Third Sunday in Lent: Busy Woman Called By God, Again.

 “How is it that you ask….?” John 4:9

Life is hectic. Life can be down right hard. Life is also full of the holy. Life is full of the unexpected. And occasionally the ordinary tasks of life are holy and unexpected, for it is the midst of daily life that God finds us.

In the narrative that we hear from the Gospel of John this week we hear the Samaritan woman asking Jesus “How is it that you, a Jew, ask me to get you a drink” (John 4:9). Yes we know the next line of the gospel almost by heart it is an explanation that Jews and Samaritans don’t speak to one another. This is confirmed later in the text when the disciples return and are flabbergasted to find Jesus not only speaking to a woman but a Samaritan woman!

I am sure that most of this has been pointed out from countless pulpits today. I, myself, however, I want to just slow the whole reading at John 4:9. I want to simply turn over and over the words “How is it that you ask me?”.

Many people, but particularly women, know what it is like to have a person come up and ask you for something. It sometimes seems that we do so much to care for so many persons. Life can lead us to think that we simply don’t have time for one more thought or one more task…and always someone will appear to ask. And then we have to reply.

As I read this text I wonder at the tone of voice the Samaritan woman used. The tone of voice of voice she used would have contributed much to the meaning of the conversation. Was she snappy? Was she annoyed? Was she exasperated? Was she using a question to tell him to buzz off? We don’t know her tone, we can only guess. It does seem she is a little amused–this man wants water from a deep well but brings no bucket.  I almost cannot help but hear her insinuating that  Jesus is simply being silly, at the very least she seems to indicates she believes he is ridiculous.

Jesus responds to the Samaritan woman “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is who saying to you…” (John 4:10). “If you knew…” ok, let’s stop the text right there. Jesus knows all the worries and pressures on this woman, as is confirmed later in the text. She is a busy woman, with many people in her life, she comes to draw water from the well which can not be simple because it is a deep well. Her life is about existing in both practical and social terms. She is a woman of ethnic identity who is looked down upon by others. She knows oppression. She knows manual labor. She has not sent a servant to fetch the water so she may very likely be poor as well. And here is Jesus interrupting her busy life, getting her attention, to tell her about the One who can provide living water.

Yes, the text is about living water and racial strife and getting to the Truth of the matter…we hear that each time it appears in the lectionary and all of that is important. But in the quiet of this text, if we stop to hear Jesus say, “if you knew….” Then we may also find God, and the Son of Man, coming to find us where we toil. Coming to interrupt our work…interrupting our gathering of basic needs to say there is more to living than toil, I, God can provide what you more deeply need. This is not to say that basic needs such as food and water and shelter are not important they are and God is concerned about these. But God is concerned with the spiritual aspects of our lives that are much deeper than our physical needs ever can be. And Jesus finds this woman at her toil to teach her this.

We know how the narrative ends. The woman is converted by her encounter with Jesus and goes out to proclaim his holiness to her village. She proclaims Jesus as a prophet, That is the ending of this narrative. We all have encounters where we feel God is with us, teaching us. When God comes to us to offer depth and meaning and we find ourselves busy with the daily tasks of life how do we respond?

Oh God who inspires all things. Grant me discernment so I may head your call and your meaning no matter what task I may be involved in, when you arrive. Grant that in my busy-ness I may hear you and seek what you have to offer in that moment. Grant me your peace and courage to respond to you, even if social taboos would have me shy away from doing so. Refresh me and send me out to my community anew.  Amen.

Lenten Graces–Second Sunday in Lent

“If Abraham, by what he did for God, got Got to approve him, he could have certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is ‘Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”  ~Eugene H. Peterson, The Message, (NavPress: Colorado Springs, 1993) Romans 4:1-5

It seems exceedingly difficult, this text. There is the message that there is some inherent goodness in our being who we are over and above all of our anxious human doing. (It must an important lesson, we read it over and over throughout the Bible, starting with Genesis.)

It seems nearly impossible to those of us living in a consumer-driven commercial world. This notion that you can not do anything to earn all of what God has to offer. It’s an affront to American culture and a reversal of the American Dream.

We can do nothing for God’s approval, nothing to gain merit or entrance into the Kindom* of God. Paul is commenting on that old struggle between works and grace.

It is a difficult text, but an important one as we move through the Lenten season reflecting on how we long for a deeper connection with God. As we give up the barriers to our spiritual life, give up our creature comforts, or as we take up practices we hope will enable us to walk closer to God’s will, we are very much consumed with the  doing aspect of living out this text.

