[sermon] birth pangs

hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25 (NRSV)
and every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. but when christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of god,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. and the holy spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “this is the covenant that i will make with them after those days, says the lord: i will put my laws in their hearts, and i will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “i will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of god, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. and let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

mark 13:1-8 (NRSV) as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “look, teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” then jesus asked him, “do you see these great buildings? not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

when he was sitting on the mount of olives opposite the temple, peter, james, john, and andrew asked him privately, “tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” then jesus began to say to them, “beware that no one leads you astray. will come in my name and say, ‘i am he!’ and they will lead many astray. when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. for nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. this is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

today is the twenty-fifth sunday after pentecost–the twenty-fifth sunday of a long period of time in the church year we call “ordinary time.” this long, long, long period of the life of the church between our celebration of the birth of the church at pentecost until our season of advent begins to prepare us to watch and pray for the coming of our messiah.

i have good news–this season of ordinary time will soon be drawing to a close as we begin advent–with the lighting of candles, the sharing of the call of mary to bear god in her womb, joseph’s acceptance of his call in the holy family–through the season of advent we will wait with mary as her belly grows large with child–we will wait with her as she waits.

so technically, at this moment, we are waiting to wait. we are perched on the precipice of a new season–next sunday is christ the king sunday, and the one following that is the first sunday of advent. we are entering into what is called a liminal space. 

to be liminal means to be betwixt and between two things. now wholly one thing nor another. for example–in cultures that have a coming of age ceremony: in the last stage of childhood, in some cultures, a boy is sent out into the wilderness and told to wait for his spirit animal to come to him. he is to wait, alone, in the wilderness until this happens–then he is to come home and tell the tale. it is then that he is eligible to go through the ritual that will make him a man. while he is in the wilderness he is neither a boy, nor a man. he has left what it means to be a boy behind in the village–and while waiting for his spirit animal to make itself known to him, he is also not yet a man. he is betwixt and between. not a boy, not a man, but something in the middle–a mix of the two and a third thing altogether. 

and so we are here at the end of this ordinary time. we are leaning toward christ the king sunday next week, looking toward advent. we are waiting to wait.

and the lectionary readings for this last part of the ordinary time season are perplexing ones to choose just before advent. the writer of the hebrew’s passage reminds us that christ’s sacrifice is the new law that replaces the old law of reconciling sacrifice. in the old covenant sacrifices were made over and over again, but christ, in offering of his body, then sat at the right hand of god and ending sin.

that passage ends with a plea for those following jesus’ teachings to not stop meeting together–urging those who hear these words to continue to seek unity together, to love one another and encouraging one another–all because of christ’s example in love shown most clearly through his sacrifice. it is a bit perplexing that the epistle lesson would be on christ’s sacrifice when we are waiting to wait for jesus to be born!

and again in the gospel text for this morning, from mark, we read that jesus and the disciples are leaving the temple (perhaps after pausing to reflect on the widow that jesus had drawn their attention to), and one of the disciples asks “aren’t the stones in these buildings amazing?” (don’t forget, these disciples were predominately galilian men-from down near the sea of galilee, not the big city of jerusalem–if you don’t see skyscrapers very often, you are likely to be in awe each time! so too with the expanse of the temple!) and jesus replies that not one of those impressive stones will remain untoppled–he is predicting the destruction of the physical temple, but also the destruction of the temple that is his body. it seems a peculiar reading to have here at the precipice of advent.

liminal spaces can be peculiar. they are mysterious places where uncertainty hangs out. a place where there tend to be more questions than answers–and everything is muddled into a a mix not seen before. 

this liminal space is like the end of a long pregnancy–where perhaps the baby is a little overdue. the mother of the liturgical seasons is heavy with child–that of the coming advent–these stories of jesus’ prediction of his suffering and the author of hebrews reminding us of that sacrifice–these are the beginnings of the labor pains for the next season. we are laboring, but not yet in labor.

we are in that confusing space between seasons and in-between time–almost in-between drought and flood with the quick turn around on rain after months of dry, at the in-between of hot summer weather and cooler fall weather, the seasons seeming to not quite make up their mind. in some traditions they began observing an extended advent last week–and yet a lot of churches and traditions still have some time to go before that liturgical season.

it seems that a lot of the world is feeling some sort of labor pain these days, too. the recent attacks in paris, the ongoing bombing in syria, continued violence in our cities and towns in the united states–the violence wrought through angry words and put downs of our family, friends or co-workers. the church was filled yesterday with those morning the loss of aleta duff–the labor pain of her rebirth into new life felt by those who now miss her presence here among us. 

we feel the pain of violence and oppression, we feel the pain of grief and loss, we feel the pain of change–but instead of shying away from this liminal time and space, instead of medicating these labor pains so we cannot feel them these scripture lessons today are inviting us not turn away but to feel that pain. 

growing up as an athlete i learned quickly the difference between good pain and bad pain. there is that tenderness that comes from a long and hard workout–that special kind of all over sore at the beginning of training season, where you rediscover muscles you forgot about in the off season–you learn if it is sore-pain, or if it is injury-pain. 

sore-pain you stretch out. you drink more water to dissolve the built up lactic acid and gently move the muscles, giving them space to heal and strengthen. injury-pain is different. you immobilize, you take the weight off and be still to allow for healing. 

the pain of this liminality –of being between liturgical seasons, being almost-between pastors, of funerals, and aching bodies, uncertainty in our world and in our community–this is not injury-pain. this is sore-pain. this is the laboring before the labor–when we stretch our muscles and drink enough water–when we go for walks to loosen up our joints. we cannot ignore these birth pangs–we cannot medicate them away, but rather must focus our attention and energy at the source of the pain.

these perplexing lectionary readings make more sense in the focus of waiting to wait–of laboring before the labor. jesus predicting the destruction of the temple (and thereby also his death and subsequent resurrection) remind us of the promises of god through the god’s son the messiah. it is good to be reminded, during the birth pangs, that there is beauty and truth coming at the climax of all of this pain. 

the hebrews passage today remind us in this liminal time of birth pangs that as followers of christ we are to remain united in our love and care for one another. the creators of the lectionary are showing us in this awkward in-between time reminders of what we will begin journeying toward during advent and into christmastide. 

what is the sore-pain that you are experiencing? what is happening in this seasonal liminal space for you? for the community and the church that could use some stretching out? what are the ways you are choosing to medicate sore-pain instead of feeling it, stretching it, drinking enough water and letting that sore place heal? 

this liminal space between ordinary time and advent is the time to actively wait on the waiting of advent. let this space be one of preparing for waiting with mary as she grows god in her belly. this liminal time is a holy time to renew our commitment to the unity of the community.

i invite you to cast away the medication of too much television or too much food. that medication of pushing feelings away and not feeling the awkwardness, anger or sadness. and let the feelings come. and if they get to be too much, reach for a friend to join you–we are all in this liminal: in-between space together–waiting to wait, laboring to labor. 

thanks be to god, amen.

what about the widow’s mite?

a sermon offered to solcum union church and first united methodist church of elkhart, texas. a different view of a text typically offered as a stewardship campaign–turned on its head.

