Sunday, October 2, 2022

What faith is really about



 I once had a friend who became a Christian later in life because of a mystical encounter with Jesus, where Jesus appeared to him and spoke to him. He loved Jesus. But he was NOT a fan of the bible.  Years later we started reading the bible together in a group, and it was the first time he had dived into it with openness. 

Actually, not the first time. 

The first time was when he was mountain biking alone and came around a corner to see, laying next to the path, a bible, open to the sky. A sunbeam was shining down on the pages. He stopped the bike and got off. With heart pounding he reverently approached the bible. Picking it up gently, he read from the open page…something about wiping out the enemy peoples and not marrying the foreigners or you’d be punished by God. Horrified and confused, he threw down the bible and got back on his bike and didn’t have anything to do with Christianity for years, until Jesus appeared to him.
 
Today’s scripture is a great example of why the bible is best read with others. Yes, personal devotion and bible reading is great, and God speaks to us through scripture when we are alone. But we are reading something ancient from cultures we have very little in common with, and oh my goodness, but it can be confusing and sometimes horrifying.  I actually get a little excited when a passage feels weird and inaccessible at first glance, because I trust that all scripture has a word for us from God, and not seeing it right away just means there’s going to be a treasure there if we dig.  We also do well to read it together with one another because we can help each other recognize our own bias, our own cultural lens that is coloring how we hear the words.
 
In this text the disciples ask a very discipley question, the kind of question pastors and Christian educators today wish people more would be asking, the question we all feel we should be asking, “increase our faith!” Ok, not a question, more a demand. But still. It’s a good thing to want, right? More faith? What better to demand?
 
But Jesus’s answer, let’s face it, it’s just weird.  First he says if they had even the amount of faith the size of a mustard seed they could tell a tree to stand up and go plant itself in a lake and grow there and it would. Then Jesus goes into this thing about slaves. Which feels so problematic today it’s hard to even read the words aloud much less attribute them to Jesus, the gist of which is, slaves are just there to work and shouldn’t be rewarded for it. So they should just consider themselves worthless slaves for only doing what they ought to have done anyway. 
The word of the Lord. 
 
I bet they wish they hadn’t asked.
 
But I kind of get why they did. 
 
Because just before this Jesus said, 
“Hard trials and temptations are bound to come, but it’s bad for whoever brings them on! Better to wear cement shoes into the ocean than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. And he also said, “Be alert. If you see your friend going wrong, correct them. If they respond, forgive them. Even if it’s personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times they say, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ forgive them.”
"The apostles came up and said to Jesus, 'Give us more faith.'”

So, yeah. I’m guessing the ante feels high.  I’m thinking the disciples are feeling the pressure.  This all feels pretty daunting. They’re probably thinking, How can we manage not to screw this up? Maybe what we need is some more faith!  
 
And suddenly, just like that, they’re in the way of fear. How do we know? Because according to them in this moment, faith becomes something we do. Earn. Measure. Accumulate. Faith becomes power. Power to live right, sure, but power, nevertheless. Which is actually not at all what faith is.
 
Faith is much closer to admitting we are completely powerless to live right. 
 
I think Jesus tells these ridiculous stories, these mini-parables, if you will, to highlight just that. And he may have had a little edge to his voice too. Like, do you guys even listen? Fine, let’s play the game your way. Let’s say faith is power. If that’s the case, then faith is so powerful, that a tiny little bit can do this thing that defies all laws of nature. 
 
They asked for more “faith,” but what they were asking for was more control.  They were asking for the ability not to fail, some way to guarantee success at this discipleship thing.  Jesus just jumps right to furthest logical conclusion of their aims – you’ll know you’ve succeeded when you’ve accumulated enough faith to command nature, on the one hand, or when you’re obediently doing your duty without ever expecting recognition or reward, on the other.  
 
Maybe succeeding at faith isn’t the goal. Maybe faith isn’t about succeeding or failing at all. 
 
I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly, Jesus says. Follow me, Jesus says. The son of man came not to be served, but to serve. Jesus says. 
 
We don’t forgive, and care for those more vulnerable than ourselves, and love and serve, as Christ does, because we are doing our duty like obedient slaves. And we don’t uphold the weak and restore broken relationships because we are racking up points or dodging punishment.  
We live in love because we are loved. We care for others because we are drawn into God’s life of care. We forgive because forgiveness gives us back to each other and to ourselves. We live in the way of God embodied in Jesus because our true humanity is found in, and not apart from this love and care for each other and the world. 
 
