Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sacred Choices

Week after week, month after month, year after year, people come here looking for food. The people who come to our food pantry often come carrying paperwork and forms, prepared to justify why they are coming here seeking assistance. Some places require that justification, limiting who and what and when. Neither E. nor I ever look at that paper work. I never make them sit down and go through their prepared litany to justify their need. I find that process to be humiliating and dehumanizing for the person. Besides their stories rarely change what we offer, or how we share, showing them the pantry and the refrigerator, and giving them bags to help themselves to food. "Take what you need, and leave some for others."  A friendly conversation always surrounds the time people are here, chatting about this, that, or the other thing. 

This week when I introduced myself as the parish priest, one family was at first surprised, then hugged me, then asked, “Can we come to church here?” I of course said yes and told them when our services are. Will we see them in church? Perhaps one day we will. 

The Requiem or Renaissance process that Jim Gettel has developed in this diocese asks congregations one primary question: “Who is our neighbor?” Two additional questions follow that one: “How are we reaching our neighbor?” And, “Who is reaching our neighbor?”

Who is our neighbor, how are we reaching our neighbor, and who is doing the reaching?

Our mission to feed people in mind, body, and spirit, focuses our examination of and response to these questions. Even if we were to limit our examination to the food pantry alone, we could consider how our mission to feed people in mind, body, and spirit reflects who we are, who our neighbor is, how we are reaching them, and who is doing the reaching. From there we could wonder what more we are being called to do. Like what about a weekly meal that we prepare, inviting food pantry people and AA folk, and others to share a meal with us? Maybe we would include a small simple worship service with the meal? 

That would be eucharistic, communion, holy. 

We could apply a similar methodology, breaking down our mission to feed people in mind, body, and spirit to Blessings in a Backpack, Martial Arts, Dance and Music, AA, the community groups that use the building, the Plaza, the labyrinth, the community garden, and the Holiday Market. In all of these ways exploring who our neighbor is, and how we are meeting our neighbor,  who comes here hungry for food, companionship, or a purpose in life, nourishing people in mind, body, and spirit. 

No doubt we could do more to reach our neighbors, especially those who do not yet come to us. The outdoor summer concert series is one opportunity because, among other people who don’t normally come to this church, the Dearborn Christian Singles group promotes the series and invites their members to attend. Here is an opportunity for us to get to know our neighbors without going too far outside of ourselves. There are three more concerts this year, I encourage everyone to come and to make the effort to meet and greet those who attend.

There are countless other ways this could be developed, where we could move further outside this building and grow relationships with our neighbors, including the Healthy Dearborn project and the Ford Motor Company Dearborn revitalization project. These are especially relevant to us at Christ Church, because as I said in my sermon last week, we are the living legacy of the philanthropic work that Clara Ford did in the metro Detroit area, in and through this church. Her DNA resides in this church and her light shines in and through this congregation.  

All of our readings this morning point us to consider the choices we have in life - choices in how we decide to follow God and how we enflesh God’s holy Spirit and enliven the world through God’s mission. We’ve heard stories of the powerful witness of Hagar, Sarah, and Rebekah. We have our own inspiring matriarch in Clara Ford and a heritage of sharing, giving, and growing community that defines who we are, how we are called to be, and what we are called to do. 

Who is our neighbor? The hungry people in the world around us, yearning to be fed. Fed with real food. Fed by opportunities to be in real relationship. Fed by risk taking, seeking initiatives to make a real difference in the world.  For me, it is sacramental, God’s holy communion, offered by a community centered church, feeding people in mind, body, and spirit. 

a reflection on the readings for Proper 10A: Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A crisis, of faith

The other day someone asked me if I was having a “crisis of faith.”

A crisis of faith implies that I am doubting my belief in God or in the way God works in my life or the world. I do, often, doubt.  However my life long relationship with God, grounded in prayer and an existential sense that God is with me (us), assures me that my doubts are actually about me. I doubt because I am struggling. Yet, even as I struggle I know that God will once again show God’s presence and I will see, probably in hindsight, how God is and has been present. 

