Stories we must share

16th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18, Year B)

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Mark 7:24-37

 

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

 

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: Davis and Harry

Let me be perfectly honest: sometimes I do a lot of behind-the-scenes organizing to prepare for these Faith from the Margins to the Web interviews and sometimes the best I can do is just show up. On the day of this particular interview, Davis was going to meet me at a noontime lunch program where he volunteers, and where I know many people who regularly attend. “Surely,” I thought, “someone I know will be there and want to participate!” But, when I arrived a half hour early there was no one in sight that I had met before. I walked around the building several times, where groups of people lingered in patches of shade in the hot August summertime. Several times, I walked by a bench where an older gentleman was deeply engaged in reading a book. I felt the urge to talk with him, but also hated to disturb him. Finally, I asked if I could sit down beside him and he agreed, moving aside his belongings and introducing himself as Harry. He and I conversed for a few minutes about the weather, our connections with the church we were seated near, and I decided to bring up Faith from the Margins to the Web and see if he was interested. Harry smiled and said, “Well, I love the Bible but honestly you had me when you said we could go in the air conditioning!” We both laughed as we walked inside, where I introduced David and Harry to each other in the coolness of the parish hall library. When they emerged from their conversation nearly an hour later, they were like dear friends who had shared a lifetime of experience.

Like Harry, I became aware that this day was not an aimless moment in time, but the working of the Holy Spirit who intervenes in our lives with sighs too deep for words.

This is a longer-than-usual interview, but worth the read.    –Sarah

Harry and Davis took turns reading the Gospel lesson.

“The part that stands out to me,” said Harry, “is that Jesus wanted to come and enter the house but he didn’t want anyone to know he was there. Now, I’m sure there was a reason for that. I mean, maybe he didn’t want a whole, big crowd of people coming and everyone would want to, you know, have him lay hands on them and heal them. You know, maybe he wanted a little privacy!”

Davis chuckled. “Then and now, word gets around!” added Harry.

“Sometimes things take a while to sink in, too” said Harry. “I was baptized in 1960 when my Momma decided that I needed to go to revival. And I remember pastor P.H. West: Patrick Henry West, you know, he asked me if I believed in Jesus Christ and was willing to go the way of the Lord. Here I was 10 years old, and I saw my Momma looking at me and pastor looking at me so I opened my mouth and said, “Yes, Sir!” And there I was, claimed by God, and baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. I didn’t really know what I was doing, though. But God did.”

Davis asked, “I can imagine you were sincere at least in your wanting to do right by them, but was there also a time when that baptism started to feel real to you?”

Harry said, “You know what, there is a story there. I worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 21 years. I remember this day, when we were all just working and I was standing at this computer, keying in the zip codes on the line. And I felt something. I felt it. And this woman, my co-worker, she looked at me and said, “Harry! You’re crying!” And sure enough, tears were just coming down my face. And she said, “What happened, Harry? Did someone say something bad, did someone hurt you?” And I said, “No, oh no, Barbara…something is happening, something is going through me. I feel like the Holy Spirit is upon me.” And she looked at me and I thought she must think I was crazy but she could tell I was so sincere. It was like: the Holy Spirit is here. I knew it, and she knew it. I mean, they talk about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and I just knew: the Holy Spirit was in me. I experienced so many things that I knew I didn’t know how to do on my own.”

“Let me tell you some more of what happened that day. I mean there I was, sorting mail. And our family’s physician…he was actually German…and now, I didn’t speak any such thing as German…but I saw this post card come through for him and it was from his niece. And I could read every word on that card, even though it was in German. She was letting him know when she was visiting and I could read that. I felt like I was floating. People would look at me, and they would know something was different, and I would let them know it’s the Holy Spirit.”

“Read that second paragraph again” said Davis, “I keep thinking about your story and thinking about how maybe God had put something over your ears to open them, and then you could really hear or over your eyes so you could really see.”

