Sunday, August 3, 2014

Struggle and Blessing

Genesis 32:24-31

Last week I started my sermon with a common phrase- “Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees”…
The next day I went up to the mountains to camp and hike and breathe a bit. On Monday I was near the end of a long hike- feeling a bit tired and hungry- when I came up a hill and around a bend and caught a view that took my breath away..
It seemed I could see for miles- it was so beautiful. Rock outcroppings, mountain peaks and valleys as far as I could see- blue sky, chirping birds, scampering chipmunks..
When suddenly I realized - the reason I could see so clearly- the reason the breathtaking beauty of the mountains and valleys and rocks was so apparent- was because this was a part of a former forest fire burn area. As I looked closer I could still see the charred sticks poking through the new growth.
I noticed in that moment that sometimes- it takes a fire to allow us to gain a new perspective. Sometimes it takes struggle and pain in order for the soil to be healed and nurtured- and ultimately for new growth to burst through.
Todays text is a story of struggle and blessing.
Today we continue the epic tales of Genesis- we pick back up with Jacob- whom we last met a couple weeks ago, when I preached about his dream of the ladder to God. Jacob had been on the run after stealing his brothers blessing- and had stopped to rest when he dreamt of God - who blessed him and kept him safe.
Many years have passed since that fateful night- and through those years Jacob has retained his ‘trickster’ nature that he had from the start. After Jacob ran away to the house of his mother’s brother Laban- he found a way to gain not one wife- but two- Leah and Rachel, plus two servant wives- Bilhah, and Zilpah. He tricked his way to obtaining most of his uncles possessions- flocks of sheep and goats, camels, donkeys, and slaves. Jacob’s uncle Laban is beginning to realize that this man living in his household has tricked him into giving away all he had- and Jacob realizes it’s time to get away before his Uncle’s anger gets out of hand.
So Jacob and his wives gather up all of their belongings- animals and slaves- and they hit the road to head back to the home he had left many years before - back to the land of his father- Isaac- and his brother- Esau- the one whom he had wronged so many years ago.
In Genesis 32 Jacob sends scouts ahead to scope out his brother’s anger— it has been years and he wonders if he still wants to kill him for what he did.
Jacob hears that in fact his brother Esau is coming to meet him- and he’s bringing 400 men with him..
So- naturally Jacob is scared. He plots to split all of his possessions and people into two camps- so that if one gets taken out the other will be spared.
He sends an offering for forgiveness along to his brother in the form of flocks of animals - his servants are instructed to bring the animals to his brother.
And Jacob prays. Prays to God - and reminds God of the blessing God had given him- names his own shortcomings - and asks for mercy from his brother.
He sends all of his people and animals across the Jabbok river and he finds a place to rest for the night.
Dawn is near when we come to the heart of todays text- I bet you thought I’d never get there!
Please listen with me to the words of Genesis 32 24- 31:
Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

