January 20, 2022
You Can Do It
by Tina Villa
The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year. – Joshua 5:12 (NRSV)
In the Promised Land, it turns out, there’s no free lunch from heaven. God made manna rain down on the people just long enough to tide them over till they got to a place where they could do their part to provide for themselves. God gave the fertile land, and the people would now do the gathering, sowing, reaping, and all the rest to bring crops out of the ground and onto the table.
Do you remember having someone help you learn to ride a bike, holding on and running alongside until suddenly you realize they’ve let go and you are – incredibly – riding a bike all by yourself?
Someone helped and held on until you figured out the pedaling part and found your balance.
Usually, a wobbly new bike rider doesn’t tell their helper to let go; the rider doesn’t realize they can do it alone. But the helper knows and lets go, and gives the rider the exhilarating sense of pride, freedom, and accomplishment that comes with knowing you can now ride down to the corner all by yourself.
Are you waiting for manna from heaven to solve your problems? Are there challenges holding you back in life because you don’t realize you can handle them? God is like the helper steadying the bicycle. God has given you what you need to survive and thrive. And God knows when to let you go, even if you don’t feel ready.
I’ll trust you to know when to let me go. Amen.
January 21, 2022
by Marilyn Pagan-Banks
“To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.” – bell hooks (Feminism Is for Everybody)
I have learned much about the ethic of love and imagining this love embodied in some new ways thanks in great part to the writings of bell hooks, an ancestor too soon. Ashé.
Imagination – while not listed as a fruit of the Spirit – is vital to our ability to nurture, cultivate, and make space for the spirit to do its work.
We have to be willing to not only wish for a better world, a more just and loving society. We have to imagine that it is indeed possible. We must be able to know in our flesh and in our hearts that it is not only possible but probable.
Imagination gives us the wherewithal to begin to conjure up, call out, create, and live into the beloved community – even while it is not yet fully present. To live into our prayer of “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Imagination allows us to see beyond our current circumstance, condition, and context. Imagination makes space for us to create, re-create, and co-create. Imagination helps us to not give up when everything around us is cursing God, our communities, and all of creation.
Imagination caused God to become flesh and model for us what it means to love fiercely and fully.
Imagination gave bell hooks words and the courage to speak them and to write them so that Black women and Black folks might experience and share and pass on a love that is liberative.
Thank you, God, for imagining us and creating us from a place of love. May we continue to pass on this miracle from generation to generation, in honor of our ancestors and in gratitude for the wonder of all of creation. Ashé and Selah.
January 22, 2022
The Long and the Short
by Matt Laney
From that time, Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” – Matthew 4:17 (NRSV)
Pontificating on sermon length, one of my seminary professors made the case for brevity: “If you can’t say it in ten minutes. You won’t say it in twenty.”
Jesus might not be so generous. His first sermon was nine words short: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
No one complained. No one recommended he draw it out with a few illustrations and daily life applications. It was self-explanatory and impossible to forget: “Get your [expletive] together because all heaven is breaking loose!”
His next sermon, the one on the mount, was much longer. However, that sermon was a series of similarly punchy, arresting sermonettes, like a long string of stunning pearls.
A few years ago, I was asked to summarize the Christian faith in six words. I proposed this: “Jesus is Lord. Not me. Hallelujah!”I might get away with preaching that, and only that, once. Any more often and people would think I’m slacking, and jump to some other church livestream. A little offering might follow a little sermon.
Jesus was free of such small-minded, worldly concerns. He preached with precision and passion without counting the cost. He preached like a person who knows his time is short.
Jesus, what do you think of the meme summarizing the whole Bible as: “Don’t be an a**hole”? Because you relish getting to the heart of things quickly, I doubt you would disagree. Amen?
January 23, 2022
Not for Everyone
by Vince Amlin
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as God chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? – 1 Corinthians 12:17-19 (NRSV)
A couple years ago at Gilead Church Chicago we ran an ad campaign. The tagline was: “We’re not for everyone, but we might be for you.”
