Where is God?

When Dan and I were first married we went to Salt Lake City for a portion of our honeymoon, where he met my extended family. One of our first days in Salt Lake we drove east to Park City. It was a beautiful August day, and we leisurely wandered through the city and then drove through  the back roads and mountain side. As the afternoon was growing late we decided to head back to Salt Lake. I felt certain, based on a vague childhood memory, that there was a back-road over the mountain that would drop us into Salt Lake City. So we wandered on this dirt road for a bit, going deeper into the wilderness and over ever more challenging terrain. We were driving a little green Gremlin, or Pinto, I don’t remember, some old car my dad had. Whatever it was it was definitely not built for the rugged terrain we were on. Sure enough we bottomed out – took out some part of the undercarriage necessary for driving. This was in 1985, no cell phones, no GPS. We were good and stranded. Thankfully some young guys were driving their pickup through the back-roads and came to assist us. We had to leave the car in the woods and accept a ride to a gas station on the main highway where we called my dad and aunt to come get us. The next day we returned and pulled the car out of the rut. 

Sometimes one gets on a path and discovers that it is not the right path, yet, one just can’t figure out how to turn around and get to a better place. The people of Ninevah were in such a place – stuck in their self-destructive ways. Jonah comes and proclaims their demise and in doing so turns the course of events in a significant way. The people of Ninevah change their ways which provokes God to change God’s mind, thus sparing the people of Ninevah. Following God can lead to transformation. Jonah, angry and bitter that the people changed and God relented, went the other way turning from God and getting lost in the belly of beast.

The Psalm speaks of the steady presence of God.  Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians lists the ways in which the qualities of life pass away and change, but God’s presence is steady. And then in the Gospel we hear that God challenges people to pay attention, to recognize God’s call to humankind, to change our ways, to turn and to follow God. Our readings today provide us with examples or assurances of  God participating in the lives and actions of human beings.

Perhaps one reason the fisherfolk in the Gospel turn and follow Jesus may be that they remember the story from Jonah, of what happened, later, to Jonah when he fails to follow God and ends up in the belly of a whale. Perhaps, fearing that all could go wrong if they follow the wrong path, take the wrong road, these fishfolk-disciples-to-be take the chance on following God by following Jesus. Call it inspiration. Call it holy spirit inspired. Call it having the capacity to listen and the courage to follow, these fisherfolk come to learn that following Jesus is not only the way to go, BUT the way to LET GO. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians speaks of the many expectations that the people in Corinth must let go of. 

Which reminds me of a joke:

A disheveled, disoriented man stumbles across a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river.

He proceeds to walk into the water and stand next to the preacher. The minister notices the man and says, “Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?”

The man looks back and says, “Yes, preacher, I sure am.”

The minister dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up.

“Have you found Jesus?” the preacher asks.”Nooo, I didn’t!” said the man.

The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up, and says, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?”

“Noooo, I have not, Reverend.”

The preacher holds the man under for even longer and then brings him out of the water, and says, “My God, man, have you found Jesus yet?”

The man wipes his eyes and says to the preacher, “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”

In a way our readings are asking us to let go of expectations that things must be a certain way or of finding God or Jesus in a particular way and just wonder, “How am I called? Or, to repeat the question from last week, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Letting go of preconceived expectations or biases, and wondering, Can anything good come out of me, you, us? Can any good come out of efforts to listen, to pray, out of being open to possibility? 

My response to these questions is a clear and certain, yes. Good can and will come from any and all efforts to try to faithfully follow God. 

This year, through our readings with the Gospel of Mark, we will focus on what it means to be disciples – to follow God. The Gospel of Mark will challenge us as it begs the question, “Where is God?” To follow God we need to be open to possibility, and through prayer, reflection, and discernment, as individuals and as a community, become open enough to hear God and courageous enough to follow.

Today you will find the annual parish report ready for you to take and read. The booklet is filled with reports from the various commissions and committees of the parish on the work we have done over the last year. It’s a record of the fine ministries that take place at Christ Church, of the ways in which we strive to listen to and follow God. Following this meeting you can attend the financial forum and hear the story of how we are striving to be faithful stewards of the gifts we have been given and use those gifts as God is calling us, to partner with God in bringing forth God’s kingdom now. 

