Pentecost is coming.

The Holy Spirit Is on the move. Where will she find you?

Growing up I sang this children’s song and all its verses inside and outside of the church building. It was in my grandparents’ lullaby repertoire and I can remember struggling with my preschool sized fingers to get the hand movements that turn the church building inside out and let loose all the people. This song is written on my heart and has shaped my pastoral identity as well as my theology of what it means to be church as much as any church doctrine that was instilled in Sunday School or any theologian I encountered in seminary.

It’s been ringing in my ears since the first Sunday we moved to online worship gathering and began re-imaging how to be the church for such a time as this, and like our ancestors who were thrust into moments that required prophetic voice and vivid theological imagination so has this pandemic thrust upon us a great and challenging responsibility.

If not now, when can we sing such lyrics as this?

The church is not a building;
the church is not a steeple;
the church is not a resting place;
the church is a people.

I am the church! You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus,
all around the world!
Yes, we’re the church together!

 At Friendship Presbyterian Church we’ve not closed, we’ve been flung open wider and wider still with every passing day. And while worship continues to be central and a source of comfort and joy we are gathering online to protect and care for one another and we’ve learned that the interwebs are as sacred a space as any other with a new capacity for inclusion and accessibility we hadn’t previously imagined:

And when the people gather,
there’s singing and there’s praying;
there’s laughing and there’s crying sometimes,
all of it saying:

I am the church! You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus,
all around the world!
Yes, we’re the church together!

Instead of marching we’ve found ourselves called to drive in public rallies and to join online protests, adding our voices and our numbers to direct actions and legislative measures when the most vulnerable in our communities are ignored, under resourced, continue to go unhoused and over-policed. We are not resting, we are learning, and  working for justice and reaching, always reaching towards hope just as those whose shoulders we stand on join us in singing:

Sometimes the church is marching;
sometimes it’s bravely burning,
sometimes it’s riding, sometimes hiding;
always it’s learning.

I am the church! You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus,
all around the world!
Yes, we’re the church together!

The reality is the mainline denominations have sang songs that report a value of diversity, inclusion and justice that we still, in the year 2020, struggle to learn how to truly live. This pandemic has lifted the veil once again on the ways in which our actions do not match our song. It has laid bare the stark realities and deathly consequences of unjust systems and the legacy of racial injustice and white supremacy at the heart of institutional policies, structures and practices. If we choose to sing this song with integrity than we must also refuse the rhetoric of “returning to normal.” Normal was designed to kill, and we are called to find a new way to live so that our world is just and sustainable for all of us:

We’re many kinds of people,
with many kinds of faces,
all colours and all ages, too
from all times and places.

I am the church! You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus,
all around the world!
Yes, we’re the church together!

In the early days of the pandemic we were in shock and denial, “let’s postpone Easter,” we thought for a minute, as if we could keep Christ in the tomb. As the days fell away we remembered that Easter wasn’t the anniversary of resurrection, it was the DAY of resurrection. We remembered that we are always dying and living and that new life could not be delayed or postponed but that this year and maybe forever, new life would look different, but it would find a way. And now we find ourselves approaching Pentecost, many of us still grieving and searching. Like those first followers of Jesus we are still stunned by recent events, we feel the weight of all we know and don’t know. We are waiting and wrestling with the right next step. We want desperately to live and so we are isolated and doing everything we can to protect one another even though it makes some of us feel overwhelmed and others so very much alone.

If we ever needed a Holy Spirit breath of fresh, cleansing air, it is this moment.

If we ever needed to see, with our own eyes, God’s burning fire of creative and life-giving force, it is this moment.

Thank God the Holy Spirit has never been one to be contained, she blew the walls off of that upper room and transported Jesus’ disciples and friends to the public square, can you even imagine what she might do to bind us together and send us into the world this Pentecost?

