Sunday, January 31, 2010
Some colleagues will tsk-tsk - and if I lived right near my church, and if we had a church building (rather than a school auditorium that required the custodian to drive 15 miles to unlock), I'd be inclined to go to the church, unlock it, turn on the heat and the lights, and preside at the service for whomever showed up.
But I don't.
So the Senior Warden and I decided to cancel the service for this Sunday. I always second-guess these things, and I'm sure a couple of folks will ask why we cancelled, but if one of my parishioners got into an accident on the way to church, or one fell and broke his hip in the parking lot, I'd wish that we'd cancelled.
Ministry - sometimes it's a crapshoot kind of thing. The good news is that God is there for us, and we can pray and praise him, even when we cannot be there for a service.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
The Old Testament reading and the Gospel today share a common thread…in each case, people are not using the senses that God gave them.
Think of the passage from Jeremiah, when the prophet tells the story of his call from God. God calls Jeremiah, saying that he has been destined by God to be a prophet. Jeremiah is frightened…who wouldn’t be? There’s that great big God voice, the James Earl Jones scary one, saying that God has a job for Jeremiah to do. So the would-be prophet says no. “I’m not capable, I’m just a boy. I cannot speak!”
God doesn’t take no for an answer, of course.
God says “Come to your senses, boy! You won’t have to do this alone. You will be able to speak, because I, your God, will help you.”
It is a very different story in the Gospel. Jesus certainly has no problem speaking. This passage is an extension of the gospel from last week, when Jesus, new to ministry, shows up at the hometown synagogue and reads from the scroll – a tradition for a teacher like him to follow – and announces that he is the embodiment of the passage he has read aloud from Isaiah. And that last line is such a kicker that the folks who planned our sequence of readings use it as the last line of last week’s gospel, then repeat it as the first line of this week’s gospel, just in case we didn’t catch it the last time.
The situation gets even more tense after Jesus makes this pronouncement: those in attendance are horrified. They whisper among themselves, “Isn’t this Joseph’s boy? What is he saying? We’ve heard he has done some deeds of wonder over in
And Jesus…well, Jesus is mightily ticked off by these comments. He rebukes them.
“Come to your senses…can you not hear what I am saying? Can you not see who I am and what I am?”
They are just like the Israelites who didn’t pay attention to the prophet Elijah; in the midst of a great famine, Elijah did not help all the poor widows in
They are just like the lepers in
Come to your senses.
And after Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith in him, these people from Nazareth, from his own town, who did not hear what he was saying, could not see who he was, became furious. They wanted to throw him off a cliff. But somehow he eluded them. The gospel says “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
As he spoke, they could not see hear and comprehend what he was saying. They could not see he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. And now, with his life in peril, they could no longer see him in the physical sense. He passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Their senses failed them.
We rely on our senses to make meaning of the world around us. Cold sleet against our skin means that it is snowing out. Darkness means that it is nighttime. Our child crying out in the middle of the night means she is frightened, or is sick. The smell of smoke alarms us – there’s a fire…unless it’s in our fireplace, warm and cozy…that’s a different sense response. But what if what our senses tell us is confusing? What if the message is unclear?
Can you not hear? Well, what if what we hear is not the whole story? Someone I know went shopping with his wife for some new clothes. With the assistance of the salesman, he picked out a new pair of tan slacks and a nice brown tweed jacket. His wife pointed to a tie on the wall…one of those knitted ones that were popular in the 80’s…a brown one, and said, “You should get that tie. It will go well with that outfit.” The husband laughed and said, “No, that’s sort of preppy looking. I don’t think so.” A few moments later the salesman reappeared and said, “Now, you need a tie to go with that great outfit! Why don’t you get this one?” And he pointed – you guessed it – at the brown knit Rooster tie hanging on the wall.
Now, a smart husband would not have said what this one said next…
“Sure, why not?”
In his mind, both his wife and the salesman thought the tie was a good idea. What his wife heard – can you not hear? – was “when I suggest it, he says no, but when that stupid salesman suggests it, he says yes. He thinks my advice is worthless!”
Can you not hear? That couple is no longer together…not just because of that particular event, but because sometimes a whole relationship is built on not hearing correctly, only seeing what you want to see, never speaking what needs to be spoken…and if you don’t come to your senses, the damage is too great; it cannot be repaired.
Listening, and truly hearing is hard, especially when the message is radically different and new.
The movie “Invictus” came out a few weeks ago. It tells the story of the rugby team in
Come to your senses. Can you not hear? Can you not see? Can you not speak?
We hear the words of Jeremiah, and we, too, say “I am just me. I don’t have the words to do what you ask me to do. I cannot speak.” And God says, “Of course you can, because you do not speak alone. My voice is behind yours, giving you the words, giving you the wisdom, giving you the courage.”
We hear the gospel, and like Jesus, when we are afraid, we want to pass through the crowd unseen. The message is a challenging one, and it frightens us a bit, to recognize this one as the Son of God, the Savior of our souls. We cannot fathom it, even as we hear those words. But the words of Paul remind us once again that if we use not our senses, but our hearts, we can see. With love, we can see. With love, we can hear. With love, we have no choice but to speak, to praise God, to praise Jesus Christ, and to serve those who need our love.
Come to your senses. Can you not see? Perhaps now, only through a mirror, dimly, but the image of our loving God is unmistakable. Can you not hear? Perhaps not in the words spoken aloud, but in the words we hear from the prophets and from Christ himself. Can you not speak? In our words and in our actions, guided by the principle that love is the most important thing, we MUST speak. God will give us what we need when our senses fail and when our courage falters.
