Epiphany: Wise Women Also Came

Today is Epiphany, or Día de los Reyes, the day we remember the magi’s visit to Jesus. I came across this poem yesterday by Jan Richardson, whose work I love (see her Ash Wednesday poem “Blessing the Dust” or her “Blessing for Waiting“, which I used during Advent).

Wise women also came.
The fire burned in their wombs long before they saw the flaming star in the sky.
They walked in shadows, trusting the path would open under the light of the moon.

Wise women also came, seeking no directions, no permission from any king.
They came by their own authority, their own desire, their own longing.
They came in quiet, spreading no rumours, sparking no fears to lead to innocents’ slaughter,
to their sister Rachel’s inconsolable lamentations.

Wise women also came, and they brought useful gifts:
water for labour’s washing, fire for warm illumination, a blanket for swaddling.

Wise women also came, at least three of them,
holding Mary in the labour,
crying out with her in the birth pangs,
breathing ancient blessings into her ear.

Wise women also came, and they went, as wise women always do, home a different way.

The art piece above was also done by Jan Richardson, and you can order the print (and see more of her work) by clicking on it.

What is the Church’s task today?

Kaj Munk was a Danish playwright and Lutheran pastor, martyred during the German occupation of Denmark. He was killed by the Gestapo on this day in 1944. His words ring true for us today as they did seven decades ago:

What is, therefore, our task today?
Shall I answer: “Faith, hope, and love”?
That sounds beautiful.
But I would say—courage.
No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth.

Our task today is recklessness.
For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature,
we lack a holy rage.
The recklessness that comes
from the knowledge of God and humanity.
The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets …
and when the lie rages across the face of the earth—
a holy anger about things that are wrong in the world.

To rage against the ravaging of God’s earth,
and the destruction of God’s world.

To rage when little children must die of hunger,
when the tables of the rich are sagging with food.

To rage at the senseless killing of so many,
and against the madness of militaries.

To rage at the lie that calls
the threat of death and the strategy of destruction
“peace”.

To rage against complacency.

To restlessly seek that recklessness
that will challenge and seek to change human history
until it conforms with the norms
of the Kingdom of God.

And remember the signs of the Christian Church have always been the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove, and the Fish …

But never the chameleon.

The times they are a-changin’

It’s been 10 months since my last blog. To say that a lot has happened in that time would be understating it just a little bit, but honestly, I haven’t really had the words to talk about the last year. I haven’t known what to say or how to say it: there have been too many stories to tell, too much background to fill in, too many threads that would take too long to follow.

I guess the biggest news is that I’m no longer at The District Church any more. This summer, the congregation formerly known as the East Side parish of The District Church (which we planted four years ago) was launched as an independent church, so now I’m the Pastor of Liturgy and Spiritual Formation at Christ City Church, where Matthew Watson and I continue to pastor together. Predictably, the summer was filled with the busyness of setting up a new church: filing articles of incorporation, opening bank accounts, writing bylaws, and such; figuring out new structures (such as an elder board) and new rhythms and responsibilities of work; and the pastoral challenge of walking a community through a pretty massive transition and into a new chapter of congregational life together. As you can imagine, it’s been a lot!

Thankfully, throughout the spiritual, emotional, relational, and even vocational strain of the last few months, God has done what God does — most pertinently, sit with us in our grief and bring life out of death. And God has begun knitting things back together in my own life, through prayer and divine encounter as well as through those with whom I’ve been honored to call friends in this season.The work and the healing and the processing are far from over, but we are far from alone and that in itself is grace.

The other week, I was back in the UK for a few days, and a friend and I arranged to meet for dinner. I hadn’t yet been to his new place, so I stuck the address into my phone and followed the directions. As I was walking, I realized it was taking me on a route I’d walked many times before, fifteen years ago when I was in college and dating A. In fact, it took me past her old house; she doesn’t live there any more. I’m not sure I could name all of the feelings I experienced in that moment — it was a strange mixture of joy and sadness and nostalgia and gratitude and wonderment at what was, at what happened in the intervening years, and at where we are now. In the midst of that, God reminded me of the words of an ancient teacher:

For everything there is a season …

I’ve experienced that in places I’ve called home, in passions and pastimes, in friendships and relationships, and even in churches. Some endings we get to choose; others are chosen for us. Thanks be to the God who can bring life out of all of them … even when it takes longer than we would like or looks different from what we had hoped.


