God with us

Merry Christmas!
It is lectionary year A, and this year we hear the story of the great mystery of Christmas from the gospel of Luke. The author of Luke continues to speak to the themes of God coming for the common man beginning here with the birth of Jesus. Luke calls Jesus, a little baby born in a little town, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace. Living 2,000 years after this event, we aren’t aware that Cesar Augustus – the nephew of Julius Caesar ended the warring that happened after he became the Emperor. He was then called the Prince of Peace and declared a Son of God – even named such on the official roman currency. Therefore Luke places the birth of Christ in an area of political unrest and sets him up against the most powerful man of the day.

 

Then, the author of Luke brings in shepherds…

 

Shepherds…

 

Who are the shepherds of our day? Who are those who live and work outside of the rest of the community, yet providing necessary resources? Are these the ordinary people? The “Real People of Bethlehem?”, is Luke trying to tell us that this king  – this little baby – will be for the every man? Or is these shepherds the marginalized? Those we prefer to keep at an arms distance so that we won’t be uncomfortable with who they are and how they live?

 

Maybe both.

 

In Godly Play, we talk about the 2 great mysteries – Christmas and Easter. God came to be with us, and God rose from the dead. We will never know exactly how the incarnation or the resurrection happened (which shouldn’t stop us from wondering and asking questions!!), however we do know that in both great mysteries God reveals the deep love our creator has for us – for all of us.

 

God didn’t come to dwell in the great palaces of the day, but in the fields and villages. This is good news. God came to live with you, with me, with us.

 

How can we be the shepherds of today – and declare to all those around us why this is good news for us? Now I know… I’m not that kind of Christian who jumps at any chance to tell people about my faith. Yet, “we are called to confess not to convert” – Kenda Creasy Dean.

 

Confess this day to yourself, your loved ones, your friends, and anyone – why this news, this king, this prince of peace, this God with us, is good news for you.

 

Peace,
Deacon Erin

The 4th Advent Promise of Love

Deacon Erin’s Weekly Lectionary Reflection
Matthew 1:18-25

This week we hear the story of Joseph from the gospel of Matthew. Not the primary Christmas story for sure!

In the holy family, Joseph can be a bit of a silent participant. For if Jesus is the son of God, what role is there for Joseph?

While none of us are likely to be presented with the calling of Mary, all of us can stand up as Joseph did – standing beside others who need our love and support. Even when the situation could bring judgement. This text shows how Joseph struggled with what to do when he learned that his fiance was pregnant. The law is clear, so as a righteous man he planned to end the engagement. God however works in mysterious ways. So Joseph, acting on faith in the message from the angel keeps his promise to marry Mary and names the baby – thus claiming him. In bible times, there wasn’t really a “step-father” kind of role. By naming the child, as the angel instructed, publicly Joseph was claiming a child he knew wasn’t his and pledging to raise him.

Can you imagine what would have happen to Jesus and Mary if Joseph hadn’t done this?

This week we light the 4th candle – the candle of love. Through the mystery of the Incarnation – God, who is love, became flesh to be with us. Emmanuel, the name given to the baby means God with us. With love incarnate coming to earth – may we keep ourselves open to feel God’s love around us and to share it with others. Just as Joseph models for us.

I wonder how God’s love has touch and transformed your life?

I wonder how God’s love is moving you to action today?

Peace~Deacon Erin

 

Cultivating Patience

If the fruits of the spirit were fruit – I think patience would be oranges. Something we like in concept and even grab and bring with us – but if you are anything like me – the messiness of actually diving into it, peeling it, and then your hands are sticky… it just doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should. Unless it’s a clementine – patience “lite”.

This week’s lectionary text brings us to the book of James, a text full of practical insistence on caring for one another, anointing the sick, and coming together in prayer for prayer brings healing and forgiveness of sins. The author also addresses the wealth gap in the community – calling out the common social practices that favored the wealthy and pushed aside the poor.

We are in the middle of that when we get to our texts in Chapter 5 verses 7-10. “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

A beautiful text, and something I think that resonates with us at a deeply human level – even centuries later. Yet – even more helpful when we realize that just a few verses before this  at the beginning of the chapter the author called out the wealthy in the community with some harsh truths. “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.”