Come to your senses. We see, we hear, we speak…in love and in the faith that God supplies our needs.
The sermon is written, but I haven't completed the Adult Forum...somehow I think if we do have church, we'll have maybe twelve people. Of course, I could be wrong, as I have been in the past about such things. Unless the roads are wickedly icy, I'll be there.
PH is down with a bug of some sort. He never gets sick, so this means he is cranky and hiding out in his office. I hope he snaps back soon.
We had Diocesan Council starting on Thursday night. It was a big deal, what with the formal installation of our diocesan bishop (the Presiding Bishop was there, of course) and it being the first council that the new bishop ran. It was looser, more humor...
An example: when it was clear that the weather forecast for the Capitol of the Confederacy was calling for a foot of snow, the bishop said "That's what happens when you're 13." He is the 13th bishop of our diocese. And shortly thereafter, the diocesan secretary referred to the snow removal plan in that city as "melting." wouldn't have happened during the tenure of the extremely businesslike predecessor bishop. the result of the impending snowstorm was that council was shortened by a day, with only the courtesy resolutions and one resolution pertaining to the budget being voted on. There will be another day of Council in another venue sometime in the next few weeks to finish up the work of the resolutions.
The upside of this (besides getting home ahead of the storm, not bad when it's a 9- mile drive) was that it reset folks' thinking about what happens at Council. The original schedule was essentially the same as it had been in prior years, including the infamous "beauty pageant" of senior seminarians - "aren't they lovely, ladies and gentleman? Please hire them!" - and some incredibly boring and unnecessary things that always took way too long. The new Bishop has said he wants to rethink Council - this natural event will help us all to do so, and that's a good thing.
So now I'll turn back to finishing off the soup I'm making and starting a loaf of bread for a good cold weather supper. And maybe the Adult Forum will get done (most likely) or not, but it will all be well.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
I made calls and sent emails to several parishioners, and set up some appointments for next week. It will be another very busy week.
I still have to finish up the work on the Adult Forum for the coming Sunday on working for justice. Should be an interesting conversation!
Tonight I'm cooking a bean ragu, a roast chicken and some broccoli - PH won't have to worry about fixing dinner while I'm gone - there should be plenty of leftovers to keep him going.
But tomorrow morning will be a brief moment of blessed quiet. Dear parishioners gave me a gift certificate to a local spa as an ordination present, so I will be going and having some pampering for an hour and a half. Delight!
Even if the debate on resolutions is contentious, even if it snows as they predict, even if the food is all carby and bad for me, it won't matter, because I'll have that little bit of delight carrying me through until I return Saturday night.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
- at the generosity of folks in the midst of hard times
- at the possibilities
- at the creativity that the Holy Spirit brings when I need it
- at the willingness of some to move past their comfort zone into uncharted territory
I cannot share most of the back story on these things, but they are the sort of thing that makes ministry full of surprising joy at times.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
He still has weakness on the right side, both his arm/hand and his leg, so getting out of bed requires assistance, and walking is still a work in progress. His speech continues to improve, although he is still mixing up words.
What has come back full force is his sweetness and good humor to those who are helping him recover. Such a great kid!
Thanks be to God for the docs and therapists who are helping him, for all the family, immediate and extended (the Swedish cousin network), and friends who are doing things both big and small, and (especially) praying for his recovery.
A week ago, we didn't know what was going to be the outcome, and it was very scary. Now, we still don't know the final outcome, but it is no longer as scary...it is very hopeful indeed.
This comes on the heels of a very busy week around here. Yesterday was Vestry Retreat (didn't get everything done that I hoped for, but a lot of good groundwork), and today was church, of course, with a good service, a sermon that seemed to speak to folks, and Adult Forum that went well - very interesting discussion on risky generosity. Went to bring the Eucharist to someone who is in the hospital. The week that preceded today was full of pastoral care stuff of all kinds, Bishop meeting, clergy colleague meetings...this is most definitely not a 9-5 job, but I knew that going into it, and I embrace it even as I try to manage it all into some semblance of a reasonable schedule.
The coming week will be equally busy. More pastoral care stuff, clergy colloquy group (joy! I love these folks!), office stuff, then Diocesan Council down in the Capital of the Confederacy. Our Presiding Bishop will be there for the formal installation of our Diocesan Bishop, and I will be busy doing some interesting things for the future benefit of St Middle School in the midst of it. There should be some lively conversation at Council about the various resolutions being offered. It will be good to see friends and colleagues, but such events are not an introvert's joy, so I will be fortified with caffeine, liberally.
I am praying to find some quiet corners in this week to catch my breath. even as I pray that Peter gains in strength and healing!
Friday, January 22, 2010
Our vestry was on retreat yesterday at the white Church down the road. It was a productive and spirit-filled day – folks worked hard, engaged in the spiritual and leadership exercises I suggested to them, seeking to discern how God is leading Saint Middle School at this point in our lives together. One of the things that we did was to talk with each other, in pairs, about our vision of Saint Middle School in the coming year - who we are now, and what we hope to accomplish in the coming year. It's an exercise of our imagination, the best and most hopeful kind of work Christians can do. Imagine! What will we look like? Imagine a church where people are standing in the aisles because we’ve outgrown our space. Imagine a church where all people are loved and blessed by the world. Imagine a church where children have church activities they love from the time they’re little until the time we send them off to college or the military or work. And the thing that struck me, time and time again in our conversation, was the creativity and the hope among your vestry.
