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, December 31, 2011

The Holy Name

A reflection on the readings for Christmas I/Holy Name by the Rev. Camille Hegg

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21

Names are important. In many ways they characterize and define those bearing them. Nicknames sometimes come about because they fit better than the name given at birth and pronounced at baptism, in Jewish celebrations or other rituals of all cultures.
I am one of many women who have gone through a process of whether to change my last name at marriage. I know someone who, when she went through a divorce, decided to name herself something completely different from her birth or marriage names. She took the first names of her two sons, played with spellings, sounds and rhythms, and came up with a new last name. Immediately after the court case, she legally changed her name.
I think of pets and the various names in our family and with friends. I had some friends who had a fun sense of humor. Their black and white dog they did not name Spot. They chose Stain. Stain was a great dog, and the coloring of Stain was more like stains than merely spots.
January. 1, New Year’s Day is the celebration of The Holy Name of Jesus. Luke says Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for the naming of the baby. This was a vital part of Hebrew culture. A liturgy that was enacted by Jewish couples over and over. His name was to be Jesus, as the angel had told Mary with the annunciation and as Joseph had also been told. Mary and Joseph did not name this child; the naming was part of God plan of salvation. Mary and Joseph took their places in this plan by doing as they had been told. Going to the Temple for the naming of the baby fulfilled Mosaic law and reminds us that we, too, are children of God.
Naming is only part of rearing a baby. Apparently Mary and Joseph took their roles seriously. Look how he turned out as an adult. Joseph taught him his trade; both taught and modeled compassion and generosity. He fulfilled the attributes of the one who would come. His mother was in his life from before his birth and through his ministry. She was with him through the trial and his murder and was there at the grave. Her penchant for pondering perhaps enabled Jesus to ponder and pray. It was probably this pondering and praying that led him to understand that the laws of the Sabbath were meant for humans. That was why he could break the law and heal on the Sabbath, for instance.
His name is significant; the rearing is invaluable; the faith in God came to fruition in him. Hre was all that scripture prophesied: Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, God saves, Christ, intecessor, friend and more.

Names are important. There is a beautiful African folk tale written down and illustrated by Ashley Bryan. For Africans in this book Turtle is a very special God like character. Turtle goes under the sea, on the land. Turtle makes it his business to know the names of all the people in the village. They have a naming ceremony at the time children can learn to say their names. They all go to the sea and the child tells the village, teaches, the village her or his name. After the naming ceremony the child can go outside alone because….everyone knows the child, the parents and grandparents and where he or she lives.
In this story the boy becomes very discouraged because he has such a long name. His Granny teaches him, very patiently and it does take a long time. She always encourages him to keep trying, reminding him that he does have a long name, but it is not the longest name.
After his beach name dance, he goes out but no one wants to say his name. They tease him, refuse to learn it. The animals can’t say it. So, he goes to the beach and is sitting on the sand putting his hands and feet in the water. Turtle swims up on the beach and says the boy’s name. The boy is ecstatic that someone knows his name. He asks how Turtle knows and Turtle says,
“I learn names from the beach name dances;
I remember them well because I take no chances.
I swim up and listen, you don’t see me.
Then I spell your name in shells at the bottom of the sea.”

The boy’s name is Upsilimana Tumpalerado. And the one with the longest name, he learns, is Granny. She is delighted when Turtle knows her name: Mapaseedo Jackalindy Eye Pie Tackarindy. The boy is astonished that Granny has another name besides Granny, but she tells him to call her Granny. And she tells him, that from then on, she is going to call him Son.
There is something so important about names, knowing and remembering them. The Feast of the Holy Name reminds us of that.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas 2011

A reflection on the readings for Christmas by Janine Goodwin

This year, the lectionary offers a choice between the simple, elegant birth story in Luke and the sonorous and somewhat abstract glories of John, and despite the choices and the multiple commentaries on each, I keep being reminded of a young couple I knew when I was a music student in my early twenties.

They were no more than four years older than I, maybe less. They were good kids, thoughtful, responsible. They had gotten married the previous year, and had just had their first baby. I knew they were living on half a worn shoestring and incredibly busy, both going to school full-time, and I couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful than having a baby. My sentimental fantasies did not include diapers, screams, spit-up, or weird rashes, and I had never experienced any sleep deprivation more serious than a single all-nighter pulled on the eve of a deadline, followed by a long, peaceful daytime nap.

One day, after a rehearsal, I was busy telling the young father how happy he must be. He looked at me wearily and said, “Yes, I’m happy. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it’s not easy. Let me tell you what it’s like to have a baby. Imagine you hear that someone you really love is coming to visit. You’re really excited and you run around getting ready and you just can’t wait to see them. Then they get here, and you’re so happy to see them and you love them so much more than you thought you could and it’s wonderful . . . and then they NEVER LEAVE. Your life is never going to go back to the way it was before.”

For the first time, I realized how tired he looked.

The story of the incarnation is the story of a huge change, not just in the lives of Mary and Joseph, but in time itself, and it is a story of change in our lives. In the presence of the Word made flesh in space and time, we find out what our illusions were and what the demands of a new life really are.

Christmas is the test of our Advent practice: it’s when we will, if we watch ourselves, find out whether we were really preparing to be open to a new thing that God is doing or indulging in a season of holy procrastination. It is possible to listen to the prophecies and be sure we know what others didn’t, to get lost in the beauty of the language and the music that has grown up around it, and forget that we, like others before us, can miss the point. It is quite possible, since we are human, that we can hear a familiar story without remembering how shocking it is, how demanding the Gospels are. It is possible to forget that Jesus offended the good people by hanging around with sinners and outcasts and took the extraordinary step of treating women as students and friends. It is possible to forget that Jesus came into the power struggles and injustices of the world and died of them because he challenged everyone’s assumptions and didn’t play by anyone’s rules. It is possible to forget that prophecies are strange, we misinterpret them, and God always surprises us and calls us in directions we could never have expected.

Should we rejoice? Yes. Should we expect everything to be happy, comfortable, and easy? No. After the infancy narratives and the one haunting vignette of Jesus as a difficult teenager comes John the Baptist, prophet and wild man. He’s already there in John, upsetting pretty much everybody. The birth of Jesus Christ is many things, but it is not an assurance that everything will go smoothly. There will be love, healing, and work that challenges us; ultimately, all will be well; in the meantime, the only guarantee is that God is with us, working in our lives, and will never leave. Emmanuel, God with us. It is enough. Are we ready for that? Are we ready for the tenderness and the mess, the fatigue and the joy, of a life with Jesus?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

But who was God

A reflection on Luke 1:26-38 for Advent 4B by The Rev. Margaret Rose

As far as I recall, I never got to be Mary in the Christmas pageant at our church. I was a sheep when I was very small, a little angel with gold crepe wings, a shepherd, once even the Angel Gabriel, but never Mary. I suspect it was clear to the adults in charge that I did not fit the profile. And couldn’t pull off the look of an obedient passive teenager walking quietly to Bethlehem. Even at a young age I was outspoken about what seemed to me injustice: No room at the inn, taxation without representation. The leaders didn’t want to risk even more chaos at a pageant that had enough toddler sheep and goats crawling around the altar.
The picture we got of Mary was the one from Italian Renaissance paintings, receiving the angel’s news with beauty and acquiescence, light brown hair perfectly coiffed, falling softly on her symbolic blue shimmering robe, halo shining above. We sang the hymns that reinforced that idea: Mother mild in O Little Town of Bethlehem, Hail Mary, Gentle Woman, Sing of Mary Pure and Lowly. Mary was obedient, tender and passively ready to do God’s will.
But even then I suspected that Mary was not quite this. And the Mary I have come to
know since those childhood days of the Christmas pageant is the one portrayed in the only joke my own mother knew how to tell:

A construction worker is repairing the roof of a church early one morning when a woman comes in to pray. She kneels reverently and begins her silent prayers. Deciding that he will play a trick on the woman and give her a big scare, he conceals himself in the balcony and calls down loud enough for his voice to echo toward the woman alone at prayer. “Helloooo down there, this is Jesus.” No response from the faithful woman. A little louder, the worker calls again, “HELLO down there, this is Jesus!” Again, the woman does not move but continues her prayers as before. Wondering if she might be hard of hearing, the man calls out again, this time in a loud voice, ‘HELLO DOWN THERE THIS IS JESUS!’ Finally the woman responds, stands up tall, arms akimbo looking the direction from which the voice has come and exclaims, “WON’T YOU PLEASE BE QUIET,. CAN’T YOU SEE I AM TRYING TO TALK TO YOUR MOTHER!”

