Sunday, December 9, 2012

I use to tie Peace and Quiet together. 

This lead me to a a forever search for that perfect space of peace. A place I imagined as  a silent spot near a stream, with tall evergreens, yellow aspens- and maybe a deer or two stopping to see their reflection in the still water...

Soon after having children I learned that if this was my definition of peace- I may never experience peace again.

This is when I came across what has become one of my favorite sayings:

“Peace does not mean to be free of noise, trouble or hard work; but to be in the midst of all of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

Peace is not a place- but a way of being. A way of being that is as accessible as the air we breath or the ground we stand on. Through a deep breath, a prayer, a centering thought, a knowing glance- peace can fill our lungs and sink deep into our bones. 

This is the peace I wish for us this morning. The peace that fills us in the midst of all of the chaos, all of the activity of the season, all of the struggle and pain. This is the peace that sustains and invites us to our center in God’s love.

May peace fill each of us. 
May peace fill our neighborhoods and communities, 
our city, and our beautiful, snow-covered state. 
May peace fill all people in all places. 
May peace be the force that surpasses boundaries and borders-
May peace overwhelm us and move us close to God and closer to one another.

Monday, November 5, 2012

First Things

Mark 12: 28-34
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After then no one dared to ask him any question.

About six or seven years ago I spent a few months helping my parents- who were living in Arizona at the time. My aunt and grandfather passed away suddenly and there was a lot of family business to take care of- so the kids and I went down and helped as needed. During this time I found a local Disciples church in Tempe to attend. 

One sunday while I was there I went to a sunday school class where they were discussing the light topic of ‘sin’. The question of the day was ‘Is divorce a sin?’... Now this was before I had any formal theological education- but still... the question brought me some discomfort. As a child of divorce- I sat back and listened to the varied responses. Some people wanted to name divorce as a ‘sin’ and condemn those who had gone through divorce-- and others in the room wanted wash away the ‘old law’ against divorce as no longer relevant.....

For me at the time-- the whole question seemed to miss the point. Being the fearless questioner that I am-- and perhaps ignoring the appropriate etiquette of simply listening as a guest in someone else’s home- I asked “Well- it seems that the bigger question is- what do you mean by ‘sin’-- because if you see ‘sin’ as a means to judge and condemn others - or to perpetuate guilt-, or to move someone to stay in a broken marriage .... then I guess I would challenge that.

However-  if ‘sin’ is understood as brokenness, disconnection, and pain... then yes. Divorce does bring hurt and pain all around. As a child of divorce-- even a ‘healthy’ divorce where all were cared for and loved in the best way possible- Divorce is by definition a broken relationship. This is not to say the process is hopeless- or irreconcilable, or without possibility healing-- but it is to name the reality of the pain- and to avoid brushing it under the rug.

Have you ever been a part of- or even overheard these kind of conversations? 
We often seek to understand the ‘law’ and what it means to break the law- what we often call sin- .... or to rank ‘laws’ in order of importance- We constantly try to work our way through what is right or wrong- to try to determine what the Bible says about any particular topic. 

In the chapters proceeding todays text- Jesus is being challenged with questions about how the law plays out in people’s lives. 

First century Jewish scribes and rabbis had identified 613 commands in the Law. Yes- that’s right- 613 -  248 of these were viewed as being positive in nature, while 365 were viewed as negative. This is a lot of commands! Far more than the 10 we memorize in sunday school.

These commands were then subdivided into two groups: heavy and light. Jewish scribes of the time loved to debate the Law and to determine which laws were more or less binding.. 

Most often this process of examining the laws was for the purpose of exclusion. To deem who was ‘clean’ and who was ‘unclean’. Who was allowed in the temple, and who was not allowed in the temple. ‘Choose your own adventure’ style arguments went on for hours regarding how to follow or not follow particular laws.

Religious leaders were constantly trying to figure out which commandment- out of all 613 was the most important.-- and in this process it seems that quite often they missed the point.


In our text today- as Jesus enters Jerusalem- the religious leaders try to rope him into this conversation.

Pharisees and Herodians are sent to him to challenge him- to trap him with questions about the law, taxes, and teachings about scriptures. 

