

It’s supposed to sound liberating, I guess, but I think it’s not.

“It’s all about you” sounds an awful lot like you’re on your own – no path to follow, no principles to guide you, no one walking alongside, no one having your back. 

“It’s all about you” sounds like a lot of pressure. It’s your time to accomplish, your time to earn, your time to figure out how to stand on your own. 

Be independent. Be successful. Be happy. It’s a lot. I think there’s another way.

This past week, we began our six week season of Lent remembering we are earth. We are mortal, flawed, vulnerable. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 

But in the middle of that, we were invited to read a bit of Isaiah 52 as well, where we are told:

Awake, awake, shake the dust off yourself and rise up.

And I asked:

Is there a word of liberation that you need to hear from God today?

As we move into our second week of Lent, continuing to explore how we are earth, members of the fabric of this beautiful creation, I think I have a word of liberation from us.

It comes from a passage in the second week of our guide, day nine. It’s a Hebrew word: hineni, and the message I have for us is:

I am because you are. I am not alone. I am not all about me. I have roots and source. I am connected. 

I am because you are.

Let’s read the passage from Day nine, it’s the beginning of the 6th chapter of the prophet Isaiah. 

Isaiah 6:1-8 (Common English Bible)

6 In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple.

2 Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about.

3 They shouted to each other, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces!

All the earth is filled with God’s glory!”

4 The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke.

5 I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!”

6 Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs.

7 He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.”

8 Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”

I said, “I’m here; send me.”

When I first learned this passage, I didn’t think about Isaiah or anything to do with the ancient Near East. I thought about myself. It’s all about me. 

Here am I, Lord. 

Am I the one?

  • How are you calling me?
  • How will I be sent?
  • What job will I have?
  • Where should I live?
  • Who should I live with?
  • What role will I play in the world? 

Fair questions, maybe, but it felt like a lot of pressure.

Now in Isaiah, this passage is about the calling of this prophet to really just do one thing with his life: to tell the truth. Before that, though, he has a vision of God’s presence in the Jerusalem temple. This beautiful presence of God is made visible to Isaiah’s imagination for a moment, and then he realizes it’s not just the temple, but the whole earth is God’s temple. 

God is everywhere, and God is so good, so beautiful, so holy. All the earth is filled with God’s glory. 

And once God helps Isaiah move past his fear, his response to God is a single Hebrew word: hineni. Which means Here I am. I’m available. What would you like, God? 

It’s a passage of calling for Isaiah, of the launching of his life work for his community.

But I heard this passage as a young adult the way I heard everything, filtered through our society’s assumptions about individualism.

After all, our society is a product of the modern age where we were told that what it means to be a person is to be an individual. 

You stand on your own or you fall.

What does it mean to be a person? It means to be a thinker, to use your own brain. “I think, therefore I am” is the slogan of modernity. 

And so for me, to find my way in the world was to be independent, a solitary doer and thinker, and my religious sense reinforced this. I stand alone before God, who has a call on my life I need to figure out, so I can get it done. 

When I thought I had it right, it took me to a prideful place, a too big place. One time, when I was in my early 20s, one of my brothers told me:

You know, getting more religious has seemed like it’s made you more full of yourself, like you have the answer to everything.

Mostly, I was defensive when I heard that. No way, that can’t be true. (It was, though, and some part of me winced because I knew that). 

Honestly, though, the bigger thing I felt in my spiritualized “it’s all about me” was isolation and pressure. It took me to a too small place. It’s all on me to be a competent, capable adult. And it’s all on me to figure out God’s will for my life and do it, and do it well. 

That was a dead end, lonely, pressurized place to be. 

One of my mentors from a far, Randy Woodley, names this as a disease of the modern Western world. Randy is an indigenous elder and wisdom teacher, a scholar and theologian, and a follower of Jesus too. He’ll preach to us via video next week, and his voice is part of our Lenten guide Ivy and I put together as well. 

Randy says:

individualism as a way of life, as a worldview, is dead. It hasn’t worked for us. Thinking we’re on our own in the world, and being out for me and mine has brought so much harm to the earth. And even if we spiritualize that into doing what we personally think is God’s world without really humbly learning what will serve the flourishing of the greater whole, well that’s got to go too. It’s a diseased way of being.

Instead, Randy says he and his wife Edith, they are seeking to decolonize and indigenize the Western world. 

Decolonize the Western world – help us let go of our highly individualistic economic and religious ways of being? And indigenize the Western world – learn from the wisdom of the first peoples of the lands where we dwell. And learn from our own, more humble, more earth-connected, more communal indigenous roots, wherever we each come from.

With Randy, and with the scriptures, and with the wisdom of our indigenous ancestors in mind, I ask:

Is there another way to grow up? Besides

“It’s all about you.”

Is there another way to understand who we are in the world? Besides

“I think therefore I am.”

Is there another way to live our faith? Besides

“My call, my pressure, my way.”

Well, there is. And part of that way, I believe, is Isaiah’s response to the glory of God’s presence, filling the temple of creation.

It’s “hineni

Hineni” is Isaiah’s response to God. It means

“Here I am.”

I’m with you, I’m available. “Hineni” is said by other people in the scriptures too. In fact, in the Jewish tradition, it’s what you say to God.

Liturgically, at the most important holidays, it’s the start of a prayer: where one says to God.

Here I am – a vulnerable, flawed person – but here I am before you God, praying for this earth – not alone, but with creation – and praying for your help – not alone, but with you God as well. 

Here I am, part of the whole. 

Or as I’ve heard it put it by the philosopher Aaron Simmons:

I am because you are. 

I don’t exist because of myself. It’s not all about me. 

I am because my parents gave me birth and life. Mom and Dad, I am because you are. 

I am because my ancestors stayed alive and passed on that gift to me. The Elliott peoples of Scotland and Nova Scotia, the Bellottes of France and Germany and South Carolina, the Johnsons of Sweden, I am because you are.

I speak today not because I somehow figured out language but because of everyone I heard speak, who talked to me and in front of me, who read me books and sang me songs. My relatives and babysitters, and Sesame Street and the whole world of PBS Kids, I am because you are.

This is true for all of us, and it is the wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the earth. The South African Zulu word related to this is: ubuntu. I am because I’m part of a whole. I am because we are. I am because you are.

The First peoples of this land were right clear on this too. I am not over the earth, above the earth, I am part of the earth, a member of the human and non-human community of nature, gifted with life because of our Creator.

Divine mother and father, and all of this glorious creation, I am because you are. 

Friends, this ubuntu, hineni connected way of being is what our teenage selves, and our teenage children and friends and fellow citizens need more of right now. 

That road trip with my son, the best part of it was not showing him the colleges where he can enroll as a student and develop his mind, his skills, his vocational and financial path in life.

No, the best part of the trip was opening up space to think about the future in a connected, relational way of being.

We spent hours driving and walking and talking together, by each other’s side like 10, 15, 20 hours a day. Life when my kid was a newborn baby, rarely alone, always accompanied. We can’t physically keep living this way all the time as we grow up, but in an experience like this, we taste it again for a minute and that grounds us. 

