The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
The Apostle Paul ends his 2nd letter to the Corinthian church with these words, which we hear almost every Sunday in worship; but do we ever stop and consider what they really mean for us?
Every time we celebrate the wonderful joy of Baptism, we do so using beautiful words we also repeat often in worship—blessing and baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…but how often do we really pause to deeply reflect on how One God showing up in three different ways has an impact at all in our daily existence?
Today, I would like to do something a little different, which is to invite you to reflect on some of your own experiences. You can jot a few notes on your bulletin insert as we move along.
We will begin by remembering a time when you had a meaningful experience in nature—it could have been on vacation or at a camp or in your own backyard. Where were you? Who were you with? What did you see? How did you feel—peace, awe, humility, wonder—? Once you have captured that moment, pick any circle on your insert and jot down a few words about the experience and how you felt. Dale is going to play some background music for a minute to give you time to ponder (Morning has Broken)
Now I encourage you to think about a time when you were down and out, struggling in some way, needing help, and someone showed up for you. It could have been soup when you were sick, words of support that came at just the right time, or even financial help. What did you need and who showed up to help bring you through to a better day? Pick another circle and jot down a few notes, and how you felt receiving what you needed—maybe you felt seen, heard, loved, or a sense of relief. (Background music, What A Friend we Have in Jesus).
Before we do our last circle, I want to say that if you have a circle where you cannot remember an experience right now, that’s ok—one might occur to you later. It just means you did not use this language to describe your experience. This are designed for you to continue to reflect on how when throughout the day we notice these moments.
In the last circle, I invite you to think about time when you experienced an Aha moment—a time of insight, clarity, when the pieces suddenly all fit together. It could have been a new idea, an inspiration or relationship giving you a surge of energy, new life, hobby, or a new love. What was happening in one of these inspired moments and how did you feel?—perhaps passionate, excited, renewed. (Background music, Spirit of the Living God).
It is easy to forget that all of us every day are experiencing God—we just have not been taught to name our daily experiences as sacred. In the circle with your experience of nature, write Creator—God the Creator is in all your experiences of nature—the creation itself is God’s first Incarnation. One of my spiritual mentors in St. Louis, Darlene, who is now in the company of saints, used to say to me, God is creating you moment by moment, breath by breath. Every breath is God with you, choosing to recreate you momently, as God is doing in all things.
In the circle where someone showed up when you need help, support, or encouragement—write Jesus who is God with skin on. God is always showing up for us in the hands, the feet, and the faces of other people.
That leaves the third circle of inspiration, energy, clarity, imagination, where you can write, Holy Spirit. Jesus promises in Matthew that he is with us always to the end of age—he does this through the Spirit living inside each of us and binding us together in community.
It is not just in these bigger moments, which are easier to identity, but God is with us in these same ways in every moment— watching the cardinal outside our window, bedtime stories, a conversation with a friend, deciding to let it go after a disagreement.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ through other people, the love of God which surrounds us in Creation, the Communion of the Holy Spirit who is in constant communion within our own heart and soul and binds us together as a community is with you all, now and always. God as three persons is not so much a doctrine as it is our human experience.
Today, dedicate our new playground—
• it is a gift of being blessed by God in creation
• a gift of playing with friends and family who are Jesus to us, and we are Jesus to them
• and it is a gift where the Holy Spirit moves to build community, energy, imagination, and joy in life together.
I invite you, not just this week, but this summer, as schedules open up, and trips are planned, to pay closer attention to these God moments—
• How do you experience the Creator in your backyard, in your garden,walking your dog in the neighborhood, on your vacation?
• How do you see Jesus in your family members, the people you meet on your trips, and in your friends, children, or grandchildren?
• When do you notice inspiration, energy, peace, community, and newness of life?
Then share what you notice—with each other, with your family members or spiritual friends, so we can also see and experience God how you do. In fact you can try it today at our potluck and share with each other one moment on your insert if want to—I personally would love to hear about every single circle you have!
Sharing our faith stories builds everybody’s faith that our Trinitarian God is alive and active everywhere, in all of our lives. And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
It turns out that human beings love barriers. Most institutions and organizations—even ones that intentionally try not to, erect and enforce barriers to access their privileges and rights thereunto. We love barriers so we can control who is in and who is out—especially when we are the ones who are in.
