Honest Preacher

This is the best, most hilarious thing I’ve seen all week. And it’s totally true. I hope this video goes viral. Subscribe to Friend Dog Studios. Share with your friends.

Every clergyperson has weeks like this sometimes.

[Just for the record, I am not having that kind of week. In fact, just last night I was telling the elders of North Presbyterian Church how proud I am of them and how thankful I am to be their pastor. That being said, enjoy the video and have a laugh.]

Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015. By Mstyslav Chernov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Sermon for the Feast of the Reign of Christ at North Presbyterian Church.

The text is John 18:33-37.

Do you remember when you were a kid and the first time your parents asked you to do something work or chore-related?

It was pretty miserable. Up to that point, your time was your own and you could do what you want. But then, all of a sudden, you had these jobs and responsibilities beginning to pile up. Who wouldn’t avoid that, if they could?

So what do we parents do to grease the wheels of our kids’ burgeoning work ethic? We offer rewards. Treats, allowances, etc. Basically, we bribe our kids into doing the right thing. Alternatively, we threaten punishments if they don’t do the right thing.

All in all, it’s not a bad system. Rewards and punishments offer a kind of moral reinforcement for young people, whose ethical character is not yet fully formed. They drive home the idea that if we do good things, good things will happen; if we do bad things, bad things will happen.

There is a pretty solid scientific basis for this. Our brains have a system of neurons inside them called the reward pathway. These neurons get triggered whenever we experience something we like. A chemical called Dopamine then floods the pleasure center of our brain and we feel great.

Our parents gave us rewards for good behavior because these things stimulated this pleasure center in our brains. Similarly, punishments for bad behavior trigger the opposite response in our brains and we feel bad. Our parents’ hope was that we might begin to associate good behavior with good feelings and bad behavior with bad feelings, and therefore be naturally drawn toward the good.

This is a fine system for training kids in morals and good behavior. Not only is it scientifically accurate, but it also matches the natural patterns of behavior in humans for countless generations. Moreover, it’s consistent with what we read in the Bible.

The book of Proverbs forms a big part of Hebrew wisdom literature. It’s full of little nuggets of good advice, like:

  • “Kind persons benefit themselves, but cruel people harm themselves.”
  • “Fools see their own way as right, but the wise listen to advice.”
  • “Patience leads to abundant understanding, but impatience leads to stupid mistakes.

The general message of Proverbs, as wisdom literature, is “do good things and good things will happen.” Now this, generally speaking, is correct, isn’t it?

In our favorite movies, the hero saves the day while the villain goes to jail.

Our doctors tell us that if we eat healthy food and exercise regularly, we are more likely to live a long and healthy life. But if we sit around the house all day on the Dunkin Donuts diet, we will be more likely to get sick. So, we can see there is a general element of truth to this wisdom literature.

But things don’t always necessarily work out according to this plan.

Sometimes, in real life, the sleaze-bag gets away. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes you can eat right, exercise, and still get sick or die young.

Does this mean that doing the right thing is pointless if there is no reward? Does it mean all that stuff we read about in the book of Proverbs is wrong?

I think it just means we have to grow up and take on a more nuanced vision of reality.

Fortunately, the Bible prepares us for that. Apart from the book of Proverbs, the biblical collection of Hebrew wisdom literature also includes the books of Ecclesiastes and Job, where good people suffer unjustly and life sometimes appears to be meaningless. I think the authors of the Bible included these books in the canon to remind us that life is complicated, and things don’t always work out like they should, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t in it (somewhere).

I’m glad these books are included in the Bible because I think they call us to a deeper level of spiritual maturity, where simplistic systems of reward and punishment give way to reverence for the mystery of God’s presence in the world.

Rewards and punishments are useful for a time, while human beings are first forming their sense of morality in the universe, but the complicated realities of life threaten to undo our religious upbringing, unless we are willing to look deeper and go beyond “religious upbringing” to “spiritual maturity.”

I think we can see an image of that motion happening in today’s gospel reading. The story is set near the end of John’s gospel, as Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate on the day of his crucifixion.

Pontius Pilate, as you may recall, is the Roman governor of Judea. He is Caesar’s official representative in this occupied country. All the power belongs to him.

