Advance Praise for “Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear”

Courageous_Faith_4_largeYesterday I received word from Pilgrim Press that my second book, Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fearis leaving the printer and ready to ship. Courageous Faith is a book for our times, and a primer on how Christians can faithfully work for justice in a new era.

Like Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity, I believe the book will deepen the conversation about what it means to be a thoughtful and engaged Christian in the 21st century. Courageous Faith goes one step deeper, though, helping Christians to cultivate their own sense of moral courage in order to stand against injustice. Of course, those are just my thoughts. Here’s what others are saying:

Pilgrim Press writes:

For Christians, resistance is written right into our baptismal vows. Following Christ means resisting oppression and evil wherever we might find it. Doing that work requires us to first rise up, face our fears, and cultivate courage that can sustain us for the journey. Weaving together wisdom from sources as diverse as Reformed theology, recovery communities, social justice visionaries, and Twentieth Century history, Heath creates a way forward for those who wish to live lives of faithful, sustained, courageous resistance.

The Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence, Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching, Columbia Theological Seminary writes:

CarterFlorence_Anna_webEmily Heath is that rare combination of wisdom, honesty, warmth, integrity, character and courage — in short, everything that she shares here with us, in this bold and brave book.  In a language of faith that is nothing short of breathtaking, and in words that resound with encouragement and tenderness, she shows us how even our most stubborn fears can become a path of discovery, one that leads to the way of courageous faith and resistance.  This is a book I want to give to every one of my students,  my friends, and my own children.  When you need a reason to keep going, and the inspiration to do it, Emily Heath is the person you want walking alongside you.

The Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, author of Making Paper Cranes: Towards an Asian American Feminist Theology, writes:

cropped-MKK-Headshot-9Emily Heath’s Courageous Faith is exactly that — courageous. A compelling work that weaves incredibly powerful stories from their life, Heath reminds us in a provocative way that resurrection is the core of resistance. “Resurrection is God’s response to a world where injustice reigns so supreme that it would rather kill love and grace incarnate than welcome it. Resurrection is the final word to a culture of death, a refusal to allow goodness and mercy to be buried.” I love this so much, and the rest of the book is a reminder that the work of the resurrection is ongoing, and we, in all our humanity, are welcomed into that work, too. Heath’s book is also deeply faithful, and as I write this during the 500th year of the Reformation, I’m grateful for all the threads between recovery and reform-ery, and the call to do this work simultaneously, within ourselves and outside ourselves, too, in the world. Thank God that we have each other in this work of resistance, and that we have Heath’s work to spur us on to love and good deeds. 

The Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess, Executive Director of the ACLU in Ohio, writes:

BG-NCMarriageEquality_350-270There exists an embarrassingly small stack of books that explore both the inward and outward demands of earnest, rugged Christian faith. Most writers always weight one over the other, but not so here. In “Courageous Faith,” integrity’s altar call is equally personal and public, wherein author Emily Heath makes a powerful case for a moral courage bold and expansive enough to change and heal our bruised lives even as we must act bravely to change and heal our broken world.

Order your copy today from Amazon  or from UCC resources and dive into a journey of cultivating the faithful courage this world needs.

The “Glorify” Group Reading Guide Is Here!

9780829820294Just released by Pilgrim Press, the group reading guide makes it possible for church reading groups, Christian education classes, and other small groups to better use Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity. To know more why your church should be using Glorify in groups, read this post: https://emilycheath.com/2016/05/03/glorify-for-groups/

There are two format options, one with ten sessions and one with three. Suggestions for opening each session, and questions for discussion are included in this guide. The questions help readers to go relate the book to their own lives, and to their churches. It’s also helpful for those who are reading Glorify on their own and want to reflect more deeply on the text.

You can download the guide as a PDF, or print copies for your group, here: glorifystudyguidev2b

The book itself may be purchased from Amazon, Pilgrim Press, Cokesbury, and more.

This Book Will Not Save Your Church: Or, Why I Wrote “Glorify”

Glorify is a book I never meant to write.

In the fall of 2014 I was taking a research seminar for my Doctor of Ministry degree. One of our assignments was to present our plans for our doctoral project. So, I went with my previously stated intentions and wrote out a lengthy proposal for a project centered on Ron Heifetz’s theory of adaptive leadership and its application to the church.

