On wealth, poverty, and caring without being overwhelmed (reflections on Luke 16:19-31)

16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

16:20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,

16:21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

16:23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

16:24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

16:25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

16:26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

16:27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house–

16:28 for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

16:29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

16:30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

16:31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

-Jesus (Luke 16:19-31)

What a story Jesus tells. It’s a story that might raise some big questions: questions of heaven and afterlife, questions of hell and eternal conscious torment, questions of works and faith, questions of wealth and poverty and its relation to salvation. So many questions.

I resist answering these questions here—both because this reflection is supposed to be brief, and because I think these questions are better wrestled with in community than explained with too-easy answers from just one person. 


I also don’t think these questions are quite the main point of Jesus’ story. I think the point is less abstract and more pragmatic. It’s not so much about what doctrines we believe, but about the way we live. 

And—although it feels worth noting that the materially poor person in our story is named, and that in this naming there is an affirmation of dignity—the story focuses much more on the rich person than on Lazarus. The rich person is the one who speaks, the one whose story is followed from beginning to end. 

It is this rich person who was aware of Lazarus’ illness and hunger, lying there at his doorway—he even knew him by name—but nonetheless ignored him. New Testament and Jewish Studies professor Amy Jill-Levine suggests in Short Stories by Jesus that perhaps Lazarus’ community had carried him there because they knew the rich person had plenty to share. But the rich person did not share. The dogs tried to take care of Lazarus in the way they knew how, by cleaning his wounds; the rich person did less than the dogs did. 

Even after death, the rich person is still trying to order Lazarus around. He still doesn’t quite seem to think of Lazarus as an equal, as fully human. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, he tells Abraham. Send him to my father’s house to warn my brothers. In other words, basically: I still think Lazarus is here to serve me. I have no regrets about the way I treated him in life. I don’t see what was wrong with it. Send Lazarus. Send Lazarus

As Dr. Amy Jill-Levine writes, perhaps the rich person “has not yet learned what landed him in torment in the first place. He wants to see his brothers saved from torment, not to ease the pain felt by the millions who lack food, shelter, or health care” (Short Stories by Jesus, p. 291).

In a world full of these kinds of pains, I wonder what Jesus’ story asks of us. Most of us may not be filthy rich like the sumptuously-feasting man. But perhaps the story asks of us, too: How do we see people? How do we treat people? Do we want to see people’s needs met and their pains eased? What would that look like? What might we do? 

Several years ago, I led a small group through a curriculum called Lazarus at the Gate, offered by the Boston Faith and Justice Network. One thing I still remember from that study is the idea that globalization has placed millions of “Lazaruses” at our metaphorical gate. We know so much more than people in other times in history did about what’s going on all over our world, including and especially the ways things are difficult and people are suffering. Climate disasters, wars, and displacement, just to name a few things, bring so many Lazaruses to our gates—or at least our phone and computer screens—every day we’re paying attention.

I feel this. I want to help. And yet, I also feel the reality that we as finite fragile humans were not designed to process all of the information that is thrown at us all the time. We did not evolve to be able to hold in our minds and hearts and bodies all the concerns of the world. It is too much for us. 

Humans spent most of human history living in villages and kinship networks small enough so that we could know what was going on with everyone—the good and the bad. We could serve and help one another well within this context. People’s suffering was not too much to know. It did not overwhelm us on a regular basis.

I don’t have easy solutions to these tensions. But I do want all of us to find the good that we can do and do it. To find ways of not getting so overwhelmed with the needy world’s needs that we can’t do anything.

I was recently reading Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil’s book Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now. In it there’s a reflection from Catholic Bishop Ken Untener often known as the Romero Prayer. I was struck by these words from this prayer: “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”

We can’t do everything. But we can do something. We can do something to share food and other resources with one another, with our communities. We can do something to ease people’s suffering. We can do something to take care of one another.

And, in faith communities that share this as a value and a goal, we can do so much more than any of us could do on our own. Here’s to finding, creating, and building those kinds of communities. 

As always, all thoughts are welcome – about the story Jesus tells, about how you’ve been able to care for the Lazaruses around us without being overwhelmed, or anything else this makes you think about.

Gutsy faithfulness in a world where money fails (reflections on Luke 16:1-13)

I’ve got another church eblast reflection for you all – unabridged (read: slightly longer) version! 

This one’s on Luke 16:1-13:

16:1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.

16:2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’

16:3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.

16:4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’

16:5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

16:6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’

16:7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’

16:8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

16:9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

16:10 Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

16:11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?

16:12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

16:13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

When we read parables like these, it can be tempting to try to figure out who exactly every character in the story represents. This is called allegorical interpretation, and many biblical scholars have pushed back against this approach.

Perhaps Jesus’ stories were meant to be just that—stories. Conversation starters. Feeling-evokers. Thought-provokers. Open-ended, with multiple possible interpretations and takeaways. Maybe that’s the beauty of the parables—even though it also makes them…difficult.

