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, March 26, 2010

Palm/Passion Sunday

A reflection for Palm/Passion Sunday March 28, 2010 by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy Luke 23:1-49

“It all seems to change so suddenly….from shouts of hosanna and praise to ‘Crucify him, Crucify him.’ In one short week he goes from being the hero to the most scorned and lowly of victims…dying in shame on the cross on the hill. But we must remember….this was no victim of crowd mentality run riot. This was Jesus…God incarnate….this was his choice, this was his gift. This was the God who loved us enough to become us. Who as theologian Brookes Ramsey says, became like us so could we could learn to be more like God. So we watch him this week, this final week of his life here on earth…this God of ours who loved us enough to chose this life, and now chooses this death….all for us. And as we watch him go through his final days, as he speaks his final words, does his last acts on this earth, makes one last ultimate choice for love of us…we watch to see what we can learn from this gift of his about being more like God….and in doing so perhaps we too can learn to be more human as well. Amen.”

Yes, that really is all I have to say from two pulpits on this very important Sunday in the church year. There is already so much here, so many words, so much ritual and story, so much truth… I really need to overwhelm it with my thoughts?
With as much clarity of liturgical recall as I have for much of my very churched childhood, I don’t seem to remember much about this particular Sunday. I have a vague recollection of making little palm crosses and of the interminable length of the Passion reading. But somehow there was no link, no connection between the two….if one was even made. Maybe in that day and time we separated the two…it was Palm or Passion. Impressionable as I was with all the things of church, I cannot remember.

Holy Week, however, is a different story. Holy Week left strong and stark memories from an early age. Weekly Stations of the Cross every single Lent from Kindergarten on prepared me and left no doubt in my mind of the great suffering and magnitude of the gift given in the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. By the time we ended the last service on Good Friday it would seem as if the very earth were in tune with what had transpired. In my memory, even the sky was always clouded as we left church after the service. Over time my theology and understanding of why the sacrifice was made, why the gift was given has changed. And so has my response…at some level. But at another, far more visceral, and I would say perhaps deeper and spiritually richer level, when I hear described those last events in Jesus’ life, or see in my mind the images they conjure, I am humbled and astonished by such flagrant love. Something in me seems to come to stillness before such undeserved amazing grace. Something in my heart responds with only “yes.”

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lent 5C

A reflection on Propers for Lent 5C: Isaiah 43;16-21, Psalm 126, Philipians 3:4-14, John 12:1-8 by The Rev. Camille Hegg

When Mary anoints Jesus with “a pound of costly pure nard,” she was doing something both brave and loving. In this age of fear and anxiety, to approach someone and anoint him is an act of hope and expectation, neither fear nor anxiety.

There are many instances of the use of oil for anointing in the Bible. The psalmist says to put on the “oil of gladness.” The “balm in Gilead” is reminiscent of the ointment or oil, balm, for soothing and easing pain. When Jesus was brought frankincense and myrrh, these were probably oils for anointing. After his death the women returned to anoint his body for burial. David was anointed king although we are not told what oil was used. There are so many more examples of the use of elements of the earth for anointing and healing. An in-depth study of the various oils of the Bible is interesting and engenders my own creative energies.

I keep an aloe plant in my kitchen. When I cut or burn myself I cut a stem and rub the viscous matter that oozes from it onto the hurt place. Frequently the next day I can’t tell anything happened. Aloe is also mentioned in the Bible. Traditions grew up around various oils from plants, tree bark, roots of the earth. More than ‘old wives tales,’ these understandings of the properties and uses have been passed down for centuries and still hold meaning and interest today. And, by the way, “old wives” are and were very wise in many ways.