If you’ve never heard about “adaptive leadership” before, here’s the quick and dirty version. There are two kinds of fixes: technical and adaptive. Many challenges can be solved by relatively easy “technical fixes”. I like to think of this as the “duct tape approach”. Something is broken? Duct tape it back in place. It will work…at least for a while.

But adaptive challenges are more difficult than that. They require us to take a look at the entire broken system and use creative approaches to fix them. Many of the challenges we try to solve with “technical fixes” are actually adaptive challenges in disguise. Because adaptive fixes take more time, energy, and effort, though, it may be tempting to just try to fix them with the duct tape of technical fixes instead.

I wanted to write about the mainline church and how we, as almost anyone will tell you, are broken. We are losing members. We are losing churches. We are losing our sense of purpose. My project was going to be a practical guide to bringing adaptive thinking to the congregational setting.

But one day in class, while I was sketching out my ideas, a thought came to me: was I attempting to fix an adaptive problem with just another technical fix? Am I writing another book that pastors and church leaders will buy in an attempt to fix things? One that, like most other books, won’t contribute much to solving the problem?

It was while I was pondering this that another thought came: Maybe Jesus is the adaptive fix.

9780829820294Bear with me. I don’t think we should follow Jesus to save our churches. But I do think that mainline churches have in many ways already put the cart before the horse (or forgotten the horse entirely). We have been so focused on saving ourselves that we have forgotten that someone has already done that. Perhaps the greatest adaptive fix the mainline could make would be to remember its purpose, and build back a sense of itself as belonging to a God of grace.

That fall I wrote a blog about this idea that was later picked up by Still Speaking Magazine. (You can read it here: https://emilycheath.com/2014/09/16/the-next-big-thing-for-the-progressive-church-putting-the-horse-before-the-cart/ ) Not long after that I signed a contract with Pilgrim Press for a book based on these same ideas. The result was Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity, which was just published last month. 

From the beginning I knew this was a different kind of church leadership and church growth book. It’s doesn’t follow the “ten easy steps to turn your church around” format. There’s no conversation about whether traditional or contemporary music will get the millennials in your pews, or whether to buy hymnals or project the music overhead. I’m not telling you to run a sermon series on marriage or hang a rainbow banner from your steeple.

 

You can do all of that, of course. It’s still great stuff. But, in the end, it’s just a technical fix in an age when we need an adaptive change.

One of the statistics I quote in the book says that we mainliners, “have the worst ‘retention rate’ when it comes to our young people; 45 percent, less than half, of our youth continue to claim our tradition into young adulthood. That number dips to 37 percent, or just over a third, when you look at millennials. More and more of our youth are graduating from high school, stepping out into the world, and becoming “nones.”

In other words, despite every bell and whistle we try, we’re losing about two-thirds of the people who grow up in our mainline congregations. It’s not that people don’t know about us. It’s that they know us, and aren’t so sure they want what we are offering.

To put it another way, the technical fixes that mainline and progressive churches have been trying for the last thirty years aren’t working. The kids are alright, but we’re not. And they can see through any facade that says otherwise.

So, maybe it’s time to try something new. Maybe it’s time to eschew the technical fixes of the latest new craze in church, and instead look for something different. Maybe it’s time to put our hope in something a little more long-lasting. Maybe it’s time to stop looking countercultural, and actually be countercultural.

And maybe it’s time to do the kind of adaptive work that only God can help us do.

Glorify will not be the book to help you save your church. But it might just point you towards the one who can.

“Glorify” for Groups

Update, June 2, 2016. The Glorify group reading guide is now available, free of charge: Glorify Reading Guide

It’s been a few weeks since Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity was released by Pilgrim Press. I’ve been so grateful to hear the initial round of feedback. The book seems to have articulated something many have been feeling for some time.

IMG_6934One of the things I’m hearing the most often is that people want to use this book in a small group setting. My hope has always been that Glorify could be used that way. In fact, I’m working on a reading group study guide now that should be available for download soon. This will contain tips for classes, questions for group discussion, and other resources.

I’m also aware that now is the time in the church year when congregations are looking at summer small-group reads as well as Christian education options for the fall. In that spirit, here are three ways churches can use Glorify in your congregation.

