nathanjhill.com

writing, reflecting, and hoping for a transformed world

Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17

This past year, I signed up for one of the Ancestry services to learn more about my ancestral roots.

Some of it was surprising – I did not know that I had Prince George’s County history, but I did. Several of my family members emigrated to Maryland from England and resided and died and were born here, with the record saying Upper Marlboro.

Some of it was not – for example, way back when – I have an ancestor who is a Baron, which helps me understand why it comes naturally to me to want the finer things in life. I’ve always felt set apart from you common people – and my family tree proved it.

But there are parts of my family tree that little information exists about. You can go back a few generations, but it either becomes confusing or it ends. Sometimes, that is on purpose – there are people in our family histories who we are not proud of, the cousins, uncles and aunts, who we do not talk about because of what they did.

All of us have complicated history. All of us, especially in the history of North America, have family trees full of drama, no matter when we got here. So often, the drama and the stories and the faithful decisions has shaped us in ways we may not even be aware.

And so it is in that mindset that we begin the Gospel of Matthew with Jesus’ genealogy, to understand where he came from.

Jesus’ family tree is mapped out beautifully, even if we aren’t 100% sure of its historical detail. We have three sections of 14 generations each – from Abraham to David, from David to the Exile, and from the Exile to Jesus. But the historical detail is not the point.

The point is that Jesus has royal blood in him – Jesus is of the House of King David, promised to rule for eternity. As Dr. Mitzi Minor points out, there is a political message here – but it will became apart that the political message is more than Jesus is here to overthrow Rome. The bigger point is that Jesus’ story is a culmination of the story of what God was doing in his people over many, many generations, from Abraham to David and now to Jesus.

And like us, Jesus’ family tree is full of drama too.

There are all the familiar names:

Abraham, father of nations, promised by God to have numerous descendants – and the same guy who mistreated his wife, took advantage of his servant, Hagar, and shipped one son of into the desert

We remember King David who was a man after God’s own heart and yet murdered and plotted to steal a woman from one of his soldiers and whose son Solomon, a result of that relationship, took the throne and seized power by murdering his brothers who threatened his power.

We remember King Josaiah who may have compiled the first manuscripts of the Bible that come passed down to us today

And of course, there are names here that little is known about – did they live quiet lives? Did they keep their heads down and survive? Did they not have the money and power their ancestors had because their lives had been uprooted and Jerusalem had been swarmed with enemies during the Exile?

In Jewish families, the family trees were largely routed through the men, the patriarchs of the family. And so what is surprising here is that women appear. And when the women appear, it signifies something incredibly important.

Some of the women – Rahab and Ruth – were foreigners who married into God’s royal family. Rahab may have been a prostitute, saved when the Hebrew people attacked Jericho, and Ruth left her home lands to stay with Naomi, her mother-in-law, and kindled a new family with Boaz. Tamar suffered when her husband, Er, did evil in the sight of God and was killed – but Tamar was promised to carry on the family line but denied time and time again by her husband’s brothers… until she deceived the youngest brother and conceived a child with him. Bathsheba, not mentioned by name, ends up playing a significant part in her son Solomon gaining the throne.

And finally, of course, Mary at the end – Jesus’ mother who would also not disappear once she had given birth but serve as one of Jesus’ followers during his ministry.

Again, this is a tree filled with royalty and filled with drama.

What can we learn from such a genealogy? And what does speak to our New Year focus and our sharing in this season of Christmas?

First, God works in the messy reality of our lives and our own family trees. This is a Christmas message of good news. This is what it means to be present with us, Emmanuel.

Imagine if Jesus had come from a family tree that never experienced a late payment on rent, never had a messy argument, never made a mistake, never skirted with the law, never spent time locked up, never doubted or struggled or felt like an outsider looking in.

Jesus would be unattainable to us. How could we understand him?

Jesus would have been God in flesh, so holy and perfect as to be foreign to us.

But Jesus didn’t come through such a family – Jesus came in a family tree that was filled with as much drama as our own, as much grief, as much risk and change. God did not show up in the goody two shoes of our world but in a human family that could be remarkable and boring and downright dirty.