And in this trip our best times, the highest impact items were with other people. Our favorite school: the one where the tour guide made a connection with us, spoke a word of promise and hope over my kid’s life. Some of the most meaningful moments: meeting up with family friends and with old friends from my kids’ school, where we talked together about their lives and ours, and how none of us finds our way forward by ourselves.

I am because we are.

I am because you are.

Think about it with me. 

I am because you are. 

Who gave you life? Who brought you into this world? Who taught you or encouraged you or took care of you when you were a kid? What ancestors kept the spark of your DNA alive? 

We are because they are.

This is what the humility that people of this earth are called to is all about, not self-debasement, but belonging, owning our small but important part in the broader whole.

In our daily lives, the homes we live in, the infrastructure we use, the earth that grows the food we eat, the wells and the reservoirs that supply our water, as Barack Obama and our Cambridge neighbor Elizabeth Warren have reminded us:

We didn’t build this. 

This church building that we worship in and those of us online get our broadcast from: we didn’t build this. One of our members, Mark DeJon, who lives in the neighborhood, his wife’s great-grandfather was one of the immigrant brick laborers who built this place a hundred years ago. He built this, not us.

We inherit our gifts, we steward them, we co-create new things in our lives. But we don’t start any of it. We are because they were. I am because you are. 

Humility and gratitude, the humility and gratitude to which God’s people are called, in all things. 

When we remember we are not alone in this world, and the pressure is not all on us, we can look around and say: thank you.

I can eat my dinner and say thank you, God, for the land from which this food came, thank you for animals and vegetables that gave their life for me, thank you for the hundreds in the long chain of people that got this food to my plate, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I can walk in Hudson River valley as I did last week, walk the Catskills where my parents honeymooned fifty-five years ago, walk along the cliffs of the Palisades where my grandfather hiked as a young man 95 years ago, walk the little patch of woods I take my dog to in Boston that were stewarded by this land’s first peoples five hundred, one thousand years ago, and say thank you. 

Ancestors of my life, ancestors of this land, I am because you are.

And creator God, from which all life and all gifts flow, I am because you are.

And even in our life missions, in the places to which we are sent, in the work we come to do, hineni changes the vibe for us. It’s not all about me. It’s not about my success or failure. It’s not about pressure.

All of you all, and our teens and young adults in particular, the living God does not care whether you succeed or fail at what you’re doing. 

Don’t get me wrong, God cares about your feelings. God wants you to not feel like a failure. But God’s not worried about your success or your failure.

Whether you’re a middle or high school or college or graduate student, whether you’re in a new job, or you’re a new parent, or in a new marriage, or learning a new skill, God is not worried about how well you do.

Isaiah perceives the glory of God all around him, filling this earth like a temple, and he’s like:

oh, no I’m not good enough.

Me, my whole people, we are a disgrace. And God’s like, let me change that. That whole hot, glowing coal to the mouth moment of purification – God didn’t need that, Isaiah did. 

So it is with the sacrifice of the cross, and the wine of communion that speaks of the blood of Christ, shed for us. 

God didn’t need that. We did. We need to taste and see that God gives all of Godself to us all, and that we are accepted, forgiven, loved as God’s children. 

God’s not worried about our success or failure. God wants us to show up humble, grateful, open, curious to our lives. To not be gripped anymore in fear, but to be able to stand up and say “Here I am” and to show up with our whole messy selves, saying I’m here. I am because you are. And I’m ready. 

We are not alone.

It is not all about us. 

We didn’t make this. We didn’t build this. And it does not all ride on us. 

We are, our God, because you are. 

Our very existence is a response to a higher call. 

We will show up to our lives, to this earth, to your call, with all we are – and succeed, fail, win, lose, it doesn’t matter. 

We are because you are. 




So I used to be obsessed with the right way to apologize. This created a lot of issues in my life, mainly bad ones, and especially in my marriage.

Grace and I met when we were young – I was 19, she was 20 – we got married about four years later. But in our dating years and then again and again in our early years of marriage, we had a fair bit of conflict. And a lot of that was conflict about conflict. 

Like how should we argue and how should we apologize.

Now in my defense, in our defense, we didn’t make it all up. A mentor in our faith community at the time taught a lot about apologies and forgiveness. And he was really specific about what he thought people should do. He basically said, like, he knew what Jesus wanted for our conflicts.

Basically the advice was this: There are bad ways to apologize.

  • Like the one word, vague and flippant: Sorry!
  • Or the version of an apology where you’re actually blaming the other person for being so sensitive. Like: sorry that hurt you.
  • Or: I’m sorry for everyone that was offended. 

Apologies should say what you actually did wrong and regret.

So far, so good. We all could use better apologies.

But then he’d teach that the person who receives an apology should quickly say out loud: I forgive you. 

Which sounds holy. Jesus talked a lot about God’s forgiveness of us and God’s call to us to forgive one another as well. 

And Grace and I – but especially me – took this to heart. But what it meant was that I wanted our communication – about really emotional and complicated things – that’s kind of the nature of conflict – I wanted that communication to follow rigid patterns. And if I said sorry for something, I wanted Grace to very quickly say to me: I forgive you, or I’d feel hurt. 

After years of this off and on, I finally started to get what’s messed up about this. Forgiveness is a gift one gives. And you give it when you’re ready. It’s not a right to insist upon when you’re apologizing. Sometimes a lot more is needed before a person will forgive you. Like actually starting to change.

There are also ways of saying “I forgive you” that are not helpful, like offering forgiveness when you’re not ready yet or when the person is going to use your trust to harm you again. And then there are ways of offering forgiveness that aren’t about saying the words too. 

Surprise, surprise, my marriage got better when I stopped being rigid about what I expected with apologies and the specific words I wanted Grace to say, and started paying more attention to what I have more control over. Which is the way I interact with my spouse – whether or not I cause harm in the first place and what I do if and when any harm occurs. 

For the last sermon in our big words series, I want to talk about a word that includes apology but is much bigger than just that. The word is repentance.

I saved this for last because this is also the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, a Christian holiday of repentance. And because it’s also the Sunday before we start celebrating Lent as a church. Lent is the six weeks before Easter that for followers of Jesus has traditionally been a whole season of repentance. 

What does this word mean: repent? 

It’s one of the very first words Jesus says in the earliest biography of him, the Bible’s gospel of Mark. 

Mark 1:13-14 (New Revised Standard Version)

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God

15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Jesus apparently said some version of these words again and again. Now’s the time. The kingdom of God is close. The beloved community, we call it, is beginning – it’s in reach. So, repent.

Repentance in the Greek text here is the word: metanoia. It means changing your mind, seems to imply the kind of changing your mind that reflects some kind of inner change too. The path to believing the good news of Jesus is a change of heart, a change of mind. We need that change, that repentance, to get to the good news, or maybe for the good news to get in to us. 

