The Great Commandment

November 1,,1995. I’d been in labor for 20 hours. As much as you can be in labor in a hospital hooked up to monitors numb from the waist down. I could see I was in labor because every time there was a contraction my stomach would do this weird contorted thing, as if the baby’s bottom was pushing up on the higher portion of my belly and his head was pushing up on the lower part and in the middle was the valley. Like an alien had taken over my body. Amazing and weird.

But that wasn’t the extraordinary thing. The extraordinary thing was the amount of love I felt for this tiny being whom I finally birthed into this world. A love that saturated my entire body. I wept in awe and wonder at this feat of creation that we had participated in. His father, the baby, me and God.

I like to imagine as I wept at the birth of my children, God weeps when another one of us comes into the world.  Weeps in awe and wonder at the miracle of creation that we are and says, “Now that. That is really, really good.” And experiences the love he has for us as extraordinary and breathtaking.

The Great Commandment is the culmination of verbal sparring between the religious elite and Jesus in the preceding chapters of Matthew’s gospel. Starting with Jesus overturning the tables and benches of the money changers in the temple to the 4 stories that come before Matthew 22:34-40. According to Matthew after Jesus cleanses the temple he’s in the temple courts teaching and this is when the Pharisees and Sadducees challenge his authority to teach. Jesus passes their tests and leaves them speechless in the end.  Then Jesus throws down the microphone after his response to this, the religious authorities final question: Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Laws: and Jesus distills Jewish law from 613 commandments to two.

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Love God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. This is the first commandment.

My tendency and perhaps yours, is to jump right to love your neighbor as yourself, maybe because even if it seems impossible sometimes, it seems a lot more manageable to love ourselves and our neighbor, because we’re right here. We can see and touch our neighbor. We experience ourselves in the world and in relationship to others. But loving God can seem like an undertaking beyond anything we might be capable of. Who is God? Where is God? How do we love that which is incomprehensible, vast, mysterious? But Jesus says the first commandment is to love God, with everything we have, and all that we are.

Writer and theologian, Frederick Buechner, asks, “Can we? Do we even know what loving God looks like and feels like – not just taking comfort in him as an idea, not just believing in God as a possibility, not just worshiping God, (because there was never a man or woman yet who didn’t have to worship something, so why not God), but actually loving him: wanting at least to be near God, wanting at least to do things for God, because that is the least of what love seems to mean?”

A couple of weeks ago my mom and I were talking about love. We were talking about it in the context of romantic love, and she asked me, “What is love to you? What does love mean to you?”

And so I thought about it, and thought about and continue to think about it. And so far, this is where I land: Love, and not just romantic love, but love in its myriad of types: eros, sexual passionate love; philia, friendship, those focused on companionship, understanding, dependability and trust; storge, familial love, like the love of a parent for a child; and agape, spiritual love. unconditional love, bigger than ourselves, a boundless compassion, an infinite empathy kind of love… is showing up. Showing up when all hell is breaking loose and the last thing I want to do is show up. There’s risk involved, because to love fully, whole heartedly, means the stakes are high and my money is in it to win, no reservations. Love means no makeup, morning breath, standing as a naked, vulnerable, fragile human being, opening my arms wide, with an invitation of radical hospitality and welcome. And as Frederick Buechner says, doing things for the sake of doing them for someone, and being near them, because it feels good and right.

Jesus is calling us to love God like that. All in, no reservations, whole heartedly, in all of our vulnerability, fragility, and humanness. To love in spite of our insecurities, skepticism, and uncertainty. I seem to love God a little bit like that when I’m out of options, out of ideas of what to do next. When all that I have relied on to get me by has broken down. When my intelligence, my talent, my ambition, has failed me. When I feel utterly alone, defeated and terrified. Those have been the moments when I have dragged my naked, vulnerable, and fragile self to God and said, “Here I am.” Lead me, guide me, show me the way. In those moments, I’m pretty willing to do anything, and stay very close to God. In those moments, like a toddler, shocked awake by a nightmare, arms held high for his mother, for her comfort, security, warmth, reassurance, that’s how I love God.

