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A sermon based on Matthew 13: 1-9.

Some people think of the Bible as the place you go to get answers to your questions:

What happens when I die?

What does God want me to do?

What is the “Christian” response to poverty?

That is certainly the approach that was taken when I was in Sunday School. You heard the story; you asked the question; you learned the ‘lesson for living’.

Several years ago, I read something that changed the way I listen to the Bible. In Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World, Jacques Ellul proposes that “The Bible is not the answer book to our questions. You go to the Bible ho hear the questions that God is asking you.” Through the scriptures, God is talking to you. God is asking you questions about your life, about who you are, about your relationships.

More than that, in the scriptures we host Sunday by Sunday, God is speaking to us as a community of faith that is participating in God’s mission in this place and in this time. Our task is to hear the questions God is asking us and to answer as truthfully as we can. It is a different way of hearing the scriptures. It takes some practice.

Lectio divina is a way to listen for the questions that God is asking you in your life. You read the scripture passage several times slowly (preferably out loud). You listen for words, phrases  or images that emerge as you hear the passage. After meditating on those words, phrases or images, you pray them — talking with God about the thoughts they evoke in you. Then, you take some time to sit in God’s presence, becoming aware of God’s great love for you . . . receiving it into your life.

That is a lengthy introduction to today’s gospel story, which includes the “Parable of the Sower”. A sower went out to sow seeds and, as he sows, the seeds fall on 4 different kinds of soil: on the path, on rocky ground, among thorns and into good soil.

How many times have you heard this parable and told that its meaning was that you were to work hard to be good soil — the kind that produces a harvest of grain, some one hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold? You hear the story. You ask, “What does God want me to do?” The answer is, “God wants you to be good soil.” Having heard your assignment for the week, you go out to implement it. Lesson learned.

Listening for God’s question to you in the passage takes you in a different direction. What words, images or phrases emerge for you?

When I was preparing this sermon, I didn’t get as far as the parable. The first words that stood out for me were the first words of the passage: “That same day”. I wondered, “What ‘same day’?” I went back to the chapter before this story and found out what else had happened on that day.

On that day, Jesus had been accused of working for the Devil, for Beelzebub. The Pharisees were conspiring against him. They were criticizing him and trying to figure out how to destroy him. They tried to trap him. They demanded that he prove who he was. On that day, in the midst of trouble and challenges and difficulties, Jesus tells a story about a sower who sows seeds with reckless abandon.

This sower doesn’t farm in the way you and I know farming: preparing the soil, planting carefully chosen seeds in straight rows, watching and waiting for the rains to come or to stop. This sower went out to sow and as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path and birds ate them up. Some seeds fell in rocky soil and couldn’t put down deep roots. Some seeds fell among thorns and got choked by them. But, some seeds fell in good soil and produced an abundant harvest.

Jesus’ parables help us pay attention to God’s presence in our lives. They help us hear the questions God is asking us. Jesus has been telling people that God reigns over this world. God is at work in this broken world, always and everywhere, setting things right. Nothing in all creation can ever come between us and that power love of God that is at work in this world.

Do you believe it? Do you trust those promises even when you cannot see much evidence of them? Do you trust that God is at work in your life even when God’s grace and love fall on the hard path you are walking at the moment? Do you trust that God’s love is the most decisive power at work in your rocky relationships? Do you trust God when troubles come so thick and thorny that they choke the life out of you? Do you trust that God is at work even when the world seems against you? Because, that is how God works.

The apostle Paul describes what that trust looks like: “We continue to shout our praise, even when we’re hemmed in with troubles . . . so, stay alert for whatever God will do next.” (Romans 5: 1-8)

I know a minister who put up signs around his church that said, “Expect God to act.” You would turn a corner and see the sign. You would walk up a flight a stairs and see the sign. He was trying to help the people of the congregation develop eyes to see the Sower sowing seeds of love and grace and hope in every place, in every circumstance.

A few weeks ago, another minister told me that he had done something similar. He put up signs that said, “Surely the Lord is in this place. Pay attention. Don’t miss it.”

