Every day I read a poem. Some are good. Some are meh. And then, there is one that speaks to my heart. The poem below, entitled Farnaz, is one of the occasional joys. Written by the Iranian-American poet, Farnaz Fatemi, author of Sister Tongue, this poem seems to capture a young girls entire life in three visceral stanzas.
The reason I am sharing it here is because it got me thinking of my own story, and my own name. It made me wonder how I might write it in poetic form. As I thought through it, I was reminded that God actually knows my story better than I do. And it's mostly due to the truth that God knows my name. God knows my name. It makes me feel important. That makes me feel invincible. Like I can do anything. God knows my name, knows my story. And that makes me feel alive.
I was always told our names mean something. My name, Ian, is a Gaelic word for John. And John, so I've been told, means "A gift from God." While it sounds wildly impressive, I think that definition could apply to any name, because it applies to everyone. You might not think your name to be special, or have purpose or meaning in the great vastness of the universe. But God might disagree.
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine" (Isaiah 43:1). That is a powerful promise from the one who has fashioned each and every one of us in the imago dei, God's divine image.
Copyright © 2022 by The Kent State University Press. From the forthcoming book Sister Tongue, by Farnaz Fatemi (September 2022). Published in Poem-a-Day on March 29, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s one thing to forgive a friend for something stupid they did. It’s another thing to forgive yourself for all that you have secretly done to that friend that they don’t know about. Now, combine that with all the other stuff you’ve done in your life. All those secrets, both big and small, that you hold on to…well, the Bible tells us that God knows them to. More importantly, it tells us that God does not hold on to them.
Take a moment to think about all the stuff you have buried inside you; the anger, pain or lies, the little things that are eating away at your wellbeing. Now envision them disappearing for good. Those things you’ve done that you believe are unforgivable, all wiped clean so you can have a fresh start. Wouldn’t that make you feel lucky, blessed, and perhaps…happy? So, why then do we still hold on to them?
Reaching a place where you’re able to forgive someone — whether that be another person or yourself — can be extremely difficult. But the toll of not doing it can seriously affect your personal wellbeing.
Resentment can cause psychological breakdowns. Anger can lead to actual physical violence. Even a simple lie can knock us off our spiritual journey. Maybe that’s why God doesn’t holds on to them. So why do we?
We often think that forgiveness is something we do for others. But really, we do it for ourselves so we can move on. I admit, I want to be the person in this psalm. The one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. I want to be that person because trying to carry the unbearable weight of guilt and shame has kept me from living into my best self.
But here’s the thing. The only one stopping me from living into my belovedness is me. Likewise, the only stopping you from letting go of all that junk and freeing yourself is you.
God is offering us the greatest gift, the very thing our heart desires the most. The freedom to live a life of happiness. This freedom comes from God forgiving you and me. Forgiveness from God is a clean slate, no grudges kind of love that fills you with all the goodness of God’s joy, peace, and happiness. But what good is this gift if we refuse to accept it?
The psalmist wrote, “While I kept silent, my body wasted away. All day and night, there was a heavy hand upon me. The pressure never let up.” We can hold on to our junk until we break, or we can find relief by giving all our transgressions to God.
Jesus began his ministry declaring, “Repent. The Kingdom of God is here.” He knew that repentance leads to reconciliation - with God and one another. When we repent and reconcile, we can begin to repair the damage we’ve done. Such reparations can create joy, peace and happiness to spring up in us and all around us.
Years ago, I discovered the real power of confession: in naming and claiming my sins. I learned that once I named it, I owned it. And once I owned it, I could keep it or let it go. I invite you to do the same. Name and claim the things you’re holding onto and then give that junk over to God to do whatever God does with it.
There’s true, restorative power in admitting your wrongdoing and making amends. Ask anyone who has been a part of a 12-step recovery program, just how powerful this action can be.
Martin Luther named Psalm 32 among the greatest, because it invites us to live a grace-filled life in response to divine forgiveness. This can be hard to wrap your head around if you’ve gone through life believing what you’ve done in your past is unforgivable. It’s like telling yourself that you’re not good enough, clean enough, or simply enough to be so loved by God.
Besides the damage it does to your own wellbeing, it also denies God’s grace, and renders the cross of Christ useless. Upon that cross, God said you are worthy, that you are loved. In Christ, God risked it all, not for some of us, but for everyone.
