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

Who are you? (faith, forgiveness & healing…Matt.9:1-8)

Last Sunday we gathered, round the table and opened in prayer. Then was check-in time with a homework assignment that was likely challenging. We were to honestly assess how we ourselves do with the “golden rule,” you know, treating others as we wish to be treated. Even more challenging than this however, was likely the homework to be honest with ourselves as to whether or not we are the enemies or the people judging/condemning that Christ references in Luke 6:27-38….are we actually the people he is instructing others to pray for?

Sometimes we treat others fairly good. Sometimes we find ourselves (yes — including me!) being unkind, being like an enemy — like a bully — like someone who is judging. (forgive us God we pray) What struck a cord within the group though was thinking that the golden rule is good on an individual level, but what exactly are we supposed to do when we are thinking about an entire group, an entire people? There are many examples of this that could be considered — two which were specifically mentioned were Native Americans and African Americans — questions about what does asking forgiveness mean, or what does forgiveness mean (is forgiveness possible by ourselves? are we able to forgive that which was not done to us? are we able to ask forgiveness for something that we didn’t specifically do? what is the point of forgiveness if it is just words and not actions?) None of these are easy questions. None of these have easy answers. I imagine though that even thinking about these things, even being concerned (and passionate, and uncomfortable) with these conversations — or how often these conversations have not been happening — make God’s heart a bit warmer, I imagine the Holy Spirit getting excited because when we are thinking of forgiveness, when we are imagining how to live into exactly what Christ taught us to pray that God is pleased & that is encouraging — that gives us an openness to allow God to lead us — that allows some healing to live and breathe in places where brokenness has been thus far…

And after taking some time here in the challenging spaces and in conversations that demand much more time than a few minutes we pivoted (yes – before some were ready) to consider another passage of scripture, Matthew 9:1-8:

Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man
Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”
But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?”
Jesus knew[a] what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man[b] has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
And the man jumped up and went home! Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for giving humans such authority.

New Living Translation

9:4 Some manuscripts read saw.
9:6 “Son of Man” is a title Jesus used for himself.

We had conversations about the name Jesus chooses for himself, “Son of Man” and also compared it with the name of “Son of God” — thinking about what is Jesus emphasizing, considering how he is fully God & fully human. There also was a comment how Jesus was speaking in his own town, and remembering again how it can be hard to speak & be fully you (even for Jesus) in a place that knows your story — knows your name — knows you (or thinks that they do)…

This is a rich text, with much going on — including of course, forgiveness & healing. It is a text that allows you really (whenever you have time) to find yourself in the story, to really be there — seeing the scene unfold right around you. And the homework for this week invites us in a way to do just that — to put ourselves into the narrative — so the question we have to hold in our homework for this week is, who are you?

  • Are you one of the (unnamed) people carrying a paralyzed person (lying on a mat) to Jesus? If YES…who do you need to bring before God for forgiveness/healing? It might be one person all week….it might be different people depending on the day….who is the Holy Spirit prompting you to bring to God (in prayer)?
  • Or are you the paralytic? Are you the one needing forgiveness & healing? If YES, imagine hearing Jesus say to you, “Take heart beloved; your sins are forgiven. Stand up & go home; go and live free & fully!”

You are invited to do one or both of the above….and the reality is in life we are both those (the faithful unnamed) who carry those who cannot make it on their own to Jesus & those who need to be carried (by the faith of those who believe when we can’t!). I very much look forward to how God will move in our midst with this homework & cannot wait to hear how you’ve joined this divine dance this week with God.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Confession…are we the enemy/bully? (Luke 6:27-38)

Last Sunday we gathered round the table. Before opening in prayer there was laughter (a bit as usual!) this time centered around folks asking where everyone was….turned out last Sunday some folks who are usually later in arriving were earlier and vise versa….making those gathered scratch their heads….and after getting settled we opened in prayer.

Then of course was check-in time. Asking, do we really believe verse 19 of 1 Corinthians 15,

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

And another question, does the belief that Christ is risen make a difference in your daily life? There were a variety of answers. Some don’t too often think about this in the daily life — maybe only in times of reflection. Others emphasized the context being spoken into (always important when we consider scripture because as much as it is easy for us to focus on a word, a phrase, a verse, or even multiple verses at a time/in isolation, scripture comes out of a context) noting that Paul was speaking into a culture in which there were many who did not believe in the resurrection of the body (is that so hard to believe?), and essentially saying, hey y’all here’s the thing…whatever your reasoning might be — whatever belief structure you have had your whole life which seemed right, appropriate, decent & in order (you know that dead people stay dead) — well, God has interrupted it as only God can do & here’s the thing — if that’s an issue for you then you are not understanding just how radical God’s love for us is…..Christ (GOD with us) was born into our materialistic/physical world (which is ridiculous & was not appropriate nor ever to happen…God is God!) and then suffered in ways that we suffer (God is not supposed to hurt, God is supposed to be above pain — God doesn’t deserve to suffer nor know pain) walked to a cross & DIED (God is NOT to die!) and went into a tomb & descended into hell and walked out of hell & rose from the dead & went into heaven too. NONE of this is supposed to happen, NONE of this is business as usual, NONE of this is what we are accustomed too. And Paul is saying, the thing is this is the core of our faith: that Christ is that perfect One (the new “Adam” — the One representative of humanity that could be perfect because he is God) & Christ is the sacrifice that saves us all, the sacrifice whose blood covers each of us, the One who died & went to hell (what our sins earn us) & was separated from God (that’s a hard one to wrap our heads around) so that we can be forgiven, so that we can be in loving connected relationship with God, so that we don’t have to experience death in sin eternally, so that we can experience some of love/life/grace/heaven right now on earth in our daily lives. Paul is saying that if there is no resurrection of the dead (which seems reasonable!) then Christ is not risen from the dead, and even if he was a great healer/teacher/person we are to be pitied because we are believing in a lie that will not save us from death/destruction for eternity & we are also lying about who God is. Ouch — that’s a hard word. And it’s complicated because — first, we don’t so much see folks risen from the dead & second, even those stories (in the Bible, and also those folks who were dead & brought back to life in modern times) all eventually died….Christ is different — this is what we believe (and it’s HARD to understand & explain too … because it doesn’t make sense (said like a question….but we know that Grace doesn’t make sense).