Rowan Williams says discipleship is “learning how to be a place in the world where the act of God can come alive.” When we confess our sin, or stand up for those weaker than ourselves, or do something kind for someone else, we are a place in the world where the act of God comes alive. 
 
Faith, then, is not a quantifiable element. It’s a nudging toward, a longing for, a questioning, and doubting, and trusting, and forgetting, and remembering, and messing up, and confessing, and being forgiven, and learning, and braving, and caring, and reaching out, and messing up again, and apologizing, and being forgiven, and being hurt, and forgiving, and seeking, and longing some more.  
 
Faith is allowing yourself the possibility that Jesus is here, and then letting yourself wonder about who this Jesus is and what he’s up to in your life, in this conversation, in this tragedy, in this ordinary moment.  It is Christ’s work, Christ’s relationship to God, Christ’s faithfulness that holds us. We surrender our sorry, striving selves into trust.  Because it’s a relationship – all of life is – a relationship with our maker, with our fellow human beings, with the earth in which we live, and the person we are and were and are becoming.  
 
And just like the disciples, we forget this. And we ask for more faith so we can do it right and not screw it up. But faith is a willingness to live attentive, expectant, awaiting the action of God in the world, trusting it is always about to occur.
 
There is a kind of gift in taking something to its natural absurd conclusion. We did that together a decade ago when we faced our fears. In the Gathering Room hangs a sign that says, “We are exactly the right size and make-up and have all the resources we need for what God wants to do in and through us.” That was only said because we stated the opposite of what we really thought and wrote it down. What we really thought in 2011, when we let ourselves be brutally honest about our fears, was that we were too small, too old, and didn’t have enough money. We might as well have said, “Increase us! Increase our faith!”
 
But then then we took it to its logical absurd conclusion. What are we saying, actually? That we are too small to love our neighbor? That we are too old to help each other seek God? That we don’t have enough money for God to work through us? That we are not big enough, young enough, rich enough for God to use us? How absurd are these ideas we’re clinging to?  How do they hold us back from what God has for us?  
 
So we stepped out in faith and stated the opposite and began to live into it. Which is to say, we recognized that it’s not about us at all, it’s about God and what God is already doing, and what God wants to do, in our lives, in the world, through us, with us. We get to participate not because we’re so powerful and impressive, but actually because we’re not. And then, it’s about us too – because God uses exactly what we already are to accomplish God’s purposes. Each unique person participates, and God is not limited by our strength or hindered by our weakness. God works and we get to join in. That’s it. Faith is trusting this. Entrusting ourselves to this. Wondering about who this God is, seeking this Christ.
 
There are all sorts of ways the bible leads us back to God and God’s kingdom.  
Sometimes it’s through comforting things, like when Jesus says, Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.  That’s an invitation to faith.
 
And sometimes the bible leads us back to God when Jesus gets sassy and sarcastic. Or cryptic and enigmatic. When he forces us to look at ourselves, or holds up the things we think are so solid and sure and shows them to be flimsy and ridiculous. And that’s an invitation to faith too.
 
There’s no measuring in faith. No game. No losing or winning. There’s only love – God who came in to free us from our impossibility. We will hurt one another. Undoubtedly. But thanks be to God we can forgive. We will stumble. No question. But thanks be to God we will be forgiven. We are held in love. Invited into faith. And all the disciples would have had to say is help me. Help me forgive. Help me not cause others to stumble. Help me, God. Those are the words of faith. And when we say those words, we are learning how to be a place in the world where the act of God can come alive.
 
Amen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Sabbath changes Church

 I had a great time on Dennis Sanders's podcast discussing living with joy, seeking God's leading, and how sabbath has changed us at Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church.

You can listen to it here:




Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Rigged Game and the Real Love


"The parable of the dishonest manager." 

First of all, it’s hilarious to me that this guy is called the "dishonest" manager.   He seems brutally honest to me. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m too ashamed to beg. That is some self-honesty there. 

But let’s just stop for a minute and acknowledge before we dive in any further that this is one of Jesus’ most difficult parables, because it kind of sounds like the Son of God is saying God’s people should be more manipulative and unethical.  At least he does say we could learn a thing or two about shrewdness from folks like the dude who cheats and steals and lies, whose apparently commendable act is to use someone else’s money to buy off people, so that when he needs something they’ll help him out.

Commentators and preachers go to great lengths to pretty it up – they say he eliminated his commission or his own salary, so he was being generous and didn’t cut into his boss’s profits.  They suggest he forgave illegal interest, or was a mistreated worker bringing vigilante justice to an unfair system.  Anything to rescue Jesus from this disaster of a parable.  

