Student Sermons

The students involved in our campus ministry are trained as leaders for the church and the world in many respects, no less so in the art of crafting and leading worship.

On occasion, our students will preach a sermon at our Thursday night Healing Service or at another special service.

We provide for you here a number of those wonderful sermons.

Balance

Billy Vazquez (’15)
Thursday, March 26, 2015

2 Timothy 3:1-5, 10-17 (CEB) •  Understand that the last days will be dangerous times.  People will be selfish and love money. They will be the kind of people who brag and who are proud. They will slander others, and they will be disobedient to their parents. They will be ungrateful, unholy, unloving, contrary, and critical. They will be without self-control and brutal, and they won’t love what is good.  They will be people who are disloyal, reckless, and conceited. They will love pleasure instead of loving God.  will look like they are religious but deny God’s power. Avoid people like this. … But you have paid attention to my teaching, conduct, purpose, faithfulness, patience, love, and endurance. You have seen me experience physical abuse and ordeals in places such as Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. I put up with all sorts of abuse, and the Lord rescued me from it all! In fact, anyone who wants to live a holy life in Christ Jesus will be harassed. But evil people and swindlers will grow even worse, as they deceive others while being deceived themselves. But you must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing. You know who taught you. Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.

Good and evil. Right and wrong. Two opposite forces, constantly struggling to eliminate the other. But one cannot exist without the other. Thus, they balance each other out.

Of course, we know that the world is not so cut and dry. We know that there are confounding factors for every situation, for every conflict. Yet somehow the idea of balance is still applicable.

If there’s one thing that I think we all struggle with on a daily basis, it’s finding balance. You can take that as you will, it’s so versatile. Am I maintaining a balanced diet? What’s most important right now: having fun, exercising, doing homework, or job hunting? Do I live for the day or do I constantly think and worry about my future? What should I do: go home and get some rest, or go out to this awesome healing service I keep hearing about? (I’m glad to see what people chose with that last one).

Finding balance is a struggle that permeates every aspect of our lives because we are constantly facing choices, both miniscule and massive. And as you can see from some of those examples, it’s never quite just a choice between one thing and another – there are countless options, and each has its own merits and its disadvantages.

For those of us standing on the edge of the gaping abyss of the unknown (a.k.a. post-graduation life), balance is nearly impossible to find because the choices are so numerous and the stakes are so high. Do I find work in DC so I can stay close to the home I’ve made and the friends I love? Do I return back to my family home and figure things out from there? Do I embark on a journey across the country or even across the world? Do I choose the job I would love, the job I would like, or the job that I might hate (but it will pay better than the former two)? These are just a few of the choices bouncing around each of our heads. It’s a lot to think about, a lot to prioritize, and pretty much impossible to balance.

Side note: If you didn’t know, I’ve got some weird issues with balance. For example, since I’m a leftie, I feel bad for my neglected right side, and so I constantly do everything evenly to make up for that (is that a bit OCD? Huh). My drive to find balance often puts me in awkward spots. Like I love to think idealistically, but I’m also very cynical and realistic. I set out each day with a to-do list and a can-do attitude, but then I remember that I haven’t quite caught up on all my shows, and the to-do list is quickly forgotten. And, the kicker: I’m a Catholic who doesn’t evangelize, who loves interfaith dialogue, who doesn’t follow a lot of the rules I “should,” and who’s currently doing a sermon at a Methodist service.

I struggled with that last one throughout my years here at AU. Freshman year, I walked into a Methodist service and was baffled by how different it was from Catholic Mass. For a while, I didn’t return. Instead, from then and through sophomore year, I got super involved with the Catholic community in order to grow in my faith. Yet I found a clear lack of interest in the CSA to get involved in interfaith and the other faith communities. It was shocking, and being the idealistic person I am, I set out to change that, to try and establish some balance (and also to redeem that initial blunder with the UMSA). I joined the tiny group of individuals working to build connections between the communities and, and in a few years, I’ve seen this tiny group grow and thrive into a larger, diverse, and active community. I’ve seen the capability that we all have to find balance and understanding among peoples with different backgrounds and different faiths. I’ve especially enjoyed the bridge-building. Without it, we might be divided by our different faiths. With it, well, just look: I’m not only back at a Methodist service, I’m leading a sermon at one. I’ve got a bunch of great friends just in this room, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

Yet despite the wonderful outcome, there’s always a nagging thought – am I bad for the “non-Catholic” things I do? For participating in other services, for accepting others who worship a different way? If I stop to think, there are plenty of things that the Catholic Church professes that I don’t believe in, and if that’s the case, do I belong in that community? If not, where do I belong? Thus I personally still struggle to find some form of perfect balance. More often than not, I don’t.

What I have come to realize, and what we all need to realize, is this: it’s okay to not have perfect balance. We want to live our lives to the fullest and we also want to live them in the best way God would like, but, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, there’s no perfect way to do so.

But THAT IS OKAY. God didn’t make us perfect. We’ve been messing up ever since we had the means with which to do so, and that’s fine. God still loves us, sinners and screw-ups though we may be. Sometimes what one person sees as a sin is not a sin, and sometimes a screw-up isn’t all that bad. No matter the case, God loves us.

The author of this letter tells us the kind of people to avoid: the “selfish,” the “ungrateful,” “unloving,” “contrary,” and “critical,” those who “love pleasure instead of loving God,” and those who “look like they are religious but deny God’s power.” With all the things that we are trying to balance, it seems impossible to not fall into one of the categories here. I know I have from time to time. Does that make me an evil person? If that’s the case, I guess I didn’t pay attention to author’s ways. Feel free to avoid me. The author said so.

He also refers to our childhood knowledge of the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and that “every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character” so that we may be equipped to do good. Yet I can think of a few I find questionable (i.e. Elisha summoning bears to maul children, don’t get me started on some of Leviticus’s ideas), and even after attending plenty of Bible studies, I’m still left confused on which scriptures to follow most closely.

If you’re a little confused like me, you might think yourself a bad person, maybe even evil – someone unworthy of love, especially God’s love.

Yet think of all the sinners and screw-ups that have gone before us. They had to make choices each day, to try and balance their spiritual life with their regular life. More often than not, they made mistakes, they screwed up. But they kept on going.

We screw up and we sin. It happens everyday. Sometimes we do it consciously, and often we don’t realize until after that we did. And, much as we would like, we don’t always learn from it. We don’t always find a way toward a better balance. But that’s okay. You keep working at it – perhaps one day you’ll get it right. More than likely, you won’t. Even if that’s the case, you know what will always be there? Your support, your rock – God.

God’s love is the unbreakable foundation that supports you no matter what. It appears in different forms, and sometimes you won’t recognize it. Sometimes you won’t even feel it. But like the foundation of a house (that always needs work), it’s there, ever present, no matter what choices you make. It rests inside you, it emanates from your friends and loved ones, and sometimes you’ll catch glimpses of it in the face or act of a kindly stranger. I feel it when I’m at home, at interfaith, any time I step into this building, and every time I spend time with each of you.

Perfect balance is almost impossible to achieve. We wobble, we fall, we screw up. We don’t know exactly what’s right to do for now, tomorrow, or in the future. We make plans and choices that sometimes work out and sometimes don’t.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds for me, let alone the next couple of months or the next year. It’s terrifying, especially when I’ve almost found my perfect balance here at AU. I don’t want to leave, but I know that no matter what happens next, no matter where I go and what I do, the foundation of God’s love will support me.

As you make your choices and plunge into the unfamiliar fog of the future, you’ll feel the balance tipping and wobbling. Yet no matter what, it will not fall. You may screw up and struggle. You may get overwhelmed with work and lose touch with friends. You may try to find the perfect balance and never succeed. No matter what happens though, there is still ground beneath your feet. There is still a foundation that withstands it all. It’s God’s love, and it’s unbreakable.

 


 

Immeasurable Love

Terri Poxon-Pearson
November 8, 2012
Matthew 20:1–16

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion, he sent them into his vineyard. Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went. Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’  ‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied. He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”

Image courtesy of wordle.net

I have always had a strong conviction that life SHOULD be fair.  Countless times, I would come home from elementary school and complain to my mother about the most recent injustice in my life: The kid who cheated and did better than me on a test and didn’t get caught.  I got paired with the weird kid for a group project AGAIN.  EVERYONE else has a cell phone and I don’t.  It is just not fair.  All I wanted was someone to complain to and a little sympathy.

And I never got it.  Every time, no matter how good I thought my argument was, I would get the same response: Terri, I know it’s not fair, but life isn’t fair.  As much as I knew my mother was right (and my mother is ALWAYS right), it still bothered me.