A scribe, who overhears Jesus’s answers to all of the questions being tossed at him- is impressed and curious. So he comes to Jesus and asks this question: “Which commandment is the first of all?”

And Jesus responds clearly and boldly: “ The first is, ‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 

Now this is not a new idea.... this is an answer that would be familiar to the scribe since Jesus is building on his own Jewish tradition- repeating what is known as the Shema-  a reading from the book of Deuteronomy-- as a follower of the Jewish tradition- the scribe would have repeated this verse daily upon rising in the morning, through each of his daily prayers, and finally as he laid down for the night. 

Jewish people today have this scripture written on a small scroll and placed in a little box called a mezuzuh which is placed in door ways. Prayers are practiced with this scripture on a scroll placed in a box and wrapped around the forehead and the arm- this is called Tefillin. 

This is a central Jewish prayer to this day. 

Jesus combines this text from Deuteronomy with Leviticus 19:18 :You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Forever linking the love of God, with the love of neighbor. 

So- this was not radically new information-- these were primary texts- just as they are today. However-  Despite the fact that this was a verse and teaching that people recited regularly-- religious leaders were still continuously caught up in picking apart the laws and commandments to name who’s in and who’s out. Still involved in in-fighting over the details of how to execute the laws.

To divide people into holy and unholy- to exclude, condemn, and marginalize. 

Despite the centrality of these teachings- they still missed the point. 

Does this sound familiar?


This week a woman I know was asked to leave her church because she decided to leave her broken marriage.

A man was told by his father that he was ‘dead in his eyes’ because ‘a gay son was no son to him’.

A woman can’t lift her head and walk to take communion at the park by the capital - where communion is served daily at noon- because she sees herself as ‘unworthy’ to come to the table. Too disgraced to speak to God in prayer.

I believe that too often we use the law as a means to condemn, to exclude and to judge, rather than to connect us to God and to our neighbors.... To this day we rank laws, and pull some out to condemn, while completely ignoring some.

Further we internalize this understanding of the law to heap guilt on ourselves. 
To think that we are not ‘good enough’ to be a part of society, to be a part of church-- because our sins are so many.  We judge ourselves as unworthy of God’s love- and disconnect from a relationship with God...

Jesus tells us that this is missing the point. This is not the intent of ‘the law’.

Jesus answers the scribe: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

There is no other commandment greater than these.

After Jesus responds to the question of the Scribe all stand speechless. The questions stop. What more is there to say?

This is the first, the last, and the always of the commands. This is the law that grounds all others- this is the lens by which we are called to interpret our understanding of the law. 

The underlying role of all laws is to bring us into relationship--  A relationship which by the way- includes constant grace and healing. This is not a list of do’s and don’ts but a constant process of seeking, learning, failing, and trying again.

The purpose of the law is to remind us that we are God’s- which means we are loved- always. The law is meant to point us to God- to help us let go of notions that we are the center of the world, and to point toward our creator. To draw us into relationship with the One who created us- who loves us, who longs for us to experience life fully.

Just as important, all the law reminds us that we are called to Love our Neighbor. We are called first and foremost to care for one another- to love one another- not judge one another. This includes the challenge of loving our ‘neighbor’ even when they seem ‘unlovable’-- especially when they seem ‘unlovable’!

As quite often happens with the lectionary- It seems to me that this is a message that is especially timely this week as we go into a political election of choosing our leaders who set, discern, and enforce our civic law-- a process which too often serves to divide and disconnect us from each other- 

In the heat of political adds, and half-truths we can easily get wrapped up in the black and white nature of naming which laws are most important- which leader is ‘in’ and which leader is ‘unlovable’. In my own neighborhood rival signs for or Obama or Romney pit one neighbor against another ...

Through it all we can miss the point. We can get caught up in the heat of it and forget our central identity as creatures of the one God. All are created in the image of God, and all are loved. Even Democrats. Even Republicans. All are created to love and give love.

Our laws matter- the laws of God, and the laws of our country certainly guide and impact our lives - so make sure you vote- however you vote - vote-- 

But as you vote, and after you vote remember that no other law matters more than the first-- to Love God with all you are - and to love each other just as you love yourself.

This week, may we let go of divisive bickering about which laws matter most, about who’s in and who’s out.

