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, October 27, 2012

Proper 25B

Jeremiah 31. 7-9, Psalm 126, Hebrews 7. 23-28, Mark 10. 46b-52 by The Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers

I can’t say that I follow American politics particularly avidly, I know the Presidential election is imminent and realise that it is important to keep abreast of what is happening politically around the world as it inevitably has a knock-on effect on the rest of the globe.  Mind you, I find it hard enough to keep up with what is happening in Europe, let alone across the pond.  All that said..I am a huge fan of ‘The West Wing’, I came to it rather late on, so didn’t see it when it was on TV here.  So, I caught up with it on DVD, borrowed from my brother.  I was gripped, watching back-to-back episodes for nights in a row.  

In thinking about the readings for this Sunday, I am reminded of that wonderful scene in the ‘Two Cathedrals’ episode, when Jed Bartlett is alone in the Cathedral after Mrs Landingham’s funeral and he really lays into God.  How could he take Mrs Landingham in that way…he is at the end of his rope and lays it all at the altar in a very dramatic way.  A true example of lamentation, very similar to some of the psalms.  If you haven’t seen it, or want to refresh your memory you should be able to see it on u-tube if you click this link  His words in Latin are particularly poignant.  He says ‘gratias tibi ago, domine. haec credam a deo pio, a deo justo, a deo scito? cruciatus in crucem tuus in terra servus, nuntius fui; officium perfeci. cruciatus in crucem eas in crucem 

Which I believe roughly means...

Thank you, Lord. Am I to believe these things from a righteous god, a just god, a wise god? To hell with your punishments! (literally "(put/send) punishments onto a cross")   I was your servant, your messenger on the earth; I did my duty. To hell with your punishments! And to hell with you! (literally, "may you go to a cross")"

Today’s readings don’t include such a clear example of lamentation, but they certainly allude to it.  In the reading from Jeremiah we are told that ‘With weeping they will come, and with consolation I will lead them back’, Psalm 126 is essentially a psalm of thanksgiving, but again ‘Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.’, in the letter to the Hebrews we are reminded of the weakness of our humanity that necessitates daily sacrifice and in the gospel reading from Mark we find Bartimaeus, the blind man who has suffered all his life.  Bartimaeus is a little bit different, he doesn’t seem to be angry at God for his fate.  He had been completely blind since birth, he had never seen any of the beauty of the world, but he is also poor as he is sitting at the side of the road begging.  No doubt as a child he was cared for by his parents, but because he was blind there would have been no employment for him as he grew up and so he would have fallen into destitution.  But, Bartimaeus had clearly heard people talking about Jesus, he would not have witnessed any of his many miracles, but he had heard all about them. 

So no doubt when he heard that Jesus was passing by he was filled with hope.  He must have had a friend close by, filling him in on the unfolding drama as Jesus and his entourage approach.  When he hears that Jesus is close by he calls on him to have mercy on him. 
What surprises me about this story is the reaction of those around Bartimaeus.  Jesus can’t go anywhere without hundreds of people following him.  They have witnessed his many miracles and the way he has healed others and yet, they treat Bartimaeus with disdain and tell him to be quiet.  Bartimaeus is the lowest of the low and not worthy of their consideration, he is a blind beggar man. It is only Jesus who treats him with any kindness.  One can’t imagine what it is like to be blind, to not be able to see the beauty of this world.  Bartimaeus responds to Jesus’ kindness wholeheartedly, he throws off his cloak as he springs up from his seat at the roadside, he had complete certainty that Jesus would cure him.  It is a wonderful image, as in throwing off his cloak Bartimaeus reveals himself to those around, he is no longer hiding under a heavy cloak somehow ashamed of who he is.  

I can’t help wondering who is truly blind in this story.  Bartimaeus may be physically blind, but spiritually he is clear sighted, he knows that Jesus is the answer.  Without Jesus we are all blind.  Those around Bartimaeus are certainly blind to that, otherwise they would have tried to help him.  Jesus freed Bartimaeus, we can only imagine the joy he felt, seeing a human face for the first time, a tree, the beautiful blue sky, the sun.  Jesus, the great high priest, the perfect one, the one who doesn’t need to make sacrifices everyday because he has atoned for the sins of all the world by dying on the cross for us, doesn’t treat Batimaeus with disdain, he treats him the same as everyone else who calls upon him, he simply asks ‘What do you want me to do for you?’, such a simple question, full of compassion.  When we reach out to God in our distress all he asks is to know what he can do for us.  Bartimaeus had complete faith and trust in Jesus and that brought him healing, he regained his sight.  The trials and tribulations of everyday life can sometimes seem so severe, that we really lay into God and plead with him for release from our suffering and we get angry, just as Jed Bartlett did.  We may not get the answer straight away, it may not come in the way we expect, but we can be sure it will come.  For Jed, his consolation comes when the dead Mrs Landingham appears to him.  We may not know when or where our consolation will come from…but we can be sure that it will come.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


