What it means to be kind
Every now and then I like to share words from other people that I come across. I know I am just a humble student still learning Christlike kindness and compassion. When I share a teaching I feel like it makes me accountable as well to live into its message.
The two teachers I often share are both Catholic priests. One who is Belgian, Henri Nouwen. And one who is a Midwesterner, Richard Rohr. Both men have consistently spoken to my heart journey that I have been on. I am grateful for their words that have deepened my love for Christ and expanded my understanding of the Divine.
In this homily, Fr. Richard reflects on the well-known story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–35), a parable Jesus used to teach us what common-sense compassion looks like in our everyday lives.
This is probably the most well-known of all Jesus’ parables, probably because the lesson of compassion is so obvious. First of all, we have a scholar of the law. This smart man stood up to test Jesus, asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus just asks, “Well, what’s written in the law?” And the answer the man gives is perfect. He puts together the two great commandments, exactly as Jesus himself would do: “Love God and love your neighbor.”
Jesus says to him, “Do this and you will live.” Then there’s a giveaway line: “Because he wished to justify himself, he then asked, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:25–29).
Jesus tells him this beautiful story that we call the story of the Good Samaritan. I’m sure many of us have been told that the Samaritans were the outright enemies of the Jews, so here Jesus is picking a bad guy in their eyes to be, in fact, the good guy.
In the story, a man who was coming down from Jerusalem fell victim to robbers and was left half-dead. A priest and a Temple assistant were going down the same road but passed him on the other side. Priests and Levites had to maintain ritual purity. In Judaism at that time touching a dead body made a person ritually impure. That’s perhaps the reason these two walked by the man. They’re not necessarily bad people; they’re just trying to maintain ritual purity so they could enter the Temple. This is part of the point of the story: love is more important than ritual purity. These men want to be pure and to do their priestly works, so they pass up a chance to love an ordinary human being.
The Samaritan who came upon the man was moved with compassion. I might say to the man, “I’ll pray for you,” but the Samaritan really goes out of his way! He bandages his wounds and takes him to an inn. He gives the innkeeper money, and even offers to repay any more that the innkeeper spends in the injured man’s care. He goes to the utmost degree to show compassion. Jesus simply asks the scholar who was trying to justify himself: “Which of these three was neighbor to the wounded man?” (Luke 10:36).
What Jesus is doing in this beautiful story is defining what love of neighbor is: it is the concrete practice of love and caring. We already know this law of compassion, because it is written in our hearts. Our common sense knows what we are supposed to do, and we still don’t do it. We contradict our own good common sense when we seek ritual purity or any kind of moral superiority instead of loving who and what is right in front of us.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Good Samaritan,” homily, July 14, 2013.
Don't Be Trippin' Dude
Our old priest, Fr. Barber, once welcomed with an open heart a young man who wanted to talk to him about Jesus. Even though it was pretty obvious, the young man thought it best to win over Fr. Barber to Christ, or at least “his” version of Christianity. In all the politeness he could summon, Fr. Barber interrupt the guy by asking, “Don’t you know we are playing on the same team?”
I sometimes wonder if the thousands of Christian denominations around the world have forgotten we are all part of the same body. That is the body of Christ who gave his life for us so that we could live in unity and peace.
After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Pres. George W. Bush stood before the cameras and announced to the world “You’re either with us or against us.” His words, spoken to unite the world against a common enemy, have now become a call for divisiveness. You either vote like me or believe what I do, or you’re my enemy.
Every day on social media, we are constantly asked to pick a side even at the expense of healing our country, building real friendships, or getting work done in the Kingdom of God. More and more, the holy scripture is used not as a guide for living a Christ like life, but to claim superiority, or to divide and discriminate, or simply to justify casting out and alienating others who think or worship differently.
In the gospel of Mark, this is what Jesus had to say about it. (Read Mark 9:38-50 here)
But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
Having heard a complaint by his disciples that someone outside their inner circle was casting out demons in Jesus' name, Jesus, no doubt, does something unexpected. He sides with those "other people" instead of with his own.
