Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blue Christmas

This is the first year we will have a Blue Christmas service at my parish.  It seems appropriate for us as well as for the larger community.  We lost a beloved member this year and had a young man commit suicide.  A few of us have children in prison, there have been several serious hospital stays and probably a lot of other things have happened that I am not aware of.  So we are inviting the community to join us in prayer and meditation.

The gospel reading for this service is the birth narrative from Luke.  Everyone knows this story.  Last year, when we read it Christmas Eve, I cast Joseph and Mary as poor people from back in the mountains who were traveling to Washington DC and had to stop here so Mary could have her baby.  It wasn't a sermon that was bursting with joy.  I think we lose sight of the fact that the birth of Jesus wasn't a time of joy.  They were away from home, required to go to Bethlehem by an oppressive government.  There was no doctor to tell Mary that she was too pregnant to travel and it wouldn't have made a difference anyway.  They had to go; there was no choice in the matter.  Add that to the general scariness of giving birth - scarier then than now even! - and it wasn't a clap-happy night. 

We have surrounded this holiday with such overflowing joy that we often lose sight of what the day/night actually was.  We also forget that this is more than just another baby.  Jesus is the one who comes to bring God into our lives in a radically new way.  And he doesn't come to the wealthy or well-connected but rather says over and over again that he comes for those who are weary and heavy laden, the very people who will gather for Blue Christmas. 

And we will bring this baby gifts, although they might not look like gifts.  You see, we bring Jesus our problems, our sorrows, our pain and our losses.  We are most real when we admit that there is more to us and to our celebration than joy in gathering together and in giving and receiving gifts.  There is remembering those who are no longer with us or who, for whatever reason, cannot be with us around tree and table.  There is sadness mixed with our joy and we do ourselves a disservice if we do not recognize that.

Here's one of my favorite Christmas stories.  My youngest sister was convinced there was no Santa Claus.  She spent her 8th Christmas noticing little things - who had written the tags, what store the box came from (in the days before generic boxes).  And then she announced that there wasn't any Santa Claus. 

I think we spent the entire next year trying to convince her otherwise but she was adamant.  Mother and Nana had wrapped the presents and put the tags on.  She knew where they had come from and it just wasn't the North Pole.  To prove that she was right, she put out a snack for Santa the next Christmas.  And she wrote a note asking that Santa leave her a note in reply.  She also warned us that she would recognize anyone's handwriting even if we wrote wrong-handed.  I remember wondering how in the world we were going to pull this off.  There just didn't seem to be any way to pass her test.

Christmas Eve, we all went to the early service.  Then, Mom put the little kids to bed, Daddy went off to direct another church choir and my older sister and I went to sing in the choir for the late service.  I admit I was thinking more about what to do for the Santa note than I was interested in the sermon.  As we processed out of church, I noticed a good friend of the family in the back row.  Obie hadn't ever come to church; in fact, I'm pretty sure I knew that he had no use for church.  So I was delighted to see him there.  We asked him to come back to the house with us, knowing that Mother and Daddy would love to see him.  Yes, you guessed right; Obie wrote the note from Santa.

My little sister was flummoxed!  She had no idea where that note came from but it was enough to help her believe for one more year even though the boxes came from the same stores and Mother wrote the tags.

The reason this story is one of my favorites is that Obie died young of an awful disease.  The doctors told him he could go to bed and perhaps have another year or he could go back to teaching and directing plays and he would die much sooner.  He chose to do the work he loved and use the talents he had been given as long as he was able.

I think of Obie every Christmas Eve when we sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing, the hymn we processed out of church to that long ago night.  And I shed a few tears for a man who was so dear.

Friday, November 26, 2010

RevGals Pie Debate

1) Are pies an important part of a holiday meal?
       If I had to choose which was more important, pie would win out over turkey even.  I made pumpkin, pecan chess and bourbon chocolate pecan.  Long ago, though, I went from apple pie to apple crisp.

2) Men prefer pie; women prefer cake. Discuss.
       I prefer pie over cake any day.  In my immediate family, we used to do birthday pies rather than birthday cakes. 

3) Cherries--do they belong in a pie?
       Yes, but not sweet ones.  Years ago, we could get sour cherries during the season but since I moved back south, I can't find them.  Anyway, I would can lots of cherries and we would have cherry pie all year.  Yum!

4) Meringue--if you have to choose, is it best on lemon or chocolate?
       Lemon definitely.  I don't really like chocolate pie, probably because it is rarely dark chocolate and there's no point in eating any other kind of chocolate.  But meringue is the very best on key lime!

5) In a chicken pie, what are the most compatible vegetables? Anything you don't like to find in a chicken pie?
       Carrots and peas.  When I was a kid, this was about the only way I ate peas.  You can add potatoes if you have to but keep everything else out.  No beans, turnips, parsnips or anything else.

There is only one cake I would ever allow at a Thanksgiving dinner.  That's an apple stack cake.  Our grocery store was selling them last week.  I finally had to tell a manager that what they had was *not* an apple stack cake.  They had taken yellow cake layers, sliced them in half and put apple butter between the layers.  Absolute heresy!  I have experimented with using gingerbread cookie layers rather than sugar cookie ones.  It is good but still not as good as your basic short cookies and applesauce with or without cinnamon.  My aunt uses half applesauce and half apple butter - both home made - but I prefer just applesauce.

Today is the day we eat desserts for breakfast!  I confess pecan pie does not make a good breakfast but I often feel like the only reason I make pumpkin pie and apple crisp is so we can have them first thing in the morning.  A great way to start the day, especially when the weather is lousy like today.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Here’s my Thanksgiving prayer.  If anything in it leads you into your own prayer, you have my permission to stop listening to the sermon and go where prayer takes you.

Good and gracious God, I thank you that I am not a wandering Aramean. At the same time, I thank you that my ancestors were. I cannot begin to imagine the hardship they faced, the days of wondering if it was worth it or whether it would just be better to lie down and die. I thank you that they remained faithful followers of yours, trusting that the Lord their God was there always.
I thank you, too, that I did not have to find my way through the wilderness of this country when it was settled. I wonder sometimes what made people move off the coastlands and start walking towards the mountains. Thank you for those who had the zeal for exploration. I know that I can live here between the Cumberland Plateau and the Smokies because people living many years before me made it possible.

And thank you for the circuit riders and family Bibles, the tent meetings and riverside baptisms. As much as I love my mostly proper Episcopal Church, I am truly thankful for all of the men and women that made sure wherever they went on this huge continent, you went with them.

