Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Called to Serve

Celebrate a Holy Lent with us.
Wednesday Evenings:
March 8, 15, 22, 29 and April 5

5:30-6:00 p.m. Stations of the Cross
6:00-6:30 p.m. Soup Supper in the Kitchen
6:30-8:00 p.m. Called to Serve Discussions
(and 7:00-8:30 p.m. Choir practice)

Using different versions of the Stations of the Cross prayers, we will meditate on Christ’s path to the cross as we journey towards resurrection with him.

We hope that everyone in the congregation will participate in the “Called to Serve” discussions led by vestry members.  In each discussion, we will explore our Baptismal Covenant and reflect on our current ministries.  We’ll ask what new work God is calling us to—here at Nativity and out in the world. We’ll begin to make plans for the next year. In these sessions we will work on our individual plans for growing in our baptismal ministries, and we’ll focus on what we can do collectively to serve God’s people and planet.
Learn about each discussion topic below (and over), and come to any or all that interest you. No reservation needed. Call Rev. Kirsten 510-207-6346 or Everil Robertson 415-497-9159 if you have any questions.

Called to Serve Discussion Series

March 8    Outreach and Social Justice (Led by Rev. Rebecca and Marti Rule)
How have we been serving God’s people in Marin and around the world individually and collectively? Are we hearing God calling us to new service or advocacy? Are there new issues that need our attention, or people who need our witness or help? What is our dream about what we might do? This discussion will be of interest to those involved in our current outreach mission and those who imagine new ministries for Nativity.

March 15    Worship Offered to the Glory of God (Led by Amanda Cairo and Bob Robertson)
What changes have we made in our worship at Nativity over the past few years? How is our weekly worship on Sundays and throughout the week shaping us for God’s work? How might we more fully engage every member of our congregation—our youngest members and our elders? How might our worship welcome new people into ministry with us? This is a discussion especially for our Choir, Altar Guild, Eucharistic Ministers, Readers, Ushers and anyone interested in worship.

March 22    Intergenerational Ministry and Church Growth (Led by Nancy Barnes and Everil Robertson)
In this conversation we will reflect on our experiments with special events for families and young people. We will think about ways we might support our youngest members and neighborhood families in their ministries. We will think about outreach to our LGBTQ neighbors and others who might want to make Nativity their church home. This conversation is especially for those who feel a call to family ministry, those involved with our Marin Episcopal Youth Group, and those who see potential for deepened invitation and welcome to families at Nativity.

March 29    Loving One Another--Pastoral Care and Fellowship (Led by Jeanette Hill and Rev. Kirsten)
What have we done to build up the Body of Christ over the past few years? How have we individually and collectively deepened our ties to one another through fellowship activities and pastoral care? Are we being called to new ways of showing God’s love in our congregation? How do we imagine newcomers being welcomed into our community? This conversation is especially for the Pastoral Care Committee, for newcomers, for those who remember “potluck partners,” and those who regularly participate in our monthly soup suppers.

April 5    Using our Church Building, Grounds, and Budget to Serve our Community (Led by Dick Heine and Susan Monahan)
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In this discussion we will think about how our unique treasures—our building, grounds and budget—might be best used to serve our community. How have our renovations prepared us to better serve our community? Are there needs that could be met by making financial donations either from our Church budget or from special fundraising events? Are there groups who are doing ministry aligned with ours who could benefit from our building and property? If we begin a Legacy Society or undertake a new fundraising campaign, what ministries would these resources support? This discussion is especially for the finance committee, those who have contributed to the building and grounds renovations either with work or financial support, and anyone interested in developing deeper partnerships with other community groups.


Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9
Psalm 2

The Transfiguration is about a face changed and the disciples’ vision and comprehension of Jesus’ true nature.  They get this powerful glimpse, affirmed by a vision of Moses and Elijah and the voice of God coming from the heavens.  But they don’t really know what to do with this vision.  They still don’t really understand about Jesus’ death and suffering.  They don’t really understand the work that Jesus still has to do to challenge the Roman authorities.  And they still don’t understand what it means for them to be followers of Jesus.
My friend Anna posted a picture on Facebook of her mother.  It was a picture of her mother in a wheelchair, with a bouquet of flowers in front of her.  It was her mom’s 82 birthday this week.  Beside that picture of Jane, her mom, she posted a picture of Jane nearly 80 years ago.  At age 2 or 3, Jane is sitting on her mother’s lap reading a book.
I know Jane.  I have met her many times.  In the past ten years since Anna and I have been friends I have watched a painful transformation.  Jane has declined, and she no longer walks.  She no longer wants to see many visitors.  She suffers depression and finds it hard to extend herself for other people.  She has stopped her volunteer activities.  Some days she doesn’t want to get up and have her hair done.  She no longer takes pleasure in her daily routines.
But when I looked at the birthday picture of Jane, I could see some light in her smile.  Under the lines of age, there was a glimpse of the young woman who lived a rich and joyous life.  One of Jane’s ministries was as a literacy tutor to people in prison.  She went to the prison every week and read with inmates.  When my friend Anna put the picture of Jane as a child, with a book on her lap next to the birthday picture, she was capturing something that had always been true about her mom.  Her love of books, her passion for reading, the delight of sharing a book. 
The two pictures of Jane—the childhood photo and the picture of her in the wheelchair are both the same person.  Jane has aged and been changed over time.  The hardships of her life show on her face, on her broken body.  But her true nature is still there, revealed in glimpses—in a smile, in the now infrequent laugh, or in the love that she still shows to Anna and her son and grandsons.
I am thinking about the pictures of Jane as I think about this story of the transfiguration. 
In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 16 (before the passage we heard today), Jesus has warned his disciples that he is going to suffer and die.  The chapter begins with Jesus questioning his disciples,  “Who do you think I am?”  And Simon Peter identifies him as the Messiah.  But Jesus goes on to predict his suffering and death.  He tries to explain that he will be persecuted and will die in Jerusalem, but that he will come again in glory with angels.  The disciples do not understand what Jesus is trying to tell them.  Simon Peter knows that Jesus is the Messiah, but he tries to stop him when Jesus explains what he will suffer.  (This is the part of the story when Jesus calls Peter a “stumbling block” and says, “get behind me Satan”.)
Peter and the other disciples are struggling to see Jesus clearly.  They know he is the Son of God, but they can’t understand that he must continue to follow God through human suffering to death.  They believe, but they don’t believe.  As we enter into Lent, we will be with Jesus on his journey to the cross, and we’ll hear Peter—this same Peter in the Garden of Gethsemene denying Jesus as the Messiah.
So in this context, we have today’s passage.  Jesus takes them up the high mountain (reminding them of Moses’ ascent up the high mountain).  And here they get another glimpse, Jesus’ true nature is revealed by his shining face, his dazzling white garments.  But even when Jesus’ divine nature is perfectly, clearly revealed.  And his identity is reinforced by the vision of Moses and Elijah with him;  Peter and James and John don’t know what they are supposed to do.  They think they must build tents.  They want to focus on creating a memorial, or a shrine, maybe they are thinking of the tabernacles.  They don’t really understand what they are called to do.
The voice comes from the clouds,  “listen to him!”  They fall down in fear.  Jesus has to lead them.  “Get up and don’t be afraid.”  As they follow him down the mountain, he again tries to explain that he still has work to do.  He warns them not to tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.  Jesus is reminding them that his glory is with God.    It’s not about preserving or glorifying his beautiful divine image now, it’s about living into his call from God.  He is going to have to suffer and die.  And then, after he has died, the disciples will be able to remember this vision and tell people about it.
As I think about Jane, I think about how she is suffering.  It is hard to see the pain on her face, the failing of her body.  It is hard for those of us who love her (and especially the people closest to her, her children and grandchildren) to see her light.  What is obvious is how diminished she is, not how she has always been a beacon, always been a child of God.
As Jane approaches death, her family and friends are afraid of what is coming.  This is a hard phase and we wish that she might be the joyous, big strong presence in our lives again.  Maybe there is a tendency to want to hide the pictures of her today, and just preserve the pictures of her as a young woman.   But in Jane’s aging and suffering, there are still glimpses.  We have memories of her lightness as a child and we have the example of her lifetime of service. 
Jesus is trying to warn his disciples that following God’s call is not going to be easy.  Death is part of living as a human being.  The road that Jesus will walk, and that we will walk with him, is a hard long road.  But God has given his disciples glimpses of the glory that is coming.  Walking the road as a follower of Jesus is hard, but it is the only way to eternal life in God. 
As we look around us, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the troubles of the world, by the suffering of God’s people, by the harshness of aging or the injustice that we see in our political systems, or the inequality that leads some people to have much and other to have so little.  In these moments, it may be hard to remember that God is with us.  God has always been with us, since the beginning of creation.
But God gives us glimpses, visions of the glory that is coming.  We see the light in the face of the child.  We know God’s goodness when we stand on the mountain and see the glory of God’s creation.  We can see Jesus’ face glowing,  Moses’ face shining.  We can hear in dreams, and in conversations, in poetry and in stories about miraculous healing—we can hear about God’s reign, God’s work, God’s hope. 

And when we get these glimpses, hear these messages of hope, Jesus reminds us.  Don’t try to build tents.  Don’t get stuck trying to hold onto the vision of God’s glory.  It’s always there.  And when you are overwhelmed by God’s call, don’t fall down and hide your face.  “Get up and don’t be afraid.”  Follow me.  Like Peter and James and John we are reminded that there is hope even when all we can see is suffering.  And Jesus reminds us that the way is going to be hard.  Don’t stop now, but carry on through the hard times.  This is the way into eternal life, this is the only way into the glory of God. 

Be perfect, like your Father is perfect

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18
1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

Psalm 119:33-40

Today’s passage is the second part of a litany that we heard last week.  Jesus is instructing his disciples on what it means to be a child of God.  Last week, in Matthew 5:21-37, we heard Jesus admonishing his followers not just to follow the law, but to live into the life that God promises.  He spoke about murder (and said don’t hold a grudge or get angry), he spoke about adultery and divorce (and said don’t even look at another woman with lust), he spoke about swearing falsely or making contracts that we do not intend to keep (and he said, don’t swear at all, say YES, YES  or NO, NO). 

I talked with our congregation at Nativity about how these examples speak to a different kind of community and a different form of leadership—for our government and our church.  We can’t look for a rulemaker who will tell us what is right and what is wrong.  Instead, we are being called to change our orientation towards what is right in God’s eyes.  Jesus calls us to listen for God’s direction and not expect that just by following the rules, we are righteous.  Living into God’s hope for us is a process of continuous discernment, not a simple test of what’s right and what’s wrong.  The passage last week challenged us not to substitute human authority for divine authority.  No leader—not President Trump, not Senator Sanders or Hilary Clinton or Gerry Brown or Elizabeth Warren can tell us what is right and what is wrong.

In today’s passage, Jesus is continuing this theme.  He talks about two more laws—the law about retaliation (the eye for an eye law—you can’t retaliate more than the original wrong) and the law about loving your neighbor.  In these passages, Jesus is instructing his followers that they must be perfect, like their Father is perfect. 

Since I am the mother of teenagers, I was thinking about how my boys would hear this passage.  I was thinking about their high school teachers who try to instruct them in what it is to be good citizens.  I’m imagining Jesus as the high school teacher who says—you know you are not supposed to start fights in the hallways.  You know you are not supposed bully people or create a hostile learning environment.  But I want you to be better than that. 

I am imagining the ethics class.  I can hear my boys and their classmates debating what to do in the hypothetical hallway fight.  Will you stand up to the bully who is threatening someone?  Will you put yourself in the way of the punches?  What if you and your friends could actually stop the fight by wrestling the bully down?  Would they get her away from the girl she hates by backing her into a corner?  What would community justice look like? 

The National Center for Education Statistics (https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=719) study on bullying in schools shows that more than 20% of students experience bullying at school.  I have the materials that the school sends home about bullying.  They encourage students not to sit alone at lunch, to seek out a teacher or a friend.  They say don’t walk alone to lunch or home from school if you are a victim of bullying.  There are lessons about cyber bullying and how to prevent campaigns against a student online.  But in spite of these lessons, bullying continues to happen.  I hear sports team members making fun of the freshman on the team.  I hear a circle of popular girls talking about the one girl they would never want to have lunch with.  I see the kid with the glasses, holding his books tight to his chest so that someone won’t bump against him in the hallway and knock his books out of his hands.  While the statistics on bullying in schools are very high, the anti-bullying strategies have very little impact.  Even in school systems where anti-bullying task forces, teacher and parent trainings and student lessons have been implemented for years—bullying still continues.  And maybe it’s not just in elementary, middle and high schools.  I talked to my boys about why they think this is true.  We talked about how anti-bullying strategies fundamentally focus on protection for the victim.  In fact all of the anti-bullying strategies that they could remember either focused on protecting the victim or standing up to the bully.

In adult society, I think we have the same problems and maybe some of the same ineffective solutions.  We can think of situations where we hear friends talking about the neighbor who is so difficult and impossible (they let their dogs bark all night, they don’t look after their property properly)—we won’t invite that neighbor to the holiday party.  Things escalate and the neighbor is suing the adjoining property owner over whose responsibility it was to maintain the retaining wall.  The petty fight about where the garbage can gets left escalates into one neighbor blocking the other’s driveway every morning.  And this petty conflict between neighbors, or the exclusion of a work colleague becomes a norm that we expect in our public life. 