Next week is the annual meeting. At that meeting we will elect new vestry members and have the opportunity to thank the outgoing vestry members. In addition we will thank Sean Jackman for his many years of ministry here as the Director of Music. We are entering a time of grieving, of celebrating, of grieving some more, and of change. Times like these naturally bring some anxiety and yet, used well, they can be times of curiosity and exploration, a time to ponder what God is calling up in us now. It is a time when we will be listening in some specific ways for what God is calling forth in and through us, a time that asks us to be wide open to possibility. Times like these invite communities into their highest potential for creativity, and explore in ways we never thought possible, just how it is that something good can come from us, from this church, for this time and place.

 So, as you prepare for the meeting next week, and as we prepare for the year ahead, remember our readings today and the call to discipleship. How might following Jesus come to mean something new, something life giving and transformational?

a reflection on the readings for Epiphany 3B: Mark 1:14-20; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Psalm 62:5-12; Jonah 3:1-5, 10 

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Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth?

John Lewis, a Congressman from Georgia, has written memoirs of his days working with Martin Luther King, Jr. These books reflect Lewis’ deep spirituality and describe how faith, hope, and love have been the guiding principles of his life. In his book, “Across That Bridge, Life Lessons and a Vision for Change” Lewis tells a story from the early 1960’s, which I paraphrase here:

On day Lewis entered a restaurant and ordered a meal. As a black man he was not allowed in the restaurant and was asked to leave. He gently refused and tried again and again to order his meal. Finally the waitress brought him his meal. Just as he was about to take his first bite, the waitress proceeded to pour disinfectant down his back. She then poured water all over his meal. The restaurant owner proceeded to spray Lewis with an insecticide intended to kill cockroaches. The owner sprayed Lewis until his skin was burned. All the while Lewis offered no resistance. Instead he looked them in the eye, reminding them that he was a human being. Lewis believed that the sheer act of putting his body on the line, in peaceful resistance, manifested the reality that the love in his soul, had already overcome hate.

Lewis extended love to these two because in his mind’s eye he was seeing them as the innocent babies they once were. He saw them as one of God’s beloved.  Grounded in that deep love of God, Lewis understood that the hatred they were exhibiting was a shell, something learned over time. This shell of hate and anger covered their inherent goodness – a goodness equally bestowed by God on all human beings. Lewis lives to this day with the deep belief that:

“Life is like a drama, and any person who is truly committed to an ideal must believe in the authority of a divine plan. Not a rigid, micromanagement of human behavior that predicts every step of every individual, but a set of divine boundaries that governs the present, the past, and the future—a set of principles humankind does not have the capacity to override, no matter how far we attempt to stray from its dictates.” (Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change).

In the early 1960’s members of the Civil Rights Movement, were actively and consciously learning how to utilize the power of their faith to move society forward. They used faith as a shield that literally protected their spirit and sense of integrity against the false notion that anyone had the power to inflict pain, limitation, despair, or any condition upon anyone else.

They decided to actualize the belief that the hatred they experienced was not based on truth, but was an illusion in the minds of those who hated them. Through intentional spiritual formation from the teachings of Gandhi and Thoreau, Lewis and others like him, learned to access a deep and abiding sense of love, patience, and hope.  This spiritual practice was based on teachings about the nature of God and God’s call to the faithful who practice God’s teachings.

Our readings this morning all focus on the idea of being called by God, and our response to that call. Samuel, although a small boy, is called to become a “trustworthy prophet of the Lord.” The Gospel of John tells the story of Philip and Nathanael leaving everything behind to follow Jesus. And in the way that scripture has of aligning itself with the times we live in, where God’s word remains relevant and active, we hear in the Gospel reading, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Can anything good come out of poor people?

Can anything good come out of rich people?

Can anything good come out of black people?

Can anything good come out of people of color?

Can anything good come out of white people?

Can anything good come out me?

Can anything good come out you?

Can anything good come out of these times we live in?

Take a moment and ponder this. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? That real Nazareth where Jesus lived 2000 years ago, and the symbolic Nazareth which is the image of God calling us out of our comfort zones and into the deep waters of real life and ministry.

Do you think that anything good can come out of this church?

Do you actually believe that God calls us and works through us?

Do you believe that God has called you to this time and place?

And that as a result God is calling something good to rise up out of you, out of me, out of us, out of this church? That we have a God given purpose and calling to this place and time?

