In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent 4B

A reflection by Janine Goodwin on Romans 16: 25-27 and Luke 1: 26-38

I knew exactly what I would write this week: I would take the story of Mary and talk about what God wants to bring to birth in us. Then, as I sailed through the readings, I hit a snag.

The snag was one word in the very brief reading from Paul: obedience.

Obedience is a word that has been used to keep women down for so many centuries that I've come to wince when I hear it. It reminds me of Ephesians 5, in which a writer who may or may not be Paul tries to work out how the Gospel of love and equality can be lived out in the household code of the first-century Roman empire. That fifth chapter of Ephesians is still being used to preach the subordination of women, although slavery, its neighbor in that passage, has been repudiated by most societies over the centuries. In a lifetime of devotional reading, I have found many lyrical descriptions of Mary's obedience to God's call as contrasted with Eve's disobedience, all coming from people who valued obedience, and several works that praised Eve's disobedience and the rebellion of Lilith over Mary's supposed submission, all coming from people who value creativity and autonomy.

Early on, I was taught to define obedience as unquestioning compliance with the orders of a superior. There is no room for creativity, and little for dignity, in such a definition, that compliance which does not include full and free consent can be very far from any trust, mutuality, or caring. It is power-over, the power that corrupts and controls. My education as a teacher taught me that when a power struggle gets going, everyone loses. A teacher must be able to set and enforce fair rules, but they must be for the good of all. A student must be able to question the rules, and not just be trapped in resisting because they represent limits to her range of possible actions. When a cycle of oppression and rebellion gets set up in any group of people, creativity and dignity die. A family destroys its own, a classroom becomes a place where learning fails, a church becomes a cult. Since I believe in a God of infinite creativity who respects us all, this can't be what God wants. Obedience became a word I hated, the vow I was least likely to take. I believed it was a synonym for oppression.

As I struggled with the idea that God had given me the ability and the need to question authority, a wise Dominican priest told me that obedience came from the Latin "ob audire," and "audire" implied listening—a listening that went both ways, a listening that implied mutual respect, that took my concept of obedience more in the direction of consensus. Another wise Dominican, Herbert McCabe, says that obedience for St. Thomas Aquinas was about learning, not about giving or taking orders. It was a form of mutuality in community, a way of finding a shared identity. I began to live with the idea that a call to obedience did not have to mean the imposition of force, and the practice of obedience did not have to mean violence to a soul God loves. I wasn't sure quite how it worked, but it was better than getting into a power struggle.

These days, I am always looking for what Walter Wink would call a Third Way: neither oppression nor rebellion, but a creative response to the status quo that invites us out of the false oppositions we create and into a different way of being. I believe the life of Jesus and our life of faith is an invitation to the freedom of the children of God (Rom. 18:21).

It became clear to me that I wouldn't get anywhere with either the idea of obedience or with this meditation until I took more time with the passage about Mary and Gabriel. As I reread those long-familiar words, I began to see something that was new to me, something that displaced my previous impressions of it. As a child, I'd seen the appearance of Gabriel to Mary as something like the appearance of the fairy godmother who changes Cinderella into a princess. As an adolescent, I had used it to try and force myself into a docility that my culture told me was required of good girls. As an adult, I had avoided it for fear of finding out that Mary had no choice but to follow orders and comply with a plan God enforced upon her. What I finally saw, reading it over and over again, was not a power struggle but a dialogue; not a series of orders and objections, but a conversation. Mary has courage and a sense of her own dignity; she can meet the apparition of an angel (which is always a frightening experience in Scripture) with a cogent question. Gabriel does not say, "Shut up and do as you're told," but explains what will happen, and waits for her consent. Luke Timothy Johnson translates her response as "Behold the servant of the Lord," explaining that the "handmaiden" of most translations "might obscure the text's obvious implication that Mary is also a 'Servant of Yahweh,'" a reference to the great Servant Songs of the prophet Isaiah. Mary is not knuckling under to divine
force: she is consenting to participate in divine creativity. She knows her dignity and her worth. Gabriel invites her to be part of a holy undertaking. She asks to understand it better, to see her part in it. They enter into dialogue. She consents. The son she raises grows up to be someone who, when asked about himself, says not, "Do as I say," but, "Come and see."

Is this what God wants to bring forth in us? Can God be wanting us to bring our own gifts to birth, to appreciate our own worth, to accept a place in salvation history that places us with the prophets and allows us to talk as equals with angels? Does obedience to God mean entering the work of co-creation and accepting full freedom, dignity, and responsibility? I believe it does. Thanks be to God

Friday, December 12, 2008

Advent 3

A reflection by Sarah Rogers on: Isaiah 61:1-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, and John 1:6-28

Advent is it seems dominated by the male figures in the bible, the patriarchs, prophets, now John the Baptist, Mary will get a look in next week. But, let us get past the patriarchal language, that it is of it’s time, and look at the meaning behind it.

John the Baptist quotes Isaiah saying “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” (Isaiah 40:3). John prepared the way for Jesus to come 2000 years ago, but his words could equally well be said by any of us today. After all Advent isn’t just about waiting for the coming of the Messiah in the form of the baby Jesus, God incarnate here on earth, it is about waiting for his coming again and we must be prepared for that, there is so much to be done. The world we live in is a wilderness of famine, of violence, of HIV & AIDS, of environmental concerns and a wilderness where men and women don’t always have the same opportunities. These are all the sorts of issues that those of us who have been involved in UNCSW have been involved in.

The passage from Isaiah is part of a long statement about the role of the anticipated Messiah, is reads:

‘he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners’, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.’ (Isaiah 61: 1-2).

The world has a lot of problems and they wont be sorted out overnight. Jesus the Messiah came to bring release to some of the problems the world faced in his day, and most importantly he died on the cross to bring ultimate release in the redemption of sins.

It goes on to say that those the Messiah binds up and releases will go on to restore the ‘devastations of many generations’, and that ‘you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God.’ The work of the Messiah didn’t stop after the Resurrection. We are all called to continue that work and take our part here and now, we have been redeemed, we have been released and we must go on to restore the ‘devastations of many generations’.

The voice of women becomes more important than ever amongst what appears to be the male dominated Advent period. The patriarchs wouldn’t have got far without the matriarchs, John was a voice crying in the wilderness 2000 years ago and we are that same voice today. We are called to make the path straight because the Messiah will return.

Paul says ‘Do not quench the spirit, Do not despise the words of the prophets.’ So let us be renewed in spirit this Advent, let us listen to the words of the prophet and let us make straight the way of the Lord. Mary rejoiced in carrying our Saviour in the words of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), and focussed on what God had already done and was going to do for all people. God continues to do wonderful things for all people, and finally the voice of women has been released and they are a powerful force, who care about the world, the environment and their communities and they will continue God’s work on earth and prepare the way for the second coming.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Advent 1

A Reflection on Mark 13:24-37 By The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

When I was a little girl one of my favorite activities was to lie outside and watch the falling stars. During the month of August my brothers and I would line up on blankets in our front yard excited that we were allowed to stay up way past our bedtimes. We would lie there in great anticipation of seeing the falling stars, hoping to see a really big one! As our excitement eased and we became quiet I found myself pondering the immensity of the universe. I tried with all my might to imagine an endless universe, a space that went on forever and ever. I tried to imagine other planets like ours with life on them. I tried to not be limited by the images of our favorite TV show, Lost in Space. If alien life exists in outer space, I thought, it was probably not dangerous monsters out to harm us, but rather beings that expressed the mystery of God acting in all creation.

Advent, the season of the church year that we begin today, beckons us in a similar way to imagine the mystery of God acting in creation. Advent is a season of darkness, mystery, wonder, and, like my brothers and me lying on those blankets, a time of anticipation and waiting.
Life provides lots of things to wonder about, lots of things to question. How it is possible for a person to be mauled, run over, and killed, by a mob of Christmas shoppers? Or, as we worry about terrorists randomly shooting people in hotels in India, how do we make sense of this chaos? It makes me want to stand up and, like the robot in Lost in Space, flail my arms and shout, “Danger danger”
I don’t have a simplistic answer to these and other questions. Rather I know that when we focus on who we are as a people of God and trust in God’s faithfulness to us we cultivate a way to understand the anxieties and fears of our lives. Our faith anchors us in the assurance of God’s faithfulness in an uncertain world. Our faith helps us make meaning out of the tragedies of our world. Through the church our faith gives us a language, words like greed and sin, words that point to our brokenness and our need for God. Each Sunday morning, when we gather to worship we hear the story of the history of human brokenness and of God’s response with love and faithfulness.

Stories are important. They remind us of who we are and our place in the world. Stories are shared from generation to generation, stories about our grandparents, our parents, ourselves, and our children and grandchildren. Stories we tell which will then be retold by other generations. Of course each time a story is told it changes just a bit. Even when we tell the same story over and over we might choose to nuance a certain piece of it or we might hear a piece of the story in a new way.

