Behold, your servant!

A few weeks before Christmas, little Benjamin was thinking about what he really wanted for Christmas. This year, it was a Star Wars Lego set. All his friends had this, and he really wanted one.

And Benjamin wanted to write a letter to Jesus for this gift. His mother said he should really be writing a letter to Santa, but no, Benjamin was serious. Better Jesus; he thought, better chance he’d get this gift by communicating directly to Jesus instead of Santa.

So, Benjamin starts writing: “Dear Jesus, I’ve been a very good kid, and …”

He stops. No, Jesus won’t believe that.

He crumples up the paper, throws it away, and starts again: “Dear Jesus, most of the time, I’ve been a good kid…” He stops again. No, Jesus isn’t going to buy this.

 He starts again: “Dear Jesus, I’ve thought about being good…” He thinks a bit, then decides he didn’t like that one either. Benjamin throws on his jacket and heads outside, frustrated and upset.

He walks to the church around the corner. In front of it is set up a large manger scene. And he has a brilliant idea: He grabs the wooden figurine of Mary in his arms and rushes home with it!

He wraps the sculpture in blankets and stuffs it under his bed, then heads over to his desk and starts writing a new letter: “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again, send me that Lego set! Your friend, Benjamin.”

At least Benjamin was honest. Before God in all our vulnerability, as the light of God’s gaze rests on us, we may feel inadequate and not good enough. We, then, will stay stuck in negative self-talk and complacent in-action. “How could God use me?” “Not only a sinner but quite unexceptional. Doesn’t God see all the dirt in my life, all the dark corners that even I don’t want to look at?” “Not me!”

“Behold, your servant.”[1]Mary’s first words after hearing the angel’s call for her to bear God’s Son. The New Revised Standard Version replaced the older English “Behold” with the phrase, “Here I am”. Of course, “Here I am”, based on Mary’s initial response to the angel as a precursor to her Song of Praise[2], is now a popular song in our worship book. “Here I Am, Lord.[3]

Interesting that Mary begins her prayerful response to God simply by acknowledging God’s astonishing choice of her: a common, teenager with no pedigree, status or exceptionality to her name. “Behold, your servant.” Yes, God sees her. God favors her. God beholds whom God created, in Mary.

“Behold, your servant” is a statement of profound love. Mary’s very being is seen by God. The light of God’s love shines upon her common, fragile, vulnerable nature. Yes. But the dirt doesn’t matter to God. She is deemed a worthy recipient of God’s good intent and purpose.

As God first beholds Mary, we see in her what is true about God’s relationship to us. As God be-holds, Mary holds the Christ child within her. As God be-holds us with unconditional acceptance and love for who we are, so we hold the presence of the living Lord within us. Not only are we called to receive Jesus, we are called to conceive Jesus in our lives.

A truly remarkable message at Christmas, every year! We become Christ-bearers, to give birth to Jesus’ life and love for this world through how God has uniquely created each one of us–through our words, eyes, hands and heart.[4] We need to be reminded of this truth often.

A pre-Reformation era tradition in Germany has recently gained more popularity: It is a ritual that has been practiced mostly in small towns, villages, and rural areas. What happens before Christmas is that each family brings a small statue of Mary to a neighbouring family, where that statue remains in a central location in the household until Christmas day.[5]

This ritual reminds everyone who participates a few important truths: First, your neighbour gives you a statue; you don’t get one for yourself. This part of the ritual is meant to convey that before we say or do anything in response to God, we must acknowledge, as Mary did, that God’s gift first comes to us. Jesus himself later told his disciples a lesson in love: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”[6]

And secondly, perhaps more importantly, the statue is a visual reminder that each of us is Mary, preparing a place in our own hearts for the presence of Jesus in the Holy Spirit.

You see, when Mary was pregnant with Jesus in that small place within her where the light of the world was gestating and growing – there was a pure heart. Yes, Mary was sinful as any human being. But within her, too, was a holy place where sin had no power, where she reflected the image of God.

Is that not so, with us, too? Each one of us holds the capacity, within ourselves, to carry the presence of the living God in Jesus. What difference would that conviction make in, not only appreciating the place in our own lives where God’s Spirit indwells, but in others?

The statue of Mary in these households reminds families, that despite all the conflict, stress, misunderstandings and sin so obvious in every kind of family, especially at this time of year, we can also look for a place of peace, stillness, and true joy amongst and within our very selves.

