If It’s Not About Love

There is a sign in the front yard of the church that has space for a message that we change on a regular basis. Currently, the message on the sign is taken from an oft-quoted saying from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry: “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” On the face of it, the saying seems pretty harmless and non confrontational. I mean, it’s just about love, right? Well, yes, but…

The love that Jesus teaches and the love that Jesus manifests in his life is a courageous, expansive, and very often, confrontational kind of love. The people that Jesus chooses to love are often those whom society (and sometimes even their own families) have chosen not to love.  Many of the disciples whom Jesus accepts and names as “inheritors of the Kingdom of God” were those who were certainly not the cream of the crop. Jesus loves lepers whom society excluded. Jesus loves orphans and women who were considered the least and most powerless. Jesus loves tax collectors whose professional lives had become a daily crime against their own people. Jesus has meals with scoundrels and extends good news to well-known sinners. To the convicted thief who was crucified beside him, Jesus says, “today you will be with me in paradise.” And as a crowning witness to the relentless love exhibited by Jesus, he even prays for those who were responsible for his own death, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they are doing.”

Now, make no mistake… this inclusive, radical love of Jesus was wildly popular with those disinherited, excluded, disenfranchised folks on the margins of society. Never before had they heard or seen or experienced a love like this. Is it any wonder that when Jesus showed up, those on the margins crowded around him? Sometimes the crowds just wanted to touch the edge of his garments in the expectation that some of his healing love would rub off. Other times, they were willing to sit in the hot sun just to soak in the words of love that Jesus uttered. And then there is the story in the Bible of a blind beggar whom Jesus lovingly heals. The blind beggar is so utterly transformed by the experience of Jesus’ love that he is willing to boldly stand up to the religious authorities who interrogate him and to proclaim his new-found faith in Jesus.

This same love of Jesus, however, also caused A LOT of waves. In standing up for the powerless, he challenged the status quo religious and political power structures. In establishing solidarity with the poor, he often provoked the rich. Jesus spoke in such plain and truthful ways that most in authority were soon looking for ways to rid themselves of the dangerous rabbi. Eventually, as we all know, the powers of this world did find a way as they arrested, tried and crucified Jesus.

Maybe love isn’t as innocent as it appears upon first blush. At least the love of Jesus isn’t. It’s an amazing, marvelous love of grace and mercy and compassion and justice and grace. As such it is great good news to the poor and oppressed and marginalized. The love of Jesus, however, is also a challenge to any system or structure or person who resolutely insists on clinging to power or holding others in bondage. 

Bishop Curry is right. If it’s not about love, it’s not about God. But let no one be deceived about this love of God. It is fierce and relentless. And this love of God will always eventually win.  

~Father Art

Let It Flow

There’s a famous story in the Bible about a chance meeting Jesus has with a Samaritan woman at a well in the desert. As you may know, there were all sorts of reasons why Jesus shouldn’t be talking to this woman, and yet he does so anyway. In this rather brief encounter, Jesus is able to confront a major source of brokenness in the woman’s life (her severed relationships with five husbands); he accepts her just as she is; and he offers her hope for the future. In short, Jesus did for this woman what Jesus does for all people – he offers her grace.

But just what is grace? For Christians, grace is the free and unmerited favor of God. Grace is a pure gift. It is offered to the holiest of us and to the worst scoundrel from among us. God knows our lives, our most triumphant moments, our worst failures, and everything in between. God sees us when we are at our best and at our worst. And there is never a moment, never a fraction of a moment when God withholds God’s grace from us. Grace is another word for the unlimited, unbridled love of God made most manifest in the sacrificial life and death of Jesus.

Grace has always been a scandalous thing for almost all us humans. Perhaps this is most true for those of us in the Church who should know better. But grace just seems too good to be true.  Surely, we think, there must be some catch! God loves us, we often conjecture, but God also must expect something in return, right?

Well, while God may want us to live lives of love, God’s grace doesn’t hinge on our behavior. God’s love is offered freely and fully whether we get our act together or not. And so, while God may want us to live lives of love, God’s first and foremost desire is that we receive the love that God is offering.  

Now, why would this be? Why would God be more intent on us receiving grace than on us giving grace? Because God knows a big secret…one can’t give what one doesn’t have. If we haven’t received love, we can’t give it either. The waters of love and life can’t be poured from the pitchers of our lives unless those same pitchers have first been filled up.

