What do you know about faith within the chaos? Maybe more than you think.

Remember? The week began with a story about Jesus walking on the water. Before heading into the weekend and the next (lectionary) story let’s take one more look at Matthew’s account of Jesus and Peter and water and storm and … faith. Let’s take another look at what it could mean to us, far removed from that night and the Sea of Galilee, but plenty acquainted with chaos. I commend this reflection about our Gospel Story to you:

In Matthew’s Gospel, the story of Jesus walking on water morphs into a story of Peter walking on, then sinking into, the same water. It begins as a statement about Jesus’ authority; for Jesus’ contemporaries had learned from scripture that such mastery over the waters is God’s accomplishment. When Peter tells Jesus to call him, too, onto the lake, the story transitions into an illustration of what it looks like when people express faith in Jesus. Read the entire post: Matthew 14:22-33: Faith within the Chaos

I invite you to also check out St. Peter is walking on the water by Luis Borrassa in our Art & Music category.

Please make the time to leave a comment or two. Please get a conversation started as you consider this reflection on an ancient story which has a lot to say to us 21st Century citizens.

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! | Episcopal Arkansas

Some of you may remember Mary Vano—St. Margaret’s Palm Desert sponsored her in discernment and seminary. She was ordained a priest right here in 2003 with Margaret Watson and then served as an Associate at St. David’s Church in Austin, TX. Married and the mother of 2 boys she was called to be Rector of St. Margaret’s Church in Little Rock, AR this year. Here she shares her insight into the Gospel parables we shared on Sunday, July 24th. Enjoy.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has given us five little parables. Each one begins with the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is like…”  If you like a good surprise, you should enjoy these!

Read: Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! | Episcopal Arkansas.

Being the Beloved

In the past couple of weeks we have read and heard thrilling, comforting, and amazing words about who and whose we are and what that means from the Apostle Paul (his letter wasn’t just to the Christians in Rome, but to you and me as well). In a variety of ways we have heard “You are my beloved child.” (See Mark 1:9-11 and understand you are in Christ, these words are words addressed to you)

From Romans 8

all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. (v. 14)

you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (vv. 15-17)

God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spiritintercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (v. 27)

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (v. 28)

If God is for us, who is against us? (v. 31)

in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv. 37-39)

Begin and continue the conversation (leave a comment, reply to comments)

  • Do you believe this? Do you believe that you are God’s beloved child?
  • Is it “easy” to believe this? “Hard” to believe this? “Impossible” to believe this? How does this statement “You are God’s beloved child” sit with you?

Need more prompting? Henri J.M. Nouwen presented a Sermon Series “Being the Beloved” at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA. I’m not sure what year this was presented (Henri Nouwen died in 1996), but the message is timeless. The series consists of 8 videos on YouTube (the link is to the first in the series; just above the video you will find a menu item “8 videos” which you can click and all 8 video links will be presented to you). I commend this series to you. –djr

LISTEN AND VIEW
Being the Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen

The kingdom of heaven is like

On Sunday, July 24, 2011 Brian got us all thinking about the parables of Jesus in his sermon. We were invited to consider Jesus’ words more deeply, including the fact that his images may not be as neutral as one would think (or as you have been led to believe). While we wait for the podcast and posting of his sermon, here is another preacher, a Lutheran, raising the same issues for us in her own words:

… Today we heard Jesus say that The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that when it has grown becomes the greatest of all shrubs. Um, the greatest of all shrubs?  What kind of off-brand kingdom is this?   It’s like saying someone is the smartest of all the idiots or the mightiest of all baby dolls. Yet he says Heaven’s kingdom is like Shrubs, and nets and yeast  – and the yeast part might be the worst when you realize that yeast is considered impure – we’re not talking little packets of Flieshman’s we find at King Soopers – we’re talking big lumps of mold which contaminate….and that in fact, Jews were required to  rid their entire house of yeast before celebrating some Holy Days.

We mistakenly may think that the kingdom of God should follow our value system and also be powerful or impressive and shiny. But that’s not what Jesus brings.  He brings a kingdom ruled by the crucified one – populated by the unclean, and suffused with mercy rather than power. And it’s always found in the unexpected.… Read the whole sermon

Share your thoughts about Brian’s sermon  and Nadia’s sermon and the words of Jesus in Matthew 13. Keep the conversation going, leave a comment; two fine preachers have set us to thinking about the kingdom…

Jacob dreamed

On Sunday, July 17th we read from the book of Genesis:

10    Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.

11    He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.

12    And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

13    And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring;

14    and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.

15    Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16    Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”

17    And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18    So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.

19    He called that place Bethel. —Genesis 28:10-19a

How is this (Genesis 28) our story?

Consider these questions about Jacob’s dream.