We are, at Christmas, reminded by this holy birth and through those familiar biblical characters like Mary, that we can see one another now with what Saint Paul calls the strength of our inner nature, or being.[7]

We can regard one another, though we are different and unique, with a knowledge and belief that each of us holds a space and a place within that is being renewed, transformed and united in God.

Someone once said that to be of help to anyone, you must first be able to see the good, however small, in that person.[8]  Then, and only then, can you be effective and genuine in your caregiving. Can we see, first, the good in others? Can we practice doing so this Christmas?

We can be strengthened in this course, nourished at the Table and emboldened in faith to know that God, before anything, “beholds” us in God’s loving gaze, just as we are. God sees the preciousness in each of our lives before dealing with the dirt, and loves us anyway.

So rather than right away assume the worst in us and others, and then like little Benjamin act out on that vision; rather than initially write off others who annoy us because they are different—those strangers and people we don’t understand and maybe even fear …

Perhaps we need Mary to remind us again of her response to God’s beholding of each of us. Perhaps we need to appreciate anew the gift in others that may not on the surface of things be always apparent.

Perhaps God is coming to us again this Christmas, in the guise of a stranger yet one who is truly a lover – one who comes because “God so loved the world”.[9]

Indeed, love is coming. Alleluia! Thanks be to God! Amen!

 

[1]Luke 1:38

[2]The Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55

[3]“Here I Am Lord”, Daniel L. Schutte (Fortress Press: Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 2006), #574.

[4] Curtis Almquist, Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE) “Brother-Give Us A Word” (22 December 2018), http://www.ssje.org

[5]For more information about the tradition of ‘carrying Mary’ at Christmas, please read Anselm Gruen, “Weihnachten — Einen neuen Anfang” (Verlag Herder Freiburg, 1999), p.39-41

[6]John 15:12-17

[7]2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Ephesians 3:16-19

[8] Yuval Lapide: “Bis du nicht das Gute in einem Menschen siehst, bist du unfähig, ihm zu helfen.“

[9] John 3:16

“Behold!”

“Behold!” is an old English word that appears often in some English translations of the Bible. It is not a word that commands belief, per se. Neither is it a word that merely wants to catch your passing attention. Rather, “Behold!” invites—even compels—the listener to perceive deeply the truth of what God is doing.

To consider and contemplate what God is doing in your life and in the world at this dark time of year, we need to slow down and maybe even stop. We need to breathe and recognize what God is already doing. From our heartfelt thanks comes a generous response towards others in need, for the grace of God. This is the best preparation for Christmas!

In sermons during the last weeks before Christmas, we will consider the meaning of three “Behold!” commands from scripture: 1) Behold, I prepare the way! 2) Behold, I bring joy! 3) Behold, your servant!

Consider these scriptures in your Advent reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Malachi 3:1-4, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 1:26-38, Luke 2:10.

I look forward to reflecting with you during this holy season.

Blessings, and Peace,

Martin

You shall see the light

Jesus commanded that we shall love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). This commandment motivates me to participate this afternoon in the clerics’ cycling challenge (www.clericchallenge.com), initiated by Imam Mohamad Jebara.

  
Practically, then, what Jesus’ commandment means is that if you love someone, you want to know something about her or him. You want to know who she is, what he values, and how they orient their life. If you love someone, you take the time to talk to him, get to know her, and in so doing, you share yourself as well. 

  
Love shows itself in attention to another, in accepting another on their own terms — yes, and in a willingness to learn something new, to think about things in a new way, and to grow together in friendship and harmony. 

  
When I say Christians are called to love their Jewish or Muslim neighbours, for example, I mean we are called to develop relationships of mutual affection, understanding, and appreciation (Kristin Johnston Largen, “Interreligious Learning and Teaching” Fortress Press, 2014, p.59). Then, we love our neighbour as ourselves, thus fulfilling Jesus’ commandment.

  
I had the pleasure of viewing some artwork this past week at the Rothwell Gallery on Montreal Road in Ottawa. The Gallery is presenting until October 24th the work of the late Leonard Gerbrandt (1942-2010) who travelled the world and created beautiful impressionistic watercolours and prints especially about the structures of various land and waterscapes. I was given a personal tour by Ute, his spouse, of the hundred pieces or so displayed in the gallery.

  
When we began the tour, she asked me to guess what colour appears and is prevalent in the vast majority of his art. With a twinkle in her eye, she confessed that this particular colour also happened to be his favourite. And so I went to work. At first, I suggested it was the earth tone greens, even maybe the rust, terracotta and orange/reds. No. No. And no.

