Saturday, August 28, 2010

Valuable in God's Eyes

A reflection on the readings for Proper 17C: Psalm 81:1, 10-16, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14, St. James the Less, Northfield, IL

Some 27 years ago, when I was working in dance and theater, I had my first experience with sushi. During that time I worked for a small non-profit dance theater company in Chicago. I had colleagues from New York City who came to the theater several times a year for performances. Of course it was also common for us to go out after the show for a meal. On one of those trips we went to a local Sushi restaurant on Clark Street called, Happi Sushi. Now, I had never had sushi before, it was after all the early 1980’s and sushi was relatively new for this area, but I was willing to try it. I let my colleagues order the fish and then, with great enthusiasm, dove in.
As you know the required side dishes for proper sushi eating include: soy sauce for dipping the sushi, marinated ginger root for cleansing the palate between pieces of sushi, and this green garnish that looked to me like mashed avocado. Assuming it was avocado I enthusiastically dipped my piece of sushi into the soy sauce and then into the ground avocado, and popped it into my mouth. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the green stuff was not avocado but horseradish. Japanese horseradish, and very strong. There I sat with a mouth full of fish and horseradish strong enough to make my eyes water, a heat slowly seeping up my face, thoroughly clearing my sinuses and probably cooking the fish in the process.

Among other ideas, there are two virtues our scripture readings point us to consider this morning. One is hospitality, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” offers the Letter to the Hebrews. And the other is humility, Jesus reminds us, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.". Of these, humility is perhaps the most challenging because we think that humility is about being uncomfortable and passive. Like me stifling my reaction to the wasabi because I didn’t want my NY friends to know that I had mistaken it for avocado.

At the root of humility is the Greek word humus. Earth. This earth, which God made and called good is our humus, the origin of our humility. Jan Richardson who writes on the “Painted Prayerbook blog” says, “ Humility is our fundamental recognition that we each draw our life and breath from the same source,” from the God who made us and all creation, and loves us.

Roberta Bondi points out in her book To Love as God Loves: Conversations with the Early Church that “humility did not mean for them [the early church folk] a continuous cringing, cultivating a low self-image, and taking a perverse pleasure in being always forgotten, unnoticed, or taken for granted. Instead, humility meant to them a way of seeing other people as being as valuable in God’s eyes as ourselves. It was for them a relational term having to do precisely with learning to value others, whoever they were. It had to do with developing the kind of empathy with the weaknesses of others that made it impossible to judge others out of our own self-righteousness.” (also from Jan Richardson’s blog).

So hospitality is about caring for the stranger, caring for those who challenge us and humility is about seeing others a God sees them, as part of God’s beloved creation. Hospitality and humility are intertwined.

Which reminds me of the underlying pretext for a recent conference that I helped plan and staff. It took place in Chicago in early August and was sponsored by the National Council of Churches. The NCC has several working groups tackling issues that are prominent in the lives of worshiping communities across the spectrum of Christianity in this day and time. The group I work with is intentionally considering language, the words, images and symbols we use to talk about ourselves, other human beings, and God. The conversation we had included people from many different Christian denominations, and different ethnicity's and cultures. We began our time together with each of us sharing a short three minute story about a time when language, words, images, symbols, impacted us, our understanding of others, our understanding of God and how that shaped our faith lives and or the faith lives of our worship community.

My reflection was on bread. In part because as a member of the planning team I helped organize our worship for this event, which was no easy feat given that we all came from different ways of worship. Being an Episcopalian I am naturally drawn to the Eucharist as a way to bring us all together into one Body sharing the bread and the wine. But we were unable to share a Eucharistic meal, given our differences, so instead of communion we planned a love feast. This is a very silly sounding name for what became a wonderful expression of hospitality and humility as we gave thanks for our time together, for the deep listening that took place, and for the bread that brought us to a common table.



The bread I made 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/bulgur blend that is dark and earthy. Our final worship 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 holds the prayers I prayed while making it, prayers for a grace filled conversation....”

A friend of mine recently wrote about an experience at the altar at a monastery where she had gone for a few days of reflection. She was told that at the time of communion, not being of that denomination, she was welcome to come forward for a blessing but she could not receive the bread and the wine. She said that she while she did that, she has no memory of the blessing because of the pain she felt from being excluded.

