Sacred Soil

Wait for it…
November 5, 2017, 9:10 pm
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Misty ForestWinter was a very different thing where I grew up, out in Oregon. Out there, the months would linger on with misty skies, while the temps hovered at a damp 40 degrees. The burnt grass of summer would turn green, as would the moss, while everything else lay dormant and bare, waiting for the light to return as the sun hibernated.

As a child winter always seemed like a time of waiting. Enduring the endless nights, hunting for the first signs of spring. On my walks to school, I would challenge myself to notice the first shoots of crocus leaves peeking through the soil. The promise of return. The buds swelling on the trees. But through those gray days, there were certainly times where it seemed winter would last forever.

We are no strangers to the reality of waiting. Sitting in these in-between moments, knowing too well the now and not yet.

As Jesus stood among the crowds in our text today, he knew that they were also waiting. Most, waiting without much hope. In this society, shaped by honor and shame, the poor were defined by their failures, the widows defined by their loss, the meek by their weakness. As the people gathered at his feet, Jesus looked out at a hopeless people, who were merely waiting for an endless winter to end. Unsure that spring would ever come.

But Jesus knew another way—another world. A hope that turns the everything we thought we knew upside down. All of it on its head. And so, he speaks, offering a radically different way. Instead of suffering bringing shame and hopelessness, endless waiting—Jesus names these ones as honored. As beloved. Blessed.

Blessed are the heartbroken. You will receive the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you who miss your loved ones so dearly. You will be comforted.

Blessed are you who are humble. You will receive far more than all the braggarts of this world.

As Jesus spoke, the people looked at him, wondering if they heard him right. Blessed? Honored? For being heartbroken, poor? Didn’t he understand? These were things to be ashamed of, to hide. To endure in silence.

On this All Saints Sunday, we gather in a space in between time. In the now and not yet. We remember, especially, those who have died. Those who have inspired us to live. Indeed, those who have blessed us. This is also a day when we call to mind the saints who are yet to come—those who will remember us on some All Saints day in the future. And these things can cause our hearts to break, as we sit in the waiting, as we long for those who have left us. Or as we worry for the future our children will inherit. Waiting in an uneasy space. Mourning, and longing for peace. Wondering if the crocus will ever emerge from the ground?

It is in these moments that I engage in a bit of wishful thinking, wishing that my very strong will were strong enough to pull those flowers through the ground. That I could make the doctors do the right thing. That I could grant even just a moment of relief from fear. That I could make the bullies stop. That by the strength of my own desire, we would know blessing. That I could by the sheer force of my will, end the shame and the suffering.

But my desire won’t do that. As strong as my will is, I cannot by my own force much of anything. And so, I am much tempted to sit with the crowds at Jesus’ feet and wonder, what? Blessed?

But here’s the thing about Jesus, the son of God—Jesus also lives in the now and not yet. Knowing the heartbreak and shame we endure now, while calling us to live in the not yet. But this isn’t a future defined by our hopelessness, or endless waiting. This is a future defined by God. Jesus invites us to live in the kingdom of heaven, as if it were here now.

To live in a way that cherishes mercy now.

To live in a way that honors peace now.

To live in a way of justice now.

Not to wait for some far-off spring, merely enduring the time, but even as winter approaches, to live as if life were flourishing now. Not to wait for people to treat us right, but to live in the full knowledge that we are God’s own beloved, worthy of peace, and justice. Now.

In Revelation, this beautiful and confusing text, John of Patmos’ vision pulls the curtain away, this curtain that divides the now and not yet, revealing that the kingdom of heaven is among us now. Right now. That right now God is wiping away every tear from our eyes; right now, the lamb is leading us to the water of life. Not in some heaven far away, but now.

It is important for us to remember, this text is not suggesting that you are honored because your heart breaks, as if you should go and seek out heartbreak to earn God’s blessing. Rather, Jesus knows that we are already heartbroken, already mourning. Already hungering for justice. But instead of endlessly enduring this in shame, Jesus calls us to live in the kingdom of heaven now.

To live in a world that comforts the mourning, feeds the hungry, that cherishes mercy.

For ours is the kingdom of God. The crocus blooms now.

The story
June 19, 2017, 8:35 pm
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20710763135_5197b1effd_oIn our story this week comes after a long run of healing stories. Jesus has healed a paralyzed man, a man’s daughter, a woman with a 12-year hemorrhage, two blind men, a man unable to speak, and more. Somewhat breathless, Jesus looks up at the crowds, those so desperate for healing. The text describes them as harassed and helpless.

And so, Jesus looks to the disciples (and by extension us), and says, you’ve got work to do.

But first, there are at least two things to know about how Jesus does this healing work. It’s tempting to believe that the disciples went out, armed with some kind of super power and zapped people into health. As if they donned their capes and went around: Pew, pew, your leg is healed; zap, you’re alive again!

But Jesus’ healing is far different:

  • The first thing to know is that Jesus sees us in a dramatically different way. It’s easy to miss this, because we tend to be results oriented people, looking for the end game. But every time Jesus heals someone, the encounter begins with Jesus seeing. Truly seeing the other person, with eyes that know the full story. This sort of penetrating soul piercing sight that reaches well beyond the pretty picture we try to present to the world, to the true story. A vision that sees the stories of heartbreak, the harassment, helplessness.
  • The second, is the way Jesus heals. When Jesus heals, he is about making the person whole, and returning them to the community. It is not that the ailment itself is evil (though sometimes it is embodied evil), but that Jesus sees the job of healing as building up the community of the faithful. Healing so that we can be there for each other. So that we (together) might be whole.