Thank you, God, that I got to make the decision to follow your loving Son after the crucifixion/resurrection. I confess that I wonder sometimes if I would have done what the crowd did and allowed myself to be swayed from Hosanna to Crucify. I am most thankful to have been spared that particular temptation.

You see, God, I don’t think I have what it takes to be a wanderer or to settle land that doesn’t look like it would support any crop other than more trees and rocks. I’m not sure I would remember to be faithful in prayer and reading of Scripture and tradition if I didn’t have a church community to worship with me. And I see so many people who, when confronted with adversity, turn away from you. It isn’t that I have lived a charmed life with no difficult decisions or times when I have felt alone. There have been plenty of those and I suspect there are more of those times in store before I leave this mortal coil. But all of those who have walked with you before I ever came to be and those who taught me to walk with you and with them have made it possible for me to give you thanks even when I cannot see the light anywhere.  And thanks for those who taught me to walk this Way.

So, on the eve of the day which we set aside to be thankful, I want to give you thanks especially for your peace. It really is beyond all understanding and I like that about it. I am a better person knowing that your peace guards my heart and my mind in Christ. May I keep on doing the things you have given me to do and may others come to walk with you because you walk with me.

Thank you.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

By faith

When Abraham left Ur, he did not go alone. His wife, his nephew, his household of servants, all went with him to the unknown land. And, of course, God was with Abraham, too, this Lord Almighty of whom Abraham had never heard before God spoke to him.

So why did Abraham follow? How did he know that he was hearing the voice of God and not that of his own mind, wondering if there might not be a better land far away from that of his ancestors? The author of Hebrews says Abraham acted by faith. So did Abel, Enoch and Noah whose stories we skipped in this morning's reading. If we had continued reading, we would have heard that Rahab, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses also acted by faith.

But what is faith and how do we know that we are putting our faith in God? The author of Hebrews has much to say about that. To better understand him, though, we need to know more about this so-called letter. Sadly, if we are searching for who/what/where details, we will be disappointed. We do not know who the author was or when and to whom he wrote. We do not know where he was or where the congregation was, either. What we do know is that this letter is more likely a sermon, written to buoy up a flagging congregation and we think it was written before the end of the first century because that was a time when it was really hard to be a Christian.

Tom Long, author of a commentary on Hebrews, says this: "The Preacher is addressing a real and urgent pastoral problem, one that seems astonishingly contemporary. His congregation is exhausted. They are tired - tired of serving the world, tired of worship, tired of Christian education, tired of being peculiar and being whispered about in society, tired of the spiritual struggle, tired of trying to keep their prayer life going, tired even of Jesus. Their hands droop and their knees are weak, attendance is down at church and they are losing confidence."

Does any of that sound like a time or two in our own lives? Havent we all experienced times when we just feel that being a Christian - constantly being ready for the return of the Christ even though a large part of us just doesn't believe we will ever see it and we sometimes doubt that it will ever happen at all? - is exhausting and maybe even futile? I've heard a lot of people say something like, "Well, if God really does care, why doesn't God come down here right now and *do* something about this?" It is not very hard at all to put ourselves in the shoes of the Hebrews even though some 2,000 years separates us.

It is to this situation of exhaustion and flagging faith that the sermon is speaking. When we are ready to give up, says the Preacher, remember Abraham. Remember all the faithful people who have gone before us, rarely seeing the fruit of their labor but having faith that the fruit will come.

We too get tired, even tired of being peculiar. This country may be called a Christian nation but it really isn't. What would happen, for instance, if we told our child's soccer coach that he or she won't be playing on Sundays? What would happen if we refused to work on Sundays? What would happen if we asked our company for time off to go on a spiritual retreat or if we asked to leave early because we want to go to church? As far as I know, I am the only one here who ought to work on Sundays and who actually does get to take time for spiritual reenergizing.

But Jesus is very clear that we are supposed to be ready at all times for the bridgroom to come. How, Lord, are we supposed to do that 24/7, we want to ask? The answer, I believe, goes back to faith. We are grounded by our faith. We need to see everything we do, no matter how trivial or secular it seems, as being done in faith. For instance, children with the special gifts necessary to play soccer give thanks for that ability, pray that the Lord will continue to be with them as use their gifts and that through the sport of soccer they may learn how those same skills might be put to use for the kingdom of God. That sounds very strange, doesn't it? But I believe that we are to use our gifts and that by doing so, we will be drawn closer to the Lord. How? Well, we are to have faith that God will reveal that to us in God's time.

Faith, says the Preacher of Hebrews, "is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Because we have faith in the promises God has given us through the Christ, we act out of faith even though the world doesn't often look as though God care one whit about it or us. It is through faith that we live in the promises of peace, jsutice, mercy and salvation.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hosea and the Lord's Prayer

At first reading, the prophet Hosea and the Lord's Prayer have absolutely nothing in common.  But I think we might be able to at least find that they make sense together.

At the time that the Lord began to prophesy to Israel through his servant Hosea, Israel was at war with Assyria.  The inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom, were we able to ask them, would tell us that they were Jews, followers of Adonai, the one God.  I am sure that the Shema - Hear O Israel:  the Lord is our God, the Lord is one - was uttered daily by all of these people.  Not only did they proclaim God as Lord, they also kept all the feasts and sacrifices as prescribed by Moses.

The problem wasn't that they now considered themselves children of Baal or Astarte, it was that they were very comfortable being Jews.  They had it in the back of their heads that the Lord was their God and the Lord would always be there for them, would always rescue Israel.  This made them so comfortable that they promptly forgot everything else they knew about God and how they had been told that children of God behave.  They used questionable ethics to get ahead - in business, in society, in government and foreign affairs.  They believed in God but they trusted that they knew what was best for Israel and God was behind the times.

So God has Hosea act out his prophecy.  "Go marry a prostitute, Hosea.  For my people are prostituting themselves by forsaking me," says the Lord.  "You will have children but they will be the product of prostitution, Hosea, because the children will be like their mother, selling themselves to the highest bidder to get what they think is happiness and security.

"Your first child will be a boy named Jezreel, named after the place where King Jehu slaughtered so many people, ostensibly in my name but in truth to avenge his ancestor Naboth.  Your daughter will be named Lo ruhamah because Israel will get no pity from me this time.  And the third child, another boy, will be named Lo-ammi.  By this Israel will know that they are not my people and I am not their God.

"But in the days far ahead, the children of Israel will be more in number than the grains of sand on the seashore and in this very same place, I will call Not My People the Sons of the Living God."

It couldn't have been easy for Hosea to marry a prostitute.  Gomer was probably a temple prostitute, one who was part of the fertility rites of the local gods.  Everyone knew who and what she was.  Having her in his house, walking down the street with her, raising her ill-gotten children would have been an awful embarrassment, bringing shame on Hosea and his extended family.  But he obeyed the Lord and married this most unsuitable woman, letting everyone know that Gomer is a symbol of how they treat the Lord.

