Monday, March 20, 2017

We confess to you, Lord.

I have never been a fan of the Affordable Care Act. I refuse/d to call it “Obama”care. That name was/is ridiculous and ignorant. I always felt that it put a burden on that middle swatch of people who made just enough to find themselves in a world of hurt should a catastrophe happen.

While I do see the good that the ACA created, it was never enough and was barely adequate for a good number of people, especially those who lived in the 30+ states that did not expand Medicaid coverage to the people in between the haves and the have-nots.

But this isn’t about our messed-up healthcare system. It’s about a story and I don’t know how to tell a story without giving a personal example. So, here is mine.

This year, we were blessed to have a more than decent income. We always seem live from one paycheck to the next; nonetheless, we have luxuries, we have far more than enough.

We did our taxes this weekend past. Already, we knew we would have to pay some. Debbie has two sources of income in which, and one has no taxes taken out. However, we made a mistake in our guess.

One mistake was in trusting a “broker” to take care of our insurance needs with the ACA/Marketplace. We estimated our 2016 income because we knew that one of the two jobs I had was going away in March. We ended up making more than we estimated; therefore, it was determined that we owed the credit given to us – an approximate $8000.

Now. Imagine.

That is enough to devastate a family. Seriously. I have never in my life had to pay the IRS any more than the simply deductions from each paycheck. In fact, I have always received at least of modicum of money as a return. To pay anything seems ridiculous to me. But to pay closer to $10000 seems absolutely criminal.

I won’t even go into how crazy unfair it is for a working person to have to pay such taxes while a lying, cheating, crotch-grabbing pervert sits behind the desk in the Oval Office and vacations in Florida every weekend. But this is not about that scum.

It is about the sorry state of our minds for allowing such travesty.

This news is enough to devastate an average family. Because an average family does not necessarily have stocks/bonds sitting out there because their grandparents happened to save their money. An average family may have a little saved back for small emergencies but emergencies usually are not small. I know people who are thousands of dollars in debt due to illnesses and extended health care needs. I know people who worked hard all their lives just to lose it all because he or she had an illness. I work with people every day who must make the choice between feeding their families or paying rent. This is the type of emergency that could cause some people to lose their homes. Or end up with huge fines, punishable by prison.

I am not a part of an average family.

I was one of those who had a grandparent who frugally saved money, made some great financial saving choices, handed down those savings to her three children. One of those children was my father. He died on March 25, 2015. He, in his turn, left his part of the inheritance to my sister and me.
I am so thankful that I did not go through the money. I could have. I have done just that before. But this time, I did not. I left it in stocks and bonds. In these past months that the current president has been in office, I could have made a “huuuge” amount of money. However, when I took over my part of the inheritance, I told the broker to put it into “clean” stocks and bonds. There was a long list of funds that we did not buy into because of their corporate greed. As a result, any gains over the past two years have been modest. The point it, the money is there.

So, being thankful for that gift from my daddy/grandmother/grandfather, we began to crawl out of our fear and anxiety. We had a way out. So many do not.

This was our attitude as we entered church on Sunday morning.

Then, it being Lent, the celebrant led us in the Litany of Penitence. If you want to read the whole of it, go to the Book of Common Prayer, page 267 or here:

This part got our attention:
We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.
Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.
Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.
Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.

All the readings only enhanced this sense of Too Much. The people quarreling with Moses because they wanted water…they forgot why they were doing what they were doing. They forgot that God had led them thus far and that God alone would get them where they were supposed to be. They focused their anger on Moses because he was there.

Paul told the Romans that they needed to remember that hope in Jesus Christ is the only thing we should remember. And, of course, Jesus, according to John, how often are we seeking the wrong source of water and food? We set our thoughts and our deeds on seeking the wrong water and bread.

When Debbie and I headed out in the summer of 2007 to go on the road, we purposely left behind many things. Fear of the unknown was the number one thing. Many material possessions another. Family, friends, community – all left behind because we were following what we believed to be God’s call to us to go out and share our story, to listen to the stories of others, to share the good news that regardless, we are loved by God, steadfastedly, forever.

When we finally settled ourselves in St. Louis, we knew that we were here for a reason. This was/is the place that God called us to be, to do, to share. And so, it has been.

