Saying Hello By Saying Goodbye
This week Facebook sent me a memory of something I posted five years ago. It was bittersweet to say the least. It was a collection of photos of my daughter Colleen and I as we drove from Michigan to California. It was a bittersweet because on one hand we were saying goodbye to a toxic work situation that was damaging my ministry and hurting my family. And yet, to do so, we had to say goodbye to so many people we had grown close to and loved very dearly.
Today is another such bittersweet moment in that we’re saying goodbye to something that is dear to us, our church name. Yet, in doing so, we welcome a new way to gather and live out the gospel of love together. While a part of me is excited about the new venture, there is a part of me that feels like we are abandoning our baby.
As we all know, good-byes are never easy. For those of us who follow the way of Jesus, we are given the assurance that we are never really saying goodbye. But more like saying, “I’ll see you later.” It might sound like a bit of semantic gymnastics, but it does offer us a bit of hope. Especially when the world around us seems so full of hopelessness.
I’m sure the disciples had no idea what to expect when they dropped their nets and left their homes to follow Jesus. I couldn’t tell you if it was easy or hard for them. If their life, in the short term, got better or worse. What I do know is as they stepped into that space between, they did so together, in community. Jesus knew this would be no easy task. And so, before he leaves them, Jesus assures them that he will always be with them, only in a new way.
READ: John 14:15-24
Let’s begin by setting the scene. Jesus is reclining at the table with his disciples. Their bellies are full of the last Passover meal they will share together. During the evening, Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples, including the betrayer. And he’s switched from referring to them as his students, to calling them his friends.
In the previous verses, Jesus tells the crew that he will no longer be with them. He is going away. When asked where he’s going, Jesus simply tells them “I’m going away to prepare a place for you.” His vagueness makes his friends anxious. I’m sure they have a million more questions. But John only gives us Jesus’ answer that they will not be left orphaned.
When I was looking for a passage to mark this occasion, I found myself drawn to this one because of the assurance Jesus gives to his friends and followers, who are us. A new teacher will come after Jesus who will move with us in that space between. That teacher, according to Jesus, is the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Truth.
Some translations say Advocate instead of teacher. But I like how Eugene Peterson in the Message uses the word “friend” instead. There’s something personal about it.
Whichever way the Holy Spirit is defined, the sentiment is the same. God has given us a teacher to teach us, an advocate to stand with us, and a friend to comfort us as we face the challenges ahead. Keeping this knowledge safe in our hearts, we know we will always have Christ with us as we move together in Anamesa. Thus, Jesus isn’t saying good-bye. Simply, “I will see you later.” He might have a new name, but his mission remains the same.
So how does this apply to us, today? We know that the Bible tells us Jesus will see his disciples again – post resurrection. That’s not what I’m talking about. Nor am I talking about seeing Jesus again in that place where he said he’s going to prepared for us. I’m talking about seeing him right now, in that space between heaven and earth. In the way we walk with intention, together in Anamesa.
Let’s go back to that room, and sit around the table with Jesus’ friends. Amid the anxiety and uncertainty, Jesus reminds us all, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The two greatest commandments, according to Jesus, are loving God and loving others. If we love him, we will make this our sole mission in life. Because by keeping his commandments we will see him, again and again, in every space we enter.
We will see him in the face of the poor, and in the eyes of the one’s crying out for help. We will see him in the line at the food pantry getting groceries for his family. Or marching on our streets in protest to the injustice that remains unbridled. For when we care for another, we are caring for Jesus. Likewise, when we show love to another, we do also to him.
So, here’s the thing…if you say you love Jesus, then you can’t help but love those who you meet in all the sacred spaces of life. The call to love is first a call to Jesus: to know him, to live his life, and to walk his path. When we walk as he walked, we can love as he loved, and see others as he saw them – as beloved children made in God’s image.
Therefore to love Jesus is to be forever connected to God. When we are connected to God, we are able to see God’s Son in all things. When we recognize this, that God is in all things, then we will be able to love others as if we are loving Jesus himself. Love is the spirit by which we must move ourselves and this church forward. God gives us the Holy Spirit to get us there by reminding us of who Jesus is. And what we are called to do.
God has given us the same Holy Spirit that was given to Jesus, who sees a person open to salvation when the world only sees a conniving tax collector.
God has given us the same wisdom that was given to Jesus, who sees someone who can reclaim a pure life, when the world sees only a woman caught in adultery, or a criminal pleading for mercy.
God has given us the same power that was given to Jesus, who sees a solid foundation for the church when the world sees only Peter, a man of flimsy faith.
This should make us all pause to wonder what Jesus sees in you and me. Or what others notice too. When a person looks at you, do they only see what’s wrong with the world, or do they see the One who redeems it?
In the absence of a physically present Jesus, our daily practice of walking in his way makes the presence and love of God come to life in the world.
This was our intention when I first gathered with about 35 other people in that space behind me to say hello to this new church plant here in Sherman oaks. Over that time we have learned the way of Jesus. We’ve learned what it means to be disciples and followers and lovers of the Christ.
Today, we gather from all over the place to say good-by to a name, but our mission remains the same. We will keep our focus on loving God, loving others and serving both. This is the Way of Jesus. The way of God’s salvation, for us and for the world. Now we are being called to live that Way so others can learn from us.
It won’t be long before Jesus’ friends realize that they too are not saying goodbye to their beloved teacher, but are in fact saying hello to the rest of their lives. And that they will always see him in all the ways they live out the gospel. Now it’s our turn to join them as we look ahead, moving forward, onward and upward welcoming every new day as a new opportunity to see Jesus and bring his way to life.
Just as we welcome Jesus into our hearts, let us welcome his Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, the creator of all life.
Just as we have opened our hearts to Christ, let us also open our hearts to the Spirit of Truth, the gift of God to empower the people of God to move throughout the world as the visible presence of God’s Incarnate love.
And let us join together, in the name of our Creator, our Savior, and our Sustainer, to not just enter the holy and sacred spaces of life, but to define what it means to live in Anamesa, the place where we can always see Jesus, and forever be with him, to the glory of his name, Amen.
Let us pray:
Bodies. Not Buildings.
If you have been following me on social media, you know that it’s KNOWvember. That time of the year where I challenge myself to meet 30 new people in 30 days.
This year, I asked my friends to send me names of people, as well as places and things I should know about. Turns out, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know.
Like Champing, which is when people will actually pay money to camp in church buildings that have been abandoned or closed down for one reason or another. I’m sure some of you see the irony here. If only they gave money while the churches were open, they could sleep there for free every Sunday morning.
Repurposing churches isn’t some new trend. Years ago, our cousin bought an old English church and transformed it into her summer home. This is happening all over the world. In Boston, the Holy Trinity church is now high-end condos. In the Netherlands, an abandoned cathedral became a beautiful bookstore. I even found a church online that became a skate park.
In my lifetime I have visited a lot of holy places around the world. But if I were to go Champing in any one of them, well it would have to be the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, Spain. My first time there, I just stood in the naive and wept. It is the most beautiful and colorful and imaginative place I’ve ever been.
This impressive and awe-inspiring church was the life work of the brilliant artist Antoni Gaudí, who began the project knowing he’d never see it through completion. My friend Julian once asked me “What would be that one project you’d like to do, knowing that you would never see it completed in your life time?”
He had me write my answer in a sketch book I was holding. I just recently looked in that book since writing my answer in it. And do you know what project I wrote down? “To redefine what church is.”
In two weeks, we will become Anamesa. I have no idea what it will look like or become. But I know how and where it will begin. Not inside a building. But in a faithful heart where God has been champing all along.
Today, Jesus and his disciples are leaving the Jerusalem Temple for the last time. When someone in his group makes a comment on its impressive size, Jesus had this to say:
Read Mark 13:1-2
To say the Jerusalem Temple was an architectural achievement might be an understatement. Today, it’s still considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. And for good reason. King Herod spared no expense to impress the wealthiest and most powerful rulers of his era. Scripture tells us that the Temple was the center of Jewish worship. And because of its geographical location, we could argue it put God in the center of the known world.
According to historical records, the Temple was roughly 3 football fields wide by 5 football fields long. The enormous stones of its foundation, the one’s referred to in this story, each measured 40 feet. The façade of the main entrance was covered with so much silver and gold that in the bright sunlight it blinded anyone who looked at it. It had sprawling courtyards, grand porches, covered walkways, and a monumental staircase that was a spectacular sight for sure.
