The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me

Faith From the Margins to the Web Bible Study

3rd and 4th Sundays after the Epiphany, Year C

The Gospel lessons of the 3rd and 4th Sundays after Epiphany are two parts of one event in the early life and ministry of Jesus.  In this Faith from the Margins Bible Study, we chose to read and study them together, pausing to consider what each tells us about who Jesus is:

 

Luke 4:14-21

 

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

 

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

“Wow” said Mary, “I’m gonna tell you what I heard.  That Spirit of Jesus, it was gonna spread to all those countries all around.  But first, Jesus…he stood up, he took that scroll, and he wanted to set his people free.  But, the eyes of those people…all of them…in that synagogue just set their sights on him.  It was like a sign was brought to them, that they could see God through him.”

“He’s coming to do the things that we need someone to do in the world” said Willie.  “I think this was one of those times when he was…how do they say it…’about his Father’s business!”  The group chuckled as Willie continued, “I think that he took ahold of that opportunity and let people know, this is what I am about.”

“Sure, it was going to come out in the way Jesus did miracles, in the people that he was with…but no mistaking it, he was telling them from the beginning exactly what he was going to do” said Mary.

“You know, this shows me how awesome Jesus was…he hadn’t even done his ministry yet.  He was young, in the synagogue with the elders.  His Mom, Joseph…people who knew him wondering what he was doing standing up there.   I wonder what they were thinking about him?”

“Well it’s interesting that you asked that” I said, “because the next lesson picks up right at that place”

 

Luke 4: 21-30 (picking up from the previous lesson)

 

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

 

“Wow” said Beth.  “Jesus had courage!”

“He was speaking some tough stuff.  He had no fear of flesh and mankind to preach and get that word out” said David. “I mean he must have had no fear.”

“It goes to show you how strong it is” said Mary, “that there wasn’t going to be any backing down.”

“It’s kind of a complicated, deep and beautiful pictures of Jesus, isn’t it?” I asked. “How do these lessons tell us more about how Jesus is?”

Jamillah responded, “I think I’m beginning to really see the meaning of this, of how Jesus is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Not just one thing, but so many things.”

“You know, its so interesting” said David, “We all come at this in different ways but it keeps coming back to this same place where we learn something new from each other, and it brings us back to seeing and knowing Jesus.”

Jesus:  courageous, prophet, speaker of truth.  One and yet so many things to so many people.

We closed our Epiphany bible study with Mary offering up a prayer:

“Oh merciful, Heavenly Father, we come to you at this hour thanking you for this time to get to know you better.  God we just give you thanks, in this day and every day.  We love you no matter what, because we know you are here for us no matter what.  And I bring this is the holy name of Jesus to you.”  

And all the people said, AMEN.

 

 

Gifts we Give

Faith from the Margins to the Web: The Sunday of the Epiphany, Year C

Opening Prayer:

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.

FFMTW Participants: De’Nae, Stephen, Mary, and Lynette

“There’s something about this part, right here” said Mary, “the part when they went and sought diligently for the child, but it wasn’t because Herod told them to. It was because they knew who they were searching for.”

“They were frightened” said Stephen, “they knew, then, that Herod was afraid of this child. And I think they knew his intention, but they went anyway.”

“I was drawn to the fact that Jesus, this little tiny infant, was enough to draw these people. They brought all they had. This prophecy that people had heard, they took it and ran with it. What kind of belief and faith must they have had to have followed this, and to see this tiny baby and believe” added De’Nae. “The prophecy was still going to play out; Herod thought he had the power to change that and in doing so, he destroyed lives. He tried to take it into his own hands.”

The group began to talk about the wise people and prophets that they had heard and known about in their lives and how that has shaped how they learn to trust. Thinking about that seemed to make this more real, rather than a story we imagine.

“What is the difference between prophecy and wisdom?” asked Mary.

“I think wisdom is through your life” said De’Nae, “but prophecy comes from God. I think of my Dad as a wise person, and I think maybe he even has a gift of prophecy. He raised us to know that each of us has gifts from God and he is someone who can see the gifts in others. But his wisdom: that is age, and learning and humility.”

The group began to speak about their gifts and treasures, and all the ways in which they had received blessings in their lives.

