What We Expect to See

The comedian Trevor Noah was born in South Africa under the rule of Apartheid. In his memoir, Born a Crime, he describes how, since his mother was black and he was “colored,” or mixed race, they could not safely walk down the street together. When his white father was along, it was even more complicated. In order to go to the park with her son, her mother devised a plan. She enlisted the help of a “colored” woman in their building, who would walk to the park with them. Trevor would walk next to this woman who looked like him, but was not his mother, while his real mother would walk behind, in the place of a servant. His father would walk on the other side of the street. And people accepted this. Because they saw what they expected to see, a colored woman with a colored child; a black servant; a white stranger; they were fine with it.

We see what we expect to see.

Two weeks ago, we met Nicodemus. An insider, a Pharisee, a religious authority, he came to Jesus at night, certain of who Jesus was. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” But Nicodemus would not or could not understand what Jesus said, and he left as much in the dark as he came.

Last week, we met an outsider, with at least three strikes against her. The wrong race and religion, the wrong gender, shamed in marriage not once but five times, the Samaritan woman at the well met Jesus in full daylight, at noon. And somehow, this outsider, this completely wrong person became the first evangelist, preaching to the people of her town, and bringing new disciples to Jesus using his own words, “Come and see!”

This week, we meet insiders and outsiders, all struggling with blindness turned to sight, with darkness turned to light; all struggling to reconcile the way that they thought the world worked, they way that they thought God worked, with this man from Galilee, who seems to be turning it all on its head.

The disciples set the stage: “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It would have been the common wisdom of the day. If someone is born blind, either God is visiting the iniquities of the parents upon the children to the third and fourth generation (as it says in Exodus). Or, following Ezekiel, who says, “a child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent,” they reason that the man himself must have sinned, perhaps even in the womb. And throughout the story, you can see this assumption lurking behind people’s words. The Pharisees even tell him, “you were born entirely in sins.” In any case, they know how God works; they know how the world works.

But you can see their dilemma – if this blindness is caused by sinning, then it could not be cured by sinning. Yet the man born blind claims that Jesus made mud on the Sabbath and used that to cure him. And making mud is work, which is forbidden on the Sabbath, so it’s sinful. How can Jesus do something sinful, and then use that sinful work to remove the sin that caused the blindness? It just doesn’t make sense!

The Pharisees aren’t being obstinate. They’re not being difficult. They just cannot understand how this could be, because it flies in the face of everything that they believe about sin, about judgment, about who is in and who is out. The fact that this man who was blind now can see has turned their world upside down. No wonder they keep hassling him to tell the story again. So much so that the man born blind even mocks them – “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Finally, in frustration, they drive the man out of the synagogue. They may not have answers, but they have their certainty. If this man’s sight calls their certainty into question – well, something’s gotta give. They would rather believe the evidence of their certainty than the evidence of their eyes. Who’s blind now?

We see what we want to see. We place labels before we know the truth. Thugs, hooligans, terrorists. We clutch our purse tighter. We cross to the other side of the street. We demand to know where someone is from. Only to find out that, though their skin is dark, though they do not fit our stereotype of “American,” their family has been here longer than ours. They are more “American,” whatever that means, than we.

We see what we want to see. We assume motivations and intentions, without asking. We take one person’s word over another’s, because it suits our assumptions. We break relationships rather than challenge our preconceived notions or what is real, who is in, who is out. We open our hearts, our tables, our doors to those who fit our idea of “Christian,” of “moral,” or “proper,” and risk missing out. Who’s blind now?

We have the same dilemma that the Pharisees had.

Either God works the way we want God to work – that is, the sinners are on the outside, like the blind man and the Samaritan woman at the well, and the saints are on the inside, like the Pharisees and Nicodemus – we understand how God works, and we maybe even have some control over how God works.

OR God is something wholly unexpected –blind men can see and sighted people grope about in the dark – God is doing the unexpected – reaching out to the outsiders and drawing them in.

In the gospel of John, this is what God is up to. In today’s story, Jesus shows up again at the end. After all the interrogations, after the name-calling and consternation, after the blind man is finally cast out of the synagogue for nothing more than stating the truth – “though I was blind, now I see” – Jesus comes and finds him. I picture him sitting in an alley, unsure what to do, having gained his sight but having lost his synagogue and his family and his friends. He’s leaning up against a wall, trying to understand everything that’s happened to him in the last couple days, and Jesus comes and finds him.

