On the mountain or on the street

Epiphany 6, Year B February 11, 2018

Last Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 9:2-9

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Faith from the Margins to the Web co-authors:  Steven and Mary Ann

 

After he finished reading the Gospel lesson, Steven noticed something: “The last part here, it really took me by surprise:  As they were coming down the mountain he ordered them to tell no one.  To me, that’s pretty heavy.”

Mary Ann was surprised, too. “After they had seen something like this, you would think they would want to talk about it, to tell everyone, not to stay quiet about it!”

Steven was putting himself in the perspective of those disciples, searching for answers: “I know, I know…what is the time period? Jesus hadn’t even died yet.  Did they even know about the resurrection?  How long did they think were they supposed to be quiet?!”

Mary Ann and Steven walked through the timeline of the Gospel story together and realized this event, the Transfiguration, was all happening at a time when his disciples really weren’t even “getting it” that Jesus was going to die, let along being raised to life again.

“I guess he was saying to them wait, to wait until he had been risen.” said Mary Ann.
“But you know, it is interesting because he specifically took these three disciples with him: Peter, James, and John.  I guess that is because he really trusted them, and he didn’t want to do this alone.  He wanted his friends to be with him.”

Steven narrated, “So, then they went by themselves, no one else. And then they saw him transfigured.”

“You know, when you were reading…” said Mary Ann “….when you read that part that they were white like no one on earth could bleach them, I immediately thought of my mother. She was a firm believer in Clorox! She would bleach things to an inch of their lives, but I guess this was even whiter than that. So then, after all those dazzling clothes, Moses and Elijah appear…long dead, and yet there they are.”

This seemed to put the story into a new perspective for Steven: “Yes, and that’s when Peter said to Jesus,  ‘It is good for us to be here…’ because Peter wanted to make three dwellings. Wait, did those dwellings ever get made?”

Mary Ann answered, “I don’t think so…I think maybe Peter wanted them made, like he wanted a house or something, some place to stay.”

Steven nodded, relating to that feeling, and continued: “they didn’t know what to say, for they were terrified.” Yeah, I’d be terrified, too!”

The story began to come together as it may have felt for us in our everyday lives.  Mary Ann pondered a bit:  “I’ve never seen a vision, so this is so interesting to me, imagining what it must have really been like for them, which I think is what Mark is trying to convey. Have you ever seen a vision?”

Steven responded a bit shyly, “Um…Yes. My mother. She appeared to me one morning, and then she disappeared.”

“Wow! Were you terrified?!” asked Mary Ann.

Steven continued, “Yes, well, honestly Yes, I was! I was in the kitchen, I put on a pot of coffee. And she was there, right there, and then she disappeared.”

“Was this not long after she had passed?” Mary Ann wondered.   “I bet you might have wanted to build a dwelling so she would stay too.”

Steven nodded, remembering, “Yeah, that’s right. It was about 8 or 9 months after she had passed. I was shocked that whole day. I told my sister about it right away. I didn’t have time to say anything, and I didn’t really know what to even say, but I had to tell someone, you know. So, that all makes me think…that’s why I think that even though Jesus ordered them, how is it that they could have not told anyone?”

Mary Ann was thinking about this, too.  “Sometimes, there have been times that I felt the presence of people my mom, my dad, my sister…but I didn’t see them.”

“It tells me, it reminds me that our spirits live on.” said Steven.

A light bulb went off for Mary Ann.  “You know, that makes me wonder: what if Mark was trying to convey that it was that the spirits of Moses and Elijah who were there, living with Jesus? I guess part of the message here may be that their spirits…the spirits of these two great prophets lived with Jesus, and Jesus lived with their spirits.”  she paused. “Huh.  That’s really interesting.  I mean, I never really thought of that.”

Steven went back to read the prayer again:

Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross…

Mary Ann was having another epiphany. “I’m reading that again all new now. That’s a powerful message. We all have crosses to bear, don’t we. For me, one of my crosses is loneliness.”

Steven appreciated this, and it resonated with him.  “Yeah, that can be painful. Loneliness can be very painful. It can feel like you don’t have no friends.  Loneliness, depression: these are our crosses.”

“I go back to that prayer, too.” said Mary Ann:  that we may be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.   So, like Jesus was transformed, we can be strengthened and changed too.”

“That word,” said Steven: “His countenance.”

