December 26, 2009

Christmas Eve

Christmas Bread

Micah 5:2-5a

Luke 2:1-20

What does Christmas smell like to you? Cinnamon, maybe, from cookies made with once-a-year recipes? How about pine needles from the tree set up in the living room? Or the warm, acrid smell of wood smoke from a fire in the fireplace? Maybe special company is coming and the house is full of the smell of wax and silver polish. There is also a special smell to a frosty December night when we are up late, waiting.

Christmas has many smells but I suspect that the smell of baking bread is not commonly considered a Christmas smell. Really, though, it ought to be. There is nothing more Christmassy than bread. But I doubt we think about our light bread or corn bread or biscuits as special Christmas food. Bread is so ordinary.

Except it isn’t, is it? As we gather around the Table here, the bread that we share is a powerful sign of God’s love in our midst. The bread that we break is the body of Christ. Nothing ordinary about that.

There is something about bread that feeds our bodies and our souls. When we speak of breaking bread, we are really talking about fellowship, nourishment for our hearts. Mother Teresa, a modern-day saint if ever there was one, spoke about her work with the desperately poor of Calcutta: "We give dying people bread," she said, "because they hunger and perish not just for bread but also for love. When we hand them bread, we are also giving them love." To be given bread when you are hungry is to be given love. That is what God does with us here, at this Table, on this holy night. God gives us love.

And tonight we turn our hearts to Bethlehem. We remember the little town where Jesus was born. We sing about it in our hymns. We picture it lying still under the starlight. We turn our hearts to Bethlehem, the little town whose name in Hebrew means House of Bread: bet which is house and lechem which is bread.

It was to Bethlehem, of course, that Mary and Joseph made their way. There was no room for them in the inn so they found shelter in the stable. There was no meal prepared and waiting for their arrival so they must have eaten the leftovers from their travels, hard crusts of bread perhaps washed down with milk still warm from a goat or a sheep in the stable. They were poor people. We kind of forget that when we look at lovely paintings of the holy family, clean and glowing, robed in blue and white.

And Bethlehem was a poor town. It was already an old village when Jesus was born. Although it was central in the history of David, in all truth, it was probably an insignificant place to all except those who lived there or had family connections there. It was close to Jerusalem, about five and half or six miles away, but certainly not as well known or important. It was just an ordinary place, nothing special – except in God’s eyes.

In fact, God had spoken through the prophet Micah to signal Bethlehem’s place in human history. It would be the place where the Messiah would be born, this tiny place. This “little clan of Judah” would be the origin of the one to rule the people, the one who would feed the flock, the one who would bring the peace the people hungered for. All that from just a little place.

Isn’t that so often the way God works, taking something small, insignificant, seemingly unimportant and using it to bring salvation and justice to the world? That is just what happened in Bethlehem, the little town whose name means “house of bread.”

Two simple, ordinary words for two simple ordinary things: house and bread. Except maybe not so simple and ordinary. A house is shelter, bread is food. These are the basics of survival; without them we would die. So Bethlehem, house of bread, comes to be that place that gives us what we need for life.

God’s miracle of a Messiah came into the world in that place. As the baby grew inside his mother, God was shaping the whole of human history. As a baker mixes the yeast in the dough, so God put eternal life in fragile flesh. Invisible at first, small and insignificant, growing and developing, coming forth to provide what we most need for life.

And as that baby grew into a child and into a man, he claimed for himself the legacy of his birthplace. He broke the bread and fed the multitudes. He gathered his disciples at the table. And he told a parable about the way God was at work in the world, at work in him. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus said, “is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measure of flour until all of it was leavened.”

And there is God for all of those centuries, kneading, shaping, working the yeast into the dough of the world until finally it began to rise in the womb of a young girl and she brought forth her firstborn son. She would name him Jesus and we would come to know him as the Bread of Life.

The gift of the Christ child, this good news of great joy for all the people, is like the gift of bread to the starving. The Messiah, the Bread of Life, fills our emptiness, answers our deepest hungers, renews and restores us, and gives us strength for the journey.

And as he is bread for us, so we are to be bread for the world. We are to be like loaves in his hands, taken, blessed, broken and multiplied, given in love to feed the hungers of a needy world.

There are many this night who cannot find their way to Bethlehem, who do not know the life giving presence of the one who is the Bread of Life. And there are many others who have no Bethlehem because they lack shelter and food. The one who has given us everything on this holy night calls us to give in return so that this weary world may know the coming of Christ that changes everything, when all will be fed and all will find a place to belong. The one who has given us everything calls us to make every house a Bethlehem, a house of bread, where Christ can be born and find shelter and nourishment. And where we, too, may be shaped by the hand of God into bread for the world, so that all who encounter us may know the glory of God and the peace of Christ just as those first residents of Bethlehem did so many years ago.

Every home a house of bread, every heart a Bethlehem. May it be so. Amen.

(c) Martha C. Highsmith 2009

November 27, 2009

November 26, 2009

49 million

From the New York Times, that is "the number of Americans who lived in households that lacked consistent access to food in 2008," the highest number since the US Department of Agriculture began tracking the data 14 years ago. Maybe those millions of people are not hungry all the time, but they live in a state of food insecurity. "In about one-third of those households, lack of money forced members to skip meals, cut portions or otherwise forgo food at some point. The rest had enough to eat, but only by eating cheaper or less varied foods or by relying on government or private help."

On this day the centers on food, when we gather around tables everywhere to give thanks, maybe we should also pledge to share what we have. There is enough in the world to feed the world. It is not the earth that holds back or fails to produce; it is us. A true celebration of God's abundance would mean that we do what we can to make sure all can experience it.

So today, eat, drink, be merry, enjoy family and friends. Give thanks for the blessings of God's good earth. And remember that all the free turkeys distributed by churches and food banks and others will be gone by next week. But the need will not.

October 21, 2009

Important Books

I was listening to a radio show about books that changed people’s lives. The interviews were funny, profound, moving, and interesting. It made me wonder whether there was a book that had changed my own life. I’m not sure I could name one but there are three books that have somehow have stayed with me from childhood.

