They moved from enslavement to liberation through a parted sea across a wilderness and a river. Miram played her timbrel then. They packed up what they could carry while the blood of lambs dried on lintels and God passed over. Miram placed her timbrel then. They left behind every thing - everything predictable and familiar oppressive days and captive nights. Miriam didn’t leave her timbrel then. Step by step Egypt faded into memory manna and quail fell from heaven water flowed from rock Miriam’s timbrel jingled in her pack then. The timbrel traveled for forty years waiting for that last river crossing to be remember, played as Miriam danced before the whole assembly. How many timbrels lay at the bottom of packs through the hunger, thirst, and anguish, Through the wandering days and the bleakest nights? Tens, hundreds, thousands? Timbrels waited. The women trusted, knew days of praise would come again when the wandering ended and the Promised Land was underfoot for the first time in generations. Miriam’s timbrel, the other women’s timbrels played, then. We’ve traveled far and long since those ancient days. Do we still follow the prophets (old and new) with timbrels in our packs, quiet reassurance of praise-filled days yet to come? Are we brave enough to do as Miriam did? She inspired the other women to make room for timbrels, room for future songs and praises knowing wilderness lay between now and then. We are held captive by pharaohs, all who endorse White supremacy, White nationalism and proclaim God’s whiteness. There is a wasteland between captivity and liberation. Pack now for the journey. Leave behind fear, hatred, and distrust of neighbors. Listen to the Prophets (ancient and new) who call us into new life. There is enough blood drying in our streets. God has not passed over us; we have passed over God who holds the bleeding and dying and grieving waiting for us to notice God is only in the love. We need the timbrels, jingling on the journey, waiting for the days of freedom and praise. I am Miriam’s child. Are you? The quiet sounds of my packed timbrel guide me. It will be hard for you to join the praise later, after the journey, if you leave your timbrel behind. We need the secret sounds of promise now if we are to sing and dance and praise then. We do not go into the wilderness alone. Miriam’s timbrel echoes there still and the pillars of fire still burn the ground is as sacred now as it was then. Join me on this journey into all that is possible – Love your neighbor as yourself… Repair the breach… Sing praises right out loud. Let’s not wait until then is now. Let’s begin in this moment, timbrels at the ready. Miriam waits…
Healing stories are fascinating, let alone the raising from the dead stories. Our 21st Century minds try to rationalize and minimize the power of such accounts. I know I spent years wishing I could touch Jesus garment and be healed from sickness. Truthfully, I’ve also, on occasion, wished Jesus were around to call a person back from death if not grant me the power to do it myself. However, this kind of thing doesn’t happen often in the modern world. Whether or not healing happened the way the Bible tells us it did, we will never know. Today I want to set these questions aside and explore the story of the woman who touched Jesus robe and the girl raised from death in a more metaphoric sense.
Truth be told, I’m not sure if the Church universal is more like the woman with uncontrolled bleeding or the girl Jesus called back from death. If I think of the Church as a whole, the Bodymind of Christ, then I think of the ways in which we are bleeding out. Our strength is being diminished by fear and hatred. White Supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and much more keep us from being healthy and whole. We have bought into the lies of the Empire and it is killing us. It doesn’t seem that we even know we need to reach for the garments of Christ, reach for healing. So many of us are entrenched in protecting tradition and reluctant to change. What happened to seeking Jesus in the midst of the crowd, trusting that we will be made whole?
On the other hand, the more we cling to our nostalgic recollection of the past and our outdated modes of worship and governance, the more we risk sliding into death. The past is not the perfection many of us recall. Church has always been riddled with the wounds of the Empire. When we made our traditions more important than following Jesus, we cut deeper. When we chose to follow social norms instead of seeking Jesus, we became sicker. When we decided who was in and who was out, we laid down on our deathbed. When we elevated our politicians over God’s holy ways, our breathing became labored. Will we hear Jesus call us to new life?
