We Stand With Love - A Gathering For Worship

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We Stand With Love - A Gathering For Worship

WeStandWithLove.org is a group that has come together "...to say NO to the hate rhetoric that threatens to divide us and YES to more just and generous ways of living with and loving one another." Started by Glennon Doyle Melton, Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, Jacqui Lewis and many others, the website is filled with resources and inspiration. We were asked to contribute music and liturgy that churches could use for a worship gathering to stand with love. This was the result. Written by Lenora and Gary Rand, it features the music of The Many and songs from several other musicians who are a part of The Convergence Music Project, with links included.  It also includes the full text to a sermon. You may also download a PDF of this service for use in your own congregations. 

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Gathering Song

Opening Responses

 

One:    We come from different places. Different countries. Different streets. Different homes. Different families. Different histories.

 

 We look around and don’t see a single face exactly like our own.

 

All:      We come wondering if anyone in the whole world can really understand us and know us and love us.

 

We come from having enough. And we come from scarcity.

We come from joy. And we come from grief.

We come from hope. And we come from hurt.

 

We come as “all of the above.”

Depending on the day.

Depending on the hour.

 

We come by ourselves, longing, at least in some small way, for connection.

We come deeply aware of our essential aloneness and scared to let go of it.  Yet

also, longing to be together.

           

Because, look…we’re here. We’re all here.

 

We are all here… in this place, right now, by the grace of God.

 

 

Singing Together

Only Grace                            by The Many

https://themany1.bandcamp.com/track/only-grace

 

 

Things are broken here.

Things are shared

Things are carried here

Hearts bow in prayer

 

Chorus:

It is grace, only grace

That brings us here, holds us together here.

 

It is grace, only grace

That brings us here, holds us all together here.

All together here.

 

Things are dying here

Things are torn

Things are growing here

And burdens borne.

 

Chorus

 

Bridge:

Amazing grace, hear the sound.

Here is where hope is found.

 

Chorus

 

 

 

Opening Prayer

         Optional.  Extemporaneous.

 

Singing Response

Amahoro.  Tracy Howe Wispelwey

https://www.convergencemp.com/product-details.php?post=139

 

 

 

         Confession

 

One:    Please stand together as we confess our sin before God.

 

(The gathering stands)

 

All:      We confess that we would rather not stand together.

            We confess that we would rather sit.

 

We prefer to sit because it’s comfortable. And because we’re tired.

And because we aren’t sure where to go, what to do.

And mostly we’re afraid of what standing might require of us.

 

Sometimes we sit in fear. Sometimes we sit in despair.

And mostly we sit alone.

 

We’d rather sit alone because “togetherness” is complicated. Loving is a messy, painful business – it’s hard enough to love people who are most like us,

but to love those who are unlike us, that seems impossible.

 

We sit alone, as if our lives depended on it.

 

We sit alone in our individual little corners of what we call comfort,

missing out on truly living. We hold onto our lives and we lose them.

 

We sit in fear. We sit in despair.

We sit alone. And we know this is no way to live.

 

 

         Assurance of Pardon

 

I invite you to take the hand of the person standing next

to you (as awkward and uncomfortable as that may feel), as you

hear these words of assurance from Romans 8:38-39.  

 

“For I am sure that neither death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, not powers, or height or depth, or anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

We do not stand alone.

 

Nothing can separate us from God’s love.

 

Passing of the Peace

 

Singing Response

                        There’s a Wideness In God’s Mercy

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.

There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven.

There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment given.

 

For the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind.

And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more faithful, we would gladly trust God’s word,

And our lives reflect thanksgiving for the goodness of our God.

 

            (Frederick William Faber, 1854)

 

Reading from the Epistles

         Romans 12: 9, 14-15, 17-21                           (from the Message)

 

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.

 

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.

 

If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

 

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

 

            Singing Response

                  Love, Love, Love Love

 

Love, love, love, love.

Christians, this is our call.

Love our neighbors as ourselves

For God loves us all.

 

Traditional.  As sung in canon at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEtDnBNGCQA

 


            Gospel Reading

John 13: 3-12, 34-35   (CEB)

 

1.   Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.

 

2.  When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 

3.  Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”

 

2.  “No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”

 

3.  Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”

 

2.  Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”

 

3.  Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.”