As we struggle with our own past pains and the weight of guilt or shame, may we never forget that God’s forgiveness is the highest, most beautiful form of love. The kind of love that leads us to our hearts desire.
It’s here in Anamesa, we meet God who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love, calls out to you. It’s here in this space between happy and heaven, we invite you to join us by opening your heart to God who has declared time and time again, “You are mine. I have molded you with my own hands, and I love what I have made.”
We are God’s beloved children. No matter how far we stray from doing what God has called us to do, we are never beyond the boundaries of God’s love and forgiveness. This is not an invitation to sin. But an invitation to a relationship that is fashioned and formed from God’s own heart.
If we are to find our happiness and blessedness, we must allow God in to touch and heal the deepest, most hidden corners of our hearts.
Lent is a time of self-examination. A time to look inward not to find fault, but to find fertile ground for transformation. As you look seriously at yourself you can nitpick every shameful and sinful action you’ve ever done and try to hide. Or you can look at Christ and see how God’s love and mercy are vastly wider than God’s anger.
As Paul wrote, “God reconciled all things to himself in Christ; not counting people’s sins against them.”
In Christ, God has committed to us so we can commit to God by practicing the way of love and forgiveness with each other.
It doesn’t do us any good to hold on to grudges, or anger or shame, just as it doesn’t do us any good to deny the gift of God’s grace that has been given to you through Christ Jesus.
Best of all, because of Christ, we can count ourselves lucky, claim our happiness, and dwell with God who says, “I love you, just as you are.”
Bartlett, David L, Barbara Brown Taylor. ed. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Macdonald, Donald I. A Pediatrician’s Blueprint: Raising Happy, Healthy, Moral and Successful Children. Petaluma: Roundtree Press, 2013.
"To those who hunger for something more than this world can give, God is inviting you to come and get our fill on the best that God has to offer. Choose anything you want from a menu that offers up mercy, grace, peace and forgiveness. Savor the true joy of life without worrying about the cost. Just come as you are and get your fill. Feast to your heart’s content."
At the beginning of 2020, I was invited to be a member of the Executive Board of the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry, a local organization that works tirelessly to help those in our community who live with food insecurity.
Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to be a part of this incredible mission and did so not knowing what was about to unfold. As one might imagine, the harder the pandemic hit, the need for basic food supplies went up.
While reading this passage, I thought about the closeness of God and the many ways God delivers on this ancient promise. I pictured all the cars that line up for groceries, and imagined hearing God’s voice speak to those inside saying, “Come get what you need. It’s on me.”
For those who struggle to make ends meet, Isaiah 55 can seem like a cool drink of water on a hot summer day. They’re just as welcoming today as they were for those who had just returned after living the last 50 years in captivity.
When this oracle came it was not a prosperous time for God’s people. Jerusalem was still in ruins from its destruction by the Babylonians. The temple was gone. The social and economic structures were barely functioning. And there were conflicts over the land between those who were returning to their homes and those who were left behind to care for them. Food was scarce. Water was hard to come by. And the people were in dire need of relief.
While being offered something to eat and drink without paying might seem unfair or even unimaginable to many of us, such a generous and gracious gift was not unfathomable to God’s people.
They knew the promise God made to them through their ancestors – an everlasting covenant that they would be in God’s care forever. Knowing this would nourish their souls and strengthen their spirit. It gave them hope when all hope seemed lost.
What then do these words say to us? More importantly, how will we respond when we hear God’s invitation?
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In these 7 verses, the prophet paints a picture of hope for all of us. It’s a marvelous portrait of an active God who’s willing to renew and restore us back from the ashes, if that’s what we need. This is an open invitation for anyone who calls upon the Lord.
Through Christ, we have become part of the same covenant promise. Through the incarnation, God hand delivered this invitation to our hearts. The return envelope has been stamped. The price has already been paid. It’s ready to go to anyone willing to accept this generous and unmerited gift.
So why then, do we continue to labor for that which does not satisfy? Or chase after that stuff that does not give us what our hearts long for? Why do we continue to put our faith in the world that takes from us instead of putting it in the One who gives everything and more?
Today, another nation is being reduced to rubble by another evil empire. Innocent people are being murdered in the name of politics. Children are being starved to death because of human greed. When I see what’s happening in our world, I can understand why many people question the existence of God.
It’s a miracle that these ancient Jews didn’t give up on their faith during their hardships. (And trust me, these are a people who know hardship.) Instead, they put their faith in God knowing God is faithful to a fault. For the promises God makes, God keeps. Because of their faith, they had hope.
