Sunday Note: Breaking the Sabbath

Text for Today

Mark 2:23-3:6
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

 

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Breaking the Sabbath

To the modern reader, this Scripture passage may seem unremarkable or, perhaps, a bit perplexing. What's the big deal? Why does it matter that Jesus' disciples picked a few heads of grain while walking on a Saturday afternoon or that Jesus healed a person's hand after sundown on a Friday? Other than the miraculous healing, these acts of rebellion seem mundane. How in the world does this text end, "Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus"?

Violating the Sabbath law was scandalous-- for both religious and political reasons. In the Hebrew Bible, the command to keep the Sabbath day holy contains the longest explanation of the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God:

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but God rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus 20:8-11)

Keep the Sabbath holy because it is intricately connected to understanding and honoring who God is and how God created. Even those who are not Hebrews must keep the Sabbath if they are residing among Hebrews. In Deuteronomy, the author gives a different explanation for this commandment:

"Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." (Deuteronomy 5:15)

The Sabbath is a practice rooted in the defining, relational act between God and God's people-- God freed you from slavery, so you must honor God by resting.

There is such beauty to this command. A decree to rest. A command to be freed from work. A demand to order our creativity in the image of our God.

In 2014, Walter Brueggemann published a book called, Sabbath as Resistance, urging the practice of Sabbath as a prophetic act to a workaholic, consumerist, performance-driven culture. Sabbath as a life giving force that can reshape a person, community, or even society to be freer and more like our loving, creative God.

But, as we read in Mark today, somewhere around 30AD, the Sabbath was clearly not for the sake of more freedom or remembering the God who brought God's people out of slavery or imaging the Creator, who rested. Sabbath was not about honoring the creative life giving God, rather, it was about making sure you followed the code-- or else. This legalism had a long legacy. In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Numbers records a man, who was ordered by Moses to be stoned to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15).

In Mark's Gospel we see Jesus, the "exact imprint of God's nature," as the author of Hebrews writes, challenging a law given to Moses ostensibly by God, 

Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to kill?

From the perspective of the religious and Jewish political leaders, this rabbi questioned God's law, from which their authority is derived. This is a threat to their power, to their beliefs, to their religious and political norms, to their laws, and, even to their God.

Yet, from the perspective of the Christian Scriptures, Jesus is not some rabbi challenging God. Jesus is God. So what does it mean for God, who commanded the Sabbath to advocate breaking it?

The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.

Laws, codes, practices-- the way we live in community with God and others-- are not the end, but the means. The means matter, but the end dictates them. The end-- love of God and love of neighbor, as Jesus summarizes all the commands of God-- must always dictate the means.

In practicing piety, are we loving God and our neighbors? In following the laws of our land, are we loving God and our neighbors? In the way we live among our communities, are we loving God and our neighbors? In the moral codes and norms of our cultures, are we loving God and our neighbors?

Sabbath was always meant to be a prophetic, life-giving, creative practice to love God and neighbor. As soon as it was not that, as soon as the answer to Jesus' question, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath?" defaulted from doing good and saving a life, it was time to let the practice go. It was time to be prophetic, life-giving, and creative through resisting the Sabbath.

In our time, there are laws, moral codes, and religious practices that do not do good and do not save lives. There are laws, moral codes, and religious practices that-- even if commanded in Scripture-- break the ultimate command to love God and neighbor.

What practices might you need to let go for the sake of love, goodness, and life? What laws and codes might you be called to resist, or even break, for the sake of love, goodness, and life?

May you be freed to follow Jesus. May you be freed to love God and your neighbor. May you be freed to live by the grace of love, goodness, and life over any law.
Amen.

Sunday Note: Seeing Anew

We got a little behind in posting our Sunday Notes to the blog. This Note is from May 27th.

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Text for Today : Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

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Seeing Anew

One could describe John 3:1-17 as the gospel reading with verses most likely to be plastered on billboards.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.”

 “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” 

These verses are powerful and beautiful, but very truly these billboards feel out of touch. When these words are written on billboards, they appear as acts of desperation. Its as if Christians are shouting along highways hoping someone speeding by may hear these words and change their entire perspective on life. Putting these words on billboards and church signs feels distant from the intentional and powerful Spirit of God present at Pentecost giving birth to the church. The Spirit that comes to break down walls of division and create space for unity among all people.