“And countenance usually refers to face” added Mary Ann, “so reading it that way: we, beholding the light of his face, can be strengthened to bear our cross. It’s as if looking at the light of Jesus, seeing His face, makes us strong enough to bear our own crosses.

“Right!” Steven responded. “Loneliness, depression, fear, uncertainty…these are the things we have to look to him for, to pray about.”

Mary Ann added, “what I’ve noticed is that I have faith that my prayers reach God, but what I’ve noticed is that my prayers change me. When I pray about my fears, it helps me. Maybe that is God working, making me feel stronger.  What do you pray for?”

Steven answered thoughtfully, “I pray for my family, my friends, my brother and sister. I pray for the homeless, because I was homeless once. I don’t pray to be rich, but I do ask God to give me enough, to provide what I need. I pray to get through month to month but I don’t pray for all those riches. I have enough.   Yeah, I pray for the homeless all the time. I was homeless for almost a year and half. When I moved here, I was on a waiting list for housing but it took like a year and a half. It was so, so hard. It takes so, so long.”

Mary Ann responded with empathy, “I can’t know what that’s like but it seems like we could do better. I’ve heard from a lot of people that they did everything that was asked of them, but it still takes forever.”

Steven felt affirmed, “Yes, it does. I was just about ready to give up. I thought, if nothing changes soon I’m going back to Roanoke to live with my brother and sister. Then, I saw my case worker again one day when I was just ready to give up and she said, ‘Guess what? An apartment came through!’ and I was moved in later that week.”

“Well, good for you for sticking with it!” said Mary Ann.  She was still floored by imagining spending that much time homeless. “What did you do? Did you stay in a shelter?”

“Well, I did sometimes.” answered Stephen, “But I did a whole lot of sleeping on the street.”

“Wow. That’s got to be scary.” said Mary Ann.

“It is, ” Steven reflected. But then he told a hard truth, “but some of the shelters, they are so overrun and so overcrowded.  People don’t bathe, people want to fight, and I am a quiet and gentle person so that was hard for me.”

The picture was becoming clearer for Mary Ann, “Wow, so the street seemed safer…”

Steven confirmed it, “the street WAS safer for me than the shelters.”

Mary Ann asked, “Did you have a community? You know, that would look after each other?”

“Yeah, I developed friends.” said Steven. “We’d get together and find a place.  It’s safer sticking together than sleeping alone on the street. They are still my friends. A lot of homeless people go it alone, though.”

“I really admire you.” acknowledged Mary Ann. “I mean, I just don’t know if I could do it, if I could survive…”

“It’s a rough life” admitted Steven,  “It’s a very rough life.  But, this Gospel reminds me that God was always with me.  God is always with us.  Peter and those up on that mountain, they knew that.  I bet they wanted to try to tell people what that was like.”  He was thoughtful for a moment, then added, “But even if it’s hard, like when Jesus ordered them not to say anything, we have to try to follow his word.”

This week, after listening to Steven and Mary Ann reflect on this Gospel, I am reminded that the light of Christ, the face of Christ that we see in the eyes of our heart, is present with us whether we are at the height of the mountaintop or the roughness of the street.  It’s why I’ve come to know through these conversations and interviews that the prophets of the street corner have so much to teach us, so much to convey about the ways in which God is present even in the places where it is hard for us to imagine God being.  But, there is no height or depth, no dark corner or noisy shelter that is hidden from the Light of Christ.

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Healing Welcome

Epiphany 5, Year B

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.

Mark 1:29-39

 

After Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

 

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

 

Co-authors:  Dale and Sarah

Dale and I sat together in the chapel as we opened up this Gospel lesson together.  I hadn’t spent a lot of time talking with Dale  until today; he is the friend of several others who attend Red Door lunch and healing service regularly.  We’ve exchanged pleasant hellos but we hadn’t really talked.   Today, our bible study numbers were a bit uneven, so I filled in at the last minute.  What a blessing that serendipitous decision turned out to be!

As we began, Dale asked if I would do the reading since his eyesight kept him from being able to read out loud.  I noticed, even from the intent way that he listened to the Gospel, that he was hearing every word with a clarity most of us miss.

“I like that reading, I do” said Dale.  “I didn’t get that part before but this time I heard that James and John were there too.  Jesus was there, but the others, they had God’s word there with them.  I wonder, did they have power or something, like Jesus, to heal?

