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Romans 6:12-23

12Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. 20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What I Am Learning:

This passage seems to set Jesus' followers up for an impossible situation: Jesus offers "freedom from sin" but we seldom experience such a state. If we fail to achieve such perfection, then are we really followers of Jesus?

Having been assured of perfection and then falling short, we either give up the game or reduce what "perfection" means such as "believing the right things or going to church or just being a bit nicer than some other people."

I don't believe this is what Paul is trying to say at all. NOT ONE BIT.

For Paul "sin" is not some naughty stuff we do or the human capacity for mistakes as limited beings. Sin is a system, a culture, a worldview that holds us captive. Sin is a narrative about the world that human beings that we enact that reduces us, others, and the earth to be subjects, slaves of that narrative. Such narratives tell us who we are, what life means, and what kind of world we are living in.

The narrative he was talking about in this passage was the domination culture of the Roman Empire. Their Lord of the Flies culture and the Godfather Governance had at its core a narrative that human life is about competition and violence in which the winner takes all and the losers (indeed there are many losers) get nothing. We call this "domination culture." The winners were righteous and good and noble and awesome because they win. The losers were cursed by the gods or god as bad and useless because they lost and their losing was simple proof of their lack of good character. They all got what they deserved and the system was right to reward them with it.

Sound familiar? It should, because that is the narrative proposed by so many of our leaders and by so many of the voices in our heads. We are living the same narrative today.

This narrative of domination turns us into deadly instruments of death who target one another and the earth - and ultimately ourselves. We are all just combatants in a hunger games that never ends and includes everyone fighting everyone. It steals the meaning of our lives and relationships, turns time into money and money into the measure of our worth.

Martin Luther encouraged people to be "theologians of the cross." What he meant by this was to speak the truth about what is happening in the real world. We are to seek and speak truth about what is happening just as Jesus and the prophets before him spoke truth to power and encouraged the voices of those on the margins.

But this is not as easy as it sounds.

  • How do we begin to recognize the effects of a domination culture when we have been raised in it since birth and it has deeply shaped our perceptions, attitudes and action?
  • How do we begin to sense that other narratives are even possible?
  • How do we begin to imagine what kind of community narrative might better provide for the thriving of the human race and the planet of which we are a part?

In Romans 6, Paul speaks of dying and rising, daily, in baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In other words, the connections between the neurons in our brains that were formed to fit the narrative of domination need to die so that another set of connections can take place.

What story does Paul suggest? He used the word "righteousness."

Righteousness does not mean "perfection." Righteousness refers to "a way of being that works for life." When your car starts it is righteous as it fulfills its purpose. When a crop grows and produces fruit for animals and humans it is righteous.

Paul is saying that the wages of the domination culture of the Roman Empire breeds death, its wages are death.

In Jesus God offers another way to live, a way that brings life to human beings, human communities and to the earth. Jesus called this "the kingdom of God." It was a direct replacement of the Roman Empire's narrative of domination.

Paul says that by the gift of God, we don't have to live by that death dealing narrative of domination anymore.

Instead we can daily die to the narrative of domination and rise to God's way of mutuality - a way of life that

  • honors each moment of our lives, every heartbeat, as pregnant with meaning and possibility
  • encourages us to mutual relationships with other people, who are also beautiful and of immense value
  • takes part in God's work to change institutions and systems driven by the narrative of domination
  • gives us hope in God's ultimate healing of the world even when it seems to not being going great

We don't have to be slaves to the narrative of domination but are offered every day an alternative story of God's way of mutuality. Domination is a false narrative that is not worthy of our obedience, worship and life. God's way of mutuality invites us to stand up straight again, to take a deep breath of enjoyment and to see that we and every person are God's beloved ones.

Jesus invites still to enter into his narrative of mutual love and respect, to be a part of the beloved community in a world that turns human life into so many producers and consumers.

He invites us into the freedom of our own God-given humanity. In this freedom, we glimpse from time to time what Paul calls sanctification - moments of wholeness, of true appreciation within our relationships with others.

I am always saddened to see how domination culture uses passages like this - how it distorts texts of freedom to make people feel bad and useless. This is why the scripture must not just be a book on the shelf or on the nightstand in the hotel. It is when God's narrative of mutuality takes hold within and among us that the meaning of these passages can once again be found.

We don't have to wait for the Godfather Governance to go away. We may have been raised in the narrative of eternal competition, but Christ has given us a glimpse of another story to live by, and its beauty draws us ever onward, cherishing the wonder of the moment.

Matthew 10:24-39

24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

What I Am Learning:

People often laugh this passage off as confusing. Jesus seemed to be saying lots of random things in this passage that don't make sense.

But when a passage of scripture, especially something in the Gospels, does not make sense, maybe the problem isn't with the scripture - maybe its the frame we are projecting on to the scripture.