The Mary many of us have come to know over the centuries is the one whose world was as broken as our own, who knew a mother’s care, joys and suffering in her own life. That Mary is the one whose own suffering at the death of a child is shared by many a grieving parent. I will never forget, when own my father died suddenly of a heart attack at age 52, seeing my grandmother keening in a chair as she attempted to find meaning in this disorder. The parents are not supposed to outlive the children. She took comfort in Mary, whose own child had died a violent death, much too young. Mary, whose courage in bearing the child of God was only matched by her courage in seeing him die on the cross. She has been an image of solidarity and compassion for those who suffer throughout the ages. The joke above is only funny because it is so true. We can talk to Mary about our lives.
In my childhood pictures we never saw the terrified Mary, or the one whose hand was raised in protest as she pondered the angel’s words and decided whether she would be able to accept this announcement. Most of all we didn’t see the Mary whose response to the angel is more radical than anything the Wall Street Occupiers or others could imagine. The words of the Magnificat ring out from Luke’s Gospel in the voice of Mary. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord….He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and rich he has sent away empty.” What a vision for a new world she ( and Luke) offered us.
This Mary had something to say and is still saying it today.
If the theologians have it right, Mary’s obedient response came from a knowledge that the Messiah, long promised to faithful Jews, like her, was going to come to pass, yet with no assurance that this angel’s prediction was the one that mattered. There had been many predictions of Messiahs before. This Mary is one who was willing to face ridicule or shame for her yes—in a culture where a pregnant unmarried woman faced certain rejection, outcast from family and community. The Mary I have come to know was not one who answered “Whatever you say, God.” But who was perplexed and who pondered her response, took her time before replying.

And that is the astonishing thing, something unimagined, but which may have been true, is that God waited. God waited for Mary’s reply. God waited until she said yes.

During these weeks of Advent we speak often of our own yearning for the coming of the Christ Child, of our own annual expectation and desire that Christmas really will come again. I had never thought of God waiting for Mary, of not being so absolutely sure this will work out or that she will say yes. This is in some way God’s own Advent, God waiting for Mary to say yes to the Announcement of the terrifyingly wonderful news.
And could it be that God waits and desires an affirmative response not just from Mary but from us as well.

I wonder then, what announcement has come to us, to me, for which God is desiring an affirmative response. And I am grateful that as with Mary, God is waiting for me, for us to catch up. God is waiting for us to have the kind of courage that Mary had to say, “Be it done to me according to your word.”

Poet Denise Levertov in her poem, The Annunciation says it better than I.

The Annunciation:
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent. God waited.

She was free
to accept or refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren't there annunciations
of one sort or another in most lives?
Some unwillingly undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,

More often those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes..

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child - but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked

a simple, "How can this be?"
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel's reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power -
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love -

but who was God.

~Denise Levertov : The Stream and the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 3B

A reflection on the readings for Advent 3-B: Isaiah 65: 17-25; Psalm 126; 1 Thess. 5: 12-28; John 1: 6-8, 19-28 by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

Apparently, the Syracuse Stage production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tries to downplay the fact that the author, C.S. Lewis, wrote these rollicking good children’s books – The Chronicles of Narnia -- as both adventure stories AND as Christian allegories.

If you haven’t seen the play or any number of film versions, or read the books, I don’t think I’ll be spoiling the story to say that Aslan, the lion who is a figure, or representation, of Christ, is willing to die at the hand of the White Witch so that the life of one of the other characters is spared. This is to fulfill what the White Witch and Aslan call “the deep magic,” a spell, or incantation, or promise, written in to the essence of Narnia at its beginning. But Aslan, killed on a great stone table, comes back to life. It turns out that the Witch does not know of a deeper magic still, an older magic, that turns everything around:

Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.

The death of Aslan, the innocent, causes the table to crack, and “death itself starts working backward.”

The promise of new life comes from the depths of that Deep Magic, comes from the stillness and darkness before the dawn of time.

Lewis got that idea of the Deep Magic from the Gospel of John, from the verses which come before the passage we read today. The words are familiar, and we’ll read them again during the Christmas season:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John …

In the words of Aslan, John the Baptist comes from that time of the Deeper Magic, from the time before the creation of the world, from the beginning of the Word itself.

One way to think of Advent is as the time we remember that we still have time. It’s the time we remember the way the world was created to be. Things may have gone awry since that first creation, but God is promising to renew it all: God will create a new heavens and a new earth. The ancient city of Jerusalem will be a joy, and its people a delight.

This passage from Isaiah was written after the people of Israel had returned to Jerusalem. For generations, they had been punished by God and exiled to Babylon. They were punished for not following God’s commandments to live righteously, to care for the poor and stranger, to worship God alone. Then God forgave them, gave them another chance, let them go back to Jerusalem. But here was the challenge: were they going back to “the good old days,” with the kind of life choices that took them down the path to the way of living God did NOT like? Or this time, living in this new Jerusalem, did they realize that to live the good life God wanted them to live meant doing things a different way?

The prophet Isaiah came to people like us. Listen, he said to the people of Jerusalem who still remembered the hard times in Babylon, but were hoping things could get back to the way they used to be. Listen, he said. Two things: it is only God who creates, and in God’s own time. And, you, people of God, have to hold up your half of the bargain. Remember the commandments: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The prophet John the Baptist came to people like us. Listen, he said to the people of Jerusalem who were living under the hard times and oppression of the Roman Empire, an economic, political and social system where the decisions made in faraway places wreaked havoc in their daily lives. People who needed hope. People who had forgotten some of those essential commandments, to love God and to love neighbor as oneself. People living in darkness, tripping down crooked paths. Repent. Turn from those ways, for the kingdom of heaven is about to get here. You know what God wants you to do. You know how God wants you to live. Do it. Now is the time.

Advent is for two kinds of people. It’s for people who need to realize that God’s commandments include social justice – who haven’t quite worked out that loving God and loving neighbor are inseparable. Advent reminds those people that it’s time to get going in the good works department.

And Advent is for people who care deeply about justice – who know the world can and should be a better place – who devote their time and resources to doing good works – who hear these promises for a new heaven and a new earth and then wake up day after day in the same spot. Advent reminds those people that God alone creates, and that the new heavens and the new earth are on their way.

It’s the message from the Deep Magic from before the beginning of time. Repent, and get ready. Hold on, and hope. Things are about to turn around.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent 2B

A reflection on Mark 1:1-8 by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig As these Advent days fly by, I’ve been thinking how challenging it can be to observe this season of waiting and “not yet” in a culture that begins to celebrate Christmas in October. Sometimes it makes me feel kind of out of step to be saying, “No, wait, it is NOT Christmas yet, we are in another season entirely! And clearly we are—the readings in these four Sundays give a lot to think about.

Last week it was apocalypse and fig trees as we were reminded to be awake and alert. This week we encounter John, this wild prophet who appears in the wilderness preaching a message of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Repentance. Now there is one of those words. A word that might have some juice! Perhaps it was thundered at us from the pulpits of our past; [mis]used to remind us of just how far off the mark we were, how badly we were behaving. “Repent! Repent or else!” Just hearing it might scare or shame us. Now if this was John’s approach to repentance, you’d think that his followers would have been fleeing into the wilderness. But they did not. In fact they flocked to accept his baptism. What did they hear in John’s invitation to repentance that sounded like an opportunity rather than a threat? John quotes Isaiah to them: “Prepare the way of the lord, make his paths straight.” Prepare. Create a way for something to happen. This kind of repentance is sounding more like like an opportunity than a threat.

And maybe that was what John was talking about on behalf of God--for his people in his time, and us in ours, the chance to come to grips with and change the things that stand in the way of loving relationship with God, with others, with ourselves by clearing away those things that hold us in bondage and keep us from being our God-created, beautiful, unique and authentic selves. It is about cleaning out the clutter in our lives and making room for love. Yes, the repentance message is about love. God’s amazing love for us was/is manifested incarnationally in God coming among God’s people in the person of Jesus to transform us, and to bring about God’s Kin-dom in this world.

We know this is true. When we are reminded, we nod, we agree. Yes, of course. But still, we hesitate and stumble and get confused and mixed up, because we keep forgetting this one crucial thing about the Gospel message. The repentance we are called to is not so God will forgive us. That has already happened! WE ARE ALREADY FORGIVEN. God’s love does not rest on what we earn or deserve, not, as John says, “that we have loved God, but that God has loved us…” (1 John 4:10). God’s love for us does not depend on us but on God. And because of this tremendous love there are three gifts that we get for Christmas that cannot be found in any Mall or catalog! These gifts are freedom, authenticity and security.

When we understand how we are loved and forgiven by God, we are given true freedom. There is no need to hide anything, not from ourselves, and not from God. We can present ourselves to God just as we are. We can admit to all those silly, shortsighted, human, mean-spirited, unthinking, selfish, things we do every day as a result of our human brokenness. And we can do it without fear! We can repent of them, clear them away and allow ourselves to be forgiven.

The second gift we can claim is the gift of authenticity. When we see ourselves through the lens God’s love, we can do so with compassion and honesty. If there is no need to earn God’s love, and in fact we cannot do so, we can look at ourselves just as we are. We don’t need to better (or worse) than we are. It won’t make God love us more. We can look at the self God loves, the self God created. We can remember that we are loveable because of the whole of us -- the light and the shadow! We can risk being authentic because it really cannot ultimately harm us to do so--God’s love for us will not change. And we can risk repenting, doing the process of change and transformation again and again knowing that God is there, loving us through it.

The other gift that comes if we believe the message of the incarnation is the gift of being able to have the ultimate security that comes from knowing ourselves as truly loved.. “God so loved the world that he gave His only Son that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). If we really let this message that we are loved this much by the God who is the creator of the universe, the God who has been in continuous and covenanted relationship with humankind since time began begin to sink in to the depths of us, we will begin a process of coming to see ourselves as truly beloved of God.