Therefore, I decided to look into ‘nard’ and see what Mary might have been using. Nard is a shortened word coming from spikenard. Some versions actually say spikenard. In Song of Solomon, 1:12, the bride says, ‘while the king sits at his table my spikenard sends forth its fragrance.” It was prepared by steaming the roots of a plant, some sources say a valerian plant from India, others make no mention of which plant. It was probably mixed with olive oil. Hippocrates and Galen both prescribed it as a sedative and said it was good to help with sleep. Spikenard was prized by Egyptians and imported to the holy land, usually in alabaster jars and was indeed very expensive.

The folklore around it was that nard was useful to quell fear and anxiety, improve meditation, and induce restful sleep and pleasant dreams. Jesus could have benefitted from all these properties especially at this dinner on this evening.
They were at a dinner party for Lazarus. The evening was probably jovial as they celebrated Lazarus’ return. Surely some, Mary and Jesus if no others, had a sense of impending gloom or darkness. Mary was weeping. We don’t know Jesus’ demeanor or state of mind, except that he was with his friends and it was, according to John, six days before the Passover.

He allowed her to anoint him. As she cried she dried her tears with her hair. These are acts of love and devotion amidst grief, and sadness. He defended Mary when Judas criticized her extravagance in using this expensive oil.

John says the room was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. I’ll bet that many of them remembered Mary’s actions, Jesus’ responses, the sweet, earthy smell of the room that night when on the day of his death Jesus was returned to the earth in the tomb. Acts of love, kindness, bravery and faith, last longer than a fragrance, but the fragrance carries its own memories.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lent 4C

A reflection on Luke 15: 11-32 by the Rev. Sarah Rogers

It is March and Spring is finally in the air after a heavy winter. The bulbs are finally looking as though they might flower, the trees are in bud and it feels as though things will begin to turn green before too long. New signs of life are all around, lambs are being born and before long the birds will be making their nests. It seems that March is a month to focus on Motherhood. There certainly seems to be a tremendous focus on women during March, there is the Women’s World Day of Prayer, International Women’s Day, UNCSW are meeting in New York. Then later in the month we will celebrate the Annunciation to the BVM (a timely reminder that there are only 9 months until Christmas…!).

Here in the UK we also celebrate Mothering Sunday, this stems from an ancient tradition of returning to our ‘mother’ church, or Cathedral on the 4th Sunday of Lent. This later became an occasion for family reunions, when children who were working away, particularly girls in service would return home, as they walked along the country lanes, children would pick wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift. This Saturday afternoon, I spent some time making cards and gifts with our children in Messy Church. This is a time when grandparents and parents can spend time with their children and work together to create. We then had a short service during which the mum’s were given posies of flowers, a small token to say thank you for their care and nurture. There were a couple of dad’s there, and yet it occurred to me that the event of Mothering Sunday, focuses not only on Mothers but also on family, our own families and our family the church.

I have to admit, that that reflection stems out of today’s gospel reading, the parable of the prodigal son. It is such a well known story in which the younger son squanders his inheritance away on ‘dissolute living’, while his brother stays at home and works hard to look after the farm, the ultimate dysfunctional family. The younger son seems to treat his father as though he is already dead by claiming his inheritance early, it must have been quite an insult. There would also have been a considerable financial impact, as the father would probably have needed to sell half of what he owned in order to satisfy his younger son. The younger son soon spends all the money, then he is left with nothing, destitute in a time of famine, envying the unclean animals, the pigs, and finally he realises that even the hired hands on his fathers estate faired better than he did at that moment.

Who can blame the elder brother for reacting in the way that he did, after all he had given years of loyal service to his father. He had probably had to work harder than ever with his brother away, he had helped to fatten up the calf and after all, it was part of his property. He does not want to acknowledge his brother, referring to him as ‘this son of yours’.

It occurred to me in reading this passage that the father perhaps somehow embodies both father and mother. He is a wonderful character, perhaps a little too indulgent in allowing his son to go off with his inheritance. When he returns he cannot hid his affection and runs to meet him. He forgives everything immediately, whatever insult or loss of dignity that occurred because of his earlier indulgence is instantly forgotten. The father does not forget his other son either, leaving the party and his new-found son to try and coax away his resentment. He acknowledges that everything that is left belongs to him.