We’re lucky, because when we forget what God is like, we need only look at the life and ministry of the itinerant, backwater rabbi from Nazareth, and we get an idea. God is fierce in God’s love for us. God sees us, all of us, the truth of who we are, not who we pretend to be. God is healing love and compassion and reaches us for us, like a lover in the middle of the night, who reaches for our naked, vulnerable self and draws us in as close as they can get us to them. God draws us that close when we are willing to be drawn in.

The miracle that happens then, when I have allowed myself to be stripped down to my most naked, vulnerable and fragile self, willing to show up for God, demonstrate my love for God, that is when I have stumbled upon a love and acceptance for myself that I had not previously experienced. The acceptance of my own humanity, vulnerabilities and insecurities translates into acceptance, love and compassion for you. The drawing nearer to God when there’s nowhere else to go and allowing the love of God to heal my broken heart, my defeated spirit, and transform my fear into faith, generates into more love. A love that draws me closer to God, to you, to myself, to the world.







Stepping Out

It was a familiar story, the gospel reading this past Sunday. You know the one, where Jesus sends the disciples in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee and he goes up the mountain to pray. By the time he comes down the mountain, all blissed out I’m sure, the boat was being battered around by the waves, winds, and rain. Jesus was already on his way to them, walking on water, when the disciples see him and think he’s a ghost. But Jesus says, “It’s me. Take heart; do not be afraid.” Then Peter, in sincere and heartfelt earnestness says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says, “Come.” Peter steps out, walks a little bit, begins to fall and says, “Lord, save me.” This is where Jesus berates Peter for not having enough faith to make the walk. This is one of those scriptures that has been used to make us feel like crap. If only we would pray more, study more, have more faith, we would never sink below the waves. How dare us doubt God!

I don’t believe this is what the gospel writer had in mind, nor did Jesus. Jesus is walking on the water before anyone in the boat asks him to save them. He anticipates the needs of these men, tired, afraid, discouraged. He believes in Peter so much, he’s just like, yeah, come on, Dude! You can do it!

I know what God is like through the life, lessons, ministry and stories of Jesus Christ. God is walking toward us in the middle of our despair and hopelessness before we even ask God to come to us. God believes in us so much more than we believe in ourselves and God never stops desiring to be in relationship with us. God needs us because without us, the love of God can’t be spread across the world.

As Father Jaime said on Sunday, we need to get out of the boat and begin the hard, scary work of being love warriors in the world (I’m paraphrasing). The events of the past weekend in Charlottesville, if we focus on the hate and violence, will make any love warrior stepping out of the boat, sink in despair and hopelessness. It’s never too late to cry for help. It’s never too to recognize our own complicity. It’s never too late to embrace the truth that as a privileged, educated, white woman in this country I have benefited from the over 500 years of degradation, oppression, and violence that people of color have endured in order to build an America that is now falling apart under the weight of White Supremacy and racism. We don’t know what awaits us outside of the boat, but we know the harsh reality we are facing if we don’t. This is work we can do together knowing that God is already walking toward us ready to reach out and steady us any time we falter.

Film clip from The Truman Show with Jim Carey that is apropos to our cultural and political climate currently. Father Jaime showed it on Sunday and it sparked a powerful conversation among the parishioners in attendance.

SPOILER ALERT! Father Jaime thinks that for the moment in which we find ourselves, the character played by Ed Harris (pictured below) symbolizes not THE Creator but all those creators throughout history who have helped construct and sustain the exploitative system of white supremacy to secure their own power and privilege.


Emmaus: A Sermon

A man estranged from his son, gets a call from the chief of police in a small town in France. I’m sorry sir, your son is dead. There was an accident. Tom, played by Martin Sheen, in the film, The Way, gets on the first plane. The small town, Saint Jean Pied de Port, the starting point for the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrims have been making the 500 mile trek across France, the Basque country, through Spain to the Cathedral of St. James, where it is believed that the remains of St. James, disciple of Jesus are interred. Since the 9th century pilgrims have walked The Way of St. James, to atone for their sins, to experience a miracle they have heard happen on the trek or at the cathedral. More recently, contemporary travelers walk to get away, for a time out from modern life. Or they walk for the sheer challenge of walking 15 to 20 miles a day.

