Encounter

encounter sermon image

Let me say that humans are so strange.  I know this because I’ve been one my whole life and I’ve lived with them my whole life.  Even this week, I looked at my husband, who I really truly adore, and he looked at me, who obviously he adores, and  we both thought – “huh?”  He looks at me and wonders why in the world I am not able to put the shoes away in such a way that we can functionally use the closet.  And I look at him and wonder why in the world it is beyond this wonderful man’s capacity to put the dishtowel onto the oven handle instead of bunched up on the counter!   And these are the smallest of the small issues—truly—but they show what is the crux, the meat, of every relationship.

So just track with me–Each of us grows up in a different body.  We are each enfleshed in such a way that no one else ever will have the same body, the same influences, the same words and pictures in our heads.  Each one of us is so incredibly unique in our make-up and thus our perspective on the world.    So someone who stands over here on the left, will see a slightly different reality than someone who stands over here on the right.  Our eyes do this right?  One sees this side, and one sees the other side and when we put them together, we see something much closer to the truth of the object.  By the nature of our bodies and minds being separate and located on a specific place on this earth that no one else can exactly inhabit, we will have different understandings of reality, different points of view, different ideas of what’s important, different ways of making sense and of working through the world.

And this might blow your mind but THIS  is how it was designed to be!  We were built in this way, by a God who made us in the image of His own very flourishing life.  So we were built then to encounter each other over distance—geographical, physical distance and also emotional, intellectual distance – we were made in such a way that we have to communicate and to dialogue with each other in the space between us.

 

And this is pretty amazing.

As the poet John O’Donohue puts it,

“Its just incredible that we can make any sounds that can reach over and across to each other at all…The beauty of being human is that we are incredibly, intimately near each other; we know all about each other but  yet we do not know, nor ever can know, what it is like inside another person…(The truth about the world full of individuals is) that the world is always larger, more intense, stranger than our best individual thought could ever reach.”

 

 

And having different points of view then, its not a sin.   Misunderstanding, miscommunication can happen though.   And the refusal to listen to the other and the possibility for the dominance of one point of view over the other  is where sin can come in though.  That’s where the  potential for damage to each other and outselves can happen.  That’s where the potential of any person or institution with power, like say, a church, can hurt others when it doesn’t listen and dialogue well.  Was it Jonathan swift who said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough to make us love one another”?

But how we choose to respond, to  listen to our differences and to dialogue with other points of view is a point of invitation from an incarnated Jesus to us.  I can listen to why Brad thinks its so important that the shoes be lined up, why its important to his understanding of the world, for how he functions.  And He can listen to why I understand the world to be better when the dishcloth is hung up on the oven rack.  We can listen, hear, and respond to each other and take each other’s view seriously, work to find a solution and contribute to a flourishing relationship.

 

So the key words here then are “listening” and “responding.”   And its no small thing that the Hebrew word for obedience is actually rooted in the word for “listen”  – listen and obey—obey is not just do what I say because I said so, but for grown ups, to obey is to listen and then respond to what is being said.  Listen and respond to your mother’s point of view.  To your your son’s point of view, to your neighbors point of view.  Listen and respond so those who have experienced something you have not and who have knowledge you do not– and then to respond with your life and your knowledge.  Listen and respond to God, to his voice and his way—to God’s point of view.

Being made for relationship means listening and responding to this Word.

 

What we are finding in this meditation on relationships can be described as ENCOUNTER.  At the heart of relationship is the space in between us where we “encounter”, where we touch, where we listen to words, to bodies, to hearts.  Where we speak words back and forth, where we dialogue, we learn, we grow – so imperfectly but we keep doing it.  This is the echo that calls us towards God.

 

Our lives are encounter.

Our faith is encounter. Story after story of encounter.  Here’s one:

 

To set the scene…In the gospels Jesus is different than other prophets and other preachers.  The drama of Roman occupation and the tensions of religious, communal life created many men who travelled and taught, but there is nothing like Jesus in the literature of the time.  While there is a lot of history about other prophets and their teachings, their speeches, their precepts,  what’s unique to the gospel accounts is how they recorded the small stops between the speeches and teachings of Jesus.  They recorded the interruptions in the “grand ministry” the constant encounters are remembered, not just the concepts, precepts, new rules for living. Its telling us something that those moments are what was recorded.   And even more telling is the fact that the encounters recorded are with rich people, with poor people, with sick people, with powerful people, with powerless people.  Jesus’ ministry, and the importance of his ministry to those who followed him  was definitively rooted in HIS encounters.  These totally unexpected encounters are really the meat of his work.  This fact alone in the life of Jesus should startle us – even a little bit.  There is not one bit of human reality, not one bit of human life that is an impediment to his message, work, love-there is not one encounter that distracts him from this work.  The God of the universe is incarnated in every encounter – encountering others is his work.