Too often it is the oppressed and poor that are told to be patient, and God will reward them. This is unconscionable when we do not also address the sins and the human cost of extravagant lifestyles.

Patience can be word thrown around to pacify, and even abuse. And patience is a virtue and a fruit of the Spirit. What is the difference? Where is the line, or the grey area? The most famous passage in James is faith without works is dead. (2:17)

Our faith in God, revealed through Christ, and felt in our experience of God’s transforming love in our own lives through the Holy Spirit moves us to action. Through our faith the passion and fire we were created with is ignited and we find ourselves compelled to serve others. The Spirit guides us, and gives us patience. What is not okay then, is simply tell others they must have patience – patience that comes from the Lord.

Advent is time of waiting, of getting ready. As we take this time to focus on the coming great mystery of incarnation – the Spirit gives us patience. We cultivate this patience through our own spiritual practices. Through our quiet times – maybe you take a daily intentional prayer walk through the city streets, or during your daily devotions. God speaks to us always – and spiritual practices help us to learn to listen. Help us cultivate what God is already doing, and allow our lives to be good soil – continuing to bear fruit.

We take strength from those who have walked before us – our scriptures are full of stories of the people of God. May their stories help us to grow in our faith – knowing that God uses many people – not perfect, just willing.

God is coming to earth again this Christmas to be love incarnate. May that love touch each of our lives, and ignite our passion and energy to fully live as the children of God – working for the kingdom of hope, peace, joy, and love.
~Deacon Erin

Giving Thanks and Preparing Plows

Deacon Erin’s Weekly Lectionary Reflection
May God’s peace and blessing be with you during this holiday week.
Personally I love this time of year. It is a time of joy and celebration starting with Thanksgiving, then my birthday, several other family birthdays, and through Christmas, New Years, and Epiphany!!
As the year comes to a close we have a liturgical focus on being thankful and getting ready for the coming of Christ a new in our hearts and in our lives. I can get too swept up in the season and forget that in the last year God has been moving in my life in many ways.
I admit, I love this weeks Isaiah text, especially at this time – let this be the time in which we as a people turn our swords into plows, our spears into pruning hooks, and learn the ways of war no more.
The last few weeks have taken a toll on all of us. As we  remember that we are all beloved children of God, we each must daily ask ourselves – what can I do to be a light?
If you haven’t seen the Chicago Temple’s pastoral letter – I invite you to check it out. It closes with this:
“We know what it is we are called to do. We are still called to “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” This too has not changed. Only now we are called to do this with a greater sense of urgency and even more vigor.“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

 

May this season of Advent be for you and your family a time of preparation, making room in your hearts, reflecting and getting ready together for the kingdom work which the Spirit equips you especially to do – the holy work of loving God and loving others.

In peace and love, Deacon Erin

God’s Kingdom of liberty, discipleship, and peace

Christ the King, Kingstanding – Window done in 2011 by Aiden McRae Thompson can be seen in Roman Catholic church of Christ the King, in the north Birmingham suburb of Kingstanding.
This Sunday we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. A celebration in the church began in 1925 by Pope Pius XI to:
  1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas, 32).
  2.  That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas, 31).
  3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33)

Pius believed that “When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.”

In our lectionary gospel text from Luke, the crowd is mocking Jesus – saying “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Then as the crowd continues to mock, one of the men being crucified next to Jesus asks – “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”
Throughout the gospels, we continue to see the disciples and the crowd wanting Jesus to rise above the oppressive Roman government and fulfill the promises of a messiah. Jesus however, wasn’t the kind of King they were looking for.
As Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he describes many things. The Kingdom of God is like a land owner who shows mercy, the kingdom of God is like a great pearl, the kingdom of God is like a shepherd who goes after even one lost sheep. Jesus proclaims from the beginning of his ministry, echoing the words from Isaiah – sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free.
Jesus lived and died as a very different kind of King – and then was resurrected! Our Christian hope is not in an earthly ruler, but in our God who came to earth, showed us how to live and love, died, and rose again conquering death.
The election cycle of 2016 is coming to a close. It was a brutal one, and a historic election in many ways. The country is incredibly divided with more fear of the other party than ever recorded in polls before. Many are wondering if they have a future in the country, or if they will lose rights, while others are excited and hopeful that the new administration will bring change and disrupt politics as usual.
We do not live in the Kingdom of God yet – there is much work to do until we get there. Despite your politics, I believe we can come together as Christians around the mandates of Christ – to love our enemies, care for the poor, feed the hungry, visit the sick, and free the captives. Let us never tire of doing the work God has equipped and called us to.
May we not seek unity to go backwards – let us seek reconciliation – acknowledging the very real pain in our lives, seeking together the kingdom of God.
Peace,
Deacon Erin

