What I have is yours

25th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27, Year B)

 

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Mark 12:38-44

 

As Jesus taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study Group (De’Nae, Paul, Eugene, Taj, John, William, George, Jonathan and Theresa)

 

The small group bible studies that we hold each month as part of Faith from the Margins to the Web have become very popular events. This particular week, the parlor where we regularly meet was filled to capacity with people.  De’Nae, a student at the local university and I conferred quickly and decided to amend the usual format in order to try to allow for as much participation among group members as possible. After reading the Gospel, we asked everyone to think about and begin the study by sharing their response to one question: “Do you think the widow that Jesus points out is a victim, or a hero?”  

We begin this week’s study right there; the answers came fast and furious:

“I’d say hero” said William.

“She gave from her heart” added Taj.

Jonathan was thoughtful: “All the rest, they gave because they have a lot.  I mean, you can give like a thousand dollars or something.  But if you ain’t giving from your heart, then you’re just giving it selfishly so you think you’ll get something back.”

Eugene chimed in, “She didn’t have that much, but she gave in a different place than those that had more to give.”

“She gave ALL that she had” said Paul.  “Listen, a guy with a million dollars might have given more, even if it was 10%.  But she gave 100% even though she was poor.”

“Especially, think about it, that’s what you’re supposed to do” said John.  “Jesus says what we are supposed to do: to give from our HEARTS.  The amount isn’t what is important; the heart and the trust, that is what is important.”

“So, everyone says hero?” asked De’Nae

“Let me say something about that,” said George “because I think some people will give what they can, and that kind of giving is from that heart.  But some people might be told to give all that they have, because they are threatened. Somewhere in there is a place where we give all of what we have, because we realize it belongs to God.”

“People may hesitate to give, or might become concerned about what resources they have tomorrow” said Theresa.  “This lady, imagine it was someone today, she would get her paycheck and have to cash it and put all of that into the temple.  Let’s be real: we would not do that. I wouldn’t do that. Who can do that?  But she did that!”

The group began to open into seeing something deeper in the story.  Nods and interjections of agreement began to resonate around the room.  De’Nae, an undergraduate student who was the newest and youngest member of the group decided to share from her heart:

“I was pretty much raised on giving” said De’Nae.  “You see, I was adopted. I had been through a lot, through foster care and all of that.  But, when I got adopted, I got adopted to a Christian family. My adopted father is a pastor, and one thing that my parents have always done is give.  Because my parents have a bigger house, people always think, “oh they got it” but that’s not the whole story. My Mama, she has always put giving first.  She has like 10 Godchildren that she supports, and they have five children of their own. They adopted three of us, and they birthed two of their own. They are still putting us through college and loving us, and giving us a chance.  I mean, I’m in school right now and there’s one of my brothers still in high school. They wanted to give, they made a choice and they always have what they need. But there were times we didn’t know if we were going to make it. I know that one of the babies got sick one time; my Mom had to quit her job and take care of her, and there were all these medical bills.  My Mom was tired and stressed and thought, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But she prayed, and what came to her is “You have love you can give.” And so she thought: ‘yeah, maybe I do have something I can give.’ Even when she didn’t know if she could give, she gave. And now, that is what they have always taught me: give back. It isn’t about earning it back or making up for something, or being told that you have to give.  You give, because when you empty yourself you can receive love. That’s why I’m in the service learning program in college. I was nine when they adopted me. I was a foster kid, just with them temporarily. They could have said, “you’re too old” but they didn’t. They didn’t hardly know me but they loved me and they trusted God, and because of that I got a family. We might not get along all the time; there might be stress; there might be tight times we can’t even stand each other.  But there was ALWAYS love. My Mama always had that to give and I got that gift from her. So, I can’t imagine what else I would do but give.”

The room was filled with loving responses back to De’Nae: “A room, love, food, conversation: it’s amazing how much we need that.  It’s so simple, but people don’t always feel they can even give that. They can” said Theresa, “Your Mama, she proved that.”

“It’s like a little kid” said Paul. “Sometimes, what they recognize is love.  Kids need that from their parents, from the grown-ups in their lives. Love means they are looked out for, they are safe, they are cared for.  It isn’t because you feel sorry for someone; it’s that you LOVE them and you want what is best for them when you have love in your heart. Love isn’t about the color of the skin, or the age of person, or even whether you like someone all the time.  Love is LOVE.”

