Need and Greed

I have the joy of having a close friend and mentor living only about 15 minutes from me now. I have know her over half my life – and her kids since they’ve been born. We get to hang out and do fun things together often and it’s such a blessing.

 

The 9 year old boy made some carnival games at home the other day. Playing together with the family, his sister was pretty good at getting the higher points, but each time he consistently got 2 points. In the end – he always won! Little by little he was content.
What a life lesson is that?
Last week we explored the Lord’s prayer – and this reminds me of – give us this day our daily bread. Not all the bread I need for life, or extra for just in case, or give us this day bread, jam, peanut butter, fresh mozzarella balls, and… yum…
No – just what we need.
It’s always tricky to balance need and greed. We worry and like the rich man, we work hard to gather all that we can. Yet we can miss out on life when we become fixated on having more and more.
Like my little friend – do what you do best. Claim your gifts and be the best you can be. Just don’t let it get in the way of you enjoying what you have. Remember what you need.
And in the words of John Wesley –
wesley
Peace,
Deacon Erin
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The Words Christ Taught Us To Pray

 

One of the most interesting characteristics of humans as a species – is our ability to learn. From a young age we are fascinated with how to do new things. As we grow, many of us perfectionists out there – I know some of you are – consistently seek the best way, the most efficient way, or the most economical way to do just about anything from our professional tasks, our domestic work, and even our relationships.

The internet is full of advice on just how to do just about anything. From wikihow to youtube – there are millions of articles and videos featuring others teaching us the “right” way to do ____ fill in the blank.

Today we tackle one of the biggest questions in regards to faith – how do we pray?

Is there a right and a wrong way?

For prayer is just talking to God. Bearing our hearts, our minds, our very souls to the one who made us – who knows us better than we know ourselves. From a young age we learn to talk – it is modeled to us by those around us and you may know this – but children mimic and pick up language much faster than we do as adults. A young child’s brain isn’t mapped as strong as an adult brain- making it easier for them to learn different languages, different mouth shapes and vowel sounds.

We teach our children to talk by talking to them, and encouraging them to talk. Working with young children and families, rarely a week goes by where I do not hear or say myself – “use your words please” to a child.

Do we teach our children to talk to God through the same kind of modeling and encouragement?

The author of Luke shows the disciples asking Christ to teach them to pray like John taught his disciples. We’ll come back to that last bit.

Jesus teaches them more than a well worded prayer here – he teaches a structure and form for prayer.

Just as we learn the structures and forms of our own language – remember sentence diagrams? Prayer can also take a structure that helps us to organize our thoughts and our needs that we might better understand them, and communicate them to our God. For we want to communicate clearly and effectively – do we not?

Our prayers may not need a grammar checker, however we can grow in our prayer life and in our discipleship as we take time to focus on prayer.

Jesus today in this classic text teaches the disciples what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer. Echoing back to the sermon on mount- in this prayer Christ gives more than words to memorize, in this 5 petition structure.

Father – what a beautiful image it is for us to relate to God, and address God as a father. We are familiar with the love of a parent for a child, or at least what that love should be like. Like any metaphor of course, there are limitations. In “The Quest for the Living God” theologian Elizabeth Johnson lays out a helpful framework for evaluating metaphors for God. For a metaphor to truly describe God, it should work as yes, no, and more so.

Yes – God is like a father as God loves us unconditionally, guides us, teaches, us, protects us, and we are created by God.

No – God is not like a father in that God is not a human man.

More so – God is more of a father as God provides a grace and a love that helps us to redeem the role of a father that earthy fathers can fail to live up to.

The 1st petition – Hallow be thy name

The word translated here for “hallowed” is translated in other places as “sanctified”. And the way this sentence functions is as an ask.  We recognize the holiness of God, and this first petition praises God’s name. Pastor David Lose, in his blog “Working Preacher” notes “The passive voice indicates that we ask God to hallow God’s own name, to act in such a way that God’s name is held in honor. The petitions that follow flesh out what this means. When God’s name is hallowed and God’s kingdom comes, there is daily bread for all, forgiveness is practiced, and God delivers the faithful from the time of trial.”

2nd – Thy kingdom come

In this second petition we continue to ask God for a gift that God is already willing to give. Jesus has been preaching and teaching – revealing the kingdom, proclaiming the kingdom, and challenging all who hear to do the work to bring about the kingdom.

