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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Rest for the Weary

9th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11, Year B)

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

 

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

 

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

 

It was a blisteringly hot day in Austin when I sat down beside Carlos, who had found a shady spot under a tree in a local park.  It has been hard to keep up with these interviews during my summer of travel, and my grand plans to organize pairs of people in different cities has met roadblock after roadblock.  But, on this particular afternoon, I just decided to ask one of the local residents who made the public park their daytime residence if he had any interest in talking with me about one of the Gospel lessons.  I was grateful when he nodded and gave me a smiling “yes.”

We didn’t know each other at all, so I introduced myself as a member of this group of Episcopalians gathering for General Convention.  Carlos introduced himself as someone who “made his way around” various parts of Texas.  He chuckled when I told him I was from Buffalo and couldn’t survive long in the southern heat: “You get used to it!” he said with a grin.

I read the Gospel lesson to Carlos.  “I never thought of Jesus as resting” he said “I always think of doing.”

It is interesting how many times Jesus pulls away…or at least tries to.  For all of those stories of healing, teaching, and preaching there are plentiful moments where Jesus acknowledges a need for rest.

“I’m hoping to rest soon” I told him.  “I’m here working, and then when I go home I have papers to write for seminary.  I want to find some time for rest before it’s time for me to teach again in the Fall.”

“Rest is hard” said Carlos.  “You have to know where its safe to rest, and sometimes its not safe at all.”

I had to think about that.  To me…a busy, middle-class white woman…rest is a luxury.  My own thoughts on rest are a longing to carve out a space for something indulgent.  To Carlos, it was finding a space of safety to sit or lie down.  Rest was not a luxury, nor was it a guarantee.  It was a primary objective of each day’s activities.

I shared with Carlos about our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s “The Way of Love.”  I had an extra handout in my bag, so I gave it to him along with a metal token that came from our Episcopal Evangelism booth in the exhibit hall and some cold water and wrapped snacks I had in my bag.  It wasn’t much, I know.  But it was what I had with me to share.  I re-read the Gospel passage about Jesus’ disciples: “and they had no leisure even to eat,” I read.

“Probably no money, either” said Carlos. “No place to stay, no food, no money.”

“That’s probably true” I said.  “I actually think you might know more about what the disciples felt like than most of us do.”

Carlos chucked.  “Maybe!”

While Carlos wasn’t a man of many words, he helped me to see something in this passage that I hadn’t before.  In all their moving, healing, and teaching the disciples were worn out.  They wanted a break and Jesus opened the door to what they needed.  And yet, everywhere they turned, people arrived before them seeking knowledge and healing, desiring a shepherd to draw them toward safety.

I don’t know what it is like to have to worry about finding a shady place on a hot day because I have no cool place to call home.  I can daydream of going apart to places of rest and stilling my soul before God, knowing I will return to the comfort of my own home.  But, what kind of faith does it take to make shelter where its provided on this earth, and to make room for God’s presence there?

I can’t help but reflect this week that our social location has a lot to do with how we walk the Way of Love.  Maybe we begin with “Rest” or “Go” or “Pray” or “Bless.”  Jesus invites us in, whether we are in need of healing or rest or shepherding.  And when we dare to draw near, to encounter a companion on the journey whose starting place is so different from our own, it makes the path more poignant.

It makes me realize that we walk the Path of Love best by walking together, even when we crave that quiet place alone.  The people we need will find us, and we will encounter God in every person that we meet.

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Image and information available from The Episcopal Church:

https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love

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!

 

 

 

Do Not Fear

A Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study for Pentecost 6, Year B

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 5:21-43

 

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.

 

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

 

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  Ben and Paul

Ben opened the bible study with prayer.  He listened closely to Paul’s reading of the Gospel lesson, following these stories of healing.

“So much faith” said Ben.  “These people had faith.  The woman took action, and the man, he had faith for his daughter.  Sometimes we pray and just sit around, saying we’re waiting on God, but we forget that we can do something sometimes, that we can act on what our hopes are.”

Paul added, “Yeah, you have to apply yourself: faith plus action!”

Ben continued, “That lady, you know, she had been praying for years and she didn’t give up.  That day, she thought it was time to reach out.  She was drawn to Jesus.”

Paul noted, “She walked up to Jesus on faith, and touched Him.  But, Jesus noticed her!  It wasn’t just her sneaking around.  She owned it, and claimed it, like it says, she immediately gave testimony, even when she was afraid.”

Ben said, “You know, this woman, it seems like faith was all that she had.”

Paul added, “If your faith is that strong, maybe that’s all it takes is just to reach out and touch.  Jesus didn’t even talk to her or pray over her.  She had a kind of strong and blind faith.  Maybe that’s why he felt it, why he felt power drawn from him.  It was the power of her faith.  I have a hard time grasping that, what it would be like to have that kind of faith.”