In a moment when Jacob is alone and afraid and vulnerable - 
at daybreak- the perfect point for an epic conflict and transforming event- God comes in the midst of struggle and is revealed to Jacob.
And Jacob wrestles- engages and challenges— It’s an image that shakes our typical notions of God- who is often primarily protector and nurturer or guide - one to be submitted to and followed— 
It is hard to imagine this scene of locking horns and struggling with God..
But this is exactly what happens. Jacob steps up to the mat. For those of us who have experienced something of the world of wrestling- I imagine Jacob and God with those fancy wrestling shoes- head gear in place- mouth guard and singlet. Stepping into the circle and ready to fight for the pin.
They wrestle and struggle for what seems like hours- when God realizes Jacob won’t back down- so he grabs his thigh and injures him- marks him for life. And tells Jacob to let him go. Jacob refuses to step back until the man will give him what he has always wanted most- another blessing. 
The man asks Jacob his name and when he replies- “Jacob” - The man replies— “no longer.” 
You will no longer be called Jacob- the trickster— but you will now be Israel- the father of a new nation-  for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed. 
And the stranger gives Jacob the blessing he asked for. In this moment Jacob gains clarity and realizes this is no ordinary assailant- but this is God wrestling and challenging and transforming and marking. In this Jacob is changed.
Jacob experiences struggle and blessing.
Traces of the old Jacob will remain, but he has matured from the self centered youth he once was. He will eventually become the patriarch, one who faces his struggles, seeks reconciliation over violence with his enemies, and who, in his old age, leads his family down into Egypt and blesses Pharaoh himself. 
In the midst of struggle- God gives Jacob a new name, and a new identity, and he is changed ever after.
Jacob walks away from the struggle limping- and blessed. He has new perspective and understanding because he has seen the face of God.
Too often we have this fairytale notion that all should be smooth sailing and ‘perfect’. Be it in our personal lives or our community, or our church. Obey God and all will be well. Keep moving along, don’t rock the boat- and you will find your treasure.
But even in fairytales, it is the struggle that builds the character. It is conflict that gives a plot it’s climax. 
From Lion King to Bambi, from Cinderella to Frozen- it is the conflict - the death of a parent (why do they always kill off the parents?), the trauma of a disaster or the threat of our ‘dark side’ that not only makes the story interesting— 
The struggle invites new life, imagination, and creativity. Conflict brings people closer to one another in the end and makes both the individuals and the whole stronger.
The story of Jacob wrestling with God reminds us that struggle makes us stronger.
That blessing comes not only in moments of beauty- but in moments of pain.
Struggle allows us to name our shortcomings- to face our demons- to grow stronger and wiser- and to come closer to the face of God.
Jacob walks away limping. Just as the charred tree trunks poke through the new growth in the forest- we are marked by our conflict. Marked- but not broken. Limping- but still walking.
As I stood in that forest outcropping last monday I remembered that - Naturally occurring wildfires play an integral role in nature- in fact they are a necessary part of a healthy ecosystem. They return nutrients to the soil. They allow sunlight to reach the forest floor- which enables new seedlings and life to flourish.
While a forest fire can be heartbreaking and painful- they also shape our view- provide new insight and create room for growth.
They allow space for both struggle and blessing.
In the life of our church we are certainly in a place of struggle. None of us hoped to have struggle- none of us would chose to be in the midst of a forest fire.
None of us are excited about stepping onto the mat with God.
And yet- we all know- from our deepest experiences- from the wisdom of our ancestors- 
that our struggles make us stronger. 
Our struggles create room for blessing.
So- As we move forward— 
May we walk through these next weeks and months with grace. 
May we reach out in love. May we name our pain and sadness, and our name for healing.
May we stay on the mat as we at times lock horns with God and with each other.
And may we be transformed as we seek reconciliation, and healing, and blessing.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hope and Hopelessness

I guess it has been a while since I've posted anything!
Here is todays sermon... since I don't have audio... Our recorder walked away.