For Tom, the ophthalmologist from Santa Barbara who was extremely disappointed when his almost 40 year old son said he was not completing his Phd and was instead traveling around the world, was more personal. His son had died on his first night out on the road, from an accident or exposure, we aren’t really sure, and Tom decides to have the remains cremated and takes on the challenge of walking the 500 miles in honor of his son and to scatter his ashes along the way. Tom is a hurt, lonely man, who has done it all correct, this life he chose. There is a certain way to do things, and his son, Daniel didn’t play by the rules. Tom’s heart is closed. He’ll make the trek but he isn’t going to enjoy it, or make friends, or feel anything of anything along the way. And then something extraordinary happens.

The long and winding, yellow brick road, the roadless traveled, the high and low road, the Royal Road, Tobacco Road, lonesome road, open road, crooked, straight and narrow road, private road, trudging the road, and the road to hell. King of the road, on the road again, country roads take me home. Roads as metaphor for our life journey.

Today we hear the story of two disciples, Cleopas and his friend walking the road to Emmaus. The day of the resurrection.  Talking, mulling over, processing the events of the last 3 days. Their beloved rabbi, teacher, this man who did these incredible things, miracles and preaching and teaching as they had never seen before. Like the prophets. He was a great prophet, they thought. The one who would destroy the tyranny of Rome and restore Israel to its rightful place as the mighty kingdom it once was. But that isn’t what happened. They’re talking and Jesus walks up to them. And remember, as Jaime talked about in last week’s sermon, this isn’t an angelic Jesus with blonde hair and blue eyes, perfect, submissive, pastoral. This is the Jesus who died a torturous death on a cross. Who has wounds where the nails were hammered into the cross through his hands and feet. And the open wound in his side where the soldier pierced it with his spear. But these two guys, they don’t see any of that. They see a stranger and a stranger who clearly has been out to lunch these last three days because he has no idea what has been going on. They are kept from recognizing Jesus, they don’t know him. Jesus asks them, what are you guys talking about. What are we talking about? Are you kidding! Have you been living under a rock? What everyone is talking about! Our teacher, Jesus from Nazareth, a prophet mighty in word and deed before God and all of God’s people, was thrown to the wolves. Our high priests and leaders betrayed him and turned him over to the authorities to be condemned to death and crucified. But we thought for sure he was the one that was going to redeem Israel. Not only that, the women from our group went to annoint the body this morning and when they got to the tomb the body was gone. Two angels were there and told them that Jesus had risen.

And these two, like so many others of Jesus’s followers were disappointed, confused, and shocked. How could they have been so wrong? All the signs pointed to Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. How did this happen? We don’t understand? How did it turn out like this? It wasn’t supposed to end this way? How does one who is the messiah die such a horrible, humiliating and violent death? And Jesus, probably rolling his eyes, right? Like are you kidding me with these two! Maybe Jesus is thinking, I spent 3 years with you guys. All of ya’ll. The women, now they got it! But you guys, so attached to the mighty sword, to kings, and rulers, and power! You two, how foolish you are. And Jesus starts to reveal to them in their own holy scriptures, the story of the Messiah, all that he had said to them when he was alive. It happened this way for a reason. He interprets the scriptures for them, saying again, all the things he had said and taught them when he was alive. They still don’t know it’s him. Then they finally get to where they are going and the two disciples insist that the stranger stay with them. It was when Jesus broke the bread, blessed it and gave it to them that their eyes were open and they recognized him. And then he vanished from their sight. The funny part is when these two said, oh yeah, weren’t our hearts on fire when he was opening up the scriptures to us! So like us, revisionists. Yeah, that’s right, our hearts were on fire!

Scholars have never definitively located Emmaus. They can’t  agree on where it might have been. My former professor, new testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan says Emmaus never happened; it’s a metaphorical distillation of the early years of Christian thought and practice that centers around the experience of gathering together as a community of faith, sharing a meal remembering every time the bread is broken and blessed, the life and ministry of Jesus. Emmaus happens over and over and over again. Or as Crossan says, Emmaus always happens.

Crossan’s friend and fellow new testament scholar Marcus Borg said the Emmaus story is a parable of resurrection. It didn’t happen as a factual event to be reported on the 6 o’clock news. It is a story reminding us that the life, ministry and death of Jesus of Nazareth and the Risen Christ are known, the risen Jesus journeys with his followers even when they don’t know it.

