Sunday, May 24, 2020

Fan or Follower? Seeking to Follow the Way, Truth and Light

John 14: 1 - 13

Have I mentioned that I am from Indiana?

Specifically, I am a graduate of Indiana University – a graduate from Indiana University in the years when Bobbie Knight was still coaching the Hoosiers’ men’s basketball team.  My hometown high school basketball team played in the Final Four of the state tournament in 1985, just one year before the movie Hoosiers hit the theater.

The movie Hoosiers captured Indiana’s state wide LOVE for basketball. It captured the scrappy aspirations of rural teams playing big city teams – because there was no “class basketball” in Indiana back then – the tiny teams DID play the big well-resourced schools.

And on March 20, 1987 as we prepared to go onstage in my high school auditorium for the closing mass choir performance of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Indiana went toe to toe with Duke in a Sweet Sixteen game, ultimately winning and going on to be national champions that year.

I would arrive on campus that fall as a college freshman and wait in line for HOURS for season tickets – 8 precious, loud, raucous games.  Every student had at least one courtside seat in their collection of 8 tickets back then. 

By my senior year, I may have hit two games. The Hoosiers were struggling, although Damon Bailey was the local kid made good who seemed to show promise for future tournament wins.  My IU custom license plate as I graduated was IU 26 – his jersey number, snagged because I was working for the alumni association, a darling student assistant who could bat her eyes at the program manager.

I was a fan of IU basketball.
It was fun. I learned a lot.
Today, I get excited about tournament season – I still love March Madness. My husband is a Duke grad, and my long-standing commitment was that I am ABD – Anyone But Duke, but this year, I had decided that life was short and circumstances hard so I was going to even cheer for Duke!
I would put on the Duke cap and play along if the opportunity presented itself.

I have been a “fan” of college hoops.
Like I said, it was fun.  I learned some things.  Like the importance of zone defense…

But I can’t say I am committed to basketball. I can’t say it has shaped me.  I can’t say it is central to how I live my life.

I’m a fan. That’s all.

This week we are stepping deeper into the work of becoming a disciple. A disciple of Jesus.  Not just a fan….but a true follower – one who follows the life and teachings of Jesus.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

I think that there are a lot of folks who are “fans” of Jesus.  Folks who can tell you who Jesus was and what he said.  They might even be able to tell you what he stood for and why he matters. 

But how does that knowledge shape how they act each day? Do they actually let what they know and love about Jesus become part of who they seek to be in the world?

I think there are lots of fans.
I think there are significantly fewer “followers”.

By follower, I mean folks who live moment to moment knowing that Jesus is the Way, Truth and Light who guides their footsteps.

Following requires seeking. It requires some knowing.  It requires lots of discipline. It requires some regular checking in. It requires trust. It requires faith. It requires learning and growing and acting from that learning and that growth. It requires finding accountability with others.

Last week, we explored Jesus’ question “Who do YOU say that I am?” This week, we are looking at John’s gospel.

It is important to set our reading for today in context. This is part of a long “farewell” conversation that Jesus is having with his disciples. Gathered together, Jesus is calling the disciples into the next way of being with him…even if he won’t be “WITH” them in the way to which they have grown accustomed. But the disciples are struggling to understand what it is that Jesus is saying.

Just before the verses we read for today, Jesus has insisted on washing their feet, told them that they would betray him in all sorts of ways, told them that he would be with them a little longer and where he is going they cannot come, and given them a new commandment – to love one another.

..Just as I have loved you (remember that foot washing thing we just did and that lesson about serving?).

Because I am not going to be around much longer…at least not this way. Not walking and talking and showing you how in the flesh.

Imagine how disorienting that might have been.

And so this is the backdrop – lots of hard and disorienting information from Jesus to his followers - as we enter into today’s text.

Imagine for yourself…
Here’s Jesus, standing before you, having just told you that something bad is going to happen and that as a result, he’s not going to be around,
but…hey friends, you know me. You’ve heard what I have to say.
You’ve seen how I have treated people.
We’ve done this work together.
You’ve grown to trust me in the flesh. 
I will go before you and prepare a place for you.

Can you imagine the confusion?

Thomas has the first “yes, but…”

How will we know how to find you?
We can’t even quite grasp what you mean when you tell us that will be with us for only a little while longer. 
If we don’t know what it means that you are going, let alone know where you are going, how will we know how and where to follow you?