That’s not to say that it was always easy, that exercise, because sometimes we fall into the very human tendency to qualify our hopes and dreams, to say that we might do something if we had more people or if we had someone who specialized in this sort of thing or if we had our own building….and the moment we start qualifying our dreams, they start to die.
I believe that was something of what was on Paul’s mind in his letter to the Corinthians. He is giving the Corinthians some guidance – they must have gotten into a dispute about who was more important, who had what kinds of gifts, and it must have gotten in the way of their life as a church. This is the other side of the problem of qualifying our dreams, because we cannot talk about our dreams without talking about the gifts that we as a church or as individuals possess. This is what happens when we try to imagine a church. We talk for five minutes about the gifts we possess, and then veer off into the gifts that we do not possess! And then we stop dreaming, because we think we cannot fulfill our dreams, because we lack the gifts we think we need.
Thank goodness for Paul! He whacks the Corinthians smartly upside the head, reminding them first and foremost that we all drink of the same Spirit, and that is what incorporates us into the one Body of Christ. Then he starts to talk about those gifts that help build up the Body of Christ. My guess is that he thinks the Corinthian Church has a whole bunch of folks who like to preach and think they have a gift for it – let’s call them the Rick Warrens of Corinth– and another bunch of folks who think they are the prophets of the day and say they have that charism – let’s call them the Jim Wallises of Corinth – and maybe even another bunch who believe that they have been given the gift of teaching from the Spirit – let’s call them the Stanley Hauerwases of Corinth. They may be jostling for power and recognition in the Christian community of Corinth, and those who do not feel that they’ve got those particular gifts just don’t stand a chance to have their voices heard, to feel valued for the gifts that God has given them. Maybe the baker who brings the bread for the Eucharist, the painter who has decorated the walls of the house church with Christian symbols, the nurse who cares for the children while the preachers are speaking – maybe all these people, and their gifts, feel that they are viewed as something less important. No one likes to feel taken for granted, especially in church.
Paul rightly points out that all the different gifts are important, that no one is more important than another. We get that here at St Middle School. We are as dependent here on the folks who pull the trailer, and S who opens up the school and turns on the light, as we are on me standing up here preaching, or T playing the piano, or the tellers counting the collection after church. Everything and everyone matters.
But it is so easy to focus on what we don’t have, and to let that get in the way of fulfilling our possibilities as Christ’s church.
Earlier this week, my friend
The video begins with a young man playing Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” exquisitely. It is clear that he is blind. The interviewer says to him “How would you describe your disabilities?” His answer is a surprise. “Not disabilities at all, more abilities.” An odd response, since he is not only blind, but crippled since birth. But his gifts as a musician have led him to play the piano as he does, and he now plays trumpet in the
Patrick and his parents could have spent all their time and energy focusing on what he could not do. He could not walk. He could not see. He would never throw a baseball with his dad. He would never take driving lessons from his mother. Instead, they saw his love of music. His father said “I realized that I might never be able to play ball with him, but we could play music together.” His father had no gifts for music…playing music together meant facilitating his son’s gift, by providing him with a piano, encouraging him, driving him where he needed to go, wheeling his wheelchair around in formation on the football field as part of the marching band. No gift is more important than another. Patrick could not exercise his gifts of music without his father exercising his own parenting gifts.
We know we have received gifts from God, and we are grateful. It isn’t enough, though, to simply be aware that we have received gifts from God. Those gifts have to be put to use.
The Society of
[W]e experience what it is to be made “participants in the divine nature”; we are caught up in the communion of the divine persons [Father, Son and Holy Spirit] as they flow to one another in self-giving love and reciprocal joy.
We have been given gifts from God, whatever they may be. We are “participants in the divine nature” by virtue of those gifts. Self-giving and love and reciprocal joy are active things, they aren’t passive. And so, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is not just about settling a squabble about who is most important, it is about valuing the diverse gifts in that community so that they might most effectively be put to use. It is also about not getting distracted by our limitations, our disabilities, what we’re missing, because there is something we have been given that is the greatest gift of all – Jesus Christ.
We can imagine a church beyond this time and this space because we have so many gifts, diverse gifts, among us. We can imagine a world beyond wars and earthquakes and petty partisan politics because we know the work ahead is blessed. We know of One who brings good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed, and we know that He has given us the gifts, each of us in our own unique way, to carry out that work for Him on earth today.
When we begin the Eucharist in the few minutes, one of the first things I will say is “Lift up your hearts.” You will reply “We lift them to the Lord.” That phrase could be read as simply an expression of joy, and we are joyful that we can participate this way. But it is also about lifting ourselves up to God to participate in divine work, so we can join with God by virtue of our gifts to do what God hopes for us. It is about knowing that we have what we need to do what he wants us to do.So imagine that church, that nation, that world. Don’t limit yourself in what you imagine. Be Christ’s hands and feet and voice today and every day, using your gifts in love. They will be more than enough, because He is more than enough.
Preheat the oven to 325 deg F.
In a medium bowl, put in 3 cups rolled oats, 1 cup sliced almonds or some combination of nuts you like (I like some pistachios in this), 1/4 cup sesame seeds. Mix.
Put 1/3 c canola oil, 1/3 c honey and 1 tsp ground cardamom in a microwave safe dish or pyrex measuring cup and nuke for about a minute. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir it around until well mixed.
