Fishers of People

Faith from the Margins to the Web for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Luke 5:1-11
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

 

“We’ve worked all night and yet have caught nothing!”

Well, isn’t that the truth.  If I had a dollar for every day that I felt like shaking my fist to the skies and uttering something like that…well, maybe I wouldn’t even need to work anymore!  It is our human experience, so many times, that we work to the utmost of our capacity and yet it doesn’t seem like we accomplish what we set out to do.

So, I can relate to the fishers of fish in this Gospel lesson, out there on the Lake, lowering their nets and pulling back an old shoe or a few minnows.  Ugh.  So frustrating.  And along comes Jesus and says, “lower your nets.”  Simon is willing to do it, but if I could read sarcasm into the Biblical Greek, I can imagine it was with a bit of, “Ok, whatever you say, Jesus…”  Either that, or I’m projecting.  It would have been like that for me, at least.

But it occurs to me that Jesus knew that, too.

Jesus knows when we are exhausted, and frustrated.  Jesus knows when we have put that net into the water for the 10,000th time only to dredge up nothing worthy.  Jesus knows that when the still, small voice of our heart hears the nudge to try one more time, our exhausted frame says, “are you kidding?” even if our dutiful response is, “if you say so…”  It might be that the real love is casting that net even when we are filled with doubt.

I think that is what Jesus means here.  It isn’t a story of magic or “third time’s the charm.”  It’s a matter of engaging our skills to serve the world even when we aren’t sure that it will produce great things.  It is casting our cares on God who says, “one more time” and then being delighted by whatever emerges from that haul.

I also note that Simon didn’t try to do it alone.  Remember that, friends.

Here at Faith from the Margins to the Web, I haven’t been able to do it alone, either.  My nets have been filled to overflowing with God’s grace.  I’ve had participants and students and Patience my beautiful friend and photographer.  I have more people who want to participate than time to type and cut and curate and post what they have to share.  The haul has been greater than I anticipated, or that will fit in my boat.

That brings me to my point here, and why I’m writing this week’s reflection solo.  I have so many people who want to participate in groups and bible studies in my context that it’s gotten hard to manage.  I’ve decided to spend my time with them instead of managing the flurry of recordings, information and weekly blogging.  So, I’m asking my village: is it time for us all to fish for people?

Right now, I write a blog each week, but my hope is that this blog has inspired others to do the same.  We are all called to fish for people.  Maybe we are all called to bring our own sense of the Gospel to each other as well, crossing all the margins that could separate us so we can see Christ in each other.

So, I’m moving away from doing all the writing and the curating, and inviting this community of readers to help.  Pick a week…any week…and sit down with someone you know (or even someone you don’t) and read the Gospel lesson together (you can find the weekly lesson here).  Write down what you think.  Send it to me, and I’ll post it here (just tell me how you want me to give you credit and list your name!).   If you want a copy of the template we use for bible study, just ask!  I’ll send it to you.  I’ll still be engaging people in bible study here and posting from time to time as well as I’m able…but the boat is full, and I’m reaching out to see who else can help me with these nets filled with beautiful reflections on the holy scriptures that are yearning to be heard.

Contact Sarah or send a reflection by clicking here.

Let’s fish for people together and see what happens (note from the Gospel, “Don’t be afraid!”)

Stay tuned to see what happens next…

Grace and Peace,

Sarah

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The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me

Faith From the Margins to the Web Bible Study

3rd and 4th Sundays after the Epiphany, Year C

The Gospel lessons of the 3rd and 4th Sundays after Epiphany are two parts of one event in the early life and ministry of Jesus.  In this Faith from the Margins Bible Study, we chose to read and study them together, pausing to consider what each tells us about who Jesus is:

 

Luke 4:14-21

 

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

 

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

“Wow” said Mary, “I’m gonna tell you what I heard.  That Spirit of Jesus, it was gonna spread to all those countries all around.  But first, Jesus…he stood up, he took that scroll, and he wanted to set his people free.  But, the eyes of those people…all of them…in that synagogue just set their sights on him.  It was like a sign was brought to them, that they could see God through him.”

