Saturday, November 21, 2009

Life if Beautiful: A Spiritual Perspective on Thanksgiving

(Read Luke 17:11-19 and Philippians 4:4-9)

Life is Beautiful. This is the name of an Italian film which was released in America in 1998 and won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film, as well as Best Actor.

Life is Beautiful begins as a whimsical, slapstick, romantic comedy. Guido, an Italian Jew, is a happy guy, wearing a big grin on his face, playing silly jokes on people, and trying to win the love of a woman named, Dora. Robert Benigni, who plays Guido in the film and who won the Best Actor Academy Award, sets the tone for this movie with his jovial, fun-loving, and kind –hearted personality.

But somewhere along the line, after Guido has won Dora’s heart, after they have had a son named, Giosue (Joshua), the circumstances of the whole family’s life turn from good to bad. You see, Life is Beautiful is set in Italy during World War II. And since Guido and Giosue are Jewish, they are arrested and taken to a concentration camp. Dora, though not Jewish, insists on going with her family when they are taken captive.

You would think that the tone of the film would change dramatically at this point, and I suppose a sort of melancholy or sadness does arise. But Guido remains the same loving, laughing, spirited guy. The title of the film, Life is Beautiful, becomes ironic as Guido tries to protect his son from the ugly realities of life in a concentration camp.

What Guido does, you see, is keep Giosue with him at the concentration camp, hiding him from the Nazi guards and sneaking him food. Guido convinces Giosue that the camp is just a game, in which the first person to get 1,000 points wins a tank. He tells Giosue that if he cries, complains that he wants his mother or complains that he is hungry, he will lose points, while quiet boys who hide from the camp guards continue to earn points. Guido convinces Giosue that the camp guards are mean because they want the tank for themselves and that all the other children are hiding in order to win the game. Despite being surrounded by rampant death and sickness, Giosue does not question the fictional reality his father constructs because of Guido’s convincing performance and the boy’s own innocence (partially quoted from wikipedia entry).

Guido maintains this story right until the end, when—in the chaos caused by the American advance–he tells Giosue to stay in a sweatbox until everybody has left, this being the final test before they will win the tank. After trying to find Dora, Guido is caught, taken away and shot by a Nazi guard, but not before making his son laugh one last time by imitating the Nazi guard as if the two of them are marching around the camp together. Giosue manages to survive and thinks he has won the game when an American tank arrives to liberate the camp. He is reunited with his mother, not knowing that his father has died. Years later, Giosue realizes the sacrifice his father made for him and how he kept him alive and happy even in the worst situation imaginable. (wikipedia entry).

This movie offers a perspective on life that many people would consider inconceivable: that life is beautiful even amidst tragedy.

When you think about it, perspective makes all the difference in life. Yes, life is filled with sin and sickness and suffering, with pain and cruelty, but it is still beautiful. Life is still filled with love. There are always people to care for and be with. There are always flowers to smell and songs to sing. There is always air to breathe, a heart with which to feel, and a spirit that wants to live and soar.

In the Gospel of Luke, nine lepers took what God had to give, and they literally ran away with it. By healing them, Jesus reintegrates these lepers into a society which had thrown them out, giving them a new lease on life. They run to the priests, as Jesus instructed, to receive their welcome back into society, but they do not come back to give thanks for what God has done.

“Where are they?” Jesus said. “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God?”

The Samaritan leper who returns to thank Jesus and praise God, he is the only one with an attitude of gratitude, the only one with the right perspective. He has the understanding necessary to truly appreciate life. All ten of the lepers were cured of their disease, but only the one who returns is truly made well. Only he is able to rejoice completely, in body, mind and spirit, with all that he is.

My friends, we are designed, we are created to rejoice and appreciate life. Life is beautiful. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phillipians 4:4).

Philipians 4 says, “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The holiday of Thanksgiving is upon us, and it is such an important spiritual holiday because it is one way of resisting all the worry and fear that we live with on a regular basis. For one day, we focus on the positive and not the negative. We focus on the blessing and the abundance. We celebrate what we have, instead of striving for something more. We allow ourselves the luxury of being content. For one day, we focus on all that is good in our lives, how life is beautiful, and let the troubles we normally give so much thought to fade into the background.