Later Jesus takes this into relationships between people too. He says this:

Luke 17:3-4 (New Revised Standard Version)

3 Be on your guard! If a brother or sister sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.

4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

Jesus says:

speak up when harm is being done. Don’t be a bystander.

But he doesn’t say to forgive them when they say sorry. He says:

forgive them when they make a change. Forgive them in response to their repentance. 

By the way, I’m going to talk way less about forgiveness today – I think we’ll have chances to talk more about that later this spring, but for today I want to focus on repentance.

Repentance is our way into Jesus’ good news for us, and repentance is part of the path to healed relationships. It can even be a prerequisite for forgiveness. Repentance is important, so why is this word uncomfortable or unfamiliar? 

Well, one, we are obsessed with apologies. 

I mentioned my issue with apologies in our early marriage. 

I think about how we raised our kids too. What did we do every time one kid hurt another? We’d get them to apologize, teaching them what we’d been taught, not to just say the word “sorry” but to say what you’re actually sorry for. 

I’m not saying it’s bad to teach your kids to apologize, it’s a good life skill, it’s just not enough. Apologies by themselves are paths to shallow and sometimes fake peace making. Which, let’s be real, sometimes shallow peacemaking is all we’re looking for, but eventually it’s not enough. 

We also don’t get repentance because it wasn’t much part of our inherited faith. The history of Western Christianity centers perpetrators, not victims. Western Christianity was developed with harm doers in mind, not the people who’ve been done harm.

This is not Jesus’ story. It’s not the writers of the Bible or the first fathers and mothers of the faith. But from the 4th century on, the most influential theologians of Christianity have been aligned with the power brokers of their societies, focused on helping harm-doers not feel guilty, more than in actually stopping harm or helping harmed communities and harm-doers heal. 

Thirdly, those of us who are in exile or in recovery from the too rigid, too closed minded religious systems of our youth have sometimes lost our  vocabulary for sin, repentance, and forgiveness because we connect those words with too rigid moral codes or with shame. 

But repentance is not about feeling shame for our bodies or our sexuality. It’s not about narrow or rigid morals. It’s about healing. It’s about getting well. It’s about learning not to be a harm doer. 

I mentioned that the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, speaks to a change of mind or a change of heart. But the Hebrew word for repentance, tshuvah, means returning. The Bible’s first word for repentance means coming back to where you’re supposed to be. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg says repentance means,

“coming home, in humility and with intentionality, to behave as the person we’d like to believe we are.” 

Repentance is our way into the good news of Jesus. It’s our way into mended relationships. It’s part of the healing path for all the ways we aren’t yet fully human, the ways we aren’t yet the person we hope to be, or even the person we’d like to believe we are.

So what is repentance? 

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg has this amazing book out called On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World. It is really good. 

Ruttenberg writes about the influential Jewish medieval scholar Moses Maimonides and how he developed a five step system of repentance that can be extremely useful in how we think of all kinds of harm and repair.

Let me tell you Maimonides’ steps of repentance according to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. Again, there are five.

They are:

  1. Naming and owning harm
  2. Starting to change
  3. Restitution and accepting consequences
  4. Apology
  5. Making different choices

You’ll notice that Maimonides says not to make an apology to the person you’ve harmed until you’ve already named and owned the harm, you’ve started to change, and you’ve attempted in some way to make things right. 

Because the purpose of the apology is not to get someone to say “I forgive you” (speaking to my younger self here). And the purpose of an apology is not to make a shallow, fake peace, where the harm doer gets to feel better and move on. No, the purpose of an apology is to help the person harmed to heal and to help the person who did the harm get humble and deepen their humanity again. 

Sometimes we move through the steps quickly, seamlessly, almost intuitively. And sometimes it can be long and hard work. 

Let me give you an example of each, and then invite you to consider what role repentance might play in your life in the weeks to come.

Here’s an easy and quick picture, where repentance looks like what I talked about last week, laying down our burdens. 

It’s from the poem “I worried” by Mary Oliver. It goes like this:

“I worried”, by Mary Oliver

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers

flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it 

was taught, and if not how shall I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,

can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows

can do it and I am, well,


Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,

am I going to get rheumatism,

lockjaw, dementia?

Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.

And gave it up. And took my old body

and went out into the morning,

and sang.

Who’s being harmed here? No one else. The over-worrying is a victimless sin. The only one being harmed is the poet, and maybe God. We do well to be free and joyful people, and God loves when God’s children are free too. 

So we have a picture of quickly, seamlessly moving through repentance. The poet names and owns the harm. I’m staying inside, perseverating on my worries. That’s hurting me. She says:

it had come to nothing.

Then she starts to change – she says

“she gave it up.”

There’s no restitution, no victim to make this right with, but there’s an accepting of consequence – this is not doing me good. That’s its own kind of apology to oneself, to one’s creator, and then a different choice is made. I went out into the morning and sang.

Perhaps over time, the poet might move through these steps more slowly, reckon with the consequences of this habit, seek to get outside and sing more readily. Who knows? 

But like a lot of our moves toward freedom, it’s a kind of seamless repentance. It’s not really about apology at all, but awakening to an awareness of harm, and then steps with God’s help toward a better way.

When we turn toward the good news of Jesus, here it would be the good news of Jesus’ teaching on God and birds and worry and the freedom of laying burdens down, we are coming to that good news through repentance. 

One more story of repentance, a messier one. This is a church story. A collective story of repentance. Because we repent as individuals, but as groups too.

Christians and churches have a serious issue with abuse of power. So many of us have celebrated, followed, looked up to leaders who play out some kind of hero narrative for us. And so many of them, usually men, usually in our context white men, are caught up in their own ego and have abused that power and tried to cover it up.

There’s a podcast by Brad Onishi called Straight White American Jesus. It’s an expose of evangelicalism and Christian nationalism. And they had this whole thing a while back about something called the new apostolic revival, and its connections to Trumpism and the January 6th attacks. Scary and gripping stuff. 

Now, let me clear that our church was never a promoter of any of this kind of violence or a vision of Christianity that would dominate public life and government and all that. But we were just a couple of steps removed from some of the people involved and I think our church in its early days had its own blind spots on looking up to talented, charismatic men and giving them too much power. 

In our early days, many people here were enamored with the ministry of Bill Johnson and Bethel Church. There were people who traveled to California just to pray and worship there. That’s a church that has produced a lot of emotional worship music, they’ve purported to be the site of many miracles. They also celebrate charismatic leadership of people who supposedly have a more direct line to the voice of God. 

When I was hired as our second senior pastor, 10 years ago, I was asking around about what I should be reading to understand our church and the values it was formed upon. And one of the people who was recommended was a friend of Bethel, a man named Peter Wagner, who’d been a mentor to the Vineyard group of churches we used to be part of. Wagner promoted a model of pastoring where the senior pastor of a church would have as much power and as little constraint, as little accountability as possible so that pastor could listen to God and lead the people wherever they felt God wanted – quickly, forcefully, without restraint. 