Because that’s what this story really tells us about. It’s not about whether we know how God works, or whether we are prepared to accept God’s miracles. It’s not about how we are insiders needing to reach out to outsiders, or we are outsiders who need acceptance by the insiders. It’s not about what we see.

It’s about God. God who comes to us – whether we are in the light or the dark; whether we are on the inside or the outside. Because really we’re both. We’re sinners and saints at the same time – constantly forgiven and constantly needing forgiveness.

Two weeks ago, we met Nicodemus – a sinner and a saint, who discovered just how much God loved the world. Last week, we met the Samaritan woman – a sinner and a saint, who encountered Jesus at a well, who was set free by Jesus’ love. This week, we meet a man born blind, who receives sight, and we meet Pharisees whose certainty becomes blindness – sinners and saints that Jesus finds, sinners and saints on whom Jesus shines his light.

Sinners and saints – that’s us – living constantly in the light and constantly in the dark. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Advertisements

The Basics

As a rule of thumb, people can live for three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food. These are the three most basic components we need to stay alive. Everything else is important, but without air, water, and food, we’re doomed.

So it struck me as an interesting experiment to think about the Scriptures through this basic fact. And just a quick survey showed me that, while I don’t imagine it will be the Rosetta Stone to open the entire Scriptures to us, it is at least one helpful lens. For example, the first thing that happens in the entire Bible is that a wind from God sweeps over the face of the waters. And the Hebrew word for wind and breath is the same word. So two of the first words in the entire bible are about water and air. And then one of the last things that we hear about in the story of Jesus and his disciples is that God sends the Holy Spirit to the disciples. And guess what? The word for Spirit is the same, both in Hebrew and Greek, as the word for wind or breath.

You can do the same thing with water and food, too. It’s a fun game to try at home! In any case, throughout the Bible, again and again, God provides water and food, and sends the Spirit to support, sustain, and inspire (ooh! there’s another double meaning word!).

For example, in the Exodus reading from this morning, the Israelites are wandering in the wilderness. In Egypt, they were captive, but they did know where their next meal was coming from. They had their basic needs met. And now they are on their own, in a desert. Facing death. They blame Moses. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” But God provides. The same is true in the story just before this one – when the people cry out for food, God provides. These Israelites have broken free from their moorings, left behind everything they have known, have no idea how to live in freedom, not even how to get their own food and water, or how to find their way across the wilderness. And God has sent them what they need – manna from heaven, water from a rock, and the Spirit to guide them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Air. Food. Water. To show them that they can trust this God.

In the Book of John, these things come up over and over again as well. Water to wine at Cana. Last week’s conversation with Nicodemus, about being born of water and spirit. Today’s conversation at the well. Stories about feeding multitudes, or just reclining at the table with friends. Living water, bread of life, the lamb of God, the true vine – all point to these basic necessities – air, water, food. And the God who we can trust to provide them.

A professor of mine, Karoline Lewis, is an expert on the Gospel of John, and she likes to say that, just because a story mentions water doesn’t mean it’s about baptism, and just because a story mentions food doesn’t mean it’s about the Lord’s Supper. But, just because this story of the Samaritan woman at the well is not about baptism doesn’t mean that we can’t make a connection. Because what this story is about is relationship and belonging. Which is also what baptism is about.

First, a word about Samaritans and this nameless woman at the well. The Jews of Judea,

consider Samaritans to be half-breeds, descendants of invading armies and Israelite farmers too unimportant that be driven into exile. Samaritans worshiped Yahweh, but they only acknowledged the first 5 books of the Bible. And their version said that Mt. Gerazim in Samaria was the proper place to worship God, not Jerusalem in Judea. Only 150 years before Jesus’ time, the high priest of Jerusalem had burned the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerazim. As far as the Jews were concerned, Samaritans were impure, unclean, and to be completely avoided. Most Jews travelled around Samaria completely. But Jesus, remember, “had to” go through Samaria. And now here he is, talking to a Samaritan woman, completely violating about a hundred different rules.

And not only is she Samaritan and female, but she is so much an outsider, that she comes to the well at a time when no one else will be there. She is so alone, so outcast, that not even this most basic drudging chore receives the relief of community.

