The Reflectionary – Week of February 16, 2020

For Epiphany 7

Text: Mark 8:27-9:8

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” 

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) 

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

Reflection

“Who do you say that I am?” This is the question that Jesus asks his disciples. It’s the question that Jesus asks us. Peter responds with what he believes is the right answer: “the Messiah.” And he is, of course, right. But only partially. See, Peter does not understand what the word “Messiah” means. Or rather, he does not understand it in the way that Jesus radically redefines it.

For much of Israel’s existence, Israel held the idea that one day a Messiah (anointed one) would come to liberate them from oppression. The Messiah would come and overthrow the political powers that ruled over them, that enslaved them or held them in captivity. The Messiah would set up an alternative kingdom. The Messiah would be a powerful political revolutionary.

When Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah, he still has this kind of idea in mind. Jesus was about to bring down the hammer and finally throw off their Roman overlords and set up a new kingdom of Israel.

But that’s not the kind of Messiah that Jesus is. Instead of talking about gathering an army and establishing a new rule, he starts talking about suffering, rejection, and death. Peter probably said something like, “I’m sorry, Jesus, what did you say? I’m sure I must have misheard you. When are you going to start organizing the revolt? We’re all ready! Let’s get this throne of David back in business!” Jesus pulls Peter aside and starts laying into him. “Get behind me, Satan! You have no clue what you’re talking about, and you clearly don’t have God’s ways on your mind!” Ouch. Harsh words for someone who would later be the Rock upon whom Christ would build the Church.

After Jesus rebukes Peter, he decides to gather everyone around him and make some things clear. He starts saying things like, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” I’m thinking this is not what Peter (or the others) thought they were signing on for.

To be followers of Jesus, we must be prepared to lay down power rather than to pick it up. We must be prepared for suffering and rejection. We must be prepared to go with Jesus to the cross. These words are hard to hear. We don’t want to listen to them. We just want to skip straight to the power and the glory part. The disciples did too. I think that’s why Jesus took three of them with him up onto the mountain where he was transfigured. God wanted to get their attention so he could give them a message. And just what was the whole message that God delivered on that mountain? “This is my Son whom I love, so you’d better stop talking about power and glory and setting up a new earthly kingdom, and LISTEN TO THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT OF HIS MOUTH!”

God wants to get our attention. God wants us to listen to Jesus. God wants us to understand that the way of Jesus is the way of the cross. The fullness of God’s love is communicated to us through the suffering and death of the Messiah. Jesus embodies God’s love, and that self-giving love IS the power of God. The cross is inextricably bound up into that life-giving power and glory of God. If we are followers of Jesus, then we do not bypass the cross in order to get to the power and glory part. We don’t even go through the cross to get to the power and glory part. The cross itself is where we paradoxically find life and love.

I leave you with these words from Bishop Kenneth Carder: “When the love of power takes precedence over the power of love, both church and society have lost their way.” May we find ourselves living in the way of Jesus.

Ponder

o   What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   With whom do you identify in this narrative? In what way?
o   What is your reaction to Jesus’ teaching on suffering, rejection, and death?

Challenge

Think about someone who has exemplified the self-giving love of Christ to you. If they are living, write them a letter, giving thanks for the way God has worked through them to help you know Jesus.

And/or

Meditate on the image of the cross. Whether looking at a photograph, a painting, or simply in your mind’s eye, sit and listen for God to give you a word. It might come in the form of a memory or a phrase or a feeling. Sit with it for a time.

Prayer

God, you show me your love through the cross of Jesus Christ. Let his love move me and motivate me. Let his love shape me and pour through me. Lead me in his ways. Let me live in the power of his love rather than in the love of power. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.  

-Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of January 5, 2020

Epiphany 1

Text: Mark 2:1-22

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

Painting by Fr. Sieger Koder

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” 

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. 

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Reflection

In this week’s text, we find Jesus in three different scenes: one healing a man who is paralyzed, one sitting at Levi’s dinner table, and one where Jesus is questioned as to why he is not fasting when everyone else is. If I had to name this passage like an episode of the show Friends, I’d call it, “The One Where Jesus Flips Expectations.”

