Our Sister Phoebe, a Deacon

Theological musings inspired by the Spirit and totally Ellen…

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Are You Mary, or Martha?

This morning’s gospel from Luke at Chapter 10, verses 38-42, tells us the account of Jesus of Nazareth dining with friends.  He is with Martha, Mary and, though he is not mentioned, I’m assuming he’s also with their brother Lazarus, perhaps the same Lazarus that was brought back to life right before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for the last time.

Martha is bustling about the kitchen getting dinner ready and setting the table, making sure everything is just right.  Her sister Mary sits in the living room with Jesus and the men and she is listening to Jesus’ teaching and commentary.  Martha probably slams down the big wooden spoon with which she’s been stirring something and demands that Jesus tell Mary to get off her duff and come and help her in the kitchen, for which Jesus offers words to the effect that Martha should leave Mary alone and let her listen.  His words were, according to the author of Luke, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not not be taken away from her.” (tr. NRSV)

Is this a scolding?

I don’t think so.

What Martha is doing is important and so is Mary’s work.  I think that, at different times, and especially different times of the day, I’m either Martha or Mary.  I’m never one completely or the other.  It all depends on the situation and what I am being called to do at that time.  The same may be true for you.

What is paramount, is that we do take time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his wisdom and compassion and apply it to the active parts of our lives, that we do, in times of extremely difficulty and stress, stop and listen for what can help us in those active moments when we think we’re the only ones getting busy.

Will being active get us brownie points for a place at the table in the Kingdom?  Well, it is a tangible showing of the new commandment that we love one another and Jesus’ declaration that whenever we help one another we help him.  So yes, I think so, but those of us who suspend activity to read, mark and inwardly digest the Word have a place, too.

Being a Martha or a Mary doesn’t mean one is better than another, it just means that you serve God in different capacities and according to your gifts.

And they can be one or another, or both.

Pax et bonum,

E

One of Seventy

Preached from the Pulpit of Good Shepherd Church, July 7, 2013:

This morning’s Gospel isn’t about leaders.  It’s about leadership. It’s about you because it is about equality, which is something this country may finally get around to making a reality for all of us.  We need only keep moving in the right direction with courageous steps.  The path will lead us to the Kingdom, which, as we heard, is near.

We can’t brush aside the fact that Society is hierarchical and has been for centuries.  We look to and follow leaders, sometimes willing to be led, sometimes wanting to lead.  Most of the time, I have a strong desire to turn it all on its head.   Fortunately, I have Jesus as a role model on how to do that properly.  You and I, my friends, members of the flock, are among the seventy that Jesus sent then and now.

I work as a legal secretary and have for thirty-one years.  Only of late have I realized that the work I contribute is just as important to the firm as that of the attorneys, and this is after years in the secular corporate world where the organizational chart is a holy icon – all eyes look upwards to the little rectangle at the very top, the one all alone, and the further down one goes, the more rectangles, the more names and the more likely one is to be lost in the collection of departments and titles; worker ants in canyons of cubicles decorated with pictures of our children and holidays, interoffice memoranda.  Home Sweet Cubicle for eight to ten hours a day.   That organizational chart couldn’t exist without everyone and their contributions, their work.  I accepted all this, and so did many others; we walked carefully past the hallowed corner offices, or, when we passed the town’s parish priest, nodded reverently and tried to look holy.

But. . . . the people in those offices – the people wearing the collars, they were, and still are, no different from me.  Thank you, Jesus, for showing us that.

Jesus of Nazareth, in his own remarkable way, shows us how it’s supposed to be done; he tosses everything upside down and gives us a revolutionary model.  By his sending out of the Seventy, he is telling the young church that all have a part in leadership, all are called to be witnesses to the Kingdom of Heaven, all are called and with whatever gifts given them, to be clarions for a new way of thinking and living, those in the Board Room and those in cubicles, the palaces and the cottages, the pews and pulpits.

The Seventy were commissioned just as the Apostles, given specific instructions, especially the urgency of their mission and staying focused.  This mission is a precursor to the activity of our church communities today.  We are all laborers who deserve to be paid.  We can bring in the harvest.  All of us must share in preparing the way of God’s kingdom.

