Monday, July 21, 2014

“Bad Things Happening to Good People” Hard Questions Series, July 20, 2014

Job 2:7-10  So the Adversary went out from the presence of God, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.  Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.  Then his wife said to him, "Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die."  But he said to her, "You speak as any foolish person would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?"

Matthew 5:1-10  When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the realm of heaven. 
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the realm of heaven.”

Will you pray with and for me? Wise and Eternal One, help us to understand the difficulties and pain in our lives. Remind us of your steadfast love for us, and your eternal presence with us. Give us grace to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others; teach us how to be strong and loving in the face of fear and defeat and to be wise and brave in times of pain and struggle. In all your names, amen.

“Why is life so hard sometimes?” It’s a very valid question. Jesus says that the hairs of our head are numbered and that God knows when even a sparrow falls, so if God cares so much, then why do we suffer so much pain and greif and have so many struggles? Surely a loving God would not let these things happen!

This has been a difficult week for the world. Increasing strife in the Middle East, then a civilian plane shot down, with the added tragedy of that plane being full of researchers into HIV/AIDS, on their way to a meeting in Australia. Other sad stories—the deaths of entertainers who defined their art—Elaine Strich and Johnny Winters; the horrific torture and killing of a turtle by two teenagers in Florida, who recorded it and posted it on YouTube; yet another transwoman murdered, this time in Baltimore; the continuing crisis of children at the US-Mexico border; the worsening epidemic of Ebola in West Africa; and politicians are behaving badly. Yes, many of these stories are recurring, and some will not be remembered much beyond the next few days—but they contribute to our sense of frustration and sorrow.

And, since we are all human, we have had sorrow and frustration and pain in our own lives as well—perhaps we are dealing with uncertainties in our health, our work, our relationships, our families. Maybe we have lost a loved one or the loved one of a friend.  Or maybe we've been disappointed by a friend, a job we had hoped to get, an extra pay day that didn't come through, a family member who couldn't fulfill a commitment or promise.  It might have been something as simple as a car breaking down, or not doing well on a test.

Sometimes life just—well, sucks. It’s not a word you hear from the pulpit often, but sometimes that’s the word that fits.

“Why?” we ask, maybe even shaking our fist at the sky. “Why do you allow these terrible things to happen, God?”

That’s essentially the advice of Job’s wife. “Why do you insist on believing that God is good? Look at you—look at what God allowed to happen to you! You might as well give up—curse God who did this to you, and give up on life!”

It’s tempting sometimes—to just give up on trying to be the person we know we should be, to give up trying to be strong in the face of frustration and sorrow and grief and other people’s bad behaviour. Some days I really want to just go off on people—the one who cut me off in traffic, the one who twists the truth just enough so that others think badly of me; the ones out for themselves and careless of who they trample on. I don’t want to be the better person; I don’t want to just shake my head and move on. I want to lose my temper and tell them exactly what I think of them. I don’t want to be strong and forgiving and understanding and compassionate. I don’t want to just pick myself up, brush myself off and move on. “Curse God and die!” Some days, it feels like a plan.

But—you knew there was a “but” or two!—but here are a couple of things to consider.

One is that when we think our lives are difficult, we are usually comparing our lives to someone else’s life, and wondering why theirs is so smooth and ours seems so hard. We struggle to find work, and they walk right into a position—they knew someone or had some special experience. We are lonely, and look at a couple walking by holding hands and smiling at each other—and wonder why we don’t have a relationship like that, why we can’t meet the right person, or why our relationship is so rocky, when theirs is so blissful. Maybe we can barely make ends meet and stand in line at the store behind someone who is buying all the things we would like to get but can’t afford, and envy them the option of not having to keep a running total of the groceries in their head as they shop, as we have to do.

The reality? It’s very different. We cannot see into other people’s lives, into their hearts and relationships and struggles. I guarantee you that everyone struggles, everyone has pain. We may not see it, it may not be something that is public knowledge, but every person struggles with something. We are not alone in this. We see what we envy about their lives, but we can’t see what causes them pain. There’s a story about a magician who casts a spell so that everyone can see the struggles others are going through, and they are offered the chance to exchange their burden for anyone else’s burden—but everyone chooses to keep their own burden. They have seen what others deal with and prefer their own struggles.

