Good Friday(B): Where God Meets Us

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By: The Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron

I’m cheating a little because the part of the Good Friday story I’m going to focus on here doesn’t even appear in this Gospel—but it does appear in the Psalm.

The fourth of Jesus’s seven last words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, featured in Mark and Matthew’s accounts of the crucifixion, comes from the first line of Psalm 22, this year’s psalm for Good Friday.

I love this line because, for me, it encapsulates the mystery of not just the crucifixion but of the incarnation: Jesus is God, imbued with divine salvific power; yet he also knows the painfully human experience of feeling utterly powerless and forsaken by the Divine. Serving as a pediatric chaplain attending parents facing their worst nightmares and now serving my parishioners in some of their worst moments, I find it deeply moving to meditate on the fact that Jesus is paradoxically with us, even—perhaps especially—when we feel most abandoned by our Maker.

Psalm 22 also, of course, serves as inspiration for a few other parts of the crucifixion narrative: the prophecy fulfilled in John 19:24 comes from Psalm 22:18, while Luke 23:37 (“If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”) echoes the taunt found in verse 8: “‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let God deliver—let God rescue the one in whom God delights!’”

The psalm features classic elements of a psalm of lament, seesawing back and forth between complaint (vv.1-2; 6-8, 12-18) and expressions of trust (vv.3-5, 9-10), onto petition (vv. 19-21) and finishing with anticipatory thanksgiving (vv.22-25) and a call to praise (vv. 26-31).

It also contains striking imagery, including the only time in the Hebrew Bible that a human is called a worm (v. 6), a stunning image of God as the midwife who places the newborn on its mother’s chest (vv.9-10-11), a common trope comparing the psalmist’s enemies to wild animals (vv.12-13, 16, 20-21), and a description of the psalmist’s suffering so vivid (a heart like melted wax, a tongue dried up like a potsherd, vv. 14-15) that it calls to mind Job, the gold standard for bodily suffering.

Read on Good Friday, the depiction of physical devastation in this psalm points us to the reality that Jesus came to be with us on earth in part to draw closer to us not just through our joys, but through our embodied pain. His human experience is one way we know how much God loves us: that God-made-flesh chose to share our finite and fragile lot.

And what a lot it was. As the Gospel reading reminds us, in his last days on earth Jesus was betrayed and humiliated; sustained grievous physical wounds; and suffered the immense spiritual pain of being abandoned by God, forsaken in his utmost hour of need.

How many of us have felt similarly abandoned in the moment of receiving a diagnosis; in the midst of chronic illness; in the war zone that is a bitter divorce; in the depths of depression or addiction; in the bleak midnight of broken dreams; in the long, loss-filled marathon of a global pandemic?

Yet in that mysterious paradox, through his suffering and death Jesus is with us, even in the barren wasteland of our forsakenness. Through Jesus, somehow God is with us even when we are abandoned by God: “For God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; God did not hide God’s face from me but heard me when I cried to God.” (v. 24)

What might at first seem a stunning admission of faithlessness—whether by the psalmist or by our Savior—actually goes straight to the heart of our faith. On the lips of Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” becomes a beautiful, despairing cry—a witness to the Gospel’s power to penetrate into even the most despair-filled corners of our existence.

May we bear witness, too—to Jesus’s pain, to our own, to the world’s pain; not flinching away from it but boldly facing it, insisting along with the psalmist that God meet us there—and ultimately trusting, along with the psalmist, that it will be so.

The Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron serves as the pastor of Park Avenue Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Arlington, Massachusetts. A self-proclaimed thriftvangelist, her ideal day involves some good thrift shopping, a nice long walk, and a dance party with her two young kids and her pastor husband, Chris.

Palm Sunday(B): The Mind of Christ

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By: The Rev. Jazzy Bostock

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. . .

On first glance, the imperative seems like the original WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) – exhorting listeners to be as Christ-like as possible. And there is good theology naming each of us as little Christs, with the responsibilities that go along with such a title. But I have to wonder: is it actually possible for the same mind to be in us that was in Christ Jesus? I mean, isn’t that what makes Jesus spectacular, and set apart, and Divine—that his mind was different from each of ours?