Is this way beyond your comfort zone?  Are you thinking, “Yes, but thinking I’m equal to the CEO, will get me fired, wouldn’t it?”  It doesn’t have to be.   Why can’t you think that you are just as important and just as loved in God’s realm?  I’m not advocating a hostile takeover.  I’m advocating living a life of the Gospel of Christ – loving God, recognizing the gifts in everyone, respecting and loving, helping, and doing your best to help others do the same. Remember what Francis of Assisi said.  “Go out into the world and preach the Gospel of Christ.  And if you must, use words.”

Our actions in showing how and what the Kingdom of Heaven is like speak volumes.  They can be as simple as a saying ‘good morning’ to someone or spectacular, like saving people from what’s left of a burning airplane.  If you’re concerned that what you have to offer isn’t spectacular or perfect, or holy, consider this: your right action, whatever it might be, is enough for God.  God gives you unconditional love and you have elected to share that wealth.  A model of this new paradigm was shown this past week in the midst of the transit strike, of all places.  People who usually wait quietly in line and keep to themselves with ear buds plugged in or eyes glued to a Smartphone screen at the Transbay Terminal or at local bus stops, queuing up in a neat and orderly fashion were still getting in line, but they were showing the BART refugees where certain lines were, pointing across the vast concrete continent at Folsom and Howard to islands marked by the letters of the alphabet, offering exact change to people no different than them just wanting to get home, explaining with gentle smiles and words that no, you can’t use a BART ticket in the bus fare boxes and then asking, “How much do you need?”  The BART riders looked around in bewilderment at the roped off aisles like the lines for an amusement park ride and stepped into place, started to relax when the big, green, air-conditioned buses rolled up and people started moving in a swift pace, pausing only to swipe a transit card or drop money in the fare box.  Pregnant women gave up seats for people over 65 or those with mobility problems, with young mothers with children.  Rows of seats were taken out for people in wheelchairs and those who gave up their seats got back in line to wait for the next bus into the City or home.  Those fortunate enough to claim seats offered to hold the belongings of those standing up for the less than comfortable journey across the bridge.

How is this declaring that the Kingdom is near?  This isn’t going from town to town declaring the peace of God, healing the sick, casting out demons.  It is an example of how we should be in the Kingdom.

I’m not advocating anarchy.  We need leaders, we need to follow sometimes.  But we also are called at times to accept the mission and gather the flock, and show how it’s supposed to be done.  You have certainly shown me how it’s done – this incredible fellowship we share each week in this space – and allow me to reciprocate with my own special gifts.  Christ calls us to proclaim the Kingdom is near.  It is.  It is all around us.  Look and you will recognize it.  I ask you to continue what you’re doing and find new and interesting means of spreading the Gospel to those who may not have heard it or seek it.  I will be with you, a member of the Modern Seventy, following, leading, and if I must, I will use words.

There IS Enough to Go Around….

Preached from the Pulpit of Good Shepherd Church, June 9, 2013:

Throughout this month, the Sunday readings are filled with stories that tell of powerful and miraculous acts. Often, we will learn, however, that a significant aspect of a story is the radical nature of who is included in these miracles.  This morning, it is a starving widow and her son, but we will also hear in the coming weeks of a man possessed by demons and a despised foreigner.  Not your typical heroes.

These stories remind us that every one, absolutely every one, can be a vessel for God’s working and bounty.  While our own beneficence may be limited, it not so with God.  We have seen it here with Elijah and the Widow.

Last week, we heard about the angry Elijah, today, we see the compassionate side of the man.

We know from last week’s text that Elijah hides from Ahab and Jezebel after he prophesies a famine as punishment for the worship of Baal.  The famine spreads to Sidon in Phoenicia where Elijah ends up.  God sends him to a widow for something to eat.  The land is suffering from famine, and yet, God sends Elijah to widow for a meal.  As we have heard, he sees a widow gathering sticks outside the gates of the city – she’s gathering kindling for a fire – and asks her for bread and water.  The widow admits that as God lives, she has very little and what she has she will make a last meal of it for her son and herself.  They are close to death from hunger.  But, she is also a woman of faith.  And now we see as she gives up the certain – the certainty of death – for the uncertain – Elijah’s promise through God that the jar of meal and the jug of oil will not be empty as long as the drought remains – and makes the little cakes for Elijah, her son, and herself.  Her faith and Elijah’s prophecy keep them alive.

