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 25, 2012

Proper 16B

Some thoughts after reading John 6:56-69 by Rev. Crystal Karr

I remember being excited by Kelly Brown Douglas’ assertion that Christ is not only black but a black woman (The Black Christ).  As I embraced this idea my professor asked us to consider the dangers in such an assertion.  If Christ was a black woman s/he would be yet another abused black woman subjected to physical and sexual abuse and somehow this would further justify the continuing abuse of black women—as though the cross would be justification for continuing to abuse black women everywhere.  The cross would warrant that salvation is found in abusing black women everywhere.

In a week in which the legitimacy of rape has been news fodder that has revictimized some and enraged others, I can’t help but read of Jesus being the bread of life, thinking of the cross and wondering how Jesus was not a black woman beaten and abused, raped, and left for dead.

We live in a world in which we take endlessly; we do the same with women as we do with scriptures, with the Christ.  We take without asking, without caring about consent.  There are two ways of communion—taking and receiving.  Do you approach the bread of life with hands open, waiting to receive this gift and ingest it, let it becoming a part of you so that your only response is to follow where the Christ leads?  Or do you walk up and take it for yourself, ripping your portion from the bread, now empowered to go out into the world with your bit of Christ to keep you strong?  While I know this is not exactly fair to picture as these two ways but in this week that disputes the violence of some rapes over others—I cannot fathom that taking communion is right and proper.

The violence of the cross was not redemptive in and of itself.  The violence of the cross whether enacted upon a white male Jesus, a black female Jesus, a brown crippled Jesus, or a yellow girl-child Jesus, or a red transgendered Jesus, or any Jesus was the failing of the world, the darkness that attempted to overcome the world but could not.  It does not justify our continuing violence, our continuing raping of flesh and blood, our continuing raping of the earth.  The flesh and blood of everlasting life, the light that could not be overcome is to be ingested, taken in, and empowered to shine from deep within us, altering us to resist the darkness and violence, to rise against it and to go a new way.  Ingesting this gift of Christ’s body means making his/her life our own which raises us out of the pit of despair, moves us beyond the pain and gives us hope not merely for new life after our physical death but for strength and life in the face of the violence of this world, so that we will not be overcome but live.  As our Christ, we too live not only for ourselves but for others, to heal and love and live a new way.

Monday, August 20, 2012

WIsdom's House...

 A reflection on Proverbs 9:1-6 for proper 15B by the Rev. Crystal Karr
Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,

she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls

from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”

To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread

and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity,
and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

Proverbs 8 and 9 are some of my favorite scriptures. They are all about Lady Wisdom, Sophia, the one who calls us to follow and lead a life ripe with the love and grace of God. In this scripture she sends out her servants, sending them out to invite all to her home, to feast with Sophia on bread and wine and to walk with her, to follow her. She does not invite the high and mighty, the respectable, the powerful. No, she invites the simpletons, those who struggle, those who are laughed at to come and eat her bread, drink her wine, to embark on a new life.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Eating the bread, drinking the wine, and finding new life. Jesus, like Sophia, invites all to feast at his table. From the very beginning, God's invitation to new life, to grace and love, has extended to those the world typically leaves behind, devalues, and casts out. Eating and drinking are basic to our human experience. Eating and drinking are essential for us to live. Basic and essential is the grace poured out for us. It is the air we breathe, it is the food we eat, it is the liquids we drink. We are swimming in God's grace often without even realizing it.

Today, Sophia, has invited us to feast with her, to ingest wisdom and grace, to embark on a new adventure rooted in God's love. Let us be like her servant girls, not simply keeping it to ourselves but inviting others to this joyous party!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Proper 14B

Dear Blog Friends:  This is actually a sermon I will preach at a French church in Manhattan, this Sunday August 12.  In order for it to be translated and available in both French and English, I had to write it out and send it in for translation!  So--  this is more specific than a blog reflection, but I hope that some of you who are experiencing similar growing pains ( good news!) might find it helpful.  Thanks for your indulgence in this offering.  I will also send it out in French ( translated by the church administrator! Just in case! ) 

August 12,2012              11 Pentecost  (Proper 14B)                    Eglise du Ste.Esprit Manhattan                                        Ephesians  4:25-5:2                    Members One of Another—The Body of Christ