If you’re interested, I talk about these things a little more in a couple of sermons: “New Name, Same Calling”, on Launch Sunday back in August, when Matthew and I co-taught; and “Grief and Lament: Tools for Life”, given just the other week as part of our Psalms series.

Kingdom Resistance

Hey, it’s been a while. Not for lack of desire to get writing done, but for lack of capacity. Maybe some day, when I have more time, I’ll tell you about it. But here I am.

I’ll start with this: Happy New Year — both, belatedly, to 2017 and, as of tomorrow, to the Year of the Rooster!

Anyway, it so happens that I’ve providentially preached both of the Sundays after Election Day in November and Inauguration Day last week. As such, those occasions have forced allowed me to pray and think and reflect on my own response to those events and the non-alternative reality they reflect. In particular, I’ve been asking God what my calling is in the midst of this — as a man, as a husband, as an American, as a Christian, and as a pastor — and what our calling as a church is.

[Some of what follows is taken from one or both of the sermons I preached — “A Church for the City” on November 13, and “inSPIREd: Relational” on January 22.]

The last few months have felt like a setback for many of us as it relates to fighting poverty, prejudice, and discrimination; for those who care for the people in our society who are vulnerable or feeling uncertain or fearful about their safety or their future. Whoever you voted for, if you’re a Christian, I’m guessing you voted as faithfully as you could based on your understanding of the gospel and your judgment of the candidates and your view of politics. The gospel impacts every area of life — or at least it should — because Jesus has something to say about every area of life, because the kingdom of God means something for every area of life — that includes how we vote and what we do in the time between our votes.

Oscar Romero was the Archbishop of San Salvador in the 1970s, when his country was led by an authoritarian government; he said this:

A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed — what gospel is that?

We are called to pray for those in leadership over us and to call them to account. As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, as the church, we are not to be “the master or the servant of the state, but the conscience of the state.”

That’s why, in our church, we’ve sought to address issues like racial justice and racial reconciliation and the real sin of systemic racism; that’s why, in the aftermath of some of the violence last summer, we changed up our worship services to create space to grieve and lament and pray together; that’s why we’ve tried to push into some of those difficult conversations — as faithfully as we can, with as much grace and courage and humility as we can — all the while reminding each other of Jesus and the kingdom of God that challenges every earthly system and structure, reminding each other of the reality of sin in our own lives and in our world, and reminding each other of the power of God’s Spirit to bring good out of any and every situation.

I do want to say this, especially in light of the uptick in harassment and hate crimes (I just met with a rabbi today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and he was telling me about recent bomb threats) and the strange alternative-fact-filled world we find ourselves in: if you have a disability or are a woman, a person of color, an immigrant or a refugee, part of a religious minority, a member of the LGBTQ community, or otherwise care at all about the vulnerable — if you are uncertain or fearful because of things said or things reported or things experienced in recent months — especially by those who claim to follow Jesus — let me say I’m with you and I pledge to do whatever is in my power to continue to oppose injustice and discrimination against you, because I believe that is what Christ calls me to. And if you’re reading this today, and you’re not fearful or hurting right now, and you’re saying, “But what about me? Aren’t you going to oppose injustice and discrimination against me? Doesn’t Christ call you to that, too?” Absolutely, I’d do the same for you too.

So … what’s the calling?

Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Here’s another way of putting it:

Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

How about this, from singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn?

Got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

Or this, from Oscar Romero:

I am not with the right or with the left. I am trying to be faithful to the word that the Lord bids me preach, to the message that cannot change, which tells both sides the good they do and the injustices they commit.

To be of the kingdom of God means that Christians are exiles in this world, because we’re following and loving and serving and learning to live like Jesus, the king of the kingdom. Jesus, who chose to step into a hostile world, chose to be an exile, for the sake of those he loved — that’s what Philippians 2 tells us. Jesus, who was eternal but entered time, who was all-powerful but made himself vulnerable, who was in heaven but became flesh and made his dwelling among us — that’s what John 1 tells us. That’s who we follow; that’s who we’re called to be like.

