Beyond Gender

Readings for 7/7/13: Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-8; Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

[Isaiah 66:10-14] Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her— that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.

The Bible is filled with wonderfully varied and rich imagery.  Unfortunately, as some groups attempt to reinforce messages of hierarchy or victory, some of those images are often pushed to the side in favor of portrayals of God as “king” or “warrior”.  In this passage from Isaiah, however, we’re reminded that God is beyond gender, and, in fact, beyond any role we humans might assign to God.  What a sweet image of God comforting us as our mother might—nursing us, carrying us in arms, and bouncing us on knees.  Allow yourself to surrender into the embrace of God.

The Incompatibility of Violence

Readings for 6/30/13: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

[Luke 9:51-62] When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.  As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

This passage follows several chapters describing the teaching, healing ministry, and mission of Jesus.  In this particular section, Jesus has begun to head toward Jerusalem.  While we can’t tell whether Jesus knows this will lead to his death, we can ascertain the depth of his commitment to the journey.  Although it’s difficult for those around him (including us) to understand, Jesus is explaining there is nothing more important than the mission he is on.  Likewise, he will not allow responses, such as violence, that are incompatible with this mission, which is based in love and compassion.  To that end, we are called to ask: what is it that we stand for, and do our actions reflect that?

For ALL of You are One

Readings for 6/23/13: Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22:18-27; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

[Galatians 3:23-29] Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

In some Christian traditions, a single verse from the Bible is held up as “the truth.”  As a result, many verses have been inappropriately applied to particular situations—usually as a means of oppression or control.  For instance, the writings of the Apostle Paul, the author of Galatians, have been used to both promote and denounce marriage.  When one studies the letters, it becomes clear that it wasn’t that Paul couldn’t make up his mind on the subject of marriage, rather that he was addressing different issues in each of the communities.  His overarching message, however, is reflected here—that the invitation to become part of the family of God is open to the entire world.   Paul writes: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Within God’s Reach

Readings for 6/16/13: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

[Luke 7:36-8:3] One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. 

Reading this passage, can’t you just imagine a group of people—you know the ones…the “holier than thou” folks—chattering away about the “good Jewish boy gone astray”?  From Pharisees to a woman, who was a known sinner, Jesus was consistently mixing with the “wrong crowd.”  Even the traveling entourage described at the end is suspect—he might have had his male disciples with him, but, seriously, what self-respecting holy man would be touring the countryside in the company of women?  The answer, of course, is Jesus, God incarnate.  The message couldn’t be more clearer—none of us are outside of the reach of God’s love…even those who have been labeled “less than” by those around them.

Sing without Ceasing

Readings for 6/9/13: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

[Psalm 30] I will exalt you, O LORD,
because you have lifted me up

    and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

O LORD my God, I cried out to you,
    and you restored me to health.

You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead;
    you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

Sing to the LORD, you servants of his;
    give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye,
    his favor for a lifetime.

Weeping may spend the night,
    but joy comes in the morning.

While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed.
    You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”

Then you hid your face,
    and I was filled with fear.

I cried to you, O LORD;
    I pleaded with the Lord, saying,

“What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit?
    will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?

Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me;
    O LORD, be my helper.”

You have turned my wailing into dancing;
    you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;
    O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

There are times in life when we feel spiritually dry…when we’re not sure there’s any meaning in all of this…when we’re not sure there is a God.  That’s when I open up my Bible or Book of Common Prayer to the Psalms.  The Psalmist expresses the full range of human emotion—from praise to lament, from anger to fear, from sadness to joy.  Reading a Psalm, such as Psalm 30, I’m reminded that the God we believe in can handle ALL of my emotions.  I don’t have to hide any of my feelings from God.  God wants to know me—and you—in our entirety, and through our anger, through our fear, through our lament, God can bring about transformation, so that again, our “wailing is turned into dancing,” and we move from” pleading” to God, to “singing without ceasing.”  

Deep and Wide

Readings for 6/2/13: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43; Psalm 96:1-9; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

[1 Kings 8:22-23 ,41-43] Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.  He said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love f or your servants who walk before you with all their heart,  “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name—for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.

This prayer speaks of the “steadfast love” God offers by way of an everlasting covenant with humanity.  As he prays, Solomon reveals that his dream is that the entire world will come to know how profound such love is.  His words remind me of a statement author and poet Diane Ackerman once made: “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it.  I want to have lived the width of it as well."  I join Solomon in praying that you, too, will know the depth and breadth of God’s love. 

Inspirational Struggles

Readings for 5/26/13: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

[Romans 5:1-5] Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

The author of Romans, the Apostle Paul, is often misunderstood, and as a result his writings have led to some misguided teachings.  As Episcopalians, we believe that the historical context of the Bible cannot be ignored.  At the time this letter was written to the Christian community in Rome, public shame was to be avoided at all costs, so one would never let others know times were tough at home.  Paul, however, reminds these early followers, that, through the presence of Christ, we are not alone in our suffering, and, in fact—though we would never seek to suffer—our struggles make us stronger.  In essence he says by admitting our challenges, our connection to each other is strengthened, and our hope in God, in the midst of our struggles, becomes a source of inspiration for those around us.

Something Bigger

Readings for 5/19/13: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; John 14:8-17, (25-27)

[John 14:10-15] Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. ”If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Do you wonder why Christians still look back at who Jesus was centuries later?  One reason is because we believe that God came to live among humanity in the form of Jesus, who was completely human and completely divine, so we continually remind ourselves of this.  More than that, however, it’s because Jesus proclaimed to his followers, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”  We look to Jesus for the example of how we ought to be stewards of all creation.  If you’d like to be a part of something bigger, I invite you to participate in one of the many outreach programs at Saint Michael, which offer assistance in the form of labor, love, and finances, to our surrounding community, country and world: www.saintmichael.org/mo.

Refreshment for the Soul

Readings for 5/12/13: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

[Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21] “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. 

The book of Revelation is full of rich imagery and can sometimes be confusing.  This week’s passage, however, is one that offers refreshment to the soul.  The words of Jesus echo through the challenges of life, and we here the still, small voice calling out to us: “let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”  This rejuvenation is available in the form of worship…we’d love to have you join us in church sometime soon: www.saintmichael.org.

A Sense of Peace

Readings for 5/5/13: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29

[John 14:23-29] Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”

This week our Gospel reading prepares the disciples for the ways they are to live after Jesus is gone.  However, these teachings are for us, too.  When someone leaves us, we can feel scared, hopeless, and alone, but God assures us by saying, “my peace I give to you.”  We are reassured that—even when things feel dark and dismal—we should “not let our hearts be troubled.”  If you’d like to have more peace in your life, I invite you to join us for one of our weekend services at Saint Michael and All Angels www.saintmichael.org.