It’s all right there in the story of the woman at the well! After receiving just a drop of the waters of grace that Jesus offers, do you see what the woman does? She runs back to her town to tell all who may listen about this crazy Jewish rabbi named Jesus who is offering love, free and clear, to all comers. In fact, the story says she is so excited to share what she has received that, in running to her hometown, she forgets to bring her water pitcher with her! The grace she receives is immediately poured forth. And that is exactly how it’s supposed to work. It’s supposed to flow. Grace always originates with God whose very nature pours that same grace into the lives of all. God’s intent is that these same waters of grace will continue to flow throughout God’s entire creation.    

So, our homework this week is not so much to learn how to give grace, but to learn how to receive grace. And the key to receiving grace is to acknowledge that it’s not about us, rather, it’s about God. God loves us not because we’re good but because God is good. So, receive the living waters of grace, freely given by God and let that grace flow. Allow it to flow into your life, and release it to spill out of your life and into the lives of all whom you encounter.  

~Father Art

They Is We

I was speaking recently to John Brunner, our brother in Christ, as he was leading the work to move the baptismal font to its new position at the west entrance to the church. He was remarking that he often hears the phrase, “They ought to do_____________ at the church.” The blank, of course, may be filled with any number of well-meaning suggestions, some very good suggestions and others, not so good. And then came the wisdom of St. John Brunner… “You know what? They is we.”

Yup, those are some wise words. They is we. As has been said ten jillion times, the Church is not a building; it is the people of God. Our particular way of walking the Way of Jesus, that is, The Episcopal Church, recognizes four orders of the people of God: lay people, deacons, priests and bishops. Each order has a part to play in doing the work of the Kingdom of God, and our theology asserts that no order is more important than any other order. If I were, however, to pick the most important order of the four, I would choose the laity. Why? Because, while bishops, priests and deacons are charged with helping lay folk become the people God is dreaming them to be, clergy really don’t have a job without the laity.

They is we. Yes, they comprise the clergy, staff and key lay leaders of the church, but they also comprise every single person, young and old, male and female, wise and foolish. For the witness of the church to be strong and robust, each of us and all of us must take part in the work. The clergy, while they may have an important role to play in our common life, are not the paid Christians of a parish community. Key lay leaders, while they may almost always be relied upon to step up and get the job done, are not the sole representatives of a parish community.

Most of us have been physically isolated from each other for over a year. During that time and in an effort to keep parishioners safe, the clergy and key lay leaders at St. John’s assumed many ministry roles that truly belong to others, particularly other lay folk. Many of our laity at St. John’s are out of practice in the work of the Church. We are now, however, slowly but ever surely, returning to a more normal way of being church. It is time that all of us recognize and heed the clarion call that they is we.

God’s dream for God’s Church is that all play a part in walking the Way of Jesus. There are so many ways to plug into the life and ministry of the Parish Church of St. John in the Wilderness.  So, step up. Take the hand of Jesus in one of your hands and the hand of a fellow pilgrim at St. John’s in the other. Our friend, John Brunner is not always right, but in this instance, he really is… THEY IS WE.

~Father Art

A Statue and A Font

In 1886, President Grover Cleveland officially dedicated the Statue of Liberty in front of thousands of spectators. The creation of the statue was a joint effort between the United States and France, with the French creating the statue itself and the United States constructing the pedestal on which it stands. A small island in New York Bay, now known as Liberty Island, was selected as the location for the statue. In 1892, shortly after the erection of the Statue of Liberty, the US Federal Government opened a new immigration station on nearby Ellis Island. Between the years of 1892 and 1954, over 12 million immigrants were processed on Ellis Island before receiving permission to enter the United States.

The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom, liberty, and democracy for all of us, but most especially, for those immigrants desperate to find a new life. Indeed, the oft-quoted verses of Emma Lazarus placed upon a plaque at the entrance to the pedestal of the statue, proclaims:

Give me your tired, your poor

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The Church often uses symbols to communicate the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. Nearly everything that we see, hear, smell, taste or touch in church is replete with theological significance. Among the most powerful of these symbols for the church is the baptismal font. It represents for us death to all that threatens to separate us from God and life everlasting in Christ. The waters of baptism offer true liberty, freedom in Christ, inclusion in the family of God, entrance into the Kingdom of heaven. As such, the proper placement of the baptismal font in a church is important.