So that is one thing to bear in mind—whatever it is we are dealing with, others are also dealing with an equal or greater struggle.

Another way to look at it is that while our lives may be hard sometimes, there is also much that is good. We may not have the job we want, but we have a job; our health may not be good, but we have health care; we might not live in the house we had hoped for, but we have shelter and warmth and light and running water.

This does not mean be a PollyAnna ; rather, it is the cultivation of true gratitude for what we have—and we have so much.  I may not be partnered right now, but one day I may be—and in the meantime, I have a loving son and an extended family and many dear friends; I am hardly alone in the world. I don’t have a lot of money, but I have a safe place to live, clothes to wear, enough to eat—sometimes too much to eat—water that is safe to drink, reliable electricity. Actually, I’m pretty rich—I have a car and a laptop and a tablet and a cell phone and a TV and lots of books and furniture and art. Not too shabby.

The reality is that there is always someone who has something you don’t—no matter how wealthy you are, or healthy or what a wonderful relationship with your partner or the perfect job—there’s always someone you could be jealous of, if you let yourself.

And there’s always someone who is worse off than you too—has no family, no job, unsafe water, an abusive relationship, no family, chosen or biological…

So what can we do with all this? How do we get through those days when we agree with Job’s wife, when life just seems too hard to accept?

The fact is that the world simply isn’t what it should or could be—people don’t behave as well as they might and hurt people. We don’t love ourselves as we should and hurt ourselves. That is what a lot of the pain in the world boils down to, isn’t it? But sometimes there is no one to blame for our struggle; and even if there were, it is not too likely that the person would change things, even if they could. In other words, we have to deal with the world, and our lives, as they are, not as we wish they were, or how they could be, if only…

And we can’t expect God to step in and change things with the wave of a wand. We have free choice—we are not puppets. That means that how we react, and how we behave when things aren't what they could be, is up to us. God is with us in the struggle, but we are only ones who must choose our behaviour.

We can choose to continue to weep over what we don’t have and can’t see how to get; we can continue to be angry with people who have what we want or need, we can complain that life is not fair. Or we can be grateful for all that we do have, trusting that what we truly need will come our way; recognising what we CAN do to be where we want to be, and then doing it.

It’s not always easy; but that first step is realizing that we cannot blame God for our lives not being what we want when, in fact, we can either make the changes we want and need, or we can accept that this is our life, at least for now.  If we can do either of those things, then our lives will not only be more comfortable, but we will be able to see what we can change, how we can take things in our own hands, be active about getting what we want and need. If I am not happy with something in my life, then I can either change whatever it is—get it out of my life or change it so I can be happy with it—or I can sit and complain about it. Yes, that sometimes means accepting things we don’t like. But when I had to come to terms with cancer, I couldn’t deny that it was there; I couldn't pretend it didn’t exist and that I didn't need surgery and chemotherapy. Was I happy about dry skin and losing my hair and being cold all the time and mouth sores? Not for a moment. But I did what I could—found lotion that smelled wonderful, made a party out of shaving my head, found cute hats to wear, learned out to make smoothies that felt good and tasted better and were nutritious to boot.

I am not a saint or PollyAnna—if I can do it, so can you.  There is always something, some way, some how to make life good, in spite of the struggles. Find the sparks of sunlight and love; know that they are reminders of God’s presence with you, even when you can’t see or feel that loving presence. Yes, it is hard—but it can be done.

The life you have is yours to make; what you make of it is your gift to God and others. In all God’s names, amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

“All the Saints” July 13, 2014 Hard Questions Series 2

Psalm 31:23 - 32:1   23 Love God, all you saints of the Holy One. God preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.  Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for God.

Romans 8:27  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Romans 16:1-3  I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae,  so that you may welcome her in God as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

Revelation 14:12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.

Matthew 27:50-53  Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.  After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.

Will you pray with and for me? Loving God who hears all prayers, bless us as we hear and speak today. May our thoughts and our words be true reflections of your love and wisdom. In all your names, amen.

We are continuing with our series on hard questionsand we still have a couple weeks left open, so if you have a question you havent had a chance to turn in yet, you can still do that. There are notecards in your bulletins, or you can get one at the back table, for any questions. You can put the card in the offering plate, or just give it to me or John or Jason after worship.

