Monday, July 29, 2013

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sidelines, onlookers, and meditants

Looking for the readings for Sunday July 14, 2013?

Find them right here

If you ever happen to visit an Episcopal Church for worship, and have been in Christian worship in other protestant denominations, there is something in our ritual which you may not expect. Don't worry, no snakes involved. Nothing bizarre or strange, at least not according to my range of experience. But there are movements and processions which carry meaning to those who gather.

The form and order of our Sunday liturgy, which is found in the Book of Common Prayer is a service of both Word and Table. Every week, unless an unusual situation exists in the congregation. The readers of the lessons (Old Testament and New Testament) are members of congregation. This is a ministry fulfilled by the laity, both female and male. Typically the readers come forward to the lectern to read and then return to their seats within the congregation. What I think you would be quite surprised by, if you first came into the church via another protestant denomination or independent congregation is the following: When the Gospel lesson is read, the reader, either a deacon or the priest, will "process" to the center of the congregation. High ceremony is to have a Crucifer lead the process, two torch bearers carrying lit candles, another person to carry the Gospel Book elevated high, and the Deacon/Priest following. The symbolism of this process seems quite obvious to me but I won't assume you already get it. So here is what it means to me. 1) This procession acknowledges the importance of the Gospel, our center or, as some professors of homiletic are fond of saying, our canon within the canon. 2) It also literally helps the congregation focus on the incarnation as present reality. Within our worship community, at the center, we can imagine Christ being "in our midst". The life of Jesus as handed down through scripture, is God's way of continually revealing Godself and speaking to us in the present age. Gods' word moves amongst us.

One other thing you might be surprised at, is the brevity of the act of preaching in most Episcopal Churches. Typically 12- to 15 minutes, and most focus on the Gospel.

The readings for this week are all wonderful words worth spending time reflecting on. I may even make time to write on more than one this week. But for now, let's read, mark and inwardly digest the Gospel for this Sunday, July 14, 2013. It is a familiar passage for most Christians. and often also referred to in our American secular culture.

"Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."  Luke 10:25-37

Yes, this is the story of the Good Samaritan. It's the ancient text that informs the concept of the Good Samaritan Law. The idea that one has a duty to respond to someone injured and in return is offered protection under lawsuit for the actions that are performed in good faith.

One of the ways in which I use scripture as a spiritual practice is  to look at a Gospel passage to imagine the cast of characters. I meditate upon the word as a living drama, unfolding across time and ask God's guidance in placing myself within the story in some way. This process is modeled after a form of Spirituality devised by Ignatius of Loyola. [You might want to learn more about Ignatian Spirituality. It can be practiced in community or with one other to guide you in the meditation, as you begin this spiritual practice. ]

So, this week I have been marking this story using that practice.

Here is what I noticed as I did so.

There are two casts: There is the interaction cast, and the parable cast. You might be guided to become a member in either of these stories. You might even find you move from one place of imagination to the next, moving deeper into the enfolded story.
The Scene: 
Jesus : Jesus
Lawyer :lawyer
casual observers- people surrounding the interaction (HOW MANY?)
disciples also surrounding

The Parable Cast
Victim :A man
Priest :a priest
Levite :a Levite
Samaritan Traveler :Samaritan
Innkeeper :innkeeper

Using the imaginative process you may find yourself in the shoes of any one of the characters. Even Jesus. Ignatian Spirituality presents a request for guidance from the Holy Spirit to help one imagine which of the characters would be most instructive to the individual for spiritual growth and self-discovery. Entering into the process of this reading can be immediately fulfilling, or any range of emotions.

This week this passage really irks me. I realize, as I entered into the story that it evokes frustration when I look at the news of the current week.

I hope, that if I go into the details it will not forever shut down our relationship, cyber though it may only be,  because the frustration is a reflection upon the national politics regarding benefits (aka "entitlement" programs) to assist those at margins of economic stability.I'm also really frustrated with the outcomes of the Zimmerman Trial.

Lawyers :-(
Legislators aka Rule Makers { a Levite}

I personally feel like a bystander - a fairly powerless bystander at the moment.
I want to know where is God in this unfolding story of my life of politic and citizen responsibility, and what am I to do to correct this sense of powerlessness.

To heck with the question "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

I'm not worried about entering heaven, because I already know within myself what my relationship is with God. God's grace has already answered that question.

What I want to know is what can I do to proclaim and fulfill the unfolding and spreading of the Kingdom of God here and now? 

People I don't personally know ( are they "Samaritan" or "fellow citizen"?) are being left to go without. The measure that I see Jesus putting before this "lawyer" is a measure of compassion. Jesus invokes the relationship of God to all creation as the measure of who is one's neighbor. Mercy and compassion are the standards of care. Jesus didn't say anywhere in that story that the Samaritan checked to see if he might be repaid for the expenses incurred. The Samaritan pledges his own resources to care for the victim on the road.