The same thing is true of the stories of salvation that we hear on Sunday morning. Sunday after Sunday, Year in and year out, we listen to scripture readings and sermons and pray the Eucharist. And yet, if we pay attention, the story we hear will not be exactly the same from one Sunday to the next, from one year to the next. In part this is because as a liturgical church we anchor our worship in the seasons of the church. These seasons, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, tell us the story of the life of Christ, spread out across a year.
Our Gospel reading this morning does not ease us into Advent with a gentle call to wait. Instead it has an apocalyptic tone that reflects the real fears we face of death and annihilation. But, rather than keep us in that place of fear, this reading throws us into the mystery - Jesus’ words are filled with layers of symbolism and complex visual images and sobering ideas. Jesus’ vision propels us out of the comfort and security of our ideas and world and drops us into the mystery of God. This reading reminds us that we cannot know everything. We can’t see everything, we can’t predict everything. Jesus speaks of losing sun, moon, and stars, of darkness, the loss of our usual ways of illumination. Then this reading - and the season of Advent remind us - when the world is deprived of light as we’ve always known it, we are to become that source of light. We are the source through which the light of Christ can shine.

One of the things we are doing at St. Francis is engaging the many opportunities for praying the Eucharist that our rich Episcopal tradition affords us. We are anchoring each of the prayers in the context of the liturgical year, choosing to worship with a particular Eucharistic prayer because it speaks intentionally to the theme of the season we are in.
In the season of Advent we will be praying a particular version of the Eucharistic prayer that conveys the mystery of the Advent season. This story, this prayer, is a dialogue between priest and congregation. It begins with the story of who we are and how Christianity continues the story begun with the Israelites:

We say, “We praise you and we bless you, holy and gracious God, source of life abundant. From before time you made ready the creation. Your Spirit moved over the deep and brought all things into being sun, moon, and stars; earth, winds, and waters; and every living thing. You made us in your image and taught us to walk in your ways. But we rebelled against you, and wandered far away; and yet, as a mother cares for her children, you would not forget us.” Do you hear our story in this? Do hear how this connects to the opening verses of the Book of Genesis and the story of Israelites? And how it connects us to the ways humans act out, ways in which instead of building up the body, we seek to tear it apart? It is an age old story that plays out over and over.

We then begin the salvation history story as it continues in and through Christ, we pray: “To deliver us from the power of sin and death and to reveal the riches of your grace, you looked with favor upon Mary, your willing servant, that she might conceive and bear a son, Jesus the holy child of God.” You see how this prayer tells us the Advent story, the story of God choosing to become human?

The prayer then continues with the story of how Jesus lived his life: “He broke bread with outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, and proclaimed good news to the poor. He yearned to draw all the world to himself yet we were heedless of his call to walk in love.” Sadly, part of the story is our rejection of Jesus….of God’s love…

The story then moves to the last night of Jesus’ life and the institution of the Eucharist itself. We pray,” On the night before he died for us, Jesus was at table with his friends.” Remember the scripture verse where Jesus tells his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends?” That is the version of the story we hear in this prayer. When we gather around this table Jesus calls us to gather as friends.

This then is what we pray for, that we can be friends and as friends, the Body of Christ. Then, using these words we pray: “Pour out your Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Body and Blood of Christ. Breathe your Spirit over the whole earth and make us your new creation, the Body of Christ given for the world you have made..” Not only is the bread and wine consecrated and made holy, but so are we. Our lives, in the story of our salvation history, are made the living body of Christ. Even in the threat of chaos and a world on the brink of collapse, we are called to treat each other with compassion, dignity, respect, and love. We are called to let love be our guide, instead of fear, because we know our purpose is ultimately faithfulness to God.
May the words of this story seep deeply into our hearts. May the words shape and form us as friends, as God calls us to be. May this light of Christ, the love of God, shine into fear and bring hope, shine into the anger and bring peace, shine into hurt and bring healing. May this story truly be our story, Sunday to Sunday, year to year, from one prayer to another, reminding us of the love God has for us.

And, may we be that love.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Reflection for Christ the King, Year A 2008

By The Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy

On this Sunday we proclaim that Jesus is our King, the King of Heaven, and we may wonder what on earth that means and what it has to do with us in our lives. The whole idea of kings is not one that has much meaning of us as 21st century Americans. We might think it strange to think of the whole idea of God having a “kingdom” and Jesus “reigning” over it like a monarch. But if we look at today’s scriptures, it seems that isn’t what we are talking about at all. What scripture seems to be telling us is about a different kind of kingdom and a different kind of king, starting all the way back in the Old Testament readings. We are reminded as we hear Ezekiel just how ancient some of these themes are between God and God’s people. Ezekiel lived in Babylon from 593 to 571 BCE. He prophesied among exiles and often had to say things in the name of God that he found incomprehensible, painful, and hard to bear. In this morning’s reading he is called to give comfort to the exiled people by promising a vision of a new kind of shepherd king, one who is not only powerful but nurturing, one will seek the lost and bring them home, feed them with rich pasture, and make them lie down in safety. God's rule as the shepherd king is a rule of justice not exploitation. God will protect the people from "the fat and the strong.” This is a different use of power than the exiles were accustomed to, and perhaps than we are. It might have been easy for them to say, “oh good, we will be able to rest now, we will be safe from ‘them’ picking on us.” But there is more to what God has Ezekiel say. Yes this is a loving shepherd king, but this also a just King, and Ezekiel does give a warning. God is determined to save God’s people whom God loves and there will be justice. If anyone is unjust to another, this shepherd will call them to be accountable. “I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.” God is not simply saying that the powerful from without will not be allowed to hurt one of God’s beloved people, but that even one of God’s own will be called to account if there is injustice done, if the kingdom message is not lived out.

This morning’s Gospel is Jesus’ final talk with his disciples before his passion. In it we hear a theme that echoes strongly the one from Ezekiel and one that has run strongly through all of Matthew’s Gospel, that of discipleship, of following Jesus in living the upside-down, counter-cultural shepherd-king life that he lived. The life that he talks about again this morning in serving those who are least, of including the outcast, of feeding and welcoming and healing and nurturing. In standing up against injustice, in speaking truth to power, no matter what the cost.

Discipleship. Following Jesus in living this Gospel life. It’s what God asks of us and expects of us as a result of our having made and renewed our baptismal covenant. It’s pretty clear. There is accountability in this kingdom of God’s. If we do not meet the expectation there will be a price. Both groups in this morning’s Gospel seemed a little baffled, “Where did we see you…?” I think we get confused sometimes, too. About where we see Jesus and where we are called to respond. It’s maybe easier for us in a way to see the need in the actual poor and homeless and ill and such and to respond to that. Sometimes, it’s easier, at least for me, to see those leasts as “them,” to have a little safe distance, but you know….”they” are also “us.” God is the shepherd of us all. Maybe it’s kind of hard to admit sometimes, we too are all hungering and thirsting for something, that we too are sometimes powerless, lonely and in need, we too can feel a sense of absolute naked vulnerability at times, we too can be sick in body or mind or spirit, we too can be in our own prisons. And this means that as sheep of our shepherd we are called to reach out to that need in each other. As you consider your community this morning, what is it that you have to feed another? What warm garment of concern do you have in which to wrap someone? What good medicine of concern or wisdom might you have to share? What key might you have that could unlock something that has been imprisoning someone’s heart? And as you consider this, also take a moment to ask yourself, what is it that stops you? Is it the fear of the cost? Because we know that this kind of living has a price. Look where it took the King of the Jews. But the cost of not doing so is higher still. It is the price of our very souls, because to follow Jesus is what we were created for. As Paul puts it in Ephesians it is “the hope to which he has called us… the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and…the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Perhaps then it is a question of faith. Perhaps, like the slave in last week’s Gospel, we are too fearful to step out in trust, believing that we can flagrantly cast what we have out there, so we bury and hoard and hold on tight. But clearly this is not what God wants of us. Clearly this is not what God asks. In God’s Kingdom where Christ reigns, the shepherd assures the safety of all the sheep that the sheep too may care for one another. May it be so.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Proper 28A RCL

A Reflection on Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 25:14-30 by: The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

When I went to my oldest son’s high school 9th grade orientation, the teacher leading the session said, “The clock is ticking!” The message was shape up! Study hard! Your future starts now! Fail now, you’ll never catch up!

