Staying with Jonah

So last Sunday we gathered. We prayed. Then we started checking in. The homework had been to read the book of Jonah at least once and then to notice where the Holy Spirit guided us to spend some time.

Some mentioned how Jonah is a pretty funny book (and guy) — that everything about it is pretty funny. Jonah might be a bit dramatic it seems…We had a riveting discussion on translation over if Jonah is swallowed up by a fish or a whale. (If you missed this — feel free to ask any who were gathered around the table for their thoughts!) Others named that Jonah is exactly like they are…a bit judgmental — and not wanting God to do what God is likely going to do! Others named the vast grace of God. Others noticed — how God prepared the hearts of those who were in Ninevah to receive the message. We also thought about how Jonah in the fish for 3 days is something that sets the stage for Jesus in the tomb/death for 3 days before rising! We found chapter 2 (Jonah’s prayer) honest, insightful, and to some humble and others a bit arrogant. We considered all this and so much more — the conversation around this entire book was RICH. Including a side conversation which also asked if Jonah could be considered a parable, and yes it could (I wonder though….whether it is or not, does that change the way you hear it? Why or why not?…especially considering that Jesus often spoke in parables…).

So we stayed with Jonah. Reading different parts of the book. Noticing the emotions that Jonah has. Noticing the movement. Noticing God’s sovereignty over all. Noticing how everyone perhaps except Jonah seemed to be fearful and in awe of God…Jonah seems to be the only one running from God and not listening!

After all this time with this delightful book of the Bible, what could be the homework this week? Well…..GET EXCITED (I know you ARE!) everyone is invited to make a 1 minute sermon based on Jonah!!!

All are invited to share….make some notes, (not too many now 🙂 ) — and speak from your heart. What sermon is God preaching to you right now through Jonah? Come prepared to share with all who will gather around the table on Sunday — and please know that the sermon God gifts us through you — will assuredly encourage and bless those who hear it! So keep hanging out with Jonah & bring the sermon that God writes on your heart to share with us all!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Running away (Jonah 1:1-6)

We gathered. Some were there a bit earlier than usual — so they figured out how to make the coffee! We found seats and we opened in prayer. Then, as is our custom we started to check in….our homework had been to daily pray for God to create in us a clean/pure heart. AND we also had paper hearts that as the Holy Spirit might lead us we could write in what God might tell us would be part of our clean/pure hearts.

Some folks filled their paper hearts with notes. Some as they prayed found that as God answered (& did!) the prayer, a new awareness was opened up to them — and that was hard…because well, learning the truth about ourselves (esp. if we think we’re doing alright!) is hard! There also was the important question of ‘what for’ or ‘for what’? We pray that God would create in us a clean/pure heart — but why? Just to be clean and pure? The sincere question was asked knowing their desire to live their faith out in real ways — in ways that feel more productive/active than only gathering around a table once a week. AND the thing is yes — God does invite us to move with the Holy Spirit, to do work that God has designed & invited us to do in our lives….and — the work does not look the same for everyone, and the work will not always be the same for us, and the work is not always the work that we want to do — sometimes what God calls us to do is the boring — the extra ORDINARY — the little things that seem not to matter at all — sometimes faithfulness doesn’t look like us curing cancer, poverty, racism…or even healing 1 person we love! I do believe though, as we seek God, as we ask to draw near, as we pray (or sing!) “Create in me a clean heart — oh God” (and if we’re singing maybe including too, “and renew a right spirit within me”) again and again and again, I just imagine God is able to do some of that — and as was correctly mentioned too — we don’t do this — it’s always God who is able! (We can’t really even know — what’s the difference between our heart, and our mind, and our spirit and our soul?) And even if we don’t care about those distinctions (and no that doesn’t make you a “bad” Christian!) — praying for God to create a cleanness and a purity in us opens us to be able to hear more of God’s voice, and God’s desires, and the direction that the Holy Spirit is inviting us to follow. Praying for God to create this cleanness and this purity might be the equivalent of turning stuff of when we have TV on, and music going, and something in the microwave, and laundry in the washer, and our own internal dialogue, and a text message coming on the phone, and a friend or a partner or a neighbor is trying to say something — AND OF COURSE WE CAN’T HEAR — praying for God to create the cleanness and purity might be the equivalent of turning off the TV, shutting off the music, pausing the microwave, silencing our phones, and breathing to pause our internal dialogue — to check in and listen. None of the other things are necessarily bad…but they sure do make it hard to focus on the one (One) trying to speak to us, right? And that voice might be telling us what is next, what we are invited to do — the voice might be trying to tell us where the Holy Spirit is moving next so that we are ready to go! (And that’s exciting!)

