Friday, January 27, 2023

A sermon about choices, binoculars, magnets and following Jesus (1.22.23)


We give a lot of weight to the power of our choice. Obviously choices matter—where we live, what work or career we pursue, who our friends are, how we treat people, of course these choices matter. But I notice that when we obsess over our choices, we start to imagine that if we just make the right decisions, if we just do the right things, we will be able to per-fect life or, in a sense, even save ourselves from the worst.  For some of us, this can even look like, if we just give enough money, if we just volunteer for this organization, if we just pray clearly enough, God will smile on us, love us, grant our every wish, save us.  

In 1843 Senator Henry Clay used the phrase “self-made man” to describe people whose success lay within them and didn’t come from outside sources. It has become sort of an archetype.  (We’re challenging this in society, but the psychology of it still runs deep). In the 1950s, some historians say that the definition of success was a successful businessman who had made it. 

We do have an awful lot of control over our lives—or we think we do until someone gets an unexpected diagnosis or laid off or something in life goes off the rails. 

In today’s bible story, Jesus runs into four guys on the beach--fishermen—and they are presented with a choice. It’s one with pretty life altering possibilities. Jesus says to them, “follow me. And I will make you fishers of people.”  “Immediately.” The story says, “They left everything and followed him.” 

How immediate does immediately mean? Did they take five minutes or even an hour to think it through? Whatever it was, it seems like they all made the right choice.  After all, they come up all over the gospels as disciples and as key players in the story so they must have done the right thing. 

As we look at how it all this played out, we wonder, yikes, could we do that?  Drop our nets, drop it all and leave everything?  I read this story in a bible study with some members from here at church about a few weeks ago and one of the questions in the resource I was using was “do you think you could have dropped everything and followed Jesus?”  Needless to say, no one jumped in with a resounding YES!  

All four of the brothers jumped on the Jesus’ bandwagon and followed that day at the beach.  And many of us give them a lot of credit for being so bold and courageous.  So extraordinary. “I couldn’t do that…” we think. “They gave up so much.”  Especially James and John. 

While Peter and Andrew were probably more economically stretched—they threw their nets into the water from the beach hoping to catch something--James and John had a boat that they took out to work on the sea. And fancy nets. And a dad, Zebedee, who worked with them and who was probably set to give them the family business some day.  That was a lot to walk away from. But they just did it, there’s no analysis of their decision. There’s no circling back a few chapters later in the story to see if any of them had followers-remorse. In fact, one has to wonder if there was actually much choice in the story or not.  Maybe instead, it was more that something happened in that moment.  

Some people call this a miracle story. In this story, it’s not that the fishermen did the right thing and made this heroic and sacrificial decision to follow, it’s that God walked up to a group of dudes and pulled off a miracle.

Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about this. She says that “this isn’t a story about us but it’s a story about God, and about God’s ability not only to call us but also to create us as people who are able to follow.”

But how does that happen? How does God make us into people who are able to follow? Jesus says to the brothers, “I will make you…into fishers of men.”

German theologian and activist, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who worked in the underground resistance movement during World War II said that one of the most striking things about this call Jesus sets out is that it is  “void of all content.” It is so simple. Jesus doesn’t present his followers with a stump speech or a checklist or say, here is the game plan, here are the rules. Are you in? sign here if you agree.  He just says “follow me.”

Could it be that, while the things we choose to believe and the way we choose to behave are important, they’re not actually at the heart of discipleship?  In fact, the heart is following. It’s listening to the teachings, thinking about them, learning, talking it through with folks, putting into practice together, messing it up, reflecting, trying again. There’s movement in that journey. Sacred movement.  

When I look at the stories in the gospels or at the stories of the faithful people around me or even my own practice in following Jesus, I see that this call isn’t one and done—dropping the nets on the sand and taking off. It’s a practice that we fine tune again and again. Jesus will challenge these brothers withal sorts of hard question about generosity, love and justice.  

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Have you ever used a pair of binoculars and noticed that you’re seeing double? There are two identical robins sitting next to each other in the tree.  This can happen with a telescope too.  Sometimes, the lenses and mirrors get out of alignment. (this could also be the product of having some very cheap kids binoculars in your house).  If your binoculars or telescope are fancy enough, you can fix this problem. Sometimes there is a little dial on the binoculars that will adjust the lenses and slowly bring the two robins into one. Aligning the two images into one single image is called collimation.  

Maybe, in that moment when Jesus called the disciples on the beach, there was a moment of collimation where God’s call and their lives were in alignment.  It’s more than just their lives harmonizing with God’s essence, it was a one-ness.  The kingdom came. And that was utterly miraculous.  

I think that can happen in our lives, but I think that more often, the images drift out of unity, we merge and then deviate we have a moment of clarity and then things are fuzzy. We place so much weight on our choice and while sure, it’s there, God’s call to participate in the struggle for love, justice, mercy, grace is itself magnetic and it pulls us into focus. It synchronizes us.  I think one of the cool things is that while choice is an individual thing we wrestle with, the call of God is a community thing that pulls us together. Believe me, there are other magnetic forces around us that pull us far from this vision of grace, but God is continually fine tuning us and working on us and bringing us back into focus. 

Sometimes following looks like the pairs of brothers (Andrew and Peter, James and John) who set out to journey with Jesus.  Sometimes it looks like James and John’s sisters who stayed home to take care of Zebedee. And then learned how to fish themselves. And then organized all of the folks who were sitting on the dock with a single fishing pole barely making ends meet into a fishing cooperative. Sometimes following is working out the problem with the fisherman on the next boat who kept tangling their nets with yours (or were you the one tangling with them??). Sometimes following is listening to old Zebedee and his elderly siblings who gather in the dusky evenings to tell stories by the firelight while the children played in grass.

How is God fine tuning you and pulling you towards that vision? For following God is nothing short of miraculous. 




A recipe for hope (a message from 1.15.23)



What is hope? Is it an emotion? Or a feeling?  “A thing with feathers,” like Emily Dickenson said. Is it positive vibes? Or a feeling of possibility or optimism?  

I know that hope has something to do with the future. I am an optimistic person by character, but we’ve got large-scale problems that worry me: deeper authoritarianism and fanaticism, global warming, corruption...  There are small scale problems too: illnesses, family stress, depression, you name it.  Just when I want that light of Christmas to shine (brilliantly please) hope can be illusive.  

Isaiah has some words for us this morning about hope. He writes of someone, of a servant who will “open the eyes that are blind, bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, …and liberate “those who sit in darkness.” This is a very hopeful vision.  While he was probably thinking of ancestors like Jacob or Moses, first century Christians began to understand these beautiful verses as referring to Jesus.

