Sunday, October 1, 2023

Waking Us Up

 Matthew 21:23-32

Friday afternoon Maisy and I were standing in line at the doctor’s office waiting to check in for our flu and covid vaccines, when a young man sitting on a chair in the waiting room slid off his chair and began having a seizure on the floor. Easily 25 people were watching this. Me included. I saw right away what was happening, recognized it as a seizure, and stood rooted to the spot. 

I felt conflicted and also numb. Should I do something? By what authority would I intervene? Why me and not someone more qualified- we’re in a doctor’s office! What would people think if I just rushed over like I knew what to do, which I don’t. I am one of dozens of people here.  So, I just stood there. We all just looked on in silence.  Nobody moved.


Finally, after what felt like an eternity but was probably only 20 long seconds, a tall young man stood from his seat and rushed over. He turned the seizing man onto his side while his body tremored and shook, and then announced, loudly and clearly, “We’re having a seizure here. We need a doctor.” He was not a nurse or doctor. He was a fellow patient waiting for his appointment, just like the rest of us.


His action shook a few of us from our stupor. Another woman stood and joined them. I told the front desk what was happening; they paged for help. It took a terribly long time for nurses and doctors to arrive, but then they all seemed to descend at once. Maisy and I checked in for our appointment. The incident hung over us as we got our shots.  As we left the building, we watched the ambulance drive away with the young man inside.


Maisy said to me afterwards, “Mom, we all just consumed it, like it was on TV. We all just watched it happen instead of being people in the moment. We’re so desensitized; we weren’t even present.”


And I think she’s right. But our screens in front of our faces as modern people is just one way we get lulled into complacency, accepting lies as truth, which is to say, accepting that other people are none of our business, have nothing to do with us. Accepting that we are separate and unrelated, that we do not belong to one another; that we do not belong to God’s work of love and healing. That division, or isolation, or scarcity, or competition, is just the way it is. 


Just the day before this charged conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey in what we call “the triumphal entry.” (We’ve skipped ahead because we save these stories for Lent).  He went right into the temple—where the people are to gather in God’s presence—and saw in front of him a whole industry built up for putting barriers and hurdles between God and people. And he smashed it all to bits, throwing over the tables and scattering the money. Then he brazenly distributed healing to all who had need. He left the chaotic scene and spent the night elsewhere; but the next day he returned, and now the leaders are seething. 

Nobody likes to get called out. That whole table-turning thing was a real PR disaster.  It’s time to assert the upper hand, reestablish their rightful place in power.  So they question Jesus in front of a crowd. “By what authority do you do these things?” 


We all get caught up in comparing and competing. We think life is filled with scarcity and judgment, and our worth is earned, and can be lost. That’s life in the Way of Fear.  But, really, we all belong to God and to each other. This life is for receiving and sharing; we’re claimed by love and created for joy.  Jesus lives completely in the Way of God. In his very being, he is the conduit of this reality, holding all it is to be human together with all it is to be God, embodying in every moment our connection to God and one another.


So it’s a pretty funny question for them to ask him: “By what authority do you do these things?” 

Actually, by the authority that spoke creation into being and breathed life into the earth creature in God’s image. That spun the galaxies and flung the stars, filled the deep oceans with mysteries yet to be uncovered, and infused the earth with regenerative abundance. By that authority, Jesus brings healing and wholeness to people. By that authority Jesus calls out the Way of Fear and calls us back to the way of God. 


Standing there, with that authority pulsing through his veins, Jesus also has bottomless love for every human being, for even these angry, scared, adorable men standing here puffing their chests and weaving their word-traps. As he takes in their posturing and plotting, compassion and pity, longing and love fill him.  

But Jesus has no tolerance for their games. They want to act like ranking and earning and division and the things that stand between us are the real things, and he will not stand for it. Not for a second. He turns their question back on them, and they’re too afraid of upsetting their constituents to answer. You can’t answer about John? Jesus responds. Then I won’t answer about me.


Then he shares a story about a son who tells his father he’ll help in the vineyard and doesn’t do it, and a son who says he won’t help and then changes his mind. Which one actually does the father’s will? he asks. The answer is obvious.  If you trust you are part of the household, then act like it. Don’t talk like you do but act like you don’t. Behave as though you belong to this reality, because you do. Take up your part. Join in.


