A sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached at First Church in Sterling
May 26, 2019
In the scriptures we read this morning, paradise is located in two places: the garden, and the city.
The verdant, fruitful garden and the bejeweled city with streets paved with gold seems like two pretty easy places to find paradise.
But you and I need to seek after the home of God where its hardest to find, so I wanted to look elsewhere.
Paradise, California, the northern California town nestled in a pine cloaked ridge in the Sierra Foothills, had a population of about 25,000 until it was almost entirely wiped out by the Camp Fire this winter. It was the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century. Now, despite a massive effort to clean up, restore power and make plans to rebuild, the town remains largely uninhabitable.
There are still burned out cars, pickups and school buses lining its roads. Neighborhoods remain unrecognizable to even longtime residents.
There's ash and toxic debris everywhere. The beautiful trees that made it so pleasant to the sight have burned to the ground, making the town unrecognizable to its residents. I bet the firefighters who are here today are glad they live in Sterling and not California. There is just so much to save for those who lay down their lives to save.
Yet, there are people who saved and are saving Paradise as we speak. The firefighters there heroically led hundreds of people to escape in water during the days of the fire, helping them swim to safety.
And the city is promising to rebuild. The monumental task of removing the debris is a job that could take well over a year. Disaster response officials say it's on a scale not seen in this country since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Even after that, rebuilding is no guarantee for a lot of people.
Perhaps it all sounds futile to you, this task of raising up Paradise again.
But the saving of Paradise is always an act of faith: the labor itself is worth it because of the love it represents.
Rebecca Baggett says that anyone who notices the world must want to save it. As the church, we must be trained noticers of, and witnesses to, the exquisite beauty of the intricate web of creation of which we are apart.
The salvation of paradise is in our hands. We must raise it up out of the ashes.
Some of us are looking for paradise far off, somewhere other than here. Maybe at the Cape this weekend. Maybe in Hawaii or Fiji, or in the next life.
What if I told you you are already here?
In Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock’s book, Saving Paradise, they set off on a quest to learn about the early church through it’s art.
Through art, they discovered that “early Christian paradise was something other than “heaven” or the afterlife. Our modern views of heaven and paradise think of them as a world after death. However, in the early church, paradise—first and foremost—was this world, permeated and blessed by the Spirit of God. It was on the earth. Images of it in Rome and Ravenna captured the craggy, scruffy pastoral landscape, the orchards, the clear night skies, and teeming waters of the Mediterranean world, as if they were lit by a power from within. Sparkling mosaics in vivid colors captured the world’s luminosity. The images filled the walls of spaces in which liturgies fostered aesthetic, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual experiences of life in the present, in a world created as good and delightful.”
We desperately need eye-fulls of beauty, because we will not save what we do not love. Our work as the church is to cultivate lovers of this world and this beauty in the present. THIS world is made by God and called Good. We pray every week God’s kingdom come on EARTH as it is in heaven for a reason.
Our scriptures this morning come from the first book of the Hebrew Bible, and the last book of the Christian Bible. The Bible begins in a Garden and ends in the city.
In the beginning, God planted a Garden in Eden, in the east, and that is where God put the first humans. God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. God formed Adam and Eve, out of dust from the ground. The humans were eventually exiled from paradise for eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge.
After they were banished from God’s home, humans had to figure out a new way to take God with them. So they built a tabernacle. A tabernacle is a moveable habitation—a tented place for Israel’s divine king.
Various details of the tabernacle suggest it is built to be a mini, moveable Eden. The tabernacle, like the garden of Eden, is where God’s people believed God lived. They put God’s word: the ten commandments in the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle, in the holy of holies, and locked God’s presence away.
In those early years, the tabernacle moved, and then they built a building to put it in: a permanent residence. The first and then the second Temple.
But God’s people soon learned that buildings cannot contain God, no matter how ornate, no matter how old, no matter how much lightning protection is purchased for the steeple.
God broke out.
God sent Jesus as a human home for God’s word. A living, breathing, healing, tabernacle.
In the midst of Roman occupation, God makes God’s new home inside a brown-skinned, middle Eastern, Jewish refugee. Paradise is contained in a body on the move.
Paradise was now a movement for justice and peace and healing, and not a place at all.
