Sunday, May 31, 2015

In and Of

Romans 8:12-17
In and Of

This past week I had the great gift of officiating the wedding of two good friends. And bonus- the wedding was in Sayulita, Mexico— destination weddings are a treat for pastors!

So last Monday, I joined 10 strangers at the gate in front of United Airlines. As we introduced ourselves- each was thinking we were the outsider and assumed everyone else knew one another. 

After the three hour flight, we exited the plane to the warm humid air we had been longing for- after the past month in Colorado, and moved through confusion and customs- stopped to change money and buy water and loaded into a van to head to the small town of Sayulita.

As we drove through the unfamiliar terrain -each asked how they knew the couple getting married.. and one by one we each realized that we weren’t the only outsider- in fact we were a bus full of outsiders all traveling together.

There was a sister from one side, and a cousin from the other, a childhood friend, a co-worker, an x-cousin-in-law who got to keep the family, a long time roommate, a neighbor/ photographer, and a pastor they met three years ago in a bar next door to a church. Think breakfast club for 4 days, in Mexico- all were traveling to celebrate and support friends in love. Traveling to reconnect to ourselves- to each other- to our spirits.

After moving through steep hills and rocky dirt alleys - just two inches wider than the van we were stuffed into - We arrived to the house we would share for the next four days. The beauty of both the terrain and the home brought an immediate shift in awareness.

We settled in and went to work- we were there to support our friends in marriage. Everyone helped. Some made sure dresses were perfect, others did hair, two went to find the perfect spot on the beach, another found flowers. After taking far too long… we all began a journey through the rustic city, down the giant hill past stray dogs and roaming chickens.. past a beautiful old cemetery, to the sandy beach, and to the perfect location where waves crashed and birds flew overhead.

We formed a half circle with our friends at the front- I officiated- but all participated. Each person had an opportunity to share from their heart. To name their connection and give words of love- and we celebrated.

Then we let our guards down. As we walked through the week- sharing meals, playing at the beach- interacting with street vendors - we began to share stories. It was clear that while it was an eclectic group- there was a consistent theme of strong and resilient people. Each person shared about the pains and the joys in their lives past and present..

— no one on the trip was conventionally ‘religious’  — but every person held a deep spirituality— as has become typical of our generation. I heard authentic questions, frustrations and skepticism about God and religious communities in general… And- as we laughed together I heard stories of longing. Longing for connection and authenticity and creativity and community. Longing for life.

We live in a time when old structures are no longer relevant. When the assumptions of the past no longer serve to support the life and grace we need here and now and always. When stale words and doctrines have been rejected as irrelevant and hypocritical. In the midst of this context- many are left feeling disconnected and fragmented. We know what doesn’t work… and together we are longing to find what does work to create connection.


Paul addresses the community in Romans in a time of deep social and individual change to remind them of their ultimate connection to God- through Christ- and to inspire them to live into this connectedness. The early followers are struggling to make sense of this new way of being. There is intense struggle in how to reconcile belief and action. How to live in the midst of the constant and inevitable spiritual battle between living in ways of life- or continuing ways of death and division.

At the root of this struggle is what I call the ‘myth of disconnection’. The people in Romans are separating the teachings and the ideas from their actions.

Now here is where I have to stop and do a bit of critical analysis of the text—

In this section of Romans- and quite frequently in Paul’s writings - the writings are interpreted with a condemnation of ‘the flesh’ and a glorification of ‘the Spirit’. Too often this word ‘flesh’, sarx in Greek, is seen as synonymous to our ‘body ’, or soma in Greek….

This interpretation has led to a de-valuing— and even justified exploitation of ‘bodies’ - and to our physical created world in general.

One of the great fallacies of our religious tradition is a de-valuing or dismissing of bodies and our physical world. In the teachings of Jesus we can see that Jesus was directly concerned with bodies- healing, feeding, caring.

Dis-connection of body and soul has led to dismissal of real social inequity as the material poor are promised a better life in the spiritual world- and neglected in the current world.

Fragmentation of body and soul has too often led people to be at war with their own body- rather than seeing it as an integral piece of their whole- and a vital tool to be cared for in working for good in the world.

The myth of disconnection has been furthered by damaging readings of our text- which when read thoroughly and in context actually serve to call for deeply connected living- rather than fragmentation and compartmentalization of  body and soul- or values, ideas and actions.


