Seeing and Believing

Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

John 20:19-31


When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Authors:  Steven and Harrison

 

Steven and Harrison are both men of great faith, who met each other the first time for this bible study.  Their conversation unfolded deeply and beautifully, even from this first meeting.

Steven began “What I really see the most out of this is the amount of disbelief, between both the disciples and the Jews, because he says the disciples had locked the doors in fear of the Jews, it says.  But Jesus comes and says, ‘Peace be with you’ and he meant that message for everyone…the disciples and the Jews…because he wanted peace.”

“I never really thought of that!” said Harrison, “the locked door, and the fear it represents.  That’s really neat. I’m struck by that word ‘peace,’ which is what Jesus says. It is the first word he greets people with after the resurrection.  The way you mention: fear, behind locked doors. Peace was probably the most important thing for them to feel and to believe.”

Steven and Harrison talked about the scripture…the way in which Jesus showed his hands and his side to help their belief.  But Thomas, not there during that first meeting, couldn’t quite fathom the belief that other disciples showed.

“Thomas wanted to verify it for himself” said Harrison.

“The other disciple tells him, ‘We have seen the Lord,’ but Thomas hadn’t seen for himself” noted Steven, thoughtfully. “But he said to them, unless I see the mark and feel the nails, I won’t believe.  That’s Thomas saying, ‘I need to have the experience you had so that I can believe!’ ”

“They probably did believe, before he died” said Harrison, “that didn’t fit into the idea of who the Messiah was.  But when they saw him, it was like their belief was resurrected. We hear Thomas doubting, but really, they all shared in that doubt.  It raises an interesting question to me: you know, you can think you believe something, but then when things don’t materialize the way that you expect them to, your belief crumbles apart.  Something doesn’t work out the way I expect God would have it turn out, and that shakes my belief.”

“Sometimes bad things happen for good, but it’s hard to hold onto that” said Steven.

Harrison replied, “But, when you do see God show up at the very end, faithful and true, even when the very bad things happen, then your faith is a little stronger.” 

When it came to discussing how this Gospel related to their own lives, Steven and Harrison both had poignant answers.

Steven described how it was for him:  “I have faith, even though I’m not really sure God is going to answer my prayers.  I think, God may have something in store for me. There are many times that my faith was shaken, that all the doors closed.  But then, God would lead me out, show me a circumstance, show me a way out that I couldn’t see before.”

Harrison related the most difficult time in his own life, when his son was tragically killed in a car accident.  “I had just finished watching a movie where the message was about someone who was sending his family a message that he was OK with dying.  Then, this phone call comes. And I thought, ‘God, how could you send me a message like that, but not stop the accident?” My life has been a lot of wrestling like that.”

“You know” said Steven, “I think our whole lives are going to be about questioning God.  I learned that you can question God, and talk with God, and still believe. Maybe sometimes God has to show Himself.”

“I wonder if Jesus came that second time, just to see Thomas, just to show himself because he knew that Thomas needed that in order to believe” said Harrison.  

Steven said, “You know, it reminds me.  Sometimes you have to look around and see your life, see the way God is working in your life.  If we don’t open our eyes to it, we can’t see. Then, when we open our eyes, we see how God is working.”

“I wonder, Steven, what does faith add to your life?” asked Harrison.

“Faith adds comfort, hope, resilience, and truth” said Steven, with thoughtful intention.

“For me, it’s that something wakes up in me because of faith” said Harrison.  “It means that whatever it costs it will be worth it to do the right thing, the loving thing, the honest thing.”

Presence in the Wilderness

First Sunday in Lent, Year B

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

 

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

 

Faith from the Margins Bible Study Authors:  Willie and Davis

 

A note about the authors:  Both of these remarkable men have been a part of Faith from the Margins for a while but they hadn’t met together before.  Today, it took a half hour of the three of us crossing paths with each other to get into the same place, but it was worth every minute.  I was grateful to introduce Davis, a parishioner at a downtown Episcopal parish and Willie, who attends daily lunches hosted by churches in the city after his several-times-per-week dialysis sessions.  Willie blesses the staff and volunteers with his years of wisdom lived through deep faith and complex human experiences.  Davis gives of his heart and soul with every interview and interaction.  I’m grateful to know both of today’s bible study authors, and each has richly blessed my journey.  I hope their conversation will sustain each of you as we set forth together into the wilderness of the holy season of Lent as well.

 

Willie and Davis each took a turn at reading the Gospel lesson and listening to each other. Davis wondered what stood out for Willie:

“One of the things that stood out for me is that the more closer Jesus was coming to God, the more the devil was trying to now confront him, to say ‘who is this Jesus and what is he about?’”  Willie chuckled.  “It makes me laugh, you know, it’s the deliberateness of it all…just as soon as Jesus was baptized, as soon as the world started to know who He was, the devil started messing with him for those 40 days.  That’s what really gets me!”