There is something about grace which the post-modern world seems intent on annihilating. We are told if we work hard we will have all we need; that has not been true since 2009 and possibly before. The idea that we get the material goods we deserve based on our hard work in the world is roughly equivalent to the 1980’s notion that neon colors were fashionable. 

The NRSV words verses 2 and 4 as  “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. … Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.”**  Here, Paul seems to come down squarely on the side of grace.

Paul’s teaching in this text brings memory to my mind many of persons I interacted with as a hospice chaplain. At some point in life we all reach the stage where the most we can do is simply exist. [This is particularly true for persons with dementia and the other brain disorders associated with aging.] At some point in our adult lives we may need others to feed, bathe, and clothe us just as we did at life’s beginning. Being is a form of Grace. Being as Paul reminds us is all God asks of us is to do. Some religious and mystical traditions insist that there are spiritual lessons which can only be learned in the later stages of life. I know that as I spent time with persons who had become too ill to care for themselves towards life’s end, I learned that how they continued to interact and how they continued to teach others was through a subtle way of being who they were as they were in the world. It is a way of being that trusts and relies on God.

This way of being ourselves and being in the world as we find it is a type of trust and type of remembering that in the end it’s not about us. There is certainly our part, but in the end it is God’s story. Perhaps being us enough to discern God’s story from our own is the ultimate Lenten practice. Learning to accept grace~practice that.

*”Kindom” is a well-known feminist respelling of Kingdom designed to highlight the mutual relationships in the Kingdom of God rather than the hierarchical relationships of the patriarchal system; see the work of A. Isasi-Diaz and Rosemary Reuther.

**from http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Romans+4 [on-line] accessed, March 15, 2014.

The Ordination Paradox

Amanda Kersey just got ordained and is singing I'll Fly Away

“How does it feel, Rev?” “What’s it like?” “Are you used to it yet?” These are just a few of the questions I have been asked within the last couple of weeks after my ordination. To be honest I feel a mixture of emotions and think I will for some time. After the first week at the surface I felt relief, excitement, happiness, contentment, confidence and to be honest a little sadness. However, after my second week there was new deeper emotion and I couldn’t name it. It was bothering me so badly I actually had to stop blogging to figure it out. To put it simply, I feel that a wrong has been righted. And with that there is new found stillness in my mind, soul and body. A stillness that in some way feels distantly familiar.

Listening to all of the human interest stories from the Olympics helped me articulate what was going on for me. Hearing some of the inspiring stories and sacrifices the athletes made over the years—something I can halfway understand as a former USS and collegiate swimmer. However, for me the swimming analogy is a little deeper. I’m still not really sure what happened to me as a swimmer and to be honest I’m not sure it was just one thing. It’s more like it was a perfect storm. It’s not something I totally regret, because I truly and deeply feel like I am exactly where I need to be in my life and the bad and the good attributed to me being where I am. I do, however, feel that what happened to me as a swimmer had a good chance of repeating itself in my professional career and calling. I felt that old urge to settle, buckle under, back off because my drive upset others (having moms of my teammates yell at me in the locker rooms) and do “just enough.” I gave in for a while allowing myself to be walked over, overworked and underappreciated in my marriage and in the church. As a kid I was at the mercy of others, but as an adult it was all me and this time enough was enough. I thought about the words of Christ that we are to forgive seventy times seven. I also recalled the biblical examples of where people parted ways without cross feelings, but with an understanding that it just wasn’t working. For me I worked hard to forgive not only others, but myself for allowing myself to be used in those ways. I had to make the decision to walk away from my spiritual tradition in 2008 in order to do what I know I am supposed to do now and set myself up for the future. It was an excruciating and yet beautiful process, one I have both hated and loved.

I ignored the pulling in my life towards ordination for years for many different reasons. I knew my life would have to drastically change—I knew it would expedite the end of a significant relationship, bring some dissension within my family and force me to break ties with a religious community that once loved and nurtured me and I it. However, the scariest part of ordination was the internal dialogue I had to engage with myself and God as I had to consider what it meant to follow a God that I felt was calling me out of and against everything I had been taught and believed for so long. When God lives in a box and Gods actions and motivations can be surmised in a nice tightly wrapped systematic theology it’s easy to get comfortable and dare I say arrogant. This process broke me in new ways as I had to come to the realization my two degrees in religion speak more to the fact that I enjoy academia than my understanding of God. God has once again shown me that the truth of the words of Isaiah, “God’s ways are not my ways and God’s thoughts are not my thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). I was once again reminded that when God calls us out into new places there are critics on all our sides, encouraging us to doubt and question and even at times suggesting our faith is immature and misguided. However, I have once again been reminded to claim the truth that the voices of the many do not outweigh the whisper of the One. I’m not saying I didn’t listen to others. In fact I believe others are a way in which God speaks to and through us. However, it felt too reminiscent and I had given in before, but not this time.