However, somewhere along the way, we forgot that material things are not important. We became comfortable with more than enough. We began to live to the edge again, incurring more debt than savings.

And here is where we are. Brought up short from the midst of our comfort. Rug pulled right out from under us, because of us. Here we are.

It is time to reboot our hearts. We will reset our sights. We will right the wrongs. We will set down our anger, anxiety, and frustration and focus on getting rid of the debt and not incurring any new. We have more than enough. We will live within that. We will focus on need rather than want.

And then we will hang on. Because one thing we have learned – when we listen to the Holy Spirit, she gets all excited. She loves our attention. And this makes me happy.

Here we are, God. We are yours. We will probably forget again. Our prayer is two-fold: that we won’t forget and that if we do, we remember quickly – to God be the Glory in all things. What we have is not ours. It all is for God, because of God, to be used for God’s purpose.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Relentless as the Tide

Lent has always seemed to sneak up on me. But this year, one of my new year goals was to live more intentionally, more fully into the life of Jesus. I have, by no means, been totally successful. Yet, I must say, I have done a better job of it this year than any before. I actually made time to anticipate Lent. Music has played a large part in my prayer life. 

Two songs have been playing in my head over the past three weeks. One, as I stood at the edge of the Gulf with the waves tickling my toes, is "Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew; that I may love what thou doest love and do what thou wouldst do." I felt the breath of God and I have held that feeling close in my heart over that last couple of weeks. 

The other song is "O love that will not let me go". 

I do not listen to "Christian" radio or even too many songs. A bit of Gospel Bluegrass now and again, or Willie Nelson and the Nelson Family doing Gospel large - that is about the extent of my listening to that type of music. Otherwise, I am much more into instrumental, Taize, or Gregorian chants. But  a few years ago, I searched for "peace" songs on Spotify. Several Chris Rice songs came up and I do listen to those. This past week, I have played "O love that will not let me go" so many times as to memorize it.  
George Matheson (1842-1906) wrote the lyrics.

What attracted me initially was the guitar. Then I came to love the sound of Rice's voice - so soothing, so peaceful. It helped me de-stress and breathe properly. Recently, I began to pay attention to the words and came to realize how strongly these verses resonated with my own feelings. 

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

I feel as though I have wrestled with or run from God for most of my adult life. I told God so many times to leave me alone, let me be, yet, that Love hangs tenaciously, relentlessly, steadfastedly to the core of my being. 

That Love wore me out. It overcame deep wounds, scars, and fear. I stopped running, turned and fully faced the power of the Love that will not let me go. As a result, I realized that this life was never my own. I actually knew that as a child, but somewhere in the midst of young/middle adulthood, I lived in a false sense of self. I have offered this self that I thought was my own back to that Love to whom it has always belonged in hopes that the richness of my love will be fuller still. 

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

That light that has shone through me has never been my own. It has always been God's Love shining through me. I know this now. That knowledge allows the light to shine all the brighter so that it is more clearly known to be from God alone.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

I have been blessed with the ability to feel joy, unbridled. My heart has leapt with a hope that is beyond my knowing. Sometimes, that joy comes in the midst of pain and I know...I know that all will be well. 

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

The Cross has always confounded me, in my youth and later. It seemed an icon in some ways - almost a worship of the cross itself rather than what it stood for. Maybe that is the Baptist background in me, always fearing false idols. I see it now as a significant part of understanding that death of this mortal body does not mean the end. It is merely a portal through which we shall pass to get to that "life that shall endless be." I know that death in this here and now is inevitable, even necessary. I cannot escape it. I cannot let the fear of death keep me from following the path of Jesus. 

I read articles I have written in the past and I see such a depth of yearning. I have an understanding of that longing now that has remained elusive previously. I want to be fully a part of this thing called Church. I want my life to be fully about God. Just as tenaciously as God's Love has held onto me, so I want to cling to that Love. 

Breathe on me, Breath of God. Fill me with life anew; that I may love what thou doest love and do what thou wouldst do.

I am on the right path.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Standing in the Portal

Sometimes the things I do seem to be mostly for me. Food for those who are hungry; clothes for those who need these. Water, lemonade, and coffee for those who are thirsty. I listen to the stories of the people. I pray with them. I cry with them. I laugh with them.

