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.

Open Heart, Healing Touch

23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25, Year B)

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 10:46-52

Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: Savannah, Jamillah, and David

David and Jamillah have participated in Faith from the Margins before, so they led the interview while helping Savannah, a undergraduate student new to the project, learn the ropes. David and Jamillah began by reading the Gospel lesson while Savannah followed along with the questions.

“What stands out to me” said David, “is that no matter what I’m going through, it’s that Christ is there…you know…if I believe, then he might can rise up, and take my pain away, take the sickness away from me. Even if my body is hurting, Christ can take that spiritual pain away, you know, and make it so that I still feel a cheerfulness in my spirit. That’s what I’m getting out of this.”

Jamillah shared her own reflection next: “I perceive that the people were crying out, sort of like what they were doing in that other story where the lady with the bleeding grabbed out to touch Jesus. Jesus healed her, and this reminds me of that story, with the man here crying out for mercy. I think he’s saying and the people are saying, ‘have faith, this man is the holy man, he’s the one who does miracles.’

Savannah rounded out the first set of reflections, “What I took from it today is that we aren’t alone. God will take care of us, if we call out. You know, the man in this story, he basically says, ‘Jesus, I need you’ and Jesus comes and takes care of him. You know, I sometimes just think I need to take care of everything by myself, but I have to remember to trust, to pray, to hold it out there to God.”

“Prayer changes things” added David, “And a lot of times, you know, we’re looking for something but we don’t believe. But if I do believe, if I have seen things than I am supposed to believe but I don’t always do that”

“Yeah, I know!” said Savannah, “Me, too. We have to trust but it’s hard to believe sometimes.”

“But there it is for us, right there” said David, “Go, and your faith will make you well!. I’ve seen a whole lot of healing. I’ve made some bad choices, and get tempted. I can see how God says, ‘Hey, cool down. Take a bath…get an ice cube!”

They all chuckled at that, knowingly.

“You know, it takes people sometimes” said Jamillah. “See, I was homeless and David here, he showed me some ways that I could get back on my feet. And I thank God for that, because here I am. I think God is active in that.”

Savannah shared her story, “I feel like I’ve been on quite a journey finding where God is in my life. I feel like God’s been helping me, you know, even when I’m taking classes and I get scared. God teaches me that there are some ways through the fears that I’ve been dealing with, that I’m learning for a reason and I don’t need to get all stressed! I mean, I’m getting all stressed about my classes and then in one of my social work classes we learned these exercises to help teach our clients about how to deal with their stress. And we were doing some deep breathing exercises and I just started praising God and thinking: I can learn these things! I’m here to help others, but it’s helping me, too. I needed to learn these things. I was asking, ‘God, have mercy, help me through my stress.’ But, the solution is sometimes right there with us.”

Jamillah added, “For me, I’ve been trying to learn the value of my life, of who I am to God. I don’t know if it was the age factor or the maturity factor but I’ve learned over many years enough about the Bible to try to read it, to listen for God speaking through me. I keep thinking I don’t know enough to read it. But then, I open it and I learn and hear God and I remember I am enough; God is with me.”

“My Momma used to tell me…you know, she was a strong Christian and she studied the Bible…and she did the work and lived the life. She taught me with her actions, and I’m trying to get back to that, to living in this life and wandering away from home. But, Jesus still loves me” added David.

“For me, I didn’t grow up reading the Bible much,” said Savannah. “We went to church on Christmas and Easter. But, my Grandma and my Aunt, they have a deep faith. I feel like I’ve been doing it in reverse: I got into community and got into social work and now I keep hearing and thinking about what my Grandma and my Aunt have taught me in their words and in their actions. All of that made me want to learn more, to figure out where God is, to do projects like this.”

“That’s good!” said Jamillah, “School work is hard but it’s work for your soul, good work!”

“I think about compassion a lot” said Savannah, “I don’t know enough about the Bible yet, but the love and the compassion stand out to me and help me want to learn more.”