After this amazing time of talking and pondering and sharing. We turned to scripture. A small book (minor prophet) towards the end of the Old Testament. We read Jonah 1:1-6

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

New International Version

After listening we asked….what is the Holy Spirit highlighting? Something named was how even in disobedience Jonah has this trust in God which is so comforting he is able to sleep soundly in the midst of a powerful storm (something not mentioned at the time….but how many of us have been asleep in the storms of our lives…that we essentially walked into? How many of us have been blessed to have someone direct us — Wake up & pray!? How many of us have listened?) . They noted that it reminded them of the type of trust that Jesus had in God during storms….being able to sleep while everyone else experienced fear and chaos.

There’s much to notice in these short verses….as well as in this short book….and so — the homework this week is to READ. Read all of the book of Jonah. And come back ready to discuss what stood out — where God led you to pause — to share what verses are coming alive to you right now!

I know I’m looking forward to hearing how (& what) the Holy Spirit is speaking to each of us though this book!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Create in me a clean heart (Psalm 51)

Last Sunday we gathered as is our practice and sat around the table. After noticing the new fans, and opening in prayer we began checking in. The homework had asked us to both consider what committing our spirit into God’s hands means, feels & looks like, and to ask if we could do so at least once.

As usual, there were a variety of experiences. There was some confusion on how and if committing our spirit like how Christ did is possible — he was about to die (give up the ghost) — our goal isn’t that; and also thinking about how Christ (fully God — fully human, is able to commit his soul into God’s hands — fair enough of a question). However, a theme also emerged of submission to God, that the idea of committing our spirit into God’s hands means letting go, giving to God that which we have no control over. As people described this there was the experience of peace, breathing, pervasive joy, and clarity. What a beautiful testimony and encouragement to hear the gifts that came from submitting to God — with such lived experiences of peace, joy, and clarity — it’s a wonder we don’t attempt to submit ourselves to God more often….praise be to God for having patience with us all!

And we turned to scripture, an entire Psalm, Psalm 51. After listening to the whole Psalm, we briefly heard some comments on where the Holy Spirit was directing attention. One, in hearing verse 17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” recalled the parable of two men praying to God and a sincere humility (even though coming from a sinner) was regarded and heard by God, and heard an invitation for us to present ourselves to God with such sincere humility. Another named how as a church we used to use this exact Psalm as an aid to confession.

There is this beauty of Psalm 51 of regarding God’s steadfast love and mercy, in naming our sinfulness and even (perhaps this is on our best days) our awareness of our own sin and then the request for God to create in us a clean (or pure) heart. It seems very appropriately God-centered and aware that it is God who can create a newness of heart within us (not our own work). And so we came to the homework invitation for the week:

  • Every day pray this scripture, that God will create in you a clean (or pure) heart.
  • And everyone was given a paper heart (of their choosing) so if and as the Spirit leads, feel free to write (or draw) what God might be putting in your heart in creating it clean/pure/new!

Praying with y’all that God will create in us a clean hear & looking forward to gathering again.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Commit to God (Luke 23:44-49)

Last Sunday was Easter/Resurrection Sunday — and as is our custom we gathered around the table. Some were missing because they were able to worship with family in other places — some were welcomed because they were worshiping with family (with us!) — and some were dressed a bit more spiffy because — it was EASTER/RESURRECTION Sunday — the Sunday (well every Sunday actually we do this!) when we celebrate that Jesus Christ is Risen today! (and you respond — He (or Christ) is risen indeed!). SO FUN!