In front of him stands Jesus, the carpenter, rabbi, and movement leader who has been stirring up trouble and causing civil unrest in Pilate’s territory.

Pilate’s only interest in this story is to maintain order in the province given over to his charge. He is neither a good guy nor a bad guy. He is simply doing his job.

His way of looking at the world can be characterized by rewards and punishments. Pilate has been granted power over Judea by Caesar. If he can maintain order, he will be rewarded as a loyal friend of Caesar, but if he fails in this task, he will be deposed and executed. For Pilate, the game is all about maintaining the balance of power and making Caesar look good to whole Roman Empire. Pilate serves the cause of power.

Jesus, on the other hand, plays by a completely different set of rules. He stands in front of Pontius Pilate as a person who understands his divine-human identity and his role in the unfolding story of the cosmos.

Any other peasant would be trembling with fear to stand before Pilate’s judgment seat. They would tell him whatever he wants to hear in order to save their neck. But Jesus is most uncooperative, from Pilate’s point of view. He answers every question with another question, or with some kind of cryptic statement that is almost impossible to decipher.

Jesus isn’t interested in telling Pilate what he wants to hear. He just wants to tell it like it is. The most straightforward statement Jesus makes to Pilate is, “I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth.”

Jesus serves the cause of truth, while Pilate serves the cause of power.

Pilate and the cause of power are tied up entirely with the simplistic systems of reward and punishment. Everything looks black or white. Obviously, this cause has served Pilate well as he has advanced to a position of such great political power. However, this cause has its limits. The reward system is based on the human desire for pleasure. When it is not questioned and transcended, the pursuit of pleasure remains the central motivating factor in human life. Those who serve the cause of power are never able to grow out of pleasure’s defining role in their ethical systems.

There comes a point in every kid’s youth when they are no longer offered rewards for doing what needs to be done. A person with an established moral character does what is right, no matter the cost or reward. Washing dishes and doing laundry are part of living life as a family. There is no price tag that can be put on that.

The cause of truth, on the other hand, accepts reality as it is. Sometimes it is complex, sometimes it doesn’t make sense, sometimes bad things happen for no reason, sometimes we can’t control the outcome of situations, no matter how hard we try.

Jesus stands before Pilate in this morning’s gospel as the servant of the truth. He is, if you will, an enlightened being who operates “at a higher level of consciousness.” He is not interested in any political maneuvering or game-playing. Jesus isn’t concerned about what he can get out of his conversation with Pilate. His only goal is to “speak truth to power.”

What this means for those of us who follow Jesus is that we too are called to grow out of our juvenile obsession with rewards and punishments. We are called to live in reality as it is, with all its complexities and frustrations. We are called to “testify to the truth,” as Jesus did. We must “speak truth to power” in all our words and actions.

On a practical level, this means that we must be committed to doing the right thing, even when it costs us something and there is no reward. We must be driven by the same force of compassion that motivated Jesus’ life, even when it doesn’t feel safe to do so. We have to take risks in the name of love, not because it is sound policy, but because Jesus Christ commands it.

Jesus knows something about this. He has been this way before.

After he had spoken truth to power before Pilate, he was led away to be crucified. This didn’t happen because of any offense he had committed, but because Pilate served the cause of power, and his first duty was to maintain order in the empire. Jesus came “to testify to the truth” and he ended up dying for it.

But you and I know that the story doesn’t end there. Because, on the third day, the power of love overcame the love of power. On the third day, the heart that was impaled by a soldier’s bayonet began to beat again. On the third day, after the powers of this world had said “No” to Jesus and rolled the stone across his grave, God said “Yes” and rolled that stone away. On the third day, God rejected our rejection and “led captivity captive.” On the third day, God made power look weak and intelligence look stupid. On the third day, God gave fear something to be afraid of and sentenced death to death.

On the third day, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. This is our faith. This is our only hope. This is truth upon which we hang all our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows.

Therefore, if we believe this, if we dare to call ourselves Christians, then we must pledge our allegiance to Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords. We pledge our allegiance to King Jesus over and against every enemy, every competing allegiance, every business interest, every political party, every ideology, every flag, every border, and “every other name that is named in heaven or on earth.”

