Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | May 14, 2018

Wind and whisper

It’s Pentecost, our celebration of the origins of the church by the coming of God’s spirit. Check out the story in Acts 2.

Jesus’ friends are depressed, frightened, closed in, praying, alone. The spirit strikes suddenly, frighteningly—like a mighty wind—and blows them out into the streets. Things change. New ways of being God’s people are forged.

The spirit can be a mighty wind. As a matter of fact, the word πνευμα (pneuma) means both spirit and wind.

When the spirit wind blows into a community of faith or into you, it is the kind of thing that knocks you off your feet with wild unpredictability. It is getting accepted to the school of your choice or landing the job you’ve always dreamed of. It is like new love, or like a dog hanging its head out the window of a car going 60 miles an hour, or like Justify storming down the home stretch in the Derby. It is the exhilaration of welcoming a soldier home from combat. It is getting great news from the doctor. It is a bunch of children giggling, squirming, singing at their after school program. It is the faithful rallying for hunger programs or getting excited about new and old forms of worship.

But the spirit isn’t always mighty wind. Pneuma can actually be translated three different ways: as spirit, wind, or breath. Sometimes instead of wind, we get only a breath. A whisper. The tender hug of the One who cares, supports, loves, rather than the fist bump of exhilaration. Not the excitement of new love, but the familiarity of a long-time love. Not the dog hanging its head out the window of a speeding car, but dozing in the sun.  Not the stallion streaking down the track but foals grazing in the field.

The whisper of the spirit is the exhale you make after you’ve heard bad news and realize you have been holding your breath. The whisper of the spirit is the sigh of a sleeping child. The whisper of the spirit is the breath of a bugler playing taps for the soldier who didn’t make it home. The whisper of the spirit is the quiet voice of encouragement to get up and try again after you didn’t get into the school you wanted or land the job you dreamed of. The whisper of the spirit breathes life into a home or a community that needs it. It gathers up the ones who are chased by the wind out of an upper room where they had waited alone and whispers, “Now what are you going to do?”

Alone and worried doesn’t work for the spirit of wind and whisper. What works is gathering, and then dispersing. What works is finding the right words and acts to be Jesus to your own community. What works is using your own energy to take God’s mighty wind and quiet whisper out the doors, so that everyone might experience the wind of exhilaration and the whisper of encouragement.

This is both power and gentleness. This is the legacy of spirit.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

 

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Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | May 9, 2018

War of the worlds

John’s gospel, in particular, talks much about “the world.” κόσμως (cosmos, “the world”) has different meanings. It can be taken to mean:

  1. the created order;
  2. all of humanity;
  3. humanity as fallen.

It can sometimes be a little difficult to determine which meaning is intended by a specific usage. In this week’s gospel lectionary reading, John 17:6-19, the writer uses κόσμως eleven times. Eleven. He’s trying to tell us something. But what?

This text is part of the longest Jesus prayer in the gospels and is part of the farewell discourse—his last meal and conversation with his friends.

I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours… 

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world…

I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one…

They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world…

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…

We’re sent into a culture that we can never fully belong to. A realm full of beauty and goodness that is also crowded with evil influences. A home that we are encouraged to love but where we can never feel completely at home.

Our relationship with the world is complicated. As people of faith we jump in with hands and feet to explore the life we’re given, to enjoy love and friendship, to delight in the kindnesses we experience, to revel in the diversity of humanity and nature and how they express the wideness of God’s character.

But we must also be watchful—watchful of our own selves—that we don’t mistake evil for good. We can’t be drawn into things that appear to be good but are the opposite. It sounds easy-ish, but it can be really, really difficult.

In an environment where many religious leaders have confused these two concepts of “world,” we have extra work to do.

When lies are passed off as truth, when sexual misconduct and gun violence garner a shrug, when the ones Jesus loved the most are refused adequate access to healthcare, when those fleeing terror and tyranny are denied refuge, when the environment is sacrificed for greed, and when all these things are defended by religion, then our concepts of κόσμως collide.

