Tag Archives: All Saints

Saints Alive! A Conversation with Maxie Dunnam

This summer, Dr. Maxie Dunnam released a new devotional resource he developed while at home during the initial wave of coronavirus shutdowns. Saints Alive! 30 Days of Pilgrimage with the Saints is a rich, month-long set of readings; daily reflections aren’t just inspired by those who have come before; they have the tone of being in dialogue with these spiritual giants. Dunnam brings his own insights into conversation with names both familiar and unfamiliar: writers like William Law, Thomas à Kempis, Francis de Sales, Evelyn Underhill, John Wesley, and Bernard of Clairvaux. Decades ago, Upper Room Ministries published a collection of small booklets under the title Living Selections from the Great Devotional Classics – what Dunnam continues to refer to as his “box of saints,” a set of writings that has shaped his spiritual life over the years.

What becomes abundantly clear throughout this book is the ongoing need for timeless insight when the present feels urgent. The more pressing current events become, the more pressing the need to drill down into the very core of the gathered wisdom of the saints of the Church. When a plague surges and wildfires burn and levees do not hold, we need the voices of Christians who knew plague and burning and flood. What feels like uncharted territory for many leaders is not wholly uncharted in the life of the Church. Thankfully, as the rhythm of life together was profoundly disrupted, Dunnam reached for those who know how to sink into life in Christ, however near calamity strikes.

Recently, Maxie answered a few questions about his “box of saints” and the timeliness of their wisdom today.

Wesleyan Accent: In the introduction, you describe having what you think of as your “box of saints” – a set of booklets featuring spiritual writings from Christians across centuries. What do you think it is that makes their insight so enduring, across time and continents and language?

Maxie Dunnam: First of all, the issues they dealt with. They took our daily life seriously and dealt with everyday issues that are common to us: pride, envy, jealousy, selfishness, loneliness, relationships, illness, death and on and on. They also dealt with the issues that trouble us if we are serious about living the faith: the necessity of discipline, worship, prayer, a meaningful devotional life, silence, living with Scripture, mutual faith sharing, companionship, confession.

WA: You invite readers to spend thirty days on soul pilgrimage with you as you engage with these profound Christian voices. During periods of crisis like we’ve experienced the past couple of years, you turn toward the “communion of saints,” the Body of Christ across time. How can remembering our fellowship in this wide span of the Church help give perspective in the middle of pandemic, wildfires, injustice, war, and hurricanes?

MD: The big dynamic is the communion of saints. I experience a wonderful mystery when I sit and reflect with these persons. I may or may not know the circumstances of their lives, but their thoughts and words give me a kind of oneness with them. The fact that others have valued their thoughts and words enough to preserve them through the centuries tells me that I need to pay attention to what they have to say. Our needs, suffering, questions, and problems make us one in our humanity; our faith makes us one in hope and Kingdom certainty.

WA: I was surprised to encounter a few writers I’d barely heard of, if at all. Sometimes the scope of spiritual insight from those who came before us around the world is just mind-boggling. Of those you interact with in these daily devotionals, is there one you most wish you could sit and talk with for an afternoon? (in addition to John Wesley, of course!)

MD: I would like to spend an afternoon with Saint Francis and Bonhoeffer. I am so unlike both. They both came from wealth and material privilege, which is foreign to me. Francis gave up his wealth, but Bonhoeffer never did. I’d like to talk about that. Both were passionate in their expression of the Gospel; I feel I am likewise. It would great, leading them to share with each other about how and why their passion was expressed. If I had to choose a time alone with one or the other, I would choose Francis, to talk about how I can be in but not of the world.

Saints Alive! 30 Days of Pilgrimage with the Saints works well both for personal use as well as small group or band reading discussion. It is available in both print and Kindle format by clicking here.

Featured image courtesy Alex Gindin via Unsplash.

Omar Rikabi ~ All Saints Means All Saints

Note from the Editor: If you missed All Saints’ celebration last weekend or your denomination doesn’t regularly celebrate All Saints’ Day, enjoy this sermon from Rev. Omar Rikabi, Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Heath, Texas. 





Michael Smith ~ All Saints’ and Mentoring: A Personal Reflection

What I Learned from Tim Bock

I was one of those kids who started going to a Christian camp before we were officially allowed to. And as far as I can remember, camp was always a part of my life. This is where I met Tim Bock.

