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Burdens and Boundaries

In Galatians 6, we read this paragraph that begins with the phrase, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” This concept of stepping up to support your neighbor is not a foreign one to Christians. The church is well-practiced in the work of charity, of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, etc. We are skilled in shouldering burdens that are not our own and, more often than not, take pride in our own ability to sacrifice for the other. I venture to guess that there is someone in your life who brags about their displays of selflessness. I bet you can think of someone who is quick to talk about how busy they are for others, how much they sacrifice for others, how it is their nature to put themselves last. 

Maybe that person is you. Maybe you find self worth and value in how available you make yourself to help everyone else. Maybe you work really hard to find burdens other people are carrying just so you can step up to help them carry it. 

And maybe… just maybe… that’s not what Galatians is asking of you. 

The text goes on to say that, “All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.” This statement feels contrary to what we assume our Christian duty is, but I wonder if maybe this text is calling us to the holy work of setting boundaries. I wonder if Galatians is saying to us that we have not been asked to brutalize ourselves for the sake of helping others, but rather that we must know our limits and care for ourselves as such. 

I have been working on setting boundaries in my life as a newly commissioned pastor appointed in the middle of a global pandemic. As far as a year goes in which to learn how to have healthy separation from work and intentional rest, this is not an easy one. However, creating space for yourself to find rest, to care for yourself, to make space to simply be is all part of the work of the church! How often have we heard it said that in order to pour into others, your cup must be full first? 

And so I offer a challenge this week; discover places where you are shouldering burdens that are not yours to carry. Ask yourself why you felt like you had to pick this up in the first place and do not judge yourself for having done so. Then begin to consider setting it down and creating space for yourself to refill, recharge, and choose to find your worth not in what you can sacrifice, but in the simple fact that you are created in God’s image – and that is enough. 

We Are Waiting… Still

God who created all the world, who created all of humanity in the multiplicity of your image, who became like us to offer radical, eternal, transformation, we come before you today as one body, though in many places. 

We’re in a time of starting anew, and yet it feels like much of the last year has bled into this one. We are weary. We are hoping beyond hope. We are waiting…still. 

We are waiting with anticipation, for the distribution of a  vaccine, for the ability to join together in worship safely, to be able to visit our friends and families…we are waiting for things to change. 

We are waiting as the prophets of the ages did for a Messiah, hoping beyond hope for one who would come to offer renewal and transformation to all the world. 

We believe as they did that you fulfill your promises. We believe that you do not leave us alone, that not for one minute are we truly isolated from your great love. We believe that you offer new life day by day, for as your Apostle Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

If we are in you God, we are constantly being made new. By your free gift of grace, we are given 1001 and then some chances to learn how to love you, and love our neighbors. 

Help us to remember that we have been called to continue the good work you began in us, that you gave birth to your church through fire and preaching in the streets, that the early church stood tall in the face of persecution, that despite all it has endured, the church still stands today as the reflection of your transformational grace here on earth. 

We are waiting, yes. But we are also working, joining together in the continuation of the work of our barrier-breaking Savior, who ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, who called out the hypocrisy of religious leadership, and whose death on the cross tore the curtain in the temple so that we may no longer be separated from your redeeming, renewing, transformational grace.

All Oppression Shall Cease

A Prayer for Christmas Eve

Tonight Lord, we come to you celebrating the incarnation, celebrating the Light that broke through the darkness, celebrating the birth of your son Jesus Christ. You called to us through the ages, telling us that a Messiah would come. We remember the prophets of old, prophets who demanded to be heard, who dared to speak of a child to come – the unexpected liberator of the people, the vulnerable incarnation of you God, the redeemer of the world. They walked by faith, and held onto hope for a day when the long awaited Messiah would appear.

We remember those who patiently and faithfully waited for the coming of the Prince of Peace, those who anticipated the coming of the Messiah, enduring years of turmoil, captivity, and occupation, praying for the arrival of the one who would bring peace to the world. We wait for the fulfillment of Your promise that “mourning and crying and pain will be no more,” that You will bring peace on Earth. Help us to join You in this work, for as we have often sung, “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.”

We remember Mary – innocent and powerful, sacred and scared, worried and waiting as the Savior for all the world grows in her womb. She sings boldly when she might be meek; she bears her role in history with the confidence of a warrior; she is the beginning of a mighty revolution as the proud are brought down and the lowly are lifted up. You call us, like Mary, to step out of the roles that society has planned for us. You call us to continue the work of our barrier-breaking savior, responding with joyful courage. 

We remember Joseph, worn-out traveler and worried husband, doing what is necessary for the sake of his family bearing the stifling burden of poverty. And yet his hope remained certain in your promise. We pray for those like Joseph, migrating far from home when there is no choice, fiercely devoted to the ones they love, unwavering in their belief that there is room for all in the kingdom of God. We give thanks to You, Lord, for showing Your great love for us through the restorative work of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to love one another, just as You have loved us.