 

 

Peace, be still

This week’s Faith from the Margins to the Web falls in the middle of a two week seminary intensive (which is called “intensive” for a reason!).  With apologies for lateness and brevity, I wanted to make sure to pass along this joyful piece of wisdom from this week’s contributors (and “guest contributor” toddler!)

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7, Year B)

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Mark 4:35-41

When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  John and MaryAnn

John, a brand new father that week, sat with MaryAnn as they worked through this scripture together.  His older child, a sweet and playful toddler, was making joyful noises in the background as he played with toys.  This was not an interview for which there was a lot of “Peace, Be Still!” but it was one filled with faith and hope.  The conversation was honestly a bit too hard to hear over the joyful noises of toddler.  But there was a core of wisdom which emerged, as there always is:

“Have you still no faith?”  John said, “that part of the Gospel stands out to me because we were just talking about this, with this pregnancy.  It has been so hard to have faith.  My partner, she has been so scared.  Our last baby…well, it was a hard pregnancy and a hard delivery for her.  And this time it was like a struggle to have faith, but we walked through it together and we started to pray.  We had that mustard seed grain of faith, but you know, sometimes that is all that you need.  It was for us, and now we have a beautiful little baby girl and she has a healthy and beautiful Momma.  It seems like maybe the disciples on that boat just didn’t want to take that risk.  I get that, and Jesus did too.  But then, all that worry and when we all walked through it together, it seemed like we found more faith.  Like the disciples, I had to swallow my pride, and ask for help.”

 

 

Seeds of Faith

4th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6, Year B)

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Mark 4:26-34


Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: John, Earl, Angela and Robin

There are times when God’s abundance overwhelms me in unexpected ways. When we gathered for this Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study, I had had such a challenging week that my mind was a blur, and my heart was heavy with personal grief over which I had no answers, and no control. But, as we do sometimes, I showed up. This group of four came together and said, “Sister Sarah, we’ve got this. You just sit back and let the Holy Spirit move.” I sat with my recorder on and listened as the group gathered wrapped me in the inspiration of their words. Come Holy Spirit, fill the smallest mustard seed of our simple showing up with the abundance of your love and grace.

Robin started off the conversation, “So in other words, what he’s saying is that if we have faith as big as that little mustard seed, we’ll grow, and the more we grow, the more faith we receive.”

Angela jumped in: “God, He created everyone…everybody…even the birds. They know what to do when it gets cold, when it gets hot. I mean, you can’t get the seed to grow without the birds to scatter it and the birds just know when to fly, when to nest, what to do. They don’t worry; they just rely on God.”

Earl, the quiet listener, added his thoughts: “They are survivors, so we are all survivors.”

John spoke up: “OK, I have something I have to share. You know, God does give in ways we don’t expect and I’m going to tell you one. You remember Sister Sarah…I walked in here about a month ago, it was the first time that I met you. I keep my business to myself but I had to get it out of me and off my chest that day. You listened and then you just wrapped me up in prayer. The words you prayed and what you said to me, they were from God. You couldn’t have known that what you said was exactly what I needed to hear. Even the song that you sang…it was the same one going through my mind. God provides that.”

“That’s right” said Angela, “Sometimes we get cast to the wayside, but God provides what we need, when we need it.”

I, admittedly, was stunned. I had come into this group depleted and unprepared. And unfolding before me was the magnification of the mustard seed of faith that happens from the simplest actions of being present. John continued to tell the group what had unfolded in his life since that day: reconciliation, employment, renewed hope, an opening of his life of prayer into the possibility that God’s presence held him throughout both the ups and downs of life.

“There I was, Sister Sarah. It was a few days later and I had gotten myself a cup of coffee, trying to get my mind settled back where it needed to be instead of on all the things I didn’t want to be focusing on anymore. Then wham! Just like that, I found myself standing in a convenience store, talking with God. Into my mind, that same song we were singing, the words of that prayer we prayed. And in that moment, I knew: I’m not alone in this. People might have been looking at me like I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I just stood there and I said, “Thank You!!” God was with me. God IS with me.

At this point, all I could feel was God’s presence, too.

Robin was quick to pick up on this, seizing the moment. “You know, it says so right here, that when that mustard seed finds fertile ground that is when it sprouts and grows. We don’t have to know…sometimes we never know what is growing, because God is tending it. We sow the word, and God knows the fertile ground where it’s sowed.”