Speaking the Truth

Tim was a guy that at first glance didn’t really want to be your friend. His dry humor and wit often left some feeling awkward around this tall, weird, skinny guy. As a child, I remember that Tim was our babysitter who didn’t want to give my sister ice cream just for the fun of it. He also wasn’t shy about speaking the truth in love to you, and sometimes that can come across very hard. Yet in our family, like in many others, Tim was able to show up at a crucial point where we needed him the most. It was a God-thing.

When I was a junior camper, Tim was my counselor. I remember one night after he finally settled all of the crazy 4th grade boys down, he said, “Guys, I love you.” I still remember the bunk I was in when he said that. I remember the feeling of God’s presence and love come to me through Tim’s simple, yet powerful, words. I was loved and Tim helped me to truly know it.

You may never know the great power that a simple word of love can have on a person, but I encourage you to share love with others. It will never leave my memory. Though a lot of time has passed through the years, the memory of a mentor’s words at a critical time in my life will never fade.

As a young adult, it was Tim who drove me out to work at this same camp for the summer. I had spent several years away from the church and camp, so I was a bit nervous to go back to a familiar (but at the same time new) place. It was in this summer that I met some great friends and connected closer to God than ever before. I would meet a lifelong friend that I would spend time at Asbury College  with. I would meet a future seminary professor that summer, though I didn’t feel called into ministry at that time. That one week of camp meeting alone when Tim was dean was life-altering.

The Most Important Message

Tim was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He fought it hard for as long as he could. I was still in college when I had to give Tim a call. He didn’t sound the same, and we both knew that his time on this earth was running short. He was too weak to speak much, so I chatted a bit about upcoming plans. My old mentor was so affirming and gracious. I knew while we talked that this would be our last conversation.

I didn’t want it to be. I didn’t know what to say. So I said simply what he had taught me when I was a 4th grader.

“Tim, I love you.”

With his struggling voice my mentor told me, “I love you too.”

Many of my friends can tell funny stories of late-night antics at camp and share wonderful memories of Tim’s short life span. My witness to him is very simple: I loved Tim Bock. And I live in the present moment knowing that he made God’s love real to me.

Love changes people. It changed me. When you love, you honor my friend Tim. But more so, you will honor the Savior that Tim loved and served, Jesus Christ. Tim is now part of the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us. He encourages us to run the race – and in true Tim Bock fashion – he is probably making fun of me for running it in a weird way. But after we laugh, he tells me I am loved.

This makes me want to keep running.

Who has kept you running?

Tammie Grimm ~ Warming the Soul with Celtic Traditions

For as long as I can remember, my family has celebrated St. Patricks’ Day like many other Irish-American families: corn beef and cabbage, homemade Irish soda bread, green dye in everyone’s beverages all served on Mom’s best Irish linen tablecloth. Typically, the sound of The Chieftains or Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers can be heard on my parent’s stereo. Over the years, I’ve tried including The Pogues, The Waterboys and of course, U2. But tradition in my family runs strong – St. Patrick’s Day isn’t the complete without a rousing rendition of  “My Wild Irish Rose”and “O Danny Boy,” designed to bring a tear to your eye.

Early in my career as a school teacher, I was introduced to another saint commemorated in March: St. David. Like St. Patrick’s Day, there are associated traditions for St. David, and as a young school teacher with a new teaching assignment, I found myself carrying on another cultural tradition of sorts when I was conscripted by a friend and co-worker to make St. David Day cookies for our faculty colleagues. In preparation for St. David’s Day, we’d spend the last weekend of February making dozens and dozens and dozens of a little Welch biscuit so faculty members could literally fill their pockets with these addictive little morsels.  It was in discovering more about St. David and this new tradition I participated in that I also discovered more about St. Patrick and the rich tradition of Celtic Christianity.