I mention this because I am not at all convinced that the “master”—a fraught word, if I ever heard one, given the U.S. history of slavery—in our story this week is meant to represent God. Not only does he engage in dubiously-just firing practices—he lets the steward go based on an accusation from a third party without even bothering to hear his side of the story (v. 1-2)—but also, on top of this, his massive wealth is persistently described as “unjust” or “unrighteous.” 

Perhaps the steward, then, feels free to play fast and loose with the master’s money because he knows the whole system is unjust. 

What does it mean to be faithful, in a world where a few rich folks hoard while masses of people go hungry? Perhaps crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s when it comes to wealth management takes a back seat to figuring out how to survive—and helping others survive too. Maybe strict adherence to rules and regulations is less important than mercy. And surely mercy is what the steward shows to the debtors when he tells them to lessen the amounts of their debts. 

The steward in our story is often referred to as the “shrewd manager,” but I feel like the word “shrewd” can have some funky connotations. In some church contexts, people use the story of the “shrewd manager” to say that we as Christians should also be more shrewd. As in, we should be more cunning. As in, it’s okay to manipulate or mislead people if it’s all for a higher cause. To me, this is hardly what it means to be “children of the light” (v. 8). 

Perhaps it helps to know that the word translated as “shrewd” is often translated elsewhere as “prudent.” I’m not here for the manipulative cunning, but I’m okay with Jesus encouraging his followers to be prudent.

Prudent, like counting the cost of our discipleship (see Luke 14:25-35). Prudent, like acknowledging that all wealth in our unjust system is in fact unjust—and, accordingly, holding onto material stuff lightly. Prudent, like refusing to spend our lives serving a cruel death-dealing capitalist system that does not love us—refusing to destroy our souls in service of wealth that will one day be gone (v. 9). 

(This word translated as “be gone,” by the way, is actually quite strong in the original Greek; it could be translated as “fails,” “ceases,” or “dies.” As in, money will fail. Money will one day cease to exist. It will die.)

In light of all this, I wonder what we might learn from this passage about what it means to be faithful. Some of us may have been taught that faithfulness is a passive thing, measured by the sins we avoid and the things we do not do. But in Jesus’ story, faithfulness is active. It’s creative. It’s risky. It’s gutsy. It requires intelligence and courage. It involves trying something and being willing to face the consequences of our actions.

The steward is hardly a meek rule-follower. But there is something about him to be admired. With his actions he calls out the lie that unjust wealth is to be served at all costs. He points toward a different way.

Like this steward, we too take part in unjust systems. Under patriarchal white supremacist capitalism, a few rich folks keep getting richer, and any cost is acceptable in terms of human life and wellbeing. We may not be able to completely escape this system—but we can resist it. We can make choices that fly in the face of its logic. We can flout its expectations. 

We can rest. We can play. We can build genuine relationships that aren’t just transactional, based on what we can get out of someone. We can be radically for others and refuse to compete. We can treat ourselves with kindness and compassion. We can share resources generously, knowing there is enough for all. 

We can’t necessarily avoid unjust systems, but we can refuse to serve them as masters. We can build something new—something sacred and beautiful—in the midst of them. 

Peace to you this week. If you have thoughts about what faithfulness means to you (and how that’s changed over time), or how you live in unjust systems without serving these systems as masters, or anything else this passage makes you think about, holler in the comments or otherwise. I’d love to hear from you.

Switch those seats (reflections on Luke 14:1,7-14)

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.

But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

-Luke 14:1,7-14

This week I’ve got another (longer version of my) lectionary reflection from the church eblast for y’all—on taking up space, adopting a learning posture, expanding our circles, and questioning the assumption that some people cannot repay:

In our scripture passage this week, Jesus has two things to say. The first is for people invited to a banquet. Don’t sit in the place of honor, he says. Sit instead at the lowest place. The second is for those hosting a banquet. Don’t invite those who can repay the invitation in turn. Instead, invite those who can’t.

These are instructions born out of a world pretty far removed from my own. I don’t immediately relate to this idea of seats of honor—or, in the Greek, it’s possible that this refers to a whole different room, or at least a different table, where the most valued guests are seated. 

I also don’t readily connect with the idea of throwing a banquet for the people Jesus calls the poor ones, the maimed ones, the lame ones, the blind ones. For one thing, that sounds like it calls for more house space than I have on hand. The best I generally have time and energy for is inviting a couple people over for brunch. (My husband Ken makes a mean buttermilk pancake.)

The only time I’ve really come close to throwing a banquet was when Ken and I got married. But we made a seating chart and had everyone pick up a card with their name, table number, and dinner order on it as they walked in, so that everyone would know where to sit. No one needed to be moved from a more honorable place to a lesser one, or vice versa. Problem solved. (Although all of our guests pretty much fell in the “friends and relatives” category, so I suppose we didn’t exactly follow Jesus’ second instruction.)