Humility and hospitality are bedrock to our Christian understanding of who we are and what we are to be about as we live and practice our faith. Learning about, becoming sensitive to, and having conversations about the ways in which our “normal” practices may in fact be a source of exclusion and pain for another is part of our calling to entertain strangers as if they were angels.

I have been with you for three weeks and have found you to be a warm, generous, people with a genuine sense of hospitality. Now you are about to embark on a year or so of transition ministry, a time when you will be invited to have conversations about who you are, how you express your hospitality and humility, how you entertain angels and care for one another, friend and stranger alike. I suspect you will continue to deepen your awareness of who you are and who God is calling you to be. Listen to one another with open hearts, listening for God speaking in and through each other. And in so doing, as our Psalm today reminds us, God will “feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock (God) would satisfy you.” May your journey this next year be blessed, fruitful, and filled with a hospitality that will humble you in all the best of ways.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reading a book so I can write a book review...and other things on my schedule

Monday the RevGalsBlog posted this from which I offered to read the book "Reframing Hope" by Carol Howard Merritt and write a review.

Also, I am holding a number of follow-up conversations on the Words Matter conference in order to help organize what comes next.

This Sunday will be my final Sunday supplying at St. James the Less. I've enjoyed this congregation. I have one more supply gig in September but otherwise, except for one supply job in September, I have  a wide open calendar at this point...not something I like. (sigh)

So, a book to read and review, some conversations to have, and a sermon to write. That's my week. What about yours?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

That Which Limits Us Is....

A reflection on the readings for Proper 16C: Hebrews 12:18-29 and Luke 13:10-17 (revised per comments below)...

Perhaps you heard the story on the news this week about Jane Lang, who with her Seeing Eye dog Clipper leading the way, walked to the Morris Plains, NJ train station Tuesday to travel to the Bronx for a Yankees game. Although she’s taken this route before, Tuesday was different, because members of the Yankees baseball team joined her.


Manager Joe Girardi, pitchers Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Chad Gaudin and former Yankee Tino Martinez met the 67-year-old Lang at her home as part of the team's HOPE Week. HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) is a unique week-long community program aimed at bringing to light five remarkable stories intended to inspire individuals into action in their own communities. Initiated in 2009, HOPE Week is rooted in the fundamental belief that acts of goodwill provide hope and encouragement to more than just the recipient of the gesture. (YesNetwork.com)

Lang has been blind since she was 22, but that hasn’t prevented her from going to games where she listens to radio broadcasts in the stands so she can react to the action. The Yankees have an Americans with Disablities Act director who knew of Lang and nominated her for the honor. "She's obviously a person who's very humble," Girardi said while waiting for the train. "She was saying she didn't think Hope Week was for someone like her." Gaudin, too, was impressed by Lang's approach to life. "She's excited about being alive ... That's the inspiration she gives everybody. "Lang said she did not let blindness negatively impact her life." You have to live in the world the way it is, not the way you wish it was," said Lang, who began regularly attending Yankees games, after learning the route via subway. She said she goes to about 30 games a year. (From the DailyRecord.com).

Each of us here could probably share a story of someone we know who is struggling and has become a source of inspiration. Each of us here probably is or has at one time struggled as well with some sorrow or tragedy or unexpected misfortune. Life is unpredictable, things happen, we are all scarred in some way.

I’ve been thinking lately about a book I read many years ago by Joan Chittister called, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope: the Nine Gifts of Suffering. It’s not a book that everyone will like because she walks through this dark place of suffering with a keen eye to how our pain can also become a place of transformation and hope. Frankly, I think most of us would gladly give up the process of transformation in order to avoid the pain and suffering. But life is not like that. Suffering happens. Chittister says suffering usually comes when we least expect it and startles us out of a place of comfort and security. An illness, a death, a job loss, a car accident, some tragedy befalls us in such a way that we know that life will never be the same again.

Our Gospel reading this morning describes a woman with a spirit that has crippled her. She spent eighteen years in a place of deep pain, so much pain that she is literally bent over. Somehow she has found her way to Jesus and seeing her Jesus heals her. But that’s not the end of the story. Because .Jesus has healed this woman on the Sabbath and that upsets some people. Not because he healed but because he healed on the Sabbath. Jesus and these people each hold a different view of what should be done on the Sabbath. A different view of what can and cannot be done.