Isaiah’s vision is beautiful. And believe me, I want to liberate all people from all the dungeons that imprison us (from addiction, from debt, from stress, from mental turmoil, all of it). But this grand vision is so bold, and our problems so serious, hoping for something like this can feel like wishful thinking.

Chan Hellman and Casey Gwinn write about how we use the word “hope” in our everyday language:  “I hope you’re well, I hope you have a good day”.  The thing is, when say those things, we don’t really have a control over whether or not someone is well or if they’ll have a good day.  Instead of a hope, it’s more of a wish. 

I don’t think the prophet Isaiah was idly wishing. “Oh, I wish people could be free from the dungeons that imprison them.” Nor do I think that Jesus, son of God had some kind of warm and fuzzy wish that the captives would be freed.  No, I think they actually hoping this.  

A handful of different researchers—all of them social workers from what I can tell—break hope down into a 3 part formula. 

1. You have a vision.  

We know about a vision as people of faith.  Isaiah is bursting at the seams with a vision of justice and righteousness.  Jesus Messiah, who was seeped in this Jewish tradition of Isaiah’s taught about and worked for a vision where people were healed, where folks were generous, where communities would care for the vulnerable, where folks wouldn’t worship money or power but would worship God. It’s a vision where love would reign.  Sometimes Jesus called this “the kingdom of God.” We know what vision looks like in our faith.

2. The second part of hope is a path.  

How do we get from where we are to that vision? What’s the path?

In something like a recovery program or a training, there’s a clear path from A to B. Isaiah gives us a clear path. He reminds us that the people are called to stand firm in their traditions, which call them to talk care of folks. Isaiah says the very way people live will strengthen God’s justice. Beautiful.

Likewise, Jesus has a path for us.  He calls back to an old religious anchor and says we must love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and love our neighbor as ourselves.  The path is love.  The path is service, grace, forgiveness.  Some of us have made a particular commitment to this path of righteousness (of right living) in our baptisms. 

3. The third part in the formula for hope is willpower. 

Do you have the mental energy, the passion, the drive to get there?

So about willpower: One of the first times I attempted to drive a manual transmission car in the real world and not a cornfield, I was driving on a highway in traffic with my brother.  I attempted to upshift, killed the car in the middle of the traffic, announced I was done, and swapped seats with my brother. I had my own automatic transmission car and learning to drive a stick wasn’t essential knowledge for me. A few years later when I was living in Tegucigalpa (basically the hilliest city in central America), I realized that the church had a truck sitting out back that no one knew how to drive.  They told me I could drive it.  Problem was, it was a stick. But I really wanted to be able to drive that car. I had a really clear goal and I was deeply motivated. And I learned it! 

I had the willpower to learn. 

The more we desire the outcome, the more likely, we’ll walk the path to achieve it and we won’t give up. 

We can get tripped up in this 3-part formula for hope. Sometimes, we can’t see the vision—that’s hard.  We don’t even know where we want to be.  Things are so tense or so tough or stressful that we can’t even imagine it. 

Other times, we can’t see the path—we know where we want to be, but we can’t figure out how to get there. Or we don’t have the opportunity open before us to get there. That’s a recipe for despair. (Global warming comes to mind here.  We know where we want to be, but we’re not sure of the path to get us there.)  
 
The third part, willpower, can also trip us up. With this one, the tricky question is do we actually want the vision enough to fight for it?  

Martin Luther King, who would have been 94 years old today dug into that vision of Justice, peace and love that the prophets and Jesus gave us. Sometimes he distilled into more manageable bites like being able to sit anywhere you wanted on the bus with a path of boycott to get you there, but the grand vision always tied back into to God’s love and justice. 

Now thinking of willpower, a lot of people around MLK had the will power to fight for this dream, especially those experiencing discrimination. Many other people gave the vision a solid thumbs up, but from a distance. They didn’t have the willpower to join into the fight particularly when things were smooth in their own lives and fighting for civil rights meant sacrificing something for the sake of justice.  

If you don’t passionately want the vision, you won’t fight for it. And this is tough.  When there’s nothing intrinsic that motivates us but God’s extrinsic higher standard of goodness (just for the sake of goodness), the vision can become a little less magnetic. Our willpower falters. 

Has this ever happened to you?  
It has to me.

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There is one final piece of hope that must be mentioned. 
 
Hope, it turns out, is a product of struggle. It is something that we develop in the uncomfortable and challenging times. It’s something that we learn. Isaiah’s hope was born out of the people who had been deported to Babylon.  

(Remember, quick history lesson: 600 years before Christ, the Babylonian empire ransacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, burned the city down and deported all the people to what we call “exile” in Babylon.  It was devastating and Isaiah’s hope was born in that struggle.  Or think of Jesus of Nazareth who lived in oppressively difficult times. A few weeks ago, we heard a sermon about the bloodthirsty King Herod who mascaraed all the baby boys.  Jesus’ hope was born in that struggle.)

Hope deepens when our vision/goals, our pathways to get to the vision, or our willpower and sense of agency are challenged. In those moments, we really have to clarify the what and the why of where we’re headed.

However, in those tough moments, hope doesn’t deepen in isolation. Some of us learn it from our families, but we also learn it from each other. Think of a time that has been really challenging for you—an illness, a family problem, a work mess. Who have been the people who have come up around you and reminded you of the vision or goal that you could no longer see? Who were the ones who shined a light on your path and then took your arm to help you along?  Or when were you the one who encouraged someone? Who said, “c’mon let’s do this.  I’m with you. A different world is possible.”

We restore hope in each other. Hope is a social gift.  It’s not something that happens in isolation.  It happens in relationship with each other. Sometimes, it happens in the church.

The baptism of Jesus drew on a hope that came before it. You can hear it in the way the Matthew story harmonizes with Isaiah.  MLK drew on a hope that came before him.  Our hope is one that has been passed down from our ancestors and that is strengthened and clarified in each other. 

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Now I can’t say where you might be feeling hopeless today. I can’t name what is going on in your life. I can’t say what is stressing you out about this broken world we live in.  

But I can say that we hold together in the collective a vision of grace where we pause to listen in moments of pain, where we confess and forgive and honor one another’s God given dignity and belovedness where we imagine a world where everyone has life abundant. 

I can also say that we hold together a vision of justice where we will no longer be divided by hate or ignorance or money. Where, as King said in his 1967 Christmas sermon at Ebenezer Baptist “every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality,” that “the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled,” that “men will beat their swords into plowshares” and that “justice will roll down like water.”

We hold that vision together and whether we are helping one another to take the next steps, or encouraging each other not to buy into the narratives of despair and pessimism, God’s Light Dawns.