The first story begins with a familiar scene – many gathered around Jesus as he teaches in a home. People have come from all around town and the surrounding countryside to learn from this teacher and healer. It’s no surprise that people are clamoring to get close to Jesus to experience his miraculous healing for themselves. That’s exactly what four men do when they bring a paralyzed man to Jesus. But it’s so crowded they can’t even get in the house. So they do the best thing they can think of – they climb up onto the roof, pull away some of the thatching, and they lower their friend down from the roof to the space right in front of Jesus. Their persistence and faith are certainly central aspects of this story. In this moment though, I want to consider the surprising way that Jesus responds.

Expectations were such that Jesus would, of course, immediately heal this man of his paralysis. Instead, Jesus responds in an unexpected way. He says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus, say what? Your sins are forgiven? First of all, that wasn’t even what they were asking for. Second of all, how can Jesus even do that? Isn’t God the only one able to forgive sin? (Which, of course, is the whole point of Jesus doing such a thing – to reveal that he’s more than just a healer; he was, in fact, God in the flesh.) Receiving forgiveness of sin was not what anyone was expecting from Jesus. The boundaries between God and humanity were being torn down in this encounter, and those who questioned Jesus on this knew it.

The second scene, too, flips expectations in their head. Jesus is sitting down to dinner with a number of people. That part is not surprising. But where is Jesus eating? He’s eating at Levi’s house. A tax collector. A tax collector was someone who was seen as a corrupt extortionist. A Jewish tax collector was those things and more – he was a betrayer of his people by working for Rome, the empire of oppression. Jesus is eating in such a man’s house, along with other sinners. The Pharisees ask themselves, “what in the world is Jesus doing? How could he eat with such unrighteous people?” As they voice their question, Jesus responds, “It’s not the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick.” Again, not what they were expecting from Jesus.

And then there’s the third scene, which is little more than Jesus giving a semi-cryptic response to a few people who came to ask him why he and his disciples were not fasting when both John and the Pharisees were. He talks about a present bridegroom, unshrunk cloth, and wineskins, and in each metaphor, Jesus seems to be telling his listeners that he is doing something different. He’s breaking from the norm. Something new is taking place.

In this single chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is clearly different than what many expected him to be. They don’t yet truly understand, but Jesus is beginning to show them that he is one to flip expectations. And isn’t that what God does? Any time we try to put God in our own box or conform him to our image, God breaks out and says, nope, that’s not who I am – let me show you a little bit more.

It can be jarring when our picture of God is stretched, or when our understanding of how we practice faith is challenged. Those who were around Jesus struggled to understand what he was doing and saying. The Pharisees and many other devout people really did not know how to handle Jesus. While there were, certainly, some Pharisees who were hypocritical, judgmental, or power-hungry, on the whole, I think they were largely a group of pious people who were doing their best to be faithful in keeping the covenant with God. And yet, Jesus challenges them. Jesus challenges us today too. Jesus challenges pious Christians who are just doing our best to be faithful in keeping the covenant with God.

If this gospel text reminds us of anything, it is this: Jesus will constantly surprise us and challenge our expectations of him. Are you willing to encounter him in new and unexpected ways?

Ponder

o   What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   How has Jesus surprised you?
o   Where have you been stretched in your faith?

Challenge

Jesus had a habit of going and hanging out with people who were different or excluded. He challenged categories left and right. Consider a group of people who might be different than you. What might you be able to do to bring yourself into a closer relationship with them? Perhaps it could mean going and sitting down to share a meal with someone at Manna Meal in downtown Charleston or volunteering with a recovery home. Maybe you could ask to visit with folks from our local mosque or from the synagogue or temple downtown. (And if you need help in making connection with any of those communities, please let Pastor Cindy know)

And/or

Jesus likes to sit down at the table with people. It is one of the main ways that he builds relationships with others in the New Testament. Make a plan to have a meal with someone – a coworker, a neighbor, someone you may not normally get to spend much time with. Have them over for dinner, or go out to eat together.