I never grew out of it either.  Of course, as I matured, I developed a more nuanced idea of “fairness” and came to appreciate its complexity.  But, fundamentally, I still feel that the world should strive to be a fair place and I get upset when I feel I have been shortchanged.

A dispute that I had with my older sister a few years ago comes to mind. Kirsty and I are very different people.  Since we were children, she was much more introverted and easily upset than me, making her an easy target for bullies.  Somewhere around her 5th grade year, she began simply not doing her school work.  This resulted in lots of fighting and tension in my household.  It continued throughout her high school years coinciding with a time that Kirsty struggled with bulling and severe depression.

But I was hopeful when she went off to college.  It was a real opportunity for her to have a fresh start and she seemed to be doing well.  Then in May I found out that Kirsty was on academic probation and would not be returning to school in the fall.  She would be moving back in with us.  Now, in the past I had felt a lot of sympathy for Kirsty.  I knew she was struggling with a lot of personal problems and, no amount of academic failure could erase the fact that she was my business partner at childhood lemonade stands and my protector from the boogie monster.  I loved my sister, but this time I was angry with her.  For the first time, I really felt like she was doing this on purpose.  She was given a golden opportunity: a new school with new teachers and new friends.  I felt like she gave me hope, just so she could have the satisfaction of taking it away.  She was being selfish.

And to be perfectly honest, I really liked being an only child.  For the first time, in a long time, my house was peaceful.  There was no fighting and I got the house all to myself.  I got all of my parent’s attention.  Now Kirsty was back, every little thing she did bothered me.  I blew up at her when she left the TV on or moved my hairbrush.  It was ridiculous, and I know that, but I was frustrated.  One day I got particularly upset when I met my mother for lunch, only to find that she had invited Kirsty as well.  Later I lashed out at my mother, letting her know how upset I was and how unfair it felt for Kirsty to be here.  She had done everything wrong, yet I was being “punished”.  It was a cruel thing for a child to tell their parent.  What was she supposed to do?  Tell one child that she didn’t have a home to come back to, just because it wasn’t fair to her sister?  With tears in her eyes, my mom told me that I had to remember that she has two daughters.  And Kirsty needed her family right now.

I think it is pretty clear which character in tonight’s reading met my description.  Like the workers hired early in the day, I felt that I had been cheated yet, I got exactly what I asked for: lunch with my mother and, more importantly, parents who love and support me.  But that payment became tainted when Kirsty got it too.  And that seems like a natural thing to do.  Often, I catch myself weighing the worth of my blessings against those of others.  What I got is only good if it is better that what other, less worthy, people receive.

But, as my mother reminds me, God’s love is not like that.  God’s love and mercy does not conform to our capitalist ideas of what is fair.  It is not dispensed at an hourly rate and I refuse to believe in a God who keeps score mainly because I fear what my score would be.  God’s love is free and unmeasured.

Which is great.  But I found myself wondering, if I believe in a God of infinite mercy, who will forgive me and accept me with open arms unconditionally, and I do, why bother trying to be a good Christian at all?  Why start today what I can easily put off until tomorrow?  There are very practical answers:  When I was a small child my parents taught me that please and thank you got me what I wanted and kicking and screaming only got me tired.

But there is something much more fundamental than that.  I think in essence, a relationship with God is just like any other relationship we have with another person.  You can choose to create manipulative, neglectful relationships.  You can take advantage of another person’s generosity and make their lives difficult.  But, even if they forgive you, are those the relationships that you value and bring you joy?  When we really love another person, we make time for them.  We rejoice in their victory and empathize with their pain.  It makes us happy to see them happy and we make sacrifices for them knowing that they would do the same for us.  Our relationship with God is no different.  Our relationship with God deepens when we take time to talk and listen to God and withers when we neglect it for too long.  It feels good when we know our actions are righteous and it hurts when we know we have fallen short.  Although doing what is right is not always easy, we can find assurance in the fact that, in return, we have been infinitely blessed.

So I urge you think about your life.  About your day to day interactions.  When is it that you have been the laborers hired early in the day, foolishly unsatisfied with what they have received?  When have you been shown mercy, even if you didn’t earn it?  When have you been given the opportunity to give freely of your love?  We are not God and we can’t forgive with the swiftness and sincerity that God can forgive and even if we may intentionally say thank you for our blessings, we cannot help but feel disappointed when we do not get when we believe we are entitled too.  But we can try.  We can try to emulate the unfathomable mercy of God and know, that when we undoubtedly fall short, our failures will be answered with immeasurable love.

Amen.

A Spirit of Excellence

Kevin Altman (’13)
October 18, 2012
Philippians 4:8

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

 

Image courtesy wordle.net

Close your eyes.
I want you to clear your mind without falling asleep.
I want you to think about everything that makes you unique to all others.  Every ability, every gift you have in your life.  everything which breathes power into your soul and allows you to create and I want you to, in this moment, THANK God for it.

I am going to convey a tenet of my faith to you this evening.  The bible is not the essential element that constructs my connection to God.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good book…   In my relationship with God, it all revolves around one concept: Excellence.  Excellence, given to us by God, is each and every one of our gifts inside us. We are made in God’s image, right?  Genesis 1:27, all that jazz.    God may not have a nose, two eyes and my Greek-statue physique, but I interpret that to mean inside all of us is some perfection of God- but Excellence is our ability to freeze a moment of pure pleasure, pure delight, to comprehend what God gives us  share a moment between us and God.

Think about everything you do well.  Andrew plays the piano so well, it can inspire a congregation to think higher.  Laura’s smile and genuine interest in all our lives, illuminates any cloudy day.  Mark can preach a sermon capable of changing your whole life. Isabelle writes with command and form to tell stories we only see in our dreams, Ian is always prepared with a heart warming joke or keen religious insight and Ethan can eat more doughnuts than any man alive and not puke…. These are some of our excellences.

Everything that makes you unique, makes you excellent.  We can be our own person and still be united in God.  I like being my own person with my own opinions, my own ideas, my own tooth brush.  It would be boring to see everyone out there just like me.  If I wanted that, I would just sit in front of the mirror and admire my reflection all day.  That’s already how I spend my mornings, I don’t need to do that all the time.

We talk of God sightings here.  We talk of ways in which God is present and active in our lives.  I see God in each and every one of you with everything you excel in, with every ounce of heart that allows you to persevere through the some times chaotic college mess, I see Him in you.

I implore you to see God in this way too.  Let us see God’s hand in beautiful books, in the most wonderful compositions of music, the sweet fruits and foods we eat, the laughs and tears we share with our friends, but most importantly, let us see our shared excellence with God down to every breath of oxygen we absorb into our lungs.

Every breath.  Every breath gives you life.  Life is beautiful because it gives us the opportunity to know our Creator.  We slog through the seconds, the minutes, the hours, the days, the weeks, months, semesters, years just so we can get the one thing we want more than anything: Money.  No, Sorry.  Happiness.  That’s what I meant.    Freeze this moment.  Freeze this moment when you can recognize all the joys in your life and all the gifts that the Lord has given to you.  Freeze this moment and let us all accept the communion, the gift of grace that is, in fact, a moment of remembrance of Christ- And we shall all depart here from dark night into the morning and we shall understand who we are a little more, Children of God, Children of Excellence.

As Christians, Jews, Muslims, we cannot allow ourselves to fall into the haze that if we keep pushing to the horizon, the end, everything will be fine.  If I can just make it to that point, ill be in Heaven and paradise and will never struggle again, because you will miss IT ALL.

What IS important is that you appreciate every day.  That is something you can do by acknowledging your own excellence and living in a moment.  We must accept our futures, our fates, but don’t look too far.  We must remember our paths, but don’t LOOK behind you.    Unless someone actually yells, “Look out behind you!” then you should definitely look behind you or else you might get attacked by an attractive teenage vampire.

There was an ancient thought that the stars were supposed to be the lights of heaven peering through blackness.  I say, the lights, the proof and reminder of Heaven is in all of you. We all have doubts, physical afflictions, fluctuating mental states.  In the journeys of or lives we find ourselves in dark woods where the straight way is lost.   But in all our gifts, our abilities, our will to fight on, we can overcome them, because in all the wonders and beauties we hold, we hold them in His name.  Some times we can feel the heat of the world on us and it can hurt.  But we must proclaim to whatever hinders us as Dante wrote: “I am made by God, thanks be to Him, such that your misery toucheth me not, nor doth the flame of this burning assail me.”    In all the excellence God gives to us, that is how we may know Heaven while on earth, give thanks for every second of life, every blink of the eye, or step on the ground! Remember tonight, for it is the beginning of always.

