The Last Time


"The Last Supper", Jesus Mafa

Scripture Text:  John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Sometimes life spins a little out of control. Sometimes things don’t go exactly like the carefully scripted plan we have in our own minds. Sometimes we have to let go or leave behind those in our lives before we’re actually ready to do so. Our lives are full of “last times”, those special, much-too-fleeting moments that we spend with those we love. It is those times when all we can do is trust that the groundwork has been laid for what must continue. That had to be a little of what Jesus was going through on this night. Think about it…he had spent his ministry gathering those around him, teaching them, loving them, and indeed shaping them into who they were. And now…here he was completely out of time…the end was approaching. Night had begun to fall. All he could do was trust that the seeds he had planted in his followers would continue to grow and flourish even in a new environment and a new time. So on this night, he invited all those who love him—this somewhat motley crew of misfits and ordinary ones to sit around the table and enjoy their time together. He knew what was about to happen. He knew that this would be the last.

That is where we enter the story…in the midst of this evening meal…this Passover meal…the last meal. The feast is prepared. The loved ones are gathered together. We have visions of a perfect meal and a perfect time together. But, as all of us know, that is not always the way that family meals come together. This was no exception. Nestled beneath this wonderful feeling of closeness and fellowship were chords of betrayal and distrust, signs of denial and misunderstandings, and an all-too-constant stream of arguing among the disciples. Does that sound familiar?

But in this Passover meal that we have come to call the Last Supper, Jesus chooses to share himself—his very body and blood with all of those that were gathered—this denying, betraying, bickering, and beloved lot. It was a way of giving them something to remember him so that they would not feel so alone without him. He gave them something to hold onto—to touch and to taste—something to do to keep Christ close in their hearts, to feel the very real Presence of Christ forever. On this night, Jesus gives the gift of himself and a way for all of us to remember who we are.

Our culture probably doesn’t do well with “lasts”.  We seem to be always rushing to the next thing, not wanting to hurt or grieve or even hold on to what may be somewhat painful moments in our lives.  We rush to get “over it”, to move on.  As many of you know, I am dealing with my own set of “lasts” right now.  As I prepare to close my chapter at St. Paul’s and begin a new chapter at FUMC, Cleveland, Tx, the “lasts” seem to be coming in a flurry right now.  I am such that I tear up and sometimes even blatantly bawl at the emptiness and, yet, I really want to savor it, to feel every moment of it, to remember it, to make it a part of me, and to leave a part of myself.  That is what Jesus was trying to do.  I don’t think he was trying to “get them through it” and he was definitely not wanting to rush for it to be over.  He was wanting them to experience it, to savor it, indeed, to remember it.  Do this in remembrance of me.  The beauty of this last meal was the intimacy and the relationship.  These were friends dining together–friends who had loved and argued, celebrated and cried, friends who had been called together one by one.  They were all different, coming from different lifestyles with different gifts to offer.  They were us.  We are them.  And this was the moment that they would remember when everything had changed.

For on this night of nights, Jesus drew them in, not to take care of them, but to help them remember. They had to remember enough to hand the memory on.  The Greek word for it is anamnesis.  We would translate it as remembering.  But it is more.  It is not merely remembering those things that happened to us; it is remembering what came before and what was passed on, remembering what was part of our tradition and our heart.  It is finding a memory of what came before that leads you on your journey beyond.  We often tout “institutional memory” as if it is a way of remembering what happened to whom and where and when.  But it is more.  It is a way of imparting what is important, what matters, what gives life to those that come next.  It is a way of giving it wings to fly and breath to survive.  That is why this night was so important.  Jesus did not choose to shut himself off and grieve what was coming but instead immersed himself in a circle of friends so that he could live through them.  Experiencing a “last time” alone is painful; experiencing a “last time” with a gift of friends and a meal will remain forever.

This is the night we remember, the night that Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup, the night that Jesus knelt and washed the feet of the disciples, the night that Jesus forgave betrayal and welcomed life.  A few hours later the soldiers would come and the end would begin.  But the memory of that last time will last forever.  Do this in remembrance of me.