If we claim these gifts, really allow them to penetrate us, the idea of repentance takes on new meaning. It really can be seen as a way of clearing away the obstacles or interference to our connection with this Ultimate Gift. As we are more heist with ourselves about being by turns weak and foolish and amazing and beautiful, we may begin to find more compassion towards others as well. As we treat ourselves with love, dignity and respect, we are more likely to do the same for others. As we realize that if we are God’s beloved, they must be also, we inevitably will begin to deal differently with others and with the world.

Of course, even if we try our best to hold these truths, we will forget who and whose we are. We will fall back into old patterns, and hurt people and make big human messes that we need to make amends for and clean up! We will need to go back and repent again, and again be forgiven. But hear the good news in this, too. In our repentance, God’s love and forgiveness is always there for us. There will never be a time to wonder, “Is this time too much?” “Can I be forgiven again or did I really do it this time.” No. Never. Through God in Jesus we are loved and forgiven and there is nothing on our part that is deserved or earned about it! It is pure love, pure gift. So we can risk being honest; risk being authentically all of who God created us to be. We can rest secure in God’s unchanging love.

And from there, we can go out and change the world, being God’s voice and hands and feet in the world, being in our own way the messengers to prepare the way to God’s Kin-dom among us here and now.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent 1B

A reflection on the readings for Advent 1B:Isaiah 64. 1-9, Psalm 80. 1-7, 1 Corinthians 1. 3-9, Mark 13. 24-37 by the Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers

I bought a new printer recently, it has WiFi, so I can print to it from anywhere in the house, it also came Google Cloud Print ready. Well ok, WiFi I understand, but what on earth is Cloud? Well apparently it connects directly to the web and doesn’t require a PC to setup. I decided to find out a little bit more about cloud. Wikipedia defines Cloud computing as the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet). I’m not sure I’m any the wiser, except that it means I don’t really need to know what I’m doing, Cloud takes care of it all – all I had to do was switch the printer on, once it was linked to my internet account it told my computer it was there and I could print. I’m afraid a lot of computer terminology is beyond me, I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Then of course there is the new language – text speak, which seems to be creeping into everyday use. B4 instead of before, 2DY instead of today and of course lol meaning laugh out loud. People now say lol instead of actually laughing..! Language is organic, new words come into being and we use language in different ways.

Jesus chooses the language and terminology he uses carefully. Jesus is responding to a question about the destruction of the temple from his disciples. He has already spoken about the signs that it is imminent, of wars, earthquakes, famine and betrayal within families and he tells his disciples to ‘be alert’. Now suddenly, he seems to be talking about something other than the destruction of the temple. He hasn’t actually answered the disciples question, and in this passage he seems to be moving on to talk about the time when he will return, his second coming at the end of time. Or is he? Has he just chosen his words carefully?

‘But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.’

The cosmic language he chooses from Isaiah were used to speak about the fall of the pagan powers, Babylon and Edom. With his knowledge of scripture it would be quite likely that he would speak of the destruction of the temple in those terms. Isaiah uses poetic language that conjures up vivid pictures, not of the destruction of the world, but of the old order being replaced by a new order. Jesus uses that same language to talk about the destruction of Jerusalem, the sacred city for the people of Israel, God’s chosen people.

A new regime will emerge out of the destruction and it will be ruled over by the Son of man. Jesus again uses language from the Old Testament, this time the book of Daniel, his vision of ‘one like the son of man’ who comes in clouds to the throne of God and is given dominion over all nations for ever.

The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple will mean that it will no longer be central to God’s purpose. The new Jerusalem will see the son of man reigning over all nations, not just the people of Israel.

It would have been important for the early Christians in the days surrounding the destruction of the temple to have known that Jesus had predicted it. The early church faced persecution even before the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus predicts that this will happen with in the life-time of some of the disciples. The destruction of the temple in 70AD marks the beginning of a new life for Christianity, until then it was simply a sect of Judaism, now it forms an identity of its own, Judaism also has to change and reinvent itself now that the central focus, the Temple is destroyed. The sack of Jerusalem was the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecies surrounding the fate of the city.

What does all this mean for us here today? At the beginning of this season of Advent when we prepare not only for our celebration of the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem, but also for his second coming? Jesus may well have been predicting the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, and a switch in regime as Jerusalem ceases to be the central focus of God’s purpose as his purpose widens out to the whole of the world.

Cloud Computing means that technology is available to all – you just need the internet..! The son of Man coming on a cloud means that God is there for everyone, you don’t even need the internet. Even when the Jews were going through difficult times they still trusted in God, we hear that hope in the passage from Isaiah..’return, for the sake of your servants..’ They trust that God will return, God is always faithful. Paul reminds us that the gifts of the Spirit will support us as we await the second coming, his words are as relevant to us today as they were to the church in Corinth.
The message for us, this Advent is that through the Holy Spirit we have been given all the gifts we need, to await the second coming. We may not know how they got there or indeed what they are. Just as we may not understand Cloud Computing, or Text Speak. No matter how difficult times may be we must trust implicitly and wait for God in patient hope. Mary trusted in God’s plan and said yes to bearing his son Jesus, she waited patiently for the birth of her Lord and waited patiently for God’s plan to come to fruition in the death and resurrection of her Son. We too must wait patiently for the fulfilment of God’s plan, when the Son of Man will come again and reign over his glorious kingdom.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Eyes, Hands, and Heart, or What it means to have faith with feet...

A reflection on Matthew 25:31-46 by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

Many years ago, on the exit ramp of I-90/94 in Chicago, I encountered a woman with a sign saying something like, “Unemployed homeless mother with three kids. Need food and money.” A car or two stopped and offered money, but many cars drove by without stopping. With my two young children in the car I felt compelled to give her all the cash I had on me, it wasn’t much. I don’t know why I was so moved by this woman, maybe it was the first time I had seen a young mother asking for a handout? I thought of her many times over the years, and wondered how she was, although I didn't see her again for a very long time.

Some ten years after I first saw that woman on the exit ramp of the highway, I saw her again, with the same sign, asking for money. Ten years later and her life remained unchanged. Or so it seemed. I was startled and a bit dismayed.

A few years later a wild woman appeared at the church I was serving. It was during some event and the place was crowded. This woman, intense and a little abrupt, did not respond well when I told her we had nothing, no gift cards left. She stormed out making a bit of a scene. I was left feeling badly, as if Jesus had come to me and I had not cared for him.

I remember a sermon a friend of mine preached in seminary. She used two illustrations of people she had encountered in AA. One was a man who told a story about his homelessness and addiction, and how – because of the assistance of others giving him money and help – he was able to go into recovery and rebuild his life.

The other was a story of a man who, when homeless and actively alcoholic, no one gave him money or assistance. He hit rock bottom, and in his words, “no one enabled him to continue in his destructive behavior.” His realized life had to change, and from that desperate place he went into recovery and began to rebuild his life.
And so I ask myself this question, “Lord, what does it mean to see you? What does it mean to help?”

You remember this joke: There was a terrible flood and the people in the town were leaving in droves. One man stood in the doorway of his house watching the water rise. A women came by and offered him a pair of boots so he could walk with her through the flooded street to safety. “Oh, no,” he said,” God is going to rescue me.”

The waters rose and the man had to move up to the top of his stairs. A man in a row boat came by and offered him a ride in the boat to escape the waters. “Oh no” said the man, “God will rescue me.”

Soon the waters rose more and the man stood on the roof of his. A helicopter flew over and the crew called out to grab the rope ladder and climb up! But the man once again said that he was waiting for God to rescue him.

Unfortunately the man drowned in the flood. When he arrived at the pearly gates he said to God, “I thought you were going to save me!” And God said, “First I sent you a woman with boots, then a row boat, then a helicopter….”

Not only are we considering what it means to help, but also, what it means to see God. To see the face of Christ in one another and in the people we meet. And, what it means to know that at times we will fail to do this well, even when we are trying.

Jan Richardson, in her blog The Painted Prayerbook, offers this thought:

“….. I think of how my deepest regrets—what few I allow myself—are most often attached to occasions when I didn’t see. Didn’t know how to see, didn’t yet have the eyes for seeing. The realization of it—the dawning knowledge of where my vision was lacking—is itself a kind of punishment. But an invitation, too. To learn to look more closely. To take in what I have rushed past.
When was it that we saw you?”
(The Painted Prayerbook)

Today we celebrate the last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, the Reign of Christ, and – as Christ Church – our “Feast of Title” day . It is the day we celebrate who we are and whose we are – We are Christ Church – shaped and formed by Christ, through baptism, through prayer and the Eucharist, through our relationships with others, through coming to this place, through a relationship with God and Christ, which gives us our identity as a people of faith. On this day we are invited to look carefully at who we are, and how we are living out our faith. It’s a call to do three things – to seek to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world, recognize how it is that Christ comes to us, and how we can be more attentive to being, doing, and seeing Christ.

