Metanoia

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Image Description: The front entrance to Canterbury House, a blue building with white trim. 

“Maybe repentance gets a bad rap,” my friend and colleague Matthew said. He’s the Chaplain at Canterbury House, the Episcopal Campus Ministry at the University of Michigan. We were having a discussion about this with a group of students during Compline, a candlelight service at the end of the evening.

We tend to associate the word “repent!” with fire and brimstone preachers, so it might not be our favorite. But it’s actually a lovely invitation. The Greek root word is metanoia. Meta gives a nod to change; we might think of words like metamorphosis and metabolism. Noia is associated with the mind.

Metanoia… repent… a change of mind…

Meta literally means ‘after’ or ‘beyond’ — we we might think of expansion… the mind expanding beyond… recognizing new possibilities.

And sometimes this word metanoia has been used with the imagery of literally turning around. This might be a dramatic 180. Or it might just be a simple turn, stopping still, without yet taking a step. We look in a new direction or a previous direction with bigger expansion, insight, and possibility. Sometimes, it might just involve looking over our shoulder to see that there are other pathways.

So where are we called to go? What is expanding for us? What might reveal new possibilities? Which directions are healthy and flourishing for us? How can we transform, grow, and change? Dramatically or gradually?

Renee Roederer

Receiving Belovedness

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Image Description: Water with circular ripples. Public domain.

This sermon was preached at Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan and was focused upon the story told in Matthew 3:1-13. An audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

I’d also like to dedicate this sermon to Blake and Ethan Grunden, toddler twins in my Family of Choice who were baptized today. Noozle loves you!

Author Frederick Buechner has written a quote that I so appreciate and enjoy. It comes from his book Whistling in the Dark, and I have read this quote a number of times at very special occasions in the lives of people that I love. And it’s this:

“In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another day just like today, and there will never be another just like it again. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.”

Isn’t that an incredible quote and a beautiful invitation? I first heard that quote read to me at my ordination service, and it’s a quote I bring into almost every wedding I officiate.

I found myself thinking about it again when I considered this passage this week — this story, this pivotal moment of Jesus coming to John in the wilderness to be baptized. It seems as though this moment set the stage for much to come. And yet there were many moments before it, countless moments unknown to us, which led to this baptism. And there were powerful and pivotal moments that moved from it.

This baptism seems to be an occasion where past and future come together in one present moment. John discovers his calling more deeply, and Jesus discovers more of his. He has what we might call an epiphany, a transformative experience. It makes me wonder if he might have returned to it in his mind and heart again and again. This experience seemed to lay a foundation.

And so the story begins with these words: “Jesus came from Galilee to John in the Jordan.” Jesus came from the place where he had grown up, the context of all those preceding moments, to meet John who was doing something revolutionary at the Jordan River, a place so important to the larger history and identity of their people.

Jesus comes with this request to be baptized, and John, who has been doing all this baptizing suddenly seems a be a bit flummoxed. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” He seems stunned at this.

But Jesus puts himself in the place and position to receive.

And I find this to be beautiful. So often in our own culture, we hold independence to be some high value — some way of existing on our own, maybe even over and against others. And yet, we have this vision of Jesus, who will soon be called Son of God, who reveals what it means to receive. The Word made flesh, God with us… Jesus reveals that God exists continually in relationship, and God calls us into an interdependent vision.

Jesus is baptized, and it’s as if everything opens up. He comes up from the water. He sees this vision: The heavens are opened to him, and he sees the Spirit of God descending like a dove, alighting on him. And suddenly, there is a voice from heaven. Was it audible and collective, or was it internal? — either way so deeply true to the moment… “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Spirit is present.
Jesus is named as Son.
God, creator of that water, has a voice that resounds beyond and within.

This is a foundational moment — a pivotal moment for Jesus who will go forward from this place with this Belovedness, proclaiming it upon others, including those who have been pushed out of community and into the margins of society.

And this vision opens up so much for us. God — Creator, Son, Spirit — is in relationship, and this God calls us into relationships. God names us as Beloved too and sends us forward with an interdependent vision for living, called to be people who receive, inviting love from others, and to be people who give, inviting the receiving of others.

Perhaps this story can become a pivotal moment for us too.

We have all stepped into this sanctuary, this time of community and relationship today, carrying a host of previous moments into this room. Some took place long ago and formed who we are, what we care about, and what sort of questions swirl within us. These moments are so integral to who we are. We also bring moments from the last week — concerns about things in our personal lives and relationships, pain and fear about potential war in Iran and Iraq, and the enormous needs in Puerto Rico after earthquakes this week. We also bring concerns about what 2020 will reveal, both personally and collectively.

We also know that this moment we’re living will inform other moments. This experience and invitation to know God in relationship impacts how we live our days — how we will live this week, how we will live this year, and how we will live for years to come.

Maybe this story and this moment can become pivotal for us too.

When I share that wonderful Frederick Buecnher quote with couples during their wedding ceremony, I always follow it by saying that Frederick Buecnher was not talking about the most memorable moments and events of our lives. He was talking about every day, and in fact, sometimes this quote is simply called “Today.”