Adult Education Sunday School

Glorify is broken into ten chapters, each of which (10-15 pages each) could easily be read by busy church members during the course of a week. Taking a chapter a week, Glorify would inspire a rich conversation in adult Sunday school classes throughout the fall.

Book Group Discussion

Many churches have book groups that come together to talk about a common read. Glorify could be read all in one sitting, or broken into its three parts for a multi-event group. The three sections (Finding Our Purpose, Being Transformed by God, and Transforming the World with God) provide a structure for shorter-term program of one to three sessions. The book is also a great read for “One Church/One Book” programs in which the entire congregation reads the same book and talks about what it can teach their church.

Confirmation, Youth Groups, or Campus Ministries

Glorify is a down-to-earth, conversational read that is appropriate for youth and young adults. It talks about the real social issues that matter to younger Christians, including LGBTQ inclusion, eradicating racism, and changing the world. It also provides a basic overview of mainline Christian faith and how it shapes our identity. The premise of Glorify is that we are transformed by God’s love for us, and so we in turn transform the world. One of the most amazing things about today’s youth and young adults is that they want to serve, and they want their faith to inform their work in the world. This book will help them to integrate belief and action.

If you want to order Glorify for a small group, you can do so directly from Pilgrim Press here: http://www.uccresources.com/products/glorify-reclaiming-the-heart-of-progressive-christianity-heath

Or, look for the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Glorify-Reclaiming-Heart-Progressive-Christianity/dp/0829820299/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1453486699&sr=1-1&keywords=glorify+emily+heath

If possible I am also glad to talk about coming to your church to speak about the book, or connecting with a small group via Skype to answer questions and talk more.

Thanks so much for all the support! May Glorify be a blessing to the ministry of your church.

“Glorify” Update: The Book Launches This Week!

9780829820294I’ve been eagerly anticipating this week ever since I hit “send” on the final manuscript last fall. This week Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity is being released by Pilgrim Press.

Pre-orders have already been great. Thank you to everyone who has already done so. It’s been wonderful to see that this book has already found a broad audience. If you have pre-ordered, your copies should ship within days.

If you would like to order a copy now, there are several purchasing options:

Water Street Bookstore is Exeter, New Hampshire’s hometown bookstore. (It’s conveniently located on the walk between my home and my office, which means I spend a lot of time there.) This is a great independent bookstore, and I’d love to support them as much as possible.

They’ve also been incredibly supportive of me. The book’s official launch is being held waterlogothere this Friday, April 8th at 7pm. (125 Water Street, Exeter, NH) If you can make it in person I’ll be reading excerpts, answering questions, and signing copies. You can find more here: http://www.waterstreetbooks.com/event/rev-emily-c-heath-author-glorify

Even if you can’t be there in person, you can order your copy from Water Street Books.
When you check out online there is an option to add special instructions. Write a note with your name, and I’ll sign your copy before it’s shipped to you.

Amazon-Prime-Streaming-Video-Service-Bundles

Or, if you would prefer to use your Prime account, Glorify is available from Amazon.com. At Amazon you can order either the paperback edition or the Kindle edition:
Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Glorify-Reclaiming-Heart-Progressive-Christianity/dp/0829820299/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1453486699&sr=1-1&keywords=glorify+emily+heath

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Glorify-Reclaiming-Heart-Progressive-Christianity-ebook/dp/B01CGTANF4/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1453486699&sr=1-1

 

Finally, you can buy Glorify directly from Pilgrim Press through UCC Resources:
http://www.uccresources.com/products/glorify-reclaiming-the-heart-of-progressive-christianity-heath

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Glorify is also for sale at Barnes and Noble, Cokesbury, and more. Wherever you buy your copy, thank you so much for your support!

The Religious Liberty Quiz, and Why Crediting Original Writers Matters

I keep telling myself that it shouldn’t matter. So long as a good message is getting out there, why does it matter who gets the credit? And in a time when the state of Indiana has passed a law that will hurt so many of my LGBTQ friends and family, why am I wasting my time on an issue of citation?

I keep telling myself that a more spiritual person wouldn’t care about this. But the reality is that I do.

Over the last few days I have seen this graphic shared repeatedly on Facebook, Twitter, and around the blogosphere:

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The first time I glanced at it I realized that I was looking at my own words. Verbatim in many instances. “Oh, someone made that article into a graphic,” I thought. But then it hit me…the article wasn’t being cited on the graphic at all.