We have our limits, but God doesn’t.  We are, however, given the means to act so that our limits can be widened.   We can follow in the footsteps of the prophets and use our own, twenty-first century prophetic voices to call out those who wield power and control to look beyond their own greed and want and do something revolutionary: think about the Kingdom of Heaven and the people who live in it.  Make here and now a place of equality in all things.  Jesus called out the Pharisees; we can call out our elected officials and remind them they work for the people, not corporations.

This weekend in Washington, people are gathering to address the continuing issue of hunger around the globe and especially here, in our own country, and what can be done within our means to stop it.  It is an annual conference where like minds meet to find solutions and engage our legislators in conversations about what our true priorities should be.  The theme of the conference hosted by Bread for the World is “A Place at the Table.”  The title comes from the belief that all are welcome at this table and wherever a meal is offered.  Jesus said that when we feed the hungry we feed him.  We know it is true for our table and our life of worship and action here, why should it not be so in our communities beyond Sunday mornings and church walls?

We live in a country that is one of the wealthiest on the globe, and yet, Americans go to bed hungry every night.  Children go to bed hungry every night.  Why is this happening today?

It’s a question of priorities and the problem of limited scope of vision.

On Capitol Hill, we see efforts to limit access to programs to the poor, or, what some people call the “deserving poor.”  No one deserves to be poor.  No one is undeserving of a meal, or warm place to sleep at night, a chance at a better life.

Some of our elected leaders want to reduce funding for services available to those who struggle to make ends meet, or make to the end of the pay period, struggle with their own demons, and narrowly define who is worthy of living in our country. Some members of Congress use scripture to bolster their arguments for restricting eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps).  “The poor you will always have with you.”

Jesus did say that, but he also said that whenever we fed the hungry, we ministered to him.  We lived out what he expected of us.    Jesus also called out those who could not look past the norm of society, those who put rules ahead of God’s righteousness and the greater good.

Fed at Christ’s Table, we, the faithful, work and serve in a world where sharing our resources, our ministries, is one way to express our willingness to believe, to take chances against the norm and live and proclaim the Gospel.

What we should note here in this morning’s Hebrew scripture is not only the miraculous feeding of a widow and her son, but the call to action and mission.

Perhaps the miracle is that when we trust in the love of God through Christ, completely give ourselves over to that love, we can make things that seem impossible very real in our lives and the lives of those we touch.

From the last bit of meal and oil a Widow makes three little cakes and from that comes a promise of plenty in a time of need.  We are in a time of need.  There is enough of God’s bounty to go around.

Belief

Preached from the pulpit of Good Shepherd Church, April 6, 2013:

40 years ago if you had asked me about my beliefs, I would have told you that we eventually would see an end to war in my life time because I believed, as modern people, we could solve our differences rationally; I believed would be directing a movie from one of my own scripts; I’d be a bestselling author on the New York Times list; I’d never have my heart broken into a million pieces by a certain man, and the Cubs would have a shot at the World Series and take it in four games.

Guess for which I still have hope?

That’s right.  The Cubs.

Now, if you’d told me that from doubt comes belief and from belief comes faith, I would have asked what you were smoking and asked for a hit.  This was a period where I’d left all of my childhood theology and faith by the road, years of wanting to be holy, and struck out on my own. What had God and religion done for me?  I kept getting asked if I found Jesus – didn’t know he went missing.  I knew, I absolutely knew, he wasn’t in my life, because if he was, things would have been different.  Right? I was one of the spiritual people who didn’t need religion. It took me a decade to go back and sort through my baggage and leave what remained.  What brought me around were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  The Acts.  The life and work of Jesus.  This is the Greatest Story Ever Told.

