Being “Embodied” with brain health issues

Nightly my routine includes 150mg of Sertraline, also known as Zoloft. I really wish it wasn’t part of my life, but it is. My brain health issues include depression, anxiety, and adult ADD. I take the SSRI along with regular exercise and time with a therapist. Some days are still better than others. I will never be someone without a brain health condition. 8 years ago when I was pregnant with our one and only, my fervent prayer was that these brain health issues would not be genetic. We welcomed our daughter into the world in June 2004. Postpartum depression robbed me of the first 6 months of her life. I was there, but I don’t remember anything. 

I prayed, a lot. I wondered if Mary ever went through PPD. I wondered if Mary cried when (or if) Jesus refused her breast. I wondered if Mary ever laid her hand on Jesus’ back, feeling him breathe. She certainly missed out on those amazing mesh undies they give you in the hospital! I thought a lot about her when I cried over drying out milk ducts and when I put my hand on my daughters back and when I cried over, well… anything. You don’t hear those stories in the Bible. Did Joseph get up with the infant Jesus in the middle of the night? 

Our daughter is now fiercely independent, incredibly smart, and hilarious. So sure, some of it was genetic. But when she starts to have trouble processing things, speaks to herself with such cruel words, and practically works herself into a panic attack, my worries sneak back. I usually pull my beloved girl in close and tell her the things I would want to hear in that moment, the things I long to hear on the days when my depression and anxiety are winning. I am trying to get better  listening to God when She whispers these things to me. “You are beloved. There is nothing wrong with you. You are safe. You are loved. Take a deep breath. You are not a failure. This is a bad moment, not a bad day or even a bad life.” As I cradle our gift from God, I like to picture God, pulling me closer to Her. My girl lays her head on my bosom and I rest assured that for today, God knows what it’s like to parent. I speak grace to my congregation on a regular basis. I speak grace to my daughter daily. Every day, I’m getting better at hearing it myself when Mothering God pulls me close and speaks grace to me until I believe it. 

This post is part of the book launch blog tour for Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God. Embodied includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter, to instigate conversations that lead to support and new perspectives. The book is available this September from Bookshop.org, Amazon, or Cokesbury

Sermon for 1/12/20 Matthew 3:13-17

It probably won’t surprise many of you, but we’re big Disney fans in the Marple household. We got our subscription to Disney Plus as soon as it came out. We’ve been on a Disney Cruise as many of you know. As soon as the opportunity arose during Thanksgiving, we ventured out to see Frozen 2. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t have kids, go and see it. It’s a great movie (I even liked it better than the first one). One idea that runs through the movie (and don’t worry, this won’t ruin it for you) is that water has memory. Water remembers. And it makes sense. Water is a living creature. It is made up of oxygen and particles just like you and me. So water remembers being frozen, or disturbed, or dammed up, or polluted, or whatever the case may be. Considering that water has been around since the literal creation of the earth, water must have a very long memory. In a lot of ways, water helps us to remember too. 

In today’s story, we hear about Jesus’ baptism. The temptation, of course, is to think of our own baptisms. This is only natural. Perhaps we think of Casey’s baptism still to come. Also only natural. But the focus for scripture today is Jesus’ baptism. The baptism isn’t the end of his ministry but the beginning. In the waters he was named and claimed, just like we all are, and those waters helped to form his ministry. And as corny as this sounds, the fact that water has memory isn’t just a Disney idea. I really truly believe this. We also know that water is crucial to creation. It is part of life and necessary for life. At the same time, water is necessary for new life in Christ. In the waters of his baptism, Jesus gets an identity: Son of God, beloved, one with whom God is well pleased. That is Jesus’ identity in that moment. That will also shape his ministry that will begin at those waters and finish not at the cross, but with an empty tomb and resurrection. 

Like many of you, I’m sure, I followed the news closely this past week. I watched, I listened, I carefully followed tweets. And I worried. See, seminary didn’t teach me how to lead a congregation during wartime should such a time arise. This past week was full of disruption to what should have normally been a fairly mundane week of news as normal and most of us giving up on resolutions. When rituals get disrupted it can leave us feeling in a lurch and wondering what is next. When routines get disrupted it feels like everything gets thrown off. I don’t know about you, my beloved, but this past week felt like it lasted about a month. My mind, my body, and my spirit are not meant to live in crisis mode as much as it did this past week. 

I think that is why I am so grateful that this is part of our routine. That we gather here, week after week as the body of Christ, in community, to recenter ourselves in Christ. We gather around bread and wine to be fed by a humble feast and be reminded of what love really tastes like. And we are reminded of this while being told that this bread and wine is given for all for the forgiveness of sins. Even though we gather here at this physical location, this is being done all over the world in places of worship and this routine binds us together. 

Then we gather at the waters. The waters that remember. They remember Jesus and they certainly remember you. Baptism isn’t just water. This baptism was just water until the Holy Spirit showed up. The Holy Spirit, I like to think of her as the trouble making person of the Trinity, shows up and descends upon Jesus. And it is that Holy Spirit that sends Jesus out into the world and accompanies him as he starts doing ministry. But left behind are the waters that washed the son of God. The man who was fully human and yet fully divine. He entered into the waters as normal as you or I but rose transformed. I’d like to think the Holy Spirit does the same to us. In Jesus’ baptism, he was fully claimed. He was washed (although sinless) and the waters remembered. I wonder though, and scripture never tells us, do you think that Jesus ever forgot who he was?

Like did Jesus ever have a dark moment when he forgot that he was the Messiah? Or did he have moments where he doubted his divinity? Did he have moments where he forgot what was professed to him in those waters? I’d like to know if Jesus had those very human moments. I know I do. There are moments when the waters have to remind me of who I am. I don’t remember, but the waters of baptism remind me of who I am. But here’s what makes me super mad about the waters of baptism: they remind me of who my enemies are too. And my enemies, or the people I perceive to be my enemies, the people I don’t like, or the people I wish ill upon, they have been named and claimed too. The waters of baptism remember them too. God loves them too. 

