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

All about the Love

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

In these weeks of Eastertide, we are using a group bible study format for Faith from the Margins to the Web which rotates facilitators for each week’s Gospel lesson. Each week features highlights from the group gathered that illustrate each week’s Gospel lesson. People who had participated in a previous interview were invited to become the group facilitators, and that core group added new participants for each lesson. 

Group participants for Easter 4, Easter 5, and Easter 6: Willie. Christina, Kaiju, Paul, William, Jamillah, Angela, Leroy and David.

Willie read this Gospel lesson for the group and offered up the first reflection:

“God commands us…we do his word…and we don’t want to do all those things we once used to do, because we feel convicted.  And by that, I don’t mean guilt.  I mean love.  When the Holy Spirit convicts us, it opens us up to abide in love. It isn’t to be convicted to be cast out, it’s being convicted to want to be part of something greater.”

“That’s right” said David, “It’s like going to the club, you want to get in and once you get in you want to stay in…but it isn’t that kind of club…it’s God’s Club and its full of love.”

Kaiju expanded on that, thinking about the images of this Easter season: “Remember, when Jesus was crucified, it was in the middle of two people, a murderer and a thief. Two people nobody loved and nobody trust.  But Jesus not only forgive them, He invited them to paradise, to let them know they were already forgiven. And all they had to do was to hear those words.”

Christina was reminded of her upbringing:  “You know, I grew up in the church, went there my entire life. I was always told you could be on your death bed and still accept Jesus Christ and you’d go to heaven. Now, I know that there are different religions that believe different things and some say you have to be baptized, but that’s always the way I was taught it.”

David was polite but puzzled: “What do you mean by that, stop right there. I mean, that might be true and all, because I’ve heard that too.  But you know, even if that’s true, I mean it’s a growing process, too.”

“Like the prodigal son” said Willie, “I mean, imagine you had someone, a parent who always wanted you to come home. You were out there doing what you pleased until you realized life was about to end and then you come running home.  It isn’t that you aren’t welcome, of course you are.  But it’s that you spent so many years missing out on the relationship, missing out on all that love.”

Paul chimed in:  “Once you get Christ in your heart, you know, he’s going to guide you. It keeps us there, close to God, inside God’s understanding of us. It’s powerful, that love, powerful.  Every day, I read and I study but I still fall short. That is why we need God. God knows everybody’s heart. Everybody in the Bible, they all did wrong sometimes. But God knew them, and loved them, and God loves us in the same way.”

Abide in me…

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his
steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

John 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples, ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

 

For the next several weeks of Eastertide, we are using a group bible study format for Faith from the Margins to the Web which rotates facilitators for each week’s Gospel. For each of the following weeks in Easter season we will feature highlights from the group gathered that illustrate each week’s Gospel lesson. People who had participated in a previous interview were invited to become the group facilitators, and that core group added new participants for each lesson. We’ll hear the Gospel from the perspective of this group for the next three weeks.

Group participants for Easter 4, Easter 5, and Easter 6: Willie. Christina, Kaiju, Paul, William, Jamillah, Angela, Leroy and David.

 

David started out the group’s conversation “You know what stands out for me…and I mean, I want you all to really feel me, here…this talks about abiding…to abide in me…to study my word. That’s a really powerful word, to abide. I think we need to break that down!”

Kaiju chimed in. “I changed the word ‘abide’ to ‘obedient’ in my mind. Just like the metaphor of the fruit and the vine, be obedient to me…”

The group began to talk about this idea of being obedient, about the rules that we know in our hearts and our stubbornness to follow them sometimes. Even though many times our first thoughts are about “right behavior” or being “cast out” the participants pushed each other to go deeper than that. Eventually, wrestling together, this idea of abiding as relationship started to take on some deeper meaning and importance:

“It’s like God says, if you’re abiding in me, and you’re living with me, you are there because you want to be there so of course you are not cast away! It’s like the Bible says, we have a choice and choosing to stay with God is about choosing to be cared for, and cared about.”

Christine jumped in. “AND, you recognize that the Father is taking care of his children…it’s like when you have kids, when you raise your children, you have rules for them to follow because you know what’s best for them. They might not believe you, but they will someday! They aren’t always happy with the rules and we’re the same way. But we also know that God loves us, and wants what is best for us, and can see things that we cannot.”