My friends, the Bodymind of Christ is sick, perhaps near to death. Isn’t it time we sought healing, healing that goes deep into the heart of the Church? I’m not under the illusion that all denominations will come together as one, though, if we were honest with ourselves, we might all get a bit closer as we reach for those garments of Christ. Are we as individuals, congregations, and denominations willing to ask the questions that will enable our spiritual hands to reach for those healing robes?
Who is welcome in our congregations and who is not? Who is welcome in our pulpits and who is not? What is essential to embodying Christ in the world today? What is not? What is our primary illness – worshiping tradition? White supremacy? homophobia? transphobia? literal interpretation of scripture? misogyny? other fear? Answering these questions honestly just might stop the flow of blood or enable us to hear the call to new life.
However, recognizing the symptoms of illness isn’t always easy. Ignoring them, though, won’t make us any healthier. Acknowledging that we are unwell is the beginning of the journey toward health. While sickness may weaken us, there is no shame in sickness itself. If we continue to deny the sickness and act as if we are healthy and whole, this is shame; this is sin.
May we repent of our insistence on wellness and denying our sickness. May we have the courage to reach for the garments of grace and listen for the voice calling us to new life. May we be honest with where we are now and where Jesus would rather we be. May the Bodymind of Christ be made well by God’s grace and through our words and actions…
RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 27, 2021 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 and Psalm 130 • Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 or Lamentations 3:22-33 and Psalm 30 • 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 • Mark 5:21-43
Last night I had a dream about rowing through marshlands with a from seminary, and as often happens we were in our early 20s not our mid 50s. The marsh was familiar in the dream, though no place I have ever been. The waterway ranged from just wide enough for the rowboat to pass through the grasses to the width of a small pond or lake. It was a bright, sunny day with no clouds in the sky. We were both young and health, enjoying the day.
Then my friend was rowing without the boat moving at all. And, yes, you guessed it, storm clouds were gathering on the horizon. I offered to row thinking my friend was tired after having rowed for quite a while. Yet, when I took the oars and began to row, she told me I was doing it wrong and had to do it right or we’d never get anywhere. You see, I rowed by alternating left and right rather than pulling the oars together. My friend insisted that I row the “proper” way. Instead of arguing, I started to row by pulling both oars at the same time. The boat began to move in small circles, making no progress through the marsh.
For reasons unknown, this made my friend both frustrated and anxious. Soon she told me to do it my way so we could get somewhere before the storm arrived in full. I switched back to alternating oars, and the boat began to move. Through the marsh grasses we went. We moved quite quickly for some time. Then just as the marsh was opening into the ocean, I couldn’t make the boat move forward no matter how hard I pulled the oars. The rain had started. The waves were swelling. Lightning wasn’t far off.
My friend started to panic. She was sure we were going to die even though we were only a few feet from shore and, technically, could have gotten out of the boat onto the beach easily enough. For reasons known only in dreams, we didn’t get out of the boat. Instead, I asked her to join me on the rowing bench and take an oar. She did. And after a few false starts, we found a rhythm of rowing together that allowed us to get home safely.
It matters whose in the boat with you.
It matters what kind of boat you’re in.
I grew up watching boats. Small lobster boats, tug boats, big ferries, yachts, sailboats, big fishing boats…all kinds of boats. I never learned to sail or do much more than row a boat or paddle a canoe. I tend to get seasick in anything with a motor. And, yes, when I learned to row a rowboat, the only way I could do it was by alternating oars. To this day, I cannot row by pulling the oars together.
Having folx in your boat who know what to do when there’s a problem is important. Having someone who knows how the boat operates is equally important. Having someone who knows how to respond to whether also matters. And when you’re in a small boat where there are lots of bigger boats and ships, it’s good to have someone who knows the rules.
Over the last many months of pandemic, many people said things like, “We are all in the same boat.” That is never true. Some of us are in luxury liners. Some in small cabin cruisers. Some in little motor boats. Some in rowboats. Some in rowboats with small leaks. We are not all in the same boat. However, we are all in the same storm. That’s when the type of boat matters the most.
We need to stop pretending that everyone has the same resources. We need to stop pretending that everyone has the same access to housing, food, healthcare, etc.
