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Monday, March 23, 2015

March 22, 2015

Gospel: John 12:20-33
1st Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
2nd Reading: Hebrews 5:5-10

This morning I'd like to lead you through a guided meditation in which you imagine that you are the seed that is mentioned in the Gospel. So in preparation, please get in a comfortable position. Sit up straight, put your feet flat on the floor, and place your hands in your lap. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so. And take a deep breath in and out. And another deep breath in and out.

You find yourself somewhere high up, with a view of the surrounding area. You can see across the green fields, trees and clouds and insects and animals. This is a pleasant place to be. There are many colorful plants and flowers nearby, different textures and shapes all around you. You feel safe. You feel warm. You feel a soft breeze on your face. Picture the area around you. Breathe in the sweet smell of the flowers. Breathe in the sweet smell of the soil. Listen to the sounds of insects buzzing. Sometimes they land near you. Listen to the birds calling to each other.

You are not alone. There are many others like you nearby. You are all crowded together in one place and others are nearby, also looking out over the colorful landscape.

Your favorite time is the rising of the sun. After a cool night of breezes and crickets, you watch the sky turn to ever lighter shades of blue, then pink, orange, yellow. The stars slowly fade away. But the best part is when the sun begins to warm your back. Feel that sun warming you. Feel yourself growing and changing, getting stronger, storing up energy for the future.

But today the sunrise is no so pretty. Gray clouds hang low overhead. There is the smell of rain in the air. The day is cold and dark. As the drops begin to fall from the sky, you shiver and shake. You hear the faint splash of water drops. One falls near you and surrounds you and you see your reflection in it. Take a look at what you see there. You see how much you've grown and changed and what a strong coat you've produced. As the rain falls harder, you start to sway and you start to feel dizzy and a little seasick.

You notice that some of your companions have lost their hold and fallen. You feel yourself losing your grip on your perch. You don't know whether to feel excited or afraid. You try to hold on. You tell yourself you are strong enough to hold on through the storm. You could stay up here forever. But the storm keeps on pounding and blowing. There is no end in sight. Finally, exhausted and weary you finally let go. It seems like you fall forever, the world spinning around you, the ground coming up to meet you, until you crash to the soil below. Water is swirling around you. You can see some of your companions nearby—some covered in water, some sticking up from the soil, some being carried away by tiny streams. You have no control about where you go next. Everything is unfamiliar. The world looks very different from down here. You feel small and vulnerable. You find yourself sinking—being covered by water and mud and leaves. The darkness swallows you. You find yourself falling into a deep sleep.

After a long time you awake to find yourself in total darkness. You shiver with cold. The earth around you is hard and unyielding. You remember your happy days way up high in the sunlight and how you felt so strong and confident. You wonder what you did to cause you to fall so low. You feel alone. The days pass slowly.

You begin to notice one day that you don't shiver as much as before. The ground around you is getting slightly warmer. At first you wonder if it is just your imagination. Breathe in the warmth. Feel the life stirring inside of you. Something is happening, but you wonder if you should stay right here or risk poking your head out to look around. You feel moisture around you and you soak it in, guzzle it down. You feel refreshed and stronger.

You realize that you are growing again. Your roots break through your outer coat. It is a little uncomfortable at first, but your roots find water and nutrients and it feels so good to stretch out. You feel stronger every day. You begin to branch upward and soon you catch a glimpse of that precious sunlight you missed so much. You stretch up, you root deeper and stronger, you soak in the warm sunlight. You push away the rocks and leaves and dirt until your leaves are finally free. You stretch them out. You look around and see your companions growing tall and strong next to you. Again you smell the flowers, hear the birds and insects and feel the wind and turn your leaves to face the glorious sunlight.

You can move your hands, feet, head and neck slowly and stretch, go ahead and open your eyes when you are ready.