I do.

I believe that with every breath I take and every prayer I say and everything I do.

Still it’s true that sometimes one needs help discerning the authentic voice of God amongst the cacophony that seeks to distract one from one’s true path.

Samuel seeks the guidance of Eli. People discerning a call to ordained ministry need to have that call confirmed by a community of people who, after spending a number of weeks and months in prayer and conversation, can affirm a call or redirect the person toward another understanding of their call. Each of us has a calling, and for many of us it manifests in the work we do every day, whether that is our paid profession, our volunteer work, or our role as a parent or grandparent, lawyer, doctor, nurse, teacher, musician, or priest.

Martin Luther King, Jr. who will commemorate later today, knew his call from God. A minister and an activist for social justice, particularly as one who spoke out against racism and prejudice, Dr. King literally put his life on the line to follow God. King worked hard for the survival of people of color, to strive to form the beloved community – for all of society to recognize the inherent value of all human beings – loved by God and worthy of equal opportunities in all avenues of life.  Dr. King points us to consider how our call, like his call, is a movement toward the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, or what it means to love God, love self, and love others, that good did come out of Nazareth, and good can come out of us.  Our call may not look as extreme or as intense as his, but that doesn’t mean it is less important to the kingdom of God. How we manifest God’s love in the world by bringing forth as much good as we are able, good that manifests as equality for all, dignity for everyone, respect and kindness, deep listening and honoring the integrity of one another, and willingly putting ourselves on the line, in love, God’s love, will allow God to reveal in and through us, that good does indeed come out of Nazareth, out you, out of me, and out of this parish in this place and time.  Because anything to the contrary of this belief is an illusion. God’s will prevails, the truth is found in love.

That’s My Story….and, I’m Sticking with It!

A friend of mine is fond of telling a story about her life and then concluding with, “That’s my story and I’m sticking with it!”

 

A few years ago my husband, son, and I were watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the version that came in 2000 with Jim Carry as the Grinch. I remember thinking that they’d  changed the story, a lot, in order to make a full length movie out of it. It was significantly different from the version I saw as a child. Then our son said, this is the only version of the story he remembers. Same story, two versions…

Christmas also has two stories, two versions. We have the commercial one with Santa and parties, shopping and sales, and gift giving, and advertisements announcing that this is the most wonderful time of the year. Although it’s not for everyone. 

 

I have had Christmas’s when I could not afford to buy a single gift. I know what it feels like when the Christmas I am celebrating is not the Christmas our culture describes. That year challenged me to explore the meaning of Christmas while overcoming depression and sorrow over the circumstances of life, and make my peace with it.

That year I leaned into the original Christmas story. We went to church on Christmas Eve and I immersed myself in the mystery of God’s love revealed in music, prayer, and story. The story that  tells us about the birth of Jesus, of a woman brave enough to work with God, to take huge risks to bear a child and bring God’s love into the world in human flesh. Of a God who loves creation, loves human kind so much that God joins with us in our sorrows and our joys, and works with us to care for the world. 

 

A few years ago an amazing story appeared in an Alaska newspaper.  A man named Tom was out with a charter group on his 62 foot fishing vessel when four juvenile black-tailed deer swam directly toward his boat. “Once the deer reached the boat,’ he said, ‘ the four began to circle the boat, looking directly at us. We could tell right away that the young bucks were distressed.

 

I opened up my back gate and we helped the typically skittish and absolutely wild animals onto the boat. In all my years fishing, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. 

Once on board, the deer collapsed with exhaustion, shivering. We headed for the harbor. When we reached the dock the first buck we had pulled from the water hopped onto the dock, looked back as if to say, ‘Thank-you,’ and disappeared into the forest.

After some prodding and assistance, two more followed, but the smallest deer needed a bit more help. (for which he was put into a wheel barrow and transported from the boat to the dock).

 

Finally, with the help of three humans, the last buck got to its feet and ran off to join the others. …”

 

The beauty of stories like this is that they remind us that there is a thin line between creation, human beings, and the God who created all of us. And sometimes that line dissolves and we see the world as God might see it. A world called to live in harmony and peace. A world in which the true Christmas story merges with the commercial one, and we see the many gifts of life with which we’ve been blessed. 