I wonder if—for those of us for whom throwing massive feasts and being invited to such feasts is not necessarily part of our everyday lives—the specific context of a banquet is not the only way for us to understand what Jesus is saying here. I wonder if his words could be taken as a broader life philosophy—relevant, really, whenever we walk into a room. I wonder if they’re more about our general mindset as we approach life and show up in community.

We might not be explicitly ranking people by level of honor and seating them accordingly. But when we gather, there are certainly those who take up more space and those who take up less space. There are certainly those who walk into a meeting expecting to speak whenever they feel like it and be heard, and there are those who expect to mostly listen, perhaps speaking only when spoken to.

Cathy Park Hong’s words from Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning have stuck with me: “The man or woman who feels comfortable holding court at a dinner party will speak in long sentences, with heightened dramatic pauses, assured that no one will interject while they’re mid-thought, whereas I, who am grateful to be invited, speak quickly in clipped compressed bursts, so that I can get a word in before I’m interrupted” (p. 185). 

Maybe this is one way the idea of seats with more or less honor plays out in our world today. Who feels free to speak their mind, and to do so at their own pace? Who is struggling to get a word in? How can we all be more mindful of these dynamics so that those who tend to dominate can learn to make more room for others, and those who feel insecure can learn to speak confidently?

When Jesus invites us—and particularly those of us who would not naturally assume we belong there—to take the lowest place, I see this as an invitation into a posture of learning. I’m reminded of theologian Willie James Jennings’ reflections on “the tragic history of Christians who came not to learn anything from indigenous peoples but only to instruct them, and to exorcize and eradicate anything and everything that seemed strange and therefore anti-Christian” (After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, p. 37). 

Christians as a group have often seated themselves at the head of the table. How different our relationship with the world around us would be if we learned to sit in the lowest seat—if we learned to engage with our broader communities as people here to learn, here to listen, here to serve. Not here to judge or instruct, and certainly not here to control or to try to eradicate anything we don’t like. We want to walk into rooms with a posture of humility and openness.

When Jesus talks about what to do and not do—or really, who to invite and not invite—when you’re hosting a banquet, then, maybe we can think about this too in the context of how we show up in community. 

Jesus invites us to expand our circles. To think beyond the people who immediately come to mind as the first people we want to hang out with. To take the risk of reaching out and trying to make a new friend—not knowing whether or not this person will be able to “repay” us in whatever ways are meaningful to us. 

More than just being open to expanding our circles, though, I think Jesus also invites us to consider what we’re hoping to get out of a relationship, and to be willing to hold these things loosely. We’re not just looking for a transaction. We’re not just looking for what we can get from others. We’re looking for a genuine, mutual relationship. 

Personally, I doubt that the host who throws a banquet and only invites those who supposedly can’t repay them really doesn’t receive anything in the process. They might not get a banquet invitation back—because who has the resources for that these days?—but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t something in it for them—in a good way. The guests may have been written off by a society that only values people for their money or beauty or status, but I have no doubt these folks have stories and gifts and personality quirks and character qualities the banquet host would be honored to be in the presence of—not to mention just enjoy.  

It’s a matter of learning to see differently from how our capitalistic society sees. In God’s beloved community there is no ranking of people. There is no one unworthy of a seat at the table.

Those who come to the table thinking they don’t belong are assured that they do indeed belong. And those who come to the table with their own agendas and arrogance and assumptions are invited into a different way of being.

Peace and belonging to you this week.

The unbound woman (reflections on Luke 13:10-17)

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”

When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

-Luke 13:10-17

I wrote a reflection on this passage for my church’s newsletter this week, and I thought I’d share a longer version of it here:

I’ve been blown away by the stories we’ve heard these last couple Sunday evenings. One of the themes I’ve heard again and again is a longing for—and a great joy when we experience—a kind of Christianity that is more concerned with love than with rules and regulations. Many of us have spent time in religious communities that were perhaps a little too caught up in their own rules. Perhaps some religious leaders made us feel like there was a certain list of things to do (or not do) in order to be right with God and respected in the community.

The synagogue ruler in our story from the gospel of Luke was one of these leaders. Jesus cures a woman from an ailment that literally, physically caused her body to be bent over for eighteen years. The appropriate communal response would be joy, delight, wonder, celebration. Throwing a big party. Praising God, as the woman does (v. 13). Rejoicing with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15, 1 Cor 12:26). 

Instead, this particular religious leader is indignant (v. 14). He’s displeased. He’s angry. He’s pissed because Jesus didn’t follow the rules. He misses the wonder of a sacred moment of healing because it didn’t fit his prior expectation of what holiness looks like. 

The synagogue leader, then, instead of addressing Jesus directly, speaks to the crowd. He tells them to come to be healed on the other six days, not on the Sabbath. It’s as if he’s blaming the woman who was cured, trying to make her feel ashamed for her own healing. 

And she didn’t even do anything. She didn’t talk to Jesus, grab onto his cloak, shout at him, fall on her knees before him, or do any of the other things people often do in other gospel stories when they want Jesus to notice them. She was just there (v. 11). Jesus was the one who initiated with her. He saw her, called her over, and told her, you are set free (v. 12).