The United States has always considered itself to be a Christian nation, one nation under God.  Europe is the cradle of Western Christianity and yet the consensus today is that Christianity is dead in Europe.  That is certainly a generalization; however, consider this story.  My sister Beverly was in Sweden for Easter one year.  At a dinner on Easter Eve, someone asked her what she was going to do the next day.  Bev said she was going to go to church.  "Why?" her companion asked.

Nor can we honestly say that the United States is a Christian nation.  Besides the fact that we have become a haven for many faith traditions - a very good thing and one that is part of our charge from God to welcome the stranger - we seem to be Christian like Hosea's Israel was Jewish.  We believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit but can't seem to translate that into daily living.  We would rather trust ourselves or those we have chosen to lead us.

And so we come to the Lord's Prayer, probably one of the first things we ever memorized, somewhere around the tender age of three.  It is as much a part of us as the Shema was a part of Hosea's Israel.  We can all say it at the drop of a hat and with just about that much thought.  Hear again Luke's version:

Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.   Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.   And do not bring us to the time of trial.

If we stop and listen to what we are praying, we may well be brought up short.  This is not something to be rattled off.  It is a prayer we say boldly, with the conviction that God hears us.

Father, hallowed be your name.  There is no one or no thing greater than you, Lord.  You are the beginning and end and in you we live and move and have our being.  I trust you.

Your kingdom come.  I will not spend my life raising up my own kingdom, God.  I will look to you for guidance and direction so that your kingdom may thrive and that I may live there.

Give us each day our daily bread.  I'm not asking for more than I need or deserve.  I trust that you will help me find what I need and what my family need.  I will not be greedy.

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  I know, Lord, that I have sinned against you either by what I have done or what I have not done.  Others have sinned against me and they are indebted to me for forgiveness.  Some have even asked me to forgive them and I know that I need to do that.  Maybe if I remember that I am indebted to you for forgiveness, I will remember to forgive them.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.  Please, Lord, do not try my faith.  For I know I will be found lacking even though I strive to be righteous.

This is but one interpretation of the Lord's Prayer.  It isn't perfect or the only way to interpret what Jesus told us to pray.  The key is to go beyond these few short sentences, this small collection of words, and pray it as if all of life hinged on God's answer.

Because it does.If we continue to pay lip service rather than taking God as the center of our lives from whom everything flows, we will end up like Israel did.  Defeated, killed, removed from the land.

We are here because we know this to be true.  We understand that the Lord  expects us to be serious about being faithful children of God, that the Lord desires nothing more than to be in loving communion with us.  And so we pray boldly not just for ourselves but to call upon the Lord to be present with us even when we are afraid, full of sin and anger and greed.  We turn to the Lord because there is simply no one, no where else to turn.  We live in God and with God and act through God. 

Because the Lord did not abandon the people of Israel.  God allowed their decisions to form their destruction but when they saw how wrong they were, God restored them and called them Sons of the Living God.  We are the inheritors, through Christ, of the land, called Children of God forever.  The Lord is our God, the Lord is one and to the Lord be all the power and the glory.  Amen.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Samaritans and plumb lines

It is a good thing that tomorrow's lectionary pairs the parable of the Good Samaritan with the reading from Amos about God setting a plumb line in the midst of Israel.  Here's why I think this is so.

First, the plumb line is a symbol of God's judgment on Israel.  I tend to think of a plumb line as something I fashion to help me hang wallpaper straight.  The theory is that getting the first strip of paper on the wall straight will cause all of the others to go on straight, too.  The last time I put up wallpaper, I got out a plumb line, chalked the string, found the line and hung the first strip along the chalked line.  By the time I finished the job - well, actually, about eight strips of paper into the job - I was just a shade off.  Since this job was for my pleasure in my house and the unaligned strips met in an obscure part of the wall, my philosophy was, "it's close enough for government work."  (Who came up with that line anyway??)  So I left it.

But if you are building a structure - or a nation - you can't stray from plumb ever.  There are no obscure parts of the wall.  There are no places in the government that can be left even a little askew or the whole system will rot.

It seems the Israel hadn't been checking the walls of the nation often enough to make sure than they were still plumb, that there were no places where internal pressure had caused the wall to bow out, no corners where the ground had settled and taken a part of the foundation down with it.  Furthermore, they didn't seem the least bit concerned about it.  Perhaps they believed that God would continue to make everything okay or maybe they felt they had outgrown God and could take care of everything themselves without heavenly "interference."

So the Lord gives Amos a vision (literally makes him see) of the plumb line being set against a wall this is no longer straight.  Amos' job is to tell the high priest Amaziah and King Jereboam that the nation is damaged beyond repair and the Lord intends to tear it down.  This does not mean that the Lord no longer loves Israel or has turned from the promise made to them to be God's people forever.  It does mean that God is not content to go with business as usual.  And apparently a quick fix is not possible.  The nation is too far out of line.  The walls are bulging precariously.

So why does this vision complement the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Well, the summary of the Law can easily be seen as a plumb line for life.  It was not new with Jesus but had been a part of the teachings of the nation of Israel back even before the time of Amos.  The lawyer demonstrates that he knows it well and we might even surmise that he has tried his best to live by it.  But he is not content to let it stand as it was written and taught.  He wants Jesus to qualify it, to modify the design.

So Jesus tells him a story that is both reasonable - there were good reasons for the priest and Levite to pass the injured man by - and so horrible that the lawyer has to couch his answer in different words than the ones Jesus used.  He couldn't bring himself to say "Samaritan."  The lawyer can only answer Jesus' question about true neighborliness by saying, "the one who showed him mercy."

The Samaritan had the same summary of the Law in his heritage.  The difference between him and the priest and Levite is that it is so ingrained in his being that he cannot possible pass the man in the ditch by.  It is not possible for him to leave him there.  He simply has to do something.

There is a bumper sticker that says, "Practice random acts of kindness."  The Samaritan - and Jesus and Amos - would tell us that there is nothing random about acts of kindness.  Mercy and kindness ought to be as much a part of every day as breathing in and out.  They are not uniquely Christian in nature.  Most all faiths profess mercy and kindness to others as well as to self.   We have no exclusive claim on them, although that hasn't stopped us from thinking we do.  I remember someone talking about another person who did not belong to a church and saying, "He's such a good person, almost as if he were Christian!"