“He’s coming to do the things that we need someone to do in the world” said Willie.  “I think this was one of those times when he was…how do they say it…’about his Father’s business!”  The group chuckled as Willie continued, “I think that he took ahold of that opportunity and let people know, this is what I am about.”

“Sure, it was going to come out in the way Jesus did miracles, in the people that he was with…but no mistaking it, he was telling them from the beginning exactly what he was going to do” said Mary.

“You know, this shows me how awesome Jesus was…he hadn’t even done his ministry yet.  He was young, in the synagogue with the elders.  His Mom, Joseph…people who knew him wondering what he was doing standing up there.   I wonder what they were thinking about him?”

“Well it’s interesting that you asked that” I said, “because the next lesson picks up right at that place”

 

Luke 4: 21-30 (picking up from the previous lesson)

 

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

 

“Wow” said Beth.  “Jesus had courage!”

“He was speaking some tough stuff.  He had no fear of flesh and mankind to preach and get that word out” said David. “I mean he must have had no fear.”

“It goes to show you how strong it is” said Mary, “that there wasn’t going to be any backing down.”

“It’s kind of a complicated, deep and beautiful pictures of Jesus, isn’t it?” I asked. “How do these lessons tell us more about how Jesus is?”

Jamillah responded, “I think I’m beginning to really see the meaning of this, of how Jesus is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Not just one thing, but so many things.”

“You know, its so interesting” said David, “We all come at this in different ways but it keeps coming back to this same place where we learn something new from each other, and it brings us back to seeing and knowing Jesus.”

Jesus:  courageous, prophet, speaker of truth.  One and yet so many things to so many people.

We closed our Epiphany bible study with Mary offering up a prayer:

“Oh merciful, Heavenly Father, we come to you at this hour thanking you for this time to get to know you better.  God we just give you thanks, in this day and every day.  We love you no matter what, because we know you are here for us no matter what.  And I bring this is the holy name of Jesus to you.”  

And all the people said, AMEN.

 

 

Water and Wine

Faith From the Margins to the Web Bible Study

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C:

Opening Prayer:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study Group

This week, we continue our exploration into the ways that the Gospel lessons of the Sundays after the Epiphany reveal to us something about the nature and person of Jesus.

Jamillah read the Gospel lesson of Jesus’ first miracle at the Wedding at Cana aloud to the group.

“Well, this passage tells us that Jesus obeyed his mother!” said Beth, which created some some good natured laughter among the group.

Jamillah said, “Well, he’s still showing examples of how he is not inferior, how he is showing people examples of how he is human, not some holy God who demands attention.

“A normal and regular person” said David, “Jesus is trying to show us that he is like us, that he needs to help give us a lesson that just like us, he is human with a family and he has challenges and he has to decide who to listen to.  Yeah, that’s what I’m getting: challenges.  Trying to decide who to listen to is a challenge that we all have.”

“In the Gospels, this is the first miracle of Jesus” I added, “and it’s always stood out to me that the first miracle was at a very human event, a wedding…something that crosses cultures and brings us joy.”

“And he didn’t stand up on stage and do it” said Beth, “he just did it quietly.”

“Isn’t it from a human standpoint that he made the water turn into wine?” asked Jamillah.  “When I think about that, it was like Jesus who was a human knew, ‘I need to do something from a human standpoint’ and to show people a sign that is something they can see, which was the wine.”

“And that water and that wine, it goes back even to Moses” said David.  “You know, remember that story where Moses strikes the rock because the people, they demanded for him to give them water.  And he begs God, and gets angry and strikes the rock and then all that water flows.  Now, it’s water into wine.”

