What If

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 7th Sunday after Pentecost + July 8, 2018

Readings: Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13 

How would you treat yourself differently if you really believed that God is working through you?

Sometimes that can be a very hard thing to believe. We feel comfortable confessing that God is at work in those really exceptional, saintly people: the Mother Theresas or the Pope Francises. Or maybe we’re willing to admit that God might be at work in people with great skills or expertise: brilliant scientists or inspired musicians. Or maybe we are comfortable thinking that God is at work through the powerful people — surely, we might think, it was God who put them in that position, and for a reason. But God working through me? Well, maybe that will happen one day, when I get better at praying or patience or love.

At the ELCA National Youth Gathering last week we heard lots of speakers who shared a similar theme: that God is at work in us and through us, even when we were are at our least saintly or brilliant or powerful. People who had struggled with eating disorders or drug addiction or terrible diagnoses told us about how they felt and saw God working in them even in the midst of their struggle. God never gave up on them, even when they gave up.

Nadia Bolz-Weber — who is probably the ELCA’s most famous pastor; you might know her as that tall lady with tattoos from the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver — may have summarized the theme most powerfully during her sermon to the 30,000 youth gathered together in Houston:

[There’s a] burden that we carry of always knowing the difference between, like, our ideal self and our actual self…But if you think about it, no one’s ever become their ideal self. It’s a moving target. It’s a false promise. Your ideal self is a lie…Your ideal self doesn’t exist. The self that God has a relationship to is your actual self. The self God loves is your actual self. And there’s a word for this, and that word is “grace.”

Martin Luther taught that God’s grace made us — miraculously — sinners and saints at the same time. Yeah, of course we do wrong things and we’re prideful and sometimes mean and whatever our particular flaws might be. But at the same time, the Holy Spirit is in us, forgiving us, leading us, working through us to build God’s kingdom and share God’s love…even though we’re also going to go on being imperfect and un-ideal for our whole lives. Even the most saintly of us.

As a pastor I might be in privileged position to see how true this is. Many of you share your struggles and your hurts and even your weaknesses with me and Pastor Lippard, and I get just a glimpse of what you are struggling with, where you see imperfections in yourself, what your doubts are, how you feel that things aren’t good enough. I get to know that broken side of you. And then I turn around and see God working through you. You’re taking care of someone else here at church; you’re going to St. Paul’s breakfast or helping with Room in the Inn; you’re helping get supplies to victims of hurricanes. I get reminded all the time that God is not waiting for us to get more perfect to bring us on to God’s mission team: God is working in us just as we are, and making us holier along the way. God gives us on-the-job training.

So, how would you treat yourself differently if you really believed that God is working through you? Would you give yourself more grace? Would you feel more empowered to do the work God is calling you to do? Would you let yourself think that you do have something important to offer this world? Would you recognize what you have to offer — great strengths and little skills and even weaknesses — as holy things that God can and does work through?

And then: how would you treat the people around you differently if you could better recognize how God is working through them?

This is closer to the situation we see in today’s Bible readings. In our Old Testament reading, God warns the prophet Ezekiel that God is sending him to rebellious, impudent, and stubborn people. The great majority of them will not take seriously that God is speaking to them through Ezekiel. They’ll refuse to hear his warnings and deny his wisdom. They won’t recognize God at work in him.

In our gospel reading, we see that the people of Jesus’s hometown could recognize Jesus’s wisdom, his miraculous healings (either genuinely or sarcastically)…and yet somehow they could not believe that these things were the work of God. Wasn’t this the kid they’d known his whole life, the guy who used to be a day-laborer down the street? Someone just like them, not someone special. Instead of standing in awe of what Jesus was able to do, they took offense at him. They would not recognize God at work in Jesus.

And then Jesus sent out his disciples, and he warned them that some people would reject them. They would not see God working in that ragtag group of ex-fishermen and ex-tax collectors and ex-rebels.

What stopped all those people from seeing God at work in the people around them — people we now revere as prophets and saints and the Son of God? I mean, those guys were doing miracles: casting out demons and curing the sick and revealing divine truths. Was it that they were, aside from the miracles, just ordinary people?

Was it that the rejecters did not like what Ezekiel and Jesus and the disciples were saying? Was it a pride thing — Who are these guys, to think they’re so special?

But maybe the more important question is: What keeps us from seeing God at work in the people around us? Not that they’re all going to have their names on the calendar of saints one day…but God is at work even in imperfect people. Ordinary, boring people; people who make us mad; people who make our food at restaurants; people we disagree with; people who do obviously bad things; I think even in people who don’t “know” God themselves. Of course not everything everybody does is of God, but I think God is at work somehow in all people.

So: how would you treat the people around you differently if you could better recognize how God is working through them? Would you give them more grace? Would you try harder to understand them? Would you look harder for what God is offering through them?

And then: how would you look at the world differently if you could better recognize that God is working in all sorts of people, in all sorts of places, in all sorts of situations?

For a solid period of time Western Christian missionaries believed that their culture was closer to God’s way than the cultures of the peoples of other lands — even the parts of their culture that really had nothing to do with following Jesus: things like dressing in the same style, taking on the same social customs, listening to the same music, using the same first names. As they sought to win converts to Christianity, they demanded that the converts also turn away completely from their native way of doing things and essentially become foreign Westerners.

Individual missionaries had a whole range of personal experiences in their work, and I’m sure that many of them were changed and inspired and grew as Christians through their encounters with other peoples. But at least at the theoretical level — and often at the practical level, too — it was thought to be the missionaries who carried God to others, and there was little to no reciprocation: they did not go out expecting to see God at work in these other lands, did not expect to be changed or challenged back.

In some ways this idea still persists: we often think of mission or outreach work as one group doing the work of God for another group rather than as something more reciprocal and relational. It takes a lot of thought — and probably some real experience — to be able to see the prisoner ministering back to the chaplain or the homeless man providing something to the Room in the Inn host. And, admittedly, it can still be easy for us to think of Western culture and Christianity as one and the same — for some this is unintentional, because it’s what we’re used to, and we need the reminder that God is already at work in other places and cultures, and has been since ancient times. But for some other people the idea that Christianity is Western culture, that’s a creed they hold on to…and that easily becomes harmful to mission work and to Christianity.

