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The poet Kahlil Gibran writes of beauty that it is a ‘heart inflamed and a soul enchanted.’ Today we have been invited, through music and poetry, to a beauty that inflames our hearts and enchants our souls to the purpose of this season; a season of light, promise, and peace.

No matter our traditions, no matter our languages, we will recognize the presence of light in our midst. If we are a spiritual people, who proclaims there is more to our reality than what is merely seen and touched, we will hold out our hope in the power of light to overcome and comfort us against the pervasive forces of destruction in our world. We will be drawn to a light that unites us despite all that stubbornly threatens to divide us. We will be enchanted by the possibility of light to endure in our lives, and enflamed by the task we are given to live this light in acts of kindness, mercy and justice in the streets of our communities where human greed and selfishness darken the way.

That it is possible for us to be light for each other as we declare liberty to the captive and bring this good news to the oppressed, that this is possible is the promise we are given this season and conveyed to us in many ways. Advent prepares us for the promise born in human form bearing the name of Emmanuel, God with us. Hanukkah reminds us that our dedication and commitment reaches God to bring forth the miracle of light, even when our own resources are meek. Kwanzaa inspires us to know the promise of light embodied in the strength and wisdom of our traditions and culture. This is a season of promised visions and unexplainable courage; an angel before us, a miracle amidst us, and a wisdom to shape us. We resolve to witness to these mysteries through our boldness to live a radical servant life in a world that values prestige and privilege. Through our commitment to the light, we level the uneven grounds and make straight a pathway for our God and for our neighbor.

This season is a light that our eyes might see, a promise that our hearts shall trust, and a peace that will open us to each other. The combined light of this season’s festival candles illumines this peace that happens because of our shared humanity. In this togetherness, we learn a power stronger than any other and sustainable beyond rational understanding. It is a power expressed in a humility bending low in reverence to the mysteries and extending upward in praise for our common calling to live light for one another, for the assurance that this is possible, and for the all-surpassing peace that envelops us as we try.

Tonight is the night, now is the time for our hearts to be inflamed and our souls to be enchanted to the purpose of this season; a season of light, promise, and peace.

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November 12, 2017 Gratitude as Active Faith
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 100, Philippians 4:4-9

It’s easy, I think, to understand gratitude as a response to an action, as in ‘thank you for the birthday present,’ or ‘thank you for being my friend,’ or ‘thank you for forgiving my mistake.’ Thank you for something is how the formula goes. Parents teach their young children to say thank you in response to another person’s kindness and generosity. We understand this to be polite, and generally we find it a helpful and mindful way to live.

But, understanding gratitude as a response, a reaction to what others do, can get us into  a bind. What if life is not presenting us with things to be grateful for? What if my workjob is at 7am and it is cold and I’m hungry and tired and can’t finish my homework? What is there to react gratefully to? What if a friend has lied to me, or if my family member is seriously ill? What if I feel that my leader has betrayed me, or my parent has hurt me? How are these things we can react to with gratitude? These are situations in which we are likely to abandon thanksgiving all together, if we understand gratitude primarily as a response to the circumstances of our lives.

Yet, this can be the very place of faith, because faith will happen where our rational logic proves insufficient to sustain us. Where our formula of gratitude as a reaction doesn’t work, gratitude as an action can take over. Faith can be gratitude anyway and gratitude going forward, rather than gratitude because of.

Today’s scripture passages paint a picture of gratitude as faith, and they do so by highlighting two things; our own stories of identity, and how we can worship and be in relationship with God.

Firstly, gratitude as faith compels us to know our story. That’s what we see in Deuteronomy. There is a recounting of how the Israelites got to the place where they are currently, through life as a foreigner, then a slave, then to deliverance into a new life. Gratitude as faith compels us to know our own story; what societal powers have we been in bondage to and how does our identity as a child of God, and of no other, free us up to live out our full potential? Embracing this story and believing this story going forward is gratitude as faith.

Secondly, the Psalm and Philippians passages suggest that gratitude is how we worship God; it is our praise of God. Gratitude is an expression of our faith that God is the Creator, and we are the creation. It is our starting point, our acknowledgement of where we stand,  our understanding of reality. Gratitude, then, becomes what we do anyway and always going forward; it is not a sometimes event as a reaction to other events. ‘Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing,’ reads Psalm 100. ‘Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people.’ Give thanks to God; why? Because the God we have faith in is a God of goodness, love, and steadfastness. Gratitude is our opportunity to declare our faith in this kind of a God. It’s not a matter of logic, but of a decision to live our faith into reality.