 

In Mark 5 is a story of encounter like this.   Jesus and his friends enter a village in Galilee—rural, fishing, backwater, no name town- maybe 500 people, maybe less.   By this time Jesus was a bit of a celebrity, however reluctant, and there have been rumors in the air – at the markets, over fences, there has been talk of this prophet out of Nazareth who teaches with authority and who heals – not with magic and incantation and payment but with a word or two and with his presence, his proximity-maybe a touch.  This sort of celebrity news does in this village what it still does in us – it makes them hopeful, it makes them talk, it makes them want to see it – out of curiousity and out of an unspoken hunger to harness something that  will work for them, maybe somehow it will make them bigger, better by them experiencing it.  Maybe it will heal them?  Maybe it will give them what they’ve always wanted?  We still respond to celebrity and trends and “buzz” like that.

 

Jesus comes to this no name town and he is met by the synagogue leader or ruler – he is a powerful person in this small town, but he comes with a direct and desperate request.   His daughter is sick, to the point of death, would Jesus please come.   Jesus stops for this encounter – and says, yes, I’ll come with you.

 

The crowd, which would have been mostly men in that segregated culture, surged around Jesus here in this village commons.  They were eager to watch the action, eager to see the local celebrity at work—ooooh something’s going to happen, oh I heard about this.  Shouts, laughter, excitement, servants, disciples, energy, heat from the sun, heat from the bodies, a whole scene making its way towards Jairus’ house.  And then suddenly Jesus stops.  The whole procession jostles – those on the outskirts of the action keep talking, laughing, awareness that something is going on is slow to reach them.  Jesus stops suddenly and says, “Who touched me?”  Who touched me?  Who reached out across the distance between us and touched me and took some of my power?”  And the disciples, maybe with a  patronizing side-eye, said “um, look around you.  Everybody is touching you.”  But Jesus looks around again and looks at the faces….  And he sees one. One who absolutely should not be there.  He looks at her for indeed, it is a her, a woman who dared to reach out and I wonder if he asked again, “Who touched me?”  “Who are you who touched me?  Who are you who has touched me and taken some of my power?” he is saying right to her.  Jesus knows something significant has happened in this encounter- he felt it.   And she makes a small movement forward and says “ I did – I thought if I grasped you, even just a bit of you, I would be healed.” And in that moment, she also knows that she was.

 

Imagine now the crowd’s response.  This is a small town, these are the men of this village here to see with a mixture of hopeful and greedy hunger the Jesus who everyone is talking about and they’re on their way to a miracle.  Then  Jesus draws attention away from the immediate need happening to a woman who is on her knees, in the midst of them, not looking up. They know who she is.  Immediately a ripple of revulsion shivers through this crowd.   This nameless woman has been bleeding, hemmoraging, for 12 years.  She has been experiencing menstrual bleeding for 12 years.  And in both the religious and roman culture of this village, that is a relationship death sentence.

 

Because in this culture—the broader roman cultures and the jewish culture within it, we know that when a woman was menstruating, she was regarded with wariness or even downright hostility and derision.   Pliny the elder, a Roman writer and historian writing in this area around this time writes that contact with a woman who is having her monthly flow, through a dress, or through touch would make “new wine sour, makes crops wither, kills skin grafts, dries seeds in  gardens, causes the fruit of trees to fall off, dims the bright surface of mirrors, dulls the edge of steel, kills bees, rusts iron and bronze.  Dogs that come near a bleeding woman become insane and their bites poisonous.”  I’m not joking.  This is the world and culture that determined encounter and the relationships of real people, in the place of the world God came to live with us.

 

 

You put that general, in-the-air culture together with the religious culture of this small jewish towns.  For hundreds of years, generation after generation, God’s chosen people, the Jews, they have been telling themselves, “We have been occupied and dominated because we did not fully live by God’s laws.”  So you better believe that those purity laws were being taken very seriously.  And within jewish purity laws, when a woman is bleeding, or even if you touched a dead body, or a dead animal on the road, you are unclean and therefore cannot be touched so as not to make anyone else unclean.  And being unclean is a big deal because an unclean person cannot experience God, you cannot go to the temple, cannot make sacrifices, you cannot enter God’s presence and experience God so it was important that you avoided someone who was unclean.

