Sermon 3: The Woman at the Well

Just Be God’s: A Call to Continuing Conversion is a series of blog posts. You might want to start reading it from the beginning: Here.

March 23, 2014 Preach it.

SERMON 3

As I’m sure, many of you are aware, the story of the woman at the well invites all kinds of cultural judgment for the time.

From the get go: passing through Samaria could be judged because Jews don’t do that. Another scandal is that the scene takes place at Jacob’s Well which connotes a provocative tone—this is where Jacob met his wife, and I imagine was kind of like the Samaritan version of the Harding “three swings and a ring.” Did you meet that girl down by the well?

Then there’s the fact that Jewish Male Jesus is talking to a Samaritan Female. Double counts of taboo! The gospel of John invites our scoffing. Jesus is doing this all wrong, and the woman doesn’t deserve any second of attention in the story or in the gospel. But here is is.

Being a Christian, I have a tendency to judge. I started making a list of people that I had in the past thought less of or as utterly wrong… Like

Catholics. Pentecostals. Those speaking in tongues people. LGBT people. Fornicators. Clappers. People who eat in the building. Women praying out loud. People who don’t dress up at church. Atheists. Spiritual not religious people. Jews. Mormons. Muslims. People who swear.

I’ve changed though, I’ve gotten over many of those judgments, now I judge: Uneducated. Ignorant. Poor. Lazy. Unforgiving. Jobless. People who hate LGBT. People who hate women. Abusers. Sowers of dissension. Anyone who is stuck and can’t change. Protesters telling you you’re going to hell. Street preachers. People who don’t know everything I know. People who don’t give enough. People who are educated, and still don’t agree with me! People who got the job that don’t deserve the job. Internet trolls. People who own iPads and don’t know how to use them.

Somehow my second list seems more judgy than my first list…

I have also been, at one point or another, judgy of Paul on the same counts. If you talk about Paul to any liberated woman or any person who doesn’t buy into heteronormativity, you may catch an eye-roll, or some sort of motion of disdain. I am guilty, and still guilty sometimes.

Paul is often thought of as moody, inconsistent, bossy, and a woman hater. He talks to us about things that I don’t want to talk about. Lot of rules come to mind. Or whatever guilt I might harbor in the cobwebs of my soul.

His writings are rarely him telling a story, and if they are, it’s some sort of seemingly narcissistic heroism by himself. In his writings he praises some. He rebukes others. He writes dogma and doctrine. He makes one statement and immediately contradicts it. He deserves to be judged… by me.

And then there’s this whole thing other thing that he talks about: Reconciliation.

Imagine trying to culturally combine the groups and individuals that I mentioned on both my lists above, and then get them to love each other, and genuinely work together. There you have it, Paul’s challenges to the Roman church merging Gentile, Jews, and whoever else. Now back to the woman at the well.

The gospel of John has set a scene for scandal. The rules are all being broken. If you look closely at the reading, and were listening to this story in it’s cultural context, you’d be able to see how gender, culture, religious, and political boundaries were being dismantled.

Jews were passing through Samaria when they don’t usually do that, Jesus is talking to a woman at a hot pick up spot… And as the conversation goes the woman has a tendency to evade his questions and only assumes fleshly needs and desires as Jesus converses with her.

Jesus asks for water and the woman asks him why he’s talking to her…

4:7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Samaritans and Jews aren’t even supposed to share buckets in common!

You know, Jesus was probably actually thirsty. He asked her for a drink, and then tells her he has all the water he needs. It’s like they’re speaking two different languages. Jesus just wants a drink, and she seems to want to argue. Even so, Jesus clarifies by saying that he has living water and the woman says, “You don’t even have a bucket,” still assuming that the water is literal water.

Jesus tries to explain that that’s not what he’s talking about and eventually asks her to go get her husband. And she evades by saying that she has none, at which point, Jesus calls her out on her having five husbands.

Jesus knew her, in all her dark parts of herself, and still spoke with her. By giving culture and customs no power, by refusing to argue, he broke down this cultural barrier between male and female, as well as the barriers between the Jews and Samaritans. He asked her for water/for help. He shared with her in his own weakness, along with connecting to her own hurt. He shared with her his humanity being famished and his divinity acknowledging her hurt.

The story of the woman at the well is an invitation to love, to care for, and to know one another deeply, far beyond our differences. There are some implicit themes of God’s reconciliation in this story, and if you notice, there are some powerful key words in Paul: justice, peace, grace, hope, love, and reconciliation. Paul is particularly concerned with breaking down barriers between the Jews and Gentiles. He wants them to see that not one of them is more or less sinner or saved. But it’s tough to discuss reconciliation without also having a conversation about forgiveness.

Forgiveness and reconciliation tend to be buzzwords in conversations on violence, and political and religious unrest in post-conflict regions. From a political and psychological perspective no one is totally clear or agrees on what reconciliation is, if it’s truly possible, or how to do it correctly.

Forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t mutually exclusive, but there are some agreed upon differences. Reconciliation is almost always between multiple parties, forgiveness on the other hand, can be done within yourself (without a literal meeting or conversation). Those involved in reconciliation have to be available, conscious, and willing. It involves literal meeting, conversation, and effort for all parties involved. Reconciliation may be working towards forgiveness, but is mostly conflict resolution ending in tolerance at minimum, and restored relationship with forgiveness at best.

These current definitions of reconciliation don’t really match God’s reconciliation that happens in Romans with Paul. Because this restoring of relationship with God happens without our full awareness or any response whatsoever. It reads, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us… while we were still enemies, we were reconciled to God.” It seems more like forgiveness.

In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus approaches and engages her in a way that assumes there are no cultural barriers, almost as if they already have a deep relationship, with or without her awareness.

Psychologists who study forgiveness usually define it as “letting go of negative feelings.” But many times they’ll also include that forgiveness allows for positive feelings toward the transgressor. So you let go of negative feelings and you give positive ones. When we allow for God’s forgiveness in ourselves and with others, there may be some transformation at work in the other person without our own full awareness.

I don’t know if any of you have ever had this happen in your life where forgiveness becomes necessary, and you do it. Full on letting go of negative feelings and letting in of positive ones—such as compassion, empathy, seeing them as human. And soon enough, the other person changes. It doesn’t always happen, and maybe it’s just your perspective that changed, its difficult to know. I want to believe that even without an intentional literal intervention, if I choose to forgive, transformation will occur in me and in you.

That’s what is happening at the well, and while we were enemies, God still loved us, Jesus still gave his life, we were reconciled, and our relationship with God was restored. We have this ability to extend God’s reconciliation to others, and we ought to extend that love to others. Something like love, when it’s at it’s fullest potential (whether it’s in the form of reconciliation or restorative justice, or peace, or forgiveness, etc.), there are no different types. Love just is.

In Rome, Paul is working toward, not just reconciliation, but a mutual love and cooperation between Christians, and between Christians and their culture. God through Jesus and the Spirit is the ultimate mediator of all of this. And Paul teaches that “No human sin is sufficient to separate us from the love of God that saves us.” This makes it easier, for me, to reconcile with Paul in myself.

In God’s reconciliation, in Paul and at the well, God recognizes and affirms “You are a part of me and I am a part of you.”

The Samaritan woman is a story of Jesus acknowledging the dark corners of her life, and still loving her. He takes himself to a place where he could be assumed as one of her many husbands. And she says that Jesus told her everything she ever did. Not that he was the messiah, but that she was known and still a part of kingdom… And all of her, every part of herself.

Lent is a time to think about these parts of ourselves that don’t get along. Or that I think are not acceptable. That are ignored. Or that I don’t want to talk about. With God’s help, it’s a time to raise our awareness in order to help reconcile pieces of ourselves that are also a part of other people. God, through Christ, begins and mediates that reconciliation in me and everywhere else.

God does the real work, with or without my awareness. It’s freeing to know that we’re finite, we can’t do it all, we won’t do it all. But reconciliation is all the more powerful when we name it, when we notice the ignored corners of our own lives, and let God be there and work there. Welcomed or unwelcomed, conscious or unconscious, God will reconcile with us, God will help reconcile us with each other, and God will reconcile the pieces of ourselves that we don’t want to reconcile.

Everytime I judge the way I judged in the beginning of my sermon. Everytime I call someone else wrong, or unworthy, I’m really calling myself that. I judge myself, because I know that if I dig deep enough, I’ll find that I do the exact same thing that that other person or group is doing that I don’t like.

Because I am a part of you, and you are a part of me.

DONE

March Sermon Musement

That’s kind of a strange testimony. It’s kind of like Paul’s reconciliation. Before we even knew what hit us, Christ knew us, and still chose us. Jesus put himself in an equally awkward situation with us, seeing us fully for who we are (even as we try and avoid it), so we can see ourselves. Before we did anything to earn anything, God took care of us. Maybe I’m a Calvinist…I have a protestant parent, and a catholic parent. I am protestant and I am catholic. And so are both of my parents. That was something that needed to be reconciled within themselves.

My church upbringing combined with being the oldest child caused serious struggles not telling people what to do. I have really good advice. I don’t want to make anyone feel weird or guilty or uncomfortable, but at the same time I want them to realize it’s okay. This happened, or you did this, and it was terrible, horrible, and you and the community should deal with it (we all have a responsibility). But there’s also nothing we can do (but acknowledge there is nothing we can do), and God does.

I feel like I’m doing the same thing Paul is doing, and I don’t like it. It’s like he says, “You have to do something. But you can’t do anything.” Everyone has sinned, and you can’t do anything about it. You can’t get out of this. God helps. That’s what Paul is trying to do, he’s trying to get the Jews and the Gentiles to get along and realize, God leveled the playing field, not one deserves salvation.

I imagine it was difficult for Paul, just like it’s difficult for us to understand, obedience, while good, is not the only way.

Sermon 1: Paul

This is what I was thinking about originally but didn’t quite finish.