If our frame is that Jesus is a wise man who came to be our divine life-coach then this passage makes little sense.

If our frame is that Jesus came to start a franchise of religious services centers then this passage makes little sense.

But if we see that Jesus was a public leader, a nonviolent revolutionary who sought to fundamentally reorient the way people lived with each other and themselves, then it begins to make sense.

Ronald Heifitz says that people do not fear change, they, they fear loss. In the Exodus story, we see that after being freed from slavery in Egypt, that the people began to long for the food security it offered. Human beings react to unjust societies in many ways: some openly work for change, some deny there are problems, some adapt themselves to it, some say that the current reality is the best of all possible worlds. When change is actually proposed, everyone's anxiety rises a great deal, wondering if they will lose more than they gain.

Jesus engaged people with a vast and deep kind of change: replacing the Roman Empire of bullying, domination, Lord of the Flies culture and gangster governance with God's way of mutuality. It would impact every part of their life:

God’s Way of Mutuality is God’s love, grace, and shalom in everyday life, in every aspect of human relationship: public, private, economic, political, personal and communal, body, mind and environment.

In this passage, Jesus was giving fair warning to disciples about what walking in his way of mutuality in the midst of domination would mean: conflict.

38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

This line here spoke volumes to the people of his day. The cross was a torturous death reserved for revolutionaries working against the Roman Empire. Jesus was engaged in wholesale cultural, economic and relational change.

As I have been engaging in public leadership, I have realized that I need to engage in three kinds of healing conflict:

  • conflict with the worldviews of the public
  • conflict with worldviews of my social networks, church, family
  • conflict with my own worldview, about how to live, what my best future might be and about my own safety and security

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword"  Matthew 10:34

Jesus' ministry was not that of a "nice" person: fitting in, getting along and making the best of a bad situation. Jesus' ministry is to deeply challenge the way things were and proposing that his people didn't have to keep living that way.

In this brief quote, Jesus was not advocating for violence or warfare. He was saying that conflict with the way things were was an inevitable part of God's way of mutuality emerging and breaking into the kingdom of domination. Jesus may not have liked the conflict, but he saw that it was a necessary part of bringing a more just, equitable and peaceable society. He wanted his disciples to know that to follow him meant to engage in such healing conflict.

In this passage, Jesus told his disciples that taking part with him in his public leadership would mean being in conflict with the worldviews of the general public. Some will dismiss disciples of Jesus. Some will privately plot to discredit them. Some will try to intimidate them. Some will try to kill them.

28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

But this is not the only "front" on which such conflict takes place. Following Jesus will also mean engaging in conflict with the worldviews of people in our social networks: family, friends, and colleagues.

In Jesus' day, the family was their primary means of survival. Families were led by an elder male, who represented the family's honor or status in the community. You had status or honor to the degree your family members behaved to the expectations of the larger community. When Jesus told his disciples that he had come to set father against son and so on, he was not saying he has come to destroy the family. What he was saying is that the family itself, in his day, had become a tool of the status quo. What good is it to abide by the expectations of the larger community, when these expectations were themselves leading to the destruction of their community?

Ronald Heifitz also has been a leader in talking about adaptive change. Adaptive change is the kind of change required when the very survival of a community is in jeopardy. In this kind of situation, no "off the shelf" response will work. Rather, the community needs to even figure out what questions to ask about how it will survive into the future.

To follow Jesus in public, healing conflict with the larger world means engaging in conflict with our family, friends and colleagues who may be trapped in expectations that benefit the unjust status quo, a status quo that itself is destroying their own families and communities.

35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

But of course, we each have our own worldviews, expectations and attitudes - conscious and unconscious. One part of the control system of the larger culture is our own way of seeing the world, ourselves and our ideal future - how we understand what makes up a "life". I cannot count the number of times when my own thoughts, feelings and fears have confronted me, encouraging me to be more reasonable, to just get along a bit more, to realize that things aren't that bad and that I am putting myself in danger.

Jesus knows these voices all too well, as he has heard and rejected them in his own temptation in the wilderness.

In this passage he plainly tells his disciples that they, too, will be tempted to fear for their "lives" in such a way as they kill their own souls.

Jesus tells us plainly that to follow him means to engage in conflict with ourselves and with what we think makes up our ideal life. On the other side, and perhaps more importantly, in the struggle this entails, we find our true, authentic and God-given life.

All of these forms of healing conflict are a part of what Paul means by "daily dying and rising in Christ." (Romans 6) This is not done without pain and loss and no small amount of confusion.

Jesus loved God, himself, his neighbors and neighborhoods and the earth through the practice of LOVE in which he reorients people from domination culture to God’s Way of Mutuality.