It is of course the mother’s voice that is missing in all this. There is no mention of her, if she were there then surely she would have been mentioned, would she not have also welcomed her son back in the same way as his father did? Perhaps the story would have been quite different, she may have persuaded her son not to go away (or been able to persuade her husband not to give him the money to go!). However, the absence of any mention of the mother suggests that she is not on the scene, that she has passed away. Perhaps that is the motivation for the younger sons behaviour, perhaps that is why he wants his inheritance, perhaps that is why he wants to run away. In those circumstances, perhaps the Father did the right thing, in letting his son find his own way through.

This story teaches us a vital lesson, after all there is nothing more complicated than family relationships. No matter how much we love our children we have to let them go, and that is true as much for mothers as for fathers. Somewhere along the way we have to let them go to make their own mistakes, to find themselves, to grow and to eventually become parents themselves. It is not always easy to take that step back and let our children be themselves, sometimes they do things that we would rather they didn’t do. The father in the story of the prodigal son reminds us that is okay for our children to make their own mistakes, but we must also remember that when they come home, even if they have somehow disappointed us, we must welcome them with open arms, and kill the fatted calf.

It is impossible at this time of year not to turn our thoughts to Mary, as she waits at the foot of the cross for her son to die. She always knew that he was the son of God, but did she realise what the reality of that would be. I think Mary and Joseph learnt that lesson early when Jesus stayed in the temple when he was just 12 years old. They cannot but help realise where his destiny lay. I can’t remember which film this scene is in, I think it is ‘The Passion of the Christ’, that controversial film by Mel Gibson, there is a scene when Jesus falls as he is carrying the cross and Mary sees, and is desperate to run to him as she recalls him falling as a child and grazing his knee. How much she must have wanted to run and comfort him as he was dying on the cross, watching him die could not have been easy.

Yet, there at the foot of the cross we are reminded of the meaning of family, as Jesus entrusts his mother Mary to the care of John his beloved disciple. In that moment Jesus makes Mary our mother, we are all part of his family, we are all children of God.

What comes through is the central message of love, that is key family life no matter how complicated it is. Whatever we do, whether for our own families or for the family the church, must be in love. It seems to me that even now as a church there are difficult times ahead, even today Christians are persecuted and there are even issues on which Christians are going to fall out. Somehow, somewhere, individuals are going to be disappointed in how parts of the church act, but we must hold together and we must always act in love. We are all one body the church, and we are all held together by the love of God and by our love for one another.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lent 3C

A reflection on the Propers for Lent 3C by The Rev. Crystal Karr

Jonah 3:1-10 NRSV
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’ 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it

Luke 13:1-9 NRSV
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’
Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’

I was a daddy's girl, I absolutely adored my father. However from a very early age and on I was a witness to his methods of terrorizing my mother, girlfriends, and stepmothers. As a young girl I believed that however scary and mean my father was to "his women" it was only because they must have done something to deserve it. As I grew older I began to realize that the women in my father's life did not deserve his violent outbursts which left warning signs all over the house--broken windows, holes in the wall, and purple bruises on their flesh. I then became disgusted with him and wanted nothing to do with my father. And yet, I could still recall just how wonderful, fun, and loving he was to me. Those feelings of adoration still pop up and make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. My husband can't understand how I could possibly love him and yet I do and know that I always will. Children are resilient.
The town of Nineveh was filled with sin and violence. Jonah, like my mother in regards to my father, no longer wanted anything to do with it. Nineveh was scary and awful--nothing good could possibly come from it. Yet, God, like the child I was, sought to forgive Nineveh. Sure, God was prepared to destroy the town, to cut it off but wanted to give that second chance, because maybe, just maybe the people could change, and despite the violence and sin, God loved the people (and creatures) of Nineveh.