Prayer

God, you always flip my expectations. You show up in places I’m not expecting or looking. Help me to see you wherever you are and to also see whomever you are with. Do something new within me, that I might be a new wineskin, ready to receive your transforming grace. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

-Cindy+

The Reflectionary – Week of November 17, 2019

Text: 2 Kings 22:1-23:3

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.

In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the Lord. He said: “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord—the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.” 

Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.” Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” 

Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.

She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’” 

So they took her answer back to the king.

Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.

Reflection

Kings, kings, kings. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah had each had their fair share of kings, and most of them were not very good kings. But the king of today’s text was not like most kings. Josiah, who ruled the southern kingdom of Judah from 640-609 BC, was known as the reformer. As Josiah ascends to the throne, he inherits a kingdom that is in bad shape. His predecessor, Amon had a short reign, being assassinated only two years after becoming king. Amon’s father Manasseh, however, reigned for approximately fifty years, and in that fifty years, he did a lot of damage.

While the kings of Israel and Judah were not particularly known for their fidelity to the God of Israel, Manasseh is reckoned by the narrative of 2 Kings to be the worst of all of the kings of Judah. Much like Ahab in the north, Manasseh allowed, and perhaps even encouraged the practice of worshipping foreign gods. Whether his motivations were political or personal, we can’t really know. What we do know is that Manasseh was the poster child for forfeiting the distinctive character and requirements of the people of the covenant in order to accommodate other powers and principalities.

This is the kingdom Josiah inherited – a kingdom whose powerful couldn’t have cared less about worshipping the God of Israel. Paying lip service to God was fine, but what really mattered was political expediency and pragmatism. The ends justified the means. In today’s text, however, we see in Josiah a king who is resolved to be a different kind of king than Manasseh.

He became king at eight years old, and he “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” While the text does not explicitly say what that means here, we can infer that Josiah was not only a king who truly worshipped God rather than foreign gods, but that he was also a just king.

In the eighteenth year of his reign, a significant event happened – a Torah scroll was found in the Temple that had presumably been lost for a long period of time (perhaps because it had fallen into disuse under the laxness of previous kings). The text says that when the king heard the words of the Torah, he tore his robes. Clearly, this was not only a personally moving moment for Josiah – it was a moment that called him to repentance on behalf of his kingdom. Why? Because perhaps for the first time in his life, he was hearing the words that spoke to the heart of Israel’s identity. He was likely hearing the words from Deuteronomy that call the people of Israel to live in a very particular and distinctive manner, identifying themselves as a people of the covenant. He was hearing words that gave the moral, ethical, and religious vision to his people.

Josiah called his people to repentance and renewal. He spent the remainder of his reign tearing down altars to false gods, continually calling his people to worship the God of Israel as the only God. And yet… even as Josiah earnestly sought to worship God with all of his heart, soul, and mind, it wasn’t enough. Judah had become too entrenched in accommodating false gods in the name of political expediency. Exile was not too far off.

Though we live in a very different time and place, we, too, face the struggle of remaining faithful to the vision of the kingdom of God that Jesus Christ gives to us. We, too, live in a time and place where the Church has made all kinds of accommodations to false gods of wealth and power. We face the temptation of living in such a way that says “the ends justify the means.” Like Josiah, we might not be able to change everyone around us, but we, ourselves, can hear God’s words, tear our robes, repent and renew our commitment, and seek to live out the vision God gives to us.

Ponder

o   What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   Where do you see us making accommodations to false gods today?
o   What vision of the kingdom has God given to you? How might you help make that kingdom a reality here and now?

Challenge

Spend some time meditating on the vision of God’s kingdom. If you would like Scripture to meditate on, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is a very good place to start.

And/or 

Sometimes one of the best ways to think about the vision of God’s kingdom is to consider the faithful witness of those who have gone before us. Take some time to learn about one or several saints of the Church. Read their stories, and listen for God’s testimony through them.