The rule about not working on the Sabbath is important to the religious leader. But perhaps it’s important for the wrong reasons. Perhaps in trying so hard to follow all the religious rules, he’s missing the point of them all. He’s missing the point of Sabbath—a time of restoration and healing. 

On the Sabbath, as Jesus points out, even the most rule-abiding religious leaders would not hesitate to do what is necessary for the wellbeing of one of their oxen or donkeys (v. 15). Just so, Jesus does not hesitate to do what was necessary for the wellbeing of the bent-over woman. The analogy is even clearer in the Greek: the same Greek word is used for loosing or untying the ox from the manger in v. 15 and for loosing or untying the woman from her ailment in v. 16.  (A related word is also used in v. 12 to say that the woman was released from her ailment.)

I like this image of loosing or untying—as a donkey is loosed so he can go take a drink, and as a woman is loosed from her bent-over-ness. The word unbound—also the title of Tarana Burke’s memoir about starting the Me Too Movement— comes to mind as well. Jesus unbound this woman. Perhaps this is one image that can help us better picture what liberation can look like. 

Sometimes ideas like justice and liberation can seem a little vague. What do they actually look like? Sometimes, at least, they look like loosing, like untying. They look like people who have been bound for many long years becoming unbound. Standing up straight. Walking with the confidence of a beloved child of God, whether or not the world around them affirms this reality. Finding spaces where this reality is affirmed.

As a community, we can cultivate liberating spaces where we unbind one another. Many of us have been bent over by spirits of white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, materialism, greed, selfishness, narcissism, toxic individualism. The good news is that Jesus is here to untie us, to set us free. 

Sometimes we wonder where God is in this world. I think God is wherever liberation is happening. Where there is curing, unbinding, healing—that’s where God is. Where there is beloved community, that’s where God is. Religious rules optional.

What does the metaphor of untying or unbinding make you think of? What other images might help us understand what liberation looks like?

“You are a Samaritan and you have a demon” – reflections on other-ing, compassion, and discernment

The [religious leaders] answered and said to [Jesus], “Do we not speak well that you are a Samaritan and you have a demon?” -John 8:48 (my translation)

Sometimes when I’m translating New Testament passages from Greek, a phrase jumps out at me like I’ve never really seen it before, even though I’m sure I’ve read it multiple times. It might be something about the way things are put in Greek that made me see it differently, or it might just be the slower pace required to read in a language that’s foreign to me. Sometimes it’s unclear.

Either way, this verse was one of those verses for me yesterday. I’m replacing the literal Greek word “Jews” with “religious leaders” here, by the way, because the point isn’t that they’re Jewish specifically; the point is that they are claiming a special kind of relationship with God due to certain aspects of their religious and ethnic heritage and societal position. This is a mindset available to people from many faith traditions and is certainly common among Christians. I think of the white evangelical pastor who claims to know more about God and God’s will than those he (yes, usually he) has authority over, because of his job title, whiteness, maleness, seminary education, or whatever it may be.

Do we not speak well—that is, do we not speak trulythat you are a Samaritan and you have a demon? Yikes. The casual pairing of a (misplaced) ethnic identity and the accusation of demon-possession really got me here. 

These religious leaders take an ethnic/religious group different from their own—one they don’t particularly like—and say, Jesus, you’re one of them. You aren’t one of us. And that’s basically the same thing as having a demon. All this because they don’t like what he’s saying. (Which, to be fair, is kind of understandable, given that Jesus is saying that their father is the father of lies, and that sort of thing.)

I think it’s interesting that Jesus only responds to the demon part, not the Samaritan part. Perhaps he ignores the ethnic insult as not worth responding to? Perhaps he sees the two accusations as so closely linked that responding to one basically means responding to both? I’m not sure.

Regardless, the phrase you are a Samaritan and you have a demon reveals so much. It reveals exactly what these religious leaders thought of those they considered ethnic and religious outsiders. You aren’t part of our group? Then you might as well be of the devil. (Which strikes me as perhaps not all that different from the evangelical claim that everyone who is not an evangelical is going to hell. But that might be a can of worms for another time.)

I wonder what some modern-day analogies might be, at least in a U.S. context. Maybe it’s any time someone uses the name or characteristics of any sort of identity as an insult. “That’s gay,” for example, or “you throw like a girl”—or, of course, a more vulgar variant, “don’t be such a pussy.”

Maybe it’s also anytime (white evangelical, usually male) religious leaders accuse people of empathizing too much with people who have a different perspective. (Side note: I feel like anytime you’re accused of having too much compassion or too much empathy, you’re probably doing something right.)

I’m thinking of things like, you’re spending too much time reading critical race scholars and not enough time reading the Bible. Or things like, you’re empathizing too much with women in difficult situations who choose abortion; you aren’t staying true to the immovable moral principles of God.