The paint wasn’t even dry on the place when Jesus very publicly declared, it would “all will be thrown down.” So you can imagine the shock the disciples must have felt when they heard it. You’d think they’d be used to Jesus saying weird things like this. But back at the campsite, they press him to reveal exactly when it all will happen.
Read Mark 13:3-8
In light of all the bad news that is fed to us every day, I can see why some are uneasy with this apocalyptic passage. Like Roger Nishioka writes, “Towering buildings are not supposed to crumble. Oceans are not supposed to leap out of the sea and flood miles inland. The ground is not supposed to shake under our feet. The sky is not supposed to form a funnel cloud and destroy the town. But all who have watched the world trade towers collapse, seen a tsunami flood a nation, experienced an earthquake or suffered through the powerful tornado know that such events happen.”
If we think about all the storms we have weathered in the last 18 months, it’s hard to find any comfort when Jesus says, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Still, it doesn’t stop a few of my friends from using these tragic events to formulate when the second coming of Christ will happen. Many have concluded that time is now.
But Jesus said, “These are just the birth pangs.” In other words, “Something new is coming.” I might be skeptical of my friend’s predictions on the end of the world. But I do sympathize with their troubled spirit.
I was in Indianapolis with my dad for the Men’s Final Four tournament, when I thought the end of the world was upon us. We had just left the restaurant after dinner when we noticed the streets – which had been packed with thousands of partygoers – were now empty. The only thing left were massive puddles and a lingering eerie feeling in the air.
As we walked back to our hotel, we heard a sound in the distance. One we didn’t recognize until the hail started dropping. Empty wet streets. Sirens. Hail. You could say God was giving us a pretty clear warning that something bad was about to come. We needed to get to safety. And fast.
Now my real fear kicked in when I realized we were standing in the middle of an empty stadium parking lot. I could see our hotel in the distance, but it was still a couple of blocks away. With nowhere to hide, we took off running. And made it to our hotel room just as the tornado touchdown on the very spot we had been standing.
Still wet with rain, I was freaked out while my dad stretched out on the bed and began to read a book without a care in the world. To his credit, we don’t know when the end time will come. But we do know that we have been give this time to live, not in fear but in faith.
So, it’s hard for me to imagine Jesus is using weird apocalyptic imagery to scare his disciples. Perhaps they were obsessing a little too much over what he was telling them. And perhaps Jesus said those things to remind them where to place their faith and focus.
This is a wakeup call for us as well. We, like the disciples, can lose focus trying to figure out the signs of the time. We often allow politics, work, and bad news to take our eyes off the more important mission – to witness to the Good News that Jesus has ushered in.
Let’s be real, we don’t know when Christ will come again. But we do know that Christ has already come and instructed us on what we are to do today. As long as there are natural disasters and human error that cause God’s children to suffer, there’s work to be done. This is a good of place as any to begin defining what church is.
Let’s go back to the Jerusalem Temple. Again, it was an impressive and marvelous structure. Yet, just as Jesus said, it was completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., roughly 30 years after it was completed. And life still went on.
In the mid fourth century, Constantine built the Hagia Sophia to be the centerpiece of all Christendom. It was so stunning that when Muslim invaders seized Constantinople in 1453, they spared this incredible Cathedral, believing it was a doorway to heaven.
For the next 600 years they used it as a mosque. But today it’s a museum as life goes on.
St Peter’s Basilica, which is the home church of the Pope himself, draws millions of people through its doors every year. While it might be fun to go Champing under the roof of the Sistine Chapel, it seems contradictory to what God is calling us to do: to get out of the building and be in the world as the visible presence of God’s redemptive love.
God wants us out in the world defining what it means to be the church, the very body of Christ himself. Because the way I see it, of all the millions of churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues out there, not one is as beautiful or as impressive or stunning as you.
God doesn’t need a building. God needs bodies. God needs you and me to show up in the holy and sacred space of life where there is real hurt and real pain and a real need for God’s presence. Buildings can be destroyed or invaded or simply shut down because of lack of funds or interest; proving that things made by human hands are temporary. But we are made by God’s hands. In God’s image. And through Christ Jesus, we are made everlasting.
As St. Peter writes, we are “Living stones...chosen and precious in God’s sight...to be built into a spiritual house...through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). No fire, earthquake, or global pandemic can destroy what God has done in the world. Nor can it disrupt what God is doing right now. With us and for us through our Lord.
In two weeks, we will kick off Advent with a new name. We chose this day, not because it’s the new church year, but because it marks a season of waiting for something greater to come. I’ll admit I have my moments of fear. I worry what changing our name might do with what we’ve already built.
I see this gospel story as a reminder to be faithful in our waiting because something new is unfolding. Weird things happen that we have no control over. We can’t predict what is to come. But no matter what happens, we can prevail because we are the body of Christ, which not even death can destroy.
Anamesa isn’t just a name. It’s a way to walk, and run, and cry, and laugh, and sing, and worship and love together in that space between. It is a way we come together in the name of Christ Jesus, to define the church, fully and faithfully.
It is a way for us to show up together, as the light and love of Christ himself to meet the needs of those crying out. It’s a way to bring hope, and peace, and healing and restoration in our divided world where today it’s needed badly.
In Anamesa, we can share our hearts and grow God’s family, as brothers and sisters, not enemies or rivals. We can be more than just followers of Jesus, we can be his church, his mission, and his salvation.
As we walk together in his name, we can and will weather the storms of life. And if we are lucky, we might even get a good night’s sleep. Be it in some old building or out in that space between.
A space we call Anamesa.
Let us pray:
Content collected from original sermons on Nov. 15, 2015 and Nov 18, 2018.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B. Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009)
Sent Among Wolves
Last night my wife and I went to a couple’s costume party. Although I had a wonderful time, at this point I my life I’m just going to admit that I’m not a big fan of such affairs. I like parties. It’s the costumes that bother me.
But the truth is, I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I want to get to know a person as they are, not who they pretend to be. I mean, don’t we wear enough disguises already?
I’m tired of the masks people hide behind. They’re no different than the walls we put around ourselves that keep people from getting to know who we really are. And on top of that, I feel like we’ve grown more accustomed to tricking people than treating them.
Call me an idealist, but I believe we don’t have to live like that. Nowhere in the bible does Jesus tell us to put on a disguise or to hide who we really are. In fact, Jesus said the opposite.
As we will see in our reading for today, Jesus sends his disciples out into the world with nothing more than the gospel to cover them. He sends them out, in Anamesa, to go door-to-door, not to get more Snickers and Smarties, but to proclaim something sweeter than candy. Before we go there, let us pray for the Holy Spirit to be with us in our time together.
READ: Matthew 10:5-20
This year marks the first time we will be without our kids on Halloween. Each one of our children has decided to go trick or treating on their own with their friends. I know they’re old enough, and hopefully smart enough, to manage without parental supervision, but it still seems odd to send them out there, like sheep without a shepherd to watch over them.
If Jesus is who the bible makes him out to be, I’m sure he had some reservations about sending his disciples out for the first time. Though he specifically sent them into Jewish communities, Jesus did so knowing how vulnerable they’d be; “like sheep in the midst of wolves.”
This isn’t the first time Jesus said something like this. Earlier in Matthew’s gospel he told his disciples to “Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:12). In both instances Jesus warns us that people aren’t always who they appear to be. I guess, costumes and disguises aren’t only brought out for Halloween.
For the Twelve to be successful on this quick mission trip, they must, according to Jesus, combine the wisdom of a serpent with the harmlessness of a dove. This seems like an unlikely duo. Biblically speaking, the proverbial view of a serpent is “crafty” and “shrewd” like the one we meet in the Garden of Eden. Is Jesus telling us to be sneaky and deceiving?
The dove, on the other hand, was thought of as innocent and harmless, even today, they’re used as symbols of peace, while snakes are used as warning of danger. Maybe Jesus telling us to be peacemakers, even though he knows there’s real danger in doing so.
Sharing the gospel is risky business. Especially when you’re being asked to do it like Jesus did. To go out in the world without any disguises to hide behind. Jesus sends the Twelve without any money, shoes or other comforts. He wants them to take nothing but the love of God in their hearts. I’m sure you can imagine that requires one to be both skillful and kind.
Of course, the world, then as it is now, was purposefully hostile to Jesus’ message – no different than wolves who are intentional about the harm they inflict upon sheep. If we are going to follow Jesus, then we must do so purposefully to avoid becoming predatory ourselves.
To take the name Christians means we will shape our lives like Christ, with nothing more than the intention to only do God’s will. Somewhere along the way, I fear many of us have forgotten this. You don’t have to look beyond the front page to find someone who pretends to be one thing on the outside, while on the inside they’re nothing more than ravenous wolves.
