God'sAs we can see from this text, today is Ascension Sunday. Or what my dear friend Rev. Dawn describes as, “The day Jesus started working from home.”
James Liggett reminds us that the Ascension “is not about gravity, or the physical location of heaven, or any of that. It is about God.” Although it comes at the end of Easter, The Ascension is really about Christmas. It completes the story of God who came to be one with us in the flesh of Jesus, and who is now joined in all his fleshiness to be forever one with God.
Because Jesus has returned to heaven in his human form, the reality and experience, the scars of being a human person, is a part of God’s reality and experience now. The fear and anxiety, the pain and suffering, the frustrations and joys we experience every day God gets it. And God’s got it. That’s the basic lesson of the Ascension.
In the book The Last Lecture, a college professor gives his final message to the world before his impending death. In this last class he offers them meaningful life advice, words of wisdom, and a great deal of optimism and hope for humanity.
Jesus did something similar as well before he died. He taught his students all that they needed to know to bring hope and optimism into God's Kingdom. But instead of standing in classroom giving a lecture, Jesus stands on the graduation stage, giving this charge:
“Be my witnesses.”
The disciples have earned their degrees. And are ready to hit the ground running. They are not given the summer off. Or allowed to take a gap year. Instead, they quickly exchange their caps and gowns for suits and ties to bear witness to “how God has broken into human affairs by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.”
I was blessed to have gotten a job immediately following both of my graduations. After I earned my bachelor’s degree, I got a job as a jr. Copywriter at the L.A. office of Ogilvy & Mather, a global ad agency.
But after receiving my Master of Divinity, I was called to lead a church in small rural town in western Michigan. Which seemed fitting for a ministerial job considering that Jesus doesn’t send these grads out to testify in their own neighborhood. He sends the “to the ends of the earth.”
He tells them to take the gospel to those places they’ve never heard of; places they’ve been warned not to go. Go out there in my name, loving and serving and caring for people who don’t look like you, or think like you, or even like you. Some might even want to hurt you. And others will succeed at doing it.
In what Joseph Fitzmyer calls the “programmatic verse” of Acts, Jesus pours the foundation of the Christian church and the scope of the Christian’s life is set. If you’re going to follow the Risen Christ, then you have to be his witnesses in any and every space.
Anamesa is more than a name, it’s a way of living out Christ’s name in the space between. For every space is sacred, God space. An opportunity to be and show the love of God so others can see who they truly are - beloved children of God.
We each must ask ourselves, “Knowing I’ve been sent by Jesus, will I leave here today proclaiming the good news?”
You don’t have to be heading off to college in the fall to see how this is a scary and anxiety inducing question. The world is still far removed from the kingdom Jesus ushered in.
Just as the world rejected him, there’s a good chance we too will be rejected. But knowing the human and divine are forever One, this challenge is also exciting and life giving.
Colleen is going out on her own. But I know that she will make new friends and form new bonds in at her new school. In each new space she will enter, she can bear witness to God’s great love, mercy and grace by being those things for others.
“Go and be my witness to the ends of the earth.”
We are his people. Easter people. Called to proclaim the good news of the resurrection. We are fully alive because Christ is truly alive in us and all around us. He is the bridge between us and them, just as he is between the human and divine.
As I’ve been saying throughout this entire series, the church is not a static building or institution. It’s a living, breathing, thriving organism. It’s you and me, and everything in between.
Jesus sends us out into Anamesa to make the gospel come alive in every little nook and cranny of life.
As his followers we are called out to be the "salt that brings God-flavors to the earth"; to be the "light that brings God-colors to the world" (Matthew 5:13-14 MSG).
With his own life Jesus taught us how to be kind and generous with our own. How to love and honor and welcome all people just as God has loved and honored and welcomed us.
Life is a journey where we wander between human beings and being human. Our pilgrim path is a delicate and deliberate way where every act of love towards one another, moves us one step closer to God.
As John the Evangelist wrote in his first epistle, “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is perfected within us” (1 John 4:12).
We are the Great Commandment people, who love God and love others. And we are the Great Commission people who carry that love to the ends of the earth.
This is what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to be the Body of Christ.
As the disciples will soon discover, life does not magically become easier once they get their diploma.
Being the church is not a day job, it’s a lifelong calling; a life-giving calling; one that embraces and encompass the resurrected life of Christ Jesus who gave the assurance that you will receive the power to do what is asked of you, “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8).
Next week we will finally celebrate Pentecost when this promise becomes a reality. Once filled with power from above, the Apostles will go out fearlessly - to love God, love others and serve both.
They will teach us how to be, as Henri Nouwen wrote, “windows constantly offering each other new views on the mystery of God’s presence in our lives.”
Through Christ we share one heart with one another. And with God. We have become heirs to his holy lineage. Through him, we are now a part of God, just as God has always been a part of us.
Today, we are given a choice. We can stand around looking up at the heavens wondering when Christ will return (Acts 1:10-11).
Or we can walk together in his likeness, as the fullest expressions of God’s love, paying careful attention to that space between our steps.
That holy and sacred space here where Christ comes to meet us in the other. And where Christ will come again to raise us all up in his glory.
Adapted from my sermon Onward, Let’s Go on May 24, 2020.
Barclay, William. The Acts of the Apostles, Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955.
Bartlett, David L, Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.
Godin, Seth. seths.blog. May 23, 2020.(accessed May 23, 2020).
Liggett, James. Today is the Sunday. May 12, 2002. (Accessed on May 19, 2023).
Baby Boy And A Ball.
Today I got the greatest little giggle watching a small toddler, still somewhat new to the confidence it takes to walk, move after a ball. His mother was just a few feet ahead pushing the pram. Her heartbeat never raised in the few steps she’d take before stopping to turn to look over her shoulder at her son, making sure hawks or large dogs haven’t carried him off.
But he’s not paying attention. At least not to her. Instead, he trusts his mom will be there, just in case. He trusts his feet to keep him steady. He trusts his legs to propel him forward. But now, in this moment I spy him, what he was learning to trust was the ball.
