Imagine

Luke 24 The Walk to Emmaus

They say misery loves company. I think that’s true. In the hospital nursery it’s called “social crying.” One baby starts crying and all the rest follow suit. In the workplace, one person complains, and all the others join in. Yes, there’s more than a grain of truth to the old adage: “misery loves company.”

In the narrative that we have before us today, two disciples shuffle along, keeping each other company, miserable company, but company, nevertheless. They’re immersed in their sadness, they had left everything behind to follow Jesus and now, he was dead. All was lost and they were headed home. Who can blame them for feeling hopeless? But, at the same time, their grief had blinded them, at least temporarily, to the hope of resurrection. Their loss was all they were willing to embrace. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they said. But their faith was foiled by what they considered to be an insufficient evidence of Resurrection.[I]

This is the first point-of-contact with our world that we see in this text; this idea of an “insufficient evidence of resurrection.” What does that mean? Well, I believe in order to get-at the meaning here, we need to ask ourselves a simple question: What does resurrection mean to me? Well, maybe it’s not that simple of a question after all. I mean, is resurrection only an old story about the physical resuscitation of an iterate Rabbi who was executed because he dared challenge the powers-that-be? Or is resurrection something more.

Something more. In ancient Celtic Christianity they often referred to God as “the more.” I like that. I like it because it alludes to the mysterious nature of God of which we can know only bits and pieces. And resurrection is one of these pieces. A piece that by its very nature indicates the presence of God. A Presence that we have come to understand as within, around, and through all of life; even when, maybe especially when, life is difficult. So, resurrection then, is about taking those places in our lives and places in the world around us, those dark and painful, isolating places; it’s about taking those Emmaus Road, misery-loves-company moments, and exposing them to the healing and light and life of the Spirit. How do I know this? I know because in my own life I have experienced Christ; not as some distant event in the past, or some dusty old doctrine, but as a real, Living Presence. A Presence, an Energy, a Consciousness, that is both beyond words and yet as real as the very breath I draw.

And, as you already know, this is where our two Emmaus Road travelers ended up as well. At first, they didn’t recognize Jesus and perhaps they might even have passed right by him if not for a culturally defined expectation to provide hospitality. That’s the second point-of-contact with our world: hospitality. It was the custom, the tradition of people in that day and age to provide hospitality to anyone who darkened their door. And these disciples displayed that expectation of hospitality by not only walking with the stranger but inviting him to share in a meal and stay the night.

Now, as you know, the expectation of hospitality in our time is very different. But I would argue not completely absent. I co-lead a mission trip a number of years ago to the Appalachian Mountain region of North Carolina. Now, we didn’t know what our work detail would be until we arrived. It turned out that our task was to replace a leaky roof on an old house. Luckily, it was a fairly flat roof, so it wasn’t overly difficult for this group of teen-aged kids to move around and work. That is, except for one young girl in particular. Hanna. Hanna was terrified of heights and no matter how much encouragement or coxing she received, scaling that ladder was out-of-the-question. So, as you might imagine, Hanna found herself disconnected from the rest of the group. Yes, she was our ground support, gofer if you will, but that occupied very little of her time. But you know what? Hanna made the best of it. You see, the residents of the house included two little boys and as the week progressed, Hanna filled her day with imaginative ways of befriending them. She playing with them, read to them; Hanna made them feel special, wanted. And this was confirmed on the very last day, when saying our goodbyes, one of the little boys came up to Hanna and whispered something in her ear. Later, as we were on our way home, someone asked Hanna, “What did he whisper?” To which, Hanna shyly smiled, and said, “I love you.”

I shared this story with you today for a couple of reasons. First, I believe Hanna demonstrated what hospitality should look like in our world. She met those two boys right where they were at and she showed them unconditional love. And for the rest of us, it doesn’t matter if we’re listening to a friend vent, or working at the food pantry, or visiting a lonely person, or helping out at the Humane Society; if we can connect with people on a personal level, without hesitation or judgment, and if we can show that person the unconditional love that we have experienced from our creator; then we are practicing hospitality.

That’s the first lesson from Hanna, and the second is this: Hanna was imaginative in her hospitality. When faced with a situation in which she could have pouted or done nothing, she chose to think beyond the pale, coming up with a constructive way to serve in that context. And its imagination that brings us to the third and final point of contact between the Emmaus Road experience way back then and our experience of the Risen Christ here in our time. In the narrative, in spite of their misery-loves-company attitude, and over and above the expectation of hospitality, there must have been some vague memory emerge when Jesus blessed and broke the bread for their meal. Because it was in that moment that they came to understand the true power of resurrection. It was in what we call the sacrament, that “the More” became real to them.

Isn’t that interesting? Jesus only became known through teaching and sacrament. But perhaps we sometimes try to limit what qualifies as teaching or sacrament. Maybe we should consider expanding the concept of teaching and the meaning of sacrament for our time. I mean, is there sacrament, a sacred space or time, beyond the communion table or the baptismal font? Can Divine Wisdom come from many places, many people, from a diverse collection of religious or philosophical texts; might God be revealed through everyday conversations, with everyday people, in our everyday context? Can God come-to-life in new and imaginative ways?

I don’t know the answers to all of these questions, but I think it would be a worthwhile task to explore them. And maybe, just maybe, if we begin to explore and experience teaching and sacrament in a new way, maybe we will begin to imagine a world where all people live in peace and practice justice; a world where there is no place for greed or hunger or homelessness; maybe we could even imagine a time when all people choose to coexist with nature and each other.

And all of this brings us back around, full circle, to the words of John Lennon; words that I echo still today. “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”

May it be so, for you and for me.

Amen and the people of God said, Amen.

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[i] Alyce McKenzie Saying No to Mrs. Bidemeier (www.patheos.com)2014

Life -Giving Acts

John 21:1-19     Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day. A day set-aside to honor our mothers. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! But, in recent years, I’ve started expanding this celebration to include aunts, grandmas, or any woman who has stepped-up to nurture young people along the way. I started this because it’s become apparent to me that the configuration, the very definition of what it means to “be a family” family has changed, evolved. The “basic family unit” doesn’t always consist of a mom, a dad, 2.3 children, and a golden retriever. In many cases, family doesn’t have anything to do with blood relationships at all. Rather, family often consists of people there for each other through thick and thin. It’s not my place to judge this reality, simply to recognize it and honor it.

