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Magi: Blues, Courage, Shame, and Love2nd Sunday after Christmas

(Sunday before the Epiphany)

January 3, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary Reading

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 
Gifts

The magi are above all the ones who come bearing gifts from afar.

So let’s take a moment to think about gifts that have come to us. Not metaphorical gifts but stuff, stuff as solid as gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

What gift do you remember from a past year?

What gift springs to mind quickly?

What gift seemed most creative, lovingly chosen, valuable?

Chime, silence, chime.

Would anyone name a few of these gifts?
The room into which Jesus was born

Now let’s consider our story.

Do you ever walk into a room with the strong impression that something is already going on? Everyone’s eyes have a layer – a slightly glistening film – of agenda. And then, even more concerning, you begin to suspect that the agenda is you.

That is the situation for Jesus when the child is born, when the child comes into the human room, if you will.

•A mother says “let it be” to an angel.

•An entire host of angels announces “peace on earth, good will toward all people.”

•Wealthy astrologers come from the east and lose their hearts in joy.

•But a king with a heart full of wickedness seeks death.

•And a great city’s religious leaders cower in hypocrisy and fear.

“Obery Hendricks … urges us to view Jesus not solely as the sociological savior of oppressed people, but as a person who lived life as a colonized individual. Jesus understands the pain of terrorism and is acquainted with the structures of disenfranchisement that rob people of their humanity.” So writes Otis Moss III in his brilliant essay Dance in the dark:


Preaching the blues without despair.

Already at birth, the layers are upon the child. This one who will not seek or bring salvation from the tower of security and privilege, but rather will find love when the dust is on the sandals and the very blood runs down the face.

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Well, it’s a lot to be born into. A lot for a child of peasant parents. A child for whom the outer story is one of being born in cultural shame, mother pregnant before the wedding. A child for whom the inner story is one of infinite dignity and glory – one who will save the people, throw down the mighty wickedness from its throne and bring joy which shall be for all people.

The New Interpreter’s Bible commentary says that there is no way to harmonize the stories of Luke and Matthew (vol VIII, p140). They are unrelated to each other. And this is of course true, if you want to do it scientifically and historically, if you need to press a modern screen into the ancient clay of these stories. But Walter Brueggemann says we must read the text as poets. And the ear of the poet has no trouble hearing the echoes of soul, and longing, and fear, dark deeds and bright courage in both accounts of the birth of Jesus.

So the magi travel, compelled by a star, walking in their bright courage. And when they arrive in the local capitol city, Jerusalem, they run into a king who is deep into schemes and strategies and intrigue for the sake of his own power. “He was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” And so he calls together all the chief priests and scribes of the people. That “of the people” is noted in the commentaries. It may not be only the leaders but also the people who live under that leadership. “Fear is all around,” rather than love being all around in Jerusalem.

Of Jews and Easterners

Now, the ancient story is about Jews in Jerusalem. Herod is sort of Jewish. His father was an Idumean, a person from Edom, who converted to Judaism (New Compact Bible Dictionary p239). He rules in collaboration with Jewish religious leaders over Jewish and other people in his region. It is a story of fear and rejection of Jesus by Jewish people.

But for us it is not about Jewish people. In our western culture, with its immense and horrific legacy of anti-semitism, texts from the Bible about Jews and Greeks will sound unduly anti-Jewish. And these texts in fact were used as rationales for anti-Jewish violence throughout the centuries.

Rather, a translated reading may use the phrase “insiders of social and religious privilege” and “unexpected outsiders” as stand-ins for Jews and Greeks in these stories.

The magi are whoever you are not expecting to come to the party, to show up on the doorstep. They are the Good Samaritan, the woman at the well who shows faith despite her scandalous social situation.

They are wealthy astrologers, so they are not impoverished, and in their own country, they probably are well-respected. But for this story, they are the outsiders, the ones who understand the truth of the miracle of the star and the baby rather than those who are close and who might be expected to understand.

They are a sign to all nations and churches and families that we might be careful to pay attention to those who come from afar, strange though they may seem, and especially when they come bearing gifts of love.

 (They are a bridge between Jewish or Hebrew tradition and outsiders. They follow a star, which echoes the language of the star of Jacob in Numbers 24:17. They followed the star as it moved before them and ultimately stopped over their destination, much like Israel followed the pillar of flame and pillar of smoke in the exodus. It is a story that links eastern astrological philosophy and Hebrew prophecy. Matthew is hard at work here, making a bridge, showing who Christ is for all people.)

At the end of the story is this: “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” The fear does not abate. Murder is afoot. But the magi will take a different path. 
What we seek

When we take a different path, what we seek with our true selves, with the “better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln said, is also the very thing that seeks us. In fact, it is not a thing but can better be described as a person. It is a presence, a “thou” as Martin Buber put it, a warmth in the structure of the universe, as Andre Sakharov said. It is the personhood of love.

And to seek this truest love, we need to remember that it is always hidden in plain sight. It is transcribed onto the very surfaces of the world all around us, as David Bentley Hart writes in his extended meditation on suffering and beauty (Beauty and the Infinite). It is like manna on the ground all around, waiting for us to perceive it and to pick it up. But no, it is so much more. For this love seeks us, moves among us in our coffee shops and kitchens, in the daily fabric of our lives, in the small openings that each moment represents. There, and there, and there are the opportunities of love.

It is the star that appears before us. Why are we not simply overwhelmed by it, as the magi were overwhelmed by joy in the presence of the Christ child? Probably because our hearts get colonized by other things, other presences. Shame is a big one. Fear. “Fear not,” the angels always say, but we do fear. We fear and are ashamed. We remember any yesterday of our lives and our souls blush with the things we “shouldn’t have” or “should have.” Mixed in, I hope, with joys and grace remembered. But we do chew on the bone of shame sometimes.
Joy

But “love is, actually, all around,” as the movie Love Actually references the British rockers The Troggs. It’s what our hearts really live on, more than entertainment or accomplishment or success. More even than sleep, or shelter or food. None of which we can do without. But without love, to paraphrase the ancient missionary Paul, all else is only a shell.