The way the church has structured these last weeks of the church year is like that. Certainly last week’s lesson of the wise and foolish bridesmaids is marked by urgency, and the remaining lessons in the 25th chapter of Matthew push that boundary. Urgent, yes, and the standards are high: God is expecting a lot from us.
But the 25th chapter of Matthew is about more than that – about more than a liturgical device to get us ready for Advent, the season which defines getting ready.
Recently, I have come across the scholarship of Linda McKinnish Bridges, through her article, “Preaching the Parables of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel in Ordinary Time: The Extraordinary Tales of God’s World.” (Review & Expositor, 2007.) She reminded me of the strange and destabilizing effect of parables, and this 25th chapter of Matthew has three of the strangest and most destabilizing. The English word “parable,” she reminds us, comes from the Greek “para,” meaning alongside, and “bole” meaning hurl or throw, and so at its very root a parable is more than a sweet story, an allegory whose meaning is to be teased out and neatly fit into a liturgical lesson. In college, I took a class on James Joyce, and every page of Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake had to be read with a glossary in hand, to decipher each symbol and sign. Linda McKinnish Bridges reminds us that we can’t quite do that with parables, which are really too weird and curious. The parable is a metaphor which defies easy explanation, whose purpose is indeed to make us stop and think. The parables are full of everyday images from first century Palestine, and yet they are not historical snapshots. The illustrations come from the commonplace but Jesus puts them together in a way that disturbed his hearers – and those same images come hurling toward us as well, causing us each time we read them to scratch our heads and wonder, what is this about, really?

For the past several years, I have noticed that biblical scholarship has tugged us in new ways. I keep remembering what I heard John Dominic Crossan say in a lecture around the time his book Paul and Empire came out. The Roman Empire is not in the background, but in the foreground of all the gospels, he said. It is not just how we decorate the slide shows of Jesus’ spiritual teachings, but the context which shaped the lives of the followers of Jesus who wrote down his life story in the gospels. The structural oppression of Empire was in the very air they breathed. The Gospel of Matthew, then, is not just the story of Jewish-Christian disciples trying to figure out how to preach to the Gentiles. It is a story of resistance, a “left-handed power” of non-violence – the only way to resist an Empire of power and violence, the only kind of power, Linda McKinnish Bridges says, that evil cannot touch. The gospels themselves are parables, hurled at us over time and space, destabilizing our understanding of religious faith as something that keeps us happy, allows us to accommodate, to be nice, to refrain from controversy. The gospels subvert the power structures of the world, showing us that love and sacrifice and compassion and mercy rule. They use the words of this world – words about economics and power – to undo the conventional wisdom of what the world means by them.

This week we read the middle parable of the three in the 25th chapter of Matthew. The master is not interested in conventional wisdom, in the safe bet, the “prudent man” rule. The master demands that his servants be venture capitalists, taking what he gave them and giving him back more. If last week’s parable shocked us into vigilant preparation – get that oil ahead of time! -- this week’s shocks us into taking risks. We’ll have to wait until next week for Jesus to tell us just what it is we have been given, and what Jesus expects us to produce in abundance.

Friday, October 31, 2008

All Saints' Day

Feast of All Saints: A Reflection by Dr. Laura Grimes

I am traveling to a professional conference this weekend, so I may well miss worship on one of my favorite feasts of the church year, All Saints’ Day. However, I was blessed to celebrate the essence of the day last Saturday when my five year old daughter and I attended the funeral of my great aunt and heard the Beatitudes proclaimed. Baptism, transformation, community, justice, celebration—all these realities were radiantly present in the large and diverse group of people, not all explicitly spiritual, gathered for the Eucharist in a small and lovely building in South Central Los Angeles.

Aunt Marian, who died at age ninety-two, was my paternal grandfather’s youngest sister and the last of her siblings to die. I hadn’t seen her since her husband’s funeral eight years before, and Katie had never met her at all. Of the many far-flung relatives present, down to second and third cousins, the only ones readily familiar to her were her grandparents and great-grandmother and one of my aunts, especially memorable because she is Katie’s godmother. I spent much of the day explaining who each person was in relation to me and therefore to her, but the one thing she knew absolutely was that they were family and so she was loved and welcome—and that Marian and her husband, and Katie’s deceased oldest and youngest siblings, and her beloved name saints and Mama Mary, and all the rest were equally part of that welcoming family.

Transfiguration Church is especially precious to me because it was where I was baptized forty-three years ago, in my parents’ last act of faith while they were living in a tiny, beat-up house in the neighborhood. My grandparents lived on the same lot both before and afterwards, so my dad and the older siblings of their large group attended school and received the sacraments there. I also visited my grandparents there as a young child, served as a velveteen-clad flower girl for one of my younger aunts, and babysat her children as a teenager when she and her husband were the final family members to dwell there. Every time I walk through its doors I feel again the miracle of being chosen and loved and called by God, from before my earliest memories and through so many people and relationships—easy and painful--throughout the years. Are those who aren’t baptized, or who no longer believe, chosen and loved and called by God? Without a doubt—it is a deformation of Christian faith in an endlessly merciful God to see it as the only path to truth and love and union with the divine. But it’s my path, and I find it such a privilege, despite the suffering it sometimes brings, to spend life laboring in the vineyard with Christ and with his friends. I also visited my grandparents there as a young child, served as a velveteen-clad flower girl for one of my younger aunts, and babysat her children as a teenager when she and her husband were the final family members to dwell there. Every time I walk through its doors I
When Uncle Glenn died eight years ago, I was living in the Midwest. My mother called to let me know the news, but I wasn’t close to him, so both of us were rather surprised when I was moved by a strong inner urging to come home on a grueling red-eye for his services. The main thing I knew about my great-uncle was that my father had worked in his land surveying business before founding his own, and I was blown away to learn that both he and Marian had spent decades as dedicated civil rights activists. The rejoiced when the court overthrew the housing restrictions that had kept black families from living in the neighborhood, threw block parties to welcome them, and ended by being virtually the only white family in the parish, which now features a rousing Gospel choir. They marched and picketed, and Marian wrote fearless letters challenging successive bishops, among others, to more faithfully proclaim and live Christ’s teaching and example on racial justice. As Grand Knight, Glenn integrated the local Knights of Columbus over the vocal objections of some, and the two of them were honored for their tireless activism by being among the few white people ever made an honorary Knight and Lady of St. Peter Claver.

Like all holy people, canonized and uncanonized, they were far from perfect. Glenn was a harsh boss with rigid high standards in many areas of life, including religion. If they arrived at mass five minutes late, he would turn the car around and return for the next service, and he once declared that his family weren’t really Catholic because his wife and nun daughter believed in women’s ordination, while his other daughter, a mother of four, practiced birth control. (He held himself to the same cruel standards, acknowledging that he didn’t deserve the name either since he had doubts about the Assumption of Mary!) Marian had an equally strong personality—she regularly disregarded “No Trespassing” signs while hiking, which once led to a broken back and months in a body cast, and spent much of the seventies and eighties in major conflict with one of her daughters. But, as in the lives of all holy people—all sinners dependent on God’s grace—that grace worked in amazing ways to heal as much as possible in this life, give consolation where that was impossible, and didn’t stop working at the grave. My father experienced a major conversion around his own parenting during Glenn’s service—I am convinced, through his intercession--and his heartfelt apology for showing me the same harshness was one of the things that moved me to move home to the West Coast with my family. And the daughter who had been in conflict with Marian shared in her eulogy the joy of their hard-won and precious reconciliation, urging all present to reach out and heal fractured relationships while there is still time.

The centrality of grace and the dignity of every human person, as well as the blessings Christ promised to the meek and the poor in spirit and the suffering, was emphasized by stories of the last years of Marian’s life. These were marked by severe dementia but lived with utter joy in the smallest pleasures and a loving and grateful presence to all who visited and cared for her. In one of the fates many of us fear most, she enjoyed and modeled the gift of living absolutely in the present moment, an elusive spiritual goal. The eloquent, talkative woman of earlier years was reduced to the simplest of conversations. The same daughter would visit her and say “I love you, and I’m so glad you’re my Mom.” Marian would reply, “I love you, and I’m so glad you’re my daughter” (on a good day—occasionally the response was “I’m so glad you’re my Mom,” which is poignant in itself). And as she pointed out in her closing words to the assembly, what more ever needs to be said?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Proper 25 A

Reflection on Deuteronomy 34:1-12 by The Rev. Margaret Rose

I have been traveling the last few weeks and took Moses along with me. I have always loved the story or stories of Moses: his birth in turbulent times; the courage of his mother and the miraculous hiding in the bull rushes; the intelligence of his sister Miriam ( I have a daughter named for her!) in suggesting Moses’ own mother as a wet nurse; the years in Pharaoh’s court, yet never forgetting his Hebrew identity; and finally of course Moses’ own life in God, accepting the call to lead the people of Israel out of bondage into freedom—the Exodus story which has been the basis of liberation theology. Those long years in the wilderness which followed recount times of suffering and challenge, with occasional joyous glimpses of hope that the land long promised will one day belong to the people of Israel.

And then it is time for Moses to die. In the Deuteronomy text today, Moses peers from the top of Pisgah looking over into Jericho and the land that he himself will never inhabit, but toward which he had journeyed for long years. “I have let you see it with your eyes, says the Lord, but you shall not cross over there.” And then Moses dies, and no one knows the burial place.

Something about this death, this simple recounting after so much writ large of Moses’ life, is profoundly sad. After all this work--nothing? The people weep of course, and there is I suppose some comfort in the knowledge that the successor is there to carry on. Joshua had been prepared, full of the spirit of wisdom after Moses’ holy hands in blessing had been placed upon him. Yet the sadness and sense of loss is the predominates.