Faith is more than Ritual

This week’s lectionary readings speak to faith. Hebrew’s 11:1 tells us – “preachNow faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”- NRSV

This definition of faith reminds me of a quote by Saint Francis of Assisi –

I really appreciated the paraphrase of the bible in The Message this week, for their version of Psalm 50. I included below the whole psalm, more than the lectionary includes.

This psalm is harsh. It calls out the people of Israel  – “Why should I want your blue-ribbon bull or more goats from your herds? …every creature of the forest is mine, the wild animals on all the mountains. I know every bird by name.”

and then goes on… “What are you up to, quoting my laws, talking like we are good friends. You never answer the door when I call; you treat my words like garbage.”

and finishes with “It’s the praising life that honors me. As soon as you set your foot on the Way, I’ll show you my salvation.”

What does God want from us? Perfect church attendance? The first 10% of our income before paying debts and bills? Extra long prayers before bedtime or meals?

God wants our lives to honor God. Our hearts, our deeds, our words to be formed by the unconditional love of a savior who knows our names, our gifts, and our passions. It is in our intentions, not our rituals that our faith is shown, and grows. Do we share our whole selves with the community of faith, or do we participate in the ritual of church?

Take time to read through the Psalm. Then I would challenge you to go grab your bible and read it in another version. Rituals are incredibly important as they give patterns to our lives and draw our attention to God. How does your life preach the gospel? How do you continue to grow closer to God in prayer, in study, and in service?

Join us this week at the Homeless Ministry. Let your life speak. Pray for your co-workers and your family once daily. Share this Psalm with your partner, family, or a friend. Check out some of the sermons on the Chicago Temple website. Take a walk in your neighborhood and pray for God’s presence to be with your neighbors. Let your life speak.

God’s peace be with you and yours,

Deacon Erin

Psalm 50 The Message (MSG)

An Asaph Psalm

50 1-3 The God of gods—it’s God!—speaks out, shouts, “Earth!”
    welcomes the sun in the east,
    farewells the disappearing sun in the west.
From the dazzle of Zion,
    God blazes into view.
Our God makes his entrance,
    he’s not shy in his coming.
Starbursts of fireworks precede him.

4-5 He summons heaven and earth as a jury,
    he’s taking his people to court:
“Round up my saints who swore
    on the Bible their loyalty to me.”

The whole cosmos attests to the fairness of this court,
    that here God is judge.

7-15 “Are you listening, dear people? I’m getting ready to speak;
    Israel, I’m about ready to bring you to trial.
This is God, your God,
    speaking to you.
I don’t find fault with your acts of worship,
    the frequent burnt sacrifices you offer.
But why should I want your blue-ribbon bull,
    or more and more goats from your herds?
Every creature in the forest is mine,
    the wild animals on all the mountains.
I know every mountain bird by name;
    the scampering field mice are my friends.
If I get hungry, do you think I’d tell you?
    All creation and its bounty are mine.
Do you think I feast on venison?
    or drink draughts of goats’ blood?
Spread for me a banquet of praise,
    serve High God a feast of kept promises,
And call for help when you’re in trouble—
    I’ll help you, and you’ll honor me.”

16-21 Next, God calls up the wicked:

“What are you up to, quoting my laws,
    talking like we are good friends?
You never answer the door when I call;
    you treat my words like garbage.
If you find a thief, you make him your buddy;
    adulterers are your friends of choice.
Your mouth drools filth;
    lying is a serious art form with you.
You stab your own brother in the back,
    rip off your little sister.
I kept a quiet patience while you did these things;
    you thought I went along with your game.
I’m calling you on the carpet, now,
    laying your wickedness out in plain sight.

