United, not Divided

3rd Sunday Pentecost (Proper 5, Year B) June 10, 2018

 

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Mark 3:20-35


The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  David and Jennifer

 

David started off the conversation, “What stood out for me in this Gospel is that people were all on their own path; people around him weren’t really honoring where each other were.  It was like a house divided: good and bad.”

Jennifer reflected, “It makes me think about what am I choosing to do and how I am weighing my options.  Inside of me, I feel like I have a some really good things…”

“…and challenges…” interrupted David

Jennifer continued, “well yes, and challenges we all have of course, but also just a whole lot of really good things.  Some days I feel like the choice is difficult because it’s hard to choose between a lot of different, but very good things.  We reduce it down, and try to simplify it. So, we think about always having to choose between good and bad but that’s easier to determine. But what do we really know about choosing between good and good?  Like, family and God? That’s when it gets really hard to know what to do, and that’s what stood out to me in this scripture.”

“OK, that’s interesting” said David. “Because we have this one law, to love God and love each other but we still have to figure out how to do that.”

Jennifer nodded, “Exactly.  So, I may have several good things that I want to do in order to live into that, but I have to keep asking myself, ‘How is the good that I want to do a part of the Spirit of God?’”

David was getting the point, “OK, OK.  I hear you! I think what’s I’m getting out of it is that part where Jesus wanted people to know that he was with them and when people believe in Jesus, it isn’t about the places where they are accepted or even what they are feeling inside.  When I first studied the bible, I’d look at different verses and texts and think about where they fit into my life. But now, I try to feel like, how do they fit together? I mean, it isn’t just this verse for this day, but how is it that I live into all of it.”

Jennifer added, “That made me think about how everyone here in the Gospel lesson…even Jesus’ family…they are apart from him, standing outside.  But you know, when I look at Jesus from a distance that’s when I start to wonder, “well what does that mean?” or I judge it, or dismiss it like even his family was doing.  Then I think: we need to be at Jesus’ feet, not judging from a distance. But to listen, right there at Jesus’ feet.”

“What I think other people need to hear” added David, “is that it isn’t about trying to figure out what the demons are in this world, or where they came from.  They need to hear that it can get better, that it is better. The other people, society out there, they need to hear the love and not the judgement. It’s easier to stand in judgement.  I want people to feel the love! I know for me, I can judge all day long. But I have to start living and loving in a spiritual way, a heart way. The demons out there tell us we can handle it all on our own, that we can be on our own in the midst of sinners and temptation.  But Jesus says, be with me. Come here, live in me, do right in your heart, trust in me. That’s good stuff. But its hard, though.”

Jennifer said, “I just keep hearing all these people confused about Jesus, confused about who he has, saying that he’s talking all crazy or that he’s the devil.”

David could related to that, “I mean, yeah, there is still that false gospel out there, the temptation to find an easier way than reliance on God.  I mean, I catch myself. I fall into those traps. And I know it when I get myself back aligned with God and then when I do that is when people say, ‘what is wrong with you?’ and I know, that’s probably when I am living right!”

Jennifer related, “I think about it as a filter; when I look through the filter of Christ’s eyes I see things differently; when I hear through Christ’s ears, I hear different things.  I feel different things when I’m living through the filter of God’s love. It just hits us differently; it helps me define myself not by all my flaws or even my own strengths, but through my identity as a child of God.  And then, if we do that with ourselves, we find ourselves able to see others in that way, too.”

David added, “And you what happens when you do that?  People smile more. They are not hung up on the words someone says or the way someone looks at them.  They are seeing God.”

“Right!” said Jennifer.  “Joy in God enhances our joy in others.  My own joy is just this big, but in God that joy for others is magnified.  When we act in that joy, it is like the world are our brothers and sisters.”

Both David and Jennifer considered those in whom they saw this joy:

David started: “I’m thinking about a lady that comes once a month and brings me some groceries.  I think of her as an angel, doing the will of God. It isn’t just the groceries; it’s that we have made a friendship through that, through God.  She is an angel and a mentor and I always feel that I know God more through her.”

Jennifer thought of someone as well, “Yes! I’m thinking of my friend, who is someone I know is living her life with deep understanding of the will of God, and she is tells the truth and isn’t caught up in trying to be nice about it!”

They both chuckled.  David added, “I feel you!”

Jennifer continued: “But it’s true, and I know she knows it’s true.  And she is always there. If I stumble, she’s there and she’ll hold me in it.”

“That’s really it” said David. “It isn’t just a friend thing, it’s a caretaker thing.  Like we have spiritual caretakers who are more than family. Let me tell you a little something.  My mother left me, left this earth three years ago. She was a deep Christian, she served God. She made sure we were baptized, that we went to church and has our faith.  It wasn’t just about the baptism or the going through the motions, though. She was Christ for me. And even though she isn’t here anymore, I think that in God that people are still with us…even if they aren’t here…someone who lives that deeply in Christ they still influence you.  You still hear them when you stray. In Christ we keep those connections.”

 

All about the Love

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

In these weeks of Eastertide, we are using a group bible study format for Faith from the Margins to the Web which rotates facilitators for each week’s Gospel lesson. Each week features highlights from the group gathered that illustrate each week’s Gospel lesson. People who had participated in a previous interview were invited to become the group facilitators, and that core group added new participants for each lesson. 

Group participants for Easter 4, Easter 5, and Easter 6: Willie. Christina, Kaiju, Paul, William, Jamillah, Angela, Leroy and David.