And Jesus’ assurance is more of a mystery – trust that I AM the way. So long as you know me and follow me, you will know how and where.  You will follow me in this way when you stay connected to me.  Following will be natural for you because I will be the WAY.

Oh my…I don’t know that this cleared up anything for Thomas.

And then Phillip launches, asking for some proof that Jesus is who they suspect – if only you will show us the Father to which you keep referring, we will finally really “know” something about who you are.

And I suspect by now Jesus is getting frustrated – are you NOT paying attention? Have you not SEEN with your own eyes the things that I have done? Have you not heard these things I keep teaching?  Do you not understand that these actions, these teachings are GOD’s actions and God’s teachings?

In John’s gospel, Jesus is regularly encouraging his followers to pay attention to what is right in front of them right here and now. They have what they need in him, with him.

When they are thirsty, he says I AM living water. 
When they are hungry, he tells them I AM the bread of life.
What you need most is right here.
Feeling lost? I AM the good shepherd. 
I AM the gate through which you enter into safety.

Time and again Jesus reminds the disciples to pay attention to what is happening around them and witness what God is doing in their midst, even if they cannot “see” God (as they expect to see God) at work.

How often do we need a map, a set of next steps, or concrete proof that something can be different before we are willing to stretch ourselves in a different direction?

And when it comes to Jesus, do we trust that the answers that we need, the direction that we need, is really right there? In the man we know or in the Christ we claim?

To follow in the way of Jesus is to embrace being connected to Jesus in the here and now, to seek out direction moment by moment with Jesus and all of his I AM-ness in our sights. 

It would seem that Jesus is telling his friends that all they need is with them. And as long as they stay connected to Jesus, they will have what they need to know how to keep moving forward.

Last week, we explored the question that Jesus put before Peter, John and James – who do YOU say that I am? We heard some great answers, and I hope you have spent some time thinking about that question for yourself. Now that you have had time to think about what you claim about Jesus, now we look at how that claim draws us forward step by step.

I am finding, in some ways, that the disruption of a pandemic has made this way of following Jesus more plain, more understandable, more accessible and more necessary.

I mean, when everything we think we know has been turned upside down, we kind of have to show up to what is right in front of us, don’t we? On a particularly hard day this week, I was commiserating with some friends…and someone quoted the song – you can have all this world, but give me Jesus.

Yes!  In the midst of hard things. But not just in the midst of hard things. 

Because that is one of the differences, I think, between being a fan and a follower.  A follower is seeking NOT JUST when it feels good, necessary…but every single day.

Maybe we find ourselves working hard to follow SOMETHING / ANYTHING that we can know and trust right now.

So we start with last week’s question. Who do YOU say that I am?
But then daily, moment by moment…
What does this situation require of me?
Who is in front of me right now that needs service and love?
Where are the meek and the downtrodden in this situation, and how can I be the hands and feet of Jesus to them?
What does the Lord require of me? What does justice and mercy look like right now?

Our work in this lifetime is to move past being a fan – move past occasional enthusiasm for Jesus – toward being a follower who finds the way, each day and each moment, step by step, in the footsteps of Jesus.

May it be so.

And so…this week, there is work.
Because we are not just fans…there is always work in this direction of following.

Because everything we do ought to be guided by who Jesus is and how we answered last week’s question – Who do YOU say that I am?

This week, ponder this…
Where do you invest time in being “a fan” of Jesus?  How might that time be converted to following?

Source: We continue to work with the book Becoming a Disciple: A lifelong venture by Adolf Hansen & Colleagues.  We are spending 2 - 3 weeks on each chapter.  Please join us in this shared work!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Who Do YOU Say That I Am - A disciple is one who follows Jesus

We continue to explore the journey that is becoming a disciple.  The journey is a lifelong one, with twists and turns and cutbacks that have us revisit certain spots again and again.  This week, we begin a two-week exploration of what it means to be a disciple who follows the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

I want to set the stage for our Gospel text from Luke. These key moments in the story of Jesus follow immediately on the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  So imagine that Jesus has been with a hungry crowd of thousands where a miraculous feeding happened, and he has gone away for some prayer time and recovery with his disciples.

