And they followed…

A Faith from the Margins to the Web bible study for Epiphany 3, Year B

Contributing Authors:  Lisa and Alisha

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 1:14-20
After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

“And they followed him!”

Unanimously, both Alisha and Lisa agreed this was the phrase that stood out to them.  Lisa, a regular at Friday’s Red Door lunch, had been living unsheltered for the past year.  Alisha, a student at the University, was eager and interested to hear Lisa’s story as she grew in her own life of faith.

Alisha expanded a bit on that idea of following, “I mean, they just left everything, they were like “ok, let’s go!”

Lisa nodded, “It reminds me that sometimes you just have to let things go, put it aside, be ready to follow.  I mean, everybody has family and everyone has problems, like I’m having one now with my mother. But we have to believe that if we take those problems to the Lord, and if we give them over to Him and follow Him, that He is there to lead us through.”

Alisha added, “to me, what caught my attention was that part when it ways ‘after John was arrested, then Jesus came.’  It reminds me that they had to realize that Jesus was the one person to follow. If they didn’t listen to John, now they knew they had to follow Jesus.  One thing happens, then the other.  It’s hard to do that, when you see problems arising in your life, like they saw everything happening there with John, and then to have to let go of everything and follow Jesus like the disciples did. It makes all the difference, though.”

Lisa spoke with honesty, “That is so hard to do! I’m sorry to say that…

Alisha interrupted her kindly, “Oh, no, you have no need to apologize! It is hard! It is really hard.  We are only human and we experience those times when we’re praying, we’re trying and it seems like just problem after problem in our lives. That’s when we are suppose to keep our faith and it’s when its the hardest, too. I read this thing one time that said, “Doubt your doubts” and that really spoke to me. I thought, I don’t need to doubt God. What I’m doubting is that sense I’m having that I somehow need to fix everything, or that everything has to all be OK before I can follow.”

Lisa said, “I’ve always liked that saying, ‘when one door closes, another opens…’ and I had a hard time believing that at first, but I’m starting to come around and see it now. Just because I don’t have a place right now…a “home” home…that doesn’t mean I can’t work or get a job. People tell you one has to come before the other but it wasn’t working that way for me.  I had to figure out what would work for me, to go through the process of thinking about what I could do and was being asked to do and now that I’m doing that, I really believe it.  Door close, but others open when we follow.”

Alisha was in agreement, “I know just what you mean! It’s like we are waiting, hoping for something better. And God is saying, ‘just wait; I have something wonderful planned for you, in fact its already happening’ but it’s still hard for us to believe it.”

Their conversation continued.  Lisa explained her own understanding of this passage, “I’m seeing God working right now in this Gospel in wanting to take care of those disciples.  It’s hard to follow but Jesus is wanting to take care of them, too. In my own life, I know that I am grateful to be still alive and I’ve learned that God provides for me what I need and when I need it.”

Alisha said the Gospel spoke to her as well, “It reminds me that I can be focused on all the little things that I want. But as you said, there are people who don’t have even big things I can take for granted: food, shelter, clothes, a jacket or something…sometimes getting what you really need is like finding blessings.”

Lisa related this to her own life, “Now that I don’t have any of the luxuries I once thought I needed, I’m grateful for what God does provide me in my life. It’s a hard lesson to have all that and then to lose it all. But God has been with me; I see God that way in my own life right now.”

Alisha spoke about where she saw God, “In this passage, I see God in that whole thing of following him. It’s one thing to go to church and listen, but another thing personally to decide ‘I’m going to follow you with my whole heart, even when troubles arise.’ In my life right now, I see God working in me trying to pray more and read the scriptures more, even if there aren’t a lot of people my age doing that. But, I’m not just doing that for me, or to make other people happy. I’m doing it to follow God.”

Lisa empathized with her, “I remember feeling that growing up. My family didn’t go to church much, and I didn’t really know a lot about God. But, ending up out here living on the street, often times we turn to churches and it has made me want to learn more about God, about what where and how God is leading me.”

Alisha asked, “What do you think this scripture is saying to us?”

Lisa responded, “I think it’s reminding us to just trust and believe in the Lord. If you don’t get your way, don’t throw a hissy fit and walk off. Maybe the thing we want isn’t the best thing for us. We want it all, we want to have it all perfect. We think “this has to be.” But it isn’t always the way it seems. Like for me, a couple weeks ago there was a job that I thought was perfect for me…a five minute walk, easy. But, I didn’t get it and then I was angry and disappointed. Then, just one week later, I got called about another job which is really wonderful, at the hospital. I didn’t think they would take me. But they did! I got that job and it is right up my alley. I start as soon as they process my paperwork.  I didn’t get what I wanted at first, but then another door opened and its one where I will get to help people.”

Alisha was genuinely happy to hear this, “What a blessing to see an example like that for you, not giving up but waiting and following and knowing God is working things out.”

