Sunday, March 18, 2018

5th Sunday in Lent Year B

5th Sunday in Lent Year B March 18, 2018 One of my friends who writes a daily meditation recently wrote the following: “A magazine declared a ‘good week for self-reliance’ when ‘an Italian fitness instructor became so frustrated with the dating game that she married herself in a lavish ceremony.’ Apparently it was a bad week for wisdom and humility.” She continues, “We Americans see self-reliance as extremely desirable, often to the misguided place of failing to cultivate community. In the church, we speak of having two or three gathered to seek God, but we don't appreciate the power of our seeking together. Being with others in our quest for God keeps us humble and lifts us up when we haven't the strength to go on alone.”i Our gospel reading for today gives us glimpses of this seeking God in community as well. John tells us that Jesus and his followers are headed into the Passover in Jerusalem when some Greeks approach Philip saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip’s response is to go find another disciple, Andrew, and tell him, and together, the two of them go to tell Jesus. Now, at this point, we don’t really know what happens to the Greeks, whether or not they ever have their request to see Jesus granted. What we do know is that Jesus’s eyes are already set upon the cross, that he emphasizes that those who follow him must continue to follow him into self-sacrifice, service to others, vulnerability, and offering themselves up to God’s love in the face of suffering and evil. In all of scripture, when we have stories of people seeing Jesus, encountering Jesus, they are always transformed. Sometimes they are healed; sometimes they are restored to their community; sometimes they are convicted, because Jesus holds up a true mirror in front of them showing them how they have turned from the light. Sometimes they are disappointed because the way of following Jesus is much more demanding, much more difficult than they expected. But every time, no matter what the outcome, that person, after encountering Jesus is transformed. And our tradition teaches us, from as early as the Acts of the Apostles, that this transformation most often occurs within community. It is, in fact, the true work of the church—to invite people into being transformed by God. And when I think about my life and about the times when I have “seen” Jesus or about the times when I have been transformed by God, it isn’t during times of certainty and strength. They are the times in my life when I am most uncertain, most heart-broken; or they are the times in my life when I am most connected to others, especially those who are uncertain, vulnerable, or heart-broken themselves. Those are the times when I see Jesus. Those are the times when I am transformed. We are going to be talking more about transformation after Easter, but I want to invite you to begin thinking about this now, in our final days of Lent. Think about the times when you have encountered Jesus, when you have been transformed, in your faith, in your thinking, in the way you live your life. Beginning next Sunday, we are going to walk through Jesus’s final hours as a community of faith. We will participate in his final teaching to his disciples in the last supper and the footwashing. We will bear witness as he suffers and dies on the cross, and remember before him all of the suffering and injustice in this world. We will enter the dark tomb of the church behind the single light of the Paschal candle, remember the stories of our faith, and we will baptize sweet Giovanni Aguilar into the body of Christ and welcome him as a member of this community. And then we will celebrate the resurrection together. Every year, our three holiest days—what we call the Triduum—are found on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and at the Great Vigil of Easter. These give us meaning, understanding of who we are as followers of Jesus. And thankfully, we do not walk this way alone. We look to see Jesus in the Paschal Mystery that is revealed in Holy Week, and we seek to be transformed together as a community. This past week, I read an article titled: “Church Is What We Create with Each Other.” It is a lovely, poignant article that I commend to you to read (I’ve got copies here, and I’ll post the link on our Facebook page). In this article, the author writes about the ways that we are transformed through the community of the church saying, “For a long time announcements [in church] bothered me. I thought they kept us from what mattered, that they were housekeeping, business best conducted somewhere else. Was now really the time to talk about pancake breakfasts and broadband networks? But I’ve since come to understand that yes, actually, now is the time. Because I’ve learned — over many, many years — that church isn’t about order or quiet or even ritual so much as it is about showing up. For yourself, for God, and for the people around you who need to feel — just as you do — that the blessings and burdens of being a human are not theirs to bear alone [emphasis is mine]. Sometimes we feel that union of souls in sublime and obvious ways, like when we hear a fiery reading from the prophets or the psalms, or sing verse after verse of “We Shall Overcome.” And sometimes we feel it when someone stands up and tells us that she is looking for a new woodstove and please call her if you have a lead on a good one, not too expensive, not too far away.”ii “Church isn’t about order or quiet or even ritual so much as it is about showing up. For yourself, for God, and for the people