One is a book I first heard when my mother read it to her fourth grade classroom after lunch. It was a small school with one teacher per grade so I was in her class, that year and the next in a different school. Every day, she read to us. Some of the kids listened, some put their heads down on the hard wooden desks and had a nap, some probably daydreamed about being somewhere other than school with its smell of banana oil, chalk dust, and warm sweaty children. But I listened to the stories. One of the books she read to us was On to Oregon by Honore Morrow. It is the story of a 12 or 13 year old boy and his family who set out to travel cross-country in a covered wagon. I can’t remember now if they were part of a wagon train or not, but at some point they ended up traveling alone, and both parents died. The boy, John, got his brothers and sisters over the mountains and finally to Oregon. It was a story of hardship and heroism, of stunning self-sufficiency. And I loved it.

The second book was one I read myself: The Boxcar Children. I don’t remember much about the specifics, except that a group of orphaned children basically lived on their own in an abandoned boxcar, foraging for food, furnishing the place, and supporting themselves. They made a home in the boxcar, cooked their food, and stayed together. It is the kind of thing that was perhaps plausible in the 1920s or 1930s when the book was written but certainly not now. I was fascinated by their self-reliance, their ability to function in a world with no adults. The story is kind of a precursor to Charlie Brown, where the children are the major characters and the adults are shadowy figures whose unintelligible words float over the children's heads while they live their own full and wonderful world with its own woes and drama.

The last book was one I kept checked out of the county library for weeks at a time. Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather (which I remember as Mrs. Ticklefeather and Puffin Paul) was a most unlikely book to catch the fancy of a child growing up on a farm. The lead character was “a very thin old lady with a good sized feather in her hat” who lived in a high-rise apartment – something I had never seen in my whole life. She had been married (Mrs.) but there was no Mr. Ticklefeather. Instead, she lived with a puffin – another thing I had never seen. “Mrs. Ticklefeather and Paul were very fond of each other.” And she was also very fond of sunflowers. So one day Paul set out to get her a sunflower. She was distressed about his absence and called the police to find him. The story is all about the search for Paul, culminating in his rescue from certain death – holding a sunflower in his puffin beak -- by the police officer. All is happy at the end is when Paul returns home with the sunflower, and he and Mrs. Ticklefeather are reunited.

What made me love this story so much that even today I am occasionally referred to in my family as “Mrs. Ticklefeather?” I’m not sure. It is interesting to me, in retrospect, that the woman lives on her own in a city (as I do), is closely connected to the police (as I am), cherishes a non-human creature (in my case, Mr. Manny), and considers herself very, very, very, very lucky. Maybe this little book is not one that changed my life so much as one that foretold important pieces of it. And it is especially wonderful that my mother searched for years for a copy for me so that now I can read it any time I want without having to check it our from the county library. Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather indeed!

October 18, 2009


It is cold and rainy, a dark and dreary day. But when I look out the window by the rocking chair where I pray, this is what I see. The maple seems to glow in the afternoon gloom. This must be what the poet meant when he wrote about "uncreated light." I know it is summer's last gasp, but what wonderful thing -- to go out in such a blaze of glory!

October 11, 2009

Rainbow Chard

There is a frost warning for tonight, but my little garden seems not to know that the summer is past. After a slow start, the veggies are thick and green. I have picked armfuls of rainbow chard today and packed it into the freezer. You are supposed to cut out the stems because they get tough but they are so lovely -- bright yellow, red and orange -- and I left some in. In January, when the snow is deep and the garden is covered, I will make sauteed greens from the summer bounty. Maybe this recipe from Tyler Florence and the Food Network:


  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 pint walnuts, for garnish
  • 3 bunches assorted winter greens (such as Swiss chard, radicchio, or escarole), washed, stemmed, and torn into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, for garnish
  • Parmesan shavings, for garnish
  • 1 shallot, chopped, for garnish


Cook honey and balsamic together over medium-high heat in a large saute pan, about 5 minutes. Toast walnuts in a small skillet; set aside to cool.

Pile greens on a platter. Stir mustard into balsamic-honey dressing, then whisk in about 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil; pour over greens. Season greens with salt and pepper and garnish with walnuts, pomegranate seeds, shavings of Parmesan, and shallot.

Or I will brown some onion and garlic in olive oil, mix in the chard and maybe a little spinach, add a few red pepper flakes and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

And maybe I won't wait until January to try this out!

October 4, 2009


This blog is two years old today, and what I wrote at the beginning is still true. Right now, I do not have a title or position or location that would commonly be considered a pastoral ministry. But even so, I do have that work; I am a minister. In these days when our community is so wounded, when relationships and trust are so shattered, when grief is overshadowed only by horror and disbelief, there are many who need a pastoral presence but do not know how or where to find it. It was this way after 9-11. Remember all those people who came to church those Sundays in September and October 2001, people who hadn't been in worship in years? They needed solace, care and community. Some of us need that now, too, and I encounter many who do not know where to go for help. So I go to them. I sit, I listen, I try to hear the fear that is under the words they speak. I do town meetings to talk about "security," but what I am really trying to do is to be a non-anxious presence.

In the eleven years since I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I have often worried about whether I would have a church. I don't worry about that today. Today, I know that my congregation is the world, that my calling is not to gather people in some Sunday morning sanctuary, but rather to go to the places of pain and confusion, fear and failure, sorrow and woe, to go where the people are in need and make a sanctuary there.

The prophet Isaiah (61:1-2) spoke words that found fulfillment in Jesus: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed bind up the brokenhearted,.... to comfort all who mourn." May these holy words, spoken to me at my ordination, continue to guide my work, my ministry, and give me strength and courage to be faithful to this odd calling that is mine.

September 27, 2009

A One-Eyed World

Mark 9:38-50

Have you noticed that people in the church don’t talk much anymore about hell. It didn’t use to be this way, of course. In one of the libraries at Yale, we have the original notes for a sermon that Jonathan Edwards preached in Enfield in 1741. It was titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Pastor Edwards painted a picture of us - all sinners that we are -- dangling as a spider or some loathsome insect over the flames of hell. God’s wrath towards us, he preached, burns like fire; he looks upon us as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the flames. And when was the last time you heard a sermon like that? Well, you’re not going to hear one like that today either. But we can’t be so quick to dismiss what Jesus is talking about when he speaks to his disciples about being thrown into hell.