Let us set aside the voices of the arrogant and fearmongers who would have us believe that she can only find us in a singular place when she has the power to be in all places and in every space. The Holy Spirit is on the move and she will come alongside us, wherever we are, she will breathe life into us and pour out the fiery blessing of Pentecost on us whether we are inside or out, whether we are in our backyard or around our kitchen table, whether we are alone or among family, whether we have shelter or are without, whether we are at work or working from home. The Holy Spirit travels at the speed air and light and internet communication and if we cannot gather in person she will bind us together and send us into the world as bearers of good news in ways we have yet to imagine:

At Pentecost some people
received the Holy Spirit
and told the Good News through the world
to all who would hear it.

I am the church! You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus,
all around the world!
Yes, we’re the church together!

This hymn was written by a Presbyterian duo, Avery and Marsh in the 60’s. Marsh died in 2010 and Avery died this year in March, his memorial is still pending due to the pandemic. Together they have contributed many songs meant to be written on our hearts first by their publishing company Proclamation Productions and later by Hope Publishing.


Should we wait for someone else?

IMG_0225I have to say, John the Baptist’s questions for Jesus make a lot of sense to me this week. “Things are really not working out so well, not matter how high we go, no matter how much hope we cling to, no matter how we elevate what is just, things are really falling apart around here, especially for those with the most to lose. Are you sure you’re the one Jesus? Are you sure you’re the way? Should we wait for another?” (Luke 7:18-35, Narrative Lectionary for 2/12/17)

Clearly, I’m paraphrasing a bit, but JB is straight outta jail and he’s not seeing the kind of progress he expected when he dipped Jesus in the Jordan and I would be lying if I sometimes didn’t have some of the same questions for Jesus myself. And so, as I prepare to preach and discuss this text with my people I’m beginning with this confession (& blessing):

We Tell The Truth About Ourselves

To tell you the truth this is harder than we thought

This “way” of Jesus,

It’s hard and uncomfortable

To be faced with the complexity of human life

To realize our friends and enemies cannot be separated into such easy categories

To find out that real life-giving relationships take work

And grace

And forgiveness

That no matter how old we get

Failure humiliates us

Risk-taking is scary

And yet, you keep calling to us,

“Come, follow me.”

You keep calling

and still there is no guarantee that if we give our life, our hearts, our trust to you O God

That we will always be happy

That we will have all the answers

That we will finally experience deep peace.

In fact, the opposite is often true.

Hold us tight in this unsettling time,

Hold us tight in this uncertain space,

Forgive us when we can’t see you

when we dare ask the question,

“Is it really you O God? Or should we wait for another?”

Remind us O God, who we are

And whose we are.


God Blesses and Forgives Us

It’s true

This human/divine creature sent to

Teach us how to live,

How to love God and one another

Doesn’t promise us

That the “way” will be easy

Or provide us peace-of-mind

Or a failure-free life.

Instead this renegade



Wine drinking

Character we call

God’s beloved

Promises us this:

If you dare to wake up,

If you dare to grow up in

Love and grace,

If you dare to take up the plight

Of the broken-hearted and vulnerable,

If you dare to claim your own belovedness,

If you dare to claim your own worth,

If you dare to see me in every human you encounter,

If you dare to give up the illusion of success for the life of a disciple,

If you dare to risk your pride for the sake of restoration,

If you dare to love your neighbor, then you will find yourself

Already on the “way,”

Already forgiven,

already free.


The Absurdity of Hope

With Sarah’s help (Genesis 18 and 21), we’re tackling hope in the face of the impossible 13958123_10154248149040609_5115046206960868107_othis week at Friendship! Here’s a blessing to for you to wrestle with as you prepare to for worship.

God Blesses & Forgives Us
This is the blessing that meets us
in hard places
between our fragility and our resilience
this blessing sews seeds of hope in the very depths of our being
this blessing sees our devastation
and sits with our pain
and does not run away in fear.
In fact,
this blessing laughs—
not just any laugh
but a deep body shaking belly laugh
that weaves together all of life’s heartache
and all of life’s grace
into a new and surprising life
that is more than we could have ever expected.
This blessing is for you.
Thanks be to God. Amen.