Todays question has to do with saints and Mary, mother of Jesus, and why MCC Windsor does things so differently than the Roman Catholic church. I will try hard not to teach a church history classthere are a lot of books out there that can do that a lot better than I canbut some of the answers are rooted in church history.

Lets start with saints. Remember last week I talked about how words can change in meaning over time? In the early church, when the New Testament was coming together, the word "saint" simply meant a dedicated Christianso any Christian could be called saint, and you heard that in the first readings. The Jewish tradition also had and has a term, tzadik, to indicate a person who was especially close to Godthat is the word translated as saints in the Psalm reading. All religious traditions have this concept, of individuals who are exceptionally holy or closer to the deity, to God. In Roman Catholic and in Orthodox traditions, the saints became people who had been martyredthat is, killed because of their faithand/or individuals who had performed miracles, and a formal process for recognizing them formed over the years. For Protestantsthat is, Christians who are not Roman Catholic or Orthodox, so Lutherans, Methodists, United Church, Baptists, Anglicans, and so onincluding MCC--the saints may be recognized more or less, depending on the tradition. Anglicans, for example, recognize many of the same saints as the Roman Catholics, as do Lutherans, while Methodists and the United Church recognize saints as holy people worthy of study and emulation. In these Protestant traditions, the direct connection, the deeply personal relationship between God and an individual is stressed; the saints are not seen as intercessors, the ones to carry the individuals prayers and petitions to God, as they are in Roman Catholic traditions, but as role models for Christians.

Mary, Jesus mother, is usually seen as the most important saint of allbecause of her own free will, she took on the burden of bearing and raising Gods child. And who better to bring your prayers to Jesus than his own earthly mother? Could Jesus turn down a request from his mother? And so there is a strong emphasis on communication with and prayers to Mary in the Roman Catholic church, which has led some poorly informed people to accuse Roman Catholics of Mary-worship, which is simply not true.

And I think Protestant churches could learn something from Roman Catholics here.

The image most people have of God is of a Caucasian older man, usually with a beardbecause that is a symbol of wisdomand then Jesus is seen as a young man, while the Spirit is pretty much neutral, or disembodied, symbolized by breath or wind or a dove or fire. The result is that while Spirit is often referred to with feminine gender terms grammatically, and sometimes specifically, God in three persons seems mostly masculine. But when God created humans, and said, let us create humans in our image, male and female humans were created, not simply men. And I think most of us are aware that even labelling actions or identities as masculine or feminine is problematicwhat is seen as masculine in one culture or historic period is seen as feminine in others. For example, at one time, individuals identified as male in European society, at least those in the ruling class, wore high heels, wigs, and rouge as a matter of course. In today's Western society, those are all seen as part of feminine   dress. So we understand that we are a blend of traits, customs, and habits, some labeled feminine, others masculine. What we personally identify as is up to us, but no one is fully one or the other, we all fall along a spectrum.

Given all that, I think Mary is a way we can recognize and honour the feminine in God, in Spirit. The divine feminine is seen as nurturing, life-giving, caring, healing---which are also traits we give to God, right? God created, God cares, God heals. So Mary can become an image of that caring and nurturing we seek from God. Please note, I am NOT saying that Mary is divine, or a part of God. But she can give us a handle, something concrete to hang onto when we looking for the divine aspects of God. A mother, especially a loving, caring mother who desires deeply to care for her child, is a wonderful image of God. We just happen to have a name for that imageMary.

But these are sometimes difficult theological concepts, and sometimes individuals want someone who was flesh and blood human in ways God and Jesus are notand certainly not the Spirit!

So it is not a matter of worshipping Maryit is Mary as a pathway to God, as a way to approach God that is less intimidating and awe-inspiring. Any of the saints could be seen this way--a path to God that is less intimidating, perhaps, than the idea of Godself. Seen this way, Mary is an image of the loving mother, nurturing and caring; and is also an example to us of the ideal mother. In the same way, the individuals named as saints by the various traditions may help us to understand God, or be an example to us of holy living. Hildegard of Bingen reminds us to speak our truth; St Francis of Assisi teaches us that all creation reflects God's love and grace; John Wesley and Joan of Arc both show us what it means to challenge authority with faith;  Archbishop Oscar Romero demonstrated literally laying down your life for truth. And then there are saints the greater world doesn't know about--the teachers and mentors and guides that I hope we have all had.  All these saints can teach us, guide us, inspire us. They were and are saints too, And so are you, my friends--so are you.