“I like what you said there” said Jamillah, “that’s how I learn, too. I heard that “love your enemies” and I realized that if we do that, we really will come to know God. For me, I fell in and out of church but I kept the word in my heart. When someone made me angry, I would sometimes step aside and think: love your enemy. This is a situation that helps me know God.”

“Sometimes I see stuff” said Savannah, “I see the way people treat other people, and it’s filled with hate or prejudice. And then I get really upset, but I remember there is a place for God in this.”

“The thing about Christianity” said David, “is that you have to open your heart. You have to not be closed and clenched, but to be open to seeing the Love in the world. That’s where God is.”

Thank you to this beautiful trio for helping us see and know the healing power of God in our midst!

Things we learn

 

22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24, Year B)

 

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession 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.

 

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web contributors:  Mary, Charles and Richard

 

I saw Mary and Charles as soon as they had wrapped up their interview with Richard, a local college student who had recently signed up to be a part of this project.  Both of them were beaming: “Oh, we had a great time and a great conversation!” they said. Richard was equally excited about how the project had unfolded that day. His happiness turned to a little bit of panic, though, as he said good-bye then looked at his voice recorder and realized that something had gone awry.

I always learn something from these interviews, and today’s lesson was: don’t panic!  I gave that advice to Richard who decided to sit down and tell me as much as the conversation as he could remember and the lessons that stuck with him.

It all began, according to Richard, with a statement from Charles: “saving is through prayer” to which Mary added, “Sometimes people need the experience of a teacher” as one of the ways in which prayer works.  In this case, James and John are asking for Jesus’ intercession, but they receive some instruction in answer to their prayers. Charles emphasized that it’s up to those who are ready, who are seeking a teacher to hear the word and to respond.

One thing that stood out to Richard is that all three of them…Mary and Charles and Richard…all spoke about the ability to sense and feel God’s presence in their lives.  It can sometimes seem as if, when we come from very different places and social locations, that we wouldn’t all have a common experience of God’s presence. But this was an area where they all agreed and experienced the same thing.  

The three focused on the final portion of the scripture, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Mary interpreted it that you have to come up through the “lowest of the low” in order to get a high place.  Or, in other words, we have to move through all the hard places in order to finally get somewhere great. So, this story makes us wonder if the disciples wanted to side step that and just get there without having to truly live into what that meant.  In other words, they were asking Jesus for an easy way up.. Mary said she might interpret the passage an entirely different way from how some people might because of that (which, as Richard said, is totally ok!).

The interview ended with each of the three describing someone who to them was great in their willingness to serve.  Both Mary and Charles named their grandmothers are people who were truly great, for showing them stability and taking them to church and helping them see and know and experience God in new ways.  Richard named his Grandfather for showing him a life that he didn’t imagine was possible, and his Grandmother for showing the strength of service in the church, through the ways that this Gospel seemed to be opening up.

Who says we need digital recorders?!  Thank you to Mary and Charles and Richard for sharing your stories and wisdom.  You have taught us much about the power of connection and ways in which God is made known in our midst.

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Open our hearts…

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Reflection from Sarah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed Assurance

18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20, Year B)

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Mark 9:30-37

 

Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

 

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 

 

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

Although Willie and Raven have both been interviewers with Faith from the Margins before, this was the first time they sat down together.  Willie read the Gospel lesson, and Raven began their sharing by asking what stood out for Willie.

“Well, um…Jesus seems to be saying something really simple” began Willie, “he’s telling them ‘this is what is going to happen to me’ but that information must have been too powerful because the disciples didn’t even try to make anything out of it.  They just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. And then, when the went to Capurnum, they had some sort of dissension among the disciples. And Jesus, he set them all straight with a little child! “Whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.  And there they are, his disciples, arguing among themselves about who is greater and Jesus has to interrupt them to say, “um, you know, there’s someone greater than all of you and that is God!”