My Hardening Heart

I will not make myself small

We Tell The Truth About Ourselves
I have a confession to make.
Today I am angry. I can feel my heart hardening with hate.
I’m angry and I don’t want to make friends or make nice or make it easy on anyone who has every abandoned, remained silent or turned their back on Lesbain, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer folks.
I don’t have any compassion to spare, I don’t care if it was hard when your kid came out, I don’t care if you did hard work and changed your mind. I don’t care if you love the sinner but just hate the sin. I don’t care if your theology, your tradition, your family grounds your belief.
If you can’t love, celebrate and stand with us then you are helping to kill us.
Today I am angry. I can feel my heart hardening with hate.
Today I will tell the truth and hope it will save me.
God, if you can’t transform my hardening heart, then who?
I hate that no matter how vulnerable and real we are in the LGBTQ community there are some who are louder and more powerful who will twist our beautiful lives and complex stories and make us villains.
I hate that when we share our stories, our gifts, our resources and ourselves with the communities we live in and work in we are made to feel like curriculum and curiosities.
I hate that the overwhelming message – even in progressive hetero communities and institutions – tells us that we should be grateful to be included or invited to the table.
I hate when I fucking feel grateful.
I hate that we’re expected to keep our identities, our families our living milestones on the down-low so folks in our families or neighborhoods or churches who are afraid and uncomfortable around queer folks can be made to feel safe. Safe? Really?
I hate when we make excuses about generational differences, cultural norms and geography to excuse hateful bigotry and homophobic behaviors as if there aren’t queer folk suffering in silence and isolation in every single corner of time and space.
I hate how trickle down civil rights is as failed an experiment as trickle down economics and only works to divide and isolate oppressed communities, pitting us against one another in a hunger-games-for-civil rights.
I hate that when I meet new people I always think twice and still, still, still revert to gender generic terms for my wife and queer family until I know where I stand.
I hate that I fucking lie by omission or fail to correct someone else’s assumptions almost every single day.
I hate how quickly I rush to apologize when I make someone uncomfortable.
I hate the paternalistic eye-rolling, the disbelief and the defensiveness that meets my efforts to share my story, my feelings and my best attempts to describe my gender fluid, queer identity.
I hate that when I met friends for a birthday celebration yesterday we discussed how we – a group of visible queer folks and friends – would need to be on high alert for a potential fucking gunman. Yes. I said gunMAN.
I hate how lgbtq spaces fill up with more wounds and war stories than love stories, and tears stream down my face when the truest anthem we can sing together is, “You don’t know me!”
I confess – I do not want your apology and I will not crawl on my knees begging to be seen and heard, known and loved or acknowledged.
The truth is, I am seen and heard and loved.
I am loved I am loved I am loved.
God sees and loves me for my whole damn queer self and I will not make myself small so my allies or my enemies can feel big.
This is my prayer. This is my confession.
Transform this hate O God – be the salve that will soften my hard heart.
Transform this hate O God – give me courage to tell the truth.
Transform this hate O God – restore my gentleness.
Transform this hate O God – break the hearts of our hatefulness and pour your grace upon us.


I write this today, remembering Amy J Snedeker. Our friend and fellow pastor, Amy suggested we call it the time where “We Tell The Truth About Ourselves.” You know, that moment in Reformed Worship we’ve long called the Prayer of Confession? Our worship team was trying to find descriptive titles for the parts of worship so that new folks, old folks, skeptics and those who are sure could all understand and embrace the work of the people – the work we do together when we come together to worship.

Almost a year ago our friend Amy died after a long battle with cancer. She was one of the truthiest people I know. She was irreverent and funny and faithful and she could tell the truth with a remarkable gentleness that didn’t let you off the hook but helped you see real deep inside yourself. Amy was a same-gender loving woman, I wish she were here right now.


The cost of forgiveness…

Forgiveness is the final form of love. ~Reinhold Niebuhr

Have you ever had to beg for forgiveness? Have you ever thrown yourself at the mercy of someone in power? Has forgiveness ever knocked you off your feet?