While this is not a topic of churchly conversation all that often, at least in the churches that I’ve attended, interestingly it does come up a lot in casual conversation elsewhere. How many times have you heard somebody say “What the h__?” Interesting, isn’t it, that the world has taken over this language that used to be reserved for the church. And I think what that means is that hell, however we think of it, is no longer a serious concept for the most part. Rather than a fearsome, terrifying reality, it has become a casual swear word.

But when Jesus speaks of hell, he is not talking about something casual and inconsequential. So what exactly is he talking about? In the common imagination, hell is some kind of horrible underworld, down there, filled with flames and little cartoon-like devils tormenting the souls of the damned with their pitchforks, And although the Bible does speak about the flames of hell, it also contains a much wider and somehow more radical definition of hell. The writer of the second letter to the Thessalonians, for example, speaks of “the punishment of eternal destruction, [which is being] separated from the presence of the Lord”(2 Thessalonians 1:9a)(emphasis added). Hell, then, according to a biblical view, is separation from God.

It’s like this. Do you remember the story Jesus told about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31)? Lazarus, a poor beggar, lies at the rich man’s gate as the rich man comes and goes on his daily rounds, stepping over that living heap of rags, ignoring him, not even really seeing him. When they both die, Lazarus goes to heaven to the arms of father Abraham and the rich man goes to hell. As he suffers in the torments of hell, he sees Lazarus in a place of comfort and love, and begs Father Abraham to send him fetch him some water. But the gulf between the two of them is too wide to cross at that point. The rich man has separated himself from the love of God forever because he separated himself from the godly love of neighbor in the here and now. And maybe the truth of that story is that the rich man existed in a living hell on this earth but was not able to see that.

This separation from God is not only a way of thinking about hell. It is also a way of thinking about sin. Sin, according to the Apostle Paul, is anything that does not proceed from faith (Romans 14:23). Anything that does not proceed from faith, anything that comes between us and our trust in God, anything, in other words, that separates us from God.

It is this kind of sinfulness that Jesus is addressing when he talks to his disciples in what is surely is a grand case of hyperbole. He gives outrageous examples to make his point. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out. It is better to live in this world with one eye than to be in hell with 20/20 vision.

So here’s a question. How can your hand or foot cause you to stumble? How can your eye cause you to stumble? As my colleagues and I are so tragically aware, a hand can be a weapon; it can kill and destroy. Less damaging, perhaps, but also offensive, it can remain closed when God calls you to be generous and open-handed. Your foot can lead you down the wrong path so you lose track of the way of faithfulness. And what about your eye? Do you know the old saying that the eyes are the windows to the soul? I think what that originally meant was that you look in someone’s eyes and you can see what their soul is like. But a window opens both ways, doesn’t it? So what enters the window of the eyes inhabits the soul; what you see becomes who you are. Those in monastic life talk about this when they speak of keeping custody of the eyes. Custody of the eyes. It means to control what you look at, to turn a blind eye, so to speak, to that which would contaminate your soul. It means keeping your focus on what is good and pure by avoiding offensive distraction.

It takes a conscious effort in the monastery to do this. Imagine, then, what a challenge it is for us. Our world is full of images of violence, destruction and exploitation. Through television, movies, video games, internet we open our souls to an ungodly reality, one that diminishes, demeans, and destroys the value of human life. The American Pediatric Association estimates that by the age of 18, American kids will watch 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence (Hartford Courant, September 25, p C6). You can’t even drive on the interstate without encountering billboards that border on pornography. Advertising images fill us with covetousness and lust for things we didn’t even know existed. These images infiltrate our being, almost without our knowing it. They are offensive to God’s intention for the way we are to live. And there’s Jesus saying, “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out.” And when you have done that, when have only one eye, you will know what it is to live your life with a single focus.

So does that mean avoiding anything that is unpleasant? Does it mean closing your eye to that which is troubling in the world? It does not. In fact, we are called to seek out those places, the places of poverty and hunger, homelessness and injustice, oppression and disease; to seek them out and then to see them as God sees them, with a single focus on healing and restoration, on generosity and forgiveness. To look at the world with the eye of God is to see how God intends all of life to be. It is to see it and then to work to make it so.

This single minded godly focus breaks down our separation from others, those who have lives or practices or beliefs that are different from ours, and it draws us into the presence of God as we engage the wider world. In that sense, it is a turning away from sin because sin is anything that separates us from God. And maybe by extension, sin is also anything that separates us from any of God’s creatures, anything we do that causes a little one to stumble. Notice how radical Jesus is in opening up our view of those who are to be included in God’s love. They don’t have to follow us; they don’t have to be like us. All they have to do is offer the gift of life in their own way – what Jesus calls a cup of water.

And when we have removed the offensive distractions from our lives, when we can look on the world with a singleness of purpose, when we can be filled with clarity about God’s view of things, it is then that we understand God’s intention for all of life, an intention for oneness, for unity. No separation between us and others and no separation between us and God. No more hell on earth, or in the hereafter, but rather a vision of the kingdom of God in the world. May we see it and live it, even here, even now. May we create God’s on-eyed world. Amen.

(c) Martha C. Highsmith

September 25, 2009

In the mail

In our family, we think that you can mail just about anything. I have gotten rocking chairs, an air conditioner, and pecan pies in the mail – and once, a whole set of bent wood lawn furniture. My mama mails me a lot of things. So when I came home and found a package from her, I was pleased but not surprised, at least not until I opened it. It was full of fresh North Carolina okra, cut by my daddy and sent off to me “up north.”

I cooked it the way we do at home: roasted with a little olive oil in a very hot oven and then sprinkled with sea salt. As soon as I took the first bite, I was transported in my mind to our kitchen table. It was a taste of home, so good, so fresh, so precious.

Food is necessary for life, of course, but it is not just nourishment for the body. It also feeds the soul and strengthens the ties to those we love. The okra is more than a vegetable; it is a love letter from home.

August 30, 2009

Jesus Is Not A Mother Squirrel

Yesterday, I spent a lot of time (and money) watching the “Eliminate ‘em” guy remove a baby squirrel that had fallen down my chimney and was stuck in the area that surrounds the gas fireplace. Apparently, a mother squirrel had made a nest in the top of the chimney. The pest removal man attempted to get her out of the chimney by leaving the little guy in a big trap in the yard. The baby squirrel cried and called but the mama did not come. She remained perched on the side of the chimney watching the whole thing. Either she was afraid of the man or worried about leaving the other babies. Either way, she left the little squirrel on his own and did not attempt to rescue him.