The disciple’s unhappiness reminds me of an old joke about a guy who arrives at the gates of Heaven. St. Peter asks what his religion is and the man says, “Methodist.”
“Wonderful,” says St. Peter, “go to Room 24. But please be very quiet as you pass Room 8.”
Next, came a young lady and when asked the same question, she replies “Catholic.”
“Fantastic” says St. Peter. “Go to Room 18, but please be very quiet as you pass Room 8.”
The next person entering tells St. Peter, “I’m Jewish, like you.” Peter smiles and says, “Go to Room 11 but please be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” The man said, “I can understand there being different rooms for different religions, but why must I be quiet when I pass Room 8?”
St. Peter replies, “Well, the Baptists are in Room 8, and they still think they’re the only ones here.”
We all think we have the right way of doing things; the right interpretation of scripture or the right doctrines. And many believe they will be the only one’s in heaven, like they get to determine that.
But in Mark’s passage, Jesus is basically telling his disciples to worry about themselves first. If someone is wasting their time showing kindness in his name, then at least that’s time not spent bad mouthing God.
I think we should all focus first on our own righteousness, before we judge or condemn someone else’s. We don’t know their story, how they got to this place, or why they do things the way they do. But we do know our story, and how God is working in our lives.
Jesus calls us to look inward, so that our actions don’t become a stumbling block that jeopardizes our faith or anyone else’s.
This is meant as a warning to us all. Even those closest with Jesus carried things in their life that caused them to stumble. Peter had denial. Philip had doubts. James and John thought they were more deserving than the others. And where do we even begin with Judas?
We all have things buried deep within us that can jeopardize our faith. Traumas, fears, shame, guilt, regrets, ego…what good do they serve in the Kingdom of God?
I know first hand how holding on to old hurts have held me and others back. I have also come to learn that Jesus wants us to be untethered from the weight of our past. He wants our focus to be on the present, which leads us to our future.
Jesus directs our focus inward, to find those things that are stopping us from being fully present in God’s kingdom.
Find them. Name them. And then cut them out like a surgeon does with cancer. Cut off your hand...chop off your foot...pluck out your eye! He uses this gruesome imagery to make an important point. It’s better to show up lame or blind in the Kingdom of God, than to not show up at all.
Now we all know there some things in life that are easier than others to get rid of. A toxic friend, for example, can be deleted and replaced with someone who is nicer. But admitting or dealing with the wounds of sexual assault are hard enough to face much less overcome. Be it simple or hard, Jesus tells us to cut them out of our lives because holding on to them isn’t doing anyone any good.
This leads me our question today: What are the stumbling blocks in your life that are keeping you from truly living into your greatness and faithfulness?
For me, it's self-doubt. I often compare myself to others, never feeling good enough, smart enough, or faithful enough to do what God is calling me to do. I’ve spent years working on stopping this destructive cycle from controlling my life. But just as a surgeon can't operate successfully on his or herself, I lean on Jesus for help.
When the voices of self-doubt arise, I picture Jesus saying, “Stop comparing yourself to others. Be the person God created you to be. And let everyone else be who they’re meant to be.”
Jesus is giving us permission to let go of those things in life that are weighing us down. He invites us to place our burdens at the foot of his cross, where God’s mercy and grace await us all. As we let those things go, we are able to enter Anamesa with the room in our hearts to love others as God loves each and every one of us. Jesus is calling us to stay focused on what we do here, because what we do in this sacred space matters to our salvation.
Our eyes, and hands and feet are meant for doing God’s work.
Whenever you offer a thirsty person something to drink, or provide the means for a hungry person to be fed, that’s one less burden someone else has to carry. Taking the time to do one act of kindness in God’s name is time not spent hating or harming others in God’s name. Jesus points our attention inward so that we can identify and cut out the things that are stopping us from living in Christ likeness.
I’ll say it again. Whatever is stopping you from acting out of love in God’s name, get rid of it. If an old grudge is keeping you from reconciliation, chop it off. If you’re holding on to any deep seated anger or resentment, pluck it out and throw in the fire. God would rather have you show up to the kingdom blind or lame than to not show up at all.