May we remember the grounding principle of all -- 
May we feel deeply our connection to all people
May we feel deeply our connection to God. 
May we look to God, 
may we love God- 
and may we love each other. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

To See and Be Seen

Mark 10:46-52

 “They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. “

Over the past weeks and months we have been moving through the gospel of Mark-- as we have learned- Mark is a fast paced, multi-layered text full of powerful story and deep meaning. These last chapters have been tracking Jesus and his followers as the travel along the way to Jerusalem. This path has led to many encounters, healings, and teachings.

A couple weeks ago Pastor Mark preached about the story of the righteous and rich man- who wants to know the path to heaven- he is instructed to ‘give’. Give all he had and join in the way.

Last week we heard of the disciples, James and John, who were jockeying for positions at the right and left of Jesus- they are instructed that following this way means letting go of their inklings of power and privilege, and embracing a way of service. This is how they are instructed to follow the way.

And now we come to todays text.  Jesus and his band of followers are on their way to Jerusalem - walking through Jericho- when they pass by Bartimaeus- - a blind man- who is huddled on the ground, surrounded by a crowd of people on the side of the dirt road...... As Jesus and his followers walk by Bartimaeus calls out. 

Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on me! 

Those around him hush him- embarrassed by his outburst they shout at him to be quiet! He should accept his lot - to stay on the sidelines- as an extra in the play of life. They tell him to know his place and accept it with humility.

But- ill content with his own blindness- longing to see again- to be a part of the living- 
he has a moment of deeper sight- he sees the identity of this man passing through- he knows that this is one who gives him hope. He sees beyond the do’s and don’ts of his place in life as a blind beggar- and he sees Jesus- and he names him! Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me! He sees Jesus - and he cries out so that he too may be ‘seen’.

Despite the efforts of the crowd to silence him, despite all that muddles the path between he and Jesus- Jesus hears his plea- he ‘sees him’ and asks him to get up- to come to him- he hears his voice and asks him to speak. Jesus encourages this one who is cast aside, relegated to the edge of the road-- off the path of ‘the way’... to speak up and ask for what he needs in order to be to be healed- to experience life fully.

As Bartimaeus stands up and works his way through the crowd- he surprises even himself when his voice becomes strong, his spirit becomes brave and he asks for what he needs-- My teacher, let me see again. He needs to see and be seen.

Isn’t this what we all need in a way? 

When was the last time you were ‘seen’? I mean really seen? Seen for who you are- at your center-- not for a resume of accomplishments-- or a list of failures and shortcomings-- not for who everyone expects you to be.... 

But seen for who you are.

This week I had the privilege to spend a day with Reverend Yvette Flunder, an African American woman pastor who has been inspirational to me for years. Reverend Flunder shared a story of her childhood. 

She tells of herself as a 6 year old little girl- she says she was a round little thing- looked like a 0. She said that when she was growing up in the 60’s - Chatty Cathy dolls were all the rage- all the kids had one- so everyone assumed she’d want one too. She speaks of receiving this hard little plastic, lifeless doll that talked a lot and didn’t do much else. Not only did she get a white doll, but some thoughtful person gave her a black one too. Either way she wasn’t really interested. So they both sat useless in her closet.

Her mother - being the wise and perceptive woman she was- saw in Yvette that these dolls didn’t quite fit- so she bent down, looked in her eyes and asker her- what is it you really want.

In this moment, feeling empowered- Yvette spoke up. I want a briefcase. Not a purse, or a backpack or a bag-- but a briefcase. A hard-case-business-man briefcase.

So her Mom went out and got her a bright red- hard-shell briefcase and filled it full of pencils and paper, tape and scissors. Upon receipt, a glowing, 6-year old, little-round Yvette picked up that briefcase- bending her elbow to keep it from dragging the ground, went out the the curb in front of her house- sat down, opened up that briefcase- and went to work.

This was the first great gift of life Yvette received. She had been seen. Seen for who she was.

This is the beginning of the story because it didn’t stop there. Being seen for who she was, allowed Yvette to see. 

And through her life that has been a consistent theme.

Today she ‘sees’ all who are cast aside- those invisible, huddled on the side of the road- at her home in San Francisco- and now in the churches and communities of faith around the world which she has inspired. She seeks to call those who are broken out of the silence  - tells them they are loved by God- they are seen for who they truly are- and invites onto the path- the way.