“I really love the way Jesus humbles the disciples throughout” said Raven. “It’s really beautiful the way we are shown just how human the disciples were, that they weren’t some saint-like, ordained by God perfect people.  I mean, these were young guys, 20’s and maybe 30’s for the older ones. But like, if you were to picture them it would be like I see walking around campus: those guys are like the disciples ages. And so, it’s always so interesting and beautiful that we can see this play out between them, like they were brothers and just people of that age fighting over who’s the best and “no, Jesus loves ME more.”  The way I grew up, the faith I was taught is that we are all disciples now. We are all supposed to go out and talk, to spread the Good News. So, it’s reassuring to know even the original disciples were human, and had flaws, and that Jesus got mad at them sometimes, too. It’s sobering and real!”

“That’s true, that’s true” said Willie.  “I always wondered about that, you know, even the number twelve.  Well, I hope I’m not getting too far off the rails here, but I think sometimes that according to what we read in the bible it was like they were twelve intentionally different people, like our personality types or something.  I mean, sometimes you hear Thomas and he’s automatically the one that takes the other side, the one first to say, ‘oh no, I’ve got another opinion…’ and of course, you know, I’m still learning. I just have to grab me the patience to stay with it, you know, turn everything else off and then I can read and I start to really get in deep with the stories and the characters.  And you know…this is embarrassing…but that’s why I think my favorite reading room is the bathroom!”

They both laughed, and Raven agreed, “That makes sense to me!”

Willie continued on, “You know, it’s like we were talking about earlier.  There really isn’t a wrong answer to interpreting the bible. It speaks to us in different ways.  You know, I wouldn’t have thought of it the way that you did but I got so much out of that. It’s what you see every day and it made that stand out to me.  That’s the thing about it, the Word always finds its way to speak.”

“You know” explained Raven,  “I think about those disciples more when I’m on campus, trying to work on things and even fewer of us…we can’t agree on anything…and here are Jesus and his disciples: 13 people all trying to move together and get things done.  It makes me appreciate what that must have been like, and I think it’s probably a pretty good description of Christians in all of our different walks, too: Baptists or Catholics or Pentecostals and yet we are all followers of Christ.”

“Well, let me tell you something” said Willie, “I’ve been thinking about that phrase that keeps being used, ‘the Advocate’ which I know came up in the sermon today, that we all need an advocate for us, for all the things we are going through.  I have this health situation, you see, I’m a renal patient and I am going to have to have a real big surgical procedure and I will need an advocate. I really want to have something that I can touch, someone who can speak for me on my behalf. Some people say they will be there, but I definitely need to know that someone IS there.  In the hospital, if they don’t see someone there to advocate with you, people get gruff. Their whole way of talking will change, because they don’t see that you have an advocate. So, when Jesus talks about being an Advocate, I talk about that for real!

“Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes not me, but the one who sent me” said Willie.  “If you are a true Christian, it will be those fruits of the spirit: the love, the joy, the peace that are what we are all supposed to be.  As Jesus says, live into these and you will know me…and you know who can teach you that? A child.”

“I think you hit the nail on the head” said Raven.  “I think that is something other people need to hear.  Life isn’t all ‘what’s in it for me?” or how can I make more money, or how can I advance my reputation.  LIfe shouldn’t be able self-service, life should be about service to others. We get so caught up in thinking about what life is like for us, if we have everything we need that we stop thinking about others.  Humans are social creatures; we are meant to be in community with others. Once we stop doing that…once we take our eyes off of God and stop thinking about loving others and serving others, that’s when we start looking only at ourselves.  And, once we start only looking at our own selves, what we can do, what are our own limitations, that’s when you start to have all the fear and all the anxiety. You’re no longer looking at the solutions; all you’re seeing is the problems. The way I was always taught to get out of a bad day, or a bad mood, was to take my eyes off of me and just do something for someone else.

