Sometimes it’s okay to flex

Flex: In a little less than three months, I’ve lost 50 pounds.

Truth: That might not be the healthiest thing in the world. Quick weight loss is satisfying, but I’m worried that I’m setting myself up for a big disappointment again. This is the third time in my life I’ve lost 50 pounds, and I don’t want to do this again. 

Flex: I’ve been employing intermittent fasting. On most days I don’t eat until at least 2:00 p.m.

Truth: This sort of happened by accident. I find that when I work out hard in the morning I just don’t get hungry until well past noon. Drinking a lot of water gets me past 2:00 pretty easily most days. Yet at night I still get so hungry. I see a bag of chips and I WANT TO EAT THEM ALL.

Flex: I like how I look in this picture.

Truth: I still see the big belly. I still see the sag. I also see the “likes,” and I read the comments. I feed off of them. People have told me that my vulnerability is inspiring. I’m not sure I post about this stuff to be vulnerable or inspiring. I post this stuff because I know it will get those little hits of approval and affirmation. I know I am getting closer to someone’s idea of health and beauty.

Flex: I’m going to run a 5K on Sunday.

Truth: I’m not going to run the whole thing. I remember when I could run 3 miles and treat that as a warmup. I originally thought that a 36 minute 5K was a reasonable goal, but I quickly realized that was a pipedream. I have adjusted my goals, and simply finishing healthy and pain-free is my top priority. Finishing with my daughter at my side (or probably with her in front of me) will be an incredible moment, but I really hope I didn’t set a goal based on my memory and not on my current condition. Regardless, there will be a part of me that is more disappointed and saddened by my memory than I will be joyful in the moment’s achievement.

Flex: I am a better father, husband, and pastor today than I was three months ago.

Truth: I am selfish and privileged beyond belief. Am I neglecting other responsibilities so that I can have two hours on my own every day? Am I really worthy of all the praise I get? Not everyone can just carve out this time like I have done. Not everyone can just say, “8-10 is my time.” I can only do it because of the support of my wife, my kids, and my church. I believe all my relationships are better because of it, but have I thought enough about what other people need?

Flex: I have improved my mental, spiritual, and physical health over the last few months.

Truth: Part of me thinks that therapy is a waste of time because she doesn’t tell me anything I don’t already know. I wonder if I’m really healthier or if I’m just keeping busier. I wonder if my relationship with food is truly healthy just because I’ve lost weight. There is no question that in general I have been making healthier choices. I choose fruit more. I choose veggies more. I choose protein-rich snacks over salty carbs more. But there have also been times – two or three – when I have eaten an extra piece of pizza or felt a little uncomfortably full, and felt deep regret. I have contemplated making myself throw up. I haven’t done it – but I understand it. I understand the compulsion to just erase a mistake I made with a simple act. One time couldn’t hurt too much, right? So maybe therapy is still a pretty good idea.

So yeah, I’ll flex. I feel so much better today than I did on March 21 (the day before I started going back to the gym). I feel stronger. I have more energy. I have a more positive outlook on life. I feel good, but I also know that I felt this way before. I need to keep flexing, but I need to be aware of the other truths, too.

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Disruptions don’t mean death

Full blog to follow.

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Lectionary for Inclusion: Acts 11:1-18

May 15, 2022

Scripture: Acts 11:1-18

The Holy Spirit cannot be contained. This is the fundamental story of Acts. We know this book as the Acts of the Apostles, but I think of it as the Gospel of the Spirit. If Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the Good News of Jesus Christ, then Acts should be thought of as the Good News of the Holy Spirit. Acts begins with pyrotechnics, rushing winds, ecstatic speech, and a truly wild experience that was a harbinger of what is to come in the rest of the story.

The rest of the story is the Spirit behaving in ways that no one could predict and in ways that not everyone likes. It’s not all lights and flash, but in these middle chapters of Acts the Holy Spirit is doing things no one expected. She sends Philip to Samaria, convicts a sorcerer named Simon. She picks up Philip and compels him to chase down an Ethiopian eunuch. She empowers Peter to speak to a Roman centurion named Cornelius and gives Peter a miraculous vision that changes the way he thinks about the world.

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,” a divine voice tells Peter, and in the end of chapter 10, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message… They were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on Gentiles.”

