Rest for the Weary

9th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11, Year B)

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

 

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

 

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

 

It was a blisteringly hot day in Austin when I sat down beside Carlos, who had found a shady spot under a tree in a local park.  It has been hard to keep up with these interviews during my summer of travel, and my grand plans to organize pairs of people in different cities has met roadblock after roadblock.  But, on this particular afternoon, I just decided to ask one of the local residents who made the public park their daytime residence if he had any interest in talking with me about one of the Gospel lessons.  I was grateful when he nodded and gave me a smiling “yes.”

We didn’t know each other at all, so I introduced myself as a member of this group of Episcopalians gathering for General Convention.  Carlos introduced himself as someone who “made his way around” various parts of Texas.  He chuckled when I told him I was from Buffalo and couldn’t survive long in the southern heat: “You get used to it!” he said with a grin.

I read the Gospel lesson to Carlos.  “I never thought of Jesus as resting” he said “I always think of doing.”

It is interesting how many times Jesus pulls away…or at least tries to.  For all of those stories of healing, teaching, and preaching there are plentiful moments where Jesus acknowledges a need for rest.

“I’m hoping to rest soon” I told him.  “I’m here working, and then when I go home I have papers to write for seminary.  I want to find some time for rest before it’s time for me to teach again in the Fall.”

“Rest is hard” said Carlos.  “You have to know where its safe to rest, and sometimes its not safe at all.”

I had to think about that.  To me…a busy, middle-class white woman…rest is a luxury.  My own thoughts on rest are a longing to carve out a space for something indulgent.  To Carlos, it was finding a space of safety to sit or lie down.  Rest was not a luxury, nor was it a guarantee.  It was a primary objective of each day’s activities.

I shared with Carlos about our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s “The Way of Love.”  I had an extra handout in my bag, so I gave it to him along with a metal token that came from our Episcopal Evangelism booth in the exhibit hall and some cold water and wrapped snacks I had in my bag.  It wasn’t much, I know.  But it was what I had with me to share.  I re-read the Gospel passage about Jesus’ disciples: “and they had no leisure even to eat,” I read.

“Probably no money, either” said Carlos. “No place to stay, no food, no money.”

“That’s probably true” I said.  “I actually think you might know more about what the disciples felt like than most of us do.”

Carlos chucked.  “Maybe!”

While Carlos wasn’t a man of many words, he helped me to see something in this passage that I hadn’t before.  In all their moving, healing, and teaching the disciples were worn out.  They wanted a break and Jesus opened the door to what they needed.  And yet, everywhere they turned, people arrived before them seeking knowledge and healing, desiring a shepherd to draw them toward safety.

I don’t know what it is like to have to worry about finding a shady place on a hot day because I have no cool place to call home.  I can daydream of going apart to places of rest and stilling my soul before God, knowing I will return to the comfort of my own home.  But, what kind of faith does it take to make shelter where its provided on this earth, and to make room for God’s presence there?

I can’t help but reflect this week that our social location has a lot to do with how we walk the Way of Love.  Maybe we begin with “Rest” or “Go” or “Pray” or “Bless.”  Jesus invites us in, whether we are in need of healing or rest or shepherding.  And when we dare to draw near, to encounter a companion on the journey whose starting place is so different from our own, it makes the path more poignant.

It makes me realize that we walk the Path of Love best by walking together, even when we crave that quiet place alone.  The people we need will find us, and we will encounter God in every person that we meet.

way_of_love_simplified_graphic

Image and information available from The Episcopal Church:

https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love

Shake it off…

7th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9, Year B)

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 6:1-13

 

Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

 

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  Ty, Mary, and John

“Why does Jesus say to shake the dust off his feat?” asked Ty.  “I always wanted to know that!”

“Well, he was in his home town…and you know how that goes.” said John.

I posed a question to the group members: “What do you all think it means?  What tends to happen with you in your home town?  Are you always welcome there?”

There were a few head nods, but more knowing glances and at least one, “well, sometimes…but…”

“It’s a little more ‘sometimes’ for me, too” I added.  “In fact, I think this whole story makes us realize that Jesus may have felt that same thing we do.”

“That’s right, for me too” said John.  “You know, it’s hard when you decide to do things on your own terms, to not fall back into a crowd where you’ve been pulled down before.  I started making decisions that were right for me, to focus on my family, to put my faith in God.  And, it was like I wasn’t welcome anymore.  And that’s OK, you know, because everyone has their own path.  I still pray for them and I believe in their time they will come around.  But, I just can’t let them pull me down in the process.”

