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, 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?”

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Proper 15 A

A reflection the readings for Proper 15A: Genesis 45:1-15 or Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Psalm 133 or Psalm 67, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28; by Janine Goodwin

(I did an in-depth study of the Markan version of this Gospel for this blog in 2009: it can be found here

This time around, I read all the possible readings for the week and found myself seeing a theme. Except in the psalms, each of the writers is insisting that God is doing something new, that God’s way of acting is not what we thought it was. In each passage, someone is taking an experience and interpreting it in a new way, seeing God’s actions in the world differently than they have ever seen them before.

This takes faith, humility, and courage. Look at these stories.

Joseph’s brothers would have let him die of thirst alone in the desert, yet he sees everything that has happened to him as God’s way of letting him save their lives. Joseph finds the grace in a confluence of ugly situations—sibling rivalry, famine, and all the struggles that brought him to power—and acts out of love, not vengeance.

Isaiah offers inclusion to anyone who hears his words—not just to his own people, but to foreigners. “I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” This may well have seemed like a false prophecy to many of its original hearers; it is a departure from the parts of Scripture that condemn outsiders.

Paul, working at the beginning of the Christian church, insists that God has not turned away from the faith from which it came. Like Joseph and Isaiah, he is not interested in excluding, even when he was excluded.

Jesus learns something new from a feisty woman, an outsider, a person in need who won’t back down. Her argument takes him into new territory. He goes beyond what he has been taught about people from different places and different faiths. He sees need and faith. He responds.

Sometimes I forget that all scripture was new once; I need to remember more often that it came out of a need not just to remember what had always been, but to share that God has done something new.

God has done something new.

It takes faith to say that, because it is a step into the unknown. It means we could be wrong. Joseph could have been wrong; his brothers could have been waiting to trick him again. Isaiah could have been a false prophet. Paul was in the chaotic middle of a new church, arguing with those who taught him. Jesus was facing a situation he’d never faced. It takes faith in a God we cannot entirely know, but can sometimes hear, to be able to say God has done something new.

It takes humility to say that. If we are not careful, our knowledge of scripture and history, even our own reason and experience, can lead us into the pride that says we know all about God—and that others do not. It can be all too easy for us to say that God wouldn’t say this or do that or go there. If we put scripture in the past and ignore the fact that it is a lively and often contradictory conversation across centuries, we can believe that we know it all and we can iron out the differences—that we have a comprehensive view of God instead of vivid and changing glimpses. We might think we have God under control, and miss our chance to see God doing something new.

It takes courage to point out something new. Others, often others that are more powerful and numerous than we are, may not agree, and things could get ugly. People lose jobs, friends, communities. Rifts open that may never close. Faiths have divided again and again when some saw God doing something new and others did not. If we are wrong, we could lead others astray. It would be easier not to point out that we see God doing something new. It takes courage to live by the new knowledge, to give up what seemed solid and secure and move into the unknown with what we are learning.

Even when we have the faith, humility, and courage to say, “I believe God is doing something new, and this is what it is,” we have to ground the experience of the new in respect for tradition. The God who is saying new things is also one we know through scripture and tradition, and what we see must answer to what others have seen; they have their wisdom and knowledge of God, and we may not put them aside lightly. When God says something new, that does not necessarily mean that something old is wrong. It is sad that traditionalists and progressives choose sides instead of discerning together. We should not forget either the old or the new.

There must also be respect for those who do not and will not agree with us. As a feminist living in an area where churches are primarily fundamentalist, I live and work among Christians with whom I disagree on many points. If I become judgmental, proud, or bitter toward them, I am not living in the light of the Gospel. When I remember that Jesus included all kinds of people and did not require them to agree with each other on every point, I am faced with the task of figuring out how to disagree with integrity and love yet without pride. Some of the people around me may not believe that it is their task, too; it is not my job to convince them, but to do what I believe I am called to do. Sometimes we find a way to live together in partial unity and the promise of the Psalms can be fulfilled to some small degree. Wanting unity frees my soul from resentment and opens my heart to love, and also to grief.

