Many of you listening may not agree with me. That’s okay. Because in love, especially in the love of Christ that we here strive to live up to honor, there is room for ALL people. In the name of love, the systemic injustice that has infected our country must be dealt with. It’s a cancer that has to be cut out.
A wise person once said, “We cannot think ourselves into a new way of living, we must live ourselves into a new way of thinking.” Change must start right now with us, the Church. We are the very body of the living Christ.
If you dare to call yourself a Christian, then remember these words from first John that state, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (1 John 4:20-21)
watch the message here
In my life, I’ve experienced hurricanes, tropical storms, tornados, and the strong Santa Ana winds that have been known to sew chaos across California. I can say that I have a pretty good idea of the kind of power a strong wind can generate. But yet it’s hard for me to wrap my head around this strange rush of violent wind that hit ancient Jerusalem on Pentecost.
Barbara Brown Taylor describes it by saying, “Before any of them could defend themselves, that mighty wind had blown through the entire house, striking sparks that burst into flames above their heads, and every one of them was filled to the gills with God’s breath.” It was in that one single, divine breath that the church was born. It has been inhaled deeply into our lungs, pumping blood through our hearts ever since.
It’s not too unusual to speak about the Holy Spirit as the breath of God. The Greek word for "breath" is pneuma, the same word the New Testament writers used for "Spirit." In Hebrew the word is “ruach,” which also has many meanings; including “wind, breath, and spirit.”
Let’s start with breath. It doesn’t take hearing the words “I can’t breath” to know that breathing is essential to life. As my friend Jason posted this in our group chat yesterday, “I find it profoundly evil to tear gas folks protesting the suffocation of a man by police during a pandemic driven by a respiratory disease.” It’s a bit ironic that the only time we think about our breathing is when we can no longer do it on our own.
Wind is another story. It slaps you, screams and howls at you. It can bite you, break you, and even blast you away. Wind is hard to ignore.
At a very young age, my dad had taught me how to sail. Part of this training was learning how to read the wind and use it efficiently. By the time I was ten, I was navigating the Gulf of Mexico all on my own – sailing a used Hobie Cat the way most kids rode their bikes; …daily, excitedly, and recklessly.
I remember one quiet morning setting sail on my own. The air was already warm and still. As I skimmed the placid water, I trimmed the sails and manipulated the rudders to capture what little wind there was. With a gentle glide my mind began drifting further and further away from shore. I was quickly brought back to reality when a sudden gust of wind filled my sails with such intensity that it caused me to capsize. Since I didn’t weigh enough to right the boat, I sat and floated, wondering where that wind had come from and where it was going.
Pentecost is a reminder of how God’s Spirit can catch us off guard and turn our world sideways. It might leave us feeling adrift or even abandoned, but if the holy scripture is true, then we know we’re not alone. In Christ, God has already planted the Spirit inside and all around us.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “It’s as close to us as our own breath.” And yet, it’s a mystery. I can feel the wind kiss my cheeks. I can smell hints of coffee or mint on someone’s breath. But how do I know the Spirit is here?
I think about it like this: In the same way we see the leaves rustling on trees or our breath in the cold morning air, God’s Spirit is made known whenever we see and do acts of love and kindness in the world. This is what Jesus taught. And what it means to follow him.
To be the body of Christ inhaling and exhaling the love of God upon one another. When Jesus exhaled his last breath on the cross, God took it, and strengthened it into “a holy hurricane,” as Taylor described it. “It was as if God wanted to make sure that Jesus’ friends were the inheritors of Jesus’ breath.”
What then does this say about George Floyd’s final breath? And what will it inspire us to do?
How will we use what God has given to us, to make justice a reality for all? How will we use our breaths to breathe life into new kinds of communities, where everyone has a chance to thrive?
Remember what I mentioned above. "God loves things by becoming united to them, not excluding them." Therefore, every breath we inhale is a reminder of the love God has entrusted to us; love that promotes justice and shows acts of mercy and gives grace and inspires forgiveness...to all of creation. Thus every breath we release must proclaim this gospel truth.
With the Holy Spirit, “God is working through us; doing the loving in and through us, back to God, towards our neighbors and our enemies, and even towards the sad and broken parts of ourselves.” (Rohr, 2016) There is no place the Spirit cannot penetrate. No depth the Spirit cannot reach.Wherever their is air, there is the Spirit of God ready to fill us with God’s goodness.
Every day this Holy Breath is being sucked into the lungs of ordinary people like you and me … empowering us to do extraordinary things. It stands with us as we stand in peaceful protest with our brothers and sisters who have had the knees of inequality on their necks for hundreds of years. It inspires us be the wind and breath of change that unites us all together to God, as God’s own children.
The Holy Spirit is a subtle power. But one we are given to harness and fill our sails with the opportunity to move beyond where we’ve been. According to Keri Day, “It’s the secret force behind all beauty, truth, and goodness; every act of kindness and compassion; every wise insight and every noble decision.”