We know the dream and the path of love. We’ve inherited it from those who’ve gone before it. We steward it and struggle for it for ourselves and for those who will come after. Now we must walk it.


 I leaned on work from Hellmen and Gwinn and Brene Brown both of whom reference C.R. Snyder as the original author of the 3-part formula for hope. 



Friday, October 28, 2022

A letter to our 2022 confirmands

Dear Confirmands,

Today is confirmation Sunday! Today, we confirmed eight of you 9th graders in your faith! You, dear confirmands, have experienced a lot of bumps in the road the last couple of years.  School has been stressful. You’re involved in so many different sports and clubs and activities, and there have been some really hard moments for some of you where the bottom has dropped out of life. 

Last Wednesday, a big group from the church here got together to talk about who we are as a church, what we care about. Some of you youth showed up too. In my particular small group we talked two (of the many) sides of faith. We discussed how faith is: 1. a place of rest and comfort and 2. a place of challenge that calls us change and grow.  Some of you may have heard this before: that church is a place to comfort the afflicted (St. Paul said that) and afflict the comfortable.

I’m going to wager a guess that in the years prior to confirmation, especially the years when you were much younger, church was often a place of comfort and rest. It has been a place of peace. Many of you have come here with your parents. You sit together year after year in the pew.  You sing familiar song and you hear familiar stories. Church is a place that comforts us, that calms us, that brings us peace. But, the other side of the coin is that church is a place that challenges us.  And, I’m going to guess that if you haven’t started thinking deeply about God, or taking a closer look at what Jesus values compared to what the world values, you will. 

Following Jesus is a way of life and when we keep our eye on the path, it will bring friction into our lives. 

We hear the word “friction” and we think it’s a bad thing—is it some sort of conflict? What friction technically is, is a force that opposes motion.  It slows something down. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Friction is the reason that tires on a car have traction and don’t fly off the road.  Or, it’s the reason why our basketball sneakers make that squeaky noise on the gym floor and stop us instead of slide out from under us.  Friction slows us down. 

In the case of our faith, friction asks us to take a closer look and to reflect. Take today’s gospel reading.  There is an easy way for me to just ice skate (friction-free) through this parable of Jesus without thinking too hard.  For me, a face value interpretation of this story would read like this:

There are 2 men: The Pharisee is a Jewish leader, he’s proud and boasts about his good works.  The tax collector is humble and humility is the most important thing that matters here. The tax collector is the one who ends up being cool God.  Better luck next time Pharisee. We should all be humble like the tax collector. The end.

Now, obviously, humility is important and we could talk more about it. There are many ways to reflect one day about humility and pride. However, given that the parables of Jesus are supposed to stop us in our tracks and turn us upside down, I’m going to offer 3 points that make me think twice about this story and challenge me today.

ONE: What if I tell you that St. Luke, who wrote this story down is always describing Jewish leaders like pharisees in a negative light and tax collectors--despicable as they may be--as sort of darlings. You can go back to scripture and see it for yourself.  Have you ever heard the word "Pharisee" and immediately felt suspicious about how they're messing something up or "not getting it" in the bible story? We’ve been taught that in the Christian faith.  

Luke wrote these stories almost 2,000 years ago. The original people who Jesus was talking to would have thought of pharisees as good, compassionate and merciful Jewish leaders.  And, they would have thought of tax collectors as people who worked for “the man,” cheated folks out of money and were despicable. Luke is showing that tax collectors can be good people, religious leaders can be flawed. Thing is, those categories and their stereotypes aren't engrained in our contemporary daily lives they way they were in Luke's time.

TWO: What if I pointed out that this Pharisee is giving a full 10% or more of his income to the temple. He is exceptionally generous.  He is going above and beyond what the law requires of him.  

Take a moment to think about your family income, or ask your parents about it.  Or consider this, if you make money babysitting or some other after school job.  Imagine that you gave slightly more than 10% of your gross income to church or to charity.  Take a second to think of how much money that would be... Maybe some of you are there and give this. Maybe some of you aren’t. If you do give this, or if you did give it, there is a chance you might feel a little proud of yourself, too. This is generous!

Yes, perhaps your pride is not the best character trait and is would be your growing edge, but do you still roll your eyes in the same way at this pharisee who is proud of his generosity?

THREE: Finally, What if I pointed out that where it says the tax collector was the one who was “cool with God” (or justified) rather than the Pharisee, that the word “rather than” (para in Greek) could also be translated as “along side of.”  This would have the verse sound like this: “A tax collector was made cool with God right along side of the Pharisee, not rather than the Pharisee.”  It sounds different right? (1) For some reason, perhaps some anti-Semitism, translators have favored one translation over another. 

How do these three points make me think differently about this story?  (Remember, Jesus’ parables meant to provoke and challenge us and even make us feel uncomfortable.)

Here’s how this parable could sound in today’s day and age, (I’m taking this entirely from a Jewish scholar named Amy Jill Levine who spelled all this out with this fantastic analogy which I am paraphrasing): Imagine a group project at school. In your group, you’ve got 
1. The smart one (or the over-achiever), 
2. the creative one, 
3. the one who invites everyone over to work on the project and brings snacks, and, 
4. the slacker. 

The first three group members do their fair share. Actually, they do more than their fair share because they’re covering the slacker’s part, right? The slacker shows up to the group meeting and might be 100% friendly and great in the moment but effectively contributes nothing. The project gets an A. The three who contribute are “justified,” they get an A. The slacker also gets an A. She’s also “justified.” The end.

Who reading this finds the scenario unfair? 

I do. 

Have you ever been the over achiever and felt smug about it?  This is what is happening in today’s parable. 

<<says with a hint of sarcasm>> “Hi, overachieving pharisee, thank you for making our world a better place. We know you’re awesome and you kind of want a medal or a prize. Feel free to tone it down a little....Hi, slacker tax collector, you are a little slimy and not exactly embodying God’s love but you’re trying. And we are trying to love you for it but it’s a little hard.”

What if, in this parable, Jesus is telling me that my sense of what’s fair and what’s unfair is off? What if Jesus is telling me that I am being tight-fisted with my generosity? 

Maybe the slacker, who I called lazy, did what she could. Maybe she knew she was slacking and she got all the tense text messages in the group chat, but she trusted the system and she slacked her way through the project. Maybe she had something going at home that we never knew about.  Maybe she sincerely didn’t care and for real just checked out. Was I a fool for doing her work?  Was it dumb for me to be so generous?

What if Jesus is telling me that living in community is actually a kind of group work because not everyone is always their best in community?  And if our good deeds help a sister out, why not just celebrate it instead of begrudge her?

