Monday, October 26, 2015

To See with the Eye of the Heart

Then Job answered the LORD:  "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted...I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. (Job 42:1)

While I don’t feel like it’s the “right” answer, whenever I’m asked – what is your favorite book in the Bible – the first one that pops into my head is the Book of Job.

Do you know someone in your life who is going through something – or has just had something happen – and you think – that’s not fair?  Why would that happen to someone like this?  Or – you, yourself?  Are you in a period of your life where you think – why is this happening?  This is not what I expected?  This does not seem fair?  Why God is this happening to me?

If that resonates with you then I would encourage you to spend this week reading or rereading the book of Job  It’s not a long book – you could read a couple chapters each morning or night and be done in a few days.  And it’s easy to follow – it written like a play – and not too many characters – God, Satan, Job – his wife – and three friends.

And it’s an exploration of a question – all of us will ask multiple times in the course of our lives – why, God, why?  And since we just heard the end of the book – an ending which might have sounded tacked on and trite – like a fairy tale – I thought we’d explore Job – which is a book of questions.  Questions that prompt God to say open your eyes – to new ways of seeing.  Risk seeing with the eyes of faith.

You know that Christmas carol – Do you see what I see?  That starts to play in my head when I get to the part of the book where God answers Job – because that’s how God answers Job – by listing – and it’s a very long list – all the things God sees – that Job doesn’t. "Do you see what I see - NO!" Who could see what God sees? Things like –
Do you know the expanse of the earth?
Where is the dwelling of light?  How about darkness?
Has the rain a father – who has begotten the drops of dew?
Who has wisdom to number the clouds – or can tilt the waterskins of the heavens?

And for many years – I used to hear that list as if God was yelling at Job.  Poor Job – who had simply demanded God hear his prayers.  Job – who isn’t at all patient, I don’t know he has that nickname – demanding to understand why – when he was such a good person, faithful and law-abiding – why everything his family, his fortune, his honor, his health – was brutally taken from him?  Why, God, why?

You’ll remember he first asks his wife – who says, just curse God and die.  That’s one way people respond to tragedy.  Holding on to anger can feel safer, make us feel righteous and in control.  It can feel safer than falling into the hurt.

Then he asks his friends – which is the bulk of the book.  And at first they support Job – they come to weep with him, to comfort him.  But the tragedy doesn’t go away – so they start to try and make sense of it.  Then they try and fix it – but they can’t do either.  And because they can’t fix it or solve it – they find fault.  And ultimately – they blame Job. It must be his fault – certainly he did something to deserve what happened.

That’s another way people sometimes respond to tragedy – look for someone to blame.  Our section this morning skips over God’s response to Job’s friends.  God says to them – you have not spoken what is right – but Job did.

Job protests.  His friends rationalize.
Job prays.  His friends blame.
Job weeps.  His friends argue.

Job stays in relationships with God the whole time – even though he is angry.  And God tells Job to pray for his friends.  And we can wonder if Job’s prayer might have begun – Father, forgive them…

I think that’s something really helpful for us about Job.  The whole book is a prayer – and it isn’t that his prayers aren’t answered – God responds.  It’s just not the response he wanted – or expected.

When God responds with that long list of all the wonders of the world – it’s like a soliloquy of God’s awesomeness.  And as I said I’d always heard it in my head with this tone of – Who do you think you are, Job?  I made EVERYTHING – so just who do you think you are demanding to talk to me?  And used to think – that’s why Job recants in dust and ashes – because he realizes how insignificant he is.

But – a few weeks ago – I heard another take that made a lot more sense to me.  Do you all know Margaret Meade – the famous anthropologist?  I heard an interview with her daughter – Mary Catherine Bateson – and she talked about how her mother and father loved the Book of Job – because you know as anthropologists – nature, creation was God’s answer.

But her take was different – “I think the point about the Book of Job is that Job is a virtuous member of an institution. He’s respectable, he obeys all the rules, he’s complacent, he goes through the appropriate rituals that were required in his community at that time. But he’s lost his sense of wonder. And then God says, “Look. Just look. Realize how beautiful it is. How complicated it is.” *

And I wonder if God whispers his response in Job’s heart – You are a part of this awesomeness Job – you are woven into it.

The poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver – concludes with this –
"Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things."

God isn’t lording his majesty over Job - God is curing his blindness.  As Paul says – I pray that you may see with the eyes of your heart enlightened.  God is opening Job’s eyes to his place in the family of things.  Opening his eyes to the wonder and beauty – and awesomeness taking place in every moment.

When we open our eyes to the wonder of things – we are far more likely to be able to empathize with another person, especially when they are struggling with an event that doesn’t make sense.  When we open our eyes I think we are far more likely to see something in our own lives that we can be grateful for.

What’s really amazing – the incredible faith Job models – is that he wants to take his place in the family of things again.  I don’t think it’s a fairy tale ending.  His family was destroyed – children were lost.  Do we think that God simply replaces Job’s children?  Or – that Job chooses life?  Chooses to live again – to love again?  And he loves lavishly.  It reads he gives an inheritance to his daughters – that didn’t happen then.  But maybe that’s part of the gratitude?  Living and loving with more freedom.  There is something that can happens when we move through loss.  We can’t replace what is gone – but we can choose to live more fully with what we are given.**

All our readings this morning are God speaking to us on this day, at this particular moment in our lives.  All of the “lessons” are encouragements to us to see God on this day, at this particular moment in our lives.  Our as our psalmist prays –

Look upon God and be radiant – taste and see that God is good. Open your hearts friends, that your pain and loneliness be turned to Love; and then we shall rejoice in the Beloved together.+   Amen.

  * From interview On Being (
  ** Inspired by…
  + Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness Nan C. Merrill

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Calling All Servants

Proper 24 B
Mark 10:35-45
The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez-Hobbs

“I want to just tell you one thing.” I hear these words frequently in our preschool chapel services on Tuesdays. It’s never just one thing. It’s usually three or four, and none of them really make sense. For some reason, I can’t seem to convince the three and four year olds that we’re on a tight schedule. I’ve gotten pretty good, over the years, at deflecting their attention from whatever it is they want to tell me—and that, for the record, is something they don’t teach you in seminary.

I bring this up because I wonder if Jesus felt like this when James and John came up and asked him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Whatever comes after this, you already know that it can’t be good. I can’t imagine Jesus not sighing as he replies. What is it now? Don’t you know we’re on a tight schedule? We have to get to Jerusalem. Just before our reading begins this morning, Jesus has predicted his death and resurrection for the third time. He has just told the disciples—again—that he will be handed over to the chief priest and  put to death and will rise again on the third day. And all James and John can think about is whether Jesus will let them sit on his right and left hands—be his number two and number three guy—when he goes to Jerusalem to become king. Haven’t they been listening?

Of course, the other disciples haven’t been listening, either. Mark tells us that they’re upset with James and John—not because James’ and John’s request is inappropriate—because they want to be first in the kingdom themselves. The way Mark tells the story, the disciples never get it right. Clearly they don’t today. So Jesus tells them: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” It’s the culmination of what we’ve been hearing for the last month: the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. So, let’s be honest, where are you in line? Who have you served lately?

Today is the first day of our God the Giver stewardship campaign. We’ll spend the next six weeks acknowledging that God is the source of the many gifts we enjoy as a community. And we’ll respond to those many gifts by offering our time, talent, and treasure in gratitude. For the next six Sundays, we’ll be highlighting some of our ministries, some of those good gifts God has given us. Today, we begin by highlighting our Outreach ministry, the ways in which we seek to serve the community around us. That’s appropriate, given today’s Gospel. The fact is, it isn’t really a question of whether we will serve. The question is who we will serve. Will we serve others or will we serve ourselves? Will we reach out in generosity and bless others with the blessings we have received or will we hoard them all for ourselves?

You can only do one of those and follow Jesus. Remember, he’s just told us that he came not to be served, but to serve. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus’ entire life as a form of service. In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. What prayers and intercessions did Jesus offer up? Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. The Son of Man came not to serve, but to be served, even on the cross. For that is what Jesus did on the cross: he interceded with God for the whole world. In everything he did, Jesus sought to serve others, to give his life in service to others.