But let’s not jump to conclusions. I know the traditional reading is to assume that this woman is a prostitute or a serial adulterer. But the text does not say that, and at no time does Jesus call her a sinner, invite her to repentance, or even speak of forgiveness. There are many reasons within the law why this woman may have been in this situation, without it being exactly her fault. She may have been lawfully divorced by unfaithful men, or because she was barren, or simply because she dropped a casserole dish; she may have been widowed 5 times; she may have been forced to live with the brother of her deceased husband without being married to him, in order to continue the family line. She may be living with a brother or another male relative who is caring for her in the absence of a husband.

Whatever the case, since Jesus does not draw conclusions about her sinfulness, neither should we.

What we can say is that she is likely to be shunned by her neighbors. At best, she is unlucky, at worst, she is being punished. Either way, we can safely imagine that things are not going well for her, and that she is not used to being treated kindly or fairly. She is not used to being seen as worthy. She does not belong.

And so she comes to the well, with nothing but an empty water jar, and a sense of need. This nameless woman brings with her shame, worry, fear; she may carry grief, or horror, or guilt. Whatever she carries, Jesus welcomes her, and offers us what she most needs, what is most basic. Water. Living water. Which in the Book of John, in the Bible as a whole, is code for relationship.

How do I know that this is really about relationship? Well, for one thing, it happens at a well. Which, in the Bible, means something. It’s a set-piece. Like, for instance, in the first scene of a romantic comedy, the two characters who have an awkward meeting, like they come around a corner and bump into each other and spill everything, or they hate each other at first, you know those two are the ones that are going to end up getting together at the end, right? Well, in the Bible, when a man and a woman meet at a well, they get married.

Now, I’m not saying that Jesus is looking to marry this woman. But there is something in her life that has not been fulfilled, a relationship that she has not been able to resolve, and it has apparently subjected her to some level of dishonor. She has been pushed to the outside of the outsider group, reduced to a solitary life, forced to do her chores in the heat of the day to avoid the rest of the town. And here at this well is a man who sees immediately to the heart of her sorrow, sees her for who she is. So she asks this prophet the same question the Israelites ask in the wilderness. Where is God when I need God? Is God trustworthy? Will God come through? Is the Lord among us or not? Is God here on this mountain, or there on that one?

And Jesus’ answer is, neither. God is standing right here in front of you. “I am,” he says, revealing and claiming the name of God as his very own. I AM. You don’t need to climb some mountain to find God. When you need God, God is here. You do not need to go looking for God in the city or the wilderness or the Temple. Is the Lord among us or not? I AM, says Jesus.

I AM the living water, I AM the bread of life, I AM in the basic necessities, meeting you in water, meeting you in bread and wine, meeting you in the very air you breathe. Meeting you in the gathering of the people, and drawing you into the life of God, into the Body of Christ, into belonging. Into relationship.

This is what Jesus offers the woman, what Jesus offers you. Relationship. Acceptance. Belonging. You don’t have to prove yourself worthy, sinless, capable. You don’t have to buy anything or like the right music or wear the right clothes. You are simply invited to bring whatever you carry, and then leave it there at the well, just as this Samaritan woman left her water jar.

That’s how excited she was, how amazed she was. She came to the well in the middle of the day to avoid everyone in town, carrying all her shame and all their judgements. And there was Jesus, offering her the most basic thing she needed – living water. Relationship. And she was so excited, she left all of that stuff she carried with her, left her jar and ran back to the very people she had been trying to avoid, anxious to share what she had found. Anxious to bring them, even these people who have shunned her and shamed her, to witness this living water, to meet this God they could trust to provide. To be in relationship with the living God.

Each week we gather to ask a simple question. A simple, very difficult, sometimes painful question. Is the Lord among us or not? It can be hard to tell, through all of our needs, through our thirst and our hunger. It can be hard to tell, so distracted are we by all that we are carrying. Is the Lord among us or not? And each week, Jesus meets us at the well. Right here. With water, wine, and word. With relationship. Ready to accept us as we are, so that we will drop our burdens and run out to the world, proclaiming the good news. Come and see!

