Truth: Judas Life

This past Saturday evening I met my partner at the hospital where she works as a chaplain so we could eat dinner together, because there’s nothing better than a hot date in the deep recesses of a medical facility. As I was entering the building, a nurse, exiting with a patient, looked at me for an uncomfortable amount of time, then said, “I like your shirt!” I quickly looked down to recall which shirt I was wearing then replied to her, “Thanks!” and COVID-safe-smiled as best I could with my eyes.

This shirt is a deep blue with black, white, and yellow words: “Fight poverty, not the poor.” This statement is one of the demands of the Poor People’s Campaign, a grassroots organization working towards a moral revival in America. First enacted in 1968 by Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Poor People’s Campaign at that time demanded economic and human rights for poor Americans from all backgrounds. The modern campaign, spearheaded by Reverends Liz Theoharis and William Barber III, presses forward to make this work a reality. For over fifty years, facing seemingly insurmountable injustices, activists have worked diligently to ensure equity, equality, inclusion, and fair wages. When I wear that shirt I feel like I am a part of this historic, important organism; my wearing that cloth is a small act of solidarity and when it’s acknowledged I feel like I’m doing God’s work.

That’s the first part.

The second is this: I was recently on a brief trip to Wal-Mart to pick up some loose ends for dinner. At the register I was approached by an older gentleman with he following story: “Hey, I was wondering if you could help me out. My wife and I are parked out front and we’re running on fumes – could you help us with some money to get some gas for our car? We’d really appreciate it…”

Time paused, but in the blink of an eye my mind kept working and I reviewed all the information I had: disheveled man, older, possibly unable to work, needing money for a specific thing, obviously in need. I should have stopped my analysis there, but I didn’t; I started questioning the man’s request: why is he seeking money for gas at the grocery store…what if he uses the money for drugs or alcohol…how many others has he gotten money from since he’s been here? In that split second I assumed the worst and talked myself out of helping him, justifying my impending response: I don’t have cash with me…someone else will help them…what if he wants more than what I give…will my generosity truly help him?

I responded in the most loving way possible, with that same COVID-safe-smile glowing from my eyes, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash…only a credit card.” I lied – I had my debit card. I denied assistance. I ignored this man’s plight because my brain, for whatever reason, couldn’t stop overthinking the situation. I couldn’t just open my damn hand and give freely as it was given to me. Not only was I a liar, but in my wearing that shirt I am a hypocrite as well. I am the one who is fighting against the poor. I am the one who is sustaining poverty. I am the oppressor.

—–

This week’s gospel lesson comes from the twelfth chapter of John, verses 1-8. Jesus has been in and around the village of Bethany, southeast of Jerusalem; it is here that his beloved friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus live, and where the latter is resurrected. After this miraculous encounter, Jesus and company left town for a few days because of the growing plot to have our Lord killed, returning after some time spent in the wilderness region. The gospel of John reads:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Mary’s perfume of spikenard originated in the Himalayan mountains and it’s sticker price of a year’s wages is justified – any object traveling that distance in those times would rightly be otherworldly expensive. And Mary, at the feet of Jesus, takes the stance of a servant, looking to wash and tend to the feet that have carried her friend countless miles. And Mary, in an act of love and devotion, pours out this perfume on Jesus’ feet to express her feelings for the man who has resurrected her brother…for the man who has invited her into ministry…for the man who saw her and loved her.

Judas feigns indignation about Mary’s love offering: “This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (CEB). Judas’ remark is meant to illicit some hurrahs from the onlookers, to express what he thinks the people want to hear – he’s talking the talk and calls out others to start walking the walk. The gospel writer makes a side remark, though, telling us that Judas didn’t actually care for the poor – he was pilfering money from the common funds and selling the perfume would give him more money to steal.

Judas’ hypocrisy, like mine in the grocery store, is glaringly apparent and, as much as I want to claim that I live a Jesus life the truth is that, more often than not, I live a Judas life. I will adamantly say all the right things and can preach a decent sermon about the sinfulness of selfishness. I can point out the places, programs, and people in my city that ignore the poor among us…I can complain about the local churches fighting to push out the poor that walk our streets…I can complain about how so many people ignore the woman on the corner that I ignore as well. I work to highlight just how bad poverty is and about how many things are paid for instead of solving the plight of the poor but at the end of the day I’m more concerned with my bottom line and not the emptiness in the bottom of my neighbor’s stomach. I’m living a Judas life dressed to look like Jesus.

Jesus’ rebuke of Judas’ comment is a rebuke for each of us who ignore the poor among us. His rebuke is for each of us who can’t see the individuals impoverished in our neighborhoods but send money to fund millionaire evangelists. His rebuke is for each of us who tell our poor neighbors to get a second or third job as we drive to our second or third vacation home. His rebuke is for each of us who dream of seeing Jesus someday while ignoring his image and likeness in the person across from us.

I can’t solve the poverty crisis in our country, but I shouldn’t let that stop me from working to end it. I can’t feed every person who asks for food, but I can certainly feed one or two. I can’t give all of my money to those in need, but I can certainly open up my hand. God, forgive me for ignoring your beloved. Forgive me for lying, for overthinking, for worrying. Help me to realize that the gifts you have given me are but gifts to be given. Help me to worry less about the wrong others might do with these gifts and let me find hope in the right they might do with them. Make me an agent to fight the systems, institutions, and thoughts that sustain poverty in this nation, and guide me to give and love as freely as Mary. May it be so.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Amazing Grace

This week’s gospel lesson from the fifteenth chapter of Luke about the prodigal son is a familiar story to both Christians and non-Christians alike. While the idiom is usually reserved for a long-gone person returning, the Bible story itself is one of amazing grace: a son selfishly goes off on his own to live a prodigal life – one of wasteful extravagance – and he winds up in destitution and poverty, eventually returning to his father’s household so he could work as a hired hand. But the father’s grace – his unmerited favor – is poured out on his prodigal son, who is welcomed back, reconciled and restored to his former life of love and acceptance. The son would assuredly sing out with joy the first verse of Newton’s hymn, “Amazing grace – how sweet the sound! – that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found…was blind, but now I see!”