July 22, 2012 I was ordained in the UCC after having hands laid upon me both literally and figuratively affirming the call of God on my life and having a church promise to support me. This public affirmation for me once again brought a deep sense of healing making visible something I had only been able to imagine. I have known the call on my life since I was 17, but to have it confirmed in front of witnesses transforms the internal into the external causing something mystical and supernatural to happen. The wrong had been righted. After years of being denied job applications, having to have checks from the church written to my ex-husband instead of me for the work I had done and even having churches offer to pay for his seminary and not mine all that injustice has been righted. Now, I am not one of those who believe that the past is somehow magically erased, but I do believe it can be shelved. I don’t want to forget, because it is what drives me to look for others who have had similar experiences and creates in me a new found sensitivity.

There is no anger or resentment (anymore). I am truly grateful for a religious upbringing that introduced me to God, taught me so much about spiritual discipline and gave me a love for scripture. I’m forever thankful for the roots, but sometimes plants are uprooted and replanted in order to fully grow. The sadness of ordination has been that there has been very little acknowledgement from people in my past—the tradition which I left. I’m sure it’s because some think I have lost my mind or at least temporarily gone insane. Perhaps some think maybe if it’s not acknowledged it does not exist. However, the support I have received has been amazing and for right now that is enough. It’s already opened up some interesting opportunities to meet others. All in all I’m pretty excited about the future, but also feeling grounded in the present.

Ordination on YouTube

Here is the final playlist of videos from my ordination. There are five videos that will play straight through if you let it, or you can use the advance button to get to the next video.

  1. Thoughts before the ordination
  2. Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas’ sermon
  3. Special music: Lois Myers sings “Be Strong, Take Courage”
  4. Ordination liturgy including laying on of hands
  5. Unedited complete service

What’s On Your Bucket List?

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.’

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

—Luke 2:23-38

One of the things I love about this passage is the visualization I get when I think of Anna and Simeon holding the baby Jesus. Old hands embracing a newborn child. An old religion embracing the coming of a new one. That is what Luke is trying to tell us.

Anna and Simeon represent the faithful of Israel: those who keep the covenant day and night, those who worship God with praise and prophecy. Both are rewarded for their faith with God’s promise that they will see the coming of the Messiah.

Simeon says, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.” The long awaited promise has been fulfilled and now he may die at peace.

A movie called “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out a couple of years ago. These two men facing terminal cancer make a list of items they want to do before they “kick the bucket,” from which the list is named. We all have things we want to do before we die. Perhaps they are listed in some journal or are set back in your brain. Regardless dust them off and get to it.

What is on your bucket list? What will make your heart satisfied that you have really lived? Don’t worry that some of the things you list will never be accomplished, just listing your desires in life is living. So what are you waiting for? It’s never too late to start appreciating all the life around you, and live.

***

Rev. Jeri Wilkerson is a native to Florida and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Nursing from the University of Florida before expanding her call into ministry and completing her education at Claremont School of Theology. Jeri is passionate about preaching, worship, and the arts, where she finds that people can explore their faith as they find new ways of experiencing God. She is appointed at First United Methodist Church of Mesa where she has been instrumental in the church’s involvement in homelessness programs and other mission activities. She currently serves as the youth leader, expanding the program to include a missional focus.

Mindfulness

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

—Luke 2:15-20

Of all the passages about Mary’s reaction to her pregnancy and the birth of her son, this is probably my favorite. It is no big surprise that the shepherds are beside themselves with the news; it’s not every day you receive a direct command from angels who appear out of nowhere. When they arrive, they have to explain why they showed up, so they tell the amazing story of how a ragtag group of shepherds heard about a baby born in a barn. Naturally, their story causes a great deal of excitement. All who heard it were amazed, the Scripture says. But then comes the “But.” All were amazed, BUT Mary took it further and “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” By this point, Mary is used to angels appearing and making proclamations. What she knows is that her baby has now arrived, and the stories that cause such wonder and amazement are simply moments of her already special newborn’s uniquely special first days.