“Sounds like shaking the dust off to me!” said Ty.  “Maybe I just got the answer to my question!  I can relate to that, too.  And even when the people I once knew seem like they’re listening to me, I can tell by the look on their faces that they have already moved on and left me standing there in the dust.   But, a verse like this, it reminds me that we’re not alone in that.  Jesus knew that.”

Mary, who had been quiet, bravely joined in to share her own story: “You know, I’ve been kind of quiet but I need to say something.  I admit, I used to use drugs. And it was so hard to quit.  I went to rehab, and when I came back my old “friends” wanted nothing to do with me.  I had to wonder, in the end, were they really friends with me, or were they friends with the drugs?  So, finally I had to shake that dust off and move on.  I went to church; I found new friends where we had God in common.  I’m not ashamed of that; I learned from that.”

“But we still love people” said John. “I still love my family, and I think Jesus still loved people even if they weren’t accepting of him or the message he was sharing.  Shaking the dust off the feet doesn’t mean shaking people off.  It means loving them in God.”

Ty agreed, “I think that’s right.  Our human side is hurt, so we can do one of two things: go back to what we were doing with the people we were doing it with, or find a way to live into who we are called to be.  That’s where our spirituality comes in, the spiritual nature of our beings.  We can shake off the problems while we pray for the people.  Caring about what they think, we can let that go.  Caring about them: now that, we can pray about.   Hmmm…I guess I answered my own question!  Or maybe, we all did.”

Yes, we all did hear the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst in this holy conversation.  I’m grateful, as always, for the gift of stories and the depth of sharing that this project brings to our weekly scriptures!

 

 

 

Seeds of Faith

4th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6, Year B)

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Mark 4:26-34


Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: John, Earl, Angela and Robin

There are times when God’s abundance overwhelms me in unexpected ways. When we gathered for this Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study, I had had such a challenging week that my mind was a blur, and my heart was heavy with personal grief over which I had no answers, and no control. But, as we do sometimes, I showed up. This group of four came together and said, “Sister Sarah, we’ve got this. You just sit back and let the Holy Spirit move.” I sat with my recorder on and listened as the group gathered wrapped me in the inspiration of their words. Come Holy Spirit, fill the smallest mustard seed of our simple showing up with the abundance of your love and grace.

Robin started off the conversation, “So in other words, what he’s saying is that if we have faith as big as that little mustard seed, we’ll grow, and the more we grow, the more faith we receive.”

Angela jumped in: “God, He created everyone…everybody…even the birds. They know what to do when it gets cold, when it gets hot. I mean, you can’t get the seed to grow without the birds to scatter it and the birds just know when to fly, when to nest, what to do. They don’t worry; they just rely on God.”

Earl, the quiet listener, added his thoughts: “They are survivors, so we are all survivors.”

John spoke up: “OK, I have something I have to share. You know, God does give in ways we don’t expect and I’m going to tell you one. You remember Sister Sarah…I walked in here about a month ago, it was the first time that I met you. I keep my business to myself but I had to get it out of me and off my chest that day. You listened and then you just wrapped me up in prayer. The words you prayed and what you said to me, they were from God. You couldn’t have known that what you said was exactly what I needed to hear. Even the song that you sang…it was the same one going through my mind. God provides that.”

“That’s right” said Angela, “Sometimes we get cast to the wayside, but God provides what we need, when we need it.”

I, admittedly, was stunned. I had come into this group depleted and unprepared. And unfolding before me was the magnification of the mustard seed of faith that happens from the simplest actions of being present. John continued to tell the group what had unfolded in his life since that day: reconciliation, employment, renewed hope, an opening of his life of prayer into the possibility that God’s presence held him throughout both the ups and downs of life.

“There I was, Sister Sarah. It was a few days later and I had gotten myself a cup of coffee, trying to get my mind settled back where it needed to be instead of on all the things I didn’t want to be focusing on anymore. Then wham! Just like that, I found myself standing in a convenience store, talking with God. Into my mind, that same song we were singing, the words of that prayer we prayed. And in that moment, I knew: I’m not alone in this. People might have been looking at me like I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I just stood there and I said, “Thank You!!” God was with me. God IS with me.

At this point, all I could feel was God’s presence, too.