But not everyone sees it this way. Some think they have exclusive privileges to the Spirit of God. As George Floyd gasped for air, there were others whose breathing was steady and calm as they watched him die. That is the antithesis of the Holy Spirit. It goes against everything Jesus taught. No person who believes there was an iota of justice being served while that man died, cannot claim the name of Christ. Period.
Let me just say this, when we live faithfully in God’s Spirit, “every need can be cared for and every painful circumstance can be met.” This is why Jesus gave us his spirit when he gave up his last breath. God’s Spirit does not allow room for violence - whether you’re the one doing it or allowing it to happen.
Just as the Spirit burst into flames above the disciple’s heads... so too must we ask ourselves what the Holy Spirit igniting in us?
How will our gentle breath turn into a mighty wind, one that can move with such forcefulness that it catches the world by surprise, and tips it over towards the righteousness of God?
May we never forget Christ gave us his Spirit to guide, sustain, and empower us to be a living, breathing, thriving vessels of all that is good in the world.
In closing I want to say one last thing.While I do not promote violence or the destruction of property, Jesus showed us that sometimes the tables in the Temple need to be overturned to get a point across.
Thus, Pentecost is not just a one-time event or an annual church celebration. Like breath itself, it’s the very gift of life that needs to be honored and celebrated daily.
Therefore, let us breath freely and frequently, inhaling and exhaling the love of Christ upon one another – as one people, one body filled with one Spirit, for the sole purpose of speaking the universal language of one divine love.
Part of this sermon that was first given on May 20, 2018.
Bartllett, David L., and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009. pp 3-7.
Day, Keri. We Need A Pentecost. May 3, 2018. www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/we-need-pentecost (accessed May 29, 2020).
Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey: A Day Book of Wisdom and Faith. New York: Harper Collins, 1997.
Rohr, Richard. Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2016, p. 97.
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ. New York: Convergent, 2019. p 16.
Taylor, Barbar Brown. Home by Another Way. New York: Cowley, 1999.
Over the last decade I have shared and illustrated many ways to achieve this. I posted a video of a boy going out to have lunch with God, who just so happens to be an old lady in the park.
Then there was a new article about a pizzeria who offered free slices to the hungry, and how that idea encouraged patrons of the restaurant to share in this act of generosity by paying for the slices so the owner wouldn’t have to shoulder the burden by himself.
I’ve posted and linked articles on the power of doing random acts of kindness, living in the moment, and finding solace in prayer. I even created @Knowvember a 30-Day challenge for people to meet 30 new people and learn their story.
I’ve also written about how the ancient scriptures speak of doing justice, caring for the poor, the widows, orphans and marginalized. And have spilt much ink on how Jesus (the namesake of this blog) brought those lessons to life as a means to usher in a new kingdom, one where Divine rightness prevails. And I’ve penned many opinions on how we the followers of this man need to step into this role, to be an active participant in the reign of this kingdom by living into our call as children of God, the body of Christ, the church, or simply as “spiritual beings having a human experience.”
With all that said, I feel as if I have approached this blog talking about the things I can do, and not so much on what the other can do for me. I often wonder (since my blog isn’t being flooded with new viewers) what kind of an impact is all this effort really having on the greater good of the world. What have I really done? Who’s life is really being affected or changed by my words or opinions? Am I doing this just to feed my ego? Or to simply procrastinate from doing the things I ought to be doing?
Seriously, what’s the point?
I’m not going to lie. This has been hanging on my head for quite some time now. And it’s often the topic of discussion inside my head when I walk with God. Up until now, that has been my Achilles. That is to say, up until I met Aaron and Mary Ann, the new neighbors down the street. You see, my motive to stop and talk to them was partly to put to practice what I preach – take the initiative to show kindness to strangers so I have something to write about and look good. But here’s the thing, after doing this for so long I sometimes forget that one of the most important reasons for meeting strangers is to learn from them.
Case in point, Aaron. After some small talk and pleasantries, our conversation went a little deeper than expected. And we shared our thoughts on faith, religion, and the struggles of life. I confessed that I have often tried to quit ministry but like Al Pacino character in The Godfather said, “Every time I try to get out, they keep pulling me back in.”
Then Aaron shared with me the story of the starfish. As the story goes, a man is walking down the beach when he notices all the starfish that have been abandoned on the shore by the ebb tide. The man begins to pick up the starfish, one by one, and throws each one out into the water. It seems like a laborious task. And in fact, another person passes by he points out how futile this guys efforts are.
“You’re not going to make a difference doing that,” the passerby said to the man. Without being discouraged, the man bends down and picks up another star fish and throws it back into the water, replying to the passerby, “Perhaps you are correct, but I’ve made a difference to this one.”
While the moral of the story is simply that we can’t save the entire world, but we can still make a big difference I took Aaron’s story to the heart and placed it right on top of my pain and struggles. I know my blog isn’t racking up hundreds of thousands followers, nor is my ministry reaching the masses that others are doing. But that does not negate the fact that I still am able to reach people, even if it’s only one person I am reaching; or even if only that one person is myself.