Who St. Patrick is to the Irish, St. David is the Welsh. Both men were early Christian bishops who helped spread Christianity and converted Druids and other pagans throughout Ireland and Wales. Both are two of only a handful of Celtic saints, who are also recognized and canonized by Rome for their influence on the Christian faith. Celtic saints were the men and women of Ireland, Scotland and Wales who, whether they were of noble or peasant birth, lived a life dedicated to God, and sought with heart, body, mind and soul to share and express God’s love to others. Many Celtic saints are known only in their localized area – their holiness revered and cherished among the people who witnessed that the successive generations continue to benefit from the life of the saint who once lived there. Whereas the status of Catholic saints of the Roman church is conferred by a far-away pope after a lengthy documentation process that verified the saintly credentials of a person, Celtic sainthood is conferred by popular veneration.

Often times, particular Celtic saints may have legendary stories attributed to them. The famous Lorica of St. Patrick is attributed to an incident following Holy Saturday in 433 when Patrick kindled the paschal (Easter) fire on a hill across from Tara, the center of the country and seat of the Druid High King. Patrick’s fire undermined the high king’s authority and power, who, by virtue of their office, ritually lit bonfires, thereby symbolically claiming they were the givers of light and warmth. When summoned by the Druid king to what would likely be his execution, Patrick and his companions robed themselves in white and found miraculous protection in chanting the Irish hymn invoking God and heavenly protection from the “powers of corrupt and distorted powers of the world.” The tale does not describe the king’s reaction, but the resultant successful spread of Christianity throughout Ireland suggests he did not have much of a fight left in him after being thwarted by God’s miraculous protection.

A similar story is told of St. David, but instead, the subdued chieftain is credited to say, “the kindler of that fire shall excel in all powers and renown in every part that the smoke of his sacrifice has covered, even to the end of the world.”

But for all the miraculous stories and the supposed powers that rivals today’s superheroes, Celtic saints became saints because the community in which they lived recognized their life of holiness and relationship to God. Perhaps one reason there are so many Celtic saints is because they saw no separation between what was secular and religious – all of life was sacred, and therefore consecrated to God. It was intertwines, much like the famous knot work still popular today.

In the centuries before furnace units and central heating, Celtic women who kindled the day’s fire in their hearth didn’t just clear the night’s ashes, they prayed and asked God’s blessing upon the fire that would give their families heat and light throughout the day. The prayer underscores the understanding they shared with St. Patrick and St. David, that light and life was a gift from God.

This morning, as I kindle the fire upon my hearth, I pray the flame of God’s love may burn in my heart, and the heart of all I meet today.
I pray that no envy or malice, no hatred or fear, may smother the flame.   
I pray that indifference and apathy, contempt and pride, may not pour like cold water on the fire.
Instead, may the spark of God’s love light the love of my heart, that it may burn brightly throughout the day.
And may I warm those who are lonely, whose hearts are cold and lifeless, so that all may know the comfort of God’s love.

In our contemporary lives, when the light and heat of our homes can be programmed and controlled by remote from miles away by computer prompts, it takes a little imagination – or a power outage – for us to understand how present day humanity is still dependent upon the provisions of the earth – God’s creation – for our sustenance.

But understanding that God’s presence is infused into all of daily life like the Celtic saints of old did does not require we heat our homes with peat dug from a bog. Spiritual sight to acknowledge God’s sovereignty in all things comes with practice as we avail ourselves of divine grace. Like the Psalmist who was content “to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord” (Ps. 84:10), may we also embody holy lives and open the doors of heaven, pointing the way to God for others.

Matt Sigler ~ Reclaiming a Vision of the Communion of Saints in Worship

Confession: I’ve always had a bit of a morbid vein in my personality. Not like, Sylvia Plath morbid—I’ve just always been very aware of the passing of time and the fragility of life. As a Christian my hope is anchored in the sure and certain return of Christ, the final resurrection, and a God who is making all things new. While these truths have sustained me in my moments of deepest despair, I often wonder if my evangelical upbringing would have benefited from a more robust appreciation for the Communion of Saints as I wrestled in thinking about time, separation from those departed, and the hope that is ours in Christ. For certain, concerns about if we “pray to” or “with” the saints are worth consideration (I’m not going to try to tackle them in this post). What I do want to suggest is that we would do well to consider a richer understanding of the relationship between the Church triumphant (in heaven) and the Church militant (on earth) in our worship.