Prayer

God, you are the only one worthy of worship. Give me a vision of your kingdom, and then help me to live in it, here and now. Make me a faithful witness and hearer of your words. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

-Cindy+

Letter to a Wayward Church

This letter began as an exercise as I was meditating on Hosea 11:1-11 in preparation for preaching this coming Sunday. It quickly morphed into a piece inspired by the Hosea text, the Good Friday Reproaches, and Luke 15:11-32, among other things. I imagined this from the perspective of God, and while traditionally, God is referred to as Father (even though God is not actually gendered), I chose to sign the letter as “Mama,” since as I was writing I couldn’t help but to tap into my own love for the toddler who calls me “mama.”

My Beloved Church,

When you were a child, dear Church, I loved you. Out of bondage I called you. From worldly institutions I freed you. When the categories of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free mattered for where you stood, I rendered them void. You were my own beloved child, the center of my heart. I brought you up sitting at my dinner table. At my table there was no superior or inferior. From the margins and from the center, I brought you in and gave you a new vision of the world.

When Caesar saw fit to lay the yoke of oppression upon you, I gave you a kingdom far more beautiful and expansive than the Pax Romana could ever provide. When death cornered you, I opened up the door to life that can never be extinguished.

I touched the lame, the leper, the bleeding woman. I called them by name, just as I call you by name. I gave the outcast the seat of honor at my banquet. I showed you that you do not have to live by the rules of the world – the rules that keep the rich in power and keep the poor down and out. I showed you that the categories you place upon one another don’t mean a thing in my home.

When you were a child, dear Church, I dreamed that you would grow and start a revolution of grace and love – of care for your neighbor, just as I taught you and showed you how to do. I dreamed that my kingdom would spread on earth – not through conquest or the use of forced conversion, but through the abundant love you would give to everyone created in my image.

Remember how you would call upon my name? How you would only have eyes for me? Remember the zeal the Spirit put within you at the start? To you I was like the one who would lift you to my cheek and then gleefully run with you in the field, as you experienced the freedom from the constraints of empire.

To you, I was like the one who held your hand as you learned to take your first steps of your fledgling faith and community. I picked you up when you stumbled and comforted you when you were afraid.

But soon, you were walking on your own. And then you were running. And before I knew it, I found that you preferred the company of emperors and kings to mine. Before I knew it, you had traded in your white robe and basin for the imperial purple and a scepter. You made friends with the war hammer and sword, with the crossbow and battle axe. You carried them in my name. You used my cross as a symbol of dominance rather than sacrificial love.

As you strayed further afield, all while keeping the name I gave you, the name of Church, you forced baptisms of peoples under threat of death – not so they could know my grace, but so that you could make them pliable citizens of your earthly kingdom. How quickly did you forget the ways that I raised you!

Oh, you had moments where you remembered your true self. There were moments where those voices from within you tried to call you back to justice, to mercy, to reach out for my hand and walk with me. But all too quickly, you silenced those voices.

There were other times when I thought you might be finding your way back to me. When I thought your vision was clearing and you were remembering the joy of your life in my home. But you were still so entrenched in the power systems of the world that you could not or would not fully untie yourself.

You forgot that I had rendered null and void the categories of master and slave when you embarked on a centuries-long endeavor to buy and sell human beings as chattel, to prop up the economic systems that kept you powerful, all while invoking my name and twisting my words to justify it. Did you forget that I broke you free from these very things when I gave birth to you, my Church? Why, oh why, do you keep going back?

You tore people from their land, land you claimed “for me.” You brutally ravaged a people you called uncivilized savages. You forgot that they, too, were my children. You, my Church, acted the savage!

You watched and even helped as my firstborn, Israel, was rounded up and sent to death camps. You used the words of my holy book to embolden and enflame hatred against them. You forgot that you are not my only child and that I love my firstborn as much as I love you!

Why, my beloved Church have you strayed so far? Why have you set up flaming crosses and lynching trees? Why do you continue to worship the god of nationalism and white supremacy? Why do you still trample my children who don’t look like you or behave like you do? Why have you tried so hard to hold on to riches and power? Why do you endlessly debate the worth of any of my children? Why do you fight so hard to protect unjust institutions? Why do you build walls, when on the cross, I tore them all down? Do you not remember the true nature of my kingdom? Do you not remember that the last shall be first?