There is no way to travel this road of being a human without experiencing trauma, or disappointment, death or devastation. We walk with our friends trying to make sense out of the insensible. Because to not analyze it and figure out what the heck happened, where did I or you go wrong, means I’m left with a lot of feelings that suck and lots of unanswered questions.

Tom, traversing the Camino de Santiago, who says throughout the movie, I’m not a religious man, begins to experience moments of grace and healing on his journey. He comes upon a pensione, 1/3 of the way into the film, a group of pilgrims and their host at a large table outside, a feast, talking, drinking and eating. As Tom sips his wine he looks down the table and sees the face of his son, smiling, nodding approvingly at his father. Tom begins to make friends, he opens up about his reason why he’s on the walk, he listens to the stories of his fellow travelers. He connects with these people in a way he hasn’t connected with anyone for a very long time. He’s transformed, on the road, with his fellow travelers, and the divine peeks his head in all along the way, involved in the details of Tom’s journey.

As Christians we participate in this never ending story of God’s promise of being raised from the dead, of new life, second chances, forgiveness, mercy and grace. Often, what we experience in life leaves us as asking all the same questions that Cleopas and his companion were asking. How did this happen? We don’t understand? How did it turn out like this? It wasn’t supposed to end this way? And while we are wading through our grief, disappointment, and confusion, God is relentlessly pursuing us. Walking along side us, wanting desperately for us to see, to recognize God’s presence. God, knowing the pain and suffering of the human condition from having lived it through the incarnation, uses people to communicate this love, grace, and mercy. Then we come here, after spending a week out there, and we gather around that table, and the priest recites the words of institution, the same words Jesus said to his best friends on the night before he died, with bread and cup in hand. So that no matter what happens out there, we can be assured that when we come in here, gather together, as a community of faith, that our memories will be jogged.  We remember where we belong and to whom we belong. We gather around our table, and like Tom at the feast of the pensione surrounded by new friends, we will look around and the face of the Divine is right here with us. We remember Jesus, we remember that nothing we have done or has been done to us, can separate us from the love of God. And if that’s true. If we walk out of here today, with the faith that God will not turn God’s back on any of us, but always open God’s arms to enfold us in mercy, grace, and love, regardless of which road we are walking down, how might this courageous faith change the way we look at our lives, what’s happening in the world today, and the call Jesus has for us to participate with him, in the renewing of the whole creation? Amen.

New Best Friend

Easter Morning by Hi Qi

I didn’t go seeking out Jesus because I needed a new best friend. I didn’t want to be a Christian, but I felt called to the priesthood and I was Episcopalian, and well, Jesus is sort of the crux of the whole thing. Jesus was a love warrior when there were no love warriors. In fact, they killed him because he was loving all the wrong people. He was loving people like me: broken, outcast, sick, fear-driven, mentally ill, addicted, in pain. People who believed to their core that they were fundamentally flawed, defective, with no hope of ever changing, and who had no where to go for help. Jesus was loving people who hadn’t been loved in a very long time. And he did outrageous and audacious things like preach outside, taking church to the people instead of bringing people into the temple. He touched the untouchables, gave voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless. He sat down to eat with all the wrong people, healed the most hopeless and loved the most unlovable. And those in authority, those whose privilege, power and place in society was the most threatened needed Jesus dead. So they killed him. The powers that be, the chief priests of the temple whose entire identities were wrapped up in their privilege and power could not abide an itinerant preacher and faith healer from a backwater town, with followers like fisherman, tax collectors, fallen women, and sick people, who kept telling people, “Look no further than me, right here, right now, in this place, for the Father,” riling up the people. Jesus, who was adamant that he was the embodiment of the love and grace of God and if you want to see God and experience that love, he was here to show you. God, not out there somewhere, not in the temple, not in the law, not with the chief priests and scribes. Right here, in the middle of this mess of your life. In the middle of your pain, your suffering, your fear, your heartbreak. God. God’s love. God’s acceptance. God’s mercy. God’s grace. Right here, right now.