Good Morning!   And thanks for the invitation to worship with you.  I have been hearing about your life as a community from your faithful parishioner Lynnaia, who is also my colleague at the Episcopal Church Center.  I know hers is only one view and there are many of you. But I was glad to hear.  She has told me of your exciting growth, of the renovations of the office, and not least of the growing pains that are an inevitable part of expansion and change.    “We are an oasis,” she said, “for people of many different cultures and backgrounds whose common bond is  Christ and French.    We are a loving inclusive  community in a world and a big city that is not always easy to navigate—literally and spiritually.   And we are bursting at the seams,  and that is  not always comfortable.  No surprise there—that is the nature of growth, but that doesn’t make it any easier.   As Lynnaia described your life together, I was struck by the relevance of today’s scripture- Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to your own situation here at St. Esprit. 
 The church at Ephesus, like you was a growing church.     This was the early church , only  a generation or so  after Jesus.  Those who gathered, often in someone’s home, were a motley crew, people of many backgrounds.    Hearing the Good News, they came to worship together, regardless of sex or race or class.  Outside, in the Greco-Roman world, the lines of public social division of were sharp, even more so than our own.  Roles were well defined.  One was responsible only  for one’s own kind—slaves, free, Jew, Greek, women, men, rich and poor.  There certainly was no social expectation that these groups would intermingle, go to meetings, worship together and God forbid, claim that they love each other. Inside the church, though, slave and master, male and female, rich and poor worshipped as equals.  All pledged allegiance, not to the state but to God in Christ.  We forget how absolutely counter cultural this was.  How radical.   Different from the early Jewish church communities, these were Gentiles,  marked by diversity of language, tribe, nation and perhaps even religion of origin.  

So as you can imagine, it was not easy to live and work together in harmony, bucking a system as well as their own social upbringing.  There was temptation to have little cliques among the believers in the differing cultural and ritual expectations.   Or a tendency for leadership to become stagnant.  And in spite of the desire to grow, there was  resistance to change, especially, once things finally seemed organized. This was all the more difficult when Paul, their founder,  either traveling or in prison  as was the case with this letter.   Paul writes to reassure and encourage and to put away any doubt as to who they are to be to each other.  He admonishes a bit:  “Don’t steal, don’t talk evil. Put away bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling ( wrangling!—I like that one) ,slander and malice. Be kind, tenderhearted, above all forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you. ”  Those are good words for any community learning to live together---even if written two thousand years ago!!   But Paul has an even larger view:  It is in Ephesians that Paul first uses that metaphor of the church as Body of Christ, needing all the parts of the body for the whole—the arm, the leg, the ear, the eye.  None can say to the other, “ I have no need of you.”   All are needed, not just the experts.  Later in that same letter,  Paul  writes, “You are citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” This is a household where every one counts, not just the leaders.   And when things get tough with struggles and disagreement from within and persecution from without, Paul encourages:  “Christ by the power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” 

And in today’s text,   “You are members of one another.  Each of you is a piece of the whole, connected to the other in such a way as to be part of the other.  Therefore your success, your failures, your joys and sorrows, your salvation and your relationship with God are inextricably related—bound not by social class or common interests but by Christ.  ( okay—maybe by language, too!)  

As  we know from Paul’s letters, that was not always easy,  even for those who were so close to the time of Jesus.   Living in community, especially when Christians were persecuted for their faith, meant that being a Christian was risky business and  violence was a part of everyday life.  ( I do not forget that today we, too, experience religious violence—most recently against Sikhs in Wisconsin, but also against Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and Moslems—we will pray for peace in our own time today and for those who mourn)
In many ways that early church was an oasis, as Lynnaia described Saint Esprit, a place to come for a cool drink, refreshment and renewal.   

Too often however the oasis in the desert is a mirage, not real, some part of our imagination.  The real world oasis is only that when the whole community comes together to make it so.    Like the Ephesians, we in our church communities today, are invited to truly be The Body of Christ, the Household of God, Members of one another---who through Christ can do  infinitely more than you can ask or imagine!
But it takes work, not just from a few but from all.  For a growing community to sustain itself, everyone is invited  to put a shoulder to the plow, each to offer their  gifts, or their arms and legs and eyes and minds, allowing the richness of the diverse community to blossom.   Perhaps from time to time this means that some must  give up what have been their treasured tasks!  And when all the helping hands are not quite as coordinated as one might like, consider that the Holy Spirit is somehow in the midst of it all.

