kindred

dinner church - sundays @ 5:30pm

A Communal Psalm of Praise

we responded to Psalm 100 by each writing our own verse.  together, we created this:

Father and Mother,

                I stretch my hand to thee.

God is Joy.

                Joy is God.

¡Praise and worship to you, Lord!

                ¡You love your children and provide endless light and blessings!

By the river of Buffaloes, there we sat down, and we wept when we remembered Zion.

                We wept tears of joy, singing song of praise for the mayor of Zion.

Bless the Lord, oh my soul!

                God is worthy because God is God!

She smiles for me, smiling at my growth and confusion and failures.

                She nudges me to seek her lover further and to help others to recognize her too.

Love unite us with the strength that God gives us and all together enjoy life.

                Together we will find the glory glory glory, o God.

Praise to the Lord for her community of love,

                For even in the depths of depression, I am loved.

The Lord is good.

                He loves me.

J is for Jesus

O is for others

Y is for you

Pointing the fingers at

You, and

You, and

You, and

You, and

At self.

A grateful psalm on thy on chest.

God has changed everything in my life. God has changed who I am, how I think, how I act, how I feel.

                 I am happier than I have ever been.

God never turned God’s back on me, no matter what I did or said or thought.

                God’s love and patience are greater than we could ask, hope, or imagine.

Blessed are you for Your love and understanding of all your people

                Blessed is the knowledge of Your love and the ways it is shared.

God is vastly worthy of our worship!

                We celebrate because she has given us community in our brothers and sisters.

A Song. A Prayer. A Promise.

Psalm 100
1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. 
2   Worship the Lord with gladness;
   come into her presence with singing. 
3 Know that the Lord is God.
   It is she that made us, and we are hers;*
   we are her people, and the sheep of her pasture. 
4 Enter her gates with thanksgiving,
   and her courts with praise.
   Give thanks to her, bless her name. 
5 For the Lord is good;
   her steadfast love endures for ever,
   and her faithfulness to all generations.

Welcome to a summer in the Psalms. From praise, to lament, and back again. Verses variating on a theme interspersed with refrains, with riffs. It’s a song book, an anthology of love ballads, pop anthems, funeral dirges, and redemption songs. It’s the song of God’s people as we grapple with faith and fear, heartbreak and hope, love and loss. From Psalm 1 to Psalm 150, the authors of the Psalms don’t hide their hearts, but offer the full range of lived experience. It’s a raw and primal expression that speaks to our best and our worst.   And in that way the Psalms follow a rhythm of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.  Like our lives which take shape and form around central things…until something, someone, some experience disrupts us….until we come to a new way of being that isn’t merely a return to what was.

Psalm 100 is a Psalm of thanksgiving, a Psalm of praise.  From the beginning, notice how gratitude and celebration live side by side.  It begins with joy – that word which eludes easy definition but deserves more than the tidy translation of mere happiness, as if it is on par with that which comes to us by way of a relaxing vacation or really good queso. This “joy” confounds even the wisdom of the wise and yet beckons us closer.

1600 years ago, St. Augustine once reflected on this Psalm, saying, “Of what use is it to be jubilant and obey this Psalm, when it saith, “Jubilate unto the Lord, all ye lands,” and not to understand what jubilance is, so that our voice only may be jubilant, our heart not so? For the understanding is the utterance of the heart.

This jubilation is a joy which bursts forth from the page, a joy that consumes not only the feeling in our hearts, but the sound that demands to be heard. It is a joy that must be experienced, that must expand beyond the bounds of good and orderly melody into boisterous noisemaking.  The gladness in our gut leaps off of our tongue in notes that cannot sit still, in ways that can only be sung. And yes, this unruly exuberance, this messy and chaotic clanging….is worship. This is an invitation to direct our hearts toward God, to come together in adoration, to marvel and wonder at all that we have seen, to come into the presence of the divine. 

This invitation, which is as near as our nose, also reaches as far as the horizon. “Make a joyful noise to the lord, ALL the earth. “  The Psalm speaks of a joy which is not just for some, but for everyone.  It brings us to envision a world where every. single. voice. Has reason for equal rejoicing. It is a day when joy is known not only in pockets of populations, but in full. This joy transcends the notion of either/or, of zero-sum praise which demands that in order for things to be better for me, they must be a worse for you.  It dispels the notion that there isn’t enough to go around or that there is no way for everyone to be happy at once. This is a scene where women can celebrate the triumph of a female-directed, woman-centered superhero movie like Wonder Woman, without the bitter stain of knowing it washes over women of color. This is a way of the world where we wouldn’t have to lament for the lost life of Philando Castile and his family left to grieve without justice.  This is a vision of creation without any more death or mourning or crying or pain for the 9 black children of God who gathered for a bible study in Charleston until they were gunned down by a white boy (who grew up in the ELCA...our denomination) who needed to destroy their humanity. The Psalm voices the possibility that this Juneteenth weekend, which celebrates the emancipation of black slaves, is one where maybe we can lament these things together for the tragedy that they are without feeling backed into opposite corners.

Can you imagine the sound of all the earth united in joyful praise? Not because we just learned to get along or get over it, but that we are actually reconciled and made whole in the way that God declares? This is a joy with the power to reach all the earth.  This is a joy that streams sunshine through the tears. So is this Psalm a song? Or is it also a prayer? A prophesy? A promise?

The first stanza is praise, the second stanza is why.  Who inspires this exuberant display of delight? What could fill our hearts to this point of bursting and abundance?  Why does it keep showing up again and again, giving us a glimpse, a taste that leaves us ravenous for the full feast?

“KNOW that the Lord is GOD.    It is GOD that made us, and we are GOD’S;
   we are GOD’S people, and the sheep of GOD’S pasture. “

Because of God, we belong. We belong to the author of love. We belong to a family of people.  We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder. We belong to the sound of the words we've both fallen under. Whatever we deny or embrace for worse or for better. We belong. You didn't know Pat Benatar was a Psalmist, did you?

In the bible, the word “to know” is this intimate kind of truth. It is the same word that speaks to the knowledge of good and evil as it is to lay our body next to another as two become one, cradled in the arms of our beloved – naked and unashamed. The Psalmist speaks to joy and gladness that isn’t just superficial but sinks through to our bones.  It is both light in its transcendence and weighty with its depth. This is a kind of knowing that is to know by experience, to know in our hearts and in our souls, to know that we belong – to God and each other.  It is to know that God, who holds us close… is the God of all the earth, is ALSO the creator of galaxies of stars and a single blade of grass. This same God made us, our inmost being, knit us together in our Mother’s womb, and claims us as God’s own.  This God nurtures us and cares for us, as a shepherd cares for their sheep, as if God’s livelihood depended on our well-being. 

That’s what lies behind all this joy and gladness.  This is the kind of belonging that roots us and moves us into becoming.  This is a relationship that inspires not vain empty praise, but true worship…from every edge of creation. God is not demanding that we smile because we would look prettier, but inviting us to discover all the reasons we have to smile – past, present, and future.   It’s the difference between a begrudging but polite ”thank you” vs. exuberant backflips, something out of a viral video with kids at Christmas losing the mind over the perfect gift. And so we move back and forth between getting lost in our thanks and praise, basking in our blessing, and recognizing its source.

Continue the conversation:. 

What has happened in your life that has helped you to KNOW God, and not just know something ABOUT God?

When was a time that Psalm 100 “fit” with your life?

Activity:

Write two stanzas of your own Psalm of thanksgiving.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate or rhyme, you don’t have to put your name on it.  Write one stanza of praise, worship, or joy. Write a second stanza that speaks to why God is worthy of your gratitude.  Even if you find it difficult to speak to these things with integrity of heart today, I invite you to just put pen to paper and see what happens.

We like to move it, move it

Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I wonder how you have experienced God.  In what small moments and grand waves have you encountered the divine in your life?

I know I have come close to God in the wind the scatters seeds of vibrant wildflowers across the plain or a breeze that offers refreshing relief on a hot summer day. I have experienced God that fills the lungs of my screaming 6 pound daughter at the beginning of life and received the last breath of my grandfather to graciously greet him at the end.  This is a God that speaks and whose word is powerful enough to create out of nothing, to conjure up the towering redwoods and the soft petals of a bloom that pushes its way through the cracks of an urban sidewalk. Perhaps you have experienced God in the phone call of a friend who just wanted to say “hey”, but their timing was somehow just what you needed. Perhaps you have experienced God in the voice of bystanders who stand up to bullies with their off-color jokes, their rants, or their chokeholds and say, “that is not how you treat a child of God.”  

It is God who inspires the voice of prophets and caring friends, who is present in our inmost being and the heart of those who forgive us our shortcomings.  This is a God that stirs us up and gives us courage beyond our own hope.

The Trinity by Kelly Latimore - https://pixels.com/featured/the-trinity-kelly-latimore.html

The Trinity by Kelly Latimore - https://pixels.com/featured/the-trinity-kelly-latimore.html

The Gospel writer is reflecting on this question of how we have experienced God.   We can’t fully wrap our minds around all that God is, but we know that we experience God as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit…as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  Throughout the arc of time and place, we experience one God in three. Words fall short of capturing the profound truth in this vast mystery.  We come up with metaphors to try and expand on and quantify its meaning, but they can’t measure up.  Our analogies are anemic.  Maybe you have heard some of these.:  The trinity is like water which can take on three forms: gas, liquid , and solid…but that doesn’t quite fit. The trinity is like a star where you have the object, it’s light, and the radiant heat…but that doesn’t really work either. The best I could ever come up with is that the trinity is like a 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.  I mean, technically, it is all three at once but it’s not actually good at any of those three functions. All of these analogies miss the mark.  These are all feeble attempts to contain multitudes.  But aren’t you glad that God is bigger than a single metaphor about an apple?

The questions we get to wrestle with alongside the disciples today are big ones.  Who is God? And what does that mean for us? What does that mean for us as people created in God’s image?

 The nature of God who is three in one is not an object we can nail down, but an event that continues to unfold.  While the doctrine of the trinity is static, the nature of the trinity is dynamic. The nature of the trinity is community, communion, relationship. The nature of God is relational, is moving, is love. The nature of God is this flowing, in and out and in between. What the great commission points to is God as an event - an ongoing event; a happening - a happening right now.  Some thinkers have invited us to imagine the trinity, to imagine the nature of God as a dance.

The Trinity by Eugene Salandra

The Trinity by Eugene Salandra

What an intriguing way to respond to the question of who is God?  God is a bachata, a waltz, a haka. God is responsive, moving with the fullness of life and the intimacy of shared love….in community.

Somehow all of God is distinct, yet fully one.  Each dances in their own way, and yet it is one dance.  They are distinct and they do not lose their uniqueness and yet they are completely a part of each other.

This gives us a glimpse into the God who is bigger than we can hope.  This gives us an image who God is by how God is. This is the image we were created in.  This is the way of being that grounds our commission, our life together as children of God and as God’s church.  This is what we are called to baptize others into.  Because we find our rest and our roots in the God who rules over all of creation, therefore we baptize in the name of this expansive three in one.  We baptize in God’s name.  We baptize in the name of the trinity, not in our name.  We point to hope in the relationship of God, not just in our limitations. In baptism we are invited into the dance, the mystery, into the abundant wonder and joy. 

