20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
I have so enjoyed traveling deeper into the Enneagram world with you this Lent, making the work of spirit practical in our everyday lives- like laundry and relationships and why we do what we do! Thank you for the insightful conversations you’ve offered along the way- my favorite part of worship is to hear what the Spirit stirs in you along the way. We complete our series this Lent by leaning into the story of Christ explaining his suffering to bewildered disciples. Christ’s story is one of true redemption BECAUSE he chose to endure suffering. Not for the sake of pain, but because he believed his death would ultimately bring life to countless others. Our suffering savior. We too, as people living as Christ, have this promise: when we endure suffering, it doesn’t have the final say over us. Not if we trust that following Christ’s way will lead to redemption.
But here’s the rub for me. As a minister who consistently sits alongside people in very real pain, I believe that glorifying pain is wrong. I hear Jesus’ words, “those who hate their life” and I think of people struggling with all forms of mental and spiritual and physical illness- and I think, “Jesus, don’t use that language! Don’t attempt to falsely minimize pain by glorifying struggle in life!”
Yet the discipline of following Jesus means staying tuned into his teachings, even the hard ones. And when we stay attentive, reserving our judgment and bias, we just might hear this parable of a grain of wheat as an invitation to consider our own losses and how they might hold promise of new life.
This is the exact work we’ve been exploring with the Enneagram as our tool this Lent. Jesus embodies vulnerability so that we might be brave to explore our own tender places. Jesus does this very thing in today’s story. Less than a week before Jesus dies at the hands of Romans on a cross, he extends himself to curious newcomers. Three years of itinerant ministry, he had to be exhausted. But he reaches out with a powerful parable about what truly matters in life.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Jesus predicts his own fate AND acknowledges that the cycle of life, even for Jesus, inevitably involves pain. The glory Jesus speaks of is not a result of his pain. Pain is pain is pain. Jesus’ life is glorified because he believes in promise beyond pain. And that promise is what gives his life purpose: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” We know this promise in our lives too, thanks to Jesus’ courage to live through pain into promise.
In John, “Fruit” is Jesus’ metaphor for the life of the community of faith. Jesus, like a grain of wheat, offers himself in order to produce a more fruitful kingdom- one in which all people are drawn to his love. That is the promise that assures Jesus his pain on earth will not be as lasting as his glory eternal. And that promise belongs to you and me too. If a grain of wheat dies, it bears much fruit. With time and grace, loss can actually move us closer to love.
It’s been a painful year for us all. Those who follow our e-news know I’ve asked you to bring your pain to worship today. This week marks a full year since our lives of worship and our lives in general have been stretched to the max, maybe even beyond recognition for some. It’s important that we acknowledge the weight of this year.
As we pause for this moment of silence, I invite you to take one pain in your life- and visualize it as a tiny grain of wheat. Maybe hold it in your hand as you ask Christ to take this pain and hold it with you. Let’s gather in silence. (silence) “If a grain of wheat dies, it bears much fruit.” I welcome you to release this grain of wheat from your hold- let it fall away, gently, without judgment, as you ask, ‘God, how might you transform my loss into life?” (pause) We don’t have to have the answers today, we live in faith that they will come. Amen.
One of the greatest graces for me in the midst of this pandemic has been you. My church family. You have kept me afloat on days that felt too hard. You have inspired me to envision bigger and bolder changes than I ever could have on my own. You deepen my conviction that when we share the losses and grief of life together, it lessens the burden for all. This is the stuff of faith. This is the way of Christ. This is the promise of hope that will see us through to the other side, where the sweet glow of redemption awaits.
I know the Enneagram may not have been intriguing for all of you this Lent, but I hope that this truth has stirred within you: You ARE capable of co-creating your redemption story with Christ. We all are, because Jesus' promise reigns supreme, even above our deepest pain. He assures you and I today, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” Amen and Amen.
"Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
I’ve titled our Lenten Series: “Breaking Free” because the gospel is filled with language of freedom from all that distracts us and diminishes abundant life. Jesus WANTS our lives to be full of what truly matters. “I came so they may have life and have it in abundance.” One thing I know diminishes abundant life is resentment. Yes? We hear this in Martha’s response today. As an over-functioner myself, I know this feeling well and I hear it in the stories of so many relationships. Why doesn’t he pull his weight! Why can’t she see how much I truly do for this family! Why don’t they appreciate how good a friend I really am! Familiar? I suspect you’ve felt your own version of resentment along the way.
Here’s the good news: we have control over our response to what happens in life, if we have the courage to dig deep. If we are truly interested in living into the redeeming hope of Jesus, we need to do the tough work of discerning what keeps us from lives of abundant hope, joy, and peace. This includes asking why we hold onto resentment and how we might learn to break free. To release what distracts from true life. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Love.
The Enneagram tool, as I’ve described these past few weeks, gives us a framework for understanding ourselves better: What values motivate us and what keeps us from right relationships. Rohr says, “The “discernment of spirits” that Paul and St. Ignatius spoke of means developing a spiritual instinctive certainty for which of my impulses really create life and which ultimately destroy it.”
