Abide in me…

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his
steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

John 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples, ”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

 

For the next several 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. For each of the following weeks in Easter season we will feature 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. We’ll hear the Gospel from the perspective of this group for the next three weeks.

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

 

David started out the group’s conversation “You know what stands out for me…and I mean, I want you all to really feel me, here…this talks about abiding…to abide in me…to study my word. That’s a really powerful word, to abide. I think we need to break that down!”

Kaiju chimed in. “I changed the word ‘abide’ to ‘obedient’ in my mind. Just like the metaphor of the fruit and the vine, be obedient to me…”

The group began to talk about this idea of being obedient, about the rules that we know in our hearts and our stubbornness to follow them sometimes. Even though many times our first thoughts are about “right behavior” or being “cast out” the participants pushed each other to go deeper than that. Eventually, wrestling together, this idea of abiding as relationship started to take on some deeper meaning and importance:

“It’s like God says, if you’re abiding in me, and you’re living with me, you are there because you want to be there so of course you are not cast away! It’s like the Bible says, we have a choice and choosing to stay with God is about choosing to be cared for, and cared about.”

Christine jumped in. “AND, you recognize that the Father is taking care of his children…it’s like when you have kids, when you raise your children, you have rules for them to follow because you know what’s best for them. They might not believe you, but they will someday! They aren’t always happy with the rules and we’re the same way. But we also know that God loves us, and wants what is best for us, and can see things that we cannot.”

More metaphors began to emerge within the group:

“It’s like when you stay with friends, you know, and you’re staying under their roof. You want to stay there…you appreciate it and you know that it isn’t about doing everything you want. Abiding is being obedient, to honor the rules because it helps us be family together. Maybe it isn’t about being ‘cast out’ so much as it is choosing to stay, and if we don’t want to be there we can make a choice to leave. It’s our choice, to stay and to obey.”

Paul agreed. “I like that, yeah, I like that. You know, we don’t want to play God but sometimes we start thinking its a game. It’s not. It’s just what we do when we’re family, we take care of each other.”

David picked the verse back up again. “I’m looking at this part, the part that says, ‘every vine bears fruit’ and that idea of the vine, being that thing that is there to feed us and to help us grow. It’s a living thing, you know, feeding us.”

Christine nodded. “Yeah, if you’re not connected to the vine, you think you can do it all on your own. That’s tempting for a minute, but then you realize it’s a mistake. Pretty soon, you realize that you are cut off, you aren’t receiving, you aren’t being fed.”

The group talked about that feeding: David summarized, “Its what happens when we don’t go to church, or we just start thinking about having to go on Easter or Christmas or whatever. We’re getting hungry, we’re craving what God gives us and we don’t realize it. That vine, that church family, it feeds us just like the scripture feeds us.”

Jamillah added, “You know, I’m one of those people where it takes some time for me. I hear the scripture and I have to take it in. I have to let it live in me, to think about it, to really let it get into my soul before it breaks open. I think about that and the vine, how when we are connected to God and connected to the church we are being fed and cared for, we are letting it all sink in to our lives.

David summed up this scripture and their conversation: “So, it comes back to that idea of abiding…of growing together, like the vine and the branches. We grow in God, we are fed on the Word and we abide together.”

On the mountain or on the street

Epiphany 6, Year B February 11, 2018

Last Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 9:2-9

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Faith from the Margins to the Web co-authors:  Steven and Mary Ann

 

After he finished reading the Gospel lesson, Steven noticed something: “The last part here, it really took me by surprise:  As they were coming down the mountain he ordered them to tell no one.  To me, that’s pretty heavy.”

Mary Ann was surprised, too. “After they had seen something like this, you would think they would want to talk about it, to tell everyone, not to stay quiet about it!”

Steven was putting himself in the perspective of those disciples, searching for answers: “I know, I know…what is the time period? Jesus hadn’t even died yet.  Did they even know about the resurrection?  How long did they think were they supposed to be quiet?!”

Mary Ann and Steven walked through the timeline of the Gospel story together and realized this event, the Transfiguration, was all happening at a time when his disciples really weren’t even “getting it” that Jesus was going to die, let along being raised to life again.

“I guess he was saying to them wait, to wait until he had been risen.” said Mary Ann.
“But you know, it is interesting because he specifically took these three disciples with him: Peter, James, and John.  I guess that is because he really trusted them, and he didn’t want to do this alone.  He wanted his friends to be with him.”

Steven narrated, “So, then they went by themselves, no one else. And then they saw him transfigured.”