The Christian community has a history of extracting these token verses from the story of Nicodemus without much thought to the larger narrative. Thomas Long writes that the story of Nicodemus is not a “crisis of God brooding in heaven waiting on us to make a choice, withholding a verdict on our souls.” Rather, it is a crisis of understanding the message of Jesus. It is a crisis of understanding what it means to be a child of God and what it means to be able to participate in the kingdom of God.

There is so much more to the story. Who was Nicodemus? What does it mean to be born from above or born a new?

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, Israel’s highest legislative and judicial body. He was the most renowned teacher of the Law and Torah of his day. He visits Jesus in the middle of the night and shows respect to Jesus because of his signs and miracles. 

However, Jesus is not impressed. Instead of focusing on the miracles, Jesus shares with Nicodemus that no one can see God’s kingdom without first being born again. Unfortunately, Nicodemus takes this information quite literally and tries to understand the biology of being born again in our mother’s womb. Not quite what Jesus was going for…

In ancient Palestine, birth determined a lot about a person’s life. It determined their social status, inheritance rights, and occupational opportunities. Being born again held potential to drastically change a person’s situation in life.

Nicodemus was a man of status and wealth. He was born Jewish, which meant he was born into the inheritance of the kingdom of God. When Jesus states that all must be born anew, it was a challenge to Nicodemus to expand his understanding of the kingdom of God. It was a challenge to see that all have access to God’s inheritance. Those who believe they have sole ownership must be prepared to see anew. To see that Jews and Gentiles a like are called to be daughters and sons of God. 

No one can experience, encounter, and participate in the kingdom without seeing anew. Nicodemus is focused on the miracles. He is focused on the heavenly things without understanding the earthly things. 

Jesus calls for us to be rooted in the abundance of this earth. For God so loved the world (the actual world, the whole world), that God sent Jesus to dwell in human form among us, that we might have union with God and that peace may fill the earth. The message is not about escaping this world, but extending peace to this world. 

This is good news. It is so good that we might want to plaster this message on billboards, but we need to remember that Jesus did not focus on the miracles and signs (pun most definitely intended). He focused on the message. A message grounded in relationship and embodied in extending peace to others. For God so loved this world. We do not have to fear and we do not need to act of desperation for God does not abandon the world that God loves. 

I have hope that kingdom of God is more than billboards. Our society is somewhat obsessed with posting our positions on billboards without the desire to be in relationship or to understand others points of view. This passage challenges Nicodemus, challenges the present day church, to see anew. Are we willing to expand our vision? Are we willing to engage the world and extend God’s peace?

Sunday Note: The Whirlwind and Fire

We got a little behind posting these to the blog. This Sunday Note is from May 20th.

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Text for Today : Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

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The Whirlwind & Fire

Today the Church around the world will celebrate the day of Pentecost. In our text from the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus waited in Jerusalem, gathered like thousands of other Jews from the diaspora for the festival of Shavuot, called Pentecost in Greek. It is the festival of the wheat harvest and a commemoration of the Hebrews receiving the Law (the Torah) from God.

For the Church, Pentecost now commemorates and celebrates this story in Acts-- the day the Holy Spirit rested upon the followers of Jesus. It is the day that God again encountered the people, but this time with Spirit rather than Law.

So this day is a celebration of God's Spirit resting upon and dwell within ordinary people. It is a day that remembers the way that God's Spirit translates the way of salvation and the promises of God across language and culture. It is a day that recognizes the presence and power of God's Spirit still at work in the world and in us.

Yet, this day in 2018 is a day of where we are mourning for young lives cut short this week during a school shooting in Texas. This is a day of remembering lives lost in Gaza this past week. For many, it is a day in the midst of family strife, of struggling to make ends meet, of fighting sickness, of walking alongside family, friends, and neighbors who are suffering. It is a day that we may wonder if the presence and power of God's Spirit is still at work in the world and in us.

The Holy Spirit often has the reputation of being gentle, flying under the radar, and working out circumstances in particular ways. And there is some truth there-- the Spirit manifests in the Scriptures as wind, as breath, as a dove. The Spirit seems to set up circumstances to inhibit Paul from going certain places. The Spirit hardens and softens hearts.

But here, in this Pentecost story, we are gifted with the Spirit as whirlwind and fire. Spirit that is poured out powerfully. Spirit that causes a commotion, that propels the people to proclaim loudly the work of God-- so much so that some mistake the Spirit's work for drunkenness. Spirit that speaks truth across divides.