The world of our natural order and the world of humanity are created by God, as beautiful expressions of God’s character. But that expression can be corrupted when we are influenced by evil and wrong-headed pressures and theologies. Then that third definition of κόσμως kicks in—our own fallenness.

Let’s fulfill our end of Jesus’ prayerful hopes for us—to enjoy the world and be fully engaged in it because it’s God’s creation, and to be wary that we do not succumb to the temptations of evil that corrupt the beauty of that creation in us, and in the κόσμως.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 23, 2018

Connected

Nearly every day, I use Google, and I love the Google Doodles that give information about people and things, both familiar and new to me.

Last week we celebrated Earth Day, and the Google Doodle was about Dr. Jane Goodall. You’d think the writers would focus on Goodall’s vast list of accomplishments, but instead they share a video of her speaking about the connectedness of everything on earth, including humans. These are a few of her words:

There was one moment I was Gombe National Park [in Tanzania] and it began to pour with rain. And then the rain stopped and I could smell the wet hair on the chimpanzees and I could hear the insects singing loudly. I felt absolutely at one and it was a sense of awe and wonder. Out in the rain forest, you learn how everything is infinite – and how each different species, even though it may seem insignificant, has a role to play in the tapestry of life. What better day than Earth Day than to really make a determined effort to live in better harmony with nature. Every single individual matters, every single individual makes an impact on the planet every single day. We have a choice as to what kind of difference we’re going to make.

Science continues to confirm her words—that everything is connected, and that every individual matters.

Metaphorically, Jesus says the same thing in John 15:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” [from John 15]

The vine is the thing that holds all the branches together and makes them viable. If we remain connected to our faith, we’re going to bear fruit, even if that fruit isn’t always easy to see.

Each one of us “makes an impact on the planet every single day. We have a choice as to what kind of difference we’re going to make.”

What kind of impact do you make? Which vine is the one that gives you sustenance and influences your beliefs and actions in the world? Our tendrils reach out in ways we don’t even realize, and touch people we don’t even know.

We are all connected. We all make an impact.

What role will you play as you attempt to produce beautiful fruit?

© Melissa Bane Sevier

 

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 16, 2018

You are known

Countries and cultures often create a picture of themselves, using symbol and metaphor. Norwegians see themselves as Vikings, Central Americans recall the images of Inca and Maya warriors. Sometimes countries use animals as cultural symbols—eagle, lion, jaguar, wolf, stork, horse, camel, bear, owl, elephant. Not a single country lists a sheep as its national animal. Pity the poor sheep—not very emblematic; not regal or fierce; not large or imposing. They are fairly docile, susceptible to predators, and not the sharpest knives in the animal drawer.

Even so, sheep are valuable, and they were extremely important to an agrarian society like the one in which Jesus lived. They were important to the survival of families, providing meat, milk, leather, wool.

The shepherd was low on the status ladder, but nevertheless a vitally important member of society. He’d watch over the sheep of many different owners and they’d travel many miles to get to green pastures so they wouldn’t overgraze. He lived with them 24/7, keeping them together and protecting them from wild animals or thieves. And he wasn’t supposed to lose any of them.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…” [from John 10]

When the scriptures use the metaphor of the good shepherd, we are encouraged to think of being protected, and of being known.

When sheep wander off from the flock they can get into trouble. They get confused by not being with the others, and they will do anything to try to get back. It’s their instinct.

They are not unlike humans in this sense. We can get into trouble by doing whatever the crowd does, and we can also get into plenty of trouble by ourselves, by leaving those who love and care about us behind.

In either case, it can be really b-a-a-a-a-d.

The metaphor in John about the good shepherd is significant, especially to an agrarian culture: a good shepherd will protect us. We know that bad things still happen. But we are also encouraged to remember that we are not just one of the crowd. We are not nameless sheep. Every single life, every single heart, is important.

This sense of being important to God is best, and most often, expressed to us through the caring acts of those around us.