See, there would be times (like this past week) when it would just flat out be easier to not be a baptized Christian. It would be easier to not be a pastor. It would be easier to forget about the waters and let the waters forget about me. But I can’t. Grace messed me up. And now I can’t get over the fact that the same God that named and claimed Jesus as beloved does the same to the guy I don’t even know but argue with in the comment section on the internet. The waters washed my eyes cleaned and I wished they hadn’t. Because I can’t view this world without it breaking my heart. I can’t view this world and not see it begging for justice and peace. Not only do the waters of baptism remember me, but they remind me of who I am and whose I am. And these waters aren’t exclusive to me. Jesus wasn’t the only person baptized in the Jordan. Jesus’ baptism was the start of his ministry. And our baptism is the start of ours. 

These waters remember you. There is nothing to prevent you from being baptized. In fact, just because we’re baptizing Casey today doesn’t mean we can’t baptize someone else too. When you forget who you are, allow the waters to remind you. You are claimed. You are beloved. These waters will transform you. That’s a fair warning. Like I said, grace messes me up all the time. There’s been a lot to fear this past week. Perfect love casts out fear. In these waters, we collide with perfect love: the love of God. You are God’s beloved and the waters remember. So should you. 

Sermon for 1/5/20 Matthew 2:1-12; Epiphany

I will not often admit this, but I am not the best with directions. I find that I am better now that I live in a river town. As long as I know which way the river is, I know where I am. I have never been one of those people who uses directional directions, you know, where you use silly words like “north and east.” I also find it amusing when people give me directions using landmarks that no longer exist. These directions sound like this “go down to where the Johnson outbuilding used to be before they tore in down back in ‘68…” So believe it or not, I rely on GPS a lot. We also have this handy dandy feature in our car (I’m sure a lot of you have it too) called OnStar. With a press of a button I can talk with a real live human, tell them where I’m going, and they send directions to my car. Then through the magic of satellites, a computer voice comes over my car speakers and tells me where to go. It’s great. And I love that it’s called OnStar. 

The wisemen had their own version of OnStar. It was an actual star. Now, another true story about me: long before I knew anything about the Bible or astronomy for that matter, I thought that the star that the wisemen followed was the north star and so that star only appeared on Christmas Eve. I am admitting that I was wrong about this (obviously) just in case any of you think this as well. While the infant Jesus is the main feature of our Gospel for today, we cannot forget a supporting cast member: the star. Scholarly journals offer numerous interpretations on whether this was a star, a supernova, a comet, or what. We’re not told. I’m sticking with what scripture tells me and my very basic eighth grade understanding of astronomy here, it was your average every day kind of star, maybe just a little bit brighter. But the star is the GPS for this story; it sends and directs everyone to the main star, the infant Jesus. 

“The star is a symbol of our need for divine revelation to see the Messiah and King. Without divine revelation, we would miss the Messiah” (Feasting on the Word, Thomas 212). Just think about that for a moment. Had the wisemen not seen the star, they would not have known about the birth of Jesus. They would not have made a trip to pay him homage and worship him. They would not have brought him gifts fit for a king. They would not have been for us and for many, another affirmation that this was not your average birth, this was not your average infant, this was not your average star. The star is crucial in this story because it leads average humans like the wisemen and you and me to the divine. We should always follow this star. 

So you may remember that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The star appeared in the east. We know that’s a very generic direction. We don’t know if the star appeared over the Dead Sea, over the Jordan River, or some where over what is now Jordan or Syria. We just know it appeared to the east and it was stunning enough to beckon these three wisemen to follow. Here’s the strange thing that may be easy to miss. The wisemen were not Jews. They didn’t have scripture. But, they saw something that lead them to search for this new king. And when they arrived they knew enough to ask “where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Mt 2:2)

After asking around, the wisemen get no where. No one seems to have an exact address or location for this birth of the Messiah. What shall they do? OnStar to the rescue. They follow the star. The star went ahead of the wisemen, leading and literally illuminating the way to the Christ child. When the wisemen finally reached their destination the star stopped. And the wisemen were overjoyed. Can you imagine? They had followed this star and their journey had reached a fevered pitch and I am sure they were full of joy, excitement, awe, wonder, majesty,and maybe just a little intimidation. They would finally see the king. And the first thing the wisemen do is fall to their knees and worship Jesus. They humbled themselves in body and spirit and bowed before the infant king. 

The presents they had weren’t ordinary. They were purposeful and when the star beckoned, I am sure the wisemen knew they had to bring gifts worthy of a king. The gold was a precious element, it still is, and worthy of a king; “frankincense was incense worth of a divinity; and myrrh was a spice used in burials. So the gifts were appropriate for one who was a king, a God, and a suffering redeemer” (Feasting on the Word, Culpepper 215). After the worship and the gift giving, the magi no longer needed the star. The love of God was enough to direct their lives. 

What are we to do? Where is our star? We have a lot of things that beg for our attention. We have a lot of things in our lives that pose as stars. We have many well intentioned things that want to direct us in this way or that. But it is Christ, our true star, that we should follow. When I think about the night sky it can be overwhelming. If you live out here where there is no light pollution, you know how beautiful a starlit sky can be. The wisemen had it easy (almost). Their star was bright and it moved. It was as if their star was saying “over here guys, look at me!!” But just like a night sky, our lives can get beautifully clustered. So we know we should follow the star to Christ but how?

Most of us already come equipped with a GPS: God Provided Spirit. It is the mark of Christ given to you in baptism. You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. This is your GPS. This is what you should follow when the world around you gets noisy. This is your star. Our baptismal identities is what makes us who we are. We are first and foremost children of God. We are loved and protected by an infant who welcomed wisemen and a refugee who fled from Herod. We are challenged by a messiah who fed thousands and cured many. Our baptismal calling is like that of following a star. The journey may not be easy, but at the end, we have the opportunity to worship and praise the one who really does give life. I pray that in times of trouble you remember that your star, your calling, your identity, is your God Provided Spirit marked on your foreheads for all the world to see.  

Sermon for 10/13/19 Luke 17:11-19

I spent some time at a conference in Denver last week called “Evolving Faith.” Many of the attendees of the conference might classify themselves as “exvangelicals.” They came from various faith denominations. Many, however, have been hurt by the church and her people. Something happened in their lives and the church that they loved was no longer a safe place. I heard a story of a woman who was heavily involved with her church and then her brother came out as gay and she and her family were no longer welcome in church. Another story of a cancer diagnosis and no one from the church bothered to call. At the end of the conference, we misfits, all 2,000 plus attendees gathered around the table to have a humble meal of bread and wine. For some, it had been years since they had communion. For others, like me, it had just been a few weeks. But for so many in attendance, it was the first time in a very long time that they felt seen. They didn’t need to put on airs, pretend to be okay or well, have it altogether, or even be confident in what they believed. We were welcomed at the table, just as we were, and so we went. There is power in being seen. 

