Our Sister Phoebe, a Deacon

Theological musings inspired by the Spirit and totally Ellen…

Archive for the month “September, 2007”

>If You Can’t Find Good News, Make It

>I don’t know about you, but last Sunday’s gospel scripture was sick and twisted. Jesus, aware that the Pharisees and Scribes are within earshot, offers up a parable about a crooked employee who tries to get in good with others so he can sustained his way of life when the employer fires him for mismanagement. He gets the employer’s tenants to cut their bills by substantial amounts and “cooks the books.” The employer is impressed, and if you gloss over the text, you get the feeling that Jesus is, too.

Frankly, I don’t think Jesus really condoned such nasty behavior. Perhaps he was impressed by the employee’s use of foresight and the clarity of his actions. He tells his disciples, then, and now, that we ought to use the same when considering our possessions and how we might best use them for the advantage of all.

Jesus goes on to say that one cannot serve two masters; we have to choose between God and wealth. I can’t help feeling that each one of us is struggling with that problem of 21st century life. How do we honor God and live out the Gospel when we’re crammed into cubicles with our eyes glued to a monitor and our ears stuck to phone receivers from nine to five?

Here’s an idea – use what you have wisely and with stewardship of Creation in mind. You cannot serve God and wealth, but you can serve God with your wealth to make the world we live in more comfortable and more affordable, a place where we can all serve as best we can and live out the new commandment to love one another and let it happen for everyone who reaches out.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,



>The Kingdom of Heaven is Like . . . .

>This past Sunday’s Gospel comes from Luke in the fifteenth chapter. Jesus is teaching the crowds, to which sinners and tax collectors have arrived and this is upsetting to the local authority, the Pharisees and scribes. How dare they, these sinful people, join good, law-abiding citizens in hearing the teaching of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth? Religion is for the good people, not sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes, actors, and women!

Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong!

What is important to God, Jesus says, is one repentant soul.

He goes on to tell the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Parables are stories used to teach, using the familiar. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .” So Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who searches high and low for the one sheep that strays, the one that drifts apart from the herd and when he finds the sheep, he brings it home and calls his friends and family to celebrate.

Big deal, you think. One out of many.

Well, it is a big deal.

All the other sheep are following along, behaving properly, staying out of harm’s way. But there’s the one who stands out for all the wrong reasons – misbehaving, not getting the rules. So imagine how great it is that the sheep is found and brought back to the fold where it will be cared for and loved just as much as all the others. That’s what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, says Jesus, it is a place where anyone can come out of the cold and be welcomed into a loving and accepting community.

Church isn’t just for the good. When I was a little girl, I thought all the good people were those who went to church; I mean, they had to be good, right? They went to church and so it just made sense.

Good people do go to church – it’s where people learn to be good the way God wants us to be good. It’s also the place where people who have problems, where brokeness and pain can be healed, where we learn to love and be loved, where we reach out and are touched, where we can fall and know someone will help us up.

People sometimes call me good and I always am amazed at this. If I was truly good, I’d have no reason for salvation; there would be no reason for that messy death 2,000 years ago that started to turn hearts and minds around. No, I am human with moments of goodness and when I falter, I know that the shepherd will come and find me and bring me back to the family, or the housewife will sweep the corner where I’ve hidden and pick me up and polish me so that I gleam like all the new coins in the box.

You see, the Kingdom of Heaven is like that.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,


>Familial Relations

>Yesterday’s gospel was tough, wasn’t it?

Jesus’ message from Luke 14:25-33 holds no punches. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

Wait a minute . . . doesn’t that contradict the new commandment he gives at the last supper, that we love one another as Jesus loves us?

Jesus is talking about the cost of discipleship. Sometimes it can be very painful and moves us out of our comfortable, warm and snuggly spaces.

Think of being a disciple today.

How many people do you know that live out the Gospel, or at least give it the ‘college try’?

The framework for discipleship is to surrender oneself completely to God and to move out of the command post. We have this gift that’s call free will and we have to let it go in order to go where Christ calls us.

Remember the story of the wealthy young man who came to Jesus asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life? Jesus told him to sell everything he had and then he could follow him. Jesus probably knew this was something near impossible to the young man; perhaps he wanted a reaction. The young man went away sorrowfully and Jesus then proclaimed that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man get into heaven.

Is Jesus asking the impossible of us?

Well, think about what he’s asking – read between the lines.

Put God first before your children, your spouse, your friends, your pets. Love God and the love you receive in turn radiates to all that you love and becomes strong, a life force. Love God and you have the capacity to love others.

Once you love God you have the will and power to follow Christ and undertake whatever ministry he offers.

I don’t think Christ truly wants us to hate our families and friends, but he does want us to stay focused. I really do think that I am capable of love and ministry because I love God and try my best every day to share it and return it.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.


>Set Another Place at the Table . . .

>I have a confession.

I wasn’t really paying attention to the sermon yesterday – I plead guilty of keeping my eye on the congregation, watching the acolytes step out and not come back in until the middle of the homily. I do remember the rector stating that there are moments in life when we can’t believe we said something, or did something, and it sticks with us forever. Little social gaffs. The scripture from the Gospel yesterday was Luke 14:1-13, the Parable of the Great Dinner. Jesus advises dinner guests not to take the best places, the ones near the host, the ones above the salt, for to do that is to call attention to one’s self and importance; rather, take a lower seat and let the host bring you to a place of honor. He also tells the host that when he throws a dinner party not to invite family and friends, those who can repay the kindness, but invite the poor and unwanted, people who cannot offer payment in kind.

I don’t throw a lot of dinner parties, but I do make social blunders – I stick my foot in my mouth up to the kneecap at times. I remember my first night in CPE at San Francisco General. I was in the ER and making rounds and I kept passing by a bed where a young man was sitting up, watching me like a hawk. I finally felt his eyes burning into my back and I approached him, saying, “You look pretty well; how’re you feeling?” The young man frowned and said, “I’m in this bed, how do you think I’m feeling?” I kept stumbling over my words and I was about ready to ask if he wanted a prayer when I noticed a ring of black soot around his mouth – charcoal infusion used to absorb drugs and poisons in overdose cases. I started to say all the stupid things I wouldn’t want said to me, “Well, at least you’re here,” “God had a plan for you,” “How are you really” – I just couldn’t shut up. I finally bowed away gracefully, I thought, and when I was almost out the door the young man called me back and there I was, hands in pocket, face staring at my clogs, when he said, “Thanks. You’re the first person today that has actually cared about me and shown it. Don’t worry about it. At least you cared to stop by and ask me what the hell was I thinking.”

No, I didn’t ask him that. But I was thinking that. I’ve never forgotten that moment, either. And what does this story have to do with table manners and guests?

We are all invited to the table regardless of what we choose to do with our lives, or where we are in our lives. Jesus also asks us to invite those who live on the edges of society to our tables. Nowadays, that’s pretty risky, but I think my parish steps up to that challenge by hosting a meal once a month for the hungry of Berkeley. We invite the poor and unwanted to our spiritual and faith home and I think that’s what Jesus would want. When we reach out to those in need, no matter how awkwardly we do it, that is also something Jesus would have us do.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,


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