Our Sister Phoebe, a Deacon

Theological musings inspired by the Spirit and totally Ellen…

Archive for the month “January, 2008”

>One of my earliest memories of evangelism was my brother’s Vacation Bible School pageant. I don’t remember how old we were, but I remember my brother wearing a paper sailor’s cap like those we made out of newspaper and holding a fishing rod while singing, “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men, I will make you fishers of men if you follow me . . .”

What did that mean? I will make you fishers of men?

In the version of the Christian Scripture used today, the clever invitation from Jesus is now “come, I will make you fish for people.” It doesn’t have the same humor to my mind, but it’s message is the same. Jesus has arrived at Capernaum and is watching the local fishermen pull in their nets, trim the sails, whatever fishermen did, and he invites them to drop their nets and come with him to start a ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of Heaven and pull in those people who hear the message and are drawn to it, building a new community with the Good News.

Peter, Andrew, James and John, dropped everything, gave up their familiar, work-a-day lives to become disciples of this young rabbi from Nazareth called Jesus bar Joseph when he stopped by the lake and called to them.

I don’t know if I would have had the strength to do something so brave or monumental. In all honesty, I would have said, “Yeah, but first let me finish typing this.” or made any number of excuses to delay the departure.

I also don’t know if Jesus would have waited in the front room for me to finish whatever it was I thought was so important that it couldn’t wait until I returned.

What I do know is that Jesus offers the invitation to me, just as he offers the same to you every day. I think sometimes we’re just too wrapped up in life to hear His voice. But think of the new possibilities and challenges, new lives through Christ, when we drop the nets and come along.

And what is this new life? It is life made complete by the love God gives us through Christ.

That love is offered freely and is sustaining; we are guided and supported by love – from the Trinity and from one another.

Come follow me, Jesus invites. Drop the phone, drop the remote control, shut down the laptop, put down the Sudoku puzzle. That’s what Jesus is saying to us now. Put aside the concerns and stresses of life and come to me and I will show you there’s a better way to live.

Now excuse me while I’ll log off . . . .

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord!

Ellen+

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>Wade in the Water

>It’s a safe bet that a majority of people raised in the church don’t remember their baptisms because they were infants or toddlers when they were emmersed, sealed and marked as Christ’s own. Then there are those Christians who for whatever reason weren’t baptised until they were older children, youth or adults. I’m in the second category.

Actually, I’m not.

My baptism happened when I was eight years old on a warm August evening. For days I’d been pestering my mother about becoming Christian. All of my friends were Roman Catholic (the largest denomination in town) and I wanted to be part of that exclusive club. Not because everyone else was doing it, mind, but because from an early age, I felt it was necessary for me to be who I was.

Let me give you the back story: my parents were Roman Catholic on my mother’s side and Lutheran on my father’s. My parents were married in the middle of World War II in a civil ceremony. Because of this, we weren’t baptised as children due to the prohibitions of the church in those days.

I pestered my mother with questions about God, religion, Jesus, Mary and Joseph – which is what she used to sigh when I posited yet another question: “If women can’t do anything in the church like boys, why did Jesus see Mary first?” – “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Ellen! The questions you ask!”

I continued my quest for baptism until one night my mother had had enough of my questions and sent me to bed.

I climbed under the covers so my sister couldn’t hear my sobbing. When it was quiet and I was sure everyone was asleep, I went to the bathroom and turned on the taps. Filling up a glass of water, I tossed it on my face saying, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit – you’re baptised! Amen!”

That’s not what my mother said when she came in and saw the water all over the bathmats and tiles.

I didn’t mind the week of restriction for payment for audacity. I felt I had done the right thing.

My truly Christian baptism came 34 years later at the age of 42, at my home parish of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, at the Great Vigil. Here I was sealed and marked, and seared – the baptismal water was a tad warm and I was the first to be baptised that evening. The rector whispered to me, “It’s a little warm,” as she baptised me. I still have a mark on my forehead where the first drops of water landed. I consider it my outward and visible sign.

Why did it take me so long to be baptised?

I went through Roman Catholic catechism and I read the baptismal covenant. Frankly, I didn’t think I could keep the promises I was being asked to make: “Will you proclaim by word and exaple the Goods of God in Christ?” Well, I figured, in order to do that, I’d have to be better than others – act better and live a better life than most. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” For me, it was hard to find a loving Christ in fellow office workers, family members, even myself – and serving them!

For years I struggled with these questions, and then I realized that God doesn’t want me to be perfect, just do God’s perfect work. Christ said, “Be perfect as our Father is perfect.” But what does that mean? God created our world! God is everywhere! How am I able to do that?

Creation is full of little mistakes and imperfections, just like me. God wants me to to strive for the holiness one can only have with a deep and committed relationship with Him through Christ and creation, through my brothers and sisters.

Baptism, I discovered, doesn’t make you holy, it sets in motion a wonderful, frightening journey towards the Kingdom of Heaven. Eventually, we all get there. How we get there is up to us and God and it begins with one step at a time, the first when we put a toe in the Jordan River.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,

Ellen+

>An Epiphany

>Christmas is behind the secular world for another 365 days, and fast another year comes before us. I work as a legal secretary for a law firm in the financial district of San Francisco and on Monday, we hit the ground running. Our clients were back in their offices and it was business as usual.

I had a hard time concentrating this week. I’d like to say that it was forgetting my medication three days out of five, but no, the images and words of Matthew’s retelling of the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child played over and over in my thoughts. I imagined what it would have been like for all parties in this drama – the paranoid king Herod, the mysterious seers, wise men, kings, whatever they truly were, the amazed parents living in a cave or something like it during the census in Bethlehem.