I say all this, not to “tell you what to do” or to shake a finger, but because your wonderful story of growth reminds me of the parish in Atlanta where I was rector for eleven years  before coming to New York.   We were a growing church, spiritually and physically, with strong lay leadership.  Begun as a mission in the 1960’s, the  founding families were still vital to the everyday work of the church but there were just not enough hands to do the work.  Those founders were tired, yet a little reluctant to give up their claim on the tasks that had served the church so well.   We needed more space and a new organ.  Little by little we managed to change—a capital campaign, a mission program, a new organ.   And in the change, the gifts of all were needed. Little by little, we began to understand membership and discipleship as a profound commitment. 

   I will never forget the time one family began coming to Sunday worship.  They were lovely: the  parents and three or four children.  The mom was a singer and a teacher.  The children were  elementary and teen aged.  The dad ran some sort of business.  They came to church every Sunday for a few months.   And after a short time, others began to ask, “Could you help with the homeless dinner program? Could you lead the youth group next week?  Could you help with the accounting? Would you like to join us for the monthly prison visit?  Hesitantly, they got involved.  But not long afterwards the parents came to see me.  They loved our parish, they said.  Wonderful  worship, a beautiful setting, an Oasis.  Then a moment of silence and  I waited for what was next.  “But it is too much work.”     I laughed.  And knew that lovely and faithful as they were, they would not be happy at this small growing parish.    I didn’t expect that we would ever be big enough  to hire people to do the work.   We would just have to figure out what it meant to be the Body of Christ by using the arms and legs and hearts and minds of the folks who were there!   This household of God needed kitchen workers and altar workers and mission workers, and every other sort.  As the Body of Christ in that place household where  everyone shares and switches up when necessary was needed! Even when that isn’t easy! 

That story of another parish, I think is not so different from many others—Ephesus, St. Dunstan’s, that parish in Atlanta, and particularly today of Saint Esprit.   Indeed there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit is at work here—in the bursting at the seams, in the growing and in the pains!  So in the days to come I invite you to call on Paul, remembering his words to the Ephesians :  Remember who you are as the Body of Christ, members, one of another in all your diversity.  And most of all not to lose heart, knowing that Christ whose power working in you can do infinitely more than any of us  can ask or imagine.  Just imagine!   
Margaret R. Rose 
Dear Blog Friends:  This is actually a sermon I will preach at a French church in Manhattan, this Sunday August 12.  In order for it to be translated and available in both French and English, I had to write it out and send it in for translation!  So--  this is more specific than a blog reflection, but I hope that some of you who are experiencing similar growing pains ( good news!) might find it helpful.  Thanks for your indulgence in this offering.  I will also send it out in French ( translated by the church administrator! Just in case! )

onzième dimanche après la pentecôte                           12 août 2012
 Éphésiens  4:25 - 5:2         Membres les uns des autres  -  Le Corps du Christ

Je suis bien contente d'être ici aujourd'hui.  L'année dernière, alors que je devais célébrer un office avec vous, l'Ouragan Irène m'a empêchée d'arriver à l'église, et, probablement, certains d'entre vous également n'ont pas pu y accéder.  Je suis désolée d'avoir raté cette occasion, mais j'ai reçu beaucoup d'informations sur votre vie en communauté par votre fidèle paroissienne Lynnaia, qui est également ma collègue au Centre de l'Église Épiscopalienne.  Naturellement, je n'ai entendu que son point de vue, et vous êtes bien nombreux; mais j'étais contente d'entendre ce qu'elle avait à dire.  Elle a fait mention de l'expansion importante de l'église, des rénovations à venir, et aussi de toutes les complications qui font inévitablement part de tout changement et agrandissement.  "Nous sommes une oasis", a-t-elle dit, pour des personnes de différentes cultures et différentes origines dont le lien commun est le Christ et la langue française.  Nous sommes une communauté accueillante dans un monde et une grande ville où il n'est pas toujours facile d'exister - littéralement et spirituellement.  Et nous éclatons - nous n'avons plus assez d'espace - et ce n'est pas toujours un sentiment très confortable."  Ce n'est pas surprenant - il en est toujours ainsi lorsqu'une église s'agrandit, mais cela ne rend pas les choses plus faciles.  Alors que Lynnaia décrivait votre vie ici, j'ai été frappée par la ressemblance avec la lecture d'aujourd'hui, la lettre de Paul aux Éphésiens, et votre propre situation à Saint Esprit.

