Grieving Faithfully: Lenten Reflection (40)

Scripture for Today: Matthew 27: 3-10, 55-66

I wept last night. It wasn’t the kind of crying where one cute teardrop falls down my cheek — I full on cried.

Reading the Isaiah passage for the congregation, I fought back tears as the names of people lost at the hands of senseless violence ran through my head.

Just as there were many who were astonished at him–so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
Emmett Till, Philando Castile  He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
Andrew Del Pilar, Zakaria Fry, Viccky Gutierrez, 
But it was our transgressions that wounded him, our iniquities that crushed him;
Malcolm X, Sandra Bland 
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
Martin Luther King Jr, Standing Rock Sioux
By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.
Parkland High School, Pulse Nightclub, Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Jessica Leeds, Jill Harth, Mindy McGillivray
He was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Stephon Clark, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin 

29594560_10104756341874551_2244687083193373744_nAs we venerated the cross, I prayed for members as they knelt. I found myself moved deeply by prayers: “May you know how deeply God loves you.” If I knew the parishioners personally I prayed in specifics: “May God break through your loneliness” or “May God’s love find a way through your adolescent aloofness.” I sensed God’s ache for each person.  And I cried.

After the service, I went back into the chapel alone and sat by our cross. My tears flowed more heavily once I was in silence. How, how, how? how do we keep letting this violence happen? Will Easter come?

 

The grief of Holy Saturday, the kind that grips our souls, is typically reserved for individual people we know and love intimately. But today we, just like Judas, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, are invited to a despair that encompasses the pain of all life shed of hope, and to wonder if we will know Love.

I invite you to consider these two accounts of grief: the death of Judas and the waiting at the tomb by the women. They accounts both display the utter pain and dismay of people who loved Jesus. However, the women are able to hold onto God’s love in the midst of their grief and this love motivates them to respond faithfully.

This is the sort of grief to which we are called: to speak truth when lies are uttered, to refuse to perpetuate the lie that “it’s better,” to march, to advocate, to offer ourselves and our service to the Love of God.

Pray:  How long O Lord?

Reflect: On this Holy Saturday how does our abiding faith in God’s love motivate us to grieve death in a way that leads to faithful action?

Art: Lamentation, or the Mourning of Christ by Giotto

Words of Gratitude: Thank you to everyone for walking this Lenten journey with me. There were many days where the writing did not come easily or required me to wake early, and at those times I wished I had not made the promise to write daily. However, hearing the ways these pieces have touched you has been an invaluable gift and I pray God’s presence abounds with you as we await Easter. I am especially grateful to my friend, coach, and editor Jesse Ortiz. Without their support and commitment to this project it would not have happened.

Unknown, image found on Experimental Theology by Richard Beck http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2013/05/you-shall-not-wash-my-feet.html

As I Loved You: Lenten Reflection (38)

Scripture for Today: John 13:1-17,31-35

Spoiler Alert: I’ll be preaching this as a sermon at St. John’s Hingham tonight at 7:30 pm. If you’re joining us for service (which you all should!) you may want to wait and hear it then. 

When I preach, I typically wear heels. When people ask me why, I tell them it’s important for me to embrace being a femme leader in the church. Now, of course you can be femme in flats, but there’s something about claiming a little extra femme while I preach. It reminds me, and I hope others, that women are also called to lead the Church.

In addition, they make a great safety blanket. Heels elevate me, they give me a feeling of stature and command. When I take them off I instantly feel more approachable and, in being so, more vulnerable. Without the heels, or in the case of our gospel from today, without any shoes, our flaws, scratches, and not so pristine parts are visible. Our humanity is exposed. And, no one likes that.

That’s what made Jesus so different. He embraced rather than avoided humanity. He touched the scabs and sores of lepers, lovingly accepted the flaws of his followers, and showcased his own hunger and frustration.

And, if that wasn’t clear enough, during his final evening with his friends, he demonstrates an experience of love that is undeniably tied to encountering our humanity. What is more human than our feet? Or feet that sink and sweat? Or feet that are callused from the wear of life?

He says: when you share the imperfect parts of you with someone else and see the imperfect in another — then you will know love.