Talking Past One Another

This is one of the most familiar passages in Scripture. It contains possibly the most well-known verse in the New Testament, at least to people who watch football games where guys in rainbow wigs hold signs that say “John 3:16.” And I’ll get to that in a few minutes. But first, I want to talk about this conversation. Because, of all there is to say about this story, what strikes me the most when I read it this time is this conversation, where two thoughtful, well-meaning, intelligent men sit down to talk about something they both care deeply about, and they find they cannot understand one another. At. All.

At every turn in this conversation, Jesus means one thing and Nicodemus means another. In the Greek and the English, there are double meanings throughout this dialogue. The Greek is especially tricky, though. The word that we have translated here as “from above” actually means both “from above” and “again” at the same time. It’s not that it means one or the other depending on the context. It’s that it means both things. Where we have two words, “wind” and “Spirit,” the Greek has only one word, and the same is true with “voice” and “sound,” so that there is a play on words in verses 6, 7, and 8 that we don’t get in the English, but that surely makes Nicodemus’ head spin.

And that’s not even getting into the various possible understandings of what is meant by water, flesh, spirit, birth, or Kingdom of God. All of these words and phrases are open to interpretation and confusion, before we even get to verse 16, the verse that so many believe central to their eternal salvation, and that of others, so that they will use it as a litmus test, “do you believe? are you in or are you out?” assuming that everything Jesus ever said stands or falls on this one sentence.

So let’s look more closely at that sentence. John 3:16. There is a lot to unpack there, and entire dissertations have been written on it. What’s more, it has become a go-to verse for much of American Christianity, a way of determining who is in and who is out, who is saved and who is not. Whoever believes, according to this interpretation, is in, is saved, is worthy. Whoever does not believe is not. But what if, like Nicodemus, we have been talking past Jesus all this time, misunderstanding his meaning, hearing what we want to hear, and missing what Jesus is really saying? What if there is more going on here than just a flat-footed statement about who is in and who is out? What if this word of Jesus is actually good news?

For God so loved the world. Let’s start there. God so loved the world. The Greek word for world there is kosmos. Yes, the same word as the Carl Sagan show. And while that word can mean “everything that is in the universe,” what the author of John means by it, over and over again throughout the Gospel, is the parts of the world, and more specifically the humans, that stand opposed to Jesus and God’s purpose in the world. In other words, that first part of the sentence could be translated as “For God so loved those that opposed God.” So this is not about a blanket statement of love for everyone and everything (that comes elsewhere, to be sure, but not right here). It is about how much God works for those who work against God. God loves those who oppose God so much that God gave God’s only son to be born among them, to dwell among them, as John says in the first verses of the Gospel.

For God so loved those that opposed God, that God gave the only Son, so that everyone who believes in him. Everyone who believes in him. Here is another point where we get tripped up. This word believe, in English, it has to do with an intellectual assent to what someone is saying. A theory is proposed, and we decide whether or not we will believe it, based on the evidence that is presented. Someone who is persuasive enough with their argument will win us over to their theory, and we will believe it, so that it becomes a part of our way of acting in and interpreting the world around us. But believing someone does not necessarily lead us into a relationship with that person. If anything, it is more about a relationship with an idea.

But Jesus is not an idea. And the word that is here rendered as “believe,” the word pistis in Greek, is elsewhere translated as “trust.” Look at Romans. There in verse 5, “But to one who without works trusts,” that’s the same word. In fact, that word pistis appears at least 8 times in that passage, and is translated as believe, faith, and trust. In this passage, it is a word about relationship. It is a word about how Abraham entered into a relationship with God, and how God was true to that relationship, and invites others, us, into a similar relationship ,“to all those who share the faith of Abraham,” or to all those who share the pistis of Abraham, who share the trust of Abraham. In the Greek Old Testament, this word is most often “trust” or “support” or even “to foster as a parent.” That’s a word about relationship. In Greek mythology, the word Pistis was the personification of trust, of good faith, or reliability. Trust. This is a word about relationship. This is a word about setting aside my presuppositions, my agenda, my need to be right about every detail, and simply having faith that the person across from me is working for my good, just as I am working for hers.

