Bread of Life (Part I)

11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13, Year B)

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 6:24-35

 

The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

 

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

 

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Authors: Mary, Willie and Charles
Mary, Willie, and Charles are regular attenders of the weekly healing prayer service and feeding program of a local Episcopal church. All three are now older adults who live a short walk from the church; all three have experienced homelessness in their own lives, families, and communities.

We gathered as a small group to discuss the lectionary readings for the 11th, 12th, and 13th Sundays after Pentecost, which pivot around this central point: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” We’ll hear from the authors of this group for the next few weeks.

Mary started, “I look at this as saying, the ‘bread of life’ as the way that Jesus comes to us, the way that Jesus helps us know how to know him. Way back when, Adam and Eve, they had been the ones to eat and disobey God. And now Jesus says, “I am the bread” and wants us to eat, wants us to know him, wants us to follow in the way that he sets out for us. The bread of heaven helps us know heaven. It doesn’t take much for us to get to where we need to, to do what we need to do. Jesus says, “I am the bread” so we know it doesn’t have to be hard to follow Him. It’s something we just have to do, we have to eat.”

Willie added to Mary’s comments: “I think about how important it is what we do here on Fridays. We hear the Word, we’re fed on the Word and then we break bread together over lunch. And in that sense, good feelings and joy and contentment abide through it all, body and spirit. It fills us. I was just thinking, there have been many times I come by here and hear the word and I am filled. I’ve left sometimes without eating lunch, because I’m already filled!”

“Of course, we come back then, because the food is good, too!” joked Mary, “but it is true; it nourishes the soul to hear the Word and people don’t realize how important that is.”

Charles quietly said, “I think Jesus says, ‘I am the bread’ because we know how important it is, how much Jesus is part of our every, single day. Like he prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

“I like that Charles” I said, “We can focus on behaviors…doing right, following perfectly. But Jesus says ‘here I am, let me feed you’ and this is part of the way Jesus is teaching his disciples, and all of us, to pray.”

“Exactly” said Mary, “Give us this day our daily bread” which is Jesus.  It’s like Jesus gives us that instruction; Jesus says ‘walk with me.’”

“That’s what I pray every day” said Charles, “Help me walk with you, Jesus.”

“You know what this makes me think of” says Mary, “it makes me think about those boys in the cave, you know, in Thailand. How many days did they go without food? There were all those people following Jesus on the mountain and they didn’t have food either. Sometimes we end up in places where we truly need to be fed, and Jesus saw how those people needed that…needed to be fed…so that they could hear what he had to say.”

Willie chimed in, “You know, I heard a story about how they learned how to meditate, how the coach both gave them the food that he had and helped them meditate. It reminds me of that, and how that focus…the prayer, the meditation…might have been one of the things that helped them survive.”

The group talked for awhile about the specifics of what we’ve come to know about that miraculous cave rescue, the survival of those trapped as well as their return and re-entry into society.

“And even when they were rescued, it isn’t as easy as just, ‘here you are, go free!’” said Willie, “there was a lot more to it than that. Situations change you.”

This made the group consider how that gathered group…the 5,000 gathered to hear Jesus and in the process had been fed and nourished in both body and spirit…may have been changed more deeply than they realized.  That following and looking for Jesus was about the practical and the spiritual.

“It’s hard to know what they were feeling.  I can’t quite imagine it” said Willie.  “Well, maybe I can because I feel that, I get all emotional sometimes just been fed on the Word.  It may be that Jesus needed to give them that grounding, to remind them that they weren’t just given something to eat; they had been fed with the bread of life.  That changed them, and it changes us, too.”

No Need to Hide

Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study for Epiphany 2, Year B

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 1:43-51

Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Contributing Authors:  Mary Ann and Faye

“The part that really stands out to me,” said Mary Ann,  “is, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth’.  It reminds me of things that people say now. Not about Nazareth, but about other places, like the housing projects, or West Virginia or wherever.  People make assumptions about places and all the people who might live there.”