I accidentally stumbled on a blog post recently that basically said exactly the latter. It was deeply disturbing, to say the least. I believe in a God whose empathy is much bigger than my own—and so I believe that the more compassionate I am, the closer I am to God’s will. I don’t know what moral principle would be more immovable than that.

I believe in a God whose deep compassion is best described in the New Testament by one of my favorite Greek words: σπλαγχνίζομαι. Literally, “I am moved to the bowels.” This word is often used to describe Jesus. Jesus was moved in his innermost being by people’s suffering, by people’s loneliness and longings and weaknesses and pain—that is, by the realities of human experience. He had no higher moral principle than the principle of love.

Sometimes things are confusing. It can feel like there are good arguments on both sides of a scenario, and it can feel hard to tell what’s actually good and godly. I offer what I’ll dub the “Samaritan/demon” test, which may help with discernment in some cases. If there is a side that’s saying something like “you are a Samaritan and you have a demon,” I do not want to be on that side. 

I don’t want to be on the side that uses ethnicities or races or genders or sexualites as put-downs. I don’t want to be on the side that weaponizes its own religious, racial, gender, or other sorts of privilege to try to silence others, like the religious leaders tried to silence Jesus. I don’t want to demonize people who have had experiences different from my own. I don’t want to live like the religious or ethnic “other” is the devil.

I want to live like I have nothing to fear and everything to learn from these “others.” I want to be on the side of compassion, of empathy, of being moved to the bowels by humans’ honest testimonies to their own experiences—especially those who are most vulnerable and most marginalized. I want to live by love.

What does the “you are a Samaritan and you have a demon” accusation make you think about? What other modern-day analogies would you draw? Feel free to holler in the comments or however you like.

The body of Christ as spiritual fellowship

This is sermon part 3 of 3! In it I offer some thoughts on spiritual fellowship. (Here are the first two parts, on shelter and nurture.) There are also a few brief general reflections at the end. 

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I don’t know if the words “spiritual fellowship” are words that most of us say on a regular basis in everyday conversation. But maybe “spiritual fellowship” is really just a fancy church-y way of saying community. So let’s talk about community.

One of my favorite verses in the 1 Corinthians 12 passage is where it says that the parts of the body should have equal care, or equal concern, for each other (v. 25). Part of why I like this verse is that, in the Greek, it literally says something like “be equally anxious for one another.” Be equally anxious for one another. I find this intriguing. It’s not often that our scriptures tell us to be anxious.

Now, I’m all for reducing anxiety in our lives when possible. But there’s also something compelling to me about a community where everyone is that concerned for everyone else’s holistic wellbeing. It’s the kind of concern that keeps you up at night if you know someone in the community isn’t doing well. It’s the kind that keeps you praying. It’s the kind that keeps you thinking about what you can do—what your community can do—and that moves you to do those things.

It can be deeply comforting and deeply encouraging to know that other people are this genuinely troubled on our account when we’re struggling. To know we’re not alone. That’s spiritual fellowship. 

Sometimes some of us hesitate to trouble others. But it’s not always a bad thing to cause others to be troubled. It’s part of being real with each other and learning how to care for each other.

I think this is what the scripture passage is getting at when it says when one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (v. 26). Spiritual fellowship looks like suffering with those who suffer, rejoicing with those who rejoice. It looks like choosing to live into the reality that we are all interconnected, whether or not it might look like it. 

When one part of a human body hurts, the rest of the body—at least if it’s functioning well—doesn’t try to cover up the pain. It doesn’t ignore it or pretend it isn’t there. It doesn’t say, Oh, well, it’s just the ear that’s suffering, not the eye, so it really isn’t a big deal. Rather, the whole body says, Ow! Help! We hurt! 

We are all one body together. And so when violence is done to women’s bodies, violence is done to the whole body. When violence is done to Black and brown and indigenous bodies, violence is done to the whole body. When violence is done to queer and trans bodies, violence is done to the whole body. Our suffering is tied together. And our joy is tied together.

Spiritual fellowship looks like living in this reality. It looks like choosing to mourn with those who mourn, lament with those who lament, rejoice with those who rejoice, celebrate with those who are celebrating. God invites us to experience life fully—the joy and the sorrow, the excitement and the disappointment, the gratitude and contentment and anger and rage and all of it. To experience all the feels. And to do that together in community. 

There are unjust and evil things in this world that I don’t know how to make better. But I know it helps to not be alone. And I know that where we can make real change in things like culture and law and policy, we definitely can’t do that alone.

In our justice-oriented approach to life and faith at Lake B, we talk often about solidarity. We seek solidarity with those who are most vulnerable in our broader communities—in Burien and White Center and all the different places we live and work. 

I love that we want solidarity to extend beyond this church community and the people in this room (or who are watching online, or who otherwise consider Lake B their home). And I also think: solidarity starts here. We want it to extend beyond us, yes—but it starts here. We need solidarity among us, within this church community. We need solidarity with one another.