More metaphors began to emerge within the group:

“It’s like when you stay with friends, you know, and you’re staying under their roof. You want to stay there…you appreciate it and you know that it isn’t about doing everything you want. Abiding is being obedient, to honor the rules because it helps us be family together. Maybe it isn’t about being ‘cast out’ so much as it is choosing to stay, and if we don’t want to be there we can make a choice to leave. It’s our choice, to stay and to obey.”

Paul agreed. “I like that, yeah, I like that. You know, we don’t want to play God but sometimes we start thinking its a game. It’s not. It’s just what we do when we’re family, we take care of each other.”

David picked the verse back up again. “I’m looking at this part, the part that says, ‘every vine bears fruit’ and that idea of the vine, being that thing that is there to feed us and to help us grow. It’s a living thing, you know, feeding us.”

Christine nodded. “Yeah, if you’re not connected to the vine, you think you can do it all on your own. That’s tempting for a minute, but then you realize it’s a mistake. Pretty soon, you realize that you are cut off, you aren’t receiving, you aren’t being fed.”

The group talked about that feeding: David summarized, “Its what happens when we don’t go to church, or we just start thinking about having to go on Easter or Christmas or whatever. We’re getting hungry, we’re craving what God gives us and we don’t realize it. That vine, that church family, it feeds us just like the scripture feeds us.”

Jamillah added, “You know, I’m one of those people where it takes some time for me. I hear the scripture and I have to take it in. I have to let it live in me, to think about it, to really let it get into my soul before it breaks open. I think about that and the vine, how when we are connected to God and connected to the church we are being fed and cared for, we are letting it all sink in to our lives.

David summed up this scripture and their conversation: “So, it comes back to that idea of abiding…of growing together, like the vine and the branches. We grow in God, we are fed on the Word and we abide together.”

Shepherds

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people; Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 10:11-18

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

For the next several weeks of Eastertide, we are using a group bible study format for Faith from the Margins to the Web which rotates facilitators for each week’s Gospel.  For each of the following weeks in Easter season we will feature highlights from the group gathered that illustrate each week’s Gospel lesson. People who had participated in a previous interview were invited to become the group facilitators, and that core group added new participants for each lesson.  We’ll hear the Gospel from the perspective of this group for the next three weeks.

Group participants for Easter 4, Easter 5, and Easter 6: Willie. Christina, Kaiju, Paul, William, Jamillah, Angela, Leroy and David.  
The group began to talk together about this Gospel lesson of Jesus, the Good Shepherd:

“Jesus says he’s the Good Shepherd; that’s like doing everything for us.  I’m thinking about what a shepherd might look like now: I’m thinking leadership, guidance, the way that someone needs to lead the flock.”

“Shepherds are there, the good times and the bad times…you know, the flock doesn’t always do what they are supposed to do, but the shepherd doesn’t leave them.”

“Some people have problems because they can’t see God, or touch God.  But, I wonder if the sheep really know the shepherd is there until something happens.  Then he’s right there, pulling them out of danger. And you know, we don’t want to have faith if we can’t see it.  But I believe that we have someone there, when we could have been lost or under the dirt. I think when you’ve done that you know how important a shepherd is.”

“I’ve been pretty fortunate.  I look at the kids these days that feel like they have to work and to go to school.  I was lucky; my brother played professional basketball and he paid for me, paid my way to college.  I think of him as a good shepherd”

“And I think of my Dad as a good shepherd.  He had rules and was strict, but it was always for a reason and to protect us.  I appreciate that now. He was a good man. I lost him back in ‘97, but I still hear his voice, his words.  I try to be that way now, too, with my own children”

“You know, I think it’s about looking out for others; shepherds see a need.  Like today, I just saw someone who needed help with his lunch tray. Maybe if I wasn’t looking or paying attention I would have just walked on by.  But something told me to keep an eye out, and I was able to help him.”

