Today I received an email from a very dear friend who is going through tough time. To say it’s a rather difficult period of his life wouldn’t do it justice. He’s been this way for as long as I have known him. Despite his inner darkness, he has shown me the light in so many ways.
He is not only a friend, but a brother. Not just a student but a teacher. Not a nobody, but a very special someone who has inspired me to love on a deeper level, and to allow myself to live into my truth and be vulnerable. He doesn’t not judge me unfairly, or perhaps not at all. He saves that only for himself. While he is trapped in his emotional prison, he has freed me.
He told me once that not having me in his life would be like missing a finger. Not having him in my life would be like missing a foot. He always keeps me balanced, and on all ten of my toes.
In response to his letter, I wrote him these words that I think all of us need to hear.
Never forget that everyone feels one of these, if not all of these, at some period in life. This list is not exhaustive. Nor is it static. It grows as we continue to add ourselves, our pain, our negative beliefs to the list. Yet no matter how much it grows, not matter how may adjectives and layers of our emotional baggage we bring, one thing remains constant and sure. The perfect image of God, for which by some divine mystery, includes you and me and everyone else. If God is love, then so are we. No matter what.
Advent is a time to wander down many different pathways to the meet the Christ child. Each week we’re given a new road to meander down that draws us nearer to that sacred space. Each of these pathways is a different opportunity to discover something new about who we are.
So, Where Do We Begin. I suspect it will be different for all of us. That’s okay. Like Emerson said, it’s the journey that matters. It’s taking the first step that leads to the next. With each step forward, we discover life is no longer the same as it used to be.
Like a stream, it’s always flowing and always different every second of every moment. What’s important to remember is it’s how we find ourselves and grow closer to God in these steps we take that matter the most.
Years ago, I met a man in the city square of Iquitos, a small Peruvian town settled along the Amazon River. It was my first time there, and his first time back since he and two college friends hiked the infamous Inca Trail in the late 70's.
I have heard many stories from people who have taken this ancient pilgrimage to the sacred ruins of Machu Picchu. But never had I heard one like his. His story began in a bar where, over a few drinks with the locals, he expressed his desire to see this place which is considered one of the seven greatest marvels of the world,
Back then trains didn’t drop you off at the foot of the mountain. And there were no buses to take up to the pilgrimage site. To get there you had to hike the legendary pilgrim trail which is part of the 23,000 kilometers network of pathways that vein through the Andes Mountain range. While these guys were hoping for a guide to show them the way, all they got was a hand-drawn map sketched on the back of a cocktail napkin.
Things may have been different in the 70’s, but I’m not sure I would entrust my life to something so vulnerable and susceptible to the elements like a napkin. These guys did. It wasn’t until they watched their train disappeared into the dark wilderness that they questioned their judgement. With no other way out, they took the first step up the steep mountainside. Every step he took was a step into truly the unknown.
For five hours they hiked in silence, too scared to talk. Just as he was about to suggest they turn around, they reached the first set of ruins drawn on the napkin. There they set up camp. While sleeping under a canopy of stars that night, he realized this was no longer a trip, but a journey that would forever change him.
Our wilderness adventure doesn’t start in a bar, but along the sandy banks of the Jordan River where we meet a man the late Rachel Held Evans described as, “that crazy guy you go out of your way to avoid in the Walmart parking lot.”
I like to think of John as that stranger in the bar, giving us a map for our pilgrimage. Anyone who chooses to take this trip needs to pay attention to what he has to say and not be distracted by how crazy it sounds. Because John is leaving us little places to stop and ponder the deeper meaning of life. What he had to say would change the world forever.
READ: Matthew 3:1-12
n those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight....“I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I, and I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Like I said last week, text without context will often get us in trouble. So, here’s what we know.
The son of a temple priest, John was a good Jewish boy who followed his father’s footsteps. At some point, he abandoned the temple for the wilderness where he lived only on what God provided, wild honey and locusts. John also gave up the ceremonial purification pools of the temple in exchange for the wild, flowing waters of the Jordan where he preached a baptism of repentance.
Today, we understand repentance as an act of sincere regret. It’s a way to show remorse so forgiveness and healing can happen. Back then, to repent was less about being sorry and more about changing your thinking. The idea is if one begins to think differently, then one will also start to act and live differently.
To repent is to have a new mindset, and for Christ followers it helps us to be more aware that our actions are out of step with God’s dream for all creation. We know this because Jesus also began his ministry saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Like his cousin, Jesus will dedicate his life to show us how to reconnect with God, by changing the way we look at the world and how we interact in it. To repent is a good place for us to start our pilgrim journey. It reorients our heart and mind to follow God’s will instead of our own.
But there’s more to John’s story. He was out in the wild baptizing people because that’s a part of what priest do, they purified and prepared people to enter the temple.
You might have been baptized with a little water poured over your head as a baby. Or perhaps full submersion as an adult. Like Richard Rohr notes, "water doesn’t really change a person." It’s just a ritual, an outward sign of an inward promise.
John knows water doesn’t change your heart, your mind, or actions. Real baptism, as he points out, comes from Christ who baptizes “with the Holy Spirit and Fire.”