Here's todays words-

Matthew 13:31-46
31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 
33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 
44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 
45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 
Jesus loves similes…
Sometimes it can be hard to see the forest through the trees. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that God is working when things seem to be falling apart around us. When our loved one is dying, when war and violence take the lives of thousands, when children are seen as political pawns rather than loved children of God, when the community we love is going through struggle and transition.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what God is doing in the world right now- let alone to understand what God is calling us to in the future.
In todays text, the crowd who is gathered has heard of this man who teaches and heals, and who breaks the rules in the name of love. They know he is a provocative guy- and they are curious and hungry to know more- to experience the new way of life he speaks of- and lives. 
The people come and they gather- to hear a word of hope in a time of hopelessness.
You see, this is life in the first century in the Roman empire— and the masses of people- 98 percent of the population- often find themselves hungry for hope. Their sick loved ones are cast aside.. those born with physical differences are dismissed as perpetuators of sin. In the Roman Empire a small number of people hold power and wield it ruthlessly. The world of who’s in and whose out- leaves countless people marginalized and oppressed. Have you seen the HBO series Rome from a few years back? This graphic show paints a troubling and realistic picture of the world when ‘slaves’ weren’t even considered human, and women were property and violence and hunger were norms.
It would have been easy to feel hopeless. It would have been difficult to imagine the kingdom of God.
It is in this context that Jesus came- a contradiction from the start- a king born in a manger- who lives on the outskirts of town and rides a donkey rather than a horse.
In todays text- halfway through the book of Matthew- Jesus relentlessly casts image after image to stir the imaginations of all who gather..
Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed planted in a field to grow- to grow from a shrub into a tree- a great tree that provides a home to birds and their babies”  
The kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour- enough flour to make 150 loaves of bread..  until all of it was leavened- piles of leavened dough overflow from her little kitchen- enough to feed the whole village.
Now - it’s important to note that a mustard seed and yeast weren’t positive symbols in their time...A mustard seed is a teeny tiny seed that grows like a weed. An invasive weed that can take over a crop.. and yeast was associated with sin and corruption. 
So Jesus says that this weed seed- is like the kingdom of God- as it grows and becomes a tree- a symbol of power and strength- strong enough to support life. Jesus takes this symbol of sin and corruption and buries it in heaps of flour until the yeast has become a source of life and nourishment.
 The people who heard these parables heard them not as warm, fuzzy and comforting —but as subversive; Jesus speaks of a kingdom that is invasive, unstoppable, a nuisance, urgent, shocking, and abundant. 

The kingdom of God is like taking a little seed - like a dandelion blowing in the wind- and watching it grow into life and wonder- a home to birds. And like watching yeast - our brokenness and pain- be smothered with wheat until it grows to nourish many.
The “kingdom” spoken in a time of deep struggle and rampant injustice- looks like something entirely different from what they were expecting.

When and where and how we least expect it, God’s justice, God’s peace, and God’s freedom break out in this world in unlikely ways and unlikely places.

God is working and stirring in places and ways we cannot even imagine.
There is hope in the midst of hopelessness.
This weekend at the church has been one of my favorite weekends of the year around here. More than 400 bands have filled the streets, and restaurants, and coffee shops and bars of the neighborhood. Every hour between 4 and midnight there have been different musicians and artists performing here in the sanctuary- people of all walks of life come in and sit down in these pews- some who haven’t been in a church like this for years- if ever.. and they watch and listen to incredible creative and inspiring music.
Some of the bands notice and name the ‘strangeness’ of playing in a church… For groups that are use to playing in bars- we are a dramatic change of scenery. One of the bands Friday night would stop at different points through their performance and throw out questions to the crowd.
They asked “How many of you believe in God?” As the pastor - and general nerd around all things God- sitting in the back of the room my ears perked up. I looked up to see a small handful of hands in the crowded sanctuary rise with this question. 
Too few feel little hope in the God they have been taught about - few believe in a heaven with pearly gates- an old guy on a throne, and angles standing like bouncers at the top of the stairs..
Few are interested in a notion of God that prioritizes doctrine over wonder and reinforces those same old notions of whose in and whose out that were so painful in Jesus’s time.
These ways of understanding the kingdom of God leave us feeling hopeless.
And Jesus comes - with his subversive imagination and speaks a story that is bigger- more mysterious- more abundant than we can imagine.
The way of God- while it may seem small- even un-see-able at first … is a disruptive, and pervasive in-breaking of creative life and freedom— 
And Jesus tells us that this is a way that is worth searching for- worth acting on. Jesus goes on in the parables to speak of treasure hidden in fields, fine pearls waiting to be found.. when we find this new way of being we discover that it  is so valuable it is worth letting go of that which holds us back and seeking the fullest most beautiful.. seeking justice, kindness, humility, and love- and letting go of all that keeps us from these things.
At the first UMS I attended I heard Ian Cooke play.
As I watched him take this beautiful instrument- really an ordinary cello- made of wood and string- I saw the way he created music- with his voice and with this cello- that was unexpected. I heard a radical freedom.. a moving, grace filled and unexpected sound that reverberated in my chest and moved me to tears.
I asked him after- When did you let yourself break the rules in the name of creativity? When did you set aside the training of cords and rhythms- in order to play from a deeper place?
The kingdom of God is disruptive. It turns the expected on it’s head.. and not to bring chaos- but to make room for beauty. To take our brokenness and turn it into bread. To take the weeds of our world and and turn them into trees that support life.
The kingdom of God is like an unexpected song.. that first stirs in our imagination- and then comes to life with a chord, a single note- a single pluck of the strings turns into a rhythm, a melody.. and a crescendo.
and then it grows and moves and stirs and evokes something you can’t even describe with words— -evokes something deeper- more freeing and liberating— a deep hope- you can feel in your gut—
fills you with joy or laughter or sadness- you can’t help but move… clap, or dance, or cry
— the way of God stirs life and grace and justice. 
Moves us to reach out in love and to sing a song of hope when all seems hopeless.
The way of God is beyond anything we can imagine… even when all we see are lowly seeds, or weeds, or a lump of yeast.. 
God is there stirring and moving and calling us to act for life, grace, and healing. 
To search- step out- to give up everything that holds us back.
May we see the kingdom of God in fresh ways. May we feel in our bones the presence of the one who creates and challenges and inspires us to love.
May we dance, and sing, and cry as we know God’s kingdom is bigger than we can imagine.
May we feel hope in times of hopelessness.