Someone I was talking with last week says that, every time she meets with a group of people that she is mentoring, she asks them, “Where has God met you in the past two weeks?”

What answer would you give? Where has God met you in the past week?

Take a moment and think about the places in your life where the path you are walking is hard and difficult. Offer those circumstances and say, “Surely the Lord is present in this place.”

Take a moment and think of a place in your life where relationships are rocky, where it hard for love to take root and grow. Offer that relationship to God and say, “Surely the Lord is present here.”

Take a moment and think of a place in your life were trouble is troubling someone you care about. Offer that situation and that person to God and say, “Surely the Lord is present.”

Take a moment and think of a place in your life where God has blessed you. Give thanks, offer those blessings to God and say, “Surely the Lord is present in this place.”

Lastly, look to the week that is ahead of you. Offer it to God and pray, “Surely the Lord is present. Lord, help me to notice.”

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Day by day, you pour your love over us.
Day by day, you meet us with surprising grace.
Day by day, you speak the Word that
calls us deeper into your presence.

Yet, so often,
we wander through our days
oblivious to you
and to the ways you are working
in our midst.

In this time together,
we bring to you
the week that is past.

We bring to you
our tattered souls.

We bring to you
the deep longings
that haunt our spirits.

Take what we offer,
such as it is.
Move among us.
Open a space
where your reign of love
is welcomed with joy.

Silence the noise in our minds
that drowns out your Word.

Shelter us from the storms
that unsettle our lives.

Settle the clutter of worries
that crowd out your peace.

Then, awaken us to your Spirit’s work:
in our lives,
in our neighbours,
in our world.

Lead us to trust you more deeply,
even when we cannot see
the signs that you are with us.

We pray in the name of Jesus
who is your Word to us,
the Life we seek,
the Way we walk. Amen.

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Holy God, holy and mighty,
You know the promises we have made in our best moments:
to love you with
all our heart
and all our mind
and all our strength.

We have promised to worship you alone.

And our intentions are good.

But you know the anxiety that grips our hearts
when problems loom large
and solutions are not easy to find.

We value effectiveness.
We strive for efficiency.
We know how to get things done.
We want to fix what’s wrong.

So, we are not too good with mystery,
especially with the mysterious ways
you work in us and in our world.

We struggle to trust you —
You, whose ways are not our ways;
You, whose timing is so different from ours.

Worshipping you above all else
has turned out to be harder
than we thought it would be.

We try to use you for our own purposes.
We try to summon you to serve our own agendas.
We want you to help us get what we want.

We would give up,
except you will not let us go.
You meet us in mercy where we do not deserve it.
You transform us by grace we do not earn.
You give us your Holy Spirit
to begin again,
to learn a better obedience.

So, we wait —
for the gift of your forgiveness,
for the gift of your Spirit,
for the gifts we need to be your people.

We wait,
handing control over to you
and to your mysterious way with us.

We wait,
through the grace of Jesus Christ
who knows us as we are,
yet loves us still.

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The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship, week 8.

Scriptures: John 11: 1-7, 17-25

For a few years, Rowan Williams was the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. On the morning of September 11, 2001, he was leading a spiritual retreat at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York, a couple of blocks away from the World Trade Centre. After the attacks on the towers, the staff of the church provided a place of refuge, safety and comfort for the terrified people who came into the building that day and for the rescue workers in the days afterwards. Archbishop Williams wrote a small book reflecting on the events of that day and the days that followed: Writing in the Dust.

In the introduction to the book, he asks, “After the 11th, what are we prepared to learn?” Ten years later, that questions remains. “Can anything grow through that terrible, terrifying event?” Williams states that he hopes that the answer is “Yes.”

The morning after 9/11, Williams was stopped in the street by a young man who was a pilot and an active Catholic. That young man asked the question that many people ask when confronted with unspeakable evil: “What was God doing when the planes hit the towers?” Williams mumbled something about human freedom. God creates us with free will and does not intervene. God does not just override the choices we make. Living in faith does not mean we escape evil. It means we are given resources to confront it. Through faith, we find a way to suffer, take it forward and then, in God’s own time, to have healed by the grace and mercy of the living God.