Paired with the long gospel for Palm Sunday, the sentiment is particularly challenging. In our gospel, Jesus is anointed, breaks bread with his disciples, prays, is betrayed, tried, stripped, mocked, and crucified. And not once in the trials does Jesus raise a hand or give a harsh word to those who are causing him such pain. He is the picture of non-violence, even to the point of a cruel death.

Can that same mind really be in us, which was in him? And if we can have such a mind, then what about the heart? What about the spirit? How much like Jesus can we be?

I think another way to ask that question might be: how much like us is Jesus? How human is the Son of God, exactly? And, if you’re anything like me, it sort of depends on what day you ask. Sometimes, I feel like Jesus was very human. I think of the Syrophoenician woman, for instance, when Jesus compares her to a dog. A very human moment. I think of some of the times he behaved in ways I find unpalatable—perhaps not radical enough, or conforming too closely to the culture of his day. When I read those passages, I am convinced of Jesus’ humanness. But then there are other times like this gospel reading, where, even in the midst of his own betrayal, he implores his disciples to non-violence, when I am convinced that Jesus is very little like me. When I read stories of his healing, or the miracles he performs, I feel like we have little in common, and he moves from on-the-ground human to pie-in-the-sky Divine.

What I see in myself, as I grapple with the question, is my own flip-flopping. My emotional state controls much of how I see the world. And my emotional state is sometimes swayed by something as simple as a cup of coffee, or a well-placed snack. There’s something about Jesus, in comparison, which feels solid; certain; sure. And how did he get that way?

As I’ve travelled through the last pandemic year, logging on to Facebook most mornings to lead morning prayer for my church, I’ve been reminded of the way that regular prayer works its way into my body. Jesus prays often in our gospels. And yet, because it’s usually just one sentence, it hasn’t always been something I’ve focused on. Prayer is central to his ministry. It bookends almost every miracle he performs and guides his interactions. I am not nearly so solid in my own prayer discipline, though I am learning. Tethering myself to a daily practice—to the rhythm of the apostles creed and the prayers, tedious though they may seem in the moment—gives me a sense of regulation. Though this regulation is far from making me as solid and sure as Jesus seems to be, it certainly tethers some of my more wayward leanings.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, then, might not be about whether we can become Jesus—that is, not about whether we can change our core personalities—rather, it might be about how we pattern and regulate our lives; what we allow to guide and shape us. For Jesus, prayer was the guiding force of his life. Prayer surrounded and infused all he did. In his last moments of life, he prayed from the cross, for himself and others.

I doubt that I can be very much like Jesus, because I doubt my own capacity for forgiveness and love and mercy, all of which Jesus had. I doubt my own motivations, and know my ego gets in the way too much. But perhaps I can be a little bit like Jesus by teaching my wayward heart, again and again, to return to God in prayer. And to keep returning.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. And let it be molded by prayer.

The Rev. Jazzy Bostock is a kanaka maoli woman, serving St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church and Maluhia Lutheran Church in Maili and Makaha, on the West Side of Oahu, Hawaii. She loves to cook, garden, laugh with her wife, and walk barefoot in sunshine. 

5th Sunday in Lent(B): Sacrifice & Loss

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The Rev. Sean A. Ekberg

We’ve been living in an eternal Lent. Well, what feels like eternal, as it’s been since March of last year that any of us has lived life normally. To preach on Lent, what it means, and ‘giving up’ of oneself almost seems laughable at this moment in time. We gave up our social connections, habits, and haunts. We gave up our church buildings and onsite ministries. Some people just gave up.

Jesus talks about this giving up every year during Lent. He reminds us that, “To love one’s life is to lose it, and those that hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Well, JC, I get where you’re coming from but c’mon man…we’ve been giving up so much in the last year that there isn’t much left of us. How then can we preach to congregations concerning ‘giving up’ when we don’t feel like we have much left in our lives?

This is where the rubber meets the road, at least for me.

Our creature comforts have often become roadblocks on the path to Jesus. We rely on bars and restaurants; movies and sporting events; in person worship followed by coffee hour; dates with partners, moments with family…the list goes on and on. With all of these moments simultaneously stripped away, our lives have become seemingly less, somehow—at least on the surface. Loneliness and separation have cost people loss of life in multiple ways, so how can we continue to lose what we don’t have?