We are not baptized in the name of John, not in the name of one congregation or a particular denomination, not even only in the name of Jesus, but in the name of the fullness of God who is life-giving life in community. When we baptize, we baptize in the name of a dynamic dancing God.

We are baptized into the dance. It’s like we are compelled to join in that song that our body can’t resist moving and shaking to. You know the one. For my daughter it’s “oh don’t you dare look back, just you’re your eyes on me, I said you’re holding back, she said…..shut up and dance with me!  Can’t stop the feeling so just dance dance dance. The rhythm is gonna get ya. Let the rhythm take you over, bailamos.  It’s like that scene in Sister Act where the soulful songs of old are given new life and the sound is pouring out of the church, beckoning passersby to take a peek and see and discover…this is a song that reaches me, moves me, gives me life.

It’s the dance of the dawn of creation, a dance of defiant wonder, a dance that announces freedom to the captives, that comforts those who mourn, a dance that binds up the brokenhearted.  It’s a dance that moves with authority, a powerful pirouette that proclaims promise, new life. Baptism, then, is not a benign rite of passage but a “welcome to the dance party.”

It’s also true that dances can also be sorrowful and there’s room for that.  Life within the triune God does not mean that we live without pain or hurt. But there is healing in the promise that there is also something more and that we do not experience this alone, nor do we wait without hope.

This glimpse of God reveals her nature as inherently both communal and loving. One God in three persons whose shared, mutual, and sacrificial love spills out through the world and all its inhabitants. And I think that, ultimately, we are called to be church in a similar way.  Loving, respecting, and caring for each other in a way that spills out through our neighborhoods and communities in tangible, empowering, and compelling ways.

The disciples follow Jesus’ direction to Galilee. They came, they saw, they had various reactions and feelings about the whole thing.  The disciples are imperfect and unsure people, and yet they are also made in the image of God.  They have their flaws and yet God uses them to bring forth God’s promises among us.  They are just a handful of 11 people, but they will make disciples of all nations.  Jesus declares that this is who they are, they are rooted in the authority of the creator of the cosmos.  They are baptized and it compels them to invite others into that same baptism. They have new life which is marked by the triune God whose nature is community, relationship, love.  Their own being is a reflection of this dynamic God. They get to share the good news of that gift with the whole world. They get to say to others that this is who you are too. Come and see what God commands – a way of being in which we love our neighbors and where God is cherished above all else. Come and dance with us! How can we keep from singing?

At the heart of every authentic and nurturing relationship, is a promise.  A promise that is an echo of Jesus’ promise, “I am with you, I am for you, let’s see what we can do together.” God, the three in one, is creation and is the end of the age, the alpha and the omega, and everywhere in between. Everywhere you go, God is there with you.  That's the promise. Promises create relationships and possibilities.

So what if we really believed that we bear God’s image?  What if we really believed God is with us?  How would we be? What would you dream, dare, and do if you believed that Jesus is with you, no matter what?

Among KINDRED, it’s one of the reasons we gather for worship the way we do.  If our God is one of mutual relationship and community, how do we reflect that in the way we gather and interact?  For us, it means worship happens in circles rather than rows. The triune God is what happens around the tables of DINNER CHURCH as we share our lives and our being with one another, as we are revealed to be people who are distinct and diverse, as we wrestle with how to be one community without demanding assimilation or conformity. The nature and the promise of the triune God shapes the way we engage each other when we realize that God is already a part of the being of everyone we encounter.

Our call is to live under the banner of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer. We are promised that God is with us. So what if it’s really true? What would you dare to dream? What would our ministry look like, our lives look like, our way of being look like, our congregations look like? 

IMG_9082.JPG

Words fall short of capturing its truth. Our analogies are anemic. This is why we need the arts in the church.  Last night, together, we put paint to canvas to create something as one. What if you gave yourself 15 minutes to create? To color, sing, dance, conduct a poem, or craft. Do not worry about it taking any particular form, but allow it to be what it will be.

Where We're At

Acts 17:22-31
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, "To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For "In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, "For we too are his offspring.' 29 Since we are God's offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

You're giving a dinner party and you've invited a couple close friends to join you in your home. One of your friends mentions that they have a coworker that's new to town. They don't really know anybody yet and so they ask if it's alright to invite this person to your dinner. "Of course!" You say. You're more than happy to to open your home to others.

You spend a few weeks preparing, planning the menu that feels special, but isn't overly complicated. You gradually pick up all the thing you need that will let your guests know that they are welcome. The day is finally here and you start cooking early so that you'll be able to greet everyone at the door. Your friends begin to arrive and you swing your arms wide to invite them in. Finally, this new acquaintance shows up, introduces themselves, and you start to give them a little tour of your place.

Here's the photo wall with all our family pictures. Your guest smiles and nods. Oh! They reach out their hands and begin to straighten out one frame that was a little slanted. ok... you move on into the backyard where your proudly have a few flowers in pots that you just put out for this special occasion. Oh! Your guests informs you that this plant actually needs to be in a place with full sun and then proceeds to pick up the pot from your back porch and move it out into the yard where there isn't so much shade. At this point, you're ready to wrap this tour up and just get the carefully prepared food out on the table with your friends. As you come back through the hall, they see the cross on your wall, cock their head to the side and raise their eyebrows to say, “you know that's just all made up, right?”

Imagine if that's what Paul had done in Athens. “Let me help you by telling you all the ways you're wrong. I mean, I'm gonna do it with a smile on my face and only “out of love” but that isn't gonna help you feel any less small.” To be sure, there are times when we must be clear and quick in asserting that something is immediately wrong, but before we open our mouth we should double check that it is the holy spirit and not our own ego doing the speaking. Don't be that guy. No one wants to be that guy. Instead, let us be quick to listen and slow to speak.

Paul takes time to look around, pay attention to the neighborhood, catch the rhythm of life, learn what seems to be important, what are the values these Athenians hold dear. And then, there there might be an opportunity for connection. Paul doesn't begin by condemning or correcting, but by being an silent observer, listening, taking it all in. Then, when he sees that they have something in common, that they have a shared recognition that there is something MORE to the world, something bigger and beyond themselves, he engages this shared experience by telling his truth. Paul is coming along side their experience, honoring it, and offering a perspective that starts from a shared place. Then he builds on it.

As Lutherans, we celebrate that the gospel comes to us in our own language. Martin Luther fought for the idea that people shouldn't have to learn Latin in order to hear the good news, but the bible should be available in German, in the dialect of the local people, within reach of the average person. This is not only our Lutheran heritage, but our larger Christian story. Earlier in the book of Acts, as the church is born in the fiery excitement of Pentecost, each person gathered is able to hear the apostles speaking in their own language. At the closing worship of Synod Assembly yesterday, Bishop Mike read from Acts 2:8-11 "8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’"  The gospel meets us where we're at. Not only in our spoken language, but in our cultural language. Paul speaks to what the Athenians are familiar with - the language of the unknown, of mystery, of poetry.

I wonder: why do you believe in God? Or why do you believe what you do about God? Perhaps because you just grew up going to church and it was never really a question for you. Perhaps your story is different than that. I'm willing to bet that each of you in this room is here because somewhere along the way, someone pointed to a moment in your life and said. There, that's God. Because you have experienced that moment when God emerges from among the unknown into something we know. Perhaps there has been a time when you've been racked with guilt, but you find the weight slipping off you shoulders into new found freedom...there, that's God. When bitterness toward that family member that betrayed you melts into forgiveness and freedom that you thought would never come...there, that's God. When you're cutting up fruit at the kitchen table and there's this array of color and sweetness, ah...that reminds me of the fruit of the spirit. I'm willing to bet that you have sensed your own story, your own everyday life pointing to something beyond itself. This community is one that will come alongside you to wade into the unknown seeking understanding, and perhaps to help make sense for yourself out of those divine moments.

As KINDRED, we have taken up the common cultural language of the table. The table is a language shared by those who are familiar with church and those are not, by those who crave collard greens and those are more comfortable with a stir fry, by those drive a luxury car and those who ride the bus. Around the table we are equal guests. The table gives us a shared space to say, I see how extremely devout you are to good food, how you delight in getting together around the table....let me tell you about a God who has set the finest banquet, who gathers with friends around a table that extends across all boundaries. Paul points to how our story is a part of God's story.

Not long ago I met someone out in the neighborhood and we were just chatting it up, making small talk and inevitable the question came up - what do you do? This is a precarious question for preacher because this could go in 1000 different directions. Especially as a women who is a Pastor, I get a lot of “oh, I've never met one of those” as if I were a leprechaun.

But this time I just said, “Well, I'm the Pastor of a Lutheran church.” “what's that?” I struggled with how to even begin to respond. Where do you start to tell your story alongside someone who doesn't share your language? You have to find something that you do share in common.

So, among KINDRED, the sermon is not a one-way monologue, but an invitation into further reflection and conversation. You are invited to reflect on these three things:

What is a perspective that you find difficult to understand?

What is one thing you share with people who hold that perspective?

If you found yourself in a conversation where you mentioned that you follow Christ and someone asked, who's that? How might you respond? Think about it this way: What's one thing you know about God's love?

It's ok if that love excites you so much that you can't shut up about it. It's also ok to say I don't know, or I'm not really sure yet, but I'm intrigued enough to try and find out. Or maybe your response is I don't really know and I don't want to know, but for some reason I keep finding myself in this room on Sunday evening. It's ok if your story is different than someone else's. I see how devout you are in wrestling with these questions of faith. The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, is not contained within one culture or language, does not reside in a single box outside of your reach. She is not far from each one of us. For "In God we live and move and have our being.” Even when we do not know it, can not see it, can not comprehend the mystery we find ourselves in....God remains as close as our very breath and dwells in your very heart. May we have the patience to listen for God's voice in our own story and in the stories of others and may we have the vision to point to God's presence among us and beyond us.

There is nothing new under the sun, but....

Acts 15:1-18
1 Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. 3 So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, "It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses." 6 The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8 And God, who knows the human heart, testified tso them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9 and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." 12 The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, "My brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15 This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, 16 "After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, 17 so that all other peoples may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things 18 known from long ago.'

Imagine a world, long ago and far away, in which people are divided along ideological lines and each is sure that they hold the truest of truths, where there is no small dissension and debate among them. I know, it’s a stretch. There’s something at least a little disheartening in knowing that, ugh…people have always been plagued by our propensity for division. Yet, there is also something hopeful in knowing that our own experience of conflict is not entirely unique.  We are not alone in our struggle to navigate life together.  This is not a new phenomenon. Certainly the chasm between people can be exacerbated by events and extremes, but at its root it is a common part of being human together. The people of God and communities of faith are not immune.

What this text offers us is not a surefire way to quickly and easily dissolve disagreements or how to “win every argument for Jesus.” But it does give us a glimpse at how God can and does work in and through such complex conversations for the sake of the Gospel. For me, it’s helpful to focus in on a few things that help us sort through the forest and the trees.  We have to take into account 1)the heart of the disagreement, 2)the manner in which we seek resolution, and 3) the implications of our spiritual inheritance.

