Pure of Heart

15th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17, Year B)

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

 

When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

 

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

 

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

 

FFMTW authors: Eugene and Lorenzo, with Dale and John

“I hear a lot of judgemental people in that” said Lorenzo. “It’s like other people are focused on what people clean with their hands, but they forgot that you can have clean hands and a dirty soul…”

“Or dirty hands and a clean soul!” added Eugene.

“Maybe Jesus means, you have to clean up or go home.” said Lorenzo.

“But, it’s really all about the heart” added Eugene. “It’s funny how certain things can be seen certain ways. But, if you believe in your heart, that is all that matters. I mean there are some people that no matter what they look like on the outside, they are clean of heart on the inside.”

This seemed like a good point to ponder further with the group. So, I asked them to describe someone that they consider to be pure of heart.”

Lorenzo went first, “The church where I go every week, there’s this pastor I know. He’s real down to earth and all. He would do anything for anybody.”

Dale said, “Yeah, that reminds me of a guy I know, too, his name is Mr. Brooks. He is quiet and people could just look right over him. But he always has a kind word and some way to offer to help.”

“I try to do that, too” said Lorenzo, “But, I ain’t no saint, though.”

I chuckled, “But, you know, I didn’t hear any of you describe any of those people you think of as pure of heart as being perfect. I heard you describing them as kind. And a lot of what Jesus describes is about the intention of our heart toward others.”

“So, I’ve got a question, or maybe more like a situation” said John. “I have this friend who promised to do something and then didn’t show up and didn’t even care. That happens all the time, and I’ve started to think that they say they’ll do something because that makes them seem like a good friend, a good person and people will like them. But, it’s really not about helping for them, it’s all about what they want to do, not what other people want or need. The heart isn’t in it, so the actions don’t come through. But if the intention isn’t really to help, then it isn’t really helpful.”

Eugene said, “You know, I relate to that. I have to think about not just whether I can help, but what my intention is. If it’s just to get attention that isn’t really helping. But, if I open my heart to helping it isn’t about whether I feel like doing it, it’s that I’ve given my word and I know that I will feel better just because I’ve helped.”

“See like, my two pastors, they have been through it all. They have done drugs and been in prison and paid the price. They know what it’s like and now they are giving back. I think that in order to be pure of heart, maybe you have to know what it’s like to be forgiven” said Lorenzo. “For me, I’ve been to the Pen. I know I haven’t always done what I should do. But, I pray and I am trying to live a new kind of life now. That’s what I want. I help the kids and I try to pattern myself after my pastor, because he’s been out now like 20 years. I know that it can be done, and I need to stick with it.”

Eugene shared about his own experience. “OK, I just want to say that I’m new to this religion thing. You know, at first I came here to eat and you all talked with me and were nice. I learned that people had a good heart, and I started thinking about my heart, about doing things for other people. Then, I had my stroke. And it made me think hard about what I really want, how did I really want to live my life. I came back that Friday after I got out of the hospital and the first thing you said was that you all had been praying for me. And I felt that. I felt it. And now I am back here, and I pray and open my heart, too. It’s a long road to recovery but I’m getting better. I have God to thank for that, and everyone here who was showing me that by how they lived, and prayed, and cared. Six years ago, I was sleeping in an ally. Now, I have my own place and I have community, and I’ve been able to forgive my family. If you believe and trust in God, anything is possible.”

We continued to chat a bit and I asked if anyone would like to close us in prayer. It was Eugene who offered, and the beauty of his prayer was one which embodied this Gospel and has made this my constant prayer for Faith from the Margins:

“Bow y’all heads” he began.

“Dear God, thank you for this assembly today, where we learned important lessons from each other. Each and every day, each and every hour God, teach us something. We may not want to hear it. But, teach us something anyhow. Keep us focused on your word in our hearts and our minds, and let us marinate on all this so that everything we’ve talked about may come to fruition. In our Lord’s name…

and all the people said

AMEN!”

30396558678_625abec36a_z.jpg

 

No Need to Hide

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

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

John 1:43-51

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

Contributing Authors:  Mary Ann and Faye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

faye b&w

The Least of These…

 

Beginning the first Sunday of Advent, Faith from the Margins to the Web reflections will be posted weekly on Tuesdays, in preparation for preaching, bible study and other reflection on the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel lesson.  Be sure to follow and share Faith from the Margins to the Web so you can receive a new reflection each week of the liturgical year.