Christianity, Discipleship, Faith…it’s all about showing up today! God doesn’t hold on to our past, but welcomes us in the present. It is here, in every holy space between you and me, that God shows up in the most unexpected ways.
According to Mark, Jesus began his ministry proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come. It’s here. And happening now. This tells me that every time we show love or initiate peace, we are doing it in God’s Kingdom. Just the same whenever we hate or retaliate against someone, that too happens in the presence of God who gives mercy and grace to those who don’t deserve it.
What we do in this sacred space matters. Jesus is calling us to enter it with intention; loving the unlovable, forgiving the unforgivable. This is hard to do on its own, especially when we are unable to love or forgive ourselves.
Jesus is inviting us to participate in God’s kingdom. He has shown us how to bring the love and light of God’s glory into every space we enter. Starting with that space within us.
This week I am challenging you to take a good look within your self. Find any past mistakes and make amends.
Let go of any guilt, anger, or hurt that’s holding you back from truly living into your belovedness.
By lopping off those things that cause you to stumble – you will be free of your own burdens so you can then help others be free of theirs.
If we all do this, then the only side left to stand on, will be the side of God’s love. That sacred space where we become one voice, singing one song to the glory of God almighty. Amen.
*Adapted from a sermon Worry About Yourself originally written on September 30, 2018.
What the hell! Was she suggesting that Christians, or religious people or faithful people, can't be cool? Perhaps. I'm sure if I had given myself the time to let that sink in I could have listed a few "cool" Christians.
Even though I struggle right now to come up with any. And this got me thinking, what's wrong with Christianity? What makes people want to avoid us at any cost?
(This is where you hit the reply button down below and offer up your list.)
Judgmental. Hypocritical. Egotistical. Self-centered. Narrow-minded. Out-of-touch. Republican. I have not the space or the stomach to continue this list, but suffice it to say there are plenty of reasons for people to avoid us or at least make fun of us. And trust me, they do.
(Don't think I don't see you rolling your eyes or averting your gaze from me, Dan!)
Sadly, I try not to talk about my faith and I used to be hesitant to tell people what I did. It's not like I was embarrassed to be a minister, I just hate having the same conversations with people who love to tell me why they "hate the church" or "no longer believe" or "think it's all bullshit" or "only invented to control people."
Many years ago, an elementary school teacher cornered me at a party and made many of those very statements. It took a lot not to roll my eyes or avert my gaze (my apologies, Dan).
Instead I listened. I was kind about it, and took every punch she had to throw. Even though I wanted to sarcastically tell her that I didn't believe in her career choice either. A part of me wished I would have told her that we homeschool our children because the educational system has become nothing more than a place to put kids while parents worked real jobs.
Again, I refrained because it was the right thing to do.
I mean, really, what would have been the point? I doubt it would have done anything but added fuel to her hatred towards religion and prejudice towards ministers (thank you Texas and Revs. Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. for all you do in that realm).
I had a choice. Push back. Or stand back and show her what Jesus taught me to do. That is to love her, even though we disagreed.
It wasn't easy. Yet, I chose to love her even though she hurt me, or spit on my faith. I chose to love her anger and frustration. And by that love I hope that she was able to see what Christians are supposed to be: peace-keepers, love-makers, bridge-builders, and the very presence of God's grace.
I think this is what it means to stand in that place between heaven and earth, between the kind and the unkind, the gentle and the angry. There are some who choice to pick sides, and others who stand in the uncomfortable messiness of life and faith - this place I call Anamesa.
I chose to stand there, not to convince someone that my way is the only way to see God, but just one of many ways for God's light to shine through me so that those who are searching can see the face of God in their midst.
Does this mean God cusses? Or that God is too liberal? Yes. It does. And you know what else? I think God is pretty damn cool too.
As I walked my dog home I couldn't help but think that my friend is honestly searching for something bigger, like we all are. And for some reason she asked because she thought I had the answer. I don't know if I do or not. But God does. And if God chooses to reveal the answer through me, who am I to stop it from happening.