For God so loved those who opposed God, that God gave the only Son, so that those who trust him may not perish but have eternal life. To my ear, that changes this whole passage. It is no longer about drawing the lines and deciding whether I qualify for God’s club. It is no longer about my ability to understand Jesus’ confusing propositions and doublespeak well enough to make an intellectual leap to endorse Jesus’ position and candidacy for world-savior. Instead it is about a relationship. About a personal engagement with this incarnation of God’s Word, the same Word that brought this whole creation into being, including the kosmos that stands against God and Jesus. The same incarnate Word that shines as a light in the darkness, and reaches out in love to the ones who don’t understand him, including Nicodemus, including the Samaritan woman next week, including the Pharisees in the Temple, including me. Including you.

There’s another place where we use this word pistis every week, though we don’t realize it. The creed that we say before the prayers. Each week, we say either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, and both of those were originally written in Greek, and both of those begin with a form of the word pistis. And while we have always translated it as “believe,” think about how it would be to use the word “trust.” Open your bulletin and try it with me, substituting “trust” for “believe.”

I trust in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I trust in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I trust in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

It’s different, isn’t it? More about the relationship, and less about deciding what is factually correct, what is provable. Less about who is in and who is out. More about who is trusted. Who is grounding us. Who is holding us fast. And this is what Jesus invites us into. Not an intellectual argument about how we can construct the best path to God, how we can build the best ladder up to heaven. Instead, this is a God who has come down to us, to be in relationship with us. To invite us to trust.To dwell among us, not just near us, but among us, right in the messy middle of our relationships, so that we can not only trust God, but so that we can trust one another.

Now more than ever, we can relate to what it’s like to sit down with someone we love, someone we think we agree with on so many things, only to discover that we are talking past one another. That our basic assumptions are not so basic. That we cannot even begin to understand one another. At. All. We are beginning to buy into the idea that we must agree with one another 100%, just to be in relationship. That our intellectual assent must extend, not only to earning our salvation and our ticket into God’s kingdom, but also to the members of our family, our congregation, and our community. We talk past one another and become frustrated, and it becomes painful and so we just drop out. We surround ourselves with people who agree with us. Online, at home, at church, in social groups, we find ourselves more and more isolated in our echo chambers, because we simply cannot understand how someone can believe differently.

And then here is this God, who has come into the world, not just to save it, but to love it. To love those who stand against God. To show us how to love those who stand against us, and to teach us to trust, even when we don’t understand. But this God does not just come to serve as an example, but to dwell among us. To sit in the middle of our relationships, even and especially when they become fraught with distrust and disharmony. This God has come to be the mediator of our conversations, to not just demonstrate the trust we need, but to become the trust we need, to bring us the faith, the trust, the support, the love that we cannot muster for ourselves. In the cross and resurrection, Jesus overcame death and the grave, but also those things that lead us to death and the grave. Those things that stand in the way of eternal and abundant life. Those things that make us unable to sustain relationship, to understand one another, to trust even when we cannot comprehend.

In Christ we are free. Free to trust God. Free to trust one another. In Christ we are equipped to reach across boundaries, to embrace even those we do not understand, and to welcome all, exactly as they are to the feast of love that God has prepared for the entire for us. For you. For me. For uncle Bob who voted for Trump. For cousin Jo who voted for Hillary. For the Muslim neighbor, for the Jewish neighbor, for the Missouri Synod neighbor, for the Catholic neighbor, for the agnostic and the atheist neighbor. For the neighbor who dumps their leaves over the fence. For each and every one of us. For the whole world, for the whole kosmos.

On the Cobblestones

In my hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, there are several streets that have been left as they were originally built in the colonial days, as cobblestone streets. They’re beautiful, intriguing, even kind of fun. But they are also really difficult to walk on. You cannot wear high heels on them. You’ll break an ankle. they’re treacherous enough with tennis shoes on. And when they’re wet, forget it.

I haven’t spent a lot of time in the wilderness in my life. I’m mostly a city girl. But I have spent a lot of time on cobblestones. I haven’t faced massive temptations like the ones that Jesus faced. My temptations and stumbling blocks have not been to turn stones to bread or to throw myself from the temple or rule nations. They have been much smaller, much more commonplace. They have been the cobblestones in an otherwise beautiful and intriguing path, one that I have been happy and even fortunate to walk. But just because they have not been on a par with Jesus’ wilderness journey, it does not mean that they have been unimportant. They have been part of my daily walk. Some days the cobblestones all but disappear, and the path smooths out  for a while. Other days, I can barely clamber over them.