Finally, the Philippians passage is affirming, and even comforting to those who live a life of grateful faith. ‘The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’ This is also an invitation. I hear the writer of Philippians saying to us, ‘experience where your attitude of thanksgiving leads you. I believe it will take you to God’s peace that far surpasses our own understandings of logical give and take, and of right and wrong.’ No matter what, the God of peace is with you. So, why not come to God with a disposition of gratitude willing to bless God’s name?

I always find that the scriptures fundamentally are not about convincing us to a point where we have no choice. The scriptures are always about an invitation, which honors our own stories and our own experiences with God.

How have the scriptures invited you this morning?
(You are welcome to share with us your experience.)
As you live with these words of the scripture, may you find the freedom to try out gratitude as active faith and experience the peace that passes understanding.

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Today I thought I would be personal. I thought I’d share a bit about my story with Korea. And there are two reasons for this. For one, I encourage my students to share their stories, and so it seems I should be willing to do the same. The second reason is that you are probably reading about North Korea in the news almost daily. I pray hard, very hard, for wise and sound leadership from Kim Jeong-Un and from Donald Trump. Their decisions have the power to impact the neighborhood where I grew up, which you see in this picture here. It is but 35 miles from the DMZ demarcating the division between North and South Korea. That is Daeshin Methodist Church where I was baptized as an infant, actually before that building even existed, and behind it is my middle and high school, Kum Ran Girls School. Today I’d like to share with you a poem I learned as a 7th grader in that building. My 7th grade classroom was all the way in the back. We had 8 7th grade classrooms with 70 kids in each classroom. I learned a lot and I learned a lot of stories.

The poem that I will share with you is by Yun Dong Ju, or Barron Yun, who was a member of the Korean nobility. He lived through the Japanese occupation of Korea and died just before the Korean people had their first taste of liberation in 1945. Barron Yun was a scholar, a patriot, and also a strong Methodist lay-leader. This is his poem.

죽는 날까지 하늘을 우러러
한 점 부끄럼이 없기를,
잎새에 이는 바람에도
나는 괴로워했다.
별을 노래하는 마음으로
모든 죽어 가는 것을 사랑해야지
그리고 나한테 주어진 길을

오늘밤에도 별이 바람에 스치운다.

I agonized,
as the wind carried the leaf,
that I would live until my dying day,
under heaven,
without one drop of shame.

Let me love all things that will die
with a heart that sings of the stars.
And let me walk
the path I have been given.

Even tonight,
the stars know the touch of the wind.

When I was first introduced to this poem by my humanities teacher, it stood tall for me as a call to conscience. I don’t go to Kum Ran Girls’ School anymore, but I’m still in school, where the stars shine bright at night and where the call to conscience is loud.

Yes, at NMH, the call to conscience is loud. It keeps me alert. It is why I am here. It is why we ask difficult questions of our students and it is why we hold our breath for them to find their answers. It is why we feel pain when collectively we have not done the right thing and have hurt others.  It is why I hope you will join me in praying for the Korean peninsula. But the call to conscience is also why we get up each day and try again, this time to do better than yesterday. It is why each day we resolve to love all things that will die with a heart that sings of the stars. Thank you.
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In origin, the Baccalaureate service is a religious service at an educational institution before the commencement ceremony. It is a time to honor a being greater than ourselves, as we heard in Wahab’s reading, and it is a time to be grateful for the day that is before us and for the ways in which we have been led to this moment, as we heard in Celia’s reading. Indeed, it is a time to allow for spiritual, prayerful or meditative reflection.

Class of 2017, today I would like to meditate with you on a paradox. As you rejoice over your accomplishments at NMH, the ways you have built your life here, and your plans for continuing to build your life in the years ahead, I would like to share with you the words of Henri Nouwen, a theologian and Catholic priest, author, and scholar who taught at the University of Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard. Nouwen writes, “the great paradox of life is that those who lose their lives will gain them. This paradox becomes visible in very ordinary situations. If we cling to our friends, we may lose them, but if we are non-possessive in our relationships, we will make many friends. If fame is what we seek and desire, it often vanishes as soon as we acquire it, but if we have no need to be known, we might be remembered long after our deaths. …. Giving away our lives for others is the greatest of all human acts. This will gain us our lives.” (Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. New York: HarperOne, 1997.)