around you who need to feel — just as you do — that the blessings and burdens of being a human are not theirs to bear alone.” Your invitation this week is two-fold. First, think about the times when you have encountered Jesus, when you have been transformed, in your faith, in your thinking, in the way you live your life. Think about how you would share one of those stories with anyone who might come to you and ask, “I wish to see Jesus.” And second, make plans to attend as many of the Triduum services here as you can: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night. We need each other to see Jesus. We need each other to be transformed. We need each other to walk this way of the cross and to experience the true joy of the resurrection at Easter. i. Copyright 2017 by Carol Mead. March 8, 2018. ii. White, Erin. Church Is What We Create With Each Other. March 15, 2018.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

4th Sunday in Lent Year B

Lent 4B March 11, 2018 I had a former parishioner, who, when talking about the ways that God was working in his life or in our parish, would often say, “That God is a weird dude.” I couldn’t help but think of his saying in light of our lessons for this particular Sunday-the fourth Sunday in Lent. “That God is a weird dude.” In our Old Testament reading for today, we see the Children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness after escaping from slavery in Egypt, fresh off of a military victory that God has delivered to them. But, as is our nature, even in the face of such provision and continued care for them by God, they begin, once again, to complain. Numbers tells us that the people spoke against both Moses and God saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” (Talking out of both sides of their mouths, much?) And at this point, the fifth time of their complaining in the wilderness, and I believe, the first time they have not only complained against Moses but have also included God in their complaints, God is finally fed up. And God sends a plague upon them, similar to the plagues God unleashed upon Egypt to help secure their release. God sends a bunch of “fiery snakes” upon them, and the people get bitten, and they begin to die. (Yikes!) The people very quickly see the error of their ways, run to Moses, and repent of their complaining. So Moses goes back to God, and God tells Moses what to do. The people have asked Moses to ask God to take the scary, fiery snakes away, but that is not what God does. Instead, God tells Moses to “make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” Moses does this, and the result is that “whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” The people are still getting bitten by the fiery, poisonous serpents. But God has given them a way to be healed of the poison and to return to wholeness of life. Talk about a weird dude, and a weird story. And then we’ve got the gospel story for today. Our lectionary plops us right down in the middle of an ongoing story—that time when Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness to try to learn more about Jesus. The two have a whole conversation about how, in order to encounter the Kingdom of God, one must be “born from above” or born again (as some translations put it). Nicodemus continues to misunderstand Jesus, and then our lesson for today picks up, with one of the most famous passages from all of scripture: John 3:16. But before we get to John 3:16, we get John 3:14-15, in which Jesus compares himself to that bronze snake statue on a pole that we heard about in our Old Testament reading saying, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Weird dude. Weird stuff. Just what are we to make of all this? This past week in our forgiveness study, we looked at the first step out of four in the process of forgiveness. Interestingly enough, the first step in the process of forgiving one person who has hurt us is telling the story of how we’ve been hurt. We are encouraged to write down the facts and in that way, revisit the trauma. Now, this seems counter-intuitive, right? It seems that re-visiting old wounds and how we got them would stir everything back up and make it harder to forgive, but Archbishop Desmond Tutu assures us that is not the case. He writes, “When we tell our stories, we are practicing a form of acceptance. When we tell our stories, we are saying, ‘This horrible thing has happened. I cannot go back and change it, but I can refuse to stay trapped in the past forever.’ We have reached acceptance when we finally recognize that paying back someone in kind will never make us feel better or undo what has been done. To quote the comedian Lily Tomlin, ‘Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past’”.i This seems similar to the Israelites looking upon the thing which has caused them harm in order to be healed. It is certainly weird, but it works because God is involved in it. This connects to the gospel passage for today, too. One of the blog writers I read regularly, a Lutheran pastor named David Lose, writes about how when we read the parts around the oh, so familiar verse of John 3:16, this whole gospel passage can give us a new way of looking at the cross. He writes that it shows us that “the cross is not about punishment or payment but about healing…and only healing.” And he goes on to talk about how the Greek word that is translated as “judgement” in this passage, the word krisis, from which we get our own word “crisis” means less about the rendering of a sentence (like our word “judgment” suggests) and is more about separating and revealing. Krisis, like