It’s kind of like that old saying, it’s not in the quantity but the quality. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have amassed on social media but how you are able to engage with them. We all have something to give to one another – love, generosity, kindness – but we also all have something to receive.
I wonder if my burnout or lack of seeing the results of my efforts are because I am too focused on the gifts I bring instead of the gifts that others possess. Perhaps I’ve been bending down looking for star fish on the shoreline and not realizing I am the star that needs to return to the sea from which I came.
Maybe the next ten years, if I am so blessed to have them, will be spent not looking at the divine light in others but how such light can illuminate my darkness so that I can see, in every nook and cranny of my being, the Divine within. It’s hard to give something to someone else when you yourself don’t have it in the first place to give.
Since Christmas, we’ve moved from the womb through the tomb learning how God’s redemptive plan unfolds. We’ve learned new words, like koinonia and en Christo, and studied what it means to participate in the kingdom of God. As we come to the final week of the Easter season, it’s time for us to take what we’ve learned out into the world. It’s time for us to graduate.
Jesus believes his students have earned their degrees and are ready to hit the ground running. But before he can even bless them, or give them some parting words of advice, the disciples ask one last question; “Is this the time for the Messiah to finally return Israel to its former glory?”
It’s not the first time they’ve asked this question, but it will be the last time Jesus reprimands them for doing so. “It’s not up to you to decide when God acts.”
Despite all that they have learned, the disciples still can’t quite get their heads wrapped around the idea that God isn’t going to come riding in on the back of a warhorse but upon their shoulders. God is already hard at work, redeeming the world through the work of human hands and the journeys of human feet.
On this mountain stage, the disciples are tasked with a calling. They are not given the summer off before real life kicks in. Instead, they quickly exchange their caps and gowns for suits and ties as Jesus employs them to, “Go be my witness in Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth.”
If we don’t let that sink in for a moment, we might miss a big point. Especially one that pertains to being the church.
You see Jesus isn’t just saying go knock on the doors of houses on your block. He’s saying leave your neighborhood and go to the other side of the tracks, the wrong side of town, the places you’ve always been told to avoid. Go love and serve your enemy, and care for people who do not look like you, or think like you, or talk like you. Some of these people will try to kill you, and others will succeed at doing it. Go there.
It’s so like Jesus, isn’t it, to push us out to the margins, to care for those whom society has deemed unworthy or unlovable. Go there, and show them what God’s love looks like and teach them what it means to be called children of God.
As I read this passage, I thought about my daughter who is about to go out into the world. On one hand, it terrifies me because, let’s face it, the world is still far removed from the kingdom of heaven Jesus spoke of. On the other hand, it excites me to know that she will go and do some amazing things that will make God’s kingdom come alive. It’s a risky choice we are all given. One that proves God’s faith in us.
In his classic book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Dr. Seuss reminds us that
“yes, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
But on you will go, though the weather be foul.
On you will go, though your enemies prowl.
Onward up many a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike.
And I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems, whatever they are.”
The disciples are given a choice. And oh, the places they go. From Jerusalem to Ireland, to the Middle East to the Far East, to Africa and beyond, they share the good news in all the things they do and say.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples become what we are today – the church, the visible body of Christ. They set out to go to the furthest corners of the world to love God, to love others and to serve both. Had they sat around waiting for Jesus to return, there’s a strong chance we would not be here today. I like to think Jesus envisioned New Church Sherman Oaks when he planted that little mustard seed on that Palestinian mountainside.
Just as it was then, we too are called to continue the mission of Christ – ushering in the Kingdom of God. We are to be “a society on earth,” as William Barclay wrote, “where God’s will would be as perfectly done as it is in Heaven;” ushering in a kingdom founded on divine “love and not on earthly power.”
Jesus isn’t calling us to take up arms against the world, but to take the world up in our arms through powerful acts of love, compassion and justice. We are to be both the Great Commandment people, loving God and our neighbors. And the Great Commission people who carry the love of God in Christ Jesus to the ends of the earth.
As their story unfolds, the disciples show us that life doesn’t just magically become easy once we get our diploma. Being the church is not a day job, it’s a lifelong calling – to be imitators of the One who has blessed us with the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God. Just as we inhale that Spirit into our lives, so too are we called to exhale it by bearing witness to God’s redemptive glory.
As Henri Nouwen once described the church, we are called to be “windows constantly offering each other new views on the mystery of God’s presence in our lives.”
Nouwen sees this when we pray and worship together. But I also believe we do this when we share our joys and our burdens together, when we feed and care for one another, or stand united for justice for all.
These are just a few ways that we are made aware of the presence of the Spirit among us, ... and a few ways to allow God’s glory to shine through us.
We can look up to heaven and wait for Christ to re-appear. That’s okay. I faithfully believe one day he will. But what if that day is today? Jesus has called us to bring his love, mercy and grace into every village, every home, and place.
And so in closing I leave you with these parting words of advice
When it comes to love I hope you never think twice.