De Terugkeer Van de Verloren Zoon c. 1669, oil on canvas, 262 x 205 cm.
by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

This prodigal son story is one of three used by Jesus to convey the inviting, welcoming, never-giving-up-on-us love of God. These tales of the great generosity of God is brought about because the Pharisees and scribes “were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow [Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them.”[1] These Jewish leaders are appalled that a rabbi would be in the presence of sinners and, more than that, this Jesus welcomes them and spends time with them! Hearing their disgust, Jesus shares three stories: one of a lost sheep, one of a lost coin, and one of a lost son. All three serve to demonstrate the lengths and depths to which God would go for God’s beloved creations, lengths which far exceed those which the Pharisees and scribes would permit. While these religious leaders uphold the letter of the law and grumble amongst themselves when it’s bent, Jesus shares with them the vastness of the spirit of the law and the amazingness of God’s grace.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with some great comment on this passage… staring at this screen trying to write some riveting, new insight that would really make this passage come alive for each of us. But perhaps that’s not what God is calling from this passage. What if God allows this passage to come up so frequently in the Church and in the world because we need to be reminded – again and again – that we are to reconcile broken relationships? What if God keeps bringing the prodigal son home so we can witness – again and again – the overwhelming love that God has for every single person who has wandered from God? What if God wants us to read this passage during lent to give us hope, to remind us of promise, to break through our stubbornness and guide us to be just as reconciling, welcoming, forgiving, and loving?

If this passage does anything for me this week it’s this: it reminds me that I, too was just as wretched as this son, but I am saved. It reminds me that I, too, was once lost but am found. It reminds me that I, too, was once blind but now see. It reminds me that I should be as loving and gracious as the son’s father…I should be as welcoming and excited when I see people seeking their Father…I should be generous and encouraging when I witness people coming Home.

Friends, I pray we’ll never forget the amazing grace that God has for each of us. I pray we’ll find ways to reconcile with our Heavenly Father who sees us and is filled with compassion. I pray we can see Abba Father running after us, throwing his arms around us, and kissing us with great affection. I pray that we can hear our Creator’s voice whisper in our ear: “My beloved, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” May each of us live in the Amazing Grace of our Father.

much love. sheth.

—–
[1] Luke 15:2, New Revised Standard Version

Truth: Repentance

A large part of the curriculum for my first course in theology (taught by the ever-inspiring Dr. Cynthia Rigby) was theological vocabulary, and the process is just as you may recall from elementary school. We were given words each week which we had to define using dictionaries, lectures, and discussions; every few weeks there would be a short quiz where we were to prove our understanding of this new language we were discovering. We learned little words we thought we knew: Faith. Heresy. Grace. Vocation. Sin. Theology. We learned big words and phrases: Epistemology. Hermeneutics. Predestination. Homoousias/Homoiousios. Fides quaerens intellectum.

In the gospel reading this week (Luke 13:1-9) Jesus uses a word that a lot of us probably know, or at least think we know: repent. When I hear this word my mind is drawn to old-timey pastors holding signs on street corners that read “Repent for the kingdom is nigh!” (Matthew 3:2). I recall being a child, sitting in the old Mile High stadium in Denver, listening to Billy Graham declaring the sins of those in attendance and their need for repentance. Youth conference leaders begged us to come forward and repent of our sins so as to enter into relationship with God. In each of these cases, the definition of repentance has somehow been replaced with confession.

“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand” Gelatin silver print 28.9×23.9 cm. Dora Maar, 1934.

It’s understandable in the context in which I grew up, where salvific-evangelism and weekly reports of how many so-and-so had saved was king, but I sure wish they’d have just called it confession. I wish they called it for what it was: an act of acknowledging and articulating one’s sin.[1] Their altar calls rarely (if ever) allowed space or time for repentance; these moments in arenas and stadiums are momentarily life-changing, but what about tomorrow? What about when those who went forward to confess their sins had to go home and face the causes of their sins? What about those who confessed on Sunday morning then went about their life Sunday afternoon?

In our new testament scriptures, this word translated ‘repent’ comes from the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), and it essentially has two components to it: “sorrow for sin and turning from sinfulness to righteousness”[2] The Heidelberg Catechism – one of the documents the PC(USA) uses to help us understand our faith – tells us that in repentance there is “the dying-away of the old self, and the rising-to-life of the new.”[3] Going further, the catechism tells us that the dying-away of the old self persuades us “to be genuinely sorry for sin and more and more to hate and run away from it” and that, in rising-to-life of the new we have a “wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a love and delight to live according to the will of God by doing every kind of good work.”[4]

This is far beyond simply confessing of one’s sins; repentance is the confession of sin and the movement away from it, it’s admission and advancement. When, in the Lukan narrative, Christ tells those in his presence that they must repent, he’s not telling them to merely come forward, admit their sins, and then go on sinning again; no, he’s telling them to admit their sins and work to sin no more. He’s telling them that the mercy of God has afforded them this moment for repentance, for declaring one’s sins and a commitment to move away from them.

When we follow Christ’s call to repentance we take a long, hard look at our own life and the ways and means by which we have violated God’s will. We reflect on those deeds, thoughts, and words which have caused distance between us and our Creator. We admit where we have sinned, where we have failed, where we have done wrong and, in understanding repentance, we don’t stop there; we don’t admit our sins and then go on sinning – no, we confess where and how we have sinned and we work to remove ourselves from them. Repentance calls us to confession and change, to acknowledgement and advancement.

This repentance stuff isn’t just a personal-sin thing…it’s a Christian-community thing. We live in community and sometimes (quite often) we also sin in community. When we follow Christ’s call to repentance, we look at our Christian community’s complicity in slavery, not merely admitting complicity, but also making movements to ensure the end to slavery in all its forms.

We hold difficult conversations about systemic and institutional racism; we read books that don’t whitewash history but ones which plunge us into the blood and tears drawn by slave owners. We make conscious efforts and take deliberate actions to ensure equal and equitable opportunities for all people, not just in our Christian community but in our global community, calling out racism when we see it – even at the risk of our own security and safety.