Coincidentally, as I was departing for two weeks on the road, I opened an unsolicited email from the Shalom Center and Rabbi Phyllis Berman. I learned by chance that this week too was one in which the death of Moses is the portion of Torah appointed. It was read for the dancing festival of Simchat Torah or the Joy of Torah. Rabbi Berman tells us that the portion is called “V’zot ha”Brakha—And this is the Blessing.” “It is the shortest portion of the Torah, she writes, betokening the ever-shortening breaths as Moshe breathes his last. As all our teachers, parents, heroes, breathe their last.
It is the only portion, of all the 54, that is never read on Shabbat. Instead, it is read only at this week’s dancing festival. And the moment it is finished, the readings move to the Creation of the world. As she writes, “We move from the end to the Beginning, as if the Scroll were held in one great circle so that its ending indeed leads straight to its beginning. Perhaps, she speculates, “This is indeed the blessing—that the tears of loss open the wellsprings of Creation?”

I was profoundly moved by this notion and by the joyous possibility this opened up. For in my travels these weeks I was first in the poverty of Haiti and later at a reunion of college friends brought together by one colleague whose recently diagnosed brain tumor suggests that months with be the measure of his remaining life.

In Haiti, where it seems that every step forward for democracy or health seems to be thwarted by political or natural disaster, I was nevertheless astounded by the energy and hope that my hosts continued to offer to that country and their people. Sister Marjorie Raphael, a Sister of St. Margaret who has been in Haiti for many years told the story of the funeral of 4 popular musicians whose tragic death in a car accident brought the nation together in mourning as they prayed and sang their sorrow in a mass gathering. They sang hymns in the public square, bearing the load of personal sorrow and national unrest yet also praising God. The gift of life and hope and even moments of joy were present in that gathering. She tells of her astonishment and gratitude to God who made human beings with a life-source deeper and beyond tragedy.
It was not only the people whose hope astounded me as I listened to Sister Marjorie, it was hers as well. Frail and in her 80’s, I knew that the years of hard work, the long haul journey Marjorie Raphael had experienced in Haiti would not be one in which she reached the destination either—the promised land of Haiti’s original independence and liberation was still a distant hope. And the fruit of her work there would be enjoyed by others. Yet, neither was she in despair but spoke in hope of democracy and freedom which she had glimpsed post Papa Doc. Even amid the violence which has ensued, she is like Moses in Moab looking over to Jericho. She will no doubt not experience that promised land for which she worked so long and hard. But the legacy will not be forgotten.

And then there was Dominique who gathered 22 friends from student days for a retreat, some of whom had not seen one another for many years. He told his own story of a slight headache one day and a massive brain tumor the next and of his hope that this gathering might be the start of renewed friendship and community for years to come.

It would be trite I think, to say that every end marks a beginning--- a little too Pollyanna to say that things always turn out for the best. They don’t always.

And yet, as I acknowledged the coming death of my friend Dominique, I knew that the friends he had brought together were more alive because of him. And would remain so. A new creation was possible in the relationships of friends in community who rarely see one another. And Haiti is the better for the presence of Marjorie Raphael.


Perhaps that is what we should know about Moses as well. It does not really matter that his grave is not marked. Rather more important is that Joshua carried on. As will the friends of Dominique and all those working for healing in Haiti. And in all the other places around the world. The blessing is the creation that surely comes.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Reflection on Proper 24A

A Reflection on Thessalonians 1.1-10 and Matthew 22:15-22 by I.J.Nay

Leaders, figureheads, those in authority have a responsibility to use their positions with integrity; nowhere should this be truer than in the Church. The Gospel passage from Matthew states very clearly that the motive of the Pharisees is a bad one; they seek to entrap Jesus with a clever question. They flatter Jesus: ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one’ as part of that trap. Jesus of course is more than able to shatter their cleverness with his insight and truth. The Pharisees leave amazed at his teaching.

The question of who speaks with authority, who can lead us into truth and into the wisdom of God is not a mute one even today - in our own contexts and communities. Indeed, the way of the Church is littered with disputes concerning matters of theology, ecclesiology and ethics. Who speaks with authority, and how can we recognize them? Is it simply what people say that should move us, or should we too be concerned with who they are and the pattern of their lives?

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul commends the Thessalonians for being of such faith that ‘there is no need to speak about it’. He adds, that they are to be commended for turning from idols ‘to serve a living and true God’. The letter shows us how Paul sees the spread of the Gospel to be a matter not only of spreading the Word but also of setting an example, a pattern of Christian living. It is their imitation of Paul’s way of living that commends Paul to them. The Thessalonians are converted in their hearts to the way of Christ and seek to follow him. This does not necessarily mean, as can be seen, for example, in Paul’s difficult conversations with the Corinthians that all matters of daily living are resolved. Many difficult theological and ethical questions still confront them.

This has led me to thinking about theology and the Church and how the Anglican/Episcopal Church in particular is a Church that has a whole range of theological, ecclesiological and ethical viewpoints. What can hold us together despite these disagreements? How can we recognize Christ in one another? How can we call ourselves common members of the same Church? It is easy to demonise those we disagree with; it’s far too easy for me, for example, to see all those who disagree with women’s priesthood as being untrue to the Gospel. Similarly I may look down on those who consider homosexuality to be a sin. I think that Christ leads us in a better example however, one that cajoles us in to seeing Christ in the ‘other’ and especially in his disciples whom we have matters of disagreement with. It is not simply what people say, how they interpret Scripture, how they understand matters of theology that matters (even though these do matter) but we must seek also to read the hearts of others: listening to the pattern of their lives, to see if they are loving Christ-like people, honestly seeking to serve God and neighbour. We then may be able to look to ourselves and see if we truly are loving Christ-like people seeking to serve God and neighbour. If we start out aiming to respect the other, we may find that our conversations take on a new tone and we are able to move into positions of compromise.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Reflection on Proper 23A

Exodus 32:1-14 or Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

by Janine Goodwin

When I looked up the six possible texts for this week, I felt I was developing a case of spiritual whiplash. In Exodus, an idolatrous people make a golden calf and Moses persuades an angry God not to destroy them. Isaiah presents a vision of a banquet in which all are invited to share God's abundance. Psalm 106 speaks of a God who destroys sinners and rewards the good. Psalm 23 is a song of pure trust. Paul, in the reading from Philippians, urges the faithful to consider whatever is good, true, pure. The Gospel is a disturbing parable about a king who invites people to a feast, destroys those who refuse the invitation and kill the messengers, and throws out a guest who comes without the proper garments.

Where, in all these songs and stories, is the God I want to worship and serve, the God of love and merciful justice who cares for every created being and is always ready to forgive, heal, and empower? Is that God really present in Scripture, or really absent from it—or, perhaps the most frightening alternative, is God capricious, loving one moment and violent the next? After a childhood of fearing to question a punitive God and an adult life spent asking questions, as I work to trust a God who is neither the autocrat of my projected fears nor the puppet of my magical thinking, I find myself looking at some images of God and saying, "That is not a God I want to worship and serve." This is startling to me. Some would call it blasphemy or arrogance and say that the very act of challenging an image of God found in Scripture or interpreted in certain ways by tradition makes me less a Christian—even though Scripture is full of questioning, full of the search for a trustworthy God. I have come to believe that my calling is exactly to hear that inner voice, no matter how it may challenge and disturb me. If I do not question my own responses, I can't hear what God may be trying to tell me about Godself and about the limits of our human perceptions of God--always including my own perceptions, which are, like everyone else's, both enriched and limited by my experience, perceptions, culture, and temperament.

I believe Scripture is a conversation, that the history of faith is a conversation, and that our life of faith is a conversation. The differences between a given set of Scriptures sometimes feels more like a talk-show free-for-all in which different views of God compete loudly for air time. What are we to believe of God, given this set of texts? What are we to say when even Jesus seems to be calling down destruction on those outside his circle of followers?

Is God the cosmic version of a punitive parent who plays favorites, who responds to the destruction of human sin with even greater destruction, who can only be persuaded not to destroy us by desperate pleas for mercy? Too many of us have grown up with abusive parents and find that image of God all too familiar and not at all lovable. A God who burns cities and sends plagues, even with unpredictable moments of leniency, is not a God I want to worship and serve.

What are we to do with the conversation of faith around these texts, the conversations that become traditions and often end up claiming to be the only truth about Scripture and about God? What are we to say about the long tradition of anti-Semitism which has used the parable of the wedding feast to justify prejudice that simmers at the best of times and is expressed in horrific violence at the worst? A God who chooses a people as favorites and then destroys them is not a God I want to worship and serve.

What are we to do about the preachers who claim the destruction stories, or the destruction of the city in this parable, and call upon natural disaster and disease as punishment for sin while ignoring the fact that the demonstrably innocent suffer alongside the presumably guilty? A God who kills innocents to make a point is not a God I want to worship and serve.

Does God only love those who are good—or only love us when we are obedient? A God whose love for any part of creation is conditional is not a God I want to worship and serve.

