An open letter to my fellow citizens

As a liberal, not a bleeding heart liberal, but a person who believes that government has a role to play in protecting the rights of everyone, citizen or not, I am extremely frustrated. I am frustrated for several reasons:

First, not all liberals are rabid and I am tired to being accused of being that way, even by people I know. We don’t all believe that only our way is right and that everyone else must be actively trying to harm other people. We don’t all believe that everything that comes out of the mouths of conservatives is a lie and meant to harm the minority. We are not all so rabid in our beliefs that we forget to see that we might be acting in the same way we accuse the other side of acting. Some of us, in fact I would bet most of us, are quite moderate in our beliefs, but when our viewpoint is continually dismissed by our conservative friends as an attempt to take away their rights, it is hard to move past that because clearly they are not listening. In addition, to my rabidly liberal friends, you are doing the same thing, your unwillingness to listen and insistence that the other side must some how be evil is a reflection of the fact that you are behaving in the same exact way.

Second, I grew up in a gun family, but I have never shot anything but a pellet gun because I was simply not interested in hunting. As a liberal, I have no desire to take away anyone’s rifles or pistols; but I do think that we need to sensible regulations for guns. Every time a person wants to buy a gun, they should have to go through a background check, whether it is at a gun shop or a gun show or in the Walmart parking lot. No one should need a gun so quickly that they can’t wait 3 days. No one needs an automatic rifle of any kind, or any gadgets that will make a standard rifle into an automatic rifle. A one shot pistol or rifle will protect you and your home just fine. That’s it, that’s all I want for regulations, background checks and no actual or pretend military grade weapons in the hands of my neighbors.

The argument that I have been hearing against this is that these regulations are a slippery slope to getting rid of the 2nd amendment. That idea stems to what I talked about earlier, not listening. I have never once heard any person in my 37 years say they want to get rid of the 2nd amendment, not 1, so I would assume that the majority of the nation is not thinking that, including my rabidly liberal friends.

I have heard the argument, from people I know, that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. To them I say, you are correct! These regulations are not about stopping people from killing other people with guns, we can’t stop that, they are about limiting the types of guns people can get to kill other people with the hope that they will not be able to kill as many people in one incident. I am not naive enough to think that banning certain types of weapons or requiring background checks to own a gun is going to stop gun violence, but it can’t hurt and it isn’t going to hurt anyone’s right to own a gun for protection, hunting, or just because you like to collect them.

Third, I am tired of hearing the argument that the issue is not guns, it is mental health. Well, perhaps if mentally ill people could only get their hands on guns that fire one round at a time not so many people would die. Also, perhaps if this country actually treated mental illness as an illness, just like the flu or cancer, then we could also stop some of these events from happening, but we don’t, we treat mental illness services like cut rate hacks in dark allies. When I had to go to a therapist I was only approved for 20 visits in a calendar year and my copay was twice what I pay to see my regular doctor.

Instead of arguing that we need to only make changes to gun regulations or mental illness laws because “clearly only one of them leads to mass shootings”, DO BOTH!

Do both and stop assuming the other side is evil. Liberals need to stop assuming that conservatives don’t care about people and conservatives need to stop assuming that everything is going to take away their rights.

For all of the strict constructionists out there, there is nothing in the Constitution that says we can’t regulate people’s rights for the good of all because your right to do something ends when it starts to infringe upon my rights. Here is a perfect place to start thinking about that statement, we all have a first amendment right to free speech, well choosing to not stand for the national anthem is protected under the first amendment, so stop worrying about whether someone is doing that and ask them why instead because then you will be able to have a real conversation about an actual issue in our country.

 

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Community Building

According to Osvaldo Venu, professor of New Testament Theology, Jesus teaches us a hard lesson in today’s gospel, which is that “community can only be built when we are not afraid of overcoming old prejudices.”