Would you like an example of how practicing self-awareness can actually lead to life more abundant? I’ll get real practical: let’s talk laundry. Even with the convenience of modern technology, someone’s still got to do it. If you live alone, it’s fairly cut and dry. But if you live with others, laundry can quickly become a thing. This week I was searching for a particular laundry meme my friend recently posted, I came across several good ones: Indulge me for a moment: 1. “Based on the amount of laundry I do each week, I’m going to assume people live here I have not yet met.” 2. “Not sure if I should do laundry, or buy more underwear.” 3. Printed on the tag of a sweater: “Just give it to your mother, she knows how to do it.” 4. “I don’t want to make you jealous of my glamorous lifestyle, but I’m sorting laundry on a Saturday night.” 5. And the one I was looking for in the first place: “Wait, did you know there are people who wash, fold, AND put away their laundry on the SAME day?!” That one’s for my mom, who took her laundry day very seriously.
In fact, it’s my mom who modeled for me that women do the laundry in the house. And it took me 4 years into our marriage to realize the reason my mom did laundry for our household is because she worked outside the home 1 day a week, not five. My mom and dad worked out household equity in which laundry was her thing, and she never resented it. At first in our marriage, neither did I. As a grad student with a flexible schedule, me doing laundry made sense. But things shifted when both AJ and I had full-time jobs, and then enter children, and I began resenting not only doing the laundry, but also him not truly seeing my efforts.
Enter my Enneagram type 2 status. I love helping, until it becomes overwhelming, then I still help- but you better be grateful for it, or my inner sense of justice begins to roar! At the time this laundry business came to a head, I didn’t yet have the capacity to understand WHY I was holding resentment, I just knew something had to change. So one day, I stopped. I stopped assuming that AJ needed me to do his laundry. And you know what? He didn’t. In fact, the reason he couldn’t see how much I did his laundry, is because his threshold for when laundry needs to get done is very different than mine. Remember that meme, “Not sure if I should do laundry, or buy more underwear?” You get the point.
I assumed I was needed more than I was actually needed. Turns out, this is pretty common for twos. We think we’re being helpful (and sometimes we are), but we are prone to overextending, just like Martha. We get distracted by all the tasks, that we sometimes lose focus on what really matters. Even now, as I’m folding laundry at 8:30pm on Saturday night, AJ will say, “Emily, just relax.” And when I’m healthy, I can hear the invitation like Jesus offers Martha, “Emily, Emily, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Love.
This is why understanding what motivates can truly lead to a more abundant life. Rohr says, “Twos, for example, develop guilt feelings when they have the sense that they are not doing enough for others.” No one is asking me to overextend. It’s just a part of who I am. And when I can recognize those forces within me, I begin to have control over them. I can begin to co-create my redemption story away from resentment and toward life in abundance. I can begin to say no to someone else’s dirty laundry.
Rohr says, “Based on our predispositions, parental and environmental influences, as well as societal factors, all of us create in the course of our development certain ideals, whose realization we pursue. Our self-image is determined largely by these ideals, which we also use to measure other people. Feelings of guilt arise when we do not live up to these ideals. Likewise, we reproach others if they disregard our ideals. Unfortunately these internalized accepted ideals are often false or at least exaggerated.”
You know what’s happened since I stopped doing the laundry AJ never asked or expected me to do in the first place? 1. I learned AJ knows how to operate a washing machine. 2. I learned how freeing it can be to simply step over a pair of socks rather than give into my compulsion to pick them up. 3. On the rare occasion I throw a load of his laundry in- I do it because I love him, not because I feel obligated. That is “the better part” that Jesus speaks. Helping for the sake of love, not obligation.
I never thought I’d be able to use laundry as an example of abundant life- but it’s true. I’ve released my Martha-like resentment about a household task that was keeping me from right-relationship. And now, I wonder how Christ can help redeem the work of doing dishes!
No matter what Enneagram type we are, all of us have room to move further from resentment and closer to redemption. In the name of the one who asks us to keep our focus simple: Life is about love. Let’s figure out how we each do that best, because love will set us free.
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
That’s a pretty great definition for sin, right? “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” And news flash: the person writing this is literally a saint. So we’re in good company with the Apostle Paul as we consider why we do the bad things we don’t want to be doing in the first place.
Last week I laid out the theology of Jesus and his own suffering as the reason why we engage this spiritual work of self-reflection: it’s for the sake of transformation. A change of heart toward being the people we were inherently created to be. That’s what it is to co-create our redemption stories with Christ. So are we ready?
Now I know I cannot give you all the layers of meaning found in the Enneagram, but I want to pique your interest enough that you decide to check it out. So here are the 9 types (or as Richard Rohr says: the “nine faces of the soul”). Be discerning what number speaks to you most truly about primary motivation:
Type 1 is the need to be perfect.
Type 2 is the need to be needed.
Type 3 is the need to succeed.
Type 4 is the need to be special.
Type 5 is the need to perceive.
Type 6 is the need for security.
Type 7 is the need to avoid pain.
Type 8 is the need to be against.
Type 9 is the need to avoid.
Richard Rohr incorporates “root sins” into his descriptions of each type as well; these are harder to hear- and maybe more important.
One’s go to anger; Two’s fall to pride; Three’s wrestle with vanity; fours struggle with self-pity or envy; for fives its greed; sixes experience fear; sevens gluttony; eights are prone to lust; and nines, well- they’re a little lazy. Hard to hear, right? None of us want to think about these aspects of ourselves, but when we do, we can begin to understand why we act the way we do sometimes.