I am giving up on the idea that God is doing something new that is totally different, pristine, and perfect: the vision can be amazing but it must have some continuity with the past, and it can be grand, but everything that follows it is going to be messy, incomplete, and have no guarantee of success. I may not always see that God is doing something new; if I see, I may not interpret perfectly; if someone else sees it, I may have a hard time with it. All I can do is pay attention and pray for faith, humility, and courage.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, August 6, 2011

“What are You Doing Here?” (Proper 14A)

A reflection on the readings for Proper 14A by the Rev. Karla Jean Miller

I do not own a GPS. I do have an app on my Iphone that can give me step by step directions when I am driving, but it is difficult to follow while driving, since there is no voice. It doesn’t matter though, because
I am someone who often gets lost, while out driving by myself.
This often becomes a liability for me as I cruise the villages and towns surrounding Boston--just when I am trying to find a new place. The GPS on my phone becomes useless, because more often then not, it seems that there are always roads closed, non-existent roads, roads with no signs, roads that have multiple names...
and you wonder to yourself,
“What am I doing here? “
I am not the only one this happens to, right?

This happens in my life, too.
Whether the result of decisions or unconscious actions,
or emotional choices,
More often than I like to admit,
I think to myself,
“What am I doing HERE?”

I imagine this was the question that Elijah was wondering about when he found himself
backed into a cave, hoping his skin was safe. He had been quite productive, on behalf of the Lord, by getting rid of the prophets of Baal who were serving under Queen Jezebel, and now, in spite of it all, his very life is threatened. What happened? Wasn’t he doing what he was supposed to do? How could have he ended up where he was, alone, scared, not knowing where to turn or go next?

And so imagine,
Being asked that very question by the One whom you are serving.
In a dream, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?”
If I had been Elijah in that dream, I would have said to the Lord,
“Well, God, why don’t you tell me WHAT THE HECK I AM DOING HERE!!!!”
In fact, that is sort of what Elijah does, by describing all he has done for the Lord of Hosts, and how he is being chased by those who seek to take his life.

After listening to Elijah’s defense, God gives Elijah a strange directive--to go outside of the cave, and expose himself, for God will pass by. In ancient Israel, if you remember, to be in the presence of God meant death. Death by the presence of God, or by the soldiers of Jezebel are Elijah’s only options. He chooses the former.

And indeed, the presence of God does pass by,
not in a mighty wind, or in a roaring fire,
but in sheer sweet silence.

And in that sweet silence,
a Voice asks again,
“What are you doing here?”

Again, Elijah answers, with the very same response he had before, noting that his life was in danger.

After experiencing the presence of God, Elijah is still not able to hear the depth of the question. I wonder if God is asking Elijah to reflect upon his experience, to wonder, to dissect his actions and recent past in the wake of being in God’s presence?

I wonder.
It’s a good question to reflect upon, don’t you think?

Indeed, where are you? What ARE you doing here, in this very time, this present moment?
How did you get where you are?
Are you lost,
are you on track?
How do you live in the moment,
but remain conscious of being connected with the divine and all of creation?
Where is the sweet silent presence of God in your life?

We journey through the depth and thickness of our daily living,
with so many demands, and responsibilities, and decisions...
that it is easy to push forward, get through our days, a glass of wine, a baseball game, a t.v. show--which is all well and good.
But sometimes,
we need to just stop--
before we get backed into a cave,
and simply listen for the Voice in the silence,
asking us,
discern, to reflect, and to wonder,
“What are you doing here? How did you get here? Is this where I need to be? How is it that I am being called, as God’s servant in this world? How is it that I am being called as God’s disciple?”

What are YOU doing here?
May the silence of God visit you,
and give you the space and sweetness you need,
to listen and reflect.