I'll leave you with two questions today:
1. Where do you see God in this story?
2. Where are you in this story this morning?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

March 15, 2015

Gospel: John 3:14-21
1st Reading: Numbers 21:4-9
2nd Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10

I've never been afraid of snakes.  When I was a tiny little girl, my uncles used to find garden snakes and bring them to me to look at and touch.  I think they might have been trying to scare me, but I thought they were fascinating.  One small snake, I remember petting on my grandma's back porch, had two heads.    Even in gardening class, snakes fall under the "Beneficial" title.  They are not pests.  They help out in the garden because they mice and eat slugs--two things you don't want around!  Garden snakes might be helpful, however, poisonous snakes are another matter.  If you get bit by a snake, this is a life-threatening emergency.  Call 911!  Don't stop and make a bronze snake and put it on a pole and look up and live.  Go to the hospital, right now!

So why did God instruct Moses to make a bronze snake that people would look at?  Why did God give them the training that they would later use to make the Golden Calf that they would worship instead of God? 

Let's take a moment and think about snakes.  They slither on the ground.  They live in holes.  They are very near-sighted and they see better at night.  They are creepy because they have no limbs.  They are creepy because they are quiet when they move, for the most part.  They can sneak up on you.  You don't even know they are there until you step on them.  Then add the poison and it is obvious why people are afraid of them.  We adopted our cat when she was a year old.  I doubt she ever had an encounter with a snake.  One day, Nick left his belt on a chair and she was sitting near it.  He went to grab it and she freaked out.  Her ears went back and her hair stood on end and she hissed.  Something in her recognized the shape of a snake and something in her reacted to it.  Animals and humans know, instinctually, that snakes are a threat. 

But in the Old Testament Reading for today, the people were acting rather snake-like. And we all tend to do things like this.  We might not like snakes, but we like to act like them.  The Israelites were being led through the desert.  They were supposed to go through the land of Edom.  However, they got scared, so they went around.  God knew better and tried to tell them which way to go.  But they refused and they ended up sneaking around the people they were trying to avoid.  That's how they ended up in this snake's pit.  We can all be like snakes sometimes.  We get sneaky.  We think we know a better way.  We like to keep our thoughts secret and our actions in the dark, because when they come into the light, they aren't so pretty.  We are often pretty near-sited. And we do crawl along, pretty low to the ground, sometimes.

So what do you think happened when all these people started getting bit by snakes?  They became very fearful.  Every step they took was filled with fear.  I would be willing to bet, they scattered.  Everybody ran in every direction.  And as they nursed their wounds and tended the sick, they started to blame each other and God.  If you hadn't complained, if you had chosen a better route, if God had cared enough about us....They must have gone to a very dark place to believe that God would have done this to them.

So what is it about this solution of putting a bronze snake on a pole that is helpful?  I think it may bring them together in one location.  Those who had been scattered came back together.  They were no longer isolated.  They saw they weren't the only ones.  They saw some were worse off than them that they could help.  They saw beyond their problems to other people.  The other part is that they looked up.  They could no longer slither and sneak along the ground in the dark.  They lifted up their eyes.  Maybe they even found hope by looking up.  Maybe instead of going into their own dark thoughts and suspicions, they saw the bigger picture.  Maybe they even saw God with them in their situation.

God didn't send snakes to bite people who complained.  Otherwise I would have a million more snake bites than the none I have right now.  I was once bitten by a dog, but that's not the same thing.  We know that snakes bite complainers and less anxious people, alike.  What God did do was have compassion on all of us.  For God loves us all so much, that God gave us the most amazing gift of all, God shared God's own self with us in the form of Jesus.  And it wasn't God lording it over us, but becoming someone just like us, that we could look in the eye.  God did this to bring us up from our normal snake-like situation, to lift us out of suffering and fear and crawling around in the dirt to see the bigger picture, that the life we live is for love and that life goes on forever.

Oh, how John 3:16 gets so misused to beat people over the head.  Have you ever had this used against you to prove you weren't the right kind of Christian? We love sound bites.  We love easy answers.  Just give it to me in one sentence and I'll be satisfied.  I'll use it to justify myself and prove I am better than other people and I'll use it to show that others are unworthy.  It does say that belief is important!  Is your belief the right kind of belief? Have you accepted Jesus Christ? Have you been born again?