“Love will get you so far in life.  It will get you so much farther than money or finances or all that.  My foster parents showed me so much love, that recently I was able to reconnect with my birth parents with their help.  I didn’t do that because I needed something from them. I did that because I had a chance to love them, too. I learned that they had made mistakes, but they still had love.  And now, we all have more love, all of us.” said De’Nae.

“You know, there is a lot of trickery that has been going on in this world” said John.  “I mean those of us, a lot of us here who are black people, we built this world off the sweat of our labor after we were brought here against our wills.  That’s the story of our people. There could be so much darkness…so much darkness. What the white people did to the slaves was not love: it was separating families, mothers and fathers from children.  And I just can’t believe that under Trump, this country is doing the same thing now…maybe with a different nationality…but it’s the same thing. Separating parents and children from each other, it’s just wrong.  But even with all that darkness, you can’t stop love. You feel what I’m saying?? God is saying, if you walk this path, everything isn’t going to be peaches and cream. To get where we are going, you got to go through a lot.  A WHOLE LOT. You might be told to give everything you have. It’s like you have to trust that God knows where you are going. If God loves us, God knows that place.”

Eugene spoke quietly and deliberately: “The thing is that, God does love us.  And by God doing what God did, by Jesus being who he was, we receive that love.  And if that love holds us, there is nothing in this world that we need to fear. If we see ourselves as part of that Godly purpose, it changes how we see ourselves and what we think about what our possessions are on this earth.”

“You know, at the end of the day, I think maybe she isn’t a hero or a victim” said Theresa.  “I think she looked at those two coins and she looked up at God and she thought, ‘if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even have this.  You made me, and what I have is yours. So go ahead, have this: here it is. I want you to accept this, just like I accept what you give me.”

“I want to say something before we close” said John.  “I’m learning from this, I’m learning. When I come here, to this bible study it is like I am letting everything out.  This is better than therapy and when I do this, my life has been filled. When I go what I go through and I come and I talk: nothing else bothers me.  It’s like God has set his hand on me. I used to worry that God would ever forgive me. And here, I come here and it is like God fills me and I know that I have a place.  I came here when I had nothing and God met me, and I continue to be filled.”

This, my friends, is what the gift of love truly is.

 

*On a personal note, I am preparing for my ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons this Saturday, November 10. In The Episcopal Church all who are to be ordained as priests first (and always) serve as deacons.  I will be spending the next chapter of my journey serving as deacon and Missioner to Monroe Park, walking beside those we serve at feeding programs and food pantries and on the streets and parks around Richmond.  I live in deep anticipation of the way this ministry will change me.  When we recorded this interview, I helped the group get started but was called away several times as the group conversed about this scripture together.  I didn’t get to hear the whole recording until tonight.  As I transcribed this group recording, it was as if I was given a profound gift.  I can not imagine a more appropriate message to have received this week than that which I have been given here in this interview, and which I hold as my own prayer this ordination week:

She looked up at God and she thought, ‘if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even have this. You made me, and what I have is yours. So go ahead, have this: here it is. I want you to accept this, just like I accept what you give me.’

Amen.

 

 

Things we learn

 

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

 

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Mark 10:35-45

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Moments of salt and peace

19th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21, Year B)

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Mark 9:38-50

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

 

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

 

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

 

It was early afternoon when I peeked through the doors leading to the church.  The stained glass windows radiated soft colors onto the carpet and pews.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the afternoon’s lunch, this group had found a quiet place.

Alisha and John were sitting together on the floor, with John’s toddler son playing with some blocks and toys while his baby sister moved through time of sleepiness and fussiness.  When I entered, it was fussiness.  John’s friend, a sort of “baby-whisperer” stepped in to calm the infant, who was getting tired and inconsolable.  It was both a peaceful and a restless scene…one that reminded me that this delicate balance act of love and care is both ages old and unique to this moment.

Let me be honest: I’m not going to post the interview for this week, because the time Alisha and John spent was more filled with human-kindness, gently received stories of life with infants: the relationship challenges, the economic struggles, the constant feeling that one just can’t always provide everything we would want to provide for one’s offspring.  And yet, love.  They were sharing, as people do, the depth of beauty and challenge of this life.  Moments of doubt.  Moments of hopefulness.  Deep, abiding, and trust love in a providential God who is with us and sustains us.