He asks them to weigh in about what the crowds are know, the crowd that has just heard him preach and experienced a mass-miracle. And they offer some answers. But it’s as if the answers they offer aren’t hitting the mark with Jesus, and so he redirects the question to them – who do YOU say that I am?

And Peter, beloved and eager-to-please doesn’t miss a beat – you are the Messiah of God.

Jesus goes on to give the disciples a warning about how right they are and how hard it will be to follow him. It’s not really a pep-talk, more foreboding.

Then, just in case it wasn’t enough, Jesus heads up another mountaintop with Peter, John and James, where they witness Jesus all glowy and white along with the Elijah and Moses. And in case what they see is not enough, they hear the voice of God – this is my son, listen to him.

I feel like Jesus is helping the disciples to focus in, helping them begin to think deeply about what it is they are doing, why they are following, what words they use to describe who he is in their lives.

Let’s hold on to that as a backdrop – a snapshot of what the first disciples experienced when faced with the question, “Who do YOU say that I am?”

To be a disciple is to follow the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. 
To be a disciple is to formulate an understanding of who this Jesus is, why we follow, and what that means over the course of a lifetime.
And over the course of a lifetime, to be a disciple is to be shaped by our following of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

To be shaped.
Like canyons carved out by seasonal rushing waters.
To be smoothed out like a stone on the shore of the ocean.
To be shaped by a lifetime of our experience of Jesus the Christ.

I am a runner.

(That’s hard for me to say, and I always have to take a deep breath to say it…to claim it and to recognize it.)

In spite of my great affection for sitting in a chair or on a couch our lounging in a hammock, in spite of the fact that I can barely sustain a sub-11 minute mile over multiple miles, I have discovered that if I put my running shoes on, I can run.  And as I run, I become a runner.
With each passing run, each passing season of running, I am changed more and more into a runner.  It’s not just that my body changes.  My heart and spirit and my mind are changed too.  I understand what it means to run, what it means to push myself, how my respiratory system and my skeletal system and my muscles work together, what it means to feel endorphins fire, what it means to care for my muscles so that I can run the next day.  I understand more and more with each passing run the value that running has to my well-being, body and soul. 

I am being transformed each day. 
Into a runner. 
Because I started to run and kept running.

I think this is a good metaphor for discipleship.
We become disciples of Jesus Christ by taking the first step.
And each day as we keep making choices, keep orienting ourselves toward Jesus, deepen our understanding of what it means to let Christ be Lord of our lives, we become daily more and more a discipleship.

As we get to know God through the fully human and fully divine Jesus,
as we begin to follow Jesus’ examples one by one,
as we begin to have experiences of “seeing” the presence of Christ,
perhaps through the Spirit, in our lives,
as we go out and reach others, we are shaped.
Made new.
We become.

I am struck that in our passage for today, Peter answers with the “right” answer…but there is still the need for stark truth-telling and even a glimpse of Jesus’ place in God’s order. It is like they have to keep experiencing the truth in order to keep growing their understanding.

As good Jewish men following the Rabbi Jesus, they would have been very familiar with the words of the prophets, and so the Jeremiah text gives us a glimpse of what God has intended – not merely allegiance but CHANGED HEARTS.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

The LORD God is explaining that there will be a new way of embodying the covenant between God and God’s people. There will be a way for God’s law to be part of who we are and how we live each and every day.  There will be a way that our love and commitment to God and God’s love and commitment to us will be “written on our hearts.”

This is the power of Jesus who walked through the dust, ate food with his friends, laughed and cried, lived and died and showed us eternal life. And that is an example we can live into because it is an example of how to live in the flesh in this world.

This is our call to become.
To become a disciple of Jesus Christ – not for our own transformation alone though, but so that the world is transformed.

May it be so.

Our work in weeks to come is to answer Jesus’ question – who do YOU say that I am?

That is vulnerable space, because we need to be able to say it not just to ourselves, but sometimes to others.  We need to be willing to sit with our answer, and let it work on us.  And we need to let our answer work on us.

Will you prayerfully sit with this question this week?

Jesus looks at you and asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

Sources: At Faith, we have embarked on a sermon series based on the book, Becoming a Disciple: a lifelong venture by Adolf Hansen and colleagues.  

