Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sacred Deeds

A reflection on Mark 1:21-28 for Epiphany 4B

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, not to be confused with Harold Kushner of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” fame, is a retired rabbi who grew up in Michigan and served a synagogue on the East coast. Larry, as he likes to be called, also writes about Jewish Mysticism. In one of his books he tells this story:

In the middle of a cold winter night, his wife, six months pregnant with their second child woke him. She said, “Larry, I know this sounds crazy, but I would give anything for a chocolate bar, especially one with almonds. “ Larry replied, “Don’t worry about a thing.” 

And he proceeded to pull on jeans, sweatshirt, and a coat over his pajamas. Outside it had been snowing and there were a few inches of snow on his car, driving was slow and slippery. And of course it took him a few minutes to realize that in this small town of Massachusetts everything would be closed. Where would he find a chocolate bar in the middle of the night? Then he remembered the Holiday Inn on the highway. The night clerk must have though him a little crazy, coming in out of a snowstorm, pajamas and all, to buy a candy bar out of the vending machine. 

Once home, and his wife’s craving satisfied, Larry reflected on this strange night. How on this night and under these circumstances, he had never given a thought to doing this, he just responded to what his wife desired. And it felt good, he felt good having done something so selfless and out of great care for another. He says it made him happier to do what his wife wanted than to have done anything that he wanted, like sleep….He calls this doing sacred deeds.

Doing sacred deeds, even one as seemingly mundane as this, helps us to transcend our selves, our lives, our worries. Doing sacred deeds is part of our calling as Christians. Jesus models the way, and our baptismal covenant helps us understand what we are to do.

Every time I prepare a family for baptism we discuss the three renunciations and three affirmations found in the baptismal liturgy. These six questions ask us to have some clarity about our faith, our understanding of who Jesus is, what evil is, and how we intend to support this person in their life in Christ. These are heady questions, provocative questions. The conversations I have with baptismal families is intended to help them articulate an understanding of what they are agreeing to so that they are not just going through the motions but have a real sense of what is evil in this world, who is Jesus, and what does it mean to put our trust in God’s grace? 

Baptism is the first step that one takes to become a member of the Christian church. Often baptism is done to us when we are babies, and so the first steps of formation happen with our families. Hopefully, as we grow up, our formation takes place, in a church that offers us opportunities to wonder, to question, and to develop a mature faith. Growing in our faith is a process of engaging in spiritual practices that inform and form us and can sustain us when life is challenging. 

Today we will baptize Ike Frady, welcoming him into the body of Christ. For several weeks we have been praying for Ike, using only his first and middle names. This is because today Ike’s surname is the same as all of ours, Christian. In a few minutes Ike will become part of the long historic Christian family. But what does this mean today?

In her book, “The Practicing Congregation, Imagining a New Old Church,” Diana Butler Bass speaks about the church community as a place anchored in a rich heritage where people are formed by the practices of our faith, which include a variety of sacred deeds. 

Butler Bass suggests that some people who come to church on Sunday are like tourists – they are taking time out of their “real” lives to do something different. Perhaps coming to church on Sunday gives them a respite from the daily grind? May be it offers them a place to be with friends? But afterwards the person returns to their real life, essentially unchanged from the respite.

The question for Christian communities like ours is, are we offering people an opportunity for transformation by inviting them, or inspiring them, to become part of a common journey into the rich life of the Christian faith?

To be a place where those who come here on Sunday are motivated to become part of a common journey means that we are offering people a compelling sense of mission. A  mission that calls out and speaks deep into their soul, addressing a profound, perhaps unrecognized, longing.

As a Community-Centered Church, we are discovering what it means to to be a place where people who are on a journey can join in, no matter where they are on the path. Some people are not even aware that they are on a spiritual path when they come here for a meeting or a class. But coming here means, for us, that they have entered into our mission, into a shared journey of building community. 

The question we are asking is how are we meeting them along the way? How are we seeking to build relationships?

Other people who come here have a greater awareness, even a desire, to be on this journey. These people may actually seek out relationships with people here, finding in us a mutual desire for companionship, sacred deeds, mission. 

Some are actively leading the way, inspiring the rest of us to follow. 