So they killed him. He didn’t want to die and he asked God twice before he was arrested, if there is any other way for this need to be fulfilled, for these people to know your unending love and grace, if there is any other way we could get that point across, I would really like that. The gospel of Matthew says he was deeply grieved. Grieved in the dictionary is a verb: to distress mentally; cause to feel grief or sorrow. Jesus was sad, afraid, distressed that he was facing death. Matthew 26:39 reads, “And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” I don’t like this one bit, Jesus says, but if this is your will, I’ll just keep showing up. God didn’t sentence Jesus to death to die for our sins. God didn’t sacrifice his only son like some crazed emotionally abusive and sadistic father demanding atonement for bad behavior. God watched as this man, his son, loved his followers in such a way, a love so threatening, so jarring, unknown by people before this man came to them teaching a different way to be in the world, was taken into custody, condemned to death, because a bunch of people did not at all like what he was selling: unearned, grace-filled love, equality, and justice for all people. 

And then came Easter. That scared the crap out of the religious authorities. Here they thought they had gotten rid of this menace, this threat to their power but no. Word spread that Jesus started appearing to people, first to his best friends, the ones who were too afraid to go with him to the cross. The ones who denied him, who betrayed him, who would have much rather seen Jesus take up the sword and claim his rightful place on the throne as the King of Judea, resuscitating the power and might of what once was a great kingdom in the ancient world. Then to Paul, who was an enemy of Jesus, and worked diligently overseeing the persecution and death of the earliest followers of the movement. The love of God didn’t die with Jesus on the cross. The love, acceptance, mercy and grace of God lived, was and is relentless in pursuit of a relationship with us. God, never wanting us to forget the sacrifice that Jesus chose to make because he was so in love with us, wants nothing more than to claim us as her own. God, who wears the scars of the showing up to the most terrifying experience his only son endured on her wrists, that God. My new best friend.

Good Friday

 The grief I experienced when I sent my daughter away to wilderness therapy and then residential treatment in the spring of 2015 was the worst grief I had ever felt up to that point in my life. But I thought I was saving her life and so the pain of separation, I thought, was worth it. I didn’t save her life. What she got was a time-out. An extended time out from being a teenager out of control. When she came back it wasn’t long before she was right back where she started.

The thing about addiction and alcoholism is that it progresses whether your drinking or not. You can be sober for years and the minute you ingest alcohol it’s as if you’d been drinking the whole time. Basically, your body, mind and spirit pick up right where it left off. When I got sober in Chicago in 1992 for the second time I heard about a guy who had gone out for 4 days after extended sobriety and died from alcohol poisoning. 4 days.

It’s Good Friday, the day we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. We commemorate his friends abandoning him, his other friend betraying him, the authorities beating him to the point where he would have had such excruciating internal injuries that when he was finally nailed to the cross death would have been a welcome relief. You can read here how crucifixion would have killed a person. Good Friday means that Easter Sunday is right around the corner. Addiction is a bunch of Good Fridays strung together, tortuous day after tortuous day, until  an alcoholic or drug addict finds sobriety and embraces recovery. Recovery, that we call Easter.



We were having dinner, wings. She loves hot wings. She’s brilliant and I don’t know anyone like her. She’s been home now for over a year. She had been gone 7 months, and I really believed she was fixed. I wanted to believe she was fixed. We never get fixed. We trudge the road. We skip, run, fall down, turn around and walk back the way we came, get turned around again, and walk a little further. Every so often, if we’re lucky, we have people join us for a section of the road. These people catch our tears in their hands, but they never give advice, they never hand you a tissue, they never give up. They are there to witness and encourage. She isn’t fixed. She’s changed. Me, too. We are witness to each other.

We were eating wings and I was telling her about this experience I had. I had seen a post my ex was tagged in and I freaked out. I don’t freak out. I don’t pine, I don’t lament, I don’t drag shit out longer than I need to. I let go, I release with love, and I get on with my life. I told her I saw this post and I couldn’t breath. My heart was racing, chest tight, heat creeping up my chin into my cheeks, over my forehead into my brain. I was shaking, heaving, the impulse to run away was so strong I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sit at my desk a second longer. “Mom,” she said, “Mom, you were having a panic attack.” I stared at her across the table. Those curls, eyes, eyelashes. The only thing different about her than the day she was born is that hair. That glorious head of curls.

Panic attack. I knew people had them. I didn’t. Sure, there were a handful of times over the course of my life, starting in my late teens when I found myself uncontrollably sobbing, feeling like the walls were closing in, heart racing, sweat beading up on my brow, chest tightening, needing to escape the room, the person, wherever I was, calling my mom in utter confusion and telling her there was something really, really wrong with me. I called those nervous breakdowns, not panic attacks, and I managed them with alcohol and drugs. I got sober, had my kids and I experienced only one more when they were very young children.