I do not interpret Nouwen’s words about losing our lives to mean that we should disregard our health, safety and well-being. Nor do his words imply that we should put our lives in harm’s way. But, Nouwen metaphorically suggests that the self-centered approach to life will ultimately result in a feeling of being unfulfilled and somehow lacking. Our great efforts to build our lives by stacking up our credentials, and stockpiling our experiences to strengthen our resumes might make us more employable but they won’t make life more gratifying.  

Recently, I exchanged some comments with students about the concept of excellence. It was clear to me from the conversation that excellence is something NMH students strive for, and yet it was also evident  that definitions of excellence varied significantly from student to student. In our fast-paced college prep environment where we are constantly measured, evaluated, and commented upon, excellence can become a mostly self-oriented project. Excellence is thus understood as an individual pursuit and not often thought of in terms of group endeavors. I am struck by the competitive element that seeps through this thinking; excellence becomes a way of distinguishing oneself as better than others.

Now, Henri Nouwen clearly distinguished himself as a teacher at the most competitive universities in the world. He was excellent at what he did. But what I did not tell you earlier is that he did not feel completely fulfilled as a human being in his obvious worldly success. Although he was a much sought after and well-respected speaker, he often felt alone in his struggles to understand his sexual identity and religious identity, and to know where he was called to work and belong in this world.  While he was at Harvard, he made the decision to leave his scholarly life and work in a community for developmentally disabled adults called L’Arche Daybreak Community near Toronto, Canada. A man internationally acknowledged for his articulations of divine mysteries and for his insights into the human psyche intentionally chose to be in a place to serve those who did not, and would never understand any of his writings. When I think of Nouwen’s life, I see someone who walked away from comfort and recognition to give his energies to help feed, quite literally, those who could not feed themselves. He gave his days to walking with those who could not walk by themselves. At L’Arche Daybreak, it seems Nouwen found the source of what would give him meaning when he stepped away from pursuits that centered on finding meaning in his own person. When he was willing to refocus and see his source of meaning in others indeed he found deep gratification.

I would venture that you have already experienced a glimpse of  this paradox of securing and finding something through the very act of letting go. I feel confident that during your time at NMH you have had at least an experience or two when a relationship with a friend became stronger because you were able to resist controlling the outcome and were surprised by the positive response you received. You may have experienced greater joy in a class that you had found challenging at the moment you decided to not worry and simply do your best even if it meant losing the possibility to make a top grade. You may have found great satisfaction through participating in a service project where you had to give up your time for the sake of someone else. Or you may recall the thrill of creating something together as a team, be it on the athletic field, or the stage, because your weaknesses were empowered by your friends’ strengths and vice versa. In that moment, you lost yourself only to find it again in the middle of the larger you. I feel quite certain that you have had at least one such experience during your time as a student, because you chose to come to a school that has continuously asked you to live not only for yourself, but also for the benefit of others.  

But now as you go forth from this school you will need to clarify for yourself just how you will continue to live this paradox of life. Whatever profession you choose, may you be blessed with the courage to lose yourself in the pursuit of goodness, justice, and equity for your neighbor who lacks the resources and privilege you have had all of your life. You know all about this; you’ve heard it in DSJ, SLS, your academic classes, advising, with your coaches and teachers. It has been the constant refrain to be critically aware and to seek ways to bring about change. This refrain is now your comfort song that you will sing to yourself on solitary nights on some college campus or in your new home when you ponder your existence and how you shall live out your humanity with a purpose that you will never tire of.

When you try to save your life you will lose it. But when you lose your life for others, you will indeed save it. A few other well known religious figures have also shared this same message both in words and through their lives. As you leave NMH, why not further test the truth of this paradox for yourself? To lose yourself for others, you will first need to see and know who it is that you share this planet with. In finding the empathy and compassion for your neighbor and the courage to walk with them, you may paradoxically find the vision for your own life that will give you profound joy and fulfillment.