But I guess maybe God could be like his mother. Walking a few steps ahead for us to follow her lead; checking occasionally to see if we’re still there. Nothing to worry about. Trusting us to enjoy the moment, the sun, the breeze, and exploration. Mother-weary but with a secured calm that lets those looking on to know that all is good. “I got this. You got this. We got this.”
I guess God could also be like me, just walking around capturing glimpses of us in our present state and feeling the emotions we are meant to experience in every given moment no matter the weather or day. God just there. Moving. Seeing. Taking a moment to stop and smile as life unfolds. Embracing the excitement of what is to come next.
Maybe God is a combination of all three of us. A holy Trinity. Earthbound. Joy bound. Life in the fullest sense.
This divine boy tries again. Kicking before grabbing hold. The ball moves over a patch of grass and hopes up into the air. Just a little. Like a tiny daredevil at a county fair, it makes his face light up. He doesn’t stop believing he can get the ball. He doesn’t stop trying. Nor smiling with pure ecstasy and joy.
His mother and I shared a glance. The upwards lines in the center of our faces spoke a universal language. It said words like, "yes" and "oh, no" and "phew." Both us us there in our own joy the way it. often is expressed with silence to a stranger.
For a brief moment in our different lives, the three of us held a space worthy of capturing, bottling, and handing out to those who thirst for something more than the everyday and doldrums have to offer. Imagination tangible.
Finding a space like this space, where joy is a moment, is within our grasp. It only requires a willingness to seek it, to try at it, to fail with it a few times, and to persist. But first and foremost, it requires us to be present, be wide-eyed and be awake enough to be notice all the heart desires is always as close as anyone of us is to life. It is always right here in front of us.
At times it might seem fleeting, and frustrating, and impossible to catch much less hold on to. But there is joy in those spaces as well. Smiles being produced. Giggles to be had.
This space is God space. Always sacred. Always divine. Always holy. How blessed are we to be handed an invitation to play?
Just as Luke draws an interesting parallel between the death of Jesus and Stephen, he does something similar with Paul and Socrates, without ever naming the famous Athenian philosopher.
Both men speak in the marketplace. The people believe they are both introducing new gods. Like Socrates, Paul stands before some sort of court. But only Paul is able to escape with his life intact.
Whether or not Paul knew about the fate of Socrates, he skillfully engaged the Athenians on their own terms. And he does so without critique or criticism. Nor does he condemn them for having a city full of idols, but instead uses their own spiritual intellect and curiosity to show them how the unknown God they seek is already present in their lives, whether they realize it or not.
Instead of fighting them, he engaged them on their terms, in a language they could understand. And then he invites them to participate in God’s kingdom by calling them to rethink their beliefs.
What this church and all Christian churches can take away from this story is how to find common ground as a way to proclaim this message of the universal Christ, whom through God is present in all people and all things.
I think it would be a safe bet to say most Christians today believe Christ is Jesus’ last name. Paul shows this court of intelligencia that God is way bigger than that. In his book The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr’s uses Paul’s words to show us how, “Christ is not limited to the Christian religion but is the story of the divine presence in everything." Both men will argue how all things made by God are holy and divine. And what make something that way, is Christ.
Christ is the great unifier. The one who levels the playing field redeeming all and returning all back to our original source which is God. Because Christ is in us, we are in Christ. And because Christ is in God, we too are a part of God, and God is a part of us. We all share the same humanity. And the same divinity.
Time and time again, Jesus showed us how to see beyond our differences and recognize the humanity and divine in all people.
Like Nadia Bolz-Weber notes, “Jesus seemed to want connection with those around him, not separation…He kept violating boundaries of decency to get to the people on the other side of that boundary...He cared about real holiness, the connection of things human and divine, the unity of sinners, the coming together of that which was formerly set apart.”
I believe that’s why Jesus calls us to love and serve one another. In loving others, we are loving God. Likewise, by serving others we are serving God. To follow Jesus, the incarnate Christ, is to embrace a worldview that is more inclusive, more compassionate, and more loving. Because that’s who God is.
We live and participate in an increasingly polarized world where everyone is quick to judge and condemn those who hold different beliefs or opinions. This creates this an "us versus them" mentality. And has produced a dualistic God, whose love is conditional. This is a false god, like the ones in Athens.
I mean, do you really think God cares what political party you belong to? Or what church you attend or what sports team you root for? That’s a small 'g' god.
A big ‘G’ God, the one and only God Paul describes to the Athenians, is more concerned about how you love God, love others, and serve both. This big ‘G’ God isn’t separated from us but, through Christ, becomes one of us. One who creates human flourishing and ensures no one is left out.
Thus, as the body of Christ, we should focus our attention on entering Anamesa together, as one body, one heart and voice, making the kingdom of heaven come alive in all that we do. There is no need to be divided or dismissive because we are all made from the same divine source, whether we know it or not.
Through Christ, God saves the world by joining flesh with it. A God living among and within us all. This was a radical message that challenges the Athenians' beliefs about their own gods and the way they worshiped them. It should also challenge our notions as well. God isn’t just sitting on a cloud looking down on all of us. God is right here, as close to us as our own breath.
We are the God created. Made fully alive by the resurrected Christ. As Paul will go on to write, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
This tells me that we are living temples and shrines made to manifest and reveal God’s glory. This is the unexpected, good news for those listening to Paul. Let’s face it, “One more god in Greece would have meant little, but upon hearing they were temples of the divine, made their hearts burn with desire and hope.” (Rohr)
Paul will continue his ministry building upon the foundation that was set by the other Apostles at Pentecost, creating the structure of the church, the living body of Christ.
In his letters, he writes, “For just as the body is one with many members…we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
He declares, “We are all sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus there is no distinction between male or female, Greek or Jew, slave or free, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26–28).
His message then is relevant for us today, reminding the divided churches, “In his flesh he has made both groups one and has broken down the wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:13-14)
In Christ’s holy and sacred body, there is no longer “us and them.” No need to worry about what side we’re on because of Christ we are one with God. Our focus should not be on what others are doing, or what they believe, but on what we can do to make Christ come alive, right here, right now.
We are the living temples and sacred shrines of God’s glory, where others can come and receive God’s unconditional love. This is our mission and ministry. This is the call of the church universal. And how each and every one of us can evangelize and leave people in awe.