This Spirit of whirlwind and fire is the same Spirit that hovered over the darkened chaos at the emergence of creation. It is the same Spirit that Jesus spoke of as wind-- no one knowing where it comes from or where it will go. It is the same Spirit whose movement bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

It is the Spirit that causes sons and daughters to prophesy, youth to see visions, and elders to dream. It is the Spirit that created and creates-- around and in and through all people.

In our celebration, in our mourning, in our remembering, in our suffering, and in our joy, the Spirit's presence and power continue to create, making way for her fruit to be born in the world and in us.

I see today the Spirit's work in sons and daughters speaking prophetically to those in power, creating new possibilities. I see today the Spirit's work in young people seeing visions of what can and must be. I see today the Spirit's work in elders dreaming and scheming alongside those who are young. I see today the Spirit at work in translating across difference, in burning down the walls we have built up to separate us from each other, in saving us for the sake of one another.

The work of God's Spirit is not always quiet and gentle. And if you find yourself in a season of movement toward speaking hard truth, challenging power, envisioning new futures, tearing down walls, it may feel like going through the fire and whirlwind. 

Take heart-- God's Spirit is with you. God's Spirit is in the fire. God's Spirit is in the wind. And God's Spirit is always in the business of creating fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control-- that is where this fire and whirlwind will take us.

So today, may we get caught up in the movement of the Spirit-- prophesying truth, envisioning new ways of loving our neighbors, and dreaming how the Kingdom of God may come on earth.

Praying with Our Feet: A Service of Lament and Sending

The evening before the March for Our Lives, Sanctuary gathered to ground ourselves in prayer as we engaged in protest, demonstration, and civic action to work toward less gun violence in our country. Linked is an outline of that service, including Scripture, liturgical prayers, and a blessing.

As we again mourn the school shooting in Texas today, as well as many incidents of gun violence since this service, we wanted to share this resource as a way to find grounding for the necessary work of challenging and changing our laws and culture surrounding guns.

Below is our lament from that service, which we invite you to pray with us. For the full service PDF, click here.

 

Litany of Lament

For all the lives touched and torn by violence,

Tonight we mourn.

For the fascination with guns and weapons that claim the lives of the undefended and vulnerable,

Tonight we mourn.

For the media that glorifies violence and trivializes human life,

Tonight we mourn.

For choosing individual rights over peace in our communities,

Tonight we mourn.

For the teachers and students experiencing trauma and living in fear,

Tonight we mourn.

 

Merciful God, who does not raise up the sword except to break the chains that bind us, draw near to us in our mourning and grant us wisdom, courage, and strength to march onward in our grief.

 

God of Remembrance,

Let us not forget those who have died.

God of the prophets,

Guide us to speak truth to the powerful.

God of deliverance,

Release us from the grip of violence and guns.

God of justice,

Empower us to change this broken world.

God of comfort,

Help us to create spaces of sanctuary and healing.

God of shalom,

Teach us to be instruments of your peace.

 

Amen.

Sunday Note: Where Is There Life?

Scripture

1 John 5:9-13
We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which God has given about God's Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made God out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about God's Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in God's Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.


Sunday Note: Where is there Life?

There is a story in the Gospel of John about a woman, who encounters Jesus at a well (John 4:1-26). This woman was Samaritan-- a religious and ethnic group, closely related to the Palestinian Jews, but despised for both religious and political reasons tracing back hundreds of years prior to when Jesus walked up to the town's well. In the heat of the day, this woman went to draw water, a purposeful decision to avoid the morning when most other women went to draw water. 

What follows in John's Gospel is the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in the New Testament. Jesus-- a Jewish man-- speaks to this Samaritan woman. A Samaritan. And a woman. And, as we quickly find out, a Samaritan woman, who has had five husbands and now lives with a man, who is not her husband. We'll come back to that. 

Jesus instigates this conversation by asking for water. And soon he offers the woman "living water." Water, of which he says, "whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." And when the woman asks for this water, Jesus' response is like a punch to the gut:
“Go, call your husband and come back.”

There has been much ink split over what sins this woman must have committed to be in the "no husband" circumstance she is in. She has had five husbands, and the man she is currently living with is not her husband. There is, though, no plausible explanation for a first-century Palestinian woman to be getting married five times because she's just a harlot. Likely, this woman was the one sinned against-- discarded again and again-- with little to no recourse.

