Monthly Archives: October 2012

Bigger and bigger. Closer and closer.

by Linda Goertz

“I sought the LORD and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

Our scripture readings today all have something to say about how we approach God, how we ask God those tough questions and the ways in which God responds. When my mother, God rest her soul, was in her last years of life and suffering from difficult ailments, she would ask over and over, “Why?  Why is this happening to me?”  At one point, a well-meaning friend suggested she read the book of Job, but that wasn’t entirely successful.

If we approach Job as a literal accounting of things that happened, I think it’s easy to get sidetracked into an unhelpful view of God.  If we approach it as a wisdom tale, as poetic imaging, as a mythic journey, that may help.  One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, says, “In popular usage, a myth has come to mean a story that is not true. Historically speaking, that may well be true.  Humanly speaking, a myth is a story that is always true.”

Last week, Sara helped us hear some of the Holy Spirit language of the poetry that’s in Job.  She talked about, “the immensity of God that can only be expressed in poetry.”  And it’s amazing – the morning stars, the battle horse who shouts “Aha!” amid the trumpets, the storehouses of snow and hail – it’s amazing.  But of course, even the best of poetry can only hint at what it must have been like for Job when God spoke out of the whirlwind.

Job has lost everything but his life. And all along, through all his devastation and pain and loss, Job has been demanding that God needs to answer him; that God needs to give an account of what this suffering is all about.  Job’s friends, those infamous “comforters” who offer nothing at all like comfort, tell him over and over that he must be a terrible sinner or God wouldn’t be letting all these things happen to him.  And of course they couch it in the most religious terms.  They sound so wise and so reasonable and they have that tone of majestic ministerial rebuke in all that they say.  But each time, Job says, NO, that’s not true.  He keeps on asking God for the answers.  He boldly says, “I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me.”

– so God finally responds.  But he doesn’t exactly answer Job.  God simply starts revealing creation in all its bounty and beauty and word-defying actuality.  God revels and exults at having “commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it.”  Now there’s poetry!

It seems to me that God is replying, “I’m bigger than you can possibly imagine” – both to Job and to his nay-saying companions.  I don’t mean some cruel, sneering God who’s rubbing his power in our faces, emphasizing how “far above” he is.  No, if we are children pounding on the wall, demanding answers, I see God gently turning us from the wall to look out a window.  Whether our demand is, “tell me what you’re all about, in words I can understand,” or, “see how good I am, telling that sinner what the rules of righteousness are,” God says, “No, dear heart I’m bigger than that . . . greater . . . vaster . . . beyond words . . . LOOK.”

Like Job, our truest response to such an encounter with immensity is to put our hands to our mouths and acknowledge the inadequacy of our words and our theories – even our religious theories.  The story has Job saying, “I despise myself,” but the word translated “despise” can also mean cast off or disappear or melt away.  Once he glimpses just a fraction of the glory of God, Job has to let go of his set view of himself and his understanding of cause and effect, and so do the so-called comforters.  God is bigger.

And the joy of it all is that Job is not in trouble because he kept asking God to answer him; Job didn’t end up on God’s “bad boy list” for daring to question.  Far from it!  God turns to those oh-so-religious comforters and tells them they have to apologize to Job, because Job was in the right!  And the story ends with a kind of a traditional folktale restoration of wealth and community honor and more children, including daughters whose names all mean something beautiful.  God doesn’t reject our questioning, our demanding, our persistent crying out to the heavens.  God welcomes it – even as God’s response blows us away, there’s an almost fatherly pride in our boldness.  It means we’re close enough to ask for God’s truth.

And so it is in our Gospel story.  Here’s this blind beggar, Bartimaeus, and HE’s asking, too.  He’s asking Jesus for healing so vociferously that all the good people around him get embarrassed on his behalf.  “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”  And the people get all huffy and shush him.  But he cries out again, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And then there’s one of those tiny beautiful moments we can miss if we skim scripture too fast: “Jesus stood still.”

When we ask with all our hearts, Jesus stops and stands still, listening to us.  And he says, “Call him here.”  Call her here.  Because we need to get closer to the Holy One, the immense and inexplicable and loving, healing one.