The parable in Matthew 22:1-14 is the most disturbing, because it is presented as coming from Jesus. It is relatively easy to understand that this parable is insider language, spoken from one member of a group to another, and should not be warped into a tool for anti-Semitism. That still leaves is with the questions of violence and exclusion, and Jesus' seeming approval of both. This parable doesn't sound like the Jesus who preached nonviolence in the Sermon on the Mount, who talks to women and Samaritans and Samaritan women, who heals lepers and befriends prostitutes and tax collectors. But it's there, and although I worship the God who inspired Scripture rather than worshiping Scripture itself, I can't just wish it away.

Barbara Reid, O.P., takes on this apparent contradiction in an article entitled, "Matthew's Nonviolent Jesus and Violent Parables," and suggests seven possible explanations. The ones she prefers share the idea that this passage is a parable about the end of time, when God will show us the consequences of all our actions. She says, "God does not become vindictive and violent at the end time. But those who refuse to imitate the gratuitous, unearned love of God choose instead to fuel the cycles of violence and, by their choice, become victims of this violence themselves."

I like this answer for several reasons. It takes away any idea that we are the judges and the ones who execute God's punishment in the
present: when God is the final judge, and judgment happens at the end of time, we lose the impetus for holy wars, witch burning, and the bigotry that tries to cloak itself in faith. This answer also takes us away from the question of whether human violence or natural disaster are sent by God or serve God's purposes with "collateral damage" to the innocent. It calls us to focus on our own responsibility for our own actions, both individually and collectively; to work on making wise choices; to live those choices well. At the end of time, I will not judge my ancestors, my contemporaries, or those who come after me:
I will come before God and answer for my choices and my part in the choices made by the groups to which I belong. Facing the natural consequences of my choices is a very different thing than facing someone who is angry and punitive because I disobeyed arbitrary orders. I may not like the consequences of my choices, but they were mine to make; realizing both the extent and the limits of my freedom to choose, I can listen to the God who offers infinite creativity and infinite love, and learn to choose better the next time. As a nation facing the effects of our greed and violence, we may have hard times ahead, but we are not being punished by God, and we still have the chance to make better choices, to make sure the consequences of our greed do not keep us from the duty to feed and clothe and heal all people, to find the richness of God's mercy and love rather than continuing a level of consumption the world cannot sustain and inflicting violence that the world may not survive.

Our responsibility to choose is paralleled by our responsibility to question. We have to ask what Scripture means, ponder the contradictions, work to understand the voices we hear. This parable is based on the only cultural paradigm available to the people who lived in the time of the Gospels, the paradigm of empire. We now see that set of symbols as limited, and we can suggest others: Letty Russell has suggested the paradigm of the household as one possibility. No matter what they are or how they choose them, no matter what insight they bring them, all symbols and images for God are limited. We must always remember that. We must not stop by seeing the limits of others'
ideas, but must also look and pray to find the limits of our own.

A trustworthy God who can't be limited by our images, who gives us freedom, who allows us to experience the consequences of our own actions without being either permissive or punitive, and who is always ready to help us change and heal and do the work of God's good creation—this is the God I want to worship and serve. What will I do today, what will I plan to do, so that I may live out that worship and service?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Proper 22, Pentecost 21

Reflection on Matthew 21:33-46

I am writing this reflection in the midst of a busy start to the new academic year. Just before term started the Governing Body of the Church in Wales approved the recommendations of the Working Group that was a set up as a result of the visit of two welsh female priests to UNCSW 50 as part of the AWE delegation. The remit of this working group was to look at ways in which the Church in Wales could comply with ACC resolution 1331. One of the outcomes of this report was that the theological college where I am training (the only one in Wales) is now committed to not only educating ordinands on issues of gender equality but also all of the clergy currently serving in Wales as well. So, in the midst of enrolment and the beginning of lectures I have been asked to help work out how we do that as a college. The college has chosen to draw on the experience I have gained as a delegate to UNCSW51 & 52. It seems to me that there is now a genuine interest in what I have to say, and issues of Gender Equality are now at the top of the agenda.

All of this was on my mind as I read the Gospel passage for this Sunday. It reads as a warning to those in positions of responsibility to be mindful of their attitude. The tenants in the parable are selfish, out for what they can get and determined not to let anyone get in their way. They forget who they are working for, they forget they are only tenants. Jesus himself tells this story knowing that he is the owner’s son, he too is going to be thrown out of the vineyard and killed. He also knows that his death will be the turning point for Israel as those who kill him will be displaced, they too have used their position to make themselves rich, and have not given God his due.

In approaching Gender Equality at a college level I have been very careful to highlight the reasoning behind ACC 1331 to put it into context in relation to the Millennium Development Goals and the place that women have in achieving those goals. Taking into account today’s Gospel reading it seems quite clear why it is important to get women into positions of responsibility. Women are slowly but surely finding their voice, a voice that has been suppressed by the powerful for far too long. And yet, we are still struggling. My message has received a mixed response this week. Some are keen to redress the balance, others are under the misconception that women in Wales have equal opportunities and that there is nothing more to be done, they do not understand that until women penetrate into key positions of responsibility that women’s voices are never truly heard. Many seem to want to ignore the global issues altogether, they are far enough away, let each country deal with it’s own problems.

Despite the mixed reactions I have received this week, I am heartened by the progress, and I, and we, should take heart from today’s Gospel passage.

"'The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes'?

As surely as the tenants are overthrown, and as surely as we know the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, so too will women achieve positions of responsibility and redress the global imbalance to make life better for all. All that we are asking is an equal share of power with men, all we are asking for is for our voice to be heard. As long as we stay strong and persist we will achieve our goal.

Sarah Rogers

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Reflection on Proper 20A

Matthew 20 & Psalm 1
September 21, 2008 by The Rev. Crystal Karr

Matthew 20: 1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Psalm 1

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

4The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

In today’s scripture, we have a landowner who hires workers throughout the day. But when it comes to the end of the day all of the workers are paid the exact same wage—some of them only worked for ONE hour! That hardly seems fair. And when the workers who’ve worked long and hard—through the hottest part of the day—call the landowner on it, they get chewed out. And this is what the kingdom of God is all about?

In parables like the workers in the vineyard and the prodigal son, many of us usually relate to the one (or ones) who have been working all along and yet seem to receive no reward for it. As a woman and a mother, I know this feeling all too well. There are many things that I am simply expected to do—clean the house, laundry, cook the dinners for my family and yet no one ever makes a big deal about it. However, if my husband, Joel, does just one of these things he is praised for being generous and a terrific husband. I’m sure I’m not the only woman to have experienced this or something like this. I imagine that most of us, men and women have had these kinds of experiences where we have been working diligently—doing what is expected of us—yet we receive no rewards, no kudos, no thank-you’s, and then along comes someone else who receives the highest praises for doing just one piece of the work we’ve done. It’s frustrating and it is unfair. No one likes to be taken advantage of; no one likes it when they are simply expected to do something rather than having a choice or receiving at least a hearty thank you.

Expectation and obligation seem to zap the joy from our lives. How do we bring the joy back when it feels like we are simply fulfilling obligations? Yes, the workers who had worked long and hard hours in the heat of the day were miffed—perhaps after seeing the others receive far more than their share of their daily wage they began to imagine the increase they were going to receive and then were greatly disappointed. Rather than understanding and remembering that it was the end of the day, that they had received what they had been working for—they were caught up in what the others were getting. There was no stopping to rejoice in the extra blessing that the others had received. There was no stopping to rejoice that their work was done and the time for celebration had begun.

This week while watching the video for the Psalms’ Bible Study, the scholar pointed out that in Psalm 1—it reads, “their delight is in the law of the Lord.” She went on to talk about the differences between our understanding of the Law of God and the Jewish understanding of God’s Law. I’m guessing that most of us would cringe thinking about “the law” or “the rules.” Those of us who grew up or are growing up in the United States tend to get upset if witness anything that doesn’t seem fair or democratic. After all, our country rebelled against the Motherland of England because we were being taxed without representation and that simply wasn’t fair! It seems that a rebellious streak is part of our social DNA. I know that this is true for me. I was a rather rebellious child, some would say that I still am. If my mother told me not to do something, I would immediately try to figure out how to do it. All she would have to have done to get me to eat broccoli or spinach would have been to tell me that I couldn’t eat any—if she would have known about reverse psychology she probably could have turned me into a well-behaved child.

I had never considered that I should “take delight in the law.” That is a foreign concept to me. However, what if we were to take delight in the law? If we were to take delight in following God’s path—understanding that God is not the ultimate party pooper, instead understanding that God offers a way for us to find the most joy and meaning in our lives. Really, when you think about it, do you really want to steep yourself in envy, kill another human being, make statues to worship, dishonor your parents, work 7 days a week, spend your time wishing you had what your neighbors had rather than enjoying the stuff you do have? Why should the law feel like a burden when it simply offers a guide to keep us from doing things that hurt ourselves and others? God’s law simply keeps us out of trouble and free to live an abundant life. Man’s law, government’s laws, may not always be just or helpful but God’s laws are a different story—they simply boil down to loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves.