Basically, good but just a tiny bandaid that will help only for a very short while. Who does it really benefit? What good does it really do? Regardless of what I do, there is always so much more to be done.

I understand compassion fatigue. I get it. But in my head I hear, Suck it up, buttercup. But, damn.

“So, this is Christmas…The world is so wrong.” “War is over…if you want it.”

That’s the problem. Too few people want the war to be over. There is money in babies dying, children dismembered, cities destroyed, people sobbing. “The near and the dear one the old and the young” displaced, dying, dead.  

My heart hurts. My stomach is constantly in a knot.

I try to remember Isaiah.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you. 

Called to bring light into a dark world, a world where “deep gloom” enshrouds the people. I feel that darkness. I can’t always see the light.

The world is wrong. There is so much death and pain. And these things will always be collateral damage, a necessary evil to gain more money. Sad but oh well…too many do not seem to understand or care.

So, too often it seems that the things we do are not enough and can’t possibly matter in such a world. It is difficult to remember any call to bring light to dispel the darkness.

But over us all, even as darkness overtakes the land, “the Lord will rise and his glory will appear” upon us.
Nations will stream to your light, *
and kings to the brightness of your dawning. 
Your gates will always be open; *
by day or night they will never be shut. 
They will call you, The City of the Lord, *
The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. 
Violence will no more be heard in your land, *
ruin or destruction within your borders. 
You will call your walls, Salvation, *
and all your portals, Praise. 
The sun will no more be your light by day; *
by night you will not need the brightness of the moon. 
                                                          Canticle 11, The Third Song of Isaiah

I want to remember Isaiah and this third song. I want to remember the light that will enlighten the nation. I want to feel it shining upon me.

And then I glance up from my writing and I see, pinned to my wall, Isaiah 49:1-6 and I remember, “the LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.” And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength – he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

I do not dare believe that this is not directed to me. I do not dare believe that it is to me alone. This is the thing – amid the horrors of war, the hate, the blood and tears, the crying and the dying – in the midst of the pain of living, we are given as a light, a way to be Christ in the world, many chances to break open the darkness with that abiding love that knows no denial. It is too little that we be concerned with the tactics of bringing change to a broken world; it is only that we be Christ in the world… that we love God with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our minds and just as importantly, that we love one another, regardless, just as we are loved.

Standing in the portal offers a broad view of those things past and of those things ahead. It is frightening and too often we stand where we are, frozen. Sometimes we try to turn back but that is not possible.

It is difficult to move forward when all things imagined are seen only “through the glass darkly.” Yet we have been named and claimed as Christ’s own. Therefore, even with a bit of fear, we go forward into the chaos, knowing only that we are not alone and that we have a mission.

I will continue the work that I do because it does matter, even on those days when I feel like the little child with his finger in the dyke as he attempts to stop the ever-increasing damage the water is causing. Because more than the food or clothes given, there is the love offered and accepted. It is the work we have been given to do. We shine light into the darkness. It is a powerful light. It is a mighty light.

will remember the words of Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.

Merry Christmas. Let your light shine.

Friday, December 09, 2016

An Advent Message for All Who Participate in the Trinity Food Ministry

Reflections on Trinity Food Ministry and Advent
By Trinity Food Manager Barbi Click

Here we are, heading rapidly into the 2nd Sunday of Advent. While all the ways of Advent tell us to wait, sit, be still, rest our daily lives tell us to hurry, faster, strive for more.

I find that true with my days in this ministry. It is as though the more we give, the more there are who need. I make myself take a rest, otherwise, I would continue until I fall down. There is just so much to do; so much left undone.

I remember in the first few months that I started working at Trinity, one volunteer suggested that I was giving too much away. I asked him who we were saving it for and he said whoever comes tomorrow. I told him we would have enough as we needed it, that today is all we know.

While I believed what I said, who knew we would end up with such abundance? And it does not show any signs of stopping. We do not have merely enough – we have such an abundance that we often must coax some people into taking more. As for the volunteers thinking that we give away too much…that is no longer the case, as I understand it. In fact, there are a few who firmly believe we do not give enough.