 

1.  He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”  After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table.   A few minutes later, he said to them,

 

3.   “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”

 

Singing Response

         Alleluia

 

Sermon

         Loving is a hard and awkward business. Do it anyway.

 

         (complete sermon follows the order of service)

 

Song Response

We’re Together in This.  David Lunsford

https://www.convergencemp.com/product-details.php?post=134

 

 

Prayer Ritual

 

What keeps you from standing with love? Is it fear? Is it confusion? Comfort? Anger? Your sense of rightness?  We offer this moment of silence and music for us to reflect on these things.

 

When you are ready, we invite you to take the pen and strip of cloth you’ve been given and name what’s holding you back.  Write it on the cloth and then bring it to the front and hang it on the fishnet hung behind the communion table. Tie your cloth to the net as your prayer of letting go – as the prayer of your commitment to stand with love.

 

Offertory Song

         (presentation of the Elements)

 

            Taste and See        by Rob Leveridge

            https://www.convergencemp.com/product-details.php?post=156

 

 

Chorus

Taste and see, taste and see

The Lord is good.

 

To those who search, to those who mourn,

To those who seek a place to lay the burdens borne

Come in and rest, come be made whole,

Come in and feast among the gifts of love with welcome to us all.

 

Chorus

 

For those who trust, for those who doubt,

For those whose difference others use to cast them out,

The table’s set, the circle’s wide

The banquet doors are open, welcoming everyone inside.

 

Chorus

 

Bridge:

Now break the bread, and join the body

See kindred fed, your hands extending

Take the cup, and share salvation

Pass the peace to every neighbor and nation!

 

           

 

 

The Lord’s Supper

 

Welcome

 

Let us prepare to eat and drink as Jesus taught us:

Coming together as people, who, though

we are not all alike, are all together,

like our prayers are linked together

in a tapestry of many colors.

 

That is what we come to this table

to take in, along with this bread and wine:

the amazing life-giving truth that

through Christ’s love and grace,

there is no “other” there is only “us”

and we are all welcomed and loved.

 

The Story

 

Let’s remember how Jesus first celebrated this meal of bread and wine with his disciples. It was a night like we all often have when we gather at a table, with friends or family or strangers, when we try to connect and we’re misunderstood. When we reach out and get hurt. When what we do as an act of love isn’t taken the right way.  

 

In the midst of that moment, Jesus, took a piece of bread and a cup of wine and blessed it and said.  “Do this to remember me.”  Wanting us to know that it is in this very human act of eating and drinking and sitting together at a table, that God is with us, that it is in the daily acts of living our lives that Christ is seen and known and experienced. This is where the hope of the world is, this is what love looks like… these messy, imperfect moments of being together.

 

So now, following Jesus’ example and command, we have gathered to share this bread and wine (grape juice).

 

The Lord’s Prayer

 

One:    Let us pray together the prayer of our Lord.

            We will be using a new paraphrase.

            Perhaps we can pray it with a new understanding and renewed commitment.

 

            God of Love...

 

All:      Who we experience as mother, father, friend, our deepest longing, our best thought, our greatest hope.

 

Your love covers the entire earth.  

Holding us all in your embrace,

 

You hold everything together.

 

We want to know what your vision for the world is  - help us.

 

We want to live in that vision – guide us.

 

Everything we eat and drink,

Everything that gives us life and joy, it all comes from you

 

We thank you for your mercy.

 

You hold nothing back.

 

Help us be that open and generous

with others and with ourselves.

 

You forgive us constantly.

 

Help us forgive each other.

 

Deep in our hearts we believe that this is your world and that you love us all. Help us stand with you and with each other in that powerful love.

 

And together we will sing

of your mercy and grace and power.

Forever and ever.

 

Amen

 

Preparing and Blessing the Elements

 

For the Bread

 

We break this bread

remembering the brokenness in our world

and declaring that our hope for

wholeness is joining with Christ in love.

 

For the Cup

 

We pour this wine,

remembering the pain and bloodshed of our world

and declaring our hope

in the overflowing love of Christ for all of us.

 

Sharing of Communion

As the elements are served, the servers may say:

 

This is the body of Christ, broken for the life of the world.

This is the blood of Christ, poured out for the life of the world.

 

Music for Communion

Find Our Way to Love         by The Many  

https://themany1.bandcamp.com/track/find-our-way-to-love

 

 

(Solo while elements are received)

When I hurt you, I hurt me.