“I know, that always makes me sad,” said Faye. “But then, I have to say, I want to think positive, but sometimes I think there are places that you only hear bad things about so its hard to not start thinking that way.

Faye paused.  She read that part of the verse again. “You know, that’s true.  I see myself in that.” said Faye. She went on to describe how her daughter married a man from one of the housing projects she felt nothing good could come from.  At at that time she felt he, like everyone there was up to no good. And some of that really seemed to be true.  But, then in spite of all her reservations, she watched him change after his mother died:  “In the beginning, I just couldn’t deal with it and I couldn’t believe my daughter would go out with him, I thought, what could she see in him?!  But then I got to know him and things happened.  For one, his mother died.  And when that happened, he changed.”  Faye said, “I know my daughter loves him, and he’s a great father. I realize now that his mother was in a bad way, on drugs and everything. He really did change, though, after she passed. Sometimes you have to give what you can, give a second chance.”

Mary Ann added, “When I hear people say, ‘can’t anything good come out of…whomever it is for them.  For some people, it’s homeless people, or a gay person, or a someone with addiction…whatever it is, people want to say nothing good can come from them.  But, then I think about what Philip said: Come, and See. In other words, come meet them, break down the barriers, take time for people to meet people who are different than we are.”

“That’s true,” Faye said, “but it’s sad, it’s sometimes so hard for people to talk to people. Like with people who are homeless.  When I’m in the park, I make myself say hello.  Sometimes I’m scared because I think that it could be me, and I know that I couldn’t survive living that way. I’m lucky, though, because I have family. I could knock on someone’s door if I need to. But I like to try to be on my own, to work hard. I’ve worked at hospitals and nursing homes. The nursing home work was hard; there are some people who are hard to work with or that some of the younger girls who work there would say, ‘Not that one, I don’t want to work with this or that one’ but I’d try to help, to remind them that everyone needs to be taken care of.

“It sounds like when you worked in that nursing home, you were doing a bit of what this Gospel is talking about yourself” said Mary Ann, “reminding them that when they thought nothing good could come from someone, there is still a person there.”

Faye thought about that.  She also offered up one last thought:

“I keep thinking about that fig tree,” said Faye. “I think other people need to hear what Jesus says, that he knows us already. We don’t have to hide under a fig tree or anything else. But, honestly, I can see myself sitting under that fig tree, like I do my chair! I just have to remember that there is no need to hide. Jesus knows us.”

faye b&w

Camel Haired Messengers of God

A Bible Study Reflection for Advent 2, Year B

Authors: Tom and LT

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

Tom had just finished reading the Gospel lesson when he jumped right in:  “This is one of my favorites…have you ever seen Jesus Christ Superstar, or Godspell?”

LT hadn’t.  He was quick to apologize, “No, I have not.  Honestly I did not grow up reading scripture so this is all very new to me.”

Tom continued, gently explaining to this younger college student some less than familiar detail about the story of John the Baptist.  Most people know Tom as a quiet, hard-working man of the street who works manual labor jobs whenever he can.  They are unlikely to realize his profound knowledge of scripture, although his quiet devotion to weekly church services and his interior calmness clearly source from somewhere.  As he confessed to LT, “I even spent a couple years considering the Catholic priesthood.”  It had been a while since his seminary classes, but he was happy to share more about some of his favorite details from the story of John the Baptist:

“The part I always liked about John the Baptist was, well, ‘living on locust and wild honey.’ It’s just one of those things you can’t ignore. Wild honey is easy enough to do, but I don’t know – I’m not supposing that they were chocolate-covered locust. No, believe me, those things are like really really ugly…they multiply like flies, and they eat everything. So him eating locust when usually what they’ll do is eat all the food in a particular area and drive the area into famine because they’ll take food plants as tall as corn in a matter of minutes…it’s eaten down to the bare ground.”

“Being clothed in camel’s hair had to be pretty uncomfortable. Sometimes the medieval monks would deliberately wear a hair shirt; it’s incredibly itchy and it would help them to remember one of their vows is poverty, and at the time they had this whole thing about ignoring the body and moving towards the spiritual. So the hair shirt, which was very uncomfortable; it helped them mortify themselves; a denial of flesh kind of thing.”