It is in being seen, that we are able to see. It is in receiving, that we are able to give- 


In our earlier Marcan texts - we have seen instruction that called on people to give, to serve.... And in this text Bartemaeus is called to ask for healing, to use his voice to name his need and to receive with grace.

At times we can divide these two realities and get stuck in either/or thinking or either we are called to give-- or-- we are called to receive.....

We can hear only: give all you have, and serve. We can become self- righteous as a 'giver'-- we can begin to think that we are someone who is 'above need' --- 

I remember after I had an accident and spent time in the hospital- I learned a painful lesson in how to receive. As someone who was use to being able to take care of myself - I felt frustrated and ashamed when I couldn't get myself out of bed and into the shower. Calling a friend to ask for help with making dinner and to take a shift with our kids was humbling. 

When we are always in the position of 'giving' we can miss the reality that we all broken and in need of healing. We all need grace -  we all need to receive- we all need to be seen. 

On the other hand- we can hear only:  name what you need - ask and you shall receive! 
We can get caught up in only seeing our own lack.... Saturday Night Live recently did a skit about the complaints about the new Apple iphone 5. 

The skit contrasts a panel of iphone users who complain that the phone is too thin and light, the map doesn’t work as well as they want... with a spoof of chinese factory workers who express mock pitty that the poor iphone users have to go to duncan donuts rather than starbucks because their map doesn’t work-- which isn’t a problem for them since they sleep where they work.

We can get so caught up in our own head, in our perception of our problems- that we loose sight of the needs of others.

We all need to see. 

Giving and receiving, Seeing and being Seen- are not contrasting ways of being, but rather both necessary aspects of stepping onto the path- of following the way.

There are times we must call out to be seen. We must name our need and ask for healing. And there are times we must see others. We must give of all we have and be of service to others.

All of us long to be seen.... And all of us long to give- to share of our gifts.

When was the last time you were ‘seen’? How did this shape your life?

When was the last time you ‘saw’ another- and gave of yourself?

Monday, September 24, 2012

A day in the life of Super Woman... or.... something else?

Proverbs 31:10-31

A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson.
She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

I find this text thoroughly inspiring and completely overwhelming. I have to tell you - my days don’t look much like this woman’s days. 

As I rise out of bed, tired and already daunted by the tasks of the day ahead- I most often stumble downstairs to make coffee before prodding the kids out of bed.

I reach for the lunch boxes and fill with them with the healthiest snacks I could find at that far away place- costco- I spread some peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread and slide the half sandwiches in plastic bags before stuffing the lunch boxes in backpacks.

My husband takes care of himself- we work together to get the family going and to keep the house together.

We get the kids off to school- working the whole time to hold a spirit of kindness and to limit expressions of frustration. Sometimes it slips out and I snap at someone- which is always followed by that terrible feeling of mother’s guilt that has become a constant companion.

After everyone is out the door I rummage through my closet to find clothes that will work- clothes that were most likely purchased at Target or on sale at the Gap... 

I work through the day to move through the needed tasks- to do my work at the church and in my home. To make sure the dishes are done, the clothes are clean, the bills are paid, the emails are sent, and that we have healthy-ish food to put on the table.

It goes on like this for hours. And the truth is that while I certainly feel moments of pure joy and gratitude- these feelings are also sprinkled with feelings of doubt, frustration, and worry. Sometimes I vacillate between these feelings of joy and frustration faster than a hormonal teenager.

Daily tasks can often seem less than noble, and scantly Holy.


So- when I hear this text- while I feel a great sense of admiration and inspiration- I at the same time feel a heavy sense of inadequacy.

So what can we take from this text? What does the life of an ancient, apparently wealthy class woman teach us today- thousands of years later?


In exploring this question- I’d first like to look at the way this text has been used through the centuries.

When doing a search I found countless sermons and commentaries produced over the years that look to this text as a description of ‘the ideal women.’ While these writings often ignore major pieces of the text- they use this passage to reinforce the place of a woman as by her husbands side- caring for the home, supporting him in every way- giving selflessly with endless energy.