Oh, that’s a hard lesson.  

I just read an article in a business journal about how people who help too much don’t actually get ahead (whatever that means) and Jesus is asking me to help more. This is the kind of challenge that this parable tosses to me today. It’s uncomfortable. It’s irritating. There’s a part of me that wants to fight with it.  

Dear confirmands, the life of faith that you are stepping fully into today needs friction in it.  This goes for all of us.  Some of you are thinking, “Thanks. I’ve got enough friction in my life at the moment, Pastor Lindsay,” and I hear that, some of you do. Friction in life ebbs and flows. How God shows up in our life (as a comforter or an agitator) also ebbs and flows. 

When we put the teachings of Christ into conversation with our own lives, we will be challenged.  There will be times when church or God makes us uncomfortable. So be it.  

But we do not go it alone. Part of what is true in the life of faith is that we need companions on the journey. We need friends, coaches, sparing partners.  We need people who will help us learn how to become more generous in our daily lives. People who will help us identify the places where we’re kind of jerks and how we can take the next step to change. We need people to hold us accountable,  and we need people to bring us a casserole when things fall apart.   God both challenges us and supports us through the community and the congregation. Faith in God is a team sport. 

So, Jesus comforts us, Jesus challenges us, and Jesus does one more thing consistently in scripture…

Jesus celebrates!

He’s constantly throwing parties, inviting folks to dinner, turning water into wine, savoring life, and telling stories about celebrations! His joy is infectious! And this why we celebrate our confirmands today.
God bless you, dear confirmands in this wild and precious life. May your journey with God open your hearts and bless the world around you. To God be the glory!



(1) Jewish New Testament scholar, Amy Jill Levine discusses this at length. She acknowledges the two legit translations of 1. instead of, 2. alongside of. However, she also offers a 3rd fascinating (imo) translation that suggests that the word can also be translated as "because of" rendering an idea that "the tax collector is justified because of the Pharisee's generosity. This third suggestion is even more of a mind-bender for me.

Friday, October 21, 2022

A message about sleepless nights, struggle in our souls and holding on


A couple of weeks ago when talking about the parable of the lost sons (or prodigal son), I mentioned that there is something refreshing about hearing the stories of families in the bible. For all that we hear this day and age about “family values” that are based in scripture, for some reason, our bible stories sure like to zero in on the moments when families are cracking or people are at their worst.

Today’s story about Jacob is no different. Jacob was the younger of twin boys.  Remember, his dad, Isaac was the one who was almost sacrificed by Abraham until the angel intervened?  Right. Dad, Isaac married Rebecca who eventually got pregnant with twins.  Rebecca had a miserable pregnancy. She said it felt like the babies fought the whole time in the womb. And as the story goes, Jacob was born clutching the heel of his slightly older brother Esau.  These two brothers are in competition from the moment they were born.  Years later, they were probably teenagers, Jacob dressed up as his brother and convinced his dad, Isaac, to give him the special blessing of the firstborn son.  Esau is furious. He vows to get revenge. Jacob takes off running to the hills to Uncle Laban’s house.  

When our story picks up many years later, Jacob is married with several wives, several concubines, lots of kids, tons of animals, loads of drama. (Any of you see Joseph and the amazing technicolor dream coat? You know the song “Jacob and sons”. This is that Jacob).

Jacob, there in mid life, gets to reflecting on things and decides to send a messenger out to test the waters with his twin: “Hey Esau, it’s me your long lost twin brother. I know things weren’t so great the last time we hung out, but I was wondering if we might mend the bridge, bury the hachet, let by gones be bygones, what do you say…? 

Esau sends a message back, “ah, you want to meet? Okay. I’m on my way. With 400 men in tow. See you soon. xo"

400 men. Instead of accepting Jacob’s olive branch, Esau seems to have ignited it. This is not exactly how Jacob was hoping this would go.  Jacob is freaking out. The bible records it in detail: “How am I going to survive this!”  He panics. He splits his wives, kids, animals into two groups hoping that one of the groups will survive the attack. He prepares this nice present for Esau and sends it ahead, maybe this will help soften him up—and then he starts praying: “Look God. I’m in a mess. A real mess here. You said you’d protect me. Okay, this is the moment.” The bible records this prayer. I’m paraphrasing. But clearly Jacob is freaking out. He is haunted by his mistakes. He’s in a serious bind. He’s estranged from his extended family.  He has sent the rest of the family away to hide and he is alone. Dusk falls. And then night. And this is where our bible story picks up today. 

Justin Renteria is an illustrator and created this picture of a woman sitting at a desk.  She’s presumably a modern business woman but she has that 1950s looking housewife vibe of a woman who looks like she’s just been delivered the washer and dryer set of her dreams.  She’s beaming, but sitting at a massive, formidable desk. She’s one of those annoying images of carefree perfection. What is not immediately apparent is that her desk is sitting on top of a tank, an army tank that is bulldozing forward come hell or high water. 

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We do not always see what is going on beneath the surface. We don’t always share what keeps us up at night.  The mistakes that haunt us. The stress that amps us up.  A lot of us are wrestling something in a dimly lit space that we can’t make out the end of.  Jacob doesn’t know what the morning will bring when he meets Esau. He is between worlds, straddling the boundary between what was and what will be. We straddle those in between, liminal spaces all the time. Sometimes its after hitting send on the email, we wait. After an argument with a spouse or a sibling, we wait. In the 5-7 days before the biopsy results come in, we wait. 

We wait for something we hope for or for some higher love to intervene. With Jacob’s story, there are chapters and chapters detailing his mistakes and freak outs, but all we get is a couple little lines about his dark night of the soul.  What happened between the lines?

We know that night falls and Jacob is attacked in the dark. It is a full on fight. He wrestles with someone there on the banks of the river.  Who is he fighting? We’re not really sure.  The scripture doesn’t say. There are ancient tales in the middle east of river spirits that only come out at night—is that who he wrestled with? Some people say he wrestled God.  Some say it was an angel (the book of Hosea suggests that). If you’re into Karl Jung, maybe you’ll say Jacob was wrestling his shadow side.  

The Hebrew just says that Jacob wrestled an Ish, which simply means “man.” He wrestled for hours. Until he was exhausted. Have you been exhausted? By your pace? By your anxiety? By your anger? By your grief for something or someone who is no longer the same? All night long on the banks of that river, Jacob wrestled. He’s alone. No one is there to bear witness to his struggle with this man. Except us.  