The lepers in our story today were seen. I think this is a story about healing. I think this is a story about what it means to be grateful. I also think this is a story about what it means to give praise to God. I also think this could be a story about what it means to give thanks. But, it all starts with being seen, and there is power in that. The lepers were probably used to not being seen. After all, they weren’t the most aesthetically pleasing crowd. Jesus met them on their turf, so to speak. Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. This was dangerous territory. It probably wasn’t a well traveled road. It wasn’t safe for the average Judean. But, it was safe for the lepers. In this region, they could just be. They could be in community with other lepers without the stares, without the gossip, without the looks of pity, without people crossing over to the other side of the street. They could live without having to justify even the breath in their own lungs. And then Jesus came along. And I think it’s important for us to once again hear and see what happens before healing and rejoicing happens. Listen again. 

Verses 12 starts “as he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,” because remember, that’s what they were used to, society had trained them to do that, “they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them,” and I want to stop right there. Jesus saw them. He saw the lepers. He saw their full humanity. He saw them and then healed them. And his immediate command was “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” What Jesus said basically was “go and make yourself seen by someone else as well!” The priest was the person that could bring the lepers back into community fully. The priest was one of the people that would insure that the lepers would be seen fully. There is power in being seen. 

I believe that the lepers praised God because they were healed, yes, (I can’t blame them) but because of what the healing means. See, during this time, there was much expected of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. If someone had an illness that could be visually observed (such as boils or leprosy), or if someone had been seized by a evil spirit then they were outcast by all of society. Their family, their town and community, even their church didn’t want anything to do with them. After all, what if it is contagious. Thank goodness we don’t operate like that anymore. (eyeroll) For the lepers, healing meant that they can now be seen as members of the community again, as members of their families again, as participants in worshiping communities again. There is power in being seen. When you feel seen, how can you not but praise God? After all, it is often only God that truly sees you. 

When was the last time you felt seen? And I mean truly seen? I had to ask myself this question and I don’t know that I have a good answer. I am seen a lot as my roles, which isn’t a bad thing. I am seen as Ellen’s mom, or Chris’ wife, or Pastor, or sister, or whatever. But, when was the last time I felt seen as Jealaine, child of God? Because, as I’ve said over the last few weeks, if that is our core identity, which it is, then when was the last time you felt really seen in your core identity? And I also had to wonder what what prevents me from being seen. The answer really stung, my beloved. I prevent me from being seen. There is power in being seen and there is healing in being seen and I am getting in my own way, maybe you can relate. 

Maybe I don’t want to be seen because then if I am seen, I will be fully seen. This means I will be seen with all my flaws. I will be seen with all my shortcomings. I will be seen with all my sins. I don’t want people to see that. I don’t want to be shunned from the community. I don’t want to be a leper. But did you notice something about the lepers that Jesus healed? There was more than one. Even within the leper community, there was more than one. This was a group of people that managed to look at one another’s brokenness and said, “hey, me too! Let’s travel together.” Maybe church should be more like that. I am broken. You are too. And together we aren’t whole. But we are a whole lot. That is because God sees us. All of us. Just as we are. 

Soon, we misfits in this place will gather around this table to be seen once again. Sure, I will hand you bread and wine, but it is God that is meeting you in this meal and is seeing you. The body of Christ given for you who is working long hours for little pay. The blood of Christ shed for you who feels guilty for letting those dishes sit in the sink another day. The body of Christ given for you whose marriage is falling apart. The blood of Christ shed for you who just needs a break, is that too much to ask? The body of Christ given for you whose own body is starting to fail you. The blood of Christ given to you who doesn’t quite know what to think about this God and Jesus stuff. The body of Christ given to you who fight demons every day. The blood of Christ given to you who have a child that breaks your heart daily. You are seen. You are called. You are claimed. And you are seen. You are loved right where you are, no matter where you are. And you are seen. All thanks and praise be to God, you are seen. 

Sermon for 9/29/19 Luke 16:19-31

With all of the other news going on in the world, you might have missed that there has also been a college admissions scandal happening. And maybe this wouldn’t be such big news if it didn’t involve Hollywood celebrities, big dollar amounts, recognizable college names, and acts that to me are honestly so ridiculous that I just shake my head. For example, there was a family that bought a swimsuit with their high school logo on it, had him put it on, and staged him in their backyard pool just so they could Photoshop him into water polo pictures to justify him getting a water polo scholarship.Now, he didn’t even play water polo, but he got a scholarship! Then there were the celebrities that paid bribes between $250,000 and $500,000 to get their kids into USC. Or paying $15,000 to have someone cheat on the SAT for their child. Of course, all of this is coming to light now and people are starting to pay fines and serve jail time. They are getting what is coming to them! It has been very hard to find anyone that feels sorry for these folks. 

I mean,if we’re honest, it’s hard to find a better feeling than schadenfreude. Schadenfreude is a nice German word that means taking pleasure in other people’s pain. In other words, celebrating when people finally get what is coming to them. These hoity toity rich people tried to circumvent the system and now they’re going to pay. The rich man in our story today flaunted his wealth in life and now in death he is begging for relief and it just isn’t happening. It’s hard not to have a schadenfreude moment. Now, it is not a sin to be rich. The man isn’t in Hades being tormented because he was rich. It was what he did with his riches and how he treated those with less that sealed his fate. We don’t know why he flaunted his wealth. Maybe it was a lack of confidence in who God created him to be. We never really find out. 

Now Jesus is talking to the Pharisees… oh good, “them” again. No, we are the Pharisees. They had that opinion that if you did what needed to be done then you would get the goodies. The rich man was rich so obviously he was doing what God wanted. The rich man ate and Lazarus picked up the crumbs. Only the dogs ministered to him. (Side note, this just goes to show what amazing creatures dogs really are. Do you think a cat would have done that?) Did you notice something unique about this text? Whose name do we know?  We know Lazarus’ name. He has an identity. The rich man doesn’t have a name. He’s anonymous. One might think that it would be the other way around. After all, in previous stories, and with other people that Christ deals with, the forgotten are hardly named. The woman at the well, the lepper, the Syrophoenician woman, and on and on. But this poor beggar named Lazarus. His is not to be confused with Jesus’ dear friend to be raised later, also named Lazarus. 