Discerning our core spirits involves taking a hard look at all the forces that impacted who we developed to be. To add more dimension to this work, we also have “wing types,” always on either side of our numbers. So I’m a two, with a strong three wing. Or at least those are the numbers that make me feel most uncomfortable when I read what Rohr has to say. That’s supposedly the best way to figure out your number. Reading full descriptions of each number, and as Rohr says is his rule of thumb: “ If you don’t sense the whole thing as somehow humiliating, you haven’t yet found your number.”
Another description of the types for you: This time, a look at how Jesus in his ministry on earth, embodies each type’s redeeming qualities:
In Jesus we see Ones possess skills for teaching, tolerance, and patience; we see Twos enact care, compassion, and solidarity; we see threes offer others their ambition, energy, and vision; we see fours evoke creativity, sensitivity, and naturalness; we see fives use healthy distance, sobriety, and wisdom; we see sixes practice fidelity, obedience, and trust; we see sevens share festiveness and joy; we see eights embrace confrontation, clarity, and authority; and finally, we can see in Jesus how nines restore composure, peace, and love.
When the Apostle Paul asks himself who will rescue me from the sin that holds me capture? The answer is the same for him as for us. Jesus, of course. The only person on earth who realized full integration and maturity, even in the midst of being executed.
In other words, we Christians have a pretty great example AND reason to do this discernment that leads to transformation. Jesus already did- and paved a way for us to experience redemption, one glimpse of our true selves at a time. You’ve likely not figured out your type based on this sermon alone- but if these descriptions have gotten your attention, go ahead and do some self-study this week. Remember, you’re in good company when you do. The Apostle Paul’s writings are filled with his own self-reflection for the sake of transformation.
Koller says, “for this spiritual self-work on existence we have been given a tool--the capacity to perceive. The instrument of transformation is not moral reflection on the self, but content-free perception of the self.” This is the gift that Christ offers us on the road to redemption. A way to perceive ourselves as Christ does: with infinite grace.
Don’t let sin shame you for another second. The gospel truly offers us good news: we no longer belong to the sin that leaves us feeling shame. Shame, that inner voice of judgment, often telling us we’re not good enough?” That voice is never Christ’s voice. Christ gave his life so that we might begin to perceive our true selves the way Christ does, filled with the potential for transformation. Amen.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Self-sufficiency- why do we value it so much? It’s almost a given that we will be praised for being self-sufficient in this world, right? Merriam-Webster defines it as, “The ability to maintain oneself without outside aid.” Sounds pretty great, right? It does, just like lots of other ways of pretending that we don’t need God. If we would claim true self-sufficiency, what we’re claiming is that we’re powerful enough to redeem ourselves- able to maintain our salvation without outside aid. So many of the world’s messages reinforce this. “Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps, why don’t you?”
But just imagine if Jesus, the one human who actually could do this, imagine if he relied on his self-sufficiency. How would that have altered Christ’s story? He would never have made his way to the cross. “Save yourself, Jesus,” the Pharisees mock him as he takes his final breaths. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, Jesus!” He doesn’t waste his energy explaining himself to those who can’t yet see that life is more valuable when given for the sake of others. Instead, with every dying breath, he fulfills the teaching we hear today. He sets his mind on the divine. Jesus knows suffering, and he embraces it- not because suffering is fun. Suffering is always excruciating. No, Jesus understands in a visceral way that his suffering comes before the transformation God intends for the world.
With this in mind, we enter the spiritual work of self-reflection for the sake of transformation, aided by the Enneagram as I introduced last Sunday. If you had a chance to read a bit about it using the links in the email, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t yet- it’s worth a look. In a sermon series like this, we won’t peel back all the layers of this spiritual tool, but the concepts are available to each of us, if we have the courage (and time) to engage them.
Richard Rohr’s work in The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective* is a hard read, because as Christians, it touches us at our core. His words illuminate the hard places in our hearts, the powers that keep us from true union with God. He gives these parts of us the name, sin. Why do this hard work of the spirit, especially if it exposes what we’d rather keep hidden? Jesus says it best: “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” In other words, self-sufficiency sounds great on paper, it may even impress our neighbors, but if it means forfeiting a life of spiritual connection with God and others, is it really of value?
Here’s a bit from Rohr’s introductory remarks, I hope you find his words as compelling and convicting as I do:
Rohr says of his 30+ years working within churches, “I am convinced that most of our ministries have legitimated the autonomous self and even fortified it with all kinds of religious armor. Religious people are even harder to transform because they don’t think they need it.” If our religion leads us to a false notion that we are self-sufficient, then maybe even our religion is sinful.
Rohr offers, “The Enneagram is an ancient Christian tool for the discernment of spirits, the struggle with our capital sin, our false self, and the encounter with our True Self in God. Anything this powerful and this converting is sure to be fought and resisted by the egocentric self. We do not give up control to God easily.” We want to be self-sufficient! Which is why the work of spirituality is, “dismantling the separate self so it can fall into the Great Self of God.”
We need God, and we need others on this journey with God- to help us with the discernment of spirits. That’s what spiritual practices like this Enneagram work offer. A way to expose what is sin in our lives and where spirit is at work SO THAT we might embrace redemption as a way of life.