These people who are supposed to help others see it and live in it, the leaders in the temple, they talk about God’s reality, but they don’t recognize it in front of them. They’re so caught up in the fear and sin that they stay untouched, unaffected by the suffering of others, even by the hope and healing unfolding in front of their eyes when they witness what God is doing through John.  


The one who rode into town on a donkey yesterday ushers in a new reality. One of freedom. Those trapped in broken bodies are set free. Those trapped in a broken system that exploits and oppresses are set free. Those trapped in hypocrisy and self-protection are set free.  And, as Jesus tells the flummoxed and defensive leaders, some people experience and embrace their freedom sooner than others.


On Friday, when the tall young man dashed over and knelt down in that doctor’s office waiting room, tenderly turning the seizing man onto his side, his words and actions said, This man belongs to me. We belong to each other. And when he called out loudly, with authority, “We are having a seizure.” He asserted that the separation we act like is between us- is false. He put himself right there, alongside, with and for. He acted with what Bonhoeffer called “Stelvertregung” or “place-sharing.” When he said "we" he was living from our true humanity. When he shared this stranger’s place, we all saw Jesus.    


By what authority did this young man act? By God’s claim of love on us all that gives us to each other to love.  You and I carry within us the authority to forgive, the authority to step in and speak up, the authority to release burdens and speak words of grace and truth, the authority to kneel down beside a suffering stranger and command the room to wake up and see each other. 

We move through the world with Christ’s life pulsing through our veins, and access to Christ’s bottomless love for each human being. And when we assume the inner stance of least resistance, we’re open to hear God’s Spirit call us. We’re available for the power of God to move through us. We’re willing to be awakened and brought back into the real reality of love.  


Jesus comes in to share the darkest and most terrifying moments, when our weakness and helplessness is on full display, with the word “we.” We are in this together. You are not alone. I am here. I will not leave you or forsake you. And he does this through us.


Seeing someone act from the real reality while I stood motionless, revealed sin’s grip on me, which is to say, it showed me how I am trapped in the Way of Fear. I, who am supposed to help others see God and live in God’s reality.  Also, I, who teach about sabbath, but resist resting. I, who say all the time that God will lead us and provide for us, but feel surprised when it happens. I, who tell others to trust God with our lives and loved ones, but get pinned down with worry.


I could have let that moment when faced with my own hypocrisy and lack of faith send me into shame and defensiveness. I could have compared and condemned myself for my paralysis. Let it burrow me deeper into the Way of Fear. But I witnessed the Way of God in front of my eyes, and I choose instead to receive that gift.  


We belong to each other! That man on the floor belongs to me! The man who helped him belongs to me! All the people in the waiting room, with our own illness and fears, our own insecurities and worries, whatever stopped us from getting up, or compelled us to stand after he was already being cared for – we all belong to each other.  None of us deserves it, and none of us is denied it.


Someone living out what I believe in front of my eyes invited me back into the Kingdom of God. Live like it’s true. Live it and trust it. Don’t just say you do. Live the belonging. Take up your part. Join in.  


Jesus is about waking people back up to love.  Sometimes the summons is gentle; sometimes the summons feels harsh. Whatever invites us back into the way of love and connection and belonging is what Jesus brings. 


I am grateful for this weekend’s wake up call.  


Sunday, September 17, 2023

Let Go

Matthew 18:21-35

I don’t like letting go of things; it doesn’t come easily to me.  In order to let go of something, the story has to change. I have to decide that since I only used it once, I don’t actually need the tea light fondu set.  I must choose to recognize that nobody in my house is clamoring for the Scooby-Do ‘Learn to Read’ books, so we’re probably done with those. Maybe that dusty basket of bleached seashells from that trip to Florida when the kids were in preschool no longer represents for me what it once did? And perhaps, with every bathing suit I’ve owned for 20 years folded neatly in a bin under my bed, instead of being armed and ready for any possible future, I could risk living in the now, and only own swimsuits that currently fit me. 

But letting go of being right? Letting go of how I know things should be?  Letting go of regrets and disappointments? Letting go of something unkind or unfair that was done to me? These are harder. If we can’t control the circumstances, at least we can control the narrative. If we can’t control what happened in the past, at least we can control what we do with it, learn from it, not make the same foolish mistakes again.  Control is a strategy we use to feel secure, to reduce anxiety, to combat fear, to give us a feeling of protection. Letting go of control? No thanks. 