Pour it out onto a cookie sheet that you've lined with parchment or aluminum foil (parchment is more environmentally friendly) and bake it at 325 deg for about 25 minutes, until it's starting to turn a toasty color.
Take it out of the oven and let it cool.
Add about a cup of dried apricots, cut up into small pieces, and some raisins or Craisins. You might also add some candied ginger, finely chopped, if you like. Once it's cooled, put it into a large jar or a gallon sized ziploc bag.
Here's a variant - you can use dried apples shopped up in place of the apricots, using a tsp of cinnamon or apple pie spice in lieu of the cardamom. I prefer walnuts in this combination, and am more likely to use more Craisins than raisins to amp up the tartness.
The RevGalsBlogPals Friday Five today involves travel:
1) What was the mode of transit for your last trip?
Any trips in recent memory have been in the car. I must admit I'm a little tired of the car, since I've got a long commute to the parish I serve, and some weeks are out there four times a week (an 80 mile round trip). And since the car is a standard transmission, doing that in heavy traffic is not pleasant.
2) Have you ever traveled by train?
I adore train travel. There's nothing quite as fun as the Acela, zipping at over 100 mph up the east coast, or taking one of the longer trains from Chicago out west. Yes, there are often delays on the latter, and yes, the former is expensive, but it is such a pleasant way to get from point a to point b without having to drive out to an airport on the outer limits of the city.
3) Do you live in a place with public transit, and if so, do you use it?
Your Nation's Capitol has public transportation that is generally pretty good, despite some woeful safety failures in recent times. It is designed, however, for people who work regular commuter hours, not for those of us who work odd hours or travel into the city for restaurants or theater. To get to the Metro, our train system, you need to take a car and park it at quite some expense, or you need to take a bus. The buses generally run at morning and evening rush hours only. When I did my CPE (chaplaincy training) at Children's National Medical Center, I used the bus/train combo every single day, and enjoyed it tremendously. I wish I could use it more.
4) What's the most unusual vehicle in which you've ever traveled?
A Land Rover with special tires in the Arabian Gulf. The driver let most of the air out of the tires so it could navigate sand dunes without getting stuck. I did not participate in the ATV activities,a s did my daughter, but I did ride a camel. Does that count as an unusual vehicle?
5) What's the next trip you're planning to take?
Outside of the trip out west to Country Church in Horse Country tomorrow to lead our Vestry Retreat, I think the next one will be a mini-vacation for PH and me. We are going away for a weekend to the town of Mr Jefferson's Academical Village to stay at a lovely inn and enjoy a Valentine's Day respite.We are fantasizing about the possibility of staying with a couple of friends at their house in northern Ireland sometime this summer. We shall see if that comes to pass.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Peter continues to improve, and we hope he will be transferred to a rehab facility closer to his home soon to complete his recovery.
Juggling several intense pastoral care issues that are unbloggable, but are frying me a bit. I will survive, of course.
Finishing prep for the vestry retreat on Saturday - it will be a long day. I'm hoping it will be a productive time for all. I just wish I didn't have an hour commute on either end of it, but that's life.
The sermon for Sunday is coming verrrry slowly. The concept is there; it's the execution that's lacking. Ah, well.
The good news is that, off in the distance, I can see a mini-vacation for PH and me. We will head about two hours south of here for the Valentine's Weekend (assuming I can line up a supply priest to cover for me) to stay at a lovely inn, eat yummy food, and maybe see a couple of old friends. I am in need of a break.
Diocesan Council will be next week - everybody heading down to the Capital of the Confederacy for the formal installation of our Diocesan Bishop by the Presiding Bishop, plus a day and a half of arguing over resolutions that may or may not have any weight since the matters they address are ultimately the Bishop's call. A reminder, once again, that the Church is a human institution even though it tries to carry out the work God has called us to do.
And I am pleased to announce that I have gotten the most wonderful pair of red shoes. Comfortable and snazzy at the same time. If I have to dress conservatively, at least I can wear shoes that make me smile.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Meanwhile, I'm hip-deep in prep for the Vestry Retreat on Saturday. I doubt we'll be able to get through all the stuff I want to do, but we will at least get started. I plan on using tools of Appreciative Inquiry as part of our process, and am really looking forward to it. It is an exciting time in the life of this parish, and getting folks thinking creatively and positively will only make it better. We'll start with Celtic Morning Prayer and end with Holy Eucharist, with some Scripture meditation and prayer in the middle. Action-packed!
Chewing on what I'm going to talk about in the sermon on Sunday - I'll be preaching on 1 Cor 12. Some themes are bubbling up - using our gifts in joy rather than only as obligation, looking at what we can do rather than focusing on limitations, lifting ourselves up as an oblation, joining ourselves to Christ in action to serve God's people. It's all just stewing around right now, but will gel soon, I hope.
It will tie to the third session of our adult Forum (Rejoice/Respond - Living as Epiphany People) on how we are to respond to the gift of Christ in our lives...this week's session is about risky generosity, which dovetails both with the sermon and with an activity our deacon candidate is going to introduce, the volunteer opportunity of the week. We hope to encourage folks to use their gifts in service to others in a way that gives them joy.
Maybe it will work, maybe not, but I'm having a great time thinking about it.
Tomorrow will be focused on pastoral care activities. Time at a hospital, possible time doing a Eucharist at a retirement community, a lot of phone calls.
I love this work.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
PH and I got out to St Middle School a bit early. It was to be a slightly different service than usual, with the renewal of marriage vows after the Nicene Creed, and we were also expecting some guests, members of a search committee coming to see me in action.
