Birthpangs of the here and now

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

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 13:1-8
As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: Willie and Sarah

 
I was honored, in this interview, to sit with my friend and FFMTW contributor Willie as we discussed this scripture together. We are drawing toward Advent, and coming full circle through this first year of Faith from the Margins to the Web.

“This is but the beginning of the birthpangs” said Willie. “Some definite changes are coming, I guess for mankind and everything. Well, I guess that we’ve got to get ourselves ready for our Lord and Savior, to get things in order.”

“It’s interesting that you said that” I said, “because it was that word, ‘birthpangs’ that stood out to me, too. In the midst of all those images of death and destruction, Jesus chooses that image of giving birth. Now, I don’t mean to be overly self-disclosing here, but I want to say for a fact: giving birth is painful! Worth it, of course but without a doubt, painful. But it isn’t pain for no reason…it is for a wonderful reason. It is leading to something new, something wonderful at the end of this process. There is this birth outcome that is so beautiful because of what you know is coming. It changes this whole passage for me to hear that word.”

“You know, that makes me think of my own mother. She was always reminding me of how things were, and I would come up running behind her wanting to know more. When I think about it, it was really my Mom who got me interested in the Bible, because she would tell me the beginning of the stories and I would be wanting to hear her tell me more and of course, then I’d have to be quiet and listen. It would be lessons like this, where I was small and I wanted to know what was coming ahead and she would tell me…and keep me guessing, too.”

“We always want to know what’s to come, don’t we?” I said. “I mean, think about it: this was 2,000 years ago and people wanted to know then what was happening. They were feeling like the end was near and Jesus was reminding them: this is still a birthing process. We’re not done yet!”

“You know, that’s true!” said Willie. “When Jesus was on the cross, and it was like this moment when there was the thunder and the lightning and heaven was starting to shake…you know, it was at that moment people were looking around and thinking ‘oh wow…this man really WAS the son of God!’ It’s like we are just waiting and waiting for that moment when it comes clear, when we can’t ignore it, so we can really see and believe. But you know, it’s really been right there in front of our eyes the whole time. The other story my Mom used to tell me is how you’d be walking with a friend, and maybe that would be when the Lord would come and if you weren’t ready, that friend might be whisked away with God and you’d be left standing there. That always got my attention!”

“I have to be honest” I said, “it is the stories of destruction or these ‘left behind’ stories that are the hardest for me. When I was growing up, I was often told stories about all that end-time, apocalypse destruction or told about how I might be left behind if I didn’t get right with God and it would terrify me. Truly…for me it was terror, and I became so afraid, even afraid of God. It look me a lot of years to reconcile these images that I’d be given of a destructive God, and the images I held and cherished of a loving God. But it helped me…and still helps me…when I think about the way that things torn down make room for new growth. It’s like pruning away trees, or here, like birthpangs. It also helps me to think about it a different way, too. I know you’re grieving your friend, and I’m grieving some friends, too. So the lesson I’m reminded of is that when we are walking with our friends here on earth, we really never know how long we have to cherish that relationship. And so, it becomes important to be present, to see God in the face of the other person right here and right now. I think there isn’t just a ‘here’s what might happen…” message, but a ‘pay attention right now so you don’t miss seeing God!’ message, too.”

“You know, that reminds me of something really important” said Willie, “I mean, I’ve been battling on with dialysis and believe me, that too is painful. And I could so easily just be stuck in the pain of it or wish to be taken way. But then, I remember that I have my own place, my own battlefield right then and there. And why not there? You know, because that is where people are aching and hurting. I have a role to play and thing that need to happen right then and there!”

“It’s your mission field” I said, “You were wondering to me before we started what mission field you were called to. But maybe, where you are right now really is your mission field.”

“That’s true, that’s true” said Willie, “I mean, just think about my friend Dave. I had to work hard at first because even though we were walking together through our treatment, we did not see eye to eye. He saw my skin color, and I saw his distrust. But it didn’t stop, and we persisted and God prevailed. It was like birthpangs! I mean, he would actually whine and complain and I would think, “you are acting like a baby!” and now I realize: it was truly like a baby because those were true cries of pain, that he didn’t have words for. So, we kept walking together, I would be beside him and pray, and try to be a comfort to him. We took the time, and we both learned to see Christ in each other, no matter our differences.”