The heart of the disagreement.  Paul, Barnabas, Simeon Peter and others are not arguing about what color to paint the sanctuary trim. Nor do they highlight any time spent on deciding what constitutes appropriate acolyte attire.  What is brought forward is presented as a question of ritual, but really it’s about something else. These teachers say that Gentile members of the church must be circumcised (and presumably also observe the rest of the Law) in order to be saved. The question facing the church is if the saving work of Christ is effective for those who are not Jews and who will never become Jews in the same way that everyone else at that meeting table understood themselves to be Jews? Is the cross enough to cover those who do not keep the laws of Moses as it has been understood for generations? What the church invests its time and energy into discussing is that which reflects our understanding of God and grace and shapes how we will relate to one another and the world. The matter is one that goes beyond surface-level sanctimony and explores the expanse of God’s very promises. The heart of the disagreement is God’s promise and the church’s capacity to reflect those promises in its life together.

The manner in which we seek resolution. What we see exhibited in this text is a larger conversation that is communal, scriptural, and experiential. Paul and Barnabas make the trip to have this talk face to face. They don’t hole up in their little corner of the world to make a decision with their own divine wisdom. They head out to gather with others and to wrestle together with these complex questions. They came together for true dialogue, a back and forth discussion.

Paul didn’t take to Twitter blasting those sad certain individuals in Judea. Rather the response was more like: “This seems really important to you, and it’s important to me to. Can I come over so we can talk more about this?” The topic is approached not with the goal of winning, but of understanding the other, of sharing where and how they are experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit.

They are open to the ongoing movement of the Spirit. The experience of others is not just dismissed because it doesn’t align with their worldview or their current understanding of God’s promises. It is not belittled because it comes from a source other than the bible. They listen to each other. Verse 12 says, “The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.”  God is doing something here, it is worth taking notice.  God is still on the move, why else would we be called followers of Christ unless there was going to be motion involved. We were created in the image of one who is still living and breathing and speaking and creating.

This sparks their memory of scripture, the sacred stories that anchor us. Oh yes, says James…now I remember. “James replied, "My brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15 This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, 16 "After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, 17 so that all other peoples may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things 18 known from long ago.'

The people of God talk about the stuff that really matters. They don’t pontificate in isolation, but come together so that they keep each other accountable to the truth that is bigger than any one expression of the church. They recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in ongoing experience. They anchor themselves in the sacred words which have been passed down in order to reveal the arch of God’s promise throughout time and place.

The result is our great spiritual inheritance. Together with the Holy Spirit, they create something more than either would be alone. The apostles in Jerusalem didn’t respond by saying “can’t we all just get along and continue on pretending that everything’s fine or at least fine enough, and these kinds of differences don’t really matter.” They didn’t respond by saying, “well…you go your way and we’ll go ours but in our hearts we really know who’s right and we’ll always think a little less of you.” They don’t give up because the decision is too daunting. In the end, Gentiles like you and me are welcomed into the fold. Through no small debate or dissension they proclaim that if the cross is true for any of us, then it must be true for all of us. It’s not that we are being gracious in opening the church to second-class worshipers, but we are recipients of God’s grace to include any of us at all. You are a beneficiary of God’s grace.

The argument is not that God is doing a new thing but rather that God is doing what God has always done: showing mercy, and creating a people for God’s self where no people existed before. This is not about god doing something new, but what god has always been.

Kindred is a community for those have been told “you’re out,” or you can only be “in” if you tick all our boxes or get with our program. Even if they never heard those words explicitly, it came through loud and clear when they got that look from the person in their pew, which was probably intended innocently enough but essential says “who is that? And what on earth are they doing here?” It was spoken in between the lines from the council that suggested the church just wasn’t ready for someone like them in leadership. It is subtle and pervasive in the ways we claim that we love our neighbor, we just don’t really like when they’re loud, or messy, or flamboyant in displaying that which is not the norm for us.

In its intention to be faithful, the church had inadvertently put on blinders that restricted their view to just one way of being church, or at least a best way of being church. It took a faithful voice from the fringe challenging that view in ways that were likely uncomfortable, in ways that probably sounded heretical. Pews and committees aren’t the only way of being church, dinner church isn’t the only way of being church. But I don’t think that means we just agree to disagree and then go our separate ways ignoring each other. Once we’ve heard that God loves and includes those people too….it can’t be unheard. These kinds of experiences reveal the Gospel to us, they reveal that God is doing so much more…that the promise is so much bigger…

We Gentiles who, by the grace of God, are grafted to the tree of Christ, can rejoice with a profound sense of gratitude today for the advocacy and education efforts of allies like Paul and Barnabas and Simon Peter and James. Without them, our people might never have come to know the joy of all believers. And then, with gratitude as our starting place, we might look around and have some discussion – maybe even some dissension and debate! – about who in our neighborhood, community, nation, and world needs us to be their advocate and ally today.

The Good News in Intersections

Acts 8:26-39

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it." 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth." 34 The eunuch asked Philip, "About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?" 37 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Previously, on the last episode of Following Jesus in the First Century…

Jesus Christ, recently risen from the grave, appears to the disciples and shares a bold vision in which he tells them “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  The disciples try to live up to this vision, but are basically stumbling through. Still, the good news of God is spreading and the church is growing, and so they lift up more leaders.

Stephen was one of those and he went about his call of helping, healing, and preaching passionately in Jerusalem which got him killed. Phillip was another of these and he continued to teach and heal beyond Jerusalem and into Samaria.  Now, at the edge of what Philip knew of the earth, God is still on the move.  The angel of the Lord says “get up and go.” Get up and go….not necessarily to any particular place, but just start walking in the general direction of nowhere and see what happens.

“oh, sure” says Phillip.  "Heading out into the middle of nowhere in the middle of the day, a time when you can expect any road to be deserted because most people have retreated inside and away from the heat…sounds like a great evangelism strategy and an excellent use of time." This plan is sure to make a fool of Phillip….if he were actually the one in charge. Nevertheless, Phillip listens to this voice calling him into the unknown.  Nevertheless, he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, who held an important office for a foreign Queen and who was a faithful worshiper of God. Several things about this eunuch are worth noting. In this ancient world, paper was ridiculously expensive and literacy was not common, so most Jews wouldn’t have had a scroll of the prophets around for their personal use.  That tells us that this is a person of financial means and the office they hold is one of political power. That kind of power could be a substantial threat in the court, especially if that person was also male. 

The imperial system had a way of dealing with that. They would employ eunuchs in roles that were vulnerable to grasps for power.  A eunuch is someone whose genitalia does not match the societal expectations or is altered in some way, either because they born that way or they were subjected to violence by the empire. Deuteronomy outlines how eunuchs are excluded from the temple and thus a full life within their faith community. But then in Isaiah, the prophet proclaims that God will bless eunuchs and foreigners and even give them the house of God.

Now, this particular eunuch is from Ethiopia. This tells us a bit about where the eunuch is from (essentially the ends of the earth), but could also refer to the eunuch’s race.  This is a person of color. So there is a lot going on here. One particular scholar reflected that, “in relation to standard categories of race, class, and gender (the Ethiopian eunuch) uncovers a fascinating, multifaceted character who defies easy classification.”

We have Phillip – the food distributor turned healer and wandering preacher, and the Ethiopian eunuch – a well-read person of complexity and intersectionality. Two people who are distinctly “other.” The Holy Spirit brings these two together.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over to this chariot and join it." 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

The exchange goes both ways, with each one inviting the other into deeper conversation. There’s a posture of openness. Phillip is willing to ask a question that doesn’t have a pre-formed answer, one that could open a can of worms. The eunuch is willing to be vulnerable and honest by naming what they don’t really understand. Can you imagine what might be possible, if before asserting their certainty or their opinion, people were willing to say, “Actually, I don’t know much about that.” If people were willing to ask for help in understanding?

In their questions and their discussion, we are reminded that this wondrous library we call the Bible doesn’t just function as a straightforward encyclopedia, but invites us into an elaborate mystery. As we read and engage scripture, we can not do so faithfully without being open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit puts the prophets and the gospel alongside each other and opens our eyes to the possibilities, to the promise they point to, to a God of expansive love.

The Spirit puts two very different people, not one over the other, but alongside each other.  Not one, but both are changed for the sake God’s widening grace. Both are edified and the church becomes more aligned with the Good News of the risen Christ with its radical inclusion. Philip opens up the scriptures and the eunuch opens up their significance for life. Philip points to Jesus Christ in the text and the eunuch points to Jesus Christ in the water.

In verse 36, the eunuch says “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Depending on what translation you’re reading, there is no verse 37.  The original scrolls say nothing of the eunuch first saying a particular prayer or making any certain confession. Phillip does not enroll the eunuch in a 6-weeks preparatory class. Those things have value, but they are not what ultimately saves us. Here is water. What is to prevent me from being baptized?  The Ethiopian has lived life at an arm’s length due to a litany of things that society has said prevent them from being fully apart.  

I wonder, how many people silently carry the suspicion that they are outside of God’s love for a variety of reasons? Philip doesn’t stop to first quantify and categorize those reasons. The Holy Spirit is on the move in them and they come alongside each other to share the story of Christ so that they see each other as more fully a part of it.

What is to prevent me from being baptized? What is to prevent God from claiming me as God’s own beloved and redeemed child? The Eunuch speaks with the voice of the Spirit rather than the “good order” of the world.  If we looked around to our human systems, we could come up with a few reasons. With God, there are no qualifiers, no contingencies. In the kingdom of God, nothing is to prevent anyone from the fullness of God’s love for them.

The gospel is for people who have been excluded. It is for those who have been excluded:

  • in society, but also and especially by the church
  • for foreigners who are valued for the exoticism, but ultimately seen as lesser than
  • for people who have been excluded because of their bodies
  • for people who don’t fit cleanly in a single category
  • it is for you who are trans people of color
  • it is for you

Historically, we (the church) have not said this clearly enough. Last year in this country, the Human Rights Campaign counted the killing of 22 trans people, trans children of God. This year, there are already 9 trans women who have died as a result of fatal violence, with 5 of them being women of color.  For this, we lament and we repent. But what if we also listened to the Holy Spirit calling us alongside each other to understand for the sake of the Gospel? This past week I got a phone call from one of my pastor colleagues in town inviting us to listen.  This upcoming Saturday at 1PM, Resurrection MCC is hosting an event called “Lift Every Voice.”  It’s an event that will focus on lifting the voices of the Black Trans community and will include a panel discussion, along with music and spoken word. Perhaps the angel of the Lord is whispering in your ear “go over to this chariot and join it.”

Perhaps the idea of such honest, open, and transformative conversation sounds impossible, or at least unlikely, or exhausting, or intimidating. Perhaps the prospect of seeing yourself as fully a part of a beloved community, cherished by God goes against 1000 other voices that you’re hearing. But before Philip ever started down that wilderness road and before the eunuch got in that chariot, the Spirit of God was already there, already at work.

