About Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

Corona Sabbath 16 COMFORT Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

In this summer series on the theme “Grounded” we turn to one of the foundations of our faith – comfort.

We listen to a Matthew 11:28-30 read by Jim Andrews, a scripture lesson that speaks of comfort.

Jim’s video

Jesus continued. . .
Come to me,
all you who labor and carry heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon your shoulders
and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble of heart.
Here you will find rest for your souls,
for my yoke is easy
and my burden is light.

[pause]

Reflection from Kim

With a nod to stand up comedian, Tom Papa, who is featured on ‘Live From Here’ with Chris Thile:

Have you ever gone on a cruise? I have.

Have you ever gone to a movie and every seat was sold out? I have.

I have you ever ridden on a crowded subway? I have.

Have you ever gone to a foreign country? I have.

Have you ever gone to a club and been bumped around on a crammed danced floor? I have.

Have you ever enjoyed a meal in a crowded noisy restaurant. I have.

Have you ever gone to a church service that was standing room only and been uplifted by the congregational singing? I have.

But for now, at least, those days are gone. And we don’t know when or if they will return.

And there are many other things that burden our spirits these days –

Being separated from loved ones, especially those who need our help.

The immense suffering and grief around us, not only due to the corona virus, but also due to the virus of systemic, institutional racism which has us all in its grip. Sometimes it seems we have no more power over racism than we do over the corona virus.

Economic inequities continue to create heavy burdens for most of our society and our world.

Violence, conflict, and war ravage families, communities, and countries.

Global warming is gripping us. The South Pole has been warming at 3 times the the global average for the past 30 years. It’s no wonder this summer is so blazing hot!

We have health concerns. Concerns for loved ones. Problems in our relationships. Financial concerns. Worries about the future. There is much that brings us dis-ease. Are you feeling down yet?

We are indeed heavily laden. We carry difficult burdens. So, yes, we are desperately in need of comfort. We ache for relief. For respite.

But sometimes we seek comfort in ways that are not good for us, for society, or for the world. Endless advertisements, cunningly tailored to fit, invite us to find comfort in a new car, a new piece of clothing, a new electronic gadget. The list is endless. But surely this new thing will give us a measure of happiness and comfort. There’s no reference to the financial burden, the weight of upkeep and storage, the cost to the earth. No, just the offer of happiness, a better life, to give us relief from the stresses we face. Ah, consumerism with its empty promises of comfort.

And sometimes we seek comfort in substances like alcohol, drugs, food, and medications, that again, don’t give us the long lasting relief that we are seeking. Or maybe we seek solace is sex or gambling. Again, we crave comfort but find it wanting.

Some people seek comfort and security in a gun. If I just have a gun, I’ll be safe. I’ll be able to protect myself. I’ll be able to sleep at night. But the worry and the stress does not go away. Maybe it even increases because we are worried about what could happen involving the gun. Again, no comfort.

Let’s listen again to words of comfort associated with Jesus. This version is a translation from the Jesus Seminar:

“All you who labor and are overburdened come to me, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am meek and modest and your lives will find repose. For my yoke is comfortable and my load is light.”

We notice that Jesus recognizes that people are carrying heavy burdens. And whoever we are, Jesus welcomes us. His invitation is not only for certain kinds of people, carrying certain kinds of burdens. No discrimination from Jesus. He is an equal opportunity recruiter. All who labor and are overburdened. This is why the church is always welcoming to everyone, as we say in the UCC, “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” Everyone is welcome to receive comfort from Jesus.

And notice that Jesus does not offer to remove the burden. He doesn’t say, lay it down. He doesn’t wave a wand and make the burden disappear. We are given the image of the yoke. An image of servitude. A yoke is a wooden collar that accommodates two animals so that they can pull a cart together, share the burden. We are invited to share a yoke. To help one another bear the load. This is an invitation to find comfort in community, in solidarity, in relationship.

The church is a community of caring people who help share the burdens of life. This is the way of Jesus. Our faith is grounded in this kind of caring community. In the church we expect to give and receive comfort. To share the burden. To pull the load – together.