“I’m thinking in these stories that we’re sharing, it seems like we are learning how to take care of the flock from other people who have shepherded us.  Maybe it’s like that with Jesus, too. If Jesus loves us enough to give his life for us, it teaches us how to live into that love and look out for other people.  When we do that, other people notice and we realize how much others have looked out for us. It’s like these stories are here to remind us how to shepherd each other, like our Good Shepherd.  We’re like shepherds to each other.”

shepherd1

Still in the room

Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Faith from the Margins to the Web authors:  Ruth and Jamillah

As they sat in the chapel reading scripture and talking together, Ruth and Jamillah suddenly found themselves in the midst of an unexpected serenade of organ music.  At first, their voices sounded quiet and small, almost overpowered by a large, majestic pipe organ. But, over the course of the interview these two gentle souls having heartfelt conversation filled the room with hopefulness and love.  Here is a brief but beautiful glimpse at how Christ’s presence was made known to them and by their witness, to us:

Ruth started off the conversation: “What really struck me were the words, where Jesus says, ‘Peace’ and the disciples were ‘startled’ and ‘terrified.’  Then, Jesus’ solution is to say, ‘here I am, touch me. If you want to know its me, just reach out. For me, I heard once that the phrase used the most is “Be Not Afraid” so like, when angels would come, they would first say, “Do Not Be Afraid.”  Because, you know, having something happen be so out of the norm, it scares us! And, having somebody bear the message of God, it scares us, too. And so, here, Jesus even scared his disciples! That makes me want to open a little more to fear, to not be so afraid of fear.  Because if I’m going to feel fear when something unexpected happens, when Jesus walks into the room or I notice Him here, well then maybe fear isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it’s just a sign in my own body that says, ‘pay attention!’”

“Yeah, that’s true” said Jamillah, “I used to think backwards.  Well, maybe not backwards, but l think sometimes I get scared when a message comes to me.  Even though God is God, even though God is Creator of all things, God came up with all these words for us.  Sometimes we follow the scriptures and they are so real. God is so….well… God! But the words are so real, so right now that sometimes they scare me because I think: how could God’s word be speaking so much to me.”

“I like what you’re saying” said Ruth.  “it’s like when he says, ‘look at my hands, touch me!’  I mean, if we are human and we are spiritual creatures then our job is to know who God is to us.  Like, when I hear you talking, you are telling me who God is to you, who God has been to you. And because you reached out, you looked at Him, you touched Him…and that is what Jesus asked us to do!  At different points in my life, when I see something or when I touch something I learn something different each time because I’m always seeing with different eyes, or feeling with different hands. I’ve been through different things now so I see things differently, or I feel things differently.  It isn’t like God is one big thing that we can know, because we are changing all the time, so the way we understand God changes all the time, too.”

“I also learned that Easter means not just the rising again, but about being seen” said Jamillah.  

Ruth offered a thoughtful example.  “I think about my own parents. As I grew up, I learned more about them: what happened to them as kids, what their lives have been as adults.  I’m still learning about my own parents, still finding out new aspects of who they are. They’re still with us, thank God, so I get to keep knowing them more.  So, if I can’t even know everything about my own parents, how on earth would I expect to know everything about God! I think God is always that open to us, but we have to be that open to God.  I mean, my Mom has all this information I could know, but if I don’t call her up, or ask her questions then how would I come to know all that about her? It’s the same way with God, I think. I have to bring myself back to be open to God.”

Jamillah was thoughtful: “I’ve seen God in my life because there have been times when I couldn’t get out of where I was without God finding me.  I’ve been homeless, I’ve been needing money just to be able to see the doctor or pay my medical bills. I’ve been in situations where I didn’t have the resources to get out on my own.  But, then I have realized I was connected to Him, I realize the bond that I have with God. Like I said, I can’t always speak elegantly with the verses like some people. But, I do know how to read the scriptures, to feel the bond with God, to realize that He is active in my life and that He sees me as a believer.”

“Nice!” said Ruth.  “You said that you don’t have elegant words, but you have your story!  I mean here, in this story, it’s that point where Jesus says, ‘I’m hungry, do you have something to eat?’ and all that fear, terror it all goes away because they sit down together.  I mean, that’s your story. It’s one of the most powerful ways to see the presence of God. The truth is in the living.”

“Some people can preach the word, but don’t live it” said Jamillah.  

“You know, sometimes I think that my biggest fears are scripture and prayer, like you said earlier” added Ruth.  “What’s frightening isn’t that I won’t find God there but that I will have that encounter, that I will hear and see God and have to confront what I know I’m supposed to do but that I don’t feel ready for.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re thinking you’re afraid of the scriptures or God” said Jamillah, “but sometimes when you’re trying to do your own thing, that’s when God makes you realize you are really doing God’s thing.  It says here, that so many people back then and now were disbelievers, but God is a truth teller. Other people need to hear that, so they believe. They need to know that they can hear the scripture for themselves, that God is real and present.”