 Luke seems so uncomfortable with this parable that he tacks on a bunch of additional takeaways for us, like he’s just giving up, What does it mean? You decide!
Here are some of Luke’s suggested applications, paraphrased:
  •       Liars gonna lie. When people show you who they are, believe them. 
  •       Respect is earned and trust is gained.
  •       If you can’t be relied upon look after the neighbor’s dog well, what makes you think your parents would ever get you your own? 
  •       No one can play on two teams.  You’ll be loyal and give one your best effort, and and neglect and resent the other.  You can’t serve God and wealth.
All of these are fine take-aways, so we could stop right now and each pick whichever one tugs at us the most, and call it good enough.  

But I think this is a great opportunity to circle back to something that has been so foundational to us as a congregation that it has changed how many of us live our daily lives, and certainly how we are church together.  Session just reiterated last week about how important this perspective is to us, and we haven’t explicitly spelled out in a while.  Bonus, maybe if we remind ourselves of this perspective again, we’ll get some insights into this perplexing parable as well.  

So here it is: The way of fear vs. The way of God.

There are two competing narratives all the time, everywhere, in life, in scripture, in media, in the structures we occupy, in the air we breathe.

 Our instinctive go-to is based on the earliest lie, which says we are in this alone and God can’t be trusted. We’re convinced that the goal of life is security and self-sufficiency at all costs. The Way of Fear builds on that lie to say that the powerful matter and the weak don’t, that having more makes you better, and that all human worth is earned. So those around you are competition for your resources, threat to your security, or obstacle to your goals. There is us and there is them, enemies and allies, and if you’re not with us, you’re against us.   

Scarcity is the rule – there simply is not enough so take what you can and guard yours well. And that’s not just money, that’s also things like respect, dignity, opportunity, voice and worth, limited commodities all, so only some people can have it at any given time.  Safety and well-being is hard to get and easy to lose, so never slow down, never give up, never let go, never lose your place. You must be vigilant about self-protection and avoiding weakness, or even the appearance of weakness.  Life is an uphill battle, a never-ending to-do list, a criticism factory churning out judgment, comparison and shame, packaged in urgency and anxiety, and coated with desperation to avoid death that smells like younger, fitter, better, more. 

This week in the news, the way of fear was on display. It’s a system that uses human beings in need as pawns in political stunts, and then turns around to use them again as trophies of political self-righteousness.  A system where the movement of goods matters more than the lives of the people transporting them.  A system where people have to choose between food and rent while big companies rake in record-breaking profits and refuse to lower their prices. A system where the quality of the healthcare you can expect to receive can be predicted by the color of your skin.  This is what the way of fear looks like. 

In contrast, the Way of God is the real reality under it all.  The truth is that life begins in abundance and gift, and the earth and everything in it belongs to God, who made us for connection with God and each other. This belonging is foundational and permanent. Even when we forget or deny it, it remains.  There is nowhere God’s love does not reach, and nothing God’s love does not bear.  Each person is loved just as you are, and you are not meant to be “perfect,” just meant to be you, the only one of you God will ever make on this planet.  Together in all our glorious difference, we live alongside all these unique others who are in it together, with and for each other in this life as siblings and friends, companions who bear each other’s pain and joys.

There is enough for everyone because what we have is for sharing.  It’s all meant to work together in harmony.  And no matter what it looks like at any given moment, it’s all heading toward complete connection and wholeness, because God is the one who decides the end, and in Christ, it’s already been decided.  We can live in freedom and rest, we can join in redemption and hope, we can take in wonder and joy, and we can face our losses knowing death is not the end of the story, that life and love are eternal.   

In the news this week the way of God was on display in a high school football team coming together to rebuild a bridge destroyed in a storm, a billionaire giving away his entire company to support climate action, and a close-knit island community dropping everything to provide food, clothing, housing and a warm welcome to unexpected weary travelers, sitting together for hours and listening to their harrowing stories, witnessing the bond of mutual care they’d forged with their fellow travelers navigating horror and hardship.  Drawing on their own sense of community and resilience through hurricanes and covid, these people relished the chance to minister to strangers, opening their hearts to true encounter that not only helped those whose lives are currently in upheaval, but also enriched the lives of those surprised in an ordinary week by the gift of their arrival, reminding them all that we all really do belong to each other.  That’s the way of God peeking through.

