Saturday, July 31, 2010

God in the Ordinary, or For the Love of Bread

A reflection on Proper 13C, Colossians: 3:1-11 and Luke 12:13-21 12:16, St. John’s Burlington, WI, August 1, 2010

A few weeks ago in a sermon I preached at another church I used an illustration about making pie crust from scratch, which I love to do. Today I find myself thinking about bread. There’s something about the Gospel of Luke that is causing me to find connections between the ordinary things I do and love in life and the readings. So, I’ve been thinking about making bread and more specifically about making bread for communion. For one thing, at this church, you make your communion bread and have for a long time. It’s an art to make bread and a ministry of love to make communion bread.
A few days ago, on a really hot and humid day, (ok that could be any day this summer), I made bread. There I was early in the morning, mixing yeast into a warm water and honey. Before long the mixture was foamy, evidence of life bubbling within. I added a little butter and salt and then enough flour to thicken the mixture into a sticky ball - the beginning of bread dough. Next comes kneading. Bread gets its texture and consistency from kneading. By pushing and turning, pushing and turning, one kneads more flour into the mixture while at the same time working the texture of the dough until it becomes elastic and holds its shape. After about 7 minutes of kneading I formed it into a ball, rubbed some oil onto the surface and placed it into a bowl to rise, covered with a cloth. An hour later, maybe less, the bread ball doubled in size. When I placed the dough in the bowl it was a small dense oily ball at the bottom. But now it filled the bowl like a deep breath waiting to exhale. This brings me to one of my favorite parts, plunging my fist into the center of the bread/ball.

The final steps in bread making are easy. If you are making bread for Eucharist, as I was, you simply take the exhaled ball of dough, divide it into appropriate size portions and shape it. I made focaccia shaped loaves, about 10 inches in diameter and two inches thick. I let the loaf sit for about 10 minutes and then baked it in the oven for 15 minutes.

I've been thinking about bread lately in part because I had to decide if I was going to make bread for an upcoming worship service or buy it. Actually, it isn't going to be used in a Eucharist, but it will be used in a worship service that we are calling a "Love Feast." This Love Feast will come at the end of a conference for which I am on the planning committee; it will be our final worship experience. And because a number of the people coming are not "In Communion" with each other, or rather our Christian denominations are not in communion with each other, a Eucharist is not appropriate. So, really, any kind of bread would do.

It would have been much easier to just buy four different kinds of bread than it was to make four different bread recipes.

But somehow store bought bread just didn't seem right. Making bread for Eucharist or a Love Feast is an act of love and prayer, it's a ministry. It represents the coming together of many separate and distinct ingredients and creating a whole. Considering what we are hoping to create in and from this gathering making the bread just seemed right. In this conference we are going to considering the words, images, and symbols that speak to us about Christ, about God, about faith, about community. For me bread speaks to those elements we are considering. Bread, real bread, is for me a rich image of the gathered body of faithful sharing in a meal, being fed from the bounty of God’s love poured out in Christ. Bread is fragrant; it has substance and texture, color and taste. The bread I made, and I made four different recipes, were intended to reflect the diversity of those gathering at this conference– a crumbly gluten free bread from rice flour, a caramel colored, slightly sweet, white/whole wheat blend, a third loaf of 100% whole wheat bread, and the fourth loaf an earthy rye and bulgur – these loaves for a gathering of Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodist, Baptists, UCC, and other denominations – of Asians, Native Americans, Caucasians, and African Americans – all coming together to talk about the images, symbols, and words we use to talk about God and faith in our lives and in our worship. Talk and share, listen and learn, and wonder how it is that we are all Christians, are all the Body of Christ, for there is no longer Jew or Greek, Paul tells us in his Letter to the Colossians, just one Body, Christ in all, Christ is all.

I don’t know how this conference will play out with so many people from so many different understandings of Christianity.

I hope we do not disintegrate into some kind of righteous indignation, like the man in the parable in today’s reading in Luke, who comes across as selfish. I hope we are not self-centered on our own agendas but can instead be centered on God, or as Luke says, I hope we can be rich toward God. Rich toward God can be as simple as turning our hearts and minds to God and striving to do God’s work in the world.

The members of this conference are gathering to consider the various ways we love God and the ways we experience God’s love in return. As a result, to some extent, we also reflect on the ways in which one community knows Gods love might actually exclude others from that love. For example, there’s the conversation around who is invited to the altar for a Eucharist and who is not; or a conversation about the appropriateness of women clergy; or a conversation about whether the bread and wine, when consecrated remains just bread and wine, a symbol of Christ – OR is it changed, does it really become the body of Christ? So many levels to where the conversation might go, so many ways the body of Christ is divided instead of united. In bread language we might think of this in terms of gluten bread or gluten-free bread. If a community only serves gluten bread then those who are intolerant of gluten are left out of the love feast, the meal, the Eucharist, the body, the sharing of love in this way.

Certainly the call we hear in our readings today is a call to wholeness, to unity, to community, to be as one Body in our love of God. But also it’s a reminder that God loves for us, in our diversity, our parts, in our ordinariness as well as in our fullness, the whole of creation. This kind of love is hard work. We fool ourselves if we think this love that God calls us to is simple, even as that same God-love is commonly found in the ordinariness of life. It’s a lot like making breading, of mixing and kneading, of rising and exhaling, of shaping and forming. Of bringing together you and me and all our various life experiences and expectations and putting them all together at this altar as one body shaped and formed in love.

Friday, July 30, 2010

RevGals Friday Five Meme

Kathrynzj offers this Friday Five Meme, asking us to list five things we like about where we live and one thing we don't....

Five things I like:

1. I'm back in Chicago, 'nuff said (ok, I'll say a bit more)

2. It's not where I lived for the two years prior, although there were some wonderful things about THAT place too - like the view from my backyard and the wildlife

3. Family and friends near by

4. I've found some work here, albeit temporary

5. the gym, where I've been working out for four months

and one I don't...."Tornado Warnings" (which are thankfully few and far apart, even during this hot and stormy summer)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bread

Bread has been on my mind lately. I'm thinking about the process of mixing yeast into a warm water and honey mixture. Before long this mixture becomes foamy, evidence of life within. Add a little butter and salt and then enough flour to thicken the mixture into a sticky ball. Pour this ball out on a floured table top and kneed more flour into the mixture until it becomes elastic and holds its shape. Smooth some oil onto the surface of the bread ball and place it into a bowl to rise, covered with a cloth. An hour later, maybe less, the bread ball has doubled in size. And then comes one of my favorite parts, plunging my fist into the center of the bread/ball. When I placed the dough in the bowl it was a small dense oily ball at the bottom. But now it fills the bowl like a deep breath. If I don't release the air the yeast will stop growing and the ball will eventually collapse back into itself, and the dough will be ruined. This ball of living dough, soon to be bread, is waiting to exhale.

The final steps in bread making are easy. If you are making bread for Eucharist, as I was yesterday, you simply take the exhaled ball of dough, divide it into appropriate size portions and shape it. I made foccacia shaped loaves, about 10 inches in diameter and two inches thick. I let the loaf sit for about 10 minutes and then baked it in the oven for 15 minutes.

I've been thinking about bread lately in part because I had to decide if I was going to make this bread for Eucharist or buy it. The truth is it isn't going to be used in a Eucharist, but it will be used in a worship service that we are calling a "Love Feast." This Love Feast will come at the end of the Words Matter conference (see previous post), it will be our final worship experience. And because a number of the people coming are not "In Communion" with each other, or rather our Christian denominations are not in communion with each other, a Eucharist is not appropriate. So, really, any kind of bread would do.

It would have been much easier to just buy four or five loaves of bread.