It may even lead to an excellent life.

Blessings to you.
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April 26, 2017

As chaplain at a secular school, I am often asked the question, “where do you find religion at your school?” I welcome this question because it gives me the opportunity to challenge societal assumptions that religion exists only in a pre-assigned sacred place such as a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, with designated people doing ritualized activities. Especially at a high school, I don’t find religion limited in these ways.

This past Sunday, I attended a student-led diversity summit workshop that looked at the potential for interfaith groups to speak to the environmental crisis we are facing today. As I participated in a substantive conversation led by two members of the Interfaith Student Council about how groups of people with differing worldviews can join together to agonize over our common predicament of global warming and climate change, I thought to myself, ‘this is where religion is at a secular school.’ Religion is in this inquiry to know about difficult issues that have, and will profoundly affect the wellbeing of humanity. Religion is in the process of becoming vulnerable to the pain that many around the world experience daily, and yet, religion is also in the process of daring to tackle these problems with a sense of hope that our lived realities can be different. Religion is in the idealism of these teenagers’ hearts and minds.

Of course, a quick retort might be that, in fact, what I have described is spirituality, not religion. Maybe… But religion is the human container for the vast spiritual mysteries that are experienced in communities. Religion is the historical memory of how those mysteries have been talked about in communities, and it is also the confession about how it has been abused for the power of some over others. Religion is often the way people live out their spiritualities, for good or for bad; religion is the imperfect human effort to actualize ideas, truths, and dreams. If students are bringing their lived realities, their families’ realities, their communities’ realities to the table to talk about the lack of water in Yemen, the increasing number of heat waves in California, and what all this means for a shared and peaceful future, then we are talking about religion, an embodied reality in the lives of these students.

I was proud of the two students who led the workshop I attended. They reminded us that religion permeates our learning; it is in our academic and emotional questions, our neighbors’ struggles, our common vision for a better tomorrow, and in our willingness to be a part of bringing that vision to life. A step beyond our assumptions allows us to see much religion today at our secular school founded by Protestant evangelist D.L.Moody.  
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Let’s say that on your way to church this morning, you encountered a martian, a person from mars. And the martian said to you where are you going? You replied that you were going to an Easter service. So, the martian said to you, ‘what is Easter?’ How would you answer this martian?
Then, the martian said to you, ‘how do you know about this Easter?’ What would you say?

Today we’re going to ask two questions; firstly, what is Easter and how do we know about it, and secondly, how then shall we live? The second question will sound familiar to you if you’re an NMH student. Knowing what we know about Easter, how then shall we live?

What’s Easter and how do we know about it?
Let’s go to the Gospel of John, to the passage that Shameek read to us. In that passage we hear from Jesus, two angels and 3 people. So, let’s look at these three people.Of these 3 people, two we do not hear from directly; only their actions are narrated. One is not named, except that he is called “the one whom Jesus loved.”He may have been the one who wrote the Gospel of John, a disciple known as John the son of Zebedee, but we can’t know that for certain since the Gospel itself never makes this connection.This passage tells us that when Mary came with the urgent news that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb, this disciple went running to find out what had happened. But he stopped short of going into the tomb. Only after his companion went in, did he also enter. And it is said that he believed. But we don’t really know what he believed. Did he believe Mary that, yes, the body had been taken? Or did he believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead? The next verse says, “they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” So, we don’t know what this disciple believed.

The other person in this passage that we do not hear from directly is Simon Peter. Peter is the brave disciple who wanted to walk on the water like Jesus. And Peter is the one who correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah. It is this Peter, a man of courage and insight, that also runs to the tomb where Jesus had been buried when he hears from Mary that the tomb is empty. Peter rushes into the tomb and saw it empty except for the linen wrappings that had been around Jesus’ body. For some, this might be evidence that Jesus was alive, but again, we do not know what Peter thought because the verse that follows is “they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

So, of the three people in this passage, other than Jesus and the two angels, two, who were respected as being close to and knowing Jesus well, didn’t seem to understand or accept Jesus’ resurrection. I appreciate this about the Gospel of John; it lets people who may not be certain about what Easter is be a central part of the story. It lets human confusion, uncertainty, maybe even doubt, be a part of how the Easter story unfolds. Maybe that’s something I would say to a martian if I were asked what is Easter and how do we know about Easter.