3rd – Give us each day our daily bread

In this third petition, we bring to God our daily immediate needs. The essentials we require for the day – not to excess, simply to sustain and to live. It is therefore inherent in this petition, that we recognize our need for God daily. That we keep our eyes open and live in the present – looking for the presence of God that sustains us and is all around us.

4th – Forgive us as we forgive

Forgiveness is a major theme throughout the gospel of Luke. Here we also are reminded that forgiveness is also a release – for both the forgiven and the forgiver.

Forgiveness and freedom are interdependent upon each other. At the heart of Luke’s gospel – Jesus comes to bring freedom to us all. Freedom from sin, which keeps us captive, freedom from our debts, freedom from our oppressors, freedom from ourselves. There is so much here for us to explore. As we come to God in prayer, we admit our failings, our confessions as we seek God’s forgiveness. That is one of the greatest gifts from our loving God – grace and forgiveness. In turn however, we are called to go out and give that forgiveness to others.

Yet it doesn’t come naturally or easily. Sure we say, I’m sorry – no worries, no problem, there is nothing to forgive. Yet there is. And then when it is a big deal – we have a hard time offering up the forgiveness. When there are repeat offenses. When we are hurt. We hold on to our grudges, our pain.

And how hard is it to admit when we are wrong? To ask for forgiveness? I know I for one, am happier to let things just fly under the radar. I don’t want to seem irresponsible, I don’t want to be judged for my mistakes. I certainly don’t want to bring it up.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. This is as much a petition as it is a conviction for me to do better at my own forgiveness. For God forgives my trespasses much better than I forgive those who trespass on me.

The fifth and final petition 5th – Deliver us from temptation

We acknowledge that there are temptations and sin in the world that we face. Both personal, and communal. We are more than familiar with our own sins and shortcomings – yet there are also sinful systems in which we are caught up that keep others down – that oppress and tempt others at our benefit. We don’t ask for these things to come into our lives – yet we recognize that they are there – and they are not a part of the beloved kingdom. We pray for deliverance, for strength, and for us to claim the power God gives  us to resist – to stand up for what’s right, and to live holy lives.

A beautiful prayer yes – helpful words – yes – words that bring comfort in the times we need them, I have heard friends who are chaplains speak to just how much comfort this prayer gives to some of their hospital patients, especially those in memory care units.

A beautiful prayer – and a greater structure for all of our prayers.

Acknowleding the holiness of God

Seeking the kingdom, or God’s vision

Asking for what we need, no more

Asking for forgiveness, and offering it

And seeking God’s power and deliverance from our trials

 

We do also have to ask ourselves –

 

Do we really want to pray like Jesus?

And is that what the disciples asked? Jesus has been teaching, preaching, healing- living and breathing with the disciples and inviting them to seek the movement of the spirit- and it seems like they are asking for either a special formula or words that simply identify themselves as his followers. For they asked – teach us a prayer like John taught his disciples…

Yet being a disciple isn’t about obtaining the label- Christian, or even child of God- we are that at our core and there is nothing we can do to change that.

 

Pastor Rob McCoy offers this nugget of wisdom “The Lord’s Prayer can’t be just words that we recite.  It is a prayer that we live.  It is one thing to say the words of the Lord’s Prayer, but it is an entirely different thing to live the Lord’s Prayer… When you live the Lord’s Prayer, it becomes more than words that you say.  It is the choices you make, the grace you show, the forgiveness you give, and the bread you share.”

We seek not to be the best prayers – but to be disciples whose lives are shaped by how we communicate to and with our God – our source of life.

And we must ask – What about unanswered prayer?

I have a young man in my ministry who came up to me a few months ago. He is about 11, very smart, and very inquisitive. He said to me – Deacon Erin, everyday for the past 2 years (which is a very long time when you’re 11) I have prayed to God to take my asthma away. But it hasn’t worked. I’m not sure I believe in God.

How real – how honest – how raw. We all have those kinds of prayers.

Yet as I remind the youth – God is not a vending machine and prayers are not orders. We can’t simply ask and ask and receive. Relationships don’t work like that. God is better than that.

Prayer is so important in our faith lives and in our discipleship. Prayer is a form of social change, prayer builds our relationship with God, yet what about unanswered prayers?