It’s great that the federal government made Juneteenth a federal holiday. It really is. However, why are we not talking about reparations, racial disparities, injustice in our legal system, and all the other things that make Juneteenth an important holiday?
We are not all in the same boat.
We are all in the storm, though.
Who will speak into the wind and the storm?
Peace. Be still.
We are a long way from that. Figure out what type of boat you’re in and who’s in it with you. It’s time we start rowing together in ways that pull us toward justice for every boat in this storm. Then maybe we can step out onto solid ground…
RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 20, 2021 11 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 and Psalm 9:9-20 or 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16 and Psalm 133 • Job 38:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 • Mark 4:35-41
If the realm of God is like the scattering of seeds that sprout mysteriously, I wonder if we are actually doing any of the seed scattering. Or, for that matter, receiving any of the seeds scattered by others. I don’t think we are very comfortable with mystery, let alone Mystery. Contemplating the realm of God seems a bit heady or lofty given the struggles of everyday living, right? However, if we shift our perspective just a little bit, then the realm of God and all its Mystery becomes part of everyday life, perhaps even alleviating some of the suffering.
In Mark’s gospel, the Good News is that the realm of God is at hand. It wasn’t about salvation or a “personal relationship with God.” The Good News was about the closeness of God’s realm and the invitation to join in the work of brining God’s realm into our world. This wasn’t the task of any individual; it was the task of the community of believers. Jesus wanted his followers to repent of our lack of labor on behalf of the realm of God, repent of our self-focused ways of living in this world. God and the realm of God are near; the seeds of heaven are growing everywhere if we have the capacity and the desire to recognize what’s happening.
For the last several days in Minnesota, the temperatures have been between 90 and 100 degrees. This is exceedingly hot for early June. These high temperatures are an indication of climate shift, global warming that has resulted from human beings misusing the planet in large and small ways. We are destroying our oceans by over-fishing and dragging miles of seabed. We are destroying our forests by strip mining and excessive logging. Our water supplies dwindle because we’d rather over-supply things like almond milk than pay attention to what the earth can sustain. Our consumerism is literally destroying our planet. And as long as those with privilege have air conditioning, clean water, carbon fuels, and excessive food supplies, the harm done to the earth will continue. This is not the way of God’s realm.
Repenting from consumerism without regard to the needs of our neighbors is a good start to bringing the realm of God a little bit closer. In fact, anytime we consider the needs of those around us before making decisions about how we will live, we bring the realm of God that much closer. Seeds of loving-kindness germinate and become thriving relationships. This is how we change what is into what pleases God.
It isn’t simple. The ways of White supremacy tell White folx that we deserve the best of everything and have every right to pursue material and financial success without regard to those around us. White supremacist culture tells us that we can take what we want and not have to worry about whether or not others have what they need. Think about how Flint, MI still doesn’t have clean water. Think about Enbridge’s plans to put a pipeline through tribal lands violating treaties. Think about the ways in which highways were built to destroy Black neighborhoods. The list goes on. We have the power to change all of this.
If we think about the realm of God growing from the tiniest seed (kindness or compassion or a thought about the greater good) into an enormous shrub where life is sustained, how can we not try harder? How can we not try harder to live with the larger community in mind? How can we continue to justify the way things are? How can we continue to contribute to the suffering of our neighbors and the suffering of the earth if we’ve heard Jesus’ call to repentance?
Jesus called for repentance again and again. He also invited his disciples to participate in brining the realm of God into the here and now. Today is an excellent day to scatter seeds and seek out the ones that are already germinating. The realm of God thrives on loving-kindness, and we all have the capacity to participate in its growth.