As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ in the world through all this food we are generously giving to Crossroads , not just today, but every week, so that others may have food on their table. As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ when we participate in the soup kitchen at Spirit of Hope in Detroit. We are the hands and heart of Christ when we give of our treasure so that I can purchase gift cards to Kroger and offer those who come looking for assistance, a chance for some food or gas. As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ when we open our doors and welcome the many groups who use our building. As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ when we host the Alternative Market today – inviting in thirty artists and local vendors to sell their merchandise. We are not taking a penny in commission – we are offering people a free place to advertise and sell their art, food, and merchandise. (I hope a lot of people come and do their Christmas shopping! And that the artists and vendors have a good time here!). As Christ Church we are hosting this event, greeting people and working to ensure that everyone has a good time. Much work has gone into this event, from many different people. It seems appropriate that we have this event on this day, Christ the King, the Reign of Christ.

There are many ways that we see Christ in others and offer love, compassion, and a helping hand. There are many ways that Christ comes to us and invites us into a deeper relationship – whether it is through the people we know and meet here, or the music and worship we participate in, or some other experience we have.
Regardless of who attentive we are, there are always ways that we can deepen this experience. The liturgical seasons of the church year offer an opportunity to be mindful, attentive. Next Sunday we begin the season of Advent, a season that asks us to ponder how Christ is coming to us anew this year, and how we can be Christ to the world around us.

As we journey through Advent let’s be attentive, wondering -
Lord, when did we see you – and - when did we miss you?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Proper 28A

A reflection on the readings for Proper 28A by Janine Goodwin

"Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud."

I have been thinking of this Psalm since the first news of the Occupy Wall Street movement. As one of the 99% in the USA, I have been feeling for some time that I have had enough of the contempt of the proud. In my lifetime, I have seen the opportunities for education and stability eroding for everyone but the rich. Wealth gained responsibly is not a bad thing, but it is wrong to deny the chance for a decent living to many and waste so much human potential so that a few may profit hugely. I am angry when huge and powerful corporations that have been given the status of people pay a tax bill that is proportionately tiny compared with mine. I am furious when houses stand empty and people are homeless. I am worried about what will happen to my spouse and myself if his job is lost in the next round of budget cuts.

It is sobering to realize, however, that when we look outside the USA, I am among the relatively few people who have spent a lifetime living in a dependable shelter, with uncontaminated water, refrigerated food, my own vehicle, and access to public education and (so far) to medical care. To much of the world, I am "the proud"—at least until the end of this paycheck. This is very uncomfortable knowledge. Over the last several years, my spouse and I have begun to simplify our lives in many ways in response to it, and we live in an uneasy mixture of increased awareness of our relative prosperity and the fear of catastrophe.

As we approach Advent and prepare not just to welcome a beloved baby but to recognize the physical presence of the reign of God among us, we might all do well to ask ourselves: in what ways are we the people praying this Psalm, and in what ways are we showing the contempt of the proud? What happens when we are the proud? Dare we repent? Certainly the 1% or 2% of Americans who hold far too much of the material wealth ought to share more than a pittance with the country in which they live. What do we all need to share with the world? Dare we look at ourselves? If we ask for a more equitable distribution of wealth, or if we hold wealth, can we look at our poorer siblings across the world and accept the need for more simplicity so that they may survive? How much is enough, and how can we not just have enough for ourselves but share with others? Where are we being called to repentance individually and collectively?

Does this sound too political for a theological reflection? I oppose any movement toward theocracy, which is never anything but the use of faith to gain power. None of us should try to impose our version of our faith on each other. I also believe that our actions, including our politics, show what we believe. We don't just vote with our feet or our wallets: we act out our beliefs with them. Countless daily decisions show our real values, our ethics, what we trust and what we believe. What we buy shows our faith as clearly as what we give. What we say in casual conversation is as important as what we say in prayer. Politics, the life of the community, is related to the life of faith.

I have long believed that the real besetting sin of the USA is greed. Greed is responsible for the mistreatment of workers, the pollution of the land, water, and air in pursuit of a fast buck and with no consideration of the long-term effects, the loss of jobs as corporations kill living wage jobs and move to places where sweatshops are not regulated. Greed leads people who already have more than enough to pay for lobbyists who can get the attention of politicians whose poorer constituents do not have the means to reach them. It has always puzzled me that I have heard a lot of sermons preached against various deadly sins, particularly lust, but very few against greed. The Occupy movement seems to be preaching that sermon out in the streets.

How does this relate to the parable of the talents? This is a parable that uses earthly prosperity as a metaphor for the reign of God—a metaphor, not a one-to-one correspondence. Too often the fact that it is a metaphor has been forgotten, and the parable has been warped to suggest that material wealth is God's reward for good behavior and that people who are rich must therefore be beyond reproach. Some people take this parable to say that if you use your talents well, you will be rich. They believe God likes rich people, and poor people must therefore be wicked and lazy by definition, so the poor must be undeserving of help. But that is not what this parable says, nor does not say that the poor are always virtuous and the rich are always evil. Jesus never confused wealth or poverty with the presence or absence of virtue or responsibility. This parable is not about money, but about the coming reign of God. It is the third in a series of parables on that theme. The first was the parable of the master on a journey and his faithful servant, who feeds the other servants, and evil servants, who abuses his fellow servants and wastes resources. The second was the parable of the ten maidens, some of whom were prepared for a long wait and some were not. The theme of all three is being ready to answer to God. Have we acted justly toward God and others? Have we prepared ourselves to endure a long wait for the coming of the reign of God? Have we used everything God gave us—not just our money, but our whole selves--wisely and well? This parable is not about playing the market vs. putting money under the mattress. It is about who we are and how we relate to the One who made us and who came to live among us. It is not an endorsement of the materialist version of American Way, but a call to ask ourselves whether we are following the Way. Are we?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Proper 26A

A reflection on Proper 26A, by the Rev. Camille Hegg

Elton Trueblood points out that Chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew is the funniest part of the Bible. In the reading for this week, Jesus is accusing the Pharisees: do what they teach, but know, they are hypocrites. “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Later in that same chapter he says “they close the door to heaven and forget to go in themselves.’
I love the image of Pharisees’ being so convinced, and yet not realizing what they are saying. A lot of people are likewise so convinced of their position that they don’t realize what they are saying. Politically, the speakers say rote things, like that to raise taxes on the rich is class warfare;, but I think they don’t realize what they are saying. They talk about the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and other cities, as pitting Americans against Americans. What are they saying?

The Pharisees of today are rigid, mean spirited, narrow minded. They adhere to some law that is beyond what most of us assume or can understand. Certainly they are not Christian principles. There is little mercy for the poor, little compassion for those out of work and who have no way of supporting their families. There is little hospitality for the immigrants who have come here for a better life.

That is part of the hypocrisy of today. They don’t see themselves as being hurt by the current economic situation and therefore others should not be affected either. I actually heard some commentator say of the Occupy Wall Street people: “they should just go and get a job.” Where? Police, who have been a target of job cuts and getting rid of collective bargaining, have been used to fight against the people.

The current economic condition of this country has very much to do with Christian principles. Are we about trying to improve the life of all people, or are we not? Are we ourselves so disheartened that we can’t see that that protest is part of what should be our protest? “They put on burdens which they are not willing to lift themselves.”

So, what are we to do? How are we to have hope and live in hope? God has promised that we shall be protected. That God’s everlasting arms are around us at all times. Some of us, (that would be me) have to hold onto that promise. Maybe I need to look upon the current political situation as the whole of chapter 23 of Matthew, according to Elton Trueblood. Jesus looked at the Pharisees as worthy of humor. Serious, but, really, worth a smile at what they were trying to do.

I am going to Occupy Atlanta on Monday. I expect to be inspired, and maybe to give hope also.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Loving My Neighbors

A reflection the readings for Proper 25A by the Rev. Karla J. Miller

Every morning, I walk my dogs through my neighborhood. After hooking up the leashes, my dogs bound out the front porch and take a left to leave our quiet dead end street. Before we get to the busy avenue, filled with rush hour traffic, they stop at the two family house on the corner, to bark, whoops, say hi to the shy pit-bull, Zena, who lives with the twenty-something couple renting the first floor apartment.

We then take a right on the busy avenue, and walk a block. Sometimes, the pit-bull that belong to the scrap collector across the street, are out in their yard, and we “bark” hello. This neighbor drives me crazy, because at least twice a year, he has a huge sign propped up against his tiny house, at least 8ft high, spray painted with the words,
“PiT bULl pUPpieS 4 sALE”. My heart breaks for this momma dog that is overbred, but there are no laws to prevent this treatment of her. And my neighbor, obviously living hand to mouth, is doing anything he can to put food on the table. If I were in his place, would I do differently?

It doesn’t matter. I probably would never be in his place.

As we continue down the block, we round the corner to Pleasant Street. A Near Eastern family rents the three family home on the corner. The grandfather, usually dressed in a dhoti, is very sweet and says hello, not to me, but to my dogs. If his tiny granddaughter is outside sitting on the stairs, she will squeal “doggeeeeees” and point at my canines. I smile and share my good mornings, and hopefully move on. Sometimes, more often than not, my little devil dog, Cooper, takes this moment to pee or poop on the sidewalk right in front of them. I embarrassedly apologize, and clean whatever I can. They just smile and nod at me. I am thankful for their graciousness.

We continue our jaunt. For a few blocks, we simply stop and sniff (well, I don’t) the bushes and lawn ornaments.