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Why don’t we let people see the real struggle that we experience. Not in the sense that we’re supposed to bleed all over people, but we don’t let people see failure, the stress, the strain the wrestling match.  While we might prepare some well crafted answer about “failure” for an interview, that’s about it. Researcher Cia-Jung Tsay who teaches at the Wisconsin School of Business has explored the psychology around struggle and its’ role in success.  She explains that if you ask folks in the US which is more important to success: effort or talent, they are 50% more likely to say “effort is most important to success” There’s a 2:1 probability they’ll say this. But, if you ask them what’s most important in a new hire: talent or effort, they pick talent over effort 5 to 1. 

Deep down, we bias talent over effort. We think that people succeed or make it through or grow because they are naturally strong, or gritty or they were born gifted.  We don’t want to think about how they’ve fought for it: Fought for their mental health, their relationships, their craft, their career, their compassion, their faith, fought for a better world…

Journalist Jerry Useem wrote that, “You cannot find youtube videos [of the struggle]: of Yo-yo ma tediously repeating a difficult passage, or Ronald Reagan practicing his speeches in front of a mirror, or Steve Jobs unveiling a half-baked iPhone.”  He says he closest he came to finding this on youtube was an early Rolling Stones draft of “start me up” as a reggae tune which was, to say the least, a bust. 

We don’t want to see the struggle, admit it’s there or even, find the value in effort.  Jacob wrestles the man in the dark and no one is around to see it. If struggle or wrestling sets off this alarm in us, then we’ll always pull back when we’re confronted with it.  What does that mean when the going gets tough? When the conversation gets real? When the stake are raised? 

Back to our story of Jacob.  Jacob wrestles all night.  It’s not clear what the Ish is after. But these two are relentless and they will not let each other go.  By this point, Jacob has hung on long enough to be hurt.  And as dawn approaches, the Ish slams him in the hip. It’s dislocated out of the socket, maybe it pops in and out, the text isn’t clear, but it sounds bad. And still Jacob hangs on. The Ish tells Jacob to let him go. Jacob throws back “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” The Ish says alright.  He changes Jacob’s name to Israel (which means the one who wrestles with God) and then blesses him.  There is this fuzzy clue that maybe the Ish wrestling Jacob was God. Maybe, it was God that came to him, in that place of struggle in that dark night. 

As the sun rose, Jacob walked away from the river bank with a limp.  He walked the whole rest of his life with that limp. But his wound wasn’t a sign of failure, but of growth, in a sense success and in a sense persistence during a really tough time.

A lot of us are facing uncertainty in our lives.  Some of it big, some of it small. Some of it personal some of it societal.  How do we hang on? (Think of that persistent widow in the gospel story for today who hung on pestering that judge.)  For our lives thrive and flourish, we must hang on. The same goes for our lives of faith.  God isn’t always that image of the gentle shepherd or loving servant. Sometimes, God is our streetfighter who will not be wrestled into a box and who will not be wrestled into our understanding. God is the one who calls us, even pushes us to growth and to change. God is the one who loves us too fiercely to let us go. 

**********

The end of Jacob’s story isn’t as much of the point today.  While Jacob did indeed change, he didn’t become this whole new person after wrestling and being wounded and being blessed.  His life moved on.  He survived the night.  

The next morning, he met his twin Esau and the four hundred men. And before he could get a word out of his mouth, Esau ran to him and embraced him and they wept. They reconciled. They met each other’s families, they probably ate together and told old stories and carried each other’s kids around on their shoulders.  And then they went on their ways and life went on. Jacob had another child, Benjamin. He buried his beloved wife, Rachel. He moved his family to Egypt.  He passed the story of God’s love to his children who passed it on, in turn, to their children. 

Over the generations, the people made mistakes that they wrestled with. They struggled with God, they figured it out—or didn’t. They turned away and God took them by the shoulders and turned them back.  
Some storyteller somehow, somewhere passed this story of Jacob’s long night down to us today to remind us that this life isn’t easy. This life of faith isn’t easy. Loving God and letting God love us and change us in the midst of our pain isn’t always easy; but we stand on the shoulders of people who have known the struggle and who point to the way. We know that in that challenge, somehow, God strives alongside of us.

St. Agustin of Hippo famously wrote that “if you have understood, than what you have understood is not God.” 

This faith that we inherit and pass on and cherish has so much more to do with hanging on than with being certain.  Truthfully, our faith in anyone—including God—has to do with being willing to fight for the relationship. To risk getting hurt. To risk the dirt of the rough and tumble. To have faith of the blessing that is ours in the midst of it. 

In my own case, there are days when I believe and God’s presence shimmers with certainty. These are days when God fights with me, or alongside of me through my struggle. And then, there are days when I don’t believe, and I grasp for God in the night.

Understanding it or not, or having certainty or not doesn’t threaten my call to struggle for beauty and justice and this world. It doesn't dim my effort to be transformed. It doesn’t steal God’s presence or God’s essence from my life. 

God uses Jacob to remind us that sometimes the dark nights are long. Sometimes the wounds we carry into the morning stay with us forever. Sometimes we are unsure of where the road may take us. But, we carry God’s blessing with us along the way.


Saturday, October 1, 2022

A samaritan, a mindset, a community

 Last week, with the parable of the lost, sheep, coin and son, I mentioned the power of stories or ideas grouped in threes.  Folk stories grouped in threes catch our attention. It’s always the third character that succeeds. The rule of three also has this element of predictability.  If we think groups of three:

Father, Son and Holy Sprit.
Larry, Moe and Curly.
Snap, crackle, pop.
Signed, sealed, delivered.
Back to that same old place, sweet, home Chicago!

This favorite bible story that we just heard is about the man who is beaten up, thrown to the side of the road, and he needs help. 

1. The first person who might help him is a priest, 
2. The second is a Levite and when Jesus told this story, all his people  are going to know that your... 
3. ...third person in that trio is going to be an Israelite.  

(A levite, priest and an Israelite—it’s the old standard formula(1)). When Jesus says, “Samaritan” you can almost hear everyone go, “Noooooo! C’mon, man!!”  

While we look at the story and might say, “ah, the first two characters failed. Yes, yes, sometimes we too fail. We should be like the lovely, generous Samaritan.” That perspective is not wrong.  But it’s a little more nuanced than that. In Jesus’ time, there was bad history, with the Samaritans and Jewish community. Some folks considered the Samaritans Jewish, some didn’t. There was a complicated history all around, but people would have really booed at Jesus with this story.  Jewish scholar, Amy Jill Levine explained this point and went on to say that “A priest, a levite and a Samaritan would have been like saying, “Larry, Moe, and (enter the name of some famous terrorist). For a lot of reasons Samaritans were not beloved.

