July 23, 2006

A Loose Woman

Sarah Dylan Breuer
The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, July 22, 2006
Canterbury House, the University of Michigan

Mary Magdalene has never gotten so much press as she’s getting now. With The Da Vinci Code, everyone’s talking about her. And what do we know about her?

She had this reputation in art and popular imagination as being literally a whore, a prostitute. A close reading of New Testament texts about her shows that this is a very silly thing to say. We find out in Luke chapter 8 that seven demons had been cast out of her, and we also find out in Luke 8 that she and a few other women who traveled with Jesus funded the mission they shared — they “provided” for the band of Jesus’ disciples “out of their resources.” In other words, they had wealth of their own, and the freedom to travel with it and do with it what they saw fit. And neither Luke nor any other New Testament writer identifies Mary and these women by their family relationships. There’s no note that this was “Mary, the wife of George” or “the mother of Fred,” or even “the daughter of Jamal” — she’s just “Mary, called Magdalene.”

All of these clues — her lack of family identifiers when people speak about her, and even more than that her freedom to travel with Jesus and spend her money as she felt best — suggest that Mary Magdalene was unattached in conventional terms. Literally, she was a “loose woman.”

And there we have the likely source of that persistent rumor that she was a sinner or a prostitute — neither of which is even implied in any canonical gospel.

So thank God we have The Da Vinci Code to set the record straight. The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, admittedly, but it’s got this page at the front of it that says that all of the historical claims forming the background of the novel were meticulously researched and are true, true, TRUE! — though those villains in the church who compiled the New Testament canon have tried to keep the truth from us. The truth, according to The Da Vinci Code, is that Mary Magdalene was really a person of inestimable importance in early Christianity because she was secretly the wife of Jesus of Nazareth and the father of a number of children by him.

And I’ve got to say that The Da Vinci Code really, really pisses me off on this point.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I want to scream. After all that women and supportive men have struggled for in the movement for women’s suffrage in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, after the early feminist movements of the sixties and seventies, after women became prime ministers in governments around the world, after women were ordained as priests and consecrated as bishops and now elected — Hallelujah! — as our next Presiding Bishop — after all of this, the only way The Da Vinci Code can think of to say that Mary Magdalene was or is important is to say that she was married to and had babies with a really important man?

Come on!

I have problems with this as a historian. For starters, in the first century, the norm for spiritual leaders in both Jewish and Roman cultures was NOT that they should be celibate. Celibacy was seen as weird and more than a little threatening for both men and women. For the vast majority of Jews, God’s word in Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply” was seen as a COMMAND, not just a warm wish, and any rabbi who didn’t marry and beget Jewish babies was breaking God’s command and threatening the very existence of Israel. And Roman culture had a lot of the same pressures.  Caesar Augustus was the original “family values” politician — ruling an empire decimated by civil wars, his domestic policies were crafted to encourage people to marry and have as many children as they could. Roman culture was also big into machismo — a man who didn’t have children was the object of pity or the butt of jokes, and a man who didn’t want to prove his manhood and “Prove It All Night,” as Bruce Springsteen would say, by having sex with women, was just plain weird.

All that’s to say that if the early Christians could have convinced anyone that Jesus of Nazareth did marry and have children, they would have been shouting it from the rooftops, not lying and murdering to conceal it. “HEY!” they would have been shouting to potential converts, “Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t as weird as you might have heard. He was a REAL man — and here are his beautiful wife and strapping sons to say so!”

The bottom line was that Jesus’ disciples couldn’t get around the embarrassing truth: that Jesus never married, never had children, and the “loose women” who traveled with him weren’t around for Jesus or anyone else to prove their manhood.

But the real problem I have with what The Da Vinci Code does to Mary Magdalene isn’t about historical truth, but about theological insight and prophetic vision. In a sentence, here’s my problem with The Da Vinci Code on Mary Magdalene:

It isn’t anywhere near radical enough.

Not nearly. Not by a long shot.

The Da Vinci Code wants to say, in effect, that THE importance and the very identity of a woman is defined by her relationship to a man. You couldn’t get a more conventional view out of some first-century “Focus on the Roman Family” or the “Sadducees’ Committee to Keep Women Barefoot and Pregnant in the Kitchen.” I’m not pissed off by The Da Vinci Code because I think sex is bad and good people don’t have it. God made sex, and sex is good — if we’re lucky and get the opportunity to practice it — a lot — over the years in a really good relationship, it’s mind-blowingly good. But for God’s sake — and I mean that — for the sake of the God who sent us Christ Jesus, let’s not look at ourselves and our sisters and brothers in Christ so darn CONVENTIONALLY.

We get enough of that, don’t we? All of us live in a world that is constantly trying to evaluate our worth based on our attachments. Who’s your daddy? Who’s your girlfriend or your boyfriend? What school do you go to, and what fraternity or sorority did you join? What company do you work for, and what’s your title? And believe you me, as an openly gay woman, I meet lots and lots and LOTS of people who want to say that my identity and my vocation is ALL about who I do and don’t sleep with.

Honey, that ain’t liberation. That’s not the freeing, joyful, gracious, saving word that God has for us tonight.

So tonight, I want to claim Mary Magdalene as my patron saint. Tonight I want to invite all of us to claim Mary Magdalene as a patron saint. And I want to say a few words from scripture about what that might mean.

It means hearing and choosing to respond to God’s call — not just once, but every day. Mary heard and responded with all that she was and with all that she had. She found in the community of Jesus’ followers a group of women and men who weren’t going to define her by who she slept with or by any other attachment — and she claimed her identity and her vocation in Christ as an apostle — as one sent and urged on by the love of Christ, called to “regard no one from a human point of view.” And she wasn’t going to let go of that. So when so many of Jesus’ other disciples — his male disciples — looked at Jesus in chains, Jesus on a Roman cross, and regarded him from a human, conventional point of view as a failure and a lost cause, Mary didn’t give in, but went to the tomb. And that’s why scholars call Mary Magdalene “the apostle to the apostles.” She was there at the tomb, and she saw the risen Jesus, and she was sent by Jesus to tell the guys who were busy wondering whether they could get their old jobs and their old roles back that the world was coming to new life in Jesus, who was and is alive.

And I dare say that following the Risen Christ who chose Mary Magdalene as the first apostle of Easter means being a “loose woman” or a “loose man.” It means refusing to be bound by our attachments to anything that might compromise the radical freedom we have to follow Jesus, to relate to one another as human beings made in God’s image and called to full, joyful, abundant life. I’m sure that Mary had plenty of people in her life who were quick to remind her of who she was supposed to be, people who tried to teach her to know her place. But she already knew her place, and it was in Christ — going where God called her and living with the kind of freedom to bring all of who she was to God’s service in the community of sisters and brothers God called. You know, there are basically three words for women in Greek: there are wives, virgins, and whores. Mary Magdalene as a “loose woman” following Jesus taught us another word for a woman that I want to claim for myself and I hope you’ll claim too. When everyone around her wanted to figure out whether Mary was a wife, a virgin, or a whore, she claimed her identity as an apostle, a woman or man sent by Jesus to proclaim the kind of freedom in Christ that Mary found as a “loose woman.” And woman or man, young or old, rich or poor, and whatever other descriptor anyone might want to present as THE definitive thing that should keep us shut in to the roles that “from a human point of view” make us worth anything or nothing, we can thank God in the tradition of the Apostle Mary Magdalene that in Christ we are loosed from all of those conventional bonds and freed for life in the Risen Christ, the life that brings life to the world.

Thanks be to God!

July 23, 2006 in Year B | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 17, 2006

"Ain't Got Time to Die"

Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland
Sunday, 12 March 2006; Second Sunday in Lent, Year B

Mark 8:31-38 - link to NRSV text

I once heard a sermon suggesting that Jesus' command to deny self, take up the cross, and follow him could be as easy as picking up an empty beer can on the beach and throwing it away.

This is a different sort of sermon.

I'm not going to say that taking up the cross is as easy as picking up a beer can. I don't think such a thing could even be said in Jesus' time or Mark's. In their time, a cross wasn't a pattern for jewelry, but an instrument of terror as well as torture and death. They knew absolutely and inescapably something that we 21st-century folk have to learn: namely the darkness of the cross. Jesus' earliest followers knew the dark realities the cross represented in their time, and therefore they understood just how powerful the light of Christ is in transforming the Cross into a symbol of liberation.

So to appreciate what writers like Mark and St. Paul were doing in presenting the cross as central to our following Jesus, we need to start with the darkness of the cross. And the Cross is a dark place, a monument to how we, "blessed with reason and skill," in the words of one of our Eucharistic prayers, make use of God's gifts to engineer darker and narrower prisons for ourselves. The Roman culture that invented the cross was known for its ingenuity in making use of simple and natural forms for engineering. Shape stones a certain way, and they form an arch that will support tremendous structures, held together by gravity and friction in a way that makes mortar a mere formality. Chart the right pathway for it, and water can be propelled over a tremendous distance solely by natural gravity in aqueducts.

And perhaps the height of Roman engineering, ingenious in its simplicity, was the cross. Take heavy posts, and set dozens and dozens of them along the busy roads into the city. Set brackets in them to receive a horizontal beam. Nail or even tie a man's hands to a beam, set that beam across the pole in brackets, and you have an excruciating form of torture and slow death that takes little time or effort to start but days to finish. Rulers like Pontius Pilate didn't hesitate to use it. It was diabolically simple, cost-effective, and highly visible as a public deterrent to those who would oppose the might of Rome. During the Passover season, as Jerusalem became clogged with pilgrims remembering how their God liberates slaves from their oppressors, Pilate lined the roads with hundreds of crosses, each filled with a living tableau of how narrow and dark a prison we can make of our imagination when we set it upon wounding others.

In short, crucifixion was state-sponsored terror meant to keep the populace in line. It made one person suffer unspeakably, obscenely, excruciatingly, and made that suffering a sign for all to see that Rome was the ultimate power, able to bring hell on earth or peace and order.

Is that what the Cross signifies for us, then?

As St. Paul would say, by no means!

We can't realize -- that is, both understand and make a reality -- the meaning of the Cross without taking a moment at least to look at what it meant to the empire that occupied the Roman province of Palestine in Jesus' day. If our heart skips a beat, or if there's a sharp intake of breath when we think about the cross, that's a good sign. The crosses along the roads of the Roman Empire weren't bits of litter that could be picked up and put away by anyone who "gives a hoot." They formed a long, terrible gash, an open wound in human freedom, in the human imagination, in God's dream for humanity.

And yet it has become a sign of our freedom, our healing, the reconciliation of all Creation with one another and with God.

How is this? How can it be?

It can be -- it is -- in Christ Jesus, and his transformation of Rome's cross into something that for us marks the path of freedom and abundant life -- THAT just might be the most subversive act in history.

Across the Roman world, the cross was a symbol of power -- the power of empire, the power of armies, the power to dominate. And we'll need to look hard at and talk frankly about power if we're going to claim fully what the Cross means to us as Christians.

"But what's with this power stuff?" you might be thinking, "isn't the Cross important to us because that's how Jesus died?" Yes ... but think about it this way. If the only thing we knew about Jesus was that he died on a cross, we would have no clue that Jesus was special. The Passover season was a time when the people of Israel were called to celebrate their liberation from oppression, and thousands upon thousands of people made their way to Jerusalem each year to do precisely that. Imagine for a moment those crowds on every street corner, and imagine the mood among those gathered to celebrate liberation. The combination made Roman authorities in Judea very nervous, and when Roman authorities got nervous, they tended to crucify first and ask questions later, or never. So in all likelihood, when Jesus died on a cross just outside Jerusalem's walls during the Passover season, he was surrounded not just by two men, but by dozens. In that sense, Jesus' death was nothing special. Even Jesus' resurrection would just be an item for "news of the weird" or grist for an episode of The X-Files or Smallville, if all we knew about Jesus was that he died and then was alive again. Or let's say that I tell you that the Plain Dealer this morning had a credible story about some guy named Jim Gundersen in Minnesota who'd had been executed by lethal injection and certified as dead, but then was alive again three days later. I have a hunch that most of us would be saying, "Huh, That's really weird," and not "Where is he? Tell me, so I can go worship him!"

So why is Jesus different for us? Why are Jesus' death and resurrection so important for us that we gather to tell the story every time we break bread in this place? One way to think about it -- the way I want to concentrate on this morning -- is that Jesus' death and resurrection have meaning for us because of the way Jesus LIVED.

But what was it about Jesus' manner of life that so transformed the cross for those who love him? I think it's related to something I've noticed this year as I've written week by week on the Gospel According to Mark.

It has to do with the title "son of God," which is NOT Mark's favorite way of talking about Jesus. He doesn't use that title much, but he presents Jesus as being God's son at three crucial points -- all of which we visit over the course of Lent and Holy Week -- as he tells "the beginning of the Good News of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God."

We hear the phrase at Jesus' Baptism, when he has a vision of the Spirit descending upon him, and Jesus hears God call him as a beloved son. And empowered by that experience, Jesus enters the desert.

We hear the phrase at Jesus' transfiguration on the mountaintop, as Jesus is called as a prophet alongside Moses and Elijah, and once more hears God saying, "this is my beloved child." Empowered by that experience, Jesus journeys toward his Passover in Jerusalem.

You may have noticed my saying "empowered." These are stories about Jesus claiming his power. Is that hard to hear? We need to hear it, though. We need to hear it to understand Philippians 2, to realize the vision of the Cross. Because it's at the foot of the Cross that Mark's third crucial use of the phrase appears, that someone -- a Roman soldier no less, a man whose humanity has been so wounded, so eroded, so subverted that he could put another man on a cross -- finally gets what Peter doesn't get in this Sunday's gospel, and this Roman soldier looks at the broken man above him and says -- knows -- "truly this man was God's son."

He gets it. He perceives Jesus' power in its fullness -- power made perfect in weakness, power poured out for the powerless. He's talking about what St. Paul was talking about when he wrote this in Philippians 2:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:1-11)

That's the way of the Cross, of Jesus' cross. Jesus claims his power, God's power, and he gets it -- that real power, God's power, is not a limited thing to be grasped, but an inexhaustible stream flowing freely to refresh and empower the weary and the marginalized.

What, then, might it mean for us to take up our Cross and follow Jesus? It's not a call to martyrdom -- if nothing else, saying that Jesus' blood shed on the Cross was a perfect, full, and sufficient sacrifice for sin, ought to suggest at the very least that God does not want or need any more bloodshed. God is not calling us to be a herd of lemmings. God calls us to be the Body of Christ. There's wisdom in the old spiritual:

'Cause when I'm healin' the sick
it takes all o' my time
'Cause when I'm feedin' the poor
I'm workin' fer the Kingdom…
'Cause when I'm givin' my all,
I'm servin' my Master ...
I ain't got time to die
oh Lord, I ain't got time to die

We are called to pray as Jesus taught us -- that God's kingdom would come and God's will done on earth as it is in heaven -- and then to SEEK that kingdom and seek it first. We are looking for and journeying toward nothing less than God's dream given flesh in the world! We see it every day in communities of justice and peace and hope and abundant, vibrant life, and until we see it everywhere -- on earth as it is in heaven -- we ain't got time to die. No Lord! We ain't got time to die.

But it is time to take up the Cross and follow Jesus. It's time to do with our power what Jesus did with his. This is a powerful congregation. Some of us have power by virtue of our education, our relative wealth in the world, our privilege in society, our voice. And those of us with that kind of power are often tempted to seek nothing more than charity. Charity is a start, but it can take us to a dangerous place in which we release some portion of our resources in order to get more power. We maintain a death grip on the unjust privilege that makes us wealthy, that gives us the illusion of control, and then we give away just enough to feel generous without seriously compromising our privilege.

The way of the Cross -- Jesus' way of life -- calls us to let go of that. Jesus' way calls us to be honest about the power we have -- that some of us have worldly power because of our skin color, our gender, our social class, our education, our birth in the most powerful nation in the world -- and then every one of us has spiritual power, world-changing power, because we are a community upon which God has breathed the Spirit. Taking up the Cross to follow Jesus means being clear about all of the power we've got as a community, and then letting all of that pour out -- "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24) -- to empower the poor and powerless.

That's what we remember when we gather as a community of Jesus' Cross, as people who share in Jesus' resurrection. We are called not only to make sure that the most marginalized have a place at the table, but also to recognize whose table it is. The table around which we gather belongs to Jesus the Christ, who saw, as Peter in this Sunday's gospel did not, that true power is made perfect in self-giving love, that the way of abundant life leads to the Cross. And the symbol of humanity's brokenness, of power corrupted to become domination, becomes a sign of peace, and freedom, and life.

Thanks be to God!

March 17, 2006 in Atonement, Cross, Jesus' Hard Sayings, Lent, Mark, Year B | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 06, 2003

“Listening for the Unlikely Prophet” - July 6, 2003

Proper 9, Year B
Ezekiel 2:1-7; Psalm 123; Mark 6:1-6

I often wish God made discernment a little easier. Let’s face it – sometimes it’s hard to hear God’s voice, and to distinguish it from all of the other voices out there – from ego or culture, internalized parents or personal insecurities. Lauren Winner, in her book Girl Meets God, writes of a friend who liked to say, “I wish God would send a burning bush, but I’d settle for a smoldering houseplant!” Where are those spectacular signs we read about in scripture? And where are the prophets to tell us what God needs for us to hear?

You know the prophets – people like Moses or Jeremiah or John the Baptist. They wear flowing robes or hairshirts, and the really cool ones carry something like a huge staff that will turn into a snake when they throw to the ground. They’ve got huge booming voices, and they say things like, “WOE! WOE TO JERUSALEM!” and “REPENT!” It’s easy to tell them from ordinary people. For example: Charlton Heston at his peak – definite prophet material. Woody Allen – I don’t think so. Or in the Harry Potter universe, there’s magisterial, powerful Albus Dumbledore – clearly a prophet – and clumsy Neville Longbottom – clearly not.

It’s kind of a fun game, “spot the prophet.” I used to play it, albeit not consciously, in my own life, with pretty clear rules. It was very easy to do around the parish I went to a few years ago. The rector, Ed – definite prophet. He’s a big man with a big voice and a big library. Obviously important – people part like the Red Sea in front of him when he strides (prophets stride, don’t you think?) into a room. And then on the other end of the spectrum there was Merv.

Merv never missed one of the bible classes I taught at church. Merv was a sweet, sweet man, to be sure. But the class was usually pretty intense and intellectual, and when he made a comment, he invariably broke up the flow of things with something like, “what this verse says to me is that we really should just love each other – that would take care of everything.” He’d say that even when the verse in question was from one of those passages about some wicked person getting slain in a nasty way and turned into dog food. Merv showed up eagerly every Sunday, though, and was always overflowing with things to say to me that were very kind, albeit a little “Precious Moments.” Merv was retired and liked woodworking – he was missing half a finger, and I assumed that he lost it in some kind of accident with a table saw – and one time I remember he gave me a little wooden rabbit he’d made, on which he’d written, “You’re no-bunny ‘til some-bunny loves you.”

Merv was sweet to the point of being saccharine, and I looked down my nose at him with every ounce of youthful hubris and intellectual pride I could muster – which was a lot. He was just so naïve! It was all well and good for him to talk endlessly about sappy drippy love and how it could overcome everything, but clearly this was a guy who had never gotten out in the world to see real pain, real difficulties that can’t just be wished away with Hallmark platitudes. Here was a guy who had absolutely nothing to teach me. Here was the anti-prophet.

That’s what I thought, anyway. So I wasn’t all that thrilled when Merv joined a small group fellowship I was in – the one thing I was doing where I wasn’t leading and had a chance just to learn from others. I was kind of annoyed. Merv talked a lot sometimes, and I wanted to be hearing from prophets, people who knew stuff I didn’t and could teach me.

And then one night in small group, Merv came in angry. Someone in his senior citizens’ community center was saying that the Holocaust never happened, or was greatly exaggerated. And Merv told us why that made him so angry. He lost his finger fighting in World War II. He took part in the first wave of American land invasions across Europe. And one day, he and his buddies came across an airplane hangar in the countryside, and they went inside to see what was there. Nothing they’d heard about, nothing anyone was talking about at home and nothing in the briefings they got, had prepared them for what they saw. The entire hangar, Merv said, was filled with bodies, stacked nearly to the ceiling in places, all the way across the huge structure. Merv had seen the Holocaust in all its unspeakable and incomprehensible horror before it had a name.

That night, for the first time, I was really LISTENING to Merv, and I was deeply and appropriately ashamed. I had been telling myself that I knew Merv, that I knew enough about him to know that I had nothing to gain from listening to him. I thought I knew that if only he had my intellect, my travels, and my experience, he’d know better than to talk about things the way he did. In my pride, I almost missed one of the most powerful testimonies I’ve ever heard, and probably ever will hear. Far from being naïve, Merv had seen the worst humankind has to offer, and somehow he had come through it with the deepest faith I’ve ever seen in God’s love and in the power that love has to transform our world when we embrace it. He was a spiritual giant, and I sinned grievously against him. Ezekiel’s harsh words to the impudent and stubborn who refuse to hear spoke against me that day.

Merv taught me a great deal on that night and on succeeding weeks, and I thank God for humbling me through him. But perhaps you can understand why it was easy for me to dismiss him before then. Jesus was wise to warn us that prophets aren’t respected in their hometown. It can be hard to LISTEN, to “listen with the ear of your heart,” as the Rule of St. Benedict says, to those we think we know, or to those we think we know enough about to dismiss. It’s tempting in our home town to pick out the people we don’t need to listen to – the ones who are too mousey, too stuck-up, too liberal, too conservative, too gay, too closed-minded, too superficial, too abrasive. It’s hard to think of your child as a prophet, or your parent, or your neighbor. It’s tempting to divide the world into discrete categories: people we can learn from on one hand, and people who need our help, on the other. But we take a terrible risk if we don’t listen, and listen deeply, whenever we can.

There’s a legend about a rabbinic school whose leader was told by an angel that the Messiah would visit them. This rabbi was overjoyed and much encouraged – for years, the school had been withering, with fewer and fewer students, while the ones who were remained became more and more unhappy. But they were going to be honored with a visit from the Messiah! The angel said that the Messiah would be disguised and might already be among them, so the community would need to listen carefully to find out who the blessed visitor was. The rabbi thought long and hard about who it might be, and called others in to ask their opinion of whether it was one of those among them, and if so, who. Students were asked for their thoughts, their stories – everyone was eager to see whether one of them might be the one they were waiting for. Once everyone was listening, it seemed that each one had some gift, some goodness, that would make that person a candidate. Each also had moments of pettiness that raised doubts and kept the community’s eyes peeled for other possible candidates. Someone suggested that it might even be the woman who did the washing for them community, or the cook, or the beggar who asked for help. And the search went on. They never identified who it was, the story goes, but the school grew as it never had before – not only in size, but in joyfulness and prayerfulness and sincere love for each other and for God. The reason was that in the community’s wondering who was the Messiah among them, they became a listening community, a family of brothers and sisters who took time and care to hear each other’s stories, thoughts, and dreams, who treated every person they saw, no matter how humble, as they would treat the wisest teacher, the most honored guest, the Messiah.

St. Martin’s could be this kind of listening community – a community that knows and treasures one another’s stories and eagerly invites others to tell theirs, a community that never assumes we know the whole story, but journeys with one another as the story develops. A community of deep listening is one in which no one need be anxious about being heard, and all of the energy we put into seeking recognition and getting our way is freed up for seeking out and receiving graciously and gratefully all those whose gifts would help us become more fully the Body of Christ, whose stories would help us learn more of the story of God’s redemption of the world.

It takes a substantial investment of time and energy to become a community of deep listening. I’d seen Merv weekly for months without hearing his story. It was only after being in relationship in a small group with him, a group that had covenanted to listen to one another and developed hard-won intimacy, that I got to hear the story I’ll never forget. That’s one reason I hope that many of you will participate in the small groups ministry we’re planning to launch this Fall, that you’ll invest the time and energy it takes to build that kind of community and to share it with others we don’t yet know. We become most fully ourselves, most fully the person God made us to be, in relationship with others. For that reason, we’re not just being generous when we take the time to build relationships in which those powerful and precious stories can be told and heard. When we listen deeply, we can hear Christ’s voice in the stories shared, we can see Christ’s face in the face of our sister or brother. When we listen deeply, we can recognize the hometown prophet in those we are tempted to dismiss because they are too familiar or too strange, because they make us uncomfortable or because we are too comfortable in the relationship as it’s defined to want to go deeper. When we listen deeply to God’s children, we hear the voice of God the Father.

Whether we hear or refuse to hear, as Ezekiel tells us, there is a prophet among us. There’s someone whose story you need to hear for Jesus’ power to be shown in your life, for Jesus to heal you more deeply and free you more fully. I’m not willing to place any bets on who it is; after all, as the church we are living into the vision of the prophet Joel, in which God says,

I will pour out my spirit on ALL flesh;
  your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
  your old men shall dream dreams,
  and your young men shall see visions.
  Even on the male and female slaves,
  in those days, I will pour out my Spirit.

The best advice I can give is to start listening to the person you would least expect to teach you something. Discover your hunger for their story. And it doesn’t hurt to pray, either. There’s a prayer I find particularly helpful, and I’d like for us to pray it together. Please open the red Book of Common Prayer in front of you to page 833, and stand with me to pray the prayer attributed to St. Francis:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is
  hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where
  there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where
  there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where
  there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to
  be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
  to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is
  in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we
  are born to eternal life. Amen.

Thanks be to God!

July 6, 2003 in Mark, Ordinary Time, Year B | Permalink | Comments (0)