Rohr presents the Enneagram as a Christian spiritual tool, and he uses the language of “our unredeemed selves and our redeemed selves.” This langage blew me away with its simple honesty and its hope. Yes, we all have sin within us (and we never won’t), but if we so desire, we can become co-creators with Christ of our redemption stories. We can learn to discern spirit at work in our lives. We can accurately recognize the motivations that are sinful and those that are sanctified. But it takes real practice.
Here’s what we know from Jesus: Faith requires braving vulnerability for the sake of transformation. Rohr says, “human beings cannot see what they are not readied to see. We cannot hear what we have not been prepared to hear. [...] If we are unwilling to live askew for a while, to be set off balance, to wait on the ever spacious threshold, we remain in the same old room all our lives.”
Jesus’ teachings do exactly this for us… shake us up! Rohr says, “Christianity is probably the only religion in the world that teaches us, from the very cross, how to win by losing. It is always a hard sell. Especially for folks who are into strength, domination, winning, and enforcing conclusions. God’s restorative justice is much more patient, and finally much more transformative, than mere coercive obedience.”
Friends, this journey of Lent feels especially powerful, because we have ALL experienced suffering in a new way this year. Not all equally, to be sure, but all have suffered. And if we learn anything from Jesus’ journey to the cross its this: suffering holds promise for redemption.
Rohr: “We suffer, come through it transformed, and then we have a message! This is the clear Jesus pattern and why he trained his disciples in the necessary path of suffering. There is something, it seems, that we can know in no other way. We hope to bypass such suffering by being moral, by being orthodox, by being ritualistic, but his words remain the same to us: “The cup that I must drink, you must also drink.”
In whatever emotional space you’ve entered Lent this year, hear this good news. The work of redemption belongs to God, the path of redemption is held by Christ, and the gift of redemption is ours to co-create with the author and perfecter of our faith. In the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the particular motivations that each of us possess, and how we keep moving, one day at a time, from our “unredeemed selves” to our “redeemed selves” in Christ.
“Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” In this hope and truth we do the hard spiritual work together this Lent. Amen.
*All quotes in this sermon are taken from the introduction of Rohr's book.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children--
“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.” Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?
So do you want the good news or bad news first? I always pick the bad news first- so let’s start there. You and I need to be disciplined. Ugh, gross, right? Who likes discipline? I don’t. Give me a choice between chocolate and broccoli? Chocolate wins. Chatting idly with a friend or listening to the story of a stranger? Chat, every time. Binge-watching my favorite TV show or reading the Bible? Binge-watching happens more than I would like to admit, friends.
So what, are chocolate, chatting and watching TV really all that bad? Well, not exactly. The bad news is that none of those things leads to better health or greater kindness or a changed heart. We humans don’t naturally gravitate toward disciplined living. Or at least, this human doesn’t. A choice between what is easy and what is hard? We choose the path of least resistance, right?
Here’s the thing: The author of Hebrews isn’t pulling any punches about what Jesus expects of us, you and I who choose everyday to live into our Christian identity. Cast aside sin. Run with perseverance. Sacrifice immediate gratification for something much greater: the discipline of the Lord. Gosh, that sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Why would we want to do this?
Well that’s the good news: discipline or spiritual disciplines ARE life-giving. It’s like this: chocolate is momentarily delicious, but broccoli gives us the strength to more fully pursue our passions. Chatting with a friend brings happiness, but creating a new friendship brings potential for greater joy. Binge-watching TV satisfies our hearts for a moment, but engaging in sacred stories transforms our hearts for a lifetime.
And if it's good news that spiritual disciplines are life-giving, it’s even greater news that each of us possess the capacity to actually practice a spiritual discipline. You do, and you likely already are! That’s a major part of our Christian tradition during the season of Lent. Disciplining our appetites, to make more room for the spirit to stir in us.
Now, I don’t think discipline for the sake of rule-keeping is what Jesus asks of us. Not at all, mostly because a lot of rules, especially religious ones, originated with humans, not God. That means I can’t prescribe for you the right spiritual discipline in your life. That’s up to you and God. What I can tell you, is what I know to be true about the result of spiritual disciplines.
They change our hearts. They change our lives. They create greater awareness of what is actually preventing us from experiencing wholeness. In short, they help us identify sin (meaning, all that keeps us from full connection with God, with others, and with our best selves) AND give us a framework for repenting of the sin and making a turn toward greater spiritual health.
So maybe it wasn’t actually bad news after all. You and I need to be disciplined, yes, and that CAN BE a really beautiful thing; enduring discipline, spiritual discipline is worth it, because it leads to a firmer identity in Christ, the author and perfector of our faith- the ONLY one who can lead us to lives of redemption.
Over the next 5 weeks, I’m going to introduce to you a helpful spiritual tool that can lead to greater self-awareness and transformation of our hearts. The tool is called the Enneagram, a philosophy of 9 different “personality types” that each respond to a primary motivation. Richard Rohr’s work in particular helps us see what can be sinful about our primary motivation AND what can be sanctified about it. The best part is this: WE HAVE AGENCY OVER SIN, but only when we learn to recognize it. Only when we discipline our spirits to be discerning and wise.