The Greek word we translate as “forgive” means simply “to let go.” Sometimes we see forgiveness as giving up control, letting someone get away with something, or acting like what happened didn’t matter. We feel loyal to our pain. We stroke it and stoke it, longing for our injury to be recognized as unjust and wrong, and act as though to forgive someone else is to somehow betray ourselves. 

Peter has been listening to all Jesus’s teaching about conflict and forgiveness, and thinks to himself, Over, and over, and over again I go through the work of forgiving someone who hurts me. So when is enough? When can I stop? How much am I expected to put up with? 

Generally speaking, we are all for forgiveness, most of the time, but there’s a limit, right? So, Peter suggests a good, large, and even holy-sounding number: How about seven times? Surely that is a beyond-generous amount of times to forgive. Right, Jesus? I mean, let’s not go crazy. Surely, some people don’t deserve forgiveness.  

But forgiveness isn’t in the same zip code as deserve. They are completely different languages, contradictory accounting systems. Forgive and deserve are more like opposites, since forgiveness frees us from a system of gauging and measuring, and puts us instead into the realm of boundless and unlimited love. 

So Jesus answers, Try seventy times that. In other words, Forgive infinity times, PeterJust keep on going till you lose track. There is no end to forgiveness. No point at which you’ve reached the limit. No lifetime maximum out-of-pocket amount. 

Then, to drive the point home, he tells one of his trademark parables with absurd extremes to reveal how we’re living trapped in the way of fear instead of free in the way of God. The servant in the parable is forgiven more than he could repay in fifteen lifetimes and then immediately and violently demands someone repay a tiny debt, and when he can’t, throws him in jail. This is like celebrating sobriety with a drinking binge, like running back into the burning building you were just rescued from, like scrapping the Ten Commandments for the golden calf and pining for the slavery of Egypt. 

He sticks with his old identity instead of the new one offered him by the king. He says, “Thanks, but no thanks.” to a life of freedom and generosity, and chooses instead captivity to a life of debt and indebtedness, where it’s all kept track of, and there is no forgetting, no forgiving, no letting go, ever.

Which currency will you use? Which way will define you and shape your life? If you choose a world without forgiveness, you stay chained to the suffering of the past. You repeat old hurts and live them current, you nurse your pain with no chance of release. Hanging onto wounds, insults, and offenses, practicing and spreading this pattern of deprivation and resentment, traps you ever more tightly in a misery of your own making.

So I can’t help thinking Jesus told his parable to Peter with a twinkle in his eye, his words like a shove on Peter’s shoulder, to highlight the absurdity of Peter’s question: 

How much forgiveness is enough, Jesus, before I can stop and be done with it already? How much freedom from injury do I have to endure before I get to be imprisoned in bitterness? At what point am I allowed to quit living in a future shaped by love? Is seven times a sacrificial and generous amount of letting go before it’s appropriate to throw in the towel and go back to hanging onto betrayal and stoking anger? 

Peter doesn’t know what’s coming—that Jesus will die and take into himself all suffering and betrayal, all pain and injustice; that none of it, ever, goes unseen, untended, unmet. God incarnate will bear it all, all that has been and all that will be.

 And as the last breath leaves his human body, Jesus will look out at his murderers and whisper, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34).
And they will cease being those who are killing God and instead become those on whom God has poured unending love. Jesus will die in freedom, and release his killers—and all of us as well, taking into the heart of God all the terrible things we think and say and do to one another, everything, every one of us. 

Setting aside deserve and debt, punishment and payback, Jesus will open to us mercy, grace, forgiveness, and freedom. All that is dead—between us, within us, around us—is swallowed up by resurrection. Our brokenness is now the ground from which new life is born, green, beautiful, and eternal. 

But how in the world do we forgive? How do we let go? 
Several years ago, I heard Dr. Fred Luskin speak. He’s a world expert on forgiveness and director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project. His work began out of frustration that most faith traditions speak extensively about the need to forgive but don’t tell us how to forgive. And we can get so trapped in unforgiveness. So, he began to study forgiveness. And by the time I heard him speak he had dedicated twenty-five years of research and work to teaching people how to forgive, and to measuring scientifically the effect it has on people’s bodies, minds and relationships. And do you know what his team has discovered is at the very root of all forgiveness?

Abiding in God’s love. 

