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"

Friday, September 24, 2010

Proper 21C

A reflection on the readings for Proper 21C, Pentecost 18C: Amos 6:1a, 4-7 and Psalm 146, 1 Timothy 6:6-19 , Luke 16:19-31 by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig

Three readings…all on a common theme this morning. “Alas for those who are at ease in Zion”….or anywhere else for that matter, Amos tells us, “the revelry is not the goal.” And Timothy too, echoes the message, it’s easy to be trapped by desire and attachment to riches and the things of this world. But we are urged to “set our hopes on God…to do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, so that we have the life that really is life.” And in the Gospel…. again we are reminded what Jesus thought about what was important, and it is NOT the riches of this life!

We have had an ongoing lesson these past weeks in the Gospels from Jesus about the importance of ordering our priorities, letting go of our attachments, aligning ourselves with the poor, putting our selves, our riches on the line for what we say we believe. We are being reminded in many ways why we are here, and that is it is not for ourselves but for the world. This message is very consistent with the thoughts of our new bishop in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, with the idea that the church does not exist to extend the church but to participate with God in co-creation of God’s kingdom here on earth, a kingdom of justice, compassion and reconciliation, and that we are called to mission.

We come together to worship on Sunday because worship is central to our common life as a community not for its own sake, but in order to support and equip us to make a difference in the work we do in our own mission fields seven days a week. We come to be fed on Word and on Sacrament together in order that we might remember who and Whose we are, in order to be strengthened for what we are called to in the rest of our lives outside this place.

A while back I heard a comment I heard at a clergy conference from one of my colleagues on another TM team that made me think. He talked about how since he has been ordained, he feels a new sense of responsibility wherever he goes because he feels as though people have identified him as a representative of the church, as a sort of “professional Christian” and that they watch how he handles himself in his daily life. How he responds to conflict, how he deals with people….and as I listened to him I thought, you know, this ought not to just be true for someone who is ordained, but for all of us who are baptized, because truly we are all called to see Christ in others and be Christ’s presence in the world. And there is a way in which the world should be able to watch and see God’s Spirit operating in us, see something in the way we act, the way we ARE that sets us apart. That is what mission is about. That is what ministry is about. And each of is called to it. Every one of us walks daily in several mission fields. At home. At work. Where we spend our leisure time. Every one of us functions in our local community and are also citizens of the wider world. And in each of these places there are chances every day to participate in God’s creative reshaping of this world into God’s kingdom. And in each of these arenas we are being called upon to ask ourselves what is the mind of God in this situation and then to act out of that. And we don’t do this in a vacuum. We have Jesus as the role model. Not so much in terms of that little phrase “what would Jesus do” as how would Jesus BE, or what is the mind of God. In these Gospels Jesus is making very clear how it is we are called upon to reflect the mind of God. We are called, in all these mission fields of our lives to do the just thing, to do the most inclusive thing, to do whatever the act is that most widens the circle and draws others in. We are called to do what considers the good of those most in need, the poor, the weak, the vulnerable. We are called upon to forgive. We are called upon to be just. We are called upon to reconcile. We are called upon to be peacemakers. Jesus came to literally “change our minds,” to transform our whole viewpoint, to give us a bigger picture, a glimpse of the possible world as God sees it. Through our baptism, we are covenanted to follow this vision, to incarnate it in our own lives as Jesus did in His. We are all vocational, called to ministry and mission. There is really no escaping it, we were marked as God’s own at baptism, and we are challenged to count the cost and pick up the cross. More than it ever has the world needs to hear another voice. The voice that cries out for justice, and compassion and reconciliation. This is God’s mission, not ours. Our job is merely to respond. To use our own individual gifts and talents to participate as we are called, where we are called, actually many times, every day, if we are paying attention… our own mission fields.

We are given the opportunity to participate in something more than the life of this world. We are given the opportunity for eternal life – God’s kingdom life – the countercultural life. Not the life that is merely about storing up our riches here on earth. Not the life that is about looking for the best place for ourselves. Not the one that is about doing the things that will get us noticed and rewarded. But the life that says what we see before us is not how it can be, how it should be. The life that we are offered is the one exemplified in Jesus. It is the one we can claim through our baptism and the power of the Spirit. We make the world we live in different one day at a time, one act at a time by the way we live our daily lives in mission and ministry. May it be so.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Proper 20C

A reflection on the readings for Proper 20C: Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 138, 1 Timothy 2:1-8, Luke 16:1-13 by Janine Goodwin, M.S. Ed., M.A.

