Our Sister Phoebe, a Deacon

Theological musings inspired by the Spirit and totally Ellen…

Archive for the month “June, 2008”

>Comfort Food – for Thought

>“Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all who truly turn to him.”
Do you find anything comforting or comfortable in the Gospel lesson this morning? Jesus is asking us to go beyond our safe, comfortable circle of friends and reach out to strangers. Didn’t Mom tell us not to talk to strangers? How about the Hebrew scripture? Pretty disturbing. And the passage from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome? The word ‘sin’ is mentioned ten times, that’s once in ten verses out of twelve, though one of the verses mentions ‘impurity’, and another mentions ‘shame.’
Sometimes we have to read and hear the uncomfortable words to hear what God and Christ say to all who truly turn to them.
Let’s see if we can find the good news among the bad.
How do we reconcile the loving God of the Christian scripture, the deity in the person of Jesus who bids us welcome prophets and little ones, people on the fringes of society, with a God that tells a father to kill his son? Let me answer that by asking this: do you really think God wanted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?
The story begins with the sentence, “After these things, God tested Abraham.” These things were God’s calling of Abraham, his journey with Sarah into Egypt, passing his wife off as his sister to the Pharoah, and there was Sodom and Gomorrah, Hagar and Ishmael – how many tests can a person take? Abraham is rightly held up as a person of great faith, but he has his moments of weakness, and he has his shortcomings – passing his wife off as his sister? Twice? He’s an enigma. He pleads with God over sparing, fifty, then forty, then twenty, then ten righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, many perfect strangers, but he says nothing about sparing his son.
I was thinking that while God was testing Abraham, maybe Abraham was testing God. Or maybe it’s one of those moments when one is so frozen by fear, so horrified, that the shock leads to inactivity.
Our narrative is stark. We have no indication of Abraham’s state of mind. As soon as Abraham hears the command, he cuts the wood for the offering, takes his son, two servants and donkey and heads out for Moriah. He’s silent until they reach their destination three days later when he tells the servants to wait for them while Abraham and Isaac go up on the mountain to pray. Here, the narrator hints that Abraham prepared for the sacrifice methodically – first he builds the altar, then he lays the wood that Isaac has been carrying – maybe he stalling for time? Waiting for that call at 11:55 p.m. to stay the execution.
Then we have a heart-wrenching moment. Isaac notices that they haven’t brought a lamb for the sacrifice and asks his father about it. Abraham says, “God will provide.”
He raises the knife . . . it’s like watching a movie. You want to yell at the screen, “Turn around, Abraham! There’s a ram caught in the thicket! See? God does provide!”
This story has a happy ending. Abraham is stopped from murdering his son by an angel. Isaac grows up to become the father of a great people. This is the last test God gives Abraham.
Many questions are unanswered here. Did Abraham pass the test, or did he fail? Is his failure the reason why God no longer spoke to him, or had Abraham served his purpose? Did God want Abraham to stand up to Him with the same passion he used for Sodom and Gomorrah to ask why he was being asked to sacrifice his son?
I don’t have the answers; I have my own theories, as do we all, but I’ll let you decide in your own dialogues with God. It’s a copout, but I’m still wrestling with these questions and someday I might just have the answers – or not. I do know this. God only gives us as much as we can handle. He knows our hearts and minds and what we can or cannot do.
What we can surmise is that God surely understood Abraham’s feelings when He sacrificed his son, Jesus.
The truth of the matter is that we are all tested by God, aren’t we? Perhaps not in the dramatic ways that Abraham was put to the test. Why are there floods in the Midwest destroying lives and homes when God gave us the rainbow? Why does a complete stranger shoot and kill a family at an intersection? Why does a father kill his toddler on a road out in the country? Why do we still argue over gender? Why is race still such a hot button? Why is gas so expensive and why is there a global food crisis? These are tests of the heart, soul and mind. And in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus throws a challenge at us. He tells his disciples, and us, that whoever welcomes a prophet or little one welcomes him. We know from history and scripture that prophets are those noisy, confrontational types who tells us truths we don’t want to hear, and they don’t make the best of ends, but they open our hearts and minds to reality and how things are supposed to be. Think of John the Baptist, Stephen, Perpetua and her companions, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr. Little ones might be children or people outside of the norm of society, what we might call the ‘fringe element’ We are asked to welcome them, make them a part of our community, give to them as Jesus would give to us. It’s not hard to be welcoming. The effort comes in being welcoming those society thinks are not welcome to the table. Giving a cup of water to a little one, or a hot meal to someone who’s hungry, or listening, really listening to a message offered by a prophet – that’s easy enough. Doing it because we love God and we want to live out the Gospel – now that’s where it really is at. Righteous people aren’t holier than others, righteous people are you and me, in a covenant with God and Jesus, chosen, called, tested – sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t, but there’s always another chance to get it right – the right way that God wants us to take to the best of our abilities. Righteous people are people who say yes to God, even when it’s the most difficult thing they have to do in their lives.
And no matter what, God loves us and welcomes us into the Kingdom – prophets, little ones, the righteous, you and me.
I hope you find some comfort in that.