“They were related, you know…John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus.  John was born first, but both Mary and John’s mother Elizabeth heard that they were expecting around the same time. And she…Elizabeth…was considered too old to be bearing children anymore. And Mary, obviously with a virgin birth, well that’s a real eye-opener, but in the same family one comes first and the second one follows – just to prepare the way. To get into people’s head that someone greater than John the Baptist is coming, ‘I’m just his messenger,’ but a messenger helping Judea and Jerusalem prepare for the coming of the rightful king. Which is pretty cool.”

“Unfortunately, though, John was beheaded…he became very politically unpopular. King Herod was quite corrupt, but he was excellent at getting along with the Romans, who allowed him to be the king of Judea. The last thing he wanted in the world was anybody talking about a new king coming; that a messiah was coming. Half the people thought he was going to be a political messiah…this savior to come save the people here and now. But all Jesus was focused on was being a spiritual messiah that would enable his people to deal with jerks like Herod and the Romans, who were conquerors and anybody that fought that would usually get crucified.  Well, we know that story.”

LT was listening intently; you could hear his building interest in this story winding piece-by-piece out of Tom, telling it as though narrating his own block-buster movie.  It was LT who posed the next question: “Where is God in this story, in your own life?”

Tom grew thoughtful.  “God in my own life is a quiet presence that’s kind of a background hum. Not all the time, because I get distracted like anybody else could. I get a little bit too concerned about things that I really shouldn’t worry about too much. You know, like am I going to have enough income? I’m approaching retirement, it’s like (jokingly) ‘oh can I retire in style?’ You know, that kind of thing. Well, the big answer for that one is ‘no’ for me, but I’m not going to be concerned about it, you know. But I always felt that God was a good, strong part of the background hum.  The bible is helpful to me because it helps me understand what exactly that hum means. If you’re standing near a raging river…well, the sound of water will always be a background hum in your life, but it has nothing to really tell you about how much just the raw power for change that river can contain in itself.”

This resonated with LT: “I definitely would agree, I feel the same way. Just from my own experiences, I feel like God wouldn’t constantly be there trying to control you. He’d kind of nudge you towards the right direction whenever you got too far off what you should be doing.”

Tom continued, “I always hear some people saying “if God cares so much about us, why does he allow people to die and little children starve to death and people getting murdered or overdosing or whatever.” Well it’s no question that God could do that, but then we’d never have free will if that were the case. We’d never be self-governing. We’d just be little wind up toys.”

LT agreed, “Free will, in my opinion, is what makes life worth living.”

“Sure,” said Tom, “risks and all. It’s funny because when my friend overdosed, I had warned him like five times “You don’t know what’s coming in from Mexico. You got fentanyl, ketamine, and heroin all mixed together and it’s going to kill you if you keep going with it.” And one day, he disappeared for a second…came back two minutes later he was carrying his stuff premixed. He went around the corner, it was at night, came back, and just fell out right in front of us. He had the antidote for opiates, naloxone, he even carried that with him. But it wouldn’t have done a thing about the ketamine. And the fentanyl was highly questionable if it was even strong enough to do anything like that. Oh, and he was drinking on top of it that night. It was just tragic how and why it ended. It’s an unreal number of people that die from overdoses. It’s been something like 36,000 deaths this year so far.”

This message felt very real to LT, too:  “Yea, it’s a real epidemic. I obviously can’t comment on why other people do it, but my friend did it because we both grew up in such a way that our parents were always busy. We were young, we were stupid. We didn’t have much else to do, and we figured that the best thing to help our families was to just try to make our own money. For a while we both got into dealing, but the difference was that he started using. For him, it was just an escape from life, and it didn’t end too pretty…ketamine, that’s something that seems to come up too much.”

Tom knew this, too: “Yea, really. And the opiate antidote is just totally ineffective on that.”