That was her place of deepest wounding. That was her place of deepest shame. That was the pain and the shame that brought her to that well alone in the heat of the noonday sun. As Nadia Bolz-Weber points out:

When she says Give me this water so that I may not thirst he then goes straight for her wound. She says give me this living water and he asks about her husband.
He wasn’t avoiding the subject – he was avoiding the BS...
The Living water offered by Jesus Christ finds your lowest point. It flows to your original wound.


(You can read the full sermon here)

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John talks a lot about Jesus bringing, embodying, and offering life. Eternal life. Not life that starts in some disembodied ether-world after death, but literally life "from age to age", life that is "unending." Life that beginning here and now is abundant and will not end. 

John's community-- likely the authors of 1 John after his death-- were shaped deeply by this. The letters of John speak again and again about life. In fact, the very start of 1 John explains why they are writing: To "make their joy complete" by telling others about the Word of life, who was made manifest. They write to experience together eternal life-- beginning here and now-- in Jesus.

Our text today comes from the end of this letter, and the purpose is made clear again: And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in God's Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Another way to translate this: I write these things to you who trust in the Son of God so that you may experience the unending life that you have.

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How do can we experience the unending life that we have? What does this trust in Jesus look like?

The woman at the well may ask: What is your greatest wound? What is your greatest shame? What bs are you covering up with short-term fixes?

The unending life starts there. Because to experience unending life, means letting go of temporary life--temporary fixes, temporary hiddenness, temporary happiness to trust God's love shown to us in Jesus. To trust God's way of life shown to us in Jesus.

Too often followers of Jesus read of living water and abundant life and think it means we need to believe harder, to buck up, to bootstrap our way to joy, or just to hid our pain and woundedness under false smiles. That is the junk Jesus came to save us from.

Life begins in the healing of our wounds. Eternal, unending life is experienced only when we drop the facade, and trust in the love and goodness of God for us, as we are.

Where there is trust in our belovedness; where there is authenticity; where there is Jesus-- God's love in flesh and blood-- there is unending, abundant, eternal life. 


Amen.

Sunday Note: Who Belongs? Pt. 2

Scripture

Acts 10:44-48 & John 15:9-17

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

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 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other."



Note: Who Belongs? Pt. 2


One of the hardest questions for the church to answer-- from the earliest gatherings in the first century up until today-- is: Who belongs with us? It is the question of all movements, all nations, all tribes, all families, all social and political and meaning-making groups: Who is in and who is out? At it's heart, the question is one of group identity. Who are we?

This question of belonging was at the forefront of the Jesus movement in the first century. Before there were statements of faith, New Testament Scriptures, or ordained church officials, the apostles of Jesus had little but story, prayer, and consensus to determine these big questions of identity and belonging that would set the course of Christianity.

Last week, the lectionary text in Acts told the story of a Philip and an Ethiopian man, who was a eunuch. This unnamed man was an outsider according to the Torah, but would be welcomed into the fold as a child of God, according to Isaiah. And Philip choose on behalf of the Jesus movement that Isaiah's prophecy would be fulfilled, and the circle was opened to eunuchs in the moment. Philip continued by opening the circle of belonging to a Samaritan and a sorcerer. Then the apostles in Jerusalem open the circle to Saul, a former persecutor of Jesus-followers. And in our text today, we reach the climax of belonging: Do Gentiles-- not just wayward Jews or one guy on a road-- but Gentiles as an excluded group, belong? Are they in or out?

The answer comes, not from arguing finer points of theology and Scripture nor from a vision of the future Christian movement, but rather from the recognition that God had already encircled them. There was no argument to be made: God had already included Gentiles. They already belonged. The Spirit of God already choose to dwell in them.

Just as God had already loved, accepted, and acted in the lives of Saul and the Samaritans and Simon and the Ethiopian man...so God already loved, accepted, and acted in the Gentiles-- those formerly defined by their outsider status.

As Peter would later say to the leaders in Jerusalem:  If God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?

Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, Roman soldiers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Pharisees, zealots, women, children, eunuchs, those in Judea, and those in the far corners of the earth-- ALL BELONG. People of color, white people, LGBTQIA identifying persons, blue collar workers, academics, the poor, even the wealthy, developers, community organizers, Americans,, Afghans, Australians, and ALL nations...ALL BELONG.

The question arises: If all these people who we thought were out are actually in-- Who are we? What is our identity? If everyone belongs, does belonging even matter?

And here we turn to the words of Jesus in John 15:
Remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in God's love. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you...I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit...This is my command: Love each other.