As the world stares into the face of another senseless war. As the economy teeters on a delicate thin string. As Covid gains new steam around the globe yet again, God comes into our space and gives us this exhortation: Come. See. Listen. Return. God is inviting us into a life of abundance, and peace, and joy.
It’s here, in the space between this invite and party we must decide how we will reply. Will we join the feast, and flourish freely in God’s steadfast love? Or give over to the world which promises our hearts desire, but only to those who can afford it?
When my father worked in the White House, I would visit and have lunch with him at the White House Mess, a small dining facility that is located in the basement of the West Wing. But don’t let its name or location fool you.
The place is an elegant restaurant flanked with rich, wood paneled walls. The tables are adorned with linens, fresh flowers, and official White House china. The servers wear starched white uniforms, complete with white gloves. And a team of chefs prepare each plate as if it’s being served to the President himself. Although the menu was small, the portions were not. And if you wanted more, no problem. You could have as much as you wanted…free of charge.
To those who hunger for something more than this world can give, God is inviting you to come and get our fill on the best that God has to offer. Choose anything you want from a menu that offers up mercy, grace, peace and forgiveness. Savor the true joy of life without worrying about the cost. Just come as you are and get your fill. Feast to your heart’s content.
To quote Eugene Peterson, “Why spend your money on junk food; your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?” Here, in Anamesa, God is saying to you, “Come. Eat what is good so that you might live.”
How will you respond?
I know how hard it can be to trust that God really does love you as you are. It’s hard for me at times to believe that God actually wants to be with me and spoil me with all the goodness of life.
I often think that I have to earn this privileged; telling myself that maybe if I do something noteworthy, God will be pleased and give me something in return.
At the pantry, we don’t ask people to prove their poverty or subscribe to a faith. If you are hungry, come and get what you need. That’s all.
While God wants us to do good in the world, God isn’t telling us what to do to get this free meal. God is simply inviting us to come and take it, no strings attached. This might seem ridiculous or too good to be true. But that’s the way God works.
As long as we think that we have to earn what we need, we will never get what our heart desires the most - unconditional love that is freely given. All we have to do is empty ourselves of such thoughts and accept God’s graciousness so we can live more and more into our true identity as beloved children of God.
It’s like Supermarket Sweep. The game show where contestants race around a supermarket, collecting the most expensive items in their grocery carts within a specified time limit. Now how good would this be if you started the race with a cart that is already full of stuff?
One needs to look no further than the space you’re in to see how we fill our lives with useless junk. Same is true about what we hold onto internally. God is inviting you to fill your heart with the very best that God has to offer. This requires us to empty our hearts before our Lord if we are to receive the fullness of God’s faithfulness.
Like Isaiah said, “Let the wicket forsake their ways, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.”
The choice is ours to make.
Will we choose the way of the world? Or the way of God?
The way of war? Or the way of peace?
The way of prejudice? Or the way of tolerance?
The way of selfish greed? Or the way of self-giving love?
We know the way Christ chose. To follow him means to go the same way.
Lent is a time to stand in Anamesa and fast from the things that pull us away from God. But it is also a time to feast on the goodness of God’s faithfulness?
It’s in our sitting and eating and drinking with God that we are refreshed, renewed, and reborn.
Through Christ, God gives an open invitation to anyone who hungers for more than this world can offer. No thirsty soul will be turned away.
Everyone who comes will get their fill. And all who accept it will be able let out a very satisfying...Amen.
“Although they appear to have their backs turned away from each other, they are of one stalk, which makes me think they are looking out for each other. Lesson for life: we are all one.”
Years ago I wrote a post about giving an Amaryllis gift. They are a beautiful bloom, if you have the patience to wait. This particular one was given to us at Christmas. However it was just a tin pot with some brown moss neatly packed inside. I wasn't sure what to make of it. Or what to do with it.
Although it was a Christmas gift, the flowers don’t show up until a few months later, closer to Easter. Day after day, week after week I would look and water and water and look, and wait, wait, wait! Then, just as I began to lose interest, a little green leaves begin to pop out. Followed by a green stalk. Not long after that the flower appears. A regal reminder of the payout for patience.
This year, I wasn’t waiting. I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t doing anything when I noticed the stalk and the big bud at the end soaking in the sunshine. I brought it indoors so I wouldn’t forget to water and wait. Then, while I wasn’t watching, the flower emerged. I realized I had nothing to do with this process. It was all out of my hands.