There is no easy answer. In fact, there might not be an answer. Yet we must not take this passage as a way to cause harm. Our prayers do not go unanswered because we have sinned, or because we have not believed hard enough. Our God is bigger than we can know. We are called to seek, to knock, to ask. And we know that our God loves us. May we as disciples continue, even in our darkest nights, to cry out to god – and just as this prayer teaches us – to let our prayers not only be for God, but also for us. Let us not wait for God to give daily bread when we can share our extras, let us not wait for God to build the kingdom when we can live lives of justice and mercy, let us not wait for God to forgive us when we can reach out and forgive our neighbor.

Our God is a mystery. Three in one, God becoming man, and unconditional love. These are not things I pretend to understand. Yet just as God calls to me, claiming me as a child of God – I will seek and pray to God, building relationship. May your prayers deepen your faith, your connection to the source of life, and your impact on the world in God’s name. Amen.

Benediction – This day may you go out into the warmth of the world to live deeply as disciples of God. Go with the forgiveness of God, to work for the kingdom of Christ, through the strength of the Spirit. Amen.

Strength and Wisdom

Often our gospel story for today is interpreted to reinforce the dichotomies we fall into so easily. You may have been asked in bible studies before- are you a Mary or a Martha?

Are you a doer or a listener?

Yet- is this what the author of Luke is trying to say? Is this story intentionally shaming the work Martha is doing in favor of Mary? Is it just a weird coincidence then, that this passage follows the Good Samaritan which ends with – go and do likewise? Could there be more than two choices- do work or study?

Is it possible that the world that we like to see as black and white – really be much more? What if we could open up our two boxes of this or that – and see the world as a spectrum- as a beautiful rainbow? Many things, blending into one another.

Sure, it’s messy. There are way less distinctions. And it may be closer to the kingdom of God, than the black and white I know at least I prefer.

Let’s dive into this text a bit deeper.

Did you catch that bit at the beginning? Whose house did Jesus go to? You might know that Mary and Martha are Lazarus’s sisters. We may be tempted to think that this is Lazarus’s house – or assume that Mary or Martha must have a husband who owns the house. The scripture though tells us that “a woman named Martha welcome him into HER house.”

Throughout the gospel of Luke, the author hits themes of Jewish family life many times. One of the biggest aspects of the Hebrew culture, especially around your home is hospitality. We can’t miss that crucial piece of this short story. Extending hospitality to strangers is a major tenant of the faith – one commentator I read noted – an absolute requirement and therefore Martha’s “busyness” is not a target for current critiques of our cult of busy. While we have convinced ourselves that we must always be overworked, over scheduled, under slept, and working as hard as we can to be worthy, or successful – this is not something that is fair to but on Martha.

As we look into the Greek – the original word used for the “work” Martha is doing is diaconia. I always grew up hearing from this story, Martha was busy in the kitchen and women’s work – yet the Greek word translated to “work” or better “serving” is the word that describes the work of a Deacon. Leadership work in the church – the work and role I am called to.

Serving is at the heart of the work of a deacon. Hospitality, work of compassion, welcoming, caring for, advocating for. Martha is busy with the work of ministry and hospitality – not just busyness – and that is an important distinction.

This passage has also been used to shame Martha for doing stereotypical women’s work.  Hear this scholar’s understanding of this problem:

It does matter that we notice when the scene valorizes Mary’s choice to engage in study with a teacher. That means that Luke’s storyteller sees Torah study as being open to women, not just to men. This is important and reveals something about eh social world out of which this story comes. This matters. But is also matters that we not shame Martha, especially for doing “women’s work” – Hospitality is the duty of the entire household, for one thing – and tasks traditionally performed by women as are honorable as any other tasks. Limiting women to only those traditional tasks is not honorable, but the tasks themselves are crucial to our life together, no matter who does them.

So here are we left with the contrast – not between women’s work and men’s study – but the many things and the one thing.

There are many things that are important and we must all attend to – hospitality, work, cooking, family life, church life, children, the sick, the hungry.

What is that one thing that Jesus says is necessary? The one thing that holds all of the many together? In this context – studying the Torah, understanding the law. All human life is shaped by the Torah.