Likewise when it comes to our perceptions of who is able-bodied and who is disabled, of what can and what cannot be done, and what attributes constitute health and wellbeing we are confronted with different understandings. I recently spent some time with a woman who is blind. And I admit I was somewhat startled when this person said that being blind was her “most precious gift.”

Suddenly I realized that a person that I would call disabled because she or he is blind or sits in a wheel chair might be just as inclined to call me disabled because I don’t see or move the way they do. Suddenly I realized that Joan Chittiseter’s book is describing this very thing, that that which we assume is our deepest place of suffering may also be our most precious gift. Again I know many people who would say, forget the gift I’d rather not have the suffering. But, as we all know, suffering is a part of life.

So, if what my friend says is true, that being blind is her most precious gift, and if what Jane Lang says is true, that we must learn to live life as it is and not as we would wish, and if what Chittister says is true that our deepest suffering becomes the source of profound hope and transformation, then what I call blind is really just another way of seeing the world. Being hunched over is just another way of living in and moving in the world. Seeing as I do and moving as I do is just another way of being in the world.

The woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years was bent over. We might think that her vision was limited, looking as she must have at the ground, at feet and knees and hemlines of clothing. But her vision led her to Jesus and he healed her of that spirit, and for that she gave thanks and praise to God.

Not long ago I had a conversation with another friend of mine, one who is suffering from a deep loss, which has changed her life forever. Though her pain is still deep and the loss still profound she feels something stirring inside, something else is coming to life, in addition to pain and suffering. She said something like, “God has a hold on me and won’t let go.” I get that, I’ve my own share of burdens and suffering. I think God has a hold on me too. I’m willing to bet God has hold on you as well. In the words we hear from Hebrews, “we will not be shaken;” because no matter what happens God has a hold on us.

So, on the one hand we live in bondage from the limitations of our perceptions. Those perceptions may be the result of some kind of pain or suffering. They may be how we think someone else ought to feel, given what we think is their life circumstance.

On the other hand we live in the grip of a God who won’t let go of us. One limits our view of God’s love, healing, and grace, and the other opens us up to experience God’s love, healing, and grace in ever deepening ways. One is a human construct and one is a construct of God.

How we see and know God in our lives and in the lives of others is always limited by our own suffering, our own perception and vision and movement. But regardless of these limitations each of us is held in a grip of hope - the grip of God. A grip of hope that leads us to the feet of Jesus, where it becomes a grip of love that heals from the inside out and sets us free...

...and so it becomes our most precious gift.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Words Matter: NCC conversation in Chicago August 9-11 considered how we speak about each other and God

photo by David Skidmore on Ann Tiemeyers camera


Words Matter: by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski


“For slightly less than half my life I was an intentionally de-churched person. Although the faith of my childhood had been a source of great comfort to me I also found that church to hold a very narrow view of God. My own prayer life suggested to me that God was much more expansive than the church was teaching me. And so while I left the institutional church when I was 15, not to return until I was 31, I never left my relationship with God, or at least I never left my pursuit of a life of faith. “

“A few years after I became de-churched, sometime around the year 1975, I found myself, and my college roommates on a pursuit for enlightenment. By the early 1980’s I’d wandered through a variety of new age pursuits, crystals and yoga, and meditation. One day, while meditating it occurred to me that I still celebrated Christmas and Easter. And not just in a social way, for the gifts and the parties, but in a sacred way. Christmas and Easter were, for me, holy days, even if I didn’t go to church. And with that thought I realized I was still a Christian. I didn’t fully understand then, what it meant to maintain a belief in the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and the transformational potential....”

So began my reflection offered at the recent “Words Matter” conference hosted by the National Council of Churches and its Justice for Women Working Group Expansive Language subcommittee. The group, formed more intentionally last fall, began in earnest in December, 2009 pondering ways to expand the initial concept and ongoing conversation begun by the subcommittee some years ago. Focused on developing a variety of conversations around the language we use to talk about human beings and God, the Expansive Language group planned and orchestrated a conference in Chicago, August 9-11.

