A moment of defiance

Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Luke may be one of the most difficult to hear and even more challenging to follow. In our society of self-promotion and self-protection, we are told to 

-love our enemies 

-turn the other cheek

-do good and expect nothing in return 

-forgive the seemingly unforgivable

In today’s Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers, we are given an example of what this looks like. Remember that Joseph was the favorite among twelve brothers. His father, Jacob, showed his favoritism publicly. Moreover, Joseph tells the family of his dreams where they are bowing and honoring him. The behaviors of both Jacob and Joseph stirred up such intense jealousy that the brothers plotted to kill Joseph. At his brother Reuben’s resistance, they relented and sold him into slavery instead. Joseph was around 19 at the time. Joseph was rejected, kidnapped, enslaved, and imprisoned, and yet, he served in Egypt, and he was promoted and prospered.

Throughout this time away from his family, it is repeatedly said that “God was with him.” Joseph believed this and echoed it in his words to his brothers “it was not you who sent me here but God.” Joseph understood that the goodness of God underscores all of our experiences. Joseph saw the difficulties and cruelties he experienced as opportunities for discipline and growth. When Joseph meets with his brothers again, 20 years have passed. However, with a strong sense of purpose and a desire to serve others as if serving God, Joseph harbors no bitterness or resentment. He has been humbled by his circumstances and allows his life experiences to be places of discipline and growth. He meets his brothers again, and he kisses them, weeps on them, and they talk with him in intimate fellowship and friendship. He expresses an incomprehensible love for his brothers. They sent him away to destroy him; he returns to save them.

The story of Joseph’s time in Egypt reminded me of an article I read about a man named Charles Rodgers who lives in Florida with his two-year-old daughter. He works as an HVAC technician and salesman. He has a degree in Christian ministry and counseling and speaks to churches and organizations about social reform. At the time of the article interview Charles Rodgers was 39 years old. But, like Joseph, at age 19, his life was entirely different. He was a young man born into a life of foster care and abuse. He lived in a dangerous neighborhood with a poor school system. He blamed the world and took no responsibility. He is quoted saying, “Crime wasn’t difficult for me because I felt like the victim.”

 After his best friend was shot and killed, he set out for revenge armed and ready. Before he could get revenge, he was arrested and imprisoned. At age 20, he said, “he felt worthless like his life had no value, and yet at the same time he had a desire to prove otherwise.” Rogers said that prison gave him chances to change his life. In his view, his arrest saved lives, including his own. He used his time in prison for discipline and growth. He began challenging authority with both the prisoner hierarchy and the prison staff. He learned about himself. He learned that when he was “treated like a human, he wanted to be more humane. And, when he was treated like an animal, he acted like an animal. He also learned that “the smarter prisoners studied human behavior and learned how to “not fight” while still maintaining respect.” 

1st Corinthians tells us, “Just as we have born the image of the man of dust; we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.”  Rodgers, it seems, understood his duel nature. He understood there was something more than what he saw in himself and desired to cultivate it.

Rodgers said he would put himself in places where professionals who visited the prison were and mimic their behavior. He began volunteering for the Hospice program at Angola prison. He edited the prison newspaper and was able to create in the prison woodshop. After several appeals, his record in prison, letters of restitution to victims, and victim support for his release, he was discharged, having served 17 years of his 35-year sentence. I hear this story, and I cannot help but think. God was with Charles Rodgers, molding and forming him into the man he is today.

“Prison wasn’t great but I made it what I needed it to be to maintain my sanity and obtain my freedom.”

Charles and Joseph, both as young adults, used strength and courage as they allowed their 20 years in captivity to help mold and shape them to be the men God created them to be. Life did not go well for either of these young men, yet they used the systems of their captivity to grow and become men who would make life better for others. 

Jesus’ sermon on the plain tells us to be like Charles and Joseph. Love those who hurt us. Do good for the sake of good, turn the other cheek and forgive at all cost. In my notes, I wrote next to turn the other cheek the words “defiant love.”

For me, the struggle with “turn the other cheek’ is that it seems so completely unfair. It seems weak and unassertive, like not standing up to a bully.   But if I think of it as defiant love like the men in the stories told today. I hear strength and courage.  

Defiant love is transformational love.

It changes us and those around us. It sees the dual nature of people and recognizes the struggle we all have.  

I think Charles and Joseph are perfect examples of turning the other cheek. There was nothing submissive about their lives in captivity. They began as young men, not understanding the strength and power they possessed, but they grew into it as they served others. They loved defiantly. 