God continued to instruct Jonah to go to Nineveh even after he tried to run away! God put Jonah through hell--in the belly of a great big fish. Even after my mother tried to run away she was brought back to my father every weekend so she could see me. I remember many weekends in which he put her through hell as she came to get me. But I loved my daddy, I still do.

As I got older I understood my mother's terror of my father. I wanted to protect my mother from my father. She deserved better. I was prepared to cut my father out of my life because I knew he wouldn't change.

Jonah proclaims to Nineveh that in 40 days God would destroy the entire town--beasts and people--all were bound for destruction. There was no hope--that's just the way it was going to go.

But then, the people heard Jonah's cries for destruction. The king declared that there would be a fast for both humans and beasts, all would cry out and worship God because maybe, just maybe there was a chance at reconciliation--even though Jonah had offered no hope, no word of encouragement, there was a fast. There was also forgiveness.

I'd like to say that my father changed, his violence stopped but that's not entirely true. He tried. The tears would stream from his face and words about love would pour from his mouth and while he might fast from his anger and violence it was just a fast. It was only temporary.

Often we understand God as father or mother. This always has problems because there are too many people who had broken fathers and mothers who abandoned them, abused them--physically, sexually, emotionally. The love of fathers and mothers can be great but because of our sin-sick world it can also be very destructive. So for some of us the image of God the parent doesn't work--it's not just unappealing but it hurts us.

But what if we imagined God as Loving Child? I'm now a parent and know that children aren't always so loving, innocent, and pure but stay with me for a bit and remember that all of our images of God are flawed.

God has the love of a child, a resilient love that exists and longs for reconciliation even when everyone else has given up, even when it hurts us. This is a love that sometimes gets angry, upset, and is greatly pained by the things it sees go on in the world, the love continues, grows, and matures. Even as it recognizes the pain and hurt, the damage, that the parents of the world have caused the love remains strong, indestructible.

While a child is resilient but not indestructible we worship a God who is indestructible. No matter our attempts to kill God, in the flesh of Jesus or emotionally, we cannot do it. The Resurrection tells us that God is more than what the evil we inflict on one another, upon God's creation, and yes, upon God--God's love remains steadfast.

In the 2nd scripture the master declares the fig tree's barrenness and demands that the gardener cut it down. However, the gardener begs for it to remain, for yet another chance, another year to help the tree grow fruit. Now, a fig tree grows fruit almost the entire year, it's continually producing fruit, it's the bunny of the fruit trees! The master is probably correct in declaring its barrenness, that if it has not produced fruit after 3 years then it won't ever yield fruit! Yet, the gardener isn't ready to give up. The gardener is willing to give it another try, to nurture it to grow and yield figs as it was created to do. The gardener is even willing to get really dirty by spreading manure on the soil around the tree! The gardener will do whatever it takes. The gardener says that if it doesn't work then he'll cut the tree down the following year--but I can't help but wonder if he'll make the same proposal at that time. Perhaps not but another year in the life of a fig tree is quite an extension!

We fail God over and over again, yet God remains steadfast. We try but we fall down, we screw up and yet God picks us up again and again. Jonah ran away but God delivered him from the belly of an enormous fish. Nineveh repented even when it seemed that all hope was gone.

In our world of sin and brokenness the cycle of violence continues. Children of abusive parents continue to love their parents even in the midst of disappointment and great pain--not only as children but into adulthood. In no way am I belittling the pain and suffering of abused children, rather the love that resides in them reminds me of the love that God offers to us. So often you can't understand it unless you've experienced it.

It's not a love of open arms rather it is a love that has experienced great pain and suffering but exists anyway, it is resilient, it continues to grow even from a distance, even when it is saddened by the behaviors of the "other"--whether that is a parent, or humans. It is a love that works in spite of despair and hopelessness. It is a love that has lived in a broken and sin sick world but continues to live and work and hope beyond what could ever be imagined. Thanks be to God. Amen.