So one of the things I pondered during this Sabbatical time was all the ways Jesus has ruint me. Seriously. Ruint me. And, frankly Beloved, I think we all need to be ruint; liberated by Jesus in order to shine love and give life---just like Jesus.
“The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18)
All God’s beloved are in the potter’s hand. And when we wake to that Great Truth and Promise----we will be ruint. Transformed. Not because we are bad or not good enough, but because we are already more. We are made in the imago dei, and God desires us to live into the fullness of this reality, this Truth. We are made for so much more.
Once I began to experience the living Jesus (as opposed to the character I heard about and read about but who mostly stayed on the page and in the story), meeting the living Jesus and beginning a relationship with this One began my real transformation. I started to question the world around me with different eyes and a different heart---questioning what I had learned from society, culture, books, classrooms, teachers, parents, priests and friends---and holding those learnings up to the lens of Jesus—to the life of Jesus and the Way of Love. Seeing through the prism that is the Word.
The Word awakens us to the reality that there are many “little gods” we put before God and in place of God. First and foremost, there is greed; Greed in its many forms. The greed of wanting the most stuff, more stuff, and to keep all the stuff I already have, even if others don’t have enough. The greed of demanding that things are done my way and I am allowed, thank you very much, to live by my preferences---even though God calls us to community with a variety of preferences. The greed that is believing that because I work hard, or because I come from a good family, or because I am American, or because I am white, or because I am male, or because I am highly educated, or because I am straight or because I am…..(insert whatever lie you tell yourself here)….I deserve to have more than others. None of us are immune. Greed owns too much landscape in my heart just like anyone else.
Back when Murray was a social worker and I was a teacher, we lived paycheck to paycheck with four kids for many years, trying to pay off school and medical debt. Struggling to keep what we had and working to get more. And then you know what happened next? Ruint. Jesus did some of that re-shaping thing with the clay of our hearts. One year, when we were invited to consider how we would support Jesus’ work at our church, we decided to get serious about moving up that tithing scale instead of staying stagnant. And what really changed it for us is when we put our faith-giving at the top of our budget instead of the bottom. We decided to give to God first, instead of as a left-over. And, at first, we couldn’t give a lot more, but a little bit more. And we kept at it until we were able to give what we had been hoping. And I gotta tell you: Kingdom giving leads us into Kingdom living. Don’t get me wrong: Murray and I are not completely liberated from the stranglehold of greed, but giving first and leaning into generosity shoves that little greed demon farther and farther from the center of the heart’s throne.
Oh, Beloved, this is so very hard. Waking up can happen in a moment or it can take a lifetime. And then, Beloved, we also have to stay woke which is a 24/7 journey of repenting and returning, of re-centering and remembering. Because the truth is, staying asleep to the call of Jesus, or allowing it to be a really quiet whisper in the background instead of our main soundtrack, is so much easier, and more convenient, than waking up and turning up the volume. This is why we gather in community, in this place---because we need to swim in the waters of baptism regularly, we need to marinate in the Word, we need to forgive and be forgiven, we need to see Jesus in the friend and the stranger, the newcomer and the awkward, in the child and the elder, in the atheist and the believer. It is this life of practice and ritual, of being inconvenienced and not getting our way, of worshiping, learning and serving that moves us from our self-centered lives to the Way of Love, into the life of Jesus.
This is what becoming Beloved Community is all about: a gathering of people who are committed to awakening---to diving deep into Jesus so that we might know the Word and Be the Word and Spread the Word. Our purpose is empowering all to be able to do that one thing Jesus asks us to do: Follow Him. Follow Him. Take up the cross---lift up the brokenness of humanity upon our own selves---just as Jesus did---so that we can allow death to bring forth new life. Follow Jesus: Love all others, undeserving though they may be, but worthy are they all. And that includes us, Beloved. Don’t forget your self. Because God, the Creator, the Potter, has declared us all Worthy of this love. Faith means allowing ourselves to awaken and committing to staying woke by recognizing our lives are already in the hands of the Potter. God’s love, desire and steadfast commitment is the Grace that makes it all happen.
But, Beloved, don’t get your unicorn and lollipop stickers out just yet because knowing, loving and following Jesus, changes us. And sometimes that puts distance between us and those who knew us before. Or those who don’t know us at all, but based on our last Facebook post, hope to never meet us. Because the truth is: Jesus followers can’t walk that “Consumerism, all-for-profit, wall-out-the-foreigner, the-planet-earth-is-here-for-my-benefit, every-man-for-himself” path that society continually beckons us to walk. Jesus followers cannot serve Money and Power, or convenience and preferences, as our Master. God is our God. And God’s goal is our goal: Tikkun Olam: the healing and restoration of Creation. Jesus warns us Beloved. Hear the Word: Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14)
Pretty darn clearly, Jesus is saying: Me first. Follow Me First. Take up the cross of redemption for all of humanity, and come, follow me.
You know, in the Commandments we are told not to take the Lord’s name in vain. Growing up I learned that this meant I wasn’t supposed to say certain things like: God da*** you or Go to Hell, and then there’s the other list of words that we were never to say, but I shall not repeat them at this time. Because I actually think that’s NOT what the commandment is about at all. I think we take the Lord’s name in vain when we call ourselves Christian and decide to go about living our life as we think best anyway---even when it looks nothing like Jesus.
St. John of the Cross said something that has been at the heart of my formation as a priest and pastor: He describes community as rocks in a bag, shaken together, in order to rub one another smooth. But during my sabbatical, it occurred to me that there’s something missing from this image: the water. Like those stones from the sea, we need water as we tumble and are reshaped, reformed, resurrected and made anew. So, come, follow Jesus. Let the waters of baptism drown you, let the water in the wine renew you, let the waters of fellowship replenish you. That’s what I love about this community, and this place where all of this happens. As beautiful as all those centuries-old church buildings in England that I saw this summer were ---there was something missing. Most of them are no longer first and foremost a place where people gather to take the bread, to hear the word, to pray in community. Oh, they all still have worship gatherings in some form. But, primarily, they are museums. Places people go and pay for a ticket to see beauty, and the vastness, and the overwhelming artistic genius, but they also go to see how it “used to be.”
But, Beloved, what made me long for this day is that here I am in the midst of not how it used to be, but how it is, and how we are becoming. Becoming Beloved. Being the Beloved. Awakening to Love and gently nudging others out of the nightmare the world so often can be. Inviting all to come and see, come and follow. There’s another story to hear, another way to walk, another life to live, another way to be. Beloved, it’s good to be home.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.