A sermon preached by Rev. Robin Bartlett
at the First Church in Sterling on February 26, 2017, Transfiguration Sunday.
Sermons are meant to be seen/heard. You can watch this sermon here.
It’s transfiguration Sunday. We tell this strange, miraculous story every year of Jesus’ transfiguration, on the Sunday right before Ash Wednesday, which is this week; right before the season of Lent begins. In it, Jesus goes up onto a high mountaintop with his friends. And suddenly his face shines like the sun, his clothes become dazzling white. And a bright cloud overshadows them. A voice from the cloud (presumably God) booms, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.” He is transfigured before them.
To transfigure means to transform in appearance into something more beautiful, or elevated. Transfiguration refers to an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change from the inside that shows on the outside.
An exalting, glorifying, spiritual change can occur when we know and see ourselves beloved. And I am not just talking about how when you first fall in love and kind of float around thinking you are pretty hot. Like when Maria sings, “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story. I’m talking about the kind of love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. The kind of love that God has for all. That’s the transfiguring kind of Love.
My six year old daughter Eloisa asked me last night: what are you preaching on tomorrow?
I said “transfiguration.”
Eloisa said, “what's that?”
I said, “it's when Jesus goes to the top of a mountain and is bathed in a warm white light and God says "this is my son the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased."
And Eloisa said, “sorry I'm just asking you this now, since you preach on him every week, but who the heck is "Beloved"?
That “Beloved” guy I talk about in every week is all of you.
I want you to close your eyes for a moment, and imagine you are on a mountaintop with God. Picture in your mind’s eye what or who God looks like to you: a father, a mother, a friend, a feeling, your dog’s warm nose, a gust of wind, a light parting the clouds, Love incarnated somehow.
And then I want you to imagine God’s voice booming down with his clear and kindly authority, or gently whispering in your ear, or winking and cracking her gum like a diner waitress while she talks….
Listen, for a moment to God with your eyes closed.
You are my son, my daughter, the beloved. In you, I am well-pleased. You are beautiful shades of white, black, red, yellow, and brown. You are gay or straight or not sure. You are male or female or somewhere else on the gender spectrum. You are temporarily-abled and disabled. You are rich, you are poor, you are somewhere in the middle. And you are my son, my daughter, the beloved. In you, I am well-pleased. It doesn’t matter to me what you’ve done or who you’ve hurt or who you love or where you’ve been or where you are going, you are my son, my daughter, the beloved. In you, I am well-pleased. I knit you in your mother’s womb. I rejoiced on the day you were born. I created you in my image, and every hair on your head is counted. Your life matters. Your love matters. You are my son, my daughter, the beloved. In you, I am well-pleased.
And now, I want you to keep your eyes closed and imagine that God is holding up a mirror. I want you to see yourself the way God sees you. Gaze into that mirror, and look at how beautiful you are. Look at how you’ve been transformed by love. See those lines around your eyes and mouth? They tell the story of your life in joy and laughter. See that comfortable tummy? You have been nourished by the rich food and drink of family barbeques and church turkey dinners and senior center pancake breakfasts. See those silvery stretch marks? They are reminders of the blessed life you have created in your womb. See that bald dome of a head? It shines. That gray hair reflects well and hard-won wisdom. Those not-so-sculpted arms you are quick to criticize have held lovers and babies and friends as they cry. Those wrinkled hands have created art and meals and have hammered nails and changed tires and fixed so many things. They have held together what they can’t fix, too. Your hands are imprinted with the finger prints of the many hands they have held.
Look in that mirror again. Your appearance has changed; transformed by love.
OK. So now that we’ve established that, you can open your eyes. Wow! You have all been given a God makeover and you’re even more beautiful than when you first got here! Someone take a picture.
But we don’t just stop here, basking in our beauty, and shining it on one another in our pews. We leave these walls, and let our light shine on the world, everywhere we go. On Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday, on Friday, on Saturday on Sunday.
Because the most important part of the transfiguration story is not the mountaintop moment, but what Jesus did afterward. He didn’t stay up on the mountain, basking in his transfigured state to commune with God forever. He went back down the mountain to be with the people. He healed. He helped. His response to God’s transformative love was to transform others with that love. Ours’ is too. Our job is to come down off of our mountains transformed by love, to transform others.
