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"

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Proper 13a

Reflection on the readings for Proper 13A by the Rev. Camille Hegg

Good old Matthew tells us that besides feeding 5000 men, there were women and children at this event in Jesus’ life. Must be triple that amount when one does count the women and children. And I’ll bet it was a woman that baked the five loaves, too.
I am a baker of bread and over the years have come to believe that bread is a miracle of life. When my daughter was little, she enjoyed ‘punching down’ the dough after the first rising. Now my granddaughters help me when they are here when I am ready for punching down and then shaping the loaves.
This of the miracle of bread: flour, yeast or some sour dough starter, oil, water. So simple. Add almost anything: cheese, olives, rosemary, nuts, raisins, spices. It can be endless what can go into the dough. I like to use a variety of shapes and sizes of pans. That is part of the miracle of bread.
Another miracle of bread I have experience: A member of one of my parishes found herself going deaf. When I went there I was told she was away for a long period of time before I met her. She was dealing with her loss of hearing through counseling and staying with family. And she was learning to communicate in new ways. Her friends told me she was very sad and angry as well as fearful about the future held for her. It was several months before she came back. For months she didn’t talk to people, including me. She sat and sat. Came early, left right away after church. I never saw a smile on her face. When people she knew spoke to her she sort of acknowledged their presence, but didn’t say anything. I think she could hear only a small bit of the service.
Frequently, for parish suppers I would bring several loaves of bread, different kinds and different shapes. Everyone seemed to love whatever my offering was. One night she actually came to a parish supper. She sat there and said nothing. Then she came to another dinner, sat there the whole time and didn’t say anything. At the end of that dinner, however, as people were leaving, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was my deaf parishioner. “I thought you might like these recipes of my mother. We were all quite fond of her bread.” And she handed me two sheets of paper with recipes of her mother’s on them.
The gospel this week helps us look both forward and backward. Backward to the experience of God from early scripture to the Lord’s Supper. It also helps us look back at our lives and see what God has done in our lives, when we have been nourished by the vast abundance of life that always surprises us. And it encourages us to look forward, to the abundance og God’s love and grace.
All of the gospels have a story of a miraculous feeding of people. The disciples want the people to leave but Jesus tells them to give them something to eat. They are astonished when he tells them that. Then Jesus takes what they have and blesses, breaks, and gives it. It is near and dear to the heart of the church and gives us a model for Eucharist, but more importantly, for ministry. We are to take the gifts God has given us, bless them and then give them to the world as God’s head, hands, heart, feet in the world. Jesus is saying to us, “feed them yourself.” As the Body of Christ in the world we are given the miracles of the Bread of Life in the many sizes and shapes and flavors of life. Let us feed them ourselves. And maybe someone who won’t speak, will. And we count everyone.


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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Proper 12A

A reflection on the readings for Proper 12-A
Genesis 29:15-28; Ps. 105:1-11, 45; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 by the Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

There once lived a young man named Francis Bernadone, whose father was a wealthy merchant. One day, young Francis flung open the windows of his father's storehouses and began throwing out yards and yards of fine fabrics, boxes of jewels and the treasures of Italy and the Orient, giving them to the poor. But even this was not enough for Francis. He walked to the center of the town, to the cathedral square, and took off all his clothes and gave them, too, to the poor, and, naked, entered the world -- a world which he now saw as a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven, for Francis of Assisi had found the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price, and so gave away all that he had in order to have this pearl.

Now many good, Christian, faithful people, including the father whose wealth Francis gave away, thought the young man out of his mind, crazy to leave a life of privilege to take care of lepers, live with the poor and beg for his food. Even today we think people like this are crazy. Take Kip Tiernan, the tireless advocate for the homeless in Boston, and the founder of Rosie’s Place, among many other now-respectable means of helping people once considered the equivalent of lepers, the people we avoid and do not want to touch. Kip died earlier this month. Boston Globe columnist James Carroll knew Kip, who always wore a cross around her neck, which marked her, he said

“… not for piety or for a religion of easy answers, but for being, in her words, ‘an angry daughter of Christ. . . . I find that the cross of Jesus is the radical condemnation of an unjust world. You have to stay with the one crucified or stand with the crucifiers.’”

Kip Tiernan and Francis of Assisi were both merchants in search of fine pearls, who sold all that they had in order to have that pearl which is the promise of the justice and peace and plenty which is the kingdom of heaven.
The treasures of the kingdom can also come in smaller, more manageable packages. When Tim and I were married, we chose for the Gospel this same passage from Matthew. Falling in love and nurturing a family is indeed a pearl of great price, for in the bosoms of our families we, too, can find the treasures of the kingdom.

