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"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lent 2C

A reflection on the readings for Lent 2C: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35 by Janine Goodwin, M.A., M.S. Ed.

I usually begin the preparation for a sermon by doing some quiet homework.
I study commentaries and use the prayer discipline of lectio divina, working to see the present through a particular Scripture story.
Sometimes, though, an event brings me to the scripture through experience first. This is one of those times.

Last week, after working as a substitute musician in the local Episcopal parish for Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, I planned to begin studying, let the knowledge sit quietly for a few days, and then write. A casual decision to check the local newspaper’s webpage changed all that: we learned that a white supremacist group is planning to move its headquarters to a small town near us. Suddenly, my husband and I were caught up in a set of tasks we had not expected: phone, email, and Facebook discussions; learning more about the hate group from various sources including the Southern Poverty Law Center; finding out about informational events, protests, and prayer meetings; making the decision to show up and be a small part of the community’s response.

I had less time and much more motivation to spend time with Scripture. I carried the bulletin insert for this Sunday’s readings folded in my coat pocket and read it in the car on the way to and from church and events. My instinct was to hold Scripture close to me, an instinct I identified with the small Bibles my grandfathers reads in the trenches of the First World War. On the first Sunday of Lent, we read Psalm 91, the psalm my father’s father said every day of the war as a prayer for safety, and I remembered him. My grandfather fought in the “war to end all wars,” a conflict whose unintended consequences included the group I am opposing now. In the timelessness of God, I believe we prayed together for our own safety and for the healing of the world. The familiar psalm had a new private meaning for me, a new public meaning for the local church as its members asked for strength and courage. Scholarship is good, study is good, and in times of trouble we use Scripture in simple and immediate ways that are also good:
Grandpa’s worn Bible and my crumpled bulletin insert were ways of reaching for God’s hand in troubled times.

The presence of Scripture was a comfort, and the call to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” it is always our responsibility. I went to the readings for the second Sunday of Lent asking for insight as well as strength. Scripture came alive in new ways. New perceptions and new questions began to appear. I prayed Psalm 27 first. It reminded me that God is present to us, we are not alone, and we have hope. It called me to offer multiple kinds of prayer: prayers of trust and gratitude, prayers for God’s protection and presence and for opportunities to serve, pleas to be heard, praise, and the prayer that listens for what God is calling us to do. That last kind of prayer, listening prayer, is the one that is hardest for me and the one I most need to do. Psalm 27 can remind us that prayer is the first response to any challenge, the response on which all others are built.

Next, I puzzled over the covenant with Abram, thinking of the ways this ancient sacrificial rite has been interpreted over the years. God makes covenants with us, fulfilling the fundamental desires of our hearts and accepting the gifts we bring, answering our questions, acting in the deep and terrifying darkness of our sleeping souls. The hate group calls itself a Christian church; I wondered how they would interpret that passage, how they use Scripture to promote their cause. How do we humans distort God’s words to us and God’s love and generosity? How can we be freed from those distortions? What might various people or groups assume wrongly, or miss, about the stories that come from cultures and times far removed from our own? How have people used the stories of sacrifice to justify destruction that God never intended?

From Philippians came Paul’s warning about the enemies of the cross of Christ and the promise of citizenship in heaven. Paul wept over those enemies. He was uncompromising in his description of their actions and the consequences of those actions. We are tempted to hate those who practice hatred, destruction and arrogance. If we do not hate in return, others (or we ourselves) may see us as cheerful wimps who don’t understand the magnitude of the situation, yet Paul shows a tough clarity that is free from either bitterness or compromise. How does he do that? How can we learn to be like him, strong in our faith and clear about what is wrong, yet without self-righteousness?

Finally, I came to the Gospel. It is only the second Sunday of Lent, but already in this story we see Jesus headed toward Jerusalem. He is opposing the powers of his world with an integrity that leads him into multiple kinds of danger. The obvious danger is the violence Herod may commit. The hidden danger is the deception and trickery others try to practice in the very act of pretending to warn him about that violence. Luke Timothy Johnson tells us that the Pharisees, who do not believe in prophecy, are trying to make Jesus deny his prophetic identity. If he turns away when he is warned, the Pharisees will know he is not a true prophet. If he continues toward Jerusalem, Johnson says, “they will have to confront his claims explicitly and reject them explicitly.” Jesus doesn’t take the bait, nor does he try to trick them in return. He is not intimidated and not fooled. He answers veiled hostility with strength and integrity. He says openly what he is going to do, and tells them to go tell “that fox”
Herod all about his actions and his approaching death. Then he grieves for the people of Jerusalem, the very people who will soon call for his death.
Then the incarnate God shows his manipulative questioners an image of himself that is as far as possible from the conquering leader they expect a prophet to be. He calls himself a mother hen, calling her little ones to safety. He does not present them with an image of God as an angry and powerful warrior, but with a fiercely loving, mothering God who wants to spread her wings over her children and protect them. If Herod is a clever, scheming fox and Jesus a brave and loving hen, Jesus is not placing himself in a position of power and victory, but of courage and sacrifice.
Faced with a sneaky predator, he puts himself between the fox and the ones he would still protect, even though they will not come to him.