The church has been in the business of erecting barriers for millennia: women couldn’t be in leadership, LGBTQ+ people weren’t welcome, you had to give a certain amount of offering, or go to confession, or affirm this doctrine, or to join this congregation you had to live within a geographic boundary, or be from a certain ethnic group, or speak a specific language. The church I served in St. Louis was the first English-speaking congregation west of the Mississippi in that region. It has taken a long time to undue these barriers.
Often in organizations, even if it’s not official policy, enforce barriers and norms with which we are most comfortable with stares and cliques, with gossip and unspoken expectations around who should be in leadership, what race or gender are included, what people should wear, how they should talk, how old they should be—old enough, but not too old, and how tolerant—not welcoming—but tolerant we will be of those who are outliers from our comfort zone.
We live in a time when there are efforts toward erecting even more barriers to access things like healthcare for women, for trans teens, access to voting. We already have an epidemic of loneliness in our country, so regardless of your views on these issues, I am concerned as a pastor that those affected by additional barriers experience even more isolation, loneliness, disconnection, and lack of value in our shared community life. We as human beings have a very difficult time not erecting barriers around what makes us feel comfortable and in control.
Pentecost, however, is not about erecting barriers, it is about obliterating them. Pentecost is about breaking down barriers so that no one is blocked from receiving God’s love and power, and being in relationship in Christian community.
We do not normally think of a violent wind and flames of fire as good news—but on Pentecost day in the marvelous cacophony of Acts that we just heard, when so many Jews are gathered in Jerusalem, a dramatic entry is required for such a barrier-breaking message. People from all over the Mediterranean world made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Festival of Shavuot. This festival commemorates the giving of the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai 50 days after Passover. People also brought the offering of their first fruits from their spring harvest to the Temple, so it is a time of abundance and gratitude and celebration.
As the rush of a mighty wind swoops in, everyone recalls the parting of the Red Sea where God removes the barrier of the water and leads the people of Israel from slavery to freedom. As flames appear above the disciple’s heads, the disciples recall the burning bush that announced God’s presence and call to Moses; the tongues of fire recall the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness –both experiences removing the barrier that God was far-off, only at a distance.
On Pentecost, we see this barrier-breaking God already had Jewish believers in diaspora all over the Mediterranean world speaking a diversity of languages and living in a multiplicity of cultures—some living in Jerusalem, some having arrived after a pilgrimage for the festival. God’s been working on diversity and inclusion for as long as humans have been putting up barriers! As the Spirit blows and the tongues of fire give the disciples power to speak in all the languages present, our barrier-breaking God, completes the vision that there will be nothing to block anyone’s access God, to experiencing love, to knowing hope, to feeling God’s deeds of power in your life. Every culture is embraced and God’s love and presence is heard and experienced by every person and language present!
Peter preaches the full vision which has been given long ago by the prophet Joel—which is that there are no barriers—the old and young alike shall receive the visions and dreams of God; men and women--all genders shall prophecy; people of every class—whether you are upper crust or on the bottom –slaves or free—they shall all receive the Spirit of God. The Spirit makes no distinction—all barriers are removed with the Spirit at Pentecost –the mission is full inclusion across every spectrum. I shall pour out my Spirit on ALL FLESH- no exceptions, no barriers, no exclusions. The Spirit makes no distinction.
The Spirit’s mission is to break down every barrier to God’s love and salvation in Jesus Christ—and the Christian community is called to embody this! But we are not totally there yet, are we? This story with these words has been in the Scripture for centuries, and in 2023, Christians, say nothing about this country, are still splitting up and fighting about who is in and who is out. Which makes our mission, here at St. Luke’s – to love serve, and welcome all in order to fulfill our vision to be inclusive community where spirits come alive as disciples of Jesus all the more important. Because we do not have to think about who is in or out. Everyone is in. We may need to make some accommodations—we do not worship in diverse languages every week, for example (there is technology for this though!), but we are committed to finding a way for everyone to be included.