But here's the thing, this young and amazing human and I have been meeting at the park for over two years. That's how long it took her to ask me this question. Or at least observe me enought to trust me enough to ask.
What that tells me is I need to keep on doing this, taking the punches and getting my faith spat on. I may never know who is looking and who is searching, but I know what I am supposed to be doing. Turn our human notions about God on its head. And be fucking cool about it.
Here's a true story about Carl, a man who thought it would be wise to date two women at the same time. To pull this off, Carl would take each woman on the same date – seeing the same movie, going to the same restaurant or museum, that kind of stuff. Or course, he always sent them the same flowers, bought them the same gifts, and even wrote the same words in the same cards so he wouldn’t slip up.
Carl thought he had it all figured out, which he did until one of the women figured him out. She was actually wise! She found the other woman. And together they hatched a plan to surprise Carl by each one showing up to meet his plane when he arrived home from a business trip.
As you might expect, what he thought was wise, those two women ultimately and very publicly proved foolish. Thus, the paradox of life. Wisdom proven with foolishness.
This reminds me of last week’s California recall vote. A particular political party thought it would be wise to recall a popular governor. As expected, they lost. But so did the state, which had to spend $267 million in taxpayer’s money to fund their short-sightedness. I’m sure those behind the recall effort thought what they were doing was sound and reasonable politics.
But like Carl, their actions led to a different conclusion - one that ultimately and very publicly proved foolish.
Life is full of paradoxes. Some better than others. Take the case of vaccinations. It seems absurd and contrary to inject a person with the disease you’re trying to save them from. And yet, time and time again, science has proven vaccines to be founded and true.
Christianity is also a paradox. One needs to look no further than the cross, the ancient equivalent of the electric chair, which we use to demonstrate God’s power. In a world that looks down on weakness and failure, Christians affirm – lifting up a God who chooses the paradoxical to reveal salvation into the world.
But here’s the thing: God thinks and does things differently. Although we are created in the image of God, God, nevertheless, does things that we humans find surprising; constantly turning our world, all our human wisdom, upside down.
A great king, born not from wealth and power but poverty and weakness. A messiah, who comes not on a warhorse but a young colt to liberate people from their oppressors. Instead of raising an army to overthrow the empire, God choose to be executed by it. In doing so, God took all the power of their most brutal killing machine and made it weak; using death to create life everlasting.
There is the paradox. God using wise foolishness and weak strong. As Frank Logue points out, it sounds like an oxymoron, putting two things together that do not go together but are somehow acceptable, like “jumbo shrimp” or “entertaining sermon.”
Pointing towards to the cross of Christ, Paul tells those who think they have it figured out that God’s wisdom is very different from their knowledge. He tells those who exercise their strength and power over others that God’s strength is very different from their ideas of power and might. Wise foolishness. Weak Strong.
Paul is wise to direct our gaze away from ourselves and onto that cross. And directing our focus on the One who hangs on it. This is not so much for us focus on Jesus’ death, but to keep our eye on where his death leads us – towards resurrection, our eternal salvation.
watch the message here
To those who reject the notion of resurrection, the cross might seem foolish. I get that. But those of us who know God can do things that seem impossible by human wisdom, the cross of Christ and his resurrection, remind of how far God is willing to go out of great love for us.
God uses death to create eternal life. Jesus taught us that in order to save ourselves we must die unto ourselves. We must pick up our cross daily and follow him; to set aside your former life and embrace a new life, a Christlike life of cruciform love.
By reason alone, Jesus’ death revealed human weakness. In the light of faith, Jesus had a choice; he could have fought the violence of Rome with violence all his own. Instead, he chose to love; even when the cost of that love was suffering and death.
Through Jesus’ death, God subverted all of human wisdom and power with one simple act: resurrection. Who would have thought?
In wise foolishness, the strength of God’s love proves death has no real sting. Moreover, the cross tells us that God willingly chooses to love us rather than fight us. This is love that God calls us to enter.