So we gathered. We prayed. And we began checking-in. Our homework had been to find art that allowed us to really experience Holy Week in some way. And folks found amazing works of art! Some where created by themselves, some from a family member, we had lyrics from a song (emphasizing dancing — and giving the image of Christ dancing out of the tomb and into eternity), we had images getting at what Christ really looked like when he walked the earth. It was a blessing getting to hear everyone “show & tell” — to think about how people with great talent had been paid by the church back in the day to create masterpieces; to consider how perspective changes how we see and interact with art (and life!); to pass around rocks before going in the tumbler & after….and to see too that the rocks (even tumbled) look better (shinier) with some water on them (if that’s not a sermon for us to consider how we look better with Jesus all over us….I just don’t know what is!). So we had a DELIGHTFUL time considering different pieces of art and how they invite us into Holy Week — how they invite us into knowing more of who God is!

And then we turned to scripture (as we do) and considered Luke 23:44-49

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[a] When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

(a) Luke 23:46 Psalm 31:5
New International Version

Folks noticed the curtain being torn in two. One mentioned how the curtain was torn from top to bottom (not bottom to top — representing God tearing it). It was noticed by multiple folks the centurion and his response. Also noticed were the women who watched. And in a gift that can only be the movement of the Holy Spirit (praise God) someone also noticed how Jesus called (or cried) out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” — wondering what it means to for Christ to say this….it is hard you know — yet again, the fully divine & fully human residing in Christ all at the same time…BUT it was delightful because this utterance of Christ is exactly where we are focusing our time for the homework question & assignment:

  • What does it mean/look like to commit our spirit into God’s hands?
  • Can you do this at least once this week? (commit your spirit into God’s hands)?

Y’all….I don’t know if everyone will imagine this an easy or a challenging assignment. However, Christ gives us this model — of committing his spirit into God’s hands — so shouldn’t we try to follow as well? Looking forward to when we gather again for our 2nd Sunday of Easter (yes — it doesn’t just stop!)

Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed!)
~ Rev. Sabrina Slater

Show & Tell…finished? (John 19:28-30)

Last Sunday — Palm/Passion Sunday — we gathered around the table as usual. We opened in prayer. And we began talking about the homework; we began sharing our answers as to what it means & symbolizes for the ‘Living Water’ to be thirsty.

There were answers about Christ fully being human — he should be thirsty, he was there, dying — it is part of the process, for him not to be thirsty would be odd. There were answers that recognized that he knew the scriptures and in fulfilling them, he needed to name that he was thirsty — he was supposed to be thirsty. And then there were answers naming more of a symbolic nature — that he was thirsting for more than a drink, thirsty for the people (all of us) to get it, thirsty for the reconciliation of the world, thirsty because the full weight of the sins of the world were essentially sucking the life out of him. There was talk about so much more, the water and the blood (and the physical things that happen to a body during a crucifixion), there was reference to other scriptures — including Revelation. It is a question, that could be talked about for quite a bit of time, it was one we hadn’t all necessarily often really considered. We also wondered — Jesus says things for a reason, why does he take time to say this, to be thirsty — should we too be thirsty today?

And while still considering the question and going into the somewhat tangents that can always happen because yes, everything is connected — we turned right back to nearly the same exact scripture. To John 19:28-30:

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

New International Version

And we noticed of course that with the addition of the 30th verse, we have Jesus now saying, “It is finished.” Not the author of the gospel but Jesus himself. Interesting still perhaps in the narration for what is fully finished? And is it really? And yet, there is also the insight that even here, even on the cross, even after everything that came before — Jesus decides when to die, when to give up his spirit — when the mission he set out to accomplish (to reconcile the world to God!) is done — not one second, or even a fraction of a second — before or after — it’s rather amazing to consider that this man — Jesus Christ — fully human & fully God — dictates death even on a cross, powerful if you ask me.