“In that opening prayer” said Mary, “we prayed, ‘lead us by faith.’ And you know, I think about they way in which I feel led by faith.

“You know, I hadn’t thought about this but it says, ‘lead us who know you know through faith…’ and it makes me wonder if that isn’t also a reminder to us that it is our faith, now, through what we have been given and through what we know to understand as best we can. I guess it doesn’t tell us that God will be just like we think God is. We might each have our own best understanding of God, which we hold onto by faith. But that’s just it…it is by faith, until we see God face to face.”

“That’s interesting” said Stephen. “People think God looks one way or another…or maybe we need to believe God looks like us!”

Mary said, “Coming up, we were taught that God was white but here I am a black woman and I know that God could look like me, or to be asian, or to be middle eastern. We got all hung up on making out God to be in our image, when God says we are made in God’s image, all of us.”

“I’m still rocking with God no matter what!” said De’Nae.

“I think God is the ruler of all, coming to save the world” said Stephen. “So, I don’t think God will be bound to race, or in whose image God was made in. God came to rule over all that’s in this world, to rise above all that. People might need to remake God in our image so that we feel good about ourselves but we are asked…by faith…to open our hearts to know God.”

“Sometimes I wonder why it is that we keep ourselves from believing. We want to find the things to disprove, or to move away. It’s hard to want to take something by faith. But here, in this story, the wise men meet this tiny baby and that is enough for them to be sustained in their faith and to go home by another way. They hadn’t even seen his miracles, or see him walk on water. It just took this time of seeing” said De’Nae.

The group closed considering a question together: “what treasure that you have would you give to the baby Jesus?”

Stephen started: “I would give my belief. I don’t have a lot, but I have that. I would give that of my heart.”

De’Nae said: “I would give myself. The treasure chest of gold and all that, it didn’t matter, it isn’t that the baby Jesus desired that and it isn’t that Jesus wants that now. But if I could give myself…just me…just as I am…broken and all…I think that is what Jesus would most want of me.”

Lynette said, “When I go to funerals and stuff, they sing this song, “take the best of me” and I feel that way, too. Not the gold and all of that. Just me.”

Mary agreed, “He doesn’t want the best, or some expensive gift. Material doesn’t mean anything…he wants us!”

The group ended up on the same theme which they summed up together in their closing prayer:

“I’m going to give You what I have, and all that I can give You is me.”

Photo credit:

Sarah Kye Price, Epiphany Window at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley California

Prophet in the Wilderness

Faith From the Margins to the Web: Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

Part 2 of the Faith from the Margins to the Web Advent Bible Study Group

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

Luke 3:1-6


In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

Willie read the lesson for the Second Sunday in Advent, noting emphatically by his voice how John was calling people in the wilderness to repentance.

“It seems like there was always a need to repent, since the beginning of time. Maybe even since Cain and Abel” said Jonathan.

The group nodded as this sank in. “We’re often told we need to repent, but it seems like it isn’t just people today.”

“What do you think the wilderness looks like today?” I asked.

“I think the wilderness looks like Donald Trump” said Brad. “I mean, he scares me. I think about all the hate that we keep hearing. I feel like we are wandering in the wilderness”

“There’s so much killing” said David, “so much to be afraid of. But, I guess they all felt that way in John’s time, too.”

“You know, wilderness could be defined a whole lot of ways” said Ty. “I mean there’s physical wilderness, and there’s spiritual wilderness. It depends on the way you’re thinking about the word. You know, if you ask everybody here that same question you’re going to get that many answers. So now, you have to think of whether you’re speaking on a spiritual or a physical realm.”

“Can I add to that?” asked Willie, “You know, I was listening to the radio yesterday, and they brought up this idea of loneliness. At a time like this in the world, when we think we have so many ways to connect, they brought up loneliness. And you know, I thought about that. I mean here we are, gathered together and we’ve shared prayer and lunch and now this group. But there are so many people who are caught up in that wilderness of loneliness, who can’t connect or don’t know how to. They feel all alone, and that kind of loneliness is a wilderness.”

“It’s like, you can have a place and still be lost” said Ty. “Or, you can not have a place but have community. You know, some of those people out in the elements, what they need is people who will actually listen to them, hear them as human beings. The loneliness is a much of wilderness than a roof over their heads, maybe more.”