Let us thank our Father, and depart from night and into the morning of a new day.  Confident in who we are as His grandest excellence.

God in the Everyday

Ethan Goss (’13)
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 26, 2012
Genesis 18:1-15

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

 

Ready? Close your eyes. No really, go ahead and do it. Now conjure up the most memorable, awe-inspiring experience you’ve encountered. Is it a sunset from the peak of the hill you just surmounted? Or that time you met your idol, or significant other? Maybe it’s the first conversation you had abroad where you actually used that second language correctly. Whatever it is, take a moment to remember that time when you felt truly full of awe at the Creation. It’s exactly those times when we feel the most connected to the divine, isn’t it? When we are confronted by those spectacular moments that forever leave their mark on us, we often feel as if we’ve truly touched the divine.

We see this all the time in some of the more fantastical biblical tales. The pillar of fire and cloud, the parting of the Red Sea, the Resurrection of Christ, and many other moments where God appears most present are often really incredible spectacles. They demonstrate God’s power, God’s reach, God’s illimitable presence… they are truly awe-inspiring moments.

And maybe it’s because of these moments that finding God in the mundane of everyday life can be just so damn hard.

I know that the Gospel conveys a message of a God who came down to Earth to enter into relationship with us, who became a human and died a human death, but I can’t help but feel so separated from this figure, no matter how human he may be. I try to see God in the people all around me; the guy who brings in the mail at work, or the cashier at Giant… but, I mean, my mailman never turned water into wine, and the cashier never made a blind man see.

Today’s passage from Genesis shows Abraham welcoming in YHWH and two angels disguised as normal travelers. Abraham shows them incredible hospitality before he ever knows that they are divine, and in doing so “entertains angels unaware,” to invoke the oft-quoted phrase from the book of Hebrews. It’s a powerful example of seeing the divine everywhere, and of treating everything with recognition of that inborn sacredness.

But, frankly, I’m not Abraham (in case you were wondering.) And neither are you.

We don’t do this all the time, do we? We don’t engage others, and the world as a whole, with the sense of the divine that they deserve. And that’s understandable. We’re normal, flawed humans. We aren’t Abraham, because he’s, well, kind of special. He and God have an in, I think you could say. So it’s not surprising to find him and God engage in this sort of hospitality.

So where do the rest of us fit into this story? I think we tend to be Sarah. We have a tendency to be critical, sarcastic, and short with others. We are more interested in analyzing this world, often with a harsh gaze, than entertaining the possibilities of what is beyond. For Sarah, it is not until the stranger’s identity is shoved into her face that she really recognizes the extent to which she is surrounded by the divine. Her full attention is certainly available then… in a curious incident, she even tries to convince the omniscient, and at the time physically present, God that she didn’t just laugh at him. You see, there’s a difference between cooking up bread from your best flour for the stranger and treating them, as the text says, as if they were your lord. Actions and intent are not always related the way we would like them to be.

As a lot of you know, I was the service coordinator for the Other Six Days program. Social justice and service was an area of my life that I hadn’t explored nearly enough in my pre-college days, and so I jumped into the program freshman year. I loved the work we did in this community, and was able to spearhead the last event of the Spring 2010 semester. The next year Elise and I replaced Wallie and Kurt (names that I’m amazed some of you don’t know) as the group’s coordinators.

I really, really wanted to make sure that my time there made an impact. I especially tried to create a strong relationship between our community and Metro House, the men’s homeless shelter at Metropolitan UMC across the street. It’s made me so happy to see that we really have made a strong presence there, and for those of you who haven’t volunteered there, I suggest you do it next semester; it’s really a great experience.

It was my experience there that made me so passionate about connecting our community to theirs. But when I look back at my experience there, I can’t help but wonder if I truly met those men as children of God, or if I simply brought out my best flour to make them bread. I engaged with them, spending time talking, watching movies, exploring their past and their future. I feel a real connection to all of them, and the time I spent talking about Confucius with Gary or Crime and Punishment with Caesar are vivid personal examples of real Christian fellowship. But when I walked in those doors, was I just meeting four great guys or four children of God?

I’m reminded of a time when I felt I had to “skip out” of a time slot I’d signed up to volunteer for. It was a hard time for me and I needed a Friday evening of recharging myself. Luckily, Emily Kvalheim was free and could take my spot for me, so I was able to just stay at home. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent of mental health days, maybe to an unhealthy extreme even, so that’s not the problem I have. The problem is that my time alone was meant to be a time of spiritual rejuvenation, and sometimes we need to be away from people to do that. What we need, though, is to be present with the divine. I spent my time alone reading from a prayer journal of mine a spiritual practice that replaced my volunteer time. But why was Metro House for me not a time of spiritual rejuvenation?

If I was resting in Abraham’s tent on that hot summer day, entertaining guests was probably not the first thing I’d want to do. But that was Abraham’s first reaction. Immediately upon seeing these strangers he welcomed them in. Abraham in this story is not special because he has a covenant with God; he is special because of his insight and his hospitality. To this day the chuppah, the covering used in a Jewish wedding, is open on all four sides to symbolize the hospitality of Abraham. He is set apart not by his already established sacred relationship with God, but by how he treats every part of God’s creation as sacred. Abraham treats every human, no matter how foreign to him, no matter how mundane an acquaintance, as if he were a great friend and trusted lord.

We see the same in Christ Jesus. While the Son of God may have turned water into wine, it is easy to forget that he did it at a wedding party of all places. While he may have healed the blind, he did it with mud he made from the earth at his feet. In the very dirt of the Earth the human God shows us that the divine is present. Christ didn’t need to send out power from his fingertips; he healed with a word or a touch, just as I learned I could be healed by my brothers at Metro House. I realized that spiritual healing could come out of something as mundane and normal as a conversation over a lasagna dinner.

By treating the everyday as the sacred, Abraham encountered God where he least expected it. By living our lives in the knowledge that every moment is a blessing and a sacred gift, no matter how dull or routine it might be, we can live each day knowing that we too may be entertaining angels unaware.

Faith & Vulnerability

Anne Lynch (’12)
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 12, 2012
Matthew 22:15-22

Image courtesy of wordle.net

Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. “Whose image and inscription is this?”he asked. “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed. (Common English Bible)

So I think I’ve figured out why people hate hipsters. Let me explain. In 2008 when I left St. Louis, Missouri for Washington, D.C. to move to American University, I had never heard of a hipster. In fact, it took two years for someone to finally describe what qualified someone as a hipster. They wear big glasses and scarves. They’re clothes are too tight. They get tattoos. They like plaid.

Being from Missouri, plaid didn’t seem like an adequate reason to strongly dislike someone I had never met. Nor tattoos, clothing choice, or a need for glasses. But eventually I’ve figured it out—none of this is décor is genuine. The hipsters don’t need glasses, they wear scarves when it’s 90 degrees out, their tattoos are in languages they don’t know anything about, and unlike the hand-me-downs I grew up, the hipster has probably not spent much time in an environment that requires flannel. And to top it all off, they carry this garb with a sense of disdain: “I went to this concert in this hole-in-the-wall place, you probably have never heard of the band.” Of course, the hipster does not mention that they only heard of the band last week, and to top it off, they don’t actually like any of this stuff! They engage in this style and music and behavior not because they like it, but just so they can have that disdainful-outsider, kind of elitist attitude. Finally, I’ve figured it out: the non-hipsters don’t like the hipsters because they’re fakers. Posers. Inauthentic.

But here’s the problem. Last time I checked, most of us are fakers and put on masks every day when we interact with other people. We’re ALL fakers, from time to time.

My twin realized this when we were in high school. One day on the way home from school, we were talking, and he was so frustrated that people he knew were struggling with something, but when he asked how they were doing, would say “I’m fine.” “It’s a lie!” he said. It was a lie. At the time, I didn’t see anything wrong with it, but to pacify my brother I agreed to be honest when people asked how I was doing. It would only be later that I realized how important this lesson was.

My freshman year, I had a hard time adjusting to college life, largely because of the absence of my other half, the twin. But I had this best friend, we’ll call him “J.” “J” was a phenomenal human being with a tendency to drop his cell phone in enormous quantities of water. We seemed to be the only sane people—the outsiders—on a floor full of freshman hooligans (suffice it to say, they once tore an Exit sign off the ceiling). So naturally, we did everything together. Until March. “J” found himself in the middle of a family crisis, and not the kind that brings the family together but the kind that tears the family apart and leaves everyone with a hole in their side. It became increasingly difficult for him to keep up in classes, and suddenly, he was dropping out and leaving. I had about three hours notice.