But the real gift for me came when I noticed (for the first time) that it’s not one but two flowers that bloom from of each bud. Honestly, I didn’t even notice that until I posted this picture on Instagram. And I'm pretty sure I only noticed because I was trying to think up a good caption for it.
This is what I wrote: “Although they appear to have their backs turned away from each other, they are of one stalk, which makes me think they are looking out for each other. Lesson for life: we are all one.”
I’m not saying this was a profound statement. But, at least for me, it was a divine moment. Something that happens when God reminds you of the golden thread that binds us together with our Creator. I like to think of them as moments when the Divine interrupts life in such a way that it changes the way you see life forever.
It was in a picture of this plant, and not the plant itself, that God slapped me upside the back of my head and said “Open your eyes. Do you see what I see?”
Here’s what I saw. In that space between those two flowers was the stem from which such beauty came. The two are really one.
It made me think about the space between two people? Between couples? Or counties? Theologies? Ideologies? Is it possible that although we may think we are different, we are really one - woven together by one Divine thread.
If this is the case, then no one human is any better than the other. We are all made from the same source. We might look at the world from different perspectives, but our eyes will still see one thing - the Kingdom of God in all its glory.
We may not always see eye-to-eye. But we still ought to look out for one another. Just as God looks out for everyone. This reminds me of something Jesus once asked, “Doesn’t God cause the rain to fall on good people and bad people?”
Because I noticed this particular plant, one that sat among the many on my back porch, my eyes were open to something bigger. And my life will never be the same.
This plant, with this spectacular flower, helped me to remember that God loves me, and cares for me just as much as this small forgotten and neglected plant. God isn’t making me more or less worthy for the fullness of life, and wants me to bloom as magnificently as this life giving gift. But God wants the same from us as well. To love and care for each other, no matter what.
We cannot put ourselves above one another. If we humble ourselves to help the other, and the other does the same for you and me, then we will have no need, or no fears or anxieties that are often paired with them.
Seeing myself as this plant, I find assurance and peace knowing that God's Divine love is a love that loves all. There is no other way. God does not see some better than others. Instead sees the beauty in us all, if only because God is drawn to the divine image within all.
We are all connected to the same bulb, the same root, the same source. We all need the same light, the same resources for growth and potential. There is no room for division, but plenty of room for unity.
Our world, our country, our communities, and even our families are more divided than ever before. And now more than ever we need to stand together, to be One United people. It doesn’t take much more than seeing Divine love in that space between these two flowers.
We all are of this earth. And to that earth we will one day return. And yet, out of this earth more life will come.
Now it’s a well-known fact that Patrick was Scottish.
At a young age he was kidnapped by pirates and taken to the Emerald Isle, where he spent six years in slavery. It was there, while he was working as a herdsman, Patrick met the locals who would eventually help him escape his captors and get off the island.
Once he was safely home, Patrick longed to return to Ireland and those wonderful people he met. And it wasn’t just for their corn beef or corny jokes.
However, while his life was shrouded in myths and legends, Patrick’s story isn’t so much about herding snakes into the sea as it is about sharing love. The kind of love that would make Patrick risk everything he had for the people he cared deeply for.
Think about it, for Patrick to go back would be not only risky but an extremely dangerous mission. First off, the island itself was not very accessible. Getting there would not be easy.
He’d need to catch a ride on some kind of vessel going to a place that was visited less by merchants and more with the pirates and runaways.
And let’s not forget, Patrick was also considered a fugitive on the island. If his old captors found him, there’s no telling what they’d do to punish him.
Then, on top of the many dangers, there was the problem of language. The Hibernian people had not been conquered or influenced by outsiders and so their language was oral and not written out. I would argue one of the greatest gifts Patrick gave to these people was translating their sounds into words. If you’ve ever been in a real Irish pub, and talked to one of the local patrons, you know how difficult a language it is to understand.
After years of this tenuous work, Patrick was finally able to share the Gospel with them in what today we call Gaelic. As he was learning their language, Patrick taught them the gospel in a different way – by living in community with the people, working closely with them, building trust by becoming one of them.
The only word he had to speak was Love. Well actually, two words: God’s love. Patrick understood what God’s love meant to him. And nothing could stop him from sharing it.
So what then do we know about love? In the 3 chapter of his first letter, John wrote this to the Christian churches.