Scripture gives us wisdom and strength. It shapes our lives through the stories of the people of God, and provides us with a window into who God is through the stories of Jesus. God, as revealed through scripture, tradition, reason, and experience is the one thing we need to be able to faithfully do anything else.

God is our source. It is not that the ministry and hospitality work of Martha isn’t important. We can choose to study and to serve. We must to choose to study and to serve. Let us hear the words of Jesus – and remember to always seek God first.

daily office

Transforming Presence

Transforming Presence

Will you pray with me: O holy God, you graciously reveal the light of your wisdom to humankind. We stand in awe of you. In Christ, you set aside the veil that separated us from you. Your Spirit is transforming us to become more like Jesus.  May you use me your servant to speak to your people. Amen.

Exodus 34:29-35
34:29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.  34:30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.  34:31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them.  34:32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 34:33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34:34 but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 34:35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Presence if a funny thing. So often we crave the presence of others – and separation from our loved ones seems almost unbearable. Yet at other times, the presence of even those we love the most can be irritating, annoying, and just uncomfortable for almost no reason at all. I find the differences between us as people fascinating. Sociologists say that the primary difference between those of us who are extroverted or introverted is not how well we interact with others or even large groups, but where our energy comes from. An extrovert gains energy from interacting with others, while this costs an introvert energy – to recharge, they need time alone.

As a capital E extrovert myself – as far on that spectrum as tests show – I recognize the importance of the presence of others around me. Yet my husband is incredibly introverted. He needs to have dedicated time for him to just be alone and relax. These differences, and many more I find inspiring, that God could create us all to fit together and complement each other when we allow our differences to shine.

In both our Old Testament passage and gospel lesson for this week, the week of the transfiguration, we take a closer look at the awe inspiring presence of God.

If we go back just a few chapters in Exodus from what we just heard – we see that this isn’t the first time Moses came down from the mountain. In fact – it’s not actually the first time he came down with the 2 tablets and the 10 commandments written on them.  Just 3 chapters ago, Moses was descending with the tablets only to discover the people of God engaged in loud and lively worship of a golden calf they had made. Moses was so angry at the people, he threw the tablets on the ground, breaking them.

Today’s passage happens after Moses went back up to the mountain and after talking with God, Moses asked to see God’s face. God informs Moses that no one can see God’s face and live, yet agrees to hide Moses in the cleft of a rock and allow him to see God as God passes. It is coming back from this encounter that Moses face is glowing so much, it frightens the people. This reminds me of other stories we know about touching the hem of God’s cloak, or the woman who touched Jesus’s robe and was healed.

In our world, it is so easy to see chaos and tragedy – we lose sight of the awe inspiring power of the presence of God.

This presence and power isn’t like our modern day super hero’s. God’s power is something we can call on, and build our faith in. However, as I tell the youth – God is not a vending machine. We can’t expect to simply pick what we want God to give us and it to just come as simple as that. While we don’t always understand the actions or inactions of God, we are promised that God’s presence is always with us. That we are beloved children of God, and God will never leave us.

After his encounter with God, Moses wore a veil when he was around the people, but not when he was with God. This is somewhat backwards of what we may think today. How many of us are familiar with various traditions of coverings to approach God?  Prayer shawls, head coverings, or Sunday hats?  I remember when my sister and her husband were planning a trip to the Vatican with her catholic in-laws and their church choir. She received a beautiful lace head covering for Christmas. Growing up United Methodist she wasn’t used to this tradition, but her mother in law assured her that it was important for her to have for their visits to the various churches and chapels in the Holy City. Upon coming back, she talked about how using her head covering and experiencing the great cathedrals was a very humbling experience for her.

Yet Moses removed his covering when he approached God. I wonder – Do we have the same courage to seek the presence of God? To remove the veils of our own making and come to God just as we are? Do we want to really see God?

This week in the lectionary serves as an important transition between the season of epiphany we have been in to the season of lent. As we prepare ourselves for the self reflection of lent, the journey we take along with God, we continue to be inspired today by the amazing and transforming presence of God. Both through the story of Moses’s shining face, as well as through the gospel of Luke’s telling of the transfiguration of Jesus we take the time to be in awe of God, to remember who we are disciple of, and what we are called to as disciples.

