Sunday Note: I Wait for the Lord

Text: Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in God's word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with God is full redemption.
The Lord Godself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.


When I worked at a summer camp, I had a supervisor-- the Director of Adventure (best. title. ever.)-- who sang a surprisingly upbeat and moving version of this Psalm turned Christian hymn. A moodier version can be found HERE.

From the depths of woe I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation; 
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication; 
If Thou iniquities dost mark, 
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
Oh who could stand before Thee?

I am at my core an optimist. I often have a difficult time fully embracing angst, woe, lament, and grief. Yet, a song (and a psalm) beginning with crying out from the depths resonates with something deep in my soul. Whether for a moment, in a particular circumstance or in a more persistent state, we all experience the depths of woe. We experience depths of woe of our own creation, dug with our own hand; depths of woe dug out by the sins or apathy of others; depths of woe that we fall into in the course of our human journey. We fall. Again and again we fall.

The depths that we dig on our own are perhaps the most difficult to emerge out of. Because, though we may be strong enough to power through the digging, once we are in the depths we are too weak, too weary to pull ourselves out.

Julian of Norwich envisioned the Fall-- the origin of humanity's capacity for sin and harm-- as this kind of a fall. A falling into a pit. A fall that injures and weakens us. She does not seem to be as concerned with where the ditch came from-- whether dug by us, dug by others, there by the forces of nature-- because her attention is on the One who rescues the fallen. Jesus, the Savior, who comes into the ditch and pulls us out.

This is a beautiful image and True on a grand scale, the macro story of God's love, grace, and redemption for the children of humanity God created. And it is in this hope that the Psalmist points to-- not yet knowing Jesus, yet trusting in the Lord's grace to redeem God's people, and through them the entire world. But that is not the bulk of this poem, this hymn. 

What do we do in the depths, in the woe, in the shame, in the lament, in the grief?

As the Psalmist cries out, he is undergirded by the faithfulness of the Lord. God hears. God is attentive. God is merciful. God forgives. God empowers to service. God is unfailing in love. God redeems.

The Psalmist, in crying out for God, in the very act of demanding God to listen, to show mercy, to forgive, to love, practices trust in the very God who is all of those things. The depths of woe, the lament becomes a song of hope and praise in the crying out and the waiting. The depths become a place of grace, a crucible of trust and hope. 

In another Psalm, it is written, "Even if I make my bed in Sheol (the place of the dead, what in the New Testament is transformed in some places to hell), there You are." Even in the depths of our own making God's presence is there. Even in the hells we chose to be in are places of God's grace.

This is a hard word, as it is much easier to assume the depths to be a place of godlessness, a place to be avoided at all costs, a place to pull people out of as quickly as possible.

Yet, from the depths of woe, we must wait. We do not only learn to "live alone by mercy," as the song goes, but we actually live alone by mercy. We are not afforded the distance to learn grace, learn trust, consider lament. We can only trust, hope, and cry out.

In the depths, I wait for the Lord. And this, too, is grace.

Sunday Note: The Gospel According to Moana

Text: Mark 6:1-13

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.



Yesterday, I watched Moana again. I have watched Moana more times than I can count. I now know every word to every song, a significant amount of the dialogue, and exactly when Junia (my 3 year old daughter) will need her hand held when the "lava monster" appears (she doesn't 100% get the movie). Luckily, my daughter's two favorite movies-- Moana and Coco-- are really great. It's not a terrible task to watch them again and again while drawing pictures and eating cereal on Saturday mornings. 

But yesterday, as I watched Moana, I had this story of Jesus offending those in his hometown in the back of my mind, "A prophet is not without honor," he says, "except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home." The tension created in Moana is a classic hero's journey-- the journey of leaving home to pursue an often misunderstood greater calling. And in many stories of the hero's journey, the misunderstanding of those back home is in part due to the hero seeming unqualified and not up for the task. The other part of the misunderstanding is a disbelief that anything could be worth pursuing outside of the hero's home.

Moana leaves her island in search of Maui to return the heart of Te Fiti and stop the spreading darkness (I won't give spoilers as to how this all shakes out). But her people do not go beyond the reef that encircles their island. Her father, the chief, has created this blanket rule out of his fear for the safety of those on the island. But Moana, from the time she is young, wants to explore further out in the sea.

The tension builds on the island as we watch Moana grow and wrestle with external expectations vs her desires in the first act of the movie, but the story doesn't really start until she leaves her home.

This likely goes without saying, but Jesus and Moana are not exactly alike. However, Jesus deals with this tension as he teaches in his hometown of Nazareth. The people of his town ask, "Where did this man get these things? What's the wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?" And it seems at first as if the people are just amazed...amazed of what Jesus, who they have known or known of from a young age, has become in his adulthood. Amazed at his wisdom and his teachings. Amazed at his stories of his healing. But the questions take a turn from wonder and amazement...

Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?

And they took offense at him.

Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Jesus was born and raised under oppressive conditions in a town that was impoverished and viewed as a place where only the lowest of the low lived, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip is asked by Nathaniel when he hears about Jesus. And Jesus was not just born in a place where people were assumed to not amount to much-- he was born out of wedlock in this place. "Isn't this Mary's son?" is a loaded judgment, not an honest question. This is not Joseph's son, a standard way to ask in a patriarchal society-- he is Mary's, born a bastard child.

