Ever want to “smite” someone?

Joseph made himself known to his brothers…

Hated by siblings? Betrayed? Treated unfairly? Abandoned? Sold as a slave? Hurt? If you are Joseph this is part of your story as you encounter your brothers after their destructive actions (See Genesis 37 read in church on 8/7/11 and Genesis 45 read in church Sunday 8/14/11 ).

How great, if he was human at all (and I believe he was), must have been his desire to take revenge, to “smite” his brothers then and there, to wreak his own kind of destruction on them and their families? He had the power to satisfy that urge.

Instead of smiting (what we expected, if we were honest) we heard that Joseph revealed who he was (apparently he was unrecognizable at first), invited his brothers to draw closer to him, he forgave them their hatred and treachery, and he embraced each one and wept with them in the moment of forgiveness. Here is a story of forgiveness of “biblical proportions.” It leaves me with many questions.

Foremost question: Is this kind of forgiveness (of biblical proportion) possible today? My one word answer, “Yes.” Which then leads to a host of questions: How is this possible? Are there any contemporary (20th and 21st century) models of such forgiveness out there? Am I capable of such forgiveness? Are we capable of such forgiveness? What role do we play in such forgiveness? What is God’s role in such forgiveness? What is at stake? I’ll admit I have more questions than answers. How about you?

I’ll have more to say about this passage—it is rich with mystery—but for now, I offer this poem as a way into the mystery of forgiveness:

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the windblown bud
which blooms in placid beauty at Verdun.

Forgiveness is the tiny slategray sparrow
which has built its nest of twigs and string among the shards of glass
upon the wall of shame.

Forgiveness is the child
who laughs in merry ecstasy beneath the toothed fence
that closes in Da Nang.

Forgiveness is the fragrance of the violet
which still clings fast to the heel that crushed it.

Forgiveness is the broken dream
which hides itself within the corner of the mind oft called forgetfulness
so that it will not bring pain to the dreamer.

Forgiveness is the reed
which stands up straight and green
when nature’s mighty rampage halts, full spent.

Forgiveness is a God who will not leave us after all we’ve done.

____________
A poem by George Roemisch and quoted by Dear Abby in her column Feb. 10, 1998.

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.

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…

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.

Hear what the Spirit is saying; A Reflection

Note: These words were first shared in the Forum handout on Pentecost (06/12/2011); I have updated them for posting. -Dan

It was early May 2007 when the Rev. Dr. Roger Douglas became the Interim Rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, CA. In his first Sunday with us he introduced me to the phrase “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.” We used it that day as a concluding remark to the lessons appointed for Sunday worship. We responded, then, as now, “Thanks be to God.”

As with all change, I was not quite sure I wanted to go where he was leading, or do what he was asking (and that’s only on the superficial level of the words in worship— I hadn’t even reached the deeper level of meaning). The words were chosen in 1988 by the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia as the customary conclusion to the Sunday lessons. Its usage has moved slowly through the church. Nineteen years and an ocean later the People of God in New Zealand became my teacher. Who could have known?

I have learned much since 2007 and know there is much more to learn. Here is a progress report about my learning from those “innocent” words “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.” Here is a brief indication about why I have chosen this name for the Sunday Morning Forum at St. Margaret’s.

First, grow quiet; be attentive, so that you can hear. Hear what? Hear how?

Hear: hear with your ears, of course, but hear especially with your heart; yes, hear the words, hear the story, it’s a start, but hear also what is not spoken aloud, only whispered into your heart by the Spirit.

Hear: hear with a deep trust, a heartfelt trust, that these words, though spoken long ago, are indeed spoken by the Spirit for all ages and generations, they are immediate, they are for the moment, they are narrative for your story, not just “their” long ago story.

Hear: hear these ancient words in the chances and changes of your life and the world as it is today.

Hear: hear the words and the stories and wisdom rediscovering that, above all, the truth is that God will do more of the same, now, in your life and in our life together; moreover, in days still to come God will continue to do the same. It is important that we hear clearly so that we can speak truly and plainly to generations just beginning to hear the Spirit.