Notice that we are told that Jesus says he is meek and modest, some translations say gentle and humble in heart, mild. There is no competition or status implied. The way of Jesus provides comfort in this kind of orientation toward ourselves, others, and life. This is the opposite of arrogance, and machismo, and needing to be perceived as a “winner.” Jesus is relieving us of the burden of such shallow posturing and instead inviting us to authenticity and vulnerability. When we are humble, we find that we can share the burdens of another. We find that we are open to sharing our burdens with others. Together, we provide strength and encouragement for each other. And in this way, all receive the comfort needed for the living of our days.

In these simple words from Matthew, we are given a core message of comfort: wholeness, consolation, hope – found in community with those who follow Jesus by seeking joy in other-centered living. With Jesus, there is no promise of no hard times. There is the promise of joy and comfort when burdens are shared.

In The Message, a contemporary rendering of the Bible, Eugene Peterson offers this version of the words of comfort from the gospel. Hear them and feel the solace and comfort of the way of Jesus:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

May it be so! Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 15 COMPASSION Reflection Text

Rev. Wells:

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

In this summer series on the theme “Grounded” we turn to one of the foundations of faith – compassion.

Colleen Coughenour:

We listen to a scripture lesson that speaks of compassion from Matthew 9:35-38:

Jesus continued touring all their towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of God’s reign and curing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses.

At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus said to the disciples, “The harvest is bountiful but the laborers are few. Beg the overseer of the harvest to send laborers out to bring in the crops.”

Rev. Wells

Compassion. This word comes from a Latin root that means “suffer with.” So compassion incorporates the idea of being with someone sharing in their pain.

In the New Testament, several times we are told of Jesus having compassion on the crowds and healing and helping people. In the vignette we heard from Matthew, we are told that “Jesus’ heart was moved with pity. . .” The word translated pity is often translated as compassion, and the literal meaning is ‘to have the bowels yearning.’ We might say to be moved in the gut. Gut-wrenching. Jesus sees the suffering of people and is moved in the gut. He has compassion.

This is one of the grounding aspects of our faith as followers of Jesus. We are people of compassion.

We see this orientation in the God of the Hebrew Bible, always taking the part of widows, orphans, the lowly, the poor, the sick. And we see this orientation in Jesus. He embodies a God of compassion.

It is a core part of our orientation as Christians not to ignore or shy away from pain, individual or social, but to engage pain. To share the sufferings of others. To inquire, to listen, to hear, to be present, to suffering and pain.

Sadly some expressions of Christianity miss this and jump right to dangling the carrot. Here’s what you’ll get if you accept Jesus. This is what is in it for you. Here’s how your problems will be solved. Here’s what it will be like after you die. Come to Jesus!

Frankly, if I visit a church or hear a sermon or go to a church website and see nothing about helping others or doing something for people who are having a hard go of it, as individuals or as victims of the structures of society, I am skeptical about whether the church is really Christian, really about following Jesus.

I’ve been to churches where the people are what I would consider extremely disadvantaged, in this country and in other parts of the world. And you still see the people looking for ways to respond to the needs of others. That is faith grounded in the way of Jesus and the God of Jesus.

The invitation from Jesus is, come follow me. And engage with the pain and suffering of others. Now Jesus was also known as a glutton and a drunkard, so it’s not about being sad all of the time. But it is about being in solidarity with people who are in pain. And even finding joy in that. In the shared mutuality and vulnerability.

As we think of Jesus having compassion on the crowds, who can we imagine Jesus suffering with today? What would he find gut-wrenching today? Surely he would be moved by the crowds demonstrating about the killing of black people by the police. Surely he would be moved by sufferings of people who are victims of systemic racism.

But there is more pain in our midst. And I think Jesus would also be gut-wrenched at the condition of white supremacists like the group that disrupted a racial justice demonstration held by the UCC church in St. Augustine recently. Jesus would also see the pain in the people who have been shaped by hatred.

I think Jesus would also see the pain among those who are are caught up in a system that they know is unjust but feel powerless to change.

