Sanctuary

It’s Wednesday night, at the courtyard at the Episcopal Church Center in Ocean Beach…

The time for the Eucharistic service was fast approaching, 5:30…and we were scurrying to set up the altar, the chairs , distribute bulletins and invitations,  find volunteer readers in “the congregation” …

The congregation of The Right Here, Right Now Church…the congregation of people gathered outside the locked courtyard gates ….waiting to see someone in the clinic, waiting to get in line for the Wednesday night supper, waiting to pick through some clothes and shoes offered on a table in the courtyard…And some, when invited, were waiting for the services to begin.

Some were waiting just to have a place to sit down other than the street…waiting to lay down, other than in a doorway or alley, or behind bushes hidden from those wishing they weren’t in front of their businesses or homes. Because then, they were fully visible: the homeless, hungry, sick, the exhausted; exhausted from keeping always on the move. Because then, when fully visible, those businesses owners and home owners had to deal with their own sense of shame, their own selfishness.

This particular Wednesday evening was lighter than usual…a few remarked, “It’s been lighter these last few Wednesdays for the dinner too.” It’s now against the law to sleep on the street, or doorways.  Now, tickets are issued, to those found sleeping in public places, people are “moved along”, their belongings thrown away. Some say that’s why. Others say there are other places to go on Wednesday night.

This particular Wednesday evening, after the gates were finally opened,and our service began,  a small, slow-moving woman came in and laid on the bench closest to the gate.  She covered herself up to her chin with a worn blanket, and was shivering, as if from a fever.  We came by and offered her communion…but she wasn’t able to take it…she thanked us for offering…but she seemed almost too weak to lift her head.

Later I saw the priest who officiated at the service anoint her, pray with her, and gently pull the blanket up to her shoulders, bringing a small amount of comfort to her.

And it occurred to me; we are embroiled in heated rhetoric, spending money, time and energy over securing sanctuary cities for the undocumented immigrants coming into our country; and with those same voices, with the same money, using their energies to keep our homeless, poor and sick on the streets away, dislodged, and without sanctuary- except at places like the ECC; and even then, the gate is locked until WE are ready to let them in.

Prayer 35 in Book of Common Prayer: ” Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick and all who have none to care for them.  Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy.”

Can we be strong enough to say, “Here we are LORD; at your service. Send us to care for them…to heal their brokenness, with your love and comfort”?

Maybe the first step is to pray, “Unlock the gates of our hearts LORD. Help us to offer them sanctuary there, where your healing love and light resides”.  Amen.

 

 

 

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Three Sad Words

Easter 3 Sermon

“We had hoped.” Perhaps the three saddest words in the Gospels- and our own lives.

“We had hoped…”

When the stranger on the road asked them what they were talking about, they stopped still on the road, and with downcast faces, looked at each other with eyes full of grief, knowing and remembering and recounting what happened…

“We had hoped…”

For the last three years of Jesus’ ministry, despite what Jesus told them, they had hoped he was the messiah, the one, at last, to redeem Israel, overthrow their oppressors and sit on the throne of David, restoring Israel to glory.

But, instead of a warrior, they received a servant

Instead of a judge, they witnessed a loving healer of sinners

Instead of defeating the oppressive Roman rule he taught forgiveness and love for their enemies

Instead of a king, they saw him crucified as a criminal

Crucified on a cross, the symbol of Rome around the world to anyone who would dare to defy their domination and oppression: a sign that “this will be your painful, brutal fate if you dare cross the line”.

A feared and hated symbol.

Christ dying on the cross broadcasted a message to everyone following Jesus; “We crucified him, put him to death, there would be no “kingdom come”. Your Jesus is no king, no messiah and never was”.

They had hoped “he was the one to redeem Israel…” Yet when Jesus was crucified, every single disciple knew what it meant; they thought, “We had put our hopes in Jesus. ‘We saw him as a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people’ … but he was crucified. We got it all wrong, he wasn’t the One. We “backed the wrong horse”[1], they confessed to the stranger.  All their expectations were demolished…their hope in those expectations died with Jesus on the cross.