From very early on Christians buried their dead near their places of worship. Where others placed their dead outside of cities and avoided such sites, Christians often celebrated the anniversaries of the death of their martyrs with the Lord’s Supper. Oftentimes this celebration was held at the place where the martyr was buried. Soon, many churches included the bones of the martyrs within the church building. Since death was not the final word about our bodily existence, it didn’t need to be something fearful. Moreover, Christians understood that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord and there was no place where the Lord was more present than in the community gathered for worship. The understanding was that in Christ all—including the Church triumphant—are one. This is the belief conveyed in the lyrics of the hymn “For All the Saints”:

O blest communion,
Fellowship divine! We feebly struggle,
They in glory shine;
All are one in Thee,
For all are Thine. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Before we’re tempted to think this understanding of the Church triumphant and Church militant present in worship is something foreign to the Wesleyan tradition, consider this hymn written by Charles:

Come let us join our friends above
That have obtained the prize, 
And on the eagle-wings of love 
To joy celestial rise; 
Let all the saints terrestrial sing
With those to glory gone,
For all the servants of our King
In earth and heaven are one.

Charles Wesley makes clear that when the Church gathers for worship we on earth join our song “with those to glory gone” in praise to the Lamb on his throne.

Admittedly, this all seemed rather speculative and esoteric to me until I experienced the loss of beloved family members. While I grew up believing that angels somehow joined with us when we gathered for worship, I never considered that the “cloud of witnesses” might also be singing too. In fact, it’s actually the other way around: the Church on earth is invited to join in the eternal worship when we gather together. This has become for me one of the most marvelous visions of what it means to worship together.

Embracing the full presence of the Church, triumphant and militant, in worship is much more than a coping mechanism. Neither is it some sci-fi fantasy (like Anakin Skywalker’s ghost at the end of Return of the Jedi) played out in our imagination. It actually is a concept that enriches our worship. If, indeed, Christian worship is the place where the Church triumphant and the Church militant meet; where we get a taste of the glorious hope that is ours in Christ; where we join in the song of heaven with all the saints, the martyrs, and the hosts of heaven, how should that perspective shape the way we worship when we gather together?


Featured image courtesy Robert Thomas on Unsplash.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ By the Light of Christ and the Saints

Romans 12:1-2: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Does your driver’s license stipulate that you need to wear glasses or contacts to operate a vehicle?

I’m blind as a bat without glasses. Maybe you don’t have vision problems: maybe you need to wear  a pair of “drunk goggles” that simulate intoxication in order to lose your vision and depth perception.

It’s an incredibly vulnerable feeling, groping for your glasses in the dark, unable to see, or unable to know what threat may (or may not) lurk nearby. This helpless sense is portrayed with a familiar shudder in the film “The Mummy,” in which the characters unleash a curse, setting a horrific monster loose. And of course, a man is fleeing, he trips, he falls – his glasses go flying; the white-knuckled audience can see where the glasses have landed in the dirt but he can’t, and as he gropes the viewer sees the mummy getting closer…

When you can’t see, you’re powerless to act with certainty.

Are there people who have been a light for you? Family members, church members, community members? Those who are not just someone you liked a lot, but All the Saints – all the holy ones – the ones who showed you just a bit better what God is really like?

You are not at the mercy of the dark; even with Halloween approaching, you don’t have to fear the dark. The Gospel of John 1:4-5 tells us, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Ordinary people bear the light – like the lights the acolytes carry down aisles to candles.

And it’s not just a reflected light from Jesus Christ that people see in you and me. After a visit to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, my little boy was entranced with rockets, planets, and stars. Riding in the car early one evening he said “I see a star!”

“No,” I replied, “that’s actually a planet; it doesn’t make its own light, it only reflects the light of the sun.”

And for believers, Jesus wants us not just to tell others about his light, not just to reflect his light – Jesus Christ wants you to be luminous; to glow from the inside out with the love of God.

God wants humans to know, “I love you and sent my Son to die for you!” But that’s not the end. Throughout the New Testament, we read of the heart of the Triune God: “I want you to be transformed – not to talk about light, not to reflect light, but to be my light in the world!”

And the Apostle Paul reminds us, “in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” And if you’re thinking, “I can’t do that!” – of course you can’t.

You’re shattered, you carry darkness in your chest, you’re mean or selfish or scared or distracted.

But God says, “let me transform you!”