L'église d'Éphèse, comme la vôtre, était une église en croissance.  Une église toute nouvelle, seulement une génération après Jésus.  Ceux qui se rassemblaient, souvent dans la demeure d'un croyant, formait un rassemblement disparate, des gens de milieux divers.  Ayant entendu la Bonne Nouvelle, ils venaient prier ensemble, quels que soient leur sexe, leur classe sociale ou leur race.  Au dehors, dans le monde gréco-romain, les divisions sociales étaient très nettes, bien plus qu'elles ne le sont maintenant.  Les rôles de chacun étaient bien définis.  On ne se souciait que de ceux qui étaient identiques à soi - esclaves, hommes libres, Juifs, Grecs, femmes, hommes, riches et pauvres.  Une société aussi stratifiée n'encourageait nullement les rencontres, les prières et certainement pas un sentiment d'amour des uns pour les autres.  Par contre, dans l'église, tous priaient ensemble - maître et esclave, homme et femme, riche et pauvre - ils étaient égaux.  Tous prêtaient un serment d'allégeance, non pas à l'État, mais à Dieu à travers le Christ.  Nous oublions parfois combien cette attitude était radicale, à l'encontre de la culture ambiante.  Bien différents des communautés religieuses juives, ils étaient des "Gentils", dénotés par la diversité de leurs langages, leurs tribus, leurs nations et même leurs religions d'origine.
Vous pouvez imaginer combien il leur était difficile de vivre et travailler en harmonie, se rebellant contre un système et contre leurs traditions sociales.  Il était tentant de former de petites cliques correspondant à certaines attentes culturelles et rituelles.  Ou bien de développer une inertie dans la façon de diriger.  Et malgré le désir de croissance, survenait une résistance au changement surtout lorsque les choses semblaient finalement organisées.  Les difficultés se ressentaient d'autant plus que Paul, le fondateur, était souvent en voyage, ou, comme dans le cas de cette lettre, en prison.  Paul écrit pour les encourager et les rassurer et réitérer qu'ils sont tout les uns pour les autres, sans doute aucun.  Il les gronde un peu : "Que le voleur ne vole plus; ne laissez aucune parole blessante franchir vos lèvres.  Que toute amertume, animosité, colère, clameur, calomnie, ainsi que toute malfaisance, soient enlevées du milieu de vous.  Soyez bons les uns envers les autres, pleins d’une tendre bienveillance ; faites-vous grâce, comme Dieu vous a fait grâce dans le Christ."    Voilà des mots parfaits pour toute communauté qui apprend à vivre ensemble - même s'ils ont été écrits il y a deux mille ans!  Mais Paul nous donne une vue plus large encore : c'est dans cette lettre qu'il utilise la métaphore de l'église en tant que "Corps du Christ" où toutes les parties du corps sont nécessaires pour former un tout - bras, jambes, oreilles, yeux.  Personne ne peut dire à l'autre "Je n'ai pas besoin de toi".  Tous sont nécessaires, pas seulement les experts.  Plus loin dans la même lettre, Paul écrit :" Vous êtes concitoyens des saints, membres de la maison de Dieu."  C'est une maison où chaque membre compte, pas seulement les dirigeants.  Et quand les choses deviennent difficiles, avec des disputes et des désaccords internes et des persécutions externes, Paul les encourage :" Le Christ, par sa puissance qui agit en nous, peut réaliser infiniment au- delà de ce que nous demandons ou même pensons." 

Et dans le texte d'aujourd'hui : " Nous sommes membres les uns des autres."  Chacun d'entre vous est un morceau d'un tout, relié à l'autre de telle façon que vous faites partie de lui.  Ainsi vos succès, vos échecs, vos joies et vos chagrins, votre salut et votre relation avec Dieu sont inextricablement liés - non pas par classe sociale ou intérêts communs mais dans le Christ - (bon, peut-être aussi à travers la langue française!).

Comme nous le savons par les lettres de Paul, ce n'est pas toujours simple, même pour ceux qui étaient si proches du temps de Jésus.  La vie en communauté, surtout lorsque les Chrétiens étaient persécutés pour leur foi, signifiait qu'être chrétien était plutôt risqué et la violence faisait partie de la vie de tous les jours.  (Je n'oublie pas, qu'aujourd'hui encore, on est confronté aux effets de la violence religieuse - tout récemment contre les Sikhs du Wisconsin, mais aussi contre les Bouddhistes, les Chrétiens, les Juifs et les Musulmans - nous prions donc maintenant pour la paix à notre époque et pour tous ceux qui sont en deuil). 