But today many missions groups — including ELCA Global Missions — teach that their work is something more interdependent and mutual. Our Global Missions website talks about how our missionaries work with and among the people they travel to, seek to empower them, build relationships, and open themselves to what they might learn from other people and other cultures.  These missionaries go expecting God to work through them and also expecting to experience God working in others, in the midst of different traditions and styles and histories. As one of our Young Adults in Global Mission put it: “You always hear about ‘brothers and sisters in Christ,’ so that’s not, like, a totally new concept for me…but I’m just really feeling it lived out here.”

How would you look at the world differently if you could better recognize that God is working in all sorts of people, in all sorts of places, in all sorts of situations? What situations would you consider with more grace? What would you try harder to understand? What preconceptions would you have to let go of? What things about the way the world is going would you want to challenge? What new things might God teach you?

Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:1-3)

Sometimes we, like these people from Jesus’s hometown, may fall into the habit of limiting God. We might think, “God can’t be here, or there, in that person, in me.” There might be great teachings. There might be great signs. But for some reason, we can’t quite get ourselves to believe God is working in people or places that don’t seem right or holy enough, that seem too ordinary or too strange. Maybe it’s because of our pride or because of our shame; maybe it’s because we’re too comfortable with what we’re used to, or too uncomfortable with a new experience. But what would change if we did see God working in places we aren’t used to expecting?

What if God is working in all those strange and contentious parts of our world?

What if God is working in the people you see every day?

What if God is working in you?

What then, Child of God? What then?


“Ash Wednesday,” San Francisco, CA, Feb. 6, 2006. Via Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Art in the Christian Tradition





Listening for God? Listen to Others.

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 4th Sunday after Epiphany + January 28, 2018

Readings: Mark 1:21-28; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Our Monday Night Bible Study group has been reading the Gospel of Luke. For months. Very slowly. Very, very slowly. We started back in September, and tomorrow we’ll be reading chapter 10. Well, the first half of chapter 10.

But we’ve been going at such a slow pace for good reason. This gives us the opportunity to really think about each passage: to pay attention to the details of the the story, to trace back to roots in Old Testament passages, to ask any question that pops into our heads from, “What do you think Elijah and Moses said to Jesus during his Transfiguration?” to “Why did Jesus get so crabby with those people?”

A question we come back to over and over is, “What would it have been like to be there?” What would it have been like to see Jesus stand up in the synagogue and declare that he was the messiah promised in the book of Isaiah (Luke 4:16-30)? Would I have believed him, or would I have been part of the crowd ready to throw him off a cliff? What would it have been like to see fishermen abandon their boats and follow him (Luke 5:1-11)? Was something about him so engaging and powerful that he just drew people to leave their lives for him? Would I have been one of them, or would I have just paid attention from afar?

Our gospel reading for this morning, from the Gospel of Mark, inspires questions along those lines. What would it have been like to be there? To hear Jesus teaching “a new teaching — with authority!” The passage doesn’t give us much detail about how exactly Jesus taught, or even what he was teaching at that moment. How would we have recognized his authority? Was it in the way he spoke and held himself? Was it — like some Bible scholars say —  that he just taught on his own merit, not referring back to “what Rabbi so-and-so” said like the scribes did? Was it — as others say — that he was so amazingly genuine, that he proved his teachings by his actions: by his compassion, by his miraculous healings and exorcisms? The people who heard him that day had not been taught that Jesus was the Son of God. He was just a stranger from down in Nazareth. But somehow they recognized — maybe not that God was speaking to them, but at least that this teacher had authority like they had never seen before. How did they know?

Our wondering about these ancient passages comes from the deep longings of our own lives as people trying to know God, to follow Jesus. What would it be like if I could hear God speaking with authority that directly? How do I know what God is trying to teach me today? I want to know what God wants me to do — but nothing feels clear. What I’d give to have Jesus standing in front of me, speaking with such authority that there is no room for question.

Today we usually turn to the Bible as our in-person source of God’s authority. But even with the Bible, things aren’t so clear. This passage seems to point in one direction; this passage in another direction. Or, I heard one pastor interpret a reading this way, and another pastor tell me it meant something different. We hold the Bible to be an authority for us — but we still need an authoritative interpretation. And maybe that’s why so many people flock to churches that emphasize that they “read the Bible literally,” that they know the true interpretation, that they have a clear picture of what God is telling us and what God wants from us. We want to hear something certain, but we find God to be bigger than a simple answer or a single interpretation. God just keeps being mysterious.

As we tune in to what we do have right in front of us — this mess of questions and readings and interpretations — as we tune in, trying to hear the authoritative voice of God, we face the constant danger of shaping God’s will in our own image, of interpreting God’s Word in a way that kind of fits our own desires or expectations of God or the way we were raised. We may do this on a personal level, and it is really hard not to do it on a group level: interpreting God and the scriptures in ways that match the pattern of our culture or the groups we belong to. Like, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the Bible passages American Christians almost never take literally are the ones about giving all your wealth to the poor or to the community. Just like we tend to interpret the news from within the political or ideological bubbles in which we are comfortable, we interpret God’s will from where we are. It’s what comes naturally — but it can be a problem, something that keeps us from more clearly discerning the God who is bigger than us and our groups.

Christians have been doing this around the world for thousands of years, even right after the time of Jesus. Paul wrote the letter which we just read from a few minutes ago, 1 Corinthians, within twenty years of Jesus’s death. Jesus’s closest disciples as well as others who had seen and heard him teach face-to-face were still alive, travelling throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond, sharing their firsthand knowledge of Jesus. But despite being so much closer to Jesus in time and space, these ancient Corinthian Christians had the same problem of thinking God’s will was pretty similar to who they were, what they thought, and how they wanted to live. And Paul had to keep telling them, No, wait, try to think of things from a perspective outside of your own.