This whole episode made me think about the story of the lost sheep:

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. (Matthew 18:12-13)

In this wild world where we live, there is strength and protection in numbers. But in the realm of God, when I am lost -- one alone -- Someone will come and find me.

That is comforting, but now this morning there is another squirrel in the fireplace……

August 24, 2009

A Tiny Taste

from Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul by Tony Hendra, page 63:

It took my breath away: the curve of the great path, the contrasts of raw earth against rushing cumulus, of tumbled old stone against tall young grass, of leaf-speckled oaks against the sea. A very different landscape than my placid, green-shaded Hertfordshire; this was impeccable and classic, every element of natural beauty in exact harmony, a foretaste of perfection, an amuse-bouche of Paradise.

I confess: I like to watch the Food Network. That is where it have learned that an amuse-bouche is a wonderful little dish that is only one bite. It is meant to tempt and delight the palate, similar to but not to be confused with hors d'oeuvre. This is a tidbit, often tiny, served as a free extra to keep you happy while you are waiting for your first course to come. It gives you an idea of the chef's approach to cooking and the restaurant's attention to your appetite. It is literally a happy mouth.

What an amazing way to think about this beautiful earth: a tidbit, just a taste, given to us now to show us God’s approach to all of eternity and God’s attention to our needs. As the psalmist says: O taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34.8a).

August 21, 2009


My garden has been slow in ripening this year. I planted things late and then the weather has been (until recently) cool and wet. But this week I have picked beans, cucumbers, and a few tomatoes. I’ve cooked food that has traveled only a few steps from plot to plate. It is good. I have also been sewing. Last weekend, I made pillowcases for my three young neighbors, two with cars and tools on them for the little boys and one with fashion items for their sister. I suppose that was a frivolous project, making something that is so easily available already made, but I loved doing it.

I spend my days in a job where “work” is something I do with my brain, and I live easily in that world. But the joy of these homely tasks where I physically do something reminds of the psalmist’s prayer: Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands—O prosper the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90.17)

And here is my version: Prosper the work of my mind. And give me work for my hands, too, because that will prosper the peace of my soul. May it be so. Amen.

August 20, 2009

Kitty Spa

August 17, 2009

A David kind of world

In my readings this summer, I have read through the whole story of David. It is fascinating – full of intrigue, plotting, revenge, power struggles, heartbreak. David is not a priest or a prophet; he is a warrior and a ruler. He lives in a world of danger and politics. He does not spend his days cloistered in worship. But even so, he is always consulting God about what to do. And despite all his faults and failings – and they are significant – he is the one known as a man after God’s own heart.

Sometimes I think I live in a David kind of world. I am certainly not a warrior king, but I do have my own battles to fight. There is no pulpit for me to hide behind, no quiet sanctuary or study to settle my soul. I live and work in the midst of a world where there are problems without solutions, struggles that cannot be overcome, pain that has no anodyne, and difficulties that seem to surpass the wisdom one needs to cope. And I carry my own significant sins and sorrows. So am I consulting with God in the midst of this worldly life I lead? Do I believe that my actions have God’s blessings? Sometimes. Do I miss being more immersed in the holy, living and working in a place where the Word is central, where matters of the soul are given serious reflection, where prayer is a constant? I do miss it. But then I think, maybe to seek that way of life is to have it – even in the most unlikely places. Maybe to long for the sacred is to find it. And maybe there is no context so odd and unlikely that it is beyond the shelter of God’s presence.

So as I go off to do battle today, let me be reminded to consult with God, and to try to follow after God’s own heart.

August 9, 2009

Touching Faith

Mark 5: 21-43

This passage from Mark’s gospel is a little like a set of Russian dolls. It is made up of nesting stories, one contained within another, and both of them wrapped around the center, the most important part. In the Russian dolls, often called “matryoshka” for “mother,” it is often the case that each one is painted a little differently but at the same time, there are common elements all through. So it is with these stories.

The outer layer, the story of Jairus and his daughter, and the inner one, the story of the dying woman, have enough similarities to let us know that they are related, that they are pointing to the same reality. Both stories involve great faith; both stories contain a miracle, a touch that heals. The girl is twelve years old when she dies and the woman has been dying slowly for the same period of time.

These are major themes, no doubt, but there is an important subtext here, too. Both the little girl and the woman are unclean; they are untouchable. To have any contact with a strange woman, especially one who was bleeding, or with the dead, was to become contaminated oneself. This is outlined in portions of the Book of Leviticus, in what came to be known as the purity code. When the children of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, these prohibitions helped shape them into their own nation. The code formed the structure that they needed in this time of transition. The penalties for violation were serious: separation from religious observance and participation, until the specified remedy had been satisfied. Really, what this meant was separation from community, a high price to pay. And since any form of contact could bring about contamination, intentional or accidental, those who were unclean were generally not allowed in the mainstream of society. They were isolated, kept at the margins.

There was a whole array of contaminating conditions in addition to death and bleeding, things like skin rashes, mildew on fabric or the walls of a house, childbirth, especially if the baby was a girl, some conditions associated with baldness, (yes its in here, you can look it up), even the use of two kinds of material in a single article of clothing -- cotton polyester???

Certainly from our twenty-first century perspective, the fear of contamination from these almost-normal conditions seems primitive and superstitious. But the codes served their purpose in their time, separating the people from those tribes already in their Promised land, so they could establish a pattern of life and worship that was centered on the one true God. Eventually, though, the rules became an end in themselves. The people lost sight of the purpose and got all caught up in the process of compliance and enforcement.

And you know, we ourselves are not immune from all this. Oh, perhaps we are a bit more sophisticated than the ancient people of the Bible, but underneath it is pretty much the same thing. We, too, can become preoccupied with keeping ourselves at a safe distance from those who threaten us, from those who seem unclean.

Now, of course, we do not necessarily say it that way, and we do not observe the purity codes of the Old Testament, at least not in their entirety. No, we have our own words, our own version of the code, and we go to great lengths to enforce it. Just ask those who work on behalf of persons who have AIDS. They know how society has isolated those with this terrible disease. Or ask those who are elderly and have no place to live except a standard-issue nursing home. They will understand the isolation of age and infirmity. Those who are poor and homeless, and maybe literally unclean because they have nowhere to wash, are outcasts in our society. Even with the election of our new president, race is still a sign of differentness among people. We may not practice the extreme segregation of the past, but separation and suspicion between races still exist in too many places. And those who have lost a job or lost a marriage may find that old friends and colleagues soon avoid them, almost as if these conditions were somehow catching.

