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"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Reign of Christ (Christ the King Sunday)

Reflection on Luke 23:33-43 by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig

Well, as the GPS in my car says when we get to the end of the journey, “We have arrived.” In this Gospel lection, we have arrived with Jesus at his destination. Here on this cross where he has come to take his place as a final living and unmistakable testimony God's plan for God’s kingdom.

In this long run of Ordinary Time since the second Sunday after Pentecost we have been journeying with Jesus and the disciples as chronicled in the Gospel of Luke. We heard early on that “Jesus set his sights on Jerusalem,” and we have followed as he has called his followers, healed the sick, set people free from demons, raised the dead and preached and taught by word and example the radical message about the kingdom of God.
Luke has shown to us over and over examples of Jesus in action…the very same Jesus who came to us early in this Gospel with his mission statement taken from Isaiah, that his task was to bring “…., “good news to the poor...release to the captives...sight to the blind,[and] liberty [for] those who are oppressed.”

We have had ongoing lessons these past weeks from Jesus in the Gospels about the importance of ordering our priorities, letting go of our attachments, aligning ourselves with the poor and putting our riches and ourselves on the line for what we say we believe.

Jesus makes it clear again and again that his is God’s mission, God’s will and plan for salvation and that through his own life, death and resurrection, he is here specifically to manifest that plan to the world….to show us very clearly who God is, what God is really about and what God’s kingdom on earth is and can be because he also provides a way for us to be more like God. It is important that we understand that in inviting us to be part of bringing about God’s kingdom on earth Jesus was calling us to an entirely different way of being in relationship with each other and with God. Jesus proclaims a whole new reality where everything is changed. Not just the ruler, but the rules and the relationships are different in this realm of God. The very essence of who and whose we are, and how we are called to be is challenged.

It is also important that we understand that God’s kingdom, God’s realm, is here among us right now, happening this very day. Because Jesus was and is…lived, died and rose, we are citizens of this world and citizens of Jesus’ kingdom, too.

We live in two worlds. We understand that faith is no longer a private affair between us and God with no implications in our larger life, and because of that we cannot simply conduct lives as if this were not the case. And yet we must live in a world that will never completely abide by God’s love, compassion and justice either. It is a paradox for us and it creates a tension as we attempt to live faithfully as servants of this king of ours.

Many of us have had this experience, something happens in our lives and we just know that it’s one of “those opportunities” where God is calling and pulling us to that Gospel edge, those times when we feel acutely that tension between being part of creating God’s kingdom and living comfortably in this one. Those times when….

• We know are called to speak out for justice when it would be more prudent to be silent
• We are called to offer witness on another’s behalf when it would be safer to just mind our own business
• we are asked to use our resources to provide food or clothing or shelter for someone when we would much rather use them in other ways
• We are called to forgive someone when it would feel much more satisfactory to just nurse our grudge
• We are called to love when we would rather stay indifferent
• We are asked to be the one to take action when we would rather let someone else do it
• We are drawn into the messy, hard work of relationship with those difficult and demanding humans that God keeps gracing our lives with
• We are called to the radical hospitality that that allows for deep transformational connection, when we would much rather just be polite.

We may try to ignore these promptings, just hoping they will go away. And sometimes they do. But sometimes they don’t. God can be very persistent. We may accept the call and go on a journey with Jesus. And when we do, sometimes we make it all the way to Jerusalem, following him all the way to the cross. But more often, because we are so wonderfully human, we get stuck somewhere along the way. Because, like the young rich man, we have so many things we cannot leave, we walk away sad. Or frightened and threatened, like Peter, we might leave him in the courtyard…”Who me, no, I don’t know that Jesus fellow!” (In whatever guise he happens to be wearing that day). Lost, we flounder and falter, plummeting back into our earthy realm, forgetting who we are and who Jesus is.