  • Do you believe this story?
  • Do you think that God has ever spoken to “mere mortals” in dreams?
  • Do you think that God, to this day, uses dreams as one way to communicate with us?
  • Do you know anyone who has dreamed and in that dream has heard God? If yes, do you believe what you have heard from this person? What clue(s) did the person use to know it was of God?
  • Have you ever “heard” God in a dream? How did you know it was God?
  • When was the last time God spoke to you in a dream?

These are a few of the questions that occur to me as I hear Jacob’s story. In the Sunday Morning Forum we shared our answers to some of these questions. We invite you to share your answers here as we continue to live in the light of this reading from Genesis. –djr

For further consideration and reflection

Consider that Jacob encountered God (v. 13), “a very personal Being.” within his dream, and was transformed. Dreams are mysterious in their power because of the One who meets us there at just the right time. —djr

Nearly midway into life I had come into a dark woods, into a blind alley. I found my way out of that stalemate through an understanding of dreams. I worked with a Jungian analyst, a Jew who had escaped from a Nazi concentration camp. He believed that the Holy One still spoke to both sleeping and waking human beings in dreams in the silence of the day and in the night. With his help I discovered that my dreams were wiser than my well-tuned rational mind and that they gave me warnings when I was in danger. They also described in symbols the disastrous situations in which I found myself. These strange messengers of the night also offered suggestions on how to find my way out of my lostness. When I followed these symbolic suggestions, much of the darkness lifted, and my situation no longer seemed hopeless. Many of my psychological and physical symptoms of distress disappeared.

In addition to all this, I found a very personal Being at the heart of reality who cared for me; my theological dry bones were covered with sinew and flesh. And then, as I continued to listen to my dreams, I experienced the risen Christ in a way that I had not thought possible. And last of all, I realized that the Holy One continued to knock on the doorway of my inner being in my dreams even when I paid no attention to them, and he would also be waiting for me when I deliberately opened the door of my soul to the risen Christ. Prayer, contemplation, and meditation, then, became real and necessary aspects of my life as I journeyed toward fulfillment and wholeness.

Morton T. Kelsey, God, dreams, and revelation,
Kindle edition, Preface (search: stalemate)

About flesh and body

As we continue to read in Paul’s Letter to the Romans we find a passage filled with words that made sense to the first audience without a lot of explanation, but which need some interpretation in 2011. Here is an excerpt opening the English words “flesh” and “body” as used by Paul in Greek in this letter and in his theology. Walter F. Taylor, Jr. is the Ernest W. and Edith F. Ogram Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, OH.

Our text [Romans 8:1-11] uses several times the word flesh, making what seem to be almost nonsensical statements such as “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (verse 8).  If that is the reality, why even try to live in God-pleasing ways?  The key is what Paul means by flesh (sarks).  To understand his usage, we turn first to its apparent twin, body (soma).  For Paul the body is neither good nor bad in and of itself.  The issue is how the body is used.  When the body is used as God intended, the body is good.  But when the body is used inappropriately and opposed to God’s intention, it is for Paul a sinful body.  Paul’s shorthand expression for a body that is misused is the term flesh.  And so to live inappropriately is called living according to the flesh (kata sarka).  Read more about Paul’s theology. (Select “2nd Reading” tab)

What helps you to live fully for God? How has your living for God changed over the years? What kinds of “grown up” things do you do as you seek to know and do God’s will?

Leave a comment, reply to a comment, keep the Sunday conversation going. Thank you for participating in the Sunday Morning Forum.

The parable of the sower

And [Jesus] told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” Matthew 13:3-9 See also Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Is it about the sower? the seed? the soil? How do you hear it? Consider these questions about the parable and Jesus’ interpretation of his parable.

  • Tell me more about the sower. Who is the sower? Is it only Jesus? Is it we who follow Jesus? Is it only the baptized? Can anyone sow “the word of the kingdom”? (v. 19)
  • Do you recognize these areas (path, rocky ground, thorn infested ground, good soil) in the world around you? In the people around you?
  • Do you recognize these areas in yourself? Is it possible that in ourselves, in our “field,” we will find these areas? Will we find a path, rocky ground, thorn infested patches, good soil? All 4, just 1, a combination?
  • Are we to understand that we are to sow the seed (word of the kingdom) as wildly and extravagantly as “the sower”?
  • Is it possible for soil to change? How? With what help? Over how long a time? How would you apply this knowledge to you? To the people around you?
  • Do you know anything about composting? Can the thorns be composted? Will this compost enrich the already “good soil”? Will clearing the thorns help that soil recover in order to receive seed (as good soil) the next time around? Will there be a “next time around”?

These are a few of the questions that occur to me as I hear the parable. I encourage to leave a comment. Let’s continue the conversation begun in the Forum on Sunday.