But what seemed to be true in the story then seems to be true still today. The lawyer was looking for a way to do the least amount necessary. Could that be why, the latest Pew research shows lawyers are perceived as contributing the least to society?

The question the Lawyer placed before Jesus seemed so important at the beginning, but actually all the lawyer wanted to do was try to trip up Jesus. A device used in courts; seek clarification. But Jesus will not let that be the result of that exchange, so I also prayer, yes PRAY, that God doesn't let be the final result in the present day.

So, for me, as I've marked and meditated, inwardly digested the content of this passage, I'm left with questions and not solid answers for the present. I feel myself caught in the background of the story not yet capable of being engaged in the full work of caring and tending.

Where are you in the story?

Are you left feeling more uncertain than certain about the entire subject of "inheriting eternal life"?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Nearer to God

The readings from the Lectionary are here

In the church there is often heated discussion about mission work. How are we to do mission, who should go, what should be done, what should be said, where one should live, and what one should bring along for the mission work. How long should a person stay and what should be expected by the missioners from the community to which they go.

For a period of two years I worked in a church staff position at a church within the PCUSA. My job included maintaining ongoing communication and encouragement to the various mission projects, and missioners our congregation supported. It also included planning and participating in two short term mission trips within the same year (1995). One trip was a youth experience in Mexicali through Azusa Pacific University, and the other was a trip to Haiti. In that position I had ample time to consider the impact of mission as well as to consider how to recruit mission volunteers. In each case, the trip required extensive advance preparation with connections being made long before our arrival.

The Gospel for the week is often used to site the model of effective and proper mission work; at least parts of it are. Read on..

"After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."                  (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20)

Several answers for all the issues I raised are provided within this passage. Also, we can learn the kind of expectations which can result from engaging in mission work.

  1. Do not go alone
  2. Step out in faith
  3. Know that the road will have dangers
  4. As you go prepare your heart and mind
  5. Take nothing with you.
  6. When you arrive, look for hospitality and receptivity
  7. Accept with graciousness what is provided you
  8. Use the gifts God has equipped you with to benefit others.
  9. Expect Mutuality
  10. Deliver the gospel message: The Kingdom of God has come near.
  11. Leave the community with a blessing, no matter how they receive you
  12. Be aware of the incarnational relationship; the ambassadorship which the missioner represents
With all of these instructions about how Jesus sent out the first heralds of the Kingdom of God, it seems to me that whether you are a Biblical Literalist or not, there are some massive guidelines for mission work to begin to unpack and put into action.

To start out, looking at this text and applying it to our present context has a profound number of differences, which need to be named straight away.

1)  We now live in an age where economics operates very differently. Very few social systems (you may prefer the term communities) operate at a level of open hospitality as the code of the community. I am told that still occurs in middle eastern villages. Maybe it does in remote places on other continents. It certainly doesn't operate as the community standard across the United States. Euro-American hospitality is generally wary, suspicious, measured and uncertain. Anyone who takes off without any money, purse, or extra clothes with them is very surely assumed to be quite out of their minds. Mad as a hatter. Crazy. The last person I heard of who took of in a similar of faith was a woman who called herself Peace Pilgrim. Even she carried something with her, a comb in her pocket. As a religious community founder-leader, Francis of Assisi established a rule of voluntary poverty. This order does still work at living very closely to the original rule which also closely models the instructions of this scripture passage. To be completely honest though, they have long relied on something of an artifice, the Corporation, which leads me to the next difference.

2) Institution building became the focus of the church somewhere around the time of Constantine. No longer did the proclamation of "the kingdom of God drawing near" mean what it meant to Jesus or his first followers. Now, in the post Christendom period, I think we are genuinely attempting to rediscover the truth in that message. What does it mean to proclaim that the kingdom of God has drawn near, or is near? Do we live out lives that with intentionality carry Christ into the world? It is all too easy to step out the sanctuary doors and forget that there has been a charge to "Carry the light of Christ in the world," or to "seek and serve Christ in our neighbor."

The records of the life and work of the Apostle Paul seem to indicate a ministry pattern which resembles the instructions Luke relates as the instructions of Jesus to the disciples. But then, how are we really to know? Afterall, Paul does not seem to depend on the people of the community to provide for his shelter and nourishment. In some cases his length of stay would surely wear on the patience of even the most generous host. Instead, Paul's model was to transplant himself into the new community. We refer to this model as tent-maker mission work. Perhaps I'm off base on this but that's my take on it none the less.