At St. John in the Wilderness, the baptismal font has moved around a bit. When the present church building was erected in 1925, the font was located in the room that is now the Chapel. In some ways this made sense at the time as the important status of the font was recognized in its receiving its own room! This decision, however, to place the font in a space apart from the main worship area is theologically untenable, and the font was moved from there to the back corner of the nave. Actually, it was probably moved not for theological reasons but on account of the need for a coat room… but that is beside the point! The back corner was better than in a space apart, but still, for the font to be relegated to a back corner is an assault on the importance of the sacrament of baptism. If baptism is so important to the Christian faith, then why would one place the symbol of baptism off in a corner? More recently, the baptismal font was moved to the front of the church beneath the ambo (lectern). This is actually a pretty good place for the font in that it is very visible and gives prominence to the importance of the sacrament. It is, however, very crowded up front with the ambo, the font and the railing leading to the chancel all taking up very limited space. Further, by placing the font up front, we miss out on an opportunity to do what the Statue of Liberty does for those seeking a new home, that is, proclaim to all those who enter the church that it is through baptism in Christ that freedom and liberty and new life come.

In the next couple of weeks, the baptismal font at St. John’s will be moved once again! It will be in the same place that many, perhaps most, churches place their fonts… in a center position at the back of the church. As people enter the main doors of the church on the west end, the font will be the very first thing that they will encounter. Just as immigrants passed by the Statue of Liberty on their way to Ellis Island, all those who enter our doors will pass by the baptismal font. May all who enter the doors of St. John in the Wilderness and pass by the font know and feel that through the baptismal waters of Christ Jesus, they are loved, cherished, and given new life and liberty. May they know that here at St. John’s they have found a place to rest and be spiritually nourished. May the “tired, the poor, the wretched, homeless and tempest-tost” receive hope in Christ and strength for their life journey.

~Father Art

Come to Jesus

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28f.)

It has been a long time since many of us have come to church. This Sunday, however, we will, once again, be worshipping inside our beautiful old sanctuary. For over a hundred years, residents and visitors of White Bear Lake have been coming to the old church on the corner of 1st and Clark. They have been coming to say the old prayers and to sing the old hymns and to hear the old stories of the Bible. They have come to see friends and to receive the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. They have come because they are full of joy and want to give God thanks, or they have come because they are crushed with despair and need to hear a word of hope. They have come because they have nothing else better to do, and they have come because they have so much to do that they crave a place of peace and relative stillness. Men and women and children have come to St. John’s for over a hundred years for a whole variety of reasons, but whatever the reason, they have made the decision to come, to come to Jesus. And so do we.

It has been a long and difficult year: a global pandemic that has affected virtually every nation in the world, persistent racial unrest that has boiled to the surface, political conflict and chaos that have threatened the very foundations of our democracy, the grinding danger of climate change that has been made manifest in catastrophic storms and droughts. And on top of all of this are the regular stresses and strains, the grievances and griefs of our small, ordinary lives. Physically distant and sometimes isolated from each other, most of us have become weary and burdened. Some, if not many, of us are at the breaking point, the burden becoming so heavy that we don’t know if we will last another day.

But there is great good news that is proclaimed to any who would receive it! Into the exhaustion of our lives and into the brokenness of our world, God sends his son Jesus. In his inexhaustible and unbroken love, Jesus comes to redeem and to restore and to save. This was true in Judea millenia ago, and it is just as true in our world today. Jesus comes. Jesus comes not in some distant, theological or theoretical way, but in a close, intimate, incarnate way. Jesus comes in a way that makes a difference, a real difference in our lives. Somehow, through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, God has created a space of refuge. Christ stands ready to comfort, ready to restore, ready to empower and equip. And as Christ comes to us, so Christ also beckons us to come to him.

I realize that “altar calls” are not something that Episcopalians are wont to do, but really, don’t many of us long for a “come to Jesus” moment in our lives right about now? Don’t we yearn to hear Jesus say deep into our inmost selves, “come to me and find rest for your souls?” After journeying through the trauma of this past year, don’t we want to trade the yokes that we have been carrying for the yoke of Jesus? If so, then Christ stands ready and willing to take the bundle of whatever we have been carrying and to give us a better, a divine bundle filled with the stuff of peace and hope and light and life.

This Sunday I invite you back to St. John’s to say the prayers and sing the hymns and hear the stories and receive the sacrament. I invite you to come to Jesus for, indeed, you will find rest for your souls.