But somehow store bought bread just didn't seem right. Making bread for Eucharist or a Love Feast is an act of love and prayer, it's a ministry. It represents the coming together of many separate and distinct ingredients and creating a whole. Considering what we are hoping to create in and from this gathering making the bread just seemed right. We are after all considering the words, images, and symbols that speak to us about Christ, about God, about faith, about community. For me bread speaks to those elements we are considering.

I've been thinking about bread, and how it is that some of us can share bread in a sacred meal and some of us can't. Is this the kind of meal that Jesus intended when he broke bread with Judas and Peter, and the others at that last supper? Some can share in the bread and some cannot?

Those coming to this conference, all 30 of us, are from a wide range of Christian denominations, male and female, young adults and older adults, Korean, African-American, American Indian, Asian Indian, Caucasian, (and probably other ethnicities I can't think of off the top of my head) hetero and GLBT. In other words, as diverse as we could create.

The bread I made yesterday is intended to represent diversity too. I made a gluten free loaf that is white and crumbly, a white/whole wheat blend that is caramel colored and slightly sweet, a whole wheat that is a warm brown, and a rye/bulgar blend that is dark and earthy. Our love feast will have breads of different flavors, colors, and textures. The bread will not be consecrated with the words that, in some traditions, my own included, make it holy, make it the Body of Christ. But the bread will hold the prayers I prayed while making it, prayers for a grace filled conversation. The bread will receive the prayers of those about to consume it. And somehow, by the generosity of the Spirit, present with us in that gathering, I hope the bread becomes sacred. I hope that Christ is there, in us and in that bread. I hope that there is something holy about this gathered community sharing this bread just as it is.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Words Matter, A Conversation of Interest

I spent the better part of six days working on two versions of the press release announcing the Expansive Language conference coming up in two weeks. I am on the planning team working with a group of fabulous women, all of whom are excited about this. Here is a link to the NCC release and below is the other  version of the press release I worked on which we hope will be picked up Episcopal News Service:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Office of Communication, Diocese of Chicago


NCC group to meet in Chicago August 9-11
to discuss the words we use to talk about God


Chicago, July 23, 2010 -- A diverse group of Christians will gather here August 9-11 to talk about the language people use to talk about God and faith.

The National Council of Churches (NCC) symposium, “Language Matters,” will discuss how to talk about God and faith in ways that respects the sensibilities of people from a variety of Christian traditions and viewpoints.

The conversation will focus on the language, images, and symbols used in worship and everyday life to talk about faith and God.

Initiated by the NCC’s Justice for Women Working Group, this conversation is a first step in a larger project designed to create resources for congregations and groups to assist their own conversations.

"Issues around the use of language in our churches have been on the agenda of J4WWG for years. Now the opportunity to take this discussion to another level has arrived. I hope this consultation will be the first of many conversations as we continue to explore ways to welcome and value every person who walks through the doors of our churches,” said Kim Robey, chair of the Justice for Women Working Group.

The term “expansive language” has been used in some circles to describe respectful language that honors all of God’s people and is more than just “gender inclusive”.

As communions seek to become genuinely inclusive as well as multiracial communities of faith, planners say, the conversation about the use of language in churches becomes more critical, and more challenging.

Sensitivity to gender inclusive language, particularly religious language and metaphor, emerged in the 1970’s with the advent of feminist theology and feminist biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. Many denominations began the process of developing gender inclusive worship materials, protocols for publications, and even biblical translations that offered metaphors and names for God and humanity that reflected this inclusiveness.

In 1988 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church first approved Supplemental Liturgical Texts, now known as Enriching Our Worship, as an alternate to the Book of Common Prayer for Episcopal worship.

“While the Episcopal Church has been at work on expansive language texts for over two decades, the extent of their use varies. I’m delighted that a new resource is being created to encourage dialogue about this important topic,” said the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, chair of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

Part of the impetus to have a meeting on language is the impression of some observers that the use of gender inclusive language throughout NCC member communions has declined, say the planners. They also note that new insights have emerged within churches about language that reinforces harmful stereotypes around the realities of race, disabilities, sexuality orientation and gender.

“As a parish priest for ten years I understand that the primary locus of formation happens in Sunday morning worship. We Episcopalians are fond of saying, ‘praying shapes believing.’ Therefore the words, symbols and images used in worship are crucial in forming our faith,” said The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski, licensed priest in the Diocese of Chicago and a member of the planning committee. “I’m excited to be a part of the planning committee for this event and hopeful for the outcome.”

The August gathering will explore dimensions of language, images, and symbols for God through multiple approaches that reflect the diversity of the group.

The 30 participants, both lay and ordained, come from a wide diversity of NCC member communions and religious traditions.

Co-facilitators are Aleese Moore-Orbih, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and director of training and consulting for FaithTrust Institute, and Virstan Choy, a minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a church consultant and member of the adjunct faculty at McCormick Theological Seminary.



* * * * * * * * * * * *

For Additional Information Contact



Kim Robey
Chair, Women for Justice Working Group
Krobey1@gmail.com


Rev. Ann Tiemeyer
Program Director Women’s Ministries
National Council of Churches, USA
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 800
New York, NY 10014
atiemeyer@ncccusa.org
212-924-2605

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday Morning Musings

A week from now I'll be in a car somewhere in the middle of Nebraska. I will have left on Sunday afternoon to drive with my friend M2 to San Fransisco. We hope to arrive in SanFran by Wed. And then I fly home on Friday. She, will remain, waiting for her furniture to arrive and the beginning of a new job in a town in So Cal.

In the meantime I have much to do to prepare for that trip, for the Expansive Language conference that follows the week after I return and two sermons to write, one for this Sunday and one for the following. And then there's the stuff of daily life to take care. All that is to say, I'll be a little busy.

That's what I'm thinking about this morning. You?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Sunday Prayer, Proper 12C

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death' and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things.
Amen

(The Book of Common Prayer, page 836)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Prayer is?

A reflection on Proper 12C Luke 11:1-13, St. James West Dundee,IL on the Feast Day of St. James.

A couple of weeks ago I participated in leading Vacation Bible School for a local parish. The lay leaders
who organized the VBS were excited to have 34 kids registered. Of these 34 kids 18 of them were Japanese, and 30 of the kids were under the age of 4, with most of them being around 2 years old.

My assignment was to lead the daily opening and closing worship which was comprised of a prayer, some songs, and a brief discussion about the theme of the day.

I knew, even before we began, that this would be a challenge with such a young and diverse group of kids....

did I mention that the Japanese kids and their moms don’t speak English?

The first day, as we gathered, was the epitome of holy chaos – crying babies, running toddlers, significant language barriers, and a trial and error process of figuring out how to contain this group.

Clearly my work had to be basic.

So I taught them that the sanctuary, the space around the altar, was not a place to run and play. This area
I said is a place to pray.

Then I said, when we pray we hold our hands this way.

Holding our hands in prayer became the symbol for becoming quiet and preparing to pray. Even the smallest of children could grasp the idea of holding hands and becoming quiet. We then prayed a simple prayer of thanksgiving.

The prayer was followed by some songs to familiar tunes including the old standby,“Jesus Loves Me.” Afterward the kids were off for their other activities.

We ended each day in a similar pattern of prayer and song.

Prayer anchored our time together at the beginning and end of each day.

Our Gospel reading this morning helps us understand the significance of prayer in our faith lives. In the reading Jesus has gone off to pray and realizing this one of his disciples asks Jesus to teach them how to pray.

Prayer, and in particular the Lords’ Prayer, is bedrock to our Christian faith.

Today’s story in Luke follows two other significant Sunday morning readings from this Gospel, each pointing us to understand, more deeply, a life of faith and discipleship.

Two weeks ago we had the Good Samaritan story and last week we had the story of Martha complaining about Mary. Combined with the reading today these three teach us something about discipleship and underscores Jesus’ primary teaching:
love God,
love self,
and love others.