This love calls into question all that we value in this world.
During the capitol insurrection last January, the world witnessed thousands of angry protesters, trying to overthrow a democratically elected government. To them, it seemed like a wise thing to do. As it was with Carl, what they thought wise was proved foolish.
Yet their actions revealed how we humans are more enthralled with violent, ravenous power than the nonviolent, self-giving love. The very love of Christ which the cross represents.
When we look at Christ’s cross, we should remember that our ultimate allegiance is not to our country, our family, our job, the economy, a political party or a politician. Our ultimate allegiance is to Christ who gave his life so we might live.
For every Christian, the cross should be our reason to embrace a Christlike, cruciform life of self-giving. It should be our reason to stand in truth when a lie would be easier. To seek gentleness when force is attractive.
A Christlike cruciform life calls us to stand for justice even when it’s not popular to do so. It calls us to practice generosity when hoarding would be more comfortable; to offer forgiveness when a hateful grudge would be more filling. More importantly, it should be our reason to stand together, unified by the paradox of faith.
Because here’s the thing we often forget: Liberals, conservatives, moderates, or progressives are all called the same by Christ who challenges each and every one of us to pick up our cross and follow him; to embrace his way of self-giving love. Yes, to love like him will make us vulnerable yet strong. Wise foolishness for sure. Strong weakness no doubt.
This is the way of God’s undying love - the very thing that saves us. For when we all live such cruciform love in the world, greed no longer rules us, and fear no longer wins. Love does. When we all live in cruciform love, the world is saved from its own destruction, hatred, and bigotry.
Jesus was the perfect example of how to live in such love. And so too are the Amish.
In Michigan, we lived near an Amish community. It was not uncommon to get stuck in traffic behind a horse and buggy. I’ll admit, their rejection of modern life seems so primitive, foolish to say the least. I mean, no Netflix? No Amazon Prime? Who’d want to live in such a world?
But this small sect of Christianity has a way of teaching the rest of us, especially Christians, about what it means to truly live life in the paradox of Christ’s cross.
You might remember the story from 2006, when a man nursing a 20-year-old grudge, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and executed five schoolgirls and wounded seven more before turning the gun on himself.
Instead of responding to violence and anger with more of the same, here were people who chose to show the world the power of cruciform love. While the police where still at the scene of the crime, this small Amish community sent delegates to the shooter’s wife and children; offering them both emotional and financial support.
Struggling with their own grief and pain, they summoned a strength that seemed foolish by the world’s standards. Still, they chose to stand up to evil with self-giving love. By living into their call to be Christlike, this cruciform community directed the gaze of the world away from violence and hopelessness towards the hope and peace of God’s divine light.
What seems foolish, God makes wise. What seems weak, God makes strong.
As we leave here today, may we all be wise enough to do such foolishness, in the name of the One who saves us by his love.
Bartlett, David L, and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008).
A very special thank you to Frank Logue whose sermon The Love That Binds The Universe I adapted his message. epsicopalchurch.org on March 8, 2015 (accessed on September 17, 2021).
Looking back 20 Years Ago today
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise... I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land...And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord.” But on days like September 11, 2001, I can’t help but ask, “When will you come?”
I know as well as you do, that bad things happen every day. Death is inevitable. Not even Jesus, God’s own beloved son, could elude it. But every time I see that plane crash into the second tower, or when I see pictures of the bloody, dust cover rescuers from Ground Zero it makes me wonder if God has forgotten us. Or if God even knows we’re here.
Watching that great, dark cloud bury and choke millions of people fleeing from Manhattan, it’s not hard to imagine why some people might question God’s memory, and providence and power. Or simply deny God’s existence altogether. I’m sure some of you, when in facing your own personal tragedies, have thought, “Where was God when this happened to me?”
I wish I had the answer. But I don’t. I don’t know why God allowed planes full of people to crash into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. I don’t know why God allowed 343 heroic first responders to be buried in the rubble. Something I do know, is God’s word is good. And God is faithful to us even when we are not faithful back.