We all need shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship. And we’re all invited to offer these things. It isn’t something a special class of pastors or elders or especially outgoing people or especially naturally caring and saintly and wonderful people do for the rest of us. It’s something we’re all invited to do for one another. 

We’re all invited to create truly safe spaces of belonging. We’re all invited to nurture one another’s spiritual growth. And we’re all invited to receive these things from one another. We’re all invited to pursue spiritual fellowship together, to build community together, to get to know each other, to rejoice and mourn together. 

We need one another. Life is hard. This world is hard. Things are not getting easier. In the middle of a world full of violence and poverty and climate change and illness and inadequate healthcare systems and unjust laws and so many hard things—we need one another. We can work to change some of these things—and in the meanwhile, when things are still messed up and not working, we can choose to be a community where shelter, nurture, and fellowship happens anyway. 

Let’s keep choosing to be that kind of community. And may we keep drinking from God’s Spirit who breathes life into all of us as we do.

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Did you resonate with anything in this sermon? What did it make you think of? What do you love (or hate, or have other feelings) about the metaphor of the body? Feel free to comment or otherwise reach out – I’d love to hear.

The body of Christ as nurture

This is part 2 of a sermon split into 3 parts. (The first one is here if you missed it.) The scripture passage is 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, and the theme is “shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the people of God.” This is the part reflecting on nurture:

I think nurture, like shelter, can also be kind of a weird word. For one thing, it can sound kind of stereotypically feminine. (And as such, it gets devalued, as anything associated with femininity often is.) But nurture is for everyone. It’s something we all need. And it’s something we can all offer to others.

When I think of nurture, I think of growth. Holistic, healthy growth. In our scripture passage there’s an image of all of us being given one Spirit to drink (v. 13). It’s an image of the Spirit of God breathing life into us, pouring living water into us, nurturing us, giving us the nourishment we need to grow.

The metaphor of the body makes it clear that we all grow together, in proportion with one another. This runs very counter to dominant US capitalist culture. It’s a non-competitive vision—which is totally radical in the midst of a society that tries to make us compete with one another, that tries to tell us to get ahead and make ourselves bigger (richer, more successful, more powerful, etc.) at the expense of others. 

But the metaphor of the body helps us see that, when we try to get ahead at others’ expense, all we’re really doing is growing one gigantic grotesque eye, or one ridiculously enormous ear (v. 17). That’s not the point. We are a body made up of interconnected, interdependent parts. And so we grow together, or not at all. In the body we want one another’s flourishing as much as we want our own.

Fortunately, at Lake B we are certainly not all one big weird-looking eyeball. We have many different parts here among us. So many different parts. We are extraverts and introverts, men and women and nonbinary folks, cis and trans folks, straight and queer folks, Black and brown and white folks, people who are financially well-off and people who are less financially well-off, older folks, younger folks, folks with all sorts of different passions and personalities and perspectives.

And this is good. I imagine God creating all of this, bringing us all together, and saying, this is good. It might not always be easy, but it is good. As our scripture passage says, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, exactly as God intended (v. 18). Every one of them. No exceptions. 

We live in a world where some of us get the message on a regular basis that we are dispensable, or that we don’t belong, or that we aren’t good enough, not as valuable as someone else. The metaphor of the body helps us understand that these things are not true. It helps us understand that we are all worthy of nurture. We all deserve to be part of communities and spaces and friendships and spiritual contexts that nurture hope, life, wellbeing, wholeness, joy, and love in our lives. There is no one who does not deserve that.

At the same time as some of us get the message that we’re dispensable, others of us regularly get the message that we’re better-than. That we’re more valuable than someone else. That we don’t need others. That the goal of life is rugged individualism where we achieve power and success alone. The metaphor of the body helps us understand that this too is not true. It helps us understand that everyone is worthy of nurture. Not just us, but those around us too. We are not more deserving of life and hope and joy and wellbeing than anyone else.

Of course it’s not quite as simple as dividing people into two camps. Most of us have many intersecting identities—some of which are marginalized, and others privileged. As a woman, for example, I live in a world and a society that considers me less valuable than men and that communicates this to me in all sorts of ways on a regular basis. At the same time, as a white person, I live in a world that considers me more valuable than people of color and that communicates this in all sorts of ways on a regular basis. Sometimes these ways are harder for me to see because I fall on the privileged side of things. But they are very much there. 

The metaphor of the body helps me understand that neither of these things are true. I do not belong any less or carry any less honor or dignity or value because I’m a woman. And I do not belong any more or carry any more honor or dignity or value because I’m white. In the body, everyone belongs, and everyone deserves nurture. 

As a church community, we’re here to grow. We’re here to nurture and be nurtured. To become more whole, more complete, and more fully ourselves—the most kind and loving and truth-telling and justice-seeking versions of us. This is a sacred thing—that we get to help one another along this path in this community.

In the body there is no room for gigantic oversized eyes. There is no room for nurture for some at the expense of others. We all experience nurture together, or none of us do. This is kind of terrifying and sobering, but I hope it’s also maybe exhilarating, maybe healing. There is a world of possibilities for the ways we could grow together—so much more than any of us could be on our own.