We all have our unique paths. Whether it’s a cobblestone street or a country lane or a path through the wilderness, we all find obstacles and temptations in our way. We all reach deadness where we cannot imagine how our path will go forward from here; or crossroads where we must make impossible choices. Some of our paths go up mountainsides, and some are windy and twisting and we feel like were are taking those turns too fast for our comfort, out of control and dizzy with the speed at which life is coming at us. Some of our paths stretch out in the distance, branching with endless possibilities, while some of us find ourselves approaching the end of our journey, as the path wears away beneath our feet.

Whatever our path, it often feels daunting, even when it is beautiful. It feels like we are the first ones to face these obstacles, like I am the only one ever to have stumbled, ever to have been tempted to wander. Everyone else seems to be living perfectly – Facebook pictures of them enjoying their perfect lives and their perfect families and their perfect vacations leave me wondering what I missed. How have I failed to get everything together by age 45? I can’t even keep the living room clean, much less post pictures of a perfect life. I feel most of the time like I am skating on cobblestones, struggling for balance, always about to turn an ankle, while everyone else is calmly traipsing down their garden-path lives.

Yet here is Jesus, of all people, driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit. Driven to face obstacles and temptations, to feel alone and abandoned, to walk the stumbling path that every person walks.

We tend to think of this episode as a once and done chapter of Jesus’ life. Out he goes into the wilderness to prove himself worthy, avoid temptations, and then head back to do the rest of his work. But these temptations set the tone for the rest of his ministry. They are not over when he walks out of that desert. Like the rest of us, Jesus’ path has recurring obstacles, and each one builds on and informs the next , and like the rest of us, Jesus looks back over his path and learns from his past. Today he refuses to turn the stones into bread for himself, but soon he will feed thousands with a few loaves and some fish, and teach his disciples to rely on God for their daily bread. Today he refuses to test God by throwing himself off the Temple, but soon he will trust God all the way to the cross and the grave. Today he refuses to worship the devil to win earthly kingdoms, but soon he will win the Kingdom of heaven by surrendering earthly power. Jesus’ road through the desert is a road that prepares him for the work that is to come. It is not proof that he is a super-human who is better at resisting temptations than the rest of us. It is actually proof that he is fully human; that he needs to learn like the rest of us; that he has to struggle with what it means to walk this path and live this life, having been named and claimed by God and sent out into this wilderness of a world.

Because that’s where this story starts. Like yours. With God’s blessing. The line just before this story starts, the line we didn’t read today, is the last line of chapter 3, that we read way back at the beginning of Epiphany, the line that was echoed in last week’s story of the Transfiguration: “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” After Jesus had been baptized, he came up out of the water, the heavens opened, and a voice said, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Then immediately, Jesus was led out by the Spirit into the wilderness. But first, the blessing.

In fact, none of us begins without blessing. Adam and Eve, for all their stumbling, begin with blessing, with the gift of a garden and God’s commission to care for creation. And still they stumble. Still they seek their own path and their own desires. Blessing doesn’t mean that we won’t mess up. Being God’s beloved doesn’t eliminate sin. It doesn’t wipe out the stumbling blocks, or iron out the road so that it runs smooth and clear ahead of us. It simply names and claims all of our road as blessed, as beloved, as God’s.

Which means that we can walk that path, and stumble. Without worrying about whether God will abandon us out there in the wilderness. God will not. We can step onto the cobblestones, and take a risk. When the stones are slippery, or we reach a crossroads, or even a dead end, when the path disappears in the mist, or the mountain seems too steep to climb, we can still risk taking the next step. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

This is what it is to be named and claimed as God’s own child. You have been named beloved, not because of your ability to navigate the path perfectly, but precisely because God knows that you will stumble, that you will fall, that you will wander and get lost. So God has clipped a tether on you, and will hang on to you wherever that path leads. And God will gently call your name and pull you back, so that you can continue on your journey.

We all go into the wilderness. We all live in this world, where divisions and hatred and death seem to have the final word. We all face loss, grief, pain, shame, temptation, things that darken our path or rise up to block our way, the cobblestones that threaten to bring us down. But our trail has been blazed for us. God has come into this world, has become one of us, to go ahead of us and light the way. And God has sent us with a name emblazoned on our hearts. Beloved child of God. I’ll leave you today with this poem by Jan Richardson, “Beloved is Where We Begin.”