Robin was quick to pick up on this, seizing the moment. “You know, it says so right here, that when that mustard seed finds fertile ground that is when it sprouts and grows. We don’t have to know…sometimes we never know what is growing, because God is tending it. We sow the word, and God knows the fertile ground where it’s sowed.”

“I’m gonna tell you something, too” said Angela. “You know, I grew up in foster care. Back then, I was like the black sheep of the family, the one that didn’t have a place. It was a farm I was raised on. We had to fetch water. We had to scrub floor on our hands and knees. I spent so much time back then thinking: “Why me. O God, why me?!” But, it was there that I began to see not what was happening to me, but what God saw in me. I started studying hard in school. I got all A’s. I started working, I got my GED, and I ended up becoming a nurse in the public health department. It wasn’t ME, I didn’t make that happen. It was all of the potential in me, all of what was already there inside me, a gift from God.”

“That’s right, girl!” encouraged Robin, “It makes you realize that God is there, God is holding up your potential not keeping you in a place. You can give in to that higher power, instead of seeing from the low places. I have been there. I have walked that walk and know how hard it is, to be down so low. And then God makes you see, opens your eyes and you begin to know that you have worth, you have strength, and the source of that strength is God!”

It was a spirit filled prayer meeting in that library room, with all four of these amazing women and men seeing God in each other.

“Sister Sarah, you don’t know what you started!” joked Robin. I could feel my spirit being renewed, being lifted by the grace of God’s presence in this place. “I didn’t start it!” I had to acknowledge. “I just do what we all do: I showed up.”

“Now look at us” said Robin. “We are all brought into our mustard seed. We’ve all been in low places, and we’ve all had that moment where we just reached out with whatever we could and said, “God! Help!” and look at us. God has SHOWED UP in all these mustard seed moments of our lives.”

I reflected to the group. “You know this study today…and every time we do one of these…it teaches me something. It teaches me that the Gospel…the Good News…is not something that just happened way back when. It is something that is lived out in our lives, that keeps unfolding. I can take one piece of scripture, and we can sit with it…like we are today…I can feel God moving in it. That is my mustard seed…thinking about this Good News as the mustard seed that holds our identity in Christ and flourishes in each one of us in different ways. It makes us a beautiful family.”

“Your version of the scripture and mine, or his, or hers…they might be different” said Angela, “But at the end we say, ‘that’s right, AMEN!” because that person is experiencing God.”

She clapped and laughed out loud, “Come on, y’all, feel it with me!  It’s Sunday morning on Friday afternoon, because Church is happening here!”

Amen, Sister Angela!

We laughed with the joy of beloved family in Christ that afternoon. I had come into that group with the smallest of faith in what was going to unfold. I left with a heart overflowing with love and grace.

Thank you Angela, John, Robin and Earl for being the Church that proclaims truth in boldness, so that grace and mercy and justice could flourish, this day and in all the days to come.

Made for Us

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 4, Year B)  

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 2:23-3:6

 

One sabbath Jesus and his disciples were going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

 

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  Elaine and Jamillah

After reading the Gospel lesson, Elaine said again, “Sabbath is made for humankind” and without missing a beat, Jamillah replied, “It is about our heart.”

“I always appreciate the scripture verses where Jesus gets angry” said Elaine, “I struggle with that, too…but you know He never really lets the anger get the best of him.  I read something the other day: ‘When you’re angry count to 10, when you’re really really angry count to 100!’ and that seemed like the truth!”

They both chuckled at that.

Jamillah said, “Jesus…in this Gospel…I see him being a spiritual worker.  He heals a man and reminds us that it is the Word that counts. In my own life, Jesus has been a blessing to my life.  When I have needed things: medication, services…Jesus helps me see healing, and that makes me more enthusiastic about getting the help I need.  Jesus is active in my life but healing also comes in many ways.”

Elaine reflected, “I feel like I need to ask Jesus for direction.  I got angry with all these things that I kept having to deal with this year: pneumonia, flu, sickness of all kinds.  Then I said to Jesus, ‘listen, this just has to stop!’ but then when I said that kind of frustrated prayer, it made me realize, I had to stop.  I had to slow down, to rest, to take care. So, that realization came from that time. Also, I got visits from people at church which I didn’t expect but that I really appreciated.  It surprised me, you know, that people would care enough to do that. But God is like that: it surprises us how God shows up and how our prayers are answered in ways we don’t always expect or anticipate.”