So when Jesus looks out at the crowd, the heartbroken, harassed, and helpless crowd, he is inviting the disciples to go out and see (really see the full story), and then to bring the community to wholeness.

And we too—all these years later, we are also called to go out, to the heartbroken. The harassed and helpless. To see the full story, to bring wholeness. Your work is needed– Even if you think you have nothing to give—your work is needed.

And it all starts with a story.

We’ve found this to be very true with the work of Awake. We’ve been at it about three years now—reaching out into this community, listening closely for the heartbreak, the harassment, the helplessness. Collecting the stories.

Before Awake, Unity housed a summer reading program run by outside folks, serving kids largely from other neighborhoods. It was good. But not great.

When Awake began, we decided that this sort of thing didn’t really fit with our mission. So instead, we began to listen, truly listen to the stories of our neighbors. And we heard a frustration that there really aren’t quality programs for kids to keep up with their reading over the summer. We heard the heartbreak of parents, unsure how to help their kids grow. We heard the longing of teens, who wanted opportunities for real leadership.

And so, working together, hearing the stories, seeking wholeness, we built a program together that is bringing wholeness to our community. That is seeking healing. A program that builds leadership, and justice, because of the gift of relationship.

And that’s just one story. Right now, Awake is working with a group of people who are heartbroken—and feeling harassed and helpless, because our city doesn’t have a real newspaper to speak of. It’s hard to know what the stories even are. In response, we brought folks together to discuss, and imagine, to try to see a way forward to some kind of wholeness. A way for our community to come to know its own stories, to know itself. And we might be more whole. It is a healing thing to be a part of.

And I’m just picking on Awake today. There are the stories of Unity, washing firetrucks, Comunidad Unida, creating a place for different cultures to come together. There are the stories in your own life, where inspired by your faith, you have truly seen your neighbor, heartbroken and harassed, and worked together toward healing.

This is indeed, God at work in us.

But, we don’t do it perfectly.

Too often we are tempted to think we know what the story is—that we know what’s going on and why. Sometimes with deadly consequences. (Is he reaching for his wallet, or a gun?). So often, we are tempted try to fit someone into our own story, crushing them into our plot line. Molding them into the characters we understand, rather than truly seeing the other. We see what we want to see. We tell the same old story about others—even if it is riddled with lies and half-truths.

But Christ is the one who enters into our story—fully. Knowing us, as we are. Completely. Even the parts we don’t like about ourselves. The parts we’re supposed to be ashamed of. But Jesus, doesn’t assume—instead, he really understands. He was not confused about the life of the tax collector, the prostitute. The leper. And he’s not confused about the ways we are broken—the ways we are heartbroken, harassed, and helpless. We can’t hide that from him. But, then Jesus didn’t need us to be good to come and take on our flesh and love us completely. Jesus doesn’t need our perfection. Rather, to be a part of our story. To love us completely.

So it is from this love that Christ sends us out to learn this story from others—to know the heartbreak, and pain. The harassment and helplessness. The hope. And to tell that story, the story of a loving God who truly sees—sees us as we are, so that we might know wholeness, love and healing.

And this, this is the story we tell. The story of Jesus. The story of our own lives. The story of God at work in this community, and in our whole-selves.


September 11, 2016, 10:14 am
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OperationGratitude2016.jpgFifteen years ago today, Jeanie and I were listening to the radio as we drove into our job at a retreat center outside of Lansing, Michigan. The morning was bright and crisp, much like this one. The summer heat had just let go, and we were looking forward to a day outside, mowing and weeding. As we drove, we listened carefully as the BBC reporter attempted to make sense of the earliest news: the unbelievable news that a plane had struck the World Trade Center, right in the heart of New York City.

The news had become more clear when we arrived at work. And all the air seemed sucked out of the world, as we sat breathlessly in front of the small television, trying to make sense out of that awful day.

Fifteen years, and we’re still trying to make sense of it.

In our text today, Jesus describes the love of God as the one who will abandon 99 sheep, to search for that lost one. He describes the love of God as the one who will sweep and search, constantly, tirelessly, until that single lost coin has been found.

And so it was with our first responders, doing, as we say, God’s work with their hands. They swept and searched and hoped, digging through the rubble of that day, until each one was found. Each one precious, and worth finding.

Today, following worship, we will walk down the street, with watermelon and buckets in tow, to go and wash emergency vehicles, and give thanks for these ones who live daily with the promise that they will risk their lives for the sake of the lost sheep.

And we say, thanks be to God, for all those who are willing to take such risks –the risk to see the beauty and value and hope in the other, especially when they are buried beneath the ruble of hopelessness.

Thanks be to God, because this is not always our impulse. Not always the way we do it.

Listen again to that first part of the text: …the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The tone matters. He welcomes sinners. There is no awe here, not a hint of heroism. Just disgust, utter disgust that Jesus would dare to welcome sinners, that he would dare to eat with them.


It is a powerful emotion, one that boils up in us almost unbidden. Its power is unparalleled. I could, with a single word, one word, I could make your stomach churn.

…I’ll refrain, because I’m kind like that. And because Jeanie warned me not to.

