Tag Archive: Relationship


Holy Hands

Calloused hands
Soft hands
Gnarled hands
Scarred hands
Shaking and trembling hands
Injured hands
Distrusting hands
Humble hands
All reach toward the grace
You offer so freely.
Extensions of the people
You touch.

This was the sermon I preached on January 4th at Community Lutheran Church.

Well, here we are in 2015! Another year has rolled by and I find myself reflecting on the past year, as well as this coming year.  After the holidays, get-togethers and parties, I can at least say that I feel this much from Isaiah’s reading is true: “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry.  I will give the priests their fill of fatness…” After so many delicious meals and wonderful treats, I can certainly attest to the last part!

In all seriousness though, we’re still in the Christmas season, even as we’ve celebrated the turning of the year and the beginning of something new.  In John’s Gospel, we hear an echo of Genesis – of a new creation.  Of the Word taking on flesh to live with us and to show us who God is.  In each of the texts for the day, God is up to new and exciting things, but they also remind us that it’s through the birth of Christ that these new things are springing up in our lives.

john-1-001This first chapter of John has come up a couple times in the past few weeks, and what jumped out at me this time around was actually the last verse: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”  The phrase that particularly caught my attention was “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart.”  Close to the Father’s heart. It sounds like Christ is near and dear to the heart of God.  There is an intimacy and a type of tenderness there.  Jesus, who is God, is at the very heart of God – he knows God’s heart.  As I did a little more researching, this phrase actually means “in God’s bosom.”  It’s a very maternal type of image.  This matches up with one of the descriptions of God found throughout the Old Testament – God is described frequently as Rachoom, which is often translated as “compassionate,” but literally means “having a womb” or “womb-y.”  These are images of care, tenderness, affection, connection and relationship.

Ok, so now you’re thinking, where on earth is she going with this?! All of this imagery helps to show not only who God is, but also the relationship of God and Jesus.  John’s Gospel is trying to say that while no one has seen God, Jesus, who is so intimately connected with God, has shown God to us, by becoming human and living with us.  John is trying in every which way to show that a God, unfathomable, mysterious and cosmic, has become fleshy and earthy in order to have a close relationship with us.

Not only does that mean God living among us, but it also means us becoming the daughters and sons of God.  As John’s Gospel puts it, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” And Ephesians says, “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. … In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.”  Through our dying and rising in Christ in baptism, we have been adopted as God’s own beloved children and given the inheritance of God’s promises.

At the turn of the year, we make resolutions and, yet, we don’t often keep them.  Maybe they are only halfhearted attempts at changing and that’s why they often fall by the wayside at some point early into the New Year. Habits are hard to change and new habits difficult to implement, but maybe it’s a mindset that needs changing.  As children of God, when it comes to thinking about resolutions for our faith and our lives as disciples, maybe it’s helpful to think about continually growing and maturing in our faith.  Maybe it’s more helpful to reframe our thoughts in terms of children growing in God’s grace rather than checking the box for a completed resolution.

Think about being in a loving relationship with a parent who has our best interests at heart.  When you’re a child, you take delight in being with your parents, spending time with them, and learning from them.  Prayer, reading Scripture, and service do take effort, but they are also activities that bring joy and delight because we encounter God in doing so.  In a relationship with God, the loving parent, we receive joy, support, care, affection, encouragement, but also gentle correction and forgiveness.

Growing and transforming are difficult.  Maybe we really don’t want or know how to change.  Maybe we don’t even know what changes we need.  Perhaps we don’t really want the kind of intimacy with God that Jesus has – being close to the Father’s heart.  That can sound wonderful and yet also a bit threatening or uncomfortable to us and our independence.  Maybe we worry that that kind of relationship with God will put us out of sync with those around us, our culture, or our world.  I have wrestled with these questions – wanting to grow in my faith and yet wondering what changes might need to occur.  Wondering what others might think.  Wondering what I might have to face about myself.  But that kind of loving relationship is what we are called to as children of God, as disciples of Christ.  It’s interesting, but the only other time the word “bosom” is used in John’s Gospel is when the disciple whom Jesus loved leans on Jesus at the Last Supper.  We, too, are the disciples whom Jesus loves.  We, too, are being invited into a deeper relationship with God, this year and every year.