Envy and obligation are an ugly beasts. They prevents us from enjoying our lives, our friends and family, and the stuff we have. Envy, like obligation sucks the joy out of our lives. The only cure I know for envy ands for obligation is gratitude. If we are grateful for the people and things that are in our lives—envy and obligation has less of a chance to roost in our heads and hearts. Thanking God for the gifts we have received helps us to appreciate what we have.

This is a story about God’s grace, God’s generosity and I am certainly glad that God isn’t keeping score on how long I’ve been a Christian, how many times I’ve made it to church—or not, and that I don’t have to work in an attempt to earn salvation—we’ll all receive that—there is enough salvation to go around. The story isn’t so hard to understand or to take joy in when we think of salvation as the daily wage. Most, if not all of us, realize that we couldn’t make it on our own—we would all be in big trouble if we were ever received what we actually deserved, to have our just desserts.

Perhaps, if I remembered with appreciation and gratitude the gifts that God has already generously given to me, then my first response to the story of the workers in the vineyard wouldn’t be “that’s not fair!” Perhaps then I would see that just as God has given me a promise of salvation, a hope that my life clings to not based on the works I’ve done, it’s been granted and promised even though I have not and could not ever earn it, the workers who came late to the vineyard were given a free gift to take care of them and their families—they were given what they needed rather than what they “deserved.” Perhaps then I could simply rejoice that we have all been offered and promised something we could never earn, a gift that we should not take for granted, a gift for which we rejoice and praise God whenever anyone accepts it. Amen.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Reflection for Proper 19A

A reflection on Matthew 18:21-35 by The Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy

On October 2, 2006 a man entered a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines Pennsylvania and killed five young Amish girls and seriously wounded five others. Like all of the others acts of senseless violence in our country, this made headlines. The response of the Amish community of Nickel Mines soon became just as newsworthy. They were extending forgiveness to the shooter! Within hours of the shooting, community members went to the killer’s family members and offered statements of forgiveness and condolence for their loss. Members of the Amish community came to the gunman’s funeral, and perhaps most amazingly of all, they voted as a community that his family should share in a fund that was set up to aid the victims. Some of them even contributed personally to this fund. This Amish forgiveness is so striking to the outside world that it has drawn the attention of theologians and sociologists. The Amish are being asked over and over on what it is they base this “extraordinary” forgiving. And what they repeatedly say is two things…the Lord’s prayer and Matthew 18:21-35.

Jesus is teaching the disciples about how to be community. That hard task of being God’s kingdom here on earth. In our Gospel last week we heard about what we are to do when our brother or sister “trespasses” against us….to go to them, at first alone, with the intent of bringing them back, and how it is always about bringing them back. And that even when we take witnesses with us, or bring in the community, it is always about love and justice and always about recapturing the lost ones. It’s that larger vision that God has for reconciling to God and to one another. That countercultural vision that is challenging for us as humans. Today’s Gospel simply continues the lesson. Peter, in all his glorious humanity may have thought he was going to the head of the class on this one when he asked Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" a symbolic number that signified enough or completion. But Jesus, as always, taking it to an even greater vision, the kingdom vision, to God’s vision, says, “No, that’s not quite enough Peter…” In God’s kingdom even our usual understanding of what is enough is not enough.

In God’s kingdom vision, we must do the kind of forgiving that does not count at all… a kind of forgiving that is extravagant. The parable tells us that the slave owed the king “ten thousand talents” a huge amount which was more than the national debt of the Roman Empire at the time. It was so large that even if he were “to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions” there would still be no hope he could pay it back. When the king took mercy on him and released him from the debt completely, he was practicing the kind of forgiveness that Jesus was talking about. But then what happens? The forgiven slave turns around and does not forgive the relatively small debt another slave owes him, an equivalent of about four months’ wages for manual labor, and has him thrown into debtor’s prison. Hearing of this behavior, the king is outraged that this man to whom he has shown great mercy and forgiveness has not extended forgiveness in kind. He says to him “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” and throws him into prison “until he would pay his entire debt” – which, of course, can never happen! Here was a vision of the Kingdom. The king forgave abundantly without keeping count of the cost. Forgiveness, Jesus may have been saying, like God forgives. But then the slave withheld forgiveness, and found himself imprisoned, Here is God’s kingdom where there is forgiveness and mercy, but also judgment and justice.

Forgiveness. Clearly it is held before us as a standard of living a life as followers of Jesus. But what does it really mean? Can we do it? How do we do it? Do we have to be Amish? As you might imagine, this is an issue that comes up frequently for the people I encounter in the other part of my life. Many of the people I see in my clinical practice have been deeply wounded by the acts of others, and they struggle with this question of forgiveness. Sometimes we have conversations about what it does mean to forgive, and in those conversations we talk about what forgiveness is and what it is not, and sometimes that turns out to be a useful thing. So I thought maybe spending a few minutes thinking through that together here this morning might be helpful for us as well as we try to find ways of being faithful followers of Jesus.

One of the things we know is that forgiveness is a choice. Someone always can choose to forgive or not. Often when we have been wronged by someone what we hold onto most tightly is our resentment about the wrong that was done towards us, usually toward the person who committed the offense. In forgiveness, we freely choose to give up the right to carry that resentment. And we do so in essence as a gift to the offender who may or may not have done anything to deserve that gift. In forgiveness we make a choice to replace resentment toward the one who has harmed us with compassion. This does not mean that we change our minds about the act. We recognize that as the victim of an offense we have a moral right to anger, but we choose to release the anger—in essence as a pure gift to someone who may be completely undeserving, and indeed who may be completely unaware of the gift. But we choose to release them from a debt that they could never repay anyway. Just because we can….and not count the cost.

Forgiveness is not about the event. We do not say the offense did not happen, or that it was not serious if indeed this was case. We do not pretend we were not hurt by the act. We do not condone or excuse the behavior that was done. We still take it seriously. We still uphold its wrongness, its unfairness. We do not condone it or excuse the behavior. We do not forget it or sweep it under the rug. All of this does not preclude forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not the same as pardon. Pardon implies repentance on the part of the wrongdoer. Forgiveness is only about the forgiver. In forgiveness the wrongdoer is not absolved of consequences for his or her behavior. Justice takes it course if that is to be the case. That does not preclude forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. That is about restoring a relationship which might involve developing trust or communication between the person who was hurt and the one who offended. This may never be possible or even desirable. It does not preclude forgiveness.
Forgiveness is decisional as well as emotional. Decisional or intentional forgiveness is a commitment to control our behavior not to act in revenge or avoidance towards someone who has hurt us even if our emotions have not yet caught up to the point where we feel less unforgiving. Emotional forgiveness often is a much longer process than decisional forgiveness. The two of course can be related. The decision to forgive and the commitment to act in a forgiving way does not magically make emotions change, but it certainly may make it more likely that the emotional transformation will happen.

Why forgive? Is it indeed about “forgive or you won't be forgiven?” This is not the way the God I know operates. The parable tells the story. The people I know who are having the hardest time with forgiveness, the ones who are holding on to the biggest resentments are often in a great deal of pain. Like the forgiven slave, the illusion of control given by holding on to their resentments locks them in the prison of their own creation. Freedom was granted him and his to pass on. The example was there before him but he could not make the choice for forgiveness, and it was his own inability to make that choice that imprisoned him. God’s kingdom is one of mercy and love, but also of justice. Forgiveness is granted in great measure, we are asked to pass it on as it has been given to us.

And fortunately, as with all of these hard things we are asked to do as followers of Jesus, we are not alone with this one either. We have the Incarnate One as God with us, both to show us who God is and to show us how the Kingdom here on earth can be lived out and who we can be what we are truly capable of at our best and most authentic. We have Jesus’ ongoing spirit alive with us, in Word and Sacrament and in community to strengthen us for the task, to remind us who and whose we are. May we forgive as we are forgiven and be forgiven as we forgive. Amen.

Contributions from Amish Grace by D. Kraybill, S. Nolt, D. Weaver-Zercher

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Seeing Things as We Are...

A reflection on Romans 13:8-14 and Matthew 18:15-20 by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

A woman, studying the spontaneous remission of cancer, placed an ad in a local newspaper looking to interview people who felt they were in remission. She tells this story from one of the people she interviewed: There was a farmer with an advanced case of the disease and a challenging prognosis. Nonetheless he was doing quite well and seemed to be in remission.

About the disease and possible remission he said, “I didn’t take it on.”

By this he meant that he knew that his illness was advanced, he just didn’t let it determine how he went about living his life. He understood his doctors and this prognosis the same way he regarded the government soil experts who analyzed his fields. The farmer listened to the experts and respected them as they showed him findings in their tests that said that corn would not grow in his field. Like the doctors who gave him the diagnosis and treated him, he valued the opinion of the soil experts.