mark 12: 38-44 as he was teaching, he said, “watch out for the legal experts. they like to walk around in long robes. they want to be greeted with honor in the markets. they long for places of honor in synagogues and at banquets. they are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. they will be judged most harshly.

jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. many rich people were throwing in lots of money. one poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny. jesus called his disciples to him and said, “all of them are giving out of their spare change. but she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

when a story is narrated in the same way over and over again we begin to adopt that narrative as what is true–even if perhaps there were tweaks, stretching or editing of the truth and even pure untruths have made their way into the telling of the story. sometimes this is harmless–like a ghost story of an abandoned building children tell each other, tall fishing tales, or when a novel or movie is “based on a true story”. taking artistic license or sweetening of the story-telling plot can be a beneficial thing, for sure.

the story of the widow’s mite to many of us who have been attending church services for a lot of our lives, may be a familiar piece of scripture. we learn about her as children, this story being one of those stories deemed good for children (like noah’s ark, too) that confuses me as to why it is chosen for delicate ears. most often with the main point of the telling of this story to chide congregations and individuals into tithing more, or adding more to their “second-mile giving.”

in the prosperity gospel tradition (which i will name here as heresy and abuse of trust), this widow and her two coins equaling only one penny is used to narrate what that tradition refers to as “planting your seed.” that false notion of planting your over and beyond gift of money to a certain church, or more often than not, a certain “pastor” (and i’m using quotes there on purpose)and if you pray just right, and give just the right amount THEN god will bless you. let me name again, that is abuse, friends.

these tellings of the stories of the widow’s mite are helpful for making an emotional and guilt educing plea during a stewardship or building campaign, with the preacher saying “see, brothers and sisters, even this poor widow-woman gave her last two coins–only totaling one penny–and so much more can you do!”

i am here to tell you that that is not the whole story. we have lost the point.

to be a widow in any age is a difficult role in life. to lose your partner to sickness or accident is a burden that many have carried with broken hearts and empty hands throughout the ages. we hear of stories of one spouse passing away, and the other following not long after–their friends and family saying that they died of a broken heart–missing their partner’s presence and love in their lives so much that their own hearts cease to beat.

added to the pain of losing a partner, in the time of jesus’ ministry, to be a widow had many other life-threatening implications, too. women were not able to own property. even if this widow’s spouse had owned half of judea and successfully farmed figs for their entire lives–his passing meant that she no longer had anyone to take care of her financially. after his passing the land would have passed to a son, a brother, a cousin, a close male friend. almost never to a woman. even if the land had belonged to HER father, and together they farmed olives for thirty years would the land be passed to her–when her husband passed she lost all connection to that land unless whomever it was given to decided to take it upon themselves to help her.

no land, also means no home. again–it could be that the kindness of the new landowner (most likely family of some sort) would allow her to stay in her home–but it very well could be that she wasn’t welcome there any more. no land. no home. and no way to make money.

i wonder if jesus knew her name. surely he did. does.
i wonder if the disciples took the time to know her name.
what about the rich men who were putting their spare change in the box? did they even see her?

what i hope for this widow–and the reality of her story that has been over looked for so long–is that she died with dignity. these were her last two coins–equaling, i’ll say again, only one penny.
and the last thing that jesus says in this reading is “…she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.” everything she had. everything she needed to live on.

jesus doesn’t tend to speak in hyperbolic statements–at least not by my best reading of the gospels. so if he says that this is all she has, it is a safe bet that this is a literal statement. she walked out of that temple with everything she most likely owned on her back–whatever clothes she had, and that was it.

this sort of gives me the heebie-jebies, friends.

i spent a few years living among some pretty abject poverty in east africa. i have seen and touched and smelled what it is to literally have nothing but the clothes on your back and to be starving to death, with no hope of coming back from that brink. i have known people whose entire worldly possessions consisted of a blanket, a hat and a cup. a cup they hoped to have filled by the kindness of strangers.

so i wonder what it means for preachers to laud this widow for giving away everything she had but the clothes on her back to the temple. do i hold that up and ask you to be like that? when it very well could be that she was distributing the last of her property so she could quietly slip away and starve? do we celebrate this? do we put our hand over our eyes and weep?

the first part of the reading for this passage tends to be ignored by those preaching stewardship sermons about this widow. but the gospel of mark has jesus, already in the temple and teaching, calling out the legal experts of the day. right before the narration of the widow jesus says to beware of the legal experts because “they are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. they will be judged most harshly.” they cheat widows out of their homes. hum.

the false piety of the legal experts and the religious institution that they lead is corrupt. the institution steals homes from widows rather than tending the least, last and lost–or as the psalm’s say serving a god who is the parent of orphans, and the protector of widows.

if you read backwards in mark you see that in the days preceding this time in the temple, jesus has spent a lot of time speaking against the political and economic injustice all around. he pokes fun at the overly fancy roman ways by processing into jerusalem on a humble donkey. he loses his mind, flips tables and clears the temple’s money changers out of the building with a whip and the most intense anger we see from him.

he keeps quiet when the chief priests, scribes and elders of the religious institution demand to know where his authority comes from–because they just cannot and will not believe that he has been sent by god. he offers scathing remarks on the religious leaders and taxes, and more!

so what is the deal with then turning around and saying that this widow is worthy of praise for giving the last of her possessions and shortening her life expectancy profoundly?

friends: he doesn’t. look at it again–we have heard this narrative so many times over so many years with false information tinting it the wrong color–jesus never celebrates this sacrifice. he does not tell the disciples that this is what true giving looks like. what he does is he sees her. he sees this widow, knows she is giving all she has, and asks his disciples to notice this and to see her, too.

i want to see jesus’ eyes as he watches her. i want to her his voice when he speaks to the disciples. he just preached about the leaders of the temple destroying widow’s houses and then a mostly-destroyed widow deposits the last of her earthly possessions (thereby participating in her own destruction!) literal moments later.

jesus has just drawn the attention of his disciples–and of us– to a trusting woman giving her all to an indefensible institution, one that refuses to protect the poor, refuses to protect her.

jesus saw her. and he asked his disciples and us to notice her. everyone else was “too busy, too grand, too spiritual, and too self-absorbed” to see her. it is nauseating to me that they didn’t see her. but the beauty is in the flip-side. jesus did. jesus saw her. he saw this “insignificant” and small, quiet and hidden woman.

he saw her courage. can you imagine moving through crowds of some of the richest of the rich to deposit the smallest currency in the land? that took courage. it took courage to give the very last pieces of security that she could have clutched in her palms until the very end.

jesus noticed her dignity.  surely she had to steel herself when widowhood rendered her worthless — a person marked “expendable” even in the temple she loved.   she had to trust — in the face of all the evidence piled up around her — that her tiny gift had value in god’s eyes.

and finally, jesus noticed her vocation. if she knew it or not, the widow’s action in the temple that day was a prophetic action.  she is a prophet– rejecting  injustice and corruption. without even saying a single word, she shouts wisdom in the ancient prohpetic tradition of isaiah, elijah, jeremiah…

this widow is also a messianic prophet, because her self-sacrifice comes before jesus’s sacrifice.  something that jesus noticed was his kinship with this prophetic woman,  her story a mirror of his.  she gave everything she had to serve a world so broken, it killed her–and just a few days later, jesus gave everything he had to redeem, restore, and renew that world, and it killed him, too.

and, if reading this time line right in the gospel correctly, jesus died just four days later.  i wonder if the widow did, too.

and, i wonder what it means that Jesus rose from death just three days after that. what does that mean for this prophetic widow and her death?
and, what does that mean for us, too?

thanks be to god, amen.