Now Peter has some explaining to do. Like a scolded child, Peter is brought back to the leaders of the Church who thought they had the Holy Spirit under control. They criticize Peter for eating with uncircumcised men. He had broken the rules. He had gone against the discipline. So he tells them about his holy vision. He tells them what the Holy Spirit had shown him. He tells them about what the Holy Spirit was doing.

Finally, he concludes, “If God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

Who indeed? Who should stand in the way of what the Holy Spirit is doing? The Gospel of the Holy Spirit tells us that she doesn’t behave in ways we always like. The Holy Spirit doesn’t follow the discipline. The Holy Spirit goes to Centurions and sorcerers. She blinds murderous Pharisees and brings salvation to sexually unclean foreigners.

To me, this might be the single most compelling argument for LGBTQ inclusion in the Church. It wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t a gay agenda. It wasn’t a liberal plot. It was the Holy Spirit’s idea. She started it.

I have seen the Holy Spirit at work through gay pastors. I have seen the Holy Spirit move through churches led by lesbian clergy. I have seen marriages guided by the Holy Spirit between two men. I have witnessed the Holy Spirit at work in “practicing homosexuals.” And if God gave them the same gift he gave to us who are cis-gendered, who are we to stand in God’s way?”

The Holy Spirit is alive. The Holy Spirit is burning in hearts and blowing open doors and changing hearts and lives. The Church should not be the ones to stand in God’s way.

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Season Three

I’m doing it again. I’m five weeks into a new lease on life, and I’m exhilarated and terrified. Did I hit rock bottom? I doubt it. I’m sure things could have gotten worse – and that’s the part that scares me. I’ve done this all before and yet here I am again. I think this time it started with Lent. Considering spiritual disciplines I could take on, I started thinking about the changes I needed to make in my life. I recognized that I was deeply unhealthy.

I don’t need to go into the details, but I looked in the mirror and hated everything I saw. Heavier than ever – way too close to 400 pounds. Aching back, tingling feet, chronic fatigue. I was cruel to myself, “You’re a piece of shit” was my multiple-times-a-day mantra. I hated things that I once loved. I leaned into terrible habits, stopping at McDonald’s between meals, eating handfuls of Oreos before bed, buying candy bars in the checkout line. I ate to experience a small dose of happiness in the midst of a world that was so full of evil, apathy, and pressure. This winter, as the world started to come out of pandemic – even as it lingers – I started to see what I had done and what I had become. I realized that I was slowly killing myself because I was convinced that the world – my church – even my family – would be better off without me. I never harmed myself, but I was destroying myself slowly. I was choosing the slow burn into oblivion.

Then I knew it had to stop. My family deserved better than a husband and father who was slowly destroying himself. Lent came and it was the catalyst I needed to make some changes. I made an appointment with my physician, fearful that I had already done irreparable physical damage as I massaged my toe that hurt for no reason. I found a therapist who seemed compatible and enjoyed our first session even though I knew she wouldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. We renewed our membership at the local fitness center, and I made a plan to go every day after dropping off the girls from school. I decided to join my daughter in the piano lessons that she started.

I took control. I had a plan. I found a goal – a 5K in June that I decided I wanted to run. I asked my daughter if she wanted to run it with me, and she was excited. I told my daughters that I started going to therapy. I shared with them my struggles, and told them how sad I had gotten. We cried. We hugged.

I started posting pictures of my workouts on Facebook and Instagram. I told people about the theme song I found – “Living My Best Life,” by Ben Rector. I told my girls that every time I get on the elipitcal machine, when I get to the last three minutes of my workout I start playing it and it motivates me to finish strong.

I close my eyes and lip sync “Can’t believe I’m a grown ass man, but you know what they say of best laid plans. But I’m holding on to my daughters’ hands, and I’ve got a reason to live,” and I throw my fist into the air and beat my sweaty chest and go harder. People might wonder what the heck I’m doing, but I don’t care, because “Baby I’m thriving. I’m living my best life. I wake up with the sunrise. It does not look a thing like I thought that it would. I’m getting my steps in, and I sleep with my best friend, It’s the best that has been in a long time.”

And that’s why I’m scared. I’m terrified because I’ve done this all before. This is the third time in my life that I’ve looked at myself in the mirror and hated everything I saw and felt and started to make some changes. Twice before I’ve lost 80 pounds. Twice I’ve started doing 5K runs and felt the addictive joy of trimming times off of my mile. Twice I’ve felt like I had made the kind of permanent changes that would save my life.