——

When I was writing this sermon I couldn’t stop thinking about a friend of mine who died recently from suicide. We met about two years ago; he was brilliant, beautiful, and utterly agitated by the voices in his head that denied these truths. The societal pressures of what it means to “be a man” combined with the violence experienced by black and brown communities constantly tormented him.

At one point, when I was visiting him in the hospital prior to his passing, his father said to me, “I’m not sure I ever knew my son. He was always so concerned with who he was supposed to be.”

He was always running. When we spent time together I would often ask him to stay a little longer, “just five more minutes,” hoping that if he just sat still long enough he could soak up his goodness. But that didn’t happen. He couldn’t soak up that love because soaking up the love required seeing and accepting his imperfect human parts too. And those parts were too much for him to bear.

——

In our Gospel text from today, when Jesus attempts to see the human parts of Peter, he refuses Jesus. And Jesus responds, “Unless I wash your feet, you have no share in me.”  He is so clear: if we are not willing to expose those parts of us, we won’t know his love. Our experience of love, of freedom, of release from pressures of this life, is tied up in our ability to be human.

Perhaps this is one reason our most intimate encounter with Jesus, Holy Eucharist, centers on remembering — literally, to be connected to him — through his most human parts, his body and blood.

“This is my body, broken for you.” 

In Jesus’ body we are remembered to the physical, mental, and emotional suffering he endured. The suffering of betrayal, loneliness, and rejection that we all know.  And, in lifting up his body we are invited to welcome rather than run from these moments of pain.  To know that in our moments of deepest suffering we are not alone. Rather, we can remember that we are inextricably connected to God and one another: to embody the truth of Eucharist, that we who are many are One body, because we share one bread.

—–

This is my blood, shed for you.” 

This is my blood, it was shed for you because of the human epidemic of violence. It was shed because we attack when we feel afraid, it was shed because we are taught that the safest way to stop a “bad man” with a gun is a “good man” with a gun, because we believe that hate can somehow drive out hate.

This is the aspect of humanity with which I struggle most; I can look at my ugly feet, and I can accept my own suffering, but I do not want to remember that I’m part of the perpetuation of the violence that results in oppression, segregation, racism, and innocent deaths of children in our streets and in our schools. But Jesus stands there, on his last night with us, and says: remember, reconnect to the truth that even though you perpetuate this violence, my Love will never leave you.

—-

Although I can’t fully explain it, I know our ability to give and receive love is tied to our willingness to accept our humanity, to expose our flaws, to share our sufferings, and to acknowledge our propensity to cause pain. And, I think that’s what Jesus was trying to leave his disciples with that last night.

He says: I’ve spent my life trying to model Love for you and, just in case you’ve missed it along the way, here are some tangible reminders of what it looks like: wash each other’s feet, share in one another’s pain, and tend to each other’s wounds.

What might change about the way we love one another if we remembered, literally were reconnected, to the truth that we are tied up in one another’s humanity?

How might compassion for ourselves motivate us to let go of unrealistic standards of wealth, beauty or power and embrace humanity? Instead of exhausting ourselves to do and be we could embrace a freedom that allows us to more fully know ourselves and those around us. I imagine that actually being present to the pain of depression, the fear of being ripped from one’s home, or the fragility of living on minimum wage would change our hearts. We’d love as God loved.

And, in doing so, we’d begin to deeply identify with the pain of others. This sort of love compels us to become keenly aware of the ways we benefit from systemic oppression. We are no longer satisfied knowing that our children attend good schools where they are safe. Instead, we use our energy to overturn unjust practices that unfairly distribute resources, perpetuate poverty, and destroy families. And, in doing so, we glimpse the realm of God; we create a world in which all know they are loved.

In these holiest of days we are invited to consider this questions for ourselves: what might happen if we committed our lives to embodying God’s love, through the washing of the feet, the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup?

If we “loved one another as I have loved you.”

Pray: Undo the lies of imperfection and separation we believe.

Reflect: What element of humanity most resonated with you in this reflection? What might that reveal about how the Spirit is moving in your life today?