Maybe you know where this is going. These white men who supposedly have a direct line to God often seem to get very odd things in their mind that they think God wants, things that elevate their own power or other authoritarian men like themselves.  Bill Johnson and his team promoted Trump as God’s man of the hour. Peter Wagner spent his dying days doing the same. And there are deeper, more troubling connections between these men, their colleagues, and the support of violent white Christian nationalism. 

Again, we didn’t promote that stuff, but we had our own tendency to put charismatic white male leaders on pedestals, especially those who claimed a really direct connection to God. We kind of hungered for that connection and trusted their voices.  

Some of those people meant well and were helpful. Others didn’t. A few had their sin and abuse of power exposed. Just this past week I realized we still had a sermon deep in our archives from someone who preached here before but has been credibly accused of abuse of power in his relationships with women. We pulled it down. 

I’m really proud of this church and our history. We’ll be celebrating our 25th anniversary this year. So many of our roots and our early mission still carry us! But this blind spot on power, and the manipulative and sometimes dangerous things that happen when we put people on pedestals was a problem. And so men holding power without accountability has been an area of repentance for our church under my time of stewarding this role of senior pastor. 

So, the steps: naming and owning harm.

We had conversations on the Board early in my tenure about what goes wrong when men promote their own special connection to God and lead out of that.

Starting to change

The first thing our church did when I was hired was we gave the Board of this church more power. I insisted that they evaluate me, in writing, each year and that they make more important choices for the church. I’m a leader in this community. I have some authority. But none of us want me to have any more than I earn, and we want me, I want me too! – to lead in partnership with others and to be accountable. 

Restitution and accepting consequences/apology – This has been messier. It hasn’t always been clear how to go back to our church’s early years and figure out who was or who wasn’t hurt by our church’s connections to abuse of power, but I do believe that we faced consequences for this as a community, and when I become aware of a situation in which I feel able to apologize on behalf of the church, I feel able to do so now. 

I’m certainly sorry to this community for two people I allowed to visit and speak here in my early years as a pastor, one in 2013 and one in 2016. Both seemed very talented but they were also unaccountable free agent types who later have said or done things I view as harmful. We’re done with unaccountable men being connected to this ministry. I’m sorry that in our early, fast growing years as a church when so many wonderful things were happening that we also weren’t learning how to watch for and prevent manipulative power and abuse of power. 

And then making different choices – continuing to do the work.

We are making a lot of choices now to be healthy and humble about power. We won’t invite traveling preachers who aren’t accountable to real Boards and communities. Our Board has done reading together about how to prevent abuse of power in our church. I like preaching. I think I’m good at it. But I preach less than most senior pastors, both because our associates, Pastor Ivy and Lydia are awesome at this and we want their wisdom and because it’s a way of not overcentering any one person’s voice. We promoted Trecia Reavis a couple years ago from director of operations to executive pastor because she is an excellent leader and we wanted the church to have a real partnership between me and her on the institutional leadership of this community.

It turns out that not following the voice of one man isn’t a loss at all. It opens up more community to more people’s gifts, and to a more beloved community way of being in the world. Like most processes of repentance, you gain so much more than you lose. You get to leave behind an inferior way of being and walk into the good news of something better. 

Repentance – changes of mind, changes of heart, coming home to our best selves – is serious and holy work. Repentance opens us up to good and healthy relationships. And repentance opens us up to the good news of Jesus. 

We start Lent this Wednesday with our Ash Wednesday service, and next Sunday, when our preaching and guide on this year’s theme of Earth begins. 

The first quarter of Lent – a week and a half in the guide, focus on humility. We’re invited to think about our own earthly mortality and our needs for change and repentance. 

Here’s my question, friends.

Where is your life falling short of the person you consider yourself to be? Where is your life out of alignment with the person you believe you are meant to be, who God calls you to be?

I’m not asking you to feel lousy about that. I’m also not asking you to apologize to anyone. We’d do better if we learned to be quicker to humility, quicker to soul-searching and attempting to change and make things right, and slower to apologize.

What I am asking you is to be curious about yourself.

Where do you want to turn? Where do you want to heal?

Let’s bring those questions with us to the communion table. 

In communion we remember Jesus’ final meal before his death, when he took the cup and said: This bread is my body, which is given for you. This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you. And now we eat and drink in memory of me.

We eat and drink as a kind of repentance as well, that Hebrew word tshuvah, or returning. We return to God. We come home to God and come home to ourselves, to the person we believe we are meant to be. 

If there’s a particular way in which you seek repentance in this season, in which you seek healing or turning or change, I invite you to name that to God as a prayer, saying to God that you offer your desire for change, your desire for healing, your desire for return, and welcome God’s presence and power.


Glory, glory, hallelujah…

I start us out by singing today because at least for me, it takes me somewhere. Somewhere less burdened, somewhere more joyful, more free. 

I would love for us to go there together, my friends. 

We are burdened people, I believe. We are anxious, stressed, weighed down, carrying a lot of troubles. For some of us, it’s more true than others. 

Some of us are more prone to stress than others. Some of us more prone to worry or anxiety. 

Some of us carry trauma in our bodies. That internalized fear and pain – old or new or some of both – can be a burden. Awareness of others suffering can be a burden. Those of us in the helping professions and those of us who are parents may face this kind of compassion fatigue a lot. But all of us, in our wired up, globalized age know more about more people’s suffering than any of our ancestors did, and that’s a lot to know when most of it we can’t do anything about. 

I’ve talked with women of color in my life about what it means to have both your culture and your gender be frequent targets of violence and frequently experiencing inequity and harm, knowing that there’s generations more of this in your backstory. There is growing research on how the effects of trauma can be passed down through generations. That’s a lot of burden too.

We are a burden-bearing people. 

I’m not an expert on all this. This is also a sermon, not a treatment course in trauma, anxiety, or other specific forms of burden.

So know that I’m not pretending to have the last word on getting free from our burdens today or anything. But I think there is wisdom, there is invitation in the scriptures, in the faith tradition of Jesus and his ancestors and his followers too, that we also easily forget or have never heard or don’t put into practice very much.

So I’d like to tap that tradition a little today, share a couple of stories and tips around what to do with the burdens we carry, how to maybe pick up a few less and lay down a few more, and find more of that Glory, Glory joy and freedom in our days. 


I’ve got three scriptures. Here’s the first:

Psalm 55:22 (New Revised Standard Version)

Cast your burden on the Lord,

    and he will sustain you;

he will never permit

    the righteous to be moved.

I first heard that verse when I sang it. In high school, I joined a community chorus with my dad where we sang the choral dramatization of the life of Elijah the prophet. And in the middle of it, there’s this beautiful setting of this verse. 

Cast your burden upon the Lord. It’s beautiful. 

How do you do that, though? How do you throw your burden onto God’s back, so God can carry you, strengthen you?

When I first sang this verse, I was both picking up and starting to put down burdens at the same time. 

I had experienced secrecy and neglect around some trauma in my life, and that was still buried at the time. I was just starting to become an ambitious and driven person to be able to put a life together for myself, one that I love and am proud of but that 25-30 years later, in my 40s, I had to stop and reevaluate parts of. We’ll come back to that, but this was in some ways a season of accumulating burdens.