I wonder if begging hardens our hearts or cracks them open? I wonder what part power plays in our ability to seek and find forgiveness…IMG_0026

The Narrative Lectionary has gifted us with a series of challenging parables this lenten season. According to the Gospel of Matthew Jesus told these parables as a way of illuminating what the Kingdom of Heaven – that is God’s alternative world order – might look like. This week’s parable from Matthew 18: 15-35 is often called the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant but the reality is no one in this a parable is very forgiving… right before the parable Jesus tells the disciples that forgiveness has no limits… but the servant’s master takes back his supposed forgiveness in a heartbeat.

It seems such a challenge for us to imagine a God who’s love is not transactional. To imagine a being, a God, who holds such immense power, and yet, is willing to relinquish it, willing to let the very creation God so lovingly crafted to crack God’s heart open again and again.

Telling the Truth About Ourselves

So how do we forgive from the heart?

How do we seek forgiveness

and ask forgiveness

without belittling the pain?

How do we learn compassion

but never tolerate abuse?

It begins with telling the truth.

To unbind the wounded parts of our hearts,

and face the wounds we’ve inflicted on one another,

to face the grief of the world and take it in,

and take on our share of the responsibility and our share of the pain

is no small thing.


if we can find the courage,

it will

set us free.

[silence is kept]

God Blesses & Forgive Us

Abandon your fear and leave your disappointment in the dust.

Believe in the abundant forgiveness found along this road

That leads to love.

Dig your feet into the earth and wait for the promise of spring.

Let your heart be broken open

like a seed that cracks open in order to absorb the nutrients that will bring it to life.

Get ready to lean in towards the rising sun

and open your eyes to it’s incandescent light.

This is the beginning of the journey home

to the one who piles grace upon grace.



Beginning with beloved…

A sermon about the time John the Baptist waded into the Jordan and baptized Jesus even though he didn’t want to. (Matthew 3:1-17)

Spiritual identity means we are not what we do or what people say about us. And we are not what we have. We are the beloved children of God. ~Henri Nouwen

Last week we heard the story of the Magi who came to see the tiny child that the skies had announced with a shining star and voices of angels and this week we find ourselves peering up at the sky once again, this time, with Jesus. Not baby Jesus, but a grown man who has come with the crowds to be baptized… who has come to this sacred place fraught with history and meaning…

Jesus has come to the river his ancestor Jacob crossed with but a staff…

Jesus has come to the river his ancestor Joshua led the people across on their journey from bondage to freedom

Jesus has come to the river the crossed by Elijah and Elisha – also on dry ground

Jesus has come to the river Elisha bid Naaman to go and wash and be healed

This is the riverbank in which John the Baptist has chosen to occupyThis is the riverbank John the Baptist has chosen to protest the powerful and elite and those who are using God’s word like a weapon in the synagogues and in the name of Rome… John the Baptist has returned to this place where God has rescued the people of God before and proclaims God’s power to do so again… he wades into the river and invites others to do to the same… to wade in, and immerse themselves in waters of redemption and transformation.

To be clear… John isn’t baptizing folks so they will be saved when they die. He’s marking them and reminding them of their entire salvation history and inviting them to claim it. John has become the prophet he was born to be and his words are powerful! Come and be baptized and live like the claimed, liberated, loved, empowered, powerful people of God you are! Make this day a new day!

Like the prophets that have come before, John chooses to create a movement on the margins and the people come… “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan” (Matthew 3:5) crowds were streaming to the Jordan for renewal and repentance… not a ritual for rituals sake but as part of a revolution… for the common Jew quashed by the Roman Empire and at the mercy of the Temple Elite repentance meant relinquishing their dependence and their loyalty to the very authorities who controlled their lives.

And according to the Gospel of Matthew, this is where Jesus turns up for the first moments of his public ministry, not the temple or the synagogue, not to confer with the high priests or those in positions of power. Instead he arrives on the river bank – this sacred, contested, political, spiritual and religious space… and asks to be baptized.

This isn’t the first time Jesus and John meet… we know they’ve met before, still in the wombs of their courageous mothers… when Mary sang her own liberation anthem… and I wonder if they hear it’s echo as they greet one another in the flesh on the riverbank.