Art: Unknown, image found on Experimental Theology by Richard Beck

https://www.etsy.com/listing/265484823/jesus-clears-the-temple-small-abstract?show_sold_out_detail=1 Jesus Clears the Temple by Melani Pyke

Love in Public: Lenten Reflection (36)

Scripture for Today: Mark 11:12-12:44

“And God will give the vineyard to others.” (12:9)

Although there are a few interpretations of the parable of the wicked tenants, the most widely accepted idea is that Jesus uses the landlord to illustrated God’s displeasure with the religious authorities (the tenants)  at that time.

Why is God so displeased? They weren’t doing their job.

This isn’t in the literal sense of tending to the vineyards — the religious authorities neglected the responsibility to care for the people of God. This failure to seek the welfare of the people motivates Jesus’ actions in this chapter.

Jesus is furious that, rather than make God accessible to people, the chief priests were  charging impoverished people unreasonable amounts of money to buy the required sacrifices to worship God. The even rob the most vulnerable (the widow) of all she owns. As the chiefs become wealthier, the people of God suffer more.

Jesus acts in reaction to this unjust treatment. He creates havoc in the established place of power and religion. He shuts down their racketeering business and calls out their wicked ways. And, in perhaps his most subversive act of this reading, he says that instead of profiting off of people you are called to love others as dearly as you love God. That love demands a deep identification with those around you and a commitment to their welfare. He insists that, in the words of Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

They were not loving their people.
They were not seeking justice.
They were not doing their job.

Naturally, the chief priests become angry when Jesus challenges their competency. They begin to grasp at anything that will stabilize their threatened power and wealth. They throw out every theological and legal challenge they can summon, hoping that something will discount this call to a radical and justice-oriented love.

Jesus’ unrelenting commitment to love his people eventually leads to his death. Pay attention to the depths of love he expresses and receives along the way to Golgotha. How does he demonstrate his love? How do others react to his way of love? This is more important than all else.

Pray: Give me the courage to love boldly.

Reflect: How has love motivated you to seek justice? Where do you notice resistance, either in your personal or public spheres, to such bold love?

Art: Jesus Clears the Temple by Melani Pyke

Resources: This reflection was largely inspired by this sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley of Alfred Street Baptist Church.

This is What Democracy Looks Like: Lenten Post (35)

Scripture for Today: Mark 11:1-11

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!” (Isaiah 40:3).

I heard the prophets shouting on Saturday.

“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”
“Black lives matter!”
“No More Silence, End Gun Violence”

I heard the echoes of the crowds in Jerusalem crying out. 

Hosanna!
Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!
Blessed the coming kingdom of our father David!
Hosanna in highest heaven! (v 9&10)

Protest shouts are prophetic: they recognize the pain of the current moment and call into being what might be possible if we change. Our signs, collective movement, and hopeful cries enact a vision of the realm of God. In so doing, we hope to inspire change.

There was something divine about the March for Our Lives happening on Palm Sunday weekend.

The air was filled with hope for revolution and change. People were crying hosanna (literally translated from Greek: “save us”), not one more day of fear and oppression. This march was very similar to when the people sensed possibility as Jesus rolled into Jerusalem on a donkey.

The people of Jerusalem sought to usher in a new rule, one inspired by the way of their ancestors. A rule in which God’s ways of freedom, peace and prosperity were felt by all. They welcomed a rule that would not prioritize the luxury of the few at the expense of the masses. They celebrated a rule that would turn the world upside down.

On Saturday hundreds of thousands of people showed up to turn the world upside down. We cried out against the senseless influence of the NRA that led to the suffering of so many. We refused to believe that chaos and fear should rule our streets or our schools. We believed that a new way, one marked by God’s peace, could be possible.

So we shouted:
No More Silence, End Gun Violence.
Save Us Now.

May we all begin Holy Week with this sort of Prophetic Hope. Jesus is coming. Liberation is happening. Cry out. The time has come to offer our prayers for revolution, healing, and restoration. The time has come to claim boldly what might be possible if God’s way of peace reigned on earth. .

This is what kin(g)dom looks like

Prayer: Hosanna, save us.

Reflection; What in your life, personal or public, is crying for revolution? What are you yearning to see change?