“Yes, right!” said Harry, “At 10, I went through the motions but that Father, Son and Holy Spirit were with me, and stayed with me until I was ready to feel their presence in my life.  Then my eyes and my ears and my heart were opened.”

“Let me share with you a situation that happened to me after that. I was visiting my sister, who lived in the housing projects. I smoked then, and I had run out. It was like, 2:00 in the morning and we were up talking. I wanted to go out to the corner store for cigarettes, and she said, “no Harry, wait…you can’t just walk out there. Once I get in here, I just stay locked in my apartment and don’t go out until it’s time for work.” So, anyhow, this is a long story but I decided that I needed to go to the store. When I got there, there were these two guys there who were younger. I asked them if they would walk back toward my sister’s street with me. When we turned down the street, I heard this car, creeping up. I tried to ignore it. I started to pray, and I felt God had my back. The car slowed down, the window went down. The guy had an automatic rifle, and he just laid in. I felt the first bullet in my back and I turned and pulled down that young boy. That bullet scraped his face but didn’t go through his head. We were both in the hospital, but neither of us died. This was a gang-related, drive-by shooting and the guy who did it, he had us confused with someone else. When I was lying on the ground, I was praying, “please don’t let me die like this” and I prayed for those young boys walking with me, too. But, I always felt God with me. Now, those bullets did damage us. But we didn’t die.”

“In these two stories” asked Davis, “Is there something from these events in your own life that connects that helps other people understand and know more about these lessons we read?”

“Well, it’s what’s happened since then. I’ve talked for a few different churches” said Harry. “I tell them that I have a story to share, and that is the story that I tell. It has become a way that Jesus becomes known, because I have to tell my story. Until that time in my life, I was just that guy, going through the motions of life. But the Holy Spirit began to work on me, to let me know that there was something I needed to do. I had that faith to hold onto even at the darkest times. Jesus said “tell no one” in that lesson but people did anyhow, and I think he knew they would. I have something to tell people through my story. It has helped people change. See, for one thing, that young boy who shot me: he was only 14 years old. Fourteen. And so, it has become my goal to reach out to these kids, to have them see a person who was at the end of that shooting, to work for better laws and to help them know there is another way. But I also tell them my truth: God never left me. And God gives me strength. And God is there for them, too.”

In closing their interview, Harry and Davis prayed together from their hearts:

Harry began: “Thank you for this day. Thank you for waking me up. You woke me up in your strength, with my health and in my mind. That is all that I can ask of you. I want you to touch these young people, and make them understand that you are real. A lot of them aren’t going to church, they don’t hear about you, they think that you aren’t real. But you have all the power, all the love to touch these kids and let them know your presence. Help them to stop shooting, to stop fighting. Help them know that they are the future. You can touch them just as you touch me and make me know that you are God. It’s not for me, it’s for the children of the world. I give my prayers to you, and put them in your hands.”

Davis continued. “Father, I can add no more. Hear his words and continue to walk with him. We ask this in Christ’s name.”

Amen.

Pure of Heart

15th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17, Year B)

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

 

When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

 

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

 

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

 

FFMTW authors: Eugene and Lorenzo, with Dale and John

“I hear a lot of judgemental people in that” said Lorenzo. “It’s like other people are focused on what people clean with their hands, but they forgot that you can have clean hands and a dirty soul…”

“Or dirty hands and a clean soul!” added Eugene.

“Maybe Jesus means, you have to clean up or go home.” said Lorenzo.

“But, it’s really all about the heart” added Eugene. “It’s funny how certain things can be seen certain ways. But, if you believe in your heart, that is all that matters. I mean there are some people that no matter what they look like on the outside, they are clean of heart on the inside.”

This seemed like a good point to ponder further with the group. So, I asked them to describe someone that they consider to be pure of heart.”

Lorenzo went first, “The church where I go every week, there’s this pastor I know. He’s real down to earth and all. He would do anything for anybody.”