That next week, someone would later say I looked “shell-shocked.” I remember eating something like a one-pound bar of chocolate in a night (and subsequently and successfully swearing off chocolate for a year). I couldn’t bear it. Finally, I called up another friend, a junior in my dorm who had kept an eye out for me all year, and offered her a meal swipe. All I could do was tell her how much I hurt, and she listened.

Saying “I’m hurt” isn’t easy. Especially for me: growing up, I thought anger was strength and vulnerability was weakness. But I was wrong. I learned in the time following the loss of my friend that vulnerability is the strength to be genuine, authentic, and true.

You know those TED Talks? There’s this one I love, called “The Power of Vulnerability,” by the researcher-storyteller, Brené Brown. I think it’s my favorite. Brown had wanted to tame vulnerability in order to understand shame and discovered that strong feelings of shame, fear, and unworthiness stem from having to admit imperfections, but it’s just such vulnerability that is absolutely necessary for someone to feel worthy of love, to feel able to make connections with others, and to feel ready to be courageous.

Isn’t that fascinating? The thing we need most to get those deep, meaningful things we want out of life—to be loved by others and ourselves—comes from being vulnerable. Being real.

Sounds rather Christian, doesn’t it?

But why on Earth am I bringing this up? What does this have to do with that scripture I just read?

Do you know what the original Biblical meaning of the word “hypocrite” is? Faker. Today the word is understood more specifically, as someone faking high morality, and that works too, but for our purposes tonight, hypocrite equals faker.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has this thing about hypocrites. He really doesn’t like hypocrites. In fact—and I even had Mark double check me—when you search the New Testament for “hypocrite,” there are 13 references from Matthew and about five from everyone else (bible.oremus.org). So it seems like Jesus is kind of on an anti-hipster tirade throughout the whole of Matthew.

Except, I think Jesus knew that these people he was encountering, people who were repeatedly trying to trick or trap him, were really suffering. See, if they were fakers to fellow humans and to God that means they weren’t willing to be vulnerable. They weren’t willing to admit to God their imperfections, admit that they were scared or depressed, admit that they were afraid of standing up for the widow and orphan, especially under the watchful eye of Roman legions. I think Jesus must have known that these people—his supposed enemies—were actually suffering, and in their time of need, denying themselves the very thing required for healing. That is, making themselves vulnerable to God’s Son.

So instead of saying “You stinkin’ hypocrites!” I imagine Jesus meaning, “Why are you doing this? Why are you faking like this? What do you gain from this but more pain?” To me, Jesus would seem less frustrated that the Pharisees and religious elite are challenging him. I think Jesus would have enough awareness to recognize these people weren’t his enemies, although maybe we would consider them thus. I think Jesus would have been more frustrated with the true enemy, Fear, that thing that tempts us away from being vulnerable and authentic, that thing that puts masks on us, that thing that creeps into your chest and clasps onto your heart so tight you can’t do what you know is right. That thing.

The “fakers,” so to speak, ask Jesus whether we, the Jews under occupation, should pay taxes or not, to the Emperor. Jesus asks for a coin, on which there would be an image of the Emperor of Rome. Not a picture, an image! An image on which the citizens of Rome are founded. Those with the Emperor’s image on them belong to him. So what belongs to God?

We do. We belong to God. That’s what Jesus says to the crowd that amazes them. We can’t fake ourselves out of this one, even if we’re afraid. As Christians, we can’t pretend that we are anyone’s but God’s. We can’t pretend to be anything than what we are, our whole selves, to God. We can’t help but be vulnerable. But that’s the beauty of it. When I say to myself, you know what, I am not a perfect person but I am worthy of love and respect from my community and my family, that’s transforming. Being vulnerable is powerfully transforming. And I know I’m worthy of that love because I know, based on what just happened on Easter Sunday, that God loves me. God loves us. So much so that God became vulnerable to us! God moved into a human flesh and allowed us, God’s creation, to experience him authentically. God even allowed us to crucify Jesus the Christ, to show us just how vulnerable God can be for us. That’s power beyond belief.

Christians get a lot of beef for being hypocrites these days. I know, I’m supposedly getting a B.A. in Religious Studies. We’re not the only religious group accused of being hypocritical, but it’s rather difficult to say your group has some “high moral ground” when others who claim the same title and savior as you go around burning crosses in people’s yards because of someone’s skin, or degrading women or men for how they act or dress or love. It’s hard to claim “high moral ground” when “your group” is disregarding the needs of the homeless, the underpaid, the overworked, the immigrant, the lonely. But saying “Oh no, we’re not like them! No, we’re better than they are! You know, we’re not even sure they are Christian!” that doesn’t really help in that regard, either. They too bear the image of God. They too might just lack the strength to be vulnerable. They too might just be afraid.

We are imperfect. And that’s okay. Before we even admit that, forgiveness and redemption are given to us by God, freely. Not that it’s easy, because life isn’t easy, but it’s real and it’s honest and it’s kind.

I’m a senior. I’ve got about a week until all my work for the semester is due, and on Mother’s Day I’ll walk across the graduation stage in a tacky blue gown (really, they are ugly). So I could stand up here and pretend I’ve got my shit together. I could pretend I know what I’m doing, I know how AU works, I know the world works, or at least I know about the stuff required for my degree, but I don’t. And I don’t have to. I don’t have to be a hypocrite. I don’t have to be a faker…or a hipster.

To be honest, I’m scared and far from knowledgeable and imperfect. But I think what I’ve learned from time here at AU and at Kay especially is that when I freely own that, when I decide that I’m worthy of the love God has given me, then I can hand my fears to God. And I’m free.

The Farthest Star

Kathleen Kimball (’12)
Kay Spiritual Life Center
March 22, 2012
Philippians 4:4-9

Philippians 4: 4-9 • Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: be glad. Always be gentle with others. The Lord will soon be here. Don’t worry about anything. With thankful hearts, offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel. Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise. You know the teachings I gave you, and you know what you heard me say and saw me do. So follow my example. And God, who gives peace, will be with you.

So… I’m just going to start the way I always start talking in church, and that’s with a God sighting.

So, the Hubble Space telescope. It’s awesome. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s essentially the greatest single astronomical piece of equipment on the planet. Er… off the planet, technically. It’s more like a totally weird satellite with a bunch of mirrors and bells and whistles and windchimes on it that orbits the planet and takes pictures of stuff.

Anyway – a few years ago, there was a major project launched by some astronomers with the Hubble telescope called the Ultra Deep Field Experiment. Essentially, we already had a low-resolution map of the sky, so a bunch of guys from NASA picked a spot in the sky that was as small as the tip of pencil held at arm’s length and pointed the lens of the Hubble right at it and took a 20-minute exposure of it. So, every time the Hubble came around the Earth, it took a picture of that infinitely tiny point in the sky. The goal was to see if they could catch any tiny piece of light coming from that direction in order to see if there was anything in that spot that was too far away to have already identified on their present sketch of the sky. They took about 400 pictures before they evaluated their data, and when they did, they found something.

Any ideas of what it was?

It was 10,000 galaxies. 10,000 galaxies.

Now a galaxy contains 100 billion stars each, so that’s something like 1,000 trillion stars in a spot in the sky smaller than a period at the end of a sentence. Also allow me to remind you that each star is around the size of our the Sun – so there could be super tiny Earths and Venuses orbiting any one of those stars out there that we don’t even know about!

This experiment effectively concluded that the sky is virtually unrestrained and one can barely make a shadow of a speculation at the expanse of the universe.

About now, I’m sure some of you are saying, “Cool, Kathleen. But we just sang a hymn about joy or something. Is this astronomy lesson supposed to bring me joy?”

Well… did it?

You just learned that creation does not stop with what you can see. Heck! It doesn’t even stop with what the Hubble Space Telescope can see! For every one thing we think we know about the universe there are a thousand – in this case, TEN thousand – things we don’t know. And each of those things we don’t know represents a world of possibilities!

What did you feel when that hit you? Was it shock? Wonder? Excitement? Awe? Maybe your worries about exams and post grad life seemed just a teeny bit more manageable in comparison to the depth of the Lord’s creation all around you? Maybe you’re curious? Hopeful? Intrigued? Maybe you’ll even go back to your room and share this story with your roommate.

Well shoot folks – I don’t know a better list of symptoms for joy than that.

I’m not trying to send your imaginations on a rampage about aliens and apocalyptic invasions. Rather, I’m trying to illustrate a way I see God present in this world. To review what we already know, God is everywhere. But when you have joy, He’s most obviously with you because you have seen Him and His work.