So its within this culture and religious life that this woman dared to be encountered.

Everyone in this town and every man in this crowd knows that this woman has been bleeding and is unclean and therefore  has been beyond the realm of touch and encounter for 12 years.  She has not had a moment in the last 12 years where she has been touched or where she has touched.  She has not known any form of contact let alone a hug, or even a welcome—“Oh I’m glad to see you here”  no one said that in 12 years.  Depending on how strict this town and synagogue was, She might not have even been able to touch a piece of furniture that someone else might touch.  No one is welcoming her to their house.  How many subsequent years then, has she been without dialogue, without conversation? How many have been without eye contact?  How many people remember her name.  Maybe some people feel pity.  Maybe people left food out for her.  All her money, every resource she has, has been spent on doctors the text says.  But after a while, how many people start to think she must have done something wrong – this must somehow be her own fault.   And we do, even now, to somehow reassure ourselves that something this horrible won’t happen to us.  How long was it until they all start avoiding her gaze? And once that’s done that its easy forget that she has a heart and a voice and an experience, parents, a background, a perspective – she is just a body to be avoided.  She has been reduced to this one thing of which she cannot do a thing about.

 

 

This woman, crouched unseen, and she risked making every man there unclean.    Moreover, she dared to make the celebrity in their midst unclean. The prophet they eagerly hoped would do something they could gossip about for weeks.  The honored guest and the prophet who at this moment was on his way to Jairus’ house – argueably the most powerful man in town’s house to heal his daughter.  Imagine Jairus’ jaw dropping in the moment that crowd cleared to reveal her and the horror of what’s going on dawns on him.  His hope for his daughter’s life is in one moment of touch doomed – Jesus can’t touch her now.  Jesus can’t even come into his house now for Jesus is unclean.  His daughter is as good as dead and indeed a servant shoulders up to him in this moment and says – its too late my lord, she is gone.  Grief and rage probably don’t even begin to start to describe what is erupting in this man, this crowd at the sight of this woman daring everything for encounter.

 

“Who are you who touched me?  Who are you who took my power, who made me unclean and took some of my power of life and authority for living for themselves?  Who?” the word who reaches over the distance says to this woman.  I wonder if she told him her name.  I wonder how long it had been since she had told someone her name.

 

 

 

This is the power of this echo, this longing which is a call for each of us to know encounter, to know relationship, to know the truth that we are made for each other.  And THIS is where it intersects with Jesus.  We were made to work through what it means that we have to encounter other human beings.  We are not disembodied souls destined to transcend it all in a cloud of holiness, we are bodies, hearts, minds, and souls made to reach out and meet in the middle.  And its hard and we are weird creatures and it requires work, effort, humility, listening, speaking up and forgiveness and maybe a willingness to get unclean.  But this is the echo.

Then the words, “You are healed. You are made whole. Your faith has saved you. Go live.”

 

Every human is made for relationship.  This unnamed woman was made for relationship and it was her need for encounter, relationship that drew her to Jesus.

For her, “being saved” by Jesus was not to come to some intellectual or even moral conclusion about him.

Her salvation came when Jesus showed up in her town and she dared to think that even she might be made whole  and therefore be able to enter the fullness of her birthright as a daughter of God made for relationship.  And that’s what God intended all along for her, that is why Jesus, stopped EVERYTHING, reached back to her across that space and this is exactly what he does for every one of us.

 

 

 

Jesus, this Jesus we sing about, he didn’t stop there though.  He and his complete disregard for what others thought made him unclean then went to JAirus’ house, and he dismissed the people there that day who would gossip and hang around to see what would happen, and for the sake of that daughter and those parents he healed her-without the crowd, without the fanfare, he just did what this encounter asked of him.

2 women, one old and one young, being made whole and entering a new life of relationships, of knowing and being known.

 

 

 

 

So….questions then.

Where are the encounters in your life – where at work, where in your home?

Who is it that is reaching across the space and reaching out?

How can you listen to what’s being said from another perspective?  How can we do that as a church?

 

Who are you that is longing to reach out?  Are you ready to answer and say your name and what you need?  Are we all ready to hear and welcome another’s name, another’s story.