Friday, January 24, 2014

the CANA Initiative

Over the past few months I have been grateful to be a part of a developing 'network of networks' called the CANA Initiative. CANA can be seen as a collective of faith-engaged organizations, individuals, institutions, and networks who are rooted in a generous Christian spirit, seeking to embody a new Christian ethos through: 
networking and 

I believe the time is right for people to come together to learn from each other, and to partner so that we each may: 
Serve more & Love more
each in our particular ways, in our particular location


Our faith was born in the converging of diverse thoughts and ways of being. 
God creates out of mixed up chaos. 
Our creation only survives in its diversity. 
Our Gospel stories present diverse perspectives on the life, death, and resurrection of one person- which leads to diverse ways of seeking to live and follow in the ways of
grace & life & justice.


It is from this basic understanding and perspective that I reflect on our current realities. Too often we fall into silos of people who think and live 'like we do'. Those of us who venture out to the edges- who stand with one foot in the denominational institutions or congregations that we love and care about, and one foot out exploring and learning from those outside those institutions- can feel isolated and alone.

I see CANA as creating space for those on the edges who may push systems or challenge assumptions to come together as we seek to live into the Gospel more fully. To dream and act. CANA will create space for generative action that deepens the work we are already doing, that enhances, strengthens, and leverages the message of love we are seeking to live.

I hope CANA will be a space for genuine diversity and mutuality between groups or individuals who may not have worked together in the past, but who share a common hope to live the ways of justice more fully. 

As a network of networks, CANA provides
a connective tissue that makes us each stronger, 
that allows space for individual thriving, 
and collective 

Further thoughts on CANA from friends & colleagues:
Bryan Berghoef's take at Pubtheologian

Christian Piatt interview with Brian McLaren, Stephanie Spellers & Doug Pagitt

Anthony Smith's take at Postmodern Negro

Interview with Phillip Clayton

To get Involved:
Become a CANA initiator and join the conversation.

Watch for and take part in the work of convening and acting around 5 specific initiatives:

  • Vital Spirituality
  • Transformative Leadership
  • College Age connections
  • Developing language for a generous Christian ethos
  • Fostering the 'Common Good'
Send me a line personally and I'd love to chat about it more...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Come and See

John 1:35-42
Come and See

35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed*). 42He brought Simon* to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter*).