I think to preach on loss is important, even if we feel the way mentioned above. Christ didn’t ask us to forgo movies for faith; Christ asked us to live lives filled with faith in God instead of faith in penultimate joys. For us, the job of asking folks to continue to lose is one of reframing the word ‘loss’ into the word ‘sacrifice’. We haven’t lost anything, really. We’ve had to sacrifice for the greater good—we have made these sacrifices to keep our loved ones’ safe and healthy, and they have done so for us. We have ‘died’ to worldly ways, sacrificing comforts for well-being. How have we filled those empty spaces once inhabited by those comforts? Have we been able to seek God in the midst of all this chaos, or have we retreated into the holes left by our sacrifices and hidden from hope and prayer? Have we recognized that Jesus Christ can be worshiped from a computer screen just as faithfully as he can from a pew—or have we fallen away from worship altogether because we feel abandoned? These are important introspections that I believe we all need to encounter, if we already haven’t, and our people need us to admit our sense of sacrifice so that they can approach theirs.

After all, Jesus’ was the greatest sacrifice. Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes our minds concentrate so heavily on the sacrifices that we’ve made that we gloss over the sacrifice God made. Being a season of penitence, my hope is that we will preach sacrifice and not loss—while still acknowledging that we have lost loved ones, jobs, and other important facets of life, we must also note the sacrifice we make so that we can love our neighbor as ourselves. We sacrificed our lesser freedoms to do our part for the rest of humanity…

God sacrificed God’s entire human life to save it. Let’s remind people of that.

The Rev. Sean Ekberg is the Rector of Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He earned a Master of Divinity from Seminary of the Southwest in 2015. His favorite pastimes are talkin’ bout Jesus, enhancing his terrible golf game, and taking vacation time with his favorite person in the world—his wife, Nicole. They have a thirteen year old pit bull named Ty. He likes Jesus, too.

4th Sunday in Lent(B): God So Loves the World

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By: The Rev. Dr. Marshall A. Jolly

If you listen closely, I suspect you could hear the collective sighs of preachers near and far who, in their preparation to preach, saw that John 3:16 was among the lectionary texts for the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Now, don’t get me wrong: John is my absolute favorite Gospel to preach on, to study, or just to sit down and read! I am not alone in my love of John. In fact, there is something of a cult-like following of the Fourth Gospel among preachers.

Alas, as every preacher knows, the more familiar a text is, the more difficult it can be to preach on! Sometimes, it seems that everything that can be said about a text already has been said—and by someone who said it better than I can! Nowhere is this more clearly the case than with John 3:16. Martin Luther infamously called this verse, “The Gospel in a nutshell,” and for better or worse, it has been emblazoned on billboards and bumper stickers, sewn into throw pillows and baseball caps, and it has even appeared tattooed into the skin of more than a few actors and athletes.

A more fruitful homiletical pathway might lead us to explore the verses immediately preceding verse 16. They are undoubtedly some of the most unfamiliar verses in the New Testament, and they draw our attention to a rather opaque section of Torah—namely, the book of Numbers, which the People of God hear from three times in the entire three-year lectionary cycle. The story to which Jesus is referring picks up with the Hebrew people who, having long been liberated from the Egyptians, are nonetheless still wandering in the wilderness, in search of the land which has been promised. The longer they wander, the crankier they become. They take aim at God and Moses alike, crying out in petulant frustration.

All told, Numbers depicts five of these so-called “murmuring episodes” wherein the Hebrew people grumble and complain about an assortment of perceived grievances. They don’t like the food; they want more water; they’re tired; they want to go back to Egypt; they’re sick of camping. Picture a minivan loaded up for a road trip with a gaggle of disgruntled toddlers kicking the seats, throwing popcorn, and screaming, “Are we there yet?” and you won’t be far off!