Think about a time when something has made your heart swell, some warmth or beauty or joy that captures all your attention for a moment. Think how you responded to that.

So it is with the Magi. They know about stars. And when they see this one, they travel with great effort, and at great risk, and give extravagantly, give their wealth, give themselves, because now they are, as the story says, “overwhelmed with joy.”

“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

May some story like this also be our stories. 

Light has shinedVernon K. Rempel

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

and Columbine Unitarian Universalist Church

December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve
In the Christian lectionary for Christmas Day, 

 we are given these readings:
Isaiah 9:2-7 (NRSV)

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness–

on them light has shined.
And this:

Luke 2:8-14 (vkr paraphrase of NRSV)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Holy of Holies stood before them, and the glory of Spirit shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Human One. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising the Divine and saying,

“Glory to the Holy One in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace for Spirit has favored all humanity!”
To hear this story at its heart, perhaps,

 let us set aside for a moment

  some beloved holiday traditions:
Set aside Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol,

 which is apparently the origin of meat eaters

  wanting to eat turkey on Christmas.
Set aside Love Actually

 with the part where I always cry

  when Jamie – Colin Firth – proposes to 

   to Aurelia – Lucia Moniz.
Set aside David Sedaris’ dry and so very funny

 telling of his time as a Macy’s store elf.

David Sedaris: I wear green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform.
Set aside Wynton Marsalis’ Crescent City Christmas Card album

 and Run-D.M.C.’s Christmas in Hollis

    

Set aside even, for a moment, John Henry Faulk’s

 lovely story of Christmas scarcity and abundance

  in an old Texas town

   in which an orange brings great joy to a boy.
And let us consider our story:

The people who walked in darkness

 have seen a great light.
It is, of course, a refugee story.

 Refugees walk day and night,

  in light and in darkness,

   

seeking not merely opportunity

 but the chance to live,

  the chance for a sliver of human dignity.
In our Christmas Biblical story,

 soon a young family will be fleeing to Egypt

  to avoid murder at the hands of the state.
Could they have gone to Germany? Or Canada?

 Or even the United States?
Who has the resources to share?

 Who’s heart is not three sizes too small?
At the end of the story, the Grinch’s heart grows great?

 Who else’s heart will grow great?
The light that shines into the darkness,

 the angelic announcement to shepherds

  in the ancient story
is the glory of the Spirit

 and a joy to all people.
And just as it goes from one angel to a heavenly host

 and pretty soon in the story

  we’re talking about all humanity

   and it’s all very big and exciting
So hearts that experience the light of Spirit

 find that from small beginnings

  come great and wondrous surprises…
Housing for all – the homeless, refugees,

 food so that no one is hungry,

  shoes for those who have walked a very long path.
What else? The Angels invite us to think big,

 to act locally but think globally:

  clean water, clean air,

   an earth, our lovely blue orb in space,

    not too overheated to be a place

     for the joyful living of all humankind.
And in that earth, joy to all.

 All the joy of Sedaris, Run-D.M.C., Faulk, Marsalis, Dickens, Moniz and Firth
And for each one of us,

 the joy of those who love us.
Those who do not consider our shame and embarrassment

 Worth a moment’s mention
Those who do not leave us in darkness.

 no need for achievement or dazzling performance

  but only love sparking eye to eye, ear to ear, heart to heart

   

The love of those who know us well and love us 

 in the very heart of what we are, what we completely are,

  not just the shiny bits.
Those people who feel so warm and true

 in our lives.

  

In this same way, we are beloved of the Spirit,

 we are light of the divine

  we are light shining in the darkness

   lamps held to look out for each other

    as the evening lengthens.
And we see this light and we rejoice

 and open our hearts
And make room for all,

 the young family walking to escape danger
To them and to all, a great light has shined in the darkness,

 a great joy for all the people.

  This is our prayer.

“The light before us”: Christmas reader’s theater for 10 and allAdvent 3

December 13, 2015

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Lectionary Readings 

(excerpts from Advent 3, 4, and Christmas 1)

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. –Luke 3:7,8
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. –Luke 1:46-48
She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. –Luke 2:7

A Christmas Reflection – for 10 readers and all

John

1: Long, long ago – two thousand years – a man named John was standing by the Jordan River. 
2: He was not happy. 
3: He was sick to his heart about the social fabric.
4: About questions of honesty and sharing.
5: He said: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
All: He even called the people who came out to hear him “you brood of vipers!”
6: People who may have been treating him as a wild-eyed spectacle.
7: But many wanted to confess their sins and be baptized.
8: Not from shame or manipulation, but because they also were sick of the way things were and wanted a better life.
9: A better life for all people.
All: For all people.
Song – Hark, the glad sound! blue hymnal 184
10: John also baptized Jesus.
1: His vision was that Jesus would would walk across society with a fork, separating grain from chaff.
2: Separating what is useful and nourishing from husks that are tossed aside.
3: Separating people from each other?
4: Sheep from goats?
5: The saved from the sinners?
6: John was angry with injustice.
7: He saw that Jesus would divide justice from injustice.
8: And at last people would be free.
9: “Free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last.”