At a time in the life of the world when we are bombarded daily with stories of destruction and unkindness, of violence rather than mercy, it would be very easy to read these two lessons and here only doom, destruction and vindictive judgment (vengeance is mine, says the Lord, after all).  In fact, that is where I have been with the readings all week.  Then today, I read a reflection by Jennifer Lord, a professor of homiletics at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  She sees the crux of the lesson here in the lawyer's answer, "the one who showed him mercy."  Jesus tells him to go and do the same.

Mercy is so much more than goodness or even kindness.  Lord says, "it means something more than forgiving a debt or an offense.  [Mercy] suggests blessing and unwarranted compassion as well as lenience.  It is about pardon, kindness, strength and even rescue and generosity."  (CC, June 29, 2010:19) 

Mercy is part of love.  We show mercy to those we love - blessing, compassion, kindness.  We are generous with those we love and we are - usually - quick to pardon their offenses.  Jesus tells us quite simply in this passage that the love and mercy, kindness and goodness we have for our intimate loved ones is to extend to our neighbors.  And Jesus does not put any limits on the neighborhood.

So rewrite the parable of the merciful Samaritan for yourself.  Where in our neighborhoods would the crime occur?  Would the story be different for you if a child or a woman were attacked and left for dead?  Who would pass the injured one by and what good reasons would they have?  A doctor's wife once told me that her husband no longer stopped when he saw an accident for fear of being sued for malpractice.  Is that a good enough reason to keep going?

Who is the Samaritan for you?  Who would be the hardest person for you to cast in the starring role?  That is who Jesus would use if he were telling you this parable.  It would not be a close friend or someone who sees the world through the same lenses you do.

Finally, ask yourself what role you play in the story.  Whatever the answer is, the theme of the parable is mercy.  Jesus offers mercy to the lawyer when he tells him to go and do likewise.  He does not hold up before him all his previous failed attempts to do so.  He does not condemn him.  Jesus uses the parable to tear down a bulging wall in the lawyer's faith and then he rebuilds it by showing him, through the parable, how to get back in plumb, how to straighten out and up.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday morning musings

If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

This line from Galatians 5 jumped out at me this morning as I listened to the lessons being read.  Biting and devouring isn't usual Sunday fare, thanks be to God, but I wonder if it was usual Sunday - and maybe even daily - fare for the new Christians in Galatia.  It's such colorful language for sniping and fighting!

I suspect I bite and devour sometimes even though I feel like I bend over backwards doing just the opposite.  When others begin to do so, I try to ease the tensions or simply walk away rather than get involved. 

But there are times when we have to stay and fight.  It seems to me the various parts of the Anglican Communion have been biting and devouring lately - or should I say once again or still.  A part of me wants to jump into the fray and do a little biting myself.  Part of me wants to walk very far away, even out of the relationship.  But that feels like I am letting the biting and devouring consume me.

If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Take care that you are not consumed by one another, says Paul.  It sounds to me like we have permission to disagree even to the point of taking chunks out of each other but that we are never to go for the knockout punch.  Hmmm....  I would love to know what Paul was talking about, wouldn't you?  Is he saying, "If you are going to argue, don't walk away mad" or "If you are going to fight, don't draw blood?"  It's hard to know, isn't it.

But it refreshing to see that Paul doesn't seem to be saying that we should make nice just for the sake of keeping the peace.  We shouldn't paste that plastic smile on our faces and pretend everything is fine.  Somehow we are meant to engage each other about our differences.  It ought to be a loving disagreement with each of us listening to the other and thinking about how best to respond without saying "well, that's just stupid," no matter how obliquely we try to do that.

So I guess biting and devouring are not generally appropriate behavior amongst the greater family but Paul is realistic enough to know we will still try it on once in a while.  'When you do," he seems to be saying, "take care not to cause the other  - and hence, ourselves - irreparable damage.  Always leave the discussion with the door still open and all the bodies intact.

(Image from winning-smiles.co.uk)

Friday, June 18, 2010

what are you doing here?

Elijah led an amazing life.  He is fed by ravens and widows, raises a child from the dead and then takes on Jezebel and her prophets/priests of Baal.  While Eliijah was living with the widow, King Ahab had been looking for him everywhere and is quite pleased to find him.  At last he has a chance to get rid of this annoying prophet.

But Elijah tells Ahab to gather all of Israel together at Mt. Carmel and "bring 450 priests of Baal with you."  I guess the mix is enough to make Ahab curious.  In any case, he does not take this opportunity to get rid of Elijah but does what he asks instead.

And so the famous contest takes place.  One prophet of God versus 450 of Baal's.  Two bulls cut into pieces and placed on a stack of dry wood were the weapons of choic.  The person or group who can get their god to light the fire wins.  Elijah is ever gracious, offering to let his adversaries pick the bull and go first.  So the prophets of Baal picked a bull, prepared it for sacrifice and then began chanting to their God.  O Baal, here us!  All day long they prayed and prayed, shouting out to their god and calling his name over and over again.  But nothing happened even though they continually walked around and around the offering.

Then it was Elijah's turn. First he gathered twelve stones and repaired the altar of the Lord that had once stood there.  Then he dug a trench around the altar, laid the wood in a particular order, placed the pieces of the bull on top and told the Israelites to pour lots of water on top.  And then he prayed.  Not all day but really for only a few minutes.  The Lord answered his prayer and lit the fire, consumed all of the sacrifice and even the water in the trench.  The Israelites seized the prophets of Baal and Elijah killed them all.

To top it off, the drought ended and it began to rain.

After a triumph like that, you would think Elijah would find a comfy chair, a skin of good wine and some great barbeque and relax.  But instead, he chases the king back to Jezreel.  Ahab tells his wife all that had happened - he was a real whiner - and she sends a message to Elijah telling him he is in for it now.  She swears that she will have him killed by the end of the day.

Even thought Ahab has just been incredibly vindicated by the Lord, proving to one and all that the Lord is great and mighty, he hears the message and heads for the hills.  He runs from the northern part of the kingdom to the very southern end.  There he sees a lovely tree in the barren wilderness and lies down to sleep.

Can you hear the Lord sighing as Elijah runs away? 

Despite all the times God has acted on Elijah's behalf, keeping him safe from famine and from Jezebal, Elijah is so elated by "his" triumph at Carmel that he is vulnerable to threats and criticism.  Isn't that what happens to us when we are on an incredible high, having just accomplished a goal or done something we thought was beyond our ability?  We are so happy that it takes almost nothing - an unkind word, a smirk or sneer - to pop our balloon and send us crashing to earth.  This is how Elijah feels.

