Three dwellings

           Peter said to Jesus,
           “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here;
           let us make three dwellings…”

                         —Mark 9.5

The first is the booth of Seeing:
knowing what’s going on,
understanding, placing everything
where it belongs on our Map of Things.
      Instead there is light
      too bright to see in.

The second is the house of Certainty:
knowing there is a law about this,
knowing we are right,
and that we know all there is to know.
    Instead there is a cloud of unknowing,
    thick as ignorance and even doubt.

The third is the temple of Control:
in which our powers are enhanced
and in the end we will have deserved this.
    Instead there is not congratulation
    but instruction: “Listen to him.”

There are no booths,
only a clearing
where the Beloved enters
a barely discernible path,
     the path of mystery,
     the path of wonder,
     the path of trust.

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

Porch light

           It is like someone who goes on a journey,
           who leaves home and puts their workers in charge,
           each with their work,
           and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

                         —Mark 13.34

There is something we’re waiting for—
a newness, yes, a change, and yet,
a return.

What you’re watching for is not a stranger,
but familiar, not someone new, but the one
who rules your household.

It’s not guarding, what you’re doing,
not fearful or protective:
it’s yearning.

Go, then, sit out on that porch and peer
deeper into that darkness: what is
that deepest longing that is given to you?

Honor it.
Let it be the porch light
that draws the Beloved home.

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

O Vibrant Mystery

O Vibrant Mystery,
star-birth of love,
you who are the farthest nebula
who find me and swirl
your whole self into my heart,
the dark soil of my soul
receiving me like a grave,
the little bird that guides me,
guide me.

You who are the black hole
my understanding falls into
leaving only the shine of my wonder,
waken me.
You who are the rain,
and the air full of rain,
and the falling of the rain,
shower me with your three-fold grace.
You are the gravity of my soul;
you hold me
and I am always falling into you,
falling in you.

You only appear invisible,
but I can’t distinguish you from your love.

You who love me into being,
I will be
in you.

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


         And all ate and were filled.
                  —Matthew 14.20

Maybe he had some stashed,
maybe people had it all along
and they just needed to share,
maybe they were all satisfied with a crumb,
maybe it meant his body, his presence,
maybe there is always more bread hidden in bread
and it only needs to be opened,
maybe he made bread just like that,
sourdough and everything.
Which it was doesn’t matter.
The sun rose this morning
with more light than you know what to do with.
More beautiful green living things reach out to you
than you’ll ever have time to consider.
More birds sing to you than you’ll ever listen to.
Immeasurable grace is poured out upon you,
splashing, most of it rivering down your legs
and into the floorboards.
More of what you need to carry on
is secreted into your heart than you believe.
There is hope enough folded into this world.
Of forgiveness and tender delight
you are given more
than you can ever use or comprehend.
Of the darkest mystery,
dense with love like the billioning stars,
you are given so much more,
even in your bleakest droughts,
your dustiest griefs and desolations,
than you can know.
And of you yourself,
given with confidence
to this effulgent universe,
there is so much more than you can see,
so much more.

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

Cheap motel

Maybe your spirit has headphones on,
or is watching TV, blocking out the noise

because life is a cheap motel,
the walls are thin, you can hear stuff,

breaking in on the news,
interrupting what you’re trying to think—

and you’ve almost got it all figured out—
so you keep scrolling,

keep paying meticulous inattention,
because if you let it in you hear it:

trees sighing, maybe, ocean whispering,
or some kind of voices.

You can’t understand the words
but you get the vibe.

A song with your name in it.
Angels partying next door.

Your head gets sick of it.
But your soul has its ear to the wall.

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

Names of God

The Holy Trinity is not a doctrine
but a mystery, a koan,
the paradox of three persons in one,
a meditation on the names of God.
Meditate on the mystery.
Pray with the names. Let them speak.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Mother, Child, Love Between.

Creator, Christ, Holy Breath.

Lover, Beloved, Love flowing between.

Source of all Being, Eternal Word, Living Spirit.

Abba God, Only Begotten, Spirit of Love.

Infinite Parent, Infinite Sibling, Infinite Self.

The One Beyond, the One Beside, the One Within.

Transcendent Mystery, Healing Presence, Emergent Energy.

Source of Love, Experience of Love, Energy of Love.

Holy One, Holy Many, Holy Us.

Lord of the Universe, Jesus of Nazareth, Heart of my Soul.

Loving Silence, Gentle Word, Abiding Love.

Mystery of Being, Gift of Love, Breath of Life.

Mother, Son, Holy Spirit.

Loving One, Loving One, Loving One.

At the edge of the pond

At the edge of the pond you can
be forgiven for thinking you’re at the edge, not the
center of things. Demurely, a bit cool, the
ducks acknowledge you, but don’t
engage. Other birds sing distantly, or
fly overhead like songs. … But listen:
gathered here, at the center, in this nest, this
home, is everything. Tropical worms and polar
ice caps are all here, from farthest nebulae to your own
jawbone, here. There is only one thing.
Kneel in the grass. Let it all in. Expand.
Let the whole of it enter you, the night-sky-deep
mystery fill you till you become the world.
Nothing is missing. Nothing declines to attend.
Open yourself to the whole company of it. Let it
pour itself into you, the scent of the woods, the
quiet cry of far-off orphans, all of it. It
resounds in you, a chorus of a million voices, a
symphony of stars and sea grasses. Let it
tell you who you are, how you belong to everything,
undivided, present, susceptible to beauty,
vulnerable to light. Let this be your
wisdom. But don’t think it. Breathe it. Inhale and
exhale. Notice the supple arms of the beech tree, the
yellow dandelions and their bees, the glory hidden among the
zinnias. Look at your hands. The universe is 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

Your Cart
  • No products in the cart.