The woman in this text falls into the common trap that women in biblical and historic texts often fall into- women are portrayed as either a harlot or or a selfless heroine- either condemned, or held on a pedestal. Pieces of this text are pulled out to provide an example of a selfless woman-  placing her on a pedestal and justifying the social role of a woman as ordained to support a husband. 

Ironically- this same text has also been used by feminist interpreters to show the many and diverse roles for women- to show that women are not only cooking the bacon- they are going far and wide to get it- buying and selling land and goods to earn it. Lines of this text can be lifted out to speak of women acting in ways which would have been far outside the expected role of women. When explored in this light this is a radically progressive text for its time.

Each of these interpretations are interesting- and I appreciate some more than others.
The traditional approach sees that there are pieces of this woman’s life that are admirable and instructive. The more feminist approach sees that this ‘woman’ is a heroine in her own right, who pushes assumed boundaries. We can also note that the ‘women’ of proverbs 31 is no ordinary woman- most women do not have servants or land- in fact most woman struggle to survive.


I think that in order to get the fullest understanding of this passage- we must look a little closer. This text certainly holds more than first meets the eye.

Proverbs is one of the books of Wisdom found in the Old Testament, which have helped people through the centuries to interpret daily living. The book of Proverbs includes practical advice- but the central concern is the shaping of character- which is seen as the development of wisdom

Wisdom is often expressed as the feminine face of God. This wisdom is present at the start of creation- stirs over the waters and brings life out of chaos. Wisdom guides people through the whole of the Old and New Testaments, is present through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and through the initiation of the church at pentecost. 

Wisdom is a gift from God which can be passed on and shared. 

In Chapter 1 verse 2 of the book of proverbs we learn that  these proverbs are for learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice and equity. Wisdom is about how to live life.

Todays passage closes the book of Proverbs with an acrostic poem [A poem or series of lines in which certain letters, usually the first in each line, form a message when read in sequence.]  - In this case- each of the 22 verses begins with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet - in order.

This passage reads as an instructional poem which would have been passed on to be memorized. Now- this isn’t a checklist, or a specific description of what a woman should be-- rather this list is a metaphoric description of wisdom. The verses paint a picture of what wisdom would look like if wisdom were a person. A woman, specifically.

When we shift our reading of this text from a description of ‘a perfect woman’-- to an understanding of what wisdom is- we come away with a very different reading--and quite honestly-  all of a sudden I take a deep breath and I feel less intimidated, overwhelmed and inadequate-- and more inspired and filled with grace.

The focus of the text is on wise and energetic activity. The poem is rich in words of action- linked by ‘noble’ righteous’, ‘fear of the lord’, care for the poor and needy, 

Wisdom provides a connection to ordinary life. Centered first -in a sense of God’s wonder- our faith is lived out in our actions- actions are born out of our faith.

The wise ones of ancient Israel were primarily concerned with practical questions. 

Our daily, repeated actions become our character.

Through the story of the ‘capable woman’, the Proverbs encourage all of us to have: discernment, industriousness, a positive demeanor, and a strong sense of justice- to find joy in the daily actions of life. 

I can see why the author of Proverbs chose to use the life of a woman to be the means to communicate the meaning of wisdom. Wisdom is all around in the people I meet- grounded in God’s love, and shared generously. 

I have put together an acrostic poem - from A to Z naming the ways wisdom is present in this place. For just as this text inspires us to see the everyday as holy- when I hear the stories of the women here, even the mundane aspects of my own daily work come to be seen as blessed and holy, and seeped in wisdom.

Ann decided to foster a sweet child while teaching, working at the church, and working on a masters degree.

Branding cattle for their family business keeps Julia busy on the weekend.

Chris laughs with her two kids who are now responsible, compassionate, contributing adults. 

Dana sees God working in her life when she looks at her husband and her daughter- and when she feels her unborn child in her belly.  

Eighty babies over the past fifteen years have snuggled in a soft warm crocheted blanket, made by the hands of Lorale. 

Faith sees someone in need and offers them a glass of water.

Getting to see her son grow up with a remarkable father who instills wonder brings Kris pure joy.

Happily sober for four years, Mandy finds overflowing joy in being a functioning person in society and in being present to her children. 