Brother’s and sisters, aunts, uncles, dads and mums
Open your hearts, there’s still work to be done
Be your name Fiona, CJ, Nicole or Shea
Run off to great places. Today is our day!
God’s kingdom awaits
Don’t doddle or stray
And always begin with bowed heads that pray:
Barclay, William. The Acts of the Apostles, Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: Westminster PRess, 1955.
Bartlett, David L, Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.
Godin, Seth. seths.blog. May 23, 2020. https://seths.blog/2020/05/a-community-of-practice/ (accessed May 23, 2020).
Seuss, Dr. Oh, The Places You Will Go! New York: Random House, 1990.
We are God’s goodness. We are God’s blessedness. And we are called to be the Christness – the visible presence of God’s love that makes every space, every action, every emotion, everything sacred and holy.
Let’s face it suffering isn’t a new phenomenon. And we all react differently to it. In 1927 the wife of Scottish preacher Arthur Gossip died suddenly. When he returned to the pulpit, Gossip preached a sermon that compared life to watching a plane pass through the sky during wartime. “There you are,” he said, “lying on your back watching a plane fly gracefully across a brilliant sunlit blue sky when all of a sudden it is blown apart by gunfire and falls to earth a tumbling, tangled mess of metal.”
The gunfire was the tragically unexpected death of his beloved wife. Gossip went on to explain that while he didn’t understand why this happened, he knew he needed faith if he was going to survive the darkness he felt. He ended his sermon with this recognition of truth “You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it.”
We all have a story like his, where suffering and faith feed on one another. The death of a loved one, a loss of a job or all the events you planned for your senior year. It might have been an accusation that ruins your reputation, or a misunderstanding between friends.
Suffering is unavoidable. And it’s going to happen to you at least once in your life.
watch message here
Peter’s advice seems simple enough - stand firm in faith by living a life above reproach. After all, he argues, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” Are you kidding me? Is that all the wisdom he has to impart on us? Be eager to do good and no one’s going to hurt you? In what world does this work? Certainly not ours where tweets are the new stones we throw.
I know Peter’s just asking a hopeful rhetorical question here, but his follow-up doesn’t seem to be the balm we want. “Oh yeah, and if you do suffer for doing good, don’t worry, you’re blessed.” Not the words of comfort we like to hear while enduring the pains of life.
Since suffering is unavoidable, and pretty much a guarantee, we are left with this question to ponder: exactly how do we to live into our blessedness – especially as we’re enduring the pain of suffering?
As Peter suggests, live in such a way that our hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Peter encourages his readers to not fear or bow to intimidation but keep their hearts ready and “in adoration of Christ, so when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick.” In other words, be imitators of Christ, who suffered greatly at the hands of his own people and yet was exalted in glory. This is our mission as a church and as students of Jesus. By being little Christs in the world we become both the blessed ones and the one’s who bless others.
The famous evangelist John Wesley understood this concept, and chose to live by this rule of life: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” Now that’s good advice. I’m sure Wesley would agree that doing good in the world doesn’t automatically translate into an easy life. People will try to take advantage of you.
Susanna Metz notes, “It’s not terribly reassuring to hear that when we suffer for doing good it’s a blessing. Suffering is not pleasant, whether it’s as simple as having our feelings hurt or it’s the ultimate price of losing our lives.” And yet it didn’t stop Dr. King from demanding justice and equality for all human beings. Or Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, who was eventually executed for caring for the poor.
It doesn’t seem right that we suffer for doing the right thing, does it? Metz poignantly asks, “What keeps us from just giving up and caring only for ourselves?” Her answer is simple: love. Specifically, God’s steadfast love for us. It’s a love that is so deep and so abiding that even death gets swallowed up by it.
Just as suffering is unavoidable, so to is God’s love for us. There is absolutely nothing you can do to stop God from loving you...whether you accept it or not doesn’t negate this truth.This is why living into our blessedness is so imperative - especially in times like what we’re experiencing today. We are called be little Christs, to be the visible presence of God’s love to the world like he was so that people will come to understand the love that God has placed in them
Through his words and deeds Jesus taught us that our best defense to suffering is in what we do, or don’t do, in life. Don’t get upset when someone betrays you. Don’t hit back when someone takes a swing at you. Bite your tongue when someone belittles or criticizes you. By imitating Christ, we are able to make visible the deep, abiding love of God that draws us in and wraps us in compassion even when the pain of suffering and persecution endures.
While this pandemic is causing many of us to suffer physical, mental or economic hardships and even deaths, God’s love remains with us and in us; often appearing in the goodness of others and ourselves. People are helping one another with grocery shopping, pet sitting, and mask making. You might see these as small acts of kindness, but really they are giant acts of Christness – people living into their blessedness by being little Christ, often to people they don’t even know.
Last week I vlog’d about the three families who showered my daughter Fiona with gifts through the Adopt a Senior program. One was a very dear friend and mentor to Fiona. But the other two were complete strangers. They didn’t know my daughter, yet they chose to suffer with her; to feel her pain of not being able to graduate with her friends.