They had seen him dead and wouldn’t even believe the women of their community when they insisted he was alive and they’d seen him the very morning they had started to walk to Emmaus.  This, to them was their new reality. They expected a very different outcome.

Their expectations blinded them. Expectations of their own personal and political redemption. Expectations SO much smaller than what GOD intends. They totally misunderstood how God was working to save the world.

Their eyes were so blinded by their own personal expectations they didn’t see the risen Christ, in the flesh, on the same dusty road to Emmaus, walking beside them.

Then Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, himself, as Luke tells us, begins to tell the entire story of God and Israel, and God and the WORLD in a new way to the disciples; in the glowing light of his resurrection.

The story re-told in the light of Christ’s resurrection…brought awareness of God’s presence and God’s all-encompassing, unsurpassable love for the world…From Genesis -right down to those two on that dusty road.  

Then they asked him to stay with them, have dinner with them at a stop in Emmaus. 

“He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…” They see!

They see God’s grace freely given …faith restored. They were blind, now they see! “

Their personal expectations could no longer match what God had done. Instead of their hope being confined by their expectations, hope soared to the heavens. This new reality was more than they expected. Much more.

——————

Hope restored. Hope not just for those two disciples on their way to Emmaus…but for the world. For US.

Most of us have been on that dusty road to Emmaus at one time or another…walking slowly, with downcast faces. Our hopes crushed, our fears paralyzing us, our hearts broken.  There are some here today who are walking on that road…

“We had hoped she would recover,” “We had hoped to save our marriage”, “We had hoped the cancer was in remission,” “We had hoped …”

We are disappointed because we don’t see God doing what we expect him to do. We feel lost and without the presence of God near.

We might feel like those two disciples, and say, “How could you let that happen, GOD?!”

But remember what Jesus does first in his walk alongside the two disciples? He asks questions…he asks them to tell him what is making them so sad, and then he listens.

Jesus knows their pain and grief are real…But he invites them to “name” their pain and grief so it would be possible to move beyond it on the road; to create room in their hearts for God’s grace, (“were not our hearts burning?”) room for them to believe God would show up in their lives – just where they least expected it. [2]

Some of us only need seven miles on that dusty road to find Jesus walking beside us, others may feel like it’s 70 or 700. Some never get to Emmaus. It takes time to move from despair, doubt, grief and fear to faith, hope, and love-

I believe this congregation is willing and ready (as some already have) to travel on that road to Emmaus with those of us who are feeling crushed, paralyzed and broken by events in our lives …events in our lives we don’t understand…events that leave us longing for a different outcome…events our own small expectation of GOD just didn’t live up to.

We can take a cue from our Lord Jesus…We can walk alongside those who are walking on that road with downcast faces, and ask them to name what is troubling them, ask them to “confess” all the difficult elements in their lives out loud; instead of keeping them all bottled up inside…and help them allow God’s grace, forgiveness and acceptance make a space in their lives for a new reality; A reality filled with joy for God’s amazing grace and love.

We can take that journey together from the cross to empty grave and from death to life. We can turn each other’s disappointment into joy. We can help open eyes to the Risen Savior walking next to us…

Throwing our own small, limited expectations of God aside, knowing God will exceed our expectations and surprise us with his love… and be willing to trust God and each other with our hearts.

I’d like to end with a quote from William Gurnall, author and clergyman in the 17th century:

“Hope fills the afflicted soul with such joy and consolation that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath”

Open your hearts to Joy. Open your hearts to Grace. Open your hearts to God’s incredible Love. All these are right next to you on the road to Emmaus.

 

 

 

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Joy pg. 40-41

[2] David Lose, In the Meantime

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OPEN YOUR HEART DOORS

Homily preached at ECC Courtyard  Right Here, Right Now Church: 3/6/16

John 15:1-11

In John’s Gospel today, Jesus is teaching his disciples and preparing them for his departure from this world…assuring them of his love.  Teaching one last time before Judas brings the Temple guards into the garden to arrest him.

