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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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.”

Birthpangs of the here and now

25th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27, Year B)

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 13:1-8
As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: Willie and Sarah

 
I was honored, in this interview, to sit with my friend and FFMTW contributor Willie as we discussed this scripture together. We are drawing toward Advent, and coming full circle through this first year of Faith from the Margins to the Web.

“This is but the beginning of the birthpangs” said Willie. “Some definite changes are coming, I guess for mankind and everything. Well, I guess that we’ve got to get ourselves ready for our Lord and Savior, to get things in order.”

“It’s interesting that you said that” I said, “because it was that word, ‘birthpangs’ that stood out to me, too. In the midst of all those images of death and destruction, Jesus chooses that image of giving birth. Now, I don’t mean to be overly self-disclosing here, but I want to say for a fact: giving birth is painful! Worth it, of course but without a doubt, painful. But it isn’t pain for no reason…it is for a wonderful reason. It is leading to something new, something wonderful at the end of this process. There is this birth outcome that is so beautiful because of what you know is coming. It changes this whole passage for me to hear that word.”

“You know, that makes me think of my own mother. She was always reminding me of how things were, and I would come up running behind her wanting to know more. When I think about it, it was really my Mom who got me interested in the Bible, because she would tell me the beginning of the stories and I would be wanting to hear her tell me more and of course, then I’d have to be quiet and listen. It would be lessons like this, where I was small and I wanted to know what was coming ahead and she would tell me…and keep me guessing, too.”

“We always want to know what’s to come, don’t we?” I said. “I mean, think about it: this was 2,000 years ago and people wanted to know then what was happening. They were feeling like the end was near and Jesus was reminding them: this is still a birthing process. We’re not done yet!”

“You know, that’s true!” said Willie. “When Jesus was on the cross, and it was like this moment when there was the thunder and the lightning and heaven was starting to shake…you know, it was at that moment people were looking around and thinking ‘oh wow…this man really WAS the son of God!’ It’s like we are just waiting and waiting for that moment when it comes clear, when we can’t ignore it, so we can really see and believe. But you know, it’s really been right there in front of our eyes the whole time. The other story my Mom used to tell me is how you’d be walking with a friend, and maybe that would be when the Lord would come and if you weren’t ready, that friend might be whisked away with God and you’d be left standing there. That always got my attention!”

“I have to be honest” I said, “it is the stories of destruction or these ‘left behind’ stories that are the hardest for me. When I was growing up, I was often told stories about all that end-time, apocalypse destruction or told about how I might be left behind if I didn’t get right with God and it would terrify me. Truly…for me it was terror, and I became so afraid, even afraid of God. It look me a lot of years to reconcile these images that I’d be given of a destructive God, and the images I held and cherished of a loving God. But it helped me…and still helps me…when I think about the way that things torn down make room for new growth. It’s like pruning away trees, or here, like birthpangs. It also helps me to think about it a different way, too. I know you’re grieving your friend, and I’m grieving some friends, too. So the lesson I’m reminded of is that when we are walking with our friends here on earth, we really never know how long we have to cherish that relationship. And so, it becomes important to be present, to see God in the face of the other person right here and right now. I think there isn’t just a ‘here’s what might happen…” message, but a ‘pay attention right now so you don’t miss seeing God!’ message, too.”

“You know, that reminds me of something really important” said Willie, “I mean, I’ve been battling on with dialysis and believe me, that too is painful. And I could so easily just be stuck in the pain of it or wish to be taken way. But then, I remember that I have my own place, my own battlefield right then and there. And why not there? You know, because that is where people are aching and hurting. I have a role to play and thing that need to happen right then and there!”

“It’s your mission field” I said, “You were wondering to me before we started what mission field you were called to. But maybe, where you are right now really is your mission field.”

“That’s true, that’s true” said Willie, “I mean, just think about my friend Dave. I had to work hard at first because even though we were walking together through our treatment, we did not see eye to eye. He saw my skin color, and I saw his distrust. But it didn’t stop, and we persisted and God prevailed. It was like birthpangs! I mean, he would actually whine and complain and I would think, “you are acting like a baby!” and now I realize: it was truly like a baby because those were true cries of pain, that he didn’t have words for. So, we kept walking together, I would be beside him and pray, and try to be a comfort to him. We took the time, and we both learned to see Christ in each other, no matter our differences.”