 So back to this parable, which is all the lodged in the way of fear. The so-called “dishonest” manager oversees corrupt wealth for an unethical rich guy in a broken system. And perceptions matter. If someone thinks his manager is stealing, the owner is firing him whether he did it or not, because the reputation of the business must not be tarnished. 

 The game is rigged. It’s all pretend. The manager’s actions expose as much when, after he uses his last act to slash the debts of his boss’s debtors, instead of exploding in rage, a slow smile creeps over his boss’s face, and he claps the manager on the back and bellows, “Touché!” 

 And it took the man losing his job to wake him up to how messed up it all is.  
What really matters? What is really real? 
Our belonging to God and each other.  
 
So much of life functions in transactional relationships. What can we get from the other person? And that way of functioning is still at play for our manager. It’s maybe all he knows. So he thinks, I don’t have the skills to make it out there on my own! But I do know transactional relationships. If I reduce their debt, they will be obligated to welcome me in.  
 
But what interests me here is that Jesus rephrases the man’s thought and reiterates his point, when he closes out the parable with, “So I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” He added the word eternal

Eternity in scripture isn’t so much about time. It’s about substance – quality of being. Eternity is love, underlying, overlaying, everlasting, permanent love, love holding it all.  
What would it be like to be at home in love? 
To move in the world connected in love? 
To know you are welcome in each other’s love and to have love to welcome others into?  
 
I think our deeply honest manager, who knows his own limitations, who knows the jig is up, who is being ejected from his secure and comfortable seat in the way of fear, wonders about this, doesn’t yet know how to get there, but he knows he wants it.
 
As the clock is ticking down, and security is about to escort him and his cardboard box from the building, he uses the tools of the way of fear—the cunning, manipulation, and transactional relationships, the familiar resources at his disposal, along with the last bit of leverage he has while he still has access to the account passwords—to lower debts, buy good will, and reach out for connection, in an effort to propel himself into this something else, this deeper thing, the intangible, authentic and eternal.
 
Maybe he wonders if his life could be for something more, if he could maybe experience the belonging of being at home in love, of moving through the world connected to others in love, instead of existing as a cog in the wheel of commerce, comparison and corruption.
 
Luke says we can’t serve two masters, God and wealth. In other words, we can’t let our lives be for both the way of fear and the way of God. We will either pursue personal security at the expense of trusting God and upholding one another, or we’ll embrace connection and reject rivalry and scarcity.

Serving the one master got this manager nowhere. So, while he’s not sure yet how to serve the other, he’s going to take a stab at finding out.  Kudos, good sir.  More power to you.
 
I think generations of Christians are scandalized by this parable because we sort of believe our religion is meant to make us good citizens that prop up the dominant system with sound investments, ethical behavior and upward mobility.  It’s offensive to hear Jesus tell a story of someone blowing it apart and then praise him for it. 
 
But it’s all pretend. None of it will last.  
All that matters is what’s eternal -  love.  
 
We can choose to surrender to the love that already holds us all, the belonging that already connects us, and practice living in that eternal reality until that becomes the most familiar and natural way to be. 
 
Or we can live in the way of fear, scarcity and anxiety, dutifully striving away for what doesn’t last.  And when something punctures that and we have to face our own weakness and isolation, we can take comfort in knowing that, however mysterious and ungraspable it is, the way of God is here to meet us, even if our way of reaching for it is flawed and corrupt.  
We belong to God and each other, and every time we remember that--no matter how we turn back to that--we will be welcomed into the eternal home of love. 

Amen. 
 
 
 

Monday, September 12, 2022

A Hippo Blessing for Humble Walk

All things belong to God, so all things are related.  There is a particular joy in finding the connections and relation between things, their unique blessing to the world and link to each other, and naming them out loud.  When Pastor Jodi Houge of Humble Walk Church asked if I would write a Hippo Blessing for Humble Walk Church, I was delighted to be a conduit for this message.  

Last night in their worship service Humble Walk Church gave out tiny hippos to the whole congregation for Back to School blessing.  This is what they said:



A Hippo Blessing for Humble Walk by Kara K Root

 

Millions of years ago, the intrepid hippopotamus diverged from its closest relatives 

(who went on to become whales, dolphins and porpoises) 

and claimed its own wacky branch on the tree of mammals, as 

land animals who mostly live in water. Water animals who can’t swim or float. 

World class expert sleepers who stay up all night grazing like great nocturnal cows. 

Their milk is bright pink, their sweat is bright orange,

and their appearance does not reveal their gender.

This giant land mammal takes down full-grown lions, 

and dances on webbed tippy toes across river bottoms.

