Who Am I?

17th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19, Year B)

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Mark 8:27-38

 

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

 

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

 

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study Group

“It seems to me that they were afraid, but there really wasn’t a need for them to be afraid”  Mary Alice offered up. “You got to do the thing that you have been taught, like you have been raised up”

“I used to think that even at 10 or 12 years old, I wanted to argue with God.  I knew what I had been taught, that I felt like I wanted to worship God but was sort of trapped in a way” said Jamillah. “It has sometimes felt like all the hard work that we do is what gets us close to God.  But maybe God is saying that it is about being a servant, about stepping back.” said Jamillah

“Oh, I can get right next week, or next week, or next week” said David.  “I take from this that I need to think about how to really come home. I can keep making excuses, we all can.  But, then God is there saying to follow me, to love my enemies.”

“How do you know what God has done?” asked MaryAnn

“Well, I don’t want to play God, you know” said David.  “I love God, but sometimes I try to get around all of that love.  That’s probably when I need to tell the devil to get behind me.”

“Maybe the hardest part is loving ourselves” said Mary Ann.  “I went to a funeral recently and they read that passage about how there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.”

“I ain’t trying to cut you off” said Mary Alice, “but you know, I am thinking about a situation with a friend of mine.  We had words before, and we hadn’t been on good terms. She called me today, and asked me to go with her to the store. She said, ‘do you need anything?’ and I said, ‘I just need you to know I will always be here for you.’  And we started to talk, and to realize that it wasn’t about each other that we had been separated; it was about keeping company that was keeping her from feeling the love of God.”

“It’s like when you feel that, when you’re going through a trial, you have to know that God is with you.” said Jamillah.

“Right, and my friend she might not be here forever.  She is very sick. Now she needs to know that people are with her, that God is with her” continued Mary Alice.

“All of you are so willing to open up” said Mary Ann. “I’m so impressed with you all the time, Jamillah.  You are willing to open up and put yourself out there, and share how you see God with you. I learn so much from you.”

“You know, that idea that the devil is always testing us” said David.  “It just does seem like that is the case, and I have to learn, you know, like just does to not get mad at the person but to see that some people are speaking the words that tempt me.”

“It’s interesting” said MaryAnn “because we can see God in other people, too”

“I’m thinking about my sister” said Mary Alice.  “My sister, she was a servant in my life. She used to be our rock, when my parents would go out, and she would be our parent.  Even when I see her now, I thank her for that and for all that she did for me. I tell her now, even when I see her, and she lights up by sunshine.”

“My mother was like that, said David.  “We grew up in the church and she made sure that we felt that love from God.”

Charles said, “You know, I have a lady in my building.  She is 97 years old. I help her out and make sure that she gets three meals a day.  She doesn’t like to be alone at night. Her daughter came to see her last week, and she was still in the bed when she got there.  She was still breathing, but they knew something wasn’t right. Now, she went to the hospital but came back and I said to her daughter, “I’ll check on her for you, every day.  I know she needs someone.”

These stories of how we live together in this world show us so much about how God is seen and known in our midst, through temptation and the desire to try to save ourselves.  And yet, it is in losing ourselves to greater service that we are found. It always amazes me in these interviews that this is exactly where God finds us.

 

Advocate

Pentecost, Year B

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

 

Jesus said to his disciples, ”When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

 

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

 

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: Steven, Lever and Ben

 

Lever opened this bible study in prayer and Steven read the Gospel lesson. It was Ben, the new member of the group, who spoke first:

“It sounds to me, when you read this, that he is bringing security to those around him who might need to be comforted. Like he wanted to stay connected.”

“This Advocate, you know, the Holy Spirit, knows the word of God” said Steven. “And it says that Jesus says, ‘It is to your advantage that I go away.’ That part kind of confuses me. It’s hard to imagine it is an advantage for Jesus to go away and the disciples probably didn’t think so either!”

“Well, maybe it’s like the Holy Trinity, you know: Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit are all one” added Ben. “But, the anointing of the Spirit of God is going to make our understanding of God even stronger. It is like people were being blessed MORE when Jesus joined his Father. That’s the comfort”

“It looks to me like the person who has been feeling separated by sin, the Holy Spirit draws us in and that might make us feel even closer to God.” said Steven. “It meant that the Holy Spirit was meant for all people, and to go to all nations.”

“It says to me that he loved humanity so much that he would even die. But death wasn’t the end, and even when Jesus left the earth it wasn’t the end. The Holy Spirit came and that has given us power, and love. That love is what I feel” said Ben. He sat in that realization for a minute, “I’m just thinking about that…all that LOVE. It’s awesome. Wow.”

The group moved back to the idea of the Holy Spirit as Advocate, sharing their stories. Ben shared first, “You know that Advocate: when I have done those things that are wrong, the Holy Spirit works on me and it makes me want to return, and to know that I will be met in love.”

Steven said, “No matter what you’re going through in life, even if you’re going through hard times, he’s still with you regardless. If you have faith, he promises that he’ll never lead you.”

“It’s like God is on our side” said Lever.

I had been sitting off to the side, listening to these three men talk together. But at this point I joined in a bit because this idea of being an advocate is just so meaningful to me.

“I have to share just one thing. You all know I’m a social worker and have been for almost 30 years now!” I confessed, “and now I’m doing this new thing, training to be a priest. But this word, this idea of being an ‘advocate’ is such an important part of what makes me a social worker and a priest. Advocates never do for or take away from. When we advocate, it means that we take somebody’s whole self, and we see them exactly as they are and we stand with them in solidarity. A true advocate never takes over or gets in the way; a true advocate stands with. I think that is the most powerful image I can imagine of Holy Spirit as Advocate for us.”

“That’s right” said Steven, “It’s like the Holy Spirit loves us and stands with us just like we are, in whatever situation we are in.”

“Advocacy asks us to be exactly who we are and meet someone else exactly as they are” I said.

“RIght” said Steven “just like an advocate for the homeless might go with them, or help them but would never criticize them for being homeless..”

“When the Holy Spirit advocates for us with God, it is like we are invited to be known and loved by God in the fullness of our being. That’s what I’m hearing and learning from this group” said Ben.

Lever added, “I was just thinking how blessed I am, every time we do this. The first time I did a bible study I learned something new but now every time I get the chance to do this, I learn even more and bring even more to it. This is really blessing me.”

“It’s awesome” said Ben. “This is the first time I’ve done this but I will do this again.” He looked around, “I love this space, too.”

We were in the small chapel, the oldest part of the parish. I particularly love the chapel windows so I pointed out one of my favorites, of Christ being known in the breaking of the bread. “Look there…that window…it was put in here, in this place of worship in memory of someone born in 1877. Can you imagine what people gathered to worship then would think if they could see us now in 2018, sitting here and having this bible study together. It might shock them quite a bit, actually. But the Holy Spirit was with them then, and inspired them to build these spaces so that other people would see them and see God reflected in them. They were participating in the fullness of God, just as we are now. And who knows who will be seeing and experiencing God here 100 years from now?!”

“The Holy Spirit, that’s who!” said Steven.

With that shared truth we laughed while our hearts were drawn even closer through the never ending work of our Advocate and Comforter who was and is present in our midst.

be known