So, it’s with this expanded understanding of family that we celebrate Mother’s Day, and, interestingly enough, this broad definition of family also makes its way into the story that we have before us today. This resurrection appearance narrative from the end of John’s Gospel is commonly called the “Breakfast by the Sea.” And, as I indicated before, there’s a whole lot more going here than just breakfast.

First the obvious. Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times in the fear and darkness of Good Friday. But here, in the light of morning, in this intimate seaside setting, Peter is forgiven with a three-fold assurance of restoration. But notice something here, after each reassertion of the question comes a call to action: “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” Peter’s charge is to put his love for Jesus into swift, concrete action.

That’s the obvious connection to the rest of John’s narrative, but there’s also a less obvious, more subtle, sub-text as well. This threefold act of forgiveness and subsequent charge to feed and tend humanity isn’t disconnected from the previous story. Let’s look at the sequence of events that led up to Peter’s conversation with Jesus. The disciples had gone back to their livelihood, fishing. Jesus appeared on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him. He gave them a command to “cast their nets into deeper water” and when they complied, the disciples witnessed a miracle of abundance. They recognized Jesus in that moment. He then immediately served them a breakfast of fish and bread.

Lets’ see. Where have we seen a miracle of abundance using fish and loves before? Yep. The feeding of the 5,000. We’re also reminded in our context of communion, right? But it goes even deeper than that! We, like the disciples of old, often miss Jesus in our midst. After we leave worship we go back to our livelihood, we go back to our beach, even when we’ve had a life-changing, perspective-altering experience of the divine, at some point, we must go back to our routine. And you know what, that’s alright.

The deeper lesson here, however, is to incorporate our experience of the divine, our moments of recognition, into our everyday lives. How? By symbolically casting our nets into deeper waters; by loving all of God’s people and by tending the blessing of this beautiful creation. A love, as I said before, that’s expressed through action. How do we know this? Because both of the Greek words interpreted as “love” in today’s text are verbs. Agape, God’s unconditional love, and Phillios, humanity’s love for one another, are both actions words. So, Peter literally says, “Yes Love, you know that I am loving you.” To which Jesus responds in essence, “then go and love my lambs in the same way.” This is important! It’s important because this is our charge as people of faith. We are called and challenged both as individuals and as a community to seek out and incorporate new and innovate ways to love. Which brings us back around, full circle, to this idea of an expanded definition of family.

You know, I was given a glimpse this week of this very thing from a most unexpected source. Manny. I was in the kitchen doing something and Manny was in the living room playing Fortnite with his friends. I think need to pause here for a little explanation before I go on. If you’ve been to our house, you know that the kitchen and the living room are really the same room, so it was easy to hear what he was saying. And when I say playing Fortnite with his friends, you need to understand that he was on his Nintendo Switch with headphones on so he could communicate with the other players. Okay. So, here I am in the kitchen/living room, when I hear Manny say, “Don’t shoot my family!” Now, to a non-gamer like me, that was a little bit disturbing and demanded an explanation. Well, it turns out that Becky and I were not under threat, but rather that Manny considered his friends from school, who were on his team, family.

Isn’t that interesting? The configuration of family can come in countless ways. On the shore of the Tiberius Sea, over two thousand years ago, Jesus served his family breakfast. Not his mother or his brothers, but those who had been with him on the journey. He then sent them out with a charge to treat, dare I say “consider,” all of his lambs, all of his sheep, all of humanity as family.

I mean, what if I were to expand my definition of family to include all of you. That’s not a huge stretch of the imagination. Traditionally, church folks have referred to each other as sister or brother. But what about those beyond our congregation? What if I were to consider a Catholic priest as my brother? Or a Jewish Rabbi? Or a Muslim Imam? Might my perspective on the world change, dare I say for the better? What if I were to consider a woman who’s struggling to feed her four children, four children from four different, broken relationships as my sister? Might I then have more compassion for her situation? What if I were to consider a veteran living on the streets because his untreated PTSD as my brother? Might I then find my voice and demand change? What if I were to consider a lonely woman living out her days lost in the confusion of dementia as my grandmother? Might I be moved to visit her? What if I were to consider all those innocent children being “detained” on our Southern border as my own children? Might I then be moved to demand justice?

Do you see what I’m driving at here? When we consider another person, any person, as family, we’re far less likely to write them off, or to ignore their suffering, or to hate them because their different.

My friends, Jesus is saying to each of us, “do you love me?” And when we love our neighbor, when we love the least of God’s lambs, and when we find a way to love those who society considers unlovable, to forgive as we have been forgiven, and when we act to demonstrate that love; we are answering the call with a resounding, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

This is my prayer for all of us.

Happy Mother’s Day and Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Creation

Psalm 104 (selected readings)

Ecological activist and author Bill McKibben suggests that “environmental devastation stands as the single great crisis of our time, surpassing and encompassing all others.”[I] If he’s correct, or even close to being correct, then Psalm 104 may be more important now than in all its centuries of existence. In a word, McKibben’s proposal for beginning to move toward solutions through Creation Justice is this: “Humility, first and foremost.”[ii]

Psalm 104 puts humankind, as it were, “in its place.” To be sure, biblically speaking, humanity occupies a special place in the created order, but not the only place! Psalm 104 is an eloquent reminder that we human beings share our space with a vast array of God’s “works,” including an “earth … full of [God’s] creations,” Humility then, lays at the heart of the Psalm that we have before us.

And it is with a humble spirit that we are invited to approach one of the Psalmist’s greatest creation poems. Psalm 104 reminds its early readers and us still today, that the Bible has a deep interest in the wondrous creation of God. And this is an important reminder, especially in this time of environmental peril and continued cosmic destruction.

When I was in elementary school, we paid very little attention, if any, to matters of the environment. I do remember, however, the first time we observed Earth Day in our school. We went out to the “back-forty” and planted trees, which was a good thing, but it was also an all-too-brief time concern. Other concerns crowded saving the planet out of our minds. Our newly planted forest became just a backdrop to a newly-constructed baseball field.