The group began to talk about this, and wondered about water and wine and the symbolism, in the Old and the New Testaments.  As a newly ordained Deacon, I couldn’t help but share with the group about what this Gospel lesson brings up for me:

“You know, I know that many of you have different churches you go to on Sunday and that customs might be different from place to place.  But here, when I serve as a deacon, one of my jobs is to set the table for communion.  And when I’m doing that, I prepare, as you would when you have guests.  Holy communion is a holy meal.  The way we have a tradition of serving that meal in the Episcopal Church is to use a common cup.  So, when I am setting the table and I pour the wine into that cup, we always add a little bit of water.  That’s a symbolic action, not a magic trick.  It reminds us that in this holy meal, there is all this symbolism around the bread and the wine.  But, this is one of the stories that I think about when I’m setting the table, and the way that Jesus was also preparing that holy feast for the wedding guests but giving us a symbol, too, of that wine which becomes for us the blood of Christ.”

“Thank you for that!” said Dale.  “I didn’t know any of that and it gives me a whole different perspective!”

Jesus: obedient to requests made in love, understanding our human joys and longings, preparer of the gift of love for all humanity.

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Photo of stained glass window of the Wedding at Cana from St. Mark’s, Berkeley CA

 

 

Unquenchable Fire

First Sunday after The Epiphany (The Baptism of our Lord), Year C

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

 

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

 

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study Group

Epiphany is a season of light and enlightenment. In this spirit, for the first four weeks in Epiphany, the Bible Study group met and considered one question together for each weekly lesson: What does this lesson tell us about who Jesus is?

David read this week’s lesson and was the first to speak: “To me, this is the introduction of Jesus as God’s Son. He should shine in your life like the Messiah. Jesus is the way to God.”

Jamillah added, “I think it’s that Jesus is sent as the Word. John points out that he [John] isn’t the Messiah; the Messiah is still coming. We hear about Jesus, and how we will know he IS the Messiah, because he is the one who roams with the people and speaks the Word.”

The group members were all surprised to hear that Jesus was baptized. Eugene summed up it up well: “If Jesus was the one they were to believe in, if he was like the leader, then why would they baptize him?”

“He used himself as an example” said Dale. “He wasn’t above us. He was one of us.”

“John didn’t want to baptize Jesus” said Paul, “but Jesus told him to, to let the people know that he was an example.”

“There are leaders that think they’re above things, and there are leaders who know they are just like everyone else” I added. “I think we see here what kind of leader Jesus was!”

“So, we can go even further” said David. “Once you are baptized, you are body and spirit. There’s two pathways for me, the way I’m seeing it. So there is Jesus, here, baptized and the Holy Spirit is with him for everyone to see, just like it is for us when we are baptized into water and the Holy Spirit.”

“The thing that hit me is when John says that Jesus is so powerful, he is like an unquenchable fire!” added Beth. “I just love that!”

Others agreed, “And it’s like how Jesus is described, so full of fire, unquenchable. A fully human person, but so powerful” said Jamillah.

“And the Holy Spirit, you know, the coming of the Holy Spirit made our spirits holy, too” added Paul. “When we are baptized, we become a holy people. We’re part of the unquenchable fire!”

Jesus:  Messiah, leader-by-example, unquenchable fire that enlightens our spirits

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Gifts we Give

Faith from the Margins to the Web: The Sunday of the Epiphany, Year C

Opening Prayer:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

FFMTW Participants: De’Nae, Stephen, Mary, and Lynette

“There’s something about this part, right here” said Mary, “the part when they went and sought diligently for the child, but it wasn’t because Herod told them to. It was because they knew who they were searching for.”

“They were frightened” said Stephen, “they knew, then, that Herod was afraid of this child. And I think they knew his intention, but they went anyway.”

“I was drawn to the fact that Jesus, this little tiny infant, was enough to draw these people. They brought all they had. This prophecy that people had heard, they took it and ran with it. What kind of belief and faith must they have had to have followed this, and to see this tiny baby and believe” added De’Nae. “The prophecy was still going to play out; Herod thought he had the power to change that and in doing so, he destroyed lives. He tried to take it into his own hands.”