Each episode follows a predictable pattern: the Hebrew people complain, God gets angry, the Hebrew people realize they’ve made God angry and beg Moses to intercede on their behalf, Moses does, and God calms down. Then, a few chapters later, another tantrum erupts, and the same pattern unfolds. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Finally, their sniping reaches a boiling point. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness,” they grumbled against God and Moses, “For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”

If you listen carefully, you’ll catch the level of absurdity underpinning their whining. “There is no food and water,” they moan in one breath, and then, “we detest this miserable food,” they carp in the next breath. In response, God punishes them for their insolence and sedition by sending venomous snakes into the encampment.

Now, at this point, some of us may be thinking, “Well that was a little harsh, God. Those snakes bit people, and some folks even died!” But we must leaven our reading of Scripture with a bit of theological imagination.

The Hebrew people were faced with a choice. On the one hand was a life-giving relationship with God that challenged everything they thought they knew about the way the world worked and pushed them to greater depths of faith and obedience. On the other hand was the monotony of slavery in Egypt which would surely lead to death, but at least it offered some semblance of consistency and predictability along the way.

Over and over again, the Hebrew people voiced their desire to go back to Egypt and pick up where they left off as slaves to Pharaoh. In one scene, they actually hatch a plan of sedition: “…Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.” (Num. 14:4b) At least in Egypt, they knew how the system worked. With God, there was no telling where they would be led, or what they would be asked to do. So enough with this “chosen people” stuff, we’ll take our mundane life of slavery back, thank you very much!

And yet, the narrative arc of the Old Testament in particular, and Scripture in general, is one of a relentless and undeterred God doing whatever it takes to maintain a relationship with humankind. Even here, as the Hebrew people are hell-bent on marching back to certain death in Egypt because they feared what they did not know and couldn’t predict, God is ultimately and inexorably the source of life. As the Hebrew people repent from their foolish and seditious ways, God hears their prayer and once again sets before them a wellspring of life and healing.

But the way God chooses to do it is what makes this passage even more strange: God tells Moses to craft a venomous snake and put it onto a pole so that those who were bitten could look at it and be healed. Moses did as he was told, and crafted a venomous snake from bronze, put it on the pole, and set it in the midst of the people. Whenever a snake bit someone, they looked at the bronze snake and lived.

In fact, the statue worked so well that it became a kind of cultural icon among the Hebrew people. The statue was passed from one generation to the next until, centuries later, it winds up in the temple in Jerusalem. By then, it had garnered both a name (Nehushtan) and a cult-like following, which prompts King Hezekiah to have it destroyed. (2 Kings 18:4)

Although there is little hope that this unfamiliar and bizarre tale will make it into the Vacation Bible School curriculum anytime soon, at its heart is a universal truth: there is no venom quite so deadly as fear.

Fear of the unknown; fear of the other; fear of failure; fear of death—nothing causes spiritual and emotional paralysis more effectively than fear. It corrodes faith, cuts off our pathways for giving and receiving grace and mercy, and if it is left untreated long enough, it gives way to hatred, recalcitrance, hardness of heart and soul, and leads ultimately to death.

As we continue on our Lenten journey, there may be no more important time for us to take account of the ways in which each of us are afflicted by the venom of fear. Only when the Hebrew people brought that which they feared most into full view, were they made whole.

The same is true for us. As we come into full view of the cross and the reality of death, it is only by walking headlong into death’s dark shadow that we come to know the fullness of Christ’s resurrected life.

For indeed, God so loves the world.

The Rev. Dr. Marshall A. Jolly serves as Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, North Carolina. He completed his undergraduate work in American studies at Transylvania University, and his master’s and doctoral work at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He is the curator of ModernMetanoia.org.

3rd Sunday in Lent(B): Contemplating the Cross

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By: The Rev. Brandon Duke

Luke 2:22-40 shares the story of the Presentation. In it, we discover the holy family on a pilgrimage to the ancient temple in Jerusalem fulfilling their requirement “as it is written in the law of the Lord” (v 23). That is, to offer their firstborn to the Lord through the sacrificing of a small bird.

The Presentation not only marks the time when the young Jesus was presented to God in the temple, it formally marked the Son of God taking on our nature and giving itself back to God the Father. This theodrama played out when Sts. Simeon and Anna announced that the glorious return of Yahweh to his holy temple had happened right before their eyes – For these eyes of mine have seen your salvation (v 30). In today’s Gospel, the young Jesus has now come of age. Entering into the temple court again, he now passes judgment on it and declares that his very body had become the new temple. A few days later, this new temple would give his final sacrifice on the cross, offering himself yet again to the Father for the redemption of the world.