Dale said, “Yeah, that reminds me of a guy I know, too, his name is Mr. Brooks. He is quiet and people could just look right over him. But he always has a kind word and some way to offer to help.”

“I try to do that, too” said Lorenzo, “But, I ain’t no saint, though.”

I chuckled, “But, you know, I didn’t hear any of you describe any of those people you think of as pure of heart as being perfect. I heard you describing them as kind. And a lot of what Jesus describes is about the intention of our heart toward others.”

“So, I’ve got a question, or maybe more like a situation” said John. “I have this friend who promised to do something and then didn’t show up and didn’t even care. That happens all the time, and I’ve started to think that they say they’ll do something because that makes them seem like a good friend, a good person and people will like them. But, it’s really not about helping for them, it’s all about what they want to do, not what other people want or need. The heart isn’t in it, so the actions don’t come through. But if the intention isn’t really to help, then it isn’t really helpful.”

Eugene said, “You know, I relate to that. I have to think about not just whether I can help, but what my intention is. If it’s just to get attention that isn’t really helping. But, if I open my heart to helping it isn’t about whether I feel like doing it, it’s that I’ve given my word and I know that I will feel better just because I’ve helped.”

“See like, my two pastors, they have been through it all. They have done drugs and been in prison and paid the price. They know what it’s like and now they are giving back. I think that in order to be pure of heart, maybe you have to know what it’s like to be forgiven” said Lorenzo. “For me, I’ve been to the Pen. I know I haven’t always done what I should do. But, I pray and I am trying to live a new kind of life now. That’s what I want. I help the kids and I try to pattern myself after my pastor, because he’s been out now like 20 years. I know that it can be done, and I need to stick with it.”

Eugene shared about his own experience. “OK, I just want to say that I’m new to this religion thing. You know, at first I came here to eat and you all talked with me and were nice. I learned that people had a good heart, and I started thinking about my heart, about doing things for other people. Then, I had my stroke. And it made me think hard about what I really want, how did I really want to live my life. I came back that Friday after I got out of the hospital and the first thing you said was that you all had been praying for me. And I felt that. I felt it. And now I am back here, and I pray and open my heart, too. It’s a long road to recovery but I’m getting better. I have God to thank for that, and everyone here who was showing me that by how they lived, and prayed, and cared. Six years ago, I was sleeping in an ally. Now, I have my own place and I have community, and I’ve been able to forgive my family. If you believe and trust in God, anything is possible.”

We continued to chat a bit and I asked if anyone would like to close us in prayer. It was Eugene who offered, and the beauty of his prayer was one which embodied this Gospel and has made this my constant prayer for Faith from the Margins:

“Bow y’all heads” he began.

“Dear God, thank you for this assembly today, where we learned important lessons from each other. Each and every day, each and every hour God, teach us something. We may not want to hear it. But, teach us something anyhow. Keep us focused on your word in our hearts and our minds, and let us marinate on all this so that everything we’ve talked about may come to fruition. In our Lord’s name…

and all the people said

AMEN!”

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Do Not Fear

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

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

Mark 5:21-43

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Made for Us

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

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

Mark 2:23-3:6

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

They both chuckled at that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.  

 

Nothing is impossible…

When I was preparing these Advent bible studies, I accidentally assigned two pairs of participants to discuss Advent 4.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do about this at first, until I listened to these beautiful, distinctly different interviews.  The stories and styles were unique, but they had one thing in common: the realization that while sometimes things do not turn out as we expect, God is always working through even the seemingly impossible places in our lives to open doors of hope and possibility.  Perhaps this is true even in my own accidental over-pairing this week, too.  So, I have decided to share a bit of both interviews on this week’s blog.  Thank you to Charles, Candy, Dem and Elaine for sharing your stories and illuminating how, like Mary and Elizabeth, we come to realize through the stories of our lives that nothing is impossible with God.