Of course, they wouldn’t say it that way in the laboratory. Instead, they would talk about finding that place of peace within, about living from that place. But the way you get there? Love. 
He walked us through it. “Think of someone you adore,” he said. “Get a good picture of them in your head. Remember what it feels like to be so loved by them, so known and valued. How they delight in you! Breathe deeply. Let your heart even get warm right now as you think of this person. Hold that feeling within you. Now open your eyes,” he said. “Five minutes of this every day is more effective than psychotherapy in helping people to forgive.” 

Love drives out fear and frees us to forgive, because all forgiveness, all love and mercy and with-each-other-ness, come from God’s own love, God’s own being.  Love unclenches our heart. When we are no longer defined by our woundedness, but by our belovedness, it changes the story. 

I’m learning something right now about loving and letting go.  After 18 years of raising a person, looking out for them, looking after them, you just send them away to fend for themselves and that’s that. Of course, I know that’s not that and all that, but still, there’s a lot of letting go involved. There’s an uncomfortable surrendering that makes life feel precarious and precious all at once.  And how similar the captivity can feel, between regret and fear! Not unlike anger, resentment, harbored pain, or the obstinate need to be right. How much my worry can keep me from being present in love to those I love! All of it ties us up and keeps us chained.  

But it has helped me to recognize in my learning this letting go, that there is a kind of fundamental forgiveness to it all, a gentleness with myself, a grace for each other, an acceptance of life as it is. The truth is, none of us can go back and redo anything differently, and none of us can control what will happen in the future. Right now, these two facts could paralyze me with sorrow or anxiety. But I am forgiven, and I can forgive, which is to say, I am released from keeping score, and I can be free from illusions of control.  

Letting go, and letting in the delight, the wonder, the incredible privilege it is to love, and the awe I feel at being loved by, these particular, quirky and astonishing humans my life gets to be tangled up with, I find myself unclenching. I discover I am being set free to receive the unearned, undeserved gift of my one, limited life, bound inextricably to dear people I can only love by letting go. 

To let go, the story has to change. Life’s not about what anybody deserves or doesn’t deserve. We’re loved and held in a boundless and unlimited love. We no longer need the anger. We can let the pain go. The worry is not serving us. The story of regret, recycled over and over, no longer represents what it once did. What was may no longer fit us, and it’s time to release it so we can receive what is. Instead of living fearful and guarded, armed and ready for any possible future, we can live in the present. Instead of grasping for control we will never have, to feel a security we will never reach, we can let go, and find we are already held secure by love. God’s healing, forgiving love meets us where we are and flows through us, and we abide in the love that holds us all.


Sunday, September 3, 2023

Penguin Blessing for Back to School

LNPC Penguin Blessing for Students, Teachers (and Parents), 2023 


Anoint the students and teachers (and parents, if desired): Name, Child of God, you are known and loved.   

Penguin should be different voice than pastor.



Instead of hollow bird bones, God made my bones heavy and solid so I can dive deep and swim strong. God gave my feathers muscles in the shafts, to lock them down tight and waterproof, and oil on top to block the arctic wind. God gave me a filter gland to take salt out of salt water, so I can be hydrated wherever I am. God gave me a fancy tuxedo to protect me from predators: From above I look like the dark water, from below, the bright sky. God gave me special feet: they’re my webbed rudders to steer my speeding through the water, they’re my grippy hiking boots to hold me up on slippery, slow walks, and when I slide fast through the icy world on my belly, they’re my propellers, steering wheel, and brakes. 

I’m adaptable and I’m resilient. I am slow and I am fast. I am silly and I am smart. I am a penguin, and God gives me just what I need to help me through the world.



Beloved Ones: God gives you just what you need to help you through the world.

May you dive deep and travel strong, 

filter out what’s harmful and take in what is good. 

May God hold you steady when things get slippery,

give you brakes when things move fast, 

and protect you from harm.



I am adaptable and resilient, slow and fast, silly and smart. 

I am me, and God gives me what I need.

God bless you and me!



To stay waterproof, once a year I have a “catastrophic molt”: I lose all my feathers and grow new ones. Then I’m tufty and scruffy, and I feel kind of weak. I don’t know when this will happen; it’s inconvenient and annoying.  When my messy breakdown comes, I will pause my normal hunting and swimming and make sure to rest more. I have to trust that even though I’m uncomfortable, something new is growing in me. I will not always feel as rough and raggedy as I do in this moment. I must let go some of who I was so I can keep becoming who I am.