One evening I watched a mom and her daughter drop off a bouquet of flowers and other little gifts at our door...it was all I could do to hold back the tears. I was in awe, witnessing on our front porch God’s love made manifest. In the faces of these strangers was the face of Christ, smiling and giggling, marking this space and time sacred and holy. This is just one of a million examples of God’s abiding love pouring out from person to person, heart to heart, moment to moment.
Mother Teresa, who was no stranger to suffering, made this observation: “There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways."
It seems as if she is suggesting that God’s answer to our suffering is you and me. God gives us one another – gift after gift to help us deal with this life in good times and bad. As we continue through this time of uncertainty, a time when still so many people are afraid, anxious, and alone...
Remember this: The Spirit that empowered Jesus is the same Spirit that allowed his disciples, ordinary people like you and me, to do the extraordinary. That same Spirit is in us today...loving us, comforting us, and guiding us to do the same for one another.
We are God’s goodness. We are God’s blessedness. And we are called to be the Christness – the visible presence of God’s love that makes every space, every action, every emotion, everything sacred and holy. Will you join me today in accepting this gift by stepping into your blessedness and going out into the world to bless others with hearts that sanctify Christ as Lord.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.
Metz, Susanna. "Blessed Be God." episcopalchurch.org. May 11, 2020. (accessed May 14, 2020).
So by now you’re probably wondering how chewing gum and slowly reading holy texts work together as a spiritual practice. You’re right to assume I might not have a clue at what I’m talking about. But humor me for a moment as I invite you to open the Bible to the book of Psalms. These are a collection of poems and songs written thousands of years ago, and are a great resource to find inspiration.
Let’s start with probably the most familiar one, Psalm 23. It begins “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” You can choose to read further or just simply stop here and slowly repeat this one statement over and over in your head until something is placed on your heart. It might be a problem you’re facing, a person you need to connect with, or just a vision that you didn’t know you needed to see. Once you see it, hold it in your heart.
At this point, I invite you to put a stick of chewing gum in your mouth. But instead of placing your attention on that word or phrase from your reading, focus instead on your chewing. Think about the up and down movement of your jaw, the texture against your teeth, the sound the gum makes in between bites. Find your rhythm; breathing slowly and calmly.
Once this is established, slowly and calmly return your focus on that which is on your heart. If it’s a vision, invite it into your chewing. If it’s a phrase or word, repeat it with each chew you make. Do this for as long as you can until your heart and head become one simple movement together. Like chewing and walking, or faith and action.
The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). He is encouraging his readers to feast on the words of Christ until they become one with us; connecting his words in our head to his love that God has placed in our hearts. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he spoke the words of ancient scripture to avoid temptation, “One does not live by bread alone, but by the very words that come from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).
While I don’t have a fancy Latin name for this practice, nor have I trademarked it in any way, I do offer it to you. I hope that you will give it a shot knowing that it will help you reshape and reform your own likeness to that of Christ, the divine revelation and visible presence of God’s love in the world.
To borrow from Henri Nouwen, may this practice become like wings that carry you above the moods and turbulences that we all are face in this pandemic called life.
While I try to limit my time with the news, or try to get lost in prayer to help pass the hours, I knew early into this pandemic that those things weren’t really working for me. Like me, and so many of us, my friend was hurting. She was sincerely asking; believing me to have my head above water so she could find a reason to stay afloat.
At the time, I knew exactly why she was asking. And I was sympathetic. However, I was also laughing a little inside my own head because her question reminded me of something comedian Jim Gaffigan said when describing what life with five kids is like. He said, “Imagine treading water in the deep end of the pool and someone hands you a baby.” I should have told her that life is our baby, and we will do whatever it takes to keep our heads bobbing above the surface. But I only thought of that right now.
What I told her is the thought that’s been stuck in my head. This idea of bobbing above the surface. I grew up in and around water. I’ve been swimming since an infant. More than half of my childhood was spent in a damp bathing suit. I still love being in the water, stopping just at eye level and imagining a whole different world from this perspective. Like the periscope of a submarine sneaking up on an enemy ship, or a dormant volcano all by itself in the middle of the ocean that the water no longer recognizes.
Her question touched those memories, which sparked my answer. What was keeping my head above water in this pandemic, is not a fear of death nor the fight for life. It was the beauty that is all around me. I want to see it from all the different perspectives and different angles and different light.
I’m bobbing up and down for no other reason than to take in all the wonderful things around me that are actually thriving in this pandemic. The bright neon pink bougainvillea and the sweet fragrance of the jasmine that is in bloom. The hummingbirds making love above my head, and the young mourning doves leaping to the ground as they learn to fly. The sounds of wind. The sound of sirens. The sound of hammers singing a different song than the one playing on a radio in the distance. Sound of smiles. The look of laughter. The richness of ordinary life made sacred and holy, even if only in my imagination. This may not answer the question how I keep my head above water, but it is why I put in the effort to do so.