You know how when something hits you, the truth hits you, and recognition floods your body? I knew then, when my 18 year-old daughter named this experience for me that what had started out as grief and loss had cracked open something long forgotten, hidden in the dark, dismissed, minimized. But it was tenacious in its demand to be known. Timing is everything, and it was time. Kids were gone, I was single, the eruption was happening whether I liked it or not. I did not. I did not at all, like where this was headed.


black-lives-matterIf you’re lucky these people show up in your life at exactly the right time. But you have to be extremely, extremely lucky because these humans are extremely, extremely rare. They are the ones that survived the craziest shit and came out the other side exquisitely aware, compassionate and open. Their heart beats with an empathic rhythm seen only in a rare few. What was wounded and broken in them became their motivation to heal others. They are gentle, kind and giving. They see what most of us don’t and they are able to communicate it in such a way that breaks our hearts open so we can see too. This is by one of those people:

We’ve become inured; so used to this idea that people (and especially people of color) involved in police contact may end up dying during the interaction. We accept it as the way things are. We accept that the onus is on the individual to NOT provoke, to KNOW all the rules, to have the PRESENCE of mind and WELLNESS of being to think, act and speak clearly and safely. That in the absence of this ability, or conversely in the presence of mental illness, intoxication, or Melanin, your life may legally be removed from you. 

That the movements you make, or the words you use, may justify your killing (and yes, that includes the holding of knives or fire extinguishers, cell phones or vapes, and the inability to realize what’s happening to you, where you are; your surroundings, and to follow snap commands and orders in that moment). That in the middle of your own mental decompensation or life crisis, your inability to act, think and speak properly may mean that you can literally and legally be put to death.

This is not a way of policing and being that we can accept any longer. If our systems and our forces lack the appropriate mental health training and/or interventional techniques to mitigate and minimize the situations that we acknowledge arise on a daily basis, so that their only recourse is life taking force, then we must look to other ways of response and policing.

#blacklivesmatterpasadena. We cannot afford to accept anything less, anymore. All lives matter fucks need not respond.

Shawn Morrissey

Healing 2.0

oncoming-trainThere’s no manual that guides you when your kid goes off the rails, when the decision you’re up against comes down to calling the goon squad or let her ride into the on coming train and hope for the best. There is only the experience of other parents who’ve sent their adolescent kid to treatment or wilderness therapy and we are a hidden, underground tribe. Shame, guilt and fear drives us into isolated bunkers, unable to reach across the divide to another buried parent who’s hunkered down also.  Unless we see in the eyes of another, “me too,” we live in fear that we are the only ones. We aren’t posting on Facebook the pictures we take at parent weekend, the moment when she steps out of the sagebrush, into the open, strong, tan, grimy, and smiling.

She ran into my arms and buried her face in my neck. Tears clinging to the dust and grime on her face, streaking her cheeks, smiling, laughing, crying, grateful. She stood before me, smelling like someone who hadn’t taken a proper shower in 3 weeks. Someone who only got one roll of toilet paper a month, had to cook her own food, hike 5 miles a day, carry her used tampons in a ziplock bag until that hike brought her to a trash can to dump her trash and rub sticks together to make fire. “Thank you, mommy,” she said, over and over, her tears pooling with mine in the hollow of my clavicle. “You saved my life, mommy. Thank you.”

We cried, and talked, and she told stories of her life in the Utah desert with 7 other girls, some she liked, some she didn’t. We talked about the ex-boyfriend, the staff, life at home, what she missed, how many books she read, all while she munched on a big bag of granola and drank water from 32oz refillable bottle.  I gave her pens, a highlighter and a box of tissue and she was so grateful. I hugged her, and kissed her, and listened and sent up quips of gratitude to God. Thank you, God. Thank you. Thank you for the strength to make the decision to send her away, thank you for a second chance. Thank you for the opportunity to see this young woman before me, the smart, funny, girl that had been dormant for so long. Thank you.

Raised from the dead: sermon on Luke 7:11-17

6a00d8341c3e3953ef01b8d08552b5970c-320wiWe are a third of the way into Luke’s gospel by this point and Jesus has just given Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, referred to as the Sermon on the Plains.