The stories told by the group called us to expand contextual cultural attentiveness—understanding that language speaks differently in different contexts. NaKeisha S. Blount, joint staff of the United Church of Christ and the National Council of Churches, who is affiliated with the American Baptist and Progressive National Baptist Churches, described the huge cultural difference she often moves between, calling for more understanding of one another’s contexts. “Truth be told, there are those who are opposed to language like ‘God the Father’ because they never had a father, or they had a distant or abusive father,” Blount said, using a common example in discussions of language. “But truth be told,” she continued, “there are those who would deeply grieve the loss of ‘God the Father’ because they never had a father, or they had a distant or abusive father.”

The stories told by the group showed us that in an environment created through respectful intentional listening, compliance to rules about specific words was not as helpful as commitment to understanding the impact of the power of language. “There was no list of forbidden words created; rather, we pursued a consciousness of how language shapes our own experience as well as the experience of others – precious wisdom,” remarked Inez Torres-Davis, Director for Justice of Women of the ELCA.

This kind of commitment can lead to real, meaningful analysis of systems of power that oppose the Gospel; extending a life-affirming hospitality within the church and community. Sue Hedahl, Professor at Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary, characterized campus discussion around language there as revolving around the difference between “compliance” and “commitment,” and agrees that understanding what it at stake in the language we use is more valuable than simply following a list of rules.

The stories told by the group also called us to spread this conversation to as many different places as possible. In beginning to think about how to spread these conversations, the participants acknowledged the need for a variety of methods that might include listening, dialogue, liturgy and hymnody, humor, story-telling, art, and social media networks.

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 said this, “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.”

What was learned at this gathering will be shared with the NCC Justice for Women Working Group to discern the next steps to spread these conversations as broadly as possible. Participants were invited to be an ongoing part of the process. Inez Davis, also a member of the working group, said, “Our hope is to have such conversations occur in congregations, pericope studies, classrooms, forums, Sunday schools, pulpits, and so forth…The scholarship on expanding language has been done, including liberation, mujerista, womanist, feminist, GLBT, ableist, patriarchal, and other analyses of power within the faith and within those who hold the faith. It is now time to begin applying this knowledge.”

The story I shared concluded with a reflection on making bread, in part because I was member of the planning team for this event and co-organizer for our worship time at the event. But also because for me bread making is a symbol for Christ, for the body of Christ gathered, for God active in the world. I wrote, “I've been thinking about bread lately in part because I had to decide if I was going to make bread or buy ready-made bread for our final worship service. 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 this worship represents, for me, 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 is a symbol, an image, and a word that speaks to those elements we are considering.”

“The bread I made 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/bulgur blend that is dark and earthy. Our final worship 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 holds the prayers I prayed while making it, prayers for a grace filled conversation. The bread will receive our prayers and thoughts as we prepare to consume it. And somehow, by the generosity of the Spirit, present with us in this gathering, I hope the bread is for us, as it is for me, a symbol, an image, of the Incarnation, of the Resurrection, of the presence of Christ, of the Body of Christ, of you and me, of community.”

Among the 25 participants, 8 were men, 6 were under 30, 3 openly identified as LGBT, 8 were clergy, 9 were lay, 5 were seminary professors, 3 were seminarians, PhD candidates or recent grads. 3 participants identified as Latino/a, 7 as African American, 3 as Asian, 1 as Native American, 8 as Caucasian, and 3 as mixed/bi-racial.

Participants came from the following communions: The African Methodist Episcopal Church, The American Baptist Church, The Episcopal Church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Orthodox Church of America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., The Roman Catholic Church, The United Church of Christ, and The United Methodist Church.

Portions of this article were excerpted with permission from an article written by Megan Manas and published on the: NCC Justice for Women website.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Love at Twenty Five

As I remember it was an oppressively hot day, with large puffy clouds, a pale blue sky and a steamy white sun. The train ride into Chicago early that morning for make up and hair and nails was filled with the excited laughter of a bride and her bridesmaids. Later that afternoon I walked, with one of my closest friends, to the church, a few blocks away. I think I carried my wedding dress. So many details lost to time and over ridden by other memories of excitement. I do remember dressing in the church and laughing a lot with my friends. We were having so much fun. I wore my mothers dress, a 1950's tea length, strapless lace dress with a lace jacket. What I loved most was the sleeves of the jacket ending in a point with a pearl tip, just past my wrist. It was beautiful. The women were dressed in coral colored dresses and the men in grey tuxes. I carried a bouquet of calla lilies. We had poetry and scripture and prayers and vows. A vow to love, honor, and cherish through sickness and health, for richer or poorer.