 

On this most holy of nights/days we celebrate the reality that God is with us. In the mystery that is God, God has chosen to dwell in and within all creation, and most particularly in human life. 

 

This is our Christmas story, of God active in the world through the birth of Jesus. It is story that reminds us that how we live our lives reveals the fullness of God in the world – particularly when we live with compassion, kindness, gentleness, and love toward all. 

 

The true gift of Christmas cannot be placed into a box and wrapped with paper and ribbon and bows. The truest versions of the story remind us that the meaning of Christmas is found in the heart.

And, as Christians, the true gift of Christmas is made manifest in the one whose life we celebrate, the one who comes as the fullness of God’s love, to walk with us through this journey of life. To be with us in our joys and our sorrows, to be ever present in our life story. 

Even when life is at its most challenging, whether we are crazy busy, or feeling bleak and hopeless, or excited, or bored, or whatever life feels like –  somehow, by the grace of God revealed in the simplest of ways, we can experience the gift of life and the presence of God’s abiding love for us. It’s true that often God’s abiding love for us is made manifest in a simple act of kindness that you extend to someone, or they extend to you. The meaning of Christmas is God’s love revealed in the world in and through human beings, in the kindness and love we show for others, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending the sick, caring for all people. 

 

Into the darkness of a winter’s night, God gave all creation God’s most precious gift of love, Emmanuel – God with us, the Incarnation, the birth of Christ. The mystery of the Christmas story, of that precious gift of love, is a paradox – for the darkest night is also the source and the place of new life, of love, of God manifesting the fullness of God’s self into the world.

In this Christmas season, let the compassion of God fill us with hope. May we recognize, in our life’s story, the gift of how deeply God loves us, just the way we are. And may we love others with that same generous gift of love. 

That’s my Christmas story, and I’m sticking with it. 

Merry Christmas.

For Such a Time as This…

Perhaps the most profound challenge I have faced in the eighteen years that I have been ordained is my experience with the people who come asking for assistance. Some of these people haunt me to this day, either because I helped them or because I could not. How does one help a teenager, perhaps homeless, who comes to the church seeking a place to get warm, sleep awhile, and maybe get some food? I gave him a bag full of coffee hour muffins from the freezer, invited him to sit in the warm sanctuary, where he laid down and fell asleep on a pew, and I kept watch over him until I had to leave. He rode off on a bike, and I never saw him again.

How does one help an out of control woman who comes panhandling after worship on Sunday morning, moving through the crowd of parishioners having coffee in the narthex? How to respond appropriately to her erratic, perhaps psychotic angry yelling? I offered her what I had, but it wouldn’t do, she wanted more and more, and left, angry, and yelling obscenities. I never saw her again either.

And yet I am, you are, we all are called for such a time as this, called to respond to the needs of the world, to be the hands and heart of Jesus, to be a reflection of God’s love, to cloth the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick and those in prison, to tend to the least of those in our midst. In the words of Isaiah this morning, to help rebuild the broken state of the world, to offer hope, to be generous, to rebalance the iniquities that allow for poverty, homelessness, inequality in all its forms including our long history with racism, and the newly rising tide of allegations, abuse, sexual misconduct  and violence against women and children.

For such a time as this, we are called.

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, along with the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA church, Elizabeth Eaton, have called us for such a time as this, to pray, fast, and act. Every month, on the 21st day of the month, beginning last May, through December 21 of next year, we are to set aside time to pray, to fast, and to act.

Why the 21st of the month? That is the date the SNAP funds, food stamps, run out for families because we do not give them enough to buy food for an entire month. Erin and I have noticed a marked increase in visits to our food pantry from the 21st of the month until the beginning of the next month. But, lest you think that food stamps actually help people, I assure that the needs are far greater than what is given. There is virtually no assistance for people over the age of 18, everyone is expected to get a job. Don’t give me statistics on the number of people who reportedly scam the system, because I can assure you that there is a backstory that the statistics do not reveal. People are not given enough food stamps to live on for a month, they are required to find jobs, but we do nothing to help them get jobs. There are no regional initiatives to respond to the lack of jobs, and if one is lucky enough to find a job, it’s usually minimum wage and we do nothing to assist with childcare, transportation, gas, or car insurance.