So Bartimaeus scrambles out of his cloak and stumbles his blind way to Jesus, and Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  And when Bartimaeus asks for his sight, Jesus gives it to him; and Bartimaeus immediately –things are always happening immediately in the gospel of Mark – begins to follow Jesus on the way.

So there it is for us.  The Master of the Universe says, “I am bigger, bigger than your wildest imaginings and your tidiest theories.”  And God the Son says, “Come closer and tell me what you need.”

We get to tell God everything, ask God anything, withholding nothing– our confusion and fears, our crazy celebrations and even our own anger at God.  I remember when I was a new Christian, a friend and I heard a young man we knew combining Jesus’ name with an obscenity.  I was, I felt, appropriately shocked and I began criticizing the young man to my friend.  “Oh, Linda,” he said, “he may be closer to Jesus than some of the people who go to church.  He’s not holding anything back.”

Jesus welcomed Bartimaeus’sstraightforward request to be released from his blindness.  God welcomed Job’s rage and insistence and honesty.  The Holy Spirit is nearby, leaning to our hearts and whispering, Bring it all.  Bring your weariness, your hurt feelings, your uncertainty, your terror and your delight.  Bring them to the table along with all of us.  Bring the concerns that feel too small to ask about, and the troubles that are so huge you don’t have words for them.  Bring them with you as you come to be fed.

You may not be able to predict God’s response, just as Job was dumbfounded by how God came to him.  God is here nonetheless, bigger than our suppositions.  You may not be able to see Jesus’ presence, but know that He has stopped still, listening to us, closer than we can imagine.

Bigger and bigger. Closer and closer.  Thanks be to God.

From the poetic to the mundane

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.

I love poetry. Well, we all love poetry. I used to read a lot of it, and I even used to write a little bit.  I wasn’t any good. Or I wasn’t patient enough to put in the time to get better. At any rate, my favorite thing is to read poetry, not as a critic or a scholar, but simply to enjoy it in the moment. I rarely remember anything I read. Reading a good poem is like eating a delicious…something. You don’t need to know what all the ingredients are or how to replicate it yourself or worry about when you might have it again. You just savor it. That’s how poetry is for me.

The book of Job contains some of the best, most tasty bits of biblical poetry around. Today’s passage stopped me in my tracks. God is finally, finally responding to Job’s question, which is basically: What have I done to deserve all these terrible things happening to me?? God speaks out of the whirlwind with a long answer of his own.: I will question you, and you will declare to me. The questions that follow are rhetorical. They could all be summed up like this: who the heck do you think you are, and do you know who I am? I created the whole world, I know what I’m doing, I have my reasons; how dare you accuse me of not caring? God’s answer to Job is God’s way of saying “I got this.”

But instead of saying that, God speaks in poetry:

On what were the earth’s bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods cling together?

One can only wonder how much more beautiful it was in the original Hebrew!

We all need poetry in our lives. And, thank God, we have it, even if we don’t read poetry books. We have it in our hymns, in our Book of Common Prayer, in the beauty of creation, and in scripture. As Anglicans we are part of a long tradition of poetry about spiritual experience. Our ancestors in faith include Geoffrey Chaucer, John Donne, George Herbert, all poets whose work was written to glorify God. There is a poetic lineage all the way from the authors of the book of Genesis to the present day, from Holy Scripture to William Shakespeare to Emily Dickinson to T.S. Eliot to Mary Oliver to Linda Goertz to James Joiner, and probably others of you as well. (You might want to write some as part of the Faith & Story project J)

Poetry lifts us out of the mundane of our daily lives, into another realm, perhaps the realm of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps poetry, in all its forms, is the Spirit’s favorite language.

The first chapters of the Book of Job contain this wonderfully poetic image of God conversing with Satan who has been “going to and fro on the earth,” surveying humankind. It makes me wonder what God would think and what Satan would think if, in their going to and fro, they encountered James and John and the other ten apostles. In this morning’s gospel, we find the disciples continuing to bicker over which of them gets to be more special than the others. They are like school children, who all want to sit closest to the teacher.