As we begin this New Year then, I challenge you to this – let’s put aside our pursuit of perfection this year.

There is a narrative in our Christian theology that often replaces God – and it is the pursuit of perfection. That Jesus came that we might have life and life abundant so that we will never mess up or never make mistakes.

My colleague, Rev. Joseph Yoo, did a Tik Tok video where he said, “If Jesus died for you sins, you better sin – otherwise, Jesus died for nothing.”

His point was to make clear that if we read and understand the work of God through Jesus best, Jesus did not come that we might be perfect. Otherwise, God would not need to come at all. Jesus came to save all of us and all the human family. And Jesus came to save even those we don’t like or don’t understand or find ourselves at odds with.

“This genealogy can call to us to ask ourselves if our understanding of salvation is large enough to receive the renewal which God has launched.” – Mitzi Minor

Perhaps our New Year resolution should be to exhibit more grace in all we do – more understanding and compassion for all kinds of families in this world – for all who are suffering – for all who have done wrong – especially ourselves – and share the birth of Jesus as one who came not that we might forever feel less than or unable – but that even in our broken states, God loves us enough to come and walk with us and show us the way to life.

Because God could use a broken and messy family over a period of time to bring about salvation – to shake up the world. God can use our lives and our messy family trees for the same.

Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:[3b-6] 17-19

Today, millions of people all around the world are waking up to face the day with hushed anticipation and expectation.

Some are staying up late into the evening, and others are rising in the wee hours of the morn.

All are gathered in front of flickering lights, poised on the edge of their seats, living moment to moment, prepared for something remarkable, something special to unfold right in front of their eyes. Many are prepared to shout in victory, clasping hands of their neighbors, embracing strangers, and celebrating a moment they have been waiting for with baited breath. Some are singing familiar tunes and chanting, compelling the impossible to made real. 

Now, of course, I am not talking about Advent, our 40 day season of waiting and anticipation for the coming of Christ – no, I’m talking about the World Cup, the biggest, grandest sports event that captivates the sports world every four years.

Your pastor has been one of those rising up early, not to begin my Advent prayers but to check the latest scores from early morning’s first games and refreshing my phone wherever I am to see the latest bits of controversy, drama, and excitement. Just last week, I grabbed a seat at Franklin’s Restaurant here in Hyattsville and, without even knowing the names of the people around me, suddenly became part of a tight knight family, groaning at every missed pass, praying to God with the depths of my soul, and cheering when Tim Weah slotted home a beautiful goal to put the US ahead.

The World Cup is the largest sports event in the globe, when countries send their best athletes to face in a drama requiring skill, courage, and tactical acumen, when the viewership dwarfs that of the SuperBowl, when people whose nations did not even make it follow every gripping moment – and it is a time when a huge portion of the world hopes with expectation for their nation to do the unthinkable and win the whole darn thing.

On this first Sunday of Advent, then, I invite us to think about our Advent journey – and what it might look like if we began with the same passion and expectation as soccer fans are experiencing right now? What if we practiced an active hope of our own, chanting and singing, sitting at the edges of our seat, and watched and waited for God to do the impossible in our midst? How might we live?

-—

In our scripture today, we hear the words of the Prophet Habakkuk. We don’t know much about the person behind the words, but it is believed he delivered his oracles and visions at a time when people were unsure about God’s righteousness. It was a time of injustice – a time when hope seemed a privilege – when faith seemed ill-suited to a world of war and judgment and violence.

In the first chapter, Habakkuk asks questions of God. You can hear him wailing, crying out, asking God, “Is it time yet?”

He says, “Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.”

The prophet here speaks for all of us who see a world around us in disarray. Advent, though our culture may suggest otherwise with silly holiday music, photos with Santa, and shopping sales everywhere we turn, is a perfect time for us to ask hard questions of God. Advent approaches the longest night of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Light dwindles around us. The chill begins to sap at our bones. We see the shootings that take the lives of Wal-Mart employees, LGBTQ+ neighbors, college students, and innocents on our city streets. Even in the backdrop of a World Cup which has sometimes forget about the war in Ukraine, we are reminded of the migrant works mistreated and abused in the building of palace-like stadiums. We grieve alongside numerous families the loss of our loved ones who will not share the festivities with them. And we say with Habakkuk, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” How long until justice comes? How long until we can peak at a better future as a people?