We’re at the point in this season of Lent where the image of Christ’s cross begins to take shape. If Epiphany is the season to reflect on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, Lent is the time to come alongside Jesus with his cross. Remembering is challenging. Even his closest followers could not comprehend the cross. St. Peter would not fathom the Messiah undergoing suffering and death (Lent II).

Today (Lent III), we learn that it was only after “he was raised from the dead” that his disciples “believed” (Jn 2:22). Two thousand years later, are we still like Peter? We know the story, and like the disciples, we remember what is written (v 17). Like Peter, we often deny that we will one day die and even ignore the truth that our closest friends and family will do the same. Forgetting we are dust and to dust we will return is prevalent in our culture, even as we have experienced significant death this year due to the ongoing pandemic (Gen 3:19).

Contemplating death alone leaves one with a sense of hopelessness. Set this despair up and against the cross of Christ, and death has no sting (1 Cor 15:55). Again, we know the story. God raised him from the dead. We preach Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23). There are three more Sundays left in Lent. Use this time to not only remember your death but to contemplate the cross.

The Rev. Brandon Duke is pastor to St. Julian’s Episcopal Church in Douglasville, Georgia. During the pandemic, his family chose to homeschool their oldest child and will continue to do so for another year. It’s an adventure and a cross to bear all at the same time.

The Last Sunday after Epiphany(B): Be the Body of Christ

Mark 9:2-9

By: The Rev. Oscar Rozo

The author of the Gospel of Mark tells us this Sunday that after a long journey of ministry, after healing men and women, old and young, after feeding thousands and calling a group of followers to go out and heal, love, and transform the lives of others, that Jesus brings Peter, James and John to the top of a mountain where he is transfigured. As we listen to how “his clothes became dazzling white,” I wonder, what the meaning of this transfiguration might be for you and me?

On one hand, we are told that the transfiguration takes place to reveal Christ’s glory prior to the crucifixion and resurrection. It is a source of hope, strength, and comfort to his disciples as they approach difficult times. On the other hand, as Jesus’ physical body is transfigured, it indicates the glorification of the human nature in Christ. This last is a reminder of the human capacity to be transfigured as well. Perhaps not as individuals, but as a community.

Paul the Apostle, in his letter to the people of Corinth, reminds us that we “all” are the body of Christ, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27) And if Paul is correct in his description of Christ’s body, if we are truly created in the image of God as it is described in the book of Genesis (1:27), the miracles, the healing, the transformation that Jesus provided to the world through his ministry on this earth is possible for all of us, if only we all come together as a beloved community.

Perhaps it won’t be the transfiguration that Peter, James, and John experienced at the mountain, but if we are capable to come together and be the body of Christ in this world, our lives, our work, our hopes, our journeys will be transfigured as well. 

During the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States, Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, shared with all humanity images of the transfiguration that humanity can experience if we come together. Gorman read: 

“For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Perhaps, as we listen to the transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we should remind one another this Sunday that we all are part of the body of Christ, we all are called to a common mission, we all are called to walk together, to hope together, to dream together, to be together, and together be transfigured. And be the body of Christ.

The Rev. Oscar Rozo is the Diocesan Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina and priest-in-charge of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Newton, North Carolina. He is married to the Rev. Elizabeth Tester and father of Ezekiel (3 years old) and Miriam (1 year old).

Epiphany(B): Epiphany is for Outsiders

Matthew 2:1-12

By: The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram

One of our most basic human needs is the need to belong. In fact, this is one of the concepts I drill into my Intro to Religion class—why are people religious? We have lots of reasons to be religious, but a major reason is our need to belong. We are social. We need community! One of the downfalls of the human need to belong, however, is that people often shove some people out of the group to make clearer the boundary around it. We deal with the temptation of proving we belong by insisting those other people don’t belong. I am on the inside. I know what is going on. I belong here. This place, this circle, this church is for me.