We hear these words from Christ, “It is finished” as we actually begin experiencing Palm/Passion Sunday & Holy Week. And so the homework is a little different this week. This is a week of experiencing God in rather flesh & tactile ways — in experiential ways. The invitation is to find a piece of art — this might be a poem — a painting — a sculpture — something famous or something much less so — that invites YOU to experience Holy Week, to feel holy week. The art might focus on Palm Sunday, or Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday, or Holy Saturday or Easter/Resurrection Sunday — but I am interested in each of us being open to entering the story this week, perhaps entering it in a more visceral and experiential way than ever before — let us be open to feeling (and warning — it might not feel all that good) just how much God loves us y’all. Let us journey together. And let us share (aka show & tell) these pieces of art together on Sunday.

In Christ & looking for resurrection

~Rev. Sabrina Slater

Thirsty? (John 18:28-29)

Last Sunday we gathered round the table. We smiled, found seats, commented on the weather…folks were a little early, we opened in prayer. And then we started checking in….answering the question of what did the darkness named in Mark 15:33-39 look and feel like & what does “forsaken” feel like.

There were comments of a humble honesty … the imagination that we can feel rejected (and it sucks) but that we don’t know what being forsaken feels like. There were thoughts about the enormity of the full weight of sin — all sin — from all people — for all eternity — being upon Christ & that causing such a barrier between him & God that he felt shunned/alone/forsaken. Ideas of feeling fully the death of sin. And we have different ways of (trying) to understand this — struggling (all of us) with the concept that Christ (and yes, Christ is God) being up there on the cross and feeling forsaken. There were thoughts that the darkness felt truly dark, an eerie dark that we can’t fully grasp because we live in a space where we know that Good Friday didn’t last forever….There too was the admission of being very blessed of not feeling forsaken, by many standards and so an inability to grasp what Christ names on the cross in its weight — it’s feeling of holding evil & of holding death near. And even in reflecting on our time, I notice a(nother) contradiction of experience — how it is in Christ’s forsakenness that we all have been given the gift of eternal connection with God (remember how the curtain of the temple was rend in two?) — the point(s) of his agony open the ideal and paradise of reconciled relationship with God (for us all).

And, perhaps appropriately — with a conversation of darkness and forsakenness — depression was named as one way that some (many) understand darkness that is darker than anything imagined, a place where so many know deep pain and the feeling of rejection and/or forsakenness. This is a darkness we do not control, and one which can seem to last forever. Those sharing named this, some more familiar than others, and we even mentioned suicide too. There are dark places — and darkness — that for some seems to be the wilderness and the reality of their life — while offering no answers other than Christ who knows the depths of darkness & offers light to all the world….and this is hard. Darkness is hard. I think this is part of why it is important for us as those who love God — as those who trust Christ — as those who are filled with the Holy Spirit — to not skip over Good Friday in a rush to get to Easter/Resurrection Sunday. The two events need each other — one without the other really does not offer us much. What is the point of resurrection if we do not wrestle (Holy Saturday anyone?) with the reality of death? And what is the point of death if death has the final say — where is hope? We are a people of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter/Resurrection Sunday — and it is something that is formative and HELPFUL for us to wrestle with — honestly and humbly (which is the only way we really can!).

We stayed here a bit, in the darkness and the importance of really considering Good Friday. Of sitting in the space of believing that Christ is dead. That the impossible and the unexpected and the unimaginable happened. That evil won. That God lost….

And then we turned to scripture, to John 19:28-29:

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.

New International Version

And in the brief time we heard these verses and named what the Holy Spirit was directing us to notice — we wondered, how does the author know that “everything had now been finished”? We thought about how refreshing (or not) wine vinegar was. Some checked out Psalm 69:21 to see the scripture that was being referenced by Christ. No one mentioned the hyssop plant used, a plant that has been used at least in some churches to bless people and places — what does it mean to offer something sour on something meant to bless?

But we came to the time of the homework assignment….just 1 question for the week….but one worth considering carefully…What does it mean (or symbolize) for the “Living Water” (Jesus) to be thristy? It might be helpful (or not) to look up water references in scripture. But what does it mean for the Living Water to be thirsty?

Looking forward to hearing what God is revealing and to continue the journey together.