our word crisis, is about a decisive turning point, and so, he writes, “judgement, as it turns out, is about telling the truth.”ii So, the weird revelation in these two readings for us today is that God offers healing freely for all, but it often does not take the form in which we would expect. In fact, God’s invitation to healing for us means revisiting the story of the thing that has done us harm in the first place. Jesus on the cross is the icon of all this, how God insists on providing healing for God’s people in a way that is completely unexpected and even seemingly counter-intuitive. Your invitation for this week is to think about a wound that you bear and to revisit it, to look upon it, to tell the truth about it, and to offer it to God’s light and love for healing. i. Tutu, Desmond and Mpho Tutu. The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. HarperOne: New York, 2014. P 88. ii.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Third Sunday in Lent Year B

Lent 3B March 4, 2018 How many of y’all are perfectly happy with your body the way it is right in this present moment? You are content with the way it moves, the way it looks, the way it feels (not too tired, not too achy)? How many of you would be able to pray a part of the prayer that we pray at our weekly healing service with truthfulness, sincerity, and integrity: “God the Holy Spirit, you make our bodies the temple of your presence. We praise you, and thank you, O Lord.” Look, I’m right there with y’all. I spend 30 minutes every day doing workouts with a celebrity trainer who seems to be obsessed with “sculpting” different parts of my anatomy and also with “giving me the body I’ve always wanted.” I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a little concerning, and that there is a fine line between good health and fanaticism or ridiculousness. Plus, it’s Lent. And Lent is a time when we focus on our own our sinfulness, on the ways we have turned away from God and “followed for too long the devices and desires of our own hearts.” And for some reason, maybe it is because we live in a body-obsessed culture, we often spend much or our Lent focusing on the sins of the body. But today, we have a different model. We have Jesus, who we see in John’s gospel today, taking on the temple. Now, unlike the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) which locate Jesus’s cleansing of the temple immediately before his death and resurrection, this is early on in John’s gospel, right after Jesus’s first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. John’s gospel is also the latest of the four gospels, and it was written after the Romans had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. So we have a marked contrast between the other three gospel writers, who show how this particular act of Jesus is the final straw for the authorities in Jerusalem and is what eventually leads to his crucifixion, and the writer of John who is doing something very different with this story. The writer of John’s gospel is showing how, in Jesus’s ministry, Jesus has revolutionized how people relate to God. (Remember how John’s gospel starts: In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God…and the word became flesh and lived among us…”) The way that John tells this story of Jesus’s cleansing of the temple is to show the early Christians who find themselves without a temple, the central place in which to worship God, that we no longer need that. In the body of Jesus, we encounter God. God is not confined to a central worship space but is embodied in the person of Jesus and can be found in Jesus’s own suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection. God is revealed in and through the temple that is Jesus’ body, and therefore, God can be revealed in and through the temple that is our own bodies. When is the last time you thought of your body not as something to be changed or endured, hidden or minimized, not as something that embarrasses or betrays you? When is the last time you thought about your body without contempt, squeamishness, or fear? When is the last time you thought of your body as the temple of God’s presence? The poet Mary Oliver writes about the wonder of our bodies in a part of her poem titled Evidence: "…I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed. As for the body, it is solid and strong and curious and full of detail; it wants to polish itself; it wants to love another body; it is the only vessel in the world that can hold, in a mix of power and sweetness: words, song, gesture, passion, ideas, ingenuity, devotion, merriment, vanity, and virtue. Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable."i It is in and through the human form that God has revealed God’s self to us in the person of Jesus. Our bodies are gifts that God has given us, not something that we have to subdue or sculpt, deny or denigrate. Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made. That may be a challenge in and of itself to embrace, but there is a deeper challenge embedded in this awareness. “In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes that it is not possible to lean into God’s love for my body, without simultaneously recognizing that God loves ‘all bodies everywhere.” The ‘bodies of the hungry children and indentured women along with the bodies of sleek athletes and cigar-smoking tycoons.’ ‘One of the truer things about bodies,’ Taylor concludes, ‘is that it is just about impossible to increase the reverence I show mine without also increasing the reverence I show yours.’ In other words, once I value my own body as God’s temple, as a site of God’s pleasure, delight, and grace, how can I stand by while other bodies suffer exploitation, poverty, discrimination, or abuse?”ii In closing, I’m going to give you your invitation for this week, and then I’m going to follow it with a blessing for you. Your invitation this week is to make peace with your body, to acknowledge that it is the only vessel in/ the world that can hold, in a mix of power and/ sweetness: words, song, gesture, passion, ideas,/ ingenuity, devotion, merriment, vanity, and virtue; that it is the temple of God’s presence. To do this, you may consider praying: God the Holy Spirit, you make my body the temple of your presence. I praise you, and thank you, O Lord.” The second part of your invitation is to consider how you use your body to embody the gospel, the good news of God’s love to those around you? And finally, the Blessing. Blessing the Body By Jan Richardson This blessing takes one look at you and all it can say is holy. Holy hands. Holy face. Holy feet. Holy everything in between. Holy even in pain. Holy even when weary. In brokenness, holy. In shame, holy still. Holy in delight. Holy in distress. Holy when being born. Holy when we lay it down at the hour of our death. So, friend, open your eyes (holy eyes). For one moment see what this blessing sees, this blessing that knows how you have been formed and knit together in wonder and in love. Welcome this blessing that folds its hands in prayer when it meets you; receive this blessing that wants to kneel in reverence before you: you who are temple, sanctuary, home for God in this world.iii i. Evidence by Mary Oliver ii. Written by Debbie Thomas on Journey with Jesus Blog iii.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Second Sunday in Lent-Year B

Lent 2B February 25, 2018 This past week, I’ve seen a meme going around on social media and in other sources. The meme is a picture of the back of a t-shirt, and it reads: “Dear God, Why do you allow so much violence in our schools? Signed a concerned student.” And then below that it reads: “Dear Concerned Student, I’m not allowed in schools. –God.” While I believe the point that is being made by this and shared by folks has to do with prayer in public schools (which I’m not going to talk about today), I have two problems with this meme as it relates to our understanding of who God is and who we are in relationship to God. (I’m very grateful for those of you who shared this meme on Facebook or in other ways with me, because it got me to thinking about all this and how it relates to our readings today.) The first problem that I have with this meme is that it suggests that we human beings can do anything that would keep God out of anywhere that God wants to be. That just doesn’t jive with all that we know about God as revealed in all of the scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments. God does what God wants to fulfill God’s purpose in and through creation. We can’t limit God, nor can we even stymie the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. Those who crucify Jesus are the prime example of our complete inability to stop the love of God from moving in and through and among us. Sure we have free will, but ultimately we know the end of the story: Love Wins. There’s a painting that hangs on the wall of my dining room. It was painted by one of my best friends from high school and was commissioned by my mother. On it is written the Latin phrase: “vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit.”i It means “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.” Or even “Called or not called, God will be there.” Bidden or not bidden, God is present. The second problem I have with that meme as it relates to our understanding of God and our relationship to God has to do with our gospel reading for today. In it, we get a glimpse of a scene already in progress. Just before our reading for today, Jesus has asked his disciples who people say that he is, and Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus tells them sternly not to tell anyone and then our reading for today picks up. Jesus is teaching the disciples, his closest followers about what it means to be the Messiah—that he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Peter says, “Lord, don’t go there! And Jesus rebukes him, calls him Satan, and tells him he is setting his mind not on divine things but on human things (remember, bidden or not bidden, God is there?) And if we hadn’t gotten the picture yet—then just listen to the eerie echoes of what is left out of our Psalm for today—Psalm 22—which is woven through the Passion stories and is the Psalm that we read in its entirety every year on Good Friday. How does it start? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?” Jesus the Messiah, the anointed one, the one we call Emmanuel or God with us, is the one who suffers, and he will always be found with those who suffer as well. Our Lenten Prayers of the People put it beautifully when we pray to God: “May every sadness find you at its heart, and may there be grace when we suffer.” Over the last week, I’ve had periods of sadness that just seem to well up in me that I don’t really know what to do with. As a part of my Lenten practice, I’ve been reading the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lenten book for this year (each Archbishop of Canterbury recommends a different book for Lent each year). It is titled Say It To God: In Search of Prayer by Luigi Gioio. In the first chapter, he writes about how prayer isn’t about trying to overcome all the “noise” of our lives so