Even in the church, there are those who say they love Jesus, but then go and hate their neighbor. That just won’t do. St John the Apostle reminds us, “Whoever says they love God and hates their brother or sister is a liar. For those who do not love someone they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
There’s no place for such deception and disguise in God’s kingdom. If you say you follow Jesus than you have to be like him – walk his path, speak his words, live his love, practice his way…even if the world kills you for doing so.
The Bible is very clear about one thing. Jesus is who he says he is. He practices what he preaches, lives out what he teaches. He doesn’t hide behind the law, but willingly exposes his vulnerability through his compassion.
Jesus is wise like a snake who avoided being caught in the many traps his enemies laid for him (Mark 8:11; 10:2; 12:13). And he was also as innocent as a dove, constantly inviting his enemies to find fault in him (John 8:46; 18:23). Three times, Pilate failed to find any deficiency in his character (John 18:38; 19:4, 6).
Jesus is our mirror. Like him, we too must balance between being a dove and a serpent, because the world is going to try its hardest to tear us down. We must strive to be gentle without being pushovers, and kind without being taken advantage of.
Like St. Peter wrote to the churches, we need to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they will still see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).
This is a good reminder for us, especially as we step into that sacred space of life and all its messiness. As we enter Anamesa, may we never lose sight of the truth that we are the one’s Jesus is sending to announce the good news to bring healing, reconciliation, and love to the world. What this will look like is anyone’s guess. All I know is that we must begin.
Now, I’m pretty sure those first Twelve were unsure about what to do. I’m positive they too were nervous and scared to step outside their close circle of friends knowing there were wolves waiting for them. Jesus knows the dangers that await us all. And yet he still sends us out there. He sends us because Jesus also knows the world is still hurting, grieving, and suffering.
But here’s the assurance we are given. Jesus sent the Twelve, like he sends us, with the power of the Holy Spirit by their side. For it’s not us, or our abilities, that bring God’s love into the world. It is the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that empowered Jesus to be wise and innocent.
With the Holy Spirit in us, we can drop the masks and leave our costumes at home. We can go out into the world wearing nothing more than God’s glory so that when people see us they only see love, mercy and grace welcoming them. We don’t need to take anything with us, outside a Christlike heart and a desire to do God’s will.
While it’s fun to dress up and pretend to be a zombie, or action figure or someone from Harry Potter, Jesus sends us, naked and vulnerable, into our own communities – our families, friendships, workplaces, and social groups – to bring the good news to those who hurting, searching, or suffering in pain.
Jesus is sending us, into Anamesa, to face the wolves of fear, rage, racism, and resentment, which we tend to wear to hide our hopelessness, despair, emptiness, and pain. Jesus sends us out to name those things and heal them.
We are his people, his sacred body, entrusted with his crucified heart and hands to lift one another up, to bear one another’s pain, and redeem everyone back to God’s loving and open arms.
As you leave here today, I invite you to leave your costumes and masks as well. God has no use for them. But God has a use for you. I also challenge you to be bold in your faith, believing that through Christ Jesus, God has already blessed you and prepared and empowered you to enter into any and every space proclaiming the good news, “The Kingdom of God has come near.”
The time has come also for us to shake the dust off our feet and go – wise as serpents and innocent as doves – to share God’s love in the world by being nothing more than God’s love for all.
Let us pray:
It's Everyone's Job
It’s Everyone’s Job Hebrews 4:14-5:10
October 17, 2021
This week I’m visiting San Diego State University, where my daughter and 33,000 other students attend school. Each one hoping to find their place in the world. Be it engineering, applied sciences, or global business, whatever they are looking for the school’s website boasts this is the place to power your dreams.
When I graduated from college, I never dreamt of going back. I had enough formal education for one life. But God had other dreams for me and empowered me to go to grad school. And well…here we are, ready to live, love and learn how to be like Jesus. Whether or not you went to college, if you follow Christ, you are his disciple. A student of his way.
At the end of the day, we are all students learning how to manage this world. And this life we are given is but one long lesson. But there always comes a time when the student is called to be the teacher, sharing whatever wisdom they’ve pick up along the way.
It might not come as a surprise that the one person in my life whose life lessons have been the most influential is Jesus of Nazareth. An unknown author, wrote this which speaks to one particular way Jesus moves us from student to teacher
READ Hebrews 4:14-16
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested[a] as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
When I finally decided to give in to my call to ministry, my dad suggested I speak with my childhood pastor, Bob Walkup. I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but boy am I glad I called. Because Bob said something that has stuck with me ever since. In his soft-spoken southern voice, he said, “Ian, you’ve always been a minister.” It wasn’t until I was thinking about this passage, that I fully grasped what Bob meant.
Although this priestly description in Hebrews is about Jesus, it also speaks to who we are as his students, his disciples. More than students, we are called to teach others about God’s redeeming love. Which means we are all called to be ministers.
I bet that’s the last word you’d use to describe yourself. I hold a theology degree and ordination papers, and even I hesitate to call myself that because of the negative connotations attached to it. And lets honest, there are times when I barely understand my own faith muchless know how to manage others. I constantly wonder why God wants someone like me to teach the world about love, especially God’s love? Who am I? What do I know?
After decades of trying to figure it out, I’ve come to this conclusion: God uses our brokenness and failures to minister to the world. I mean that’s what God does; uses foolishness and weakness to humble the wise and strong. The cross and resurrection say it all.
How you’ve learned to deal with addiction, pain, grief, rejection, or any other challenge you’ve faced, all speak to God’s redemptive work on your life. It might not be the prettiest or happiest way to go about it, but every story you’ve ever written, God will use to tell a greater story. The redemption story of Christ Jesus, our High Priest.
Now, I used to hate the scar that cancer gave me. Most people don’t see it. But every time I looked in the mirror it just screamed at me - reminding and reprimanding me of my past. Then one day I was sitting with a person undergoing chemo. It was my first time meeting her, and instead of preaching a bunch of platitudes that might help her feel better, I showed her my scar. This ugly line was the bridge between us.
Because we shared a story, we quickly formed a close bond that allowed us to trust one another and minister to each other from our hearts and hurts. Now when I see this line across my neck, I no longer think about what I might have done to have caused it. Instead, I think of what God did to redeem it.
Whatever you’re experiencing, your story is a part of God’s great story. One we share with Jesus himself. By his own pain and suffering Jesus blessed our scars and ordained our stories. Misfits, addicts, saints, and sinners alike are all called to be ministers, preaching and teaching God’s great love to the world.
Sure, it might be my job to do the churchy things – like teaching Bible stuff and leading worship. But Jesus made it very clear that we all share the responsibility to pray for one another, forgive each other, and to care for the burdens of the least of these our brothers and sisters.
As disciples of Jesus, as students of Christ, our job in life is to continue his ministry – to teach the good news of God’s redemptive love in all the ways we love one another. I’m sure if you look at your own story, you will see how you have always been a minister whether you were trying or not.
A met a man who’s been helping a Vet deal with PTSD. He confessed he doesn’t really do much but listen and offers the guy a safe space to let it all out. Do you think this guy knew he was imitating Christ who heard the cries of people and showed sympathy towards them?
I’m part of an organization that helps people living with food insecurities. The folks who come don’t care if I’m a minister or not. But in each bag of groceries, each loaf of bread offered, God’s love and provision is proclaimed.
Sometimes the smallest acts of kindness are all we need to do to show the world just how big and inclusive God’s love really is.
Again, it’s not just my job to listen to or comfort others, it’s yours as well. We are all pastors called to offer hope. Each one of us a priest given the ability to sanctify any situation. Every one of us is a minister called to preach God’s love by being God’s love as Christ taught us to do.
The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as the Great High Priest. He is the one who is in charge of offering gifts and sacrifices to God on behalf of the people for their sins. Now, the literal meaning of the word “priest” is “bridge.” That is to say, Jesus is the bridge between God’s desire and our needs.
But if you know the gospel story, you know Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time in the temple with the official High Priest. Instead, he walked the dirty streets. And entered our messy homes to redeem us. He comes to where we are and blesses our stains and smells. And comforts our wounds and pain. This is his story; one he used to teach and empower us do the same.
Jesus is calling us to be ministers; to put on our clerical collar and open our pastoral heart and be that bridge between heaven and earth.
We don’t need to be perfect for God to use us. We don’t need to be straight A students or go to the best schools. We just need to be more like Jesus - obedient and faithful to our calling to the best of our ability. God will do the rest.