Jamillah nodded, “Oh yes, of course, He already knows what our needs are.  It may be that He has already answered our prayer for what we need but we are scrambling around to find it.”

Elaine read the next question, wondering out loud what other people need to hear from this Gospel lesson:  “It’s hard to know what other people need to hear from this, because I realize that I am not happy when other people “should” me.  You know, ‘You should do this’ or ‘I think you should do that’ so I have learned to take the “should” out of my life, because it takes away anger and hurt feelings.  So, there is a lot here I would like other people to hear…especially about the Sabbath…but that isn’t by telling them what they should or shouldn’t do.”

Jamillah agreed,  “I think it’s important to not become so “religious” that we fail to understand people.  In this scripture, it isn’t about being perfect but people need to know that Jesus is present for us.  It isn’t about telling people what they need to do, but about sharing.”

“Yeah, I find it helpful to just share what is helpful from my point of view” said Elaine.

“Exactly” said Jamillah, “you just can share what has been true for you, in your own life.”

Elaine and Jamillah then talked about what “Sabbath” could look like in each of their lives:

Elaine’s Sabbath: “When I was growing up in Philadelphia, nothing was open on Sundays.  They called it the blue laws. No stores were open. You went to church. You rested. You didn’t do your laundry.  You took that day off, totally. But now, that’s not true anymore. Sundays are busy days where people ask you to do things.  Stores are open, people have to work. Everyone waits to the weekend to wash their clothes. We’re missing something I think, and it might be important to think about what we are missing in all our busy-ness.”

Jamillah’s Sabbath: “For me, I think about what it would be like trying to follow the instruction for Sabbath: not shopping, or doing chores, but going to Church and getting rest.  I mean, though, it isn’t like God is going to get angry if we need to wash our clothes, if Sunday is the only day. God says to remember Him, to make that time one where our thoughts are on God.  I think that is how I can make the Sabbath look for me.”

For both of these women whose age and race and life circumstances different, they shared the realization that ‘busy, busy’ was taking priority over calmness and care: “It’s good for us to just slow down, to meaningfully rest instead of waiting until we are exhausted.”  In fact, they both found that doing this kind of bible study made them slow down, “Just think about how long we just spent looking at these few lines of scripture, to asking where God is for us, to see the healing of the message.” It isn’t too late to slow down, to see and take in the many ways that Sabbath is made for us, so that we can be made for God.

Seeing and Believing

Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

John 20:19-31


When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Authors:  Steven and Harrison

 

Steven and Harrison are both men of great faith, who met each other the first time for this bible study.  Their conversation unfolded deeply and beautifully, even from this first meeting.

Steven began “What I really see the most out of this is the amount of disbelief, between both the disciples and the Jews, because he says the disciples had locked the doors in fear of the Jews, it says.  But Jesus comes and says, ‘Peace be with you’ and he meant that message for everyone…the disciples and the Jews…because he wanted peace.”

“I never really thought of that!” said Harrison, “the locked door, and the fear it represents.  That’s really neat. I’m struck by that word ‘peace,’ which is what Jesus says. It is the first word he greets people with after the resurrection.  The way you mention: fear, behind locked doors. Peace was probably the most important thing for them to feel and to believe.”

Steven and Harrison talked about the scripture…the way in which Jesus showed his hands and his side to help their belief.  But Thomas, not there during that first meeting, couldn’t quite fathom the belief that other disciples showed.

“Thomas wanted to verify it for himself” said Harrison.

“The other disciple tells him, ‘We have seen the Lord,’ but Thomas hadn’t seen for himself” noted Steven, thoughtfully. “But he said to them, unless I see the mark and feel the nails, I won’t believe.  That’s Thomas saying, ‘I need to have the experience you had so that I can believe!’ ”

“They probably did believe, before he died” said Harrison, “that didn’t fit into the idea of who the Messiah was.  But when they saw him, it was like their belief was resurrected. We hear Thomas doubting, but really, they all shared in that doubt.  It raises an interesting question to me: you know, you can think you believe something, but then when things don’t materialize the way that you expect them to, your belief crumbles apart.  Something doesn’t work out the way I expect God would have it turn out, and that shakes my belief.”

“Sometimes bad things happen for good, but it’s hard to hold onto that” said Steven.

Harrison replied, “But, when you do see God show up at the very end, faithful and true, even when the very bad things happen, then your faith is a little stronger.” 