I’ve noticed that it’s kind of cool, at one point or another, in a theology student’s career to hate Paul. Maybe not everyone goes through it, but I know I did. If you talk about Paul to any liberated woman or any person who doesn’t buy into heteronormativity, you may catch an eye-roll, or some sort of motion of disdain. I am guilty, and still guilty sometimes. Paul talks to us about things that I don’t want to talk about. Black and white rules come to mind. Or whatever guilt I might harbor in the cobwebs of my soul. His writings rarely are story, and if they are, it’s some sort of seemingly narcissistic heroism by Paul. He praises some. He rebukes others. He writes dogma and doctrine. He makes one statement and immediately contradicts it.

Paul is often thought of as moody, inconsistent, bossy, and a woman hater, but if you read Paul through the lens of reconciliation, which is his concept, then the rest of his writing is a bit more palatable. It’s as if he’s figuring it out as he writes it. Paul is trying to understand how to manage his own culture in the creation of a new culture in Christianity. He is aware that he is living in a world where Jesus broke the rules (like in the story of the woman at the well), not to make more rules—not to keep people in bondage, not to control leadership, not to exclude. So, even amidst all the household, church, and cultural rules that appear to be upheld by Paul, he still speaks of this reconciliation.

He’s got a lot on his plate. He has to make sure the churches don’t go too far off the mark (whatever that is), while also allowing for healing grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation in a melding of very different cultures. Paul’s confusing circularity, ought to be a comfort as we attempt to understand reconciliation in our own culture.

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Preaching again.

Just Be God’s: A Call to Continuing Conversion is a series of blog posts. You might want to start reading it from the beginning: Here.

March 11

I’m preaching again, and this is definitely one of my favorite topics, but I need to tread lightly. It’s a reading on Paul about reconciliation, and it’s the woman at the well. This could be amazing or terrible. I’ll be treading the line between something innovative and something that already been said a thousand times over. I’m not sure what angle to approach it at…

One of the things about the woman at the well story I thought about is how Jesus sets himself up to be judged. Like, “Uh, hey Jesus, what exactly are you doing out here with this lady?” Seriously, what is up with this story?

Catholics Versus Protestants

Just Be God’s: A Call to Continuing Conversion is a series of blog posts. You might want to start reading it from the beginning: Here.

January 17

What the Catholic church has that Protestants don’t, and the problems Catholics have that Protestants also have.

This morning in Mass I was thinking about becoming Catholic. One of my RCIA-mates was also there. And I was thinking about the idea of me “converting.” I’m always saying, “I’m not converting.” Which is true, but sitting in Mass, watching the eucharist, I had to say to myself, “Well, in checking out RCIA and considering becoming a confirmed Catholic, I am maybe saying, ‘There is something different here,’ or ‘They have something many other churches don’t have.’”

Then I wondered, “What is it?” And, “Do I really believe that?”

I don’t think that whatever this “difference” is has anything to do with being more right than all the other churches, or more saved than all the other Christians. And, I’m pretty sure most Catholics (and possibly even Catholic dogma, c.f. VII) agree.

It’s like this awareness that exists in the liturgy that space and time have no bounds. That everyone is gathered all at once, all through time and space, the “universality” of the church. When I sit in Mass, I remember all the saints, friends and family that have passed away, Protestant and Catholic, surrounding me. I think that’s cool, and not to deny that in other churches, it just seems closer to the surface in Catholic liturgy.

I actually remember the same sort of thing being taught in the Church of Christ. That is, that pretty much anywhere you go, you can find a Church of Christ, singing the same songs, preaching the same word, baptizing and having the Lord’s Supper. While at the same time, I was growing up changing and switching within the Church of Christ because they couldn’t get along in the same city. This is not a problem in the Catholic church, they actually “get along” and are more or less “universal/united” even if they don’t all agree—they agree on one thing, they are all Catholic, and that seems to be enough.

On the same note, I also love being a Protestant, and not being afraid of, offended by, annoyed with, confused by, or condemning of, the Catholic church. There are Catholic churches literally everywhere and there is Mass everyday. I can walk into a church anywhere in the world, sit, pray, go to Mass, and feel at home and with God. I can hunt down a priest and have a down to earth chat anywhere in the world.

Okay, maybe my Catholic experience here in Boston is a little bit overly-optimistic about the unity and universality of the Catholic church. But still! Just the fact that I can enter a Catholic or even just Catholic-like church and not be uncomfortable, is awesome. If only more Protestants could do that, Christianity would be a better religion.

Someone out there might be thinking, but what about the Catholics? Why don’t they come to Protestant church? They do! They are there! You just don’t notice them because they blend in so flawlessly. They were not taught that Protestants were wrong, and that they should never go to Protestant church. So, they have no fear or offence, just maybe a different taste in how church/liturgy should be.

This “universality” is really something that draws me, and no doubt, that has a lot to do with my inclusive personality. For me, universality may actually be my main draw. I considered the Seven Sacraments as a thing that is “different” in the Catholic church. But, honestly, I don’t really think I buy all those. Don’t get me wrong, I like them. They are cool. I like holy things, but they are a little off the Bible base of my Protestant upbringing, not that that is something that I’m super wedded to either.