The failure to recognize the obvious always catches me by surprise. Long, long ago Samuel told the people of God that no good could come from the rule of kings. They insisted on being like all other nations. And along came the kings who took their children for soldiers and servants, their goods and grains for self-serving purposes. Still, they did not learn. What is our excuse? We still fall under the rule of kings and presidents, queens and congress, to what avail? Our children are still taken as soldiers and servants, dying to preserve our sense of safety and superiority. All is an illusion. Jesus sat with a crowd of misfits and miracle-seekers and called them his own – siblings in body and spirit. Yet, we side with those in power, ignoring the needs of our neighbors, sanctioning state violence against those we fear, huddling just this side of status quo, ignoring the distance between this existence and the realm of God. When will we learn? Samuel’s wisdom still holds truth: there is no need to be like other nations. We can turn our attention to the greater good, the needs of our neighbors. Soldiers and servants need not be the future for anyone’s children if we consider what God requires. Where is that holy highway for all to travel in peace accompanied by mercy and justice? Jesus showed us the way. All that is required is to recognize siblings where the world labels “other.” Can we serve God with more than our lips? Can we shatter the illusions of difference and division created to keep us under the control of death and violence? Can we let go of fear to make room for justice and love our neighbors as ourselves? For the love of God and all things holy, may it not be too late to save us from conformity, fear, and destruction.
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A sense of Resurrection hit me early this year. Yesterday I was able to get a vaccine sooner than I had anticipated. I needed to be in a hospital setting because of my medical conditions and the possibility of an allergic reaction. I have been on all kinds of waiting lists for a few weeks and had to turn down one place because it wasn’t a hospital. Yesterday, though, my wife came home from a morning appointment at the VA (she’s a veteran) and told me that if I went there right then, I could get a vaccine. Good news, indeed. I have had to keep my exposure to the world so minimal over the last 13 months because of my high risk. Now I am imagining what I can do five weeks from now when I am fully vaccinated. It won’t be anything exciting by most people’s standards. Just things like the dentist, the ophthalmologist, a mammogram, and in-person PT for my frozen shoulder. I might be brave enough to go to the Asian market for somethings that aren’t available on Instacart, though I won’t go in if it’s too crowded. I also like to dream about having friends who also vaccinated over this summer – outside, masked, and distanced, of course. It feels like a bit of resurrection is on the horizon.
I can’t help but think of the heavy grief those women carried to Jesus’ tomb along with the anointing spices. They had no idea that they would be greeted by Resurrection. By John’s account, Mary Magdalene mistook the Risen Christ for the gardener. Imagine how much her spirits lifted when she recognized her beloved friend, rabbi, teacher. By Mark’s account the women were terrified by the very idea of Resurrection; they ran away. I get that. If I had been there, I would have dropped my anointing spices and ran for home. No one expects the power of God to change the laws of nature. No one expects Resurrection and when it happens we should be awestruck, if not also filled with fear and trembling.
Even today. Yes, today, when we encounter Resurrection, we must also be open to the awe, or the fear, or the terror. God’s power is so much more than anything we encounter on a day-to-day basis. And, let’s face it, these days we are weighed down by the grief we carry. All of us know at least one person who has died from COVID. Most of us know many. And then there is the loss of “normal,” whatever that meant for us. When we encounter Resurrection this year, will the heaviness of the grief we carry lessen? Will we be able to breathe a little more deeply with the reminder that God is truly with us through everything?
Also, with the Resurrection comes the knowledge that nothing will ever be “normal” again. Encounters with the Risen Christ were not the same as being with Jesus before his death. He was different. He had to identify himself every time he showed up for any of his disciples. New Life means different life. This is good for us to remember as we look at the end of pandemic, whenever it comes. There are things that will never be the same again. Masking in public is likely here to stay. Handshakes are probably a thing of the past. Many of us will never feel comfortable being part of a large crowd again. Some of us will be reluctant to eat in restaurants or even get takeout again. And church will be different, too. We don’t know when or if we’ll be able to sing together again. We won’t pass the offering plate or pass the Peace. We won’t be handing out bulletins or casually hugging each other. Who knows what kinship time will look like. Are potlucks a thing of the past? Church might have to take a cue from the Resurrected Christ and be different in appearance and action.
While most of us resist change and long to “get back to normal,” Resurrection reminds us that this is not how the Body of Christ started out. We, as church, have an amazing opportunity to appear and behave differently, like the Resurrected Christ. Maybe we won’t have to point out our wounds or explain that we are still the church, yet we can embrace transformation. We can emerge from pandemic very unlike we were prior. Yes, it’s scary not to know the future shape we will take. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to take risks. Yes, it seems counterintuitive to intentionally embrace more change when so much has already changed. Some may, in fact, run away in fear. That’s okay. The women ran away at first. Yet, we know they told the story at some point because here we are a couple thousand years later.