Now, the rich man has a theology that says if “I do what God wants me to do my investments will do well, I’ll do good and everyone will know how good I am.” While we may not admit it, many of us dare think the same way. The Pharisees, in many ways, are American popular religion. If we just get our act together, God will love us, country, people, individuals,  we just have to do what’s right, God will check it off so we can get what’s coming to us and if we don’t get what’s coming to us we can just complain to God that God’s not playing fair. We should know by now that these conversations rarely go well. This is often sold as the “American Dream.” If you work hard and trust the system, you should be able to live at (or maybe even a little above) your means and provide for your family. When the system fails us we look for people and places to blame and sometimes that means blaming God. After all, we think we’re following the rules, whatever they may be.  

But Lazarus lives by trusting God. Eating what falls into his lap. Receiving the gift from those others would call the dogs, the unclean. That’s really a challenge for us. More and more we are ignoring those on the side of the road. We are interested in being right, successful, powerful, like no one else. We are becoming anonymous because we’re just like everyone else. But Jesus speaks of Lazarus. But right now he’s an identified poor man. Someone who trusts in Jesus has an identity. A name. A name that Jesus can speak. A name that you can I can speak. Don’t you realize that when you and I were baptized that we were given a name? We were introduced to God. I baptize “the name.” That name is important. That name contains the promise that we have been given. That name says that we have what we need to be the people of God. And that’s far more important than this other stuff. If you’re unsure of what God thinks of you, dip your hands in the waters. If you’re unsure of what God thinks of you, come to the table and be fed.

But then we get to the story of the bosom of Abraham and Hades. Don’t try and figure it out. We’re so interested in trying to figure out the “what is to come” that we miss the here and now. The challenge is trying to live as God’s people–now. Eternal life has already begun–now. Let’s live that way rather than wring hands. Will we (the church) exist in 30, 40, 70 years? Who cares? The challenge for us is to be the people of God in 30, 40, 70 years not the institution.

If we get it right, we get the goodies. We get it wrong. We’re not always sure the baptismal promises are for us. We don’t hear our names which is all we need. God is alive and active. 

The church is God’s church for God’s people for God’s world. Somewhere along the way we got it wrong in thinking it belongs to us. This isn’t a comfortable text. It names our lack of faith because we really desire credit for what we put into the account. But it’s already ours. We are called to trust. And in trusting we shall live. Whether it is crumbs from the table or the feast at the table, we shall live in our identity as the people of God. Trust in who God created you to be. Trust in who God has called you to be. Trust that when God calls you, it is not because you are wealthy, but because you are already rich.

Sermon for 9/8/19 Luke 14:25-33

Look, I’m not super excited that this text fell on this Sunday. Like, of all Sundays, why this one? All of the kids have returned for Sunday school, which I love. Some of you are back (even without kids) after a summer hiatus. And then we get to do one of my most favorite things today and that is baptize beautiful Palmer. So,you can imagine how thrilled I was when I read the scripture for today and saw that Jesus says that if we don’t hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters,and yes, even life itself, then we cannot be his disciples. Thanks a lot, Jesus! It feels like Jesus has been on a roll lately with these stories, parables, and sayings he’s just throwing out there. What do we say to Jesus when he says things like this?

A quick survey: how many of you have either said or heard this phrase “If you don’t stop, I will turn this car around!” I think this is Jesus’ version of that. (“I will turn this donkey around!”) There are times when you have to kind of go to extremes in order for people to listen or start to comprehend the point you are trying to make. Yes, for Jesus to say that we need to “hate” is perhaps a hyperbole. But that doesn’t change the fact that what he is saying is serious and that what it will take to be a disciple is serious. We should not forget that for Jesus, this is a matter of life and death. His death is our life. From the beginning of Luke we are told that the infant that Mary carries in her womb is not just another baby. As I referenced a few weeks ago, Mary sings of Jesus’ ministry before he even enters the world. We are told that the powerful will be brought down from their thrones. The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich will be sent away empty. Are we really to think that this all will happen because discipleship means the easy way?

Even though we are physically in September and even though today is our first day of Sunday school, we have to remember that what we are reading in scripture in current day didn’t happen at the same time that we read it. So, today’s reading didn’t happen in September during Jesus’ time. In fact, it probably didn’t. Jesus has already turned his face and his mind to Jerusalem. He has already started to think about the thing that we normally think about during Lent: his death. Up until now, Jesus has tried to have a few “now or never” moments with the disciples. But this is serious. It’s almost as if Jesus has reached his breaking point. Here is the message the disciples need to hear today. Here is the message we need to hear today, my beloved. Discipleship is not a part-time, when I get to it, if I have enough time and it’s convenient to me, or a what will I get out of it kind of job. Discipleship is a call. Last week I talked about our baptismal identity being not what we are but who we are. Discipleship is the same way: it is not about what we are but who we are.

I don’t know if you knew this but most of  you are already disciples. The moment you were splashed and proclaimed, you became a card-carrying disciple. Did you know that? Do you think of yourself as a disciple? That’s a good question, isn’t it? Let me ask you again: do you think of yourself as a disciple? Now, let me push you a bit more (because I try to be more like Jesus, ya know). When do you claim that discipleship citizenship? Because even though we’re all disciples and God desires for us to live into that called and claimed identity 100% of the time, we tend to only do it when it feels good. Or maybe that’s just me. Help to feed the hungry? Sign me up! I’m a disciple! Teach at Vacation Bible School? Sign me up! I’m a disciple! Build a habitat house? Sign me up! I’m a disciple. If we’re honest, doing these things are great. They need to be done. But, they also make us feel good. But what about discipleship that doesn’t cause warm fuzzies?

Sit at tables with people that are completely opposed to everything I support? Sorry. Super busy. Attend a protest where I will literally have to put my body on the line and maybe get arrested? Doesn’t Jesus know I have a reputation to maintain? Listen to stories of how broken systems and broken churches hurt people over and over again and not be able to do a darn thing about it? That sounds terrible. Count me out. But Jesus is giving us this “are you in or are you out” kind of mentality. He lays it all out there for everyone to see and hear. Being his disciple means that you may be put in situations and predicaments that put you at complete odds with the people that you love the most. Being a disciple means that those who love you learn of your discipleship card-carrying status and immediately shun you. After all, who wants to be associated with people who love and serve a man that allows himself to get arrested, flogged, and crucified? What kind of leader does that?