What does Jesus offer us as we work to oppose preachers of hate? I believe that he calls us to meet their deception and violence with absolute refusal and without compromise, with clarity and honesty. I believe he still hopes to gather them in and heal them if they will choose to accept his infinite, motherly love. That love is not easy to accept. It demands growth and change that are often painful, and never settles for easy answers. It does not make us invulnerable to the evil others may choose to do, though our trust in God tells us that love always overcomes that evil.
Jesus continues on the way of truth and calls us to follow him. He does not run from danger. He does not give in to hostility. He puts the strength of creative love to work in a hostile world, and conquers death itself. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lent 1

A reflection on the propers for Lent 1 by The Rev. Karla J. Miller

T.S. Eliot, 20th century
The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.

Henry David Thoreau, 19th century
Generally speaking, a howling wilderness does not howl: it is the imagination of the traveler that does the howling.

Mother Teresa, 20th century
I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish [God] didn't trust me so much.
(Quotes from Sermon Seeds at

Wilderness and Temptation…

A real wilderness sounds good to me, today…
A quiet, albeit lonely, lonely place
Where the only distraction is grumbling hunger
The parched dryness of my soul,
And the loss of control.
Stripped naked, in that kind of vulnerable starkness,
There would be luxury of time to know my pain, know my weakness,
Reflect on what is important…
Say NO to the dross
And cling to my Creator God
On which my very life is hinged.

But the wilderness I face today is full,
Not just of the business of caring for souls
And writing sermons and rushing to meetings and working to do my part to repair the world (as if…)
My wilderness is abundance…
Of whatever I want whenever I want it…
My wilderness is the ways in which I make comfortable and easy and fun
My everyday living,
My rewards for being good…
Time out for Facebooking, a (big) glass of wine at the end of a long day, the next books I order from Amazon, the delivery of pizza to my door, the phone calls I screen from my father because I am just not up to it …
My wilderness is
the time I don’t have…
Oh yes, it’s all about the time I don’t have…
To create the internal space…
Where I can discern whether my rewards
Are really succumbing to the temptation
Of anesthetizing my heart,
Of denying the out of control consumption, the illusion of my own protection, the idol of my own power
To save myself.
To not bother God with having to take care of me—I can do that so you don’t have to Holy One. Take care of others. They need it more than me.

Ah, yes. The wilderness of my life is full,
And I have sinned. I have succumbed. I am goddess of my life.

Oh Holy One, Creator of the earth and skies and even me,
Lead me not into temptation,
Deliver me from the evil of denial,
Create in me a clean heart, oh God…
Renew a right spirit within me…
I offer you my pain. I lift up my brokenness to you.
I trust you. (well, at least for now I can only say that, but I want to believe it)
I will trust in you.
Teach me.
My life is hinged on you.
Help me remember.
Show me true worship
Of You.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Last Epiphany

A reflection on the propers for Last Epiphany: Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36 by The Rev. Margaret Rose

What about the veil?

Most years when it comes to “Epiphany Last” or the story of the Transfiguration I preach some version of the sermon I heard years ago when I had one of those “aha” experiences from a text. Jesus’ climb up the mountain with Peter and James and John, the dazzling white, the appearance of Moses and Elijah and their subsequent disappearance, the proclaiming of Jesus as Beloved Son was about history and the future coming together. It was God giving Jesus his marching orders, and even more, to the disciples and to us. The message was, “You can’t stay up on the mountain enjoying the glory of God. You can’t keep things the way they are or create a “dwelling” to hold everything statically in place. Jesus, renewed, beloved, called, named, had to come down the mountain and journey to Jerusalem. There was work to be done in the valley and it was time to get to it.

This year, I read the texts with this blog in mind, allowing myself to hear the words and the narrative of the Exodus story as well as the responding texts of 2Corinthians and Luke with the ear of a woman. What struck me was the word Veil and its curious use in both the Old Testament and the Epistle . Moses, his face shining brilliantly with the encounter with God, put the veil on his face when he was not speaking in an official capacity. And took it off when he was with God. In the letter to the Corinthians, there is the confusing explanation that the veil had to do with Moses not allowing the people of Israel to see the glory of God, implying that the people of Israel had a veil over their minds and could not understand or receive God’s glory. “A veil lies over their minds;but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” The Good News for the community in Corinth is that in the freedom of the Lord, unveiled faces allow the spirit of the lord to enter in. Christians see the Glory of God in their own and one another’s faces.
Many of us have experiences with veils. And the word and the wearing are both fraught.

