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, March 24, 2012

Lent 5B

A  Reflection for lent 5B by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig on John 12:20-33

And Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

I recently attended a workshop on centering prayer in which the facilitator read the following passage to us from the work of theologian and teacher Cynthia Borgeault:

“Like most the great spiritual masters of our universe, Jesus taught from the conviction that we human beings are victims of a tragic case of mistaken identity. The person I normally take myself to be-that busy, anxious little "I" so preoccupied with its goals, fears, desires, and issues-is never even remotely the whole of who I am, and to seek the fulfillment of my life at this level means to miss out on the bigger life. This is why, according to his teaching, the one who tries to keep his "life" (i.e., the small one) will lose it, and the one who is willing to lose it will find the real thing. Beneath the surface there is a deeper and vastly more authentic Self, but its presence is usually veiled by the clamor of the smaller "I" with its insatiable needs and demands.

Life and death, beginnings and endings, that whole wonderful, rich, messy painful business of the cycle of life, of the radical letting go that is often required to allow transformation and change, God’s new thing in our lives, whatever that might be.  We know that beginnings cannot happen without a certain amount of endings….this is the way of life, the rhythm. The seasons themselves show us….the fullness of summer gives way to the dying of autumn and winter and comes to life again in the spring.  Life cannot happen without this cycle. We get it, this grain having to go into the earth, to die in order for new life, the need to let something go to create a new possibility. Yes, we accept it on some level, but in reality, most of us have kind of a hard time with the loss side of this equation.

Whether it is the loss of a loved one to death, a dream that does not come true, the end of a relationship, or even simply the movement of transition and change in our lives, when these things happen for us, like the Greeks who came to Phillip, we, too, would like to “see Jesus.”  We would like to know that in the challenge of loss or letting go, that God really is with us.  And if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes it’s hard for us to know or trust that or to find in those times the good news that God has come to be with us in the person of Jesus, who by his living, dying and rising shows us that that suffering can redeem, that love conquers death, and the grave is not the end. 

Jesus comes to call us out as well, to tell us the truth about living a transformed life…. “Those who love their life lose it and those who hate their life in the world will keep it….whoever serves me must follow me.”

Both in this reading and in our liturgical cycle we are moving with Jesus ever closer to the end of his life on earth.  He knew that the word had spread about his ministry and his teachings and that indeed, “the hour had come.”  He was looking at his death; it was time for his greatest loss to be faced, and “his soul was troubled.”  At thirty-three we can imagine that he would much prefer to have gone on living, and yet as John writes Jesus’ words, there is a clarity about his purpose and mission, his message that to be broken open and to die is the way to even greater life.

On 1 April 1, 1979 a year before he was shot while preaching at the funeral of a friend’s mother, Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero said the following, "To each one of us Christ is saying: If you want your life and mission to be fruitful like mine, do as I. Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried. Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid. Those who shun suffering will remain alone. No one is more alone than the selfish. But if you give your life out of love for others, as I give mine for all, you will reap a great harvest. You will have the deepest satisfactions. Do not fear death or threats; the Lord goes with you,”

While hopefully we will never face martyrdom as the Archbishop did.  But we are called to transformation. Called to lose our small lives to find the true life that we are created for. Called to bring into life the truest and deepest of ourselves. Called to be willing to allow our hearts to be opened, and perhaps even broken in the quest for new and greater life.

God has a dream for each of us as beloved ones of God.  In Baptism we say in words and ritual that we intend to allow God to raise us to new life and remake us in the image of Christ. If we become willing to die to our old ways, old lives, old selves, we can be transformed into who we are created by God to be. But if we are so in love with, and attached to our small but comfortable life that we refuse to let it go, then just like the grain of wheat, we will stay just as we are. God comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ to show us who we can be.   Jesus is the one who shows us the purpose of our lives, that we exist in order ‘to make the reality of God present’. For this we need to be focused and alert at all times …so we can grasp those moments when we can say, along with Jesus, ‘the hour has come’. And in Jesus Christ, God also shows us what it can cost to become that and live that way. And in the end the choice is ours.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

You are God's Work of Art

A reflection on the readings for Lent 4 Year B:   Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21 by the Rev. Margaret Rose