This is not a road you walk alone. This is not a road that belongs to one political party, or a singular worldview. This is a road that brings together a world of “others.” This Gospel road is paved with the promise and presence of God for all people. And all along the way we encounter that mysterious and true voice that interrupts our well-ordered lives for something more. The resurrection brings to life that which didn’t dare dream. God is continually redeeming us each day as we find ourselves alongside an unexpected neighbor who helps us to see Gods persistent love for us. God is at work in rich conversation and discovery that remove the scales of obstacles from our eyes until we too can wonder aloud, what is to prevent me from being baptized? What could possibly keep me from the love of our creator? Silence.

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That silence holds more than our hearts could speak. But the silence doesn’t last forever.  As we receive God’s abundant blessing, we go on our way rejoicing. We are set free. Joy abounds. This is the new dawn and the new day of Easter.  This is the day that the Lord is still making, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Amen.

The Church is a Holy Hot Mess

When we were first dreaming of a community called KINDRED, we gathered around the table and opened up our bibles to the first chapters of the Book of Acts.  These are the chapters in which the church is born.  This is when the disciples receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and begin to preach with power and work wonders of healing and transformation. This is where we would find guidance for how we should be. This is where I expected to be refreshed in the discovery of the church in its earliest and purest form, before time and humanity soiled it and made everything a mess….

…but then we actually began to read the book of Acts and I discovered something else.  The church has always been messy.  The apostles were doing incredible things in the name of the Risen Christ.  Good things. They were bringing good news to the hopeless and healing to the hurt….but they were also a hot mess.  Their community was growing and multiplying in significant ways, ways that obviously had established leaders concerned about how to control zealous preachers like Stephen. Yet, they still messed up along the way. The Hellenists and the Hebrews were on the same team, part of the same Jewish family, but since those driving the movement forward at its center were Hebrews…the Hellenists became marginalized even among the larger community they helped build.  Their needy went overlooked, but they would not remain silent. They cried out for justice.  They insisted that the church remain true to its claim of good news for the poor and it’s commitment that there would be no needy among them. Now, when our integrity is challenged like that?  I can picture some bruised egos and a defensive response….but Holy Spirit is at work here and something else happens.

The disciples’ eyes are opened and, just as they eventually recognized the risen Christ beside them on the road, they recognize the system is unjust and respond to the cries of those who had been treated as second-class followers. They reflect on how best to respond and discover that this is an initiative best led by leaders already in their midst.  The names Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus are Hellenist names. The disciples empower local leaders to lift up the Gospel among their own people. In this moment, some are called to help others recognize their capacity for leadership and to empower them to be who God has called them to be.  Some are called to embrace their God-given gifts and to engage them for the sake of their community. Their people need them to.  Not the disciples of Jerusalem, but Stephen is best equipped to respond to Stephen’s community. Philip is best equipped to respond to Philip’s community. Prochorus is best equipped to respond to Prochorus’ community. These leaders are lifted up to do the work of the Gospel and filled with the Holy Spirit, they get it done. They aren’t rogue actors, they didn’t elect themselves, but are lifted up by their peers and others as ones who are trusted and blessed to be a blessing. Others have said to them “I see in you gifts for service, a passion for these people, and a capacity to care.” Stephen shows us that he doesn’t have to be a pastor to minister. The community recognized the gifts of these seven, commissioned them to lead, and then got the hell out of the way.

This isn’t because the disciples are exceptional leaders themselves or because they have astute community organizing savvy. They have never read “the 7 habits of highly effective people.” For all their gifts and all the wisdom of the early church, it is still inevitably flawed and messy. And I’m gonna say something you probably wouldn’t expect a pastor to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. What I see revealed in the text is this:  The church will not save you.  The church will NOT save you, Jesus does. You are known and loved by people and by your creator, but it is because of God that we are entirely set free from sin, shame, despair, and darkness. Your identity is not rooted in a church, it is rooted in Christ.

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However!  In this season of Easter, as we wrestle with the resurrection, we are acutely aware of God’s being very much alive. And the early church reveals that the church is rightly understood to be the incredibly diverse body of Christ, still living and breathing and moving in the world. God uses the church to transform us into the shape of Christ…Into a community that sees those unseen, that hears the cries of our neighbors say “our widows are starving,” that speaks bold truth into the void of silence and slander, a community that defies the engines of fear in the name of divine hope, and that uses its final breath to utter faith and forgiveness.

I lean exclusively on the cross of Christ to save me, to redeem, restore, and reconcile me and all of creation before our Creator. But I also believe that the body of Christ is not among the dead, but the living. I believe that the church is full of the Spirit and of wisdom. I believe that you are full of the Spirit and of wisdom. Community is crucial in times like these, so if there’s a part of you that longs for a sacred community that is messy and flawed but serves something much bigger than itself…welcome among KINDRED.  Pray and listen to how God has called you to help others recognize their capacity for leadership and to empower them to be who God has called them to be.  Pray and listen to how God has called your to embrace your God-given gifts and to engage them for the sake of their community. We need you to. We need what God has given you is we, together, are to take the shape of Christ in the world. And don’t stay quiet about it.  Let me know, let others know about the things you see that might otherwise go unseen. What you hear that needs to be amplified. The Hellenists declare to us, “speak up! God cares.” May we be attune to God’s voice and God’s movement here.  Amen.

Roads, Tables, and Strangers - Jesus' Top Hangouts

Luke 24:13-35
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." 25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The other day I was pulling up to my house and I walked around to our front gate.  I stopped and looked around at the houses up and down our block…many have jasmine vines bursting with blooms and sweet fragrance, some have charming lawn ornaments. But overall, not much seems to differentiate this day from any other in our long Southern spring. Nothing noticeable seems to reflect the things that have taken place in these days. As I walk along, I don’t notice anything on the surface that would tell me anything has changed. One house has Easter eggs tied to ribbons hanging from the tree in their front yard, but the celebration of the Resurrection is so different from Christmas in that there are no streets lined with lights, fewer explicit signs of the season.

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Yet, Easter is indeed a season. Something is moving just below the surface that continues to draw us in. Somehow, even though our feet are tired…our alleluias are not quickly extinguished, but linger over 50 days of celebration. The mystery of Easter is so great, it can not be contained into a single day, but extends into an ongoing experience of delight, surprise, joy, and wonder.  Easter is not a moment in history, but an ongoing occurring and an emerging reality. Easter is an ongoing experience of the resurrection. Easter is not just an event, but an encounter. And that is much harder to pin down and identify. That is something that unfolds in ways we may not have expected. Easter is something that comes to us where we are and something that engages each of us differently.

For the first people to the tomb, Mary, and the other women who saw it empty…they were given a divine messenger to help interpret what they saw and responded by running to others to tell the story. On the same day, a couple of them were in the midst of travel when Jesus comes near and strikes up a conversation. There are questions and skepticism, fear and hope. In the midst of each, Easter is revealed in ways that are personal and unexpected. God is recognized where we thought God was absent.

This idea of the “hidden God” is not unique to the gospel of Luke. In the Gospel of John, Mary comes to the garden of Jesus’ tomb, but mistakes the risen Christ for a gardener. It is when God says her name, “Mary” that she recognizes what is happening.  There is plenty in our lives and in the news that cause us to wonder where God is in the midst of it all. It brings us to reflect on Gods promises and when it feels like God is excruciating silent, wonder if those promises are really true. Easter reveals it’s not that God is not present, but that we do not recognize God in our midst. 

We miss seeing what is right in front of us for a variety of reasons. .  We don’t know the reason the disciples were kept from recognizing Jesus, but I can imagine a few of my own.  Perhaps they were not expecting Jesus in this way, or they were focused on the destination, or the next task on the journey.  Perhaps they are distraught with emotion, crestfallen, hopeless, and scarred by the trauma of too many broken promises. Even when we know God is there, we know in our heads to expect God in the unexpected…our hearts are hardened and we miss it.

But on this long and winding road, Jesus keeps showing up. God meets us in the street, in the territory between certainties, in the process, in the journey which is just as important as the destination.  But not in a bumper sticker, stop and “smell the roses” kind of way.  God gently comes alongside us and patiently watches our eyes grow wider until at last we see the glory that shines even in the mundane. In the idle chit chat with strangers…in a Sunday night dinner.  Can you imagine waiting in line with a friend at the store, when the nosy eavesdropping guy looking over your shoulder asks “watcha talking about?” and then somehow the conversations pushes through all the awkwardness, difficulty, and differences…and the evening ends with the recognition that you have been engaging with God?

While the identity of Jesus is still veiled, the disciples extend an invitation to this stranger to join them. They extend basic hospitality that would have been the common practice for Jewish households to welcome the sojourner, the traveler. They didn’t know company was coming, they wouldn’t have had a chance to tidy up or put something especially impressive on the menu. They invite this stranger, who is already transforming into something a little more familiar, to simply share in what they are already doing.  They demonstrate discipleship as a way of being that wrestles with the significance of scripture in light of current events, that tells the sacred story as they walk along, that exhibits itself in public life and everyday social interactions.  This discipleship, this way of being, tells of the Goods News by inviting others into an experience of hospitality and community. We see the Gospel as something that is at work out on the road as well as in the intimacy of a home and a table. Jesus is revealed in the sharing of a meal, but also in the conversation, in the teaching and learning and discovery.

Somehow, gathered around a table, over a spread of simple bread and the expression of gratitude….God is revealed in the face of someone they thought was a stranger. The table is given significance not because it’s an especially magical place, but because of what happens between people who are gathered together. Throughout Jesus’ life and now in the Resurrection, God shares a table with unexpecting and anxious disciples, but also with tax collectors, with those considered to be in collusion with the oppressive empire, with those who had terrible reputations and no social standing, with those who were powerful influencers, and those who weren’t particularly noteworthy at all. In Luke, eating is a radical act because it breaks down cultural boundaries. Among KINDRED, we are witness to the power of an ordinary table to bring together diverse people that point one another toward God’s expansive promise and presence. Not only in the sanctuary but around our tables at home, in the makeshift tables of a park bench, or the office breakroom. Christ is at the table wherever we share it. In the breaking of bread, blessing it, and sharing it among each other, we experience God’s ongoing Easter in our midst. In this glorious mystery, we are transformed, our eyes are opened, and we recognize the face of Jesus in the person we thought was a stranger.

I wonder….how does recognizing Jesus in the face across from you, shape your view of them and how you engage them?  How does recognizing Jesus in that same face shape your view of God?

There's something in the Water

Matthew 28:16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

For those of you who have been baptized, I wonder when you were baptized, if you remember the exact date? Where did it happen? Who was there?  I wonder if you remember these things for yourself or if you had to be told about them.  For those of you who have not been baptized, I wonder about your story too. Perhaps you are new to the church.  Perhaps you never really saw a reason for it or weren’t sure why it was necessary.  Perhaps you are curious about the mysteries it entails.

In the Lutheran church, we recognize two sacraments – Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Sacrament means literally to make or mark as holy or sacred. We set these particular gifts apart for 3 reasons: They are commanded by God, they reveal a divine promise, and they involve an earthly/tangible element.  So for baptism, we just heard where Jesus commands his followers to baptize all the world.  The promise baptism holds is new and everlasting life. And it conveys this promise with simple cool clear water.  These gifts highlight that there can be no such thing as abstract spirituality that does not also meet our physical life. Someone once said that “Christianity is a most material religion: you cannot even get it started without a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a river.”