And so, on the 21st of each month we pray for a more just world. We fast in solidarity with the hungry. And we seek ways to act to bring forth God’s love.

At our food pantry we get a few people now and then who want to take advantage of us. Our aim is to feed people, as many as possible in as dignified a way as possible. And so we hold people accountable to self-manage and respect others who come. We tell them, take what you need but leave food for others. And even those who have scammed us from time to time hold to this principle,  when we tell them that is our sole requirement – take what you need, and leave some for others.

In fact our food pantry has become so generous that even those who are recipients of the food are beginning to help out. For Thanksgiving food distribution two of the pantry recipients came and spent all of Monday and Tuesday managing the food distribution, helping people get what they need and leave something for others. These two are coming back this week to help with Christmas food distribution. For Thanksgiving we ran out of turkeys twice. I went to Kroger, the one on the north side, where the manager allows us to purchase as many turkeys as we need, and to get them at the sale price. I bought 10 more turkeys, and while standing in line to pay for them, the woman in front of me donated $20 for the turkeys, because they were for the food pantry.

For such a time as this. In the season of joy and glad tidings, of shopping and gift giving, and holiday parties. For such a time as this, when loss and despair heighten, and grief takes hold in a deeper way, contrasted with an often false message of cheer. For such a time as this, to be generous, to care for others, to work to right the injustices of the world. For such a time as this to fast, pray, act.

This Thursday night, December 21, we will gather with our local sister church, St. Paul Lutheran, for a Longest Night service, to participate in our call to common mission, to pray, fast, act. We will pray for the many ways people are grieving today, for the loss of loved ones, for the loss of hope, for the chipping away at our civil liberties and hard won efforts to right injustices. This month we are asked specifically to pray, which does not take away the incentive to fast and to act, but focuses our efforts primarily on prayer. We are to pray for one of the 17 UN Sustainable Goals to create greater balance in the world, to reduce poverty, increase education and employment and the one we will emphasize – bringing greater equality in all its forms. We will sing, meditate, anoint and pray for healing and wholeness, and share the simple meal of Holy Communion.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God is at work in every human endeavor to bring forth justice, peace, and love. God is in every act of compassion and generosity that human beings manifest. God comes to us in the incarnation, in the word made flesh, in the life of Jesus and every time care for others, feeding people in mind, body, and spirit.

A reflection on one of the reading for Advent 3B, Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

A Response to Spiritual Malaise

I’m tired. 

 

I’m tired of the onslaught of violence in the world: guns and mass murders; abuse of people of color; abuse of women; abuse of children; abuse of money; and on top of all of it, the seemingly endless hypocrisy. I’m tired of being in a rut and feeling stuck. I’m tired of the world as it is and yearn for what the world could be. I’m tired of feeling like I try, but I am just spinning my wheels, like tires stuck in mud. I use to spend the month of November and the days leading up to Thanksgiving thinking about gratitude and those things that I could be thankful for in life. And, although there are things that I am truly, deeply grateful for, the effort to list them feels false and trite to be as if I were trying to hide my head in the sand and pretend that all is well. Last week I asked us to consider the state of our souls. If I really look deeply, I can only say, my soul is agitated because I want to make a difference in the world, I want the world to be a less agitating place. 

 

This week in the Gospel of Matthew we have come to the third in a series of difficult parables. Two weeks ago we had the story about a wicked servant who mistreats other servants, then last week, the story about the ten maidens and what happens to those who are unprepared, and today a story about the workers and a corrupt boss. One worker turns his five “talents” into ten, the other turns his two talents into four, and the third who buried his one talent and returns only the one, saying; “Hey boss, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 

 

So, let’s take another look at the third worker. He knows his boss is wicked, evil, and greedy, and he calls him on it. Whereas the first two did exactly what was expected of them without question, the third person calls it like it is, has the courage to speak up against the corruption. This third person shows courage, integrity, and perhaps a reasonable sense of fear because he knows that he will be ostracized for speaking up and telling the truth. 

 

The deeper challenge of this parable is played out in the news today. It’s almost mind boggling how many people, who are tired of burying the injustices of their lives, are speaking up. Now people are finding the courage to speak out against racism, sexual exploitation, and gun violence, people speaking out against violence and injustice in all its forms. Every day. More people. It begs the questions, What is happening? Who are we? and What are we supposed to do? 