Now, disgust is useful–it keeps us from getting into trouble with parasites and germs. And I’m good with that. But it also has this tremendous way of infecting how we view other people. Many of us feel disgusted as we consider our politicians today. You’ll hear the language of disgust as folks describe liberals or conservatives. Perhaps you feel a tinge of disgust toward the Houston Texans, as they prepare to play against the Chicago Bears today.

Disgust is a full body response—which at its worst, leads us to seeing others as less than human. “They” become disposable, a mere waste product.

To the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus’ habit of eating with sinners and tax collectors was just that kind of disgusting. And it made him disgusting too. Which turned out to be deadly for him. The power of disgust helped pave the way toward the cross. It made him into something that needed to be removed, disposed of.

And to be sure, it wasn’t just deadly for him. Disgust led the terrorists to see American lives as expendable. Disgust led Stalin to remove anyone he saw as an enemy. In every war, it is the fuel that allows us to destroy each other. It is the power of bullies, and discrimination.

And if that weren’t enough, we also have this uncanny knack for turning disgust inward—treating ourselves as if we were mere worthless garbage.

Which is all the more incredible as we consider what Jesus is doing in this story. He does not even give a second’s thought to the idea that sinners are gross. He doesn’t believe that for one minute. Indeed, the very people the Scribes call disgusting, Jesus calls beloved. He tells a story of precious and sacred beauty in each one of us. He tells the story of seeking each one, and celebrating when we are found.

Indeed, Jesus did not look for the found, for the worthy, for the good and upright, those who can appear to have their stuff together at all times, or for those who have somehow managed to get through life without making any mistakes—Jesus sought the lost. The forsaken. The sinners. He sought you, and me. Just as we are.

And not only that, he seeks us, over and over again, rejoicing each time, each moment that we are found. Rejoicing whenever we come home.

Because that thing in you that you name as gross, disgusting, Jesus names as beloved. Because that thing in others we find disturbing, Jesus still finds beloved.

Because truth is, we’re all kinda gross. And the amazing thing is that Jesus loves us anyway. Each one of us. Loves us, searches for each one of us through the rubble of our lives, and says “come home.”

You who are weary, come home.

May it be so. Amen.

Snakes in the Grass
December 13, 2015, 10:15 am
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Luke 3:7-18

As I was preparing to preach this week, I read a commentary that complained about how hard it is for the preacher to read the Gospel lesson at church—to stand up there and repeat John’s words: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come!?

I thought to myself—well, um… maybe not. Actually, that’s kind of fun. Not that I think of you all as vipers. I really don’t. But, I appreciate John’s colorful use of language, and the excuse to call people names, under the guise of—well, you know—I’m just reading the bible folks…

And really, one doesn’t need to stop there with John. My sick sense of humor has always wondered why we don’t hold up signs that say Deuteronomy 28:19 at sporting events. That’d be a lot more fun than something so hopeful as John 3:16…

I’ll let you look those up.

Thing is, if you want to condemn someone, judge them, get snarky, this ancient book has plenty of fodder.

Though I also know that several of you have experienced that in some rough ways, as bible verses have been used as arrows and rocks, thrown to pierce and to judge and to make it clear that you’re not good enough; that you haven’t done it right; that you’ve disappointed the family. I’ve got plenty of stories of my own in this vein. And in this season of family gatherings, as the presidential hopefuls offer up their own venomous points of view… well it’s only going to get worse. Judgement seems to fly around with such stinging force—it’s like standing on the beach in a windstorm. Turns out that none of us ever seem to be able to measure up, at least not for very long.

Which makes me feel a bit sheepish now about that viper line…

Truth is though, if I’m honest, I’d rather be dishing up the judgment, putting myself in John’s shoes. I’d rather imagine myself calling people names, than actually hearing and taking to heart what John has to say about welcoming the reign of God.

Hey, as a side-note, I want to tell you something that may be useful in those judgment windstorms, those bible battles. Martin Luther taught that the Bible is the Manger that holds Christ. The Bible is not Christ himself. This beautiful book points to God—but is not itself God. Which means that it’s always God’s love that matters—not some obscure passage your Uncle George decided pull out of context. Now, this may not actually help you in your conversation with Uncle George, but at least you can go home knowing that if that weird bible quote doesn’t point to the transforming love of God—then there’s deeper digging to do.

Dig deeper, until the transforming love of God is revealed… it’s there. I promise.

It’s there, even in what John has to say about repenting, turning around, preparing for God…  Here’s the part that helps me with that:

The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?” “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.” Tax men also came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what should we do?” He told them, “No more extortion – collect only what is required by law.” Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He told them, “No shakedowns, no blackmail – and be content with your rations.”

I boil that down to: Share. Be honest. Be kind.

I don’t know about you, but on my snarky days—those days when I enjoy calling people vipers—it’s pretty hard to think so well of other people that I want to share, be honest, or be kind.

And I wonder if our passages from Philippians might just be the help we need.

It calls to us reminding us to rejoice in the Lord always. And again, I say rejoice. When we see snakes—find a reason to rejoice. When Uncle George comes barreling at you, find a way to rejoice. When everyone seems to be messing up at work—find a way to rejoice. When the car in front of you cuts you off—rejoice.

Even if it’s the small sort of rejoicing that thanks God for the memories, the vast creativity of God, the fact that you made it through. (Please note, this isn’t the sort of rejoicing that denies that things sometimes suck. It’s the kind of rejoicing that says, God’s love is still bigger.)