Thanksgiving is more than a day of the year though; thanksgiving is a perspective on life. Thanksgiving is an attitude. It’s a way of living; it is a way of looking at life and seeing that God has blessed us. To put those blessings at the forefront of our minds instead of taking them for granted is the point of giving thanks.

An attitude of gratitude or an attitude of thanksgiving keeps our eyes open to God’s goodness and presence in the world.

Tonight I encourage you to accept Paul’s challenging invitation in Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Don’t dwell on what is wrong in your life or with another person, but on what is right in your life and admirable in another person. Don’t fantasize about a life that you don’t have, but embrace what you do have. Don’t try to change what another person is feeling, but honor who they are and where they are at.

Most of all, don’t look at life and concentrate on the suffering. Look at life and see that life is beautiful, that heaven is all around.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's Your Salvation Story?

(Read Mark 2:13-17, Matthew 11:1-6 and Isaiah 61:1-4)

If Jesus were still alive, on any given night, where do you think he would be hanging out? At Cozimos on Route 9, where you can barely find a parking spot, eating wood-oven pizzas? At the Danbury Plaza ballroom, where Grace James, a female, Pentecostal minister, who looks like Dolly Parton but with black hair and dressed all in black, is shooting the Holy Spirit into people, healing in Christ’s name? Or in the living room of some ordinary family, where television and alcohol are the primary sources of entertainment?

The truth is, Jesus is in all of those places. Wherever people are sick and suffering, wherever people are sinning, wherever people are searching for healing, that’s where Jesus is.

The Pharisees were surprised to find Jesus at Levi’s (Matthew’s) house. Surprised because it seemed like he was keeping unworthy company. They asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 11:16).

Jesus overhears the question and responds by saying, this is where I need to be. Or in his exact words: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." (Matthew 11:17).

And there we have it. Jesus Christ, who is the Living Lord, dwelling among us, is present amongst those who are in need. He doesn’t play it safe, hiding from the problems of life. He enters right in, penetrating into the heart of all that matters, offering comfort, healing and redemption.

One of my concerns with Christian language and theology is its emphasis on sin as the umbrella description of the human problem. I have no problem admitting that I am a sinner in need of forgiveness, but that’s not my only problem, that’s not your only problem.

Marcus Borg, an excellent contemporary Professor of Religon and Culture at Oregon State University, in his book, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, writes: “[Our] problem is not simply that we have been bad and have rebelled against God [aka. sinned], but that we are blind, estranged, lost, in exile, self-centered, wounded, sick, paralyzed, in bondage, grasping, and so forth” (pg. 169-70).

Sin is a part of what you and I struggle with on a daily basis, but it’s not the one-size-fits all designator of our human condition. We also struggle with being confused and not knowing what to do. We also struggle with trying to love people who don’t love us back in the way we need them to. We also struggle with fear so deeply entrenched in our hearts that our entire perception of reality is distorted in some way, making us timid and defensive instead of confident and trusting.

Borg writes, “When sin becomes the one-size-fits-all designator of the human condition, then forgiveness becomes the one-size-fits-all remedy. And this is [a] problem. [Because] If the issue is blindness, what we need is not forgiveness, but sight. If the issue is bondage, what we need is not forgiveness, but liberation.” “If we are in exile, we need to return; if we have closed hearts, we need to have our hearts opened; if we hunger and thirst, we need food and drink; if we are lost, we need a way, we need to be found” (pg. 168).

I chose today’s Scriptures so you would see very clearly who Jesus of Nazareth is, what he did in his earthly ministry, and what he can or is doing in our lives. Isaiah, a great prophet of Israel, testified that one anointed by God would come out of the house of David to “bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).

John the Baptist, who was called to prepare the way for the anointed one (Messiah) that Isaiah prophesized about, baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. And “When John heard in prison what [Jesus] was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:2-5).

Jesus was, and is, a healer and redeemer. He came, and continues to come, to mend our brokenness.