In the late summer of 2012 I wrote a blog post called, “How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions.” I shared it on my own blog, in a local paper, and in the Huffington Post’s Religion section, where I often blog. It was at HuffPost that the article took off. It has now been “liked” on Facebook over 225,000 times and shared widely. Here is the original post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/how-to-determine-if-your-religious-liberty-is-being-threatened-in-10-questions_b_1845413.html

I have to admit, I don’t think it’s my best writing. It was written quickly, on an iPhone, while watching the Republican National Convention on television during the 2012 Presidential elections. It was also written just over two months before my wedding to my now-wife.

Heidi and I were sitting in our living room, a minister and a seminarian, making plans about the religious marriage ceremony we would be having at her home church in Boston. This was a marriage that would be recognized by our church, but (in the time before DOMA was overruled) not by our country. And we were hearing speaker after speaker coming to the podium saying that their own religious liberties were being threatened by marriages like ours. (You can read more about that here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/the-religious-liberty-qui_b_4878040.html)

It made no logical sense. And so, instead of yelling back at the television, I wrote this tongue-in-cheek quiz to demonstrate the logical fallacies of the “religious liberty” red herring that has been perpetuated for far too long by anti-gay figures.

The piece took off. And, unfortunately, it has been recirculated widely several times in the last few years. I say “unfortunately” because each time that has happened it has been in response to another law like the new “religious freedom” legislation in Indiana. I had really hoped that we could stop having this argument about now, but it seems Governor Pence and others have other plans.

And so, the article is once again circulating. And so is the above graphic, which uses my verbatim wording without crediting the original article. And, like I said, maybe this shouldn’t bother me. But it does.

Here’s why: plagiarism has always bothered me. Maybe the person who created the graphic did not mean to plagiarize. But they did copy exact phrases from an article I wrote and not put my name on it. Deliberate or not, that is plagiarism. Ask your freshman English professor, and they’ll agree.

So why does it matter, especially if the intentions are good? For me it’s because of this: I’m a writer. I’m a pastor first, but a part of my ministry, and a large part of my own spiritual practice, revolves around being a writer. Most of what I write, I write for free. Each month I write two devotionals for the United Church of Christ’s daily devotionals, and donate them to the church. I write blogs for HuffPost Religion and other blogs and I am not paid. I write on my own blog for free. And here’s the thing: I am fine with not being paid. It feels good to me to be able to write, and to share for the benefit of the larger church and others, and to pass on ideas I believe in deeply.

But, writing is sometimes emotionally exhausting work. That is especially true when we are writing about painful things. And that night that I wrote the religious liberty quiz, with a wedding weeks away and people on the screen in front of me saying horrible things about my family, I was feeling some pain. And I took that pain and channeled it into my writing, and into something I believed might help others. I also wrote it both as a LGBTQ person, and as a person of devoted faith, contexts that I believe are crucial to the piece. (Especially as I find most people falsely assume this quiz was written by someone hostile to religion and faith in general, and not someone who deeply loves their faith tradition.)

In the end I don’t need money or fame for it. But, I just think that when anyone writes from their experiences, especially a member of a group being openly and hostility attacked, they should be given the minimal courtesy of being named. For so long my LGBTQ friends and family had to hide because of whom they were. That is, thank God, changing. But the silencing of our experiences comes in so many forms, and even with the best of intentions it is still painful.

UPDATE: This graphic is now being shared at Patheos, Daily Kos, and more. If you see it, please make a note of the source. Thank you.

Second Time Around: A sermon on Doubting Thomas for April 7, 2013

Doubting_Thomas_smLast Sunday most of you were here for Easter. We had an uplifting service celebrating faith in Christ and in the resurrection. We read together the story of how Christ rose again, and appeared to those he love, and how the message that God’s love still lived began to spread. It’s hard to leave church on Easter morning and not feel some sense of joy, and some sense of faith. I leave Easter services, like Christmas services, on a sort of “faith high”.

But we sometimes forget that the first disciples experienced that first Easter a little differently. There were no colored eggs or Easter dinners that year. What there was was a lot of confusion, and a lot of rumors. No one knew exactly what was going on, but they heard from Mary that Jesus was back, and she had seen him. And on that first Easter they probably weren’t sure what to believe.