Why am I not all about this bible business, because I’m a lady, and the Bible is used against us. So, Sola Scriptura is really difficult for me, because well, it’s impossible. Mostly because even the mere idea of Sola Scriptura is extra-Biblical. And the depth that a Scripture scholar can argue Sola Scriptura and also advocate for women in leadership, is not an easy thing for the average person to understand. It can be understood if you believe in a non-gender specific loving God, but the systematics of it— not that simple.

It is so easy for a man to advocate for Sola Scriptura. If I were a man, I probably would. The whole Bible was written by and organized by a bunch of men, and all the imagery and pronouns for God are male— awesome for all men. But if I’m a lady preaching, oh man, I am in trouble.

There are no lady preachers in the Bible (as far as I know). No ladies wrote the Bible. And ladies are more often than not told to be quiet. Sure, we have examples of women not being quiet. The Bible breaks the Bible’s rules all the time (e.g. God is love and God is also a genocidal maniac, Jews don’t marry non-Jews and all of Jesus’ lineage are a bunch of pagan/foreigners, don’t eat shrimp and well, that’s fine now). Those are just a couple stupid examples.

Then in Sola Scriptura, we use the Bible, that breaks the Bible’s rules, to defend the Bible breaking it’s own rules. Yeah, no average person is going to get that. And no average person is going to be able to explain that without not using the Bible.

Sola Scriptura is inherently defensive, and one of the things that I have appreciated about my Catholic circles is a non-defensive attitude. Oh, the irony. This is very different from the Evangelical Protestantism I know. I say “evangelical protestantism” because I know that there are plenty of non-defensive Protestant groups out there, but the Evangelicals, seem to be uber defensive.

Recently, everyone has been up in arms about Kirk Cameron’s wife talking about her Biblically Submissive Marriage. All over my facebook wall there was this defensive praise vomit over this issue of women being “submissive” in their marriages. If the word submissive wasn’t interpreted as submissive in the Bible, like for instance, if it was interpreted “respect,” “mutual understanding,” “appreciativeness,” or “considerate,” evangelical Christians wouldn’t have to defend the word, and then we would probably only use the word submissive when referring to dogs (as it should be).

The English Biblical interpretation ruined the word submissive, and is a great example of how weirdly defensive evangelicals can be. I asked a Catholic about this issue, and he gets the evangelical defensiveness, but also affirmed that Catholics do not have the same weird defensiveness over this issue (maybe over others, but this is not one). No Catholic is taught to vehemently defend tooth and nail Biblical interpretation. I like that. It is more akin to reality—we cannot understand it all.

I like that. I like that issues that made no sense to me growing up, that people fought over, are non-issues in the Catholic church! Yes, they have different issues, but those issues have far less at stake for me personally. Which is fantastic!

Except, one of the biggest issues I have, are issues regarding my gender in the churches I grew up in and in the Catholic church. It’s funny that while I consider becoming Catholic, the main issues I have with church are the same in evangelical and Catholic circles (women and homosexuality). So… There’s that. What is wrong with me?

I guess it’s just a comfort thing? Or maybe like a “if you can’t beat’em, join’em” thing? I’m not going to make any radical changes or influence in a church if I leave it. Some may disagree, but I imagine it’s why so many Catholics continue to stay. Change that is the speed of a glacier is still change.

I know that if I move to a church that is more okay with women and the gays, there are still problems in those churches, and those are problems I’m not used to, I don’t know, and I am unsure how to approach. There is a certain comfort in dealing with problems you’re used to. And there is a certain hope in knowing there are other people who are with you and work to move the glacier.

It’s kind of strange that my issues with church stay the same going from Protestant to Catholic, and the differences aren’t even exclusive, though there are serious bonuses. I mean, universality is a long ways away from Protestants. Unless all Protestants “join” the Catholic church (c.f. “if you can’t beat’em, join’em”).

Join could mean to simply attend regularly. Catholic churches meet multiple times everyday, and with that attendance, getting confirmed, trying out the sacraments, attempting to connect to your roots, yields a less afraid and less defensive Protestant. Denying Catholicism is like denying your 2000 year old ancestors ever existed and/or were always wrong, and need to be forgotten/given up on completely. No matter what, they are still a part of your Christian lineage, they are in the Christian genetic make-up, they are a gigantic part of Christianity, and still are.

Evangelical Christian, if you believe in heaven, and you believe there were real Christians before Luther, then you believe there are Catholic saints in heaven who are a part of your Christianity. Go to a Catholic church, get to know them and forgive already.

Now, as I finish this up, I think about how scary it would be to have all the conservative evangelicals join the Catholic church. It would potentially be giving them the organized/unified power they always wanted… This is terrifying. On second thought, don’t join, there are enough.

Cold, Wet, and Full of Grace.

Yeah. That’s what it looks like…

Just Be God’s: A Call to Continuing Conversion is a series of blog posts. You might want to start reading it from the beginning: Here.