Wherever hunger or injustice is present, we too must be present. Wherever there are sick and dying people, or captives and prisoners we are called to share our story of God’s redemptive love right there in Anamesa – in that space between the messiness of faith and life; right in the middle of it all.
May we all go with the intention to be the bridge between earthly and Divine so all lives might find true healing and peace. And so, all people can thrive in their stories as God has always desired. May we all go out and testify to God’s greatest glory – teaching the world with your heart and hand, and like St. Francis added, “Using words only when necessary.”
Let us pray:
Lord Christ, help us today to be more like you and less like ourselves. As we walk in your footsteps, may your peace guide us and follow us so others can share in your glory. Amen.
Adapted from a sermon entitled You've Been Called on October 22, 2018.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4. Westminster John Knox: 2009.
God Is Here. And There.
I had a wonderful conversation with an old friend the other night, catching up after a long absence due to the pandemic.
I learned her daughter, who had been suffering with adolescent depression, had had an incredible turn around since going away to college. I wasn’t too surprised because I know her school is in northern California. And that it’s nestled in a majestic forest along the wild, rugged coastline.
Like me, my friend’s daughter has always been drawn to the outdoors and loves to discover and explore the hidden mysteries of the natural world. I’ve come to learn that there’s something magical, and even medicinal, among the flora and fauna. When I’m in nature I always feel grounded and closer to something greater than myself.
I call that something, God.
Seeing the world this way has helped me realize that God is always with me, which has come in handy when I’m feeling lost or alone. Before you accuse me of being some weird, new-age, hippy-dippy freak, let me remind you that the Bible provides many examples of God revealing God’s self to us in nature.
There’s the story of Adam and Eve hanging out with God in the garden. Moses meeting God in a burning bush. Elijah hearing God in the silence of the air. And of course, Jesus who frequently wondered off in nature to be alone with his heavenly Father.
But there’s also this psalm, where the poet looks at creation and draws this portrait of the Creator.
READ Psalm 104:1-9
Viewing the world as artistically as the writer of Psalm 104 does, anyone who loves God should want to nurture, protect, and love the earth as much as God does. Not only do we need it to sustain our life, and the life of future generations, but like Francis taught us nature is God’s greatest missionary.
The rain and wind and even mosquitos remind us of God’s goodness. Jesus tells us that it’s in the lilies of the field and the birds of the air we discover God’s faithfulness and provision (Mt. 6:28-30). He taught us that with every gust of wind we are reminded to live our lives trusting God’s Spirit (John 3:8). Even the Apostle Paul wrote that nature testifies to God’s existence, thus we have no excuse not to know God (Rom. 1:20).
As I learned from St. Francis, God is here. And there. And everywhere. Every living thing is a divine revelation that reveals God’s beauty, glory, power, wisdom, presence, and, most of all, God’s loving care for us. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to spend time in nature. I want to always be surrounded by God’s wondrous love.
A few years ago, I was on a silent retreat in Cleveland. Sitting in this little hidden nook tucked away in the forest, I sat still with my eyes closed listening to the leaves and birds singing. Before I realized, an hour had passed. When I opened my eyes, I saw three baby deer standing within arm’s reach of me. This divine trinity reminded me just how close God really is to us.
There’s a passage in the book of Job that says, “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being (Job 12: 7-10).
From the smallest of insects to the vastness of the galaxies, creation proclaims the unspoken glory of God’s love for us. We are a part of creation, so what then is our testimony to God’s love?
If we say we love God, then our love of God’s creation must also be honored. Kathleen Bostrom writes, “A love for God’s creation is enhanced when we see the heavens and earth through the eyes of the Creator, who took the time to stop after every object created to declare, “This is good.” This is good. That is good. You are good. I am good.
Rats, moths, elephants and donkeys are all made good because of God’s great love. Once Francis realized this, he began to revere every living thing; often referring to the sun and moon and trees as “brother” and “sister.” Like Henri Nouwen put it, “Everything in creation belongs to the large family of God.”
When we pause to recognize this interconnectedness between nature and humanity, it’s hard not to stand in reverence with our souls lifted “in wonder and awe.”
In 2011, I took a life-changing trip to Tanzania. I spent ten days in the Serengeti, completely blown away discovering how animals are really no different than us. They played, napped, conversed, looked for food. I even saw an elephant discipline his child for pestering her little brother.
The world is full of God’s imagination and creativity. And we are a part of it. This really became clear to me there at night under a canopy of stars. With no artificial light to block the view, I was blown away by their brilliance. The sheer number rendered me speechless.
One night, and I’ll never forget this, I imaged myself diving into heaven, into a pool of shimmering and shining lights that were calling out to me. As I dove in and became one with that celestial body, I swear I heard God whisper in the wind, “This is good.”
I think this is what God wanted me to witness. Had my eyes not been open by the faith of St. Francis, I might have overlooked that Divine presence right there with me. I might not have learned what my worth is to God who made us out of stardust and declared us good.
That is why it is so important for us all to take the time to be in nature; to be present in creation and show gratitude to our Creator.
Whether it’s in a forest, or at the park, in the ocean, nature gives us endless opportunities to let your heart sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” To live life without taking notice of the world around you is to miss out on one of the most tangible and beautiful ways God speaks to us.
This is important to remember as we enter Anamesa, that sacred space in between heaven and earth. As we move, we must do so with intention, with our eyes on God whose is revealed in the faces of our brothers and sisters. Not just in puppies or trees but in the hungry, the tired, the sick, and the dying as well.
As we close that gap between us and them, may we do so willingly and tirelessly - like Jesus and Francis did – sharing the good news of God by being a place for God to be present for others. This is how we humans testify to God’s glory: by proclaiming it in all the ways we love one another, as God loves us.
Like I learned from St. Francis, wherever there is life, there also is God. And like I learned from Jesus, wherever God is, there is love.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t things in this world that won’t try to trip you or trap you. Although Jesus often retreated to the mountains and wilderness to be with God, it was also out there he was tempted to take his eyes off God and place his heart on the world.
Our world, with all its bright lights and glitter likes to promise us power and prestige if only we bow down and worship it. Some people are confused, placing their faith and even their worship on the things of the earth. Neither Jesus nor Francis worshipped creation. But both kept their devotion and loyalty to its Creator.
God reveals God’s self to us in the most amazing ways, not so we can make an idol or religion out of it but so we will always see God and set our hearts right within it.
It is my hope that you leave here today with your eyes and heart forever focused on the One who made them. The one whose providence and promises have been set since the beginning of all creation.
By looking at the world around us, by being present and alert, may we always receive God’s love and reflect it back into the world. Be it here and there and everywhere.
By our faith, we a part of Christ’s body. And by grace we are a part of God’s holy family. We are, and always have been, God’s beloved. Beautifully and perfectly made in the divine image of the One who whispers to us in the wind, “this is good.”
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
Nouwen, Henri. Bread For The Journey. (Convergent, 1997).
Beauty Is Within Us All
At first glance, the writer of this psalm sounds like an influencer whose life is too good to be true. Whoever it is, seems to have no problem tooting his or her own horn.
Imagine this as a post today. A beautiful selfie of a person bathed in Jerusalem’s famous golden light. The Temple in the background. Clear blue eyes looking towards the heavens with a dreamlike gaze. Underneath the caption simply reads “Integrity, unwavering trust and faithfulness.” It ends with the hashtag #perfectlyblessed.
I’ll admit, I wish I had this person’s bold confidence. The psalmist is so cocksure, almost begging God to be proven as anything less than perfect. But I know that those things which look perfect on the surface aren’t like that underneath the veneer. We all have blemishes that can’t be cropped or photoshopped out.
If we look beyond the filters and make-up we can see, interspersed among the bluster and bravado of this psalm, hints that reveal this person’s world is not so perfect. Just as a social influencer turns to the app for affirmation, this psalmist turns to God for approval; pleading “Redeem me and be gracious.” This person seems confident, but only to a point. Without God validating their thoughts and actions, their faith is unsteady. And unsteady faith can easily fall away into oblivion.
A good therapist might describe this as a codependent relationship in which one person’s worth is based on the approval of another. Influencers like Jessica have a codependent relationship with their followers. In this psalm, it seems like the poet believes his or her worth hinges on God’s grace. Is that really a bad thing?
The truth is, we all have limitations on how far we can go on our own. The shallow love the world has to offer eventually dries up. When our fifteen minutes of fame are over, the world moves on. That is not the case with God’s divine love. It never runs outs. But continues to overflow like a never ending spring. Thus the psalmist writes, “Your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.”