When I push you, I push me.

When I curse you, I curse me.

I weep with you as you weep with me.

 

When I starve you, I starve me.

When I bomb you, I bomb me.

When I kill you, I kill me.

I die with you as you die with me.

 

There is no “other.”

There’s only us on this trembling, tender earth.

And all of heaven is here with us when we find our way to love.

When we find our way to love.

 

When I hate you, I hate me.

When I lose you, I lose me.

When I find you, I find me.

I live with you as you live with me.

 

There is no “other.”

There’s only us on this trembling, tender earth.

And all of heaven is here with us when we find our way to love.

When we find our way to love.

 

Chorus (everyone joins)

God so loves the world.

God so loves the world.

God so loves ev’ryone of us

So we can find our way to love.

So we can find our way to love.

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving

           

Singing Together

         Holy is Your Name                           by The Many

https://themany1.bandcamp.com/track/holy-is-your-name-2

 

 

You have seen me in my sorrow

You have heard me in my pain

You have known me in my suffering

You have loved me in my shame

 

Chorus 1

Holy, holy, holy is your name.

Glory, glory, glory to your name.

 

The angels and the heavens sing

Of the new day that you bring

They sing, “Glory, glory, glory to your name.”

 

You have held me in my questions

You have heard me when I pray

You have looked on me with favor

You have never looked away

 

            Chorus 1

 

Chorus 2

The proud will fall,

The poor will see

That all hopes not lost,

And grace flows free.

 

                        Chorus 1

 

            Chorus 2

 

Benediction

 

One:    As we go out from this place,

            may we know, without a shadow

            of a doubt, that we are not alone.

            And know that we are desperately loved by God.

 

            In God’s embrace,

            let us not cower in fear,

 

All:      Let us stand with love.

 

Let us not huddle in judgment,

 

Let us stand with love.

 

Let us not sit in despair, 

 

Let us stand with love.

 

Let us not walk away in anger,

But by the grace of God,

 

Let us stand with love.

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon

Loving is a hard and awkward business. Do it anyway.

 

By Lenora Rand

As the story from John 13 goes, on the Thursday night before Jesus was crucified, he and his disciples shared a “Last Supper,” then Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.

 

I don’t know if you could tell from hearing this passage of scripture read, but this was not a Disney-esque moment. There was no soft-focus going on, no feel-good music swelling.

 

This whole foot-washing thing was weird. And uncomfortable. For all involved.

 

As I understand it, in Jesus’ time, since everyone wore sandals, foot-washing was common when entering a home, because most people’s feet were filthy…think donkey-droppings everywhere, camel-dung-strewn streets. Usually you washed your own feet unless you happened to end up at the home of a rich person who had slaves do it for you.

 

So when Jesus started washing his disciples feet, the disciples didn’t like it so much. It was confusing. He wasn’t their servant. It disrupted their cultural traditions. It didn’t seem right. They were resistant. It caused tension between them and Jesus.

 

This is the same night that Jesus issued his “new commandment,”  when he told them to “love one another as I have loved you.” So it felt like Jesus meant for this foot-washing experience to be a big huge, last-shot life experiential lesson in love for them, and for all of us.

 

Well here’s the lesson I took away from it:

 

Giving and receiving love is a hard and awkward and messy business.

 

Of course, I know this to be true from my own experience.  Maybe you do too.

 

Here’s just one example. I used to come home from work at night and as my way of trying to connect with my husband Gary I’d say, “So what did you do today?” Because I wanted to feel closer to him.

 

Sure, I kind of noticed that every time I asked that question he’d stiffen up, pull back a little. And either change the subject or answer begrudgingly. But I didn’t understand this since I was asking him this perfectly simple question out of love and with the hope of drawing us closer together. So, even though his response or non-response confused and hurt me, I kept asking. Maybe not every night, but at least a couple times a week. And he’d always respond the same way. This went on for a while…ok, 20 YEARS, give or take. Until finally one day I blew up and asked why he was being such an a-hole when I was asking such a perfectly loving friggin question.

 

We had a “discussion.” In which he finally told me (maybe finally understood himself) that every time I asked that question he felt like I was asking for an accounting of his day…in order to decide whether or not he’d done enough. And he never felt like he’d done enough.

 

Oh. Ooops.