As we reflected on one specific piece of art I marvelled how Leonard mixed the blues to distinguish sky and sea. Ute smiled, then said, it was blue indeed. I quickly travelled through the gallery looking anew at the paintings. And you know what? It was true! Now, I could see it — blue indeed found its way into almost all his paintings. Why didn’t I see that at first?

Blue, after all, is my favourite colour too (No political association, though!). And then I pondered further why I couldn’t see what had always been my favourite colour. Had I been distracted by the flashiness of other ‘colours’? Did I take ‘my colour’ for granted? What were ‘the blocks’ inside of me preventing me from seeing what was most important to me? Pride? Anger? Fear? Shame? Greed? Why couldn’t I appreciate fully the beauty that was staring me in the face, for me?

Of course, colours would not exist without the presence of light. In fact, it is how the light is represented in a work of art that brings out the textures and hues created by the paint brush. I also believe that art, like music, serves to reflect back to us an inner state — and that is why art and music can be so powerful conveyors of meaning and truth about ourselves and the world at any given moment in time.

The living Jesus is with us, and in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The love of God propels the Spirit to move us in the the way of Jesus. And yet, we block our sight. We can’t see the light. What are those blocks that keep us from living out of our nature that is being renewed day by day? What keeps us from loving our neighbour? Is it fear of the unknown? Is it a shame that is deeply imbedded? Is it the fire of anger, the pain of regret, the poison of hatred, the paralysis of mistrust?

“Out of his anguish he shall see light” (Isaiah 53:11)

This phrase comes from a larger so-called suffering servant poem from the prophet Isaiah. Christians have read Jesus Christ into the role of the servant even though the text was originally heard among the people of Israel hundreds of years before Christ. The ‘servant’ could refer to the people as a whole suffering in Babylonian exile, or to a specific individual (i.e. Persian King Cyrus /Isaiah 45) who liberated the Israelites and led them home to Jerusalem.

This exegesis is important and we need to tread carefully in working with sacred texts that we share with our Jewish neighbours. We Christians know the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross for our liberation, indeed for the whole world. Jesus fits the suffering servant-narrative from Isaiah. Let’s work with this.

The anguish Jesus experiences in his suffering and death reflects a God who is fundamentally relational. And God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit relates to us in our very own humanity. Thanks to Jesus who showed us the way not just in his divinity but especially in his very own humanity. ‘Anguish’ after all, is a human emotion grounded in love. That is, “to anguish over the loss of a loved one” (online dictionary definition).

Not only does Jesus know our suffering in a shared humanity, he feels for us because of God’s intense love for us. The author of Hebrews is therefore able to describe Jesus as the ultimate high priest, who “is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to [this] weakness” (5:2). In short, Jesus helps us “see the light” because of God’s deep anguish-filled love for us. God grieves losing us to our sin, and will not stop short in going the distance — even sacrificing his own life — so that we too will see things as they truly are, in the brilliance of God.

In prayer, 14th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich reflected the divine stance: “I am light and grace which is all blessed love.” May our words and deeds reflect the light of Christ to our neighbours, in all grace and love.

  