I think there are many, many crowds of people today that would move Jesus to gut-wrenching compassion. Jesus shows us about compassion in its fullness. The openness to pain and suffering in all its manifestations. In reflecting on compassion in the book, The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen writes, “Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates distance and distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other.”

We all experience pain. We are all in need of compassion. And we all have the capacity for compassion. As followers of Jesus, we commit ourselves to cultivating an orientation of compassion for others as well as for ourselves.

And we do this by paying attention. Listening. Hearing. Putting ourselves in spaces where the truth is being shared. And letting our guts wrench.

This is why leaders in the antiracism movement, including those locally, are encouraging conversations. Talk with someone you know about their experiences around race. Talk with people of color if you are Euro American. And ask about their experiences with the police. Or how they feel about the statues and monuments around us. Or things being named after confederate leaders and slave owners. Ask. Listen. Open yourself up to hearing the pain.

Jesus listens. He hears. He sees. He asks no questions about people’s beliefs or rap sheet or pedigree. Their pain gives them cred with Jesus. And he has compassion, is moved in the gut, and responds in ways that are healing. That is who we are as Christians.

While compassion looks altruistic, compassion is also about our healing. Compassion heals the soul of the one who seeks to be compassionate. It is about experiencing our full humanity because to harden our hearts, to not listen, to not expose ourselves to the suffering of others, cuts us off from our fullest, deepest, truest humanity. It makes us less than who we are intended to be and have the capability of being. It diminishes us. Compassion makes us whole. It completes our humanity. And it helps us to get in touch with our own suffering which often times we ignore, quell, or stuff and it eats away at us from the inside and effects our behaviors in ways that we maybe don’t notice or understand. Compassion is a necessary component of the full expression of our humanity.

Many times we reference the teaching in Genesis that each and every person is created in the image of God. And that God is a God of compassion. In a contemporary book about compassion we are reminded:

“God’s compassion is total, absolute, unconditional, without reservation. It is the compassion of the one who keeps going to the most forgotten corners of the world, and who cannot rest as long as there are still human beings with tears in their eyes.” [From Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Donald P. McNeill, Douglas A. Morrison, and Henri J.M. Nouwen]

Like Jesus, may the compassion of God live in us, heal us, and make us whole. Amen.

[pause]

As you listen to the music from Hilton which follows, you are invited to notice the thoughts and feelings and that arise for you.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 14 Father’s Day Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

In this summer series on the theme “Grounded” we turn to one of the foundations of faith – grace. We listen to two scripture lessons that speak of grace.

Psalm 104 tells of the wonders that surround us in creation and provide for our well-being.

And a well known story from the gospels reminds us of the grace that sustains us each and every day!

Read from Psalm 104:24-34
Adonai, what variety you have created,
arranging everything so wisely!
The earth is filled with your creativity!
There’s a vast expanse of the Sea,
teeming with countless creatures,
living things large and small,
with the ships going to and fro
and Leviathan whom you made to frolic there.
All creatures depend on you
to feed them at the proper time.
Give it to them – they gather it up.
Open your hand – they are well satisfied.
Hide your face – they are terrified.
Take away their breath – they die and return to dust.
Send back your breath – fresh life begins
and you renew the face of the earth.
Glory forever to Our God!
May you find joy in your creation!
You glance at the earth and it trembles,
you touch the mountains and they smoke!

I will sing to you all my life,
I will make music for my God as long as I live.
May these reflections of mine give God
as much pleasure as God gives me!

And now from Matthew 14:13-21. A story of a meal offered freely to everyone. No questions asked. No charge.

When Jesus heard about the beheading [of John the Baptizer], he left Nazareth by boat and went to a deserted place to be alone. The crowds heard of this and followed him from their towns on foot. When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast throng, his heart was moved with pity, and he healed their sick.

As evening drew on, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late. Dismiss the crowds so they can go to the villages and buy some food for themselves.”

Jesus said to them: “There is no need for them to disperse. Give them something to eat yourselves.”