Becoming co-creators with Christ in our own redemption stories is possible when we are willing to engage the sin at work in us. In fact, self-reflection (and all the hard, vulnerable work involved) may just be the most important spiritual discipline that you and I will ever practice.
I’d like to leave you with this thought from Dietrich Koller, whose wisdom accompanies Richard Rohr’s book on the Enneagram. “Now no book and no counselor, no therapist and no Enneagram can spare me the work of transforming myself. Transformation is at once a task and a grace. Unless I work on myself, divine grace cannot become fruitful. And without divine grace, my work is in vain. Repentance is a process in which my work and God’s work becomes simultaneous. God grants conversion, but I have to make use of it and concretely convert. 2 Cor. 7:10 says, “this is a repentance that no one regrets,” And we don’t regret it, Koller says, because it actually creates healing and saving.”
I am excited to introduce you to the Enneagram, and I am even more excited to explore how YOU and I can become co-creators in our redemption stories. Welcome to the Lenten journey.
You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was towards you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers.
We are in our final week of exploring what it means to add just 5-15 minutes a day of sharing faith with our families and friends from home. To catch us up on Rich Melheim’s Faith5, we 1. share (highs and lows), 2. read (a story from scripture), 3. talk (about why it matters), 4. pray (for each other), and finally today, maybe the most powerful of all: 5. we bless.
I love this line of Paul’s, “We constantly give thanks to God- that when you heard the word of God from us, you knew it was more than human speech, it was God speaking into your life.” What we say to each other matters a lot. Throw-away words are not a thing that exist in human relationships. Think for a minute about the last hurtful thing someone said to you. You remember it, right? You maybe even feel the emotion of that moment. Words matter- and how we use our voices with one another has a powerful impact on who we become. Both as individuals and as a family. I’d like us to think more broadly than our immediate families as well- to this church family. What we say matters.
We all have patterns of speaking with each other, whether we are mindful of them or not. And today the invitation is for us to be mindful of how our words are not just mere human speech. As believers, we are also ambassadors of God, and when we talk- whether we mean to or not, people will perceive us as God’s messengers.
That’s kind of a lot of pressure, right? Oh boy! Now don’t let your mind go down the rabbit hole of all the ways you haven’t been mindful of your speech, unless there’s an apology you need to offer, of course. We all have guilt in this arena, it’s time to let it go. Instead, let’s focus on what we do with our voices from now on. The spiritual life is about constantly paying attention to where God is leading us next. So let’s be led into a way of blessing.
What do I mean when I say, ‘we bless?’ It’s as simple and profound as this: We tell each other that we are a blessing. From God to others. And HOW we say this takes on as many expressions as we have creativity to produce. The simplest way, the one our SS kids are taught here, is this: “You are a blessing.” That’s it! And with consent, it often involves a tender touch on the forehead or hand. Only when we receive the good news of blessing will our identities be shaped in wholeness and love. And only from a place of wholeness can we offer others the blessing that is due them.
This week, AJ put Briggs, our 6 year-old, to bed, which meant he also got to bless him. (that’s when we do our final step in the Faith5 routine). But before that could happen, Briggs asks daddy, “will you say nice things about me, daddy?” “Like what?” AJ asks, “Oh, everything,” Briggs responds, matter of factly. After Aj told me about this conversation, I said, “See? We’re teaching our kids emotional intelligence- asking for what they need.” We’re also teaching Briggs spiritual intelligence, ending his day by reflecting on all the good he brings this world in the name of his Creator. That’s the blessing at work. And it instills in us the confidence to be God’s voice of blessing to others.
Rich Melheim- the power of a blessing.
Our kids express the moment of blessing a little differently, Briggs is a little more eager to receive the blessing, and Blaire insists every night on returning a blessing to her mommy. Here’s the one she usually offers me: “You are a blessing, you are from God and Jesus in heaven, Amen.”
Friends, I am thoroughly convinced that what the world needs most from us right now is more blessing. Let’s be that blessing. Let’s give and receive the knowledge that God’s goodness exists in us all, created for the healing of a hurting world.
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David." He said to them, "How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet"'?
"If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?" No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
Did you hear it—how this story begins? This guy incites a legal debate with Jesus. In fact, Jesus is often baited into various forms of debates throughout the gospel stories. Debates are on all our minds these days, right? At least for me, when I watch the bits that I do, I want to shout, “just answer the question, already!!” Because we know well, a trick in debate is to answer the question you want to answer, not the one asked of you.
But Jesus doesn’t do that, he doesn’t need to. He answers as plainly as can be. The greatest commandment? Simple: Love God. Love Neighbor. Only, it’s not simple, and Jesus knows this. There’s another version of this exchange with a lawyer trying to justify himself by asking Jesus to define his neighbor, exactly. That’s when Jesus offers the beautiful tale of the Good Samaritan- you know, showing mercy to a foreigner who is suffering.
But in today’s text, Jesus interrupts this impromptu debate by asking the type of question he knows NONE of them want to answer. "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" The question directs the skeptics to Jesus’ identity, his connection to God; and in so doing- Jesus transforms a debate into true dialogue—about the thing that matters most.
“God is love,” Jesus reminds them, “and God has sent me into the world so that LOVE will win. Never mind your need for debates, I will keep on loving everyone I meet.”