John has just come and proclaimed that Jesus is the messiah- the one they have been waiting for…  Last week we read that Jesus has just been baptized, and this week people are beginning to take notice. 
Curious about this mysterious person John is pointing to- this person who is spoken of as special in someway— these curious men- potential disciples looking for just the right teacher- approach Jesus and ask— Where are you staying? 
They want to know more than if he’s at the ‘Motel 8’ or the ‘Comfort Inn’— they wonder who is this? Who does he follow? What does he teach? 
Jesus responds- but of course this is Jesus- 
so he does not provide a straight forward answer- “at the the little house on the corner by the meat market and the basket weaver- on the second floor “— no- it is never that clear— 
Jesus responds with an invitation…
Come and See. Come and See- and you will know where I am staying- who I follow, what I teach- Come and see and you will know who I am, and who you are called to be.
Come and See. 
This is what Kyle said to me when he suggested we see a movie while on vacation……You know- we don’t get to too many movies being the parents of three kids- but it was vacation, and grandparents were happy to allow us a night off for a date night. 
So- the town was small, and the options were limited- but thank goodness our first choice movie was one of the three playing at the little theater…
Our first choice was.. would you believe it—Anchor Man 2. I have to be honest- as stupid as the first Anchor Man was- I was actually excited to see this movie- because as my family knows- perhaps it is the seriousness of so much of my work- but I am totally obsessed with comedy lately- especially smart comedy that often serves as a trojan horse to social critique or underlying messages of truth. I think sometimes comedy can hold up a mirror that allows us to see life in ways that we could not see otherwise.
Now I’m guessing that that definition of a ‘trojan horse to a message of truth’ wouldn’t leave you thinking- ah.. Anchor Man 2.  But the movie did not disappoint. While I’m fairly certain they left no idea on the cutting room floor- and it really was a crazy movie… They brought a message of truth in our world that we need to hear. 
A central premise of the movie is the invention of the 24 hour news channel. In full absurdity the movie chronicles a self-centered, Will Ferrell as Ron Burgandy. It’s the 1980’s as he tries to reclaim his flailing career as a news reporter in the new news medium- the 24 hour news channel… People ask- what can you possibly talk about for 24 hours…?
Ron stumbles along to discover that the key to success- to skyrocketing ratings and fame- is to make up news… He starts by covering a police chase for hours- speculating on who might be in the car. He makes up stories behind stories to sensationalize everyday events so that people can’t take their eyes off of the TV. He discovers that people easily buy into stories that fan the flames of division and fear. We become completely sucked in to these lies that divide us up into ‘us’ and ‘them’. Hatred and division grows as do the profits for the people and companies creating these divisions.
Now- as I said- the movie was over the top and stupid— but this comedic critique of our 24 hour news culture resonated and reflected a dominant frame which we have come to accept as normal….
We are a part of a culture that feeds on our lowest selves. The pieces of us that love to be superior- to have the right answers- to condemn the other, to call names and pit little wars based on superficial realities and political ideologies. The heartbreaking reality is that too often we have bought into the lies that divide us up and pit one neighbor against another. 
As I’m sure you know- tomorrow is Martin Luther King day. In the world Martin Luther King lived in- in 1950’s and 60’s America- The lies that divide were based on race. We were told- and many bought in- that one race was superior than all others. That a person’s character was less important than their skin color. These lies that divide caused lynchings, and segregation, and bred generations of hatred in people hearts. 
Martin Luther King came in the midst of that world.. In the midst of our world- to speak a higher truth.
He boldly spoke of a different reality- he debunked the lies of our divisions by pointing out, and living into, our human connectedness. King spoke to our common humanity- and named the reality that oppressing one means oppressing all. We cannot be free until our neighbor is free.
King said…  “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Now King did not just make these things up.

MLK was a pastor and a deeply spiritual man.
Martin Luther King Jr. knew a deeper truth- 
he experienced this deeper truth- 
he did not buy into the lies of division- 
because he had seen the truth in the life of Jesus. He had seen the radically inclusive love of Jesus that calls us to care for one another- to reach out to the one who has been shut out of society- to see ourselves as connected- and to live into this connection through our actions and the ways we live in community.