De bien des façons, cette église des premiers chrétiens était une oasis, comme Saint Esprit est aujourd'hui, selon Lynnaia, un endroit où l'on peut se rafraîchir et se renouveler.

Cependant, bien souvent, une oasis dans le désert est un mirage, une création de notre imagination.  L'oasis dans le monde réel n'existe que lorsque toute la communauté fait en sorte d'exister ensemble.  Comme les Éphésiens, nous sommes invités, dans nos communautés d'église, à être vraiment le Corps du Christ, la demeure de Dieu, Membres les uns des autres - qui, à travers le Christ, peuvent accomplir bien plus que ce que l'on peut demander ou imaginer!

Mais cela demande des efforts, pas seulement de quelques-uns, mais de la part de tous.  Pour qu'une communauté en expansion puisse se maintenir, chacun est invité à pousser la charrue, à offrir leurs talents, leurs bras, leurs jambes, leurs yeux et leurs esprits, afin de permettre l'épanouissement de la richesse de la communauté.  Cela peut vouloir dire, parfois, que certains doivent abandonner ce qui avait été leurs tâches favorites!  Et si tous ceux qui viennent aider ne présentent pas un front aussi organisé qu'il le faudrait, rappelez-vous cependant que l'Esprit Saint est en action au milieu de vous tous.

Je vous dis tout cela, non pas pour vous "dire ce que vous devez faire" ou pour vous admonester, mais parce que votre croissance magnifique me rappelle une paroisse à Atlanta où j'ai été recteur pendant onze ans avant de venir à New York.
Nous étions une église en plein développement, spirituellement et physiquement, avec un engagement laïque très important.  Ayant commencé comme une mission dans les années 1960, les familles fondatrices étaient encore indispensables dans la vie quotidienne de l'église, mais il n'y avait pas assez de monde pour toutes les tâches nécessaires.  Les fondateurs étaient fatigués mais en même récalcitrants quant à l'idée d'abandonner leur mainmise sur tout ce qui avait si bien servi à l'expansion de cette église.  On avait besoin de plus d'espace et d'un nouvel orgue.  Petit à petit, on est arrivé à changer - une campagne de levée de fonds, un programme de mission, un nouvel orgue.  Et avec le changement, les talents de tous étaient nécessaires.  Petit à petit, nous avons commencé à comprendre combien l'engagement des membres et de la congrégation était important et profond.

Je n'oublierai jamais le moment où une famille commença à assister aux offices du dimanche.  Des gens charmants : les parents et trois ou quatre enfants; la mère était enseignante et chanteuse.  Les enfants étaient en classes élémentaires et au collège.  Le père gérait une compagnie.  Ils vinrent à l'église chaque dimanche pendant plusieurs mois.  Et après un moment, on leur demanda : "Pourriez-vous nous aider avec le programme des dîners pour les sans-abri?  Pourriez-vous prendre en charge le groupe de jeunes la semaine prochaine?  Pourriez-vous aider avec la comptabilité?  Voudriez-vous nous accompagner dans les visites aux prisons? "
Avec un peu d'hésitation, ils se mirent à participer aux activités.  Mais peu de temps après, les parents vinrent me voir.  Ils aimaient beaucoup notre paroisse, me dirent-ils.  Très beaux services, magnifique endroit, une oasis.  Un silence s'ensuivit et j'attendis de voir ce qui allait suivre.  "Mais, c'est vraiment trop de travail".  Je ris. 
Pour tout gentils et fidèles qu'ils fussent, ils ne seraient jamais heureux dans cette paroisse qui se développait rapidement.  Je ne m'attendais pas à ce que la paroisse devienne suffisamment importante pour que nous ayons à embaucher des personnes pour effectuer certaines tâches.  Il nous fallait comprendre ce que signifiait être le Corps du Christ en utilisant les bras, jambes, coeurs et esprits de ceux qui étaient là!  Cette maison de Dieu avait besoin d'aides dans la cuisine, à l'autel, pour la mission et pour bien d'autres choses encore.  En tant que Corps du Christ, chacun partageait et changeait d'emploi suivant ce qui était nécessaire.  Même lorsque ça n'était pas facile!