Slave to none, servant to all

Especially at the beginning of a new school year, the gospel story of little children sitting on the lap of Jesus warms my heart. This saccharine image speaks to Jesus’ welcoming the children as we would welcome them to church and the start of a new year of Sunday School programming. 
We tell ourselves, “So should we be towards the children, like Jesus was.” Or, “We should be like the children.” Here perhaps lies the genesis of any motivation and focus of children’s ministry in the church. This act of Jesus witnessed by the bible’s words becomes our authority for action.
Indeed, the Gospel text for this Sunday (Mark 9:30-37) is about God’s view on power and authority. How does authority work, in the kingdom of God? What does it look like?
And it is here, admittedly, we Lutherans get into trouble. We say that authority for a congregation in the Roman Catholic Church is the Pope. We also say that authority for a congregation in the Protestant tradition is the Bible. For Lutherans, it is a former pastor! 🙂
This Gospel story is more about Jesus’ stance vis-a-vis the powers-that-be in society. This is revolutionary and counter-cultural. He makes irrelevant the political-economic-cultural pecking order, as far as the kingdom of God is concerned. The root of the Greek words “servant” and “child”, spoken in the same breath, is virtually the same (pais/paidon); on the basis of vocabulary alone, those who first received this story were principally hearers and not readers. Mark’s Greek-speaking audience would have made the close connection between servant and child. Neither had any real social value.
Therefore, this story describes more a stance towards people in general, an attitude and approach for relating to those who do not have power, who are of particularly low social status. Contrary to what the economic and political powers espouse, Jesus assigns worth and importance to every person (Sharon Ringe in Feasting on the Word Year B Vol 4 eds. David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, WJK Press 2009, p.97).
This is no longer a sweet, warm-fuzzy message as much as it is a direct stab at our social hierarchy of values. And the disciples know it, deep down in their hearts. But they are afraid. In their silence, they betray their weakness and fault in not ‘getting’ Jesus nor willing to ‘go there’.
Jesus didn’t come to pander to power. He didn’t come to play the game. He didn’t come to compete in the smorgasbord of religions in the first century Palestine. He didn’t come to prove that he is right and everyone who doesn’t agree with him is wrong. 
He came to show that God loves everyone, including the lowly servants and children.
Jesus came to turn on its head the regular way of thinking about power. He lifted up children and servants as those who receive the grace and love of God, not just those deserving it because they happen to be higher up on the social pecking order. 
We know how Jesus’ earthly story goes. Jesus was a victim of his ministry of unconditional love, compassion and healing. And how did that go, for Jesus? The Cross. To say he was misunderstood is an understatement. Even his closest friends didn’t understand, or were too afraid, to face the truth of their hearts.
Perhaps we may take from this some measure of comfort, in tough times. For example, if you are ‘thrown under the bus’ by your closest friends, when you are misunderstood, when you are derided and put down for trying to do right, maybe you are indeed on the right track?
On the other hand, when you become puffed up in your righteous defence of the status quo of your life, when you engage in defensive, combative and competitive stances against those who differ — then, well, how is this the way of Jesus? It is not. It is a way, to be sure, heralded by the prevailing culture of human achievement, reputation-defending self-righteousness, one-up-man-ship and glory, yes. But far be it from being the Christian way.
We are asked by the Gospel message to examine our relationships with those in society with little economic or social value. How is our relationship with the physically disabled, the mentally ill, the refugees and newcomers to Canada, young people without direction, those who live on the streets, the poor, the Indigenous people of this land? 
I listened recently to how a graduating university student was deciding which job to take. Upon graduation he was offered a high-paying job from two different well-respected companies at the same time, one in Chicago and one in New York. The student sought advice from his pastor.
“Which job should I take?” he asked. “Both offer similar compensation. But I’m torn as to where I should go — Chicago or New York. Both have pros and cons. What do you think, pastor?”
The pastor hesitated, for a moment. Then he said, “It’s wonderful you have been given the privilege of a job offer. Many young people today don’t have one, let alone two. You are very fortunate.”
“Yeah, right,” the student responded. And quickly added: “But where should I go?”
“I really don’t know,” the pastor mused. “Does it matter?” It’s usually at this point in the session that people realize why pastoral counselling is free. 🙂
I think we tend to lose energy, even waste it, on these kinds of first-world problems. After all, the truth is there is no place we can go, no decision we can make that is out of the reach of God’s grace, love and healing (read Psalm 139). Where there is a fork in the road … take it! 
In most, if not all, of our dilemmas do we acknowledge that no matter what we decide, even for less-than-stellar motivations or for high and righteous ones, God will not abandon us? Because God’s grace will not come up short, ever.
In the end, the Gospel story of Jesus welcoming little children comes to us not a word about how we should act. It’s not primarily about us serving others. Rather, the Gospel is about Jesus serving us.
Jesus asks each of us: How can I serve you? Jesus reflects God’s favour towards us, and all people. Jesus will not do what we so regretfully and naturally fall into — a tit for tat food fight with whatever first-world problems we wrestle, about which we complain, and over which we fight for ‘the advantage’. That’s not what Jesus is about. 
At the same time, Jesus will not stop at our human divisions. If you are at the bottom of the ladder, Jesus will come to you. If you are at the top of the world, Jesus will come to you. Jesus will make the ladders of our lives irrelevant. These ladders of success, upward-mobility and power are nonsense in the kingdom of God. Jesus comes to us all, and asks us — “I will welcome you and serve you. What do you need today, in order to follow me?”