We rush by one of the houses because the father of the house has some anger management issues. He once threatened to “kill” my spouse when the dogs ran up on his lawn to greet his dog. It was a little scary. But, it’s the way my neighborhood rolls.

We continue, up one more block, past the Center for Tibetan Buddhist studies, where quite often run into a couple of monks, dressed in crimson robes. Many of my neighbors are from Tibet. I never have visited the center, in spite of my good intentions to do so.

After a brief playtime in the park, we head home. We pass Halo’s house. Halo is a 205 pound spotted Great Dane. His family lives hand to mouth, and I am working on finding a way to get their cat spayed so there are no more kittens coming out that home. The mom, who is a little rough around the corners, said she feels like I am her sister, and is appreciative of my endeavors. I tell her, well, it’s what neighbors do.

We round the next corner, and I wave to my Haitian grandfather friend, and we amble towards our street, and wave to the Italian elders sitting on their stoop.

That’s my neighborhood. It is rich and diverse, full of conflict and old stories of the past, crammed with immigrants and long timers. I know very few of them—with most of them I couldn’t even have a conversation, because we lack a common language.--in more ways than one.

So when I read the Gospel for today, lingering on the words, “Love Shall Your Neighbor as Yourself,” I wonder what that means in my neighborhood. How do I love my neighbors?

Indeed, I am friendly. That’s my general affect. I used to visit at length with one elderly neighbor, until he tried to come into my house, and later I found out he was an sex offender. How do I love him?

How do I love the family down the street, who is getting evicted because they haven’t paid property taxes for the last twenty years? How do I love the family who let their small poodle walk around the streets, despite my urging to keep her safe in the yard?
The dog was killed by a speeding car? Sigh.

Jesus knew what a crazy hard commandment this is. Loving your neighbor as yourself, when taken literally, as I am today, is a deep and difficult command. Some of my neighbors I just plain don’t like. Our diversity creates some conflict, and xenophobia not to mention those generation old grudges some of them carry against one another.

I have learned much, however, from my neighbors. And for me, I have learned that to love them is not to judge them (or at least I try not to) or reject them. To be helpful when I can, and not to carry my own grudges when they make choices that I think are, well, stupid. Indeed, I see Jesus in my neighbors, and when I remember to recognize him, oh, how much love fills my heart.

But seeing and remembering is the challenge. But one thing I know, if I can learn to love my neighbors, then I will know how to love the whole world.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Proper 24 A

A reflection on the readings for Proper 24A:Exodus 33:12-23, Psalm 99, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22 by the Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

The newspaper headlines Friday morning were scooped, as is often the case, by the radio and internet. It turned out that the Occupy Wall Street protesters were not after all to be evicted from their camp in a park in lower Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg announced that a deal had been struck; the protesters and the owner of the park would negotiate how to keep the park clean. The newspaper pictures showed earnest, long-haired, tattooed-types pushing brooms on sidewalks and heaving huge plastic bags of demonstration detritus. For the time being, Caesar, or at least Mayor Bloomberg, had been rendered unto. In the words of “the street,” a deal had been done, and the Mayor got what he wanted, apparently a promise of a cleaner park, a mollified property owner, and orderly protesters.

We Americans -- founded on biblical principles since the Puritans came to a reformed England in North America to found a city on a hill, a beacon of righteousness for all the world to see – we Americans have a long history of protesting economic arrangements, from taxes to big banks, that strike us as unfair. The tea in Boston Harbor was neither the beginning nor the end. Andrew Jackson became president on his opposition to the central banks. Nineteenth-century populists nearly elected another president, William Jennings Bryan, who was opposed to putting the currency on the gold standard. Explicitly Christian, Bryan’s famous “cross of gold” speech equated what the banking interests were doing to ordinary Americans with the crucifixion of Jesus.

Nothing is certain but death and taxes, goes the old saying. Just as certain, it seems, is the human propensity to acquire, and the matching propensity for others to rail against the injustice and unfairness of systems which give too much to some, and too little to others. And on top of it all, it seems, Caesar always looms.

As I prepared my sermon, I consulted this piece by Marcus Borg, “What Belongs to God?” published in BeliefNet. My notes below reflect that article.

People in 1st century Palestine paid a lot of taxes. Jews had to pay the Temple tax – 21 percent! Everyone had to pay customs taxes on what goods they traded. If you were a farmer (and 90 percent of the population were farmers), two-thirds of what you earned went to the Roman and Jewish elite, through a combination of how much you were taxed and who owned the land you farmed. In those days, they really ensured that the rich got rich and the poor got poorer.[i]

But it was the coin with the face of Caesar that was deeply offensive to all Jews, who lived by God’s commandment not to make graven images. This coin with the face of Caesar had to be used to pay the tribute tax to the Roman Empire. If you used this coin with the graven image to pay the tribute tax, you were breaking one of the Commandments handed down by God to Moses. If you did not use this coin – if you did not pay the tax – the Romans would lock you up for sedition, and that is much worse than being audited by the IRS.

Just about everyone who reads this passage from Matthew acknowledges that Jesus knows that his opponents are trying to trick him with this question, and so he cleverly avoids the trap. He dismisses the problem with the coin as not a theological one at all: this coin obviously belongs to Caesar, so give it back to him. So what? It’s only money.

Then he lays out the theological problem: Give to God what belongs to God.

In our lives, what does belong to our equivalent to Caesar? In our lives, what does belong to God?

Most of us, most of the time, pay taxes. “Caesar” has to know how much money we have, or how much we spend, in order to tax us, and here in the United States, many people spend a lot of money, both legally and under the table, to avoid paying taxes. A lot of people aren’t even “rendering unto Caesar” but shaving a little (or a lot) off the top before Caesar knows what’s happening.

So what do we do with that money that is NOT rendered unto Caesar? With that money that, in the United States at least, does not go into fixing the roads on which we all drive, or the emergency services we all hope will be there when we need them, or the schools where we learned to read and write? How many people seem to exercise a “preferential option for middle class living over living the gospel?”[ii] If we’re not giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, are we giving to God what is God’s?

Think about it: What is God’s? What do we owe to God?

In this gospel passage, Jesus raises the question without answering it. But the way Matthew has arranged these latter chapters of his gospel, we are hit with parable after parable that tell us what Jesus has in mind.

Think about the context: in Chapter 21, Jesus enters Jerusalem – the story we read on Palm Sunday. Chapter 26 is the Last Supper. In between, we read parables, speeches, teaching moments, difficult conversations about the world – often illustrated in the stark economic reality of his day – and about how God’s followers should live in place that has clearly become unjust.

Read over these chapters some time. It is easy to see how they are overlooked, misinterpreted. It is easy to see how the church over the centuries has been domesticated, concerned with small things, with being nice, with being proper, with worrying about sexual morality, who’s in and who’s out. It is much easier to put the stuff we “render unto God” into our buildings or staff or heating bills.

But think about it: if this building and this staff and these heating bills are what we render unto God, what are we doing with them, especially when we look at all that we have in light of the urgency Jesus speaks in these last chapters of Matthew?

Yes, it is stewardship time. What we put in the plate is important, but it is only the beginning. If we are only paying for our maintenance, then yes, we are rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But if we realize that what we are paying for – this building, this place, this community, this table – is a launching pad for what Jesus wants us to do in this unjust, unhealthy and broken world, where people are lonely and isolated and poor and hungry and where what we can do can make a world of difference, then yes, indeed, everything we give, we render unto God.

[i] From Marcus Borg, “What belongs to God?”

[ii] From the Rev. Patrick Brennan, “30 Good Minutes,”

Jacqueline Schmitt

Now at St. David's, DeWitt, NY ...
Community Parson

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Great Power in Mercy and Pity

A reflection on the readings for Proper 21A: Philippians 2:1-13 by The Rev. Margaret Rose