The story we read today starts on that first Easter Sunday. After Jesus has appeared to Mary in the garden, he goes to the room where the rest of his disciples are holed up. And they’re afraid. And suddenly Jesus appears, despite the locked doors, and they can see the wounds in his hands and his side. And he says “peace be with you”. And they believe.

But one disciple was missing. And this would probably be me. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus came back. Maybe he was at the store. Maybe he was running late after work. Maybe he was stuck in traffic. For whatever reason, Thomas wasn’t there.

But that week the disciples tell him what they saw. I’ll bet they even said to him something like, “Thomas, you won’t believe this!” And he doesn’t. Thomas tells them, “Unless I see it for myself, and can touch his wounds, I won’t believe.”

Have you ever wondered how Thomas must have felt right then? Were the disciples pranksters, maybe, and he thought they were playing a joke on him? Or were they telling the truth, and if so, why hadn’t Jesus stayed around for him to see him too? All he knew was that the other ten remaining disciples were in on something, and he wasn’t.

Part of me wonders if the real reason Thomas wasn’t there is that he had given up. He had seen the man he had left everything behind to follow end up dead on a cross. Maybe he thought he had thrown away his life and chased after an impossible dream. And maybe on that first Easter Sunday, before he even heard that Jesus had come back, he had already started to doubt. Maybe that’s why Thomas wasn’t there that day.

But the next week, for whatever reason, he’s there. And all of a sudden the same thing happens. Jesus appears and tells Thomas to put his hands on his, and feel the wounds from the nails.  And he does. And he believes. Jesus asks him, “Do you believe because you have seen me?” And he tells him, “Blessed are those who do not see yet believe.”

I’ve always felt bad for Thomas. He was asking to do what the other disciples didn’t have to do. He had to believe sight unseen. Probably any of the others would have had the same struggle. And yet, we all know Thomas as “doubting Thomas”. I wonder how long after this happened did it take for the other disciples to call him that. “Oh, that’s doubting Thomas. Jesus had to come and let him touch his hands before he believed.”

I’d hate to be remembered only my greatest moment of doubt. Because I’ve had them. And I could be, “doubting Emily” pretty easily. And I guess a lot of us could be something similar. But as much as Thomas sort of gets this label as the disciple who didn’t believe, he’s always been my favorite. Because of all of them he’s the one I think most of us can relate to. Because most of us understand what it is to live between faith and doubt.

We think of faith and doubt as opposites. But that’s not really true. Faith and apathy are more opposite than faith and doubt. But doubt is often a key part of the journey of faith. It’s a stop along the way that most of us make more than once. And when we find ourselves there, it’s not an indication of us being bad Christians or disbelievers. It’s a sign that we are taking our relationship with God seriously enough that we are letting ourselves be honest, and we are letting ourselves start a journey without knowing exactly sure where we are going.

Thomas was like that. As much as he is “doubting Thomas”, he’s also known to millions as Saint Thomas. Christian tradition holds that he set sail for India and was the first to spread the Christian faith there. In the end his doubt, his desire to know Jesus for himself, was what brought him faith. And that faith gave him the strength to bring that message to so many others. And if you go to India today, St. Thomas is the one who didn’t just doubt, but who believed, and who helped others to do so as well.

But he was lucky, right? I mean, he got to see Jesus, to touch Jesus, to know Jesus, in a way you and I don’t. Doubting Thomas may have become a saint, but what hope is there for me, or for you?

I was reading a story recently about a woman in her 30’s who one day had this overwhelming spiritual experience. She knew God was present, and she felt God calling her to do something new, and scary, and hard. But she felt God so clearly that day, that she couldn’t deny it. It’s the sort of spiritual experience most of us want. The moment of clarity. The clear marching orders. It’s like Thomas getting to touch Jesus’ hand.

The young woman did go out, and for the next 50 years she did amazing things. But inside she doubted. She wrestled with faith. She had what Christian writers for centuries have called a “dark night of the soul”. Sometimes she even questioned the existence of God. Her lack of faith bothered her.

The other disciples may have called her, “Doubting Theresa”. But you and I know her as Mother Theresa, the woman whose life many call saint-like. I used to see pictures of her and think, she must be so holy. So full of faith. She must be so certain of what she is doing. But in the last few years, we’ve learned that wasn’t the case. She was like us. And she was like Thomas.

