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Expansive Love

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Expansive Love, HERE.

When I was a child, one of my favorite poems was by A. A. Milne, Halfway Down[1]:

Halfway down the stairs
is a stair
where I sit.
there isn’t any
other stair
quite like it.
I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
so this is the stair
I always

Halfway up the stairs
Isn’t up
And it isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery,
It isn’t in town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head.
It isn’t really
It’s somewhere else

Somewhere else instead. There is anything much more ordinary than a flight of stairs? I remember sitting on the middle step of our two-story house… just… being. My parents, my brothers, the dog, would squeeze by as they went up and down the stairs, and I. Just. Sat. For me it was a comforting, somewhat invisible place to be.

I could easily imagine being somewhere else instead.

This could idea of being somewhere else could also apply to Jeep’s Super Bowl ad[2] last Sunday. Did you happen to see it? It featured images of Lebanon, Kansas. Bruce Springsteen narrated a hoped-for return to the middle, embodied by a small, white chapel out on the great plains. A place which claims to be the geographic center of the lower 48 states. Inside, at the front of the sanctuary, a cross hangs in front of a map of the United States. It is patriotically painted in red, white, and blue.

This is a halfway place, a spot in the middle. This is a space which, if you listen between the lines, says “sit here.” But for all too many this means you are welcome into this comfortable center—if you are white. Male. Christian. The voiceover says “all are welcome,” but the background story is much more complicated.

Would a family, who is Black, feel comfortable driving through this rural area, worrying if they’d be welcome if they needed to stop if their car broke down?

Or what about the response of a person who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, as the camera pans to outside the chapel where there are 3 rustic, wooden crosses. Three crosses placed in the soil near a barbed wire fence—reminiscent of Matthew Shepherd’s beating and death in Laramie, Wyoming over 20 years ago.

Or, what of the Kaw, Osage, Pawnee, and Sioux people native to the land[3]? Is the middle the place in which they wish to sit?

Is the middle welcoming to all? 

And… what if the center isn’t really anywhere—but somewhere else instead?

Because, it might be that the middle is not where we are supposed to get?

For that is not where we usually find Jesus.

Today’s Bible reading highlights that Jesus is often found at the extremes. Jesus grabbed his friends, his followers, and took them up—up beyond a comfortable middle. Climbing a mountain is not easy. But, Jesus is not deterred. He draws us up into a mountaintop moment where we can encounter God. A space in which the Holy is revealed. If you have ever been struck by such an experience, these can be high, heavenly moments in which most of us would love to dwell. All the time. It would be so easy to be like Peter and say, “Hey God! We want to stay here – in your Glory! Bright. Dazzling. Full of brilliance. THIS is how the world should be. We need to mark this place.

Unfortunately, for most of us mountaintop moments are fleeting and not everyone experiences them. But we hear the stories. Reports which make us wonder.

Jesus’ revelation as God’s love embodied on the mountain is one such account. The story takes us up—not halfway up, but all the way up… and then all the way back down.

Because God’s Love overcomes the great gap between heaven and earth. God’s love holds humanity in a tension of opposing truths—there is Glory, but also death. There are highs, and lows. Illnesses, and healing. So many ups, and downs. These are the extraordinary and ordinary moments of our lives.

It is into these high highs and low lows Jesus brings us… the Church. We… the disciples of today… are drawn out of the “let’s-stay-here” comfort zone of the middle to do the tough work of holiness: that of healing, and feeding, and liberating. To be God’s work in the world.

So far, vaccine distribution around the world looks more like a “comfortable middle” than a radically extravagant welcome. In Wisconsin alone, we know that the coronavirus has disproportionately impacted people and communities of color. Now the racial inequities further highlighted, “with Black and Latino residents underrepresented in the amount of the vaccine that they have received.”[4] Great gaps between what is, and what God says could be.

What if we met not in the middle, but at the base of the mountain? What if instead of this deep crevice of inequity in which people of color cannot get the vaccine we made vaccinating hard hit communities a priority?

How might we overcome the Tech Divide for those 65 and older in those places? How can we support the people do not have access to computers and the internet? As we wait for an email from clinics letting us know we can now schedule an appointment to get the vaccine, what about those do not have a primary healthcare provider and are not sure how to go about scheduling their first vaccine[5]?

How do we overcome the mistrust of the government people who are Black understandably have around their decision whether or not to even get the vaccine? What if in conjunction to overcoming logistics, faith leaders who are Black, brown, immigrant, and/or indigenous, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian, could roll up their sleeves and model receiving the life-changing doses? Just think about the transformative healing which could happen in communities who cannot make it up to the top of the mountain—let alone halfway up.

All these questions are a glimpse into God’s expansive love. Mountaintop opportunities which are right here. Right now. Through the life of Jesus, God’s hoped for justice and peace has shattered the divide between heaven and earth. The good news for us today is heaven is not an “up” we cannot get to, and the ground on which we stand is not a gritty “down-ness” we need to (or can) avoid. It is all here. All now.

For the gift of healing and liberation, thanks be to God!

~ Pastor Kris

Reflection on Luke 9:28-45 offered February 14, 2021

[1] “Halfway Down by A.A. Milne,” by A.A. Milne – Famous poems, famous poets. – All Poetry, accessed February 11, 2021, https://allpoetry.com/Halfway-Down.

[2] YouTube (Jeep Super Bowl 2021 TV Commercial, ‘The Middle’ Featuring Bruce Springsteen, February 9, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgbUVpWL8ME.

[3] “NativeLand.ca,” Native Land: Our Home On Native Land, accessed February 13, 2021, https://native-land.ca/.

[4] https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/local/milwaukee/2021/02/08/racial-disparities-milwaukee-county-covid-vaccine-rollout-persist/4393279001/

[5] David Wahlberg, “How and Where to Get COVID-19 Vaccinations in Wisconsin,” madison.com (Wisconsin State Journal, February 10, 2021), https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/health-med-fit/how-and-where-to-get-covid-19-vaccinations-in-wisconsin/article_95665b60-1b95-5cf5-9dba-2d8e0aa3b5c7.html.