Ruth added, “…and Jesus says, ‘why are you afraid?’ so when I feel fear, I have to wonder, am I actually taking  time to see Jesus in the room with me? Or am I just feeling my fear? I guess it means to me that I have to look for God, to recognize God’s presence in my fear, to know that I have a chance to open up and listen and let go of my fears when I pay attention that God is there.  Even when I feel my fear, He’s still in the room with me just like Jesus is still right there with the disciples, doubting and fearful. They can just reach out and touch, to allow their minds to be opened.”

“You know, that’s true” said Jamillah, “I was thinking about that part where he opened their minds.  I mean, usually, when there is a bible study you are told what it means, what you should believe. But today, here, we had a chance to open our minds.  I felt that today: my mind opened, I was able to see what Jesus did, that he gave the words to the disciples that were the evidence of God. There are so many different meanings that have come to me today.  I feel like, you know, this is the first time I ever really read a scripture and understood it like this, the way that we shared it together.”

“I agree.  These stories are about real people, and we are real people.  I think it takes the realness of life to understand it.” said Ruth.

So Much Love

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B 

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 3:14-21

 

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  Alisha and Lynette

In these recent days and weeks, I’ve heard more than a few (good, kind, caring) people say that they fail to understand how God could love this world. We are human beings who get lost sometimes, wandering in the darkness of violence, death, and destruction where we can’t quite find our own way out.  We can feel helpless and even hopeless. But, here in the midst of our Lenten wilderness, we are reminded of a deep and resonant truth: God loves us. God profoundly loves all of us, and the collective “us” that we can even have trouble loving ourselves.  Let me say that again: God loves each of us as individuals, but God also loves US, the world, even when we are fed up and even with all the times we fall and are drawn in to the structures and power of evil. God loved the world so much, that God’s very self entered into this world to experience life with us.  It’s probably the first bible verse you memorized as a child.  Maybe it’s the one we most need to hear…really hear…as adults.

This week, two of God’s beloved children, Alisha and Lynette, share for us something about this message of lavish, divine love:

Lynette, a regular visitor at feeding programs throughout the city, began the conversation by reading the Gospel lesson.

Alisha, a student just getting ready to embark on a spring break mission trip, chose to spend the afternoon with our Faith from the Margins bible study.  She began by asking Lynette what stood out to her. Lynette said was familiar with the verse, but what stood out to her right now was amount of evil she had been feeling in the world. “These killings, and these kids. It’s just too much to hear about, too much evil every time I turn on the news.”

Alisha nodded, realizing that Lynette spoke for the way so many of us feel rocked by the nature of violence.

Lynette went on to tell the story of someone she knew who was killed, leaving behind young children. “I’m sorry that I feel like I don’t have much to say these days. It seems like the world isn’t going to last long.”  The sadness hung on Lynette’s voice of age and experience.

Alisha paused and seemed to reach into a place in her heart where God was speaking.  “I hear you” she said, “but what stood out to me is love, ‘For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son.’ Those words are about so much love. Not everyone believes that, not everyone believes in Jesus or God. But God doesn’t just love the people who believe or who read the scriptures or who go to church or who know how to pray. God loves the world, the whole world. Jesus came for everybody, no matter what. I think people don’t see how great that is, how amazing it is to be loved that much. He didn’t make the world a bad place, or to hurt people or set them against each other. He did it because of love.”

Alisha continued, as Lynette listened thoughtfully.  “You were talking about the darkness of the world, Lynette, and I think that it does say in here that people are drawn to the darkness. God knows people will still choose darkness, but Jesus, in a way, is the Light because God knows there will be darkness. So no matter how dark the world seems, the Light of Christ cannot be taken away. His light will continue to shine no matter what. I think that’s a hope to hang onto, especially when we see so many shootings and so many problems going on. The President, the United States acting like we don’t know how to run a country, and then our regular struggles of everyday life on top of that. It’s a lot. And Jesus the Light is still here.”

Lynette smiled a little, feeling some of that light.  Finally, she said, “You know, I see God everywhere I go. You know, when you have good days, you think, “God is on my side.’ If you are happy, having a good day, you see God everywhere. Then if anything happens, you have to remember that God is still on your side.”

Alisha said, “Right now, I’m trying to seek God more. I’m realizing that God is putting people in my life to help remind me, to know God is there. Like you said, on good days its easy to feel that God is there. But then there are other days when you think, ‘why does this stuff keeping happening? Where is God in this?” and its usually through those other people, the people who help me see God again.”