Ice cream with friends makes Mia happy.

Judy watches her son care for family land. She watches her children care for their children with pride and gratitude.

Kellan and Kali make Lauras heart swell when they look and her and say "Nana" and run to her with opened arms, throw themselves at her and mutter "mmmmmm" with a kiss. 

Lisa has enough self awareness to let her children grow into their own people- adults who are themselves competent and gracious.

Margaret brings joy to the world through laughter- and she finds her keys almost every day.

Nobody sings like Jillian- on the stage, in the church, or to her children, her voice is a gift she shares with the world.

Opening a jar makes Barbara realize she still has her strength!

Personal expertise in computers and continuous learning make Laura feel valuable and appreciated.

Quiet mornings in prayer prepare Amanda for the day ahead.

Running 13.1 miles at record pace makes Alissa’s friends and family proud of her.

Shirley rises early to enjoy the morning hours with a cup of coffee, and to challenge herself to the daily suduku puzzle- this keeps her young!

Time could not stop Jerrie from graduating college and becoming a nurse.

Unlimited joy can be seen on the face of Daphne when her dog sits and wags his tail at the sound of her voice.

Vast amounts of trash have been picked up by Cheryl as she keeps the streets clean on her daily walk.

Walking 39.2 miles, and earning $2200 for breast cancer, Jenn made a difference in the lives of people she will never meet. 

Grounded in God’s love, wisdom can be seen in all we do, and in all we are. In the every day and in the mundane- In the landmark and the transformative- God’s Holy wisdom guides and inspires. 

Where do you see wisdom? 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

a new kind of armor...

Ephesians 6:20-30

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak. 

I have unique and wonderful parents-- Growing up my Dad was a part of a group called the ‘SCA’ - or the Society for Creative Anachronism. This is a large international group of folks who dress up and recreate life in the middle ages... yes- it is a little odd- even as a kid- I knew when we went to the events that these were some unique people- but they clearly loved what they did. 

We would go to events where we would all dress in robes and smocks that my Mom made- mine was grey, my sister’s was brown. We had little rope belts and would we wear our summer sandals. We would sleep in canvas tents, sit around camp fires and drink from wooded goblets while singing old Gallic songs... We met all sorts of wonderful people and learned to make jewelry and how to properly eat a turkey leg.

The biggest event for this society is a battle which takes place every two years... thousands of people come together to camp, to set up a time period marketplace, to socialize- and to fight in a real life battle...

In order to participate in this battle- which involves a great code of chivalry- you must have a full suit of protective, time period armor....

So- in order to participate in this great event- my Dad spent a full four or five months making himself a full suit of metal armor.

I remember going with him each week to his fellow SCAer’s house. I would play with the dogs and the other kids while my dad worked away to cut and hammer metal, rivet leather, and to weld pieces together.

My Dad tells me that there are a few things he learned through the process of making a full suit of armor. 

First- the process of making armor is never complete. Even after months of preparing and work- each time my Dad would put his armor on, or put it to the test- he would learn of new areas that needed addressed- he would find spots that weren’t protected or pieces that needed further shaping and adjustment. 

Putting on armor is a continual process.

My Dad also learned that making armor was both a personal and a group project. While each piece had to be customized and fit to protect my Dad’s exact body shape- he also needed the community of SCA friends to help him learn how to make the armor, how to bind the armor, and to maintain the armor. While the armor was ultimately personalized for him- it couldn’t have been made without the support of his community.

Putting on armor is both personal and communal.

My Dad also learned- perhaps the hard way- that armor is useless if it prohibits you from moving or speaking. I know you’ll be shocked to hear that those pictures we see in cartoons of men in suits of armor waddling down a haunted castle hall aren’t realistic... If a person can’t move and bend in armor, then the protection they receive will be futile when faced with someone who is nimble and flexible. In order to achieve both flexibility and protection, armor is designed using layers of different materials to protect different parts of the body. 

Putting on armor requires flexibility and creativity.

Finally- and this was the most important and the simplest thing my Dad said about his armor suit... You make armor, and put armor on for a reason- for a purpose. Armor is a highly functional protective layer that you add to your skin. Armor is worn to allow someone to move into dangerous situations with a grounded-ness- an assurance that they are safe- that they can move freely into risky situations.