Twenty five years later we have loved through all of that - sickness, health, richer and poorer. It has not been an easy ride. Our life together, for all that excited bloom we carried that day, has been challenged by so many factors. Perhaps no different than any other married couple. Today we celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I thought we'd celebrate this day with a big party. I thought I'd get new jewelry, some new token to honor the past and symbolize the next twenty five. But there will be none of that. We are in one of the poorest places we have ever been in. Scraping together each month just enough to pay our bills, our gas, our food. In the car yesterday my husband said, "I didn't get you a gift." I replied, "I didn't even buy you a card." He said, "Let's don't buy cards. We can use that money another way."

We do have a gift card to a local restaurant, where we will probably go for dinner, just the two of us.

Right now, this is not the life we imagined we'd live. Actually much of our marriage is not the life we thought we'd live. It's been so much harder than I ever imagined. There have been tender moments that take my breath away with the depth of love, of being cherished. There have been times of laughter and great joy. But most of all it has just been hard work, carving out this life, scrapping by, but doing it side by side. For richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, are vows we have taken seriously.

I don't know what my life would have been like if I had not married this man. I don't think it would have been any easier, or better, or harder. Life just is. If we hadn't faced this life together it would have been something else. Life is complicated.

Today, even as I am blessed to celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary, I think about the events unfolding in California, and other states in this country, I think about those who cannot marry, legally, in this country. Those who do not have the opportunity to make a vow to another, to love, honor, and cherish, and have that vow made legal by the State, and or blessed by the Church. God created us female and male, male and female, female/male, male/female, and the variations in gender that happen in and around those markers we recognize. We humans manifest something of God's nature, but we are not God. Still we are called by God to be the living expression of God's love in the world. Why is it that this means, when it comes to marriage, that it's only to be for a certain defined portion of God's creation? I don't really understand that. I mean I do, from a conventional perspective. But not really.

If I had not married, if we had not made vows to one another, and had those vows legalized by the State and blessed by the Church, I am sure there are times when one or the other of us would have walked away. (And sometimes, when the union is not love-based but hurtful and abusive or at least life draining,  people have to walk away - our unions are meant to be life-giving). But also, admittedly, there are moments over these twenty-five years when the vow I made gave me pause. And because of  that pause, those words, that intent, I have a life partner who has blessed my life. For me the greatest gift is the awareness that love grows and deepens in the most profound ways. And for that I am richly blessed. I believe God created us for love and to love. It's a rugged thing, this love. But I also know that love can sustain and bless our lives through all the challenges.

Isn't this the kind of love God desires for all human beings?

"O God, you have so consecrated the ccovenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen." (Book of Common Prayer, marriage blessing, pg. 431)

Love at Twenty Five

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Not Only Live In, But......

A reflection the readings for Proper15C: Hebrews 11:29-12:2 and Luke 12:49-56 – St. James the Less, Northfield, IL

This summer I have found a number of, perhaps “unusual” connecting points between the readings and ordinary life. For some reason the Gospel of Luke, along with a few other New Testament readings and a couple of Old Testament prophets have led me to think about things like making bread and baking pie. Now, you may wonder what bread making and pie baking have to do with faith and God, Jesus and discipleship? So, I suggest that at the very least we can consider the idea that God expresses God’s self in and through the ordinary events of daily life. We who have faith in God and follow Jesus, particularly as Episcopalians, understand this as “Incarnational.” The author, Kathleen Norris describes it as Quotidian, God and Jesus in the ordinary events and lives of human beings.


So, I’ve been thinking about God, Jesus, faith, and discipleship in bread making and pie baking. Take for example the other night when I decided to make a blueberry pie. I made the crust from scratch using Crisco and flour, rolled it out and spread it in the pie tin, and poured into the crust a mixture of fresh blueberries, sugar, and cornstarch, covering it all with another layer of crust. The pie baked in the oven for some 50 minutes at 425 degrees. I watched it carefully but even still the juices bubbled over and spilled onto the oven floor.