“You know, when you were reading…” said Mary Ann “….when you read that part that they were white like no one on earth could bleach them, I immediately thought of my mother. She was a firm believer in Clorox! She would bleach things to an inch of their lives, but I guess this was even whiter than that. So then, after all those dazzling clothes, Moses and Elijah appear…long dead, and yet there they are.”

This seemed to put the story into a new perspective for Steven: “Yes, and that’s when Peter said to Jesus,  ‘It is good for us to be here…’ because Peter wanted to make three dwellings. Wait, did those dwellings ever get made?”

Mary Ann answered, “I don’t think so…I think maybe Peter wanted them made, like he wanted a house or something, some place to stay.”

Steven nodded, relating to that feeling, and continued: “they didn’t know what to say, for they were terrified.” Yeah, I’d be terrified, too!”

The story began to come together as it may have felt for us in our everyday lives.  Mary Ann pondered a bit:  “I’ve never seen a vision, so this is so interesting to me, imagining what it must have really been like for them, which I think is what Mark is trying to convey. Have you ever seen a vision?”

Steven responded a bit shyly, “Um…Yes. My mother. She appeared to me one morning, and then she disappeared.”

“Wow! Were you terrified?!” asked Mary Ann.

Steven continued, “Yes, well, honestly Yes, I was! I was in the kitchen, I put on a pot of coffee. And she was there, right there, and then she disappeared.”

“Was this not long after she had passed?” Mary Ann wondered.   “I bet you might have wanted to build a dwelling so she would stay too.”

Steven nodded, remembering, “Yeah, that’s right. It was about 8 or 9 months after she had passed. I was shocked that whole day. I told my sister about it right away. I didn’t have time to say anything, and I didn’t really know what to even say, but I had to tell someone, you know. So, that all makes me think…that’s why I think that even though Jesus ordered them, how is it that they could have not told anyone?”

Mary Ann was thinking about this, too.  “Sometimes, there have been times that I felt the presence of people my mom, my dad, my sister…but I didn’t see them.”

“It tells me, it reminds me that our spirits live on.” said Steven.

A light bulb went off for Mary Ann.  “You know, that makes me wonder: what if Mark was trying to convey that it was that the spirits of Moses and Elijah who were there, living with Jesus? I guess part of the message here may be that their spirits…the spirits of these two great prophets lived with Jesus, and Jesus lived with their spirits.”  she paused. “Huh.  That’s really interesting.  I mean, I never really thought of that.”

Steven went back to read the prayer again:

Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross…

Mary Ann was having another epiphany. “I’m reading that again all new now. That’s a powerful message. We all have crosses to bear, don’t we. For me, one of my crosses is loneliness.”

Steven appreciated this, and it resonated with him.  “Yeah, that can be painful. Loneliness can be very painful. It can feel like you don’t have no friends.  Loneliness, depression: these are our crosses.”

“I go back to that prayer, too.” said Mary Ann:  that we may be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.   So, like Jesus was transformed, we can be strengthened and changed too.”

“That word,” said Steven: “His countenance.”

“And countenance usually refers to face” added Mary Ann, “so reading it that way: we, beholding the light of his face, can be strengthened to bear our cross. It’s as if looking at the light of Jesus, seeing His face, makes us strong enough to bear our own crosses.

“Right!” Steven responded. “Loneliness, depression, fear, uncertainty…these are the things we have to look to him for, to pray about.”

Mary Ann added, “what I’ve noticed is that I have faith that my prayers reach God, but what I’ve noticed is that my prayers change me. When I pray about my fears, it helps me. Maybe that is God working, making me feel stronger.  What do you pray for?”

Steven answered thoughtfully, “I pray for my family, my friends, my brother and sister. I pray for the homeless, because I was homeless once. I don’t pray to be rich, but I do ask God to give me enough, to provide what I need. I pray to get through month to month but I don’t pray for all those riches. I have enough.   Yeah, I pray for the homeless all the time. I was homeless for almost a year and half. When I moved here, I was on a waiting list for housing but it took like a year and a half. It was so, so hard. It takes so, so long.”

Mary Ann responded with empathy, “I can’t know what that’s like but it seems like we could do better. I’ve heard from a lot of people that they did everything that was asked of them, but it still takes forever.”

Steven felt affirmed, “Yes, it does. I was just about ready to give up. I thought, if nothing changes soon I’m going back to Roanoke to live with my brother and sister. Then, I saw my case worker again one day when I was just ready to give up and she said, ‘Guess what? An apartment came through!’ and I was moved in later that week.”