We can see that in today’s reading. A group of Corinthian Christians thought among themselves, We know that some of the meat for sale in the market or served up at our friends’ houses has probably been sacrificed to pagan gods. But we know that those gods aren’t real, so it’s not like the sacrifice actually does anything to the meat. It’s totally fine for us to eat that meat like it’s just regular food. The one true God won’t mind.

And Paul wrote to them: Yes, that all makes sense, but have you considered what you eating sacrificial meat might look like to others? Some of your Christian siblings – newly converted from their pagan beliefs — are so used to these sacrifices being important, so used to thinking that food has been changed now that it’s part of that ritual, that they can’t help but see you as participating in pagan worship when you eat it. God might be ok with you eating the meat, but God’s not ok with you confusing others in the Church, maybe leading them in the wrong direction, to think that going back to their old ways is ok. Actually what Paul wrote was more extreme: “But when you thus sin against members of your family…you sin against Christ.”

In another part of the letter, Paul criticizes the wealthier members of the church for the way they celebrated Holy Communion (which back then was more like a meal). You sit down and eat your food, Paul wrote, which seems fine to you. But did you notice the rest of the church? Others can’t afford what you have. Or they’re still working for their small portion while you’re already free to sit down and feast. So “one goes hungry [while another has so much to eat and drink that he] becomes drunk.” It’s humiliating for those who have so little. And it’s completely ignoring the whole point of Communion: to come together as one body, sharing what the Lord has given.  Again Paul wrote in strong language: “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body [meaning the church, the Body of Christ, the community], eat and drink judgement against themselves” (1 Cor. 11:17-34).

In both of these examples, Paul told subgroups or cliques within the Corinthian church to look to the wider church community to better discern what the will of God might be. By forcing cliques of Corinthians to imagine how another might see things, or feel, or what another person’s life was like compared to their own, Paul helped them see how God’s will might be different than what they could discern from within their bubble. After all, God’s plan, God’s care, encompasses all people — and so God’s will must surely take into account all those perspectives and experiences. Paul reminded them, over and over: You are one with a bigger, more diverse group of people than you realize. And keeping with the understanding of God shown through Israel’s holy stories and prophets and Jesus himself, Paul always assumed that God will would lean toward the needs of those who were more vulnerable, more in need.

These examples remind us of something we easily forget: the Bible is not the only authority left to us now that Jesus has ascended. Jesus’s physical body is gone, but God has given us the mystical Body of Christ, the Church. That doesn’t mean the hierarchy or the rulings of denominations; the Body of Christ means our one-ness in Christ, the holy way that we belong to Christ, and how through Christ we belong to one another in a holy way. Not just the “one another” we experience in-person here at St. Andrew or with other friends; but the “one another” that, in Christ, connects us with the Church around the world: with other denominations, with Black churches, with churches in other countries, with people wealthier and poorer, with people facing famine and war, with people facing racism and sexism, with people facing apathy and self-centeredness.

God has made us one with a bigger, more diverse group of people than we sometimes realize. God has made us responsible to a bigger, more diverse group of people than we sometimes realize. That responsibility to one another is a voice of authority in our lives, and it is another way that God speaks to us today.

We have to work out God’s will for our lives situation by situation, leaning on all the means God uses to speak to us: the teachings of Jesus, the Bible as a whole, the traditions of the Church, the experiences of our lives, and the Body of Christ. And as we learn to better “discern the Body of Christ,” to consider a wider circle of people and their perspectives and understandings, we will be less constrained by our own image, and better able to discern the Word of the God of all Creation.

The Christmas Story Gets Complicated

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 1st Sunday of Christmas + December 31, 2017

Reading: Luke 2:22-40

Merry Christmas! This is, according to the church calendar, the seventh day of Christmas; and according to song, it’s the day to give someone you love seven swans-a-swimming. Today is also the first and last Sunday of this year’s Christmas season, so this is our last opportunity to sing Christmas carols during worship. (By the way, your worship planning team tried to pack in as many as possible). And it’s the last time we will gather together to read a story of the sweet baby Jesus.

On Christmas Eve we heard the story of the birth of Jesus, heralded by the familiar, joyful words of the angel: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” And the angel chorus chimed in, “Peace on earth!” (Luke 2:8-14).

And I’m sure you’ve been seeing and hearing those words not only in church, but printed on Christmas cards, swirling in pretty script around pictures of bright stars or snowy trees or a children’s nativity play where, miraculously, all the children are in the right places and standing still. You’ve probably heard the angels quoted in Christmas songs and at the end of Christmas movies and — whether Jesus would have liked it or not — in advertisements for Christmas sales. The angels’ words are happy tidings that we like to hear over and over again.

In today’s gospel we hear words that also bear the joy of the Christmas season: the song Simeon sang when he finally saw this month-old baby who would grow up to be the messiah. From ancient times the church has loved these joyful words, too; since the 4th century they have been sung in worship, especially in evening prayer services. “Lord, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

And yet right after this joyful song Simeon switched tone as abruptly as a record scratch or a bishop’s microphone falling down in the middle of a Christmas Eve sermon.

After his song Simeon turned to Mary and said mysteriously, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Simeon’s song settles us into that joyful, peaceful Christmas spirit — and then this prophecy jolts us with shadows of the anger and opposition Jesus will face, shadows of the hypocrisy that Jesus will call out, shadows of the cross and Mother Mary feeling her soul pierced as she watches the execution of her firstborn son.

Do you remember the way you learned history in elementary school? The major events of the past were turned into simple stories, usually with happy endings: Columbus finally won the support of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and so “in fourteen-hundred-ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue” on the “Nina and the Pinta and the Santa Maria, three little itty bitty ships that’s who,” and discovered America! Yay!

Then, as we get older, we learn that history is always more complicated, and usually a lot darker too. We learn that a few other Europeans had been to the Americas before Columbus. We learn that among the fruits of Columbus’s discovery was the enslavement of native peoples and, arguably, their genocide. And maybe the story is tinged by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s leadership in the bloody Spanish Inquisition. In any case we find out that there’s a lot more going on in the story than we sang in our children’s songs, more opinions on what happened, and much we don’t really want to sing about.