Each of these, loving God, loving self, and loving others, weave in and through each other, creating the foundation of a life of faith – and the heart of discipleship.

We all know about the twelve disciples, the original followers of Jesus. One of them, James, is also your namesake. Today, July 25, we celebrate St. James and as such this is your “Feast of Title” day.

There were actually two disciples named James, one is known as James the Greater, and one is known as James the Lesser. This church is named after James the Greater. This James was the son of the Galilean fisherman Zebedee and his wife Salome, one of the women who followed Jesus to the cross.

Scripture tells us that James and his younger brother John were called to be followers of Jesus early in his ministry. Peter, James, and John were with Jesus during some important events, including the Transfiguration,
the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is believed that James did his primary mission work in Spain and therefore is the patron saint of Spain. He was martyred in the year 44, in Judea by Herod Agrippa I for being a follower of Jesus.

Like the other disciples James as not a perfect human being. He had a temper and is known to once ask Jesus who would be the greatest, who would sit at his right hand and his left, as if Jesus would one day be
a wealthy king.

Initially James misunderstood the concept of kingdom as God and Jesus intend it.

Through the incarnation of God’s love poured out in Jesus we come to understand that God intends for human beings to participate in the unfolding of God’s kingdom, through acts of love and compassion, bringing into one, the diversity of human life.

As Episcopalians, grounded in The Book of Common Prayer,our prayer-filled worship is the place where we
join our diverse body of people into one. To that end we believe that “praying shapes believing.” This is the title of a book written by a well-known liturgist and former professor at Seabury-Western, Lee Mitchell, and unpacks the significance of the Book of Common Prayer to shape our worship and our lives.

As Episcopalians our worship is grounded in prayer as a place that unites us, a vastly diverse group of individuals from a wide range of politics, ethnicities, cultural upbringings, and understandings of God and faith,into one worshiping body of Christ.

Each week for the 50 or 60 minutes when we gatherto worship God in song, and word, and prayer we are being formed as one body.

As we pray the Eucharistic prayer and share the body of Christ, the bread and the wine, we are being formed as the living hands and heart of Christ.

The most important element of this formation from prayer is to realize that the prayer is calling usinto a relationship.

We pray give "us" this day “Our”daily bread, not “my” daily bread.

It’s a relationship
with God,
with self,
and with others.

Sometimes we get hung up on the idea that prayer and church and worship and God is just about me, an individual.

But if we really listen to the words Jesus is teaching us we come to understand that it is about “Us” – you and me and everyone else.

The other important element of prayer, in addition to shaping how we understand who we are as the Body of Christ, is to build our relationship
with God.

And on that level prayer is personal.

As Christians we believe in a God of relationship, a God who is with us
through thick or thin, sorrow and joy. And the way we build that personal relationship with God is two-fold. The relationship builds through the support of a worshiping community like this one and through our own individual prayer life.

God wants us to pray in order to be in relationship with God.

God listens to us and invites us to listen to God in return.

I’ll be the first to say that at times this kind of prayer, the individual one, feels sort of futile. I often wonder, because I don’t get the things
I want, if God is listening or cares.

Again, the saints of the Church,those faithful believers who have gone before us, like St. James, help us with this.

From them we learn that getting what we want is not the way God affirms to us that God is listening.

Prayer is not like a vending machine in which God dispenses “correct change.”

Maybe the question we need to consider is not, “How” prayer works but
“who” prayer is?

Prayer is God.

Prayer is a relationship with God, becoming the Body of Christ.

Through the Holy Spirit prayer enlivens God’s love within us.

Prayer is the community that forms when a group of Japanese speaking moms
and their toddlers gather, along with a couple of English speaking middle aged white women, in a small Midwestern suburban church and give thanks to God for the gift of life.





(Portions of this sermon from notes on the text by Kate Huey UCC  and David Lose at WorkingPreacher )

Friday, July 23, 2010

RevGals Friday Five Meme - Decisions, decisions, decisions....

Songbird offers this simple Friday Five Meme about decisions, what do I prefer?

Here they are:

1) Cake or Pie I love both. I love to make both, from scratch. I think of pies as seasonal - berry pies in the summer, Thanksgiving pies, and a banana cream for my husband's birthday. On the other hand I make cake all the time. I am particularly fond of my grandmothers raisin cake with caramel frosting, following a recipe written by her as her handwriting failed. I also love chocolate cake with homemade chocolate frosting.

2) Train or Airplane Usually I prefer flying, I just like to get there. Or if its public transportation I prefer to drive. I find trains, while I love the idea of them, to be noisy. Public transit trains are filled with people talking n their cell phones so loudly that I can every word, even if they are half a car away. Once I took the train in to Chicago on a Sunday morning and it was filled with people going to the Blackhawks game, people who were not drinking water (vodka? gin?) in those water bottles. At 9am. That was really startling. So, I love the idea of train trip for a vacation, like Jan is taking, through Alaska, but otherwise, not so much.

3) Mac or PC I only own PC's but I don't like them. I much prefer Mac's.

4) Univocal or Equivocal Curious. well, I can see occasions when each is valuable. In theory I prefer Equivocal, but that is often hard to achieve.

5) Peter or Paul Peter. He was so human, so flawed, and yet so loved by Jesus. Then again, Paul is pretty awesome too. He was broken, transformed, and went on to grow so many churches. Portions of his letters inform me and my ministry, like Ephesians 4 and Romans 8.

See. I am not good at making decisions at all. I am usually a both and kind of person, trying to see all sides and adjust my decision based on a number of factors in the moment. or the day. or the week, month, year....

Monday, July 19, 2010

Four


(photo from the files of mompriest of BE 2.0, that's my foot at the 5:00 position)

In celebration of the RevGalBlogPals fifth anniversary of blogringing, I offer this reflection.

The summer of 2006 was primarily consumed by a job search, one I found myself in quite unexpectedly. It was for a position a bit above what I was doing at small church but with a strong social justice component, which appealed to me. If I got that job it would have required a move across country. In the end I did not get that job, a fact that really saddened me. A number of areas were a concern for me that summer, but if I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have worried about any of it. Hindsight being what it is....

The best part of that summer four years ago was an article I read in Christian Century about a blog ring for women clergy and their "pals". I didn't even know what a blog was, not really. I was busy trying to have a decent web page for small church and take care of all the details that become a part of the life of a solo pastor in small understaffed church.  But I liked the idea of a blog and of a community of like-minded ecumenical women invested in their faith with whom I could blog. And so, almost as soon as I put the magazine down, I googled RevGals and promptly started this blog.

The early years I blogged "anonymously" ergo the pseudonym "mompriest" which describes me - a mom and an Episcopal priest. In time I became less anonymous and even for a time used my real name. I still wonder about that, about using mompriest or my real name...but for now that's where I'm at.

It took me about 8 months of diligent blogging before I began to feel like there was a community of bloggers who were becoming my "friends." In the course of those 8 months I had a serious illness that landed me in the hospital for 11 days and on IV (pic-line) antibiotics for 9 more weeks. It was crazy! I also entered into a number of job searches and found the blog, while it was anonymous, a great place to ponder the search process with a group of people who would not be affected by it, as my small congregation would be. But mostly, what  remember about that first year was the poetry discussion that developed with Barb, Diane, HotcupRevSS and Jan. Later a number of other bloggers became my close friends including BeachWalker and Deb. Soon I had a blog roll, like the one on the side of this blog, of people whose blog I read often.

Still, none of this would have developed if I had not had the almost daily support of Songbird. There were many days when her comments where the only ones I received but it was enough to keep me going. I'm grateful for that. MaryBeth has been a frequent reader and supporter too. It's been awesome to meet many of these friends in real life, especially at the Big Event 2.0 which I attended in the Spring of 2009.