The trailer with all our set-up stuff arrived quite promptly. The most experienced set-up folks for all the pieces of the Church In A Box were there, and got everything going beautifully and quickly. The choir were rehearsing and sounded good. The out-of-towners arrived, having found my directions easy to follow. My senior acolyte was an adult and was excellent. My junior acolyte was the least fidgety, most attentive child on the planet (she is an old soul, and I love her dearly) and did beautifully. The sermon was well-received. Our numbers were a little low because of the weather and the MLK holiday weekend, but not too bad. The renewal of vows was moving for all and the Eucharist was, as always, balm for the soul for me - I hope it had the same effect on others.
Coffee time was full of laughter and traditional British wedding fruitcake, plus a carrot cake for those for whom fruitcake is anathema, and the Adult Forum was just what I'd hoped it would be.
Lunch with the visitors went well, I think, and we came away from it feeling quite good.
Now, though, it is time for a nap. Thanks be to God!
Saturday, January 16, 2010
In our relationships with each other we get a glimpse of our relationship with God. In our relationships, as imperfect and wonderful and transitory as they may be, we have precious moments that show us what our relationship with God can be, and how that relationship with God can help us perfect our relationships with each other.
So it makes sense that Jesus performs his first miracle, his first sign of who he is and what he is to do, at a family wedding.
Family weddings are all about relationships, after all, for good and for bad.
You know there is always going to be some drama at family weddings.
Whether it is the bride who accidently gets red lipstick on her dress ten minutes before the ceremony, the guest who shows up loud and late in – how shall I put it? – an altered state of consciousness, the bridesmaid who reveals a bit more than we cared to see when she does the limbo at the reception, the recognition that you haven’t seen one of the groomsmen since the night you bailed him out of jail six years before….all of these are true stories, and I’ll bet that each of you has stories at least as exciting as this list. Drama happens at family weddings, much as there is drama in all relationships.
Even the most perfect weddings strain the seams of the family in some way.
Think, for instance, about cost.
We talk about our weddings being extravagant – the average cost of a wedding in northern
We tend to moan and say how awful it is that these weddings seem so excessive, but in Jesus’ day, they may have actually have cost more. In those days, weddings were a week-long celebration of eating and drinking, dancing and singing. We think in terms of a couple cases of champagne for one party of a few hours – the idea of six man-sized amphorae filled with wine for just one of the days of the celebration was not out of order back then, so the cost of such a wedding feast might well have come close to bankrupting a family. One of the most important things for a host at such a wedding feast was to have so much food and drink that no one went hungry. The corollary to that, of course, was that running out of food or drink was a source of terrible embarrassment. Even today, celebrations in the Middle East include such abundant food and beverages that there are usually large platters leftover…anything is better than running out, and having someone think you are either too cheap or too poor to provide for your guests.
When we hear in today’s Gospel that the story is about a family wedding, we know how the story is going to go. We know something is going to happen. Something uncomfortable. Something stressful. Something that reveals a truth about the family in the story.
Mary has brought Jesus along with her to a wedding. It was probably one of her relatives who issued the invitation. It does not take a lot of imagination to picture Jesus going somewhat grudgingly. After all, it is only a few days after the beginning of his active ministry. He clearly has things to do, and here he is, a good Jewish son, being dragged by his mother to a family wedding! The disciples had been invited as well, but we don’t know much about their participation except their reaction to what happens.
You know the story – the unthinkable happens – the host of the reception runs out of wine. Mary, ever the observant one, sees what is happening, and feels pity for the host, who might be her cousin. She goes to her son, that son whom she knows can do anything. But will he do something? Just because he can does not mean he will. She tells him the problem. His immediate reaction is not good. Perhaps he hadn’t anticipated that this first sign of his power would be fixing a family problem at a wedding. Perhaps he’s still annoyed at being interrupted in his work and he has other plans. Yet when she mentions the problem to him, not nagging, just observing, even though he thinks this departs from his plan of action, he responds, in a very quiet and not very visible way. His relationship with his mother, and her relationship to the host, trumps his original plan.
This is no grand miracle with angels singing, with the voice of God ringing through the room and doves coming down in front of a big crowd…it is nothing like last week’s baptism in the
No, there is no extravagant miracle, just a sign, visible only to a few, the servants and the disciples. And this is appropriate, this intimate divine act. It is a wedding, after all. And isn’t a wedding really an intimate act of relationship?
Think about it: the sacrament of marriage is one where the bride and groom marry each other. The priest is there to preside and offer prayers, but he or she doesn’t marry the couple – they marry each other. An intimate act. Even though it may be performed in front of a couple of hundred people, it is an intimate act of relationship between two people before God.
There is a delicate balance between intimacy and community in a wedding…but that is true of all of our worship. We gather together, we sing, we pray, we line up and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, but at its heart, it is the intimacy of relationship between each one of us and our God even as we stand as part of a larger community that transforms us.
We need that intimate relationship with God, because without it, we have a hard time with all the other relationships we have in our lives.
In a few minutes, we will witness V and S as they renew their commitment to each other. I suspect that when V and S were married some 36 years ago, there was a moment, a sacred moment, when they sensed that God was with them, blessing their union. It might well have happened 18 years ago, the last time they renewed their vows…it might have happened many times in the course of their lives together. Intimate moments of relationship with God and with each other. A glimpse into the divine through the gift of relationship with each other. In the best moments of our relationships, we see God through our relationship with each other. In the times when we struggle, we try to take some of our relationship with God into the human one, to improve it, to make it and us more as God would wish us to be.