[sermon] all saint’s day: accidental saints

a sermon offered to solcum union church and elkhart first united methodist church for all saint’s sunday, 2015. inspired by rev. nadia bolz-weber‘s newest book _accidental saints_ and the week’s lectionary texts.

isaiah 25: 6-9 
psalm 24
revelation 21:1-6a
john 11:32-44

mother teresa, or teresa of calcutta, the founder of the missionaries of charity who most famously starting the home for the dying in india. she not only lived among the poorest of the poor, but she held them, touched them and loved them when all of society had cast them out. she has been beatified by the catholic church, meaning that she is in the process of being officially sainted in recognition of her selfless and giving life responding to what she called “the call within a call” when she adopted indian citizenship and moved into the slums.
saint francis of assisi believed that nature was the mirror of god, referring to animals as his brothers and sisters, preaching to the birds. francis founded the franciscian and clare orders, groups of men and women–orders that remain faithful today, living in apostolic poverty and preaching repentance. st francis is the patron saint of animals and ecology.

saint teresa of avila, who is a doctor of the church (which means she has “an extensive body of writings which the church can recommend as an expression of the authentic and life-giving Catholic Tradition”, sought to reform the order she had joined–noticing that the daily life of the sisters was interrupted by outside visitors, the hours of prayer not kept and a general lax attitude toward their vows she pushed back, eventually beginning a reformed order and writing many didactic collections to further individual’s lives of faith. a mystic, a contemplative, teresa spent her life seeking to not only draw closer to god, but to journey with others as they did as well.

saint augustine, one of the most prolific writers of the early fathers, whose philosophical and theological thought has deeply influenced christian thought in both eastern and western traditions taught against heresy, and was committed to a life of poverty, prayer and study.

saint peter is said to have been the first pope-“upon this rock i shall build my church,” jesus said of peter. a disciple and an apostle who left everything he had to follow jesus, who continued to teach the ways of christ after jesus’ ascension and was martyred by crucifixion for persisting in teaching christianity.

these five saints of the church are responsible for countless hours of prayer and devotion to god. they are responsible for countless acts of generosity and kindness to strangers. each of them rebelled and pushed back on the institutions they were a part of in the name of seeking reform and deeper holiness. these men and women are just a few examples of those humans who have dwelt among us who sought to be christ-like–altering their lives and devoting themselves to poverty and prayer. we are right to call them saints.

in our church calendar today we take a break from this long season of post pentecost ordinary time to observe all saint’s day. as reverend nadia bolz-weber (a lutheran pastor in denver, colorado) writes in accidental saints, this is the day “when the church recognizes how thin the veil is between life and death and remembers that the church includes all who have gone before us and now are glorified and all whom will follow, who are yet to be born.”*

in the united states, our anglo-culture does not do publicly morn or remember those who have died unless they are in some way famous, if they have served in the armed forces or are a national hero. but the church liturgy asks us to do something sort of strange today. it asks us to remember the saints who have lived and died, and to learn from their lives.

we have a lot to learn from mother teresa, saint francis, saint teresa of avila, saint augustine, and saint peter. their good acts i listed a moment ago are only but a few in their lifetimes of dedicated service and piety.

well, sort of.

what if i told you that even the most holy of those five humans was still, in fact, human? and not just that but had an anger problem? or a drinking habit? how about if i told you one of them had a lying problem? a moment ago i quoted reverend nadia bolz-weber’s newest book called accidental saints. in that moment i failed to mention the subtitle of this book, it is “finding god in all the wrong people.”*

mother teresa “shouldn’t” be a saint! we learned after her death that she doubted her faith her whole life. not to mention she was pretty sharp with her words with the sisters she lived and worked with.

saint francis was a notorious hot-head, he “shouldn’t” be a saint! his brothers were building a house that he found to be too opulent so he climbed onto the roof and started tearing apart with his bare hands!

saint teresa of avila had the gift of snark, she is said, once when annoyed with her fellow sisters prayed aloud “from silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good lord deliver us!”

saint augustine left the church as a youth to pursue education and philosophy–he infamously stole pears and is quoted as praying “lord give me chastity, but not yet!” he “shouldn’t” be a saint, right?!

and dear saint peter, surely you know his faults? one of the most glaring is that he was a terrible lie-er! on the night of jesus’ crucifixion he was asked, three times, “you’re a friend of jesus, right?” and his response was basically, “WHO? ME?! NOPE. NEVER HEARD OF HIM.”

and these are the saints of our church, ladies and gentlemen. snarky, lying,unchaste, angry, doubting thieves. while the good works, the bruised knees from hours of prayer and lives of chosen poverty are, indeed, to be applauded it is not their work that makes them saints. a true saint does not say “i am a saint” but that title, rather, is conferred upon them. the title of saint is not earned–you cannot put in your ten thousand hours and become a saint. what the saints show us, these five famous saints as well as those we know and love and miss from own community, is how god works through us and our lives.

the apostle paul, in philippians 2:13 says, “god is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.” you cannot boot-straps your way to sainthood with good old american grit, a firm jaw and tenacity. these things don’t hurt–but in doing our part, but it is the grace of god through the holy spirit moving through these human hearts and minds and hands that turns these lying, cheating, alcoholic, angry humans into accidental saints.

i wonder if you know any accidental saints? those people who have happened into their circumstances and situations and and somehow help others along the way. like someone with a wee bit of a drinking problem managing to get sober and help others on their journey to sobriety, too, who are equally kind and hostile.*

anthony de mello, a jesuit priest and psychotherapist wrote and spoke on spirituality. in one of the speeches he gave he began by talking about receiving compliments, and how good they make us feel. when he would receive visitors where he lived in india they would comment on the lovely grounds, trees, weather and he would feel proud. they could comment on being disgusted with the poverty of the country and he would become upset. but then realized “i didn’t choose these grounds, i am not responsible for the trees or weather or even for the poverty of a country! how silly!” we rely deeply on compliments of things that aren’t really real, “what a lovely shirt!” “your house is beautiful!” “what a pretty costume!” but what did we do to earn these things? he said “i am going to write a book called ‘i’m okay and you’re okay’ and wont’ that be nice? but then i’m going to write a book called ‘i’m an ass, and you’re an ass.’ and isn’t that the truth?!”

to be able to acknowledge that we aren’t always nice or kind, that sometimes we say yes when we should say no and we say no when we should say yes, that we willingly choose to be jerks sometimes liberated from the false cycle of ‘i’m okay, you’re okay.’ and at the same time frees up space for acknowledging that in our imperfection god not only chooses to love us and work through us, but delights in doing so.

the ancient saints were all accidental saints.

the saints from our families and community we have lost this past year? also accidental saints. and i have news for you, friends, you are all accidental saints too.

even though sometimes you get angry and say things you regret, even though you cheated at dominos. you are an accidental saint, too, even though you ignored that call, even though you cut someone off in traffic and thought unkind thoughts about someone’s sweater choice.

you, dear friends, are accidental saints because you love each other. you love your families even when they make you want to pull your hair out. you are accidental saints because you go the extra mile, and then a marathon more for your neighbors in need. you are accidental saints because you continue to be a people upon whom god is continually working–a people on whom god is continually sending the holy spirit to comfort and to guide–even when we are mean, when we ignore one another, even when we gossip and bicker and hurt other people’s feelings.

you are an accidental saint if you like it or not, because you are made in god’s image and are loved deeply by our creator if you like it, or even know it or not.

my closing question to you today, is what will you do with that knowledge? will you rest on your laurels of being loved? or will you lean into that acceptance and accidental sainthood and deepen your love of neighbor? are you listening for the movement of the holy spirit? where is she trying to take you?