Today’s gospel reading takes us through a similar arc of realization, from simple, happy Christmas story to the knowledge that Jesus’s story will be more complicated and a lot darker than we want to think about as we celebrate his birth.

It’s an important reminder: Jesus’s mission was and is more complicated than our Christmas carols or Sunday school lessons. I think it is also more complicated than what we usually proclaim as the basic gospel message: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

First of all I want to affirm: that message is at the core of the Christian faith. In an eternal way, and a way that should free us from fear and from our enslavement to guilt and anxiety, we do not have to fear God’s judgment; instead we can trust and rest in God’s grace and forgiveness and love. Hold on to that promise above all.

At the same time, we can see in Jesus’s ministry that his mission was not only about the fate of our souls or what happens when we die. Jesus’s message and ministry changed the everyday lives of the people he met. He healed the sick. He gave hope to those who were suffering. He fed people who were hungry. And his forgiveness meant not only being made right with God, but it also meant that those outcast for their sins were welcomed into a community.

But as he worked to save people from suffering or from sin, his message could get difficult to bear. Working for the good of the oppressed, he publicly called out the leaders for their mistreatment of the people (e.g. Luke 20:45-47). Working for the good of the individual people he met, he pointed out their need to change their ways: to Simon the Pharisee he said, “You have not been nearly as generous as this woman you call a sinner” (Luke 7:36-49); to the rich young man he said, “give everything you own to the poor and follow me,” (Mark 10:17-27); he physically threw the money-changers out of the Temple (Luke 19:45-48).

Saving people from sin in the here-and-now meant offering forgiveness; it also meant that “the inner thoughts of many would be revealed,” that Jesus would help people see the pride or the greed or the prejudice or whatever sin they clung to, made excuses for, overlooked…and pry them away from it and into a new way of living. Salvation was not always a pleasant process, and that is why Jesus became, “a sign to be opposed.”

Jesus continues this complicated work today. The message and work of salvation are more than the warm-and-fuzzy message of a Christmas greeting card or the bumper sticker that reminds you, “He died for you.” Salvation comes when we find relief from anxiety in trusting our prayers to God; salvation also comes when we feel challenged to change our ways.

And if you have trouble seeing that or believing that Jesus is still at work today: remember that God gave the Church to be the Body of Christ. We don’t have to look for Jesus’s presence only in big, in-your-face miracles; Jesus works the many ministries of salvation through us. God’s forgiveness is at work when we forgive one another; God’s acceptance is at work when we welcome visitors. God’s healing is at work in doctors and nurses, in the food we bring to those who are sick, in the communion we bring to those who are homebound.

God’s challenge may be at work when we hear another person’s point of view; when we advocate with those who are suffering; when we are called out for something we have done wrong.

Don’t wait for something simple or miraculous to realize that God is at work. Look around you at this complicated, sometimes dark, world — God has always worked in this kind of place, in these kind of times, in ways that are hard to see and understand, in ways that are frustrating and difficult. So look for God right here. And together, in the midst of all this mess, we can find our way to that message of faith and joy: “…my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” Joy to the world. Amen.



Keep Awake

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 1st Sunday of Advent + December 3, 2017

Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37

This Wednesday I felt like just about every conversation with other human beings started by jumping right into the particularly hot topic of current events right now: the ever-growing list of famous men who have been accused of sexual harassment. Their names came up while I talked with people waiting to see Jolene; they came up while a few of us got to know our new nursery attendant; they came up while we were gathering for our Worship Planning meeting. And then I got home, and a friend came over for dinner, and started the conversation with, “Did you hear about Garrison Keillor?” And I wanted to scream “Yes, I heard, and I know, but I’m hungry and I don’t want to think about all these guys anymore!”

And while some of the particular men being accused may surprise us, or some of the details of the stories of harassment may be particularly gross and shocking, most of the people I’ve spoken with — especially the women — have not been surprised by the high number of incidents or people involved. And that’s because we all already knew that harassment and abuse happen all the time. It’s a fact of life; it’s been a fact of life for pretty much ever, and unfortunately I think most women are used to just putting up with it. Until very, very recently, it was hard to imagine anything changing, even if we did speak up; it was hard to imagine even being taken seriously. For many of us, I bet it’s still hard to imagine any change happening in our own circles. And for those of us who took deeply to heart the childhood lessons to “not be rude” or “not cause a fuss,” it’s hard to imagine actually complaining or accusing, anyway.

In life in general when we feel “that’s the way it’s always been,” or “that’s just how it is,” it’s hard to imagine any change, and even harder to try to be the one doing the changing. And often we don’t even see the need for change, because we’ve only ever known things the way they are. It’s “the water we swim in”; we take it for granted; we don’t think about it. We just live in it.

But we are entering a Church season where we look towards radical, foundation-shaking change. Today is the first Sunday of Advent. This is the season of the church year that leads us to feel our deepest longings: longings for the “way things have always been” to change. Longings for God to send a prophet or messiah to break apart all that tells us “that’s just how it is” and to bring about real justice and real rightness and real peace. Longings for even Godself to disrupt our world: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!”

As we begin this season of praying that God would come and disrupt “the way it’s always been,” maybe it’s helpful for us to enter Advent acknowledging that we, as a whole, have such a strong tendency to let things go on the way they are going, to let things be “the way they have always been.” There are a huge range of reasons why we do this, from just not thinking about it, to believing we can’t change anything anyway, and all the way to recognizing that we benefit from the way things are and fighting to keep them this way. In any case, we tend to preserve the way things are, to “go with the flow,” even if it’s not good for others, sometimes even if it’s not good for ourselves.

So maybe it’s helpful for us that right now, as Advent begins, our news sources don’t go five minutes without reminding us that we have lived in the habit of overlooking or hiding harassment and assault all this time. Maybe that will help us to notice some of the other things we put up with or let keep on going that we shouldn’t, whether those are other society-wide things, or unhealthy patterns within your friends or family groups, or personal habits you’ve let slide for too long.