Let me take a moment to break it down:

God loves--this is about God's compassion, mercy, and love.  This is unconditional love.  This is the most powerful force in the universe.  To use God's name in an unloving way is to use God's name in vain, and you know you've heard that in the commandments somewhere!  I'll give you a hint--don't do it!

God loves the world--humans, animals, plants, earth, heaven, stars, sun, sea, and all of creation.

That he gave his only son--a free gift, a healer, a teacher, a miracle worker, God's own presence with us.

That whoever believes in him--This is where we get stuck.  How much belief is enough?  What about people who never met Jesus?   What if you say you believe, but you don't live a righteous life?  What about newborn babies who never get the chance to believe?  The word believe in German is "belieben" to belove.  Whoever loves him, loves his way of unconditional love.. And more importantly, God believes in us, not some words we might say, like a magic trick because we are afraid of eternal torment.  Our loving God has a beautiful, loving, peaceful plan for us, but we keep slithering around in the dark, afraid to look up and see God looking back at us, seeing us as we truly are, and helping to lift us from what we are used to, to a place of true peace and love. God looks on us with compassion, believes in us, beloves us.

Would not perish--this is about bringing us all back into right relationship, not pushing us away or causing us to be hurt

but have eternal life--this is forever.

And in case we still have the idea that this reading can be used as a weapon, the reading goes on, "For he did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."  God came in Jesus to accomplish the healing and restoration, the saving, of all the world, and God can do it!  God will take us from crawling creatures who love darkness, to loving creatures who know how to look up, look to God, and find hope.  Jesus came to fulfill the beautiful Isaiah prophecy about the child playing safely near the den of the adder.  I know you'll recognize it because we read it at Christmas about God coming into the world in Jesus. Let yourself picture this promise of God. Visualize this world that is coming:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the awe of the Lord.

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

Just as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up:  Most children use the word "up" very early in their language development and even if they can't say it, they will let you know with their arms reaching.  I still remember my boy demanding "up" to several of you!  How powerful is that one little word.  We all spend some time crawling around on the floor, whether we got there by our own fault, or we are injured or just not at the developmental stage to be able to get up any higher ourselves.  Jesus came down to our level and saw things from our perspective.  And God lifted him up--on the cross, as an example, on the throne, in the resurrection, in the ascension.  He went where he was meant to go--up.  And he brought us with him.  He gave us the chance to see a little bit farther, hope more fully, connect more deeply with each other and all of creation.  Now each of us look around and hear voices saying, "up!"  It is our chance to reach out a hand to our brothers and sisters like Jesus did for us and help them to see the bigger picture, connect, and know they are valued and loved.  And sometimes we find ourselves right back in that snake pit and we get to be lifted up again and again, by Jesus, through our neighbors, friends, and family until the day when we are all up and see clearly in the light of God.

Monday, March 9, 2015

March 8, 2015

Gospel: John 2:13-22
1st Reading: Exodus 20:1-17
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Psalm 19

A funny joke I heard this week: “If anyone ever asks, 'What would Jesus do,' remind them that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.” This brief episode of intense anger and violence seems out of character for Jesus, so we have to ask ourselves why he is so mad.

To find out the answer to that question, we can go back to the reading from Exodus this morning. We call this the Ten Commandments, but God didn't number them. There are a lot of commandments in the Old Testament. Here they are referred to as “words” God spoke.

They are words that remind the people where they came from and who they are. God starts by bringing the Isrealites to the beginning of their relationship. God is the “I am” who brought them out of slavery. That is the beginning and purpose of their relationship. God entered into their story to save them from slavery.

Then we get these words or commandments. These words are meant to ensure the freedom of this people. They have been freed by God. Now they must not do anything to infringe on the freedoms of others and they must not become enslaved again. They should not become enslaved to other gods, they should not become enslaved to their work or cause others to be, they should not take away the freedoms of others by killing or stealing or lying, or enslave themselves in the trap of wishing they had what their neighbor has. The Ten Commandments are a list of how to live in freedom and how to help others be just as free as we are.