“I’m gonna tell you something, too” said Angela. “You know, I grew up in foster care. Back then, I was like the black sheep of the family, the one that didn’t have a place. It was a farm I was raised on. We had to fetch water. We had to scrub floor on our hands and knees. I spent so much time back then thinking: “Why me. O God, why me?!” But, it was there that I began to see not what was happening to me, but what God saw in me. I started studying hard in school. I got all A’s. I started working, I got my GED, and I ended up becoming a nurse in the public health department. It wasn’t ME, I didn’t make that happen. It was all of the potential in me, all of what was already there inside me, a gift from God.”

“That’s right, girl!” encouraged Robin, “It makes you realize that God is there, God is holding up your potential not keeping you in a place. You can give in to that higher power, instead of seeing from the low places. I have been there. I have walked that walk and know how hard it is, to be down so low. And then God makes you see, opens your eyes and you begin to know that you have worth, you have strength, and the source of that strength is God!”

It was a spirit filled prayer meeting in that library room, with all four of these amazing women and men seeing God in each other.

“Sister Sarah, you don’t know what you started!” joked Robin. I could feel my spirit being renewed, being lifted by the grace of God’s presence in this place. “I didn’t start it!” I had to acknowledge. “I just do what we all do: I showed up.”

“Now look at us” said Robin. “We are all brought into our mustard seed. We’ve all been in low places, and we’ve all had that moment where we just reached out with whatever we could and said, “God! Help!” and look at us. God has SHOWED UP in all these mustard seed moments of our lives.”

I reflected to the group. “You know this study today…and every time we do one of these…it teaches me something. It teaches me that the Gospel…the Good News…is not something that just happened way back when. It is something that is lived out in our lives, that keeps unfolding. I can take one piece of scripture, and we can sit with it…like we are today…I can feel God moving in it. That is my mustard seed…thinking about this Good News as the mustard seed that holds our identity in Christ and flourishes in each one of us in different ways. It makes us a beautiful family.”

“Your version of the scripture and mine, or his, or hers…they might be different” said Angela, “But at the end we say, ‘that’s right, AMEN!” because that person is experiencing God.”

She clapped and laughed out loud, “Come on, y’all, feel it with me!  It’s Sunday morning on Friday afternoon, because Church is happening here!”

Amen, Sister Angela!

We laughed with the joy of beloved family in Christ that afternoon. I had come into that group with the smallest of faith in what was going to unfold. I left with a heart overflowing with love and grace.

Thank you Angela, John, Robin and Earl for being the Church that proclaims truth in boldness, so that grace and mercy and justice could flourish, this day and in all the days to come.

Made for Us

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 4, Year B)  

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 2:23-3:6

 

One sabbath Jesus and his disciples were going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

 

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  Elaine and Jamillah

After reading the Gospel lesson, Elaine said again, “Sabbath is made for humankind” and without missing a beat, Jamillah replied, “It is about our heart.”

“I always appreciate the scripture verses where Jesus gets angry” said Elaine, “I struggle with that, too…but you know He never really lets the anger get the best of him.  I read something the other day: ‘When you’re angry count to 10, when you’re really really angry count to 100!’ and that seemed like the truth!”

They both chuckled at that.

Jamillah said, “Jesus…in this Gospel…I see him being a spiritual worker.  He heals a man and reminds us that it is the Word that counts. In my own life, Jesus has been a blessing to my life.  When I have needed things: medication, services…Jesus helps me see healing, and that makes me more enthusiastic about getting the help I need.  Jesus is active in my life but healing also comes in many ways.”

Elaine reflected, “I feel like I need to ask Jesus for direction.  I got angry with all these things that I kept having to deal with this year: pneumonia, flu, sickness of all kinds.  Then I said to Jesus, ‘listen, this just has to stop!’ but then when I said that kind of frustrated prayer, it made me realize, I had to stop.  I had to slow down, to rest, to take care. So, that realization came from that time. Also, I got visits from people at church which I didn’t expect but that I really appreciated.  It surprised me, you know, that people would care enough to do that. But God is like that: it surprises us how God shows up and how our prayers are answered in ways we don’t always expect or anticipate.”

Jamillah nodded, “Oh yes, of course, He already knows what our needs are.  It may be that He has already answered our prayer for what we need but we are scrambling around to find it.”

Elaine read the next question, wondering out loud what other people need to hear from this Gospel lesson:  “It’s hard to know what other people need to hear from this, because I realize that I am not happy when other people “should” me.  You know, ‘You should do this’ or ‘I think you should do that’ so I have learned to take the “should” out of my life, because it takes away anger and hurt feelings.  So, there is a lot here I would like other people to hear…especially about the Sabbath…but that isn’t by telling them what they should or shouldn’t do.”