If you read the scriptures, you’ll notice Jesus hardly preached in the Temple. He preached on the MOVE. He preached on mountains and on the countryside, and on the road….wherever he could find the people of God.
God moves out of the building to become a love revolution.
Jesus shows us how to practice the ethics of paradise:
He heals the sick, he walks beside the suffering, he feeds the hungry, he touches the untouchables, he forgives enemies, he blesses the meek and the humble, he cries for his friend, he stands up for the least, the last and the lost, he even dies to show us what God’s love is like.
And then he rises up out of the grave.
With his resurrection and ascension, he sends us the holy spirit to teach us that our bodies, too, contain the home for God.
We are not the temple, but the tabernacle. We are ON THE MOVE. The moving body of God.
Paradise is unleashed in US. It’s in our hands.
In our scripture from revelation, paradise is a city, coming down out of heaven from God. Ronald Allen says, John sees high walls with gates open on each side. Walls are traditional symbols of community and security. Real security comes from authentic community in which all people feel mutually supported. Gates typically control entrance and exit, but these gates -- four on a side -- are always open. Security is only possible when all are extravagantly welcome, when the doors are flung open.
The breath of paradise wafts its way into this broken and battered world of domination, separation, cruelty and division, reminding us that it is here where heaven makes it’s place. That we have the keys to the city already.
For some of us it is easier to find God in a garden, and maybe harder to find God in the city. There are too many people in the concrete jungle, too much ugly, and not enough quiet to listen to the still small voice of God.
I watched a video on the internet the other day that contained the life-breath of the garden wafting into the city; a saving remedy sent to heal. The filming took place on a New York subway train at rush hour, which is not always where one encounters beauty.
But one day, Greg Wong captured heaven on earth on video.
Wong and some 850 fellow commuters were caught in underground limbo for a full two hours as their train was stalled between stations in Manhattan due to a mechanical failure. It was a subway rider’s nightmare come to life. Eventually, they boarded a “rescue train” that took them, slowly, back to Queens, where they’d started.
But as Wong records in the video, the stranded passengers bonded during the ordeal. They are crowded in a small space. They are black and white, Asian and Latino. They are Christian and Muslim, businessmen and women, construction workers and restaurant dishwashers. They are young and old, male and female, gay and straight.
Together, they had abundance. At one point they share that most precious resource—backup battery charges for their phones.
“We were grumpy at first, but what can you do?” says one laughing young woman as people eagerly plug into the chargers being passed around.
It all culminates in an epic singalong that moves from the latest hits (“Hotline Bling”) to timeless classics (“One Love”).
By the end, after a round of “Watch me whip, watch me nae nae,” everyone is in high spirits. They have survived together, and they have done it with style and grace.
“Anyone who has lived in New York and ridden the trains will recognize the hard-won camaraderie they share. It’s a tough city, and sometimes things get crazy, but we’re all in this thing together, and we are going to make it no matter what,” Sarah Goodyear writes.
As one of the captive riders says at the video’s end, with a smile, “I’m glad I was stuck with all you guys.”
This is the leaves of the tree; the healing of the nations revelation prophesies. This is what it means to be residents of the city of God: glad to be stuck together in paradise. The captive riders embody the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. The glory of God is their light. They are going to make it together no matter what.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Magalia Pines Baptist Church in Paradise, California did not burn. After the fire, the pastor’s family transformed the facility into an aid station, a lifeline for up to 600 people per day. They come for free meals, to pick up donated clothes and shoes. They give out so much bottled water they have trouble keeping it in stock.
Paradise is raised up out of the ashes by the church being the church. Seven months later, the church is still serving two free hot meals a day including breakfast and lunch to survivors of the Camp Fire.
On their website, they thank generous donors to the church for
• Over 70,000 Meals Served to survivors
• Over $1 Million Bottles of Water Provided (donated by Sacramento area construction companies)
• Over 150 Kitchen Setups
• 20 Motor homes and RV’s
• 12 Vehicles
"Magalia is a hopeful place….Magalia is a place where people are looking to the future," said Doug Crowder, the Senior Pastor at Magalia Pines Baptist Church. "It's just people coming together and finding a way and a place to connect because that's really the important thing in all of this.”