Anna May Chain is a Karen Baptist theologian from Burma (Myanmar). After Japanese occupation of her country ended in 1945, the Christian minority feared for their lives because of outlier Buddhist-related mobs. Her family was taken in by Muslims (who put their own safety at risk), sheltered in a mosque and safe houses. For their protection they were placed in a prison where some Buddhist friends bravely brought them food, medicine, and clothing. Eventually they were cared for in a Catholic convent, though Anna’s family was Protestant. Despite their religious differences, all these people, she says, showed the caring of God to them.

Every congregation I know has some type of list of people to pray for—by name. We have people we check on. We have family, we have church, we have neighbors, we have friends. They know our names.

We are known. And that knowledge itself is not just psychologically pleasant and reassuring. It is, in ways that we don’t even understand, protective. black and white lamb 2,LR adjusted, copyright, low, blog 4-18

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

 

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 9, 2018

What’s for supper?

Luke’s version of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples is both similar to and  different from John’s (that we read last week). Luke brings his own details.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. [from Luke 24]

“Shalom,” says Jesus, which is sort of a cross between “Peace” and “Hey.” It’s both a meaningful greeting and a casual, everyday one. The friends did not experience it as either meaningful or casual; to them it was terrifying. The dead one is among them, and acting as though nothing weird has happened.

“C’mon, people. Here I am. No, really. Look at my scars. You can touch me and see that I’m not a ghost. It’s okay.” Some of them are starting to come around and then he asks for something to eat. They give him some fish and he eats in “in their presence.” Luke is obviously writing for those who say that the resurrected Jesus was not physical.

What attracts me most, though, is Jesus’ humanness. After three days of being closed up in a tomb, he’s hungry. Who wouldn’t be? When he walks in, his friends are so frightened they forget to show common hospitality. They don’t offer him a place to sit, something to eat and drink, a traditional welcome.

He smells the food and looks over their shoulders while they are backing away from him and crowding around him in equal measure. Finally, in the midst of reassuring them, he can’t wait any longer: “Uh. Do I smell fish?” Someone catches on to his hunger and goes to get him a plate, and they watch him chew and swallow. (Ghosts can’t eat, can they?) As they are assessing him in a more friendly manner, he’s simply having some leftovers. Finally, after nourishment, he’s ready to engage in real conversation.

Spirituality and relationships are so often connected to eating. It makes sense. It makes us human. We talk about “being fed” spiritually, or we call friends and make plans to eat together. Eating is human. Relationships are human. Spirituality is human. Those things are linked by the realities of life. While we cannot exist without food, it’s also true that our existence is deeply impaired if we lack significant relationships or some type of spiritual awareness.

That’s why it’s rare to experience a social gathering without food: because we sense in some elemental way that feeding our bodies feeds our souls and moves our relationships to deeper levels.

We live better when we eat, especially when we eat good things together.

What’s for supper?

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 2, 2018

The opposite of faith

Theologian Paul Tillich said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty.”

This story in John’s gospel is about faith, doubt, and the desire for certainty.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’  [from John 20]

Called “Doubting Thomas” by many, I think the disciple is instead an honest example for all of us who can’t believe, or who want to believe, or who have re-evaluated—maybe even changed—our beliefs along the way.

Thomas needs proof. Jesus doesn’t disparage his doubt. Jesus offers the very proof Thomas seeks by inviting him to explore that doubt.

I even get the feeling that the less certain Thomas is the one to be emulated in this story. Jesus praises him.

The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty.

I’m amazed every week when I look at Facebook and see what some folks believe. How are our beliefs and convictions formed?  What makes one person believe something, and another person believe the total opposite? Sometimes it’s the certainty that is concerning–the idea that one couldn’t possibly be wrong, the inability even to look at another opinion, much less consider it.

When we refuse to listen to the beliefs of others, we are being unfaithful. Maybe we’re afraid that some idea that defines who we are will be rightly challenged.