Rejoice. Again and again. Because if we look at the world through the lens of snarkiness, we will indeed find plenty of snakes all around. They are lurking everywhere. But, if we look at the world through the lens of rejoicing, with fondness and admiration for the gifts of God that are also everywhere – despite our snakely nature—then, I wonder if something else becomes possible.

I wonder if it then becomes possible to really hear what John had to say to us: Repent. Share with each other. Be honest. Be kind. Even if—even if—they don’t deserve it.

With a heart full of the love of God; with eyes that see the world with fondness and admiration for the beauty that seems to appear, even though, we are so often like snakes in the grass. Philippians calls us to rejoice in God’s gifts with wonder, and celebrate them. Celebrate them with such a heart that we cannot help but respond with the desire to share, be honest, and be kind. To turn toward God—instead of snarkiness, snakey-ness.

And then maybe—despite ourselves, we might see, we just might glimpse, the stunning beauty of the reign of God.

I worked one summer as a teacher in a kid’s camp. Most the kids were awesome—but we had this one. You know, “that kid.” He’d grown up the son of missionaries, and was used to being able to roam around anywhere he wanted. He didn’t much like authority either. But, in kid’s camp, we couldn’t let him do that. Wandering wasn’t allowed. So one day, as this little boy started toward the door, I found a special sort of anger rising up in me. I wanted to use some John-like language. And so I did what I felt I had to do, and picked him up, wrapping my arms around him, barring him from the door. And then suddenly, despite my own intentions, this little child leaned into me, relaxing into a hug. In that surprising moment—something came over me and melted my heart—something came over me and called me to rejoice in the beauty of this kid. Even though I didn’t feel he deserved it. Truth is, I didn’t deserve that tender moment either.

Love transformed. In this unplanned hug God’s love was able to come through what could have been an awful moment—and we were able to share, be honest, be kind. To each other. And everything changed. Beauty came from our brokenness. And we were both able to turn around and live differently.

Christ came to love each one of us, to transform us by that love. Christ came because he knew that calling us names would never really change our hearts—but that revealing to us that the love of God is even more powerful than death—that by trusting this we just may see the reign of God revealed.

In sharing. Honesty and kindness. Even when we don’t deserve it. Especially when we don’t deserve it.




Infinite & finite
March 5, 2014, 7:00 pm
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Joel 2:1–2, 12–17
Psalm 51:1–17
2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10
Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21

This is the night we gather to formally begin our Lenten journey. We walk through these next 40 days, marked by the cross of Christ, seeking a deeper relationship with God. This is a season that acknowledges that we let too much, far too much, get in the way of our really knowing God. And so we set aside these days to begin again. With great intentionally and hope, we wipe the slate clean and turn toward our God.

We do this near the end (oh, I hope it is the end) of a winter that has been hard. Really hard. And with the rush-hour snow this morning, I found myself longing for the simple beauty of dirt. All I want is a bare patch of ground. As the snow continued to fall, I found myself longing for the sweet smell of soil, warm and ready to give rise to crocus and green grass. But with this long winter—it feels a bit impossible to believe that spring will come. It feels like the ripe warmth of an August tomato is too much to ask.

The dust of the ground. The dirt. It is so beautiful in its possibility, in its hope.

Which is the joy of tracing that cross on your forehead tonight. In a few moments, you will be invited to come forward, and I’ll dip my finger in a small bit of dirt—dust from Palm branches long ago—and trace the sign of the cross on your forehead, saying “You are dust.” And I will rejoice in the dustiness of you, as God does even more so. God rejoices in your hope and your creativity, in your presence. Even when it seems all that is good is buried under far, far too much snow. Even when it seems hope is distant and foreign to yourself. I know that God rejoices in the dust that is you.

But it is the next phrase that catches me short. The next phrase sticks in my mouth, and I can barely bring myself to say it. Because just after I declare to you that you are dust, beautiful dust, I remind you that you will again return to dust. That you are mortal.

A friend of mine, whose father is gravely ill, said today, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust… is more like a punch to the gut than a sign on the forehead when there’s a hospital bed in the living room.”

We will all return to dust. This is our human condition, and God did not take away the truth of our mortality. We live and we die.  And for all the beauty of spring, the warmth of summer, the possibility of dirt—winter will come again.

Though that does not keep me, nor, shall I say, any of us, from wanting to keep winter at bay. I’ve seriously considered taking a heater to my back yard, to see if I can kick start a little spring. It is this same impulse in me that makes it so terribly, terribly hard to trace that cross on your forehead. I don’t want to be reminded of your mortality, much less remind you of it.

But the truth is in breathing and in life, we inhale. And we exhale. Were we to idolize one, it would be our death. Neither can we hold our breath, or keep blowing out. Life rises in our lungs, and then we press out the air, so that we can keep breathing. Keep living. Keep loving.

And so we set this time, this Lent,  apart to seek a greater connection to our God. The God who wants an intimate and authentic relationship with us—not the kind that sets us apart from our fellow travelers, but a relationship that acknowledges we are dust—both infinite and finite. In our passage in Matthew, Jesus begs us not to sound the trumpets as we give money away, or call attention to ourselves as we pray, or to make everyone else miserable as we fast. No, rather the God who loves us, we who are made of dust, wants to know us as the dust we are—full of possibility, and mortal.

This is the God we seek in these 40 days.

So let us set aside those things that get in the way of knowing this God. By that I do not necessarily mean chocolate (though give it up if you must), but rather, set aside the things that make you long for those trumpets, the things that draw you to haughtiness or judgment. Set aside the things that make you forget that you are dust, beautiful and messy dust.