Our Gospel reading this morning from Mark, in fact the entire Gospel of Mark, offers us a vision of God manifesting God’s self in the person of Jesus. In Mark, the God we experience in Jesus is abrupt, breaking into all the ways we are stuck and, unsticking us. Mark names these sticking points as demons. These demons pull us away from the love of God. Jesus casts out the demons and sets people free. Released of their demons people are free to join the journey of people on a mission out to change the world one sacred deed at a time. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

By Instinct or Intent, Our Identity in God

 Epiphany 3B: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 1 Cor. 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Ollie is a big goof of a dog, a large Weimaraner, my daughter’s dog. He’s been with us since Christmas, on an extended visit. This is nothing new, he has stayed with us in the past. When the three dogs are all together they act as though their pack is now complete, life is how it ought to be. Whether here, or at home with our daughter, one of Ollie’s favorite past times is looking out the sliding glass doors and watching the yard full of squirrels and rabbits and deer. 

The deer come almost every night and eat from our bird feeder, tipping the feeder until the seed pours into their mouths like candy. Granted, Dan entices them by filling the feeder just after dark when he knows that the deer are off in the distance, waiting for him.

We’ve taught our dogs to be quiet and watch the deer, but sometimes they can’t help themselves and have to bark. Ollie is certain that if we let him out he could take one of them. However, if he actually encountered the huge buck with the giant rack of antlers he’d quiver to the ground in total submission. I know, because he does that with other dogs, too. He comes off all big and tough, but he’s really a baby. 

The squirrels aren’t so sure of Ollie’s timidity. And to be certain he would easily capture a squirrel, given half a chance. The squirrels in our backyard hang around the bird feeder, eating seed that falls to the ground, or appreciating the handful that Dan throws down for them. These squirrels are particularly attuned to Ollie’s presence. I am sure that when he’s around they all start griping, “Oh no, not HIM again.”

Ollie will bark to be let outside for the sole purpose of chasing after the squirrels. They, being hyper aware of his presence, bound off for the tree, before I open the door. Ollie charges out and makes a bold attempt to climb the tree, certain he can get the squirrel. Because the yard is not fenced, the dogs are attached to a long lead-line, that gives them a wide range of mobility, but still limits how far the can go. 

The squirrels know just how high they need to go to be out of Ollie’s reach but still be able to effectively taunt him. Which they do incessantly - an angry chatter fills the air as the squirrels chastise the dog and bemoan his existence. Before long Ollie grows bored with squirrels and comes back inside, only to repeat the pattern again and again. I’m not exactly sure what triggers the timing of when he has to go outside. He will sit and watch the squirrels for hours through the sliding glass door, and then, for some unknown reason, he just can’t take it anymore, and has to go out after them. And, because this is a lifelong habit that my daughter has tried to break him of, I want to be clear that we do not endorse it, no matter how amusing it is to us.

All of these animals are driven by instinct. Perhaps they have some conscious awareness and some ability to determine their behavior, but most of it is instinct driven. Surely the deer know even as they lay in the snow, with their eyes attentive to our door, that the dogs are leashed and cannot get them. The squirrels and rabbits know it too, for they will often stand just outside of the reach of the leash, and not even move when the dogs race out. But most of the time they act and react out of instinct, predator and prey.

Our faith can be instinctual as well. Often we live our lives, and even practice our faith, based on motivations that are just outside of our conscious awareness. Sometimes we try and are able to articulate why we do what we do. Sometimes we can describe our experiences of God and how God has acted in our lives. But often we cannot. 

Over the last couple of Sundays I have shared some stories from my spiritual journey. I’ve reflected on the lives of my ancestors and wondered how much of their faith lives on in me, wondering if my call to be a parish priest resides in my DNA. You may wonder the same thing - how much influence have your ancestors had on your life? 

Last week I spoke about the years when I left church and how I found my way back; how my return to church had the marks of God all over it, although I didn’t know that at the time.

It is in retrospect that I am able to see where God was working in my life. But God has been at work often enough that I now trust that God is doing something even when I have no idea what or how. 

The same is true for each of you and for this church. Christ Church has been a part of Dearborn for nearly 150 years. Over this span of time God has been instrumental in shaping our parish community. From the first fifty years when there was great uncertainty over whether the church would survive, to its heyday in the 1950’s, to now with our many missions and ministries, God has been with us. Fifty years ago we were a large parish that was the hub of Episcopal life in Dearborn. In the 1950’s and 1960’s we launched three mission churches in the area: St. David’s in Garden City, St. Andrew’s in Livonia, and St. John of Beverly Mission to the Deaf. We supported St. Bartholomew’s mission parish in the 1920’s and when it closed in 1931 we welcomed their parishioners into our community. In those days Christ Church was how a man climbed the corporate ladder and found career success. Here a woman climbed the social ladder, made life-long friends, and found her work in guilds and clubs. Children attended dances and Sunday School and learned about religion.