We do not have to understand or agree with someone or even like them in order to love them as Christ loves us. Yes, that is hard spiritual work. But, following the Pentecost Spirit is to believe everyone belongs to God no matter what—and then to break down the barriers so they can experience inclusion, Jesus’ love, and forgiveness for them at this table, in this community.
When I first experienced God calling me to pastoral ministry through a campus pastor, I had never even seen a woman in the pulpit. I never did hear a woman preach until I got seminary. About 40% of my seminary classmates were women—but they were pretty different from me. I had a much more “out there” personality—I’ve mellowed a lot over the years, if you can believe that. I wore big earrings, I had bigger 80’s hair, I loved to dance, I had a smart mouth and a brassy personality. And I thought God was making a big mistake calling me to be a pastor. We worked in local churches, called “teaching parishes” and it was time for me to preach my 2nd sermon there. I was trying to write it and I just felt sick to my stomach. Preaching once was fun, but a second time meant I was doing this for my future. I was really questioning why God would want somebody like me as a pastor. I was nothing like any pastor I had ever met, and I was certainly not as sweet and demure as some of the women in my class. I remember closing my eyes and trying to calm my roiling stomach and I asked God what he was thinking—is this real—are you sure you want me to be a pastor? This was the first time I ever had the experience of the Spirit speaking to me, and this is what I heard: “You show a different face of God to the world, people need it, more will feel included.” My stomachache went away, I finished writing my sermon, and I didn’t look back. I got it. Just my presence in the church would help break barriers for other people who needed to see someone like them, or simply someone different.
When the Spirit blew in on Pentecost, the disciples each became the face and voice of God for someone different-- for a particular people in their own language—breaking the barrier for them to receive God’s love in Jesus Christ. And the same is true for you—you present a different face of God, and your presence will help break barriers for others who need to see someone like you to feel included. Your personality, your story, your invitation to this community will help others feel welcome and remove a barrier to being seen and loved by God. You work and live and go to school, and hang out, and talk with people where I do not, and most pastors never will. So, you are the face of God for people around you—you are the one who is there. When people learn you are part of an inclusive church, that will help break down the barrier for them to come and join you. People experiencing increased barriers in other parts of life need to know there’s an inclusive community here.
We are all priests by nature of our baptism—all anointed with the Spirit of Pentecost and given a unique face of God that gives another hope—to remove barriers to believe God loves them. Since God loves you, then God also loves them. Because Jesus forgives you, Jesus also forgives them. Because this community loves you, we can certainly love your friend, your neighbor, your co-worker, your cousin. We saw a wonderful example of this last week with Crystal and Bryan’s testimony—how many barriers have come down for people who heard their story in person or on-line who now feel God can forgive and transform their life?
What face of God do you show to the world? Who in our community will feel included and touched by God’s love and Jesus’ forgiveness when they get to know the face of God that is you? This week I invite you to pray about with whom in your circle of influence, can you share the God’s love. Is this someone you can invite to the playground dedication next week and the potluck luncheon after church? Continue to ask God’s blessings as you shine your unique face of inclusive love to the world, inviting people into this community where everyone is welcome and spirits come alive as followers of Jesus!
The only reason the Samaritan woman is at the well in the heat of the day at 12 noon is because of shame. She has been ostracized from the whole community, including the other women and their practice of gathering water together first thing in the morning while it is still cool. They chat, share news, comment on the weather, what’s for dinner, preparations for an upcoming festival, or perhaps to see if someone can influence the town matchmaker, all before carrying home the water necessary for the day’s chores.
The well is a place of physical survival certainly, but also a place of social sustenance and communal significance bound up with their ancestry. All before the sun has warmed the morning air—the chatter of friends, lightens the weight of the water jug as they make their way home.
But not so, for the woman who comes alone to the well at high noon. No one wants her brand of sin to rub off on them, and not a soul wants to be associated with someone shamed from the religious leaders on down to the beggars, who can at least get a coin or two tossed their direction. She sounds like the ancient version of Liz Taylor, but, as the property first of their father, and then their husband, first-century women had no such choices.
Women could not divorce, although they could be divorced. It is possible she could have remarried after that, even though she would be considered damaged goods, especially if she had no children. It is more likely that her first husband died, and the law requires his brother to marry her and have a child in his brother’s name.