(Martin Luther King)
Song – We shall overcome
All: Today, we might wonder…
10: How am I like John the Baptist?
1: How am I like the people coming down to the river to be baptized?
All: We do want justice.
2: I wonder what my next best step for justice will be?
3: But to carry justice well, we will likely need to put down some other burdens we are carrying.
4: Otherwise, it all gets to be a big load.
All: We may want to put these burdens down:
5: I do not deserve my friends.
6: If I don’t achieve this thing, I will be less than beloved.
7: I am embarrassed beyond belief about that one thing. It is so shameful; so unforgivable.
8: If people really knew me – really knew me! – they would laugh or walk away.
9: I haven’t done enough; I have never done enough.
All: We may want to put these burdens down, and burdens like this.
10: John’s invitation is this: come to the river. Confess your sins. Put down your burdens.
1: What does this look like?
2: Twelve steps.
3: Therapy.
4: A conversation.
5: A prayer.
6: A heartfelt apology.
7: Thanking the voices in my head and then saying to them: “I will now move on to better things.”
All: That’s part of the story of John the Baptist. We are grateful for it.

Mary

8: The mother of Jesus was a very young peasant woman.
9: An angel named Gabriel visited her one day with this message:
10: “Fear not, for you are now going to be the mother of a child who will be a great leader of the people.”
Song – The angel Gabriel (vss 1 & 2 with Connie, vs. 3 all) blue hymnal 180
1: She was, of course, very shocked and surprised.
2: She wondered what sort of greeting this might be.
3: Is this really an angel or just some guy?
4: Or maybe voices in her head.
5: But after holding the question for a time, she simply said “Let it be.”
6: “Let it be to me as you have said.”
7: “God has regarded my lowly estate.”
All: Words we might say when we receive an invitation to bring joyful justice onto the earth.
8: Let it be to me to help a prisoner to be released, one who has been sitting in jail on a minor drug offense.
9: Let it be to me to preach good news to the poor, those who want to be contributing American citizens but run into a bizarre barrage of immigration rules.
10: Let it be to me to bring sight to the blind, meaning I will work for access to health care for all.
1: Let it be to me to proclaim the year of God’s jubilee, when we will finally, finally, after all these years, forgive each other our sins, our debts, our trespasses and wholehearted struggle toward living in peace with our neighbors.
2: Our global neighbors and our local neighbors.
3: Let it be.
All: Let it be to me to find the flow of love.
Song – Let it be

When I find myself in times of trouble, 

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

And in my hour of darkness, 

She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom, Let it be

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
4: Here’s a surprise, perhaps.
5: The invitation is not just to live out of my strength. 
6: But also to live out of my “lowly estate.”
7: The places of my need, where I feel I lack ability, where I don’t think I have the capacity to do something.
8: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. –Luke 1:46-48
9: Out of my weakness.
10: The place where I need other people.
1: How beautiful it is to see them walk in the door.
2: How wonderful to be invited into the door.
Song – My soul is filled with joy green hymnal 13
All: That’s part of the story of Mary, mother of Jesus. We are grateful for it.

Jesus

3: Joseph and Mary were two young peasants.
4: As is usually the case, they lived in an empire.
5: A system of vast control.
6: A system of dominance that did some good:
7: Road building. Water supply. Security from crime.
8: A system of dominance that could be crushing:
9: Taxes and other economic arrangements that made it hard for the poor and favored the rich.
All: But Joseph and Mary had to go.
10: They had to go to Bethlehem to be counted for tax purposes.
1: Even if you’re pregnant and have to walk, and you’re poor, you had better go.
2: So they went to be registered in the city of David.
Song – O little town of Bethlehem (vss 1 & 4) blue hymnal 191
All: And in that time, Mary gave birth to a baby.
3: They were too poor to find regular accommodations.
4: But they were able to stay warm in a stable with the animals.
5: And there, they found a bit of straw that was on the clean side.
6: And there, she gave birth to her baby.
All: The one the angel announced.
7: And when he was born, it was as if the heavens themselves sang out, as if the stars pointed the way.
8: And mysterious things happened.
9: Angels came to poor shepherds in the field.
10: The animals seemed to want to cooperate to help with the birth.
1: Magi, wise scholars of the stars, came from the east.
2: The wicked king Herod began to kill children, because he feared this child.
3: They had to run to Egypt.
All: They had to become refugees!
4: Immigrants!
5: And they were given hospitality, thank goodness.
All: Thanks be to God.
6: We are thankful, because the great mystery of this child was that he would bring the Holy word of God close to all people.
7: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God….
8: Or, as the Celtic scholars say: In the beginning was the sound, and the sound was the song of God, singing all creation into being.
9: Singing all light and goodness into being.
Song – It came upon a midnight clear blue hymnal 195
All: Today, we might wonder…
10: How am I like the infant before anything has happened, when all light still lies before me?
1: How am I like one who lies at the very beginning of creation?
2: The very beginning of the Spirit’s next good artistic works and plans in my life.
3: Whatever my age, or place in life, or history, or plans…
4: How might I be the infant, the one with the new mind, the beginner’s mind, ready to open to God’s creation on the morning of a new day.
5: How is the ancient gift of the child also a gift to me?
6: What new and surprising joys lie before me?
7: Will there be a child of my body? Of my heart?
8: Or of creativity that will come over me like an angel speaking words of greeting?
9: Maybe I will have a part to play in reducing gun violence in America.
10: Or will I be surprised to find I am somehow helping a refugee from the fighting and desperation in Syria?
1: Will there be a new friend around the corner at the end of a street that I am only beginning to step into?
2: Will my heart come unbound so that I will find myself weeping for joy in the midst of it all?
3: Will I find a place and a people where I can carry my loss, people who love me wholeheartedly?
4: And even this: when I die, how will the ethereal vaults of heaven, time, and space greet me?
5: How might I be like the infant, full of promise and grace for all people?
6: For all times and places? Unto all people – goodwill.
All: That’s part of the story of Jesus. We are grateful for it.
Song – Hark! The herald angels sing blue hymnal 201

Gods, Epicurus, and the WarmthAll Earth Sunday – Last Sunday before Advent

November 22, 2015

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015
Bible Reading

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through the Word, and without the Word not one thing came into being. What has come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
In the beginning

What a lovely creation where

 in the beginning was the Word,

  the Celtic “Sound”, the primal chord,

   the first guitarist strumming the first 

    “E” chord on the down beat.
And then it all unfolds.