Again, this text needs context.
watch it if you don't feel like reading any further
John gives us an allegory, and unless you’ve worked threshing wheat, then you might be tempted to think this is a scare tactic to avoid the eternal fires of hell.
That’s one way of looking at it. A human way which doesn’t seem to fit God’s way. God is not quid pro quo – do this or else. Revenge is not love. And anything that isn’t love isn’t from God.
Another way of looking at these verses is to see the fire like a refiner’s fire – one used to cleanse and purify precious metals. Isn’t that what the Holy Spirit does? Like John, it prepares the way for us to meet God by removing our impurities. As the text suggests, the Holy Spirit doesn’t use water. It uses an axe and fire.
Again, context is key. In our front yard, we have a tree that has the world’s best avocados. But it doesn’t do it on its own. I water it, prune it, care for it, and give it the attention it needs to produce its delicious fruit.
In the same way, it’s the Spirit’s job to prune away the parts of us that no longer bear good fruit in the kingdom of heaven. Those things are tossed into a fire…and transformed into something good for the world, like heat to cook a meal.
If we are to bear the fruit of God’s peace, then we need to remove the things that keep us from doing what God has called us to do – which is love one another.
We might all start this journey in different phases of life, but we all start from the same place. In the wilderness of life, surrounded by chaos and distractions that try to steal our peace. Out here, we’re constantly being tempted and led astray from God.
Although we might know how to read the stars, or forage for food, we can’t rely on our own selves to keep on the right path. We need the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us in God’s way of seeing, thinking, and doing.
St. Paul tells the churches in Galatia to “live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of flesh” (Galatians 5:16) because Paul knew that when we live by the Spirit, we produce the fruits of the Spirit.
With the Spirit of Love growing in us, we can produce peace instead of war. Joy instead of sorrow. Kindness instead of hatred. Gentleness instead of pettiness. Self-control instead of rage. We become more patient. More generous. More faithful.
John paved the way for Christ who, in all the ways he showed God’s love would change the world forever. It was Christ who gave us the Spirit so we can go and do the same.
If we listen with an open heart, we can still hear John’s voice crying out in our wilderness; calling us to wake up and come clean; “to turn around from the old way we do things, so we don’t miss out on seeing the new thing God is doing right before our eyes.” (Taylor)
As we wait for the Christ child to break into our world and longing, and redirect our pathway back to the open heart of God, we must remain awake and present to the Spirit of Love, the very presence of Christ within us all.
By this Spirit we can tune our ear to the voices crying out for mercy. We can touch the hands in need of human tenderness. We can forgive those who have love inside them but don’t yet know it.
As we move through the space we call Anamesa, may we always bear the fruits of the Spirit, walking in-step with the saints who’ve walked this pathway before us – bringing the light of hope and illuminating God’s peace into the darkest corners of the world.
Therefore, go and start your journey in whatever space we’re in right now, singing from your heart, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Evans, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. (Nashville: Nelson, 2015).
Rohr, Richard. The Two Tasks. December 14, 2019 (Accessed on December 1, 2022).
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home By Another Way. Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
Where do you feel the divine presence of God right now in your life, in this moment? Maybe in the silence of snowfall. Or the noise of a preschool. Is it in the wind blowing across the harbor? Or in the cold morning air as you walk to your car for work? Maybe you feel it the steady (or unsteady) rhythmic beating of your heart?
Perhaps God isn’t so easily recognizable to you right now. Maybe your brain is elsewhere. But even with a thousand images and ideas zipping through your head God is there. Between worry over money and finding time to get Christmas presents. Between calls that need to be made and relationships that need to end. The presence of God's goodness is all around us.
Our goal is to train our eye to see what our heart desires. There is no one special way to do that other than knowing that every space is an opportunity to workout that special muscle. But if it helps, whenever I get stuck or simply can't see God around me, I look at my reflection in a mirror. Instead of picking myself apart like I might be tempted to do, I simply breathe slowly and welcome the divine light that is within me.
Like Jesus said, “when you see me you see God.” We are not God, but we are made in the divine image of God…if only so we can always remember that God is always present, always there and here and even over yonder. However, it’s up to us to take the first step by opening our eyes to see what our heart desires.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. "You are the Beloved" Published by The Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust and Convergent Books: 2017.
Pilgrimage by definition is a physical journey toward a place of sacred or religious significance. For example, many have walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, following the footsteps made by the Apostle James. There are thousands of miles of pathways on this road, with each one ending at the shrine where St. James is supposedly buried.
For those of us who have yet to be afforded this privilege, let us not forget that life itself is a pilgrimage. It’s an open-ended undertaking, where the many journeys we take in life should lead us towards personal reflection and growth. As we move towards Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born, our quest ought to be also about growing our faith, and finding our purpose and particular place in God’s sacred heart.
I believe there are many ways there. And the best map to take for this journey is always the Holy Scriptures. As cryptic as they can seem at times, their words show us a way forward, leading us to where we need to go and who we are to become.