“That’s true, that’s true” said Willie, “You know, well, I’ve been doing that.  You know, I’m a renal patient and I go to the center three days a week. And that is a different battlefield all together.  The newbies, they come in there and some of them try to put this brave face on, but some of them you can just see it on their face, how scared they are.  And I’ve seen them turn around and run away! The environment in these centers not on the hospital grounds, they sometimes look at you like you are a dollar and not a person.  It’s money going in their pockets, and it’s the way that they look at you. Maybe one or two people care, but most of ‘em are just in their to get their paycheck and when you don’t come in, they lose out.  It turns into a business sort of thing. So, I try to be someone who can care. But, I also need an advocate who can stand up for me.”

“It seems like the health care system is getting more and more that way, and you DO need an advocate” said Raven.

Willie’s own need for an advocate was real and palpable; at the same time, his faith in God gave him a sense of God’s advocacy with him.

“You know, I also play music for my Church” said Willie, “And ever since this has been happening, I’ve had a song in my mind: Blessed Assurance.  No matter what we are doing, it is a Blessed Assurance to have people who can advocate and use their skills for the knowledge and skills of someone else.

Raven echoed this “You know, we should have our own TV show!  We could fix the world!!”

They closed by reading the Collect again together, with the words ringing a truth about the Blessed Assurance that comes when, in spite of all the changes and chances of this life, we know that God is near.

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Stories we must share

16th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18, Year B)

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Mark 7:24-37

 

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

 

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: Davis and Harry

Let me be perfectly honest: sometimes I do a lot of behind-the-scenes organizing to prepare for these Faith from the Margins to the Web interviews and sometimes the best I can do is just show up. On the day of this particular interview, Davis was going to meet me at a noontime lunch program where he volunteers, and where I know many people who regularly attend. “Surely,” I thought, “someone I know will be there and want to participate!” But, when I arrived a half hour early there was no one in sight that I had met before. I walked around the building several times, where groups of people lingered in patches of shade in the hot August summertime. Several times, I walked by a bench where an older gentleman was deeply engaged in reading a book. I felt the urge to talk with him, but also hated to disturb him. Finally, I asked if I could sit down beside him and he agreed, moving aside his belongings and introducing himself as Harry. He and I conversed for a few minutes about the weather, our connections with the church we were seated near, and I decided to bring up Faith from the Margins to the Web and see if he was interested. Harry smiled and said, “Well, I love the Bible but honestly you had me when you said we could go in the air conditioning!” We both laughed as we walked inside, where I introduced David and Harry to each other in the coolness of the parish hall library. When they emerged from their conversation nearly an hour later, they were like dear friends who had shared a lifetime of experience.

Like Harry, I became aware that this day was not an aimless moment in time, but the working of the Holy Spirit who intervenes in our lives with sighs too deep for words.

This is a longer-than-usual interview, but worth the read.    –Sarah

Harry and Davis took turns reading the Gospel lesson.

“The part that stands out to me,” said Harry, “is that Jesus wanted to come and enter the house but he didn’t want anyone to know he was there. Now, I’m sure there was a reason for that. I mean, maybe he didn’t want a whole, big crowd of people coming and everyone would want to, you know, have him lay hands on them and heal them. You know, maybe he wanted a little privacy!”

Davis chuckled. “Then and now, word gets around!” added Harry.

“Sometimes things take a while to sink in, too” said Harry. “I was baptized in 1960 when my Momma decided that I needed to go to revival. And I remember pastor P.H. West: Patrick Henry West, you know, he asked me if I believed in Jesus Christ and was willing to go the way of the Lord. Here I was 10 years old, and I saw my Momma looking at me and pastor looking at me so I opened my mouth and said, “Yes, Sir!” And there I was, claimed by God, and baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. I didn’t really know what I was doing, though. But God did.”

Davis asked, “I can imagine you were sincere at least in your wanting to do right by them, but was there also a time when that baptism started to feel real to you?”

