Category Archives: Faith & Culture

Enough for All

bread crumbsProper 15A: The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

I don’t know about you, but this summer has been hard. If you listen to any news reports – whether it is in print, radio, television, or social media it has been hard. One would have had to been on a news fast, removed from all contact with the outside world to be oblivious to all that has been going on. Hatred, bitterness, anxiety, and violence seem to be permeating our society, here in the U.S. and in the world. Rockets launched into neighborhoods and school yards in Gaza and Israel; Christians in fear of their lives in Iraq; tear gas on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri; and children held like prisoners on our borders.

All of these events make me feel uncomfortable in my safe life, far from the hardships and heartbreak of others around the globe. Why do these news flashes continue to interrupt my summer? Where is Jesus in the midst of all the chaos of the summer of 2014?

According to the second portion of today’s gospel, Jesus has gone on retreat. It’s summertime. He’s just done a tremendous amount of ministry – feeding 5,000, walking on water, stilling a storm, preaching and teaching all over the countryside with crowds not letting up on him. He wants a vacation! I would suspect most of us understand that any job (or ministry) can be exhausting and one needs some time away.

So Jesus has gone far from home to a place that no one will know who he is. He is seeking some respite time, a place to pray and play with the disciples – he’s on vacation with the guys in a foreign land – Vegas? Rio? San Tropes? Gentile territory!

Yet he cannot escape the world around him. Along comes a woman – a Canaanite women, at that – barging in to their men’s retreat. This Syrophoenician woman lives on the other side of the tracks in Jesus’ day: pagan, female, foreigner. But most of all she is a desperate mother seeking help for her baby. And the presence of this unrelenting, howling woman is too much to bear. Kind of like the news feed across my computer and airways – too much to bear, but too much to ignore.

But Jesus is silent. We all know how bothersome it is to be doing something privately and to be interrupted by someone from the outside. It’s hard to ignore. She’s willing to receive less than given a dog to support her child. Finally, the disciples beg Jesus to do something; they just wanted it to stop.

So Jesus attempts to send the woman away. But she persists, because she sees who he really is. Finally, Jesus points out the obvious to her: she is not who he has been sent to save. But she sees clearly that Jesus has been sent by God to preserve life. Her faith is great and she is not going to give up. Her life is worth it too.

Jesus never turns anyone away. Why does he in this story today? Is Jesus really trying to ignore her? Or is he testing her, and his disciples? Is he trying to get the disciples to expose their racism, only to pull the rug out from under them to suddenly heal her daughter? Does Jesus teach his countrymen a lesson about God’s all-embracing love and grace?

The despair of this woman seems to be the despair of so many in our world today. Perhaps we can learn from her stubborn, unstoppable love and be reminded of God’s love for all of us – Jew, Gentile, rich, poor, black, white, male, female, young, old.

This week our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, urged Episcopalians to observe today:

as a day of prayer for those in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East living in fear of their lives, livelihoods, and ways of living and believing.

Her call for prayer is in response

to violence in Iraq that has included the slaying of Christians, Yazidis, and other Iraqi minorities; the destruction and looting of churches, homes, and places of business; and the displacement of thousands under the threat of death.[1]

Displacement is not only occurring in the Middle East. From a statement in July, Bishop Katharine also spoke of the border crisis in this country:

The influx of vulnerable people from Central America, including unaccompanied minors as well as mothers with children continues to challenge the United States to respond compassionately. Like Sudanese or Syrian refugees, these people are fleeing hunger, violence, and the fear of rape, murder, and enslavement. The violence in Central America has escalated significantly in recent months, particularly as a result of gangs and trafficking in drugs and human beings. These people are literally fleeing for their lives.[2]

Of those crossing the border this year, more than 57,000 have been unaccompanied children.

What are we to do with all of this? Perhaps have faith. Accept the grace that God gives to all of us. And pray.

Eric Law, an Episcopal priest and author writes:

The faith of the Syrophoenician woman was her ability to get even Jesus to think outside the box of cultural, societal, and political limits. She challenged Jesus to move beyond thinking that he was a Jewish teacher/healer and therefore, he could heal only Jews. She convinced Jesus that even what he considered ‘crumbs’ could be the beginning of extending his healing ministry to all nations.

We hear this in Paul’s letter to the Romans; he speaks of the irrevocability of God’s gifts and calling. The Kingdom of God is for everyone – even “those” people – no matter who “those” people may be. God’s gifts are for everyone. God seeks the best in every situation, even the difficult ones. God has given us all that we need. Our call is to share what we have with others – whether it be food, water, safety, or freedom. Through God’s grace we can be examples of reconciliation in a world gone out of control.

Eric goes on to say:

In the midst of international conflicts over who controls which piece of land, who belongs to which country, and what resource belongs to whom, where are the faithful people, like this woman, who confront the powerful with the basic message of abundance? The message is: There is enough if only we share just our crumbs. When are we going to realize that this earth has enough land for everyone on earth to have a safe home? When are we going to grasp the fact that the earth produces enough food to feed everyone on earth? All we need to do is stop protecting, stop fighting, and stop sharing![3]

There are crumbs enough to go around for all of us. If we dare to call ourselves, and one another, children of God, perhaps we will find Jesus in these unexpected places. The places where we even might try to escape this summer or the coming months. The world is not going to go away, nor will the questions that call us to respond to those in human need.