Hear: hear the Holy Spirit fire crackling in these words; these words are meant to set your heart on fire, for, these are no ordinary words, they are “Holy Spirit words,” hear them well.

Hear: hear what is being said to “the Church,” that is, to all of us gathered; hear by speaking and listening to each other in prayer, in song, in taking communion, in going back into the world “rejoicing in the power of the Spirit,” while loving and serving the Lord (in his people).

This is a beginning report. I’m still learning what it means to hear what the Spirit is saying.

One final comment: I am convinced that the Spirit can most clearly be heard in community. Thank you for helping me to hear what the Spirit is saying in this Sunday Morning Forum.

The Charter For Lifelong Christian Formation: Why we gather together in person and online

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.

The Anti-necktie Father’s Day 2011

Kiva.org logo
Click the logo to find out more

In the Sunday Morning Forum at St. Margaret’s in Lent we were introduced to Kiva.org: “We are a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.” About Kiva

Folks like us browse Kiva.org and find a person or community we would like to help. Through Kiva a loan is made. The loan is used and then repaid through Kiva.

Click the box at the left to learn more about the details of each step in the process.

While you are on the website check out the requests being made from around the world: Lend through Kiva.org

Finally, choosing a gift for Dad (or grad) from Kiva.org is simple and will allow the recipient (Dad or grad) to choose with whom to share the gift. Simply follow the link to the Gift Card page on Kiva.org. Choose a Gift Card process and follow the instructions and your gift will go way beyond a necktie hanging in a closet. Your gift will have the chance to give grace and life to people you may never meet, and all for God’s glory.


A House of Hospitality

When the new St. Margaret’s sanctuary was available for use in June 1989 The Rev. Brad Hall, Fourth Rector of St. Margaret’s,  preached a sermon, “Solomon’s Prayer: Our First Day in the New Church Building” (June 4, 1989), that we continue to live up to and into as a community.

Though speaking about the building itself and the entire St. Margaret’s community, Brad’s words give us a vision when spoken into our little community–The Sunday Morning Forum–within the larger community. We need to make our room and our presence match what the congregation does in the sanctuary in Sunday worship. Here is an excerpt of Brad’s sermon; hear that the Spirit is saying the same thing to us 22 years later:

God’s House is a House of Hospitality

This is truly a beautiful building, and people will come and visit it. Whether they are drawn here by its architectural majesty, its open, light-filled sanctuary, or to worship and pray, we must always be prepared to welcome and accept all sojourners and visitors who wish to enter our doors.

This is an Episcopal Church, a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion of over seventy million peoples. We are also a community church, a part of this Coachella Valley, and our church is a gift to all who live in their beautiful desert. And so the doors of our building and our hearts must be open to welcome, in God’s Love, all who come to us seeking peace, seeking an answer to their prayers, seeking God, Himself.

My final prayer for us is that your love and Christ’s Love will so shine through these doors and windows that all sojourners who come here seeking will find that their prayers will be answered and that God’s Peace and Joy will fill their hearts.

Note: the entire sermon will soon be posted in the Supplemental Resource category 6/7/11

The Rev. Lane Hensley, current Rector of St. Margaret’s, continues this fine tradition among us. In November 2010 Lane set out some principles for our ministry. Here is an excerpt to help guide our work in the Sunday Morning Forum, a community within a community:

Our collective task is to take our place as members of the Body of Christ, and to come collectively “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Here, then, are some principles that I think need to guide that process.

We are a public Church, and a ministry leader in outreach, formation, music, and worship. Our efforts should be directed to the community we serve in mission, and their highest hopes, deepest fears, and most important deliberations should find home at St. Margaret’s.

We expect God’s blessing on our work, and to grow and be transformed into the Body of Christ.

Lane’s principles can be viewed or downloaded here: From the Rector’s Desk, November 2010

Let us be open and inviting to others in the spirit of Christ’s love as we build community. We have a fine vision and strong principles and God’s amazing grace guiding us along the Way.

Your thoughts and observations and questions are important. Please use the Comment section to continue the conversation.