Monday, March 26, 2012

Doubt Sermon

Note that the sermon has two edits which are video clip I can not legally upload to youtube. But here are links to those videos Yentl's Papa Can You Hear Me? and Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame "God Help the Outcasts" .  What follows is the text of the sermon:

There is nothing easy about doubt.  Whether it is experiencing it or talking about it, doubt is challenging and mysterious.  Yet doubt is something that is common to us all. That is why I started with the clip from Yentl. There is a trueness and a authenticity about the doubt that the Barbara Streisand character shows.  The character has just lost her father, who as a rabbi had taught her to read and study the religious texts, which was forbidden from women at the time. She has run away from home to enter a rabbinical school dressed as a man. Her doubt is multi-layer and complex like ours often is she is praying asking where God is, while asking what of this relationship she had with her father that sustained her, and this path in her life that is deeply complicated by her society. No there is nothing easy about this doubt.  Yet rather than ignoring it or pushing it away, it is faced, examined and even used as a tool to move forward. More on that later.

First, though, if your experience has been anything like mine the truth is that traditionally the church has been a detriment to my understanding of my own doubt.  Too often we are told that doubt is something that we should be ashamed of, that doubt and faith are somehow opposites. As if having doubt somehow means that one does not have faith. Nothing could be further from the truth.  The disconnect in this is that I have never met a minister, pastor, or church leader who did not have doubts. Yet too often because somewhere on our walk we are told that doubts are shameful, we hide them never to examine them, never to explore what they may be telling us. 

It especially seems odd to me that Christianity has been so unhelpful in thinking about doubt when each year we come face to face with Jesus in his Gethsemane moment.  One way of reading the story of the Garden of Gethsemane and one that has been instructive to me over the years is to see it as Jesus’ moment of doubt. Here Jesus stands after the last super not only knowing that one of his best friends is going to betray him, but that the others all asked “is it I” meaning they thought they could have done something to betray him. He does not want to be alone yet these same friends have fallen asleep on him. In this moment we see a very human Jesus who sees the road ahead but questions if that is the road to travel. Praying to his Abba out of that doubt.  Jesus in this moment I believe explores his doubt, unashamed of it and is able to move forward in part because he does this. 

The point is that if in our biblical narrative Jesus has a moment of unashamed doubt, does that not allow us to doubt as well. I completely believe that it does.  What is striking to me both about Gethsemane and in the clip from Yentl is the authenticity that the prayer of doubt has, it is not the opposite of faith but it brings a realness to faith. After all if the divine is the divine than our doubts are already know.

It would be easy for us the second we see doubt to throw out everything around that doubt.  I don’t believe that this is a helpful tool. Many of us have experienced as our life has gone along discovering that we doubted things that our parents have told us or our Sunday School teachers told us. Even in some cases discovering those things are downright false. This does not mean we should throw out everything that we learned from these places and people just because one thing is not true. This is the importance of examining our doubts.
In both of these examples of doubt; Jesus and the Barbara Streisand character from Yentl are examining their doubts rather than ignoring them. I think we have a great deal to learn from this.  As we examine our doubts they can tell us a lot about ourselves and about how to be in relationship.

 There are some doubts when we examine them that reveal to brokenness and places where repair, reconciliation and conclusion need to be reached.  This may be true of doubts we have in our relationships. Does my partner still love me?  Do my parents respect/love me?  Is my partner faithful? Do my children care what I’m going through, now that they have their own things going on? Has God abandoned me?  These are the kind of doubts that can eat at us. What they expose is that relationship is in need of attention. These are the kinds of doubts call us to actively be in the job reconciliation, finding ways to heal the brokenness that is causing the doubt. These doubts can be tools to helping us examine what need examined.

Other doubts do not necessarily need to be resolved at all. They can rather be more like walking partners on our journey. Many of these be things like doubting that God is anything like the construct that you have been living with, doubting that God micromanages our lives, doubting the status quo, or doubting that the government has all the answers.  These kinds of doubts can be important parts of our growth.  For centuries theologians have express the importance of doubt as a tool for growth. No one more emphasized this as did Soren Kierkegaard. He wrote of what he called the “dark night of the soul.” These were the times in our faith where the answers seem remote and the divine illusive.  Kierkegaard reminds us that in these times we often grow because our understanding of the divine is not stagnate, we begin to rethink and reimagine what it means to be in connection with the source of all and to be disciples. So while these times are not easy and sometimes even painful they are the important to continuing the journey.

