Lent discipline: Humility

           Christ Jesus, though of God,
                      did not cling to equality with God,
           but in complete self-emptying
                      took the place of a slave,
                      born a human.
           And as a human, in profound humility,
                      Christ became obedient to the point of death—
                      even death on a cross.
           Therefore God also highly exalted Christ
                      with the name that is above every name….

                           —Philippians 2.6-9

           Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
                             —Matthew 19.30

Jesus invites us to a Lenten discipline of humility.
Humility is not thinking poorly of ourselves,
ranking others higher, or mere self-abasement.
Humility is knowing the whole.
We are all a circle, where the first is last and the last is first.
Each of us is equally important.
Each is gifted, beautiful, wounded, and indispensable.
And none is more vital, honored or deserving than another.
We each sing our note. Humility is blending in perfect harmony.
Humility enables us to take the lowest place,
or the highest, and serve as a vessel of God’s grace.
It is usually the lowest place,
free of privilege, power or prestige,
where grace is most clear.

           God, give me the humility,
           trusting in your grace,
           to take the lowest place
           and find your glory there.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
Listen to the audio recording:

The Listener

Trees stand in awe.
The sky holds out its hands.
Rivers flow with tears of joy.
Stars have that look in their eyes.
The ocean waves and applauds.
The sun doesn’t stop its praise,
even for a moment.
Birds hold open their arms.
The desert surrenders everything.
Every living person sings their life.
Your heart and lungs,
they keep on praying,
even when you’re asleep.
You don’t hear any of this.
But the Listener inside you does,
and is dancing all the time.

Listen to the audio version:

The listener

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

OT 21: 13th Sunday after Pentecost

August 27, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Exodus 1.8 – 2.10. Israel’s oppression in Egypt, and the birth of Moses. As usual, though it seems bleak, God has a plan for the people’s salvation.

Psalm 124.
God’s saving power has helped us escape doom.

Romans 12.1-8. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by a new way of thinking, and giving your whole lives to God. The church is a body, each part of which has different gifts.

Matthew 16.13-20. Jesus asks “Who do you say I am? . Peter says he is the Messiah. Jesus says Peter is the “rock” on which the church will be founded. (“Peter” translates as “Rocky.”)

Preaching Thoughts

The reality of slavery. Israel’s slavery in Egypt parallels black slavery in America in two ways. It was economic, using slave labor for the profit of the enslavers. It was also social, perpetuating a racial divide. The Egyptians’ ruthlessness and making the Hebrews’ lives bitter had no economic advantage. It was part of the self-perpetuating cycle of treating a racial group as inferior to exploit them, and exploiting them to normalize treating them poorly. The oppression escalates to genocide. In modern America we don’t throw the boys into the Nile, we throw them into prison. Works the same.
     As is true so often, the way to freedom was led by uppity women—Shiprah and Puah, Hebrew midwives. But they are not armed rebels; their revolt is purely life-giving. Who are the uppity women of our day who rebel against oppression on behalf of the oppressed, who bring new life into the world despite the pressures and dangers of oppressive systems? Who are the midwives, enabling creativity and empowering life-giving relationships?
     Moses in the basket reminds us of baptism. (This is among so many stories of people being saved by or on the water!) We are infants, set afloat on God’s grace. We are given life by people and compassion beyond our control, beyond our knowing. Sometimes when we feel abandoned, floating alone on a great river of mystery and danger, we need to trust someone is watching the basket.

