God designated the times, gave us enough space, so we’d search, find God – though God is always near. Through time, across cultures, we find God, are finding God together.
It is not a one-person show. It is not a one-denomination’s show. It is not for a single entity to decide who God is because it takes millennia and worlds of discovery to even begin to know this God. Still, this God is not unknown, unknowable. Just unfathomable.
The unknown god is known to the people of Athens because God is in our very breath! We breathe the Spirit of God. It is because God is not enshrined, not a piece of wood, not high above – beyond anything we know or experience (sure, God extends beyond anything we can even conceive. Still.) God. Is. Near.
Indeed, It is IN God we exist.
We have as the essence of our being, in the power that made death absolutely inert – nothing – we are held within the very bosom of – the Holy Trinity. And this Triune God Is Love. Encircles us. Holds us together – In Love. All of us. This same God. This same Love. Encircles ALL of us!
We breathe the Spirit of God. God, Who is Love lives IN us, and we are enclosed IN God, and we share the same Spirit, contained within the same God. This God Who is love. Encircling us. Empowering us. How do we live like we believe this in this time of pandemic?
Jesus heals the royal official’s son and the paralytic to coax their faith, walk them through the process, inviting them into the movements of belief; called them to participate with him (make peace of their relationship) in the healing – to believe …“in Jesus as God’s Word Made Flesh—God’s embodied sacramental presence tent-pitched in the world so that those who believe in him are empowered to become ‘children of God.’”
The two men who both experience Jesus’ healing power, do what they’re told. And in that process, in the doing, they are healed. It is a physical, bodily action, enacting their faith that Jesus’ command elicits. Not to prove himself, to perform a sign, wonders, but tease out the faith he knew these two individuals held, germinating within. No one else would be able to see that but Jesus. Just as I could not see whether my seed was germinating – but, in faith (desperate, on the brink of humiliation before my Trustees) I nudged the mulch and continued caring for them.
The way of peace is not inert – it is active. To walk in the way of peace, faith is a prerequisite. It absolutely does not look the same from one person to the next.
The paralytic had to actually try and stand up. The official had to 1st notice Jesus, then perform an act below his social station, 3rd, follow Jesus’ command by starting home believing his son will be healed, and finally confirm the healing occurred when Jesus spoke those words of healing. It didn’t happen all at once. It was a process.
And what happens? Peace is brought to his home – they ALL believe! because this royal official came to his senses, moved with Jesus through the process of belief.
It’s always process, evolving – creative. And isn’t that what healing is all about? Recreating that which is ailing?: the body, a relationship, a system?
“Tell all the truth but tell it slant”… bit by bit, or it might blind us to ALL the truth. What is the truth Jesus is calling you to today? How is Jesus coaxing you to relationship, to move in faith along the way of Peace? To what creative process is your spirit germinating, ready to press aside the bits that attempt to suffocate, but persist, so full of life, potential blooms, ready to flourish?
Lent is a little bit like the pregnancy-birth process. It is a time of waiting, growing something important inside. A mother I needed a partner to take months paying attention to my breathing, my movements; notice signs of distress, to encourage with images of riding the wave of each contraction, and feel the distress each time I believes I would be crushed, drown under the force of it. Practicing contemplating all that is me – the one growing our child within – we grow to know each other more deeply, intimately, and trust each other in/for the process.
In silence and contemplation, we find the space to recreate perspective, so Judgement is no longer something we need fear, but an invitation to discernment, “a growing awareness of how God engages us.” It’s all about our relationships.
In today’s reading, Jesus encounters another woman. This time a stranger, and a Samaritan, and pulling water from the well at mid-day (avoiding the usual times a woman should), whom he ought never approach, let alone accept a drink. And he says, “woman….”
In the case of his mother, they knew each other. Taking a moment of silence, a bit of time to come to her senses, Jesus’ respectful, intimate call for her attention was more than enough.
For the woman at the well, more time was needed. She had an impressive amount of information about worship practices. Like Nicodemus – though certainly not as elaborate – she was well taught the promise of a Messiah to come. She was open to belief, but needed more time contemplating this possibility. Time with Jesus. Talking with others. Testing her faith: “Could he be?”
The woman at the well is unnamed and unknown to Jesus on meeting. When Jesus says, “Woman…” gunē, in the vocative, direct, as if already in relationship, she pauses (as Mary did at the wedding) and then she opens her soul to Jesus. The respect and dignity he offers this woman by addressing her with this word elicits a trust, a hint of the kind of relationship she tried so hard to find – and failed – in her 5 previous marriages and current partner.