Now, I’m sure all of you know this by now, but I’m not Jesus. None of you are Jesus, either. We are human. We are fallible. We are not going to live lives of perfect service. But we can serve. We aren’t called to be Jesus, but we are called to be like him, because the first will be last, and the last will be first. Because you can’t take it with you. You can’t hoard blessings, God’s good gifts, for yourself, at least not if you want to be blessed by them. You have to give them away. You have to serve others.

We can’t always put other’s needs before our own. We’re human. We have legitimate needs. But we can practice a habit of service. We can pick up a hammer one weekend a month with Sandtown Habitat for Humanity. We can sew one quilt for Project Linus. We can bake one casserole for Our Daily Bread. We can put together one Thanksgiving basket for the Assistance Center of Towson Churches. We can spend one morning serving lunches at Paul’s Place. We can help one person learn about making a budget with Neighbor to Neighbor. We can reach out to one person who needs a little boost through our Micro Lending Program. And then, next week, we can do it again.

Being like Jesus means interceding with him for the whole world. Being like Jesus means serving instead of being served. God has given us all so many gifts. How are you being called today to give back?


Monday, October 12, 2015

A Little Guilt. A lot of Promise.

Click the picture to listen to the sermon.

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.  (Mark 10:17ff)

October 11, 2015
Proper 23 Year B

I heard a Hindu saying this week:  The people who are closest to the gods are the youngest among us and the oldest among us.  The people farthest from the gods are the ones in the middle with mortgages.

This story – often referred to as Jesus and the Rich Man – is a familiar one.  And it can be hard to take in anything from it except a feeling of guilt.  One more biblical mandate that I’m not – that we’re not as a church even – living into who God wants us to be.  Who among us is going to sell everything we have to follow Jesus?  Don’t be ridiculous – that’s for the saints – and crazy people – often times one and the same – until they die of course and then we laud them.  Anyway – it’s too much, too much to ask – sorry Jesus – we let you down – again.

And so we set up the two characters of this story over and against each other – the rich man who says no to Jesus and is bad.  And Peter the disciple who said yes to Jesus and is good.

But the central question of both the man and Peter isn’t about wealth or how we solve the problem of poverty.  The question each asks is – what must I do to inherit eternal life?  And I think what each of them is really asking is – Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal security, certainty.

I wonder if any of you here know what anxiety feels like?  Yes.  I thought so.  Anxiety can run our body through a ringer of physical responses.  At the extreme end – we can suffer panic attacks – which can be so terrifyingly severe that we could think we’re having a heart attack.  Thankfully – I’ve never had one – but I have had moments of intense anxiety.  And there are three that come instantly to mind in my adult life and every single one was around money and financial security.

First, there was the day – at my first job after college – when I quit.  I quit my job before the job I was interviewing for was secured.  I remember walking in downtown Boston seeing almost for the first time – all the homeless people – and thinking – I don’t have a job, soon that will be me.  My mom actually came to Boston to be with me that weekend – I was so unhinged.

Second there was the day – the last day – of my job corporate America before I started seminary.  That day was not filled with joy and excitement as I left a lucrative career to answer my call.  That day I remember the a pit in my stomach as I thought about my 8 month old daughter and the fact that a paycheck would no longer be directly deposited into my checking account every two weeks.

And finally the day, as a priest, when I signed my first mortgage.  And indeed I can attest to that Hindu saying – I was one of those people in the middle with a mortgage – and the anxiety that filled my head and my heart (my whole body really) meant the voice of God was the furthest possible thing from my mind.

For many of us, our identity, how we see ourselves, and how we believe others see us, is directly tied to what we do – and what we earn.  That’s what Jesus is asking this man to let go of.

There is nothing “bad” about this man who comes to Jesus.  In fact he models some really important behaviors for us.  First of all – he runs to Jesus.  He is eager to talk to God.  Don’t we hear – ask and ye shall receive?  And when he stops Jesus – he is respectful.  He kneels before him and says – Good teacher.  No reason for us to think he is trying to trick Jesus – or that he has any other motive but to listen for instruction.