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Interrupted thoughts about the Body of Christ and our Forgiveness

The truth is that some weeks lend themselves to a prepared and researched sermon that tackles a text and unfolds all of its secrets through history and context. There are other weeks when we are overtaken by events, and I'm grateful grateful for Susan Wyderko for giving me that language.

I think this week is one of those weeks where I have been overtaken by events and I want to just share some of that with you.

Here is a background for all of this.

This is the third week that we are talking about what is a milepost on the discipleship journey - a disciple experiences the acceptance and forgiveness of God.

We talked the first week about the lighter subject - the acceptance - the fact that God receives us with love.  Last week we talked about what might be the harder part - acknowledging that we have a need for forgiveness, that we actually do things occasionally that harm the world (I can't even like say that without putting qualifiers like occasionally in the sentence), that we do things that harm others sometimes with intention and sometimes not. We talked a little bit about how when we take that moment to recognize that we need God's acceptance and we need God's forgiveness, that that frees up something in us and creates some space so that we might be able to reach out and claim others around us and draw them in.

Our text for today from first Corinthians 12 talks about the diversity of the body of Christ. It addresses how we are intended to be a body not made up of a bunch of ears or a bunch of eyes or a bunch of brains or a bunch of mouths, but rather that we are a body that has all of the parts - all of the parts and their sort of unique and quirky composition - a foot that might be larger than we anticipated or a hand that might be more clumsy.

I've been thinking a lot about how our body may not be complete. And I think that in the season that we're in we see more disparity we see more places where people's lives aren't whole and they are not part of communities of belonging that embrace them and hold them.

This morning I woke to a conversation about health care disparities that were resulting in horrible outcomes for COVID patients in the Navajo nation. There will be presentations and conversations about how the current health care system has underserved black and brown people. This is statistically true, and we can say that we have no place in that -w e can say that we're not creating a problem - but if you're not anti the problem, I'm beginning to wonder if we can claim any acceptance and forgiveness in that space.

I think we have to name our role.

The thing that struck me of course this week was the conversation about the shooting death of Ahmed Arbery in Georgia, a young black man out for a jog in his own neighborhood, shot down by folks who were convinced that they knew that he had done something wrong. If this were a one - off scenario, if this were a story we had not heard before, it would be a tragedy all by itself. But when we look at the data and we know that young black men are targeted in this sort of violent crime more often that our white brothers and sisters we have to start asking questions.

What does this have to do with forgiveness?
What does it have to do with acceptance?
What does it have to do with building the body of Christ?

I feel like we're living in a season where it is entirely too easy for us to cling to what is comfortable and good. It is entirely too easy for us to hold on to what we know. I'm also aware that the pandemic has caused us to have to live differently, and it's given us a different kind of time to think and examine.

My prayer is that we are thinking and examining and wondering at how it is we might use our very precious gifts, not for another program, but how we might use our very precious gifts to become the open-hearted, all-embracing, loving human beings that we are called to be. Which means recognizing that somewhere inside of each of us there are biases that shape us and mold us and keep us from loving the other fully. Those are hard explorations for us to make.

Last week we talked about forgiveness and returning. We talked about the prodigal son returning home and the joy that was found in his coming back.

We've talked in the past about the word repentance which doesn't just mean I say I'm sorry or I admit I'm wrong. It means that I turn on to a new path of being.

What does repentance look like?
What are we seeing in this season that is unique?
How is God speaking to us right now about ways that we need to turn on to a different path, a different way?

Because when we do when we turn on to a different way, I wonder who we’re joined by on that way. And I wonder what we might make different together. I wonder if together we might and sure that there are fewer hungry bodies and hearts, fewer unhoused bodies and hearts, fewer bodies and hearts that are looking for basic health care, fewer persons who are shut out of good employment, fewer people who are shut out of good opportunities, fewer people who are shut out of good a good education, because of the color of their skin or because of the income strata from which they have come.

I don't have answers these are hard things.

But I do feel like The Holy Spirit is moving in ways that will prevent us from gathering the sanctuary and feeling comfortable in our own skin and in our own places and with our own rhythms.
And I think that that is jarring us up. It has the opportunity to cause us to think and see differently. It has the opportunity to cause us to empathize with those who don't have place in this world.

Beloved, I think that acceptance and forgiveness are gifts that God offers us and they've come to us at great price.