This week the UN General Assembly has been meeting in New York. Heads of State are arriving from all over the world. There are speeches and accolades, hopes and plans for peace, all the trappings of power. For those of us who work near the UN, the power shows itself primarily in giant traffic jams and motorcades with darkened car windows. As I write, there are plans for a vote on Palestinian statehood which is almost guaranteed not to go well. And there is jockeying for power about whose voice really freed the young American hikers or who really made a difference in Libya. As I watch the dramas on the news and read the paper and maneuver in and around the jersey sand barriers and security men, I reflected on the notion of power. What is it really? We hear about power in lots of different contexts. Americans are citizens of the most powerful nation in the world. We want our machines to have the power to do the job with lots of volts or watts or horsepower. We don’t have to be rich if at least we have power. On cartoons or video games when someone gets punched out that is often signified by a fist and a word in all caps beside it, “POW”, meaning punching with power.
Then there is God Power, preachers speaking of it: softly by the more timid among us, but forcefully by the true believers: Trust in the MIGHTY POWER OF GOD. The implication here of course is that God is bigger and stronger than all of us. We describe that bigger and stronger in the very same way we represent power in worldly terms. You have power if you are richer or stronger or smarter or have a bigger arsenal or more of something that someone else wants or have influence or know certain people. Power is big not small. God is big not small.
Yet, for the last weeks and today our scripture readings tell of a God whose power is shown in forgiveness and mercy rather than in judgment. Forgive. Don’t hold a grudge. Bless those who persecute. Give food to your enemies. It is easy to pass these off as pious religious platitudes. But in fact, I believe it is the heart of the Gospel. Today’s collect says it clearly. The opening Collects are meant to set the theme for the scriptures which follow. This one is clear: “O God you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity.” Mercy and Pity-- NOT by creating the universe in one big bang. NOT by parting the Red Sea, or many other might acts, all of which are indeed of God and noteworthy. But the true mark of God’s power is in mercy and pity. Imagine.
I suspect that, in spite of the world’s standards and even our own successes in it, we know that this God is so powerful precisely because of the seeming contradiction. Real power is found in the measure of forgiveness, in the depth of mercy and compassion; not in domination but in mutuality and common love.
Jesus of course was always trying to tell this to his followers: Bless those who persecute you, give food to your enemies, or your cloak to one who has none. The disciples had as hard a time as we do understanding this. They always wanted to put Jesus up on a pedestal, build a booth for him, help him start building up an army. Any hint from Jesus that his call was to lose his life, offer good news to those who had nothing, freedom for the captives, often fell on deaf ears. Finally, he was called “King of the Jews”. And the ultimate expression of his “kingly” power was the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, not on a great white steed, but on a donkey.
If the disciples wanted Jesus to build an army to overthrow the government, so too do some in our 21st century religious context yearn for a “Christian America”. Others tend to privatize God. We spiritualize, imagining Jesus is talking of other worldly power. God will rule when we die “up in heaven”. Or Jesus helps us in our private spiritual world of personal need or care.
Attention to the scriptures we have read each week and the collect for today offers a view of power here and now quite different from either the spiritualized private view or that of the head of state. Paul’s letter to the Philippians today describes the nature of God in the incarnate Jesus in poetic beauty: “Jesus, who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” We, disciples of Jesus are to act in the same way. Here is an expression of power that claims the self , yet gives it away.
The danger here, especially for women, is to believe that “taking the form of a servant” means that we are to deny ourselves. But in Jesus and by extension for us, Paul describes a kind of self-emptying which does not deny the beauty and worthiness of the self, but which calls us to offer ourselves for others, to offer the gifts we have been given for the good of all, not in order to dominate and rule, but to love and to live in community--in right relationship with one another.
Power in mercy, power in unselfish acts, not in domination--that is the power of God. I think we know this. Yet practically speaking it is not always what comes naturally, not our default position. Yet, when we do let go of ourselves, of our own need to be right, or best or dominant, when we empty ourselves entirely for another, there is a glimpse of the power of mercy and of great freedom. True power sometimes comes in giving it up or offering it to another. In small way and in the larger context—privately and personally. And we should call on our leaders to do the same.
Some years ago I heard Colonel Collins, first woman commander of the space shuttle give a speech. She was asked how it felt to be in charge, to be the first woman commander. How did it feel to have so much power? She did not respond by saying “Great! How nice it is to be able to l everyone what to do.” She didn’t even speak “modestly of the awesome responsibility, but rather that it was the team that mattered and all were called to use their gifts to the fullest. I was reminded recently of two instances where gunman handed over a pistol when someone called them name and looked them in the eye and asked them for the gun. I am not na├»ve enough to think this happens often. But it can.
We all know the story of the sun and the wind who bargained to get the man’s coat off. The wind blew and blew and the man pulled his coat tighter. But the warmth of the sun caused him to remove his coat to enjoy the day.
A special ed teacher I knew once told me the story of her student, a boy named Devon. Among other problems, Devon constantly yelled at himself, “Devon is a bad boy” he would say over and over among other things. One day the teacher decided to quit trying to yell over Devon’s racket and spoke directly to him , first in a normal voice, then softer and softer. Devon followed along and finally stopped the repetitive talking altogether. Something about power and the process of emptying seems relevant here.
Desmond Tutu does that too when he speaks. On a couple of occasions I have heard him on a variety of topics. He is always a joyful unprepossessing presence. His demeanor and his words are always merciful even as he recounts the horrors of the apartheid days in South Africa. But at the end in response to a question about what God may be calling us to, he did something extraordinary. To a room of a thousand people, he whispered. Here and everyone God is asking for our help. “Help me!” he whispered as if the voice of God.
Imagine the picture: Desmond Tutu, leaning over a podium, whispering. And all thousand of us leaning our ears to hear what God was calling us to do. It was an amazing and empowering moment.
These are small examples of power in mercy, not much but a beginning. When we come to larger issues there is no guarantee, and maybe even not a good track record. I am wishing today that there had been some merciful power by the state of Georgia before Troy Davis was executed this week. But it was not to be. I am not naive about the safety of our actions in attempting this more merciful way. Jesus wasn’t either. And it got him killed. Yet in following this way of God’s call to us -of exchange in relationship, of power in mercy we live into the baptismal mandate, respecting the dignity of every human being. that is what mercy and pity are about anyway, I think. Amen.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Proper 20A

Reflection for Proper20, 14 Pentecost
Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6,37-45; Philippians 1:20-30; Matthew 20:1-16
by The Rev. Camille Hegg

The gospel for this week is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The owner hires people at several times during the day. The first ones hired are promised the usual daily wage. The others hired throughout the day are promised ‘whatever is right.” At the end of the day all of the laborers are given the same wage. The early hires are unhappy that the later ones received the same, but the owner says to them that he has done them no injustice and that he chooses to be generous.
There is a cute TV commercial in which two elementary school sisters come running into their house after school and run for the snacks in the kitchen. They find that there is only one cookie left in the bag. They look at each other for a moment and after pondering, the older girl gives the younger one the cookie. She says ‘thank you’ and runs off. The older girl looks down at the empty bag and, lo and behold, there is a cookie there.

I think the commercial has something to do with the parable for this week. At first glance one might think the ad is more a loaves and fishes story. It could be. I also think it is a story of generosity, just as the parable for this week is.

Sometimes we get caught up in the ‘fairness’ of the parable. I have had classes over the years on the parables and I almost always include this one. I talk about God’s generosity and how God wants us to look at things upside down from what we would usually do, and to act the same. Jesus certainly turned upside down thinking and assumptions of God. Sometimes this suggestion makes people mad.
A generous God who gives not according to what we think is fair? Who might want us to change our thinking and actions? Probably expects us to do the same?
I once had a man throw down his Bible and pen and walk out and say ‘that is not fair!’ We look for ‘fairness” when God is trying to show us generosity.
I enjoy the parable because of the generosity of the owner. I think it gives us a unique understanding of Jesus’ understanding of God and his own mission. It also gives us a glimpse of how we might try to respond to the generosity of creation and the creator. Generosity is the value in the parable, not fairness. The little girl in the commercial probably could have asserted her power and age and grabbed the cookie for herself. She chose to give it away.

I discern a sense of generosity lacking in our culture. People are scared about the economy and hold back. People with power are treating minorities badly, trying to make voting access harder, trying to take away take away bargaining power rather than working together to come to solutions for financial wellness. Children of immigrants are being punished by possible deportation, lack of access to education. A generous look at immigration, especially children, would probably engender thriving of our country rather than taking away anything. There is a backlash against women, minorities and even children that at best is not generous and at worst prevents the thriving of our churches, schools, government and the humans involved in these institutions.

In our churches, those with the power could foster welcome and inclusion of newer ones to participate. Yet I have seen long-time members of churches express resentment that a new person puts forth an idea, or ‘sits in their seat.’ I have seen a distinct impatience and lack of generosity toward children.

(I have also seen the opposite, where new people, children, homeless, people with accents – probably illegal -- were welcomed and generously received.)

In this parable, the one with the power, the owner, chooses to be generous. The creator, generous as the creator is, has implanted in us the ability toward generosity and calls us to be so. If we choose to ignore or deny this God-given given yearning toward generosity, we are losing out on one of the fundamental, mysterious and miraculous gifts of creation. If ‘fairness’ is our only guide and value in making decisions we are missing out on the depth of satisfaction and joy with which we were created. The child in the commercial gave the only cookie away not expecting anything in return.

Generosity has its own mysterious reward. Generosity is God’s pleasure, our gift and task.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thoughts on Proper 19A and the Tenth Anniversary of 9-11

Reflection by the Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

I thought I’d better write this early – not because I have a sermon ready for Sunday (hardly!!) but because I have spent considerable time over the past two days reading and watching resources that are shaping what I am likely to preach on Sunday. I share this with blog readers, in hopes that you will read this, maybe be inspired to look up some of the references I have found, and to add your own thoughts. Perhaps for this Sunday we need a communal blog post.

At the Odyssey Network Scripture site, I found a helpful piece by Barbara Lundblad (with a link to a video conversation as well). She notes how challenging it is to read the Exodus lesson of the death of the Egyptians in the Red Sea on this Sunday of all Sundays. It is precarious to read this lesson; do we not fear it will allow people to evoke feelings of vengeance and triumphalism? “Why couldn’t the Exodus story have ended earlier?” she writes. “Did we have to see their bodies dead on the seashore?”