Advent 4, Year B:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Contributing Authors: Charles, Candy, Dem and Elaine

 

Dem and Elaine: Watch out for Gabriel, and watch out for God!

By the end of their interview, Dem and Elaine were laughing so hard together that neither of them wanted the conversation to end.  These two women had never met before, but by the time the interview wrapped up, they realized they shared so much in common with each other that it was uncanny, and their very different yet serendipitously similar perspectives on life brought joy which bubbled over from them.  Listening to their interview, I could practically hear them finish each other sentences as they allowed the Gospel lesson to unfold in their conversation.

Elaine began the conversation after the reading by telling the story in her own words: “So, what we’ve heard then is this: Elizabeth is pregnant, she’s six months along.  Her cousin Mary is sitting down there in Nazareth, engaged to a man but she’s still a virgin.  And along comes this angel, Gabriel, and says, “I know Mary, it doesn’t make any sense but the Holy Spirit is going to visit and poof, you’re pregnant.”

Both women said, at the same time, “Watch out for Gabriel!”

In the midst of their laughter, Elaine picked back up and said, “But then Mary says “how can this be?” and then the angel comforts her and tells her something…the same thing that her cousin, Elizabeth, had also been told by the angel: nothing is impossible with God.  Now, we didn’t read this part today but there is also this other part of the story where Mary goes to stay with with Elizabeth, and when she arrives,  Elizabeth sees her and she just knows by looking at her, “You’re pregnant!” but at the same time, she also knows immediately that this is no ordinary pregnancy; this is God’s child she is carrying.”

Dem had a light bulb of awareness go off:  “OK!  That’s the part that I didn’t get before.  I mean, I know the story because it’s the Christmas story and all of that.  But the part I didn’t get before was the preparedness.  How Mary really thought about this, how Elizabeth also knew this.  I really, really like that.”

Elaine said, “I’m always amazed at how Mary was able to say yes to this, to give herself over to it, especially at that time and in those circumstances.  That giving it over to God is always hard for me.”

“Oh yeah” said Dem, “I can’t do that.  It’s that ‘let go, let God’ thing and I’m not good at that.  I know there’s something bigger than me out there but sometimes I’m not so sure that I can really pray, or find the words.”

Elaine said, “It’s hard, I know.  But I think not all prayer is talk, talk, talk though.  Sometimes prayer is just being there, opening yourself up, being prepared to hear what you need to do, which isn’t always what you want.  It’s scary to do that. Have you ever tried that?”

“I’m uncomfortable just thinking about it,” admitted Dem.  “There’s so very little that I’m in charge of in my life right now that I try to grasp onto whatever I can.”

Dem went on to tell her story.  She had been to several schools with degrees in Education, Theatre in work experience in Horticultural design.  Her path has been very circuitous, though, and not everyone was supportive of her as a woman returning to school in mid-life.  Finally, she found herself in a position where she fell to her backup experience in landscaping, but even in that manual work she hadn’t been able to find work other than something seasonal.  But, as she was telling to to Elaine, Dem added:  ‘actually I think something else is opening up for me.’

“Not everyone knows I live in a shelter” she said, “but I tell my story because I’m grateful to have support and to have places like this and case managers to help me regroup.  I had to think: is this really what I want to do?  And then, the flooding in Texas happened and I thought, I could help there.  So, my shelter case manager got me signed up to volunteer with the Red Cross for hurricane relief.  I went and did all the training but at the end, they said to me, ‘we aren’t going to send you.’ I was so disappointed.  Then, my supervisor said, “But, it’s because we think you would be a great case manager because we see how well you work with people, how you can relate to them and how your own story of needing shelter lets you be open to others and so resourceful.  Let us train you while you’re being supported by the shelter, then we’ll hire you and you can be a part of our travel team, if you’re willing to relocate.’  So, here I am, I’m just finishing up my training.  In a few weeks, I’ll be going wherever they need me, working for them.  And, I’m really excited to be doing something that feels like its so needed for others, and to help others like I have received the help I need.”