I think Jesus walked a path that time and time again shows us how to be open hearted, to not worry about our own well-being so much - to be a Lily of the field that does not toil, whose beauty shines forth.

I think Jesus calls us to be hands and feet and elbows and brains and ears and we need more and more of those not idly sitting by, not watching others do the work, but leaning in, finding the way, finding the ways that your unique gifts make a difference, strengthening the body…

Not for our own sake, but for the sake of the world - the whole world.

May it be so. Amen.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Finding Forgiveness

We’ve set out on this lifelong venture of becoming a disciple…or at least examining what that path looks like.

We’re spending time unpacking the “truths” or “markers” or points along the way, and last week and this week (and probably next week), we’re focused on what it means to experience the forgiveness and acceptance of God.  I may have chosen the easy route last week, focusing on acceptance, pondering what it means to be fully seen and loved no matter what. But we hit on some key points that help us build. We talked about shame, about how shame becomes a mask that we wear that keeps us from being fully seen.  And we talked about Jesus being a source of light – the light of the world. And it is easier to see fully in light. How is it that a relationship with the light of Christ causes us to be full seen for ALL of who we are?

Forgiveness is a tricky topic.  In order to experience forgiveness, I think we have to admit we’re not perfect…which requires somehow owning our mistakes and flaws. Perhaps more than that, we have to believe that somehow the impact of hurt and harm we cause can be cancelled or transformed in some way.

Did you know it is actually hard to find a good definition of forgiveness? Remember those English teachers early on that droned about how a good definition should not include the root of the word you are trying to define? 

Google tells me that to forgive is to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw or mistake. So then, to be forgiven would be to receive release from another’s anger or resentment created by some harm we’ve caused that person.

Google also offers this analysis of frequency of the “use” of the word in books across 200 years….and maybe it doesn’t surprise you that the peak usage of the word was in the late 1830s, and the least usage was around 1974…and we’ve only seen a modest uptick in usage since that low point.

I want to be super clear that to forgive is NOT to forget…and there is a fascinating debate about freeing someone from resentment but not yet having “positive” feelings toward them.  Perhaps the best that can be accomplished is neutrality of some sort.

Hmm.  That may not feel very comforting.  I think it is human nature to want others to not just be neutral toward us but to LIKE us. 

Remember that a disciples experiences God’s forgiveness and acceptance. God moves beyond the neutral space and embraces us. We talked about that last week. The two things go hand in hand. And when they go hand in hand, they free us up. We’ll talk about that in a bit.

Admittedly, our text for today is the …. Standard for exploring forgiveness.  But there is a reason for that. It is such a multifaceted story. And it is as much about the father as it is about the son. And it is also about the other brother.  And if we let it be, it is about the unnamed characters. 

You know the general shape of the story.  A son, weary of life in his father’s household, asks for an advance of his inheritance so that he can go out and see the world. Which he does.  He squanders his inheritance – presumably on good food, entertainment, wine, and women – and finds himself homeless and hungry.  The work he can find is feeding the pigs, and he realizes that he would be quite happy to have the food the pigs are given because he is so broke and hungry.  So he practices his apology, and returns home.

Before he can even speak a word, his father has seen him in the distance and orders the servants of the household to prepare a feast and meet the son with robes
Prodigal means lavish.  The title often given this parable is the ‘prodigal son,’ describing the lavish excess of the son’s lifestyle before he seeks his father’s forgiveness. But what about the lavish forgiveness that the father offers? Might it also be the story of the prodigal father? The father who lets go of the past to receive the fullness of his son back in his life?

Have you ever practiced an apology before offering it? Thought through exactly the right things to say…the right order of the words. Maybe you were practicing because you were being careful not to further wound, or not to take on too much responsibility, to limit your confession?

I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son…

In this particular story, the prodigal FATHER doesn’t even need to hear the words. He’s so elated to have his son back. So happy to embrace the one he believed lost to him. He is so willing to let go of what hurt has been caused.

I wonder…does the father’s prodigal forgiveness make you uncomfortable?

Let’s look at the other brother’s response… He’s mad.  He’s been diligent and loyal to his family. He’s stayed with his father, done hard work, probably picked up the slack left by his reckless brother’s absence. And now the father has received that reckless son back into the household. But he already GOT his inheritance – surely if he is back it will ultimately mean less for me…

What if there is enough to go around? What if it is not like a pie? What if there is always more?