When we don’t like someone, there’s something in us that prefers a simple lie about them to a complex truth. As with anyone who you really don’t like, it was tough to imagine the Samaritan was motivated by good old fashioned compassion.  

MLK, on the night before he was assassinated, gave a speech called “I’ve been to the mountaintop.” He was in Memphis and the city's sanitation workers were striking. In it, he reflects on the priest and the Levite who first stumble upon that injured man and why it was that they didn’t help.  He suggests that are worried about what will happen to them if they stop and help.  That makes sense. We have worried about that too: What will happen to us if we help a person who is in need, if we support a movement, defend a cause? Just look at the bible story: It takes time to get involved with this guy on the side of the road. It takes money to truly help him. It’s uncomfortable. It’s an inconvenience. The Samaritan loses the better part of a day. These first two characters in the story, King said, couldn’t get over the question of, if I stop to help this man, what’s going to happen to me?

But the Samaritan is different, King says. The question he asks is, when he sees the man in need is if "I don’t stop to help this man, what’s going to happen to him?" 

Spin this question out just a little bit and extend those comments of King and ask, “if I don’t stop to help this man, what’s going to happen to us? 

We are part of a collective whole. 

Catholic Priest, Father Richard Rohr wrote about how during the South African Truth and Reconciliation process, the perpetrators apologized to the victims and when they did that they used the words “I’m sorry. Forgive me.” It was a way to take responsibility for what they did or what they had done. But, when this was translated the victims heard something different. It was a painful miscommunication. They instead heard what the translators said to them: Nidi cela uxolo which has a different meaning. When we say “I’m sorry” in English, it’s something that we say individually: I did something wrong and I’m responsible for it. The words, “forgive me” Father Rohr explains, are specifically about me and my guilt that has weighed heavily on me. Please cancel this debt. Forgive me. But the translators translated the words “I’m sorry” as Nidi cela uxolo or “I ask for peace.” You can feel the difference between “I’m sorry” and “I ask for peace.” Peace is wider than just you and me. It is an Ubuntu way to apologize and it is about “we.”  The elders heard a request for peace and they offered forgiveness with this spirit of “us” with a “hope that seeds would be planted for the good of the whole community.”  It is a way of asking for a better “we” and for a healing of the fabric of the collective people. It’s a little bit of a mind bender but it’s one we’re called to adopt.   

What does it look like to think collectively?

It’s not easy. 

This last week, I was talking with Dave, who many of you know in our congregation, who is a business man. He works in sales. He mentioned how strategies around leadership are changing since he got his MBA 10 years ago. He is obviously concerned about a profit in his line of work, but he told me he has been thinking about servant-leadership. 

Clearly, this piqued my attention. I asked him about it and he reflected. Servant leadership is simply good for the people he works with. It helps everyone become their best selves which is healthy for the collective. He told me he’s still trying to figure it out and that it’s not intuitive. I believe him. But we’re called to move in this direction and he's thinking about how to do that.

We are not trained, not raised, not guided to think of the collective. For example, here in the US, folks talk about buying organic produce because it was good for them. (Fine and good, buy the produce you like organic or not. However, for the sake of the example:) my own thought process on it changed a little when I worked with some migrants farm workers in Mexico who told me how their eyelashes would fall out after a pesticide was sprayed. While we tend to consider the individual cost, implication, benefits, etc, I realized there was a collective consideration wrapped up here that goes beyond the “cost to my own body.” 

Every once in a while, this church sells fair trade coffee. It’s a similar idea: there’s an effect that goes beyond the cost to us but that affects a wider circle of farmers. Regardless of the kind of produce or coffee you buy, we’re just not trained to think this way. 

Kevin once told us in a message that his mother said she didn’t always go to church for herself but for the people down the pew who needed the presence of another person there. We’re not taught to think of the wider collective implications of caring and helping. 

African American activist and writer, James Baldwin wrote that it’s actually in the interest of American whites to think of the collective and to pursue racial reconciliation.  At first that sounds like a mindset of self-interest. Yes, in a sense, he appealed to our tendency towards self-interest (What’s in it for me?), but racial healing is actually to everyone’s benefit. It’s about us.

It’s not the easiest shift for us to move from, what could I lose if I help? (What will this cost me in time, money, and energy? if I give, serve, advocate, and participate) to what do we lose if I don’t.

How can you practice thinking collectively this week? How can you practice this in the way you respond to people who are in need, in the way you interact with your team at work, in the way you buy things, in the way you serve?

When we don’t stop to help, when we ignore the pain of the person, when we make snap judgements of people, when we stop deeply caring about our neighbors, we lose something of the kingdom of God. Something cracks. We lose something. Justice frays. We lose connection, trust, grace. We lose peace. Our vision of a world animated by God’s love dims.

God’s kingdom doesn’t just exist between two people: for example, between the wounded person and the one who helps. It is something collective that is shared between all of us.  Maybe the Samaritan isn’t showing us what it looks like to individually sacrifice. Maybe he’s showing us what community looks like and the kind of world he wants to live in.

I want to live in that world too.

And we can. We build it—we experience it--with each action of service we do.

Clearly, Jesus wanted to get us thinking and reflecting with this one. But then, he tells us at the end where to land. Go, he says. Be like the Samaritan. Do likewise.




(1) Ezra 10:5, Nehemiah 11:3. Amy Jill Levine elaborates this idea in "Short Stories by Jesus."



Friday, September 23, 2022

When you lost more than you meant to

Luke 15:11b-32

One of the beauties of a story like the prodigal son is that there are notes that ring true across the generations.  We resonate. All of us have some awkwardness in our families—or a lot of it.  No family is without its’ drama. Many of us know what it is like to want to run away.  Some of us ran away as children (I marched off as far as the Sherman’s house next door before glancing behind me to see if my mother was watching.  She was). Some of us have run away quite happily and permanently as adults and we continue to keep our family distant. Or they keep us away.  

I’m guessing that all of us have had moments of serious annoyance with our parents—or anger?  I’m also guessing that many of us parents have faced moments where we truly have no idea what to do with our ridiculous children.

And then there are the siblings.  There is nothing quite like a sibling. If you don’t have one, it will take a person down the pew exactly 10 seconds to confirm that siblings are can be best and worst thing that can exist.  She may be your best friend. Or…your is she your arch enemy?

It’s kind of comforting to me that family dysfunction is a real theme in the bible.  Especially when the siblings get involved.  There’s the story where one of the famous biblical twins, Jacob, puts on a costume, fools dad who is half asleep and hornswoggles the inheritance out of him. His brother Esau is understandably enraged. 