When we follow Christ’s call to repentance, we confess the ways in which we have been hurtful, harmful, and hateful toward our LGBTQIA+ neighbors and siblings in Christ. But beyond confession we work to understand, love, encourage, and advance their rights and liberties. We meet to learn and understand language and the importance of word choice. We ensure our own companies – and those we support – refuse discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice. We listen to and honor the stories of coming out, of being invited in, of finding community, relationship, acceptance, and love. We follow Christ’s commands to “do to others as you would have them do to you”[5] and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”[6]

When we follow Christ’s call to repentance, we confess the ways in which we have ridiculed and refused, denied and derided, ignored and insulted those experiencing homelessness, those widows and orphans among us, those unjustly jailed and imprisoned, those who are beyond our income, our intelligence, our imagination. But beyond confession we stand against economic injustices which prevent financial proliferation and prosperity. We defund the ways and means of war, using the money instead to fund shelters and food banks, early childhood education and subsidized healthcare. We seek humane ways to enact justice, fair ways to shape reconciliation, and arrange for restoration. We give food and drink, shelter and clothing, health and healing as freely as it has been given to us.[7]

In repentance we not only confess our sins, we not only work to move away from them, but we live with “wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a love and delight to live according to the will of God by doing every kind of good work.”[8] Repentance isn’t some gloomy, dreary, downer – it’s a call to life abundant, life resplendent! Repentance gives us the opportunity to not only be renewed and restored, but to live into it. Through repentance we’re given a new life and a new way of living. Because of repentance we are able to invite others to join us in this joyful, delightful life.

Friends, Christ calls us to repent and he gives us opportunity upon opportunity to do so. But there will come a day…there will come a day when He will judge us. Christ will judge the ways in which we did or didn’t feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger. Christ will judge the ways in which we did or didn’t clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. Repent, my friends. Move away from the death of sin – “more and more…hate and run away”[9] from the old, dead life and run towards the life-giving, joy-filled life found through repentance with Christ. May it be so.

much love. sheth.

—–

[1] The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms s.v. “confession”, Donald K. McKim (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 63.
[2] The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms s.v. “metanoia”, Donald K. McKim (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 197.
[3] “The Heidelberg Catechism” Question 89 (4.089) from The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Part I: Book of Confessions (Louisville: The Office of the General Assembly, 2016), 59.
[4] ibid.
[5] Luke 6:31
[6] Mark 12:31
[7] Luke 6:38
[8] “The Heidelberg Catechism” Question 90 (4.090) from The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Part I: Book of Confessions (Louisville: The Office of the General Assembly, 2016), 59.
[9] “The Heidelberg Catechism” Question 89 (4.089), 59.

Missouri Pro-Life Law Anything But

Missouri State Representative Brian Seitz (R) has introduced HB 2810 which would criminalize “trafficking abortion-inducing devices or drugs” as well as any attempt to prescribe, administer, or dispense any means or substance to perform or induce an abortion. In toto, women’s healthcare and the work of physicians, pharmacists, and chemists would be criminalized. In an attempt to be pro-life, this bill is anything but.

While outlawing a woman’s choice to access medications and medically-sound treatments is bad enough, Rep. Seitz’s bill would, in part, make it a class A felony if “The abortion was performed or induced or was attempted to be performed or induced on a woman who has an ectopic pregnancy” and if “The abortion was performed or induced or was attempted to be performed or induced on a woman who is a victim of trafficking.”

Medical consensus maintains that an ectopic embryo is not viable. While the embryo may grow outside the uterus, it ultimately dies due to insufficient hormone and nutritional supply. Left to grow without the use of Rep. Seitz’s proposed-criminal medical treatments, the pregnancy will rupture, causing abdominal hemorrhaging – often fatal to the woman. Criminalizing medical treatments and medications used for aborting unviable ectopic pregnancies will lead to death. The language in this section of Rep. Seitz’s bill is not pro-life.

A girl or woman who is the victim of trafficking carries with them both visible and invisible scars. She faces physical and sexual violence, homicide, torture, psychological abuse, and the deprivation of food, water, and compassion. She carries anxiety, depression, self-injurious behavior, substance addiction, PTSD, an dissociative disorders. She suffers from neurological and gastrointestinal issues, chronic pain, STI’s, uro-genital problems, skeletal fractures and traumatic brain injuries. She has suicidal ideations, often attempting and often succeeding. She carries the fetus of the sadistic and vicious man who caused the violence, abuse, and rape. Rep. Seitz’s bill would ensure that, beyond carrying a lifetime of physical and emotional scarring, the woman would have to carry the child of the man who took her life. The language in this section of Rep. Seitz’s bill is not pro-life.

Human life is valuable and beautiful, a miraculous gift from a generous Creator, but there is nothing in Rep. Seitz’s proposed bill which is loving nor life-giving. Criminalizing medically-proven, life-saving treatments is not pro-life. Denying a girl or woman access to her own healthcare for her own body is not pro-life. Refusing care and love for the life that is so as to protect the life that may be is not pro-life. Make no mistake: Rep. Seitz’s bill is not pro-life.

Truth: Instantly Waiting

Instant oatmeal. Instant mashed potatoes. Instant rice. Instant pots. Instant gratification. Our world lives in the here and now and we demand what we want when we want it here and now. We don’t have time to wait. Waiting is laughable. When we can have anything we want whenever we want it, waiting is a joke, isn’t it? When millions of dollars are won and lost in milliseconds, waiting is a risk, isn’t it? When seconds count in CPR, waiting is deadly, isn’t it? Waiting is anti-capitalism…waiting is un-American…waiting is so difficult that we would rather forgo the end just to get what we can have right now.