And then, there are the servants who don’t have a voice.  These would be witnesses to the family dynamic. They would know the lost son’s choices. They likely have known the father’s grief and struggle. And they are probably privy to the remaining son’s sense of responsibility and resentment. I assume, too, that they picked up the slack when one son left and they are now preparing the feast for the son as he returns.

These are all real emotions that surround the experience of being offered forgiveness. No wonder forgiveness is a tricky topic.

What if we just embraced it.  Learned to ask for forgiveness because God has already ordered a fresh robe and sandals, so excited for our return.

Re – turn.
Turning back.

My daughter and I have had conversations all week about the tricky etymology and definition of that word.  She hands here – something given FOR someone. Love and acceptance and cancelled debt given forth…


In order to matter on the discipleship journey, the experience of forgiveness must change us. When we actually experience forgiveness for the things that weigh us down, for the ways we might be consciously or unconsciously hiding from the world, if we really receive it, experience the cleansing and the emptying and the loving, then I think we also receive more “space,” or more capacity.

Capacity that we are then called to share.  Capacity to forgive others Capacity to love others. Capacity to see other’s brokenness and not have it be a barrier. Capacity to accept that we don’t fully understand how the accounting of forgiveness actually works, can’t control it and shouldn’t try to limit it.

It’s God’s gift. It’s work Jesus did.

In this season of exploring the lifetime journey toward discipleship, this is just one stop along the way – experiencing God’s acceptance and forgiveness.  It is not necessarily the first stop.  It is a stop we all make at different times and for different reasons.  It’s not a stop we can skip by – thinking there is nothing in our hearts that needs forgiven.  It’s a stop we sometimes make together as a community. It’s a stop we sometimes make alone.

And God will always meet us there when we are ready.

During this sermon series, our work is not to show up and listen to something interesting each week and then mark time until the next sermon.  Our work is to invite the sermon work on us and shape us and help us move toward a next thing. 

This week I ask that you really think about the act of naming something for which you need forgiven. As a church, we share a unison prayer of confession – and I’ve heard people express discomfort with that action.  We pray:
Merciful God,
We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will
We have broken your law
We have rebelled against your love
We have not loved our neighbors, and
We have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I want to suggest that asking for forgiveness is action we all need. Maybe we need our own words.  Maybe we need to see it as an invitation to be shown a place we might find transformation we didn’t even know we needed.  And here the words I am using. “We” need this. Together.

And when we offer up our confession and then experience forgiveness, may we also receive the space, the freedom, the capacity to love and serve and connect with radical grace and hospitality to others who need to know of God’s unbounded love for them.

May it be so.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Nothing As It Was

It's Wednesday.
And I am observing Sabbath.

Because in the COVID 19 world, nothing is as it once was. Wednesday is the day that I can afford to stop, between the administrative work, pastoral care, and what has become the weird press of creativity and production to get worship elements captured on video for Sunday while thinking about how the church will continue to serve and grow and become, about how we will continue to offer transformation.

Did I mention nothing is as it once was? 

Matt works in a hospital - a teaching hospital. It is not the season to have chaplain interns in the hospital. So he works on the weekends. He works on Saturday. I work on Sunday. Maybe I could start using Monday as Sabbath to have a day off with him.  But Mondays in church work are NUTS.

But maybe not so much right now.  Nothing is as it once was.

There are two additional young adults living in the house.  It's not what they would choose. One should be celebrating her senior year of college, bar-hopping in Adams Morgan. Her commencement exercises would be May 9.  She wasn't really excited about walking, but we were going to celebrate in DC - probably at Cactus Cantina with a good margarita.  Pictures in regalia. Maybe even at the campus gates.  Once an Eagle...

The second one should be finishing a community service project, an outdoor environmental education space, in Guyana for the Peace Corps. She should be eating mangoes and hiking miles in the jungle on weekends.  She should be helping girls discover science is for them.

But instead, both are here. Safe. Bored. Trapped. Fed. With heat, food, water, gas. The things they need for this way of being right now.  But also with their grief for what was going to be.  Safe? Yes.  Sad? Yes.