“I think you just hit right on what Jesus was talking about here” I said. “We have so many opportunities not just to wonder what will happen in the future, but to see God here and now.  Those birthpangs are a message that there is something new, something happening right here and now.  We just have to keep our eyes open to see God at work.”

What I have is yours

25th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27, Year B)

 

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Mark 12:38-44

 

As Jesus taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study Group (De’Nae, Paul, Eugene, Taj, John, William, George, Jonathan and Theresa)

 

The small group bible studies that we hold each month as part of Faith from the Margins to the Web have become very popular events. This particular week, the parlor where we regularly meet was filled to capacity with people.  De’Nae, a student at the local university and I conferred quickly and decided to amend the usual format in order to try to allow for as much participation among group members as possible. After reading the Gospel, we asked everyone to think about and begin the study by sharing their response to one question: “Do you think the widow that Jesus points out is a victim, or a hero?”  

We begin this week’s study right there; the answers came fast and furious:

“I’d say hero” said William.

“She gave from her heart” added Taj.

Jonathan was thoughtful: “All the rest, they gave because they have a lot.  I mean, you can give like a thousand dollars or something.  But if you ain’t giving from your heart, then you’re just giving it selfishly so you think you’ll get something back.”

Eugene chimed in, “She didn’t have that much, but she gave in a different place than those that had more to give.”

“She gave ALL that she had” said Paul.  “Listen, a guy with a million dollars might have given more, even if it was 10%.  But she gave 100% even though she was poor.”

“Especially, think about it, that’s what you’re supposed to do” said John.  “Jesus says what we are supposed to do: to give from our HEARTS.  The amount isn’t what is important; the heart and the trust, that is what is important.”

“So, everyone says hero?” asked De’Nae

“Let me say something about that,” said George “because I think some people will give what they can, and that kind of giving is from that heart.  But some people might be told to give all that they have, because they are threatened. Somewhere in there is a place where we give all of what we have, because we realize it belongs to God.”

“People may hesitate to give, or might become concerned about what resources they have tomorrow” said Theresa.  “This lady, imagine it was someone today, she would get her paycheck and have to cash it and put all of that into the temple.  Let’s be real: we would not do that. I wouldn’t do that. Who can do that?  But she did that!”

The group began to open into seeing something deeper in the story.  Nods and interjections of agreement began to resonate around the room.  De’Nae, an undergraduate student who was the newest and youngest member of the group decided to share from her heart:

“I was pretty much raised on giving” said De’Nae.  “You see, I was adopted. I had been through a lot, through foster care and all of that.  But, when I got adopted, I got adopted to a Christian family. My adopted father is a pastor, and one thing that my parents have always done is give.  Because my parents have a bigger house, people always think, “oh they got it” but that’s not the whole story. My Mama, she has always put giving first.  She has like 10 Godchildren that she supports, and they have five children of their own. They adopted three of us, and they birthed two of their own. They are still putting us through college and loving us, and giving us a chance.  I mean, I’m in school right now and there’s one of my brothers still in high school. They wanted to give, they made a choice and they always have what they need. But there were times we didn’t know if we were going to make it. I know that one of the babies got sick one time; my Mom had to quit her job and take care of her, and there were all these medical bills.  My Mom was tired and stressed and thought, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But she prayed, and what came to her is “You have love you can give.” And so she thought: ‘yeah, maybe I do have something I can give.’ Even when she didn’t know if she could give, she gave. And now, that is what they have always taught me: give back. It isn’t about earning it back or making up for something, or being told that you have to give.  You give, because when you empty yourself you can receive love. That’s why I’m in the service learning program in college. I was nine when they adopted me. I was a foster kid, just with them temporarily. They could have said, “you’re too old” but they didn’t. They didn’t hardly know me but they loved me and they trusted God, and because of that I got a family. We might not get along all the time; there might be stress; there might be tight times we can’t even stand each other.  But there was ALWAYS love. My Mama always had that to give and I got that gift from her. So, I can’t imagine what else I would do but give.”

The room was filled with loving responses back to De’Nae: “A room, love, food, conversation: it’s amazing how much we need that.  It’s so simple, but people don’t always feel they can even give that. They can” said Theresa, “Your Mama, she proved that.”

“It’s like a little kid” said Paul. “Sometimes, what they recognize is love.  Kids need that from their parents, from the grown-ups in their lives. Love means they are looked out for, they are safe, they are cared for.  It isn’t because you feel sorry for someone; it’s that you LOVE them and you want what is best for them when you have love in your heart. Love isn’t about the color of the skin, or the age of person, or even whether you like someone all the time.  Love is LOVE.”