This week, participants Lisa and Mary Ann met to reflect together on the Gospel lesson from Matthew for the Last Sunday of Pentecost, Christ the King.  As you will hear from their words and their lives, Christ sets our example for beloved and compassionate presence even with “the least of these…”

A Faith from the Margins to the Web Reflection
Last Sunday of Pentecost, Year A (Christ the King)

The Least of These

Faith from the Margins to the Web Authors: Lisa Myers and Mary Ann Blankenship

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

As soon as Lisa finished reading the Gospel lesson, Mary Ann voiced an immediate and personal resonance: “For me this always makes me feel guilty; like I haven’t done more for other people.”

Lisa chimed in, feeling a similar response: “MmHmmm…yeah. I think that’s why I want to get into this new profession, so that I can give back. And I want to be able to do more volunteer work, to give back to the community where I have received since I have been down and have nothing. All these people out here who do what they do, all the churches and everybody, I just want to give back to that.”

“Right.,” responded Mary Ann,  “when I was working, I worked for the teacher’s union and I felt like in that work, I was helping other people, you know, helping teachers who have a hard time a lot of times and people don’t give them much respect. But, since I’ve been retired, this really gets to me because when you have a job that you feel like gives you a lot of meaning and you give back doing it, then when you retire, it’s hard. So, in retirement, I’ve been trying to find things in my life that I feel like I can still give back. I volunteer with CASA, which is a program that helps kids and families when they end up in the juvenile court system and then through the church, we’re also doing some things.”

Lisa nodded in agreement, and it pushed her own thinking forward, “You know, that’s another thing I want to get back into, is finding…like I told you earlier, I haven’t gotten much religion in my life…and I would love to get back into going to church and learning more and then being able to tell somebody else.  Like they say, spread the word and let people know how good God is, and then to share that with others. Like we were talking about earlier today at Red Door, I need to be a learner…I need to be the student and then I can learn how to help others.”

Mary Ann agreed, “it’s like that for me, too…I was talking about that when I mentioned my friend’s mother…really, God boils down to love and that’s what this scripture says to me.”

“Well, I see God right now as my Father, the one and only,” Lisa said.  “Yes, I know I have one here on earth and maybe he hasn’t done a lot for me here, but God has done more for me than anybody. So, like in this Gospel here, I feel like there is no one else that can do that for me. I mean, He is the only One.”

This brought something more to mind for Mary Ann: “Right now, I see God in two of my friends, one named Joy and the other Judy.  I see God through them because they do a lot in the world but they are also the kind of friends who are there for me and they always love me. It doesn’t matter how badly I screw up, they are still there for me.”

“Yes!” Lisa agreed, “that’s what I was talking about earlier, with my son. That boy has been through a lot with me, and he has never, ever shunned me. Even though he knows I’m out here homeless, he never stops coming to see me. He always helps me when he can. He has a busy life but he doesn’t forget about me.”

Mary Ann was encouraging, “You must have done a good job raising him.”

Lisa sounded thoughtful about that, “Well, I think I did. I know I had my issues, but I could always say I was there for both of my children. But I just didn’t do everything I could have for them as a parent.”

“But they knew you loved them.” Mary Ann added.

“Yes…right…you know I tried to do that.  I really do try.” said Lisa.

This seemed to strike a chord with Mary Ann’s own family memories: “My own mother…she was there for me…but I wasn’t always sure that she loved me. She was more the disciplinarian: you’ve got to do this, and you’ve got to do that, you’ve got to do whatever. My father was the one who always loved me. My mother loved me, but she just didn’t show it. She wasn’t always expressive and there was that mother-daughter thing going on, too.”

Lisa responded with empathy to Mary Ann’s story, “It’s like they say, you are never alone. I sometimes say, ‘I don’t have anyone’ but it isn’t like that. I’ll be honest with you. I was incarcerated for a while but I had this lady who came in, twice a week. She came in and did a bible study for whoever wanted it. And she would say to me, when I said I was alone, “Lisa, you are never alone. God is always with you. In your heart.”  You know, I thought about that. I could talk to Him. I could say whatever I wanted and not hold anything back because, you know, he already KNOWS. So I had conversation, just Him and I, knowing that it was true, He was always there.”

Mary Ann’s voice brightened with the honesty of Lisa’s story, “that’s really remarkable, that even when you were incarcerated you could feel that, and know that. And good for her for telling you that! Because it’s true…I’ve felt the same thing. With everyone else in the world, I try to hide things or cover up things but with God it really doesn’t matter because He already knows, so why put any of that other stuff on??”

At this point, both women were laughing at the sheer absurdity and brilliance of being able to be oneself wholly, with a God who wholly loves us for who we are.  The shared feeling of being known and loved no matter what was palpable in their conversation.