But what about the people who don’t feel happy? What about the people who feel nothing but sadness?

A friend of mind once described her image of Hell as being a place void of God; a place without any hope of joy. Well if that’s true, how could anybody possibly experience Hell here on Earth if God is all around us? Isn’t God always supposed to be with me everywhere I go? To watch over me? Protect me? Enliven my life? Or, like that famous poem, carry me through times of great sorrow?

If I feel sad – does that mean that my life, my world, my very being is void of God?

That can’t be right. We know that God holds dear all of His children, and since we’re all the children of God, why would he abandon those who are overcome with sadness?

I don’t think He does.

Here’s the thing about joy: I don’t think it’s the same as happiness.

Happiness is an emotion. It’s a function of what happened in a day – you’re happy because you did well on an exam, or your roommate baked cupcakes, or you found $5 in your jeans front pocket. Happiness, as an emotion, is as transient as its opposite: sadness.

Joy is different. Joy is seeing the world with a depth to it – with a purpose, a maker, and maybe even a method to the madness. In a way, happiness will lift your spirits for a moment; but joy will lift your soul for as long as you allow it. Joy’s opposite is not sadness; it’s the choice to view the world as accidental, hopeless, forbidden, or maybe even ultimately lethal. The opposite of joy is despair.

Paul tells us that we should be “glad” because of the Lord, and that if we keep our hearts full of things that are “worthy of praise,” then God will grant us a “peace that nobody can truly understand.”

When we pass the peace to each other in church, we are doing much more than saying, “have a nice day!” Having a nice day is being happy – having the Lord’s peace is being joyful. We wish each other the grand blessing of having inner peace in the Lord. And this inner peace persists despite the shortcomings, frustrations, dead ends, and heartbreaks of life.

Given that joy and happiness are different, I’d venture to say that a person can be joyful and sad at the same time. Joy not only reminds you that it’s OK to be sad or broken, but that God is with you and all around you despite that sadness. Sometimes, joy can even bring you a shot of happiness.

So how do I get joy? How do I achieve the Lord’s peace in my heart? What do I have to do to see God everywhere I go?

You just… decide to.

I don’t know that I have an explanation of joy for you today except that it’s the choice to see the your life and world as wondrous, God-filled, exciting, blessed, and destined for something greater. In essence, if this room were covered in complete darkness, a person filled with despair would curse it. A person filled with joy would look up and admire the streetlights streaming through the stained glass windows overhead. They’re both still in the dark – the difference is how they have chosen to respond. God is with both of them, and they will each remain in the darkness… but I think only one will be filled with the Lord’s peace despite the darkness – the other will not.

The passage also talks about how we should never stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise… but who decides what is worthy of praise?

You do.

Albert Einstein once said that you can see the world one of two ways: as if everything is a miracle or as if nothing is a miracle. Either way, you’d be right. If you get the last Oreo on Tuesday afternoon in the Methodist office – is that a miracle or not? If a stray dog crosses a busy highway unharmed, if a poor, inner city student chooses books over drugs, or if a sick child awaiting a heart transplant receives it just in time to save him – is that a miracle? Or not?

Is it worthy of praise, or isn’t it?

There are no more Oreos after you’ve taken yours. The dog is still homeless and hungry, the student is still poor and surrounded by peer pressure, and the child will remain sick even after the transplant. There is still a lot of work to be done, and there is still a lot of sadness to conquer. But despite all this sadness, we are not without joy because we not without God.

And as long as we are within reach of God, we are within reach of peace. The trick is to take it.

You know, a friend once described his vision of God to me as being as close as your next breath and as far as the most distant star. If joy is a sure sign of God’s presence, then what does this description say about our ability to find joy in this world?

It seems to me that it says the sky is the limit… which, according to the Hubble telescope, renders the possibilities of joy unimaginably boundless.

A Spirit of Hope

Melanie Ollet (’12)
Kay Spiritual Life Center
December 8, 2011

Image courtesy of wordle.net

Romans 8: 22-27; “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise, the spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the spirit herself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the spirit, because the spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”  (ESV)

I have a confession to make which may cause a further reduction to the “seminary points” Ian has been awarding me.

The “Holy Spirit” really, really confuses me. In my defense, I think it is an aspect of Christianity- and Abrahamic traditions as a whole- that confuses many people.

Growing up, my understanding of trinitarian theology was as follows: God the father created everything, and acts as a kind of “grand officiator.” Whereas the Son is part of the father, and he became flesh and redeemed the world from its sins (because, let’s face it, we get on god’s nerves a lot.) The “holy spirit” was sent to us at pentecost (even though she had always been present?) and she took care of “the rest.”

Don’t ask me what “the rest” was, exactly.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I had felt the presence of God, I had recognized the work of God being done through people, and I had experienced the comforting peace of God in my own life and in the lives of others. I simply did not recognize these as the works of the holy spirit.

I blame some of my confusion on Nazarene singer/evangelist Jimmy Dell. There was a song of his entitled “holy ghost power” which terrified me as a child. Some of our friends in the Nazarene congregation I attended were acquaintances of Mr. Dell, and one year he came to our camp meeting and sang this song both in worship and at our family’s campfires. I have tried to block the memories from my head, but I think the images of the holy spirit that the song produced managed to affect my views on the 3rd member of the trinity.

Do you all remember the movie “Casper?” It’s a classic; the friendly ghost who interacts with humans and attempts to stop the “bad ghosts” from causing us pain and embarrassment wherever possible. For a long time, I viewed the holy spirit as a Casper-like specter. Perfectly friendly, and mostly harmless, but nevertheless a being that supposedly inhabited my body and was able to use it to speak and act in ways that I could not always control.

I later learned that I was not the only one who was terrified of this. It seemed that a large portion of my Nazarene congregation were. We rarely talked about the holy spirit in Sunday school, and when she was brought up it was when I would hear jokes from adults about that crazy time in their youth when they heard someone speak in tongues.

I was taught later on that the presence of God which I had felt was, in fact, the work of the spirit, and that it could be manifested in a number of ways which, in time, I would understand more. And for a time, I was content.

Then, I started to have an interest in ecumenism and I learned about the pentecostal church. It fascinated me; their emphasis on the work of the holy spirit was something I hadn’t heard before. But suddenly, I was given the impression that if I was not speaking in tongues or prophesying over people on a regular basis, I was not a “spirit-filled Christian.”

I took great offense to these accusations against my piety, and so I prayed for these “spiritual gifts” to be bestowed upon me.

I’m still waiting.

I have been so concentrated on seeking grand, outward signs of the holy spirit’s work that I have neglected the great inward transformation that has taken place.  I often fail to credit the holy spirit with what she has been doing most throughout my life; offering me healing and comfort in spite of the troubled world in which I lived.

The holy spirit has seen the situations that need healing in my own life  and the brokenness that exists in all humanity, and has cried out to god on our behalf. She, in her divine nature, is able to communicate to the divine our innermost hurts when we are weak and can’t communicate our pain ourselves. The spirit of god hears our groanings, and is present with us through them. 2000 years after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the holy spirit is the means through which we experience God in our own lives. It is through her that we experience God’s promise to us that he will be with us always, and eventually he will redeem the world and we will be with him. That fulfilled promise and that anticipation for the future are especially poignant in this season of advent.

That hope that the world may not always be as it is now is a concept which has long comforted Christians, but has also left us confused. As Christians, we are sometimes under the misguided impression that we are somehow supposed to transcend the suffering of this world. We are, after all, children of God, and assume ourselves to be “saved.” We have turned from the sins of the world, and so we have nothing to worry about because know our next life will be bright and cheerful, right?

Yet somehow, that hope for the next world is not enough to make us bright and cheerful all the time. Life hurts now. People are living in injustice now, people are sick now, people are dying now- and despite how many times certain Christian groups may try to tell the world that hope in Jesus Christ makes all of that feel better, it  really doesn’t.

Paul was a man of great resilience, but he understood that the life of a Christian was not all rainbows and kittens. In 50-60 A.D. the Roman government was extremely wary of these strange new Jews (and that’s putting it delicately,) there was turmoil among the Jew and Gentile churches, and that beyond the troubles of the early church, there were greater problems of the human condition that could not be solved in this world- even if one had the very spirit of god within them. So he comforted them by reminding them of what hope in Christ meant. It meant the eventual redemption of our earthly bodies,  it meant peace among the nations, it meant a world ruled with justice. Oh, how sweet that day would be!