Art: Natalie at March for Our Lives Boston . Photo taken by James M Thomas

Depiction of Jesus with the Woman at the Well. Photo Credit: http://www.heqigallery.com/gallery/gallery3/pages/6-SamaritanWomanAtTheWell.html

Gospel of Dignity: Lenten Reflection (33)

Scripture for Today: Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 5: 21- 34. John 8: 2-11 and John 12:1- 8

This post, originally written in 2014, still captures my feelings about what the Church could learn from Jesus and Planned Parenthood about honoring women. In ways it feels even more relevant given the #metoo movement. I made a few changes to the revised version; you can find the original here. 

In November of 2014 I traveled to East Africa with Planned Parenthood Global, the international division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, to launch a program that will support local communities of advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights in several countries in Africa.

The training team celebrates our hard work by having dinner together.
The East Africa training team celebrates a hard day of work by having dinner together.

While preparing for the training Jacob Okumo, my colleague from Tatua Kenya, asked me about my connection to Planned Parenthood. My eyes welled up as I told Jacob about how Planned Parenthood had been my primary healthcare provider when I was young. I grew up hearing sex had one place, in a heterosexual marriage. As a sexually active teen, trying to be responsible, I went to Planned Parenthood for birth control, STD tests, and annual exams. Planned Parenthood continued to support me through adulthood, providing me with exams when I was uninsured, even inserting my IUD.

At the opening of the initial training for the small group facilitators who would lead the training in Uganda, we answered the question, “Why do I care about sexual and reproductive health?” As we went around the table I heard stories of women who were fired for being pregnant, shamed for needing birth control, discarded for being sexually active. Many of the stories carried the same disturbing theme: as a woman in East Africa your worth was undeniably tied to your body.

This theme was incredibly disturbing but even more so was the realization that although I was raised in a very different context, this was my story too.

My first formal conversations about sexuality happened in the conservative Christian Church through a program called Sex, God, and Me (similar to True Love Waits, Love Matters, or Asitia). These programs teach that sex was intended for heterosexual marriage alone and any other sexual activity was sinful, shameful, and made us undesirable to partners in the future. One particular demonstration in the program has the facilitator glue two pieces of paper together and then make students rip it apart, showing that once you join yourself to someone you become forever marked by them and torn/dirtied for the rest of your life. I am sad to say that I not only listened to the message but passed it on to younger women.

Despite the fact that I intended to wait until marriage, I first had sex at 17. The combination of wanting to be liked, raging hormones, and attention from a popular older guy was too much; we ended up having sex one stormy afternoon in a car. Today I remember that day fondly, but at the time I thought the “loss” was pretty much the end of my life. I began having sex frenetically, with little concern to my partner or my own desire. Looking back I can see that the first five years of my indiscriminate sexual activity was a reaction to this idea that I had “lost it all.” It wasn’t until I was 24 that I began to think about sex in a positive light. Even now, at 30, I still struggle to be fully present to sexuality because I’m afraid that I will be seen as dirty and undesirable. I know that is a lie but the voices from our past are hard to release.

These voices rage in our U.S. culture. Mainstream culture may not demand abstinence but it encourages women to maintain rigid body standards in order to be valued: all the while being careful to maintain the impossible balance between being flirtatious but not “too promiscuous.” Salary scales enforce the belief that once you reach a certain age you should be at home with children, not competing for managerial positions with the men. Pop culture reinforces this by portraying single women as incomplete and unfulfilled. As a whole, these cultural rules prevent us from connecting with our true selves and celebrating whatever sexuality we feel we possess and instead shame us into silence and estrangement both within ourselves and the world at large.

What I saw in East Africa last week was that Planned Parenthood is healing this divide through the way they treat women. As a patient at Planned Parenthood I was often asked about my sexual past or history and never felt judged for the honest answers I provided. This platform encourages us to engage with our sexual partners, friends, and family members in a way that promotes open discussion and MUTUAL choice about the way we have sex. Finally, Planned Parenthood fights to extend this type of care to ALL women, regardless of race, economic status, sexual orientation, or gender identification. It is stated in their tagline: “Care. No matter what.” Planned Parenthood honors our wisdom, worth, and value as women by operating under the radical belief that we can be trusted to make good choices for our bodies: elevating us from a place of shame to value.

This elevation of women mirrors what we know of Jesus Christ’s interactions with women; rather than treat women as the “lesser” sex he spent time conversing with them and invited them to join him as leaders. His conversations with Mary and Martha appear innocuous today but in Christ’s time they were countercultural and a threat to the way men in power understood the role of women.