“I think you just hit right on what Jesus was talking about here” I said. “We have so many opportunities not just to wonder what will happen in the future, but to see God here and now.  Those birthpangs are a message that there is something new, something happening right here and now.  We just have to keep our eyes open to see God at work.”

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.

 

 

The Greatest of These

24th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26, Year B)

 

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Mark 12:28-34

 


One of the scribes came near and heard the Saducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  Alisha, Tony, Ty, John and Lorenzo

 

This small group gathered on a Friday afternoon across the red-cushioned pews by the light of the stained glass windows in the nave of the church, following the Red Door healing service and lunch.  Alisha, a University student, joined with this small group of Red Door regulars to discuss the week’s Gospel lesson. 

As they finished reading the lesson, there was one theme unmistakably resonating.  “The greatest commandment of all…love your neighbor as yourself” reflected John.  “This really stands out to me. I mean, it’s one thing to just talk about loving people in general.  But loving your neighbor, the people you see every day whether you like them or not…well, that is the challenge.”

“Do we really love our neighbor as ourselves?” wondered Ty.  “I mean, no one has ever seen God. No one. So, the only way that we can love God is through loving others.  We know we are all created in the image of God, so that’s our way of seeing God.”

“But the way the world is going, that’s hard though…I mean, people get on your last!”  said Tony.

Alisha chuckled at that as did the whole group.  This, as we all know, is undeniably true!

“I love everyone” said Lorenzo.  “Even my enemies know I love them.  Wait, maybe that’s why they’re my enemies!”  The group laughed again, with the truth of how simple it sounds but how hard it is to live into the depth of this Gospel lesson.

“Well, when I read this, the thing that stood out to me was also love” said Alisha.  “But, it’s the reality that we cannot accept love without understanding how God can love us.  The way in which we show love to other people reflects how we see ourselves as loved by God.”

“But, there are some people who have trouble being loved” added John.  “Sometimes I think, once the will to experience God’s love is there then people will understand what love is about.  We come away sometimes only thinking about what we want to think. But there is a way God wants us to think, and that is through the eyes of Love.”

Ty spoke thoughtfully: “Everybody, no matter who they are, has their own interpretation of the word of God.  You can’t define the word, and you can’t define the love of God fully, either. It’s like trying to find words around something you’ve never seen.  You’ve never seen air…but you know that its there! But love isn’t always the same from person to person. You can love your parents, but that isn’t the same as loving your girlfriend or boyfriend.  And the more we love, in all the different ways that we love, we come to know God in all the different ways that God can love us.”

John said, “I was thinking about the fact that ‘disciple’ means ‘learner’ and here Jesus is taking time to love his disciples, and let his disciples know how life can be in the kingdom.  I mean, every day, there are situations where I might want to say something but I don’t say it…sometimes that is love. And other days, my daily testing is to stand fast instead of running away or giving up.  At the end of the day, I realize that I’m always a work in process. I don’t always live into my fullest. Sometimes I fall. But God says, draw near to me. So, every day I am seeking God for clarity and understanding.  I see God working things out every day. It might not be what I wanted. But God is working.”

John summed up the depth of unconditional love:  “The truth is…think of all those stories…God could have wiped us out, so many times.  But God did not…God sees our potential, more than we could ever see. God came through all those generations to be born on earth, to be pierced in the side, to go through death and the gates of hell just because of love.  I mean that is deep love. That is truly unconditional love.”

One of the things I most love about this group is that this is encounter I’ve captured among them is just a fraction of the deep and lengthy conversation in which they engaged each other.  As I have learned throughout this inaugural year of Faith from the Margins to the Web, there are so many ways that God moves in and through each and every one of us.  The glimpses I post each week have been just that…glimpses of God in motion. The motion never stops, and the love that has spread through this project has transformed our participants, and has transformed me.  Truly, we are not far from the kingdom of God when we cross all these social margins to love our neighbor and experience the way that God is moving in our midst.

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!

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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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.