It occurs to me this week as I reflect on this scene and this Gospel that it is the salt of this life that gives it flavor: the crying babies, the struggles to maintain one’s integrity when life is difficult, the beauty of discovering people who genuinely care about you and will align on your side, as John puts it, “without expecting one thing in return, which is how you know its real.”

It can be very easy to think only with a transactional sense of relationship in our society: you do this, I give you this.  But that is not Jesus’ way.  Jesus gives without expectation of return.  When I look at this scene again through the lens of divine love and grace, it is filled with that selfless love: friends caring for friends, people being present for people, communities opening their doors to feed those who hunger, listening ears eager to hear whatever is spoken and not to force an agenda, honest words spoken and received in trust.  So much love, so much salt; so much life, so much peace.

Discover the gift of salt in the world around you today, and may you be filled with God’s peace.

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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 3

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15, Year B)

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 6:51-58

 

Jesus said, “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.”

 

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 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.”

 

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.” This is the third and final week that we’ll hear from this group.

Our conversation turned to the idea of Jesus as “The Living Bread” and how that image might help us better understand our relationship with God, and each other.

“We’re all God’s children” said Mary. “Especially children and old folks. Sometimes we feel like we’re on the outside of all that is happening. I used to be a CNA, until I hurt my back, lifting before we had all the technologies to help with that. There was a lot of help that people needed and they felt outside, cast out.  My job wasn’t just to lift them but to help them feel inside and welcomed.  I think that is what Jesus wants to do.  To be the living bread that helps us feel like we are inside.”

“That’s right” said Willie, “and when we are on the outside, its hard to feel like you belong, you know, like you’re really family.  It might be the thing that people need the most.  When we take in Jesus, we begins to see that we ARE family, and to want to treat each other the way we would want to be treated.”

“Treat people like you would treat your own” said Charles.

“See, I was from the country, and we were used to taking care of family” explained Mary.  “People who I took care of when I was a CNA, they often felt on the outside of their families. So, I spent time not just doing for them, but helping them know that they were loved, that they were family.  It’s the way that we should be towards each other, and I think Jesus knew that.  Jesus loves us, so we can be the ones to share that love.  That’s what he means by being the Living Bread.”

“Yes! 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” said Willie.

This is food for thought for all of us who engage in ministries of feeding, helping, and hospitality. We can so easily get caught up in the mechanics and logistics of what is needed: food, shelter, physical care. But, there is a need for family and community which flows from these ministries. When we walk as Jesus walked, and feed as Jesus fed, we are not merely responding to physical hunger or caregiving. We are sending a message that together, we are one family. In our sharing…not in spite of, but with full awareness of our differences…we live into that possibility of being one family together. God’s presence is made known in us.

Mary closed the group with a prayer of thankfulness for this family that gathers in the name of Jesus, the Living Bread who draws us all near as beloved family.

 

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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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Gifts We Have Been Given

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

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 2:1-12

 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

 

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

 

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

Contributing Authors: Lynnette and Davis

After opening with a prayer, Davis and Lynnette took turns reading the Gospel lesson for Epiphany

Davis: “We’ve heard the Christmas message many times, haven’t we?” He went on to paraphrase the Gospel, emphasizing that for him there is such wide-spread recognition of the importance of this child. On the world’s terms, is he a threat or a great ruler? To Herod, he’s a threat. But to the Magi, there were something more that they were following: “The whole idea is they came from halfway around the world and left him treasures…what do you think all that means, for us?”

Lynnette was quiet, then laughed a bit and said: “I think maybe I need to start going to church more!”

“Don’t we all!” Davis chuckled in response.

Sometimes it can seem, from the corners of our world and the social margins that we are on that we don’t know enough, or aren’t spiritual enough, or aren’t something enough to be entrusted with how the Holy Scriptures open up to us.  But that isn’t how it is with God, present with us throughout time and in every corner of our lives, revealing truth that is in our midst.  It was Lynnette who seemed to experience that Epiphany unfolding in the thoughtful, deliberate response that she offered up next:

Lynnette thoughtfully reflected; “Well, if Jesus and God…the Lord…are the same person and Jesus was formed through his mother…well it seems to me that none of us would be here if it weren’t for God, as well as our mothers and fathers.”

Lynette continued, “So, that makes me think that I have to give thanks to God; I pray every night to God and then I’m thankful in the morning when I wake up. I didn’t have to wake up…but I did wake up, so that gives the day a whole new possibility.”