I want to emphasis that Kierkegaard, or I for that matter, are not suggesting that we should go out seeking doubt, or become obsessed with living in doubt. This would in fact be counterproductive.  But rather the suggestion is to walk with our doubt exploring it and letting it move us forward as prayer and spiritual discipline. A life lived embracing uncertainty can allow us to see the divine and ourselves in new and powerful ways we never imagined.

This embrace of the uncertainty can, in fact be a very powerful social justice tool.  It allows us to question the status quo, allows us to question the same voices we hear all the time, and allows us to act to publicly question policies that undermine and diminish people humanity. The embrace of uncertainty can bring us to a place where we are a greater heart for those who society places on the margins, who they try to cast out (God Help The outcast video clip). Maybe doubt is just the tool and prayer we need to be in connection with our sisters and brothers who the world has marginalized.  Maybe doubt is the prayer and tool we need to turn the tragedy of a young man, Trayvon Martin, being shot because his skin color and clothing were different into a discussion of racism and prejudice within the country.  That doubt that leads to rethinking, justice, action and reconciliation is something our country and our world are in deep need of.

None of this is easy but we are called to engage our doubt and the truth is the church should be a safe place to begin that process.  I hope and pray that in this church it can be. The truth still remains however, that there is nothing easy about doubt.  No matter how challenging our doubts can be, the good news is that whether we recognize it or not the divine presence is with us every step of the way embracing us and holding us in our doubts.  In Romans Paul puts it better than I ever could “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”  Even when doubt and pain render us silence, our very silence is prayer.

So God be with us as we doubt, but in fulfilling and challenging ways, lead us to green pastures beside still waters where we might in you, with our doubts find rest, Amen. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Body Sermon

This is a sermon about our beautiful bodies. We are more than just shells for the spirit. It asks the question, "What would it really look like to see our bodies as a temple?" While recognizing that sadly Christianity has historically been largely unhelpful in answering that question Originally Preached At Mira VIsta UCC, in El Cerrito, CA on January 15, 2012. The text that was being preached on was 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mary Sermon

Originally Preached at Mira Vista United Church of Christ on 12/04/2011.

Mary has a way of looking into my heart. Don’t get me wrong it is not that there are other biblical figures and stories that resonate in my very soul. But still Mary has a way of looking into my heart. Mary is a figure that protestants have often been very uncomfortable with. We don’t talk a lot about Mary. And yet the fact remains she still has a way of looking into my heart. Let us together today consider Mary’s story once again a now and maybe, if just for a moment, she can have a way of looking into all of our hearts.

Mary’s story begins not at the center of the world, nor is she a person we would expect to be visited by an angel. Mary is a young woman, probably no more than 12 or 13, in her time her age and gender would have left her with little or no power over her daily existence. She is born of an occupied people, living at the whim of empire. Not only this, but Nazareth is really nothing more than a back water town. It is so lowly thought of that later in the scripture people mock that nothing good has ever come out of Nazareth. It is this setting that the writer of Luke sets up for us. He shows us a Mary that is as ordinary as one can be. She does not stay that way for long.

The angel Gabriel appears to her announcing something that must have shaken her very world. She was to bear a child, one that Gabriel says is going to be “most high of God.” This is no small announcement for Mary. This revelation puts her very life at risk. A young unmarried woman pregnant, the law would call for her to be stoned. I can imagine her asking in her own head, that though the angel addresses her has favored, what kind of favor is this. She is so taken aback by this moment she responds to the angel by asking how can it be. Gabriel explains to her she is not in this alone, the spirit will be with her, furthermore he cousin Elizabeth is also miraculously pregnant, explaining to Mary that “nothing is impossible with God.”
It is here that I think the real miracle of this story begins. This Mary in her extraordinary ordinariness does something amazing. Instead of turning and running, instead of simply saying whatever, Mary shows the courage that can exist in the human spirit. This Mary chooses to be an active participant in this new story with God. She believes that though there are great risks, that in this moment something new is happening that is going to make the world a better place. She chooses to be a part of that moment.

