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What does it mean to be the body of Christ? Maybe it means that the goal of our spiritual journey is to become part of Christ, to do His work and will as one body. A body requires all of its parts to function harmoniously. It is not enough for the “stars of the show,” like the eyes, hands and feet, to operate. They cannot do so independently. Every part is needed — the toenails protect the toes, which enable the feet to balance the body, etc., etc.

There is no appendix in the body of Christ, no unnecessary wisdom teeth. We are all indispensable and important. Never sell yourself short. Never diminish your role in the salvation of the universe. It takes us all. It takes a body.

No part more precious than another,
a democracy of bones and sinew,
hallowed by purpose, divine by design.
The body of Christ stands, walks,
wields the world, shaping, smoothing
with an artist’s hands. The fate of us
resounds, ringing from the stapes
of the ear to the fifth metatarsal of toe,
reminding us: no hand, no heart
can stand alone. We breathe into being,
make possible in real blood, by prayer
and deed, God on this earth.

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Pentecost is nearly upon us; what better time to talk about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? For those unfamiliar with these, they are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Most of these are easy to grasp. But fear of the Lord? That one was a mystery to me until it was explained that the word “fear” relates to loss of God’s love and mercy — fear of being without God, of being alone. That I can understand at a cellular level. It’s a bit like the feeling you get on a roller coaster, just as you begin to plummet down that first big drop.

To leave one’s stomach — and heart —
on some bucolic grassy berm
and fall further, surely, than Alice ever fell,
into void and absence, of light, of sound,
to spin loose like a kite: hand, neck, knee,
head; bones loosed, body unbolted…
To live here always is to live without You,
a land as foreign as the face of the sun,
but cold, dead, devoid of compass points,
street signs, bent twigs or bread crumbs.
Blinder than a worm. No. I will not go.
Take me in your arms and promise me:
though I kick the air, you will not let me fall.

Our adult Sunday school class is currently finishing up our study of Ephesians. Among the topics we are discussing is the armor of God – the gifts that God gives us to combat evil in the world.  For those of you who don’t remember this passage in Ephesians 6: 13 – 17.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

These are powerful gifts and I have to admit that when I studied this passage in the past, I noted the fierce gifts.  But there was one gift that I overlooked – peace.

How strange that this is what I missed.  Truth without peace can easily be used to beat someone down. Righteousness without peace easily becomes self-righteousness.

God grants us a variety of gifts.  Taken together, they enable us to do his work in a broken world.  Not that it is an easy task but he does give us the tools we need, including peace, faith and salvation.

–SueBE

Last weekend, our pastor preached on part of the book of Acts, specifically Chapter 10 and Peter’s vision.  Peter saw a large sheet holding all types of animals being lowered to Earth.  When he was instructed to kill and eat, he objected because many of the animals were unclean.  Peter was told not to consider anything unclean that God had made.

Then our pastor asked us, what would be on that cloth today?  What, or who, do we consider unclean or unacceptable?

For some, it is people of other faiths.  After all, if the way to heaven is through Christ, non-Christians are obviously unclean.  Right?  But wait.  They are part of God’s creation.  In Acts, we have God’s word that they are not unclean.

What about people who voted for him?  Or her?  As much as we don’t want to admit it when we are in the midst of a political argument, they too are clean.

Your annoying neighbor whose kid makes the whole neighborhood stink of pot?  In spite of the stench, clean.

All are part of God’s creation.  Yes, him too.  And her.  And when we start to see the people who anger us as part of that creation, we look at them with a bit more sympathy and perhaps even a bit of empathy.

After all, it all depends on what you look for.

–SueBE

 

I’m in an abusive relationship…with a church. I was reminded of this during Holy Week, when our pastor made a point of choosing twelve men for the ritual of the washing of feet, because only men can represent the apostles. Except that’s not true. Women have their feet washed by the clergy all the time — the Pope himself does it.

Then, on Good Friday, I went to another parish (ours didn’t have a Mass scheduled at a time my husband could fit into his schedule) only to find an even more antiquated service. There were seven people around the altar. All were male.

Growing up, I was always top of my class. So when someone said something silly like, “Only boys are good at math,” I could laugh it off. I was proof that they were wrong. I was fortunate to receive sixteen years of Catholic education, being taught by great thinkers and being told that I, too, was capable of great thought. I planned my first mass at nine. I narrated The Passion Play at 13. I’ve spent a lifetime as a faithful Catholic. And somehow, I’m still not good enough. I can’t be good enough. I haven’t got a Y chromosome.

“How many times,” I asked my husband after Friday’s ordeal, “do I have to be slapped in the face by my own church?” “All of them,” he replied sadly.

I know, I know. I really ought to leave. Except that I have nowhere else to go. The church that honed my soul and sharpened my thinking is still my home — my bigoted, outdated home. Why should I have to leave?

On the other hand, why bother baptizing girls if we can never, ever have full participation in the church? Why bother with Confirmation, unless to make sure we understand that we’ll never be fully wanted? Why let us in the door if we can’t be trusted to make policy or even determine what happens to our own bodies? Why not just be honest and come right out and say it: “The Catholic Church: We’re not big on chicks”? At least we’d know what we were getting into.

I brought my husband into this church. At some level, I must think it capable of change (just like every other woman in an abusive relationship am I right?). But what I won’t let it do is hold me back.