Tonight we remember the shepherds, workers for the common good, steadfast watchmen, isolated and alone, far from the warmth of home, doing the job no one wants. And yet, God you saw them. You valued them. These shepherds, these marginalized outcasts, became the first to know and preach the great news, that the Messiah had come. May we watch for you God in the darkness, may we watch the skies, anticipating the breaking of the darkness by your heavenly hosts singing that once again Christ is born. 

Your birth is not a one day celebration, but a transformation Lord. You are the thrill of hope for which the weary world rejoices. You have made all things new and so yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Let us hear these words now which we have heard many times before and begin to live them anew; 

“Truly he taught us to love one another; His law is love and His Gospel is Peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother and in His name, all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, let all within us Praise His Holy name. Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever! His power and glory evermore proclaim.”

We Are Not Alone

A Prayer for Advent

We have never been alone. From the very beginning of time, Since before the Earth was filled with living creatures, Before the mountains were formed, God, You were. When there was nothing but darkness, You were present and You did not let the darkness reign. You created light, became the light that overcomes darkness.

You are here. 

When you were creating, You created humanity in multiplicity, in all our various forms, in the greatness of diversity yet, all of us bearing Your image, receiving Your breath, and all of us blessed with Your words, “You are good.” 

And we were not alone

You became like us in the person of Jesus Christ, as a helpless infant, showing us that you were willing to set aside your infinite form as God to show us a Gospel of reconciliation, inclusion, justice, and love. You laid in a manger to work in us for redemption and restoration.  

You did not leave us alone.

You gave birth to Your church. As people of different nations, different tongues, different skin tones, different cultures gathered united by Your Son and Your Love, Your Holy Spirit, like a mighty wind, like a breath of resurrection and re-creation, swept down upon Your children, setting life and fire ablaze within their lungs and within their hearts. They spoke your truth, they loved like you did, they continued the barrier breaking work you started when you called ALL of creation Good. 

Your Spirit lives in us; we are not alone.

And so God, what of us, today, your children two millennia later? Will we open our hearts for you to be born again this Advent season? Will all your creatures who still have breath praise Your name, not only with words of adoration, but with words and actions that disrupt injustice and create opportunities for Your love and justice to reign forevermore? Will we recognize the angels who sing out that peace has indeed come again? Will we run with anticipation to kneel at the manger, to be in your presence? 

Yes. Still, we are not alone. Because you God, you have always been everywhere. 

Be born in us again. 

Inspire us to be people of reconciliation, able to name what is broken so that healing may begin.

Lead us to be blessed peacemakers, generating justice and mercy for those in most desperate need.

Guide us in Your way, oh Lord, and grant us the joy that comes from working for Your Kingdom.

Let the song of your heavenly hosts ring out, O God of Justice and Love, let our hearts join in their unending hymn, let our lungs cry out, let our hands and feet move in faith.

Remind us God, you are still here. May the words you have said to us over and over again ring out “Be not afraid.” Be not afraid, for we have been claimed and called by God. Be not afraid, for God so loved us that God became like us in order to redeem and restore us. Be not afraid, for God is not finished with us yet. 

And so we hold onto hope, because in Jesus Christ we find hope for all the world. We hope in you, God. We shall not fear.


“‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I AM!’”

-John 8:58 (NIV) 

The Gospel of John is a fascinating inclusion for our biblical canon. This gospel places a high degree of emphasis on the divinity of Christ, making it clear that this human man is no ordinary prophet, but rather the savior, the Messiah of the whole world. One of the ways the gospel writer chooses to clue the reader into this incredible identity of Jesus is through the use of “I AM” statements. 

Now, there are two different types of “I am” statements in the Gospel of John and they serve very different purposes. The first is that of the lowercase “I am.” These occur when Jesus says things like “I am the good shepherd,” or “I am the bread of life,” and typically,  he is in the midst of performing a sign which always points to something greater. 

The “I am” statement in today’s scripture however, is a capital, “I AM.” The capitalization is meant to draw your attention because this statement is different. This “I AM” is what fancy theologians call a theophany. A theophany is a revelation of the true nature of Christ, Jesus makes these statements when he is revealing his true nature as the Messiah. 

In the chapter from which today’s verse originates, Jesus is revealing his true nature to the Jewish people who are questioning his identity. Verse 58 shows us that essentially, Jesus is telling the crowd that before their ancestor Abraham, the patriarch of Israel was even born, Jesus was already at work as God. This is huge! This tells us that Jesus has been at work in the world since the beginning of time, loving humanity and showing us how we are called to love one another. 