READ: Matthew 24:36-44
....Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day[b] your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
So, who will go with us on this pilgrimage? According to this text today, it seems a little questionable. At first glance, it seems like you got a 50/50 chance that God will either take you or not.
But if I’ve learned anything about wrestling with sacred text, especially an apocalyptic passage like this one, it’s that our first inclination is to make it about ourselves. Where am I in this space? But Jesus always encourages us to look beyond ourselves, and always directs our gaze back to God.
This story isn’t about us. It’s about God, who Jesus describes as “a thief in the night.” Advent is a time of expectant waiting. And what we are to expect from God is to always expect the unexpected.
Which fits perfectly into our pilgrimage theme as we search for meaning, purpose, values, and truths we enter every space knowing God is going to surprise us. Because God is always breaking into our lives when we least expect it.
If you’ve ever been on a road trip then you know things can and often happen that are not part of the itinerary. A tire blows out on the car, or you put unleaded fuel in a diesel engine like I did in Ireland last summer.
But not all unexpected surprises are bad. We’ve been forced to take detours that have led us to discover some new and amazing places. And we’ve had our hotel reservations get messed up and instead of getting a single room with two beds we got a suite with two extra rooms.
God breaks into our life when we least expect it. And those who are ready can expect a good thing to come from it.
watch the message here...however, it might be a little grainy.
So to answer the question, “Who will go,” Jesus says the one who stays awake. That is to say, the one who is ready to meet God anywhere and everywhere.
“The only way to get ready for God” according to Richard Rohr, “is to get yourself out of the way.” It’s not always about us. But always about God. It’s always about “letting God come as a surprise, as unexpected, undeserved grace.”
Jesus constantly shows us that God always comes when we least expect it, and always where we don’t deserve it. This is why it’s always called the Good News.
But some take these words to be good for some, bad for others. I think that’s a wrong reading of this sacred map. It’s why so many people remained lost. I don't think this was Jesus' intention when he spoke these words.
I don't think Jesus says these things to make his followers worried or afraid to go on this journey, but to wake us all up and make us all excited to take the first steps into the unknown. It’s in taking the walk with him our faith comes alive, and grows muscles. Faith is a verb. Always active, always doing, always growing.
In taking another glance at this cryptic text, we see that Jesus is calling us “to a life of work, in the spirit of active wakefulness.” To expect the unexpected requires us all to keep our focus on the present day, to the needs of the moment. Jesus points our attention to the people in the field, the mill, the daily grind. The reason behind this is simple.
God breaks through in the ordinary places of human endeavors where life is lived out in real time. It’s in the mundane places of the everyday that our faith comes alive. Those who will go will be the one’s who are awake and ready, in any situation.
To be prepared is to remain active in faith… to be a people who see wrongs and work to correct them. Some call this being “woke.” And some believe this is a bad thing. I don't get it.
While we wait for Christ to come, Jesus said we need to be woke people.
Woke to the sins of inequality and injustice that continue to keep people enslaved and imprisoned.
Woke to what’s going on around us, to be present to the needs of our communities, so that others can see the fullness of God’s glory.
We may not know what God is up to, or when Christ will return. But we do know that as we wait, we are to do so actively and not passively. This means we must keep our eyes open, as well as our heart and hands.
At Anamesa, we begin our pilgrimage by loving God, loving others and serving both. While putting this to practice, I’ve watched my faith grow, my life have meaning and purpose. My faith has value. It’s why I get out of bed, awake with excitement for what comes next.
Like a thief in the night, God breaks into our lives, working through us to surprise the world with love, mercy, and grace. We must stay awake, keep our eyes on what’s going on around us, in our neighborhoods and communities; our school rooms and board rooms. We must remain present and mindful and willing to enter those places faithfully.
The Bible tells us that one day Christ will suddenly appear on a cloud to reign upon this kingdom. But before that, he will appear around the corner, suddenly, like a hungry person on the street, like an ill-clothed neighbor, like a co-worker trapped in an addiction, or a friend struggling through cancer treatment.
In the next chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus makes it perfectly clear that those who will go, are the ones who see him and love him in the vulnerable, the stranger, the prisoner and dying. “For what you do to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you do also to me” (Matthew 25:31-46)
As we begin this pilgrimage, we can expect to see and meet Christ, who is always in us and all around us. We may not know where we’re going, but we do know who goes with us.
That is the one who has come to us, to lead us on this journey home to where we belong. In the sacred heart of God.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).
Rohr, Richard. Not A Threat, But A Breaking In. November 30, 2019, podcast. (Accessed on November 24, 2022).
Flanked on either side of Jesus are two men that Luke describes as criminals. We don’t know what they did, but if history tells us anything, these weren’t your run of the mill thieves.
Back then, crucifixion was mostly reserved for those who rebelled against the Roman Empire. It was a purposeful and gruesome public death designed to show others of the high cost of sedition. This is what the religious leaders accused Jesus of when they brought him before Pontius Pilot, the Roman governor of Judea at that time.
The two criminals knew exactly why they were up there on the cross. But only one seemed to know or care that Jesus was innocent. He didn’t join in with the others to mock Jesus, but instead recognized his wrongdoing. You may have noticed this man didn’t ask Jesus for forgiveness, just mercy. I guess he figured he was getting what he deserved.
