“Rooted in Discernment: Fashion and First Impressions” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell

January 13th,2022 Categories: Stephanie Kendell Letters, Weekly Letter
Beloved Friends,

I hope that you have had a warm, safe, and healthy week as we continue to navigate these new unknowns. Yet in this time it is not all unknown. We know we have vaccines. We know we can connect even when we are apart. We know that nothing can separate us from the love of God. And we know that we will come back together. I mean even John the Baptizer comes out of the wilderness eventually (Hello, foreshadowing!). So, with all of that said, I hope that you will continue to join us for the many ministries of The Park. This week we have Bible Study at 10am, Children’s Worship (10:00 &10:30am), Worship at 11am, SoulFood Fellowship at 12:30pm all happening on Sunday. On Monday, I am leading spaces of dialogue with the Poor Peoples Campaign for their MLK celebration as well as our first Rooted in Conversation at 7pm. So much continues to happen in the life of the church and it is all only possible because of you.

It’s probably no surprise to many of you that I love fashion. My “preaching cape” from Target was a staple in my early ministry and I love thrifting a fun statement piece. I think clothes help us tell our stories, especially for those of us who may not be seen in our fullness by society. So, it should come as no surprise that I love this week’s scripture about John the Baptizer, Jesus, and those that came from Jerusalem, Jordan, and Judea. I love the way John is described. John’s clothes, mission, and food in this story paint a picture that breaks up the vision that is often put forth about Jesus and his followers. Think about it. What images come to mind about the disciples when you think about them? Is there a similar look? Color pallet? Gender? Height? Shape? I know there is a lot of uniformity for me when I envision them. Yet, here comes John from the wilderness to shake things up. See if he does the same for you as we read together this story from Matthew:

1 In those days John the Baptizer appeared preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for the realm of the heavens is near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Most High,
make God’s paths straight.’ ”
4 Now John had for his clothing camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the women and men of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and the whole region of the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized in the river Jordan by him, confessing their sins.
11 “Indeed, I baptize you with water for repentance, but after me is coming one more powerful than I; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John forbade him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it go now; for this way is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John let it go. 16 Now when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God, She descended like a dove and came upon on him. 17 And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:1-6, 11-17 (Year W)

The very first musical I ever directed was Godspell and John the Baptizer is the first person who comes on stage- singing “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” And when you direct a show, you think about what you want your audience to see first. So, I started pulling images of what John might look like and I have continued to pull and keep images that remind me of Biblical characters to this day. These images help me remember that the work, the people, and the wholeness of creation is meant to continue expanding. In this community of Christ, not even creation is the limit as the heavens open to us through baptism and care of each other. And John is a huge part of the gospel story here not just because he baptizes Jesus, but because the story says that people came to see him – whole communities! – and like he was in Godspell, John may very well have been the first person people see as the face of their faith. So, how he presents himself is no small part of the work he is called to do.

So, my questions to us all this week are:

  • What image comes to mind when you think of your first impression of God?
    • Is it a person or a place?
    • What does it look and smell like?
  • Was your first impression, correct?
  • What do you hope people know about you from just looking at you?
  • What do you hope people take away from a first encounter with you?

There are so many people in this story and each one of them came to see John the Baptizer – camel hair, leather, locust, and all – and it reminds us that we too will encounter so many people in this life and all that is expected is that we are true to who God created us to be. And what a beautiful and unique gift each one of you are to this church and God’s beloved community.

Shalom Y’all
Rev. Stephanie

Simple Prayer: O Holy One, help me prepare new spaces to notice you in my life. Amen.