This is the Jesus who said, “Love your enemy,” because he knew that only love can every chain, every destructive cycle, that, as Martin Luther King Jr. would discover centuries later, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This is the Jesus who backed his words up with his actions, giving up his life so that we his enemies might have life, choosing to die so that we his enemies might not have to, offering grace so that we his enemies might be rescued and redeemed and restored, and taking onto and into himself the violence we wish upon each other, the violence of our sinful intentions, the violence of Psalm 137, and emptying it of its power. That’s what love does.

And this Jesus, after three days in the tomb, was raised to life, proving that sin cannot stop him, that death cannot hold him down, and that however bleak things may look, Jesus is risen, his Spirit is in us, and there is still work to do. As he said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

My calling is still the same; our calling as a church is still the same:

to speak out and to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ;

to be salt and light in a world desperate for resilient hope and amazing grace and persevering love and the justice of God;

to live as citizens and ambassadors of the kingdom of God;

to defend the image of God in every person, to speak up for the voiceless, to welcome the stranger, to offer healing to the broken and wounded, to give rest to the weary and downhearted, to stand up for the oppressed and the marginalized, to preach good news to the poor;

to break every chain, to challenge every injustice and every -ism as an affront to a just God;

to point forward to a day when people of every nation and every tribe will gather at the throne of God to worship.

That’s my calling; that has been my calling during the previous administration—as imperfectly as I lived into that—and it will remain my calling during the current administration—as imperfectly as I will live into that. And that’s your calling too—but you may live it out in the context of a non-profit or a business, or through activism or advocacy, or working in government or running for office, or in a family or a school or a hospital.

So Paul’s exhortation in Galatians 6 is particularly germane for us today:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Our boat is going in the same direction. The winds may have changed—and that may make things easier for some of us and that may mean a lot more rowing for others of us—but neither our calling nor our commission have changed. I know it takes hard work; it may involve putting our lives on the line to protect each other; it will involve having difficult conversations with people we know where we’re sometimes not even sure if we’re making any progress. But I firmly believe that God has placed many of you in the families and the friendships and the workplaces you’re in for a reason — to live in and to live out more of God’s kingdom reality in those very places and relationships.

At the Inauguration on Friday, part of Matthew 5 was read — the Beatitudes, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Here’s what struck me:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

Blessed are the shalom-seekers. Blessed are those who will work to see relationships restored. Blessed are those who will put their lives on the line so that others might be made whole. Blessed are those who do not grow weary in doing good. For they will be called the children of God.

So let’s come together, let’s stand together, let’s hold together, let’s love our enemies together, let’s protest injustice together, let’s be gracious together, let’s listen and speak out together, let’s lock arms and recommit ourselves to following Jesus and being ambassadors of his kingdom together.

Grace and peace to you all, friends.

Christ has no body now but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ’s compassion must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which
He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which
He is to bless us now.

– St. Teresa of Ávila

[Photo: From a cabin trip to Lake Anna earlier this month. It pretty well encapsulates what I’m feeling.]

Eugene Peterson on the Trinity

A few weeks ago, I got to attend an event honoring Eugene Peterson, author of The Message translation of the Bible and many other books that have shaped who I’ve become. One of the questions he was asked was about the Trinity, and I loved his answer.

He told a story about how when he was a young seminary student, he and his friends used to go square dancing. Now, he wasn’t a particularly good or confident dancer, so he’d usually start on the sidelines. He’d watch folks as they danced, seeing partners swap, join hands, circle up. But as the dance got faster and faster—as it does—the individuals became almost indistinguishable, a blur of movement and motion. And, he said, at some point a hand would reach out and he’d get yanked in—all of a sudden part of the dancing. He was dancing not because he was particularly good at it, but because he was with those who knew how to dance.

Life with God is like that, he said. God is love and God loves us. Father, Son, and Spirit have existed eternally in a community of love, created the universe at the beginning of time out of that love, and invite us to live our lives in that love.

It was a welcome and needed reminder that love and relationality are what define us.

We were created for love and to love.

When we love, we align ourselves with the grain of the universe.

(Coincidentally, Richard Rohr’s new book is about just this; it’s called The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, and it comes out in October!)