Advent is a time to remember that God wants change, that we need change. Things aren’t going to stay the way they are: God is coming, and God is going to shake things up.

In today’s gospel lesson we read of how Jesus told his disciples that the great day was approaching: the day when God’s messiah would come into the world and change everything, knocking away everything contrary to God’s will. Some of the images he used were disturbing: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light…” But at the heart of Jesus’s message here is a promise: God will gather God’s people together. Things seem awful and scattered and violent now, but God will make them okay. The messiah is coming, and he will make things good and right and just.

In the meantime, Jesus said, while you wait, do not go about business as usual. Do not fall into the patterns of the world as it is. “Beware, keep alert…keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: keep awake.”

In this passage Jesus reminds me of a character in the Harry Potter series, Professor “Mad-Eye” Moody, and his catchphrase: “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!”

With Jesus it is the promise of God’s coming that calls us to constant vigilance: Keep awake, be on the lookout for the promise to come true. Watch — always watch — for the moment when God does “tear open the heavens and come down,” when God comes to change all the awful ways things “have always been”, when God establishes God’s perfect kingdom. We aren’t living for “the way things have always been” or for the way things are — we are living forward, towards that promise.

The emphasis in our gospel lesson is on something big and final: that future event we call the Last Day or Judgment Day or the Apocalypse. But Jesus’s command here – “Keep awake!” — doesn’t have to be only about that one day.

Because as we are keeping our eyes peeled open for the messiah’s return, watching out for the signs that it’s finally happening, our constant vigilance will help us catch onto what God is already doing here and now. With our eyes wide open, we might see past “the way things have always been” to the way things could be, the way God wants them to be. We might see the ways God is already here, already pulling apart the things in our world that cause (or allow) suffering and injustice and evil.

God is at work in the testimony of those who are suffering (Listen.); in the efforts of those trying to change things for the better (Watch.); in the little voice in the back our heads that says, “This isn’t right; God wants things to be different than this. Better than this.” (Pay attention.) We need to keep awake, keep alert, so that God can pull us past our habit of accepting the way things are and into a future built on God’s promises, God’s vision for the world.


“Judgment Day” (painting), Aaron Douglas, 1939. Via Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Art in the Christian Tradition

During Lent we often choose to give something up or take something on as a way to challenge ourselves for that season: to try and rid ourselves of a bad habit, or encourage a good one; to become more aware of others’ suffering or to make a bigger place for God in our lives.

As we begin Advent, let’s take Jesus’s words here — “Keep awake! Keep alert!” — as inspiration for an Advent practice. From now until Christmas, is there something you can give up that would help you be more aware the need for change in our world and more alert to God’s work around you? Is there a practice you could take on that would help you to know God more or to remember to look for God around you? In the midst of this busy time, full of planning and parties and buying presents and travelling, is there one thing you can do to keep God at the center, to keep yourself grounded in God’s work, to not get distracted or lulled by the ways of the world, but to keep alert for the promises of God?

Think and pray about it for a moment now.

Let us pray.

God for whom we wait and watch: keep our eyes open for moments when you break into our usual way of doing things, moments when you come bringing good news, healing, and salvation. Open our hearts to receive you and the Word you bring, whether it be a word of comfort or of challenge. Strengthen us for service in your mission, until your kingdom comes in full and your will is done on earth as it is in heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

The Saints All Around Us (People can be “Thin Places”)

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + All Saints Sunday + November 5, 2017

Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

There’s an old Celtic saying — or at least the internet says there is –that goes like this: “Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places the distance is even shorter.”[1] I’ve mentioned thin places from this ambo before: thin places are spots on this earth that make us feel that God, the divine, the beyond are closer to us in that spot than everywhere else. Mountains rising up out of the misty ground to break into the sky. The crystal-blue ocean reaching out past the horizon.


Cathedral of Christ the Light, Omega Window: Oakland, CA. Craig W. Hartman (architect). Via Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Art in the Christian Tradition.

As I looked toward today, All Saints Sunday, I started to think of how people can be “thin places” too; in a moment of interaction or through a lifetime of love and service, they make God feel a little bit nearer. Or maybe they help us realize how near God always is.

If we look back over history, there’s a strong record of the powerful people — kings or high priests and the like — being portrayed as thin places. And maybe we can get into that mindset: imagine living in an ancient or medieval world, with no TVs or photographs to show you a world outside your own, in a peasant village where everyone around you is poor like you. But maybe you don’t even think of yourself as poor, because that’s all you know; this is just how life is. But then this grand figure you’ve only heard about in stories — the king — passes by your village. He’s surrounded by people wearing beautiful colors and shining armor, and he is the shiniest of them all, riding a high horse, the gold crown on his head glinting with light like the sun itself. You’ve never seen anything like it before, and maybe you never will again. It’s a glimpse of a world beyond your own. Maybe you would feel like you’ve caught a glimpse of something a little closer to the divine than your daily life.

At the very least, the powerful have often claimed to be closer to the divine. Kings and queens were said to be chosen by God to rule. And since the most ancient times rulers have declared themselves to actually be divine. This was going on at the time of Jesus, too: Julius Caesar was declared to be a god after his death, and his successor, Caesar Augustus, who ruled during the first half of Jesus’s life, claimed the title “son of god.”

In the modern United States, with our rejection of royalty and the aristocracy and the divine right to rule, with our emphasis on democracy and the power of the people, we may think we are beyond all that. But a connection between God and certain classes of people has taken different forms in our history. To justify racist institutions like slavery and segregation, scholars declared that black people were descendants of Noah’s cursed son, and so they carried God’s curse and deserved to be treated as less than white people; or, more dramatically, some people argued that black people were not descendants of Adam and Eve at all. Through teachings like these, white people were seen as more closely aligned with God.[2]

In other ways God is still associated with the wealthy. People flock to hear the prosperity gospel, which promises that God will give the faithful material wealth. With that worldview it becomes easy to imagine that wealthy people are the chosen people of God. That idea exists in more subtle ways, too: as a culture we idolize wealth and the wealthy, and we tend to look on poor people as being wrong or immoral, somehow deserving their lot in life.

