Still in the room

Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Faith from the Margins to the Web authors:  Ruth and Jamillah

As they sat in the chapel reading scripture and talking together, Ruth and Jamillah suddenly found themselves in the midst of an unexpected serenade of organ music.  At first, their voices sounded quiet and small, almost overpowered by a large, majestic pipe organ. But, over the course of the interview these two gentle souls having heartfelt conversation filled the room with hopefulness and love.  Here is a brief but beautiful glimpse at how Christ’s presence was made known to them and by their witness, to us:

Ruth started off the conversation: “What really struck me were the words, where Jesus says, ‘Peace’ and the disciples were ‘startled’ and ‘terrified.’  Then, Jesus’ solution is to say, ‘here I am, touch me. If you want to know its me, just reach out. For me, I heard once that the phrase used the most is “Be Not Afraid” so like, when angels would come, they would first say, “Do Not Be Afraid.”  Because, you know, having something happen be so out of the norm, it scares us! And, having somebody bear the message of God, it scares us, too. And so, here, Jesus even scared his disciples! That makes me want to open a little more to fear, to not be so afraid of fear.  Because if I’m going to feel fear when something unexpected happens, when Jesus walks into the room or I notice Him here, well then maybe fear isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it’s just a sign in my own body that says, ‘pay attention!’”

“Yeah, that’s true” said Jamillah, “I used to think backwards.  Well, maybe not backwards, but l think sometimes I get scared when a message comes to me.  Even though God is God, even though God is Creator of all things, God came up with all these words for us.  Sometimes we follow the scriptures and they are so real. God is so….well… God! But the words are so real, so right now that sometimes they scare me because I think: how could God’s word be speaking so much to me.”

“I like what you’re saying” said Ruth.  “it’s like when he says, ‘look at my hands, touch me!’  I mean, if we are human and we are spiritual creatures then our job is to know who God is to us.  Like, when I hear you talking, you are telling me who God is to you, who God has been to you. And because you reached out, you looked at Him, you touched Him…and that is what Jesus asked us to do!  At different points in my life, when I see something or when I touch something I learn something different each time because I’m always seeing with different eyes, or feeling with different hands. I’ve been through different things now so I see things differently, or I feel things differently.  It isn’t like God is one big thing that we can know, because we are changing all the time, so the way we understand God changes all the time, too.”

“I also learned that Easter means not just the rising again, but about being seen” said Jamillah.  

Ruth offered a thoughtful example.  “I think about my own parents. As I grew up, I learned more about them: what happened to them as kids, what their lives have been as adults.  I’m still learning about my own parents, still finding out new aspects of who they are. They’re still with us, thank God, so I get to keep knowing them more.  So, if I can’t even know everything about my own parents, how on earth would I expect to know everything about God! I think God is always that open to us, but we have to be that open to God.  I mean, my Mom has all this information I could know, but if I don’t call her up, or ask her questions then how would I come to know all that about her? It’s the same way with God, I think. I have to bring myself back to be open to God.”

Jamillah was thoughtful: “I’ve seen God in my life because there have been times when I couldn’t get out of where I was without God finding me.  I’ve been homeless, I’ve been needing money just to be able to see the doctor or pay my medical bills. I’ve been in situations where I didn’t have the resources to get out on my own.  But, then I have realized I was connected to Him, I realize the bond that I have with God. Like I said, I can’t always speak elegantly with the verses like some people. But, I do know how to read the scriptures, to feel the bond with God, to realize that He is active in my life and that He sees me as a believer.”

“Nice!” said Ruth.  “You said that you don’t have elegant words, but you have your story!  I mean here, in this story, it’s that point where Jesus says, ‘I’m hungry, do you have something to eat?’ and all that fear, terror it all goes away because they sit down together.  I mean, that’s your story. It’s one of the most powerful ways to see the presence of God. The truth is in the living.”

“Some people can preach the word, but don’t live it” said Jamillah.  

“You know, sometimes I think that my biggest fears are scripture and prayer, like you said earlier” added Ruth.  “What’s frightening isn’t that I won’t find God there but that I will have that encounter, that I will hear and see God and have to confront what I know I’m supposed to do but that I don’t feel ready for.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re thinking you’re afraid of the scriptures or God” said Jamillah, “but sometimes when you’re trying to do your own thing, that’s when God makes you realize you are really doing God’s thing.  It says here, that so many people back then and now were disbelievers, but God is a truth teller. Other people need to hear that, so they believe. They need to know that they can hear the scripture for themselves, that God is real and present.”