Williams knew that whatever he said would be inadequate. Ultimately, he said, this man did not want a theological discussion about free will. This man was a lifelong Christian, committed to a loving and saving God. However, now, for the first time, it had come home to him that he might be committed to a God who could seem useless in a crisis.

Have you been there? If you have not yet, be assured that, the further you go in faith, the more honest you are about life, you will come to a place where God does not do what you want or expect God to do.

That was the hard truth both Martha and Mary faced in this morning’s gospel story. Their brother Lazarus was ill. They sent for their good friend, Jesus, to come to help. But, Jesus did not come. “Lazarus” means “God helps”, except God did not help this family when they need God the most. The writer of the story makes a point of saying that they “dwelt in Bethany”, the “house of affliction”. Their affliction was not just that Lazarus was ill. Their affliction was that the one to whom they looked for help was absent. By the time Jesus showed up, Lazarus had died. In fact, he had been dead four days.

First Martha, and then Mary, confronted Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” The same accusation was in the question that the young Catholic man asked: “Where was God when the planes flew into the towers?” We ask it ourselves: Where is God when children die of starvation in Africa? Where is God when someone we love suffers? Surely, if God is good, God should be there to help. God should fix things.

Much of living in faith is a matter of coming to terms with a God who does not meet our expectations. This God does not show up when we really need God to show up. All of us have some burden of suffering which we bear. There is some deep sorrow that hovers in the background of our days. There is some wound that we carry in our hearts that is in varying stages of being healing or refusing to be healed. Hopes and dreams have been shattered. We worry over our children. You can add to the list.

As Christians we know the promises of our Lord. Just before Jesus died, he promised, “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you. I will ask the Father and he will give you a Comforter to be with forever.” The psalms are full of such promises: God is our refuge and our strength; a very present help in trouble.” “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place . . . he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” “I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble.”

Martha knew the promises. She knew the promises that the power of God is stronger than death itself. When Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise again, she can recite them back to him. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

We know the promises but there are times when the promises seem all to lie in the future. They are some future hope we cling to in spite of all the evidence in the present that defies them.

Or, maybe they all lie in the past. They exist as memories of experiences where we did feel the presence of God, bearing us up as on eagles’ wings, holding us in the palm of God’s hands.

We find ourselves living between those memories and that hope and all we really know of God is the emptiness of God’s absence.

This is a difficult place to be. We want to move through it quickly. We want to have confident faith renewed. We want to move beyond the questions and the doubts and the uncertainties; to move into the promised joy and peace; to get on with being productive again. Instead, we are stuck in that in-between place and we cannot move past it.

The Bible knows a lot about such a space. It calls it by many names: wilderness, exile, the Pit. It is “Holy Saturday”, that time between the agony of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. Nothing is happening. Life seems suspended.

Rowan Williams calls this empty place, this void, a “breathing space”. He says that what you need to do in such a breathing space is breathe. You are not to get on with some action as you try to persuade yourself that you really are in control of the situation. You are to breathe. You acknowledge your hurt and disappointment and rage and sense of powerlessness. You let go of the expectations that you had of God. You come to terms with this God who has given you this emptiness, this breathing space. As painful as it is, it is a gift that is filled with God’s grace.

“Your brother will rise again,” said Jesus to Martha. Martha replies, “I know the promises. On the last day, in God’s promised future, my brother will be raised up in the resurrection.” Jesus tells her, “I am the Resurrection. I am the Life. Now. Here. Already.”

Jesus brings resurrection and life into the midst of the emptiness. In the midst of suffering; in the midst of brokenness; in all the little deaths you die throughout your life, God meets you with resurrection power. In Jesus, God enters into the emptiness and makes it part of God’s holy purpose for your life.

Even the emptiness.

You are baptized with suffering. You go down into the waters of suffering. God raises you to new life. What emerges from the waters of such a baptism is not the old self you had before. You can never go back. You will carry the scars for the rest of your life. But a new self is given by God. You are made new.