The group began to talk about the wise people and prophets that they had heard and known about in their lives and how that has shaped how they learn to trust. Thinking about that seemed to make this more real, rather than a story we imagine.

“What is the difference between prophecy and wisdom?” asked Mary.

“I think wisdom is through your life” said De’Nae, “but prophecy comes from God. I think of my Dad as a wise person, and I think maybe he even has a gift of prophecy. He raised us to know that each of us has gifts from God and he is someone who can see the gifts in others. But his wisdom: that is age, and learning and humility.”

The group began to speak about their gifts and treasures, and all the ways in which they had received blessings in their lives.

“In that opening prayer” said Mary, “we prayed, ‘lead us by faith.’ And you know, I think about they way in which I feel led by faith.

“You know, I hadn’t thought about this but it says, ‘lead us who know you know through faith…’ and it makes me wonder if that isn’t also a reminder to us that it is our faith, now, through what we have been given and through what we know to understand as best we can. I guess it doesn’t tell us that God will be just like we think God is. We might each have our own best understanding of God, which we hold onto by faith. But that’s just it…it is by faith, until we see God face to face.”

“That’s interesting” said Stephen. “People think God looks one way or another…or maybe we need to believe God looks like us!”

Mary said, “Coming up, we were taught that God was white but here I am a black woman and I know that God could look like me, or to be asian, or to be middle eastern. We got all hung up on making out God to be in our image, when God says we are made in God’s image, all of us.”

“I’m still rocking with God no matter what!” said De’Nae.

“I think God is the ruler of all, coming to save the world” said Stephen. “So, I don’t think God will be bound to race, or in whose image God was made in. God came to rule over all that’s in this world, to rise above all that. People might need to remake God in our image so that we feel good about ourselves but we are asked…by faith…to open our hearts to know God.”

“Sometimes I wonder why it is that we keep ourselves from believing. We want to find the things to disprove, or to move away. It’s hard to want to take something by faith. But here, in this story, the wise men meet this tiny baby and that is enough for them to be sustained in their faith and to go home by another way. They hadn’t even seen his miracles, or see him walk on water. It just took this time of seeing” said De’Nae.

The group closed considering a question together: “what treasure that you have would you give to the baby Jesus?”

Stephen started: “I would give my belief. I don’t have a lot, but I have that. I would give that of my heart.”

De’Nae said: “I would give myself. The treasure chest of gold and all that, it didn’t matter, it isn’t that the baby Jesus desired that and it isn’t that Jesus wants that now. But if I could give myself…just me…just as I am…broken and all…I think that is what Jesus would most want of me.”

Lynette said, “When I go to funerals and stuff, they sing this song, “take the best of me” and I feel that way, too. Not the gold and all of that. Just me.”

Mary agreed, “He doesn’t want the best, or some expensive gift. Material doesn’t mean anything…he wants us!”

The group ended up on the same theme which they summed up together in their closing prayer:

“I’m going to give You what I have, and all that I can give You is me.”

Photo credit:

Sarah Kye Price, Epiphany Window at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley California

Joy to the World!

A special edition Faith from the Margins to the Web for Christmas Day

Contributors: Mary and Mary Ann

Collect for Christmas, read by Mary and Mary Ann:

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Wrapped up in joy and love, the familiar words of the Christmas story are woven together with a few of the beautiful reflections shared by Mary and MaryAnn in their Christmas Day bible study together:

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

“No home does not mean no heart” said Mary.  She recalled a story that had been on the local news: “there was a man who was homeless, and he had only three dollars.  But this woman ran out of gas and was asking for help.  Other people wouldn’t give her anything but he gave her that three dollars…everything he had.  It turns out, she tracked him down and helped him get an apartment and a job.  Sometimes blessings come from unexpected places.”

