“Unless I see the mark of the nails… I will not believe” (Thomas in John 20:25)
Dear people of Grace; Here’s a quote from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, author and director of the Center for Action and Contemplation:
Butting up against limits actually teaches us an awful lot… It has been acceptable for some time in America to remain “wound identified” (that is, using one’s victimhood as one’s identity, one’s ticket to sympathy, and one’s excuse for not serving), instead of using the wound to “redeem the world,” as we see in Jesus and many people who turn their wounds into sacred wounds that liberate both themselves and others… Jesus seems to often find love in people who might not have received much love themselves. Perhaps their deep longing for it became their capacity to both receive it and give it. (Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life)
Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, was in a tough spot. I think he was like those of us who find the resurrection a bit “inaccessible,” so that it seems to have very little or nothing to do with this day-to-day life. The story of “doubting” Thomas and the wounds of Christ is so important. Maybe it’s time to give this story a new title: “Liberated Thomas”. The resurrected Christ kept many of his crucifixion wounds; he pointed them out to Thomas for the sake of his belief, and I believe the ministry Thomas was about to do. Those wounds help Thomas and the rest of us not to be hyper-spiritualized in our faith. The human-ness of the wounds of Jesus help us to know that Jesus still understands, completely, what it means to be wounded. Thanks be to God!
The time after Easter for you is an opportunity to accept your wounds with the understanding they can possibly be a way for others to experience new life. It’s a challenging thing to do because it’s about vulnerability. Accepting doesn’t mean giving up or being depressed about them. Instead, it’s about considering your wounds as a way to be open to love.
Are you wounded by a life that didn’t turn out the way you expected? Are you wounded by a chronic health condition? Are you wounded by a family member who can’t show love the way you would expect? Has your work wounded you? Are you wounded by today’s political climate? Do the news headlines wound you to the point of being desensitized and scarred? Your “yes” to any of these wounds, (and any others) is, I think, part of the resurrected Christ making his presence known in your life. May you have the courage to “go there” with people around you. From personal experience, sharing wounded-ness with others does certainly lead to life.
This weekend, several of our women retreated at the Grunewald Guild together in prayer, study, fellowship and creativity. I’m grateful for the spirit of joy that exists in our women, and the willingness to deepen friendships in the name of Jesus. Our community is more rich and inclusive when when we pause long enough to really check in with one another. To listen deeply. To let down our guard and be willing to be received and accepted in grace.
Rest and renewal are so very important for the family of Christ. Giving our hearts and minds space to reflect and be still… these are prime ways to be re-created by God. Distance from home and the rhythms of the regular schedule help us appreciate the regular schedule so much more.
Father Thomas Keating speaks about “de-roling.” The best way to do our work is to hold it loosely, to recognize that our calling, our vocation, is not a complete definition of ourselves. If we do our work knowing we are expendable, there’s actually freedom in that. We can spend more time recognizing the life of God in the people around us.
A special word of gratitude to the several women who worked together to plan the retreat! Gratitude also for the financial resources that were available to help make the retreat possible for this wonderful group of God’s daughters!
Dear people of Grace; I’m trying to sort out the thoughts in my head. I want to talk, for example, about Holy Week and a new midweek lectionary study that will begin shortly after Easter. And there’s been another school shooting. I want to share about how good it was to have had the opportunity to be at the seminary and interview five wonderful children of God – candidates for internship at Grace this fall – how they’ve all in their own words told me that they are “all in” for Word and Sacrament ministry. They all spoke about their love for worship and sharing in community (how cool is that!) And the chasm around the gun debate widens and deepens, especially on social media. I would like to reflect with you about the season of Lent, and what it has come to mean for me. And, as I jot down ideas for this article, high school students from Parkland Florida – survivors of our nation’s recent tragedy – are bussing to Tallahassee to demand stricter gun regulations and school safety, and to talk about their pain. You see, their school is temporarily closed, so they have the time. What they have even more of: passion and rage. When they stand to speak to their representatives will they be taken seriously? Are youth today taken seriously by their adults, schools, communities and churches? I would like to muse in this article about the coming spring, the warming of the earth, wildflowers and the approaching hiking season, the lengthening of the days (“lent” has an etymological root meaning “to lengthen”). And seventeen people are dead. If we were to line up all their coffins in our own sanctuary down the length of the center aisle arranging them just so, we would have to open up the doors and extend into the fellowship hall. I would love to celebrate our beautiful, functional, clean-able new floor, name people who were integral to getting it completed. And this recent school shooting has reinvigorated a national debate about mental health, and the need to identify a killer by noticing early signs. I want to have a spirited Lent. I want isolated individuals to know they are loved, and that they belong. I want people to trust God, government and neighbor. I want moms and dads of schoolkids to not have their morning goodbyes tainted with a bit of terror behind their eyes. I want stigmas around mental health replaced with generous love and concern. My own preference would be for gun enthusiasts to begin to choose other hobbies or at the very least to give up weapons designed for mass killing, and for tighter gun control laws for a more peaceful and healthier society. For fear and rage between spouses to be unheard of. For peer groups of all ages to never exclude, bully or shame. For followers of Jesus to all reconsider the old word “Agape” (“Ah-ga-pay”), self-giving love for the sake of the other.