*quoted or paraphrased from _accidental saints: finding god in all the wrong people_ (i listened to the audiobook, therefore, no page numbers. guess you just have to read it yourself!)

unity in diversity

slocum union church and elkhart first united methodist church–sunday august 2, 2015. 11th sunday after pentecost.

ephesians 4:1-16 (common english bible)

therefore, as a prisoner for the lord, i encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from god. conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the spirit with peace that ties you together. you are one body and one spirit, just as god also called you in one hope. there is one lord, one faith, one baptism, and one god and father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

god has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by christ. that’s why scripture says, when he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.”

what does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? the one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything.

he gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. his purpose was to equip god’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of god’s son. god’s goal is for us to become mature adults–to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of christ. as a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into christ, who is the head. the whole body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.

give in.
to your uniqueness.
the very thing you’ve been fighting not to be your whole life.
it is the very thing that is your genius.
–nayyirah waheed

i don’t know most of you very well yet–my time has been short so far, but i am still looking forward to sharing kitchen tables with you, soon–so this assumption could be wildly off base. however, i am fairly confident that something all of we humans do sometimes is forget. we forget to buy milk and have to turn around and go back to the grocery store. we forget someones birthday, or our partner’s anniversary. and sometimes, we forget who we are.

some of the time it is not on purpose–it happens slowly, one little slip at a time, over months or years. then something wakes us up from our interior slumber and we think “wait, who am i? what am i doing? am i living my life according to what is important to me?” and, hopefully, we get back to the work of being true to the unique gifts god has given us.

and some of the time we forget who we are on purpose. we see that our passions and gifts that bring us the most joy are a little to a lot outside of what society considers “acceptable” or what the “norm” is. and so we fight it. we share our wild dream to become a marine biologist, or the first woman to walk on the moon or to be a full time artist and someone well-meaning says “you can’t do that.” or “we’ve never done it that way before.” or “why can’t you just do things like everyone else.” so you fight it. you push your dream or your talent away and fight to be just like everyone else. but i agree with nayyirah waheed’s poem i read–she says, “the very thing you’ve been fighting your whole life” she writes, “it is the very thing that is your genius.”

but we are so forgetful.

i wonder if you have friends and loved ones in your family who can help you remember. those people you sit around and tell stories with, with a common phrase “do you remember when…” which is often met with “OH YES. but do YOU remember…” we remind each other of the parts that have left our individual memory–by accessing this collective and shared memory.

and i wonder if these friends and loved ones are also able to turn to you and say “hey, you’re not really acting like yourself. are you okay?” and you can be honest with them and say “you know, i’m really struggling right now.” and what i hope is that these friends and loved ones are such that they can look at you and hold your gaze and remind you of who you are. that they can tell you “you have such a way with teaching children.” “your banana pudding is transcendent.” “i don’t know anyone who can fix a carburetor faster than you can.” “when you sing, i feel closer to god.” “you are beautiful.” “you always make me laugh.”

in this letter from paul we hear that god’s purpose is to equip god’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of christ “until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of god’s son.” and to attain that great overarching goal of all knowing the profound love of god and of god’s son jesus that we all have to be exactly who we are, and work together to get there.

but we are so forgetful.

the ancient moralists (philosophers) believed and taught that people should be reminded of what they already know, so that they will act accordingly. i know several of you are teachers, and so perhaps this [pedagogical/teaching] method of repetition is familiar to you in the classroom (be it school or sunday school), but i also want to consider this [pedagogical/teaching method] for our spiritual lives, too. sometimes we have to be reminded.

a while back i was lamenting that i didn’t feel like i was really excelling at anything–and that a few life events had led me to a place and time of feeling unsure of what my gifts were. i was sharing this honest struggle with a wise woman in my life who responded by finding a bell and ringing it when a gift of mine was seen or mentioned in that conversation. i needed to be reminded–and often it is our community that can help remind us of “the very thing that is your genius.”


we each have been given unique gifts and talents, personalities and loves. and owning and honing these individual unique gifts is immensely important for our personal well-being of our body, our minds and our spirits. and we need to remind one another of those gifts that we see in each other–and to learn to ask for help naming our talents when we have forgotten. and this is important to do not only for our individual health and faithfulness, but also because of our interconnectedness.
paul writes in verse 15, that “…by speaking the truth in love, let’s grow in every way into christ, who is the head. the whole body grows from him, and it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. the body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.”

our society teaches us and forms us into highly individual people–and where creating strong ties are optional. fewer and fewer people RSVP anymore, or do so in a timely manner. statistically, americans are eating alone more and more often. we do not have to go to an actual physical store to buy most things if you choose not to–you can literally buy everything AND the kitchen sink on amazon and have it delivered to your doorstep without having to interact with another human being. as an introvert this is both a stunningly amazing thing, and a terrifying possibility for isolation. our society is trending toward less and less in person human interaction–and this is causing our permanent ties to other human beings to atrophy.

the oneness of the body of christ is not something that happens because we merely desire it to. for a body to be knit together–either in a mother’s womb, or the church which is the body of christ–takes a lot of work. it is hard won.

in 1883 emma lazarus penned her most famous sonnet called “the new colossus” and in 1903 part of this sonnet was cast in bronze and affixed to the statue of liberty–that great symbol of welcome, hope and freedom that was the first sign to so many weary refugees and pilgrims that they had finally arrived on the shores of the united states. part of that sonnet reads: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”

the oneness of the body is hard won. it is hard work to remember that we are all one–that at some point or another we have been literally or figuratively the homeless and tempest-tossed refugee fleeing a physically or emotionally violent home, a body and soul racked with guilt or shame, we have been literally or figuratively the one filled with doubt, who has been overwhelmed with grief and numbness.

and it is hard work to remember those times of being the tempest-tossed when all is well–when we are happy and healthy and living well we can tend to forget that there are others still battling their own storms of doubt, anger, sadness and who have forgotten who they are.

emma lazaraus has another phrase that has become quite famous. so famous in fact it is attributed to the reverend doctor martin luther king, junior– he is attributed with having said, “no one is free until we are all free.” this year marked the fiftieth year since bloody sunday, when those marching for civil rights set out from selma toward montgomery and were met with bully clubs, tear gas and violence. in many ways we have come a long way since that day in 1965. voting rights have broadened, segregation is no longer legal and the color of one’s skin cannot prohibit our siblings from jobs or housing. but then again, just in june nine black lives were taken, during a bible study in a church, by a young white man in charleston, south carolina who wanted to “ignite a race war.”

we are so forgetful of who we are.
we forget our own beauty.
we forget the beauty of others.
and we forget that we are all connected together–that we are all the tempest-tossed, we forget that we are to speak the truth in love to one another, that we are to grow in every way into christ, who is the head. we forget that the whole body grows from christ, and it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. the body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.”

we are so forgetful.

paul wrote this letter to a people who had already begun the journey–this was a letter of encouragement and to remind the people of who they are and what they have already begun.

so let us let this ancient epistle remind us, too, of what we have already begun:

remind yourself of who you are.
and when you need help, ask your neighbor.
remind yourself of who you are.
and when you are remembering,
remind your neighbor of who they are.

give in.
to your uniqueness.
the very thing you’ve been fighting not to be your whole life.
it is the very thing that is your genius.

remember that we are all connected, through christ our head–
remember that we are all tossed by the tempest–
remember that we are not free until all are free.
and there are so many of our neighbors who are not free.
we have work to do.