Beloved, First Church in Sterling is a hopeful place where people are looking to the future. The saving of Paradise is always an act of faith: the labor itself is worth it because of the love it represents.
This church is a people gathered together to notice beauty wherever we can find it. This Church is an ethic, not a place. It is a movement to raise up paradise from the ashes.
We are the living, breathing, moving home of God. We can choose to live in paradise because paradise lives in us.
a sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached May 19, 2019 at First Church in Sterling, MA
This question was posed to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds: "What does love mean?”
Billy, age 4 said: "When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth."
Danny, age 7 said: ”Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK."
Emily, age 8 said: ”Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss."
Bobby, age 7 said: ”Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."
Nikka, age 6 said: ”If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.”
Noelle, age 7 said: ”Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday."
Tommy age 6 said: ”Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well."
Cindy, age 8 said: ”During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling.
He was the only one doing that. I wasn't scared anymore."
Elaine, age 5 said: ”Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.”
Rebecca, age 8 said: ”When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love."
Jessica age 8 says: ”You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”
Love one another. Mean it. ENACT it. Because people forget. That’s the message Jesus mandates the night before he dies. After tenderly washing his friends’ feet, over a meal, he says this:
“Whenever you do this, remember. You are loved. So LOVE.”
We are blessed this morning to have welcomed officially into membership 47 more opportunities to know God in the flesh! 47 more opportunities to LOVE!
Kara, Olivia, Dennis, Donna, Dick, Linda, Laurie, Barbara, Diane, Pam, Charlie, Janet, Ben, Cecilia, Liam, Michelle, Jackson, Sara, Christopher, Kimi, Jonnie, Jaydon, Chloe, Heather, Ken, Grace, Jack, Megan, Jesse, Jeff, Melissa, Garrett, Nolan, Erin, Rick, Ramona, Athena, Tiffany, Calista, Christopher, Allison, Maren, Rohan, Jean, Brian, Katelyn, Rori and Corben:
WE ARE SO HUMBLED YOU HAVE CHOSEN TO CALL US HOME. Getting to know you will be our most important spiritual practice as a congregation. You contain a piece of God we do not yet know, and so we want to know you. And we want to know you exactly as who you are.
Pádraig Ó Tuama says that “agreement has rarely been the mandate for people who love each other. Maybe on some things, but, actually, when you look at some people who are lovers and friends, you go, actually, they might disagree really deeply on things, but they’re somehow (participating in) “the argument of being alive.” Or in Irish, when you talk about trust, there’s a beautiful phrase from West Kerry where you say, “You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.”….That is what we can have with each other.
I am blessed to have gotten to know each and every one of your stories in different ways. And I know this: you are all here for profound reasons that some of you have trouble even putting into words. The tears you so often shed tell more of the story than words ever could.
I want to challenge you to figure out a way in the next year to make sure you know the stories of seven people here, and that seven people know yours’. The church is not the building, and it is certainly not the ministers. The church is contained in the hearts of the people surrounding you right now.
I suspect you are all here for the same reason the rest of us are: because of our heart’s deepest longing to be known, and to be loved exactly as we are. A longing to belong. Thank you, new members, for trusting us with such a tender job.
Congregation, let’s do our best to not screw it up.
Luckily, Jesus gives us a road map today. A new commandment on the night before he dies. He says “Love one another as I have loved you.”
That’s easy when we’re talking about our friends and families or even our fellow church members…people we have determined are like-minded, or at least like-hearted….but what about the OTHERS?
We evolved to fear the other, not LOVE the other.
Last year when my son, Isaac was four, he came into my bedroom in downtown Sterling, wide eyed, and the excited kind-of scared, at 7:30 am.
“Mommy, he said. “Wake up. I need you to come see. There were very loud noises outside so I looked out the window. And you won’t believe what I saw. There are bad guys ruining the town right now. They are throwing all of the things on the ground. The bad guys are outside destroying the town. Look and see."
I walked with him to his bedroom window on the side of our house, and sure enough, there were 6 roofers about twenty feet away from his window. They were on the roof of the Municipal light company, scraping shingles off the roof and throwing them gleefully onto the ground below. They were whooping and hollering as they did it, and listening to loud music.
Destroying the roof looked like a party. “Look at what the bad guys are doing!” He said.