A family, especially the web of relationships which make up a family, can be seen as an icon -- a window through which we can see God -- for when we understand God as the Trinity, we are talking about a web of relationships among three persons, joined together by love.

Now, some families can be dysfunctional and destructive. I must say that reading Genesis this summer shows the founders of the Abrahamic faith – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – as astoundingly poor examples of the “family values” found in traditional, heterosexual marriage, as it is commonly defined today. But for right now, let’s agree to suspend disbelief and not judge Jacob, Rachel and Leah, and their father, Laban, by our standards; it’s nearly impossible to get back on the inside of that long-ago culture.

Part of what joins Francis of Assisi and Kip Tiernan was their common ability to create a space of safety and nurture and love for the most vulnerable people who lived around them. I saw this same thing happen in the soup kitchen at the soup kitchen in the church I served for years -- people for whom the “traditional” concept of “family” does not work, for a variety of reasons, find a place where, for even a short time, they can feel at home.

A family at its best, however you define that family, is as close as we can get to the kingdom of heaven, to the model for human relationships known as the household of God. In Rosie’s Place women’s shelter, or Francis of Assisi's leper colony, in my household, in your household, we all possess that pearl of great price. We know that somewhere the leaven is hidden in the meal, and has the potential to make the whole loaf rise. In order to create our households, our families, we have given up something of value, and we hope in our relationships to model ourselves on the self-giving and self-affirming and interwoven bonds of love that is the Trinity, the God that animates, interpenetrates and embraces each of us and the people with whom we share our lives. In every marriage, with every relationship between parent and child, in every relationship where we agree to build a home together, be it with one other person or a thousand homeless lepers, we hope to find that pearl of great price, which is the justice and equality and peace and security and love which Jesus has promised to all of us in the commonwealth of heaven.


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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Proper 11A Wheat and Weeds

A reflection on PROPER 11 – ISAIAH 44. 6-8, ROMANS 8. 12-25, MATTHEW 13. 24-30, 36-43 by the Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers

The Tares are a mongrel form of wheat, with smaller leaves, suitable for chicken feed but not really any good for us to eat. It is inevitable that a few tares would be sown amongst the wheat. In this parable a disconcerting amount have been sown, the first thought of the slaves is to tear them out immediately. But, this may be risky, the roots may have become tangled and the wheat would be uprooted too. So the farmer takes the long-term view. He lets the crops grow together and will separate them when they are fully grown.

Last week we talked about planting seeds. This week we're talking about pulling weeds. The two go together. Every gardener knows that planting seeds is the easy part of having a successful garden. It is much more time consuming to weed that same garden. And it's hard work. As someone has said: "When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant."

There is a corollary to that truth: "To distinguish flowers from weeds, simply pull up everything. What grows back is weeds."

Some of you can relate to one unknown homemaker who wrote: I don't do windows because . . . I love birds and don't want one to run into a clean window and get hurt. I don't wax floors because . . . I am terrified a guest will slip and get hurt then I'll feel terrible (plus they may sue me.)I don't disturb cobwebs because . . . I want every creature to have a home of their own. I don't Spring Clean because . . . I love all the seasons and don't want the others to get jealous. I don't put things away because . . . my husband will never be able to find them again. I don't do gourmet meals when I entertain because . . . I don't want my guests to stress out over what to make when they invite me over for dinner. I don't iron because . . . I choose to believe them when they say "Permanent Press." And finally: I don't pull weeds in the garden because . . . I don't want to get in God's way, He is an excellent designer!

I doubt than anyone likes pulling weeds, including God. In today's lesson Jesus tells a parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'

"'An enemy did this,' he replied.

"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'

"'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"

Then Jesus left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."

Jesus answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear."