Did you catch the word that is said about 12 times in this short passage?  What was it?  Abide

Now, abide can mean many things, but in this Gospel reading today, the word abide means, “to make your home (in)” Jesus tells his disciples that he has made a home (lives in) their hearts, and they live in his heart-

He tells us that he loves us just the way the Father has loved him. He invites us to be at home in his love.  There is one catch; we need to “keep his commands” to stay in this home.

But his commands are pretty simple: Love the Lord God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength AND love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus is telling us to love one another, to abide, to live in each other’s hearts…to find our home there, in a place like no other.

While the world outside doesn’t seem to have a home open for you…Jesus does.

And he’s here, right now, opening the door to his heart – for you to live and abide in forever.  All it takes is for you to open your “heart doors” to Him; and the address will never change, you will never be foreclosed upon, you won’t be evicted, you can unpack all the burdens you’ve been carrying around for years and they will be taken care of, lifted off of your shoulders, here… at this, your new home.  Your forever home.   AMEN

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FLOOD THIS PLACE

Sermon Preached at All Souls’ Episcopal Church, San Diego

Second Sunday of Easter: PS 118:14-29, Acts 5:27-32, John 20:19-31

“Holy Spirit You are welcome here, Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory God is what our hearts long for, To be overcome by Your presence, Lord.” — These beautiful lyrics are from a popular contemporary Christian song by The Jesus Culture…

Holy Spirit “Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere”. What a visual that is for me…

In Acts and in the Gospel today, we see the power of the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of the disciples…giving courage, boldness, strength, guidance and new life in Christ. It overwhelms them with the power of the Presence of God.

Sometimes, we (myself included) think of the Holy Spirit only in terms of the New Testament…but the Holy Spirit has been moving in all things since, well, The Beginning.

This is the same Holy Spirit who swept over the face of the waters at the dawn of Creation.

The same Holy Spirit David begged God not to take from him after his transgression with Bathsheba.

The same Holy Spirit that was full of sorrow at the rebellion of the people of Israel that Isaiah passionately prophesied about.

The same Holy Spirit that was with John the Baptist, in the womb, before he was born.

Mary was overcome by the presence of this same Holy Spirit and conceived the Son of God.

Jesus assured his Disciples when they were persecuted and brought to trial for spreading the Good News, the words of this same Holy Spirit would be on their tongue.

There are over 111 mentions of the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testament. The Holy Spirit was moving throughout God’s creation from Day 1-

Just one week ago from this podium, Fr. Joe declared “Alleluia!  Christ has Risen! And we all boldly answered,  “He is Risen INDEED!  Alleluia!”

Today, John’s Gospel take us from that heady morning when Mary Magdalene discovered Jesus’ tomb was empty, and ran to tell Peter and John …who saw the empty tomb for themselves, and still did not understand, leaving Mary behind, crying.  And then Mary meets two angels, and then Jesus himself- and he gives her information to pass on to the disciples…

Later that same day we find the disciples, in hiding, doors locked in their “safe house”- confused, depressed, afraid… John doesn’t tell us if they believed Mary’s story or not, but she is likely there too…

And then Jesus does an incredible thing- he miraculously stands before them, in spite of the locked doors and closed windows…in the flesh, alive!

Once the disciples let go of their fear and shock, they were giddy with relief and excitement!

After the jubilation had died down, and Jesus had shown them the wounds from the crucifixion, to prove to them it was REALLY him and not a ghost- he got right to it…not skipping a beat from death, resurrection, he goes right to Mission.

He tells them, in so many words, “No more hiding and crying and feeling sorry for yourselves…I have work for you to do- important work- work that is a matter of life and death.

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you” … I want you to spread the word, the Good News to all the world, about the love and forgiveness of God for all …” a dangerous assignment, given the religious and political environment at that time.

And then he equipped them with the Holy Spirit.  The same Holy Spirit that gave life to creation, gave courage, power, boldness and guidance to David, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Mary, …and countless others. THAT Holy Spirit.