“Love will get you so far in life.  It will get you so much farther than money or finances or all that.  My foster parents showed me so much love, that recently I was able to reconnect with my birth parents with their help.  I didn’t do that because I needed something from them. I did that because I had a chance to love them, too. I learned that they had made mistakes, but they still had love.  And now, we all have more love, all of us.” said De’Nae.

“You know, there is a lot of trickery that has been going on in this world” said John.  “I mean those of us, a lot of us here who are black people, we built this world off the sweat of our labor after we were brought here against our wills.  That’s the story of our people. There could be so much darkness…so much darkness. What the white people did to the slaves was not love: it was separating families, mothers and fathers from children.  And I just can’t believe that under Trump, this country is doing the same thing now…maybe with a different nationality…but it’s the same thing. Separating parents and children from each other, it’s just wrong.  But even with all that darkness, you can’t stop love. You feel what I’m saying?? God is saying, if you walk this path, everything isn’t going to be peaches and cream. To get where we are going, you got to go through a lot.  A WHOLE LOT. You might be told to give everything you have. It’s like you have to trust that God knows where you are going. If God loves us, God knows that place.”

Eugene spoke quietly and deliberately: “The thing is that, God does love us.  And by God doing what God did, by Jesus being who he was, we receive that love.  And if that love holds us, there is nothing in this world that we need to fear. If we see ourselves as part of that Godly purpose, it changes how we see ourselves and what we think about what our possessions are on this earth.”

“You know, at the end of the day, I think maybe she isn’t a hero or a victim” said Theresa.  “I think she looked at those two coins and she looked up at God and she thought, ‘if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even have this.  You made me, and what I have is yours. So go ahead, have this: here it is. I want you to accept this, just like I accept what you give me.”

“I want to say something before we close” said John.  “I’m learning from this, I’m learning. When I come here, to this bible study it is like I am letting everything out.  This is better than therapy and when I do this, my life has been filled. When I go what I go through and I come and I talk: nothing else bothers me.  It’s like God has set his hand on me. I used to worry that God would ever forgive me. And here, I come here and it is like God fills me and I know that I have a place.  I came here when I had nothing and God met me, and I continue to be filled.”

This, my friends, is what the gift of love truly is.

 

*On a personal note, I am preparing for my ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons this Saturday, November 10. In The Episcopal Church all who are to be ordained as priests first (and always) serve as deacons.  I will be spending the next chapter of my journey serving as deacon and Missioner to Monroe Park, walking beside those we serve at feeding programs and food pantries and on the streets and parks around Richmond.  I live in deep anticipation of the way this ministry will change me.  When we recorded this interview, I helped the group get started but was called away several times as the group conversed about this scripture together.  I didn’t get to hear the whole recording until tonight.  As I transcribed this group recording, it was as if I was given a profound gift.  I can not imagine a more appropriate message to have received this week than that which I have been given here in this interview, and which I hold as my own prayer this ordination week:

She looked up at God and she thought, ‘if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even have this. You made me, and what I have is yours. So go ahead, have this: here it is. I want you to accept this, just like I accept what you give me.’

Amen.

 

 

The Greatest of These

24th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26, Year B)

 

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Mark 12:28-34

 


One of the scribes came near and heard the Saducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  Alisha, Tony, Ty, John and Lorenzo

 

This small group gathered on a Friday afternoon across the red-cushioned pews by the light of the stained glass windows in the nave of the church, following the Red Door healing service and lunch.  Alisha, a University student, joined with this small group of Red Door regulars to discuss the week’s Gospel lesson. 

As they finished reading the lesson, there was one theme unmistakably resonating.  “The greatest commandment of all…love your neighbor as yourself” reflected John.  “This really stands out to me. I mean, it’s one thing to just talk about loving people in general.  But loving your neighbor, the people you see every day whether you like them or not…well, that is the challenge.”

“Do we really love our neighbor as ourselves?” wondered Ty.  “I mean, no one has ever seen God. No one. So, the only way that we can love God is through loving others.  We know we are all created in the image of God, so that’s our way of seeing God.”

“But the way the world is going, that’s hard though…I mean, people get on your last!”  said Tony.

Alisha chuckled at that as did the whole group.  This, as we all know, is undeniably true!