“That’s a great question, Dale!  I hadn’t even picked up on that.  Jesus does say at other times to his disciples that they have the power to heal, that Jesus gives others the power to heal in His name.  You know, I think about that a lot.  On Fridays here, when we have the healing prayer service, that’s something that is powerful to me when I say it each week before we offer prayers together in Jesus’ name.  I don’t have the power to heal.  It’s not like that, like a magic power or something, but when we hold a healing prayer service we pray together because we have been told that there is healing in God.  I’m not in charge of that healing: giving, or receiving healing.  But healing is there with us when we are gathered together because God is with us.  So, when we stand together, when I pray with people, it’s in the presence of that healing that God is made known to us.”

“You know, I believe that” said Dale.  He continued, “…because back in 2012, when I lost my eyesight from glaucoma, I was blind totally for about 18 months.  I went to the eye doctor and he said there wasn’t much hope.  I was imagining never seeing again, learning to read braille and stuff.  Then the doctor said, ‘there is this surgery, but its really 50/50 whether it will work or not.’  But, I thought, ‘I’m already blind, what do I have to lose?”  So, I had the surgery, but then there was nothing.  Six months went by, nothing.  Then one day I thought I saw light starting to come in.  So I started to pray, not begging but just feeling thankful to see light again.  And other people, they started to pray for me.  And always, those prayers were in the name of Jesus Christ.”

“That’s wonderful!” I said, “I think about that whenever we pray.  I may pray, I may ask, but we are asking in the name of Jesus Christ who is with us all.”

“Praying, you know, it’s like blessing.  We get blessed, we feel blessed.  But it isn’t about that.  It’s about passing along that blessing, that is also in Jesus’ name.”

Something else stood out for me, too.  “I keep going back to this part…about Simon’s mother…who is healed and then gets up and starts serving everyone.  At first I want to say, “hey, let the poor woman rest!” and then I thought about it.  She chooses to serve.  That is a show of love, a gift of family and community.  That is an action of thanksgiving and grace.  We can never say ‘thank you’ enough for our healing so we do what we do best: we serve as healed people, showing our thanks to God.”

Dale nodded.  “You’re right, because her way of serving, her way of saying thank you was to keep serving.  I’m just like her.  I wake up and keep seeing God.  My eyesight isn’t all back, but it is clear enough now that I can see light.  When I wake up, I say thank you God, because that light makes me know that God is there in that healing. And then I want to get out, and to serve others.”

“It’s like our thanks, our blessing, our healing are all together” continued Dale.  “I don’t know which is the right word to use.  But maybe they are all part of the same thing.”

I thought about this. 

Dale went on, “Maybe this blessing falls to us, because it is so present with us.  I ask myself, ‘how do I live into this blessing, this healing’ and I see that here in this place.  Here, there are a whole lot of people who feel shame and hunger and think they will be looked down on.  But they come here, and there is healing, and there is food, but there is also spiritual healing where we are fed. I’m surprised sometimes by who I see come into that service.  But you are never surprised…you just show love to everyone. I see that in you.”

I felt myself smiling; I was blessed by hearing this, but I knew the story was deeper than Dale probably realized.  So, it was my turn to share.  “You know, Dale, there was a time that I was one of those people who was least likely to come into a church.  You see, I was mad, angry.  Really angry.  Then, one day I decided to just go to a church not because I had to but because I wanted to…actually because I wanted to sing.  And that day, the clergy person seemed to just look right at me.  Instead of feeling judged, I heard him say, “All are welcome…you are welcome.”  I felt that in my entire soul.  I knew that welcome came from more than just that person; that welcome was from God.  That welcome was God.  And in that welcome is where I found healing from all that anger.  Slow, just like your eyesight!  But gradually, the light comes back in and we are filled with thankfulness and gratitude.  So, I want to live into that now.  I know there are people every week who come here feeling broken, angry, and not welcome.  I know exactly how that feels.  So, I stand in that place of healing I have known, and I pray.  My prayer is always that I can offer up that healing and welcome to others, too.”

“I notice that too” said Dale, “when you all say the prayers, you always say that at the beginning.  You know you are welcome, you can be here just as you are.  Welcome is a gift, and a blessing.  Welcome is healing.  You know, I’m glad this was our lesson today”

I’m glad too, Dale.  