Davis agreed, “yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it, because Jesus was baptized and you think that’s the high point of the story but then it says the spirit drove him into the wilderness.  It made me think: was that the good Spirit, or a bad spirit?”

On that point, Willie was certain: “Oh, I’m sure it was the good Spirit.”

“Maybe to test him?” wondered Davis

“Yes, Yes!” said Willie, “and well, that’s the thing.  It’s just that obviously, the devil really knew there was something special about this guy.  He found him out there all alone, by himself.  I can just imagine the wilderness…here it is what it is…wild animals and all…and then the devil shows up to test him in the midst of it all.”

Something else stood out to Davis, too: “That last part, after the 40 days, where John the Baptist shows up.  Jesus came to Galilee, and John has been arrested.  It sounds like then Jesus says and does exactly what John was saying, ‘repent, the kingdom of God has come near.’  It’s like Jesus picks right up for him in the work he was doing.  Remember, John says, “I will baptize you with water, he will baptize you with the holy spirit.”

Willie reflected on the whole passage, “I think, in a way, God is tell me the same thing is happening with me in my own life at this time.  The temptations are out here, testing my faith and trying to see what is inside my heart.  Do I love him enough to follow and obey, with all that is out here in society and stuff.  It’s only fitting that this would be the passage for today (chuckles).  It’s like that whenever I come here and do these bible studies!  It’s like whatever we read just speaks to me, it’s like God is saying, ‘here’s a little lesson I want you to take in right now!”

“Do you think he’s testing you, Willie?”

“Well, yes!  I mean,  I’m a human being, I can waver.  But through it all, I’ve been trained up since I was a little kid to know how not to just lean on my own understanding, but to always come right back home to Dad, so to speak!  I play music and stuff, religious music for my church, and I know my folks would be proud of me doing that.  But, to walk every day and to hear and see all that is out here in society, well, that’s like a wilderness sometimes.  And my disease, you know, that’s my biggest test.”

Davis was thinking, “Maybe…the Gospel talks about being tested…but in some of those parables, Jesus heals and then says ‘go away, and sin no more!’  He always reminds them, their sins are forgiven.  It’s like something happens through the adversity.”

“I’ve been on dialysis ten years now.” explained Willie, “But the people, places and things that I’ve been running in to from the beginning, it’s been an extraordinary walk!  Now, I’ve come into the veil of service…that’s been the last thing that I believe the Lord has been emphasizing on me through the Holy Spirit.  I put all these things down here, in my journal.  So, it ends up that when I’m there, I end up talking to God through my journals, through pouring out my heart and my thoughts.  I feel God near me when I do that.  Plus, I sometimes feel prompted to play the piano at church but to say something before.  Last time, it was a verse…Galatians 6:10…that spoke to me about service, “be generous and do good.”  Even the kids…at church, it just made me cry because these young kids had a chance to serve others and they did it with such joy!  There is always a way to serve and I felt like I wanted to stand up and let them know, to read what I’d been writing in my journal!  I didn’t, but sometimes when I feel like my faith is low and I’m one of those wayward sheep, that’s always when something I’ve written or someone I encounter comes back to me, and works through me, and reminds me ‘you been wandering out there…come on back to the fold!”

Davis was moved.  ‘I definitely get the feeling, talking here with you, that God is here with us, allowing us and opening us up to talk about things. You have a faith that goes way, way back.  I can feel that!”

Willie was thoughtful: ‘Well, right now, I’m trying to get a clearer idea, a better idea of just what it is that I am supposed to be doing. When I go to Church, I sometimes think I hear, keep doing what you’re doing.  But, the temptation starts when that service ends. We get ready to walk out and we realize we’re on our own.  That’s when it gets tough, or it could if we were tempted to go it alone. But, the Holy Spirit has gotten me really wrapped around this idea of service, service to God and service to others.  When I see people serve, it just….

Willie’s tears began to flow.

“You feel that Spirit, even now” reassured Davis.

Willie said, “Yes!  You know I sometimes feel it, or I see it…like with those children who were learning to help serve others…and I think ‘yes, that is right!  That is where God is! Recently, you know, there was this other guy, another patient at dialysis.  You know, I’m not a racial person and I’ve gotten to be friends with this guy, he’s like from the back woods of America.  And there we are at dialysis and I’m probably the least like him of anyone there and yet, here we are and we’ve become friends.  That isn’t because of me, it’s because of God.  I keep thinking of that hymn, that song “The Ties that Bind Us” and I start to know that even there in dialysis, God is moving.”