This is where the scripture for today leaves off but the story continues and I want to focus for a moment of what comes next. Mary knows she can not go it alone, and even though she knows God goes with her, she knows she needs earthly support as well. So Mary goes to see her cousin Elizabeth. When she arrives she finds support there and it clearly it inspires her further. She then sings a song, one that harkens back to other songs of women of the faith in the past. It is a song of extraordinary joy, hope and courage that the world will be better because of this new journey in her life.

“My soul proclaims your greatness, Oh God,
And my spirit rejoices in you, my savior.
For you have looked with favor
Upon your lowly servant,
And from this day forward
All generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me
And holy is your Name.
Your mercy reaches from age to age
For those who fear you.
You have shown strength with your arm;
You have scattered the proud in their conceit;
You have deposed the mighty from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
Mindful of your mercy—
The promise you made to our ancestors—
To Sarah and Abraham
and their descendants forever.”

In this song we hear the real character of Mary. This is no meek and mild Mary. This Mary is courageous believing that what God has started is going to change the world. We hear these words of peace and justice from Mary, I think we can see so deeply her influence on Jesus. Mary is much more than a simple vessel from which Jesus came. It is at least in part Mary’s raising of Jesus that makes Jesus who he is.
It truly is one of my favorite biblical stories. But what does it have to do with us? I imagine that most, if not all of us in this room have a hard time connecting with a story of miracles and angelic visits. The world we live in each day seems very far away from such things. Yet in the story of Mary can have great meaning in our lives, in our relationship and in our faith community.

Some of us in our lives have or will face Mary moments. Maybe they will not come to us accompanied by an angel, but that does make them any less important. These are the moments in our lives when we choose to risk for a better world. In these times, though they are scary, we know that if we begin a new road that, the result could make a difference. In those moments I think there is much to be gained from the Mary story
We can gain courage; those moments are often as frightening as they are exhilarating. The spectacular thing about the Mary story is that Mary is so human. The courage Mary draws on is something that resides in each of us. We too can find the courage in out Mary moments to say “Here, I am.” We can become with God co-creates in a better world in which, “with God all things are possible.”

We can learn as individuals to not try to go it alone. Mary intentionally seeks out Elizabeth. She knows that if she is going to take on this momentous task she needs support. The same is true with us. As we have these moments in our lives, it is those around us that will help us, guide us and help direct us.

Community is an important part these moments. There are many people who may not have Mary moments of their own, or that those moments have passed. Still we can be like Elizabeth, providing support for those who are having these moments. We can provide guidance, strength and experience. We can support those who have the energy, time and imagination, to make the world better than it is now. Mary moments may start with an individual, but they truly involve the whole community.

Yes, we as the Mira Vista Community have much to learn from Mary. After all we are small church, we meet in a space that is not our own and maybe there are those who don’t expect much from us. But can we once again feel that “with God anything is possible?” Can we devote ourselves to finding ways to being a part of the Mary moments, whether they are our own or if we are supporting those of others? I know we can do these things.
As we come to the table today we may not being visited by an angel. But we are reminded that in the meal we once again experience the divine. We can come to the table like Mary ready to have courage, to say here I am. After all, Mary does have a way of looking into our hearts. Or maybe more accurately we have a way of looking into our own hearts and finding the courage of Mary there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Longing for Advent

Originally an Article for the December 2011 Mira Vista UCC Newsletter.

Advent is a special time of year for me. It is this time of year that we take time to wait, listen and discover once again what Christmas can mean. It is time where the songs we sing and scriptures we read often express a longing for God. Whether it is singing “Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel” or hearing the words of Isaiah saying to “prepare the way” we are invited to join in that longing.

Humans define God, tie God down, limit God to a few ways of showing up on our planet. Still, after millenia of recorded thought, God remains elusive for earth people. The authors of our scriptures speak beautifully about our human despair as we search for a God we can really know. If God is still speaking, what's God saying? Who or what is Divine? Even as we actively search for God, God often remains elusive. As if the divine is only just outside our reach.