It must be so hard to be a four year old, head full of bad guys and good guys, trying to figure out why people do the strange things they do, and why it makes any sense.
In so many ways, you and I see the world through the eyes of a four year old, full of good guys and bad guys. Full of strangers who mean us harm. Like Isaac, we fear what we do not understand. We hate what we fear.
We cross the street when we see a group of young black teenagers wearing pants below their waistlines. We roll up the windows when we get to the intersection in Worcester where the homeless folks hold signs that say “Spare change.” We hide in our bedrooms, pretending to not be home rather than open the door for the Mormon missionaries who just wanted to tell us about their understanding of Jesus. We refuse to engage in discussion with political opponents, preferring to demonize them rather than understand their deepest held values.
And we worship a God who asks us to bow down before one another instead, vulnerable and disarmed. We worship a God who, over and over again, demands that we look down to see him, so we can see those he has bent down to love.
We worship a stooping God.
Jesus stoops to pick up children.
Jesus stoops down to write in the dust on behalf of a prostitute.
Jesus stoops, using his BODY to embrace the downtrodden people who we would rather not see—the outcast, the leper, the poor, the sick, the lost, the forgotten, the prisoner.
Jesus stoops down to pray in the garden. He stoops down to carry the cross. He stoops after he cries out “Father forgive them,” and dies on a lynching tree.
And on the night before he dies, with the people that he knows will deny and betray him, he shows us how to love by stooping down to do what would normally be a slave’s job:
He washes the filthy, worn out, sweaty, dust covered feet of his friends.
“You will never wash my feet!” Simon Peter declares, horrified at the idea of his Lord doing the work of a servant.
Simon Peter does not want a stooping Messiah. He doesn’t want a humble Lord. He is embarrassed to worship a humiliated God.
“Unless I wash you, you have no share with me. You’ll never get it,” Jesus tells him. If Peter isn’t willing to accept the humiliation of his crucified Lord, he won’t understand the depths of God’s love.
I think if we’re being honest, we are like Simon Peter. No one really wants a stooping God. We want a God who conquers. We want a God who promises us riches and stock options. We want a God who smites our enemies. We want a God who hates the same people we hate. We want a God who WINS.
We don’t want a loser God, a servant God, a God who you have to look down to see. We certainly don’t want to follow him to our knees or to the cross.
But his love looks like sacrifice, not kingship. His love looks like humility, not glory. His love bows down, it does not Lord over.
Jesus stoops, and we want to walk right by him and leave him in the dust with the others.
Because like the disciples, every time we turn around, we find Jesus is talking to a person who you and I would rather not befriend. We happen upon Jesus on our way home from work, and he’s hanging out with that smelly homeless person who kinda scares us, or a member of a gang, or a flamboyant drag queen, or a coal miner with a red #MAGA hat, or a scared pregnant teenager whose body has become a political war zone, or an immigrant child living in a cage at the border. Jesus always seems to see the people no one else notices. He hangs out with the people you and I have de-friended on Facebook. He offers them mercy, depth and belonging. He tenderly washes their feet.
“For more than two thousand years Christians have been identified as the people of the cross,” Osvaldo Vena said, “a symbol of self-sacrifice in John but of conquest and colonization in recent history. I wonder what would have happened if instead of the cross Christians would have been identified by the basin and the towel. Perhaps our world would be less divided, and everyone would love each other a little bit more.”
Beloved, if you want to see God, stop looking up to the sky, or the pulpit, or the white house, or the high throne, or the heavens, or the gilded empty cross on the wall. Stop looking to the winners. Look on the floor, to the basin and towel. You’ll find Jesus there. If we’re going to lead the love revolution in Massachusetts, we’re going to have to start on our knees.
“You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.”….That is what we can have with each other.
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Robin Bartlett
on May 5, 2019
at the First Church in Sterling
in honor of Rachel Held Evans #becauseofRHE
Rachel Held Evans shockingly died yesterday after a freak illness. Rachel was a progressive Christian author and a woman of valor many of us knew and loved through her brave, funny, beautiful writing. She was only 37. She leaves a husband and two kids 1 and 3. I quote her because her words deserve to live long upon the earth, even though her body does not.
“This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”
We are prone to believe we are not worthy to be God’s disciples, because we don’t believe ourselves to be good and faithful enough. We forget that all we ever needed was to be hungry and say “yes.”