It is as if Habakkuk, venting and groaning, asks what we are asking this Advent – “Is it time yet?” Is it time for God to show up?

At the beginning of Chapter Two, the prophet climbs to the top of a watchtower, promising to wait, actively and in anticipation, long into the night, early in the morning for God’s reply. What an image for our Advent together, isn’t it? The prophet sitting up and listening, asking – “Is it time yet?”

God does not keep Habakkuk waiting, responding by saying:

Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

God speaks a proclamation of hope. God isn’t done, and it is time. Or just about time. God’s vision is on the way. And while it might not arrive on two day free shipping like Amazon does, the Creator calls on the prophet and his people to wait for it – wait for what will come.

Here is our model too – for what Advent can be – especially in a world marked by suffering and despair.

The prophet exhibits faithfulness in a world gone awry. Habakkuk will wait – will continue to watch – for the movement of God, trusting that God’s vision is on the way, even if the harvest hasn’t arrived yet. Even in the midst of hunger and despair and barren fields and confusion. The prophet says this with a simple prayer of affirmation that might be our prayer in this Advent season:

God, the Lord, is my strength

The prophet will hope, despite all of the odds, despite what the pundits may say – hope for the impossible, home for the improbable, hope for the unthinkable.

This is a prophetic hope – the kind of hope that has marked Christians through generations, even stubbornly when the world around us wants us to be weighted down by cynicism. It’s why, even as our lives in a local congregation change, as we experience transitions – we continue to hope, continue to look ahead, continue to watch in expectation for what God has yet to do.

Habakkuk in a way models for us the reality that hope is active – hope is not a passive reality. As followers of Jesus, as those deepening our connection with God, our faith is a way of life for us to navigate this world, to make sense of what we experience, and to continue to trust that more is on the way. We believe that the unthinkable, something greater than a mere winning goal in the World Cup, might be right around the corner in fragmented communities and lives like our own.

Just as the prophet did, we are to climb to our watchtowers and look with expectation for what God is about to do and say in our lives and in this world. We are to rise early in the morning and stay up late into the night, refreshing our screens, singing our songs, and living at the edge of our seats.

For Advent is a story of the greatest upset of all – of a God who would not stay distant from us but step into our lives and into our world to deliver us from the violence and pain that holds us captive.

How then might we live into an active hope in this season?

At the beginning of our service, we did invite you to be aware of some special resources made available to you – a devotional booklet with prayers and readings, study groups on Sunday morning and Thursday evening to gather with others and listen and act, and activities for children. That may be a place to start.

Or it may be that you have a question for God. Perhaps these next 40 days is a time for you to take a real risk. Write down that prayer on an index card. And wait and see if God answers your question.

Sarah Augustine writes in her book about her first trip as an indigenous woman to visit indigenous communities down in South and Central America, communities that were being pushed off their ancestral lands in favor of mining companies and international deals that left them without rights and well-being. These communities, though up against odds that seemed insurmountable, organized and began to fought, using all the tools they could muster to protect the place they called home.

Sarah visited with them, and in one meeting with elders, as they shared stories and listened, one of the eldest women turned to her and asked, “Why have you come here?”

Sarah was caught off guard by the message – and she started to mumble a response about learning and listening.

And the elder asked again, cutting her off. “No, why have you come here?”

And Sarah said she felt a call from God in that moment, that those who were waiting on the edge of their seats for justice to be done, were tired of those who came to listen. They were ready for those who came to live an active hope, who wanted to climb the watchtowers and cry out to God, and then work and look for the world we wished it could become. Sarah began a relationship that day, as a lawyer, to help those people fight – with hope – for the restoration of their land and their dignity.

Today, millions of people have risen with hushed anticipation and expectation – not just for soccer – but for how this world might be. May we sing and shout louder than a soccer match. May our prayers lift to the heavens. May we move in action to care for those who are working for hope right here and now. Is it time yet?

Know, beloved ones, it is – hope is on the way! Thanks be to God!