 As David Whyte says 

  “all the birds and creatures of the world/

  are unutterably themselves.”
It all unfolds: volcanic islands,

 mini-continents pushing against

  the larger landmass and raising the Colorado plateau.
And it is raised in such an even manner

 that water then arrives and carves down through it

  and the layers are exposed

   in sedimentary beauty.
It all unfolds, creation does,

 and when, in the course of human events,

  human consciousness emerges,

   it is like the twinkle of first starlight

    on the deepening blue of the eastern horizon.
Heart and soul wink into thought.

 Hopes and dreams are born.

  And with them, the shadows:

   fear, dread, abandonment,

    and with them violence.
But hope and dreams and something more,

 the great river of love that flows and flows,

  exposing the beauty in the sediments

   of heart and soul,
until one can only stand amazed in the presence

 of the love in the face and hands of another,

  the love that wants to sing in our hearts

   like the kettle sings when the tea is ready.
In the beginning was the Word, the sound, the strum,

 and the flow begins.

  For this may we be truly grateful.

   The beauty of creation is unutterably itself.

    

How may we honor it,

 and honor each other,

  each individual, and each community and nation

   intended as an expression 

    of the great flow of love.

Gods

Violence scores the earth again and again

 with its fire-marks, its tearing down of

  even that which is carefully built.
The ancient gods were so often violent gods.

 In the beginning was not the “Word”

  but the battle, strife for power and survival.
In Mesopotamian mythos, by some accounts,

 Tiamat, water goddess, begins creation peacefully,

  through a sacred marriage

   between salt water and fresh water.
But in the Babylonian stories,

 soon there are off-spring who kill their father,

  and then Tiamat does battle with them,

   and brings forth dragons with poison for blood.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiamat
In the Sumerian stories,

 a goddess is raped. She gives birth

  to the goddess of war and fertility.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerian_religion
In the Greek creation story,

 there was first chaos. Then night and the place

  of death emerged.

   The love was born.
There was offspring from gods mating

 and soon there was a pantheon,

  and then great bloody struggles.

http://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/The_Myths/The_Creation/the_creation.html
In the Bible,

 God creates light and darkness 

  out of the tohu wa-bohu or “formless void.”
Then there are families.

 Cain kills Abel.

  God frees slaves from Egypt,

   a story of great courage,

    but also great violence.
And God commands the slaughter of cities

 in Canaan.
Religions of judgment and violence,

 of sin and retribution arise.

  Terrible armies are raised in the names of gods.
Creation is in so many ways

 a roiling mess of becoming.

Science

But now there are those who 

 begin to critique the violence

  the posturing around heaven and hell,

   the threats and tribalism.
The Hebrew prophets begin to speak.

 Isaiah says “Comfort, comfort, O my people”

  which is a word we will attend to

   in the coming weeks of Advent.
Isaiah paints a picture of a servant leader so gentle,

 one who will not break even a bruised reed,

  nor blow out even a sputtering candle wick.
The adoration of strength and the practice of violence

 is interrogated, and and another practice,

  a mysterious practice of deep peace,

   is offered instead as the way of God.
Among the Greeks,

 Epicurus develops a philosophy

  that rejects the notion that reality

   is controlled by violent

    and judgmental gods.
He develops the theory of the atom.

 He suggests that all reality is simply atoms.

As Daniel Delattre writes about Epicurus: “Everything that occurs is the result of the atoms colliding, rebounding, and becoming entangled with one another, with no purpose or plan behind their motions.”
This may seem like a return to chaos.

 But it also sets aside judgment and hell,

  and divine commands to kill.
It opens the world for the clarity of science,

 for the beauty of what … called “The music of the spheres.”
When Marilyn and I were in Flagstaff

 a few weeks ago, we visited the Lowell Observatory.

  There, through telescopes, we saw the spheres.
We saw the sun, with its prominences and flares.

 We saw the locations of the planets inside constellations.

  We saw the Andromeda galaxy,

   star-cluster neighbor to the Milky Way.
All these bodies were also colliding, rebounding,

 becoming entangles. Old stars going 

  to red giants or black holes.

   New stars born in nebulae.
Beauty and clarity, free of the overlay

 of religion that fights to narrow everything down

  to who is right and wrong.

   Science at its best.
The gentleness of Isaiah’s servant leader.

 The clarity of science.
The Roman poet Lucretius was influenced by Epicurus,

 and wrote the poem “On the nature of things.”

  Stephen Greenblatt in his book Swerve

   writes that the re-discovery of Lucretius’

    poem launched the Renaissance.

(see article excerpt below and also the link to the full New Yorker article)
So the message is:

 Leave the crazy Gods. Everything is atoms.

  And from Isaiah, God is gentle.

  

The Warmth

But now these insights must marinate

 and deepen in the human soul and consciousness.
Psychoanalysis arrives.

 Carl Jung teaches us that we live 

  in a matrix of metaphors.
Coyotes are tricksters who come change our lives.

 (see last week’s meditation)
The ocean is an ocean

 but it also teaches us about the vastness

  of our inner selves.
Quantum mechanics arrives.

 Now we learn that the entire universe

  is wired for connection.

   All particles affect all particles.

    Space is not simply empty

     but is bubbling with motion and effect.
We learn that there may be universes.

 We learn the fuller implications of 

  infinity, first described by Anaximander of Miletus.
Now infinity is out there in the curving universe,

 and also in our heads – we now understand

  that our brains have as many synaptic connections

   as there are atoms in the universe.
And we understand the infinity of love.

 God becomes one who creates in infinities,

  not in limited tribal sets.
Do you want beauty? Look to Andromeda.