January 13, Sermon Two: Baptism

I preached again. I felt more nervous than the first time, but I think people maybe liked it more? I’m not totally sure. I’m mostly judging by Clint. He seemed super happy about it. All the theology people were out there going, “Yes!” And all the non-Theologian trained people were going, “Yes, I think?” 

JANUARY 12, 2014 SERMON 

Part 1: Recalling our own baptism

Whether you remember it or not, baptism is an incredibly sensual experience. Whether you were being baptized, or you were a witness to a baptism, or are just guessing what a baptism might be like.

For a moment, relax a little. Get comfortable in your seat. Maybe close your eyes if you want, breathe, and take a second to imagine baptism. You could remember your own baptism. You could recall being a witness to someone’s baptism. Or, if neither of those work, just imagine whatever you think baptism is—the setting the feelings, the water, all of it.

What comes to mind? What are you thinking? Feeling? Are you afraid? Excited? Nervous? Maybe even inconvenienced or annoyed? Where did/does it happen? In a church? Camp? Outside? Inside? In a hottub? a Pool? the ocean? Maybe a lake? A river? A trough? A Baptismal just behind the pulpit and the curtain? How is the weather? Sunny? rainy? cold? Hot? Are you the only one being baptized? Who else is there? Your family, friends, children? What are you wearing? Who baptizes you? What might be that person’s significance?

What does the water feel like? Is it cold? It’s always cold. Maybe it was the perfect temperature. I don’t know. If you were only witnessing the baptism, did you wonder? Why did you do it? Or not do it? Or why did your parents do it?

I remember my baptism better than my mom remembers. It was after one of my first years going to Bible camp in Southern Indiana. Everyday we sung, played, learned about Jesus, and gossiped about who had a date to the end of the week event. Regardless, I knew long before camp that Jesus loved me, and I loved Jesus, but being a fifth grader in the Church of Christ—there is a lot of pressure to get dunked. The day I was baptized, a Sunday, I don’t remember the crux of the preacher’s sermon, but I do remember the intense need to get baptized, like if on the way home from church we crash and I die, my sinful 11 year old self was going to be in eternal danger!

After church, I told my mom that I wanted to get baptized, she told the preacher, and after church he took us back to his office and he asked me if I believed that Jesus was my savior, I said yes, and soon after I was waist deep in that hidden chlorinated pool behind the curtain behind the pulpit.

It was cold, wet, and full of grace.

Part 2: Why did Jesus get baptized?!

I was a sad sinful 11 year old. That makes sense, but why did Jesus get baptized? What is this baptism? Why? It is a strange ritual. Before Christianity embraced traditional baptism, ritual cleansing was practiced by the Jews. This is why we have John the baptist, a voice crying out in the desert calling for repentance. This is why John had the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him, because baptism was the thing to do… But Jesus didn’t need to repent, did he?

Originally, I was going to run down about 5 reasons “Why Jesus got baptized” but I changed my mind this morning.

[Here they are, not in my actual sermon. These reasons are not mutually exclusive…1. To be an example. Jesus got baptized, told us to be baptized, so we should be baptized. Pretty straight forward, pretty simply. We obey. 2. Jesus as “the new Adam.” Some suggest Jesus baptism as a representation of the undoing the fall of man… Adam fell/disobeyed, and Jesus is the ultimate example of complete obedience to God. It says in Isaiah “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.” And with these new things, a new symbol, as opposed to circumcision, we Gentiles have baptism. 3. Foreshadowing of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Easy peasy. Next, two more reasons…]

One of the traditional reasons for Jesus baptism is to mark the beginning of his ministry, or perhaps some sort of ontological change in Christ. In a sense, it marks the complete obedience of Christ’s will with God’s will. But was Christ not God and savior before his baptism. Spoiler alert: Orthodoxy says, “Yes.”

Theologian Raniero Cantalamessa, who wrote a tiny little book on the Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus, asks the questions (p8), “How can the word incarnate become something new, which he already was not at the moment of incarnation?” Was he not perfect savior and perfect human from the moment of his birth? It is not an easy question, and has been under scrutiny in Christianity for hundreds of years.

Another reason Jesus was baptized is to fulfill the prophets. Rarely do all four gospels record the same event. And all four of the Gospels record the baptism of Jesus, and all of them are a little bit different in their approach.

Matthew is particularly concerned with reaching the Jews, essentially convincing them with the prophets that Jesus is the Messiah. And so, Matthew is the only Gospel where Jesus explains (sort of) “Why?” as if directly responding to Isaiah 42:6, “I have called you in righteousness.” And Jesus answers, Mt 3:15, “Let is be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

Consistent with Matthew, all of the Gospels cross-reference Isaiah 42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” Perhaps the Gospels are calling back to prophecies involving literal water, and even the Psalm reading, 29:3 “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over the mighty waters.” This feels reminiscent of the voice of God over the waters of Jesus baptism.

Of course, we can easily make sense of baptism, and the prophets, retroactively. And I think if Jesus wasn’t recorded as being literally baptized with water, we would probably still be able to make sense of Jesus as savior. Even without the record in all four gospels of Jesus being baptized, Jesus could have just told us to be baptized and we would have done it because ritually it made sense then, and it sort of makes sense now.