Isaiah 43:19-21

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

My first encounter with Betsy Hall-Wallace came from an email.

When I was called to be a pastor of this incredible congregation and officially voted in about ten years ago and before I began my first day officially on the job, I got a three page long email from Betsy on September 21, 2012. In this long email, she noted that we were already Facebook friends and that she wanted to tell me all about the liturgical arts ministry that she was invested in here at UCC. I don’t think I responded, even though I was very intrigued and could tell her enthusiasm to meet me and to engage our church with sight and sound.

What is the Liturgical Arts ministry?

Well, if you were lucky enough to be here for worship, especially during one of our holy seasons like Lent, Christmas, Easter, you would walk into a sanctuary that would be transformed – sometimes into radical spaces, like a first century stable, a bus stop as we waited on God to show up, a garden with a stone over a tomb, or a path of railroad ties during Black History month.

Liturgical arts is our ministry in the church focused on grounding worship in a celebration of more than vocal words and music – but in color, shape, symbol, and texture.

Carole Windham, Betsy's dear friend and compatriot in this ministry, said that Betsy was at the heart of this effort because “she could see possibilities in the strangest things.”

She might see a rock – and to us it looks like a rock, but to Betsy it became an elaborate centerpiece to witness to God's beauty and good news. What we might discard as junk at a local yard sale, Betsy would see it from the right angle and think – I can use this at Christmas!

When I came as pastor, I made a bit of a risky decision to say yes to Liturgical Arts. Previous pastors had celebrated this ministry, but I remember Betsy saying that one of them said... don't tell me what you are planning. Just surprise me! Plausible deniability.

But I took the risk to say – let's sync up. Let's work together. And our conversations were always surprising. I might offer a theme and a few images – and somehow, Betsy would take those things and deliver something that helped our scripture and our worship come alive.

In all of that work, and in her roles as an elder and leader, we saw Betsy's heart and enthusiasm – her love of people, her openness, her broad theology of welcome and inclusion, her vibrancy.

Church was not a program or a commitment – participating in church meant building relationships of care to share God's love.

God says through Isaiah – I am about to do a new thing.

To know Betsy was to experience a spirituality and way of seeing life that burst with newness and possibilities.

Betsy saw possibilities in Bill when she met him. She changed his life, and no doubt, he changed her’s. She saw those possibilities in her son, Ian, and his wife, Katie. She saw possibilities in dance students and co-workers and church members. She loved them all.

Just like the people of the Old Testament who wandered through dry wilderness in the desert, Betsy had this way of bringing out abundance on tough days when she asked us to carry boxes up and down, bring out the lift, and move stuff around. On one of those long work days, she would pull out a bag of goodies – it might include scotch eggs, shortbread cookies, olives, chips and salsa, cookies, cheese, sausage, crackers, fresh veggies, on and on. There was always some cold lemonade on hand. You didn’t go away hungry in Betsy’s presence – she made sure you were fed and watered. And sometimes, you needed it – because some of those days were LONG.

And even when her health began to deteriorate, she didn't let that stop her. She continued to work on a chalice of seashells in collaboration with our youth, though her hands didn't move with quite the agility she was used to. She continued to love those around her with those long emails and encouraging messages – her last message in my inbox after Easter this year said, “You all did an amazing job!” She fought hard – even a condition like ALS was not an invitation to give up. Even when she could not communicate verbally, her eyes sparkled with the newness of her abiding love.

She saw in a space like this sanctuary and in human beings a way to convey God's love through a medium far bigger than a painting canvas.

The story of our faith is one of a God, a Creator, who loves us enough to see things possible with our lives that we do not see. God saw that rich possibility in Betsy to help her leave a legacy that will echo on for years to come through the lives of her loved ones and through the worship ministry of our church... and beyond.

God sees possibilities in each of us too. We are invited to respond to that love by sharing our love with others. We are invited to see God doing a new thing and live in such a way that our praise of our Creator echoes through the beauty we create and share.

That is a story that Betsy believed in with all of her heart, and it is that story that she sought to communicate to all of our senses every time we gathered for worship. It speaks to her heart – that of a mother, wife, friend, instructor, and witness that life is an incredible gift to be shared.