“what belongs to me can only be mine only when it is also for others” [a sermon]

Ia sermon preached for slocum union church and elkhart first united methodist churches on sunday 7/26/2015. before the service the congregation was asked to answer three questions on a sheet of paper and add them to the offering plates later in the service: “what i wonder about our community_____ what i dream for our church ____ and what i hope for our future____”

they’re not leftovers: “what belongs to me can only be mine only when it is also for others”*

john 6:1-21 after this jesus went to the other side of the sea of galilee, also called the sea of tiberias. a large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. now the passover, the festival of the jews, was near. when he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, jesus said to philip, “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” he said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. philip answered him, “six months’ wages would not buy enough bread fore ach of them to get a little.” one of his disciples, andrew, simon peter’s brother, said to him, “there is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. but what are they among so many people? jesus said, make the people sit down.” now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. then jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. when they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” so they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. when the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say,” this is indeed the prophet who is come into the world.”

when jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

when evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to capernaum. it was now dark, and jesus had not yet come to them. the sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. but he said to them, “it is i; do not be afraid.” then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

are these things even related?

are there any bread bakers in the congregation? have you ever or do you now bake your week’s bread each weekend or mid-week? something that i hope to get back into the habit of doing is baking my own bread on an at least semi-regular basis. my desire to bake my own bread is an equal split of really enjoying the process of bread-baking–the measuring and stirring, kneading, resting and how the house fills with that special warm-sweet smell of a risen and yeasty bread that has just gone into the oven–as well as having full control over what ingredients go into my bread–honey rather than sugar, a mix of rye, whole wheat and spelt flours, less salt than usual…

bread comes up a lot in scripture–in both the hebrew bible (or old testament) and the new testament. there is talk of bread for the journey, unleven bread baked in a hurry when escaping slavery in egypt, a bread-like substance called “what is it?” or mana that miraculously appears when needed, jesus as the bread of life and the pattern of bread blessed and broken that we now call communion and remember jesus’ life, death and resurrection by

today we have a story about a miracle that involves bread.

interestingly, in this week’s lectionary gospel reading we also have a shorter story of another miracle: that of jesus walking on the water. i will admit, it took me a while to make the connection between these two stories and why the writers of the lectionary would include the second miracle story with the first.

eventually, after several re-readings, a lot of pondering and wondering and some conversations with friends and colleagues did it sink in for me: these are both stories about the common human experience. these two stories have to do with hunger, safety, provision and rescue from danger. held apart from each other, and dissected they become two stories that both involve jesus. but without cutting them apart it becomes evident that in these stories we as followers are reminded of our basic human needs and that our neighbors have the same needs, too.

they’re not leftovers

in the story of the feeding of the 5,000 there are a few parts of the story that we as 21st century readers have to fill in. for example, the crowd would have been far more than 5,000 people–if you go back and look closely at the reading you will see that most translations are sure to tell us that it is a crowd of 5,000 men. as far as i know, there were not just huge packs of men roming around ancient israel alone–but when a crowd was drawn, let alone to see jesus, it is a mixed crowd–men, women, children–persons of every age. if there were 5,000 men present a conservative guess would be to at least double that number to know how many people could have been following jesus and the disciples out into the judean version of hill country.

considering this story with just 5,000 people already presents quite the crowd to feed–but to imagine it at least double that size? 10,000 people? of course when jesus asked philip and andrew “where are we going to buy bread for all of these people?” they panicked and flailed around at least a little for an answer.

but jesus already knew what he was going to do–he knew that the disciple’s worldview was one still locked in to a linear worldview. they saw all of those people and heard the question of “how will we feed them?” and said “we do not have that kind of bread, nor that kind of money.” jesus, however, being the son of god, does not function on linear time alone. jesus functions on god’s time and god’s reality. therefore he knows that there is a way.

using what they had at hand–a child’s lunch–five barley loves and two fish, jesus gave thanks for the food and all (ALL!) ate until they were satisfied. and not only are they satisfied, there are twelve baskets of remnant left over. these aren’t to-go boxes at the end of a feast with what happens to be left over. these are not left-overs, friends. what the twelve baskets of remnants teach us is that when god is involved there is enough for those gathered, and for those who have yet to join us.

our culture is one that has taught us for a long time that there is not enough to go around. that if i do not keep what i think i need, and some extra, then i may not have enough food or money, power or control. we have been taught we should lookout for ourselves and our immediate families before considering anyone else’s well-being or needs or desires.

but what jesus is saying here is that this innate human desire to hoard and to believe that there is a scarcity of resources is not how things are supposed to be. that all persons are created in god’s image and likeness and we are all invited to partake in the abundance of god’s provision.

this scene from jesus’ life foreshadow’s when he will sit at the passover meal with the disciples and what our communion liturgy is patterned on now. something i want you to notice is that when we come to this table for communion as a community, there is plenty for all present and there is always a remnant. there is always something left.

these are not leftovers. these are proverbial twelve baskets are unclaimed main dishes. they belong to our brothers, sisters and siblings who did not gather at the table with this this time. to the home or nursing home bound member, to the young woman who had to work and couldn’t join us, for the man who feels just uncomfortable enough coming to church alone that he chooses to stay home. the remnant belongs to those who have not yet been invited, to the children who need a ride, to the woman trapped in an abusive relationship, the lonely son, and to the widowed and grieving.

these are not left overs. they belong to someone.

after all are fed and satisfied jesus and the disciples move along their way. the disciples head back to their boat and are on the sea when a storm kicks up. their boat is being bashed about a few miles off shore. when things are getting rough, the disciples look out across the water and see a figure moving toward them–it is jesus walking on the water. and here is where this second miracle dove-tails with the first of abundant food and provision for all:

here we learn that just as god provides enough for all to eat and be fed, so to is god’s provision of grace bountiful for all. jesus shows that it is now power that he desires or wields, but brings peace and presence.

upon this grassy spot

in verse ten we read “now there was a great deal of grass in this place” and this is where jesus instructed the disciples to have the people to sit down. in my time here i have explored a bit around the church property, and the parsonage and have found there to be a great deal of grass in this place, too! the backyard of the parsonage is rather large, [there is an abundance of yard here in slocum] [there are several yards around the elkhart church–the yard with the gazebo and basketball hoops, the yard in front of the church office, the back yard of the church office and the sides and front of the church!