I know I say this often, but I’ll say it again. Discipleship is not easy. It is not for the faint of heart. I know. I speak from experience. I am sure there are several ways that I fail at discipleship daily if not hourly. I so desire the easy way out and that is not what is asked of us as disciples. Discipleship is a life-long commitment to kingdom building in an environment that believes only in the building up of self. We are called to build community in environments that care only about building the bottom line. We are called to care for justice while living in communities that support unjust systems. We are called to die daily to ourselves and rise to new life in Christ when we are surrounded by informercials that guarantee us that we can be better for only $19.95. Discipleship isn’t about what we are, but who we are. And we are card carrying disciples. 

Today, all of you are literally becoming card carrying disciples. I have passed out these cards in the hopes that you will keep them someplace handy. Maybe you’ll tuck it away in your wallet, in the visor of your car, or in the corner of the mirror in your bathroom. Written on these cards are the promises we make in baptism. We make these promises today to Palmer, but we also affirm them to ourselves and to the people around us. It’s important to remember that we don’t do this discipleship work alone. I wanted to have these available for you (and me) because when it feels like the world is against us, I wanted something to reference. What does my baptismal identity call me to do? What does Christ call me to do? We are called to live among God’s faithful people. We are called to proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace. This is our job description. 

Sometimes as the church, we get bogged down in the small things that seem like big things. When in reality, we need to step back, remind ourselves of what our call really is. I hear horror stories of churches experiencing splits because they want to replace the old pews that are falling apart. And I think to myself “Jesus didn’t die for this.” But what Jesus did die for doesn’t even seem to be on our radar unless it’s convenient for us. Jesus has demanded a lot of his disciples. It’s a now or never moment. We are washed in water, claimed by God, marked with the cross of Christ, fed with body and blood, and then sent out into the mission field. We will be rejected. We will be ignored. We will be shunned. But so was Jesus. And for me, I’d rather serve and follow the one who loves, who dwells in mercy and grace, than follow anyone or anything that doesn’t care about my eternal life. 

Sermon for 9/1/19 Luke 14: 1, 7-14

If I somehow had the ability to transport you back to my childhood home on Tudor Lane in Liberty, Missouri, the first place I’d probably take you was the kitchen. Like so many other homes, our kitchen was the hub of the household. We had a large bar that served as the collection site of the mail,notes to one another (or to ourselves), lunch making prep, and on occasion, it was a sitting place (although my parents weren’t huge fans of us sitting on counter tops). Not too far from the bar was the heart of the kitchen: our family table. It was a solid wood oval piece with an optional leaf. For the longest time it had only 5 chairs. Dad sat at the head of the table to his left was mom, then my sister Jayna (opposite my dad), my brother Jon, then me to dad’s right. Even when someone was missing from the table (which was rare) we always sat in the same seats. It was rare for someone to sit in Dad’s seat. A lot of learning took place around that table. We learned a lot from one another but it also was the homework hub of the house. It wasn’t uncommon for the table to be cleared from dinner and everyone took their place to study. That table was a place where our identities were formed and shaped. It was where we processed bad news and celebrated good news. It was the place where we planned for weddings and babies. While this may sound strange, my parents don’t use that table any more; their new table is just as big and nice, but it’s not the same. 

I thought about that table a lot this past week as I reflected on this Gospel reading. Jesus does a lot of his teaching in Luke around a table and around food. In fact, he does more of his teaching, fellowship, and discourse around the table and food more in Luke than in any other Gospel. Are you like me? Were you formed and taught around a table? How many of your core identities are tied to a table? I think about who I am and how that part of me was formed and shaped around a table. I am a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, an aunt, a niece, and a wife. All of those roles were formed and shaped around our table. I learned a lot by watching, listening, learning, and the fellowship, hospitality, and lessons shared around tables taught me how to be who I am today. But, I am also a Pastor, a mom, a friend, and a lot more. Many of those roles were formed around tables that I had the honor of being invited to. What tables shaped you? What identities do you have?

It helps to know a bit about Jesus’ context that he speaks from this week. He is at a dinner on the sabbath. He has just come from healing someone on the sabbath, again. This is a dinner of a captive audience of the Pharisees and their leader. These are people who would be very well versed in what proper table and party etiquette would be. At a wedding banquet during Jesus’ time, the place of honor would be held for someone important, perhaps someone high up. Usually this seat was saved for some government official. Jesus is cautioning his listeners to not sit in the place of honor. Perhaps he is trying to save them all from embarrassment and shame. The thing is, however, a lot of these people he’s surrounded by in this story would be people sitting close to the seat of honor. That’s how it went in Jesus’ time. If you weren’t in the seat of honor, you were seated almost by rank. 

Instead, Jesus encourages his listeners to take a posture of humility and sit in the lowest place, wherever that may be. Jesus, as usual, is challenging the status quo and what tradition looks like. What his listeners may not understand or just may not hear is that a banquet, at least a banquet during Jesus’ time, isn’t a true banquet unless everyone is invited. The banquet that awaits us all in God’s kingdom isn’t a true banquet unless everyone is invited. At a kingdom banquet, we are shaped and formed by those around us in ways that may be unexpected and yet also in ways that are most rewarding. 

Think back (again) on your identities. Take a moment to make a mental list of the identities you have. Do any of these come with honor and prestige? Are you given a seat of honor at the table because of this title? Or are you given the seat of honor out of fear of retaliation. Do any of you have a title or identity that perhaps once gave you honor and/or prestige but societal expectations have diminished that? Here’s an example: being a teacher (in my opinion) is a position of power, prestige, and honor. I was raised by teachers and I married a teacher. I was taught to respect my teachers. If one of my child’s teachers brought up a concern over her attitude or behavior, I wouldn’t first jump to believing that the teacher was lying. “Oh goodness! Not my angel of a child.” Doctors and nurses have to deal with this too (I’m guessing). It used to be that whatever doctors and nurses said went. It was the truth. Doctors and nurses could be trusted (in my opinion, they still are to be trusted). But, then came Doctor Google. And suddenly, an identity of honor and prestige is no longer. 