Bill and Ian, you did great work in this past year caring for Betsy, providing her with the best that you could in very difficult circumstances. Thank you for witnessing to us what loving attentiveness looks like. I know Betsy felt your love and care to the end.

Betsy, we love you. We will miss you. But your ministry continues. We give thanks that God gave us such a wonderful witness to what is possible. Thanks be to God!

O God Who Reigns Over Death O God Who Shows Us How to Live,

We honor your sacrifice and your love poured out. We honor the way you show up and lead us even when our lives are a mess.

Help us survive, week to week, day to day.

Help us survive in a world that is groaning and aching from violence, climate change, division, and inequality.

Bless the survivors. Bless those who continue to love.

Bless those who share of their lives though they sit with great trauma.

And more than help us survive, empower us to witness to your good news - that proclaim freedom for those bound up, new relationships for those who are alone, inclusion for those pushed to the edges, rest and healing for those walking wounded.

We ask your healing mercies on those recovering from COVID,

….

and for family members recovering from surgery,

….

Hold close those who are called to give care, for the worry and exhaustion in their bodies.

Remind your church that we have much love to give, though we are changing, though things are difficult.

May we ever look to you.

We pray this in the name of Jesus, Our Risen One, the Suffering Servant, amen.

O God of Resurrections,

We are surprised this morning.

Your goodness catches our breath.

You remind us of the beauty and unpredictability of Creation.

And You call us by name.

We praise You – that nothing stands between us and Your love.

We praise You – for overcoming death.

We praise You – for calling us to be disciples,

to co-create a New Creation with You.

On this Easter day, as we rise to joy and celebration,

guide our worship. Give us words to speak.

Forgive us when we stumble and struggle.

Heal us.

Help us see and know and believe.

And as You call us anew,

send us out to usher in resurrection everywhere we go.

May Your kingdom come, O Risen One.

In the name of the Creator, Son, and Spirit,

Amen!

As part of a new focus on study of scripture as a church, I decided to implement the Narrative Lectionary beginning last fall.

The Narrative Lectionary is a schedule of readings across a year that traverse the Bible more or less narratively. We began in Genesis, continued through major books of the Hebrew Bible, and have spent most of our December and Lent in the Gospel of John. It’s been really cool for our Thursday evening bible study group, because it does allow us to piece together different narratives and themes of scripture that reveal how deeply interlocked and connected these stories are.

For example, we preach on Jacob’s incredible spiritual vision of a ladder with angels going to and fro, and then later we read about Jesus in the Gospel of John speaking about angels descending and ascending in his presence.

When scripture is read in silos, we can miss how deeply Jewish scripture is and what we miss when we disconnect Jesus from his own community. (Of course, this should challenge us to confront our deep rooted anti-semitism in many theological interpretations and church practices.)

I recommend it if you want to shift in a different direction than the regular lectionary, but know there are other options out there like the Women’s Lectionary which look awesome too.

As part of my study and discipline to prep for sermons and discussions, I find the resources at NarrativeLectionary.org really helpful. There is a weekly blog post with commentary from diverse perspectives about the passage. You can also access archives of previous entries. There is a weekly podcast as well with theologians from Luther Seminary. It’s not a long podcast – usually 20 minutes, so it gives a quick entry point and some places to start.

Beyond that as far as resources, I enjoy the New Interpreter’s Commentary – my church has a copy which is a luxury, I know. Additional commentaries like the Global Bible Commentary, the Bible and Disability, Womanist Midrash, Women’s Bible Commentary, Voices from the Margins, and the People’s New Testament commentary also add to the conversation.

But the primary place that I often begin are still the pages of the Washington Post (or local news or whatever) and the voices and experiences of my congregation. They often add perspectives that I would never think of from their own stories and witness and questions. That’s the gift of a series like this.

I'm always looking for tools to help me organize my writing as a pastor, amateur sports journalist, and game designer.

I've used a variety of note apps on Mac and iOS over the years, like Notes, Bear, Evernote, VoodooPad, and more. The key is to have a cross-platform piece of software that synchronizes the notes, allowing me to edit and write wherever I am and whenever inspiration strikes. As a bonus, I prefer functionality to export documents to HTML or as a PDF and stash images and crucial links. Oh, and I love Markdown.