We can begin to wrap our minds around parts of it, but baptism is a thing full of mystery. Let us turn to Martin Luther’s reflections on its significance.

What then is Baptism?
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.
Which is that word of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)

Baptism is the coming together of water and word.  The Word is a living word, one that isn’t only spoken or read, but as it is spoken is a creative force that moves us and shapes our being. The Water is the same as we get from our river, our bayous, our lakes… People often asked me if the water in our baptismal font (which is almost always open) is holy water.  The water is holy but it is also ok to touch. It’s okay to splash a little. That’s why it’s there. That’s why it’s open.  You can dip a finger into the water and make the sign of the cross on your forehead to remember the cross you receive at baptism.

Water is refreshing, but also powerful beyond measure. Baptism isn’t only the peaceful trickle of water over our heads.  It’s not gentle, it is a drowning.  In fact, an ancient baptismal font intentionally looked essentially the same as a stone coffin, filled with water. All that separates us from God…our old selves, our brokenness, the world’s brokenness…is drowned away. The waters of baptism are moving living waters and moving water has the power to cut through solid stone. The stone of our darkened hearts, the stone of apathy and indifference, the stone of oppression and injustice. Baptism refreshes but it also stirs up and agitates, troubles, resists, mobilizes.

What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

The promise of Baptism is new and everlasting life. Not only in some heaven hereafter, but here and now, in this place and time.  God promises us a new way of being.  In the liturgy of baptism, we the people, respond with our own promises.  We promise to renounce the devil and all the forces of evil, all the forces that go against God and God’s promises – not only for ourselves but for all people. We promise to renounce, to resist that powers of this world that rebel against God. And to renounce the ways of sin that draw us from God.  And following Christ’s command we promise to learn, to grow, to listen, and to teach.

How can water do such great things?
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)

It’s not water from some mystic fountain of youth, it is common water made holy by God’s work through it. Baptism is less about what we’re doing and entirely about what God is doing. This is why the Lutheran church is a-ok with baptizing babies who can not yet speak or comprehend, because none of us can truly comprehend the mystery of baptism.  Baptism is not about our goodness, our right believing, our readiness…it is about what God does, what God is doing in us.

What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?
St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom. 6:4)

Baptism is not a moment, it’s a movement. It can not be compartmentalized or framed and hung on a wall and then forgotten.  It is a continual way of being, it is a daily walk, a daily dying and rising anew, being created with renewed capacity each morning. Not just so that we would be some better version of ourselves, but so that we are renewed in Christ, that we are given God’s own Spirit which is always about the work of ongoing creation in us, in the whole world.

In baptism we are made one with the whole body of Christ, connected to every other beautiful child of God, made one family, we are inescapably bound to one another.   That means in our baptism we are made one with refugees, with those being told to wait, with black lives and the white supremacists, with the drag queen, and those who foster fear of trans people even in the name of God, with those in prison, with the hungry and the addicted.  In baptism, we are tied to one another not with chains but with hope. Lilla Watson, an indigenous woman of Australia said “of upi have come here to help me, you’re wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is tied bound up with mine, let us work together.”  In our baptism we are set free together, only by the mysterious but somehow tangible promise of water and word that stirs up the Spirit.

So I want to invite you, if you haven’t been baptized before and you’re feeling a tug in your heart, a curiosity…let’s talk.  Shoot me an e-mail or give me a call.  If you have already been baptized and want to re-affirm those promises of baptism made long ago…to claim your faith anew…now is the time.  We will celebrate baptism as we celebrate the resurrection on Easter. Whether or not you understand this mystery (as if any of us could), I want to make one thing clear: these promises are for you. God’s love is for you.  God’s love is here at the beginning and at the end. In the font, in the bread, and cup, and beyond it too.  God is with you always, even to the end of the age.  Amen.

Belief, Mystery, and the Holy Spirit

John 20:30-31
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

As we continue our exploration of the traditions of the church through Martin Luther’s Catechism, today we take a closer look at the Apostles’ Creed. Creed.  We greet this word with arms wide open, seeking to understand the meaning behind it claims.  The word “creed” comes from the latin “credo” which means, I believe. Each stanza begins with this phrase, I believe and the follows a Trinitarian form, addressing God the three in one.

As part of our heritage as the church, we need a frame of history to help inform the tradition of creeds.  The creed does not explicitly come from the bible as a whole, but was created and utilized by the church to speak to the essential faith found in the bible. The Apostles ’ Creed is one of three Creeds that hold authority in the Lutheran church.  The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds came along a couple hundred years after the Apostles creed in order to respond to differing claims about Christ and Christ’s church. We are not quite sure where the Apostle’s Creed originated from, but it is held that it summarizes the earliest teachings of the early church.  It was originally even simpler in form than the version commonly used now and that which we confess in worship here. 

Each of the creeds seeks to articulate what is true, what is common among us as Christians in a world that seems so scattered.  We, the church, continue to wrestle with how hold fast to what is essential in a pluralistic society of diverse beliefs while acknowledging that there is still room for discovery. The creed reflects an understanding that from the early church to now - there would not be uniformity, but a sense of unity, a commitment that there is something substantial that we can proclaim together. Here we have a clear and simple, concise articulation of the teaching of the church.

These teachings ground us and shape our identity.  That why the creed is a part of our baptism liturgy, where our identity as child of God is proclaimed and embraced.  It’s not a magical set of secret words, you can find them for yourself in our hymnals.  Toward the front, on page 229, you will find the celebration of baptism which includes a series of questions for those about to be baptized, their family, and the whole assembly gathered there.  The response to those questions are the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed.  This helps us understand the intended use for the creed not as a mere litmus test for membership, but as we understand baptism to be a way of life rooted in the gospel of Christ, so the creed points us to the nature of God’s being so that our being is attuned to its creator.

So as we noted before, the Apostle’s creed essentially consists of three parts, what are called the three articles, each addressing a particular person of the trinity. Father, son, holy spirit. or…as they function in the world, could also be rightfully known as Creator, redeemer, sustainer.

excerpt from Martin Luther's Small Catechism:

The First Article: On Creation

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

What is this? or What does this mean?

I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.

 

The Second Article: On Redemption

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead [or, "he descended into hell," another translation of this text in widespread use]. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

What is this? or What does this mean?

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human being, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.

 

The Third Article: On Being Made Holy

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

What is this? or What does this mean? I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.


The word "catholic" in the last article of the creed is lower case for a reason.  It doesn't refer to the Holy Roman Catholic Church (even though Martin Luther was actually Catholic), but it in this use it means "universal."  There is one church, one body of Christ, no matter how many times we try and divide ourselves.

The creed can easily devolve into a sanctimonious gate that separates a righteous “us” from a heathen “them.”  We have an ultimate truth and we’ve got in on lock, so get on board or get out of our way…or… unless you believe like I believe…you can’t sit with us.  While there is value to , such perspective has turn the creed from a confession that proclaims I believe in God and instead reflects a heart that really asserts “I believe in me.”but the apostle Paul reminds us that belief is, in fact, not about us, but about God.

1 Cor 12:3 –“Therefore I inform you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

As Martin Luther reminds us…none of us believes on our own.  We do not come to belief because of some earned righteousness, we attended the right Sunday school classes, our soul is “above average,” we prayed earnestly enough, we have life a morally superior life, or a life of favor in God’s eyes.  Only by the faithfulness of God in the Holy Spirit, can our tongues proclaim such grand mysteries.  Only by God’s grace, can our heart be wooed to trust a promise too wonderful to fully comprehend.

If belief is reduced to a sort of intellectual assent to doctrinal principles, than it has become about us and is no longer about God. Belief is not about doctrine and intellect, but trust and faith. It is not so much about the head, but more about the heart. The two are not inherently opposite or mutually exclusive. But in our post-modern society that places scientific certainty above all else, we need the reminder that certainty is not what the creed is about. In Mark 9, The father of a possessed son whom Jesus has just healed cries out “I believe, help my unbelief” Perhaps then, belief is not an all or nothing proposition. You might whole-heartedly agree with every statement of the creed, you might have lingering questions about the factuality of some of its claims, but it is ultimately God who saves, not our words nor our silence. It is God who is faithful and gives us the courage to voice to the mysteries of our faith.  It is God who guards and guides us toward the biblical hope these words point to, a hope that goes beyond what we can fathom, a hope that does not disappoint us. Amen.

From Sanctuary to Capitol

EQUALITY is one of our core values, and in the heart of Montrose we know that our neighbors most in need of this justice are the poor and the LGBTQ community. Now that we're a year old as a worshiping community, we are discovering where our relationships with neighbors have taken root and where they have the opportunity to blossom.  We are active in the fight for justice not because it matches up with our pre-determined passions.  We show up alongside our neighbors in need because we are invited.  Our LGBTQ friends from the church, the neighborhood, and beyond have asked us to be here. We don't don the rainbow flag because it makes us trendy, we do it because we take the call to love one another seriously.  It's not a casual decoration, it means marching in the streets when real lives are at stake. 

So when our Transgender folks asked if we could show up at the state Capitol, we said, "of course."  Thanks to the LGBTQ Caucus, the church parking lot became the staging area for a a bus full of witnesses.  Pastor Ashley and friend of KINDRED, April Wackenreuter, spent weeks working on their prepared statements, packed up for Austin, and spent the next 24 hours on the road for justice.  The Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs was hearing testimony on State Bill 6, which would have everyone use bathrooms at government-run buildings (i.e. schools, courthouses, post offices) according to the gender assigned on their birth certificates.  The bill is touted as one that would protect women and children in vulnerable spaces, but actually puts transgender people at significant risk .  Read more about the bill here.

We heard testimony after testimony about the statistics that over 40% of transgender people attempt suicide and we've seen our own friends hunted down and beaten for who God created them to be. Seven transgender women of color have already been murdered in our state so far this year. The testimony of Dr. Colt Keo-Meier is packed full of scientific study and is not to be missed.  Even children stayed throughout the night to tell their stories to the panel of Senators.

In the face of such life and death policy, the church can not remain silent.  While we only had two of our folks traveling to Austin, the outpouring of encouraging messages and prayers that surrounded them offered strength and grace sufficient to the day. It is a matter of privilege to be free to take an entire day to travel, sit, and wait for your chance to speak but so many others used their voices when and where they could - calling their Senators, bringing coffee and pizza to hungry and tired activists, watching along on live stream to root us on.

Here are the transcripts from April and Pastor Ashley's testimonies.  First, from April:

Madam Chair, and members of the committee, my name is April Frances Wackenreuter from Houston and I’m here to testify in opposition to SB6.

I have served six years in the Navy and an additional fourteen years in the US Coast Guard before retiring. During my service, I married my wife and we have now been together forty-one years.  Later, I entered the US Postal Service and served for twenty years. 

I am a Christian and also transgender. My wife supports me and my church supports me.  I need my state to protect me.

I have served as an election poll worker and have been called three times as part of a jury pool.  With these discriminatory bathroom policies, I would not be able to serve my civic duty.  When I worked at the Post Office,  there was only one unisex restroom.  I tried going there but on four occasions I had accidents.  I would try to avoid restrooms so long it came to the point of giving myself a bladder infection.