This could have happened repeatedly so that everyone blamed her for her husbands’ untimely deaths. Whatever the cause, the man of the last family put her out and left her destitute. To survive without turning to prostitution, she became the companion of a shunned man, also disconnected from family. This couple, living against all rules and expected norms, never experienced community at the well, at the temple, at town events. They were isolated, ostracized.
The shame the Samaritan woman experiences is different from guilt. If she were guilty for her husbands’ deaths, she could repent, apologize, and pay her debt to society—guilt is about behavior, and once amended her guilt could go away. But shame is much more corrosive.
Shame tells her not that she did something bad, shame says, she IS bad—she is a bad person. Shame has become part of her identity; she cannot get away from it. It’s what she believes she deserves—and that’s the problem with shame. It’s the story by which she lives and the reality that infuses everything.
So, she shows up sweaty and alone, isolated and ostracized, with shame as the only story of herself she knows. An aching soul carrying an empty jar to the community well, where there is never the possibility for “community” nor “wellnesss” for her or her life.
But when she arrives at the well on this day, she is unexpectedly, not alone. Today is different from all the other days at the well. A Jewish Rabbi sits there, breaking all the rules that everybody knows, by making a simple request, “Give me a drink.”
Talk about shameful behavior!
• A man should not be talking to woman in public.
• The Jews and Samaritans are enemies –so why is he even in Samaria, talking with her in the first place? Jews traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee take the route along the Jordan River to avoid Samaria.
• Not only that, but Samaritans are also considered impure (they were viewed as ethnically diluted due to inter-marriage with other races, and religiously polluted having developed different practices after the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians). Jews would never share the same vessel with a Samaritan, yet here is Jesus, asking to drink from the cup of an “impure” enemy, and a woman at that.
“Give me a drink.” With 4 words Jesus has already started to break apart the shame-story that defines this woman’s life.
He has busted open all the rules and shattered them to bits. Jesus completely disregards ALL of the boundaries of race, religion, gender, culture, and politics—and in so doing, he does the ONE thing people of HER OWN race, gender, religion and culture refuse to do—and that’s to make the well a place of community and relationship for her!
Jesus SEES her, Jesus TALKS with her, Jesus NEEDS her service, when no one else will receive anything she has to offer.
To be seen as something other than her past, to be viewed as someone with gifts to offer rather than someone who’s life has no value, to feel like one part of her life does not have to define the whole of who she is for just this one brief moment, is such a relief, such a salve to the soul.
Her shame story loosens, the burden lightens just a little, the water jar feels a little easier to shoulder—
They keep talking—Jesus offers her living water –not the kind of water you pull up from the well—but a gushing source of life that comes from the Messiah himself—
• a fountain that washes away the residue of the past and the story of herself that goes with it.
• Living water that sustains this conversation, this new relationship, and continually keeps this new, lighter energy going and going.
• A relationship that lasts forever, a gushing fountain that extends into eternal life—
• even beyond death—could there be such a thing?
• She tries to grasp how to receive this eternal living water.
But Jesus does not stop there and leave her with partial healing, he wants her to be freed from the whole of her shame, so he asks about her husband, and she responds honestly. Then Jesus tells her, her own complete truth. “You have had 5 husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.”
There it is. Her shame out there in the glare of the noon-day sun on the lips of a supposed enemy living beyond all boundaries. A prophet for sure! Could he be the Messiah? How can he know my whole life when I have told him nothing, she wonders.
Yet hearing her truth spoken by this man freed of all the rules without a trace of judgement or accusation—how did he say it? He told her the truth of her life with love, with compassion, with understanding, with forgiveness—as if he knows it was not what she wanted or had even chosen. It just happened, and if she could have made it come out differently, she would have, but she did not have the power. She was just trying to survive.
He seems to know all this by the way he told her story. She senses he has somehow seen all of it, he knows the whole truth. And him knowing her truth with love set her free.
A lightness comes over her whole body; suddenly it feels as if her past does not matter. The woman at the well feels released and freer than she ever has before --like the stories of her past melted in the sun and washed away in the living waters Jesus talked about. She still remembers what happened, but the memories carried no regret—the pain of the past no longer define who she is, it’s not the story she needs to live by anymore.