I know that one day, and I am very sure of this, all those wonderful things and all that beauty will be still be there long after I have succumbed to the currents and chaos. Eventually I will drown. I don’t know if it will be today or tomorrow. And I have no idea what the world will look like whenever that time comes, when my legs can no longer kick and my arms no longer flutter. What I do know is that when the time comes I want all that sacred and holy beauty to be the last thing I see.
I want my last thoughts to be all the beautiful things I saw and did and experienced and felt and imagined and lived. I want to drown in awe of life.
Before exchanging our goodbyes, I reminded my friend that just as this day will one day come for me and her, so too will come the day when we all long for these moments of rest and restoration that this horrific virus has given to us. We will yearn to ponder life’s bigger questions, find deeper meaning in the world around, and be still in our questions until the answers come.
Why wait. Today is the day to see the world new again, with new eyes and through new lenses. If you are reading this, your head is above still water. Look around and see the holy and sacred life that is all around you. And live in it. Dive into the deep and drown in awe of life and all her beauty.
Your past doesn’t define you; it only defines God’s love for you. Once we can latch onto that truth, we can live faithfully - tasting God's kindness.
In these few verses Peter gives us some wonderful analogies about our faith journey: Suckling babies, living stones, holy priesthoods. Because it’s Mother’s Day I’m going to focus mostly on the suckling baby analogy. There are many people in our community who’d rather talk about breastfeeding than recall or honor their mothers. If you’ve had a bad childhood or have suffered the loss of a child or for one reason or another never had children, today can be a painful day.
Not to diminish their pain, it’s also worth noting that parenting is no simple task either. Just because you were handed a newborn and sent you off with some diapers, doesn’t mean you’ll step up to be a parent. Some don’t. And some do, knowing they will make mistakes along the way.
Christian faith is no different. Just because you claim the name Christian doesn’t mean you are instantly Christ like. There’s always going to be challenges that we will fail. Peter gives us a pep-talk of sorts; encouraging us to latch on to Christ. And live into his name as God’s beloved child. To be like suckling infants drinking in God’s pure kindness.
In her writing on this passage, Joy Douglas Strome understands “There is always some trial and error when a new mother learns to breast-feed her newborn.” She notes the mom has to be relaxed enough for the milk to flow. She has to be attentive enough to help the baby latch on. And she has to take care of herself nutritionally to produce the milk.
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First of all, having faith doesn’t need to be an anxious endeavor. And it certainly doesn’t help to be stressed out over it. Yes, the world will try to make you doubt your faith. And culture will make it more difficult to live it faithfully. This is why it’s always important to focus on this one simple truth: That out of great love for you, God made you perfect. Even if you don’t get it right all the time, that does not negate your perfection.
We will make some mistakes. That’s how we learn, grow, become resilient and strong…living stones like Peter described. Jesus never said it was going to be easy, but showed us how to persevere. It is important to stay focused on Christ. Because faith requires you to be attentive and proactive in order to mature. As Peter knew first hand, one’s faith can be easily attack, or abandoned. Especially when it’s new or young.
We have to take care of our faith - making sure it gets spiritually nourish in God’s Word and love. It’s easy to fill up on the junk food of culture or become lazy. But Jesus is always calling us to get our soul food on. As Peter put it, to “taste the goodness of the Lord.” It was Christ who said, “I am the bread of life whoever comes to me will never hunger.” Like a nursing mom, Christ is always ready to feed us. But are we ready to feast on Christ?
Immediately after Sean was born, the doctor handed him to Kathleen. After a moment of being blessed with love and kisses, Kathleen attached him to her breast. She knew how important it was for mom and child to bond like this to work together right from the start.
In the same way, we work together with Christ. Like Strome notes, “A new Christian knows at some deep level that spiritual milk is what will nurture their life of faith. To be sustained for the risk and challenges of a long life of faith, we start as a newborn starts, with the raw material of Jesus’s teachings - the good milk that is specially designed to meet our most basic needs.”
You might recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It begins with the physiological ones – air, water, shelter, reproduction. That’s followed by the need for safety, then love and belonging, and self-esteem. At the top of Maslow’s pyramid is self-actualization – becoming your best self that you can be.
Whether it’s an individual or a new church, we all start out with the basics before we can grow into our true, divine selves. Nothing is more basic than God’s love for you and me. This was the good news Jesus brought. That we are loved by God, no matter what. Your past doesn’t define you; it only defines God’s love for you. Once we can latch onto that truth, we can live faithfully - sharing God’s love with others.
As Jesus demonstrated throughout his life, it’s in our giving of love that we grow into our blessedness. It’s our giving that becomes the building blocks of our faith – living stones constructing a sanctuary vibrant with life. And it’s in this sacred space we become holy – offering our lives to God as children of God in Christ.
It’s in our self-giving that we move from suckling infants to motherhood. For we are all destined to be mothers. To quote Meister Eckhart, “What good is it to me that Mary gave birth to the Son of God if I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born.”
You don’t have to be child bearer to be a life giver. Mother Teresa never experienced childbirth yet held the title by being a mother to all. She famously pray, “in all that I do, may other’s see Christ and not me.” What a good example she, and others like her have set for us.