 

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Open our hearts…

20th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22, Year B)

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 10:2-16
Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

 

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

 

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Reflection from Sarah

When I put together our weekly packets for contributors from FFMTW, I often wonder where the conversation will lead.  One of the joys of this project is that I don’t expect people to have preconceived ideas about the meaning of the scripture; instead, the interview asks those conversing together to consider where the Gospel passage has meaning and relevance in their own lives.  Let it be said: those who participate in this project are not “new” to the Gospel.  I commonly encounter people whose hearts have been hardened by the messages of this world which make it easy to assume that people living with homelessness, poverty, mental health and addiction are unchurched, less faithful or even [hurts me to write] in need of some sort of “conversion.”  What I hope the readers of this blog are realizing week after week is that we are all…all of us…recipients of the Good News when our hearts are open to receive.  Jesus continually reminds us that poverty and wealth are completely different in the eyes of the world than in the realm of God.  God is abundantly present on the streets, shelters and soup kitchens of this world, and God’s beloved people who gather in those spaces reveal that to those of us with worldly privilege enough so that we don’t need (or perhaps, want) to rely upon the charity of others.

My Buddhist friends introduced me to the concept of “beginner’s mind.”  Being mindful and open to learning is not the same as having no basis of information, nor does it mean being oblivious to the systems that oppress and constrain us from our full human potential.  It means that we approach without constraint, with openness of mind and heart.  Even in our most advanced studies, we can approach with openness and without judgement, allowing new learning and truth to emerge.

This week’s lesson has sometimes been used out of context to speak against people, or to legalistically judge their relationships and actions.  But, reading this passage with beginner’s mind helps us see that Jesus wasn’t judging actions; Jesus was making a point that rather than the lines in the sand we can be quick to draw about who is “in” and who is “out,” the kingdom of God is instead to be experienced like the openness of a child.  Jesus draws children to the center of this story, demonstrating the openness of heart that helps us see and know God.

This week, I didn’t give the lesson to just one or two people.  I’ve talked with T, and Willie, and Angie…with Junior, and W.B., and several others about this passage.  Many of them have felt the sharp pain of judgement by society and some, I am sad to relate, have internalized this to judge their own worthiness.  Their faith, though, resides in a God that sees and knows them without drawing barriers.  T was the one who grabbed my arm, her eyes fiery and her head shaking her dreadlocks back and forth as she told me about the moment she stopped believing the world’s judgement and came to be an advocate for women experiencing sexual and domestic violence, “I had already told my story years ago, and I knew the pain of not being believed, because of the color of my skin and the way that I looked.  And then one day I was in the court with my friend, and I heard the other women telling their stories and I saw the way that people would look at them, like they had already written them off.  Even the officers.  Even the judge.  The first time I stepped up next to someone to tell an officer, ‘Look at her!  Listen to her! Look at me!  If you can’t even look at us, you are being racist!’ I was terrified.  But I had to say that.  Nothing will change if people think it’s OK for a woman to be beat up, and especially a black woman.  We have stories and we have lives.  God knows that.”

This Gospel asks us to take up beginner’s mind when we begin to judge the worthy from the unworthy.  Receiving God’s love as a child means setting aside hardness of heart and opening to the possibility of divine love and grace.  In our own lives, how do we pattern ourselves after Jesus who reaches out and welcomes the most vulnerable (as children were in that society)?  Maybe our best Gospel action is to follow Jesus’ lead: “He took them in his arms, laid hands upon them, and blessed them.”

May we be blessed by all who cross our paths today, as we open our hearts to encounter God.

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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Blessed Assurance

18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20, Year B)

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Mark 9:30-37

 

Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

 

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: Willie and Raven

Although Willie and Raven have both been interviewers with Faith from the Margins before, this was the first time they sat down together.  Willie read the Gospel lesson, and Raven began their sharing by asking what stood out for Willie.

“Well, um…Jesus seems to be saying something really simple” began Willie, “he’s telling them ‘this is what is going to happen to me’ but that information must have been too powerful because the disciples didn’t even try to make anything out of it.  They just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. And then, when the went to Capurnum, they had some sort of dissension among the disciples. And Jesus, he set them all straight with a little child! “Whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.  And there they are, his disciples, arguing among themselves about who is greater and Jesus has to interrupt them to say, “um, you know, there’s someone greater than all of you and that is God!”