So now I’m in season three of the same show. I’m getting my steps in. I’m wearing my Fitbit and tracking my calories. I’m making smarter choices. I’m skipping McDonald’s. I’m choosing fruit instead of fries. I’m making protein smoothies instead of eating sleeves of cookies. I’m finding ways to get to the gym instead of finding excuses to avoid it. I feel good. I’ve lost 20 pounds. My heart rate has improved. I’m getting stronger.

This time I’ve added a few characters and twists to the show. I’m going to therapy, and feel good about having a place to articulate my depressive feelings. I’m inviting my church to participate in the 5K. I’m taking piano lessons. I love the creative outlet. I took piano lessons as a kid and always regretted quitting. I love that I’m doing it – and I love even more that I’m doing it with my daughter. It gives us this beautiful shared experience and shared sense of accomplishment, confidence, and pride.

Things are better right now than they have been a in long time, but I’ve been here before. I’m terrified that I’m going to mess it up again. I’m so scared that I’m going to do all of this work, make all of these changes, and then let it all fall apart again. I post all the selfies and soak in the likes and encouraging comments, but what happens when it stops? What happens this summer when I don’t have the built in reason to get up with my daughters and get to the gym? What happens when I go on a trip for work and there isn’t a gym at the airbnb I’m staying at? What happens if I strain my calf again (which ended season one)? What happens when I take my foot off the gas?

I want to say that this time will be different, but I don’t know that it will be. Season one was ten years ago. I wrote about my first 5K. I knew that time I was doing it for them – for my girls. Season two was four years ago, and I realize now that a lot of that was about dealing with the grief of my Mom’s death. I was doing it for her. This time feels different because I’m doing it with my girls. I’m talking to them about my mental health. We’re sharing our joy of learning piano together. We plan on doing the 5K in June together for Pride Month, which is important to us emotionally and spiritually as well.

Yet I’m still scared that I’ll fall into the same traps. Four years ago – back in season two – I said that “I don’t believe in Before and After.” Do I really believe that?

Four years ago I wrote this:

“I can be good all day, light breakfast, healthy lunch, smaller portions at dinner. Then a few hours pass and I’m cleaning up the kitchen or watching some TV and the hunger sets in. I suddenly want to EAT ALL THE FOOD. One cookie turns into a handful. And a bowl of cottage cheese. And some yogurt and granola. Suddenly all the gains I made all day are gone. I’m not alone. Losing weight is hard. According to some research, keeping it off is nearly impossible. Apparantly it is a natural reaction for your body to be more hungry after losing weight. It’s as if your body is screaming “You’re starving yourself!”

So what’s the answer? I checked out some websites, and basically the only way to maintain this lower weight is to keep doing what I’m doing. In other words, there is no before and after. There is only now and the next choice I make.”

It’s still true. I’m just really hoping that it’s a lesson I’ve finally learned. Considering how low I got this time around, I’m not sure I could survive a season four.

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Call them by name

“Abrazo de Jesus” by Felix Hernandez http://www.felixhernandezop.com/internet.php#

Scripture: John 20:11-19

11 “Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13 The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14 As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).

17 Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.


He called her by name, and everything changed.

Weeping, inconsolable, desperate for any information anyone could give, she was stopped in her tracks with one word. Her name.

She was unfazed by two angels standing in a tomb that she just saw was empty. When they were no help, she turned toward a gardener, and cried out, “I do not know where they have put my Lord.” She was searching frantically. She watched him suffer. She watched him die. She could still smell the scent of the oils she had poured over his feet (although this is ambiguous, there is a strong argument by Diana Butler Bass among others that claim that the Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet is this same woman known as Mary Magdalene). The feet she had washed with her tears and hair were pierced in front of her. He was dead.

And now he was gone. Adding insult to shameful injury, he was gone. She must have turned her head again after asking the gardener about him because when he spoke her name the Scripture says she had to turn again to face him.

“Mary,” he said, and everything changed.

Reading between the lines, I am pretty sure that she said “Teacher!” then threw her arms around him and they embraced (Why else would he say, “Do not hold onto me,” unless she was already holding onto him?).