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>The Great Commission

>This morning the apostles, Peter to Judas, received their marching orders. In the scripture passage from Matthew, Jesus takes the twelve aside and gives them specific instructions for their ministry out in the world. They are to proclaim the good news and perform works of God for the lost sheep of Israel – this is in line with his comments to the Pharisees earlier, when they asked why he dined with people on the edges of society, that the healthy have no need of healing, but the sick.

Imagine a conversation on a road somewhere in Judea. Suppose you’re a tax collector, a leper, a woman, a woman of ill repute, a slave and you’re sitting outside the town walls hoping for a crust of bread, a kind word, maybe even a coin – even the Emperor’s coin. How strange would it be for you to be approached by a stranger who calls you friend and offers you food and drink, starts to tell you about the Kingdom of Heaven? Come to think of it, what if you were the stranger and charged with starting that dialogue?

This is unlike anything you’ve done or witnessed before. There’s something new, something revolutionary here.

Imagine the emotions roiling through you.

How would you respond to such a conversation?

How would you begin such a conversation?

I don’t know about you, but I’d start by saying, “Hello.” It’s usually the safest way to begin, isn’t it?

The conversation could start with the weather, how someone is doing, and eventually it comes round to this different and bold vision of how the world should be, the vision of Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe after a few moments of conversation, if you’re the person outside the walls, you start to think, perhaps get excited about what you’re hearing and ask to hear more. Or, if you’re the apostle sent on a mission, you begin to relax and realize that evangelism doesn’t have to be heavy-handed or frightening, or all or nothing, but a gradual, informal give and take of ideas. Soon it becomes natural.

I’m not suggesting that accepting the great commission to proclaim the Gospel and live it out is easy. On the contrary; I believe it’s just as difficult now in our post-modern society as it was in the first century.

How do we impart a message of unconditional love and acceptance, of mutual respect for people and respect for all of creation?

Well, you’re reading this, aren’t you? That’s one way.

Wake every morning and think of being generous with your heart and resources as you are able. These little seeds of optimism and love will take root, just as the twelve apostles’ work took root and continues growing today.

Go in peace,

Ellen+

>Wandering In From a Spiritual Desert

>I’ve been in a desert of sorts.
A few of my friends ask why I feel I’m having difficulty connecting with God; after all, who’s my Daddy?
The last weeks have been painful – spiritually. I haven’t felt God’s presence, nor can I hear the Word.
Having one’s hands annointed, being consecrated an ordained leader, wearing all the trappings on Sunday mornings and holidays doesn’t guarantee instant spiritual connection or enlightenment.
What it does guarantee are moments of uncertainty, doubt, loneliness – just like everybody else.
I keep asking why? I keep asking where are you? When I meditate and use the image of the walk in the forest, there’s a boulder in the path – like the giant stone rolled in front of the entrance of Jesus’ tomb, or the giant marble that chased Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Let me give you a back story.
When I begin my contemplative prayer, I close my eyes and put myself on a path leading into a forest from a field of wheat. I walk through the forest on the path, heading toward a gate, beyond which is a clearing that leads down hill into a valley where there’s a castle (well, there’d have to be a castle if it’s my imagery, right?) and a village surrounded by hills and lush greenery. It’s my goal to pass through the gate and go down to the castle.
I’ve only reached the gate once.
Lately, as I walk on this path in my mind and heart, the boulder is in the way. There’s no way around it. The trees are too thick to walk around and the boulder is too heavy to move.
So I’ve been trying again and again to walk through this path.
A few minutes ago, while typing the foregoing, it hit me.
I’M THE BOULDER IN THE PATH.
I’m preventing my spiritual connection and journey.
I’ve let my unhappiness and loneliness build up a wall of sorts to God, when all I need to do is let God.
I need to let it be.

With God’s love and mine,

Ellen+

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