It takes courage to enter into such a time. it takes courage to give voice to all that is in your heart. That’s why I keep urging you to learn to pray the Psalms. They are written by people, by a community, that has practiced breathing its faith in the void and the emptiness.

The Psalms teach a language that helps you give voice to your anger and your fears, your hurt and your hopes. They lead you through the evil that you suffer with persistence and honesty. They teach you to yield your life to God. They open you to the healing work of God. Ultimately, they teach to you to praise God again.

They teach you to praise God again in a new song. That new song will carry the sorrow you have known but that sorrow will now be gathered into God’s good and holy purposes for you and for the world.

I want you to learn to pray the psalms because they are such a great gift for your spiritual journey. I want you to learn to pray the psalms because we live our faith in a world full of suffering: not just the global suffering we hear on the news but also the suffering in the lives of people you meet day by day. You may not be able to do much to turn the tide, but your vocation as a follower of Jesus Christ is to be with people in the places of their brokenness. Hear their laments. Help them give voice to them. Prayer with them to God because, in the end, it is God with whom we all must deal.

Stand with them as a member of a community of people who, from the days of our baptisms, have practised dying and being raised to new life in Christ. We are learning to let Christ take us, bless us, break our lives open, and give us life anew. Having trusted Christ to do that in our lives, we give our lives into God’s good hands over and over again.

You can help others hear God say to them in their suffering, “Do not be afraid. Nothing in life or in death — not even this terrible thing you are going through — nothing can stop my loving purpose for you.”

That will be a great gift. That will be a good and holy work. For such holy work, God has claimed you as Christ’s own.

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The worship service in which was first preached is available at Reformed Worship week 6.

Scriptures: Genesis 3: 1-7

The story is told of an Irish priest who was travelling though the countryside when he noticed an old peasant sitting by the side of the road. When the priest got closer, he realized that the peasant was praying. The priest was very impressed and said to the peasant, “You must be quite close to God.” The peasant looked up from his prayers and said, “Yes, he is very fond of me.”

The basic desire of human beings — the core desire behind all our other desires — is to be in communion with God. David Buttrick is a great preacher and the son of a great preacher. He teaches about preaching. He writes books about preaching. He has come to the conclusion, “Pastors think people come to church to hear sermons. They don’t. They come to pray and to learn to pray.”

The great wonder at the heart of our faith is that God’s great desire is to be in communion with us. The Creator of the universe, the mystery who is the source of life itself, loves us with a deep and steadfast love. In spite of all that we have done to hurt each other and offend God, God is still “very fond of us.”  It is not always easy for us to remember that.

We get distracted as we get busy making our way in the world. There are children to get to soccer games and piano lessons; there are demands and expectations at our places of work; there are worries about our own health and the health of those we love; there are meetings and appointments to attend and goals to accomplish. In the process, we lose touch with God, this God who is “very fond of us” and who is the source of our life.

Genesis 3 tells the story of a conversation between the serpent and the woman in the garden. It tells us that our troubles begin when we start talking about God instead of to God. “Did God say . . . ?” asks the serpent. “God said . . .” replies the woman. “But, did God really mean . . . ? Do you think that’s right . . . ?” The first conversation about God takes place.

The woman no longer lives trusting the spaciousness of God’s love. She enters a fascinating world where discussions about God and about what we believe about God distance people from God. God becomes an idea or a set of beliefs. These days, we live in a culture with many different ideas about God, about what God is like, about what God wants, about what it takes to find God. At some point (often in our early twenties), we sort through the various beliefs and ideas and concepts and we decide what we are going to believe about God.

An important part of our spiritual journey is to face our doubts and explore our options. Only as we ask the difficult questions will our faith mature. Many people are trying to confront adult problems with beliefs that were given to them as children in Sunday School. They quickly discover that those beliefs are not nearly adequate for the complexities that they face.

Yet, as important as it is that we develop some mature reflection about our beliefs, that is not the same as developing a maturing relationship with the living God.