In the book of Romans, Paul reminds the early followers of Christ that the gospel names the reality of salvation, reconnection, and reconciliation. No one is an outsider.

While all are broken and fragmented— or as Paul says- sinners- we are ultimately created and born of God, re-connected again and again through Christ— and this connection is sustained through power in the Spirit— the great connector.

Now this might sounds a bit too theoretical or theologically abstract — which on this Trinity Sunday in our liturgical calendar is pretty much expected—

But- I have to admit- I am a big fan of theologizing ‘the trinity’— as I see a ‘relational understanding of God as key- and practical in our daily lives;

Through naming God as relationship at the core- between creator, redeemer and sustainer- each unique, yet mutual and interdependent- our image of God becomes shifts to a kind of circle dance rather than an old man sitting on a throne.

The ‘myth of disconnectedness’ - between body and soul, between God and humanity, between each of us and our neighbor— is at the root of pain and struggle. Dis-connectedness breeds fear and guilt- and ultimately can result in hate and violence.

Paul call us to a theology of connectedness — To see the reality that we are children of God- adopted and brought in and loved as a parent loves their own children. This reality is at our core and can’t be broken.

Realization of this connection leads to life, creativity and flourishing — light and joy—

We can let go of notions of disconnection and fragmentation

In order to walk connected - in the Spirit and of the Spirit—

Gathering at the airport last Monday morning we all felt disconnected. We assumed we were the outsider. In realizing we were in reality connected- to each other- and through something more— Each person opened up. laughed, shared stories, let themselves be vulnerable, and experienced genuine connection and friendship.

As we look to the future of the church- in a context where old assumptions and institutions are falling away— as we listen to where the Spirit is calling us next-

May we see that we are already connected. We are a participant in the very being of God. May we meet people from this place of connectedness.

May we live, listen, play, work for justice, and be present to others with a deep awareness of the work of the Spirit- the great connector- tying us to the God we come from, and the world we live in.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Love and Narratives that Divide

1 John 4:7-21

Over the next two weeks our texts lead us to talk about the timeless and ever relevant topic of love. This week - we are invited to look to the beginnings of love, and next week we will take a closer look at what love looks like.

Our text today comes from the book of 1 John. Not the gospel of John- though 1 John carries the same riddle like language and ideas- the book of 1 John is thought to have been written by the community of the gospel writer, about 10 years. Ten years has been just enough time to get into the messiness of life together in community that we all know well. They have faced a major conflict and division over right thinking, and right practice. 

While some have left the community; questioning, resentment, anger and fear remain.  

It is in this context that the author of 1 John invites the people to remember their beginnings.

It is often in times when conflict rises the the surface, or when deep change surrounds us that we begin to ask- “How did we get here?” “Where did this issue come from?” “Where did we come from?”

This is John’s sweet spot. 

The gospel of John begins with beginnings:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

So too, The author of 1st John begins with beginnings: 

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, looked and and touched concerning the word of life.

And to chapter 4 verse 7- 

Out of this word and life of God- bring the beginnings of love. Love comes from God. God is love- and all who love are born of God share love—

Our beginning is in Love. 
The energy of Love, from God, radiates within us and passes through us- the great life force. Perfect love casts out fear and division and brings healing and life, thriving relationships and thriving communities. We know this love. 

1 John reminds the people in the midst of conflict to let go of divisions and return to love- because they are made of God’s love and are called to share that love- those who love God- must not hoard or control- but must let that love flow freely to all. 


This is a timely message in a week fraught with division, fragmentation, violence and pain. My Facebook feed has been filled with on the ground stories of uprising in Baltimore- 

Uprising and riots across our country and here in Denver are bringing to the surface centuries of scars and open wounds. Youth are crying out as frustration and hopelessness leads to violence and anger. Mothers crying- conflicted in caring for their children- and wanting real justice, real opportunity. Safe communities, jobs that bring possibility, homes that create space for thriving. The complex realities of our broken system are unavoidable as buildings burn and peacemakers and protesters march arm in arm.

In this time of conflict- pundits, politicians, news reporters, blogger- and you and I— are reflecting on the beginnings of this crisis- this racial divide in the country and communities that we love. So it seems in my first week as your summer preacher- that we have no choice but to explore the light realities of racial division…

This week I attended a presentation by the author of a book called ‘Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. I gathered with people from diverse experiences to learn about the roots of racism in our society and political foundations as a country.