~Father Art

Moving Forward with Love

Guest blog by Megan Jahnke

Our family has a sweet dog named Storm. She is a 1 ½ year old Husky/Malamute mix and is a VERY active dog. She requires daily exercise which is often in the form of walks – we walk her twice a day, every day. Often when we tell people this, they wonder if that kind of commitment is daunting – I mean, we need to carve almost two hours out of our day, each day, just to get in her daily walks! But my answer is no, walking her is actually one of the best moments of my day. We brought Storm home in January 2020 and three months later the world shut down. Storm became my saving grace, my escape, because, when you are a mother of three young boys and you can’t send them to school, or bring them to the zoo, or even make a trip to Target to distract them, you need something that offers you a moment to escape all the chaos! Storm became that escape – an hour to myself where I could pop in my earbuds and listen to a podcast or just listen to nature as we strolled through the neighborhood and I took a moment to breath.

The last 14 months have been so hard for so many. We continue to live through a life altering pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 3 million people worldwide. It has caused us to shift our lives completely – we started working from home, putting distance between ourselves and our coworkers, having to shift to virtual interactions that lack so much of the interpersonal communication we experience during in-person interactions. Parents became teachers, and teachers took on a surmountable task of trying to connect with and teach their students over a computer screen. Many were alone in their homes, missing family and friends, wondering when they would once again feel the touch of another human. Political leaders caused division among us and hateful words were said on both sides of the spectrum. As a people, we were all experiencing the pandemic differently and even separately, but we were never alone. As a collective people we walked through this pandemic together and together, we are forever changed.

As we begin to move out of the height of the pandemic, we are a changed people. What life looked like as we walked into the pandemic, it will not look the same as we walk out. As someone who is vaccinated and able to once again hug my family members, I still find myself shying away or stepping back to give myself distance. I find myself fearful for my young sons who are still not able to get vaccinated – while we are moving out of the pandemic, their lives are still at risk. I feel like I am living in this strange limbo, knowing we are making progress in the fight against Covid, but also having an acute awareness that we aren’t totally there yet. 

Throughout the entirety of the pandemic, the church has had to navigate what life looks like for their congregations. Bishop Curry and our local diocese, ECMN, has continued to put emphasis on living the Way of Love through this pandemic. How would Jesus call us to love our neighbors well through a deadly pandemic? In a recent email sent by Bishop Loya addressing the CDC’s recent changes to Covid guidelines he suggested that our decision making be “guided by questions of what love looks like, what it means to be fully inclusive, and what it means to seek good for the other, particularly those who are marginalized in any way.”

As we move forward as a church and community, it may not always be graceful and we may not always see eye-to-eye. We will all move at a different pace and will all have different levels of comfort. Some will be ready to take off their masks and others will feel more comfortable remaining masked. Some will feel ready to attend worship on the lawn and others will still prefer to attend virtually. But, as we move forward, however slow or fast, my challenge for us is to always move forward in the Way of Love, seeking to treat one another with care and to make decisions that reflect the love of Jesus to ALL of His people. And, I encourage you to find that one thing that gives you a moment to breath. This has been a challenging road to travel, but just know, we can do hard things and you are never alone.

Episcopal Nuns

Guest blog by Rev. Kate Maxwell OSB

“I didn’t know there were Episcopal nuns.” This is a response I often get when I tell someone that I’m a Benedictine Sister. It seems that Episcopal/Anglican religious communities are a well-kept secret!

The Episcopal Church recognizes two types of ‘religious’ groups: Christian Communities and Religious Orders. Orders are traditional communities that usually make vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. They have all their goods and financial resources in common and live together in a convent or monastery. In this, they are quite similar to the communities of the Catholic Church.

Christian Communities, on the other hand, are often dispersed; that is, the members don’t live together but support themselves individually, give to a common purse for the expenses of the community, and generally don’t make a promise of celibacy. The vows taken in Christian Communities vary according to the spirituality of the Community.

My Community is the Benedictine Priory of St. Mary. We are a brand new Christian Community of women, lay and ordained, married, single, or partnered. We live on our own and meet in person at least once each year. The rest of the time, we keep in touch via technology. We are a Benedictine monastic Community, which means that we follow the 1,500 year old Rule of St. Benedict, interpreted for today. At Profession we make the traditional Benedictine commitment of Stability, Obedience, and Fidelity to Monastic Life. Our primary ministry is prayer.

The Priory of St. Mary is a new foundation, and so we are not yet recognized by the national Church. Becoming recognized is a long process. A community needs to have been in existence for several years, have at least six full members, and have a lot of documentation. The Priory has been organized in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. The Right Reverend Craig W. Loya, our bishop in ECMN, is our Bishop Visitor, which means that he is our connection to the House of Bishops and the larger Church.