Remember the saints--and remember that you are a saint, too, In all God's many names, amen. 

“What’s the Word?”” MCC Windsor, July 6, 2014; Hard Questions Series 1

Note: Our summer series, Hard Questions began this Sunday. Earlier in the spring, I invited members to write down the questions they had about church, the Bible, theology, a message they had heard, or just something that made them wonder. Each week for the rest of the summer, we will be examining one of these topics. 

 Nehemiah 8:8
They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Matthew 22:34-40
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Holy One your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.


Will you pray with and for me? Holy One, we strain to hear your voice speaking to us. Open our hearts and spirits to your word, in whatever way it comes to us. In all your names, amen.

Today is the first Sunday of our summer series on hard questions. Several of you had questions about the Bible, and because understanding a bit about the Bible will help us to answer some of the other questions that have been asked, we will start here, with the Bible.

There are two basic ways to view the Bible as we have it. The first sees the Bible as fixed, being either dictated by God or translators being directed by God, with every word literally true. If something is in the Bible, then what is said there should be our only guide for our actions and thinking on that topic.

The other way of looking at the Bible is that it was inspired by God, written by human beings who could not capture the essence of God or Gods meaning and intent in human language. This view acknowledges that languages change and that no translation can perfectly express thoughts and concepts of another language, and also that language reflects the culture and context of a certain time and place. Sometimes this understanding of the Bible leads to minimising or ignoring portions of the Bible that do not fit the context, or giving them an interpretation that doesnt fit.

Which is right? Well, I personally lean towards the second, and you will see why in a moment. But in fact, neither is right or wrongthey are both opinion, views. There really arent ways to prove either of themthere are no original copies of any of the scriptures, nor did any of the ancient translatorsand there have been several translations of the various books of the Bible throughout its historyleave any record of what they thought or how they chose which terms to use. As we get closer to our time, there are records and notes from the translators, but of course, they are translating translations, so it becomes very murky as to what might have been the original.

So, what can both views agree on? First is that the Biblewhich comes from the Greek meaning the books”—is in fact a collection of books. We know this, even if we dont think about it much. Theres the book of Genesis, the book of Psalms, the book of Matthew, and so on. So it is, in fact, a collection of books, a mini-library of texts.

Some of the books are historiessuch as First and Second Kings, or the book of Acts. Some are poetry and songs, like Psalms and Song of Solomon. Some of them are what we might call editorials todayessays calling people to action. Isaiah and Micah are examples of these. Some of them are strange visions, like Daniel and Revelation.

Besides being many kinds of books, the Bible also contains many styles of writing. The histories are mostly narrativethey tell the story. Some are rules for worship and living, like Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Others are full of metaphors, like Daniel and Jeremiah. A few, mostly in the New Testament, are letters. Some of them are mixed.

This can help us decide how to read a particular book and how it can be useful to us. When we are feeling down and frustrated, we can find words of comfort and support in Psalmswe wouldnt look in Daniel, for example, or read one of the histories. Just as we might listen to music to help lift our sadness, the Psalms, which are songs, can do the same thing.

So far, both views would agree, I think. Now we come to the sticky parttranslations.

We do not have any of the books of the Bible in the original language. The oldest manuscriptswritten versions of the Bible, written down centuries before printingwere in an ancient form of Hebrew. By about the third century before Jesus birth, they had been translated into Greek, which was the common language of the world at that time, as English is the language of pilots and air traffic control todaythe language of trade and government, the one to be used so that everyone would understand, no matter where they were from. Over time, the scriptures were translated into Latin and then other languagesFrench, German, English, and so on. Also, it wasnt until about the 3rd century that there was agreement on which writings should be included in what we call the Bibleand even today, the Catholic Bible includes several texts that non-Catholics call the Apocrypha, from the Latin for  secret, obscure. So which books are part of the Bible has shifted over time as well.