“We have nothing here,” they replied, “but five loaves and a couple of fish.”

“Bring them here,” Jesus said. Then he ordered the crowds to sit on the grass. Taking the five loaves and two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, blessed the food, broke it, and gave it to the disciples, who in turn gave it to the people. All those present ate their fill. The fragments remaining, when gathered up, filled twelve baskets. About five thousand families were fed.

[pause]

Grace. That’s what we call what we say before meals. We say grace. We have several graces that we use at our house.

Sometimes we say:
Come, Lord Jesus, be thou our guest,
Our morning joy, our evening rest,
And let these gifts to us be blessed
And we to thy loving service.

Another one we say is:
One is God made the sun. God made the sea. God made the little fish. And God made me.
Thank you for the sun. Thank you for the sea. Thank you for the little fish. And thank you, God, for me.

I like the hand motions for that one.

And sometimes we sing –
We give thanks. We give thanks. We give thanks for food and friends.

In my husband’s family, they have a grace they chant based on the Psalm that we read called “The eyes of all wait upon the Lord.”

And we have a new grace in our house we have learned in the last few months:
Blest be the hand that plants the seed.
Blest be the earth giving all that we need.
Blest be the food that we share among friends.
Blest be the love that never ends.

We say grace before meals to give thanks for the food before us knowing that we did not produce the meal on our own. It took dirt and water and sun and seed and labor and energy. We did not provide all of that. It came from many sources. And it did not come from human hands alone.

We don’t produce water or air or sunlight or seed. We don’t produce the cells that hold the capacity for life and the bearing of fruit.

Since I eat a plant-based diet, my twenty-something-year-old son tells me that I’m not to say vegan anymore, it puts people off, so, since I eat a plant-based diet, I’m only going to comment on the plants that have been provided so that we have food to eat. They are amazing. We should say grace!

We listened to the story of Jesus and all of those hungry people! Poor Jesus. Heartbroken at the death of John, going off by himself to grieve, but being confronted by the needy crowds. And does he tell them, Leave me alone? I need a day off? No. He’s distraught, but still he is able to respond to their needs. And there are leftovers. It’s grace. Everything needed and more.

I asked someone recently, what is grace? The answer. “Free lunch.” Just like this story. What is needed is given.

Grace is part of the foundation of our faith. We are grounded in our knowing that there is this amazing capacity for us to be sustained physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. There is this power. This gift. Grace.

It doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen. They do happen. There are accidents. Tragedies. Violence. Illness. Heartache. Injustice. And when these things happen, and they will happen, it is grace that sees us through.

I try to imagine if I was informed that one of my sons had been killed by the police. How could I ever go on? And yet I see these mothers. They do keep going. And they are passionate. It’s testimony to grace.

So much about our lives – we are just given. And it is so “amazing.”

Notice, I said “given.” One of the radical aspects of grace that makes it so powerful and so important, is that grace is not transactional. Grace is gift. Free gift. The whole concept of grace helps get us out of the mindset of transaction: Of buying and selling. Of trading. Of earning. Of meriting. Of recompense. Of the whole transactional view of reality which is so prevalent in our culture and is integral to a capitalist economic system. We live in a world that is all about transaction which puts a value, even a monetary value, not only on goods, but on people. Grace is not about transaction. It’s simply about gift. And it undermines the whole premise that anything can be had for the right price. Grace is an antidote that we need to keep our perspective and our balance in a world where everything is commodified.

We want to remember that our faith is grounded in grace. So much is being given to us all the time. We don’t have to live in fear or scarcity or hold on to our power or privilege as if we’re going to be bereft because we believe there is always grace to sustain us. What is needed will be given.

Sometimes what is needed is change. Transformation. And grace can be an avenue of transformation. Grace accounts for the sometimes inexplicable ways that we find ourselves changing, our feelings changing, our attitudes being transformed. Sometimes to be sustained, to live fully and freely, we have to change. And grace makes it possible for this to happen.