Lisa offered another example, “I have been working for months to get into community college, too, to be a substance abuse counselor. There was a problem with my high school transcripts and I was ready to give up. But the admissions counselor there reminded me: don’t give up. I prayed, and I trusted God, and I kept going and being persistent. It worked out, and I didn’t give up. I’m going to be starting there in January, too!

Alisha was excited for her, “That’s so great!”

Lisa reflected a bit, “I think of it this way. I know how good it feels when someone notices you, speaks to you, reminds you that God is with you. So, I try to do that. I don’t walk past people. I stop and say hello, talk to them. I never knew how much that meant but now I know it means a lot. That is something I can always do.

“We need more people like that!” said Alisha, “People who can see others and remind them, we are all human, too.”

“I’ve tried to do that.” responded Lisa. “I think it’s a skill that I have and something that I’m called to do. People deserve to feel like human beings.”

Alisha was beaming: “You’re like a light! These people may feel like they’re in the darkness but you are a beacon of light, reminding them that to have that hope.”

She went on to reflect on her own life, “My own gifts and skills…well, I feel like God gave us a voice for a reason. I can be shy at times, but when I feel shy, I remember that God gave me a voice. If more people would raise their voices, and remember that God is with them and remind other people of that, the world would be a better place. So, I think a gift is to use my voice, to use the voice that God gave me.”

Lisa echoed this importance of this gift, “You’re right.  You never know. Someone you pass by might be depressed, might feel like they are ignored or worthless. They might even have had thoughts of ending their life. And the smallest thing, that time it takes to say hello, could make all the difference in the world. You never know. I’ve been that person. I’ve been the homeless person someone smiled at. It changed my whole day, my whole world. Hearing ‘have a blessed day’ actually touched me and changed me.”

 

When we follow, our lives can change and so can the lives of others.  Sometimes following seems so challenging, so huge, so drastic.  But the big, huge, drastic difference can come in the empathetic, compassionate voice that sees God in another human being.  Thank you, Lisa and Alisha for listening to your call and for sharing your story with us this week!

Love came down at Christmas

A Faith from the Margins to the Web bible study for the First Sunday after Christmas, Year B

Contributing Authors: Sheryl and Alisha

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 1:1-18

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

 

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

 

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

 

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

“Well, first thing I will say is that I know there’s God,” said Sheryl, “I’m a witness and I will give testimony to that!”

“I know!” said Alisha, “Me, too.  I’ve been seeing Him work through other people, and that makes you want to seek Him for yourself.”

Alisha and Sheryl spent many hours a week in the same setting but they had never met; one was a student and the other a part-time service worker, nearing retirement, in the same University.  They had both come to Red Door that Friday for bible study and lunch, just to be a part of this project which intrigued them.  Within seconds, it was clear that they had far more in common than anything that divided them.  It was also clear that what stood out the most in this Gospel for both of them was love.  As Alisha described it, “the Love given so freely by God.”

Sheryl added, “another word that stands out for me is peace.  It took me so long to get to a place where I could feel peace, but now I’m beginning to really feel that…it only took 58 years!” she joked.

“But, once you have that peace, you never want to let go of that!” Alisha agreed.

Alisha continued, “I appreciate the part where John acknowledges who he is and who he is not.  He isn’t the light, but he comes to be a witness and testimony to the light.  I think that’s what we are all called to be: lights in a dark world.”

“Amen!” echoed Sheryl, “and I do try to do that.  It’s why people call me ‘Grandma Sheryl” because I try to always have a kind word, a good word for people who need it.  And, it feels good because I show love, and I feel love.  Everyone comes to me for prayer, ‘please pray for me’ they ask, the young and old.  That’s a beautiful thing.”

“That is beautiful!” said Alisha.  “I’ve been trying to read the Bible and pray more, and I’m starting to feel that peace, too.  So many people are going crazy, feeling so lost with all that’s going on with the president, with the world.  They start to feel hopeless.”

That warmed Sheryl’s heart: “I love hearing that from you, the younger ones!  I always tell my children, if you can stay with the positives, you won’t be following the crowd, you’ll be leading with love.  And they are leaders, just like you!”

“It’s hard” said Alisha, “Sometimes I’m the one person out, who isn’t like the rest, but then I remind myself I know who I live for.  What I get from living for God is greater than the criticism I get from others.  It helps me to see Christians who really live into it, though, instead of people who want judge.”

“Only God can judge” said Sheryl, “you tell them even Tupac said that!”  she added as they both laughed.

Alisha added, “I like this part: ‘We all have received grace, grace upon grace.’  God gives us grace every day.  It isn’t because we deserve it, or just for people we like…it’s a message for everyone.”