 

And what indeed is in the space between us—A better question is WHO is in that space between us?    Well, its Jesus, the Lord, the one whose presence, without payment, magic or incantation, can indeed restore us to him, to ourselves, to each other.   To what our hearts truly long for.

Lets pray.

 

 

 

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Wrinkles in Time, 8 year olds, and Truth…all while trying to do the dishes.

A-Wrinkle-In-Time

My husband and I were in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner this week when my 8 year old walked in and asked, “But how can we know what’s true?”  That’s a “pay attention” question if ever there was one.  She went on: “Like with ITIT told Meg and Calvin that it knew what was best and that if they gave in to it, it would bring them peace.  They wouldn’t need to worry or think or stress.  How did they know not to trust it when those words sound like good things?”

 

If you aren’t familiar with the references, they are from Madeleine L’Engle’s 1960’s fantasy A Wrinkle in Time which we had just finished reading together last week.  The 8 year old had been thinking about it apparently.  The main characters, Meg and Charles Wallace along with their friend Calvin were tasked with saving Meg’s father from the powers of darkness, from a blackness that blots out the skies, that’s hard to detect from earth, that’s seductive in its grasp but is very, very real.  Meg’s father was trapped on a planet that had succumbed to the darkness and on that planet it manifested as IT, a huge central brain that did all the thinking for everyone on the planet.  When Meg and the others confronted IT, trying to save her father, IT offered them peace.  IT would say things like: “Why don’t you trust me?  Why don’t you trust me enough to come and find out what I am? I am peace and utter rest.  I am freedom from all responsibility.  To come to me is the last difficult decision you will ever make…..in Camazotz all are equal; everybody is the same as everyone else.”

The 8 year old heard the words which were meant to confuse. She heard the big nasty IT say words that could be good but didn’t feel right.   And so she asked critical questions about truth.  She wanted to know why Meg knew not to believe IT.

And like everyone else, I am watching the news and seeing different takes on reality.  I am watching, in real time, some people say one thing and some people say another, all claiming to be the truth.  Truth is apparently in the eye of whoever can shout the loudest.  Truth is determined by airtime and tweets.  Everyone sees reality according to their own pain and their own benefit.  Truth becomes synonymous with a worldview, not a real world where everybody lives.

Pilate asked the same question of Jesus, the question precipitated by the same circumstances – two takes on a reality that were vastly different.  Some people said He was a healer, a prophet, someone who changed them and knew them and offered life.  Some said He was a dissenter, a dangerous villain who was out to take away a way of life, to strip morals away from people, to ruin the work of God in their land and take power for himself.  Everyone was angry, everyone was shouting, some were crying, some hiding.   But the words of accusation made sense.  Pilate didn’t want an insurgency on his hands, an uprising—he didn’t want a rabble-rouser disquieting the natives, claiming power.  And yet, when he looked at the man before him, he knew to ask the question.  He knew not everything was as it seemed, not everything was as it was being interpreted to him.   So Pilate looked at the small, naked man in front of him and asked, “What is truth?”

 

There is no record of what Jesus answered.  There is only a small, naked man standing there.  Reduced, stripped, completely bare and unarmed. That is the answer to “What is truth?”

 

When my daughter asked the question about truth, she was asking about discernment.  How do we discern what is good; how do we know we can trust it?  How do we discern when the words all sound like good things?

 

This is a question I have been asking myself too.  What happens to truth when reality can be interpreted as far away from facts and physical reality as need be?  When anything makes sense if you talk around it long enough.

 

As my husband and I stood there in the kitchen,  we tried to answer the 8 year old.  Two things came out of that conversation that have struck me as genuine litmus tests for truth.

The first is fruit.  As in, what is the fruit of the claim, the action, that is being discerned.  What is the result.  The 8 year old understood this idea of fruit—there’s a song (or 100) about it.  This is what kids do in Sunday school – sing songs about fruit.   The fruit of the Spirit of God is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.   You can tell a tree by its fruit.  It makes a nice song but take it towards discernment and its powerful in its clarity.

 

Does the outcome of the claim being made on truth result in love?  Love, not admiration, not adoration, not praise, but love.  I love bell hooks’ definition of love.  “LOVE is as love does” she writes; love is when we “openly and honestly express care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment and trust.” (All About Love, bell hooks, 2000).  Does what is being offered express care, affection, responsibility towards, respect of, commitment and covenant over and trust of the people involved.  This kind of love takes seriously the human worth of people– all the people.  We talked about this and it was clear to the 8 year old, IT did not love the people it claimed to be helping.  IT offered them ease but not love for their very own selves, especially not when they advocated for themselves.