Anselm was one of the church’s great thinkers about God. He wrote a book, Monologion, which set forth proofs for God’s existence. He wrote brilliantly and with great power. Then, he realized that, however many right things he had said about God, he had said them all in the wrong language. He re-wrote the book and named it Proslogion. It included all that the had said about God; however, this time, he wrote it to God. It was a personal answer to God, addressing the questions that a personal God asks us. He wrote his theology as a prayer.

That transition from thinking about God to talking with God is absolutely critical for all of us. It is especially critical when life takes you through dark valleys. We are a people facing many challenges. Some of us are worried about health issues. Some of us are coming to terms with the changes that come with aging: the loss of friends and family; moving to a different place; being confronted with the mystery of death and dying, sometimes our own death and dying, sometimes that of those dear to us. Some of us are facing pressures at work. You are in a job that is stressful, demoralizing and dehumanizing, yet you cannot get out of it because you have responsibilities that you need to live up to. Some of you are facing the huge privilege of raising children and you are finding how difficult that is in a culture that has forgotten how to raise its children well. It is especially difficult for you to do that as Christians trying to live into the vows you made at your children’s baptisms. Increasingly, the culture does not share the same stories and traditions as you do as a follower of Jesus. Increasingly, the culture has very different ideas about what it means to grow into one’s full humanity.

There are concerns about the state of the world’s economy, about climate change, about social disintegration in our cities. When I think of all that you are facing, I long for all of you to know the great gift of prayer. As the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, said, “I wish I could teach you to pray the way my dog goes after a bone.” This is not prayer that is simply a matter of bringing your wish list to God. It is not prayer than informs God about all the troubles in the world and in our lives and then spells out the ways we would like God to help. It is not the kind of prayer that informs God about the good projects you have taken on and then asking for God’s blessings.

It is the kind of prayer that is a matter of entering into God’s presence, into the wide spaciousness of God’s love and grace. It is prayer that focuses more on God than on us. Such prayer places our troubles and concerns into the context of God’s powerful grace. It is learning to let go of our need to control the outcome. It will mean that, sometimes God will lead you to green pastures and still waters and restore your soul. Sometimes God will disturb you, leading you in new directions, asking you to abandon cozy fantasies and to risk the hazards and unknowns of living by faith. Sometimes such prayer will be a matter of waiting — waiting in silence and in the stillness, aware that God is still in action, preparing other people, preparing other circumstances, working in our hearts and souls. Then, when the time is right — in God’s time — God will call you into action. Says Eugene Peterson, “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.” That is difficult.

Someone said that the question faith asks in each circumstance is “What is God’s invitation to me in this?” In illness or crisis or disappointment; when the way forward is blocked, “What is God’s invitation to me in this?” Is God developing trust and patience in you? Is God trying to turn you in a different direction? You wait, expectantly, for the Spirit to lead you deeper and deeper into the community of the Trinity where love is the song we learn to sing.

The woman in the garden did not do that. She moved away from that intimate trust in God’s love. She reached out to take what seemed to her to be good and delightful even though it was not hers to take. In the process, she lost the goodness of the garden.

The rest of the story is the story of God’s great, untiring efforts to restore the communion that was lost. In Jesus, God invites us back into that relationship of deep, abiding love. In Jesus, we are found by the God who is reaching out to us in our lostness. In prayer, open yourself to receive God’s presence. Allow yourself to be held by the One who holds all things together. Find yourself at home.

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Scripture: John 11: 1-7, 17-25

For a few years, Rowan Williams was the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. On the morning of September 11, 2001, he was leading a spiritual retreat at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York, a few blocks away from the World Trade Centre. After the attacks on the towers, the staff of the church provided a place of refuge, safety and comfort for the terrified people who came into the building that day and for the rescue workers in the days afterwards. Archbishop Williams wrote a small book reflecting on the events of that day and the days that followed: Writing in the Dust.

In the introduction to the book, he asks, “After the 11th, what are we prepared to learn?” Ten years later, that question remains. “Can anything grow through that terrible, terrifying event?” Williams states that he hopes that the answer is “Yes.”