Like most of us, I’m not big on waiting. As a child knowing a big event was coming up – church camp, Christmas, my birthday – I would be sleepless for nights prior; my excitement kept me awake and I could hardly wait. In the weeks leading up to my marriage proposal it took everything within me to stay on schedule and follow through with the planned day – I didn’t want to wait any longer to be engaged and married. As my partner works the remainder of her residency we work towards the next chapter of our life together, waiting for God to guide us to where and what we would do next. Waiting in good times is hard, but waiting in difficulties gnaws at my spirit and I often wonder how much more I can take; more often than not I end up yelling at God for delaying, for taking so long, for making me wait: “Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!” (Psalm 27:7)

Through the daily news I hear stories from Ukraine, stories of citizens – old and young – fleeing and fighting, fearful and faithful, all stretched to their limits as they live through the unprovoked, illegal Russian invasion, occupation, and war. I can’t imagine what decisions the Ukrainians have had to make – and continue to make – on an individual level for mere survival. How long they have waited! How long would I be able to wait, stretched to the limits until I couldn’t possibly wait anymore?

Since Europeans first set foot in the Americas, men and women who didn’t look like them were enslaved and traded, abused, murdered and tossed aside like garbage. For nearly five hundred years human beings on both sides of the Atlantic have treated other human beings as ‘less than’ – a mindset and practice which still occurs to this day. Racist and supremacist attitudes and behaviors are entrenched in our cultures, institutions, and personal beliefs, forcing people of color to continue to wait for equity and equality, to wait for desegregation and integration, to wait for acceptance and love. How long they have waited! How long would I be able to wait, stretched to the limits until I couldn’t possibly wait anymore?

This week marks two years since Missouri’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 and the residents here in the southwest corner of the state, like so many across this nation, have been less than patient with their neighbors, with the virus, masks, and vaccines. The virus and the work to defeat it has caused disruptions in every corner of life: each of us has been touched by the shift in the workforce and extended unemployment…by the dip in income and rise in inflation…each of us dealing with the physical, emotional, and spiritual effects of being isolated and alone for so long. How long we have waited for a reprieve! How long will we be able to wait, stretched to the limits until we can’t possibly wait anymore?

Here in the second week of Lent, as many of us pray, fast, and seek justice for our neighbors we have to admit that we’re already over it. We’re tired of waiting for Easter…we’re tired of waiting for ordinary time – for ordinary life – both in the church and in the world. We’ve been patiently waiting and diligently working but dang it, we’re over it. The Psalmist’s words this week ring in our Lenten hearts: “Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!” (Ps. 27:9) My translation: “Enough already, God!”

Like the psalmist, we too stand before God demanding satisfaction and gratification right now. No more waiting! How long, O Lord, will we be able to wait, stretched to the limits until we can’t possibly wait anymore? How much longer must we face war and violence, invading forces and enemies which seek to kill us? How much longer must we be seen as less than…be chased down and beaten down, murdered in our streets and homes because we don’t have the skin color of the ones in power? How much longer must we live under old relationships in the shadows of emotions from our abusers? How much longer must we be alone, left and abandoned, burdened with the realities of life? How much longer…

…..

I wish I had an answer to this. I wish I had a time frame that I could tell you about to alleviate the anxiety…but I don’t. I wish I had an answer to how much longer because I, too, am waiting. So I read on through this psalm to it’s final two verses. The Psalmist concludes their prayer with these words: “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:13-14)

Wait.

The one thing we don’t want to do any longer is the one thing we’re most encouraged to do: wait. The answer our question of how much longer is but a command: wait. The Hebrew word used here for wait is קַוֵּ֗ה (qavah) which principally means to wait or look eagerly for and we get that, we live and push against that all day, everyday. But look at this definition from Ernest Klein, who says “the original meaning probably was ‘to twist, stretch’, whence ‘to be stretched, be strained’, whence ‘to await tensely.’”

The psalmist reminds us that the things of this world will assuredly cause us to be stretched to our limits, pulled to the point of breaking…we will be waiting in tension for God to answer us, to respond to our prayers, our complaints, our demands. We will be waiting in tensions of war and violence. We will be stretched thin as we wait to be recognized and valued. We will be waiting, strained, as our emotions remember…as our spirits remain alone.

And the psalmist reminds us that on either side of us, tensions await: “Wait for the Lord…wait for the Lord!” You’re going to be stretched…you’re going to be strained! But notice what the psalmist places in the midst of that tension and strain, of that stretching us thin: “be strong, and let your heart take courage.” The psalmist encourages us to be bold and alert, for our hearts to be firm, resolute, and courageous in the midst of the strain and stretching.

It’s hard. Most everything we experience and go through in this world is hard…it’s difficult…it challenges us and pulls us from all sides. This world is prone to stretching us to our breaking point. This world is apt to strain us to exhaustion. I know it because I’ve lived it…because I’m living it right now. But I believe.

I believe that we shall all see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
I believe that God will hide us in his shelter in the day of trouble;
     that God will hide us under the cover of his tent;
          that God will set us high on a rock.
I believe and I wait, I wait and I believe.

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? I believe! I believe! I believe! I wait and I believe and I give thanks to God. Amen.

much love. sheth.

Truth: The Choice.

First Sunday in Lent: Luke 4:1-13

As we move into the Christian season of Lent we begin with Jesus in the wilderness at the start of his ministry and the gospel writer Luke brings us into this wilderness story in chapter three. Jesus, now an adult, has sought out John the baptizer who is working near the Jordan river. As the crowds receive John’s baptism “of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 3) Jesus joins the people, standing with fishermen and shopkeepers, children and widows all waiting their turn (Why was Jesus baptized?). The baptism itself, according to Luke, is rather uneventful; it is Jesus’ prayers afterward which opens the heavens and the Spirit descends “in bodily form like a dove” (v. 22) accompanied by a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (v. 22). After this, the thirty-year-old Messiah is led to the wilderness, “where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (4:2).

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness (Jésus tenté dans le désert) by James Tissot

This temptation story is rather familiar to us: Jesus heads out to the wilderness to pray and fast, and it is there that he and the devil have an embattled exchange of and will and words for forty days. Luke shares with us three temptations presented to Jesus by the devil: gratification, power, and selfishness. I think we can all agree that these are core desires for any human, and for Jesus I’m sure they were overwhelmingly attractive to his humanity.

Who doesn’t want to be fed at the very onset of hunger? More. Now. Faster. Immediately.
Who, after working long and hard, doesn’t want success? Power. Fame. Glory. Image.
Who, living in this world, wouldn’t put oneself first? Me. Mine. Win at all costs. Forget them.