Beloved Ones: God will transform you this year, and new things will grow in you. 

Sometimes it will be uncomfortable, messy and annoying, 

but you will not feel rough and raggedy forever.  

May you trust in God’s care, 

let go of what no longer serves you, 

and give your body, heart and mind the rest you need,

even when it’s inconvenient.



When I’m tufty and scruffy, something new is growing in me.

God bless you and me.



My voice is unique; no one sounds just like me.  I know my friends’ and family’s particular songs. I pick out special rocks for my friends. When I see someone I love, I dance with joy.  I wouldn’t survive alone. I belong to everyone else, and they belong to me. We guard each other from danger by sticking together.  When we huddle on land it’s called a waddle, and in the water, it’s called a raft.  I am an expert hugger; we keep each other warm by taking turns in the middle.  Each of us is different, and we’re also all the same: we all need each other, and we all take care of each other.  



Beloved Ones: We wouldn’t survive alone.  You belong to God and you belong to all others.

We celebrate your unique song. 

Watching you be you makes us dance with joy.

May you find your voice,

and share your gifts.

When you take your turns in the middle,

may you feel God’s warmth and protection,

through the love and care of others.

And when other people need that warmth,

may you be their raft,

and we will be your waddle.



I will be me and you will be you. 

We all need each other, and we all take care of each other.

God bless you and me!



(Stuffed penguins may be distributed now, if not handed out earlier)

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Faith like what?

hand holding tiny mustard seed between finger and thumb

Matthew 17:1-20

 Historically, I have not enjoyed poetry.  Even though I love words and vivid imagery, poems have mostly bored and confused me. But I am starting to like poetry more, and the gateway poem that began it a few years ago was Litany by Billy Collins - which begins with a quote from someone else and riffs off of it to delightful effect.

It goes like this:
By Billy Collins
You are the bread and the knife,
          The crystal goblet and the wine...
                -Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.

Today’s scripture is loaded with similar confusing metaphors and imagery. 
 In what we call “The Transfiguration,” Jesus brings a few disciples onto a mountaintop for an inexplicable experience that feels like a metaphor itself. Dead faith ancestors living and breathing are chatting it up in a private conversation with a dazzlingly dressed Jesus whose face shines like the sun. Peter’s attempt to take control and capture the moment gets mercifully ignored and then interrupted by a proclamation from heaven echoing Jesus’ baptism. 

They fall to the ground in fear like the hillside shepherds, on the way down the mountain, when they in talking about Elijah, they figure out Jesus is actually referring metaphorically to John the Baptist. 
When they return to the valley they meet up with disciples who have just failed at healing a sick child. 
So the disciples get a parallel crash course in the uncontrollability of God.
While on the mountain the power of God cannot be contained in tents of their making, down in the valley the power of God cannot be summoned or commanded by their efforts.
 On the mountain –the voice from the heavens declares, here is my son, the beloved in whom I delight, listen to him.
In the valley – the voice of a heartbroken father declares, here is my beloved son in whom I delight, he is very, very ill, please help him.
And when the two stories come together Jesus heals the child and the disciples wonder why they could not.
Here’s some more wordplay: This version of the bible says the child has epilepsy, a surprisingly modern word in a very ancient story. I got curious and looked at other versions, and saw that indeed, depending on the cultural lens and language of the era, this has read all sorts of things, from the dramatic he is a lunatic and grievously distressed, to the enchanted, he is moonstruck and suffers greatly, to the frank doctor’s note version, he has a bad case of epilepsy, to the supernatural, he has a lunatic demon and is very ill, to the empathic, he has seizures and suffers miserably. My favorite is from 1526, he is frantike and sore vexed, frantic is spelled with a ke.
All that to say, whatever is going on with this child, he loses control of his body, and becomes unable to keep himself from harm.  The father cannot control his son or control the environment around him to keep him safe, and he is terrified for his son and his future.  
And I guess there’s no modern way to medicalize this language, because in every translation, Jesus casts out the demon and the child is healed, which is to say, whatever had the child in its grip vanished at Jesus’s command, just like the violence of the raging storm, and the hemorrhaging woman’s blood, and the young girl’s death, and all the illnesses and injuries we’ve seen him heal in the various mass feeding episodes. Here, the beloved Son heals the beloved son, and the boy is restored to wholeness.  
But the part of this story we moderns get most hung up is Jesus’s epic, metaphor-packed answer to the disciples when they ask why they couldn’t heal the child. If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you will say to this mountain ‘move from here to there’ and it will move.
As small as a mustard seed" was a common phrase in that day meaning the very smallest possible amount.  But we assume the disciples had less than even that and needed to get more faith. They needed to build up their pathetic faith at least to the tiny size of a mustard seed. And since that miniature bit of faith can “move mountains,” clearly nobody in this room has achieved that much faith yet.  

