Open Heart, Healing Touch

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

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

Mark 10:46-52

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They all chuckled at that, knowingly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gifts of possibility…

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

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

 

Mark 10:17-31

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Both women laughed at the truth of that interpretation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

23882066957_756cb780aa_z

 

So Much Love

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B 

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 3:14-21

 

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  Alisha and Lynette

In these recent days and weeks, I’ve heard more than a few (good, kind, caring) people say that they fail to understand how God could love this world. We are human beings who get lost sometimes, wandering in the darkness of violence, death, and destruction where we can’t quite find our own way out.  We can feel helpless and even hopeless. But, here in the midst of our Lenten wilderness, we are reminded of a deep and resonant truth: God loves us. God profoundly loves all of us, and the collective “us” that we can even have trouble loving ourselves.  Let me say that again: God loves each of us as individuals, but God also loves US, the world, even when we are fed up and even with all the times we fall and are drawn in to the structures and power of evil. God loved the world so much, that God’s very self entered into this world to experience life with us.  It’s probably the first bible verse you memorized as a child.  Maybe it’s the one we most need to hear…really hear…as adults.

This week, two of God’s beloved children, Alisha and Lynette, share for us something about this message of lavish, divine love:

Lynette, a regular visitor at feeding programs throughout the city, began the conversation by reading the Gospel lesson.

Alisha, a student just getting ready to embark on a spring break mission trip, chose to spend the afternoon with our Faith from the Margins bible study.  She began by asking Lynette what stood out to her. Lynette said was familiar with the verse, but what stood out to her right now was amount of evil she had been feeling in the world. “These killings, and these kids. It’s just too much to hear about, too much evil every time I turn on the news.”

Alisha nodded, realizing that Lynette spoke for the way so many of us feel rocked by the nature of violence.

Lynette went on to tell the story of someone she knew who was killed, leaving behind young children. “I’m sorry that I feel like I don’t have much to say these days. It seems like the world isn’t going to last long.”  The sadness hung on Lynette’s voice of age and experience.

Alisha paused and seemed to reach into a place in her heart where God was speaking.  “I hear you” she said, “but what stood out to me is love, ‘For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son.’ Those words are about so much love. Not everyone believes that, not everyone believes in Jesus or God. But God doesn’t just love the people who believe or who read the scriptures or who go to church or who know how to pray. God loves the world, the whole world. Jesus came for everybody, no matter what. I think people don’t see how great that is, how amazing it is to be loved that much. He didn’t make the world a bad place, or to hurt people or set them against each other. He did it because of love.”

Alisha continued, as Lynette listened thoughtfully.  “You were talking about the darkness of the world, Lynette, and I think that it does say in here that people are drawn to the darkness. God knows people will still choose darkness, but Jesus, in a way, is the Light because God knows there will be darkness. So no matter how dark the world seems, the Light of Christ cannot be taken away. His light will continue to shine no matter what. I think that’s a hope to hang onto, especially when we see so many shootings and so many problems going on. The President, the United States acting like we don’t know how to run a country, and then our regular struggles of everyday life on top of that. It’s a lot. And Jesus the Light is still here.”

Lynette smiled a little, feeling some of that light.  Finally, she said, “You know, I see God everywhere I go. You know, when you have good days, you think, “God is on my side.’ If you are happy, having a good day, you see God everywhere. Then if anything happens, you have to remember that God is still on your side.”

Alisha said, “Right now, I’m trying to seek God more. I’m realizing that God is putting people in my life to help remind me, to know God is there. Like you said, on good days its easy to feel that God is there. But then there are other days when you think, ‘why does this stuff keeping happening? Where is God in this?” and its usually through those other people, the people who help me see God again.”

“Do you believe in God?” Lynette asked.

“I do, I really do!” said Alisha.

“That’s good” said Lynette, “Not a lot of people do. But I do, too. I go to bed at night and I pray. I say that God wakes me up in the morning and when there is a new day, I am grateful for that, and I pray again.”

“There’s something about praying by yourself” said Alisha. “It’s like it’s just you and God, and you feel like you can be more open. It’s like I get my faith and reassurance about who I put my trust in most. It isn’t just the words, its the meaning in my heart. I try to see God.”

“He’s around!” said Lynette.

They both laughed.

“People need to read this scripture” said Lynette, “they need to be reminded of what is going on, not just to get stuck in the darkness.”

“It’s nice for us to read it,” said Alisha, “but we’re also supposed to live it and spread it, too. I think just sharing a word sometimes…especially the love, that fact that God loves us no matter what, no matter if we don’t even believe it or don’t even believe in God…that message is something we need to share.”

“Do you have family around here?” asked Alisha. They started to talk about their families, the sisters and brothers and for Lynette, her children.

“Did you grow up in the Church?” asked Alisha.

“Yes, well, almost every Sunday my Momma made sure that we were in Church.” answered Lynette. “How about you?”

