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, May 28, 2011

Easter 6A

A reflection on the readings for Easter 6A: Acts 17:22-31, by The Rev. Margaret Rose

Paul in the Areopagas and the Arab Spring

This past week I attended the annual conference of Churches for Middle East Peace. CMEP is an ecumenical group whose mission is to engage churches in working for peace in the Middle East primarily in those places we often call The Holy Land. Attending were “the usual suspects” ( and I do not say that derisively as I myself fit that category) of late middle agers whose work in the church had been shaped by the events in Israel/ Palestine over the years. But this year there was a significant presence of young adults. The Episcopal Church brought a diverse delegation of ten young people. Their knowledge and commitment were impressive. They knew their history. Some had been to Israel and Palestine on pilgrimage and all were prepared to engage their Congressional representatives on the last day of the conference which was for lobbying.

Panelists at the conference, included young people as well. Christians, Muslims and Jews from various countries in the Middle East as well as Americans. The timing of the Conference could not have been better. Obama had just given his speech on the Middle East and Netanyahu was in Washington to speak to AIPEC and to address Congress. So the issues of the peace process were utmost in our minds, its urgency at the top of the agenda.

This year, many said, the conference conversation was different. While the Israel/Palestine discussion was still dominated by the question of borders and land swaps, right of return, boycotts and security, there was another dimension which shifted the conversation in a new direction and gave it hope. Young People. Young adults, Americans, Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese, and more. And in the background shadows were all those who had stood up for a new way in what is now called the Arab Spring.

No one, no group was exempt from the scrutiny of the young: corrupt governments on all sides, dictators all around, organized groups who might take power—Moslem Brotherhood , or those who already have it—Hamas. The peace groups in Israel and more. Fed up with an “old guard” whose main work seemed to be to hang on to power, The message of the Arab Spring was that of open source democracy and a reform of corrupt ways.

Our discussions in Washington about these young people were inspiring. They were not na├»ve about the costs. But they had no doubt about the benefit. It would be too facile to say this is just another “Woodstock” , this is just young people living out the ideal or utopian way. Even the old establishment is beginning to see the result. Indeed, the living out of this spring is already leading to the hard realities of governing and the long hard slog of putting the new into place. But something new is happening.
And the speakers at the conference, young and old, Jewish, Christian, Moslem, secular and sacred, noted the hopeful possibility of conversion. And the prayer of all was that a way may be found for a peace filled road.

What, one might ask, does all this have to do with the texts for Easter 6? As I read Acts 17, Paul’s famous speech in the Areopagas, in light of the events in the Middle East and the discussion at the conference, I imagined Paul as a young man in another era of Middle East spring. He had experienced a fiery ( or rather light filled) conversion and had joined with zeal what came to be called The Jesus Movement. There is much discussion about whether or not this was a political movement, but aspects of it certainly were. Jesus was adamant against the rampant corruption which he saw among the leaders. From all accounts this was a reform movement whose consequences for Jesus and later even by Paul’s hand resulted in violence. But in the text today he is making a masterful speech in the Areopagas, the judicial court area. ( I learned that in the 4th century these were the courts that dealt with corruption in government, but that was not doubt not the case in Paul’s time.)
Paul’s speech to the Athenians was one of invitation and Good News. He who had so recently killed those who had followed Jesus did not turn to violence as he moved to the other side. Rather he saw an opening for the Greeks to engage Jesus. “What you worship as unknown, I proclaim to you . The God who made the world and everything in it does not live in shrines made by human hands.” We are God’s offspring, he proclaims, therefore, God is like us and we like God with power to speak and love and engage one another and the world God has made. Here is yet another way of proclaiming that we as God’s children are made in the image of God.

I may be reading too much into Paul to imagine him outside his cultural context. He is a complex figure, so I do not want to simplify. Yet as I have often struggled to accept some of the literal interpretations of his “women must be silent” or “man is the head, woman is the body” texts, a closer reading allows Paul to come to life in ways that invite a larger view.

What would I say, I wonder, were I given the opportunity here in the US to have my own Areopagas? How might I seek a new way? Invite people to name their own unknown God as the one who made the universe and all that is in it. What does it mean to claim ourselves as God’s offspring? How might we engage in addressing the current impasses in our own government battles over health care, the budget and more? Is there a way which is less polarizing and more of an invitation? Thanks to Paul (much to my surprise! And gratitude!) I will pay attention not only to what I might say, but also to what the young people in my own world are calling for and claiming.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Easter 5A

A reflection on the readings for Easter 5A:Acts 7. 55-60, 1 Peter 2. 2-10, John 14. 1-14 by The Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers

I thought I was going to get out of writing a sermon this week, but the world didn’t end yesterday as predicted…! Although whether Harold Camping’s calculation has taken into account the change from the Julian to Gregorian Calendarso I’m not quite sure. Judgement day is of course no joking matter, but I don’t think we should spend too much time worrying about it if we are living good and godly lives. After all, we are all going to meet our maker one day. We have reasonably comfortable lives here, we are able to worship in freedom. That isn’t the case everywhere and as this country becomes more secular and more multicultural, perhaps we will loose our freedom too. There are places around the world where Christians even today have to put their lives on the line for their faith, they do not have freedom to worship and they face persecution and martyrdom.
Given the persecution that Jesus himself faced, and the manner in which he died. It was not a surprise to his followers that the authorities would not take kindly to this new movement that was growing. In a few weeks time we will celebrate the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, the day when more than 3000 were baptised. That must have frightened the authorities. Soon after Stephen was made a deacon, and is seized by the scribes and elders, accused of speaking against the law of Moses. In his retaliatory speech he skilfully re-tells Israel’s past, challenging those who are listening to him to realise that there is a higher authority than the law of Moses, finally pointing out to them that they betrayed and murdered Jesus, the ‘Righteous One’.

Stephen is an excellent example of Christian witness in today’s world, he is a reminder of what it means to lay your life on the line for your faith – he certainly had a ‘no holds barred’ approach. He is dragged out and executed for his faith.

Saul, the one who would go on to persecute the church, was there, minding the coats – was it Stephen’s fervour that prompted him to take a stand against the evolving church? Perhaps after his conversion, it was the example of Stephen that drove Paul to be such a fervent ambassador for Jesus Christ. Later in Acts, Paul readily admits later in Acts that he was looking on and complicit in the stoning of Stephen. Paul’s words also indicate that Stephen was already seen as the first ‘martyr’ by the early Christian’s. He uses the word marturos which means first and foremost that Stephen was a witness. That is clear from the description of the manner of Stephen’s death. Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit doesn’t see the hostile faces of the council staring at him, instead he lifts his eyes to heaven and sees deep into the heart of heaven, he sees the ‘glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.’ He is a witness to the risen and ascended Christ. Paul acknowledges that Stephen’s blood was shed because he was a witness to Christ and so, he becomes the first ‘martyr’ the first Christian ready to die for his faith, to accept his fate without question and without fear. He wasn’t trying to draw attention to himself, he was just trying to make people see the truth. He was a witness to Jesus as the apostles were witnesses and later Paul himself was a witness. Stephen, as others have done after him, provided a living testimony to the transformative presence of God in the world. He stands firm in the face of hostility. But, the crowd didn’t want to hear him, they cover their ears and refuse to hear the message he has to offer them, and they descend on him and take him out and stone him.

It is scene reminiscent of Jesus’ own death. Stephen prays that Jesus will receive his spirit as Jesus himself prayed and commended his own spirit into God’s had. Stephen also asks for God’s forgiveness for those who kill him, they do not know what they are doing as they did not know what they were doing when they put Jesus to death and because of their refusal to listen to the message Stephen was trying to give them, they still don’t know. Stephen’s death, like his life, is modelled on the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ and Stephen lives that out fully. His death also gives us a further pointer to the full meaning of the resurrection. Stephen sees deep into the heart of heaven. All of our readings today suggest that our earthly home is only temporary, that our true home is in heaven with our Father. Jesus says ‘in my Father’s house there are many mansions’ or ‘dwelling-places’. God has plenty of room for all his children, and we will all one day have a home there.

Jesus is the way the truth and the life, he is the one we must follow, and he is the one who will lead us through this life and into the next. God enters into his creation in the form of Jesus, he becomes human to experience our life and death. Jesus understands what it is to live in this world and he gives himself completely and utterly to it. We must follow his example and engage fully with the world around us, to take part in creation, to protect it and interact with it. If we engage and interact fully within the world, if we live our lives to the full, then we build ourselves into a living temple where we can serve and praise God wholeheartedly. If we do that, then we follow fully in the steps of Jesus and when our time finally comes we will meet him face to face in honesty, knowing that he has been our guide all our days.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Easter 4A

A reflection on the readings for Easter 4A: Acts 2:42-47, John 10:1-10, by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

When I was a young girl my mother was fond of telling me the story of how she named me. The top five names for girls in 1957 were: Mary, Susan, Debra, Karen, and Linda. My mother wanted a different name for me, unique and unusual, at least in her mind. She had a photo of me that was printed in the Salt Lake City newspaper on my first birthday, along with all the other kids celebrating first birthday's. The photographs made her point, three of the girls were named Debra and then there was me, Terri Lynnette: Terri spelled with two “r's” and an “i.” Simple as my name is I have had to spell it for people my entire life. And, in my entire childhood the only other Terry's I knew were boys. Sometimes I wished for a typical girl's name. Now, I know other women with the name Terri, although there are a number of different spellings.