It’s another complicated week in the lectionary. Amos cries out against injustice in a way that may be very uncomfortable for our country, where CEO’s salaries have ballooned out of all proportion to those of their workers while many people go unemployed, have no healthcare, and deal with food insecurity. The psalm is a peaceful song of trust. The epistle urges respect for authority and promotes a quiet and peaceable life; the Gospel seems to undercut that, as Jesus, who faced conflict wherever he went, tells a strange story about a cheating steward and says things that are difficult to understand until we reach the stark, “You cannot serve God and wealth,” which is easy to understand but is not easy to hear.

Sets of readings like this one remind me of two different but recurring experiences.
In the first, I am with people of faith. I am in a church. We are all sitting quietly, nicely dressed, in a beautiful building, most of us looking tranquil (and some of us looking downright sleepy) as some of our number read cries of prophetic outrage, wildly puzzling stories, and sayings that threaten to change our lives completely, all in calm, matter-of-fact voices. I look around, thinking, "Is anyone else noticing how weird and scary this stuff is? Has everyone else found a way to deal with it that I don’t know about? What would happen if I asked these questions?"

In the second, I am listening a person who does not share my faith or anyone else’s, someone who is eager to explain to the world that any life of faith is simply a pathetic attempt at self-soothing by people who can't handle tough reality. I think about the incomprehensible passages and impossible demands I find in Scripture, the lives of the people we celebrate in the church calendar, the way study and prayer turn up more challenges and questions every time I practice them, and my own experience at trying (and mostly failing) to live a life based on faith, and sigh. Sometimes I wish they were right, because the placid and deluded life the person is describing sounds easier than mine.

In both cases, I am confronted by the terrors of faith. Scripture, when it is not smoothed over and harmonized out of the individual voices from which it came, is a contradictory, challenging, sometimes shocking thing—and sometimes it really is incomprehensible. There are dozens of studies on the meaning of the parable in the reading from Luke, there are lots of good potential answers, and it’s even more difficult and full of potential meanings than most parables; no one is ever going to be sure exactly what’s going on in it. Maybe the steward is getting back at an unjust master who is trampling on the needy. Maybe he is putting relationships ahead of material goods. Maybe he is crooked and his crookedness is a sign of the world’s corruption, and Jesus is using him to make a satirical point. (These and other intriguing interpretations can be found on this week’s page at

The life of faith is not cozy. Scripture is not always a comfort. Tradition can anchor us in a changing world, but tradition itself has to change as we face new circumstances. Ignoring it can end in a loss of many gifts; worshiping it leads away from living in the present. Our reason is limited and can lead us astray, especially if we use it to fuel denial and wishful thinking. This does not mean that scripture, tradition, and reason are useless, only that they cannot give us the certainty that we sometimes wish they would. I have come to believe that faith is not a matter of knowing the answers to every question, or of thinking God has them written up ahead of time and will dispense them if we ask, or of making up answers because we need them; it is a way of living based on the belief that a God who loves us is helping us do the best we can and understand as much as we can, if we will do our part, in a world that is flawed and painful. Faith is not about reading a map, but about deciding which way to go when there is no clear path, trusting in the companionship of God and each other.

The person who calls faith a comforting delusion has a point; she’s describing something she’s seen. It is a form of idolatry that happens when we worship certainty instead of seeking a living relationship with a living God. It is possible to imagine a God that holds everything in rigid control instead of one who gives us free will and allows us to experience the consequences of our actions. It is possible to take only the assurances of God’s real love and care for us and make a faith that is all about comfort. It is all too easy to assign ourselves the role of the good person, the righteous person, the persecuted person in every story. It is possible to hold such a faith without ever engaging with the troubling demands and the strange utterances of Scripture, and without ever seeing the ways in which we might be the sinners, the unclean, and the persecutors. It is possible to sit in church and not hear how dangerous the life of faith can be, even when those dangers are being preached. I’ve tried all those things myself, and watched them fail. Private griefs and public disasters can shatter a faith like that in an instant. At that moment, the person who has lost a false faith may come to believe that faith itself is an illusion, rather than realizing that what they have lost was never really faith.

Losing a false faith is terrifying and freeing. When we give up the need for certainty, we can choose to trust a God who is greater than our attempts to control or explain our surroundings. We are free to question Scripture, tradition, and reason, and in questioning, we are free to really listen to them and to receive their gifts rather than trying to force them to supply answers that support our preconceptions. We are free to hear all kinds of ideas from others, to have our own ideas, and to hold them lightly lest we make them idols to replace the broken ones. We are free to meet angry assertions of the one right way with the calm knowledge that only God knows the full truth and that we do not have to convince others of God’s will for us. Instead, we have the far more difficult task of working out our own salvation in fear and trembling, knowing God is at work in us.