But what does Jesus say? When confronted with the outcasts, the unclean, the hopeless cases, what does he do?

In the two gospel stories, it may appear that it is the faith of Jairus and the woman that creates the healing. And there is no question that they both demonstrate a powerful, moving faith, touching in its single-mindedness. Their stories show us two facets of such faith – the woman’s willingness to touch Jesus and the father’s willingness for Jesus to touch his daughter.

But at the heart of these two stories, nested within them, is the source of the healing, and that is the power of Jesus, a power borne of faith. In him, in his power, the two facets of faith come together, because he is the one who is willing both to be touched and to touch. In faith, he overrides the rules and regulations. He places himself on the other side of the prohibitions, with those who are other. He ignores the religious conventions of contamination and he does it deliberately and intentionally.

In the press of the crowd, after the woman touches him, it would be so easy to keep going, for him to let the woman go her way, healed but unacknowledged, and for he himself to continue on with none the wiser. But he does not do that. He shows the same deliberateness with the little girl. When he gets there, she is dead, dead enough for the family to have called the mourners. Surely there is no reasonable expectation for him to intervene. And yet he does. He goes into the presence of death, the ultimate condition of otherness, that which we fear the most, that which we seek to avoid at all costs. But Jesus does not avoid it. He is not afraid. He takes hold of the dead girl and raises her up, once again aligning himself with the outcast, showing us how he is that way, too, foreshadowing his own death and raising up.

What he is doing is fulfilling the law, opening the layers of interpretation and rules and regulations to reveal anew what is at the very center, which is God’s precious shining love, the powerful love of the One who has created life – all life – and has pronounced it good.

A child who is dead and a woman who might as well be: and contact with Jesus restores them both to life, to health, to community. Because his is a faith that conquers fear. His is a touching faith, a faith that reaches out in healing; a faith that restores relationship.

And where does all this touch us? Where does Jesus take hold of our lives? If we claim to have faith in Jesus Christ, must we also have the faith of Jesus Christ? How would it be to live this way? Perhaps it would mean acknowledging those who reach out to us, those on the margins who want to have contact with the Body of Christ; or it could mean taking the risk of a hands on approach with those that the world deems untouchable; or maybe it would lead us to form relationships with those who are different from us.

Is this easy? No. Is it necessary? Well, it seems that it is for Jesus Christ, and we are called to follow him, to be Christ-like. And to be that way, to be Christ-like, is to touch and to allow ourselves to be touched. It is to open our hearts to the great pain of the world, to the fear, the suffering, the isolation. Because nestled within the gospel, at the heart of all our stories, there is this central truth and it is the whole truth: In Christ, there is the power to heal the world’s hurt. In Christ, there is the faith that overcomes fear and suffering and isolation.

Those who are in Christ are called to this faith, this touching faith. This is the faith that will save the world. And it is the faith that will save us, even us.

(c) Martha C. Highsmith

August 8, 2009


Hartford has had electronic billboards for a long time. I don’t drive that way often so I’ve been spared them for the most part. When I do have to pass them, I find them incredibly distracting – and annoying. In the past several months, one has gone up in the path of my daily commute. It is situated ahead of a curve in the road. You come around the curve and there it is, right in front of you. The colors are garish and over-bright; the display flips from one message to another in a way that demands attention; and the whole thing is ugly.

There are laws about littering on the highway, and people get fined for throwing out trash and polluting the landscape. How is this any different? It is a form a visual litter that pollutes the view. I suppose from an advertising standpoint, it is just perfect – unavoidable, in your face, seen by thousands each hour. But it seems to me another way that our society of excess consumerism intrudes on what little peace and quiet is left in one’s line of sight.

August 6, 2009

Peace and Beans

When I was growing up, it was rare to see a grownup sitting down in the evening without a pan of beans or peas to shell. It was a perfect activity to go with story-telling, conversation, or gentle motion in a rocking chair. Last night I shelled and peeled the fat fava beans I got at the farmers’ market. I don’t know how long it has been since I have done something like that. But it brought me right back home to the farm, and I had that deep peace that I feel when I am there. The beans were done all too soon and I will enjoy cooking and eating them, but maybe I will savor the peace of their preparation the most.

May 12, 2009

Funeral Food

In the Bible stories that tell of events after Jesus’ death, there is a lot of eating going on. The two disciples from Emmaus have supper with the risen Christ; Christ shows up in a locked upper room and asks if there is anything to eat; he cooks breakfast for the disciples on the beach. This, apparently, is what you do after someone has died: you eat. Certainly, we have done that. Our friends and neighbors have brought wonderful, comforting, abundant food: fried chicken, barbeque, casseroles, pound cakes, strawberry pies, devilled eggs, butter beans, ham, homemade biscuits, gallons of iced tea. We have eaten food from the hands of those who love and care about us, and it has nourished our bodies and our souls. We have been fed and comforted, renewed and strengthened. And in that eating, that food, we have known the presence of the risen Christ, just as those sorrowful people did so long ago.

April 13, 2009

Easter Sunday

Unfinished Business

Isaiah 25:6-9
Mark: 16:1-8

What kind of Easter story is this that Mark tells? There are no alleluias, no appearances of the risen Jesus, no blessing of forgiveness for those who abandoned him at the cross. Well, there is a young man in the tomb – he might be an angel but Mark doesn’t even say that for sure. Compared to the other evangelists, to Matthew, Luke and John, this is an odd story. It doesn’t even have a proper ending. In fact, in the Greek, the last sentence is incomplete. A more literal translation would read: “and they said nothing to anyone; they were afraid, because…..” It just leaves you hanging, waiting for what comes next. The ending is abrupt, the gospel unfinished.