So the Lord sends an angel to feed Elijah and prepare him for an even longer journey deeper into the wilderness.  The Lord sends him to the very mountain upon which Moses and God used to talk.  You would think just being there, remembering the stories of Moses being in God's presence would be enough to turn Elijah around, to remind him whose prophet he is.

But once Elijah arrives, the Lord speaks to him and says, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" and Elijah whines almost as much as Ahab.  "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.  For the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left and they are seeking my life, to take it away."

So God, hearing the despair in Elijah's whining, tells Elijah to go out on the mountain and the Lord will pass by.  The Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire.  No, the Lord was in the stillness.  Sheer silence, a space absolutely devoid of sound or movement.  And Elijah recognizes God there and hides his face.

Again God asks the question.  "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  Now you would think that Elijah, having experienced the Lord firsthand, would have a new answer.  Even "I don't know" would have been better than his last answer to the question.  But, no, he repeats what he has already said.  Again, I hear God sighing, wondering what else can be done to turn Elijah around.

The Lord tells Elijah to go home by way of Damascus. God doesn't promise that all will be well, that nothing bad will happen to Elijah.  There are no rainbows in the sky or pillars of cloud and fire.  God just tells him to go home.  "And on your way, annoint Hazael king in Damascus and Jehu king in Israel.  Also anoint Elisha as a prophet." 

Just as Moses needed the seventy elders to help him, so Elijah needs help.  He can't do it alone - although the stories we have make it sound like he was doing a pretty good job.
When we lose trust in our faith in God, how do we answer God's question. "What are you doing here?"  Sometimes it is not so much a matter of losing trust as it is taking matters into our own hands and making a real hash of things.  "What are you doing here?" I think God asks us this question a lot.  How about times when we agree to do something because we know someone has to do it?  We aren't the right person for the job but we know it has to be done.  "What are you doing here?"  Are we brave enough to honestly admit we don't really know what we are doing or do we stick with the same old excuses.  "Well, someone had to do it, God.  You didn't seem to be helping much so I struck out on my own.  I like to take charge and there seemed to be a leadership void I could easily fill."

The man with a legion of demons must have felt as high as Elijah after Jesus sends the demons out of him and into the pigs.  But then he sees the fear in his kin and his former neighbors and he begs Jesus to take him with him.  The fear has pricked his balloon of triumph and he loses trust in the one who just made him well.

But Jesus doesn't make it easy for him.  He tells him to go home, and proclaim what God has done for him.  That couldn't have been easy to do.  No one wanted to be reminded of this event.  They have asked Jesus to leave and the healed man's presence won't really let that happen.  He knew what he was doing there.
What are we doing here?  Are we doing what the Lord has called us together to do or are we content to have everything stay the same.  Are we running away, sleeping under a lovely tree or allowing our demons to tear us apart?  Can we set aside wind, earthquake and fire long enough to hear God in the sheer silence?
I suspect that the truth is we could probably answer yes to all of those questions.  We do do the work of the Lord but we are content to remain the same, not listening for other new ways God is calling us to work.  There are times when we run away, just want to get away from it all and even times when the pressures, stresses and anxieties tear us apart.  And for many of us, finding that silence is what keeps us on the right track.

What are we doing here is a good question to ask ourselves.  Maybe not every day but often enough that we seriously consider whether we are walking with God, sitting on the sidelines or have decided to take over and run our own show.  Whatever the answer to God's question, we need to answer it honestly and be prepared for God's response.  It might not be what we want to hear.  It is likely to challenge us and may even be a little scary.

But just as God is present to ask the question, God is present to help us live into the answer.  As the psalmist says more than once, "Put your trust in God." 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Adoption and the Holy Spirit

Before we could tell my in-laws that we were applying to adopt a child, my husband's grandmother remarked how sad it was that his cousin had to raise someone else's children rather than being able to have her own.  As you can imagine, I had hysterics.
Many friends would say something like, "don't worry; once you adopt, you'll probably get pregnant right away."  And a dear family friend often said about her adopted daughter, "we love her as if she were our own."

Now I knew that adoption was the right thing for us to do.  Both of us came to that decision through prayer.  But I worried about how we would bond with a child that we hadn't given birth to, particularly since we were not expecting to adopt an infant.  Then my sister Beverly told me that giving birth to Michelle and seeing and holding Michelle for the first time were completely unrelated events.  As soon as the nurse said, "here's your baby" and put her in Bev's arms, that is exactly who she was.  And is. 

The first time we met Heather, we knew she was ours.  It didn't matter that we hadn't made her, that I hadn't carried her for nine months.  It didn't matter that she was three and not a tiny infant.  We took one look and became parents of an adorable blonde little girl.  Life before Heather was a distant memory in the blink of an eye. The same was true for Matt although the circumstances were much different.   My kids couldn't be more mine if I had birthed them.

It really doesn't matter when we come to know God for we are children of God NOT from the moment we set eyes on God but from the moment God sets eyes on us.  Jesus came to let everyone know that they were already children of God.  They just needed to turn to God, centering their life on the Lord rather than the marketplace, the pasture or the vinyard. 

Jesus knew we wouldn't always remember that, though.  So he sent the Advocate to be with us always.  What a wonderful word that is!  An advocate supports, advises and instructs, argues for us and maybe even with us when we stray from the way.  Advocates are active.  It is not a sedentary job but requires a lot of work.

When we think of the Holy Spirit, do we think of an active, relentless being working hard on our behalf all of the time?  Or do we think of a being who occasionally comes down to touch our lives with a little bit of flame?  The collect says that God "taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit."  The flames that descended on the disciples didn't stop at the crowns of their heads.  They went straight to their hearts and continued to burn there long after that fateful morning.

When we are baptized, the prayers ask that we be filled with God's "holy and life-giving Spirit."  Not just on the occasion of the application of water and oil but for every moment of our lives.  Read the service of baptism and see how many times we invoke the Spirit.  It's a lot!  We are serious about the place of the Spirit/Advocate in our lives.  This is not a casual, on-off relationship; it is for life.  Whenever we feel alone or abandoned, remember that the Spirit is actively working on our behalf.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Follow me

All of his life, Peter had been a fisherman.  His father was probably a fisherman before him and raised Peter in the trade.  Peter would have raised his sons to follow in the family business as well.

But then one day, his brother Andrew came to him and announced "We have found the Messiah."  Peter - who was called Simon at that time - went with Andrew to where Jesus was.  It was Jesus who named him Peter and it was Jesus that Peter followed throughout the next three years.

Peter saw amazing things:  the miracle of the wine at Cana, the feeding of the 5000 with just a few loaves and fish, Jesus walking on the water, the raising of Lazarus.  Peter and the others heard Jesus teaching the crowds and sat at his feet for their own lessons.  And right before Jesus was crucified, Peter denied he knew him three times despite having proclaimed his love and steadfast loyalty only hours before.