We make this period on a 14-font sentence into a measurement device against which to compare ourselves. We have even less than that much faith!? How can we get more so we can do more? 
And we like to talk about all the potential inside a tiny mustard seed - it can grow into a vast tree, as wide as it is tall, so grow your tiny faith bigger so it can do immense things!
But if that’s what Jesus was after, he surely could have chosen a better metaphor.  He could have used a legit measuring device - you have a gram of faith but you need a pound. He could have encouraged a strong, sturdy, robust faith like a little pig’s house made of stone instead of straw. He could’ve lyricized their rain puddle faith becoming a deep well. But he chose instead the famously smallest, most insignificantly-sized item to describe the kind of faith they should have. 
And that makes me wonder about the metaphors he did not use.
What kind of “little” faith did they have at the moment?
Maybe instead of mustard seed faith they had faith like a battering ram, or faith like a fishing net.
Or—it’s easier for me to put it into today’s imagery—what if the disciples were trying to heal the child with faith like a bulldozer, or faith like a vending machine? Perhaps they had faith like a bus driver’s megaphone on a kindergarten field trip, a clothes washer on spin cycle, or a plane coasting at 30,000 feet on autopilot. 
Jesus used the most tiny, barely visible thing to describe faith. He used a get out of the way and don’t make it about you kind of object. He used a thing that can’t do anything by itself at all. A seed needs sun and water, and to be altered and changed. A mustard seed is crushed and used to for flavor and spice, or is buried in the darkness of the earth’s soil to break open and blossom, and grow very slowly into a vast tree able to host birds and shade animals. None of this can be done on its own volition or by its own strength. It must just be, waiting, ready. That’s how Jesus describes faith that participates in God’s healing.
Mountaintop glimpses of divinity and big-picture, long story, wide vista context, and valley-deep anguish of sickness, despair, and great suffering, none of this can we control.  The disciples were reminded that we don’t make the hope or the healing happen.  We assume the inner stance of least resistance to the hope or healing of God moving through us. 
God is beyond.  Beyond us, beyond our ability to understand, beyond our control.  
I don’t know why sometimes God heals and often God doesn’t. It’s really frustrating not to be able to operate God like an automobile or an ATM machine. 
People don’t have the power to heal illness or cast out demons. Only God can do that.  We can only be willing to ask and be willing to be used by God in the healing. 
My eleven year old nephew is kind and funny and curious. He’s an incredible athlete and a delightfully gifted dancer. He loves nature and loves to draw. And his mental illness can overwhelm him. He suffers greatly and it’s getting worse, and when it’s bad he is at risk of harming himself and others. And then the only recourse for his parents is to hospitalize him. There he feels safe, and the intense structure and oversight and tweaking of meds and therapies help him and he eventually stabilizes. Then he comes home and tries really hard, and does ok for a little while, and then things happen that are out of his control, and he has to go back again. The doctors can’t heal him, meds can’t cure him. 
Only God can heal him, and God may not. 
This family suffers with their son, and next to his suffering is where the Son of God comes. He comes to their beloved child and claims him in love. They control what they can; and the vastly more that they cannot control they can bring to Jesus, who takes all suffering into himself so that nothing can separate us from love, and who lives already inside God’s promise that all will culminate in wholeness and healing, for every person and for this whole earth.
They join their voices with all the faithful, heartbroken parents in scripture and throughout the world that cry, Lord, have mercy on my child.
Foolproof, airtight, high-speed, robust, polished shiny faith does this family no good. Effective and confident faith means nothing to them.  Suffering, honest, longing faith, that’s where they’re at at the moment.  Faith that gets plunged into darkness and broken open. Faith that this part is not the whole story, there’s more to come, and even though we can’t bring it, we can watch for it and ask for it and be ready for it. The God who acts will act.
Our faith is not an outlet mall, a brokerage account, or a crossfit gym. Our faith is a mustard seed, ready and waiting, for the master chef and chief gardener, the world-shaping, mountain-moving God, to turn it into something God uses to bring life. 