The glad hosannas are no longer heard.  The shouting is over, the palms are gathered; the shadows lengthen; the plotting begins in earnest. Knowing the outcome, we come with heavy hearts.  And what do we hear?  An unchanged and unchanging message of love; God’s love, a poet’s love, a woman’s love.  God’s love, foretold by Isaiah, in the shape of a servant.  (Moira B. Laidlaw)

On this night of nights, we remember.  But we also experience our own “lasts”.  What memories have been imparted to you?  What do you remember that makes you?  What can you impart to those that come after you?  Embrace your lasts, hold them, love them, and then pass them along.

Grace and Peace,






REMEMBERING OUR JOURNEY: When We Saw That There Was More

GlobeScripture Passage:  John 4: 7-26

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Do you remember that time when you realized that it was not all about you?  Do you remember that time when you realized that God was not just planted in your home sanctuary waiting for you to enter?  Do you remember the time when you realized that there was, oh, so much more?  There is some point in all of our faith journeys when we realize that the road we are following and the understandings of faith that we hold are not all there is to God.  It happens to all of us as we begin to see that God’s reach is far beyond where we are standing, even greater than the distance that we could possibly traverse or, for that matter, even imagine traversing.  As our journey winds toward Jerusalem, we remember that day when we realized that there was something more.

It’s probably a good thing that the disciples didn’t seem to be around for Jesus’ indiscretions.  They probably would have felt the need to pull him back into what was expected of him, what was expected of all of them.  After all, he was supposedly the Messiah.  This was surely going to be a big ugly black mark on Jesus’ Messiah resume’!  Here he was, not just breaking one big rule, but at least three!  First of all, he approaches, unescorted, and speaks to a woman.  Well see, this was just wrong.  After all, anything could happen!  (After all, there were writings in the Talmud that contended that speaking to a woman would ultimately lead to unchastity–or even worse!) Then, secondly, Jesus speaks to this woman that apparently, for whatever reason, did not have the best reputation. Now, in all probability, this woman was probably just a victim of some form of Levirite marriage process gone terribly bad, where she had been handed in marriage from relative to relative as her husbands died, leaving her penniless and out of options.  But we have to obey the rules, right?  Even if they make no sense!  And, as if all this wasn’t bad enough, here Jesus was speaking to a Samaritan, the so-called “enemy”, one who thought differently and believed differently and worshipped differently than the standard fare of proper society.   And Jesus, in pure Jesus fashion, did not just speak to her but actually engaged her in conversation, engaged her in spiritual and theological dialogue.  (I think Jesus may possibly have been a big talker!) Yeah, good thing the disciples weren’t there to see THAT!

But, really, who made those rules?  I mean, they weren’t bad rules.  They were made to keep the faithful, to insure the identity of people of faith.  On the surface, that doesn’t sound all bad.  After all, this faith journey is hard enough, right?  But, oh, think what you would miss.  The truth is, this story is about more than Jesus breaking rules.  The boundaries of the first century understanding of God and God’s children are crashing down at this moment.  We have grown accustomed to The Gospel being a story of encounters–encounters with God, encounters with each other, encounters with those that believe the way we believe, that can encourage us on our journey.  But in this story, all those pre-set notions of what encounter means begin to fail.  Jesus enters a new phase of the journey.

Up until this point, Jesus’ encounters have been pretty ethno-centric. But, here, the Gospel begins to spread to other ethnicities and other peoples. It begins to include an encounter with the world.  In this story, we finally realize that there is more than what we know, more than that to which we have become accustomed, more than what we can really imagine.  This was the point when we encountered a Savior that was not just ours, a Messiah that did not come just to release us from our tightly-held little world, a God who is created all there is and called it good.  Think back to this moment when you realized that Jesus was indeed the Savior of the World.