Still, it was to Peter that Mary Magdalene ran with the news that she had seen the risen Lord and he and another disciple ran to see for themselves.  Peter was in the house when Jesus appeared to the disciples both times.  He heard Jesus say, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  Jesus breathed on all those in the house and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."

But nothing seems to have changed for Peter or the others.  Rather than going out to proclaim the good news, these followers have gone back to the sea.  I imagine these men lounging around, hoping that Jesus will come visit them again.  When it doesn't happen, Peter announces that he's going back to work.  All the others decide to go, too.  So that night, they set out in the boat but they caught no fish.  That's the way it is in the fishing business.  One night there will be a good catch and another, there are no fish to be found.

In the morning, a man calls to them from the shore, asking them if they have caught anything.  When they shout back that it was not a good night for fishing, he tells them to cast the net out on the right side of the boat.  So many fish they couldn't haul the net into the boat!  And one of the men says, "It is the Lord!"  Peter immediately puts on his robe and jumps into the water. 

That's one of my favorite biblical moments.  I know Peter wouldn't be wearing Gucci loafers and an Armani cashmere sport coat but, still, it seems terribly strange to get dressed to go swimming.  Now Peter would have to sit around the fire hoping his clothes dried quickly.  And the weight of that wet robe must have slowed down his swim time considerably.

After breakfast on the beach, Jesus begins to question Peter.  "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"  What does he mean, "more than these?"  Is Jesus asking if Peter loves him better than the other disciples love Jesus?  Is he asking if Peter loves him more than Peter loves the other disciples?  These possibilities don't seem likely given that Jesus didn't teach them to love one person more than another.  And Jesus never said he loved one of them more than the others.  If he is to be the example of love, then quantifying love can't be what he has in mind here.

It is more likely that Jesus is asking Peter whether he loves Jesus more than his life, his vocation, fishing.  Does Peter love Jesus so much that he is willing to give up that which shaped and defined him for all of his years before the last three?  Peter assures Jesus that he loves him and Jesus tells him to "feed my lambs."  Two times, then, Jesus asks "do you love me?"  And Peter assures him of his love, finally adding that Jesus knows everything so surely he knows of Peter's love for him.  Each time, Jesus tells him to tend or feed his sheep.  And finally he says to Peter, "Follow me."

Follow me.  If Peter looks back at the last few hours of life, he may realize what that means.  It does not mean business as usual Monday through Friday with weekend trips into the nearby towns to proclaim the good news.  It means proclaiming that good news all the time.  It means doing what Jesus did, loving and feeding the flock, bringing others into the fold and even dying in the proclamation of the Word.  Jesus didn't stay in one place for long and Peter is meant to leave home, too.  Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead and Jesus did not limit himself to citizens of Israel.  All of this, Peter is to do as well, going wherever the Spirit takes him, preaching and healing to whomever he encounters.  Loving Jesus, following Jesus will take all of his life.

Jesus says to us, "Follow me."  That is not something we fit into spare moments or section off a part of the week to take care of.  Being a follower of our Lord is a life-long commitment made for us, usually, at baptism and affirmed by us when the bishop lays hands on us at confirmation.  We need not to ask ourselves, "How will I fit Jesus into my life?" but rather ask "How will my life fit into my commitment to follow Jesus?"   When we begin each day praising God and giving thanks, we have our priorities straight.  When we wake up wondering how we are going to get everything done and beginning to make lists, we need to start over.

Fortunately, we are not the final judge of how well we answer Jesus' call to follow.  And the very good news is that Jesus will keep asking us, bringing us back to the fold when we stray too far away, reminding us who it is we love.  Every time we gather at his table, we are brought home - home to God's never failing love, home to the one who knows everything about us.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Maundy Thursday

I am officially tired of the Gospel of John.  It's not that the readings during Holy Week aren't wonderful ones but I'd like to hear from Luke tomorrow.  Ah well, that's not what we are mandated and, after all, it is Mandatum Thursday.

This I command you, to love one another.  We would be happier probably if this commandment had followed something other than the washing of the disciples' feet.  That is uncomfortable enough already without having it linked to loving.  We understand how giving our infants a bath is an act of love but we aren't so sure about how washing our teenagers' sneakered, sockless feet might be the same act of love.
And then there's all those other feet in church with us.  Sure we love each other but that doesn't mean we want to touch everyone's feet.  Jesus doesn't particularly care if we want to or not.

Jesus tells Peter that refusing to have his feet washed has no part of Jesus.  Jesus washes the feet of all twelve disciples, too.  He doesn't pass over Judas but treats him with the same love he has for all the others.  Jesus washes all the feet because he loves all of the disciples and he knows that in some way or another, all of them will let him down, even betray him, that night.

There are two great acts in the service on this night.  The first is the washing of feet, something we are all encouraged by our Lord to do.  It is a symbol for us of our servanthood and reminds us that humility is a good thing.  It also says to the one whose feet we wash, you are loved, loved by the one who first washed feet and loved by me.  As you wash someone's feet, think of all the people you love enough to do this for.  Then think of all the people who have betrayed you in one way or another and ask yourself if you could wash their feet.

The second is coming together to share in the Eucharist.  This is something we do all the time in the Episcopal Church.  It is the action that brings us close to our Lord as we honor his command to Do this.  It is also, for Christians, as holy as Passover is for our Jewish brothers and sisters.  It is a clear sign that God is with us, that God saves us from ourselves.  As you come to the table to take the bread and to drink the cup, look at those who are there with you.  Remember that Jesus came to earth for all of us, that there is no one at this table who is lesser or greater than the next.  We are all loved intensely by the God who created us, died for us and rose again that we might live.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.  Whereever there is charity and love, God is there.  Footwashing and feasting, charity and love.  May they fill our hearts and spil over into our actions.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Whiplash Sunday

Palm Sunday is so odd!  Who needs two gospel readings in one service?  We are somehow supposed to begin the morning jubilant and excited.  "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!"  We are supposed to cast off our winter cloaks and lay them on Jesus' path, damping down the dust on the road and showing honor to this great teacher we have been listening to and following for some part of these last three years.