As Christ’s followers we must enter Anamesa, loving one another, seeking common ground, and never give up working towards unity and peace. Following the examples of the Apostles, like Peter, Stephen, and Paul may we proclaim the gospel message of redemption and hope to all who will listen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Shameless: A Sexual Reformation (New York: Convergent Books, 2019), 26, 22, 26–27.
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For and Believe (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2019)
Rohr, Richard. Essential Teachings on Love, selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 90–92.
Although not everyone will be given a holy vision of heaven like Stephen testified about, any one of us is able to make heaven a visible reality, anywhere and everywhere. Each of us is given a choice. Be like Christ and let the Kingdom of God be seen through you. Or be like the ones that covered their ears and picked up stones.
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God! But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him, and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. - Acts 7:54-60 -
Gregory Hansen writes, “If the second chapter of Acts portrays the best response ever given to someone’s first sermon, here Steven receives the worst response imaginable to what was definitely his last.”
How did we get here so fast? One minute everyone is filled with the Spirit. The next, stones are being thrown.
A little backstory might be helpful. Peter and the other apostles have been imprisoned and beaten by the temple authorities for preaching their message that Jesus is the Messiah. Like I said last week, this was dangerous on many fronts. Despite the threats, thousands were being converted and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
These first Christians will sell all their possessions and hold all in a common purse with the community of believers. One such person was Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Stephen was distributing food to the faithful when he was confronted by a jealous faction among the Jews in Jerusalem.
Similar to Jesus’ story, they accuse Stephen of blasphemy. They even instigate false witnesses against him. In return, Stephen gives a scathing rebuttal to their false charges with an exegetical exhortation of Israel’s history of persecuting prophets.
As you might imagine, this does not go over very well. And Stephen, like Jesus, is dragged outside the city and executed. As a result, he becomes the church’s first martyr.
Now, the word martyr is a transliteration of the Greek word meaning “witness.” Thus, to be a martyr is to “bear witness,” which in this case is to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus as the Messiah. Like Peter before him, Stephen’s story begins constructing the model of the church today. We are called to be martyrs, to bear witness to Christ, even if it kills us.
How much of this is true with this church today?
We gather to worship Christ, to learn how to be like him, and love like him, in the world. But what happens when we leave here, when the camera’s off and we get on with life? Are we going out in the world bearing witness in such a way that people can clearly see the resurrected Christ? Do we threaten the ways of the world, by living life as Jesus taught?
Brian Prior asks, “If someone were to stop at a gas station and ask where your church was, how would the gas station attendant answer?” Would the attendant look at them blankly? Give a vague answer? Or say, “Oh, that church! That’s the church where this, this, and this happens!”
If I asked you what our church mission is you could probably tell me that it is to love God, love others and serve both. But is that really our reality? Is it truly ingrain into the very flesh of this sacred body? We must ask this question often to make sure that we are making love a habitual practice until this vision is our reality.
As I am learning every day, there are people out there looking for what the world cannot offer. They are looking for what only Christ can give. And they’re watching us to see if we will show him to them. We must be mindful of our actions because they know a hypocrite when they see one.
If we profess God’s redeeming love without proving it in our actions, what good is the gospel worth?
In the midst of being murdered for his faith, Stephen’s words became his actions. Again like Jesus, he prayed for the forgiveness of those who were killing him. Although his testimony may not have stopped or converted those throwing the stones, it was able to transform the life of Saul who was there – watching.
Hearing Stephen’s testimony, and witnessing his faith, a seed was planted within Saul. It was only a matter of time for God to transform this persecutor into an Apostle. Saul would become Paul who would go on to bear witness to Christ with his life, his letters, and in his own martyrdom.
Both Stephen and Paul will proclaim the good news – just like Jesus did – with every fiber of their being. As Paul wrote, “I am crucified with Christ; It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
On this pilgrimage of life, as we move closer and closer to God’s heart, we must never forget that we are Easter people – called to live out our life in Christlikeness even in the face of death. We must live every day dying to ourselves and living into Christ. This is our proclamation.
watch this message here
As Easter people we know that not even death can stop God from doing what God does best – resurrecting the world with unconditional love. If we are to take the name Christian, then we must allow Christ to come alive in and through us, by being little Christ’s who resurrect God’s love in every nook and cranny of life.
Remember what I said last week? The church isn’t a static building or institution. It’s a living, breathing, thriving organism made up of ordinary saints like you and me. We are living seeds, rising yeast, bright shining lights.
Our faith must be alive and active with the power of Christ who called us to bear good fruit. Such a faith implies living every moment, every breath, as the manifestation of God’s love.
We can enter every space, big and small, proclaiming Christ’s holy name; using our minds and hearts, and our entire bodies and actions in imitation of the resurrected One who is alive in us and all around us.
As part of Christ’s body, we have the energy of the Holy Spirit, and all its intensity and strength. Our daily focus must be on increasing and strengthening that Spirit in all the ways we love and serve. Wherever the Holy Spirit is present, Christ is there.
Just the same, whenever love is present, we know Christ is there. When peace is present, or joy, compassion or hospitality Christ is there. Whenever and wherever we practice his way of love, Christ comes alive. Therefore, we have no greater testimony to God’s glory than being a living incarnation of God’s love right here in this space we call Anamesa.
Although not everyone will be given a holy vision of heaven like Stephen testified about, any one of us is able to make heaven a visible reality, anywhere and everywhere. Each of us is given a choice. Be like Christ and let the Kingdom of God be seen through you. Or be like the ones that covered their ears and picked up stones.
Trust me when I say, there are enough churches out there claiming to follow Christ while manifesting bigotry, hate, inequality, and judgment on their neighbors. There are too many modern-day Pharisees and Sadducees who are so focused on the law that they ignore the spirit by which it was given.
What the world needs now are people and communities to embrace what Peter describes as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:19). Everyday folks like you and me, who are willing to build up God’s kingdom with integrity, kindness, and genuineness.
People who are willing to pick up where Jesus left off.
People who are willing to stand in the center of life heralding the good news with our entire being.
People who right wrongs, share blessings, and love and forgive those who throw stones.
God needs people who will create communities of peace in Christ’s name.