LT began to see the message, “I guess the best you can do is just learn from others and hope to carry on.”

Tom became nostalgic, “Yea, and try not to ever get into the same mindset that leads to that. Our friend had any number of issues going on, but there was no one of them that would lead to a deliberate suicide…but he was doing hardcore drugs since he was like 14 years old so he was already used to them. And the “not me” syndrome was really clear in his behavior, “oh it’ll never happen to me”, but, well it did.

LT could empathize.  “I am almost positive that is a magical side effect of doing drugs. Everybody has that “not me” syndrome.”

“Exactly,” Tom said, “it’s magical thinking.  I’m glad that I was able to avoid it, and still will. You know, I’ve had broken bones and I’ve had oxy and things like that. They alone are too good. As soon as I was feeling like I could deal with the pain, it’s like “no, I don’t want another prescription, no thank you.” But you hear about these kids whose moms and dads are on some hardcore high-strength oxys, and they leave it in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Kid hits eleven, twelve, thirteen…”Gee, well, mom and dad take these all the time and it seems to work for them.” You know, they’re in the adolescent struggle: “let me try a couple.” Which might be fine and dandy, but when that becomes ineffective, then they’re on the streets looking for the real hard stuff.”

The message was becoming clear to both of them at this point.

For LT, it all related back to the ice-breaker we had done earlier, naming the saints in our lives:

“In the ice-breaker, I mentioned my friend Brian. Brian was a close friend of mine who I grew up with and basically viewed as my brother. I consider him my angel because I accredit him with why my life has turned around. When we were in our early teens, we used to sell drugs as a means to cover our own expenses and wants without adding financial burden to our respective families who were already working very hard to make ends meet. Eventually, the financial burdens that our families bore became very prevalent which added onto other struggles that we were both going through related to school. Looking back now, it wasn’t anything unbearable, but in the moment as a teen, it feels like the world is falling apart. As a coping mechanism, Brian started getting into hard drugs. This went on for several years, and although I never joined him, I still held the same depressing mind set as him. This all changed when he overdosed. His death made me rethink my life and realize that everything I had been doing was wrong. I did everything in my power to turn my life around from that point on. I stopped selling drugs and distanced myself with what I viewed as the wrong kind of people, I started to talk and connect to my family more, I began to value school and the idea of aiming for a better future instead of feeling sorry for myself and giving up. As the years went by, everything seem to fall into place. I made new friends that were better influences on me, I became less bitter and violent, I finally had a good relationship with my family, and I went from someone who was constantly flunking tests and mouthing off to teachers to someone who excelled in school and was no longer seen as a troublemaker.”

Tom nodded, “Oh yea, I could see how it could be a life changer if you were paying attention. So it was the actual act that delivered the message to you?

LT continued, “Yea, before I didn’t really care about school, or anything. It was just a lot. Thinking back now, I was just being really unreasonable or just stupid. And now what, 3-4 years later, I’m the first in my family to graduate from high school and the first to go to college and hopefully graduate.”

Tom and LT, strangers before that day, continued to exchange stories with each other, delivering messages of hope and peace amid lives of complexity, loss, temptation, challenge, repentance, and reconciliation.  The sound track to their lives continues on, the continual hum of God’s presence making God known through messengers of all forms: the rough-haired wake up calls of addiction and death, the belovedness of friends and family, the support of people who once were strangers but who find common ground, as we all do, in the Good News.

God has a way of bringing us together on this journey, reminding us that even in the darkest chapters of our human lives, we are never alone. Pairing Tom and LT together for this bible study was, by all human accounts, purely random. But not so much with God, who knows our stories and knits us together through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Good News sometimes breaks through in those people and situations we least expect, even those whose camel-haired appearance and locust eating ways might otherwise cause us to turn away.  As Tom said, it’s all about paying attention.

Who or what are the camel-haired messengers in your own life?

 

The Last Shall be First…

[PILOT]

This is a sample Faith from the Margins to the Web reflection prepared for Proper 20, Year A

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.

Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

About the authors: Sarah and Michael

Sarah is the curator for Faith from the Margins; Michael, who is the co-author of this sample bible study, is a regular volunteer who comes on Friday mornings from his residential group home to help prepare the lunch we serve to around 100 people each week.  People who come for this community lunch (“Red Door”) are often experiencing homeless, poverty, and food insecurity.  I decided to schedule one of the organizing meetings for Faith from the Margins to the Web early in the morning before Red Door, before the heavy cooking and lunch preparations got underway.  But, early Friday mornings aren’t always the best time for students (or maybe, anyone) and a string of emails this particular morning saying, “I think I’ll come to the evening session next week instead…” made me wonder if my scheduling decision was wise.  Honestly, I was second guessing myself before I even walked in the parish hall doors.  And, it was still what was going through my mind when we opened up this Gospel lesson together.  

cropped-red-heart-in-hands

“Michael…I’d be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t completely disappointed this morning.  This was the very first day that we were offering up this information and training for people who wanted to participate in this project.  I was prepped, I was ready.  I even stopped and bought all these pastries and got the room set up early.  Then, I sat here by myself waiting for people to walk in the door.  But, guess who showed up?”

We paused.  He laughed, “NO-BO-DY?”

“Well, you’re right…at least that’s what I thought at first.  But I learned that I wasn’t right.  I wasn’t right because pretty soon, you came!”

Michael chimed in:

“Well, I didn’t know about it before today, but I came here to help cook on Friday like I always do, and I got here early today and there wasn’t a lot for me to do yet.  Then when I came over to say good morning, you said you were here for this Bible study and I thought, “that sounds cool, I might like that!”  So, then, here we are.  And I was a little surprised, because you asked me to read.”

“Yes, I did…and you said “yes” right away!”

“I did.  Yes, I did.  That was cool.  I like to read but I’m not very good at it.  But you helped me with the hard words.  I liked this Gospel lesson, I really did.”

“What did you like?”

“I liked that it started with Jesus.  He’s the one who is like the landowner, you know, it was all about him.  It reminded me of John 3:16.  That’s my favorite bible verse, For God so loved the world…and God sent Jesus, and Jesus called to whoever was there.”

“Michael, I was just thinking…I wonder if the landowner in the parable was having a morning like me, when he expected to see a lot of people looking for work, waiting for him…but maybe there weren’t as many as he thought.”

“Yeah, but maybe they didn’t know about it, either.  I mean, maybe some people did but there still weren’t enough people to do all the work.  But then, he went out to ask again and there were more people, and then they helped.  It seems like whenever he saw there was work to be done, he asked for more people.  That’s why I think it’s Jesus.”

“Tell me more about that.  Is that how you see Jesus?”

“Sure, because sometimes you don’t know what to do, you don’t know who you are or what good you can do.  And then, Jesus calls and you get to do things.  Like when I help on Fridays, and sometimes I wrap the silverware, and sometimes I cook, and then we all eat together.  It always ends up that we eat together.”

“So, it sounds like, if this was a parable about Red Door, it would be like there were people who came really early and helped all day, and then others came right before lunch, but in the end it didn’t matter how long anyone helped or when people arrived…everyone would still be fed, all the same.”

“That’s right, and that’s how it is.  It doesn’t matter…people do what they can.  It’s about the helping, not what you do or how many hours.  It’s that we’re all needed.  We all have a job, and then we all have lunch.  I guess you could think you deserve more than someone else, but everyone gets what they need.  And its like it says, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  I like that, because it reminds me that even if I am at the end of the line or at the beginning, there will still be something there for me.  That’s just how it is with Jesus.”

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Michael wanted to wrap up our conversation so he could wrap up the silverware, but even after he left I kept thinking about his take on this Gospel.