So, a family wedding. A gift, a response to relationship, that happened to serve as a sign for Jesus’ disciples. A sign that affirmed Jesus’ power and authority – his divinity. That brief glimpse of divinity – we find it in our relationships, and we are blessed by it.
It is not enough, though, to simply revel in that glimpse, in the pleasure of the relationship. Jesus may have started out with a small and intimate gesture, turning water into wine, but the breadth of his ministry expanded after that to encircle a larger and larger group of people who heard and believed. Our prayer today, for V and S and for all of us who are blessed with relationships that fill our lives with joy and challenge and meaning, is that the glimpse of God, first seen in the briefest shimmer of divine light with each other, can broaden to enlighten our relationships with our neighbors, whether they live on the same cul-de-sac or in Port-au-Prince or in Riyadh.
As we sing with joy to honor a particular relationship, let our song ring out to celebrate all our relationships in God’s good creation, and let that song invite others to celebrate the One who has given us to each other to love and to cherish, whether we know each others’ names or not.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I am a midwife,
tugging and pulling a gangling thread of hope out of a despairing soul.
I am Mother Fixit,
repairing old damages, hinges hanging on by a bent screw, ties that have frayed to a single thread.
I am a vessel
into which people pour their grief and anger
and as they are emptied, I am filled with choler and melancholy, a spoilt and poisonous brew.
And all I can do is to pour myself out on the altar
and let God change the swirling oily ichor into something pure...
water, perhaps, or even Cana wine. Something that
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
The challenge of this, in the midst of a life where evening events are occurring with greater frequency, is what to do when I can't cook something fresh that evening.
That's where stews come in.
They're reasonably inexpensive, easy to stretch with some more veggies, something that exists in a variety of ethnic cuisines, they generally freeze well...
So last night, as I finished up prep for dinner, a salade Nicoise serving as a touch of Mediterranean summer in the middle of January, there was a stew slowly cooking in the oven. Stews can be the promise for another day.
What was simmering away was an Indian beef stew, one that I've made for years. A pound and a half of stew meat would make at least four, maybe five servings, with a rice pilaf and something vegetable (perhaps ginger/turmeric/cumin seed cabbage cooked in ghee, perhaps saag paneer with spinach and Indian cheese). A stew with complex flavors.
It's a variant on a Julie Sahni recipe that has morphed based upon my impatience and the availability of ingredients. My children have eaten it since they were toddlers, so you know it's not overly spicy. You could put some cooked cauliflower in it when reheating it if you wanted, to stretch it a bit.
Ah, reheating - that's the ticket. When I first read the recipe, I was overjoyed to see the endnote that said it was even better reheated. So I've gotten in the habit of cooking it in a large batch and then freezing half of it for later use.
On the nights when I'm out at a meeting or away at a conference, PH can enjoy the warmth of a home-cooked favorite. On the nights when I come home too tired to whip something up from scratch, I can just pull it out of the freezer. That's true comfort food: it pats you on the head and says "there, there, here's something good and warming and easy for you tonight. Enjoy!"
Indian Beef Stew (after Julie Sahni) - 4-5 servings, depending on how many side dishes you serve.
0. Preheat the oven to 325 deg F.
1. In a food processor or blender, whizz up 1 cup of canned, crushed tomatoes, 4 garlic cloves, 2 Tbsp of grated fresh ginger, and a half cup of Greek plain yogurt. Put to the side.
2. Chop up a large sweet onion (I prefer WallaWallas to Vidalias, but this will even work with regular yellow onions).
3. In a large Dutch oven - got to love the Le Creuset for this kind of cooking - saute 1 1/2 pounds of stew meat - chuck is good for this - in 2 Tbsp canola oil over medium high heat. Don't overcrowd the beef; you will need to do this in a couple of batches so the meat properly sautees. You want the meat to brown, not steam! As the meat is browned, take it out of the pan and put it into a bowl.
4. Once all the meat is browned, turn down the heat under the pan to low-medium and add the chopped onions. Sahni wants you to cook the onions verrrrry slowly, for 15 or 20 minutes. Yes, this is lovely, but I go a bit quicker, maybe 6-10 minutes, and the onions are soft and have picked up all the caramelized bits of brown fromt he bottom of the pan. Stir them every now and then while they are cooking.
5. Now add 8 green cardamom pods, 8 whole cloves, 2 tsp turmeric, a dash of cayenne (hot food fanatics can add more cayenne), and 1 1/2 tsp of Kosher salt. Stir it as the spices get warm and warm up, maybe for a minute, and then add that yogurt-tomato mix you made in step 1. The heat is still set for low-medium. Stir it around once or twice, then let it cook for a few minutes, until it starts to bubble a bit. Add 1 1/2 c hot water, stir it again, and put the meat back into the pot. Make sure the liquid covers the meat - add a little more if necessary - cover the pot with aluminum foil and then the pot lid so it is well and truly sealed.
6. Put the pot into the preheated oven for about two hours. Take it out, and let it cool for an hour before you transfer the stew to storage containers for the frig or the freezer. If you're going to serve it right away, taste for salt, add some toasted cumin seeds and chopped cilantro and you're good to go. If you've stored it away, you'll add the cumin and cilantro when you reheat it.
Julie is right. It is better reheated, and it's a whole lot better than a Swansons frozen whatever.