The need is sometimes overwhelming. I wonder how I, personally, can maintain this pace. It seems that the meal part of the pantry grows each day. Sometimes the weight of it all bears down upon me so profoundly. But then God shares that Spirit and I am uplifted.

That is what the words of this 2nd Sunday of Advent’s Isaiah message (11:1-10) do for me; these offer hope. We long for the day when the wolf shall live with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the kid. We anxiously await that little child who will lead us. The day of righteousness is before us when we will live in peace and love with one another and with our God. It is here in these words – this promise.

Thinking about the Pantry and this message of Isaiah makes me wonder if we are holding a key to the kingdom of God right here in this South Parish Hall every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. People line up to share a meal, to bring a bag of clothes, to sometimes offer a freshly baked sweet potato pie, to eat, to laugh and sometimes cry, to share stories, and a chance to get some fresh foods and canned goods to stretch their dollars to fit the need.

I greet people as they walk through the door. Often, they are in a hurry for the goods on the tables. Some rush to the kitchen opening to get the offerings of the day. Some rush to be first in line with the registrars. First come, first served at whichever part is the priority. Regardless, all are served.

There is no forced agenda that makes people stick around. It is simply the abundance of good food, laughter, and community bringing people together. Food is a key ingredient!

Like an auto-immune disease, too often, we suffer from a non-self recognition dis-ease. It builds barriers that are difficult to break down. Sharing a meal is a great way to learn to talk to those with whom we might never feel the desire or need to speak. That is why we have church potlucks! Bring food and people will show up!

Trinity Food Pantry is a little slice of the kingdom of God. People of all types can be found in this parish hall, sometimes as many as 100 in one hour’s time. It is crazy and noisy with voices raised in conversation and laughter. People who exist with much disease in their lives: Poverty, drugs, alcohol, violence, mental disorders, physical ailments, hunger in the belly and the heart, so many isms, so many issues.

Yet, in the midst of all of these things, we come together for a little while, in love and in peace. It is good to await “the root of Jesse” in our midst. And it is glorious.

Thank you all for sharing this ministry and your gifts. It is my pleasure and love to serve with you.

Friday, November 25, 2016

To My Family, written rather than told because that's what I do

 Yesterday I cooked. I enjoyed it. It was the first time in a long while that I enjoyed cooking. Then we all sat down to eat and it was over. It was good but it was not the stuff from which memories are made.

When I was a child, every holiday was an opportunity for a family gathering. I do not remember going to multiple houses on Thanksgiving so we must have alternated the holiday between my dad’s and mom’s families. Or maybe we went on Thursday to one and another day of the weekend to the other. Regardless, at either one, there were lots of people but more children at my dad’s family.

I especially loved the Click/Knipe gatherings. When I grow nostalgic for Texas, that is where my mind goes. My daddy’s aunt and uncle had a turkey farm in Lampasas. We would travel down there and have a great time. My memory is that it was always outside. Maybe I have gotten my memory of a Willie Nelson movie and my real life intertwined but I don’t think so. It’s just a way of life in Texas. Kids chasing chickens, music playing, people dancing, long tables filled with as many dishes as there were people. After dinner, at every single gathering I can remember, Uncle Roy (my daddy’s uncle) would find a tree with a little grass under it, lie down, pull his hat down over his face and take a nap.

Sometimes, we would gather at my great-grandmother’s historic home in Cresson. She had a big pot-belly stove in the middle of the living room and a huge cast iron stove and oven in the kitchen. She is the one who always called me by my whole name, “O.J.’s Oldest Daughter Barbara Gail.” Every time. Or so it seemed in my memory. She was also the one who admonished us as we raced out of the back door, “You chillren don’t chase the chickens!” And of course, that was exactly what we did. The back yard led out to a chicken coop and a little barn. It was a great backyard with trees to climb and corners to explore. Plus there were grapevines and swinging from grapevines was just about the best.

Later times, we would go to Grandma and Grandpa’s home in Godley. The smells of her house as we opened the door were intoxicating. Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, reunions, or just some plain old Sundays, I can easily remember those plus the warmth and sound that rushed out the door to envelop us as we entered. The noise levels were incredible. Anyone having an auditory issue might have been very uncomfortable. But it was all good noise – laughter, love, and lots more of each.