Jesus isn’t teaching in the synagogue, there are no scrolls, no animals to be sacrificed, incense to be lit. There’s no Sunday dress code and designated places for men and woman to sit.  There is him, his disciples and whole bunch of people sitting around on the grass.  A whole bunch of people who thought the best thing they could do that day was go hear what Jesus had to say. They’d heard he’s saying and doing a lot, but let’s go see for ourselves they said.  And they heard some things, and they heard them said in a way they may never have heard before. Things like:

  • Count your blessings
  • You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all then God’s kingdom is there for the finding
  • You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry, then you’re ready for the holy meal
  • You’re blessed when the tears flow freely, joy comes in the morning
  • But if you rest on your laurels, think you’ve made it, what you have is all you’ll ever get
  • And its trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long.
  • And its trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games. There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it.
  • Love your enemies
  • When someone gives you a hard time, pray for them
  • No more tit for tat
  • Live generously
  • Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously even when we’re at our worst.
  • Be kind, God is kind.
  • Don’t criticize people or jump on their failures, don’t condemn those who are down. That hardness can boomerang.
  • Be easy on people, you’ll find life a lot easier.
  • Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing.
  • Giving not getting is the way. Generosity begets generosity.

This is from Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible called The Message.

And after this summary of essential doctrine given to the people who crowded around Jesus on the plains outside of Capernaum that day, Jesus headed down the hill to town and but before he could get there some Jewish elders who were asked by a Roman soldier, a centurion, to meet Jesus and tell him about the centurion’s slave who was gravely ill and to ask Jesus to come and see him. Perhaps he could help the sick slave. Jesus didn’t even get to the slave, the centurion meets him and says, Lord, don’t trouble yourself. Just say the word and my slave will be healed. And his slave was healed. This was a Roman military officer, the oppressor, part of the ruling class, a gentile, who had only heard about Jesus, heard about the miracles of healing that Jesus was performing and Jesus tells the crowd following him, not even in Israel, among my own people, have I found such faith.

Luke follows up the account of the healing of the centurion’s slave with our story from Luke’s gospel today.  Soon after, the next day Jesus is approaching the city gates of Nain. A small town about 25 miles south east from Capernaum. Walking. They walked. 25 miles. He’s approaching with his disciples and a crowd. The ones who followed Jesus after the sermon on the plains. The ones who were like, yeah, that all sounds good, and what have we got anyway, a whole lot of nothing compared to what this guy is offering.  And Jesus, the disciples, the crowd are hot, dirty, tired, and hungry. I would be if I’d just walked 25 miles on a dirt road.  And as they approached the gate to the city a funeral procession is coming through the same gate.  The pall bearers are carrying the body of a man wrapped in linen, ready for burial on something like a stretcher called a bier, and the man’s mother, a widow, is following and a crowd from the town is part of the procession. In the ancient world, funerals were public events, and it was customary for the burial to take place within a day of the death.  So it’s fresh. The death of this man, the widow’s only son, we’re told. The grief is fresh and very public. There would have been crying, wailing, moans. Snot and tears, and broken spirits and broken hearts. It wasn’t a polite thing, death and burial. It wasn’t sanitized, and crisp, like the satin lining of modern coffins. It was messy, and dirty, loud and emotional. And this is what Jesus sees when he approaches the gates of Nain.

All these stories of raising the dead to life, that isn’t the point of the story, as Father Jaime talked about on Easter Sunday.  The focus of our story this morning is the widow. The one left behind, who, as a first century Jewish widow who’s only son died, would, for the rest of her life have to rely on friends and strangers for her livelihood. She would have been financially destitute, no way to take care of herself, no land, no money, no children, and if she had daughters they were part of their husbands’ families now. It was the job of the sons to take care of the widowed mothers.

And the story says: When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

The Greek word that we translate as compassion: almost unpronounceable: Splagchnizomai  I feel compassion, have pity on, am moved.  splagxnízomai – “from splanxna, ‘the inward parts,’ especially the nobler entrails – the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. These gradually came to denote the seat of the affections

Jesus was moved by compassion, he felt it in his guts, his heart, his lungs, liver and kidneys. He was so moved by this woman’s loss, her grief, the precariousness of her economic status, that he touched the bier, an act of defiance and solidarity, because, in the ancient world,  it would have made him ceremonially unclean.