Jesus denied himself and these temptations presented by the devil, and chose to live out his vocation as peacemaker, love bearer, God-with-us Messiah. Knowing the full story of who Jesus is and what he did we shrug our shoulders and say, Of course he did – he’s Jesus. We readily acknowledge Jesus’ God-ness but all-too-often forget his human-ness. While he vanquished the devil in the wilderness, is it not possible that these temptations continued to follow him as he traveled throughout Galilee?

As “he began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone” (Luke 4:15), was Jesus not tempted by his immediate successes? On the Sabbath, as he read from the prophet Isaiah before the Pharisees and Scribes, proclaiming his Godly anointing (Luke 4:18-19), was Jesus not tempted by his fame and glory, prophesied centuries earlier? As he stood there in Nazareth (Luke 4:22-30) with the power to win the people over and make them follow him, was Jesus not tempted to win them over at all costs…to force them to follow…to vanquish all naysayers for personal success?

In these temptations of Jesus I find deep connection with my Lord because, truthfully, this is where I find me and my life most often. These temptations Jesus faced daily are temptations that I face daily: I want things now…I want fame and power…I want to put me first and to walk all over my friends and enemies alike to get what I want. I want to choose these temptations because they would feed my feeble ego, my need-for-now, my human self-worth. Fame? Instant gratification? Self-success? Sign me up!

It’s easy to understand these temptations because they’re what make the world around me work. Products are pushed on me because I need them now, because I can get them now; pretty much anything I could ever want is a mere two days away. The ability to be famous and popular is just one social media post away – if I keep dumping content something will eventually stick and the world will know me. The stories of the self-made success are all around me, and the three step programs to be a self-made success are just a credit card purchase away. I can readily have anything and everything that I could ever want if I so choose…I just have to say yes to the temptations around me.

But in these temptations of Jesus I also find connection with my Lord because I find a model of overcoming temptation. Throughout his ministry Jesus’ humanity faced these temptations on a daily basis, wrestling with himself – the God and the man – each vying for priority, importance, and significance. But God won – God always wins. Despite his immediate successes, each day Jesus chose God. Despite his unprecedented popularity, each day Jesus chose God. Despite his ability to choose human-self, each day Jesus chose God. Jesus chose to follow the One who chose him, to follow the One who called him by name, to follow the One who knows him as Beloved. God chose Jesus, and Jesus chose God right back.

And the beauty of it all – the beauty of God and God’s love for us, friends, is that God chose us. In the life of Jesus lived on earth among us, in the death of Jesus on the cross for and as us, in the resurrection of Jesus promising our own resurrection, God chose us every step of the way. In and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God chose us – would you choose God right back? In the face of temptation, would you say yes to God? Would you choose the treasures of heaven over the here-and-now treasures of earth? Would you choose criticism, disapproval, and disregard over fame, power, ‘shares and likes’? Would you choose to live a life of love for your neighbor and their well-being over your self and your desires? God has said yes to you – will you say yes to God?

As we begin our journey into Lent, I pray that each of us can choose God over temptation… choose love over hate…choose peace over war. May we cling to these words from 1 Peter 5:8-11 (The Message translation):

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does!

God loves you and chooses you every day…dare you return the choice?

 much love. sheth.

Truth: No Going Back.

Eighth Sunday After Epiphany: Transfiguration Sunday

There’s a danger in seeking to return to ‘normal’ – to those days and things we were so accustomed to pre-COVID. We long for those times when we didn’t worry about masking and public healthcare, about vaccines and business-rights, about being together in work and worship. Now, all of these things weigh heavily on our minds in one way or another because we so enjoyed the way things were.

On this side of it, pre-COVID life feels so footloose and fancy-free, a time when we could do anything with anyone, never having a care in the world. We want to go back to that – to that normalcy, to that which we knew best, to that which comforted us and calmed us. We want to go back to the moments we knew best. We want to go back because it’s in those times and spaces when and where we felt most pleased, most satisfied, most contented.

But the danger in going back – the danger of not moving forward – is stagnation. When waters cease moving malaria and dengue persist, bacteria and parasites flourish. When economies see little or no growth, unemployment rises and sales fall, wages flounder and worker satisfaction dips. When we are no longer willing to ensure future generations succeed, when we fail to guide our children through life, when we ignore mentoring and volunteering opportunities we fall into stagnation – we feel disconnected and uninvolved with the world around us. The danger of stagnation, of going back, of not moving forward is sickness, insecurity, selfishness, separation and death. Returning to ‘normal’…going back…not moving forward is not an option for the living.

In the gospel of Luke we read about the Transfiguration of Jesus – an event spoken of in each of the synoptic gospels (Matt. 17:1-8; Mk. 9:2-8; Lk. 9:28-36). Jesus takes the closest apostles – Peter, James and John – and they head off into the mountains to pray. There on the hilltop Jesus experiences the transfiguration; Luke says, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” As great as this is, it gets even better: “Suddenly, they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him (Jesus).” The apostles are in full fanboy mode now, because Moses and Elijah are the prophets, they’re the fathers of the faith, ancient men suddenly present in the apostle’s midst.

Augustin Kolawole Olayinka – The Transfiguration

It’s a moment that Peter desires to be frozen in time – it’s a moment he wishes to remain in forever – and he proposes to Jesus that it should be so: “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah” (emphasis mine). Peter wants to push the pause button on life to hang out with these great men of his faith – a completely understandable desire. He wants to hold on to this moment – so much so that he doesn’t even care if he sleeps in the open – as long as he doesn’t have to move forward, as long as he doesn’t have to return to his ‘normal’ life.

Remaining on the mountaintop with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, though, would mean stagnation for Peter, James and John. What good would it do them to be in the presence of these prophets but have no one to tell? The apostles could certainly gain oodles of wisdom and understanding, but if it’s not shared with others that knowledge stagnates and becomes worthless. What good is good news if it’s not told to others? Peter’s request is understandable – we get wanting to not move forward…we get wanting to go back – but going there is sure and certain death.