Surrendering to Rest

When I was growing up, I hated going to sleep. To me, there was just too much fun to be had and too many books to read. Why would I want to go to sleep and miss out on all of it? But, like most kids, I would eventually tire out, and when I did, I would be very clear with my mother. “I’m not sleeping,” I would insist. “I just need to rest my eyes for a minute.” The “minute” would, of course, generally turn into an afternoon or, I’m sure my parents hoped, an entire night. I wouldn’t mind it much, though, because I was resting, not sleeping. Resting came as a result of a full day, and it required surrender on my part. I had to admit that, loath as I was to go to sleep, I genuinely needed to rest if I wanted to have the energy to continue doing whatever I was doing.

There was, and still is, something about sleep that seems so permanent to me. Even now, I don’t like going to sleep, because I worry about whatever opportunities I’ll miss while sleeping. Rest, however, seems totally different. To me, rest implies, “I’ve been working hard. There’s still work to do. I’m gonna shut my eyes for about twenty minutes (or seven hours!), then I’m going to jump up and get back in the game.”

So when I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, I feel like He’s speaking my language. Or, hopefully, I’m speaking His. He says,

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (NRSV, emphasis mine.)

In this context, “rest” isn’t just physical, and it isn’t just spiritual. There are several different levels to the meaning. Pastor Elisabeth Johnson writes,

To all those laboring under harsh religious and political systems, Jesus says, “Come to me…and I will give you rest.” Rest (anapausis) in the Septuagint can refer to Sabbath rest, the rest of death, or rest from war when Israel’s enemies have been subdued. Rest also functions as an image of salvation, of what will be when the world is finally ordered according to God’s purposes and enjoys its full and complete Sabbath. In promising “rest,” Jesus promises life under God’s reign in the new world that he is bringing into being. (Elisabeth Johnson, http://www.workingpreacher.org.)

Jesus understands what we often miss–that we need rest. And not just any rest; His rest. As “good Christians,” we often find ourselves whizzing about from volunteering to teaching Sunday School to baking cookies for the coffee hour to picking up the kids from school to making spaghetti for the youth group on Wednesday to barely remembering to read the text for Saturday’s Bible study and so on and so on and so on. We precariously balance church, work, family, and friendships, giving and giving until we feel there’s nothing left to give. We silently carry feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and the need to control every aspect of our lives so that there will be no surprises. We are “Marthas,” knowing all the while that we would probably be happier if we were “Marys.” We behave as I did when I was a child, unable to sit, unable to be at peace, unable to truly be at rest.

In the 1996 movie One Fine Day, Michelle Pfeiffer exemplifies this behavior as she portrays a single mom who is beyond stressed as she attempts to balance her commitments to her job and to her son. When asked why she won’t accept help from anyone, she replies,

“I’ve got all of these little balls up in the air. And if someone else caught one for me, I’d drop them all.”

We all have tons of “little balls” up in the air–obligations with which we’ve filled our lives, often in an attempt to do good. The beautiful news is this: not only is Jesus willing to catch the balls we’ve been juggling; He’s also willing to catch us. To take from us the heavy, overwhelming yoke of the world (and sometimes even of the church), and to give us His yoke–one of joy, laughter, hope, peace…and rest. Much like physical rest, spiritual rest requires our surrender. It requires an understanding that, “I’ve been working hard. There’s still work to do. But I know that, when I need to, I can retreat and take a break for a minute–without shame, guilt, or reservations–because Jesus said that He will give me rest.”

My hope is that we will come to trust that our Savior, who loves us all so completely and profoundly, is big enough to care for us at every point in our lives–whether at work or at rest.

Thinkin’ Questions

What are some other ways of interpreting Jesus’ meaning of “rest”?

Do you feel that you have a tendency to overcommit yourself, or do you strike a pretty good balance?

What are some ways that we could all practice “resting” in Jesus?

Are a restful spirit and a hectic schedule mutually exclusive?

Isaac and Rebekah: Just a love story?

Genesis 24 fits into the book of Genesis as a whole considering central questions such as whether God’s promise of progeny, land and protection will be realized. In the matriarchal and patriarchal narratives that make up the narrative cycles in the book of Genesis, it is evident that throughout each generation, God’s faithfulness has to be discovered anew. In Genesis 24, it is Isaac who discovers that God was not only faithful to Abraham, but that God’s faithfulness extends to a new generation as well.

The topic of Genesis 24 is the question many young men and women ask when they come of age, and that is where do I get a wife or husband? In the case of Genesis 24 this question is all the more pressing as Isaac needs a wife so that God’s promise of progeny may be fulfilled. In Genesis 25:20 it is said that Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah, in any age, and particularly in that time, quite a late stage to be a bachelor.