And yet, the beginnings of laying down my burdens were happening too.

I became convinced in my teen years that God, the creator of the universe, knew and loved me. That spoke to my lonely self, so that was a laying down of burden. 

After I moved out of home, I started to be able to name and understand my trauma story. I got help learning about it, I got curious about what was going on inside me. I was able to see a therapist for a while. And this work was hard but it helped me know more acceptance and love for myself and freedom, helped me let go of some of the shame I carried. So that was a laying down of burdens too. 

I started learning how to notice my feelings when they happen and talk to someone about them – basic I know. But I was learning how to pray and learning how to have better friendships than I ever had as a kid. And this was freeing too. 

And I realized that I was entering my adult life with a ton of fear of failure – fear of career failure and fear of financial failure too. And the spiritual resources I found in my faith community helped me start to lay that burden down.

All these layers of starting to lay down burdens as I grew up, none of them happened by myself. They all happened in relationships with God and friends. 

This laying down of burdens, I think mostly we don’t do it alone. We need partners, people to help us pull stuff off our back and let it go. 

I love this old documentary called Strong at the Broken Places. It’s the story of four people who came of age facing immense trauma. And all four of them find enough healing in their broken places, enough recovery in their trauma, that their very weaknesses, healed in part, enable them to help many, many others find their recovery. 

One of them, Max Cleland, was profoundly disabled during the Vietnam War, and then faced depression and PTSD after returning home before finding the help he needed to heal and to serve others in public life, even becoming a US Senator. He quotes Hemingway, who wrote:

“The world breaks everyone but afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

And Cleland says that’s his story, and it’s a story he’s seen in others, that with the help of God and friends, we can be strong at the broken places.

We don’t do it alone. The help of God and friends is the key. Life’s too hard to be a solo sport. We all need help with our burdens. None of us can carry them, or even give them to God, alone. 

This is one of the reasons this church has community groups – places to know and be known. Grace and I pull together an online group Thursday nights for parents of younger kids. We check in over Zoom, often about our burdens or those of our kids, and pray together. That’s it. Pretty simple. But a place to not be alone in our burdens.

In my Saturday morning Bible study here, we study the Bible but we also each share some way we’ve found life this past week or some way our lives could be better. It’s also a place to not be alone in our burdens. 

Because I’m a pastor in this community, I also have friendships and groups outside of this church where I can make my burdens known. Without those circles of friendship, I wouldn’t even notice many of the burdens I’m carrying, and I certainly wouldn’t have the kindness and empathy and prayer and support that helps me not keep carrying them. 

So, friends, we don’t cast our burdens unto God all by ourselves. We do it together. 

I’ve also mentioned prayer. And I want to say a little more about that. Prayer is a lot of things, but one thing it is is when we offer our burdens and our gratitude to God, and God gives us God’s peace. 

I get that description of one kind of prayer from these powerful lines in one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, the fourth chapter in the letter to the Philippians, where it says:

Philippians 4:6-7 (Common English Bible)

6 Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.

7 Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

I share this and pray this for others a lot, that they won’t get stuck with their burdens dominating their mind, but that they can ask God for help and as they do remember there’s so much to be grateful for too. Because that combination of gratitude, perspective, and reaching out to our Mother/Father God for help has brought so many of us profound peace, peace that keeps us safe, peace that keeps us well, peace that goes beyond our understanding.

Last month, I needed help remembering this teaching for myself. I was in a lot of conversations with people who were facing high stakes problems – big, big burdens. And normally it is not hard for me to show up as a pastor and a friend to other people’s pain. I feel sad with them, sad with you, each time this happens, but to be a friend, a support, a help in it is actually fulfilling for me. 

But last month, it was getting to me for some reason. I was thinking about other people’s problems at random times of the day, having some of the sadness and stress of other people start to feel like my own, and I was telling my therapist about this, and remembering this way I’ve prayed for burdens, out of this teaching in Philippians.

If I can, I share with God – I say it out loud, or I write it down – here’s something, someone I’m grateful for right now. Gratitude is a great perspective maker – there’s always more than our burden.

And then the burden prayer has four parts.

I picture the burden, and I say I really care about this, God. 

And then I say, if I think it’s true, I’ve done what I can. I’ve done my part. Or if I haven’t yet, I say to God, I will do my part. I will do what I can.

Burden releasing is not an excuse for apathy or irresponsibility. We’re called to do something about our burdens and the burdens of the people we love. But we’re not gods either. We can’t do it all.

So: I care. I’ll do my part. Or I’ve done my part.

And then I say to God:

this is too big for me.

And I tell myself, and I tell God what I can’t do, or what I don’t know how to do.

And then I usually stick my hands out, and I say:

I release this to your care, God.

I was telling my therapist about this, and she was like:

do you want to do that now? 

And so, in front of my therapist, who does not share the details of my faith at all, I named a person I love whose burden felt so heavy and I prayed my way through this, naming to God: 

I care about them.

I have done and I will continue to do my part. 

But also, this is bigger than me.

And God, Abba, Mother/Father, I release them to your care. 

My therapist affirmed the peace she saw this bringing me, and she stretched me a little too. She said:

Steve, you know sometimes you need to release the people you love not just to God but to themselves.

You have to remember that parts of their stress and problems, you can help with, but parts are for them and not for you. You have the trust that they too will own their healing journey. And so, I’m adding that to my prayers, saying before God, you know, God, that this isn’t mine to keep carrying.

The scriptures after all admonish us:

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

To bear one another’s burdens is one way we fulfill Jesus’ law:

to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

But it says: bear one another’s burdens, help carry them for a while, be a friend, but it does not tell us to hold on to another’s burdens or make them our own. 

A lot of the inner work, the spiritual work I’ve been doing in my late 40s has been about learning to live with less driven-ness and less stress, to live more present, more free and joyful, and with more peace.

This giving God my burdens is part of it.

And rest is too. Rest, what the scriptures call sabbath rhythms. 

We let go of our burdens with partnership and help. 

We let go of our burdens in prayer.

And we let go of our burdens, and pick up fewer in the first place, with rest. 

Jesus said:

Matthew 11:28-30 (Common English Bible)

28 “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.

29 Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.

30 My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Jesus reminds us that heavy loads and struggles are never ours to bear alone. We need the help of God and friends. Jesus pictures himself as a leader and a partner to us in our struggles.

Walk with me,

he says.

Learn from me.

And Jesus offers and encourages rest in this. 

Jesus was born into a culture and a faith where this was really important, still is really important. As people whose founding stories go back to enslavement, Jews were commanded to practice regular rhythms of rest, worship, joy, and delight.

God said:

don’t forget you once were slaves, and don’t ever let that happen to you again. Be free people. 

And part of how they did that was by not working at all one day per week. And using that day for connection, for worship, for rest, and for that which brings joy.

In Hebrew, it’s called shabbat, or sabbath. 