We all are called at different times, when different needs arise.  We bring our abilities and our challenges with us when we hear the call; but that is no barrier to helping.  Helping is a lived-out state of heart.  There is always more to be done than people to do it.  But, in the end, Jesus…the landowner of the parable and the whole reason that we are Church together…makes sure that we are fed, nurtured, and sustained together.  The last isn’t greater than the first, nor the first greater than the last.  It takes all of us to do the work of tending the world, and we are called when we are ready and able, and all cared for with generosity, by a loving God.  Any misgivings we have about our deservedness are a second-guessing of that divine generosity.

Today, I learned a lesson from the margins that speaks to those of us who are the planners, the organizers and the preachers: we are not the ones in charge.  Of course, we can invite people to our trainings, our study groups or the many services filling our parish calendars.  But, sometimes it takes the unexpected guest to show up and remind us that it is always our God who calls us all to the work that needs to be done.

 

 

The Word became flesh and lived among us…

On the Friday before Christmas last year, I stood in front of the Red Door congregation gathered for the weekly service of Healing Prayer which we hold before serving a hot lunch to anyone who is hungry and in need of a good, home-cooked meal along with conversation, music, and safe space from what can often be a harsh world.

No one has to come to the service before they eat, but every week there are around 30 people who do choose to gather in the name of God in the sanctuary space of the urban parish who offer up this ministry of hospitality.  Every week, we pray: silently and out loud, individually and as a community.  We recite the psalms together, and we read the text from the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel, offering a short reflection.

On this particular Friday, it so happened that Sunday’s Gospel was for the upcoming Christmas Day.  As a seminarian, I don’t often get to practice preaching for such a major feast day.  As I had read and studied the text of John 1:1-14 in preparation for that reflection, I kept thinking about the Word made flesh, the Word who dwells with us, the Word who became incarnate in this world in the most humble and unhoused of ways, the Word who was and is and is always becoming known in the midst of those who gather from street corners, parks, parking lots and parishes alike.

There are more times than I can recall when I have experienced the Word made flesh in this space, with these faithful ministers of the streets.  Some people are there ever week, offering me their reflections.  Others straggle in for a break from the winter’s cold or the summer’s heat.  We are people who are yearning, seeking solace, recovering, struggling, doubting, believing, praying.  That day was no exception.  When I stood to speak, the first thing I said was: “Merry Christmas!  This is the first time this season, in this space, that anyone gets to say that and you are the first people who hear those words.”  I noticed, at that moment, that John had tears in his eyes.  I felt what he was feeling.  The Word made flesh was, indeed, with us.

After the service, still teary, he came up to me: “Pastor Sarah [as he liked to call me], I just started crying.  I couldn’t help it.  It’s just that we are never first…we never are.  And then, today, there we were and it was us…we were the first!  We had the first Christmas!”

I had no words, so I just nodded, and hugged him.  I had tears in my eyes, too.  Something stirred in me, and stirred in us.  There is a presence of Christ in the lives of those on the margins which is palpable and present and transformative.  That was the gift of that moment.

John didn’t know then…nor did any of us…that it would also be his last Christmas here on this earth.  A few short weeks later, the Friday healing service would be a memorial for John’s life.  He lived unhoused, under a bridge but worked washing dishes or volunteered somewhere every day.  He saved the lives of several people from near drug overdose, but he died from an overdose himself.  He was and is one of many people whose complex and faithful lives on the margins touched and changed my own life.   But, in between that Red Door Christmas and his untimely death, the idea for this project had already been birthed.  That idea was floated during my January seminary intersession, put to paper and submitted as a grant on which I had sought John’s input, and even in grieving his loss, the restless spirit of something new coming to life was taking shape.

Although it has been several months in the making, Faith from the Margins to the Web is now a reality that will begin with regularity on the first Sunday of Advent, Year B and will grow week by week over this next liturgical year and (hopefully) beyond.  Behind the scenes, people are being trained and interviews are being scheduled.  Evangelism is happening and will soon be brought into being as words to the web.  These stories and weekly blog commentaries are indeed life giving, because they come from the spaces where God meets us, and we are changed.

I hope you will join in this project to help nurture its growth week by week.  Let us know how the stories are shaping your faith, too.  We welcome your comments, your prayers, and your reflections.

Peace,

Sarah