This is something that we so easily forget.  Our social language turns to self-preservation, to making ourselves great, and we forget that the needs of the world our ours.  We forget that if we have a voice, we are called to speak out for others.  We forget that if we have a heart, we are called to care what happens even to those that we do not know.  Because just because we do not know them does not mean that they are not our family, that they are not part of us.  The pictures are hard.  We’d rather turn and go back to our comfortable lives and hope and pray that terrorism and tyranny and thoughtlessness never touches our borders.  But the problem is that these pictures are ours.

I posted this before the United States sent 59 Tomahawk missiles to Syria in retaliation, or to prove a point, or just to exercise muscle.  Now, honestly, I would like to say that I’m a pacifist.  I think it’s the right thing.  I think it’s the Gospel thing.  I think it’s what Jesus would have done.  I think it’s the God thing.  But I’ve also walked through Auschwitz.  Surely, we need to do SOMETHING.  So, I guess we did.  I pray that no one was hurt.  I pray that it doesn’t go farther.  But I also pray that we will PAY ATTENTION to others’ needs.

Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib Province, Syria (Ammar Abdullah/Reuters)

Our Lenten journey is not just about preparing our neatly-constructed lives to be interrupted by the Cross.  This Lenten journey calls us to a broadening, a widening, of our minds and our lives.  On this journey, Jesus is gathering us to the Cross–all of us.  So think back to the point when you realized it was about something more, that Jesus was not just your personal Savior, but the One who came to set us free–free from our tightly-bound existence, free to become fully human in unity with all the world, all of God’s children, all of Creation.  The Cross means that we are called to realize not only that there is more than what we see, but that WE are indeed responsible for it–Tomahawks and all.

To belong to a community is to begin to be about more than myself. (Joan Chittister)

As our Lenten journey narrows toward the gates of Jerusalem, let it also be a journey that widens our minds and opens our hearts to all that God is and all that God desires for you.  Let our journey widen to include the world.

Grace and Peace,


Package Deal


Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1490.

Scripture Text:  Romans 8: 6-11 (Lent 5A)

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

So many times, this Scripture is one of those that is read as if being “human”, being “flesh” is bad, as if somehow body and spirit are not compatible existing together in Creation.  That’s not the way it was intended.  After all, didn’t God created us as “flesh”?  For Paul, of the “flesh” is not “human”, per se, but rather a perversion of who we should be as humans. But it is the “way of the Spirit” that brings life.  Without the Spirit, the essence of Life breathed into the body ultimately dies.  The two belong together.  God’s Spirit brings breath and life.  Paul’s words are not mean to be dualistic, separating two unlike things, but, rather, transformational, depicting the salvific act of transforming sides of a whole that need each other.

Once again, it is a good Lenten passage. We tend to get wrapped up in those things of the “flesh”—our needs, our desires, our fears. Paul is not saying that we dispense with them as bad. Paul is making the claim that the Spirit can breathe new life into them. There is no sense in fighting to sustain our identity apart and away from God. It will ultimately die. Paul has more of a “big picture” understanding than we usually let him have. He’s saying that the flesh in and of itself is not bad but the Spirit brings it to life. I don’t think he is drawing a dividing line between darkness and light, between mind and Spirit, between death and life; rather, he is claiming that God’s Spirit has the capability of crossing that line, of bringing the two together, infused by the breath of God. It is a spirituality that we need, one that embraces all of life. It is one that embraces the Spirit of Life that is incarnate in this world, even this world. I mean, really, what good would the notion of a disembodied Spirit really do us? Isn’t the whole point that life is breathed into the ordinary, even the mundane, so that it becomes holy and sacred, so that it becomes life?

And here’s the important part.  Verse 1 of this chapter from Romans says that there is “no condemnation”.  In other words, through Jesus Christ, we are more than flesh.  We are more than those things that we think “make us”.  We are more than the identity that the world inflicts upon us.  Through Christ, we are “flesh embodied”.  Our flesh and our spirit, our body and our soul, our humanness and that piece of the Godself that was so lovingly and graciously supplanted in us is one, undivided.  It is that total self that God loves–not just the Spirit, not just the things that are not of this “flesh”, but everything.  We are a package deal.  Don’t you love package deals?