“Do you believe in God?” Lynette asked.

“I do, I really do!” said Alisha.

“That’s good” said Lynette, “Not a lot of people do. But I do, too. I go to bed at night and I pray. I say that God wakes me up in the morning and when there is a new day, I am grateful for that, and I pray again.”

“There’s something about praying by yourself” said Alisha. “It’s like it’s just you and God, and you feel like you can be more open. It’s like I get my faith and reassurance about who I put my trust in most. It isn’t just the words, its the meaning in my heart. I try to see God.”

“He’s around!” said Lynette.

They both laughed.

“People need to read this scripture” said Lynette, “they need to be reminded of what is going on, not just to get stuck in the darkness.”

“It’s nice for us to read it,” said Alisha, “but we’re also supposed to live it and spread it, too. I think just sharing a word sometimes…especially the love, that fact that God loves us no matter what, no matter if we don’t even believe it or don’t even believe in God…that message is something we need to share.”

“Do you have family around here?” asked Alisha. They started to talk about their families, the sisters and brothers and for Lynette, her children.

“Did you grow up in the Church?” asked Alisha.

“Yes, well, almost every Sunday my Momma made sure that we were in Church.” answered Lynette. “How about you?”

“It was the same for me” answered Alisha.  “Now, I try to go to church every Sunday.”  This was a commonality they both valued; the way in which attending to God had been made a priority in their lives, even when there was a lot of other things and many other challenges happening.

Alisha and Sheryl each shared a time when they knew unconditionally that they were loved by God.

Lynette shared about her good days. “Things are going my way, and I think, I’m loved by God. I know it doesn’t sound exciting, but when I go to the doctor, I get out, I realize God is good and I feel really loved by God.”

“For me,” said Alisha, “there was a time when I was really lonely. I mean, I had friends and people around but there wasn’t really anyone that I could talk to, that I could connect with deeply. And then I went to church one Sunday and they were singing this gospel song, it was “Halleluia, you have won the victory, death cannot hold you down, you are the risen King…” I remember that vividly.  It was a just a time, a moment for me when I realized it wasn’t even about me feeling good all the time. If I felt lonely, or if I felt down that God was still with me. God loved me for me. So, remember that God loves you, no matter what has happened to you, good day and bad days.”

May these grace-filled words from Alisha and Lynette fill you with love, this day and in the days to come…

 

 

Divine Things

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 8:31-38

 

Jesus began to teach his disciples 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 Co-Authors:  Lisa and Raven

 

 

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Lisa and Raven are both first year college students, even though they are several decades apart from each other in age.  The joy between them was palpable, as was their commitment to the lives of faith that has accompanied them on the twists and turns of life’s journey.  They read the scripture out loud, together, before turning to the bible study questions.  Listening them reminded me that it isn’t our age or race or social position in life that matters: it is the focus on the truly divine.  In Lisa and Raven, we can hear more about finding God in the midst of what seems like the world turned upside down.  As they both point out, it’s all a matter of perspective: our own, or God’s.

Lisa opened with the bible study question of what stood out the most to each of them.  Raven responded, “For me what stands out is ‘get thee behind me Satan’ because it seems like he’s trying to assert his presence in that place, and Jesus just won’t allow it.  It’s like no matter how much Satan wants to get the upper hand, it isn’t going to happen.”

Lisa agreed, “I think that’s true because, well you know, Satan tries to get us to do the wrong thing all the time, which is why he needs to get behind me! [they both chuckled].  To me, the whole thing has a great meaning, but the line that just stands out the most is the one about setting your mind on divine things, telling the rest to move behind.”

Raven thought some more, “I would say also that “those who will lose their lives for my sake” seems to stand out to me, not just here, but in the whole Bible. The world can seem so topsy-turvey when we’re only looking at our human perspective on things but then God…Jesus…seems to be flipping everything around, but really they are not flipped at all.  Jesus is resetting it like it should be.”

“Yes,” agreed Lisa, “and to us, it seems like the world is being flipped upside down because we have a way we think that we should be, and when it doesn’t happen that way we get upset and turned around. We think, “Oh my gosh, things aren’t going right!” But things actually ARE going right, they are going in a way that may make sense to God even if they feel up in the air to us. I think: ‘this is messed up, I’m disombobulated’…but that’s my own thinking!