We Protestants don’t canonize saints anymore, but our Catholic brothers and sisters do. And Mother Theresa is very close to becoming a saint. She’s already been beatified. Even with her doubts, she was found worthy of this title.

Or, maybe, because of her doubts. Because we all doubt. At least all of us who see faith as a journey, and not a one time stop. Our faith gets shaken, we question it, we wonder why Jesus doesn’t appear to us when everyone around us seems to have seen him. We may even feel ashamed of our doubt.

I wonder if Thomas did that first week. Why couldn’t he just accept what the others said? Why did he have to see for himself? I wonder if the next Sunday he thought about not going back. He wasn’t “one of them” anymore. He was the doubter. The one who hadn’t seen.

And yet, he went back. And maybe he went back because he had loved Jesus so much that he needed to hear them talk about him, even if he wasn’t so convinced it was true yet. Maybe he went back because it was easier than being alone. Maybe he went back because he thought maybe, just maybe, Jesus would come again. For whatever reason, we went back to that community in his hour of greatest doubt, just like many of you come here every week, and that day Jesus showed up and he believed.

Doubt can be the thing that propels us to faith. It can be what shakes us up. It can be what pushes us out of the doors of our once comfortable places and into a new, and better, world. Doubt can be the ticket that starts our journey to new life. It can be a sign not of the absence of God, but of God working in us to do something new.

I’ll close with this. Because there’s another side to this story too. And that’s that Jesus came back for Thomas the next week. I like that, because as much as anything in this story, that gives me hope. It wasn’t a one shot deal with Jesus. It wasn’t “you weren’t here and so you missed it”. It wasn’t, “too bad…you’re just going to have to trust the others”. It was God incarnate giving Thomas another chance to see and to believe.

Whether we realize it or not, I think we get those second chances too. I think Jesus comes to us again and again, showing himself to us. And I think that eventually, when we are ready, when we have somehow opened our hearts up to possibility, we see. And we come to believe. Until then, God never stops coming back. And that’s good news for us all. Amen.

Looking Right Past God: Sermon for February 24, 2013

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Occasionally someone slowed down a bit. A few people threw in dollar bills. In 45 minutes he collected $32. A few stopped for a minute to listen. But when he packed up his violin and bow, no one applauded, or said anything to him.

That’s probably about typical for a busker on a subway line. But what made this particular performance so interesting was who the violinist was. His name is Joshua Bell, and he is one of the most renowned classical musicians alive. Seats for his shows average $100, and he regularly sells them out. He was playing a violin worth $3.5 million dollars, and he was playing one of the most complicated pieces of music you can choose.

But in the end of the experiment, the paper pointed out that no one recognized him, and very few even gave him a second thought. Everyone was too busy going to work, or catching the train, or avoiding the guy who wants a dollar. And the final question was clear: If so many people, people a lot like us, missed what was happening right in front of their eyes that day, what else are we missing?

So what does any of this have to do with Jesus, and our passage today?

Today’s reading isn’t one of the most well known. It’s not the great commission, or the sermon on the mount, or the story of the nativity. It’s this sort of odd passage about foxes and hens and Jerusalem.

A Pharisee comes to Jesus as he is on the road to Jerusalem and says, “Look…you need to get out of here…King Herod wants to kill you!” Now, Jesus knows he is being set up. The Pharisees weren’t trying to save him. They were working with Herod to try to get Jesus away from the crowds where they themselves could kill him without there being an uproar.

So, Jesus says to the Pharisee, “you go and tell that old fox, I’m a little busy here. I’m casting out demons. I’m trying to get to Jerusalem.” And then he tells them this, “It’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” In other words, I’m going to the big city. You may not like it, but you can wait to kill me there, in front of the crowds.

Jesus says something else too. He says, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Jesus compares himself to a mother hen. He talks about the people he is going to in Jerusalem, and he says he wants to take them under his wings, and protect them. But he also says that he knows that’s not how it’s going to go down. He knows that when he gets there he will be rejected. He knows that they won’t listen to him. And he knows that he will be killed.

And, more than anything, he knows they won’t realize what they have done until so much later, and only then will they say of him what we say at communion: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

It reminded me of that story I told a few minutes ago. A world-class artist was there in an everyday place, doing what he did best. And no one noticed. Likewise, a prophet, a healer, and God made flesh, is walking towards the city. And no one notices who he really is. And the people of Jerusalem won’t…not until it’s too late.