This is our reminder that our focus ought to be on God and not on how many likes or views we get. The difference between chasing after that little blue thumb of approval and God’s love is simple. The more I try to get you to like this post, the more Facebook changes the algorithm to keep this cycle going. But God’s love is steadfast, unwavering. It never changes. God is just as faithful and kind today as God has always been. And will always be.
We need to stop looking at others for direction and approval. Instead, let us keep our eyes on God like a sea captain looking to the stars for bearing. By keeping your gaze upon God, you set the bearings of your faith and heart to move in the right direction.
We might not be perfect, but God is constantly moving us towards divine perfection. But are we willing to follow God there?
The great Trappist monk Thomas Merton often prayed, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I’m going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”
At the heart of this psalm is a desire to please God, and that, my friend, is enough to please God. As Kathleen Bostrom notes, “God seeks our affection and delights in our devotion.” You see, God isn’t asking us to be piously perfect. God knows our faults. More importantly, God knows our hearts – the very place God has etched a divine imprint in us all.
It’s that imprint that draws us together to God. To paraphrase Richard Rohr, “God can’t help but love us because God is always being drawn to God’s love in us.” We’re not so much dependent or reliant on God’s steadfast love as much as we are already a part of it. Our task, then, is to receive and reflect that divine image of God in the world.
To be like the psalmist who focuses on the unwavering kindness of God, and then builds a right life upon that foundation. When our focus is on God, then our hearts are moving in the right direction.
Now there’s one more thing I want to point out. Something that speaks to a problem that is infecting us all, and has used social media to spread it. The poet’s words are a warning to us not to put on a mask of righteousness - especially in some feeble attempt to please God, because it doesn’t work that way.
To boast, “I’m a saint compared those people over there” grossly undermines the good news of God’s redemptive love made manifest in Christ Jesus, who declared “the first will be last and the last will be the first” (Mt. 19:30).
The people this poet points out – the worthless, the hypocrites, and evil doers, people who take bribes – are the same kind of folks Jesus loved and cared for. People like you and me. Jesus said, “Do not judge others.” Instead “love them and forgive them as God has done for you.” We do not have the right, nor righteousness, to place ourselves above others. Only God does.
Just as we shouldn’t judge others, we shouldn’t judge ourselves by what others think of us. God is our only judge. And that’s good news. For it’s in God’s nature to be faithful. It’s in God’s nature to be merciful. Although it goes against one’s inclination to reward faithlessness with fairness and mercy, that’s exactly what God does.
Perhaps then, the better way to read this psalm is to picture God as the one penning the poem. For it is not I but God whose intentions and motivations are pure, honorable, upright. It is not I but God who continually and unwaveringly walks in integrity.
It’s not our goodness that saves us but only the goodness of God - a goodness made flesh in the Incarnate Christ, who I think it’s safe to say is still the greatest social influencer of all time.
If we are going to look to any one as a model of perfection, it’s the One who always seeks to offer us forgiveness, hope, and new life.
No matter what we want our life to look like, how perfect we pretend to be, we all have cracks and dings in our armor. We are not perfect people. But we are made perfect by Christ who loves us despite our imperfections.
As you leave here today, I challenge you to enter Anamesa reflecting Christ – meeting every opportunity with a desire to be the visible incarnation of God’s deep and abundant love.
Although we are all equally broken. We are all equally blessed. Though we all have faults and failures, we are all beloved children of God – forgiven not because of how the world sees our worth, but because God made us worthy.
Through Christ, God has washed our hands clean. And fashioned us together as one body, with one heart, and one mind.
Therefore, let us walk in our integrity by walking together with Christ in God’s integrity.
Let us be redeemed, because out of great love for us God in Christ has graciously redeemed us.
Let us walk on level ground because God, through Christ Jesus has straightened the path and leveled the playing field.
When the good news of the gospel is lived out in the way of Christ Jesus, the Kingdom of God is revealed in all its glory. And we become the great congregation that blesses and pleases the Lord, now and forever. Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word Year B Vol. 4. (Westminster John Knox: 2009) pp. 128-133.
Rohr, Richard with Mike Morrell. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. (Whitaker: 2016).
Don't Be Trippin'
From time-to-time I get asked to be a part of other people’s podcast. For some reason, there are some who think I have something to say. Well, some people do. Others have invited me on their show to be the counterpoint to some point they’re trying to make.
For example, last week I was asked to be a guest on this podcast because of my stance on abortion. Now, I’m pretty sure I have never publicly written about or preached on this matter. So, I suspect this invitation was just sent out to a bunch of ministers to see who would take the bait.
Here’s the craziest thing. Those people who reach out to me aren’t atheist or even agnostics like you might expect. They are Christians who believe they have the right to attack people of faith who are simply trying to live right with God.
Our old priest, Fr. Barber, once welcomed with an open heart a young man who wanted to talk to him about Jesus. Even though it was pretty obvious, the young man thought it best to win over Fr. Barber to Christ, or at least “his” version of Christianity. In all the politeness he could summon, Fr. Barber interrupt the guy by asking, “Don’t you know we are playing on the same team?”
I sometimes wonder if the thousands of Christian denominations around the world have forgotten we are all part of the same body. That is the body of Christ who gave his life for us so that we could live in unity and peace.
After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Pres. George W. Bush stood before the cameras and announced to the world “You’re either with us or against us.” His words, spoken to unite the world against a common enemy, have now become a call for divisiveness. You either vote like me or believe what I do, or you’re my enemy.
Every day on social media, we are constantly asked to pick a side even at the expense of healing our country, building real friendships, or getting work done in the Kingdom of God. More and more, the holy scripture is used not as a guide for living a Christ like life, but to claim superiority, or to divide and discriminate, or simply to justify casting out and alienating others who think or worship differently.
In the gospel of Mark, this is what Jesus had to say about it.
READ: Mark 9:38-50.
Demons, Hell, Fire, Salt…It’s like every Iron Maiden song that's ever been recorded. More than promoting their new album, Jesus offers us some straight up advice that is relevant for us today, especially as we move towards Anamesa, that space between where the messiness of life and faith interact.
Having heard a complaint by his disciples that someone outside their inner circle was casting out demons in Jesus' name, Jesus, no doubt, does something unexpected. He sides with those "other people" instead of with his own.
The disciple’s unhappiness reminds me of an old joke about a guy who arrives at the gates of Heaven. St. Peter asks what his religion is and the man says, “Methodist.”
“Wonderful,” says St. Peter, “go to Room 24. But please be very quiet as you pass Room 8.”
Next, came a young lady and when asked the same question, she replies “Catholic.”
“Fantastic” says St. Peter. “Go to Room 18, but please be very quiet as you pass Room 8.”
The next person entering tells St. Peter, “I’m Jewish, like you.” Peter smiles and says, “Go to Room 11 but please be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” The man said, “I can understand there being different rooms for different religions, but why must I be quiet when I pass Room 8?”
St. Peter replies, “Well, the Baptists are in Room 8, and they still think they’re the only ones here.”
We all think we have the right way of doing things; the right interpretation of scripture or the right doctrines. And many believe they will be the only one’s in heaven, like they get to determine that. But in Mark’s passage, Jesus is basically telling his disciples to worry about themselves first. If someone is wasting their time showing kindness in his name, then at least that’s time not spent bad mouthing God.
I think we should all focus first on our own righteousness, before we judge or condemn someone else’s. We don’t know the person’s story, how they got to this place, or why they are doing things the way they do. But we do know our story, and how God is working in our lives. Jesus calls us to look inward, so that our actions don’t become a stumbling block that jeopardizes our faith or anyone else’s.
This is meant as a warning to us all. Even those closest with Jesus carried things in their life that caused them to stumble. Peter had denial. Philip had doubts. James and John thought they were more deserving than the others. And where do we even begin with Judas? We all have things buried deep within us that can jeopardize our faith. Traumas, fears, shame, guilt, regrets, ego…what good do they serve in the Kingdom of God?
I know first hand how holding on to old hurts have held me and others back. Jesus wants us to be untethered from the weight of our past. He wants us to be focused on the present, which leads us to our future. So, he directs our focus inward, to find those things that are stopping us from being fully present in God’s kingdom.
Find them. Name them. And then cut them out like a surgeon does with cancer. Cut off your hand...chop off your foot...pluck out your eye! He uses this gruesome imagery to make an important point. It’s better to show up lame or blind in the Kingdom of God, than to not show up at all.