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

“The part that stands out to me,” said Mary Ann, “is where it says the angels say ‘don’t be afraid.’  Sometimes Christmas can be a scary and sad time for people; it’s good to remember the angels saying not to be afraid.  That isn’t just a message to the shepherds; it is a message to us, too.”

Mary agreed, “We all have a guardian angel; even better, we have God with us!”

They both agreed: “That’s really the story of Christmas, right there: to realize that we have God with us.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  

“One of the other things I realized when we were reading this together is that I experience God through music, too” said Mary Ann.  “We always think about the angels singing, and it made me think about how music is one of the ways that I have learned to not feel afraid.  Music helps us know that God is with us, just as here, the angels made it known that Jesus was born.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

“What stands out to me” said Mary “is that part that says, ‘Let’s now go to Bethlehem and see the things that are taking place.’  Those shepherds, they took a step to go and to find the baby Jesus.  They could have stayed in the fields, stuck to their work.  But instead, they decided to go.  They had to take that step, just like we have to take steps and seek out God in our own lives.”

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Mary said, “God comes in all kinds of forms; I want to do a better job, and reach out this year to the people who are here in my life.  I think that is one of the ways that we can make God known.”

Mary Ann added, “I think part of what I need to do more of is what Mary does…to ponder things in my heart.  Sometimes whatever I’m thinking, I say out loud.  So I think that maybe this Gospel is saying to me, ‘ponder it in your heart, think it through.’

“I like the way you put that…it’s true for me too!” said Mary.

To Mary and Mary Ann, the great gift of this Christmas lesson was ringing loud and clear:  “What everyone really needs to hear, again and again, is ‘Don’t be afraid!’  God has us.  God is with us. Don’t be afraid!”

Joy to the world, indeed!

Merry Christmas to everyone, from Faith from the Margins to the Web!

My soul proclaims…

Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study for Advent 4, Year C

Opening Prayer:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 1:39-55

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Faith from the Margins to the Web co-authors: Angela and Thomas, with Sarah

I first met Angela and Thomas on a Friday when they came into the lunch program at the parish where I serve and asked for me and this project by name.  Good news travels!. They had been connected by a friend and mutual participant when they had arrived in Richmond after losing all of their possession and home in inland flooding a few months earlier.  They were now rebuilding their lives one day at a time, in faith. They needed money, no doubt. But theirs was a life of faith and Sandra knew that this project was more than just fair compensation: it was also a place where good news was made known.  I was glad to have the time to welcome them to participate.

The three of us sat together with this Gospel in our midst for well over an hour that afternoon, filled with the sharing of loss, recovery, hope and great rejoicing in the face of adversity.  It was a deeply heartfelt sharing, and I remember it vividly. That is a good thing, because the one thing we completely forgot to do was to turn on the tape recorder!

Angela had volunteered the read the Gospel lesson.  She got mid-way through and paused, grabbing my arm, “…and the child leaped in her womb.”   She read it again, nodding her head and really feeling it: “only a woman can know what that is like.  I know that feeling, and I only imagine how that must have felt!” She went on to finish the reading, but the poignancy of this setting of mutual recognition framed Mary’s song as a harmonious duet of these earthly cousins encountering the divine in their midst.

Admittedly, this setting of Mary and Elizabeth’s conversation is one of my own favorite pieces of scripture.  I shared with Angela and Thomas that my background as a social worker in maternal and child health settings has convinced me again and again of the sacred space of that time of expectation.  There was something about Angela’s emotional response to this reading which opened up the maternal urgency of this holy moment. We went on to talk about that.