Two weeks ago, I surprised you all by passing out $5,000 in cash to the gathered congregation in worship during the offering. (Yeah, that’ll teach you to not miss church!) I did this through a generous grant I wrote from the Lily Foundation and Duke Divinity School. I asked you simply to do good with that money, and to come back and tell your story. I knew about this project for months and months, since it was my idea. So, you would think that I would have been wracking my brain all this time about how I would spend my money! I wasn’t. And I found this challenge hard.
So, I called a family meeting. Together, the five people in my family decided to pool our money. Together, we had $140. “What should we do with the money? Who does your heart break for?” We asked the kids. Cecilia wanted to go to a movie, the tickets of which went toward saving endangered animals. Isaac wanted to buy chocolate. Eloisa wanted to give the money to immigrants and refugees. We finally agreed with Eloisa to give all of our money to one refugee family, so it would go as far as possible. We called our friend, Mona, at the Worcester Islamic Center, who works with Muslim refugees, to ask about how we could help. And we got far more than we thought we would in the bargain.
In fact, all five of us got to visit with a Syrian refugee family in Worcester on a Saturday, with translators from the Worcester Islamic Center. Mona set this up for us. We were very nervous. Andy didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to make the family uncomfortable, or feel like they had to thank us, like some family of American saviors. I thought he had a good point. In addition, we were worried about going into someone else’s home, in a strange part of Worcester. We were worried about imposing. “What would we say to them?” We asked each other. We encouraged our kids to be curious, to ask questions. “That’s how you show love for people,” I said.
We were escorted upstairs to a small apartment. We took our shoes off and sat down in their small living room with the two parents, their 6 children, the five of us, and four interpreters from the Worcester Islamic Center. We asked a lot of questions, like, “How do you get the food that you love here? What do you miss the most about home? What is school like? Is learning English hard?” They answered with grace and honesty. Tomatoes taste different here. They miss lemon salt. There are other Arabic speaking refugees at school. Learning English is hard, but they have to learn fast so they can get jobs.
We said to them, "We are Christians who are worried every day, and so angry and scared and sad about what is happening in Syria and to Muslims, and we feel so helpless. We just want you to know that you are loved and welcome here in Massachusetts, and that we will stand up for you, your safety, and your right to be here.” We gave them our reverse offering money. The adults all cried together, especially me and Andy. They told us that in the Muslim faith, they believe that God makes us all brothers and sisters. Turns out that they, too, believe what is written above my head. One God, Father of All.
We gave them chocolate, too, which our interpreters told us is the universal language.
Truthfully, they gave us more than we could ever give to them. They served us Syrian coffee, which is super strong like espresso, flavored with cardamom. They shared themselves with us. They told us the story of a bomb that went off in their kitchen, killing two nephews. Their six-year-old has to be treated for the effects of smoke inhalation, including brain damage. The bomb burned their ten year old over half of her body. They named her Sidra, which they told us means “the light before the dawn on the horizon.” When the folks from the Worcester Islamic Center first encountered Sidra lying in a hospital bed, covered with burns and worrying about what she looked like, they knick-named her “Jameel”, the Arabic word for beauty. Transformed by Love.
Her parents delight in simple things, like the fact that Sidra can now lift her arms above her head. The father talked about how thankful he was to take multiple forms of public transportation with Sidra to get her burns treated in Boston because his family is all together, and he doesn't have to worry about his kids because they are finally safe. Before I left, I kissed her goodbye and called her “beauty,” too. Transformed by Love.
They told us that we are some of their first friends in America, and in their country only family checks in on people, which means we are their family now. They agreed to come over to dinner at our house next. It was a sacred moment we will never forget. Transformed by Love.
Sometimes, we go into a place to “help”, and we realize that our hosts are actually helping us to feel our humanity again. This is what slowly becoming real looks like. We were transformed by Love.
My family wouldn’t have been able to do this without the church’s challenge.
Beloved: you are beautiful. You have been to the mountaintop with God, who has lavished you with the gift of wasteful, extravagant Love. When you and I come down the mountain, we see this: EVERYONE transfigured. We see this: everyone we encounter bathed with that warm white light, which is God. When we come down, we see all people as more than just bodies. As more than just black, or brown or white, trans or gay, male or female, old or young, Muslim, Christian, or Jew--but as people called by their God-given name, which is Beloved. When we come down the mountain we see all people as opportunities to see and touch Christ. These are my sons and daughters, the Beloved. Listen to them.