i wonder how god could be asking us to use these spaces to invite those who are missing at the table. i wonder how we could follow jesus’s example and ask the people to sit down in the grass and share a meal together and see what happens from there.

i wonder what dreams you have for these spaces.

maybe you have had a vision for using these spaces with and for the community for a long time, or maybe today is the first you have thought of these grassy spots as an extension of the church. i wonder what you wonder.

perhaps there is space for a community garden, where the children from across the street at the school can grow vegetables and keep chickens. perhaps there is a space for community movies on the lawn. or a prayer garden. or a prayer labyrinth. perhaps there is space for a bluegrass festival, a back to school party and fall festival.

jesus shows us that we do not have to be afraid–god’s presence is always with and accompanying us. and we do not have to be afraid of running out of provision–because god will provide that, too. so if we have nothing to fear, what is holding us back?

what do you dream?
* alejandro jodorowsky “the spiritual journey of alejandro jodorowsky: the creator of _el topo_ p 83

you’re already dead : lean in [a sermon]

my second sunday in elkhart sort of snuck up on me after being away with the texas youth academy for two weeks–my second sunday in this community found me reworking an older sermon (from youth academy two years ago, it may be familiar if you’ve been around this blog for a bit) for this week. beginning sunday onward we shall be a lectionary community (expect new material!) 

ephesians 2:17 says “so he [jesus] came and proclaimed peace to you, who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him bot of us have access in one spirit to the father.”

one cultural note before we begin: i just spent two weeks with high school youth–who, as you may know, speak their own version of english. still popular today is the phrase: YOLO, which i will say several times below. it simply means “you only live once”. and is the mind-set of a generation that gives some freedom to live life for their pleasure and gain rather than service of others. (and this is not just the younger generation that acts this way, this is just the generation that uses that phrase!)

i love to weave. i am learning how to weave cloth, and my hair-weaving-skills are lacking. but the kind of weaving i mean is the combining of, the shaping of, the melding together of words. this morning i want to add to the tapestry by weaving stories and concepts and ideas with the stories and perspectives of some friends who stand on the same foundation of apostles and prophets with jesus as the corner stone, fellow citizens of the household of god.

this morning i want to take these stories, these beliefs, these theological concepts and, by the power of the holy spirit winding her way among us binding us together in this community bind them together into a word-tapestry to call us out of being a bystander into the waters of baptism. to call us to reconciliation with ourselves. with our triune god. with one another in this gathered community and beyond.

i was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the lord, let us pray:

come, holy spirit. fasten these words together in the way that you see fit. open our ears that we may hear your whisper, our hands that we may grasp yours, and our eyes that we may view the world as you do. may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o lord, our rock and our redeemer. amen

imagine being in high school. not just any high school, but a boarding school. not just any boarding school, but an elite well known boarding school. not just any elite boarding school, either, but an elite boarding school nestled in the quiet village of aboke, uganda–east africa. if you are wondering where uganda is, let me show you on my handy map of africa that i always carry with me: uganda is here… sharing borders with kenya, south sudan, the drc and rwanda.

the students of st mary’s school, and their teachers are aware of the rebels who have been abducting children in the area. they have been taking extra precautions by having guards stand post around their school at night while the students sleep.

but one night the guards do not show up. students are sent to bed anyhow, after long detailed and impassioned conversation on if the students should be moved away from the school and hidden elsewhere for the night. rather than take these students off campus it was decided that everyone would stay put.

meanwhile, elsewhere in the apach district, the parents of students at st. mary’s were finishing their evening activities as well, having dinner and washing up, preparing for the next days work and also laying down to sleep for the night. one particular mama, angelina atyam, fell asleep not knowing that mornings first light would reveal tragedy.

all good theology begins with baptism. this is the crux of the ministry of reconciliation, of discipleship. early christians were plunged into coffin shaped baptismal fonts, providing a symbolic death through the baptismal waters.

as christ had his figurative cross to bear (our sin) and his literal cross to bear so we too have our own specific, personalized and custom-made cross to bear in this life.we read in in luke 9, “we must all take up our cross daily–deny ourselves and follow christ.

in this denial, in this death of baptism, we acknowledge, i hope, that YOLO-ing everything (saying “you only live once”) is not what the gospel demands of us. but if jesus is truly worth denying ourselves for, truly worth dying for, then we are crazy to not believe in the utmost importance of the ministry of reconciliation. reconciliation within ourselves, with our neighbor, with god.

it was not until around 2:00 in the morning when the rebels finally came. sister rachele was awoken by the gate guard, “sister, the rebels are here.” sister rachele, sister alba and sister matilde began to move to the front gate of the school, hoping that the gate would slow the rebels siege. it did not take long for them to realize that the dormitories were already swarmed by rebels who had come in through the back gate of the school. the sisters, knowing if they were caught they would be forced to unlock the dorm doors, went into hiding–spending the night in analysis of the sounds around them–what were the rebels doing? were the students safe? on and on into the night they hid.

as the sisters hid, and the parents slept in their homes wholly unaware of the siege occurring at st. marys, an estimated 200 armed rebels burned the school vehicle, raided the clinic’s supplies and the special treats for uganda’s independence day celebration that was to be held the following day. between around 2:00 in the morning, to first light on uganda’s independance day, the armed rebels forced their way into some of the dormitories, forcing windows and demolishing a wall, kidnapping 152 secondary school girls between the ages of 13 and 16 years old.

as the situation was assessed friends of the school went running into the villages, carrying the news that the girls of aboke have been abducted.

i really hate the phrase YOLO. not only does it give the wrong idea that just because you receive one physical birth and one physical death means you should fill the days in-between those two dates trying to expedite the latter with bad life choices; and it also rejects the idea that we, as christians, once baptized are already dead. when we are baptized as an adult, or confirm our baptism after being baptized as an infant or child, we are already dead. for we have died with christ in the waters of baptism, rejecting seeds of darkness that are not of our god. if we live by the example of YOLO we have no need for the resurrection, and therefore no need for reconciliation. i don’t know about you, but i have been out in many places in this world of ours. i have seen a lot of things in many churches, youth groups, high schools, and homes. in towns, cities, villages, states and countries around the world and know that something we are in desperate need of is reconciliation.

some need reconciliation within themselves, to themselves. those whose inner pain and wrestling that they mark their bodies in acts of self violences. there are those who refuse to eat attempting to starve away the voice that says “you’re not good enough.” but our bodies deserve to be more than war-torn collateral. when god created you, god created you as good. god created you as very. good.

mama angelina atyam was sleeping when the pounding on her window began. “ANGELINA!” ANGELINA! the girls have been taken! the girls have been taken! [pound pound pound] ANGELINA! ANGELINA! the girls! they are gone! the rebels have taken them!” sitting bolt upright in bed the words of the man pounding on her window begin to fall into her ears and she hears him.