Society seemed to forget also. The “Me-Generation” of the 1980s, the rise of non-state terrorism in the ’90s, culminating in the attacks of 9/11. We were, of course, concerned about and aware of all those crucial events, and rightly so. But all the while the environment and this emerging understanding of global climate change, got very little attention from Western Culture as a whole.

But, a few years back, something interesting began to happen. Some of us in the faith community, clergy and lay alike, began to understand climate change as a theological and as a justice issue. We began to understand that this planet, and all that lives upon it, are beloved by God. We began to understand that while climate change is a problem that will affect all of us, it will devastate the poor of this world disproportionately. And we began to understand that if we, being the good people of this earth that we are; that if we do nothing, then, as Edmund Burke warned, “evil will triumph.”

Unfortunately, more broadly, the Church still paid very little attention to climate change and ignored the Biblical mandate to care for creation. I read somewhere that this was because pagan devotion, as found among the Canaanites, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians of the ancient world, was focused on nature. Their centeral theme was on the changing seasons, and the life-giving or life-threatening weather that these seasons produced. So, in an attempt to “not-be-like-them” it was concluded that the Israelites should primarily worship a God of history, the One who saved Israel from exile, and who finally, through the new covenant, gave humanity the gift of Jesus. All good things! But as a result of this historical focus, nature was reduced to a backdrop in the human saga.

But here we are in 2019 and the landscape is changing, quite literally. So, it’s time now to shelve this truncated idea about God’s relationship to nature. God is not only the creator of human beings, but God created the whole world; its plants, its hills and forests and oceans, its wild and domesticated creatures, everything! That’s why this “updated” way of thinking is called a cosmic understanding of God. Cosmic in the sense that God is in, around, and through all things.

Now, we don’t have to look very far to see that the Bible reinforces this idea. Let me give you some examples. Do you remember John 3:16? John’s famous football verse that seems to flash between the goalposts at every NFL game. Well, John 3:16 isn’t only about you and me. In fact, the most accurate Greek rendering of that verse is, “God so loved the cosmos that God sent God’s only son in order that all might be ‘made whole’ again.” And it’s no coincidence that we find this same cosmic concern in Paul’s epistles to the Romans and the Colossians. And even in the final chapter of infamous Book of Revelation we see the natural world play a primary role.

Which leads us back to Psalm 104. It’s a virtual catalogue of the wonders of Divine creation. It’s a cosmic overview of the world’s wind and water, and plants and animals; from birds, to cattle to mountain storks, and of course – goats. Goats are awesome!

Annie Dillard, the author of a wonderful book called A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, says that “God, loves pizzazz!” I like that thought. Indeed, God loves, adores creation, all of it, all the clacking and the buzzing, the whistling and the howling, the shouting, the laughing and the weeping, and yes, the pizzazz of it all. And so should we.

If we are to help save our aching earth, if we are to repent, which literally means “turn around”, and make the necessary life-changes to begin to restore this beautiful creation that we have been blessed with, then we must first love it, as God loves it.

Do you remember when God said to Job, in a glorious, but at the same time, frustrated response, “It is not all about you, Job! It is about mountain goats, (there’s goats again) and ravens, and even ostriches.” You see, Job had demanded that God execute Job’s version of justice, and God’s response was, “Have a look at my ostrich!” Now, even though it might seek like God’s answer came out-of-left-field, it actually didn’t. I think it’s important that we all take a longer look at God’s ostrich, at God’s soil, at God’s mountains. And we must love them all. Because if we don’t, God’s great gift of creation will wither, and retreat, and dry up, and we will have destroyed our home. [iii]

One final thought, climate change is a local issue and it’s a global issue; it’s an individual issue requiring a personal response, but it’s also a community issue, calling for a unified voice of responsibility. Unfortunately, global climate change has also become a political issue, and therefore by definition in our time, a divisive issue.

But, even so, the time to deny climate change is now past. There’s no debate on whether global climate change exists and whether or not humanity has played a significant role in causing these changes, it does and we have! So, instead of denying the problem it seems to me that we should face it head-on. The actual debate should be “who will go the furthest?” Who can go the farthest in working to transition our society to new forms of energy, and methods of production in both manufacturing and agricultural settings? Who will go the furthest in changing their everyday living habits? Who will come up with the most innovative and imaginative ideas about how to move forward? Who will honor God, and God’s creation by loving the earth? And finally, who will restore hope to our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s children? The question is finally rests with each of us my friends, and the question is this: “How far will you go?”

Amen and the people of God said, Amen.

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[i] Bill McKibben, The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job and the Scale of Creation  (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2005), 15.

[ii] Ibid. 32

[iii] John Hobart. A Song for Creation (www.pathos.com) 2011

Resurrection Joy

Easter Sunday 2019

I would like to begin today by sharing Joy’s story. Joy was a typical high school junior. She worries about things like cheerleading, grades, what other girls posted on social media, and, of course, about prom. Joy had a new boyfriend, Tommy, they had gone out a couple of times, he seemed nice, and he had asked her to the prom.

But suddenly, everything changed. During a routine physical the doctor found something she didn’t like. After a cat-scan and a biopsy, Joy was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery replaced cheerleading and chemotherapy eclipsed any thoughts about the prom. That is, until the morning of prom rolled around, and Joy awoke to discover that she had lost all her hair. She we inconsolable. There was no time to have a decent wig made, and she dismissed any talk of buying a costume wig, or wearing a scarf, or a hat. Instead Joy insisted she was going stay home. She called Tommy to share her decision, but he wouldn’t hear of it. “I’ll be there at 5,” he insisted, “be ready to go.”

Well, Joy reluctantly put on her prom dress and waited for 5pm to roll around. And, right on time, the door bell rang. It was her date, dressed in a black tux with corsage in hand, and to Joy’s shock and amazement, her date, standing there in her doorway, had not one stand of hair on his head. You see, he had shaved his head so Joy would not feel out-of-place. But that’s not the end of the story. He then invited her to step out into the yard, where the entire cheerleading squad, along with their dates, were waiting for her. And like Tommy, they too had all shaved their heads. It was in that moment, for the first time since her diagnoses, that Joy didn’t feel alone.

As we consider Joy’s story this morning, I can’t help but this of Mary Magdalene as stood before the empty tomb. Like Joy, I think she must have felt alone, isolated, hopeless. Grief does that. Grief isolates us, it causes us to turn in on ourselves and build walls to keep others out.