 

Speaking with Authority

A Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study

Epiphany 4, Year B

Bible Study Contributors:  Tom and Elaine
Reflection by Sarah

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Immersing in something like Faith from the Margins to the Web requires a lot of thought, and a lot of reflection.  One of the reflections I’ve had during this process is just how much courage it takes to live into Jesus’ teachings, especially the ones that stand counter to what we socially think of as the way things are “supposed to be.”

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus speaks with authority and it astounds those in the Temple.  Sometimes, in engaging this project, I am likewise astounded by the way God speaks through people in ways that allow glimpses of good news to emerge, even from lessons that can seem dark and despairing.

This week’s bible study circled back around many stories of darkness and despair.  As I listened to the interview, I realized that passing them along as a whole wasn’t where the good news was to be found.  Instead, like a glimmer of hope in the midst of a seemingly impossible situation, I heard this exchange:

“Imagine that if you lived your whole life with a condition, and socially people talked about you and said that you were crazy, or that you had a devil. After a while, you’d start to believe it.”

“Do you think that’s still true today?” asked Elaine, “that when people are told what others think from the outside, they tend to believe that’s who they are?”

“Sure” said Tom. “Every day I meet people who believe about themselves only what others think about them.”

It reminded me of the social psychology lessons that I teach my students.  Back in the early 20th Century, Charles Horton Cooley began to write about the concept of the “Looking Glass Self,” an idea further expanded upon by Erving Goffman in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.  It is a book that I remember vividly, even from my own first reading of it when I myself was in college.  These twentieth-century symbolic interactionists helped shape our understanding about how social constructions of who we are can shape our identity and self-image.  In other words, our self-image isn’t a creation of our own minds.  If we are told repeatedly that we are a reflection of the strengths others see in us, we will begin to believe it.  If we are told repeatedly that we are all of our flaws and weaknesses, we will come to believe that instead.  We begin to live into the social roles that others cast for us.  To the symbolic interactionists, we see ourselves by what is reflected back to us from the society in which we live.

Think about that.  Really think about it.

What does the society in which we live say about people who live on the social margins of this world?  What does society reflect back about people who experience poverty, who are hungry, who rely on the compassion of strangers?  What are the language, words and labels that society places what our Gospel lessons might call, “the least of these?”  How is that reflected in our language, or in the presumptions of our own communities, neighborhoods and congregations?

In contrast, how does God see people?

We get some insight about that in this Gospel, as Jesus clearly sees the person and is not blinded by the evil that clouds the vision of others and even screams out in his own face.  Jesus enacts healing toward a person, a man who is being held hostage by the forces of evil defining how others see him.  In this story, the man gets to be free, to be healed, to be wholly human again through Jesus’ authority.

Now THAT is a Gospel lesson that truly is an act of radical grace.

Every week here on Faith from the Margins to the Web, we get to experience some of that radical good news from the people and places that we might least expect, too.  The voices through which God speaks are not always the faces we might expect, and sometimes the stories meander to places we’d rather not tread.  But always, God is present with us and in each person.  Always, there is Good News revealed in each encounter, whether through the depth and breadth of conversation or, as happened today, in a quiet epiphany.

May the light of Christ shine brightly today, as we come to see each other through the light and love in which God sees us.

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And they followed…

A Faith from the Margins to the Web bible study for Epiphany 3, Year B

Contributing Authors:  Lisa and Alisha

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 1:14-20
After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

“And they followed him!”

Unanimously, both Alisha and Lisa agreed this was the phrase that stood out to them.  Lisa, a regular at Friday’s Red Door lunch, had been living unsheltered for the past year.  Alisha, a student at the University, was eager and interested to hear Lisa’s story as she grew in her own life of faith.

Alisha expanded a bit on that idea of following, “I mean, they just left everything, they were like “ok, let’s go!”

Lisa nodded, “It reminds me that sometimes you just have to let things go, put it aside, be ready to follow.  I mean, everybody has family and everyone has problems, like I’m having one now with my mother. But we have to believe that if we take those problems to the Lord, and if we give them over to Him and follow Him, that He is there to lead us through.”

Alisha added, “to me, what caught my attention was that part when it ways ‘after John was arrested, then Jesus came.’  It reminds me that they had to realize that Jesus was the one person to follow. If they didn’t listen to John, now they knew they had to follow Jesus.  One thing happens, then the other.  It’s hard to do that, when you see problems arising in your life, like they saw everything happening there with John, and then to have to let go of everything and follow Jesus like the disciples did. It makes all the difference, though.”