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” Obviously not some physical sacrificial ritual, but giving your whole life to God. All your heart, and soul, and strength and mind. It’s easy to think your faith is in your head, while your body can go off and do whatever it wants to do. But your faith is in your whole being—what you say, what you eat, how you get around town, all of it. Christians tend to be pretty disembodied. How does your body worship God?
       “Do not be conformed, but transformed.” There’s a bumper sticker for you. When Paul says “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” I don’t think he means just changing your mind—like forming a different opinion. I think he means a new consciousness, a new way of being aware of God in the world. A new lens through which we see everything, the lens of God’s grace, the awareness that we’re all part of Christ’s body. It’s a way of thinking not tied to the world’s values, not bound by the world’s rational, dualistic, cause-and-effect thinking, but a consciousness that’s rooted in gratitude and mystery and trust. It’s through that lens, that transformed consciousness, that we can discern what is “good and acceptable and perfect.”
       Our non-conformity may be as quiet as holding an unpopular opinion or as bold as civil disobedience, like the Hebrew midwives’s non-compliance with a royal edict. But the point is not to be odd; it’s to be changed. Conforming to the strictures of a church culture can be just as soul-crushing as conforming to anything else. The life of the spirit is not so much a life of “having faith” as continually growing in faith. It’s not about having at all together, but about the continual work of letting God re-shape us over and over, day by day, moment by moment.
       But this isn’t just an excuse to be different. We need to be clear about what we’re not conforming to, and how we’re being transformed. For example some people say churches that promote the rights of LGBTQ people are “conforming to social pressures.” Sounds pious, but it’s bass ackwards. Upholding the dignity and the rights of people who have been historically oppressed is pushing against social pressures, and conforming to Jesus’ ethic of radical compassion and respect for all. This is why there can be no such thing as Christian nationalism. Nationalism demands conformity. Faith invites transformation through a loyalty to God that is higher than national identity.
       “We are members of one another.” Whoa! We so dramatically minimize the amazing, radical, mind-blowing thing Paul is saying. Like Jesus in Jn. 14.20” “I am in God and you are in me and I am in you.” We’re not just all members of the same club. We are all cells of the same living organism, divinely, blessedly inter-being with one another. This is the unity of the Holy Spirit, the oneness of the Body of Christ. What it means to love your neighbor as yourself is not just to love than as much as you love yourself, but to love them because they are yourself, members of you. Everyone else is the rest of you. Love is not just sentiment toward others; it’s awareness that we’re not really all that “other.”
       “We have gifts that differ…” Each of us has different gifts by which the Spirit lives and loves in us. As in 1 Cor. 12 and other places, Paul mentions some. But there’s no “list.” There are as many spiritual gifts as there are people. Prophecy and exhortation are spiritual gifts— but so are listening, appreciating beauty, patience in hardship, trust and a sense of humor. There was a kid with Downs syndrome in a pre-school who had the spiritual gift of shining. I don’t know what else to call it.

Two different questions. “Who do others say I am?” That includes rumor, gossip, and speculation. It also includes doctrine and all the teachings of the church. That Jesus is “the Son of God” or a savior or anything else—even Peter’s “right answer” that Jesus is the Messiah—that’s what other people say. Jesus asks the second, very different question. “Who do you say I am?” Who is Jesus to you? Preach on that. How do you experience Jesus? What’s your relationship like? How does Jesus enter into your life, your awareness? What’s he like for you? Jesus is great enough that we experience him in many, many different ways, even seemingly contradictory. (Sometimes Jesus is a teacher and sometimes he’s just silent. Sometimes he knows it all and sometimes he shares my not knowing. Jesus laughs at my foibles—but he never laughs at me. He asks hard questions. He’s a trickster. He holds me when I’m disgusting. He believes in me when I’m a failure. He’s a mirror, and also an icon. He shows me what God is like, and also what I can be like. He carries me in his heart. He gets a kick out of me. He wants me to take all of his love, drain him dry, and spill it out into the world.) OK, that is a little tiny bit of who Jesus is to me. How about you?
       “Whatever you bind on earth…” I don’t think Jesus is giving Peter power to set divine policies. I think what he means is what you “bind,” that is, your commitments, and what you forgive, that is, what you “loose,” have consequences that go beyond you—that extend out infinitely. A life of commitment and forgiveness has power.
     He sternly ordered them not to to say he was the Messiah—for at least three reasons. Partly because in that charged atmosphere of political repression, if Pilate or Herod heard that it could get him killed. Sure enough, he was right about that. And maybe partly because in their context “Messiah” meant “liberating warrior,” and that wasn’t what Jesus had in mind. But they wouldn’t know that until after the cross and resurrection.
       Also—maybe Jesus wanted people to answer his question for themselves, who Jesus was for them, rather than just conform their ideas to what the disciples said about him. (Do not be conformed, but be transformed….) Even Peter’s “right” answer could be wrong. In fact in the very next moment (Mt. 16.21-23) Jesus says he’ll be crucified and rise again, Peter says “God forbid!” and Jesus says “Get out of my way, you satan.” The name Peter means “Rocky,” as in “On this rock the church is built.” But when we become attached to our “right” answers Petros becomes Petrified and we’re unable to move, unable to accept new realities, unable to be transformed. Jesus discourages labels or titles for himself. Let people come to it on their own.