Paul’s letter to the Ephesians ends with an invitation for followers to ‘put on the ‘armor of God’. This comes after what can be seen as a two part epistle laying out the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of the Christian message: 
  1. the first half says that through the death and resurrection of Christ- all of humanity- and all of creation is called to unity.... 
  1. The second half says that this gospel message calls us to a new way of living and being in right relationship with God and with our neighbors - 

In the last section of the letter- in todays reading- after the people understand the why and how - 

Paul reveals the fine print: “This isn’t going to be easy.” You are moving into dangerous territory.This way of life which Paul has laid out in the following chapters is a subversive way of life- one that values relationship over status. One that values peace over violence. One that calls for unity over division. 

Following this ‘way’ brings conflict and struggle. -- Paul says that the forces you will face are greater than the Roman soldier outside your door. Greater than the physical conflicts you face on a daily basis in the market, and in your home-- there are forces working to keep you separated from God and in conflict with each other... These forces come from within and without. These forces are here and now- and they are in the future-- this is not a one time conflict-- you are living in a world where you will always face conflicts. ‘The wiles of the devil’ separate us from God- these ‘evils’ can be found in Addiction and doubt,  division and jealousy, insecurity and hunger, death and violence.... The conflicts will not only come from those you live with- but they will rage in your own head- in your own soul...

Paul tells us that there will be conflict, which requires that we be proactive. Paul tells us we are given the ‘armor of God’ to provide strength and protection.

Now, this text - the fine print- is full of vivid imagery and rich metaphor. While the imagery and metaphor used would have been clear and relevant for the early followers of Christ who heard this word- this text has taken on many meanings throughout time. 

In a world where too often religious conviction has been intertwined with political conquest- images of a ‘Christian Soldier’ can stir up conflicted feelings and emotions. When Mark and I were discussing this text he told me a story of walking into a sunday school class- years ago- not here- where this lesson was being taught- and two children- probably similar to mine- were battling it out with their ‘swords of the spirit’ while they whopped each other with full force on their ‘helmets of salvation’.

Unfortunately - too often as Christians we have lived this scene out- we have seen this as our duty- to whop people over the head with our version of truth and righteousness-  seeing it as our duty to enforce violent submission in the name of God in Christ. We have a painful history of violence in the name of truth - from crusades in the middle ages to contemporary exploitations of the word of God used to justify hate and violence. 
Paul’s letter instructs followers to ‘put on God’s armor’... Followers must stay the path in the midst of all of the many forces which seek to divide.

Be assured that like the armor my Dad made- this armor will need adjustments throughout time. This armor will need to be both be developed personally, and in community. This armor must be layered and have a level of flexibility... and ultimately this armor serves a vital purpose. However- this armor has a purpose that is quite different than the armor of ‘this world’.

Paul’s letter calls them to ‘arm’ themselves-- but with no ordinary armor- not with the armor of the Roman empire- but with the armor of God. Protected by God’s gifts of righteousness, faith, prayer, the word of God, and salvation- followers are able to live more fully- our strength in God provides security in adversity-- With the armor of God we can face anything. 

This armor does not give us permission to whop someone over the head with ‘truth’, this armor does not give us permission to force a person to see the world the way we see it... 

We put on armor so that we may stand firm- so that we may remain grounded in God’s love- so that we may proclaim the gospel of peace. That we may speak this peace and declare it boldly. So that we may stand strong against all that wants to separate us from God and from our neighbor...

Where forces of evil work to divide- our armor of God unites. Where forces of the devil work in our mind and in our spirit to wreak havoc within-- the armor of God allows us to stand firm in the truth that we are loved. We are washed in grace, we are liberated from pain and addiction. Where systemic forces work to create and perpetuate myths of ‘us’ and ‘them’-  Our armor reminds us that we are loved- and so is our neighbor.’

Protected by the armor of truth, righteousness, prayer, and peace we are able to step out in faith. To speak the gospel of peace and unity. To walk the way of Christ. To live in relationship with both God and our neighbors.

What freedom will you find in the knowledge of God’s love and desire for unity? 

How will you speak the gospel of peace with your feet and with your words?

Proof of my stylish outfit-- you can see that I was thrilled...