You may not realize it at the time, but people will start to see slivers of light shining out of your life; you will do one thing, and for a moment, just a moment – you’ll look startlingly like Jesus…

As you offer yourself to God, the darkness grows smaller, and before you realize it, people will think you know something about the light.


Because they see more clearly through you; they’re afraid of the dark, and they want a light to see by – and for them, you are that light.

Jesus Christ wants you to glow – not just to see his light, not just to talk about the light of God, not just to reflect his light, but to be transformed into light.

And as we consider saints who illumine the way for us, consider portions from the Acts of the Apostles, chapters six and seven –

“So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses. All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Amid plastic Jack-O-Lantern candy buckets and fake spider web and all the superheroes of the “Trick or Treat” season, we give thanks for the Light of the World, Jesus Christ; for the lives of the holy ones, the blessed ones, the saints who are light for us. And I pray that you will not be conformed to this world, not be shaped like the darkness around you, but that you will be transformed into brilliance, the light of Jesus making sense of your life and leading others around you…

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Aging & Keeping Covenant

“When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not!”
-Yoda, “The Empire Strikes Back”

For followers of Jesus Christ, aging comes as a season of compelling and vital new purpose.

Just what if there is extraordinary promise hidden in the age of doctors’ appointments, retirement, loss of loved ones and colleagues as well as physical challenges? What if aging doesn’t make you disposable, but rather indispensible? What if you ask Father, Son and Holy Spirit to sweep away the voices that call into question your relevance, your purpose and your gifts? What if you asked for grace to believe that God has a purpose for you, here, now?

There is great power in aging. The body may feel feeble; the soul may feel sapped of strength; but the accumulation of years is an extraordinary gift that can produce unimaginable impact – if wielded well. People often miss the power of their own age.

Sometimes we do not prepare ourselves for aging; we are uncomfortable, perhaps, thinking about the unknown, or fearing it. We fear a picture of aging that we paint for ourselves in which we look unrecognizable in the mirror, face an obsolete existence and are marginalized from the “real action” of living. But that great inspirer of John Wesley, Bishop Jeremy Taylor, counsels us: “let us prepare our minds against changes, always expecting them, that we be not surprised when they come.” Curiously, this excellent advice comes in the middle of his discussion on contentedness.

Let’s look at some lives that found profound purpose when they had reached profound age. These simple people found keeping covenant as an indispensable aspect of aging with purpose, on purpose. What priceless value there is in keeping covenant!

If you have a moment, read Genesis 17. Have you ever noticed that other than a general sketch of his extended family, where they settled, and whom he married, we do not get any stories of Abraham’s childhood or young adult years? Of all the great stories and colorful experiences that the book of Genesis tells us about Abraham, all that action picks up when he moves away in response to God’s promise at the age of 75.

God invites Abram into covenant by promising descendents – descendents that would outnumber the stars. This nation would inherit land; they would be blessed, and be a blessing, if they, too, chose to keep covenant with God; and from this nation would sprout the Messiah.

But for now, Abram is old, and he and Sarai have no children or grandchildren.

God establishes a covenant, full to the brim with promises, marks it by giving Abram and Sarai new names to reflect the coming reality of these promises, and commands Abraham to keep the covenant. Keeping the covenant, of course, doesn’t mean to avoid losing it, as you keep a receipt in your wallet. Keeping covenant is illustrated by the newly-reformed Ebenezer Scrooge’s promise to “keep Christmas” – to preserve, to maintain, to fulfill, to be faithful to.

Happily, we can skim ahead and see that Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Abraham did not get to skim ahead. Abraham kept covenant by acting on faith in a reality that was not yet: painfully so! He circumcised all the men of his household; he himself was circumcised before Sarah ever felt the fluttering of a baby in her womb; before he held his newborn son in his arms. He believed God’s promise that there was yet purpose in his age, and he acted on faith in God before he ever witnessed the screaming infant-proof.

This covenant between God and Abraham was vital, not just for Abraham’s self-interest in his desire to have a child, to have grandkids; this covenant was for the redemption of the world. And every generation had to decide for itself whether it would keep covenant with God, and we read those stories over and over again in the Old Testament.

How are you like Abraham? How are you like Sarah?

