Divine Collaboration

Preacher: Jessie Houff

Scripture: Genesis 45: 1-15

Date: July 31, 2022

How many of you are familiar with the term, “Divine Intervention”? It’s when a deity “intervenes” in one’s life, often described as miracles or some kind of miraculous epiphany. One could argue that this story of Joseph perhaps was a moment of Divine Intervention, having Joseph’s brothers coming back into his life in this surprising and unexpected way, forcing them to reconnect and address their pain.

I’ve heard this term used before and have myself experienced moments in my life where I felt the Divine was intervening in some way. In the last few weeks, I’ve experienced some of these moments, though the term “intervene” didn’t quite seem to fit what I was experiencing. I’d like to talk about some of these moments with you.

It’s been an interesting few weeks for me. Just a couple weeks ago I was in Nebraska for Annual Conference. That was really intense and enlightening for a multitude of reasons. I got to see dozens of friends and kindred that I either hadn’t seen in years or I was just meeting for the first time. It was my first time ever as a delegate, so I had a lot of responsibilities, mostly to be a part of the business sessions and vote on items in the agenda for the week. 

The biggest highlight was Monday evening’s worship service. Many months ago I was asked to lead part of worship at Annual Conference. On the evening of Monday, July 11, 2022 I led the church through a time of lament. It was the first full day of Conference. Interspersed with a beautiful song led by Scott Duffey and the band, I spoke truth and addressed the pain and brokenness our church has gone through and continues to go through. If you were present or watched the live streaming of this service, you participated in this lament as I named our hurt. For those who weren’t tuning in, this was an intentional time in our service where I led the church through a time of naming the hurt we’ve experienced in the last few years. “In our brokenness we become aggressors; we become mean. We are tired. We are exhausted. We are desperate for hope” I cried.

It is no secret that the Church of the Brethren denomination has undergone much pain, whether it be due to the pandemic, the splitting of congregations from our larger body, or individual struggle. We are hurting. 

I am hurting on an individual level. The relationship with any organized religious group is daunting for gay people. In many cases it’s not worth the risk and gay folks leave the church because they’d rather find their own spirituality than try to fit into a group that ultimately doesn’t love them. So this opportunity to speak in front of the entire church body was not just a big deal, but a once-in-a-lifetime moment to be heard in this way. 

Now, a bit of a disclaimer, part of this reflection is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to be published in the Messenger. After this lament, I knew I wanted to write a reflection about my experience during this time on Monday evening. This time of lament was really intense and it turned out to be a life changing moment for me. I’d like to share with you what it was like, and how it has led me to describe today’s theme of Divine “Intervention”. 

“Weeks before the service, my anxiety in anticipation for this moment grew. As a theatre person, I approached this anxiety to that of a performance. I practiced, prepared, studied my lines, and made sure I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to be successful in my delivery. But this was not a theatrical performance – it was Jessie on that stage speaking Jessie’s words from Jessie’s heart. It was a sacrifice.

Moments before I stepped foot on the platform, the familiar feeling of clammy, shaky hands and heart flutters increased from an understandable amount to almost intolerable. I knew I would get emotional; I was already crying from the powerful message spoken by Leonor Ochoa and her translator, Selma. How beautiful was their energy and chemistry with each other, Hallelujah. 

As I walked towards the platform and stood in front of the entire church body, I had no idea that the anxiety I felt leading up to my presenting would be nothing compared to how I would be affected after it was finished and I went back to my seat.”

“My body felt as though I had been severely beaten. I felt bruised, kicked, suffocated. Not that anyone had done this to me nor that the church did it to me, but rather I was the filter for everyone’s pain. Every single person in that room and watching online transferred their pain to me and filtered through my body. I felt sacrificed to process all that emotion, too much for any one human to bear. This pain on top of the anxiety I had leading up and during the lament broke me. My body went through so much shock and stress that I experienced my cramps and bleeding a full week early. Right on that stage. In front of everyone. My spine was so tense I could barely feel it, agonizing to move yet somehow also numb. My spirit had been sucked out of me, leaving me depressed, unable to speak, feeling every single pain and nothing all at once.

One by one I was approached by my kindred bearing the same tears I had just cried. I could see I was not the only one to feel the trauma. All I could say in response to their praise of my leadership was a weak and drained of any emotion: “…thanks.” 

How does one respond when someone says with tears in their eyes and quivering in their speech, “Thank you so much for your leading us through that lament time” “Your grandad was with you on that stage” “I needed that” “You broke me”

Little did anyone, including myself, know the violence I had to endure in order to let the church feel something. Nothing could have prepared me for that. I will carry this pain for the rest of my life.”

Weeks later as I continue to reflect on this life changing experience, I can’t help but feel like this was some kind of Divine Intervention. As you just heard, I didn’t simply get up on the stage, read some text and sit back down. It was a deeply spiritual moment. And yet it didn’t feel like the spirit was intervening…it felt like we were collaborating. It wasn’t just me on the stage, it was God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit working through me as their translator. 

This was a big moment.

Fast forward to earlier this week, on Monday I had a twinge of the spirit. Many of you may know I wear many hats. I’ve got a few jobs that I juggle on top of my personal art practice where I spend time in my studio and schedule art workshops with local organizations. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to focus, particularly when I’m working from home. Monday was one of those days. 

As I was staring out the window, feeling lost, not sure where my life was going, not sure what I should focus on, I sent up a lil prayer. “God, please help me focus. I don’t know which direction to go”. That’s it, just a small little thing. 

And for real, not 30 seconds later, I get the two buzz vibration from my phone, notifying me of a text message. I broke my trance with the outside world and went to check it. It was one of my older adult students from my recent art class I taught on printmaking. She sent me a picture of a piece she made and gave to her friend, using the skills and techniques she learned in my classes. She wanted to show me and thanked me for everything I have taught her. She’s spreading joy and her new art skills to brighten the lives of her loved ones.

It was awesome, and I think the quickest any of my prayers in my entire life have been answered. That’s pretty rare…and something I only see reflected in romantic comedies.

One might say God “intervened” by sending me that message to direct my focus. But I don’t know that I believe it was God sending the text…it was my student, Cheryl. Cheryl sent me that text…but I don’t know what prompted her to send it in that exact moment. God is sneaky; God answered my prayer through Cheryl, whom I graciously responded to and found my focus for the rest of the afternoon. That was an awesome collaboration. 

Cheryl didn’t know this happened, but she was a participant in this moment that turns out to be a very special one. It wasn’t a huge, denomination-wide lamenting prayer extravaganza wherein I collapsed with filtering emotion, no, but it was powerful and just as important.

Perhaps Joseph experienced Divine Collaboration when his brothers went to Egypt and found their brother at the throne aside the Pharaoh. Perhaps the spirit continued to move through them as they wept upon each other – that release of tension, of emotion, processing feelings of pain, thanks, joy, or deep, deep remorse. 

The spirit is powerful. God’s collaboration with us is intrinsic to our being. God meets us where we are and pushes us to see, think, feel, taste, smell, and hear not just what we experience but what COULD. BE. 

So y’all, I’ll leave you with a question: what Divine Collaborations have you experienced lately?


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