I was in a Zoom this week and we were put into small groups to talk about story and language. There was a man in my group that shared part of his story which he is seeing much differently than he used to. He told us that he thought he had done what he was supposed to do – go to school, work, get married, have a family. That is what was expected. And he did it. He felt he was a self made man according to the dictates of the society around him. Only now, as an elderly white man, he is seeing that he was born into circumstances that made all of that possible. He now sees how much was simply given to him, not as a result of his own choices or efforts, but simply because of the circumstances that he was born into. He is seeing all that he has benefited from that he did not recognize in the past. And he finds it bemusing and he is grateful. He is seeing all of the grace in his life that he hadn’t noticed before.

This weekend, we celebrate Father’s Day. If you have a wonderful father or have beautiful memories of your father, that is just how you happened to get born, who you happened to be born to or who you were given as a dad. And how beautiful is that? It’s simply grace. And if your experience with your father was more complicated, there were difficulties, if it was problematic, it’s grace that has brought you through that.

Whatever our circumstances, we are beneficiaries of grace. Take a breath. That is grace. 
We did not create the air. We did not design the lungs or the respiratory system. So much is simply given to us. In these times of uncertainty and challenge and change, let us remain grounded in grace which has the power to sustain us whatever life may hold.

[pause]

On this Father’s Day, we give thanks for those who have had a fathering role in our lives. We give thanks for those who are fathers and have been fathers, offering themselves to the care and nurture of others.

You are invited to watch the video which follows featuring pictures of fathers contributed by the church family and accompanied by music from a father, son, and spouse trio!

Let us pray:

We give thanks for those who have shown us fathering love. We are grateful for those who have nurtured and provided for us. Those who have comforted us and helped us to grow. Those who have taken joy and delight in watching the circle of life continue!

We are mindful that so many who want to be fathers and share their fathering love are not able to do so. We think of those who are separated from their children, those who are in prison, and we remember the many fatherless children in our land and in our world.

We pray for those children who have had their father’s taken from them through violence or death.

We give thanks for neighbors, teachers, uncles, pastors, friends, who share their fathering love with children.

May we help to nurture into being a society that values all fathers and father figures and their importance in the lives of the others. May all children and young people know the support and nurture of fathering love. Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 13 Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

[pause]

We start by listening to a well known teaching from the Gospel of Matthew. It is a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. As we listen to this teaching, we can imagine how it sounded to the disciples whom we are told had left family home, and livelihood to follow Jesus. We can also think about what it meant to the early church where people were disowned from their families for being part of the Jesus community and were choosing voluntary poverty.

You’ll hear the phrase, God and Money. In older renditions, this is translated as God and Mammon. Mammon meant more than money. It also meant property, as in real estate as well as material possessions. So in the phrase God and Money, money is really a symbolic term for much more than bank accounts.

We listen to words that were challenging and comforting hoping they will touch us in the same way today:

No one can serve two superiors. You will either hate one and love the other, or be attentive to one and despise the other. You cannot give yourself to God and Money. That’s why I tell you not to worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing. Isn’t life more than just food? Isn’t the body more than just clothes?

Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet our God in heaven feeds them. Aren’t you more important than they? Which of you by working can add a moment to your lifespan? And why be anxious about clothing? Learn a lesson from the way the wildflowers grow. They don’t work; they don’t spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in full splendor was arrayed like one of these. If God can clothe in such splendor the grasses of the field, which bloom today and are thrown on the fire tomorrow, won’t God do so much more for you – you who have so little faith?

Stop worrying, then over questions such as, ‘What are we to eat,’ or ‘what are we to drink,’ or ‘what are we to wear?’ Those without faith are always running after these things. God knows everything you need. Seek first God’s realm and God’s justice, and all these things will be given to you besides. Enough of worrying about tomorrow! Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles enough of its own.

[pause]

Yes, today does have troubles enough of its own!

I was sent an image this week of a child careening down a slide but the surface of the slide was a grater, like for cheese or zest. The caption was, “If 2020 was a slide.” Yes, today does very much seem to have troubles enough of its own!