In each gospel, this moment is a turning point for Jesus as well. He transitions from his Ministry in Galilee and begins his journey to Jerusalem. Yet before he begins this journey. He takes time away from the crowds to prepare. Let’s hear this passage together:

Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 9:29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 9:30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 9:31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 9:32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 9:33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said. 9:34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 9:35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 9:36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

At the top of the mountain top the presence of Moses and Elijah give Jesus strength and guidance as they discuss what is to come. And yet, our time away always comes to an end, or it wouldn’t be time away. The disciples don’t understand this with the suggestion of building dwellings to stay here in this awe inspiring event.

I think we all can agree, this story sounds so amazing, we would want it to last as long as possible too. And then the voice of God comes proclaiming what they had just had confirmed 8 days ago, that their teacher and friend Jesus was the Messiah. And that we are called to listen to him.

The next days and weeks go on as Jesus and the disciples travel to Jerusalem, teaching and healing as they go.

Today these stories give us a moment to sit back in awe of the transforming presence of God. Reminding us that despite our mistakes, despite our quick judgments and bad choices, despite our sins – God’s presence is healing, and purifying. We are called to be disciples.  The United Methodist tradition teaches that discipleship is a careful balance of two spectrums. First – piety and mercy.  We each must take the time for worship, for study, for devotions. This time is precious and important. Yet on the other side of this spectrum is acts of compassion- allowing our faith life to shape our actions towards others. With our given gifts, we are each equipped for different acts of compassion. The other axis is public and private. Sometimes I think it helps to think of this as communal and individual. Corporate worship together and bible study with other believers is very different than our own private study and reading. They both have their place and our faith needs us to have both.

In a world where many state that they are spiritual but not religious, I wonder how they see this call to both community and private piety?  Our works of mercy are also called to be done in community and in private. Some of us stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters struggling with homelessness, others of us serve on boards of agencies that work to provide crucial education assistance for children who don’t succeed in the traditional classroom. We are all called to our work.

Beloved children of God, on this special holy day – as we celebrate the powerful presence of God I encourage you to take time in the places you most strongly feel God’s presence. Perhaps like me for you it is a sanctuary full of singing worshipers, or perhaps it is a quiet spot down by the lake.

Seek the powerful presence of God in your life. Take off your veils and allow God to transform you through God’s word, and God’s love. Let God’s presence heal you, comfort you, and equip you to go out into the world shinning to walk the path you have in front of you.

The good news is that God’s transforming power is working in us and in our community today. We are invited into God’s work, but we must accept God’s call.  Through God’s grace, we will be inspired to live lives of discipleship. Amen.

Hoping for Hope

This week’s lectionary includes the story of Hannah, Samuel’s mother. You may remember the somewhat melodramatic story of Samuel – especially God calling him in the middle of the night.  Samuel’s mother has her own story – one of wishing and wanting – hoping for a child of her own.
Many of us can probably relate to Hannah’s difficulty with infertility. Statistics say that as many as 6.7 million couples or 11% of the reproductive population in the US struggle with infertility. Facing this challenge situation can bring a myriad of emotions. Deep struggles in our lives also bring seasons of doubt and distance from God and faith in general. Hearing stories of the people of God who also struggled to hope for their lives to be something different – these stories help provide us with hope.
We often think of a baby as a promise of hope – hope for the future. Whatever deep struggles you or your loved ones may be facing during this season of life – may Hannah’s story help you have faith and perseverance. Unfortunately it isn’t so easy as having faith and then receiving what we want. Sometimes I have to remind myself that God isn’t a vending machine I can put prayers into and get out what I want.
We can find some peace in knowing that in the chaos and pain of this world, God loves us. God walks with us – as God was with Hannah.  The people around us sometimes get it, or sometimes they rub salt in our wounds. The church sometimes supports us – or like the priest Eli- sometimes doesn’t understand us. At the end of the day we can always rest in the knowledge that we are not alone.  The Holy Spirit goes with us every where we go.  May that knowledge provide us with hope.
In peace,
Deacon Erin