This is our Jesus, this king of a different realm on that cross. The one who says “Father forgive them.” The one who says to the criminal at his side, “Today you are with me forever.” This is also the Jesus who says to Peter on the beach, “Do you love me? Then tend my lambs, feed my sheep.” This is the Jesus that calls us to mission, calls us to live and work in the world. To be citizens of this world yet not conformed to its expectations or limitations. This is the Jesus who calls us to live as he lived, forgive as he forgives, love as he loves and make God’s kingdom of Shalom a reality on this earth now. May it be so. Amen.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Proper 28C

A reflection on the readings for Proper 28C: Issiah 65:17-25; Malachi 3:13-4:2a,5-6; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19 by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

These lessons we read in the weeks before Advent are about a real paradigm shift: they are prophecies of the end times. We are getting ready to get ready, as it were, for the coming of the new reign of God.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

That’s Robert Frost’s apocalyptic vision. This end-time business is vividly evocative. People do fear and dread the end of times. And yet to the person of faith, to the prophets and writers of biblical texts, these terrible things are not they end; they only come before something very good: the establishment of the reign of God.

Will you be reading the prophecy of astounding hope in Isaiah? The story of the new heavens and the new earth, of prosperity and abundance, of peace and harmony on the holy mountain?

Or will you go with Malachi, and his prophecies of the dark, stormy, severe Second Coming: “See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble ...” “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”

Facing into the End Time is serious business. The people have not been living up to God’s standards, and which tack will inspire us into action? Do we require the harshness of the prophet’s words to shock us into remembering just who God expects us to be? Do we serve God or do we not? Do we know what it means to be righteous, to be just? Do we stand for the poor and the persecuted? Do we need to be scared into this realization, or have we had enough weeping and distress, as Isaiah would tell us. God has better things in store for us, so let’s act now as though the Messiah had indeed come.

Even Malachi gives us a foretaste of better things. There was a little phrase of Christmas buried in this reading, a glimmer of hope that God not only expects better things from us, but that God believes we can truly be the people God will reward: “for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”

Being aware of the breaking in of something new is a good place to be as we look forward to the End Time and the New Time of the coming of Christ. We know what kind of people God expects us to be, and we know, in our souls, that God will give us the grace and strength to be those kind of people: to re-order the world so that the hungry are fed and the naked clothed and the poor given shelter and the lonely comforted. The wolves, lambs and lions among us will all live in peace.

The Gospel lessons, this week and next week, take us to Holy Week, to Jerusalem, to Jesus preparing for his passion and death. These are the readings where Jesus interprets what is to happen to him as a sign of the end time, and the advice he gives his disciples, and us, is harsh. What Jesus says will be overthrown is the current world order: the temple, its rulers, its privileged classes, the Roman Empire, its brutal taxes and its oppressive military. Not even familiar relationships will save you, Jesus tells his disciples. You can’t plan ahead for these terrible days; I will tell you what to say and what to do.

Jesus can scare us with these words because he knows the end of the story: he does rise with healing in his wings. We know the end of the story, too. We know that even if in this world institutions, powers and principalities crush and oppress, they will be torn down, and replaced with God’s commonwealth, of peace, of justice, of prosperity, of abundance.

But now, as we approach Advent, the church reminds us that most of what we are to do is to wait. Here in the northern hemisphere, the days are shorter and the world darker, and we wait for the earth to turn back to the sun, to warmth, to light. Just as we wait in the darkness of these end times for Jesus to come again and restore all things to God.

The collect for today was in the old English prayer book the collect for the second Sunday in Advent: “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.” That’s what we do while we wait.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

All Saints' Day

The Communion of Saints

An invitation to conversation by Janine Goodwin

By some coincidence of scheduling, I was the person who wrote about All Saints last year. That piece can be found here. This year, I want to do something different. The questions are an invitation to respond in the comments and have a conversation in and about the communion of saints.

I believe in the communion of saints.

Do you?

What do you believe about the communion of saints?

I haven’t got a systematic theology of the communion of saints, but I may have caught a glimpse or two: here are a few stories and a few beliefs.

These are my stories:

My favorite childhood hymn in the Presbyterian church, and the one from which I learned to count 4/4 time at the age of five or six, was “The Church’s One Foundation.” My favorite verse was the last:

Yet she on earth hath union with God, the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee.

I knew even then that I wanted that “mystic sweet communion,” that connection with all my ancestors in the faith.