The Bible is filled with stories of God’s faithfulness being fulfilled in the most unexpected ways, but none is greater than the one of God’s love made manifest in an innocent and vulnerable baby. A love God ordained through hatred, violence, and death.
We are a part of that story, of God’s love and faithfulness to all that God created.
Yesterday I saw so many posts of memories, pictures, and thought about what happened 20 years ago. Nearly everyone was had the hashtag never forget. The sentiment is nice. But I fear that maybe we have forgotten. Not the day. Not the destruction or the evil that caused it to happen. But the emotional feelings we had, and the unity that happen afterwards.
watch the message here
As I look back at all those photos and read all the stories of people helping one another survive, I am led to believe God does not abandon us nor forget us. Even in the horror and pain that was experienced that day, I can say God was there with us in the self-giving acts of love.
“The day is coming when I will fulfill the promise…” God says, “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
Jeremiah’s words remind us of God’s persistent and fierce loyalty. But while such affirmations show us the true character of God, and the ongoing providence of God, bad things can still happen. As long as we allow evil to remain in the world, our faith and faithfulness will remain vulnerable to attack.
We need to be vigilant in our faith, which is so important to our redemption that God willingly came to us, as one of us, to show us how to live our faith faithfully.
Here’s what we need to remember. Faith in Jesus Christ is more than a word or making the right statement. It’s also about being the visible presences of God’s glory. It’s about allowing God’s love to become incarnate through our many small acts of kindness.
Our faith must remain “faithful” to the God who loves us and saves us from harming others or ourselves. Like Jesus showed us, wherever God’s love is present, evil cannot prevail.
“The many disasters in our world, and all the tragedies that happen to people each day, can lead us to despair and convince us that we are the sad victims of circumstances. But Jesus looks at these events in a radically different way. He calls them opportunities to be living witnesses of God's unconditional love, opportunities to testify and participate in God’s Kingdom and redemption. This is how we look beyond the passing structures of our temporary existence to the eternal life promised to us.” (Nouwen)
Placing our faith in a system or an institution that can be attacked or destroyed has historically led to the downfall of every great empire. But the faith that is placed in the indestructible love of God is unbreakable and everlasting.
By putting our faith in the promises that God made to us through Christ Jesus, we can preserver and overcome the obstacles and enemies who try to knock us down.
God never forgets. But have we forgotten that out of this tragedy arose a great opportunity for us to blossom and thrive? Instead of anger or a desire for revenge, neighbors and strangers stood united - defining themselves by their humility and capacity to love.
I may not know why God allows bad things to happen, but I now know why we allow them to. I also know that wherever great suffering and pain exist, so do endless opportunities for God’s love to be seen in us and through us. This is not to say that faith and faithfulness is the easy path to take. This was clearly proven when our country was attacked again, not by a terrorist group but by a deadly virus.
As of today, COVID has taken the lives of over 660,000 American citizens. And nearly 41 million people around the world. You see, COVID doesn’t have an agenda, it’s not trying to make a political or ideological statement. It doesn’t pick sides or determine who is better than the other. It infects us all just as it affects us all.
The difference between September 12, 2001, and September 12, 2021, is mind boggling. Instead of uniting against this common enemy, our country has become more divided than ever. Instead of loving our neighbors and doing selfless acts of kindness for one another, we’ve become selfish, spiteful, and self-centered.
Sadly, the Body of Christ is not immune. The church has been infected with this idea that our personal rights are above a call to be righteous.
Jesus himself issued a stark warning to his followers (Matthew 24:36-44). That day will come like a thief in the night. Be prepared.
In his letter to the Thessalonians church, the Apostle Paul warns us to remain sober, and be people of the light who encourage one another and build each other up; not divide and tear one another down (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).
We must remain faithful to God’s incarnate love; helping each other from getting discouraged or depressed; offering hope and forgiveness and reconciliation, no matter the risk or our personal discomfort. Our faith hangs with Christ Jesus whose cross was more uncomfortable than some mask. And whose gospel is certainly riskier than any vaccine.