Not by the violent method of revolution will the new social order of life come, not by the legal enforcement of ancient commands, or by the formal application of texts and sayings, but by the vital infusion of a new spirit, the propagation of a passion of love like Christ’s, the continuation through the church of the real presence of eternity in the midst of time, will something come more like the order of life which we call the kingdom of God.
One of our core values as a congregation is worship. I like to add “living” before this word, so “living worship.” It’s an ideal to keep shooting for in our planning, leadership and participation. Sometimes it feels like it’s just the right worship element at just the right time.
This morning our choir, Voices of Grace, sang “Ndiyende Njirayi” (“I should go on this path”) as a musical offering. I couldn’t help bobbing my head, dancing in my seat! Including an anthem sung in another language helps highlight something that’s intrinsic to the nature of what it means to be Christian. Our faith is broad in geographic scope, inclusive and diverse in culture and language. We do span the globe, and there’s space for each of us. Our community is part of a greater community, and we call ourselves the Body of Christ. Our worship is local, and it is global.
Scripture today had a focus on the call to discipleship. “I should go on this path.” It’s a simple phrase, an assertion that comes after hearing a word of invitation from Jesus: “Follow me. I will make you fish for people.”
The outward focus of our Gospel speaks to the growing fear in our country of the other. We don’t do ourselves any favors by fearing the whole because of the hateful actions of a few. Jesus leads us across cultures toward a new creation, a new way to love and see the value and humanity of the other. We know through science that we are one race. We are blessed when we celebrate our oneness in Christ.
Enjoy this recording of an African choir singing this piece. This choir is rich in spirit!
St. Valentine’s Day is kind of special this year. It’s also Ash Wednesday! If you have a significant other with whom you share your love, consider going out to Grace for the imposition of ashes, then to dinner and a movie! If you take this idea and run with it, what an evening of contrasts it would be.
Our relationships are a type of covenant with one another. We have expectations of one another. Our commitment to our relationships is filled with promise. Inside the covenant of relationship, we make sacrifices for the sake of one another. We can tell when the relationship is stressed and strained, therefore sometimes it’s the sheer existence of the promise, the covenant (along with a dose of stubbornness), that keeps things going. Sometimes, relationships are too broken to be healthy or safe, and radical changes must happen.
As we prepare for the season of Lent, I’ve been looking at the scripture choices of the season and find myself thinking God’s covenant makes a community out of us. Consider these passages:
God makes a covenant to Noah, his family and all living creatures as flood waters subside: “I won’t do that again.” (Genesis 9:8-17). The community builds and grows to trust a visible sign (the rainbow) that God is using restraint from now on (until, I would say, the cross of Christ).
Elderly (and barren) Abram and Sarai each get a name change in connection with God’s covenant: “You’re going to be the ancestor to many nations” (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16). A family is reared with the promise that they will be blessed, and that they will be a blessing to the world.
Israelites recently rescued from slavery are given a covenant of ten commandments for life together: “Do not have other gods before me”. Their deliverance is the great backdrop providing deeper meaning to, and engagement with, the commandments. They’re received by the Israelites in relationship to God, the one who delivered them (Exodus 20:1-17). The Israelites define themselves as the ones who were rescued, and given commands for preserving their own community.
The Israelites become agitated and bothered in their wilderness journey, and God sends poisonous serpents into camp as judgment. Moses prays for the people, and God commands a serpent to be crafted and affixed to a pole for the salvation and healing of the people. This is a foreshadowing of the saving grace of the cross (Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-21). The community is those who look to the cross for healing and new life.
Finally, to a people in exile, God promises a “new covenant”: “I will put my law within them, I will write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This text is part of our Reformation Sunday tradition every year. It’s part of the core of Lutheran identity.
God’s covenant makes community a community out of us. Together we hear and ponder these words from scripture, and the Spirit of Christ brings us together.
The more diverse we see ourselves, the better-defined will be the covenant of God.
The words of the promises of God are as true for you as they are for me. The covenant of God is the binding agent between us.
People value one another not on impressions or personalities, but rather on the value of the covenant.
The covenant becomes something people will commit to, and sacrifice for. The covenant becomes the source of mission.
I’m looking forward to being with you throughout Lent. If you choose a fast, do it for the sake of the celebration you’ll participate in at Easter. If you choose to give more for the needs of the world, consider our special offerings to end world hunger. If you choose to be more intentional about prayer, remember we have spaces created with prayer in mind and we would love to pray together. God be with you this Lent.