Beliefs typically come through the people and institutions that are constants in our lives. Schools, faith communities, teachers, friends, partners, co-workers, and that all-important first breeding ground of belief: the family. It’s not just what is said at home that puts those deep grooves in our brains; it’s everything about how we live.

Even as adults, we can still have the kinds of experiences that change our beliefs. This is why it’s so incredibly important to expand our circle of friends and acquaintances, to read about the experiences of others, to pay attention to subtexts, to try to suspend our own heartfelt beliefs and maybe even call them into question—listening to the experiences of other individuals or groups with empathy, because it’s expanding for our own hearts, our own faith, our own humanity. This can take practice, and it can be hard work. But it is rewarding work. Every time you listen to someone else’s experiences, and try to imagine what it’s like to be them—a different age, different gender, different nationality, different sexual orientation, different race—your own personhood expands. And your beliefs and convictions can be altered.

We sometimes become less certain of some of our strongest beliefs, even as we become more faithful in seeking out what new thing God might be teaching us.

Think about the experiences you’ve had that make you you. Give voice to them in your head and in your heart, so that in reflecting you may continue to learn more about yourself, and may be open to change and growth.

Jesus looked at Thomas with compassion and friendship. He responded to doubts with love and invitation. All those early disciples were working through their beliefs in their own, individualized, halting way. And they were all accepted. They all shifted from certainty to faith.

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt; it is certainty.Francis with Easter eggs

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 26, 2018

To be continued

There are three very different endings to the gospel of Mark. Check the footnotes in your Bible. But modern scholars agree that the original ending is the one below, and the others were added later, probably in the second century, because those early scribes found the original ending unsatisfying. You’re about to see why.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. [from Mark 16]

If you were to make a movie of Mark’s gospel it would not have a nice, rounded ending (as the other three gospels have), with Jesus and the others sitting around a campfire, or meeting in an upper room, or eating a meal together, with a happy conclusion and the words THE END scrolling up over the screen as we hear a soaring musical score.

Nope—the end of Mark’s movie is like the dread of every lover of a serial drama. The season finale comes around and one of your favorite characters has been in a terrible accident. All the other characters are in the hospital waiting area, the door to the operating room swings open, the surgeon comes out looking exhausted, prepared to let them know what’s going on, they look up at her expectantly and the screen goes dark. The scrolling words say, TO BE CONTINUED.

TO BE CONTINUED???

That is often God’s way, isn’t it?  We want the ending of the story to say what we want it to say. Here, let me write a better ending for that. That’s what those second century editors did. I get it—they wanted to turn that unsatisfying ending into something more complete. But God is always writing unexpected endings that can be frightening.

“He has gone ahead of you,” the young man says to the three women. They are seized with fear and amazement.

Once the tomb has been opened, there is no telling where the story might go from there. There is no stopping the places Jesus might show up. At your dinner table. In the middle of an argument. In the unemployment office. On the battlefield. In the hospital. At the workplace. In the funeral home.

We might be afraid for Jesus to enter our stories, to enter our homes, to hear how petty we can be, to see our relationships, to listen to our conversations, to see how we spend our money, to watch our ethics at work.

Still, fear isn’t the last word. Though “they were afraid” are the last words of Mark’s gospel story, this isn’t the end of God’s story, it isn’t the end of the women’s story, and it isn’t the end of our story.

Yes, Jesus becomes harder to recognize when he no longer walks among them in the flesh, but as they learn to look harder and to see differently, they can recognize him—sometimes in each other, sometimes in people outside the faith, sometimes in circumstances.

That first Easter morning, those early followers flee because they are afraid.

A hundred or so years later, some writers go back to tell the rest of the story, how the Jesus people had lived in courage, even though they couldn’t imagine it early on.

