Gifts of possibility…

21st Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23, Year B)

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Mark 10:17-31

 
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

 

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

 

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web contributors: MaryAnn and Ann*

*Ann is a pseudonym for someone wishing to remain anonymous.  She has spent the past several years living in a tent community.  MaryAnn is a parish volunteer serving at the parish where Ann comes for a weekly, community lunch.

 

“I love this scripture” said MaryAnn, when they had finished reading.  Ann was reflective. “Wow…wow…yes, there is so much in there.  First there is the person who perceives himself as bound to the law…and Jesus isn’t saying that is bad…but the Lord knows the condition of people’s hearts.  And so, Jesus tells him to sell what he has and so his reaction is shock!  He went away grieving, which is a pretty powerful statement.  If you love anything more than God…possessions or whatever…it can become an idol in your life.  I think the lesson is about surrender.”

“The thing I hadn’t noticed before is where it said, ‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him.'”  said Mary Ann. “Jesus wasn’t scolding him, he was loving him and sharing out of love…that puts a whole different context on it.”

“Oh yeah, that’s good point” said Ann, “that’s like a living example of how we are to be, to love people even when we’re pointing out something hard.  Not to shame: to love.”

“And, I also like that old analogy in here of the camel fitting through the eye of the needle” said Ann. “I mean, when I heard that it was sort of like Jesus was saying, ‘well, you can get through, but your stuff can’t!”

Both women laughed at the truth of that interpretation.

“The older I get” said Mary Ann, “I’ve had to realize that it’s all about God’s grace.  I try so hard to follow all the rules, but sometimes that becomes its own problem, like we’re trying to earn it.”

“Yeah, we can get to a point where we think we have to earn God’s love” said Ann, “and that is never how God is.”

Mary Ann continued that thought, “It makes me realize that it comes with our lives, that we think we have to earn people’s love and so we think we have to earn God’s love, too.”

“Right” agreed Ann, “it isn’t performance oriented.  That’s where you have to keep reminding yourself that God is always there.  There is no reason to doubt it, or need to earn it.  But it can be hard to accept that.”

Ann and MaryAnn shared stories of their families, and people in their lives who may not feel that love was always freely available.  As they continued to discuss this scripture, their conversation turned to the idea of God as good.

“I think about that idea of God as Good, the only true Good” said Ann.  “Because we live in this world, it’s sometimes hard to separate God, the good, from all the not good things that happen in our lives.  Either you can freak out when stuff happens, or you can press in and trust God.  I’ve had to learn not to analyze everything, as if I can figure it all out.  Sometimes I have to say, “I can’t make sense of it right now, but God’s got me.  I’m God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.  I’m held in God’s hand, and I will just accept that today.”

Ann shared a story from her life, “The other day, I was struggling a lot about what I didn’t have.  But I had this huge box of socks and I looked at it and thought, ‘I know I don’t need all of these socks and those of us who are homeless always need socks.  Today, I’m going to bless people with these socks.’  So, I washed them out and hung them to dry.  Then later that day, I went around to people I knew and just blessed them with a freshly washed pair of socks.  It changed my whole day, and I knew that even in that action I was experiencing God.  I mean, I don’t wake up every day and think, ‘oh, God’s gonna bless me today!’ but I’ve learned that this happens, that I can truly live in that love and the minutes and the days begin to take on meaning, to make sense, to remind me that I am truly living in the love of God.”

“I love that” said MaryAnn, “It just reminds me how beautiful it can be when we trust.  It’s hard because I’m such a planner.”

“Me, too!” said Ann, “and that is what makes me so tempted to try to figure it all out.  But I am trying to live, to fully experience the love, to totally trust God.”

“I find your story so beautiful” said MaryAnn, “because it flies against what people think: there are people who give, they are people who receive.  But, actually, we all can give.”

Ann thought about his, “I mean, well here’s another thing: I love to cook.  It’s one of my gifts.  Now, I’m someone who tents and that means I’m technically homeless.  But, I have a stove and things I’ve collected.  People know that they can bring me what they have and I will cook it up into something good and then we get a chance to cook, and eat, and break bread together.  Someone might have a guitar and we would sing.  People look out for one another and in that sharing, we feel this love of God.  It’s really profound, to not think about what we don’t have but to truly experience the beauty of what we DO have.  God has been so  gracious to me, still is gracious to me.  We always have so much to give, more than we sometimes realize.”

The conversation between Ann and MaryAnn continued, sharing their experiences of God’s love through unexpected times and in unexpected ways in the situations of their lives.  At times, as I listened to their voices recording, I couldn’t even tell who was speaking.  There was a beauty in their rich gift of sharing stories, laughter, and noting the presence of God in their lives.  This gift that we receive in story-sharing is, I whole-heartedly believe, an experience of divine love.  Our experience of God isn’t about our social location, but instead about our divine location with each other and hearing each other in full, real and non-judgmental ways and co-resident in divine love and grace.  What is real comes into clarity; what is superficial falls away.  We pass through the seemingly impossible eye of the needle of human difference, finding instead our connection in divine relationship.  With God, truly all things are possible through the love which binds us all.

 

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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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Bread of Life (Part 2)

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14, Year B)

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 6:35, 41-51
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

 

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

 

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

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

The group began to talk about the ways that we break bread together:

“Eating, breaking bread is what we do with family. It’s something special that I see” said Willie. “We get together at a table, we break bread and as the meal goes we have conversation. We share stories and get to know each other.”

“It’s like family” said Mary. “We feed each other, we eat, we talk and we learn to love each other.”

“And in this part of the passage, Jesus refers to his Father while the Pharisees are criticizing him because they can’t imagine someone holy could come from his human family.”

Willie continued, “The people I know, the friends that I have I’ve often made from eating together. Like when we come here, and we sit with people some of them we know, and some we don’t know.  But we get to know them, and it’s like we become family.  It isn’t just about the food we put in our mouths. It’s the community that happens around the table.  Maybe this is what Jesus meant, in the sharing of the bread with each other we become family.”

This made me reflect a little to the group “You know, your conversation is giving me a whole new meaning on Jesus dining with sinners and tax collectors, too, like we hear throughout the Gospels. It wasn’t just ‘oh, I’ll eat with these people, too’ to prove a point; it was saying in action, ‘we are one family.’ It is less about what we do, and more about the fact that we are there, in the company of Jesus. We are known, and loved and belong and that changes us.”

“Bringing us all together” said Willie.  “That’s it.  Bringing us all together.  It isn’t just doing what needs to be done, but doing it with love and care, treating each other like family. And if we’re all the people of God, then that means we need each other, too.”

Perhaps feeding each other really is a taste of the Bread of Heaven.

 

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Bread of Life (Part I)

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

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

John 6:24-35

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shake it off…

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

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

Mark 6:1-13

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.”

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