Call to Worship

Leader: God, you are the Mystery of Love.
All: Wonder! Praise!
Christ, you are the Light of Love.
Thanks! Adoration!
Spirit, you are the Energy of Love.
Fill us, that we may fall in love.

Leader: Creator God, you have made us in your image.
All: Your living image in us speaks back to you with praise and longing.
You have rescued us from slavery and set us free.
In our freedom and gratitude we turn to you.
Christ, you offer God’s presence; you open a way to God.
And so we draw near. We bring ourselves into your Presence.
Holy Spirit, you live in us. You breathe in us. You worship in us.
Alleluia! Holy Spirit by your power alone we worship!
Stir up your wonder, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Leader: Like a baby in a basket on a river,
we sometimes feel adrift amid danger and mystery.
All: But God, you are watching over us.
Sometimes we feel attracted to Jesus but we don’t truly know who he is.
But Jesus, you reveal yourself to us.
Sometimes we feel constrained by the world’s demands and expectations.
But Holy Spirit, you open our minds to new ways of thinking.
So we worship you, and invite you by your grace
to transform us as your people. Amen.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

Eternal God, you sent Christ as your living Word, your healing Touch, your abiding Presence. We listen now to your Word; we wait for your touch; we open our hearts, so that by Christ’s spirit in us we also may be your living presence in this world. Amen.

God of love, we follow Jesus, and yet we are not always sure who he is. Open our hearts to listen and come to know him more deeply, to know his presence and be known, and so to draw nearer to you. By your grace we listen for your Living Word. Amen.

Gracious God, we confess that we too readily conform to the ways of this world, ways that are not your way. Renew our mindfulness of your grace, our attentiveness to your way, so that we might be transformed into your image by your grace, from one degree of glory to another. By the grace of Christ, bless us, that we may hear with glad hearts what you are saying to us today. Amen.

Eternal God, you are beyond all time and space, beyond our knowing or naming. Yet you speak to us, reveal yourself to us, and draw us into life by your Spirit. Embrace us in our worship, that we may hear your voice, listen to your words, and be transformed by your presence. We pray in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, we are aware this morning of those in our world who suffer. They are with us as we come into your presence. Bless us that in our worship we may be transformed to be of service to them, and to all who seek peace, hope or healing. As the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, help us to hear with glad hearts what you are saying to us today. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

God, I am a baby floating in a basket,
and you are the river.
You are the one watching over me.
You are the mother who will claim me.
You are the basket.
I rest in you.

Prayer of Confession

Loving God, we confess that we can live only by your grace,
and that we desire to live only by your ways.
But we have forgotten your Presence
and wandered from your ways.
In the mercy that Christ has shown us,
forgive us, restore us,
and return us to your life-giving Presence,
that we may live by your grace alone.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

       We trust in God, creator of all that is, the One who gives us life, judges the forces of oppression and sets us free.
       We follow Jesus, the Living Word, the embodiment of God’s love. He taught and healed, he resisted injustice, and he gathered a community who practiced holiness for the sake of the healing of the world. He was crucified, and rose again, and lives among us still, healing, guiding and leading.
       We live by the power of the Holy Spirit as Christ’s Body, the church, in communion with all the saints; trusting in the power of forgiveness, the grace of resurrection, and the infinite, holy, God-given Life that is at the heart of all things. We devote ourselves to the lives to which Jesus calls us: lives of love, healing, courage, justice and joy, in the name of Christ and the energy of the Holy Spirit. For this we ask God’s blessing and give thanks for God’s grace. Alleluia!

Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) In thanks, we give you our gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Send us, blessed, led and accompanied by Jesus, out into the world to bear his presence to all people, to be Christ for the sake of the healing of the world, in the power of your Spirit. Amen.

Great family

           There was a rich man …
           and at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus…
                           —Luke 16.19, 20

“Father Abraham…”
“Child, remember…”
“Send him to my brothers…”
Jesus tells a story laced with the language of family.
To have invited Lazarus in
would have been to treat him as family.
But the rich man has chosen a smaller family.
And Lazarus belongs to the whole family of Abraham.

When we care for the poor, when bring them to our table,
we enlarge our family to include heaven.
When we close them out, it is we ourselves
who are imprisoned beyond a great chasm
by our own small hearts.
How great a family do you want to belong to?

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Morning glories

On the porch the morning glory vines
want to wander off into the eaves
and get lost in the darkness behind the slats.
Every morning I get out the ladder and train them
up the post, and along the string across the lintel,
gently re-routing the tendrils that have gone astray.
You learn not to resist the way
God gently bends your vines
to bring your beauty into a good place.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light


           Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
           the conviction of things not seen.

                           —Hebrews 11.1

Hope is not optimism, not wishing,
not a bet on the future,
but trust in what is already present, unseen.
I hope in the sunrise because the earth is already turning.
My faith is not that God will intervene
and make things better or fix problems;
my faith is that love is at work.
I trust in hidden love even as injustice runs loose.
I believe in our Oneness even as war and racism wound us.
I know our Belovedness even as we assault each other.
Even though we damage the earth,
though the violent rage and the rich oppress the poor,
still this world is born of Goodness,
and grace flourishes even in bad places,
and Love holds us in aching but untiring arms.
Even when the way is not well lit, I live in hope.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light


I’m taking a break for some family time… I’ll be back in mid-July.

Call it vacation:
vacating, leaving the premises,
or perhaps becoming vacant:
empty, open,
passionate—as in passive,
Here I come!
So I’m not leaving,
I’m being present.

See you in July.


           “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
           but the Human One has nowhere to lay their head.”

                           —Luke 9.58

Maybe Jesus is not merely lamenting the life of an itinerant teacher.
He’s just been rejected by a whole village of people.
Maybe it’s not just about a place to sleep,
but a place to belong.
To carry your cross is to bear rejection,
to trust your home is on a plane, in a place,
greater than human society.
Follow, and let the Beloved hold you.

Then again, maybe Jesus was talking about himself.
This world does not readily offer a place
for the Beloved to rest, at peace.

Holy Mystery,
foxes have dens, birds have nests,
but the Beloved has no place to rest,
but in my heart.
I will be a nest for your Anointed One,
a safe place for the Beloved.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light


The news is getting through
that we are free.
Some of us have not yet been told.
Some of us are not yet free.
Others are still coming free
of our unfreedom.
Part of us is not free
till all of us is free.
Keep telling,
Keep getting free.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

The Lord’s Prayer- Ten Paraphrases

Click here to find this in a downloadable (.doc) document.

#1    Your Empire

O Life-Giver at the heart of all Being,
holy is your presence.
May your Empire of grace replace our own,
and your delight be fulfilled,
as this world becomes heaven.
Give us our sustenance, one breath at a time,
and make us completely forgiving of ourselves and others.
Save us from the weakness of our will,
and deliver us from the power of evil.
For all Being is yours; all power is yours; all glory is yours,
in this moment,
in eternity. Amen.