Out in public, the first thing I usually look for are the rest rooms - checking out the locations and trying to figure out if they are accessible to me.  I will even ask managers for permission to use the restroom and I never have been denied access.  I feel as though at 69 years of age I still raise my hand to go to the bathroom.  This is a matter of basic human health.

I am also told that bills like SB6 are about safety and I agree.  If I am forced to use a men’s bathroom, my safety is at risk.

I think about dying just about all the time these days.  I had a (transgender?) co-worker years ago shot and killed along with two of her three children.  I go to the vigils of slain transgender women.  There have been seven murders of transgender women so far this year and I don’t want to be next. 

This is a matter of safety…and a matter of basic human health. Thank you for making sure Texans like me are not put in harm’s way by discriminatory bills like SB6.


From Pastor Ashley:

My name is Pastor Ashley Dellagiacoma. I serve Kindred, a Lutheran Church in Houston. I am a 7th generation Texan and my young daughter is the 8th generation of our family to make its home here in the State of Texas. We love this place, but we love the people even more. That’s why I’m here to testify in opposition to SB6. SB6 would have us treat Transgender Texans as less than people, by systematically denying them access to the most basic of human needs.  To allow this policy anywhere is to degrade the humanity of every Texan.

Some have said that SB6 is intended to protect people like me and my daughter, while there is no evidence that this bill makes us any safer than existing laws. In the camples we have heard today where women were tragically victimized in intimate spaces by CISGENDER men, the problem named was that their presence was not questioned.  If SB6 is passed trans men (who are men!) will now be entering the women’s room and therefore we have made no progress toward privacy. Meanwhile, I have seen too much evidence of a transgender woman beaten by strangers, too much evidence of a transgender child wetting themselves while trekking to the nurse’s office or being bullied to the point of suicide.  We must protect the dignity and the life of these who are already vulnerable to the violence of prejudice.

So I beg of you, do not put SB6 forward on my behalf as a woman, a mom, or as a Christian.  My faith demands that I renounce fear.  The bible insists that I stand alongside those who are put in harm’s way. Jesus commands us to recognize the humanity of every person.  I won’t let myself be tricked into fearing a threat that will not be solved by this and neither should you. The gain is nonexistent and the sacrifice is real lives. Do not let this bill cripple our state – our economy and our integrity. Do not hurt the people I love with policies that endanger their health and their humanity.

Putting the REST in RESisTance

This week...Jesus asks a big question, "is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?"   Read the full text:

Here's the thing. Arguments are rarely about the thing you think they're about. At least at first. Perhaps you've found yourself arguing with your spouse about who took the dog out last when it's really about equality in partnership, being appreciated and valued. I was just listening to a podcast called startup where two entrepreneurs had hit a boiling point over the way one of them called out the other in a public way. In the end, the blow up wasn't at all about client relations but how they are valued as partners, how they fit in the dream of the business, and ultimately their shared fear that it all might fail and they would be shamed as failures.

So when we see this scriptural squabble we have to ask, what is this really about. The Pharisees and Jesus are arguing about what is lawful in the sabbath, but the bigger question is what is at the heart of God’s law and who are we as God’s people.

In a culture as politically charged and divisive as ours, it's helpful to remember that the Pharisees were actually concerned with what would keep them true to their identity and their values. The question is about what's at the heart of that identity. They're not evil overlords, their concern comes from a faithful place. I'm not saying every argument is equally valid or holds this same weight, but perhaps the people on the other side of the table are more human than we often acknowledge.

The sabbath is one of the things that makes the Jewish community distinctive. It was established as a reflection of God's own being as she rested in the ultimate act at the birthing of creation. It is a gift to the people were slaves in Egypt. It was commanded that the gift extend to every slave, every field, every animal, every person. It was the original labor law. It forces us to acknowledge that we can not ignore our souls forever, that our spirit needs regularly tending to.

It is established for the purpose of cultivating restoring life and life abundant. Somewhere along the way we forgot and misplaced the means as the ends themselves. Jesus comes to right the ship, to correct our course. To fulfill the law of the sabbath at its heart. Is it really about avoiding all activity, or even attending temple? Only as those means serve the end of restoring the soul for the work of the kingdom of God.

We still desperately need the sabbath, perhaps more than ever. In our 24/7 world of connectivity and content it's hard to establish a true sabbath. We are enslaved to “production mode.” Always being stimulated to consume or agitated to accomplish. Beyond our struggle to find stillness, the dissonance experienced in our souls between our faith which clearly and repeatedly calls us to care for the immigrant and the refugee and the news that they are being rejected midair, it's emotionally and spiritually exhausting.

The sabbath roots us deeply within god's care and promise. And a tree with deep roots is not easily blown over. You are allowed to rest, to take a break. You don't have to respond to every Facebook post, you can't make it to every doctor's appointment with your friend. We don't have to feel shame or guilt. We have to be rested in order to restore the strength we need for the resistance ahead.

The sabbath is essential to our rhythm of work and rest. Essential to our right understanding that it is God and not ourselves at the center of the universe. That goodness and mercy will continue, that God will provide beyond our own actions. I say this as the person who is blowing up people’s Facebook feeds, feverishly texting folks about rallies at the airport, while running around from plane to hotel to meetings. But God humbles me and reminds me that there must be rest within God must be a part of this rhythm or I will lose the anchor, the holy tether, the deep root of the Gospel which is the real reason I do any of those things. in prayer and in worship and in rest, in playfulness and in beauty, God reminds us who we are. That we are loved and we are connected. That we are not machines, we do not exist for what we can accomplish or achieve. We exist for love and healing and hope.

Sometimes following Christ will mean we forego our liturgy of worship and practice service to our neighbor or the joy of celebration like we did at Beer and Hymns at St Arnold’s last fall, or when we walked to neighborhood to collect donations for homeless youth last summer. It's Not what we'll do all the time, but as the Spirit calls us to engage this practice of life-giving redemption.

What the sabbath gives us is goodness and life, and it's the kind of life that begets life. And to that end, God will not be stopped. Jesus will have none of our attempted “good order” or misplaced morality if it stands in the way of the Gospel. God will not be stopped by executive orders, border walls, or internet trolls. God will not abandon us to our addictions, not to opiates nor incessant motion and production. God pursues her people with fierce and enduring compassion, takes us and ALL people under her wing so that we might find rest sufficient for the day and remember why it is we work in the first place. Amen. 

Resources for your practice of sabbath:

Local: Did you know there's a beautiful labyrinth nearby at St. Thomas University?  It's a great way to center yourself, meditate, pray, or just find stillness.  

I connect and restore through quiet time, nature, and spirit-stimulating podcasts or music.  Here are a few more of my local favorites:  Buffalo Bayou Park, Houston Arboretum, a quiet Sunday morning coffee at Campesino, free yoga at Discovery Green, Hermann Park and Centenial Gardens.

Digital:  commonprayer.net - it's a website or an app that gives you a brief order of prayer (including music).  It's what we use for morning prayer while baking our weekly bread.

Meta: While sitting on a plane, the woman next to me shared about a book she had read that listed 4 things that are even more restorative than healthy eating, exercise, and rest.  Say what?  Yup!  They are: unitasking (as opposed to multitasking), self compassion, optimism, and mindfulness.  Here's the book:

Christ on the Docks and in the Cubicle

After being run out of the temple in his hometown, Jesus gains a reputation for teaching and begins to call unlikely folks along for the ride.

or

There has been a change of scenery since we gathered last week. We are in a different time and place. Even the constant horizon looks different. Crowds are building in the public places. The people are restless and expectant. Jesus has left the tumultuous temple in Nazareth and has come down to the shores of everyday life. Working folks wonder what this Gospel message has to say to them. Will there be a place for them in the Kingdom of God? What does it mean for their lives in the midst of trying eat a well-balanced breakfast, waiting to see if their new medication will help, and making sure they meet their quotas at the office?

Jesus takes this message on the road and out to the streets. He's not on tour to sold out stadiums, but down at the docks with the shift workers. If you've been to the Houston ship channel, you know it’s not glamorous work and it doesn't top the charts as a place to see and be seen. Here on the third coast, we know that shrimp boats in the gulf have their own special fragrance and the fish cleaning stations back on shore are not places anyone would choose for a press conference.

But it is here, with these people - the tired, the poor, the huddled masses...that Christ comes to say such wonderful things and do such amazing things. God comes to the common places, calls everyday people where they are, as they are. Jesus tells these guys standing on the beach after an exhausting and defeating night shift, to go back out and give it one more try. I'm sure that these people who had supported themselves by fishing for their entire lives welcomed the advice of a random carpenter passing by (sarcasm font).

Simon begins his rebuttal, his well-reasoned explanation of why this will most likely be a waste of time....and yet, he also recognizes that the person suggesting such bold moves is not some cruel taskmaster. He calls Jesus "master," conferring respect and already moving him to follow. Still, I don't think Simon is truly convinced. He leaves all the extra help off in the distance only to find later that he should have brought them along. So I don't think this is a story about Simon Peters standalone faithfulness. They probably would have been happy to find anything in their nets, but their nets are filled to capacity and then some. God's abundance is bursting beyond what they thought possible.

We categorize this as a miracle story, but perhaps the miracle is what happens next. In his stunned amazement, Simon confess himself as a sinful man, an imperfect and unworthy beneficiary of God's grace. To which Jesus responds with an invitation. Jesus doesn't negate the people's shortcomings, doesn't whitewash them away, but still embraces these unassuming, unwashed, and unlikely candidates as co-workers in the gospel.
Jesus comes to them where they are, as they are, and invites them to come and follow, to come and be a part, to come join in the meaningful work of the Kingdom of God. They will not only be spectators but participants in this work.

Miracles aren't only moments when God suspends the laws of nature but a movement in which She transcends the laws of the status quo. These folks are not on the Forbes list of most influential fishermen, they are not at the top of their field. In fact, that day they bombed pretty bad. They haven't been to a discipleship class either. They haven't yet been equipped to "fish for people" either. But God doesn't call the equipped, God equips those she calls.

Simon Peter is not perfect, not a noted or distinguished leader. He confesses sin, acknowledges his brokenness and Jesus still says follow me. And on that sinful, imperfect rock the church will build a foundation.

God calls us to come and follow - not only as spectators but as participants, as meaningful contributors to the work of the Gospel. God comes to us where we are, as we are - as moms who may never measure up to Pinterest or write inspirational memoirs, as kids who aren't necessarily on the honor roll, as shift workers who don't have anything set aside in savings. We, the ones with chipped nail polish, with no diploma, with unimpressive titles or zip codes. We who have been hauling around that bag of donations but can't ever seem to actually drop them off, who aren't sure what we would say if anyone asked us what any of this matters. We are called to come and be a part.

This call is not about quitting your day job. You don't have to join a monastery to follow Jesus. Jesus comes to you where you are, even in the stinky fish boat, but  then shifts the WAY we do the work.  
The disciples are still called to fishing, but with a different motivation a different perspective. So following Jesus doesn't mean you have to quit your job as a sales rep to become a foreign missionary. Keep your 9-5, your shiftwork, your landscaping job, but be on the lookout for how God is calling you to be a part of the work of the Gospel in the midst of it.