There’s the bible story, where one brother, Joseph, gets a fancy new snazzy coat from his dad and the other siblings are so mad about it, they throw him in a pit. …I assume that’s the kind of thing that happens when you have eleven older brothers.  Martha, the sister of Mary, seethes in the kitchen washing dishes while her oblivious sister (who-never-picks-up-a-broom) is compared against her.

Interestingly, let’s just all take notice that the younger siblings sure get a lot of attention and extra TLC in these stories.  Moreover, not only are the younger kids the family favs, they’re also successful, handsome, smart, visionary, they have stunning portfolios, excellent business acumen and hundred dollar haircuts—these biblical babies are shining stars.  King David is the youngest of 7, King Solomon is the second son born to David and Bathsheba. Isaac, the beloved son of Sarah and Abraham, is younger than his brother Ishmael. No, I do not have a bone to pick with biblical birth order, I have a point to make. 

That when Jesus begins this oh-so-favorite parable with, “there was a man who had two sons…” that everyone in the audience around him comfortably settled into their seats because they knew their bible stories and they knew exactly how this story was going to turn out with the shining star youngest child.

Until the story went off the rails. 

When the younger son left home to see the world—which is, by the way, what young people do all the time these days, he had a lot of fun and then things went very bad. Burned the whole college fund, his whole inheritance, in riotous living. He’s greedy, and dumb and makes lots of bad choices.  Perhaps par for the course for many of us were also young and foolish when we first set out to conquer the world.

But while he may not have gained riches, he does seem to have gained wisdom—if we could call it that? (or sneakiness) and after he has lost it all, he returns home where dad, is overjoyed that his fav kid, the baby of the family, is home. All is forgiven. And his dad throws him an epic party. This is the part of the story where we point out that the older, workaholic brother is pouty and won’t forgive, and get over it, and come to the party.

*****

You know, Folks-stories grouped in trios have always been good at the plot twist.  Think of goldilocks and the three bears, the first two chairs were too big and too small, the first two bowls of porridge too hot and too cold. It’s always the third that is just right.  Same goes for the billy goats gruff, the three musketeers, the three three little pigs, Leave it to the third pig to build the house of of bricks, trick that wolf and get it right.  

In today’s story, told by Jesus in succession after 1. Lost sheep and 2. Lost coin, the rule of three does not disappoint. In the first of the 3 stories that we heard about last week, the shepherd goes out to look for his lost sheep and finds it.  In the second story, the woman turns the house over top to bottom looking for her lost coin. She finds it. In the third, the son that the dad goes looking for is not the merry prodigal son, who came home from his escapades with his tail between his legs.  The dad goes out to the field to search for the older son who he, scripture tells us, forgot to invite to the party.  (oops).

While I can affirm that there was something about the younger prodigal son that was most definitively lost, given the shape our world is in right now, the second half of the story has me thinking. 

You see, there is something very comfortable about having an enemy.  When we’re face to face with things stressing us out, it’s nice to know there’s someone to blame.  It’s a convenient to have a scapegoat.  It’s so nice, in fact that we are good at creating enemies. For example, there were a series of studies in the last few years that showed that when you tell folks in this country that technology and automation is taking jobs, people become more anti-immigrant.  Instead of directing their feelings of frustration towards the tech or the people who made the tech, people—across the political spectrum—direct their anger at a human scapegoat.  Because it’s nice to blame someone.

When the dad in this story leaves the prodigal party to look for his lost son in the field, he finds him, and his son lets loose. Years of resentment and family disfunction overflow. Before we jump to some kind of desire for everyone in this family to just hug it out, let’s acknowledge that no one in this room, right here today is a stranger to human dysfunction and even making enemies out of each other.  Whether it’s a parent that favors a certain child, or an inability to talk about why we are jealous or hurt or why we feel awkward or left out or scared, we all know that relationships can be a real mess.  And while sure, relationships can be bruised by misunderstandings, there’s also a lot of human sin like judgement, pride, and arrogance that can cut and wound them.

Here’s the thing that I could not stop thinking about this last week: the son (or both of the sons) are not the only thing that is lost in this story that Jesus tells. 

When we hurt each other, when we take advantage of each other, belittle one another, fail to appreciate one another or build each other up, when our ego is convinced of how blameless we are, we lose something. Something was lost in that field that day. We lose connection, trust, and accountability. We lose our sense of peace. 

Zoom out a little, and take a wider view of this dysfunction: when we get caught up in our money or our stuff, when we make each other the enemy, when we’re snide and disparaging, when we are judged by one another, addicted to cynicism, when we’re stingy and won’t share, when we are in need and there is nothing there for us, when we stop deeply caring about our neighbors, when the one who hurts is forgotten, something cracks. We lose something. Justice crumbles. We lose our vision of a world animated by God’s love.

If we are working to build this world that God calls us to, then we have got to take a look at what is getting in the way.   Sin isn’t some kind of rule that we break that we need to get punished for or get demerits for.  It’s something that robs us of the kingdom of God.  It closes our minds, it makes us not care, it hardens our hearts, it distracts us from what matters. And in the grip of dysfunction, we lose one another. We lose God.

Thankfully, the dad in today’s bible story had the foresight to realize that he had spaced on inviting his child to the party and he went to look for him. heaven only knows how long they stood there talking in that field, with the son, furious and spitting out the truth and his hurt. His dad tried. We got a little bit of the conversation. 

“Child!” the dad says to him. (It’s the same word that mother Mary cries out when she and Joseph finally find 12 year old Jesus who was lost in the temple. “Child!” She says to him, “we were so worried!”)

Faced with so much brokenness, we must wrestle back the tools that we need to get us to God.  We must wrestle back compassion, a desire to understand one another, a deep humility.  We must struggle to practice generosity and patience and forbearance. Even if we grit our teeth while we do it, we have to practice it like a muscle to make it stronger. We must wrestle back grace.  And you are the one that knows what this looks like in your own life. Because grace comes before change. And God has asked us to change this hurting world.

When we think about what kind of world we want to build—and we’re going to think more deeply about that as a congregation this fall—we know that we as humanity are not there yet.  

The poet Cleo Wade writes, 
we say to the world, ‘please change; we need change.’ 
But how do we show up to change in our own lives? 
How do we show up to change the lives of the people in our communities?

Something has been lost. There the dad and his son stand deep in conversation while the party music drifts down in to the field.  How do the two men resolve it? Well, Jesus doesn’t tell us. Given that you know this challenge as well as I, I guess I’ll say, How do we resolve it? What does that look like in your life? 

You tell me.  



Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The gift of friendship and a slice of cake

 John 14:15-21
I want you to take a moment and think about your friendships.  For some of you, you know exactly what I’m talking about with friends.  And you’re very jazzed to see them in school tomorrow! For others of you, these are the friends that live on the other side of your backyard fence, the people you sit next to at the little league game, the people in your water aerobics class. Maybe it’s a person you cross paths with weekly in a meeting.  There are also the people that you connect with once in a while for lunch, Or there are those friends who you’ve known for a long time that you don’t talk to often, but when you do, there is an ease that is almost supernatural. 

What is it that makes friendship so special? 

Journalist, Julie beck once wrote that, when people talk about their friends or with their friends, they are “their most generous, their funniest, and their most fascinating.” 

It seems like a lot of researchers focus on relationships we have with our parents or our romantic partners. Friendships get less attention.  But friendships, also shape and anchor our lives. 

There also aren’t a ton of places in scripture where we specifically hear of friendships.  Maybe they are implied: obviously Pricilla and Aquilla had to be friends if they were working together in the streets of Corinth. Tabitha most certainly had deep friendships with the women in the early church.  She has a whole posse of ladies in Antioch. Or the old stories of David and Johnathan—they were good friends.  Jesus is certainly deeply affected when Lazarus dies. One can only suppose that he was friends with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. 

There’s another place in scripture that got me thinking about friendship. There’s this little section of the gospel of John that was read a moment ago. In this scene, Jesus is with his disciples and they’re all talking at the table.  He says to them, I’ve been here with you, but I’m not going to be with you in the same way going forward. The way I’ll be with you is to send you the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, according to the gospel of John, is the one who is called to be alongside us. You can see it right in the word that John uses to describe the Sprit. The first part of the word, para means “with” or “alongside,” the second part of the word is kaleo or “to call.” Para-clete. So, the holy spirit is the one who is called to be along side of us.  

I heard an interview with Dr. Vivek Murthee, the surgeon general, where he talked about friendship. He mentioned that when he was young man, he felt really fulfilled socially, but then, he said, he started to get more deeply involved in his work. He had two kids, life was busy and, with time, he stopped paying attention to his friendships. It was an insidious thing that didn’t happen overnight, but eventually at the pinnacle of his career, he found himself consumed with work, and isolated. He talked about how this seems to be a little more common for men than women. He said he was ironically surrounded by people, but that the quality of the connection with them was thin. Loneliness, he said, masquerades as depression, addiction, anger, violence, grumpiness.  Then, he said, he happened to be on a retreat, where he saw two old friends that he looks up to and respects. He hadn’t been in touch with them.  He said at one point at the retreat, the three of them took a walk and he told them he felt like he was struggling with a lack of connection and good friends.  The friends made a pact then to check in once a month and call and it has helped. 

Social scientists say that a lot of our close friends are friends of utility. They’re certainly real friends, but we’re friends with them because our paths cross consistently at work or in our kids’ lives. Sometime, these people become our very best friends, often they’re not.

If your friendship is utilitarian or connected because of work, for example, you might always be hanging onto a little bit of your professional demeanor and you don’t want to risk messing it up by sharing something personal or speaking up if something really matters to you.  Maybe you could say that there’s always a little bit of our guard that’s up? It can keep the quality of your connection with that friend thin.

But there’s another deeper kind of friendship. It was Aristotle who said that when friends share a love of something bigger than either of them that is outside of you both of them, you move to another level of friendship. These kind of friendships don’t depend on work or family or ambition.  You’re connected by something that is outside of you that you simply enjoy. Maybe you share a love of baseball or you love to make music together, or you share a common love in your… religion.  Over time, when we get to really know one another. These are the friends who come up along side of us (like that paraclete Jesus speaks of) not because we need them, but just because we love them.  They don’t need us, they just…love us. There is no useful purpose to the relationship other than knowing and loving each other. 

Or--is that the most transformative thing of all?…That there is no useful purpose other than knowing and loving each other?

Some studies say that being truly known is central to achieving change in psychotherapy.  I wonder if the same could be said about growth in our faith.

In the gospel of John, Jesus talks all the time about knowing God and being known by God, and abiding in God and abiding in one another. I wondered if that level of friendship is a kind of discipleship, and, in its’ own way, a way to follow Jesus.  Was that kind of closeness, and enjoyment of one another almost like a spiritual practice?  I have not yet landed on the answer to that one, but I’m thinking about it.

I’ve been thinking about friendship, in part because about a month ago, Liza mentioned at a staff meeting that her friendships and relationships were part of an experience here at this church that has had a deep impact on her.  

She shared in our worship service how these relationships impacted her and you can see some of her reflections here

How have you experienced being deeply known or a powerful friendship that has changed you? 

I want to take a moment to acknowledge that some people feel really known at church, and some people feel impossibly lonely in the church and like they don’t fit (maybe it’s useful to point out that: basically everyone over the age of 10 questions and frets about if they really belong at church at some point or another. Ironically, everyone finds common ground there)

**** 

For a variety of different reasons, over the years, many of us let the friendship muscle atrophy and we stop intentionally practicing friendship. There are any number of other reasons, we stop being intentional with our friends. Maybe, like, Dr. Murthee, we get caught up in work: professional success has become almost virtuous--it certainly seems more virtuous than hanging out with friends. maybe we have a family member with a health crisis that is consuming us and it’s hard to connect with friends.  Maybe… there’s a global pandemic and we all become a little socially awkward and unsure about how to connect with each other. Strange as it sounds, like other practices, Friendship is a skill that we have to cultivate and practice …or we get bad at it. 

Here at church, while there are certainly a lot of tasks we can get caught up in around here, one of the main things is relationships.  We could do this God thing on our own, some people do which is just fine, but there is also something about faith that is a team sport, a group project and we show up here with a group of people to practice it. there is no utilitarian function to the relationships or friendships you will make here at church. I mean, maybe you’ll network with someone, or find a play date for your kid, or find someone who can retile your bathroom, but that isn’t the point.This place is about relationships for the sheer sake of relationships.  That is how Christ is made known in this world. And we practice that together.

******

We are, of late, a little rusty at relationship here at church.  In the last couple of years, we’ve trimmed out a lot of the places where we used to cultivate those relationships and even practice friendships. Wednesday night meals or choir practice. It has been hard to get coffee hour going. It’s difficult to see each others’ faces with the masks. This fall, we’re going to get some things going where we’ll hopefully be able to connect more deeply with each other through some cottage meeting conversation groups, maybe an occasional men’s group bonfire, or music rehearsal on Wednesday night. We hope you’ll find space to connect. But in the meantime, right here, right now, we are going to pause our worship service for a ten minute moment of fika. 

During this short coffee break, your task is to turn around and make eye contact with folks and introduce yourself.  When the music starts you’ll know it’s time to continue with the communion liturgy.