Many problems assail us these days. And there are so many commitments and loyalties and desires that compete for our attention and resources. There are considerations about money, family, work, relationships, community involvement. There are competing world views, values, perspectives, agendas, and ideologies that vie for our attention and loyalty. We have the world wide web keeping us informed but also keeping us distracted and divided. We can feel pulled apart, torn, conflicted.

And, yes, all this produces stress, anxiety, and even paralysis. We may just feel stuck, mired, pulled in and pulled down, sinking.

While our particular circumstances are unique, these dynamics are not new. Clearly people were divided and pulled in different directions by competing loyalties in Jesus’ day and before.

The perspective offered by Jesus echoes the classic Jewish teaching: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. That is first and foremost. God is the center. The compass. The grounding. And everything else orients around that. Everything is woven together by that conviction, held in balance, put in perspective, by that sole commitment and conviction.

In the lesson we heard, Jesus refers to the birds and the wildflowers of the field. They are part of nature which is designed to sustain them. Plants thrive and grow because there is soil and sun and water provided for them. Nature is innately programmed to support life. With this imagery, Jesus reminds us that we are part of an environment in God intended to support and sustain life. We are part of a reality that promotes our well-being.

When we accept God, however we may conceive of God, as the ground of our being, and the ground of reality, we are not controlled by outer circumstances but by inner conviction. We may have many different ways of imaging God, Divine Love or Spirit or Ground of Being, but when our lives are centered on this force, this reality, we live fully and freely. We are not bound, constricted, confined, suffocated, or overwhelmed. We are free.

And in the teachings of Jesus, we see that this conviction, this reality, is maintained then just as it is today – through connection to the faith community and by spiritual practices.

The faith community embodies the care and nurture promised by Divine Love. The faith community is life sustaining, like soil, light, or water for a plant. It gives us what we need to stay centered in God/Love. It helps us to stay focussed in our loyalty and devotion. It helps us to bring our convictions and our behavior into closer alignment. It helps us to find joy and meaning and purpose in God-centered living, living for others, giving ourselves to the common good. The faith community is key to discipleship. Jesus’ ministry was about creating beloved community, the realm of God, heaven on earth, among people, here and now. We need each other for stability, for stamina, for discernment, for comfort. So being part of the faith community is core to sustaining a God-centered life.

Another component to maintaining our grounding in God is spiritual practices. Jesus is portrayed going off alone to pray again and again in the gospels. And he is known for fulfilling the religious obligations of his faith tradition – celebrating the holy days, attending weekly gatherings, etc. We hear of Jesus quoting scripture. Today there are many ways that we can incorporate spiritual practices into our lives that help us to sustain a God-centered life. There is prayer, worship, scripture reading, the sacraments. Maybe you have a devotional book next to your bed to read every morning when you awaken. There is meditation and spiritual direction to help ground us. Music can be an important component of staying God-centered. Maybe you wear a cross to remind you of your faith. Maybe your phone reminds you to breathe – that, too, can be part of a spiritual practice. Maybe tending your garden is a spiritual practice that keeps you grounded in God. Maybe you are up each morning to watch the sunrise and that provides spiritual centering for you. Prayers before meals and before bed can be part of our spiritual practice. All of these things and many more, are things that we build into the living of our days that can help us to stay grounded in Divine Love.

Here’s something that has become a grounding spiritual practice in my life: Every morning when I get up one of the very first things I do is to put away the clean dishes in the dish drainer. This mundane task of creating order reminds me to create order in my life and keep my life centered in Divine Love. With the dishes stowed and the cupboards closed, and consideration of my heart being properly aligned, I begin my day. After that, well, I try to do my best. It’s often a mixed bag. But there will be more dishes the next morning.

If we were in church, there are many hymns and songs we could sing that remind us of being grounded in God. A song we sang at camp comes to mind:

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And God’s righteousness.
And all these things shall be added unto you.
Allelu, alleluia!

Ask and it shall be given unto you.
Seek and you shall find.
Knock and the door shall be opened unto you.
Allelu, alleluia!

We do not live by bread alone,
but by every word
that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Allelu, alleluia!