“I love everyone” said Lorenzo.  “Even my enemies know I love them.  Wait, maybe that’s why they’re my enemies!”  The group laughed again, with the truth of how simple it sounds but how hard it is to live into the depth of this Gospel lesson.

“Well, when I read this, the thing that stood out to me was also love” said Alisha.  “But, it’s the reality that we cannot accept love without understanding how God can love us.  The way in which we show love to other people reflects how we see ourselves as loved by God.”

“But, there are some people who have trouble being loved” added John.  “Sometimes I think, once the will to experience God’s love is there then people will understand what love is about.  We come away sometimes only thinking about what we want to think. But there is a way God wants us to think, and that is through the eyes of Love.”

Ty spoke thoughtfully: “Everybody, no matter who they are, has their own interpretation of the word of God.  You can’t define the word, and you can’t define the love of God fully, either. It’s like trying to find words around something you’ve never seen.  You’ve never seen air…but you know that its there! But love isn’t always the same from person to person. You can love your parents, but that isn’t the same as loving your girlfriend or boyfriend.  And the more we love, in all the different ways that we love, we come to know God in all the different ways that God can love us.”

John said, “I was thinking about the fact that ‘disciple’ means ‘learner’ and here Jesus is taking time to love his disciples, and let his disciples know how life can be in the kingdom.  I mean, every day, there are situations where I might want to say something but I don’t say it…sometimes that is love. And other days, my daily testing is to stand fast instead of running away or giving up.  At the end of the day, I realize that I’m always a work in process. I don’t always live into my fullest. Sometimes I fall. But God says, draw near to me. So, every day I am seeking God for clarity and understanding.  I see God working things out every day. It might not be what I wanted. But God is working.”

John summed up the depth of unconditional love:  “The truth is…think of all those stories…God could have wiped us out, so many times.  But God did not…God sees our potential, more than we could ever see. God came through all those generations to be born on earth, to be pierced in the side, to go through death and the gates of hell just because of love.  I mean that is deep love. That is truly unconditional love.”

One of the things I most love about this group is that this is encounter I’ve captured among them is just a fraction of the deep and lengthy conversation in which they engaged each other.  As I have learned throughout this inaugural year of Faith from the Margins to the Web, there are so many ways that God moves in and through each and every one of us.  The glimpses I post each week have been just that…glimpses of God in motion. The motion never stops, and the love that has spread through this project has transformed our participants, and has transformed me.  Truly, we are not far from the kingdom of God when we cross all these social margins to love our neighbor and experience the way that God is moving in our midst.

Choosing Community

14th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16, Year B)

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 6:56-69

 

Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

 

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

 

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web contributors: Christine, John, Mary Ann, Jamillah and Ty

As interest in Faith from the Margins to the Web has grown, we take the opportunity to do an occasional group study so that all who want to participate are able to do so.  This week’s group gathered on a Friday afternoon not only to enjoy each other’s company but to welcome Christine and John’s newborn daughter.  There was great rejoicing before we even started the bible study, and that joy could not help but permeate the room and make God’s presence know.

The group took turns reading the Gospel lesson together and began to talk about what stood out for them:

“That first line from the disciples” said John, “I can give testimony about that!  What we’ve been through in the past few years…2016, 2017, and right up until now it has been hard. Really hard.  I mean bad. Like, toxic charity bad. But we have learned so much about trust, and so much about God. So, when they say, ‘this teaching is hard’, I can relate! Everything started falling apart for me when I stopped going to meetings, and then it would just spiral from there.  I wasn’t thinking about taking care of myself, I was just trying to do it all on my own.  But God was showing me that I had to take care of myself to take care of them.”  He paused to look at his family.  “I know now I have to take care of myself, and to put my trust in God.”

“The prayer we prayed seems perfect” said MaryAnn.  “The spirit gives us life. Looking at that little baby there: I can just see how the spirit gives her life!”

Jamillah brought her own perspective to the table, thinking about the ways that the disciples began to talk among themselves, how there was a tension between the faith of the spirit and the way the body can be useless.  “Sometimes we lose sight of the spirit because we’re too focused on the body.”

“But then it says, the one who eats of this bread will live forever” said Christine. “And it drives me crazy because you always see these commercials for younger this, younger that. Everyone is trying to live forever and do this and do that to make it happen, but we have a deeper truth we have to remember, of living forever in Christ.”