But I can also imagine the look on Mary’s face in that moment of epiphany; that moment when Jesus spoke her name, “Mary.” One word, and she knew. One word, and Mary know the power of resurrection. And it was through one act of extravagant kindness, that Joy came to know the power of resurrection as well.

You see, for us here in the 21st century, the resurrection narrative doesn’t end with an empty tomb; isn’t finally about angels, or gardeners, or even about physical resuscitation. Resurrection is about the presence of God within, around, and through all of life. Resurrection is about taking those places in our lives, those dark and painful, isolating places, and exposing them to the healing and light and life of the Spirit.

After Mary left the tomb and went back to the disciples and shared what she had witnessed, they too became convinced that Jesus was a living and present God. The Apostle Paul thought so as well. In Paul’s writings the Living Christ and the Holy Spirit are never separated; for Paul the two are the same. So, when he says, “Not I, but Christ who dwells within me,” he is talking about the same Spirit that you and I can experience in our lives.

And, my friends, this is way I believe passionately in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because in my own life I have experienced Christ not as some distant event in the past or dusty old doctrine, but as a very real presence.  William Slone Coffin expresses this same theological understanding in his book Credo. He says that “…today, on Easter, we gather not, as it were, to close the show with the tune “Thanks for the Memories” but rather to reopen the show with the hymn “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”[I]

So, here’s the pressing question surrounding all this: How do we know that resurrection is something we experience? How can I tell that the Living Christ, the very Spirit of God is present in the world today?

Well, the presence of God, what we pastor types like to call the revelation of God, comes to us in many ways. We can experience God in nature, for example. Who here hasn’t felt the veil between God and humanity become a little thinner on a beautiful fall day in the woods? We can also experience God through relationship, through the other people we encounter as we walk this earth. God can also be revealed through art, through music, through communal worship or personal prayer, or whenever we take a moment to quiet our minds and open our being to listen for the still-small voice. My friends, God is Still-Speaking in the world today, our task is to listen and then respond.

I’m going to conclude my remarks today by focusing on our response. Specifically, our response to the resurrected presence of God as a faith community. Community is the key word here. Like the girl from our opening illustration, Joy’s disease isolated her from her primary community. And we all know that there are many, many people in our midst who feel isolated, alone, outside the love of God. It’s true. For any number of reasons, many people they feel they are not worthy of God’s love, and therefore by extension, not worth of the Church’s embrace. That why our calling as a faith community is to reach-out with an extravagant welcome to all people. No one, people, no one is outside the Grace of God, period. And it’s our task, our calling as a people of faith to share that message.

How? Well, when we become an Open and Affirming congregation, (Well, when we grew into a congregation that opens its arms to embrace everyone,) we said to LGBTQ people, you’re not alone. When we support the food pantry, we’re saying to those who are hungry, those whose bills have out-distanced their pay-check, those who have had to choose between medication and food, you’re not alone. When we give to our United Church of Christ special offerings, I’m thinking especially about OGHS, we’re saying to those here in our nation and around the globe who have been displaced by natural disaster or war or famine; you’re not alone. And when we invite someone who’s on the outside-looking-in, for whatever reason, we, like the bald-headed-cheerleaders who embraced Joy, are saying; you’re not alone. And there are so many more examples I can’t even list them all. But the essence of what I’m saying here is that when we open our arms and hearts to a wide diversity of people, we’re saying to anyone who will listen, “even when you’re by yourself, you’re not alone.”

My friends, as we continue to live-into our resurrection calling, may we do so with the Grace of God, the Compassion of the Christ, and in the Presence of the Spirit. My prayer for each one of you here today, is that if you feel isolated from your community, for whatever reason, if you feel like you’re the one whose on the outside-looking-in, that you will indeed experience the presence of the Divine, feel the nearness of the Spirit, and that you will hear the cry of this congregation, saying to you, “you’re not alone.”

My friends, it is with great enthusiasm, and passion, and with a hopeful spirit that I wish all of you, a very meaningful and joyful Easter. Amen, and the people of God said, “Amen

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[i] William Slone Coffin Credo (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004) pg. 28

Shouting Stones

A Celebration of the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem. Luke 19:28-40

I wonder if we give Palm Sunday its proper due?

Why? Well, the story of Palm Sunday, often referred to as the “Triumphal Entry,” is featured in all four gospels. The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the eve of the Passover celebration, the story of a humble donkey, of shouting crowds, branches, coats and cloaks spread like a carpet upon the road, this story has center stage in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Now, making the cut in all four gospels, that’s a big deal, biblically speaking anyway. I mean, Christmas didn’t even make it into all four gospels for crying out loud. We find birth narratives only in Matthew and Luke. The prayer that Jesus taught his followers, the prayer the church has recited over the course of more than two thousand years; the Lord’s Prayer. It only made the cut in two gospels. The parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are found only in Luke’s account. And finally, The Beatitudes, you know, blessed are the peacemakers, the meek, blessed are the poor; only two gospels. But the Palm Sunday story, the story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, this story is retold in all four gospels. [I]

Which makes me wonder if we’ve overlooked the importance of this event in the past. I mean, over the course of the past couple of decades, there’s been a movement in protestant churches to piggy-back the passion story with the triumphal entry. It’s actually listed in the Revised Common Lectionary as Passion/Palm Sunday. And I can see the rational. Some have called it the “celebration to celebration” problem. In other words, many people come to church on Palm Sunday, like today, and it’s a time of celebration. Most then skip the holy week services altogether, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and then return to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on Easter. The challenge here is that we miss the darkness of Christ’s journey through holy week. The Passion Story is a journey that takes us through the upper room, into the anguish and betrayal of the garden, and deposits us on the steps of the Temple to witness Christ’s arrest and trial, his humiliation and suffering, and of course, the heart-ache of his execution on the Cross. So, many-a-theologian has thought, “Hey, let’s cram it all into the Palm Sunday service.”

But, as you can probably tell from my tone, I’ve never been a fan of Passion/Palm Sunday. I think we need to celebrate for a while. I think we need to bask in the joy of this moment. I think we need to let the Triumphal Entry story stand on its own. Why? Well, in order to answer that question, I think we need first to set-the-scene.