Now, as those of you who speak even a little bit of another language will understand, any language has words that do not have an exact equivalent in other languages. My favourite example is the German word preiswert, which means something like, worth the price, or a bargain at this price. There just isnt an equivalent in English. Well, you can imagine if a simple concept like that doesnt have an equivalent in two modern languages which have developed together in the same world culture, then finding current words that have the same meanings as ancient wordswhich is what happens in translationis almost impossible. And when you think of some of the concepts that various books of the Bible discuss, you can imagine that ideas such as sin, salvation, and righteousness are very difficult to translate.

An example is the word often translated as slave in English Bibles. To us today, slavery means lifelong bondage and unpaid labour, one person belonging to another. In ancient Israel, it was more like what we think of indentured servitude---a set time of working for someone in return for a set amount of money to be paid to someone else. If a person had racked up a lot of debt, for example, he or she could sell themselves into this short-term bondage in order to pay off the debt. At the end of their time, they were free to go. In Roman times, in Jesus day, slavery was much like we think of it todayexcept that Roman law allowed for, and sometimes required, slaves to be paid money that they didnt have to turn over to their master, and which could be put towards the price of their freedom. So the meanings of words change over time, toothink of one near and dear to our hearts—“gay. It used to simply mean happy, or pleasantand now that meaning is almost gone, and it usually means same-sex loving.

Well, those are two of the problems with translationswords in one language dont have exact equivalents in another language and any language depends on a culture for the meaning of words. And then there is the fact that these problems get worse with each translationwe have to assume that each translation is a little further from the original intent or meaning.

Another difficulty with reading the Bible literally, besides translation issues, is that many of the books of the Bible speak in metaphors, not in literal truth. Genesis may say that Methuselah lived to be 969 years old, but we know that, biologically speaking, that is impossible; human bodies cannot last that long. And the ancient Hebrews knew that too; they understood that it simply meant a very long time, or that Methuselahs dynasty lasted that longhe is supposed to have died just before the flood, so metaphorically, he may represent the old way of life before the flood.

I think we can say the same for the creation storyGenesis is not a science textbook, but an account of how the world came to be. There are actually two creation stories in Genesis, by the wayand both are metaphors, ways of describing something that no human was there to see. They are a perfect example of what I mean when I say that some things cannot be described in human language, and so we understand what is meant only imperfectly.

Some people might say, OK, that makes sense, but what about the laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy?  Here we are back to the culture and context question.  These were idealised laws, set down by the scholars and priests after the Babylonian Exile six hundred years before Christ. When the first Jewish people came back to Jerusalem, after about one hundred years in exile, they joined other Jewish people who had not gone into exile, and whose religious observance had changedwe know them as Samaritans. So the people returning from exile felt they had the only pure and true form of Judaism; and they recorded laws reflecting their idealised version of Judaism. We know from the language and some of the words used that none of the texts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy could have been recorded before the Exilethey were written afterwards. Soand here is where context comes into playthey were the idealised laws of the scribes and priests who were attempting to re-establish Judaism in Israel and Judah. The laws draw careful lines around what is Jewish and what is not, who should do what and when. Its doubtful they were ever followed completely; the later history is full of kings and queens who worshipped other gods or who didnt obey every law as written in those books, especially the release of captive and return of land to the original owners in the Jubilee yearthere is no record of it ever actually being observed.  They were ideals, not reality; something to aspire to, and never reach.

Another thing to bear in mind is that we as Christians look to the second part of the Bible for our understanding of Godthe New Testament. We dont dismiss the Old Testamentor Hebrew Bible as I prefer to call itbut it is seen as a backdrop, a setting for Jesus and his message. Some Christians give the New Testament priority over the Hebrew Bible, saying it is more important in terms of rules and guidance. This is part of the reason, for example, that Christians do not follow Jewish dietary rulesthe rest of the reason is the separation between Judaism and Christian in first or second century.

Finally, no matter what we believe about how the Bible came to be, we have to remember that the Bible is only one part of our understanding of God. We do not have faith in only the Bible; there is more to Christianity than the Bible.  Indeed, if the Bible is the centre of our worship, the focus of our worship, then we are committing Bibliolatryworship of the Bible instead of God. The Bible is one way we come to know God and understand Jesus and Spirit. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, suggested a four-part way to understand God: Scripture, that is, the Bible; reason, or human understanding; experience, what we know from our own lives; and finally, tradition, what has been historic practice or understanding. We need to use all four of them as we think about God and formulate our understanding of God. I often use it as a test or check on something I readwhat does Scripture say about the question? What about reason, or science? What has my experience been with regards to the issue? And what has been the traditional understanding? Sometimes these overlapreason and experience, for example, or reason and tradition.