READ: 1 John 3:16-24
John’s gospel is Jesus’ gospel. That is to say they both tell the same truth or good news of God’s redemptive love. I like to think of redemptive love as the highest form of love out there.
It can only come from God. It has the power to redeem us and transform us into who God made us to be. Like Jesus’ own story reveals, God’s redemptive love can help us, heal us, lift us up and liberate us when nothing else will.
Now, it’s one thing to love someone. It’s another thing to love as confidently as Jesus did; setting aside his wants and needs for everyone else. Such confidence and love go hand in hand.
For example, if you know that God loves you no matter what, and if you truly understand that there is nothing you can do to earn that love, or ever run out of that love then you have all you need to go and do the same to anyone and everyone.
As someone once said, “To love fearlessly and faithfully is to love confidently before God and before your fellow human beings; without worrying about what others might think or do.”
John seems to understand God’s love as more than an emotional feeling. It is also an action. Love sets everything else into motion. Like Patrick, he also understood the depth and complexity of God’s love. And described as such: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
Is he suggesting we take a bullet for someone? Or interfere when you see someone hurting another? Yes, love could me that. But it doesn’t have to be so dangerous or complicated. If you “see a brother or sister in need, have pity and help them.”
Love is bold, and daring, and risky. Patrick knew this. He was willing to risk all that he had for it. I understand that feeling. God’s love is so overwhelming that I’m compelled to share it.
I know how important it is to let people know that God loves them. I try to say this every week. But words are not enough. Especially if the words of my heart don’t match the actions of my hands. Like John wrote, “Don’t just talk about love; get out there and practice it.’
Moving into Anamesa, our call, our mission, is to demonstrate love in the same way that Jesus did. Which is the same way Patrick did.
As we traverse the sacred space between our heart and hands, we are called to act – especially towards the poor – by addressing poverty. We must stand up against the injustices that keep people from thriving in God’s Kingdom. I mean even bigots and racists have words. Yet their actions often lead to the very things that God abhors.
Our words must build bridges, not walls; embrace peace, not war; offer forgiveness and hospitality, hope and care to all people, especially the least of these our brothers and sisters. Love is bold, and daring, and risky. It requires us to be that as well.
Which makes that space between our head and heart the longest, most trying journey we will ever take. However, one cannot live into their faith alone. The love you have been given needs to be shared – to be lived out in community. It’s in practicing God’s love with one another that Christ comes alive in our communities, healing and transforming whatever space we’re in.
As Richard Rohr wrote, “To live out Christ in the world is not to speak about Christ but to live in the surrender of love, the poverty of being, and the cave of the heart.”
Lent is a time to align our heart and hands with God, with Christ, and with one another. We need not be perfect, just willing. Even through imperfect love the Holy Spirit can do amazing things.
By seeing and doing what Jesus did, Patrick was able to open up his heart and showed the people what God’s love looks like in real time.
We should do the same. My challenge to you this week is simply to go out and be the gospel.
John boils it all down to this: Accept the divine love that comes in the name of Jesus Christ and to share that love with one another.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate St. Patrick than with corn beef, cabbage, soda bread, a wee dram of Jamesons...and opening your heart and hands to share a feast of God’s love with everyone in the world.
*From an original "The Luck Of Us All" on March 17, 2019.
Jesus is still dripping from his baptism when the Holy Spirit drives him out into the wilderness to spend the next forty days with Satan, some wild beast, and some very kind angels.
Now here are a few things worth mentioning before we begin. In Judaism the number forty is highly symbolic – often representing a testing period or marking a forward movement. Noah, was forty days at sea. Moses, was 40 years in the wilderness (both before and after he liberated God’s people from Egypt).
The wilderness is also symbolic. The Hebrew word מִדבָּר (meed-bar) can mean a barren wasteland or lightly inhabited place. But it could also mean a “wordless” place - like when you’re all alone with your thoughts.
Now, I try hard to avoid the wilderness. Like Jim Gaffigan jokes, “I don’t like the outdoors. I’m more “indoorsy.” Despite my rugged appearance, I’m not a fan of sleeping on rocks or waking up with a rash.
This wilderness Mark speaks of is a real place. The kind of location where an Instacart subscription isn’t going to do you much good. If you’re going out there, you better pack water, food, and a tent. But according to all three stories, the Holy Spirit didn’t give Jesus time to grab a toothbrush.
One minute he’s hearing the heavens declare “You are my Son, my beloved.” Next minute he’s out in the wild to be within himself to figure out what that means.