Our Psalm today speaks of blessing and unity. Author Brenè Brown calls us to courage. She says:

When confronted with news of a stranger’s unimaginative pain – a suicide, an overdose, a protest for justice and basic dignity – we have two choices: we can choose to respond from fear or we can choose courage. If we are people of faith, we hold ourselves accountable for living that faith by practicing grace and bringing healing. If we consider ourselves to be loving, it means acting with compassion.[4]

Although the events of this world may seem at a distance, the choices we make in our lives have consequences far beyond ourselves. Our words and actions can make the world a more dangerous and threatening place; we can instead choose our words carefully and listen for the truth. We can choose love over fear, abundance over scarcity. And that takes courage. Bishop Katharine calls us to prayer. Perhaps this should be our prayer for the coming days and weeks as this summer of 2014 begins to come to an end – from BCP p. 815:

Eternal God,
in whose perfect kingdom
no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness,
no strength known but the strength of love:
So mightily spread abroad your Spirit,
That all peoples may be gathered
under the banner of the Prince of Peace,
as children of one Father;
to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

*A sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, CT, August 17, 2014.

[1] August 12, 2014 press release from Episcopal News Service

[2] August 17, 2014 church bulletin insert from The Episcopal Church

[3] Eric H.F. Law. “Sharing Crumbs”, The Sustainist, August 15, 2014.

[4] http://brenebrown.com/2014/08/14/choose-courage/

The Most Important Word in the Bible

Sara Miles
Sara Miles (Photo credit: MarkPritchard)

Sara Miles, author of “Take This Bread” and “Jesus Freak” writes a compelling article for Daily Episcopalian, part of Episcopal Cafe.

Following on the heels of the Gospel appointed for July 21 – the “Mary / Martha” story, in which many believe it is a comparison to the contemplative vs. active life, Sara discusses the place of mission trips in her ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa’s feeding program in San Francisco. Continue reading

From Limit to Grace

backpackAnyone who has participated in any of Eric Law’s workshops or trainings or read some of his books, know that he is a gifted writer, musician and poet. His work on diversity and inclusion is well known throughout the Episcopal Church and beyond.

Eric weekly blogs on The Sustainist, offering reflections of the events occurring in our world as well as questions for pondering the Sunday lectionary readings. This week he shares a reflection on how we react when things happen in our society and what it means to live fully alive in a culture of fear.

From Limit to Grace

I carry a backpack containing my computer and the things I need for my meetings, workshops, travels and conferences all the time. I switched to a backpack a couple of years ago after carrying a heavy shoulder bag on one shoulder making my posture unbalanced for years. So, when in the midst of the frantic media reactions to the bombing at the Boston Marathon, someone suggested that we should ban all backpacks from public events, I was a little upset.  I was upset because this reaction to this tragedy was to set more limits, which is one of the typical responses to fear.  Here is the logic: since the last tragedy involved two people who carried backpacks with explosives, we should limit the use of backpacks to increase safety.  Using the same logic, why don’t we also ban baseball caps and immigrants from public events?

He suggests that we should be sustainists rather than setting even more limits that narrow our thinking. How are we living out Jesus’ command to “love one another”?

Read more of From Limit to Grace, including a link to listen to a song he wrote following the shootings in Sandy Hook in December entitled, “Sustain the Weary.”

Responding to Boston

candle people_huggingAgain, churches, schools and families are looking for resources to respond to another senseless act of violence. I have shared many on this site as well as Building Faith before.

The National Association of Episcopal Schools has just released this composite of resources again that is worth bookmarking: Responding to the Boston Bombing: Resources for Schools.

Links to a few of my previous postings:

An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation

candlelightA blog post from “I said I don’t know” that points to how the church is failing young adults . . .

I’m writing this because I’m worried about the safety of the Church. The Church keeps scratching its head, wondering why 70% of 23-30 year-olds who were brought up in church leave. I’m going to offer a pretty candid answer, and it’s going to make some people upset, but I care about the Church too much to be quiet. We’re scared of change. We always have been. When scientists proposed that the Earth could be moving through space, church bishops condemned the teaching, citing Psalm 104:5 to say that God “set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” But the scientific theory continued, and the Church still exists. I’m saying this: we cannot keep pitting the church against humanity, or progress. DON’T hear me saying that we can’t fight culture on anything. Lots of things in culture are absolutely contradictory to love and equality, and we should be battling those things. The way culture treats women, or pornography? Get AT that, church. I’ll be right there with you. But my generation, the generation that can smell bullshit, especially holy bullshit, from a mile away, will not stick around to see the church fight gay marriage against our better judgment. It’s my generation who is overwhelmingly supporting marriage equality, and Church, as a young person and as a theologian, it is not in your best interest to give them that ultimatum.

Read the whole post, which includes a video that gets to the heart of what this young adult is calling the church to pay attention to.

via An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation | “I Said I Dont Know.”–and Other Answers to Hard Questions.