At this time in their lives, Angela and Thomas were raising a family while living in separate spaces and places, doing the best that they could with the shelter options available to them while doing all the daily things it takes to remake their lives: finding work, learning a new community, re-establishing relationships with schools, services, and supports.  It was clearly a time of great worry and great uncertainty. Angela said, “I feel like this Gospel, while it’s so beautiful and filled with Mary’s song…you know, it misses something. I say that because I can tell you, Mary had to have been scared. So scared! Even if she was rejoicing, even if she had a heart filled with faith: she was a human woman and she was scared.  You cannot convince that she wasn’t. I actually love this story more because I think there is so much of that real, human fear.”

“For Joseph, too” said Thomas, “I mean, he had to be able to trust.  I want to think that I could trust but you know, I admire the guy!”

Angela smiled and squeezed his hand, “I know, honey, I mean I can imagine it and that’s why I think about Mary, wondering how she could possibly convey her story any way other than pure faith.  I mean, just think about last week. It felt like we were on the verge of falling apart…we couldn’t figure out the bus system, and we had tried to spend some time, all of us together before having to go back to the shelter.  I needed to get groceries and then I got on the wrong bus, and ended up walking three miles with all those bags all the while you were worrying about me and I couldn’t even get to my phone to tell you. It felt like we were all falling apart and that was just groceries!  I know what it’s like to just have to do the Mom stuff in the middle of a hard life, and there is Mary doing all of that, too, and having no one to turn to except her cousin. I admire her. I admire them both.”

It turned out, when it came to sharing how this story resonated with our personal lives, that Angela and I both related to Elizabeth because we had both been pregnant during times in our life when we were older than the norm.  It became clear to us that Elizabeth’s own fears as an older expectant woman are so rarely focused on or talked about. Even in a modern age, fears of health, of being too old, of not being able to do what the younger mothers can do: these are real and frightening; they are not new phenomena!  Elizabeth was likely just as filled with doubt about her own pregnancy. “I’ve never thought of this before” I said, “but being of ‘advanced maternal age’ even now the doctors get very concerned about our pregnancy health and viabiity, and pay so much attention to fetal movement. I wonder what happened to Elizabeth’s faith when she felt this child-in-becoming in her womb not only move but LEAP.  It must have been a moment of relief, as well as wonder. I’ve felt that relief, too…and I hadn’t considered that might have been Elizabeth’s experience.”

As we continued to talk and share our stories of faith and hope, this deep admiration felt as if it took on a new depth for all of us.  These two women of old, sharing not only a divine encounter but also a maternal one. These two women who didn’t have social power but did have deep faith.  These two women filled with awe and fear, each in their own way coming to a place of profound rejoicing at the divine in their midst, filling them with expectation in spite of all the odds.

My advent hope rests in the anticipation of these two women, whose hearts would continue be expanded and broken so many times, in so many ways.  And yet, the joy of faith unseen and unspoken flowed forth from them in prayer, and Mary’s song continues to speak to us today.

May it be so for you as well in these Advent days of waiting, hoping, longing, praying…


Preparing our Hearts

A Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study for the Third Sunday of Advent

FFMTW Bible Study Group

Luke 3:7-18


John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”


And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”


As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Jonathan read the lesson for the third Sunday of Advent for the group.  

“Mmm…repentance and being humble…those are right at the core aren’t they.”  said David.

“You know, this is pointing out something that is happening below the surface, that was going on for longer than maybe those who were there ever knew. It’s like getting to the undercurrent of what is really going on.  People were working but not getting paid what they deserved. Others were trying to hang onto more than the needed, while other people went without. It’s like they’re getting called out on what is really going on. And it isn’t just, ‘hey people, work hard for your wages.’ Its also, ‘hey, employers, pay your people right for the work that they do!’

Ty said, “You know, when you think about it, all three of these lessons.  First, we’re being told TO prepare ourselves. Then, we’re being told what signs to look for, to remind ourselves to be ready.  And here, we’re being told exactly what we need to do, HOW to prepare yourself so there will be no misunderstandings about what is expected.  The specifics are right here.”