As I have journeyed from time to time I have experienced moments when God seems to break through that elusiveness. It is a fleeting moment but it is a powerful experience. For me it is often in quiet contemplative moments. One moment I’m singing a Taize’ Chant and the next I feel as if the divine is within reach. As if I can feel that I am a part of something much bigger than myself. It is both a comforting and daunting experience. In those moments I feel as if I’m wrapped in the love of God, but I also feel the great responsibility it means to be connected to the entire universe through the divine. For that moment I feel I am truly present to the possibilities the world has to offer. Just as quickly as those moments come they are gone and I’m left longing for more.

While I feel I have gained insight these moments, I am always struck by the fact that the more I experience of the divine, the more I am aware just how little I truly know about God. It makes me long for those moments of connection, long to experience more of the divine. It is like an ache, an ache for a world where that divine love permeates all experience. A dream of a world not as it is, but rather as I hope that it can slowly become.

So at advent time I feel connected with Isaiah’s hope proclaiming comfort to the Israelite exiles. I experience hope as John the Baptist as he points forward to something new that's coming, even as he doesn’t know exactly what that will be. I take comfort in the courage of Mary and Joseph in their willingness to listen to their visions and dreams, in hopes that by doing so the world might be a better place. I long to hear the angels say “Do not be afraid” proclaiming that hope has once again entered the world.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Sermon Originally Preached at Mira Vista UCC on 10/16/2011. The scripture was Exodus 33:12-23

Moses is worried. He used not to be this way. There was a time when it felt like he had all the answers. Back at the Red Sea it felt like there was nothing he and the people of Israel couldn’t handle. But now the Red Sea is but a distant memory. Moses had only been away for a short time and the people had built the Golden Calf. The people had traded a God who is in the process of journeying with them, into a product. A product they could touch, feel, and possess. Their imagination about who God was and who God could be had failed. The tablets lay smashed on the ground. Now Moses is not even sure that God would go with them on the rest of their journey.

So Moses speaks to God. Speaking to God by name Moses reminds God that God has brought the people this far and implores the divine to bring them the rest of the way. God responds by saying of course I will take you the rest of the way. Moses responds from his deep anxiety again and tells God that if God’s presence is not going to go with them why carry them this far, is God sure God’s presence will be with them. God once again tries to comfort Moses saying that God will do everything Moses has asked. This is when an anxious Moses gets very bold, see his peoples’ imagination, having failed Moses asks to see God’s glory with his own eyes. God agrees but reminds Moses that he cannot possibly see the wholeness of God. So God places Moses in the broken place in a rock, comes by shielding Moses’ eyes until God passes only exposing God’s backside to Moses. In this Moses understands that he can only see part of the wholeness of God and knowing that God is with him Moses is ready to take action and move forward leading his people in the rest of their journey with the divine.

The writer of Exodus beautiful weaves for us this narrative about people of Israel and it is one that we can deeply relate to as the people of America? It wasn’t too long ago that it seemed as a nation that we had all the answers. Our economy was the strongest in the world, terrorism a word that referred to something that happened somewhere else. But those times, as the Red Sea, are now a distant memory. As a nation it is easy to feel like Moses there preparing to talk to God. As a nation just like the Israelites of the scripture trust had been put in our products, the things we could touch, feel and possess. Creativity was traded for certainty and forward motion seemed stopped. But just as on the mountain Moses gets to reimagine who God can be, one way to look at the groundswell for change expressed in movements like Occupy Wall Street is as the beginning of the reimaging process. Maybe in movements like these and others around the world we are just being to see the back side of God.

What the story in Exodus is showing us and what we can see in our economic crisis is how certainty can make it difficult to move forward. Difficult to truly experience the presence of God. The language and symbols we use when we talk about God are very important. Over the centuries people have come up with a number of rich symbols to talk about God, these rich symbols have for the most part been helpful in talking about something that ultimately is inexpressible and that is the nature of God.