The psalm today tells us, “take delight in the Lord and he will give you your hearts desire.”

The head knows what we want, but the heart knows what we need. 

Defiant love doesn’t give us what we want; it gives us what we need.  

We want to be the favored son, 

but we need family unity.

We want to separate the good from the bad, 

but we need to recognize equal humanity.

We want others to get what we think they deserve, 

but we need to help heal the world.  

We want revenge, 

but we need reconciliation.

The people of Jesus’ day wanted a king, but Jesus, in his defiant love, gave them a servant.

Just as we have been born in the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. 

How will you love defiantly today?

Psalm 37:1-12

Genesis 45:3-11,15

1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50

Luke 6:27-38


A moment for grief

“We have this hope a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul.” Hebrews 6:19

I am currently reading Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren. As I read, I am equally comforted and discomforted by the honesty of the author’s approach to grief in the first chapters. “Feeling sadness is the cost of being emotionally alive. It is the cost even of holiness” (p.41). Warren continues to say that those who mourn are called blessed. There is a cost to being emotionally alive, but there is also a cost to being emotionally numb.

We live in a world where there is little, if any, time to mourn. We can escape those difficult emotions so quickly as we move into the busyness of life. The “doing” instead of feeling helps us at the moment. However, just as there is a cost to being emotionally alive, the cost of delaying our mourning is a prolonged process of grieving. We risk the possibility that our grief and sadness will come out in more uncomfortable public ways if it is allowed to percolate below the surface for too long. It is understandable to want to hold back those feelings. They are messy, require attention, and take our focus away from the kaleidoscopic of life. Engaging in our grief often forces us to question our significance. A spiral in this direction can be a path to hopelessness. We try to numb ourselves with distractions to help avoid this hopelessness, not realizing there is a better way.

There is a better way. We will be sad, we will mourn, and we must accept that grief, too, has a place in the kaleidoscope filling in places and making an image whole. When the light enters the ever-transforming image, it is always beautiful. The thing that makes all the broken pieces lovely is the light. How do we let the light into the dark moments of our lives? We can pray. “When we pray the prayers we’ve been given by the church—the prayers of the psalmist and the saints, the Lord’s Prayer, the Daily Office—we pray beyond what we can know, believe, or drum up ourselves” (p. 17). There are times I have experienced such overwhelming grief that remembering to breathe took great effort. I would catch myself breathing shallowly and have to pause and consciously take slow deep breaths to keep my head clear. In these times conjuring up thoughts that could soothe my spirit was difficult, prayers to God felt impossible. I knew he was present. I knew he would hear, but I couldn’t even form the thoughts to express what I so desperately needed from him.

One specific time I recall was the night of Hurricane Katrina. The air was still, humid, and miserably hot. My kids were all very young and struggled to get comfortable enough to sleep. We were safe in Mississippi, staying with family, but the restlessness of the night overwhelmed us. With no electricity, there was no way to distract ourselves or numb the worry regarding what was happening to our home. I recalled a friend telling me about how praying Compline while her daughter was in the hospital not only soothed her spirit, but after the prayers, her unconscious daughter seemed to be resting more peacefully as well. As I prayed Compline over my children that night, I remember well the calming effect of the words. “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.” (Book of Common Prayer p.134). I remember those words “watch with Christ” washing over me and settling my soul. I would have never come up with those words on my own, but what they did for me was offer the image of me praying over my children with Jesus at my side, “keeping watch.” Those ancient words reminded me that I was not alone.  In knowing we are in the presence of God, there is peace. I needed just those words that night, that reminder gave me something to hold fast to, and in the morning, I knew God would still be with to guide me through the next day and the next.  

We cannot escape the heartaches that life will bring. Running from fear and grief can keep us from seeing the beauty in the knowledge that Jesus cares deeply for us and meets us in our times of darkness and need. When we don’t have our own words to pray, we have the gift of others who have been there before and found the words to share. By accepting the cost of being emotionally alive, we are blessed.

God’s character is unchanging and he blesses patience and endurance. Put feelings of doubt and insecurity on hold this week and move forward with courage into the places you are led.

a moment of love

Photo by Burkay Canatar

We have been waiting; we have been watching; we have been preparing, and hope has come. Emmanuel, God with us. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. A promise is fulfilled! A promise of love that began before time as we know it.

For a second, I imagined what may have followed the scene in the humble stable. First, I imagine all the excitement and joy of those who traveled to bear witness to the splendor of the birth of the Messiah. Then I imagine Joseph and Mary, socially saturated, needing rest, and baby Jesus needing to be fed. Finally, everyone tired after the visitation will turn and head home.