“Plain and simple” said David.  “Right here, there it is. So, it becomes my decision to accept that and live into that.  It’s a simple program, really. I mean, we find all the parts of it that feel hard. And we DO have a choice.  But at the end of the day, it’s not all that complicated. We choose to live in Christ’s way.”

“You know, it strikes me that these same issues that were going on 2,000 years ago are still our struggles today” I added.  “Fair wages, giving up some of what we have so that others can have what they need. We still struggle with it, even when it is laid out that pure and simple.”

“Yeah, that is true” said David, “and it may have even been harder in those days than we have it today and yet we can get caught just thinking about ourselves and our own lives.”

“But even in the midst of this: at the very time that was happening, God was preparing the hearts of all of humanity to become human and enter into this whole, crazy, messed-up world all because God loved us so much” I said.  “God had a choice, too. I can’t help but be overwhelmed by that amount of love.”

“You know, I’m still struggling with pride” said Jonathan.  “I am always happy to help someone else, but when others want to help me I feel that pride welling up.  Accepting help, accepting love: for some of us, that is the challenge. My Mom used to joke that she wouldn’t give me toys because I’d take them outside and give them away to the other kids.  But, I’m trying to turn toward God and even accept that I need to receive. That’s the harder part for me.”

“You know, the Good News for me here is that we can learn so much from each other and from spending even just a little more time in God’s word” said Willie.  “I know, my pastor tells us to read the word but times like this remind me of WHY we read the word. There is so much here to help us, to point us in the way we need to go, and we don’t need to be so busy and preoccupied that we forget to read it AND to share it with each other.  In the sharing God works through us, and through each other. That is how we prepare.”

It was Willie who offered up a closing prayer:

“Dear Lord, I thank you for gathering us all together.  Do you see what you just did here, Lord? You brought us all together, and we learned more about you.  So, as we go out of here, knowing some of these truths that we learned today, may we be men and women enough to live into that Christ-like behavior.  Thank you, and may God grant us serenity and wisdom as we leave here to continue to do God’s work in the world.”

Amen.

Prophet in the Wilderness

Faith From the Margins to the Web: Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

Part 2 of the Faith from the Margins to the Web Advent Bible Study Group

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 3:1-6


In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

Willie read the lesson for the Second Sunday in Advent, noting emphatically by his voice how John was calling people in the wilderness to repentance.

“It seems like there was always a need to repent, since the beginning of time. Maybe even since Cain and Abel” said Jonathan.

The group nodded as this sank in. “We’re often told we need to repent, but it seems like it isn’t just people today.”

“What do you think the wilderness looks like today?” I asked.

“I think the wilderness looks like Donald Trump” said Brad. “I mean, he scares me. I think about all the hate that we keep hearing. I feel like we are wandering in the wilderness”

“There’s so much killing” said David, “so much to be afraid of. But, I guess they all felt that way in John’s time, too.”

“You know, wilderness could be defined a whole lot of ways” said Ty. “I mean there’s physical wilderness, and there’s spiritual wilderness. It depends on the way you’re thinking about the word. You know, if you ask everybody here that same question you’re going to get that many answers. So now, you have to think of whether you’re speaking on a spiritual or a physical realm.”

“Can I add to that?” asked Willie, “You know, I was listening to the radio yesterday, and they brought up this idea of loneliness. At a time like this in the world, when we think we have so many ways to connect, they brought up loneliness. And you know, I thought about that. I mean here we are, gathered together and we’ve shared prayer and lunch and now this group. But there are so many people who are caught up in that wilderness of loneliness, who can’t connect or don’t know how to. They feel all alone, and that kind of loneliness is a wilderness.”

“It’s like, you can have a place and still be lost” said Ty. “Or, you can not have a place but have community. You know, some of those people out in the elements, what they need is people who will actually listen to them, hear them as human beings. The loneliness is a much of wilderness than a roof over their heads, maybe more.”