 

So, no I don’t think it was a coincidence that the night Jesus awkwardly washed his disciples feet was also the night he said “Love one another as I have loved you.” He didn’t say those words in the middle of a Hallmark moment when love was easy and birds were singing and everyone was feeling fine and running in slow motion through fields of flowers. He said it when people were having a very difficult time taking in his love because it didn’t fit their picture of what it should look like. And also, possibly a moment, when he was feeling a tiny bit hurt because they couldn’t take it in.

 

Perhaps Jesus chose the weird, uncomfortable, awkward moment with his disciples to make his big statement about how we needed to love one another… this totally non-feel-good moment… because that’s what it actually means to love.

 

Maybe Jesus wanted us to know that love was going to be hard to take in, more often than not. And it was going to hurt like a sharp stick in the eye when we were desperately trying to show our love and the person on the receiving end was unable to receive it, or the way we were trying to show it was totally NOT what they really needed, and we were going to want to say “What’s the point?” and walk out the door and not bother ever again.

 

I think about this sometimes, as a white person who wants to stand in solidarity with black people and with the Black Lives Matter movement, as a person of privilege who cares about the poor, as a person who lives in relative ease and security who cares about refugees, and injustice and violence and wants to make the world more safe and welcoming to all.  

 

I want to be a person who’s helping, who’s loving…but honestly, quite often, I don’t always know how to do that, or if what I do end up doing is “right.” And it feels vulnerable, it feels risky, and awkward…I’m afraid that sometimes I’m asking the wrong questions (like I did with my husband), or showing love in ways that don’t feel all that loving to the recipients.

 

And I often find myself thinking I should just stop trying. Because I’m just stumbling and fumbling around here.  But this story, what Jesus did in washing the disciples’ feet, makes me believe that we shouldn’t give up, no matter how weird it feels, or how much it hurts sometimes, no matter how wrong we get it sometimes. We need to keep trying, and also we need to ask the awkward questions, ask people who we are trying to love, does this feel loving to you?

 

The other lesson in love I took away from Jesus washing his disciples feet was that love is more important than who’s right and who’s wrong.

 

Did you notice that everyone was there that night when Jesus kneeled to scrub those filthy feet? Everyone. Including Judas who had already set the wheels in motion for Jesus to be crucified. Judas who disagreed with the way Jesus was going about things. Who saw things quite differently and whose actions seemed wrong, on so many levels. Judas was there, and Jesus bent down and lovingly washed his feet too. Jesus didn’t argue with him or try to convince him of the errors of his ways, he didn’t call him an idiot, and he didn’t exclude him from his act of love.

 

In case you hadn’t noticed, we are living in a time when exclusion is everywhere. And while some of us are explicitly building walls or shutting doors or closing borders or drawing lines in the sand, others of us are creating barriers with words. We are living in the Age of I’m Right and You’re Not And May The Best Snark Win. Snarkiness is cool, and clever, and it is currency which gets you more followers on Twitter and more likes on Facebook. And truthfully, if you’re not engaging in righteous snarkiness…well you seem kind of dull. And frankly, these days, in the election season we’re living through, it often seems like the only sane response.

 

But does it do any real good? Or does it simply perpetuate the insanity?

 

Paul, in his letter to the Romans told them the only way to overcome evil is by doing good. And Martin Luther King Jr. preached the same thing in a sermon he gave in 1957, saying, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

 

“Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus says. Right after washing Judas’ feet, at a moment when hate, or at the very least, a really smart-ass dismissive totally deserved comment, might have seemed the most appropriate response.

 

“Love one another as I have love you,” Jesus says. And he calls it a new commandment…like he’s acknowledging... even warning them, perhaps... that this is a radical new idea he’s giving them.  A totally new and possibly crazy direction to follow. It’s a new order, a new prescription for how to live.

 

And isn’t always going to be easy. Or clear. In fact it will often be awkward and messy and won’t leave you feeling nearly as cool as being right and righteously snarky does.”

 

“But trust me on this,” Jesus, with his towel and his basin, and his wet and dirty hands seems to be saying, “Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, we’re all in this together on this planet and this is the way to real life.  So be brave, and grab a basin and kneel here with me. This is how you stand with love.”  