For this cross of ash traced on your forehead is a reminder, oh beloved child of God, that you are dust. It is at once a statement of infinite possibility, and our inescapable finite mortality. But do remember, neither can cancel the other out. For ours is the God that raised the dead to new life. Easter will come. This is a sure and certain promise.


National Coming Out Day Eve
October 10, 2013, 7:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Esther 4:13-16
Psalm 139
John 11:39-44

I want you to take a moment to imagine a closet. Well, really, your own personal closet. The tightly bound space that you turn to when things get a difficult, when you need a moment of quiet, when you need to just close yourself against the world.

I want you to imagine this, because I want to, dis-spell the notion that the closet is, by definition, terrible. We all have closets—we need them. We need these spaces where our real and true self is truly safe. That’s what a closet is for.

So I ask you to imagine, if you would, what is your space apart, the place where you are really you. Imagine that space–complete with a door. What color is it? What are the walls like? Are they upholstered? Wallpapered? Or are the walls unfinished, exposing the lines of mud and tape. What’s the lighting like? Is there a light? Track lighting? A single compact florescent, hanging, perilously close to your head? Is there a lock on the door? Which side of the door is that lock on?

On this National Coming Out Day, we celebrate opening that closet door. We celebrate the beauty of our in-most selves. This is not a day to dispose of those spaces where our real selves reside. But a day to celebrate the beauty of humanity, and beg that our closets not become tombs.

Because it’s true, sometimes our closets are dangerous places. Filled with sharp corners. They are cramped, smelly. There is no light. No space. Barely any air to breathe. I think of these as the places where we house our skeletons and other things we wish were dead. We try to ignore these closets–shoving into them all those things we would rather deny about ourselves. All that we think is rotten and putrid.

This is Lazarus’ tomb. The place where that 4-day dead body lay, resting against the stony insides of that tomb, his death filling the air with a putrid stench. The kind of smell that you can see.

I don’t know about you, but I have lived in that closet. That stinky, dark, tomb of a closet. For a long time, I didn’t even realize I’d taken up residence there. But, my real-self felt dangerous, out of place, unwelcome in the world. And so, without even considering it, I forced that part of me, that real part of me, to live a squalid existence. I suppose part of me thought that if I merely starved the real part of me, if I smothered it with darkness, that it might die.

I imagine that some of you have lived in that closet-tomb too.

But then, by the grace of God, I met a few Esthers. Remember, Esther? She was the woman that we read about earlier. Hers is the story of a young woman married to a king—a king that did not know she was Jewish. He merely knew she was beautiful. When the scoundrels of the kingdom plotted to kill all the Jewish folks, Esther recognized that her closet had become a tomb. And that it was now time to stand up, to open that closet door, and step out. Indeed, she needed to re-arrange the furniture in her closet, and invite the king in–invite him into her own vulnerability. I wonder what her closet looked like? What that place where she was real was like? What it took her to let someone else see into that space of truth? I don’t know. But I am astounded that she did it, all so that she might save her people.

I can’t tell you that my own Esthers have been such grand heroes. I’m not sure that they even know that they served as such to me. They were ordinary people, people just like you here tonight, people who have heartbreak and hope, people who love. People who got angry. People who were occasionally obnoxious. But, there were two things about these people. Two things that mattered:
1. Through a lot of hard work, they’d begun to re-arrange and re-decorate their closets. Made them beautiful. They’d taken away the rough hewn walls, and made them comfortable and cozy. They cherished their real selves as gifts from God.
2. And, they were willing to let me in. Willing to be vulnerable enough to allow me to know their own closets.

These closets, I think of them more like a womb, the womb described in our psalm today. This is the womb where God knit our in-most being. A sacred place of forming and creation. A place of warmth and safety, a deeply connected place, with an umbilical cord to the heart of life, and yet still set apart. A place where the real-self is held and cherished. Honored.

It is these Esthers who, through their own vulnerability, showed me how to live. And on this eve of National Coming out Day, I am grateful. Profoundly grateful. Grateful that my closet door is open—that the walls are finely decorated with a beautiful green linen. The light is soft and warm. It is cozy, safe. Inviting. And still mine. Like a womb.

I think of that day for Lazarus. Remember, he had been in the tomb, dead. Smelly dead. Dead for four days. Oh, how often we have felt that kind of dead in the closet, right? Numb to the world. Cut-off from the place of life.

I wonder then, how it was for Lazarus, when that stone was rolled away. When the fresh air came pouring into the closet-tomb. When the putrid smell of his flesh rushed away, and the light poured onto him. I wonder what it was like, raising his arms up again–lifting his limbs into the light. Hearing Jesus’ words: Come Out. I wonder what it was for him to feel the freshness of the air filling up his lungs.

I wonder–because I know what that was for me. And I imagine this is true of many of you too–that moment when at long last you felt as if you were whole. That moment when you knew that your real-self was welcomed, and loved. That moment, when you knew you no longer needed to hide that self away, wishing it would die. That moment, when it became possible that the tomb might just become a womb. When the closet of death could instead become a place to celebrate and cherish the real-ness of you. The person God created you to be. It is an amazing moment. A moment beyond words. A moment of release and hope, and stunning possibility.

And it is good. But there are so many who still long to know that moment. Too many.