At first John refuses to baptize Jesus, but Jesus insists… for some Jesus’ insistence is cause for discomfort… why would a sinless man repent, why would God’s own son submit to someone else’s authority, how could this cleansing act have any power over someone already so perfect?

Jesus will defy expectations throughout his life and ministry. He will scandalize the established religious community and disappoint his disciples again and again…. he will refuse the hospitality of rich and sit on the floor of the poor… he will dismiss the wise and encourage children and women and outcast to sit at his feet… he will forgo religious talk for dinner and stories… he won’t claim a throne or pick up a sword – even in the name of righteousness. Even John will one day write him and ask… are you sure you’re the one??

But for now John finally agrees– he plunges the body of Christ… this wholly human wholly divine man under the surface of the Jordan.

I wonder if Jesus’ whole life flashes through his mind’s eye as he sinks beneath the surface. Not just his embodied life, but his life that began at the beginning – when all of creation first burst forth. Beginning with that first infinite breath of God and on and on through his own life, death and resurrection. And then forward through time all the way to ours.

When we baptize today we often say the words, “remember your baptism” – can you remember? Can you tap into this collective memory – can your imagine yourself part of the whole? The ALL of creation? Plunged beneath the waters of God’s making and rising to hear God’s words:

“This is my Child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

It’s a bold claim – to suppose that these words are for us right along with Jesus. But Jesus spends his life making it abundantly clear: no one is excluded, or exempt or abandoned by God. No one is out of reach or untouchable or too terrible for God to love. Jesus insists on being baptized right along with everyone else and so here we are, right along with Jesus, rising out of the river to hear these words:

“This is my Child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

 As someone raised up in our Christian tradition and trained up as a Presbyterian Pastor… as someone who loves the communities and ritual we’ve created I worry and I wonder about what we’ve done with this particular sacrament, this baptismal moment… we’ve taken this baptismal moment… a ritual created as an act of protest against the temple authorities, an act meant to symbolize the power of the river, the people, the margins, of God’s ability to turn the world on it’s head and we’ve institutionalized and domesticated it… we’ve written rules about it, who can do it and what they can say and can’t say about it when they do. We’ve treated this moment like a ticket to be redeemed for salvation or a place at the table or to a place in heaven…

But the waters of baptism aren’t meant to save us, they are meant to renew and empower us. They aren’t meant to transport us to safety but to transform us into people who aren’t afraid to live – who aren’t afraid to stand against hate and oppression, who aren’t afraid to love; The waters of our own baptism are meant to stir our communal memory – to connect us to the God story that can hold our story and the next person and the next person’s story… until they are all woven together into one big beautiful, mess of a story and we don’t know who’s is whose and we can’t separate ourselves out or line ourselves up according to who’s the best or smartest or strongest or most deserving and so we all have to accept the fact that when God calls out you are mine, you are beloved, it is with you I am most pleased that God is talking to ALL of us….

When I first encountered this idea, maybe 15 years ago, that in Christ’s baptism, God calls us each beloved – I believe in Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved, I was astounded… I wasn’t sure I could believe it about myself – that God would love me like God loved Christ, so I started telling my boys who were tiny at the time, every night at bedtime: “You belong to God, you are belovedyou are mine, you are beloved.” such a simple and yet, such a powerful statement – so easy to say and yet… so hard to believe about ourselves, isn’t it?

What might the world look like if we all knew ourselves to be claimed and loved?What might the world look like if we all knew one another as claimed and loved?

I found this simple truth so hard to hold onto over the years – especially in the times of loss or failure that I finally got it tattooed on my arm… yep. Tattooed. On my arm. You are beloved. Where I could see it. Every day.


Nouwen says the biggest obstacle to knowing God’s love is that we can’t seem to hold on to this simple truth when we are hurt, rejected, abandoned or failures… We can’t believe we are beloved in the face of hatred or abuse and so we acquiesce, we reject ourselves… but what if we didn’t? What if Leelah Alcorn the young transgender woman who committed suicide by stepping in front of a truck in the last weeks had known herself as beloved before she heard the names rejection or abandoned? What if we taught small children to look in the mirror and see beloved before they saw strong or weak, big or small, black, brown or white?