Today, I have a confessional story. Because if we’re going to be a confessing church, it’s my job to go first.
A couple of years ago, I was more depressed than usual. Depression is not a new phenomenon for me, and not something you have to worry about. I have struggled with mild depression for much of my adult life. It’s just a part of who I am, and I know how to manage it.
My depression was dark enough to truly scare me only once—eight years ago during my divorce. I found my way into darkness so deep then I wasn’t sure I’d come out. But I did! And I’m here! God takes old broken things and makes them new. Sometimes he names them Andy and Isaac.
But here’s what depression looks like for me most days: My average, every day, nuisance of a clinical mental health disorder has been manifested since childhood as this inner jerk in my brain who tells me that I am a terrible person.
Despite self awareness, years of therapy, psychology school and divinity school, many brilliant books, great friends, an award-winning sense of humor, plenty of Zoloft, a loving husband and family and congregation, and lots of ice cream and pedicures, I haven’t been able to fully evict that jerk from my head.
Two years ago, I knew I needed to go back to therapy to get some help for this. Just cause it was winter and my life consisted of couch and work and back to couch. I have been in therapy many times in my life, but hadn’t found one here yet. And I found a therapist who was really quite good. I liked him enough to keep going to my appointments.
And then one day in the darkness of winter, I forgot I had a therapy appointment. For no reason. I was home on my beloved couch, vegging out. I wasn’t doing anything important. But I realized I had forgotten about half way through the appointment. I was frozen, too embarrassed to call, because this was the second time I had forgotten.
My therapist called ME. He left me a message because I saw the caller ID and didn’t answer. “Where are you?” He said. “I thought we had an appointment today! Call me back!”
And I felt so embarrassed that I hadn’t called him to begin with, that I didn’t call him back.
“If you call him and tell him that you just forgot, he’ll think you’re a flakey, irresponsible idiot who is undeserving of your job,” the jerk in my brain said. So I put it off.
Then a week and another week went by, and I was so ashamed that it took me so long to call my therapist back that I…..didn’t call him back.
“I’ll call him next week,” I thought. And then a month went by, and another month.
“You’re so irresponsible. You hate it when people do this to YOU,” the jerk in my brain said.
The jerk in my brain often tells me to “ghost” people because that’s easier than healing.
“Maybe I’ll write him a letter,” I thought. “I mean, he’s used to depressed and flakey people, and I’m sure he doesn’t take it personally.”
But then a year went by, and I was too ashamed to write him a letter a year later.
The jerk in my brain told me that I didn’t deserve a good therapist since I couldn’t even keep an appointment, or be responsible enough to call him and tell him why I disappeared.
My depression made me particularly forgetful and unable to move from my couch to do anything besides go to work. And my paralysis made me mad at myself. So I got stuck in a shame spiral that kept me from my own healing.
That’s a loop many of us get stuck in. Often when you have disappeared from church, you have a story like that for me.
The jerk that has taken up residence in our brain telling us we are worthless and its too late has a louder voice than God, and so we deny our discipleship and stay home.
I swear if we listen hard enough, we might be able to hear: “Follow me. I will lay nothing heavy or ill-fitting on you. Come away with me, and you’ll recover your life.” You don’t have to be perfect. You are loved. You deserve healing. Just show up.
When we deny our discipleship, we don’t need God’s forgiveness. We already have that. We need to forgive ourselves.
This week, in the final resurrection appearance, we encounter Peter, the disciple who denies his discipleship. In fact, as predicted, he denies knowing Jesus three times after his arrest. Peter betrayed his friend, his Lord… He ghosted because he was scared. I’m sure the shame of that made mourning Jesus’ death worse.
“He told everyone you would deny him,” the shaming jerk in Peter’s brain declared. “You are not worthy to follow him.”
In this scene, Peter decides that it’s time to push the regret aside and return to his life. So he gets off his couch to go to work. Everyone needs to make a living, and a broken heart still goes on beating. He sets out in the darkness to fish.
“We’ll go with you,” the disciples say. They, too, have to go back to the every day-ness of their lives, after all. So they do what we all do after someone dies—just the have-tos. The taxes, the laundry, the 9 to 5. It doesn’t matter that the world will literally never be the same, it still goes on.