Even racier were his interactions with ‘scandalous women,’ such as his conversation with the woman at the well who is infamous for her many lovers. Here he offers us insight into his ability to see women as much more than their sexual past. Rather than focus his interaction with her on her sexual choices he instead engages with her on the topic of authentic worship and eternal life. He treats this woman’s sexual past in a similar way to the team at Planned Parenthood, a simple fact. Because of this he is able to move on to a more meaningful level of interaction with her and truly connect with her soul.

When it comes to treating a woman with dignity, the church can learn a great deal from Planned Parenthood. Conservative Christian communities continue to devalue women through the glorification of purity, lack of leadership opportunities, use of degrading language, and emphasis on the need to assume the role as mother if they are to be considered “of worth” to society. While progressive Christian communities have moved away from such practices, they fail to create a space in which people of faith can discuss sexuality in a healthy way. The silence cannot continue. It is time the church joins Planned Parenthood in promoting a culture of worth for women.

Imagine a church that brings God back into the bedroom by creating a space in which teens can talk about how to integrate sexuality and spirituality, a church that celebrates our bodies for their many facets, a church that offers women the tools to make decisions about their sex and sexuality without judgment. Imagine a church that elevates women as Christ did by paying women and men equally, by encouraging women leadership, and offering generous maternity leave. Imagine a church that leads us to a world in which women are honored for more than our bodies.

Prayer:  Open our eyes to the ways we participate in oppression.

Reflection: What values or opinions do I have about sexuality? How do they promote or deny the dignity of others?

Art: Depiction of Jesus with the Woman at the Well by He Qi  

Resources: Organize a conversation in your local community that creates a space for men and women to share their stories, struggles and hopes for how the church approaches sexuality. Click here to download a one-page guide to having these conversations in your community.

Utilize resources like the Universalist Unitarian Church’s “Our Whole Lives” or Planned Parenthood’s resources for educators to design a curriculum for sex education that works for your church.

Join the Praxis Community,  a community of faith-rooted leaders who believe God calls us all to build liberating and joyful communities. To this end we have dedicated ourselves to ending oppressive cultures and systems of economic and racial injustice by challenging dominant systems of power. Through participating in a shared rule of life centered around prayer, right-relationship, and prophetic action we hope to join in God’s movement of liberation. For more information email Natalie@EpiscopalCityMission.Org.

Rhythmic Jesus: Lenten Reflection (32)

Scripture for Today: Feeding the Thousands

My friend Julian and I recently had a conversation about how thinking about time as rhythm rather than structure loosens our adherence to the clock and deepens our connection to the needs of the moment.

For me, this means letting go of a schedule that siphons activities into thirty-minute blocks and instead remaining mindful of how I fit prioritized activities into the day. It requires an attention to my energy level, the needs of those around me, and the ever-changing context of the world.

Perhaps because of my conversation with Julian, I was particularly drawn to the way Jesus intuits his way through the feeding of the thousands in every Gospel account. He knows that he and his disciples are tired so he plans on them spending time alone and, according to some of the versions of the story, he gets a little quiet time but it is soon interrupted by a crowd who has come to be with him.

Rather than sending them away because “it’s not time for that sort of ministry,” Jesus’ open-hearted nature conjures up compassion within him. This attention to the needs of the situation rather than to the confines of a schedule is the same impulse that motivates Jesus to feed the crowd when it was time to eat.

I am inspired by Jesus’ prioritization of moment over fixed structure, whole over parts, and relationship over preference. His choice illustrates not only his deep identification with people but also his disregard for the proper structures of time that we “should” adhere to in our world. Those are structures that, when unexamined, support dominant ways of being. One example might be choosing to arrive on time rather than having a valuable conversation with someone or ignoring the needs of someone living on the street to get to a work meeting.

On the other hand, the rhythmic way of living invites us into a deeper sense of what brings about right-relationship with ourselves, one another, and the world around us.

Prayer: May I have the wisdom to follow God’s rhythm.

Reflection: When have I allowed structure prevent me from being present with myself or others? How might I loosen my connection to a schedule to deepen my connection to current needs?