But, he said, “Nonetheless a lot of the time corn grows anyway.”

In other words the diagnosis was one thing, but what it was going to mean to him and his life, remained to be seen. (Kitchen Table Wisdom: Rachel Naomi Remen)

This story reminds me of a Jewish saying from the Talmud that goes like this: we do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.

So, who are we?

Well, for starters, I think we are living, broadly speaking, in a time when the world is deeply broken. All around us we see disease, anger, war, divisiveness, and people polarized by this issue or that. We argue over who is right and who is wrong when human life is at stake. We are so inundated with images on television of violence and poverty that we have become numb and fail to see the brokenness when it is right in front of us. We live in a world where each one of us thinks we are entitled to having things our way, and lose sight of the needs, hopes, or desires of another person let alone, of community. In the 21st century we are, broadly speaking, a people who are: self-centered, quick to judge, opinionated, and demanding. We hurt others and rather than apologize we justify our actions, why we are right and why they got what they deserved.

You may not feel this way in your life, but we see it all around us, in the newspaper, on television shows, and in our politic, locally, nationally, and globally.

It reminds me of a story of the leader of a monastery named Abbot Moses, a desert father who lived in the second century and who spent much of his earlier life as a thief:

One day a brother of the monastic community offended some of the other brothers. So a council meeting was called and Abbot Moses, the brother in charge of the monastery, was asked to come to the meeting and mediate, but he refused to go to it. Eventually the monastery priest sent someone to get him, ‘Come,’ he said, ‘everyone is waiting for you.’ So Abbott Moses got up and headed toward the meeting. On the way he picked up a jug that was cracked and had several small holes. He filled it with water and carried it with him, the water trailing out behind him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, ‘What is this, Abbott, what are you doing?’ The old man (who had been a thief in his younger years) said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me but I do not see them, and yet today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When the brothers heard that, they said no more to the brother who offended them, but forgave him. (Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.)

We do not see things as they are. We see things as WE are.

Our reading from Romans reminds us that how we live our lives matters. As Christians we are called by Jesus to be a people of reconciliation. We are not called to judge others. Judgment, when and how it happens, is God’s decision. Rather than judge we are called, by God through Christ, to bring forth God’s love into the world, heal the brokenness, restore relationships, be the face of Christ. As Christians we know that loving our neighbor matters. Loving ourselves matters. Loving God matters. How we do this, how we love, matters. With this kind of love, when our neighbor suffers we suffer. When our neighbor is joyous we are joyfilled. Love like this is not some warm fuzzy, but a challenging call in which God will use us to do God’s work in the world.

Who we are matters.

Paul tells the Romans: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

He continues by saying: "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

In her book, “The Hiding Place,” Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian holocaust survivor who helped many Jews escape, tells this story about encountering, many years later, one of the former guards from the concentration camp where she spent 4 months:

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former SS man who stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And sudden it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, the pain-blanched faces….

He came up to her after her speech, as the church was emptying, and said how grateful he was for her message. “To think,” he said, “that as you say (Jesus) has washed away my sins.” Then he thrust his hand out to shake hers. But Corrie could not respond. She, who had preached so often about the need to forgive, kept her hand at her side. Inside an anger boiled and vengeful thoughts popped up. She knew that these thoughts were sinful, that Jesus had died even for this man, this awful guard and all the horrible things he had done. Corrie would not ask more of Jesus, so she prayed that Jesus would fill her heart and help her forgive the guard.

Corrie tried to smile and struggled to stretch out her hand. Then, as she took the guards hand the most incredible thing happened. From Corrie’s shoulder, down her arm, and through her hand, a current seemed to pass from Corrie to the guard. And into Corrie’s heart sprang a love for this guard that could only be from Christ. The forgiveness she felt that night was the forgiveness of Christ, the grace of God. Corrie says, When God tells us to love our enemies, and we do so, God gives us that love itself.

God calls us to be a people of reconciliation. Who we are matters. It’s not about simply “being nice.” It’s about the ability to love even under the most challenging of circumstances…loving through the most difficult of challenges by loving as God loves.

Women often have real first hand experience of this, loving under the most challenging of experiences. For centuries women have been encouraged, by society and even the church itself, to stay in abusive marriages. Women have been subjected to second class citizens, forced by circumstances to push down and deny our intelligence, gifts, and skills, because they didn’t fit the paradigm of women’s work and role in society. Often women have taken on the role of mediator in family disputes; for better or for worse women have been in the position of healers and nurturers for a multitude of ills.

There is nothing wrong with women taking on this role, except when taking on that role comes at the cost of the woman herself. It isn’t really love when it comes at the cost of the woman living through pain and suffering and abuse and losing herself in the process. Paul’s Letter to the Romans reminds us that we are called to love our neighbor – but first we have to learn how to love God by letting God love us, and then to love ourselves.

You might say that heaven comes down to earth when two people, previously alienated, are brought together in relationships of dignity, respect, hope, love. And, in the case of women, it may also be that heaven comes down to earth when we, preciously alienated from ourselves, are brought into an authentic sense of self. From this place of authenticity we really can love.

In order to do this it is helpful to remember that first we have to reconcile our own sin. Women, in particular, suffer less from the sin of pride than from the sin of self-doubt, less from humility than from a lack of self worth. Over and over Jesus reminds the disciples, and therefore us, to worry about the log in our own eye….And so it’s helpful to remember that we do not all define sin the same way.

To get at this we can begin by looking at the baptismal covenant as found in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. In this way sin can be defined as those occasions when we fail to live into the covenant: when we fail to respect the dignity of others, fail to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, fail to seek and serve Christ in all persons, fail to strive for peace and justice.

And for women, in particular, it may be our failure to respect the dignity of ourselves, failure to see how the Good News of Christ is alive in us, and failure to see the need for justice that reconciles the ways women are contained and confined by the bias of a misogynist society.

Sadly, one thing (among many) that the Presidential election process in this country is pointing out is the disparity of how we view power, especially when a woman is in the role of power.

So, begin with yourself, myself. In what ways do you, do I, struggle to live the baptismal covenant?

We do not see things as they are. We see things as WE are.

So hwho are we?

Portions of this reflection were influenced by John Shea "On Earth as it is in Heaven" Matthew Year A and Jan Richardson at The Painted Prayerbook.

Friday, August 29, 2008

"His Life Was the Reason for His Death"

A reflection on Proper 17, Matthew 16:21-28, by Laura Grimes

Like many feminist theologians, I have an ambivalent relationship with texts like today’s Gospel, where Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer and die, and then that following him will mean picking up their own crosses. Such texts have been horribly abused throughout the centuries, as those in power have glibly preached that the oppressed should meekly accept injustice and abuse of all sorts as the cross laid on them by God’s will. Yet Jesus’ example of nonviolent resistance, truth telling even at the ultimate cost, and finding meaning in suffering and apparent failure has also been a source of inspiration and empowerment for many, and I have experienced the mysterious saving power of the cross in my own life as well. How can we preach and teach the cross in a way that fosters God’s work in the world and gives life, instead of draining and destroying it? This is a mystery and an ongoing challenge, but I think there are some clues we can find and share together. One of the most important for me is keeping the cross in the context of the resurrection and of the entirety of Jesus’ life and ministry, rather than separating these, as too often happens.

Those who remember Mel Gibson’s controversial movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” may recognize the title above as a twist on its central advertising slogan: “His Death Was the Reason for His Life.” The slogan perfectly summed up a movie which almost completely ignored Jesus’ life and ministry and focused on a long, graphic, and arguably anti-Semitic depiction of his suffering and death. I wouldn’t have exposed myself to it, or given Gibson my money for it, except that I was preparing for a job interview in which I had to teach a demonstration class on early Church Christology, and I decided to make it interesting for the students by bringing in movie depictions. As part of the preparation for that class I also watched “The Last Temptation of Christ” for the first time, and was intrigued to notice that the same slogan could sum up its thesis as well. Despite the very different ecclesial politics expressed in the movies, the Jesus portrayed by Kazantzakis and Scorese is equally focused on the passion as God’s will and the entire focus of his mission. The terrible temptation referred to was Jesus having a long and happy family life married to Mary Magdalene--which would apparently have disappointed the bloodthirsty God whom both movies see as the architect of the unjust torture and execution Jesus in fact suffered.

Rather than the dangerous slogan used to advertise Mel Gibson’s dangerous movie, “The Passion of the Christ”—“His Death was the Reason for His Life”, I propose that we remember, reflect on, and boldly preach the converse statement—“His Life was the Reason for His Death.” Did Jesus die because God was unable or unwilling to forgive human sin and renew creation without the grisly blood sacrifice of an innocent person? I don’t think so—this would be a God unloving, unlike Jesus, and unworthy of worship. Rather, Jesus died because his actions of faithfulness to God angered the religious and political establishment, and he refused to abandon the charge, and the people, entrusted to him by selling out, backing down, or running away.