On its surface, there is not much to be said about this parable except make sure you're not a weed...
1. Pulling Weeds Is an Important Part of a Successful Life.
2. God Is Our Savior.
3. God Wants to Save Us from Sin.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Flesh and Blood--God’s Body

A reflection on Paul’s letter to the Romans for Proper 10A, by the Rev. Margaret Rose


Paul--that is the apostle Paul has got it wrong. Two weeks in a row I have avoided thinking about the Epistle text from the letter to the Romans. Two weeks in a row I have been annoyed as I listened to the lay reader speak Paul’s words to the Christian community in first century Rome and of course to the Christian community of 21st Century New York. No, it is not his thoughts about women, telling us to keep silent and not speak out in public. I can forgive him on that one. Clearly the woman were doing a lot of speaking and in his mind, things were getting out of hand. Besides look how far we have come. He certainly got it right in those very liberating words he writes to another community, the Galatians. “In Christ there is neither Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free.” From the beginning Paul proclaims the new Christian community an inclusive one, not bound by class or race or sex or even if you are slave or free. And I am comforted by his words of reassurance at the end of Romans 8 when his poetic language reassures us of God’s unconditional love, that “neither hardship nor distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword. Not death or life nor angels nor rulers nor things present to come or anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God. With all this I have no quarrel.

It is rather what comes before in the letter to the Romans. I don’t know if Paul is trying to let them know what a good Greek he is or what but he says a few things I am sure even Jesus would disagree with and which I believe we have misunderstood and suffered under for too many years. What do I mean exactly? Well, it is about the flesh. The body I mean. Our bodies. And Paul’s denial of the body. If we could just get rid of our bodies then the spirit would be in good shape. The body is bad. The mind is good. Those aren’t exactly Paul’s words. They go like this: “Wretched man that I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death?” The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, In Christ we are not in the flesh but in the spirit, the body is death, the spirit is life. With my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin, If by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” I suspect that some of this comes from Paul’s life. He may be writing to the Romans. But he is also writing to Paul--(It is like most sermons--the underlying message is really to the preacher) And as we know Paul has an interesting and not always pretty biography. We don’t know it all of course, but we do know that he was a Pharisaic Jew, accustomed to persecuting Christians, responsible certainly for the murder of more than a few. Stephen is the main one we know about. We know the astonishing story of his conversion on the road. Blinded by the light of the Gospel, he follows Jesus, repents of his misdeeds. We read that he never married and that there is some hidden secret about his life that we shall never know. He is later put in prison himself for his faith but never waivers or denies Jesus. His missionary zeal is responsible for founding and nurturing many new Christian communities. He is vilified for much that was culture bound. Paul, like most of us, was what one might call a mixed bag. He was not consistent. Who is? I suspect his own personal history and his Greek education are responsible for what I call his anti-incarnational theology of Romans. So I guess it really isn’t Paul’s fault. He was as I said culture bound, a Hellenistic Jew, and maybe he needed that theology for his own survival. It often happens that way.

Slave theology was like that. A spirit theology for slaves which denied the importance of the flesh and here and now was survival theology. If you could hang on to the spirit as most important then the suffering of the master’s whip was of little importance. Spirit theology allowed people to endure suffering now for the promise of a better life later. But when Absalom Jones and Richard Allen and Frederick Douglas began to proclaim that what they were suffering was human injustice, not God’s way, then spirit theology no longer worked for them. Thoughts of God’s liberation began to be the hope of a present reality. The body should not be in chains, literally or figuratively. And so began the theology which revolted against the idea that being “a good slave” was god’s will. So....
If Paul got this bit wrong, then what is right? The Body of course is what Jesus is all about. The incarnation which we celebrate so joyously at Christmas is about God becoming flesh, God becoming a human being. God created human beings and saw that it was good. When we forgot that, and grew away from that goodness, God’s own self became a human being. The life that Jesus led was not one which suggested that if everyone denied their bodies and pretended they did not exist then everything would be fine. Quite the contrary. He healed people’s bodies. He called people to repentance and to a new life here and now in the world, not in some heavenly time by and by. We gather on Sundays as the BODY of Christ, not the spirit of Christ, though that spirit is with us. “ I am come that you might have life”, Jesus is quoted in Luke’s Gospel, and have it abundantly. Now I don’t think he is necessarily speaking of the abundance or should I say excess of either the evangelist Creflo Dollar or of the ill gotten abundance any number of companies or Bernie Madoff may have recently claimed. Nevertheless Jesus speaks of the life of the body and not just the spirit. Abundant life is offered, now, not because we are good enough to merit it later on, but because that is what God promises for us. We, of course, have some power and responsibility for helping that to happen, not necessarily of our own will but because as Paul said, (Here he has it right.) You were not given a spirit of slavery to fall back into sin, but power to become children of God. Power as children of God means that our prayers and our work and our daily lives mean something now. The bodies we work hard to keep healthy, by eating right and drinking right and exercising are worth it, for they are what we have to love each other with, what we have to build community with, what we have to wage peace with.