As a Jewish man, Jesus has a superior social advantage when he encounters the Samarian woman at the well. Firstly, because he is a man and secondly because he is Jewish. Jews of the first century were very elitist, and for them society was broken into two categories, those who were chosen as God’s people and those that were not.  Upon arriving in Sychar Jesus and his disciples are technically outsiders, although because of their tradition the disciples act like they own the place and are prepared to look down on anyone who is not like them, we should not condemn them for this, nor should we feel sorry for them because their behavior was simply a product of their tradition and is therefore changeable. The Samaritan woman looks surprised when Jesus asks her for a drink because she would never expect a Jew to acknowledge her existence, let alone ask her for something.

Through his willingness to put aside his institutional prejudices Jesus is opening God’s love to a non-Jewish audience and he is doing it from a place of vulnerability. He becomes vulnerable by indicating that he needs help to get a drink, putting the Samaritan woman in the position of power. During their conversation, Jesus indicates that while he needs her assistance to get the water from the well, the well water will only quench his thirst for a short time and that he can provide a living water that will leave no one thirsty. So in the end, the thirsty messiah and a resourceful woman, who gave into the drive of the holy spirit within her, find that they need one another in order to grow, not only as people, but as a community.

Community is built when barriers are pushed and even eliminated. In today’s gospel Jesus breaks down the 1st century barriers of gender and race by bringing a non-Jewish woman into the fold. The disciples are appalled at this. They are appalled because for them, Jesus is the promised messiah of the Jewish people; they don’t understand that Jesus was sent for all. One of the reasons it is difficult for the disciples to understand this is because it is through their ethnicity and faith that they relate to Jesus. From their perspective, the messiah was sent to aid and protect Jews, not the Samaritans. They would prefer that their community of believers continue to be a club for Jews only. Jesus, however, won’t have it and sets out to break down all barriers between God and his creation.

Barriers, whether physical or abstract, are a very real phenomenon in human life. In some cases, they can even be good. It is important, at times, to set limits in order to protect ourselves from burn out and at times even from one another; but it is also important to recognize that barriers can create a sense of exclusivity that is contrary to the teachings of Christ. Jesus refused to reserve his  good news for the Jewish community alone, which is clearly what his followers would have preferred. The disciples, at least early in their ministry with Jesus, attempted to keep Jesus to themselves, they were not interested in sharing their God and their messiah with anyone who didn’t share their values and traditions; but Jesus, time and time again set them straight, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently. The point is that Jesus was clear that we are supposed to build a community with one another, and that in order to do so we need to focus on God and not on the artificial barriers we construct which lead to prejudice and exclusiveness. Many of  the Jews of the first century were more concerned with following the law and who to include in their ranks, as opposed to paying attention to their long awaited Messiah; in fact they were so focused many of them didn’t even recognize the messiah when they were speaking to him.

Over the centuries, Christians have created many barriers that have led to exclusion and prejudice and that have ultimately resulted in a breakdown of community. In some cases this has been intentional and in many cases not.

The most common form of Christian community is the parish, which is a human construct designed to bring order to the chaos of our human condition. Parish communities are important, they provide a strong sense of belonging and comfort for their members, but there is a danger in that. There is a danger that our love for God, which presumably brought us to become a part of a parish, will be transferred to the building and the institution it represents, this love of building and the institution is a barrier to growth as a community because it often leads to exclusivity and a resistance to anything that may threaten the building, the institution and the way a particular parish has always done things. If a community of faith wants to grow, if it wants to survive, then it has to abandon its’ prejudices; it has to abandon the idea that the way it has always been done is best; it has to abandon its’ love of its building; it has to abandon its’ love of the things in the building and it needs to abandon the idea that it is somehow superior to other communities of faith, because the truth is that it isn’t. Every community of faith, no matter how large its’ building is, no matter how long it has existed, no matter how large its congregation on Sunday is, is equal in the eyes of God. God did not create buildings and institutions, we did. God created us to be in community with both each other and more importantly with him and as hard as it might be let go of our prejudice towards change and our own sense of superiority and power, we have to let it go. We have to accept the grace of God, put our trust in him and open our doors and ourselves to his will.