My mother's given name was Joan, but in her 40's, with her children grown, and following a divorce from her second husband, she claimed a new identity through her Irish heritage. As a natural red-head with green eyes, she legally changed her name to Shannon.

Regardless of how intentional we are in selecting names, compared to the ancient world, the modern practice of naming is arbitrary. In the world of Jesus and those who came before him, Abraham and Sarah, names designated something particular about the person. Through God's blessing Abram, Sarai, and Saul under-go a change of name – Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, and Saul becomes Paul – the great St. Paul. The name change for these people in the Bible signifies a change in who they are, their identity has changed. The names of people in the Bible give us insight into who the person is.

In the Bible the name of God is a central theme. Knowing the divine name gives privilege to some, and invoking that divine name, according to Biblical stories, brings gifts of grace. Can you think of some the names of God that you know of from the Bible? In the Hebrew Bible God is named “El” which is also translated as “God.” Also - “El Elyon” - God most high; “El Olam” - everlasting God; “El Shaddai” - Almighty God. God revealed God's name to Moses as “I AM” which over time became known as YHWH – and is sometimes pronounced as Yahweh – although traditionally it is not said out loud. Christians have traditionally used Lord – a male noun describing authority; Adonai – which also means Lord; and Kyrios which for the ancient Greeks distinguished God from the Roman emperor.

The ancient Christian Church soon adopted Lord as the title for Jesus. But there are many other names for Jesus found in the Bible. Can you think of some? Here are a few names for Jesus that we find in the New Testament: Word, Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, Messiah, son of Joseph, King of Israel, Son of Man, Emmanuel, bread, vine, a mother hen, and, from our reading in John this morning, the good shepherd.

Many of the passages in scripture, including the Acts of the Apostles, which we hear every year in the season of Easter, remind us that the Christian life and faith proceeds from and , in, the name of Jesus.

In a few weeks, on the feast of Pentecost, we will baptize a new member into our community of faith and into the Christian Church. From now until that day we will pray for this young baby, by his first name Peyton, and his two middle names – Edward and Kirkland. But we won't use his last name, his surname because in baptism we all the same last name – Christian. So in a few minutes, when we pray for Peyton Edward Kirkland remember in the back of your mind that he will soon add another name – Christian. He will join us in the family of faith.

Being named Christian, and claiming our mutual identity as members of the family of Jesus, calls us to a particular identity. It's this forming and claiming of identity that brings us here each Sunday. Here to be reminded, through scripture, and prayer, and hymns, what we are to be about as the family of Christ. In other words, Christian is not only a noun, but it's also a verb. Christian is a call to action, to follow the shepherd, to live abundantly.

What do you think of when you consider what it means to live abundantly? I imagine most of us have had a change of heart about that term over the ten years or so. For most of us living abundantly no longer means having more things, bigger and better stuff. As Christians living abundantly has a particular context that models the life and ministry of Jesus. It means something along the lines of having abundant generosity and compassion for ourselves and for others.

One of my favorite television programs is “The Good Wife.” Tuesday night's episode was particularly gripping as Alicia wrestles with the betrayal of her husband's brief affair with her best friend and co-worker, Calinda. In one scene, Calinda, the tight-lipped, unemotional, private investigator for the firm, distraught over her broken friendship with Alicia, begins to fall apart. All alone in an elevator she dissolves into tears. In another scene, her boss, Will, a partner of the firm, notices that Calinda is not her self. Reaching out with care and compassion he suggests to her that one day she will need to confide in someone. But Calinda, stoic and resolute, responds, “There is one thing I have learned, I NEVER have to confide in anyone.”

As human beings we are born with a complex range of emotions and feeling. We need each other in order to become fully who we are intended to be. Our Christian identity is formative in that regard. Our call to live in community is intended to be supportive, each of us for the other. Day in and day out living our life of faith, worshiping together, praying together, breaking bread together – either in the Eucharist or over a meal – spending time learning about our faith and one another, being present for each other through our struggles and our joys – are all part of our Christian identity. Living a life of faith transforms us. Embraced in the love of Christ, in the security of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we learn that we are not alone. Living the life of faith teaches us the depth of God's love for us, we come to know that love as an inherent component of our identity. And in being loved, and named as God's beloved, we are called to do like wise, to go and love others as Christ loves us.