— -
Jesus said, ‘Come and See’. Come and See the way of life, and truth, and grace.
Jesus came in the midst of a world dominated by the Roman Empire- grounded in a hierarchal and highly oppressive reality of those who are in and those who are out-
Those who are clean and those who are ‘dirty’
Those who are sick, and those who hold ‘favor’
Those who are slave, and those who are master-
A world where 98% of the population lived in poverty- while 2% were rich and held power,
A world here religious rules furthered the injustice of exclusion and marginalization…
In the midst of this world Jesus came ‘from God’- 
‘as God’ on Earth-
To show a deeper reality.
Jesus said ‘Come and See’ where I live— Come and see this alternate way- this deeper truth. 
For when you see it, when you experience it, you are free.
Love and grace replace hatred and fear.
Jesus offers an invitation. An invitation to let go of the lies that divide us up into us and them— an invitation to be who we are- in love. To reach out to those who have been shut out, excluded and cast aside— and to each name our own worth as children of God when we are the ones named as unworthy.
Come and see life in Christ. Life as one people - each created in the image of God- each loved and given the gift of grace.
Come see what it looks like to live in a community where all are loved. Where people are seen for their character- not the color of their skin. Where we care for one another and live and serve together no matter which side of the cultural or ideological divide we fall on.
As we grow as a community seeking to ‘come and see’— to follow Christ—
May we let go of the lies that divide, and live into Christ who unites. 
May we love unconditionally- step out boldly- and keep growing and serving faithfully.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Tending Two Shops

Today's poem that stirs:

Rumi's Tending Two Shops

Don't run around this world
looking for a hole to hide in.

There are wild beasts in every cave!
If you live with mice,
the cat claws will find you.

The only real rest comes
when you're alone with God.

Live in the nowhere that you came from,
even though you have an address here.

That's why you see things in two ways.
Sometimes you look at a person
and see a cynical snake.

Someone else sees a joyful lover,
and you're both right!

Everyone is half and half,
like the black and white ox.

Joseph looked ugly to his brothers,
and most handsome to his fother.

You have eyes that see from that nowhere,
and eyes that judge distances,
how high and how low.

You own two shops,
and you run back and forth.

Try to close the one that's a fearful trap,
getting always smaller. Checkmate,
this way. Checkmate that.

Keep open the shop
where you're not selling fishhooks anymore.
You are the free-swimming fish.

~ from The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

to love, and to be changed....

Today is transfiguration sunday- transfiguration means ‘change in appearance’. We most often talk about the ‘transfiguration of Jesus’ spoken of in the gospels- but I have instead decided to preach on the lectionary text from Exodus- which is the less known- transfiguration of Moses--

This text comes to us late in the book of Exodus, - and to catch you up- in case you haven’t read the book of Exodus lately- Exodus tells the story of Moses.... Moses has brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. This is not a pleasant story- but one full of plagues and violence, hunger and lots of whining, and finally the rebellion of the people of Israel who have grown impatient and decide to make their own God- a golden calf. 

After this God flies off the handle and Moses steps in to save the people of Israel again- this time from God’s anger. Moses has gone up the mountain Sinai to plea for God’s mercy-- which God delivers wholeheartedly. In fact God sings a song of mercy to Moses: God sings: I am a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. 
This is when we arrive to todays text...

Exodus 34:29-35
29Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

This week, while with my Beatitudes Fellowship, I had the opportunity to see the shining face of a modern day Moses.

Her name is Becca Stevens, and she is a woman who helps liberate women from prostitution, trafficking, and addiction in Nashville to help them find healing and life.

Becca came to us on Monday night, a little weary and incredibly passionate. As we sat around the circle with the eight of us young leaders in ministry --she shared her story in a raw, authentic tennessee accent-. She shared her story in a way that was vulnerable, funny, and real.

Becca was sexually abused as a child by someone in her church... despite this pain, she went on to become an episcopal priest. She says she loved the gospel when she was growing up because she just had to believe it was true. She longed for the truth that love can overcome all pain. From early on she felt a call to create space for healing for women.

As a chaplain at Vanderbilt University in her first call out of seminary, she had this clear vision that she should build a house- a nice house- and invite 4 to 6 women to live for two years, rent free, and to support them as they got clean, learned job skills, received therapy, and as they found healing. She raised a million dollars that year- and her dream became a reality.