 Or count the cells in your body

  and number their processes.
If we have to have it a certain way

 in our limited vision, our limited religions

  and national plans,
God may well say to us, as to Job,

 “Where were you when I set the foundations of the earth?”
And so a sense of deep warmth begins to emerge.

 It is said that Andrei Sakharov,

  the great Russian physicist

   in his last years, said of the vastness of space,

    “It is warm.”
We begin to sense that space, the universe,

 the former cold emptiness both out there,

  and in our hearts,

   is warm, warm with the infinities

    of creation, warm with the love

     that we sense in the midst of it all.
Mystics began to sense this more and more.

Theresa of Avila wrote in the 1500s:

“May today there be peace within. 
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. 
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. 
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. 
May you be content knowing you are a child of God. 
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. 
It is there for each and every one of us.” 

― Teresa of Ávila
This wisdom grows and grows and shows up in many places.

 It will continue to teach us peace.
If the universe is warm, then

 no one only understands violence.

  If the universe is warm,

   the nothing is ever lost.

    No one is ever lost.
And we become dedicated to finding ways

 to address violence. We invent non-lethal weapons

  that stop but do not kill – http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/06/02/non-lethal-force
We develop “moral imagination” that

 moves us to find ways beyond the binaries

  of “us and them” and “kill or be killed.”

(See John Paul Lederach’s book The Moral Imagination.)
We live into a spirituality that knows 

 not merely by words or doctrine

  but by experience that love is stronger than hate,

   

and that the world is not on the brink of destruction

 but rather is the place of God’s joyful creation.
In the end, it is as in the beginning,

 the Universe speaks with the Word of love,

  the sound of love, the first E-chord strum

   and the great flow begins.
May we love and honor that flow in our lives.

 May this be our Thanksgiving and our gratitude.

Epicurus -The New Yorker article excerpt:

November 16, 2015 “The Invisible Library:” by John Seabrook

http://bit.ly/1l7RtKm

(from the article)

(my summary: Leave the crazy Gods. Everything is atoms.)

—Epicurus also posited that the world is made of atoms—the atomos (indivisible) elements of matter. “Epicurus says we are in an atomistic system,” [Daniel] Delattre, papyrologist, explained. “Everything that occurs is the result of the atoms colliding, rebounding, and becoming entangled with one another, with no purpose or plan behind their motions.” For Delattre, Epicureanism encompasses physics and ethics, a complete world view that he both studies and emulates. As he gets older, he told me, he finds it comforting to think that “when we die there is a dissolution of the aggregate, and the atoms come together to make a new thing. And so we have nothing to fear from death; there is no punishment, no Hell—we simply cease to exist.” There are gods, “but they are very quiet and very happy and don’t interfere with human activities.” Epicurus influenced the first-century-B.C. Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius, who wrote “On the Nature of Things,” the epic poem that was rediscovered in a monastic library in 1417 by Poggio Bracciolini, a find that Stephen Greenblatt, in his 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern,” credits as being a founding document of the Renaissance.

Blue Coyote WildernessWeeks before Advent (Common Time)

November 15, 2015

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015
Bible Reading

Genesis 12:1-3, excerpt

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…. and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

Wilderness, Abram, and Sarai

In the course of this meditation

 I will open time for you to write and reflect

  about wilderness in your life.
In all the great stories,

 God calls us out of our places of establishment,

  beyond our ways of comfort and routine

   for the sake of new creation

    

for the sake of the great and exhilarating project

 of life, the great river of life,

  the song and blue sky and grand earth

   and faces and tables set before us

    of life.
“I have come to give you life, and to give it abundantly”

to paraphrase John 10:10

 where Jesus speaks with the voice of the creator,

  who pours out the song of love into creation

   day and night, to the ends of the earth.

   (Psalm 19:1-4)
In all the great stories, 

 God calls us to the wilderness

  for the sake of new life.
But it is the wilderness.

 Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread,

  here was so hungry.
Abram and Sarai were invited to go

 into the unknown, into uncertainty:

“Go from your … house, to the land that I will show you.”

 “…will show you.”
First go. No hotel reservation in place,

 no Google maps marking the minutes

  until arrival at your destination.
There is not destination. There is only the 

 invitation, the compelling invitation,

  actually more of a command,

   to go. And I will show you the place.
It is not always easy to choose the wilderness.

 The Holy Spirit finally came to me

  as a dream about a blue coyote.

   More on that in a moment.
What has been the wilderness in your experience?

 When have you left for the unknown,

  ~~whether in a move from place to place

  ~~or into or out of a relationship

  ~~or because of illness or injury

  ~~or following a longing of the heart

  ~~or change of employment

  ~~because of loss or death

  ~~because of something new arriving

  ~~because of adoption or birth
What wilderness moments are you holding

 from your experience or perhaps right now?
I invite you to take a few moments to reflect

 and to write about wilderness, if you wish.

(questions printed in worship outline)

Novelty and routine

Going into a wilderness is not easy.
Going into whatever wilderness

 we are called to 

  

or whatever wilderness 

 we find ourselves going into

  for whatever reason

   life has thrown at us – 

 “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”
Wilderness of killings in Paris

 how do we find our way to love?
Another movement to address and reform racism

 on our campuses.

  Souls finally having enough again

   of indignity, the veiled threat.

Responding with passion and grace,

 at best, “a gentle angry people”

  as the hymn goes.
Entering the wilderness is not easy.
Even if we do prepare, 

 we will never be prepared enough.

  The true wildernesses of our lives

   do not yield so easily to our plans.
On the one hand, we have astonishing

 abilities to deal with whatever comes our way.