And then, just as we settle into the pews after singing All Glory Laud and Honor, we are confronted by the end of the week and are cast again as that same joyous multitude but this time, we are demanding Jesus' life!  Just like that we go from praise to spitting.  It's the kind of shift in thinking that gives me a crick in my neck and an ache above my eyebrows.  What's more, reading this story as we do 2,000 years after the event (give or take a few dozen years) gives us a warped sense of what happened.  Too bad the multitude of disciples didn't have Luke's manuscript handy at the start of the week so they could see and hear clearly.
You see, those folks understood the significance of the Mount of Olives, how the Messiah was supposed to come from there.  They likely thought the donkey a strange touch but some of them knew there is prophetic writing to back it up.  But they didn't have Luke's description of the scene like we do.  They were too busy being in that place, feeling the excitement and joy and looking forward to what was surely to come next - the victory of the Messiah over the Roman oppressors.

We, though, see the scene through Luke's eyes.  We feel the sense of the multitude that victory and triumph belong to Jesus even as we see the paradox of that victory in the image of this king riding on the young donkey, certainly not an animal fit for a king.  Try as we might, we cannot manage to be so caught up in the crowd's emotion that we miss that detail.  Luke makes it stand out for us.

And few who were there likely heard the Pharisees rebuke Jesus, demanding that he silence the people.  Would they have understood the reference to the stones crying out in Habakkuk?  There the stones cry out for injustice done against the peoples: war and violence, slave labor and degradation.  Here, Jesus is telling the Pharisees that the stones would cry with that same message for he has spent his entire ministry speaking for these same peoples - those marginalized by war, economics, greed and even religion.

Now on the other side of the city, another triumphal entry is occurring.  It is the season of the Passover when tempers run high in Jerusalem.  So Pilate, the Roman governor is coming into Jerusalem with his troops to make sure that the peace is kept throughout the festival.  His entry is far more regal with his servants and troops arrayed before and behind him.  No one dares get close enough to lay down a cloak or palm branch here.  Pilate himself likely rides in on a fine horse or in a gilded chariot driven by a personal slave.  Yes, Pilate is coming to bring peace, too, peace to the territory of Judea and especially the city of Jerusalem, the peace of submission to a mightier nation. 
Yet the multitude knowing what is happening on the other side of the city, still shouts out, "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.!" They, too, expect peace, the peace of the kingdom of God brought about by the reign of Christ.

But again, we cannot really share their enthusiasm.  It seems naive to us who watch the drama year after year from such a great distance, a distance of more than time.  We know what will happen when these two great figures meet.  There is nothing peaceful in the encounter.  It is painful, confusing and maybe even a little embarrasing.  When you hear the Passion, have you ever felt like someone sitting in the stands saying, "Come on Jesus, you can turn this around.  You've got the power and the words to change their minds and make them see the light.  Just do it!"  You know who is going to win and you know it looks like you are backing the loser.  This time, we hope the story will end differently, that the orchestra will break into Beethoven's Ode to Joy and Jesus and Pilate will clasp hands in solidarity and stride off for a festival banquet.
God doesn't do peace like that.  "The peace of God," says the hymn, "it is no peace  but strife closed in the sod.  Yet let us pray for but one thing, the marvelous peace of God."

The multitude of disciples is all gone now.  They have wandered away all week long as the peace they longed for seems less and less likely to occur.  Enough of them stayed long enough to be turned against Jesus and to demand his death.  The last eleven have put great distance between themselves and Calvary by the time Jesus is nailed on the cross, fearing for their own lives.  No one wants to be crucified, after all. 

Even Pilate doesn't get the peace he expected to bring to this city.  The Jewish leaders have dragged him into this interreligious warfare despite his best attempts to stay out of it.  And those leaders of faith and Temple get no peace, either.

We don't feel peace, either, do we?  This is one of those times when the grace of God, the peace of God, the love of God seem to have withdrawn from us.  For we know that we are the multitude of disciples.  We get caught up in the excitement and joy and sometimes we are convinced to turn away.  We are uncomfortable playing the part of that multitude when they cry, "Crucify him!" because we know we have done so and will probably do so again even though we try hard not to. 

But, my brothers and sisters, do not fear.  The love, the peace and the grace of God surround us now just as the disciples were surrounded.  Whether we find ourselves bold enough to stand at the foot of the cross or too afraid to come very close at all, God is standing with us.

God is with us all this week as we hear the stories of that first Holy Week.  Let us allow ourselves to feel that presence, to share God's pain and sorrow just as God shares ours.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Figs, Sins and Mercy

The crowd around Jesus is large, a multitude of thousands according to Luke, so many that they are stepping on each other in an attempt to get closer. The chapter before our reading today is one familiar teaching after another about possessions and anxiety and the coming of the kingdom of God. But they keep peppering Jesus with questions and it is clear that they do not understand him.

In frustration, Jesus cries out that if they are able to tell the weather from the clouds and the winds, why can’t they interpret the present time.

It is in the midst of that conversation that someone mentions the Galileans who were slaughtered by Pilate’s forces while they made their sacrifices in the Temple. It would seem that they are telling Jesus they certainly can interpret the time. We just don’t know exactly what their interpretation is. Are they saying that the Romans are getting bolder, that it is no longer safe even in the Temple, that now more than ever they need a King David-like messiah who will rid them of the oppressors?

Or are they saying that the fate of these Galileans is proof of the fact that they were not righteous ones making sacrifice but sinners who got what was coming to them. Perhaps they believe that God strikes down sinners who dare enter the Temple!

Whatever they meant, Jesus immediately turns the talk to sin, repentance and, yes, judgment. “Do you honestly think these Galileans were more sinful than all the others? Do you think the eighteen people killed when the tower fell were the only sinners in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, what happened to them had nothing to do with their sins.”

And that’s where everyone there probably began breathing a sigh of relief. Except that Jesus hadn’t gotten to the period of his sentence. “No; but unless you repent you will perish as they did.”

What? Does this mean this multitude needs to go home and lock themselves in their houses so that nothing can fall on them and Pilate can’t get to them? Didn’t Jesus understand that they were merely pointing out they could interpret the time? Is he telling them that they are not righteous, that God’s judgment could fall on them, too? You can begin to understand why some of these same people will turn against Jesus, can’t you? He is intent on poking them with a sharp stick.

And then he tells the parable of the fig tree. Fig trees have often been used by the prophets to represent Israel. The man in the parable probably lives in town, an absentee landlord. Note that he “has” the tree planted and it is to his vinedresser, a servant, that he is talking. All the man wants is the fruit. And when there is none, he decides that the tree should be cut down.

Now any gardener will tell you this is reasonable. Figs use up a lot of nutrients in the soil, nutrients that the grapes would be getting otherwise. And their sole purpose is to produce figs. If they don’t, then taking the tree out makes sense.

But the vinedresser asks for more time, for mercy on this tree. He will take better care of it, loosen the soil and fertilize it with manure to give it more nutrients. “Just give it this one more year, sir, and let’s see what happens.”