 

 



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A new version of The Lord's Prayer

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A new version of The Lord's Prayer

 

Here is a new rendering of the Lord's Prayer, written by Lenora Rand.  You might want to introduce it to your group saying something like:  "Let us pray together the prayer of our Lord. We will be using a new paraphrase. Perhaps we can pray it with a new understanding and renewed commitment."

 

 

 

 

 

One:  God of Love...

All:  Who we experience as mother, father, friend, our deepest longing, our best thought, our greatest hope.

Your love covers the entire earth.  

Holding us all in your embrace,

You hold everything together.

We want to know what your vision for the world is  - help us.

We want to live in that vision – guide us.

Everything we eat and drink,

Everything that gives us life and joy, it all comes from you

We thank you for your mercy.

You hold nothing back.

Help us be that open and generous

with others and with ourselves.

You forgive us constantly.

Help us forgive each other.

Deep in our hearts we believe that this is your world and that you love us all.

Help us stand with you and with each other in that powerful love.

And together we will sing

of your mercy and grace and power.

Forever and ever.

 Amen

 

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How To Wait - A poem based on Exodus 32

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How To Wait - A poem based on Exodus 32

How to Wait

So many things to make us turn our heads, shift our hearts.

So much shiny, better, instant.

Just add water.

So much water.

 

Then down from the mountain comes the word “stay”.

Down from the mountain comes the word “see”.

 

God sees me turn, question. And stays.

God sees me try other ways to heal. And stays.

God sees me in my stumbling, reveling, rolling in everything God is not.

And is not distracted.

God is not distracted.

 

And though I try, I cannot melt God into anything truer

for God is the shape and the shine and the holy.

 

I do not know what will make me sing today if my mouth is filled with wild worry about tomorrow.

God sings me and my breathing changes.

My body, knowing, opens to the truth:

God is the shape and the shine and the holy.

 

So fall, flail, fly and fall again.

It is our human heart God loves

and loves, so we may live

our holiest life.

Love our holiest love.

Be our holiest self.

 

Today you are seen.

Amen.

Today you are sung.

Amen.

 

 

cin salach

April , 2011

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"We're all big babies around here."  Mark 9:33-37 Reflection

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"We're all big babies around here." Mark 9:33-37 Reflection

A reflection based on the Lectionary text: Mark 9:33-37

Proper 20B/Ordinary 25B/Pentecost 17September 20, 2015  

Jesus asked them, "What were you discussing on the road?" The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest. He sat down and summoned the Twelve. "So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all." He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, "Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me." (The Message)

Sometimes I read stories about Jesus’ disciples and think, “What were they, 2nd graders?” I mean, come on. They’re walking down the road arguing with each other about who’s the greatest. I don’t think I’ve argued with anyone about who was greatest since…well since I stopped saying stuff like, “I can jump farther than you, poopy face, Na Na Na Na Na.” Grown ups just don’t say that kind of stuff.

Out loud, at least.

I work in advertising and this I-want-to-be-the-greatest-issue became apparent to me not long ago when we were preparing some new ad campaigns for a big client presentation. The way this goes is, as a creative person, you come up with the ideas and then go to internal meetings with the creative lead and all these business and research and strategy types—we call them suits--where you present your ideas, get feedback and refine the ideas or the ideas get killed completely and don’t move forward to the client. This is a big part of what I do for a living, but this process is always hard, always painful, because deep in my heart, deep in that secret, not-so-evolved-place inside me, I want to be the greatest. I want to be the one who has the best campaign in the room.

Not that I ever say any of this out loud, mind you. In meetings I am calm and thoughtful, and I’m rational and I nod my head calmly and thoughtfully and dutifully take notes on how to change and improve my campaigns and I act like a team player and I’m supportive of everyone’s work…while secretly inside I’m comparing myself and my stuff to everyone else’s, I’m seeing how we stack up against each other, I’m checking to see who’s the greatest among us. Is it him? Is it me? I want it to be me. I work really hard for it to be me. I don’t sleep well at night going over how I can make my work better and how I can present it better so I can be the acknowledged best in the room.

And as we were going through this campaign development stuff a couple weeks ago, I have to say, I didn’t feel like I had the best work in the room. And it was driving me crazy. I was feeling so bad about myself. Every day going into work I had to talk myself off the ledge. Not that anyone could see this of course. Outwardly, zen-like calm. Inwardly, gorilla jumping up and down, beating chest and screaming for more bananas.

