Open our hearts…

20th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22, Year B)

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 10:2-16
Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

 

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

 

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Reflection from Sarah

When I put together our weekly packets for contributors from FFMTW, I often wonder where the conversation will lead.  One of the joys of this project is that I don’t expect people to have preconceived ideas about the meaning of the scripture; instead, the interview asks those conversing together to consider where the Gospel passage has meaning and relevance in their own lives.  Let it be said: those who participate in this project are not “new” to the Gospel.  I commonly encounter people whose hearts have been hardened by the messages of this world which make it easy to assume that people living with homelessness, poverty, mental health and addiction are unchurched, less faithful or even [hurts me to write] in need of some sort of “conversion.”  What I hope the readers of this blog are realizing week after week is that we are all…all of us…recipients of the Good News when our hearts are open to receive.  Jesus continually reminds us that poverty and wealth are completely different in the eyes of the world than in the realm of God.  God is abundantly present on the streets, shelters and soup kitchens of this world, and God’s beloved people who gather in those spaces reveal that to those of us with worldly privilege enough so that we don’t need (or perhaps, want) to rely upon the charity of others.

My Buddhist friends introduced me to the concept of “beginner’s mind.”  Being mindful and open to learning is not the same as having no basis of information, nor does it mean being oblivious to the systems that oppress and constrain us from our full human potential.  It means that we approach without constraint, with openness of mind and heart.  Even in our most advanced studies, we can approach with openness and without judgement, allowing new learning and truth to emerge.

This week’s lesson has sometimes been used out of context to speak against people, or to legalistically judge their relationships and actions.  But, reading this passage with beginner’s mind helps us see that Jesus wasn’t judging actions; Jesus was making a point that rather than the lines in the sand we can be quick to draw about who is “in” and who is “out,” the kingdom of God is instead to be experienced like the openness of a child.  Jesus draws children to the center of this story, demonstrating the openness of heart that helps us see and know God.

This week, I didn’t give the lesson to just one or two people.  I’ve talked with T, and Willie, and Angie…with Junior, and W.B., and several others about this passage.  Many of them have felt the sharp pain of judgement by society and some, I am sad to relate, have internalized this to judge their own worthiness.  Their faith, though, resides in a God that sees and knows them without drawing barriers.  T was the one who grabbed my arm, her eyes fiery and her head shaking her dreadlocks back and forth as she told me about the moment she stopped believing the world’s judgement and came to be an advocate for women experiencing sexual and domestic violence, “I had already told my story years ago, and I knew the pain of not being believed, because of the color of my skin and the way that I looked.  And then one day I was in the court with my friend, and I heard the other women telling their stories and I saw the way that people would look at them, like they had already written them off.  Even the officers.  Even the judge.  The first time I stepped up next to someone to tell an officer, ‘Look at her!  Listen to her! Look at me!  If you can’t even look at us, you are being racist!’ I was terrified.  But I had to say that.  Nothing will change if people think it’s OK for a woman to be beat up, and especially a black woman.  We have stories and we have lives.  God knows that.”

This Gospel asks us to take up beginner’s mind when we begin to judge the worthy from the unworthy.  Receiving God’s love as a child means setting aside hardness of heart and opening to the possibility of divine love and grace.  In our own lives, how do we pattern ourselves after Jesus who reaches out and welcomes the most vulnerable (as children were in that society)?  Maybe our best Gospel action is to follow Jesus’ lead: “He took them in his arms, laid hands upon them, and blessed them.”

May we be blessed by all who cross our paths today, as we open our hearts to encounter God.

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