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, January 28, 2012


A reflection on the readings for Deuteronomy 18. 15-20, Psalm 111, Revelation 12. 1-5a, Mark 1.21-28 by the Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers

I can still remember the first time I preached. It was while I was going through the selection process for ordination. My Vicar was going on holiday and needed me to cover evensong and he thought it would be a good idea if I had a go at preaching as well. It was pretty nerve-wracking – my head was full of all sorts of thoughts. Will they yawn? What if someone looks at their watch? What if I clam up? Well, it didn’t go too badly, I suppose, but, I'm afraid that I fell into the trap that many a novice preacher falls into - I put too much was Trafalgar Day, so Nelson so it included a good sea story about Nelson, it was also Bible Sunday, so I think I preached on all of the readings including the Psalm. Although the vicar wasn't there a trusted friend came along to support me. Thankfully, it wasn’t until afterwards I discovered that the couple sat in the front row wearing Grimsby football shirts were in fact the bishop of Grimsby and his wife who had been to watch Grimsby play Cardiff...!

I wonder what Jesus would have felt like that day. We at least get a reasonable time to prepare our sermons. We know what the readings are in advance, we have time to think, to pray, to read commentaries, to clarify our thoughts before we preach.

Jesus would have walked into the synagogue been handed a scroll and been asked to read - then he would have taught on what he had just read. It probably wasn’t the first time he had taught in the Synagogue, although it is the first time we hear about him doing so in Mark’s gospel. So, yes, I wonder how Jesus felt that day. It was probably similar to how a new teacher feels when they stand in front of a new class, or a preacher in front of a new congregation. Jesus was perhaps a new face in Capernaum, although perhaps his reputation had preceded him. Can you imagine turning up to a new church and being asked to preach (or even read the lesson) as soon as you walked through the door?

Jesus spoke with authority. I'm pretty sure he was succinct - brief and to the point. His authority was becoming established very quickly. Here we are now at the last Sunday of Epiphany, very soon our attention will be turning towards Lent and the journey to the cross and the resurrection. For now, we are just reminding ourselves of how quickly Jesus’ ministry began once the appointed time had arrived. Jesus has been baptised by John in the river Jordan, he has chosen his first disciples and he has performed his first miracle at Cana of Galilee. Now he is teaching with authority in the Synagogue at Capernaum, and things take a turn – enter those who will oppose him. His teaching in the Synagogue doesn’t raise any challenges, but clearly he has made an impact, he teaches in a different way to the scribes. That is bound to cause conflict before too long. Then he is confronted with a man with an unclean spirit. The unclean spirit knows who they are encountering, the Holy one of God. But again Jesus speaks with clear authority. ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ I can’t help feeling that the unclean spirit was the easier to deal with, they responded to Jesus’ authority and the man was healed. The scribes however, would not have responded in the same way, indeed it soon becomes clear that they don’t. Indeed, they are threatened by Jesus’ authority. I wonder whether they realise that it is they who have been stifling the faith of those around them? Probably not. What they do see is someone who challenges their authority, they see the way people respond to Jesus and how his popularity is spreading and they want to quash it.

In one way Jesus is a calming influence, in that he frees the man of the unclean spirit, the spirit puts up a bit of a challenge, there is convulsing and crying out, but the spirit leaves and peace is restored. On the other hand Jesus also confronts and challenges the opposition. He doesn’t do so directly in this instance and there appears to be no reproach, no reciprocal challenge, but clearly the challenge is there and it will soon become a clear threat to those in authority.

That word authority. Whose authority? Jesus spoke with authority which would soon challenge those in authority, the scribes and the Pharisees. What is authority? How should we, how do we respond to authority? In thinking about that question I can’t help thinking about the challenges that face the Street Pastors on a Saturday night here on the streets of Caerphilly. When people are drunk and confrontational the authority of the police doesn’t go down to well, their intervention may make a situation worse. And yet, the Street Pastors, uniformed to identify who they are, but also signifying authority, bring a calming influence to problematic situations. That relationship is no less complicated that the situation that Jesus found himself in. However, the authority of the Street Pastors as a Christian organisation is treated with much more respect by the general public than ‘the Authorities’ (the police). That perhaps is not dissimilar to the situation Jesus found himself in and the impact he had on the community and the effect that had on the Authorities. Thankfully, 2000 yrs on Street Pastors are seen as working with (rather than against) the authorities – that is quite a major change.

As Christians we are called to emulate Christ, we are called to submit to His authority. Street Pastors do that in a very effective way, and thankfully they aren’t met with the opposition that Christ was. In doing so, the Street Pastors show the love of Jesus in this community. Jesus showed his love for his community by bringing them the new gospel, the new authority of the new commandment to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ We as Christians are all called to emulate Jesus and bring the gospel to others by loving them as Jesus loved us. For those who followed Jesus in those early days that love was so energising that they simply obeyed and followed his example and that is what we too must do, here today.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Epiphany 3B

A reflection on Jonah 3:1-5, By Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig

In my day job as a psychotherapist, I often have the opportunity to hear people’s stories, to sit with them while they puzzle out and try to make sense of the things that happen, the directions things take, and often to try to answer those most puzzling of questions about the “why” of things in their lives.