Everyone seemed to have their special place to be inside that house. Grandma, Gail (aunt) and Mom were all in the kitchen or at the table. Grandpa sat in his chair in the living room. Daddy sat in Grandma’s chair. Damon (uncle) and Karen sat on one of the three couches. Jim (aunt’s husband) commandeered another couch. If my great-aunts and uncles were there, the couches had to be shared.

And my grandpa’s hands. I remember his hands on his hips with his head leaned back and laughter pouring out. He had the best laugh. His whole body was a part of it. Or his hand resting on the top of my head when I was still small. Later, his hand gently touching my daughter’s redhead as she sat beside his chair when she was two. I think he loved her best because she was a redhead like his beloved Babe (Grandma).   

Until my sister and I got much older, we would be asked to sing. We dutifully sang whatever song Grandpa requested. My sister and I were the only grandkids for a while. The others were seven+ years younger than us. So, she and I were on center stage for a while.

It seems like most of our Thanksgivings were spent at the Clicks. Christmases were spent with my mom’s folks on their Palo Pinto farm. Grandmother (or Mamaw as she was also called), Mom’s mom, was a story teller. She was always telling stories from mom and her sister’s life. Or of me. I swear I do not know if I remember certain things or if I just heard the tale so many times it became my reality.

Thanksgiving always brought this poem:
Do you know what I’m thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day?
If you won’t laugh, I’ll tell you.
For there’s lots that I can say.
I’ve reasons to be thankful.
You’d think so too, I guess.
I fell down stairs last night and tore this big hole in my dress.
I skint my knee and broke my doll
And Oh! I bumped my head!
So you just better believe…
I’m thankful I’m not dead!

My grandmother would tell the story of my aunt (mom’s older sister) being a little girl and performing this poem on a stage, complete with all the actions necessary to make it real. I looked up the lines and found the poem in a compilation, Oregon Teachers Monthly, Volume 16 page 172, “A Thankful Girl” by Edith P. Putnam. I love Google.

Halloween always brought up “Lil Orphant Annie.” The night before Christmas, before we would be tucked into a big feather bed with heavy covers ready to bear down upon us, she would sing this song,
Santa Claus is coming, children, he’ll be here in a day.
The snow is deep and even. You can hear each reindeer hoof.
So, hang up your stockings and go to bed quickly
and close your eyes tight was you can
for he’ll peep through the keyhole to see if you’re sleeping
that good-natured, jolly old man!

There really was a keyhole in the old door of the old house. And I could always imagine Santa peering through it to see if we were asleep. It was so hard to keep our eyes shut because on the other side of the door, out in the living room there would be the jingle jangle of bells. We would hear rustling noises as the jolly old man set out our presents. Later, I discovered that the jolly old man was our Poppy. That made the memory all the sweeter.

I have not found another person who knows this song. Nor can I find it via Google. Maybe she made it up. It is a good song and one that I have sung to my own grandkids when I have been with them on Christmas Eve.

I wonder what memories I have set up for my grandkids. I know that for most of them, the farm out at Springtown was a big memory. The youngest one was not yet born. The other two’s memories are fading because they were so young. Probably most of their family gathering memories are of my parents’ place in Granbury. Just as noisy, just as filled with laughter and food. Of course, there were no chickens but there was an occasional duck wandering from one cove to another. And of course, there were the admonitions to close the doors as kids raced in and out. It was a sliding glass door so there was not that satisfying clap of a sound as it slammed shut, unhindered by child hands.

Time is rushing by. I miss our family most on these days. Rather than making memories, with so many dead or those living scattered across the country, it seems to be more of a day for remembering. It is too easy to get lost in the sorrow of loss and miss the here and now. 

Funny how the memories we hold dear seem so much more defined than the ones in the process of being made.    

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Sermon Offered at Trinity Church in the Central West End, October 23, Proper 25, Year C

Have you ever seen what an army of grasshoppers can do? They come in times of drought when every green leaf is most precious. When we lived in North Central Texas, we had 9 ½ acres. For the past few years, the grasshoppers had gotten worse each year. That year, we had a super infestation. It was amazing to watch the destruction. Our house sat on one acre and a two acre field was our view from the front lawn. In that front yard was an apricot tree that was in its maturity and offering some of the largest apricots we had ever seen.