In our world, thanks to our 24/7 news sources, we have many opportunities to live into the excitement of others’ lives. Our voyeuristic obsessions with Real Housewives, the Kardashians, or a millionaire matchmaker add to the chaos of our own busy-ness and sometimes to our own disillusionment. We ponder the amazing events in the lives of others and compare our lives to theirs. However, each December I watch White Christmas and nod in agreement when Bing Crosby sings, “When I’m worried, and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep counting my blessings.” Sometimes counting blessings seems nearly impossible, but when I really look, I find that my life is full of wonder and joy of which I should be mindful. I pray we all will find that to be true. Maybe in the new year we can take our cue from Mary and spend more time in quiet reflection, pondering our own wonders and filling our hearts with those moments of true awe.

***

Courtney Jones holds a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University and is currently an M. Div. student at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton, MA. Originally from Arkansas, she is an active member of Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington, MA. Her academic and personal interests are focused on LGBTQI theology, and she feels called to a career of pastoral care and counseling.

Spreading the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

—He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
William Butler Yeats

In a few days we will ring in the New Year. When I read this poem, I wonder to myself: Have I treaded softly on the dreams of others this past year? More importantly, have I spread the cloths of heaven under the feet of those who need it most? And what might that look like? Does this mean that I have focused on creating the kin-dom of God on earth—as it is in heaven? Have I helped the marginalized? As Jesus says, “for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me…Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (NRSV, Matthew 25:42-45) I wonder if I had fed anyone that needed food or drink or welcomed a stranger, or clothed the naked or visited the sick or those imprisoned this past year?

Prayer:

Lord, as I get closer to beginning a new year of my life, may I remember to recognize the blessings of being on this earth and serving you, by serving others. May I never forget to include helping the oppressed in my New Year’s Resolutions. I recognize that I may not have done everything that you have called me to do this year, but I will remember that receiving your grace allows me to give grace, in return. I recognize that my blessings are meant to be shared. I will clothe the naked, feed the hungry and visit the sick and imprisoned—whether physical or spiritual. For I am your servant, and I must spread the cloths of heaven for you. Amen.

***

Summer Albayati-Krikeche is a woman who speaks inside and outside of the church. She is a candidate for ordained ministry in the Unitarian Universalist church, and serves as an intern chaplain at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. While studying in seminary, Summer felt that all of the sacred scriptures called us to help the oppressed.  Shortly, thereafter, she decided to help those considered the most marginalized in any society—orphans. In 2009, Summer founded Orphan Whispers, a nonprofit that helps orphans in conflict and post-conflict societies, and is currently focusing on the orphans in Iraq.  

The World Prayed for Me

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

—Isaiah 52: 7-10

Christ is here. We celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, God with us! As we celebrate God’s presence among us, the incarnation of our Lord, we are charged with spreading the Good News. “Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born!” we sing, but many of us would like to be silent. After the busy-ness of Christmas is over many of us would like to climb into the protective shells of our beds, pull the covers up over our heads and hibernate until Easter. But God calls us to be ‘messengers.’ That means we GO and TELL!

But, we should be relieved to know, we are not the only messengers proclaiming the glory of God! God’s amazing work is everywhere! In the ruins of Jerusalem, in the eyes of all nations, to the ends of the earth. Let us proclaim the love of God to the world, and as we do, may we be witness to the world proclaiming Gods’ glory to us!

i went to the top of the world
to offer up my prayer.
i came with a collection
of concerns and worries
problems and everyday pains
i went to the top of the world to pray
and instead the world prayed for me.
i heard it in the wind
pounding in my right ear
and a gentle guitarsong whistling in my left.
i heard it in the language of the crickets,
calling and answering from either side of the path.
i heard it in each footstep that followed me,
or was I following them?
i heard it in the passing of the cars on the highway.
i heard it in the silent tears of strangers.

i went to the top of the world to pray
and instead,
the world prayed for me.

***

Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens is a native of Southern California, where she began her work experience as an artist. She achieved her Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art from Scripps College in 1994. Her call from God occurred rather suddenly in 1998 and God provided a path to attend seminary. Krista is a proud graduate of the Claremont School of Theology achieving her Masters of Divinity in 2001 and her Doctor of Ministry degree in 2007. Her doctoral thesis was centered in Ethics and pertains to the disciplinary rule for single pastors to be celibate and is titled: A Choice for Whole Love: Single and Celibate in the United Methodist Church. Krista’s previous appointments include an Associate Pastor position to the congregation of Kailua United Methodist Church in Kailua, Hawaii and a Senior Pastor position to the congregation of Westchester United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. She was ordained as an Elder in the California-Pacific Annual Conference in 2005 and has been the pastor at Hamburg’s International United Methodist Church since 2007.