Davis nodded, “That’s a really good way to live; a great way to look at it, really. Every day we wake up and we realize that if it weren’t for God, we wouldn’t be here.”

Lynette spoke again, “God is good, all the time.  I pray to God, and I realize God shows me the way, too. Like today, I woke up and saw that it was a beautiful day. I knew I had to get up, to put me on a smile, to get here to this place. I mean, I know that it isn’t something I can take for granted, you know.  There was a time and place when I thought I was going to die, when they said I needed a transplant. But I knew, I knew that I didn’t have to live that way, that if I kept taking medicine and started taking care of myself it would work. I believed that, and I believed that was God telling me that.  And it has worked out, and that is why I thank God and why I come here.”

Lynnette also reflected about the gift of her family.  “I have three boys; I worry about my kids sometimes but they have their own lives and they are on the right track!”

Davis asked their ages, and was surprised when he heard her children were in their 40’s, “You look like you’re younger than that!”

Lynnette laughed, “I do hear that a lot.  But it’s true.  They are good boys; they grew up with me and I tried to be a good Mama. I taught them good manners, and to have a spirit of love. My own parents raised me right and taught me how to walk the right ways of this life, too, and so I pass that on.”

Davis smiled at her and said, “It seems like Spirit has been in your life for a long time.”

Lynnette said, “Well, maybe I don’t know a lot, but I do know that God is with me.”

“Does God ever speak to you?” wondered Davis.

“You know one day, I heard someone say my name, plain as day. I thought ‘is that God?’” But I didn’t have to wonder. I remembered my Momma telling me, when you talk to God, He listens. So I take the time, take that time now to just talk to Him. I tell God my heart.”

Davis asked, “So, is there anything in here that we learned and we want to tell God?   The take home of this Gospel for me is that this ends up being the way that we celebrate Christmas: we give Christmas gifts…”

Lynnette added, “…and we give love…”

“Right!” said Davis. “We end up re-enacting the scene of Jesus being born, and the Three Kings are always there, giving gifts. It’s like we keep it going.  I want to be thankful for that gift of Jesus’ birth and the ways that we keep celebrating it.”

David and Lynnette shared about how each of their churches have celebrated Christmas over the years. A sense of welcome and giving emerged in their sharing, the commonality of love as the expression of Christian faith surrounded them.

Davis began to wrap up their conversation: “So, since we know that God is here right now, what would you tell God…what would you say…can we just talk right here, to God?”

Lynette chimed in immediately. “Of course we can!  I would.  I’d tell Him I love Him!”

Lynnette started their prayer with that: “I love you, God! Thank you for waking me up in the morning. Thank you for letting me be here. I love you God, and I learned more about You today, Lord and mighty God, through my friend Davis here.  Thank you for being with us.”

Then Davis prayed:

“God I thank you for Lynnette. She reminds me that you are always here. Sometimes I don’t pause enough to give you thanks. But, thank you for being here with us today. Thank you for allowing us to share together today. Thank you for reminding me of your loving presence, here with us today.”

Thank you, Lynnette and Davis, for the gift of your sharing and the light it brings to open this season of Epiphany. And than you, most of all, to God for the gift of your presence of love with us today and always.

The Least of These…

 

Beginning the first Sunday of Advent, Faith from the Margins to the Web reflections will be posted weekly on Tuesdays, in preparation for preaching, bible study and other reflection on the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel lesson.  Be sure to follow and share Faith from the Margins to the Web so you can receive a new reflection each week of the liturgical year.

This week, participants Lisa and Mary Ann met to reflect together on the Gospel lesson from Matthew for the Last Sunday of Pentecost, Christ the King.  As you will hear from their words and their lives, Christ sets our example for beloved and compassionate presence even with “the least of these…”

A Faith from the Margins to the Web Reflection
Last Sunday of Pentecost, Year A (Christ the King)

The Least of These

Faith from the Margins to the Web Authors: Lisa Myers and Mary Ann Blankenship

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

As soon as Lisa finished reading the Gospel lesson, Mary Ann voiced an immediate and personal resonance: “For me this always makes me feel guilty; like I haven’t done more for other people.”

Lisa chimed in, feeling a similar response: “MmHmmm…yeah. I think that’s why I want to get into this new profession, so that I can give back. And I want to be able to do more volunteer work, to give back to the community where I have received since I have been down and have nothing. All these people out here who do what they do, all the churches and everybody, I just want to give back to that.”