We believe that we are those people. Easter people. Therefore, let us go out in the world living out this reality and truth celebrating the resurrection by sharing life together in all its messiness.
With Christ and through Christ we are one voice, one heart, one body that loves God, loves others, and serves both.
Ashley, Danáe M. Our Particular Community. episcopalchurch.org on May 14, 2017 (Accessed on May 4, 2023)
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A. Vol 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).
Butterworth, Susan. All We Need. episcopalchurch.org on April 30, 2023 (Accessed on May 5, 2023).
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds[a] to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
In this chapter of Acts, Luke paints the perfect portrait of what a church community ought to look like. One that shares meals and concerns with one another; reads scripture and prays together; and does the will of God and makes its content applicable to everyday life.
Somewhere in that space between then and today, the church abandoned this model, leaving it to the dusty pages of history.
I mean, just randomly walk into any Catholic or Protestant church building on any given Sunday, and there’s a good chance it will look nothing like the one Luke describes here. Yes, they are reading scripture, praying and learning something, but what's missing is the awe. People are no longer being blown away by what the priest and pastors are doing. Instead most of them are just going through the motions.
Now back in Luke's day, people were in awe not because of what they were hearing, but because of what they were seeing. Men and women, slave and free, Jew and gentile, rich and poor, all sharing fellowship, food, and faith together. There was no judgement, no shame, no rejection. Just Christ-like love, given and shared to all. No one was without.
When Rev. Dawn and I decided to start Anamesa, we did so believing that despite our distance and the way we reach out to people, we could actually be like this Acts 2 church. A place where people from all different walks of life could share faith and fellowship no matter where we were, our when we watched.
The early church had a word for this kind of living: koinonia, which in ancient Greek means “fellowship.” Or more specifically, “participation in a shared life.” This means everyone came together – with one heart and one soul – to love God, love others and serve both.
The first followers of Christ participated in a shared life together - in good and bad times. They didn’t preach the gospel, they simply lived it. And God added to their numbers. (To think God had so much confidence in the first Apostles that God left everything Jesus began up to them to complete. Talk about God’s faith for us.)
Jesus came and announced to the world that the Kingdom of Heaven is here. And his disciples believed him. Having been a witness to what he did, they took what Jesus said at face value, and lived a kingdom life; one that was centered on God’s will and not their own. This should be a lesson for us.
watch the message here
Like the great Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, noted, this kingdom is not a place we go to when we die. Instead, it requires us to be "fully alive." He writes, “The practice is to touch life so deeply that the Kingdom of God becomes a reality. This is not a matter of devotion. It is a matter of practice.”
We proclaim the truth that Jesus spoke of by practicing it, over and over again. Leaving people in awe by what they witness through us - a proclamation of the gospel both with words and deeds.
The church isn’t a static building, institution, or doctrine. It’s you and me. Us and them. We are the Body of Christ - a living, breathing, thriving organism. One that Jesus described as living seeds and living stones; yeast that is active and alive; salt that is full of flavor; light that awakens the world. He commissioned his followers to enter every space, not as a religion but as his living presence.
As his followers, our only task is to love as he loved; heal as he healed; forgive as he forgave. It’s a daily practice of dying as he died; giving up one’s ego for the sake of others in order that we might fully live the way God intended us to live.
Philosopher Burach Spinoza wrote, “I can’t tell you if there's anything after this life but I can give you a tip live as if this is your only chance to enjoy, to love, to exist.” I added this quote because at the end of the day, our validity doesn’t reside in the number of people sitting in our pews. It comes from the number of people we reach with our love.
An authentic church is not a building any more than it is a liturgy, or specific traditions we hold onto. It’s an ethic, an economy, and a culture that welcomes friends and strangers alike. It lives by the words of Jesus who said, “If you love me, then you will love one another.”
The shared life of koinonia is a life build upon love. Beginning with accepting God’s love for you and me, and then sharing that love with others.
Love is the goal. Love is our purpose. It’s how people will see our faith and come to know who we are, both as individuals and as a Christ-centered community. We must enter Anamesa, that space between us and them, and sow the seeds of God’s love.
When others divide, we must unite; creating communities of care. When others hoard, we must help; sharing the blessings we’ve received. When others are hateful and rude, we must be kind and respectful; loving fully and faithfully as if we are loving Christ himself. Believe it or not, this way of love is still a threat to those in power. It is still revolutionary.
In the podcast Faith For Normal People, actor Rainn Wilson described what was happening in Acts 2 as one of the greatest revolutions of all time.
He said, “For the first time in human history, there was a meeting of people from all different races, nations, classes and genders. [Sailors, rabbis, Roman soldiers, widows, carpenters, prostitutes] all gathered together to share a common purpose: to worship God and remember the legacy of Jesus.”
Given our current, divisive political climate the church must remain revolutionary. It has to be willing to stand up and face power with weakness. Offer people mercy instead of retaliation. Grace instead of shame. Help instead of harm.
The first church transformed communities, not by closing themselves off but by opening their hearts and hands to those the world had rejected, despised, or left for dead.
More than a new religion, theirs was a revolutionary new community that faithfully followed the way of Christ who showed us that it is possible to live in accordance to the will of God. And God added to their numbers.
The question for us then is: how can we reclaim and rekindle that spark that set the first church ablaze?
The answer is simple. By spreading love. By creating joy. By waging peace. By serving the poor. By going into homes, and businesses, and social platforms imitating Christ; proclaiming the good news by being the incarnation of God’s love.
If you ask me, there’s no better way to leave the world in awe.
Adapted from a sermonA Gathered People: What Are You Doing Here? May 21, 2017 (Accessed May 28, 2023.
Byassee, Jason. "Living in the Word: Scared Sheep?" Sojourners, May 2017: 44.
Cole, Neal. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.
Snyder, Howard. Called To Community. Edited by Charles E. Moore. Walden: Plough Publishing House, 2016.
Rainn Wilson interview from Faith For Normal People, April 19, 2023.
If this were a film, perhaps it would be called “From Resurrection to Proclamation.” I imagine it to be a big, epic cinematic masterpiece that begins in a busy, crowded marketplace in first century Jerusalem.