Symbols are wonderful things they help us to understand God by pointing to God. But ultimately all they can do is point. You see when I point at the alter my finger is not the alter but it does lead you to see at least part of the alter. But over time even the best of these symbols can become problematic. Over time certainty sets in and the symbol becomes mistaken for God, God’s self. And the more certain we get about our symbol the harder it is to access the presence of God even though God is still right with us. The symbol, like the Golden Calf becomes a product something we can feel, touch and possess. Theologian and Poet Dorothee Solle puts it this way “If my hands are fully occupied in holding on to something, I can neither give nor receive.”

This is what happened to the Israelites with Golden Calf. They became certain of their symbol and mistook it for God and ignored to presence of God that was so excitingly and specially in their midst. While they were busy holding on to the Golden Calf they no longer had space to receive God’s presence. It was this lesson that God teaches Moses. When Moses is concerned about God being with them God does not show Moses the wholeness of who God is, or even the most amazing part of who God is. God instead shows Moses his backside. There is humor in this moment, I use backside intentionally because in the Hebrew it does literally refer to God’s behind. This is surely not the part of God Moses expected to see. But Moses is open to this new image of God, he makes space to receive it and is it enough to get Moses and the people to move forward on their journey with God.

God reminds Moses that if we are so set in what we think the Divine can be, we might miss where God is present to us. This reminds me of a story. There once was a man who reached the end of his rope. He prayed to God telling God he was going to God sit in his Garden until God appeared to him. So he sat in his garden for several days. Finally tired of waiting he yelled at God, “I’ve waited and waited and you did not show up.” And God spoke to him saying. “Did you not see the butterfly that landed near you, did you not feel the wind and hear it in the trees, did you not see the sunset? I was there in all of these. “

Unless we can understand that our symbols for God are just that, symbols. Unless we can accepted that God is mystery we easily can end up like that man missing God’s presence right in front of us. Even more dangerously if we begin to be too wrapped up in our own images of God, our own Golden Calves we begin to see God as a product, something we can own, buy, sell and control. But our God, the God that speaks with Moses, is not product, but rather presence. In the scripture God reminds Moses that no, you can not experience the wholeness of the divine, but you can be assured that my presence is with you. It is by reimagining God, being open to the mystery, that we are able to avoid the pitfall of making God into a product.

But how do we continue to reimagine God, after all we are just human and it is easy to become certain of things? It is this very reason that community is so important. If we as a community can share together our symbols for God, not putting them all together to make our own Golden Calf, but giving them each space to live we might find richer understand of God than we once had. If we create space so as new people come into the community we can learn of their symbols, God might be present to us in new and exciting ways. Moving us forward in our journey just as the new view of the Divine did for Moses in the opening of that rock. After all just as God promised to be with Moses and the people, so God is always present with us on our Journey.
So I pray God forgive us when we mistake our symbols for the divine.

I pray God help us to reimage how to talk about the mystery that is God. I pray God connect us with one another so that we might widen our vision of who God is and can be. So that we may hear God say as God Moses did “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” Amen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thirteen Years Later

I begin with a confession; this is a very difficult blog to write. Thirteen years ago yesterday my home town of Laramie, WY was thrust into the spotlight when Mathew Shepard was beaten and left to die because of his sexual orientation. I want to share with you my perspective of what it was like to be in Laramie at that time and what it has been like to be from Laramie since. In doing this, however, I want to make it clear that I am speaking only from my experience and do not presume to speak for the people of Laramie.

Until recently the events of thirteen years ago would have been something I would have been very reluctant to talk about. I think this is true of a lot of Laramie residents. When you introduce yourself and say you are from Laramie, Matthew Shepard’s brutal death is often the first thing people think about. The natural inclination is to take a defensive posture and defend Laramie or speak about nuances that have gotten lost in the media covering what happened. The truth is that these reactions truly are not helpful and are out of truth not about the event itself but rather feeling like I have to defend myself for being from Laramie. Understand too my memory is also clouded by the media’s decent onto the town. The reporters hounded us as High School students as we left school to give them a sound bite about local reaction. Memories of TV cameras pointing into classroom windows while we were simply trying to do our work. These also have not been helpful to me as I have tried to really think about that time over the years. My goal has been to move beyond such things and what follows is my attempt to do so.