- Portions of this reflection were informed by: Gail Ramshaw, “Treasures Old and New” Images in the Lectionary, from the chapter, “Name of God”

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Easter 3A

A reflection on the readings for Easter 3A by the Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

This is where I am starting my thoughts for a sermon for this Sunday, May 8, the Third Sunday of Easter: with the history of Mother's Day and

It was started in 1870 as a day for mothers to pray and work for peace, for the end of war, to decry that their sons and husbands would go to war and, as Julia Ward Howe wrote in her Mother’s Day Declaration, “unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.” Howe was an abolitionist, a worker for peace and woman suffrage – the epitome of the late 19th century progressive, convinced that women truly and naturally embodied all Christian and civic virtues. The carnage of the Civil War so disturbed her that she was moved to commemorate the values of peace and motherhood with this Mother’s Day. It was celebrated in June in her lifetime, and she funded many of the commemorations.

As the battle scars of the Civil War faded, and after Howe’s death, Anna Reeves Jarvis rekindled and readapted Howe’s commemoration – she called it “Mother’s Friendship Day,” with the intention to “re-unite families and neighbors that had been divided between the Union and Confederate sides of the Civil War.”

In 1908 Anna M. Jarvis, her daughter, yet again revived the holiday, now a commemoration both of peace and of the dedication of her mother, as a Sunday School teacher and as the founder of Mother’s Day as a day of peace and reconciliation. After a quiet gathering at her home in Philadelphia, Jarvis went public with Mother’s Day at her Methodist Church in West Virginia – and in today’s terms, it went viral. The idea of honoring mothers with flowers (white carnations for the dead, pink or red for the living) and festivities – struck a chord in the human heart, and soon lots of churches and communities were doing it. Anna M. Jarvis became a political activist, to have Mother’s Day, as she conceived it, to be recognized nationally as a holiday. This was backed by the YMCA and, very powerfully, by the World Sunday School Association, and this Progressive Era victory for the virtues of motherhood was signed into law in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson.

Ironically, the declaration coincided with the meteoric rise of commercialism and advertising in the US, and from the 1920s on, the flower and greeting card industries have taken on Mother’s Day for their own. This profit-making Mother’s Day disturbed Anna M. Jarvis greatly, and she loudly and publicly opposed what she deemed a misuse of the holiday – from 1920s until her death in 1948.

It is poignant, indeed, as we contemplate Mother’s Day 2011, thinking about its origins in the protest of the carnage of war. When late 19th and early 20th century women banded together for peace, they believed that their womanly and motherly virtues transcended national borders, and that women around the world would unite to bring an end to war. As Julia Ward Howe wrote in her original declaration:

"We women of one country
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says, "Disarm, Disarm!"
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice!
Blood does not wipe out dishonor
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war.
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

Solemn thoughts to consider during this week that saw one of the declared enemies of America brought to a violent end. I was relieved that President Obama did not rattle swords or preach bellicosity in his address to the nation, but I was made slightly uncomfortable by the campus and community demonstrations on Sunday night and Monday. Has our younger generation taken the rhetoric of patriotic valor into the arena of vengeance and American exceptionalism?

Most news coverage early in the week, however, included more nuanced reflections on the American reactions to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Young people growing up in the shadow of 9/11 have had these events and debates thrust upon them at every turn. From Tuesday’s New York Times, I found this helpful to read:
"In the world of the so-called millennial generation, said Neil Howe, a writer and historian who is often credited with defining that term for the generation, “Evil is evil, good is good. There are no antiheroes, there is no gray area. This is a Harry Potter vignette, and Voldemort is dead.”

“In a Harry Potter world,” he said, “their mission is to save the world for the rest of society. This is their taking pride in what their generation is able to do.”

Reading on, though, it was clear that not everyone cast their lives in Manichean terms. The article quoted one young woman, a Muslim American, who said she began wearing a head scarf after the attacks on the World Trade Center:

“I feel like regardless of your religion after 9/11, it made everyone question what it was like to be an American.”

That same New York Times article, that talked about how vocally patriotic young adults had become, also noted that these same young adults were increasingly likely to want to get to know the world around them, to study abroad, to learn about other societies and religions. That’s good. Even these young people who have seen so much violence and disruption during their whole lives, whose own families and communities may have been harmed by those terrible events of September 11, seem to be continuing the trend we have seen for a generation, of teenagers who enter young adulthood wanting to make a difference, to give back, to get involved, whose hearts burn within them to make the world a better place.

That’s where I’m going with my sermon this week: to connect the experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who described their encounter with the risen Jesus as something that made their hearts burn within them, with people who, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, find the energy and commitment to get up and work to make the world a better place. To me, the connection is discipleship, and how we form our children, and each other, to be the kind of followers of Jesus who recognize the love of God in the unlikeliest of places – to be the kind of people whose hearts are set on fire for that love, and who know that justice and mercy truly walk hand in hand.