Friday, March 30, 2018

Finished Business—a sermon for Good Friday

Rev. Teri Peterson
St John’s / OGA
Finished Business
John 19 NIV
30 March 2018, Good Friday (NL4)

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”
So this is what the soldiers did.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.


It is finished.

It feels so final....because it is. Death is the most “final” thing in our human experience. Sometimes, hopefully most times, we encounter it at the end of a long life—and we say “she lived a good full life.” Sometimes we narrowly escape and we say “it wasn’t my time yet.” Occasionally we might joke about ghosts, saying they’re hanging around because they have “unfinished business.” And, more often than we wish, we hear about someone gone too soon, and we say “they had their whole lives ahead of them” or “they had so much left to do, to give, to teach, to create, to learn, to say.” 

It feels jarring, then, for a man who was just 33 years old to say “it is finished” as he breathed his last.

It’s hard to imagine that his work is finished. The world could have done with more of his teaching, his healing, his praying, his presence. 

The loss must have felt overwhelming to his friends and family. Many of us have known that grief, that sense of life cut short, of wishing for more time, of hopes dashed, of light extinguished far too soon.

I often say that the Gospel According to John looks at Jesus from above, from a cosmic perspective. John’s opening words are “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” 

And yet here, at what seems to be the end, we are pulled down from the heights of heaven into the valley of the shadow of death. It doesn’t get much more opposite than this—from the lofty abstract divine poetry to the depths of human pain, betrayal, and grief.

And yet that is exactly what the cross does—draws a straight line from heaven to earth, from the abstract to the all-too-real, from God to humanity.

Sometimes I think we have preferred God to be in the pretty words, the beautiful artwork, the wonder of creation...and then we have lost the ability to see God in the shadowed valley. We ask “where was God” when tragedy strikes. We can’t see the face of God in the midst of hurt, brokenness, or despair. We look at the world, which looks so unlike the kingdom of heaven, and wonder how it can be possible that Jesus’ work was accomplished. When we are surrounded by, and participating in, greed, sexism, racism, poverty, judgment, grief, anxiety, and so much more that wounds us, our neighbours, and our can we see God, let alone proclaim Jesus’ work is finished? 

I am reminded of the story of a Polish children’s author and orphanage director, who moved with the 200 orphaned children he cared for into the Warsaw ghetto, and later accompanied them to their deaths in Treblinka. He encouraged them to put on plays, to dress nicely, to continue their lessons, up until the very end. He was offered his own freedom multiple times, but said he would not leave “his” children. He knew what lay ahead, but he refused to save himself, walking with them every step of the way, holding their hands, cheering them, holding out hope to them, embracing them even at the end. We might well ask “where was God” in the Warsaw ghetto, or the extermination camps, or the battlefields, just as we ask it about Gaza, and Syria, and Grenfell, and Parkland. The answer is right here: walking alongside those who suffer. Not far away, not trapped in beautiful paintings or perfect poetic phrases, not just enthroned among the stars, but there in the crowded trains and dusty roads, holding the hands of children.

This is what we see on the cross, the line pulling together heaven and earth: the man who gave himself to us...walked with us the road of this world’s suffering, stretched out his arms in welcome and embrace, gathering people to himself, and offered his life to our brokenness that we might finally see the truth: that there is no separation barrier between that cosmic poetic vision of God’s grace and our humanity. The cross reaches from the heights to the depths to show us the breadth of God’s love. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, when it feels like hope has been extinguished, the light shines and darkness did not overcome it. And while that particular work is indeed finished, the light still shines—for Jesus said “you are the light of the world”...and so the work of doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, the work of revealing the kingdom of God among us, goes on—and Sunday’s coming.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Not what it looks like—a sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday

Rev. Teri Peterson
Gourock St. John’s
Not What It Looks Like
Mark 11.1-11, Mark 14.1-31
25 March 2018, Palm/Passion Sunday

Mark 11.1-11 (NRSV)
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 
   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Mark 14.1-31 (NRSV)
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, ‘Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.’
 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’
 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’
 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’
 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd,
   and the sheep will be scattered.” 
But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.