“Well, good for you for sticking with it!” said Mary Ann.  She was still floored by imagining spending that much time homeless. “What did you do? Did you stay in a shelter?”

“Well, I did sometimes.” answered Stephen, “But I did a whole lot of sleeping on the street.”

“Wow. That’s got to be scary.” said Mary Ann.

“It is, ” Steven reflected. But then he told a hard truth, “but some of the shelters, they are so overrun and so overcrowded.  People don’t bathe, people want to fight, and I am a quiet and gentle person so that was hard for me.”

The picture was becoming clearer for Mary Ann, “Wow, so the street seemed safer…”

Steven confirmed it, “the street WAS safer for me than the shelters.”

Mary Ann asked, “Did you have a community? You know, that would look after each other?”

“Yeah, I developed friends.” said Steven. “We’d get together and find a place.  It’s safer sticking together than sleeping alone on the street. They are still my friends. A lot of homeless people go it alone, though.”

“I really admire you.” acknowledged Mary Ann. “I mean, I just don’t know if I could do it, if I could survive…”

“It’s a rough life” admitted Steven,  “It’s a very rough life.  But, this Gospel reminds me that God was always with me.  God is always with us.  Peter and those up on that mountain, they knew that.  I bet they wanted to try to tell people what that was like.”  He was thoughtful for a moment, then added, “But even if it’s hard, like when Jesus ordered them not to say anything, we have to try to follow his word.”

This week, after listening to Steven and Mary Ann reflect on this Gospel, I am reminded that the light of Christ, the face of Christ that we see in the eyes of our heart, is present with us whether we are at the height of the mountaintop or the roughness of the street.  It’s why I’ve come to know through these conversations and interviews that the prophets of the street corner have so much to teach us, so much to convey about the ways in which God is present even in the places where it is hard for us to imagine God being.  But, there is no height or depth, no dark corner or noisy shelter that is hidden from the Light of Christ.

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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

Joy to the World!

A special edition Faith from the Margins to the Web for Christmas Day

Contributors: Mary and Mary Ann

Collect for Christmas, read by Mary and Mary Ann:

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Wrapped up in joy and love, the familiar words of the Christmas story are woven together with a few of the beautiful reflections shared by Mary and MaryAnn in their Christmas Day bible study together:

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

“No home does not mean no heart” said Mary.  She recalled a story that had been on the local news: “there was a man who was homeless, and he had only three dollars.  But this woman ran out of gas and was asking for help.  Other people wouldn’t give her anything but he gave her that three dollars…everything he had.  It turns out, she tracked him down and helped him get an apartment and a job.  Sometimes blessings come from unexpected places.”

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

“The part that stands out to me,” said Mary Ann, “is where it says the angels say ‘don’t be afraid.’  Sometimes Christmas can be a scary and sad time for people; it’s good to remember the angels saying not to be afraid.  That isn’t just a message to the shepherds; it is a message to us, too.”

Mary agreed, “We all have a guardian angel; even better, we have God with us!”

They both agreed: “That’s really the story of Christmas, right there: to realize that we have God with us.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  

“One of the other things I realized when we were reading this together is that I experience God through music, too” said Mary Ann.  “We always think about the angels singing, and it made me think about how music is one of the ways that I have learned to not feel afraid.  Music helps us know that God is with us, just as here, the angels made it known that Jesus was born.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

“What stands out to me” said Mary “is that part that says, ‘Let’s now go to Bethlehem and see the things that are taking place.’  Those shepherds, they took a step to go and to find the baby Jesus.  They could have stayed in the fields, stuck to their work.  But instead, they decided to go.  They had to take that step, just like we have to take steps and seek out God in our own lives.”

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Mary said, “God comes in all kinds of forms; I want to do a better job, and reach out this year to the people who are here in my life.  I think that is one of the ways that we can make God known.”

Mary Ann added, “I think part of what I need to do more of is what Mary does…to ponder things in my heart.  Sometimes whatever I’m thinking, I say out loud.  So I think that maybe this Gospel is saying to me, ‘ponder it in your heart, think it through.’

“I like the way you put that…it’s true for me too!” said Mary.

To Mary and Mary Ann, the great gift of this Christmas lesson was ringing loud and clear:  “What everyone really needs to hear, again and again, is ‘Don’t be afraid!’  God has us.  God is with us. Don’t be afraid!”

Joy to the world, indeed!

Merry Christmas to everyone, from Faith from the Margins to the Web!