What I am struck with as I continue to work at digesting the implications for mission in the present age is this: Let's start looking at how to apply the gifts we've each been endowed with right where we are. Work together. Find at least one ministry partner, and go about your life in a way that brings about healing and wholeness in the present location. Stop looking at people in foreign lands as inferior and to be pitied. Put aside your own arrogance regarding your own set of beliefs in Jesus. See, The kingdom of God has drawn near and is here now! Receive from others in your time of need so that others will know what it is like to use their gifts. If you've never felt that you could give financial support to the church, start putting something in the alms basin. (Collection plate). Any amount, something to show God and community that you are sharing in the burden of being engaged in offering the presence of Jesus in the world, on your own block, in your own town.

What do you think was Luke's purpose in providing this account in the Gospel message? Do you think the Holy Spirit inspired the inclusion of this passage to serve as a permanent prescription for sending missionaries or was it simply meant to be descriptive of how Jesus used and empowered others to proclaim the message to the surrounding communities prior to his death?

You see, as someone reading Scripture for inspiration and as a medium for connecting with the Divine Source of life, with God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I think it is important to consider whether the text is intended to be prescriptive or merely descriptive. Clearly, for Francis of Assisi the text was more than just description of past events.

If it is intended to be prescriptive, I fear that much of what has occurred over the ages has quite clearly violated the rule of mutuality. Many people groups have been subsumed and coerced to "accept Christ" in response to the proclamation of the Kingdom of God drawing near. Instead of stamping the dust of feet and moving on to another place when not welcomed in their midst, missionaries have long persisted in their efforts to continue the announcement of Good News. Power and force have been exerted to squelch and dominate new territories. Not for the benefit of the people being engaged in the message (sorry, I call that dominated) but for the increase of wealth and might of the rulers of nations and empires. Imperialism has been the principle motivation, proclaiming the reign of earthly kingdoms, not the good news of encounter with the Holy. We can thank Augustine in large part for this persistent pernicious mode of operation. The Church became the principle means of assimilation. And much like the BORG, resistance was futile.

Then, what if we choose to set aside the issue of being sent (mission) to foreign lands and simply looked at the model of mission in our own country to our own neighbors. Do we even consider the work of members within a parish as missioners, people equipped and sent by the Divine to herald, care for, and in return receive adequate support for their service? I'm not referring merely to those that are ordained. I'm thinking about those who serve in many more ways to serve in both congregation and beyond to the glory of God and for the well-being of others. Proclaiming the kingdom, providing healing, encouraging and equipping the members to draw near to God as God has drawn near to them requires not only training, but also the devotion of time and energy which must be diverted from other activities which would provide financial support. The question grows larger with deeper implications to the welfare of all members of the Body of Christ. It seems that mutuality has gone by the wayside. The decision tree for the majority of faithful followers has been reduced to a path of gainful employment versus self-sacrificial volunteering which leaves the missioner with good feelings but an empty belly.

A closing thought, as it relates to mission ventures of the present age. It also seems to me that some hefty fundraising work by missioners and for the benefit of mission workers might be seriously in question. Just a thought.The only mission endeavors I ever took part in required hefty financial self-support. Not only did the mission team members have to give up their usual pay in order to serve on a mission team. They were also expected to pay their expenses while in the community they served. The missioners were expected to make a contribution to the receiving community out of their own resources. Missioners are somehow assumed to gifted with charisms of generosity supported by unlimited personal resources. That would be a different Scripture passage entirely.

Now, to you...

With the final message being the heralding of the kingdom of God drawing near, where do you see that in your life?

How do you respond to the call to work in the harvest field for the Lord?

Pop Quiz:
How many disciples did Jesus have?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Servants of the people

 July 7th, 2013

237 years and three days following the Declaration of Independence of the Colonies of from British Rule. Thanks to the practiced writing skills of Thomas Jefferson we now call ourselves a sovereign nation. Thomas Jefferson was a clearly a product of the new age of enlightenment. He had moral courage that was nourished as much by the words of Voltaire and Locke as the Holy Bible. He was an independent thinker, not to be told that scripture was infallible or without error. In fact, during his presidency and following he extracted what was most important to him from the Gospels and threw the rest away as dross. This work, commonly referred to as the Thomas Jefferson Bible  is an interesting work which many would like to forget when they claim "America is a Christian Nation". And, such is the long tradition of proof-texting in America. Yes, even I fall into that trap on occassion, but I do work hard to wrestle with the entirety of the Bible.  

Our ancestors became rebels and patriots simultaneously as they rejected the abuses of the Monarch and his government. This singular event became a watershed mark in history. Regardless what Scripture might have urged in such cases, remembering Paul also instructed the church to submit to authorities and pray for the Leaders of government,  my ancestors, the ones that came before the revolution, were no longer willing to endure the chains of tyranny.  I think the opening sentence to Galatians 5 must have been deeply embedded into their hearts and minds.

"For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."