What shall I do with you, my Church? Shall I leave you to your own devices? Shall I wash my hands of you? I should leave you to your own destruction. I should let your rage and fear tear you apart. I’ll turn my back and leave you out in the cold. Not that you would even notice. It has been so long since we’ve truly shared life in the home I made for you. I should disown you and be done with it. I’m sick and tired of watching you live this way. It breaks my heart every time I think of how I’ve loved you. I am heartsick over you, my wayward Church.

I should lock my door and take away your place at my dinner table. I should close your bedroom door and let your things collect dust as I put you out of my mind. I should stop standing at the end of the road, hoping to catch a glimpse of you. You are too far gone. You are not the same child I once loved. You are never coming back.

But O, how can I give you up, my child?
How can I hand you over, my Church?
How can I treat you as one long dead?
How can I make you as a distant, closed off memory?
My heart will not let me. You are mine, and always will be.
How I love you still! How I will always long for you!
My heart will never grow weary of waiting for you.
There will always be a place for you at my dinner table.
Every day I will go to the end of the road, waiting to catch a glimpse of you.
Every day I will call out for you.
Every day I will sing the songs I sang to you as an infant, hoping the song will reach your ears;
Hoping the song will remind you of your true home.
I will keep on singing the songs of justice, of mercy, of love.

One day you will hear. One day, they will bring you out of your palaces, out of your stupor, out of yourselves. One day they will bring you back down the highway, the road, and then the narrow path to my home – to your home. You’ll find the door open and the table set.

My child, my beloved Church, I dream of this day. Please, let it be soon.

With Love Always,
Mama

The Reflectionary – Week of November 3, 2019

Text: Hosea 11:1-11

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.
 

“Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
A sword will flash in their cities;
it will devour their false prophets
and put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High,
I will by no means exalt them.

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.
They will follow the Lord;
he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
his children will come trembling from the west.
They will come from Egypt,
trembling like sparrows,
from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,”
declares the Lord.

Reflection

Several generations have passed since the rule of King Ahab and the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Even more generations have passed in the kingdom of Israel (the northern kingdom comprising of 10 tribes) since it broke off from the southern kingdom of Judah, under the leadership of their first king, Jeroboam. In Hosea’s time, another Jeroboam has risen to power as king – Jeroboam II.

According to archeological findings, the rule of Jeroboam II had brought the northern kingdom of Israel to the greatest prosperity it had known. Of course, that meant prosperity for the wealthy and powerful. It meant prosperity for the king. It also meant a yoke of oppression and exploitation of the poor in the kingdom. Jeroboam II was a king who was skilled in negotiating trade (especially with Egypt and Assyria, who were much larger, more powerful, and potential threats to Israel), but he was also a king given to excessive shows of wealth and amusements. He also continued the practices of worship at the altars Jeroboam I had set up in Dan and Bethel. In other words, the practices of idol worship had been continuing for these many generations under the kings of Israel.

Hosea and his contemporaries (Joel and Amos), were prophets during this time. They criticized two main things: the continued idol worship and the exploitation and oppression of the poor. Much of the book of Hosea are pronouncements of judgment and doom upon God’s unfaithful people, but especially upon the powerful who lead those in their kingdom astray. Hosea, himself, in fact, marries an unfaithful woman named Gomer, whom he still loves despite her unfaithfulness. Hosea sees his own marriage as symbolic of God’s relationship with Israel.

In this particular passage today, however, we see not the doom and the gloom we find in most of Hosea. Instead, we find God wrestling with his love for his people even as they are unfaithful to him. Notice the tender and affectionate language of the opening verses. Notice the language of nurture and of care for Israel as a vulnerable but beloved little child. In these words, I can recognize my affection and tenderness towards my own son, my little toddler, who still relies so fully on me. I think of the many times I lift him to my cheek in an embrace. Maybe you can recognize your own love in these words for your children when they were tiny, or your grandchildren.

Then the text takes a bit of a turn, as God looks at them like a parent of a rebellious teenager heading down a destructive path. We see God express frustration and downright anger that the beloved child is making these choices. We get the sense that God is getting so fed up with his child that he’s about to wash his hands of Israel. It’s time for tough love. It’s time to leave Israel to his own doom. My child is still a toddler, but I know the teenage and young adult years are coming, and a wonder (and fear) what they might bring. Maybe you, as a parent or grandparent know the anguish that God is expressing here.