Remarkably, her future feels open like water spilling forward in a stream after the spring rains. She can speak, she can share—she can tell others about this Messiah and what he told her—yes! She can start living a different way right now!
She can feel the energy, and the voice she has not used in so long bubbling up inside her—is this what he means when he talked about living water bubbling up to eternal life? Where is all this energy coming from, she wonders.
She has never spoken to townspeople before—maybe they won’t believe her, maybe they won’t listen, but who cares? To feel so good, so free, so whole for the first time since she was a child—who knows? She has to try!
The woman leaves her water jar behind and runs to town with a new story to tell:
Come and see! Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah can he? Come and see. He told me my whole life story and freed me from shame.
Oh my goodness, they are actually listening! They can tell that Jesus changed me!
I have a new life-story now—it’s living in relationship with Jesus, the Savior of the world. That’s my identity! I am washed clean in his living waters and sustained by his love.
The future is wide open. (Who knows, maybe I’ll even marry again! Wouldn’t that make the townspeople laugh?)
Won’t you come and see?!
Our theme this Lent is Traveling Light, and this morning we are talking about Letting Go of Expectations.
I know some of you have heard me say that “expectations are pre-meditated resentments.” I was so startled when someone first told me this. Expectations are pre-meditated resentments. I have usually applied this to my own expectations—moderating them and even trying to eliminate them, so I do not become resentful, especially of those I love.
But this morning, I want to focus on expectations of us—and I began to wonder if this statement still applies. Are not those expectations also pre-meditated –at least by somebody—our culture, our parents or family, our school or workplace, our friends, our religious upbringing?
I’m not talking about basic human decency and societal functioning, but rather those expectations that weigh us down, the ones that may come with a trace or more of resentment, with disappointment, anger or tears, with hard conversations if we do not live up to them or agree with them. These expectations may leave us feeling that too much is being put on our shoulders which we never agreed to—the expectations that cause us to stress out, or avoid someone, procrastinate or fantasize about life being different—these are the expectations that are ripe for a good Lenten reflection.
Can you tease out those expectations and where they come from? Are they rooted in childhood, was it something someone said to you, or it is something you didn’t receive, or interpreted as important, and you now expect it of yourself, all the time?
During the Ash Wednesday service, I shared that I carry a heavy expectation of hyper-responsibility for everyone’s well-being in my family—even more so since my mom died 11 years ago. So, it’s not just for my immediate family, but for my dad, my siblings, even my cousins, and keeping extended family who live far and wide connected. No one told me to carry this, but I learned it from my mom, who learned it from her mom and so on. It’s part of being female in our culture, part of being Christian—not so healthy, even part of my training as a pastor—also, not always healthy. But failing them, not showing up when they need me, not having the right or helpful answer, worries me.
Even when we agree with and understand and want to live up to others’ and our own expectations, they can become a heavy weight that is difficult to carry.
Nicodemus in our Gospel reading carried so many religious and social expectations as a prominent leader in the Temple. As a Pharisee, he kept all 613 laws in Leviticus as perfectly as anyone could. In addition to that, he also adhered to an oral tradition of rules recorded in what’s called the Mishnah. He was so worried about someone seeing him with Jesus and behaving outside the expected norms of his position that he came to Jesus in secret, under the cover of darkness. What would happen if a colleague saw him talking to this rabble rouser? Would he be kicked off the council of the Sanhedrin? Would he disappoint his whole sect of religious leaders and bring shame upon his family? He risked everything by stepping outside the expectations of this societal role to have this conversation with Jesus.
But he comes anyway because he sees something holy in Jesus—something Godly, that does not fit into the box within which he has been living. Jesus has been healing people in Jerusalem, doing signs and wonders, so Nicodemus comes to him, knowing that apart from God, he could not perform these miracles. Nicodemus senses a freedom in Jesus’ power. In their conversation, Jesus affirms Nicodemus for already starting to see the kingdom in healing and new life, for already engaging in a new relationship with him, "‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."