As Christians of the 21st century, we should be reading the Bible with this understandingthat it is not in its original form and has not been for centuries; what that original form meant to the people who first used it is not something we can easily grasp today because of the gap in time and culture; and that it is only one part of our quest for communication with and understanding of God. Given that, this collection of books called the Bible is full of wisdom and insight into humanity, and is the source of Jesus message of love and reconciliation. Dont worship it or treat it as the rulebook, but do read it, study it, and make it a part of your life. There are many web sites, apps, and books availableIve put a list of the ones I like the best on the back table. Reading, studying, and meditating on the Bible can lead us to a deeper understanding of our own relationship with God and a clearer perspective on our call to serve God and the world. In all Gods many names, amen.

“Whose Family?” MCC Windsor, June 22 (Pentecost 2A)

Genesis 21:8-21
The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that womans son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.
 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.  I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.
Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, I cannot watch the boy die. And as she sat there, she began to sob.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer  While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

Matthew 10:24-39
The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above the master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of the household!
So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Gods care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So dont be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before God in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before God in heaven.
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-lawa mans enemies will be the members of his own household.
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Will you pray with and for me? God of our ancestors, give us the grace to hear your truth and wisdom in simple human words. Bless our speaking and our listening, may your truth and love shine like the sun through me, in spite of me. In all your names, amen.

Wow, Jesus sounds harsh here, doesn't he? Not peace, but conflict, even between members of a family. We are used to families--parents and their children, grandparents, aunts and uncles--being the focus of society. It was even more so in Jesus' day--the extended family was the main unit of society. Sons followed the craft or trade of their father; daughters married whoever their parents told them to; several generations of family lived together and shared a trade or a farm. If you lost your family or were thrown out of your family, you literally had nowhere to go, no means of support or income. At the same time, within your family you were guaranteed work and food and a home.

So for Jesus to suggest that his words, his message, will bring dissent within a family, disrupting the harmony and structure of a family, is very disturbing to his listeners. It does not hit home with the same power for us. The extended family, even the nuclear family, is not the basis of our economy or society any more. They are still important, but they are not the foundation, as they once were.

Some of us have not had very good relationships with our families. Maybe they rejected who we were, or our partner, or preferred not to discuss certain subjects with us. Or maybe they simply didn't know how to communicate very well or were dealing with substance abuse or other issues. For whatever reason, our parent, our sister, our brother, our child, our cousin, couldn't be what we needed from them. When we spoke our truth to them--whether it was, "Mom, I'm gay," or "Grandma, I will not come over and see you when you have been drinking," or "Chris, you are my brother, but I cannot watch you treat your children that way"--we were not heard, or we were ignored or spurned, and so we have had to draw back from them. We must always speak our truth, in whatever way is best for us, but sometimes that means alienating others who cannot or will not be open to truth. Looking at the reading for today, the truth Jesus means here is the truth of the gospel, the truth that God is love and cares for every human being, even the ones we don't, we can't bring ourselves to love. No matter who a person is, God loves them. Some people cannot accept that. They do not accept that God loves them in spite of their flaws, or that God loves people they disagree with, or that God loves people who act in ways they don't like. When that happens to you, when you are seen as someone God cannot love (which is impossible), sometimes all you can do is walk away. It does not mean you give up on them or that you hate means you let go of trying to make them into a person that will behave differently, or you let go of the pain they cause you. You know they will give you pain, so you choose to not expose yourself to that pain again.  

This, I think, is what Jesus is referring to. Sometimes, in order to be the full, whole person God intended us to be, we have to step away or back from people who are keeping us from that wholeness, or do not accept us or our truth--again, whether that truth is about us or them, sexuality or psychology, abuse or finances.