The ancient city of Jerusalem during the annual Passover festival was a lot like Cable during the Burkie. Our town swells with visitors from all over the world. It’s alive, abuzz, international, exciting. Every possible room is rented at a premium price and Rondeau’s have stocked their shelves to capacity. There are vendors selling their wares as nearly everyone makes their way to the starting area. It seems like the whole world has come to Cable; or rather, to Jerusalem. Expectation was in the air.

Now, this is why I think the Triumphal Entry story is so important! Up until this point in the gospel narratives, the followers of Jesus had been just that: followers, largely passive, reflective. I mean, when Jesus argued with the religious officials, I can imagine the disciples watching, tense and riveted. When Jesus defended a prostitute, they must have gasped. When he conversed in public with a woman from Samaria, they winced. When he defied the Sabbath laws, they cringed. When he declared that the last shall be first, the first last, and challenged the commonly held understandings of the day; understanding of clean and unclean, of rich and poor, of outsider and insider; I can imagine the disciples quickly glancing around to see who was listening. When Jesus heals a leper and as he restores those with mental illness, with broken bodies or spirits; the disciples must have whispered to each other with fascinated awe.[ii]

But on that first Palm Sunday, with the gathering crowds all around them like Cable at Burkie time, we see a shift occur; we see a transformation begin to take place. As they enter Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers became leaders. Yes, there would still be challenges as they grew into this new role. Most of the disciples would scatter later that week and Peter would deny even knowing Christ three times. But despite these setbacks, Palm Sunday, in my mind, is the day that the followers of Jesus found their voices, summoned their courage, and assumed their role as champions for God’s Reign of justice and peace; vessels of Christ’s compassion, grace and forgiveness, and tellers of the Divine story. And here in Luke’s version of events, in recognition that the disciples had found their voice, Jesus says, “I tell you, even if these bystanders were to keep silent, the stones themselves would shout!”

So, where does this leave us? As today’s disciples, as post-modern leaders of this ever-changing, ever-evolving entity with call the Church, what are we shouting

Now, at this point, I need some help up here. I want all the young people to come up here once again, no rabbit this time, but I want you all to be our “shouting stones.” Every time I say, “can I get an amen?” I want you to shout, “amen.” Let’s practice. Can I get an amen? Amen. Okay. Here we go.

We’re shouting stones when we open the door for someone who’s on the outside looking in; when we provide an extravagant and wide welcome to everyone. Can I get an amen?

We’re shouting stones when we us our voices to speak-up for the oppressed, when we speak-out against racism, against hatred; when we use our voices to speak for the voiceless; the immigrant, the refugee, the child in a cage on the border. Can I get an amen?

We’re shouting stones when we seek justice for all of God’s people; when we celebrate the diversity of humankind, our many colors and languages and faith traditions; we become shouting stones when we live in peace and harmony with one another and encourage others to do the same. Can I get an amen?

We’re shouting stones when seek environmental justice. When we use our voice and our vote, our hands and our feet, to work toward conserving creation rather than destroying it; when we make sacrifices to limit the lasting effects of global climate change for our grandchildren and their children. Can I get and amen?

And finally. We’re shouting stones when take the gospel seriously. When we attempt to live-into and reflect Christ’ command to love one another; to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors, including our enemies, as ourselves. Can I get an amen?

My friends, Palm Sunday is a time of celebration. A time when we celebrate the beginning of Christ’s journey through the darkness and into the light of the Resurrection. May each of us here today, symbolically, take this trek as well. May we emerge from whatever darkness is surrounding us into the Light of Easter; into the restoration and healing of God; into a Resurrection of Life.

May it be so for you and for me. Amen& amen.

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[i] Rev. Dr. Nancy Taylor Players and Protagonists in the Kingdom of God (www.Day1.org) 2016

[ii] Ibid. Taylor

Weathering Storms

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Who has ever heard of Wikipedia? Show of hands. Well, if you haven’t or aren’t really sure what it is: “Wikipedia is a multilingual online encyclopedia with exclusively free content, based on open collaboration through a model of content edit by web-based applications like web browsers, called wiki. It is the largest and most popular general reference work on the Web.”[i] Do you know where I go this information about Wikipedia? Wikipedia.

Now, this isn’t humanity’s first attempt to accumulate “all-knowledge.” There was the Great Library of Alexandria, for example. It was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. The Library was part of a larger research institution and quickly grew by acquiring a large number of papyrus scrolls. Now, it’s unknown precisely how many scrolls were housed there, but estimates range from 40,000 to 400,000 at its height. And because of this great gathering of information, Alexandria became known as the capital of knowledge and learning in the third and second centuries BCE.

Side note: Despite the widespread modern belief that the Library was “burned” and instantly destroyed, the Library actually declined gradually over the course of several centuries, starting with the purging of intellectuals from Alexandria in 145 BCE. Given, the Library, or part of its collection, was accidentally burned by Julius Caesar in 48 BCE, it’s actually unclear how much was destroyed and it seems to have either survived or been rebuilt shortly thereafter.[ii]

Anyway, burned or declined, the Library of Alexandria was, historically, one the great attempts to gather all knowledge. By the way, guess where I got this information on the Library of Alexandria? That’s right, Wikipedia!

But what do these attempts to gather knowledge have to do with Jeremiah and the New Covenant? Well, Jeremiah says in this passage, “They will no longer need to teach each other to say, ‘Know the Lord!’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” And, according to the Prophet, God will do this by putting God’s Instructions within us and engraving them on our hearts.

What a powerful image! I mean, think about it! God’s instructions, God’s law it says in some versions of the Bible, IS actually engraved upon our hearts! In other words, according to Jeremiah, we should know what God wants us to do; we should know right from wrong, good from bad, innately. Deep within in our very being, we should know when something is ethically questionable or morally corrupt. The very Instruction of God is within each and everyone of us.

So, what happened? Why is the world so corrupt? Why does the human experience range from ethically questionable to down-right disgusting? When did humanity lose the ability to access these engraved instructions?

Well, I would contend that we haven’t. Instead, it’s a matter of keeping things in proper perspective. Do you remember the Genesis story about the Tower of Babel? Humanity tried to build to tower to make themselves equal with God, which, of course, isn’t possible so, the tower fell. By the way, I didn’t get that one from Wikipedia.