But then, the text takes yet another turn, and it is almost as if we are overhearing a conversation that God is having with himself. He wants to be done with dealing with Israel. He wants to just cut his child off. But then, it as if God stops, and comes back to himself, and we hear the voice of the tender parent again: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?… My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” In this text, we are reminded of the character of God. God’s very nature is one of compassion. Of forgiveness. Of second chances. God has always been thus. From the very beginning through the full realization and expression of that compassion in Christ Jesus, this is WHO GOD IS.

Remember, ancient Israel’s story was one of chronic unfaithfulness to God’s covenant. The leaders were constantly causing or at least enabling people to turn away and worship false gods. The powerful were constantly oppressing the vulnerable they were charged to shepherd and care for. This had been going on for a long, long time. God had every right to be angry, to be frustrated, to be ready to cut them off. That is, after all, how any human parent would probably feel under the same circumstances. Maybe you, yourself, have been there. But here, we are reminded that God is not, in fact human. God is holy. God is compassion. Alexander Pope’s words come to mind: “To err is human; to forgive is Divine.” Thanks be to God!

Ponder

o   What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o   In what ways do you relate to God in this passage? In what ways do you relate to Israel?
o   Where have you experienced forgiveness and compassion in your life, whether from God or from others?

Challenge

Sometimes the hardest thing is recognizing the sin or pain that exists within ourselves. Take time this week to engage in the spiritual practice of journaling. Don’t think too hard about what to write, or grammar, or sentence structure. Just simply write, asking God to open up parts of your heart that need to be opened up.

And/or

Think about a time when you experienced compassion and forgiveness and what that did for you. Write a letter of gratitude to the person who offered it, or to God. If you are able to send the letter to the person, do so. It might be just what they need to hear.

Prayer

God, your love for me is beyond all comprehension. You bend over to lift me up to your cheek again and again. You hold me like a mother holding her newborn child, with tenderness and deep love. You always make room for me to sit down at your table, even when I run off and forget you, or worse, snub you and disown you. Thank you for never disowning me, even when you might have every reason. God, whose name is Love, soften my heart. May I hear your “roar” that always calls me home.  In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

-Cindy+

On “Raising White Kids”

While we were on vacation a couple of weeks ago, I started reading Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey. I’d had this book in my “To Read” pile for a while, and I finally had the time to sit down and begin reading it.

Raising White Kids CoverAs a pastor, a person of faith, and a human being, confronting my own privilege, prejudice, and participation in systemic racism is something that I have been wrestling with for a long time and will continue to wrestle with until the day I die. Now that Darick and I have added a tiny human into our family, it feels as though that hard work has become even more complex and challenging, as we are trying to figure out how to raise our son to be anti-racist and a champion of God’s justice in a world filled with injustice.

I imagine that many of you, fellow white people, fellow Christians, are also wrestling with what it means to be anti-racist in a society where white supremacists have been emboldened by the powerful, where xenophobia is spreading like wild fire, and where black and brown people continue to be targets of violent words and violent deeds.

Raising White Kids is providing me, as a parent, with much to think about, and much to act upon. I want to share my own wrestling with this book in the hopes that maybe it will help those of you who also want to raise anti-racist children. So, with that said, over the coming weeks (or however long it takes me to read), I will be writing about what I am hearing and struggling to understand and practice. I won’t be giving a summary of the book or a chronological blow-by-blow, but instead I will be reflecting on themes, ideas, even snippets of text that I am chewing on.

If anyone else wants to read this book as well and talk about it with me, in person or online, I’m all in!

-Cindy+

Exchanging the Truth for Lie

Some days, I ask myself the question, what would I have done if I had lived during the time of chattel slavery? During the Holocaust? During the Civil Rights Movement? I like to think I would have been one of the brave ones, leading the charge for justice. But that is a lie. My own answer shames me as I realize the truth. I would not have done enough. I would have sat quietly for far too long, as I have now.