I want to show you a video that witnesses to the power God has in people’s lives. The Bible is filled with stories of a God who saves, and this video is filled with the stories of people like you and me, who have unique journeys of how they went from being sick to healthy, of how they went from being lost to found. As you watch the video, think of how Jesus might enter in, or has entered in, to your life. How would you describe your salvation story?

Watch Video. For those of you who can’t, here is a description: One person after another came forward on a stage carrying their own posterboard, with a word written on the front and a different word on the back. They would stand up and show the first word, and then slowly but surely, flip the board over to show the second. And in just those two words, or maybe two short phrases, these people, these children of God, were witnessing to their unique faith journeys, and the grace, love and mercy that they have known in God.

The poster board would say on one side: hurting; on the other: healed.
On one side: Addicted; on the other side: set free
On one side: Angry; on the other: peaceful.

The people kept coming with their testimonies.

Bitter turned to Gentle.
Despairing. Grateful.
Slave. Servant.
Dead. Alive.
Tortured. Loved.
Desperate. Saved.
Sinner. Forgiven.
Broken. Whole.

Isn’t that an amazing testimony? Do you see what God has done for these people? Every single one of us has or can have a testimony like that. What Jesus did for the sinners and tax collectors 2000 years ago, what God did for those people in the video, the Spirit is doing for us today.

We all have a story, and our happy ending, our salvation, begins by inviting God into our lives to help us. Surrender. Be lead. It’s not easy because it requires you to be vulnerable, to open yourself up.

When God heals us, it often makes us uncomfortable because we are being challenged to be different than we have been before. That’s always a foreign, awkward feeling. It will be uncomfortable and challenging when God puts in your life what you so deeply need.

Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” We have to be willing to think, act and speak different than we always have.

Don’t be insane. Be faithful. This morning I invite you to surrender to God and let real healing and transformation into your lives. Go to that new place and let Christ come with you.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Loyalty

(Read Ruth 1:1-18)

When Elimelech and his sons die, Naomi is left with practically nothing. Her husband and her sons were her security, her protection, her fortune. I say practically nothing because she was left with two daughter-in-laws. But really, that’s just added pressure. Now, there are three women who are lacking security, protection and fortune. That’s how it was in those days.

Naomi decides to head back to Judah, where she is from, but she encourages her daughter-in-laws, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house…The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband” (Ruth 1:8-9). Naomi is telling them to return home and find new husbands to take care of them. Orpah wants this for herself, and she returns to her mother’s house in Moab. Ruth, on the other hand, chooses to remain with Naomi. She puts Naomi’s well-being before her own. Or maybe Ruth believes that her well-being is intertwined with Naomi’s well-being.

For the moment anyway, the truth is, Naomi is not doing well at all. She could use Ruth’s support. Naomi feels abandoned by her husband, her sons and God. “It has been far more bitter for me than for you,” she says, “because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.”

I have great compassion for Naomi. The word "compassion" means to suffer with. Think of her heart-break. She is a widow. She has lost not one, but two children. She is living in a foreign land.

As I was thinking about Naomi’s suffering and trying to enter into her story, I couldn’t help but think of so many others who are suffering right now. The families of the 13 victims who were killed at Fort Hood. My friend’s mother who has lung cancer, and to make matters worse, fell and fractured her hip a few days ago. Now, she has to have surgery. All the adults, and especially the children, who have swine flu and are in the hospital.

People are sick, not just in body, but also in mind and heart and spirit. You have to be sick somehow to go on a shooting spree and hurt so many people.

Just think about our church family, and how many people need prayer, and for all the different reasons. The world needs a lot of love and healing right now. What can we do? How can we love and heal each other?

I think Ruth shows us a way that we can make a difference in each other’s lives. Those of us who are healthy and well need to stick by those of us who are hurting and sick. May a renewed sense of loyalty rise up among God's people.

Lately, I have been talking a lot about your future, saying things like: God has a plan for you, a vision for your life. Continually you are being encouraged, invited to join together with God in the process of your own healing and transformation so that you will mature spiritually and spread the love and light of Christ in this world.

