Prince of Peace, you have been doing amazing things this season and hasn’t it been fun doing it?
You’ve taken our traditional narratives around Lent, and turned it upside down by focusing on caring for each other with creative and sometimes downright sneaky acts of kindness and love, and, in doing so, you have probably changed how we will observe Lent at PoP for a long time.
I mean, can you imagine Lent without sneaking around and dropping off gifts and questionable puns? I know I can’t.
In that same spirit, Pr. Sara and I want to invite and challenge us all to expand the circles loving creativity beyond the community of Prince of Peace and into your circles of friends and neighbors as we celebrate this Holy Week.
And, before you say it, this is more than a cheap ploy to encourage folks to engage at church. I mean it's not, not a cheap ploy, but it’s also more. ;)
Haven’t you noticed lately how much better life has been, than what it had been before? Hasn’t it been wonderful to be a source of joy for someone you love, and see how someone loves you with creative surprise?
It’s stuff like this that makes our faith, a faith of hope, joy, love, kindness, wonder, and generosity, that thinks of others with as much care as we have for ourselves, a radical political philosophy. And it’s communally reinforcing. By committing to a life of loving service, you change your outlook on the world, and you can change others outlook by changing their experiences too.
As we prepare to celebrate how God raised Jesus to new life, let us also take part in that renewal of life for the world by making somebody’s else day just a little bit better - and let’s have some sneaky fun doing it.
“Spreading Joy and Connections” has been a tagline for Lent this year. Over the past weeks, you all have cared for one another, made one another laugh, and been incredibly thoughtful in lifting one another up.
As we continue to spread joy and connections, my heart is also saddened and grieved for the shootings in Atlanta and what has been described and catalogued in the Bay Area for the past year as a rise in hate crimes against our community members who are of Asian descent.
We are a church of welcome and we proclaim that welcome loudly every Sunday, on our signage, and our website. And also, friends, it is in times like these where loving communities need to stand up, show up, and speak out against hatred and racism with even more powerful acts of love.
Depending on how you identify or relate to this situation, whether you have been a victim of racist violence, hatred, stereo-typing, exclusion, off-handed or pointed comments, whether you know well the feeling of being targeted because of who you are or who you love, please know that this congregation wants to be a place where people are supported, cared for, where you have space to grieve, be left alone, or be angry.
So, I encourage us all to reach out with love, check especially on those who are of Asian descent in our congregation, in our neighborhoods, in our families. Asians are not a monoculture, and no one is being asked to speak for everyone, but I am instead encouraging us simply to be more aware, to listen to one another and learn. I know I have been ignorant to the struggles of my dear friends and congregation members this past year who are of Asian descent, and I am eager to learn how to be a better pastor and friend.
1 John 4 says: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear… Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their siblings, are liars; for those who do not love a sibling whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. “
These verses from 1 John are both a powerful encouragement and a powerful reminder that self-reflection and action, being willing to care for one another, is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. So let us continue to grow in our love and respect for one another; for those of us who are hurting, we pray for others to come alongside and be present. For those of us who are unaware, we pray for learning and personal growth. And, we pray that we may be empowered by the witness of those amongst us to be a congregation and church that embodies diversity and inclusion.
Our Lenten theme for this week’s Wednesday Live Worship service was Joy. We read the 15th chapter of Luke (parables of the Lost Coin, Sheep, and the Prodigal Son and his brother). In our conversation about these verses we lifted up what brought joy and what prevented joy. The story of the Prodigal Son elicited the most spirited of conversations as many of us related to the grumblings of the older brother…of course the well-behaved, respectful brother was upset! His father bent over backwards for the younger son’s disrespectful and wasteful behavior! For all of us who are the well-behaved rule followers, we feel little joy when the son who was thought to be dead returns to the Father’s open arms.
But it brought up the question for me about the relationship between grace and joy. Sometimes we are hesitant to allow ourselves to feel joy, to share it with others because maybe we don’t feel as though we deserve it. And sometimes, as in the case of the older brother, his resentment of his brother and his resentment of his Father’s unmerited kindness (aka grace!) meant that the older brother sat outside of the party and pouted.
I know that when I am grumpy, feeling stressed, or in a downright foul mood, it is easy for me to resent all of the happy news or social media posts of others. As I see and hear of people beginning to travel, restaurants opening up, kids going back to school, and families reuniting; sometimes my grief and resentment that I can’t travel or see my family can bubble up and prevent me from celebrating their joy. It is at those times, when I am unable to feel that vicarious joy that I need a come to Jesus moment—and that I need to cultivate joy in my life. Cultivating joy takes effort and a bit of self-awareness. Cultivating joy usually means I need to step away from a situation, perhaps step outside and ground myself in the goodness around me. A process that has worked for me is this:
It is a mental exercise that helps me cultivate joy. As we live into this week’s theme of joy, I hope it can be a tool for you and your family, too. When you are feeling grim and grumpy, unable to see or experience joy try it out. And thankfully, we have a God and Savior who deeply understands the idea of resentment, so much that he based an entire chapter of his gospel to teaching us grumbly types about the gift of allowing grace and joy for one’s self and for others