Two thousand years after that, on this Easter Day, Christians all over the world pause to remember. Even though hatred and narrow-mindedness and evil and fear took Jesus to the grave, we are inspired to remember how God’s light refused to be darkened, and God’s voice refused to be silenced. We remember that Love burst from its place of burial out into the world. Like the women, our nature is to resist it, even to be afraid of it. But we are also amazed, because we have sometimes seen how love can overcome hatred, inclusiveness can obscure narrow-mindedness, good can overshadow evil, and courage can take the place of fear.

When we see these things, when we live these things, we are writing the continuation of God’s story:  that God’s love is not entombed.

As the dim light of sunrise illuminates an empty tomb on Easter morning, we are sent out in both terror and amazement to face whatever is before us.

The story of resurrection is not to be told by standing and staring into the tomb. It is to be lived by turning and running headlong back into life. It is bearing in our very bodies and souls the promise of Easter—the promise of resurrection, the promise of new life—as we encounter new people and situations, or the same old people and situations. It is living in hope that the depth of the tomb is not God’s final message to us.

Every day you decide to live your life in faith and not in fear, you are writing the postscript of this gospel. Every day you share God’s love with a fellow human being, you are writing the epilogue of the Jesus story.

We face forward and run toward a new day, where the future remains shrouded in mystery, but bears the imprint of resurrection.

And the words scroll on the screen of God’s story and of yours:

TO BE CONTINUED

IMG_1969, copyright, low, blog 4-10-17

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Last week, students all over the country led walkouts at their schools for at least seventeen minutes to honor the seventeen lives lost at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The next day, teachers here in Kentucky held “walk-ins” to protest proposed funding cuts to their pensions—gathering outside the school buildings to protest, then walking in to start the day with their classes as they do every school day. While these two events were widely promoted on Facebook pages, another statement simultaneously made the rounds: Walk Up, Not Out. Initiated by the father of one of the Parkland victims, this statement encourages young people to pay more attention to those around them, to be inclusive, to be fair—the kinds of active, soft intervention that leaders of faith communities always advocate—in the hopes that kids on the edges might be acknowledged and helped by simple, positive human interaction.

These three ways of expressing viewpoints in a free society have all moved me. Each is like, and unlike, the others. One is a demonstration that, in some cases, involves risk (suspensions, other disciplinary measures). One is a way of expressing opinion without sacrificing work. One is a pretty low-risk way of simply doing the right thing.

Which one is right? Honestly, all three can be effective, faithful responses to disagreements over important cultural issues.

This Sunday most Christians observe Palm/Passion Sunday. The gospel readings are from Mark and John, and those are quite similar to the accounts in the other two gospels, Matthew and Luke. What always strikes me about the stories of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was how public and over-the-top it was. Yes, the descriptions were written so that readers will compare this event to Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9, but this parade seems so different from the ways we’ve seen Jesus up to this point.

How many times did Jesus tell people who’d experienced or witnessed a healing or seen a vision (like the transfiguration) not to tell anyone about it? How often is Jesus a simple teacher, even if before a great crowd?

But here? Here this procession celebrates a leader for all the people, even though a humble one. And the parade involves cheering, not prayer; shouts, not silence; palm branches, not dust even on the feet of the donkey. In Luke’s version, the religious leaders cite the unseemliness of the spectacle and tell Jesus to silence the crowd, to which he replies that even if he were to try, the very rocks along the path would cheer. And John tells us that Jesus’ popularity deeply worried those same leaders.

So, what?

While these gospel stories have nothing to do with our current cultural divides in the U.S. over guns or teacher pensions, they remind us that faithful expression takes many forms. Sometimes it carries the mantle of quiet prayer. Often it lives in individual encounters that encourage and support. Occasionally it is focused through particular teaching in houses of worship. And, on occasion, it may take the form of a mass in-your-face demonstration to focus attention that couldn’t be obtained any other way.

Let’s encourage all these forms of expression, and not disparage any of them. Whether you plan to share welcome and support to the people around you, make your opinions known while carrying on your responsibilities, or attend public rallies to show your support for an issue—good for you.