It was all the explanations that Jesus offered that stood out to Ty: “Jesus didn’t say you HAD to believe anything. He didn’t demand it of the disciples.  It was presented calmly, explained fully, and Jesus gives them a choice. It isn’t about what you HAVE to do, it’s what you CAN do.”

“Yes, he invites them to follow or not to” said MaryAnn. “That is such a gift, to hear that.”

John recounted the ways that he sees God in motion in his own life, like an explanation of what he needed to do. “Sometimes God is patting my hand…or maybe kicking my caboose…but always it’s my choice. That freedom is a gift.  It’s like they said: where else would I go?”

In beautiful ways, the group began to share how they were seeing God in each other right in that space, in that moment, in each other’s stories. The explanations of how God is revealed ranged from the emotional release of therapy and counseling, to the calmness offered through medications, to the skilled hands of surgeons, to the beauty of seeing the curiosity and wonder of small children who shared their lives. In just a few minutes, the gift of God’s presence was revealed in those around the table and it was evident that they were choosing community, and in community God was being revealed.

“There are so many ways that we’re told the world will test us, but there are also gifts that God gives us. The spirit of God that is in us is working for us, right here and right now.” said Jamillah.

“There are always so many things we could worry about if we let ourselves” said Christine. “Will we have enough diapers, will there be enough food, will all the bills gets paid. But when I stop worrying and start paying attention to where God is now, we always end up with enough. Even today: I work up this morning and started to worry. But instead, I prayed and lived into today. Now, we have enough: enough food, enough diapers and even enough work and money that we didn’t know would come through.”

“Right” said John, “It’s like the Red Sea…God parts it, but we walk it. I stay constantly try to be sure that things are lined up but I also have trust.”

“Most of us, being human, look at the coin from both sides” said John. “But, a coin actually has three sides: it also has the edge, and that edge is spirituality. It’s what keeps the heads and tails together, keeps it rolling. Someone told me that once, and I think about it all the time. We need our spirituality; there is no this side or that…we need the spirit to hold it all together.”

“I think this Gospel is telling us how important it is to keep the faith” said Jamillah. “It’s up to you to want to listen to the word, to take those steps forward. But we live because we see the life of Christ.”

“It’s why communion is so important to me” said MaryAnn, “It brings us closer to God by experiencing Christ in each other.”

“The church isn’t the building” said Ty, “but the fact that we see Jesus here…that we have fellowship, that we have communion…that is what makes this a holy place.”

In this holy place that emerged among them, the group read the Collect for the Day again together, bringing them into community and sharing with us the gift that is unity across boundaries of this world through Christ who is with us in all things.

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Bread of Life (Part I)

11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13, Year B)

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 6:24-35

 

The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

 

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

 

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Authors: Mary, Willie and Charles
Mary, Willie, and Charles are regular attenders of the weekly healing prayer service and feeding program of a local Episcopal church. All three are now older adults who live a short walk from the church; all three have experienced homelessness in their own lives, families, and communities.

We gathered as a small group to discuss the lectionary readings for the 11th, 12th, and 13th Sundays after Pentecost, which pivot around this central point: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” We’ll hear from the authors of this group for the next few weeks.

Mary started, “I look at this as saying, the ‘bread of life’ as the way that Jesus comes to us, the way that Jesus helps us know how to know him. Way back when, Adam and Eve, they had been the ones to eat and disobey God. And now Jesus says, “I am the bread” and wants us to eat, wants us to know him, wants us to follow in the way that he sets out for us. The bread of heaven helps us know heaven. It doesn’t take much for us to get to where we need to, to do what we need to do. Jesus says, “I am the bread” so we know it doesn’t have to be hard to follow Him. It’s something we just have to do, we have to eat.”

Willie added to Mary’s comments: “I think about how important it is what we do here on Fridays. We hear the Word, we’re fed on the Word and then we break bread together over lunch. And in that sense, good feelings and joy and contentment abide through it all, body and spirit. It fills us. I was just thinking, there have been many times I come by here and hear the word and I am filled. I’ve left sometimes without eating lunch, because I’m already filled!”

“Of course, we come back then, because the food is good, too!” joked Mary, “but it is true; it nourishes the soul to hear the Word and people don’t realize how important that is.”

Charles quietly said, “I think Jesus says, ‘I am the bread’ because we know how important it is, how much Jesus is part of our every, single day. Like he prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

“I like that Charles” I said, “We can focus on behaviors…doing right, following perfectly. But Jesus says ‘here I am, let me feed you’ and this is part of the way Jesus is teaching his disciples, and all of us, to pray.”