So I live in a paradoxical reality of doubt and trust. As a result I don’t worry about my doubts and because I don’t worry about them I don’t fall into a “crisis” of faith. I just keep trying, more or less successfully, to  stay in relationship with God, self, and others, until this time passes. Because it always passes. Which is what I said to the person who asked me that question.  

That doesn’t mean I am comfortable in these times. I am not. 

Because I am in kind of “crisis” mode. Crisis because at the age of 60 years I am wondering if this is it. Is THIS all my life will amount too? I haven’t accomplished nearly as much as I thought I would, as I hoped I would. I feel a little bit like Sarah in the tent, laughing, smirking, weeping. Really? In my old age something new will happen? That’s a promise of faith, right, if one stays faithful, life will be transformed and made new? That this is really NOT it, and that the best is yet to come, even in my old age.

God of minutes and years
God of waiting and sustaining
God of action and change, of
Life as it is and life transforming - 
God, give me stamina
to walk these days
fill me with trust
trust in your ways.

Trust that even now
in my obtuseness,
you are at work.
That you are always seeking
ways to move in the world
to move the world toward
the good of life, newness,
transformation, hope.

Trust that even in my little life
there is still much I can do
to work with you, to be
creative, generative,
and even in my old age
to give birth.

Written for the RevGalBlogPals weekly devotional E-reader

Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Wilderness of Faith

I have made many cross country driving trips in my life. One year alone I drove from Arizona to Chicago seven times. And as you all know I recently made the drive along I90 from Dearborn to Seattle, with side trips to the Badlands, Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore, and Yellowstone. 

Every time I prepare for a cross country driving trip I wonder how it will go. Will we run into bad weather? Will we find or make it to our hotels each night? Will we find food and gas when we need it? Will we have car trouble? Will there be bad traffic? Will we get lost? Will we be safe? Will it be fun? 

Even though I have all these questions in the back of my mind, as I head off for a long drive I am excited and willing to accept that there are inherent risks to any journey.

The story in Genesis today of Rebekah meeting Abraham’s servant at the well and deciding to go with him into the wilderness to marry Isaac - a man she has never seen let alone met - leaves me awestruck with her courage, strength, vision, and faith. 

Rebekah comes from a lineage of strong, courageous women who are leaders in their communities. Her decision mirrors that of her relatives Abraham and Sarah, who also ventured off into the wilderness to follow God’s call. Sarah became the dominant character in that journey, for better or for worse, sometimes taking matters into her own hands instead of waiting for God. Of course, who wouldn’t? She did end up waiting decades for God to do what God had promised her God would do - provide her with a son from whom a great nation would be built. Who wouldn’t wonder if perhaps this or that or the other thing is what God actually intended, when the wait is so long? 

Now Sarah has died and Rebekah has moved into Sarah’s tent, married to Isaac. When Sarah lived in the tent, a light burned within it. When Sarah died, the light went out. Now that Rebekah is in the tent, the light has returned. It was thought that God resided in that light.  God’s light was shining through these women, Sarah and now Rebekah, in a particular way. 

Soon Rebekah and Isaac will become the parents of twins, Esau and Jacob - but that is our story for next week. Today we encounter courage and faith in a woman who willingly heads off into the unknown, confident that God has her back and will be with her.

This is the perfect story for us in our 150th anniversary year as we stand on the threshold between the past and the future, between what was and what could be.

Our history is deeply embedded in our own matriarch, Clara Ford, and her history of helping others. Clara and her husband Henry were members of this church. They gave us this land that the church is built on, Henry Ford himself signing the deed of sale. Clara was present at the groundbreaking ceremony. But Clara was also instrumental in helping people all around the area, helping the hungry and the poor. She was a model of courage, strength, and generosity. She wasn't perfect, but she had a vision and a desire to make the world just a little better, and she spent her life trying to do so. The light that God bestowed upon her still shines in this place.

Clara is our matriarch, we are her legacy. We live in her tent and we are charged with keeping the light of God burning in and through this church. With her DNA in our bloodline we are feeding people in body, mind, and spirit: from our food pantry to blessings in backpack to our community garden; from the unbelievable outpouring of work this week with the effort to build the rainwater collection system to water the garden, being good stewards of the environment and of our resources; to our outdoor summer concert series supporting local musicians and offering the community a free evening of entertainment; to the Holiday Market that supports local artists and crafters; to the labyrinth and the beauty of this property; to the building and the many people and community groups that use it and from which they each have the opportunity to build their mission in the world; in these and so many other ways we offer ourselves as a beacon of light and hope, as a community centered church.