All this to say….it was a good conversation, it is a full conversation that is not over. It is more (or less) interesting of a conversation….because we don’t know what happens after we die until we do & then it turns our we can’t talk too much about it with the living…. so we held the space for the conversation & then we turned to scripture. And there was a choice as to where we’d go next….further into 1 Corinthians or over into Luke….well….we choose Luke. So we considered Luke 6:27-38:

Love for Enemies
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Judging Others
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

New International Version

Our favorite, right? Immediately there was a comment about lending and not expecting repayment. And later there was continued conversation, asking about how many people/organizations as for help/money — asking is there a limit to how many/who to give too — considering maybe if it’s better to give to a few (much) instead of giving to many (little). There was talk about it being easier to give to those who we know. We even spoke of the church & community emergency fund as a way to meet some of these needs. One was struck by the end of verse 35,

because (God) is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

What? God is kind to the ungrateful & wicked?! Who likes that? Other than wicked & ungrateful people? And I for one love the imagery of the final verse, thinking of a carbonated beverage being shaken and opened & it being messy & covering everyone & it even bringing joy & delight in the spilling — grace covering us in this way — makes me smile — I want that!

So then as we wrapped the conversation….what is the homework? While verse 31 (the golden rule) is hard enough….the homework is more reflective — how well do we live these verses? No seriously — do we do these behaviors & actions? AND even more, are we actually those (as individuals and even as the church) — who are the enemies, are those who curse, are those who slap, are those who ask, are those who judge, are those who condemn? Are we those wicked & ungrateful people who God is still kind to? If the Holy Spirit reveals yes, I (we) are….is there anyone whom God is inviting you to ask for forgiveness? If yes — be encouraged & see what God will do with your obedience — it’s one of the few things we get to offer God & it brings God pleasure. Happy reflecting y’all & may you feel God’s grace in the thinking.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Are we to be pitied? (Looking @ 1 Corinthians 15:12-20)

Last Sunday y’all gathered.  And while I wasn’t able to join y’all…I am grateful that you were still there & that Gina facilitated (THANK YOU!).  So you gathered.  You prayed.  And you continued as we do…with checking-in with homework.  The assignment had been to be attentive to the instances of abundance that we perhaps resisted throughout the week.  Now I hear that there was not too much offered here…it was the homework given by our guest leader the week prior, Anne, and so maybe we felt like a class with a substitute teacher — you know what I mean…we don’t have to take them seriously.  BUT, perhaps this invitation is something that we will carry at least in the back of our minds — as it seems to me that often God offers us grace (& graces) that make us uncomfortable….uncomfortable because it’s not what we expect, uncomfortable because we might know full well we do not deserve it, uncomfortable because maybe we want to stay feeling sorry for ourselves and when we receive grace often we change (seeing grace is seeing love and it seems that love is the most transformative & healing force we’ve ever known!)  May we be always open to God, open to grace (and especially grace that makes us uncomfortable — may we be bold enough to ask God to help us accept the gifts being offered!)

Then you turned to the scripture being considered — 1 Corinthians 15:12-20:

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

And started wrestling with (yet again!) a hard to understand text.  Talk about death & resurrection.  Talk about a faith that is honest or a faith that is worthless (futile…failed).  I hear that there was talk around this, considering what resurrection means — which is important considering that those who saw Jesus (raised from the dead Jesus) did not initially recognize him — but then they did/could — but also this resurrected body was different than the one that walked the earth….meaning the Jesus raised from the tomb in some real way was different than the one that walked to the cross (and guess what, we don’t know all the specifics yet, sorry!).  So what does that mean for us?  How are we to understand this text today?  And furthermore, do we find it encouraging or infuriating?

The homework are a set of questions….

  • Do we believe verse 19: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”?  (Why or why not?)
  • Does the belief that Christ is risen make a difference in your daily life?  (Why or why not?)

It’s Friday night…there is time still (whether you’ve been considering these since Sunday or whether you’ve just now been reminded!) — to consider this text and these questions.  I’m interested in the wisdom that will gather around the table.  I’m interested in the blessing that comes from wrestling with challenging texts (in scripture & life!) that can only come through struggle as a gift from God.  So — what say y’all?

See you soon!

~ Rev. Sabrina Slater