Maybe you're the gardener that can recommend native plants that benefit God's creation. Maybe when your office is looking for a team-building activity, you can be the one to suggest serving a meal for Montrose Grace Place.

Maybe you're like my dad, the manager of the same piano company for his whole life - an easy going guy who just wants to love his family and probably never pictured himself as an activist. But on Saturday he hoisted his granddaughter up on his shoulders with a shirt that said "God is love", a pink sign that read "girls are awesome," and joined the march for women.
Maybe you can't make it to a rally or press conference to protect the rights of others, but maybe you can design the promo fliers, maybe you can share the pictures and stories on social media to amplify the voice of justice. And every one of us can call our state and federal representatives to share how our faith compels us to speak up for the immigrant, the uninsured, the disabled, and all the vulnerable.
You don't have to be a professional activist, but you are an active part of the movement to reveal god's abundant grace and wide welcome wherever you are.

There is a place for everyone in this movement. Indeed, we are not sent alone. There is more than one called disciple here. Together we can take bold, if uncertain, steps. Our invitation is to come and follow Christ above all, above country, above occupation, above our shortcomings. But we also follow Christ through those things, through politics, through our jobs, even through our brokenness as it is transformed into a way we can sit next to others who are hurting and say "me too". To follow Christ is to resist the idolatry of isolation, self-interest,  and scarcity. We follow Jesus, no matter what's on our w-2, or who's in the White House. Those things impact what it looks like for us to follow God, but the call to follow in the way of ultimate peace and justice remains the same.

I invite you to take a moment to think about two things: what's one way you are being invited to follow Jesus in your daily life and regular rhythms this week? Who are you following to learn how to do that meaningful work?

Come for the food. Stay for the people. Go with a blessing.

a guest blog by Jesse Letourneau

I first arrived at Kindred in the summer of 2016. I was promised there would be food. I was told I would be fed. Instead, Pastor Ashley explained that this evening we would be doing something called worskship. For the next hour or so I helped sort clothing donations for Grace Place. The evening ended with Communion. “All are welcome. Sinner and Saint, Child and Skeptic” These words intrigued me.

I returned to Kindred a few weeks later. I attended service on a semi-regular basis. That summer Kindred alternated between workship (mostly sorting donations for various groups) and meals. Pastor Ashley often spoke of building Kindred together; stating that Kindred is made up of all who are present.” I have been a part of Church life since I was born. From nursery to high school group, young adult to not so young adult, my life has centered on the gathering of God’s people. What Kindred offers, what Kindred is, is unique to each of these experiences.

Summer turned to Fall and weekly meals resumed as the steady rhythm of Kindred. Soon I found myself attending weekly, as gathering around the Table became a steady rhythm of my own. I had become a part of building Kindred each week. Fall became Advent and I was asked to lead Kindred in the sacred story of the Magi, the Shepherds and all the rest. The story of Advent is the story of Emmanuel. Kindred had become for me a place where Emmanuel was experienced each week.

I often feel out of place when I enter a new space. However, Kindred is more than simply a place where leadership gives lip service to the idea of building community while the reality is that nothing new has been developed or created. Kindred became for me a place that is “made up of all who are present.” It is place where God is felt not merely in songs and sermons but in the presence of each member gathered around the table that evening. I have experienced God at Kindred. I have experienced God in Kindred. I have experienced God in the smiles of those who greet me each week, in hugs and in prayers, and in good food shared with good people.

The Advent season soon became the Christmas season. And now we enter into the Great Green Growing Season of the Church calendar. In this time of transition, I find myself in transition as well. My time with Kindred has come to a close. God has called me to serve a church in California. A new personal weekly rhythm will emerge. A rhythm I have no doubt where I will still find Emmanuel. But it will no longer be in the physical company of Kindred.

IMG_6321.JPG

I first arrived at Kindred expecting to be fed. Seeking out physical food.

Kindred has been a place where I have been fed and have been fed well. However, I was fed not only with the meals that were served, but with the presence of God experienced through all who were present.

Expectations, Resistance & Radicals

Jesus embarks in his ministry and he begins in his hometown.  But it didn't go over like everyone expected. Read the week's text here:

This is the text that made me incredibly nervous about preaching in my home congregation for the first time after seminary.  I could hear it in the back of my mind and I thought…if I do this the way I’m supposed to, they’re going to run me out with pitchforks.  I think I even wore tennis shoes under my robe that day just in case.  These are the people who love me, who raised me, who know the stories about the hell I put our Sunday school teachers through and all the times I got “lost” on youth trips.  Hell, my pastor even told one of these infamous stories at my ordination! 

These are the people who know my grandparents and my parents and the people that my parents will have to sit next to next week when I’m gone. They know my best self and my worst self…but I was still nervous about whether or not they’d reject me now. 

I had come to learn just how radical Jesus’ message was, and I had come to embrace my own responsibility in telling that truth, and I knew that message was not always welcome…even if we said it was.  I know that because I don’t always welcome and embrace this message, not without a valiant resistance. It’s not that Jesus was about making inflammatory speeches just for the fun of it, but when you fail to meet the expectations of the crowd, especially the crowd that sees you as “one of them”…you’re gonna ruffle some feathers.

Of course, it didn’t start out that way.  Jesus enters the synagogue, and the scriptures tell us that he did this regularly, and he’s obviously trusted enough to be handed one of the scrolls to read.  The ancient words of the prophet Isaiah ring out: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  And as he sat down he says, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Well, they had nothing but good things to say about him at that point. That sounds like good news to me! He’s talking about freedom, forgiveness, a clean slate! The year of jubilee!  And we, his oldest pals get to hear it first. That sounds like GREAT news!  It’s probably even greater news to us who have known him so long, who come from the same place. Of course a choice piece of that “year of the Lord’s favor” has our name on it.  You may already feel a little repulsed by this reaction when its articulated outloud, but it’s often how our assumptions unconsciously work. 

If I was suddenly given 100 gourmet Nutella-stuffed cookies…my family and friends might unconsciously assume that I’d pick out the best looking ones to keep for ourselves, and the one that might be a little burnt on the bottom will go on the gift tray for others.

And that’s where it hits the fan. Jesus has to quickly break it to them that this good news does not privilege them over others.  Like the prodigal son’s older brother, their faithful tenure isn’t weighted with greater significance than those that wander down different roads. This gospel, this good news of redemption, isn’t JUST for the privileged nor do they get a choice portion, but it is also and especially for those who are made vulnerable by their place outside of center. That’s what Jesus points to in his historical examples.  Elisha prioritizes the healing of Naaman – a foreign leader and definitely not a temple-goer. Out of the many hungry widows throughout God’s people Israel, Elijah crosses the border and goes outside the established territory to share a meal with a woman very different than himself. Liberation theologian, Gustavo Gutiérrez of Peru, refers to this as “God’s preferential option for the poor” – the recognition that throughout the scriptures, God leans toward the poor and powerless or society.

learn more about Gustavo Gutiérrez:  https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/road-peace/gustavo-gutierrez-and-preferential-option-poor

learn more about Gustavo Gutiérrez: 
https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/road-peace/gustavo-gutierrez-and-preferential-option-poor

Jesus makes the bold claim that God’s freedom is for you, but it isn’t JUST for you or even JUST a little better for you. It is for all as it especially lifts up those at the bottom.  In this way the oppressed are set free, and the oppressors are also freed from the dark system that crushes both their souls.

The leaders of the faith set an example of spending a majority of their time and energy outside the walls of the sanctuary and even beyond their defined people. It’s not that the people inside those circles don’t matter, but it’s their call too – to extend and share the message of God’s favor beyond the stained glass windows, beyond the usual crowd, beyond the people who look like them or think like them. 

Ministry, then, isn’t only what we do here, around these tables, but it is also what happens in coffee shops, in driveways, in office lunchrooms, in city hall and on the steps of the capitol building - as we work for the healing and wholeness of all people, especially the most vulnerable among us.

 But that wide view of God’s grace that lifts up the lowly and equalizes all people…that turns the people’s expectations on its head.  That is what offends the crowd to the point that they try to not only run Jesus out of town, but hurl him off a cliff. Last summer there was an article on Huffington Post called “When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression”.” 

I think that’s what the folks of Nazareth are struggling with. The Gospel can be a struggle, but it also brings us to the fullness of life. This is the gospel that convicts us.  This is the gospel that frees us – oppressor and persecuted alike.  This is the Gospel we proclaim and embody.

I heard the following story on an episode of This American Life and it speaks to this radical notion: 

It was Christmastime several years ago when this guy’s 4 year old daughter started asking what the holiday meant?  So the dad explained that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, his life, and his teachings…he went out and bought her a kid’s bible and she just loved it. They would read the stories together and the dad would help her understand their meaning.  They talked about Jesus’ command to “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” And they worked through the old English until it made a little more sense. And then one day, they were driving past a church that had a big crucifix out front.  And the daughter asked, “who’s that?”  Well, the dad hadn’t talked much about that part of the story yet.  So he explains, “well…that's Jesus, and I forgot to tell you the ending. Yeah. Well, you know, he ran afoul of the Roman government. This message that he had was so radical and unnerving to the prevailing authorities of the time that they had to kill him. They came to the conclusion that he would have to die. That message was too troublesome.”

Time passed, they talked here and there about the stories in her bible, and then…a little less than a month later, the kid was out of school for another holiday. It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day and the dad decided to take off work to spend it with his daughter - they could play together and he could take her out to lunch.  So they sat down for lunch and there was the arts section of the newspaper in the middle of the table. And there was this big drawing that a 10-year-old kid had drawn of MLK.  So the girl asked, “who’s that?”  The dad got to explain that he’s the reason she was out of school that day. That this day they were celebrating his birth and his life. So the girl wanted to know more about him.  The dad explained, “well…he was a preacher.”

 And she looks up at him and goes, “for Jesus?”

 And he said” yeah. Yeah, actually he was, but there was another thing that he was really famous for, which is that he had a message.”

And he’s trying to figure out how to tell the story to a four year old who is hearing this for the first time…

She said, “what was his message?”

And the dad says, “he said that you should treat everybody the same no matter what they look like.”

She thought about that for a minute, and she said, “well, that's what Jesus said.”

And he “said, yeah, I guess it is. You know, I never thought of it that way, but yeah. And that is sort of like do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And she thought for a minute and looked at him and said, “did they kill him, too?”

https://www.trinitystores.com/store/art-image/martin-luther-king-georgia-1929-1968

https://www.trinitystores.com/store/art-image/martin-luther-king-georgia-1929-1968

 They carried God’s message of radical love for you and me, for all. It has never been met without resistance, but its truth has never wavered. May we be open to the Holy Spirit beckoning us to be a part of it.

This Changes Everything

This week's text isn't short, but it's soooo good.  Read it HERE first:

I wonder…

When was the last time you were inspired?

I wonder…

What was so inspiring about that moment?

Maybe it was a podcast or tedtalk you heard,

Maybe that old song that came on the radio you hadn’t heard in forever, but this time it hit you like it was brand new.

Maybe you witnessed someone stick their neck out for somebody else.