That was nearly 20 years ago. Today there are six homes in the Nashville area housing 30 women that are served through the organization ‘Magdalene’.. Women come to Magdalene from prison, and from the streets from around the country. Most women were sexually abused as children, began using alcohol and drugs by the age of 13, and have been arrested on average 100 times. 

Beyond housing, healing, and support, Becca realized that the women, many of whom had nothing to put on a resume or job application, needed a way to support themselves- so she began an enterprise where the women make and sell bodycare products. The business is called “Thistle Farms”- the women take thistle- a plant that is regarded as a useless weed, also has healing properties-- they make lotions, and soaps, and candles using the oil of thistle- and sell the products to support the ministry. 

Becca has seen it all. She tells stories of success and stories of failure. While 72% of the women who join Magdalene are clean and sober 2 1/2 years later- that means 28 % cannot make it. She has been to funerals, of women who have been raped and murdered. Everyday she has to turn women away who long for healing because they don’t have space for another person.

When asked if this gets her down - she says bluntly and flatly, “No. It is what it is. The world is a difficult place.” She says when she hears of a woman who is murdered- “At least, for that moment that we got to know her - and she was loved- at least we heard her story.”

Becca fights for the liberation of these women like Moses fought for the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Like the Israelites, the women Becca fights for struggle to live healthy, whole lives. Sometimes they mess up.


In our Text today-- after a painful process of liberation from Egypt-- after journeying through the desert-- After the people fall short and create their own god--Moses heads up the mountain to again seek reconciliation for the people of Israel who have messed up pretty badly.

Moses confronts God’s and pleas for God’s mercy. In response- God speaks the profound message of love and mercy that undergirds all of the Bible- Old and New... 
The Lord, the Lord, is
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,*
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,

This love does not negate consequences- but loves even while consequences are playing out. 

God’s love and mercy are strong- God’s love and mercy are stronger than all of the pain- all of the betrayal.

 God’s love heals and God’s love transforms lives and faces.

God re-commits to covenant with Moses and the people of Israel. New tablets are made, and Moses is sent back to share this good news with the people.

This message that Moses received from God is the same central message Becca brings to the women of Magdalene- and the message that is imprinted on each label of bodycare products sold by thistle farms....

Love heals... in the end, love is more powerful than all the forces that drive women to the streets. Love is more powerful than our own search for idols to fill our empty spaces.

This is the love that makes Moses’s face glow.


When Moses comes down the mountain to share his message of God’s mercy- his face is glowing...

It’s funny- in my minds eye this glow looks less like an angelic glowing white light- and more like a sun-kissed orange sunburn-- weathered and battered- exhausted and invigorated at the same time. I imagine the face of one who has been working hard-- the glow of the face of a gardener after a long day in the beating sun doing something they love...

The glow of internal joy mixed with pure will....


Rather than rejoicing at the site of Moses and his glowing face- his brother Aaron and the Israelites are fearful- they don’t want to get close to this glowing faced man...

Is this glow contagious-- whatever made him glow like that? If we get too close- will we get burned? Will we too be changed?

I have to admit that hearing the story of Becca Stevens and Magdalene and the Thistle farms on Monday night- I felt a little fearful...

I felt overwhelmed by the grandness of her work. I felt overwhelmed by all of the great needs in our world. Where are we to start? How can I- how can we- possibly change the world like that?

It seems like an unachievable destination. 

This is when Becca- glowing face and all- said something that calmed my nerves and allowed me to step closer....

“None of us are called to change the world. 

**None of us are called to change the world.** 

We are called to love the world... 

and to be willing to be changed in the process.”


One person at a time- in our own little corner of the planet- we are called to love. To love with mercy and grace- in spite of all that hurts and betrays. To love the unlovable among us.

We are called to be open to being changed-- to be willing to let go of what we know-- to step out and take risks on new ways of thinking and being... to let our own hearts soften- to accept God’s grace and to extend God’s grace....

And when we do- when we engage in the hard work of truly loving... when we let ourselves be changed in the process....

We may find ourselves coming down from the mountain, or sitting in the circle- face aglow-

sharing the story of God’s healing and transformative love.