A little over 4 years ago I and my wife chose to move our family from St. Andrews to St. James. This was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made in my life. My last Sunday there was the annual meeting in 2013 and after the meeting I went up to the sanctuary for a quiet moment alone and as I sat there, watching the sun stream in through the window that was given in honor of my great grandmother, framed by the wall sconces given in honor of my grandparents, I cried. I cried because I was saying goodbye to a place I love, I was saying goodbye to the things that represented 30 years of memories, I was saying goodbye to family and friends, and I was saying goodbye to a thing that was and is a intricate part of who I am. Now the St. Andrews I knew and love is going away and so is the St. James that I have grown to love, but that is okay, because it is when we are vulnerable that we are truly ready to open ourselves to spiritual growth as a community. As the congregations of St. Andrews and St. James merge over the next few months it is vitally important that we stay focused on where God is leading us as people of faith. Our combined concerns about which vestment will get used, which furniture we will keep, how the leadership team will be structured, how much the endowment might grow are all human concerns based on our own egos and prejudices. Jesus, in order to reach all of Gods people, set aside the prejudices he grew up with and engaged with the woman from Samaria, he then began to push the disciples to do the same; and because he did that, Jesus was able to break through the barriers in his life and pave the way for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to do its work in the world through us, but in order for that to happen we have to let go. As sad as I am about the closing of the building known as St. Andrews, I find hope and solace in the fact that the path before us, as the new congregation of Saints James and Andrew, has been blessed by the grace of God, that our time of sadness and frustration will subside through the grace of God and we will be able to move forward as a new community of faith, rooted in scripture and our shared love for God, love for one another and love for the new traditions we will build together as a place we can grow.

Amen

Be a light in the dark

As a society, we spend a great portion of our lives in school, we do this because we collectively believe that knowledge is the key to success, but simply having an education will not guarantee that you are successful. I think that it is reasonable to claim that getting an education is only step one. Education leads to knowledge, it leads to skills and it leads to a desire to be involved in some aspect of society. Often those skills and our desire to be involved turn into an attempt to dedicate ourselves to working in a position that will allow us to use the knowledge we gained through our education. However, we would be kidding ourselves if we thought that everyone gets to do that, because they don’t. Nearly 13% of high school graduates and nearly 7% of college graduates remain unemployed in the United States, which means that not everyone is given the full opportunity to put their knowledge, their skills and their desire into action.

As practicing Christians, we have been given knowledge that many people lack, we know the secret to everlasting life; we know how to be in a full and complete relationship with God; but even though we have that knowledge, how many of us choose to sit on it and not put it into action? How many of us choose to keep it to ourselves? Knowledge without action impedes the kingdom of God. Every time we remain silent; every time we turn in the other direction; every time we bury our heads in the sand; every time we focus on our own internal desires, we are guilty of impeding the kingdom of God. Jesus said that “You are the salt of the earth” which is quite the compliment because salt when properly added to food releases the natural flavor and enriches the dish. Jesus’ point is that because we know the truth, because we know what it means to live into God’s call, we not only have the knowledge to be in full relationship with God, but also the knowledge necessary to spread the kingdom of God; but if we don’t do anything with that knowledge; if we do not act because of that knowledge, then what is the point in having it? Our situation is not the same as the high school and college graduates who are never given the opportunity to utilize their education, this is a choice we make. God has given us the gifts and the knowledge necessary to actively spread the kingdom of God, but if we are going to help God reveal his kingdom on earth; if we are going to work to improve the world in anyway, much like salt improves the taste of food, then we need to act; we need to use and share our knowledge of Christ through the gifts God has given us.

In the same passage that he refers to us as salt, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” The light he refers to is the holy spirit that resides in us all, and we are the lamp stand. Armed with the knowledge of God’s love we are meant to be beacons of light, we are meant to shine God’s light into the darkest corners of the earth.