Keeping covenant may sometimes look a lot like Richard Foster’s A Celebration of Discipline: fulfilling and maintaining the practices of our faith in life together. But keeping covenant has a richer dimension when it’s in the context of seasoned age, in the same way that marriage has a richer dimension at a 50th wedding anniversary. By the time you are “aged,” your faith has weathered many years; and because of the accumulated experiences of a lifetime, or the challenging experiences associated with aging itself, you may find your faith tired, or tested, or perhaps a bit brittle and cynical.

That is why, above and beyond the practice of personal faith, keeping covenant matters so much as you age: because there is the temptation not to. And your faithful keeping of the covenant, even through years of struggle, or deep loss, or physical pain, does not go unnoticed.

And now let’s look at a lesser-known pair of aged covenant-keepers: Lois and Eunice, found in 2 Timothy 1:3-7.

Paul’s words at the beginning of his letter to the young pastor Timothy are fascinating: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” While the writer of Hebrews reminds us that “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” Paul reminds Timothy of the covenant keepers in his own immediate family tree – Grandma Lois and Mama Eunice. Keeping faith – the kind that was “accounted” to Abraham for righteousness; the kind that inspired the hall of faith in Hebrews 11; keeping this covenant with God by faith made a difference in Timothy’s life. Because of those women Paul called out by name, Timothy witnessed the faith of covenant-keepers. And when Timothy decided also to keep faith, he ministered to bodies of believers in the early church. And to encourage him in ministry, Paul wrote to him, and we have these letters to inspire, guide and encourage our own faith today. That’s right: Grandma Lois’ faithfulness in keeping covenant got a shout-out in the Bible.

Your children, your children’s children, or your nieces and nephews – they witness the ways you keep covenant with God and with the church.

There is a kind woman named Eleanor who lives in the Midwest. She quietly keeps covenant – living a life infused with prayer and a gentle love of Scripture. And when she was in her 70’s, she decided to become a youth group sponsor. That’s right! She stayed up with the youth at all-night lock-ins. She went spelunking in caves with them on their camping trip. Instead of being with the adults during Wednesday night services, she sat and met with the youth group, occasionally offering comment or reflection. Her life uncovered one of the secrets of aging with purpose: keeping covenant. And in a time in which technology moves at lightning pace, the church is called to practice counter-cultural values of celebrating the value of ordinary, everyday covenant keepers, especially those seasoned with age.

So how can you renew your vision of yourself as a valued, valuable covenant-keeper?

Let’s consider engaging in what may seem a rather surprising suggestion. In order to refresh and renew your sense of purpose in aging; in order to reflect on your own role as a covenant keeper, and the value of simply not giving up; in order to embrace God’s covenant with you; in order to remind yourself regularly of God’s promises – what if you celebrated Holy Communion weekly?

It is in the ritual of the Lord’s Supper, after all, that God’s offer of covenant through Jesus Christ is acted out, regularly receiving the promise of the new covenant: “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:20). As Bishop Jeremy Taylor described long ago: “it is sufficient to thee that Christ shall be present to thy soul as an instrument of grace, as a pledge of the resurrection, as the earnest [guarantee] of glory and immortality, and a means of many blessings, even all such as are necessary for thee, and are in order to thy salvation.”

And remember this wisdom that Taylor wrote and Wesley read: “for that life is not best which is longest: and when they are descended into the grave it shall not be inquired how long they have lived, but how well.”

May you keep the covenant well.

Kimberly Reisman ~ Godbearers: Let It Be

Have you ever seen a sonogram of an unborn child? The technology today is absolutely amazing! It transforms a pregnant abdomen from an unknown experience into the carrier of God’s creation.

We can’t always see what God is creating in our lives or through our lives. We’re like pre-sonogram people. We know something’s happening because life is always unfolding. We just can’t see deeply enough to know exactly what’s going on.

That is why Mary’s story is so amazing. I’m talking about Mary, the Mother of Jesus – the one who’s labor culminated in the birth we celebrated on Wednesday. You can find her story in Luke 1.26-38.

Do you remember the Beatles’ song Let it Be? Most of us – of a certain age – remember at least the first part.

When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

But do you remember the next verse?

When the brokenhearted people, living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be.