The air is bustling with action. Tented stalls and street peddlers, loud voices vying for our attention. The camera follows a teenager pushing his way through the throngs of people. Then darts down a dark, narrow alleyway where the faint sound of someone shouting echoes off the walls.
His heart pumps louder and louder as he nears the end of the dark alleyway. Pushing into the plaza a bright light fills the frame. We cut to a young, charismatic Peter addressing the crowd with intensity and purpose. And this is what he says.
This is Pentecost Peter who, along with roughly 120 other believers, has just been filled with the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised. The gathered crowd finds itself in an eclectic mix of excitement, joy, and bewilderment. As Scripture tells us, people talk in different languages but understand one another perfectly.
When some outsiders notice, they accuse this group of being drunk. Debunking their insult, Peter addresses the onlookers with his bold declaration – setting in place the foundation of the Christian Church and faith.
This was not the first time the good news was proclaimed. Last week, a very resurrected Jesus instructed Mary Magdalene to go and tell the disciple about what she has seen. “The one that was dead is now alive. Where there was weeping there is now joy.”
Mary’s testimony becomes the blueprint for Peter and the others to build upon. And build they do. Their faithful witness remains the mainstay of our mission and ministry today.
Now, let’s go back to the movie where the camera pans over the crowd. It’s full of Jewish pilgrims from all over the place who have gathered together in this holy city. Some have never heard of this Jesus of Nazareth. They didn’t witness any his miracles or teachings.
Others were there at his crucifixion. And perhaps heard rumors about his resurrection. But they didn’t understand what it all meant…at least not yet.
There were also people present who doubted and questioned the whole thing. Some said his body was stolen. And others claimed Jesus was merely the spiritual presence of God and not a physical being.
Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, addressed these doubters and cynics. He said, “Listen up. This Jesus whom you crucified, is more than just some prophet or a good man. He is the Messiah, the Holy One proclaimed by David and other prophets.”
This Christological claim gets people’s attention. Most likely because Peter just made every Jew present culpable in Jesus’ death. Peter then professes, “We are witnesses to this truth that this Jesus we are talking about God has raised up from the dead. Whether you saw him with your own eyes, or you are now hearing the good news for the very first time, everyone here today is now a witness to this truth.”
As Peter spoke, the Holy Spirit “pierced their hearts” with his words. Kathleen Bostrom writes, “For the multitudes gathered in that Pentecost crowd, it was like seeing a sunrise for the very first time – not just seeing the sunrise, but feeling the sun's warm, glorious beams break through the chill darkness of night.”
Moving around the crowd, the camera stops on a single voice who shouts, “Brothers, tell us what to do.” Peter is quick to answer. “Hear with your heart. Change your life and return to God. Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Let him be your Lord and receive the joy of Christ and his amazing grace.”
The crowd surges in a loud, riotous roar. From this one impromptu sermon, we are told three thousand people were baptized that day. The power of testimony. From Peter’s public proclamation, the Church and her faith was established.
watch the message here
Now, in the movie, we follow the crowd from the city to the Jordan River where the sheer number of new believers seems to stop the flow of water.
With hearts aglow, these pilgrim people return to their homes in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Crete, Arabia, and all over the Roman empire, carrying the message of Christ with them to their communities.
The opening credits roll over a montage of men and women, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, free and enslaved all having their heart awoken to the good news. The reason for this is simple. God’s redemptive love knows no boundary. It can’t be contained to a city or confined to a building. And most certainly cannot be kept in the hearts of the faithful either.
Instead, the gospel is meant be shared as freely and as liberally as Jesus gave it. As we learned during Lent, Jesus took twelve ordinary people and created a community formed and fashioned for God’s kingdom. He taught the Twelve a way to live in perfect sync with God and others. A community were offenders are dealt forgiveness; hatred is greeted with kindness; and everyone’s needs are met.
The Twelve, along with a few hundred extras, rise above their fears, faults, and foibles to become the next incarnation of God’s love. As the Body of Christ, we too are called to manifest God’s love with our hearts and hands, proclaiming what we know to be true – through word and deed - that Jesus is both Lord and Christ.
Yet, this has become a stumbling block for us lately. The Christian church has become so divisive that it’s hard for us to proclaim the good news and not to sound hypocritical. One group believes this. The other the opposite. It’s funny how we air our disagreements in public, but not our faith. (And we wonder why less people are showing up.)
What’s stopping you from speaking your faith, or living it out authentically in public? Is it the lack of words? Or the lack of faith?
When I was a kid in school, it wasn’t uncommon for someone stand up in chapel, like Peter, and share their personal testimony of how they came to know Christ.
But most of us weren’t comfortable enough to stand in front of their peers to read a book report muchless share something as intimate as a belief. That’s okay. As the great Meister Eckhart once said, “Go and preach the gospel, using words only when necessary.”
Even Peter will eventually abandon the pulpit to go out into world, sharing the good news like Jesus did; by loving God, loving others, and serving both. This is how the first church lived out the gospel. Their way would go on to inspire others to do the same.
St. Francis of Assisi who would abandon his family fortune to care for the poor. Mother Teresa who proclaimed the gospel by loving those the world had left for dead. Dr. King, who fought for equality and freedom for all of God’s children.
Today we have saints like Fr. Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries. By standing in God’s faithful and redemptive love, Boyle has pierced the hardest of hearts – transforming the lives of thousands of gang-members around Los Angeles.
Then there are everyday folks like Kevin Crowell, who shows up every Monday morning to hand out bags of food at the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry. And Julie Garcia, who makes Christ come alive in her nursing home by faithfully practicing little acts of kindness to the other residents.
Like I always say, God uses ordinary people like you and me to be everyday saints. It only takes a flicker of faith for the Holy Spirit to do her thing. Just the same, it only takes the smallest acts of love to transform a person’s heart.
In one of the last lessons, Jesus gave his disciples this simple rule to live by. He told them, “They will know you belong to me by the way you love one another.” Love is still the best way to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Christ.
After the opening credits and montage of people having their lives transformed, the movie settles in a great room in a private home where many have gathered for a spectacular feast. We cut on a teary-eyed Roman soldier removing his sword from his sheath. He hands it to Peter and falls to his knees for mercy.