22-23 “Time’s up for playing fast and
    loose with me.
I’m ready to pass sentence,
    and there’s no help in sight!
It’s the praising life that honors me.
    As soon as you set your foot on the Way,
I’ll show you my salvation.”

Speaking truth to power

Deacon Erin’s Weekly Lectionary Reflection
1 Kings 21:1-21a
Young people – especially children are especially in tune to what is fair – and when things aren’t fair. Yet they often learn there is not a lot they can do to fix the things around them that aren’t fair. They simply don’t have the power. Sure, sometimes what’s not fair is they have to clean their room instead of watch TV – yet other times children vividly see bullying, or discrimination in everyday places from school to the grocery store.

This week’s Hebrew Bible story tells the story of a King and Queen who used their power to get their way – not at all fair. And the prophet who bravely spoke up against their actions.

 

This is a story with such vivid language that reminds me the bible is not a book for children.

“Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: 21:18 Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. 21:19 You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” 21:20 Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD,

21:21 I will bring disaster on you.”

 

I will bring disaster on you. Not exactly the loving and merciful God I know I like to picture most of the time. There is something raw and angry about this depiction of God –

 

Elijah – a prophet, goes to the King and Queen – the absolute power in Israel, and says this?? God saw what you did, is NOT okay with it, and justice will come.

 

And this works, at least in that King Ahab repents and seeks God’s mercy and forgiveness. One interesting thing about this tale however is that it’s a fairly common thing – for those in power to do whatever they have to do get what they want. What makes this a story – what has kept it being told for thousands of years, is that someone spoke truth to that power.

 

Being prophetic isn’t something that comes easy to any one. Speaking out, especially when it always has a cost, is not a glamorous thing to do. Yet, how can we stay silent when our eyes are opened to injustice?

 

“It’s not fair” a child says. Don’t ever stop saying something when you see something.

 

Elijah and the Nameless

In seminary I learned how to do a power analysis. We would like to think that in the world, all people’s lives matter – however this is not the reality we live in. Therefore, considering the real power structures in our cities, countries, and even churches helps us to focus our time and attention in ways that get the most done and bring the most good.
This week’s Hebrew Bible story focuses on a little family that is powerless, marginalized, even nameless. A widow and her son. In the scope of things – forgotten about lives, yet known and cared about deeply by God.
Elijah and the widow
Something I LOVE about the scriptures, is that they contain stories of the people of God.  Stories of folks just living lives. Sometimes there is a wedding or a feast. Sometimes there is great tragedy like a drought or death. Sometimes these situations are dealt with with grace and faith that God is good and God is with us. Other times, the stress breaks folks and we wander from the path God has laid out. Weather these are stories of factual people who lived, or stories doesn’t make a difference – they are stories that reveal to us truths about who God is for us.
We worship a God who cares about the people the world doesn’t.
We worship a God who sees and cries with the mothers whose children starve.
We worship a God who is active in the world and whose grace and power is accessible to us!
Yet, not every child of a faithful mother will live again.
We worship a God who is bigger than we know, and who does not promise there won’t be pain – just that God and the people of God will be with us through the pain.
There isn’t a bigger reason for every tragedy. God does not send droughts, storms, or disease. We as humans seeking reasons desperately wanting to understand at times attribute these things to God. Understandable. Yet when we are not in pain, we can look beyond our deep desire to know why, to blame someone, and to consider what that says about God.
We worship a God who is consistently in love with all people. This beautiful story of the widow and her son, not a part of the people of Israel – show us that our differences, our human labels and boundaries are not God’s separations – but our own.
Let us sit with this story this week and work through it. There is a lot there. May God bless the reading and study of this word for you and all who come to it.
Peace,
Deacon Erin