With the promise of new life, life after pandemic, on the horizon, may we all embrace the power and truth of Resurrection this Easter. May we move through our fear and welcome the differences that will eventually become normative. May our congregations live into transformation and Resurrection in a way that beckons to those who have yet to find welcome in the church. It’s okay to be anxious or afraid. We have yet to know what resurrection will look like in the wake of pandemic. We are still caught somewhere between Maundy Thursday and Easter morning. We will celebrate Easter in spirit this week. It may be several more months before we get to experience New Life in-person. The key is to be open to whatever comes and give thanks for the promise of Resurrection.
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RCL – Year B – Easter – April 4, 2021
Palm Sunday. During pandemic. Again. I’ve heard too many clergy colleagues asking how to preach this Holy Week during pandemic. Sure, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are comparatively easy. How to preach good news on Palm Sunday and even more so on Easter is the repeated question. What does new life look like when the pandemic has not ended, though an end may be on the horizon? What does new life mean when congregations are failing or haven’t met in person in over a year or many members have died or the doors have permanently closed? Can we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem when we are still held captive by COVID? The short answer is yes. Yes, there is new life. Yes, there is a way through grief. Yes, the church is still vital and necessary in the world. Yes, celebrating Jesus’ return to Jerusalem is both possible and important.
We are all stressed by the experiences of this last year. Most of us could not have predicted that we’d be facing our second Holy Week of virtual worship. We thought it would all be over by now. Now it’s not. And we are weary on top of the on-going stressors pandemic brings. All the more reason to take a closer look at the events of Holy Week, and to remind ourselves that the week goes from celebration to suffering to death to New Life. This is the story of the human journey. This is the story of our spiritual lives. We move through these stages. We, too, experience betrayal and loss and death. We grieve. We celebrate. We remember. We live. So, let’s begin.
Jesus returned to Jerusalem without a lot of fanfare. He rode a colt, fulfilling prophecy. He was humble and quiet in contrast to Pilot with a parade and a Century of soldiers on horses and wearing shiny armor. Jesus came in humility while the Empire made promises of power and protection that they couldn’t possibly keep. Jesus rode in quietly with only palm branches waving and few shouts of “hosanna!” He promised life to those who would follow him. He rode into town, checked out the Temple, and went to Bethany for the night.
Not much has changed. The Empire doesn’t necessarily come riding into town with soldiers and horses any more than Jesus comes in riding a donkey. However, the Empire is still making promises of power and protection that it cannot possibly fulfill. It’s goal is to keep us separate and powerless so that the status quo may endure even the pandemic. Jesus’ goal, in complete contrast, is to unite and empower so that the oppressed may be liberated and justice may be embodied throughout society. Jesus would have something to say about the ways this pandemic has been managed (or not) by those with power. He would have something to say about the inequity of those victimized and the way the vaccine has been released according to the same old racial divides. Jesus would have something to say about how we have let white supremacy and classism, ablism, and other divisive fears determine who lives and who dies. We need Jesus to ride into town and remind us that there is a better way to face the Empire.
Palm Sunday can remind us that there is another way to be in the face of fear, anger, and oppression. We can humbly remain firm in our love or our neighbors and ourselves. We can be reluctant to let go of the (false) protections of Empire even as we recognize that the way of Love demands an active response. Jesus didn’t ride that colt into Jerusalem because he wanted to; he rode into the city because he needed people to see the Love provides more safety, healing, and hope than might. The God’s steadfast love is the way through all the pain, deceit, and division caused by participating in the power of the Empire. Where is Jesus challenging us to respond differently in this moment, to leave behind the illusions of the Empire?