A reflection the readings for  Proper 24/B: Job 38:1-7,  Hebrews 4:12-16,  Mark 10:35-45 - by The Rev. Margaret Rose
At the back of the dining hall where I went to camp every summer as a child there is a large wooden plaque.  On it is written:  “Words are so powerful that they should only be used to bless, to heal, and to prosper.”   The saying may have come from some poet, but I knew them from the owner of the camp, Sue Henry.  Sue had many such sayings that only she could get across with great meaning.  She had been a boarding school English teacher—one of those who cared deeply about students, teaching and the world at large.  Another of her sayings was “Humor that hurts another is not humor at all”.  You can be sure there was not a lot of bullying at that camp.    Words were meant to be used carefully and only as needed.  Words are so powerful they should only be used to bless, to heal and to prosper.                                                                                                                                               Holy Scripture of course, and perhaps Christianity itself, is all about words.  John’s Gospel is the prime example:  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God.”                                                                                   

In the scripture lesson from Job, God speaks out of the silence of the whirlwind to the suffering Job, “ Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge.”    

In other words, do not speak unless you know what you are talking about.    
                                                                                                                                 And in the text of the Hebrews  there is a vivid picture of the power of words in scripture.  “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”      I can almost see words dividing soul from spirit when hearing certain news---the diagnosis of cancer, the quiet word from the doctor that there was nothing that could be done, the difficult word that a friendship or lifelong partnership has ended.  Words  “dividing joints from marrow” remind me of standing at the butcher counter watching the skilled butcher at his craft, with the sharpest of knives, remove the bones from the piece of meat.  We don’t often think of words in such a powerful way.                                                                                                                                        
 “Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Not True.  Yes they will.                                                                                                                           
Actually that is what the political campaigns that we have been suffering these past few months are all about.  Whose words will carry the day?  And the debates are certainly a verbal boxing match with the hope that our particular candidate will deliver the knock out blow.   Yet words, even political words, also have the power to heal.  Last night I watched the videos of the two candidates for President speaking at the Al Smith Foundation dinner.   Sponsored by the Catholic Church, it raises money for children in poverty.    The words this time were roasts—humor used to help each laugh with the other and finally to state that what really matters is the state of the world and how to make it better.  These words were used to heal to bless to prosper, even among the politicians.  

Recently, theologian Gustav Niebuhr wrote an article in the Harvard Divinity School magazine called, Choosing Words over Bullets. In it he spoke of   The Parliament of World Religions, an organization which for over a century has sought peace and understanding, and promotes  efforts of the various religions to find ways to talk to one another, to share their religious traditions—Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Jain, and more.  They seek mutual understanding and lay a foundation that puts relationship over turf battles, among religious traditions or indeed nation states. Recent news makes this interreligious understanding and dialogue  even more vital for peace in our world.  How quick we are to assume that one group does not care as much as another about human life or to generalize one experience and claim this is the religious norm.  Words may not seem like much.  But when they are the cause of violence in the name of our religions  they have the power of a two edged sword.   

In the Gospel today, it is the disciples who do not know the power of their words.  
Almost like children they ask Jesus for a favor.  “Let us sit next to you.”  Let us be your special ones, at the places of honor on your right and on your left. Jesus is quick to reply.  “You do not know what you are saying.”  He lets them know that this request is one which calls for great sacrifice, suffering and death.  The other disciples, of course, ( in not much more mature fashion) are angry that the two would seek a special place.  As only Jesus can do, he moves to the heart of the matter.  Their life together is not about who can sit at the right or left hand of God but who can be a disciple.  And discipleship is about servanthood , caring less about who is the greatest, or who might rule over another but how one might follow Jesus, coming not to serve but to serve.   Eventually Jesus words or his refusal to speak brought him to the cross. 
I imagine that he was always aware of their spoken power, not only to heal, bless and prosper, but as the Incarnate Word for the salvation of God’s world.  
The Rev’d Margaret Rose

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sometimes Stuff Happens, Even Grace...

A reflection on the readings for Proper 23B: Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31 by the Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

Last week our readings were very complex. We began the book of Job with some troubling concepts presented about God, humanity, and the Satan. And we heard a difficult reading in the Gospel of Mark about divorce. But as a congregation we were celebrating the feast day of St. Francis and the kids were with us for the entire service. So instead of reflecting on the difficult readings I read a story, directed at the kids, but relevant to all of us, and we talked about the life and ministry of St. Francis.

So – this morning we have a little catching up to do. Let’s begin with last week’s troubling passage in Mark about divorce. Remember someone asked Jesus if it was okay for a husband to divorce his wife. And Jesus says, yes, according to the law of Moses it is okay. But, Jesus says, that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.