Why didn’t she recognize him? Was he transformed in some way? Was his resurrected form intrinsically different? Was she just too frantic to notice? Was it just too improbable to believe? Whatever reason she did not recognize him, that all changed when he called her by name. He saw her, and she saw resurrection. In that moment she experienced the new life in Christ. She was the first person to experience Easter. She was the first person to witness Resurrection, and she knew it in one beautiful moment when he recognized her first. He called her by name and new life began.

Call her by her name. Call him by his name. Is it too much to ask? She might have transformed in ways you may not recognize. He may have cut his hair shorter than you’re used to. They might use awkward pronouns that you’re not used to using. Call them by name, and you might give them new life.

Call them by name, and they might recognize love that they feared was dead. Call him by name – maybe  not the name you are used to, maybe not the name you know. Call him by the name he has chosen, not the dead name he has left behind.

Call her by name – maybe in clothes you find odd, or after treatments you do not understand. Call her by name because she has earned that much. Call her by name because Christ calls her by name. She has agonized in a prison she was born in. She has hidden for so long. She is fearful every time she claims her name. She is fearful of the strange looks, the scornful whispers, the outright violence that is done to women and men like her every day.

Call him by name.

Call her by name.

Call them by name.

That they might know that they are beloved.

Call him by name.

Call her by name.

Call them by name.

And in that moment they may know eternal life.

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Blessings and Woes

The Sermon on the Mount in Mathew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke are alike in many ways, and different in more ways then elevation.

Lectionary Text: Luke 6:17-26

The Sermon on the Plain is the less well-known cousin of the Sermon on the Mount. Many of the same themes are there, but they are just different enough to make us squirm. Jesus comes down from the mountain where he named the 12 apostles and “stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples.” This is a level place with a great number of people and a rich diversity. People have come from far and wide to touch him and claim a small part of the power that he held.

Then he shares four blessings and four woes. Blessed are the poor, hungry, those who weep, and those who are hated. Woe to you who are rich, full, laughing, and those of high status.

Some call this as a reversal, but I think it is more of a levelling. For those who have been elevated for their whole lives, a levelling feels like a reversal. Jesus is on a level place. He is the son of Mary, who said that the powerful would be brought down and the hungry would be filled with good things.

The crowds came for healing, but Jesus wants to make sure they know what they are getting into. They are not just being healed. To be a disciple of Jesus is to live into a new community. They are a part of a new Kingdom, a new Kin-dom. This new community, however, is going to be different from what they’re used to. The poor and hungry have experienced pain and isolation. Jesus will show them something else. Disciples of Jesus are fed. They are cared for, provided for, and consoled.

Being a disciple of Jesus should mean that we are creating a community of shared struggle. The Church is a place where the hurting and hungry should come and celebrate the riches that are found in Christian fellowship. Our bread is broken and shared. Our wine is poured out for many for forgiveness and grace. This is a disruption of how the world thinks we should operate. Cultures are built on competition, not community. Society values the victor, not the vulnerable. Being a disciple means that we meet on a level plain.

Being a disciple of Jesus means isolation is over. The old structure of honor and shame is over. The ones who were given shame are now embraced and lifted up. But if you are rich, if you have enough, if you feel comfortable with the system, following might hurt a little. The system has been good to you, but the system is changing.

Your riches are terrible if you’re not helping others. Your abundance is cursed if you are not sharing. Your laughing is mocking those who are forced to dance for your entertainment. Those who have lived in privileged places of white, hetero-normative supremacy have had their time of riches and laughter.

I believe that we are seeing the death throes of those who see that their time has come. When power structures of oppression are called out for what they truly are – white supremacy, homophobia, patriarchy – those that benefit don’t simply step down. The woes are coming. For Jesus, the response was crucifixion. Today, the response is insurrection. But, and how glorious is this but, there is something else coming. We end this passage on the woe, and so maybe its appropriate to dwell in the woe for a little while. The next word in Jesus’ sermon is “but,” and I once heard Bishop Gregory Palmer say that he could write a book called the “Holy Buts” of the Bible. The woes are coming, and perhaps we are witnessing them all around.

But love remains.

In a world of honor and shame, and blessings and woes, love remains. Love enough to speak the truth to those who have been blessed by the system. Love enough to speak good news to those who are beaten down by it. Love enough to welcome all into the Kin-dom where a level place is holy ground.