  Our brains are wired

   for novelty, for the ability to address change.
We evolved to be hunters

 and builders of homes and 

  shapers of whatever we had on hand

   into nourishment and sustenance.
Our brains are so good at dealing

 with novelty, that marketers

  can exploit it with annoying effectiveness.
The neuroscientist Russell Poldrack writes “The brain is built to ignore the old and focus on the new. Marketers clearly understand this: If you watch closely, you will notice that heavily-played television ads will change ever so slightly after being on the air for a few weeks. When this change is detected by the brain, our attention is drawn to the ad, oftentimes without us even realizing it.”

 Russell Poldrack “Multi-tasking: the brain seeks novelty” in The Huffington Post November 11, 2011 – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/russell-poldrack/multitasking-the-brain-se_b_334674.html
“Sometimes without us realizing it.”

 That’s the annoying part.

  How often do we find our attention

   caught by some bright ad?
But it is also marvelous.

 That’s the joy of video games, of sports,

  of playing jazz.
We don’t know what’s coming,

 and we love to try to respond to it.
That’s the one hand.
On the other hand, it can be terrifying.

 We often sense harm and even death

  in what comes at us.
Science writer Winifred Gallagher writes about the tug-of-war between our need for survival, which relies on safety and stability, and our desire to thrive, which engenders stimulation, exploration, and innovation.

 Maria Popova, Brain Pickings blog “Why we like the new and shiny” – https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/01/24/winifred-gallagher-new/

 (Gallagher a new book, by the way, on her journey of spirituality Working on God. She became a science writer and thought she was done with faith. And then faith started showing up in her writing. SFGate – http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/The-New-Agnostics-Winifred-Gallagher-grew-up-2938072.php)
As much as our brains our wired for novelty,

 we are also creatures of deep routine.

  It’s how we keep track and get ready.
I put the same stuff in the same pockets every morning.

 Left front – wallet, coin purse, pocket knife.

  Right front – keys, card case.

   Then ready for the novelty of the day.
Routine and novelty in constant search for balance.
The experience of wilderness

 is to have our lives overturned.

  It is meta-novelty, big novelty,

   often once in a life-time.
In the midst of it, we seek routine. 

 But our lives have been transformed.

Blue Coyote

And so I now bring us to the birth of this new church,

 and my own story of wilderness.
I thank you in advance for listening to my story.

 It is very personal, but I hope there are deep

  echoes for all our stories.
And I will keep it brief. A fuller telling

 will undoubtedly be coming in print sometime.
In 2009, I had been pastor at 

 First Mennonite Church of Denver for 13 years. 

  This was one year longer than any other pastor

   had ever been in office in that congregation.
So in the emotional and spiritual system

 of the congregation, already the days were growing long.
At the time, a friend invited me to 

 a series of retreats based on the work of Parker Palmer,

  called Courage and Renewal retreats.
One of Palmer’s books was the reason

 I became a pastor rather than professor years ago.
So I thought I would give it a try,

 even though I thought my routine was fine.

  Maybe a little enrichment would be nice.
Unfortunately for the naiveté of my heart,

 enrichment was not what the Holy Spirit 

  was preparing for me.
As I moved through the silence,

 and very kind conversation

  of the retreats
I found my heart opening toward something

 which I did not understand.
I thought at first it was a new project,

 to write a book or something like that.

  I even made myself the subject of 

   an intense deep-listening process

    called clearness committee

     all on the subject of writing.
Then I was invited to go spend

 a week with Courage and Renewal leaders

  and Parker Palmer.
His subject was “See how they love each other.”

At the same time, our conference minister

 Herm Weaver, was bringing the disgraced

  pentecostal minister Ted Haggard

   into Mennonite pastoral circles.
I met Ted, and now there was a new thought.

 What if I started a new church in Littleton?
Soon, I sat down for coffee with Ted,

 and I asked him what I thought was an

  obvious question, 

   since he was famous for church growth.
“Ted, how do you make a church grow?”
His answer blew my mind immediately,

 and more and more as weeks passed:

“The leaders have to love each other.”
It was love, it was love that I came to call

 “delighted love”. Not just everyday useful love,

  but love that takes deep delight.
That is the heart of great community,

 great relationship, great spirituality.
I went back and soon found myself telling

 First Mennonite “I love you.”
I started a new love service called Blues Prayers.

 I started a weekly practice of Courage and Renewal

  called the Thursday Circle.
Both of these were go become proto-types

 of a new congregation. But I did know it.
This went on for 3 and 1/2 years.

 All was well.

  But something was shifting.
I made myself very busy in work and music.

 But something was shifting.
On one morning last January,

 I had two dreams.

  One was of extreme anxiety because

   I was leaving First Mennonite.
The second was of extreme grief

 because I was leaving the people of First Mennonite.
I held these dreams for a month,

 talking with Marilyn, and with Herm

  (our conference minister).
Then one morning in February,

 I had a dream so vivid,

  it remains stronger than 

   many of my waking memories.
In the dream,

 I was standing on the porch of a white frame house

  out on the vastness of southwestern scrub prairie.
I turned to go back into the house,

 but now there was a large dog-like creature

  brushing against my legs.
It was a blue coyote with an odd swirling face,

 as if the features were all in motion.
I have since paid attention to this,

 and the blue coyote is a constant

  symbol of the trickster

   in stories from the southwest

    and native cultures.
There was even a blue coyote 

 children’s book at the Grand Canyon,

  when we visited there a couple of

   weeks ago.
Trickster – Holy Spirit – Blue coyote.

 Carl Jung has more to say on this as well.

“You may say a coyote is nothing but a coyote, but then along comes one that is Dr. Coyote, a super-animal who has mana and spiritual powers.”

https://carljungdepthpsychology.wordpress.com/page/2/
The coyote insistently brushed against my legs

 and it became clear that it 

  did not want me to reenter the house.
I wondered if it was a threat, but it did not seem to be.

