Calm and Bright: Love—Redeeming Grace – Dec. 16, 2018 by Pastor Jeri Viera Dahlke
1-2 The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
3-5 Everything was created through the Word; nothing—not one thing!— came into being without the Word. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.
6-8 There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. This one came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.
9-13 The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
the Life-Light brings into Light. The Life-Light was in the world,
though the world was there within,
the world didn’t even notice.
The Life-Light came to the people,
but they didn’t want the LIght. But whoever did want the LIght, who believed the Light’s claims and would do what was said,
were made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten,
not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.
14 The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
15 John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but
in fact was ahead of me. This One has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”
16-18 We all live off this generous bounty, gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
and then this exuberant giving and receiving, This endless knowing and understanding—
all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made God plain as day.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts honor you, O Holy One. Amen.
Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light, Radiant beams from thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at thy birth The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.
With the Word and out of love, creation was formed.
With the Word and out of love, the 10 best ways to live were given. With the Word and out of love, leaders like Deborah and Moses were given. With the Word and out of love, kings and prophets showed us the way.
God knows the very hairs on our heads, when we rise and when we sit down, every thought and every feeling.
As Eugene Peterson puts it in Psalm 139, we are an open book to God. In Exodus 3:7 we hear that God had a deep awareness of the pain the people suffered in Egypt. In Zechariah we hear God say, Anyone who hits you, hits me.
We call that empathy, that combination of head and heart knowledge, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s moccasins, clogs, slippers, boots, shoes.
We heard those things, over and over. But God and the love of God remained beyond our grasp.
There was one more thing. In our joy and in our suffering, God was with us. There was no where we could go and be outside of God’s presence.
Your God is present among you—we heard in Zephaniah earlier.
Joshua 1:9-Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for God is with you wherever you go. Is. 41:10-Fear not, for I am with you. Deut. 31:6-Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Holy One who goes with you.
We glimpsed that presence, over and over. But God’s presence was just beyond our grasp.
It’s because of this deep knowledge that this is the way it was for that God responded by showing us the way, helping again and again…luring us, not forcing us, to live and love.
God did not need to become flesh in order to empathize with us.
The Christmas story is that God so loved the world that God empathized with us and then stepped fully and completely into a human body to show US how much we are loved to show US the way to live and to love also.
(Be sure to read my follow up in the e-news this week!)
God shows us the first two acts of love— to empathize and to be with.
Sadly, Christians moved away from the truth about our ability to empathize when we became only depraved wretches, with no capacity to empathize or to do any good. We embraced an idea called original sin.
Yet babies, pets even, make it clear that we can empathize. While we fall far short of who we can be, we are also created in God’s image with great capacity for empathy. It’s wired in almost all human beings.
Our ability to empathize is challenged today, particularly those of us in the more developed nations. We are becoming more socially isolated. We spend less time physically present with others and have fewer people to confide in in human history.
Loneliness, that’s something different. It’s a subjective feeling of being disconnected. Social isolation is something we can measure. Both of those, though, impact our ability to empathize AND our physical health.
With our emphasis on the individual here in the US, those empathy skills are not as encouraged as they are in some other cultures. Think about it. Babies in independence value cultures cry more and children have a harder time than babies and children in interdependent cultures, or in collectives.
In those cultures, caregiving is based on responding to the needs of the baby. The parents empathize with their baby. Is the baby hungry? Hurting? Tired? Wanting to be held? Needing to be active? When they figure that out, they ask “What can I do?” and they do it. That give and take responsiveness teaches the baby that pattern which they then imitate.
So, we’ve got some big hurdles to overcome.
There’s good news there, too. God became flesh so that we can learn! We have that capacity, too. We know, through Jesus, what to do. With the power of the Holy Spirit and by the redeeming grace of God, we can change. We can and do overcome those hurdles.
A simple thing we do is reading or watching a show about the lives of people who are different from us. For introverts and for folks who do not get out much, this is very doable.