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The wedding at Cana

Reading: John 2:1-11

A wedding is the start of something. A wedding is a celebration. It is a joyful event. It is a public declaration that a family has been formed and promises have been made. It is a time of worship and celebration, but it is not a marriage. A marriage is a life of choices to keep the promises that were made. A marriage is sacrifices and compromises and celebrations and disappointments. A wedding is a celebration, but a marriage is a relationship.

Jesus ministry starts at a wedding. It is a joyful celebration which begs many questions. Whose wedding was it? Why did they run out of wine? Why did Mary know they ran out of wine? What’s the deal with Jesus’ curt response? Who knew about this “sign” (The Gospel of John does not use the word ‘miracle.’ Instead, the word ‘sign’ is used to describe these actions that reveal the divinity of Jesus).

Some speculate that this may have been the wedding of a relative of Mary. This would explain not only their invitation, but also her position of authority at the party. Most speculate that the families involved were poor and could not afford the amount of wine needed for such a celebration (that some commentators claim may have lasted a full week).

As to Mary’s request of Jesus, we yearn to know more. Did Mary know that Jesus could do such a thing? Had he done it before at home? Why was Jesus reluctant? Why did this seemingly small crisis prompt Jesus to step forward in such a public manner.

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus begins his ministry much differently. In all three of them, the catalyst that starts his ministry is the arrest of John the Baptist. Then he begins with major teaching—either the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew or his reading at his home synagogue in Luke.

Here though, Jesus becomes “public” without really going public. After all, in the end no one really knows about this sign but the disciples and the servants. The headwaiter simply thinks it is an act of extreme generosity by the bridegroom. The servants know what happened, but their response is unrecorded.

We who believe know that this is the start. This is the first sign that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the beginning of the wedding celebration that the people had been waiting for for centuries. A wedding has been a way to describe the messianic hope of Israel since the time of the prophets. A marriage was a metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel for centuries.

Here, Jesus turns water into wine and we know that the wedding has officially begun. This is a celebration. The coming of Jesus initiates a party—an extravagant one at that. One that had over 120 gallons of the finest wine (600+ bottles in today’s measurement).

The Word of God became flesh, and this is reason to celebrate. John tells us that Jesus’ life on earth is a time of joy, generosity, and celebration. It is not a reason for solemnity, fasting, or judgment. At the crucifixion, we find that the party is over. At the moment Jesus was crucified, this sign was reversed. On the cross, Jesus is given sour wine to drink. Upon his death, he is pierced in the side and water comes out. At this wedding water is turned to wine. At his crucifixion the wine is turned back into water. The crucifixion may have been the end of the wedding, but the marriage was just beginning. The ongoing relationship of Jesus abiding with us didn’t end when the wedding was over any more than a new couple’s marriage ends when people leave the party. Discipleship is a marriage.

One of the most important clues to the meaning of this story comes in the very first words. “On the third day.” This wedding happened on the third day. We know what else happened “on the third day.” The third day is the day of resurrection. It is the day of joy, generosity, and celebration. The third day is the end of fasting, mourning, and judgment. This wedding is a foretaste of the Resurrection which we are allowed to live every day.

Jesus’ life—the time when the Word was flesh and walked among us—was a wedding. It was a celebration. It was a time that was marked by turning water into wine, and at his death the wine was turned back into water. Yet this wedding at Cana gave us another clue as to what really happened. On the third day there was celebration again. On the third day there was so much joy it overflowed. On the third day shame was turned to joy. The wedding at Cana was the initiation of Jesus’ ministry and a foretaste of our lives as Christians. The wedding started it all, and in our life of discipleship we will live into the marriage which is abiding with Christ in our lives.

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A Puppet Christmas Script

Our set was designed quickly one day at Sunday school by one of our parents. The kids all participated in coloring it. Pictured is a scene with reporter Camilla Camelo interviewing Sam Shepherd and Sheep.

This script can be downloaded as a pdf file. WPPT News Puppet Christmas News is about 10-15 minutes, depending on your scene and set transitions.