There are moments I long for, moments that I wish I could return to: the last time I visited my grandma in the nursing home and held her frail hand; to the moment I selfishly chose to walk away from a dear friendship; to the moment in seminary when I felt most accepted and loved for who I was. I want to return to these moments because they were precious to me, and I want to hold on that…because they were hurtful to me (and others) and I want to repair that…because they were life-giving, life-bearing, life-resurrecting and I need that right now. But those moments are long-gone, and going back to them to remain in them would leave me in the past, in what was, in the things that are long-since dead. I have to move forward, I have to press on because going back would be my own sure and certain death.

We have to move forward, we must move forward because what was can’t be what is, and what is can’t be what will be. The danger lies in staying put, in holding on, in striving to maintain this for all of time. My marriage will die if I try to maintain what is and not pursue what it will be. My self will be a lie if I go back to being the person I was in 2003. My relationship with God will become void of life if I try to keep it the way it is right now without any hope and vision for what it will be.

The Church will die if it tries to go back to ‘normal’ – to those pre-COVID days that we knew so well, that we worshiped in so well, that we were comfortable with, never thinking about accessibility, health care, and connection. Our local church will die if we hang on to what was, to what we were so fond of, to what was best for us in our time way back when. Blacks and Asians, Indigenous and Migrants will continue to face racism, oppression, hatred and death if we go back to what was…if we stay in what is. The unhoused and migrant populations will continue to go unnoticed and abused if we go back to what was…if we stay in what is. The danger in not moving forward is stagnation, and stagnation is sure and certain death.

The manna we are fed is meant for today…we can’t save it, we can’t go back to it. Yesterday’s provision is rotten and moldy and will certainly kill us. The encounters we have with God on these mountaintops are meant for today…we can’t stay here forever, we can’t go back to them. The God we serve is not the God of stagnation and death, but the God of the moving and living.

We are meant for the now and the not yet – we are meant to live, to move, to grow and flourish. We are called to life and hope, to free the oppressed, to lift up the suppressed, to give mercy to those whom we have power over, to love our neighbors – to love our enemies(!). We are called to correct injustice, to care for creation, for widows, for orphans. We are called to life – to life abundant. There is no turning back.

Have you decided?
There is no turning back.
Though none go with you, will you go forward?
With the world behind you, and the cross before you, will you go forward?
There is no turning back – no turning back!
Don’t let death win – have you decided to not turn back?
Life is there, ahead of us, in abundance. Have you decided?
What a world it will be when we declare that there is no turning back!

much love. sheth.

Truth: Love in the Waves of Violence

(Heads up – this post deals with intimate partner violence and abuse/abusers/victims. Also, my partner has agreed to let me post this and she’s read it ahead of time)

My partner recently wrote a piece about trauma stewardship and how she has been handling her own history of trauma brought to the forefront of her soul by the intimate partner violence heard through our apartment walls. She’s been diligent in confronting the emotions and feelings and I’m so grateful that she’s working with her therapist to both understand and manage them.

But some days are still difficult for her and random actions, sounds, and images can – in a moment – flip the trauma switch for her. She wrote in her post: “…in the midst of remembering my trauma I was journaling and wrote, “I hate that he still has control over me.”” In spite of her very best efforts and countless hours of therapy, this man is still able to haunt her and control her actions, thoughts, and feelings. Though years and miles apart, he still enacts violence on her. It hurts her to know and live this reality and it hurts me to witness her actions and reactions to the ghosts of his violence.

If I’m honest though, it more than hurts me – it angers me. It angers me that his abuse affects our relationship. It angers me that his violence affects our physical contact. It angers me that he has a voice in our relationship, that he controls the direction of our relationship, that he lingers in the corners of our relationship. It angers me that his misguided, mismanaged anger angers me.

The lectionary gospel passage from Luke has Jesus continuing his Sermon on the Plain, focusing this week on loving one’s enemies, doing good to those who hate, blessing those who curse, and praying for those who abuse. It’s a stretch to say that even the kindest and gentlest people find difficulties following Christ’s call in this passage, let alone someone who has directly experienced pain and violence at the hands of others. As I read my Lord’s words I’m confronted with the steep mountain of Christ-likeness I’m called to climb.

While I know that I’m called to scale this mountain and live out forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation with my enemies – in this case the one who has abused my partner – I really don’t want to. I don’t want to love him or do good to/for him…I don’t want to bless him and pray for him. What I want to do is what he has done to my partner: I want to abuse him. I want to traumatize him. I want to make him suffer as much as he has made her suffer. And that, too, angers me because that’s not who I am called to be: I am not called to reaction, retaliation, and violence – I’m called to response-in-love, forgiveness, and healing; somehow, someway I’m called to both respond in love and flat-out love the one who hurt my partner.

That’s a difficult call to both hear and live into because it’s so counter-intuitive to the ways of the world that I so often witness around me. Violence is countered with violence…abusers are abused…murderers are murdered…an eye for an eye, right? And this call to respond in love is difficult to hear because it feels like I am accepting, allowing, and agreeing with/to his violence. But I don’t want to affirm his actions, I want to condemn them and ensure he never abuses another person. Can I somehow denounce and rebuke his violence – and the violence he’s caused – in a loving, Christ-like way? In the depths of trauma and ripples of violence can I live out Christ’s words found here in the gospel of Luke?

Perhaps I can begin to walk towards love for this man by first choosing to respond rather than react to the ripples of his violence. Perhaps I can love him best right now by resisting the swells of his violence that pervade my and my partner’s life through non-violent means:

  • by choosing to no longer accept the violence he imposed in my partner’s life nor accepting abuse in the lives of others around me. I choose to continue to stand with my partner in her trauma and refuse to accept any excuse for her ex’s behavior. I choose to stand with other victims of violence and listen to their stories
  • by choosing to no longer submit to the violence, instead standing against it in any of its forms, both in the life of my partner and in the lives of those around me. I will stand opposed to intimate partner violence and domestic abuse in all its forms and support organizations that provide safe housing for victims
  • by choosing to no longer seek or enact violence in retaliation or reaction to him or those who act violently towards my partner, myself, and those around me. I refuse to think of doing harm to this man. I refuse to allow violent ideations to control my response to this man. I refuse to allow him to take up space in my brain for violent reasons. Instead, I choose to deny violence in all its forms and remain committed to peace – even with my enemies

I can’t say that I’d be willing to seek him out and offer him a peace offering today, but I can offer him this: I choose to end your violence in my life. I choose my partner and I will walk with her, giving her access to tools to respond to the violence you created in healthy, life-giving ways. I choose to respond in love to your violence by not reacting violently. I choose to respond in love to your actions by doing to you what you couldn’t, by doing to you what you never knew, by doing to you what confuses you most. I choose to pray for you even if I can’t utter a word. I choose to love you even when I can’t. I choose to respond to you in love until you can do it for yourself and those around you.