In reflecting on this theme in today’s Gospel, it is crucial to remember what comes immediately before it in Matthew’s Gospel, the lection we heard proclaimed last week. Jesus asks his disciples who they say that he is, and Simon Peter is divinely inspired to proclaim that he is the Messiah, the one anointed by the Holy Spirit to save and free God’s people. Jesus accepts the identification as the Messiah, praises Peter for his insight, and promises him the spiritual authority of binding and loosing. The disciples were no doubt thrilled, and probably began daydreaming of the messianic triumph that they assumed Jesus was planning. God had so often saved the people of Israel in concrete ways that involved freeing them from political injustice and oppression, and they certainly faced an unjust and oppressive situation under the Roman yoke. They would naturally assume that Jesus was another Simon Maccabeus, and start honing their weapons and planning their recruitment speeches. So Jesus first forbade them from telling people he was the Messiah, and then went on to describe the shape of his messianic ministry in today’s passage. Matthew emphasizes this point at the beginning of this pericope by calling him not just “Iesus”, but “Iesus Christos”—a detail unaccountably left out of the NRSV and most English translations. He will not lead an army into Jerusalem, he tells them; rather, he will be executed there and eventually rise again. And when Peter demurs at the horrifying thought, he rebukes him as a Satan, a stumbling block and a tempter just like the devil who invited him to seek worldly glory and power at the beginning of his ministry. What Peter was saying was that Jesus should either give up his ministry and run away or take on the same violence used by the oppressors, and this was what Jesus refused to do—to gain the whole world by losing his soul. And his choice led both to the resurrection and, in some mysterious way, to a powerful outpouring of God’s healing love in the world.

I have several crosses that express this paradox and this saving power by being twined with leaves or flowers rather than the suffering body of Jesus. There is a bronze one given by my department chair at Rosemont college when I moved from the Roman Catholic to the Episcopal church, and another with a butterfly bought when I reconnected with the director of my thirty day Spiritual Exercises retreat, a widow and grandmother now bravely managing Parkinson’s disease. Another is a brightly painted Mexican purple cross with pink flowers, bought in Advent as I finished a healing semester teaching at the University of Portland. The most recent is a small silver-toned cross that was given by an amazing woman I met at an Al-Anon meeting, with the Serenity Prayer on the other side. She too lives with both PTSD and bipolar disorder, and took time for a long lunch in which she shared her experience of God’s presence and healing power and held me as I sobbed my guts out about my own illness and my son’s. She took the cross off her keychain and it now hangs on mine, so I see it on a daily basis and am reminded to turn to that prayer I am only now coming to appreciate, as I slowly move into the gutsy, loving community centered around Twelve Step spirituality : “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Acceptance does not mean celebration of pain, or numbness to feelings, or seeing life’s traumas and suffering as God’s will. It simply means releasing denial and facing reality, and as much as possible, compassionately and reverently contemplating our own experience and that of others. It means trusting that, like Moses by the burning bush or Mary Magdalene standing lovingly by the cross, we are on holy ground--that God is grieving with us, accepting all our feelings, and helping us to find new life in any way possible. If we can stay in that difficult place, turn to God’s love, and support each other in that challenging task, I believe that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will be with us in the pain and indeed grant us, as she did him, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Reflection on Proper 16

A Reflection on the readings:
Exodus 1:8-2:10
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20
By Janine Goodwin

When I worked in special education, we had meetings about how we might best serve a student. In the best of those meetings, the student was present. We always began the conversation with a consideration of the student's strengths, going around the table and calling upon our knowledge of the student to call forth what she or he could do, enjoyed, might learn to do. Only then did we go on to the things the student needed to work on and the ways we might help him or her learn. Immense creativity and hope came from those meetings. I like to believe that God does that: looks at who God created us to be, and holds that in balance with our flaws, our wounds, the habits that hold us back, and invites us and our communities to work together so that we may all fulfill our varied callings.

The image of those meetings, those conversations in which we worked to create good conditions for learning for and with a student, returned to me when I read the stories of Moses' birth, Jesus' answer to Peter's statement of faith, and Paul's call to humility. I have come to understand the Bible itself not as an unchanging monolith, but as a living and continuing conversation about God. In present-day terms, many of the individual books are more like wikis than like blog posts made by an individual; they have been reworked over the centuries, and the voices of the sources and redactors blend and separate like the sections of a choir. Different books have different emphases and even different worldviews: the prophets are urgent about reform, the sages observe what is with a quiet detachment that shades toward cynicism. The Gospels are four different retellings of Jesus' life with four distinct perspectives and some disagreement even about the order and timing of events. Peter and Paul disagree about the nature of membership in the new conversation that is the developing church, and we hear different accounts of their stories in Acts and in Paul's letters. I believe that Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation, and also that it is a multiplicity of voices and visions about the God that no one voice or vision can fully define or contain. Those who put lectionaries together add to the conversation by selecting Scriptures and combining them in ways that may point out shared themes or contrasts, or both. Scholars give us the history and context that surround the books, and schools of interpretation point out the strengths, limits, and blind spots in the thinking of the original writers, the previous interpreters, and even ourselves. When we read Scripture, we add to that conversation in Bible study, preaching, and our own prayer. Even our private prayer over Scripture is a conversation not just with God, but with all those who have taught us about faith.

In the conversation of faith that is today's readings, there is a fascinating balance of humility and high calling, individual and group destiny. Paul warns, "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think…" and in the conversation that is lectio divina, that phrase stands out to me. Yes, we need humility, but we also need to watch for the difference between humility and humiliation. Both come from the same root as "humus," garden dirt, but in humility we are grounded, and humiliation grinds our faces in the dirt. Some of us, most often women but not always women, are likely to have been taught early in our lives that we are worthless and that humility means accepting that projected worthlessness and being humiliated. We must remember that even when the prophets call the people of God to account with strong language, they do so because God loves the people and is calling them back into relationship. God's urgency is not because of our worthlessness, but because we do not live up to our worth and our calling to be a just and loving people. Jesus calls the outcast, the ones labeled worthless by their society, but Jesus does not call them worthless; the ones he speaks to with anger are the proud. The difficulty for us as individuals (and perhaps as communities of faith) is finding out where we judge ourselves too highly and where we are humiliated: both can exist in the same person at the same time. Psychology reminds us that wounded children vacillate between grandiose dreams and despairing fears of worthlessness, and neither is the truth about the child; the humble reality of daily living and healing is the process of learning to see our strengths and weaknesses and doing what we can do and are called to do in the world. Christian groups can be caught up in seeing themselves as the one right way or as a martyred minority: in either case, the focus on greatness or oppression is not a focus on the Good News or on the work before us. The point of our calling, as Paul points out, is not to look down on others or up to them, but to see them as colleagues in the task of caring for creation and giving the Good News to the world.

In a country that glorifies individualism and individual achievement, the calls of Moses and of Peter can too often be cast as stories of men called to be separate from the people, to be greater than the rest of us, to be larger than life. It's like focusing a camera on an athlete at the moment she wins an event: she appears to be alone, when in fact her triumph is the result, certainly of her hard work, but also of the effort and dedication of families, schools, coaches, doctors, organizations, and team members—even of the community in the stands that watches and cheers her on. Stories of greatness are stories of community. Prophets may seem to stand alone, but they are called to preach to a specific people. Even if they are cast out, they stand in relationship, in conversation, with the ones to whom they cry out, "God told me this!" Moses survives to lead his people out of slavery because the midwives, his mother and sister, and Pharaoh's daughter disobey the genocidal laws of their place and time. When Moses takes up the task he was called to do, the people do not follow him like sheep: they argue, gripe, and sometimes win a point or two about manna and water. Peter is one of the many disciples who follows Jesus and learns from him. He makes his statement of faith not long before he passes through the terror and confusion that lead to his betrayal of Jesus, and to Jesus' forgiveness and renewed call to "feed my lambs." His call leads him not into unquestioned supremacy and perpetual triumph, but into the conversations of the council of Jerusalem. Moses dies outside the promised land, and Peter dies a martyr: their lives do not end in what most people would call success. The calls of Peter and Moses are not calls to uninterrupted achievement, solitary glory, and unquestioned supremacy, but calls to bring their gifts and deficits into the conversation that is community. They fail and try again. They know their limits and their callings. They are grounded and humbled by the people they lead and serve. We can honor their leadership without being afraid to acknowledge their flaws and failures, because they are human. We can also notice that women may be called to lead as well as to support, but are kept from their full calling by the limitations of the community and its leaders. Miriam is a prophetic voice, but Moses chastises her. Mary Magdalene is the first witness of the resurrection, and Jesus calls her to tell the good news to the others, but she is not believed until men confirm her account.

Our communities, our leaders, and our conversation are holy and partake of God's power to create, but they are always limited. They are worthy of our work and trust, but not of our unquestioning obedience. Part of the call of the community is to question itself, its leaders, its past, even God. If we think we know everything God could ever have to tell us, we have left the conversation and are talking only to ourselves. Let us stay in the conversation, remembering, as George Rawson writes in the hymn, "We limit not the truth of God" that "The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word."