We make resolutions – I should eat better, exercise more, spend more time with family, watch less TV, spend less time online, devote more time to my relationships, pray more, spend more time serving others, etc.  And it all seems so overwhelming. We want to make better choices and form healthy habits, but we think it all needs to come at once.  We want to grow up and have our lives together.  Maybe we think that when we reach a certain age or time of our lives, things will suddenly fall into place.  But I think what we actually learn as we grow is that change happens over a period of time.  We slowly begin to understand that we are always a work in progress and, maybe, we begin to extend more mercy to those around us who we know are also works in progress.

Jesus is born as a human child, experiences the growing pains of childhood, and lives life into adulthood.  Yet he does it as the divine Word of God, succeeding where we fall short and revealing at each step the overwhelming love – the face and the grace – of the Father.

And even when we fail at our resolutions or fall short of who we are called to be, we remember that, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  We are in God’s grace, forgiven and strengthened to keep trying and doing our best, calling on Christ and other disciples for help.

Because we can’t do it alone.  Maybe part of the reason our resolutions fail is because we try to do them by ourselves.  But we have been given the gift of the church – the gift of relationships with other disciples.  In the community of faith, we help one another as we grow in grace.  We, too, bear the love and the face of God to one another as we stumble and stagger, fall and succeed on the bumpy road of life.  We need encouragement and insight from each other, and we need people to challenge us to help us grow and to take the next steps.

So thinking about being close to the Father’s heart, how do you hope to grow in your faith this year? What keeps or holds you back from pursuing or entering into a greater intimacy with God? Over the coming weeks, I invite you to spend time in prayer, listening for what God might be calling you to.  Find a friend, talk it over with them and test what you’re hearing.  Pray together, encourage and support one another.  And if you feel inclined, let Pr. Joe or me know what you’re thinking so we can help support and pray for you, too!

Just as Jesus is close to the Father’s heart, we have been invited through him to be close to the Father’s heart.  To experience the love, care and tenderness of God, while continuing to grow and mature as children of God.  To receive grace upon grace through God’s outrageous love.That is part of the mystery and promise of Christmas.  That is the promise that we can cling to no matter how many resolutions we break or how many times we fall short.  Thanks be to God! Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Sunday’s sermon from Community Lutheran in Sterling, VA.

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, and I’d like to begin by saying that I don’t understand the Trinity.  Amen.  Nah… just kidding – you can’t get off that easy! And I think Pr. Joe is with me on this, too.  I find that no amount of seminary training or theological study can help us fully grasp the Holy Trinity.  As St. Augustine put it in a sermon: “What then are we to say of God? For if you have grasped what you wish to say, it is not God. If you had been able to comprehend it, you would have comprehended something else in the place of God. If you had been almost able to comprehend it, your mind has deceived you. It is not God, if you have understood it.  But if it is God, you have not understood it.”  Whoa… That was not so helpful, Augustine…

The God we confess as three distinct persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is a mystery.  On the one hand, I sometimes find this mystery frustrating as I try to understand and to explain it to others, and maybe you do, too.  On the other hand, however, I find that the doctrine of the Trinity is always inviting me to a deeper encounter with God and with others.

The idea that the God we worship exists as three persons in relationship with one another – in community – is amazing to me.  At the core of God’s very being is relationship.  One of the best depictions of this that I’ve seen is Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity.  Painted in 1425, this icon features three divine angels seated around a table.  These figures are taken from the description of the angels who met Abraham and Sarah at Mamre. The figures not only relate to one another through their body language and hand gestures, but also through the rich blue color, a symbol of divinity, used on a portion of each of their garments.  These holy beings not only form a circle and a community by themselves, but they invite the viewer into the conversation and intimacy of the table.

Trinity Rublev

Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity

This is the community, relationship and intimacy into which God graciously invites us.  God the loving Father calls us through the Holy Spirit to an encounter with Jesus Christ – God in the flesh, visible and approachable.  God invites us into the holy conversation and leaves a space at the table open for each of us, inviting us to join the party!

Today’s texts speak about God as community.  We hear it in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians just as we hear it every week in our worship: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”  And in the Gospel we hear Jesus tell the eleven disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” 

Both of these verses point to the second part of trying to grasp the Trinity.  The triune God doesn’t just invite us into relationship with God, but calls us into relationship with one another.  God draws and gathers us together through the Holy Spirit as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Today, we are reminded of this incredible good news in the celebration of the baptism of Xander.  In baptism, we are not only brought into relationship with God through water and God’s promises, but also made a part of the community of Christians here in this place and around the world.