that we can focus on the right feelings, be in the right mood to commune with God with no distractions. Instead, he writes, “What if we could understand noise not as that despite which we pray, against which we pray, but that out of which we pray? What if anger, jealousy, frustration—all those feelings that overwhelm each one of us several times a day—what if such feelings not only ceased to be an obstacle to prayer but became the scraps of wood that feed our prayer, that keep the fire of prayer burning?” Bidden or not bidden, God is there, remember? He continues, “Never should we think that we have to overcome our anger first, our frustration first, before we can pray. It can be difficult to believe it, but God is sincerely, deeply interested in each of our thoughts, the good ones and the bad ones, in every one of our feelings, the nice ones and the mean ones: all of them!” “The ultimate secret of prayer,” he concludes in the first chapter, “lies wholly in this: My God! My God! I say it to God, I present it to God, I am always with God and know God is always with me.”ii After reading this, I thought, well, it couldn’t hurt to give it a try, and so when I notice this particular sorrow welling up inside of me, I offer it to God. I invite God to be present with me in it. And it isn’t necessarily gone, but it has definitely been transformed into something that I can understand a little bit better. Because even though, “bidden or not bidden, God is present”, it helps us when we actually invite God to be present with us in those less than perfect moments. We grow more deeply in our relationship with the God who is always present, when we offer God our whole selves: the good and the bad, the grateful and the ungrateful, the kind and the malicious, the generous and the miserly, the hopeful and the angry, the joyful and the sorrowful, the loving and the hateful. God is present with us always in all of it. Bidden or not bidden. And God is especially present in the suffering. Your invitation for this week is to contemplate if there is some aspect of your life, your emotions, your heart, that you have been trying to keep God out of? Whether it is suffering or sadness, anger or envy or frustration, is there a part of you that you say to God, don’t go there! If so, what would it be like to invite Jesus, the one who knows suffering, to be present with you even there? i. Carl Jung ii. The quotes are from the last two pages of the first chapter.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The First Sunday in Lent-Year B

Lent 1B February 18, 2018 Today is the first Sunday in Lent. And every year, on the first Sunday in Lent, we get the same story in our lectionary cycle: the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. But this year, we get Mark’s version. And what does Mark have to say about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness? Where Matthew and Luke give us 12 and 13 verses respectively, Mark gives us 2 verses: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Not a whole lot for a preacher to work with! But here is what Mark does give us, because there is so little detail about Jesus’s time in the wilderness, we get the full story today—how Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the heavens are torn open, the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven pronounces that Jesus is God’s beloved son, with whom God is well pleased, and then the same spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness. The same spirit that descends upon Jesus also drives him out into the wilderness. And we can only assume that the time in the wilderness was not easy for Jesus. We read this story of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness on this Sunday of every year to help us see the connection between Lent and Jesus’s wilderness experience. Both are 40 days; both times emphasize how what he does in his active ministry leads to his crucifixion and death. This year, I think it is especially helpful to have Mark’s abbreviated version because it drives home for us the connection between being claimed as God’s beloved in our baptism, driven out into the wilderness to wrestle with demons and temptation, and then coming back to do ministry. It shows that wilderness times can be an important part of each of our lives and our faith development and can spur us on to action, to the ministry that we accept in our baptism. What Mark’s gospel reminds us today is that wilderness times are a normal part of life for followers of Jesus. It’s not something that we talk about on those glorious days that we baptize babies or new converts to the faith, and perhaps we do a disservice in this. Because following Jesus does not mean that we will be exempt from hardship, from suffering. In fact, he promises his disciples quite the opposite on numerous occasions. As followers of Jesus, we too will experience times in the wilderness, times of suffering, times of temptation, times of testing. Our wilderness experiences are different for each of us. They can be prompted by illness or loss. They can be a result of disappointed expectations or frustration. They can be a part of an epiphany, a realization that you no longer fit in your old life anymore. They can be a result of standing up for what you believe in and being rejected for it. What is important to remember is that God doesn’t cause our suffering, but God does work for us and through us in our wilderness times. In the midst of wilderness times and seasons, our prayer could be “Even though I did not wish for this, God, how might you be at work through this difficult