Harry said, “You know what, there is a story there. I worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 21 years. I remember this day, when we were all just working and I was standing at this computer, keying in the zip codes on the line. And I felt something. I felt it. And this woman, my co-worker, she looked at me and said, “Harry! You’re crying!” And sure enough, tears were just coming down my face. And she said, “What happened, Harry? Did someone say something bad, did someone hurt you?” And I said, “No, oh no, Barbara…something is happening, something is going through me. I feel like the Holy Spirit is upon me.” And she looked at me and I thought she must think I was crazy but she could tell I was so sincere. It was like: the Holy Spirit is here. I knew it, and she knew it. I mean, they talk about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and I just knew: the Holy Spirit was in me. I experienced so many things that I knew I didn’t know how to do on my own.”

“Let me tell you some more of what happened that day. I mean there I was, sorting mail. And our family’s physician…he was actually German…and now, I didn’t speak any such thing as German…but I saw this post card come through for him and it was from his niece. And I could read every word on that card, even though it was in German. She was letting him know when she was visiting and I could read that. I felt like I was floating. People would look at me, and they would know something was different, and I would let them know it’s the Holy Spirit.”

“Read that second paragraph again” said Davis, “I keep thinking about your story and thinking about how maybe God had put something over your ears to open them, and then you could really hear or over your eyes so you could really see.”

“Yes, right!” said Harry, “At 10, I went through the motions but that Father, Son and Holy Spirit were with me, and stayed with me until I was ready to feel their presence in my life.  Then my eyes and my ears and my heart were opened.”

“Let me share with you a situation that happened to me after that. I was visiting my sister, who lived in the housing projects. I smoked then, and I had run out. It was like, 2:00 in the morning and we were up talking. I wanted to go out to the corner store for cigarettes, and she said, “no Harry, wait…you can’t just walk out there. Once I get in here, I just stay locked in my apartment and don’t go out until it’s time for work.” So, anyhow, this is a long story but I decided that I needed to go to the store. When I got there, there were these two guys there who were younger. I asked them if they would walk back toward my sister’s street with me. When we turned down the street, I heard this car, creeping up. I tried to ignore it. I started to pray, and I felt God had my back. The car slowed down, the window went down. The guy had an automatic rifle, and he just laid in. I felt the first bullet in my back and I turned and pulled down that young boy. That bullet scraped his face but didn’t go through his head. We were both in the hospital, but neither of us died. This was a gang-related, drive-by shooting and the guy who did it, he had us confused with someone else. When I was lying on the ground, I was praying, “please don’t let me die like this” and I prayed for those young boys walking with me, too. But, I always felt God with me. Now, those bullets did damage us. But we didn’t die.”

“In these two stories” asked Davis, “Is there something from these events in your own life that connects that helps other people understand and know more about these lessons we read?”

“Well, it’s what’s happened since then. I’ve talked for a few different churches” said Harry. “I tell them that I have a story to share, and that is the story that I tell. It has become a way that Jesus becomes known, because I have to tell my story. Until that time in my life, I was just that guy, going through the motions of life. But the Holy Spirit began to work on me, to let me know that there was something I needed to do. I had that faith to hold onto even at the darkest times. Jesus said “tell no one” in that lesson but people did anyhow, and I think he knew they would. I have something to tell people through my story. It has helped people change. See, for one thing, that young boy who shot me: he was only 14 years old. Fourteen. And so, it has become my goal to reach out to these kids, to have them see a person who was at the end of that shooting, to work for better laws and to help them know there is another way. But I also tell them my truth: God never left me. And God gives me strength. And God is there for them, too.”

In closing their interview, Harry and Davis prayed together from their hearts:

Harry began: “Thank you for this day. Thank you for waking me up. You woke me up in your strength, with my health and in my mind. That is all that I can ask of you. I want you to touch these young people, and make them understand that you are real. A lot of them aren’t going to church, they don’t hear about you, they think that you aren’t real. But you have all the power, all the love to touch these kids and let them know your presence. Help them to stop shooting, to stop fighting. Help them know that they are the future. You can touch them just as you touch me and make me know that you are God. It’s not for me, it’s for the children of the world. I give my prayers to you, and put them in your hands.”

Davis continued. “Father, I can add no more. Hear his words and continue to walk with him. We ask this in Christ’s name.”