I think about the conversations on the way out. “That was so awesome! Good to see mother and baby looking so well. I hope the gifts we brought are what they needed.

And maybe there are questions like…What does this mean? What do we do now? Do you feel different? What should we do tomorrow?

Would those who traveled to this momentous occasion go back to their everyday lives? Would they be transformed? Do we feel transformed? What do we do now? How do we hold onto the joy that we felt just moments ago?

Happiness is a condition of circumstance, but joy is a condition of the heart. Joy comes not from achieving what we long for—-but from moving toward it. Transformation takes place not from our willpower and action but from allowing grace and love to fill the places of our hearts that feel most unlovable. And joy comes when we accept that we are part of a whole that began at creation—God – us – community.

In John’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus has always been. “In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was at the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and not one thing came into being without him. Life has come into being in him, and life was the light of all people.”

Jesus has always been with us. Yet this baby, vulnerable and small, born into the risky business of being human, changes everything. The moment in the modest stable was a happy one, but the joy that lasts beyond this moment comes from the continual movement toward that which we long for. God is always moving toward us. So we, longing for unconditional, vulnerable love, must also move into this risky business of being human, vulnerable, and loving.

David Benner, in his book “Surrender to Love,” says
“Regardless of what you have come to believe about God based on your life experience, the truth is that when God thinks of you, love swells in his heart, and a smile comes to his face. God bursts with love for humans. He is far from being emotionally uninvolved with his creation. God’s bias toward us is strong, persistent and positive. The Christian God chooses to be known as love, and that love pervades every aspect of God’s relationship with us.”

Jesus comes as a child with a heart wide open, loving, and forgiving. This child carries transformational love.

Receiving love while trying to earn it is not transformational. We often act as if we have some control over how much we are loved. But God’s Love for us has everything to do with who he is, not who we are. He loves us not because of who we are; —–we are because he loves us. And he pursues us with great desire and hope that we will surrender to His Love.

We will make mistakes, and those mistakes can make us feel unlovable. Those places where we feel most unlovable cause us pain. But pain is not the enemy.
It leads to self-discovery.
It leads to a deep need for God.
It leads to a need for others.

Mistakes are made, and we will continue to make them. However, the transformation that began at the birth of our savior was the transformation of the heart and what motivates us to move about in the world the way we do.

In Galatians, we hear that God sent the spirit of his son into our hearts. “Crying, Abba, Father!” We are no longer slaves but children of God. Jesus transforms our motivation from fear of discipline to the pursuit of love and surrendering to it. Surrendering to love begins in the heart and expresses itself in our behavior.

A child, this child, teaches us how to love. Love opens our hearts to joy.

We are no longer under disciplinary law. We are no longer slaves. Our actions are no longer centered on avoiding sin, no longer motivated by self-protection, fear, and seeking approval.

WE are children of God. We are heirs. We are created in love, by love, for love. When we live into this love, our motivation for action becomes love. Our actions become a movement toward God and each other.

Jesus didn’t come into the world afraid he didn’t come into the world self-protecting. He came in vulnerable and small and his parents, motivated by love, set out to provide for this child, who will give his whole life to provide for us an example of what love as a motivator looks like.

Surrender in safety, abandon fear, control, and unworthiness.
Practice gratitude, compassion, courage.
Intimacy is vulnerable. Love and allow the joy that comes–to shine into the dark places of your heart and mind. Then, like the child wrapped in his parents’ embrace, trust everything will be okay.

Love is the light that shines in the darkness. Jesus is the light of the world. With him, and all things came into being, and not one thing came into being without him. In the presence of light, darkness cannot exist.

Joy comes from knowing that love is present in all things. Therefore, we must be in pursuit, and whatever else happens, love will prevail.

In verse 4 of Psalm 147, we hear just how detailed God’s Love is; “He counts the number of the stars and calls them all by their names.” No matter how many people have walked this earth, we each have value and purpose. We each can bring light by loving.

The star in being a star brings light into the world. We being children of light, bring light into the world. As we return to day-to-day routines, we may continue to do the same activities. However, our actions are no longer acts of will; they are a response to love.

What has been concealed in the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament. We have moved from hope to joy! We are transformed!

Like Mary and Joseph, we are asked to respond to love with love.
Love has come. Emanuel God with us, vulnerable and open.
Will you cherish, nurture and help him grow?
Will you surrender to love and let love transform you?
Will you allow the joy that fills your heart to penetrate deeply?
Will you go out into the world as light?

