For me it happens at my morning prayer time. Right now my practice is to get a cup of coffee and sit in our 4 seasons room—I can see the trees and flowers and sky. I can hear birdsong. I take some deep breaths and keep a time of silence. I have certain resources I use to listen to wisdom and the word. I journal. I let my brain wrestle with wonderings.
It also happens when I am in beautiful church buildings—particularly if they are silent. In our old building on Church Street, I would walk in the sanctuary in the “gloaming” hour—that last bit of day as the sun is setting and the stained glass windows would come alive. It happened then.
It happens when I hold my children or when I hold my grandchildren. When I am in community, and there is joy and the breaking of bread and conversation. Or when I am singing in community. It happened at Point Pride when, after the rain, the human rainbow was shining. When I am walking and my brain is free to wonder and wander. When people come up and hold out their hands, and I look in their faces and give them the bread—that piece of Love’s body. When my husband and I hold hands……at the side of the ocean…..when my family is gathered and laughter rings…..when I am sitting with a neighbor and listening to their story and I feel empathy/connection…..at my father’s grave when voices were lifted in song.
All of these are times when I find or have found myself alive to God.
Alive to God—this is a phrase St Paul uses in his letter to the Romans; a fundraising letter persuading folx to invest in this Jesus movement, trying to convince folx that Jesus is the real deal. And Paul says that because of Jesus’ life, death and ministry, we now have an opportunity to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.
For me, I know I am alive to God when I am feeling the deep contentment and warm strength of love, of being loved, of being able to extend love. When I feel Joy—whether it be light and uplifting or a deeper, weightier feeling that anchors me—Joy is present when I am alive to God.
This is what Jeremiah is talking about in today’s reading when the prophet describes God as a strong defender, another translation uses the term: dread warrior. Jeremiah means God is always with him; Jeremiah cannot escape God. It is God’s persistence in his life that determines Jeremiah’s words, actions, and role in society.
Jeremiah is living in a time of great social upheaval---when known ways of life were being torn down and becoming unrecognizable. I would bet that most of us can identify with Jeremiah; we live in a time of great social upheaval---when so much of how things were in the past are no longer true today or for the future.
And frankly, the message God is telling Jeremiah to speak to his community will not make Jeremiah very popular. God’s message is countercultural and speaks against the powers that exist. And this is true for us as well, as today’s prophets. God’s message of mercy, forgiveness, of unconditional love, of sharing rather than hoarding, of self-sacrifice, of the common good over and above the individual good certainly goes against the grain of our societal norms and expectations. God’s message flies in the face of the nationalistic, individualistic, consumeristic messages that shout in our ears and continually flash before our eyes.
As Christians, we find ourselves with the reality that to speak the Word of Jesus that God is asking us to speak is to find ourselves as prophets with an unpopular message. Today we hear Jeremiah responding with anger to God’s Word. Jeremiah realizes that God’s truth won’t make him the most well-liked chap in town, and Jeremiah lets God know that, frankly, he is not-too happy. He would rather just get about his own business. Take care of his own matters. He is not really keen on having to deal with the world around him and would prefer to simply ignore God and God’s requests.
First of all, Beloved, let us recognize that this anger, this disappointment in God and how things are unfolding is not faithlessness on Jeremiah’s part. In fact, it is faithfulness. Jeremiah is able to be angry and disappointed with God because Jeremiah has a real relationship with God. And in real, authentic relationships, we get angry and disappointed. We know this is a real and strong relationship Jeremiah has with God because, even though he is angry and upset, Jeremiah doesn’t just walk away. Walking away is the easy thing to do, but Jeremiah hangs in there because that’s what a committed and covenantal relationship requires.
Theologian Rachel Baard says: “The life of faith is not always serene. It is not simply quiet submission to God’s will. It is, rather, a life of struggle with God and God’s will.” Proclaiming God’s countercultural voice amid the monumental injustices of culture is a difficult job. It is the work of a prophet. And Beloved, it is our work. Some of us do this work by speaking. Some by teaching. Some by doing. Some by being. But it is the work of us all. It is not some other Christian’s work or some other church’s work or some other person’s work. It is not the work of someone more holy or more powerful or more capable or more wealthy or of someone who has more time. It is our work, your work, my work---this Beloved Community’s work. As authentic and committed disciples, it is not work from which we can walk away or simply ignore.
This reading from Jeremiah holds personal connections for me. When I was discerning how God was calling me to serve, perhaps in the priesthood, I felt this relentless longing, this palpable ache. Kept me up at night. At one point I attended a discernment weekend in the Diocese and was asked to share a Scripture verse that spoke to me and I chose Jeremiah: “there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in.”
I think this burning within our bones comes from a life of discipleship---or at least a taste of discipleship. It comes from all the ways we get pickled in the Jesus juice. The word “disciple” means learner/ student. Jesus tells us: “it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.” This is why we have church: so we can know Jesus. Not just know about Jesus but become like Jesus. The point isn’t to be able to memorize Bible verses or doctrine or catechism so that we can proclaim the right answers. The point is that the ways of the One we call master, teacher, Lord….these ways become our ways; we become who and what we study. We gather together as a community of faith, not just to know about Jesus—a groovy dude who lived thousands of years ago—but to know about what it means to be humans who live love out loud in their lives. As disciples, we are called to continuously ask: What is Jesus seeking to teach us and what are we to learn from it? Sometimes I think we avoid wondering or asking what Jesus is teaching us because we are perfectly aware of what Jesus wants, and we just don’t want to do it. Like Jeremiah we would rather God doesn’t ask us to speak this countercultural way of living into the world around us.
Because to do this has a cost. As Jesus warns us—sometimes it can cost us our closest relationships. Because to be like Jesus means that our primary relationship is our relationship with God–the One who is Love. When Jesus is talking in today’s Gospel and says: Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. Jesus isn’t saying we don’t deserve God, that we, or others if they don’t “get it right” are not worthy of God. In fact, Jesus is saying that we fail to recognize our worth; we sell ourselves short. And until we can love ourselves, as God loves us, we will not be able to love as Jesus loves. Because we haven’t been appropriately conditioned for the work. Love begets Love. For the disciple to live as the Master, one must be grounded and centered in Love. Jesus isn’t telling us to hate our father or mother or children. Jesus is saying that the connection, the relationship, which empowers and gives life to all other relationships is our relationship with God….God who is Love. If we are not deeply grounded and rooted in Love–a sacrificial, other-centered, life-giving and liberating Love– then our relationships will flounder rather than flourish.
At each door entering this church building, there is a quotation of Carl Jung’s. Jung put this quote in his home in Zurich and had it put on his tombstone; it reads: “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.” Like a dread warrior, God is unfailingly present. Waiting. Longing for us. Calling to us to speak, to live, to be the Word. The Word this Creation so desperately needs—now and always. The Word that, for us Christians, we hear and know in Jesus.
Disciples know their master. Disciples become as their Master. Let us not respond to God’s call simply because we think there is something in it for us. Let us learn Jesus, soak up Jesus, be consumed by Jesus to such an extent that we respond to God’s call because we cannot NOT respond. Like Jeremiah, let us be God-haunted, God-disturbed, God-burdened, God-emboldened, and God-blessed. As Brother James Martin has said: “There’s no need to tell everyone how Christian you are. Just act like one: love, forgive, be merciful, help the poor. They’ll get it.”
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.