“It was the same for me” answered Alisha.  “Now, I try to go to church every Sunday.”  This was a commonality they both valued; the way in which attending to God had been made a priority in their lives, even when there was a lot of other things and many other challenges happening.

Alisha and Sheryl each shared a time when they knew unconditionally that they were loved by God.

Lynette shared about her good days. “Things are going my way, and I think, I’m loved by God. I know it doesn’t sound exciting, but when I go to the doctor, I get out, I realize God is good and I feel really loved by God.”

“For me,” said Alisha, “there was a time when I was really lonely. I mean, I had friends and people around but there wasn’t really anyone that I could talk to, that I could connect with deeply. And then I went to church one Sunday and they were singing this gospel song, it was “Halleluia, you have won the victory, death cannot hold you down, you are the risen King…” I remember that vividly.  It was a just a time, a moment for me when I realized it wasn’t even about me feeling good all the time. If I felt lonely, or if I felt down that God was still with me. God loved me for me. So, remember that God loves you, no matter what has happened to you, good day and bad days.”

May these grace-filled words from Alisha and Lynette fill you with love, this day and in the days to come…

 

 

Healing Welcome

Epiphany 5, Year B

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Mark 1:29-39

 

After Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

 

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

 

Co-authors:  Dale and Sarah

Dale and I sat together in the chapel as we opened up this Gospel lesson together.  I hadn’t spent a lot of time talking with Dale  until today; he is the friend of several others who attend Red Door lunch and healing service regularly.  We’ve exchanged pleasant hellos but we hadn’t really talked.   Today, our bible study numbers were a bit uneven, so I filled in at the last minute.  What a blessing that serendipitous decision turned out to be!

As we began, Dale asked if I would do the reading since his eyesight kept him from being able to read out loud.  I noticed, even from the intent way that he listened to the Gospel, that he was hearing every word with a clarity most of us miss.

“I like that reading, I do” said Dale.  “I didn’t get that part before but this time I heard that James and John were there too.  Jesus was there, but the others, they had God’s word there with them.  I wonder, did they have power or something, like Jesus, to heal?

“That’s a great question, Dale!  I hadn’t even picked up on that.  Jesus does say at other times to his disciples that they have the power to heal, that Jesus gives others the power to heal in His name.  You know, I think about that a lot.  On Fridays here, when we have the healing prayer service, that’s something that is powerful to me when I say it each week before we offer prayers together in Jesus’ name.  I don’t have the power to heal.  It’s not like that, like a magic power or something, but when we hold a healing prayer service we pray together because we have been told that there is healing in God.  I’m not in charge of that healing: giving, or receiving healing.  But healing is there with us when we are gathered together because God is with us.  So, when we stand together, when I pray with people, it’s in the presence of that healing that God is made known to us.”

“You know, I believe that” said Dale.  He continued, “…because back in 2012, when I lost my eyesight from glaucoma, I was blind totally for about 18 months.  I went to the eye doctor and he said there wasn’t much hope.  I was imagining never seeing again, learning to read braille and stuff.  Then the doctor said, ‘there is this surgery, but its really 50/50 whether it will work or not.’  But, I thought, ‘I’m already blind, what do I have to lose?”  So, I had the surgery, but then there was nothing.  Six months went by, nothing.  Then one day I thought I saw light starting to come in.  So I started to pray, not begging but just feeling thankful to see light again.  And other people, they started to pray for me.  And always, those prayers were in the name of Jesus Christ.”

“That’s wonderful!” I said, “I think about that whenever we pray.  I may pray, I may ask, but we are asking in the name of Jesus Christ who is with us all.”

“Praying, you know, it’s like blessing.  We get blessed, we feel blessed.  But it isn’t about that.  It’s about passing along that blessing, that is also in Jesus’ name.”

Something else stood out for me, too.  “I keep going back to this part…about Simon’s mother…who is healed and then gets up and starts serving everyone.  At first I want to say, “hey, let the poor woman rest!” and then I thought about it.  She chooses to serve.  That is a show of love, a gift of family and community.  That is an action of thanksgiving and grace.  We can never say ‘thank you’ enough for our healing so we do what we do best: we serve as healed people, showing our thanks to God.”

Dale nodded.  “You’re right, because her way of serving, her way of saying thank you was to keep serving.  I’m just like her.  I wake up and keep seeing God.  My eyesight isn’t all back, but it is clear enough now that I can see light.  When I wake up, I say thank you God, because that light makes me know that God is there in that healing. And then I want to get out, and to serve others.”

“It’s like our thanks, our blessing, our healing are all together” continued Dale.  “I don’t know which is the right word to use.  But maybe they are all part of the same thing.”

I thought about this. 

Dale went on, “Maybe this blessing falls to us, because it is so present with us.  I ask myself, ‘how do I live into this blessing, this healing’ and I see that here in this place.  Here, there are a whole lot of people who feel shame and hunger and think they will be looked down on.  But they come here, and there is healing, and there is food, but there is also spiritual healing where we are fed. I’m surprised sometimes by who I see come into that service.  But you are never surprised…you just show love to everyone. I see that in you.”