In his book, Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr says that “in mature religion, the secular becomes the sacred. There are no longer two worlds. We no longer have to leave the secular world to find sacred space because they’ve come together.” In essence, our body and our spirit are one. That is what Paul was saying. Life in the Spirit is an embrace of our whole being. There are no parts that are elevated above the others. It is a new way of learning to see. It is a new way of learning to be. Everything becomes one in God. There are no good parts and bad parts. Everything is waiting to be transformed in the Spirit.

Here’s another way to illustrate it. How many of you like to eat raw eggs? How about a nice tasty tablespoon of flour? Or, perhaps you would rather have a wholesome cup of sickeningly sweet Karo syrup? Well, obviously, none of those things sound that appetizing. In fact, for most of us, they all sound downright disgusting. (I say “most” because I do know someone that eats syrup.  He knows who he is!) But if you take those things and combine them, along with some other ingredients, you get my Grandmother’s pecan pie. Alone, they are worthless. But as a whole, they are wonderful.

We cannot pick and choose what parts of our lives we want to be with God. All of the mail is opened and read. For if one is to live a true life of holiness, there is nothing left out or hidden from sight. There is no secular. It is all sacred. There is no thought in our mind that is not part of the spirit. And there is not one of us that is of lesser importance than another in a true community of faith. Every part of us, no matter what it looks like, no matter what is tastes like, is necessary to make the recipe wonderful. Life in the spirit means that everything belongs in a perfectly balanced recipe for life that perfectly reflects and perfectly reveals all that there is and all that there is meant to be. That’s us–we’re a package deal.  Thanks be to God!

The rare moment is not the moment when there is something worth looking at, but the moment when we are capable of seeing. (Joseph Wood Krutch)

On this day in your Lenten journey, think what it would mean to embrace your whole life, every part of it, as the gift that God meant it to be.

Grace and Peace,


An Ambiguous Journey

AmbiguityScripture Text:  Genesis 2: 15-17

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Well, you know the rest of the story.  The first couple ate from the forbidden tree (which, most artistic renditions notwithstanding, was not depicted as an apple tree) and the ambiguous journey began.  Life is full of ambiguities; faith is full of ambiguities; and this season of Lent is fraught with ambiguity.  We begin the season in the desert wilderness where Jesus, the fully human one, the one who we so try to emulate in every way is tempted.  Jesus, tempted?  Are you kidding me?  Then the ministry begins as he gathers this sort of wild and motley crew of followers who seem to be somewhat confused and completely inexperienced.  They then spend a couple of years hanging around this lake in the region of Galilee essentially trying to get people to wake up and look at themselves and their lives and in the process, they continually antagonize the religious establishment.  This would be the religious establishment of Jesus’ own religion, the one into which he was born.  And then after years of ministry, the scene moves to Jerusalem, to the holy city, the place of the Temple.  And there, there Jesus is tried, convicted, and put to death.  Ambiguity doesn’t begin to describe it.  The journey we take is not a straight and pre-paved pathway.  It is fraught with questions and the perils of ambiguity that challenge us and call us to go deeper into the journey and, at the same time, to go deeper into ourselves.

But Ray Anderson says that “spirituality is the ability to live with ambiguity.”  In other words, perhaps it’s MEANT to be this way.  It is part of our faith journey.  It is the way that we wind our way to God.  Because, think about it, what if the story was different?  What if the first couple had not eaten of the forbidden tree and had instead spent their lives living in some sort of utopian paradise we affectionately call “The Garden”?  Sure, they would have been good children and all but they never would have grown.  They never would have grown to understand God not as a rule-maker but as one who calls us forth into life, ambiguous though it may be.  And if Jesus had not been tempted?  Well, what good would that do us?  We would never even understand the perils that humanity faces.  And what if the disciples had been a group of impeccably well-trained rabbinical seminary professors who had no need to massage their own needs and egos? (No comment.)  And what if the religious establishment had just accepted Jesus and his new way of seeing and the Passion would never have transpired and Jesus had died of old age sometime in his late 40’s.  What if the journey were straight and predictable?  Well, we wouldn’t need faith.  We wouldn’t need to grow.  We would be wonderful little rule-followers with no need for spirituality. Hey, we probably never really would have gotten out of the garden.  And think what we would have missed!  Maybe this is a good lesson to remember in this strange time in which our society and our politics seems to have landed.  Maybe the ambiguities should prompt us to journey, to question, to change.