 

In Luke’s Book of Acts, we are brought into a scene where Peter and John are being hauled up before the Jewish High Council, for teaching about Jesus in Jerusalem, and for drawing crowds of people in towns all around Jerusalem for the healing of the sick and tormented; healing them all in Jesus Christ’s name. (Basically doing what Jesus instructed them to do).

They’d already thrown Peter and John into prison for their fearless and powerful preaching of the Good News …and when we see them here, they are fresh from being broken out of jail by an Angel of God, mind you, during the night, and, being told by the Angel to go right back-but to the Temple this time!  And tell “the people the whole message about this life[1]and as soon as the sun came up, with resolve, with determination, there they went, into the danger-zone….and continued their teaching.

You can imagine the frustration and anger of the High Council.  They might’ve thought, “These two guys, uneducated, ordinary men, fishermen, to be exact,

now speaking out in eloquence, knowledge and boldness,

they’re healing people from all over, drawing hundreds of people to this,

this Jesus movement…somehow escaping from our formidable prison, hoodwinking the guards, somehow …and they don’t seem afraid of anything…and now they openly defy the High Priest and Council by refusing to stop this nonsense which is really making us look bad.”

The Apostles, persecuted, beaten, imprisoned…yet they continue to preach Jesus as the Messiah. [2] Are these the same men who hid in an upstairs room, afraid for their lives? Fearful to unlock their doors or be seen in public?

In this short passage, Peter and the apostles fearlessly state to the Religious ruling powers in Jerusalem, that they will not obey men, only God. …and God, the Lord and Savior has given Israel the gift of a changed life and sins forgiven for all time…no more sacrifices, no more scapegoats.  Jesus has done it once and for ALL.

And the Holy Spirit who is with all who obey him, gives testimony to the truth of what they are saying.

Yep. That’s what being equipped with the Holy Spirit does.  Strength, courage, boldness, power, urgency- new LIFE…ready to burst with the Good News!

The fact of the matter is, Brothers and Sisters, that same Holy Spirit lives in each of us from the moment we are baptized.

When is the last time you have felt your heart longing for the Presence of God in your life?

When is the last time you’ve prayed for strength and courage to walk through a difficult or heart-breaking time?

When have you asked God for the words to say to comfort or console or convert a loved one?

Come FLOOD THIS PLACE…and fill the atmosphere!

We are equipped.  We are called, by name.

“As the Father has sent me, now I send you.”

Let us call upon the Holy Spirit to give us the courage, boldness and power to fearlessly proclaim the Good News to the Glory of God, as we leave this place today…to a world that so desperately needs it.

Let us call upon the Holy Spirit to light a fire within us… to fill the emptiness in our hearts and lives with the presence and love of God…to fill it so full…it overflows to others…let us be ready to burst with the Good News…

“Holy Spirit You are welcome here, Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory God is what our hearts long for, To be overcome by Your presence, Lord.”

 

AMEN
 

 

 

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God is a Circle

No wonder Jesus was troubled in spirit as John writes in today’s Gospel. He knew what was about to happen: his arrest, trial and execution…and one of his disciples, Judas, was about to betray him.

How painful it must have been for Jesus to sit at the table with Judas, looking him in the eye, hoping for a change in heart…not for his own sake, but for the sake of Judas’ own soul.

Jesus watched him as he dipped the bread into the dish, and gave it to Judas, one last chance to turn back…looking him in his eyes, hoping he would take the bread as a sign of love and friendship, and not go out into the dark, to throw his soul away.

Judas takes the bread, but he remains committed to what he has promised the Council leaders. In taking the bread, “Satan entered into him.” And he immediately left…but not before Jesus catches his eye once again, as he goes out the door – and Jesus, with words that surely broke his heart for Judas’ soul, says, “Do quickly what you are going to do”.

Isn’t it the same with us? It’s that pesky self-will, that God gave us all that separates us from Him.