# 2      Creation’s splendor

Our Mother, our Father, giver of life,
Holiness of Presence;
may our hearts always bow to you.
Your Realm break forth,
your delight blossom among us,
making this earth your heaven.
Give us each moment our life, our breath.
Free us from being judged,
as we free others from our judgments.
Guide us safely past our desires and attachments,
and rescue us from the power of evil.
For the world is yours;
the only real power is yours;
Creation’s splendor is yours,
in this present moment
and in eternity. Amen.

#3       Holy Place

O Divine Parent, Giver of Life,
whose presence is holiness,
may our hearts be in you.
Transform the world
according to your delight,
that all earth may become a holy place.
Give us each moment that moment’s breath.
Give us your gift of forgiveness,
that receiving it deeply we may give it freely.
Transform our desires,
and free us from evil powers;
for all creation, and all power, and all beauty
are yours, now and forever. Amen.

# 4       Center and Source

Beloved, Center and Source of our living,
whose presence is heaven,
your holy love fills Creation.
May your delight be fulfilled
and your Realm unfold among us,
the visible world blossoming out of the unseen.
We turn to you alone for our sustenance,
the bread of life each day.
Set us free from our failings,
as we set free all who have failed us
Lead us beyond our desires
and save us from the grip of evil.
For the world is within you;
all power is from you,
and all glory is about you,
in eternity, which is in the present moment.

#5        One day’s bread

Our Mother and Father in heaven,
holy be your name.
Impose your Reign,
that we may do your will, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today this one day’s bread.
Forgive our wrongs
as we forgive those who do wrong against us.
Save us from our temptations
and keep us from doing evil.
For the Realm, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and forever. Amen.

#6        Community of grace

Giver of all life, whose presence is holy,
may you come first in our hearts.
May all Creation become your community of grace,
and your desire be fulfilled throughout the earth,
as it is in your own heart.
Sustain us with the breath of life moment by moment.
Forgive us, and give us the gift of forgiveness.
Lead us past our temptations,
and save us from the power of the evil that would ensnare us.
For all that is, and all power, and all glory, come from you,
now and forever. Amen.

#7        Holy!

O Infinite, Intimate One, Source of our being,
whose presence is heaven,
all Creation sings of you, “Holy!”
May your Realm unfold among us;
May our only story be the story of your grace,
this world blossoming out of your delight.
Give us the breath of life, one breath at a time.
Accept our brokenness;
give us acceptance of others who are broken.
Lead us beyond our desires
and save us from cooperating with evil.
For the world is within you;
all power is from you,
and all glory is about you,
in eternity, which is in the present moment. Amen.

# 8 Mother-Womb, Father-Shoulders

O Mother-womb, O Father-shoulders
at the heart of all Being,
holy is your presence.
May your rule of grace replace all powers,
your delight be fulfilled,
and all Creation become all that you hope for us.
Help us receive the grace of the present moment
as you unfold it before us.
As you completely love us and forgive us,
grant us love and forgiveness for others.
Protect us from the allure of our twisted desires,
and rescue us from the power of our selfishness.
For all Being is yours; all power is yours; all glory is yours,
in this moment,
in eternity. Amen.

#9       Your story

Our Mother, Our Father,
author of all life,
holy is your presence.
May your story replace our own,
the story of this world
become the story of the unfolding of heaven.
Give us this moment, moment by moment.
Forgive us completely,
and make us completely forgiving of ourselves and others.
Save us from the weakness of our will,
and keep us from doing injustice.
For all Being is yours; all power is yours; all glory is yours,
in this moment, in eternity. Amen

#10 Mommy

Oh, Holy Mommy, Mommy,
Unimaginable but Here,
may our hearts revere you,
our lives name you who are Unnameable.
Your delight—unfold!
This world—be as you intend!
You are our life in this breath… and this one, and this one.
You who cancel our debts, real and imagined,
help us let go of everyone’s:
no one owes anyone anything. It’s all a gift.
Steer us past our desires and attachments;
save us from our selfishness.
Beloved, you are the only power;
you are the whole world;
you are the beauty of everything.

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