Introverts who hang out together,

they’re heavy and fast, cute and fierce. 

Hippos keep the world guessing.  

Beloved, claim your uniqueness, chart your path, 

and the playful creativity of God will shine through your life.

 

Hippos make an impact just living in the world.

Their bodies and behaviors carve trails and form the foliage around them,

shape the microbial make-up of streams and rivers,

and reroute the trajectory of swamps and channels. 

Beloved, quietly live your power and potential in the world, 

and the earth-shaping transformation of God will move through your life.

 

The hippo’s cry (called a “wheeze honk”), 

uniquely among all the earth’s creatures, 

can carry through air and water at the same time

projecting their message far and wide, 

and connecting them to each other no matter where they are. 

Beloved, raise your voice and seek your kindred, 

and the limitless belonging of God will speak through your life. 

 

Hippos have sensitive skin, so they do what they can to protect it. 

But they also have bulletproof skin, tough and resilient.

They’ve learned how to stay chill and hydrated. 

With a center of gravity low and grounded,

and eyes, nose and ears high and engaged, 

hippos observe above the surface while resting below the depths. 

Beloved, tend your souls, rest your bodies, stay attuned to the world,

and the unceasing presence of God will uphold your life.

Amen.

 

Sunday, August 7, 2022

You can relax now


Luke 12:13-21

I don’t know about you, but I am so completely sick of everything always being up in the air. Of having to react and respond all the time. Of not being able to make plans and set those plans in place and count on those plans happening.  If not actual control, I would like to have back the illusion of control. Please.   

The rich man in Jesus’ parable has the illusion of control. He is blessed with an abundance of crops and decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store them all and then finally he will have enough, and then, “I will say to my soul, Soul, You can relax now…”

 

And oh my goodness does this grab me. What would it take to be able to say, Soul, you can relax now? Would you say it when you finally have “enough” money saved? When you have reached a high enough level of education? Progressed far enough in your job? When kids are finally settled and successful? 


When you’ve achieved all your goals for self-improvement and enlightenment, then you can say, Soul, you can relax now?  How about, the mortgage and student loans are all completely paid off, the dream job has been achieved, you’re contributing to real and lasting change in the world as a force for goodness, everybody thinks good things about you and nobody dislikes or distrusts you, your body is a specimen of good health and guaranteed longevity, and your impact, memory and legacy is cemented for several generations. Now you can relax, soul.  Now you can finally live and just enjoy your life! 

 

Oh wait, let’s add some more, Democracy is secure, racism is vanquished, the climate crisis is remedied, now can our souls relax?

 

How about when we do have times we’ve accomplished a goal or reached a milestone, and we feel some sense of inner peace because the hard work we’ve invested has paid off, or friends and family are generally doing well and life seems to be on a good track.  Not perfect, but humming along fair enough.  It feels good to feel this way. Not unlike the man in Jesus’ parable, (who then illustrates that even that doesn’t feel like enough). And as Jesus reminds us, any and all of that can disappear at any moment. Anything can happen to anyone. Like, a global pandemic from the movies could engulf the entire globe for years, or something.  And then the illusion that we have any control over anything is short-lived.

 

This is one of those moments when the lectionary fails us. Because it separates out scripture that make more sense if kept together.

 

This rich man in Jesus’ parable is so often held up as a foil, a ridiculous, greedy fool. (My bible subtitles this pericope "The Parable of the Rich Fool").  We like to use him to remind ourselves not to get greedy and then move on.  But the story doesn’t stop right here. Jesus turns to the disciples and points underneath the pretend rich man’s striving, to the core of him, because it’s the core of all of us. Just like this man, we are all trying to quell that inner terror that things might not be ok. We all worry for our future, our safety, our loved ones, all the time, and our ability to live our lives with a sense of peace is so often dependent on how all these things and people are doing at the moment.  The rich man is seeking a feeling of security. An escape from the worry. The ability to enjoy life and not live in fear. Aren’t we all?

 

The passage continues with these words,
He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 

And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 

For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

 

Around here we remind each other that worrying is practicing fear, and resting is practicing trust.  We let go of worry not by talking ourselves out of it with logic, or by somehow controlling all the external factors around us so that we can finally be at rest inside.  

 

Into our worry, Jesus gives us a very concrete invitation –Look at the birds. Consider the lilies. Notice the beauty permeating it all. Right here in the world around us is evidence of God’s care. God who made and cares for this earth and its creatures values and treasures you, loves you.  