And for my Sabbath, I've taken a run and a decadently long shower, blown out my hair and put on a dress. Because I shaved my legs and it is a treat to actually be in something pretty for a spell. My hair was due for a trim as this all started, which means my slow roll toward "growing out my hair" has taken a leap and suddenly...I just have long hair.  I had to change my bitmoji and my memoji.  Because my hair is long.

When keeping Sabbath, I try to stay out of church email. The break there is that I step away from how this is impacting every life. Every. Single. Life.  Losses pile on. We've lost two congregants. No large gatherings to mourn and to celebrate a life well lived.  We will lose more. But normally there is an escape hatch to release the pressure of pain and grief. But right now, nothing is as it once was.  We have graduating seniors who are missing prom and senior picnics and all the shenanigans. And we have college students who are supposed to be sunning themselves on college green space as spring turns warm and green.

So people are dying. It is true. They are dying from the things that normally cause death, and they are dying from a mysterious disease that ravages lungs and major organ systems. Doctors and EMTs and Nurses and aids are fighting a war in hospitals. And in nursing homes.

My mom fell and broke her leg on Easter Sunday.  She's bounced between the hospital and a rehab facility since that time. And that would be complicated in ordinary times. She is strong and proud and desperately wants to age in place. And her kids are not next door. And we are strong and proud and not always good at sharing life.  And right now none of us can actually touch her, sit with her, watch her facial features as she describes her day, her feelings, her hopes, and her fears.  So we lean in individually to listen hard and hope that we can transmit what we've heard to one another.

...through messages and emails and conference calls.  Where nerves are ragged from this but also from everything else.  Because this is hard on every one.

Nothing is as it once was.  For every single person I know.

Vacations are being cancelled.  We were supposed to be in Israel. We have a trip scheduled to Scotland. We were going to sit on Iona for a full week.  To pray. To be away from people. But it looks like even that season of Sabbath and separation is slipping away from us. Because it is hard to distance on a plane or in an airport or on a ferry.

I was supposed to graduate with my doctor of ministry on May 11...just two days after my daughter's college graduation.  I put this off by a year in order to transition into ministry in the local church, and then I got moved because that is what it means to be itinerant.  And I worked hard and fast and planned celebrations. One for my 50th - a trip to Israel from my in-laws. One for graduation - a trip to Scotland to unplug. 

There will be no commencement. We've already addressed the travel.

I guess there will still be a degree. And the Rev. Dr. Hippy Pastor Mom (my daughter's title for me).

And on both sides of graduation, I was supposed to be shuttling back and forth from here to Minneapolis observing the general conference that was going to shape the future of the denomination in which I was raised, shape the future of inclusion (or not) for ALL people.  And it has been postponed. Until late in 2021. And we rest in weird limbo.

Where the church is vital, but not gathered in the way it would.

Because nothing is as it once was.

So if I look shell shocked, that is the reason.
I am going to be ok. But...

Nothing is as it once was.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Seeing and Seen

For years, artfully, mysteriously crafted and comprised postcards arrived at an unassuming mailbox on Copper Ridge Road in Germantown, MD, just miles from our church.  They were responses to an invitation:

“You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession or childhood humiliation.  Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.  Be brief. Be legible. Be creative.”

The invitation was first extended in November of 2004 by Frank Warren who had a vision for a community art project. He began printing 4000 self-addressed blank post cards to distribute. Today, the blog site that curates submissions has over 825 million lifetime hits. Each week, a curated selection of postcards received are featured on the blog.

The secrets submitted run the gamut – affairs, abortions, covetous thoughts, petty crimes, secret addictions, unrevealed diagnoses, fears.  Not all secrets are what we would judge as “bad,” but they have been held closely, unrevealed.  Not exposed to the light. And even now, only anonymously.

Nearly 1 billion hits. A robust twitter following. Several Ted Talks. People are fascinated by these revelations.

When the project first began, Warren was lucky to receive enough to share 10 viable secrets a week.  The most recent estimate I find suggests the project now receives more than 200 a day, nearly 16 years later, which must make curating 10 a week a hard decision.  The sheer volume of responses since 2004 reveals how deeply we want to be able to name our hardest, darkest thing, how we want to expose it to light.

And to still be ok.

Today, we begin our journey on the path of being a disciple of Jesus Christ here –
A disciple is a person who experiences the forgiveness and acceptance of God.