God is calling you and me to be mother’s giving birth to love, grace, and peace every day. This is what it means to be a Christian, to follow the way of Christ.
By loving kindness as Jesus did, seeking justice and being humble like him, we keep his mission alive – become living stones that build a spiritual house whose corner stone is Christ himself. And whose identity is secure in the arms of a God who serves us spiritual milk like no other.
Therefore, if you haven’t already, I invite you to latch on to the bosom of God, and taste the goodness of true life which is Christ the Lord.
Strome, Joy Douglas. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox; 2010) p. 462.
Author and scholar Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014) looks to Jesus for a fundamental understanding of what it means to be Christian community:
Jesus had a fundamental vision—faith that all people [emphasis mine] are “children of God.” This is the theological perspective of his “program,” on which everything else rests. I am supposing that he took this seriously, more or less literally, . . . teaching that each person has an uncreated soul that is actually a continuation of the Divine Life itself. When he met a person, therefore, he really believed that God was somehow present in that person, so he looked for that presence through all the overlying contradictions to it, until he found it. Then he addressed himself to that point in the person. As the Hindus also say, the divine in him saluted the divine in the other. When anyone does that, it tends to awaken the divine in the other, who is thus invited to speak from that place in return. [Notice the mutuality! It begins with one person’s generous gaze, which is then returned in kind.] This is the sort of thing we will need to accustom ourselves to doing if we are to succeed in developing the further levels of the [Jesus] program. . . .
Sister Joan Chittister wrote, "The death of Jesus left a fledgling faith community bereft ... until they themselves rose out of his grave to begin life over again, wiser for what they knew, stronger for what he was, determined now to finish what had already been begun. All things end so that something else can begin."
Her words make me think about what will arise from this tragic situation we’re in today? For Peter and the other Apostles, the answer was simple. Preach the gospel and practice it daily. As a result of their actions, people followed suite, and the world was forever changed.
Imagine if we followed this blueprint of gospel living to relaunch the world’s economy. Imagine if everyone held to the word of God and lived in accordance with it. How wonderful would it be to live in harmony; lacking in nothing?
The early church had a word for this: koinonia, which in ancient Greek means “fellowship” or participation in a shared life. Think about the changes that could happen if we moved from isolation into intimate communities of care in the Spirit of koinonia?
Although today’s reading gives us a wonderful picture of what the church once was, I believe it gives us a vision of what it can be if we can all come together – with one heart and one soul – giving generously as an expression of Christian unity and love.
To borrow from Paul, we are a community of the Spirit, therefore let us agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends with our neighbors. Let us forget ourselves long enough to lend a helping hand to those in need (c.f. Phil. 2:1-4 MSG).
To be a community of the Spirit means to be united with one heart ... the heart of Christ... and to always treat others in loving and sacrificial ways that honor Christ! Sadly, I fear we’ve become unfamiliar with this concept in our divisive, winner takes all kind of world. We’ve been looking out for ourselves for so long that we forget how to love as God loves us. And to live into that love as Christ did.
It’s also worth pointing out that koinonia is noun. You see the early Christians didn’t occasionally fellowship. They were a fellowship, living a way of life that mirrored the way of Jesus. They didn’t just show up to church once a week to hear a good message. They were the church everyday – living the good news in word and deeds as Jesus did. Even with the fear of death looming over their heads (you see, their way of worship was illegal because it did not honor Caesar as god), they risked their lives for the sake of living out the truth. As a result, God added to their numbers.
Up until the stay at home order, few of us have experienced life together as the early Christians did – as a common, daily, material life of unity and sharing. Sure, most of us were good at reaching out to others on Instagram or texts, but overall we live lives that are very much our own. It’s safer that way. There’s very little risk involved when others aren’t in the mix.
The problem is, we were not meant to be alone but in community, in deep and vulnerable relationships with others. It didn’t surprise me that the one thing people want to keep going once this pandemic has passed is their community of family and friends.
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I don’t want to go back to the self-isolation that we already had in place before all this happened. Where we travel from our home to our job back to home again with little regard of our neighbors and their wellbeing. Is it wrong for me to think that maybe Covid is God’s way of bringing us together again – moving us from self-isolation to a life that is genuinely inter-dependent like we read in Acts.
One does not have look further than social media to see how a small flame of koinonia is lighting up the world again. Every day stories are being posted of folks pulling out lawn chairs on their driveways to share happy hour with neighbors whom they’ve never really socialized with until now. Like the first church, people are finding new ways to spend time together, sharing meals “with glad and generous hearts.” This is koinonia.
And what about the now infamous impromptu sing-a-long that happened on Italian balconies; inspiring cities around the world to do the same. In New York City, people are applauding medical personal and first responders from their windows as a signal of unity and support. Music and praises lifted up to God’s ears. This is koinonia.