And to my dearest partner, I choose to remain committed to you, even as the waves of trauma ebb and flow through your life. Never forget that I (and so many others) are right here with you as you navigate these waters. I pray that they will calm, they will lessen, they will fade away.

May we walk in mercy, love, and action all the days of our lives.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Beloved

“She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom, and her eyes immediately met those of a large blue caterpillar, that was sitting on the top with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the smallest notice of her or of anything else.

“The caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.

“This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I-I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”[1]

 

 

“Who are you?” A question posed by the hookah-smoking Caterpillar to Alice, a girl lost in a topsy-turvy world who struggles to find an answer to the question. Her response to the Caterpillar – that she knew who she was – demands explanation, but all she can say is, “I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir…because I’m not myself, you see.”[2]

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world in the late spring of 2020 I was living into my Christian vocation and working to fulfill all that I believed I was called to be in this world. In the span of three months I had graduated from seminary, married my partner, moved to a new state and started my career as the pastor of a small, rural church. I had defined the essential characteristics of what was most important to me: degree-holding, small-town-living, left-of-center husband, preacher, writer, and pastor.

Over the past year-and-a-half I’ve struggled with maintaining most of these characteristics because of the loneliness of the pandemic, because I was the new kid on the block, because I couldn’t find support, because a thriving marriage is hard work. Mostly, though, I’ve struggled with preserving these characteristics because they’re not entirely preservable: they shift and change, ebb and flow. And now, with most of these characteristics in shambles (my marriage is good, though!), I’m am standing in Alice’s shoes, finding difficulty in explaining myself because I, too, am not myself anymore.

I’ve spent the past month moving our belongings and setting up our apartment. I’ve been cooking and cleaning, tending to my partner’s needs and wants. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and reflecting on my life over the course of the pandemic, seeking to shed some burdens and tend to some wounds. I’ve been mourning the loss of all these characteristics that I have leaned on, trusted, and felt comfortable being. All these things have been parts of who I was and what I did but, as much as I trusted them to be, they were never essential to my innermost being, to the createdness of who I am. Now I, like Alice, am standing in a topsy-turvy world faced with the ‘who are you’ question and my response is absolutely similar to hers: I hardly know who I am.

Truthfully, the Caterpillar question has loomed over my head for most of my life, one that I have returned to year after year. Notebooks have been filled with my own words as I have tried to spell out who I am. Books and psychology journals have been read and digested as I’ve sought the right words to define who I am. Therapists have spent countless hours guiding me on my quest to understand who I am. In the end, though, I hardly know much more than when I started because at the end of reading all those books and writing in all those journals and attending all those therapy sessions I always come up with the same definition of who I am: beloved.

 

Beloved. It’s one of those words we know, but we don’t really know. Etymologically it’s a compound-like-verb of be+loved. Love, we know, is “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person”[3] – here it would be like the love between a parent and child, between siblings, between close friends. The prefix be- is and Old English element meaning “about, around, on all sides”[4]; beloved means ‘to be surrounded by love and constant affection’. Encircled by love. Loved on all sides. No matter where one goes, as one who is beloved you cannot get away from the love. No matter what one does, as one who is beloved you cannot out-do the love.

My Creator’s love is a beloved-love. No matter what I do, no matter what I don’t do…no matter where I am or how I live, my Creator’s love never abandons me, never leaves me, never stops surrounding me on all sides. I am beloved by God. That’s who I am. My belovedness is the core of my existence, the reason for my living and being and doing. Without it I am not – I am nothing. Beloved is who I am and honestly, beloved is all that I am.

Despite my knowing that I am God’s beloved I struggle with accepting it. I struggle with trusting it. I struggle with living it. The books and journals and therapy sessions have all been a constant attempt to discover something more than my belovedness because it seems too simple. All of who I am is narrowed down to being beloved by God? Absurd. Preposterous. Unimaginable. Which is why I have continuously been seeking more. There has to be more, right?

In the absurdity and unimaginable is where we try to do and be so much more. We try to fill in self-perceived holes because being God’s beloved can hardly be enough. We seek money and fame, glory and prestige because to the world around us that is enough…that is who we are. We seek careers and promotions, job titles and jobs because that is enough…that is who we are. We plant our being in partnership, parenthood, friendship, and career because to the world that is who we are. To the world, being the beloved of God and resting in that belovedness is simply not enough.

But it is enough. Being God’s beloved is enough; in fact, it’s all there is. At the very core of who I am is my belovedness, is my being surrounded by the love of my Creator God. The very essence of who I am is God’s beloved. The reason for my living is because I’m God’s beloved. I love my partner and my parents, my siblings and my friends because I am God’s beloved and I express my love out of my belovedness.

And every good and pleasant and pleasing thing I do in my life is an expression of my belovedness. I seek my neighbor’s well-being – their welfare – because they, too, are God’s beloved. I care for all of creation because it, too, is God’s beloved. I seek the end of death in all forms because life is God’s beloved. I pursue mercy and justice for the oppressed and imprisoned because they are God’s beloved. I work to shelter those experiencing homelessness, to feed those experiencing foodlessness, to give drink to all who are thirsty because they are all God’s beloved. Alice and the Caterpillar, me and you and them – we are all surrounded by the love and affection of God – we are God’s beloved.

I’m living in a topsy-turvy world right now where nearly every worldly definition of who I am has been stripped away (again, marriage a-ok). I don’t know what I’m to do next, where I’m to live next, how I’m supposed to live out my vocation. I’m scared and worried, depressed and medicated. I’m looking at myself, questioning: “Who are you?”