Bending down to help the soldier up, Peter welcomes his adversary in a loving embrace. He shows this broken man, in the best way he knows how, what the resurrection was all about. “The one who was dead is now alive. Where there was weeping there is now joy.”
In this sacred space, between mercy and grace, the church begins to take shape.
Bostrom, Kathleen. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.
Only, it just requires a willingness to stand in the space between the known and unknown, and hold the tension of mystery. With a little fleck of faith, the eyes of our heart can open wide enough to see what God is capable of doing – making all things new, bringing abundant life from suffering and death.
Years ago, when Kathleen and I were newly engaged, we went out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. When we returned home, I noticed there was someone stirring around in my apartment.
For most, this might be cause for alarm. But this was the Formosa Ponderosa, a small community of eclectic people who lived and shared life together. It wasn’t uncommon to find someone in your kitchen borrowing some pasta or grabbing a beer. What surprised me was how Kathleen and our neighbors were able to throw a surprise party for me without me knowing it.
Everyone was there, except for my dear friend Matt. Which was odd because he and I had plans to make smoothies and play guitar that night. It was Lent, and I had given up drinking…so smoothies all around.
Kathleen was also surprised that Matt wasn’t there because the two of them had spent a week planning the party. When Matt finally arrived with groceries in tow, it was clear that he was the most surprised of all, having completely forgotten about the plans he helped set in motion.
Much like Matt, the disciples seemed a bit taken aback when they stood in the empty tomb where just a couple of days earlier, their best friend’s body had been laid to rest. They too had been part of the plan, but somehow forgot.
You gotta ask yourself, how is that possible? I mean, Peter and John were the closest to Jesus. They spent the last three years sharing life next to him, and went everywhere with him. They had witnessed, time and time again, the mysterious ways of God firsthand. And just accepted stuff that didn’t make sense, because they saw it with their own eyes. So why would this empty tomb be any different?
It’s not like Jesus didn’t give them plenty of clues. In fact, he told them point blank, "Here’s what’s going to happen. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." But like my buddy Matt, Mary, Peter, and John stood dumbfounded at the entrance of the tomb.
I’m sure we wouldn’t be any different. Some of us might react like John did. When he entered the tomb, he “saw and believed” even though he didn’t understand. John had seen enough crazy things up to this point, including people being raised from the dead, so perhaps his faith was willing to allow the mystery to be had.
Then there are those who are more like Peter, their faith is always questionable. As the text reveals, Peter isn’t so sure what to believe. In fact, he seems to have some more thinking to do because he and John return home.
And then there is Mary who, like most of us, doesn’t seem to get it at all. At least, not yet. But unlike most of us, Mary’s lack of understanding doesn’t cause her to doubt or run away. Instead she remains at the empty tomb, weeping and believing she has lost Jesus a second time. And then, for a second time, God surprised Mary.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her. - John 20:11-18
Again, she still doesn’t get it when she mistakes Jesus for the gardener. How can we blame her? It doesn’t make sense.
To quote Barbara Brown Taylor, “Once a human being goes into the ground, that is that. You do not wait around for the person to reappear so you can pick up where you left off- at least not this side of the grave. You say good-bye; pay your respects; and go on with your life as best you can.”
Resurrection doesn’t make sense. And yet it does.
Although many have tried, there is nothing we can do to defeat death. But I believe God can. I can’t prove how, but I have faith in God’s faithfulness even though I don’t understand completely what that means.
But what I do understand, and science seems to back me on this, is that if God is able to resurrect a galaxy of dead stars into a new creation of living planets, then God can make life out of death.
As Rowen Williams writes, “There is no situation in the universe in the face of which God is at a loss.” Thus, Easter teaches us one very important thing. God always wins. Nothing can defeat God, not even death. God is always victorious. Our sin, our stupidity, our selfishness is no match for God’s love for us.
And so we gather as a church, as the new, living Body of Christ to proclaim God’s glory revealed to us through Jesus, The Christ. “The one that was dead is now alive. Where there was weeping there is now joy.”
This doesn’t make sense to Mary, like it didn’t to Peter and John. The eyes of her heart are still closed with pain and suffering. She cannot see that the man she meets in the garden is the One she longs for.
Then God surprises her a third time; flipping on the light so Mary can truly see the mystery of life that has always been there. Jesus says her name, and everything about Mary changes; her deepest despair turns to the greatest joy.
“For death has more than met its match. It has been defeated.” This announcement that Jesus is alive changes everything; it changes us. There is now hope instead of hopelessness; light instead of darkness; joy instead of sadness. No wonder Mary’s first instinct is to grab hold of Jesus and never let go.
Yet, Jesus stopped her, telling her not to hold on but instead to let go. It’s as if Jesus is telling Mary, “There’s more to be done. Let go of me and run to tell the others what you know.”
By her obedience to Jesus’ request, “Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles. Whether or not Mary understood this perfectly didn’t matter to her. She believed in Jesus and faithfully did what he asked of her.
Being a faithful witness to this new life is the task of the church. It’s the whole point of claiming the name Christian. Following Jesus literally means following his way of love and service. This is how Jesus proclaimed the good news of God’s redemptive love. And it’s how we must too.
As Mary shows us, Easter doesn’t end at the tomb. It begins there. And it has continued every day since, all the way up to today.
There’s more to the story because there’s more that needs to be done. More people to feed. More wounds to heal. More peace to bring. More wrongs to right. More sins to be forgiven. More people who need to know and feel and experience God’s love first hand through us.
Jesus sends Mary out to tell others. And the ones she tells will go and tell others. This pattern of faithful witnesses will continue throughout Anamesa until God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
You don’t have to fully understand the Easter story to live it out. Just allow Jesus to come to life through you. Go and be little Christs, allowing God’s love to flow in and out of you.
Watch our Easter Service here
Six years ago, on Easter Sunday, a church was planted right here in our backyard. We made it our mission to love God, love others, and serve both.
We had no idea what we were doing or what we were up against. We just believed that God was calling us together for a reason. Through trial and error, I learned it’s not always easy to see or understand God’s wonderful surprises when struggling to keep our heads above water.