Instead of striving for your own security and wellbeing, Jesus says, point your being toward God’s reality, where we all belong inextricably to each other and to God, and we are here to care for one another and for this world. 

When you let go your attempting to make your own life secure, and return to this reality that the source of all life is holding your live in love, then the inner peace, the sense of deeper grounding, will come to you as a gift from God.  

 

James Finley talks about this in his podcast, Turning to the Mystics. He says our inner peace is so often dependent on conditions being conducive to peace. So when our family is healthy and things are going well in our lives we have peace. But when the condition are not conducive to peace, there is conflict, suffering, war, racism, then we do not have peace. So we try to change the conditions that are not conducive to peace, so that we can have inner peace. And we should do those things- we should address what is wrong in the world and in our lives. But the peace we are offered in Christ is not peace that is dependent on the conditions being conducive to peace. It’s God’s peace, given to us, regardless of the circumstances. And we can experience it even in the midst of great darkness and suffering, because it does not depend on the conditions being a certain way, it's deeper than that. And this peace actually allows us to be able to be present to the circumstances in a different way, in fact, to be with people in suffering and struggle more intentionally, and to bear those things ourselves, because the peace we have is not our own peace, it is God's. And it is not dictated by fluctuating circumstances.

 

From time to time the veil is pulled back, and, no matter the circumstances, we feel a sense of oneness with the universe. Maybe it happens when we’re laughing at a table filled with friends, or alone in the cacophonous silence of a still and busy forest, or suffering a terrible, life-severing loss, or simply catching eyes with a baby in a grocery store. We are occasionally, suddenly grabbed hold of by this love that is deeper and wider, more sure and more steady than everything else that exists. And we sense that not are apart from it, but in it, claimed by it. And for a moment we feel righted inside, and we wonder why it is we ever worry at all. And then, just as quickly as it comes, the fleeting glimpse of Reality fades. But these tastes give us hope, and feed our trust, and invite us to live differently.

 

We can’t make these experiences happen, but we can, “assume the inner stance of least resistance” to being overtaken by this love.  We can seek to be open – to, as Jesus invites us, notice the world around with wonder and gratitude, to be present in our own skin, our own lives, this one moment, unlike any other, and receive it. 


Instead of striving for the ideal someday version of our lives or this world that we can finally one day enjoy, we can welcome and appreciate our lives and this world right now, as they are, and be right here with God and each other. And this, perhaps, is what it means in the parable of Jesus, to be “rich toward God,” being ready to receive our lives as the generosity of God, abundantly poured into the world at every moment. 

 

I don’t think we are ever going back to a time when things can be planned and then carried out smoothly.  Life now is harder than it was three years ago, and all signs point to it continuing to get more complicated on nearly every front. There have never not been, and will never not be things to worry about, and there is not coming, in our lifetimes, the “finally” moment, when the barns are full, all the wrongs are put right, all the conditions conducive to peace are met, and we’ll heave a great collective sigh and say to our souls, Soul, you can relax now

And even if there were, it could all end in a second anyway.

 

But through all of it, whatever the conditions, the steady, never-ending, powerful, deeper love of God that claims the universe and is moving it all toward redemption, will continue to hold us fast. And we will be ok. No matter what.  


So beloved, let’s allow our lives to flow from God’s generosity and our souls to find rest in God’s peace.

Amen.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

A Different Way of Being

Luke 10:38-42

Most of the time, we read the bible wrong. 

By that I mean, we read the bible like its purpose is to tell us how to act, and what we should be doing.  Really the bible is here to show us glimpses of how God acts, and what God is doing.  But we forget that most of the time. And almost nowhere as much as the story of Mary and Martha. Weird we even call it that, though. Because this isn’t a story about two sisters, pitted against each other, Mary the thinker and Martha the doer, Mary the serene vs. Martha the preoccupied.  This isn’t designed to help us divide the world into Marys and Marthas and decide which one is better (Mary), because Jesus says so.  And it’s certainly not meant to send us home striving to be Marys, while secretly thinking, dear God, everything would fall apart without the Marthas.

 

This is not a story to tell us how to be and what to do. This is a story about an encounter Jesus had with a woman named Martha. It begins, A woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. Let’s start there. She wasn’t wife of so and so, or daughter of who’s its.  A powerful, capable, head of the household woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her home.  

 

Martha and her sister Mary and brother Lazarus were Jesus’s friends. Martha’s house is where Jesus went when he needed a break from the road, needed to feel like he was going home to his people. It’s where he rested. Where he found solace.  Where he felt known. So let’s get that clear: Martha was arguably the savior’s favorite host. She regularly ministered hospitality to God incarnate. 