Which is why Jesus gives one more command to the crowd around him. “Unbind him and let him go.”

This, I think, is Jesus way of saying to all of us—all of us–do your best to be an Esther in the world. Do your best to claim your full self-for the sake of your people. For the sake of others. For your own sake. Because no one, no one, should redecorate alone.

And it is by this that we will be able to go out into the world–redecorating closets everywhere. Turning tombs into places of safety. It is by this that we will make it possible for everyone among us to claim their real-self. Their whole self. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, straight. Whole and beautiful, just as God created us.

Let it be so. Amen.

March 31, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


Acts 10:34–43
Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24
1 Corinthians 15:19–26
Luke 24:1–12

This is the story of yes. God’s yes. God’s yes in a world that seems hell bent on no.

Though, to be honest with you, sometimes “no” is easier. Easier to understand, easier to take, easier to settle in to. Easier to believe.

Here’s that story, the story of No:

The tomb is empty because his body was stolen.
The tomb is empty because he was eaten by wild dogs.
The tomb is empty because they’d come to the wrong place.

The specifics may vary, but it’s pretty easy to do. Easy to rest into. To say “no.” Saying No requires nothing of us. We simply push the offending thought from our mind. Solve the cognitive dissonance. These women were mistaken. Because, Resurrection, well, that doesn’t make any sense.

And it doesn’t.

We like to make sense. It is simpler that way. We like things to move logically, from cause to affect. We believe the statistics. The math. The finality of death.

You’ve heard this no. Indeed, for many of us the sound of no reverberates across our hearts.

  • Heard in the sounds of rejection,
  • in the balance of our bank accounts.
  • in bad news from doctors.
  • as the statisticians tell us about the grim future for the church.

This no is heard in every moment that tries to narrow our future, hem us in. Strip away our identity, the very center of our being, with claims its claims of inevitability. The assurance there is no escape.

Over and over again, the world says “no.” This cannot be done. It will not be. And so often it seems it is better to merely take our lumps and rest into the narrow reality of no. Of impossibility.

But I know that I am standing now in a room full of folks who aren’t all that concerned with this resounding chorus of “No.” I am in a room of folks who resist that catchy tune, the siren song of, “that’s never gonna happen.”

Now, we’re not always that good at it. We here get lulled in, just like anyone else, the tune of “no” sounding strong in our ears, catching us like an earworm. The “no” so subtle and familiar, it fades and becomes as background music in our lives, slowly sucking our hope away.

But, we do know something different here. We know what it is to hear “yes.” We know what it is to believe that the impossible can happen, and that indeed it does. Over and over again. Because we’ve seen it.

On that day, when the women went to the tomb with their spices and burial perfumes, they had expectations. They knew what they were looking for—the great big “no” from Rome. The “no” that declared their beloved teacher dead. But. instead, they encountered a “yes”. An unexpected, loud, incomprehensible “yes.” Spoken in resounding words—reverberating against their memories, against this man they had known. And they knew, they knew in their hearts, that against all possibility, it was true.

God said, “yes.”

God said “yes” because our God will not take “no” for an answer. Not yours, not mine, not Rome’s, nor any political machine, or anything that thrives on the narrowness of human depravity. God says “yes,” over and over again. Indeed, our God keeps on ushering in the kingdom, despite all odds.

This is what we learned again in our Easter Vigil last night. God’s salvation history is a tune played throughout time. The melody that carries us through. This Easter morning is not a strange new creation, but rather an echo of Noah, and Jonah, of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. It is an echo of the promise that we will each be given a new heart. It is a resounding chorus of God’s yes, magnified by all the other yeses we know in history. The yes given to us in our own baptism. This is the joy our trumpets sound.

God will keep on ushering in the kingdom, over and over again.

Even if it kills God.

And it did.

Do you see it? Do you see this yes?

  • It is in this community that celebrates the spirit of each one gathered here.
  • It is in the triumphs of those who declare: I will live fully, embracing the wounds I’ve born.
  • It is in the people who are so passionate about the education of our children in this community—the people who believe, who know, justice is possible.
  • It is in the hard work of those who painted, who cleaned, who cooked, to help revitalize the fellowship hall. Echoing a “yes” that declares something amazing can happen here.
  • It is in our youth and their parents who worked so hard to make Easter breakfast happen.

This “yes” becomes a resounding chorus, drowning out the slow din and dirge of “no.” This “yes” names the kingdom of God breaking in around us—surprising us far beyond our capacity to anticipate, to measure, to predict with simple statistics.

And here’s the yet more beautiful thing about this “yes,” about this resurrection… it is growing up everywhere. In the places you know, but most assuredly in places unexpected—like a tomb just outside Jerusalem.

There are “yeses” yet to be discovered, like the softening warmth of spring, creeping into places unexpected. And now, it is our joy, our great privilege, to discover this yes anew, seeking the green blade that rises from the buried grain. Seeking this new life, this yes in the outcast, in the one we have judged. The one we have despised. The one we have shunned.

Because this very same yes, is poured on us. The yes that brought us to new life in our own baptism. The yes that poured over our heads, we too, who once were dead, have now been raised to God’s resounding and overpowering yes.


Future Story
November 4, 2012, 10:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

All Saints Day

November 4, 2012

Isaiah 25:6–9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1–6
John 11:32–44

It’s been a devastating week, in the truest sense of the word devastation. From the Caribbean to Maine, life has been completely upended, tossed about in mighty waves, blown from its very foundations. Our hearts break, as Hurricane Sandy has claimed so much.