Jesus loves us all. Jesus choose us all. We belong to God through Jesus. Our identity is those who are loved by Jesus and love others as Jesus has loved us.

This way of belonging that Jesus teaches requires a shift in our paradigm. There is no "in" or "out." There is, instead, proximity to love. Remain in love, and you will love all those who belong to Jesus (read: everyone), and that love will bear fruit in this world that will last. Stray from love, and you will not love all those who belong to Jesus, and you will not bear lasting fruit.

So often, those who belong in God's love, stray, and find meaning and belonging in fear, hate, worry, pride, or envy. You may find yourself there now. Or feel the frustration of seeing others far beyond the center of love, out in the field of fear. 

We are invited and called to come back to God's love. To remain in the love that has been tangibly shown in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God's love that is defined by the actions of Jesus. That is our truest identity-- as Christians and as humans.

All belong to God in Jesus Christ. This does not water down belonging or identity-- it is an invitation to our truest identity; it is an invitation to remain in God's love and invite others closer to love. It is a way of being in the world that looks with compassion and love on others, rather than building up walls to keep them out.

We belong. So may we remain in God's love, bearing fruit that will last, and loving one another in the way of Jesus that all people may know that they, too, belong to God and to us.

Sunday Note: April 29, 2018

Text for Today

Acts 8:26-40

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.


 


Sunday Note: Who Belongs?

The book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Bible contains a section that English translation, the New International Version, places under the heading:Exclusion from the Assembly. Eight verses of exclusions follow-- these are the people who do not belong to the people of God. These are the people who are not us. The first of these exclusions reads, "No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord" (Dt 23:1). The text continues, naming those born of a forbidden marriage down to the tenth generation, Ammonites, Moabites, descendants of those foreign enemies, descendants to the third generation of those born to OK foreigners.

The Bible has many, many threads of theology in it's vast recordings and varied genres of writing. It is the sacred text of humans encountering the Divine, and wrestling to put into words the implications of Divine encounter. Inspired is a beautiful word for the work of the Spirit and human creation of a text that draws us into the deepest questions of existence, even through Scripture that can be translated:  He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 23:1 in the King James Version of the Bible...seriously)

Two of the threads that compete throughout the Scriptures are of Exclusion-- purity, holiness, chosen-ness-- and Belonging-- a God of all tribes and nations, forgiveness, blessing. When read flatly, meaning all parts of the Bible having equal weight and equally impacting our understanding of God and creation, the Bible is in an impossible argument with itself. Just as Deuteronomy says that those who have been made eunuchs cannot enter the assembly of God-- or more plainly, eunuchs are not a part of God's people, our story today shows Philip baptizing a eunuch-- the sign and seal of belonging to God and to God's people.

This is not the only instance. Acts 8-11 seems to be written as a direct challenge to exclusion itself. 

Samaritans? Belong.
Sorcerers? Belong.
Eunuchs? Belong.

The man Philip encounters along the road was reading from Isaiah 53. Philip explains to him the ways this ancient text was embodied by Jesus. If they read on just three more chapters, they would have come across this,

Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say,
"The Lord will surely exclude me from God's people."
And let not the eunuch complain,
"I am only a dry tree."
For this is what the Lord says:
"To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, 
who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant--
to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters
;
I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve God...
I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer."


Just as the words of Isaiah 53 would be embodied by Jesus and the story told by Philip, so too would the words of Isaiah 56 be embodied by this Ethiopian eunuch and the story continued to be told by us today. 

The story of Divine encounter, of the people of God wrestling to put into words the implication of this encounter, is not flat. It is dynamic; it requires repentance-- rethinking everything in light of new revelation; it has been embodied for us to more fully know. And in Jesus, the Word made flesh, and in the Body of Christ, the people of God, we see the embodiment of expanding belonging. Deuteronomy does not have the last word.

So, dear reader, know that whatever your perceived impurities, whatever your doubts, whatever your background, whatever your family story, whatever your skin color, whatever your sexual orientation, whatever your gender expression, whatever your language, whatever your past failures, whatever your questions, whatever your limitations...

You belong to God. You belong to God's people. You belong.

Sunday Note: April 22, 2018

Text for Today

Psalm 23 & John 10:11-18

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
God makes me lie down in green pastures,
God leads me beside quiet waters,
God refreshes my soul.
The Lord guides me along the right paths
    for God's name's sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

--

“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. 