In Christ…the One who loves us fully ~

Rev. Sabrina Slater

Dark & forsaken (Mark 15:33-39)

Last Sunday we did what we do…gathered, grabbed a seat & prayed. (Of course there was the usual banter as folks arrived & got situated too!) And then the first thing we attended to was our check-in, the homework from the week prior — considering if when Jesus speaks to his Mom and a disciple saying, “Woman, behold, your son!” & “Behold, your mother!” he was being kind, cruel, or crass.

One answer was none of the above, just that Jesus was taking care of business. Most thought kind, making sure that his Mother was taken care of in the context of the time and taking seriously his humanity and the fact that he was Mary’s firstborn child. Others even took time to consider how Joseph is not too often mentioned and hypothesized that perhaps Joseph had died and so it was even more important for Jesus to make sure that his Mother was taken care of (and he knew who would be able to do so appropriately, the disciple he spoke to.) There also was a bit of a struggle with even thinking of Jesus (being God and all) being able to even be cruel or crass, unless we are considering Christ in his humanity. As one willing and able to offer a potential different angle, I wondered aloud if Mary especially, sitting there looking at her son dying on a cross might have heard Jesus “taking care of her” as though it was a bit cruel — considering that none could replace her son to her! And this opened some rich conversation, including hearing the gospel writers (this one being John) on their own terms, taking note of what they are emphasizing — for us, we considered hearing John as showing Christ saying this to challenge the understanding of who is family (opening the circle of who we believe we are responsible for taking care of and such) — making it very important that one of the last things that Christ would say would be to consider our responsibility for each other in familiar terms — instead of focusing narrowly on whether the actual utterance from Christ was kind, cruel, or crass.

And the conversation was rich and layered, taking us into much that often we do not have time to consider when talk of the crucifixion is limited to perhaps only one day (Good Friday) — and so the talk is hard and intersects much & we continued on looking a scripture from Mark 15:33-39:

English Standard Version (ESV)

33 And when the sixth hour[a] had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.[b] 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he[c] breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son[d] of God!”

Mark 15:33 That is, noon
Mark 15:33 That is, 3 p.m.
Mark 15:39 Some manuscripts insert cried out and
Mark 15:39 Or a son

We heard the text. We sat with it. And then we started sharing what the Holy Spirit drew our attention to. Some mentioned other depictions when there were earthquakes, others how Christ quoted scripture on the cross, others the note on how the curtain of the temple was torn in two — ending the barrier between humanity & God. We even got to hear about how thick & heavy the curtain was — emphasizing that it could not be torn in two — only God could do such a thing. We also pondered how in this moment it was when Christ felt the sin of the world fully & experienced that — making him distant from God! We even noticed an outsider (the centurion) realizing that this was the “Son of God” — meaning even in dying Christ was showing his glory — making God known to the whole world! (Whether the centurion was mocking or not — not everyone agrees!)

But we sat in the conversation & in this text for a bit before landing on the homework for this week:

  • What did the darkness feel like? (The darkness that was present from 12noon – 3PM?) Really think about this, what “darkness” was it? Was it felt by all?
  • Describe “forsaken” to you? What does this word mean, in your own words? Is what Jesus felt different? Why or why not?

Y’all ~ spending time at the cross is necessary & often hard work. In this wilderness season may there be grace in the time we are taking there. May God show up in the hoped for and in the unexpected.

Holding y’all in prayer ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Kind, Cruel, or Crass? (John 19:23-27)

Last Sunday we gathered around the table. We had some faces missing and others back after some time away. We opened in prayer. And then we checked-in with our homework. Which was to consider ourselves as both (in turn) of the criminals who were crucified with Christ and (the bonus question) to consider if we can be with Christ in paradise now (today!).

The conversation went first to a discussion of paradise. And much was said, the question of time and what bounds it — what makes “today” today, especially when talking about death; considering if paradise is the same as heaven; wondering if Christ going to hell and seeing folks there was bringing paradise to those in hell. There were those who consider paradise (equal to/same as) heaven and consider the arrival there to be only after the rapture (the 2nd coming of Christ). If we hold this, is Christ lying in saying to a criminal “Today you’ll be with me in paradise?”