Who would have thought – especially in 1970 – that God would use Paul McCartney to further God’s kingdom message? I’m pretty confident the church didn’t! But there it is: though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see. There will be an answer – let it be…

The good news of the kingdom of God is that when God became human in Jesus of Nazareth, all the barriers that separate, all the walls that keep us estranged from God and one another, have been torn down. The answer we and all the world need to see is that we are no longer parted. In Jesus Christ we are reconciled – all of creation is reconciled with God!

That is why Mary’s story is so important. Mary was a theotokos – that’s the Greek word for Godbearer. [1] Now you are probably saying, of course she was a Godbearer, she had the baby Jesus and laid him in the manger – that’s what we just celebrated. But here is a deeper truth: Mary’s story isn’t important simply because she gave birth to the baby Jesus (even though that is a very big deal). Mary’s story is important because she shows us how we are to be Godbearers as well.

Let me reassure you, I’m not talking about having babies. I’m talking about being a theotokos – a Godbearer, each of us. In a world filled with brokenness and estrangement, poverty, violence and death, we need Godbearers.

Here is a reality check as we move forward from the Christmas event: Mary may have been the first Godbearer. She may have been the ultimate Godbearer. But if you are in relationship with Jesus Christ, then you are a Godbearer too. Everyone who follows in the Jesus way is called to be a Godbearer. That is a huge part of what it means to follow Jesus – bearing God to others.

We can learn a lot from Mary, but three things stand out about her as a theotokos – a Godbearer: she bore God within herself, she bore God to others through her faithful witness in word and deed, and she bore the suffering of others. [2] Those three things provide the paradigm for our Godbearing: we bear God within, we bear faithful witness to God through our words and actions, and we bear the suffering of others.

One of our claims as Christians is that Mary is the only human being to have literally borne God within. Robert Jenson says that Mary makes a “space for God.” “Her womb is the container of the uncontainable.”[3] We tend to take that openness for granted, but think about it. Mary was a teenager, pregnant and unmarried – not an easy combination in our day and age, but even more so in Mary’s day – actually a deadly combination for her given the law of Torah.

That makes Mary’s response to Gabriel worthy of a second look: Here I am. I’m a servant of Lord. Let it be with me according to your word. This isn’t passive resignation. This isn’t the “whatever” of a typical teenager. This is the quiet strength of someone who freely assents to God’s choice to use her to inaugurate God’s kingdom.

The words she uses are important. She calls herself God’s doulē. Most translations use the word “servant,” but the Greek word literally means “slave.” That word may make us uncomfortable, but it moves us closer to what is happening. Mary isn’t choosing to serve. That is frequently the way we think of Christian service; I choose when to volunteer my time, how much money I will give and where that money will go. We like to be in control of how we serve.

But Mary has been chosen to serve. This way of serving wasn’t her idea. So what Mary does is freely assent to God’s plan and God’s authority. Let it be with me according to your word. Tim Perry is helpful in understanding what is happening, “If Mary is God’s slave then she is no one else’s – not even her husband’s. God calls, Mary assents, the redeemer is conceived and Joseph is not even a witness to the events.”[4]

The ironic thing about being a servant of God is that in choosing Mary, God opens space for Mary to act, speak and decide. She isn’t simply someone’s property (as wives and fiancés were in those days). Mary has been empowered. She has free will and agency and she uses that power to freely assent to the way of the Godbearer – let it be…

This is important for us as we seek to bear God within. It is about making space within ourselves for God. God’s grace comes to us as a gift freely given. God opens up space for us to act, speak and decide. God empowers us with free will and agency. We respond to that grace by making space within ourselves – let it be…

When we freely respond, we become God’s servants – God’s doulēs; but rather than being oppressive, that service is liberating and self-fulfilling. If we’re God’s doulēs, then we can’t be anyone else’s – no matter what messages society may send us. The fact that God chooses Mary in the first place indicates that God doesn’t play by the rules of society. Service to God clearly allows for all kinds of initiative in the face of social convention – that’s why Mary could just take off and go to Elizabeth’s house by herself, with no chaperone, with no one’s permission. That was pretty radical behavior – but hey! When you’re God’s doulē you’re nobody else’s.

Mary’s story tells us that anyone can become a participant in the life-centered activity of God in the world – as long as you are open to possibility, as long as you choose to respond, as long as you are willing to be changed in the process.