Just the same, I am sure it wasn’t easy to see God’s divine hand at work on a blood-stained cross or an empty tomb. But there it was, right before their eyes and no one understood. Yet eventually they would all believe. And each one would go and manifest God’s love throughout the world.
Richard Rohr reminds us that, “Resurrection is not a miracle to be proven; it is a manifestation of the wholeness that we are all meant to experience…”
Throughout all of creation we see how resurrection was not a one-time occurrence. It wasn’t some band-aid to fix something we broke. Resurrection has been a part of God’s blueprint since the beginning.
Like Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24 ).
Resurrection is the cycle of life; the completion of the incarnation; the birth of something new. Easter is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning of an amazing new life that we get to live out every day.
God is always throwing a surprise party for us. But who will show up? Who will walk with us into Anamesa – that space where God comes to meet us in the most unexpected ways. Jesus is calling you by name. And he is sending you out to proclaim the good news.
The tomb is empty. Christ is alive. Death has lost its power over us. May we live faithfully to this truth, believing even if we don’t totally understand.
Rohr, Richard. Immortal Diamond. (Jossey-Bass: 2013) pp.83-90.
Swenson, Warren. Responding. April 2, 2023 (Accessed on April 5, 2023).
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home By Another Way. (Crowley: 1999)
Williams, Rowen. Easter Message 2014. (Accessed on April 5, 2023).
As many of you might know first hand, whenever there is great love, there will be suffering. We’ve been learning through this Lenten pilgrimage, sometimes it’s in our suffering, we lean on God more, drawing ourselves closer to where the Holy Spirit is leading our hearts.
This morning, we will take the uneasy path, walking with the prescribed lectionary text. I did not prepare any words per se because this story is a sermon all on its own. I would like to invite you to put yourself in this story. Because this story is about us, and our frail human nature.
You can play a big role or just be a spectator as the story moves from a small room to a fragrant garden, to a private home and royal palace before we walk a dirt pathway to the cross. The very place our Lenten pilgrimage has been taking us.
And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born."
Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so."
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Then Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee."
Peter said to him, "Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times."
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated.
Then he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me." And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want."
Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Again he went away for the second time and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.
So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."
The high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, "I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God."
Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven."
After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you."
Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know the man!" At that moment the cock crowed. Peter remembered what Jesus had said: "Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.
Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas.
So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.
While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him."
Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas."
Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!"
So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves."
What, Me Worry?
Now, I’d later learn the unofficial term of what I was about to do is called Bible Roulette - this is where one challenges God to prove God’s self by opening the bible and randomly slamming one’s finger down on verse. That verse, of course, will be the answer you’re looking for.
In between short sips of air and the voice screaming “How will I put shoes on their feet?” I attacked the Bible next to my bed and smashed my finger down on the page. And this is what I read. “Why do you worry about clothing?”
That was all it took. God won. I didn’t have the fight in me anymore. As I surrendered and let go of my fear, that tight grip on my heart was released. All my worries seem to just melt away.
One of the most repeated phrases in the entire bible is “Do not be afraid,” or a variation like “Do not fear,” or “Do not worry.” I’ve been told that this phrase is repeated in the Bible 365 times. In these few verses alone, Jesus says four times.
Between the wars and threats of wars, a lingering pandemic, and a fragile economy It’s hard not have a little worry and fear rattling around inside your head. You might not worry what you’re going to eat or wear, but many of us are afraid of what others think or worry what they say behind our backs.
Parents will always worry about their children. And children will worry about their parents. You might worry about getting a promotion, while someone else is fearing losing their job. It wasn’t that long ago when there was worry and fear about having enough toilet paper for everyone.
According to Jesus, focusing our energy on that stuff won’t add another second to your life. It won’t give you any more sleep. Or less grey hairs. Instead, we’d do well to follow the advice of Alfred E. Neuman, the iconic spokesman for Mad Magazine who famously quipped: "What, me worry?"
His sage advice was always the opposite of what my teachers were telling me at school. For some reason they wanted us to worry. Worry about our grades, worry about our future, and definitely worry about being judged by God. It’s as if they wanted us to be full of fear, instead of being filled with faith.
watch service here
Looking at the birds flying around, and the grass blowing in the breeze, Jesus shifts our attention off of us, and directs it back to God. And God’s faithful abondance.
He reminds his disciples that just as animals and flowers are made by God’s divine hand, so too are each one of them. If God takes care of the least of these in creation, then surely that includes every human being too.
God’s kingdom is about abundance, not scarcity. During my panic attack I had lost sight of this powerful truth. I suspect these new disciples had too. Granted, they had a good reason to be worried and afraid. After all, they quit their jobs and left the security of their family and community to follow Jesus.
We too might have legitimate reasons to fear where Jesus is leading us. I certainly did. But what good does it do? How does it help us become a community formed and fashioned for God’s kingdom?
Here’s what we need to remember: God is faithful to a fault.
Jesus looks at the world around him, and essentially tells the twelve to empty themselves of their fears and worries so they can be filled with the abundance of God’s provision and care. “Live in God’s faithfulness and you’ll be alright.”
This is God’s Kingdom. God is still in control.
If we believe God is an intimated, caring, and a trustworthy parent who provides all that we need, then it’s possible for us to become a community that shares the same intimacy, care, and trust with others.
As Jesus will spend the rest of his ministry demonstrating, God gives us all that we need to enter every space as a living manifestation of God’s loving abundance.
As Jesus shows us, God’s perfect love helps us become perfect at loving each other.
Because God is more faithful, we can be faithful to one another.
Because God is more merciful, we can always show mercy. Because God is more than gracious, we can always be gracious.
We can love God, love others, and serve both because God is forever faithful. God’s will always prevail…even if and when we fail.
Looking at Anamesa, that space between heaven and earth, Jesus reminds us that every living thing is under God’s care. And God will not leave us without resources or support. Just as God has not abandoned the forest and oceans, God will not abandon you or me. Once we wrap our head and heart around this reality, worry or fear will lose all its power over us.
When we come to embrace God’s faithfulness and goodness, then we can go out into the world as “a living witness to the character of God’s loving abundance and care for creation.”