“Right.,” responded Mary Ann,  “when I was working, I worked for the teacher’s union and I felt like in that work, I was helping other people, you know, helping teachers who have a hard time a lot of times and people don’t give them much respect. But, since I’ve been retired, this really gets to me because when you have a job that you feel like gives you a lot of meaning and you give back doing it, then when you retire, it’s hard. So, in retirement, I’ve been trying to find things in my life that I feel like I can still give back. I volunteer with CASA, which is a program that helps kids and families when they end up in the juvenile court system and then through the church, we’re also doing some things.”

Lisa nodded in agreement, and it pushed her own thinking forward, “You know, that’s another thing I want to get back into, is finding…like I told you earlier, I haven’t gotten much religion in my life…and I would love to get back into going to church and learning more and then being able to tell somebody else.  Like they say, spread the word and let people know how good God is, and then to share that with others. Like we were talking about earlier today at Red Door, I need to be a learner…I need to be the student and then I can learn how to help others.”

Mary Ann agreed, “it’s like that for me, too…I was talking about that when I mentioned my friend’s mother…really, God boils down to love and that’s what this scripture says to me.”

“Well, I see God right now as my Father, the one and only,” Lisa said.  “Yes, I know I have one here on earth and maybe he hasn’t done a lot for me here, but God has done more for me than anybody. So, like in this Gospel here, I feel like there is no one else that can do that for me. I mean, He is the only One.”

This brought something more to mind for Mary Ann: “Right now, I see God in two of my friends, one named Joy and the other Judy.  I see God through them because they do a lot in the world but they are also the kind of friends who are there for me and they always love me. It doesn’t matter how badly I screw up, they are still there for me.”

“Yes!” Lisa agreed, “that’s what I was talking about earlier, with my son. That boy has been through a lot with me, and he has never, ever shunned me. Even though he knows I’m out here homeless, he never stops coming to see me. He always helps me when he can. He has a busy life but he doesn’t forget about me.”

Mary Ann was encouraging, “You must have done a good job raising him.”

Lisa sounded thoughtful about that, “Well, I think I did. I know I had my issues, but I could always say I was there for both of my children. But I just didn’t do everything I could have for them as a parent.”

“But they knew you loved them.” Mary Ann added.

“Yes…right…you know I tried to do that.  I really do try.” said Lisa.

This seemed to strike a chord with Mary Ann’s own family memories: “My own mother…she was there for me…but I wasn’t always sure that she loved me. She was more the disciplinarian: you’ve got to do this, and you’ve got to do that, you’ve got to do whatever. My father was the one who always loved me. My mother loved me, but she just didn’t show it. She wasn’t always expressive and there was that mother-daughter thing going on, too.”

Lisa responded with empathy to Mary Ann’s story, “It’s like they say, you are never alone. I sometimes say, ‘I don’t have anyone’ but it isn’t like that. I’ll be honest with you. I was incarcerated for a while but I had this lady who came in, twice a week. She came in and did a bible study for whoever wanted it. And she would say to me, when I said I was alone, “Lisa, you are never alone. God is always with you. In your heart.”  You know, I thought about that. I could talk to Him. I could say whatever I wanted and not hold anything back because, you know, he already KNOWS. So I had conversation, just Him and I, knowing that it was true, He was always there.”

Mary Ann’s voice brightened with the honesty of Lisa’s story, “that’s really remarkable, that even when you were incarcerated you could feel that, and know that. And good for her for telling you that! Because it’s true…I’ve felt the same thing. With everyone else in the world, I try to hide things or cover up things but with God it really doesn’t matter because He already knows, so why put any of that other stuff on??”

At this point, both women were laughing at the sheer absurdity and brilliance of being able to be oneself wholly, with a God who wholly loves us for who we are.  The shared feeling of being known and loved no matter what was palpable in their conversation.

Lisa summed it up, “At least I can talk with someone, and be completely open and honest. And, I don’t have to worry about hiding,”

Mary Ann began to talk about how this Gospel speaks to what other people need to hear: “What it says to me is that it matters how you treat people, especially people worse off than you are. You know, because anyone is going to suck up to people above them and be nice to people who have power over them. But, I know when I used to work, there were people who treated the custodian in our building like crap and then they’d turn around and be real nice to me, and I thought, “I know how you really are!”