When it came to discussing how this Gospel related to their own lives, Steven and Harrison both had poignant answers.

Steven described how it was for him:  “I have faith, even though I’m not really sure God is going to answer my prayers.  I think, God may have something in store for me. There are many times that my faith was shaken, that all the doors closed.  But then, God would lead me out, show me a circumstance, show me a way out that I couldn’t see before.”

Harrison related the most difficult time in his own life, when his son was tragically killed in a car accident.  “I had just finished watching a movie where the message was about someone who was sending his family a message that he was OK with dying.  Then, this phone call comes. And I thought, ‘God, how could you send me a message like that, but not stop the accident?” My life has been a lot of wrestling like that.”

“You know” said Steven, “I think our whole lives are going to be about questioning God.  I learned that you can question God, and talk with God, and still believe. Maybe sometimes God has to show Himself.”

“I wonder if Jesus came that second time, just to see Thomas, just to show himself because he knew that Thomas needed that in order to believe” said Harrison.  

Steven said, “You know, it reminds me.  Sometimes you have to look around and see your life, see the way God is working in your life.  If we don’t open our eyes to it, we can’t see. Then, when we open our eyes, we see how God is working.”

“I wonder, Steven, what does faith add to your life?” asked Harrison.

“Faith adds comfort, hope, resilience, and truth” said Steven, with thoughtful intention.

“For me, it’s that something wakes up in me because of faith” said Harrison.  “It means that whatever it costs it will be worth it to do the right thing, the loving thing, the honest thing.”

I wonder…

Palm Sunday, Year B

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 11:1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: MaryAnn and Kayu

Conversation came easily to MaryAnn and Kayu, even though they had never met until that afternoon of our Faith from the Margins bible study.  They had chatted together and solved many of the problems of the world before the tape recorder was even turned on.  But after they began taking turns reading this Palm Sunday narrative began to hone in on this idea of “obedience” as it emerged in the Gospel lesson.

Kayu shared what stood out to him. “I have to come back to that word, obedience. It wasn’t easy to be obedient. It look a lot. Coming from Japan, for the first 18 months I was fighting every day because its what I had to do. But once I started becoming obedient, I learned not to fight back. They had seen me fight, but there comes a point in time when you have to let it go; when you have to let that control go to God. Where would it have gotten me in life to stubbornly keep that control? It would have made me a not very nice person. A fighter, street person, always in jail: anything could have happened. Then, at some point, when I stopped fighting that’s when people got curious.”

“So it really took a different kind of strength to stand than it did to fight.” said MaryAnn

Kayu agreed: “Yes, spiritual strength.”

“I’m not a physical fighter” said MaryAnn, “but I fight a lot with the way mentally I want things to be. I can wish that life was different, or that someone else hadn’t done something. I can fight verbally sometimes and that same lesson applies: we can choose to just stand.”

“I had a good teacher!” noted Kayu.

MaryAnn chuckled.  “I was just going to ask how you learned that!”

Kayu share his story. “It was my Grand-father. He was a musician, and the first African-American allowed to walk into the white house to play a private concert. It was for Theodore Roosevelt. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame and he was a great man, but his words were always, “No matter how big or how small, you need to make a mark in life. If you can touch one, it makes up for the thousand. I decided that was what I wanted to do. I started fighting for homeless people in 1992. I asked God: what can I do? What kind of mark can I make on this earth? And that is what God told me.”

Mary Ann was genuinely curious: “But, how did you do that? I mean, what was it like to hear God?”

“Well, it was easier than you think.” said Kayu.  “I was praying…I had just come home from the war. And one day, I went walking and I was just struck by seeing so many homeless people in parks, on the streets. I thought, “This is not what I fought for; this is not what I should be coming home to.” I realized that I had to do something about this; I didn’t almost die for a country where people were homeless and dying and other people could look at the window and see it and not do anything. I’m a Marine…we are supposed to do things that help make a path for change. And to do that and come here and think: what are we doing? Why are we, in this country, having people who are homeless and who have skills and degrees. I said to God, “I’m a nobody, what can I do?” and God said, “Just do.” I had to obey and as I did, the ways I could make changes become clear to me. It is about knowing your calling, and also being willing to do it. There are both in today’s story. People need to hear: don’t try to do it on your own. Listen to God. God will tell you what you need to do.”

MaryAnn built on this, “Wonderful answers come through prayer. If I’m praying consistently about something, it isn’t that the situation changes but I change.”