And they were all close. They told it like it was to each other, these siblings and Jesus. Martha is the one who reminds Jesus of his power to heal when Lazarus dies, and demands to know, Where were you, Lord?

Martha is a strong, competent person.  And good grief, who knows, she might have been a terrific storyteller or a fantastic card player. I’m just saying, she was possibly really fun to be around, or at least had all sorts of great character qualities that made her an excellent friend to Jesus.  But how would we know that?

We’ve boiled her down to not her best moment.  We’ve made being overwhelmed and stressed out her entire personality.  

 

Sometimes, in my not best moments, I wonder if being overwhelmed and stressed is my entire personality.  It sure feels right now like being overwhelmed and stressed has become our national personality.

 

I could begin to name why it’s our not best moment, and why we are collectively overwhelmed and stressed out, worried and distracted, but I don’t even have to list all the things– because it’s all the things.  It feels like most of us are carrying an internal list all the time.  We’re tense and clenched. Panic-level anxiety is at the ready. All we have to do is reach for it.  And not even that, really, it’s being dropped right into our laps at every turn. For most people right now, it would be hard to name an area of life that doesn’t feel a tad precarious. 

 

So our prayers start to sound a little like Martha when she’s had it, and like the disciples in the boat, being tossed about in the flashing darkness by the loud and terrible storm while Jesus sleeps soundly in the stern, because they say the same exact thing. Lord, don’t you even care? Don’t you even care that we are drowning? 

 

And when I am in a state, what I want is for the person I am dumping my anxiety onto, to join me in the deep end of despair. I want them to say, Oh my goodness, yes! This is terrible! This is, in fact, worse than you even thought!  No wonder you are overwhelmed!  Your panic is totally justified! This ship is going down, no doubt about it! 

At least, that’s what I think I want. That’s what I believe would feel good to hear in the moment. 

 

But here’s the thing about our God, who came into this whole storm of a life with and for us all  – God doesn’t necessarily see things the same way we do.  And even better, God can’t get pulled into our flawed interpretation of reality.

 

Jesus sees Martha for real. He listens past her desperation, and what she thinks should happen to make her feel better, how she thinks things could be put right (Make Mary help me!). He doesn’t sign on to her strategy because he doesn’t buy her interpretation of reality.  Instead he hears her need. He listens to the heart of her. He sees and upholds her humanity.  

 

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the good, and it will not be taken away from her.

 

At first this might have sounded super annoying to her. Maybe she didn’t want to give up her strategy. Make her help me.  Maybe her righteous anger felt too hot to let go just yet. But I suspect it had a different effect. There is something so powerful about being seen. Martha. I see you, Martha. You are worried. You have so much weighing on you.  I see your distress, and I see that you are pulled in many directions.  

And then he says, There is need of only one thing.

 

And oh, I wish he had expounded on this! But he goes on to say, Mary has chosen the good part. And it will not be taken away from her.

 

Jesus will not participate in the lie that we are drowning, that things are urgent, that we are alone, no matter how real or overwhelming it all feels to us. Instead, the one with the power to quiet the storm reminds us again, I care about you.  And I care about your sister. And I am right here.  You are not alone. You have a choice. And so does everyone else.  I won’t take that choice away. 

 

We don’t have to live as though we are alone, as though it is all up to us, as though we are against one another instead of in it together.  Whatever the storms around us, between us or inside us, they are never more powerful or more real than God.  We are not drowning.  The one who made and loves us all is right here in our midst, we cannot be destroyed. We can feel overwhelmed, terrified, worried, anxious and afraid. We will even die.  But however bad it feels, or even gets, we are held in the love that does not waver or falter or fail.  Love does and will prevail.

 

When Martha is feeling at the end of her rope, she actually comes to Jesus with her panic and her stress, her demand that he change someone else’s behavior, and her accusation, Lord, don’t you even care? That is courageous and faithful and honest.  And Jesus meets her right there - in her misunderstanding of reality and her misguided strategy, and her bold trust, and he invites her to freedom. He invites her into a different way of being, a deeper way of trusting.

 

And I am not going to praise Mary for ditching out on her part of the work. But I am going to listen when Jesus says Mary has chosen the good.  Maybe choosing the good has nothing to do with ignoring what can or should be done. Maybe choosing the good is about turning our hearts toward the presence of God in the midst of whatever we are in.  Maybe it’s about receiving Christ more than doing things for him. Maybe the good has something to do with letting ourselves long for the one needful thing.