Now Christ Church is smaller and our stature in Dearborn may be less prominent, however our vitality as a people of God remains strong. We continue to listen to God and follow the nudges and signs of God’s presence and interpret these into active mission work and ministries. We are smaller, but we remain strong and clear on who we are as a people of God. 

Part of the clarity that has formed our recent sense of identity came from the tremendous work done by the Charrette groups in 2010. It also comes from the wisdom of that time to recognize that more development was needed, and it would happen over time, with the calling of a new Rector. In my four years here we have done just that, developed a clear sense of mission and ministry, grounded in the that early work, but intended to carry us into the future. The work we have been about, discerning, clarifying, and listening, guides the process as we claim, and live into, our identity as a Community-Centered Church.

Whether we anchor our reflection this morning on the reading from Jonah or 1 Corinthians or Mark, the point remains the same - God claims us, calls out to us, leads us, has our back, and will never let us go. Our identity as individuals and as a congregation are found in God, whether we are actively aware of this or not. Through out the history of Christ Church in Dearborn, our instinct has been to make a difference in the lives of people. Right now, in particular, we are developing what this means though the Liberia SCHOOL Project, Blessings in a Backpack, dance lessons, music and voice lessons, Martial Arts, AA, the exterior plaza project and many creative ideas of how to use it, the labyrinth, the community garden, the memorial garden, the pet memorial garden, and soon, our plans for a 150 anniversary celebration. 

Today is our 148th Annual Meeting. We will review the mission and ministries of the year past, celebrate our Vestry and our Commissions, Committees, and Ministry Teams. We will elect new members to the Vestry and we will share a meal. It’s a time to rejoice and give thanks to God for God’s faithfulness to us and to thank the leaders of this parish who continue to discern God’s call to us, shaping and forming how we express our identity as Christ Church in the world. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

God Calls Us to Our Truest Self

A reflection for the second Sunday after the Epiphany: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-6; 13-18; 1 Cor 6:12-20, and John 1:43-51

Many years ago I left the church. I left it and didn’t look back for sixteen years. At first I rejected all forms of religion. I scoffed at religious ideas and practices. I was a seventeen year old, and fairly typical of a skeptic in the 1970’s. Eventually life became more complicated and demanded more of me. I started to look more deeply within my self and outside of my self for some direction. I yearned to understand the meaning of life and what my purpose in it might be. Who was I? And more importantly, “what was I supposed to do with my life?” College, and the years post college, were filled with these existential questions. Eventually I began trying on religious practices from other faith traditions. And I say trying on the practices because I didn’t join any religious communities nor did I invest in learning about the tradition, I just learned enough to take on the practices. I learned meditation from Buddhism, practiced contemplation of the beauty of nature and adopted some new age distortions of Native American ideas around spiritual healing using herbs, and gemstones. I was clearly yearning for something spiritual in my life. 

One day, while in the middle of meditating, I found myself ruminating on the dilemma of how to anchor the many loose threads of spirituality that I was exploring. It suddenly occurred to me that I was feeling a renewed connection to Christianity. I had started attending Christmas and Easter services in the Roman Catholic church. I was drawn to liturgy, to the rhythm of worship, to music and prayer. But most of all I was drawn to the incarnation and the resurrection, although I would not have used those words back then. In hindsight I would say that I was drawn to the mystery of the spiritual life that Christianity engages.

At the time, this idea, that I was drawn to Christianity was absolutely startling. When I left the church I thought I was leaving it for good. I turned my back on the Christianity that I knew, narrow-minded and full of certainty. I didn’t know, even when I had this startling awakening, that there were forms of Christianity that would speak deeply into my yearning and allow me to enter into the mystery of faith, living with the questions, without platitudes and simplistic answers.

The idea that God spoke to me that clearly in that moment has stayed with me. It is probably the only time I have heard God speak that directly to me. All the other times when I think God has guided my life have been slower processes of revelation. But thank goodness I was listening that day, took notice, and did something in response.

True, it took me another three years or so to find my way to the Episcopal Church. But even that was a journey of preparation and maturation. I got married, bought a house, had a baby, and then went back to church. I’ve been here ever since. 