If we skip ahead to Thursday, we know that betrayal rules the day. Judas couldn’t help himself. In the moment, the money seemed more powerful than Jesus’ love for him. As a result, Jesus was betrayed into the hands of the authorities. Yet, not before some important things happened. There was footwashing to show us that we are all equal before God; not one human life is more important than another, not one is too good to wash the feet of others. And there was, of course, the Last Supper. Here Jesus told us all what he was doing and why. His body would be broken for us to know healing. His blood would be poured out for us to know forgiveness. He would die for us to know that violence and death are not the end. Resurrection tells us that Love always triumphs. How do we move through this week experiencing it all fully and trust the fullness the New Life that is promised and demonstrated?
We know the story. We know that God does not abandon us at any time. God is with us in our moments of being overwhelmed and weary. Holy Week in its entirety can remind us that we are not alone and that the best way to journey together is through all of it – the hope, the despair, the fear, the betrayal, the grief… everything. By going through it all we get to New Life. No thing lasts forever. However, we are changed by our experiences. Life will never be what it was before COVID. As true as this is, there is still hope because we are a people seeking to live into and embody Divine Love. Love that unites and liberates us and instills hope in us for a life that is yet to come. This is the good news. This is the good news writ large this week. May we all have the grace to stay awake, to keep watch, and to bear witness to all that is to come. Blessings on the journey!
Transfiguration Sunday is one of the most unappreciated holy days of the Christian year. In fact, some clergy avoid preaching on this passage because it is a mystery, and a confusing one at that. Yet, the message in the metaphor is one we desperately need on so many levels. This year, especially. Some say that we never left Lent in 2020 and now we are rapidly approaching it again. How are we going to manage this? Who needs a reminder of the finitude and frailty this year? Not many folx, for sure. Yet, how many of us need a reminder that we are indeed a temple of the Holy Spirit, the glory of God? This is what the transfiguration story can do. It can serve as a much-needed reminder that God’s glory is within us and can shine through anyone, anywhere, anytime. Let’s climb this mountainous mystery and figure this out.
I’m not going to speculate all that much on why Peter, James, and John were chosen to go up the mountain with Jesus. Maybe the others were busy. Maybe these three needed the mystical experience more than the others. Maybe they were the only ones with the right footgear to climb a mountain. Who knows? This isn’t necessarily the important part. They chose to follow Jesus up the mountain. Would you? Have you? They took the risk of following without knowing where they were going and what might happen when they got there.
This is where it gets weird and not worth lingering on the literal. Yes, it could have happened exactly the way the story is written. And maybe it’s a story of literally mythic proportions. Either way, there’s a message for us in the mysterious weirdness. In an unexpected moment of openness, the three disciples saw the glory of God shining through Jesus, unhidden and totally terrifying. They saw the truth of who Jesus was and it elevated him in the company of two other holy men – Moses and Elijah. The response of the disciples was to fall down in overwhelming fear and Jesus did not tell them not to be afraid. What does this tell us about the pure, unfiltered, presence of the Holy? It’s fine to recognize the Sacred in the setting sun, the flight of an eagle, the kindness of a stranger, etc. On the other hand, imagine what it would feel like to be in the presence of God unmitigated by Creation. Wouldn’t you be terrified, too?
We can talk about “mountain top” experiences and by doing so, we might diminish the power and value of this story. We talk about those moments when the Holy Spirit touches our human spirit and we are enlivened in some way. In college, we referred to this as a “spiritual high.” I’ve never heard anyone talk about these experiences with fear and trembling, though. Yes, sometimes the implications afterward were anxiety provoking in that they meant a life-change of some sort. The encounter itself, however, often left a sense of peace or hope or excitement in its wake. I’d venture to guess that few of us have encountered God in such a way that leaves us quaking in our hiking boots.
In contrast, we can totally relate to the three when they wanted to stay and build tabernacles. Maybe they wanted to honor God with altars. Maybe they wanted to hang out in that holy place and see if Glory would shine again. Who knows what their motivations were for wanting to stay. Whatever they were, we can relate. If you’ve had an encounter with the Holy, you might want to linger where it happened. You might be tempted to try to make it happen again. You might spend some energy longing for the experience to be repeated, perhaps just to confirm that it happened in the first place. It’s very human to want to stay in a place where the Holy Spirit has clearly shown up.