“I really love the way Jesus humbles the disciples throughout” said Raven. “It’s really beautiful the way we are shown just how human the disciples were, that they weren’t some saint-like, ordained by God perfect people.  I mean, these were young guys, 20’s and maybe 30’s for the older ones. But like, if you were to picture them it would be like I see walking around campus: those guys are like the disciples ages. And so, it’s always so interesting and beautiful that we can see this play out between them, like they were brothers and just people of that age fighting over who’s the best and “no, Jesus loves ME more.”  The way I grew up, the faith I was taught is that we are all disciples now. We are all supposed to go out and talk, to spread the Good News. So, it’s reassuring to know even the original disciples were human, and had flaws, and that Jesus got mad at them sometimes, too. It’s sobering and real!”

“That’s true, that’s true” said Willie.  “I always wondered about that, you know, even the number twelve.  Well, I hope I’m not getting too far off the rails here, but I think sometimes that according to what we read in the bible it was like they were twelve intentionally different people, like our personality types or something.  I mean, sometimes you hear Thomas and he’s automatically the one that takes the other side, the one first to say, ‘oh no, I’ve got another opinion…’ and of course, you know, I’m still learning. I just have to grab me the patience to stay with it, you know, turn everything else off and then I can read and I start to really get in deep with the stories and the characters.  And you know…this is embarrassing…but that’s why I think my favorite reading room is the bathroom!”

They both laughed, and Raven agreed, “That makes sense to me!”

Willie continued on, “You know, it’s like we were talking about earlier.  There really isn’t a wrong answer to interpreting the bible. It speaks to us in different ways.  You know, I wouldn’t have thought of it the way that you did but I got so much out of that. It’s what you see every day and it made that stand out to me.  That’s the thing about it, the Word always finds its way to speak.”

“You know” explained Raven,  “I think about those disciples more when I’m on campus, trying to work on things and even fewer of us…we can’t agree on anything…and here are Jesus and his disciples: 13 people all trying to move together and get things done.  It makes me appreciate what that must have been like, and I think it’s probably a pretty good description of Christians in all of our different walks, too: Baptists or Catholics or Pentecostals and yet we are all followers of Christ.”

“Well, let me tell you something” said Willie, “I’ve been thinking about that phrase that keeps being used, ‘the Advocate’ which I know came up in the sermon today, that we all need an advocate for us, for all the things we are going through.  I have this health situation, you see, I’m a renal patient and I am going to have to have a real big surgical procedure and I will need an advocate. I really want to have something that I can touch, someone who can speak for me on my behalf. Some people say they will be there, but I definitely need to know that someone IS there.  In the hospital, if they don’t see someone there to advocate with you, people get gruff. Their whole way of talking will change, because they don’t see that you have an advocate. So, when Jesus talks about being an Advocate, I talk about that for real!

“Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes not me, but the one who sent me” said Willie.  “If you are a true Christian, it will be those fruits of the spirit: the love, the joy, the peace that are what we are all supposed to be.  As Jesus says, live into these and you will know me…and you know who can teach you that? A child.”

“I think you hit the nail on the head” said Raven.  “I think that is something other people need to hear.  Life isn’t all ‘what’s in it for me?” or how can I make more money, or how can I advance my reputation.  LIfe shouldn’t be able self-service, life should be about service to others. We get so caught up in thinking about what life is like for us, if we have everything we need that we stop thinking about others.  Humans are social creatures; we are meant to be in community with others. Once we stop doing that…once we take our eyes off of God and stop thinking about loving others and serving others, that’s when we start looking only at ourselves.  And, once we start only looking at our own selves, what we can do, what are our own limitations, that’s when you start to have all the fear and all the anxiety. You’re no longer looking at the solutions; all you’re seeing is the problems. The way I was always taught to get out of a bad day, or a bad mood, was to take my eyes off of me and just do something for someone else.

“That’s true, that’s true” said Willie, “You know, well, I’ve been doing that.  You know, I’m a renal patient and I go to the center three days a week. And that is a different battlefield all together.  The newbies, they come in there and some of them try to put this brave face on, but some of them you can just see it on their face, how scared they are.  And I’ve seen them turn around and run away! The environment in these centers not on the hospital grounds, they sometimes look at you like you are a dollar and not a person.  It’s money going in their pockets, and it’s the way that they look at you. Maybe one or two people care, but most of ‘em are just in their to get their paycheck and when you don’t come in, they lose out.  It turns into a business sort of thing. So, I try to be someone who can care. But, I also need an advocate who can stand up for me.”