A lighthouse has one purpose, to send a beacon of light out so that ships are aware of potential dangers; the light provided by lighthouses across the globe have saved thousands of lives stretching all the way back to ancient Egypt. The church, meaning you and me, are the lighthouse and the knowledge we carry of God’s love is the beacon of light. Our own self-interests are the basket that hide the light of God from the world.

In the prayer book, there is a little known or even used service of light. The service begins with the sanctuary in complete darkness save for one candle. This one candle represents the light of Christ, shortly after the service begins other candles are lit from the original, which symbolizes the spread of Christ’s light in the world. We receive a portion of Christ’s light within us upon our baptism and through our baptismal vows we promise to spread Gods love to the world. At our baptism, we are given a candle that is lit from the Pascal Candle. The pascal candle represents the light of Christ and our baptismal candle represents his light within us. We promised to be the Salt that gives the world flavor, we promised to be a beacon of light, not a lamp under a basket. For decades, the wider church has focused its energy on the symptoms of a wider problem rather than the problem itself. The symptom is declining attendance, the problem is that Christ’s light, for too long, has been hidden under a basket. It has been hidden by our fear that if we show our faith to the world we will be attacked or bullied; it has been hidden by our own concerns for the survival of our church buildings, it has been hidden by our desires for success. Christ has called us and challenged us to help his kingdom be realized here and now, he has challenged us to be the salt that adds flavor and heals the wounded soul, he has called us to remove the basket and let his light shine. If we do this, if we focus our efforts om spreading God’s love, then we may find that more people will engage with their faith. The choice is yours, you can either be a beacon on a lamp stand or a beacon under a basket.

Sermon given on Sunday December 11, 2016

It appears that John the Baptist is doubting whether Jesus is in fact the messiah and needs reassurance that he is, but why would he do that when he so boldly proclaimed Jesus as the one. He spent most of his adult life teaching that the messiah was coming and of that he had no doubt, but what he is now not sure of is whether Jesus is that person and he needs reassurance of this because as he sits in his jail cell and wonders about what his future holds; he needs to know that he has not misplaced his faith. The need for reassurance is a very human trait and thus should not surprise us, but there is a deeper level of hope and patience at work in John and that is the hope and patience that is given only by the Holy Spirit. The hope that the messiah will come is rooted in John’s faith in God and is guided by the Holy Spirit that resides in us all. John’s patience to wait for the messiah is also rooted in his faith and comes to him through the Holy Spirit. John does not doubt that the messiah will come, he is simply not sure that Jesus is the messiah.

John’s life was spent endlessly working towards a goal, not his goal, but God’s goal; and it is through his trust and faith in God that he is able to patiently wait and do his part, even though he doesn’t even know if the goal will be achieved in his lifetime. Today’s gospel begins by telling us that John is in prison, we know that he is in prison for loudly proclaiming the truth that a savior is coming and I assume that as he was sitting in his cell he must have been wondering and probably hoping that everything he did and said was worth it? He tries to get confirmation of that when he asks Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”.  

Jesus’s response is grounded in the same faith and hope that John’s is, the difference being that Jesus is the source of that faith and hope. Jesus points out that the only thing you need to do to confirm who he is, is to look at the work he has done and the work that is being done in his name. Jesus recognizes that John is a fragile human being; and because of that recognition, his response is patient; it is kind; and it is rooted in the hope that the world will be restored.

In today’s epistle James tells us to be patient and to turn our attention to the prophets. He wants us to remember the prophets, like John, who spent their lives proclaiming the good news that the messiah was on his way. It is not James’ intent that we remember the prophets because they suffered for what they believed in, but because even though they suffered at the hands of their own people they still had faith and hope in the fact that the messiah would come. That kind of faith and hope stems from a deep trust in God and is born of an acceptance of the Holy Spirit who resides in us.