So you see, Alfred E. Neumann was right. “What, me worry?” All is okay and we’ll be okay too. Or to quote Richard Rohr, “Stop fretting and fearing and enjoy divine union now.”
As we make our pilgrimage through Lent to Easter, we might face challenges and circumstances that could cause a panic attack or two. But I’ve learned, time and time again, that we can face life’s uncertainties and contingencies knowing God is ever faithful and ever present; creating new life out of our pain and suffering. And even out of death.
As we walk towards the Good Friday cross, and the darkness that follows, may we never lose site of the Easter light that broke through the darkness - where God proved to the world what God is capable and willing to do to for all of creation.
The One who looks out for the transient life of grass with such beauty and care, is also looking out for you and me.
Instead of worrying about what you will eat, or drink or wear let’s use our time and energy being a people whose faith is in grounded in God’s faithfulness; whose love mirrors God’s love; and whose focus is on the Kingdom of God and righteousness.
If we trust Jesus at his word, then all these things will be given unto you.
Adapted from Seriously, Don't Worry About It by Ian Macdonald on 08.22.2021
Between the Applause
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” Given the lessons from the last couple of weeks, today’s text should come as a relief. As Amy Richter points out, “If you want to get strange looks, read your Bible in public, pray aloud in a restaurant, or talk about what Jesus means to you to the person next to you while you’re waiting for a bus.”
Jesus’s words are a bit ironic don’t you think, seeing that just a few weeks ago we kicked off Lent by smearing ashes on our forehead and going out in public. Right after that we get Jesus telling his disciples to let their “light shine before others.”
And in Isaiah doesn’t God explicitly say, “I don’t want you sitting around in sackcloth and ashes looking miserable. I want you to get up and do something good. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. House the homeless. Give to the poor. Change the world. That’s the kind of religious offering I’m looking for.”
God clearly wants our faith to be seen. So perhaps, in light of the Academy Awards Show tonight, we should look at this particular section of Matthew’s gospel as if Jesus is saying, “Don’t let our religious practices become an Oscar worthy performance. The world isn’t your stage. It’s God’s.”
In other words, don’t play or pander some self-righteous show to reap the praise of others. Instead, “Let your light shine so others can come to see God’s glory.” Our obedience to Christ shouldn’t make good social theater. It should be about building up God’s kingdom here and now.
A few years ago, I was critical of a group of evangelical leaders went to the White House and before the cameras, they laid hands and prayed over someone who many argued was the antithesis of everything Jesus stood for. It was a self-righteous, theatrical performance at its best. They went on to justify their shameless pandering touting how it earned them favor with the President.
In my self-righteous anger, I called them out by name asking, “Where is Christ in your Christianity?” At the time it felt like the right thing to do. But where was Christ in my own Christianity, pointing out the faults of others without looking first at myself?
Was I any different, speaking out in front of this camera to win the applause and approval of whoever was watching? Self-righteousness is bad theater that’s not only bad to watch, but bad for the Kingdom of God.
While praying, fasting, or giving alms are important to our spiritual growth, they can endanger the relationship we have with God if our heart is in the wrong place. Jesus warns us of hypocritical displays of piety and moral rectitude because he knows how easy it is for us to make ourselves the center of attention.
I remember sitting in a church where someone stood up, pulled a bunch of $100 bills from his wallet, and instead of putting them in the offering plate, he waved them around and challenged others to match or beat his gift.
Amy Ritcher writes, “The hypocrite acts for others. Some play the role and may not even realize it’s only an act.”
It was just a few years ago, a football coach sued the school district to allow him to publicly pray with his team out on the field. I believe deep down in his heart he was just trying to honor God, but the backlash and bad press it caused didn’t do much to promote God’s glory.
Jesus wants us to be mindful of the motive behind our fasting and feasting, our praying and giving. Are we doing it for our spiritual growth, to be closer to God? Or to get praise and recognition?
Jesus will call his disciples to walk a narrow path, one we will all walk on the pilgrimage of life. On one hand, we must let our light shine in the many ways we show God’s love, mercy and grace to one another.
On the other, we must be mindful that our motivation behind our acts isn’t self-rewarding or hypocritical. For Jesus, that’s what perverts discipleship.
“Turning our outward gestures into currency for enhancing one’s reputation,” writes Marilyn McCord Adams, “betrays our deepest loyalty by breaking the first and greatest commandment: to love God with all we have.”
Between the applause, we must take the time to pause. And following the advice of St. Benedict, we must go inside ourselves and listen with the ear of the heart. It is the heart that Jesus is talking about. This is the secret space where only we can go. Jesus sends us there not to be praised or applauded but to be in divine union with God.
Lent is a time we go inward, into the wilderness of our own being, to take inventory of our true selves, our real motives, and intentions.
While it’s always good and worthy to do nice things for others, if it’s done while secretly resenting them for it then what good is that gesture? Do we really believe God doesn’t see through the disguise? Before we can go out and let our light shine, we first must connect with the divine light within ourselves where prayer, sacrifice, and charity are first conceived.
In his Message translation, Eugene Peterson said like this, “Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”
Jesus sends us inward, to our heart, the very place where God dwells in us. It’s here, we are made in the image of God who comes to be in a relation with us. More than a warning, Jesus is awakening our hearts so we will embrace a life of faith where a relationship with God is the greatest reward.
This is why Jesus doesn’t want hypocrites. He wants disciples, people who can usher in the Kingdom of God making real relationships, in real time.
Jesus doesn’t need more church goers. He needs more church doers. People who truly love God, love others and serve both - even when no one is looking.
Jesus doesn’t call actors to stand in the spotlight. He calls you and me to be a new community who will shine so brightly that others can’t help but see God’s glory illuminating.
There is no need to make a performance out of it. As Jesus will tell his disciples in the following verses God knows them and knows how valuable they are. God knows you, and your self-worth too. Through life, death and resurrection of Christ, God has paid the greatest price to have a relationship with us.
Jesus is our reminder of God’s great love for us. So, let us keep our eye on him. Knowing all that we do, we do in his name for the glory of God. Therefore, let us store this treasure not on earth, but in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.
Adams, Marilyn McCord. Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).
Richter, Amy. What Audience? March 5, 2014 (accessed on March 12, 2023)
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”