And just as Jesus is a different kind of king, so we must be a different kind of army. Our Commander-in-Chief has given us our marching orders:

“I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me… I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matthew 25:31-45)

Brothers and sisters, this is the commandment our king. It is our bounden duty. It is not an option. And if anyone, however powerful, acts otherwise, if they abandon the millions of “the least of these brothers and sisters” of Jesus who stand trembling at our gates while the bodies of their children wash up on our shores, then that person, like Pontius Pilate, is serving the cause of power and is therefore guilty of High Treason against cause of truth.

Living the Dream

J. Barrett Lee:

This year’s support letter for our ministry at North Presbyterian Church. Visit our website to learn more about our special church. Please consider supporting our ministry.

Originally posted on North Presbyterian Church:

North Presbyterian Churck, KZ-308Dear friends,

When a person’s life is full of affection, comfort, and happiness, people often say that such a person is “living the dream.” Did you know that God has a dream, too? According to author Verna Dozier, “The dream of God is that all creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment.” The mission of Christ’s church is to live God’s dream on earth as in heaven. All of humanity is invited to share in Christ’s “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18) between God, ourselves, our neighbors, and creation.

North Church, a mission community of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan, has a special call to live God’s dream in relationship with people who have mental illnesses. We practice ministries of advocacy and accompaniment with clients in the social service sector. We demonstrate the healing power of relationships at the Togetherness Group, our weekly social activities outing. We…

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By Andrés Nieto Porras from Palma de Mallorca, España (135/365: Piedras) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Not Even One Stone

I delivered this sermon this morning just after announcing to the congregation our session’s decision to leave our building and move our church’s ministry to a new physical location after almost a century at the corner of Burdick & Ransom. I don’t think it was a coincidence that today’s gospel reading in the lectionary is the story of Jesus predicting the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Some weeks, the Holy Spirit makes more work for me…

The text is Mark 13:1-8.

If you knew that you only had a week, month, or year to live, how would you choose to spend that time? What do you want your life to stand for? When other people look back at your life, what would you want them to remember about you? These are the questions that a wise person asks in the face of mortality.

The truly wise among us realize that life cannot last forever, therefore the truly wise among us also realize that each life must be lived for something larger than itself. Every mortal life, it seems, is a means to an end.

Each of us has probably known, met, or heard about at least one person who made his or her mortal life meaningful by dedicating it to something larger than himself or herself. We tend to respect or admire such people when we meet them. Their examples might even inspire us to look more deeply at our own lives, face our mortality in new ways, and discover meaningful possibilities within us that we hadn’t noticed before. It’s a beautiful thing when that happens.

As it is with individuals, so it is with groups of people. These groups might last much longer than we do, but they too will one day fade from existence. Families are mortal. Surnames and lineages come to an end through a lack of offspring. Churches and other faith communities are mortal. There comes a point when dwindling membership and a lack of funds causes an institution to close its doors. Nations are mortal. The Roman Empire was once the dominant superpower in the world, unlike anything else that had come before it. Where is the great Roman Empire today? Buried under the rubble of history and preserved in ruins frequented by tourists in Bermuda shorts. Finally, even the planets and stars are mortal. One day, our very own sun will burn up all of its hydrogen fuel and explode into a violent supernova, momentarily becoming the brightest star in some distant sky.

If coming to grips with our own individual mortality is difficult, accepting the mortality of families, churches, species, and stars feels almost impossible. Yet, the same truth applies to these larger mortal beings that first applied to mortal human beings: it is in facing mortality that we find meaning.

Let’s look at this idea in relation to this morning’s reading from Mark’s gospel. The story opens as Jesus and his disciples are leaving the great Jerusalem temple, the epicenter of Jewish worship in the first century CE. Jesus, as usual, is storming out in a huff after yet another fight with the established religious authorities.

It’s at this point that Jesus’ disciples, in their usual tactless and somewhat dimwitted manner, decide to stop and admire the lovely architecture of this religious icon and national monument of Judaism. They say of the temple, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!”

Jesus is unimpressed. He says, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”

He’s talking about mortality of the temple: this central symbol of religious and national identity for the Jewish people. They were under the impression that this sacred building would stand forever under divine protection. For them, the temple was immortal. It was an end in itself as a center of worship. The idea had never occurred to them that it might not be there one day.