Society also places expectations on our titles and identities. The titles and identities so carefully formed around tables of comfort, safety, security,and learning are challenged externally all the time. I am guessing there are millions of articles out in the world about how to be a better mother. How to be more involved, how to better discipline, how to make the perfect nutritious lunch, how to raise children to not be addicted to electronics and on and on. And make no mistake, there are similar articles for men. There are articles out there for any identity you may have. For me, it’s the articles on increasing attendance and increasing the bottom line that give me impostor syndrome. I mean, after all, what kind of Pastor am I if I am not leading 6 services a weekend to a congregation of 5000 with a $3-5 million dollar budget? Our identities are important. But they are what we are, not who we are. 

Jesus wants to shake up the status quo. He’s not trying to be a jerk about this. 

But he desires for the Pharisees, his disciples, and all of us to start living into the idea that hierarchy is a human construct. Places of importance based on status and human given identities is just an easy way for us to persecute one another. It is important that we are aware of our identities. It certainly is important that we celebrate our identities. It is crucial that we grow in our identities and nourish the relationships that form from them. But in God’s kingdom, at the ultimate banquet, around the most lavish table, none of that will matter. There is no place of honor at that table other than Jesus. 

Today, Kami receives her most important identity. This is the identity that will matter more than anything else. This is the identity that should mean more to all of us than anything else. Because nothing else matters more than being a called and claimed child of God.  This is the identity that will shape all others as she gathers around tables in the future. Because her place in the kingdom is secure, as is ours, that is what allows us to look at tables and not celebrate who is gathered but instead make room for the forgotten. Our identity as children of God is what encourages us to build more tables and chairs when we have more than enough food. Our baptismal identity is what allows us to look into the eyes of the stranger, the forgotten, the downtrodden, even our neighbor and say “here, have my seat.” 

Sermon for 5/12/19 John 10:22-30

I love that this text falls on this Sunday of all Sundays. The Sunday when we celebrate our graduates. The Sunday that reminds parents that soon you will send your own sheep out into the world, trusting that the shepherd will guide them. This is also the Sunday when the sheep (perhaps) are excited about the next step and can’t wait for the shepherd to fall asleep because there’s a ragin’ party happening in the next field over. Now I am sure parents of new or soon to be graduates won’t like what I’m about to share. When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t real sure what I wanted to do. Same with college. When I graduated from high school, I thought I wanted to be a dentist. No joke. One semester in and a review of all the math and science classes required quickly talked me out of that. When I graduated from college, I knew I was bound for further education, like a Masters degree, but I had no idea what I was going to do in the meantime. But, God knew. God always knows. Because God knew me, called me by name, and I followed. Maybe God had to repeat my name several times and point me in the right direction, but eventually, I followed.

Sometimes I feel like I say the same thing over and over again, but, to be honest, some things are worth repeating. Maybe you’ve heard me say this before, and if so, it’s good to hear it again. If not, this will come as good news, I hope. God knows you. And I don’t mean that in a “that’s cute…are we Facebook friends?” kind of way. I mean that God knows you. God knows all your highs, everything you brag about even when you’re trying to be humble. God knows all of your lows; the darkness, the secrets you try and even hide from yourself. God knows it all. And God calls you by name. This is a relationship, my beloved. This is a relationship of love and caring, and yes, abundance. There isn’t anything at all, not even death, that can come in between you and your relationship with God.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus has been in a mission since early on. We hear from the very beginning that God so loved the world (see John 3:16). Not only does God love the world, but God sends us Jesus so that we may have life and have it ABUNDANTLY! Not only that (!) but God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn us, but save us and grant us eternal life. That is Jesus’ mission: to love the world. And the world includes us. The call to discipleship also includes us. We are part of Jesus’ flock, we are Jesus’ sheep. So, how will we respond to the mission to love the world?

Unlike actual shepherds, Jesus always has room for more in his flock. There is always more room for the lost and forsaken to be in his care. And should we be the ones to wander off, should we be the ones to become a lost sheep, Jesus’ voice will always be louder than anything else. No one and no thing can ever keep us from being in the care of Jesus. I think this needs to be heard loud and clear, my beloved. No one and no thing or event will ever snatch us out of Jesus’ hand. And my goodness, we have no shortage of things or forces in the world that desire to snatch us out of Jesus’ hand.

If we just take a cursory look at everything society tells us should keep us from church. Heck, sometimes the church tells us that these things should keep us from church. Divorced? I’m sure you’ve been told some things by the church. I have a mental illness. There are some who might believe that maybe I just haven’t prayed hard enough. That’s a nice thought but have you tried Zoloft or Prozac? Financial difficulties? Well, just pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Society (and at times, church) is so concerned that we only display and show our best selves that anything other than our best selves is considered a failure. If you think I’m wrong, consider this. Instagram (a photo-sharing social media website/platform) has 24 different filters. This does not include the additional abilities to edit, lighten/darken, or change the coloring on each picture. Snapchat (another social media tool) has 24 different filters that can turn your face into a dog or add a halo or whatever and an additional 21 different filters that change the look of your picture (without turning you into a dog or whatever). We always have to show our best selves, don’t we?

That feeling may exist with church too. We have to show our best selves. It’s like cleaning before the housekeeper shows up. It’s the same theory with the people who think they need to get in shape before they go to the gym. We feel like we must do something to ourselves before we are worthy to be in God’s company. “I can’t go to church, I’ve been divorced.” Or “I can’t go to church, I haven’t been clean long enough.” Maybe “I can’t go to church, they don’t know I’m out.” I think the one that breaks my heart the most is “I can’t go to church, the walls might fall down and I doubt God even knows who I am anymore.” Oh my beloved, none of this is true. God knows you. God knows you intimately. God knows you like you know your own children. God knows you like you know your most beloved loved one. God knows you in such a way that you will never be let go. The barriers we attempt to put between us and God are nothing but excuses for Christ to demolish. Jesus stood at a tomb, the stench of Lazarus’ dead body filling the air, and stood there and called. And Lazarus, knowing Jesus’ voice, rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb. Do you think Jesus is going to allow our excuses to stop him from searching us out, calling our name, claiming us, tightening his grip on us, and reminding us who we are and whose we are? No. Nothing will keep us from Jesus. And nothing will keep Jesus from us.

Parents, I’m talking to you now, parent to parent. It’s okay to worry. It’s okay to be concerned. Your child will never go where God is not. Your best defense against anything is prayer. And graduates, I’m talking to you now. This is a time when many wrestle with their faith. I know I did. I tried to do away with God for a while. It didn’t work out well. No matter how much wrestling you do, no matter how much space you try to put between God and yourself, God will never abandon you. God will never lead you astray. God will always love you no matter what.