Jesus, the Advocate

This week at the Chicago Temple we are celebrating Children’s Sabbath. The Children’s Defense Fund puts out great resources for faith communities every year for this event to help churches highlight the justice needs for children in our backyards as well as around the world.
Throughout the last several weeks through the gospel of Mark we have seen Jesus be an advocate for the most vulnerable among us from children to the elderly widow in today’s story. Being an advocate is about public support – and we all know that the power of public support comes from a balance of words and actions. We often hear Jesus referred to as “our advocate” in that Jesus will advocate for us to God. We offer our thanks and praise to Christ for being willing to stand up for us in love and offer us grace. How do we then take our gratitude and follow Christ as disciples, turning our public support – in action and in word to God’s children in our world who need us?
The children’s defense fund has a report on Child Poverty extensively showing the situation, the pain and the hurt for children, families, and our country, as well recommendations. I wonder how you are called to engage, learn, and love children in our faith community, our city, and beyond knowing this:

It is a national moral disgrace that there are 14.7 million poor children and 6.5 million extremely poor children in the United States of America – the world’s largest economy. It is also unnecessary, costly and the greatest threat to our future national, economic and military security.

The 14.7 million poor children in our nation exceeds the populations of 12 U.S. states combined: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming and is greater than the combined populations of the countries of Sweden and Costa Rica. Our nearly 6.5 million extremely poor children (living below half the poverty line) exceeds the combined populations of Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming and is greater than the populations of Denmark or Finland.

The younger children are the poorer they are during their years of greatest brain development. Every other American baby is non-White and 1 in 2 Black babies is poor, 150 years after slavery was legally abolished.

– See more at: http://www.childrensdefense.org/library/PovertyReport/EndingChildPovertyNow.html#sthash.sZpPkDTd.dpuf

Love God, Love Neighbor

Friends today is a very familiar passage, a classic, maybe even timeless. For those of you who are visual thinkers I want you to think for a moment on an image that comes up for you when you think of something that is “classic” “timeless”.  One image that comes to my mind is my grandmothers molasses cookies. A family recipe that is simple and classic.  I wonder what image may connect to that concept for you.  

I heard a commentator say if their was a record of Jesus’s greatest hits – this would be on it.  Many of us probably memorized this verse as children, and I know I for one have seen more than one children’s song (actions included) teaching our youngest to love God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.  

I have a keychain I got from high school graduation that says on one side “love god” and on the other “love neighbor”.  

This story is found in each of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  As each gospel has their own context and audience, each time this story is told different elements are highlighted.  Let us dive deeper into what’s been happening in the gospel of Mark to place this conversation a bit.  

We have been traveling with Mark to Jerusalem for awhile now in the lectionary.  Along the way we have heard teachings about sin, seen Jesus call the children to him, heard the disciple quabble about who was best, and witness miracles such as the healing of the blind.  In Chapter 12 today Jesus has made it into Jerusalem.  He has already has his triumphant entry (chapter 11), in this gospel on a colt, cleansed the Temple by turning over tables, and is now teaching in the Temple.  There are many in the crowd – I imagine there are some who have joined Jesus along his journey to Jerusalem, but the author here keeps addressing some of the Temple leaders – scribes, pharisees, and sadducees.  

As Jesus began to teach these religious leaders asked “whose authority do you teach by?” But Jesus answered them with a question – pointing out to them that they weren’t really interested in what he was saying.  As Jesus continues to teach in parables he subtly addresses the misdeeds of the religious leaders, making them angry – yet they feared the crowd therefore they tried to trap Jesus with questions about paying taxes and who a woman who had had multiple husbands would be married to in the resurrection.  

It is then that in this very public debate, a scribe comes up to Jesus and asks this this question about the greatest commandment.  When Jesus answers with the Shema – nothing new, or groundbreaking, but another classic teaching foundation in faith – the scribe tells him he is right. and then it is this scribe, who has been hearing the questions and traps the leaders have been throwing at Jesus who says that it is this love that is more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices.  

Let’s note that they are in Jerusalem, at the Temple – the very epi center for pilgrims and travelers to come, spend their money on these offerings and sacrifices.  

Jesus then addressed the scribe, noting that he is not far from the kingdom.  I understand this to mean that Jesus is praising the scribe for knowing that it is not in our sacrifices or religious practices that we come closest to God – it is in our actions of loving God and loving neighbor.  Knowing this is the first step – not far.  Next comes living it.  

Our world is both very different from that of Jesus’s and yet not so very different.  We can’t simply take scripture out of it’s context and right into our lives without doing the work we just did to dig deeper and hear what the larger story is.  