And if that is not strange enough, then look at the ending itself, if indeed it is an ending. It is the story of a bunch of women, terrified, running away from an empty tomb in the dawning daylight. It wasn’t the disciples who went; it wasn’t the religious officials who discovered what had happened. It was just some women -- the least important of all. Oh certainly, they had traveled around with Jesus, and some of them provided for him out of their own means, but the gospels do not name them among the twelve. In their time and place, they had little credibility, no power, and even less authority. Who would believe anything they said anyway? What business did they have bearing the message about the resurrection? No business at all …but they were the ones who went and they were the first to know that the tomb was empty.

These women were faithful from beginning to end. They walked with Jesus; they waited and watched at the cross; they came back when it was all over to offer a final act of service. It is clear that they loved him, so you can understand why they fell apart when they saw that his body was gone. We greet the news of resurrection with celebration, with lilies and music, with family gatherings and new clothes, ham and lamb and chocolate eggs. It is spring. There are buds popping out, the daylight lingers, and the world seems new again. It is a holy day, a holiday, and it feels wonderful to have an occasion of joy. But it wasn’t that way for the women who were there on the first Easter. Try for a moment to imagine what it was like, going to the grave of someone you have loved, someone who died a terrible, terrible death, going to pay your last respects and finding that the grave seemed to have been vandalized, robbed of the wounded body it contained. No wonder the women ran away in terror.

But you know, there is one thing Mark got wrong in this gospel. He records that they told no one, and obviously that is not true. Here we are, after all, and if we don’t know this story first-hand from the women, we do have it handed down from those they finally told. Their fears and their tears and their silence gave way at some point to courage and proclamation. Who knows why or how or when – it just did. Maybe it was a new reality setting in. Maybe it was recovering from the initial shock. Maybe it was remembering that everything was happening just the way he had said. Maybe it was realizing that everything was changed.

However it happened, these women who had no business carrying such earth-shattering, death-defying news, were the ones commissioned to bear the message. And the message was that Jesus was not in the tomb anymore, that they were all to return to Galilee, and that somehow he was going ahead of them and they would see him there. Now if I had heard that, I wouldn’t know what to say or do either.

The crucifixion seemed to be an ending – maybe the end -- and it was not. The women fleeing the tomb seemed to be an ending and it was not, either. And death had always seemed to be the ultimate ending and even that wasn’t true anymore. Somehow Jesus was alive and let loose in the world. They would not find him in the tomb as they expected. Instead he was going back where it all started, back to Galilee, back to the beginning. And they were to follow him there. Galilee was home; it was where they lived their everyday lives; and that was where they were supposed to go now. That was where they would see him again.

That was the message to the women on the first Easter – and it is the message to us on this Easter, too. He is going ahead and we are to follow. We will find him in our Galilee, in the place where we live our everyday lives – not at the cross, not at the tomb, not limited to Sunday morning at church. We will see him where he lives – in the world. We will see him where we live. And it will be as the poet said: “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” (T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding) Know the place for the first time, know ourselves for the first time, and know Jesus for all time.

But if we are going to follow Jesus into our daily lives, if we are going to see Jesus everyday where we live, then how we live will be completely changed. And maybe it is a natural response to want to run away from this message, to be afraid, to keep silent because speaking about what has happened will mean that it is really true. We will have to live out God’s vision for the world as told by Isaiah. We will have to work with Christ to make a feast for all people; as Jesus fed the multitudes, so must we. We will have to stand with God in trust and faith and belief as God destroys death. We will have to work to remove the shroud of war that we have spread over the nations. We will need to bring healing and hope to the poor and the abandoned, comfort and care to the grieving. We will be called to wipe away the tears of our weeping world. We will have to live in a world that seems hell-bent on its own destruction, and to do that in the sure and certain knowledge that the One we have waited for to save us, to save everything, is with us.

Is this more than you want to do, more than you think you can do? Does it make you feel overwhelmed, terrified, like running away? Now you know, maybe, how the women felt. And what business do we have anyway, thinking that we can change the world? No business at all, except resurrection business. And that means that nothing is business as usual anymore. As one teacher says: “Business as usual is no longer safe because Jesus goes ahead of us to call us to discipleship again and again. The resurrection is not a onetime event in the past, but the promise of more surprising, disturbing encounters to come. The resurrection is not primarily about empty tombs, but about the living Christ who continues to encounter us in the world and call us to discipleship.” (The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, ed. Roger E. Van Harn, p 284)

Because of Easter, business as usual has given way to unfinished business. The gospel is not done. Jesus is not dead. God has not given up on the world. And our business is to tell this good news, to tell it with our own lives – to tell it with our words, our actions, our service, our love.

Find your voice, let go of your fear, follow the risen Christ back into your own life. That is where he is waiting for you. And remember the promise, given to the women and now given to us: “He is going ahead of you… you will see him, just as he told you.”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! And that is just the beginning.

(c) Martha C. Highsmith

March 29, 2009

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Heartfelt Knowledge

Jeremiah 31:31-35

Do you remember a news story from a few years ago about Judge Roy Moore? When he was Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, the judge had the Ten Commandments carved on a gigantic granite monument. The thing weighed over 5000 pounds. He then had it installed, under cover of darkness, in the rotunda of the state judicial building.

At the press conference when he unveiled his monument, he had this to say: "May this day mark the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and the return to the knowledge of God in our land."

Now I’m sure that Roy Moore holds to the conviction of his beliefs. I’m sure he was sincere in what he was doing. And I’m sure that, as a judge, he had seen plenty of evidence of the wicked sinfulness of humankind. But I am also sure that he got it wrong because the knowledge of God is not something to be gained from a slab of granite. And, if by some miracle, Judge Moore and the prophet Jeremiah could have a conversation, I think the judge might be quite surprised.

Jeremiah had seen some pretty bad behavior himself. And worse than that, he had witnessed what seemed to be the people’s punishment for their unfaithfulness. They had been taken into exile, the Temple lay in ruins, Jerusalem was on the verge of destruction. The great promise of God to give the people a land of their own seemed to have been abandoned. Like the broken tablets on the mountain, laws written in stone with God’s own finger, God’s covenant with Moses was also irretrievably broken. And maybe God’s heart was broken, too. It began to seem that God might have just given up on the people, finally letting them have their own way and suffer the consequences of a life lived apart from love. Things were so bad that Jeremiah cursed the day that he was born. He accused God of seducing him and then turning him into a laughingstock, making him out to be a fool. He tried to give up his role as prophet, as the one who called the people over and over again to return to God and God’s ways.