 

As Episcopalians the baptismal covenant affords us clear guidelines on who we are and how we are to stand for justice.  In fact next week we will have a baptism and we will renew our baptismal vows. These vows ground us, reminding us how we are to live as people of faith, not passively, but courageously. The baptismal covenant reminds us that we are:

 

To persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. To  proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving one’s neighbor as  one’s self. To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. In other words, we are supposed to be the third worker. But the baptismal covenant also reminds us that we are not alone because to each of these questions the response is: “I will with God’s help.” 

 

Whenever I am feeling particularly exhausted I run on the treadmill. It’s a paradox that cardio exercise actually gives me more energy, but it does. It also relieves stress. Likewise when I am feeling spiritually exhausted I have to do spiritual cardio – I have to take more time for prayer and silence. I have to open myself up to God and trust that God will help. 

I fear there is no quick remedy for the tiredness that I feel. There is only the steady determination that prayer and action will move me into a new place. 

So perhaps, if you feeling the kind of malaise that I am feeling, there are some things one can do this week to pray and act: 

 

Come and support the Holiday Market this afternoon. The Holiday Market began 7 years ago, during the economic slump, as a way to support local artists, as a response to the shop small initiative, and as a response to the crazy rush of holiday shopping and consumerism that builds from Thanksgiving into Christmas. Our mission to feed people in mind, body, and spirit, is revealed through sharing our building with absolutely nothing gained for ourselves but the opportunity to be gracious and hospitable. So come and greet people who walk into our building and tell them about Christ Church – that the Holiday Market is our gift to artists and one way that we are making a difference in the world, enabling local artists to share their talent. Start your Christmas shopping by supporting these artists. Come to the Evensong and worship with a traditional night prayer set to music. Come and support Chapel Day’s bake sale. Come and support the musicians and enjoy a glass of wine while listening to some fine music. Share this with your friends and invite them to come too.

 

Come and participate in the Pray/Fast/Act this Tuesday night, which will be a combined initiative with the Centering Prayer group and our monthly invitation to participate in the Presiding Bishop’s call for us to Pray, Fast, and then act for justice, especially environmental justice. Come and take time in silence, listening to God, sharing a simple meal, and pondering ways we can be better stewards of the earth. Invite others who are looking for ways to respond to their anxiety and who want to make a difference in the world. 

 

Sign up to help with the Parents Night Out for Chapel Day on Saturday night, Dec. 2. Spend some time with the children of our preschool and get to know the parents. Help them experience our gratitude that they are here and that we hope that their experience of Christ Church is good.

 

Be an ambassador for this church every where you go. Share that we are creative and caring, working to do our part to restore some sense of justice in the world. Talk about Blessings in a Backpack, the food pantry, warm clothes for men, Creating Hope International, the League of Women Voters, AA, martial arts and stretching, the community garden, the labyrinth and pet memorial garden, and the many ways we share and care and strive to make a difference through prayer and action.


Maybe a little time on the spiritual treadmill will do the trick, unsticking what’s stuck, relieving the sense of malaise, and reinvigorating a tired soul. 

A reflection on the Gospel of Matthew (25:14-30) in Proper 28A

Sitting on the Spiritual Porch

I have a good friend who is always late for everything. Whenever my friend and I schedule a date to get together I plan to arrive 15 minutes to a half hour later because inevitably she will call and say she’s just leaving.

At first brush, the Gospel story of the bridesmaids seems very critical of those who tend to be late. Unusually harsh because the story says that none of them knows the day or the hour that the bridegroom will come. However, if you don’t know the day and the hour how are you supposed to know when to be ready? Under those conditions even the most conscientious of us could be late and unprepared.

Perhaps the reading is not about promptness at all, but about what it means to be  awake, attentive, preparing? Specifically, in our context, what if it is speaking of spiritual preparedness?

Jim Wallis, one of the founders of the Sojourners community, tells a story about a colleague who was living in a village in Central America. She worked in a community that was marginalized in all kinds of ways. She poured herself into her work for social justice, laboring with great might to bring change to this village. One day, some of the people of the village came to her, asking her why she worked so hard, why she didn’t join them in their fiestas or sit with them on their porches in the evening.

“There’s too much work to do!” the laboring woman replied. “I don’t have enough time.”