Just as Jesus in the gospel of Mark took a journey to Jersalem, each of us take journey’s in our lives.  Sometimes it is clear where we are going, and along the way we have interactions that help us to grow.  The journey of education can be like this – when we, or our children are young – going through each grade from kindergarten through middle and high school we journey on.  In college or the college of life experience – we continue on a journey towards a vocation, in the best of ways – hopefully a path that leads us to living a purposeful life.  

Our personal lives, our families, our friends, are also a part of this journey.  They travel with us, working beside us, giving us strenth and comfort.  In the best sense, communities of faith help provide for each of us this kind of strength, love, and relational connections on our journey.  

There are highlights on our journey’s – when everything goes well.  For Jesus, last week we heard a highlight when heard Bartimaeus yelling, called him near instead of ignoring him, truely asked and heard his need, and healed him.  

And then their are pitfalls and trials.  We don’t know always know why, or where they come from.  Sometimes these difficult times have no explaination – we encounter horrible tragedies, communal or personal – maybe a physical sickness.  Sometimes these struggles are the result of human systems that privilege few and oppress many.  

So many of us come to the church seeking God in the midst of our journies.  Maybe today you are in a good place, maybe you are in a trial.  As we come together just as the crowd did that day, many of us are asking like that scribe – what is the most important thing we should know?  

Love God with all our heart, our soul, and our mind – brothers and sister this is a timeless, classic message – the Shema from duteronmoney 6.  We are to seek God, to ask the tough questions with our minds – to be active in our faith.  

and Jesus adds – and to love our neighbor as ourself –

These are the most important things.  Probably also the most difficult. To love our neighbor – all of our neighbors on our journey.  Jesus expands this in other teachings reminding us that this means especially those who our culture at large doesn’t love.

We have heard this before.  Like the scribe who asked the question, we know that this is God’s way.  

Now, it is our task to take that knowledge and to live it on our journey.  

Beloved, know though the good news of Jesus’s life and teachings – God’s love gives us the strength to continue on our journey of loving God and loving neighbor.  

As we come to this place not to “do church” but to worship our creator, our teacher, and our guide, we can lean on God’s grace – we can come to this table often to be fed, and we go with the strength of God to shine in the darkness.

Authentic Asking

               We continue in the lectionary this week in the Gospel attributed to Mark. There we hear the story of Jesus and Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is a blind man who was sitting on the side of the road begging. When Jesus came by he called out to Jesus calling for mercy, despite others telling him to be quiet. In this gospel we see Jesus stop and tell his disciples to let him approach. When Bartimaeus comes over Jesus asks “what do you want me to do for you?”
             We have a funny habit in our culture when we ask questions.  Sometimes we ask questions that we don’t expect an answer to, sometimes we ask questions that we know the answer to, and sometimes we ask a question instead of giving direction – so it’s really not a question.  For example – Husband, would you help me with the door please? (asked with hands and arms full of something) I may have asked… but I totally expect what I asked for!!
           This is so commonplace, in an effort to be polite, it’s hard to know when one can say an honest no without being inconsiderate or rude. When this kind of interaction is so normal to us, are we really engaging with others? Are we truly seeing them for who they are, are just what they can do for us? (or just that they are there near us)
           In today’s gospel story Jesus asks a question we might not. I think I would have assumed that clearly, the blind man wants to see. Yet, Jesus sees him, acknowledges his agency, asks, listens for the answer, and responds appropriately.  No jumping steps.
            I teach listening to children in an after school program. There are so many steps and they often want to skip some. “I AM listening!” They insist – yet they are fiddling with something in their hands and turned 90 degrees away from the tutor who is working with them.  Nope.
             Active listening is hard for us adults as well. We assess the situation, see the solution, and want to move forward without wasting time. If your question can be an email instead of a meeting – even better. Yet in our busy lives, we can over look the importance of truly engaging fully with those around us. Intentionally and authentically asking because we really do WANT to know, and not assuming. Hearing the answer and responding in a way that shows we heard – not dismissing or counteracting what they said.
         This is love. Authentic love. Authentic relationship.
          Let us follow in the steps of Jesus and do likewise.
Peace,
Deacon Erin

Red Light Green Light

This weeks lectionary readings contain passages that I love and passages I just don’t like reading aloud in church.  All scripture needs context.  It has taken me years to really come to a place where I enjoy studying the bible.  There are so many difficult passages for many reasons – some because they simply were not written for us today in the 21st century, and definitely not written for children.

