Called to the Contrasts by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

Proper 5, June 5

1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)
Psalm 146
Gal. 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
(Psalm 146:2)

The Psalms are full of contrasts. They sing praise and pain, rejoicing and rejection, devotion and despair, often seemingly in one breath. It can be confusing to read; it goes against all we are taught as communicators. We are supposed to formulate one solid thesis, with ample supporting evidence. We are expected to write, and to preach, with one focused message. (Though if you’re a good traditional Baptist preacher, and then you’re allowed to impart that message using three alliterative points and a poem!) Even as readers, we typically prefer to hear a single unified perspective.

The back-and-forth nature of the Psalms can leave us wondering, and even exhausted! But we can take comfort in the contrasts of the Psalms; they are an honest reflection of real life (which itself can leave us wondering and exhausted!). The Psalms teach us to see hope even while we experience dismay. They speak honestly of anger, even while softening into love.

They recognize the allure of fleeting worldly power, and hold it up against the never-ending faithfulness of God. They tell the truth about mortality, that we all return to the earth, and they remind us that the praise of God lasts for all generations.

They even show us contrasts that we know so well we don’t need to read about them. We already know the world fills its cells with prisoners–but the Psalms tell us God sets them free! We know the world makes the ungodly famous–but the Psalms tell us God knocks down the wicked! We look at our systems, our laws, our reactions to scary events, and we know the world isn’t inclined to bend over backward for strangers, or the hungry, or the family-less–but the Psalms tell us God upholds them! The Psalms show us we worship a God of contrasts. For those who are oppressed, God brings justice! For those who are bent down, God lifts them! In the world of perishing princes, God reigns forever!

The Psalms call us, too, to be a people of contrasts. We know the world is full of harsh, angry, even hateful words–but the Psalms invite us to sing out in joy! And we know this life is fleeting, a breath, a blink–but the Psalms invite us to join our voices to the countless generations of praise!

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.


THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Sharon Koh

Each Friday Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and this week we are excited to introduce Sharon Koh.

Sharon, tell us about your ministry journey.
For a missionary kid, it is difficult for me to figure out when I started serving our Lord. My parents talk about how eager I was to host Bible studies in our home, even though I was still in diapers. My ministry journey probably started when I served as youth president while I was in my teenage years. Soon after that, I became the leader of an evangelistic outreach group while I was in college, and eventually, I worked as a pastoral intern while I was at Fuller Theological Seminary. I have been serving as the senior associate pastor of Community Life and Mission at Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles for the past eleven years. My church, in partnership with other churches in our American Baptist Churches-USA region, American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles, Southwest and Hawaii, ordained me in 2007.

Tell us about your new position and what work you will be doing.
American Baptist International Ministries is a 202-year-old mission-sending organization. On September 1, 2016, I will step into the long line of amazing people who have served as executive director of this historic agency. I am both humbled and excited about what God wants to do in and through me at such a time as this. The honor of being called by the board unanimously and warmly welcomed by the staff, missionaries, and stake-holders of International Ministries is one that makes me desire to be found faithful in this next chapter of our life together.

What challenges have you encountered along the way in ministry?
Honestly, God has written an amazing ministry story for me. While there have been some very dark moments along the way, I have never doubted God’s guiding and loving presence. I find that most of the time, in hindsight, the challenges I thought were insurmountable were simply growing pains from God being at work in me.

What is the best ministry advice you have received?
The best advice that I have received is that my worth and identity is in Christ alone.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Seminarian by Jaime Fitzgerald

I am two-thirds of the way finished with my seminary career, and I cannot imagine the journey without my village of people, who have walked beside me and cheered me on. At times, my seminary classes have been rigorous, and much learning has taken place within those classrooms, but what been true for me is I have learned much more about ministry outside of the classroom. Those extracurricular lessons have been learned during afternoon porch chats, conversation over coffee, serving with classmates in a ministry setting, and in moments of vulnerability when life was overwhelming or uncomfortable. The life lessons I have encountered through my village can be pretty well summed up in five ways:

1. Being a non-anxious presence is both essential and challenging. I have experienced the power of non-anxious presence within my community and have been given the freedom to ‘not be okay’ when there has been loss, grief, anger, or disappointment. I have learned that both tears and laughter are healing balms.