L'histoire de cette autre paroisse, je ne pense pas qu'elle soit si différente de bien d'autres - Éphèse, St. Dunstan (la paroisse d'Atlanta), et particulièrement aujourd'hui, Saint Esprit.  En fait, il n'y a aucun doute que l'Esprit Saint est au travail ici - dans le fait que l'église est souvent pleine à craquer; dans l'accroissement et les ennuis qui l'accompagnent!  Donc, dans les jours qui viennent, je vous invite à vous souvenir des exhortations de Paul aux Éphésiens : " Souvenez-vous que vous êtes le Corps du Christ, les membres les uns des autres dans toute votre diversité."  Et surtout, ne vous laissez pas aller au découragement, en sachant que la puissance du Christ travaille en vous et peut faire infiniment plus qu'aucun d'entre nous ne peut demander ou imaginer.  Allez, imaginez!                

                                           La Révérende Margaret Rose

Friday, August 3, 2012

Proper 13B

A reflection on the readings for Proper 13B: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15; Psalm 51; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35 by Janine Goodwin

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

In this passage, Jesus is busy tearing down everything that stands in the way of relationship. The crowd comes to him, having put considerable time and effort (those boats didn't have motors) into finding him, and he confronts them, telling them they are looking for him because he gave them food. Material advantage is not the basis for a relationship with the infinite God. In our times, this passage can serve as a powerful contradiction to the prosperity gospel, which claims that the wandering homeless man Jesus wants you, yes, you, to be rich. The point is not food, though food is good and Jesus has fed them. He has met them where they are, and now it's time to go deeper.

The point, which the crowd keeps missing, is not what Jesus does, but who he is. The point is that he wants people to know him. We are that crowd. We want things, we ask for things, and Jesus wants a relationship He wants to feed us in a deeper way than the material, not instead of but as well as the material. He wants to be known, to give life, to answer the hunger and thirst for meaning and connection. He wants us to care for one another, as well; the passage from Ephesians reminds us that the love of God is meant to be lived out with others.
In a culture as materialistic as that of 21st-century America, this can be a hard passage to read. Our popular media present an endless stream of commodities, and people and relationships can seem like just another thing to be obtained through hard work and earned prosperity. We can get the perfect spouse, job, friends, kids, and great car if we just do the next thing and buy the next gadget and improve ourselves! This seems like a message of hope, but in a time of contracting economies and deep imbalances between rich and poor, the message of advertising carries an underlying current of desperation and despair. The despair deepens when the gadgets we manage to get don't make us content. We yearn after luxury while fearing we will not even have the necessities, and in between it all we have trouble caring about each other. Others are clearly flawed, not like the images of airbrushed and photoshopped beauty, male and female, that meet us on every flat surface in a city and every screen we pass. We are flawed when we judge ourselves by the standards of perfect looks, wealth, and personality. How can we believe in a God who wants to meet us where we are, know and love us, and be known and loved? How can we believe that we and those around us are worthy of love and generosity?
I have spent the last couple of weeks thinking about the way Bathsheba is absent in her own story, the story of her abduction and rape by David (it is a rape: she had no other real choice but death). Even Nathan's heroic confrontation of David places her firmly in the role of property, comparing her to a sheep. David repents of his actions not because of what he has done to her, but because he has stolen property from another man and offended God. All we know of her soul is that she mourned for the husband whom David had arranged to have killed. Except for that brief glimpse, the narrator of the story treats her as a commodity. Even the death of her child is a punishment for David's sins. Psalm 51, said to be David's response to Nathan, says nothing about his relationship with others, only his relationship to God. Something is missing even in his repentance.
Our culture is not that different than David's, for all the progress we have made toward letting women have some independence. We know little about any kind of love, despite all the songs about infatuation that play continually on our radios: we, too, see people as commodities, and the language used for love is too often about possession and control rather than caring and communication. Feminism, as has been famously said, is the radical notion that women are people. I sometimes wonder whether any of us see each other as people, whether we can see ourselves and see each other as God sees us. It is not progress when women learn to objectify men in the ways men have always objectified women. Children are still despised, abused, and treated as property. Disabled and elderly people and poor people are still seen as worthless. How can we learn to know and care for one another as Jesus wants to care for us? How can we learn to know him as he wants to be known? How can we reach the vision of community in the reading from Ephesians and not limit community to a few people like us, but be like Jesus and see all people as worth loving? It is hard work, far harder than sailing or rowing after someone who has given us bread. It calls for constant awareness of our own ingrained attitudes and the courage to change them. It calls for the most difficult prayer of all, the prayer that is listening for the quiet voice of God in the very center of our distracted selves. Dare we do it?

Janine Goodwin

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