After all, what is it we say, “I baptize you for the remission of sins, in the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit.” Jesus, didn’t exactly need “remission of sins.”

Maybe baptism is simply something that Jesus, God, wanted to share with me, us, humanity, and all the earth. This vivid process. Jesus was, and is, with us through the entire process—before, during and after. But there is more than just the person of Christ at work in the baptism—there are other divine persons involved here that deserve equal attention.

What I’m talking about is the Trinity. The readings in the lectionary for the past couple weeks are, whether you notice or not, Trinitarian in nature. All three, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned in one passage.

Like Clint discussed last week, Christian theology tends to solely focus on Christ, not that Christ isn’t important, but Christianity also affirms that there are two other persons of the Trinity, traditionally, the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The baptism of Jesus isn’t just an announcement of Jesus, but an abundant image of a breaking open of the heavens, communion between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Where none are completely separate from one another, or are any more or less than the other, and where none were before or after the other.

Now, I understand that Father (and probably even Son) imagery for describing the person(s) of God isn’t helpful for everyone, especially if you didn’t have a father, or had a not very nice one. That doesn’t mean that the tradition has to be abandoned altogether—there is more to “The Father” as God in the person/action of the Trinity, than the literal image of a father. Likewise, there is more to the Son and the Holy Spirit, none of which are mutually exclusive. They all work together, and all are in the baptism story!

The Father: Clint talked about this week—this power, this creative person of God. Almost like the brains of the operation, the one who conceives this plan. The one who is like a parent constantly reaching out for connection.

The Son: The redeemer, the human, the one on the ground unifying, seeking justice and peace, the one in solidarity with our hopes, dreams, trauma, and sufferings. The one whose example we can understand, follow, make sense of, and trust.

The Spirit: The one who sustains us, sanctifies us. The one that mediates between Father and Son. The one who insinuates action, makes things happen and then keep happening. The one who is with us presently as a gift and acknowledges and knows what is holy, good, and names it as such.

The word “trinity” isn’t in the Bible. It is simply something that we use to attempt to explain God and how God relates to God within God’s self. God, in God’s self is a representation and example of loving and holy relationship. This is ever present in the baptism story. God, in the Trinity is a radically relational being— an example of relationship while also actively engaging in relationship.

In this baptism, we are given the picture of the unification of God, God communing with God, while also communing with us. God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is invited to commune with us in baptism, and God invites us to commune with God’s self in baptism.

Can you imagine being the next guy or girl in line?

Part 3: ACTION

Well, technically, we all are next in line.

Jesus stands right next to us in line for baptism. The triune God is waiting to break open the heavens for us.

Jesus, who is God, stands among us, who are unworthy, he is mercy and grace.

While we don’t know, I like to imagine that Jesus did stand in line, and was just like us.

How did he know where John was? Maybe he needed to ask directions to get there. Was it a far walk? I wonder if it was in the morning or afternoon. I wonder if it was really hot and sunny, or maybe overcast, hazy. Was it dry? It is a desert out there. Maybe everyone is covered in dust. Were there only men, or were there families? Did Jesus go alone? Was there a long line? Was the water cool or warm? Was it rushing or calm? Was it shallow or deep? When he came up from the waters, was Jesus the only person who heard God’s voice and saw the spirit “like a dove”? Or did everyone?

Movies always show him just walking up and the crowd parting. Did Jesus cut the line? For some reason, I doubt he cut.

He probably made small talk with the people around him. Acting no better or worse than anyone else in his position desiring to be baptized by John.

Jesus, the spotless, sinless, perfect Lamb of God was baptized. Jesus, 100% divine and 100% human and 100% savior took a walk out into the desert, to a river somewhere, likely stood in line with and among sinners, and then received baptism from a sinner. How mundane and how awesome is that?

Just like us, Jesus made a decision. Jesus in human flesh, in our body, stood in solidarity with suffering humanity yearning for redemption. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the human and the divine, experienced baptism just like we are able and invited to do.

Like Jesus’ baptism was concrete, vivid, and particular, we live out our call, our baptism, in the concrete, vivid, and particular days of our lives. God chooses to make a seemingly impossible relationship, possible, by just standing in line. How much more are we called to relate to our fellow human being.

If we as Christians claim this relationship with God—impossible! We should probably learn how to relate to one another. At whatever time you choose, perhaps your baptismal calling is to simply make small talk with the person next to you. Maybe it’s reaching out to a friend. Maybe it’s generosity. Maybe it’s your in your job. We are called to be with and among whatever is most other to us, as God stood among us, but not like we are gods.

Jesus, being God and Man, and the Holy Trinity, is an incredible, beautiful, and extremely mysterious example of probably the most other things (God and Man) being one.

Not only that, but that we are invited to partake in this divine relationship, and if we claim to have such a divine relationship, then having a relationship with my enemy or with those I ignore and avoid should be a lot easier. Right?

No, it’s not always easy. It’s a daily struggle being human. But the baptism given to us, the invitation to commune with God, ought to be a daily reminder of who we belong. It doesn’t always make sense, and so we need to leave room for mercy, mystery, and grace.