We don’t know why or how he is wealthy.  Perhaps he inherited his family’s wealth.  Perhaps he worked very hard, did all the right things – as he did in following the commandments – and from the outside appears to have it all.  And he just wants that divine stamp of approval – that guarantee that his status and wealth are signs of God’s blessing and favor – in this life and the next.

Why does Jesus answer this good man’s eagerness with such a hard request?  On one hand, there is no getting around the challenge of following Jesus with this one. When the man leaves Jesus turns and uses him as mandate for all Christians – our wealth and the kingdom of God are inherently in conflict.  The kingdom of God is a place of economic justice, where the first are last and the last are first.  A place where inheritance is shared, inheritance is equal.  For those of us who pray – thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven – we have to wrestle individually and as a community with what part we play in the economy of God’s kingdom.

At the same time, Jesus’s directive is to one particular person and while he may put forward a challenging request he does so in love.  It doesn’t say – Jesus looked at the man, and judged him to be unworthy and then spoke.  Jesus, looking at the man, loved him.  And why we would think the journey for this man ended here?  Jesus plants seeds and Jesus believes in a journey.  Who knows how this seed grew in this man’s heart?  He may have gone away sad that day – but who knows how that moment changed him?  Maybe eventually he did – give it all away.  Maybe he gave more to those in need after that day – than ever before.  We don’t know what transpired over the course of the rest of his life – but we know, I know from my own experiences, that sometimes in sorrow and anxiety – seeds are planted – and – under the loving gaze of God – we change and grow.

I officiated at a wedding last night.  A young couple from our church got married at the Baltimore Museum of Art.  It was a beautiful wedding – out in the sculpture garden – just before sunset – everyone looking gorgeous – everyone knowing exactly what to do – a picture perfect wedding.  And in my remarks I reminded them – as I do at most – that we don’t say – I DO when we give our consent to be married – we say I WILL.  Because I will signifies that today is only the beginning.  And while there may be perfect weddings – there are no perfect marriages.  And what a couple is doing is giving their consent to a future promise.  The promise that they will practice growing in love allowing their identity to be shaped by one another and God as they try to live into those promises.

Ultimately, the root of this passage is about our inability TO DO anything to earn eternal life now – or in the age to come.  God is the one who does everything.  And Jesus invites us to say I WILL to the promises we make to God and God makes with us.  How do we hear these words this morning and let a seed be planted.  How are we allowing Jesus to gaze upon us in love?  In order to receive an inheritance something, someone must die.  What does Christ invite us to let go of this morning so that we might nurture and grow the grace of God in our hearts – allowing ourselves to be transformed?  Amen.

The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks

Monday, October 5, 2015

People, Not Problems

Proper 22, Year B
Mark 10:2-16
The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez-Hobbs

This morning, we’re hearing one of Jesus’ hardest teachings: Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this saying of Jesus, but only Mark leaves us without any loopholes. This is an absolute prohibition, and the church has not used it well. Because it seems so simple, so straightforward, with no room for ifs, ands, or buts, the church has misused it to shame, condemn, and ostracize people. I know that many of you find it painful to hear this passage read aloud in church. So I think we need to begin this morning by acknowledging that the church has misused this teaching of Jesus to wound people, rather than to build up the body of Christ. We have, as Christians, as the church, been so eager to rush to judgment that we’ve misread this passage.

To begin with, we just can’t assume that Jesus thought about marriage and divorce the way that we do today. To confess that Jesus is fully human and fully divine means that, in his human nature, Jesus was the product of the culture into which he was born, a culture where marriage functioned differently than it does for us today. Raise your hand if your parents arranged your marriage. Of course they didn’t! You met your spouse, and the two of you chose to get married. But that wasn’t the way it worked in Jesus’ day. Parents picked out their children’s spouses, and the children had no say in it. Marriage was an exchange of property between two families. The two families would exchange wealth in the form of a dowry and a bride gift, and then the bride’s father would transfer ownership of her to her new husband. Marriage has changed significantly in the two thousand years since Jesus had this conversation with the Pharisees. Might we ask if divorce has too?