The kind of hope and patience that comes to us through the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with our own desires, but has everything to do with God’s desires. It is not about hopes for ourselves, it is about how God wants us to live our lives. In his response to John Jesus said “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Jesus is not pointing to the life after death, he is not pointing to heaven; he is telling us to look around us, look at the work God has done! Look at the work God is doing! Look at the person nearest to you? Do you see God? You should, because that is where he is. He is in the heart of us all and if we let him we can be the instruments through which God restores the world. The first step to becoming God’s instrument is letting go of this world; letting go of those things that get between ourselves and God.

We have an advantage over John the Baptist and that is we live in a post resurrection world. We can look back at John’s story and see that he was right, Jesus was and is the messiah and it is through him that we come to know what hope truly is and that is the knowledge that death is conquered and we are therefore free to be faithfully patient that creation will be fully restored to God’s original purpose, but it is not up to us to decide when that will occur, that is for God to decide. Our job is to do our part during the short time we have on this planet and while we are doing that, take notice that all around us there are signs that God is at work in the world and that he is at work in every person, even the ones who deny his existence.

In my English class, my students working with the theme of home and family and This past Friday I had them create paper chains. They had to create 5 links that had positive adjectives about family on them and then one broken link that included reasons why families become broken. This project resulted in a powerful image about family and in our context humanity. For my students, the unbroken chain represents the things that bond a family together and the broken links represent the things and the times that families may feel broken. As Christians, the unbroken chain of blue and pink links represents the times that we are in step with God and through him bonded together as one family. It represents the times when we allow our faith, our patience, and our hope to shine and bond us together as beloved children of God. The broken links remind us that we are human; they remind us that we are often more concerned with our own plans than with God’s plan and because of that we are broken and fragile creatures; they remind us that we need God to guide us, to comfort us, to reassure us, and most importantly that it is only through him that we can become whole.

Amen

Trinity Sunday

Many, many people have attempted to explain the doctrine of the Trinity and today I am going to attempt to do the same in several different ways. The Trinity is one of the most complicated and probably misunderstood mysteries of the church and there are many ways to attempt to explain it. It is defined as the three persons of God, which are God the father who is the creator, God the son who is the redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit who is the sustainer. All three persons, the creator, the redeemer and the sustainer are distinct, separate and fully God in their own right and all three are together also fully God. The term trinity comes from the Latin roots tri, which means three, and unity, which means together. The word person comes from the Greek Word Persona, which means the mask through which you speak. So put together the term trinity and its definition as the persons of God means that the trinity represents the three masks through which God has spoken to humanity. Both the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures are windows into the three persons or masks though which God interacts with us and it is through scripture and our own willingness to engage with it and the world that we can experience God first hand.

The consistent question many people have is how can God be three different persons all at the same time? This is of course a valid question and the problem with the use of the term trinity to explain God is that it is a three dimensional explanation and as a consequence limits God. Even though we technically live in a four dimensional world we tend to limit our thinking to only 3 dimensions, forgetting that time is the fourth dimension. In a three dimensional world view everything can be reduced to three measurements, height, width, and depth. The difficulty with attempting to understand God through our own three dimensional world view is that God does not exist only in our dimension, God exists outside all dimensions, even the 10th dimension which we described as a dimension where everything that is possible and imaginable exists. There is no possible way for any of us to fully describe or even comprehend what God is like; but we can sense God and we can be in relationship with all of God, which means three of his masks.

The banner before you is of a trinity knot. The knot represents the never ending power of God, but more specifically each petal of the knot represents a different aspect of God and the circle represents your interaction with God. I have color coded them to aid us in our understanding.

• The Green petal represents the Life giving force of God the creator

• The Pink petal represents the compassion and friendship of Jesus

• The Purple petal represents spirituality and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit

• The Blue circle represents the peace, stability, calmness, confidence and tranquility we can all experience if we are in full relationship with the entire Trinity

If you were to remove one of the petals, which would break the circle you would not fully experience God. You would not obtain the peace, stability, calmness, confidence and tranquility associated with being in full relationship with God. You may experience some of aspects of God, such as the parental relationship you get from God the Creator or the compassion you get from Christ Jesus, but you would not experience the entire range of feelings and emotions associated with the trinity. The interruption of the circle, which is an interruption of the bonds of love between you and God, is what we call sin.