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You will be. You will be

Inclusivity Devotional for October 17, 2021

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:35-45

This passage always reminds me of the movie Empire Strikes Back. In a scene inside Yoda’s hut, he and Luke Skywalker are debating if he should train young Luke as a Jedi. Yoda sees Luke’s impetuousness and immaturity. He sees the anger in young Luke and decides not to train him as a Jedi. Luke is hot-headed and impatient. He wants to be a Jedi. He wants to fight like his father. He wants to be a hero and overthrow the Empire. Yoda wonders, “Will he finish what he starts?” Pleading with Yoda he says, “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” Yoda looks at him ominously and says, “You will be,” and repeats, “You will be.”

John and James come to Jesus and ask, “Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory.” He asks them “Will you drink the cup I drink?” They respond, “We can.” Ominously, Jesus answers, “You will drink the cup.”

They ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left. These are places of honor. They are looking ahead to the victory. They are looking ahead to the time when Jesus will reign. They see themselves as riding shotgun and basking in Jesus’ glory. What they don’t understand is that at the height of Jesus’ glory, the ones at his right and his left will be hanging on crosses just like Jesus.

The Revised Common Lectionary suggests for us to start this reading at verse 35, but to get the full context we would be well-served to start where we left off last week – at verse 32. By going back to verse 32 we see that Jesus and a crowd were “going up to Jerusalem.” The response is a mix of awe and fear, so Jesus takes the Twelve aside and reminds them (for the third time in two chapters) that in Jerusalem he will die an ignominious death before being raised up.

When the other ten hear what James and John asked, they get angry. The funny thing is, I don’t they are angry that they asked the question. I think they are angry that James and John asked it first. None of them truly understand at this point what ambition looks like in the Kingdom. Christian ambition is a tricky thing. Aren’t we all supposed to be striving for greatness?

Jesus redefines greatness. The twelve are still operating in the system that judges greatness by how many people serve you. For Jesus, greatness is defined by who many people you serve. It is not measured by rank or status. Greatness is not marked on attendance pads, church budgets, charge conference forms, or plum appointments. Greatness is earned with kindness, generosity, and service. It is seldom rewarded in the ways we expect, or even desire.

Like John and James, we may be eager for the glory. Like Luke (Skywalker, not the apostle), we may be eager to be heroes and run off and fight the evil Empire. It is good to consider just what that means. “I’m not afraid,” you may be saying. “You will be,” comes the ominous response.

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Left behind (not that kind of left behind)

Inclusivity Devotional for October 10, 2021

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:17-31

Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life.”

Today I wonder how many LGBTQ kids have walked away from their homes. How many were forced out? How many have “left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms” because they simply wanted to live their lives as truthfully as possible?

I want to ponder that for a moment before we go any farther with this passage. How many young people were forced out of their homes because of their parents’ misunderstanding of Scripture? How many young people are forced to live a lie and dwell in anxiety and darkness because of how they were created by God. How much good news has been quieted by those who think they are following Jesus?

Before we get caught up in figuring out how to get a camel through the eye of the needle (spoiler alert: there was no such gate in Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle.” That story was a total fabrication to make people more comfortable with Jesus’ harsh message in this passage), before we wrestle over the nature of “obtaining eternal life,” before we wonder if Jesus was talking to just one rich man or to all of us, I want us pause and think of those who have “left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news.”

There are thousands of brave, courageous, faithful gay, lesbian, and transgendered people who refused to lie about themselves and who have remained with Jesus. Their faith is an inspiration. They have been shamed, beaten, called names, and outcast by people who claim to love them. Yet they remain faithful to Jesus because of the good news.

This morning I stand in awe of my brave siblings in Christ who, as Peter said, “left everything and followed you.” No pastor, no institution, no Book of Discipline, no misunderstanding of a few verses of the Bible, and no reprimanding parent can keep them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I pray that you receive one hundred times as much as you have left behind. I pray that you receive truth, grace, affirmation, mission, and community. The eternal life of Christ is one of depth, meaning, joy, and peace that surpasses all understanding, and I hope you receive it all. I am thankful for the places and communities who have welcomed you. I pray for your search if you have not yet found a such a place. I believe Jesus’ promise that you will receive it. I am inspired by your faith. I will keep working for you, preaching for you, and praying for you.

Even as I search myself for the same eternal life, I remember that for humans, entering the Kingdom of God is as easy as a camel passing through the eye of the needle, but with God all things are possible. Thanks be to God.

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Filed under IGRC for Unity, Lectionary Reflection