They will know we are Christians by our Love. Share the Love.
Preached on February 12, 2017
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
at The First Church in Sterling, MA
Sermons are supposed to be heard, not read. You can listen to this sermon here.
When I think of home, I think of a place where there is love overflowin’. This sanctuary is a home of overflowing love for so many. Welcome home.
Please won’t you pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts together find their way into the heart of God this morning. Amen.
My friend Chuck gave all of his money away.
Chuck Collins was 16 when his dad sat him down and told him that he was about to inherit so much money, he’d never have to work a day in his life if he didn’t want to. Chuck was the heir to the Oscar Mayer wiener fortune, and at sixteen, a trust fund was to be set up in his name. The trust would grow to be several million dollars by the time Chuck was middle aged. His father encouraged Chuck to work anyway, as he had, and to not give up who he was or what he wanted to do.
Chuck refers to this experience as “being born on third base.” The money weighed heavily in his pocket, and on his young soul. It felt like both a responsibility and a curse. He knew he didn’t earn it, didn’t deserve it, and that others needed it far more than he did.
And so at age 26, he took his father’s advice of not giving up on who he was, and gave every penny of his inheritance away. He gave away every last cent to foundations and groups that he knew needed funding—organizations working for the environment, peace, racial equality, and indigenous people and gay rights.
(That’s the crazy kind of thing we do when we are idealistic and 26, right? His father asked him if he was becoming a Communist. Chuck answered, “No, a Christian.”)
“Wealth that just creates more wealth seemed wrong,” said my friend Chuck. “The decision to give away my wealth felt like the first real decision I’d ever made,” he wrote in We Gave Away a Fortune. “Life presents only a few crystal-clear opportunities to take risks for what you believe, and this was one.”
Since that day in 1985, Chuck has had a child who is now a beautiful young adult, bought a home in Jamaica Plain in Boston, worked tirelessly at the organization he founded in Boston called “United for a Fair Economy” to create economic justice in the world, served as one of those indispensable pillars at two churches, (one of which I was the intern of), and written several books, including one he co-authored with Bill Gates, Sr. about preserving the estate tax. He has worked with communities on creating financial sustainability for his entire career, promoting the religious value of “Commonwealth.” He has never once regretted his decision to give away his inheritance.
Chuck took the abundance of what was given to him, and has spent his whole life sharing it. He has spent his whole life teaching others how to share it, too.
I’d like to think I’d make the same choice as Chuck, but if I’m being honest, I think I’d keep some of that money. Maybe, just like half a million of it. I’d buy an expensive bag, and some shoes (maybe Fluevogs), and maybe you know, a vacation home in Bali, and college for my kids, of course. Then, maybe, I hope, I’d give the rest away. He was 26 when he gave his money away, so maybe he hadn’t thought about what it would be like to have kids and a mortgage. And maybe he never dreamed of a vacation home in Bali. I know he doesn’t really care about shoes.
What would you do? It’s an interesting thought experiment, anyway. But its one that we can easily remove ourselves from, or distance ourselves from. I think most of us don’t associate ourselves with wealth, or think of ourselves as particularly wealthy. Most of us aren’t in the 1%. Maybe none of us are. And if we are like most Americans, we have a complex relationship to wealth.
Chuck says, in his book “Born on Third Base”,
The relationship status between US people and our super-wealthy is complicated.
At one talk I gave, I asked the audience: “How many of you feel rage toward the wealthiest 1 percent?”
Almost everyone in a room of 350 people raised a hand. There was nervous laughter.
“How many of you have admiration for some of the things wealthy people have done to make our society better?”
About two-thirds of the people in the room raised their hands.
“How many of you wish you were in the wealthiest 1 percent?”
Again almost everyone raised a hand, laughing.
“So you feel enraged, admiring, and wish to be the object of your own anger?” I observed. See, I told you it was complicated.
Most of us are not rich. And many of us approach those we associate with wealth with a mix of rage, admiration, and a covetous desire to be in their shoes. In their Fluevogs.
And so perhaps we approach today’s scripture about the rich young man feeling like we can’t relate to the man in the story, or wishing we could.
Here’s how the story goes.
A rich, very pious and earnest young man says to to Jesus, “what deed do I have to do to receive eternal life?”