This isn’t just about a city thousands of miles away, though. Because when Jesus is talking about Jerusalem, he wasn’t just talking about the physical place where he was headed. He was talking about us.

We humans, of all times and places, are Jerusalem. We are the city that kills its prophets. We are the ones who don’t get it when we see it. We are the ones who look right past God.

Jesus longs to take us under his wings and protect us. He longs to tell us what he knows, and about a better way to live. He wants to help us, but more often than not, we don’t see him. We might encounter him in our day to day lives, and be so close to him, but then walk by the way all those people rushing to catch the train did when they walked past the violinist.

I think that’s the story of my life, somedays. I think that sometimes God puts some really obvious signs right in front of me, and I just miss them because I am far too busy, or far too consumed with other things. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.

I think that’s what it’s like for everyone who is human. We often wonder, “Where is God?” And, more often than not, God’s not all that far away. In fact, we may have just walked right past and not noticed.

I can look back on my life now and see the places where God was working, and I just didn’t see it at the time. And I can look back at the hard places especially, and see the places where God was right there, wanting my eyes to be opened, and I just looked right past, and kept walking. The grace is that, sometimes at least, I can see it now. But But my growing edge is that I’m working on seeing it at the time, and not years later.

Maybe it’s the same for you. Maybe you feel like you are walking right past God in your life. Maybe you feel like in the rush and clamor of the day, you have no time left to look for Jesus. Maybe you are feeling disconnected, and alone, and afraid.

I really believe that God doesn’t want you to feel that way. And I believe you don’t have to feel that way either.

Today is the second Sunday of Lent. And Lent can be an incredibly powerful spiritual time. It can be a time where we clear away the cobwebs of distraction, and instead focus on seeing what really is in front of us. When we take off the blinders of our own busy-ness and importance, and when we really open our hearts to what is already surrounding us, we find that God is a lot closer than we think.

That’s one reason why what we take on in Lent can make such a profound impact. If we commit to worshipping more, praying more, and giving more time to God, we will find that we haven’t lost time. We’ve gained God. And that’s worth more than we could have imagined.

I was thinking about this last night. We had our first Saturday night service here at the church. We will be having them once a month starting in April. The services are a little more informal. We wore jeans, I didn’t preach behind the pulpit, we sang along to a guitar. Kids were welcomed to actively participate. And it was a little shorter than a typical Sunday service.

It didn’t look much like worship does this morning. Some might even feel uncomfortable and say, “that’s not for me”. Which is okay. Not everything that this church does has to appeal to every single person. But for the people who were there, I believe that they were able to recognize God’s presence in an unexpected way.

And that’s the story of our journey for those of us who are Christians. Like the commuters on that train, we are rushing about from stop to stop, trying to get somewhere that we think we need to be. And yet, along the way, occasionally we are called to stop. We are summoned by extraordinary beauty or grace and goodness, and we are called to listen. And we are called to recognize that we are in the presence of something incredible.

If we can find that on a Saturday night, we can find it on a Sunday morning. And we can find it any other day of the week as well. Christ’s love and grace are waiting for you today, somewhere out there in the world. When you get close, don’t just walk on by. Don’t miss this. Have eyes to see it, and have a heart to feel it. And if you do, your life will be changed by it.

The Love Mandate – Homily for Maundy Thursday

The most common question I get asked during Holy Week is about this night, the Thursday before Easter. People get Palm Sunday, and Good Friday, and Easter, but tonight, Maundy Thursday, is unclear. And the one thing people want to know the most, is this: what does “Maundy” mean?

It’s a good question. Who uses the term “maundy” in their daily life? For those on the outside of the church, and even for those of us inside, it might just sound like a church service where we know we should want to go to it, but we have no idea why.

But before I talk about what the word means, I want to go back to that story we read from the Gospel. In it Jesus has gone to Jerusalem for the Passover. He’s gathered his twelve disciples there at the table. And he knows what is going to happen. He knows that by the end of the night one of them will betray him to the authorities. One will deny him three times. And all of them will leave him alone in his hour of greatest pain.

And yet, there he is. Breaking the bread and pouring the cup. Eating with them. Blessing them. Getting down on his knees and washing their feet, showing them his love and grace and compassion, in a time when we might have better understood his wrath or anger.