Because God exists as community, communion with God is always communion with one another.  We come together for worship every week to pray together, to share Christ’s peace with those around us, to sing songs in unity and harmony, to receive communion from and with others, and to be blessed to go back into the world to share the communion we’ve experienced here.  We come to deepen our relationship with God and we wondrously find ourselves in relationship with one another.

When I was a new to the Christian faith, I thought I could read my Bible and study on my own.  I found, however, that I wanted to be able to discuss faith and life with others who were trying to follow Christ.  I wanted to be with others who knew God and could help me learn more.  After being a part of a community in high school that proved divisive, I was ready to quit organized religion.  I decided that I would follow Christ, but on my own – without a community.  Sure, I would talk to my Christian friends about faith, but I wanted no part of church life. 

Once studying in Germany, I thought I’d give church another shot.  And so after a time, I found myself nervously walking down a street to a small church in Freiburg, Germany.  I was alone and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be welcomed, or that I wouldn’t understand anything, or that there would be the same insider/outsider lines drawn at this church as I had experienced before.  I prayed and told God as I walked that I was nervous and the response I received was what we heard in Matthew’s Gospel, “You are not alone – I am always with you.”  I ended up loving being a part of that little community, trying to sing the hymns and follow the service.  There, I found people willing to help me learn the liturgy, people who welcomed me although I was a foreigner, people who invited me over for Easter lunch since I was alone, and people who invited me to take my place at God’s table.

Once back in the States, I thought that I might not find another church as welcoming as the one in Germany, so I again avoided organized religion.  That was all well and good until I realized that I was missing out on being able to talk to others about faith. I felt kind of isolated.  I had questions and I wanted grow in my faith, but I needed support.  I was hungry for God and I found myself missing Holy Communion – I longed for and needed to hear those words, “the body of Christ given for you,” “the blood of Christ shed for you.”  So again, I nervously stepped through the doors of a Lutheran church.  The rest is, well, history in the making!

No community is perfect.  I have experienced ugliness in the church and maybe you have, too.  We’re always a motley crew of sinner/saints all gathered together.  But I have also experienced the incredible beauty of community.  I have been formed and shaped, welcomed, loved and taught by pastors and laypeople alike.  And my relationship with God continues to grow because of the encounters I have in this community of faith.  When young and old offer their gifts, or a child offers a prayer during the Children’s Message, or I listen to the wonderful conversations at Bible Study, Adult Forum, or Adults Anonymous, I catch glorious glimpses of God in community.  Where have you seen the face of Christ in this gathering? Who has helped to form and shape your faith?

We all need others to remind us of God and point to God.  There’s too much hatred, hurt and pain in the world for us to bear by ourselves.  And when we’re hurting or don’t know where to turn, we need others to help us see that God is with us.  We need others to care, ask about our lives, and to say, “I’m praying for you.”  We need people to share how God has been active in their lives to encourage us in our journeys.  We need others to inspire us to step out of our comfort zones by sharing their gifts.  In short, we need one another – each and every person.  That kind of sharing and mutual support takes real vulnerability – the type that says, “I struggle, too, but let’s lean on and learn from one another.”  Are we ready for that?

In World Cup terms, it takes a team of eleven working together to be successful.  Usually there are a multitude of passes and maneuvers before anyone can score a goal.  Or, as some might say, a “GGGOOOOOOLLLLL!” Hmmm, now that I think about it, Jesus sent out 11 disciples in today’s text – coincidence, I think not! The point is that no one can maintain the marathon up and back pace of a 90-minute soccer game and score by themselves.  They need their teammates.

Today’s Gospel says that Jesus came to the eleven disciples on that mountaintop and they both worshiped and doubted.  And in my experience, that seems about right.  We worship and doubt, wrestle and struggle.  And still, in spite of their doubt, Jesus sends the disciples out to make communities in the name of the holy community.  Even without perfect faith or complete understanding, he still tells them to baptize, to share the good news, to make disciples, and to teach.  Because the thing is, he’s going to be with them.  ALWAYS. Even until the end of the age.  We will keep messing up, but Jesus continues to forgive us and send us out to build relationships and community in the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  To keep trying to live out our new lives in Christ together in community because where two or three are gathered, Christ is there among them. 

We are not perfect and we never will be, but the God who does live in perfect communion continues to call us together and to breathe new life into us through the Spirit.  So maybe we won’t always understand the Trinity completely.  But the faces around us will help us understand that God, the three-in-one, calls us to live out our faith in community because it is through relationship with others and the sacraments that we experience God.  And I have learned that I need that community, always, even to the end of the age.  Don’t you? Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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