When we ask for prayers for those who are ill and suffering, our first hope is that their bodies might be healed. Along with that prayer is of course the healing of mind and spirit. But we really mean the body. And Jesus did too.

It is not just Jesus. The whole creation story and much of the Old Testament declare the beauty of the world and of its goodness for us as God’s creatures. “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” says the psalmist. Use your senses, use your body to see the beauty of the gifts that God has given, your eyes to see, your hands to touch your mouth to taste your ears to hear.

What then you might ask, when suffering does come? How do we survive? Paul’s troubles with the body in life have led us too often to a denial of the body in death. When life ends, and the body is ready, then let it go. As we get older and our bodies no longer work the way they use to, or the way we wish they would, denial of the body does not help. Rather, an acceptance of what comes may give us peace and spiritual wholeness. A readiness for the next step, whatever that may be.

If I could rewrite Paul a bit I would say: Embrace the flesh, love your body. Do not deny it. But try to live in a way that loves your body and your mind and your spirit. Do God’s work from that place.

During the last weeks I have been visiting a colleague, Cindy, who is dying, in the last stages of cancer. I did not know her well, but with colleagues we are there to keep vigil and support the family. Each time I have seen her, she has been a little less “in her body”. She is leaving. But even as her world changes, we who gather around her bed, claim her body and in the end will tell her with it good bye. We do not know what is next.n None of us does. But I’d be willing to bet that though it may not be the flesh as we know it, the body of the stars, the body of god’s people will not only live in spirit but in mind and body as well.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Family Stories

A reflection on Genesis 24 for Proper 9A, by the Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

The other night I found myself watching the movie, “Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood,” starring Ellyn Burstyn and Sandra Bullock. Its one of those movies I’ve seen a dozen times but still enjoy.

The plot revolves around a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, and a group of the mother’s friends who have known one another all their lives.

The daughter, a playwright in NYC has an interview published in the NY Times magazine, and it comes across as highly critical of the mother.

The mother reads the interview and flies into a dramatic rage. Correspondence flies back and forth, cutting the daughter from the will, sending the mother an invitation to the daughters wedding but the date and place have been cut out of the invitation, phone calls where one hangs up on the other.

Finally in exasperation the mothers friends fly to NYC, and with the fianc├ęs help, kidnap the daughter and bring her back to the New Orleans area.

There they spend a week telling the daughter the story of her mothers's life. Its a tragic story but also funny, and well acted by a cast of great actors.

Dysfunctional family stories fill the book of Genesis from which our first reading this morning is taken.
In Genesis we have two stories of creation, the calling of Abraham and Sarah, of children born in old age, of a father who binds and almost kills his son Isaac – a story we would have heard last week if we had stayed with the lectionary.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims, have all had a field day trying to make sense of this Abraham and Isaac story with responses that vary from – it’s a story of child abuse, it’s a story about dependency on God, it’s a story about faithfulness, it’s a story about the ancient practice of human sacrifice.

Regardless of what the story is about what we hear in the rest of Genesis is that the relationship between Abraham and Sarah and Isaac is broken from this point forward – Sarah dies and Abraham arranges for a wife for Isaac, and the plot shifts to Rebekah, who as wife of Isaac, gives birth to Jacob and Esau.
The story of Jacob and Esau leads to other levels of conflict and anguish as Jacob, the second born, maneuvers to steal the birth right of Esau, the first born – and has his mother’s support to do it.
Jacob who wrestles with an angel and ends up with a new name - Israel, Jacob, whose own son, Joseph carries on the family saga, made popular in a musical starring Donnie Osmond.
Genesis is a very old text that has it's origins in stories told around camp fires as tribes travelled across the Middle East, Egypt, and areas of ancient Mesopotamia.
Genesis blends a number of stories that had have taken place over the course of hundreds of years, influenced by a number of emerging cultures.
Which is why we have two creation stories at the beginning of Genesis, as well as other conflicting elements.
But it's a rich text filled with timeless stories about the human condition.
Readings from Genesis will be our first reading through summer, accompanying stories of Jesus that we will hear in the Gospel.
The Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy that connects Jesus to David, a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph.
As I said last week, Matthew is interested in showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of the law of Moses, the fulfillment of what is meant by - love God, love self, and love others.
And in that way Matthew connects Jesus to the family story we hear in Genesis, and ultimately we come to know these stories as our story, the family of God.
Stories that remind us that God has blessed our lives, that we might be a blessing to others.


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