"For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit." Galatians 5:1,13-25

The whole of this passage deserves to be broken apart in order to do justice to the message that has been handed down through the ages to us. Paragraph two and three offer deeper instruction on the first paragraph. Today,  as I read this text I find that I am placed needing to speak to about loss, for this has been a week of loss, more profoundly than it has been a week of independence.

This week has been a difficult week for the brotherhood of Firefighters. The week began with the news that 19 hotshots from Prescott AZ perished in the blaze. They dedicated their lives to the work of firefighting, dedicated to a cause of protecting live and property, and in that vocation each of them, without a doubt, understood the risks which they took upon themselves. Their families will forever be changed now that these firefighters have been snatched by the hands of death.

These were men who came together to serve their community, not because it would bring them great financial wealth. They worked with selfless devotion. They formed an esprit de corps for the common good. I doubt any of them would call themselves "slaves to one another" but surely they would not reject the moniker as public servants. 

Now, widows and orphans have been left behind to carry on life without them.The community of Firefighting Families throughout the nation join Yarnell Fire Fallen families to share their sorrow and to surround them with assurance that their loss is great, and has been noticed. We (yes, I am a mother of a firefighter serving in the City of San Diego) also feel a sickness inside as we confront death face to face; the risks our sons and daughters, husbands and wives face daily. Then, remembering the challenge of Jesus ask what more should be done for the living that have been left behind? The widows and orphans remain as our responsibility. Our task, as those who stand removed, is to make sure these survivors are cared for.

I, like many take comfort knowing that there is hope in life everlasting and pray for the repose of the souls of the valiant servants. As the memorial service allows time for remembering and committing their souls to the care of the Holy One, I will pray for peace and comfort to surround these families through caring individuals, chaplains, and many others. I will give thanks, not that they died, but thanks for their dedicated lives of service.Yes, it has been a difficult week for the brotherhood of Firefighters in our nation because a total of 20 died in one week.

Let me leave you with a pair of questions.

How does this passage about being set free speak to your spiritual nature?


Do you simply read this freedom as a earthly material freedom?

And a final thought:

I consider myself blessed to have had the good fortune to be born in this country. I'm proud to know the rich line of ancestors who fought against tyranny at the birth of this nation, as well as those who served God as ministers of word and sacrament to the Glory of God following the establishment of this nation.Ultimately though, I believe my greatest freedom will never be lost. Being a child of God, an heir in the eternal kingdom cannot be taken away, no matter what happens to the civil structures of this or any country.

I am free in Christ no matter what flag flies over the ruling structures any nation.

If I was not granted a freedom by a government to worship God, I would nevertheless be free to choose to honor no other Lord, than the Lord of Heaven and earth. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mentors and Emancipated Mentees

June 30 Lectionary

Have you ever found yourself in the perfect relationship for spiritual growth?

In that relationship, as it went along, it seemed that you were learning, and growing in confidence as well as grace because the other person just always seemed to have their own special. direct connection to the Holy, which spilled out on anyone that came within range of them.


Did you ever have someone that always seemed to be able to provide the just the right perspective, was always willing to speak with clarity about how they perceived God was working within the situation at hand?

That special someone also had the knack of self-preservation. When things were getting incredibly difficult s/he may have retreated for a time to regroup but in the end was capable of returning into the thick of ministry and continue faithfully serving out the call that God placed on the person.

Maybe that person was the perfect fit because, in spite of your own doubt, or reluctance, s/he drew out of you the very best you could become. His/her ministry challenged you to strive to match their high water mark. Their courage, and example encouraged you.

What would you do if that same perfect mentor suddenly was no longer available to you?

How would you move forward ?

Would you start looking for someone else to fill the spot of mentor in your life or would you resolve that you now were drawn closer to the Divine, prepared to become mentor to another?

Here's the closing narrative in the life of Elijah today and the transfer of power to his successor, Elisha from Scripture  

When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over."  2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Scripture is filled with many stories repeating the themes of leadership, growth and coming of age.
Abram, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, the Disciples are just a few of the most popular ones that are cited.

From where I sit in life, spiritual growth is the trickiest of all growth processes for Humanity.

Where are you in the journey?

Which person(s) has God drawn you toward to bring growth into your life in the Divine Dance with the Holy Spirit?

And when that person moves out of your life, through whatever circumstance causes that transition, what will you do? 

Remember those questions.

What would you do if that same perfect mentor suddenly was no longer available to you?

How would you move forward ?

Would you start looking for someone else to fill the spot of Mentor in your life?


Would you pick up the mantle of the mentor and carry on the tradition?

Elisha is the model for how to transition from mentee to mentor. At some point in each of our lives we consciously or unconsciously move from the position of being in the shadow to being the one in whose shadow others will find strength, encouragement and growth if we are called by God to take up the mantle of leadership.

Choose well.