Its been over thirty years since that day when I head God speak to me, and since then I’ve learned a few things about Christianity.  Returning to church was crucial to my formation as a Christian, its not something one can do on one’s own. The practices I took up when I was searching were meaningless because I had not entered into community, nor formed meaningful relationships with the other people. Meditation was solitary. Exploring new age spirituality revealed an anything goes set of ideologies and practices that left me feeling untethered and confused. The church brought me into community, into relationships with friends, clergy colleagues, and parishioners, and into a history of Christian tradition, beliefs, and practices that have shaped and formed me ever since. I found tradition without being stuck in traditionalism. 

When I reflect on the readings in the Bible like today’s reading from Samuel and also from the Gospel of John, I totally understand how Samuel felt, and how Nathaniel and the other disciples felt. I understand the urge to get up and follow God’s call. 

Samuel’s call changed forever the nature of priest and the role of prophets in the Jewish tradition. The house of Eli, where Samuel lived, had broken down and failed in its ability to do God’s work in the world. Through Samuel God initiated a new approach to faith,  justice and equality. 

Our Psalm this morning offers us a vision God, as a being who is intimately involved in creation and in our lives. Six times the psalm tells us how God molded creation, shaped and formed us and knows us more deeply than we could ever know ourselves.

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians broadens the description of our identity, of who we are as God’s beloved. He is responding to the church in Corinth, where the people are behaving poorly. Corinth was a wealthy seaport city, with lots of influence from merchants and travelers. It had a high standard of living and a lively social structure. The people in the church in Corinth thought that they could behave any way they liked because Jesus had done the hard work of saving them from their sins, so what they did wouldn't actually matter. Paul reminds them that it does matter. Most of all, how they treat their bodies, and the bodies of other people was crucial to their spiritual well-being. Our bodies are the vessel through which we reveal God’s presence in the world. Our bodies - hands, heart, feet, brain, and spirit work together to bring forth God’s desire in the world. Treating others as if they don’t matter, having empty physical relationships, failing to respect the dignity and integrity of another, is not living as God desires. Paul calls the people in Corinth to a higher standard, a better sense of their identity as a Christian community. 

In the reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus is revealed as one who is so filled with God that people are automatically drawn to him. In response to his words, and even in response to his presence, they drop everything and follow. It’s as if in the person of Jesus, the early disciples sense a connection to their true identity, a bond with God that speaks most profoundly into their deepest sense of self, and they are compelled to listen to a call from God that resonates deep within and follow. 

God reveals God’s self to us in words, in visions and images, in the world around us, in other people, through one another, in Jesus of Nazareth, in the Word made flesh, in the resurrection, in the Holy Spirit, in the Church, in music and art and nature. In all these ways, and more, God reveals God’s self to us, shapes and forms us in our identity as a people of God. God calls to us, speaking deep into our souls, addressing the pervasive emptiness that is symptomatic of  living an inauthentic life. God yearns for us! God knows us inside and out and wants only the very best for us. God calls out to us, and our natural response, whether we know it or not, is to follow. Because following is the only true response to our deepest yearning. Following enables us to know our selves in such a way that our lives have meaning and purpose. In following God, we find our most authentic sense of self and our true identity as God’s beloved.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Five: Baby it's cold outside!

Jan, over at the RevGals invites us to reflect on five ways we cope with the cold:

1. I drink lots of hot beverages, tea and coffee.

2. I eat wintery meals - pot roasts in the slow-cooker, soups and chili. My favorite soups are lentil, white bean chicken chili, beef stew, and chicken vegetable. I make up my own recipes, make everything from scratch, and no two are ever the same.

3. I exercise in-doors using a stationary bike and yoga classes.

4. When I have to go outside, I bundle up as much as possible, leaving very little skin exposed.

5. I light a fire in the fireplace, drink hot tea, and read a book.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Into the void: chaos, God, life....

A reflection on Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11

In 1904 a Swedish mathematician named Helge von Koch created what has become known as the Koch snowflake. Koch was trying to work out some principles in chaos theory called “fractals.” Fractals are self-repeating elements that recreate themselves in a similar manner over and over ad infinitum. Fractals are complex and occur in nature such as trees, rivers, mountains, and so forth.