 

There is need of only one thing. I want it explained. I want, if I am honest, to be told what to do and think and how to act. I keep repeating that tantalizing, exasperating phrase to myself, turning it over in my mind, There is need of only one thing. It’s mysterious, and feels deeply true, and I don’t know how to grab hold of it, and I want to grab hold of it to make myself feel better. I want to wield it like a strategy.

Instead, I suspect, that very sensation of not knowing what to do with it, of instead letting it grab hold of us like an irritating invitation, that is what we’re nudged toward today. There is need of only one thing. Only one thing is necessary.

 

Sometimes our not best moments become a gateway into a different way of being, an invitation to find a new freedom.  Sometimes dumping our anxiety and our misguided strategies onto God can result in a whole new possibility opening up before us. This is what God does.  God is with us. God is right here. We are worried and distracted by many things.  But there is need of only one thing. 

 

Amen.

 

____________________


Prayer Practice: 


Take an index card or post-it note. Write on it your name, and these words from Jesus.

Put it somewhere you will see it often this week. When you see it, let it stop you. Breathe. Imagine Jesus asking speaking the words to you. 

 

___________, ___________ you are worried and distracted by many things.  There is need of only one thing.  

Monday, July 4, 2022

A Prayer for the 4th of July


A Prayer for the 4th of July

We belong
first and foremost
to you, Lord.
God of heaven and earth,
eternity and the moment,
ever and always.

Then we belong to the whole of creation.
the living, the dead,
the yet to become, and the reborn,
the whole ongoing cycle of earth and life
with all its glorious array of ever-expanding participants:
mountains and trees and oceans and valleys,
gazelles and robins and rivers and earthworms,
all.

Next we belong to the human family,
all humanity in every corner of the vast globe
all languages, creeds, cultures, skin tones, religions, beliefs, experiences, hopes, celebrations, losses, goals, vocations, technologies and connections,in grief and wonder and anger and happiness and confusion and sadness and joy
whatever happens and no matter what, 
we belong to them all, all, all.
And they all
belong to us.


After this, we are grouped - 
some arbitrarily and some by choice - 
into land masses and geographic regions. 
We develop identifying accents, clothing preferences, and regional tastebuds, 
which is to say,
we gather our experiences into ourselves
alongside others
who are gathering into themselves experiences
alongside us.


We call our places of belonging towns, counties, villages and cities, tribes, nations, countries, continents and coalitions; 
these countless designations simply mean that
we live nearby and agree to certain codes
of living with one another
that in one way or another uphold our greater belonging -
to the whole human family, the living and the dead of all creation,
and the Lord of all.


Next we have the smaller groups in which we learn
and the people there who teach us,
the neighbors, musicians, coaches and collaborators,
the members of our faith, our teams, our clans.
We have hobbies we cultivate with the people who practice them alongside us,
passions we pursue and those whom they impact,
jobs we end up in and those who end up there too,
whose lives intertwine with our own.


And then there are those specific people from whom we come,
the ones whose being and belonging
shape our own being and belonging most directly,
I mean, of course,
our ancestors and grandparents,
aunts and uncles, cousins and kin,
parents and siblings.


We may have the partner with whom we share our life, 
and the children whom we shape and watch become,
and the pets we assemble into our homes,
and the gardens we tend,
and the friendships we cultivate,
and the places we grow our roots,
deep, strong, and sure,
with and for those to whom we give our hearts, 
who will one day be buried in the ground alongside everyone and everything else
to which we already and always belong.


So, on this day that celebrates our nation,
we give thanks for all the belongings that hold and shape us,
both created and innate.
We give thanks for the communities into which we pour our lives,
and for all those in our communities that pour their lives into us.
We give thanks for the earth that nurtures all life,
and for all those who nurture the earth.

On this day that celebrates our nation,
 in our collective belonging called The United States of America
we give thanks for all that is good and wise and kind,
all that upholds our humanity,
both individual and shared.


And in our collective belonging called The United States of America
we confess all that is evil, foolish, and divisive, 
all that damages our soul,
both individual and shared.


And when this day that celebrates our nation,
has come to an end,
in fireworks and fanfare,
it remains
that beyond country, beyond kin,
beyond borders and beliefs,
beyond any and all boundaries,
whether natural or unnatural,
is the Great Belonging,
that is,
to one another, all,
and to you, Lord of all.

For this, today,
we give thanks.

Amen.

- prayer by Kara K Root, from the forthcoming, The Liturgy of Living: Embracing Meaning in the Midst, Fortress Press 2023


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