On Epiphany we celebrate that the Gospel includes the outsiders, that Christ did not come only for some, but for all. We experience this with the traveling Magi, who bring gifts from afar through a long journey to meet the Christ child. They are enthusiastic, recognizing the transformative power that has entered the world, seeing the miracle that not even all on the inside recognized. They even go to visit an insider, King Herod, to celebrate this new joy. Yet the insider, King Herod, cannot be trusted. He does not see this new birth as a time to celebrate transformation and embrace outsiders, but instead, it is a threat to his place, to his power.

I am struck by the idea that the Magi tried to include King Herod, building a bridge between outsiders and insiders around this new birth, this new joy to the world, this new reign of peace and justice. I am further struck that they realized he was not to be trusted through a dream, and afterwards, affirmed their own sense of self-knowledge by prioritizing what they learned from the dream. What can we gain from this story?

I am reflecting on the idea that outsiders might recognize truth that insiders miss. I am reflecting on the idea that outsiders might be the ones that offer invitations, even when rejected by insiders. I am reflecting on the idea that outsiders might bring truth that supersedes what the insiders know to be true—that King Herod is not their king, and so going against his wishes because they have discerned a truth outside of him is a reality made possible due only to their outside status.

I think all of us can resonate with the sense of being an outsider in an insider space. I did not grow up in a denominational setting, so sometimes I feel like an outsider in denominational church spaces. And yet, there is a deeper level to the insider/outsider status that is rooted in justice and oppression in our world. So now, I turn to a reading of this story through the lens of prioritizing those on the margins. We read through the lens of those on the margins not only because we see a grown-up Jesus doing that time and time again, but because we see through Epiphany that those on the margins have a full story they are living, too. They might even invite us into their narrative if we are receptive to the invitation.

And all the while, even as all are included, and all leave their mark on the story, sometimes those on the margins have reasons to distrust those in power, like King Herod. And when that happens, I can’t help but hope they follow their instincts, listen to their dreams, and persist following the way of light and justice and transformation.

The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram is Director of Religious Life and College Chaplain of Franklin College. She lives with her spouse in Franklin, Indiana. Her current pandemic-related hobbies include sending mail, spending all social time with only a scarce few people outside, playing Animal Crossing, and watching uplifting comedies like Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso on repeat.

4th Sunday after Epiphany(B): I Need Reminders

Psalm 111

By: Anne Moman Brock

In the introduction of Eugene Peterson’s book Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer, he writes this: “To live as a human being means that we use tools” (2). Prayer is a tool, however, “prayers are not tools for doing or getting, but for being and becoming.” When I approach the Psalms, I am reminded of this — they offer a tool for becoming closer to God, for being fully human.

When I read the Psalms, I also find myself stepping back in time, while in the same moment, being fully present today. The emotions they felt then are emotions I feel today. The distress they experienced then are experienced here and now. The uncertainty, the celebration, the anger, the joy — it unites us across centuries. The Psalms remind me that my feelings and experiences are valid and welcome when I turn to God in prayer.

Each psalm offers me a reminder of my humanity and it turns out I need a lot of reminders!

I think we all need reminders, which is why the Christian calendar and worship liturgy are important parts of our faith. Yearly, monthly, weekly — we need reminders. We know what’s going to happen every Advent season; there’s no surprise or shock when we hear the story year after year. And yet, we keep showing up to hear that story, to relive the moments, to be reminded of what we already know.

Psalm 111 reminds me of what I already know — that God’s deeds are majestic, that the LORD is gracious and compassionate, that God’s actions are faithful and just.

Psalm 111 also reminds me of how I can respond to these things I already know about God — to praise God with all of my heart, to name the good deeds God has put forth in my life, to acknowledge this presence in the world.

Additionally, Psalm 111 reminds me how to pray — one of the many prayer outlines found in the book of Psalms. This one goes like this:

A Promise to Give Thanks

Praising God for God’s Deeds

Naming God’s Deeds

Beginning to Understand God’s Ways

More reminders on how to be in relationship with God. More tools to help me be and become.