Our true family is found in the people who care for us as we are, accept us, flaws and all. They may try to remind us of our flaws--impatience, laziness, drama-mongering--but our mistakes and missteps do not cause them to stop loving us--and vice versa. Sometimes these true family members are found in our biological family, always in our chosen family. Wherever you find such people, treasure them. They may not stay in your life forever--the circumstances of life, time or even death may separate you from them--but while they are there, recognize them for the treasure they are. These are the people who in turn treasure you--as you are meant to be, your true, authentic self, not what others wish you were, or try to form you into.  They are your true family.

In a larger sense, Jesus is calling us to live lives of integrity--to speak your truth, even when it isn't popular or when it will alienate you from people you love. It isn't easy--that's why he says we have to pick up that cross and carry it--and it is heavy and splintery and rough--but it bears the truth.

Hagar and Ishmael were sent away from their family, and pretty much abandoned in the desert. Sarah could not accept the truth--that Ishmael was also Abraham's son and no less deserving of a place in his household. And so Hagar and Ishmael had to leave that family, and find their own, make a family of choice, even if it was only the two of them, out in the desert, the greater world.

If we have to, we can do that too. When our biological family does not accept us, or chooses to behave in ways that are not healthy for us or for  others--then we know it is time to create our own families of choice. I remember holidays when I was growing up, when friends of my older sisters who were in conflict with their families would come to spend Christmas or Easter or a July 4th picnic with us. Sometimes our chosen family is a blend of biological family and chosen family--the aunts and uncles and cousins and siblings who are supportive, and the friends we love who love us.

Speak your truth, whatever it may be, and if your family of origin cannot hear it, cannot accept it, then make a family that can accept you. We are all God's children, and all of us need to be part of a family--God's family. Find your place in God's family through the grace of those people who love you and accept you. And then you will be at home. In all God's names, amen.

“To the Very End of the Age” MCC Windsor, June 15, 2014 (Trinity A)

2 Corinthians 13:5-14
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in youunless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrongnot so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.  We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authoritythe authority God gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All Gods people here send their greetings.
May the grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Matthew 28:16-20
 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Creator and of the Redeemer and of the Sustainer, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Will you pray with me? You who are, who encompass every time and place, we open our hearts to you. Change us to whatever you would have us be, teach us to offer others a way to you, strengthen us to be beacons of your light and love in the world. In all your many names, amen.

Strive for full restoration. Our prayer is that you may be fully restored. All authority has been given to me. Teach them to obey everything. Make disciples of all nations. I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Such words and images of completeness, of fulfillment. There are no half-way measures here. God in Christ doesnt sort-of do things. On the contrary. Gods grace leads the writers to use words like full, complete, all, every, always. Complete restoration--not almost or nearly==but fully. All nations--not just the ones we are comfortable with, not just the ones who are friendly or like us. All nations.

And here is the one that is most comforting, and also most worrisome--I am with you always. Not just sometimes, when we pray, or when we call on Jesus, but all the time. Whether we are consciously thinking of it or not, God is with us. Which is comforting in some ways--God has also heard the words used to hurt us, or belittle us; God knows what we have been through--the pain, the fear, the abuse, the abandonment. God is with us even when we feel lost and alone. That is comforting. But--and here's the part where we may begin to squirm a bit--God is there when we act out, when we behave in ways that are not part of our best selves--when we deliberately hurt someone, or ignore a plea for help, or pretend we really can't do something when the truth is we just don't want to. But even though God is fully aware of our shortcoming and errors, God doesn't turn away; God isn't disgusted or angry and punishing. God remains with us, even in that place of errors and arrogance and fear. There's an old-time gospel saying--there is no spot where God is not.

Always and everywhere, God is present with us. We are not alone, even though is sometimes feels like it. God works through the friend who calls for no reason; the co-worker who takes you to lunch when you're having a terrible day; the partner who just holds you when there's nothing else to be done.

And this is so wonderful--to never feel abandoned, never alone, never unwanted or cast out or despised--because God loves us, and is never apart from us. God is with all people, whether they are aware of it or not--the new dad holding his son for the first time, the sex worker shivering on the street, desperate to turn one more trick so she can go home where it is warm, at least; the surgeon preparing to operate; the prison inmate who wishes she knew another way to get by in the world; the couple who can finally legally marry, after 20 years together.