“And that DOES change the situation” said Kayu.

MaryAnn echoed that: “Right, exactly! That is the way that God can be working, changing us which makes us and the situation change.”

The final sharing about this Gospel came through an exercise in which they were asked to share “I wonder” sentences about the reading from perspective of any of the characters in this Gospel lesson.  MayAnn and Kayu both entered deeply into this exercise and took turns in a free flow exchange of questions and thoughts:

“I wonder if Jesus knew that the disciples would obey him?”

“I wonder what the people who were watching were thinking?”

“I wonder what the disciples thought Jesus was going to do with the colt.”

“I wonder why the people who say this guy coming in on a colt decided to shout Hosanna?:

“I wonder why they decided to lay down the palm leaves when they really didn’t know who he was?”

“And, I wonder if the Colt thought, “Why does this man want me? Is it because no one has ever ridden on me? Is it because I’m pure of heart?”

“I wonder what the rest of the Colt’s life was like? After that day, all those palm branches and all of those crowds…what happened after that?”

“I wonder how Jesus knew just where the colt was?”

“I wonder why they allowed the disciples to take the colt?”

“I wonder if they actually knew who Jesus was?”

“I wonder if people had the sense that there was something different about this event, this day, this person.”

Kayu became reflective as they shared this exercise of wondering.  “You know, when I did this, I put myself right back there. What would I have done, if I really didn’t know Jesus as Lord, but the man Jesus came up to me and asked me to do this. I wonder if I would have been so obedient?”

Mary Ann nodded, “Yes, I wonder: what made them obedient?  What compelled them to listen?

“Faith like a mustard seed.” said Kayu. “God moves our hearts, but we have to move our feet and follow.”

 

Thank you, Kayu and Mary Ann, for sharing your stories and your wonder with us.  I wonder, after reading this reflection, where God is moving our heart to see new opportunities to serve, and moving our feet to follow?

 

 

Divine Things

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 8:31-38

 

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

 

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

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Co-Authors:  Lisa and Raven

 

 

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Lisa and Raven are both first year college students, even though they are several decades apart from each other in age.  The joy between them was palpable, as was their commitment to the lives of faith that has accompanied them on the twists and turns of life’s journey.  They read the scripture out loud, together, before turning to the bible study questions.  Listening them reminded me that it isn’t our age or race or social position in life that matters: it is the focus on the truly divine.  In Lisa and Raven, we can hear more about finding God in the midst of what seems like the world turned upside down.  As they both point out, it’s all a matter of perspective: our own, or God’s.

Lisa opened with the bible study question of what stood out the most to each of them.  Raven responded, “For me what stands out is ‘get thee behind me Satan’ because it seems like he’s trying to assert his presence in that place, and Jesus just won’t allow it.  It’s like no matter how much Satan wants to get the upper hand, it isn’t going to happen.”

Lisa agreed, “I think that’s true because, well you know, Satan tries to get us to do the wrong thing all the time, which is why he needs to get behind me! [they both chuckled].  To me, the whole thing has a great meaning, but the line that just stands out the most is the one about setting your mind on divine things, telling the rest to move behind.”

Raven thought some more, “I would say also that “those who will lose their lives for my sake” seems to stand out to me, not just here, but in the whole Bible. The world can seem so topsy-turvey when we’re only looking at our human perspective on things but then God…Jesus…seems to be flipping everything around, but really they are not flipped at all.  Jesus is resetting it like it should be.”

“Yes,” agreed Lisa, “and to us, it seems like the world is being flipped upside down because we have a way we think that we should be, and when it doesn’t happen that way we get upset and turned around. We think, “Oh my gosh, things aren’t going right!” But things actually ARE going right, they are going in a way that may make sense to God even if they feel up in the air to us. I think: ‘this is messed up, I’m disombobulated’…but that’s my own thinking!

Raven reflected on this, “Yeah, I was just talking about that with the kids in my youth group last night. Just because there is a way that you think it is supposed to happen, that doesn’t always mean that is how it should happen. God will give what has been promised, but it may not look exactly like you think it would.  That’s a hard lesson for us.

“Right,” said Lisa, “we just don’t realize it at the time!”