Jesus is saying that the kind of change he is inviting us to share in, requires conflict with public worldviews, the worldviews of our family, friends and colleagues, and with our own culturally influenced ideals of what makes for real life.

He is not trying to be witty, or our divine "get along within domination life-coach".

He is trying to be straight with his disciples and with us.

Being his disciple is often gonna suck. It can get you killed. It will not always be comfortable.

But the kingdom of God, among all of us (Luke 17), is worth it. Being authentic to who God is making us to be is worth it. Just walking on God's way of mutuality is worth it.

He wants us to get real life, not just get along.

How would we want to live, anyway?

Matthew 9:35 - 10:8

35Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

10Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

What I Am Learning:

Jesus was proclaiming that the kingdom of God, God's way of mutuality was near. His people no longer had to live by the Lord of the Flies culture and the Godfather governance of the Roman Empire. The terms "sheep" and "shepherd" here were well-known metaphors for the interaction between people and their leaders: in this case the leaders were the Romans and their collaborators who did not lead people to abundance, but instead exploited the sheep.

Such cultures and governance have an actual impact on people's health and well-being. Today we have a significant uptick in the "deaths of despair" among white working class people. When Jesus spoke about God's healing and renewing work in the world, people actually felt better. They actually began to be more healthy.

Let's remember how big Jesus' movement was at this point: probably less than 30 people. He had a message that people needed to hear, but there was only one of him.

Then Jesus asked his disciples to pray to God for more laborers in fields where there were many longing for his message. And then he sends them.

Jesus is a trickster!

He sends the twelve in to the countryside to carry his healing message.

We could easily critique Jesus here: Why did he send the twelve disciples only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?


If you have a message intended for everyone, you have to find early adopters to help spread your message. The lost sheep of the People of Israel knew their scripture. They hoped for the Fully Human One (Son of Man) to come, lead, and empower them. They had experienced the pain of the harsh and bureaucratic exploitation of the people by the Romans and their collaborators. They were ready to see that they had begun to emulate their oppressors by refusing to love their neighbors.

Jesus sent the twelve to them, not because they were the only ones worthy of love, but because they were the best shot at finding other early adopters to also spread the message. To build a movement, you don't try to convince those who oppose you, you try to build with people who are open to joining you.

To build a movement, you don't do all the work yourself, but encourage people to find their authentic selves and to engage their power and vulnerability in the work.

And then he reminds them: they did not originate this message - God did.

In these days of numbing headlines, increased divisions, polarization and lack of human interaction, Jesus calls us to remember that God's healing work does not begin with our effort. Rather he invites us to share in public what we have received as a gift - to see ourselves as participating in God's way of mutuality that is near, among and for our benefit sometimes works through us.

Acts 2:1-21

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

What I Am Learning:

Today I enjoyed a conversation about this reading with a group of pastors. It was a great conversation.

We realized how often we reduce this reading to an event, believable or not, that happened to a bunch of people a long time ago. We also reduce it to the "birthday of the church" which can function to bless the church as it is.

After a lot of wrestling, we came to this:

Pentecost happens every time people are led by Spirit to hopeful and risking love with and for others.

Notice I did not say, "every time Christians are led by God."

I believe that too, but I would not want to claim to limit the movement of Spirit, which blows where it will.

For Christians, the character of this hopeful and risky love is embodied in the life, ministry, death, resurrection and empowerment of his followers of Jesus Christ. When Christians are led by Spirit to such activity, we do so as a part of the ongoing life of Christ in the world. We take up our cross, that is our hopeful and risking love, each day as we walk with Jesus in his way of healing and new creation in the world.

In this reading we see that this hopeful and risking love spread out to and back from the wide earth – that the waves of healing and new creation God initiates in and through us  are felt in places we cannot imagine.

In this reading we see that each person, young and old, men and women and people of every culture and time are motivated by the Spirit to join in.

Pentecost is a text about the Spirit's power to move even unlikely people from their isolation into public ministry: these were Galileans and some of them were women, speaking in public against the culture of the time.

One of the things that changed for me today, was the idea that it was not the language of the Galileans that changed, but rather the Spirit made people with many languages hear one another.

In a time when we are stuck in isolation and despair, when we don't seem to hear one another well, the Spirit is moving us again into the streets to listen and speak, but mostly to listen.

On a train in Portland last weekend, three men with very different political views stood between a man who was yelling at and threatening two Muslim women. All three were stabbed, two died.

As one of them died he said, "Tell all the people on the train I love them."

Is this not the Spirit of Jesus, who said, "Father forgive them as they don't know what they are doing"?

Is this not an action of Spirit in a world of hate and indifference?

The Holy-Wind continues to blow, sisters and brothers.