Why have I sat quietly? I don’t entirely know. Perhaps it is because my place of privilege allows me to ignore things that are not happening to “me and mine.” Perhaps it is because I am easily overwhelmed by the scope of what is happening. Perhaps it is because the truth is just too damn ugly and hard to face.

holy family icon
Holy Family Icon by Kelly Latimore

There have been people who have been speaking the ugly and hard truth for centuries – indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, the disenfranchised. I don’t belong to any of those groups. I’m a white, middle-class female married to a white, middle-class man. I have worked hard to get where I am in life, but I’ve had many advantages along my way. I’ve never had to worry about how to pay for my education. I’ve never had to worry about having a social safety net. I’ve never experienced oppression other than a little bit of misogyny. I’ve never dealt with persistent violence in my neighborhood. I’ve never had to flee my home because the danger of staying there is greater than the danger of crossing a border. I just do not know what it is like to experience any of those things because I had the random luck to be born in a particular social location, none of which was of my own making.

It would be much easier for me to keep listening to the progressive narratives that exist around me – that our country is making progress, that we are naturally becoming more just, that the American dream is alive and well – but that would be a lie. And I don’t want to live my life based on a lie anymore.

Every morning when I get up, I spend a few moments alone in the quiet, often reading the news before my toddler wakes up. In the early hours of this morning, I sat, reading the news, and yet another story of tragic loss came across my screen. A young father and his 23 month-old daughter drowned in the Rio Grande while desperately trying to seek asylum. But as I read, the softness and dilution of my own words hit me. This was not a “tragic loss.” A tragic loss is something that is often largely unavoidable – a freak accident, an aggressive illness that takes a life too soon. This was not a tragic loss. This was a travesty – this was a denial of justice – this was a symptom of systemic evil and sin.

St. Augustine defined sin as curvatus in se, which means that we are curved in upon ourselves, so that we do not see God and we do not see others – we only see ourselves. I continue to believe that this is the best definition of sin, and it certainly characterizes this moment in our collective life. The loudest narrative being proclaimed today as gospel truth in our country is the gospel of (white) America first. It’s the gospel of military might. It’s the gospel of wealth. It’s the gospel of walls. This gospel is a false gospel. We have exchanged the truth for a lie.

Evil is in our midst, and it’s metastasizing.

child cage iconWe know this is so when we barely blink an eye when the lives of those seeking to be free from violence are denied asylum in a country whose motto was once so proudly declared: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore…”

We know this is so when we say, “well, that [read: detention, separation, death] is what they get for trying to enter illegally.”

We know this is so when there are children, in our country, in the “care” of the government, who are living without their parents and in conditions no person ever should.

We know this is so when there are many, who without missing a beat, defend this practice of dehumanizing children.

In my silence, I have lent credence to this evil, to this false gospel that has been lived out in various ways over the centuries. I do not wish to perpetuate this false gospel any longer. As a follower of Jesus and an ordained clergywoman in Christ’s holy Church, I am called to proclaim the true gospel – the good news that is for ALL people.

The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends borders. The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends nation-states. The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends cultures. The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends age, sex, gender, ethnicity, race, ability, and whatever other boundaries we try to create for ourselves.

The gospel of Jesus Christ tears down the dividing lines and abolishes the categories of “us” and “them.” The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims “we.”

The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims good news to the poor, frees the prisoner, gives sight, and sets the oppressed free.

The gospel of Jesus Christ lifts up the lowly and elevates children and women.

The gospel of Jesus Christ scatters the proud and arrogant and dismantles empire, bringing down rulers from their seats of power.

The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims, “whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.”

The gospel of Jesus Christ promises that those who are lost or forgotten are the guests of honor at his table.

The gospel of Jesus Christ declares that love of neighbor is inseparable from the love of God.

The gospel of Jesus Christ compels me to action. I can no longer stay silent. I can no longer stay still. I can no longer live based on a lie. I can no longer perpetuate a false gospel.

May God forgive me for my complicity and show me how to live differently.

– Cindy+


Here is a link to get you started with more information of how you might choose to take action in this moment.