The wedding veil comes first to mind. Many brides ask, “Shall I wear a wedding veil?” Is it a sign of chattel? Or is it’s removal a symbolic moment of revelation which allows two people to see one another as never before, shining with the spirit of God’s presence? One bride once asked whether or not they might create a way for her fiancĂ© to wear one too!

I remember as a child having to wear “something” on my head when I went into church. Whether it was a hat, a handkerchief, or a scarf it was called a veil.
Years later, in 1978 when I was in Divinity School, my boyfriend who was a Mennonite, invited me to his home in Pennsylvania. Hoping not to surprise me with cultural differences he let me know that his mother and sisters, and most of the women I would meet there would be wearing the veil. Instead of reassuring me, I felt petrified. Would I be able to see their faces, their eyes. Would this be like the Muslim women I had seen on a recent trip to Israel? I wondered if they would assume that my unveiled face was promiscuous! I must admit to great relief when I discovered the veil to be very similar to the head covering I had worn to church as a child.

Today the question of head covering within and among the three Abrahamic traditions is complex and ambiguous as it is lived out in “secular” or “sacred” territory. In France, the controversy continues over whether Muslim girls will be allowed to wear a veil or head covering to school. Among Muslim feminists, there are deep discussions over whether the head covering is a sign of oppression or in fact allows for a kind of liberation from cultural objectivism. The underlying answer seems to be somehow connected to choice.

Jewish women as well have traditions about veils and head coverings which are undergoing examination.

The questions remain. Is the veil a sign of submission? And to whom? Or is it respect for oneself and God? Or is it about following the New Testament prohibition about women’s heads being covered? And is removing it a sign of empowerment and liberation?

What about the connection to Moses and his encounter with God? His face reflected God’s presence and glory as he was transformed into the role of leader and liberator of the people of Israel. That is, I hope, exactly what our own faces reveal in transfigured moments of our lives. To be transfigured means somehow to be free to experience and share the glory of God. Whether or not there is a symbolic or literal veil over our heads or faces.
Margaret Rose

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Epiphany 5C

Reflection for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy

I am not a strong swimmer, and the idea of going into deep water, whether swimming in a lake or a pool, or even getting on a boat is always sort of scary for me. It even made me think twice when it came to signing up for the first of the RevGals Big Events, which was, of course, a cruise. Would I, I wondered, panic when I woke up that first morning and realized that we were indeed in the deep water far from shore, and that there was no going back? Or would I be able to let down my nets of worry and anxiety and relax into trusting God that all would be well? And actually that was what happened. As I went topside that first morning, I was astonished by the beauty and serenity of the ocean, and comforted by warmth of the community that was rapidly forming among our little group.

The deep water. Such a good metaphor for the places our faith journeys take us. The places that hold such an abundant catch, but often the ones we fear to go because we can’t touch bottom, or even see if from where we are. Things way out there in the deeps may require a different approach from us, might ask that we leave the comfort zone of “the way it’s always been”. We may think we have been working really hard, doing it things our way, the usual way, whether its working or not….but then comes a nudge, an urge, or even a command. “Let down your nets.” That strikes me more like a suggestion to release something than it does to work harder, to trust that there is an abundance waiting if we can just open up and trust in our ability to receive.

Peter. God love him, Everyperson that he is. It is hard to admit, but I think that might have been me there on the shore. Faced with all that abundance, instead of joy and gratitude…. I too might have been doing guilt and “Jesus, go away.” How do we repent of that? Of the part of us that simply will not allow God to love us, that will not allow ourselves to relax into the grace of abundance and simply be present? The disciples got it that day on the shore when they left everything and followed him. They weren’t perfect. Half the time, they weren’t even very good at it. But it didn’t matter. Jesus kept right on loving them. And calling them back to the deep water, into things way beyond their depths. And they kept going on with him. Sputtering sometimes. Half drowning, having to be drug out and wrung out and loved back to dry land.

It’s almost Lent again. One more Sunday of the Epiphany season and we are into it. That time that seems to call us to go into our own deeper places, that times that urges us to fall into God again and simply allow ourselves to know….that we are loved, that we are called, that we have simply to come into the water and drop the net and we too will find all the fish we could ever need in abundance. That we, too could afford to leave everything else behind and simply….follow him.