“The world can feel hopeless, but it isn’t hopeless,”  Sheryl chimed in as well, “People get despondent, like over Trump in the white house, but we have to remember God is over him, too!  And we have to pray for everyone.  We have to pray for him, too.  People forget that but maybe that means he needs prayer most of all!”

As their study together came toward a close, Alisha and Sheryl named the words where they see God:

“I see God through my Children and Grand-children.” said Sheryl.  “I pray and give my thanks to God every day and every night.  I keep a grateful spirit and use my words to pray to God.”

Alisha said, “My word would be ‘service’ because when I see people who live into their faith, who prepare meals and help others, and do work to make their communities a better place, that is how I see and know God.”

The wisdom of the ages flowed between this pairing of a college student and Grandma to the community as they shared their stories of church-going, struggles, favorite foods and family stories.  Love comes to unite us, to bring peace, to dispel the dimness of our vision with the hope of eternal light and life: “I love our conversation!” Alisha said at the close, “I told you, everyone comes to Grandma!” added Sheryl.

And with that, they prayed.

 

Nothing is impossible…

When I was preparing these Advent bible studies, I accidentally assigned two pairs of participants to discuss Advent 4.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do about this at first, until I listened to these beautiful, distinctly different interviews.  The stories and styles were unique, but they had one thing in common: the realization that while sometimes things do not turn out as we expect, God is always working through even the seemingly impossible places in our lives to open doors of hope and possibility.  Perhaps this is true even in my own accidental over-pairing this week, too.  So, I have decided to share a bit of both interviews on this week’s blog.  Thank you to Charles, Candy, Dem and Elaine for sharing your stories and illuminating how, like Mary and Elizabeth, we come to realize through the stories of our lives that nothing is impossible with God.

Advent 4, Year B:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Contributing Authors: Charles, Candy, Dem and Elaine

 

Dem and Elaine: Watch out for Gabriel, and watch out for God!

By the end of their interview, Dem and Elaine were laughing so hard together that neither of them wanted the conversation to end.  These two women had never met before, but by the time the interview wrapped up, they realized they shared so much in common with each other that it was uncanny, and their very different yet serendipitously similar perspectives on life brought joy which bubbled over from them.  Listening to their interview, I could practically hear them finish each other sentences as they allowed the Gospel lesson to unfold in their conversation.

Elaine began the conversation after the reading by telling the story in her own words: “So, what we’ve heard then is this: Elizabeth is pregnant, she’s six months along.  Her cousin Mary is sitting down there in Nazareth, engaged to a man but she’s still a virgin.  And along comes this angel, Gabriel, and says, “I know Mary, it doesn’t make any sense but the Holy Spirit is going to visit and poof, you’re pregnant.”

Both women said, at the same time, “Watch out for Gabriel!”

In the midst of their laughter, Elaine picked back up and said, “But then Mary says “how can this be?” and then the angel comforts her and tells her something…the same thing that her cousin, Elizabeth, had also been told by the angel: nothing is impossible with God.  Now, we didn’t read this part today but there is also this other part of the story where Mary goes to stay with with Elizabeth, and when she arrives,  Elizabeth sees her and she just knows by looking at her, “You’re pregnant!” but at the same time, she also knows immediately that this is no ordinary pregnancy; this is God’s child she is carrying.”

Dem had a light bulb of awareness go off:  “OK!  That’s the part that I didn’t get before.  I mean, I know the story because it’s the Christmas story and all of that.  But the part I didn’t get before was the preparedness.  How Mary really thought about this, how Elizabeth also knew this.  I really, really like that.”

Elaine said, “I’m always amazed at how Mary was able to say yes to this, to give herself over to it, especially at that time and in those circumstances.  That giving it over to God is always hard for me.”

“Oh yeah” said Dem, “I can’t do that.  It’s that ‘let go, let God’ thing and I’m not good at that.  I know there’s something bigger than me out there but sometimes I’m not so sure that I can really pray, or find the words.”

Elaine said, “It’s hard, I know.  But I think not all prayer is talk, talk, talk though.  Sometimes prayer is just being there, opening yourself up, being prepared to hear what you need to do, which isn’t always what you want.  It’s scary to do that. Have you ever tried that?”

“I’m uncomfortable just thinking about it,” admitted Dem.  “There’s so very little that I’m in charge of in my life right now that I try to grasp onto whatever I can.”

Dem went on to tell her story.  She had been to several schools with degrees in Education, Theatre in work experience in Horticultural design.  Her path has been very circuitous, though, and not everyone was supportive of her as a woman returning to school in mid-life.  Finally, she found herself in a position where she fell to her backup experience in landscaping, but even in that manual work she hadn’t been able to find work other than something seasonal.  But, as she was telling to to Elaine, Dem added:  ‘actually I think something else is opening up for me.’