Wisdom and Wants

A friend of mine has four children between the ages of 5 and 10 (the youngest two are twins).  A response constantly heard from him to his children is “it’s nice to want things.”  As a adult I laugh often as I hear him say this in response to something like “but I want to play on the computer” or “I want another brownie”.  Yet it’s not so funny when he has said this to me – in response to “I just want this day to be over”, or “I just want to the church to support this!”
It’s so easy for us to list our wants.  In todays Old Testament lesson, when God asked what he wanted, King Solomon responded not with the typical list of riches, wealth, power, or position.
Solomon asked God to “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” – 1 Kings 3:9  
An understanding mind
able to discern between good and evil
Wow.  Not necessarily always on the top of my ask lists.  King Solomon is regarded as a very wise man.  As disciple seek God’s wisdom today among the confusion that is the world, Solomon gives a humble and wise request.  May we all seek from God an understanding mind.  Instead of rushing to evaluate and judge – that we make first seek to understand, especially that which may be different.
I direct a Summer Camp in Rogers Park serving over 50 families for 5 weeks each summer.  To accomplish this, we have a barrage of staff and volunteers from all over the Chicagoland area and across the United States.  We celebrated with some of the youth staff by treating them to lunch this week.  8 youth from around the city ages 16-18 served as counselors, art leaders, and game masters providing daily care, leadership, and support to campers ages 5-15.
We went to El Famous Burrito, a favorite in Rogers Park.  With 3 latino staff (2 fluent in Spanish), and a fantastic comedic waiter, everyone figured out something to order.  (much confusion as to what exactly is a “torta”) Knowing looks and conversation about the awesomeness that is Horchata and stories of aunts homemade recipes were shared, as well as anxious looks and questions about if food would be spicy “enough”.
Throughout the meal as we shared laughter about the foods we all normally eat and stories through the summer, there were moments of great harmony and great difference. There was understanding.  It took weeks.  (The first week, they barely spoke to one another.)  Yet among a small group of latino/a, black, white, and Nigerian teens where the differences are worlds apart, the bonding and true friendship was impossible to miss.  They even got some mayo for the torta, killing it – as the waiter teased.
There is wisdom in understanding
– seeing, asking, learning, seeking to know more.
Without understand one is not able to discern right from wrong,
good from evil, or the vast areas of shadows in between.
A few years ago with another staff, similar in many ways yet so very different, I lead a hard devotion urging them to stop fighting and work together with this prayer:
serenity-prayerI still pray this prayer often.
As we walk with the young people in our lives:
– I wonder how you help guide young people in seeking understanding?
– I wonder how you walk beside them as they learn about things they can not change?
– I wonder in what ways do we support them to change things they can?
– I wonder where they seek wisdom to know the difference?
Peace ~ Deacon Erin

Truth, Anger, Bitterness, Kindness: Imitating Christ

One of my favorite Tumbler/Twitter montages
isIron Man “Reasons my kid is Crying”. Great pictures of poor kids having meltdowns for ridiculous reasons.  In my work with children, youth, and families at churches, after school, and summer camp I have witnessed many of these difficult moments.  It’s hard not to laugh at these, as small people try to deal with lots of emotions boiling over inside them.  
             In the letter to the Ephesians, some of these complex emotions are addressed in how Christians should approach them.
Truth – “Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another” (4:25)
Anger – “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (4:26)
Bitterness – “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,” (4:31)
Kindness – “and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (4:32) 

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us” (5:1-2) 

Seems so simple… yet as we all know, it isn’t.
                Conversation and games are great ways to help children of all ages develop emotional intelligence and empathy – skills that will help them interact with others as well as communicate their own feelings, wants, and needs.
                When working with children, I keep in mind that it is very difficult for young people (and adults…) to deal with the complex emotions we feel in life.  One skill I have learned is to simply listen to a child when they are upset.  To ask them if they are feeling sad, or upset, or angry.  Letting another explain their emotions is one way for them to process by sharing, and also helps to clarify to teachers, parents, and others the feelings of that child that can often be assumed.
                 The advice from Ephesians helps give some guidance once we have identified some of these emotions in ourselves.  Anger is not bad, we should feel anger in different situations.  Yet we must also remember to be kind and love others as Christ would.  At United Church in Rogers Park, children are taught when they are angry to 1 – stop, and 2 – think.  Taking deep breaths, walking away, and coming up with creative solutions to problems are all ways that we work through difficult situations when we are angry.  How we teach these skills to children are critical.
           I wonder what tips and tricks your family has used to help process emotions in your home?
           I wonder how we encourage young people to work through and not ignore their emotions?
           I wonder how we as adults model processing emotions?
           I wonder what ways we can look to Christ and Christ’s love as an example?
Peace,
Erin