As it turns out, Jesus’ prediction was spot-on. The Jerusalem temple, like any human being, was mortal. It was eventually burned to the ground by the Romans during an uprising in the year 70 CE. It was never rebuilt. The site where it once stood is now occupied by the Dome of the Rock, one of the most sacred places in Islamic religion.

The destruction of the temple was unthinkable to the average Jew, but to Jesus it was inevitable. The wisdom of Jesus did not stop with an awareness of his own individual mortality, but extended to embrace the mortal and finite nature of all things. Just as it was for individuals, so it is for temples, religions, countries, species, planets, and stars: to face mortality is to find meaning.

If our great struggle in life is limited to ensuring the continued existence of particular people, places, institutions, or things, then we have already doomed ourselves to failure. Nothing lasts forever. We need to accept that. What Jesus said about the Jerusalem temple, we could say about anything: “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” All things are mortal.

The sooner we realize this truth, the sooner we can get on with the business of asking the really important questions about existence in reality. Concerning our individual selves, we can ask: “What am I living for? What will people remember about me when I’m gone? What will be my lasting contribution to the world around me or the universe as a whole? What is the meaning of my life?”

The day will come when we, along with our families, our church, and our country, will only exist as a chapter in a history book. Accepting the inevitability of this fact, we need to ask ourselves: “When that day comes, what will we want that chapter say?”

As a congregation, we’ve been asking ourselves some very hard questions this year. We’ve been participating together in the New Beginnings assessment and discernment process. Throughout this process, the biggest and most pressing question we’ve had to ask ourselves is: “What is the church?”

Is the church a building? Is it an institution?

Or is it a community of people on a mission? A community of people, called together by Jesus Christ, living together in Christ, and following Christ into the world to live that mission?

Our final answer has been that third option: the church is a community of people on a mission.

Because we believe this, we have been able to make a bold new decision this week. We have decided to leave the building where we have worshiped for almost a century in order to continue the ministry of our church in a new location. The session, the presbytery, and I are currently working together on the details, and we will call a congregational meeting in a few weeks to let you know what the plan is.

This new move is not a death, but a resurrection.

We are not doing this because the church is dying; we are doing this because Jesus is alive.

We are honoring the heritage of the ministry that has been passed down to us, not by preserving it, but by continuing it.

We are doing this because:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon [us],
because the Lord has anointed [us].
He has sent [us] to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

We are doing this because Jesus said:

“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

Our ancestors in the faith (and in this church) believed this, I believe it, and the session believes it. Brothers and sisters, do you believe it?

Let’s go follow Jesus.

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Where the Reformation Got it Wrong about the Eucharist

By Kelly Pigott

Reblogged from Patheos Progressive Christian

When we consume the bread and the wine we become naked, vulnerable, compelled to draw near to a God who instills both dread and affection. Beware. When we acquiesce, WE become that which is truly transubstantiated as we share in the very passion of Christ. So that the eternal question one must ask of communion is not, am I worthy? Nor is it, what happens to the bread and the wine? Rather, what happens to me? Do I change into the flesh and blood of Jesus? If in some small way this happens, more often than not we will find ourselves walking away from the service not commenting on the preacher or the band or the drama, but silent, because we have become intimate with the One who understood Himself to be the “man of sorrows.”

Click here to read the full article

By StarHeal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Turning the World Upside Down

In lieu of my own sermon, which I am accustomed to posting here on Sundays, I would like to offer instead this mighty moment that took place at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC today.

The event is the installation of Bishop Michael Curry as the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. I got to experience it as it was broadcast over the livestream this afternoon. Bishop Michael had me cheering, shouting, and clapping, even though I was alone in my bedroom.

I love both traditional liturgy and progressive theology. There are some who say, “Those religious rituals are dry, joyless, and spiritually dead.” There are some who say, “Those liberals are biblically illiterate heretics who only preach about what they don’t believe and reduce Christian faith to political activism.” I have been told more than once that there is no way that Jesus Christ could be present by the power of the Holy Spirit in my church.

To those who would make the above accusations, I would invite them to take forty minutes or so to listen to Bishop Michael’s sermon. You may not agree with everything you hear, but I sincerely hope that you will see what I see here: Jesus Christ living and working through a progressive Christianity that is theologically grounded, biblically shaped, Spirit filled, and sold out in service to God and neighbor. Get ready, my friends, because it’s time for CHURCH!