Jamillah agreed,  “I think it’s important to not become so “religious” that we fail to understand people.  In this scripture, it isn’t about being perfect but people need to know that Jesus is present for us.  It isn’t about telling people what they need to do, but about sharing.”

“Yeah, I find it helpful to just share what is helpful from my point of view” said Elaine.

“Exactly” said Jamillah, “you just can share what has been true for you, in your own life.”

Elaine and Jamillah then talked about what “Sabbath” could look like in each of their lives:

Elaine’s Sabbath: “When I was growing up in Philadelphia, nothing was open on Sundays.  They called it the blue laws. No stores were open. You went to church. You rested. You didn’t do your laundry.  You took that day off, totally. But now, that’s not true anymore. Sundays are busy days where people ask you to do things.  Stores are open, people have to work. Everyone waits to the weekend to wash their clothes. We’re missing something I think, and it might be important to think about what we are missing in all our busy-ness.”

Jamillah’s Sabbath: “For me, I think about what it would be like trying to follow the instruction for Sabbath: not shopping, or doing chores, but going to Church and getting rest.  I mean, though, it isn’t like God is going to get angry if we need to wash our clothes, if Sunday is the only day. God says to remember Him, to make that time one where our thoughts are on God.  I think that is how I can make the Sabbath look for me.”

For both of these women whose age and race and life circumstances different, they shared the realization that ‘busy, busy’ was taking priority over calmness and care: “It’s good for us to just slow down, to meaningfully rest instead of waiting until we are exhausted.”  In fact, they both found that doing this kind of bible study made them slow down, “Just think about how long we just spent looking at these few lines of scripture, to asking where God is for us, to see the healing of the message.” It isn’t too late to slow down, to see and take in the many ways that Sabbath is made for us, so that we can be made for God.

Walking the Walk

Ascension/Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

John 17:6-19

Jesus prayed for his disciples, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

Faith from the Margins to the Web contributors:  Davis and Fay

Fay and Davis, two retired people from very different walks of life, sat in the sunny library getting to know each other and taking turns reading the prayer and Gospel lesson from John for this Seventh Sunday of Easter, the Sunday of the Ascension.

“Holy Father, Protect them in your name…and protect them from the Evil One” said Fay, “that is the part that stands out to me. You know, it makes me think about how on Saturdays and Sundays I go to the park and I help hand out food to people. There can be some evil people, and some people really good people. It doesn’t matter where we are or who we are. There are some of both in the world.”

“The part that stands out to me is hearing Jesus, talking to his Father God…I guess it’s such a strong case of letting the disciples know that he is the Son of God, no question. He’s making sure that they know He is the Son of God. That seems like a strong message, God is the Father and Jesus is the Son” said Davis.

“All mine are yours and all yours are mine” said Fay, “We all belong to God, and to Jesus.”

“In your spiritual life, who do you pray to?” asked Davis

“I think I say Jesus, yes…praying to Jesus is what makes sense to me” said Fay. “But, I’m Catholic, so we pray in the name of all three, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. My mother raised us in the church and then we all kind of drifted away. I miss it though, and I know there really isn’t a reason not to go. I just need to get back to the Church I want to go to.”

“Is there something keeping you?” said Davis.

“Well, I end up going to help people…sometimes its like I’m doing work, helping others but that’s not Church.” said Fay

“Why am I thinking God is smiling hearing you say that!” said Davis, “I mean, maybe God is seeing you helping and hoping that you see that as God’s work, too.”

“Right, I know. But, it’s not the building. I know I also need to put my body in the building” said Fay.

“It makes me think, though, that if Jesus were here he might be the one out there helping people, in the name of God. Maybe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are happy that you’re helping!” said Davis.

“Well, God is with us even right now” said Fay. “We can’t see him, but God is here!”

“I think maybe he’s in you!” said Davis, “You find yourself thinking about others, more than yourself. You’re giving them some of God, too.”

“I learned that from my mother, too” said Fay. “Going to church and helping others. I used to work at a nursing home, too, but that was where I hurt my back. Now, I’m retired and on disability. So, I have to find other ways to help. I miss the people, though, I liked my nursing home work.”

“It’s kind of a God moment for me” said Davis, “to think of all the people and places where you’ve been helping and showing God’s love. I don’t think many people do the kind of work that you do. It just seems to me that in your life, you walk the walk.”

“I walk it slow with this sciatica!” laughed Fay.

“But, you still walk it” said Davis. “That’s why God sends us into the world.”

This Sunday of the Ascension, we remember that we are the Body of Christ, the hands and feet of Christ in this world. Church is more than a building; it is our engagement with the world and our sustenance in community where we grow together as a community of faith. Both Davis and Fay find those places of Church in their lives of faith, in the stories of scripture, and in each other.

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