Jesus is angry because the scene he comes upon in the temple is a system of slavery. The Temple is built to provide a place for people to know the freedom and nearness of God. Instead, here is this place of corruption and harm and enslavement. You shall have no other gods before me. Here in the temple they were changing out coins with Caesar's face on it for ones acceptable in the temple. The money changers were taking advantage of the poor. They were worshiping money and putting it before relationship with God. Originally the sacrifices were the first fruits of the field or young animals from among the flock. Now people found they had to purchase animals at the price set by the temple, after first losing some of that money in an exchange, just to feel right with God, close to God. The God who was so available during the exodus in the pillar of smoke or fire, was now distant and hard to find. There were so many barriers to contact and relationship with God. Furthermore, those in authority were making wrongful use of the name of the LORD—saying that God desired sacrifices, when it was the priests and scribes making money hand over fist in the system of sacrifice. They were stealing from the very most poor people in these transactions. They were bearing false witness by making people think this is what they needed to do to make God happy.

Jesus is angry. If any of you think anger isn't acceptable for Christians—here you have it, Jesus was angry. Anger has its place when all that God had done to free the people was being undone in God's name. Anger can be good when it motivates us to act on behalf of others who are being taken advantage of. Jesus didn't hurt anyone though. They might think he is going to hurt them, but the damage he causes is much deeper. He disrupts their activities, their system of oppression.

Jesus drives them from the Temple. He dumps all their profits on the floor and mixes them together. How will they ever sort it out? And he calls for the destruction of the precious Temple—the one that is still under construction. They haven't even enjoyed the full benefits of their renovations. Jesus wanted to destroy the Temple they had been working so hard on. Maybe this is a reflection that the Gospel writer, writing 60+ years later knew that the temple would be destroyed because he had seen it with his own eyes. Maybe this is a reflection that Jesus knows that the practices of the temple, slavery practices, practices that are against the values and commandments of God, will necessarily lead to its destruction as consequences of that way of living. Jesus knew the temple system had to go, because it was corrupt to its core. But Jesus knew that wouldn't be the end of having access to God. Instead, God's presence could be found in Jesus and after Jesus' ascension in all of us because of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The temple had to go. It was a corrupt system that brought people into slavery and further from God. Some people have experienced church this way. They've seen religion misused to manipulate and control people. They've seen people hurting each other in God's name. They see hypocrites in churches, there for show or to prove they are better than other people. It is important to remember that we don't need church to have a relationship with God. Thanks for coming today, by the way. For most of us, I would guess that we've found healing from the hurts that the church has caused us and recognize that any human institution is going to have its problems. And many of us have found that even though we can and often do volunteer on our own in the community and appreciate and worship God at other times of the week in other places, that it is helpful to have the encouragement and love that comes through a community of faith and a chance to practice the love and forgiveness that God teaches us about. God's presence doesn't come through a building or a system, but through Jesus and his presence in those around us, especially those we reject and are offended by.

It is comforting to think that even if our church walls came down, even as one who makes my living by serving and leading a church, that our faith would still go on and God's presence would still be known. In fact it can be kind of exciting to think about what church might look like, if done in a different way, in a different place. I know I could make my living fixing people's glasses, or providing pastoral care in another setting, such as a hospital. Someday, I imagine, the church will be completely different than it is now. It won't necessarily be better or worse, but worship and love of God will go on and Christian community will go on. I have to think that what is good will survive and what isn't helpful, what brings slavery or violates God's values and love will have to go.

Maybe it sounds foolish for me to be willing to give up my comforts and my career, at least hypothetically. Part of what I am trying to reconnect with in my upcoming sabbatical is that there is a person in here beyond the pastor that I have become. I am a whole person, even if I am not working in my job. I have needs and desires. I come from somewhere and I am going somewhere and most of that has very little to do with what I do for a living. I get to reconnect with who I am when I am not participating in this system, to be able to examine what is life-giving and what is bringing me and you into slavery, so that God can lead us into freedom.