And that refers to a weekly rhythm of not working and resting, but also to daily and over the course of years, seasonal times of rest and delight, stuff that helps remember that the earth and the labor of other people is not there for us to always work and exploit. And our own lies are not to always be worked and exploited.

We were made for freedom. We were made for joy. We were made, in part, for rest.

I have the blessing of regular rhythms of this. Even when life is busy, when life feels burdened, I try to practice daily small rhythms of rest. Reading something I enjoy almost every night before I go to sleep, listening to a song I love or taking a five minute stretch walk between meetings, rather than cramming in just a little more email. 

But whether or not I keep rhythms of rest throughout my day, I take a day off every week, where I will not work, and I make sure to for at least part of it, spend more time than most days in prayer, and where I get outside for longer because that brings life to me, or where I do something else I love for at least a little, when I can with a person that I love. 

Lastly, I’m blessed to be in a job that allows for longer periodic bits of rest. Our staff at church all get four paid weeks of vacation a year. And our pastors are allowed to apply for a paid, three month break – a sabbatical – once every seven years. This kind of thing is really rare in our driven form of capitalism. I feel almost awkward announcing it, but this summer, I’m taking three months off. I’ve been granted a sabbatical. 

I’m going to hang out with my kids much more as they start to become adults and leave home. And I’m going to get outside more. And my family got a clergy renewal grant to take a big trip too that we couldn’t afford otherwise. 

I’m aware that this is an immense blessing. I feel incredibly lucky, really grateful for this. 

I’m aware that for many people, these kind of daily and weekly, and longer, seasonal periods of rest can be much harder to find. For people who don’t get paid time off in their jobs, for parents of young kids, for people just scraping by economically, for lots of us, we wonder: how can we take a break? 

And listen, friends, I’d be the last person to ever minimize those struggles. But I will just say, that if we follow Jesus, we do into a tradition that invites and even commands rhythms of rest as part of a flourishing, unburdened life. 

We don’t get joy, and we don’t get freedom without it.

So a few ways I’ve known people to be creative with their needs for daily, weekly, and seasonal rest.

I’ve known people who prioritize their sleep hygiene. Like, maybe my waking life has no breathers, but I’m at least going to do what’s in my power to get better sleep. So they do stuff like not have their phones by their bedside, or at least have them off for an hour before bed, and other stuff that we know helps us sleep better.

I’ve known people who make lists of 5-10 things that bring them joy, because life’s hard enough they can forget those things, and when they have an unexpected break – some extra childcare, an easy day at work when they don’t have to push so hard – they let themselves just have joy for a while.

I’ve known people that when they are between jobs find a way to take a month off to just not be a worker for a season, people who ask for and get short medical leaves at work for their mental health, people make deals with their housemates or families they live with to change the rhythm of life in their household for one day a week.

People that take in less social media and less news, since they realize we’re not called to know everything or have an opinion about everything but to be people who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly – and joyfully and freely – with God. Less exposure, more connection, more action, brings a lot of rest.

You get the idea. We all need daily and weekly and seasonal rest. We’ll never find much joy or much freedom without it. 

Friends, I hope you found this little tour through laying down our burdens through help and prayer and rest useful to you.

Deconstruction: Necessity, Tragedy, Opportunity

I’ve got a weird scripture for us today. It’s not hard to find one. The Bible is really old. Different times, different places, different people. So weird is easy to find. But I think this weird passage might be useful to many of us in the context of our own weird moment we’re living in. 

Our big word for today is deconstruction. It’s a big buzz word in the cultural and religious experience of times. And our weird Bible passage is from the end of the letter called Hebrews. I’ll just read three verses. 

Hebrews 13:12-14 (Common English Bible)

12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy with his own blood.

13 So now, let’s go to him outside the camp, bearing his shame.

14 We don’t have a permanent city here, but rather we are looking for the city that is still to come.

Nineteen years ago, my dad and I were deconstructing a home we’d just bought and that I live in now.

Long story short, insane work ethic + good luck + white privilege meant my grandpa left a bunch of resources to his one daughter and his three grandsons, and so Grace and I had more money than we had any right to have in our late 20s. 

At the same time, Grace’s parents were aging and without savings and owned a two-family house that needed a lot of work. So Grace and I bought the house from them – gave them all the funds we had to live in her childhood home and raise our family there, and provide a place for her parents to age in place without financial stress as well. 

The catch was the house was old and had not been very well maintained, so we borrowed a lot of money to take care of it. We fixated at first on all the paint and all the windows. We had a baby about to turn two and were thinking we’d have more kids and we thought probably this place is bathed in lead paint. And we didn’t want our babies to be full of that lead. So we were like: we have got to get rid of it all.

Now my dad at the time was in his 50s and was unemployed, but he’d worked as a building contractor most of my childhood and still had his license, and he was like: I will give you a few months of my time to do this thing with you. And that whole winter, that’s what my dad did. He labored on that house. I’d join him when I could on the weekends or in the afternoons when I got out of my job as a teacher but he did a lot solo. So much honor to him for this. All that love and service – so much honor. I aim to be this kind of dad for my own grown kids. 

Anyway, we tore out all the window frames first. And then we were like, these windows are incredibly old – they have got to go as well. 

And then with the windows and the frames coming out, we were like why are we keeping all these walls and ceilings. They’re probably covered in lead paint too, and they’re not all that straight either. 

You can see where this is going. We rented an enormous dumpster to put in the driveway, and frame by frame, all by wall, we deconstructed a whole bunch of that house. 

A few things. Don’t. Don’t do this, please.

But seriously, first, maybe, it was necessary. Grace and I loved our kids. We loved her parents. We were trying to love this house to serve all of us. And the more we pulled apart, the more we discovered that had to go. Like that time the electrician came by and was like – woah, shut everything off. I gotta tear all this wiring out cause we’re about to have a fire. And we were like: we don’t think so, it’s been like that for twenty, thirty years. She couldn’t believe it. But she was right, the wiring had to go too. Deconstructing a ton of that house was probably necessary.

But it was also horrible. So messy, I mean, I didn’t wear a mask almost at all and the amount of plaster and all kinds of other stuff that’s been hanging out in my lungs ever since. Sheesh…. So much headache. And my poor dad, laboring away there day after day, mostly by himself, for no pay, and a not always very grateful kid. I’m sure there were times when both of us wondered why we had done this.

And lastly, we needed a better guide. I mean no offense to my dad, who again, was heroic, but I’m not so sure looking back that we really had to tear down every single wall and ceiling. It was a lot of time rebuilding all those, and there were some other things that we really could have done instead. And if we were going to tear down every wall, like why didn’t we make sure we put up proper closets? This mistake has come up just a few times over the past 19 years. We needed a guide, someone who could help us make better choices, who could help us figure out where we were trying to go, and how to get there.

Deconstruction of all kinds is like this really. It’s often necessary, it’s usually tragic, though, and full of danger. And yet it’s a work of great possibilities if we know where we’re trying to go and can get help getting there. 