The morning after 9/11, Williams was stopped in the street by a young man who was a pilot and an active Catholic. That young man asked the question that many people ask when confronted with unspeakable evil: “What was God doing when the planes hit the towers?” Williams mumbled something about human freedom. God creates us with free will and does not intervene. God does not just override the choices we make. Living in faith does not mean we escape evil. It means we are given resources to confront it. Through faith, we find a way to suffer, take it forward and then, in God’s own time, to have it healed by the grace and mercy of the living God.

Williams knew that whatever he said would be inadequate. Ultimately, he said, this man did not want a theological discussion about free will. This man was a lifelong Christian, committed to a loving and saving God. However, now, for the first time, it had come home to him that he might be committed to a God who could seem useless in a crisis.

Have you been there? If you have not yet, be assured that, the further you go in faith, the more honest you are about life, you will come to a place where God does not do what you want or expect God to do.

That was the hard truth both Martha and Mary faced in this morning’s gospel story. Their brother Lazarus was ill. They sent for their good friend, Jesus, to come to help. But Jesus did not come. “Lazarus” means “God helps”, except God did not help this family when they needed God the most. The writer of the story makes a point of saying that they “dwelt in Bethany”, the “house of affliction”. Their affliction was not just that Lazarus was ill. Their affliction was that the one to whom they looked for help was absent. By the time Jesus showed up, Lazarus had died. In fact, he had been dead four days.

First Martha, and then Mary, confronted Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” The same accusation was in the question that the young Catholic man asked: “Where was God when the planes flew into the towers?” We ask it ourselves: Where is God when children die of starvation in Africa? Where is God when someone we love suffers? Surely, if God is good, God should be there to help. God should fix things.

Much of living in faith is a matter of coming to terms with a God who does not meet our expectations. This God does not show up when we really need God to show up. All of us have some burden of suffering which we bear. There is some deep sorrow that hovers in the background of our days. There is some wound that we carry in our hearts that is in varying stages of being healing or refusing to be healed. Hopes and dreams have been shattered. We worry over our children. You can add to the list.

As Christians we know the promises of our Lord. Just before Jesus died, he promised, “I will not leave you orphaned; i will come to you. I will ask the Father and he will give you a Comforter to be with forever.” The psalms are full of such promises: “God is our refuge and our strength; a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place . . . he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways . . . I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble” (Psalm 91).

Martha knew the promises. She knew the promises that the power of God is stronger than death itself. When Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise again, she can recite them back to him. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

We know the promises but there are times when the promises seem all to lie in the future. They are some future hope we cling to in spite of all the evidence in the present that defies them.

Or, maybe they all lie in the past. They exist as memories of experiences where we did feel the presence of God, bearing us up as on eagles’ wings, holding us in the palm of God’s hands.

We can find ourselves living between those memories and that hope and all we really know of God is the emptiness of God’s absence.

This is a difficult place to be. We want to move through it quickly. We want to have confident faith renewed. We want to move beyond the questions and the doubts and the uncertainties; to move into the promised joy and peace; to get on with being productive again. Instead, we are stuck in that in-between place and we cannot move past it.

The Bible knows a lot about such a space. It calls it by many names: wilderness, exile, the Pit. It is “Holy Saturday”, that time between the agony of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. Nothing is happening. Life seems suspended.

Rowan Williams calls this empty place, this void, a “breathing space”. He says that what you need to do in such a breathing space is breathe. You are not to get on with some action as you try to persuade yourself that you really are in control of the situation. You are to breathe. You acknowledge your hurt and disappointment and rage and sense of powerlessness. You let go of the expectations that you had of God. You come to terms with this God who has given you this emptiness, this breathing space. As painful as it is, it is a gift that is filled with God’s grace.

“Your brother will rise again,” said Jesus to Martha. Martha replies, “I know the promises. On the last day, in God’s promised future, my brother will be raised up in the resurrection.” Jesus tells her, “I am the Resurrection. I am the Life. Now. Here. Already.”

Jesus brings resurrection and life into the midst of the emptiness. In the midst of suffering; in the midst of brokenness; in all the little deaths you die throughout your life, God meets us with resurrection power. In Jesus, God enters into the emptiness and makes it part of God’s holy purpose for your life.