I found it helpful that Lundblad then introduced some midrash, where rabbis over the centuries had struggled with this same discomfort. Lundblad writes, “In one story from the Babylonian Talmud angels were watching as the sea covered the Egyptians: ‘In that instant the ministering angels wished to utter song before the Holy One, but He rebuked them, saying, 'The works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you would utter song in My presence.!’ ‘” The midrash would never contradict the text, but in struggling with the militaristic implications of it, she continues, “A new word was spoken. … Delighting in the death of enemies is not a paradigm for every generation. The rabbis found a way to live with the tension: to hear the text of Exodus, yet also to hear God chastising the angels for singing songs of victory.”

Two contemporary rabbis wrote wonderful pieces as well, using different pieces of Jewish tradition to make sense of this tenth anniversary commemoration. Rachel Kahntroster wrote in the Huffington Post,

“The Fast of Tisha B'Av, which begins this year on the night of Aug. 8, has been a way for the Jewish community to confront and contain trauma through the telling of stories. First established to commemorate the destruction of First Temple in B.C.E. 586, it has become the day to relive the trauma of many other national calamities. … The rabbis tell the story of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai and Rabbi Joshua visiting the ruins of the Second Temple after it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. Rabbi Joshua bursts into tears, anguished that the place where Israel atoned for its sins had been destroyed. Rabbi Yochanan comforts him, declaring that deeds of lovingkindness (chesed) had more power to achieve atonement and heal a broken world than sacrifice ever could. Chesed is not just something God shows us; it is our obligation to our fellow human beings in light of unimaginable tragedy. Chesed and not hatred or revenge.”

Arthur Waskow, author of the 1960s “Freedom Seder,” and a sage of our modern times, noted that in 2011, the Jewish feast of Sukkoth came three weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Poignantly, he compared the fragility of a sukkah booth with our vain attempts at fortress building:

“For much of our lives we try to achieve peace and safety by building with steel and concrete and toughness: Pyramids, air raid shelters, Pentagons, World Trade Centers. Hardening what might be targets and, like Pharaoh, hardening our hearts against what is foreign to us. But the sukkah comes to remind us: We are in truth all vulnerable. If ‘a hard rain’s gonna fall,’ it will fall on all of us. Americans have felt invulnerable. The oceans, our wealth, our military power have made up what seemed an invulnerable shield. We may have begun feeling uncomfortable in the nuclear age, but no harm came to us. Yet yesterday the ancient truth came home: We all live in a sukkah.”

I also found this comment on Psalm 114 illuminating. Marcia Brown-Ludwig (of the UCC Massachusetts Conference wrote

“At the time this was written, the God of Jacob supposedly belonged to the Israelite people – but now at least three faiths claim this same God as the One God: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As we consider how divided people of faith remain at our time of history – especially on the anniversary of a day when so many felt it was one religion against another (September 11, 2001), may we remember that the Earth is home to all of us, these three faiths and all the rest of the people who live on this planet. May we not then be like the Earth, and all of us tremble in humility, skip with sheer joy, together in the presence of our God?”
Given the Gospel, forgiveness must be the central focus of the day, it seems to me. Kate Huey, also of the UCC, whose commentaries I read weekly, quoted this memorable line:

"We know too well that the little boat in which we are sailing is floating on a deep sea of grace and that forgiveness is not to be dispensed with an eyedropper, but a fire hose" (Thomas Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion).

Fire hose. The most unorthodox “commentary” on the text and on 9/11, and in some ways the one that has shaped my thoughts the most today, was watching the series finale of Rescue Me Wednesday night on television. The firehouse crew, emotionally scarred with survivors’ guilt, somehow manages to say good-bye and move, with resilience, to new lives. Never maudlin or mawkish, the show paid tribute to the heroism and courage of those first responders, who finally began to see a future not trapped by the loss and tragedy of the past.

Summing all my thoughts up are reflections from Rob Voyle, whose workshop on “Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment” I attended last fall. When I preach this Sunday on forgiveness, I will preach on how it is we who forgive are freed – freed from our imprisonment to our anger and resentment, freed from living and re-living that painful past in our heads and hearts. We cannot forget that these terrible things happened, but we can let go of them enough so they do not determine our future. We can imagine the future God has in store for us, and we can imagine how we can build our lives in order to get to that future. Even the Rescue Me firefighters, drowning their survivors’ guilt in alcohol, food, sex and danger, can move beyond that horrendous past into a future in which they can live and thrive.

Finally, if you have an hour to spare this week, listen to the broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of “A Service of Hope and Healing” from Washington Cathedral. Sam Lloyd, the Dean and preacher, said this:

“In a world as interconnected as ours it could not be clearer, that unless we human beings learn to deal with one another with respect, understanding, and even compassion, the fate of the human race on this small planet is uncertain. … Hope for our world lies in the religions of the world embracing their deep and best convictions that we human beings are made to be repairers of the breach, as Isaiah says, to care for the least and lost, as Jesus taught, to live lives of compassion, as Mohammed declared. The test of any person’s faith in the coming years will be this: Does it make the world of the believer larger, more generous, more embracing of God’s vast world, or does it make the believer’s world smaller, more shrunken, more like ‘them’? 9/11 opened the door to a new world, but the shape of that world has yet to be determined. … May we learn to love as the God of all nations loves. May we be people of compassion as the God of the universe is compassionate. May we recognize in the face of the stranger the face of the One who made heaven and earth, and every one of us.”

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Proper 18A

A reflection Proper 18, Ezekial 33. 7-11, Psalm 119. 33-40, Romans 13. 8-14, Matthew 18. 15-20 by the Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers

I wonder how many of you have gone out to bring into line a member of the church who has gone astray, either as an individual or as part of a gang of two or three?
I think perhaps the clergy end up doing this as individuals quite a lot of the time, usually to resolve a dispute between members of a congregation. After all, sitting down for a cup of tea and a chat can be very constructive and productive.

Why does it usually fall to the clergy I wonder?

Well, perhaps the clue is in the text of Matthew’s gospel – or rather the differing translations of it!

The original Greek uses the word ‘brother’ to describe the person that has caused offence. This is not unreasonable – earlier in this chapter the word ‘child’ has been used and then ‘little ones’. The implication is of course that we are talking about ‘family’. More recent translations use ‘brother or sister’ or ‘member of the Church’. After all, the church is family and even in times of conflict we are all part of the same body – we belong to each other. In Wales we often refer to family members as ‘belonging’, we say ‘she belongs to me’, or we talk about ‘our Paul’, meaning ‘my brother’, or ‘my son’. I suppose the reason clergy often end up in the firing line, patching up disputes between individuals is because, rightly or wrongly, we are seen as ‘the head of the family’, or at least of the local congregation, and so act as the ‘go-between’ trying to reconcile members of the congregation who are in dispute. If we the Church are one body then surely the responsibility lies with us ALL.

It is not an easy thing to go and say to someone ‘you have hurt me’, ‘you’ve upset me’ or ‘you have wronged me’ and then to sit quietly, both parties, and talk it through – yes, there are more sensitive ways of wording it, but ultimately that is what we are saying. It places you in a vulnerable position and open to abuse from the other side. Even then, if a calm conversation can ensue, then you might find out that you are wrong, when you thought you were right. When you listen to the other person’s side you may begin to understand and perhaps find more good than you expected. As members of a family we grow up with our siblings, we fight, we make up, we grow together, learn from each other, and learn about each other. The same is true of the family of the Church. But still, it can be difficult, where there is conflict, to really LISTEN to one another.

If talking one-to-one fails then it seems we are advised to progressively ‘gang-up’, to take one or two other people along to observe, to act as witnesses to what is said and done and to offer advise – in effect to mediate. If that approach fails then the task falls to the whole church.

How would you feel if one day you opened the door to find the whole church standing there pointing their fingers at you?

Well, perhaps the text doesn’t really mean that. In Jesus’ time communities were small, people would have known each other, people would have taken an interest in local disputes and also taken responsibility in resolving them, rather than turning a ‘blind-eye’. There was perhaps a collective responsibility to resolve anything that upset the ‘status quo’. There is plenty of evidence for that, consider how easy it was to gather a crowd to stone someone – that may be one way to resolve a dispute or deal with someone who in your eyes has done wrong, it is not something most of us would condone today and Jesus leads us away from that. Ultimately, if all else is lost the offender is simply excluded completely from the community. Not that that need be the end of the story, there is always hope of reconciliation and for the ‘prodigal’ to return.

Whatever decisions we make about what is right and what is wrong, however we resolve disputes, we should look to each other for advice, guidance and help in dealing with a situation to ensure that every member of the family is taken care of, respected and included.

I can’t help wondering how this works out on the global stage and within the Anglican Communion as a whole. There are many disputes within the communion, not least those surrounding women priests, women bishops, gay priests, gay bishops. I wonder is exclusion of one of the parts really the answer? Is exclusion really being used as a last resort, or simply as a way to avoid addressing the issues?

In all things we must remember that no decision must be taken alone, it must be the decision of at least two. If we read the text literally then there is only a requirement for two to be in agreement before a request is granted. That suggests to me that all things are possible, it is usually easy to find one person who agrees with you. That gives me great hope. I don’t think we will get resolution to all conflicts in our time, although all things are possible with God we have no say in when our requests are granted.