Hearing the man’s plea, Jesus has compassion and assures him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Even has he was dying, Jesus remained faithful to showing the world what God’s grace and love is all about.
Whatever the man had done to deserve his death sentence, Jesus pretty much said it doesn’t matter. Those who return to God will be forgiven. And your past will be forgotten. This should be a welcome reprieve to any who believes they aren’t worthy of such a gift. But, honestly, who among us is worthy? The answer is none of us. And yet, all of us.
None of us are worthy because we live in a world where everything is transactional. Everything we do seems to come with a price. That’s the eye-for-an-eye, quid pro quo mentality that Jesus told us to forget about when he taught us to turn the other cheek.
I’m afraid we don’t see our worth in God’s eyes, because society preaches “you get what you deserve.”
But that’s not how it works in God’s kingdom. God makes us worthy because forgiveness isn’t about transaction, but transformation. God’s love for us is unconditional which literally means, “without strings attached.” It’s always there, free of charge, for anyone who wants it.
God is about transforming us – using love and grace to move us beyond what we’ve done to what we can become people who love like God first loved us.
So why do we waste so much time and energy believing we’re unworthy? Or why do we think God’s not big enough to redeem whatever we’ve done or left undone? Is it hard to believe we all can be with Christ in paradise?
If this passage tells us anything it’s that all who come to God will be forgiven. And all will be forgotten. Because we can’t carry our wrongs into paradise. There’s just no place for it there.
watch the message unfold here
In 1996, Johnny Cash remade the old folk song "Kneeling Drunkard's Plea." It’s about a man crying out to God at his mother’s grave. For whatever reason he didn’t make it home in time to say good-bye. In his dark, baritone voice Cash sang, “Lord have mercy on me, was the kneeling drunkard’s plea. And as he knelt there on the ground, I know that God in heaven looked down.”
Depending on how you see yourself this song, God could be interpreted two ways.
The first way is that God looks down upon the drunk in disgust. Then God picks up an index card and begins scribbling down all the sins this man has committed in his life. The card is handed to an angel who files it away until the drunk is brought before God in judgment. That’s one way of interpreting the Bible and Christianity. The other way is more like this.
God looks down on the drunk and sees a empty, broken soul in dire need of help. God feels his pain and has empathy. Hearing him cry over his mother’s grave, God is reminded of the tears that were shed at Jesus’ death. God knows the drunkard’s story because through Jesus God has walked with people just like him. People whose bad choices have made their life a living hell.
In hearing the man cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me,” God picks up a pencil and begins to erase the man’s index card.
Ever since Abel’s blood cried out from the ground, God has responded mercifully to our pleas.
This is what I see Jesus doing when the criminal asks to be remembered because this is how it works in God’s kingdom. Those who come will be forgiven. And all will be forgotten.
This is good news because, as most of us know, forgiving people who have hurt us is difficult to do. Forgetting what they did is even harder. But there are three crosses in this story. The one in the middle is the cross of Christ.
Until we truly embrace the heart and mind of Christ - who saw all people to be worthy of God’s loving compassion, then I’m afraid we’ll continue to make everything transactional. Once we see others as God sees us, we begin transforming ourselves and all of creation in the process.
I want us to think about this in light of the tragic news that has come from Colorado Springs today. In case you have not heard, there was another mass shooting, another hate crime towards the LGBTQ+ community.
How does one forgive a person who killed someone you love? How does one ever forget his actions when the nightmares continue? Between the rage of the shooter and the pain left in his wake, is Christ who is always loving and always forgiving and forgetting, even when we can’t.
In her book Accidental Saints, Nadia Bolz-Weber confessed how hard it was for her to recognize the Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza among those who were killed that day. But then she realized “that the light of Christ cannot, will not, shall not be overcome by that darkness. Not by Herod, and not by Adam Lanza. The light of Christ is so bright that it shines even for me and even for them.”
From the very beginning to the bitter end, Jesus proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom where prodigals are forgiven, lost sheep are found, and people are redeemed and restored.
A kingdom where those who are condemned can claim God’s mercy and grace if they want it. A kingdom where all is forgiven. And all is forgotten.
Even on a cross, Christ shows us that God’s grace has nothing to do with what we did or who deserves it. But it has everything to do with God. And anyone who wants what God has to give. There’s enough for everyone – not just for those who recognize who Jesus is, but even for those who mock him.
As we move towards Advent, and towards the Christmas birth, we do so with the cross of Christ in front of us and the light of hope, joy, love and peace that illuminate from it. The cross, as brutal and ugly as it is, reminds us of just how far God is willing to go to forgive and forget.
In the space between these two words is Christ who continues to call us to live in Anamesa, to enter that space between those who are guilty and those who are not, and offer compassion and mercy to everyone just as God has offered it to us.
I believe this is the paradise Jesus invites us to join him in today. Yesterday has come and gone. But we are given this day to transform this space to become a place where love is powerful enough to make heaven and earth one again.