2. Hospitality is a gift. The feeling of welcome and full acceptance is beautiful and life giving. My village has shown me the gift of hospitality by driving long distances to share a meal or coffee with me when my life has seemed uncertain. My village has invited me into their homes and shared their families so that we could do life together.

3. Vulnerability creates a sense of belonging. The gift of vulnerability within my village has not come to me easily. It is hard for me to vocalize the struggles that I am facing or to share the emotions I am feeling. Yet being vulnerable with my community has lessened my anxiety and fear of not being loved or accepted. Through creating space for the uncomfortable and ugly pieces of ourselves, we gain the ability for confidence and holistic living to bloom.

4. Everyone is different, and that is wonderful. Both inside and outside of the classroom I have learned that my village does not have to only include people who think, look, or act like me. Seminary is like a salad, where people come together to learn and grow with one another, while embracing and celebrating the uniqueness of each individual.

5. Perfectionism hinders relationships. Perfectionism is a daily struggle for me so much so that at times I have been immobilized by the fear that my friends and colleagues will peel back a layer of me and realize that I am far from perfect. This fear has kept me from speaking in class, from applying for jobs, and from building relationships with people. What I have learned through doing life within community is that at some level we all struggle with perfectionism. I have learned that sometimes we just have to show up no matter how messy or not put together we may seem because we matter. Each of us has something wonderful to offer to the world and to our village.

This week let’s take time to celebrate our villages. No matter what stage of life, we all have a group of people who are on our team no matter what. I am grateful for my seminary–for my professors and classmates. I am thankful that I can grow and learn from one another as a village.

Dear Church, How Do You Count? by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

For Proper 4c, May 29, 2016

1 Kings 18:20-21 (22-29) 30-39
Psalm 96
Gal. 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

“Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people?” (Gal. 1:10)

It’s important to be able to count. If you can count, you can tell how good you are.

Sales rankings. Bestseller lists.
Nielson ratings. Advertising spots.
Mouse clicks. Site traffic.
Over Six Billion Served.

Don’t like your numbers? Change your approach, refine your message, sharpen your marketing. Then count again:

Polls. Delegates. Votes.

And maybe even:
Visitors. Baptisms. Tithes.

We have all been trained to recognize that what is popular is good—that numbers matter–so it’s only natural that churches may expect to be evaluated by the same standard. Success equals numbers: count the names on the roll, count the pennies in the plate, count the number of fliers hung on neighborhood doorknobs, count the clicks on our website. If people like what we’re doing, they’ll come, they’ll give, they’ll tell their friends (and they’ll come, and they’ll give). Our numbers will improve. We’ll be on the right track. And that’ll be good news!

That’s the way businesses need to count. And candidates, and advertisers, and filmmakers.

But as the people of God, we must learn to count differently, because the numbers that matter to us are not popularity, but belovedness. Not success, but story. Our numbers are moments of life. Our numbers are ways of being known. Our numbers are not just good news; they are Gospel.

Numbers like 40: rainy nights in the ark, years wandering in the wilderness, days in the desert. And numbers like 12: sons of Israel, disciples of Jesus. And 3: visitors to Abraham, days in the tomb, persons of the Trinity. Then there are the numbers only God knows: the moments in the Fullness of Time. The hairs on your head.

We have the difficult task to serve a world that counts differently than we do. We have an even more difficult task, to love and teach and nurture people who desperately need to be set free from the tyranny of counting–and from being counted, as if they were commodities themselves. Like us, they need to be released from the need to number all the ways they are pleasing people and gaining popularity. Because when our faith is in our approval ratings, counting becomes our religion. Then instead of disciples we will have become accountants, with a balance book instead of a testimony. And instead of church we will have become a corporation, answering the whims of the market instead of the call of the grace of Christ.
 

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.


THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Kim Chafee

Each week Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and this week we are thrilled to introduce Kim Chafee.

Kim, tell us about your ministry journey–where all you have served, what you are doing now.
It took me a while to get to where I was supposed to be–at least, ministry-wise! I was born and raised in a Southern Baptist church in the Deep South. Although I was involved in music within my church from a very early age, I never considered becoming a minister because there were no female ministers to emulate. None.

Over the years, my love of church music continued as I was involved in several churches, and then in the Baptist Student Union during my college years at the University of Montevallo, where I met my husband. Following graduation, we got married and headed to seminary. . .for him. Again, I had not considered that God might call me into ministry, even though I had participated in spring break and summer missions work and had an affinity for church work.