I think often of my role in public life these days. As a pastor, a parent, a cis-gender, straight white woman from SD. Here’s the question I ask myself: Where is my voice most reflective of Jesus’ priorities? We each answer this uniquely of course, but I find time and again, one election after another, the single most significant role I play in public life is this: to infuse more love into the world, to chase love more fervently today than yesterday, to inspire others to think more deeply about what Christ-like love can accomplish.
And before the skeptics roll their eyes at the term “love,” let me assure you this is not some sappy escape from the realities of seeking justice for the oppressed (which Jesus also claims as his purpose in his very first sermon from the temple). No, love is the FIRST WORK, because it informs how we live our values. Only love changes hearts. You know as well as I do, that loving folks who are different from me is THE single hardest part of being Christian. Sometimes I just cannot FATHOM why folks will do what they do, vote how they vote, and consider it good, maybe even Christian! In fact, I would challenge you to find something harder than loving your “proverbial” enemy.
Which is, of course, why Jesus gives this answer. “#1 rule you ask? Love. Love God. Love Neighbor. Do it, I dare you.” It often takes me a great deal of time to listen and consider effective public policies for the sake of the common good. It’s tricky, right? I mean, if it was simple to define how best to care for ourselves and our neighbors alike, we wouldn’t have such a deeply divided electorate.
Here’s where I start, because I believe it centers me in a course of Christ-like love. I listen to the stories of people whose perspectives are WAY different than mine. And I listen for that nugget of personal truth- the motivation behind the feeling or opinion someone holds. I believe this way of beginning dialogue (not debate) honors both the Love God and Love neighbor part of Jesus’ commandment.
Now I’m human, so the truth is, I don’t have enough love on my own to do this with any amount of grace for those with whom I disagree. So I need to back up for a minute. Before I can even do a decent job of listening to my neighbor, I need to first understand that God’s image exists in them. Do you know how that happens? How I can ‘get there’ in my mind? Prayer. To be in prayer is a fundamental orientation. It is a setting of the heart. It’s a connection to the author of love itself. It’s an opening to the truth that God exists in me, and God exists in you too. And that’s where we begin. Loving God comes first—it’s very important that we get the order right—because loving neighbor flows out of the practice of loving God (and really, loving ourselves). Only when we are familiar with God’s image within ourselves can we begin to see God’s image in our neighbor. The man holding a sign for spare change. The kid who steals your pick-up out of the driveway in Pierre, SD. The family member who belittles you, never a kind word shared. The person who gets the promotion when you know you earned it. The grumpy uncle. The woman who threatens to call the cops b/c your kids retrieve a ball that landed in her bushes. The politician who doesn’t pursue the goals of equity for all, preferring instead the voices of those who will bankroll a next campaign.
I know you’ve got neighbors to add to this list. And none of us will be able to respond in true love without beginning in prayer. Prayer, that setting of the heart, evolves within us over time, eventually changing our hearts, souls, and minds, as Jesus says. This is why Rich Melheim’s 4th Step in his Faith5 daily routine is pray! Pray for those you love, pray for God to show up in the world. Pray for direction on how you might embody divine love. Heck, if you’re brave like Jesus, pray for your enemy!
The power of prayer is the transformation that occurs in the process over days, months, years. If you’re a person of prayer, you know what I mean. It becomes harder to hate the person for whom we pray. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can even discover we can be the answer to our prayers. But this can’t happen if we subscribe to a limited love. There’s a big difference here between tribal love and true love. Tribal love says I will love my people, those in my orbit, the folks who think like me and believe like I do. My tribe, I’ll love them. Tribal love is limited at its best, and at its worst, it can lead to hate, simply because its limits define who deserves love and who doesn’t.
And it can’t be true love if it leads to hate. Never.
I recently had a family member create a deep rift in our relationship by clinging to a tribal understanding of love. One way to recognize tribalism is when derogatory names are used for folks who think differently than you. And let me say, it’s not fun to be on the receiving end of vicious names, simply for expressing alternative political solutions to the issues we all want to see resolved. But this happened to me a few months ago, and in an attempt to defend his name-calling (which we’ve all probably become de-sensitized to from an excess intake of sensationalized media), he says, “I don’t know how to form my thoughts well enough to debate you.”
And all along, all I’ve ever wanted from him, was respectful dialogue, never debate! For God’s sake, we’re family- and we both claim Christ at the center of our lives! Why the need for debate? We all know people’s minds aren’t changed as a result. Now sincere dialogue, beginning with that crucial element of deep listening? Yes, that CAN lead to transformation of the heart. But a lot of folks think debate is the only way to talk these days. It’s like we’ve forgotten that we can be wrong sometimes—and being wrong is not a failure, so long as we can apologize and move toward better understanding. We’re limited by what we don’t yet know, we’re limited by fear, we’re limited by this idea that we need to debate, to be exclusive, to render political opponents our enemies. And all the while, Jesus is pleading with us. Love God. Love neighbor.
Friends, it’s prayer that will prepare us for this hard work. Prayer is a setting of our hearts toward true love, away from divisive tribalism.
If you’re looking for a place to begin this practice of prayer, preferably in the company of others, I have a suggestion. It’s a simple prayer I began using with the kids when they were just tiny, as a way to form their little hearts of faith. Here it is: “Dear Jesus, thank you for your love that we share as a family, help us to share it with others too, amen.”