Today is Easter Sunday, a day on which Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb on the third day after his crucifixion.

The Cross is the universal emblem of the Christian faith, and its poignant significance resonates around the world. But another symbol I hold dear is the rock. The stone that was rolled away after the resurrection always reminds me: you don’t have to stay in bondage. If you think you can’t get out of an abusive or untenable situation, remember the stone that was rolled away. You can and you will. Pray about it, then get up and go.

There’s also something solid and unchanging about the symbol of a rock in a changing and challenging world.

When I think of Psalms, this is the one I always return to:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:2 NIV

In that passage, there’s so much “strength” mentioned that I feel encouraged every time I read it. Like I’m getting stronger just sitting here. Now that would be an exercise plan I’d sign onto: sit and strengthen. That could be a thing!

The core principles we learned as children are like bedrock. Treat people well. Take care of your body like a temple. Do the work in front of you with all your heart. Be forgiving of yourself and of others.

I may not belong to a particular denomination, and my pew may be this chair I’m sitting in right now, but between the rock and the cross, my faith has a firm foundation. Easter blessings to you and yours!

Today, Holy Thursday, begins the Triduum, the three days that recollect and celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Most of us know this story well. We’ve pondered that journey. But how often do we think about the people who walked the path with Jesus?

Simon of Cyrene was picked out of the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross. How and why was he chosen? Well, we know he was from Africa. He might have been a person of color. Or the Roman guards simply noticed he wasn’t Jewish — he was “other.” Or he might have expressed sympathy for Christ. Whatever the reason, he is an outsider, someone from the fringes — the type of person Jesus favored in life.

The women of Jerusalem wept for Jesus and were comforted by him. Women weren’t exactly valued commodities in Jesus’ day. They were mostly seen as possessions, with no voice or agency of their own. Yet Jesus turns to women again and again in his life and along the road to his death — he listens to them. He values them. He speaks to them. Again, Jesus chooses the outsider.

Veronica wipes Jesus’ face. Again, a woman does the unthinkable, and Jesus rewards her with kindness.

The penitent thief (sometimes called Dismas) is crucified next to Jesus. What do we know about him? People were crucified for all sorts of crimes in Jesus’ day, but to be crucified for mere petty theft would have been a long shot, unless the thief was from the lower classes, or worse, a slave. Or the theft was far from petty — it was violent and extreme. There is some conjecture that the “thieves” were more like terrorists. Once again, it someone from the fringes, someone most unlikely, who responds to Christ’s call. In radically changing his heart, Dismas is promised paradise.

Women. Foreigners. Criminals. These are the people who walked the way of the cross with Jesus. Not his apostles. Not religious leaders. It was the most unlikely of people who shared the journey.

People are always amazed when I tell them that SueBE, Ruth and I have never met in person. Yet in my dark nights of the soul, they consistently walk with me. This Easter, take some time to ponder who walks with you. You just might be surprised.

Funny that this should pop up as we head into Easter.  This year, women throughout the Presbyterian Church, USA are studying God’s promise to us all.  I am with you.  Again and again throughout the Old Testament, that is what he tells his followers.  When Haggai, the prophet, comes to God’s people, he comes with a message.  “I am with you.”  When King Ahaz asks for help, Isaiah brings the message, “I am with You.”

Christ is that promise in the flesh.  I am with you here and now.  You can hear me if you will listen.  You can see me if you will look.

Imagine how hopeless all must have seemed on Good Friday for Christ’s followers.  He was crucified, dead and buried.  He had been among them. He has spoken to them, broken bread with them, and walked beside them on the road.  What now?

I know that I often feel like that.  What now?

As Christians, we celebrate the risen Christ.  I am with you here and now.  You can hear me if you will listen.  You can see me if you will look.

–SueBE

 

This week in women’s Bible study we read 2 Chronicles 20 about King Jehoshaphat and his defeat of several enemy kings.  It wasn’t that Jehoshaphat didn’t have a mighty army.  He did!  But God told them to stand firm and watch and God would take care of it all.  And the two allied armies defeated each other.

Read the Bible and time and time again you will find stories of impossible things – a few loaves and fished feeding a multitude, water turning into wine, a sea parting.  These things don’t happen because someone worked super hard or had a plan for instant success.

Nope.

God did the impossible.

If you are a type-A control freak like I am, the thought that great things can be done if I stand firm and believe is disconcerting.  Isn’t there a plan?  Five easy steps?  A schematic?

But no.  The key is standing firm in God.

Now if only I could remember that when I’m scrambling around trying to figure out what to do.

Stand firm.  Believe.

–SueBE

What does it mean to be a patriot?  For some people, it means a willingness to serve in the military.  For others it means voting in every election.  For others, it is a matter of saluting the flag.

Right now we are studying Ephesians in adult Sunday school.  This letter emphasizes that the people who originally made up the church were divided – Jews and Gentiles.  There were hard feelings between the two groups.  Yet, through Christ they became one.

Then the lesson’s author asked us to think about what this might mean in the contemporary church.  What two groups might Christ bring together into a seamless whole?  One of the pairings she suggested was political liberals and conservatives.

What would our nation be like if we came together as one? I have to admit, I have no idea.  It certainly doesn’t seem to be something we can accomplish on our own.  But the first step might include recognizing that patriotism means different things to different people and that we can use our talents to be patriots, each in our own way.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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