We are not told what happens to the tree. The disciples don’t ask for an interpretation of the parable. Maybe they understand this one. So why do we - I - have a hard time with it?

The first part of the reading makes good sense to me. I don’t for a minute think that bad things happen because God is striking us down for our sins or even the sins of our ancestors. That was the common belief at the time and it is still widely believed today. If it weren’t, then Pat Robertson’s statement that the earthquake in Haiti was God’s judgment wouldn’t have made the news, would it? When bad things happen to our dear friends, we don’t always know what to think. Well, Jesus makes it clear that we can stop thinking those things happened because of a person’s sins. Bad things often happen to us when we sin but God doesn’t cause us to become terminally ill or be hit by a drunk driver. Rather we live in the consequences of our own bad decisions, something which can be pretty hellish.

I do believe that Jesus is telling the multitude and us that we may well die without having made our sins right. If the only time we confess is here on Sunday, thinking that will take care of repentance for another week, we are sadly mistaken. There is a prayer in The Great Litany that asks the Lord to deliver us from dying suddenly and unprepared. Just like those who went to make their offerings in the Temple and found themselves the victims of state oppression. Or those who happened to be walking down the wrong street at the wrong time. Confession, repentance and reconciliation are daily activities. We don’t store our sins up all week long and get rid of them all at once. Some might take years but that just means we need to work on them for as long as it takes.

But the parable reminds me that even though the wrath of God doesn’t manifest itself in cancer or car accidents, the wrath of God still exists. Judgment Day will happen for all of us. An author I read this week said she imagines it will be like standing under a glaring spotlight and being bombarded by all the pains she has caused others, pains she meant to inflict and pain she didn’t know she had. For me, it has always been like the parable of the wheat and the weeds that grow up together, are harvested and then separated with the weeds being burned up.

I believe we will stand face to face with the Lord and be judged. I believe we can know a little of what that will be like every day when we sit down with God and talk about what we’ve done and what we haven’t done, about how we have hurt or been hurt and what we need to do about that.

But before we go thinking that we need to live our lives in fear and trembling waiting for the ax to be put to our roots, we need to remember the end of that parable. It’s about mercy and it says that even in judgment there is mercy. They come together as part of a whole. We all want mercy, rely on mercy when we go wrong, pray for mercy at least every Sunday - Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

So I believe that, in some odd way, judgment is something we ought to look forward to. It won’t be painless but we will come away truly cleansed of all our wrongdoings, perhaps truly recognizing God’s love and mercy for the first time, so that we may increase in knowledge and love of the Lord and go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in God’s heavenly kingdom.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Haiti and dining out

Time flies and I've not been motivated to post much, I guess. Almost two months has gone by since the last one.

I've been thinking about Haiti a lot since the earthquake. John Talbird brought a "mite box" calendar to our Diocesan Convention to encourage people to continue contributing to the relief efforts there. Our Diocese has had a companion relationship with the Diocese of Haiti - the fastest growing diocese in The Episcopal Church - in the past and there are still strong ties.

One of the things the authors of the calendar remind us is that we are not called to be benefactors of the people in Haiti but rather friends. That is certainly a different take than most of what we hear in the pleas for us to help. It is one thing to send a check to help nameless, faceless people but quite another to send help - a check or goods or warm bodies with the right skills - to stand with our friends and rebuild with them. I feel blessed to know John and others who go to Haiti regularly and bring back stories about the people there. I know, too, that those folks are also taking stories about us to the Haitians.

Yesterday's calendar entry was about the difficulty of transportation during tropical rainstorms. "Imagine unpaved roads of mud that have endured centuries of animal and vehicle traffic. The ruts are so deep that the trenches swallow tired. Puddles are three and four feet deep at times. Torrential rains can make travel so impossible that no mechanical vehicles can operate there." I am thinking of the many days this winter when county schools have been closed because of snow. Our small amounts of snowfall haven't begun to make travel as impossible as it can be in Haiti and yet, we have closed school countless times in the last two months!

Reading this calendar is incredibly humbling. Realizing that Chile is now also suffering the after effects of an earthquake and a tsunami requires me to rethink my priorities. I read the summary of my credit card expenditures for 2009 just this morning. I am ashamed to see what I spend eating out, for instance, and that is nothing compared to the general catchall "merchandise"!

So this is the year that I take living simply to heart. I'm not quite sure that will extend to going to the library rather than the bookstore but it will definitely take in dining out and "merchandise."

Friday, January 15, 2010

The wedding at Cana

What a curious story this is, especially for the Gospel of John where Jesus is portrayed as confident of his mission and in charge of his life. Here, though, we have a story in which his mother sounds pushy and he sounds petulant and reluctant, maybe even downright rude. There is no consensus among the commentators I have read about how to handle this story.

I am enough of a historian to be fascinated by the discussions of culture then and now, language and religious practices then and now. But I don't really think knowing that the containers used for ritual purification being empty is a symbol of the emptiness of the old religion helps me understand this story. I'd really love to know why John put it in here. It seems so very out of place in this Gospel.

Carol Lakey Hess, in Feasting on the Word, suggests that Mary's comment about the lack of wine is her way of nudging Jesus/God to do what is needed to make the situation right. I like the idea of nudging God. Isn't that what we often do in our prayers? Don't we spend a lot of time talking with God about all the things that need fixing?

But does Mary think Jesus hasn't noticed the lack of wine? Likely he has and I think his reply about what that problem has to do with him is nudging Mary back. "How important is this to you?" he might be asking. And her response makes it clear that saving the family's face is very important to her. "Do whatever he tells you."

In order to nudge God, we have to be aware of what's happening around us. I wonder how many of the guests at the wedding were aware that the wine was running out. The story leads us to believe that many of them were too drunk to notice anything. But Mary noticed. She was watching closely the activity around her.

If we are going to make it a habit to nudge God, we need to be prepared to be nudged back. "How deeply do you care about this? What do you expect me to do?" And here's where we become less Mary and more servants of the house. Because if we want God to pay attention, then we must be willing to do whatever God tells us to do.

I like the fact that our epistle reading this week is Paul's discussion of spiritual gifts. We don't all have the same ones but they are equally important and all given to us by the Spirit. God nudges us to use our particular gifts in specific situations.

When we pray, we need to listen for God's response. We can even anticipate by checking the need against our gifts. Do I have what it takes to make a difference there or not? If I can't, then what can I do? Sometimes, the answer is praying for those who can to respond to the need. Sometimes, like in the response to the earthquake in Haiti, our role is in the background supporting those with the gifts necessary to help the people and the country recover.

Do whatever he tells you. Mary is speaking to us. So is Jesus.