What has really stuck with me all these years more than even the brutal event itself has been the community reaction to it. Almost immediately the University and High School students mobilized to create a way of saying that what had happened was not acceptable and had nothing to do with the Laramie we knew. Almost everyone’s backpack or bag had a yellow ribbon on it supporting Mathew’s family.

When Fred Phelps and his hate group from Westboro Baptist Church decided to protest there was a group who bravely surrounded them wearing white robes with large angel’s wings to block the hate from sight. This simple moment of love and resistance is one that has stuck with me and to this day acts as an example when I plan acts of resistance.

I remember Mathew’s mother’s courage and compassion when she decided to ask the DA not to seek the death penalty in the case of Mathew’s killers. In this act she stopped the cycle of violence right there. It must have taken a great deal of courage and overcoming a great deal of pain for her to act in this way.

But what of Laramie? I’m sad to report that though there are positive things like the Matthew Shepard Symposium at the University of Wyoming each year dealing with issues of homophobia, the environment that allowed this kind of act to happen still exists. The issue of homophobia is still one that has yet to be dealt with in significant ways. But this is not true only of Laramie. You see it would be easy if we only had to irradiate homophobia in Laramie, but the conditions that allowed Mathew Shepard to be killed exist far too pervasively in our society. For every Mathew Shepard we hear about there are hundreds who are victims physically and emotionally of homophobia that we do not here about.

So I turn to my faith and ask for forgiveness for my silence. Thank God for the ability now to reflect on this and continue said reflection. And the strength for this native son of Laramie to continue the fight against homophobia and to fight for my LGBTQ sisters’ and brothers’ equality where ever that might lead me.

Monday, September 26, 2011

River Sermon 9/25/2011

This is a sermon delivered at Mira Vista United Church of Christ on 9/25/2011. The scripture was Revelation 22:1-5 "Then the angel* showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life* with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants* will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever."

A crystal clear river peacefully running down the middle of the street, light glistening off its waters, it feeds two huge trees that seeming brake out of the ground and shooting upward to the sky. These trees provide cooling shade, more they provide to all in this place fruit and healing. It really is a beautiful image of hope provided to us by the rich symbolism of the scripture today. I have a confession though, when I first read this image for this week it struck a sense of discord within me. The world we live in seems so far away from this image. If you follow the news, you hear everyday about the pollution of rivers, species of fish in danger of extinction, rampant deforestation, and human injustice to one another. The world seems to be crying out. I find myself asking where is the “healing of nations” talked about in the scripture because our world could really use some of that right now.

The reality is that we live in a broken world, a world that is not how we would have it and I believe one that is not the way God would have it. So as people living in a reality of brokenness, what do we do when confronted with the beautiful hope in the image from today’s scripture? We find this scripture very near the end of the Book of Revelation. Revelation is a book full of images and metaphors of a broken world. The author of this book identifies himself as an exile on the island of Patmos. He uses symbolic images to write about the brokenness of the very world he sees around him. The symbols in Revelation critique an Empire which has begun to care more about its wealth than its people, it critiques the deep injustice than within the system, and it speaks to a profound sense of powerlessness in the face of these things. Any of these things sound familiar. Yet out of this profound brokenness rises this image of deep and lasting hope. When we examine this image it is one that speaks directly to who we are as people of faith.

The first thing to notice about this image is that it is not an image about escape in some distant future, rather it is an image rooted in the here and now. This is not an image about hope for a heaven that is light years away, but rather hope for our everyday existence. We see this in the language the writer of Revelation chooses. We see the river of life, running down the middle of the street right there in the middle of our everyday path, we see the trees of life shooting up toward the sky in my spiritual imagination they are breaking through the concrete, breaking through the ordinary, those boundaries of our world that seem to keep hope out. It brings “the healing of the nations.” In choosing these images the author is calling on the natural world that is right around us. He is telling us through symbol that God’s divine presence is already in our midst; that we need not look far for hope because it is right here in the very ordinary things in our lives.