Jesus drove out the system of sacrifice and then he became the sacrifice. He called for the destruction of the Temple and then he became the Temple. He took the system in place that everyone was buying into—that's just the way it is—and pointed out the foolishness in it and turned it on its head, inserted himself into the story in at the vulnerable point. If anyone was going to be placed into slavery because of the system of Temple sacrifice, it would be him. When it was the poor who felt the consequences, people felt they could blame the poor for their own condition, but when we see the consequences on God's own self, we must stop our foolishness. Now, in each unjust situation, we can no longer say, that's the way it is, or that person made bad decisions. We can only picture Jesus in that situation and ask ourselves if we want to participate in something that would damage our neighbor, our brother, the one who came to save and liberate us. We must then see that when we enslave others, we find ourselves enslaved and that is slavery is the opposite of God's intention and hope for us.

It is important to remember on this 50th anniversary of the Selma march, as we move toward the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation in 2017, as we notice unjust laws and practices of our own time, that we don't just accept them as the way things are, but we allow ourselves to get angry about them, to see the slavery that still goes on and speak out about it, so that Jesus can free people still in bondage.

When the Temple was physically destroyed and before that when it was revealed as the place of slavery it had become, Jesus offered himself as a permanent temple that would always be with us, in all places and times. Now we always know where God may be found, the Christ Spirit alive in all of Creation, to bring us all out of slavery into freedom.

Monday, March 2, 2015

March 1, 2015

Gospel: Mark 8:31-38
1st Reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
2nd Reading: Romans 4:13-25

When I was 18 or 19 I had a job interview to be a substitute teacher's aid in the preschool of my home congregation. One of the questions they asked me was who was my hero and why. I wracked my brain. The only person I could think of was our previous pastor, but I thought they would think I was telling them what they wanted to hear. I couldn't think of anyone else. I didn't get that job, although I am sure a single question didn't sink me. But I decided at that moment that I needed to get a hero in case I was ever asked that question again. And I did. I read about three books on Eleanor Roosevelt and she fit the bill. Unfortunately, I have never faced that interview question again, but the effort I put into finding a heroine wasn't wasted. I learned about someone who overcame adversity, stayed true to who she was despite tremendous pressure, and loved very deeply. She's been an inspiration to me ever since.

It is hard to have a hero, because we know too much about people. The paparazzi are taking pictures and the tabloids are waiting to use photoshop to make them look either enormous or anorexic. So and so are getting a divorce and so and so cheated and on and on. We find out about their failings, even if they did wonderful things in their lives. I remember how shocked I was when I found out about the indiscretions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK. I was sad to see Governor Kitzhaber leaving office last month under a cloud of scandal because I think he has been doing a lot of good for our state. However, it ought to be obvious to politicians that when they do things that are unethical, even if they feel they are doing it for the right reasons, they are likely going to get caught.

With our culture being so hungry for the “Gotcha” story, catching a new celebrity or politician in the latest scandal, we would think the Bible would be more widely read. It is full of fallen heroes, people who lacked faith, bumbling fools, and powerful people who lose everything.

Abraham is no different. To talk about him being faithful is pretty laughable. He tells a lot of lies. He doesn't really seem to trust God, but takes matters into his own hands. He lies about his wife and says she is his sister, putting her in a lot of danger. Even though God seems pretty clear that he will have a child through Sarah, he takes Hagar for his wife and has a child by her. For Paul to imply that Abraham is a hero in the reading from Romans, almost makes it sound sarcastic. “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body....” He didn't? He didn't seem hopeful or patient, to me. He just kept trying to do this his own way instead of waiting for God. Maybe I should give Abraham more credit. The Ten Commandments hadn't been written yet. How did he know what it meant to walk before the Lord and be blameless? “Where there is no law, neither is there condemnation.” He had these conversations and a relationship with God, and he seemed to disregard or forget what God told him to do.

Even Jesus has a life full of scandal. He is a bastard son, born out of wedlock. He eats with tax collectors and sinners. He heals on the sabbath. He is arrested. He receives the death penalty and is mocked, tortured, and killed in public view. Jesus broke human laws in order to be true to himself and to be loving to people who were normally rejected.