See, there are so many friendships that have formed in these four years. I am so grateful for so many (you know who you are) who have become an important part of my life....

I have also been gifted with the opportunity to write posts for the RevGals blog, which is another level of writing for me - prayers, poems, book reviews, groups discussions are just a few examples. I'm not a "good" writer, but I do enjoy it. (Makes me wish I had stayed in that boring "technical writing" class instead of transferring out to the creative writing class).

Much has changed in my life over these four years. But through it all I am grateful for the RevGals, who have been a source of inspiration, love, support, grace, prayers, hope, and witness of a living God.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Prayer Proper 11C

Gracious and generous God, creator of all,
Birth giver of summer, of sun and warmth
Of the green earth and blue seas,
We give thanks for the many blessings
Flowing from you to us, like
A basket of summer fruit.

Gracious and generous God, creator of all,
Pouring your love into Christ Jesus,
Your steadfast promise of love, of
Hope, to us, our faith.
May we hear your words calling,
us to be your Body.

Gracious and generous God, merciful lover
Of souls, tend to those who grieve.
We pray for the suffering of this world
Of body, mind, and spirit, may your
Healing love embrace the pain
Holding it with tender care.

Gracious and generous God, merciful lover
Of souls, take our worries and the
Brokenness of the world and heal it
As only you are able. Speak into
Our lives and show us the way
To be your love, healing.

As Martha offers hospitality to the stranger
As Mary listens carefully to your word
May we learn from our sisters to
Be your hands and heart in the world.
Amen.

Crossposted on RevGalBlogPals and RevGalPrayerPals

Sunday Prayer Proper 11C

Gracious and generous God, creator of all,
Birth giver of summer, of sun and warmth
Of the green earth and blue seas,
We give thanks for the many blessings
Flowing from you to us, like
A basket of summer fruit.

Gracious and generous God, creator of all,
Pouring your love into Christ Jesus,
Your steadfast promise of love, of
Hope, to us, our faith.
May we hear your words calling,
us to be your Body.

Gracious and generous God, merciful lover
Of souls, tend to those who grieve.
We pray for the suffering of this world
Of body, mind, and spirit, may your
Healing love embrace the pain
Holding it with tender care.

Gracious and generous God, merciful lover
Of souls, take our worries and the
Brokenness of the world and heal it
As only you are able. Speak into
Our lives and show us the way
To be your love, healing.

As Martha offers hospitality to the stranger
As Mary listens carefully to your word
May we learn from our sisters to
Be your hands and heart in the world.
Amen.

Crossposted on RevGalBlogPals and RevGalPrayerPals

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's a Love Thing

A reflection Luke 10:38-42 for Proper 11C

I happen to love making pies from scratch, crust and all.

I don’t remember how I learned to make pie crust. I think my mother taught me once, but back then I found the process tedious. Years later when I wanted to make a pie I had to use my “Joy of Cooking” to teach myself again. In those days, some 25 years ago, I always used lard for the crust, which makes it very flavorful and flaky, but is incredibly unhealthy.
Around the fourth of July I was watching Martha Stewart make pies crusts on her show – berry pies – and that got me thinking about a fresh blueberry pie. Mindful of Martha Stewarts’ instructions, as I began to make my pie crust I chilled the shortening, the flour, the water, and the bowl and the utensils for mixing the dough.

Once everything was well chilled I began the slow and arduous process of cutting the shortening into the flour, the really old fashioned way, using two table knives. A friend of mine was over and she asked why I didn’t just mix the flour and shortening with my fingers? Oh, I said, the heat from the fingers would make everything too warm and it wouldn’t mix correctly, the pie crust would be mushy. So I continued cutting the shortening and flour until the combined ingredients were about the size of peas. Add water, mix and form a ball, and then put it back in the refrigerator until chilled again.

The next step is to roll out the pie crust. And here is where I encountered a bit of a problem. I didn’t have a rolling pin. I mean I DO have one, but at the moment its packed away and in storage....a minor detail I’d forgotten when I started to make this pie crust.

How to roll out a pie crust without a rolling pin? I suppose I could have put the crust back in the fridge and run out to buy another rolling pin. But I didn’t want to take the time, the berries were mixed with sugar and cornstarch, the oven was lit. So I had to improvise with what I had on hand.

After considering a couple of options I remembered that I had a Rubbermaid one quart container that was tall and cylinder shaped like a rolling a pin. I thought that would work. And, while it was a bit light and lacked the density of a rolling pin, it did manage to roll the crust out well enough. In the end I had to do a little smushing of the crust to even it out in the pie tin. As I filled the crust with blueberries and baked it I worried that it would be a disaster. But I have to say it was actually one of the better pie crusts I’ve ever made. Emeril Lagasse would call it a “Love thing” the labor of love that goes into making our food from scratch.

Making a pie crust, or any labor of love food from scratch, is definitely a Martha-like activity. In our Gospel this morning we hear the familiar story in Luke of Martha entertaining Jesus and his companions, working herself into a tizzy. She becomes frustrated with her sister Mary who instead of helping Martha, prefers to sit and listen to Jesus teaching. It’s unclear why Martha doesn’t just call Mary aside and say something to her; the story tells us that Martha complains to Jesus about her sister. In response Jesus tells Martha to leave Mary alone, let her listen. As we hear it today it almost sounds as if Jesus is chiding Martha, but that’s not exactly the case. Remember, Jesus talks and teaches in parables, which always have layers of meaning beyond the details of the story. One way we know that Jesus is not chiding Martha but pointing us to see a deeper meaning in the story is when we put this one in the context of the stories that come before and after it in the Gospel of Luke.

Just before this story we have our reading from last Sunday about the Good Samaritan, the man who was beaten and left on the side of the road to die, but was helped by a stranger passing by. And next week we have the story of Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray and talking about the ministry that comes out of prayer. Combined with today’s readings we realize that we are in the midst of some serious teaching. Jesus is teaching us how to be disciples, how to listen to Jesus, how to follow Jesus’ teachings, and how to be like Jesus, how to be his hands and heart in the world.

The story of Martha complaining about Mary is meant to help us see that being in a relationship with God and becoming a disciple of Jesus is a both/and process – we need to be able to both listen and do. At first this may not be apparent, for it seems as if Jesus is saying that what Mary is doing it better than what Martha is doing. But we know from many other sources in scripture, including the story of the Good Samaritan that we heard last week, that Jesus places a high value on hospitality, on care for others, and that is what Martha is doing. We now know that Jesus also places a high value on listening and learning and growing into discipleship and that this process includes both men and women. This reading clearly indicates that Jesus supports the women who become his followers. They in fact become quite diligent disciples, think of the women who follow him to the cross and then go to the tomb to care for his broken and crucified body, the women who first see the resurrected Jesus.
Let’s go back, for just a minute, to Martha’s complaining. Even as we know that Jesus places a high value on hospitality, what are we to make of Martha’s complaint in this reading? I think the point Jesus makes is that we are to care for others and offer gracious hospitality but not get anxious about it. We are not to work ourselves into such a frenzy doing and caring that we lose sight of Jesus, of God, of the people around us, and of what it means to love as God does. In other words we need to care for others as Martha does but with the spirit of Mary – a mindful listening caring spirit. In a world of overwhelming problems: oil spills, weather disasters, economic failure, two wars overseas, civil wars and famine devastating countries around the globe, it’s hard to not become overwhelmed and worked into a tizzy.