Lisa spoke with honesty, “That is so hard to do! I’m sorry to say that…

Alisha interrupted her kindly, “Oh, no, you have no need to apologize! It is hard! It is really hard.  We are only human and we experience those times when we’re praying, we’re trying and it seems like just problem after problem in our lives. That’s when we are suppose to keep our faith and it’s when its the hardest, too. I read this thing one time that said, “Doubt your doubts” and that really spoke to me. I thought, I don’t need to doubt God. What I’m doubting is that sense I’m having that I somehow need to fix everything, or that everything has to all be OK before I can follow.”

Lisa said, “I’ve always liked that saying, ‘when one door closes, another opens…’ and I had a hard time believing that at first, but I’m starting to come around and see it now. Just because I don’t have a place right now…a “home” home…that doesn’t mean I can’t work or get a job. People tell you one has to come before the other but it wasn’t working that way for me.  I had to figure out what would work for me, to go through the process of thinking about what I could do and was being asked to do and now that I’m doing that, I really believe it.  Door close, but others open when we follow.”

Alisha was in agreement, “I know just what you mean! It’s like we are waiting, hoping for something better. And God is saying, ‘just wait; I have something wonderful planned for you, in fact its already happening’ but it’s still hard for us to believe it.”

Their conversation continued.  Lisa explained her own understanding of this passage, “I’m seeing God working right now in this Gospel in wanting to take care of those disciples.  It’s hard to follow but Jesus is wanting to take care of them, too. In my own life, I know that I am grateful to be still alive and I’ve learned that God provides for me what I need and when I need it.”

Alisha said the Gospel spoke to her as well, “It reminds me that I can be focused on all the little things that I want. But as you said, there are people who don’t have even big things I can take for granted: food, shelter, clothes, a jacket or something…sometimes getting what you really need is like finding blessings.”

Lisa related this to her own life, “Now that I don’t have any of the luxuries I once thought I needed, I’m grateful for what God does provide me in my life. It’s a hard lesson to have all that and then to lose it all. But God has been with me; I see God that way in my own life right now.”

Alisha spoke about where she saw God, “In this passage, I see God in that whole thing of following him. It’s one thing to go to church and listen, but another thing personally to decide ‘I’m going to follow you with my whole heart, even when troubles arise.’ In my life right now, I see God working in me trying to pray more and read the scriptures more, even if there aren’t a lot of people my age doing that. But, I’m not just doing that for me, or to make other people happy. I’m doing it to follow God.”

Lisa empathized with her, “I remember feeling that growing up. My family didn’t go to church much, and I didn’t really know a lot about God. But, ending up out here living on the street, often times we turn to churches and it has made me want to learn more about God, about what where and how God is leading me.”

Alisha asked, “What do you think this scripture is saying to us?”

Lisa responded, “I think it’s reminding us to just trust and believe in the Lord. If you don’t get your way, don’t throw a hissy fit and walk off. Maybe the thing we want isn’t the best thing for us. We want it all, we want to have it all perfect. We think “this has to be.” But it isn’t always the way it seems. Like for me, a couple weeks ago there was a job that I thought was perfect for me…a five minute walk, easy. But, I didn’t get it and then I was angry and disappointed. Then, just one week later, I got called about another job which is really wonderful, at the hospital. I didn’t think they would take me. But they did! I got that job and it is right up my alley. I start as soon as they process my paperwork.  I didn’t get what I wanted at first, but then another door opened and its one where I will get to help people.”

Alisha was genuinely happy to hear this, “What a blessing to see an example like that for you, not giving up but waiting and following and knowing God is working things out.”

Lisa offered another example, “I have been working for months to get into community college, too, to be a substance abuse counselor. There was a problem with my high school transcripts and I was ready to give up. But the admissions counselor there reminded me: don’t give up. I prayed, and I trusted God, and I kept going and being persistent. It worked out, and I didn’t give up. I’m going to be starting there in January, too!

Alisha was excited for her, “That’s so great!”

Lisa reflected a bit, “I think of it this way. I know how good it feels when someone notices you, speaks to you, reminds you that God is with you. So, I try to do that. I don’t walk past people. I stop and say hello, talk to them. I never knew how much that meant but now I know it means a lot. That is something I can always do.

“We need more people like that!” said Alisha, “People who can see others and remind them, we are all human, too.”

“I’ve tried to do that.” responded Lisa. “I think it’s a skill that I have and something that I’m called to do. People deserve to feel like human beings.”