But the point of this teaching is that however we view God, whether it’s as a being, or a consciousness, or as the energy that lies within, thru, and around every atom of the universe; God by definition must but be, at least partially if not mostly, beyond our comprehension. Jeremiah didn’t say, “all the wisdom of God would be given to us, but instead, that God’s Instructions, God’s law, the moral and ethical understanding that we need to be better people who desire to make this world a better place, would be installed within us, engraved upon our hearts.

Which brings us back around to the accumulation of knowledge. The Library of Alexandria, and Wikipedia for that matter, are not bad things in and of themselves. On a personal level, I have dedicated most of my adult life to the pursuit of gaining a better understanding moral philosophy, humanity’s relationship with the Divine, and all things Spiritual. And I feel like what little knowledge I have gained through the years has been a worthy endeavor. And on a broader scale, I firmly believe the rise of anti-intellectualism that I have witnessed in my lifetime is one of the greatest dangers we face as a nation and a global community. It’s easy to deny a problem or blame it on someone else in a tweet. It’s a far greater thing, however, to think our way through the challenges that face us, and then act to correct them.

But that being said, if we try to put our accumulation of knowledge above the deep-seated instruction of God, we get into trouble. Like the tower-builders of old, it all comes tumbling down. Why? Well, think about it! If I think I know more that God then I kind of set myself up as a god, right? And if I’m a god than my self-interest, my self-fulfillment, will naturally lead to my grabbing all the power and wealth and notoriety that I can.

The Instruction, the law, that God engraved upon our hearts, however, leads us in the opposite direction. God’s instructions, which we can come to understand through the teachings and actions of Jesus, include things like humility, the pursuit of peace and justice for everyone and all of creation, faith and hope, reconciliation and restoration, …resurrection. The Apostle Paul expounded upon these virtues in his first letter to the Church in Corinth, when he said in essence that faith, hope, and love abide within each of us, but “the greatest of these,” he said, “is love.”

And my friends, that’s where we’ve come in this great evolution of God’s covenant with humanity. God is love. And our task as individuals, as a faith community, and as people in general, is to reflect God’s love in the world today. We are called to live-into God’s engraved instructions in all of our relationships; with those in our own home, with those who live next door, and with those who live across the globe. The greatest knowledge we can pursue, my dear friends, is the Love of God and how to share that love, every day.

And if we do that, if we share God’s Love consistently, both as individuals and as a people, God says to us, “I will be YOUR God, and YOU will be my people and I will forgive YOUR wrongdoing and never again remember YOUR sins.”

May it be so for you and for me.

Amen & Amen.

[i] www.wikipedia,org

[ii] www.wikipedia,org

New Growth

Isaiah 43:18-26

You know the old story about the man who bought a mule, right? Well, it seems that one day there was a mule for sale, cheap! So, Sam thought, “why not? I could use some help around the far.” So, Sam bought the mule. Now, the seller told him that the mule understood English, so, he would do whatever he was ordered to do. The problem was, however, when Sam tried to get the mule to go forward and he just stood there. Sam couldn’t get him to move, at all, nothing. So, he turned to the original owner and said, “You lied to me, this animal doesn’t understand a word I say.” Well, the seller looked at the mule, looked at Sam, and then picked up a two-by-four and hit the mule right in the head with it. Then he said, “go forward.” The mule did it. Sam was shocked and said, “why on earth did you do that?” The seller looked at the mule, and he looked at Sam, then he smiled and said, “Well, sometimes you just have to do something dramatic to get their attention.”

We are creatures of habit.  We like things to remain the same, stable, predictable, under control.  And when a change is introduced, I think we’re like that old mule sometimes, we need a wake-up call. Because as you already know, life is constantly changing. It’s anything but predictable.  And anybody who’s ever tried to control the events and circumstances of their life can tell you that it’s a prescription for insanity!  You know what they say, “If you want to hear God laugh, just share your plans.”

Now, sometimes our discomfort with change leads us to make some irrational decisions. I read this week that one of the ways that we deal with the ever-changing quality of life is by living life in the past-tense. By that, the author meant we look back with great fondness to a time when everything was just way we liked it.  And we hold onto that ideal image as a sort of security blanket when life in the present becomes overwhelming.  Of course, if we really went back to that point in time, we’d realize that not everything was just like we remembered it. But in retrospect, it’s easy to see the past with rose-colored glasses.

Now, the same thing is true of our faith.  We can get stuck in the past when it comes to our faith.  It may be a past part of our life, or it may be a distant past, like biblical times.  Either way, we tend to idealize the past, thinking that it must have been easier to have faith in that time.  But when we do that, I wonder if our faith doesn’t get stuck in the past.  I wonder if we have a hard time really bringing our faith into the present time with all its challenges.

I think that was at least a part of what was going on with the people of Israel in our lessons for today.  The people addressed by the prophet Isaiah may have been on their way back from exile in Babylon, which was a long and dangerous journey through a desolate wilderness.  These days, we can romanticize the idea of going “into the wild,” but in biblical times the wilderness was a place that was feared.  It was a place of unknown dangers and scarce food and water.  You could die in the wilderness.[i] The prophet called them to take their faith in the God who brought the people of the past safely out of Egypt and bring that faith with them on their present journey through the wilderness.  The same God who made “a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters” promised to do something brand new:  he would make a “way in the wilderness”.  God promised to bring them safely through their dangerous journey, and the prophet called them to bring their faith in the God of the past into the present situation that they feared so much.[ii]

Now, it’s also possible, perhaps even more likely, that the prophet was addressing people who had already made the journey back to Jerusalem, and instead of finding the home they remembered and loved, what they found was an abandoned city in ruins.  Having made their dangerous journey, they found themselves in even more danger.  The stories of Ezra and Nehemiah tell us how dangerous it was for the people who worked to rebuild the ruined city.  Rather than the safety of home, they found themselves under attack from enemies who had taken control of the land in their absence.[iii]

But what does all this have to do with Lent?