And Jesus says, essentially, “why are you asking me this?!” (Jesus is sometimes so cranky). Basically, only God is good, he says. And then Jesus says, but if you wish to enter into life, you should keep the commandments. And the young man said to him, ‘Which ones?’
And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’
(Which just seems to me like asking for trouble. But this young man is maybe idealistic in that 26 year old kind of way.)
And Jesus says this thing that is so demoralizing because it feels so totally impossible. He says “IF YOU WISH TO BE PERFECT, sell all of your possessions, give it all to the poor and follow me.”
And the young rich man walks away completely dejected and grieving because he has so much. He has a mortgage, and children to feed and send to college, and a time share in the Barbados that he quite likes, and a season pass to Davis Farmland. (Those things are expensive! And totally worth it!) He’s going to Disney in April because his 8-year-old has been begging for it for years. And he has a boat out on Lake Winnipesaukee and a Prius. He doesn’t feel like he can give any of that up, much less all of it.
Jesus doesn’t just tell him to sell all his possessions, he also tells him to redistribute his wealth among the poor, to identify with a segment of the population he has probably worked very hard to separate himself from. Perhaps this contributes to the man’s grief. The social costs are just too great.
“It is hard,” Jesus says, “for a rich man to get to heaven.” Like squeezing a camel through the eye of a needle.
The disciples are notably and perhaps rightfully upset by this interaction.
“Then who is saved?” they demand.
Here’s a guy who is doing everything he can to be good. He’s showing up to church every Sunday, he’s volunteering to help in the kitchen at the Caribbean dinner AND the turkey supper, he’s reading his Bible, he’s going to the Dominican Republic to build a hospital with the medical mission team, he is kind to all even before he’s had his coffee in the morning, he’s good to his wife and kids, he takes care of his aging parents and he works hard at his job, and he tithes ten percent of his salary to his church, he gives to NPR or the Goodwill or the Salvation Army or whatever causes he supports, to boot. He’s forgoing buying that home in Bali so he can do all of these things.
And Jesus says “sorry, that’s not enough. You have to give it all away.”
Let’s be honest, Jesus, none of us are going to sell our houses and live in a tent with our kids. And I think we’ve earned that vacation. I know I have. And man, what are we going to do with our toddlers in the summer if we can’t go to Davis Farmland every weekend?
And so we are saying with the disciples, exasperated, “WHO CAN BE SAVED, Jesus?”
“For mortals it is impossible,” Jesus says, infuriatingly. “But with God all things are possible.”
Here’s the point. We cannot save ourselves…that’s impossible. You and I are rich by Jesus standards, regardless of the size of our bank accounts. We live in the wealthiest country in the world. Our disconnect with real poverty is staggering. And on top of that, some of us have quite a lot. And yet, we are not going to sell all of our possessions and redistribute them to the poor.
Most of us wouldn’t, in other words, make the choice that Chuck Collins did, much less go 100% with Jesus.
Jesus, in his hyperbole, just wants us to acknowledge that. He wants to show us that we are rich. He wants to show us that we cannot be perfect; that goodness is reserved for God. He wants us to feel the disconnect between our values of building heaven on earth, and where and what we spend our money on. Perhaps Jesus simply wants us to recognize that we are loved despite the fact that we are miserly, despite the fact that perfection is not a possibility. Perhaps Jesus simply wants us to recognize the hold our possessions have on us, and respond.
Perhaps our response to this disconnect is to loosen our white knuckled grip on our wallets a little bit. Or perhaps it is to loosen our white knuckled grip on our Love.
“Stop being stingy,” Jesus is saying. “With God, everything is possible. With God, the last are first. With God, you are rich in abundance. Give it away. Share the Love.”
Beloved, you and I don’t have to be perfect. Only God is perfect. You and I don’t have to even be Good. Only God is good. You and I are loved anyway. You and I are cherished anyway. Every hair on our heads is counted. You and I do not have to do anything or be anything to earn that love because with God, all things are possible.
But a natural response to this unearned abundance is to give it away. SHARE THE LOVE.
My friend Chuck felt like his unearned wealth was burning a hole in his pocket, so he gave it all away. Not begrudgingly, but to express his gratitude. It set him free. God’s Love is similarly unearned. God’s Love is similarly wasteful: it is extravagant; it is abundant; it is ours’ to keep, no strings attached. Our response should be to love wastefully and extravagantly in return; wherever and whenever we see the need—with our wallets, and with our bodies, and with every bit of our hearts, in every broken and forgotten part of this empire. That love will set us free.