But there is more we can do. I feel it in my bones. Like Rebekah, we have watered the camels and tended to the stranger in our midst. And now, like Rebekah, we are being called to move out into the unknown. The Renaissance Task Force is listening, praying, discerning where and how God is calling us into the wilderness. Do we have the courage of Rebekah to step out? Do we have the compassion of Rebekah and Clara to be agents of transformation in our community? Do we have the ability to be creative in our response to God’s call? 

a reflection on Proper 9A: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Saturday, July 01, 2017

A liberating test

Few scripture readings are as disturbing as our reading today from Genesis. You are in good company if you are wondering why would God test Abraham in this way. What does it say about God, to require this kind of a test?

 The most traditional understanding of this scripture story is that it marks the end of child sacrifice in the Hebrew tradition, even though it remained common in the pagan cultures of the region.

Or maybe its just a story about sacrifice, about one’s willingness to give for God? And that sometimes what one gives or gives up for God feels difficult and leaves one conflicted?

Or maybe the ram was present all along and Abraham was so anxious and singularly focused that he missed God’s grace until God made it blatantly clear that the ram was there?

Rabbis in the Jewish tradition have an ancient process by which they explore the meaning of scripture which is called “Midrash.”

Midrash considers to the “rough” spots, the places in the text that seem incongruous, or somehow jump out.

Some rough spots in this text include: “why a test?” We aren’t told why God was testing Abraham, only that “God tested Abraham.” So the rabbis wonder, what is this about? In midrash, nothing is meaningless, every word might point to something profound.

Another midrash has Isaac and his half brother Ishmael arguing about who Abraham loves best. Before long the argument turns to God. Isaac offers to be sacrificed as proof of his love for God, regardless of who Abraham might love best. 

There are also scholarly conversations on Hagar and Sarah and their potential response to this event, even though they are silent in the text. Sarah, who up until this point has been a prominent character and directed events in order to bring forth God’s desire, is suddenly silent. She has nothing to say regarding this, never speaks again, and when she dies she’s in a different area than Abraham. It’s unclear what happened to her.

And what about Hagar? Six chapters earlier, in chapter 16, Hagar has an encounter with God in the wilderness and she becomes the first person in the Bible to name God, “El Roi, the God Who Sees.” Later, in Chapter 24 Isaac travels past a well called  Beer Lahai Roi, which means, “the one who sees me lives.” One idea suggests that Isaac ran from the attempted sacrifice to Hagar and sought comfort from her, never returning to Abraham or Sarah. 

Soon, Isaac will meet Rebecca, the woman who becomes his wife. Is it just a coincidence that he meets her in the same place where Hagar lives? 

There seems to be a connection between Hagar and Isaac and what it means to see and hear God in one’s life, and as a result to be liberated from that which binds them. 

If one believes that scripture is just ancient stories from a former time, then a flat and literal interpretation of the text works. But if one believes that the stories in the Bible reveal something about the ongoing presence of God in the lives of human beings, then the text comes alive.

Today I am pondering what it means to be liberated by God. What do I need to be liberated from in my life, and how is God trying to liberate me? What do I need to sacrifice or give up or offer up to God and how will that help bring forth liberation? What sign of God’s grace is right in front of me, and I’m not seeing it? 

Perhaps these are some of your questions, too? Or maybe you have other questions that the text has surfaced? 

Stories like these in Genesis invite us to delve deeper into the human condition and explore the meaning of life and what makes life meaningful. In a similar way the Renaissance Strategy Task Fore is pondering who Christ Church is now at 150 years old. What does this congregation need to be liberated of? What do we need to sacrifice, offer up, or give away so that we can live most fully as God is calling us to live?

a reflection on the readings for Proper 8 Genesis 22:1-14

How to know what I don't know that I don't know....

What are the things that I don't know that I don't know? This is the primary question that Faithwalking asks each person to consid...