“what!” she cries. the rebels were not supposed to be this far south–we have heard the bad things occurring in gulu and are sorry for the situation there, but this is apache, we are safe here!”

some need reconciliation in the home–relationships with mom and dad, step mom, step dad, brother, sister, cousin, uncle or auntie, grand mother or grand father…the tapestry of this relationship is bulging at the seams–threatening to tear at any moment.
ephesians 2:17 says “so he [jesus] came and proclaimed peace to you, who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him bot of us have access in one spirit to the father.”

days pass, some of the students were released and sent with the two nuns who pursued the rebels into the bush but many remained in captivity. the parents of the still-missing children began to gather together to pray. every friday the parents would gather in the church just outside the gates of st. mary’s school and lift their voices in prayer.

one friday, after several weeks of prayers behind them, the parents gathered as usual. and they began praying, “our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. give us this day our daily food and forgive us our trespasses as we…”

they could not finish the prayer. as one body the gathered congregation held the words in their mouths they could not forgive those who had trespassed against them. they could not even say the words any more. their cheeks full of of unsaid prayer the parents silently left the church. there was no “amen.” there was no blessing or passing of the peace. no hymns were sung. hurting, angry and silent shells of parents filed out of the church into the evening air. the last candidates for examples of those to offer forgiveness or reconciliation.

some of us also need reconciliation with god. we have head knowledge that god is with and for us. but them something goes awry. we fall into old habits of skipping meals to feel light-headed and strong for beating our bodies, inflict pain on our bodies to feel again, our tenuous but “its going okay” relationship with a family member or care giver bursts forth from its casings and erupts into anger and we lash out at god for letting this happen. we turn our faces to heaven and say, “how could you let this happen to me!?”

mama angelina is one of those parents who silently left church. who held the words of forgiveness in her cheeks. one of those parents whose child was violently taken away from her, who swallowed those words of forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation where they stayed rolling around in her belly.

she was angry. “why would you do this, god?! how could you let this happen!?” angelina, while angry, stayed in conversation with god–voicing her anger, her pain. and then one day it happened.

she decided, “i must go to the rebel leader’s mother and make peace with her.” angelina wanted her daughter back. and in wanting her daughter back she came to the conclusion that not only did she want her daughter back, but she wanted all of the children back. she says “all children are my children.” and she does not just mean all of the children who were abducted by the rebels are my children, but the rebels themselves, too. for all are children of god.

angelina took herself to the rebel leader’s mother’s village, sought this woman out and sat with her. these two hurting mothers sat together and talked. mama angelina told the rebel leader’s mother “i forgive your son for what he has done.”

ephesians 2 tells us that “Jesus Christ is our peace; that in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the diving wall, that is the hostility between us.”

there are deep, profound and intricate layers of need of reconciliation just within our own hearts, let alone the heart of our neighbor.

mama angelina’s visit to the rebel leader’s mother was not a move of pride. going to sit with the mother of the man who has abducted your child, and thousands of other children is an act of utmost humility. mama angelina had to have truly forgiven this rebel leader. but it began in her heart.

as she continued in conversation with god, as she began to pray again at home, as she told god of her anger and frustration her heart began to heal. and as she began to heal she reached out across the rift, and with the miracle of the power of the holy spirit, “broke down the dividing wall that is the hostility between us”

i really want you to hear what this woman has done–angelina did not know if her daughter was alive. if she would ever see her again; and even if she would if her daughter could ever be the same. she had never met the man who had taken her daughter. and in this time between the abduction and her visit to the rebel leader’s mother she has essentially adopted all children in all the world as her own. and in that place of unknown she said “i forgive him. i forgive you.”

she reaches out beyond the way that now has a whole in it, poking her hands, arms, head and body through and cries out that she has forgiven the one who has inflicted pain on her and all parents.

angelina and many other parents formed an organization to advocate for the release of all children abducted by the rebels. she is not quiet about her desire to reconcile with the man who has led this rebel army. as a matter of fact, she has been so loud with her desire to reconcile, so loud with her forgiveness that the leader of the rebels has been frustrated with her–he promised that if she were to just be quiet he would release her daughter.

she says, “no” i want all of my children.

this is what it looks like to bear your personal cross. this is what it looks like to not YOLO one’s way through one’s life but to know that in baptism you have died and been raised with christ, are a new creation who is charged with the ministry of reconciliation–which really means to love your neighbors. all of them.

a dear friend and professor of peace studies says, “to acknowledge something means we are called to act.” there is a lot going on in our great big world, in our neighborhoods, our homes and in our own hearts that we acknowledge is not quite right. will you choose to shrug it off and say, “eh. you only live once…not my problem” or will you lean forward into the deep rushing baptismal waters, perhaps for the first time ever or perhaps in remembrance of your baptism years ago and let the rushing current remind you of the promises god has made to us as god’s children–shown to us through christ jesus who came and proclaimed peace to us, who became flesh and made us a new humanity reconciled together all as children of god.

lean forward.


if it is important to you:find a way [a sermon]

a sermon preached with the texas youth academy 2015 on discipleship day (july 16, 2015)–in a world worship service at southwestern university–perkins chapel.

deuteronomy 11:18-21 you shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

brothers, sisters and siblings, i wonder if you know what it is to be held in tenderness. for someone who loves you to cradle you in their arms and hold you. maybe the warm embrace from a parent, or a kiss on the cheek from a grandparent, or a touch on the arm from a mentor or teacher. i wonder and i pray that you know that touch–the physical manifestation of compassion and love.

if you would, put your hands out like this: close your eyes with me–and i want you to think about that sort of tenderness–with your hands still up and your eyes still closed, try to remember a time where you were upset and someone wrapped you up tightly in a hug, or held your hand or placed their hand on your shoulder or a shared moment of eye-contact where you feel the connection [hand on heart, hand outstretched] so intensely it feels like you’ve made physical contact. remember that time and try to remember what it felt like–the weight of their hand, the warmth of another living being coming into contact with you. hold that moment and that feeling in your hands:

and now if you would pray with me--holy and compassionate and tender god, open our ears that we may hear your voice, our minds that we may build a higher ceiling for those who come after us, our hearts that they may look like yours and our hands to share your gentleness with our neighbors. and may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o lord, our rock and our redeemer, amen.

you may open your eyes–and if you are still holding your memory and feeling of tenderness, cup it gently, don’t forget it–we’re coming back to it, soon.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

the theme for today has been discipleship. in general to be a disciple means to be a follower. what we are talking about here is to be a disciple, a follower, of jesus christ, son of god, in trinity with the holy spirit. we are not talking just about the twelve disciples of jesus we read about in scripture–but also us who have and us who continue to, day by day and those who will one day respond to the nudges of the holy spirit through prevenient grace to recognize our place at the table with those called christian.

it is evident, by your being here, that each of you is a disciple of jesus–we may carry questions and pain and secrets and serious doubt about this god and church thing: but you showed up to ask, and learn, and question and seriously (and sometimes not so seriously) reflect on a life of faith. you found a way to be here.

lets check on our tender moments: may i see it? good, good. thank you. keep holding them.

this pericope, or reading, opens with “you shall put these words of mine…” whose words? what words? looking backwards in deuteronomy we learn that moses is our narrator–and the words he is talking about are the words of god–behind us we have, among other things, the decalogue or ten commandments and we have the shema–like katie preached on our very first night here together. these are the words god is telling us to put in our hearts, bind on our hands and fix upon our foreheads.