She opens her soul to Jesus and is delighted, giddy with the revelation of what relationship is meant to be like – to be known and to be loved. To be loved in the knowing.
To believe this, to understand and experience a reality of relating with God through Christ in the Spirit, we absolutely must first come to our sense. Be still. Be silent. And contemplate. Accept this profound love by being known; know in the loving.
May you contemplate your relationship with Jesus this week. Open your soul to Jesus. Be known and loved; love and know in return. And ride the waves of such exposure that threaten to crush, drown under the force of it.
Silence is hard. Silence leaves us vulnerable to deeper, darker thoughts. But we cannot hear anything if we don’t listen. And it is only when we are willing to meet whatever it is we find in that silence – in all of its sometimes frightening discomfort – watered by our attention – that something might grow out of the deep, dark, and clumpy soil.
When Jesus responds to Mary during the wedding at the Cana, “Woman…” there is something so intimate about that. Jesus is saying, “Woman, individual, human of great worth, you matter to me – listen.” And Mary does pause. She seems to take a breath and center on Jesus’ words, Jesus’ presence in that time-space. And this moment of being silent in Jesus’ presence brings Mary to herself, to the reality that all will be well. Timeless. Suspended senses.
And in the 2nd story, again, there is frenzy – of buying and selling animals that will be used for sacrificial rituals. But they have missed the point entirely. They are trying to do everything they can to keep the synagogue running in the way that others are doing it, to do worship just like all the other synagogues in town. And Jesus had to tear the place apart before they would stop and listen and notice. God incarnate. Jesus, in their midst.
And it is all for the disciples – so that they would believe Jesus was who he said he was. So they would listen, be silent, stop making assumptions, but truly hear.
The “unreflective practice” with the wedding and at the temple, speaks to the economic, political and religious. When rituals and ceremonies are practiced without reflection, without pause, silence – when we are overwhelmed by entering these rituals in a manner that everyone else is compelled to do, we miss the point entirely. And we reveal our lack of faith, our belief that Jesus is who he says he is.
We need silence. We need to be still. We need to listen to the heart of God – in our particular situation. Notice. Look again. Discern that which is going on here. Not blaming others, not judging – God is the one who has the capacity to pass judgment – but discerning. And it can be scary, even terrifying. Because in my solitude I have to ask, What is my part in all of this?
Let us notice that which is within rather than the flower that will wilt and crumble. Let us dig deep into the dry clumpy soil and tend it, water it. Let us first be silent, even jolted out of our frenzied worry and turn our face to Jesus – and believe.
May we recreate a perspective unique to us, to our situation in silence. It’s an art from: the art of silence.
This is what doing justice looks like: To be known as a people who do something about injustices and work to make things right, a people that can be trusted, a people who are safe, empowered by the Spirit of God; and to do so, we must Just grow up!
Growing up means we have a broader view. Our perspective becomes more expansive. We’ve moved beyond object permanence. We have the ability now, our brains are capable of meeting someone from a different neighborhood or culture and learn to understand that view.
Paul says this (1Cor3): you keep trying to elevate yourselves, make yourselves seem important by aligning with certain people, or ideas, crushing others by declaring their inadequacies based on superficial things. But you’re no god; you’re human! God is the one who causes growth. So grow up! Whatever it is that you do out of your giftedness, talents, privilege or hardship, we absolutely must work together. Because we are working toward a common goal!
Would not our faith strengthen, our feet feel a firmer foundation, if we understood the spectacular faith of so many saints – those who planted and watered alongside us, often unbeknownst to us?!
“Jesus made it clear that he came to bring ‘good news to the poor’ (Luke 4:18), showing that if we liberated the people on the margins, the good news would float upwards—in the opposite direction of the ‘trickle down’ economic model, which is largely an illusion.”(Richard Rohr)
Rev. Dr. Cone wrote, “Any message that is not related to the liberation of the poor in a society is not Christ’s message. Any theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not Christian theology.”
To what lengths will you go to show love? How far will you go to display your love for God?
If you believe God exists, and that Jesus is who he says he is, and we say Yes, I believe, then we must live into that reality. That means, we who have already been learning, being discipled, will go out and disciple others, be that witness of God’s love, Jesus’ redemptive power, the Spirit’s outpouring of graces to the community.
And, that we be known as a people who do something about injustices and work to make things right – just evidence of a people that can be trusted, a people who are safe, empowered by the Spirit of God; that God brings about growth, and for transformation to occur, it is crucial that we Just grow up!
I want to be a Just Grownup. How about you?