Nouwen says when  truly believe this about ourselves – that we are beloved, we can’t help but believe it about others as well… I know, it’s idealistic isn’t it? But isn’t that what Jesus modeled throughout his whole life and ministry?  A ridiculously expansive grace that even his followers wished he would tone down? What if police officers… What if protesters, What if Americans…. What if Christians… What if Muslims and Jews… What if we saw one another first as beloved? What if that’s where we began?

Instead of tattoos to remember that you’re beloved… I’m not going to ask you all to get tattoos today but I am going to invite you to remember, during the next hymn we’re going to flick and fling and smear this water (in small bowls) on one another – I’d like to invite you to share the love… shower one another with a bit of water and remember…You are beloved.

God doesn’t tear through time and space to confer judgment or rapture folks off to heaven or leave some folks behind. God breaks into the human story to name and claim and love us. “You are mine. You are beloved. That’s the beginning of our story. Don’t you forget it. Amen.


Rip into our world, O God…

Rip into our world once again, O God, and give us the good sense to be absolutely overwhelmed with joy at your proclamation,

 “This is my child, this is my beloved, this is my greatest pleasure.”

You know what I’m afraid of?

That in the midst of trying to name and attend to all the pain the Church has inflicted on folks over the centuries in the name of God, I’m afraid that sometimes I preach and paint an image of God that is so gentle, so simple, so easy on the eyes, and the ears, and the heart, that it is stripped of it’s power to comfort, let alone transform our starving souls.

On the day of Jesus’ baptism, nothing is simple. Nothing is easy. God rips into the world of human experience. God tears the sky and comes crashing through space and time to make an extraordinary claim.

Rather than a disembodied experience this baptismal moment is one of super-embodiment – it’s a sensory overloading, heart-stopping, genesis of life moment.

I wonder if Jesus’ whole life flashes through his mind’s eye as he is dunked beneath the surface of the Jordan. Not just his embodied life but his life that began at the beginning – when all of creation first burst forth. Beginning with that first infinite breath of God and on and on through his own life, death and resurrection. And ours.

I wonder, if just for a moment our physical reality, the one in which we rely because we can see it with our eyes, didn’t collapse in and expand back out as he came up out of the Jordan gasping for breath.

Here’s where we tell the truth about ourselves:

You call us to dive into your holy water with abandon O God,

To be caught up in the current of your love

And to be buoyed by your grace.

But your holy water scares us O God,

We worry it will overwhelm us,

We lose our footing and fall beneath the surface,

Pulled under by our fear and self-loathing.

We are lost. Any peace we might know is drowned out by




And Disbelief.

[silence is kept]

God Blesses & Forgive Us

Trouble the holy water in which we swim, O God.

Do not let its placidness lull us into complacency,

send your wild and holy spirit to agitate the quiet waters of our apathy.

Enliven the tide of justice,

stir our passion and nourish our resilience,

so that when we rise from your holy water

and step back onto the banks of our lives

we know our names our




and Sent.


The Whole Story

A sermon about the time Joshua called all the folks from ALL over Canaan together in a Sacred Place and teased, and cajoled and invited them to remember who they are…

 “i imagine that yes is the only living thing.”
~e.e. cummings

Prologue: Since receiving the Ten Words from God the Israelites have traveled the Wilderness for forty long years… generations have passed, Moses has died and Joshua takes leadership… they have passed through the Jordon and are making a life in Canaan – “the promise land” and today Joshua calls the people together at Shechem – We first hear of this sacred place Shechem (in Canaan) in the book of Genesis when God first promises this very land to Abram… Abram builds an altar in this very place and worships God… before continuing his own journey.

The book of Joshua records their passage into Canaan in it’s early chapters and the 12 tribes of Israel have spread out across the land… Joshua calls the Israelites from all over Canaan to gather once again at Shechem to renew their commitment to God.


Covenant at Shechem

Covenant at Shechem

Joshua 24:1-15

1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people,

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.

5 Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. 6 When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7 When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8 Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you.