After several millenia, we are getting a bit tired of waiting for it. We see the darkness of the world; the pains of death, illness, injustice, and poverty, and we cry out for God to save us all from it. Many times, we pray for God to spare us from the evils of the world rather than for the suffering world itself. Yes, the poor and the sick and the hungry make us sad, but after Jesus comes again they won’t be poor or sick or hungry anymore, so why won’t he just come already?

Thankfully, we have been left with a helper who is not only present in our affliction, but is able to communicate to God our struggles so we may receive healing.

I’m not talking about physical healing- although I believe that it has happened- but the spiritual, transformative healing that helps us to accept our own struggles and see into the world with the hope that one day the world will not have to endure those struggles.

In this way, the holy spirit can be evidenced in very strange circumstances. I have realized the Spirit’s work in a friend who gave birth to a stillborn daughter, and reached out to other mothers who had experienced that sorrow. She was filled with great pain, but also with greater peace as she felt the solidarity of those women around her. I have seen the spirit work in a family who, upon loosing their 17 year old to epilepsy, started a foundation to help youth live out their dreams and recognize their unrealized potential. Their grief was tremendous, but they have managed to transform lives by refusing to let one adolescent’s incomplete dreams go unfinished. I’ve felt the spirit move while looking into the eyes of Alzheimer’s patients who recognize their own confusion and the failure to communicate within themselves, but who refuse to give up their hope in looking for answers and trying to communicate with anyone who will listen.

Yes, the holy spirit is also evidenced through the community and hospitality of a congregation, through prophesying and encouragement and all of the other ways Paul mentions in his other epistles.

But, I think it is important to remember that the holy spirit also represents our own experience of god being present with us, she reminds us of our hope for the future that god will come again, and she is the comforting presence amidst our affliction that reminds us that god hears our cries, even when we can’t communicate all of our pain.

She is not a casper-like specter, but more like the gentle, humid wind in the desert which promises the restorative rain to come.


Putting God in a Box

Anne Lynch (’12)
Kay Spiritual Life Center
December 1, 2011

2 Samuel 6:1-11 • David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. David was angry because the LORD had burst forth with an outburst upon Uzzah; so that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day. David was afraid of the LORD that day; he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come into my care?” So David was unwilling to take the ark of the LORD into his care in the city of David; instead David took it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. The ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months; and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household.

So, who here is stressed out? Upperclassmen, I’m sure, are painfully familiar with this time of year, and those of you who are freshman are also becoming aware of that period I call, “pre-finals.” It’s that time in the semester when we have two papers due, an hour-long presentation, and an exam to study for… per class… next week. Oh, and to top it all off, our professors hate Blackboard as much as we do, so they haven’t posted any grades, making it rather difficult to know what exactly is going on. And that’s the aggravating part of this period, isn’t it? Not knowing what grades I have in what classes, or what kind of exam the professor will give me, or how my work has been graded, etc. It’s like my professors don’t realize that I need this information, pronto, chop-chop. How else am I going to pass their classes?

But do I really need that information? A little over a year ago, I found myself in a very uncomfortable situation that did not come with any easy explanations. Some of you or your loved ones have experienced being sick without a clear diagnosis, and that’s what I was dealing with. I had a severe headache that escalated over time, refusing to budge no matter what medication I was prescribed. After a month with no answers, I had been in the Emergency Room twice, once because I had been prescribed something inappropriate for my malady and overdosed, and once because no medication was diminishing the pain. That second time, a friend of a friend found me on the floor of a dorm bathroom. And we still had no idea what was wrong with me.

It was kind of a low point in my college life. The next week my doctor tried me out on the strongest anti-migraine steroids she could muster, and all they did was knock me out and fuzzy up my brain enough that I didn’t notice the pain as much. Thankfully, she decided to put me on a different medication that did help, but it was a generic medicine that didn’t give us any answers.

I really needed answers during all of this—to me it was the difference between sanity and a lack thereof—and there simply weren’t any answers. At the same time that all of this was going on, I was in a Covenant Discipleship group, and out of seemingly nowhere, I started feeling “called” to seminary and ministry. Considering that I saw myself as a Buddhist at the time, I had more than a little trouble swallowing this bizarre state of affairs. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I accepted my state of unknowing, in both situations, that I was able ignore the pain and function normally again.

        This brings me to the odd story we just heard. I first heard this story in the fall of 2009 when I was in my first of what would be several of “Professor Schaefer’s” classes, Religious Heritage of the West. We were covering Judaism first, and when we came to this story, Mark explained how King David was having the ark of the covenant—which had previously traveled with the people of Israel all over their Promised Land—taken to Jerusalem to be placed in the Temple. The very presence of God for the people of Israel since the time of Moses would no longer travel wherever the people were, but would be placed in a glorious, beautiful box.

Until those oxen shake. Apparently, it looks like the ark is about to fall—a dastardly escape—when Uzzah puts out his hand and prevents the ark from moving. As Mark explained (and I checked online, so he wasn’t making it up), certain commentators note that Uzzah was perhaps getting in the way of an indirect message from God. Perhaps God was acting through those oxen to show to King David that a box, no matter how glorious, was not suitable for something as dynamic and strange as God. So when Uzzah puts out his hand, he is in some way trying to box in God, a simply impossible feat, and Uzzah’s own action kills him.

You see, I read this text more as an effect of Uzzah’s actions than a punishment from God. I assume that I know this ark so well; surely I have it in my power to protect this ark from falling. Except that it isn’t about the ark itself, it’s about God.

King David of course freaks out, and decides to postpone moving the ark. Eventually it does end up in Jerusalem, in Solomon’s Temple, but as we learn later from the prophets, Israel continues to struggle with idolatry and eventually Exile. With the ark in possession, there is an assumption that God can in some way be controlled. And to praise that understanding-of-God perhaps is not to praise God at all. After all, back when God first sent Moses to save his people, what did God say? “I am (what) I am.” God is God, and no other adjective or description can adequately define God. And to praise with the idea that God can be controlled—which really is to presume we know God’s very essence—is idolatry.

The truth is I don’t know what God “is.” I don’t know God’s essence. There’s a whole school of theology called apophasis—negative theology—that says we can only describe what God is not. God is not finite, God is not static, God is not a person (although personal language is very useful when discussing God), and God is not a knowable, controllable thing. In fact, just about anything we say regarding God is bound to fall far short of the truth. Even saying God is Love. Not that saying that is wrong or bad, I think it’s a good thing. Love too is complicated, dynamic, and hard to define, especially in the English language.

It’s that “is” I personally struggle with, that implication that I know God is Love. I can say so, and I could use whatever definition of Love I want that will make God do what I want God to do. Not that I would. But for me personally, I’d rather just not say God is “Blank.” Because as lovely and glorious as Love is, it remains, to me, a box.

Which means, maybe everything I assume about God is wrong. To steal from Socrates, if all I know is that I know nothing about God, that seems like it would be a major problem! What if I do things I think are right in God’s eyes, so to speak, and I’m actually just being a jerk? That’s terrifying! Why bother believing in God at all?

Except that actually this situation isn’t that scary. As a matter of fact, I’d say it’s comforting. A few weeks ago, I went to a program put together by the United Methodist Church for people interested in going into ministry and seminary, called “Exploration.” While I was at Exploration, I found myself surrounded by people saying “God is Blank.” God is this, no God is that, no, you’re both wrong and I have the real answer. Each time I heard it, I was immediately suspicious. Because God doesn’t belong in a box, and God cannot be constrained by simple definitions. My experience of God has been of a great mystery that I cannot begin to understand. But see, that’s just it: I might not know God’s essence, but I can have experience of God.

What we do know is God moves through us, dynamically. God has might and understanding that we could barely comprehend. God loves. We know God’s love through our very existence, even when we don’t understand God, when we don’t know the answers. God loves so much that somehow, the unfathomable, indefinable, incomprehensible essence of God walked among us, as a human being, with all the experiences of happiness and sorrow we could expect in a typical human life, and so much more. It is that indescribable transformation that makes Christmas so miraculous.

This time of Advent, of waiting, is worth that miracle. It’s a time of unknowing. It’s a time of belief—in the original sense of the word (as defined by Karen Armstrong, of whom some of you know I’m a big fan-girl)—belief in God not as intellectual knowledge but as a movement of the spirit to trust in God despite the mystery, because soon God will come among us as a human child.

There are a lot of things I don’t know. I don’t know how my grades will turn out this semester. I don’t know what’s happened to a Buddhist monk that protested in Burma recently who I met a few years ago. I don’t know where I’ll be living—much less doing—in six months when I graduate. I don’t know why a close family friend died so suddenly on Thanksgiving night. I don’t really know how planes fly—it’s somethingt I struggle with each time I travel. And I don’t have any intellectual comprehension of what God “is.” And you know what? That’s okay. Through Jesus Christ, God knows me and you and every human being on the planet. God has experienced life with us. And that is the miraculous mystery.