The experience of baptism encompasses whole body, mind, and spirit, as well as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Whether you realize it, or not, in the moment, whether you are conscious or not, fully prepared or not (really, who can be fully prepared), there is something at work backwards and forwards through time and space that we are unworthily invited to over and over again—being baptized with God.

{END SERMON}

Publishing the Sermon

Just Be God’s: A Call to Continuing Conversion is a series of blog posts. You might want to start reading it from the beginning: Here.

November 19

D to Paige

Paige, what a delight it was to receive Bob’s email about the sermon you recently preached at the Brookline church. It would have been wonderful to have been there to hear you preach. Maybe there will come a time that it will be possible. I would love to hear from you to know what you are doing and what your plans are. We have a Women in Ministry Network and I would love to include you. In fact, if you are on Facebook I can add you to our conversation page. That is, if I can figure out how to do it. So if you befriend me I can work on making that connection. However, that may not be your interest.

What I would really like is a copy of your sermon. A few years ago Kathy P., who was the first women to preach at the Brookline church, advised me to save all my sermons. She explained that in all her research about women who were preachers in the early years of the Restoration Movement she had not found any of their sermons preserved. So, I took her advice and asked her to send me a copy of her first sermon, which was preached around 1987. That began a project that is really beginning to take shape. I have been collecting the sermons of women in the Church of Christ for several years now and have about 22 women who sent me sermons or promises of sermons… I would love to include your sermon in the collection. Many of the sermons are the first and/or the only sermon a particular woman has preached. Some were preached in university settings or in hospital chapels. But that is part of our story. And I am hoping to not only create a historical document but record the story of women in ministry in this generation.

Here is what I would like from you: 1. give your sermon a title and put your name on it. (You would be surprised how many did not do this and it is hard keeping track of them once I save them to my file.) 2. provide the date and the place where you preached it. 3. Write a preface to the sermon. I would like a paragraph that tells something of your story. How you came to preach this sermon. Was it your first? If not, where else have you preached and is this the first you preached in a Church of Christ worship service? What was the experience like for you. Share anything you would like to about your journey to this moment. 4. The sermon ­­ 5. A bio: in your bio include your education and where you are at the present time. Include something of your family background, etc. Anything you want to add. It should be a short paragraph.

If you do all of the above, you will be way ahead of the game. In the beginning I didn’t give any guidelines or requirements and I have had a lot of editing to do. Keep your format simple and I will do the rest.

I hope you will accept this assignment. Let me know as soon as possible if you intend to submit your sermon. I am busy editing right now so I can wait until February 1 for your sermon. If you would like a sample I can send you someone’s sermon to give you an idea of the preface as well as the sermon. However, I want it to be expressive of you so whatever you send me will be great.

I look forward to hearing from you soon. Blessings, D

November 23

Paige to D

Hello D,

It’s wonderful to hear from you! This whole semester has been unexpectedly wild for me. While I’ve been in Boston a while (5 years), I haven’t been that amazing of a church of Christ goer. But as soon as I committed to attending this year (in addition to Catholic Mass), and let someone know I have a Master’s in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College, I was invited to preach. Like I said, it is wild. When Bob said you’d be emailing me, I was pretty taken aback. It’s been a long time since my days at Pepperdine, but my experience there, seeing women in the church of Christ in ministry, is really what planted my desire to minister (formally or informally and pretty much anywhere).

I’m delighted that you want my sermon and may include it in your book! I can definitely get you my sermon before Feb 1st, and I may even have preached again by the time it comes around. Clint, who puts the preaching circuit together at Brookline, is including me in the new year. It should be fun. Brookline is a fantastic church, and I like to call it “The Best Church of Christ in the World.”

A little about what’s going on with me before sending the sermon. Presently, I’m in a little bit of a transitional time of life. I work in Tech Support at Boston College (the job that got me through my two Master’s there). I’ve done that for about 2 years now, and my boyfriend just moved to Florida. Come summer, I’ll be finishing up in Boston, walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and moving down to Florida with possibly no money or job. I’m very excited! I’m actually heading down to Florida today to have Thanksgiving with his family this week. It should be very nice. And warm. New England has been wonderful, but it’s time to go.

I’d love to be included in the Facebook group! Say hello and send my love to Zach and the fam. I certainly miss Malibu. I will send you my sermon all formatted before Christmas. If you need any help editing, just let me know. I’d love to help in whatever way I can.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Paige

D to Paige

Paige, it is great to hear from you. I loved hearing about what you are and have been doing and to hear about your boyfriend. Is his university a Catholic university? If you do, in fact, move to Florida you may have to increase your attendance at the Catholic church. I don’t know of any Churches of Christ that are gender inclusive. However, I might be surprised, although there is quite a groundswell of churches that are making the transition to gender inclusion. It is very encouraging. I know how you feel about the Brookline church. It was a leader among churches of Christ in becoming inclusive and they have nurtured and encouraged many women and men through the years.