Both Abraham and Jesus were both figures whose lives were full of scandal. But Abraham received the promise of God and Jesus was the fulfillment of God's promise.
Abraham, like Peter, had his mind set on human things. They both had expectations about timing and events and their own part in the story of how God would bless them. Abraham may well have gone by the motto, “God helps those who help themselves.” We also believe that human action is necessary to help make this world better and that God will work through out hands and feet to change the world. Abraham, too, took action to make sure that he would be the Father of many nations, like God promised. However, he was putting his mind on human things. He was thinking of himself.

Peter was putting his mind on human things. He wanted Jesus to stay with them and fulfill the hopes for the Messiah in the way he expected. He was thinking of himself. He may have been thinking of Jesus, too. He must have wondered, how could Jesus change the world if he was dead?

Abraham and Peter couldn't have been more wrong. But the fact that they were wrong didn't prevent God from blessing them. The blessing just came in an unexpected way, or maybe many unexpected blessings in many unexpected ways.

Jesus invites us to take up our cross and follow him. My human mind says that just isn't going to happen. I'm not going to put myself at risk of death. However, the same word for cross is also stake. I remember staying with my mom the first time I went to the Bishop's Convocation pastor's conference at the coast. She went to work before I left the house and as I walked out the front door, I heard the dog barking, anxiously. I looked in the side yard and he had tangled himself in the rope he was tied up with. He had wrapped himself completely around his pole and had his leg stuck in the rope. It looked pretty uncomfortable. He was quite happy that I came to free him.

In the same way, Jesus comes upon us and we've tangled ourselves in our human ropes and chains. We've run around in circles trying to do everything we think we need to do. We get our leg stuck in our chain. We struggle to get free and just tire ourselves out and make it worse in the process. Well here comes Jesus. Perfect timing! And he notices that we are tangled. He has compassion and mercy on us. He untangles us. Not only that, but he trusts us enough to take off the rope altogether. Now we are free. Some of us will want to stick close to the pole, to the stake. But Jesus says, pick up your stake and follow him. Follow him from the safety of the yard into the unknown. It may be the unknown of helping a neighbor, learning something that is difficult, trying something new, changing priorities, taking a risk. That is what it means to put our minds on divine things. This is what God does for us. God could have stayed safe and warm and comfortable, but God created us unpredictable creatures to be in relationship with. God gave us free will. God gave us this world to take care of and live in. All these things mean risk to both us and God. They mean there are a lot of unknowns. Then God jumped in with both feet in Jesus and went through every scary and demeaning and joyful experience that we ever face to walk before us and be in relationship with us. This is a Godly thing to do, not because it is risky, but because it is loving. Loving is necessarily risky, especially because he was loving people no one loved, or only a mother could love and people who couldn't necessarily give him something in return. God loves us without any guarantee that we will love God or God's people or even know that we are loved. Now it is our turn to respond to that love and take a risk by loving God's children. This is what it means to take up your cross and to concentrate on Divine things. But I think loving is never a losing proposition, because even if we are not loved in return and even if we spend our love on people that don't appreciate it, that love is good for us, it makes us more fully alive and it makes this world better. That's what God experiences, putting so much love into this world and loving us and everyone. Many times we turn our backs and don't notice or acknowledge that love. But it isn't wasted, because love means that we are never alone, that we can always try again, that we are free to be ourselves and we are empowered to love those around us.

Abraham receives the Covenant this morning and Jesus comes to fulfill it. The amazing thing about covenant is that it is for all us fallen people. Some of us may be a hero to grandchildren and no where else. Maybe not even that. We are have all fallen short. We have all lied. We have all set our minds on human things. We have all been selfish. None of us is blameless. But that doesn't mean the promise isn't for us. It is exactly for people like us. The covenant sticks this many thousands of years later for the heirs of Abraham and those adopted into the family through faith and by our brother Jesus, because the Covenant isn't fulfilled by us, but by God. Abraham is not the blameless one. Peter is not the faithful one. We are not the faithful ones, but God is the faithful one walking with us, giving us everyday a new chance to walk before God, to converse with God, to put our trust and faith in God, to have patience, to let God work through us, to take risks, to put others before ourselves, to pull up our stake and get out of the yard to follow Jesus through death and into newness of life.