Can you imagine how confusing that first Holy Week must have been for the people around Jesus? Even his closest friends didn’t understand what was going on. I wonder how many of them felt like they were missing something in the moment—like there was more to this than meets the eye, or like there was something under the surface and things were not really as they appeared. I sometimes think the only people who truly understood were the religious leaders who wanted Jesus killed—they saw that he was changing everything, and what that would mean for their power, where others could not, and often still cannot, see past the trappings of a children’s story.

When they entered Jerusalem, the people tried to make it a triumphal procession like that of a king or military leader—cutting branches from the trees and tossing their cloaks in the road so Jesus wouldn’t get dirty riding into the city. The disciples treated it like a victory parade, singing praises, and getting the crowd to cheer along. Now, I love a parade as much as the next person—floats, and people throwing candy, and marching bands. But that Palm Sunday procession was not really what it looks like. This parade was more like a protest. No big war-horse, no army with its pikes and plumes and shields, no bugler announcing the arrival of the king, no perfect choreography or costumes. Instead it was a ragtag bunch of peasants clustered around a rabbi on a donkey colt. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen someone riding a donkey, but let’s just say that it isn’t even slightly graceful. No matter what you do, everyone looks ridiculous on a donkey. Now imagine a donkey colt—small, unruly, spindly legs, uncertain about carrying this load. For Jesus to choose to enter Jerusalem this way was the ultimate act of satire, of political theatre. By doing so he shows what is truly ridiculous: relying on the empire and its trappings of violence and power. 

I don’t know how many of you have been following the news out of the States the past few weeks, as teenagers across the country have taken matters into their own hands and begun organising major political and protest actions. The first was a day a couple of weeks ago when they walked out of their schools in the middle of class, protesting gun violence, and then yesterday there were marches around the US, hoping to get the attention of politicians and voters. The school walkout was criticised by many white adults as just a way to get out of lessons, and some school administrators took over the student action and made it into 17 minutes of remembrance for the victims of the most recent mass shooting, rather than a protest action. It’s so easy to do—to turn a protest, a political satire, into something sanitised and safe and domesticated. But like the first Palm Sunday, there’s more going on than meets the eye, and this isn’t just another parade. We ignore the deeper meaning here at our peril, as students join Jesus in showing us all the reality of empire and what it demands of us.

As the week went on, Jesus kept trying to show what God was truly doing, but they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see. The woman anointing Jesus was scolded for her action, and when Jesus insisted she had done a good thing, that was apparently too much for poor Judas. But he wasn’t the only one confused about what Jesus was doing...through the ages, we too have turned Jesus’ words around and missed the point. He says “the poor you will always have with you and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish” and we have decided that means that there will always be poverty...when it’s far more likely that we should understand it to mean that the church, the Body of Christ, will be found with the poor...that our place is beside and among those whom the world has cast aside, not locked in our safe sanctuaries set apart from the consequences of capitulation to empire.

At the Passover dinner, everyone knew what to expect, as the ritual had been the same for hundreds of years...and yet even then, it wasn’t what it looked like. Jesus broke bread and poured the cup and with just a few different words, changed everything. And notice: the betrayer is at the table, sharing the feast. The denier is at the table, sharing the feast. The deserters are at the table, sharing the feast. And not one of them understands what is happening. At the first Lord’s Supper, as at every single communion table since, the people at the table entered into a mystery, in all their unworthiness, in all their confusion, in all their brokenness...and Jesus met them there, and handed them bread and wine, knowing that each time their eyes would be opened a little bit more, but that none of us would ever truly comprehend the grace of that moment. 

So why do we often insist that people must be able to understand what is going on before they can be admitted to the sacrament? It seems to me that even now, we have missed what is truly happening and focused only on the surface. But this meal is not what it looks like.