period?” My own wilderness time did not end as I expected or hoped it would. But I was given a promise that I have since seen fulfilled. God promised me that what others mean for evil, God means for good. (It’s actually a line of scripture from the Joseph story in Genesis that was given to me by the Holy Spirit during my time in the wilderness: Genesis 50:20 toward the end of Joseph’s story, after he is reunited with his brothers he says this to them.) And you all have actually been a part of the fulfillment of that promise for me in ways I would have never expected, asked for, or imagined. This week, we marked the beginning of Lent by observing Ash Wednesday. One of the most challenging parts of Ash Wednesday for me is when I make the sign of the cross on your forehead in ash and say to each of the “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” As hard as that is for me to do for each one of you, as much as I struggle, the hardest is when I do it for the children, making the sign of the cross on those unblemished foreheads and saying to them those wilderness words. And this year, after doing that, I came home to the news of the latest school shooting with 17 dead at a high school in Florida. 17 people, many of them children, beloveds of God, whose lives have been snuffed out by one senseless act of violence. Truly, we as a culture are in the wilderness. And nobody knows the answer to this problem: how to stop our children from being murdered at school. The voices clamor and blame. Each political party blames the other. We bicker and fight among ourselves, and nothing seems to change, and children continue to die. We are lost, wandering in the wilderness. What would happen if we remember our baptism, especially the part where each and every one of us is God’s beloved? What would happen if we hold fast to the promise that God is present with us, even in the wilderness, and if we, as a whole people, all agreed to lay aside our opinions and personal and political agendas and say to God: “Look, none of us meant to choose this world where children are murdered at school. God, how can you work through us, through this difficult period; show us the way out of this wilderness and give us the strength to come together and to follow you.”? This season of Lent, this wilderness time, and really any wilderness times in our lives, can be an opportunity for each of us to reconnect with the truth of our baptism, that each of us is God’s beloved who is claimed by God for the purpose of doing God’s work in this world. Lent is also a time to remember that God is with us in the wilderness, that God does not cause our suffering, but God does work in and through it. So whether it be for your own personal wilderness that you find yourself in or whether it be as a part of our cultural wilderness, your invitation this week, this season, is to ask God: “Even though I did not wish for this, God, how might you be at work through this difficult period?” And then to lay aside our personal biases, and selfish agendas and listen and follow.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ash Wednesday 2018

Ash Wednesday 2018 Back in my early 20’s, my housemate and I decided to do a juice fast. It was pretty simple: for 36 hours, we would consume nothing but apple juice diluted in half by water. And at the end of the time, we would be a few pounds lighter and feel better. We determined, in our 20 year old wisdom, that we should also include in our fast as much sugar-free gum as we wanted to help us survive our 36 hours without food. We did ok the first day, but half-way through the second day, we ran into each other at work and each of us confessed that we were experiencing such light-headedness, that we could scarcely function, and so we determined that this was probably not a helpful course to continue pursuing. I tell you this story because the season of Lent is a season which we begin today by talking about fasting, and during which many folks like to “give up” something as a part of their practice. However, like my ill-fated juice fast, many of these practices seldom last beyond the first couple of weeks of Lent because they are not necessarily helpful. I often wonder if it isn’t because we are thinking about fasting all wrong. We think that fasting may be a way for our self-improvement, to prove our worthiness before God, to sacrifice so that we feel that we are accomplishing something, that we are “making the most of our Lent”. This is what fasting has come to mean in our culture that is so fixated on self-improvement. But this is not what Jesus or the other writers of scripture meant when they talked about fasting. Look at the Isaiah reading for today. This part of Isaiah is happening when the children of Israel have been taken into captivity in Babylon after forsaking the way of the Lord. They say to God, “"Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" And God retorts, “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…” For Jesus and the writer of Second Isaiah, fasting had a connection with justice, with taking care of the poor and oppressed, with considering interests beyond our own selfish needs and desires and to do that work as a whole people, as the people of God. Another writer put it this way: “Jesus did not intend to use Ash Wednesday to give up chocolate. Jesus has a deeper intention as the following story illustrates: While teaching his students, a Rabbi asked, "What is the difference between night and day?"i The students in their pride tried to give their best existential reasoning, "Is it the difference between a cloned sheep