Fellow sheep, listen up: we are in the grasp of God. We have a shepherd that calls us by name and we follow. There is room in this flock for many many more. So, if you see a stray sheep, wrangle that one in. There is enough love for all. God is our shepherd and provides. There is enough love for all.

Sermon for 5/5/19 John 21:1-19

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) In the second half of this reading, Jesus addresses Peter three times. And each time Jesus addresses him, he calls him “Simon, son of John.” There is something about that identity. This is the third and final time since the resurrection that the disciples have seen the risen Lord in the Gospel of John. Peter previously tried to deny Jesus three times. He has tried to go back to fishing. But, during breakfast, with the familiar smell of a charcoal fire wafting in the air, Jesus really gets to the heart of the matter: identity.

What is your identity? Maybe the better question is how many identities do you have? How many of those can you wear at one time? I have several: pastor, wife, mom, friend, daughter, sister, Bearcat, activist, and on and on. But, my most important identity, at least to me, is my baptismal identity. I am Jealaine Rae, child of God. As great as that sounds, I don’t always remember that my baptismal identity is my primary identity. But, it is my baptismal identity that allows me to respond to all of my other identities. It’s easy to forget that though. When I’ve gone from a day of visits, to a council meeting, to home in time to hopefully read stories and do bedtime, grab a late dinner, put a load in the laundry, I forget that in all of that God claims me. I forget in all of what I do that God knows me.

A challenge also arises when we desire to forget, leave behind, abandon, or even deny our identity. While Jesus was on trial and Peter was in the courtyard, warming himself by the fire, those gathered around asked Peter “you are not also one of this man’s disciples are you?” And Peter responded with “I am not.” (see John 18:17, 25) Talk about a denial. But when Jesus appears to Peter and the others after the resurrection, he does not desire to shame or guilt Peter. You notice that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter for an apology or ask him to repent; neither does Peter offer it. And it may be easy to think that Jesus asks this question of “do you love me” three times to remind Peter that he denied Jesus three times. But, this is not the case. Jesus is simply reaffirming who Peter really is, who Peter has always been, who Jesus needs Peter to be now.

I believe there are times when we all desire to deny our identity. Any parent will tell you that there have been days when you want to scream “my name is no longer mom” (or “dad”). The ladies who helped with Lucille’s funeral can attest that I came back from the burial, grabbed my lunch, and went to seclude myself into my office. I actually said “I can’t people anymore.” At the same time, there may be those times when we flex our identities a little more. My dad is a fan of the idea that whatever he says goes, because “I’m the papa!” For extra emphasis, he’ll sing like he’s in “Fiddler on the Roof.” There has been more than one occasion when I introduce myself I make sure that I emphasize that I am “PASTOR” Jealaine Marple.

But there are those times when we desire to deny our identity out of fear. There is the worry that we won’t meet expectations. There is the fear that we will meet expectations and then more will be expected of us. There is the fear of disappointment. There is the desire to deny our identity because we may be judged on that identity or even rejected. And that hurts. And if we’re going to be honest, sometimes we deny who we are because there is a fear that we won’t be liked or even loved for who we truly are. We don’t want to be alone. We don’t want to be without a community or support system. So sometimes, identities get denied. What happens when we wish to deny our identity of “child of God.” Moreover, why might we want to deny that identity?

Jesus lays it out for us in this conversation with Peter. Just in case you thought this conversation was just for Peter, it is for us too. The resurrection has happened and we are faced with the “now what.” If we profess and confess to love Jesus what is that going to look like on a practical level? If we believe that “God so loved the world” (see John 3:16) what will that look like as we encounter the world on a daily basis? Jesus is the good shepherd. We hear that in John 10. Jesus even says in John 10:16 that there are “other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” Meaning, there are sheep, people, who have not yet come to know Jesus but Jesus is going to make them part of his fold as well.

So we fast forward to this conversation and Jesus says to Peter, “feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” For Peter and for us, this is our identity as disciples. This is our identity when we say we are children of God. This is our identity in Christ. We are to care for one another. We are to feed one another. We are to love one another. With an assignment like that, I can understand why Peter may not want to be a disciple. I can understand why going back to fishing, even on a bad day, looked a bit more appealing.

I can understand this because the world can be really hard to love. The problems of this world seem impossible to solve. Hate, violence, injustice, war, and power all seem to be the preferred language. If we’re going to be honest, our identity as children of God and as disciples has the power to just break our hearts over and over again. We are going to run into broken systems, people who feel broken, corruption, and what may feel like speed bump after speed bump. That much hurt has the power to not only make us deny our identity but leave it behind altogether. Sometimes, yes, it would be easier to operate in the world as someone who doesn’t know Christ. Sometimes it would be easier to turn and look the other way. It would be easier to not care.

But Christ calls us to something better and deeper. And yes, it’s going to break our hearts. And God is going to take those broken pieces and use them and keep us moving forward. We don’t do this discipleship thing on our own. While we may desire to leave behind our identity as children of God or identity as disciples, God has made a permanent mark on us. As much as we may try and ignore it, God’s love projects us forward into service to others in the world. The problem with our Christian identity is that we see the world as Christ sees it. The joy of our Christian identity is that we see the world as Christ see it. Our identity in Christ is secure. God has a firm grip on us, even on the days when we struggle. God has a firm grip on us even in the moments we’d rather have nothing to do with God. Peter has seen what life in Christ looks like: abundance upon abundance. We have seen it too. This is what discipleship is: to witness God’s abundance upon abundance and then make that happen for others.

It’s not an easy identity. It’s not a glamourous identity. But our identity in Christ is quite possibly the most rewarding identity we have. We may not see or experience that reward until we are in God’s kingdom, but the promise is there. We have seen the empty tomb. We have experienced the risen Lord. Soon we will be fed. Then Christ sends us out to feed the world. Our identity is love. Our identity is hope. Our identity is intertwined with the proclamation that alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Sermon for 3/10/19 Luke 4:1-13

Did you know that we get this story every first Sunday in Lent? The story of the temptation of Jesus. So, it might be easy, maybe even tempting for us, to hear this reading and immediately think of our own temptations. After all, don’t some people give things up for Lent so that they can learn the power of temptations? At the risk of sounding cruel, this reading is not about us. We should not hear this and immediately apply it to our own lives. After all, the temptations that Jesus faces, are nowhere near or like the temptations we face. Now, I know what you might be wondering. If this is not a text about temptation, then what is this story about? Our reading today as a story about identity. It is a story about Christ and his identity to and in God. It has a story about Christ and his identity to us. And, it is a story about our identity to and in Christ. The story is all about how Jesus is going to live into his identity as the son of God, and how we might follow as children of God and followers of Christ.