Throughout history the divine has been associated with the rich and powerful. After all, they are so obviously blessed, they must be specially connected to God.

But Jesus taught something different: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Or, the Gospel of Luke’s version (Luke 6:20-26), “Blessed are the poor.”) “Blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek…blessed are the merciful…blessed are those who are persecuted.” These are the people who live close to God’s heart; these are the people through whom we can catch glimpses of the divine, of a world beyond our own. Not through the rich and powerful and proud, but through the poor and the poor in spirit. Not through those who seem to have been blessed with everything they need, but through those who mourn deep losses. Not through those loved and adored by everyone, but through those who are persecuted and rejected.

Once again, God is popping up in places where we wouldn’t logically expect to find God’s blessing; God is popping up beside and within the people we least expect.

This passage, these teachings of Jesus, have the power to turn our world and our values upside-down. They also have the power to transform our most painful experiences. When we experience loss, we are not being punished by God or abandoned by God; but rather in those times we should look for how God is drawing close to us, to bless us, because we are in pain, and God knows we need that blessing so much. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice in our world, hunger and thirst so deeply that we grow weary with it, we should not abandon hope and believe we are living in a godless world; rather we should believe that God is there with us, blessing our hunger and thirst for righteousness; believing, in the words of our Communion liturgy: “our hunger and thirst for justice is [God’s] own desire.”[3]

At the very least, this teaching of Jesus, these blessings of the unexpected, everyday, even suffering people, should open our eyes to see God in the people around us — to find in our everyday interactions moments where that thin boundary between the ordinary and the divine gets even thinner.

A couple of Sundays ago, Spencer Lau, one of the elementary students in our congregation (you might know him and his little brother, Oliver, as the boys always hugging everybody)…A couple of Sundays ago Spencer was in pain in his knee and in a few other places, and he was hurting enough that he didn’t want have to process in with the children’s choir, and so he sat in the choir loft before worship started, waiting there for the rest of the choir to join him. I passed by him on the way to put on my robe and stopped to check in about how he was doing. I told him I would say his name during the prayers, and he promised me, “I’ll say your name, too.” When the time came for the prayers of intercession, and the assisting minister said, “…and these we name now, out loud or in our hearts,” Spencer and I — without planning this part at all — both opened our eyes, looked at each other across the room, and mouthed each others names. That moment became a thin place for me — a moment where I felt God brush against me through shared prayer with Spencer.

Those “thin place” moments can come to us through another person — not just in church, but any time, anywhere, if we open our eyes to see them. Maybe part of the reason Jesus said that people who are suffering — the poor, the mourning, the persecuted — are blessed is because in their suffering they are so desperate to see God that they have their eyes open as wide as they can go — and they are more likely to see God close by. They are so hungry for God’s touch that they find it in the care of a nurse or the kind words of a stranger on a hospital elevator. May we remember to open our eyes so wide, even in our times of contentment.

All Saints’ Sunday may be a perfect day to begin this holy practice of keeping our eyes wide open to see God through one another. Today we remember the saints of our Church and our lives, especially the people we know and love who have died. These people were ordinary people, like us, and yet as we remember them today, we look back to remember the moments in which they were also saints, the ways in which they made thin places for the rest of us to feel God’s presence in a special way.

We remember Josette Starkey’s gifts of faith, caring, and nurturing — shown in our church in so many ways, including her leadership of the prayer shawl ministry. We remember Thelma Lockhart’s ministry of teaching and Lewis Lockhart’s brave service to our country in World War II. We remember Dominick Santarpia’s dedication to his family and his work. We remember Art Lebahn’s ever-present smile, his inspiring faith, and his service to his neighbors through ministries like Meals on Wheels. We remember Alex Brown’s dedication to researching cancer and to the students he mentored. We remember John Lillie’s years of service to his communities through board leadership and fundraising. Those of us who knew them well remember them in more detail, in specific memories, in the ways they touched our lives in particular. And I’m sure that on this day each of us is reflecting on others gone from this world but still close to our hearts.

Even their memory may be for us a thin place which helps to remember how we experienced God’s touch through them.

Often I end sermons by encouraging you all to go into the world and help others experience God’s love through you. Today I tell you the opposite: when you are sent from this place, go into your week with your eyes wide open, looking for the thin places where God feels especially close. Look for God and God’s blessing even where you least expect it: in the poor in spirit, the suffering, the meek; in a stranger, in someone vastly different from you in look or culture or opinion; in your own moments of hurt. Seek, and you shall find. Amen.

[1] Eric Weiner, “Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer,” The New York Times, March 9, 2012. Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/travel/thin-places-where-we-are-jolted-out-of-old-ways-of-seeing-the-world.html

[2] Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, (New York: Nation Books, 2017).

[3] Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Great Thanksgiving option VII. Cf. Evangelical Lutheran Worship Leader’s Desk Edition, (Minneapolis, Augsburg Fortress, 2006) p. 202. The line comes originally from

God Wants to be Found

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 6th Sunday of Easter + May 21, 2017

Readings: Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

A few days ago I attended a luncheon, and the coordinators had arranged a “pastors table” — either so that we could “network” or to keep us contained, like a spin-off on the “children’s table” at nice family get-togethers. Maybe both: because even small talk and networking among pastors tends to hover around some generally unusual topics: all the best Bible jokes from seminary; whether we’d prefer to officiate a wedding or a funeral; memories from visits to our people in the hospital.

In one of those conversations, about visiting people in the hospital, a retired United Methodist pastor shared some of his wisdom with me. The times when people are facing illness or injury, he said, are often the times when we feel most connected to the holy. He told me that a question he liked to ask people while they were going through a difficult time was “How have you seen God during this time?”