I just saw on TV Subaru is partnering with Feeding America to help people who are struggling during this pandemic. Here in L.A., the Unified School District has vowed to use their resources to make sure their students (and their families) still get fed at least two meals a day. Volunteers have signed up and have served over 15 million meals to date. Pooling resources and working together to help all who are in need. That is koinonia.
In our neighborhood people are sharing fruit from their trees, bread from their ovens, and books from their homes. This is what the world is supposed to be like: sharing life together in harmony and peace. Recalling the words of Brian Tracy who said, "Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others." This echos the ethics of Jesus, who showed us how to truly live by giving his love away freely.
Jesus knew that even the smallest act of kindness is powerful enough to transform people and communities. A conversation with a woman at the well, an dinner invitation for a sinner to sit and share the table with him, a gentle touch of compassion shown to a leper who by law had been excluded from his community. These are just a few signs and wonders of God at work in the world healing our wounds and leaving us in awe.
This is what I want to happen when the country opens up again. I want the entire world to constantly be in awe of the Spirit of God working in us and through us and all around us. I want love to be the power that drives our world’s economies and treaties. And I believe it can.
In this flicker of koinonia, I see hope growing and fears fading. I see bridges connecting people and walls disappearing. But who will stoke its flame with me? It’s not like hunger, poverty or health care needs will disappear once the pandemic has passed.
In giving us the Holy Spirit, Jesus empowers all of us to take these threads of good will and weave them into a new social order. As the church, the very body of Christ himself, we must be the positive jolt that moves the world towards new social habits that care to the wellbeing of all people. (Marty, 2020) By practicing koinonia the church can lead the way making positive changes in the world.
But in order to be the agents of change, we must be willing to first change ourselves. For far too long Christians have pushed people away instead of inviting them in. We spend more time playing church than actually being the church. We need to take a risk and be the gospel and good news in the world for transformation to happen.
We must set aside the church doctrines and political differences that separate us and live in unity and awe of the risen Christ who holds us all together in God’s grace and love. In Christ, we are the very heartbeat of God’s love that not only revives the soul of the world, but resurrects it to new life.
In closing, I want to leave you with a familiar saying of mine. I want you to know that: You are loved. And you are love. Go and be both – and you will be ready to truly embrace whatever today and tomorrow brings.
Marty, Peter W. "The Coronavirus Pandemic is Nurturing Neighborliness." christiancentury.org. April 24, 2020. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/editorpublisher/coronavirus-pandemic-nurturing-neighborliness (accessed May 1, 2020).
But here’s the thing. We are not products, but byproducts of a system we built “to better our lives.” Only we really haven’t done that either. Yes, we've created commodities that comfort us and have made great advances on estending our lives (or our buying power). But is that really living?
If this stay at home order has shown me anything it’s that we can survive the factory shutting down. We can survive as human beings. We can’t as products. We are not material beings, we are human beings. But we are actually more than that.
When the engines of the world restart, when the conveyor belt begins to move, I hope that we will remember what the ancient mystics taught us. That is, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having a human experience.
There is so much noise still going on across the airwaves to attract us to one side of the debate or the other. This noise will continue, and most likely grow louder the closer we get to reopening “normal.” But right now we’ve been given an opportunity to hear the quiet. We’ve been given this space to be fully awake, to experience true peace and calm. The universe is waking us up, reminding us of our true selves, our real reality. That is, not to work or fight ourselves to death, but to be fully alive and fully present. To be wide awake in ways we are only used to dreaming about.
A few decades ago a wise man wrote:
To be calm and quiet by yourself is not the same as sleeping. In fact, it means being fully awake and following with close attention every move going on inside of you. It requires the discipline to recognize the urge to get up and go as a temptation to look elsewhere for what is really close at hand. It offers the freedom to stroll through your own inner yard and rake up the leaves and clear the path so you can easily find the way to your heart. Perhaps there will be fear and uncertainty when you first come upon this “unfamiliar terrain,” but slowly and surely you will discover an order and a familiarity that deepens your longing to stay home with yourself.
I know we will do our best to safely restart our country and reset our economy. What it will look like is up to us. Some will try to dominate and, dare I say, dictate the way forward. But let us not forget that we hold the power reopen our own hearts and reset who we want to be.
I hope you will use this time, however much is left, to find and redefine yourself. To use this time to realign your heart with that spiritual being inside you so that your human experience will be the best it can possibly be. To borrow from the hucksters and marketers, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. What will we do with it? How will we transition our hearts, our homes, our lifestyles in such a way that commerce cannot help but follow.
A friend recently asked me, “What’s helping you stay positive during this pandemic?” My answer was simple. “I see this time as a gift we’ve been given to be still on the inside. One day we will miss this moment for what it is - a time of rest, a time of rediscovery, a time of renewal and reset.”
It’s time to be fully alive and really awake. It’s a time to stop dreaming who we want to be, and start living into being that person we’ve only dreamt about becoming. It’s a time to realize we are spiritual beings who are given a chance to have a human experience. How then will you experience this precious gift of life today, and moving forward?
Quote by Henri Nouwen, You Are The Beloved, (New York: Convergant, 2017).
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.”