While it calls all of us to hopeful and risking love we should be careful not rank such love. The Spirit is calling each person and community to their own risking, hopeful love. I believe that this calling is not to make us something more or different from who we are, but to invite us to be who God is making us to be.

It is sufficient for a meaningful life to be moved by the Spirit in such hopeful and risking love as we are called to.

May it blow us, and all of God's children, into hopeful and risking love for and with others, that in this fractured time we might again see each other as human, and not just hear one another, but listen as if it matters – because it does.

Acts 1:6-14

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

What I Am Learning:

The ascension is one of the key parts of the story of Jesus, but it is often neglected. This happens, in part, because it seems kind of odd. We can more easily see the possible meanings Jesus birth, his flight to Egypt, his baptism by John at the Jordan river, his arrest, death and resurrection. But this story seems a bit obscure.

In the seventh chapter of Daniel, the truly human one comes down from the throne of God in the clouds, establishes peace, and together with all the other human ones lives in peace forever.

13As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14

27 The kingship and dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;
their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’

Daniel 7:27

In the first passage, the truly human one is given authority to create peace in the world by the Ancient One. In the second, the truly human one shares that authority with other human beings, who would, doubtlessly, share it with others.

This was an immensely powerful passage in a time when the People of Israel were under occupation by other kingdoms. It was a vision of the inherent dignity and calling of the People of Israel to be a blessing to all nations that saw their current situation under occupation as a temporary situation. Their occupation was not in alignment with the will of Ancient One who desires people to live in peace and equity with one another.

Daniel envisions these occupying nations as "beasts." This is not to say that the people themselves were beasts. Rather that the cultural system or worldview of those nations were beastly. I tend to call these kinds of worldviews as domination cultures: a vision of human beings in which humans are to seek power over others. These kind of bullying, exploitative and colonial cultures are truly beasts, and lead humans who are captivated by them to behave in beastly ways.

Again, living by a vision of a domination culture, Daniel implies, is not God's will, not the way it has to be, is not inevitable and is not true to the image of God in which we were created.

Daniel's vision invited them to see that they did not have to succumb to the beastly vision of domination over overs, but could live into who they were created to be. This vision called them to abide by the deep truth of the universe despite whatever domination nightmare was imposed on them for the time being.

In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus is often called "the Son of Man." This is a translation of what Daniel calls "the one like a human being." Walter Wink, a Biblical Scholar and peacemaker, translated this phrase "truly human one." Jesus is the truly human one.

The resurrection of Jesus was a validation of Jesus' nonviolent approach to bringing healing and wholeness to his people under Roman occupation. The story of the ascension tells us that Jesus' life reflects the character of God.

Now the Romans and the other beastly nations had their vision of god too. They proposed that the true nature of the world was a dog-eat-dog, domination world. To be smart and truly human is to be the best at dominating others because this is the way the gods were, the way the universe truly is.

Luke is trying to tell us that to be a Christian is to live by and in a vision of reality in which all humans rule together in peace, mutuality and equity AND that the way we get there is through loving our neighbors in public, even those captivated by beastly visions. This is a vision of power with each other, not power over each other.

Jesus ascends to the Ancient One as a way to say that the this way of having power with each other is God's true vision - and thus the true nature of the universe and the true fulfillment of who we are.

When the disciples devoted themselves to prayer, they were giving themselves time to let God's vision for the world sink deep into them, so they could live in the world as it was and prepare for the world as it will be. The fact that women were in the room with them, in such a patriarchal society, was a sign that they were already living into God's vision.

Spiritual practices are a way for us to take time to let God's vision for us and the universe sink deep into our being, so we can live in the world as it is without losing who we truly are - who God is making us to be.

In the Christian tradition, we understand that in baptism we are joined into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus - the truly human one. In baptism we are restored to our true identity as one of the truly human ones - beloved, accepted and invited to join Jesus in the healing and creation of the world.

I encourage you to look at our newly edited spiritual practices cards for examples of how you can let this reality sink deep in to you. You can find these practices toward the bottom of the page here:


Acts 17:22-34

22Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 32When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33At that point Paul left them. 34But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

What I Am Learning:

First let’s notice where Paul is. He is in a public space where Athenians gathered to debate and ponder what life is all about. Paul follows Jesus’ way of engaging people in the public square, and things did not always go the way he might have wanted. At the end of his speech some scoffed at him. Others, however were open to more conversation. A few began to live changed lives.

Second, Paul has spent time understanding the culture, and the ways of thinking and speaking of the Athenians. You will notice that he doesn’t spend a lot of time quoting Hebrew scripture in this public speech. While he is careful to express themes that any Jewish or Christian theologian would agree with, he quotes philosophers and poets who the Athenians knew and respected. In short, Paul respected them, event while he offered a critique of their way of approaching life, and life together.