Today, in light of Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, I would like to suggest that the unfolding of your future is intertwined with the unfolding of someone else’s future. It could be a friend or a total stranger. Most likely, it’s a member of your family. Whomever it is, consider that what your life might be about right now is helping someone else get through their life.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends” (John 15:13). To lay down one’s life for another could be referring to a soldier in the war or a martyr in the faith. Or it could be referring to you putting yourself second for someone that you love. It could mean scrapping your individual agenda and sticking with someone who needs someone to stick with them. That someone could be you. Greater love has no one than this, than to set aside your own life for your friend’s life.

It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s certainly not always fun for you, but it could mean all the difference in the world to someone who is suffering. And that is noble and a reason to live.

I know a woman named Beth with a great personality, filled with vim and vigor, filled with Spirit. She worked very hard in her life to become a principal at a school. Many years ago she was diagnosed with MS. She remained active and worked for a couple of years, but now she is to the point that she can’t leave the house very often and the wheel chair almost never. She struggles with a sense of purpose and feels isolated from the world.

But she’s got two things going for her that make life better, that make life worth living. A Yorkshire terrier named Tabitha with golden ears and a black button nose who doesn’t leave her side, and a husband named Peter who has become her companion and friend. As Beth tells the story, Peter wasn’t always her companion and friend. Earlier in their marriage, work, fishing and baseball were his priorities. But since Beth’s illness has progressed, Peter has taken an increasing interest in her as a person and in their relationship. They love to play Risk together, of all games. They rented and watched every movie that has won the Academy Award for Best Picture starting with the first, Wings, in 1927 all the way to Slumdog Millionaire in 2008.

Peter gets weary sometimes. He wishes they could travel more. He worries about Beth falling when she transfers. But he also knows that he’s not the one living with MS. He’s not the one who can’t walk anymore and whose mind gets fuzzy from the medications. In fact, Peter took up hiking as a way to thank God that his legs still work.

I respect Peter. I am proud of what he is doing with and for his wife. Not all husbands would. Not all wives or sons or daughters would.

In the Bible story we heard today, I respect Ruth as well. Even with uncertainty before her, even with a long life yet ahead of her, Ruth sticks with Naomi who is in a really difficult situation. She is loyal, faithful, steadfast. When Naomi tells Ruth to go her own way, Ruth says, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die-there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17).

What powerful words. What devotion.

I have never been in a dire situation like Beth’s or Naomi’s, but I have been through some rough times, and I know what it’s like to have people be there for me. It’s the most loving, comforting, reassuring feeling in the world. And I know that if I lost it all, my health, my direction, my financial security, my employment—there are people who would be there for me no matter what, who would pick me up if I fall, feed me if I’m hungry, house me if I’m homeless, cheer me on if I’m depressed.

I am incredibly grateful for those people in my life.

I pray that you have such people in your life.

And on top of that, I pray that we can be that person for someone else. That we can be the loyal ones, that we can be the ones to sacrifice our life for a period of time in order to make someone else’s life better.

When I was looking up the definition of the term loyal, the word faithful kept coming up. And so the last thing I want to say is that, no matter what side we are on, whether we need help or if we are giving help, we all can rely and get strength from a faithful God.

The testimony to God that is the Hebrew Scriptures uses the words “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” in reference to God upwards of 150 times. Whatever we go through, we know that God is on our side, bearing our pain with us, picking us up when we fall, carrying us when we cannot walk.

May we all rely upon the One who is eternally loyal, eternally faithful to us.
And may we be a reflection of the faithful One, laying down our lives for one another
in this world.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Born of water and Spirit

(Read John 3:1-17 and Romans 8:12-17)

None of us exists in isolation. We live in community. We all affect each others lives. You are who you are because of who you relate to and how you relate to them. I am who I am because of who I relate to and how I relate to them.

Relationships have the potential to heal and bring joy to our lives. They also have the potential to harm and bring suffering to our lives.