Lent (and life) is indeed ambiguous.  There is wilderness and city, darkness and light, temptation and grace, repentance and forgiveness, anointing and betrayal, dust and wine, death and life.  Maybe Lent is an ambiguous journey to teach us how to live, to teach us how to traverse the ambiguities that are part of our faith journey.  Ambiguity is not bad.  So many of us try to rid ourselves of it, try to “nail down” what life and what God means.  Is that really what you want, a God that you can explain, can “nail down”?  Do you really want a God that holds no mystery, no wonder, no awe?  And what would you do if everything about this God was explained and understood?  What if you DID have God all figured out?  Where would you be then?  You would miss this ambiguous journey, a journey of searching and questing, of broadening and growth, of corners and turns around which you will always find life anew.  You would have no need for faith, no need for spirituality.  You would have no need for God to lead you through this ambiguous journey.

Meaning does not come to us in finished form, ready-made; it must be found, created, received, constructed. We grow our way toward it.(Ann Bedford Ulanov)

On this ambiguous journey, think of those things that you have found anew.  Think of the life that they give.

Grace and Peace,


Psalm 95: A Season for Worship

Girl WorshippingPsalter:  Psalm 95 (Lent 3A)

O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!  For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.  In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.  The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.  O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!  For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!  Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.  For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.” Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Sometimes I think that “worship” in our culture is defined based on how gratifying it is to us, on whether or not it is meaningful to us or leave us feeling “spiritual”.   Our worship is sort of graded based on how good the sermon is, or how wonderful the music is, or how it makes us feel.  I know I fall into that trap.  There are just certain styles of worship and worship music that do not feel “worshipful” to me.  But, really, is that what worship is?  What is the point of worship?  Worshippers in Early Judaism believed that God was actually IN the worship space that they carried with them.  And so they would approach the tabernacle with awe and joy.  They didn’t get wrapped up in worship styles or whether or not they liked the sermon.  Worship was about God, about coming into the very Presence of God with thanksgiving.  Worship was about realizing that there was more than us, that God held all of Creation in the Divine Hands and was worthy of worship.

So, when did we lose that?  When did we lose the notion that worship is not about us? Soren Kierkegaard, when talking about worship, asked that we think about what it means to us.  Using his depiction of worship as a theater, think about your own notion of worship.  Where is the stage?  (Most would say the chancel or the altar.  (Newsflash:  It’s really NOT a stage.))  Who are the actors?  (Most would say the clergy, the choir, and perhaps the ushers and acolytes, those that “make it happen”)  Who is the audience?  (Well, of course the congregation.)  But Kierkegaard would say that the stage is the whole sanctuary, perhaps the whole world, all  of those places where worship happens.  And the actors?  Well that would be us–all of us, all of us bowing in worship.  And the audience?  The audience is God.  I love that.  I think it reminds us that we are not the center of worship.  It is not about us.

The Psalm reminds us that God is the God of all, that everything is within God’s realm, resting in God.  So we are called to make a joyful noise.  It doesn’t call for happiness.  Happiness, that self-gratifying feeling, is always a little bit elusive.  But joy–joy resides in the deepest part of our being.  It is that sense of awe and presence when we know that God is there, always there, and can do nothing else but come into God’s Presence, nothing else but worship the God of us all.  God desires our worship, not because God is selfish, not because God wants to be honored, not because we in some way owe God that; God desires our worship because God desires us, wants desperately to be with us, for us to feel and know and live in God’s Presence.  And, there, there in God’s Presence, we worship.  Our whole lives, we worship.  Every moment, every place, every piece of our being, worships. O Come, Let us Sing to the Lord!