In 1993, my husband and I ended up on the mission field, in Zambia, where we served for five years. The agency that sent us gave the husband the primary call and designation, while the wife was always given the label of “church and home missionary,” no matter her gifts or abilities. But, while in Zambia, I was able to direct the seminary choir and serve on the board of directors for the seminary.

Following our return home, my husband continued to work in the missions home office, as I did, briefly. It was then that I felt led to apply for seminary. I began attending the Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond–very slowly at first, again hearing the voices from my past that relayed a certain acceptable narrow role for Christian women. I graduated from seminary in 2005, the same month that my oldest child graduated from high school.

While I attended seminary, I was also on staff as part-time music director at a church, where I was later ordained. I had never felt such support for women in ministry. We eventually moved to Virginia Beach, where I worked in several churches as music minister while my husband served on staff with a different congregation. During that time I felt the urge to look into chaplaincy and was accepted into the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Sentara Norfolk General, a Level 1 Trauma Center in Norfolk, Virginia.

I am now a chaplain with Sentara Hospice, where I minister to end-of-life patients and their families. I am the primary chaplain at the Hospice House, a twelve-bed in-patient facility that serves hospice patients who are in crisis–perhaps dealing with uncontrolled pain or other symptoms–who can’t be cared for in their home or a nursing facility. Patients and families are facing intense difficulty and are often in need of spiritual resources. I consider it a privilege to play an active role in their care. End-of-life is, in my opinion, a sacred time.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest sources of joy have been those individuals who have accepted and encouraged me in my role as a minister, who happens to be a female. Before I became a chaplain, I served in four different Baptist congregations as a music minister and worship leader, and of the four pastors I worked with, only the two Cooperative Baptist Fellowship pastors believed in the equality of the female minister (and females in general).

My greatest joy in ministry comes as I sit at the bedside of a dying patient, offering spiritual and emotional support by praying, singing, reading scripture, and conversing. Being present with someone who is standing at the door of eternity is an awesome privilege, especially in a society that does not do a very good job of caring for the dying. Hospice is an extraordinary gift to patient and family.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
The denomination in which I was raised–the Southern Baptist Convention–has been my greatest source of challenge in ministry. As my views regarding the role of women have evolved over the years, it has become one of my passions in life to encourage all Christians to understand and hold an accurate biblical view and understanding of their sisters in Christ; and to relay to them the message that God has invited us to the table–to an equal portion and measure of God’s grace and giftedness, and to an equal calling, as evidenced by a faithful, honest, and accurate theological interpretation of scripture.

In my role as chaplain, I am blessed to work with individuals who have that understanding, but every once in a while I receive feedback that infers, or blatantly states, that I am unwelcome at the table, at least in the capacity of a leader. Most recently, our church is in the process of seeking a new pastor. Rumor around the church was that we would take a turn to the “liberal side” by considering calling a female pastor. While I respect my husband’s call as a minister within this congregation, it made me very sad to think that I will probably never be a member of a church that completely welcomes me in my calling–although there are some individuals there who do. I am thankful that God has provided the ministry of chaplaincy to me, where I am free to use all of my gifts and abilities freely, for God’s glory.

What is the best ministry advice you have received?
One of my favorite seminary professors, Dan Bagby, honored me by speaking at my ordination. He told the story of a musician conducting her greatest performance in a large, impressive venue. She knew that the author–the master conductor–who wrote the piece, was in the audience. Dr. Bagby’s encouragement to me, words that I have framed on my desk, and attempt to live by, was: “And my hope for you, dear singer, is that when the music stops, and the orchestra leaves, and the people are all gone, that you’ll hear the voice of the Master say to you, ‘Well done, Kim! Well Done! You played the music just like I wrote it–well done!’ May you play the good music in your heart, Kim–it’s there–and remember who wrote it!”

My prayer is that, as a woman in ministry, I would be faithful to God’s gifting and calling in my life, that I would present an accurate representation of God’s grace and faithfulness, and that I would represent Christ well–that He would someday say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

More of Kim’s writing can be found on her blog, Sometimes God Sings.