So we bear God within. We respond to God’s grace by making space for God within ourselves, freely assenting to God’s lordship in our lives – let it be…

But Mary as theotokos, also shows us a second aspect of Godbearing: faithful witness. Shortly after Gabriel leaves, Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. That was a radical act of witness in and of itself. While she is there she sings what we know as the Magnificat or Mary’s Song of Praise. (Luke 1:46-56) This is Mary’s prophetic witness to the message and ministry of Jesus. Jesus the Christ brings mercy. Jesus the Christ brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. Jesus the Christ fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.

Did you know that in the 1980’s the government of Guatemala banned any public reciting of Mary’s Magnificat? They deemed it too politically subversive. And all this time we’ve relegated Mary to a stable in December.

It is no wonder so many people find comfort in Mary. She is a symbol of strength and hope for poor and oppressed people everywhere. Her witness tells us that faithfulness to God doesn’t mean our lives will be perfect, or painless, or predictable; but her witness show just how powerful our words and lives can be when we receive and share the life of God. Let it be…

The third aspect of Godbearing we see in Mary is the willingness to bear the suffering of others. In so many beautiful renderings of the Pieta, Mary bears the broken body of her crucified son on her lap – the Messiah Jesus, the Incarnate One, fully human – one of us. Mary stayed with Jesus to the bitter end. She didn’t run away when he was experiencing an excruciating death on the cross. She remained steadfast when he was humiliated and abandoned by almost all of his followers.

Godbearers cradle the brokenness of others in their arms and share in their suffering at the hands of a death-dealing world. As Christ followers, we cradle the brokenness of others and share in their suffering at the hands of a death-dealing world. Let it be…

Bearing God within, bearing witness through our words and actions, bearing the suffering of others, this shouldn’t be news to us. This kind of Godbearing is the way it has been for over 2000 years. This kind of Godbearing is what it means to follow in the Jesus way.

But bearing God within doesn’t just happen. It takes commitment – commitment to things like bible study or small groups, things like Emmaus Walks or other opportunities to have the renewed image of God blossom within you. If you want your congregation to grow, start by looking within yourself. Are you in a small group? Or a bible study? Following Jesus Christ isn’t just about showing up every week or so on Sunday. It’s about attending to the growth of our spirits; it’s about making space for God within ourselves through prayer, and study, and spiritual conversation.

Bearing faithful witness takes effort too. It’s easy to answer the question “Do you want your church to grow?” Of course we do! Everybody wants their church to grow. The harder question is are we willing to do the things that are necessary for our church to grow? That’s an entirely different thing. One of those things is bearing faithful witness. We do that in our daily lives, the way we treat others, the stands we take on sensitive and important issues, how willing we are to speak out on behalf of those who have no voice or to stand with those who lack support. We bear faithful witness when we share our personal stories of faith, what Jesus Christ means to us and how we’ve experienced the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

We bear faithful witness when we worship together – especially when that worship is dynamic and infused with the power of the Holy Spirit. Especially when that worship is focused not on us and on our own likes or our own needs or our own preferences; but when our worship is focused on God and focused on enabling others – especially those others who aren’t here yet – to experience the presence of the living God for themselves.

And bearing the suffering of others. Big surprise! The Christian life takes effort. Following Jesus is work. It’s work because it requires that we stand in solidarity with those who don’t have enough, to pray and intercede and visit the sick and care for the dying and bind up the broken – to cradle in our own arms all those who suffer at the hands of a death-dealing world.

Mary is our prototype. Let it be according to your words. Each of us has to bear God in our own life. How will you do it? How will you bear God within? What change will you need to make to be God’s doulē and no one else’s? How will you bear faithful witness? Whose suffering will you bear?

Each of us is to be a theotokos – a Godbearer. I pray that it would be so…AMEN.

[1] I am grateful to Orthodox theologian, Kallistos Ware for his assertion that the term Theotokos is more accurately translated “Godbearer” than “Mother of God.”

[2] I am grateful to Elaine Robinson the three-fold description of Godbearing.

[3] Robert Jenson, “A Space for God,” Mary, Mother of God, ed. Carl E. Braaten & Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004) 51.

[4] Tim Perry, Mary for Evangelicals: Toward an Understanding of the Mother of Our Lord (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006) 73.