If that can be true of the stories we think we know so well, could it be true of other things too? What if what we think Jesus was all about is only one layer and there’s more to the story? He died for our sins, that’s true. But what does that actually mean? I think we have too easily decided that means that God required blood—that there was no other way God could continue to love humanity unless a sacrifice was made to appease God’s wrath. And that’s where we’ve stopped, despite the fact that there’s only a tiny bit of scripture to support that idea, and despite the fact that it portrays God in a pretty horrifying light. 

One theologian describes the deeper reality this way:
“The cross is not God's justice: it's our injustice, and God's grace anyway. The cross is not Jesus' sacrifice to God to pay for our sins. They're not paid for: they're forgiven. No payment is needed. Jesus' sacrifice is not to God: God demands nothing. Jesus' sacrifice is to us, to show us God's forgiveness: that even in our evil God loves us and calls us to love. The cross is what it looks like when love meets fear. And it is love that saves us." (Steve Garnaas-Holmes)

As we enter this Holy Week together, I hope we will look for the deeper meaning, for the reality beneath the surface. I hope we will read between the lines and see that Jesus is showing us a way of life, a way of love, a way of hope...a way that changes the world, and giving himself to us so we can give ourselves to him. Because the demands of empire grow greater by the day, and we cannot afford to keep paying them. The world cannot afford Christians who sanitise the story and make it safe for children...the children themselves are begging for more truth, more depth, and more passion. 

And in this Holy Week, I hope we will allow for some confusion. We will not be the first nor the last to feel a little off balance, to wonder what we might be missing, to have questions or doubts or uncertain hope as we encounter this story that is far more than it looks like. And so I invite you to take a moment to think about a question you would like to ask Jesus about his life or his ministry or his teaching, or about the events of Holy Week and Easter...any question at all is allowed, there are no silly questions, no doubts or confusion that are wrong or bad. And then write your question in the center of the cross you received when you came in. We bring all our fear, and hope, and wondering, and uncertainty, and hope, and questions to God and place them on the cross, knowing that Christ can handle it—after all, he lived with his not-very-bright disciples for years, and he even shared the Last Supper with them when they understood nothing and he knew they were about to run away. Just put your question there, and then fold the four arms of the cross over, closing it up like the tomb. And when the offering is collected, place your question in the bag, an offering of your deep self to God. 

May it be so. Amen.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Inside Job—a sermon for Lent 5B

Rev. Teri Peterson
St. John’s 
Inside Job
Jeremiah 31.31-34, Mark 9.33-41
18 March 2018, Lent 5, first Sunday

Jeremiah 31.31-34 (NRSV)
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it (CEB: engrave it) on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. 

Mark 9.33-41 (NRSV)
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.’


Can’t you just picture the moment when Jesus ushers the disciples into the house, closes the door of the house, turns around to face them and asks “so...what were you arguing about?” I can see it in my mind, the bashful faces, the downcast eyes, the scuffling of feet. I spent many years working with teenagers, after all—I’m familiar with this particular moment of silence.

I would like to know how this conversation on the road went, though. What criteria did the disciples use when trying to determine which of them was best? Was there a checklist? Did they compare the number of miracles they witnessed, or which parables they could explain, or how many times they got to walk at the head of the line as they trudged through the roads of Galilee? Or perhaps try to rate their level of fear during the storm before Jesus calmed it, or rank themselves in order of number of loaves they handed out at the feeding fo the five thousand? Clearly understanding Jesus’ core teachings was not a part of the calculations, so there must have been something...

It sounds ridiculous, because it is. And yet how often do we still do this very thing? We compare churches—how many people came to this event, how much money was given for that project, who has the prettier building or the most correct doctrine. We compare faithfulness—who follows the rules best, who has the most visible “blessings”, who uses the right buzzwords? 

I would like to think that if Jesus had a bunch of 21st century Christians in a room together, he would shut the door and ask “what were you arguing about?” and we would all look at the floor, shuffling our feet, embarrassed to answer. 

And in response, Jesus brings a child into the midst of the community. A child: dependent, a consumer of resources without producing anything of use, taking up time and energy, a distraction, the lowest on the social ladder. A child, whom we assume needs to be filled with our knowledge but doesn’t have much to offer to those of us who already know how the world works. A child, a symbol of the future but rarely considered important to the community in the present. 

