In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Saturday, November 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?