Jesus accuses the disciples of behaving like the Gentiles, having a value system different from what he’s been teaching. Being worldly. They are also just being dense. Jesus has just tried to explain to them, for the third time, that his particular version of being a messiah means suffering and death. Because the disciples still don’t get this, they continue to jockey for position, kind of like churches competing with one another to be the biggest and the best, instead of being a sign of God’s servanthood. Or churches obsessed, maybe not with self-aggrandizement but with self-preservation, forgetting that self-preservation is no more a gospel value than being first in line. The disciples give Jesus yet another opportunity to instruct them—and us—on the true nature of discipleship, which is to be a servant.

Jesus always teaches us to be less special, to empty ourselves of our worldly ideas and our worldly wants, not to deny our humanity, but to direct our humanity toward the ways of God. This is where the word ministry comes from, by the way: it comes from the same root as minus, and it literally means lesser-ness.

So how does all of this fit with the divine poetry of God?

Jesus is the face of God that is always looking at the world, always looking at us in our misguided quest for greatness and in our misunderstanding of discipleship. Jesus is the face of God that is always looking at us, walking with us, loving us, praying for us and praying with us. If poetry is the language of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is the grammar. Pause, breathe, look back, look forward, pause, full stop, begin again, continue in the imperfect.

Recently I was in a meeting where someone shared how much she loves how all of the sublime aspects of our worship—the music, the poetic language of our prayer book and the mystery of the Eucharist—how all of this is juxtaposed with our own prayers which we offer up during the prayers of the people. Right in the middle of all this beauty and poetry, we pray for a job, a better boyfriend, healing for someone who is sick a better place to live, affordable health care or an affordable car. It is here that we pray for our pets, our children, our neighborhood, and enemies.

There is a prayer at the very end of the Good Friday service that includes these words:

Lord Jesus Christ, … we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. …

This is what it means to have a Messiah who suffers and dies, a savior who does not teach us how to be successful and first in the ways of the world, but how to transform the world by love.  The cross of Christ, the cross that James and John don’t yet understand and which is as much a mystery to us as it is to them, is the bridge between our humanity with all its foibles, and the immensity of God, which can only be told in poetry.

The holy meal that we share every Sunday, at our table where all of you are welcome, is another bridge between our humanity and the poetry of God. At the altar, you can lay all of your longing to be special and to be first. You can lay down all of your wondering about your lovability or about God’s intention for you. You can lay down all of your prayers. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

eNotes: October 17-23

The Word
from Sara
Many of you know that I am planning a sabbatical for the summer of 2013; I’ll be away May 6 through September 3. I will be using the time to reflect on my own story of becoming a Christian and becoming a priest, doing some travel and some writing as well as enjoying some regenerative down time. I’m delighted to share that our parish has been granted a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment to fund my sabbatical and to fund the parish-wide Faith & Story Project, which is a parallel process for people in our parish community to reflect on their faith journey using music, writing, clay, new friendships, and whatever else facilitates creative story-telling. There are many ways to participate in this project, and you’ll be hearing about more of them soon! Many people helped to design this project and to write the proposal to the Lilly Endowment: LeRoy Goertz, Linda Goertz, Kyle Haverly, Sarah Haverly, Jeanne Kaliszewski, Roy Scott, and Jane Sproul. As the coming months unfold, you’ll be hearing much more about the sabbatical time.

This Week
Faith & Story: The Anglican Story
TONIGHT, October 17, 7 pm in the Grace Room.
This short class is for those of you who are new to the Episcopal Church and would like to know more about….just about anything!
Want to know about our history?
About what Episcopalians believe?
When do we stand and when do we kneel? Why?
What’s up with that candle in the sanctuary that never goes out?
And what about Mary? Come share our story.

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24:
This Sunday, October 21, 10amCheck out the bulletin in advance here, click on the readings to read them!

Looking Ahead

What are you reading? JOIN Book Group: Next Thursday October 25, 11 – 12, Grace Room. The book group with good coffee and a mission.. one of our many exciting collaborations with the New City Initiative! Just bring whatever book you are currently reading, and come share.