So simple and so true.

In this time of extreme challenge, to maintain our grounding and to flourish and thrive and be who we are needed to be, we need to rely on our faith community and our spiritual practices to keep us focussed, centered, and grounded.

When we orient our lives around Divine Love, when we let ourselves be pulled by that force, like gravity, giving us a center, and an orientation for our lives, we find our highest good, we can fully flourish, we can live without anxiety and worry. We can live in trust and authenticity and integrity.

Yes, we are facing a pandemic, a global recession, and a pivotal turning in the movement for racial justice. Oh, and there’s global warming threatening the world as we know it. Yes, we are experiencing upheaval, and pain, and uncertainty. Yes, our lives are complex and our challenges are daunting. This is the time to remind ourselves of our fundamental grounding in God, in Love, in Being. We are part of a larger reality and we are here to be fully alive, fully present, and fully flourish.

We listen to wisdom from Mathilde Boutle, a 19th century French wife and mother of 5 who later became a nun. She tells us:

“I sought you… in all things beautiful, and in all things I found you. I sought you at the hands of all creatures, and they all replied: Behold, God is here.”

Like the birds, like the wildflowers, like Jesus, and like so many people of faith and courage throughout the ages, may we live our lives grounded in God. Amen.

[pause]

As you listen to the music from Hilton which follows, you are invited to notice the thoughts and feelings and that arise for you.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We plan to continue to post these weekly until we are able to meet again in person for worship. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

[pause]

We start by listening to a scripture lesson from the book of Ezekiel 37:1-14. This teaching was intended for people who were dislocated, distraught, and dispossessed. They could see no future. And felt that all had been lost. Maybe some of us have had those kind of feelings in recent days and weeks.

The hand of Yahweh was upon me, and it carried me away by the Spirit of Yahweh and set me down in a valley – a valley full of bones. God made me walk up and down among them. And I saw that there was a vast number of bones lying there in the valley, and they were very dry. God asked me, ”Mere mortal, can these bones live?”

I answered, “Only you know that, Sovereign Yahweh.”

And God said, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: ‘Dry bones, hear the word of Yahweh! Sovereign Yahweh says to these bones: I am going to breathe life into you. I will fasten sinews on you, clothe you with flesh, cover you with skin, and give you breath. And you will live; and you will know that I am Sovereign Yahweh.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded, and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and all the bones came together, bone to matching bone. As I watched, sinews appeared on them, flesh clothed them, and skin covered them. But there was no breath in them.

Then God said to me, “Prophesy to the wind; prophesy, mere mortal, and say to it: ‘Thus says Sovereign Yahweh: Approach from the four winds, Breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’”

I prophesied as I was commanded, and breath came into them; they came alive, and stood up on their feet – a vast multitude.

Then God said to me, “Mere mortal, these bones are the whole House of Israel. The people keep saying, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is gone, and we are doomed.’ Prophesy, therefore, and say to them, ‘Thus says Sovereign Yahweh: I am going to open your graves and raise you up from the dead, my people. I will return you to the land of Israel. When I open your graves and raise you up, you, my people, will know that I am Yahweh. Then I will put my Spirit into you and you will return to life, and I will settle you back on your own land. Then you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken and made all this happen, says Sovereign Yahweh.’”

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This is a powerful scene. it almost seems like something from a Halloween movie or a movie about aliens. We can imagine a dark dreary, rainy night in a shadowy, graveyard, the wind whipping and the bare trees creaking. And the graves being opened, and the bones of the dead coming back together and fearful new beings emerging.

But before we are scared off by the eerie images, we must be willing to see this scene for what it is. It is the fulfillment of the longings and dreams of the people. It is a scene of hope and wonder. It is the commitment of God to the future of the people of God. They will not languish as a defeated people for all time. They will be transformed. They will live and flourish.

It’s a simple message, really. Conveyed through a compelling image with much to offer. As we think about this story, we want to notice that the bones in the valley were dry. Very dry. Completely dead. Used up. Spent. No potential for constructive use.