Let’s begin in an “easy” place, if you will.  Let’s begin with acceptance.  We’ll look more deeply at “forgiveness” next week, because they go hand in hand.

Today’s text from the gospel of John does not occur in the lectionary – the three year cycle of readings used by a lot of protestant churches.  I won’t spend a lot of time speculating, but I do think it is because it is hard and addresses something that even today feels taboo. It is rooted in patriarchy and rules about who is in and who is out that we are unwilling to revisit often today.  And it is also possible that it opens the door to the wideness of God’s grace. Let’s face it. Some prefer for God’s grace to not be quite so wide.

In this story, the scribes and Pharisees have shown up with a woman “caught in the very act of committing adultery.” That has a specific connotation in our society today – but let’s not forget that a woman, once married in these ancient societies, was considered adulterous even for having a relationship with another man once she was widowed. Or if her rightful husband had abandoned her. And without a man, a woman had little ability to survive in ancient economies.

Throughout John’s gospel, the Jewish authorities seem pretty set on catching Jesus in tricky conundrums.  This one seems cut and dried – she committed adultery. We caught her in the act. The law says we can stone her. What do you say?

Jesus bends down and begins writing in the dirt. Our modern texts don’t say much more than that…he wrote with his finger on the ground…but other ancient versions of this text have a few more words.  “And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground the sins of each of them…” 

Or…another possibility lies in the chapter that proceeds this in John.  Jesus has been teaching about living water during the festival of the Tabernacle where the Jewish authorities would have also been present and teaching.  And certain festivals focused on certain texts and during the festival of the tabernacle, the text of Jeremiah 17 was taught.  Specifically at verse 13 and 14 which reads:

O hope of Israel! O Lord!
    All who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be recorded in the underworld,
    for they have forsaken the fountain of living water, the Lord.

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
    save me, and I shall be saved;
    for you are my praise.

Or in more common Hebrew,
All who forsake you shall be put to shame, those who turn away will be recorded in the dust…

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved.

So as the authorities are waiting to see how Jesus might judge this woman, he instead begins writing names in the dirt –the names of the very authorities trying to catch him up in blasphemy.

Jesus not only doesn’t condemn the woman brought to him, but he “sees” the brokenness of all those who bring charges against her as well.

And really, the end result is that no one gets stoned. No one throws stones. He assures the woman that he does not condemn her, and sends her away telling her not to sin again.

Then in a scene change, Jesus is gathered with the disciples, sort of debriefing the last several key events. “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

We know that light dispels darkness. Light makes things visible. Light facilitates seeing.

In Jesus’ light, we are fully seen.
And when we are willing to look with Jesus’ eyes, we see in full light others around us.

Light dispels shame.

The sociologist Brene Brown reminds us that “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

She teaches that shame keeps us from living fully into our abilities, our relationships, our gifts. She teaches that shame causes us to wear masks that not only hide our flaws but project instead some perfection for others to see.

I can’t help but hear the results of her years of qualitative research that gathered information from a wild array of people and situations, and hear the truth of the Gospel – You are worthy of being seen. God’s love is bigger than the worst thing that you do.  God’s love is for us NO matter what.  God who creates us also sees us fully – our bumps and our bruises, our warts and and our scars, our deceptions – even those we are not able to see ourselves.

Because all of that being seen actually matters to your well being and to the wholeness of society.  Maybe folks who cannot receive that from the scriptures can receive it from a scientist who is doing well-respected work.

So…our willingness to lay aside our shame, expose our flaws – not necessarily to the whole world, but certainly to the God who loves us – and then live differently because we know we won’t get stoned actually changes us.  And the way we move in the world. And the world.

We are on this journey, a journey where we are seeking a place to belong, ways of becoming closer to God and one another, ways of believing in the power of God at work in the world right here and now – so that we can be part of that work.

Part of the journey for us must be letting ourselves be seen.
Part of the journey for us must be knowing that God sees us fully.
Part of the journey for us must be knowing that the God who sees us fully loves us so.

Light dispels darkness. Light makes things visible. Light facilitates seeing. In Jesus’ light, we are fully seen. And when we are willing to look with Jesus’ eyes, we see one another in full light.

That has to make the journey richer.

May it be so.

Sources: – please note that this blog site includes material that some may find inappropriate or offensive.
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