The body of Christ as shelter

Two Sundays ago I got to preach at my church, Lake B, for the first time in person. The video is here if you’re interested in watching rather than reading it.

I was struck by how different it is to preach in person as opposed to recording a sermon online. Among a supportive community, it’s a beautiful thing. I’m thankful for the people who laugh at the funny parts and say “yes” or “amen” or nod their heads when they resonate with something.

Anyhow, I thought I’d share a written form of the sermon here in three segments. The topic of the sermon is “shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.” I got to choose a scripture passage to go along with it, and I chose 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.

Here’s the scripture passage in the NIV:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And here’s the first part of the sermon—some initial general thoughts and then some thoughts focusing on shelter:

I really love the picture 1 Corinthians 12 paints of a community of interconnected members who all bring different gifts to the table—like a human body made up of many unique, connected, important parts. I love this idea that everyone has something to offer. And our differences make us stronger together.

We’re a couple weeks into a sermon series about the “Six Great Ends” of the church. This is apparently a Presbyterian thing that I’d never heard of until a few weeks ago. “Great Ends” is just a way of saying, these are some of the things we want church to be about at its core. These are some of the goals we’re aiming for. 

Some of the “Ends” we’ve talked about already are worship and the proclamation of the Gospel. Our “End” for this morning is shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. In the next couple weeks we’ll talk about things like social righteousness and preservation of the truth.

I kind of feel like I got the nice “End” here. Shelter, nurture, spiritual fellowship—these are all nice, warm, fuzzy, friendly things. They’re community-oriented, in a very nice and pleasant-sounding way. Things like proclamation, social righteousness, preservation of the truth all sound a little more challenging. But shelter, nurture, fellowship—it all sounds so nice and cozy.

One might even wonder: Why are we talking about comfy-sounding things like shelter and nurture? Aren’t we all about boldly confronting the powers that be, embodying justice, protesting and lamenting and engaging with our world in transformational ways? Aren’t shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship perhaps a little bit insular? Are they a little inward-focused—focused on ourselves rather than the broader communities we’re a part of?

In one sense, I would say, yes, kind of. They are all about us. They’re about the community we have among ourselves—by which I mean the people in this room, and the people tuning in online (hi), and the people who couldn’t make it this morning—anyone who considers Lake B their church community. It’s all about us—our togetherness, the strength of our connections and relationships.

But I would suggest that looking inward in our community is not at all at odds with our more obviously outward-facing values like justice and collaboration and hospitality—our values that center us in our broader communities beyond the walls of church. I would suggest that the strength of our nurture and fellowship within this community is actually what empowers us to do the work of justice in our world. The shelter and nurture we experience here strengthens the work of our lives beyond here. 

And, to flip things around, I would also suggest that when we do work for justice in our world, we aren’t just aiming for justice for justice’s sake. We’re aiming for justice because it’s an essential step toward building a truly beloved community. So it’s all connected together. These things reinforce one another.

These are some of the things I think about more generally when I think about today’s “End” in light of the metaphor of the human body from 1 Corinthians 12. But I also want to get into the specifics of the three different parts of this “End.” Let’s start with shelter.

I feel like shelter can have a bit of a negative vibe sometimes. We might say, you’re so sheltered, to mean sheltered from reality. Or, even worse, shelter can be used in the sense of a cover or hiding place—as in, that organization (or that church, theology, etc.) provides shelter for abusers. This is, of course, not the kind of shelter we want to be.

And yet, shelter, in some sense of the word, is a good thing. It’s something we all need. We all need safe spaces. I think of Jesus imagining himself as a mother hen who longs to gather her people under her wing (Luke 13:34). We all need safe places to gather, under wings of love and peace and comfort. 

What does it mean to cultivate truly safe space, truly safe community? When we read in scripture about the metaphor in the body, we see that the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are actually indispensable (1 Cor 12:22-3). They are treated with honor. 

Truly safe spaces are spaces where all of us are treated with honor. They’re spaces where the most vulnerable ones among us especially are treated with honor—or, really, where they’re recognized for the honor they already carry in their being. The dignity they already embody as children of God is recognized by the whole community. 

We live in a world where some people are considered dispensable. Sometimes that’s women, when our rights of autonomy are revoked. Sometimes that’s people of color, in our society built on racism and racial violence. Sometimes that’s grocery store workers and healthcare workers and other people considered “essential workers” but also considered dispensable during a pandemic. 

But in the metaphor of the body, there are no dispensable people. A community of safety—a community of shelter—lives out this reality. There are no dispensable people.

Really, the metaphor of the body is a metaphor of belonging. In a body there is no part that does not belong. And there is no person here among us who does not belong. Belonging is for everybody. This is where a true sense of safety and shelter come from—from knowing deep within ourselves that we belong. 