When our Lord God, almighty and all merciful faces off with our souls in conflict – it is our self-willed souls that usually has its way.  But Christ does not stop loving us. No matter what we do, how far into the darkness we go, His love is always still there.

John Donne, a 15th century priest wrote, “One of the most convenient hieroglyphics of God is a Circle; and a circle is endless; who God loves, he loves to the end: and not only to their own end, to their death, but to his end, and his end is, that he might love them still.”

So, as we take the bread dipped in wine tonight, feast on it with your souls…think of Jesus offering you this bread and wine Himself… remember, no matter how far we have gone, no matter how quickly we’ve slammed the door to go and do whatever we will our souls to do…God is still with you, loving you with arms wide open- to come back out of the darkness and into the brilliant light – the Light of the World!

AMEN

ECC The Right Here Right Now Church

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A Billboard

 

“At that time, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.”

One of the first things you learn to do when preparing a sermon, is to find context in the passage you plan to preach about.  This means reading about what occurred in the chapter before, and after the passage.

I don’t know about you, but things around here have been pretty busy this week, so I realized that I had forgotten just what it was that Jesus said before he went out with his disciples…to refresh my memory, and perhaps yours, I looked it up… and found Jesus was finishing up praying to the Father, with his Disciples:

John 17:25-26

25 ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’

 Last week, I was in the Kearney Mesa area, running some errands, and as I walked out of the door of the office building, I glanced up at a huge billboard on the corner of Balboa and Convoy St.

It was a simple billboard, red, with white lettering with 4 short sentences:

“He Came.

He Died.

He Rose.

 Because He Loves.”

 Right in the heart of Kearney-Mesa…when on most days, what you will see are car dealerships, banks, Walmart, 24 Hour Fitness, Asian markets and restaurants and Gentlemen’s Clubs with signs boasting of Live Nude Dancers. Thousands of cars pass by this billboard each day…

And I wonder…what do those who read the bill board see? What do they think?

HE CAME.

Just a few days ago, we gathered with palms in our hands on the steps of this church, as a bagpiper led us in procession with bold, traditional bagpipe music, loud and clear, with our All Souls’ banner flying in the breeze, the cross was held high… the clergy followed with vestments of white and crimson, children were banging on drums, and various sound-producing instruments as we marched around the perimeter of the church building that ran next to Catalina Blvd, and Chatsworth.

Cars and bicyclists streamed by…and we waved our palms in remembrance and imitation of the crowds who celebrated Jesus entering Jerusalem for the last time.

I remember walking along, feeling like God had broken out of the “box” — out of the church walls where inside we celebrate God in great beauty, liturgy, music and tradition…but for our eyes only.

I thought, “ Now the world sees us commemorating the entry of a Jewish Street Preacher said to be the Son of God, the Messiah, riding on a young donkey into Jerusalem, some 2,000 years ago!”

But, then, I wonder, what do they really see?

I wonder, does the world know Him?

HE CAME.  HE DIED.

 Tonight, we are re-living the betrayal, trial, brutal crucifixion of Jesus.  “The most wretched of deaths”, according to Josephus, a 1st Century historian.

And as we move through the story of his betrayal, arrest and trial, I search for signs that the World Jesus was pulled into from the garden, man-handled, questioned, beaten, and dragged to Annas’ courtyards, to Caiaphas’ offices, to Pilate’s headquarters…I search for signs that they might recognize who Jesus is and know him, see God’s love.

But, the hearts of the world are coated with concrete so hard that no love can penetrate it. Their hearts are closed and they are fiercely protecting their power.

Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 38 Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’- Here is the one who came into the world to bear witness to the Truth standing right before Pilate…and Pilate, another representative of the World refuses to see the truth, refuses to recognize the love of God.  [1]

When Pilate takes Jesus out in front of the mob, lusting for Jesus’ death and says, ‘Here is your King!’ ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’- The concrete hardens even more…there is no recognition, there is no love…The people choose to be ruled by human powers– turning their backs on the Kingship of God. [2]thinking they are protecting status quo in the Temple. Thinking only they know what God wants, a religious system that they alone know: the careful division of the clean and unclean, the sacrifices of animals replacing the surrendering of the human heart.  They had fought off the prophets long ago, and now they will see to it that this Jesus fares no better.