So I want to speak it again and invite us to hear it, knowing that this present moment and these deep convictions about who God is in relationship can inform what comes next in our lives. So hear this quote one more time about a today as simple and mundane as this one:

“In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another day just like today, and there will never be another just like it again. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.”

So hear this again, on this particular today:

You are Beloved.

We are Beloved.

By God,
By one another,
By this world in which we live.

We are included in the Belovedness that Jesus experienced in this moment and throughout his life, both beyond him and internal to him.

We are called on this today — this mundane day — to proclaim Belovedness beyond this place. We are called to go forward among those who are fearful, lonely, or marginalized and be people who carry a God of Relationship forward. We are called to enter relationships ourselves, receiving from them and giving within them, building a culture of interdependence where we all belong and where we all give embodiment and community to a word like Beloved.

We are Beloved.

Let’s live that forward today.

Renee Roederer

Interdependence

Today, I’d like to share a quote and an image from @the_open_space_ — an account I so appreciate on Instagram. What do these question call to mind for you when we think about need, difference, calling, belonging, and community?

The image reads…

me to me:

have you considered that your absence of a skill set, your experience of living without a particular perspective or insight, your lack of some identified trait or feature or way of being is *not* a deficit

— but rather a mark, a signal, a call to the collective that you belong to some interdependent whole on which you rely?

have you considered that differences, variance & multi-faceted being sustain our ability to survive?

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It Is Too Light a Thing…

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Image Description: This is an image of Spiral Galaxy ESO-137-001 as captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

In a couple weeks, I’m going to be speaking on a beautiful passage from the Hebrew Bible. The poetic text of Isaiah includes this vision:

And now the Lord says,
   who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
   and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
   and my God has become my strength—
God says,

‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
   to raise up the tribes of Jacob
   and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
   that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’
(Isaiah 49:5-6)

An unexpected vision… one that might be hard to believe? Nearly impossible to believe?

These words were originally spoken to captives — people who had been forcibly removed from their homeland with no obvious likelihood of return. They were stripped of their culture and humiliated. They were traumatized, separated from layers and layers of their identity, and treated as the lowest people. Why should they believe in any form of expansiveness? For their lives? For their community’s lives? For the world?

It is too light a thing…

It makes me wonder how a vision can catch us, unexpectedly, in ways that are hard to believe right when we’re traumatized and feeling broken. Maybe it is also too light a thing to lose vision.

Returning to ourselves
Returning to each other
Returning to hope
Returning to possibility

Expanding ourselves
Expanding each other
Expanding hope
Expanding possibility.

Renee Roederer

Support for Smuggling Grace

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Image Description: On a brown piece of paper, the words “Thank you!” are written in black writing with a red heart underneath.

Hello, Dear Friends,

I want to take a moment to thank you personally for following my writing on Smuggling Grace. Each week, I enjoy connecting with you here. I greatly appreciate the ways you add yourselves and initiate conversations within these pieces. Thank you so much.

Twice per year, I offer an invitation for people to give a gift to support this work. Donations large and small allow me to keep writing free of charge, and that support also contributes toward the larger vision of what I am doing in Southeast Michigan as well.

If these pieces have been meaningful to you, and you are able to give, would you like to contribute? No gift is too small, and every bit is appreciated!

Click here to support Smuggling Grace.

Your presence is also a gift. Many thanks to you all!
Renee Roederer

Light by Allison Becker

light

Image Description: Rays of sunlight shine through trees of a forrest. Public domain image.

My friend recently wrote this poem, and with her permission, I’d like to share it with you.

Light

Stop hiding
Stop pretending
Stop fearing
Their response
Stop waiting
For the perfect time
Yet
Led by the
Holy
Speak
It’s time
Love words
Of freedom
Into the dark
That those in shadow
Can enter the light
Oh lamp-carriers
Stars in the night
You were not lit
To hide the light

-Rev. Allison Becker

Wow!

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Image Description: A bitmoji of Renee, riding a unicorn! Above is a rainbow, and within it, the text says, “Have a Magical Birthday!”

Yesterday was my birthday, and wow — I mean, WOW — community came through in such an expression of love and connection. With a lot of gratitude, I have been so moved by it.

Social media birthdays are fun because they allow you to have a full day of connection with people from the many chapters of your life. Knowing this birthday was around the corner, the day before, I asked people in the social media-sphere if they would share with me a memory we have together, either meaningful or funny. And all day long on my birthday, both privately and publicly, I received the gift of kind words and memories. Some made me teary, and some made me laugh. They all made me smile.

Then… picking up on it, I was completely surprised to discover that my colleagues across the country started a thread within Young PC(USA) Leaders, the Facebook group I help administer, to give me the exact same gift. You know how you can be so floored by something that you feel a little shy? I skimmed this thread yesterday because I was so overwhelmed (in a good sense); today, will read it closely and meaningfully.

Everyone should deserve to feel this celebrated. I will pay it forward for sure.

And in person, the day was great too!

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I made myself aloo matar, one of my very favorite dishes.

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I ate a cake pop with the amazing N.J. Phillips.

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Transformed my hair…

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… into a cool haircut…

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… thanks to the amazing talents of Sierra Smith.

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And I had dessert…

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… with my friend Blair Buckley.

WOW. What a day.

Renee Roederer