It doesn’t surprise me that the author of Revelation uses water at the center of his symbol of God’s hope in the very here and now. As a church, in baptism, water acts as a symbol of God’s presence in the life of the one being baptized. It seems water has a way of teaching us about our connection with the present moment and our connection with the divine. The Lakota Story teller Joseph M Marshall III recounts how his Grandfather taught him about the interconnectedness of all things and the divine. He was with his Grandfather near the river and they were throwing stones into that river. As they throw the stones his Grandfather pointed out the circular ripples that were created. “In the circles, there is no first or last, no higher or lower… The river was teaching me that no one or no thing is higher or lower than any other form of life. We are all connected…It is the acceptance of such a simple reality that we are a part of all species in the world.” He goes on to describe how the river taught him of hope because while it is constantly changing it is also constantly there. This connection speaks of a hope that is right near us and in us, in our connection with the earth and our connection with God.

This sense of hope being right in our midst, this sense of God with us makes me think of one of the most important scriptures for the Jewish faith, the Shema, which you heard me say earlier in Hebrew. “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The shema is at the center of the liturgy of Shabbot service and in many ways at the center of Jewish spiritual practice. It is a reminder of a God that is not far off but is rather right here. The word translated as one in English, ehad, is a number but it means much more than simply the number one. It means God is one with creation, one with us, and one with everything around us. It is a reminder that God breaks into our midst not just now and then but rather God is continually among us. This is not a distant God, when read in the Hebrew the word translated as the Lord is actually the name of God, which even when read in Hebrew is replaced with the word Adonai out of respect, the God we are reminded of in the Shema has a name and a close relationship with us. In the Shema as in the image in Revelation, God and hope are here and now.
But this brings me back to my original question; living in a broken world how do we as Christians hold the reality of a God who is right with us? I think the answer resides in our everyday lives. Our spiritual practices are a great way to allow the breaking in of hope to our world. Our spiritual practices can act as that thing that does the breaking through, making space for the divine to enter, making room for the tree of life so to speak. When our prayer, our meditation, our hiking, our singing, our reading of the scriptures is at its best it brings us into contact with the hope described in Rev. 22. One way I personally connect that hope you have already seen this morning. I pray the Shema on my exhaling to connect myself with that hope, to connect myself with God. I suspect many of your own ways of fostering the connection with God and with hope. It is in these practices that we can find strength when the world seems so broken that the image of hope seems dim, it can reconnect us to the river of hope that is our connection with the divine.

The most ordinary of things can bring hope into our daily lives. The very earth itself has a way of quite literally providing hope and healing. In Reading, England the charity Thrive is using Gardening as a therapeutic practice for persons with a number of disabilities. Stuart, the care giver of his wife, Denise who is suffering dementia, says of her experience. “As she waters the garden, she waters herself. The work seems to reconnect her with herself. This ordinary garden has grown hope in both of us.”

As the hope of the divine breaks into our daily lives flows through us, it flows to others. As we live out of the hope and connection we experience with God we do things in our life that share that hope with those around us.

An example of this are friends of mine from PSR Hope Attenhofer and Gale Tompkins Bischel. This summer the went to the Arizona desert to work with the organization Humane Borders who was providing water for those crossing the desert so would not die of thirst along the journey. While this act seems so small to the people doing it, people make these kind of delivers every day, the fact is that it is saving lives. This small act of leaving water is a way in which the hope of the divine brakes through the brokenness of our worlds emigration policy. This water is in a very real way feeding the tree of life.

Now we may not have the opportunity to deliver water to the desert, we all have ways to provide hope to the world around us. In this very congregation we have people who help fight hunger at the supercenter each month. This action, no less than those of the church group in Arizona feeds the tree of life for the healing of nations. It is in these everyday acts that hope flows through us and to others. It is by sharing the hope that the divine instills in us that we begin to participate in the healing of the nations.

So when it comes down to it the image of the scripture today really is not discordant with our broken reality, but rather it is a vision of where to begin. How our reality may in fact be full of life and healing rather than brokenness. It is through making space in our ordinary existence that opens this hope that it may flow through us and be shared with others.

So may hope like the trees of life break through the concrete of our world into our here and now. Through our spiritual practice may we feel a river of hope flowing from God into us, and in our own everyday lives may hope in all the small ways flow to others; that we may truly begin to see the healing of the nations.