To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.  (William Temple)

On this third Sunday of the Lenten Season, think about your own worship.  Who is the audience?  What would it mean for your worship to be solely about God and not about you? 

Grace and Peace,


The Unmasking

UnmaskingScripture Passage:  2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So what does that mean to no longer look at others or even Christ from a human point of view?  I mean, how can we do anything different?  We ARE human.  And we are meant to be human, human as Christ was human, fully human. It means that, once again, we are called not to jump away from this world but to look at things differently, to bring this perspective of this “new creation” into not only our lives but the lives of others as well.  We have been reconciled with God through Christ, according to Paul.  The Divine presence of God has come to dwell with humanity for all.  We have been given that which will sustain us beyond what we perceive as our wants, our desires, and even our needs.

I think that most of us sort of pretend to be human.  We know what is right and good and we try but fear and our need for security seeps in when we least expect it.  So we once again don our masks so that we will look faithful and righteous and more put together.  But we read here that we are called to look at everything with a different point of view, something other than a “human” point of view.  It’s about a change in perception.  That’s what this journey does.  It changes our perspective.  Where we once believed in Jesus as the one to emulate, the one who came to bring us eternal life, we now view Christ as the Savior of the world, the one that has ushered the Kingdom of God into everything, even our humanness.  It changes not only the way we view Christ, but also the way we view the world.  We live as if the Kingdom of God is in our very midst–because it is. Our change in perception means that we unmask, that we find our real self, that self that sees Christ’s presence even now and sees all of God’s children as part of that Presence.

Andre Berthiame once said that “we all wear masks and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”  In other words, sometimes it is hard and perhaps a little painful, but it is the way to reveal who we are called to be.  No longer do we live our lives with some faint vision of a “someday” or a “somewhere” that is out there and to which we’re trying to journey.  God’s Presence, God’s Kingdom, is here, now.  And as God’s new creation, we see that the air is thick with its presence.  And as God’s children, our very lives are so full with God’s Presence that we can do nothing else but journey with it.

In his book, “Simply Christian“, N.T. Wright contends that “Christians are those who are already living “after death,” since Christ has raised us from the grave.  We ought more properly to speak of the world to come as “life after life after death.”  This is the change in perception.  It is looking beyond, living “as if” the Kingdom of God is here in its fullness, because that is how it will be.  It means that we live open to what God is showing us rather than walking through life with our eyes masked because we already know the way.  There is a story from the tradition of the 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers that tells of a judge who goes into the desert looking for Abba Moses, who could provide him spiritual direction.  But he returned disappointed, complaining that the only person he met was an old man, tall and dark, wearing old clothes.  And he was told, “that was Abba Moses.”  He had been so affected by his perceptions, his view of what he should find through his human view–perhaps looking for a more “cleaned up, appropriate teacher”, that he wasn’t open to all that the Kingdom held for him to learn.  That is what we are called to do on this Lenten journey–change our perceptions, unmask, begin to view our life “as if”, as if the Kingdom of God were already in our midst (because it is.)

There is no creature, regardless creature, regardless of its apparent insignificance that fails to show us something of God’s goodness. (Thomas A’Kempis)

As you journey through this Lenten season, begin to look at things differently.  Rather than limiting yourself to a human view with your pre-conceived perceptions, open yourself to what God is showing you and begin to live “as if”.

Grace and Peace,


At the Edge of the Rainbow

The Clifs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland

Scripture Passage:  Luke 3:21-22a

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.

What does it mean for the heavens to open, to somehow, whether literally or figuratively, come pouring into the earth?  When you read that, it’s a little hard to go back to the notion of the separation of the secular and the sacred.  No longer is God or whatever you think of heaven “out there”.  In some incredible, wonderful way, the Holy and the Sacred has poured into where we are.  All is sacred.