We knew the grasshoppers were there. They were everywhere! They would fly up in our faces as we walked through the yard or field. I became a maniac during that time. We took great delight in finding ways to be rid of the little creatures. 

One evening, we saw movement out in the pasture and watched in amazement. It was as if a tidal wave was starting and coming towards us. We realized that the grasshoppers were moving in unison. We watched until it was too dark to see. The next morning, we looked to see if they were still there. 

They were not. But what was left behind was crazy. Our apricot tree was bare. There were seeds hanging on stems which were still attached to the limbs. Not a piece of fruit, not a leaf existed on the tree. The only plants untouched were the tomato plants, rosemary and live oaks. Every other plant was leafless. 

So, Joel’s apocalyptic visions of plagues and judgments are a bit frightening yet very believable to me. To think of a God that would send an army of hoppers, destroyers, and cutters is actually rather terrifying. 

How the people must have felt to have God’s power used to control and punish! How they must have felt as they heard Joel call for repentance and sharing God’s promises of liberation from the swarm, from the shame, from making the people a mockery.

Power can be used to dominate, control, and oppress. It can also be used to liberate and restore.

Because of the damage to the land, God becomes jealous for the land and has pity upon the people. God has a change of heart.

This power that was used to chastise shifts direction and is used to set the people free. Liberated and restored, God blesses them, then empowers them with an outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh.

The Pharisee holds a certain amount of authority and power. He thinks he is righteous, doing all those things he believes are right. He prays a prayer of thanksgiving: Thank you, God, that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.

Yet here is this tax collector, a self-proclaimed sinner, praying humbly, quietly, God have mercy on me! 

Who is the righteous one? I think that most of us would answer that the tax collector was the righteous one. It is easy to see arrogance in the other.

The parable is used to help the disciples understand that they must depend upon God rather than on themselves or even each other only and to let them know that good works alone will not earn entrance into God’s Kingdom.

The Pharisee did all the things he was supposed to do. He obeyed the commandments, fasted, tithed, and prayed. What did he do wrong?

The other night as I watched the debates, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief as I heard some of the things being said. I thought of some of my friends and family that I have unfollowed on Facebook so that I would not take on their anxiety as my own. I felt sorry for their ignorance. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my thoughts were not much different than that of the Pharisee’s prayer. Thank you God for not letting me think like them. Thank you God for not letting me be like them.

The Pharisee does not need God’s gift of justification because he has justified himself. He defines himself by those things he does not like and by those he does not want to be like. Just as I did. We act alone, giving thanks to God for making us not be someone else.

There are two sides to that coin. We can imagine in this current political climate that some are praying, Thank you God that I am not a woman. That I am not Gay. That I am not Black or Brown or any other color than White.

But just as easily, it could be Thank you that I am not one of those fanatics who hates so many of your people and judge by people’s skin color or what they believe. Thank you for not letting me be narrow minded like them.

I would imagine that everyone of us has been guilty of an arrogant prayer at one time or another. Maybe more than just a time or two.

It is easy to get caught up in our good works and believe that we are holy and right. Yet with our arrogance comes a certain superiority.

I have a real friend (as opposed to FB friend). I first met her when she was a 15 year old searching for self-identity. She is very anti-war and as a result is adamantly against the mainstream candidates. She challenges me on a weekly basis, not in a bad way but in a good way although often aggravating. To debate with her, I must know why I believe what I do. Why I do what I do and say what I say. She helps me be accountable to myself, to the world around me. She has helped me understand how I identify myself and why it is important to me. She tends to knock the arrogance right out of me.

Joel reminds us that God has a power – a power than can be frightening. Yet. God is accountable to us just as we are to be accountable to God.

That is called relationship and that is what the covenants are all about.

I think the Gospel today reminds us that we hold a power also. One that can be damaging or liberating. We hold the power to build relationships OR to build barriers that keep us separate.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own righteousness that we forget about accountability, thinking maybe that our good works are justification enough.
But we cannot define ourselves by what others do or by who we do not want to be like.