Paul honors how devoted they were to the gods. I don’t like the translation of the Greek word deisidaimoœn as “religious.”  The word religious implies a difference between “secular” and “religious”. Athenians would not have agreed with this difference. They, like all ancient peoples, saw the sacred as infusing of all of life with meaning and vitality. The word “religion” as a reference to faith traditions only began to be used in the 17th century. This is why I don’t use the word “religion” without quotes any more.

The word deisidaimoœn could better be translated as “devoted to the gods.” The Athenians were deeply devoted to rituals that honored the many gods they believed influenced their lives. And of course, this is the problem. Many of them were devoted the gods to get something in return - rituals that reduced the mystery of life to so many quid pro quos, so many favors for the favored. Instead of human life being a sacred journey of meaning and mystery in which we are responsible to and for each other, it’s just one long sordid attempt to control life through our “devotions”.

The other problem here is that how we imagine God becomes how we imagine human beings and human communities. Those who shape and form, whether through art, language or economic systems, our imagination of God thus constrain how we human beings understand ourselves. Instead of a God of mystery and depth who creates humans in God’s own image, we end up with a diminished god and a two-dimensional view of humans.

Greek poets and philosophers were aware of these problems and Paul quotes two of them.

They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being.

Epimenides in Cretica

We too are his offspring

Aratus, (flourished c. 315–c. 245 bc, Macedonia),

The Cretans wanted to take the God they could not control and kill God, put God in the ground and bury God there. Cretans, he says, rejected truth, despised their own humanity and went only to fill their bellies with Funions. But God cannot be buried, says this mystic poet, because God is the very ground of our existence. We live in God, we grow and change and learn and seek meaning in God and have our very existence in God. The limitless of God leads to a fuller appreciation of the mystery and dignity of human life - we are God’s offspring who God cares for like offspring. So are others.

What Paul is saying in this passage is that the character of this mysterious God, has been revealed in Jesus, who as Epimenides suggested, could not be kept in a tomb.

Of course, Jesus story differed from that of Epimenides poem. Jesus was killed, put in a tomb, and stayed there until he was raised.

The God revealed in Jesus, Paul seems to be saying, cannot be reduced to a holy vending machine. Nor can human beings and our life together be reduced so seeking favor so we can survive, or others seen as mere competitors for scarce resources given only to those who offer proper devotions.

Paul is not engage here in some attempt to convert people to his way of thinking. He is making a plea to them to see the beauty and mystery and dignity of their own lives - and the lives of others.

While deeply being a Jewish Christian, Paul recognizes and honors the wisdom of other traditions.

A part of our tradition is “the day when God will judge the world in righteousness”.

Most deeply, this part of the tradition says that we live in a universe in which what we do, how we treat others and the kind of systems we help create matters. The word “righteousness” basically means “works for life and wholeness.” In other words, Paul is not making a tribalistic argument that if people are not Christians they will burn in hell forever. What he is saying is that the God revealed in Jesus cares about the real condition of human beings and holds all of us accountable for our impact on others.

Please don’t read middle ages heaven and hell into this truth telling day. Rather see Paul attempting to encourage them to take this opportunity to evaluate their lives and the way their community functioned for the poor. Remember that the Hebrew tradition of the “Day of the Lord” was commonly invoked to deal with a lack of equity and justice - not as an invitation to write off our responsibility as fellow human beings because others live or believe differently from us.

Like the Athenians, we too live in a world of many idols, of many gods, that compete for humans to identify with them. The other day I heard of a man who had a memorial service with a pro football team theme. But the most powerful god of the moment is the “market economy” that is held up as the ultimate good - reducing human beings to producers and consumers.

But like all people captured by an idol, we don’t know it is an idol. That is why we need truth tellers to help us see what we are bowing down to and invite us to rise up to honor the creator of all life, and thus the created, beautiful, mysterious and ever deepening live within us and among us.

John 10:1-10

10“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

What I Am Learning:

Shepherds in Jesus day were very low on the honor scale. They smelled. They stole grass they didn't have the right to. Sometimes they were known to sell some of the sheep they were paid to care for. They were often equated with thieves. When the

Yet, shepherds were a common and respected metaphor for leadership. In first Chronicles 11, the Elders of the people of Israel came and spoke to David and made a covenant with him to be their king:

1 Chronicles 11.2 For some time now, even while Saul was king, it was you who commanded the army of Israel. The Lord your God said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over my people Israel.’

In Ezekiel 34, the prophet speaks for God with a critique of the leaders of Israel. Instead of looking out for the interests of all the people they instead looked to their own interests:

Ezekiel 34.2 Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?