Raven reflected on this, “Yeah, I was just talking about that with the kids in my youth group last night. Just because there is a way that you think it is supposed to happen, that doesn’t always mean that is how it should happen. God will give what has been promised, but it may not look exactly like you think it would.  That’s a hard lesson for us.

“Right,” said Lisa, “we just don’t realize it at the time!”

Lisa continued: “Maybe you thought your goal was one thing, but they you start walking the path and other things open up in ways you couldn’t have imagined. And you realize, the path that you’re walking is the right one even if it wasn’t the one you thought it would be. It’s just amazing how that works. One minute you’re over here, and the next minute you’re over there. And you wonder…how did this happen? And then, I’ll sit and think about it later and I realize that it’s gotten me to a place where I needed to be all along. It’s like now, and the process that has led for me to be back in school. It felt like it took so long, but I learned about perseverance that I never knew I had. I needed the lessons I’ve learned and now I’m in it, I’m ready, and it’s going really well!”

This resonated with Raven: “It just makes me think, how many times has a door closed and I’ve been so upset. And then, things work out in a way you’d never expect. I was so sure about wanting to go to school somewhere else; I was sure I wanted to be in Princeton or at UVA. But then, things just kept happening. The doors just weren’t opening. I didn’t get good financial aid, I thought about taking loans. And then I looked again at VCU and I got great support, it was closer to home, and it was a decision that God allowed me to see as an opportunity. And now, I cannot imagine myself happier at any school. This is exactly where I need to be, even though I didn’t know that at first.”

“It’s my first year at school, too” said Lisa, who is now in a human services program at Reynolds Community College. “I’m working to be a substance abuse counselor and once I finish my Associate’s Degree, one of the places that I can transfer when I finish is VCU!” she added. “It’s something to think about, and it’s new to me. I’m starting out slow and I have choices which is something I didn’t even think I had before.”

Raven said, “It makes all the difference to have choices!”

The two began to discuss where they could see God in this Gospel lesson. Lisa began: “Well, right now I’m going through a lot with my family. I just lost my mother on New Year’s Day. She had a stroke, and it was really hard for her. I miss her, but I know that she would be proud of me. I feel that.  I see God in those places, where we are taking up our cross.”

Raven said, “I remember when my Grandmother passed away, and I was only 14. She had Alzheimer’s but it happened quicker than we thought. It’s so hard, and it’s always a grief for us. I think for me, I also see God in this Gospel right now in the part where it says, “Take up your cross and follow me” but in another way. I have a very headstrong family: they see something, they believe in something, and they are just going to go for it. But, you know, this scripture reminds us that our goals have to line up with God’s goals. I have to pause and look at all the things I’m doing and ask and pray, “is this what God has in mind for me?”

Lisa said, “Yeah, a lot of people have this question of whether something is my way, or God’s way. But, I think we need the time to actually see and feel God in our lives. I like how you talk about having those goals, though, because some people seem too quick to give up.  It’s about your goals but bringing them to God.”

Raven shared next, “This year, my biggest challenge is the verse I’ve picked for myself: Be Still. I’m always busy, always on the run. But, I have to remember that “be still” because it isn’t just physical stillness, but mental stillness. I need to be sure that my mind is still, that I can hear and listen.”

Raven and Lisa closed by sharing about what it means to set your mind on divine things.

Raven began the sharing, “I think for me, I used to think it was more like: ‘don’t think about bad things, only think about good things’ but that isn’t really it. Now I think of it as searching for the Godly, even in the bad things. Remembering that in the midst of that, to reorient my focus to the fact that even when there is something bad going on, there is something greater still and that is where God is.”

“Right,” said Lisa, “there are a lot of people who ask, ‘Why do bad things have to happen to me?’ But bad things happen to all of us sometimes. If we got everything we wanted, every day of our lives then we really wouldn’t appreciate anything. We get stuck in ‘why me?’ but then, down the road, I realize that in every bad thing that has happened, there has been something good to have come from that.”

Raven said, “God never promises a trouble-free life; the difference is that even in the midst of our troubles in life when we think on divine things, we are never alone.”

“Like He says” quoted Lisa, “I will never forsake you.”

Raven and Lisa continued to talk together about their studies and the lessons that had unfolded for each of them.  God never does love us, or forsake us.  Sometimes, God comes in the form of people who once were strangers, who once seemed so different.  But really, when God is with us we have far more that unites us than could ever divide us.

 

three windows

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.  

 

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!

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.