If we gather together only to move through the actions that a church is “supposed” to do, without the presence and power of the Spirit in us, with us, we have become a sect indeed. Static. Inconsequential. But if we come together ready to hear the voice of Jesus, open to be changed within – transformed, renewed, transforming, renewing – then we are empowered to be transformative, a conduit for the reformation of the nation.
We are meant to live by a different kind of power. We are already made for, and have access to, the Source of this other power! Do we look like a church our church look like a church that is composed of a people who are empowered by the Spirit of God?
When someone sees his donation as a responsibility (v. gift) – sharing, because it is her duty, something that ought to be done – it makes it much more difficult to ignore.
When we take a moment to breathe in the truth of our privilege and breathe out the impulse to protect it, we are compelled to do something about it.
When I breathe in the realization that ‘what became of my life is as much a factor of the inequities that exist in our society today’ as anything else, and breathe out my part in perpetuating a perception that it’s somehow their fault for not trying hard enough, or similar sentiment, then maybe my gifts – given by the very Spirit of God – might contribute to the project of making things right, the transformation of the world!
Jesus said in Matthew, “if you have lost your saltiness, your flavor, what good are you? Maintain your unique flavor, and notice and appreciate the unique flavors of others. Expand your perspective of what delicious is, enjoy the infinite gifts and evidence of God’s goodness in this world. Let Holy Love be the end of us, the end of Methodism. Be a light, evidence of your devotion to God. You are a light. Let it shine!”
For any situation to be truly just, it cannot consist of power differentials, power plays. The only way that balance can exist, for everyone to be treated with equity and regard is for those who hold a majority of power to give some of it up, empowering those who have little or none.
Jesus says, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers – they own heaven and the earth! Not by wielding power over others. They do so through poverty of spirit (not controlling, managing others); they mourn over lost relationships; they are merciful. They see God.
“If the nature of love is unity and evolution is process toward greater unity, then sin is resistance to unity.” Ilia Delio
God is clear about our responsibility to our relationships – all of them – even the ones we didn’t know we were supposed to have. Especially the ones we didn’t know we were supposed to have! The phrase attributed to Hildegard is incredibly apt: sin is living in the exile of unrelatedness. Exiled from the garden because we don’t trust the other in the relationship, we form our own prejudices toward the other – when we didn’t even know we were naked! We didn’t even know there was a difference – back when we were living in unity, back when we took responsibility for one another.
We choose to eat the fruit each time we choose to make the knowledge of outward difference a point of division, of exiling ourselves from each other. And we choose it again. And again.
Still, Jesus chooses us. And he chooses us again. And again. Beckons us. Calls us to a better way: Love. And the nature of Love is unity.
God chose what is foolish… so that no one might boast in the presence of God…
Because if I boast in the presence of God – or in the presence of anyone else, which is the same thing (God in you, and all that) – I am making a distinction, distinguishing myself as something other – and another as something less, lacking. Foolishness only seems foolish to those who need to feel more important. Foolishness looks stupid because power is no longer important. Only love. Only the relationship. Foolishness looks foolish because, despite the fact that you might have hurt me or I’ve let you down, we choose each other. And we choose each other again. And again. And again.
Because we are called to each other. A just calling.
The problem that happens when people try to do something together, all with different ideas about how to do a thing, or varying levels of energy, is that, instead of recognizing the differences as just that: different, we start comparing and ascribing worth to those things. Whether I have a degree from one institution or you have training from another matters not one iota if you, filled with the Spirit of God, show effective compassion on a hurting soul – and I, Paul says, am like a clanging cymbal, without love.
We are enriched in every way: in speech and in knowledge of every kind! And we are not lacking in any. spiritual. gift. And this is true for everyone. All are created in God’s image – through Christ, our Redeemer, sustained by the Spirit. All are enough. But we are more of who we are together. And we are only effective if we are unified in the project. But how can we be unified when we are quibbling over bits of doctrine that do not speak to God’s love and salvation through Jesus? How can we be unified if we are put off by the way someone looks, or where he lives, or if she has as much energy to do as you much as you or I?
Romans 12:5 “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”
My degrees and anything I’ve written always began as a means to promote the building of the kingdom of God, the kingdom that is already at hand, and to follow Jesus in the healing of every kind of illness. When I start comparing my book sales to another’s, or succumb to self-loathing because I didn’t finish the degree program that might have given me a better position or platform – then anything I do or say is a squeaky, annoying ukulele. (see Abiyoyo)
There are so many ways we recognize difference. We are uniquely created in God’s image – each expressing God’s character in a unique way. It is crucial we honor those differences. AND, we are members of one another, and exhorted to “be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
Because when we are of the same mind and purpose, honoring difference while refraining from categorizing, belittling, scorning those differences, when we regard as holy and sacred our shared baptism and membership of one another, it is a unity that is just and righteous. It is just unity.