And in case you were wondering, in the final verse Johnny Cash sings, “Three years have passed since she went away. Her son is sleeping beside her today. And I know that in heaven his mother he sees, for God has heard that drunkard's plea.”
All who come to the Lord will be forgiven. And all will be forgotten.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C. Vol. 4. (Westminster John Knox: 2010) pp. 332-337.
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. (Convergent: 2015) p. 78.
Brewer, Todd. The Elusive Strangeness of Jesus. Mockingbird: Nov. 19, 2019. (Accessed 11/19/19).
In the space between the old and new we are called to embrace this way of life today, living it out as if heaven and earth are already one.
This is always good for us to remember because as you know, when Jesus was born the world was not all that perfect. Like today, there were wars, insurrections, deadly plagues, natural disasters, and all the other stuff that upsets and disrupts people’s lives.
Back then, it was common for people to believe that when bad things happened it meant God was punishing them, or worse, that God abandoned them as if God would just throw in the towel and leave us to pick up the pieces.
Christ is our proof that God never abandons us. But comes to us in both good and bad times.
In her Life Mastery course Mary Morrissey said, “Everything is created twice.” That is, everything was first a thought before it became a thing.
The lightbulb was first an idea before Edison produced the actual product. The seat you’re sitting on, the camera I am looking through, Facebook and YouTube...everything was first a thought before it could become a thing. Including us.
A student of biology knows that long after we’re pronounced dead our bodies take on new life through decomposition. In that process we become something new.
So maybe this moment we’re in is not yet the thing God has in store for us. Maybe we’re in that space between the old and new a place where God is fully and faithfully hard at work transforming and redeeming the world as we know it.
This passage has always been one that has given me strength to endure whatever hardship I am facing in the present moment, because I know whatever I’m going through today is not what will always be. Everything is created twice.
In the 7th century St. John Damascus said, "I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works for my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God."
Here Damascus speaks of the Christ who took on human flesh, who lived and died like all of us, and yet transcended the grave to create new life.
You see, death was not God’s idea for us. Life was. And the life it produces through Christ is resurrection Life.
It is in this promise that we find our hope, our joy, and our reason to love one another – even in hard times – knowing that what we do here leads us to what is to come.
When the world shuts down, or when our communities are at war, when we are so far away from doing what God calls us to do it’s easy to feel hopeless and abandoned. But scripture assures us that no matter how far we stray, we are never beyond the boundaries of God’s love. It’s bigger than us, and it’s bigger than our problems.
This text tells me that God is not only present in our pain and suffering, but is always looking ahead when pain and suffering will no longer exist. God uses every situation in our life to move us towards a new heaven and a new earth.
So you see, Anamesa is not just a space we occupy. It’s a place where we move closer and closer to God while being transformed along the way. Everything is created twice. Created and recreated, always changing, always transforming the old into the new.
watch the message here
In this new heaven and this new earth the things we’ve done will no longer be remembered and no longer come to mind. Our past will not define us or weigh us down or limit our possibilities or stop us from receiving the fullness of God’s love. All the dumb and shameful things we did in our youth God won’t remember them! And neither will we.
In this new heaven and this new earth there will be no crying or weeping or suffering. There will be no more miscarriages, stillbirths, or parents dying when their children are still toddlers. The things that break our hearts will no longer exist. We can love faithfully without the fear of rejection or having to let them go.
In this new heaven and this new earth… we will all live together in everlasting harmony. There’ll be no more bullying, no more meanness, no more petty jealousy or personal attacks on each other’s character. No more war, poverty, injustice, captivity, hoarding resources or holding back care. As it is written, “The wolf and the lamb will feed together. They will neither harm nor destroy.”
In this new heaven and this new earth… you will enjoy the fruits of your labor. You will you still have to go to work but nothing you do will be done in vain. Our co-workers will be kind and our boss will be generous as we work for the good of all creation.
So here’s the thing to remember: In the space between the old and new we are called to embrace this way of life today, living it out as if heaven and earth are already one. We must keep our hearts open and our eyes fixed on God, who through Christ Jesus is transforming the world around us for the better.
So, when your job is lacking, your relationships are fading, or your health is diminishing, there is hope because God is at work making something new. When a friend hurts you, your spouse betrays you, or someone you love is no longer with you, God is at work making something new.
Everyday God is creating a new space, a new context, a new Jerusalem where we will dwell in God’s perfect shalom.
Wherever God is present, Hope is present. Peace is present. Joy is present. Love is present. These are the Advent candles we will light in the coming weeks ahead.
But for now, we can go out into the world bravely and faithfully knowing what God is up to, and what is to come through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who came to show us how to begin living that new reality today.
And so, let us enter that space between the old and new loving neighbor as self, striving for just societies and a stable planet. Let us walk humbly in the presence of God; praying without ceasing; trusting in a mighty God from whom all blessings flow.
While we can’t guarantee a new pandemic or more political uncertainty will arise, there is one thing we can always count on. God is still in charge.
This is the hope that takes us through the darkest nights of Advent and leads us to the beauty of Christmas morning. The hope God gave us in the stable is also the hope we find in the Easter tomb.