Willie read this Gospel lesson for the group and offered up the first reflection:

“God commands us…we do his word…and we don’t want to do all those things we once used to do, because we feel convicted.  And by that, I don’t mean guilt.  I mean love.  When the Holy Spirit convicts us, it opens us up to abide in love. It isn’t to be convicted to be cast out, it’s being convicted to want to be part of something greater.”

“That’s right” said David, “It’s like going to the club, you want to get in and once you get in you want to stay in…but it isn’t that kind of club…it’s God’s Club and its full of love.”

Kaiju expanded on that, thinking about the images of this Easter season: “Remember, when Jesus was crucified, it was in the middle of two people, a murderer and a thief. Two people nobody loved and nobody trust.  But Jesus not only forgive them, He invited them to paradise, to let them know they were already forgiven. And all they had to do was to hear those words.”

Christina was reminded of her upbringing:  “You know, I grew up in the church, went there my entire life. I was always told you could be on your death bed and still accept Jesus Christ and you’d go to heaven. Now, I know that there are different religions that believe different things and some say you have to be baptized, but that’s always the way I was taught it.”

David was polite but puzzled: “What do you mean by that, stop right there. I mean, that might be true and all, because I’ve heard that too.  But you know, even if that’s true, I mean it’s a growing process, too.”

“Like the prodigal son” said Willie, “I mean, imagine you had someone, a parent who always wanted you to come home. You were out there doing what you pleased until you realized life was about to end and then you come running home.  It isn’t that you aren’t welcome, of course you are.  But it’s that you spent so many years missing out on the relationship, missing out on all that love.”

Paul chimed in:  “Once you get Christ in your heart, you know, he’s going to guide you. It keeps us there, close to God, inside God’s understanding of us. It’s powerful, that love, powerful.  Every day, I read and I study but I still fall short. That is why we need God. God knows everybody’s heart. Everybody in the Bible, they all did wrong sometimes. But God knew them, and loved them, and God loves us in the same way.”

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.

Resurrection

Easter, Year B

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Listen as our Faith from the Margins to the Web Authors David and MaryAnn read the opening prayer together:

As soon as they finished reading the Gospel lesson, David immediately looked up and said, “Wow!  That’s powerful.  Mary understood immediately that Jesus had risen.  But it took other people time to figure out what was happening.  She knew, she must have. She says: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ ”

MaryAnn had noticed that, too.  “That is really interesting. Another thing that stood out to me when I heard you read it was all the people who were reacting in different ways.  That part about the two disciples running together, trying to get there first caught my attention. They are both running, and when the one disciple gets there he just begins to peek in.  But, Simon Peter goes barging right on in! Then, once Peter was in, the other disciple went in too. But they didn’t see Jesus…they just saw the empty tomb. And they went home and didn’t tell anybody.  But Jesus, He only appeared to Mary Magdalene, and she is the one who told people. She was there to mourn, she was weeping. And it was when she was weeping that Jesus appeared to her. He said her name, and that was when she knew it was him.  I thought it was interesting that the male disciples weren’t the ones to tell everyone. It was Mary who spread the word, who told people she had seen the Lord.”

“You know, I think they knew something had happened but the question was, WHAT had happened.  They didn’t know he’d been resurrected or…how did they say it back in the day…that he was the messiah.”  said David. “They were just like, ‘Wow, something has happened here…”

MaryAnn found this reassuring.  “The disciples lived with him every day, and they still didn’t understand,” she said.  So, if we don’t understand or we don’t know exactly what God wants us to do, we’re not alone…we’re actually in good company”  said Mary Ann. “Reading this has also given me a whole, new appreciation for Mary Magdalene and her recognizing and telling people what she had seen.  Jesus spoke to her, and she obviously wanted to touch him even though he wouldn’t allow her to do that.”

“Oh yeah, that’s the ‘hadn’t ascended yet’ part” said David. “I never knew what that meant before.”

“Right” said MaryAnn.  “And I mean, this was really something.  Women weren’t well regarded and yet, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and told her to spread the word.”

David said,  “I think this reminds me that we need to know that God is there; that we have to believe it and not second guess it.  Then, that makes it real to us.”

Mary Ann acknowledged the resurrection has always been a mystery.  “What do you think it means in our lives, to be resurrected?”

David thought about this for a while.  “It’s pretty clear to me that being reborn is like when we’re baptized, when we are forgiven.  We get a new life, and we live differently, or we try to. I don’t have that…what do you call it…that community when I’m just with other people.  But with church, in God, we actually love each other in Christ. Seeing someone and saying,  “I love you, brother” you know, that doesn’t happen everywhere.  It sure doesn’t happen on the streets. Some evil happens there, that’s for sure.  But not always a lot of love. That’s a resurrection.”

Mary Ann thought about the question, too. “For me, retirement kind of feels like resurrection.  I used to work all the time. Now, I’m able to be reborn into myself; I can make decisions for myself instead of my job making decisions for me.  I feel like I’ve been able to live fully into who I am now.”

This was true in David’s life, too.  “There’s a lot of joy in me now. I mean, we don’t always have everything we need.  But in the church, people do help each other and help us do what we want to do. The Church is a place for resurrection, a place to get a second chance.”

As we celebrate the joy of this Easter season, where is resurrection in your own life?  

 

So Much Love

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B 

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

John 3:14-21

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you believe in God?” Lynette asked.

“I do, I really do!” said Alisha.

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

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

“He’s around!” said Lynette.

They both laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Healing Welcome

Epiphany 5, Year B

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

Mark 1:29-39

 

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

 

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

 

Co-authors:  Dale and Sarah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought about this. 

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

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

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

I’m glad too, Dale.  

 

Love came down at Christmas

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

Contributing Authors: Sheryl and Alisha

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

John 1:1-18

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And with that, they prayed.