Twenty-seven Words by Lauren Brewer Bass

I can tell you exactly how many words I can write in the Khmer script: twenty-seven. I’ve been studying the language spoken in Cambodia for just over five months now, and those twenty-seven written words—with curls to the left, squiggles on top, silent letters, and incomprehensible spelling rules—are hard won. Also almost incomprehensible is that just about one year ago a book that I wrote was published. A whole book. This year, even after lots of hard work, I cannot yet write my name in this this country’s script.

Life and ministry has changed a lot in the last year.

Almost nothing in my life these days looks like my life in Colorado a year ago. Back in the States I was operating on high octane—juggling to-do lists, completing side projects, meeting up with people almost every day of the week, occasionally speaking publicly. I can only look back with wonder at that pace and all I was able to accomplish. At this point in my life and ministry in Cambodia, I consider it a win if I can make a moment’s worth of small talk with our building’s security guard. If there’s food in our apartment’s mini-fridge, and the ants haven’t completely taken over the kitchen—a success. If I only have enough energy to make it through language school and homework, and all I can do is collapse on the couch in front of the fan for the rest of the evening, I’m thankful.

I was prepared for the first few weeks of our life here to be an exhausting time of transition, and it was. (I’ll spare you the story of our first meal in our apartment that took two hours to cook and almost that long to clean.) Yet, weeks turned into months, and though my cooking times improved, my energy level were still not back up to where it was in a country with central air-conditioning, a language that I understand, and Amazon Prime. David and I have worked hard to learn how to say hundreds of words in Khmer but found that still only left us with advanced-toddler level communication skills. While I knew our transition would be full of new and challenging situations, when those challenges persisted I had to come face to face with the narrative I have absorbed from a young age that tells me that limits are placed in our path to push us into another gear, to get us to work harder. I had to question whether not conquering those limits—in life and in ministry—meant I wasn’t succeeding.

If Cambodia has taught me anything in these last six months, it’s that God did indeed make me with limits (food poisoning is a potent reminder, should I forget). Not learning to respect those limits makes me a fool, not a hero. In a season full of learning, God has been showing me that limits are not always something to conquer and push. Slow is often an appropriate pace. It’s ok not to know everything. Feeling like I don’t have much to offer might be just where God wants me. I’ve learned that ministry does not mean that I always know what I am doing or what’s going on around me.

What have I learned better than ever? Ministry is about showing up. Showing up with a stutter. Showing up embarrassingly sweaty. Showing up with a limp. Showing up to church week after week without much more than a smile to communicate with.

Ministry has changed a lot for me in the last year, and so has my capacity. Yet, despite the changes and my limitations, I’m showing up—with twenty-seven words and counting.
 

Lauren Brewer Bass and her husband, David, live and serve as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They blog regularly at www.davidandlaurenbass.com. Lauren is also the author of Five Hundred Miles: Reflections on Calling & Pilgrimage.

Three Times One Is Three, of Course by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

Trinity Sunday, May 22

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Rom. 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

“Everything that the Father has is mine. That’s why I said that the Spirit takes what is mine and will proclaim it to you.” John 16:15

Trinity Sunday just begs to be written up like a “Schoolhouse Rock” song. (You know you want to Google “Three is a Magic Number” now. Go ahead and watch it on YouTube. It’s only three minutes long—no kidding!)

Besides teaching ear-catching multiplication, the song echoes many of the symbols and images that have been called upon over the years to help us understand the “ancient, mystic Trinity,” the three distinct Persons who are the one unique God. The three legs of a table. The three sides and three corners of a triangle. The heart and the brain and the body (or, in more biblical terms, the heart and soul and strength). Faith and hope and charity (or, in more NRSV terms, faith, hope and love).

As one of the world’s monotheistic religions–like Judaism and Islam–we believe in One God. But Christianity is rebellious, difficult. We claim to believe in One God who is also Three. We claim it’s possible to be both monotheistic and trinitarian, to believe in the One and the Three at once. We don’t just believe in the table or in the triangle; we believe in each leg, each side and each corner.

And we believe that each leg, each side, each corner has its own character. They are not interchangeable. They are not indistinguishable. They don’t meld together and disappear into a generic “table” or “triangle” or “God,” but remain distinct, each contributing a particular, individual role to the relationship that is the Holy.

Three, times One.