Everything is created twice – and with God, it’s always for a greater purpose.
Habben, Daniel. “When Lions Eat Straw” on Nov. 15, 2010 (accessed on Nov. 14, 2019).
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C. Vol. 2 (Westminster John Knox: 2009) pp.354-359.
As you may already know, Anamesa means that space between. In this space we are to practice our faith faithfully by getting rid of those nets and divisions that have been put in our way. One way we can do this is by changing the “you’re either with us or against us” mentality that has caused all sorts of problems, most notably in our modern political systems.
Here in America, we have two main parties that are pretty much evenly divided. As we’ve seen in recent elections, victories are often won with razor thin margins. Because it only takes one vote to declare a winner, politicians work hard to secure every endorsement they can from civic and social groups, businesses, and of course religious institutions.
This is where it gets tricky for those who choose to faithfully follow the way of Jesus, for us who (in keeping with the analogy) have been called to use “sportsmanlike conduct” to do the will of God who loves both sides.
Before we look at how we got to where we are today, both politically and religiously, we need to go back to where we started. On a mountainside, with a young rabbi from Nazareth giving his inaugural speech.
In what’s often called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out God’s vision and teaches us what the kingdom of heaven is all about. Beginning with a series of blessings, Jesus goes on to describes a world that seems completely upside down from our reality.
For many it sounded crazy. But to those who needed a blessing or a sign of hope, this was the good news. Click here is just a glimpse of what Jesus says God’s kingdom looks like. Read Matthew 5:38-48
When this passage was read at a White House prayer breakfast, then President Trump famously said, “I don't know if I agree with that.” Although many Christians tried to demonize him for that statement, the truth is most of Christian history has not agreed with Jesus’ teachings here.
I mean, let’s be real. Jesus doesn’t really mean we ought to literally turn the other cheek, does he? And what kind of person would give a someone who is suing them more than what’s asks for? That’s crazy talk.
The question I think we need to take seriously is how did we create a religion that doesn't take its primary teachings seriously? If you look at where the Christian Church is these days compared to where it came from, it’s hard to see any similarities.
As Richard Rohr preached in his sermon on this passage,“In the first two centuries, the church was identified by and large with the underclass, the poor and enslaved members of the Roman Empire.” Living under violent oppression, “they had no trouble believing Jesus, hearing what he had to say as good news.” (Rohr, 2020)
But in the year 313, Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The line between church and state got thinner and thinner as Christians “moved literally from the bottom of society to the top.” We went from being powerless to holding all the power.
Before Constantine, “no Christian would fight in the Roman legions because they believe what Jesus said.” By the year 400, “the whole army is Christian and we're the ones killing the pagans.” In basically one generation, Christianity became the antithesis of Christ.
Sadly, I don’t think we can escape the history of our past until we actually take Jesus at his word; breaking the vicious cycles we’ve embraced.
Until then, according to Rohr, "we’ll continue to disregard teachings like this one…where Jesus basically tells us that everything hangs on the way we love each other like God's loves us." It’s that simple.
Jesus said, God loves the good and the bad, if God makes the sun rise on everyone, or causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.If this is true then that means all of creation belongs to God's care.
"If you only love those who love you, what good is that?" Jesus asks, "Can’t anyone do the same?" Jesus calls his followers to live by a higher, heavenly standard. "You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." This is a kind of perfection that can be hard to hear, muchless live.
But if Jesus meant what he said, that means if God refuses to put up a wall to divide us, we must refuse putting up walls that divide us - be it physical walls, emotional walls, or spiritual walls. If Jesus meant what he said and God invites everyone to be blessed, then we must go and do the same - offering mercy, grace, and love to anyone who wants it.
This is what the kingdom of heaven is all about. Charity, compassion, hospitality. It’s about building relationships, uniting not dividing. The way we do this is to follow Jesus' ethic of love. For God’s kingdom is not democrat or republican; capitalist or socialist. It’s love. Plain and simple.
I'm afraid, however, we make Jesus’ words difficult to believe because we don’t trust him enough at his word.
I agree with Rohr who argues, “We’d do better to approach life with the humility of Christ, instead of with arguments that demand we’re the only ones God loves, we're the only ones going to heaven.”
To achieve this we have to go back to living the way of Christ who said,“We must be perfect like God is perfect.” A perfection that is defined by the holy “BUT” of Christ.
By that I mean, ...“You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye,’ BUT, I say turn the other cheek.” Jesus’ perfect BUT covers many broad topics like anger, adultery, oath making, and retaliation (Mt. 5:21-48).
Each BUT acts as a bridge between the letter of the law and the spirit by which it was written. So, whenever we see Jesus' BUT we know he is inviting us to take a deeper look at that space between our actions and reactions, and is teaching us to take a different approach to relying on anger or revenge.
To be perfect as God is perfect might seem like an impossible ideal. Maybe it is because we're see it through human eyes instead of divine eyes. If we look at it through God's eyes or Jesus' BUT then I think Jesus is simply telling us to, “Just go and do what God does, and heaven and earth will be one again."