Oliver Spalt [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons


Living stone
the river of fire
in the Province
Beyond the River

Bound by magnetism,
not gravity;
not necessity.

Pebbles worn smooth
by the passage of time:

The lava threatens
everything in its path
that is not
in its way.

the great civilization
in its very act
of creation.

Fire turns to stone,
rests as solid ground,
only when
river meets river.

The Real Legacy of the English Reformation

Reblogged from The Liturgical Theologian.

Cranmer was responsible for the first piece of liturgy written in English (the Great Litany of 1544), much of the Book of Homilies, the inclusion of the Great Bible in parishes around the nation, and the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer. These landmarks insured one thing: a common language for the faith and worship of the Church in England. Every parish in the country would now read the same Bible, hear the same homily, and pray the same prayers in the exact same language…

…What then is the true legacy of the English Reformation? A common Bible and a common prayer book in a common language for a common people.

Click here to read the full article

Star Trek made me a moral person (reblog)

This is a reblog from Samantha Field, an author who has quickly become a new favorite of mine in the blogosphere. Samantha writes with a rare combination of personal vulnerability and razor-sharp insight. After you’ve read this one, I highly recommend perusing other articles on her site. Enjoy!

Star Trek, in many ways, is a modern morality play. There’s more nuance, more shades of grey, more complicated human realities, but what it does best is feature people with all their flaws and beauties struggling to make the world a better place. Sometimes, they fail. As Chakotay learns in “The Year of Hell,” sometimes even your best and purest motives are wrong. In Star Trek, though, winning is defined not by typical notions of success and wealth and power, but by understanding. When characters learn more about themselves– like Data learning about fear in Star Trek: Generations– or about other people, nations, planets, and species, that’s what the show considers a success.

Click here to read the full article.


Call Them Here

The text is Mark 10:46-52

I’ve recently been invited to help my friend, Minister Pamela Robinson of Emerging HOPE Ministries, with her doctoral dissertation. It’s been a privilege to assist with this project because the work she’s doing is so important. The research she is doing is about helping churches raise their awareness of people who live with mental illness or developmental disabilities. Her very helpful term for these conditions is “invisible disabilities”. She calls these disabilities “invisible” because their presence in people is less obvious than a visual or mobility impairment.

There is a stigma around cognitive disabilities in this culture because, in the eyes of many people, mental illness doesn’t count as a “real” disease, like cancer or the flu. Many of us who live with mental illness are often told to “just snap out of it” or “have faith” (as if depression or anxiety could be controlled by flipping a switch). Believe me: if any of us could choose to stop having these symptoms, WE WOULD.

Under the weight of this social stigma, we who live with mental illness often become “invisible people” who suffer silently and alone from the effects of our conditions. We are treated as failures, ne’er-do-wells, and misfits in a society that measures the “worth” of a person based on his or her ability to produce and consume in a capitalist economy.

In this morning’s gospel, we encounter the story of a person, Bartimaeus, who was similarly “invisible” to the people of his own place and time.

There are several things it is important to note about Bartimaeus as a person. First of all, his name. In Aramaic, it literally means “son of Timaeus”, which is to say that he really doesn’t have a name or unique identity of his own. He is only identified in relation to other people. As a physically disabled (“blind”) non-worker in the economy (“beggar”), Bartimaeus doesn’t count as a “real person” in the eyes of his neighbors, so he has been pushed to the margins of society (“by the roadside”), where his presence and voice can be conveniently ignored (“Many sternly ordered him to be quiet”).

Yet, there is more to Bartimaeus than meets the eye on the surface. He might be visually impaired, but we the readers quickly learn that his spiritual insight goes deeper than that of his neighbors. He sees Jesus more clearly than anyone. As Jesus draws near, Bartimaeus begins to make quite a fuss, calling out to Jesus as the “Son of David”.

“Son of David” is a messianic title, referring to King David’s heir, God’s anointed, and the rightful king of Israel. Many have speculated about Jesus’ identity up to this point in Mark’s gospel, St. Peter has even realized the truth in private, but this is the first time in Mark that anyone, anywhere publicly identifies Jesus as the Messiah.