 In the west we have attempted to explain the trinity through what often feels like mathematical formulas, but the eastern church focuses more on the relationship. The image most recently shared with me is that God the Creator is continually pouring out his love into Jesus and that Jesus is continually pouring his love into God the creator. The flow of love and affection between them is the Holy Spirit. God would not be complete without all three parts of the equation. If Jesus was not present to receive the Holy Spirit, then God would not be able to receive it back making the Holy Spirit pointless. We enter the equation by standing in the middle of that flow and absorbing God’s love through the Holy Spirit. The best image I could come up with for this is the water cycle on earth. Water evaporates from the oceans and lakes and fills the air with moisture; when the air becomes saturated it returns the water to the earth in the form of precipitation. The evaporation of the water can be likened the flow of love between the God creator and Jesus and the precipitation which eventually results from this cycle can be likened to the love of Jesus returning to God the creator. The water vapor that inhabits the air at all times is the Holy Spirit. We depend on this cycle for our physical rejuvenation and survival, just as we should depend on the love of the Trinity for our spiritual and mental rejuvenation and survival.

Being in full relationship with the Trinity is difficult, but not impossible and it is at this point that we will turn to scripture to get a slightly better sense of the Trinity. I will begin with a few questions. Have you ever wondered how Jesus knew all of this information? How did he know that he was going to be betrayed or that he was going to die? How did he know that the Holy Spirit would come to guide us to the truth? The answer to these questions are grounded in the doctrine of the trinity and are revealed in scripture. In today’s Gospel Jesus says “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” The Spirit he is referring to is the Holy Spirit. If we return to the Celtic image of the Trinity for a moment, the pink petal, which represents Jesus, is the earthly connection between the green petal, which represents God the creator and the purple petal, which represents God the sustainer the Holy Spirit. If the pink petal were missing the circle would be broken and we would not be able to fully understand God. It is as we pass through the Jesus petal that we learn of the Holy Spirit petal and then learn how to connect with it in order to gain access to the full truth.

It was also through the Holy Spirit that Jesus knew of his fate and what the future holds for all of us. As Jesus traveled the earth and spread the good news of his father in heaven he was showing us how to be in relationship not only with God the creator, but also with the Holy Spirit. There are many instances in scripture when Jesus spent a long time at prayer; it is likely through those instances that he was able to discern the truth as revealed to him through his relationship with both God the creator and the Holy Spirit. So through his actions as a man and then after the resurrection as a divine being, Jesus showed us how to be in relationship with God.

In today’s epistle, Paul says “…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” It is though Jesus, as revealed to us in scripture, that we can learn how to obtain access to God’s love. Jesus spent most of his time meeting people and talking to them where they were. He also spent his time in prayer and reflection. He understood that we are always immersed in the love of God and that it is through that immersion that we gain our strength to do our ministries. The second image of the Trinity I shared with you has us standing between God the Creator and Jesus as they continually share their love with one another. That love is the Holy Spirit and if we let it, it will fill our hearts and inspire us. We do not need to gain access to God’s love, what we need to do is get out of our own way and allow God’s love to work within and through us.

In today’s reading from Proverbs we heard the words “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” God has given us many great gifts and the only thing that has been asked in return is for us to heed his call. In the Hebrew Scriptures God attempts to go it alone and he speaks directly to the people; later he speaks through the prophets by means of the Holy Spirit, but again and again his message is lost. So finally he completes the puzzle and sends a man to show us how to be in relationship with God. It is through the combination of all three; God the creator, God the Redeemer and God the sustainer that we can and finally do have the ability to have a full relationship with God the Trinity and experience the full power of his redeeming love. It is up to us to allow ourselves to be fully immersed in that love and not break the circle.