“That’s been me” said Eugene, “and sometimes when it seemed like I had the most I was lonely all the time. It look me losing a lot to find out all that I really had, because when I sit here with this group like this I realize that I have so much more than I ever thought I would back then.”

“I know that kind of lonely, too” said Jonathan. “There are people who worship material things and live just to get those things. But they are empty. And pretty soon, you start looking around at all the things and thinking, ‘what am I even going to do with all these things?’ Money and things never fill the void of loneliness. There are things you can’t put a price tag on.”

“I think of reading the bible” said Charles, “and I always find something in there that keeps me from being lonely. Those words get into my heart, and they stay there.”

The Inside Scoop

A Faith from the Margins to the Web Reflection for Advent 1, Year C

As we enter Year C, we begin a new liturgical season, coming full circle back to where we began last year in Advent.  You’ll notice that we’ve shifted things a bit for Year C, responding to the increasing autonomy and leadership in this community where the saints of the streets, church, campus and community come together to reveal God in our midst. 

Each liturgical season begins with an open group exploring a few central lectionary readings and sharing our reflections on those excerpts from the holy scriptures.  We’ll hear from this group for a few weeks, interspersed with some 1:1 conversations that reveal the transformative depth of this season of preparation.  I hope you will share and enjoy.

Advent Bible Study Group (Willie, Ty, David, Jonathan, Charles, Brad, and Eugene)

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”


Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.


“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

David opened the group in prayer:  

“Let’s bow our heads.  Dear heavenly father, we come to you with humble hearts and we ask you to open us more, to figure out how it is that we make room for Christ.  Nobody’s perfect, and we don’t always do what we should do. But, help us know and do the best we can. Amen.”

Brad read the Gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Advent, and the group began their conversation.  

“There are a whole lot of signs that God is showing us” said Jonathan, “It seems like all of these signs are things that were there then and we see today, too.” That brought Willie right back to his own childhood memories, “My Mama, she used to tell us about the signs of the end” said Willie, “but I was just a little kid so I would hide behind her, and beg her to know, “what happens next??” and that was mostly because I was so scared. I figured that if I knew, I could be safe and I felt safe there with her!”

“I love that in that story, I can see you with your Mom the same way that I see us with God” I remarked to Willie, “we want to know the rest of the story but what we really want is to feel safe and protected.”

“Yes!” said Willie, “That’s just it. She was a good storyteller and I knew that when she told me a story, there was usually a reason and a lesson that I needed to listen to. I think that is what Jesus is doing here, unfolding the story that his followers need to listen to.”

“Well, the other thing to keep in mind” said Brad, “is that here were are being told what is going to happen but it’s for a reason: so that we can have our hearts and minds ready.”

“So, aren’t you excited?” asked David. “I mean, it’s kind of like we have the inside scoop about what is going to happen. Jesus makes us high jump, you know, there’s a joy in knowing it.”

“God isn’t just saying to prepare yourself, but also the signs to look for” added Ty. “It’s almost like having a spiritual cheat sheet. I’m telling you to prepare yourself, I’m telling you what to look for. I’m warning you, pleading with you, and asking you all in the same conversation to prepare yourself. Don’t waste time and don’t wait until the last minute: things are happening right now.”

Willie said, “That’s the thing: things are happening but we are hold in the Bible what we need to do. We are supposed to love one another. It shouldn’t be hard, or at least not so hard as we make it out to be. It’s what we are told to do.”

“But we are human” said Ty “and we just can’t always do that on our own. It makes it a whole lot easier to turn the other cheek when we have our hearts open to God, if we have the love of Christ in us. That is what makes it easier for us to live Christ-like, to forgive and to allow ourselves to be human but open to Christ living through us.”

“That brings us to another simple one that we don’t always do: serving one another” added Willie. It’s so easy to feel like we hear someone asking us for help and we want to say, “why ask me, go do it yourself! But God asks us to do something more, to pray without ceasing so that we are holding the needs of each other and not just doing what it occurs to us to do for ourselves.”