My daughter, Miriam is reading a book called Gifts of Imperfection and suggested I read it too.  She downloaded it on our common Kindle reader so I had no excuse.  I thought, “I am far too aware of my imperfections and so far I have yet to claim them as a gift!”   The book was written by Brene Brown, a social scientist whose research was on resilience.  That is, discovering those qualities which allowed people to bounce back after a loss, great struggle, disappointment or pain.  What she discovered, most profoundly, was that those who could let go of the need to be perfect, who could admit they were afraid and vulnerable, who knew how to say no or were sometimes okay with less than 100% were actually happier!     Brown, herself, had a spiritual awakening as she began to realize this in her own life, letting go of the need to please, saying no, living what she called a wholehearted and authentic life.  She suggested that those who respond to disappointment or pain from a place of worthiness were able to cultivate compassion and connection and usually had the courage to overcome obstacles.  Start from a place of worthiness.  Hmm.

    Worthiness. Worthy.  Not a word we often use in religious or church circles.  More often we remind ourselves of how UNWORTHY we are.  How IMPERFECT we are.    Perhaps that is human nature.  We forget the Creation story where God surveys the work of seven days and sees that it is good; where human beings are made in the very image of God.  And again in the text from the letter to the Ephesians in today’s scripture:  

  “God who is rich in mercy, out of great love, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.  It is by grace you are saved through faith; it is not your own doing.  It is God’s gift, not a reward for work done.  We are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus for the life of good deeds which God designed for us.  “Or as the Jerusalem Bible translates so marvelously....”You are God’s work of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.”

“You are God’s work of art.”  Wow.  What if we started with that each day, imagining and claiming ourselves as God’s work of art. Too often we start with the end of that text: “Made for good deeds”, and recount the ways we have not measured up. We start writing the to do list, note the flaws and what we consider to be imperfections: too short, sagging chin, not smart enough, not educated enough, not religious enough, didn’t work hard enough; not compassionate or generous enough, don’t pray enough.

 What if we simply began with the fact that we are beloved of God.  And go from there.  Begin with the fullness of God’s love, not from our inability to live up to our own or an imagined idea of what God expects of us.  God’s perfection is not our own.  That is why we have Grace!  Too often we start measuring.    Though we hear those words about grace, we still get out the yardstick,   “If I have enough faith, I will be rewarded with God’sgrace.  If I am good enough then God will really love me.. How many good deeds does it take for salvation.” 

“You are saved because God is in charge of you.” ( And the whole community of the Ephesians for that matter)   You are God’s work of art, not your own. 

The Gospel from John reiterates:  For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that all who believe would be saved.  The WORLD-- the salvation of the world happened with that Good Friday and Easter.  Our work is to recognize and claim it.  Fortunately, we are reminded of this at every baptism.  Writer Caroline Westerhoff invites us to “live into our baptism”.  The marvelous prayer for the baptized says it best: “Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”  Joy and wonder in all God’s works-- including ourselves.     Baptism is not the beginning of the  individual spiritual TO DO list.  Okay, I am baptized, or that child is baptized and we promise to make sure that she is good and then the baptism will take.  Well Baptism is not a vaccination.  It is a proclamation of our salvation not of our perfection! All by God’s grace. 

      The moment we accept this gift of grace, this life in Christ Jesus,  which declares that it is wonderful to be who we are, with all our imperfections,  is also the moment of our freedomand of our responsibility.  That is when the deeds come in.  . Freed to ACT.

Sometimes it may seem easier to strive to attain the goal of salvation. For as long as we are not quite there we will have the incentive to work.  As long as we live with the concept of merited salvation, of a controlling and controllable God who is all powerful, who punishes us when we are bad and rewards us when we are good, then we do not really have to be responsible for ourselves. God’s report card does it for us. As long as salvation is a goal then we can map out our objectives and identify the tasks which will enable us to reach it.  Maybe it is simpler to think that if we follow a certain set of rules and regulations, the way will be clear and salvation’s attained.  WE are in control.  It is sort of like climbing a mountain or preparing for vacation.  It is sometimes  easier to do the climbing than to know what to do when we finally arrive.     Ephesians proclaims that we have arrived. God’s work of art, the work of God’s hands,  not that of our own self improvement system--or even that of the feel good, look young and beautiful market.   Knowing this does not make us passive recipients of God’s omnipotent will, but rather gives us a place of goodness from which to to act.---walking in the Way as Paul says--that is the place from which good works begin.  A God of grace tells us that as God’s work of art we have arrived and are invited to live wholeheartedly, free to be ourselves and God’s beloved.     Amen.   

The Rev. Margaret Rose


It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

~ Mary Oliver ~