“Very moving” said Davis, ” Your story is very moving.”

Willie continued, “I see what is happening, what God is doing.  He’s allowing me to see just a little bit about people, seeing that we are not that different from one another.  Once we started talking, we found out about birthdays we had in common and everything since then, it’s gotten easier.  We could have not trusted each other, but we hit it right off.  I met his Mom, too, and we found out we all have May birthdays.  It stopped feeling like strangers and started feeling like family.”

“Me, too!” said Davis, “Another May birthday to add to the family!”  

They both laughed with joy.

Willie paused and thought about the lesson in the story, “Instead of it being silent and distant, we realized we have to help each other.  Instead of just reading it or thinking about it, it’s just time to do what it says in the Good Book, to see Christ in each other!  I know that he has it even harder than I do.  I can do some things that he isn’t able to do.  So, I try to help when I can.”

Davis was grateful for this new friend in Christ, “You have a good heart, Willie”

Willie said, “We should all be in good pursuit of God.  The closer we come to God, the closer God comes to us.  I think that is what this desert is all about.”

Davis added, “Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days must have felt alone as it was, but maybe it was about being closer to God, too?”

“Yes!  that’s it” said Willie.  “I think Jesus knew who his Father was, but it is still about having the presence of mind to communicate with him.”

Davis was thinking about the deserts in our own lives, “I think adversity draws us closer to God.  Like in your story, this illness and adversity might have made you and your friend more receptive to the Spirit.  You could write about that.”

Willie held up his well-used notebook. “You know, this notebook has gotten full!  It’s one that I have used so much, through all those treatments.  Sometimes I can’t find space to write, so I just read it and learn from what I have written, to see where God has spoken to me. I love that silence.”

Davis wondered, “Maybe in that wilderness…in that silence…you’re feeling God’s presence?”

“Yes!  I do think that’s the case.” said Willie. “I can think.  I can be still.”

Davis was hearing a clear lesson from the week’s Gospel: “Maybe God is closer in those moments when we are quiet and still.”

Willie held up his notebook again, “Yes!  I wrote that very thing several times in my notebook, here, that I felt God near me in the silence, in the quiet, when I opened myself up to listening.”

Davis, his heart full, suggested that they close their time together with a prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving. “Honestly, Willie, I feel God talking through you to me right now.  I will leave this day feeling closer to God in my spirit, just through you.”

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And they followed…

A Faith from the Margins to the Web bible study for Epiphany 3, Year B

Contributing Authors:  Lisa and Alisha

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 1:14-20
After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

“And they followed him!”

Unanimously, both Alisha and Lisa agreed this was the phrase that stood out to them.  Lisa, a regular at Friday’s Red Door lunch, had been living unsheltered for the past year.  Alisha, a student at the University, was eager and interested to hear Lisa’s story as she grew in her own life of faith.

Alisha expanded a bit on that idea of following, “I mean, they just left everything, they were like “ok, let’s go!”

Lisa nodded, “It reminds me that sometimes you just have to let things go, put it aside, be ready to follow.  I mean, everybody has family and everyone has problems, like I’m having one now with my mother. But we have to believe that if we take those problems to the Lord, and if we give them over to Him and follow Him, that He is there to lead us through.”

Alisha added, “to me, what caught my attention was that part when it ways ‘after John was arrested, then Jesus came.’  It reminds me that they had to realize that Jesus was the one person to follow. If they didn’t listen to John, now they knew they had to follow Jesus.  One thing happens, then the other.  It’s hard to do that, when you see problems arising in your life, like they saw everything happening there with John, and then to have to let go of everything and follow Jesus like the disciples did. It makes all the difference, though.”

Lisa spoke with honesty, “That is so hard to do! I’m sorry to say that…

Alisha interrupted her kindly, “Oh, no, you have no need to apologize! It is hard! It is really hard.  We are only human and we experience those times when we’re praying, we’re trying and it seems like just problem after problem in our lives. That’s when we are suppose to keep our faith and it’s when its the hardest, too. I read this thing one time that said, “Doubt your doubts” and that really spoke to me. I thought, I don’t need to doubt God. What I’m doubting is that sense I’m having that I somehow need to fix everything, or that everything has to all be OK before I can follow.”

Lisa said, “I’ve always liked that saying, ‘when one door closes, another opens…’ and I had a hard time believing that at first, but I’m starting to come around and see it now. Just because I don’t have a place right now…a “home” home…that doesn’t mean I can’t work or get a job. People tell you one has to come before the other but it wasn’t working that way for me.  I had to figure out what would work for me, to go through the process of thinking about what I could do and was being asked to do and now that I’m doing that, I really believe it.  Door close, but others open when we follow.”