Throughout the gospels Jesus constantly directs our attention between these two worlds, and calls us to break the vicious cycles that keep us separated from God and each other. BUT unfortunately this has been hard for us, especially as a church that has spent the last 1,000 years dividing itself up.
This became really apparent when the there became two empires – the Roman or Latin Empire in the West. And the Greek or Byzantine Empire in the East. In 1054, the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople. In retaliation, the patriarch Constantinople excommunicated the Bishop of Rome. Since then Christians lived in two separate worlds. To make matters worse, in 1517, Martin Luther led the Protestant Reformation, which basically has led to the last 500 years of religious fighting. Why? Because none of us seem to believe what Jesus said. (Rohr, 2020)
We seem to spend more time nitpicking over who is right and who isn’t than we do giving our grace, time, and resources as liberally as Jesus did. Instead of judging who’s right and who’s wrong, we are called to love all people, no matter what.
As Fr. Rohr so profoundly states,“There's no hope for the world if religion remains infantile and incapable of love.” Everything hangs on the way we love each other like God's loves us. It’s that simple.
But it’s not always easy; especially when we want a God who chooses sides because it’s in our nature to be the ones who come out on top by any means necessary. Given the church’s history, like I noted above, this has almost always led to violence. The crusade’s, the inquisition, the witch trials, the expansion of empires, slavery, war. We just kill, kill, kill in God’s name because we have to be right.
Jesus makes it perfectly clear that God is non-dualistic. And that violence is not the answer. BUT unconditional love is.
We love unconditionally not with violence BUT non-violence.
We love unconditionally not by retaliation BUT by reconciliation.
We love unconditionally not with hatred BUT with compassion.
We love unconditionally not with force BUT through compromise.
So, here’s the thing: If you don't want to believe what Jesus said, if you don’t want to follow his way, and be his light, his truth, then there’s no point in coming to church. “Because it doesn't mean anything anymore.”
BUT if you do believe in what Jesus says, then you must take your butt out in the world to be the change that needs to happen.
Go and give to those who beg to you.
Go be the hope for the hopeless.
Go be the comfort for the inflicted.
Go be the light so those who are still in the dark can see God’s glory.
Go be the blessing that God has given to you.
Take your butt out there faithfully and be the way, the truth, and the life of Christ incarnate so the next generation of believers can see Jesus in the flesh through our word and deeds.
In other words, go and “be perfect, therefore as your God is perfect.”
Rohr, Richard. The Non-Violent Manifesto of Jesus. February 23, 2020 (accessed on Nov. 4, 2022). You can listen to his wonderful and inspiring podcast by clicking the link.
Psalm 32 speaks to the goodness and graciousness of God, who forgives our wrongdoings, and covers our debts. A God who invites us to experience real joy and happiness that only Divine love can offer.
We don’t know who wrote this, or what he did. But at some point he realized that in holding on to the weight of his sin, his body wasted away. Yet, in his confession his wellbeing was restored.
I remember the day we learned I had cancer. As far as I was concerned the only option was to remove it. If I held on to it I would have first lost my voice, then my ability to swallow, and then eventually my life.
In the same way, holding onto something you’ve done can cause all sorts of problems, physically, mentally, and of course, spiritually. But there’s good news. God welcomes our confession and even uses it as a balm to heal the hurt we’ve done to others and ourselves.
Now, in the religious sense, confession can mean a couple of things. It can be speaking of ones beliefs - I am a Christian, I confess my faith in Christ. Or the more popular one that means admitting one's "sins," or misdeeds. Both are powerful in that they can give us a better understanding of ourself, of forgiveness, or both.
Confession also helps in our healing. As Phycologist Lloyd Thomas notes, “Confession serves as a gate to let ourselves out, and let in whatever we need.” God invites us to kick open that gate and let go of our past mistakes so we can receive from God what our heart desires the most.
watch the message here
In this space between heaven and earth, you are given a choice. You can be one who is penitent. Or you can one who pretends.
Last night we went to a costume party for our brother-in-law’s 50th birthday. Kathleen went as the TV waitress Alice. I went as Mel, the surly cook and owner of the diner she worked in. It was fun being in character, playing someone else. In fact, it was nice to be crabby and cantankerous without somebody chastising me.
Once a year we get a free pass to pretend we’re something or someone we’re not. But come the next day, we have to remove the masks and return to reality. Is it really coincidental that Halloween is followed by All-Saints Day?
But lately it seems more and more people, including many Christians, are choosing to keep the disguise on. Do they think people won’t noticed?
Tomorrow night our neighborhood will be filled with kids in costumes. Some will pretend they are the real Batman, or Ariel, or some Jedi character. I’ll play along when they knock on the door, but even I know the real Batman isn’t a 4 year old.
Just as we can see through people’s disguises, God can see through ours. So why pretend? What’s the point of wearing your Sunday best if the cancer of hatred, resentment, and judgment continues to fester in you?
When confronted by those who had clothed themselves in religious piety, Jesus reminded them that it’s not what goes into one’s mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out their mouth. The stuff within them, that proceeds from the heart. (Mt. 15:10-20).
God looks at our heart. And no mask or costume will hide our truth. So what’s the point of dressing up like a Christian if you can’t act like Christ? God sees all. So let it go.