When the risky business of being human seems too much, love holds you, protects you, strengthens you, and cherishes you just as you are.

a moment of thanks

Photo by lilartsy

I am encouraged by your presence, and I pray today you will have a rich encounter with Jesus, that you will be encouraged and strengthened in your faith.

There are many turning points in our lives and people who walked with us through them. Those moments and people are part of the story of how we ended up here in this place at this time.

As I reflect on the turning points in my life, my grandmother comes to mind. I called her grandmommie shortened to Gramma as I got older. In Highschool like most teenagers, I was in the midst of an identity crisis, and I had very little sense of direction. I also struggled with dyslexia which made the academic aspect of high school extremely challenging. I was embarrassed that I didn’t read as fast as others, and being called on in class was particularly stressful. Finally, I decided I wasn’t smart enough and pretty much gave up. I got lazy and neglected school.

Gramma, a retired teacher, saw something in me I didn’t see. She saw potential; she saw a future I couldn’t. She knew things I didn’t know. She had skills to teach me to help me cope with the learning disability that educators didn’t understand well at the time. She didn’t let me be lazy. She helped me see where my efforts and commitment were lacking. Gramma was my tutor, my encourager, and my guide. With her encouragement, I made a deeper commitment to my life. I went to college because she helped me see the person she saw in me and taught me how to live into it. Who I was; evolved into who I would become. I was the same, but then again, I wasn’t the same at all. Her love transformed me. She was my bridge.

The book of Malachi forms a bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Malachi could see both the past and the future. He saw the priest’s laziness and lack of commitment to God and worship. He saw the people of God as disillusioned, prideful, and disobedient. But he also saw the promise of the coming of the Messiah and how he would heal and mend those who came to Him. The breach was not irreparable, and God’s first message through Malachi was, “I have loved you. I am coming. Prepare the way. Commit to me as I have committed to you.

There are times in our lives that bridge where we have been and where we are going. It can be challenging to see these bridges. Sometimes, we can see them but are unwilling to cross. When we lose our commitment to God and ourselves, we cannot see what we cannot see. I believe God puts people in our path to help us. He gives us moments that refine us into his vision for us if we don’t shy away. In Genesis, he creates all things and declares them good. As we move through the Old Testament, goodness never leaves, but it is tarnished by laziness and lack of effort to live into being the people God wants us to be.

“In the reading we hear the question who can endure the day of his coming who can stand?” Jesus will be like a fuller’s soap. The fullers job is to clean and whiten cloth. It is soaked in soap and beaten to remove impurities, and the end product is beautiful and valuable. But the fabric must submit to the process.

There were many frustrating moments as I learned new ways to study and process information. But I knew my Gramma loved me, and I trusted her. So I met her commitment and made an effort to change and learn what she was teaching me.

As I read Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I hear a great deal of love in his words. Paul is grateful for the relationships he has; he feels held. He recognizes the goodness of the people yet understands the continual need to show them how to live successful mature Christian lives. He was committed to them and prayed that they would have more love, knowledge, and insight.
This love and encouragement will help them become the people God created them to be. He had confidence that the future would be promising because he recognized commitment in them.

Love is the first ingredient in this recipe for success. Love dissolves bitterness; love breaks barriers; love inspires. With love, we feel safe to go into those problematic places to push ourselves harder to do the work needed to become the people we are called to be. He didn’t teach them what to do and what not to do. Instead, he taught them about the love of Jesus, the power of that love, and how to let it work in us to develop our character. As our character is strengthened, we are more willing to be disciplined, be obedient and make good decisions. When loved, we feel safe enough to see the things about ourselves that we cannot see and strong enough to make the changes we need to make.

Who you are and who you will become is dependent on letting others teach you and help you while allowing the process of refining moments to do the work of transformation.

In the gospel lesson, we are given a gift of Old Testament scripture within New testament scripture, another bridge.

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Mark 1:3-5 NRSV

God commits to you, loving you perfectly and completely, guarding, guiding, and giving through others. Allow God’s love to restore you, refine you, and bring you to the place of repentance and preparation so that all you offer is as beautiful as you are.

In Creation, you were made, precious, and good. In the love of Jesus, you are made complete and beautiful.

What is your commitment to living into this beauty?
What is your commitment to loving others into theirs?

We are in a transitional time of our lives. We are being refined and called to prepare. You all are an integral part of the bridge between who I am and who I am to become. In these last two years of deacon school, you have been my guard, my guide, and you have given me much encouragement and strength in my commitment. You have been Jesus to me. I thank my God every time I remember you.

The Scripture Readings