We can offer this gift of belonging to one another. This is what Jesus did throughout his life. I think of Jesus giving away belonging like Oprah gives away cars. You get a car, you get a car, you get a car. Everywhere Jesus went and everyone he interacted with—I picture him saying, basically, you belong, you belong, you belong. 

I picture him saying, you don’t deserve to be plagued by that demon. You belong. You with the illness—you belong. You who are outcast—you belong. 

You belong, exactly as you are. Not just the nice parts you like to show on social media. Not just the nice parts you like to bring to church. You belong—the real you. 

True shelter doesn’t mean we won’t hurt one another, or that we’re all perfect and have no room to grow. Far from it. But it does mean we are responsible to one another. We are accountable to one another. Shelter is shelter not necessarily for everything we say and do but for the core of who we are. 

We can claim this belonging for ourselves. And we can offer this belonging to one another. It’s the gift of shelter, and we share it with one another in community.

That’s the first part! Come back next week for the second section—thoughts on the body of Christ and the idea of nurture.

Post at Feminism & Religion – Jesus, temptation, and gender

I’ve enjoyed being able to contribute a couple of articles to Feminism & Religion in the last couple months. Here’s another!

It’s about the second temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, as told in Luke 4. We talked about this passage in a church small group a few weeks back, and our conversation got me thinking. How might Jesus have been tempted differently if he had been a woman?

The piece is pretty speculative, but I’ve really come around to the view that that’s often how scripture operates at its best. It brings up questions, makes us think about things, gets us going off on what might seem like tangents but really are the things that are real and pressing in our lives – and I think we’re meant to bring all of this to the Bible and faith and church and everything.

So, check out the article, and feel free to holler here or at Feminism & Religion or otherwise if you have thoughts!

Y’all don’t need to worry

(31) Therefore y’all may not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?” or, “What will we drink?” or, “How will we be clothed?” (32) For the nations seek out all these things; for y’all’s heavenly father knows that y’all need all these things. 

(33) But (y’all) seek first the kingdom [of God] and its justice, and all these things will be added to y’all. (34) Therefore y’all may not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself; the evil itself (is) enough for the day. -Jesus (Matthew 6:31-34, my translation, emphasis added)

When I was translating these verses from the original Greek, I was struck by the fact that Jesus’ two “do not worry” statements (in bold above, in verses 31 and 34) are in the subjunctive form, not the imperative form. This means that “do not worry,” as it usually appears in English, is not quite a literal translation; a more literal translation would be something like “y’all may not worry,” “y’all should not worry,” “y’all might not worry,” “y’all could not worry,” or something along those lines. 

Since all of the literal (may/should/might/could) options sound a little awkwardperhaps with the exception of “should,” which kind of starts to sound like a command againI would suggest something like “y’all don’t need to worry.” That’s how these verses make sense to me. Jesus’ words are not so much a command as a suggestion, or an invitation. 

Jesus does use the imperative (command) form to tell people not to worry, but only at the very beginning of the whole passage. That’s in v. 25, where he first says, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (NIV). So it’s not that Jesus never straight-up tells people not to worry. But I do think it’s interesting that, by the end of this well-known “do not worry” passage, the tense has changed. The tone has changed.

Jesus isn’t just telling people, do not worry. He’s also giving us reasons why we might not worry. He’s giving us reasons why we perhaps could not worry—that is, hope that we might just have the option, somehow, not to worry. Look at the birds, he says (v. 26). See how the wildflowers grow (v. 28). See how God enrobes them (v. 30). Jesus is giving us reasons why we don’t need to worry. 

Just as Jesus doesn’t just call people little-faith-ones without also doing something to increase their faith, he doesn’t just tell people not to worry without also giving them reasons why it might be possible not to worry. As with the little-faith-ones, it’s less of a chastisement and more of an invitation. 

I hear Jesus asking: What might it be like not to worry? Do you think you could? Why or why not? In the ways it might seem impossible—which are totally legitimate, by the way, and nothing to be ashamed of—maybe I can help.

I like this image of Jesus. He’s the one who reassures us, as often as we need to hear it, that there is hopethat there is the possibility of freedom from the worries that consume us, the anxieties that immobilize us, the stresses that eat away at us. The way of Jesus is a way of peace, of rest, of heavy burdens made light (Matt 11:28-30).

I think of The Nap MinistryI’ve been enjoying following them on Instagram (@thenapministry). As Tricia Hersey, creator of The Nap Ministry, writes, “you are not a machine. You are a divine human being.” We were not made to run around worrying about everything all the time. Life is more than that.

The way of Jesus is a way of pushing back against the forces that tell us to go and go and do and do. (That’s what this prayer on stillness is about.) It’s a way of liberation from our society’s nasty habit of defining our worth by the quantity of things we produce and consume. It’s a way of knowing our value as God’s children, full stop.

How does it change things for you, to hear Jesus say not just do not worry but also you don’t need to worry—or, perhaps, you have permission not to worry? How does that feel? What’s life-giving about it, or challengingor totally offensive because there are so many legitimate things to worry about? I’d love to hear!