Mandela – true power

 

His life began with aspirations for security and success. His was, like many of ours in youth, a life learning all about – as Richard Rohr puts it – ‘a language of ascent’. He hoped for a safe career as a civil servant.

Then, responding to the ravaged politics of racism, he protested with others in the streets of South Africa and was arrested in a demonstration against apartheid.

He said he was willing to die for the values of equality among people in his divided country.

He didn’t die for his conviction at the time. But was sentenced to life in prison. Early photos of Nelson Mandela show a young, stalwart, brusque-looking man in exercise clothes. The impression is one of strength, emanating a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude. He reminds me in this early time like a boxer about to enter the ring.

Instead, his time in prison taught him ‘a language of descent’, one that religion at its best teaches – teaches us to shed tears, weep, and let go.

What did he do in prison? He befriended his guards, and taught his inmates how to read. When he emerged from prison twenty-seven years later, he was a changed man. He entered prison as a wolf, and emerged more as a lamb willing not so much to dominate and exercise power over his opponents, but to serve them. Of course, it is in this stage of life whilst practicing a language of descent, when Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa.

I don’t think there are many world leaders who demonstrate, like Nelson Mandela did, the qualities of John the Baptist with his raw, initiating energy on the one hand, and the gentle, servant leadership demonstrated by Jesus on the other. And perhaps it is not ours to try to imitate these giants of history.

But maybe ours is the task to recognize our own calling to conviction, pursuit of justice, in the name of Jesus. John the Baptist was making a way clear for one who was to follow, one who was greater than him. Any work on our part to do the right thing will sometimes mean our needs for security and success will take a back seat. We will follow Christ, and make a way clear for him to come again, not by pursuing selfish goals, by hoarding and doing the safe things. But by practicing a language of descent, a letting go of our ego compulsions, and acting out of a conviction of Christ’s love for us, and for all people. As Nelson Mandela once said, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

When we let the light of Christ shine through our lives, the whole world will see and be transformed.

Richard Rohr writes about the role of religion in teaching a language of descent, p.47 “Everything Belongs”, especially to men

Food with Focus

Very few other texts from the Bible generate such passionate discourse in my family and extended family as this one (Luke 10:38-42). So, out of awareness, love and respect for especially the women in my life, I must confess I approach this sermon with a little trepidation. Because this story about Jesus is fraught with some interpretive pitfalls.

To begin, I think it must be said that Jesus is not against being busy and active when helping others, regardless of gender. After all, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus self-describes as a “servant” (Luke 22:26-27; 12:37). So it hardly makes sense to suggest he is admonishing Martha – one of his best friends – for being busy, serving. The first verse of the Gospel text today announces that Martha “welcomed” Jesus into her home; she “opened the door” as some translations have it, to let Jesus in.

Thank God for Martha! She initiated this encounter and made possible, by her invitation, Jesus’ presence and teaching. This story is not about either service or prayer; it’s not choosing one over the other. Both characterize the people of God; both are necessary, holy, and good.

What is more the point, here, is acknowledging and re-connecting – in all our contemplation AND action – with the centre and source of our faith: God, in Christ Jesus.

When serving others in your home, the focus, while mediated through the gift of a shared meal together, is not about the food. It’s about presence of mind and heart. What’s important is being with and connecting with your guest, not fretting and fuming over the food preparation and setting – nor your guest’s reaction to your food.

I know, for some, this might seem a no-brainer, self-evident. But especially for those who can easily get caught up in perfectionist expectations and compulsive people-pleasing ways of being – this is particularly difficult.

The most important thing is the very reason we are making the effort to prepare the food in the first place – the relationship you have and the blessing of the other’s presence with you in your home, your space. First things first.

We don’t know what happened after Jesus spoke. Again, the Gospel leaves it up to us. How did Martha react to Jesus’ admonition? Did she continue fluttering about in her anxiety, cursing under her breath? What did Mary do? For all we know, Mary could have gotten up and started helping Martha. We can only speculate, of course. But would Mary engage the act of service better grounded in purpose and aware of the presence of Jesus in all her busy-ness?

The Gospel story doesn’t tie it up neatly. We may wish the Gospel writer concluded Jesus’ teaching here with a nice, satisfying ending where both Mary and Martha are seen behaving in ways reflecting the teaching of Jesus. But it’s not so, because the transformation – the change – is meant for our lives. How do we act? How will we respond to this scenario? How does this story affect and change our lives?