A swami on TikTok talked about a pheasant and a bull who are out in the field looking at a great tree. The pheasant confessed to the bull how she wished she could fly up to the top just once in her life. The bull told her if she ate a little bit of his dung every day, she’ll be able to reach the top in no time.
Wanting so badly to be up there, the pheasant took a little bite of the bull’s dung and flew to the first branch of the tree. The next day the pheasant took another little bite and went up another branch. And did this every day until she reached the top. When a farmer noticed the pheasant at the very top of that beautiful tree, he pulled out his shotgun and killed the bird.
The moral of the story is this: a bunch of bull crap might help you reach the top but it certainly won’t keep you there forever.
We can’t go through life pretending. Eventually we will be exposed. Like the psalmist realized, it’s better to go through life with a clean and penitent heart than it is to pretend or B.S. our way through it.
As Christians our goal is to be like Christ who was filled with the light and love of God. Jesus never tried to disguise or hide who was. So when the world saw him, they got a glimpse of God’s unfailing and always present glory.
Jesus’ ministry is ours to continue. It needs to be real and authentic. And it needs to be shared because there are still people who don’t know God’s love, people who are crying out for it but just can’t see it through the darkness of their pain and suffering. But here’s the thing: if we try to fake it, trust me, they’ll know we’re not real. What will that teach them about God’s glory?
In the gospels, Jesus sends his disciples out like sheep among wolves. He did not send them out to be wolves disguised as sheep.
As the Body of Christ, this church is not sent to pretend that life is good. We are sent to proclaim God’s love and grace to all people because life isn’t always good. We are sent to bring good news, so those who are hurting can be healed; so those who are hungry can be fed; so those who cry out for grace can find forgiveness and peace.
Like Thomas noted, if we are to be filled with all the goodness of God, we have to open the gates of our hearts and let out all the crap that’s taking up space and keeping us from receiving what God has to give. We have to empty ourselves, so that we can be filled with God’s incarnate glory until it spills out all over the world. The first step there is a penitent heart, one that comes clean before the Lord.
As you leave here today, entering that space between confession and healing, I hope that you’ll take a moment to remove whatever mask you have on, trusting that God’s unconditional love will not only welcome you as you are, but will give you what you need.
“Whether you begin your confession with "Hello, my name is Bill and I am an alcoholic" or "Father, forgive me for I have sinned," or "Hey honey, I need to talk to I about something horrible I've done" the benefits of confessing can be freeing, strengthening and releasing.” (Thomas) It can be the healing balm needed for both you and others.
Thus, we must make confessing a natural part of our worship and life, because it is what gives us real life - the kind of life that goes above and beyond the one we’re used to living.
The good news of this psalm is that it frees us to shed the masks we hide behind and allows us be who God made us to be. It invites us to let go the B.S. and fall gracefully into the heart of the Divine One, who makes our joy complete.
For “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Amen.
Thomas, Lloyd. The Benefits of Confessing. May 19, 2015 (accessed on October 28, 2022).
The more successful they were, the further apart the were. This struck me as odd because we often think that the better we are at something the closer we are to achieving our goal.
As I watched this duo push one another further away, I started to see how they were filling that space between them with purpose and joy. The wider that gap between them came, the more space they had to fill with happiness, laughter, and love.
It seems the distance between them only made them closer.
I noticed this to be true about the relationship with my daughter who is away at college. Now that she is 123 miles away from home, we seem to talk more. And engage in one another's lives differently. I like to think she agrees that we have grown closer because the distance that separates us.
It's not easy being apart from those you love or desire to be around. I think we all discovered that during the height of the pandemic when we were isolating at home, or keeping our 6 feet of distance from one another. It's harder still when you want a hug but can't because of the distance.
At Anamesa, we are always looking for ways to be closer because we are far apart. But what if we started looking at the distance between us as nothing more than a bigger space to do the work of the church? Like casting a wider net to reach more people to love.
Many struggled with this when their churches went into lockdown. But they didn't have to. They just needed to rethink they way they do things by embracing that space instead of rejecting it.
While it seems counterintuitive for a church to be further apart than closer together, it makes sense to expand our viewpoint and widen the gap between our hearts so that more people can come discover God’s grace and glory.
Anamesa is more than just a space we occupy. It's a way to live into that space as a bridge between this world and the one to come.
I often use this example to explain it in simple terms. Let's say you see someone hungry, and you are moved to feed them. It could be a homeless woman whom you give money to, or a family down on their luck that you buy groceries for, or it could be a friend who's homesick that you prepare a meal for. That's Anamesa. Filling the space with love and joy by living out the gospel in real time.
Between the number twenty-three and twenty-four there was nervousness and fear of failing, or having to start over again. But there was also courage and commitment to try. For me, it's what happens in that space and to that space when we try to do something beyond standing there hoping for someone else to act.
I think what makes us stronger as a community and as a people isn’t our proximity but our willingness to walk together with the love of Christ, who brings us together as one body no matter how far we are apart.
I hope this helps you rethink the space you are in - physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.
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.”