“I will extol the LORD will all my heart…” I’m grateful for the reminder to commit to thanking God. My personality type is responsible, so if I’ve promised to do something or made a commitment, it’s highly likely that I’ll follow through. Being reminded to commit myself to thanking God regularly for my breath, the sunset, or a good plate of food is so helpful. Before going any further into the words of praise, the psalmist recommits to thanking God. A reminder we could all use, I suspect.

“God has caused God’s wonders to be remembered…” I’m grateful for the reminder to praise God for all that God does for us. And, not just us humans, but for all of creation. Before even naming what God has done, the psalmist praises God for who God is. What a great reminder to be aware of God’s nature before focusing on God’s actions. Because of God’s character, God is worthy to be praised.

“God provided redemption for God’s people; God ordained God’s covenant forever…” I’m grateful for the reminder of what God has done for us. Because of God’s characteristics like graciousness and compassion, we can see God’s deeds from the beginning of time until now. God has proven to be trustworthy and just. We recall not just God’s nature, but how we see God’s nature carried out in our lives.

“All who follow God’s precepts have good understanding…” The last few lines of this psalm remind me that much is up to interpretation! I suspect that one person’s understanding of God’s precepts might vary from the next. However, the psalm ends with one final phrase we can agree on: to God belongs eternal praise.

The Psalms are a tool we can use to help us remember. When we forget how to pray, use the Psalms. When we feel alone, turn to the Psalms. When we struggle to worship, open up the Psalms. When we are unclear about our relationship with God, let the Psalms speak for you.

I don’t know about you, but I need a lot of reminders. I’m grateful the Psalms offer me page after page of reminders about God’s compassion no matter what I’m going through in life.

After fourteen years of youth ministry in the United Methodist Church, Anne Moman Brock is now in another form of ministry with Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, part of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She is a graduate of Christian Theological Seminary. Anne lives with her husband and two dogs — 12 year old husky and 2 year old chocolate lab — in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can find more of Anne’s musings on running, quilting, infertility, and writing at www.annebrock.com or on Instagram.

3rd Sunday after Epiphany(B): Maybe, Just Maybe

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

By: The Rev. Mashaun D. Simon

Many of us are familiar with the story of Jonah. This Hebrew Bible prophet who lived somewhere around the 8th century BC is instructed by God to go to Nineveh to declare to the people that God intends to destroy their land.

Instead, Jonah runs away, finds himself on a ship where the occupants toss him overboard after they realize that the trials they were facing were due to Jonah’s disobedience, and then he ends up in the belly of a whale.

This is Jonah who, after all of that, finally submits to what God instructed and after being told a second time to go, he arrives in Nineveh to declare thus sayeth the Lord. After travelling a day’s distance, he cries out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

What stands out to me is the amount of time God allows the people before God makes good on God’s threat. Think about it. If God wanted, God could have simply destroyed them when the thought crossed God’s mind. According to the text, their wickedness had come to the attention of God and so God decided their only recourse was to be destroyed. 

God gave them time. God gave Jonah time and God gave the people of Nineveh time. God gave them all a moment to decide for themselves. Would they continue down the path they were going, or would they choose another path, another way of doing and being, and living in the world? Would they continue in their wicked ways, or would they choose honor, integrity, simplicity and a new way of being? What would they choose? 

Now, let’s be clear. In no way am I suggesting that they, or us for that matter, have the ability to change God’s minds with our actions. There is no way of knowing whether or not our choices, our actions, our ways of being truly impact God’s choices. Yes, it is something that has been taught to us from generation to generation. But there is a danger in suggesting such theology because such theology sometimes leads us to believe that the trials and tribulations we all face in life are our fault. 

And I am sorry, but I struggle with such declarations. I struggle to believe that those who are homeless are so because of something they did when there are systems in place that cause outcomes out of our control. I struggle to believe that the person who experienced sexual assault, something I myself have experienced before, deserved such a violation. I struggle to believe that those that are enslaved, poor, blind, barren, broken and battered are because of something they did or failed to do. And I struggle to believe that the wealthiest of the wealthiest achieved some extra grace from God that led to their success when they have gained their success from the suffering and exploitation of others. 

No, I am not suggesting any of that. But what I am suggesting is, instead of God following through with God’s punishment, God chose to allow the people a chance to adjust. And I believe that is what the year 2020 was for many of us – a chance to readjust.