And we meant it. Especially the first part.
It’s a church that, under normal circumstances, meets in a dive bar. A community that made itself a rule (loosely followed guideline, really) that more than 4 F-bombs in a service starts to feel less worshipful.
Our most recent theme was “Christmas is Metal.” Four weeks of loud, distorted guitars and stories of things that make you want to scream. For Advent.
A Zoom visitor wrote, “I just found out about this place half an hour ago, and I have no idea what’s happening, but I’m here for it.”
This is no way to do church. Except for the people for whom it might be the only way.
Today our congregation celebrates five years since our first worship service.
It’s been tough. Especially the last two. It isn’t a simple time to build community. And it’s never exactly clear if we’ll make it.
But if we do, you can sure it will be as the strange, fierce, beautiful (and occasionally off-putting) congregation God has called us to be.
We trust it’s the same in whatever part of the body you inhabit, and that together we can make a Church big enough and weird enough for anyone.
Jesus, keep it weird.
January 24, 2022
Rules and Regulations
by Kenneth L. Samuel
I will never forget your commandments, for by them you give me life. – Psalm 119:93 (NLT)
Many communities across our country are experiencing grass-roots rebellions against mandates put in place to mitigate the spread of Covid.
No one really wants their lives encumbered by unnecessary red tape and extraneous regulations. So, with an eye toward protecting individual liberty, some of us cast a suspect eye toward expanded regulations.
Recognizing the futility and oppressiveness of pretentious religious rules, Jesus invites his followers to take up his yoke and learn of his way. In so doing, Jesus promises that we will find his yoke to be easy and his burden to be light. Instead of the multitudinous mandates of the law, Jesus issues one essential commandment: the commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. According to Jesus, obedience to that one supreme commandment alleviates the tedious compliance of all the others.
Less laws and more love. This is still a pressing need of our day.
To be sure, no commandment is more challenging than the commandment to love. And to be sure, no commandment is more liberating than the commandment to love.
Saint Augustine said we should love God and do what we want. What an awesome liberty. What an awesome law.
A few years ago, I found myself struggling to meet a rather daunting mandate of a grant proposal for a pastoral sabbatical. The main stipulation of the proposal was that I use the grant to pursue that which makes my heart sing. Decades of trying to meet the requirements of others initially left me at a loss in determining my own heart’s desire. But when I was finally able to articulate what I really wanted, I discovered that what I really wanted was precisely what the grant funders required.
Lord help us to find our liberty in your law. Amen.
January 25, 2022
by Martha Spong
If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my misery. – Psalm 119:92 (NRSV)
This Christmas was the first since I became a mother that I did not see any of my three children in person. As for many this year, we made last-minute changes to plans because of Omicron, and for some in the family, travel was already impossible. We made alternate plans to be together online, knowing that – while we would all prefer to be in the same location – our preferences couldn’t change reality.
For a day after the final conversations took place, I moved under a weighted blanket of sadness. I didn’t have the will to employ my usual approaches to disappointment: reframing, keeping busy, focusing on others. I gave myself the day to mope.
When my wife and I sat down the next morning for our devotional time, we read words of scripture and reflection, but we hesitated to engage our consistent spiritual practice of naming “What’s good” and “What’s bad,” followed by prayer. We built our practice from a familiar benediction that includes the phrase, “Hold on to what is good.” The previous week’s “good” anticipation was today’s “bad,” and that felt terrible.
Yet we met in the place where we always meet, to do what we always do, making space for the feelings of the day, the good and the bad. We let them just be; we didn’t try to solve them. We gave them to God, and we let God hold them with us.
The next day, I ventured this response: “What’s good is that we all love each other, and we are all well.”
I still felt sad, but I felt held.
Holy God, hold on to us. Be with us in our sadness, we pray. Amen.