Being mindful and intentional as we care for others will be affirmed in our reading next week when we hear about Jesus going off to pray, taking time out from doing in order to regroup, listen, and move out in a mindful way. The teachings last week, this week, and next affirm that discipleship is a process that includes both listening and doing. Discipleship is about living into the charge to love God, love self, and love others. You might say, as we are practicing the art of discipleship, of balancing listening with doing, that it is as “simple” as apple pie, because it’s a love-thing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Five: Pets or Not?

Jan, over at RevGals, posts this Friday Five Meme on family pets:

1. Did you grow up with pets? Yes. We had a orange tabby named Samantha and then another one named Tabitha. They were outdoor cats, loved to roam the farm lands around our house when we lived in Idaho. Later,when we lived in Wisconsin the roamed the woods behind our house. Often they'd bring us, uhm, their catch of the day. We also had a basset hound named Lady. Later, when I was in high school we had a toy poodle named Hair-Bear, because we kept his hair long.

2. Do you have any pets now? Two cats, Bootsie (soon to be 13), and Shadow (soon to be 5, in this photo)

and two dog - Roxie, a lab/red heeler mix age 12, and Ruby, a Viszla age 8.



Our son has a 9 month old puppy (who lives with us). Her name is Emmy and she is a pit-pull/border collie mix.

And our daughter has an almost 2 year old Weimaraner named Ollie.




3. What is the funniest or worst thing any of your pets have ever done? uhm, see photo above of Ollie. He is very silly. Here's another photo of him:

waiting for our daughter in the office of the "Barn" where she is a trainer of horses and people....

4. Who is/was your favorite pet? Every one I have and have ever had. Just the way I am.

5. How did you train your different pets? Cats are easy. The dogs required Dog Obedience Classes but in the end they are pretty well behaved, most of the time..

BONUS: Pictures of a pet or one you wish you could have. See above...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Night

Just before bedtime I or, usually, my husband takes our dogs outside for one last opportunity to take care of business. This is not an activity that enables us to be passive, we can't just open up a door and send them out. First of all in most of the places we have lived, and we have lived in a number of places in our 25 years of marriage, most places have not had a fenced in yard. So we've had to leash 'em up and take them out. Or attach them to the tether we constructed and send them out. Even then, though we go out with them. My husband usually has a smoke while out with the dogs. He is one of those few people who still smokes. I kind of like that about him even though I am not a smoker. True, I don't let him smoke in the house, I haven't actually seen him smoke in 22 years, since I was pregnant with our daughter. But I know he has one when he takes the dogs out for their late night duty.

For a few years we did live in a house with a fenced in backyard. But those were also the years we lived in Arizona, up in the foothills of the Santa Rita mountains, where wildlife was still abundant. There we had to worry about javelina, coyotes, and bobcat. Granted the javelina could not get through the fence, and being stocky, hog-like creatures they can't jump over the fence either. The coyotes on the other hand probably could jump the fence but were usually well fed on easier prey, like the millions of rabbits that lived in the arroyo with them. The bobcats, on the other hand, were plentiful and fully capable of hopping the fence, drinking from the pool, and having a pet for dinner. Before we let the dogs out in that yard we turned on all the outdoor lights and usually went out first to scan the wall and bushes. Thankfully there were no encounters between dog and bobcat, although we were often sure that their presence was near by.

Now that we are back in the Midwest we have less fear of dangerous encounters in the night. But still, we don't have a fence around the yard. So out we go with the dogs. (Have I mentioned we have three, and sometimes when dog sitting for our daughter, four dogs?). Last night was no exception, at least not at first. It seemed to me, as I brushed my teeth, that my husband was finished and back in the house rather quickly. And just as I had that thought he came upstairs to the bathroom with a flashlight in hand. He said, "Look at this!" and popping open the window he shone the light into the huge tree outside. A few minutes of scanning the tree soon produced the vision of his concern - a raccoon.

In the tree that creature looked sweet - all black-eyed and slow moving, staring back at us in the glaring light as if to say, "really, we can all live together...see how peaceful I am." But my husband is certain otherwise. He heard the raccoon hiss as it scampered up the tree. He knows the danger of their sharp teeth and claws, should there ever be a close encounter between dog and raccoon.

We decided that our only option is to go the local hardware store and pick up some "coyote urine" detractors and put them around the backyard, with the hope that it will scare off the raccoon. I said, "gee too bad we didn't just bring back some rocks and sand from the old neighborhood...."  Didn't have to pay for it there...

Anyway. For the time being we'll be taking the dogs out in the front yard, on a leash, with a flashlight in hand and a whistle. And a prayer that we have no close encounters in the night.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday Morning Musings

(photo from here)


Today we begin five days of Vacation Bible School using the Baobab curriculum from Augsburg. I'm just helping out at this church, I'm not the official priest or clergy in charge. I'm interested to see how it goes, we will have about 34 kids, ages 1-8. Since I start the day off with prayer I'm wondering about a prayer on the theme of Trust that would have some sort of meaning for 2 year olds. Oh, and did I mention that 18 of these kids are Japanese? And two of the two and half year old are my twin god-daughters. The VBS leaders are really excited and invested in the kids having a good time. I think the prayer will have to be very simple. I know from previous years that I won't really know what works for this group until about Wednesday, when the newness has worn off and we have some sense of the routine. No matter what though, we will pray in some capacity, even the intent to pray is a form of prayer, right? And I'm sure we will have fun!

In addition to VBS I am planning a cross country trip with my friend, M2....it's on my mind, but more on that later...


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Prayer Proper 10C

God of love and compassion
have mercy on us
lying here in this ditch of life
give us your hand
tend our wounds with your love.

God of love and compassion
tend to the suffering
in the world today and every day
be a gentle balm
that soothes our pain of body and spirit.

God of love and compassion
reach out to those
afflicted by war, famine, oil spills,
tragedies of weather or economic failure
and comfort them as only you are able.

God of love and compassion
embrace those who have died
lift them into your arms of love
comfort their families and friends
with the assurance of your grace.

God of love and compassion
we give you thanks
for the gift of life, and especially for
the gift your love poured out in Christ Jesus.
May we be that love in the world. May we be
the hands and heart of Christ.
Amen.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Who's That In The Ditch?

A reflection on Proper 10C - Luke 10:25-37

The phone rang, it was a colleague of mine, she had something she wanted to discuss with me and wondered if we could talk over lunch. A few days later while we ate our salads, she told me about Dorothy, a single mom with a young daughter, living on disability and public aide. My colleague assured me that she had visited Dorothy; that her situation was legitimate and that what she needed was some assistance until her daughter was out of high school. Up to this point my colleague was providing that assistance but now she was leaving her church and moving out of state. She wondered, since the woman lived near my church, if we could help? I thought perhaps my church might want to help. I took Dorothy’s situation to our leadership team and we talked about it. In the end we agreed to help with monthly groceries and PACE bus passes. We held food drives and had people bring in chicken and hamburger, cereal and cheese, vegetables and fruit. Sometimes, when church members were really busy we collected a fund and I had PeaPod deliver her groceries. I ordered PACE bus passes and they were mailed to her house. We collected food for her Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter dinners. We gave her daughter clothing and school supplies. I even bought her daughter’s senior year high school year book. We probably helped Dorothy and her daughter for five years, maybe more. I liked Dorothy and her daughter and I was grateful we could help fill in the gaps between what she received on disability and what she needed to live on.

It wasn’t all great though. At times it was tiring work. There were days when Dorothy had needs beyond what we could give her. On those occasions she’d call me repeatedly at all hours wondering if I could help with one more thing. I had to lay down very clear limits with her. And whenever I sent a parishioner to her house I warned them: she will ask you for more. She will want a ride someplace or she will want money or she will want something. Her needs were endless. They were real needs, but they never ended. I told parishioners to just give her whatever it was they were delivering and tell her that this was all we could do right now. Over and over we had to place limits on what we could give her and when and how we would give it to her. That part was sad and difficult, but it was what we had to do in order to help her at all and not burn out.