Here we are, this third Sunday of the new year 2021. We have made it through advent and the anticipation of Jesus’ birth. We are just a few weeks into a new year and, like last year, we have all sorts of hopes and dreams, expectations and wishes. And yet we are still faced with uncertainty. We are still in a reality for which we just don’t know. We found ourselves detoured and unsure. 

But I think we have an opportunity to perceive where we are and where we have been differently. What was it that you needed time for? What was it that you learned about yourself, about others, about life, and about where you are and where you want to be?

Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t about running, but maybe it all has been about time.

The Rev. Mashaun D. Simon is the senior pastor of House of Mercy Everlasting Church (HOME) in College Park, Georgia.
A writer and preacher from Atlanta, he is also co-host of B4Nine Podcast. Mashaun centers his work on informing and empowering others as an advocate for race awareness, equity and fairness, and cultural competency. He has written and preached on topics ranging from race and racial justice, equity, faith, and identity.

2nd Sunday after Epiphany(B): Unexpected Calls

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)

By: The Rev. Jerrod McCormack

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a colleague who I have only met a couple of times. The email said, “Dear Jerrod, I heard about the virtual rosary gathering and I wondered if we could set up a time to talk?” The message felt somewhat innocuous on the surface. However, my anxiety heard it as, “We need to talk.” That dreaded phrase that no one wants to hear and that incites both fear and anxiety about the possible content…. I tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to manage the anxiety, but we scheduled a time for a phone call. The day came and I rang the individual on the phone not certain of what I was going to hear on the other end of the line, but I was pleasantly surprised by the tenor of our conversation. She had laid out before me her own experiences of the holy and how she had heard God’s voice at work in her own life. It was a deeply spiritual moment.

We never know how or when or through whom God will speak. I have regularly found that it is through individuals that I most rub personalities with that God speaks into my life. Maybe that’s just me.

Earnest Holmes once said, “Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it.”

If life is a mirror and we see in the world what we see in ourselves, it raises a provocative question about how and where and why we find God in the places we do or in the places we don’t. When we find the prickly edges of ourselves that is when we are most prone to realize why they are prickly and attend to them. In the passage from First Samuel 3, God speaks but Samuel isn’t prepared to hear it. God calls out and Samuel being so limited in his scope of thought can only imagine that it is his master Eli. This passage is a beautiful metaphor for all of those places where God is speaking in our lives, but we haven’t yet tuned in to realize that it is God’s voice. God speaks in our lives through some pretty unsuspected people and situations.

This year has been so very difficult for all of us. We’ve been on lockdown. Businesses have folded, jobs have been lost, people have been sick and died from this virus. Trying is not a good enough word.

I work day to day as a hospital chaplain at the Alberta Children’s Hospital here in Calgary. In my work, we often talk about people experiencing a series of losses as “complex grief.” Anyone who has made it through this year knows well what complex or compound grief is. It is one grief stacked on top of so many others. We have had to adapt to a world where we can’t safely gather with friends, or family, or work family. A world where it seems like each day brings harder news not easier news. But it is important for us to remember that even in the midst of fears and anxieties God is still speaking. I know how hard it is to believe that in the midst of tremendous fear. God is still reaching out God’s arms in love to bring the whole world within Christ’s saving embrace.

I hope that as you look at this passage you will find the truth of God’s love stronger than the fear and anxiety that we might generate. Look into your own hearts and hear the voice of God. You might hear it in the cry of the baby behind you in church or in the neighbour who just can’t seem to mind their own business. If we look and listen for God’s voice God will make God’s self known to us as God has done for four millennia. Anytime God’s people were lost and couldn’t find their way, God called out. May you have eyes to see and ears to hear what the spirit of the living God is speaking to you today.

The Rev. Jerrod McCormack is the Site lead for Spiritual Care at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. He is also an honourary assistant at St. Barnabas Anglican Church in Calgary, Alberta having been ordained priest just a year and a half ago. The mountains are a second spiritual home whether it’s sunny and warm or snowy and cold. God is always present but never is it more easily visible than on the top of the mountain.