Of course, lingering wasn’t possible. There was work yet to be done down in the valley where folx live with all kinds of pain. We have no idea how long they were on the mountain with Jesus and we don’t know how long Jesus let them be in their awe before he told them that it was time to move on. And that caution not to talk about their experience until later was wise counsel indeed. They needed some time to think and to pray and sort out what meaning it all had for them, for their lives, and for all the lives they would touch. We would do well to pay heed.
Overall, though, this story tells us that the glory of God lies within. Maybe it will never shine through us with the pure unfiltered intensity that it shone through Jesus, yet anything is possible. We catch glimpses of God’s glory in other folx all the time. We see a holy sheen on those who engage their passion. Sometimes we feel it when we worship together. You know, that intense worship experience that is some-unnamable-how different from the usual worship service. My theory is that it takes more than one of us for true transfiguration to happen these days. Maybe that’s why there were three disciples with Jesus to bear witness to the three who shone with holy light. Maybe Glory is best experienced and witnessed in community. Maybe the deepest, truest connections with God come through others who’ve joined together to be vessels of Divine Love…
However it works, whenever it appears, God’s glory is a powerful thing. We would do well to remember that at least a spark or two of that Glory is within each of us. Yes, we will soon be reminded that we are made from dust and we will return to dust. And, yet, God chooses to shine through the dust, sometimes transfiguring what might be otherwise ordinary humans into spectacular visions of holiness.
On the brink of Lent, we are not alone in the wilderness, no matter how bleak or barren it appears. The glory of God shines in us and around us. When we gather together as the Body of Christ, we shine all that much brighter.
Shine on, my friends, shine on.
There’s not a lot of raising up happening, at least not in my neighborhood. I’m not even sure there are folx waiting for the Lord. I don’t think we know and we’ve dismissed so much of what we have heard. Sure, we might say that God is the Creator of all that is. I’m just not convinced that we allow this truth to sink into our lives and fill the void deep within. We keep trying to fit things into the emptiness in our lives. Sometimes we might feel satisfied for a moment or two. Then the yearning, the despair, the weariness makes itself known once again.
Maybe it’s because we make it all too personal. The words of the Prophet Isaiah were spoken to the people of God, not just one individual. We’ve forgotten how mythic imagination works best in community. When you are yearning for more than you can attain, the community around you can help clear a way for you. When you are on the brink of giving up because God seems so far away and your prayers seem unanswered, the community around you can hold hope for you and raise your prayers higher until you become aware of God’s presence once more. And the weariness that threatens us all these days, is abated when we come together as God’s people in worship, in song, in prayer, in lament, in earnest.
The Prophet was correct when he spoke about waiting for God and being raised upon things like eagles, running without weariness, and walking without tiring. This is only possible when we join together as God’s people. This cannot be sustained by one individual. As human beings, as part of Creation, we need one another; we are interdependent.
Not convinced by the ancient words of Isaiah? How about the actions of Jesus in Mark’s gospel? Simon’s mother-in-law was sick. Jesus healed her. Not for her benefit alone. The impact on the community was remarkable. We can get distracted by the line that says Peter’s mother-in-law immediately started serving the people in her home, or we can see this as a sign that she regained her vital role in the community. She who was sick was made whole and in her wholeness she offered hospitality to her guests. When we are whole, we strengthen the community by using our gifts and talents in service to others.
Then the crowds came. Jesus didn’t deny them. He healed all who came. He restored them to wholeness and gave them opportunities to serve their neighbors. The gift of wholeness is not meant to be hoarded by the strong; it is meant to be employed in raising up the most vulnerable around us. If any of us has been gifted with healing and wholeness, then we must use it to the glory of God by serving the least among us. Peter’s mother-in-law is a beautiful example of what wholeness could look like in a community where all are waiting for God, waiting to participate in the raising up of all our neighbors.