Now we all know there are things in life that are easier than others to get rid of. A toxic friend, for example, can be deleted and replaced with someone who is nicer. But admitting or dealing with the wounds of sexual assault are hard enough to face much less overcome. Be it simple or hard, Jesus tells us to cut them out of our lives because holding on to them isn’t doing anyone any good.
This leads me our question today: What are the stumbling blocks in your life that are keeping you from truly living into your greatness and faithfulness?
For me, it's self-doubt. I often compare myself to others, never feeling good enough, smart enough, or faithful enough to do what God is calling me to do. I’ve spent years working on stopping this destructive cycle from controlling my life. But just as a surgeon can't operate successfully on his or herself, I lean on Jesus for help.
When the voices of self-doubt arise, I picture Jesus saying, “Stop comparing yourself to others. Be the person God created you to be. And let everyone else be who they’re meant to be.”
Jesus is giving us permission to let go of those things in life that are weighing us down. He invites us to place our burdens at the foot of his cross, where God’s mercy and grace await us all. As we let those things go, we are able to enter Anamesa with the room in our hearts to love others as God loves each and every one of us.
Jesus is calling us to stay focused on what we do here, because what we do in this sacred space matters to our salvation. Our eyes, and hands and feet are meant for doing God’s work.
Whenever you offer a thirsty person something to drink, or provide the means for a hungry person to be fed, that’s one less burden someone else has to carry. Taking the time to do one act of kindness in God’s name is time not spent hating or harming others in God’s name. Jesus points our attention inward so that we can identify and cut out the things that are stopping us from living in Christ likeness.
I’ll say it again. Whatever is stopping you from acting out of love in God’s name, get rid of it. If an old grudge is keeping you from reconciliation, chop it off. If you’re holding on to any deep seeded anger or resentment, pluck it out and throw in the fire. God would rather have you show up to the kingdom blind or lame than to not show up at all.
Christianity, Discipleship, Faith…it’s all about showing up today! God doesn’t hold on to our past, but welcomes us in the present. It is here, in every holy space between you and me, that God shows up in the most unexpected ways.
According to Mark, Jesus began his ministry proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come. It’s here. And happening now. This tells me that every time we show love or initiate peace, we are doing it in God’s Kingdom. Just the same whenever we hate or retaliate against someone, that too happens in the presence of God who gives mercy and grace to those who don’t deserve it.
What we do in this sacred space matters. Jesus is calling us to enter it with intention; loving the unlovable, forgiving the unforgivable. This is hard to do on its own, especially when we are unable to love or forgive ourselves. Jesus is inviting us to participate in God’s kingdom. He has shown us how to bring the love and light of God’s glory into every space we enter. Starting with that space within us.
This week I am challenging you to take a good look within your self. Find any past mistakes and make amends. Let go of any guilt, anger, or hurt that’s holding you back from truly living into your belovedness. By lopping off those things that cause you to stumble – you will be free of your own burdens so you can then help others be free of theirs.
If we all do this, well then the only side left to stand on, will be the side of God’s love. That sacred space where we become one voice, singing one song to the glory of God almighty. Amen.
*Adapted from a sermon originally written on September 29, 2018.
Today, I’d like to begin by telling a true story about Carl. Carl was a man who thought it would be wise to date two women at the same time.
To pull this off, Carl would take each woman on the same date – seeing the same movie, going to the same restaurant or museum, that kind of stuff. Or course, he always sent them the same flowers, bought them the same gifts, and even wrote the same words in the same cards so he wouldn’t slip up.
Carl thought he had it all figured out, which he did until one of the women figured him out. She was actually wise! She found the other woman. And together they hatched a plan to surprise Carl by each one showing up to meet his plane when he arrived home from a business trip. As you might expect, what he thought was wise, those two women ultimately and very publicly proved foolish. Thus, the paradox of life. Wisdom proven with foolishness.
Take last week’s California recall vote. A particular political party thought it would be wise to recall a popular governor. As expected, they lost. But so too did the state, which had to spend $267 million in taxpayer’s money to fund their short-sightedness. I’m sure those behind the recall effort thought what they were doing was sound and reasonable politics. But like Carl, their actions led to a different conclusion - one that ultimately and very publicly proved foolish.
Life is full of paradoxes. Some better than others. Take the case of vaccinations. It seems absurd and contrary to inject a person with the disease you’re trying to save them from. And yet, time and time again, science has proven vaccines to be founded and true.
Christianity is also a paradox. One needs to look no further than the cross to understand what I mean. Think about it. We use the ancient equivalent of the electric chair to demonstrate God’s power. In a world that looks down on weakness and failure, Christians affirm – lifting up a God who chooses the paradoxical to reveal salvation into the world.
Today I want to focus on the cross of Christ, a stumbling block for many. And rightfully so. For what seemed to be the end proved to be the beginning, victory instead of defeat.
The cross, a brutal instrument of death designed to spread fear to all proved to be the very thing that gives us courage. This thing that should have been the basis for despair proved to be the basis for hope. The cross is a paradox by which our faith hangs. And it doesn’t always make sense. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul describes it like this.
READ: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” This is how Paul confronted the wisdom of the Greek philosophers roaming the busy seaport town of Corinth, where the church he founded was struggling with some divisive issues we still face today.
You see, there were some in the church who, like the philosophers, felt that they are smarter than others. So smart, in fact, that they thought they could bend the rules and still be OK. And there were some flexing their social power and wealth over others in the congregation. Amid it all, Paul points to the cross and towards a Savior who willingly become powerless to the very power he came to overthrow. It is a bit odd, don’t you think?
But here’s the thing: God thinks and does things differently. Although we are created in the image of God, God, nevertheless, does things that we humans find surprising; constantly turning our world, all our human wisdom, upside down.
A great king, born not from wealth and power but poverty and weakness. A messiah, who comes not on a warhorse but a young colt to liberate people from their oppressors. Instead of raising an army to overthrow the empire, God choose to be executed by it. In doing so, God took all the power of their most brutal killing machine and made it weak; using death to create life everlasting.
There is the paradox. God using wise foolishness and weak strong. At first, it sounds like an oxymoron, putting two things together that do not go together but are somehow acceptable, like “jumbo shrimp” or “entertaining sermon.”
Pointing towards to the cross of Christ, Paul tells those who think they have it figured out that God’s wisdom is very different from their knowledge. He tells those who exercise their strength and power over others that God’s strength is very different from their ideas of power and might. Wise foolishness. Weak Strong.
Paul is wise to direct our gaze away from ourselves and onto that cross. And directing our focus on the One who hangs on it. It’s not to have us focus on Jesus’ death, but where his death leads us – towards resurrection, our eternal salvation.
To those who reject the notion of resurrection, the cross might seem foolish. I get that. But those of us who know God can do things that seem impossible by human wisdom, the cross of Christ and his resurrection, remind of how far God is willing to go out of great love for us.
God uses death to create eternal life. Jesus taught us that in order to save ourselves we must die unto ourselves. We must pick up our cross daily and follow him; to set aside your former life and embrace a new life, a Christlike life of cruciform love.
By reason alone, Jesus’ death revealed human weakness. In the light of faith, Jesus had a choice; he could have fought the violence of Rome with violence all his own. Instead, he chose to love; even when the cost of that love was suffering and death. Through Jesus’ death, God subverted all of human wisdom and power with one simple act: resurrection. Who would have thought?
In wise foolishness, the strength of God’s love proves death has no real sting. Moreover, the cross tells us that God willingly chooses to love us rather than fight us. This is love that God calls us to enter.
This love calls into question all that we value in this world. During the capitol insurrection last January, the world witnessed thousands of angry protesters, trying to overthrow a democratically elected government. To them, it seemed like a wise thing to do.
As it was with Carl, what they thought wise was proved foolish. Yet their actions revealed how we humans are more enthralled with violent, ravenous power than the nonviolent, self-giving love. The very love of Christ which the cross represents.
When we look at Christ’s cross, we should remember that our ultimate allegiance is not to our country, our family, our job, the economy, a political party or a politician. Our ultimate allegiance is to Christ who gave his life so we might live.
For every Christian, the cross should be our reason to embrace a Christlike, cruciform life of self-giving. It should be our reason to stand in truth when a lie would be easier. To seek gentleness when force is attractive.
A Christlike cruciform life calls us to stand for justice even when it’s not popular to do so. It calls us to practice generosity when hoarding would be more comfortable; to offer forgiveness when a hateful grudge would be more filling. More importantly, it should be our reason to stand together, unified by the paradox of faith.
Because here’s the thing we often forget: Liberals, conservatives, moderates, or progressives are all called the same by Christ who challenges each and every one of us to pick up our cross and follow him; to embrace his way of self-giving love. Yes, to love like him will make us vulnerable yet strong. Wise foolishness for sure. Strong weakness no doubt.