If you’re curious about religious life in the Episcopal Church, check out the National Association of Episcopal Communities (naecc.net) and the Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas (caroa.net). Many Episcopal religious communities belong to one or the other.

Take a look at the Priory’s Facebook page and like us!

You’re welcome to join us for Compline at 7PM on Sunday evenings as well. Just email us at PrioryStMaryOSB@gmail.com and I’ll send you the link.

If you’d like to know anything else about the Priory of St. Mary or Benedictine life, just contact me at intern@stjohnwilderness.org — I’d love to chat with you.

~ Kate OSB (the initials stand for Order of St. Benedict)

Love One Another

Guest Blog by Rev. Margaret Thor

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

Jesus said this to his disciples, to us. Wouldn’t it be great if we simply loved one another? Jesus commanded us to do this, so let’s get it done! Yet, we all know that nothing is quite that easy. Love is complicated and demonstrating love, especially to strangers, is hard. How are we to love strangers, those we don’t know, those who are different than us, those of other cultures, upbringings, and experiences, those outside our sense of normal? I wish I had an answer as I struggle with this question as well.

I wonder what it would be like if we asked the question of strangers (and I use this term very loosely), “how can we love you” or “what does it mean to you for us to love you”. Would we be willing to listen to their answer? Or would we assume that we know how to love them and what they need? 

At Easter and during Baptisms, we promise through our baptismal covenant that we “will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.” We also pledge to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” We promise to do this with God’s help as we know that we cannot do it alone.

As a deacon, I took a vow to “interpret to the Church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world”. In addition, I am “to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.” Frequently we attend church to be comforted by God’s word and promises, yet we are called to the difficult work of loving our neighbor. 

This is why you will frequently hear me pushing you to the seemingly uncomfortable work of putting your faith into action in the world. It could be serving at the food shelf, advocating for those experiencing homelessness and hunger, or protesting for equitable treatment of our Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC). It could mean working side by side with marginalized families as they build a home with Habitat for Humanity. Once Covid restrictions are lifted, it could mean sitting down to dinner after preparing the food with indigenous people at First Nations Kitchen in Minneapolis.

Recently my husband and I along with our son drove home after a day in Iowa City. My husband was driving above the speed limit and was pulled over. He got his documents ready for the officer and answered his questions. None of us felt any fear. After the officer took my husband’s license and did what he had to do in his patrol car, he came back and gave my husband a warning. I wonder if we were a black family if the outcome would have been different. I wonder if my husband would have received just a warning and not a ticket. I felt our white privilege and wonder if I witnessed that impact on the officer’s decision. Wondering and learning and engaging with those who are strangers may be a way for us to love one another. I think it is important to take time to listen and to hear what another person desires. This summer we are planning a series of talks from people from communities that are marginalized. I invite you to attend these gatherings – keep your eye on my information about this series. And once we hear, let us act on their wishes and not on our own. Jesus commanded us to love another as I have loved you. It is this unconditional love that we are to share. If we do this in the name of Jesus, our joy may be complete.

A Crack in Everything

There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

There’s a story in the Bible about a man by the name of Jairus. Actually, I’m not sure if the story is more about Jairus or about Jairus’ daughter or about the Jews or about Jesus… it’s all rather complicated. The story begins when Jairus, the leader of a local synagogue, having heard about the ability of Jesus to heal, approaches Jesus and pleads, “‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’” And so, Jesus comes. By the time he arrives at Jairus’ house, however, the girl is dead. Jesus takes Jairus, Jairus’ wife, and a few of the disciples into the house, and with the simple words of “Talitha koum!” or “Little girl, get up!,” Jesus heals the girl.

We are given little clue as to Jairus’ response to the miracle. The Bible says only that, “they were astonished.” Other translations say that they were “beside themselves.” I believe that the Light of God found its way into a crack. You see, despite all Jairus had learned in his life, it was only when faced with the illness and death of his daughter, that is, when he was confronted with a crack in his life, that Jairus comes face to face with the love of God manifest in Jesus. That’s how it almost always happens. A crack develops and God shows up.