Lisa continued: “Maybe you thought your goal was one thing, but they you start walking the path and other things open up in ways you couldn’t have imagined. And you realize, the path that you’re walking is the right one even if it wasn’t the one you thought it would be. It’s just amazing how that works. One minute you’re over here, and the next minute you’re over there. And you wonder…how did this happen? And then, I’ll sit and think about it later and I realize that it’s gotten me to a place where I needed to be all along. It’s like now, and the process that has led for me to be back in school. It felt like it took so long, but I learned about perseverance that I never knew I had. I needed the lessons I’ve learned and now I’m in it, I’m ready, and it’s going really well!”

This resonated with Raven: “It just makes me think, how many times has a door closed and I’ve been so upset. And then, things work out in a way you’d never expect. I was so sure about wanting to go to school somewhere else; I was sure I wanted to be in Princeton or at UVA. But then, things just kept happening. The doors just weren’t opening. I didn’t get good financial aid, I thought about taking loans. And then I looked again at VCU and I got great support, it was closer to home, and it was a decision that God allowed me to see as an opportunity. And now, I cannot imagine myself happier at any school. This is exactly where I need to be, even though I didn’t know that at first.”

“It’s my first year at school, too” said Lisa, who is now in a human services program at Reynolds Community College. “I’m working to be a substance abuse counselor and once I finish my Associate’s Degree, one of the places that I can transfer when I finish is VCU!” she added. “It’s something to think about, and it’s new to me. I’m starting out slow and I have choices which is something I didn’t even think I had before.”

Raven said, “It makes all the difference to have choices!”

The two began to discuss where they could see God in this Gospel lesson. Lisa began: “Well, right now I’m going through a lot with my family. I just lost my mother on New Year’s Day. She had a stroke, and it was really hard for her. I miss her, but I know that she would be proud of me. I feel that.  I see God in those places, where we are taking up our cross.”

Raven said, “I remember when my Grandmother passed away, and I was only 14. She had Alzheimer’s but it happened quicker than we thought. It’s so hard, and it’s always a grief for us. I think for me, I also see God in this Gospel right now in the part where it says, “Take up your cross and follow me” but in another way. I have a very headstrong family: they see something, they believe in something, and they are just going to go for it. But, you know, this scripture reminds us that our goals have to line up with God’s goals. I have to pause and look at all the things I’m doing and ask and pray, “is this what God has in mind for me?”

Lisa said, “Yeah, a lot of people have this question of whether something is my way, or God’s way. But, I think we need the time to actually see and feel God in our lives. I like how you talk about having those goals, though, because some people seem too quick to give up.  It’s about your goals but bringing them to God.”

Raven shared next, “This year, my biggest challenge is the verse I’ve picked for myself: Be Still. I’m always busy, always on the run. But, I have to remember that “be still” because it isn’t just physical stillness, but mental stillness. I need to be sure that my mind is still, that I can hear and listen.”

Raven and Lisa closed by sharing about what it means to set your mind on divine things.

Raven began the sharing, “I think for me, I used to think it was more like: ‘don’t think about bad things, only think about good things’ but that isn’t really it. Now I think of it as searching for the Godly, even in the bad things. Remembering that in the midst of that, to reorient my focus to the fact that even when there is something bad going on, there is something greater still and that is where God is.”

“Right,” said Lisa, “there are a lot of people who ask, ‘Why do bad things have to happen to me?’ But bad things happen to all of us sometimes. If we got everything we wanted, every day of our lives then we really wouldn’t appreciate anything. We get stuck in ‘why me?’ but then, down the road, I realize that in every bad thing that has happened, there has been something good to have come from that.”

Raven said, “God never promises a trouble-free life; the difference is that even in the midst of our troubles in life when we think on divine things, we are never alone.”

“Like He says” quoted Lisa, “I will never forsake you.”

Raven and Lisa continued to talk together about their studies and the lessons that had unfolded for each of them.  God never does love us, or forsake us.  Sometimes, God comes in the form of people who once were strangers, who once seemed so different.  But really, when God is with us we have far more that unites us than could ever divide us.

 

three windows

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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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.  

 

Gifts We Have Been Given

A Faith from the Margins to the Web bible study interview for Epiphany, Year B:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 2:1-12

 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

 

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

 

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

Contributing Authors: Lynnette and Davis

After opening with a prayer, Davis and Lynnette took turns reading the Gospel lesson for Epiphany

Davis: “We’ve heard the Christmas message many times, haven’t we?” He went on to paraphrase the Gospel, emphasizing that for him there is such wide-spread recognition of the importance of this child. On the world’s terms, is he a threat or a great ruler? To Herod, he’s a threat. But to the Magi, there were something more that they were following: “The whole idea is they came from halfway around the world and left him treasures…what do you think all that means, for us?”