This is the way of God’s undying love - the very thing that saves us. For when we all live such cruciform love in the world, greed no longer rules us, and fear no longer wins. Love does. When we all live in cruciform love, the world is saved from its own destruction, hatred, and bigotry.
Jesus was the perfect example of how to live in such love. And so too are the Amish.
In Michigan, we lived near an Amish community. It was not uncommon to get stuck in traffic behind a horse and buggy. I’ll admit, their rejection of modern life seems so primitive, foolish to say the least. I mean, no Netflix? No Amazon Prime? Who’d want to live in such a world? But this small sect of Christianity has a way of teaching the rest of us, especially Christians, about what it means to truly live life in the paradox of Christ’s cross.
You might remember the story from 2006, when a man nursing a 20-year-old grudge, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and executed five schoolgirls and wounded seven more before turning the gun on himself.
Instead of responding to violence and anger with more of the same, here were people who chose to show the world the power of cruciform love. While the police where still at the scene of the crime, this small Amish community sent delegates to the shooter’s wife and children; offering them both emotional and financial support.
Struggling with their own grief and pain, they summoned a strength that seemed foolish by the world’s standards. Still, they chose to stand up to evil with self-giving love. By living into their call to be Christlike, this Amish community directed the gaze of the world away from violence and hopelessness towards the hope and peace of God’s divine light.
What seems foolish, God makes wise. What seems weak, God makes strong.
As we leave here today, may we all be wise enough to do such foolishness, in the name of the One who saves us by his love.
Bartlett, David L, and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008).
Logue, Frank. The Love That Binds The Universe. epsicopalchurch.org on March 8, 2015 (accessed on September 17, 2021).
Never Forgets Jeremiah 33:14-16
September 12, 2021
Today is September 12th. The day after September 11th. A day that not only reshaped Manhattan’s skyline, but the very soul of our country.
I remember the day very well. Because it was a day that is not easily forgotten. The sun was barely up. And the city of Los Angeles was eerily quiet. And that quiet was interrupted by a frantic phone call from my dear friend Janice.
It took me a moment to register what she was saying. “Turn on the TV, now!” she screamed. By then the second plane had just crashed into the South Tower. Kathleen, who was 8 ½ months pregnant with our first child, awoke as the World Trade Center was engulfed with flames. Together we watched as each tower crumbled to the ground, along with the world we knew.
For those of you who were around 20 years ago, you have your own story about this horrific and tragic day when 19 al-Qaeda terrorists unleashed the deadliest foreign attack on US soil. No matter how we tell our stories, each one always ends with 2,977 men, women, and children dead. And countless family and friends left to pick up the pieces.
Many of you, like me, wrestled with your faith that day. And perhaps caused you to even question God’s faithfulness. May we never forget what the young prophet Jeremiah told us.
READ: Jeremiah 33:14-16
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord.” But on days like September 11, 2001, I can’t help but ask, “When will you come?”
I know as well as you do, that bad things happen every day. Death is inevitable. Not even Jesus, God’s own beloved son, could elude it. But every time I see that plane crash into the second tower, or when I see pictures of the bloody, dust cover rescuers from Ground Zero it makes me wonder if God has forgotten us. Or if God even knows we’re here.
Watching that great, dark cloud bury and choke millions of people fleeing from Manhattan, it’s not hard to imagine why some people might question God’s memory, and providence and power. Or simply deny God’s existence altogether. I’m sure some of you, when in facing your own personal tragedies, have thought, “Where was God when this happened to me?”
I wish I had the answer. But I don’t. I don’t know why God allowed planes full of people to crash into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. I don’t know why God allowed 343 heroic first responders to be buried in the rubble. Something I do know, is God’s word is good. And God is faithful to us even when we are not faithful back.
The Bible is filled with stories of God’s faithfulness being fulfilled in the most unexpected ways, but none is greater than the one of God’s love made manifest in an innocent and vulnerable baby. A love God ordained through hatred, violence, and death.
We are a part of that story, of God’s love and faithfulness to all that God created.
Yesterday I saw so many posts of memories, pictures, and thought about what happened 20 years ago. Nearly everyone was had the hashtag never forget. The sentiment is nice. But I fear that maybe we have forgotten. Not the day. Not the destruction or the evil that caused it to happen. But the emotional feelings we had, and the unity that happen afterwards.
As I look back at all those photos and read all the stories of people helping one another survive, I am led to believe God does not abandon us nor forget us. Even in the horror and pain that was experienced that day, I can say God was there with us in the self-giving acts of love. “The day is coming when I will fulfill the promise…” God says, “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
Jeremiah’s words remind us of God’s persistent and fierce loyalty. But while such affirmations show us the true character of God, and the ongoing providence of God, bad things can still happen. As long as we allow evil to remain in the world, our faith and faithfulness will remain vulnerable to attack. Thus, we need to be vigilant in our faith, which is so important to our redemption and grace that God was willing to come to us as one of us, to show us how to live our faith faithfully.
Here’s what we need to remember. Faith in Jesus Christ is more than a word or making the right statement. It’s also about being the visible presences of God’s glory. It’s about allowing God’s love to become incarnate through our many small acts of kindness. Our faith must remain “faithful” to the God who loves us and saves us from harming others or ourselves. Like Jesus showed us, wherever God’s love is present, evil cannot prevail.
“The many disasters in our world, and all the tragedies that happen to people each day, can lead us to despair and convince us that we are the sad victims of circumstances. But Jesus looks at these events in a radically different way. He calls them opportunities to be living witnesses of God's unconditional love, opportunities to testify and participate in God’s Kingdom and redemption. This is how we look beyond the passing structures of our temporary existence to the eternal life promised to us.” (Nouwen)
Placing our faith in a system or an institution that can be attacked or destroyed has historically led to the downfall of every great empire. But the faith that is placed in the indestructible love of God is unbreakable and everlasting. By putting our faith in the promises that God made to us through Christ Jesus, we can preserver and overcome the obstacles and enemies who try to knock us down.
While September 11th was a wake-up call for us and the church to hold fast to the fiercely loyal steadfast love of God in Jesus Christ, it was September 12th that reminded us we can’t do this alone. We need each other as much as we need God.
I may not know why God allows bad things to happen, but I now know why we allow them to. I also know that wherever great suffering and pain exist, so do endless opportunities for God’s love to be seen in us and through us. This is not to say that faith and faithfulness is the easy path to take. This was clearly proven when our country was attacked again, not by a terrorist group but by a deadly virus.
As of today, COVID has taken the lives of over 660,000 American citizens. And nearly 41 million people around the world. By the end of the day, another 1,500 American citizens will die. And by tomorrow, 1,500 more will likely succumb to something that could easily be prevented.
You see, COVID doesn’t have an agenda, it’s not trying to make a political or ideological statement. It doesn’t pick sides or determine who is better than the other. It infects us all just as it affects us all.
The difference between September 12, 2001, and September 12, 2021, is mind boggling. Instead of uniting against this common enemy, our country has become more divided than ever. Instead of loving our neighbors and doing selfless acts of kindness for one another, we’ve become selfish, spiteful, and self-centered.
Sadly, the Body of Christ is not immune. The church has been infected with this idea that our personal rights are above a call to be righteous.
Jesus himself issued a stark warning to his followers (Matthew 24:36-44). That day will come like a thief in the night. Be prepared.
In his letter to the Thessalonians church, the Apostle Paul warns us to remain sober, and be people of the light who encourage one another and build each other up; not divide and tear one another down (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).
We must remain faithful to God’s incarnate love; helping each other from getting discouraged or depressed; offering hope and forgiveness and reconciliation, no matter the risk or our personal discomfort. Our faith hangs with Christ Jesus whose cross was more uncomfortable than some mask. And whose gospel is certainly riskier than any vaccine.
Therefore, I urge all who claim Christ’s name to never forget. Never forget that Jesus showed us a way to live a life of faith knowing our hope and salvation hangs on our faithfulness. To follow Christ through the resurrection requires a willingness on your behalf, to pick up your cross and truly follow him. To live as he did; healing, caring, and forgiving, seeking peace and justice, righting wrongs and redeeming people back to God in all the ways we live out God’s love faithfully in the world.
For those of you who refuse to wear a mask in public spaces, or get vaccinated for the health and well-being of your community, remember what the Bible has to say: “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Our stories, our lives, our day-to-day interactions must be interwoven, not just with one another but also with God through Christ Jesus. This is where our strength lies and our faith blooms.