Though the Bible never says the word “Trinity,” Jesus loved to draw triangles, connecting the dots between himself and God and the Spirit. As Jesus was trying to prepare his followers for the time when he would leave them, he was making sure they saw more than his own “side” and his own “corner.” He wanted them to see the whole triangle: the stable, complete unity of Jesus with his Father (who sent him, who shared everything with him) and the Spirit (who comes to interpret, to proclaim, to guide).

Two millennia of Christian theology have not helped us to verbalize the Trinity any more clearly than Jesus himself did when he taught his first followers. Church history is fraught with arguments over the concept, and perhaps the limitations of our language are mostly to blame. We become tongue-tied when we try to explain how three and one are different and the same, separate but single, unique but united. Eventually, even our best symbols pale in contrast to the truth. Even our catchiest songs fade away.

And maybe it’s just as well. Maybe words and images need to be gently set aside when their helpfulness wanes, when they become fodder for councils and committees, when we start using them as weapons to determine orthodoxy (what “we” believe) and heresy (what “they” believe).

On Trinity Sunday, we read the words of Jesus, rejoice in the works of God, and rest in the promise of the Spirit. However we imagine it, however we express it, however we rhyme it or multiply it, however we draw our triangles and however we build our tables, we affirm this rebellious, difficult belief: these Three are One. Forever and ever, world without end.

Of course.

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Leigh Halverson

Each Friday Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and this week we are thrilled to introduce Leigh Halverson.

Tell us about your ministry journey–the places and ways you have served.
I was fortunate to have been raised in a Christian home, with a family who believed faith was a priority. As a result, I had a solid foundation of faith with which to recognize and accept a call to ministry. That calling came in December 2001 as I was serving as a student ministry intern at my home church, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

During my seminary studies, I was fortunate to serve at the Moncrief Baptist Center and Northeast Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Following seminary, I moved to Jefferson City, Missouri, where I served at First Baptist Church as the associate pastor of children and families from 2008-2014. In 2014, I accepted a call to serve as the children’s minister at First Baptist Church, Huntsville, Alabama.

What are the sources of greatest joy in your ministry?
The most life giving moments to me are when I am involved with a small group and have quality time with children and families. I love when a family invites me to a child’s ball game, recital, or just over to play. Those experiences with families open so many doors for faith conversations and provide me with opportunities to walk alongside a family in the totality of their life, not just their church life.

Who has inspired you along the way as you have lived out your calling?
I trace the foundation of my call to ministry back to my grandmother. When I was a young child, she taught me Philippians 4:13 and would have me say that verse to her before I left her house. I didn’t know it at the time, but that message gave me the ability to dream a life without barriers. I never hesitated to answer my call to ministry, even as a woman, because I had been reared to believe that all things were possible with Christ. I’ve also been blessed with countless prayer warriors and encouragers who have poured into my life and have supported me all along the way.

What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is sensing a call to
ministry?

Pursue it! Ask your church for opportunities to begin exploring your call. Try to find someone who would be willing to mentor you as you seek out opportunities to lead in worship, to help in the church office, to visit the hospital, and to pray with people. And most importantly, develop a strong habit of spending time with God daily. In ministry a lot of time can be spent doing things for God but that does not replace spending time with God.

The Gift of Lament by Stacy Sergent

Not long ago, I was chaplain to the father of a dying child. As he attempted to express his anger over the unfairness of the situation, a well-meaning family member stopped him, placed a hand on his shoulder, and said, “Now, it won’t do any good to get angry. And you know we can’t question God.” During the remainder of the time I spent with the family, I did my best to gently correct those assumptions.

At least in the short-term, anger is a very normal and healthy part of the grief process, and expressing anger can certainly do good for the one facing a loss. For many, particularly those whose faith is an important part of life, some of the anger gets directed at God, which can be scary, whether the harsh words are coming from them or someone close to them. Fortunately, there is a long history of such expressions of grief, even in sacred scripture.

Written by God’s people in times of great suffering, exile, war, and persecution, psalms of lament voice desires for all sorts of evil to fall upon one’s enemies. The grieving sometimes cry out in anguish for God and other times angrily tell God to turn away, accusing God of being the cause of suffering. This kind of language is exactly what I heard from the grieving father about to lose his child, and the inclusion of such laments in the Bible allowed me to encourage, not suppress, his expression of those feelings.