SO GIVE IT AWAY. Share the Love.
If you want to give your love away effectively, pledge a portion of your money to this church—here your money goes directly toward the things you most deeply value. Practice giving your love away without strings or expectations, especially with people you find most unlovable. Come to Eat, Pray, Learn on Wednesday night to learn skills for how to love your neighbor, and especially your enemies. Be part of the Love revolution. Go all in.
Life only creates a few opportunities to take risks for what you believe. So take every opportunity you have. This home is a place where there is love overflowin’. Give it away. Share the Love.
 UU World Magazine, March, 2003
preached on February 5, 2017
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
on Bible Sunday at First Church in Sterling, MA
with gratitude to my Facebook friends for their assistance.
Sermons are better heard, not read. Here is a video of this sermon.
Kids, some of you got a very important, beautiful, hard, complicated book today. Some of you already have one at home. This is a wild and wonderful story about God and humanity. It seems to have a beginning and an end, but it’s a story that’s not over because God is still living, and so are we.
This book holds the keys to the things that we talk about in this church. This book is why we believe that Love is Lord of heaven and earth. This book is a romantic adventure containing mystery and murder, fear and challenge, tragedy and triumph, suffering and hope, anguish and healing, rules and teachings; Love. This book is the foundation of much of the literature, art, music, theater, culture, even movies and TV shows that you will learn about as you grow up. So, if nothing else, it will help you understand the western world you inhabit.
This book is about different ancient communities of people from places quite foreign to us. It was written in ancient languages you don’t know. It was translated into English, and much of it got lost in the translation. Some of the stories and teachings only make sense for the people who wrote it, back then, and in that place. Many of the stories and teachings got lost or purposely left out. And yet, we have been reading it for thousands of years because it has the power to speak to us in every era and age, and we believe it contains Truth about God. That, in and of itself, makes it a book worthy of awe. This book contains the kind of Truth that you find in poetry and literature and music and art and your relationships with others, and in your life and Love experience. It does not really contain the kind of truth you find in the law, science or even history books. Some people will tell you otherwise. They are robbing this book of its power and its importance if they tell you that this is a law or science or history book. So when people tell you that it is, think hard.
Always remember when you read this book that it’s supposed to be a beautiful mystery, just like God is. You can and should read this book with your parents, but you should know that they don’t fully understand it either. I definitely don’t. It’s one of those books that you have to spend your whole lifetime trying to understand. You have to read this book in a community of people, and not by yourself. This book is one important reason why we all go to church, because it takes all of us together to understand what’s contained inside these pages. We love this book, and listen for God in this book, but we do not worship this book in our church. We worship God which is another name for Love. This is an important thing to remember.
Love is more important than this book.
There is a story about a great Jewish sage, Rabbi Hillel, who lived not long before the time of Jesus. Rabbi means teacher, and Rabbi Hillel was a great teacher. A man asked Rabbi Hillel to teach him the entire Torah--the five books of Moses that we read at the beginning of our Bibles--while standing on one foot. Take out your Bibles from your pews. Can you just look at the first five books at the beginning of the Bible for me? Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Together, they are pretty long, very complicated, and full of rules. Lots and lots and lots of rules. So this man was asking Rabbi Hillel to do a really hard thing…to stand on one foot and teach ALL of those books. I imagine the man thought that Rabbi Hillel would get very tired standing on one foot and trying to recite all of those words. But Hillel took the man up on his offer. He stood on one foot and said this: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That's the whole Torah, he said. All the rest is commentary. Now go and study.”
And so, my friends, I want you to stand on one foot right now and recite the whole of the Bible as the Rabbi Jesus taught; which is the same thing Rabbi Hillel taught about the Torah. Repeat after me:
Love God with all of your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself. Go and do likewise.
See? You can teach this entire Book, too, while standing on one foot. The rest is commentary.
I told my Facebook friends on Friday that I was writing a sermon for all of you called “The Bible, Simplified,” and I asked them to sum up the Bible for you in fewer than 8 words. I got 130 replies! My facebook friends who answered are ministers and rabbis and people who have studied the Bible, and they are also people who go to church and who don’t go to church, and people who are atheists and Jews and Muslims and Christians and Pagans. As you can imagine, their answers varied A LOT. So I am just going to tell you some of my favorites:
You suffer not alone. Love wins, in time.