In Mark chapter 10 this week after a particularly interesting(?) passage on divorce there is the classic “let the children come to Jesus” moment.

Family Activity: For kids of all ages, this is a great verse to go outside and play a classic game of “Red Light/Green Light”.  If you don’t play it as often as I do… here’s a refresher.  🙂red light green light

Designate boundaries, including a starting line for the runners (I like touching a tree, fence, bench, wall, etc – keeps ’em honest.) Chose one person to be the caller and mark their spot – I normally start.  The caller yells green light and runners run towards them, yellow light – walking, red light – freeze! They say the name of anyone who moves during a red light and that person has to go back to start.  As a caller I put my hand out and whoever gives me a high five first is the next caller.

After the game: How does this relate to Jesus?  The disciples, like the caller, wanted to control who could move closer to Jesus.  They didn’t think that children should be brought to Jesus, so they tried to stop them.

In Jesus’s time, children weren’t thought of as very important.  That makes me sad.  I’m glad today people see how important children are. Jesus was a very important person, so his disciples were trying to help him focus on who they thought were important. That way Jesus’s message of peace and love could spread and make everyone’s lives better.  Yet they didn’t understand, Jesus didn’t come to talk to the “important” people – Jesus came to love ALL people.

Even today we can have a hard time with this message.  Ask the kids – who are some important people you know at school? at church? in our country? What kinds of things make people seem “important” to other people? There are also people that are thought of as unimportant. What kinds of things make people seem “unimportant”?

What Jesus does here is he shows again how important all people are to him. No matter who they are.  In fact, over and over again, Jesus shows his disciples that the people who are considered unimportant – children, widows, the poor, the sick – are the MOST important to Jesus.

Talk with your family this week about how much God loves us, and that no matter what, God always wants us to feel like we can come to God just as the little children in the story did.  Then talk about ways that we can try to be good followers of Jesus by caring about the people that are stopped, that have been given a “red” or “yellow” light. (Immigrants, people of color, people who don’t speak English, people with disabilities, LGBTQ friends, and more)  What can we do to spread God’s love to them? How do we welcome them in our churches, and in our communities?

God’s peace to you and yours~ Deacon Erin

When Our Faiths Collide

This week’s Old Testament lesson comes from the book of Ester, and explains the Jewish High Holiday of Purim. This week the Jewish community celebrated another High Holiday – Yom Kippur. One of the most wonderful things for me living in the city of Chicago is it’s diversity of people. I grew up in an area where every one was Christian and white.
This week, in my life, I had the joy of experiencing Yom Kippur with friends. In the lectionary we hear a beautiful story of a brave queen who saved her people from leaders who feared those who were “other” or “outsiders”.  A timely story with our current refugee crisis, another important Jewish holiday, and the visit of the Pope to the United States.
I love these times when our faiths collide.  We connect with people on a deeper level as we learn more about other cultures, other traditions, and other ways of life.  Especially as we organically find them touching our own cultures, traditions, and simply our physical spaces.
In researching some fun family activities connected with the Jewish holiday of Purim (as it relates to our lectionary reading, the holiday is actually in March) I came upon a few articles and posts about “How to celebrate Purim (or Yom Kippur) as a Christian”.  I understand that the intention of the authors here is to explore this connection – this collision of faiths while keeping both feet firmly planted in the Christian faith.  The problem I see with this is that it makes the quiet yet firm assumption that the Christian faith is right. Not just right for them, or other Christians, but to me this is a slight at the Jewish faith. Like they aren’t celebrating their holidays right.
A similar practice I have seen is “Christian Sater Meals” during Holy Week.  Teaching about the Jewish passover practice, while at the same time almost co-opting it into the Christian Holy Week.  There is a major difference between exploring and experiencing another faith’s tradition with an open mind, or approaching this exploration with a view – what can this holiday/tradition do for me in my faith?
I highly encourage everyone and anyone to explore these collisions of faiths.  And I encourage you to do it fully in the experience of the other faith.  Instead of a Christian Sater, or a Christian Purim, go to a Jewish synagogue and celebrate in the tradition of the Jewish people.
God’s peace be with you and any community you are celebrating with this week!
Deacon Erin