Alisha was in agreement, “I know just what you mean! It’s like we are waiting, hoping for something better. And God is saying, ‘just wait; I have something wonderful planned for you, in fact its already happening’ but it’s still hard for us to believe it.”

Their conversation continued.  Lisa explained her own understanding of this passage, “I’m seeing God working right now in this Gospel in wanting to take care of those disciples.  It’s hard to follow but Jesus is wanting to take care of them, too. In my own life, I know that I am grateful to be still alive and I’ve learned that God provides for me what I need and when I need it.”

Alisha said the Gospel spoke to her as well, “It reminds me that I can be focused on all the little things that I want. But as you said, there are people who don’t have even big things I can take for granted: food, shelter, clothes, a jacket or something…sometimes getting what you really need is like finding blessings.”

Lisa related this to her own life, “Now that I don’t have any of the luxuries I once thought I needed, I’m grateful for what God does provide me in my life. It’s a hard lesson to have all that and then to lose it all. But God has been with me; I see God that way in my own life right now.”

Alisha spoke about where she saw God, “In this passage, I see God in that whole thing of following him. It’s one thing to go to church and listen, but another thing personally to decide ‘I’m going to follow you with my whole heart, even when troubles arise.’ In my life right now, I see God working in me trying to pray more and read the scriptures more, even if there aren’t a lot of people my age doing that. But, I’m not just doing that for me, or to make other people happy. I’m doing it to follow God.”

Lisa empathized with her, “I remember feeling that growing up. My family didn’t go to church much, and I didn’t really know a lot about God. But, ending up out here living on the street, often times we turn to churches and it has made me want to learn more about God, about what where and how God is leading me.”

Alisha asked, “What do you think this scripture is saying to us?”

Lisa responded, “I think it’s reminding us to just trust and believe in the Lord. If you don’t get your way, don’t throw a hissy fit and walk off. Maybe the thing we want isn’t the best thing for us. We want it all, we want to have it all perfect. We think “this has to be.” But it isn’t always the way it seems. Like for me, a couple weeks ago there was a job that I thought was perfect for me…a five minute walk, easy. But, I didn’t get it and then I was angry and disappointed. Then, just one week later, I got called about another job which is really wonderful, at the hospital. I didn’t think they would take me. But they did! I got that job and it is right up my alley. I start as soon as they process my paperwork.  I didn’t get what I wanted at first, but then another door opened and its one where I will get to help people.”

Alisha was genuinely happy to hear this, “What a blessing to see an example like that for you, not giving up but waiting and following and knowing God is working things out.”

Lisa offered another example, “I have been working for months to get into community college, too, to be a substance abuse counselor. There was a problem with my high school transcripts and I was ready to give up. But the admissions counselor there reminded me: don’t give up. I prayed, and I trusted God, and I kept going and being persistent. It worked out, and I didn’t give up. I’m going to be starting there in January, too!

Alisha was excited for her, “That’s so great!”

Lisa reflected a bit, “I think of it this way. I know how good it feels when someone notices you, speaks to you, reminds you that God is with you. So, I try to do that. I don’t walk past people. I stop and say hello, talk to them. I never knew how much that meant but now I know it means a lot. That is something I can always do.

“We need more people like that!” said Alisha, “People who can see others and remind them, we are all human, too.”

“I’ve tried to do that.” responded Lisa. “I think it’s a skill that I have and something that I’m called to do. People deserve to feel like human beings.”

Alisha was beaming: “You’re like a light! These people may feel like they’re in the darkness but you are a beacon of light, reminding them that to have that hope.”

She went on to reflect on her own life, “My own gifts and skills…well, I feel like God gave us a voice for a reason. I can be shy at times, but when I feel shy, I remember that God gave me a voice. If more people would raise their voices, and remember that God is with them and remind other people of that, the world would be a better place. So, I think a gift is to use my voice, to use the voice that God gave me.”

Lisa echoed this importance of this gift, “You’re right.  You never know. Someone you pass by might be depressed, might feel like they are ignored or worthless. They might even have had thoughts of ending their life. And the smallest thing, that time it takes to say hello, could make all the difference in the world. You never know. I’ve been that person. I’ve been the homeless person someone smiled at. It changed my whole day, my whole world. Hearing ‘have a blessed day’ actually touched me and changed me.”

 

When we follow, our lives can change and so can the lives of others.  Sometimes following seems so challenging, so huge, so drastic.  But the big, huge, drastic difference can come in the empathetic, compassionate voice that sees God in another human being.  Thank you, Lisa and Alisha for listening to your call and for sharing your story with us this week!