But do they know it? Can they feel God with then? Do they even know it is possible? I think we tend to be more aware of God's presence when we are happy or celebrating--we are so happy, God must be happy too. But when we are in pain or struggling, we seem to feel that the mess is God's fault, that we have been abandoned by God. But this is also when we can feel closest to God-God who weeps with us, shares in our burdens. Remember, Jesus was poor--he wandered from village to village, homeless. Hid family didn't understand, not until close to the end. He was condemned as a criminal and executed. He knew what it was like to have doors slammed in his face because of who he was--a poor Jew in a country occupied by enemies, a teacher who went against the received wisdom, a rebel against the system. He knew what it was to have a chosen family of his disciples because his birth family didn't understand or accept him. He has been where despair and grief are overwhelming.

Wherever we are, God is there with us--celebrating or grieving, in joy or struggle, in anger, in loneliness, in contentment, in love, in safety or in danger, God is always with  us.

And not just now, not just in the moment, but at all times. We can look back, and see that God was with us--we may not have been aware of it at the time, but God's presence is clear to us now--we can see how God acted in that place and time. If we open the eyes of our hearts and spirits, we can be aware of God's presence with us now--that loving presence, offering guidance and hope, a path when there seems to be no way.

Knowing that God was present in the past, that God is present with us now, we can be confident that God will be with us in the future, too. No matter what may come our way, good or ill, God is always present. Hang onto that; when things get desperate or painful or seem hopeless, remember that God is with you through it. When you are celebrating, when everything is going your way, when you feel like you have won the lottery of life, remember--God is with you.  Take it with you, write it on your heart and soul--"There is no spot where God is not."

In all God's names, amen.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Five--Summer Time!

It’s Friday and that means time for the RevGals Friday Five!
(Yes, I know I've missed several. That is beside the point.)

Feel Good Friday!
1. What makes you happy in your happy hour? (kicking off shoes, reading a book, a cocktail, lemonade~~essentially, what do you do to relax at the end of your week...)
Definitely kicking off the high heels I tend to wear on Sundays—which I call the end of my week, as Monday is my definitely designated day off). And then settling in with a book, while Sunday dinner cooks. I try to make that something special, rather than the quick-and-dirty (scrambled eggs, tuna melt, etc.) I am tempted to go with. Comfort food is good too.
2. I have a pair of shorts that I jump into the minute I get home for the evening--every day in the summer. What's your favorite summer "garment"?
I like sun dresses—although you will rarely get me into a dress in the winter, I do like them in the summer—they feel cooler and more comfortable. I also love my Teva sandals, but they are not my absolute favourite sandals of all time—a pair of Birkenstocks…which simply wore out after about 15 years. I need to get another pair—when I win the lottery.
3. I have discovered, after living here in New England for 7 years, Ipswich fried clams. Oh. my. OH MY! Do you have a summer food you might splurge on once or twice in the summer?
When I lived on the East Coast, I loved going to a crab house—all you can eat steamed blue Chesapeake Bay crabs with cole slaw and French fries. Even better was picking up a bushel down on the waterfront and doing cracking, peeling and eating in your backyard with friends, family, and a cooler of adult beverages.
Now that I live inland, it’s the fresh-from-the-field sweet corn. And strawberries. And blueberries—OMG the blueberries.
4. Do you have a specific fond memory of summers of your childhood?
Revealing my incredible geekdom---the reading program at the local public library. Every year I signed up and read way more than required. I had the longest list/inchworm/train/whatever the mascot was that year. In those days (slightly before the fall of Rome) I could safely walk myself and my younger sister to the library and make a side trip to the local market (we didn't know to call them convenience stores) and make an agonizing choice of candy to take home (Necco wafers, candy cigarettes, bubble gum cigars, Gold Rush bubble gum in those nifty muslin bags, Tootsie Rolls, those miniature wax bottles with sugar water, Cinnamint gum…).
Car trips to visit my parents’ families. Day camp at the local nature center.
Long afternoons on the couch/front lawn/in a tree, reading.
Marathon games of Monopoly with my sisters.
5. Use these words in a sentence: snail, baby duck, camper, ice cream, surfboard, cherries.

The snail and the baby duck took refuge from the rain in their camper, eating ice cream sundaes with cherries on their surfboard table.

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...