Dia de Los Muertos celebration, October 29 through November 4: We’re excited to partner with the Living School to build not one but two altars in memory of those we remember during this season of All Hallows Eve/All Souls/All Saints. One altar will be in the narthex between the parish hall and the sanctuary, and the other will be outside. More information will be forthcoming.

First Saturday Movie Night is Back! On Nov. 3, Pray the Devil Back to Hell will be featured in the St. David’s Parish Hall. Gather at 6:00 for a potluck dinner, movie at 6:30. Lively discussion to follow.

All Saints Sunday, November 4: Please feel free to bring a memento to offer at our altar during the Eucharist in memory of someone who has died in the past year, or whom you remember every year on All Saints Day. In addition, and in keeping with with the Dio de los Muertos tradition, consider bringing an offering of your loved one’s favorite food to share during coffee hour on that day.

OMSI! Join St. David’s for a multi-age outing to OMSI on November 4.  Tickets are only $2, and you can buy them in advance to avoid long lines!  We will gather together for a Pizza lunch here at 12:00 (right after coffee hour), and then go to OMSI! Please RSVP if you plan to attend: office@saintdavidpdx.org

Faith & Story: Bible 101, November 7, 14, and 28: Do you ever feel at sea with the bible? Don’t know your beatitudes from your begats? Wish you could impress your friends (or at least your relatives) with your knowledge of the twelve apostles? Wondering why hardly anyone in the bible has a sense of humor? Wish you knew how to find stuff between those tattered covers? This short class won’t teach you everything you want to know, but it will give you a framework for the Great Stories, and provide a safe port in the biblical storm.

It’s not too early to think about Thanksgiving:
Consider joining our community potluck this year! All are invited, so bring the family, your neighbors, and friends. Mark your calendars now. We usually eat at 4 pm, and there are lots of ways to participate. You can get more information and sign up on our website.

The Family Shelter-to-Housing Partnership (FSHP) is seeking Donations
for four homeless family shelters. Immediate donation needs include Blankets & unused pillows, Winter coats, Hygiene products (Deodorant), Toothbrush & toothpaste, Diapers & diaper wipes, Pajamas for all ages, New socks & underwear, Paper cups, plates, bowls & forks, Office supplies (pens, sharpies, tape, etc).  Drop off at Peace Church of the Brethren, in the basement 12727 SE Market Street, Portland, OR 97233 503-256-2280 or adiffenauer@humansolutions.org

Parish News
New Office Hours & Emails:
In addition to new email addresses and new divisions of labor for our fabulous office staff, our office hours have changed as of October 2: you can find us “at home” on Tuesday through Thursday, 10 to 2 pm and by appointment.

Emily is available by email at Office@SaintDavidPDX.org, phone at 503.232.8461, and on-site during our new office hours to answer all your Children’s Ministries and Parish-related questions.

 

Dan is available by email at Community@SaintDavidPDX.org, phone directly at 503.445.4964, or by appointment to answer all your Building Community and financial questions.

Want to get in touch with and learn more about the rest of our growing staff? Visit our website!


Got music?
The choir is always looking for musical, enthusiastic, and otherwise interested voices to enliven our worship services. Rehearsals are now on Sundays from 9:20-9:50 in the Music Room and on the 2nd Thursday of every month from 6-9. If you have any questions, contact Dan.

Parishioner Jim Pecore
has moved to Pacific Health And Rehabilitation, 14145 Sw 105th Street Tigard, OR 97224, Phone 503.639.1144. Visits and cards are always appreciated.

God’s Arithmetic: Mark 10:2-16

What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?

I remember a Sunday morning twenty-five years ago, give or take, hearing today’s gospel when I was in the middle of a divorce. Like almost every divorce, mine was a painful one. During the reading of the gospel my heart started pounding. I felt anxious and exposed. I sat on the edge of my seat at the beginning of the sermon only to hear the preacher say: Well, everyone hates hearing this passage and no one likes to preach on it, so I’m going to preach on the Epistle instead. This is a common approach to Jesus’ teachings on divorce.