There are too many who still long for clean water, for food, for electricity.

Today we will take a special collection as a way to support those affected. As a small way of sharing our desire, our hope, that things will get better, that people will know that we care, that relief will come.

Yet, hope is a strange word for those whose lives have been flooded with the waves of the Atlantic, the grief of losing a loved one, the utter despair and frustrations that haunt us. It is a strange word when the evidence of life and picture presented is as muddy and dim as a town ransacked by Sandy. It is a strange word, when there seems no way forward, when it seems everything is struggle.

But on examination, it seems that hope itself is actually a function of struggle. It is a function of the belief that we have a “future story,” that there must be something better than this. Even if we cannot imagine it. Even if it is buried under mud and debris, pain, and grief. Shadowed by the whispers of improbability.

In our Gospel text this morning, Martha had lost hope. Her brother had died, despite their desperate pleas that Jesus come with all due haste. Laid in the tomb, bound in grave clothes, and sealed behind stone, Martha was sure that every ounce of hope lay locked behind an impossible door, shrouded in stench. The only glimmer she had lay in a far off dream that she barely understood.

Seeing Martha in grief, Jesus responded with his own tears. Some have proposed that Jesus’ tears reflected frustration, as much as grief. Grief that this beloved one had died and frustration that we so easily lose our hope.

With a great crowd around him, a swarm of frustration and confusion, the stone is rolled away, and Jesus calls into the tomb: Lazarus, come out. I imagine his words fell silently on the crowd, as they burrowed into the people, sinking into a sickening sense of embarrassment for Jesus, for themselves. And then, despite themselves, they heard a stirring, a shuffle, movement. And suddenly, the knot of despair was loosened, and hope was born again as Lazarus stumbled out. While the gathered still held their breath, Jesus leaned into them, pleading that they unbind him, and let him go. I’m certain that in so doing, they unbound their own capacity to hope.

The challenge though, is that we, who have yet to see a man rise from the dead, well we tend to get pretty cynical about hope. This is the stuff of fairy tales and day dreams.

Indeed, our culture honors the realistic and precise. Measuring our hope in poll numbers, well measured predictions. We want to be sure what we can expect, preparing ourselves for the worst case scenario with survival kits, retirement savings, and insurance policies.

And while there is a place for being realistic. But if we were always realistic:

  • Our ancestors would not have ventured to this swampy land to build churches that inspired the faith of so many generations.
  • No one would have ever thought a bunch of Swedes and Bohemians could make a church that would risk itself to be open to all people.
  • We wouldn’t be here today, encouraging a new generation of faith.

Our ancestors, the Saints of old, gave us the faith, a faith rooted in a certain hope for the future. They gifted us with an understanding that God’s church matters in the lives of those gathered here now, and into the future. They gave us the certain hope that God would work through us now, and for generations to come.

Here’s what this looks like:

  • It looks like Sunday School teachers, who invest in children and teach these sacred stories.
  • It looks like the people of this community who work to make the world a better place, through volunteering with the food pantry, Hepzibah, CROP walk, the library, giving blood.
  • It looks like people who treat their coworkers and employees with dignity and respect—even though there are days this is a challenge.
  • It looks like people who love their community, helping with PADS, our schools, encouraging meaningful civic involvement.

These are all things born of hope, born of faith, granted to us by the faith and hope of those who have gone before us. They are small hopes that rest in our great hope, the promise God has given each of us.

And the thing is we are invited into bigger hopes yet: hopes that fundamentally change those things that break our hearts. Hopes that are larger than a single generation. Perhaps even larger than our imagination.

The hope that all children will have a warm and safe place to be at night. The hope that our education systems would honor the potential and possibility in each child. The hope that all of our elders would be regarded with dignity and respect. These are hopes that seem impossible—and yet I believe God invites us to long for them regardless of our capacity to achieve them. Regardless of whether or not they are realistic, because it turns out, our God’s hopes have always been beyond us. Always.

God’s are the type of hopes that raise the dead.

It is true and real, there are days of tears. Days that seem impossible. And yet even our grief points to our longing, our hope that one day all our tears will be wiped dry, and we will all, with Lazarus, gather at that great feast upon the mountain. A feast with good food, and great wine.

So, for now, we make do with a glimmer, with a foretaste of that feast to come. Gathering here, at this table, sent out into the world as signs of God’s great promise, signs of real hope. We rise up as God’s great Saints, resting God’s hope for all creation. God’s hope, which is most definitely a sure promise.


At Wisdom’s Table
August 15, 2012, 9:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The truth is, I was never a very good student. Sure, I got adequate grades and I have pretty good skills in the art of filling in bubbles with my number 2 pencil. But, I was never a “good” student. Ms. Bujanski, in 10th grade can attest to that. I used to sit in the back row with my geometry text book, seeking out all the little triangles in the book—because one of our lessons had declared that such an activity would be helpful to my learning. Everyday I’d announce the new total. Ms. Bujanski told me I wasn’t cute.

She was right. I was annoying. Bored might be more accurate, but in a 10th grader, bored and annoying might as well be the same thing.

It’s also true, though, that I loved geometry. Proofs were my favorite. Indeed, I think I fell in love for the first time when my love of proofs was echoed by a young woman sitting across the circle from me in youth group. But that is a story for another time…  Geometry was cool in all its predictive glory, its symmetry and well-reasoned rules. I liked it, and it made sense—and so when homework assignments insulted my intelligence, well… I got a bit surly. Geometry, you are beautiful and wise; textbook, show some respect.