Tonight, by the way, we aren't eating in. We're taking advantage of DC Restaurant Week to try a rather pricey restaurant we wouldn't normally go to The stew will be waiting patiently for us, though. As I said, the promise of another day.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
- small congregation, due to the cold and post-holiday fatigue, I think but some returning new folks, which is lovely
- great response to the sermon, probably better than it deserved, but I am grateful it spoke to some folks
- great response to the first in the epiphany adult ed series. Sometimes you get on a roll, you know?
- dash over to the Mother Ship for a meeting with the wonderful family that is donating land upon which Saint Middle School will eventually build a church building
- a 2 1/2 hour meeting full of prayer and laughter and a few tears and many sacred moments, and having a lawyer in the room who has a deep spiritual core helped move us across some slippery icy spots with grace
- a too-fast drive home to take StrongOpinions to the bus stop downtown to head back to the Big Apple....
- which would have been perfect had said bus not driven right past the appointed bus stop
- dinner with SO and PH at home, thrown together quickly because I had just run out of gas with no Sunday afternoon nap.
She will leave tomorrow morning. It will not be the bus that takes her to within three blocks of her apartment - that only comes once a day. She will have to take the three subways to get home from midtown, but will survive.
I think most of tomorrow (after I get SO to the bus stop) will be consumed with sleep and gentle reading. And I think I shall head upstairs and put on the pajamas and pretend to read three pages while I doze off.
God is good.
He went from his home in Connemara to visit his brother in County Clare. His brother worked the family farm there. In the evening, after supper, he noticed his brother seemed a bit preoccupied, and asked what was the matter. It turned out that there was a cow that was due to calf soon, and he thought he should go out and help the cow deliver. John offered to go and help.They put on their rubber boots and warm coats and headed out into the night.
Now, calving is hard work. Often the cow needs help from the farmer, who will grab the calf’s legs and pull to deliver the calf.
So John and his brother went out in the cold, dark night, with only the stars and a half-moon lighting the way over the mountaintop. They found that the cow had already calved. The newborn was on the ground, still in its birth sac, as John said, "a sodden lump of calfness." They knew the cow would get the calf up and suckling soon, so they walked back to the farmhouse. A few hours later, they went back out to check on the calf. Its mother had licked off the birth sac, cleaned it up, and it had nursed. It was standing up, close to its mother.
John thought, “I wonder if this little calf, born in the dead of night, has any idea what is going to happen in a few hours?” What would go on in that calf’s little brain when the dawn came?
A remarkable thought – what happens when something so wonderful, so unexpected, so transformative comes and shines a light into our lives?
In the gospel today, we have leapt from the story of Jesus’ beginnings on Christmas to the story of his recognition when he was taken to the temple for his circumcision on January 1st, to the visit of wise men from the East on Wednesday for the Feast of the Epiphany. All these stories at the start of Jesus’ life, but suddenly, today, the first Sunday after Epiphany, we hear the story of the beginning of his active ministry, as an adult, when he is baptized by John.
In Luke’s version of the story, it is clear that John knows someone special is coming – he tells the people that he – John – is not the Messiah, but that someone is coming after him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Then, quickly, the story mentions that everybody is being baptized by John, and Jesus also. It doesn’t include the part that we hear in Matthew, about John questioning why Jesus wants to be baptized. No, it is taken as a given here, that Jesus would also be baptized. And then Jesus prays.
It is important to the story as Luke tells it that Jesus prays. He responds to John baptizing him by praying to his heavenly father.
And then his heavenly father responds back, the Holy Spirit coming down on him in the “bodily form of a dove” and a loud voice saying “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God ordains Jesus as the Messiah in those words.
Now John may have anticipated Jesus coming, that Jesus was the Messiah they all had been waiting for. I doubt, though, that he could have anticipated the holy dove coming down, and the voice making the proclamation.
That’s the interesting thing about how God interacts with us: no matter how much we think we can look ahead and figure out God’s plan for us, God always has something bigger in mind. We cannot anticipate it. We’re like the calf – we don’t know there is such a thing as sunrise, and when it happens, we’re utterly blown away by it. And when it happens, it is God ordaining us, telling us we are beloved, telling us he is proud of us.
And it happens in two ways. The first is in baptism. It is no mistake that Jesus gets baptized, even though he is without sin, and it is no mistake that it is the start of Jesus’ ministry. When Jesus is so named, it affirms his role in the great flow of human history. God’s words affirm Jesus’ role and give him the strength to face the work ahead. Those words establish Jesus’authority to do what he came to do. They also are a mark of love and caring. Clarence Jordan, in the Cotton Patch Gospel, paraphrases God’s words as “You are my dear son; I’m proud of you.” How better to step into a new ministry than to be so blessed by one’s father!
But it is equally telling that it happens as Jesus prays. All God asks of us is to love him and believe in him…and praying is the way that we show God that. Praying – a conversation with God, nothing more and nothing less. Here’s the thing about prayer: just as in baptism we are affirmed and named as beloved of God, in prayer we affirm back our relationship with God and we tell God that we love him. It is the perfectly logical response to that which God has given us when we were baptized. Jesus is modeling the behavior we all should do, praying words of love and gratitude.
So what does this have to do with surprises? Is there going to be some sort of magical, incredibly surprising event in our lives, a grand show with a holy dove and a loud voice from above?
Perhaps…and perhaps not. But the surprises happen in little ways every day.