Actually, maybe some of us feel like a martian at times, especially in the middle of a big church festival like Easter, where it can seem like everyone else around us understands the concept of resurrection and is filled with joy and certainty. Maybe we feel like an alien outsider unable to connect to what’s going on. For the martian in us, perhaps it is helpful to remember that in this story in the Gospel are two people who didn’t quite get the concept, either. I believe they were included for a reason.

Now, we’ll look at the third person; Mary Magdalene. Mary had been at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified, and she came to the tomb early on the third day after Jesus died maybe to tend to the body as was the tradition. But she is troubled by what she sees. She sees that the heavy stone guarding the tomb entrance had been removed and she is concerned that the authorities may have moved the body of Jesus to avoid any political problems. She reports the situation as she understands it: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Mary Magdalene is then the first person to witness to the empty tomb. She was not the beloved disciple nor the disciple Peter, whom tradition reveres as the stand-out student of Jesus. If you think about a classroom, Mary might have been the student sitting at the back or in a corner, not in the center of the action. Of course, we can wonder why that is and we might ask who were the ones at the center of action around Jesus. Maybe those in the center didn’t really give Mary much of a chance to be there with them. But, let’s see what Jesus does in this passage.

So, Mary rushes to tell the others that the tomb is empty. They come running to inspect the tomb, but then go back home! Meanwhile, Mary stays. Her sadness is overwhelming and she weeps outside of the tomb. But, something happens as she cries. She gains the courage to peer inside the tomb and she is able to see what the other two disciples did not. She sees two angels sitting where Jesus’ body would have been. As far as we know, the other two disciples did not see the angels. Mary, however, was able to. Was it that her crying cleared her eyes so that she could see better? Did emptying her grief allow space in her heart and mind to see a vision of angels? Why did the Gospel of John include this? When we think about how we know Easter, is the Gospel saying something to us about the importance of emptying ourselves from the certainty that fills us up so that there is room for really new and radical things?

Not only does Mary see the angels, but she has a conversation with them. How often does that happen! The other two disciples certainly did not talk with the angels. So, it was not with the disciples who were at the center of action around Jesus that the angels conversed; it was with the woman who had been on the sidelines. And the conversation is simple and honest; why are you weeping the angels ask and Mary responds with honesty about her confusion. Jesus’ body should be in the tomb, but it is not.

This honesty leads to another amazing encounter, for after she says this, she sees another man present  who also asks why she is weeping, and she responds as she did to the angels. But then this man calls her by name, “Mary!” and in that moment she recognizes Jesus, her teacher, and she knows that he has been resurrected and is alive!

This is the moment that Jesus’ resurrection becomes Easter for Mary! This is the moment that her grief is transformed into inexplicable joy! Easter happens to Mary in a very personal way; she is identified by name and all that she is, her sorrow, her honesty and confusion, her marginal status among the disciples, all of this is wholly accepted and transformed by Jesus. This encounter changes Mary completely.

While I don’t really know whether the Gospel of John was written also for martians it may, in fact, present a very effective way to explain to someone who feels like a complete outsider what Easter is. Easter is that personal moment when, like Mary, through our honesty and vulnerability, we hear Jesus calling our own name and we experience a radical transformation in our lives. Jesus was raised from the dead, but Easter is our own faith moment when God becomes real to us. And if that can happen to Mary, the one on the sidelines, then it can happen to each of us. That is the promise and joy of Easter!

The second half of the question, how do we know about Easter, is answered in in part through Mary’s actions after she talks with Jesus. She went back to the disciples and announced, “I have seen the Lord!” We can know about Easter because of people like Mary! Please hear her courage to share her experience with a group of people with whom she may not have had much authority and who likely had already heard discouraging things from Peter and the beloved disciple who had left the tomb before she did. Please hear her freedom and joy that she knows in her own relationship with her Teacher, Jesus, and be grateful for her witness as one way we, too, can know about the potential of Easter.