The thesis of the book and presentation is that racism hasn’t disappeared, but has rather adapted through coded language and assumptions. Words like thug, welfare, inner city, illegal alien, Sharia law, ’real America’ conjure images that we all know- without using blatant racism that would be  immediately called out.

This language and stereotyping is used by those in power to fuel division— as this division itself benefits those seeking money and power. The vast majority wind up making decisions, voting, and choosing our lifestyle in ways that eventually harm our own best interest- because we are so bought in - consciously and subconsciously - to the narratives of division and superiority.

Some may have thought the racial divide was in the past- that we live in a ‘post-race’ society… But it is clear that racism did not die- it has adapted. Policies seeped in racism have left some cities and neighborhood neglected and stripped of dignity, and others with excessive wealth. There is a vast divide in available resources, education, health and support.

I believe we are currently seeing a movement of the Spirit as people cry out again and say “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”


We cry out again, because we all know that division is not a new narrative. Division is the sin of our earliest interactions. The sin we hear of in Bible story after Bible story from Adam and Eve’s turning away, to brokenness and division between the sons of Abraham, in the life of Isaac and Jacob and David. 

Us and Them thinking slips into story after story in our sacred texts and in our own family histories. The story of our country is grounded in taking advantage of and playing on our divisions. The earliest explorers deemed the people who lived on this land as ‘other’ ‘inferior’, less than ‘human’; unknowing of the love of God. Our country was built on the back of the sin of division as we exploited science and religion to say that some people weren’t actually people. We exploited whole people through the institution of slavery and have continued to propagate the same stereotypes- if more subtly.


Somewhere along the way— again and again- we become trapped by myths of division.

We have bought into the false narrative that we are different from one another— that some qualities, some appearance, some level of education, some vocabulary, or skin tone actually makes one person better than another. 

Because the reality is- we love to divide ourselves. To lift ourselves up and push others down. Even us do-gooders like to be just a little bit better of a do-gooder than the person next to us. While we have the best intentions- we still operate in and propagate the system that divides and conquers. One of my favorite bumper stickers reads: “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite”

The myth of superiority, of some deserving the hand they are dealt — is steeply ingrained. 

Superiority in multiple forms has infiltrated our thoughts and our society. And has taken shape in our material reality-- 
in ghettos and forgotten neighborhoods- 
in barios and border towns, 
and in high end shopping malls, 
in enclaves of generations of stored wealth, 
and gated isolated communities.

Our divides are deep and real and inherently intertwined in our personal lives and our communities, in our laws and our global relationships.

—— pause—-

But this is not how it has to be. Before we become paralyzed in despair- let us remember our beginnings. 

You are born of God. They are born of God. We are all born in love.

Now this is not when I will break out singing ‘all we need is love’ - or close with a simplified cliche’ plea that we should all just love each other and get along…

This is far deeper, far more powerful, more radical, and scary- because it requires us each to face the myths of division that are so a part of our reality. To challenge our own assumptions, to speak out when we see the flames of division being fanned by those in power- or even by our friends and family.

In the midst of the life long process of seeking to overcome divisions, 

We can find hope in the radical reality central to our faith- 
God is love. 

Love comes from God- and flows freely for all. 

Love is not a matter of  ‘getting connected’. 

It is a matter of seeing that we already are connected.

We are all made of the same dust, moving through time on the same planet, faced with our own problems, each with hopes and fears. 

Our core connection of God’s love makes all superficial divisions of skin color, age, gender, sexuality, looks, or money irrelevant.

This means we are to be like gardeners creating an environment that allows water to move freely from it’s source. 

We must make way for the free flowing connectedness of God’s love. By confronting and removing removing obstacles of fear, 

rooting out divisive language and stereotyping, 

working tirelessly to build just economies and fair laws.

We must let go of hurtful ways that block our awareness of our ultimate connection to one another through God’s love.

For when we do— everything changes. 

Remembering that Love comes from God, freely, to all is the first step to naming lifetimes of broken systems- false beliefs in superiority- false divisions based on fear and ego. 

Internalizing the call to love our brothers and sisters invites us to truly live into the interconnected web of life- grounded in God’s love for all. 

May it be so.