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”


 


Valleys, Wolves, & Poetry

Jesus speaks of being the "good shepherd" to his disciples in our Gospel reading today. Jesus uses this metaphor to help his disciples understand his relationship to them and their relationship to others-- specifically the religious leaders and false messiahs of their time. Jesus uses this metaphor of being a good shepherd--whose voice the sheep recognize, who guards the sheep from those who would do them harm, who challenges the wolf, rather than running away, who would even risk his life for the sheep-- past it's breaking point.

What shepherd-flock pairing does these things:

"I have come that they may have life and have it to the full..."
"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen..."
"I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own accord."

We are clearly not talking about sheep and shepherds and pens and gates anymore. 

And yet, we all know what it is-- from experience or close proximity-- to be found in the darkest valley, as the Psalmist writes. Or to be confronted by a wolf or a thief or abandoned by a hired hand. We know what it is to be lost and betrayed and disillusioned and afraid.

And it is in those moments that we most need poetry, metaphor, a God who is bigger than our language and understanding can contain.

The most turbulent times give birth to the most creative, poignant, and beautiful art. The most painful experiences lead people of faith back to ancient poetry and liturgy. 

During this Easter season, we are spending several weeks at our House Gatherings talking about Joy. John 10:10 is about this joy: That we may have life, and have it to the full. That is what Christ came to bring and guard and ultimately lay down his own life for. This joy that fully humanizes us-- causes us to be fully who we are as human beings created in God's image.

Even as Christ promises this fullness of life, he speaks of thieves and wolves. In the Psalm, even as the psalmist experiences the joy of abundance, of beauty, of refreshment, of direction, so too there is the darkest valley, there is evil, there are enemies.

Joy anchors us to our beloved identity as children of God. Joy anchors us to full life. And poetry, art, metaphor, story anchor us to joy.

This week may we dwell, not only on the content of Scripture, but also the form. May we follow the way of Jesus and the Psalmist by creating and seeking art that can hold our full experience-- joy, pain, hope, abundance, fear, betrayal-- and point us to the joy of a God who is found more readily in a poem than a doctrine. 

The Fourth Reading of Christmas

[Confused what this is? See our introductory post here and check out the first three readings]

John 1:1-1-5, 10-14

The Word Made Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 

 

The Fourth Meditation

Some Christian theologians speak of “two incarnations.” The first was God’s word in Genesis becoming our creation. God’s word took on the flesh of God’s creation and humanity, who bear the particular image of God. The second incarnation was the birth of Jesus, the promised Messiah, who was fully human and fully God—The Word of God, the Divine logic, the Divine Way of God, the second person of the Trinity, whom we call the “Son,” became flesh and lived among us. The birth of Jesus confirmed the cosmic reality of what God had been doing all along. Spirit and matter have always been one. God has always been with humanity. But we separated. We separated ourselves from God. We separated matter from spirit. God re-membered all of creation to all of Godself in and through Christ.

As the brightest moment of this Christmas Day approaches, may we see this light of the cosmic Christ—the Word made flesh that holds all things together and is reconciling all things to God. What is true in us, is true in the creation, is true in community, is true in all humanity. God has come and is with us. May we recognize the light that cannot be overcome by darkness. And continue in hope for when that light will vanquish all darkness.

 

When have you moved from hope to knowing? When have you experienced God’s presence in all things?

Dwell in the way you are connected to all of God’s creation. Dwell in the way you are connected to God—the God who in Christ by the power of the Spirit in within you and outside of you, holding you and all things together, reconciling you and all things to Godself.

The Third Reading of Christmas

[Confused what this is? See our introductory post here and check out the first two readings]

Luke 2:15-20

Shepherds Travel to Bethlehem

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

 

The Third Meditation

We continue with the shepherds as dawn breaks on Christmas Day (or on the third day after the winter solstice, as we can begin to perceive the day’s light lengthening). The promise the shepherds received in the depths of night, now they go and see at dawn. Hope moves to knowing, as darkness breaks way to light. The shepherds endured their night travel and grace came at the dawn—the promise fulfilled. And they, too, play their part in the grander story. They tell of the promise they received in the night, to the woman who had born her own labor pain in the darkness. The Christ is born out of the darkness, and this grace is not only hoped for, but received, experienced, and known. 

 

Have you experienced a promise of grace in shame or despair fulfilled?

Allow yourself to open to the dawning of light. Move from darkness and glimmers of hope to the joy of knowing. Be in the presence of the Christ, the promised Savior, God-with-us, here with you right now.