This is not an instruction about what Nicodemus must do next –it’s an affirmation of what he already is doing by seeing the life-giving, Godly, miraculous nature of Jesus mission! Then Nicodemus has the courage to talk with Jesus about how Nicodemus sees God showing up in him! Nicodemus is already being reborn from above or reborn anew and entering the kingdom of God by engaging a relationship with Jesus! But then, he goes right back to arguing logical points—which I just love—because Nicodemus is like all of us—we see God at work and we totally get Jesus one minute, and then we are completely confused the next minute!
But Jesus just hangs there with Nicodemus, drawing him out of his rigid “expectations box” of how things are supposed to be, how life and religion, healing and relationships, God and leaders are supposed work according to good order and tradition, and he keeps pulling him toward being made new in a relationship with him, until Nicodemus’s whole box folds in on itself. This is not to say anything negative about the Jewish religion—Jesus was Jewish—but simply to let go of expectations that prevent us from a faith that has us boxed in rather than living in a life-giving relationship with God.
God does not want to condemn you Nicodemus-religious-leader for breaking the rules, God sent me to save the whole world in love, for love, through love. For God so loved the world, (the Greek says, cosmos) that he gave his only Son, that all those who believe in him, will not perish, have eternal life. We’re not talking about eternal life after we die, although that’s included—this is an all-inclusive package deal, but the point is, eternal life starts here and now! This is an experience of heaven that is felt now—this is what it is to know Jesus—it is to know and experience heaven here! That’s why healings, that’s why miracles, that’s why wine out the wazoo at the wedding at Cana, that’s why the peace that passes all understanding, that’s why Jesus says, have a relationship with me now—it’s an experience of heaven here on earth—stop waiting, Nicodemus! Stop waiting, all of us! To know Jesus is to experience heaven now!
Jesus is saying, “Step out of the expectations box, let it fold, stop trying to earn what you already have—and stop trying to do God’s job. You are already made new right here, right now in a relationship with me. You are still going to do all the things for which you are responsible –just do them in freedom, care for your family in joy, fulfill your work in peace, serve your neighbor out of love. Jesus can release you of the burden or resentment of false or unfair expectations you have put on yourself or accepted from others.
Part of my Lenten prayer practice is to put each family member I am worried in Jesus arms in my morning prayers and to trust God to take care of them in a way that I cannot. That frees me to love them without trying to do God’s job. Am I completely free of worry? My spirit is much lighter, but I’m human, I cannot say a I never worry. We are going for progress not perfection.
I want you to take one of the little prayer slips for the wooden cross in the entryway (you should have received one from an usher) and I want you to write down one expectation whose weight you are ready to release and turn over to Jesus so you can be born anew. No name—these are all anonymous. Either after Communion and before you go to your seat or after worship, you can put it in the slots in the wooden cross in the entryway to the sanctuary. Leave the expectation with Jesus on that cross. I will pray all these prayers and intentions during Holy Week.
If you want to take your Lenten reflections to the next level this week, you can step into the freedom of asking Jesus which other expectations in your life are really of God—and in line with your divine purpose. See if there are other ways Jesus can release you from unnecessary expectations of yourself and others into a renewed and deeper relationship with him.
Nicodemus risked everything to have a conversation with Jesus—that’s not true for us—we can talk to Jesus any day at any moment, any time. But making the life changes that come with releasing a significant expectation can feel very risky. That’s true whether it’s an expectation of yourself, or if it involves someone else, and requires a conversation or renegotiation. If you would like help in what’s coming up for you, please call or text me—my cell phone is on the back of every bulletin. I am happy to meet with you—talk through all the issues, and if more is needed, I know some great counselors and spiritual directors for referral.
Nicodemus shows us that to know Jesus is to know and experience heaven here! When we die and get to heaven all will be well. We won’t need Jesus’ grace and forgiveness once we are there—we’ll be swimming in it, like a fish is in water. We need Jesus’ love and life, NOW in this world, to free us from the box we are living in today. We need healing, freedom, strength, the peace that passes all understanding to help us through the challenges and difficulties of this life. We also need joy and some wine out the wazoo for the celebrations of this life!
All of that comes in a relationship with the living and risen Jesus Christ who renews and recreates us with love, freeing us to live as our true selves so we can let go of unnecessary expectations and travel lightly with him.