This drawn-out account of finding Isaac a wife in the end turns into a love story, when the narrative has a happy ending.  In verse 67 it is said that Isaac married Rebekah, taking her to his mother’s old tent, and thereby instating her as the new matriarch of the clan. Moreover, the events of Sarah’s death and Isaac’s marriage are nicely joined together when his marriage to Rebekah is said to comfort Isaac after the death of his mother. And most significantly, Isaac is said to love Rebekah — one of the few instances in the Hebrew Bible in which love language is used to describe the relationship between a man and a woman.

So on one level, the account of Isaac finding a wife has a quite secular topic and outcome, suggesting something of the ordinary cycles of life and death that form the backdrop of many of the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs. However, this ordinary story of finding a wife for a sworn bachelor, which takes human experience seriously, is given a religious flavour as the theme of God’s blessing and guidance is introduced as a central part of the narrative.

Julianna Claassens, Associate Professor of Old Testament
University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa
http://tinyurl.com/3n38h29 (click “Alt. 1st Reading” tab)

I believe you will enjoy reading Professor Claassens essay on our Sunday reading from Genesis. Among the questions that come to mind for our consideration:

  • What do you believe about God becoming involved in such human endeavors as “the challenges of finding a suitable life partner or the joy of finding one’s soul mate?”

Clearly we live in a very different time, place, and culture than Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah; in this ancient story, what do you learn:

  • • About being human? About God?
  • • About prayer? About what to expect when you pray?

How is this your story (not just the story of Isaac and Rebekah, long ago and far away)?

Please continue the conversation begun on Sunday morning by leaving a comment.

Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me

Jesus said “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Matthew 10:40

This verse is important because it explains the nature of the apostolic office on the legal principle governing a Jewish emissary: “A man’s agent is like himself.” It deepens the religious basis of the apostolate by deriving it ultimately from God himself in a cascading succession mediated by Jesus, who is himself the apostle of the Father.  New Jerome Biblical Commentary (NJBC)

In the Outline of the Faith in our Book of Common Prayer we tell the world and each other what we believe about ministry and ministers (and you will find the basis of these expressions in the scriptures we use, like the verses in the Gospel this Sunday):

Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church

The Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 855

In the light of our Gospel reading today and what we say about ourselves:

  • • The mission of the church is presented in terms of relationship, not dogma; as a church we are to restore “all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
  • • This mission is pursued as a community, not as independent contractors;
  • • However, since the Church is composed of various individuals, “all its members” are responsible for ministry so that the Church can carry out its mission (of building and restoring relationships);
  • • Lay persons (by far the majority of members in the Church) are ministers (in fact, lay persons are the first-named ministers);
  • • “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ….” Here, a further commentary on Matthew 10:40 may be quite instructive

Expanding on the notion that we are “to represent Christ,” (whether a lay person or ordained) each of us is not just an ambassador, but “like [Jesus] himself.”

“Whoever welcomes you,” Jesus said, “welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Mt. 10:40). The disciple, wherever she or he might be, actually “embodies” Jesus as a Kingdom-bearer.

Jesus was big on the concept of “agentry.” That is, he believed strongly that the disciple who went out in his name was not just a “representative,” but, in fact, an extension of his own being and authority. In other words, when the world encountered a disciple of Jesus, they were encountering Jesus himself.

To borrow from the well-known passage—and to amend it slightly—we, the agents of Christ, are “the way, the truth, and the life” to the world. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health … until death do us part. Jesus is judged through us, by how the faith flowers or fades in us.
“Postscript” in Synthesis, June 29, 2008

This raises some intriguing questions for us. Assuming that the statement about embodying Jesus wherever we might be is a true statement (and biblically sound), and accepting that we are ministers restoring all people to unity with God and each other:

  • What gifts of Christ do you “embody” as you minister? (Remember: lay persons “bear witness to [Christ] wherever they may be and, according to the gifts given them,”)
  • Do you “feel” like “an extension of [Christ’s] own being and authority”?
  • How are you working to be a better “extension” of Christ’s being and authority?
  • When “the world” encounters you what do they learn about Jesus (since you “embody” and have been given the authority of Jesus as you go into the world)?

It is humbling to understand that we have been invited by God “maker of all that is, seen and unseen” to know Jesus Christ. It is exciting to understand that we have accepted this invitation. It is humbling to understand that Jesus, the Son of God, has chosen us and sent us out. It is a challenge to our creativity and discipline to live up to and into this ministry. It is necessary to come together often to confess that we have not lived up to our end of the covenant, ask forgiveness, receive forgiveness and be fed to go back into the world to be the disciple that Christ knows us to be.

Believe that God has indeed “gifted” you for this ministry.

Believe that God has “graced” you in ways known and yet to be discovered so that you may “embody” him (God’s love, the Good News) in the 21st century places you live and work and play in.

Believe that you make a difference as God’s beloved child.