Bear.app has been my go to – it was pretty, pleasant to work with, and functional. However, I did get weary of using hashtags to mark documents for organization, as I kind of prefer a clean output option rather than having to delete the hashtags when emailing them to a colleague or copy-pasting them into an online editor. It's exporting functions were missing a few features too.

Enter Craft, a quickly maturing note/writing/production app that has swept me off my feet. I transitioned from Bear and now use it exclusively, except for some occasional quick notes in the basic Notes.app.

At its core, Craft is a little different. Yes, it can be used to type up documents of all kinds, but formatting is a key feature from the get go. Select an entire paragraph, and you can turn it into a quote, bold it, or whatever with various Markdown options. Sort articles into folders based around themes or projects.

Where Craft really rocks is its output options. Turning a Craft story into a DOC or PDF is simple, but even cooler is to create a private link that makes your sermon or game idea into a simple webpage for viewing. Even cooler than that is to write a rich text note to your congregation, for instance, with images and literally copy paste it into your email app to send out. It's gorgeous.

They’ve just added team options and various collaboration features.

An online version of this app is on the way too.

It’s great.

Here are some examples:

Over the past few years, I've written about soccer, specifically Major League Soccer and my beloved FC Dallas.

I got into FC Dallas while living in Dallas just past the 2010 World Cup. I decided I was going to follow the LA Galaxy back then because they had Landon Donovan, American hero. And yet I stumbled across an FC Dallas game on some sub-station on the cable network. They intrigued me – young players, lots of energy, and promise.

Plus, I could go watch them live. And indeed, I did.

They became my first season ticket experience as a sports fan. I attended my first playoff game. Over time, my knowledge of the game as a whole improved – understanding terminology, tactics, talent levels, and more.

While I don't consider myself a sports journalist on par with many seasoned pros at ESPN and elsewhere, writing about soccer has challenged me. You need a story of substance. Sure, you can just be silly and make up stuff, which I have done from time to time, but listening for stories, conflicts, and challenges can mean the difference between something boring and something interesting.

Stories show up in unlikely places – in a player showing up for a fan's birthday party, in a formation change, in conflict behind the scenes, in the stats from work on the field, in a goal by a clever player.

Writing about soccer has challenged me to pay attention to things I might have missed. I am still learning. I have so much to learn. But it's been fun to write about things other than theology.

Sometimes, a bunch of guys kicking a ball around is theology – it is life.

