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Cultivating: Delights of Love

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Cultivating: Delights of Love, HERE.

My dad was a high school math teacher. Now and then, he would toss out random story problems for me to solve. Now, how many of you are good doing math in your head? As a kid, I was, and was even on our high school math team (I fully embrace my geekiness!). I remember the excitement I had when my school supply list included a Texas Instrument calculator, and how disappointed my dad was that the school would allow us to use a calculator in class.

However you do math, whether it is mentally, or you use a calculator, sometimes the “math” of God’s compassion does not add up. 

Take for example, the shepherd. Jesus says, “Who would not go and find the one lost sheep?” and it is easy to imagine nearly every shepherd slowly raising their hand and saying “I wouldn’t!” Why would you leave 99 perfectly safe sheep in the wilderness to go find one? As someone said in Bible study on Wednesday, this is not a good farming practice!

What about the woman who finds her lost coin? She calls all her friends together and throws a big party? An extravagant celebration? Wasn’t that going a bit overboard?

And the sons—there were two. Which one was really lost? The one who left home and squandered his inheritance? Or the one everyone forgot about when the party started?

A poem, Bad at Math,[1] by Rev. Joanna Harader sums this up well:

This guy’s a little crazy, don’t you think?
This shepherd who told the whole town:
“I found my lost sheep”
Which is to say,
“I lost a sheep”
And to say,
“I left ninety-nine of my sheep to fend for themselves.”
Which is to say:
Nobody is ever going to hire that guy
To watch their sheep again.

And that woman with the coins,
Poor thing.
Her house isn’t that big
So I’m not sure how she managed
to lose a coin in the first place.
But in the second place,
She spent more than one silver coin
On that party she threw
To celebrate finding her one silver coin.

It doesn’t add up.
One sheep,
One coin,
Equal parties and joy and angels.
It’s an odd calculus
In the reign of God.
Hard to believe.
And harder to resist.

The topic of last Monday’s Lenten study was Jesus’ ministry of compassion. In the video we watched, the narrator noted that the word “compassion” in both Hebrew and Aramaic a rises from the word “womb.” In fact, in Hebrew and Aramaic the word “compassion” is “the plural of the singular word ‘womb’” Through this lens the understanding of compassion is womb-like: “nourishing, life-giving, and sustaining.”[2]

In the stories we have today, Jesus’ compassion, God’s compassion, is so wildly extravagant that a party breaks out in the found. A life reestablishing, call-together-the-entire-community, heavenly host filled celebration. A restoration of wholeness:

When the one sheep out of 100 is returned, the whole of 100 is restored.

In the finding of one lost coin out of 9, the whole of 10 is reestablished.

And then… we know human relationships complicate God’s calculus. In the story of the father of two, one returning son results in the loosing of the second. It is a fluid, moving, ongoing tale of what has died coming to life; what was lost being found. A celebration. A calling back. The father reaches out to each: “Come in, my child. Come in.”

Like the shepherd caring for his flock, God seeks us out in the wilderness places of our lives. Like the woman in her home, God searches diligently, deeply, for us even if we, like the coins, are not even aware we are lost. And like the father who scanned the horizon day, after day, when we have wandered off and begin to turn around, God’s very being erupts in joy. A celebratory compassion which is nourishing, life-giving, and sustaining.

In our day-to-day lives, the Abbey of the Arts calls this the faith practice of “cultivating creative joy and letting (our bodies) and ‘heart(s) overflow with the inexpressible delights of love.’”[3]

We are approaching the one-year mark of wandering in our own wilderness. Last March, as the month began, we had no idea that in a few weeks we too would be lost. That we would be filled with anxiety and fear of the unknown as the church building closed down.

We scrambled, and quickly found a new sanctuary—online affirming that yes… this is Church… we love our building… but we love God… and each other… even more. And THIS… is Holy.

Yet, I don’t know about you, but there is still this underlying feeling I don’t like. There is still an underlying sense of searching, of looking for what we have lost. A desperation in the wilderness and dusty corners of our pandemic lives. We search over and over, and ask: “When can we worship in person again?”

Just think of the Holy Celebration that will burst forth! In the “math” of God’s welcome back, as the vaccines role out and the prevalence of the coronavirus declines in our communities, there is a movement to return.

Who doesn’t need God’s reckless embrace right now? I know I sure do.

I have an urgent need to celebrate.

I really want to hug the wholeness of Holiness. I want the numbers to add up.

But there are unknowns. Just how many people can be safely back in the sanctuary on Lacy Road if we need to stay 6 feet apart? What will worship be like when we gather, each of us wearing a mask?

  • I can tell you our smiles will be hidden, but the twinkle of our eyes will shine forth.
  • There will be joy in listening to live music once again, Jeff at the piano, strings, and the Bell Choir. But there will be no singing. Not initially.
  • We will be able to be with each other, talk with each other (especially outside after worship); however, a physical distance of 6 feet will need to be maintained. There will be no hugging.

No hugging. Not yet.

As the Church Council, staff, and I continue to prayerfully develop plans for reopening the building, I want to prepare you. Even when we get back together, you may experience unsettling of feelings of being lost. We have been apart for a long time. Returning to the building will be different.

In that space, I invite you to hold onto God’s expansive compassion. That odd, mysterious, calculus of inexpressible delights of love, which will welcome us home with open arms.

Even if you, like I, are not so very good at math! The “math” of God’s compassion can embrace us, hug us, in unexpected ways.



Rejoice in what is found!

~ Pastor Kris

Reflection on Luke 15:1-32 offered March 7, 2021

[1] Joanna Harader, “Bad at Math: Luke 15:1-10,” Spacious Faith, March 1, 2021, https://spaciousfaith.com/2021/03/01/bad-at-math-luke-151-10/?fbclid=IwAR3QdffZoaGztrOkcJ_be-zoXrvivUh-qPnmJTpGF8UsiGsPCgUJyguUL5U.

[2] Saving Jesus Redux, Living the Questions: Jesus’ Ministry of Compassion, 3AD, https://livingthequestions.com/product/saving-jesus-redux/.

[3] Christine Valters Paintner, “Monk Manifesto,” Abbey of the Arts, July 7, 2020, https://abbeyofthearts.com/about/monk-manifesto/.