Well, in this Season of Introspection, on the journey inward, and as we attempt to create a time and a space to just be with God daily, a deep and lasting “change” is required. And that change of mind and heart isn’t possible unless we, like the Israelites of old, bring our faith in the God into the present situations of our lives and in our world. And, I know, this kind of connecting our historical faith with the issues of this world can be complicated, confusing, maybe even a little bit scary. But we cannot let fear overcome us. Do you know that phrase Jesus uses more than any other in the gospels? “Fear not.” And there’s a good reason for that. Fear is the opposite of faith. Fear paralyses us while faith frees us. Fear keeps us in the darkness while faith exposes us to the Light. And fear wants to keep the status quo, at any cost, while faith invites us to step into the future.

My friends, we cannot deny that there are many challenges that we face in our world today. Global climate change, violence, on-going wars and genocide just to name a few. And the loudest voices in our society continue spew racially-charged and hate-filled rhetoric, dividing this nation rather than attempting to do the hard work of uniting us. And there’s our personal situations: loneliness, illness, grieving a loss or disappointment. All of these things can cause us to recoil in fear and dream of past days when things were different. And believe me, I can understand that. But I also believe with every fabric of my being, that God loves each of us. And in that love, there is hope, there is healing and restoration; there is new growth.

I would like to leave you today with a very hope-filled poem that I shared with the As Time Goes By group this week. It’s called Wild Geese by Mary Oliver.

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting over and over announcing your place in the family of things.[iv]

My friends, as we continue on this journey may you come to realize that you too have a place in the “family of all things”. And that you’re beloved, cherished, and interconnected with all of life by and through a loving Creator. And no matter what challenges you may face, no matter what change is coming down the pike, you don’t have to face them alone. You don’t have to be mired in fear, because in the end, “the world offers itself to your imagination.” In my mind, that’s finally the nature of faith; that’s finally the nature of God.

God is doing a new thing. Let us grow and be glad in it!

Amen and amen.

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[i] Cf. Paul D. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66, 73.

[ii] Ibid. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66, 72, where he warns that a “retreat from the hostile unknown to the comfort of the familiar,” if it becomes a “permanent posture, becomes spiritual escapism.”

[iii] Alan Brehm Present-Tense Faith (www.thewakingdreamer.com) 2013

[iv] Wild Geese from Dream Work published by Atlantic Monthly Press © Mary Oliver

 

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me, she took me back so tenderly, arranging her dark skirts, her pockets full of lichens and seeds.

I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed, nothing between me and the white fire of the stars but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths among the branches of the perfect trees. All night I heard the small kingdoms breathing around me, the insects, and the birds who do their work in the darkness.

All night I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling with a luminous doom. By morning I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better.

…from Sleeping in The Forest by Mary Oliver © Mary Oliver

Natural Rhythms

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – Lent 3

Welcome to spring! Yes, spring, or as we like to refer to it “mud season” has begun. Now, spring is awesome because it represents a re-birth of sorts. Soon, the snow will melt away, the crocuses will poke through the tired earth, and the woods will begin its annual transformation from the dull, lifelessness of winter, as it adorns itself with the green cast of new life. And, for me anyway, one of the special things about living in the Northwoods is experiencing these seasonal changes; becoming a part of these “natural rhythms.”

Now, in addition to the changing seasons, our lives are also subject to natural rhythms. This concept was not lost on the author of today’ text. Called Qua-hell-et in the original Hebrew, and Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes) in Greek, this wise person understood time quite differently from the way we often do in Western culture. You see, he wrote during a historical period that fell immediately after the Babylonian Exile, an event that taught the Hebrew people that the human experience wasn’t necessarily a walk in the park. It was a time of great fear, suffering, and change that was beyond their control.

Now, some see Ecclesiastes as the ultimate cynic. And maybe there’s some truth to that. Thirty-eight times throughout the course of this book the wisdom writer says, “All is vanity.” A little cynical I must admit, but I think I would call him more of a realist than a cynic, a practical theologian who refused to look at life through rose-colored glasses.

And we see this reflected in today’s reading. It catalogs the various seasons of life, right? Twenty-eight of them to be exact, arranged in sharp contrast to one another. And this list rings so true because it’s an undeniable part of our human existence. You see, the Author of Ecclesiastes understood that the universe unfolds according to its own inner logic and set of seasons. [i] And, this is key, that inner logic is not liner.

Maybe think of it like this. The existence of this planet with all of its diversity of life, from the first single-celled-ameba to the beautiful flora and fauna we enjoy today, have been evolving and changing for billions of years. But if we try to view creation through a liner lens, in other words, as a straight line with a beginning, middle, and end, then our entire existence might seem like a single grain of sand on an endless beach. But if we choose to view time as cyclical, like Ecclesiastes, like the endless changing of the seasons, then the nature of being begins to make more sense. We are all a part of the fabric of the universe, and when the season is right, we are born into this life. We live and then, someday, all of us will die, becoming a part of the universe again. “We are made from the dust of the earth,” The Hebrew Scriptures tell us, “and to it is to dust that we will return.”

Now, I realize that this is getting a bit philosophical. So, let’s move into the practical. Ecclesiastes, later in chapter 3, contends that one should not waste time and energy railing against life; instead, he advises that the best thing we can do is to be happy and enjoy this time on earth for as long as we can. To my ear, that’s good theological advice at its practical best. Since there are so many things over which we have no control, it’s a wise choice to be happy and to look for joy.

How? Well, I believe that joy: real, deep, lasting happiness is found in propagating and maintaining meaningful relationships. It begins with strong relationships with friends and family and expands to include a compassionate and a loving faith community that finds joy through fellowship within the congregation and by extending an extravagant welcome to others beyond the walls of the sanctuary. We can also find happiness in service to others, in the preservation and conservation of the environment; whenever we think of the other before self. And, finally, we can find true joy by deepening our spiritual connection with God.

Ah, you didn’t think I abandoned our Lenten Spiritual journey, did you? Of course not. There’s a great letting go of self, of stress, and of trying to do-it-all-on-our-own that comes with an intensifying relationship with the Sacred. And, there’s a deep abiding peace that indwells our being when give up worrying about those things we can’t control and instead, enjoy the gifts, the blessings, that God has given us.