So on the day of the big client presentation there’s about 30 people gathered in a room and us creatives get up one by one to present our campaigns. The first guy got up to present—Dom—and I have to tell you, I think Dom is brilliant. He’s funny and clever and quick, and he presents his ideas so well and he’s so likable that whatever he does always seems even better. In contrast I always feel stiff and like, even if my ideas are good, I’m terrible at presenting them, like I’m trying too hard and I’m boring and nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna eat some worms.

But this day Dom got up and presented his stuff and he wasn’t in top form, and the room wasn’t with him. Their body language, lack of laughter, I could just tell, he wasn’t going over like gangbusters. He was maybe even slightly semi-bombing.

And you know what?

I was glad.

I was relieved and happy -- outwardly calm and zen-like, sure, but inside leaping for joy, doing little cartwheels in my mind, full of glee and hope, because now maybe I had a chance, if not to be the greatest in the room, to be at least great-er.

So, yeah, I really wish I could tell you I am not like those disciples, those big babies arguing about who’s greatest. But I am ashamed to say, in my heart of hearts, I really am. And maybe the fact that I do it secretly, maybe that even makes it worse, meaner, nastier, deadlier.

Now, I’ve read this scripture before and the answer I thought Jesus was giving in this story was simple “Stop trying to be great, and put yourself last, be a servant, be humble and be small, like a child…”

But looking at this passage carefully again, I realized that actually isn’t what Jesus is saying at all. First he doesn’t tell you to stop wanting to be the greatest. In verse 35 it says “He sat down and called the Twelve and said ‘So you want first place?’”

See, he doesn’t say not to feel what we feel, he asks us just to claim it, admit it, stop hiding it. To say, yes, I may look like I’m Miss Zen-like Calm, but inside I’m a little rat in a maze desperately wanting first place. “Yes, I do, I do want first place.”

So that’s the first step…to tell the truth, to let go of the secret.

And then Jesus uses a couple metaphors to explain how to be great. He starts by talking about becoming like a servant.

Now for any of us who’ve struggled with codependency, or who just grew up in “the land of the free,” where we are all taught that the end goal of life is to be the boss, the star, this whole “be a servant” thing sounds way too much like “be a doormat,” “be a nothing.”

It’s hard to know exactly what Jesus meant by using this metaphor but I suspect being a servant in Jesus’ day meant something different than it does in ours. One thing that was probably the same, though, is that being the hired hand means you’re not in charge, and you know it. All you really need to do is show up and do what you’re being asked to do. And that’s it. Until the next day, when you show up and do it all over again. You’re not in charge…and no one expects you to be, and you are appreciated not for being in charge, not for being God-like, but for being present and available and willing to do what you do best as a servant, whether that’s washing the donkeys down or polishing the BMW.

Yet, these days, not being in charge often means you get to do all the crap work and don’t get any credit for it, you’re the first to be blamed, first to get fired. You have no power, no status, and basically you get shit on a lot. 

But when Jesus talks about being in servant, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, for example, which could also be called The Hired Servants Who Are Well Taken Care Of, it’s a different story. Remember, when the lost son of the story comes to his senses he thinks, “Wow I should just go home. My father takes care of his servants so well, they’re doing so much better than I am, I’d be happy to go home and just be one of them.” So, that’s a little different view of servanthood, isn’t it?

It makes me wonder if Jesus is saying, “You want to be great? Then be like one of my servants who I feed and clothe and give good beds to and give good work to do, be like one of my servants who people actually envy, because I don’t expect them to be in charge and because I take care of them so well.” It’s a picture of servanthood that isn’t about being a doormat or being responsible for everyone’s happiness. It’s a vision of servanthood that’s about being well provided for, well cared for.

The other metaphor Jesus uses to explain how to deal with our insanity around trying to be great is that of holding a child.

He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, "Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me." 

You want to be great? Jesus asks. Then embrace the children. As I do. When you do you will be embracing me and the God who sent me.