Do you have any idea how smoky a house can get when a hot oven tries to burn off sugary fruit juices? How quickly that liquid turns to goo and then to an intensely thick solid substance, which only further adds to the smoke it exudes? Before long my house filled with smoke, blue grey clouds floating from kitchen to dining room to living room carrying the stench of burnt juice. Obviously this led to quickly turning the oven off, windows and doors opened regardless of the heat and humidity outside, the hot pie cooling on a rack, the sticky stuff burned crisp on the oven floor. The odor of burnt sugar lingered for days.

There’s something equally heated about our readings today, an unexpected fire in the words and tone that Jesus uses.

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-inlaw."

This is not the Jesus we usually hear; it’s startling like the retched fumes of burning fruit juices, stinging our eyes, demanding a closer look. Jesus is speaking about our inability to recognize the condition of our lives in the midst of scorching heat.

In these heated, smokey, firery days, days of economic collapse, oil spills, of disease, of war and famine across the globe, of intense heat or drowning rain and floods, there is often little we have to anchor ourselves. Perhaps like me there are days when you are so overwhelmed that you shut down in an effort to blow away the smoke pouring out from the intensity of daily life? Shut down and closed off until Jesus startles us awake with these words practically shouting at us to anchor ourselves in faith and take action.

Rick Marshall of Brea UCC Church in Brea, Ca says this, “ Faith is exemplified in particular people and worked out in individuals and supported by real faithful communities. Faith is not an abstract ideal....Faith is a life orientation. It is a commitment to live in the world in a particular way. Jesus is seen as the example of faith. As the Hebrews text says, “...we look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith..” (Process and Faith blog).

Our scripture and our faith remind us that God is active and present in the world, in all that is happening. I tend to believe that God’s action is NOT like a puppeteer managing puppets, in other words God is not manipulating every detail of every life and event in the world. Given the nature and reality of freewill – that we have choices in life - God is more likely to be invested in putting out OUR fires than in causing fires to burn US.

So, if God is invested in our lives in ways that call us to healing and wholeness, if God strives to put out fires and restore peace, and if faith is the how we anchor ourselves in the healing action of God, how do we ground ourselves in this reading from Luke? A reading that has Jesus pulling everything apart. Pulling everything apart unless we hear this reading as calling us to understand how radical it is to really live a life of faith and embody the love of God in all that we say and do. What Jesus is pointing us to understand is that when we love as God loves what happens is we begin to pull apart and divide the fabric of society, a fabric of greed and self-centeredness that is woven behind much of the problems we currently face, pulled apart and divided into pieces that form and reform into communities of care.

Frederick Buechner, a well known Christian author often writes about the mystery of God made known in and through the events of everyday life. He says, “we understand, if we are to understand it at all, that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth….Faith is the eye of the heart, and by faith we see deep down beneath the face of things--by faith we struggle against all odds to be able to see--that the world is God's creation even so. It is (God) who made us and not we ourselves, made us out of (God’s) peace to live in peace, out of (God’s) light to dwell in light, out of (God’s) love to be above all things loved and loving. That is the last truth about the world." (Kate Huey, ucc blog)

Faith is the eye of the heart that enables us to see God in the ordinariness of life. Faith is the eye of the heart that restores, heals, renews us from the fires of life that would otherwise consume us. Faith is the eye of the heart that seeks to establish, through us, God’s justice in the world, a justice that calls us, as individuals and as communities, to not only live in – but to actually BE living examples OF God’s peace, God’s light, God’s love. Each and every day.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Things Uknown

A reflection on Proper 14C Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12:32-40, St. John the Divine, Burlington, WI


Many of you have probably heard this old joke:

A scientist figured out how to clone humans out of cells and began to tell people that now there was no need for God. One day God spoke to the scientist and convinced the scientist to enter a contest with God. The idea was that each of them would create a human being from the dirt of the earth, just like we read about in scripture. Ah said the scientist no problem. The scientist then reached down to the ground and picked up a pile of dirt. Just then God intervened and said, But first you have to make your own dirt.”