Popular culture has the Magi arriving in Bethlehem within hours of Jesus’ birth, when it reality, it was probably weeks, or months. I think Franco Zeffirelli’s retelling of this event in his series “Jesus of Nazareth” showed it best: the journey following the star takes several weeks, months, and they finally arrive where Mary and Joseph are lodged. Mary and Joseph with Jesus are returning from a day in Bethlehem and who should be waiting on their doorstep are three impressive gentlemen with their retinues and camels.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d be afraid, and a bit wary – okay, I’d be paranoid. Who are these people and why are they here, and why are they bringing my son these expensive gifts? Sure, the angel Gabriel told me that I was giving birth to a child who would save the world – but maybe I hadn’t thought it out, understood what it really meant. As a mother of three, I can tell you the months of pregnancy can be distracting as one goes through every day life. Maybe I’d fall asleep every night, looking at the baby in my arms, glancing over at the expensive gifts and wondering . . . can I do this? Can I be the mother of Emmanuel? More importantly, can I let my son be Emmanuel, can I let go and watch him become someone extraordinary.

Can I stand by and watch him die?

These thoughts were in my mind, along with the paranoia of Herod, who was worried that someone was going to take his job; how could someone want to kill a child? And the Magi, these men with education and wealth who come to pay homage to a little boy swaddled and no doubt sleeping in his mother’s arms. Looking at the baby, I wonder if the Magi smiled, and softened and let the infant grab a finger, made silly noises like all people do when they see babies.

What came out of these musings was a sense of hope and love.

The birth of a child comes from an act of love in most cases. Looking down at a newborn’s face, counting fingers and toes and wondering if he or she has Dad’s eyes and Mom’s nose, a sense of hope surfaces. With every child born there is hope for the world, there is a wellspring of promise and goodness, another chance for humanity to get it right with God.

And that was my Epiphany this week. A new year; a new child. There is love and hope once again in the world, and it’s up to us to keep that light shining.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!

Ellen+

>Light!

>I used to call the time between Christmas and the middle of January the dark time. This started when I was a little girl and continued until I began to understand the difference between darkness and light where it concerns God.

Why did I call it the dark time?

Christmas was over – Christmas trees were kicked to the curb; gone were the shiny decorations, the bright, colored lights, the fake snow in a can, the Glass Wax snowflake stenciling on the windows, the endless carols on the radio stations – the happy season of peace on earth and good will towards all was torn off the block of calendar sheets for another three hundred and sixty four days. It seemed to me, and this is my humble and personal observation, that the smiles on the faces people from Thanksgiving to Christmas, that look of expectancy, the sounds happy greetings and optimism, faded, and people looked grim, worried, preoccupied – again.

The dark time was upon my world.

But, like so many other times in my life, I was dead wrong.

There was light in the world. It wasn’t a pale beam of winter sunlight that crosses the floor during the day, but a spark that was ignited on Christmas, an ember that smoldered deep within, and I believe it was within me, maybe within you, and you. All that’s required is fanning the flame with love, trust and belief. And that kindling came from a sentence as simple and as powerful as they come:

“In the beginning was the Word.”

It has been said that the prologue to the Gospel of John, is a synopsis of the Gospel itself, it is a summary of Christian life — conversion, baptism, Eucharist and quest for higher spirituality — and a revelation of the true identity of Jesus and his connection to God. It has been called an apologia written in a time when the Johannine community was divided over the question of Jesus’ divinity. Or it is all of these.

I like to think that this prologue continues the mystery and beauty of the Christmas story, and, that you and I are invited to carry that mystery and beauty with us during the rest of the year, to move out of the dark spaces and corners in our lives towards the light that embraces, offers grace. John’s poetic language perhaps tells us that God wanted to lift us out of the darkness so very badly, that he did something deities and monarchs rarely do – God climbed off whatever throne we frail humans planted him on, and came down to our level. What’s even more amazing is that when God arrived, it was in the form of a frail, helpless, infant, born to common, yet uncommon people, and as he grew into manhood experienced the joys, sorrows and delights of your average first century Galilean, and inconceivable pain.

Why? Why did this extraordinary incarnation happen?

The obvious answer is atonement for humanity’s sinful nature, to bring us closer to God.

Love is another answer.

God loves us and went to a great deal of trouble to show us how it is to love perfectly and completely in the form of Jesus.

No, I’ve discovered that the dark time is really a time of light, it started with the story of a child born in a manger, and continues with healing, of power beyond belief, a fullness of being, of humanity receiving grace upon grace and to be blessed with the gifts God has bestowed upon us through Jesus. Unfortunately, there were and are those who for whatever reason cannot recognize that Jesus is the light of the world and rejected the man and the message. But to those who did accept him, then and now, and that is to say, put their trust in him, and made a commitment to the Word, a deeper relationship was formed with Jesus; he became our brother, and therefore, we became children of God.

Whatever darkness may envelop the world, whatever gloomy clouds may hang over us in our own lives, it cannot dim the light. We have grace from God to keep the light going. The smallest gesture of kindness, act of compassion, or work of mercy will light up the life of someone else, and in turn, will light up the world.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

We are embarking on a new year with new possibilities, new hopes and dreams. As with every New Year there is a fresh canvas before us, waiting for us to apply the first brush stroke. Do we want to live in light and experience the love and grace offered to us, follow a path of endless possibilities in a life in Christ, or is it going to be business as usual with grim, set, faces, preoccupied with matters that we have no control over and live in a dark time?

Or we can dispel the darkness and walk in the light.

I pray you; walk with me towards the light!

In this new year, I invite you to go in peace to love and serve the Lord!

Ellen+

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