In this Gospel reading, Jesus made a critique of the leaders of the People of Israel for how they were leading in the real world. Jesus was concerned about how the leadership of Israel was impacting the every day lives of his people. They were looking after their own interests, feeding themselves, while the people were starving. According to Marcus Borg, 85% of the population were struggling to find work so they could feed their families. Meanwhile, the leaders who collaborated with the Romans were among the wealthiest: the Chief Priests and Sadducees were among the top 5% of income and wealth.

Jesus included a critique of violent revolutionaries. The word "bandit" here is the word "lestai" which means "insurrectionist": someone who fosters or leads a violent revolt.

Jesus also included a subtle critique of the Romans, however. They were the ones who did not come in by the gate - but climbed over the wall to kill, steal and destroy.

The People of Israel were subject to threats from many sides:

  • The Roman Empire who came over the walls
  • Collaborating leaders who did not protect the sheep
  • Violent revolutionaries who lived and died by the sword and took many with them

These are often the only options offered to us in a domination culture.

Jesus was offering a different kind of leadership and a different set of options and the people of his day were responding to it.

This is a photo of a sheep fold. In this case it is a small cave which has been improved with stones to make a protective wall. A good shepherd would sleep in the gate area, to ensure that the sheep would be protected from predators.

More than one flock might use the same sheepfold, so a shepherd would call his sheep and they would follow his voice and go out to find pasture. Jesus seems to be referring to the fact that many of the People of Israel followed Jesus, despite the fact that he did not have the social status to give him the right to lead.

What does it mean when Jesus says, "Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly"?

First, let's remember what "saved" means. We tend to have some post-fundamentalist stress disorder about this word! The word "saved" means to be healed or be made whole. It does not mean getting in good with God so when we die we go to heaven. It means to be made whole as individuals and as a people and as a planet - and to live a life with that wholeness on the horizon.

Jesus was saying that his way of nonviolent resistance and trust in God's way of mutuality is the way to life. Jesus' way of loving his neighbor and addressing the issues of his day without either violence or the despair of passivity is the way of salvation and healing. Jesus invited his disciples into an abundant life that does not need to wait for the external situation to be perfect to live an abundant life. This abundant life happens in the midst of thieves (Romans and their collaborators) and bandits (violent revolutionaries). This salvation begins in the midst of all we experience as we become reoriented to God's horizon of wholeness.

Today we are experiencing another time in which the leaders of our nation, on many levels, have been working for their own benefit instead of the welfare of everyday people. People of both political parties have participated in this. People who lead corporations have sought only their own profit, often only short term. We are in a time of deep and wide change. Many of the social and economic structures that have served us are breaking down and our leaders are often failing to name the issues, instead taking advantage of the anger and anxiety for their own benefit.

The Good Shepherd offers his leadership to us, offering a middle way between passivity and violence, despair and extremism. He invites us to see God's never ending love and life, and continue the wonderful disorientation begun in our baptism: being daily disoriented from the bad choices offered by domination culture to God's way of mutuality that is among all of us.



John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

What I Am Learning:

Are we consumers of religious services or are we disciples?

For those of us in church leadership: Are we producers within the religious services industry or are we disciples leading and learning among disciples?

This isn't a very nice question for the beginning of Easter week, but it is one suggested by this reading.

I have been in conversation with quite a number of pastors who are asking the same questions. It has been inspiring to listen to them and to wonder with them about what the church could be like with a renewed focus on discipleship.

Since World War II, many churches have been formed in the model we are all familiar with: enough butts in the pews to financially support a pastor, musician, and support staff and the building that kept everyone dry. I have had mission developers from the 1960's berate me and other developers because we weren't getting it done as they did.

Ever since I was ordained, I have read articles and books and had conversations about the decline of the church as we knew it. We went through worship wars, marketing seminars and made mission statements about how the church could be saved from this decline. We have tried to copy our evangelical sisters and brothers in hopes that a band would help us do church differently and bring in the crowds.

But Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

Did Jesus start any churches as we know them today?

Now before we start the shame/guilt cycle here, let's state for the record that doing church as we have done it since the 1940's is not by definition unfaithful. There is no one way to organize the ministry of all the baptized in the Christian Scriptures. The church of Christ is, as the song goes, beset by change but Spirit-led, must claim and test it's heritage.

So what was Jesus sent to do?

There are many ways to summarize what John was talking about. Here is one:

John 1:9-14 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of humans, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Jesus came into a culture full of darkness that did not see its creator and thus its true humanity in him. Even those whose communal story could prepare them for him, did not fully recognize him.

He gave power to become "children of God.

These children were born

  • not of blood: that is their identities, status and loyalties were not defined by what family they were born into - a radical statement in the first century.
  • the will of the flesh - this word is used in Paul's writings and in John to refer to a culture of domination, the bullying culture of so many empires including the Roman Empire.
  • the will of humans - the desires that all human beings are susceptible to.