Ruth added, “…and Jesus says, ‘why are you afraid?’ so when I feel fear, I have to wonder, am I actually taking  time to see Jesus in the room with me? Or am I just feeling my fear? I guess it means to me that I have to look for God, to recognize God’s presence in my fear, to know that I have a chance to open up and listen and let go of my fears when I pay attention that God is there.  Even when I feel my fear, He’s still in the room with me just like Jesus is still right there with the disciples, doubting and fearful. They can just reach out and touch, to allow their minds to be opened.”

“You know, that’s true” said Jamillah, “I was thinking about that part where he opened their minds.  I mean, usually, when there is a bible study you are told what it means, what you should believe. But today, here, we had a chance to open our minds.  I felt that today: my mind opened, I was able to see what Jesus did, that he gave the words to the disciples that were the evidence of God. There are so many different meanings that have come to me today.  I feel like, you know, this is the first time I ever really read a scripture and understood it like this, the way that we shared it together.”

“I agree.  These stories are about real people, and we are real people.  I think it takes the realness of life to understand it.” said Ruth.

The Time is Now

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

John 12:20-33

 

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

 

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

 

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

Sometimes, unexpected things happen when we’re scheduling interviews for Faith from the Margins to the Web.  On the day we recorded this interview, one of the scheduled participants pulled me aside and said, “I have a friend with me today, and I think he needs to participate.  Do you have room?” Well, as these things go, I made room. Given the short notice, M and I met together for this bible study. It was clear from the first few minutes that God was in the serendipity of our unexpected interview together on this Gospel text.

I prayed to open our conversation, and M read the Gospel lesson.  

M jumped right in.  “First and foremost, I just really heard the prayer itself.  That was just for me, exactly.  I know everything is done through faith…and my faith has been tested.  It’s being tested right now, in fact. I may not be where I need to be in life, but I’m also no longer in a place where I shouldn’t be.  I feel like God has me right where I need to be, right where God can work on me, so I can get where I need to be.

“When you were reading, I heard some loud and clear: ‘The hour has come.’  Jesus wasn’t just talking generally about what might happen, or even what would happen at some point.  He was saying, ‘look, listen…the time is now…it’s happening right now.’  I know that this Gospel is right before Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem; right before his crucifixion.  It isn’t that he is walking away from it or pretend it’s anything other than what it will be: filled with glory, and with pain.  It’s all unfolding, and all happening. I could hear that urgency when you were reading it. When Jesus tells , ‘It’s now!’ that really resonates with me.  We can’t wait…it’s time, right here and right now to live out this call on our lives.

“It’s real, for real” said M.  “I don’t know how to say this but, for some reason, I know somewhere in the Bible there is that story of Job.  He was going through everything, everyone told him to turn around and to curse God. I remember my Grandmother telling me that story, that he had every reason to turn around and to curse God.  But, he didn’t. I kind of see myself like Job right now. I take two steps forward, and I get pulled 20 steps back. But when I think of that in the right now, it is about moving forward and seeing that God has a place for me now.  It’s kind of weird because I came from a religious background. My Grandmother…she was Baptist…a Mother of the Church. And because of that upbringing, she instilled in me that deep love of God, people see that in me. I’d like to say that’s for good but people also take advantage of that because I do live from my heart.  I start to think sometimes, maybe I should have been less like that, maybe if I was harder on the outside then I would have fared better. But I give from my heart, and sometimes I lose. And then God works on me, and I learn.”

I was moved by his authenticity. “You know, there’s a beauty in that.  There’s this phrase that we use in The Episcopal Church, ‘The Communion of Saints’ and we don’t mean just the big saints everyone thinks about, but also the saints of our lives, the Mothers and Fathers of the Church, the people who have shaped us and continue to guide us through their lives with their examples.  These are the people we learn to be Christ-like from. Whether they are here with us, or whether they have gone beyond, they are part of a community that helps to guide our steps. That whole concept of having a community of patriarchs and matriarchs…that helps me. I can’t do it on my own. But those people that have helped raise me…whether its my great Aunt, or my Grandma…”

This idea resonated with him, “Yes, that’s it!  That is how it is with me.  I feel like I made the wrong choices and paid the prices that came with that.  But, I would think about those lessons that I was raised on and know that God was there.  I’ve got my rights back, got my voting rights. I could be tempted to find someone else to blame or see the system as unfair and some of that has some real merit.  But, at the end of the day, I ended up where I was from getting pulled into the choices I made that didn’t listen to how I had been raised, or what I knew in my heart I should do.  But, I was never alone or abandoned. And now I’m here, and I realize that all my climbing and trying to pull myself out alone isn’t going to do it.”