The word deconstruction comes from postmodern philosophy, where it means something more technical. These days, though, deconstruction has taken on a broader meaning. It’s a word for what we do when we find that some system we’ve lived in isn’t working any more, and we’ve got to pull it apart and find our way out. A lot of the time this deconstruction is about religion. 

You realize the religious house you’ve been living in is going to poison your kids. Or there’s no room in the house for you or for someone you love. Or the house is too small or shabby or it’s got bones in the basement, and you need to figure out which parts of it you’ve got to tear down and renovate if you’re going to stay, or even if you decide to leave all together.

It’s necessary. When you realize your house is toxic, or it feels more like a prison than a home, you’ve got to do something about it.

Also, though, it’s dangerous, it’s tragic. I mean who wants to tear up their house? So much pain, so much loss. There’s nothing sexy about it. 

But if you can figure out where you want to go, it can be quite the opportunity. But you need help. You need guides.

My religious deconstruction, if that’s what I would call it, started around the same time we were tearing up our house. Our first child, as a toddler, told us: Mommy and Daddy, only men can be pastors. Our little girl, something like two years old, had figured this out. And we looked around our church and it was clear why she had come to that conclusion. 

So we were like: we’re out of here. There were other things said in our evangelical church that we couldn’t abide, so many things, but this was the tipping point. We weren’t going to raise our daughter in a church that had these rigid views of male authority and female submission. No way. 

And on it went. As I got space from some of the ideas and people that had so influenced my faith in my late teens and early to mid 20s, I started reevaluating a whole ton of things I had taken for granted.

Some of it was so great! Like realizing, I mean not just in my head but in my bones that our religion should lead to flourishing, like good faith has got to make good fruit, that was so helpful. So if I had some religious notion that made me more of a jerk, more judgy, less empathetically kind, it probably had to go. It probably was never true in the first place! So liberating. Stuff that John Calvin or some other dead Christian made up cherry picking some bit of the Bible wasn’t gospel truth after all. It could go. That felt great.

But other stuff, man, it has been hard. Like when I became convinced that gay people had the right to fall in love without being ashamed, that queer people, people represented in the LGBTQIA spectrum deserve the chance to partner and marry if they want with God’s help and blessing. True confession, it took me a while to get there, maybe longer than it should, but when I did, I was stunned by the degree of anger and resistance around that. Small potatoes compared to the suffering and rejection that queer friends and colleagues have faced, small pain compared to what some of you have endured, my friends, but the curses, the cut off relationships and connections, the implications that I didn’t know scripture or wasn’t serious about my faith – are you kidding me? 

There was a time I was supposed to share about our church at a conference – just one of many dozens of seminars, not a main talk or anything, but it was canceled. I, we, were canceled. But in an effort I kept up for years at peacemaking with people that didn’t want me in their lives, I went to this conference anyway with my wife. And in the opening worship session, people were standing up, singing about their love for Jesus and all, and I noticed Grace next to me in tears. 

And I was like: what’s going on? And later, she wondered: why do these people reject us? I mean, when I became a Christian, I thought I was getting a family, a safe and loving community. But it’s not. 

She was so right, and that made me so angry. I felt the pain too, but the pain in someone I love so much cut deeper. How dare people cut lines of judgment and exclusion like this!

Or to have the experience so many parents have had and have your own child say:

you and your church seem pretty good. But most Christians are bad news for the world. They’re bad news for me. I don’t want any part of it.

That makes me even more angry, more heartbroken. 

I could go on: the dug-in defensiveness of most White Christians around how much racism, how much white supremacy – preference for whiteness – is baked into the American Christian experience, inherited from the European colonial legacy. I mean the fact that this is a thing, and that this is a problem, is not subtle, but the defensiveness, the denial, the angry attacks from some corners when this comes up, it can be unbearable. 

I visited one of our community groups recently, one where I knew a number of people were part of Reservoir’s community as part of their own untangling of versions of Christian religion they couldn’t abide any more. I wanted to listen to their experience a little more, and I heard the same.

Moving on, moving forward, tearing down some of the bad stuff wasn’t a choice. It was a must, a necessity. Even though it was hard. Lost certainties, lost confidence, lost churches – no one wants this if they don’t have to. 

But the other thing that came up was this third part, that moving forward isn’t easy.

  • What do you do with your sadness and your anger?
  • What’s left of your faith after parts of it are gone? 
  • When you’ve had to tear down parts of what used to be your home, what do you build in its stead?
  • How do you not freeze and do nothing?
  • And how do you not just rebuild another version of what you had before? 
  • And how do you not end up like my dad, doing most of this by himself?
  • Who are our partners in this big change?
  • Who are our guides?

It’s in this context I’m drawn to this passage of Hebrews I’ve read. It affirms the difficulty of a journey outside a broken but conventional power system. And it gives us a pointer toward guides we can trust.

It’s a weird text. Like half, two thirds of it is obvious and good encouragement. Be more hospitable. Treat your marriage if you have one like it’s sacred because it is. Visit prisoners, pray for them. Be good to your pastors. Basic Jesus stuff, even if we mostly don’t do it. That’s why it’s there.

But then there’s this weird bit in the middle. Some scholars call it one of the more difficult passages in the New Testament. 

It says don’t be misled by strange teachings. But then no one really agrees on what these strange teachings are. Something to do with food and altars, but not much agreement around what this all means. 

Best as I can tell, there’s a general vibe, though, which is don’t get into weird religious stuff. Like you can take religion too seriously, too far. 

But then there’s this bit about Jesus our teacher. The writer of Hebrews points to the animal sacrifices in the temple, and quotes the temple procedure book of Leviticus to draw a comparison. It says the blood of the animals was shed in the temple, but then their bodies were dumped outside the city, beyond the gates. And then the writer is like: same with Jesus. 

Jesus suffered outside the city gate. They took his body outside the camp, so to speak, and shed his blood there. All the ways that Jesus and his shed blood helps us become holy, the ways that Jesus makes us whole – that’s a bigger conversation for another day. For today, though, let’s take Jesus’ blood as a stand in for the self-giving love of Jesus. 

Self-giving love got Jesus thrown outside the gates. The city, the camp, the establishment – both Jewish and Roman – didn’t get Jesus. They didn’t want him. Instead, they drove him out and killed him there. I’ve visited the two places archaeologists think are the most likely spots Jesus was crucified. Both beyond the city walls. And both visible, rocky areas where people traveling to Jerusalem would see what was happening and mock the crucified or be terrified themselves. That was the point. Maximum shame for the naked, humiliated victim. Maximum intimidation for the crowd. 

And the writer of Hebrews is like, let’s follow him there, pilgrims. Let’s go. 

Brad Jersak leans into this verse in this amazing book on deconstruction. It’s called Out of the Embers: Faith After the Great Deconstruction. 

He’s like: friends, the camp has failed us. He writes,

“American Christianity as a colonial extension of European Christendom has run its course and is no longer tenable.”

Most forms of American Christianity, it makes sense to leave behind. They’ve piled up too much crap around the treasure of Jesus. They’ve failed.

This is one gift of this passage. When human power institutions, including religious ones fail you, do not be surprised. Because human power institutions are almost never built upon self-giving love. They’re constructed around the power and interests of the people who built them. 