These children of God were born of God. To be recognized as a child of God is to see that we and all humans are part of the divine family with all the dignity, worth and responsibility to and for and with our divine siblings.

Jesus was the living light in the midst of a culture and worldview darkened by bullying, power over others, of domination. He came to kindle that light in other humans that we might bear that light so others might have it kindled in them by the power of God.

Jesus was sent to restore human beings to the dignity, worth and identity that God intends for all humans to enjoy, and to enjoy within community. God sent Jesus to restore us to ourselves, to free us to be who God is creating us to be. This is his light that restores the flame of God's light in our souls.

In his story, we see that being restored to the dignity, worth and identity is both life-giving and painful.

Jesus was not just sent, he was sent into a particular context. In his first century Palestinian, Roman occupied context to recognize one's identity as God's child was to be at odds with all the forces of darkness in which humans were de-humanized, in which Children of God were set against themselves and one another: a world of darkness in which they were always playing the Hunger Games. To be fully human in such a culture, in such a worldview means engaging in conflict and putting oneself at risk.

When Jesus sent his disciples, he sent them in the power of the Holy Spirit to be children of God in the kingdom of darkness and domination, engaging others so they might recognize they are children of God.  To be fully human in such a culture meant the disciples were to engage in healing conflict and to put themselves at risk.

Which brings us to our initial questions.

All too often Christians have seen themselves as consumers of what Jesus offers. All too often Christian faith leaders have been happy to provide religious services consumers expected in his name.

I don't believe this is what Jesus had in mind.

He was inviting us to become his apprentices: people learning from Jesus' Way of life so that they might walk that Way as he did, risking being human in a dehumanizing culture.

Our culture is also de-humanizing to us. It encourages us to think of only ourselves, to see others as either irrelevant or as a threat, to reduce human beings to producers or consumers. We huddle in our darkened rooms, alone and increasingly afraid.

Once again and always, Jesus comes into our places of fear, isolation and seeks to reverse our dis-empowerment - to breathe on us the breath of life, to fill us with God's light and invite us to join him in his Way.

In the power of the Holy Wind, beginning where we are, we haltingly take our first steps.

Matthew 21:1-11

21When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

What I Am Learning:

The crowds knew where Jesus came from. He came from Nazareth in Galilee. The well worn phrase, "Nothing good comes out of Nazareth" had faded from their minds as they saw the public leadership of Jesus as he oriented himself and others to God's way of mutuality.

But Jesus left Nazareth.

He left Nazareth and went to all the small towns, the cities and even Jerusalem proclaiming that the kingdom of God had come near. It was time to change, time to repent, time to re-imagine: it was time to love the one creator of all human beings and to love their neighbors as they loved themselves. And their neighbors included their enemies, the Romans.

Jezreel Valley from Nazareth out toward Mt. Tabor

He could have stayed there. He could have lived a life overlooking the Jezreel Valley fixing things for people as a carpenter. He could have had lots of thoughts about how the world could change. He could have held in his heart and head all sorts of righteous thoughts about how the Romans and the collaborating Jewish leaders were screwing things up for the common folk. He could have even eventually preached about it at the synagogue, making other's heads nod in agreement. But nothing would change except the thoughts in his head. Resentment and powerlessness could have been his blanket at night and the cold hard reality of his mornings.

But he chose to leave resentment and powerlessness behind him there in Nazareth and enter the real world of human problems and politics and passivity.

A week or so ago I was talking with some folks in a church about how our larger culture views Muslims. "Well I certainly don't think that way!" a woman told me. It struck me that what she was saying was that it was what was in her head that mattered. That somehow her thoughts were pure and that this was enough.

How many times have I thought that way?

Too many to number, I realize.

Like many of us, I have stayed in Nazareth, in the Nazareth of my own head.

Many others can't afford to stay in Nazareth. Muslims, Latinx, Blacks, LGBTQIA, Hindu's, those displaced from jobs and meaning by automation and mechanization. It is my white privilege that I could stay in Nazareth so long, to the detriment of my self and others.

Jesus left Nazareth to proclaim God's way of Mutuality - to proclaim love of one God, the creator and lover of all peoples, and love of neighbors.

In that unjust and broken time, Jesus' proclamation was dangerous. Powerful interests benefited tremendously from the way things were. They didn't want things to change.

But for one brief moment, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a sign of his entrance in peace, the crowds saw what could be and left their own Nazareth's to take part in a public demonstration of joy, resistance and hope.

Jesus invites us to leave our Nazareth's and join with others in public. What we may find is that the heaviness of our hearts, the burdensome thoughts that haunt us will be replaced by the the joy of being a part of Jesus' movement of love in the world. The blanket of resentment and powerlessness that we often experience will be replaced by the warmth of knowing we take part in the love of God in the world.