 

Relationships

I recently heard a TED talk about a 75-year study conducted by Harvard University. In this study they followed the lives of more than 700 men beginning in 1938. They began by looking at two groups, the first being Harvard students at the time and the second being a group of young boys from the south end of Boston, which at the time was one of the poorest areas in the city. For the next 75 years the participants were interviewed every two years to gather data about all aspects of their lives. The purpose of the study was to determine what causes happiness in a person’s life.

What the study found was that it is strong relationships that lead to happiness. Based on the data the researchers could trace periods of happiness and unhappiness back to their root causes; but more importantly what they found was that over time they were able to predict how their subjects would be feeling based on the data they were gathering. When the subjects were in strong and loving relationships they were happier regardless of what other things may be happening in their lives.

Our faith can seem overwhelming and complicated, but this often because we are our own worst enemies. In our, seemingly, infinite desire to understand and have control we lose sight of the fact that the purpose of our faith is relationship. It is, at its core, about the relationship between people and God; people and the church; people and people; and people and creation.

Through the words of Exodus, we hear that it is through their rescue from Egypt that God establishes a more permanent community and relationship with the people of Israel. God is the source of the relationship between the Hebrew people, it is their belief in God that brought them together to form that community and it is their belief in God that keeps them in relationship with one another. The Exodus story is highlighting the style of relationship God wants to be in with all of us. It is a relationship based on mutual love, where both God and you spend your time and energy on building the relationship with one another.

Today’s reading from John highlights the establishment of a new relationship, a relationship also rooted in love; Love for God and for all of humanity. With a simple act of humility, we are given a glimpse of what a relationship with God is truly like. Like the Exodus story, John’s account of the last supper establishes the kind of relationship we are to have with both God and one another. When Jesus kneeled before his disciples to wash their feet he was symbolically demonstrating the love of God, who’s love is so vast that he is willing to lower himself to his knees, which is a position of reverence, submission, and complete surrender to the situation. When we kneel we are not only defenseless and unable to flee, but we are also placing our trust in the person before us. God has placed his trust in us to be the instruments of his love and mercy in creation and he established that when Jesus knelt before the disciples, all twelve of them, even Judas whom he knew would betray him, and washed their feet. He then told them to do the same for one another. Now the story of the foot washing may very well be just that, a story. Whether or not it occurred is irrelevant though, what matters is what we can learn from it. What is God calling us to do? The answer to that question is found in today’s Gospel. At the very end of the passage Jesus says “as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Every single action we are told Jesus did and every parable he told was rooted in this.

God loves his creation so much that he was willing to put himself, in the form of Jesus, in harm’s way so that he could show us firsthand how to experience his love. Until his last night on earth Jesus had spent his time showing his followers, and through them, us how to experience Gods love by living the way God has called us all to live. He did not judge others, he did not withhold his compassion, he simply lived his life with humility, empathy, and love. When he came to the end of his life he knelt before his friends and washed their feet. He could have fled into the wilderness and probably lived a long life as a refugee and wanted man, but he didn’t. He accepted his worldly punishment with the knowledge that he never wavered in his devotion to his Father and that his father’s devotion to him also never wavered.

In the beginning, I talked about the importance of relationships to being happy. When people come from a loving and supportive home, they are happy and that allows them to thrive and grow as people. The sad reality is that many people do not come from loving and supportive homes. There are many people in the world who do not have a network of relationships to fall back on in hard times. And when you are in that lonely and dark place it is easy to forget that God is always present, because you can’t see him. It is also easy to fall into bad habits, with the hope that they will help you feel better. Some people turn to alcohol, some to drugs, and in many cases far more risky behaviors in the hope of either becoming oblivious to the world or at least covering the pain and loneness they feel. The problem is that these things give you nothing more than false hope. There is no real chance that these behaviors will improve their lives, which means they are engaging with nothing more than wishful thinking. There is hope in relationships, whether that relationship is with another person or with God.