Helping is a curious thing. It makes us feel good to have helped another. Helping can change lives and make the world just a little bit better. But helping can also burn us out, wear us down, and make us cynical. Sometimes the help is appreciated. Often the need for help in this world seems endless. And now today, more than ever, with the Gulf Coast oil spill, the economy that has crumbled, two wars overseas, famine and civil war in many countries around the world, children orphaned to AIDS and other disease. I could go on and on. In a world of so much disaster and tragedy it’s easy to understand why the Levite and the priest might walk on by. Maybe they had already helped too many people. Maybe they had overwhelming concerns of their own. Maybe they were cynical and burned out and tired. Maybe they were just in a hurry or didn’t want to touch someone who was beaten and dirty? Maybe they felt it wasn’t their problem.

Some people help though, not out of a desire to assist the other, but out of a need to boost their own ego. “Oh, see, aren’t I a good person, look what I’m doing for YOU. I have so much and you have so little, and I’m so great because of what I am doing.” Of course the thinking behind this can be much more subtle while at the same time being more about boosting the ego of the person helping than it is about actually caring for the other. And sometimes helping takes on a kind of condescending attitude, an attitude of “oh you poor thing, here let me help you.”

Such is the premise of the book, “How Can I Help” by Ram Dass. Some of you might remember Ram Dass from the 1971 best seller, “Remember Be Here Now”? Well in “How Can I Help” he takes a deeply spiritual and rather profound look at the nature of helping. Through telling story after story of people helping others he points to the real depth and intent of helping - that the person doing the “ helping “ is almost always the one who ends up actually being helped, changed, transformed, in ways they least expect. But even more important is the reality that helping is a mutual act – each person participates in the helping and the being helped. In other words sometimes we have to allow someone else to help us. So, in reality, helping is about building relationships of mutual care and compassion.

This is part of what Jesus is pointing us to recognize in this story from Luke about the Samaritan and the man from Jerusalem who was beaten and left for dead. If we were to have heard this story in Jesus’ day from Jesus himself we would understand that the beaten man is one of us, you or me, beaten and left on the side of the road to die. Prestigious people in our community walk by but do not stop to help. Like the priest and the Levite, these prestigious people are too important to be bothered with a simple person and their suffering. We would anticipate, though, that one of our neighbors, one of our friends would come and help. But none come and no one stops to help. No one comes, that is until this stranger walks by, this Samaritan. For us, like the man in the story, the Samaritan would be the person we most despise and are most afraid of. And Jesus’ point is -just as the beaten man needs the compassion of the Samaritan- we too need those we despise or are afraid of to have compassion on us. Likewise we are to show compassion in return. Strong words. This is not a nice little story. It’s a tough teaching.

Jesus tells us that having compassion on the stranger is how we inherit the kingdom of God.

But what is the kingdom of God? Is it some reward that we are trying to earn in the future, in the life we hope to live after this one, if we are found worthy? Again, I think Jesus points us to see the kingdom of God in a richer context, as a place that is both here now and yet still to come in the future. The kingdom of God can be manifested right now –whenever the peace of Christ and the love of God – abide in and through us. It is also a kingdom that will never be fully realized in our lives, in this world, but will reach its fulfillment in the age to come. It is a both/and kingdom.

So, it’s a both/and kingdom; and we are invited, by the grace of God, and the love of Christ, and the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit, to be a part of the kingdom coming into fruition right here and now through acts of love and compassion.

The way we help others need not be grand. It need not be something that wears us out. And, while helping some one may make us feel good about ourselves and be a motivating side perk, feeling good about ourselves can’t be the primary reason we help, not if we want to help with the compassion of Christ. We don’t help with the intent and purpose of boosting our own egos nor to find our meaning in life. We help because that is what it means to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world. In a curious way we often find that in the end we, who were supposedly doing the helping, are in fact the one helped.

Helping, showing compassion and love for others, is what we are called by God to do. We do this because it’s how we build community, it’s how we create the Body of Christ, it’s how we bring forth God’s kingdom now and in the future. It’s a profound question we are to ask ourselves, “How can I help?” And the answer is simple, look carefully around you; you’re bound to see someone in the ditch of life. And when you do, offer them a kind word, a strong hand, a loving heart. Then again, don’t be too surprised if you are the one in the ditch.

The Ditch

A reflection on Luke 10:25-37 for Proper 10C

The phone rang, it was a colleague of mine, she had something she wanted to discuss with me and wondered if we could talk over lunch. A few days later while we ate our salads, she told me about Dorothy, a single mom with a young daughter, living on disability and public aide. Dorothy’s husband was murdered a number of years ago, no one knows the circumstances surrounding that death. But in the years since Dorothy has become a scrapper – one who knows how scrape by on very little. My colleague assured me that she had visited Dorothy; that her situation was legitimate and that what she needed was some assistance now and then until her daughter was out of high school. Up to this point my colleague was providing that assistance but now she was leaving her church and moving out of state. She wondered, since the woman lived near my church, if I could help? I thought I could, and I thought my church might want to help too. So I took Dorothy’s situation to our governing board, called a vestry, and we talked about it. In the end we agreed to help with monthly groceries and PACE bus passes. At first the congregation was all in a tizzy with their willingness to help. We held food drives and had people bring in chicken and hamburger, cereal and cheese, vegetables and fruit. Sometimes, when church members were really busy we collected a fund and I had PeaPod deliver her groceries. I ordered PACE bus passes and they were mailed to her house. We collected food for her Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter dinners. We gave her daughter clothing and school supplies. I even bought her daughter’s senior year high school year book. All told we probably helped Dorothy and her daughter for five years, maybe more.

It wasn’t all great though. It was tiring work. There were days when Dorothy had needs beyond what we could give her. On those occasions she’d call me repeatedly at all hours wondering if I could help with one more thing. I had to lay down very clear limits with her. And whenever I sent a parishioner over to her house I warned them, she will ask you for more. She will want a ride someplace or she will want money or she will want something. Her needs were endless. They were real needs, but they never stopped. I told parishioners to just give her whatever it was they were delivering and tell her that this was all we could do right now. Over and over we had to place limits on what we could give her and when and how we would give it to her.

Helping is curious thing. It makes us feel good to have helped another. Helping can change lives and make the world just a little bit better. But helping can also burn us out, wear us down, and make us cynical. The help we offer is not always appreciated. Often, the need for help in this world seems endless. And now today, more than ever, with the Gulf Coast oil spill, the economy that has crumbled, two wars overseas, famine and civil war in many countries around the world, children orphaned to AIDS and other disease. I could go on and on. In a world of so much disaster and tragedy it’s easy to understand why the Levite and the priest might walk on by. Maybe they had already helped too many people. Maybe they had overwhelming concerns of their own. Maybe they were cynical and burned out and tired. Maybe they were just in a hurry or didn’t want to touch someone who was beaten and dirty? Maybe they felt it wasn’t their problem.

Some people help though, not out of a desire to assist the other, but out of a need to boost their own ego. Oh, see, aren’t I a good person, look what I’m doing for YOU. I have so much and you have so little, and I’m so great because of what I am doing. Of course the thinking behind this can be much more subtle while at the same time being more about boosting the ego of the person helping than it is about actually caring for the other.
Such is the premise of the book, “How Can I Help” by Ram Dass. Some of you might remember Ram Dass from the 1971 best seller, “Remember Be Here Now”? Well in “How Can I Help” he takes a deeply spiritual and rather profound look at the nature of helping. Through telling story after story of people helping others he points to the real depth and intent of helping - that the person doing the “ helping “ is almost always the one who ends up actually being helped, changed, transformed, in ways they least expect. But even more important is the reality that helping is a mutual act – each person participates in the helping and the being helped. In other words helping is really about building relationships of mutual care and compassion.