Now, I have learned how to behave myself (mostly), so as to I avoid the ire of the Ms. Bujanksi’s of the world.  But, I’m still not a “good” student. At least not at my core. Most of the time, I’m sitting in the back wishing for a real conversation. A moment to explore the intricacies of thoughts and ideas; a moment to hear the wisdom that sits around the table. A moment to get to the heart of things that matter and make real change. A moment for the expert to sit down, and stop talking.

When I dove into the world of theology and God talk, things didn’t get any better. Though ostensibly, they should have. It made sense that I should listen to Ms. Bujanski regarding geometry, because she was an expert (as far as that goes). I was not. But, when it comes to the ways of God, well, I’m not so sure any of us can claim expert status. Indeed, I’m more and more convinced that we don’t really have much of a clue about God; we’re all fumbling in the Light, seeking to understand. None of us can claim to really “get” God. Though, there seems to be no shortage of folks claiming expert status.

I think that I shall call this idolatry. I know, it’s a harsh word—idolatry being one of those used in the 10 commandments. You know the list: those things you shouldn’t do. But, if I’m honest, I feel that strongly about it. Perhaps more, if that were possible. I get pretty blisteringly mad at the arrogance of experts who claim they’ve got a handle on God, and that they’d like to teach me. On my good days, this brings out the 10th grader in me all over again. On my bad days, I don the rigid flame-throwing eyes my mother passed on to me—and I feel a certain kinship with John the baptizer hollering: you brood of vipers!

Though, I am now a polite person, so I merely mutter these things under my breath, or write them down on my notepad.

Here’s why I think it’s idolatry. There’s this lovely, and long, and complicated passage in John about how Jesus is the bread of Life. He says in numerous ways: I am the bread of Life. Over and over again—and despite all his attempts, the folks just don’t get it.  I’m reminded of my attempts to explain rain to my 3 year-old. This passage comes just after Jesus has fed 5,000 people in an extraordinary way. And their curiosity is piqued. Imagine, if you could get a handle on that kind of power. You’d never have to buy bread again. It’d be like winning the lottery. No more worries about how you’ll eat—you’ll just snap your fingers and poof: tuna fish sandwiches.

I’d follow him too.

But Jesus says no, you don’t get it. At all. This isn’t some technical solution to get food in your belly every day. Follow me, and you’ll have the Life of God within you. Living in you. And that’ll give you the capacity to adapt to all sorts of things, especially when a group of you get together and share that Life (that Light) together.

And it’s beautiful. Though, admittedly at times weird. That whole “eating my flesh and blood” part of John can be gruesome if taken the wrong way. But, even that’s beautiful because it’s so incarnational, so loving once you work it through. I am constantly amazed at how extraordinary it is that our God would choose to dwell in each of us.

So extraordinary, indeed, that we choose not to believe it. So extraordinary that we doubt it, mistrust it. And so, we look to experts to explain it, give us a handle on it.

And unfortunately, there are just enough folks out there who really love being the expert (sadly, I’m guilty of this too). It’s a nice ego boost. It’s payback for filling in those scantrons well, for those late nights with Augustine. It’s a fun opportunity to expound on the meaning of scripture and the will of God, while people listen with rapt attention for that word that will explain everything, searching for that winning lottery ticket.

And it’s idolatry. Idolatry to think you’re an expert, and idolatry to look to an expert and deny the Little Christ that is within you already.

It’s idolatry because God’s the expert. God’s the only one who really gets it, and when we look to ourselves or others as if they were God… well that’s the best definition of idolatry I know.

Indeed, Wisdom has set her table, lavishly adorning it with bread and wine, and she has invited us all, especially the simple (Proverbs 9:1-6). We are all invited to eat at this table of Wisdom, that we might live and walk in the way of insight. All of us.

Now, I think it’s pretty important to notice what’s not in this image. Most notably: Ms. Bujanski is not standing at the head of the table—lest she was the incarnation of Wisdom herself. And I doubt that. A lot. No, Wisdom is the expert here, that is, God. And we’re all invited together, to sit around together and feast at her table. Again, all of us.

And since we know that Christ lives within us, it seems to me the best way to invite Wisdom to the expert chair in our day is to share that Christ together, respecting that we all are Little Christs. Truth is, I’m pretty certain that the wisdom of God will only come through when we’re all sharing together—challenging each other, asking hard questions, seeking together. Together, at the table. Wisdom’s table.

Now, lest I sound like an anti-intellectual, let me be clear, I’m not. Remember, I love geometry. I’m a bit of a nerd. Intellectual inquiry is important, and has its place at this table—but there are other ways of knowing, other ways of experiencing God. As many different ways as there are people at this table, as there have ever been people at this table. That God of ours is awfully creative.

My frustration is really about those intellectuals that presume they are experts, that somehow they know more about God than the rest of us. Because I think the truth is that none of us know. We’re all trying to figure it out together. All of us fumbling in the light, as little Christs, seeking God in our midst.

And so selfishly, I’m wishing that all those experts would sit down. Stop talking. And give us a little time a moment for a real conversation. A moment to explore the intricacies of our thoughts and ideas together; a moment to hear the wisdom that sits around the table. A moment to ask hard questions of each other. A moment to get to the heart of things that matter and make real change.

More on that real change later…