i would like to couch my next statement by saying that i am not condoning secretly getting tattoos behind your parent or guardian’s backs. n-o-t not the point of the following story.

when i was nineteen years old i got my first tattoo. it was the summer after my first year of college and my childhood best friend and i wanted to commemorate our friendship and an amazing summer of working at camp together with matching tattoos, right here:

we were nineteen, it was the early two-thousands, and so of course we got matching icthus (christian fish) tattoos at the end of the summer on our way back to our homes. i had almost almost almost made it through the week or so back in my parents home before heading back to university when i was finally found out. i was ever-so-innocently loading the dishwasher the evening before i was to leave–and leaned across to put a dish in when i suddenly felt a rush of air on skin that shouldn’t be feeling air. before i really had time to process what was going on i hear my mothers lamenting cry, “what did you do to that perfect body i made?!” and i said: ” :\

and it was really just the beginning–i now have five with a few more in the works. some of you today at lunch asked about the raven on my shoulder (if you weren’t there and you want to know, you can absolutely ask me later) and while i was telling you about its meaning i also told you why i have tattoos in the first place: it is because i am forgetful.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

i need a way to remember the “these words” from god that are referenced in deuteronomy–and for me, my tattoos are one way to put them in my heart and soul, to bind them as a sign on my hand and to fix them as an emblem on my forehead. as a disciple i need these to remember.

this morning andy taught us about a middle eastern, what? middle eastern understanding of discipleship. this whole discipleship thing isn’t just about me and my jesus. we do not claim ourselves as individual 10 feet away from everyone trying to only have our personal relationship with jesus–no, no… true discipleship is we claim ourselves together with one another having and being 1 foot friends.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

when we are looking for god not just in the sky above us and not just inward inside of us–but with our heads up and looking for who are still ten feet away we are doing the work of a disciple.

i recently had the privilege to make pilgrimage to israel and palestine under the leadership of our bishop in the texas annual conference. while we were in jerusalem our group had the opportunity to go and pray at the western wall-sometimes called the wailing wall-on the temple mount. this wall was build by herod the great in 19BCE and is believed to be the wall that would have been closest to the temple where the holy of holies rested. where god’s presence dwelled. and, once a year, the high priest would enter into the holy of holies–the sole human to enter into god’s presence.

this place is considered holy still today by our jewish siblings–and so when our group gathered we saw men and women praying at the wall. in judiasm they take this passage from deuteronomy very literally–and we saw what are called phylacteries bound to the heads and forearms of those praying. a phylactery is a small leather box that you tie to your forehead, and your left arm when it is time to pray. inside of that box is the shema–do you remember it? “hear, o israel: the lord your god is one. you shall love the lord your god with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

we as christians tend to not physically bind these words to our bodies. (except perhaps those of us with theological tattoos.) even so, remember what i told you: i can be a bit forgetful and sometimes ADD takes over–so i have to find ways to remember. while standing as a group i had stopped listening closely to our guide and was watching a group of teenagers in military uniforms who were regathering from their time at the wall. when i looked our group had already dispersed- i was a little confused about where to go (because i had missed our instructions) and saw bishop huie walking, and so followed along behind her letting her, unknowingly i think, show me the way.

tears came to my eyes as i walked behind my bishop to an ancient place of continual and constant prayer made holy not only by god’s ancient presence in the holy of holies, but by the presence of the holy spirit gifted to us through jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension and by the prayers and tears of millions of jews and christians and wonderers through the centuries who have touched that wall and tucked their prayers on paper into its crevices. in that moment her embodiment of discipleship was for me a living, breathing, has skin on, embodiment of a phylactery. she had bound those instructions upon her heart and soul and served as a physical reminder for this sometimes forgetful disciple.

it is good to practice being a disciple even when we aren’t sure anyone is paying attention. you never know who may be following you.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

we are called to be disciples. we are called to follow jesus not because it is good for you or i individually. but because we cannot be us without one another.

do you still have your tender moment? it’s time for it. go ahead and hold it in your hands –it is okay to keep it in your lap, or hold it up somehow–just hold it. close your eyes for a moment again and feel that embrace, that hand on the shoulder, the power of eye contact. feel it in your heart, your fingertips and your tummy.

and picture the scene of jesus and the disciples around the table of the last supper. and remember how much trouble jesus got into for dining with people who weren’t jewish. jesus took that old law of only like going with like–with only those born as jewish and “able bodied” as worthy of god’s love and said “this is not how it is going to be anymore.” those who were sick, those who had differently abled bodies, women, sinners were left only scraps that they had to scavenge from under the tables of the wealthy, well connected and born by happenstance as jewish. through his incarnation, life, death and resurrection he placed his wounded hands on each of their faces and tenderly lifted them from underneath the table and said, “no, not down there–not scrounging for scraps–that is not where you belong. you belong here at this table–you can have my seat.”

take the tender moment you have been holding and feeling and expand it as far out as you can imagine. and if you do that right now, you are going to encounter someone else’s hands–someone else who is a part of this family of disciples of jesus christ. it is your job, siblings, now that you are seated at the table to look around and see who is not with us. and to extend your hands and body mind and soul in tenderness and say “we are not us without you.” that is what it means to be a disciple.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.

who is missing? are there people who don’t look like you at the table? are there people who don’t think like you? whose theology or politics are different than yours? who is missing? are your enemies missing? are you willing to make space for those you hate? for those who smell bad, for those with untreated mental disabilities who say things that don’t make sense? what about for those who are mean and violent? jesus still says they’re invited. and if you are a disciple you are still tasked with saying “we are not us without you.” who is missing? are the rich at the table? what about the middle class? what about the poor?

the potentially offensive thing about grace is that it is actually for everyone. everyone. we are not us without you.

it’s hard. and frequently makes us uncomfortable, and we feel compelled to do weird things like get into a swimming pool fully clothed because it makes somebody smile. or get knocked on the head a toy because we wanted to be close. weird things like sit on the ground under a bridge, holding a strangers hands and praying with your eyes closed. y’all. that’s weird. but it’s right.

we are not us without you. and we are not us without them.

this is not your home. your homes are out there–we have been here together to learn and play and worship and create and become family, but it is almost time to go home. and your job, dear TYA family, is to go be a disciple out there. take these practices home and share them. remember that tender feeling and look to see who is 10 feet away and invited them into this 1 foot space with us. remember that we are all sometimes forgetful and need human phylacteries. pass the mac and cheese. and remember that we are a people who are radically inclusive–everyone is welcome.

if it is important to you–you will find a way. if not you will find an excuse.
we are not us without you.
we are not us without them.
find a way.

thanks be to god, amen.


you are not rising from the ashes, you are ashes re-membered. coaxed back into shape. re-formed. 

you are fire and flame and all consuming beauty. blazing. fire-life. 

you, dear love, are reborn from the smoke-remnant of the fire that was supposed to subdue.                           

the fire that was supposed to put you in your place so they could tell you who you are. so you could make them comfortable. 

but that’s not you. 

you? as fully you? rise above the othering they bring to you as socratic hemlock–meant to destroy–drink deeply but rise:

your warm, living and breathing body drawn heavenward on wings of flame and feather–not consumed but strengthened by the white heat–a contradiction on the wing. 


what is the plural for phoenix?              all of us.