Again, For All

Matthew 15:29-39

There is a skill to storytelling. A way of drawing on what people know or suspect to build suspense, working with the element of surprise, saving the exciting part for the end, not telling the same story less impressively just a few minutes later... 

So maybe it’s not a surprise that after having been ordained for 17 years, and a Christian my whole life, I was this week old when I realized that there are two separate feeding a multitude stories. I guess I wasn’t really paying attention, and assumed one gospel told it with 5000 people, one with 4000, they had their reasons, but it was the same basic event.  

But no. The feeding of the 5000 appears in all four gospels. But in both Matthew and Mark a few chapters after that story, there is a whole second feeding-a-hungry-multitude-with-a-few-loaves-of-bread-and-a-couple-fish story. 

Why in the world would you tell it all over again, with less impressive stats? Even if it actually happened twice, why say, oh, and then he did that whole thing again.

Perhaps that is how Luke and John, the lectionary folks, and every Sunday school teacher I ever had felt, because nobody ever retells the 5000 story with 4000 people.  

Except the bible does.




We are going slowly through stories of Jesus this summer, so we can linger here a bit.  Several weeks ago, when we talked about the feeding of the 5000, we saw how it came fast on the heels of the news of cousin John’s (the Baptist’s) murder, and Jesus was devastated, and tried to go be alone but the crowds sought him out and in a day of connection and healing, abundance and hope, they were all reminded that far beyond the power of a petty and murderous king is a kingdom of love without end unfolding even now among us.  


Then Jesus went off by himself- and found his solitude and space to grieve, as one deeply grounded in his belonging to God and all others. He met up early the next morning with the disciples, who went directly from an exhausting day of impromptu, large-scale event-hosting to an exhausting night fighting to stay alive in a raging storm until dawn when Jesus walked out to them atop the choppy waves.  After the failed water-walking attempt by Precocious Peter, Jesus quieted the storm, and they complete their journey,  pulling up their boat onto gentile shores, where the preaching and healing begin again. 


Then we met the Canaanite woman, who, with whopping courage and a witty comeback, refused to take Jesus’ rude no for an answer, and after praising her persistent faith Jesus heals her daughter.  


That catches us up to this moment.  We are three days into another mass healing event, when Jesus—who must have an impish twinkle in his eye when he says it—tells the disciples he wants to feed all these people out here in the middle of nowhere because he doesn’t want them “fainting from hunger on their way home.”  And the dear disciples, who are nothing if not predictable, respond, But Jesus, where are we to find food for so many when we are so far away from everything?


Gospel means “good news.” And every part of scripture is oozing with it. Good news is leaking through the details, rising up between people and reaching out to you and me even thousands of years later. 


And the gospels apparently want us to know that, no, this feeding 4000 right after feeding 5000 no memory slip, or sloppy second-telling, this is its own event, and Mark and Matthew both see it worth telling.  But to be honest, I almost skipped it. We just heard a story just like this.  


I had planned to jump to the next chapter, where Jesus gets into it with his disciples for not getting a clever bread-related analogy he is making about the Pharisees, except in that chapter, he says, basically, What is up with you guys? How can you think I am speaking about actual bread right now when you’ve just witnessed me feed 5000 people with a couple fish and five loaves of actual bread, and then shortly after that, 4000 more people with some fish and seven loaves of literal bread? 


What IS up with those guys? And what is up with Jesus doing an encore show? Is it because it went so well the first time? Were the people clamoring for a greatest hits moment? Did Matthew and Mark lose their storytelling chops?


So I circled back. 

And I found the good news.  First, I want to tell you what some scholars like to say. Then I want to tell you what I needed to hear.


Scholars like to point out that the first miracle uses the number 5 – five loaves of bread, 5,000 people – and Matthew’s uber Jewish audience would have immediately thought of the five books of the law of Moses, the Pentateuch, (Genesis, Exodus, and so on) – giving this story some grounding and gravitas. Add to that then, that there were 12 baskets of food left over and they’d connect that to the 12 tribes of Israel, and think to themselves, yeah, this is our kind of story. There’s a solid continuity, a through-line with the God of Israel and the people of this God.  Jesus must be the Messiah, right?