Matthew 11:25-30

#sermon

  • Yesterday afternoon, I had one of those naps that are just sublime. I was tired. I laid down on the couch, and somehow, I drifted off to sleep. It was maybe 20 minutes long. And it was the kind of nap that I woke up from surprised that I fell asleep.
  • I was grateful for that small gift of God’s presence with me yesterday, even as I am grateful for the big gift of you, University Christian Church, for giving my family and I time away this summer on sabbatical.
  • What is sabbatical? Sabbatical is not simply vacation. It is an opportunity to step away and step back. It is an opportunity to rest and renew. It is a chance to breathe after what has been a long and difficult couple of years. Sabbatical comes from the concept of sabbath – which is core to our Jewish siblings faith and the Torah, to mirror God’s rest on the seventh day of each week as we learn in Genesis 1, to simply be.
  • Barbara Brown Taylor, in the video we just watched, pointed out that sabbath is kind of a little death. We let go of our need to produce. Our need to be busy. We are given the holy gift of creating space in our life, space where we don’t have to necessarily live up to the expectations of our culture and world. And sometimes, that can feel like dying.
  • And I wonder why – maybe it is because sabbath is still so difficult for us to practice in our capitalistic, fast-paced world. For some of us, those who are students, those who are working jobs that are more than full-time, those with a household and family to look after, rest can seem like a luxury we do not have time for. Even for you who are retired, some of you have said you are busier in retirement than when you worked. What is that? What can we learn from Jesus about this gift of rest?
  • As I prayed over our passage this week, as Jesus declares to those gathered with him, the word “rest” is what stuck out to me.
  • In the opening part of this short passage, Jesus describes how God has given divine wisdom to infants. He doesn’t mean literally babies – but the most unlikely of their society – his disciples, the poor, those who hear and respond to Jesus’ invitation. This was a prophetic reversal.. No doubt – a direct incitement of religious leaders who believed you needed to have a long set of credentials to know God and how to follow God. Rather, God was prepared to work in those who didn’t mean their culture’s expectations.
  • There is joy in Jesus’ words. Following Jesus is life-giving. It is not a drudgery. It is not clocking in your time card. It is rest – compared to the world’s oversized drive to quantify our time and our skills into money into our value.
  • Jesus no doubt was contrasting some of the religious burdens placed upon people’s lives by certain religious leaders of his time – making it seem that God’s sabbath was unattainable.
  • But don’t we live with such outsized expectations? We are so busy. We are so burdened. One of our culture’s strong narratives is a focus on our growing economy, on our productivity, on our success. I heard a tech company CEO who claimed to only sleep five hours a day, because they had to work hard and be more productive and do more, more, more. I don’t think those expectations are healthy for any of us.
  • Who deserves rest? Think about the homeless person with their head curled up on a jacket at the steps to the train station, often harassed and told to move somewhere else. Even those stepped over deserve a place to rest – in fact, that was one of the reasons the Day Center was started.
  • Think of the Afghani people – fighting and struggling for years and years, wave and wave of violence. Think of all others in this world who live in fear in the midst of war. I truly believe part of the sabbath call is for a world free of violence for all who suffer.
  • Think of immigrants in this country who are navigating a hostile, convoluted system to gain status or protection for their loved ones.
  • Think about your burdens that you carry with you – for loved ones, for your anxieties and fear, for your frayed relationships.
  • Sabbath and rest challenge our world’s values and busyness. We deserve rest. We need rest. We are created and fashioned by God for that opportunity to simply be. Rest is part of God’s plan for us.
  • What does this look like for us as a church and as disciples?
  • No more apologizing when we are tired. No more feeling guilt when we need to take a nap or time off or turn off the phone. Seriously. If someone asks who gave you permission, say God did.
  • As a congregation, as leaders, as a board, a polity that pauses in the midst of hard questions for silence and space, balancing our urgency to grow and be witnesses to Christ’s love with care for our bodies minds and souls.
  • And as a movement for wholeness, as followers of Jesus, it means sticking up for others when they are not given the rest they deserve. Advocating alongside them.
  • I learned during my sabbatical and continue to learn – that life is to be enjoyed, and we all deserve to enjoy it. I want that for you. More importantly, God wants it for each of us.
  • Today, join me in reflecting that Jesus invited all who are weary and heavy laden to come to him and receive that gift of rest. Join me in a moment of silence – and if you feel comfortable, offer that burden that you are struggling with to Jesus.

I've been on a strange journey – one of grief, lack of self-confidence, internal turmoil, and doubts.

One of the painful losses was my love for singing praise music. I use that term loosely – praise music can be a lot of things for me, from Bob Marley to Bon Iver to actual “christian worship music”.

I just didn't feel the passion to pick up my guitar and try to make something beautiful.

For me, that's unusual. Music has always been a entrance into faith for me. Music is an opening to something larger and spacious, a way to communicate emotions and experiences that defy logic and reason and rest in beauty. I love music of all kinds and learned to be unashamed of that passion. Using my guitar and singing has been a big part of my ministry for many years.

If it wasn't for music, I wouldn't be a pastor.

So for at least two to three years, I let it go. Some of it was stress and just needing to focus on other things in my ministry, but I think too it was a reconfiguration of my life of faith. I needed to confront things, change things, and reassess where I wanted to be.

I just needed to be okay with where I was.

After a long time, I picked up my guitar again.

After a long season, I am leading worship again.

It's fun. I'm easing back into it.

Last Sunday, I led a song in front of a small crowd of returning church members and friends, and... yeah, it was good. It felt beautiful. I could hear their voices encouraging my own. It was okay to be not okay, and it was okay to sing anyway.

So, yeah, I feel like making music again.

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