You’re following in the footsteps of Jesus.palms, LR adjusted, copyright, low

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 12, 2018

Stories of the heart

Jeremiah uses his prophetic imagination to envision a new time, when things could be different. The prophet often bemoans the fact that though God’s people have been carried through incredibly hard events, they’ve not done what the law requires.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,* says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. [from Jeremiah 31]

They’ve worshiped other Gods. They’ve not taken care of the poor. They haven’t welcomed the immigrant. They have observed neither the letter nor the spirit of the law that was given by God through Moses. Over the heads of the people hangs the anvil of doom, the threat of war and exile.

Here in this passage we get a glimpse of the prophet’s real dream. After all the trouble is over, after the people’s behavior has come back on them because it has weakened them, then maybe they will have the opportunity to become something new, something better, a people that doesn’t have to worry so much about the particulars of the law because that law will now be written on their hearts.

People and cultures always have trouble with law and heart—two things that are sometimes hard to reconcile. One may seem too hard; the other too soft. We all struggle with how to pull them together.

Problems arise because we too often see law and heart as being at opposite poles, but the prophet shows us that they are far closer than we might think. Jeremiah’s people broke the laws of God, and thereby also broke God’s heart. It’s not that the law will disappear, but that the law, at least the parts that are truly important, will originate from God’s heart-writing. That has always been their origin, though we’ve been slow to recognize that.

As a storyteller, I like to imagine this writing by the divine to be a little “outside the lines.” What if we experienced this writing not as just laws, but as stories of how God’s law and God’s heart have come together in one person, community, and experience? These stories are God’s way of combining letter and spirit, law and heart.

Maybe it’s a story of a group demonstrating the law of love by sponsoring a refugee whose life is in danger (law: no murder). Or the story of an individual who cares for an ill parent with the help of the community (law: honoring mother and father). Or the story of a neighborhood that actually understands what it means to be neighbors, that has a culture of invitation, safety, openness, celebration, and relaxing with each other (law: keeping the values of Sabbath). Or the story of a person who learns the real meaning of relationship versus money (law: make no idol).

When we show hospitality to the stranger, offer refuge to the homeless, feed the hungry, work for peace and justice—when we do these things, we are living the stories that we’ve seen or experienced. We are living the stories that have been written on our hearts.©Melissa Bane Sevier, 2001

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 5, 2018

The dark night

Who isn’t sometimes restless, sometimes passionate, longing for something different—something more? It’s certainly a theme fit for Lenten reflection.

In the verses right before this week’s text, Nicodemus goes to Jesus because of a deep yearning. What do I need to do to be close to God? To be right with God? How can I have more meaning in my life?

Though he is a religious leader, something is lacking. He is educated, well-connected, respected. He’s unlike some Pharisees Jesus has criticized for hypocrisy, the ones who thought they had nothing left to learn, that there was no room for growth, that they never made a mistake, that God was on their side. Nicodemus is far less certain. He wants something more.

Jesus gives a long answer with many moving parts. It’s about salvation and eternal life, about God’s love for the world, and about darkness and light (a common theme for John’s gospel).

Why does Nicodemus come at night? Did he have to work all day? Is he afraid for people to see him—a religious leader—looking for something new, so he comes under cover of darkness? Or is night the time when his yearnings for something more get the better of him? He is hesitant. He doesn’t know what he needs, but his yearning sends him on this journey in the dark. He ends up knocking on the door of the house where Jesus is staying—that rabbi who sounds so engaging.

People are often troubled at night. Darkness can be overwhelming, and light so elusive. They can’t sleep because their minds are churning over the events of the day, or they are worried about how they’ll pay the bills, or they are watching over a sick child, partner, or parent, or they feel guilty, or they are afraid of tomorrow.

When the darkness descends, where do you go? What questions do you ask? What answers are beyond your reach?

The good news is that you’re not condemned for being afraid or guilty or troubled. Those feelings that generate darkness, or that are generated by the darkness, are welcomed, and invited into the light of God’s presence.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. moon-copyright-blog-2-20-17

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

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