 Just insistence. Just shepherding me

  from moving back into the house.
For whatever reason,

 I finally reached down and scritched

  the head of the coyote
and said in Spanish “mi Cristo es tu Cristo”

 At this, the coyote trotted off into the scrub and brush

  of the prairie.
And I woke up, knowing that my work at 

 First Mennonite was done

  and it was time to get 

   on with the dream of a new church.
It seems to me that the coyote’s odd face

 was an image of the God who will not be captured

  or named – “I am who I am”
It seems to me that 

 the Holy Spirit had to paint me 

  a very vivid picture in order to get me to move.
And why I spoke Spanish is a mystery.

 But now a couple from Mexico City

  may become part of the outreach 

   of this new congregation.
I will be inviting us to help host and provide

 for them as they seek to work among

  Hispanic youth in Denver.
There it is in some outline.

 And I thank you for your listening.

  Again, I hope it has echoes for your stories.
I wanted to tell it to help better show

 the origins of this congregation.
I still don’t know where all this leads.

 I wake up each day astonished,

  not without fear, but also simply

   astonished at what has come to pass.
I know that the purpose of this new thing

 is to respond as wholeheartedly as possible

  to an invitation of the Holy Spirit.
My prayer is that like Abraham and Sarah,

 we as a new people may become 

  a blessing for many,

   even as our continue to walk together

    into the place that God will show us.

Beauty: Finite and InfiniteAutumn series on insights from Courage and Renewal 3

Autumn common time

October 11, 2015

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015
Bible Reading 

Psalm 19:1-4

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

   and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. 

Day to day pours forth speech,

   and night to night declares knowledge. 

There is no speech, nor are there words;

   their voice is not heard; 

yet their voice goes out through all the earth,

   and their words to the end of the world. 

The infinity of song

As for myself, when I sing or play a song,

 part of the mystery of it all

  is that I am joining with an enormity,
a grand cloud of artistic witness 

 that gathers to a greatness

  of communities and histories and 

   human endeavor.
“Their voice goes out through all the earth,

 and their words to the end of the world.”
For example, consider the song

 Precious Lord, take my hand.
Thomas Dorsey wrote the song in 1932

 after his wife died giving birth

  to a daughter.
The daughter also died shortly thereafter.

 Dorsey gave the song to his friend,

  the gospel singer Theodore Frye.
The next Sunday,

 Frye’s choir sang the song

  at the Ebenezer Baptist church.

(hymntime.com)
Even the briefest glance at the history

 and the most casual listening to the song

  showers forth embedded meaning,

   soul, and longing.
“Day to day pours forth speech,

  and night to night declares knowledge.”
The immediate occasion of the song is sorrow,

 the wrenching loss of wife and child.
The cadences of the words

 are the cadences of gospel preaching:
Precious Lord, take my hand,

lead me on, let me stand,

I am tired, I am weak,

I am worn.
The words flow from great linguistic streams.

 The practice of rhetoric.
The practice of English Christian preaching,

 especially perhaps the passionate

  Scottish tradition.
And most importantly

 the black baptist practice

  of iteration and call and response speech.
Iteration:

I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.

 Repeating statements changing with

  each repetition to carry 

   the affirmation forward.
And call and response:

This is suggested, rather than

 written into the text.
There is room after the phrases,

 to respond:

Through the storm…

Through the night…

Lead me on…

to the light…
When we play it, we often do the response

 with a blues fill on piano or harmonica or strings.
Many choirs will echo

 “through the storm” and so on

  with an answering “through the storm”

   or “oh, the storm” or the

    soulful invitation “listen now.”
There is room for this.

 The song is written 

  with all this in the ear which

   Dorsey brings to the words.
And of course, black baptist cadences

 are infused with the cries and songs

  that arise from the American 

   crime of slavery
and the great human spirit

 of the enslaved Africans

  whose voices rose from the burning

   and the ashes to create 

    cadences of hope.
“…their voice goes out through all the earth.”
The music was adapted by Dorsey

 from a popular hymn by George N. Allen

   “Must Jesus bear the cross alone”
Allen was a professor of music

 at Oberlin College in Ohio

  and therefore a leader and creator

   within the greatest of 19th century

    hymn composition

     based in the European tradition.
But the tune was printed numerous times

 without attribution before Allen.

  It arises unattributed in the early 1800s

   American songbook.

(hymnary.org)
Where did it come from?

 Appalachian Welsh and Irish folk singing?

  Or perhaps an African-American spiritual?
In any case, it falls beautifully into the

 common and open 1, 4, 5 chords

  of blues and gospel
with deep roots in simple five-tone

 folk singing from around the world.
That’s my analysis, in any case.
But that is only the beginning

 of the grandeur of the song
which of course draws upon 

 the centuries of the Christian movement.
And where do words and music

 ultimately begin?
The first words of John’s gospel:

 In the beginning was the Word.
And as John Phillip Newell remarks,

 the Celtic theologians said

  “in the beginning was the sound.”
The words and sounds echo from

 the heart of the birth of creation.

Finite and Infinite

And so there is infinity in this one small song.

 There are vast cultures

  and heinous crimes

   and intimate suffering

    and the beauties

     of a grand spiritual movement.
But we would have none of this

 opened up for us

  if Dorsey had just said

   “My suffering is infinite

    and the beauty of song and words

     is infinite.”
Rather, we have this demonstrated for us

 in the very small and specific choices

  of the words and tune.
“Precious Lord, lead me on.”

 Spiritual affirmation,

  a sense of journey

   in the midst of great difficulty.
Small word choices that tell it so well.
And then the way he changes the

 tune just slightly,

  which makes it so bluesy.
Sing:

Must Jesus bear the cross alone?

and
Precious Lord, take my hand.
Hear how the line turns

 and rises?
And so it is with each one of our lives

 and the things we make

  and care about.
Our best work is just small

 and very particular:
This pie baked,

 this phone call taken,

  the thank-you written,

   this donation made

    this smile shared.
The iterations of small graces.
And this is what makes our lives great.