Humanity and God’s relationship status: “it’s complicated.”
Love God. Love People. Love Yourself.
God makes, people sin, Jesus saves, love everyone.
Use my word for good, not evil, please
God: lonely, creative, mad, hopeful. Now our turn.
The Never Ending Story (ahhh ahhh ahhh ah ah ah, ah ah ah)
God with us, us with God.
Dangerously and beautifully open to interpretation
I love you just the way you are...
Most things are a blessing AND a curse.
Buncha dudes and Mary do lotsa stuff; God.
God favors the underdog.
Hitchhikers guide to return trip home. Bring everyone!
Like Cloud Atlas, but messier.
We don't read it; it reads us.
God is: creative, strange, just, poor, human.
God, thanks for the undeserved love. Again. Again.
Living the ethic of Love will save us (all.)
But for the grace of God go I
Volume II of III
Jesus died, but came back. Harry Potter rip off.
Go kill each other. Wait. Didn’t mean that.
Good news: everybody’s screwed up; redemption possible
"A person's a person, no matter how small."
A mix: wisdom, inspiration, fascinating history, old prejudices.
The people united through love, grace create heaven.
God and humanity trying to work it out
Blessed are you.
God loves you, so Love each other, no matter what
The truth will set you free
Moving toward Holy Love; little closer every day.
Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly with God
Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
God is faithful. We forget. It'll be OK.
Snake, begat begat begat, Job, Jesus, crazy predictions.
He who dwells in love dwells in God.
With God's help, we are agents of salvation.
"Man, what? I don't even... Ugh, okay, whatever"
think YOUR family has problems? hold my wineskin!
You probably think this book is about you.
Yo bro, your empire can't crush God's people.
I’ve called you by name.
I wonder, who wrote the book of love?
If God can change, you can too.
And my favorite: The word became flesh…and moved into the neighborhood.
Love is a word that shows up again and again in those summaries.
When I was meeting with some of the leaders of this church last weekend, we were talking about things that had been important to us all of our lives. One of our friends, Sam, brought with him his Bible from when he was in Sunday School. Can you imagine that you might keep this book for as long as he has…for maybe 60 years, and still have it when you’re a grandpa or a grandma? He said something that I think was so important. He opened the book and he said, “this book is full of words. So many words. Lots and lots of words. These words have sometimes been made into an idol in my life.” (idol means a substitute for God).
My friend, Sam, then said that there is one line that helps all of the words make sense to him. He said in the book called John, if you open it up to the first chapter, there’s one sentence that guides all the rest.
It says something that probably sounds strange to you. It says “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God….”
And then later it says that the word became flesh.
For Sam, the words in this book aren’t ultimately what matters to God—what matters is human beings, human flesh, human life. Sort of like how all of the words about God and Love you read or speak only really make sense when you hug your mama, or hold your baby for the first time, or kiss your beloved, or look into your friend’s eyes, or hold a hand, or help a stranger who is scared or sad or lost.
That’s why when a lawyer asks Jesus to explain what words in this book matter the most, Jesus SHOWS him what it means to love God and neighbor with a story about a man lying on the side of the road—he SHOWS us that loving God means to help those who suffer. He shows us that loving God means to not look away, or cross to the other side of the street. He shows us that every person in the whole world is our neighbor. And he shows us what it means to love them.
These words in this book don’t mean anything until they become what you do, and how you are, and how you LOVE. So, when you read this dangerous, beautiful story about God and God’s people, I want you to remember this one thing. Make these words flesh.
When you ask the kid who everyone else thinks is weird to sit with you at lunch…this is the word made flesh.
When you serve food at the Wachusett food pantry…this is the word made flesh.
When you look a homeless person in the eye and say good morning the next time you are walking around Worcester or Boston with your parents…this is the word made flesh.
When you help someone who is hurting….this is the word made flesh.
Every time you choose kindness and bravery instead of fear…this is the word made flesh.
Hear, O First Church: "The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6: 4-9)
Don’t just keep these words in your heart, beloved, make them flesh. Move them into your neighborhood. The rest is commentary.
Reverend Robin Bartlett is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. She is the Senior Pastor at The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts.