Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Beginnings

It has been almost 3 years since I've posted anything ... but here we go:

I intended to keep this blog going after seminary and I didn't even make it to the end of seminary.  It seems I stopped while wrapping up my thesis.  Yes, I did finish it.  Yes, I did graduate.  Yes, I was ordained first a deacon and six months later a priest.  I've been serving in the same parish since July 1, 2012 and hope to remain here for a long time yet to come.  I've thought often of my orphaned blog but just haven't done anything about it.  I can say I've been using all my energy to get my feet on the ground and learn the ways of parish ministry and that's a big part of it.  But more than anything, I guess I've just procrastinated.  I do that ...

And so here it is, New Year's Day and I'm sitting here with my coffee reflecting on new beginnings.  To me that's what New Year's is, one more way we can rejoice in the hope of life that we have through Jesus Christ.  It's all about new beginnings.  We can mess up in the worst way imaginable and God will forgive us when we ask.  A new beginning.  If things haven't gone as we wanted them to, God gives us each new day to live into who he is calling us to be.  A new beginning.  If we've let things slip in our relationship with God or with others, we can try again to work at the habits and disciplines that all relationships require to be nurtured and to grow.  A new beginning.  When we let go of our own physical care, we can get up today and eat healthier and exercise more.  A new beginning.  If we've found ourselves caught up in negative views of the world and people around us, we can remember that we are to bring God's goodness into this world, turn off the sensationalist newscasts and smile at the next person we encounter.  A new beginning.

As we go through the church calendar each year, we live in the cycle of new beginnings over and over again.  It isn't about trying to be perfect but about letting ourselves be formed, continually, by our trying with God's help.  

I don't do New Year's Resolutions and I don't expect some miracle to take place at midnight every New Year's Eve that will instantly make me a better person.  But I do believe in Jesus Christ and the process known in theological circles as Sanctification - the ongoing formation of my being into someone who, when I willingly surrender to God's will, is made more and more like he desires me to be.  

So, I'm beginning again with my writing, using the talent that God has given me for his Glory.  I don't yet know how often, but I will go for a few times a week.  I don't yet know what all I'll write about but I hope you find it uplifting and formative.  I'm just beginning again, trying to hear what God is saying and doing my best to reveal his hope and love to this world.      

May the peace of the Lord be always with you.  
Mtr. Nancy+

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Woman Obsessed

I am a woman obsessed …I have 9 days to finish my thesis.  Every other assignment I have and just about every conversation I am a part of, I somehow manage to bring the topic of my thesis into it.  I am bouncing between moments of dreadful panic and near giddy excitement.  This morning I woke up writing a new paragraph in my head on a section I had already declared done.  I was almost late leaving for church because of adding it in.

Sometimes I think that it may turn out to be the musings of a starry eyed seminarian on the verge of starting in ministry.  I am realizing that the more I read and learn how MUCH more there is out there for me to learn.  Which, in the end, is the premise I come up with – that catechesis, our formation as Christians, is a lifelong process not restricted a few weeks of baptism or confirmation preparation.  I sweat blood over every single word of the theological foundation part, defining and discussing justification and sanctification; I was energized by the topic of Christian Character formation as seen in 1 & 2 Peter; I bored myself to tears in my analysis of the existing catechism in the Book of Common Prayer which I hopefully redeemed in my parallel between the Didache and the need for a “new” view of formation today; and I’m excitedly putting together a proposal for bringing this new view into a parish setting.  I’m exhausted, I’m still finding bursts of energy, I so very ready to be done with it, and yet I know I’ll feel an emptiness when I turn it in.  I’m not at all fretting over the mark I will get on it (okay, maybe I’m a bit concerned that I haven’t said anything heretical in the theology…) but anxious to share it with others who have shown an interest in it.  It is, and will be for another 9 days, a wonderful ride that I don’t regret for a minute getting on.  

My work on my thesis is not just the books in my bibliography or the hours I’ve spent writing it specifically, but fruit of my own formation.  And, more importantly, it isn’t the “end”.  It is what I hope will be a seed that will bear fruitful research, formation, and writing in the years to come. 

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
   incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
   I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
   that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
   we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
   and the wonders that he has done.
Psalm 78:1-4

God’s peace be with you, my friends.  I’m going to make another cup of coffee and keep writing …

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Body Parts

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 1 Corinthians 12:14-26

Some of you may know that I’ve been having problems with my back that makes it very uncomfortable to sit for any length of time.  In working with my doctor and physiotherapist (Canadian to American translation = physical therapist) to determine what is causing the constant sensation that I’ve hit my tailbone, what they’ve come up with is that my right hip is out of alignment.  Apparently, after I broke my ankle two years ago I never did start walking properly on my right foot again.  My hip and leg didn’t stop compensating for when the ankle was injured and the foot and ankle just got used to not carrying their proper load.  Now, I’m doing physical therapy and acupuncture twice a week and daily exercises to retrain my foot and leg and hip to work as they are designed and not only does my back hurt but so do my foot and ankle and leg.  My physiotherapist assures me it won’t all hurt forever, that eventually the movement and weight bearing of walking will be set to rights and all will be well.  

I’m pretty sure I could just stop right here and y’all would get the point … but since you’re here and I’ve still got coffee to finish, let’s proceed.  Our physical bodies are amazingly designed.  The “parts” are so connected in their movements and functions that it’s almost difficult to designate them as “parts”.  When all is functioning properly, we don’t even have to think about our basic movements of sitting, standing, walking or running.  When we are injured, one part can compensate for another while healing takes place.  When we get a shoulder or back massage, the rest of our body relaxes and is refreshed at the same time.  As the Body of Christ, we are designed no differently.  

Each member of the Body has a particular purpose but those purposes can’t be fulfilled without the rest of the Body.  A foot, by itself can’t walk, it needs an ankle and leg and hip, my fingers, if disconnected from my hand, couldn’t type these words, they need my hands and wrists and arms and shoulders … and on and on.  The passage above comes in the middle of a discussion of spiritual gifts and if you look at what Paul mentions here as well as in Romans, they are gifts that can’t be lived into without others.  What good are wisdom and knowledge if we don’t impart them to others for the benefit of the whole body?  We can’t heal if there is no one else around.  Teachers can only be a teacher to another, giving only works if there is someone to give to, mercy and serving and helping all require another.  In Ephesians 4, Paul says that some are given the gifts to be apostles, prophets, preachers, pastors and teachers to enable others to use their gifts.  We are given gifts for the benefit of others and these gifts are part of what binds us together as Christians.  We are to be so intricately connected that we function best together.  And like the physical body, when one is injured and hurting, the others can bear extra loads for a time and help with the healing process.  When one rejoices we all rejoice, when one is injured we all hurt.  

Gracious God, thank you for the gifts of our physical bodies and for our spiritual gifts that enable us to participate with you in the care of all of your children and creation, through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one.’ Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

There is much going on here, far more than there is time to address in this short space (yes, I know blog space is unlimited but I’m think of both of our time commitments – I do try to keep my posts no more than half a cup of coffee long).  And, to fully understand the daily bits we get in the lectionary of what Paul is saying to the Corinthians, you need to look at the whole letter, but here we are with all this talk of knowledge and food and idols and weak consciences and just what are we to make of it? 

Paul is addressing the behavior of the Christians in Corinth, fully accepting the fact that each person’s behavior affects the community, a community of individuals of various ages and backgrounds, some of whom have been “in the faith” for a short time and others longer.  Paul wants them to understand that their faith and formation is a joint effort.  If I know that something I do causes you to question something about our faith in God, I need to be careful with my own “liberty”.  I must think of the other.  Will my behavior build you up or cause you harm?  Am I using my God-given gifts and talents as a member of the Body of Christ in a way that is beneficial or detrimental to the whole Body?  

This is a tough thing to think about – giving up our own interests for those of others.  We want to each be “important”, to matter and the good news is that we each do matter.  We are all equally children of God and God gives us his best, always and abundantly.  And that’s part of the point, letting God give us his best, not demanding what we think is best for us.  God created us out of the self-giving love that is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We are created in the image of the ultimate self-giving love to live in relation with God and with each other.  Giving up my own desires, like Paul was willing to give up eating meat so that others wouldn’t stumble in their faith, doesn’t make me less human but more fully human because it points toward the Image in which we were created and toward the Kingdom that is to come.  N. T. Wright, in his book After You Believe puts it this way: “It isn’t enough to pursue our own goals in private, precisely because the goal we have in view is not an escapist heaven but God’s kingdom of restorative justice and healing joy, coming upon the whole creation … the self is not in the center of that picture, God and God’s kingdom are in the center.”  

Almighty God, help us always to keep you and your kingdom at the center of what we do.  Amen.

Looking and Not Seeing

Here is the sermon I preached this past Friday in Morning Prayer.  Third years have to preach in chapel what our chaplain calls "bread and butter homilies" during our last semester - the challenge being to say something worthwhile and formative in 5-7 minutes.  It's a whole lot easier to do "fluffy" in 5 minutes than it is "formative".

Founders’ Chapel, Wycliffe College
March 9, 2012

Genesis 43:1-15

For the past two weeks, we’ve been reading through the story of Joseph and his brothers.  It’s a story of brothers feeling slighted because of a parent’s favoritism, a story of an older brother who tries in his own way to keep the peace, a story of a young man betrayed by his brothers and who can’t seem to stay away from trouble, and in the piece of the story we read today we see a grieving father afraid of further loss, a brother ready to be held accountable for the life of another brother, and a family that must once again, come together and humble themselves for the sake of their survival.  It is a story of a family with its dysfunctions and quirks and whose dynamics may not be too different from some of our own.  I can recall at least a time or two when my older brother and I teamed up against my sister for what we thought at the time were very valid reasons and of times they teamed up against me.  Of course, we never sold each other into slavery but we did occasionally try to exclude the other from what we were doing. 
I find the story of Joseph quite interesting and apparently others do to.  It’s been made into a Broadway musical staring Donny Osmond, quite a few animated movies, and even (my favorite) a Veggie Tales titled The Ballad of Little Joe, it’s a Western done in typical Veggie Tale fashion with Larry the Cucumber as Little Joe. 
One of the things in this story I find most fascinating is that when the brothers encounter Joseph in Egypt, they don’t recognize him, not even a glimmer of “hey, you remind me of someone”.  How is this possible?  I mean they were brothers, they grew up together.  How, even after the twenty plus years that have passed, could they not recognize their own brother? 
I guess when you think about it, though, we can’t really blame them.  They had sold him into slavery, not into a prestigious job in the pharaoh’s house.   Perhaps they even thought he was dead.  They told Joseph their “other” brother (they didn’t even give him a name) was “no more”.  To them, he no longer existed, whatever his fate had become.  His mere existence made his dreams of ruling over them a possibility and they couldn’t face that (don’t let the irony that they were actually bowing before him escape us here).  They had gotten rid of him, written him off, he was no longer part of their life because they didn’t want him to be.  His existence didn’t fit into their reality and the last place they expected to see him was in a place of authority under the Pharaoh.  And they certainly wouldn’t have expected Joseph to be charitable and generous towards them, not after what they had done to him. 
In one form or another, I’m sure we’ve all experienced this, from both sides of the equation.  We have overlooked the reality of another human being because they didn’t fit within our world, and we’ve been the one who wasn’t seen for who they really are.  And yet, some action on our part or the others part can shift our reality just enough for us to finally see the other clearly.  We know what this is like.
Even after Jesus’ resurrection, Mary and the Disciples didn’t recognize him and he had told them he was going to rise again.  But the risen Jesus didn’t fit into their human world of grief and loss.  Jesus had tried and tried to prepare them for the radical reality shift that was to come and they still missed it because it was so far beyond their understanding.  Saviors aren’t crucified, they conquer.  And dead people don’t generally come back to life.  Yet, in speaking to them and eating with them, Jesus was able to open their eyes to this new reality and they could see him for who he truly is – the Risen Savior. 
And through this lens of the resurrection we are given the ability to see those around us for who we each truly are – those the Risen Savior came to save.  And, if we let ourselves see it, we can know the true meaning of Christ’s words to us that when I was hungry you fed me and when I was naked you clothed me.  Joseph, by God’s grace and despite their history, was able to see his brothers as the family he loved and gave them more than what they needed.  Through the lens of the resurrection, by God’s grace, we have the ability to see each other as sisters and brothers in a new reality.  A reality shaped by the hope given to us in the Risen Savior that in the fullness of time all things will be set to right, our famines will become abundance and our broken relationships made complete.  Amen.