Recently I was having a conversation with one of my clients who is about to begin school in order to follow her dream of becoming an artist and painter. I asked her how she had come to know that this was what she wanted to do with her life. She said, “Well, you know, I was going through a really bad time in my life, and for some reason I had this urge to draw and paint. At first it was just to get through it, a part of the healing process. As I started feeling better, I realized that this was more than just therapy for me, it went much deeper somehow and I just had this sense that it was right, like it was something I was just meant to do.” Her journey forward from that day has not been without obstacles. This is in fact the “third time” attempt to begin her studies that she is hoping will be the charm. One earlier effort had to be abandoned for financial reasons, and even this enrollment has been postponed. But I believe that she will persevere and follow what seems to be a clear call on her life.
Scripture is full of stories about people who have some experience of a sense of being called to something. In the stories, in a moment in time, someone is given the opportunity to make a choice that, whether they know it or not, will change their lives forever. We may be able to think about such moments in our own lives, too. Times when we somehow felt pulled or drawn in one way or another…to choose this person, this job, this place over that one.

We may or may not think about these moments as having anything to do with “being called.” Perhaps we ask (in the language of that great spiritual director’s question), “where is God in all of this,” or maybe that doesn’t even occur to us. And even when we may have some sense that God is in the mix here, we may not respond with whole-hearted acceptance or enthusiasm. Our response might be more like…”Um, no thanks”…. Or “Oh, God, I don’t think you mean me….surely you must be mistaken.” Or, “God….you must have me mixed up with someone who is truly suited for the task….someone brighter or better or stronger or holier.”

Truth be told, most of us are much more Jonah than Simon and Andrew and James and John when it comes to feeling called by God. We are much more likely to be on the next boat heading off in the other direction, than we are to drop everything in response to an invitation to “come and follow me.” We don’t feel worthy. We don’t feel ready. Or we just plain don’t want to. We aren’t inclined to drop or add anything, to take a risk. Life is fine just as it is, and who needs the complication!

Jonah was called by God to go save people he did not like from complete and total destruction. Imagine that if you can. Call up in your mind someone who has hurt you or someone you love. Or maybe just someone who is so foreign to you, so “other” that you cannot imagine that you could ever have anything to say to them that would matter or even make sense. And you get this task…this “call” that says go tell this person something. And not just any message, but one that you are pretty sure is not going be good news for them. Like the message that God gave Jonah to deliver, “God asked me to tell you that you need to repent or you and your entire country will be destroyed in forty days.” Well, of course Jonah tries everything NOT to do this task, including boarding a ship going in the opposite direction. But in the end, after being accused of being responsible for the near wreck of the ship, and spending some time cooling his heels in the belly of a whale, Jonah does follow God’s call and finds himself delivering the prophetic message heard in this morning’s Old testament reading….”Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Now the fact that this was heard and taken seriously may have had a whole lot more to do with God than it did with the messenger, Jonah, but it took and everyone did repent, and God did not destroy Nineveh. There is another piece of the story that we did not hear today that tells us more about Jonah’s response to God’s decision to spare the Ninevites. You might think that Jonah would be pleased that his prophetic message was heeded, and all ended well, but this was not the case. Actually Jonah was quite upset with God about this change of mind and heart that spared these, in his mind at least, awful people. God was not seeing it his way, doing it his way.

Some commentators think that Jonah suspected all along that God was going to spare those horrible Ninevites, and that was why he wanted no part of this thing and fled in the first place. He hated these folks, and he wanted no part in their deliverance. God, was far more merciful than he could ever be towards his enemies, and initially he simply could not see himself as part of the plan. But God continues to work on him and by the end of the story Jonah appears to accept the radical notion that not even a Nineveh (or a Jonah) is beyond God’s compassion and ability to transform.

We all have our own stories of being called by God. Perhaps we have not named them as such. Perhaps we have not been ready to claim them. Perhaps when we hear God’s call, we are like Jonah, boarding the first boat for Tarshish, needing a little time out in the belly of the fish to reconsider things, and even then, still struggling to get our heads around God’s incredible capacity for love and compassion and forgiveness.

Whatever else we are called to in life, as Christians we are all called by baptism to be co-creators with God in building God’s kingdom. We know that God desires that this is a kingdom of mercy and justice, peace and compassion. We know that we are called to love God and love our neighbors, especially those we feel we might have nothing to say to, nothing in common with. We do not have to be perfect in our efforts. Those who went before surely were not!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Hunger for God

A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 2: First Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51, by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

The Hunger Games, is the first book in a trilogy of books based on a time some 100 years in the future. Following the apocalypse and a complete collapse of the world as we know it a new country rises up in North America. Instead of the United States there are twelve districts, all tightly controlled by the Capital, and each focused on the natural resources of the district. Most of the districts are very poor, a few have ample resources. In order to remind the districts that they are under the strong arm of the President and Capital, the Hunger Games are held once a year. The games, looking like something out of reality television and the Olympics, requires each district to randomly select one boy and one girl, called “TRIBUTES,” between the ages of twelve and eighteen, to compete in the games. The Hunger Games are a survival of the fittest battle through extreme wilderness experiences with only one person, one tribute, allowed to win. All of the children competitors must battle each other and the elements until one remains, with the entire event being televised. Everyone in every district is required to watch the games. The district with the winning child receives notoriety, extra food, and benefits for a year, until the next Hunger Games.