When I memorized the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed as an earnest Lutheran eighth-grader, the phrase made me nervous, yet I found it attractive. It sounded very Catholic, and my family was quite anti-Catholic, yet I loved the idea

During my freshman year in college, I had a long argument with a friend from a fundamentalist church because she said a Catholic friend of ours wasn’t a “real Christian” and I believed she was. I later heard some, though by no means many, Catholics say that non-Catholics weren’t “real Christians.” By then, I had come to believe that figuring out who was “real” and who wasn’t was God’s problem, not ours, and anyone who indulged in it was missing the point and wasting time that could be better used out finding out how to do God’s work in the world together.

As a new Episcopalian in my twenties, I read Madeleine L’Engle’s words about finding one’s own saints; hers included St. Albert Einstein.

During my four years as a Catholic, I learned that among the many views of the communion of saints, the one I lived and believed went something like this: God is love, love is eternal, and death and time are unimportant in relation to love, so we can pray for the saints of the past and accept their prayers for us.

I met a doctor once who embodied this idea beautifully: we went to the same church and I was her patient. I asked her to pray for me. She smiled and said joyously, “Oh, I’ve already been praying for you for decades! When I started to practice, I started praying every day for all my patients, past, present, and future!”

This is what I believe:

I believe that the communion of saints is the community of all faithful people, past, present, and future.

I believe that it is not up to us to decide who is not part of that community of faith.

We may honor certain people who have let God shine through them with special clarity (and who have done so in a place and time where the institutional churches are able to accept and praise them), but those are not the only saints. Some are little-known, some unknown. Holy people exist in every faith and outside any faith; one of the holiest people I’ve ever known described himself as an atheist.

I believe that God works beyond our differences and limits and knows how to include where we, working out of our fear and pain, can only exclude.

I believe that community is not about staying silent because we fear offending others, but about speaking clearly, honestly, and as kindly as we can and having the courage to listen without needing to change each others’ minds.

I believe that even when reconciliation may look impossible, when it may not be accomplished in a lifetime in a family or a congregation or when differences between churches last for centuries, even then reconciliation will eventually happen, despite every block we put in its way.

I believe that St. Thomas More, the people he sent to death, and the people who killed him will all, as he hoped they would, be merry together in heaven.

I believe that if we prayed daily for everyone we are called to care for, past, present, and future, we would be a more vital and joyous part of the communion of saints.

What do you believe? What are your stories?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Not In Our Pews

My sermon on Sunday was filled with personal stories from the time my family and I worshipped at our home parish. I returned to our home parish as a guest preacher and had a wonderful time, but my thoughts are not condusive to a reflection on the texts for this blog. Instead I offer this:

Last week I attended a workshop called Not In Our Pews intended to train clergy and social service providers on the issue of Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence. Here is a review of that workshop which will be printed later this month in the newsletter for the Episcopal Women's Caucus. The EWC along with two other Episcopal groups are teaming up to sponsor 16 Days of Prayer for Activism Against Domestic Violence, which will take place in Advent.

Not In Our Pews
by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski, licensed Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Chicago

The first congregation I served as Rector struggled with the reality that a prominent couple in the parish was going through a divorce, the wife a victim of years of domestic abuse. With the pending divorce the abuse escalated, and threatened to spill into the church itself. A few years later my friend and colleague at another church experienced a tragic domestic violence episode in her congregation. Throughout this time I learned that domestic violence was, by far, the primary cause of police intervention in our small but wealthy suburban community.

At a recent conference called, “Not In Our Pews” held in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin and sponsored by Project SAFE, an organization comprised of a number of religious institutions and service provider agencies in Wisconsin, I learned more about this all too common tragedy in our society. First, I learned that Domestic Violence, while still used for a variety of policy reasons, is often known as Intimate Partners Violence. This term expands the issue beyond the violence that occurs in some marriages to include a new awareness of violence in teen dating, in GLBT couples, and couples who do not live in the same house. Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence is defined as: a pattern of abusive behavior in which a person uses coercion, deception, harassment, humiliation, manipulation and/or force in order to establish and maintain power and control over that person’s current or former intimate partner.

The conference goals were to: build partnerships between congregational leaders, service providers, and law enforcement programs; to provide faith and congregational leaders with strategies and resources to effectively and safely meet the needs of victims and families; to equip clergy and lay leaders to assist victims to make thoughtful decisions from a theological perspective while remaining in relationship with God and their faith community; to explore how faith communities might work to end Intimate Partner Violence; to help congregational leaders navigate a congregation that is impacted by Intimate Partner Violence. The keynote speaker was the Rev. Al Miles, an expert in Intimate Partner Violence prevention and treatment, and the author of several books on domestic violence including “Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know” 2nd edition, due for release in February 2011 (Fortress Press).