Your summer plans sound wonderful. I have always been intrigued by the Camino de Santiago, especially after watching the movie that was made by Emelio Estivez (sp?) and his father, Martin Sheen. I know it will be a memorable experience for you. Are you going alone?

I will pass your greeting on to Zach and Haley. I remember so well when Zach brought you to his birthday party at Ken and Libby’s house and we played cards. I was so impressed by your beautiful, thick red hair. And with you, of course.

I look forward to receiving and reading your sermon. Thank you for responding so quickly. I will keep in touch.

D

December 1

Paige to D

Hello D!

I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving. I spent mine eating (of course) and fishing in Florida. It is indeed a Catholic University, Benedictine by tradition. Steve, my boyfriend, is Catholic, studies and writes mostly on systematic theology, but was hired to teach ethics. I visited there this past week, and the campus was pretty nice (it’s tough always comparing to Pepperdine). It’s in a nice hilly area (for Florida) overlooking a big lake. I also do not know any gender inclusive Churches of Christ in Florida, there are A LOT of CoCs there, especially around Tampa. My mom, grandparents, and a couple of my cousins attended Florida College in Tampa which isn’t too far from St. Leo, but is, I believe, quite far from gender inclusion. Church of Christ history in Florida is fascinating.

My best friend and boyfriend are planning on walking the Camino next summer with me! I’ve booked my tickets with Steve for June 12, and she’s going to try and meet us at the starting point at the same time.

Ha. Zach’s birthday party! That is a nice memory. I think we taught Libby how to play poker for the first time in her life.

I will have the sermon to you before Dec 18th! Could you send me a sample so I can match the format exactly? I don’t want to create any unnecessary work for you.

Happy Advent! Paige

My Hobby is Jesus…

Just Be God’s: A Call to Continuing Conversion is a series of blog posts. You might want to start reading it from the beginning: Here.

October 2

I was hanging out with my friend last night, and I was thinking about how my hobby right now, is basically, Jesus. I go to church about five times a week, RCIA, and then whatever else I can squeeze in. Then I spend time writing and reading about it.

My hobby, is Jesus. Sounds so wrong.

It’s not easy. Great at first, but right now, I’m definitely in that phase of monotony. I seem to have forgotten what the point of me doing all this was. I went to RCIA last night, and so far so good, but I don’t know. Sometimes I just don’t feel it. Actually, that’s the best way to put how I feel. I just don’t feel it anymore. Or it feels different. Not bad, just nagging and annoying, and weird.

My friend asked me if I’m “allowed” to preach at one church and go to RCIA at another. I’ve thought a lot about it, and I think yes? What do you think?

As far as I know, in the Catholic church there is no rule against preaching for whoever. Technically, only priests are supposed to preach in the Mass, but they can also kind do whatever they want during the homily (like let someone else “reflect” on the the readings). And I have certainly witnessed some risqué things during Mass homilies.

As for the Brookline Church of Christ, they love to have more ecumenical/integrative engagement. So, I’m okay there.

However, my difficulties lie in how much I disclose. This whole endeavor is mostly a secret. On some level, I’ve convinced myself that the information is irrelevant to each group. Obviously, I wouldn’t lie if someone asked me if I preached last Sunday, but how is that going to come up in RCIA conversation unless I bring it up?

I’ve thought so far ahead about Easter, if I decide to be confirmed Catholic, what do I tell Brookline? Do I tell them anything? I know I would still be welcome, I could still preach, everything would be the same…

I must have some sort of internalized residual stigma, “Why?! On earth!? Would you be confirmed Catholic if you already consider yourself a ‘saved’ Protestant Christian?!”

Covering my basis, I guess. I joke.

I ask myself the same things…

Is it because I think the Catholics have something secret or more than everybody else? No.

Is it because the Catholics are right and everyone else is wrong? No.

Is it because I agree completely with everything the Catholic church teaches? Definitely no.

Is it because I feel lost and alone in my Protestant faith, and don’t know what to do with it? Maybe a little, but mostly no.

Maybe a little on that last one. It’s like, I dove into theology school with nowhere to go, and really no plans to go anywhere with it. As a Church-of-Christer, women can’t do anything, and they shouldn’t bother learning. I look at what the Catholic church does, and the people that are in it, and I think I fit in, I think I can do something there. I think there is space for me there.

And I want to believe that as I come into that space, in the Catholic church, there will also be openings in other Christian communities… That really doesn’t make any sense. It makes more sense that once you go through the Catholic door that all the Protestant doors close and vise versa… I don’t know why I think this.

Reactions to My Sermon

Just Be God’s: A Call to Continuing Conversion is a series of blog posts. You might want to start reading it from the beginning: Here.

October 1

I received a text last night from Clint, the CoC preaching coordinator, that said, “Great job! Everyone was touched by your sermon! You will have to preach again!”

I don’t want to put myself down, but I have serious doubts about his sincerity. They could be saying:

“Great job!” (For your first time.)

“Everyone was touched!” (Because you gushed all over us about how great we are.)

“Preach again!” (Because I’m an overwhelmed married first year PhD student who needs as much help as I can get.)

I might be reading into it too much. Yeah, probably.