Art: Eric Feather, from Growing in Grace

AttributionOur conversation about time as rhythm was inspired by the Mystic Soul Project rule of life.

 

 

Sermon on the Mount by Laura James - https://society6.com/laurajamesartshop/s?q=popular+sermon-on-the-mount_print#1=45

Heart of Relationship: Lenten Reflection (31)

Scripture for Today: Matthew 5-7

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.” Dr. Martin Luther King

We tend to define relationship as an interpersonal object that begins and ends at our will. In reality, relationship is more of a principle than a noun: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We are constantly in relationship with one another. Our choices, ideas, and attitudes impact those around us, and in some cases, those thousands of miles away. The question is not whether we want to be in relationship with one another, but how will we be in relationship with one another?

Jesus’ entire ministry was to foster right-relationship with people: Relationships that honored God’s dream for equity and justice. Relationships that tore down structures of oppression. Relationships that lifted up the disenfranchised and challenged the powerful. Relationships that fostered our ability to know, claim, and own that we are the Beloved of God. Relationships that invited us into liberating love.

Knowing this, it makes sense that Jesus would begin his ministry by speaking to how, in all types of relationships (marriages, disagreements, keeping oaths, public prayer, and judgement of others), we are to be mindful of the mutuality that exists between us all. If our sibling is hurting, we hurt too, so we need to try and heal the situation. If we respond to hatred with hatred, we only perpetuate hatred. Therefore, we are instructed to address the situation non-violently in a way that exposes the pain others inflict upon the world.

By addressing injustice and exposing pain, we end cycles of violence and indifference and develop a heart of compassion that causes us to mourn with those who mourn, hunger for justice, and suffer with those who are persecuted. We become those Jesus honored in the Beatitudes — we enter the heart of relationship.

Prayer: Increase my hunger for righteousness.

Reflect: Consider one or two particular relationships. How are you honoring the belovedness of people in how you treat them? What might you change to further acknowledge their belovedness through your relationship?

Art: Sermon on the Mount by Laura James

Baptism of Jesus Proof by He Qi https://www.heqiart.com/store/p59/17a_Baptism-of-Jesus_Artist_Proof.html

With God’s Help: Lenten Reflection (30)

Scripture for Today: Luke 3:21 – 4:13

The first time I set foot in an Episcopal Church service was for the baptism of my friend Kristen’s child, Ryder. I was immediately struck by the communal and collective rhythm of the service. Prior to attending the service I had been on a year hiatus from church — I left a more conservative branch which had an individualistic bent to their spiritual practice. In that church, were all trying to out-Jesus one another by praying more, knowing more scripture, or singing the loudest during worship.

The communal nature of this new Episcopal church was especially present in its collective commitment to uphold Ryder and to live the Way of God alongside him. Towards the end of the service the congregation articulated their commitment through the words of the Baptismal Covenant:

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help. 

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

I was struck by how much the commitment depended on God rather than self — no one was expected to do it alone. This blanket claim of our humanity is one of the reasons I’ve stayed part of the Episcopal community. There are certainly those who stray from this generalization, but the majority of the Episcopalian community maintains their commitment to God while living very human lives.

And, for a faith tradition looking to follow Jesus, this isn’t too far off the mark.

Today’s gospels emphasize the human nature of Jesus. In his baptism at the River Jordan we meet Jesus as a companion on the Way who, like us, made a commitment to turn from the ways of the world and follow God. In the wilderness we see Jesus tempted by the human desires for comfort, power, and wealth, yet he remains committed to God.

Stories of Jesus’ humanity fill the gospels: his friendships, his hunger, his frustrations, his sadness, his anger, his longing for God’s favor, etc. These stories give us a way of meeting God that is not wrapped up in perfection or in theology, but in the vulnerabilities and practicalities of human life. In Jesus we can claim a new human identity. This identity  is rooted not in the fleeting nature of this world but in the eternal way of God. This identity  restores us to right-relationship with God and one another, through the Christ.

This identity inspires us to follow the way of Jesus, with God’s help.

Prayer: Open me to your help.

Reflection: Where can you connect to Jesus’ humanity? Why does it matter to you that he was human?

Art: Baptism of Jesus Proof by He Qi

Additional Reading:  Unedited version of the Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant.