Amen.

Pure of Heart

15th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17, Year B)

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

 

When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

 

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

 

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

 

FFMTW authors: Eugene and Lorenzo, with Dale and John

“I hear a lot of judgemental people in that” said Lorenzo. “It’s like other people are focused on what people clean with their hands, but they forgot that you can have clean hands and a dirty soul…”

“Or dirty hands and a clean soul!” added Eugene.

“Maybe Jesus means, you have to clean up or go home.” said Lorenzo.

“But, it’s really all about the heart” added Eugene. “It’s funny how certain things can be seen certain ways. But, if you believe in your heart, that is all that matters. I mean there are some people that no matter what they look like on the outside, they are clean of heart on the inside.”

This seemed like a good point to ponder further with the group. So, I asked them to describe someone that they consider to be pure of heart.”

Lorenzo went first, “The church where I go every week, there’s this pastor I know. He’s real down to earth and all. He would do anything for anybody.”

Dale said, “Yeah, that reminds me of a guy I know, too, his name is Mr. Brooks. He is quiet and people could just look right over him. But he always has a kind word and some way to offer to help.”

“I try to do that, too” said Lorenzo, “But, I ain’t no saint, though.”

I chuckled, “But, you know, I didn’t hear any of you describe any of those people you think of as pure of heart as being perfect. I heard you describing them as kind. And a lot of what Jesus describes is about the intention of our heart toward others.”

“So, I’ve got a question, or maybe more like a situation” said John. “I have this friend who promised to do something and then didn’t show up and didn’t even care. That happens all the time, and I’ve started to think that they say they’ll do something because that makes them seem like a good friend, a good person and people will like them. But, it’s really not about helping for them, it’s all about what they want to do, not what other people want or need. The heart isn’t in it, so the actions don’t come through. But if the intention isn’t really to help, then it isn’t really helpful.”

Eugene said, “You know, I relate to that. I have to think about not just whether I can help, but what my intention is. If it’s just to get attention that isn’t really helping. But, if I open my heart to helping it isn’t about whether I feel like doing it, it’s that I’ve given my word and I know that I will feel better just because I’ve helped.”

“See like, my two pastors, they have been through it all. They have done drugs and been in prison and paid the price. They know what it’s like and now they are giving back. I think that in order to be pure of heart, maybe you have to know what it’s like to be forgiven” said Lorenzo. “For me, I’ve been to the Pen. I know I haven’t always done what I should do. But, I pray and I am trying to live a new kind of life now. That’s what I want. I help the kids and I try to pattern myself after my pastor, because he’s been out now like 20 years. I know that it can be done, and I need to stick with it.”

Eugene shared about his own experience. “OK, I just want to say that I’m new to this religion thing. You know, at first I came here to eat and you all talked with me and were nice. I learned that people had a good heart, and I started thinking about my heart, about doing things for other people. Then, I had my stroke. And it made me think hard about what I really want, how did I really want to live my life. I came back that Friday after I got out of the hospital and the first thing you said was that you all had been praying for me. And I felt that. I felt it. And now I am back here, and I pray and open my heart, too. It’s a long road to recovery but I’m getting better. I have God to thank for that, and everyone here who was showing me that by how they lived, and prayed, and cared. Six years ago, I was sleeping in an ally. Now, I have my own place and I have community, and I’ve been able to forgive my family. If you believe and trust in God, anything is possible.”

We continued to chat a bit and I asked if anyone would like to close us in prayer. It was Eugene who offered, and the beauty of his prayer was one which embodied this Gospel and has made this my constant prayer for Faith from the Margins:

“Bow y’all heads” he began.

“Dear God, thank you for this assembly today, where we learned important lessons from each other. Each and every day, each and every hour God, teach us something. We may not want to hear it. But, teach us something anyhow. Keep us focused on your word in our hearts and our minds, and let us marinate on all this so that everything we’ve talked about may come to fruition. In our Lord’s name…

and all the people said

AMEN!”

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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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