9 Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. 11 When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. 12 I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.” 

14Then Joshua said, “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve the Lord in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Have any of you heard a mama turn to her sassy child… young or old and say, “listen up… I carried you in my womb for nine whole months, and I wasn’t just sick in the morning, but noon and night… my feet swelled up and by skin stretched to hold you and my belly grew and grew until I was as big as a house…  and then I gave birth to you… 18 hours of backbreaking labor to push you into this world.”

Or, if you were adopted like me it might go more like, “we waited and waited and waited for you, we thought we would never ever have children, and then we met you, and fell in love with you and we chose you and brought you home and made your ours.” And then she goes on…

“All these years I’ve fed you and clothed you, I’ve run you around and I’ve learned new math and had to remember old math to help you with your homework, I’ve taken care of you when you were sick, staying up all night – even the time you puked all over me, I stayed right there by your side. I’ve dried your tears and held your hand when you’re afraid… I’ve loved you and I’ve never, never asked for anything in return…”

And it’s not just Mama’s who do it, is it? We all do it. We do it to our parents and our children, to our spouses and partners and friends… we do it in community – in families and churches and baseball teams We love to tell and retell our origin stories, origins of life, origins of friendship, origins of relationships, stories of the most, the best, the worst… and we don’t tell them in some neutral or scientific way… we tell them in a way that gives them the MOST meaning and the RICHEST life and IMPORTANT purpose. We shape the stories in ways that describe who we were and who we HOPE to become…

I love this story from Joshua… I love the way his God sounds like my Mama… “After all I’ve done for you,” says this Mama God… “After I’ve chosen you and loved you, after I’ve rescued you and born you out of what enslaves you and after I’ve given you a new life; after I’ve shaped you into a community and fed you and nourished you; after I’ve walked, carried, led and conquered the world for you… now You’re going to worship another God… now you’re going to serve yourself and forget about me?!”

I love how Joshua goads the people… “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living…”

Just like a Mama, “Go on now… do what you want, pay no mind to me… I only gave you life.”

I don’t say this to dismiss Joshua (or our Mama’s); just like those who have shaped our stories, whether our actual mothers or other wise folks who have come before us, whose ancestors told them the story – Joshua is doing the important work of communal historianwhat Joshua is saying is, “Remember who you are… you’ve seen this God at work, you’ve heard these stories, you are these stories…  There’s no better GOD than this… will you choose this God? Will you love and serve this God?”

Joshua is one in a long line of oral historians that have been telling the story of God back to the community since Abram was first called to leave Haran and become a movement people. And each voice has a different tact and different flavor… for different times and places in the unfolding story of the ancient Israelites. And we can see how the people of God’s ideas about God – their theology and their moral philosophies, their ethics and their own relationships evolve through the voices of these historians… I want to spend a little time thinking about the story Joshua is telling and why… and what stories we are telling and why?

Questions to ask about this story and our stories:

It is a good story? And by that I don’t mean happy endings and simplicity…

Does it compel the people? Does it serve them? Is it life-giving? Does it bear essential truths about their identity and God’s identity?

What about the stories we tell about ourselves and about God? Are they compelling and life-giving? Do the bear real truth about who we are? About who God is?

What does Joshua include? What does he leave out? Why? What parts do we tell and leave out?

Why is God always on the side of Ancient Israel? Is God ALWAYS on our side in the stories we tell?

What does it mean to tell a story about belonging to God and claiming God in the midst of exile? 

It’s likely Joshua’s version of this story is coming from the dust and ashes of exile… it wasn’t written down in real time but in the midst of fear and doubt… in the midst of losing members of the exiled Israelite community to other rituals and traditions, to other families and cultures… this was a period of deep theological development, discovery and rediscovery – the Israelites faced the very real risk of assimilation after living for a generation in exile… These stories about their history and about God invited them to remember, to reimagine and reevaluate who they are.

Transient, homeless, enslaved, exiled, abandoned and yet chosen, remembered, loved… this is an identity that is rich in the imagination of the Ancient Israelites and has been their lived experience before… this is a story of hope… of promise that the morning does and will come, if only they hold onto God and one another. Imagine hearing these words, from a loving, goading, promising God, in the midst of utter despair.