The perceived sinner did not compare himself to anyone. He stood alone accountable before God. The Pharisee needed the sinner to justify himself. The problem with that is to feel More Than, there must be one who is considered Less Than.

His identity was entwined with the sinner. Without the sinner, he had nothing. The sinner looked to no one but God for Grace. Everything the sinner had was wrapped up in God.

Why do we do what we do here at Trinity? Why do we care so much about LGBT people? Why do we offer food and hospitality? Are we the best that we can be – Are we as good as we believe ourselves to be?

Those who volunteer at the Food Pantry will think, “ah, there she goes again.” I am often on a mission to bring to the front of our hearts and minds the question of what brought us to this moment, this day at the pantry. Not just why are we there but how did we come to be there. It seems vitally important to me to know ourselves, know why we do the things we do. Otherwise, how can we change those things about ourselves that need changing? How can we have a change of heart if we do not know our heart? This is my battle every day – why am I here? How did I get to this place? How can I be a part of building relationships if I don’t even know why I am there? How can I do it better?

There are many reasons why people do good works. Most of those reasons are very good ones. I’m not sure that there is one set answer to the questions of why or how. However, I do think it is something we must continually explore.
We are only frail humans. Sometimes we are the ones who are imprisoned in our fears; we are blind to our own heart. Sometimes, we are the ones who are poor in spirit. Some days, we need to be restored - we do not know how we will get through the day, much less what brought us to this place in time.

Yet the Gospel of Jesus calls us out of that human frailty and into a mystery that is beyond our knowing, into a mystery of which we can only dream.

God is a God of power and of restoration. God calls us to have a change of heart, to be restored and empowered by that relationship with God.

Liberated and restored, God blesses us, through the outpouring of the Spirit upon all creation.

And sends us out to liberate, restore and empower others. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Proper 24 Year C RCL, offered at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, October 16, 2016

I love the prophets. They tell it like they saw it or heard it. They spoke God’s truth to the perceived power of the day no matter what the cost. And the cost was often their lives.

Jeremiah was a witness to a time of crisis and the last days of the southern kingdom of Judah. He survived the Babylonian invasion, the collapse of the kingdom, the defeat of the city, the destruction of the temple and the exile of many of his people. The whole book of Jeremiah reflects all of these events and echoes with warnings of doom and promises of hope.

Today’s reading is his most famous prophecy – a prophecy of a new and better covenant to replace the one made with Moses, the one that the people had broken. The new promise was that God would write the law into the hearts of God’s people and that all would know God and be known by God, from the least to the greatest and just as importantly, all iniquities would not only be forgiven but forgotten.

God is a God not only of Judah but of all creation and who will, in time, bring all creation to salvation through a process of liberation and restoration. Jeremiah’s message was to trust Yahweh above all and at all costs.

The author of the epistle urges Timothy to carry on with all he has learned from scripture and all he has known through faith, that a time will come when people will not listen to “sound doctrine” but will find teachers to suit their own desires. They will turn from the truth so that they might hear the word that suits their ways. Timothy is urged to proclaim the Word of God, to be persistent, to convince, rebuke, encourage with utmost patience, and to always be sober, endure suffering, and to carry out his ministry fully regardless of what others might say or do.

And in this Gospel reading from Luke: Is there anyone less powerful than an old widow woman? Today or in this Gospel, older women are met with such disdain. We have violated all the cultural mores of the day. We have had the audacity to live past the time when their youth has faded.

In the time of this Gospel reading, a widow was fully dependent upon others for her survival. And here she is, powerless…persistently pestering this powerful man.

And here this judge is, a man who is in a position to do justice-who is supposed to do justice especially for the poor and weak, yet a man who respected neither God nor people, here he is giving in to this weak old nagging woman.

If persistence paid off with such a corrupt human, how much more will it pay with a just God of unlimited power?

The corrupt judge is doing God’s will even as he does not believe in it. God’s will is being done even when we do not realize it. Justice is being served even in a corrupt world.

This is hope…that even in the midst of systemic injustice, justice may be done.