Therefore, I urge all who claim Christ’s name to never forget. Never forget that Jesus showed us a way to live a life of faith knowing our hope and salvation hangs on our faithfulness. To follow Christ through the resurrection requires a willingness on your behalf, to pick up your cross and truly follow him. To live as he did; healing, caring, and forgiving, seeking peace and justice, righting wrongs and redeeming people back to God in all the ways we live out God’s love faithfully in the world.
For those of you who refuse to wear a mask in public spaces, or get vaccinated for the health and well-being of your community, remember the bible tells us that person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. "Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
Our stories, our lives, our day-to-day interactions must be interwoven, not just with one another but also with God through Christ Jesus. This is where our strength lies and our faith blooms.
As you leave here today, on this special day of remembrance, may we never forget that when your faith is woven with God’s steadfast love, you inherit a power that not even death can conquer. With great power comes greater responsibility.
May you never forget that in Christ, God’s love prevails. And by his selfless act, we have been made beloved children of a God who is fiercely loyal and faithful to a fault; the one who remembers us, sustains us, and saves us every time the world comes crashing down upon us.
Never forget. In Christ, love wins.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A. Vol. 3 Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.
Heinz, David and Fiona Walsh Heinz. American Folk. movie, 2017.
Indermark, John. The Greatest of These: Biblical Moorings of Love. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.
Nouwen, Henri. Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
I know I’m not the only one out there who feels this way, tired and worn out. I don’t need a national holiday to remind me that most Americans are so overworked and overcommitted that we are burning-out in record numbers.
A survey by Barna research discovered that 1,500 clergy are leaving pastoral ministry each month. Burn out is one of the key factors to this phenomenon. This is happening in every field and profession scours the country. We are busy, burnt-out people.
Even when we’re not working our job, we’re busy commuting, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, helping our kids with homework or being their Uber driver.
Most of us have been busy for so long that it seems we have forgotten how to nap how to shut down long enough to let our batteries recharge.
Given the fact that this pandemic has forced us to slow down and reprioritize our life, you’d think we’d be rested and renewed by now. Instead, COVID has just given us one more thing to be tired and worn out over. The world is tired.
Tired of the rat race and climbing the corporate ladder. Tired of the media noise and empty political rhetoric and partisan bickering. Tired of the hate and hypocrisy. Tired of living hand to mouth and keeping up with the Jones’. Many of us are tired of being alone. Tired of being in lockdown and wearing masks. Tired of worrying for ourselves and the people we love. We are tired of feeling angry all the time, or feeling afraid all the time, or feeling worthless all the time.
We are busy, burnt-out people who are tired of being tired. The good news for us today is that Jesus gets it. He knows just how exhausting life can be. Especially a life of ministry.
So he has this to say about it:
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. ~Mark 6:30-34
Prior to this passage, Jesus has sent his disciples on sort of a short-term mission trip to preach and teach and heal the sick in the surrounding villages. They were so busy, Mark tells us, that they didn’t even have time to eat.
You know what that’s like don’t you? Popping a dollar in a vending machine to get something to munch on as you work through lunch. Or grabbing a handful of chocolate covered almonds between Zoom classes, just to have a little sustenance to keep you going. We’re becoming so stretched thin that basic functions of life, like eating and resting, are being reshaped in the image of the world and not in the One who came to redeem it.
Mark doesn’t say how long the disciples were gone. Nor does he give us any details about what they did or didn’t do. If we read between the lines, it seems Jesus wasn’t concerned with how well they did, as much as how they are doing.
He knows they’re tired and burnt out. He is too. So He says to the disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
Even though their plans will be foiled by the crowd of people following them, Jesus puts a priority on his disciple’s health and wellbeing just as he does with all who come to him for healing.
The takeaway from this is simple: Jesus is inviting us to go to with him and rest in the presence of our gracious God.
Like the psalmist wrote, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you, he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).