What Bartimaeus says to his Messiah next is “have mercy on me!” This sounds to us like a plea for forgiveness, but is actually more like a welcoming affirmation. Caesar used to enter the city of Rome in triumphant procession with the citizenry crying “Lord, have mercy!” around him on every side. It’s kind of like an ancient version of “Hail to the Chief” or “God Save the Queen”. Bartimaeus has something unique to teach his people: he knows who Jesus really is, but they don’t want to hear it, so they yell at him to sit back down and be quiet.

Sadly, this story is way too familiar for many of our brothers and sisters who live with disabilities, visible or invisible, in the church. As human institutions, churches often act like the crowd around Bartimaeus: ignoring and objectifying disabled people, pushing them to the edges of church life and telling them not to make too much of a fuss, so that business-as-usual can continue uninterrupted on Sunday morning. What these churches don’t realize is that every person is made uniquely in the image of God, therefore each individual has something to teach the rest of us about God that cannot be learned from anyone else on earth. Those who lose the most when disabled people are ignored are not the disabled people themselves, but those who ignore them. So it was with the crowd around Bartimaeus, and so it is in too many churches today.

But the good news is that Jesus is not content to simply walk by while this happens. Jesus listens to the voice of the voiceless and ensures that the lessons they teach will not go unheard. Looking closely at his interaction with Bartimaeus, we can get an idea of how Christ is working with disabled members in the church today, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

To begin with, the first important thing that Jesus does is nothing. He simply stops. The text says he “stood still”. What this tells us is that Jesus is willing to be interrupted by this person. Sure, Jesus is busy. Sure, he has other important things to do (go to Jerusalem and save the world, for instance). But business-as-usual gets put on the back burner for Jesus when it comes to having a relational encounter with this person. Imagine the church doing that! Imagine what Christianity in this world would look like if the leaders of the church were willing to put aside their overcrowded schedules and interrupt business-as-usual in order to listen to the pained cries of needy people.

The second thing Jesus does is say, “Call him here.” He re-arranges his ministry so that the marginalized person sits at the center of the action and concern. And he doesn’t do it alone, either. Jesus could have easily called Bartimaeus over himself, but he enlists the help of the whole community, instead. So then, it is the crowd that changes its tune and says to Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Again, imagine the church doing this today: becoming a community that speaks forth Christ’s calling on the lives of the very people whom the world ignores!

The next thing Jesus does is give a voice back to the voiceless. Instead of presuming to know what is best for this other person, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” This is a very important detail because Jesus is relating to Bartimaeus as a real person, not just as an object or problem to be dealt with. And when the miracle is said and done, Jesus even gives the credit back to Bartimaeus himself: “your faith has made you well.”

Imagine a church focusing its ministry like this: interrupting business-as-usual to forge real, authentic relationships with people whose voices have not yet been heard in the mainstream of society. Imagine the church becoming a community where people are treated like people. Imagine a church that re-orients its entire ministry to put marginalized people at the center of its life and action. Imagine a church that doesn’t just welcome people who live with mental illness, but empowers them to fulfill their calling in Christ. Can you imagine a church like that?

I can.

I can imagine that kind of church because that is exactly the kind of ministry that North Presbyterian Church has been doing for the last 27 years. This is who we are. This is what we do. This is the kind of community the Holy Spirit has made us into.

So many of us, myself included, have tried to make our spiritual home in churches where we are tolerated at best, or rejected at worst. But the Holy Spirit has called us together in this little community where we can be a light to the world.

And our ministry is not going unnoticed. What we do here has been written about in college and seminary textbooks. Letters of support have poured in from all over the country. Denominational officials are telling us how we have inspired a movement, how we have shaped the national church, how we are pioneering a new model of ministry from which all churches can learn.

North Church may be a little church, but we are “the biggest little church in Kalamazoo.” Our significance doesn’t come from a huge budget or fancy programs, but from the fact that we are doing the kind of ministry that Jesus demonstrated with Bartimaeus: centered on building relationships with marginalized people who live with mental illness.

The power of the special work we do is rooted in the power of the gospel itself and grows out from it to form a community where all people can find a home.

The power of this church comes from that core truth we tell each other week after week:

“I love you. God loves you. And there’s nothing you can do about it!”

Be blessed and be a blessing.