I felt myself smiling; I was blessed by hearing this, but I knew the story was deeper than Dale probably realized.  So, it was my turn to share.  “You know, Dale, there was a time that I was one of those people who was least likely to come into a church.  You see, I was mad, angry.  Really angry.  Then, one day I decided to just go to a church not because I had to but because I wanted to…actually because I wanted to sing.  And that day, the clergy person seemed to just look right at me.  Instead of feeling judged, I heard him say, “All are welcome…you are welcome.”  I felt that in my entire soul.  I knew that welcome came from more than just that person; that welcome was from God.  That welcome was God.  And in that welcome is where I found healing from all that anger.  Slow, just like your eyesight!  But gradually, the light comes back in and we are filled with thankfulness and gratitude.  So, I want to live into that now.  I know there are people every week who come here feeling broken, angry, and not welcome.  I know exactly how that feels.  So, I stand in that place of healing I have known, and I pray.  My prayer is always that I can offer up that healing and welcome to others, too.”

“I notice that too” said Dale, “when you all say the prayers, you always say that at the beginning.  You know you are welcome, you can be here just as you are.  Welcome is a gift, and a blessing.  Welcome is healing.  You know, I’m glad this was our lesson today”

I’m glad too, Dale.  

 

Love came down at Christmas

A Faith from the Margins to the Web bible study for the First Sunday after Christmas, Year B

Contributing Authors: Sheryl and Alisha

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 1:1-18

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

 

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

 

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

 

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

“Well, first thing I will say is that I know there’s God,” said Sheryl, “I’m a witness and I will give testimony to that!”

“I know!” said Alisha, “Me, too.  I’ve been seeing Him work through other people, and that makes you want to seek Him for yourself.”

Alisha and Sheryl spent many hours a week in the same setting but they had never met; one was a student and the other a part-time service worker, nearing retirement, in the same University.  They had both come to Red Door that Friday for bible study and lunch, just to be a part of this project which intrigued them.  Within seconds, it was clear that they had far more in common than anything that divided them.  It was also clear that what stood out the most in this Gospel for both of them was love.  As Alisha described it, “the Love given so freely by God.”

Sheryl added, “another word that stands out for me is peace.  It took me so long to get to a place where I could feel peace, but now I’m beginning to really feel that…it only took 58 years!” she joked.

“But, once you have that peace, you never want to let go of that!” Alisha agreed.

Alisha continued, “I appreciate the part where John acknowledges who he is and who he is not.  He isn’t the light, but he comes to be a witness and testimony to the light.  I think that’s what we are all called to be: lights in a dark world.”

“Amen!” echoed Sheryl, “and I do try to do that.  It’s why people call me ‘Grandma Sheryl” because I try to always have a kind word, a good word for people who need it.  And, it feels good because I show love, and I feel love.  Everyone comes to me for prayer, ‘please pray for me’ they ask, the young and old.  That’s a beautiful thing.”

“That is beautiful!” said Alisha.  “I’ve been trying to read the Bible and pray more, and I’m starting to feel that peace, too.  So many people are going crazy, feeling so lost with all that’s going on with the president, with the world.  They start to feel hopeless.”

That warmed Sheryl’s heart: “I love hearing that from you, the younger ones!  I always tell my children, if you can stay with the positives, you won’t be following the crowd, you’ll be leading with love.  And they are leaders, just like you!”

“It’s hard” said Alisha, “Sometimes I’m the one person out, who isn’t like the rest, but then I remind myself I know who I live for.  What I get from living for God is greater than the criticism I get from others.  It helps me to see Christians who really live into it, though, instead of people who want judge.”

“Only God can judge” said Sheryl, “you tell them even Tupac said that!”  she added as they both laughed.

Alisha added, “I like this part: ‘We all have received grace, grace upon grace.’  God gives us grace every day.  It isn’t because we deserve it, or just for people we like…it’s a message for everyone.”

“The world can feel hopeless, but it isn’t hopeless,”  Sheryl chimed in as well, “People get despondent, like over Trump in the white house, but we have to remember God is over him, too!  And we have to pray for everyone.  We have to pray for him, too.  People forget that but maybe that means he needs prayer most of all!”

As their study together came toward a close, Alisha and Sheryl named the words where they see God:

“I see God through my Children and Grand-children.” said Sheryl.  “I pray and give my thanks to God every day and every night.  I keep a grateful spirit and use my words to pray to God.”

Alisha said, “My word would be ‘service’ because when I see people who live into their faith, who prepare meals and help others, and do work to make their communities a better place, that is how I see and know God.”

The wisdom of the ages flowed between this pairing of a college student and Grandma to the community as they shared their stories of church-going, struggles, favorite foods and family stories.  Love comes to unite us, to bring peace, to dispel the dimness of our vision with the hope of eternal light and life: “I love our conversation!” Alisha said at the close, “I told you, everyone comes to Grandma!” added Sheryl.

And with that, they prayed.