First, may I suggest that we can apply Mary’s approach to our whole life – not just those prescribed ‘holy’ moments in formal worship on Sunday mornings. But more importantly – as the setting of the Gospel story implies – in our very homes and among our regular, daily relationships with those closest to us. We need to simply observe what is going on. And, in our simple and honest observation, as people of faith, we must first confess that – for one thing, we are distracted.

Some years ago now, Tom Friedman had a column in the New York Times (Nov 1, 2006) entitled “The Taxi Driver”. He told of being driven by cab from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris. During the one-hour trip, he and the driver had done six things: the driver had driven the cab, talked on his cell phone, and watched a video (which was a little nerve-racking!), whereas he had been riding, working on a column on his laptop, and listening to his iPod. “There was only one thing we never did: talk to each other.”

Friedman went on to quote Linda Stone, a technologist, who had written that the disease of the Internet Age is “continuous partial attention.” Perhaps it is not only the disease of the Internet age; perhaps it has always been with us, and just the causes of our inattention have altered (cited from James Wallace in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Proper 11, page 267). That is why today, one of the most confounding verses in the Bible is Paul’s instruction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) because how can we pray always when we are plagued with “continuous partial attention”. Antidote – we need to pray more, and focus our mind and heart.

Laurence Freeman, leader in the World Community for Christian Meditation, suggests that the problem we find today among even good Christian people is this division between heart and mind. The heart wants to do, and the mind is distracted. Once the mind is focused and aligned with the heart, a person can discover the peace of Christ. And then, all activity is done mindful of the presence of Jesus – in all situations and circumstances of life.

A posture of listening before speaking. An approach to another that communicates – “I first seek to understand you” before spouting YOUR opinion. An attitude of inner stillness that is focused and undivided on the intent and purpose of whatever it is that you do.

In many ways the history of this congregation, from the early days in the 1950s when this space we sit in today was built, through the 1990s when the addition was built and then early in the last decade the parsonage was sold – in many ways our history has revolved around bricks and mortar. Has this been the ‘food’ of our ministry?

There is little doubt in my mind now that I’ve been with you over a year that the issue of ‘building’ has been not only front and foremost in your minds in recent years. But, also, the energy for this project is gathering momentum again.

The question is – and perhaps this text can serve for us some guidance – is it going to be just about the ‘food’? Or, will the ‘food’ be guided by the ‘focus’? Will any plans to build or renovate be fueled by a mission focus? I hope so. With the understanding that first and foremost Jesus is found both in here and out there? That the Jesus in me sees the Jesus in you? That any building be grounded in purpose and function and Christian vision.

You heard the famous Japanese proverb? That vision without action is daydreaming; but action without vision is a nightmare.

How do we change the mind? “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind …” (Romans 12:2) Paul writes in his letter to the Romans. In contemplating a changed life offered by Jesus, I think we need to appreciate the very possibility and health around changing the way we think; that is, changing our attitudes, our beliefs, that underpin all that we do. Especially those beliefs and attitudes that serve only to keep us stuck in unhealthy ways of being.

Michael Harvey, in his book, Unlocking the Growth; You’ll be Amazed at your Church’s Potential (Monarch Books, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2012, p.18), writes about neuroplasticity, which looks at how our brains work. Scientists have discovered the brain is ‘plastic’ and ‘malleable’. In other words, our brains are not simply ‘hard-wired’ from childhood. Life experiences beyond those critical early years can change the brain.

When they study stroke victims, they discovered that each time someone repeats a movement or action, a neuro-pathway in the brain is formed initially as a scratch. But each time it is repeated it becomes deeper and deeper until it becomes automatic, a habit. You may have heard the advice that if you want to start a new, healthy discipline – like exercise or some diet – you need to do it on each of 21 consecutive days before it’s a habit.

The concept of neuroplasticity suggests to me that should we focus our attention – our minds – on what we want to change, and then repeat it frequently enough the thought or belief will take root, and then affect our behaviour. That’s the power of the mind.

How do we change the heart? Those like Martha usually start with action. So, simply start behaving in better ways. Start acting “as if” you are healed. As if we are thriving. As if we are transformed people of God inheritors of the kingdom. As if we are children of God – loved, redeemed, forgiven, saved. Start acting it! That’s the power of the heart.

And when the mind and heart are aligned in the awareness of the steadfast, constant, unconditional presence of Jesus, peace reigns in our lives and our action and contemplation are grounded, clear, and focused.

In Saint Paul’s words, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).