“Oh,” the people of the village said. “You’re one of those.”

“One of who?” the woman asked.

“You are one of those,” they responded, “who come to us and work and work and work. Soon you will grow tired, and you will leave. The ones who stay,” they said, “are the ones who sit with us on our porches in the evening and who come to our fiestas.”

For me this story begs the question: Am I working hard, exhausting myself in the name of God, but ironically leaving no time or energy to just be present to God? Do I think that working hard is enough? Or is it actually more effective to listen for God’s direction and then go and do?

The Gospel reading points me to look at is how I spend my time and what occupies my inner thought process – in particular those things that draw me closer to God and those things that pull me away from God. Essentially asking me, above all, to make time for God.

Nothing is more important than our relationship with God, with self and with others. And the only way to have a healthy relationship with God, with self, and with others is to nurture those relationships. To rest on our spiritual porches and commune with God.

So let’s take a moment and rest on a spiritual porch with God. Get as comfortable in your pew as you are able. You may want to close your eyes so you can pay attention to what’s going on inside of you. Take some deep breaths, right into your belly, and breath out. Can you feel yourself quieting down a little? Now pay attention to how you feel inside, and your thoughts. Consider the state of your soul. Are you at peace? Or are you restless? Are you agitated or calm? Do you feel at peace with your self? Do you feel at peace with your family, friends, and neighbors? If so, give thanks to God for this time of peace in your life. If not, ask God to guide you into the steps it will take to bring you to a place of peace, whether that means letting go of something, or forgiving some one, or making a change in yourself. Now ask God what God hopes for you, what is God’s best idea for you and how you live your life?

When you are ready, open your eyes.

I’m not going to ask you share your experience but I hope it was something you appreciated. Making a little time for God can be rewarding in many ways, sometimes long after we’ve made the time.

There is an ancient Jewish legend about two men walking through the Red Sea, which God had parted in order to aid the exodus of the Jewish people. Imagine that walk, the high walls of water held back by a mysterious and awesome force so a group of people can follow God to freedom. Now imagine two men named Ruben and Simon who were part of that group, but instead of looking up and seeing the glory of God, they looked to the ground and saw mud.

“This is terrible,” said Ruben, “There’s mud all over the place.”

“Disgusting” said Simon, “I’m in muck up to my ankles!”

“You know what?” replied Ruben, “When we were slaves in Egypt we had to make bricks out of mud just like this.”

“Yeah,” said Simon, “There is no difference between being a slave in Egypt and being free here.”

And so it went, Ruben and Simon complaining the entire way across the bottom of the Red Sea. For them there was no miracle, only mud. Their eyes, heart, mind, and spirit were closed to the possibility of miracle, grace, and God, even though they walked right through it all.

A reminder that we do not see things as they are, we see things as we are….

Taking time to focus on God is the only path toward living a balanced, holistic, fully integrated and authentic life of faith. But how does one do this? In a world in which many people are increasingly busier than ever, how does one find time to grow one’s faith and relationship with God?

A regular process of preparing and taking the time to be present with God can open one’s heart to the peace of Christ. With the peace of Christ in one’s heart, one’s spiritual lamps become filled with the kind of holy oil made up of  God’s love igniting the light within and the capacity to shine out into the world. Shining out to be God’s hands and heart in the world. Shining out to feed people in mind, body, and spirit.

 

A reflection on the reading from Matthew 25:1-13, for Proper 27A

One Degree of Difference

I did this exercise with us a few years ago, but I want to do it again. How many of you have your cell phones on you? If your cell phone has a camera, take out your cell phone and take a picture of your self. If you don’t have smart phone close your eyes and imagine seeing yourself in your mind’s eye.

Now look at the picture and notice what your see. Notice the color of your eyes and their shape. Notice the shape of your face and your skin tone. What are your thoughts as you do this?

Now looking at your face imagine that the face you are looking at is the face of God. It’s your face – but it’s also God’s face.

Does that change the image you see? Are you able to see that the image in the selfie is you and is also an image of God? God has your eye color, your skin tone, and the same shaped face as you.

God looks like each one of us and all of us at the same time. God reveals God’s self in and through every human being. God is black and brown, pink, and white, olive toned, and all shades of skin color. God has blue eyes, brown eyes, black eyes, gray eyes, green eyes, and every shade of eye color. God has all hair color and all textures.