Jesus goes onto his death …carrying his cross, to Golgotha. From the cross, he gives John the responsibility of caring for his mother, Mary… he is thirsty, and drinks from bitter wine, and then announces his work is done, his suffering done, his assignment finished, to the glory of GOD.

BECAUSE HE LOVES.

 To the world he left behind on that day, some only saw a tortured man, with misguided beliefs of grandeur, dead, a corpse. Just another man, crucified among hundreds.

Some believed the propaganda spread by the Temple Authorities, and saw a blasphemer, who got what he deserved.

Others gazed upon his lifeless form, remembering their faces and bodies, where once disease and deformities controlled their places in society, now healed with love and forgiveness.

Others saw their teacher, dead; but filled with memories of his teaching that would linger in their hearts forever, teaching that they would pass on.

Through their tears on that day, they remembered sitting at his feet, (now bloodied and pierced,) seeing a glimpse of heaven and God Himself, and they were filled with sorrow.

They looked at the cross as they Joseph and Nicodemus carefully brought down his body; and remembered his words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” [3]

 

To be Continued.

AMEN

[1] Johnson, Luke Timothy.  The Writings of the New Testament.  The Gospel of John. Pg 488

[2] Johnson, Luke Timothy.  The Writings of the New Testament.  The Gospel of John. Pg 488

[3] John 15.13

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Expectations

Two of the disciples full of sadness and feeling kind of lost on the “third day” since Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified-(for us Easter day- Resurrection Sunday) are walking to Emmaus.

This day they most likely woke up with saddened hearts, sorrowful over what they had seen …their hearts probably skipped a beat or two when the women came rushing into their house saying they saw angels at his tomb, saying the angels told them Jesus was not there, that he was alive

but then when Peter and John inspected the tomb, came back and told them they didn’t see Jesus, but the tomb was empty…their hearts probably ached and fell a little more in disappointment.

Now, here they are, walking along a dusty 7-mile-long road and a stranger joins them in their walk…a curious, kind of  nosey stranger, who butts into their conversation and asks them what they are talking about.

I love Cleopas’ answer, “Are you the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what just happened???”

Jesus, (The Stranger), is apparently clueless, because he asks, “What things?”…and they tell him- oh, how they tell him.

They sigh, and tell him of Jesus The Prophet, who did miraculous things – and how much they had “HOPED” he would be the Messiah and save Israel.

They couldn’t keep the disappointment out of their voices, and even when they were told that Jesus lived – was resurrected that very morning, they didn’t quite believe it.

Because it didn’t fit into what their expectations were for a Messiah the overthrow of the Roman occupation, and the restoration of Israel to power and glory…

The problem was their expectations were too small for what God had in mind for the world.  So they were blinded by their own small expectations, so blind they didn’t recognize the Truth even though he was walking right alongside of them.

The Stranger then launches into an explanation of God’s expectations in all the Scriptures, beginning with Moses and the Prophets…and for probably the next 6 miles they listened…

and then, sitting at dinner with them, The Stranger does a familiar thing…something the disciples had seen many times before at the table with Jesus…” he took the bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to them”- and suddenly, their eyes were opened and they knew who The Stranger was.

Don’t we all have expectations for God? Our own wants, desires and needs go up in our prayers, and sometimes, (maybe most times) we are disappointed because God just didn’t do what we expected God to do.

Tonight, when in just a few minutes the bread will be lifted up, blessed, broken and given to us… let’s open our eyes and our hearts to Jesus’ plans and expectations for us…let us open our hearts to the presence and love of Jesus, right here, right now, in front of us, all around us- and trust in Him…

he will always walk along side of us for 7 miles or 7 million miles… on dirt roads, on busy street corners, in the shelter from the wind and rain… he never leaves us.  He is there with us.

Expect it.

AMEN

 

 

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