Katniss, the lead character in the series, is a sixteen year old girl from District 12, a poor coal mining district. Following the death of her father from a coal mining accident, Katniss becomes the family caretaker – hunting for meat and collecting berries to support her mother and younger sister. She adores her sweet younger sister, Primrose.
Here is an excerpt from the book, with Katniss as the narrator, as the town prepares to learn who will be the tributes from their district:
“It’s time for the first drawing. Effie Trinket says as she always does, ‘Ladies first!’ and crosses to the big glass bowl with the girl’s names. She reaches in, digs her hand deep into the ball, and pulls out a piece of paper. The crowd draws a collective breath and then you can hear a pin drop, and I’m feeling nauseous and so desperately hoping that it’s not me….Effie….reads out the name in a clear voice. And it’s not me. It’s Primrose….There must be some mistake. This can’t be happening. Prim has her name on one piece of paper in thousands! Her chances of being chosen are so remote that I haven’t even bothered to worry about her…..with one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me. ‘I volunteer! I gasp, I volunteer as tribute!”

It is no surprise that when the younger sister is chosen to be the tribute Katniss insists on going in her place. Take me, she proclaims. The story that unfolds is gripping, moving, and challenging to read.

Our readings this morning all focus on the idea of being chosen by God, called to serve God, and our response to that call. The readings offer us a number of ways in which people hear God’s call and follow, reflecting that each of us is called, in different ways, and each of us responds in our own way.

Samuel, although a small boy, is called to become a "trustworthy prophet of the Lord." The Gospel of John tells the story of Philip and Nathanael leaving everything behind to follow Jesus. These readings connect to the theme of the Gospel for this year – “Where is God?” with the idea that God chooses to be made known in and through us.

None of us has the exact same call from God, each call is unique to who we are. Which reminds me of this story:

A rabbi named Zusya died and went to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waited for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how little he had done. He began to imagine that God was going to ask him, "Why weren't you Moses or why weren't you Solomon or why weren't you David?" But when God appeared, the rabbi was surprised. God simply asked, "Why weren't you Zusya?"

How are we to become fully who God calls us to be? Samuel reminds us that God calls both children and adults. God’s call might come as a whisper, or small voice in the night, as a dream, a thought, an idea, or something said to us by another person. God’s call comes in and through the context of all the voices in our lives.

And so, sometimes we need help discerning which voice is the authentic voice of God. Samuel seeks the guidance of Eli. People discerning a call to ordained ministry need to have that call confirmed by a community of people who, after spending a number of weeks and months in prayer and conversation, can affirm a call or redirect the person toward another understanding of their call. Each of us has a calling, and for many of us it manifests in the work we do every day, whether that is our paid profession, our volunteer work, or our role as a parent or grandparent, lawyer, doctor, nurse, or teacher.

Martin Luther King, Jr. whose feast day we celebrate today, knew his call from God. A minister and an activist for social justice, particularly as one who spoke out against racism and prejudice, Dr. King literally put his life on the line to follow God. Unlike the Hunger Games where one person survives, King worked hard for the survival of people of color – for all of society to recognize the inherent value of all human beings – loved by God and worthy of equal opportunities in all avenues of life. Dr. King points us to consider how our call, like his call, is a movement toward the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, or what it means to love God, love self, and love others. Our call may not look as extreme or as intense as his, but that doesn’t mean it is less important to the kingdom of God.

Bruce Epperly, an author and Spiritual Director suggests that our call is a
“call to adventure – to see God everywhere, to experience God in our daily lives, to honor embodiment, and welcome revelation whenever and wherever it occurs…In the questioning, inspired by a sense of holiness in all moments and all creatures, we will discover God’s voice amid the voices…"

Katherine Hawker at wrote this prayer, A Litany of Call:

A child once dreamed the Voice was calling his name… 'Samuel';
Fisherman once heard the Voice when a young man bid them follow;
And still the Voice beckons today… can you hear?
Here I am. Send me.

Moses protested vehemently as the Voice spoke at the burning bush;
Mary stood amazed as the Voice proclaimed impending birth;
And still the Voice beckons today… can you hear?
Here I am. Send me.

Rosa Parks followed the Voice to the front of the bus;
Martin Luther King, Jr. heard the Voice as the bullet shattered;
And still the Voice beckons today… can you hear?
Here I am. Send me….

A timid believer pauses to listen to the Voice;
A struggling church hears the Voice and turns;
And still the Voice beckons today… can you hear?

Listen. The Voice is calling you, too…