God meets us where we are, offers restoration no matter what needs to be restored. God doesn’t play favorites. Jesus was as moved by the Roman centurion, part of the ruling class, a powerful gentile’s faith, as he was by his own compassion for the destitute, grieving, Jewish widow who’d lost her only son.

No matter how emotionally dead, how spiritually sick, how mentally vulnerable, how full of grief, how much loss we have suffered, God offers restoration. It’s not easy. Sometimes we have to ask for it, like the Centurion, and just believe that it will happen.  Sometimes we have to cry, and process, and feel a lot. We might have to pay a therapist, or go to 12 step meetings, or find a spiritual director, or cry on our friend’s shoulder, and eat a pint of ben and jerry’s or smoke a cigarette with the homeless guy at the 7-11 on the corner of Hollywood and Gower before God speaks and we hear what we need hear, and experience what we need to experience for some kind of healing to take place. For our hearts to be haphazardly stitched back together after being broken in a million pieces. Before we experience some kind of healing or raising from the dead. We are never the same afterward.  The slave was healed, the son raised. But it was the centurion and the widow who were restored to life, and faith, and community.  They were the ones whose hearts were healed and lives truly restored. Because the lives they lived before their encounters with Jesus would never be the same. They were healed, and could enter back into their communities and say to their neighbors, their friends, their families, strangers on the street, and enemies not spoken to in a very long time: let me tell you what happened to me. I experienced this amazing thing, a love and compassion and welcoming and recognition that I had never experienced before. And it’s happening right now. I was restored to life after being afraid and broken. I was a recipient of this miracle and that miracle can be transmitted from me to you. Come in, sit down, tell me your story, and I’ll show you how it’s done.


Healing 1.9

Sidney-Poitier-Layout_smThat was almost a year ago.

The first picture they took of her when she got there looked like a mug shot. She was tired, and puffy from crying. It was one of those pictures that you could look at a year from now and a well of gratitude would rush in at how far she’d come, how much she’d changed, relief that the gift of life had been saved. The first few pictures in the field were of a girl I hadn’t seen for a very long time. Wild, curly hair, no make up, face up and open to the staff person taking the picture, to the sun, to the wild, to the desert. She was smiling.  She was filling out, meat on the bones of a starved by drugs body. Waiting for the pictures and her letters to post to our family page was the highlight of most weeks from late May to late July. Giant painted desert colors of Bryce Canyon shadowed by thunderstorms or embraced by a cornflower blue sky were the backdrop of these pictures. She looked happy and free in a way she hadn’t in a long time.

Parents’ weekend came up three weeks into her stay. I drove from LA to Kanab, UT, the last 3 hours finding my way in the dark. Dark like midnight, so dark that my headlights could only illuminate 15 feet of the road ahead of me, the rest I couldn’t see. The next morning the sky was that cornflower blue and I found myself in “Little Hollywood,” so named because movies and tv shows like Stagecoach, The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Daniel Boone, Planet of the Apes and The Outlaw Josey Wales had been filmed there. We met in a office trailer type building, all of us parents. From all over the country, we converged on “Little Hollywood” with our grief, fear, exhaustion and  hope.  For 8 hours we sat in the trailer office and a nice Mormon guy with an MFT talked to us about communication and other stuff I don’t remember now. I do remember sitting next to the only other two recovering alcoholic parents in the room whose son was in the program. You know when your kid is an addict and as a parent in recovery who was a teenage alcoholic yourself you know when your kid is acting out in the exact same way you did when you were her age, what that feels like, what the long term consequences might be, the chances of recovery and sobriety, that they are more likely to end in jail, institutionalized or dead. So the other parent couple in recovery and I got along great. We had lunch and shared stories of the crazy shit our kids did and how they didn’t die and what the chances were that these kids would actually begin to recovery from a hopeless state of mind and body. How grateful we were that we had a program, and Alanon, and knew what we knew about the disease and how to detach and how we didn’t have much time because next year our kids would be 18 and then all bets were off and how this, sending them away to a very expensive wilderness program run by Mormons was our last grasp of giving these kids a life they could live, in hope, in recovery, in healing.