I am always saddened when I hear stories and statistics of domestic abuse and child abuse. The family is supposed to be the safest place in a society, the place where one is loved and nurtured, but according to the Department of Justice, over 2 million men and women are assaulted by their intimate partner every year. Twenty percent of nonfatal, violent crime perpetrated against women happens in the home (http://www.abanet.org/domviol/statistics.html), and at least half of those women have children under the age of 12 in their home. “A recent study of low-income pre-school children in Michigan found that nearly half (46.7 percent) of the children in the study had been exposed to at least one incident of mild or severe violence in the family. Children who had been exposed to violence suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as bed-wetting or nightmares, and were at greater risk than their peers of having allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal problems, headaches and flu” (Sandra Graham-Bermann & Julie Seng, Violence Exposure and Traumatic Stress Symptoms as Additional Predictors of Health Problems in High-Risk Children, 146 J. of Pediatrics 309 (2005) http://www.abanet.org/domviol/statistics.html#children).

When it comes to relationships, abuse is at the furthest end of the spectrum. The way God does not want it to be. It’s what we want to eradicate. As we move along the continuum, we hope that relationships become more healthy and loving to the point that it is in our relationships with each other that we find our fullest and highest expression of ourselves. It is when “we” are together that you not only feel safe as a person, but that you are built up as a person. It is in our life together that you find the courage and commitment to live into your calling as a child of God.

Human beings are created in the imago dei, which is latin for “the image of God.” This means that we are to reflect who God is in our lives. Christians often discuss this in terms of being like Jesus, but today, I would like us to think about how being created in the image of the triune God impacts our life. While the word “Trinity” never appears in the Bible, it is one of the unique Christian claims about who God is in God’s own being. The word “Trinity” may not appear in the Bible, but the concept of God existing as a Creator, a Father, a Messiah, a Son, a Spirit, the Breath of Life does occur over and over again throughout the Old and New Testaments. It is Christianity’s unique claim that we believe in one God existing in three persons, often referred to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit or, in more inclusive language, the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. The readings today from John 3 and Romans 8 are two passages that mention all three persons of the Trinity within just a few verses.

What Scripture and Christian theology tell us about God is that God is relational within God’s own being. The Creator of heaven and earth, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have a shared, communal life together in which they all play a distinct role. The Trinity exemplifies two ways that we can reflect the imago dei, and the point of this is to move our relationships away from the end of the spectrum that is harmful to the other end, in which our relationships are edifying. First, we are called to exist in relationships of mutual, self-giving love, and second, at the same time, each of us is called to become a distinct, unique person, to live into God’s vision of who you, and you alone, are created to be.

Let me explain this a little more fully:

The persons of the Trinity have a relationship that is one of mutual self-giving on our behalf. The Father/Creator poured out his love to create the universe and all that dwells within it. The Son/Jesus gave his life to save humanity of our sin and put us in right relationship with God. And the Holy Spirit/Spirit of Life gives us its power, guidance and comfort so that we might be transformed and become the children of God we are created to be. In this way, the individual persons of the Trinity work together, giving freely of themselves for the creation and redemption of the world.

Even as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are bound together in relationship, inter-connected and inter-dependent on each other, giving and taking from each other, each person of the Trinity remains distinct. No matter what they give or how closely they work together, they never morph one into the other. No matter how much love the Father pours out, he remains the Father. Even though Jesus sacrificed his life, he remains Jesus of Nazareth. And no matter how much power the Spirit sends out, it remains the Holy Spirit.

Now, how can we best reflect these two aspects of the Triune God?

1. We are to exist in relationships of mutual self-giving, and in order for these relationships to be healthy, the mutual self-giving needs to be balanced.
Relationships in which I try for you, and you try equally for me. I offer to you, and you offer equally to me.

This means that when you are in a relationship, if you give and give, but receive much less than you give, then that relationship is out of balance and does not adequately reflect who God is calling us to be in our shared life together. The same is true if you are receiving and receiving, but not giving back in mutual support.

Think of the most important relationships in your life or the relationships that are affecting you most. Are they balanced? And if not, try to figure out what the problem is. Does one person have too much power? Is one person overly needy? Etc. We have to be careful with each other in all of our give and take so that we don’t get out of balance. And if and when we do find ourselves in a particular relationship that is out of balance, it is necessary for us to work towards restructuring that relationship if we ever want it to be a holy, life-enhancing relationship.