This is part of what Jesus is pointing us to recognize in this story from Luke about the Samaritan and the man from Jerusalem who was beaten and left for dead. If we were to have heard this story in Jesus’ day from Jesus himself we would understand that the beaten man is one of us, you or me, beaten and left on the side of the road to die. Prestigious people in our community walk by but do not stop to help. Like the priest and the Levite, these prestigious people are too important to be bothered with a simple person and their suffering. We would anticipate, though, that one of our neighbors, one of our friends would come and help. But none come and no one stops to help. No one comes, that is until this stranger walks by, this Samaritan. For us, like the man in the story, the Samaritan would be the person we most despise and are most afraid of. A person who we think is dangerous, an enemy. And Jesus’ point is as the Samaritan shows compassion for the beaten man in the ditch, we too need our enemies to have compassion on us. And we are to show compassion on our enemies. Strong words. This is not a nice little story. It’s a tough teaching.
We need not just individuals to have and show compassion but groups of people, entire communities and nations, to have compassion for one another. The heart of this reading is to realize that such compassion begins when one person’s heart is moved to love the other, and from that whole groups of people can follow. Jesus tells us that having compassion on the stranger is how we inherit the kingdom of God.

But what is the kingdom of God? Is it some reward that we are trying to earn in the future, in the life we hope to live after this one, if we are found worthy? Again, I think Jesus points us to see the kingdom of God in a richer context, as a place that is both here now and yet still to come in the future. The kingdom of God can be manifested right now –whenever the peace of Christ and the love of God – abide in and through us. It is also a kingdom that will never be fully realized in our lives, in this world, but will reach its fulfillment in the age to come. It is a both/and kingdom.

So, it’s a both/and kingdom; and we are invited, by the grace of God, and the love of Christ, and the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit, to be a part of the kingdom coming into fruition. We are called to participate in this kingdom of God through acts of love and compassion.

During World War II Corrie Ten Boom and her family participated in the Dutch Underground Resistance Movement by hiding Jews in a secret room in their house. Eventually she and her family were arrested and sent to a prison camp where her father and one sister died. Corrie was released some time later and continued her work to help others. She was a Christian woman and writes this about ministry and service to others:

“It seems to be that all of us Christians are called to be healers. It’s so easy to hurt, to do harm. How much better to heal. No, we do not have to go to medical school. We can just go to the clinic Christ sets up, learn about love, about caring for everyone, even the most lowly, learn to put our fears aside and reach out to touch even the worst untouchables. But we can be
healers too in our own relationships, in our homes, in our places of employment, in our community. If we look, we will find wounds everywhere for which we can bring some healing balm, some word of hope, some act of love and caring, some prayer of intercession. (from Lindy on the website: home.roadrunner.com)

The way we help others need not be grand. It need not be something that wears us out. And, while feeling good about ourselves may be a nice perk from knowing we have helped someone, it is not the reason we help. We don’t help with the intent and purpose of boosting our own egos and find our meaning in life. We help because that is what it means to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world.

Helping, showing compassion and love for others, is what we are called by God to do. We do this because its how we build community, its how we create the Body of Christ, its how we bring forth God’s kingdom now and in the future. It’s a profound question we are to ask ourselves, How can I help? And the answer is simple, look carefully around you, you’re bound to see someone in the ditch of life.

Friday, July 09, 2010

In Fond Memory Of....

A funeral homily based on Matthew 25:34-40
"Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

We are gathered here this morning to celebrate the life of RFS, know to us as D. D was a man of many loves: he loved life, he loved his family and friends, he loved his church, and he loved people. D had a particular affinity for the homeless and often spoke of a homeless man he befriended near the “L” station on Chicago Avenue. D was inclined to engage him in conversation, seeing the human being beneath the circumstances of homelessness. D’s passion for the homeless and his ability to see the person beneath the circumstances reminds me of a famous saint in the Christian Church.


St. Francis of Assisi lived in the 13th century part of a wealthy family of merchants selling fabric in Italy and France. His early adult years were filled with fun and excitement as he lavishly spent money on clothing, drink, and travelling. This wild life led him to encounter the darker side of life as well, people who live on the fringes of society, poor people, sick people, street people.

It is said that one day while selling fabric in France he met a beggar who asked him for money. As the story goes Francis reportedly gave the poor man everything in his pockets.

In 1201, while on a military expedition to Perugia, Francis was captured and spent a year in prison. Some think that this time of captivity was the beginning of his spiritual conversion. But another four years would pass before he fully embraced the life that eventually led him to sainthood. Those four years included more time partying and enjoy the rich life. Eventually, though he gave up his wealth and lived the rest of his days a poor man, tending to the care of lepers and animals, those most often discarded by the society he lived in. Francis is credited with starting a monastic community called the Franciscans, a community devoted to caring for the poor. He is known as the patron saint of animals, and we often celebrate his life with a blessing of the animals.

When I think of D, of his passion for social justice, his care for the poor, I think of Francis of Assisi. Now, it’s true that D was no saint, but he was a good man with a loving heart.

I first met D in 2001 when I came here to this church as the parish priest. Back then the church was called Small church’s, named after another saint who cared deeply for God and the Christian faith. Somewhere along the way, early on in my time here, D began asking to meet with me. Over the years we had a number of meetings where we discussed his health, his hopes, and mostly his spiritual wellbeing. Like Francis, D had lived the good life in his younger years and suffered physical consequences from too much alcohol. Eventually though he became sober and spent many years helping others in their recovery. When I first met D he was suffering from another disease, chronic, debilitating, clinical depression. He had left his job at Abbott and was living on disability. But true to D’s nature he didn’t just succumb to his depression he went on a vigil to get well. It took many years and much hard work and therapy but he did eventually become more competent in managing his depressive episodes.

One of the frequent topics of my meetings with D was his desire to do something useful with his life. As many of you probably know D was a voracious reader, especially on the internet. It was not unusual for me to receive five or six emails a day from him outlining some social justice issue that outraged him. I think he knew just about every problem of society that exists and what we ought to be doing about it.

As a result of this passionate heart he did not want to return to selling pharmaceuticals, he wanted to make a difference. He considered briefly, a call to ordained ministry as a priest perhaps. I think he was still considering a call to the deaconate when he died. In the Episcopal Church deacons are called to serve in the world, to tend to the needy and the poor. But in the meantime he returned to school earning a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University. I imagine when he graduated in May of this year that it was one of the happiest days of his life. I know he was profoundly impacted by his work with The Night Ministry, an organization in Chicago that offers assistance to homeless people.

Not only was D a man passionate about social justice and the care for the needy; he was a family man. He loved his parents, his sister, his wife and most especially his son, Tom. They were all frequently part of our conversations, in the best of ways. He was so pr oud of Tom -of his academic accomplishments and participation in band.

D was committed to his faith as a Christian and actively tried to understand the mysteries of God. He loved the Episcopal Church and the way we Episcopalians wrestle with our faith. D found the Episcopal Church to be a place that embraced his heart and his mind. Our reading today from the Gospel of Matthew describes D, a man who believed that in feeding, clothing, and caring for the needy, he was caring for Christ. For D it was not an act of charity that would gain him something, his caring was an act of compassion because it was the right thing to do. He actively modeled what it means to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world.

We gather here today to celebrate D’s life, honor who he was, and acknowledge that he will be missed by a family who loves him and by countless people who were impacted by his life. We also gather to lift up the Christian understanding of death.

As Christians we believe that death is not the end of a life but a life changed. I’m not speaking here of magic, I’m speaking here of spiritual things and the mystery of God.