He shared some of the answers he remembered, and I thought of some of the ways our people have answered that question, even without me asking it directly. I think the most common answer would be that people feel God working through the special care of nurses, who provide not only information and medical attention, but also comfort and kindness when they are most needed; in fact I heard a nurse described as “an angel of God” just last week. People talk about feeling more sure of God’s care for them as they hear that friends and congregations all across the country are praying for them. People talk about times when someone shared a Bible verse with them, and that verse was so well-tuned to their situation that the gift of that verse at that moment must have been a “God thing.”

In the midst of my conversation with that retired pastor, I thought of one story in particular: one morning, when our late sister Josette Starkey was going in for a chemotherapy treatment, her hope running low, she got on the elevator to find a man with a big box of chocolate-frosted donuts. Donut Guy was the only man on an elevator full of women, all of whom were no doubt in some kind of stress, being in the hospital and all. And it turns out he had more donuts than he needed, so donut guy did the most saintly thing possible: he offered donuts to all those hospital elevator-riders. Josette said, “Oh, I’ve been craving a donut for days! Thank you!” and instantly became the happiest woman in Williamson County. She ate that donut like it was food sent down from heaven, and then she told every other chemo patient, every receptionist, every nurse about that donut as if it were the gospel. Whether he knew it or not, Donut Guy became a bearer of God’s presence that day — just by reaching out to people in a dark place and offering them a little light and a little kindness.

There’s a phrase that comes down to us from the Celtic tradition — “thin places” — which is used to describe the places where the wall or the distance between heaven and earth, between the everyday and the mystical, between the secular and the sacred — where that “between” barrier feels thinner. Places where it feels like we can almost see through into the invisible realm of the holy, where it feels like we could almost reach out our hand and touch God.

One travel writer described the power of thin places like this:

“[Experiencing] thin places does not necessarily lead to anything as grandiose as a ‘spiritual breakthrough,’ whatever that means, but it does disorient. It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. Either way, we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world…”[1]

“Thin places” was originally used to describe physical locations: mesmerizing places like a mountain peak rising out of the mist at dawn, or the ocean reaching out forever towards the horizon. But, I think, thin places can also come to us: moments when an everyday place suddenly becomes a thin place where we feel God nearer to us than usual. Suddenly we find ourselves in a thin place: there in the pew during worship; at the kitchen sink while praying; in an elevator.

Even painful, confusing, difficult places can become thin places; even hospital rooms and chemo sessions and bedside goodbyes. In fact maybe those painful moments are most likely to become thin places, because in those times we are so desperate for God that it opens our eyes to see God anywhere we can: even in things as ordinary as a phone call from friend or a man with a box of donuts.

I think that God wants to be found so readily all the time. And that seems to be one of the messages Paul preaches to the philosophers of Athens in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

You know how a lot of writing teachers will say, “Show, don’t tell?” Well, Paul shows his listeners that God is available to be found by all people — that God wants to be found by all people. He does this by telling these philosophers how the God he’s been preaching about can be found in their own philosophy and traditions. He says he found an altar in the city dedicated “to an unknown god,” and then he says, “Well, I do know about this God. Let me tell you.”

And even when he’s using that altar to talk about the God that would have been best called the God of Israel or the God of Jesus (especially at that time) — he uses the philosophers’ understanding of the divine, not the Bible or the story of Jesus, to explain who that God is. Many of his listeners would have agreed that the God who created the world was not contained in the idols or accurately described by the old Greek myths; Paul’s listeners were already on board with the idea that God beyond all of that.[2] In fact Paul’s sermon is constantly referencing and quoting a poem by a Greek poet.[3]

So first Paul shows his listeners how God is already there in their own traditions, wanting them to know God; and then Paul says it explicitly: the God I’ve been preaching about is the same God you talk about and think about. Not the God of one specific people, but the God who created all people, the God who hopes that all people “would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’, as even some of your own poets have said.”

The message I get from Paul’s ancient sermon is that God is not contained somewhere, but rather God is everywhere, among all people, waiting and hoping and longing to be found — calling out to all people.

Of course the frustrating thing about God not being contained — say, in a body we can talk to and audibly hear from — is that it’s much harder to believe God is present when we can’t see God or know exactly where God is. Would we rather have “thin places” and “in [God] we live and move and have our being,” or would we rather be able to approach God in physical form, see God, hear God respond to us, feel God’s physical touch?

As one scholar put it: When Jesus, in his farewell speech, promised the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to them after he died, the disciples may have felt like they were getting a raw deal. Yeah, a spirit who advocates and comforts is great — but we’d much rather have you, Jesus. We can hear you. We can touch you. We can know you.[4]

 That’s why that question from the United Methodist pastor can be so helpful: “How have you seen God?” That’s different than “What do you know about God?” or “Can you feel God in your heart?” or — heaven forbid — “What is the nature of God?”

How have you seen God? — That question makes us think about concrete experiences we’ve had which have communicated God’s presence to us. Almost like sacraments — something physical and everyday that gives us a little taste of God’s love and care — or maybe of God’s guidance or judgement or redirection.

And the stories we tell as we answer that question should remind us of something: God is not contained, but God is embodied — in us. As the Holy Spirit works in us, we become physical conveyers of God’s presence for others. As we care for the sick or the lonely, as we rake someone else’s leaves, as we provide food and a place to rest for people experiencing homelessness, as we share our donuts — we embody God’s presence for one another.

God wants to be found by all people, and shows Godself in all of creation — including in us.

[1] Eric Weiner, “When Heaven and Earth Come Closer,” The New York Times, March 9, 2012. Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/travel/thin-places-where-we-are-jolted-out-of-old-ways-of-seeing-the-world.html Accessed May 19, 2017.

[2] Riemer Faber, “The Apostle and the Poet: Paul and Aratus,” Clarion Vol. 42, No. 13 (1993); available online http://spindleworks.com/library/rfaber/aratus.htm Updated February 3, 2013; accessed May 22, 2017.

[3] Aratus, “Phaenomena.” Available online http://www.theoi.com/Text/AratusPhaenomena.html Accessed May 22, 2017.

[4] Matt Skinner on Working Preacher’s Sermon Brainwave podcast (SB541, Sixth Sunday of Easter: May 13, 2017).