I love the next part of this story even more than the first – in the second half of chapter 24 the people answer Joshua (Joshua 24-16-28)

16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods…

19But Joshua said to the people (nudging them along), “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins…

21And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 

22Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” 25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

26Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. 27Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” 28So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.

It’s not just Joshua that chooses God but all the people gathered at Shechem. And ALL of their stories are important, ALL of their voices are important. For those living in exile, this story is an invitation to renewal – to reclaim the God of their ancestors and the God of their future… of their own inheritance.

Story is power.

It can shape us and move us.

Or it can bind us and defeat us.

We have a different story than the Ancient Israelites. We are not exiles. We are not prisoners. But we have a story.

Joshua told the story of the Ancient Israelites as God’s chosen people – a protected people – but that’s not the whole story is it? Remember the time they wanted to turn back to Egypt at the first sight of the Reed Sea? Remember how they first greeted Moses when he came down the mountain with God’s Ten Words? Remember how they failed and forgot and lost? These parts are recorded in other parts of the Bible, and the book of Judges tells a less dramatic, a less violent story of how the people came to live in Canaan.

The first hearers of these words knew the whole story and so do we, but in that moment Joshua told the story they needed to hear most. And what they needed was a word of hope…  even if it was a goading word of hope.

Like that story our mama tells, it’s not a story we tell because it’s historical or factual but because it’s true on a deep and visceral level. She’s telling it to compel us to listen, to behave, to remember who we are.

Joshua charges the whole community to be witnesses to one another’s’ stories – he reminds them that he is not the only storyteller, that the combined voices of the community bear the whole story of who God is.

Telling the whole story as a people of faith in our time is even more complex. There isn’t a monolithic experience of God but there is a central story about a God who hears, rescues, claims and challenges. About a God that coaxes and pushes and goads us into covenantal life, into a believing and loving God in return. What we’re being rescued from might be vastly different here in Norwood Park, than it is in Englewood. What God’s claim on us means is different here in the U.S. than in Palestine. And how God is calling us to respond, to serve, to love might look very different as well. We must listen to the chorus of voices, to their differences, and their commonalities, in order to hear the whole story of God.

How would Joshua goad us if he were here? What would he say to nudge us towards God?

What are the stories we need to tell that will give us hope?

What are the stories we need to tell that will give us courage?

What are the stories we need to tell that will call us to action?

What are the stories that you will tell about who you are and the God you claim?

This is our story. And it’s an ongoing, living, moving, breathing, dynamic story about a living, moving, breathing, dynamic God of which our we are only a part… and we’re invited to claim this God as our own and to join our voices to it, to add our lived experiences – and to listen for the experiences of others until the whole story of God gets told. Amen.


Wreck This Worship Journal!

Recently the kids at Friendship Presbyterian helped me design a Wreck This Worship Journal. I posted some photos and a few folks have asked for templates so I’m posting it here for you to download. Please keep in mind, this is our first attempt and we kept it simple! We used Microsoft Word to design the pages and online puzzle generators to make Word Searches, Cross Words and Madlibs. I turned Friendship’s Mission Statement into a Madlib and I left it in the Generic Worship Journal linked below so you can see how we did it but  you should replace it with one of your own! We also left plenty of blank pages with simple borders so that their is plenty of room for your own ideas!

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The pages are 8.5×11 and the journal could be printed and three whole punched or you could print it on 11×17 in booklet form like we did at Friendship. We made book covers out cardboard and duct tape and are stitching our pages in tomorrow! I’m also going to run a bunch of booklets with paper covers so we have them to share with anyone who wants one Sunday mornings!


Friendship’s Wreck this Worship Journal!

And here’s a Generic Wreck This Worship Journal That you can download and print or use as template!

Have fun making a Wreck This Worship Journal of your own!!

PS: Presbyterian Pastor, Theresa Cho inspired me to create these and has tons of amazing ideas around integrating kiddos in worship, you should check her blog out!