Our reading today from Hebrews reminds us that faith is intangible,” faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”.. Faith is not something solid that we can put our hands on. Our faith in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, is founded on prayer and trust, on scripture and the teachings of the church, these are the bricks and mortar of our faith, the foundation that sustains it. Nonetheless our confidence that God is active and present in our lives and our world, is rarely based on concrete evidence. We believe that God is active but God, who is the focus and purpose of our faith, tends to work in mysterious ways that we cannot see. Some of us think that because we cannot see God at work that God must not be working. Again Hebrews suggests that expecting to see the fullness of God at work will never be a reality. Mystics and saints give witness to the presence of God, and remind us that our inability to see God is less because of who God and more because of who we are. We humans are limited in our ability to see, hear, and sense, the presence of God.

When I was a little girl I loved to watch falling stars. One summer I lived in Idaho, out in the country. Back then there was little extraneous light from cities, so the night sky was very dark. But the dark sky was littered with thousands of stars – it was breathtaking. My brothers and I spent most of August lying in our front yard on a blanket, heads up to the sky, counting the falling stars. Now we know that what we saw were actually meteor showers not stars. In that dark night sky we saw countless streaks of light suddenly appear, zoom across a span of space, and then dissolve. Staring at this vast expansive of sky and space made me wonder about what is out there. I once tried to imagine something that went on forever and never ended, which some folks think is the case in the space beyond our solar system – that dark space goes on forever. But I really couldn’t imagine it. Some things are just beyond our ability to see or hear, even when we think they are true. I mean, if there is an end to space, then what? Is our world, or solar system, just a small particle in some other larger life, like a cell in a body? And if so, what is that life like? Does it have shape and form? It’s hard to think about.

Rick Marshall is the Pastor of Brea UCC church in Brea California and he says this: “Scientists talk about dark matter. It’s there, but they have no way of detecting it. In fact, it might make up the majority of “stuff” in the universe. In a similar way, our conscious awareness cannot detect the expansive created order that is beyond our ability to sense. It’s not that God creates out of nothing, but that the word of God creates what is seen from things that are not visible. God’s creativity is part of the natural world. If our conscious mind is but the tip of the iceberg of mostly unconscious experience, then why would we deny the existence of the majority of that which is submerged just because we can’t see it? We see its affects all the time in our life experience. In fact, much of the natural order might make up the majority of the “stuff” of life which we have no way of detecting.” (Process and Faith blog for Aug. 8, 2010). As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen....”

So just as there are vast amounts of space that are unknown to us, and yet space exists. And just as there are new things being discovered in science, things that have always existed and yet were unknown to us, and just as technological advances are made every year, so too, God is active in the world and in our lives, even though we may not be fully cognizant of what God is doing and how God is present.

Of course in a world filled with tragedy, sorrow, suffering, war, famine, natural disasters, oil spills, economic failure, disease, and countless other challenges it is maybe easier to think that God is doing nothing or worse that God does not care. The challenges of these times are so intense that at times it seems as if we are really lost and will not recover. Mother Teresa, is credited with saying, I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish He didn't trust me so much. I don’t know if God actually decides to hand out suffering and pain and struggles in order for us to learn some lesson or accomplish some goal. I tend to not think of God as some master puppeteer orchestrating every detail of my life. And yet I do believe that God is invested in my life and yours and in this world.

Frederick Buechner, a well known Christian author often writes about the mystery of God made known in and through the events of life. He says, “we understand, if we are to understand it at all, that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth….Faith is the eye of the heart, and by faith we see deep down beneath the face of things--by faith we struggle against all odds to be able to see--that the world is God's creation even so. It is he who made us and not we ourselves, made us out of his peace to live in peace, out of his light to dwell in light, out of his love to be above all things loved and loving. That is the last truth about the world." (Kate Huey, ucc blog)

If that is true, that the last and ultimate truth about life and faith is not suffering and struggle by about learning how to live in peace, live in God’s light, and live out of God’s love, regardless of the rest of what is happening in life, then clearly faith is the only way for this to be possible.

In the Gospel of Luke we are reminded that God desires us to participate in the world God has created – Luke says, “do not be afraid, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Again Buechner informs us on this: "Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises.... Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting."

The Gospel of Luke reminds us, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Faith in God is our treasure, our heart, our life, and all that we yearn for.

The Aim of Life

Like most people, when I was in my twenties,  I was focused on trying to figure out my life. I struggled to figure out what I was going to...