We turn now to the final question of how then shall we live? And the answer to this will be short or incomplete because it is up to you to find your answer. How then shall we live in response to what we hear about Jesus’ resurrection through the scriptures, through the traditions of the church, through the words of others, is the ongoing story of our own faith lives. Maybe we are like the beloved disciple, uncertain about entering the empty tomb, but remember, he was indeed beloved. Maybe we are like the courageous Simon Peter, who did not know how to interpret the folded linen wrappings that he saw, but nonetheless becomes a foundational figure for the Christian church. Or maybe we are like Mary, somewhat on the sidelines, sad and confused, but nonetheless accepted and also loved by Jesus. We know of Mary’s response to the question of ‘how then shall we live’; she proclaimed with courage, freedom, and joy her faith experience.

How then shall we live, those of us who were not at the foot of the cross, who did not see an empty tomb, who know of the confusion of the disciples and also the testimony of Mary? The Gospel of John suggests to us that there is not one specific standard way we have to respond to the mystery of the cross. Jesus will call each of us by our own name, as he did Mary, and this will be our own Easter moment that gives us our unique vision for how then we shall live as faithful Easter people in all places of our lives. May today be your first day on this transformative adventure of finding, seeing, and living with the risen Christ. Amen.
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This afternoon I offer you my meditation on three verses that I have a “work-in-progress” relationship with. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)  Really…?

I suppose I can be thankful when my gaze is directed towards myself; I’m thankful for my health and my family’s health, I’m thankful for being at this school and for the comforts and opportunities it provides, and because I don’t like to feel lonely I’m thankful for friends and community. But, if I’m able to crawl out of my self-focused world for just a moment and see my neighbor as Jesus asks me to, then it’s not so easy to be thankful. How can I be thankful when I hear words of prejudice and hatred directed toward certain groups of people in our society from those who are in power? How can I be thankful when poverty and injustice afflict our neighbors in this nation and around the world? How can I be thankful when the needs and concerns of too many people seem to be ignored and marginalized, and wars persist leaving children stranded and refugees without shelter? How can I be thankful when many will resort to violence to express their views and when peace seems elusive in our world divided by ideologies? There is a lot that is not good. If I love my neighbor as myself, how can I be thankful?

I don’t think Jesus was thankful for everything that happened in his life, if by thankful we mean appreciating reality as it is. In fact, Jesus was angry at the merchants and moneychangers in the temple. I don’t recall him giving thanks for what they were doing. Jesus was not grateful, either, for the hypocrisy of the religious people who came to speak with him or for the illnesses of the scores of people who came to him for healing. Jesus didn’t accept their situation, nor did he ignore it and focus instead on the blue skies and singing birds. And to be clear, Jesus certainly was not grateful for having to carry a cross to his death. He did not say, ‘God, thank you for leading me to this point.’ No, Jesus prayed to have God remove his suffering. But Jesus stayed in the place of human greed, brokenness and sin that ultimately produced his cross. That’s the kind of stick-it-out, authentic guy that he was. If Jesus’ gaze had been turned inward to himself, as the Son of God he had everything to be thankful for. But Jesus looked at the people around him with compassion and ultimate humanity and did not desert them in their time of trial and tribulation.

That’s the kind of Jesus I believe in, a Jesus who sees reality for what it is and sticks around in that suffering with his love, righteous anger, and yes, a peace that passes our understanding. That’s the kind of Jesus I can model my life after. And that’s the kind of Jesus that even today shows up in people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Gandhi, you, and me, and speaks up in our places of brokenness. We are never alone when we open our hearts to justice and love.

So, rejoice always? Yes. Pray without ceasing? Yes. Give thanks in all circumstances? Yes, because we are loved by a God who suffers with us especially when we thirst for righteousness sake, when we feed the hungry and clothe the poor and give voice to the voiceless. Somehow in that process a new heaven and new earth will emerge; we are co-creators in this. This is our meaning and this is our hope. Yes, we can give thanks.

Then, let us not grow weary in doing what is right (Galatians 6:9), for God is with us.

It seems to me that to live a life of faith is to balance what to give thanks for and what not to give thanks for, knowing that through it all we are grateful that God is indeed with us and is transforming our reality with us. And when we cannot give thanks for what we see in our world, then we must cry out. It is clear to us that “[the] Kingdom of God is not the United States of America [and we should] not confuse the two.” (UMC Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Conference) So then what are we doing to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth even despite the United States of America and in all places in the world?  Amen.