 

Does the outcome of the claim being made on truth result in joy?   IT did not offer joy either.  IT offered a version of satiety, but not joy.  Not the swelling of the heart, not the gratitude that verbalized joy, not the color, the taste, the movement and new life that joy creates and recreates continuously.

 

Does the outcome of the claim being made result in peace?  Well, yes, in a way, the 8 year old noticed.  IT offered utter rest, no one had to think, no one had to fight, no one had any say in anything so no one thought they were better than the others.  This is why the 8 year old asked the question!  This is where the kernel of truth lay in IT’s claim.  IT claimed peace but brought it through force.  Was that real peace?

 

We moved on.  But the questions are SO worth asking.

Does the outcome of the claim of truth result in patience?  Does it make people able to stop and step back and listen before speaking? Does is create the capacity for second, third, fourth chances?  How about 70X7 chances?

Does it result in kindness? Does what you are hearing as the reality you should live by result in kindness?  Does it engender kindness?  Kindness to who? You?  People just like you?  Or everyone—even those soooo different from you.

Does it result in goodness?  In flourishing, in harvest, in abundance?  For all of us?

Does is result in gentleness?  Does it result in the ability to step back from rage and see the fragile human in front of you?  Does it give you the capacity to then reach out with intention but care to who is in front of you?  To yourself?  We never talk about gentleness.  But the Spirit does.

Does this truth result in faithfulness?  In covenant?  Does it result in long-term commitments to the good of the other?  Does it help you trust more?  Trust God, trust yourself, trust others?

Does it result in self-control?  Does your truth result in the ability to hold yourself accountable to others, the awareness to hold yourself as living within a whole, not just for yourself and for the immediate?

 

The other thing that came out of our kitchen conversation about A Wrinkle in Time was this question:  Who benefits from this version of truth?  Who loses?  Who gains more and who suffers?  It didn’t take too many years of human stories for my younger daughter to conclude last year, “Bad guys always want money and power, money and power.”  Thank you Disney movies.  Seems simple, but it could be worth asking, “Where is the power (and money and fame) going?”  Meg Murray, her brother and her friend saw that IT was after the power to control, to determine the fates of all the people on that planet.  And IT carved that power by diminishing the humanity of all the people – it no longer saw individuals, but a cause, a system, a truth based on not seeing individual worth.  Want to know why governments, churches and any institution can quickly move from truth to lie?  From good to harm?  Because of this…By no longer seeing individuals but only seeing the cause, when ends justify means, when the power to act tramples the real-live individual its supposed to help.

When we are called upon to make a judgment about truth, where is the power, and the money and fame that give it, going?  Who is benefiting and who is suffering?

 

As Pilate stood there, looking at the naked small man before him, powerless indeed, he asked, “What is truth?”  And the truth stood there naked and small—the truth stood there as basic as each of us on the day of our birth and the day of our death.

What was the fruit of this man, upholding and drawing in the humanity of all of us by just standing there.  He did not have power or money to convince or sway.  But he left in his wake people made more whole.  People seeing themselves for real for the first time.  Was there love?  Joy?  Kindness?  Gentleness?

Who benefited from this man?  The lost, the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the orphan, the widow, the thief, the cheat, the lonely, the sick, the desperate, the questioning, the rich, the confused, the blind, the lame, the selfish, the adamant, the ones who cried out loudly, the ones who couldn’t anymore.  Every individual got to have their own selves given back to them, their dignity, their worth–Everyone who came into his frame, not just those who were just like him.

 

The God who gave.  Who poured out.  Who decided and intentionally emptied out for the benefit of the losers of the world, emptied out until his own death. Because he saw each of them?  And served them?  Touched their dirtiness?  And loved them?   Is that truth?  Is this how we discern truth these days?

The answer of truth, again and again with this Jesus, is no answer we can defend with swords and power or even with well-crafted words, initiatives, or programs, but truth?  Here, before Pilate and the powers of this world, truth is a person, fully alive.