But now, just a few days later, Jesus is no longer in Jewish territory, no longer preaching to Jewish people. He’s in Gentile lands, coloring way outside the lines, and not only did Jesus just give faith props to a cheeky Gentile woman who talked back to the Messiah, but, what?!  Jesus is repeating the special, abundant-feast miracle that he had just done for God’s chosen people, here, with these strangers, these others.  They have not grown up on the promises; they were not waiting for Messiah; they have not faithfully worshipped Yahweh through the centuries, and now they are praising the God of Israel too. Do they even have any idea what they are really receiving?  Maybe it’s like knowing you were mom’s favorite and then overhearing her tell the dopey neighbor kid that they’re her favorite too. 


Not only that, but (the apparently better-than-I-first-thought storyteller) Matthew decides to throw in some number nods here at the gentile multitude feeding too, with the seven loaves of bread and the seven baskets of leftovers. Not only is it a recollection of the seven days of creation, the origin of all humanity, but for both Jews and Gentiles, seven was the number of completeness. Matthew is telling the story of Jesus to the Jews – Jesus comes from us, is one of us, is here for us – but the story doesn’t stop there, Jesus comes to us all, comes for us all, is here to redeem us all. Nobody gets to claim him as their own personal savior – Jesus is here for the whole world, and through him, all people belong to God.  All people belong to God. 


So, yeah, there’s definitely some gospel busting through there. But here’s what’s cool about the gospel, and the bible: the good news we hear is usually the good news we need to hear. And we don’t all need to hear the same thing at the same time. 


And what really grabbed me this week is the dummy disciples.


What is up with you guys? He asks them later on, in chapter 16. Did you not just see me feed thousands of people?  Twice?  And he might as well add, Did you not watch me walk to you on top of crazy huge waves, and tell a wild storm to pipe down? As person after person for days and days on end has come in desperate need and found healing and hope, have you not been right here by my side watching it all happen? 


Oh my goodness, but I can relate. I believe God loves me unconditionally and some people do too, and yet I constantly try to make myself worthy of love and act like my value depends on my competence. I know there is nothing I can do to avoid suffering or prevent pain for those I love, or keep them always safe, and yet I strive for control, and make an idols out of security and the good opinions of others.


I love God, and I want to follow Jesus and share in what God is doing in the world.  But I get persuaded by the power of the storm and immediately start to sink. I get frustrated with the annoying stranger and ask Jesus to send them away. I get overwhelmed by the daunting task and the vast need, and wonder how we will feed all these people, with resources, way out here in the middle of nowhere. Even when I have just experienced God’s love, or seen God provide, I get scared and worried all over again like it never even happened. I stop trusting.


When faced with our brokenness, our need and our fragile, dependent humanity, we default to self-protection and fear, instead of leaning into our belonging to God and others. The shorthand word for that tendency and the behavior that it produces is sin. It’s the deep internal forgetting of God’s goodness and our humanness and the love that holds and calls us toward God and one another. Sin is inside me, but here I see it in the disciples too.  

And when we recognize sin in us, we to like to think it must disqualify us from participating, or the shame might crush us, or we will lose our belonging, or our place, or God’s love.  But all it gets the disciples here is some tender teasing, and an invitation back to trust. 


Because all people belong to God. And Jesus has come to break us free from the grip of sin and the power of death. And where the world is most broken, where I am most broken and in need of healing, where the need feels impossibly huge, that’s where Jesus brings forgiveness and healing.


Forgetting, being reminded. Doubting, trusting. Fearing, flailing, then trusting again. That’s how faith lives in us. The disciples were excited and impatient, terrified and skeptical, wobbly and unsure, and that’s how we participate. 


Beyond all the forces outside us and within, is a kingdom of love without end, unfolding even now among us. It floods the scene with abundance and hope, and is received alongside stranger and friend in connection and healing. This reality is not created or sustained by you and me, and nothing we do or don’t do can stop it, not even death. And there is no limit to the reach of God’s love and so no end to how often this story can be told: 

Jesus looks on us all with compassion, and will not send us away hungry, but instead becomes for us all the very bread of life. 



Waking Us Up

 Matthew 21:23-32 Friday afternoon Maisy and I were standing in line at the doctor’s office waiting to check in for our flu and covid vaccin...