As I look back on just this past week, I’m humbled and invigorated by the wealth of inspiration around me.  I’ve shared queso with a friend who works 60 hours a week, but still used his entire day off to help me fix our stupid wi-fi extenders and thermostats. I’ve sat with people who struggle with physical and mental health on a daily basis, but still somehow made it out of bed that day. Several of us went down to city hall to stand against proposed discriminatory bathroom bills, and I was inspired by those who made themselves vulnerable by sharing their personal stories. Transwomen like Reagan who talked about what it’s like to risk rejection on a regular basis. Moms like Kim spoke to the public shame her 5 year old Transgender daughter had to endure at school. 

I’ve experienced similar feelings of awe and wonder after time away in travel and the time my daughter learned to pour her own cereal.

When you think about those inspirational and life-changing moments…perhaps you notice that you’re filled with adrenaline, with hope, with renewed energy, courage, curiosity. It often leaves us with this momentum and so we want to do something as a result. When something beautiful happens, we want to keep building on it and when catastrophe happens, we want to do something to help. I find it fascinating that there is some common humanity that has not changed for 2000 years.

http://nypost.com/2015/07/13/jesus-was-baptized-in-jordan-not-israel-un-says/

http://nypost.com/2015/07/13/jesus-was-baptized-in-jordan-not-israel-un-says/

 After hearing John’s call for justice, the people want to know what they should do.

What should we do? They ask three times.

The crowd asks, what should we do….John replies, be generous.  Share your coats and your food with those that need them.

The tax collectors ask, what should we do?.....uh….try not extorting people? You’d think it would go without saying but apparently there are a lot of things like that we just can’t take for granted.

The soldiers ask, what should we do…again a fairly simple answer…pretty much don’t be a jerk.  Which is basically my preferred method of evangelism.  Be a public Christian and then don’t be a jerk. At least that’s often where we have to start.

And even though I’ve read this text before, many times over, this time I was struck with renewed energy, passion, and curiosity.  I’ve always understood baptism as part of our Christian tradition, a holy sacrament in the Lutheran church, so I wondered….how was it a part of John’s ancient Jewish ministry?

http://www.heqiart.com/store/p59/13_Baptism-of-Jesus_Artist_Proof.html

http://www.heqiart.com/store/p59/13_Baptism-of-Jesus_Artist_Proof.html

I learned that the baptism John was offering wasn’t necessarily a universal Jewish tradition, but it WAS a ritual practiced by many Jewish leaders. Their understanding of baptism was one of ritual cleansing, purifying a person and marking their commitment to a new way of living. It was a baptism of repentance by water. Repentance doesn’t only mean asking forgiveness, it literally means a change of mind, a new way of thinking. This is the baptism that brings together nameless crowds of the faithful, traitorous tax collectors, and soldiers of the foreign empire….AND….the son of God. This is the baptism that Jesus also experiences. But something is different, something WILL BE different.  John points to a new kind of baptism, a baptism that changes the question. Instead of asking what should we DO, the question becomes…who will we BE?

 Jesus’ baptism is unique among the baptismpalooza John was having that day, but reveals what we might remember or look forward to in our own baptism.

Jesus experiences the cleansing baptism of repentance. Repentance is that change, that shift, that turning toward God’s will and thus God’s saving work for all the world. Jesus’s baptism sets his face toward God above all else. Jesus is enveloped by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit remains with Jesus in the next chapter of his journey as it brings him to trials and wilderness.  The Spirit persists in its presence through every single moment – lending fiery courage, wholeness, healing, and hope.  Jesus hears the voice of God announcing, before all those assembled, that he is God’s beloved child. An intimate and powerful proclamation of identity and relationship.

In his baptism, Jesus receives a public blessing and an unbreakable tie. In our baptism, we are named and claimed as part of this sacred family. God says you are mine and you are blessed.  You carry the light of the creator, the light of the encourager, the light of Christ....which goes out into every corner of this place, into all places, to all people.

In baptism, we have moved from what we should DO to who we will be. This is who we are. These promises run through to the depths of our being.  This is who we will be. This is the bedrock of our life together. And we need a firm foundation…because baptism is not a gentle thing. Our identity is grounded in this covenant, but John reminds us that this new baptism is not just about our ability to claim our place as children of Abraham. Baptism doesn’t stop there.

Baptism isn’t only the peaceful trickle of water over our heads.  It’s not gentle, it is a drowning.  All that separates us from God…our old selves, our brokenness, the world’s brokenness…is drowned away.

The waters of baptism are moving living waters and moving water has the power to cut through solid stone. The stone of our darkened hearts, the stone of apathy and indifference, the stone of oppression and injustice. Baptism refreshes but it also stirs up and agitates, troubles, mobilizes. It makes John bold enough to speak up and call out even the most powerful politicians.

John speaks of the new baptism as one that will come by fire, a refiner’s fire which scorches and burns away the chaff, the dry part of the grain which protects but is actually dried up, dead, and devoid of nutrition.  I have enough scars from baking to know that coming through the fire will not be comfortable.

I know that I will try to resist that fire, even if I know it to be life-giving.  I will aim for calmer smoother waters, waters that cool and quench.

And they will be there waiting for me, refreshing me…until the current comes back by, saving me from stagnation, inviting me back into the rush of the river which changes the landscape it’s a part of. This is who we are, who we will be. A part of the living water. A part of the raging fire. A part of Christ. A part of hope. A part of the movement that changes the world. Amen.

Bless this House

Tomorrow is the 12th and final day of the season of Christmas.  Friday, January 6th, marks the day of Epiphany which remembers the magi who followed the wild star to the place where Christ dwells.

It is an old custom to bless your home on Epiphany. This blessing includes a prayer and a mark of blessing. This tradition isn't just for towering steeples, but for every common threshold. Here's how you can mark your own home with a sign of Christ's blessing:

Using chalk, write on the outside of your house’s door or frame (alternatively, on a path or driveway, or above or next to an entrance):

+ 20 C M B 17+

This stands for the first half of the current year written out, “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” (Christ bless this house), then the other half of the current year written out. Start and end with a cross.  You could even have each marking or word could be written by a varied member of the household.

After you've chalked up, here's a prayer you can say outloud:  May everyone who come to our home this year be blessed to find Christ living among us. May we recognize and serve that same Jesus, in everyone we meet. Amen

Joy isn't Perky

Luke 2:8-14

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

watch the Advent story from this week (up to 8:09):

I wonder how you are getting ready to enter the mystery of Christmas?

I wonder how you would feel if greeted by an angel of God?

I wonder what God is saying to you?

….

Joy is what shows up, what breaks in while I'm busy protecting, planning, and just trying to get stuff done.  Joy comes in unexpected conversations...while installing thermostats, with strangers at coffee shops, among neighbors in the street.  Joy comes in our lover's arms or in a memory...

Joy spends seasons, sometimes even years eluding us. Seemingly always showing up in someone else's pasture, just close enough to where we can see it but beyond our borders. 

But joy is coming....for everyone. This joy is not that perky lady's well intentioned but condescending assurance that everything will be alright or that we can turn darkness to light by adding some glitter to it. This joy is the flood of light that doesn't just cover up but casts out all darkness. It fills us up so that we burst at the seams and cannot keep from singing. This joy does not belong to this one or that one, but to all of us. We are all on the way to Bethlehem, no one is left alone in the darkness. 

Joy...holy, divine joy...comes to the blue collar shepherds, not just to the priests, pastors, or the privileged. Joy comes even and especially to the least of these. Joy IS coming. 

The announcement is not only that joy is coming, but an invitation to come and be a part of it.  Don't be afraid. We bring you tidings of great joy. Peace on earth and good will to everyone. A child is born. Go. Hurry. Run to Bethlehem to see the child who will change everything. 

 

Everything is Changed

Everything is changed.  This is the time of the color blue.

This 2nd week in the season of Advent, we tell the story of the Holy Family. Watch Here (to 5:40):

I wonder, what is it about this journey that is hardest for you?

I wonder, where do you see light in the darkness?

I wonder, how are you being changed?

http://www.everettpatterson.com/?p=1835

http://www.everettpatterson.com/?p=1835

Mystery is not easy. There is no formula, nothing we can expect to follow a particular order.  Being a part of that mystery is not easy. The journey to Bethlehem is not easy. It is not always calm and it is not always bright.  It is many days of sweat and exhaustion, unfamiliar and even dangerous roads. With the dangers circling around us – of emboldened white supremacy, of xenophobic leaders who play on our fears of the other, of hateful and violent speech that bolsters discriminatory action and policies…fairly often I find myself like Dorothy in the poppy field, wanting to lay my head down for just a moment.   We will find our rest, but for now we must keep moving. We must stay vigilant and focused, our eyes set toward Bethlehem, toward hope.  When we feel we cannot take one more step, we lean on one another.  We share our worries and our woes so that we are not crushed by the weight of carrying them ourselves. We take turns caring for each other and allowing ourselves to be cared for.  We take turns speaking up for those in trouble, and seeking out the unheard voices, listening to the oppressed speak for themselves.  We look for twitter feeds and articles that are not only written about those on the margins, but by those on the margins. And that is certainly not easy, because it often reveals that we did not know as much as we thought we did. It often reveals that we too, must change.  Here's a few places to start listening.  They will challenge you, say things you'll probably passionately disagree with, and we need to hear that:

local - BLMHTX   Ashton Woods  Equality Texas

Lutheran - Lenny Duncan     Vance Blackfox     Rev. Tuhina Rasche      Rev. Wil Gafney

F This S: An Advent Devotional - heads up, uncensored and for good reason

We must be patient with ourselves, putting one foot in front of the other, allowing the Holy Spirit to do its work in us and in the world, and yet also be determined to press forward, just beyond what is comfortable, day by day. The Spirit goes ahead of us on this road and is waiting for us there.  The Spirit follows behind us, ushering us forward. We do not journey alone.  Still, the journey is not easy. Even when the holy family arrives to Bethlehem I’m sure it is not what they expected.  Finally hoping to lay down their sleepy heads, they must instead make due with scratchy hay and only smelly animals for company. Yet even in this broom closet of a forgotten and overlooked everyday space, something incredible is about to happen. Even on this dusty dreary evening, light is filling up the room. Anywhere we go, the light of the prophets, and of the holy family is spreading. Anywhere you go in this room you can come close to them today.

Give Thanks

Last month was my kid's birthday and she's old enough now that she can write her own thank you notes. They're nothing elaborate, but usually involve some custom artwork, the words "thank you", and her name.  We practice saying thanks not just because it is polite or good manners, but because we are transformed by the experience of gratitude.  True gratitude makes us profoundly aware of the generosity we have received and it overflows as we are generous to others.  This is holy.  This reveals God in our midst.  In the midst of small everyday moments, divine love breaks in and it shapes us anew.  As you spend this week contemplating thankfulness, I have a gift for you.  It's a simple printable card you can set at your table to guide you in giving thanks.  Use the blank lines to write what you're thankful.  If you want, you could even punch a hole in the corners and hang the cards like ornaments from a tree.  I am grateful for this community of KINDRED, for the table we share, and for the way it changes and shapes us.

2515 Waugh Dr.     Houston, TX     77006     713.528.3269