Jesus and the Pharisees all know that the Law of Moses permits divorce. Deuteronomy says:
            Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because
he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house.
The debate was over what counted as “something objectionable” enough for a man to ask for a divorce. Did you notice, by the way, that only the man is allowed to initiate a divorce? Some of the Pharisees said that “something objectionable” meant sexual immorality—a view that Matthew’s Gospel says Jesus took, in a softening of the words we heard Jesus speak this morning. Others said that “something objectionable” meant anything objectionable: burning dinner, being barren, getting old and less attractive than a younger woman. But their attention was solely on the man. They don’t ask what happens to the ex-wife, who is put out of the household. Where does she go? As a single woman, she couldn’t own property. Her own father or brothers might take her back in, or they might not, because she would have shamed them by getting divorced. If that happened, the only two ways she could support herself were begging or prostitution. The absolute prohibition against divorce Jesus makes this morning would be a safeguard against this. It would protect the vulnerable.

But there’s another layer here, too. The Pharisees aren’t really interested in Jesus’ answer. Mark tells us that they ask this to test him, to trip him up and to find something they can use against him. And it’s odd that Mark has Jesus talk to his disciples about a woman divorcing a husband. In first-century Palestine, women couldn’t initiative divorce. Mark has Jesus reference a Roman custom, because Roman women could divorce their husbands. Something more is going on here, something that should make us think about something that happened way back in Mark 6. I know, we haven’t been in Mark 6 since July, so it’s unfair to ask you to remember it. Mark 6 is where we hear about how Herod imprisoned and killed John the Baptist, because John told him that it was not lawful for him to be married to his brother’s ex-wife, Herodias. Herod and Herodias had both divorced their previous spouses to marry one another, using Roman, rather than Jewish, law. Are Jesus and the Pharisees talking about any divorce, or are they talking about a specific divorce? Are the Pharisees hoping that they can find something to make Herod arrest Jesus, too?

I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. Immediately after this discussion about divorce, we again hear Jesus talk about welcoming children. Remember, children were also vulnerable people in Jesus’ day, very similar in social status to a divorced woman. Jesus is telling us that what matters is not disputes about theology or politics. What matters is welcoming and caring for the vulnerable. This passage isn’t primarily about divorce, at least not the way we know divorce today, but about the way we welcome and care for the least of these.

When I wrote this sermon on Thursday, I had a nice, generic ending that I can’t preach this morning. You see, in between writing this sermon and preaching it, I heard about the shooting that happened at the community college in Rosebud, Oregon. One of my first thoughts was, well, that has nothing to do with Sunday’s readings, so I don’t need to mention that in my sermon. But that set off a red flag for me, because if I’m going to stand up here and say that what Jesus is really talking about is paying attention to those people whom we would rather ignore, that Jesus is calling us to see people instead of issues, then my desire to ignore this tragedy is a sign that I need to confront it.

On Friday, I read a pastoral letter from Scott Mayer, the bishop of Northwest Texas, who many of you met when he came here to ordain me to the priesthood on December 13, 2012. Bishop Mayer’s letter started by noting that this is the 142 school shooting since December 14, 2012, the date of the Sandy Hook Shooting. He went on to note that it is the forty-fifth school shooting in 2015. We have a problem, and although I’m afraid to confront it, if Bishop Mayer can call on Texans to work to end gun violence, I feel like I don’t have an excuse in Baltimore. I don’t think legislation can solve this problem, even if it might be a piece of the solution. I think that as people of faith, we can, and probably do, disagree on what legislative solutions should look like, but legislation will never get us to the place where we need to be. What we need is changed hearts and minds. What we are called to be is peacemakers.

Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and I don’t think it’s an accident that I am preaching this sermon today. We mostly remember Francis with pet blessings, but Francis was truly a radical Christian, who risked much to preach Christ’s Gospel of Peace. During the Crusades, Francis traveled to Egypt to preach to the sultan, seeking to bring an end to the wars. Francis was bold and not afraid to risk. What are you called to risk to preach peace to those who are near and to those who are far off? How can you be a peace-maker in your small corner of the world? What do you need to see that you would rather ignore?

Let us conclude this morning with a 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.