“Exactly” said Mary, “Give us this day our daily bread” which is Jesus.  It’s like Jesus gives us that instruction; Jesus says ‘walk with me.’”

“That’s what I pray every day” said Charles, “Help me walk with you, Jesus.”

“You know what this makes me think of” says Mary, “it makes me think about those boys in the cave, you know, in Thailand. How many days did they go without food? There were all those people following Jesus on the mountain and they didn’t have food either. Sometimes we end up in places where we truly need to be fed, and Jesus saw how those people needed that…needed to be fed…so that they could hear what he had to say.”

Willie chimed in, “You know, I heard a story about how they learned how to meditate, how the coach both gave them the food that he had and helped them meditate. It reminds me of that, and how that focus…the prayer, the meditation…might have been one of the things that helped them survive.”

The group talked for awhile about the specifics of what we’ve come to know about that miraculous cave rescue, the survival of those trapped as well as their return and re-entry into society.

“And even when they were rescued, it isn’t as easy as just, ‘here you are, go free!’” said Willie, “there was a lot more to it than that. Situations change you.”

This made the group consider how that gathered group…the 5,000 gathered to hear Jesus and in the process had been fed and nourished in both body and spirit…may have been changed more deeply than they realized.  That following and looking for Jesus was about the practical and the spiritual.

“It’s hard to know what they were feeling.  I can’t quite imagine it” said Willie.  “Well, maybe I can because I feel that, I get all emotional sometimes just been fed on the Word.  It may be that Jesus needed to give them that grounding, to remind them that they weren’t just given something to eat; they had been fed with the bread of life.  That changed them, and it changes us, too.”

Shake it off…

7th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9, Year B)

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 6:1-13

 

Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

 

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  Ty, Mary, and John

“Why does Jesus say to shake the dust off his feat?” asked Ty.  “I always wanted to know that!”

“Well, he was in his home town…and you know how that goes.” said John.

I posed a question to the group members: “What do you all think it means?  What tends to happen with you in your home town?  Are you always welcome there?”

There were a few head nods, but more knowing glances and at least one, “well, sometimes…but…”

“It’s a little more ‘sometimes’ for me, too” I added.  “In fact, I think this whole story makes us realize that Jesus may have felt that same thing we do.”

“That’s right, for me too” said John.  “You know, it’s hard when you decide to do things on your own terms, to not fall back into a crowd where you’ve been pulled down before.  I started making decisions that were right for me, to focus on my family, to put my faith in God.  And, it was like I wasn’t welcome anymore.  And that’s OK, you know, because everyone has their own path.  I still pray for them and I believe in their time they will come around.  But, I just can’t let them pull me down in the process.”

“Sounds like shaking the dust off to me!” said Ty.  “Maybe I just got the answer to my question!  I can relate to that, too.  And even when the people I once knew seem like they’re listening to me, I can tell by the look on their faces that they have already moved on and left me standing there in the dust.   But, a verse like this, it reminds me that we’re not alone in that.  Jesus knew that.”

Mary, who had been quiet, bravely joined in to share her own story: “You know, I’ve been kind of quiet but I need to say something.  I admit, I used to use drugs. And it was so hard to quit.  I went to rehab, and when I came back my old “friends” wanted nothing to do with me.  I had to wonder, in the end, were they really friends with me, or were they friends with the drugs?  So, finally I had to shake that dust off and move on.  I went to church; I found new friends where we had God in common.  I’m not ashamed of that; I learned from that.”

“But we still love people” said John. “I still love my family, and I think Jesus still loved people even if they weren’t accepting of him or the message he was sharing.  Shaking the dust off the feet doesn’t mean shaking people off.  It means loving them in God.”

Ty agreed, “I think that’s right.  Our human side is hurt, so we can do one of two things: go back to what we were doing with the people we were doing it with, or find a way to live into who we are called to be.  That’s where our spirituality comes in, the spiritual nature of our beings.  We can shake off the problems while we pray for the people.  Caring about what they think, we can let that go.  Caring about them: now that, we can pray about.   Hmmm…I guess I answered my own question!  Or maybe, we all did.”

Yes, we all did hear the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst in this holy conversation.  I’m grateful, as always, for the gift of stories and the depth of sharing that this project brings to our weekly scriptures!