In Moments of Chaos: Where Do We Go From Here?

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + Third Sunday of Easter + April 30, 2017

Reading: Luke 24:13-35

Last weekend I was away at a conference entitled, “Confronting Chaos, Forging Community.” That title came from a book written by Martin Luther King, Jr.; his last book, in fact, written in 1967, the year before he was assassinated. By that time the Civil Rights Movement had seen many successes: a new Civil Rights Act had passed in 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race when it came to hiring people for jobs, ending segregation in schools and other public places, and protecting voting rights for African-Americans and others who faced discrimination. Another victory had come in 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which did even more to tear down laws and practices that kept people from the polls based on their race.

And so in 1967 the Rev. Dr. King took one of his few real breaks from the movement, retiring for the months of January and February to an island in Jamaica with only his wife and two close friends and co-workers. No telephone. No cameras. Just time and space to reflect on the state of things in U.S. society. African-Americans still faced resistance to their demands for equality, and they would need to work to ensure that the new laws were enforced. Black nationalism was on the rise, and King condemned its militarism and its cry for black separatism. Poverty was growing among all the races. The Vietnam War was going on and on. There was still so much work to do. His reflections and plan for the future were published in that last book, entitled Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?[1]

 Back in around 33 A.D. Jesus’s disciples may have been asking themselves that same question in the days after Jesus’s crucifixion. They, too, had seen a number of victories during their time with the Jesus movement: They’d seen Jesus heal lepers and blind men and people who had never been able to walk. They’d seen a few fish and loaves of bread feed a crowd of thousands. They’d heard promises of good news for the poor and food for the hungry and God’s love for the least of us, even the most obvious of sinners. They’d seen a wandering preacher from Nazareth enter the capitol city to waving palm branches and cries of “Hosanna!”; they’d seen him enter the Temple, overturn the tables of moneylenders, and call out the hypocrisy and greed of certain religious leaders. They saw in this man the whole kingdom of God setting foot on the ground with them.

And then chaos. The betrayal. The arrest. The mockery and torture. The crucifixion. Hopelessness.

And then more chaos. Stories of a missing body and of angels proclaiming resurrection.

So maybe we can imagine those two disciples of Jesus, walking on the road to Emmaus on the Sunday after the crucifixion and “talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” Where do we go from here? they may have been asked each other. Do we just go back to our old lives? Is that even an option? Do we try to keep doing the work Jesus started, or is that pointless now? Do we give in to the chaos, or do we try to hang on to our community?

 And that is one of those moments where an ancient Bible story just plugs right into our modern-day lives. The details may be vastly different, but I’m sure we all know what it’s like to face down a moment of chaos. Sitting with our hearts pounding in an emergency room waiting area. Suddenly losing a job, and thinking only “Now what?” Break-ups or divorce or fights with family and friends. We could each make our own lists of the times we’ve thought, helplessly, “Where do we go from here?”

As the two disciples on the road to Emmaus asked those questions, a stranger began walking with them — and though they didn’t recognize him, we know that stranger was Jesus. They told him about the chaos of the last few days, of their hope and faith in the prophet Jesus of Nazareth, and of how their own religious leaders had condemned him to death. Jesus the Stranger let them tell the story of their chaos, and then he turned them to scripture.

There are lots of ways to tell the overarching story of our scriptures. I wonder if at that moment, Jesus told the story like this:

God always creates something good out of chaos. You two may have expected a straightforward story of a savior: the messiah coming like a superhero to right all the wrongs and champion the “little people,” winning a clean, easy victory. But look back at our scriptures. God is always working through the mess of this world.

“In the beginning…the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters…” and from that chaos God created all this world (Gen. 1:1-2).

God saved the people of Israel from slavery and led them to the promised land; but it was not straightforward or easy; it was through plague and through the sea, through forty years in the wilderness where the people groaned and complained and almost lost faith.

David was God’s chosen king, and God gave him wisdom and prosperity and a great legacy, but even David sometimes cried out in psalms: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1).

God’s people were exiled from the promised land and from their homes, but God continued to send them prophets, and the people became more established in their faith and their culture and their community during that exile.

The prophets spoke of both God’s judgement and God’s mercy. And they spoke honestly about how those who were faithful and committed to the work of God would face suffering at the hands of this world — maybe most notably in the haunting words of the Songs of the Suffering Servant, found in the writings of the prophet Isaiah:

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.

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 (Isaiah 53:8-9).

Doesn’t all this sound so much like the life and death of your prophet Jesus of Nazareth? “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Can’t you understand that God is still working through the crucified one? Can’t you believe that chaos does not mean that God abandoned you?


Supper at Emmaus, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1628). From Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Art in the Christian Tradition.

Of course we can hear those Bible stories and those promises over and over again; we can hear about how God has worked in the lives of others in our own time; and we can believe all of that with all our hearts and minds and souls — and still in our own moments of chaos, it can be hard to actually see God there with us amidst our pain and confusion. It can be hard to see much of anything through the chaos.

The same was true for those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize the risen Jesus when he began to walk with them. They did not recognize him as he spoke with them or interpreted the scriptures for them. It was not until he did that physical act of breaking the bread and giving them that food that they realized he had been there with them all along.

We also need such physical, touchable acts to help us know that God is with us in our moments of chaos. This is why we break bread together here at church each week during Holy Communion. This is why we touch water to our foreheads to remember the promise of our baptism. And this is why we bring meals to one another when we are in mourning, why we visit one another in the hospital, why we reach out to comfort one another with a smile or a hug or a card. This is why we serve and speak up for those Jesus served and spoke up for: the hungry, the poor, the suffering, the sinner. God works through all those actions to remind those who need to hear it most: you are not alone and good will be resurrected from the chaos.

In the midst of our moments of chaos we need to go to our community and to seek Christ in one another. As we confront our chaos and forge our community, we realize that Christ has been with us all along and that God will lead us on.

[1]”Where Do We Go From Here (1967),” Martin Luther King, Jr. and The Global Freedom Struggle, online: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia_contents.html Accessed 27 April 2017.