Even the emptiness.

You are baptized with suffering. You go down into the waters of suffering. God raises you to new life. What emerges from the waters of such a baptism is not the old self you had before. You can never go back. You may carry the scars for the rest of your life. But a new self is given by God. You are made new.

It takes courage to enter into such a time. it takes courage to give voice to all that is in your heart. That’s why I keep urging you to learn to pray the Psalms. They are written by people, by a community, that has practiced breathing its faith in the void and the emptiness.

The Psalms teach a language that helps you give voice to your anger and your fears, your hurt and your hopes. They lead you through the evil that you suffer with persistence and honesty. They teach you to yield your life to God. They open you to the healing work of God. Ultimately, they teach to you to praise God again.

They teach you to praise God again in a new song. That new song will carry the sorrow you have known but it will now be gathered into God’s good and holy purposes for you and for the world.

I want you to learn to pray the psalms because they are such a great gift for your spiritual journey. I want you to learn to pray the psalms because we live our faith in a world full of suffering: not just the global suffering we hear on the news but also the suffering in the lives of people you meet day by day. You may not be able to do much to turn the tide, but your vocation as a follower of Jesus Christ is to be with people in the places of their brokenness. Hear their laments. Help them give voice to them. Pray with them to God because, in the end, it is God with whom we all must deal.

Stand with them as a member of a community of people who, from the days of our baptisms, have practised dying and being raised to new life in Christ. We are learning to let Christ take us, bless us, break our lives open, and give us life anew. Having trusted Christ to do that in our lives, we give our lives into his good hands over and over again.

You can help others hear God say to them in their suffering, “Do not be afraid. Nothing in life or in death — not even this terrible thing you are going through — nothing can stop my loving purpose for you.”

That will be a great gift. That will be a good and holy work. For such holy work, God has claimed you as Christ’s own.

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Many people in post-mainline churches have trouble talking about their faith in public. There are many reasons for this, but I began wondering about one of them the other day.

For many years, ‘faith’ was framed as something that was ‘private’. If it is ‘private’, then speaking about it to others involves risk — allowing oneself to be vulnerable. So, I wonder if one of the reasons people are reluctant to talk about faith is that they are afraid of being shamed.

For some people, the fear of being shamed comes because they do not believe all the things that they think they are supposed to believe. They have trouble with doctrines like the ‘virgin birth’ or the ‘resurrection of the dead’. They cannot believe that the miracles in the Bible really happened. Lots of people who follow Jesus also have trouble with some of the church’s doctrines. More accurately, lots of people have trouble subscribing to the popular conceptions about what those doctrines are saying. However, I have been surprised by the number of people who confess to me that they ‘don’t believe all those things’ as if such an admission might make me think less of them and their faithfulness. When I am looking at church websites I am amused by the study groups that have named themselves as ‘rebels’ and ‘revolutionaries’, when the focus of their group is nothing more daring than reading books that question some beliefs that are supposedly commonly held. Obviously, in some segments of the Church, there is still a mindset that considers being truthful about your doubts a risky thing. Some people are ‘rebellious’ enough to gather with others, admit their questions, and enter into conversation about them. Others keep their doubts to themselves and so do not talk about their faith in public.

On the other hand, I wonder if some people are reluctant to talk about their faith in public because they DO believe certain things and they are afraid that, in a culture of skepticism, others will make fun of them for that or will think less of them. Will they be mocked because they do believe that miracles happen? Will they be considered foolish if they admit that they have had an experience of Christ’s presence? ? Will people dismiss their answers to their prayers as a misinterpretation of the facts?

Churches could go a long way in helping people to speak about their faith publicly by cultivating an environment where respectful, open and honest conversations happen. In such an atmosphere, it would be all right to question. It would also be all right to believe. People wouldn’t be labelled as either foolish or rebellious. People would not be mocked for either belief or doubt.

Then, perhaps, churches could move the conversation about faith away from ‘belief’ to ‘trust’ — which holds even more risk because it moves the conversation from the head to the heart and will and body.

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