“That’s been me” said Eugene, “and sometimes when it seemed like I had the most I was lonely all the time. It look me losing a lot to find out all that I really had, because when I sit here with this group like this I realize that I have so much more than I ever thought I would back then.”

“I know that kind of lonely, too” said Jonathan. “There are people who worship material things and live just to get those things. But they are empty. And pretty soon, you start looking around at all the things and thinking, ‘what am I even going to do with all these things?’ Money and things never fill the void of loneliness. There are things you can’t put a price tag on.”

“I think of reading the bible” said Charles, “and I always find something in there that keeps me from being lonely. Those words get into my heart, and they stay there.”

The Inside Scoop

A Faith from the Margins to the Web Reflection for Advent 1, Year C

As we enter Year C, we begin a new liturgical season, coming full circle back to where we began last year in Advent.  You’ll notice that we’ve shifted things a bit for Year C, responding to the increasing autonomy and leadership in this community where the saints of the streets, church, campus and community come together to reveal God in our midst. 

Each liturgical season begins with an open group exploring a few central lectionary readings and sharing our reflections on those excerpts from the holy scriptures.  We’ll hear from this group for a few weeks, interspersed with some 1:1 conversations that reveal the transformative depth of this season of preparation.  I hope you will share and enjoy.

Advent Bible Study Group (Willie, Ty, David, Jonathan, Charles, Brad, and Eugene)

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”


Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.


“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

David opened the group in prayer:  

“Let’s bow our heads.  Dear heavenly father, we come to you with humble hearts and we ask you to open us more, to figure out how it is that we make room for Christ.  Nobody’s perfect, and we don’t always do what we should do. But, help us know and do the best we can. Amen.”

Brad read the Gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Advent, and the group began their conversation.  

“There are a whole lot of signs that God is showing us” said Jonathan, “It seems like all of these signs are things that were there then and we see today, too.” That brought Willie right back to his own childhood memories, “My Mama, she used to tell us about the signs of the end” said Willie, “but I was just a little kid so I would hide behind her, and beg her to know, “what happens next??” and that was mostly because I was so scared. I figured that if I knew, I could be safe and I felt safe there with her!”

“I love that in that story, I can see you with your Mom the same way that I see us with God” I remarked to Willie, “we want to know the rest of the story but what we really want is to feel safe and protected.”

“Yes!” said Willie, “That’s just it. She was a good storyteller and I knew that when she told me a story, there was usually a reason and a lesson that I needed to listen to. I think that is what Jesus is doing here, unfolding the story that his followers need to listen to.”

“Well, the other thing to keep in mind” said Brad, “is that here were are being told what is going to happen but it’s for a reason: so that we can have our hearts and minds ready.”

“So, aren’t you excited?” asked David. “I mean, it’s kind of like we have the inside scoop about what is going to happen. Jesus makes us high jump, you know, there’s a joy in knowing it.”

“God isn’t just saying to prepare yourself, but also the signs to look for” added Ty. “It’s almost like having a spiritual cheat sheet. I’m telling you to prepare yourself, I’m telling you what to look for. I’m warning you, pleading with you, and asking you all in the same conversation to prepare yourself. Don’t waste time and don’t wait until the last minute: things are happening right now.”

Willie said, “That’s the thing: things are happening but we are hold in the Bible what we need to do. We are supposed to love one another. It shouldn’t be hard, or at least not so hard as we make it out to be. It’s what we are told to do.”

“But we are human” said Ty “and we just can’t always do that on our own. It makes it a whole lot easier to turn the other cheek when we have our hearts open to God, if we have the love of Christ in us. That is what makes it easier for us to live Christ-like, to forgive and to allow ourselves to be human but open to Christ living through us.”

“That brings us to another simple one that we don’t always do: serving one another” added Willie. It’s so easy to feel like we hear someone asking us for help and we want to say, “why ask me, go do it yourself! But God asks us to do something more, to pray without ceasing so that we are holding the needs of each other and not just doing what it occurs to us to do for ourselves.”

Camel Haired Messengers of God

A Bible Study Reflection for Advent 2, Year B

Authors: Tom and LT

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

Mark 1:1-8

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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