One to one contact increases our understanding and trust of one another, but there must also be a readiness for the church to act together, to pray together and to forgive. There are no boundaries and no limits, for when two or three are gathered together Jesus Christ himself is present and that makes all things possible.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Life Lessons

A reflection on the readings for Proper 17A:Exodus 3:1-15, Romans 12:9-21. Matthew 16:21-28 by the Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

I remember sitting on the counter in my grandmother’s kitchen, talking to my mother on the telephone. Outside the window it was a glorious sunny day, light bouncing off the rock bluffs, scrub trees and pine which define the beautiful mountains that surround the Salt Lake City Valley. I have no idea what my mom and I were talking about, just the usual topics for a five year old and her mom. Suddenly everything began to tremble. My grandmother had decorative soup ladles and dishes hanging on her kitchen walls and I watched them swing back and forth before they crashed to the floor. Perhaps a minute or two passed as the earth shook and things clattered. As far as I know this earthquake in Salt Lake City didn’t cause any wide spread damage, I’m not even sure it was strong enough to be news worthy, but it left an impression on me.

Years later I am the mother of a teen age daughter whose high school sweet heart has joined the army right after graduation. For the next four year we make several trips to visit this young man and support him through basic training, a couple of years of stateside service and then what we could do to support him during the fourteen months he was deployed to Afghanistan. One of our trips to visit him took us to Fayetteville, North Carolina. During that visit my son Peter and I ventured out on our own, leaving Jessi and her boyfriend to wander the shopping malls and visit with friends. Peter and I drove from Fayetteville to Wilmington where we wandered the beach side landmarks of the Civil War, took a long walk up the beach, and had lunch at a fabulous seashore fish house. I remember the sand on this beach was the whitest sand, soft and fine, with lots of shells to collect. I think of that very beach today, ravaged now by hurricane Irene. And I think of all the people afflicted first by the earthquake that hit the east coast, and now by this massive storm.

Our life experiences, regardless of whether they are good experiences or difficult ones, provide the foundation for our ability to understand the joys and sufferings of others. Having experiences in common deepens our capacity for empathy and compassion.

Some Midrash suggest that Moses had to learn about compassion and empathy before he could become the leader of the Hebrew people. Other Midrash offers wonderful examples of how women were the true characters who brought compassion, love, and salvation to the Hebrew people: the women who saved Moses from a certain death - midwives, mothers and sisters, and the Pharaoh's own daughter - with them he would have died. But these women were brave and wise and faithful to God.

Last week, as our Old Testament reading moved from Genesis to Exodus, we heard the story of Moses’ birth and his subsequent adoption by the Pharaoh’s daughter. In the chapters between last week and the reading this morning Moses has grown up, privileged in the Pharaoh’s home, and yet he knows that he is a Hebrew, not an Egyptian. As a young adult Moses tries to establish friendships with other Hebrews but his rejected. He witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man and in the process of defending the Hebrew man Moses kills the Egyptian. And for this he runs away and ends up in the countryside, tending sheep and marrying the daughter of the man who owns the flock. It’s while tending sheep that he encounters the burning bush in our reading from this morning. Over and over Moses will learn about human nature, about humility, about following God, and of developing compassion through the challenges life throws our way.

This same theme is echoed in the reading this morning in Romans and the Gospel – we are to show compassion for all people. Our ability to love as God loves comes from our life experiences, which form in us the capacity for compassion.

True, our life experiences can also form in us the capacity to be angry and bitter, always complaining, and never able to give others the benefit of the doubt. We have choices in how we respond to what life deals us. As we move through the Exodus story we will hear how Moses points the way to compassion and faithful living. Paul in his letter to the Romans reminds the congregation to: 9Let love be genuine…. 10love one another with mutual affection; …extend hospitality to strangers. ….15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another…. And Jesus helps us understand this further with his call that we pick up our cross and follow him. Jesus doesn’t say to pick up his cross and be Jesus, he says to follow him bearing our own crosses – regardless of what life has dealt us to become people who ground our lives in love and compassion for ourselves and for others.

To this end I invite us into a week of prayer from Sept. 5 through Sept. 11. Our Presiding Bishop has asked that churches leave their doors open so that all may come and pray. Pray with the intent of transforming the events of Sept. 11 into a mission of unity and hope. So we will offer a special Eucharist on Monday, Sept. 5, Labor Day, at 10am, followed by a self-led all day prayer vigil. We invited the Dearborn police department and fire department and Mayors office to feel to free to come and pray any time during the vigil. You may come on that Monday for a short while or a long time. We will have booklets available with a variety of prayers for you to pick and choose from, or to pray through the entire booklet.

We will also have, next Sunday, a booklet to take home, with daily prayers for individuals and families. Prayers for morning, noon, the evening meal, and bedtime, which you are invited to use, particularly, during the week leading up to the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Sunday of 9/11 there will be a variety of local opportunities available such as a vigil at the Henry Ford Museum at 6:30pm, and opportunities for work with WISDOM and outreach missions of Detroit – the details will be in our newsletter.

Both booklets contain prayers from the Book of Common Prayer as well as prayers from the New Zealand Prayer book and other faith traditions. Prayers that invite us to see the divine working in and through the world, calling us to live lives of peace, of love, of compassion. Here is one such prayer:

May I be free from danger,
May I be free from fear,
May I be healthy,
May I dwell in peace.

May you be free from danger,
May you be free from fear,
May you be healthy,
May you dwell in peace.

May all beings be free from danger,
May all beings be free from fear,
May all beings be healthy,
May all beings dwell in peace.

(Traditional Buddhist Prayer)

Friday, August 19, 2011


A Reflection on Matthew 16:13-20 by Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig

It all begins with a couple of questions that day out in Cesarea Phillipi. On their continuing adventures together, Jesus and the disciples had taken a little journey and Jesus asked two questions. The first of the two is for many reasons a safer question. “Who” he asks them, “do the people say I am?” It’s easy to answer that kind of question. It really doesn’t require that we put ourselves into the equation. We can do a “he says/she says, we can give intellectual answers, we can speculate and say “well maybe.” We can play it safe.
But the next question. Oh, the next question he asked! That one was much harder. That one was direct. “You,” he said. Who do you say that I am?” Now that question is a lot stickier. That one requires a commitment. You have to put yourself on the line, make a statement, a commitment, a testimony. And Peter did. He stepped right up. And he got it right. “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.”
The Messiah. The one who was to come, the long anticipated king of the house of David. And the Son of God, the living incarnation of God present on earth. Jesus is Lord. Peter gets it. He says it. Jesus confirms it. And in response he gives Peter a new name as a sign that he has been changed by recognizing who Jesus truly is and he gives him a task and a mission of leadership. Recognizing who Jesus was transformed Peter in that moment. Although we know that it did not make him perfect, as we see if we read just a little further in this Gospel. “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Peter gets it, he confesses it, and then he loses sight of it again. He stepped out there and walked on that water for a moment and then, down he went into the water. Fortunately, it seems, he had the good sense and humility to know he could not do this thing alone, and to call out to Jesus and be saved!
In our continuing adventures together with Jesus, he takes us places. And we are presented with that very question that was asked of Peter. “You. Who do you say that I am?” And how we answer it matters, too. Who is this Jesus who came among us in the Incarnation? Fully God. Fully Man. The One who came to show us who God is…in love, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness. And also the one who came to show us who we can be. The suffering servant who came to be broken open for us. The one who died and rose again so that death would lose its power. Our Lord and Savior. And the one who comes to us and desires the relationship, asks the question, wants the commitment, “Who do you say that I am?”
Like for Peter, for us too, this is not a once and for all question. We do not have our great moment of confession of faith and stay in that place of transformation forever. I know I for one would like it much better if that were true. In some ways I would feel much more confident as priest and preacher if I could have a sense of myself as always being one of Jesus’ rocks. But even in this week I found myself busy and distracted by many things, and not as focused on “the one thing” as I would like to be. “Who do you say that I am?” As Christians we answer this question in many ways. With our baptismal vows, made and renewed, with our faith statements, and with our lives….presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which, as it says in Romans, is indeed our spiritual worship. Everything we do, every place we go we are members of this body, with opportunities to use the gifts given to us by God. Does this mean we are called on to sacrifice our lives for Christ? While perhaps it’s not through death, though some have been called to martyrdom over the centuries for the sake of the Gospel, it is more likely we are called to sacrifice our lives by giving up some of our material or emotional comforts, as following Jesus has a tendency to take us from our safe places into new and risky territory.
“Who do you say that I am?” How we see Jesus matters. Clearly the world still wonders about this carpenter from Nazareth. He still makes the cover of magazines regularly and movies are still getting made about him. I once heard a sermon preached by Dr. Tom Long in which he talked about Jesus’ two main identities as “Messiah” and “son of God.” He emphasized the need to have both sides of the picture and not simply knowing it but “getting” it. Like Peter, we get it, we lose it and we get it again. We have to practice. To keep doing it over and over. To confess and re-confess the truth of it…Messiah, son of God, until it sinks into our bones and our cells and we breathe it with our very bodies. And we have to keep trying to live it every day. Because that is a practice too. We get up on that rock and fall off and need to get on again, sometimes thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought….and sometimes not thinking near high enough! Loving God, loving ourselves and loving one another to the best of our ability. Seeking to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves,
striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.
​So we go on reminding ourselves who and Whose we are….discerning what is the will of the God who loves us beyond belief and who sent his only son…the one who asks you today– “Who do you say that I am?”

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