Alisha was beaming: “You’re like a light! These people may feel like they’re in the darkness but you are a beacon of light, reminding them that to have that hope.”

She went on to reflect on her own life, “My own gifts and skills…well, I feel like God gave us a voice for a reason. I can be shy at times, but when I feel shy, I remember that God gave me a voice. If more people would raise their voices, and remember that God is with them and remind other people of that, the world would be a better place. So, I think a gift is to use my voice, to use the voice that God gave me.”

Lisa echoed this importance of this gift, “You’re right.  You never know. Someone you pass by might be depressed, might feel like they are ignored or worthless. They might even have had thoughts of ending their life. And the smallest thing, that time it takes to say hello, could make all the difference in the world. You never know. I’ve been that person. I’ve been the homeless person someone smiled at. It changed my whole day, my whole world. Hearing ‘have a blessed day’ actually touched me and changed me.”

 

When we follow, our lives can change and so can the lives of others.  Sometimes following seems so challenging, so huge, so drastic.  But the big, huge, drastic difference can come in the empathetic, compassionate voice that sees God in another human being.  Thank you, Lisa and Alisha for listening to your call and for sharing your story with us this week!

No Need to Hide

Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study for Epiphany 2, Year B

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 1:43-51

Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Contributing Authors:  Mary Ann and Faye

“The part that really stands out to me,” said Mary Ann,  “is, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth’.  It reminds me of things that people say now. Not about Nazareth, but about other places, like the housing projects, or West Virginia or wherever.  People make assumptions about places and all the people who might live there.”

“I know, that always makes me sad,” said Faye. “But then, I have to say, I want to think positive, but sometimes I think there are places that you only hear bad things about so its hard to not start thinking that way.

Faye paused.  She read that part of the verse again. “You know, that’s true.  I see myself in that.” said Faye. She went on to describe how her daughter married a man from one of the housing projects she felt nothing good could come from.  At at that time she felt he, like everyone there was up to no good. And some of that really seemed to be true.  But, then in spite of all her reservations, she watched him change after his mother died:  “In the beginning, I just couldn’t deal with it and I couldn’t believe my daughter would go out with him, I thought, what could she see in him?!  But then I got to know him and things happened.  For one, his mother died.  And when that happened, he changed.”  Faye said, “I know my daughter loves him, and he’s a great father. I realize now that his mother was in a bad way, on drugs and everything. He really did change, though, after she passed. Sometimes you have to give what you can, give a second chance.”

Mary Ann added, “When I hear people say, ‘can’t anything good come out of…whomever it is for them.  For some people, it’s homeless people, or a gay person, or a someone with addiction…whatever it is, people want to say nothing good can come from them.  But, then I think about what Philip said: Come, and See. In other words, come meet them, break down the barriers, take time for people to meet people who are different than we are.”

“That’s true,” Faye said, “but it’s sad, it’s sometimes so hard for people to talk to people. Like with people who are homeless.  When I’m in the park, I make myself say hello.  Sometimes I’m scared because I think that it could be me, and I know that I couldn’t survive living that way. I’m lucky, though, because I have family. I could knock on someone’s door if I need to. But I like to try to be on my own, to work hard. I’ve worked at hospitals and nursing homes. The nursing home work was hard; there are some people who are hard to work with or that some of the younger girls who work there would say, ‘Not that one, I don’t want to work with this or that one’ but I’d try to help, to remind them that everyone needs to be taken care of.

“It sounds like when you worked in that nursing home, you were doing a bit of what this Gospel is talking about yourself” said Mary Ann, “reminding them that when they thought nothing good could come from someone, there is still a person there.”

Faye thought about that.  She also offered up one last thought:

“I keep thinking about that fig tree,” said Faye. “I think other people need to hear what Jesus says, that he knows us already. We don’t have to hide under a fig tree or anything else. But, honestly, I can see myself sitting under that fig tree, like I do my chair! I just have to remember that there is no need to hide. Jesus knows us.”

faye b&w

Gifts We Have Been Given

A Faith from the Margins to the Web bible study interview for Epiphany, Year B:

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.

 

Contributing Authors: Lynnette and Davis

After opening with a prayer, Davis and Lynnette took turns reading the Gospel lesson for Epiphany

Davis: “We’ve heard the Christmas message many times, haven’t we?” He went on to paraphrase the Gospel, emphasizing that for him there is such wide-spread recognition of the importance of this child. On the world’s terms, is he a threat or a great ruler? To Herod, he’s a threat. But to the Magi, there were something more that they were following: “The whole idea is they came from halfway around the world and left him treasures…what do you think all that means, for us?”