There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

That’s the message of the cross and it is central to our lives of faith. It’s funny though. We do everything in our power to ensure that no cracks develop. And even when cracks do develop, we try to deny them or ignore them or pretend as if they aren’t really there. We eat the right things, we exercise, we are faithful in our study and work, we learn how to be polite and function respectfully in society; we raise good kids; etc, etc. But somehow very little of that does much to help us understand the Light and love of God. It’s so often only when things go wrong that our eyes are opened and our hearts become receptive to the light of Christ. It is through the failures, the sadnesses, the sufferings, the brokenness that the light finds a way into the depths of our being.

There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should try to make cracks in the lives of others or in our own lives. I don’t think that God makes cracks in our lives. It’s just part of our human existence. But instead of denying the cracks, or being embarrassed by the cracks, or being overwhelmed by the cracks, we may learn to accept them and actually learn to look for the Light and Love of Christ that inevitably and invariably finds its way through the cracks.

This past year has been difficult. It has been full of sacrifice and loss and brokenness. In my life and in the lives of every single person I know, cracks have opened. It’s been hard. It is hard. But when you’re at your lowest, always remember that you are never alone. God is always by our side. Fear not the cracks in your life.

There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

~Father Art

Popping the Bubble

For many years, I ran an adventure camp in northwestern Wisconsin. We offered a wide variety of activities to our junior and senior high campers, including mountain biking, ropes courses, whitewater canoeing, sea kayaking on Lake Superior, rock climbing, etc.. There was an activity that we tried one summer called Bubble Ball. Basically, it was a no-holds-barred version of soccer, but each player was encased in a blow-up body bubble made of clear flexible plastic, sort of like a human-sized beach ball that extended from above the head to just below the waist. Bubble Ball players could run full steam and crash into each other with abandon… and there were no consequences! It was immensely fun, and with little to no pain or injury. We did all recognize, however, that because there were no consequences, Bubble Ball bore little resemblance to reality, that is, to an actual game of soccer. To be honest, after a while, the appeal of Bubble Ball expired. There was something about the artificial nature of it that just got old. 

In retrospect, much of my early life feels as if I was playing Bubble Ball. Growing up in a white, upper middle class family, there was never a time when I had doubts about whether I would have three square meals provided each day or a roof over my head at night. All of my friends pretty much looked like I did as did all of my teachers at school. Church was no different. I went to an Episcopal church where all the families looked pretty much like our family. The swim club that we frequented on the weekends was a little bit different in that everybody was wearing fewer clothes, but really, it was just the same as everywhere else — very middle and upper middle class and very, very white.

I knew that there were other people who weren’t as fortunate as we were, and certainly I knew that there were other people who had a different skin color than I, but I only knew about them, conceptually, that is. They lived in a different part of town and moved in different circles. I didn’t really know, that is, in a relationship sort of way, many people that were in a different economic state as we, and I certainly didn’t know anybody with black or brown skin. Truthfully, I had an immensely happy childhood, but in retrospect, I think that there was something a bit surreal about it all. It was as if we were in our own bubble, playing our own game of Bubble Ball.

In the tenth chapter of the book of John, Jesus makes the purpose of his ministry clear. He says, “I came that [you] may have life and may have it abundantly.” Abundant life. That’s the reason Jesus came. He was sent into the world so that you and I and every living thing on the face of this earth may have abundant life. Further, this abundant life that Jesus brings is not always immensely fun or immensely happy. Abundant life is about receiving the sacrificial offering of Jesus and, in turn, offering our lives as a living sacrifice for others. In other words, abundant life is anything but a game of Bubble Ball.

The abundant life that Jesus lived and calls us to live is genuine, real, oftentimes joyful, rarely convenient, sometimes uncomfortable, painful and even deadly. Abundant life is filled with some people who look and talk like we do, but filled also with folks who look and talk nothing like us. Living the abundant life that Jesus offers means bumping into people without the protection of a bubble. It entails being vulnerable and refraining from judgment. It requires a willingness to seek understanding and a commitment to justice and mercy and love. The promise is for relationship, real relationship, with God and with others. Abundant life is not easy, but it’s good. It’s really, really good.

So, take a few minutes and consider your life today. Does everybody kind of look and talk the same? Do the people that you bump into on a regular basis pretty much have the same sort of life as you with only small differences here and there? Are you really experiencing the abundant life that God offers us in Christ Jesus?

If not, then maybe it’s time to pop the bubble and get to know somebody whose skin is a different color than yours or whose bank account is less full. Maybe it’s time to become acquainted with somebody who experiences God in a different way or whose family history is so unlike your own. It takes guts to live without a bubble. But therein lies the life, the abundant life, that Jesus offers us all.

~Father Art