This prayer is a setting of the heart in two ways:
Finally, a second suggestion of where to begin is The Lord’s Prayer. When we lift this prayer, it begins to transform our hearts. Here’s my paraphrase, as we end together in prayer: Yeah, God, we rely on you. Of course, we want your kingdom love to reign. But it’s true, we’ve made bad choices along the way & we’ve been hurt by the bad choices of others. We always need direction back to love. This is our eternal connection and purpose: living to the glory of you, God. We love you, helps us love our neighbors too. Amen
We meet Moses again this week. Both he and God are still hot with anger about the whole golden calf incident from last week. Now maybe anger sounds harsh, coming from God; but I take it as a good sign, a sign that God really wants to be in relationship with us- you know, the deep kind where our actions affect each other. A curious line leads us into the scripture today: the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.
And it follows that Moses said to the Lord, "See, you have said to me, 'Bring up this people'; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.' Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people." God said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." And Moses said to God, "If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth."
The Lord said to Moses, "I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name." Moses said, "Show me your glory, I pray." And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, 'The Lord'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But," God said, "you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live." And the Lord continued, "See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."
Show me! Show me! Moses pleads with God, Show me your way. Show me your glory.
I encounter this phrase a lot. “Show me! Show me! I want to see!” It’s often when I’m using my vantage point to see something that a 4-year old just can’t. See that pretty ornament atop the tree? See that deer running through the field? And when she can’t, I hear: “Show me, I want to see too!” It’s easy to forget that others can’t always see what I see, that I need to point or lift or redirect attention. Thank goodness kids are good at asking for what they need; they remind us that sometimes, seeing is believing. The truth is, we all need each other to see new perspectives, maybe especially on God.
Moses knows the people need to see God, to engage God, to be with God the way he has on the mountaintop. So Moses keeps asking God, “show me your way, show me your glory,” show me how to lead your people back to you again.
The Lord says, “Yes- I’ll do it! But on my terms. You won’t see me fully, but you’ll feel my glory pass by and you’ll know I’m with you.”
It’s aggravating at times to not see God fully, isn’t it? It’s like catching only a glimpse of the deer leaping the fence, when what you want to see is the full display of elegance bounding across the field. It’s frustrating to read a passage of scripture and think, “um, what does that mean?” Like a child listening in on adult conversations.
It’s upsetting to hear contradictory statements about faith and biblical truth swirling around us, leading us to implore God once more, “Show me your way!” It’s confusing at times, trying to parse ancient text into a modern day.
I’ve wanted to see God’s face fully since I was young; really if I think back, most of my life has been this meandering quest in search of God. The first time I recognized this in myself was at the age of 9, at our church camp meeting (we called it) just outside of Brookings, SD… I didn’t know much at the time about this force in my heart calling forth tears on my face, but that same force lives within me today. That same force lives within each of us- expressing herself in an many ways as we have people in this sanctuary. Scripture gives that force a name: Spirit, and that Holy Spirit lives constantly among us, even when we can’t recognize her.
One way (not the only way) Spirit is called forth in our lives is through Scripture. If you were with us last week, you heard the “why” of integrating even 5 minutes of scripture into your daily routine. But reading alone often leaves us without the connections that make the text come alive!
We need to ask questions, preferably with other people. We take scripture (a wonderful, gritty, and sometimes confusing tale about God’s love for the world) and ask, “so what?”
Rich Melheim’s 3rd step in the faith5 nightly routine is exactly this: TALK. Talk about how scripture speaks into your life. Connect what you read with your highs and lows for that day. Help one another discover God illumining new truth and purpose for the journey. And because this doesn’t come naturally to many of us, Rich offers two prompts in order to engage the bible as a living word:
My first year in undergrad, biblical studies 101, I asked my professor a question that had been burning inside my earnest little heart. This is it: If Jesus came after all the OT folks had already died, what happens to their salvation? Good question, right?!? Being the insightful, patient instructor she is, Dr. Jackie Smallbones affirmed my question- and promptly redirected me to the question that I’ve since discovered matters a great deal more:
Prayerfully wondering Who are you God? (repeat)
Maybe you have the same reaction I did when I first heard it: that sounds a little vague, doesn’t it? Listen again. Each time you read scripture, if you have one question to ask, this is it: Prayerfully wondering “who are you God?”
In truth, it helps answer that ache we all have: to see God’s face more fully. It also keeps us in a spirit of openness, curiosity, and awe. Not trying to pin God into a box of our making- but allowing God’s Spirit to flourish in all mystery and wonder. Who are you God? Show me! Show me! I want to see you! And by seeing God, we begin to see ourselves a little more clearly too.
Show me your way. I thought about Moses’ words here, and how similar they sound to Dr. Smallbones’ prompt- the one that remains the first question I ask of every bible story I read. I can still hear her voice patiently instructing us all: Seek God first, and if that’s the only answer you find in scripture, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Especially when we take time to listen to the way others also wonder who God is alongside us. Because each of us only sees a glimpse of God’s glory on our own, but together in conversation and prayer...God shows up.
Sometimes unexpectedly, like a deer bounding through the field. At times we catch only a glimpse of the tail, but there are moments, friends, and I’ve heard it in your faith-filled stories these past three years- you see God’s face.