Holy Night by Kimberly Greeno https://www.etsy.com/listing/259600138/holy-night-christmas-nativity-scene

True God from True God: Lenten Reflection (29)

Scripture for Today: Matthew 1 – 2:12, Luke 1 – 2:26, John 1:1-18

The Gospel of Luke begins with this reason for its writing, “So that you may know the truth about those things which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:4). At least seventy years have passed since the death of Jesus. The young Church is growing to include more people who never met Jesus, and the Gospels serve as written testaments to his life. Following my preceding blog posts, I will explore the stories that align with the claims of the Epistles, the letters written to help form the ideas and behaviors of the people of the Way.

In effect, Luke writes that these are the stories you must know to understand why we believe what we believe and why we do what we do. Using this lens, we will be reflecting on the Gospel passages this week through two questions: What do these stories reveal about the nature of Jesus? Why might the authors have included them in their Gospels?

The birth narratives we read today reveal to us the truth that Jesus is of God. Jesus’ birth is foretold by messengers of the Divine in the form of angels. His name Emmanuel signifies that now God is with us, and he is born under miraculous conditions.

Not only is Jesus Divine — he is of the same God that the Hebrew people worshiped in the Hebrew Bible. The use of the prophetic texts to describe Jesus connect him to the stories we read in the Hebrew Bible, which express a longing for a ruler to come restore Israel. This is their king.

Why was it so important to make clear that Jesus was and is of God?

One, it is vital that the earliest followers, and likewise we today, recognize Jesus as part of the eternal story of God. He is not a new fad: he is The Very God who, from all eternity, has been calling us into right-relationship with God, one another, and creation.

In this light, we can understand the life of Jesus as the incarnate of right-relationship on Earth. His eternal relationship with God, as John’s Gospel names, qualifies him to illuminate the way of God for those of us who have not seen God. Jesus knows intimately the grace written in the letters to the Ephesians, and his life gives us an example of what it might look like if we embodied that grace here on earth.

Prayer: Jesus, may I know you as God.

Reflection: What about the birth narratives struck you? Why might you be drawn to those aspects today?

Art: Holy Night by Kimberly Greeno

More: If I had another reflection, I would share on the power of the story of Mary. If you’re interested in reading a radical sermon on her bravery, I recommend this piece.

Unknown Artist - Referenced http://www.asianchristianart.org/

Heavenly Rest: Lenten Reflection (28)

Scripture for Today: Hebrews 4-5, 10-11

“We spend our lives waiting for our parents to apologize. They spend theirs waiting for a thank you.”

For a long time, my relationship with my father illustrated this quote from the TV show Casual. Although I never doubted my dad’s love, there were times when I didn’t feel it or receive it in the way I needed. This experience of frustration motivated me to create a healthy distance between the two of us. This distance prevented me (and possibly him) from knowing the reciprocal love between us.

When I was in my mid 20s I invited my father to come with me to a Maundy Thursday service during Holy Week. As we knelt at the rail for communion I experienced my dad in a new light. Instead of seeing a man who had failed me, sitting next to me was a man receiving the same grace and gift as me. My heart broke and I wept at that communion rail as I realized in my bones how far the grace of God extends.

“One single sacrifice for all.” 10:12

The practice of communion allows us to understand God’s extension of grace in a real and tangible sense as we experience Jesus’s willingness to suffer with us. He chose not to maintain the security of the divine realm and instead embrace the human condition. In this, he is the great high priest, the one who understands and knows our suffering and can support us and our weaknesses.

In the body and life of Jesus there was a bit of heaven that revealed a deeper understanding of God. That life was marked by suffering: by scars and bruises, by unfulfilled promises and unrealistic expectations, by imperfect ancestors who held to faith alone, by unlawful shootings and forced deportations, by being scorned and excluded.

By suffering.

Our human experience of suffering yokes us not only to him but to one another. And, in communion we are deeply present to suffering in a way that allows us not only to know suffering but also to know the grace that accompanies it.

Prayer: May I know you in suffering.

Reflection: When have you chosen to avoid rather than embrace suffering? What might help you embrace suffering as a pathway to knowing grace?

Art: Unknown Artist – Referenced Here