There was much….so many topics to consider, paradise, heaven, hell, the second coming of Christ. In thinking about why the criminals would be crucified with Christ there were thoughts about perhaps crucifying more people would make a bigger spectacle; thoughts that the criminals show us that even at the very end of a life that has not known Christ grace extends to us even then — even there & paradise is an option; thoughts that this gift of grace is a gift, and we always have an option to receive or reject it — even when Jesus is right next to us. We wondered about what the understanding was at that time around death for those who did not believe in Christ as the waited for messiah (for a potential resource check HERE).

As we continue to consider these last words of Christ I imagine we will continue to lean into challenging questions, that we will be attentive to some different things that perhaps we have not noticed before as we stay in these last moments on the Cross as our Lenten practice. And as we do that, I wonder if part of our living faithfully is also learning how to ask the right questions? We will never understand fully God (this was even mentioned!) — but will we be able to grow in our ability to ask questions, questions that prayerfully help us not only know more of God intellectually but to know more of God in us, to know more of perfect love (to feel more loved) and to allow that knowledge to transform us right now…

So without all the answers — we turned to scripture considering John 19:23-27:

23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic.[a]But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom,24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

John 19:23 Greek chiton, a long garment worn under the cloak next to the skin

We listened to the text. We noticed, the presence of and the nearness of the women — and the women being named. We noticed no man named, but the (beloved) disciple being present. We considered Jesus taking responsibility for being the 1st born son & providing for his mother. One noticed just how everything happened so that scripture from old was fulfilled…that the tunic was seamless, that the soldiers gambled for his clothing. We talked about a callousness that seemed to be present, but also named that the soldiers were doing their job, and while it fulfilled what the scriptures had foretold it didn’t necessarily mean that these men were doing anything other than just that, their job that they were expected to do in a certain way.

As we take time with these last words and moments of Christ on the cross we slow down a bit. And the homework for this week centers of course on what Jesus said…telling his mother she has a (new) son….telling his disciple he has a (new) mother. And the homework is just this…is what Jesus does here on the cross with his mother and his disciple:

  • Kind?
  • Cruel?
  • Crass?

What do we think? And why? Perhaps try to think about this from the perspective of Jesus…from the perspective of his mom….from the perspective of the disciple. How do you imagine the tone of voice was in saying this, the facial expressions involved? Was this kind, cruel, crass? A mixture? What do you think? And yes…there still is time to find an answer.

Looking forward to Sunday around the table. Holding y’all in prayer until then.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Imagine yourself as the criminal (Luke 23:39-43)

Last Sunday we gathered around the table. We prayed in. And we started our check-in, remembering that as we had read Luke 23:26-38 we were trying to figure out what exactly Jesus meant in verse 34 when he says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (or “Father, forgive them.”)

We understood this as Jesus talking to God and asking for God to forgive “them.” But who is “them?” A few thoughts were offered, all those who were actively involved (in any way) in getting Jesus crucified. All those who had perhaps participated in getting Jesus to the place where he could be crucified. Maybe just all those who didn’t know who Jesus was at the time — all those who didn’t believe that Jesus was fully God (divine) & fully man (human). And others offered all those — all of creation — who’s sin Christ was carrying to the cross. All those with sin — without regard to the bounds of any specific era. Or maybe all those who have sinned, regardless of belief, regardless of age, any who have sinned.

It feels as though the final words on the cross that Christ would offer would be for all of us — would be expansive in scope (as his life, death & resurrection is expansive in scope….as GRACE & LOVE are expansive in scope) and not limited to the specific time and people who happened to be contemporaries of Christ. An understanding of expansiveness of course can lead to the second question(s), is Jesus asking anything of us in saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”? One bold voice named that it seems that Jesus is inviting us to forgive others…people didn’t know who Jesus was (& he was perfect!) & look what happened to him…so how should we expect people to treat us? (the answer is, not well…so we should forgive — if Christ can use strength and energy to ask God’s forgiveness aloud while dying on a cross — perhaps we can in our daily lives too…)