 Mark Nepo writes:

“Doing small things with love releases our courage. And each small act we’re led to leads to more. Doing small things with love is the atom of bravery.”
And it is the atom of infinity.

 Each act flows from its great source

  in culture, in humanity, in divine inspiration.
And each act is a seed of courage,

 a seed of new creation.
Precious Lord, take my hand.

 The sorrow of a man’s heart.

  The song at Ebenezer Baptist.

   Now a cultural joy and legacy,

    a landmark of American

     and African-American endeavor.
And so God’s work of creation

 is made and made again.
The heavens are telling the glory of God;

   and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork
Play vs 1 of Precious Lord

Bicycles, Baptism, and Amazing GraceWorld Communion Sunday

October 4, 2015

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015
Bible Reading – 6: 29-40 (NRSV paraphrased vkr)

Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in the one whom God has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “God gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my dear abba who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’
 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that abba gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that God has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my dear abba, that all who see the Christ and believe in Christ may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.

Part 1: The bread of life
In John’s telling about Jesus,

 there’s the feeding of the 5,000,

  also known as “enough stuff for everyone”,

   sufficiency, a gift beyond measure.
Then walking on the water

 also could be known as addressing our fears,

  the watery deeps of whatever it is,

   spiritual grace and strength addressing fears
Then this:

 “I am the bread of life,

 whoever comes to me will never hunger,

 whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
And much more:

 God’s bread gives life to the world.

  to the whole world

   this bread is for healing, for the whole world
the whole world, the whole shooting match,

 from our dear children, to the distortions of ISIS,

  from the grace of Dorothy Day and Dr. King

   to the terrifying vacancy of Nazis.
And a year of mass shootings.

 Let us have bread instead of guns.
God’s bread gives life to everybody, to the world.

 As the president on the West Wing

  says in one episode about evil doers:

   “They weren’t born wanting to do this.”
What evil has been done, has been done.

 And we seek healing 

  and recovery from our trauma together.
And we work with sweat and joy

 to make a finer humanity.
God’s bread gives life to the world.

 We work for bread for all, rather than violence.
And also, “everyone who comes to me…,

 I will welcome them.”

  Jesus is saying a version

   of the Courage and Renewal Touchstone:
“We will presume welcome and extend welcome.”

 And also, “I will lose none of you,

  I will lose nothing,

   but rather everything, everyone,

    will be raised up.”
In the end, everyone will be raised up.

 All we have to do is receive it,

  let our hearts also love,

   also presume and extend welcome.

    Let us share bread.

Part 2: Bicycles
As I noted last week,

 poet David Whyte writes:

  “Attention is the hidden discipline of familiarity.”

  (in Everything is waiting for you)
When we’re in a small new community

 such as this, we pay attention 

  in different ways.
It’s fun and it’s work.

 Show up with a few people

  and make church happen. 

   It’s not pretend, it’s all very real.

    

But although powerful and rich

 beyond measure

  in the Spirit of Christ,

   it can all still feel fragile.
It’s like riding a bicycle

 instead of driving a car.
On a bicycle, riding around Littleton,

 one quickly learns where the hills are,

  how the land falls toward the Platte River,

   where there’s a ridge.
In a car, it is largely invisible, irrelevant.

 Internal combustion.

  Was there a hill? Didn’t notice.
But on a bicycle, one notices a hill.

 One might notice hunger and thirst as well.

  One might come to need things.
Whoever comes to me will never hunger,

 never thirst.

  And if you’re hungry or thirsty,

   those words sound out differently.
Being in a small community is a way

 of placing ourselves in need,

  vulnerable, but vulnerable to the grace of God

   who is the bread of life.

Part 3: Baptism
When I was a child,

 I grew up among the Mennonite Brethren.
Like Baptists, we had baptistries,

 those water tanks in front of the sanctuary.
They were nicely crafted,

 molded with steps going in

  from either side.
There was room for the minister

 and the one receiving baptism

  to be in the water together.
Down you went, in the name of the 

 Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

  I would say Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost.
It was the Holy of Holies of our church,

 the place of watery mystery.
We used to walk through the tank

 when it was empty,

  get a little feel for it,

   a little spiritual zip.
And then to be baptized,

 at least in my experience,

  was to say “yes” to a lot of good things.
Yes to a God who loved us,

 yes to community of people who sang and prayed together.

  yes to a grand movement of love.
Sure there were problems and distortions.

 Always. But also so much love.
I will lose nothing, Jesus says to

 the people who are questioning him.

I will lose none of you.

 All this will be caught up in the last day,

  made whole, made light,

   in eternal life.
That’s baptism.

Part 4: The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
One of the less-sung verses of John Newton’s Amazing Grace

 is this one:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,/

The sun forbear to shine;/

But God, who called me here below,/

Will be forever mine.
It has been called bad theology.

 And it probably is.

  Better to say the earth will be redeemed 

   like the first days of a new spring.
But it also feels right.

 A couple of weeks ago, 

  I led a service for a 16-year-old

   who died suddenly.
The earth of that family,

 surely had dissolved like snow.

  Their sun did forbear to shine.
But God who calls us here below

 will be forever mine.

  Will be forever ours.
It rings true for me in that moment of devastation.
I think the earth will be redeemed,

 “All the birds and creatures of the world”

  as David Whyte continues in his poem.
On this feast day of St. Francis,

 that’s right. All the creatures,

  God bless them and keep them.
David Whyte’s final line then is:

 “Everything is waiting for you.”
Which is in sympathetic vibration

 with Jesus:

  “I should lose nothing of all that God has given me.”

Closing

I am grateful for the love of Christ,

 for this small community,

  for new attentions and vulnerabilities

   and joy in love

    and love even in the midst of loss.
I am the bread of life, says Christ.

 Thanks be to God.

  Amen.

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