Lynnette was quiet, then laughed a bit and said: “I think maybe I need to start going to church more!”

“Don’t we all!” Davis chuckled in response.

Sometimes it can seem, from the corners of our world and the social margins that we are on that we don’t know enough, or aren’t spiritual enough, or aren’t something enough to be entrusted with how the Holy Scriptures open up to us.  But that isn’t how it is with God, present with us throughout time and in every corner of our lives, revealing truth that is in our midst.  It was Lynnette who seemed to experience that Epiphany unfolding in the thoughtful, deliberate response that she offered up next:

Lynnette thoughtfully reflected; “Well, if Jesus and God…the Lord…are the same person and Jesus was formed through his mother…well it seems to me that none of us would be here if it weren’t for God, as well as our mothers and fathers.”

Lynette continued, “So, that makes me think that I have to give thanks to God; I pray every night to God and then I’m thankful in the morning when I wake up. I didn’t have to wake up…but I did wake up, so that gives the day a whole new possibility.”

Davis nodded, “That’s a really good way to live; a great way to look at it, really. Every day we wake up and we realize that if it weren’t for God, we wouldn’t be here.”

Lynette spoke again, “God is good, all the time.  I pray to God, and I realize God shows me the way, too. Like today, I woke up and saw that it was a beautiful day. I knew I had to get up, to put me on a smile, to get here to this place. I mean, I know that it isn’t something I can take for granted, you know.  There was a time and place when I thought I was going to die, when they said I needed a transplant. But I knew, I knew that I didn’t have to live that way, that if I kept taking medicine and started taking care of myself it would work. I believed that, and I believed that was God telling me that.  And it has worked out, and that is why I thank God and why I come here.”

Lynnette also reflected about the gift of her family.  “I have three boys; I worry about my kids sometimes but they have their own lives and they are on the right track!”

Davis asked their ages, and was surprised when he heard her children were in their 40’s, “You look like you’re younger than that!”

Lynnette laughed, “I do hear that a lot.  But it’s true.  They are good boys; they grew up with me and I tried to be a good Mama. I taught them good manners, and to have a spirit of love. My own parents raised me right and taught me how to walk the right ways of this life, too, and so I pass that on.”

Davis smiled at her and said, “It seems like Spirit has been in your life for a long time.”

Lynnette said, “Well, maybe I don’t know a lot, but I do know that God is with me.”

“Does God ever speak to you?” wondered Davis.

“You know one day, I heard someone say my name, plain as day. I thought ‘is that God?’” But I didn’t have to wonder. I remembered my Momma telling me, when you talk to God, He listens. So I take the time, take that time now to just talk to Him. I tell God my heart.”

Davis asked, “So, is there anything in here that we learned and we want to tell God?   The take home of this Gospel for me is that this ends up being the way that we celebrate Christmas: we give Christmas gifts…”

Lynnette added, “…and we give love…”

“Right!” said Davis. “We end up re-enacting the scene of Jesus being born, and the Three Kings are always there, giving gifts. It’s like we keep it going.  I want to be thankful for that gift of Jesus’ birth and the ways that we keep celebrating it.”

David and Lynnette shared about how each of their churches have celebrated Christmas over the years. A sense of welcome and giving emerged in their sharing, the commonality of love as the expression of Christian faith surrounded them.

Davis began to wrap up their conversation: “So, since we know that God is here right now, what would you tell God…what would you say…can we just talk right here, to God?”

Lynette chimed in immediately. “Of course we can!  I would.  I’d tell Him I love Him!”

Lynnette started their prayer with that: “I love you, God! Thank you for waking me up in the morning. Thank you for letting me be here. I love you God, and I learned more about You today, Lord and mighty God, through my friend Davis here.  Thank you for being with us.”

Then Davis prayed:

“God I thank you for Lynnette. She reminds me that you are always here. Sometimes I don’t pause enough to give you thanks. But, thank you for being here with us today. Thank you for allowing us to share together today. Thank you for reminding me of your loving presence, here with us today.”

Thank you, Lynnette and Davis, for the gift of your sharing and the light it brings to open this season of Epiphany. And than you, most of all, to God for the gift of your presence of love with us today and always.