At a national level, we talk about weak countries and strong ones.  There are those whom we hate because they are corrupt or lacking in fundamental freedoms.  There are those countries who seek to harm their neighbors for their own gains.  There are world powers who band together to protect their own interests against those who would undermine our stability.  The powerful countries may protect the weaker ones, or they may bully the weaker ones, forcing them to accept treaty deals that keep them in debt or in imbalanced trade relationships.

So with these situations of powerful people abusing their power over weaker people, I hear Jesus speak his disciples.    Jesus speaks to the high school class about the problem of bullying, he speaks as the mediator at the community meeting about parking or safe streets, he speaks as the news commentator, reflecting on the latest international treaty. 

Jesus says,  “do not resist the evildoer”.  The Greek word is πονηρῷ (ponero).  Doing a bit of a word study, I found that the word in some situations in Matthew’s gospel refers to the devil.  In some cases the word could be translated as “the evil”.  Or it could be translated as the one who does evil or the evil doer.  “Do not resist the evil doer.”   We can find very different meanings depending on how we translate this.  “Do not resist the devil” or “do not resist evil”  have quite a different meaning than “do not resist the evil doer”.  I am sure that this translation is correct, because Jesus goes on to separate the person who does evil from the evil itself.  Jesus goes on to explain that Gods makes the rain fall on the evil and good, on the righteous and the unrighteous.  He is not saying that God loves evil, he is saying that the God loves the one who does evil. 

And this command—Do not resist the evil doer, has consequences.  It’s more than just ignoring the bully.  Jesus explains that this is focused attention on the evil doer.  It is about loving this person.  If someone strikes your cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to carry a burden one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

This sounds like the opposite of the anti-bullying training that my kids have heard.  I can hear the neighbors saying, this is just not fair—you can’t let them get away with that or they will take advantage of you.  Or the news commentator who refers to the leader of another nation as the tyrant.  I tried out this message on Yates, my teenager.  I said, what do you think would happen if when the bully knocked the books out of someone’s hands in the hallway, you responded by saying to the bully, do you want me to carry your books for you?  What if when the neighbor put the garbage can in the wrong place, you moved it to make it more convenient for the neighbor (instead of complaining about how it infringed on your property).  What if when you felt cheated in a contract, you offered to pay more than the cheat asked for? 

Yates said that this response would be really confusing for people.  Probably they would think that you were making fun, or they would just not know how to respond.  They would assume that you weren’t being serious.  Maybe if it was really a bully, he would get even angrier because he would think you were trying to show other people what a bully he is.  But Yates also said, the problem with bullies is that they are fundamentally insecure.  Maybe there would be a way to help them feel more secure.  If you managed to give everyone a real sense of their own value, then maybe they wouldn’t be trying to feel big by hurting weaker people. 
And this seems to be the essence of the message today.  Jesus is talking about loving in community that includes everyone.  Not just the ones we like.  Loving our enemies,  giving more than is required, supporting one another even when it’s not fair. 

Yates pointed out that we don’t want to reward evil doers.  We certainly don’t want to give them more power in a situation where they have already abused their power.  But Jesus is proposing a different way—a way that treats all people with respect, that shows every single person love.  And Jesus’ examples make it clear that loving our enemy is not something that we do in our hearts.  Loving is action, it’s about changing the fundamental relationships.  Loving is about giving the other cheek, reaching out a hand to the one who has hurt us.  Loving is about giving your cloak when someone took your coat in a legal action.  Loving is about giving to everyone who begs, not refusing one person who needs to borrow from you. 

What would giving the other cheek mean to the bully?  What kind of program could a classroom teacher develop that would fundamentally change the relationships so that the bully felt secure and the kid who is bullied also felt secure?  What  would a neighborhood look like if neighbors consistently took care of one another, mowing one another’s lawns, taking out one another’s garbage, picking up after one another’s dogs?  And what if this care for one another was done irrespective of whether the mean lady on the corner participated?

And what if we our relationships with other countries was structured to show care for all of the people in those countries—the leader we call a tyrant, the poorest villager, the wealthiest business owner.  What kind of treaty would we enter if we cared (if we loved) about the person in that foreign country just as much as we care about our own people?

What does loving our enemies mean?  Jesus has shown his disciples that to be a child of God, one must love as the Father loves us.  We must not just ignore the wrongs done to us, but we must affirmatively act to include, to respect, to honor and care for the ones who hurt us, or have power over us, or who seek to do us harm.  Jesus shows us that it is possible to undermine evil, by loving the one who has done evil.  Jesus is about a radical transformation of relationships.  We must be in perfect relationships, just as God is in perfect relationship with us.

While this seems like a hard thing to do, it is also a creative place.  Jesus calls us to work with God to create a new system based on love.