In a world where we are often surrounded by messages of retaliation, or vengeance, or an eye for an eye cries for justice, it’s a different message. Jesus had done nothing wrong. He’d lived a life of non-violence, he’d healed the sick, raised the dead, and freed the captives. He’d brought hope and life to those who needed it the most.

And in the end, he knew that he was not about to be thanked. He was about to be killed. Because in the end, the goodness, and the kindness, and the compassion he had brought were more of a threat to the Roman authorities, and clergy of his day, than any weapon or any army. He so radically upset the status quo that they decided their only choice was to kill him.

The night before, he wasn’t running away. He wasn’t preparing for a battle. He wasn’t plotting his revenge. Instead he was with the ones he loved most. The ones who loved him, but who weren’t perfect. The ones who knew who he was, and what he had done, and who would be the witnesses to his life after he was gone.

And that’s where that word “maundy” comes in. Because what do you do if you’re Jesus? What do you do if you know you are not going to be around much longer, and you have to tell the people you love the most, the ones who followed you, the ones who sometimes make big mistakes, how to keep moving in the right direction after you’re gone?

The word “maundy” comes from a Latin word: mandatum. And mandatum means “mandate” or a “commandment”. And when we talk about “Maundy Thursday” we’re talking about “mandate Thursday”. We’re talking about the night that Christ told his disciples exactly what he expected of them.

And if you read a book or watch a movie about almost anyone else, you might think the lead character right about now would be saying something like “avenge my death”, or “make sure there’s payback”, or “don’t let them get away with this…strike back”.

But this isn’t any other story. This is a story that turns everything on its head. The mandate, the mandatory thing Jesus tells us to do in this passage is this:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

It probably wouldn’t do well at the box office. It wouldn’t get Nielsen ratings. The story wouldn’t soar to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list today. But it’s a story that transcends all of those things. Because it’s the beginning of a story about what happens when the world does its worst through violence, and hatred, and fear, and yet love wins anyway. It’s a story of love that was rejected and buried, and yet was still too strong to stay in the ground.

It’s not my job to rename Christian holy days. But if it were, I might change the name of Maundy Thursday. I might change it from this word that none of us really know anymore to something we would all understand. Something like “Love One Another Thursday”, or “The Last Thing Christ Really Wanted Us to Know Thursday”.

Because this is a message we Christians all need to hear. We don’t need to hide it behind fancy terms. We don’t need to just check it off as another night in holy week. We need to hear that this is how Christ said other people would know us: by how we love one another.

Maybe it would help us remember. Maybe it would help us remember not just what this night is about, but maybe it would help us remember what it means to be Christians. And maybe if we always had that reminder, if we always had that commandment to love in the front of our head, Christ’s dream for us would come true.

Maybe we wouldn’t be known as Christ’s disciples by the fact we put a Christian fish sticker on our car. Or wore a cross around our necks. Maybe we wouldn’t be know by what we said about what we believed. Maybe we wouldn’t be known by our what we voted for, or against.   Maybe we wouldn’t be known by the anger some Christians express on the evening news, or the mean-spiritedness others show in their day-to=day lives. Maybe instead we would just be known by the one thing Christ wanted us to be known for: by how we love.

In a few minutes we will be celebrating Communion together, and you’ll hear me repeat the words of institution, the phrases we are told Christ used as he broke bread and gave it to his disciples for the first time, on this same night many years ago. I’ll say to you that “on the night Christ was betrayed he took bread, and blessed it, and gave it to his disciples.”

You hear that all the time here, and if you are like me, you are uplifted by it.

But what if you heard this just as often too? “On the night Christ was betrayed he turned to his disciples and said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We don’t say that often in service. Not in so many words. But I think we try to say it in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. It’s no coincidence Christ said these things on the night of his supper, but we sometimes forget the say the words.

This year, let’s not forget. Between this Maundy Thursday and the one next year, let’s not forget what the mandate is. It’s so simple, and yet it demands our whole lives and our whole attentions. But here in the church, we can give Christ nothing less. Tonight as we eat this bread and drink this cup, as simple as it seems on the outside, know that we are choosing no less than to feast upon Christ’s love for us, and to bring that feast out to others. If every Christian would do that, no one would ever have to ask us who we follow. By our love, they would already know. Amen.