“I think you’re right.” I added. “At some point, we realize that we can’t do it alone.   It’s hard, because we are made to feel in this world like we have to do it on our own.  We’re trying to climb and climb…but there are people to help us.”

M continued his story, “You know, I got sick and tired of falling into the same pattern again and again.  I could get so far on my own, and then I would just fall back. And now, because I’ve stopped doing that process, I can see it differently.  It’s crazy…it was a woman, same first name as you…she came into the City Jail. She looked sweet and kind but then she would just call it as it was.  I needed that honesty.  It helped me see I needed help, support, recovery. I began to realize I was hiding from myself. I remember going back into the church again after being locked up.  I thought the walls might fall down, but they didn’t. I remember going in, and feeling like I couldn’t be worthy enough and then just feeling, like this verse here, ‘Now, my soul is troubled!’ but then I realized it was God who wanted to work on me, that I could just go on my own and do the same things again and again and again.  I needed help, I needed to be able to not be just a birth date and a death date but to live that life in between.”

This reminded me of a more authentic version of a popular meme. “There’s this saying going around, you might have hear it: “Live Your Dash.”  They mean getting perspective and living out those years between our birth and death dates.  But maybe here it’s more like God reminding us that our lives don’t just start and finish with God, but that God is with us all along that journey if we can open ourselves to realizing that God’s call on our lives is not something that was, or that will be…but that it is right now.”

M related to this, “Yeah, that’s right.  Like my kids. I haven’t been able to be there for them for a lot of years now but we have each other now and I want to do right by that.  My son is 15 now, and he’s smart as a whip. But it’s a tough age and he’s starting to see that everyone isn’t up to the same good, that maybe it isn’t always so good to hang with your friends instead of spending time with your family.  Now is the time that he and I can connect; we NEED to connect. Whether he wants to or not!”

I empathized, “Oh, I have a 14 year old…I can relate!”

We both laughed

He continued with his story: “I think about it, you know, I sit him down and tell him my truth.  I don’t want to pretend that I’m something I’m not. My father instilled in me what to avoid but like that Prodigal Son, I went left field my own way.  Now I’m home, and I have a chance to celebrate but that means doing it the right way, not just setting down the law or telling him what to do, but telling him my heart, that God loves him and I love him.  It isn’t that we’re here to suffer, it’s that we’re here to love each other. I had to learn that from other people in order for it to sink in that it’s that lesson that Church is all about. I mean, when I go to church there are times when I haven’t told anyone my business, and no one even knows me.  But something that we read, or in the Word being preached it’s like it’s just to me, right there, just for me. So, I think: God, ok. Yeah, I’m here. I heard that!”

This made me realize how I’m beginning to see this movement of God through an entirely different lens: “I have to tell you, it’s the same way on the other side, too.  Now that I’m the one who is preaching, I never know why it is that something comes to me, and sticks with me, and just won’t leave me alone.  I have no idea who or why, but I have come to believe that there is something in there that someone needs to hear.  It isn’t always for me to know who are why. It is God working through us.  But as you were talking I thought:  this is why we’re community; this is why we’re the Church.  We need each other. I was just thinking from the Gospel lesson again, “The time is now…” and sometimes I think we’re spinning our wheels, getting restless waiting to figure out when the time will be.  But, the time is now.”

“You know, I thought of that this week” said M, “with those kids in Florida.  They didn’t wait to ask, “when will things change?” They marched to the capital and said, “The time is now!”  And maybe, that’s a bit of what God does with us, and God is doing with me: ‘OK, M….the time is now!” and then he sends people my way, like my friend T who invited me here today.  I hadn’t seen him for a long time, then we ran into each other this morning. We sat and talked, and he said, “what are you doing today?” and I said, “nothin…’ and he said, ‘no, that’s not right…you’re coming with me!’  And then, we were here and having lunch and he said, “What are you doing after lunch?” and I said, “nothin…” and he said, “no, that’s not right…there’s something else for you…” and he went and talked to you, and here I am.  And this is exactly where I needed to be, and what I needed to talk through with you today. The time is now. We do need each other. God knows that.”