Lisa could absolutely relate: “I know! I’ve met quite a few people like that. And I was telling my family, I’m not proud of the position that I’m in right now but I will say this: I am not ever going to be ashamed anymore because I have learned so much from this way of life from the way I used to live. I had wonderful jobs, I was married, I had a home, a car, a truck, a business…you would think I had everything.  But now I have nothing, but I have grown to appreciate what little I have so very much.”

“I really appreciate your honesty,” added Mary Ann,  “and you know, you’re right. One of my friends told me one time, ‘All the time gets wasted trying to change the past’ and you know, that has been a hard lesson for me to learn. The past is past; there’s nothing I’m going to do today that can change what happened 5 months ago or two years ago, but I can change what I do now and in the future, and that’s exactly what you’re doing with your life.”

Lisa said,  “That reminds me of something one of my counselors told me. He said, ‘look at your life like you’re driving a car. You have a windshield and a rear-view mirror. You check the rear-view mirror every now and again, to see what’s going on behind. But your main view is in front of you. So, treat your life that way, so you can see what’s in front of you.’ ”

“Oh, that’s great, I like that” said Mary Ann, “and I would also say one reason why you’d look in your rear-view mirror sometimes is so that you don’t get run into!”

Lisa laughed. “Right, exactly!”

“I have occasionally been run into by something in my past!” Mary Ann admitted, “but what a wise thing for your counselor to say.”

Lisa agreed, “I did learn a lot from that counselor!”

Mary Ann continued, “Well, as I was saying, a story that I’m reminded of from this Gospel is my one co-worker who was always hateful to someone that he thought was under him, but then he would always suck up to people who were above him. I completely lost it a couple times, and eventually I lost all respect for him.”

This was all too familiar to Lisa, “Yes, like I said, there’s some people out there…the people that have things…money, good jobs, whatever.  There was one time…and I felt so sorry for this homeless man…who was sitting out there on the wall, eating his little lunch, minding his own business and this man in a suit was coming down the sidewalk, so important. We were watching him walk in a straight line down the middle of the sidewalk, then he saw that homeless man sitting there and he walked all the way around, making this great big curve…all the way around just like that, just to avoid him.”

“Like it was contagious,” noticed Mary Ann.

“Yes!” said Lisa, “and I felt so sorry for that man, that poor man minding his own business , eating his lunch and thinking, ‘What did I do to deserve that…’ ”

Mary Ann summed it up, “It’s bad enough, you know, here he is in a suit already, appearing more successful and then he has to do something like this, making him feel even less than…

“Oh, it did!” exclaimed Lisa, “It broke my heart!  You know whenever I get my life straightened out, that’s why I want to give back and help. That’s why I’m going back to school.  It’s terrible what you see, how people are treated.  All people should be treated with dignity and respect.”

As their conversation wrapped up, these two once-strangers had a new appreciation for each other.  Mary Ann closed by saying, “I really admire you for going back to school and doing something you know will help others” and Lisa reflected this same sense of appreciation, “Well, I really admire you for deciding to do something even after you retire, to show you care!”

There was no “least” between these two women…both had clearly seen the glory of Christ reflected in each other.

The Reign of Christ is made known in the lives of those who are poor, who are homeless, who work menial jobs, who are the invisible of this world in which we live.  If we pay attention, we realize that Christ is made visible in each one of us.  No one is alone with a loving God who chooses to be present both in the lives of the mighty, and with those whom we may think of as the least of these.  We feel God’s nearness yearning to heal the broken spaces and lacking places in our lives.  The emptiness is filled, and our hunger and thirst is quenched.  God sees us as we are, meets us where we are, loves us for who we are.

This Gospel poses us questions for thought:  How are we seeing God in all of those whom we encounter?  How do our interactions with people living at a different social margins reflect God’s presence in the lives of all of God’s people?  What do we miss when separate ourselves from those different than we are, or when we fail to see Christ in each other?  What do we gain when we are willing to draw near and recognize the reflection of God in the lives of those we think of as “the least of these” instead of crossing by the other way?

Perhaps experiencing the fullness of the Reign of Christ means focusing the eyes of our heart to see the brilliant vision of Christ who is magnificently present with the least powerful of this world, loving us all radically across the social margins of our human lives, calling us together into this Realm of God where at last, we all can be home.