And these are not the bones of one person. Or even a family plot. These are the bones of a community. A people. A culture. A collective. That’s important to remember especially when the Christian tradition has done so much to emphasize individual resurrection. This passage tells us about a society. Which is dead. Spent. Finished.

In the story, the prophet is asked by God, “Can these bones live?” What does the prophet think? Is there reason for hope? Well, having tried to do things their way and ending up as dried bones, the prophet knows the limits of human ideas and agency. And so the writer doesn’t dodge the question but links the future not to human desires but to the will of God. To the power of God. To something beyond the tribal self interest of the people. Only YOU know, the prophet replies. This is not abdication. It is affirmation. Of a bigger reality. Of the power of love which can be much more influential and determinative than assessments of assets and _____ strategies. Only you know if these dead and dried bones can live.

Then we get the answer. There is noise, rattling, bones come together, sinew forms, flesh appears, skin encases, and then, there is breath. Breath. Wind from the four directions. Spirit infuses the new creation. This new community. This new society.

These people are God’s people.

And these words speak to our time just as they spoke to Ezekiel’s time.

Recent days, weeks, years, lifetimes, have shown us the death-dealing ways of injustice. And if we were missing the message, COVID-19 has made it unmistakable. All the systemic inequity and bias have literally led to death. Thousands of deaths. Before our media saturated eyes. The valley is full of bones and they are very dry.

Are you responsible for this? Am I? We are trying to be good people. We don’t want to live in a racist society. We don’t want to endorse or support oppression.

I heard an interview on NPR this week talking about Freddie Gray who was killed by police in Baltimore in 2015. He was born prematurely, to a mother who was an addict. He was born addicted to crack. He suffered from lead poisoning as in infant. This is all before he made any choices about his own life. That can happen only when there is a system in place to create that outcome.

We don’t want to live in a country, a society, a community where that happens. We know that is wrong.

But we are in a context that is constructed for those outcomes. We live in a country with a history that has created this reality. Where human beings are seen as input, as commodities, and are valued according to color. We are a country that values money above morals. As scholar and public activist Cornel West reminds us in his classic book, Race Matters, if racism did not have a financial advantage for some, it would not exist. In this land, racism and the economic system are inextricably intertwined. And to glimpse the possibility of a new future, we need to see this link.

In the lesson from Ezekiel, God takes the prophet to see the valley of the dry bones. The prophet is shown the utter demise of his community and culture as they had previously existed. It is a complete and thorough end. The bones in the valley are very dry.

To rise as a society, we have to die to what has gone before. The economic arrangements, the power arrangements, the patriarchy, white privilege. Yes, it is our heritage. Yes it has much to teach us. Yes, we need to know where we come from and how we got here. But to eradicate racism, to heal oppression and bigotry and bias, the whole entire system must be not just “reformed” but really, regenerated.

There really has to be a death of the entire reality that creates a circumstance in which one person feels he has the authority to kneel on the neck of another, making him dead, with other people, with similar authority watching, and the random public present as witnesses. This systemic reality must become a heap of dry bones. Dead. Gone.

So that something new can emerge. So the process of re-creation can take place. So that the breath, that brooded over the waters of creation, and enspirited all of life and infused humanity, can blow again, and from the dry bones, a new creation can emerge. A new reality.

Ezekiel tells us of the bones coming together, and the sinews, and the flesh, and then the skin. And finally the breath. The emergence of new life is a process. It takes times. It is not neat and tidy. It is a messy business. Complicated. Unpredictable.

So, in Ezekiel there is that question, CAN the bones live? Can we live? Is there hope? For our society? For our species? With God, yes. With trust in the love and sacredness and divinity at the core of each and every human life, yes. With trust in the holiness of creation, yes. This is the message of this story, and of the life of Jesus, and of the Bible. Yes! Yes, these bones can live. We can emerge into the new reality that Divine Love is seeking to manifest in our midst. Amen.

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As you listen to the music from Hilton which follows, you are invited to notice the thoughts and feelings and that arise for you.

 

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)