Elaine’s voice was soft, rather like Elizabeth’s moment of recognizing the greatness of God at work. “You know, Dem, I think that the cream rises to the top!”  they both chucked. Then, Elaine spoke the truth that was becoming clear between them: “Do you know what you’re doing?  You’re asking for God’s guidance.  You’re opening yourself to God’s will.  You may not know it…but you’re doing it.  You just showed me that.”

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Charles and Candy: Holy Spirit, Healing and Hope

Meanwhile, in another room, Candy and Charles were talking about hope and healing.

“What stands out to me is the Holy Spirit.” Candy said immediately.  She recalled how there were times in her life when it seemed like it would be impossible to do something, but that in praying, she found comfort in the Holy Spirit’s presence.

Charles agreed, “In my own life, I see God as being in my heart and in my mind.  It’s like God puts something inside of me, like love, and it’s there for people I’ve met and even people that I haven’t met.”

As they shared their thoughts on this Gospel lesson, although it wasn’t just the general, mysterious ways of God that stood out to them: it was their direct encounters with the impossibility of profound healing that stood out in this Gospel of hope and reassurance.

Charles related his story first: “Well, one day, you know…I don’t really go to see my Mom as much as I should.  So, maybe it was that my Mom didn’t want to tell me, but I saw a friend and he said, “Look, hey, you need to call your Mom…she’s sick.”  And so I did, I called her right away.  She said, “I didn’t know how to tell you, but I found out that I have breast cancer.”  I felt bad for not calling, and I felt terrible for her.  So, I got off the the phone and I prayed to God.  I prayed, “Please God, heal my Mom.”  And I don’t know what I expected because, you know, well…it just doesn’t always happen that way.  But God did heal my Mom.  She doesn’t have cancer anymore.  And that was a changing point for me, you know, in our relationship, too.  So, I know God was there.”

Candy related a story of unexpected healing in her own life.  She shared about her now late husband, who was having very painful struggles with his health at the time: “It just kept going on, week in and week out.  We’d been to the emergency room and I was just so tired.  But, I knew that I had to come to church.  I felt prompted and pushed by the Holy Spirit to come.  So, I came here and there was this visitor, who was someone that I knew who was an Episcopal priest from another part of town.  I didn’t expect to see him, and of course we knew one another and I knew that he was someone who I thought of as having a real gift of healing.  So, after the service he said to me, ‘is everything alright?’ and so I told him about all the pain and troubles my husband was having.  He said, “can we pray together?” and of course, I said yes.  So he held my hands and we prayed; I was actually holding onto his sleeve, the sleeve of his jacket and I thought about that woman, in another Gospel lesson, who had the terrible issue with bleeding and who touched Jesus’ robe.  So, when I got home, my husband was healed from all of that pain and bleeding.”

“Wow!” said Charles.

“Wow is what I said about your mother, too!” said Candy.

There was a moment of quiet between the two of them, the holy space of realizing that it wasn’t just a long-ago story of the impossible, but of the Holy Spirit making the impossible happen even within the comings and goings of their everyday lives.  As they closed the interview and turned off the tape recorder, they decided to pray for each other, too, before going their separate ways.

Nothing, indeed, is impossible with God.

These stories and struggles of life’s impossibilities: struggling with health, hoping for healing, being older in a youth-seeking workforce, humbly trying to find a place to lie one’s head, the power of realizing one’s potential but not knowing how it will happen.  This week’s story sharing seemed to break open the disbelief that keeps us from seeing and knowing God in our midst, opening up to the possibilities that even when we think we are incapable of allowing God’s movement in our lives, we are often living into divine possibility in those very ordinary moments of our extraordinary lives.  No one in these interviews would say that their lives were perfect, and they are certainly not without struggle or loss.  But God was and is clearly present and moving.  In this sharing as we round out the Sundays of Advent in anticipation of all that is to come, we are filled with the hope and expectation of all that is possible with God.

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