It is a wonderful gift to us.

It is history and it is life.  It is Good News.

It doesn’t end with a shadow on the beach, or a close up of a shroud lying on a bier in an empty tomb as Hollywood would offer and thank goodness for that!  The news spreads, the imperial government and its Temple collaborators get nervous, the excitement and joy builds. The followers of Jesus are still reeling from the crucifixion, hiding out in the Upper Room, no doubt wondering where do they go from there, what to do next.  They are visited by Jesus and as we will learn, the story with the work of the apostles and the growing community in the Book of Acts, Paul’s letters, the anonymous writings of first century Christians and not-so-anonymous persons, and in the lives of everyone who has ever heard the Good News and proclaimed it, and those who for a moment doubted and then said, “Yes!  This is real.”

This story has an epilogue, and we are it.

We, you and I, are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.  Jesus’ blessing on those who come to faith without the necessity of sight or touch is not a chiding of Thomas for his lack of faith at that moment, but an affirmation of the generations who have relied on the Word and, believe it or not, Thomas’ actions, for their faith.

I bet you’d like to know why I think that last bit is an affirmation of faith.

Thomas is called the Doubter. He was bold to have stood before his friends and fellow disciples to say, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Where did this come from?

Was it that Thomas still didn’t get it, or was it grief, fear or shame taking up space in his heart and mind? His teacher and leader had been executed as a criminal, after all; perhaps he didn’t want to believe for fear of what it meant – failure, like so-many would-be prophets and messiahs before Jesus, and perhaps a death by crucifixion for himself. Or, it was grief at the loss of someone he loved taking hold and putting him into denial.

We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t with the others when Jesus first appeared to them – there’s no clue – but it begs the imagination, doesn’t it? He might have been going out for food for the rest, but what if he engaged in the work Jesus called him to, in full sight of Jesus’ persecutors. Imagine Thomas saying, “Yes, you killed him! But it doesn’t kill the message or the meaning! Here I am, doing exactly what he was doing! What are you going to do about it?”

He is called Doubting Thomas and that nickname has become an appellation for those of us who steadfastly refuse to believe or take at face value what we cannot see.

Haven’t we all at one time, questioned what we’ve been taught or told, or seen, especially when the hour and the day are dark and feel without promise? When those moments come, God puts into play or reveals something that turns one from being faithless to faithful, something like the Resurrection.

Remember Paul’s words to the Hebrews: “now faith is a well-grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see.”

Faith requires that we who have not seen, believe. Belief that the Kingdom is here and now, belief that God is always with us.

God came to us in the form and blessing of Jesus. So many prophets came before Jesus claiming to be the Christ but they slipped away into obscurity, suffered ignominious deaths like Jesus.

What made him so different?

He was who he said he was. He did what he said he was going to do. The resurrection of Christ gave new life to humanity, to those who believed. What was promised by Jesus in his teaching was and is being lived out. The apostles, the first followers of Jesus, proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom – what Jesus promised in his teachings and ministry was made true. The followers of Jesus live out the new commandment – that they love one another as Jesus loved them, and in attending to the needs of one another – what Jesus commanded was made tangible and real.

The apostles became the leaders of the movement and strove to live as they were taught, showing that “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a great family of different people, living together, loving one another and all living in equality.” What Jesus demonstrated in his ministry was kept alive by the faith, belief and right action.

And this is where we come in.

We are the disciples, called to keep the Good News in play, to keep the Word in our hearts and minds, and to keep it alive. How you and I do this depends on the gifts God has given each one of us, and how the Spirit moves within us.

We’re always looking for new ways to proclaim the Gospel, to tell the story, to keep it fresh and alive. Jesus walks with us every step of the way – sometimes we have to open our hearts and minds a bit wider to see him, get past our own wounds so that we can see his.  No, we haven’t seen the five wounds except what is depicted in artwork and written of in scripture, but we know they are real.

Every time we say ‘peace be with you,’ Christ says it to us. And when I send people out at the end of the service to go in peace to love and serve God, I mean it. Again, how you follow through is dependent on what you called to do.