 

Meg Murray…I keep coming back to her.  As she faced IT in the end, she was powerless to stand firm from its pulsing control.  She could not defeat IT through her will power, through her ability to think through the issues.  She could not defeat IT through any of her gifts, her strengths.  They were no match for its all encompassing lies that made complete sense.  But she held out for one thing – love.  Love for her brother, her baby brother who knew her, who saw her, who was cut from the same cloth she was, the one thing she could remember even in the face of the most peaceful lie of utter security, the lie of hardship ceasing.  Love for one person, for one individual in that moment, was the only thing that inoculated her from the lie that would not serve them, but take from them their power to be truly alive.

 

Love did it.  Somehow.  Over and over again, we read this in books–the really old ones and the really weird ones.  And 8 year olds the world over start to ask themselves the question, What is truth?

Is it any wonder the book was banned?

 

“A book, too, can be a star, “explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,” a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”  Madeleine L’Engle quoting astronomer Fred Hoyle in her Newbury Medal acceptance speech, 1963.

 

The Book of Love – Part 3

–I just can’t stop thinking of the question, “What story do I live out of?”  In all the areas of my life.  In my exhausted parts, in my broken-hearted parts, in my confused parts, in my angry parts, in my terrified parts.   All those parts are a bit closer to the surface lately than I usually want to admit.  So here, on Maundy Thursday, the day when we celebrate how Jesus washes clean our dirty, tired parts, when we remember this shared meal that gives such deep welcome but we don’t really have a clue how it is all going to play out–today I want to think about this.  

If I dedicated blog posts, which I always want to do, I would dedicate this to my dear friends whose questions have not been answered how they expected.  Please lets keep telling the story to each other.  I know I need it.  Maybe it will help.

This is the 3rd part of my Book of Love rambling.    The story we live out of–

 

And then this story, of us and God, of God and this world, comes to a crux. We get to a still point.    One day, unbeknownst to all those hearts, a girl woke up in the middle of the night. Terrified, but also able to see something that had that sheen of hope. That young, uneducated girl was able to conceive of something completely unexpected. She woke up and said yes to that call. She was afraid but still showed her face.   And she was filled with all that part of Love and all that part of God that the world was made with.   She was going to bear a baby. And it was at once miraculous and prosaic.   God – so big, so everywhere, so much more than us became so small, so located only in one particular spot, with those particular parents, siblings, cousins. And the So Much More of the UNIVERSE became at ordinary, common baby strapped to his mothers back as she gets her water for the day. This is the power of the universe – the power we crave so intensely – the power of all the creative love furled within one small dark boy.

 

This storyteller – I tell you. Not only does he consistently choose to work in ways that surprise and confound our proper and dignified sensibilities, but this storyteller once again, and always, does things in order to bring himself and his creation back together. Reprised, remembered, recapitualated, reconnected in ways that cannot be undone. Not by anger or hatred or shame or fear. That baby was in our world, deeply intertwined with the whole of creation – just as we all are.

 

That same part of God that folded himself into the creation of the universe, our world, our star and all the stars and all the worlds, en-folded once again, that part of himself that grows and learns and draws life from the ground into a small jewish displaced boy to parents who had nothing to go on but snippets of dreams and intimations they got in the night and what felt like swords piercing their deepest hearts.

 

And this is the still point in our story. This enfleshing of God himself. This incarnating of love into specific ways of language, culture, religiosity, spirituality. Love, now in flesh appearing.

 

From here the story moves fast. Time is different for the duration of this story. It is full and it is urgent and it is growing.   One story among millions, this story, His own story, has bloomed out into a thousand different takes, like the sides of a crystal.

 

Remember the words Jesus said, the spit he rubbed, the water he changed, the fish he provided, the storms that calmed, the skies that grew dark, the mountaintops that changed in his presence. The tears he wept, the laughter he let loose, the sticks he picked up, the tables he overturned.   Conversation after conversation showed bit by bit a fuller picture of the LOVE THAT MADE THE UNIVERSE. He told stories. He challenged. He forgave. He welcomed the unwelcome. He made new bodies that had been torn apart. He brought into the fold those who had been cast out. He knew that the peoples bodies were important – he fixed them, he fed them. He knew that peoples minds were important – he asked questions, he told stories, he listened, he made connections to the stories they’d heard their whole lives. He knew that people’s spirits were important – he forgave them, he let them go, he released them, he gave them new life, he unbound their hearts. And they imagined that their own lives could be a part of something, an unfragmented story that at its root was not fear and was not death and was not anger and hatred. But was love.