“Not everyone knows I live in a shelter” she said, “but I tell my story because I’m grateful to have support and to have places like this and case managers to help me regroup.  I had to think: is this really what I want to do?  And then, the flooding in Texas happened and I thought, I could help there.  So, my shelter case manager got me signed up to volunteer with the Red Cross for hurricane relief.  I went and did all the training but at the end, they said to me, ‘we aren’t going to send you.’ I was so disappointed.  Then, my supervisor said, “But, it’s because we think you would be a great case manager because we see how well you work with people, how you can relate to them and how your own story of needing shelter lets you be open to others and so resourceful.  Let us train you while you’re being supported by the shelter, then we’ll hire you and you can be a part of our travel team, if you’re willing to relocate.’  So, here I am, I’m just finishing up my training.  In a few weeks, I’ll be going wherever they need me, working for them.  And, I’m really excited to be doing something that feels like its so needed for others, and to help others like I have received the help I need.”

Elaine’s voice was soft, rather like Elizabeth’s moment of recognizing the greatness of God at work. “You know, Dem, I think that the cream rises to the top!”  they both chucked. Then, Elaine spoke the truth that was becoming clear between them: “Do you know what you’re doing?  You’re asking for God’s guidance.  You’re opening yourself to God’s will.  You may not know it…but you’re doing it.  You just showed me that.”

cropped-red-heart-in-hands

 

Charles and Candy: Holy Spirit, Healing and Hope

Meanwhile, in another room, Candy and Charles were talking about hope and healing.

“What stands out to me is the Holy Spirit.” Candy said immediately.  She recalled how there were times in her life when it seemed like it would be impossible to do something, but that in praying, she found comfort in the Holy Spirit’s presence.

Charles agreed, “In my own life, I see God as being in my heart and in my mind.  It’s like God puts something inside of me, like love, and it’s there for people I’ve met and even people that I haven’t met.”

As they shared their thoughts on this Gospel lesson, although it wasn’t just the general, mysterious ways of God that stood out to them: it was their direct encounters with the impossibility of profound healing that stood out in this Gospel of hope and reassurance.

Charles related his story first: “Well, one day, you know…I don’t really go to see my Mom as much as I should.  So, maybe it was that my Mom didn’t want to tell me, but I saw a friend and he said, “Look, hey, you need to call your Mom…she’s sick.”  And so I did, I called her right away.  She said, “I didn’t know how to tell you, but I found out that I have breast cancer.”  I felt bad for not calling, and I felt terrible for her.  So, I got off the the phone and I prayed to God.  I prayed, “Please God, heal my Mom.”  And I don’t know what I expected because, you know, well…it just doesn’t always happen that way.  But God did heal my Mom.  She doesn’t have cancer anymore.  And that was a changing point for me, you know, in our relationship, too.  So, I know God was there.”

Candy related a story of unexpected healing in her own life.  She shared about her now late husband, who was having very painful struggles with his health at the time: “It just kept going on, week in and week out.  We’d been to the emergency room and I was just so tired.  But, I knew that I had to come to church.  I felt prompted and pushed by the Holy Spirit to come.  So, I came here and there was this visitor, who was someone that I knew who was an Episcopal priest from another part of town.  I didn’t expect to see him, and of course we knew one another and I knew that he was someone who I thought of as having a real gift of healing.  So, after the service he said to me, ‘is everything alright?’ and so I told him about all the pain and troubles my husband was having.  He said, “can we pray together?” and of course, I said yes.  So he held my hands and we prayed; I was actually holding onto his sleeve, the sleeve of his jacket and I thought about that woman, in another Gospel lesson, who had the terrible issue with bleeding and who touched Jesus’ robe.  So, when I got home, my husband was healed from all of that pain and bleeding.”

“Wow!” said Charles.

“Wow is what I said about your mother, too!” said Candy.

There was a moment of quiet between the two of them, the holy space of realizing that it wasn’t just a long-ago story of the impossible, but of the Holy Spirit making the impossible happen even within the comings and goings of their everyday lives.  As they closed the interview and turned off the tape recorder, they decided to pray for each other, too, before going their separate ways.

Nothing, indeed, is impossible with God.

These stories and struggles of life’s impossibilities: struggling with health, hoping for healing, being older in a youth-seeking workforce, humbly trying to find a place to lie one’s head, the power of realizing one’s potential but not knowing how it will happen.  This week’s story sharing seemed to break open the disbelief that keeps us from seeing and knowing God in our midst, opening up to the possibilities that even when we think we are incapable of allowing God’s movement in our lives, we are often living into divine possibility in those very ordinary moments of our extraordinary lives.  No one in these interviews would say that their lives were perfect, and they are certainly not without struggle or loss.  But God was and is clearly present and moving.  In this sharing as we round out the Sundays of Advent in anticipation of all that is to come, we are filled with the hope and expectation of all that is possible with God.

Glory2God.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.