Whoever welcomes one in my name welcomes me, Jesus says. Notice he doesn’t say “whoever teaches one child to worship me.” On the contrary, just a chapter later he will say we must all come before God like children do. He doesn’t say “whoever speaks pious words about the future of the church” or “whoever admires their adorable outfit and chubby cheeks while also insisting they keep their noises and their wiggles outside.” He places this child in the center of the community and says that when we welcome those who are of no practical use in this moment, when we make an effort to include those who have different needs than we do, when we accept people where they are on their journey rather than waiting for them to change into what we want them to be...that is when we welcome him. When we remember that we can only be great by serving, by including, by opening the circle until there’s room for everyone, then we will find ourselves being most Christ-like. 

This should not have been news to the disciples. The prophet Jeremiah had said, five hundred years earlier, that the day was coming when the new covenant would be written on our hearts. Not chiseled on stone, not rolled up in a scroll, not thundered from heaven, but inscribed on our hearts—such a part of us, so central to who we are, that we wouldn’t even need to teach each other anymore, because we would all know God’s love and promise within us. 

All of us. Jeremiah doesn’t mention anything about age, or education level, or job, or economic status. He says everyone—from the least to the greatest—will understand God’s care and God’s call. All of us, from the least to the greatest, will know God—not just know information about God, but know God.

Which means all of us—from the least to the greatest, the youngest to the oldest, the newest to the most experienced—have something to contribute to the community of God’s people and to the worship of the Body of Christ. And when someone is missing, whether that’s because they were not welcomed, or locked out, or weren’t able to participate because it wasn’t clear what to do, then we, the Body of Christ, are incomplete. And when we assume that young people, or older people, or new members, or people with disabilities, don’t have something to teach us, then we are cutting off the wisdom God has placed in their hearts, and we are incomplete.

So one of the things you will find as we grow and learn and worship and work and play and grieve and celebrate together is that I will be working hard to ensure that we are as inclusive as possible, as welcoming as possible, and as accessible as possible. Sometimes it might be things that make you a little bit crazy, like I will say “please stand as you are able” or “please be seated”—because for those who are new to our worshipping community, it’s not obvious when to stand or sit. I will be doing my best to include people of all ages and abilities throughout worship, because that is how we learn to be the Body of Christ together—by being together in the same place, hearing and responding to the Word of God together. I will encourage us to use all our senses and our different ways of learning, so that everyone has something they can connect to as we worship God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. I will choose hymns and prayers and ways of encountering God that will hopefully illuminate the scriptures, and while we won’t all love everything, I hope we will remember that worship isn’t about us, it’s about God—and that hymn that I hated may be a favourite of someone else, or that prayer or activity that didn’t make sense to me really helped someone else know God’s love better. 

That’s what it means to be in community: to use our voices, our hands, our bodies, and our lives to build each other up, to carry one another along, and to help each other know God more. To serve, not to try to prove our greatness. To allow other people to be on their faith journeys, and to accompany one another whenever we can. To remember that every single person has the word of God written on their heart—and so do we. Some of us may be at different stages of life and faith, but we all have something to offer, and something to learn...and we are all capable of offering ourselves to God in worship and service. 

The Common English Bible, which is the most recent scholarly translation of scripture, finished just a few years ago, uses the word “engraved” in Jeremiah 31, instead of simply “written”—God will engrave God’s word on our hearts. I like to picture the words of promise and hope and love and care sinking in to my heart of stone, until they are embedded, absorbed, completely a part of me. It’s an inside job—but it doesn’t stay there. This journey of faith and life is meant to be transformative—we will become ever more like Christ. The word dwells in us, and so we live a particular way, letting that love and promise and hope and care show in our words and actions, in the character of our community, in the way we include and welcome and accept all God’s people. Whether in a cup of water, or a smile, or a new way of praying, or a joyful noise, or an open door, the greatness of God’s love can and will be known in and through us.

May it be so. Amen.