Lynnette was quiet, then laughed a bit and said: “I think maybe I need to start going to church more!”

“Don’t we all!” Davis chuckled in response.

Sometimes it can seem, from the corners of our world and the social margins that we are on that we don’t know enough, or aren’t spiritual enough, or aren’t something enough to be entrusted with how the Holy Scriptures open up to us.  But that isn’t how it is with God, present with us throughout time and in every corner of our lives, revealing truth that is in our midst.  It was Lynnette who seemed to experience that Epiphany unfolding in the thoughtful, deliberate response that she offered up next:

Lynnette thoughtfully reflected; “Well, if Jesus and God…the Lord…are the same person and Jesus was formed through his mother…well it seems to me that none of us would be here if it weren’t for God, as well as our mothers and fathers.”

Lynette continued, “So, that makes me think that I have to give thanks to God; I pray every night to God and then I’m thankful in the morning when I wake up. I didn’t have to wake up…but I did wake up, so that gives the day a whole new possibility.”

Davis nodded, “That’s a really good way to live; a great way to look at it, really. Every day we wake up and we realize that if it weren’t for God, we wouldn’t be here.”

Lynette spoke again, “God is good, all the time.  I pray to God, and I realize God shows me the way, too. Like today, I woke up and saw that it was a beautiful day. I knew I had to get up, to put me on a smile, to get here to this place. I mean, I know that it isn’t something I can take for granted, you know.  There was a time and place when I thought I was going to die, when they said I needed a transplant. But I knew, I knew that I didn’t have to live that way, that if I kept taking medicine and started taking care of myself it would work. I believed that, and I believed that was God telling me that.  And it has worked out, and that is why I thank God and why I come here.”

Lynnette also reflected about the gift of her family.  “I have three boys; I worry about my kids sometimes but they have their own lives and they are on the right track!”

Davis asked their ages, and was surprised when he heard her children were in their 40’s, “You look like you’re younger than that!”

Lynnette laughed, “I do hear that a lot.  But it’s true.  They are good boys; they grew up with me and I tried to be a good Mama. I taught them good manners, and to have a spirit of love. My own parents raised me right and taught me how to walk the right ways of this life, too, and so I pass that on.”

Davis smiled at her and said, “It seems like Spirit has been in your life for a long time.”

Lynnette said, “Well, maybe I don’t know a lot, but I do know that God is with me.”

“Does God ever speak to you?” wondered Davis.

“You know one day, I heard someone say my name, plain as day. I thought ‘is that God?’” But I didn’t have to wonder. I remembered my Momma telling me, when you talk to God, He listens. So I take the time, take that time now to just talk to Him. I tell God my heart.”

Davis asked, “So, is there anything in here that we learned and we want to tell God?   The take home of this Gospel for me is that this ends up being the way that we celebrate Christmas: we give Christmas gifts…”

Lynnette added, “…and we give love…”

“Right!” said Davis. “We end up re-enacting the scene of Jesus being born, and the Three Kings are always there, giving gifts. It’s like we keep it going.  I want to be thankful for that gift of Jesus’ birth and the ways that we keep celebrating it.”

David and Lynnette shared about how each of their churches have celebrated Christmas over the years. A sense of welcome and giving emerged in their sharing, the commonality of love as the expression of Christian faith surrounded them.

Davis began to wrap up their conversation: “So, since we know that God is here right now, what would you tell God…what would you say…can we just talk right here, to God?”

Lynette chimed in immediately. “Of course we can!  I would.  I’d tell Him I love Him!”

Lynnette started their prayer with that: “I love you, God! Thank you for waking me up in the morning. Thank you for letting me be here. I love you God, and I learned more about You today, Lord and mighty God, through my friend Davis here.  Thank you for being with us.”

Then Davis prayed:

“God I thank you for Lynnette. She reminds me that you are always here. Sometimes I don’t pause enough to give you thanks. But, thank you for being here with us today. Thank you for allowing us to share together today. Thank you for reminding me of your loving presence, here with us today.”

Thank you, Lynnette and Davis, for the gift of your sharing and the light it brings to open this season of Epiphany. And than you, most of all, to God for the gift of your presence of love with us today and always.