Once we have faced the terrors of faith, we can find the living comfort that does not negate them but grows out of them: that whatever our uncertainty, God is with us, just as God is with our enemies and those we have harmed. God is working with us, and together, we are working things through, working them out. Whatever is happening in the world and in our lives, there is no one who does not matter to God. The responsibilities are great and we are called to be faithful. Luke Timothy Johnson, working on the parable of the steward, uses “reliable” where most translations use “faithful,” a change which reminds me that the life of faith is a matter of small daily actions as well as great decisions, of habit as well as crisis. The comforts of faith do not negate grief and uncertainty, but help us face them with honesty and courage. Thanks be to the God of weird and scary stuff.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Proper 18C

A reflection on the readings for Proper 18 C By The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

What a powerful combination of texts we have for this week:
• Jeremiah at the potter’s house, seeing the vessel in the potter’s hand smashed at its very making, in order that something else can be made.
• Jesus, harsh and serious, ripping disciples away from every tie that binds, other than following him; describing the building of the kingdom as something that requires sustained, disciplined and ruthless planning and execution.

The two metaphors come together in Jesus’ illustrations of what it takes to bring about the reign of God. The king, who wishes to wage war, evaluates the situation and pulls back – even negotiates a peace treaty – with an enemy which he cannot defeat. A tower cannot stand unless it is built on a firm and careful foundation. Like the potter who smashes the imperfect vessel – regret and remorse seem not to be part of the equation – God is altogether willing to bring down inadequate responses to the divine will in order that something new can come into being.

I am in the middle of my sermon preparation, and will just share some thoughts. I am not yet sure where to go with them all yet. For the past few weeks, I have been drawn to Walter Brueggemann’s work on Jeremiah. What took me there was the challenge of the first of these readings, two weeks ago – that God will pluck up and pull down, destroy and overthrow – and only then build and plant (!!) – how possibly to preach on this to a little down-and-outer congregation??

It helps to re-read Brueggemann now. It helps for him to categorize Jeremiah as (1) affirming the old Sinai covenant between God and the people, the covenant which the people of Judah have not followed; (2) articulating with powerful poetry the deep pathos of God – God who does not want just to curse and punish the people for their transgressions but yearns to stay in relationship with these people, yearns for so much more for them and with them; and (3) pronouncing a devastating critique on the temple-priestly establishment that thought they were above the judgment of God, that God’s favor was secure in them and their way of life. The new imagination which Jeremiah brings forth – even from that very first chapter, the snippet of the prophet’s call which we read in church – is that God has something entirely new in store for us. We can know that the new is coming even while we are still living under that establishment theology, that empire, that domination system that will only bring death, because it is so far from the covenant life of justice and mercy that God intends. We can know the new is coming only in our imaginations, only in our hearts, because not even Jeremiah the prophet was predicting or planning what that new covenant would exactly be.

All of us in “the mainline church” are facing a crossroads of judgment on our institutional life. In some places, like my little church, the crisis of unsustainability is here. Other churches have enough money or people to keep going as they are. Others have, blessedly, begun to take the leap into the imaginative new.

My husband preached on these propers (the BCP version) in 1995, part of a sermon to a little suburban congregation that was about to call a new vicar and embark on some ambitious plans to re-start and re-imagine who they would be as a congregation, in hopes to soon become self-sustaining and off diocesan support.

There are times in our lives when heroic and self-sacrificing decisions have a wonderful appeal. These times are moments of insight, are points of encounter with the Holy, are answers to prayer or are answers to searching for meaning in life which is to say again are answers to prayer, ours or someone else’s These are times when we are at our best and the same time at our worst These are times when we glory in discovering a truth and being true to that discovery, hang the consequences, the zeal of the convert, the newly saved, the newly convicted. Think about it; doesn't scripture support that position this morning?

Jesus says... and you quote scripture...sometimes out of context. Jesus says, renounce. The trouble with Christ here is that he is arrogant; with him there are no other loyalties. Family, Business, Nation, Self and all these considerations are important to any healthy person with a sense of self and an ounce of self-respect.

But look at Jesus own life and you begin to question: his family turned away, his nation rejected him, his friends fell away to one and then none! SO are we ready for this? Is this the kind of example we wish to follow? This is our leader, Our Lord, and he is not controlled or owned by nation of national self-interest, or by prayer in school or the right to life issue or by the Episcopal Church or the Roman Catholic Church or any other church. This is our leader and he is a real radical, he even requires us to renounce the self-satisfaction and tyranny of knowing that we have discovered the truth, that we are saved.

The church in question worked hard for a few years, and then it closed. That may be a fate facing many of our congregations. How can Jeremiah’s interpretations of the events which led to the destruction of the temple and the exile in Babylon help us discern the signs of our times, of what God is subverting and destroying? How can we find the peace of mind to allow God’s imagination to work in us, so we can see what new thing may be emerging?