However, unlike Koch’s snowflake, which created the same pattern in each of his snowflakes, nothing in creation is ever created exactly the same as another. No two trees are exactly the same, no two rivers are exactly the same, no two humans are exactly the same. 

Chaos theory is the science of things that are nonlinear and unpredictable. Most science deals with predictable elements like chemical reactions or gravity. But chaos theory delves into those places that exist between predictability, the space where transition happens. Some of the common descriptions of chaos theory include the butterfly effect - that a butterfly flapping it’s wings in one part of the world will impact the weather on the other side of the world. Chaos theory attempts to describe the transition between order and disorder and a return to order.

For example, we know that weather patterns are unpredictable. Slight changes, on a molecular level in one place, will completely change the weather pattern. Computer projections can only give us approximations of what might happen, but nothing can predict with absolute certainty what will happen. 

Uncertainty is not a state that human beings appreciate. We like to know what the weather is going to be like so we can dress appropriately. We like to set our budget and feel comfortable that we can live within it. We like to rest in assurance. But the truth is, there is no assurance of the future and nothing is predictable, even though we may try to be prepared for any eventuality. 

Thankfully the science of biology teaches us that a little chaos in creation is necessary for life to continue, to prevent stagnation and death. Chaos is generative.

One way of considering the unpredictable nature of life is that it keeps us on our toes. Unpredictability and randomness and chaos force us to rise to the occasion and tap into our most creative juices. Of course we have a choice. We can choose to be creative or we can choose to become stagnant.

This time of year the staff and Vestry are spending time thinking back over the last year in preparation for the Annual Meeting. As we prepare for the meeting we always take a count of the deaths, weddings, and baptisms in this church. We realized that since June of 2011 we have had 37 funerals. 

No doubt the loss of so many beloved parishioners in just three and a half years has impacted us financially, spiritually,  and emotionally. With so much loss, death could easily be the place where we put our emphasis and focus. Certainly taking time to remember those we love and those we have lost, and to grieve is important. But allowing death to define us, any one of us, or all of us, will truly limit our ability to follow God. However, facing into death can open us up to possibility. Facing into death reminds us that we cannot postpone living.

It’s good to remember that in the same time frame, since June of 2011, we have had 16 baptisms, 10 weddings or commitment ceremonies, and 29 new members pledging their support to the mission and ministries of this parish. 

Since June of 2011 we have launched many new ministries. These include the Liberia School Project, the building now 50% complete, and already being used in a variety of ways. The people at our sister church, Good Shepherd in Paynesville, Liberia have inspired us with their faith and trust in God!

We have also launched Blessings in a Backpack, remodeled room 213 to make it a more viable dance classroom and children’s prayer room, and we’ve opened a food pantry that feeds over 23 families each month. We have almost completed the pew project increasing our wheel chair and walker accessibility in the church, and we’re working on the exterior plaza project, opening the front of the church to greater use and offering a gathering place for our neighbors and friends. We increased the size of our community garden and built a gorgeous fence that won us an award from the city of Dearborn. The Holiday Market, which started in Nov. 2011, has become our primary social event of the year as we open our church to artists and the hundreds of shoppers who attend. We continue to be a home for AA, Boy Scouts, Martial Arts, dance classes for adults and kids, yoga classes, voice and music lessons, and Creating Hope International - an organization that aides in educating women in Afghanistan. We offer office space to the League of Women Voters and AAUW, the American Association of University Women. Chapel Day preschool, one of our primary ministries, is still going strong after fifty years. Our Summer Arts Camp merges faith and the arts and feeds the creative sprits of young people every summer. 

We are a community centered church making a difference in the world because we have been willing to be creative and take risks to follow God’s call to us and live into our mission.

One aspect of the pew project that is still under consideration is the baptismal font. When we removed it in October in order to lay the new floor and adapt the pews for wheel chairs, we put the font in the entrance way, where it was originally placed when this church was built. The font itself was constructed sometime between 1920 and 1924 in honor of a member of this parish who was a civil war veteran.

When we first moved the font, we had no baptisms planned for the foreseeable future. But in the nature of unpredictability, since moving it, we have had three baptisms and one more planned for next month. Thankfully we have a small portable font that matches our architecture which can be easily moved into this space for the baptisms.

Our hope is that the big font can be put onto a base that will make it portable. The font is in three pieces, weighing over three hundred pounds each, that sit one on top of the other, held in place only by their weight. It’s a big project, but no doubt, with time, we’ll solve the dilemma of the font, as we always do. 