But God would not leave Jeremiah alone. And God would not abandon the people either. In the midst of what seemed to be a monumental failure on the part of the people and the prophet, God issued one of the most radical pledges in all of human history:“…I will make a new covenant with Israel and Judah,” God said. “I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts; …I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

No ifs, ands, or buts. No conditions. Nothing for the people to agree to. Just God’s unilateral action, the action of love.

This new covenant, these words on the heart, would mean that each person would have full knowledge of God. There would be no second-hand witness, no hearsay account, no privileged few with insider information. They would all know God, all of them, “from least of them to the greatest,” and they would all be forgiven. Just like that. No call to repentance, no instruction to put on sackcloth and prepare burnt offerings, no rules and regulations for the priests to enforce. Just the first-hand, heartfelt knowledge of God, for everyone.

It was an extraordinary gift. Think about it. This new covenant is the ultimate in inclusively. It embraces the least to greatest and all in between; the rich and the poor; the PhD and the grade school dropout; young and old; male and female; the wise and the foolish. Everyone is included.

And no one has an exclusive claim on the knowledge of God. No one can pretend to be an expert in the law, to know more than anyone else about what the covenant means, or who it applies to. Because the covenant is given equally to all. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” These are words meant for everyone, all of God’s people, even for us.

But how shall we read them, these words that God promises to write on our hearts? What happens when God’s law, God’s way of doing things, gets internalized in us, when it is in our very bodies? There is a church word for this embodiment, you know. It is “incarnation.” The perfect example of God entering human form, of course, is Jesus, but maybe it is not too far-fetched to think that we are all somehow a tiny bit of incarnation.

To have God’s law written on our hearts, to have this heartfelt knowledge, is to see ourselves as holy and to see each other as holy, too. It is to see the face of God when we look in the mirror in the morning, and then act accordingly. It is to see the face of God when we look in each other’s eyes, too, and then love them as we love ourselves and as we say we love God. It is to live as though we really believe the words of Genesis – that we are all made in the image of God. Maybe at the heart of it, that is what the law is all about, understanding that God’s intention for us is godly living – and that the God that gives us life in the first place also gives us the way to live that life.

Godly life is always lived in relationship. To know the heart of God, to know God in our own hearts, is to understand the hearts of each other, too. Faith is not a solitary activity. Love is only understood in community, whether that community is a relationship between friends or spouses or partners, in a family or a church, or embracing the whole wider world.

We need each other in order to understand God’s new covenant with us. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it like this: “A Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself. . . .. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s heart is sure” (Life Together).

We need each other, no question, and we need God. But maybe God also needs us. God’s new covenant is unilateral in that God does not depend on us to keep the covenant with faithfulness or to ensure its endurance. But neither does God compel us to participate in it. God’s finger does not touch our hearts until – unless – we say yes. When God speaks of the days that are surely coming, the days of this new covenant, maybe that means the time when we finally allow God in.

I wonder if we have really been able to do that. I mean, look at the world, even at the church, and it seems pretty clear that God’s radical promise of love and inclusivity, of relationship and forgiveness, is still to be realized.

And yet, we who claim the name of Christian know that in Christ this is also a present reality. And it is in this place of tension between the “already” and the “not yet” where we are called to say yes to God. It sounds so easy. Why then is it so hard? It takes a lot of heavy equipment to move a 2 1/2 ton rock into an Alabama courthouse in the middle of the night, but sometimes it seems no less a project to get God on our hearts – and maybe no less controversial an action.

We close ourselves off from the indwelling presence of the holy one – usually not by evil intent or even willfulness, or anything like that, but we are busy, you know, and worried and distracted, and maybe a little (more than a little) afraid of what would happen if we really were to give our hearts to God. Because after all, if God’s word was at the heart of everything we are and everything we do, we would be changed completely, wouldn’t we? That can be a scary thought.

To say a whole-hearted yes to God is to see the world as God does, to see it and respond in godly love. To say yes to God is to let our hearts be broken by the woundedness of the world, just as surely as God’s heart must be broken by what we have done to each other and God’s good creation. It is to see the pain of the other and feel it so deeply within that it becomes our own.
It is to be able to take what one holy man has called a “long loving look at the real.” And when we see the world that way, with the eyes of our heart, through the eyes of God, then we are compelled to act to bring peace, healing, hope, comfort, love. And those actions can take as many forms as there are human hearts: praying, engaging in acts of service, promoting justice, working toward inclusivity and acceptance, giving of our time and treasure, building houses and serving soup and tutoring ten-year-olds.

And these labors of love, like God’s new covenant, must be unilateral and unconditional. They do not depend on reciprocity. They do not even have to be successful, at least not in the world’s terms – they only have to be faithful.

This is what means to know God. Having this heartfelt knowledge of God is to live a godly life, to live from the heart where God dwells. And when we let our own hears break, as maybe God’s heart also breaks, as Jesus’ heart broke, then we come to know God fully.

The rabbis note that God writes the word, the law, on our heart, not in it. Then, they say, when our heart breaks, the word falls in. Absent the heartbreak, the word is never internalized as completely. But no matter what, we are always loved, we are always held in God’s heart. And we come to the heartfelt knowledge of God, when we allow God to enter our hearts as fully as we have entered God’s.

This is the new covenant – not a contract, not the result of our negotiation with God, not even our decision to participate – but rather God’s unilateral unconditional action to love us, no matter what. You can know this for yourself. You can know God, in your own heart. Just say yes. And God will be our God and we will be God’s people.

(c) Martha C. Highsmith

March 14, 2009

March 10, 2009


Manny has lived here for just over a year, and he has claimed his place in this house. He gallops up and down the stairs, getting to third or fourth step from the bottom and tumbling the rest of the way. He snuggles when it is cold in the night and runs when he hears the back porch door open. He loves to play with his "bird" and also finds new toys in lots of places -- the latest is Q-tips. He loves what I call cat TV, which is the bird feeder outside the dining room window. I was too long without a kitty and it is good to have this little guy with me. Even when he breaks my grandmother's bowl, knocks my hand-painted Easter eggs to the floor, chews up the flower arrangement, sheds on the antique quilts, lounges on my computer keyboard, sprawls all over the Sunday paper while I am trying to read it, unrolls the toilet paper, et cetera!!!!

March 8, 2009

Third Sunday in Lent

Who's Whose?