This is the great gift of this verse! We know the true nature of Jesus as the incarnation, God in flesh, that “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Philippians 2:6-11

The God of all creation became like us in order to redeem and restore us, because of God’s great love for us. Thanks be to God. 

For What Do We Give Thanks?

A Reflection for the Week of Thanksgiving

“What are you thankful for?” It’s a question that we often ask this week as we gather around Thanksgiving tables, though they may look quite a bit different this year. I was asked this question a few weeks ago during the recording of an episode of our podcast at the main Lovers Lane campus, “Out on a Limb: A Lovers Lane Podcast.” You can listen now wherever you get your podcasts! As you’ll hear in the episode, I said that I was thankful for the ways God was moving here at 723.

As I think about that question now, although I am still deeply thankful for the new worshipping community that is growing at 723, the answer moves to a different perspective. In a year of loss and disappointment, it can be a great challenge to dig up thankfulness. I think of my own family, who this year lost both of our grandparents and will be entering our first holiday season without them. While we grieve this loss, I find that I am still so thankful for the fact that I grew up with my grandparents in the same city, attending all of my plays, musicals, church choir performances, birthdays, graduations, etc. You name any event and my grandparents were there; what a beautiful gift that was in my life! In the midst of loss, we can still look upon the great blessings God has given us and be thankful. If I may, I offer this word to you. Although this year has challenged us in ways we could not have anticipated, we know even still, “that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NRSV). Even in the midst of  seasons of grief or joy, we remember the great work that God began in us, that we are claimed and called by God to love ALL people into relationship with Jesus Christ. What an incredible blessing, that the God who created the entire universe also created you and me, and simply asks us to do all things in love, just as Christ loved us. For that, we are thankful. Amen.

The Failure of White Theology

“American white theology has not been involved in the struggle for black liberation. It has been basically a theology of the white oppressor, giving religious sanction to the genocide of Amerindians and the enslavement of Africans. From the very beginning to the present day, American white theological thought has been ‘patriotic,’ either by defining the theological task independently of black suffering or by defining Christianity as compatible with white racism.”

-James Cone

How generations of white Christians missed the liberating work woven into the fabric of the gospel and, I would argue, the entire Bible, is beyond my comprehension. The God we claim to worship is a God who sides with the oppressed, who hears the cry of the Israelites in Egypt and liberates them from slavery. This story of the Exodus was deeply ingrained in the language and metanarrative of the Civil Rights Movement, for on the eve of his assasination, Martin Luther King Jr. preached that “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land,” echoing the fate of Moses at the end of the Pentatuech. 

Cone lights up the failure of white theology to recognise the liberating work intertwined in the biblical narrative with ferocity, saying that American white theology is a theology of the Antichrist. By placing God on the side of white theology, God is thus displayed as approving of the white oppression of the black community. This is the failure of white theology, the inability to acknowledge that when we have been silent, we have been complicit in the subjugation and marginalization of black people in the United States. Even more so, our failure lies in our unwillingness or inability to recognize that we worship a young, homeless, brown man who caused riots in the temple and was executed by the state. Jesus stands for the poor and oppressed in the New Testament and whatever brutality is brought against the black community is brought against Christ. 

God does not ignore suffering in the Bible. God is not “blind to justice and injustice, to right and wrong, to good and evil.” Can we not say that systemic injustice, systemic racism is evil? Is it not our duty as Christians to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? Are we so egotistically fragile that when a prophetic voice like Cone’s calls out the ways we have been complicit in injustice, we feel the need to say, “Well you can’t blame all white people!” 

My friends, we are to blame. We have been silent. Our white theology has failed to see that, at the center of it all, stands a God who sides with the oppressed and will stop at nothing to bring about liberation for those who suffer. It’s time for us to side with God. 

Sources used:

Martin Luther King Jr., “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Address Delivered at Bishop Charles Mason Temple, 1968.

James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1970), 4, 6.

 The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 34.


James Cone Still Speaks

“Christian theology is a theology of liberation.” This is the line that opens James H. Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation, his work published originally in 1970 after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 and 1968 respectively. Cone writes during a time of revolution in the United States and his words have not lost their fire or prophetic vigor in the 50 years since their initial introduction to society. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be uplifting Cone’s voice in this blog format, as he continues to challenge white theology and turn our eyes to the truth that our God is a God of liberation for the oppressed. It is our responsibility as white American’s to educate ourselves on the black experience in America by listening to black voices. I invite you to start with Cone’s word that calls out the failure of white theology and reveals the ways we, as white people, have been complicit in the oppression of black people for over 400 years. It will not be easy to read, but it is absolutely necessary if we are going to strive towards any sort of revolutionary redemption in this country when it comes to the systemic racism that pervades in all places, including the church. I invite you to be uncomfortable with this exploration into Black Liberation Theology.

Feel free to comment below or email mliptoi@llumc.org if you have any questions, thoughts, or ideas.


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