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This tells me that Mark is also speaking about that other wilderness as well. A place we try hard to circumvent. Jesus finds himself in this “wordless wilderness” to be tempted mentally and spiritually. The kind of test to move him forward towards his mission.
You know the place, don’t you? That space deep within where the wild beasts of shame, guilt, deception, and fear lurk. No one likes to go here, because it forces us to look at ourselves without all the filters and finery.
Yet this is where the Spirit takes us – to wander and wait for something holy to happen.
Maybe this is why Mark moves quickly. He is human like us. And has his own wild beasts to face. And I’m sure he doesn’t want to linger there any more than we do.
We might be tempted to skirt this wilderness, to turn away from encountering these wild beasts in our lives. But as Mark points out, this is exactly where God comes to meet us.
Unlike Jesus, we’re given a choice. We can run away, abandon our Lenten journey. Or we can sit in that space between the beasts and angels to be renewed by God.
This prods me to ask: what are you facing in life that is tempting you to flee? Better yet, what are you looking for that would cause you to stay?
I can’t answer that for you. It’s your faith journey. You alone have to make that choice. While that is a daunting ask remember this: you are never really alone.
Jennifer Moland-Kovash believes, “One of the biggest temptations we face during times of struggle and wilderness wandering is the temptation to believe that we are alone.”
To her point, the temptation is so great because this fear of being alone can become a wall that keeps you from going inside yourself. It can stop you from truly discovering what God’s gracious love can do for you no matter how much stuff you try to hide or avoid.
Whether it’s 40 days or 40 minutes, any time we spend in the wilderness of ourselves is bittersweet. When we "walk in the woods of anxiety or travel the deserts of despair," we don’t go there alone. God is with us, with angels to wait on us.
If we are going to live and thrive in Anamesa, then we need to spend time in the wilderness. We need to wander through all the different spaces between our beasts and angels, looking inward to find new ways of being the beloved children of God.
We need to face the wild like Jesus did, because this is where God comes to be with us – to renew us and prepare us for new possibilities.
Lent is an invitation to go where we dare not go. Yes, it forces us to face the things that make us uncomfortable. But when we go through it, we come out better; ready to do the work of God’s Kingdom.
In all three versions of this story, I can draw comfort knowing God’s providence is upon me. We do not head into the wild without feeling our baptismal water dripping down our face. And without hearing God’s voice calling us beloved. We can go out there because Jesus has been there. His footsteps are still fresh in the dirt.
As Emily Heath wrote,“Lent is an opportunity to spend 40 days alone with the one who has been there before.” She asks, “Have you ever had a hard time with faith? Jesus knew what that was like. Do you struggle to make choices? So did Jesus. Are you grieving? Jesus grieved too. Are you preparing yourself for something new, for something you don’t know how you are going to survive? Jesus knew what that was like, too.”
If you ask me, the biggest temptation is to not the fear of being alone and facing your demons. The biggest temptation is not trusting God enough to enter the wilderness at all.
Between the beasts of temptation and the angels of salvation we must make a choice. Will you walk with Jesus in the wilderness, to be transformed and renewed by God for a greater purpose? Or will you walk away?
Today, the Holy Spirit is prodding us to join Jesus on his mission. Like Mark realized, there is no time to waste. Watching what is unfolding in Ukraine, we know evil is real. When we see children fleeing for their lives, we are reminded of a time not too long ago when Satan and his demons tried to conquer the world.
God calls us out of our comfort to confront and stop these wild beasts that try to destroy all that is beloved in the Kingdom of God.
Out there, God calls us – to be angels that nurse the sick, feed the hungry, look out for every human life no matter the cost.
Out there we are called – to mirror the very love, mercy and grace that is given to us through Jesus Christ.
To follow Jesus out there means we are to stand with him, between demons and angels, and radiate God’s glory so brightly that the world no longer has a need for sun or moon.
Writing on the first Sunday of Lent, Henri Nouwen reminds us that, “Lent is the most important time of the year to nurture our inner life. It is the time during which we not only prepare ourselves to celebrate the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also the death and resurrection that constantly takes place within us.”
Nouwen reminds us that life is an ongoing process between our old self dying and our new self being reborn again - moving from desperation into a new hope, from old hurts into a new trust, and new love.
Lent is an inner event that takes place in the wilderness of our hearts. We must go in there, and be attentive to our wounds. When we do, we will see that God’s thumbprint has already been left there. Jesus has walked before us. And he is still within us, leading us home to God’s open heart.