Lisa summed it up, “At least I can talk with someone, and be completely open and honest. And, I don’t have to worry about hiding,”

Mary Ann began to talk about how this Gospel speaks to what other people need to hear: “What it says to me is that it matters how you treat people, especially people worse off than you are. You know, because anyone is going to suck up to people above them and be nice to people who have power over them. But, I know when I used to work, there were people who treated the custodian in our building like crap and then they’d turn around and be real nice to me, and I thought, “I know how you really are!”

Lisa could absolutely relate: “I know! I’ve met quite a few people like that. And I was telling my family, I’m not proud of the position that I’m in right now but I will say this: I am not ever going to be ashamed anymore because I have learned so much from this way of life from the way I used to live. I had wonderful jobs, I was married, I had a home, a car, a truck, a business…you would think I had everything.  But now I have nothing, but I have grown to appreciate what little I have so very much.”

“I really appreciate your honesty,” added Mary Ann,  “and you know, you’re right. One of my friends told me one time, ‘All the time gets wasted trying to change the past’ and you know, that has been a hard lesson for me to learn. The past is past; there’s nothing I’m going to do today that can change what happened 5 months ago or two years ago, but I can change what I do now and in the future, and that’s exactly what you’re doing with your life.”

Lisa said,  “That reminds me of something one of my counselors told me. He said, ‘look at your life like you’re driving a car. You have a windshield and a rear-view mirror. You check the rear-view mirror every now and again, to see what’s going on behind. But your main view is in front of you. So, treat your life that way, so you can see what’s in front of you.’ ”

“Oh, that’s great, I like that” said Mary Ann, “and I would also say one reason why you’d look in your rear-view mirror sometimes is so that you don’t get run into!”

Lisa laughed. “Right, exactly!”

“I have occasionally been run into by something in my past!” Mary Ann admitted, “but what a wise thing for your counselor to say.”

Lisa agreed, “I did learn a lot from that counselor!”

Mary Ann continued, “Well, as I was saying, a story that I’m reminded of from this Gospel is my one co-worker who was always hateful to someone that he thought was under him, but then he would always suck up to people who were above him. I completely lost it a couple times, and eventually I lost all respect for him.”

This was all too familiar to Lisa, “Yes, like I said, there’s some people out there…the people that have things…money, good jobs, whatever.  There was one time…and I felt so sorry for this homeless man…who was sitting out there on the wall, eating his little lunch, minding his own business and this man in a suit was coming down the sidewalk, so important. We were watching him walk in a straight line down the middle of the sidewalk, then he saw that homeless man sitting there and he walked all the way around, making this great big curve…all the way around just like that, just to avoid him.”

“Like it was contagious,” noticed Mary Ann.

“Yes!” said Lisa, “and I felt so sorry for that man, that poor man minding his own business , eating his lunch and thinking, ‘What did I do to deserve that…’ ”

Mary Ann summed it up, “It’s bad enough, you know, here he is in a suit already, appearing more successful and then he has to do something like this, making him feel even less than…

“Oh, it did!” exclaimed Lisa, “It broke my heart!  You know whenever I get my life straightened out, that’s why I want to give back and help. That’s why I’m going back to school.  It’s terrible what you see, how people are treated.  All people should be treated with dignity and respect.”

As their conversation wrapped up, these two once-strangers had a new appreciation for each other.  Mary Ann closed by saying, “I really admire you for going back to school and doing something you know will help others” and Lisa reflected this same sense of appreciation, “Well, I really admire you for deciding to do something even after you retire, to show you care!”

There was no “least” between these two women…both had clearly seen the glory of Christ reflected in each other.

The Reign of Christ is made known in the lives of those who are poor, who are homeless, who work menial jobs, who are the invisible of this world in which we live.  If we pay attention, we realize that Christ is made visible in each one of us.  No one is alone with a loving God who chooses to be present both in the lives of the mighty, and with those whom we may think of as the least of these.  We feel God’s nearness yearning to heal the broken spaces and lacking places in our lives.  The emptiness is filled, and our hunger and thirst is quenched.  God sees us as we are, meets us where we are, loves us for who we are.

This Gospel poses us questions for thought:  How are we seeing God in all of those whom we encounter?  How do our interactions with people living at a different social margins reflect God’s presence in the lives of all of God’s people?  What do we miss when separate ourselves from those different than we are, or when we fail to see Christ in each other?  What do we gain when we are willing to draw near and recognize the reflection of God in the lives of those we think of as “the least of these” instead of crossing by the other way?

Perhaps experiencing the fullness of the Reign of Christ means focusing the eyes of our heart to see the brilliant vision of Christ who is magnificently present with the least powerful of this world, loving us all radically across the social margins of our human lives, calling us together into this Realm of God where at last, we all can be home.