Passivity may save energy. It may make us safe. But it can limit who God is making us to be, and to be together.

John 11:1-45

11Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

What I Am Learning:

One day an old friend called me to say that her mother had died. She wasn't sure that she had the strength to deal with her death, with the family dynamics that would emerge and the conversations with family friends she would have.

I told her that each of us has a backpack ready by our door for such occasions. All we need to do is trust that we have what we will need when the time comes.

She breathed a sign of relief and went to face the day with a lighter, if still grieving heart. We talked later and she handled all things pretty well and felt good about how she had responded.

We have all been there.

Death of our loved ones is baked into the cake of our universe.

We tend to see the raising of Lazarus through this lens - that in this story Jesus responded in solidarity with Mary and Martha first by weeping with them (and all of us) and then by raising him up from the dead.

The problem here, however, is that Jesus doesn't raise all our loved ones a few days after death. We are glad that Mary and Martha have him back, but what about our loved ones? If this is just a "one-off" then what difference does it make? Or worse, what if this shows what God could do, but chooses not to, for all of us.

Our personal grief at the loss of loved ones is not the primary meaning for this story.

Mary confessed that Jesus was the messiah. She believed that on the last day, the messiah would raise up the dead so they could experience life as God intended it. The messiah was to inaugurate the reign of God, free the people from the occupying army, bring equity and justice to everyone and help people live as loving neighbors.

"Messiah" was a political term: it meant the king/priest/prophet that would replace Caesar and bring the reign of God, God's way of mutuality, to the everyday world. The messiah would bring fulfillment part of the Lord's Prayer that reads: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

The raising of Lazarus was a sign that Jesus was the messiah. God raising Lazarus from the dead was a sign of things to come and God's affirmation that Mary had it right. Once word of Lazarus' resurrection spread, Jesus would be seen as the true leader of the People of Israel.

Immediately following this reading, the Pharisees and the Council met. Here is what John says about that:

John 11.46-57

46But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” 49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” 51He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. 53So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

You can see from this reading what they thought the stakes of the raising of Lazarus were: political challenge to the Roman Empire.

That Jesus did not intend to use violence to make this political challenge would not matter very much to the Romans or to those collaborating with them such as the Council.

So what does this mean for us? Doesn't this interpretation mean that Lazarus' resurrection is first-century response to a first-century problem?

It is vitally important for us to place Jesus in his first-century context. We then consider the way that he oriented himself and his disciples to the the kingdom of God in his context. Then we consider how we can be oriented to the kingdom of God in our own context.

Today we have vast income and wealth inequality.

We have a change taking place as big as the industrial revolution in automation, which took over 9 million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010. This will only increase! We live in a culture that sees people as having value to the degree they produce things. What happens when whole swaths of people are not needed - and thus are deprived of work and meaning?  A Princeton University study spoke of the "deaths of despair" among white working class people. Read more here.

We have a leader in our country who, instead of naming the issues of automation, is using language that is increasing hate speech and hate incidents in our country.  While he blamed Mexicans for taking jobs and Muslims for taking our security, Jews, LGBTQIA, Sikhs, Hindus and other vulnerable groups are all experiencing violence, micro-aggressions, and a general sense they don't belong here.

We are using up resources at a pace that our planet cannot sustain - either resource wise or by the changes to our atmosphere.

Many are experiencing loneliness and alienation from others, having no family near them and working so hard they have no time for friends, recreation, rest or thoughtful political reflection and action, which may eventually harm their health, so they need to focus more on keep their health with exercise and supplements you can see from this detailed review at

The underlying theme in our time: despair for our future and the future of the planet.

Jesus addressed the underlying despair of his people, caused by many of the same sort of issues. He worked to free his people up to work on these issues with hope that God's future, that God's way of mutuality was coming. In the story of Lazarus, we see a signal that there is something at work in the world greater than death and despair.

He addresses us still. He tells us that the power of God revealed in Jesus is still at work in the world. We are invited to hope in a brighter future for all the human family.

Typically, Jewish people believed that the spirit of a person hung around the body for three days. Once grieved, then they could rest until the Last Day when all would be made right. Lazarus was dead for four days. He was beyond hope of an immediate resurrection. Until Jesus called out: "Lazarus, come out!"

Like Lazarus, many of us experience times when we too are "beyond hope." We feel that hope is an illusion that we can no longer entertain, a friend that no longer visits us, dead and buried. Then Jesus calls out to each of us, "Come out!"

Hope is not an add on to the human experience. Hope is necessary for us to to be human and to recognize others as human. We do not live by bread alone.

This story reminds us of the power of God to raise our hope from its cold, dead place to new life in our bones, bellies, heart and voices.

May the hope of God, revealed in Jesus raise us to new hope and to the courage and energy that comes from glimpsing God's vision on humanity's horizon.