We are given these 40 days, and every day, to really be honest with ourselves, and to see what the wilderness is offering – a new life, a new ministry, and new ways of being God’s beloved.
As you face the tough decisions and tougher realities, know that God looks at your heart, and cares for your wounds, with nothing but compassion and love.
Just as God watched over Jesus as he journeyed towards the cross and beyond, so too does God watch over you and me. We might not be given the easiest paths to trod, but that’s ok. Because Jesus has been there before. He is right here, right now ready to lead us today.
If you trust God just enough to follow him, then you can trust that you will not be led us astray.
Adapted from a previous message Alone, But Not Really on February 18, 2018
Brown Taylor, Barbara. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2. [Westminster John Knox: 2008]. p.45.
Heath, Emily C. Reflections on the Lectionary. Christian Century, January 31, 2018. p.20.
Johnson, Deon. Wilderness. episcopaldigitalnetwork.com. February18, 2018.
Moland-Kovash, Jennifer. Living By the Word. Christian Century, February 8, 2022. (accessed on March 5, 2022).
Nouwen, Henri. Called to Life, Called to Love: Lenten Reflections. Creative Communications for the Parish, 1997
Then I ran past this woman, who was probably a few years younger than me, a lot heavier than I was, and much slower than me on a bad day. Judging by the way she ran, she seemed to be struggling in ways even I couldn’t imagine. Her body limped along in severe pain. She looked so miserable that I couldn’t help but feel her pain myself.
I hate to admit it, but when I ran past her, I felt a bit smug and secure in my limited abilities. I might not have been very good at running, but I was at least better than this woman.
I am not sure why, but every day I went out to run, I would see her struggle between steps. When I walked my dog, there she was huffing and puffing. There were times when I was drove past her lost in a daze of pain and sweat. Every time I saw her, I would say myself, “I’m glad that’s not me.”
I am not proud of this. Nor am I bragging. I am simply showing my own human failure. Inside my head I knew I was not practicing the love I so often preach. Instead, I was hypocritically judging her in a way that I hated others doing it to me. Then one day, everything changed.
I don’t know when it happened, but my left heel just decided to give up. Not only did it refuse to move, it was also burning as if someone was using millions of tiny electrodes to spark a fire in my lower leg. No matter how much I stretched or worked to loosen the muscles, my achilles refused to budge. My days of running had come to an end.
I had watched enough athletes blow out theirs that I knew it was time to hang up my running shoes and give up on my dream of running a marathon. Instead, I took up walking. Not speed walking, but just the plain old shuffle-a-foot-in-front-of-the-other-and-try-not-to-wince-in-pain kind of walking.
As we come to what seems to be the end of this two year virial ordeal, I still pass by this woman. Only something is different. She is the one who runs past me. I don’t know her story, but I have noticed a great change in her life, in the way she moves, that leads me to believe she’s heading in the right direction.
She has lost about a third of her weight. She runs at a speed and with a confidence that is much better than I was doing. And I also noticed she didn’t seem to be in any more pain. In fact, I’m not sure it was some kind of pain that was making her run the way she does, but simply her gait. Like a speed walker who has kicked it up a notch.
In between the space of 2020 and 2022, have watched this woman has transformed herself – for the better. She seems happier, healthier, and even a bit holier in that she has shown in me a Divine Spirit of truth both in her and in myself. Seeing her run reminds me of the way we all ought to navigate life. Taking one step at a time as we transform ourselves for the better.
Today, churches around the world begin the 40-day journey of Lent. A time of wilderness wondering and self-discovery as we walk with Jesus towards his cross in Jerusalem. It’s a time when we often give something up as a way to make us better than we were before. It’s a time of fasting. But it is also a time of feasting.
If you are really looking to change, to be truly transformed, then I would encourage you to find a goal you want to achieve and feast on it. Then ask yourself, “What is holding me back from achieving this goal?” and fast from that.
We are given 40 days to make mistakes, fail, and test our limits. But each of these things provides us a reminder of what we are trying to achieve. And little-by-little, mistake-after-mistake, we get a little better, a little stronger, and hopefully a little holier along the way.
It's not supposed to be easy. But neither is running a marathon (so I hear). It’s about keeping pace with yourself, and in tune with where God is leading you – revealing little holy moments in between to keep you going forward. As an old friend likes to say, “Onward and Upward!”
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.”