The point is, just like chaos theory, a little change in one place can have a huge impact elsewhere. The pew project has been both a practical solution to a problem and a source of creative inspiration as we consider how to use our space and our baptismal font.

As the list of all of our ministries reminds us, death is not the dominant fractal of our reality, our story. We have clear evidence of amazing creativity and new life springing forth from us, thanks be to God. 

Each of our readings this morning describe God’s creative and redemptive action in the world.. Through Jesus, God has revealed God’s desire to work with us, with human beings, to transform chaos into new life. With God, we can face into the chaos that will surely come, although we know not when, or how, it will appear. Baptized into the life of Christ we can walk into the waters of life, be they turbulent or calm, and trust that the only predictability in life is that God is with us every step along the way. 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Friday Five: Random, New

MaryBeth, over at RevGals offers this "random" Friday Five with a theme of "New."

1. If you have one, what is your new resolution? I don't make New Year's resolutions. But I do make efforts through out the year to improve myself. Last May I went on a health kick, eating less carbs and sugar and more veggies and protein. I lost some weight as a result, although that wasn't exactly what I was going for. Now I find, ironically that I have to add those carbs back into my diet because I have developed reflux and seem to need a more a simple and relatively bland diet. Eating more simply, along with some medication, seems to help. Also, as I always do in the winter, I am trying to keep up with my exercise. We bought a recumbent bike and I use that for cardio and then my usual go to yoga as much as possible. Yoga has made me stronger. A lot stronger. Also, I am a Spiritual Direction intern, so I am working on the spiritual side, too. And I am taking classes with the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and learning more about myself, my family, and how to be less anxious and more self-differentiated. So, no resolutions per se, but always working on myself. 
2. Many folks choose a new word for a year’s beginning, as Marci’s congregation does with StarWords. Some let their word choose them, like Christine at Abbey of the Arts. Do you have a word for the year? I tried the starword with my church last year but it didn't really take hold with us, or me, although I still like the idea. So, no. No word for the year.
3. What is your new favorite exclamation/phrase at times of joy or frustration? Uhm. I'm not sure.I am over "awesome"...and not sure what is replacing it...
4. Do you have a new favorite food, or an old one you are newly enjoying? I'm making pasta with a tomato cream sauce and turkey meatballs more often these days. I can't eat regular tomato sauce these days without my reflux acting up so I make a cream sauce and add diced tomatoes to dilute the cream a little. Do you think the turkey meatballs offset the fat in the cream sauce? lol
5. Finally, in general: what is your new favorite thing? I am doing a lot of new things but not sure if any one of them is my "favorite"... although I must say I love riding the bike while reading a book. I have a difficult time just sitting and reading, unless I am on vacation and have resolved to do nothing. So riding the bike is doing something (an hour of something) and I get to read too.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Into the thick darkness

A reflection on Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12

Over the Christmas break I found myself doing some research on the genealogy of my family. It was easy research because several family members have done extensive work on each of my grandparents and posted them on public sites through Ancestry dot com. One person, some distant relative I do not know, has traced my paternal grandfather’s mother’s family, back to the early kings and queens of Scotland. Apparently I am related to William, known as the Lion King of Scotland, who reigned in the 13th century as well as all the kings of Scotland back to Kenneth in the 9th century, and his family members back to the first century.

 As someone who has spent most of my life outside of Utah and far from my family I value this research and the way it sparks my imagination. 

I often wonder about my family members who left England and Scotland, traveling on rickety ships over turbulent waters, to come to this country. Whether it was family members escaping the Puritan controversy in England in the early 1600’s or family members seeking renewal of faith through the Mormon church in the 1800’s, it appears my ancestors were an adventurous lot, willing to take great risks to follow God’s call to them. This leads me to wonder about the DNA of religion - is it possible that what ever provoked my ancestors to follow their faith is also alive in me - that there is literally something that is part of my genetic makeup? Why did I discern a call to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church when all the rest of my immediate family members are either not religious or active in the Mormon church? What about you? What is your religious DNA? What journeys of faith have you or your ancestors made?

Questions like these are appropriate for this time of year, as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany and the journey of the Magi. I love, in particular, the phrase from Isaiah this morning about being in “thick darkness.” The word for this comes from a Jewish term that is associated with the divine presence - being in thick darkness means to be in the presence of the divine, wondering how one is being called to respond to God’s invitation to follow. Surely the Magi had a sense of being in thick darkness? 