2. The second way we reflect the Triune God is to remain a distinct self, a strong presence while in relationship and while giving.

Jesus didn’t lose who he was because he gave himself over to the Father’s will. In fact, Jesus became Jesus because of his sacrifice. The Spirit did not compromise itself as it came down at Pentecost to remind us of Jesus and teach us the truth. In fact, the Spirit showed us exactly who it is and what it does when it came down at Pentecost. The Father did not cease to be the almighty, unnameable God when he gave his essence of love to create the world. In fact, God proved to us exactly who God is at creation.

This means that as “I” exist in relation to “you,” as I love you, as I serve you, as I serve with you, as we walk together on this journey, I will mature and develop as a person, as a spiritual being, as a unique child of God, and so will you. Our relationships shouldn’t make us less like God’s design, but help us to live more fully into who God is creating you to be.

This reminds me of Paul Simon’s song, Slip Slidin’ Away, which says:

I know a man/He came from my hometown/He wore his passion for his woman like a thorny crown/He said, “Dolores, I live in fear/My love for you is so overpowering that I’m afraid I will disappear.”

I know a woman/Became a wife/These are the very words she uses to describe her life.
She said, “A good day aint got no rain.”/She said, “A bad days when I lie in bed and think of things that might have been.”

In each of these instances, the man and the woman are expressing that they have somehow lost themselves or fear losing themselves because of the relationship they are in.

Even though a man and woman become one flesh in marriage, they are each to retain a strong sense of self. The one flesh that they become is a new person comprised of the two individual selves. Couples fall into dangerous territory when one or both lose/compromise their own identity in their coupledom. Examples: maybe we give up our hobbies or even our dreams, maybe we let our values slip or let our priorities get rearranged.

We can diminish or compromise ourselves in many other types of relationships as well.

Another type of relationship where people tend to get lost is that of employer/employee. I have a friend who, if her boss is stressed, she is stressed. If her boss has a good day, she has a good day. I know it’s natural to be affected by others, but this friend started making decisions she wouldn’t normally make, and even stopped taking care of her own needs at one point to please or appease her boss. This is not a healthy relationship. It showed a lack of boundaries. A lack of a strong sense of self. We don’t need to blend into each other just because we work together. A distinct person remains distinct even as we relate and give to each other.

Another relationship in which one or the other or both can lose their identity in their life together is that of parent and child. We all know the dangers of parents who try to live through their children. And a child who never asserts him or herself beyond the parents is one who never fully develops. I read a promising story a few months ago in People Magazine of all things. The actress Melissa Joan Hart (best known for her role as Sabrina the Witch) was on the cover looking great in a bikini, and the headline was, “How I lost 45 pounds.” I just scanned the article at the newsstand, but essentially, Melissa said that after she had her children, she gained a lot of weight. In her story, she said, just because I am a mother to my children doesn’t mean I have to be unhealthy and overweight. She doesn’t have to give up the lean, active woman she has always been just because she had children.

In John 3, Jesus says that in order to walk in the kingdom of God, in order to really live this life to the fullest as God intends, we must be born from above or we must be born anew. We are physical beings so we had a physical birth, but we are also spiritual beings, and so we must have a spiritual birth. Different religious traditions have different rituals or rights of passage signifying spiritual birth. For the Christian, we are born of water and Spirit. To be born of water is to be baptized, to be claimed as a child of God and invited into the family of God, and to be born of Spirit is receive the Spirit of God and let it live through you, guiding you, inspiring you, transforming you and the world you live in.

This morning, I invite you to remember your baptism and receive the Holy Spirit once again. Let us all be spiritually reborn together. Rebirth has the potential to invigorate our lives, our relationships, our communities, our world. As we join together in the liturgy and in Communion, remember that we are created in the image of the Triune God, which means that we are created with and for each other. May all of our relationships be a blessing. May they bring us a sense of belonging and comfort. May they build us up in love and inspire us to live out our divine destiny as children of God.