Mark 8: 27-38

Have you ever wondered how you got to be the person you are? Perhaps it is the result of experience anchored in your family, your genetic background, the places you have lived, the opportunities you have had, your friends, your physical ability. If we are blank slates when we are born,that doesn’t seem to last very long. Each passing day etches into our lives some piece of our identity. Gradually but inevitably we become who we are and after awhile it seems all but impossible to imagine ourselves other than what we have become.

But there are some milestones along the way where it seems we can reinvent ourselves; for example, moving to a city where you don’t know anyone, changing careers, entering retirement, going off to college, getting married, getting divorced. In situations like these that are totally strange and new, the markers of the past that told us who we were are missing. It is not so easy to take for granted our own sense of identity. Essential assumptions become questioned: Do I believe what I believe because it is true or do I believe what I believe because my parents believed it? If I don’t have a job, how do I define myself? Will I pursue those activities where I have already succeeded so I can be a star or will I risk failure on something more interesting and challenging? Am I interested in particular work because it will pay the bills or because it will fully engage my intellect and ability?

Now it is true I suppose that most mornings we don’t wake up asking deeply existential questions like “who am I?” But in the midst of radical transition, whether we are aware of it or not, the questions are there.

Jesus himself faced these questions. When he asked the disciples “who do people say that I am” maybe he was quizzing them for a right answer but maybe he was also seeking reassurance for himself. I guess I don’t think it is much of a stretch to consider that he was looking for a confirmation of his calling. It was becoming increasingly clear to him where his path would eventually lead. His own sense of identity, even at this point in his ministry, was bound up with the cross. He would explain this again and again to his disciples but they would not understand until it was too late.

And even though Peter gave the right answer to Jesus’ question, he had no understanding of what it meant. But Jesus knew. At the very beginning of his ministry, he had confronted the issue in the desert place with only the voice of the tempter to keep him company. In the wilderness, the temptation that Jesus faced was whether to subvert his own identity in the service of power, whether to take the shortcut, the easy way out.

As Matthew and Luke tell it, three different times he faced a choice – turn stones into bread for his own well-being, fling himself off the temple to prove God’s care and rescue, bow down and worship Satan in order to have power over the world. Henri Nouwen has described these choices as the temptation to be relevant, to be spectacular, and to be powerful.

And let me tell you -- if you don’t already know it -- it is not only Jesus who faces these temptations. Each one of us will encounter at some point along the way that same voice that Jesus heard in the wilderness, a voice that urges us to do whatever it takes to fit in, to be a big success, to be important.

So look at how Jesus responded. In each situation, he refused to act in ways not wholly consistent with his own calling. Later on, of course, he would multiply the loaves, not to satisfy his own hunger, but rather to feed the multitudes. And he would willingly go into mortal danger, not from the pinnacle of the temple but the pinnacle of a hill with a cross. And in the end he would have power over all the earth, but it would not be earthly power; it would be spiritual power. And it would be a gift from God not the result of a corruption of worship.

In the course of his ministry, he would say yes to some version of all the things the Satan presented to him in the wilderness. But he would not take the easy way out. Instead he would take the faithful way. So when Jesus asked the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”, it was not an unfamiliar question to him. He had wrestled with it before. And it seems that he was wrestling with it again.

He told the disciples about the path of sorrow and suffering that he would walk,
and when Peter said, “no, no, no don’t do this” it must have sounded just like that other voice in the wilderness, urging Jesus to take the easy way rather than the true way. He was again confronted by temptation. Once again he was being tested on the question of who he was and whose he was.

It was another test of what it meant to be true to his identity, faithful to his calling, obedient to his Creator. It was for him another wilderness, another transition that empowered him to claim publicly for the first time where God’s path for him would lead, and who he was meant to be.

And then he told his disciples that if they would follow him, they must also take God’s way. The words are difficult: “Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me.”

What did he meant by this? Did he mean to say to them that they should forget whom they were, that they should seek out a life of suffering? And does he mean to say that to us?

I don’t think so. I think what Jesus means when he tells his disciples, then and now, to deny themselves, is to set aside their own ideas of who they will be, to let go of the kind of ambitions that can consume, to turn away from that which is other than what God intends. He is telling us to resist the easy way, if it is not God’s way. He is telling us to put behind us the temptation to be other than who God calls us to be, to deny our own view of ourselves when it interferes with our belonging to God.

Jesus tells us to follow him, not to copy his life. We have our own identity to live out. I think that is what he means when he says that we should take up our cross. For Jesus, the cross is the sign of ultimate faithfulness to his own calling, his own identity. To take up our cross, then, is to bear our own calling, and to carry that blessed burden wherever God leads.

But how do we know what that means? How do we sort out our God-given identity? It isn’t a matter of reinventing ourselves. Rather, what Jesus is calling us to do is engage in the life-long task of listening for the voice of God. That is how our true identity is revealed. Yes, certainly we are influenced and affected and shaped by our own personal experiences. But there is a deeper kind of creating that makes us who we are.

This has been described as the idea of “sealed orders” given by God. The term comes from the orders given the commanding officer of a ship that are sealed up, which he is not allowed to open until he has proceeded a certain distance into the high seas. So it is with God’s orders to us. We all have our own sealed envelope, whether we know it or not. We carry it with us as we travel into the depths of our own lives. It contains God’s instructions to us about how to live; it directs our journey; it explains our own identity.

The task of finding out whom we are, then, is not a matter of reinvention, but rather a matter of discernment. Every person is made in the image of God, every one of us belongs to God, and so we all have a holy purpose for our lives. Some of us listen for the ways God calls us to that purpose, and gradually become the person God intends us to be. And some of us miss the mark, and never understand or accept our God-given identity.

Where are you in this process? Can you do what Jesus commands – deny yourself, take up your cross, follow him? That is how you find out who you truly are – and whose you truly are.

But if you are expecting easy answers to those questions, I am afraid you will be disappointed. You won’t find them – not from the church, not from other people, certainly not from the Bible. But if you are willing to set your face, to go where God guides, to join your own journey with that of Jesus, then maybe the choice will become clear, and you will find – if not an easy answer – then at least your own response to the overwhelming love of God. You will find your life.

And in the end, there are only two questions you have to answer: Who do you say that he is? And whose does he say that you are?

(c) Martha C. Highsmith