and a natural one? Between a boat and a car?" All of their reasoning was wrong. Fed up with being wrong, the students asked, "Then what is the difference?" The Rabbi answered, "When you look in the face of another person and do not see your sister or brother." This past Sunday, Rev Aimee quoted a famous line from Les Miserables: “to love another person is to see the face of God”, and she reminded us that this should be at the heart of our keeping of a Holy Lent. What if, instead of giving up chocolate or sugar or Diet Coke for Lent, we gave up being on our cell phones in pursuit of mindless activities when other members of our family are in the room with us? What if we gave up judging other people for Lent? What if we gave up mindless consuming—eating, drinking, buying? What if we gave up fear for Lent? What if we, like Pope Frances suggests, gave up indifference for other people for Lent? It sounds a lot harder to me than giving up chocolate. But there is a gravitas to taking on a challenge. We may very well fail; we may fall short. We will definitely be imperfect in our pursuit. But one of the truths of Lent is that in God, always we can begin again. So your invitation today (and really for all of Lent) is to choose deliberately how you will try to keep a holy Lent. Will it be a fast that is worthy of the Lord or will it be something to further your own agenda or goals? Will your giving up or your taking on during this Lent be a way that you show the face of God to other people in your life and a way that you can more easily seek the face of God in others? i. Michael Battle CREDO meditation 2/22/12

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Epiphany 5B_2018

The 5th Sunday after the Epiphany-Year B February 4, 2018 I’ve always had trouble with this gospel passage. It used to bother me that Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and she immediately gets up to fix them something to eat. I used to think, “Come on, couldn’t you guys at least give her the day off from cooking for you since she has been so sick?” But I see it differently now. My 1st year of seminary was an especially challenging time in my life. The year started with our second day of classes at General Seminary in New York City on 9/11/2001. The year ended with the death of one of our most beloved classmates in a New York City cab of an anyeurism. In between, I had a nasty bout with mono and several other persistent infections. And I went from classes straight into Clinical Pastoral Education, a summer-long hospital chaplaincy program where I learned pastoral care skills and also did work with my class-mates in learning about myself. (Believe me, it was much worse than it sounds!) That summer, my mom contracted what we later learned was West Nile Virus, and she was seriously ill back in Mississippi. In my brief summer break of a week or two, I flew back to visit my family, and as a part of that trip, I drove my mom and I over to Vicksburg to visit my maternal grandmother. I don’t remember much about that visit, but what I do remember is vivid. Mom and I sat at the kitchen table and visited with my grandmother as she joyfully buzzed around her kitchen cooking for us. She cooked for us because that is what she did—she was an excellent cook—and cooking for and feeding us is one of the ways that she loved us. (And my mom might not appreciate me saying this, but we were both a mess!) I remember eating those chicken and dumplings in my tattered state, accepting it for the healing gift that it was, and thinking, “this is a sacrament.” In our gospel reading for today, Jesus heals a bunch of people, and then he withdraws to a place to pray, and then he tells his disciples that it is time for them to go on to a different town: “So that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came to do.” And what exactly is this message and how is it connected to all the healing work he’s been doing? The message is found a little earlier in Mark when Jesus 1st speaks: “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” Jesus is the Kingdom of God come near, and as a result of that, his very presence heals people. Maybe we cannot come into the presence of the Kingdom of God without it healing something in us? And maybe Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was like my Ma ma. She was immediately restored to fullness of health and life, and it was her deep joy, her vocation, her act of thanksgiving to feed people. You’ve probably heard this before, but the theologian Frederick Buchner talks about this when he writes: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”i That is vocation. I wonder about all those other people who Jesus healed that same day and what their joyful vocations were? How they once again lived into them with the fullness of life and health restored to them through their brush with Jesus, through their encounter with the Kingdom of God? At least once a week, every week, we are offered this brush with Jesus, this encounter with the Kingdom of God. And really we have infinitely more encounters every week—we just have to be open and to pay attention. We are, through the Eucharist, restored to fullness of life and health every single week, and we are able to go out into the world and live out our unique vocation, our calling to meet the deep needs of the world with our own unique and joyful giftedness. Your invitation this week is to reflect on this: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” And then explore how you may live into that more fully, more faithfully, in thanksgiving for your encounter with the Kingdom of God. i.