 

He both pointed to, and created a time, a kingdom, a reign, where the last were first.   Where those, that in no way would ever win in this world, were the Kings. Where peacemakers were the children of God. Where those with no one and nothing were brought in and given people and given everything they needed to live.   Where those running from violence and oppression and everything that diminished the image of God in them, could come and be at peace. In ways that were very immediate, he showed that love, that same love that desired this world to grow and flourish, the same love that we read about at the beginning of this story. That same love that devoted itself to the long, long story of God-With-Us that has become our faith. That same love that at every point and every turn in the story aimed to bring back together that which was torn apart.

 

And then he died. He was killed. He was punished and hurt and so many people were confused. And we think about it all the time. Why did he die? What did it do? How did this show love? How did this bring the world, bring us, back together, back to God, back to the whole that we long to be?

 

Centuries of this question go before us here now. And just like those people, who, when they were physically touched by Jesus from Nazareth, knew that something MORE had occurred in them, just as something deep in their core leapt when he talked about God and them, just as they re-member-ed something of the deep reality of their lives when this man was around and was talking, so too, when he died, they knew.   They knew something had occurred that went beyond what they saw.

 

The Love of the Universe, distilled into three days of real life. A Friday of tortuous injustice and of unimaginable loss. A Saturday of numbness and grey confusion.

 

And then a Sunday, a daybreak, like the millions of days broken before it, rising anew on an old, blood soaked and weary piece of land.

 

The Love of the Universe, distilled into the calling of one woman in the garden that surrounded the houses of the dead – Mary, Mary, don’t you know that its me. Mary, Mary, don’t you see that its me. The one you have been looking for.

 

The Love of the Universe, bringing back together that which was torn apart. Bringing together that which was kept apart. Opening doors to an inner temple, opening mouths to speak of grace and of reconciliation, opening hearts to live for it and to die for such a grace. GRACE! LOVE! Not power but the exact opposite – the giving of oneself for the glory and beauty of another. And the Resurrection –giving people, all those loved people, a way into the re-member-ing of the universe. Redeemed, Remembered, Recapitulated, Reconnected, Reconciled.

 

And just as the pattern of Creation was that of the long story of love, the pattern of Incarnation was the long story of love. Because the part of God that made the world with love was the part of God that fleshed out what that love looked like, in a real human home, in a real human voice, in a real human life of hope and need and body and death. With real stories and real tears. And he made love all anew.

 

And then, in classic God style, Love told us to keep at it. Keep telling the story, keep making the love, keep creating it. Keep being that embodied bit of love in whatever home we found ourselves in, on whatever piece of land we found ourselves planted in.   He gave us His body and then made us His Body, his very self of Love. Growing, learning, all parts working together, as all bodies learn to. He is continuing His work of bringing the world back together, in every generation, welcoming every heart as if it was the only heart he ever cared about, welcoming all of us into his heart. He has brought us into his creating work, just as at the beginning. Without fear but with communion. With that sense that each of us can know, know as we know the back of our own hands, the way of the universe, the way of love.

 

The book of love, its been said, is long and boring. It’s a tale of a thousand ordinary invitations, a thousand ordinary open doors and a thousand ordinary choices.  

 

Here, in my brown house with big draughty windows and decrepit doors, with toys and crumbs strewn about in literal drifts, here, the book of love is writing its next chapter. With my family and my friends and my church budgets and meeting minutes and bank appointments. With every one that comes across my path – alike and very unlike.  It is in the welcome of these into the space of my heart that this story of love keeps being told.  And in your house, with your people, and your mess and your joy and your deep fear. And in every house on every street. This book is being fleshed out, it is being written and filled out.  

 

 

What story do you live out of?   What story do I live out of? One where love is grown into the very DNA of the world, where there is enough, where we have hope, where Grace stops retribution in its tracks?

Or do we live in one where we have to fight and scrabble and defend.

Do we live out of a story of bringing together, of bringing us together? Or do we live in a story of tearing apart?

Of love or of fear—in our own hearts?

 

We choose our stories, we can choose the next words; what story do you live out of? What would be different if the story was indeed one of such a love? A love that re-member-ed its very nature back to itself.

 

 

Write your story and know it is the story of His body. It is a chapter in the big story.  Tonight, keep choosing to write it, knowing that it is written in the big book of Love, it is woven into the story of this world. Your story and the bits of love within it, no matter how twisty the plot, has a place in God’s Big Story. Keep reading The Story, keep writing The Story, keep being written.   Just keep being written into that Book of Love.