As you leave here today, on this special day of remembrance, may we never forget that when your faith is woven with God’s steadfast love, you inherit a power that not even death can conquer. With great power comes greater responsibility.
May you never forget that in Christ, God’s love prevails. And by his selfless act, we have been made beloved children of a God who is fiercely loyal and faithful to a fault; the one who remembers us, sustains us, and saves us every time the world comes crashing down upon us.
Never forget. In Christ, love wins.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A. Vol. 3 Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.
Indermark, John. The Greatest of These: Biblical Moorings of Love. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.
Nouwin, Henri. Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
Nap Thru This
Nap Thru This Mark 6:30-34
September 5, 2021
It’s Labor Day Weekend. A national holiday given to us to rest and enjoy the spoils of our labor. Yet, here I am working. I know some of you believe this is the perfect job because I only work like 30 minutes a week. That would be great if it were true.
When I started this new career a minister’s wife sent my wife a joke about how a church defines the perfect pastor. It begins saying “The Perfect Pastor preaches exactly 10 minutes, and always has a sermon ready to go for any occasion. He works from 8AM to midnight, but always spends plenty of quality time with family and friends. He is the face of the church, and is also the church janitor, handyman, and groundskeeper.”
“The Perfect Pastor makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, has a good car, buys good books, and of course donates $30 a week to the church. He’s 29 years old with 40 years of experience; loves work with teenagers, makes 15 house calls a day but is always in the office with time for church meetings and all its committees and subcommittees.”
Suffice it to say, the perfect pastor is always in constant need of nap. I know I’m not the only one out there who feels this way, tired and worn out. I don’t need a national holiday to remind me that most Americans are so overworked and overcommitted that we are burning-out in record numbers.
A survey by Barna research discovered that 1,500 clergy are leaving pastoral ministry each month. Burn out is one of the key factors to this phenomenon. This is happening in every field and profession scours the country. We are busy, burnt-out people.
Even when we’re not working our job, we’re busy commuting, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, helping our kids with homework or being their Uber driver. Most of us have been busy for so long that it seems we have forgotten how to nap how to shut down long enough to let our batteries recharge.
Given the fact that this pandemic has forced us to slow down and reprioritize our life, you’d think we’d be rested and renewed by now. Instead, COVID has just given us one more thing to be tired and worn out over. The world is tired.
Tired of the rat race and climbing the corporate ladder. Tired of the media noise and empty political rhetoric and partisan bickering. Tired of the hate and hypocrisy. Tired of living hand to mouth and keeping up with the Jones’. Many of us are tired of being alone. Tired of being in lockdown and wearing masks. Tired of worrying for ourselves and the people we love. We are tired of feeling angry all the time, or feeling afraid all the time, or feeling worthless all the time.
We are busy, burnt-out people who are tired of being tired. The good news for us today is that Jesus gets it. He knows just how exhausting life can be. Especially a life of ministry. He has this to say about it.
READ: Mark 6:30-34
Prior to this passage, Jesus has sent his disciples on sort of a short-term mission trip to preach and teach and heal the sick in the surrounding villages. They were so busy, Mark tells us, that they didn’t even have time to eat.
You know what that’s like don’t you? Popping a dollar in a vending machine to get something to munch on as you work through lunch. Or grabbing a handful of chocolate covered almonds between Zoom classes, just to have a little sustenance to keep you going.
We’re becoming so stretched thin that basic functions of life, like eating and resting, are being reshaped in the image of the world and not in the One who came to redeem it.
Mark doesn’t say how long the disciples were gone. Nor does he give us any details about what they did or didn’t do. If we read between the lines, it seems Jesus wasn’t concerned with how well they did, as much as how they are doing. He knows they’re tired and burnt out. He is too.
So He says to the disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
Even though their plans will be foiled by the crowd of people following them, Jesus puts a priority on his disciple’s health and wellbeing just as he does with all who come to him for healing.
The takeaway from this is simple: Jesus is inviting us to go to with him and rest in the presence of our gracious God. Like the psalmist wrote, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you, he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).
Back when my dad was in med school, it wasn’t uncommon for Interns and Residents to be on call for 24 to 48 hours straight. To stay on top of his game, my dad had to learn how to get quality rest in a very short period of time. He did this by drinking a cup of coffee, then shutting his eyes for a nap. Mind you, he’d be so exhausted that falling asleep was easy. And since it takes about 20 minutes for the caffeine to kick in, he would automatically wake up - refreshed and renewed.
Rest is important in the kingdom of heaven. Even if it’s just a power nap. It’s important because there are people in need of Jesus and his spiritual sustenance. If we will be of any use to the kingdom Jesus ushered in, then we need to take the time to find our rest and sustenance in God’s loving arms before we can be that for each other.
Some of you know that I try to work out often. I don’t do anything crazy, but i do enough lifting to I know if I don’t take a day off to let my muscles recuperate, I could do serious harm to myself. Just the same, we need to set some time aside each day to recuperate and refresh our body, mind, and spirit. We need to get away, literally or figuratively, and go to the wilderness where God always encounters the faithful – providing sustenance, protection, renewal, and direction.
In fact, rest is so important that out of all the 600+ commandments God gave to Israel, taking an entire day for rest made the top 10 list. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
The Bible tells us that this isn’t about spending an hour or so in church every Sunday. It’s about taking the entire day off, you and your entire household, including your pets. The Bible states no physical work should be done so that weary bones and muscles could rejuvenate.
The principle of Sabbath rest is for the purpose of being refreshed and renewed in God’s spirit. God gives us this time so we can gather as a community to enjoy life without the stresses of life getting in the way.
Jesus understands this and tells his tired disciples, “Let’s get out of here, let’s take a break and get a little rest.” What a gift to be given – the time to get away and be in God’s loving and healing embrace.
I can only imagine what those words must have sounded like his disciples. I know that when I’m stressed out and overly tired, I get cranky. It makes my mind foggy, and it stops me from bringing my A game. But here’s the thing, Jesus needs us to bring our best, to be fully present in the mission.
As we enter Anamesa, that space between life and death, we do so knowing this is where life happens in real time. This is where all the many dangers, toils, and snares lurk. We need to be rested and alert so we can be fully present and not get trapped ourselves. We need to be refreshed and always at the ready to help and heal and preach and teach, because people are still lost, like sheep without a shepherd. If we’re burnt out, what good are we for this work that is needed?
Jesus knows the needs of the people are urgent. And still he finds time throughout the gospels to be alone with God; to be renewed and refreshed by the Holy Spirit. If our Lord knows that He needs to stop and rest with all of the important things He has to do, don’t you think the same applies to us, as well?
You don’t have to take an extended vacation to the islands or wait for a national holiday. There are plenty of ways to sneak in rest or even a nap.
It might mean stopping for a few moments, every hour or so, to sit with God and breath in the Holy Spirit.
It might mean finding a quiet spot outside or in your car, where you can close your eyes and enter a meditative prayer.
Or instead of picking up your phone to see who’s posting what, pick up the Bible, or a book of poetry, or a journal to see what God is writing on your heart.
The psalmist writes, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Where’s that still, quiet place in your life? Does it even exist?
Given our fast-paced world, and the bombardment of media noise all around us, the idea of stillness seems almost alien. But if we want to experience true intimacy with God, we must learn to quiet the chatter, be still and be with God. Set an alarm. Write it into your schedule. But do whatever it takes to find rest in God’s love for you.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). How’s that for a promise? Rest in God and you will never grow weary or faint. It’s like a nap for your soul.
Jesus knows our hearts and knows what we need, even when we don’t know ourselves. He knows what it takes to do the work of God’s kingdom, and what it can take out of you if you aren’t careful. So, he calls us to come away with him and rest.
For the Lord is our shepherd who makes us lie down in green pastures, and leads us beside the still waters, and restores our soul.
In Christ, God is leading us all home; to be refreshed, renewed and resurrected.
Therefore, let us give ourselves over to the One who says to you and me, and all who are weary, “Come away with me and rest for a while.”
Let us pray: Merciful God, we are tired and in need of your tender care and peace. As the world around us runs us ragged, and the noise over stimulates our senses, we turn to you for stillness and calm. Help us find rest when we want to do more. Or when others need more from us, help us to see you in that space, so we can take a moment to breath in your strength and breath out your glory. Bless us as a community and a sanctuary for all who seek your presence and peace. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
Pagano, Joseph S. We Are In Many Ways…” (episcopalchurch.org, July 19, 2009). Accessed on September 4, 2021.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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