In both the old and new testament we are called us to “Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul.” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. We are called to be Gods representatives in the world. In Exodus, Moses was Gods representative. It was through Moses that God led the people of Israel to the Promised Land and established their lasting relationship. It is through Jesus that God has established a relationship with us. It is now on us to be Gods face and ahnds in the world, it is up to us to reach out to the people who don’t have strong relationships and allow God to reach them through us, because he can’t reach them on his own. He can’t reach them because they can’t recognize him; but if we reach out and offer them friendship, they will come to know God through us and with the help of the Holy Spirit, eventually be able to be aware of God on their own. We have the ability to do this because we already do Love God with all of our hearts, mind and souls. We are aware of his love; we can feel it and experience it. Now is the time to be brave and to take the next step. We need to spread God’s love to everyone around us by engaging in the world, we need to build relationships based on trust and understanding. It is through this type of engagement that God will be able to reach everyone, and it is through that relationship that many people will find the kind of love they are searching for. Even if they never fully experience God’s love, they will at least have had yours.

I recently read a book called “The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual faithfulness in Judaism” By Jon Levenson. In it Levonson discusses the Hebrew understanding of God’s love and how it appears in scripture. He argues that God’s love in based on the relationship between God and the Israelites, much like Christian scholars argue that divine love is based on our relationship with the trinity. Towards the end Levenson says “The life focused on the love of God…is a life lived actively in the world yet focused on the Creator and drawing its energy from all-encompassing love for him.”

So as we come together tonight to wash one another’s feet and to celebrate the Lord’s supper remember what these two acts symbolize. They symbolize the love of God and his willingness to kneel before us in humility and love. They symbolize the relationship we have with God, as well as with one another and all of creation. God wants nothing more from us than to love him and to use his love to help us love others.

D.C. Adventures

Over the past few days I have been at CloseUp Washintgon D.C. with three of my students. It is a great program that engages students in civic education by utilizing the sites of the city to engage students in meaningful dialogue about political issues that face our nation. I think the key to the program is that the nearly 200 high schoolers who are here come from all over the nation and from many different backgrounds, which requires them to engage with a wide variety of opinions. I am currently witnessing a mock congress, where the kids have put 10 bills through the committee process and are now debating the two that made it to the “house” floor. The process is quite facinating. 
Tomorrow we are venturing to Capitol Hill to meet with Seanator Markey and various staffers from Congressman McGovern and Senator Warren’s office. 

The “house” just passed a bill to amend the civil rights act to include gender and sexuality. They are now debating a bill to make concealed weapons permits national. There is great debate for this one, which has just been defeated. 

At any rate I am seriously off track. My experience has been quite different, the teachers have a different program. The highlight of the touristy things was visiting the home of President James Madison. The highlight for me beyond that has been interacting with my students, although we haven’t seen each other very much, we have checked in at the end of every day to share highlights from our experiences. The kids are clearly having a good time and are learning a great deal which I am very happy about. 

I have learned a great deal as well, although not necessarily about civics. I have had the time to reflect on quite a few things and have reinforced a conclusion that I actually came to a long time ago, but my time here has brought it back to the forefront of my mind and that is that being a teacher is getting to be very difficult for me. I am not talking about what I do in the classroom, or the amount of work I do at home or the bureaucratic red tape, I am talking about the emotional toll it has on me. Since I teach in a small school and I get to know most of my students fairly well and some very well it is becoming harder and harder to see them go. I know it is a part of the process and that they need to move on, but in many ways I think of these kids as my own and because of that a piece of me goes with them when they leave, whether they know it or not, I believe that I am a better person for having known them. I can only hope that they can feel the same about me, the problem is that I tend to never see them again so it is hard to know. 

Don’t get me wrong, I know I am a positive influence in their lives, which I strive very hard to be, but that doesn’t make saying goodbye, year after year, any easier.