The most important thing of all? It’s that “be with” part. As we are able, we need to get up and go be with people or invite them in if we have limitations. For us mere mortals, people are not open books to us like they are to God. We need to hear their voice and the words they say. We need to see what they are doing, watch their body language.
When we have a baby, we don’t know immediately why they are crying like God does. It takes time and our attention to them. It isn’t “what would I do or feel in that situation?” It’s notice what person is feeling, doing.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yes! However, in the US we took that to mean I will do to you what I want done to me. But that’s not it. It means I need people to pay attention to what matters to me, I will pay attention to what matters to the other. God paid attention to what was happening for us, became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.
George Orwell did it. Pastor Rick Cole, former pastor of Capitol Christian Center did it. Folks from all over the nation are going down to the border to do it. No, they couldn’t become someone else. They did move into the neighborhood.
When George Orwell got back to England after being a colonial police officer in Burma, he decided to find out what it was like for those who live on the social margins. He wrote, I wanted to submerge myself, get right down among the oppressed.” He put on worn-out shoes and coat and lived on the streets of East London with vagabonds and beggars. The experiences he had there and with poor people in Paris changed his thinking about his priorities, relationships, inequality.
Pastor Cole spent about 3 days in downtown Sacramento sleeping on the streets. People are going to the border to stand with those seeking a safe place to live and love. We cannot do what God did. We cannot step into the full life of another. We can be with them, though.
It’s called the ministry of presence. It isn’t barging in with the answers to fix all problems. Turns out thinking we have that kind of power is much more about our own needs than that of the other. Empathy and presence are superpowers we each possess. When we exercise our power to be with people, especially those who are very different from us, our empathy superpower grows.
A great place to stretch ourselves and deepen our skills is within our beloved community. It is what will make us more of a beloved community. Then, we can practice with our neighbors and family.
Do you know that there are hurting pastors because their family members year after year schedule the family Christmas get-together on Christmas Eve and don’t understand why the member who is a pastor can’t be there?
We can also take steps to move into other neighborhoods, so to speak. Stevie-Rae and Carolyn Insalaco have begun to do that with the Nomadic Shelter. They are leading the way to help make it easier for us to empathize and be with those who have no home.
Let’s do a little practice right here where we are safe, and with God. In a moment, we’re going to watch a video of a 13-year-old Alejandro and his mom. We start with letting go of everything we have heard or think we know. We do not know these two. The second step is to engage our curiosity and our imaginations. Let’s wonder about them and imagine, based on what they say, what they experienced. Pay close attention. Before their ordeal at the border, they spent days crammed into a bus with 65 other people and with little or no food.
One thing that got my attention was the description of the many activities available at the detention center. The adults were doing something for themselves. They didn’t want the children to suffer. None of us do. Pretending, distracting is making the pain and suffering greater. That is not the ministry of presence. Put yourself in his shoes. What did he need more than anything (in addition to play opportunities)?
There is one more circle of people we are to empathize with and to be with—our enemies, people with whom we totally disagree.
In 1927, Claiborne Ellis was born poor and white in Durham, NC. Like his father, he joined the Ku Klux Klan. He eventually had the top position of leadership of the local branch. Then in 1971, he was asked to participate in a 10-day community meeting to deal with the racial troubles of the region. Interestingly, Ellis got put together with a black activist he hated to lead a steering committee together.
As they spent time together, Ellis found out that they had similar experiences due to poverty. He started to see his enemy as a human being. He said, “It was almost like bein’ born again.” Standing in front of a thousand people the last night of the meeting, Ellis ripped up his Ku Klux Klan card. He went on to become an organizer for a labor union that was 70% African American. He and Ann were friends for the remainder of their lives.
The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. Now it’s our turn to move into the neighborhood.
May it be so.
www.helpeachotherout.com – A web site with practical resources.
There Is No Good Card for This. Kelsey Crowe. HarperOne, 2017.
Six Habits of Highly Empathic People. Roman Krznaric. Greater Good Magazine, 2012.