At the same time God has none of our human characteristics – because God is neither limited nor confined by human constructs – God made us in God’s image – thus God is like all of us – but God is also more, much more than all of us.

The identifying characteristic that made the Hebrews different from any other faith is the reality that God was with them, where ever they went, God went with them. As Christians we’ve come to know God as revealed in the person of Jesus. God with us gives us the idea that we can see and know God in human form.

Now take a look at the person sitting near you. Yes, this will feel a little uncomfortable. But try it anyway. As you look at a person sitting near you, say out loud, “You are the face of God. In you I see Jesus.”

Just sit with that for a moment. “You are the face of God, in you I see Jesus.” Each one of us is the face of God, in us God’s love made manifest in Jesus is revealed to the world.

So looking again at your image in the selfie – think about this, that God is looking back at you. What does God see?

God sees a beloved human being. God sees a person that God loves deeply. God looks at you tenderly and with compassion, holding all your fears and worries with love. God looks at you and says, you are my most precious creation, with you I am well pleased.

God does the same thing with our church. God looks at us, with all our flaws, and says, Christ Church in Dearborn, is my most precious creation. God does this for every church, every synagogue, mosque, and house of worship. God loves God’s creation.

At Christ Church we have many ways of expressing God’s presence in and through us and out into the world around us. As a community centered church that feeds people in mind, body, and spirit, we reveal the face of God, the love of Christ, to those who come into our building for the food pantry, for blessings in a backpack, to support the work of Creating Hope International and its initiative to educate women in Afghanistan, to the League of Women Voters and their work to develop informed voters, to dance classes, martial arts, stretching, voice lessons, Chapel Day preschool, AA meetings, even to the postal carriers who come here every day for a brief respite and a bathroom break.

These are just a few of the ways that we reveal God’s love made manifest in Jesus, God’s love in us, through the mission and ministries of this church. One could say that revealing God’s love is a Christian practice, a habit, that gets formed in one’s self  when one comes to church and works on growing into a mature Christian with an active faith.

Christian practices help us form habits of faith which then inform how we live. Developing habits of faith is a process, one that we develop by being intentional and consistent, by literally practicing the practice of being a Christian. We learn the practice of being a Christian in our worship on Sunday morning, that is its purpose – to form and inform us – so we can go out into the world and live our faith, seeing God in one another and loving as Christ has taught us.

Next Sunday is Consecration Sunday, the day we bring to the altar our pledge of support for the mission and ministries of Christ Church for 2018. It’s called Consecration Sunday because in the act of filling out the pledge card and bringing it to the altar we are connecting our financial giving to the most sacred and intimate practice of our Christian faith, the place in our worship where we come face to face with ourselves and with God in the bread and the wine, in the act of sharing, in giving and receiving, in being fed in mind, body, and spirit. Coming to the altar with your pledge card is an act of consecration, a practice of faith, of making sacred and holy, yourself and your gift, all of who you are. It’s turning what is Caesar’s into something blessed and holy, transforming our money and ourselves into an offering for God and God’s work in the world.

Sailors have a saying, when navigating far out at sea the horizon can be deceiving such that even a one degree of difference can completely alter one’s course and where one lands.

A one degree of difference in how we see ourselves and live and practice as Christians can alter the entire outcome of the world we live in. A one degree of difference in what each of us chooses to give back to the church for God’s work in the world can completely alter the outcome of the work this church can do.

Give more not because the church needs it, because ultimately it is not about us, it’s not really about this church, but about God’s work in the world, which is done through the church.

Each of us is being asked to seriously consider what we are giving to the church and honestly assess if we can give more. This is not meant to pressure or shame. It’s an invitation to consider how one sees God in one’s self and in others. To look at your selfie on your phone and see God in you and you in God. To see the face of Jesus in the person sitting next to you. To recognize the deep love that resonates in and through this church and the generous ways we share God’s gracious love with the world, acknowledging that many people are fed in mind, body, and spirit, because this church exists right here on this corner. Christ Church has made a positive impact on Dearborn for 150 years. Making a one degree of difference now in how we reveal God in us and us in God, we can continue to be effective witnesses to God’s love and work in the world for years to come.

a reflection on the readings for Proper 24A: Exodus 33:12-23; Matthew 22:15-21