Right now I don’t know much more than this:

Emmanuel, you love me.
I am your beloved.

And that is enough.
That is enough.
That is more than enough.

much love. sheth.

—–

[1] Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (New York: Books of Wonder, 1992), 57-60.
[2] Ibid, 60.
[3] Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “love,” accessed February 8, 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/love
[4] Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “beloved” accessed February 8, 2022, https://www.etymonline.com/word/beloved

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany – Luke 5:1-11

Jesus has been born, baptized, blessed, baited and began his ministry in Galilee by being rejected by his own townspeople, evading their assassination attempt as he “passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (Luke 4:30). Jesus delivers people from unclean spirits, heals the sick, and teaches in the synagogues – all work fulfilling the Isaiah reading that led to his Nazareth rejection (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19). Jesus is doing the thing he’s been called to do and the infancy of his ministry has already ruffled many a feather.

Jesus winds up on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with crowds of people surrounding him – so great of a crowd that they were “pressing in on him to hear the word of God” (Luke 5:1). In an effort to alleviate the physical pressure (and perhaps to control the crowd), Jesus climbs into Simon Peter’s boat and requests that the fisherman and his partner row their new passenger out into the shallow waters just off shore. Perhaps out of fear of also being overrun by the crowd, perhaps sensing some power from this man Jesus, Simon does as he is asked and pushes the craft just off shore. The fresh lake waters lap against the side of the boat as birds float overhead and Jesus’ voice, teaching the crowd, rises above the disquiet seaside.

Simon has a literal front-row seat to the teaching, and he hears a message in stark contrast to the ones he’s heard so long from the rabbis in the synagogues. This man speaks good news to the poor and impoverished…this man cries for freedom for the captives…this man opens blinded eyes to Yahweh’s truths…this man claims freedom to the suffering oppressed. These are the words of the prophets of old, those chosen by God to speak for God. These are the words of the priests of old, those chosen by God to pray and sacrifice for the bond between God and creation. These are the words of the kings of old, those chosen by God to serve, protect, and defend God’s people. This man – this Jesus – is declaring the reign of God in the world! His words begin to seep into the deepest depths of Simon’s soul where they kindle the long-since extinguished flame held for Yahweh.

The proclamation comes to a close and Jesus turns to Simon, instructing him to move the boat into deeper waters where Simon and his partner should drop down their nets to catch fish. Simon snaps back to reality; he has believed Jesus’ words up to this moment but knows that fishing here and now will do nothing. He and his partners worked all night without pulling in a single fish…there’s nothing in these deep, overworked waters. But…but something moved him to begin rowing…if his soul could find a spark of hope, perhaps his nets could find a fish or two.

Simon and his partner get to work, letting down their nets into the Galilean waters until they reached the ends of their nets and immediately the side of the boat dipped towards the water. The men, confused, begin to bring in their nets but soon realize the enormity of the catch. They scramble to gain steady footing, using leverage to pull with all their might but their nets begin to give way under the weight of the catch. Holding tightly to their net they cry out to shore for their partners James and John to come to their aid. Simon and his partner – with Jesus at their side – wait, straining against the heavy haul of fish in their nets.

James and John in second boat hurries to Simon’s side where the small company of fishermen work together to bring in the catch – a bounty so great that both ships struggled to stay afloat under the weight of their haul. That fire that had kindled in Simon began to take hold in his soul and he felt equally blessed and troubled by the events that were taking place before him. While incredibly grateful and thankful for this gift from God, Simon’s sinfulness…his unworthiness… his shame struggled within him, bringing him to his knees before Jesus and the fisherman cried out, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Jesus knelt down and looked Simon in the eyes and had compassion for him. For a long moment they looked at one another and Simon’s sinfulness became engulfed in the flames of hope and promise, belonging and belovedness; he met Jesus in his innermost being where the two embraced. At long last Jesus spoke words of assurance, “There is nothing more to fear. Nothing more. From now on you’ll be fishing for a greater catch, you’ll be fishing for people!” At these words Simon and company had no questions, no reservations whatsoever – they believed.

The men struggled and strained to bring their burdened boats to shore where they told the crowd to take as many fish as they wanted. The men hurriedly cleaned themselves up and abandoned everything they knew to follow Jesus.

—–

The beauty I find in this gospel story is found in Simon’s confession: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). I love these heartfelt words uttered by Simon because they encapsulate the meeting between humanity and God. When God comes near us we can’t bear to think of even imagining that the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all that was, is, and is-to-come would dare approach us. Why would God do such a thing? Why would God come near us when we’ve done everything in our power to dissolve and deny that relationship?

In Simon’s confession we see the incredulity of Jesus’ reaction in spite of Simon’s state of being: in spite of his sinfulness Jesus still gave Simon an overwhelming load of fish. How would Jesus dare do that for a sinner like Simon…like me…like you? How is it that in spite of all our sin, in spite of all our unbelief, in spite of our spitefulness Jesus still chooses to load down our nets with big catches?

And Simon expresses humanity’s reaction to God’s blessing: Go away from me! Don’t you see who I am? Don’t you see how sinful I am? I’m not worthy of your gifts! Each of us has a reason to express these same ‘go away’ words to Jesus. Our life’s history is riddled with moments of sinfulness that have made us feel like we’re unable to be in the very presence of God, let alone receive such a gift.

Our own life’s story might read like a ‘greatest hits’ record of sins but Jesus sees us just as he saw Simon Peter, and Jesus isn’t the least bit surprised because he knows us. Jesus knows our own relationship with Yahweh is much like that of Simon: darkened, cold, lightless and lifeless. Jesus knows our flames of life may have long-since burned out. But he doesn’t give up on us. He steps into our lives, calls us to work, gives us more than we deserve, and on top of all of that Jesus loves us even when we express unworthiness and unbelief.

In this fishing excursion at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry we witness the truth of the gospel: God loves us, God calls us, God blesses us, God invites us into repentance and restoration. God wants to be with us where we are. God wants to love us as we are and pushes us to do better and be better. Praise be that we are chosen, that we are loved, that we are blessed!

much love. sheth.