What Jesus is referring too, however, is not the kind of relationship that married couples have in this country today. Jesus is referring to legal contracts which made the wife a man’s possession. Cancelling this legal contract and disowning the wife meant that the woman was abandoned. She became a target for abuse, poverty, disease, and death. Jesus is making the marriage contract a binding one in order that women will be protected.

We also began the book of Job last week. It has been said that Job is a noble work of literature equal to the Greek tragedies, Dante’s Diving Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Goethe’s Faust. Modeled also on an ancient Babylonian myth about the god Marduk, Job exemplifies the   literature of that era exploring the reality of suffering and the meaning of life. Job was probably written between the 6th and 3rd century BCE.

The characters in Job include:

God, who has a court of counselors who advise God.

The Satan – one of the members of God’s council. The Satan in Job is not the demonic counterforce familiar in Christianity and portrayed as the source of temptation and backsliding in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. Nor is the Satan God’s evil antagonist, as described in Christian theology.  Like the tempter in Jesus’ wilderness experience, Job’s Satan seeks  to find out if our faith is authentic.[i]

The friends of Job: “Wise men” – each of these characters is a foreigner from places known for wisdom in the Near East during ancient Israel.[ii]

The story of Job is dealing with the reality of suffering and how to explain it or understand it. The friends of Job move around the questions and attempt to answer them from their own traditional belief in a God who rewards people for what they have done “right” and punishes people for what they have done “wrong.”
Job however raises a deeper question than right or wrong cause and effect. Job ponders the despair that accompanies suffering; especially the sense that God is absent in the presence of suffering which heightens the despair.

Job wonders, “What kind of a God is this God who in the face of suffering is nowhere to be seen?
The story of Job pushes us to explore the reality that God is in the midst of our suffering even when we have no idea how or where God is. Job meets God in a whirlwind –  which suggests that in the very midst of our deepest despair God is there. God is a bigger God than the one Job’s friends portray – God is less concerned with punishment and reward and more concerned with being present in the center of the storm and working with us to transform suffering, through hope and grace and mercy, into some form of new life.
In this regard, transforming suffering into hope and new life, the story of Job mirrors the Christian story of  what God is doing in and through Jesus. It’s the hope, grace, and mercy that the Eucharist points us toward. God is present in our suffering and leads us through it into a new place.

The thing is, as Job portrays, it isn’t always possible to know how God is with us. There are no obvious signs, like the whirlwind of cloud and dust nor do we hear the voice of God like Job did. Life does not always have a complete restoration of what was lost. A loved one who has died does not come back to life. Sometimes life just brings more suffering.

So the story of Job is a myth for the process of suffering in which we experience the absence and silence of God. The struggle is in part, how to remain faithful while moving through the suffering to a new place. The new place one experiences is usually the result of an inner transformation – something inside of us changes and thus the way we perceive the situation changes.

Richard Rohr in his book Job and the Mystery of Suffering addresses this when he suggests that the verb used to describe Job as repenting IN sack cloth and ashes may also be interpreted as Job repenting FROM sack cloth and ashes – in other words Job transforms internally and changes his outward action – he no longer sits as a passive victim consumed by anger and stifled by frustration but becomes someone who is working to move through his suffering into a new place.

The book we read in Lent, Speaking of Sin by Barbara Brown Taylor, discusses the merits of acknowledging that there is real evil in the world, sin happens, there are consequences, but sometimes those consequences are not obvious because they affect other people more than ourselves. This is the global sin that Mark makes reference too in the Gospel – sin that comes from how one segment of society lives and how that lifestyle impacts others – so for example, the coffee we drink can either sustain coffee farmers – if its Fair Trade - or deprive them of living wage. The cell phones and tablets and iPads and ebooks that we use are sometimes made by people working in substandard conditions, sweat shops, earning something less than a living wage.

Job reminds us that our suffering and the suffering of others is not a punishment that God deals out, but is part of life. Sometimes stuff happens.

The Gospel pushes around the idea that stuff happens, suggesting that sometimes the suffering of the world may in fact be the consequence of how we are living.

 Either way we are not to be passive victims of our own suffering nor impassionate disinterested passersby of the suffering of others.

Our reading from Hebrews reminds us that what we do matters. Can we summon up hope in the midst of suffering? Or at the very least can we muster the hope for hope? Can we come to a place of inner peace in the midst of suffering? Can we recognize the suffering of others and how our lifestyle might be contributing to that suffering?

There is beauty in this broken world and beauty in our broken lives. The task of being a person of faith is to trust that. And in time, as we move through our suffering, we will be able to recognize that beauty, claim, and proclaim it as the grace and mercy of an ever present God.

[ii] The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible: Abingdon Press, 1971