AND there was so much conversation. Again the theme of what can we forgive, though recognizing we can always pray & ask God to forgive. Though we didn’t stay to near on the emphasis or the theme of our continuing forgiveness — instead choosing to talk more about challenging & hard to understand themes, though ones that feel less personally vulnerable. Conversations around the cross…which eventually led us back to scripture to continue the story taking the time to consider, Luke 23:39-43

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[a]
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23:42 Some manuscripts come with your kingly power

We only were able to briefly consider this new (next) selection of scripture. But noticed how there is an understanding of right and wrong, an understanding of deserved punishment and undeserved punishment, an understanding while being next to Jesus of his innocence. There also seems to be some sort of understanding somehow of the king nature of Jesus, with a request to be counted in the kindgom of which Jesus reigns. (Though one might wonder, seeing a king treated as a criminal what his kingdom might look like.) And there is this understanding of paradise that would be experienced “today” — how do we understand that? What about hell? Again Jesus, what are you saying?

Our homework this week though is a little different. It is a reflective exercise designed to invite us to go under the layers of the Biblical text. We are to imagine ourselves as Criminal 1. Who is he? Who would be a modern equivalent of this man? What is his story? What do you notice about the whole scene, and about his life as you imagine yourself as this Criminal (1). And then — consider yourself as Criminal 2, asking yourself the same questions — understanding the crucifixion from the cross of Criminal 2. Think as to why the criminals have to be present, why Jesus does not die alone, why this dialogue is important, why they are named only as Criminal 1 and Criminal 2.

And yes, there is a BONUS question for this week too…it is this: Can we be with Christ in Paradise, now (right now!)? If we can, what would that include and look like for you?

Excited to hear what God has been revealing to all…

~ Rev. Sabrina Slater

Say what? Forgive them? (Luke 23:26-38)

Last Sunday, on a snowy/slushy type of morning we gathered round the table as we do. We opened in prayer — as we do. We started checking-in with the homework/lifework (as we do)…and last Sunday that assignment was to either (or both) imagine ourselves as the paralytic who had been taken to Jesus & received forgiveness & healing; or to imagine ourselves as the unnamed folks who brought someone needing Jesus right to him.

As I try and consider what to offer of our conversation here, I recall that (unless I’m mistaken, and indeed that does and can happen) we did not stay in this conversation for too long. In imagining ourselves as those who bring others to God some were able to articulate how we can do this through prayer and others noticed (or named…) frustration or an inability to really bring people to God (just not practical perhaps…and also there were situations named & details as to how it is & can be challenging to bring folks, especially if they might be doing things that we think get in the way of said forgiveness/healing). And I think there was only a brief comment (though met with agreement) that there are times when it is absolutely the faith of others that allows us to continue on — that there are times when we cannot pray ourselves and that lifts each of us. We are prayerfully both those who carry others to God and also those who are willing to be lifted when we cannot make it on our own.

Then, on the first Sunday in Lent (last Sunday) we turned to Scripture, Luke 23:26-38:

26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[a] And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him,[b] “This is the King of the Jews.”

English Standard Version

We listened three times, with silence in between. Then we allowed the Holy Spirit to guide us as we mentioned what we noticed. Simone, this person minding their own business (and a foreigner) being grabbed and forced to carry the cross of Christ. This emphasis on different seasons, green versus dry — and what will happen. That Jesus was not executed alone, he was with two criminals. That there was a great crowd watching. The image of the inscription over Christ, “This is the King of the Jews.”

And the language from Christ on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It’s odd, it’s comforting (sort of), it’s so unexpected to hear the man – Jesus – who was not able to carry his own cross – to be nailed to it, in pain, broken and to offer this prayer, this cry. Meditating on it is our homework:

  • 1: What exactly is Jesus saying when he says, “Father, forgive them, (for they know not what they do).” **some translations just have Father, forgive them & others include, for they know not what they do.**
  • 2: What is Jesus asking of us (if anything) — when he says this?

In Christ ~

Rev. Sabrina Slater