Yes, we can take time to go off to a quiet place to rest and to pray and to renew our spirits. Yet, even when we are away, the community of God’s people goes with us. It is on their strength that we can rest and seek renewal. It is on their hopes and dreams that we each can build God’s realm here and now. Just as we are one, we are many.
Theological math never quite adds up in a logical way. However, in a spiritual way it makes sense. We worship one God who engages the world in many forms, traditionally triune–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So too, the people of God. We say Christ has one body, the Church. Yet, there are many churches made up of many, many individuals. One Body, many members. Paul was right about this. Yet, we have a tendency to make faith all about us as individuals – what can God do for me? It’s time we turn this around and ask what we can do for God. Are we using our gifts and seeking wholeness to our own benefit or to strengthen the community of God’s people? Are we losing ourselves in the weariness that persists everywhere today or are we asking to be raised up to our rightful place as part of the Body of Christ, the people of God?
We can wait for God to intervene and repair what is broken. Yet, our waiting needs to be active. We need to be joining with our neighbors, building relationships, drawing in those we have marginalized, strengthening the community… you know, repairing what we have broken and seeing what God reveals in the healing. Together, with God and one another, we can rise up on wings like eagles…
Lately, I’ve been studying Judaism’s communal identity. To be Jewish (and religious) is to belong to community and to have a sacred duty to work for its benefit. Moreover, there is a sacred responsibility to work to repair the world. There is no focus on individual spirituality, individual relationship with God in Judaism. Instead, there is an identity that is grounded in being God’s people, the people of Israel, being a nation united in covenant to bring holiness into the world. There is a “we-ness” in Judaism that is absent in Christianity where the focus has become individual relationships with God, personal salvation. Christianity focuses on the “I” rather than the “we.”
What if this time of pandemic is an opportunity to seek unity and build a new identity for the church universal that is based on the tradition of our spiritual ancestors? Think about it. God made a covenant through Noah with the people of the earth. God made a more specific covenant through Abraham with all of Abraham’s descendants. God strengthened that covenant through Moses with the people of Israel. If we keep with this way of thinking about covenant, then we can say that God made a covenant through Jesus with all who follow to embody love and forgiveness for the whole of the cosmos. To think of the covenant made through Jesus with us in this way, makes it less personal, less about me, and more about the goodness and hope the Body of Christ can bring into the world.
I can’t help but think about the story of Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus taught and the people were highly skeptical. Was this not the same Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter? What was he doing teaching with divine authority? And then there was the man with the “unclean spirit” who accused Jesus of wanting to destroy them. Jesus cast out the spirit and the man was made clean. The man was, no doubt, brought back into community after having been pushed to the edges because of the “unclean spirit.”
Sometimes I wonder if the focus on personal relationship and right beliefs is not an unclean spirit possessing the Church today. We have created so many different variations of the rules about who’s in and who’s out, what beliefs are righteous and which are unrighteous… Collectively, the Church has pushed so many to the edges of our existence that healing and literal re-membering might not be possible. What might happen, though, if we shift our focus from “I” and “us” to “we” and “all”? Would we take more seriously the mandate to love as Jesus loves? Would we more fully embody Divine Love in ways that remember and re-member those who’ve been pushed over the edge by our insistence on orthopraxis or orthodoxy?
Can you imagine a church (in all its varied forms) united as God’s people in a way that saves lives without hesitation? Wouldn’t it be amazing to travel the world (post-pandemic of course) and no that no matter where you were and in need of help, another Christian would offer that help? My friends, we are God’s people. We are people called to embody Divine Love that brings healing and hope. We cannot do this as individuals. Look at the harm that has been done in the name of Christ if you are still uncertain. Only by being united as one people can we re-member those whom we have dis-membered in the past. Only by being united as one people can we exemplify the kind of love Jesus wanted us to share.
My dream, my vision, is that we will work together to cast out the unclean spirit of personal salvation and individual focus from Christianity. I don’t mean this in a way that negates the value of individuals. On the contrary, I mean this in a way that celebrates and honors and values the uniqueness of every individual and their place within the Body of Christ. Together we would be stronger, more compassionate, more welcoming… more of everything Jesus desires us to be.
This is my vision. What’s yours?