The people of Nazareth had internalized the common narrative about Nazareth. And what is more offensive than a man, who is not the best a group has to offer, but one of the most embarrassing, walking around teaching and acting as if he is a prophet-- a person chosen by God to speak authoritatively to God's people. Even if his words wise and he is healing people and he is speaking with authority, he cannot be called to something greater-- nothing good comes from Nazareth, especially not Mary's son.

Only a few chapters earlier in Mark's telling of the Gospel, Jesus' family went to try to take him home because they thought he was out of his mind. Crowds were listening to him, and he was traveling from town to town claiming that the Kingdom of God was near, calling disciples to follow him as if he was a trained rabbi, performing healings, and casting out demons. His family feared he had lost it. Who did Jesus think he was to do these things?

Jesus knew he was the Son of God. Jesus knew his purpose was to bring about and proclaim the presence of God's Kingdom. Jesus knew he was beloved by God, sent as the Messiah to the people who God loved and would save from their sin.

God did not choose to be present in the flesh to humanity by being born into a position of power, by gaining the proper permission and credentials to teach, or by playing by the rules of respectability-- God choose to be present in the flesh to humanity through Jesus, a child conceived out of wedlock to parents who would flee to Egypt for their safety then return to the impoverished, oppressed, looked-down-upon region of Nazareth. 

There are several points in Moana when she is questioned (or questions herself) on her worthiness for the task to which she has been called. She is a young woman "self taught" in sailing, she grew up in a place that did not allow her to explore past the Maui angrily says at one point, "We're here because the ocean told you, you're special and you believe it."

But the unqualified, the looked down upon, the dishonored are exactly the ones that God has chosen to work through, and ultimately to be born into as human being, Jesus of Nazareth.

There are two questions this story forces us to confront:

Can we listen and learn and be healed by those to whom we take offense? Can we hear those who are not of the right background, who do not speak in a way that we like, those whose very presence challenges the way we live and identify?

And do we have the courage to leave behind the expectations placed upon us when God calls us out? Do we have the courage to leave the comforts of our homes-- be it our theological, political, cultural, geographical, economic, racial comfort zones-- to journey with God? Do we have the courage to return changed to our people and risk rejection?

Sunday Note: What is the Kingdom of God Like?


Mark 4:26-34

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.



Jesus spoke more about the kingdom of God than about anything else. Often this gets confused with more modern concepts of “heaven.” But this “kingdom” was never about the afterlife. In the words of NT Wright, noted New Testament scholar, “It is about the establishment of the rule of heaven, in others words, the rule of God here on earth.” In my words, it’s about the way of God, the way of heaven here on earth. It’s about relationships, families, communities, policies, economies, governments, borders, individual hearts and global relations mirroring God’s way, God’s character, God’s very being. And that begins on earth and extends into eternity—in New-Testament-speak, it begins in this age and extends into the age to come.

It is a new social ordering that mirrors the way of God from the bottom-up, individual to communal, grassroots to highest office. Where the least are first; where the hungry are fed; where the thirsty find drink; where the naked are clothed; where prisoners are set free; where the oppressed are unchained; where the poor are given good news. It is the Kin-dom of God, the Commonwealth of God, the Economy of God.

Jesus asks, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like?” To what can this Commonwealth, Kin-dom of God be compared that we already have, that we already can experience?

It is like a man scattering seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.

It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.

The kingdom of God is naturally, organically growing under our noses.Planted and wanted (as grain) or unwanted and invasive (as mustard plants) God’s kingdom is here and growing. Will we take notice? Will we reap the harvest of what God is doing in the world? Will we find shade and rest and a home in it like the birds?

It is much easier to see the places where the kingdom of God is pushed back, where this harvest is being burned, where this mustard plant is being cut down. It is easy to see where our relationships, families, communities, and inner turmoil are not mirroring the way of God, shown through Jesus. It is easy—sometimes too easy—to see where our policies, economies, and governments are not mirroring God’s commonwealth.

The Kingdom of God is both something intentionally seeded and an invasive species. In barren places, we are called to plant the seeds again and again then wait for the harvest. And even as we wait and rest and wonder if the planting make any difference at all—God is at work growing the harvest.

And we are called to pay attention, to notice when God’s Kingdom is sprouting in unwelcomed places. In the midst of all that is un-Christ-like, Jesus invites us to take notice of the invasive species of God’s Kingdom. And maybe throw some extra water and light on it.

Plant, cultivate, and notice the Christ-like—in yourself, in your closest community, and in our larger systems. Do not only kick back darkness or rage against injustice-- Create and lean into the light, the good, the beautiful, the just. And rest **do not miss this** rest, be at peace, perch in the shade in kingdom places. Because it is God that makes the kingdom grow, and it is God who will bring it to fruition. Where you are--saint and sinner--and where the world is--kingdom of God and kingdom of tyrants--God is present and at work.

So, what shall you say the kingdom of God is like?

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.



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.

Sunday Note: Seeing Anew

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


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."


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.


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.’


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.

Sunday Note: Where Is There Life?


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)


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.


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. 


Sunday Note: Who Belongs? Pt. 2


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.


 “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 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.