Grounded in God we come to understand that in death a person is born into a new life with God. We also understand that in death the one we love is able to live with us in a new way. True we no longer see that person, nor hear their voice, nor feel their touch. And that is sad, for we will miss those qualities of human companionship. But as the days and weeks go on there will be moments when each of you, D’s family and friends who knew and loved him well, will have such a keen sense of awareness, an abiding sense of his presence, that it will be as if he were here with you. I suspect he will continue to be a presence in your lives, extending his love to you even though he has left this earthly life.

And so, from the spiritual plane D is now with us all the time, in every way. In death the one we love is alive to us in our memories, in the stories we share, in our laughter and our tears, in our hearts, and in our love. Perhaps, whenever you meet a homeless person, you will think of D and see that person as a human being. Maybe you’ll say hello and drop a dollar for a cup of coffee. In doing so you will keep D alive, you will honor his life and his Christ-like compassion will live on through you. As our Gospel says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

But always remember, no matter how much he cared for the homeless, you, his family and friends, are the most important work of his life and labor. I think this poem, author unknown, posted recently on D’s Facebook, says it all.

....When someone is in your life for a REASON. . .

It is usually to meet a need you have expressed.

They have come to assist you through a difficulty,

to provide you with guidance and support,

to aid you physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

They may seem like a godsend, and they are!

They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then... something... brings the relationship to an end.

Sometimes they die.

Sometimes they walk away....

What we must realize is their work is done....

(Some) people come into your life for a SEASON....

Because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn.

They bring you an experience of peace, or make you laugh.

They may teach you something you have never done.

They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.

Believe it! It is real! But, only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons,

things you must build upon in order to have

a solid emotional foundation.

Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person,

and put what you have learned to use in all

other relationships and areas of your life....

Today we give thanks to God for the life of D and for the time we knew him, whether for a season, a reason, or a lifetime.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Sunday Prayer Proper 9C

God of all creation, of Me and you, of
Earth and sea, of Sky and stars, God of
All, bless us this day with the freedom
Of your love, freely given, freely shared.

God who suffers when we are arrogant,
When we are prideful and hurtful,
God who weeps when we turn away
From your love, freely given, freely shared.

Be with those who suffer this day and night
Suffer at the end of life. Suffer from rich oil which gives
So much to life and yet can take life just as easily.
From all the tragedies of the world, love us whole.

God bless us with prophets who dare to
Speak to us in the ordinary, in the every day
Unnamed voices calling out and showing us the
Depth of your love, freely given, freely shared.

May we listen, may we hear, may we follow,
may we lead, may we pray in your name,
may we heal in your name, may we be your heart
may we help as once again you make the world whole.

God transform us with your love, make us whole
That we can make whole those we meet, strangers,
Family, friends, enemies, one and all, together in the
Depth of you love, freely given, freely shared.

And if we cannot lead, if we cannot follow if
Others are deaf to the love we bring, to the hope
you offer through us, if your love in us is rejected
may we gently walk away still free to love generously,
as you love.
Amen.

Crossposted on RevGalBlogPals and RevGalPrayerPals

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Finding God

A reflection on Proper 9C: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

A few months ago I drove from Tucson Arizona north through southern Utah and then east to Chicago, over 2000 miles of driving. Along the way I visited family and places where I have an ancestral connection. My family, on both sides, were pioneers who travelled west in the late 1840’s to settle Salt Lake City and northern Utah. One of these, my great, great, great, great, great, grandfather was named George Washington Hill. He was born in Ohio, moved to Missouri where he met Cynthia Utley Stewart, and after some time asked her to marry him. She refused telling him that she was a Mormon and reportedly said, “You don’t want to marry a Mormon.” He persisted and finally she relented and married him. He later converted and then led his new family on the journey west in 1847. Cynthia and George had nine kids – so somewhere out there I have a lot of cousins. A few of them have written biographies of George, which can easily be found and read on the internet if you Google him. (He’s not the George Washington Hill that shows up in Wikipedia who earned a fortune in the tobacco industry)....


The drive through Arizona and southern Utah takes one through some desolate land, of sand and rock and not much else, land that is now, sadly, Indian reservation. George fought against moving the Indians to reservations, or so the story goes. He loved them, worked closely with the Shoshone and Nez Perce tribes. Knew their language, and according to one family journal I’ve read, he created the only translation guide for English speaking people to learn the native language. Family lore has him baptizing thousands of Native Americans. His pale skin and red hair, a family trait inherited by my mother and my brother, earned him a special name, Inka-pompy, which means “red-beard” in Nez Perce.

I don’t know if it’s accurate but many of the stories from the mid-1800’s, when the Mormons and the Native Americans lived together in northern Utah, describe a shared life. According to these stories theirs was not the life of cowboys and Indians fighting over control of the land. Instead, it seems they worked together to build community. One of the primary ways my great grandparents participated in building community was through prayer, in particular healing prayer. Building community through the power of prayer is one of the fundamental ways we human beings manifest the peace of Christ in our lives and the world around us. Prayer is also fundamental in the transformation of those who come to know deeply the love of God. Our scripture readings this morning from 2 Kings and Luke focus on these themes: the healing love of God and the power of the peace of Christ to transform lives.

In 2 Kings Namaan is a powerful general and like many people of his stature he is a bit full of himself. Even when he is ill with a horrible skin disease he remains prideful and arrogant. It’s a bit surprising then that Naaman listens to the voice of an unnamed young slave girl as she directs him to Elisha, toward a source of healing. Less surprising is Naamans response to Elisha’s cure – bathing in a muddy river – who in their right mind would want to do that? But, eventually Naaman is persuaded to bathe and he is healed. This story reminds us that God’s healing and the peace of Christ come to us in unexpectedly ordinary ways – like a young girl and every day mud and water.

This story points us to look at how God speaks to us in ordinary ways – so ordinary that they are unexpected and perhaps overlooked if we aren’t being careful. The readings ask us to consider how God is reaching out to us through others, in ways we least expect, and how these people reveal the peace of Christ to us. The readings also ask us to ponder how we might be that love of God and peace of Christ to others.

The heart of the Gospel reading this morning conveys to us a similar idea – of transformation through the love of God and the peace of Christ in the ordinary. Jesus speaks of sending his disciples out - and today those disciples are you and me – sent out to share the Good News, in ordinary every day ways. Sent out too love generously, to help, to share, to grow in relationship with one another; and if what we offer is rejected our task is not to judge, but to let it be, shake the dust off our feet, and simply continue to share God’s love and the peace of Christ as generously as we can.

Our Gospel reminds us that the kingdom of God is an unfolding process – one that begins here in the life we live on this earth – and then continues into the life that is to come. The kingdom is a both/and kingdom which calls us to be attentive to the now while keeping an eye on the future. It’s a kingdom that requires us to not become stuck in safety, comfort, pride, or arrogance.

Soon the youth of this parish will travel to South Dakota to spend time working on an Indian reservation. The work there will be hard but the kids will learn a great deal. There will be a sharing of gifts – what the kids bring in terms of labor and hope to the people on this reservation – and what the Native Americans share with the kids in terms of their powerfully organic understanding of life and how everything is connected – earth, sun, life, God. It will be a time of mutual sharing of gifts – what the kids bring and the Native Americans offer – each learning and growing from the offering of the other. The love of God will prevail and all will be filled with a new sense of the peace of Christ. And, all of that gifting and growing and transforming from just being together and doing simple ordinary everyday things together.

Like the youth of this parish and their mission trip to South Dakota, the kingdom of God asks all of us to stretch ourselves in love and for the love of God...and in so doing prepare the way for the peace of Christ to come into the world anew this day, every day, in simple, ordinary ways.

Resting on the Spiritual Porch

I have a good friend who is always late for everything. Whenever my friend and I schedule a date to get together I plan to arrive 15 minute...