Yet it is so easy to lose heart. The weight of the world bears heavily on our hearts and minds. We are assaulted by bad news, tragic news at every turn. The images of dead children washing up on a shoreline, bombed out buildings, waif eyes staring out of ads at us, political unrest, racism, classism, ageism, so many isms that wear us out.

It is easy to lose heart. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the need, the suffering. It is easy to be tired of being horrified and outraged by the ludicrousness of this world.

We want it all to stop. It is safer in the smallness. Our hearts don’t hurt as much and our minds do not have to question those things we do not know.

This is called compassion fatigue or outrage fatigue.

We get to the point that we simply cannot hear of one more tragic circumstance.

I often see posts on Facebook that people are shutting down their accounts or taking time off from social media to quieten their lives, soften the lines, ease the anxiety.

I say to you that ability is an extreme privilege. It is a power that those of us with electronic devices hold.

People in poverty, people struggling to make it through each day, people who worry not only about the food they will feed their children but about whether or not those children will be arrested, or killed before they get back home - these people do not have the luxury of shutting down or logging out. It is not about just making ends meet. It is about making it through each day regardless of the fatigue. They may know about other tragedies in the world but the realities of their own lives are tragic enough. They live in an outrageous time in the middle of not only St. Louis City but across this nation.

These are unjust times.

I see it each day of this ministry. People are hungry. Not just a hunger in their bellies but a hunger in their hearts for justice. Hungry for a time when they do not have to come to a food pantry, hungry for a decent wage, hungry for healthy foods……..

hungry for respect and dignity.

Some of the most spiritual people I know are those I see at the Trinity Food Pantry or the Hot Lunch. People who have little but God to depend upon – these are people who are crying out to God every day to help them survive in an unjust world.

That is the reason that these texts are so vitally important today. God does not tolerate injustice. Jeremiah’s warning to the world of Judah could be said to us as well. The days are surely coming, says the Lord. And in Luke: If even an unjust judge will do God’s will, what justice will God grant to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?

Yes, we know that Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us but that does not mean that the systems that oppress people are ok. These are not. When generations of families continue to live in poverty, something is wrong with the system, not simply the people. Our education systems are flawed. Those who can send their children to good schools do; those who cannot afford the good schools must make use of the neighborhood schools. As a result, we have under-served, under-educated students.

Who needs to know about Flint Michigan? My grandson attends a magnet school in the St. Louis Public Schools. Just this semester, we received word that the water from the water fountains was contaminated with lead. 

Now how long do you think this has been going on? It is not as though it just happened. How many children have drunk water from these toxic fountains for how many years?

How much should a people bear before they begin to nag a corrupt system to right that which is wrong?

How many wrongs must be tallied up before a sense of justice kicks in?

And what does that have to do with any of us?

I sleep soundly in my nice big house in the City, I drive my cute little red car, I store up all my little treasures here on earth, all the while those I see each day or each month struggle with the simplest of things.

I can tell myself that I work to right those things that are unjust. I can wear myself out physically and emotionally trying to respond to the literal grip of need that seizes me each time I walk in the midst of the people. I can share my stories with you and try to grab your imagination so that your compassion is stirred to the point of action but     what     good    will    it   do   in the long run?

What difference does it MAKE????????

We live in an unjust society. Our laws are unjust. Our system is corrupt.

Yet, the days are surely coming, says the Lord.

Listen to what the unjust judge says.

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?

The people of God are crying out.

The parable in the Gospel was to help us remember to pray always and to not lose heart. The difference that we make is in our prayers. If God’s will is capable of being done even in the midst of corrupt human will, what more can be done in the midst of love and respect?

We are to carry on, just as we have been taught, just like Timothy, just like Jeremiah, in faith and love. We cannot allow our own human failings to cause us to be overwhelmed or fatigued. We have to know that God’s will is being done through the small things that we are able to do.

I see what love and respect do when these are shared. I see it in the faces of those I know, of those who ask me to pray with them, of those who ask if they can pray for me. I feel the effect of their persistent prayer. I know that God’s will is being done, regardless of our awareness levels. There is faith on this earth and I do believe that it will override all that is wrong and unjust. The days are surely coming…

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
I say yes. I say yes, he will. We simply have to keep the faith, keep on praying, and do not lose heart.