Unlike Moses, for whom God’s full glory was off limits, we get full access, because Jesus became human and lived among us. So these stories, they matter, at least if you too are calling out from your soul: Show me your way. Show me your glory! Amen.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, "Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." Aaron said to them, "Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord." They rose early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation."
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.'" And the Lord changed the Lord’s mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
What an incredible story! Moses and God are in the midst of creating a covenant- a way of being together that will give God’s people purpose on the journey & a reminder of their identity. It’s the 10 commandments being formed in real time. And yes, it’s happening weirdly on a mountaintop away from where God’s people are camped…so their patience wears thin. Likely hungry, losing faith that Moses would even return, restless to find this promised land…the people turn away from God. Even Moses’ brother Aaron forgets what it’s all about. What’s happened here? Well, they’re being very human…or as a friend of mine in ministry likes to say, “they’re being very people-y; people can be so people-y sometimes,” they say.
Have you felt people-y lately? Impatient? Hungry for certainty? Has our desire for God’s presence amidst all the questions turned our hearts toward other things that look and feel a little more like idols? Maybe they promise us quick fixes? Momentary gratification or distraction? Mindless entertainment? Feigned security? These are interesting questions for these days, aren’t they? It doesn’t matter what age we’re living in, friends. Challenges meet us in every era and two things remain true from Moses’ days to our own:
Rich Melheim, the man who wrote the book Holding Your Family Together, which is informing our series this month says this about his family research: “By the time a child growing up today reaches the age of 18, he or she will be exposed to 60,000 hours of media, 11,000 hours of school, and a mere 2,000 hours in quality conversation with his or her parents.” The most disturbing news for me is the sheer amount of violence we absorb from media. One statistic suggests a 12-year old child will have seen 8,000 murders watching (sometimes even age-appropriate) shows.
And as adults, if we added up our own media intake, I suspect we’d be shocked by the numbers, especially if we compared that time to how often we are taking in sacred texts like the bible. Now watching TV isn’t categorically bad or wrong. The invitation today is to be mindful about it. Because how we spend our time and what we allow into our minds affects every one of us, every day.
I said there’s two things that remains true from Moses’ days to our own; the 1st: it’s easy to forget who deserves our praise; the second is much more hopeful:
I want to begin with a confession: not as a pastor, but as a parent. When our Christian Ed. determined the best course of faith formation this fall would entail no Sunday School- I had this brief moment where I thought, “gosh, how are my kids gonna learn the stories of our faith?” Then this guttural feeling crept in as I realized…Emily, that’s your job, and you haven’t been doing it with any consistency at all.
I know that’s kind of embarrassing for a pastor to admit, but I want to be transparent with you, because if this is a new practice in your home, or if reading bible stories with your kids or your partner or a friend is a learning curve for you, you’re not alone. Covid times have taught me so much, and the thing that hits closest to home for me, is my own responsibly as a parent to bring up my children in the faith. Because, what we do with our attention actually matters to God. How we devote our time is a reflection of where we devote our hearts.
I say this not to be judgmental with myself or anyone else, but simply to be realistic. And all of this matters deeply to God because God loves us and wants the most life-giving things for us.
At the end of this story, when Moses pleads for God’s mercy on behalf of God’s beloved people, God changes course. It’s one of the few moments in scripture where we see the full relationality of God on display. God wants to be connected to us SO MUCH that God is willing to change on our behalf. And because of the conviction of one person, an entire people are also changed for the better.
This kind of purpose-giving story is what the bible is all about. When we digest these stories, God is made real to us, ordinary people who face the same people-y issues as they did in Moses’ time. And so the question for us becomes- where are we choosing to direct our attention? If we choose the bible, the living word of truth, we come that much closer to understanding who we are in this grand love story. It’s the story of God and God’s unending desire to be in relationship with us, and it’s available 24/7 for free.
Reading a short bible story or passage of scripture is Rich’s 2nd step in the faith5 nightly routine. You’ve heard the why, so the question for each of us now becomes: how are we going to make it happen? What’s your plan for adding more bible reading into your own lives? Who are you going to commit to this work alongside? Where will you go for resources if you’re unfamiliar with the bible? Friends, these sacred texts are at the core of our faith, and they are accessible to us every single day. If you want help getting started, just say the word.
As I think about what Rich says regarding what we take in becomes a part of who we are…and I think back to my grandmother- the one who passed away last month. She had a stroke about 10 years ago; she couldn’t recall what day it was, what my name was, or the proper use of pronouns (I was “him” for a long time). But you know what she could call to mind? Scripture. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil- for thou art with me. These words were deep within my grandmother’s heart and closest to her tongue just days after her stroke and until her very end, because she made a life-long commitment to including scripture into her daily routine.
There’s no prescription for how much or how little popular media we take in- it’s not a right or wrong type of thing. It is, though, a question about what we want closest to our tongues and our hearts at the end of the day. Do we want our attention on the latest trending show or endless news cycle, or do we want our focus to be on the lasting promises of scripture? It’s a real question- and one we get to answer for ourselves, even tonight.
Because 1. It’s easy to forget who deserves our praise. & 2. What we do with our attention actually matters to God.
So what do you say? Let’s read some scripture! Thanks for being on this journey alongside me. Amen!