So the disciples get into the boat, cast their nets in the water, and come up empty. They can still fish, but without their beloved friend, all is empty.
Just after daybreak, the risen Jesus appears on the beach and says to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you? Cast your net on the other side, and you will find some.” And the disciples do what this strange man says, and catch so much fish then that they can’t even carry the nets to shore.
Peter recognizes Jesus right away. “It is the Lord!” He puts his clothes back on to swim to shore. It’s not too late to dine with his friend, after all! He will show up disarmed and ready!
“Come and have breakfast,” Jesus says to his friends. It’s the first communion with the risen Christ.
Rachel Held Evans says, “My Jewish friends like to joke that you can sum up nearly every Jewish holiday with, “They tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat!”
Communion is a weekly celebration of just that.
He took bread, and gave it to them. He took fish, and gave it to them. Bagels and lox.
Now they all recognize him. Love is always recognized at the table, in the taste of food. Just like we can taste the love baked into the pie made from our grandmother’s apple pie recipe long after she dies, the disciples can taste and see that he is always with them, and that his Love lives on in abundance.
They tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat.
The story doesn’t end at the table. After breakfast, Jesus says to poor, broken hearted Peter:
“Do you love me?”
He asks him three times, as many times as Peter denied Jesus.
“Of course I love you, Lord. You can have my heart if you don’t mind broken things,” Peter says.
“There’s only one response, then,” Jesus says. “If you love me, feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Follow me. Stretch out your hands. Go where you do not want to go.”
Beloved, this is the Gospel. If you love God, forgive yourself. Then feed. Tend. Follow. Stretch out your hands. Go where you do not want to go.
If you love God, give God your heart. God doesn’t mind broken things. In fact, God makes all things new, even banged up, bruised, lovable you.
If you love God, come out of the shame spiral the jerk in your brain talked you into. Get naked and swim to shore. Believe God when God tells you who you are.
If you love God, don’t just commune with creation alone on a beach. God is there, and the ocean is beautiful, but its not enough to heal. Show up in relationship. Show up in human community, even the ones who don’t pay you to be there. Go where you do not want to go. Stretch out your hands.
If you love God, feed one another. At the dinner table and the communion table. Your presence is enough and the table is already set. So just show up, regardless if you brought something for the potluck. Regardless of if your best friend died, or your favorite pastor is on sabbatical. Regardless of if you’re angry or brokenhearted or depressed. Don’t ghost because its easier. And if you do, it’s never too late to come home.
You are already forgiven. So forgive yourself, and show up for your life.
If you love God, follow God. To the places where the forgotten people are. To your knees, where you serve from. To the cross, because we are all marching toward calvary. To the resurrection, because love always rises.
I want to share these words with you from Glennon Doyle wrote about her friend Rachel Held Evans yesterday, because they should sound familiar to all of us who have lost a loved one who relentlessly told us we were more than our brokenness.
“Whenever I want to scare myself, I consider what would happen to the world if Rachel Held Evans stopped writing…..”
Doyle said yesterday that this was the first sentence she wrote in the foreword of one of Rachel’s books.
“Rachel died today,” she said.
“Rachel was a friend to the hurting, the questioning, the outcast, the underdog and the forgotten. I have never seen anyone - no one- match her courage and relentless commitment to use her pen and heart and might to fight for the least of these within the religious establishment. She refused to abandon us. She was relentlessly brave and she always won for us- she always came out on top because in brilliance: she had no peers. No one could out smart her or out brave her or outlast her. She was our warrior.
We needed her.
Without her, I feel scared.
In the world of people claiming to speak for Jesus- Rachel was the closest I’ve ever known. Without Rachel, we are going to need to become as brave and beautiful as she believed us to be. We are going to have to become leaders, now that our leader is gone.”
Beloved, this is the resurrection message.
This is what Jesus was trying to tell the disciples. I know you’re scared. If you love me, become as brave and beautiful as I believe you to be. Show up, shameless, for your lives. You are going to have to become leaders, now that your leader is gone.
Be a friend to the hurting, the questioning, the outcast, the underdog and the forgotten. Be relentlessly brave. Be a warrior for love. All you have to be is hungry. All you have to do is say yes.
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org