Wounded Healing

Ms. Meredith Hollingsworth
Kay Spiritual Life Center
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Romans 15:13; Luke 22:39-50

Image courtesy of wordle.net

Romans 15:13 • I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with JOY and PEACE because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Luke 22:39-50 • 39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
45When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
7 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

There is a lot of suffering in this world and it is hard to explain why. You see it every day in the friend who hasn’t yet overcome his or her demons, the homeless person living out on the streets, the depletion of resources, and the loss of loved ones to illness or war. The picture painted here isn’t pretty. It’s harsh and often leaves us wondering if there is anything we can do. At these times, Paul’s words seem empty. How is it possible to trust in God when there is plenty of evidence that God hasn’t fixed everything, let alone be filled with joy and peace when the world is crumbling around you? I mean. That’s just silly.

These paradoxes have often made me question God. I’ve been angry, perplexed and worried that God simply didn’t care even when the bible clearly states that God will restore the world.  Again and again God’s redeeming promise can be seen in the rainbow in the story of Noah, the journey of the Israelites into the promise land, the words of the prophets telling of God’s coming reign where Justice will roll down from heaven and righteousness will flow in a never ending stream, and in the story of Jesus himself. It seems like it would be easy to be filled with joy and peace because of these promises but sometimes its not.

Two thousand years after the resurrection of Jesus, there is still a lot in the world that is in need of redemption and its hard not to be overwhelmed by it. The Native Americans and many other indigenous peoples are still oppressed after years of struggling for their rights, dictators still oppress their peoples and many people are left homeless after wars or natural disasters. Just turn on your nightly news or scan the front page of a paper and you’ll see that there is still much work to be done.

In fact, many of us see brokenness our own lives. Our relationships are not what we’d like them to be, we have habits that we’d rather break, and we often fail to walk with justice, kindness, and love in our hearts. For me, this fall was a blaring reminder of the brokenness in the world and within myself. I was perplexed at the thought of global warming while my other classes gave me more and more examples about how racism, classism, and sexism were hurting society.

I was also breaking from within.

Many of the relationships I valued were changing, leaving me unsure of my place.  A series of events including the death of my grandfather also caught me off guard and left me feeling vulnerable and weak. Beyond that though, I was still struggling with the voice that told me, “You are worthless and will never accomplish anything” that has been with me most of my life. I was tired of that voice and I soon gave into the depression that had been looming above my head for quite some time.

It was at this point that I started to question God. Nothing I did seemed to make it better and I wanted God to show me the path I should take to get out of that place. The thing was, God wasn’t telling me what I should do or why I was there. Leaving me feeling even more lost. All that I really got from God was, “Don’t worry, I am with you, Trust me. Everything will be ok. “ I wasn’t satisfied with God’s answer though. I wanted life to be easy, I wanted my homework to do itself.

Looking back at the story of Jesus, however, you see that God doesn’t always give Jesus the answers he wanted either. Before Jesus was to die on the cross he goes to the Mount of Olives to pray and asks God to relieve his suffering,  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; Yet not my will, but yours be done,” he said (Luke 22:42). It is clear, here, that Jesus, like many of us have, is asking God to remove the suffering from his life and allow him to go free. It would have been a lot easier on Jesus to have not died on the cross and live on into old age. It would have been easier for him if God had just taken the cup. But that’s not what God did. God did not give Jesus the easy answer.  God let Jesus die on the cross.

What is interesting about this, however, is Jesus response. Jesus does not run away, he doesn’t even complain too much. Instead he prays even more earnestly after God appears to him in the form of an angel who strengthens him. One can only assume that he is praying for peace and strength and meditating on the words he spoke earlier in prayer: “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” The way in which Jesus carries himself to the cross following his decent from the mountain is a testament to the inner peace God has given him in his time of trial. Even as Judas betrays him, he does not lash out in anger but rather speaks words of peace and heals those around him. The scars on Jesus’ hands and sides after his resurrection also remind us of his ability to show God’s redeeming love while he was still wounded himself.

The concept of the wounded healer is something that Mark told me about last week, but it is something that has really resonated with me. In my own life it reiterates the concepts that God has been teaching me: that I am not defined by my pain and suffering but by what I choose to do with them. It reminds me that there is a force greater than pain, meaning beyond loss, and reasons to hope for a better tomorrow.

In my healing process, then, it seemed like I was going to have to trust God even if things weren’t turning out the way I wanted them to.

It seemed that I was going to have to look my anxieties and my fears directly in the face and make peace with them. Or at least acknowledge that there was a force greater than them because they weren’t going away and time soon. My grandfather was still dead, my mom’s later diagnosis was still the same, the relationships I valued had changed, and that voice that constantly tells me “You are not good enough” will never be completely silenced.

That is ok though because I know that God is with me in my times of trial. The story of Jesus reminds us that we too have our own Easters coming and that God will not abandon us. It reminds us that we can find peace even when there is hard work to be done or our lives are full of trouble. It is because we know that God’s redeeming love wins out in the end that we can be filled with completely with Joy and Peace as Paul suggests in Romans. In fact, we can “overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” and become healing agents for those around us. We too, can be wounded healers.

In fact I have already seen many people inside and outside this community be wounded healers. Everyone here tonight has something they struggle with, yet I have seen so much of God’s redeeming love at work in this community and my friends that may or may not be here tonight. You loved me even when I couldn’t love myself. This means the world to me. I love you all dearly and hope that we can continue to find Joy and Peace together amidst the struggles of life. Especially as finals week approaches.

Peace be with you. Amen.

Everything I Actually Learned

Ms. Carolyn Capern
April 7, 2011—Thursday Healing Service
Mark 3:31 – 4:9

Mark 3:31–4:9 NRSV • Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

 

I remember very clearly the first Sunday sermon I ever heard Mark preach. I was a scared little freshman who didn’t know a thing about what to expect from college when I wandered into Kay for the first time. So of course it was a great relief to find not only a familiar worship service, but also to hear a sermon entitled “Everything You Need to Know.”

Well, four years later, I pretty much haven’t wandered out of Kay since that first night. And since I will be graduating one month from today, it seems only appropriate for me to get up here and tell you Everything I Actually Learned over the course of my college career.

  • I learned that you should always buy a copy of Street Sense when you walk by a vendor.
  • I learned that you should really watch out for wall-mounted televisions and other low-hanging objects.
  • I learned that college friendships revolve around food, and the best restaurants are not actually limited to Tenleytown and Friendship Heights.
  • I learned that the District of Columbia practically runs off froyo, cupcakes, coffee, and unpaid interns.
  • I learned that you should always head for the first or second car of the Metro during tourist season if you want a seat, but there’s pretty much no hope at rush hour any time of the year.
  • I learned that a lot of the best professors at AU are adjuncts.
  • And I learned that family appears in the most unexpected forms.

This last one becomes critical in light of all the other things that you learn at college. The more you realize how crazy college is, with all the late nights and the stress and the random events that happen every day of the week, the more you realize how much you need people to depend on. Since college is made up of so many different orbits– groups of people with whom we are acquainted– it can be a lot harder to find your “family”– in this case, not the biological kind, but the friends who are there for you no matter what, the anchor that reminds you who you are.

This passage from Mark has always been difficult for me to grasp because of its apparent rejection of biological family ties– in fact, if you look back at the previous passage, Jesus’ family calls him crazy, so it probably makes sense that he was a little upset. We know that family loyalty was considered a priority in Jesus’ time, so his words here are significant. We also know this was an important theme– it made it into all three synoptic gospels.

For a long time I read this passage as a call to reject all ties with non-Christians, particularly in light of the other verses that say not to be yoked together with nonbelievers and so forth. And this idea really troubled me, for a variety of reasons. How are you supposed to know who is the acceptable believer in the sight of God, anyway? And since I already believed that God is love, where does this rejection of ties fit in anyway–  what is so loving about that kind of behavior? Nothing, obviously.

And so we read on in Mark, and if you’re like me, you pretty much try to put that pesky passage out of your mind. At the beginning of the next chapter we find Jesus teaching from a boat to everybody sitting on the shore near him– now that sounds like a cool class. He starts telling the Parable of the Sower– you know, the one you heard in Sunday School where seeds fall over the place and some grow well and some fail. The usual interpretation of this passage– in fact, the one explained by Jesus himself later on– is that it shows different ways that people receive the Gospel message: some very well, some very badly, and the ones who receive it well prosper and the ones who receive it badly die.