As clergy and lay leaders of congregations this conference emphasized the need for increased awareness of the prevalence of Intimate Partners Violence, including that which occurs in teen dating and elder abuse. We cannot hide behind a veil pretending that it only happens in certain demographics. The reality is this violence knows no boundaries and impacts equally every demographic across the spectrum from rich to poor, from educated to not, across lines of race and ethnicity, age and gender orientation. Congregations need to reach out to social service agencies that specialize in Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence and work together to raise awareness and form responses to this rampant problem in our midst. 95% of reported cases of Intimate Partner Violence occurs with a man victimizing a woman. As clergy we have a responsibility to become educated and able to discuss Domestic Abuse/Elder Abuse/Teen Dating/Intimate Partner Violence in premarital counseling sessions, outlining what constitutes a healthy relationship, to recognize the warning signs when they appear, and to have an appropriate course of action. A healthy relationship does not include coercion, deception, harassment, humiliation, manipulation and or force in order to establish control and maintain power over a current or former intimate partner.

A few key points on what to do or not to do:
• do not attempt couple counseling when Intimate Partner Violence is a known element of the relationship.
• If a victim speaks up and shares her story, do not judge, do not put words in her mouth, do not encourage her to stay in the relationship, or leave, or use scripture as a means to further victimize her.
• Offer hope, leaving an offender is a process, victims want the violence to end not the relationship.
• Violence is a learned behavior, it is a conscious decision and a willful choice of the perpetrator to get what they want when they want it.
• Intimate Partner Violence is not caused by addiction to drugs or alcohol, stress, children, job stress, psychological illness, pets, Satan, and especially the abuse is not caused by the victim. It is not a problem of anger or control.
• It is a problem of entitlement and a demand to have their way when they want it.
• Do not think that you can assist the person alone, reach out for trained help from an appropriate social service agency.
• Provide congregational training on Intimate Partner Violence
• Provide resources that women can find in your church bathrooms that will help them find appropriate help including an emergency shelter for battered women. Likewise provide resources for men who are victims of abuse.

Intimate Partner Violence includes physical, psychological, verbal, sexual, pet or property destruction (if I can’t hurt you I will hurt what you love), and stalking. The tactics include, but are not limited to dictating how victims dress; to whom they can relate or not relate; what they can or cannot say and think; when the victim can or cannot study, worship, or work; describing the victim as disgusting, disrespectful, or using vulgar names like slut, stupid, whore.

When clergy and lay leaders are willing to become informed, educated, and trained, by reaching out and teaming up with social service agencies congregations can create healthier environments. Clergy and lay people are able to bring in the spiritual dimension of hope, grace, and love that social service agencies are often prevented from approaching due to the limits of their practice. By partnering together faith communities and social service agencies can work to create intervention strategies and prevention strategies for healthier communities.

Resources compiled by Safe Havens, interfaith partnership against domestic violence:

Articles and Brochures
Faith Trust Institute: “What Every Congregation Needs to Know About Domestic Violence” 1994 (206) 634-1903, Also, “What You Need to Know if a Child is Being Abused or Neglected”, 1992.

Fortune, Marie, “A Commentary on Religious Issues in Family Violence,” originally published in Violence in the Family: A Workshop Curriculum for Clergy and Other Helpers. Pp 137-151, The Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, 1991. Contact Faith Trust Institute: (206) 634-1903,

Peace At Home, Inc., “Domestic Violence: The Facts,” 1994-2004. Contact Peace At Home, Inc: 877-546-3737,
Safe Havens, “Guidelines for Working with Congregations Facing Domestic Violence.” Contact SafeHavens: 617-645-1820,

Adams, Carold J. & Fortune, Marie M., Editors, Violence Against Women and Children: A Christian Theological Sourcebook, The Continuum Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1998.

Afkhami, M. Safe and Secure: Eliminating Violence Against Women and Girls in Muslim Societies, Sisterhood Is Global Institute, Bethseda, MD, 1998. Contact Faith Trust Institute 206) 634-1903,