Take the forms of Christianity we’ve inherited in our times and place. The whole thing started as a Jesus movement. The way of Jesus, the way of trust in a beautiful unseen God, way of receiving and giving self-giving love. But centuries later, the center of the faith was systematized and standardized and rigidified by power brokers in the Roman Empire, and then parts of it passed down and down by European power brokers, people who came to hate Jews, people who got scared of Muslims and battled them, people with land interests and wealth interests to defend, people that got in mind to colonize and enslave the peoples of the earth as part of their project for global domination. 

The faith we inherited in this country, the gift of European colonizers, had gone through centuries of evolution toward patriarchy, white supremacy, and the interests of the powerful, and away from justice, humility, mercy, and self-giving love. How do we know? Theologian Tripp Fuller puts it this way. He says so much of our religion has gone from bearing crosses to building them. From bearing crosses to building them. Nails in the hand, to hammer in the hand. But you can only trust Christians who bear crosses, not build them. 

So friends, if you’ve confronted power systems you realized you could no longer be part of, do not be surprised. If you’ve confronted forms of religion, including forms of Christian religion you realized you could no longer be part of, do not be surprised. If, like my old home I live in, you’ve found that it needs partial deconstruction, I know that is a pain in the neck. It hurts. God sees and knows this too. But don’t be dismayed. With the help of God and friends, you can build back something better. 

That’s my experience in the home I live in, thanks be to my grandpa and my dad and to God. And that’s very much true in the way of Jesus I’m on. I’m still finding my way, but it’s so much better than it was 20 years ago. It’s a road I’m excited to keep traveling. It’s hard sometimes, it takes discipline. But there’s joy here. It’s a road that compels me to more and more receiving and giving of self-giving love. And it’s a way of invitation to ever increasing freedom. 

How do we get there, though? How do we find our way toward some kind of reconstruction of faith? Who will be our guides? 

Well, Brad Jersak and the author of Hebrews encourage us that it’s Jesus and it’s people of self-giving love who bear his love and bear his shame. Follow Jesus outside the camp, bearing his shame perhaps, but welcoming and becoming his self-giving love. 

I want to end by sharing three ways I’ve been trying to do this. They’re my experiences and convictions, but they overlay with what’s in Jersak’s book and I’ve seen them be helpful for others. Three quick thoughts about following Jesus outside of the worst of American Christianity. Going with Jesus outside the camp.

  1.  Refuse to participate in a whites-only club.

This by the way, is a word not just for white people but for all of us. Refuse to participate in a whites-only club. 

Years ago, I noticed that the great majority of books I’d ever read, ever been encouraged to read that had anything to do with the Bible, with theology, with religion and spirituality were written by white men. Now listen, I’ve got nothing against white men. I love myself. I really do. But one of the failings of the colonial European project is that when it has confronted difference, it has mostly tended to judge and conquer, rather than peaceably and humbly listen and exchange. 

And so there have just been a ton of blind spots at best, violent, narrow-minded rigidity at worst in the echo chamber. 

So when I look at a book on religion and faith, if it’s written by a descendant of Europeans like myself, especially by a white man, I look at the footnotes, and if the only people of color they’re engaging with Jesus and the writers of the Bible, I usually won’t read the book. When I’ve been part of cohorts or communities that study, which is a thing for a pastor, if books like these are assigned, I speak up in protest, sometimes quietly, sometimes not. 

Even here at Reservoir, we are a racially diverse church. We have racially diverse leadership. Our Board is just over half people of color. Our staff just under half. But we’re aware that for our three preaching pastors, two of us are white. So, because it’s who we are, but also in a decolonizing, outside the camp attention, we look to learn from and center voices of color in our learning and speaking around spiritual formation. It’s a way toward constructing something new in our faith with Jesus, outside the camp, something more humble, just, and liberating.

This whites-only club by the way, doesn’t only strictly apply to white voices. More complex here, but colonial Christianity has had such an influence in the world these past hundred years that even people of color can carry on its colonialism. A native American Christian I’m reading says that the Christians these days who most resist the inclusion of certain forms of indigenous spirituality in the way of Jesus aren’t white people any more, but indigenous pastors who inherited an anti-indigenous colonial faith. We just watched several Black police officers, trained in an anti-Black policing system, beat and kill an unarmed Black man. White supremacy dies hard. All of us can make our choices to walk away. 

2.  Find new pilgrimage partners, those who bear Jesus’ shame and self-giving love. 

When I look for authors, friends, mentors, colleagues I can trust in following the way of Jesus, I look not just to people’s ideas, but to people who seem marked by the blood of Jesus, people who have borne crosses, people of deep, self-giving love. 

Not coincidentally, I find that many of them have identities or are part of traditions that have been shamed or marginalized by the power systems of Christianity. They’ve been pushed outside the camp, followed Jesus, bearing his shame. Pretty much to a person, my friends and colleagues and mentors in the faith now are people of color in the way of Jesus, they are queer Christians, or they are allies to them, not just allies in mind but people who have borne some cost from their allegiance. 

It’s not about identity, really, I don’t think, it’s about people that have walked with Jesus in self-giving love, to the point that if they haven’t been forced outside the camp, they’ve walked outside the camp with others, knowing Jesus’ love and joy, but also bearing his shame. 

And lastly, friends, I invite you, I encourage and hope for you to:

3. Engage with Jesus, and the Spirit of Jesus he called the Companion.

If you’ve deconstructed part of your faith and need to figure out your way forward, hey, maybe not just religion, but if you ever finding yourself in any part of your life, needing to reevaluate, to redo, to walk away, to tear down and rebuild, then Jesus knows the way.

The Jesus we meet in the Bible’s four gospels, whose life is self-giving love and whose words are life, and the Jesus who is always with us and within by faith, the Spirit of Jesus, the gift of God Jesus called the Companion. The advocate, the counselor, the person of God who comes alongside. This Jesus knows the way. 

This is why we’re still a Jesus-centered church, anchored in the way of Jesus, the decolonizing tradition of Jesus. This is why I still read bits of the gospels just about every single day. This is why when we can be still and know that God is here, we seek to remember that the Spirit of Jesus is with us, and we seek to pay attention to what the Companion has to say, has to give. 

The way of Jesus is the way of self-given love, of self-giving love. It’s the way of a just mercy, of a wide and beautiful communion, of an entirely liberating love. 

So now, let’s go to him outside the camp, bearing his shame.

14 We don’t have a permanent city here, but rather we are looking for the city that is still to come.

It’s coming, friends. Keep building, keep walking in the way. 

I’ll close in prayer with the words of the Psalm I meant to also include in this sermon.

Psalm 107:33-36 (Common English Bible)

33 God turns rivers into desert,

watery springs into thirsty ground,

34 fruitful land into unproductive dirt,

        when its inhabitants are wicked.

35 But God can also turn the desert into watery pools,

    thirsty ground into watery springs,

36     where he settles the hungry.

They even build a city and live there!