On this day when all who are Irish and all who become Irish for this day celebrate the feast day of St. Patrick, I thought we’d go back and visit his roots a little bit.  As his story goes, he was born Maewyn Succat in Roman Britain in the late 4th century.  Captured by Irish raiders when he was sixteen, he lived as a slave in Ireland for six years before escaping.  He would later return to Ireland as a missionary until his death in 460 or 461 and by the 8th century would become the land’s patron saint.  St. Patrick is, of course, associated with what we describe as Celtic Christianity.  This is a branch of Christianity that was unique to these Irish people during the Early Middle Ages.  The Celtic Christians unapologetically embraced their Celtic and Druid roots and articulated them through their new Christian lenses, even making some of their Druid gods and goddesses Christian saints.  We’re not completely sure how these Christians even got to Ireland but they were firmly established there by the 2nd century.  One view is that the Galatian Christians to whom Paul wrote (the Galts) were part of those who then migrated to what is now Wales, Ireland, and Scotland after the Roman invasion and occupation. (How cool and connected would THAT be?)

Celtic Christianity always has had a sense of pilgrimage, of journeying.  They were always, as Deborah Cronin describes it, “a bit on the edge”.  I think that would describe their physical location as well as their religious belief system.  But I also think it is where they are spiritually.  You see, the Celtic understanding is that all things are sacred.  Just as the Scripture implies, they had this strong sense that the spiritual world does indeed spill into the material world.  They embrace the image as a “thin place”, a place and time where time matters not and the spirit world is very close, a place where one can almost feel it, almost reach out and touch what is holy and sacred.  Rock bridgeThese thin places, thresholds between what is and what will be, are crossing places between the world and the Divine.  They are embraced as places of growth, as places through which we journey from one place to another, one way of seeing to another, one way of being to another.  So what we think of as ordinary places become sacred and holy as the sacred spills through them onto us.  Bridges, gateways, and causeways reconnect what is divided and make them accessible to each other.   Burial grounds mark the crossing place from life to death, from “this world” to an “other world”, from time and space to eternity and infinity.  And the rainbow?  If you remember, the ninth chapter of Genesis says that God set a bow in the clouds, a sign of the connection, the covenant, between God and the earth.

Burial site of Owen Shannon (1762-1839), Old Methodist Cemetery, Montgomery, TX (my great-great-great-great grandfather)

It is a symbol of the promise that the Sacred and the Holy is not inaccessible or removed from us but has spilled into the earth.  Never again can we become separated or isolated; never again can we close ourselves off and not move forward.

And for us?  We are always standing at the edge of the rainbow, the edge of the Sacred and the Holy.  God is in our midst and everything is Sacred.  The mundane and the ordinary is marked by God’s fingerprints and have become extraordinary.  This Lenten season is a journey of transformation.  We are moving from one way of being to another, from that mountaintop to Jerusalem, from life to death and life beyond.  And along the way are thresholds that we traverse.  We are always at the edge of the rainbow.  We just have to open ourselves to the sacredness that everything holds.  God is in our midst. Heaven has opened and has spilled into the earth.  Everywhere we walk is holy ground.

God rejoiced to see [God’s] Dream reborn.  [God] desired to mark this moment eternally, as a sign to all creation that hope is more real and permanent than despair.  [God] shone [this] perfect , invisible light–the light of joy–through all the tears that would ever flow out of human grief and suffering.  That invisible light was broken down, through our tears, into all the colours of the rainbow.  And God stretched the rainbow across the heavens, so that we might never forget the promise that holds all creation in being.  This is the promise that life and joy are the permanent reality, like the blue of the sky, and that all the roadblocks we encounter are like the clouds–black and threatening perhaps, but never the final word.  Because the final word is always “Yes”!  (Margaret Silf, in Sacred Spaces:  Stations on a Celtic Way)

On this Lenten journey, look around. What holiness do you see?  Where do you see God in your midst?  What thresholds are you crossing in your life?  

Rath De ‘ort (Gaelic, pronounced Rah Day urt, “The Grace of God on you.”)