So great. Here are two passages in a row in which Jesus is being very unlike the Jesus we usually think of, the peaceful guy who feeds the masses and interacts with Samaritans and lepers and in general people whom society spurns. What’s the deal?

Well, to be honest, since I’m not a seminary student, I don’t know that I can really answer my own questions. But I have figured out a few things about these passages:

First, Jesus is redefining what family means when he says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” It’s not where you were born into but what you choose to do with your lives; or, in the language of the parable of the sower, it’s about the soil you offer to the seed of God’s message. That idea is familiar to most of us as college students– as much as many of us affirm and try to maintain our ties to our homes and biological families, we define our college families by what we do and the people we find who share our deepest passions or beliefs.

Secondly, it matters a great deal what you think “God’s message” is. If you believe that those who haven’t received God’s message are people who haven’t said a certain prayer or gone to a certain number of church services or committed to doing a certain act of justice, then these passages from Mark take on very different meanings. I’m not going to pretend to understand exactly what “God’s message” is supposed to be, but it’s important to be aware of what we believe about that. Take a poll of people around Kay– the wide variety of beliefs about God and God’s priorities are one of the things that makes life around here so interesting.

Thirdly, and thankfully, it’s okay to not understand exactly what these passages mean, and to doubt the usual interpretations of them. The reason the “Faith Questions” service has meant so much to me over the last four years is that it affirms curiosity and doubt, and invites us to question the parts of belief that we have struggled with. In the face of the dogmatism that I know exists elsewhere, this openness to dialogue is something that I– and I know many of you– have found valuable.

In his sermon four years ago, Mark said that we are here at college to learn how to learn, and that this community is here to teach us how to wrestle with the mysteries of faith, not to give us answers. I have found that to be true, and it’s a big reason why I feel free to stand up here and admit that I don’t know all the answers. But the other reason is that I have also learned that we don’t see with God’s eyes, so it is good to make our “families” large and diverse in ideas, whether those ideas are about theology or politics or movies or… New Jersey. It all comes back to that powerful idea that God is love, and that God loves us– all of us. The rest is in the details, and those can be figured out along the way.

So when, one month from today, I walk across the stage at commencement, I will celebrate the ideas I have learned and the questions I have yet to ask. Most of all I will carry with me the treasure that is my AU family, a family that is, for me, anchored in this community. Though my diploma will read “School of Public Affairs,” I will be graduating with a degree from the Kay Spiritual Life Center, specialization in the AU United Methodist-Protestant Community. And for that I am eternally thankful.

 

Reflection on Haiti

Ms. Evan Fowler
Kay Spiritual Life Center
January 18, 2010–Interfaith Vigil for Haiti

It is easy to view the earth as a stable place. In our everyday experiences, we see the rising and setting of the sun, the cycles of the moon, and the seasons that, without fail, repeat each year. For millennia, we have created charts and calendars to remind us just how reliable the orbit of the earth around the sun is. There are people who look at hot and cold air mixing, and from that can predict when the next rainstorm will be. We understand the science behind natural phenomena and many times can prevent serious loss of life by acting before disaster strikes.

So when the earth moves beneath the fragile foundations of one of the poorest and most structurally unstable places on the planet, we feel upset, confused, and helpless. Our trust in God, or Mother Earth, or Science did not prevent the sudden destruction of some of the most vulnerable life on the planet. We mourn for the loss of life in Haïti and we mourn for humanity’s loss of confidence—we don?t know as much as we thought we did and can’t protect each other to the extent that we would like.

Especially as individuals, we can feel as if there is nothing we can do about the earthquake in Haïti. We can donate funds, or pray for the people there, but there is nothing tangible that we can do with our own hands to make a change in the situation. Something that we can do, however, is to change ourselves. We can allow our hearts to be as vulnerable as Haïti was when the earthquake struck, and leave them defenseless to be torn apart by the stories and images that tell of lives lost and homes destroyed. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of keeping our feelings and fears far from ourselves, behind the glass screen of a t.v. or buried in the leaves of a newspaper. That level of separation cannot be tolerated. It is not only our responsibility to reach out to Haïti, but also to allow Haïti to reach out for us. It is imperative that we allow the earthquake in Haïti to shake the foundations of our own lives, and to let it smash our hearts as it smashed so many homes. Simply because we are an ocean away does not mean we have to be removed from the situation.

After we let the Haïtian earthquake break us, we must look at our lives lying exposed and dismantled and examine the pieces of them. Are we satisfied with what we see? Just as Haïti rebuilds, we will rebuild. And just as Haïti will never look like it did before the earthquake, we must make sure that our lives will not return to their previous state either. By rearranging the pieces of our existence and discarding the parts that were mangled long before the disaster struck, and salvaging what was twisted during the trauma until a more pleasing form arose, we can rebuild our lives so that they are more beautiful and more structurally sound then they were before we chose to let our hearts be broken.

It is easy to view the earth as a stable place and to become comfortable with its cycles. It is easy to do the same with our own lives—to get sucked into our daily routines and our placid lifestyles. The earth is not a stable place, as the earthquake in Haïti has forced us to remember. Our lives are not stable either, and if we choose to do so, we can allow this event to mould us in ways which may not be comfortable, but will certainly allow us to become more whole as human beings.

 

An Easter People

Ms. Miriam Wood
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 30, 2009–Thursday Healing Service
Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16: 1-8 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Imagine the scene. Your good friend, this man who had some really interesting ideas, who spoke about justice, and who may have been the son of God, was just crucified. No one knows what’s going on, I mean, he was talking about his death, but what does it all mean? All you want to do is go with your friends, Mary and Salome, to his grave and take care of his body, you owe him that much. But you’re not even sure how you’re going to do that,, because there’s this huge stone in the way and you have no idea how you’re going to solve that problem, it would take an army of men to move it. And once you move it, I mean, Jesus’s body is going to be just laying there, dead.

You get to the tomb and not only is the stone gone, but some young punk is standing there with the audacity to tell you to not be afraid? Is he serious? All you can think is, “who are you again”? And then he tells you that Jesus has risen. As in, no longer dead. And he’s on his way to Galilee, where you’re supposed to meet up with him, just like he told you. What would you do in that situation, cause I know what I’d do. I’d run as fast as I could in the other direction before anything thing else this weird happened to me again. But after a while it might hit you: maybe this guy knew what was going on. Didn’t Jesus tell the disciples that he was going to rise again on the 3rd day?

I know that we hear a lot around this season about being an “Easter people” – people that live each day with the resurrection as a reality. Think about what it meant to live with that reality for the early Church. I’m sure they were freaked out a lot of the time, and not really sure what it all meant. To then be told that Jesus was already going to Galilee, and was going to be among you…what would that have meant?

As Sara mentioned in Bible study Tuesday night, as best as scholars can tell, this was the way that the Gospel of Mark ended. Jesus hadn’t reappeared to anyone yet, but instead was alive and on his way to the place where he had been working all along. Moreover, Jesus hadn’t ascended into heaven just yet. What does this mean for us as Easter people? What does it mean for us to have a final vision of Jesus as one who is still walking among us, doing works, preparing the way, just waiting for us to arrive? Does this make us more bold, or more sure of God’s plan in the uncertainty that we face in the future? If we live in the mindset of Mary Magdalene, I think this thought could give us a certain amount of comfort, Jesus has risen, and he’s here among us.

This early ending of Mark also pushes us on to greater action. In the endings that follow, Jesus ascends in to heaven and sits. The end. There’s an amount of finality with that, as if it’s now up to the rest of us to figure out what to do here on earth, because Jesus’ work is done. But in the early ending, there’s the sense that Jesus’ work hasn’t been finished, and that Jesus hasn’t yet given up on this earth to join God in heaven. Jesus has gone back to the place where the majority of his ministry has taken place, to be with the people again, working towards God’s kin-dom on earth. This early ending pushes us further, giving us a reason to run as fast as we can to Galilee to see Jesus alive and among us. It pushes us forward to live out the justice that Jesus began, knowing that he has not left us just yet.

I know that all of us are facing uncertainty now, much like Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, Salome, and those in the early church. Finals are ending, graduation is fast upon us. But I think that if you think about Easter in the sense of Jesus still walking among us, preparing the way, alive and well, then there’s peace that comes with that. Because Jesus is still with us. He’s still moving and walking, seeking out God’s kin-dom on earth and working towards justice. This is what it means to be an Easter people. This is what it means to go out in to the big scary future, knowing that we’re not alone on this earth, and that God has not abandoned us yet.