The Magi travelled a great distance, guided only by the trajectory of a star shining brightly in the sky. But these astrologers or astronomers knew the significance of a bright star and its call to them. The Orthodox tradition understands there to be as many as twelve Magi, possibly men and women both, from places far from Israel. 

Our Western understanding of the story tells us that there were three magi, based on the three gifts offered; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Despite following a bright star, the Magi, however many of them there were, had no clear idea where they were going nor did they know exactly what they would find. Following God is often a journey into the unknown, a thick darkness, indeed. Journey’s into the unknown, especially when following God, are often mysterious, requiring us to take challenging risks which carry no guarantee that the outcome will meet our expectations. 

I’d like say that everything worked out well for my family members who took the risk and left home to travel a continent away for their faith. But it didn’t always work out. At the very least they faced harsh weather, poor housing, difficult financial situations, the death of children, and the lack of extended family support.

All of my life I’ve thought of myself as someone who comes from pioneer stock -  hearty strong women - adapted for hard work. It’s a bit startling to think that I might also come from a long line of queens and kings of Scotland, earls and nobles in England, whose children’s children ended up in Massachusetts and then Utah. I have a Roman Catholic, Baptist, Puritan, Church of England, Church of Scotland, Mormon, and Christian Scientist religious heritage.

Clearly, following God, one never knows how the journey will unfold. The Magi travelled far but when they encountered Herod the journey offered a fork in the road. What if the Magi had ignored the message they received in a dream? What if they had returned to Herod after finding Jesus? What if Herod had managed to kill Jesus as an infant? How then would God’s story have unfolded?

A journey into the thick darkness is always filled with risk, with forks in the road, with discernment, and decisions to be made. 

As Christians we understand that God has chosen to work in and through human life. This is a risk God takes, choosing to work in and through human beings. We all know how fickle we humans can be. Anyone of us can easily change our minds, change our direction, and go against God’s desire, without even being aware of it. Anything can happen. However, story after story in the Bible reminds us that God perseveres, the Holy Spirit keeps working, until all things come together for the good. God puts God’s trust in us and hopes we will take the path that leads to hope, new life, and faith. God never gives up. 

The trajectory of our lives has led each one of us to be here in this place on this day. Our combined religious DNA converges in this place. Thus, we are all here, a community of faithful people seeking to know God more fully in our lives, striving to live faithful lives. We come and gather, pray, share a meal, grow together as a family of faith. We are on a common course, a path of following God. Sometimes our shared journey is sure and certain and other times we are lead to take risks into the unknown.

I imagine each of us wonders how this year will unfold. What will God call forth from us in 2015? What risks are we being asked to take? What kind of stamina will it require? Will we have the fortitude to persevere? Will we have the courage to take risks? Will we have the wisdom to discern in such a way that we can keep open to the Holy Spirit but are still able to be recognize foolhardiness when it strikes? How might the opportunities, whatever may come, open us to new ways of seeing God? 

Thankfully, whether you are a risk taker or someone who proceeds with caution,  we face into the thick darkness together. MayGod’s light shine upon us and show us the way.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Friday Five: Living the Questions

3dogmom over at the RevGalsBlog offers the Friday Five meme this week, reflecting on what one hopes to accomplish in 2015. She has a list of projects for herself, but also suggests we consider Parker Palmer's questions posted on Krista Tippets blog for "On Being."  He began with Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet: patient with all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions not seek the answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you then, gradually without noticing it, live along some distant day, into the answer.

Then Palmer offers these questions:

What can I let go of in order to find aliveness?
What is my next challenge in daring to be human?
How can I open myself up to the beauty in nature and in humans?
Who or what do I need to learn to love next?
What is the new creation that yearns to be born in or through me?
rough me?

These are the questions I am pondering for 2015. This is the year that will mark fifteen years of ordained ministry. It is the year my husband and I will celebrate 30 years of marriage. It is a year of importance in that regard. I turn 58 this year and am pondering what I am being called to do with the remaining years of my life. What will I do after I retire - and I have at least nine years before that is possible. Can I take a sabbatical? And if so, what would it look like?

I have no answers for this Friday Five, just more questions.

On the other hand, I did spend most of December cleaning my house and cleaning out areas of the house. That was a great accomplishment. So I can rest with these questions in a clean and organized space.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...