One day soon after we had our big client presentation, Gary and I met for lunch. Our waitress was in her late 20s and cute and kind of funny and joking around with us and we got started talking—she found out we had kids and she was saying how she didn’t know if she was ready for kids yet, but she didn’t want to wait too long either. And I told we’d waited until we were older and we were happy we did, I basically told her not to worry. And then she said something, kind of off-handedly, about how what she really needed to do was quit partying so much and get her life more together, and she laughed, but beneath the laughter there was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, shining like a tiny gold nugget, small, but hard to miss…a glimpse of her brokenness and need and fear…and it got to me. She walked away to keep doing her job and I almost cried. I thought about trying to say something to her—have you thought about joining a recovery group, or going to church,  for example…but I didn’t know if I should, I didn’t want to be weird or preachy or shaming. Anyway, after we were all paid up and we stood to leave she was just standing there and so I went over and hugged her. I embraced her, I held her like she was my own child, or like my favorite niece or something. And that hug, in that moment, felt like a prayer, it felt like me embracing her not just with my arms, but with God’s arms too. I have no idea what she took from that hug—when it was over she kind of laughed and said, “Oh, you’re so sweet…” but I know what I took from it. In that moment I felt…great. Great, not as in brilliant or funny or the best at something. But deep down great, connected to God, filled with love.

You want to be great? Jesus asks. And his answer seems to be: Then embrace the children. Stop trying to do it yourself. Stop trying to pump yourself up with the trappings of greatness. Let go of the illusion that you’re in charge and that if someone pronounces you the best in the room, you’ll feel loved. And you will finally love yourself. And you’ll finally feel loved by God.

 Yes, the problem with trying to feel great by being the best in the room is there’s always a Dom in our lives, always someone who seems greater than us, no matter what anybody says. Someone who’s skinnier or smarter or funnier or more talented, or who has a cleaner house or more together kids… As Sarah McLachlan said in one of her songs, “There’s always one reason to feel not good enough.”

So really, Jesus says, to get that feeling of connection and love you want, you might want to stop worrying so much about whether you’re the best, which is really about separating yourself from others, pulling away, standing out. You might want to stop that crazy swirl and look up and notice we’re all just big babies around here, we all just need someone to embrace us. So instead of holding your breath, and holding all the judgments and comparisons and shame, you hold out your arms and you hold all those children around you like Jesus did. You hold them in your arms and your heart.

 And you do the same for yourself.

 I used to think that when Jesus picked up that little kid in this story, he was telling us to be like a child who’s small and unimportant and knows it but it doesn’t matter—the child just has fun and doesn’t care who’s the best or not. But then I actually had children. And I realized practically from the word go they are in competition with each other, seeing who’s fastest, who has the most toys, who’s first in line, saying I’m better than you poopoo face…it’s amazing how non-angelic the little angels can be. They want to be the greatest, just like the rest of us big babies.

 But maybe there is one difference between little kids and us. They let Jesus pick them up and embrace them. When my kids were little and sometimes even now, when they felt bad about themselves they would crawl into my lap and let themselves be loved.

 That’s all Jesus seems to want from us. Not for us to pretend that we’re something we’re not. Not to be ashamed of our desire to be noticed and approved of and praised. You want to be greatest? Sure you do. I do. And It’s OK. We’re all big babies around here. Mostly we all just want to know we’re loved.

 I think I might be starting to get it. At least a little. At least. just for today, as they say. You want to feel great? Embrace the big babies all around you and the big baby that lives inside you. Embrace them like Jesus does. Like Jesus wants to do with all of us right here and right now.

 Just crawl into that lap, and let yourself be loved

 

 

Written by Lenora Rand. Talk originally given at a Recovery Worship service, 2009.

 

 

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What fills us. A poem based on Exodus 16

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What fills us. A poem based on Exodus 16

 by Cin Salach

When you are following, falling, when you are mid-air,

one day may as well be one hundred days. One thousand days.

One day may as well be forty years.

This day. This constant day, may it only be filled with God.

This heart, this relentless heart, may it only be filled with God.

This hunger, this immediate hunger, may it only be filled with God.

 

The minute pain stops we forget the pain because

Look! A shiny new hurt is right here!

Courage, rusty and small, silent, is not.

 

This fear, this endless fear, may it only be filled with God.

This body, this worried body, may it only be filled with God.

This path, this untraveled path, may it only be filled with God.

 

Then hope. As edible as bread.

As consistent as air.

As often as today.

 

Pray this three hundred and sixty five times forty.

Pray this with your mouth full.

Pray this with crumbs in your hands.

 

Just for today, I want this and no more.

I can gather what tomorrow needs, tomorrow.

Today, I can gather this.

 

 

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