And this connects us to Ecclesiastes’ other prescription for life. He set up these pairings of life events, these “complementary opposites” to borrow a term of Taoism, in such a way that the first set, “a time to be born and a time to die,” serve as the bookends to all the rest. What do I mean? Well, we’re born and while we are living this existence, we encounter all of these sets of opposing emotions and challenges and callings. We all experience, for example, the time to mourn, the time to dance, the time to gather in, and the time to let go.

My friends, God created time. God set the “natural rhythm” of reality; a rhythm that transcends this world and this life; a natural rhythm that is enhanced and understood, if even a tiny bit, by creating a deep, thoughtful, and life-long connection with our Creator. And as we continue on the journey of introspection that Lent has set us upon, and as spring once again blossoms around us and within our hearts, my prayer is that each of us will attempt to move ourselves a little closer to the reality of the Divine presence of God, in both our lives and to all the ends of the universe.

May it be so.

Amen & Amen.

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[i] Joanna Adams Should There Be A Clock in the Sanctuary? (www.Day1.org) 2010

First Clearing

Joel 2:12-17

Each and every one of us know something about the wilderness; what it means to be lost from time to time, what it is to grieve, what it means to wander aimlessly in the darkness. And, like I said last week, the wilderness, and wandering through it from time to time, is an important part of the journey. But I think it’s easy to say that none of us want to stay there forever; none us wants to grieve endlessly or suffer needlessly.

So, bearing this in mind, as we begin the second week of our Lenten journey, I think it’s important to look for a way out of the wilderness. And we can do this by selecting a practice to well help us to begin to clear a space for discernment, for healing; for new growth and renewal. This week is about clearing a space to sit in the presence of the Sacred.

It’s kinda like starting a new garden. As the snow continues to melt, and spring eventually replaces winter, I intend to expand my garden… again. And like last spring, there’s a lot of work to be done. I must remove the grass, till the soil, add compost, and build a fence. And all of these things need to be finished within a short window of time if I am to plant anything in that new garden space. Now, it’s been my experience that my plans for garden expansion have often been too lofty. I am, well let’s say, lee-than-patient when it come to my gardening projects. In reality, the process of expanding my garden will begin this spring, but I probably won’t see any produce until a year from this fall. A new garden takes patients and discipline.

Now, this concept can also be applied to Lent. Lent inspires patients and discipline. For generations we have been asked to “give something up” for Lent. Chocolate or pop or some other vice is given up as a sign of discipline, of faithfulness to God, and the beginning of the process of clearing one’s heart and mind in order to repent. And while that’s not necessary a bad thing, in recent years I think we’ve come to understand that “taking something on” is perhaps a more effective way to honor this sense of introspection that Lent inspires. When we “take on” some sort of spiritual discipline it challenges us to think or feel in a new way, rather than just miss something we enjoy for six weeks.

So, what does “taking-on a discipline” look like? Well, in the study that this sermon series is based upon, there are six suggested Lenten practices. The first of these practices is Daily Prayer or Meditation. This is one I’ve referred to before. Daily prayer or meditation asks us to set aside some time each day and clear a space to sit quietly in the presence of God. Some people like to read a devotional or Scripture passages, while others prefer to simply be still. Whatever works for you!

Now, the second practice isn’t unrelated to the prayer and meditation: it’s a Media Fast. A media fast involves abstaining from watching TV, listening to music, or even reading for a prescribed amount of time. Say, 7 to 9 pm each day. In my mind, this clears the space to sit in the presence of God.

Remember now, the invitation here is to choose one or perhaps two of these practices, not to try and master them all. The third alternative is Reflective Walking. This practice, like the first two, provides you with the opportunity to intentionally spend time with God, except this third practice involves motion, movement, and a connection with nature.

The fourth choice is Art. Painting, sculpting, drawing, and pottery are just a few examples. If the arts interest you, consider using your set-aside time to engage in a creative activity. By understanding creativity as a channel for God’s on-going act of creation, you’re letting God’s energy flow into the world through your art.

The fifth suggest practice is Journaling. A daily practice of writing can also help you engage God more deeply. Journaling as a spiritual practice may involve simply writing your thoughts and feeling out or perhaps it may take the form of writing letters or prayers to God.

Now, the final suggested spiritual practice falls a bit outside the box: Community Service. If your spiritual life leads you to engage with your community in a new or innovative way, this is perhaps the path your Lenten discipline is calling you to take.

So, there you go, six suggestions for cultivating a deeper relationship with God, perhaps you can think of others? There are no limits here and no wrong answers, only your desire to move closer to the Divine; to emerge from the wilderness and begin to clear a space for God in your everyday life.

But what does all this have to do with the Prophet Joel?

Well, remember Joel said that God wants us “to return with all our hearts, – with fasting, weeping, and sorrow.” In other words, we’re invited to look for God in our presence with more than just our eyes or our minds; we are to return to God with all of our being, warts and all, weeping or sad, and we are asked to do this through spiritual practices. That’s what the “fasting” part is all about.

But Joel doesn’t stop there, God says, “tear your hearts and not your clothing.” Remember now, in that day when a person was grieving or lamenting, they would tear an article of clothing that they were wearing as a sign of their despair. But Joel is reminding us that there is something beyond lament, beyond the pain and suffering; and that something is God’s grace.

Joel goes on to say, “God is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.” And I don’t know about you, but I need to find a way to be in the presence of God’s grace every day of my life! I constantly stand in need of God’s compassion and patients, love and forgiveness. And I need to symbolically “tear my heart” everyday so that it may become open to God’s Justice for all people, no matter what country they come from, or what language they speak, or who they choose to love, or what religion they choose to practice; and I need to open my heart every day to God’s Environmental Justice, the responsibility of humanity for the care for this earth, it’s forests and animals, it’s air and water and land. And finally, I need to slow down, and open my heart to the presence of God so that it may be exposed to the Peace that Paul says, surpassed all understanding.”

Do you see what I’m saying here? The tearing of one’s heart, the opening of one’s spirit to the Divine presence, goes beyond my meditation time in my living room. Being the presence of God naturally instills within us the desire and the will and the courage to practice God’s ways of Justice and accept God’s deep abiding peace. This is the blessing that Joel says, “God will lead behind.”

My prayer for all of us as we continue this journey, is that we will find and share God’s blessing in whatever form that blessing may take.

May it be so. Amen & amen.

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Sarah Parsons A Clearing Season (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2005) pgs. 107-108