“It seems like the health care system is getting more and more that way, and you DO need an advocate” said Raven.

Willie’s own need for an advocate was real and palpable; at the same time, his faith in God gave him a sense of God’s advocacy with him.

“You know, I also play music for my Church” said Willie, “And ever since this has been happening, I’ve had a song in my mind: Blessed Assurance.  No matter what we are doing, it is a Blessed Assurance to have people who can advocate and use their skills for the knowledge and skills of someone else.

Raven echoed this “You know, we should have our own TV show!  We could fix the world!!”

They closed by reading the Collect again together, with the words ringing a truth about the Blessed Assurance that comes when, in spite of all the changes and chances of this life, we know that God is near.

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Who Am I?

17th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19, Year B)

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Mark 8:27-38

 

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

 

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

 

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study Group

“It seems to me that they were afraid, but there really wasn’t a need for them to be afraid”  Mary Alice offered up. “You got to do the thing that you have been taught, like you have been raised up”

“I used to think that even at 10 or 12 years old, I wanted to argue with God.  I knew what I had been taught, that I felt like I wanted to worship God but was sort of trapped in a way” said Jamillah. “It has sometimes felt like all the hard work that we do is what gets us close to God.  But maybe God is saying that it is about being a servant, about stepping back.” said Jamillah

“Oh, I can get right next week, or next week, or next week” said David.  “I take from this that I need to think about how to really come home. I can keep making excuses, we all can.  But, then God is there saying to follow me, to love my enemies.”

“How do you know what God has done?” asked MaryAnn

“Well, I don’t want to play God, you know” said David.  “I love God, but sometimes I try to get around all of that love.  That’s probably when I need to tell the devil to get behind me.”

“Maybe the hardest part is loving ourselves” said Mary Ann.  “I went to a funeral recently and they read that passage about how there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.”

“I ain’t trying to cut you off” said Mary Alice, “but you know, I am thinking about a situation with a friend of mine.  We had words before, and we hadn’t been on good terms. She called me today, and asked me to go with her to the store. She said, ‘do you need anything?’ and I said, ‘I just need you to know I will always be here for you.’  And we started to talk, and to realize that it wasn’t about each other that we had been separated; it was about keeping company that was keeping her from feeling the love of God.”

“It’s like when you feel that, when you’re going through a trial, you have to know that God is with you.” said Jamillah.

“Right, and my friend she might not be here forever.  She is very sick. Now she needs to know that people are with her, that God is with her” continued Mary Alice.

“All of you are so willing to open up” said Mary Ann. “I’m so impressed with you all the time, Jamillah.  You are willing to open up and put yourself out there, and share how you see God with you. I learn so much from you.”

“You know, that idea that the devil is always testing us” said David.  “It just does seem like that is the case, and I have to learn, you know, like just does to not get mad at the person but to see that some people are speaking the words that tempt me.”

“It’s interesting” said MaryAnn “because we can see God in other people, too”

“I’m thinking about my sister” said Mary Alice.  “My sister, she was a servant in my life. She used to be our rock, when my parents would go out, and she would be our parent.  Even when I see her now, I thank her for that and for all that she did for me. I tell her now, even when I see her, and she lights up by sunshine.”

“My mother was like that, said David.  “We grew up in the church and she made sure that we felt that love from God.”

Charles said, “You know, I have a lady in my building.  She is 97 years old. I help her out and make sure that she gets three meals a day.  She doesn’t like to be alone at night. Her daughter came to see her last week, and she was still in the bed when she got there.  She was still breathing, but they knew something wasn’t right. Now, she went to the hospital but came back and I said to her daughter, “I’ll check on her for you, every day.  I know she needs someone.”

These stories of how we live together in this world show us so much about how God is seen and known in our midst, through temptation and the desire to try to save ourselves.  And yet, it is in losing ourselves to greater service that we are found. It always amazes me in these interviews that this is exactly where God finds us.