We are told that this encounter is spirit driven literally the text says that Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit. He is full of the Holy Spirit. So, he is not alone while being tempted. As a side note, this makes me wonder how much of this is Jesus trusting in the Holy Spirit and how much of this encounter is him trusting in his identity. How strong might we be if we put more faith in our identity and the Holy Spirit? But I digress. The temptations from Satan all start out the same “if you are…” Believe it or not, this is actually better translated as “since you are.” “Since you are the son of God” and then the temptations follow. This is not a question of Jesus’ identity but more of a challenge of how he will live into that identity. Satan is not questioning whether or not he is the son of God. But because he is the son of God how will he move about in this world? Perhaps we could post the same question to ourselves. Because we are called, claimed, and beloved children of God, how will we move about and encounter and interact with this world?

Before this encounter, in scripture we actually heard about the baptism of Jesus. Therefore, we heard about his identity in God. After Jesus is baptized, a voice comes from the clouds declaring “you are my Son, the Beloved” (Lk 3:22b).  So, perhaps, for Satan this is less about temptation and more of a challenge. You are the son of God, you are the Messiah, you are surrounded, filled, driven by the Holy Spirit. So Jesus, what will that look like? Once again my beloved I wonder what happens when we ask the same of ourselves. We are children of God we are the beloved of the Messiah, we are surrounded by the Holy Spirit. What does the world look like when we take on that identity?

The first temptation that Satan gives Jesus is to turn rocks into loaves of bread. We know that Jesus is hungry. After all, he has been fasting for 40 days. You can imagine then, the hunger is real. I mean, I know how I feel when I have gone for hours without eating. Let alone, 40 days. Once again however, this is not about Jesus necessarily. This temptation is about how Jesus will interact with the world and claim his identity. Let us not forget that so much of Jesus’s ministry is feeding people literally. Jesus feed hungry people. Can you imagine how easy that might be if Jesus was able to turn any and all stones into bread with a snap of his fingers? But Jesus refuses this temptation. He tells the devil that one does not live by bread alone. And, if you think of the many feeding stories that we hear about Jesus, it is more than just feeding that Jesus gives people. When Jesus feeds people, he affirms their humanity. It is about community. It is about recognizing who they are and where they are in that moment. Being able to snap his fingers and turn stones into bread may not be able to deliver that same message.

The second temptation that Satan presents to Jesus is about power. Satan offers Jesus all the powers in the world if only Jesus would worship Satan. Once again, think about all the injustices that Jesus could make right if he were all powerful as Satan seems to promise. Think about all the prisoners he could free if he were the one in charge of all the kingdoms of the world. Think of all the people he would be able to help if only he were the one in charge instead of governments or rulers. Satan is speaking directly to the heart of Jesus’ ministry. What he is offering is an easy way out. But once again, Jesus remembers who he is and who he belongs to. He reminds Satan that he will worship God and God alone. Jesus, once again, is resting secure in his identity. This is not an easy thing to do for us humans. They easy way out is always tempting us.

The final temptation that Satan poses to Jesus is to jump off the highest point trusting that angels will catch him. Once again, our reading says “if you are the son of God,” but it is more accurately translated as “since you are the son of God.” Since you are the son of God, prove that an identity. Show me and the world that God will claim you and catch you when you fall. And Jesus, knowing the devil’s intent, states that you shall not put your God to the test. Jesus does not need to prove that God loves him and will protect him. He already knows this to be true in his identity. He knows that he is the son of God, the Messiah. It is not to him to prove this to anyone else.

So, my beloved, what can we learn from this today? I think are most important takeaway from these readings today is to be secure in our identity. No matter what else the world may call us, good or bad, our primary identity is that as child of God. There is no shortage of people either challenging us to prove who we are, or people challenging who we are. God created us in God’s image. We are beautifully and wonderfully made. However, there are many that will challenge the way we act, the way we look, even the way we move about in this world. That’s why it is so important to remember who we are and whose we are. We are reminded of this identity every time we gather at the baptismal waters and every time we gather around the table. We are fed and bathed in the promise of redemption and loving adoption from God. This is not to say that we will not cave to temptation. We know we will. We know we have. It is sin infiltrating our lives on an almost daily basis.

It is good for us to remember then, when we do fall to temptation and sin, we serve a God that is relentless in loving us. You saw that the devil gave up challenging Jesus after three tries. Good for him for trying. It was a no-win situation for the devil. But for Jesus, he never gives up on us. We do not live by a three strikes and you’re out rule. Of course, Jesus does not desire for us to succumb to temptation and sin, but when we do, God through Jesus Christ is there to remind us that we are loved and forgiven. The freedom of the cross promises us this on a daily basis. We will not be defined by our temptations or our sins. The love that God has for us is stronger and greater than either of those.

Satan may also tempt us with something else: the idea that we actually do not deserve God‘s love. We may be quick to reject it. We may think that our sins are too great or are unforgivable. I am here to tell you my beloved that simply is not true. So, perhaps, over the next 40 days, you give into the temptation to be loved. Give into the idea that God is going to love you even when you feel you are unlovable. Give into the idea that you are forgiven even if you cannot forgive yourself. Give into the fact that you are claimed by God as a child of God and nothing can come between that relationship. What a wonderful 40 days this might be if we gave into those kind of temptations. Give into the temptation to love your neighbor. Give into the temptation to see the best in one another. Give into the temptation to see Christ moving in the world towards making this world a better place. Give into the temptation of allowing yourself to be loved so wholly/holy and so fully that you can’t help but love one another and the world that God created. Temptation exists. Evil exists. Sin exists. And I am very confident that the devil exists. But none of that is stronger than the grip that God has on us as claimed children of God. Our identity in God is secure. The love that God has for us is the strongest weapon against any temptation. Rest secure in your identities my beloved. God has a strong hold on you!