Paul addresses the Corinthian church in 1:1-9 as the “Church of God” and reminds them they are sanctified already – called to be saints! Not only that, they are called to be saints together with all, in every place! Grace to you and peace from God…
Then he reminds them of some truths of what this actually means: the grace of God is given them – they possess God’s grace. And it is by this grace (profound, unimaginable, more than anyone might even consider needing) by this grace, they are enriched in every way: in speech and in knowledge of every kind! Already – because the graces have already been poured out.
And the testimony of Jesus – that others witness those graces among them – reveals an even more remarkable truth: they are not lacking in any. spiritual. gift. They are enough. You are enough. You already contain and are strengthened by the graces of Jesus – will continue to be to the end.
And this calling means you are called into the fellowship of Jesus. Together. With all. In every place.
Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, “For systemic and personal transformation to occur, there must be “an honest confrontation with [the truth] and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to admit the truth when we discover it.”
Consider. Notice. Invite the Spirit of God to expose you to truths – or, at least, an openness to be willing to admit the truths of our prejudices and apathy and fear. To uproot guilt and plant forgiveness with us. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Sprout hope and sow resilience. Listen. Reflect. Be transformed. (ala, Maya Angelou)
Because, we are called to be saints together with all, in every place! And we are enriched in every way: in speech and in knowledge of every kind! And we are not lacking in any. spiritual. gift. All are chosen by God. All are created in God’s image – through Christ, our Redeemer, sustained by the Spirit. All are enough. Just, Enough.
One of our basest, barest needs is that those whom we respect, whose gaze it matters to be subject of, are pleased with us. Not disappointed in us. Approve of us.
We go to great lengths to maintain some sort of control over the good-grace exchange, most of us caving to lying – to ourselves or to those to whom we give that power. Just to be found worthy of notice.
Am I worthy of your notice? Are you pleased with me? It matters to me.
Why is it, then, that it is so easy to dismiss another person as not worthy of my trust, or attention, even, merely because of his appearance or in which part of town she lives in? When we know how much it matters to us that others are pleased to be in our company, do we withhold?
Our God gives us our very breath, spirit, and calls us in righteousness! already righteous! and instead of declaring that God now owns us, says, “I am giving you to each other.” For what? To be a light, a beacon of God’s goodness, to open the eyes that do not yet recognize God, to release the prisoners…
God is pleased with us, and desires only that when we accept that unfathomable grace, we shine that grace onto everyone else. Everyone.
The God who created a teenaged young woman became a couple of cells that divided and divided again inside her uterus, grew into an itty bitty of a newborn, utterly dependent on this faithful child-woman. Jesus went to hell and back again so that everything was covered by God’s unfathomable Love and Grace. Then remained in Spirit to, again, dwell in each of us, as we dwell in God.
If Jesus has appeared to you – if you’ve experienced the consolations of Christ, the reality of God – you are called, actually it says “commanded” to testify to God’s forgiveness and grace, and to do so to everyone “without partiality.” How that looks – to testify of God’s goodness – will be different for each of us.
This is what we testify to: that God is well pleased with Jesus, the Beloved child – and because we are created by this God through this same, God is well pleased with me! And not because I am a descendent of David a citizen of Israel. Not because I’m a white American and somehow cornered the market on privileged status by accident of birth.
The heart of the matter: when we don’t recognize God’s image in everyone, consider some people less worthy of our attention (whether out of fear or disgust or apathy), we are racist – we categorize that person as a race other than human. Because there is only human.
So I challenge you to become learners. Not just of things you find interesting, or with which you are comfortable. But find authors and artists, listen to music, read histories that are produced by people of color.
I propose a mindfulness spiritual practice: Mindfulness of difference. Don’t ignore discomfort and distractions. First, notice. See it for what it is. Hold it and view it from different perspectives (what feelings am I having? Why such a strong reaction? What makes me fearful of it? Where is Jesus in this? etc.) And then, let it go. Again. See beauty in it. Breathe.
Baptism is a testimony that we have eternal life. That is, we have this fullness of life now. All of us do. So what is preventing us from living like this is true? Are we making God out to be a liar by giving into prejudices instead of living into the testimony that God’s love and life are for all people?
This is why we remember our baptism.
God is just and calls us to righteousness. And God is just pleased with me, and with you. Let us take these branches as a reminder to be learners, to practice mindfulness of difference, and allow the hand of God to lead us where justice and righteousness is ready to be made.