Back when my dad was in med school, it wasn’t uncommon for Interns and Residents to be on call for 24 to 48 hours straight. To stay on top of his game, my dad had to learn how to get quality rest in a very short period of time. He did this by drinking a cup of coffee, then shutting his eyes for a nap. Mind you, he’d be so exhausted that falling asleep was easy. And since it takes about 20 minutes for the caffeine to kick in, he would automatically wake up - refreshed and renewed.
Rest is important in the kingdom of heaven. Even if it’s just a power nap. It’s important because there are people in need of Jesus and his spiritual sustenance. If we will be of any use to the kingdom Jesus ushered in, then we need to take the time to find our rest and sustenance in God’s loving arms before we can be that for each other.
Some of you know that I try to work out often. I don’t do anything crazy, but i do enough lifting to I know if I don’t take a day off to let my muscles recuperate, I could do serious harm to myself. Just the same, we need to set some time aside each day to recuperate and refresh our body, mind, and spirit.
We need to get away, literally or figuratively, and go to the wilderness where God always encounters the faithful – providing sustenance, protection, renewal, and direction.
In fact, rest is so important that out of all the 600+ commandments God gave to Israel, taking an entire day for rest made the top 10 list. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
The Bible tells us that this isn’t about spending an hour or so in church every Sunday. It’s about taking the entire day off, you and your entire household, including your pets. The Bible states no physical work should be done so that weary bones and muscles could rejuvenate.
The principle of Sabbath rest is for the purpose of being refreshed and renewed in God’s spirit. God gives us this time so we can gather as a community to enjoy life without the stresses of life getting in the way.
Jesus understands this and tells his tired disciples, “Let’s get out of here, let’s take a break and get a little rest.” What a gift to be given – the time to get away and be in God’s loving and healing embrace.
I can only imagine what those words must have sounded like his disciples. I know that when I’m stressed out and overly tired, I get cranky. It makes my mind foggy, and it stops me from bringing my A game.
But here’s the thing, Jesus needs us to bring our best, to be fully present in his mission.
As we enter Anamesa, that space between life and death, we do so knowing this is where life happens in real time. This is where all the many dangers, toils, and snares lurk. We need to be rested and alert so we can be fully present and not get trapped ourselves.
We need to be refreshed and always at the ready to help and heal and preach and teach, because people are still lost, like sheep without a shepherd. If we’re burnt out, what good are we for this work that is needed?
Jesus knows the needs of the people are urgent. And still he finds time throughout the gospels to be alone with God; to be renewed and refreshed by the Holy Spirit.
"If our Lord knows that He needs to stop and rest with all of the important things He has to do, don’t you think the same applies to us, as well?"
You don’t have to take an extended vacation to the islands or wait for a national holiday. There are plenty of ways to sneak in rest or even a nap. It might mean stopping for a few moments, every hour or so, to sit with God and breath in the Holy Spirit.
It might mean finding a quiet spot outside or in your car, where you can close your eyes and enter a meditative prayer. Or instead of picking up your phone to see who’s posting what, pick up the Bible, or a book of poetry, or a journal to see what God is writing on your heart.
Again, the psalmist writes, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). So, where’s that still, quiet place in your life? Does it even exist?
Given our fast-paced world, and the bombardment of media noise all around us, the idea of stillness seems almost alien. But if we want to experience true intimacy with God, we must learn to quiet the chatter, be still and be with God.
Set an alarm. Put it in your schedule. But do whatever it takes to find rest in God’s love for you.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
How’s that for a promise. Rest in God and you will never grow weary or faint. It’s like a nap for your soul.
Jesus knows our hearts and knows what we need, even when we don’t know ourselves. He knows what it takes to do the work of God’s kingdom, and what it can take out of you if you aren’t careful. So, he calls us to come away with him and rest.
For the Lord is our shepherd who makes us lie down in green pastures, and leads us beside the still waters, and restores our soul.
In Christ, God is leading us all home; to be refreshed, renewed and resurrected.
Therefore, let us give ourselves over to the One who says to you and me, and all who are weary, “Come away with me and rest for a while.”
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
Pagano, Joseph S. We Are In Many Ways…” (episcopalchurch.org, July 19, 2009). Accessed on September 4, 2021
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.”