It’s time for us to pick up our pens and continue the story. What will you write on the page? Perhaps it will be to say that you and I can see Jesus working in our lives and we are continually blessed by that grace – sight unseen.

Let’s show the world in thought, word and deed, that Christ is our Lord and our God – show the world that we believe.

 

A New Commandment

Preached from the Good Shepherd pulpit on Maundy Thursday, 2013:

Maundy.    It comes from the Latin word, “mandatum,” a command or order, and from there it became “maunde” in Middle English, to “Royal Maundy” and to what we now know as “Maundy Thursday.”  But I’m not here to offer a class in the etymology of ecclesiastical and liturgical verbiage.  I’m here to share my thoughts and what is in my heart about this night, a night that began the transformation of a band of believers, of disciples, into Christians.

This is the evening of mandates that took everyone who followed Jesus one step closer to the astounding and profound act of love we know as the Crucifixion.  On that night so long ago, Jesus took a sacred meal that was symbolic of the sufferings, trials and triumphs of the people of Israel and made it into something new.  He took the Seder and made it a symbol of his own suffering and its power through God, his overwhelming love for God and us, to deliver us from sin and death.

It was during this meal Jesus presented two mandates to his followers.

The first is what we call the “New Commandment.”  After he shocked them, particularly Peter, by kneeling down like a slave and washing their feet, he said, “I give you a new commandment; that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

The second mandate was not only an expression of love, but an expression of ministry – service to one another in Christ’s name.  Jesus, the Rabbi, becomes the servant and as we have heard this evening, washes the feet of his disciples.  This act was, and is, an outward and visible sign of God’s love in Christ.  Peter was aghast, and wanted no part of it.  Jesus said to him, “Unless I wash you, you have no share in me.”

Unless I wash you, you have no share in me.

Let me serve you, so that you might serve God and one another. I do it because I love you. You will be a member of the body of Christ if you do these things.

This right action and the New Commandment were, like everything Jesus did, revolutionary.  Someone hearing this and witnessing the event would have proclaimed Jesus mad.  Forget about kings?  Forget about emperors?  Forget the Priests, the Pharisees and Saduccees, the merchant class?  Love the slave as much as the master?  Treat women as equals?  Forget about Rome?

Giving unconditional love is revolutionary.  People were and are conditioned by social class and gender, culture and bias.  Then, one just didn’t go to supper with tax collectors or deal with women who used perfumed oil and tears to wash feet; you didn’t love someone just … because.

We really do have the same issues today – not as rigid, for our barriers are breaking down.  It’s first come, first serve, at the Trader Joe’s check-out line.  People can sit anywhere on a bus or train.  Education is mandatory in the United States and free from age 5 to 18.   And, side stepping that walrus in the middle of the living room, equal pay, women in the secular world and in some faith denominations in our country, may aspire to whatever calling they wish.  I have hope for the hold outs.

Yes, the barriers are coming down.

If we are so willing to break down the barriers of class and race, then we should also break down the barriers we’ve put up around our hearts and love.  Simply love.  Just as we are commanded to do.

We will, tonight, put a different spin on the act of servant ministry that Jesus modeled when he removed his outer garment and wrapped himself in towel and knelt down to wash dusty, muddy, feet.  We will wash one another’s hands.

When we wipe away a tear, bandage a physical wound, greet one another, give assistance, offer food and drink, what do we use?  We use our hands.  Let our hands tonight and always be an outward sign of our willingness to live out the new commandment.

Jesus is kneeling before us, speaking to us.  If you and I, all of us, wish to have a share in Jesus, we must be willing to become servant leaders, to engage in Christ-like work.  We have to put ourselves after those we serve.  This evening, we are not simply memorializing archaic, ancient rituals in remembrance of historical events; we are making our actions acts of love, our responses to powerful mandates, our experience, our way of connecting our corporal life to Jesus and all who followed him then and now.

We are participants in that final supper Jesus shared in the upper room.  We are his friends and followers as we break the bread and share the one cup, and be servants to one another.  It is, my friends, only what is being asked of us by Christ.

How can we refuse?

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