I’m thinking of the multiple kidney transplants that occurred this summer at Johns Hopkins. These so-called domino kidney transplants occur when several people who need transplants have friends or relatives who are willing to donate organs but aren't compatible. A chain of surgeries is arranged in which each donor is matched with a transplant candidate they don't know but who is compatible with the kidney being donated. Chain transplants typically also involve an altruistic donor, who is willing to donate a kidney to anyone and is located through a database.
Who could imagine that such a phenomenon could occur, as surprising as the first sunrise you’ve ever seen? The affirmation of the skill of the doctors, the prayers to find a donor, the timing of those who register and are tested for possible donations….yes, it’s science, but it’s God, too, showing his love, responding to prayers.
Sometimes it is so much smaller, a teacher telling a student who has been the butt of teasing that she is wonderful, and that the teacher is so proud of her for standing up to the bullies. Yes, it’s the teacher, but it is God working through that teacher, giving her the perception to see what was going on and how this student needed a kind word, and it is the prayer of that student that someone, anyone, could understand what she is going through.
Sometimes it’s just a momentary feeling of being not alone in the midst of hard times. It may be a sense that there is one who hears your prayers, even if there are no easy answers.
So it is when John baptizes Jesus. It is a small moment, a phrase that seems almost an afterthought in the story this morning: “…all the people were baptized, and … Jesus also was baptized and was praying…” It is in that small moment that the surprise comes, one that John the Baptist couldn’t have predicted, one that may also have been a little bit surprising to Jesus himself…a blessing of the Messiah and of his prayers, an affirmation of his work.
The small moments sometimes carry the deepest truths about who we are, and how we are shaped in our relationship with our heavenly father. So we keep our ears open, our hearts at the ready, and our voices ever lifted in prayer, even in the small moments. God is there in those small moments, and works in them in large ways.
Friday, January 08, 2010
2 egg whites
3/4 cup Splenda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp chile powder (I like Penzey's ancho chile powder)
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
24 ounces of nuts (I usually do an equal mix of pecans, almonds, and walnuts)
Preheat the oven to 325 deg.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add a pinch of salt, the Splenda, and the spices. Beat until thoroughly mixed. Fold in the nuts, stirring until all the nuts have some of the egg-spice coating on them.
Spread the mixture on a cookie sheet on which you've put parchment paper or a Silpat liner. Sprinkle with a little more Splenda if you like, and a little coarse salt.
Bake for 5-6 minutes, then stir around a bit, and bake for another 7 minutes. Let cool.
These make the house smell wonderful and they taste delicious. It's hard to eat just a few!
Thursday, January 07, 2010
This is a kit from Sweden, and it costs a bunch of euros, and it is only with the most DILIGENT SELF-CONTROL that I have avoided ordering it. However, if I get a call to a permanent position, I may well celebrate by getting it. Heaven only knows when it will get done, if I do get it. But dang, isn't it gorgeous?
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
The retreat was brief but lovely. The picture above is the newly constructed chapel, built to honor our recently retired bishop. Exquisitely done. I covet it for my little mission parish, once we finally get the land issues sorted out. It's too small for us - it's currently set up to seat 80 - but the design is so spare but uplifting, and being able to see out into the world, where Christ calls us to be his hands and feet, is a good thing. If we could have this design, about half again as large, it would be so great. We'll see what God has in mind for our little place.
Leaving the retreat center, I trekked north from the Capital of the Confederacy. After a meander around the neighborhood of a parish where I interviewed last week, I got on the road, and decided to hop off Rt 95 and get on meandering Rt 1 for part of it. It is always so interesting to do that - to see where new homes are being built and the market they are targeting, to see different ethnic markets along the way juxtaposed with the ubiquitous Mickey D's and Burger Ding. A little frustrating with all the traffic lights, but still interesting, and probably less likely to kill me than competing with the 85 mph semis and souped up cars on the highway.
Anyway, back to the real world. I finally got my H1N1 vaccination, didsome grocery shopping, and came home to sort through a zillion emails and cook supper. Life is good. A retreat really is a good thing.
Monday, January 04, 2010
Our diocese offers time here for clergy - a couple of days for free - twice a year. What a gift! It has taken me a full day to step away from the feeling of obligation to do work stuff and just be present to God. It's reminding me once again how important this kind of respite is.
Saturday, January 02, 2010
PH and I are going out for date night tonight...probably Indian food, since we haven't had that for a while and it is so cold that very spicy food would be pure pleasure.
We saw "Invictus" last night - wonderful beyond words. I'm not much of a sports person, and the movie revolves around the rugby world cup series, but it is a great telling of the story of Mandela when he first becomes president of South Africa and his wisdom in leadership. It blew me away, and when the crowd sang "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" PH and I were both wiping our eyes (PH grew up in Africa). Definitely a must see.
Tomorrow will be the Christmas Pageant at Saint Middle School - adorable kids in adorable costumes, singing familiar carols. This event was postponed because of the Snowpocalypse on Dec 20th, and this gives me a great opportunity to teach about the twelve days of Christmas, focusing the celebration on the time between Christmas and Epiphany. Should be fun. Afterwards I'll be driving down to the diocesan conference center for a couple of days of retreat with some of my clergy chick friends.
I can't tell you how ready I am for a brief break for prayer and quiet reading. It's been a busy few weeks, and there are lots of things cooking right now, and time to get some perspective will be very helpful.
PH will spend the next week teaching a DMin class at a seminary nearby...good to see him doing something he does well and doesn't get much chance to do anymore. And I've left him with enough frozen food that he certainly won't starve to death while I'm away.