God understands our need to vent the darkness in our souls during times of grief. Biblical scholar Walter Bruegemann, in his book Praying the Psalms, states that the lament psalms set an example of a therapeutic process for dealing with such anger. First, we give voice to the anger. Second, we submit it to another–in this case, God. And finally, we let go of the anger and desire for vengeance, trusting God to take care of it.

This progression of grief can be seen in the beautiful poetry of Susan E. Vollmer, written in the months after the love of her life died of cancer.* In one of her poems, Vollmer raged at the disease. “How much destruction and despair does there need to be before you die a miserable death like those you took away? I hope you bleed and shiver and writhe in anguish and pain,” she wrote. In other poems, she spoke honestly about her lack of trust in God’s plan and her struggle to hold on to faith. Ultimately, though, once she had expressed her anger, she entrusted her own hurting soul to the God who stands with outstretched arms–even in the face of our anger–when she wrote, “you fell into the arms of the One who caught you.”

As a minister to those who are hurting, I try to express that God is the Lord of both joy and lament, the One who is strong enough to handle all of our honest and frightening emotions. When we most need to express our hurt and anger, God is perhaps closer than ever to us. To question and rage at God is not, as some fear, a sign of lost faith. In the face of grief, a lament may be the most authentic, and biblical, expression of faith there is.

Stacy N. Sergent is a graduate of the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University. She is a CBF-endorsed chaplain at MUSC Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Her first book is Being Called Chaplain: How I Lost My Name and (Eventually) Found My Faith.

*Susan Vollmer’s poems appeared in The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling, June 2010.

Beyond the Byte: John 14:8-17 by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

Pentecost, May 15

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17
John 14:8-17

“Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.” (John 14:8)

The Bible isn’t built for sound-bytes. The Bible is a tapestry of teachings, a web of wondrous acts, a cluster of cells: intimately interconnected, growing, complex and astounding.

We have conveniently accommodated the Bible to our sound-byte society.

One of our favorite bytes precedes today’s reading from the Gospel of John. It’s John 14:6: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” In many contemporary Christian circles, this verse is the End All Be All. Once this text is quoted in any argument–I mean, discussion–there is nothing left to say. It’s treated as a stand-alone, a theological sound byte that says everything we need to know, contains everything it takes to determine whether someone is in or out, a Christian or not. Cut and dried. Done and dusted.

Except—in the scripture, the conversation doesn’t end there. It’s only beginning.

Even the disciples, Jesus’ closest personal friends and followers, struggled to understand his teachings (a helpful reminder that perhaps we–distanced by two thousand years, six thousand miles, and a language that didn’t even exist back then–should be a bit more humble whenever we think we know exactly what Jesus was talking about). Philip, hearing “No one comes to the Father except through me…” didn’t say, “Oh, perfect, now we know exactly who’s in!” He said: “Lord, show us the Father.”

Sometimes I imagine Jesus rolling his eyes at his disciples’ thick-headedness. Other times I imagine him as an eternally patient Mr. Rogers type, always willing to take his followers by the hand and gently lead them toward understanding.

When Philip said “Show us the Father,” Jesus reminded Philip of what he has already seen: Jesus himself. Everything Jesus did was what God was doing. Every lesson, every story, every prayer Jesus spoke was God’s lesson, God’s story, God’s prayer. Every healing, every feeding, every welcome Jesus enacted was God’s healing, God’s feeding, God’s welcoming.

You want to see God’s way? Look at Jesus: he reaches out to sinners, to foreigners, to children, to women, to the broken and the unclean.

You want to hear God’s truth? Listen to Jesus: he teaches homecoming for the prodigal, generosity to the worker, searching out the lost, readiness for the kingdom.

You want to live in God’s eternal life? Live like Jesus: he’s at dinner with the outcasts. He’s in the boat with the fearful. He’s up to his elbows in soapy water, on his knees scrubbing road dust from tired feet. He’s in the garden, weeping, praying his own sorrows and praying God’s will.

You want to come to the Father? Come with Jesus on his way, to his truth, in his life. You want to see the Father? Look at Jesus, and look at his followers; because when he says, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,” (John 14:12) it’s not just a sound byte. It’s an invitation to see God in the threads of Jesus’ teachings, in the web of his actions. It’s an invitation to count ourselves among the cells of his body: intimately interconnected, growing, complex and astounding.

That will be enough for us.
 

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.