I once heard someone say about today’s gospel: why do we have to have this on a Sunday? I am not going to deprive you of the opportunity to think about divorce on a Sunday. A bit of social and historical background will help us hear Jesus’ words in the proper perspective.

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” There they go again. The Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus into saying he is above the law. In today’s gospel, Jesus does not say that he is above the law, but he reminds his hearers, and us, about God’s original intention in creating marriage. In essence he says that God is above the law.

There were two schools of thought in Jesus’ day concerning divorce.  The stricter view was that divorce could only be allowed when there had been some sexual impropriety.  The more liberal view was that a man could divorce his wife for any reason.  If she burned his breakfast, put too much salt on his food, spoke disrespectfully of her husband’s parents, spoke to a man on the street, or even let her hair down in public, he could divorce her. This was the popular view in Jesus’ time and place. Although most of us living in America today are free to do what we wish with our hair, divorce then and there was as common as it is here and now. In Jesus’ time, a man could divorce a woman on a whim, but a woman could not divorce a man for any cause. Women were property to be discarded when they no longer served their perceived purpose.

The Pharisees are asking: “Is divorce legal?” but Jesus doesn’t even answer that question. He answers a different question: “What is God’s intention?” That question is an eternal question, about God’s plan for creation, and about what that means for our relationship with God and with one another.

Today’s gospel speaks to many of us personally, if we have ever been divorced, thought about getting divorced, struggled to make sense of someone else’s divorce or struggled to make sense of someone’s choice not to get divorced. It speaks to us if we have married someone who is divorced, or if we have been taught that we, or someone we love, didn’t belong in church or in our families or in another community because of a divorce. Almost all of us are all touched in some way by this aspect of our humanity.

In today’s gospel, Jesus calls us out of the realm of legalism, and into the realm of God.

In the realm of God, two shall become one flesh. This is God’s arithmetic. One plus one equals one.

Marriage is just one manifestation of God’s arithmetic.

In the realm of God, we are all one.  God’s plan for us in creation, in making us just a little lower than the angels, is that we be at unity with God, with one another, and with all of creation. The question of God’s intention in creation is an eternal question and it’s also a personal question. How is God calling you, calling me, calling each of us into union with God, into union with all of creation, and with every single person in the communities where we live, work, pray, and play?

We have been invited, these past few weeks, to reflect on how God is calling us to give of ourselves financially, as part of our spiritual practice and our relationship with God. Think about God’s arithmetic versus the world’s arithmetic. In the world’s arithmetic, St. David’s gives me a paycheck every month, and some of it goes to the bank to pay the mortgage.  Some goes to the electric company, some goes to the phone company, and some goes to pay for things I’ve already bought in the past month or two. In God’s arithmetic, all that I am and all that I have belongs to God, all the time.

I would like to tell you that I have been praying and meditating very thoughtfully about what to give to the church this year as a reflection of my gratitude to God for all that God has done for me. I am, indeed, very blessed, and very grateful. But that’s not the way God’s arithmetic works for me. What works for me is not to think about it. Taking my own thinking, rationalizing, juggling-of-my-many-material-needs out of the equation bring me closer into unity with God and with our common life.

Long ago someone said: “Don’t give ‘till it hurts; give ‘till it feels good.” I’m kind of into feeling good. Where I got to in my quest to give ‘till it feels good is ten percent of my paycheck. I’m not very good at math, so when I fill out my pledge card I get to do the easiest math there is. Ten percent. That’s all the math I can handle. It’s the first check I write. My mother and my husband will tell you that I’m not great with money and I never have been. If I gave to the church what was left over at the end of the month, there wouldn’t be much. If anything. So I give the first fruits, not what’s left over. The arithmetic of first fruits, giving from abundance, is God’s arithmetic.

In all of our connections, God’s will is wholeness and unity, gratitude and abundance. Generosity and hope. Divorce is just one manifestation of how we fall short of God’s intention for us in creation. Part of being human, part of being made lower than the angels, is that we fall short of God’s heart’s desire for us in all sorts of ways.

Does this mean that people who divorce or, heaven forbid, divorce and remarry, are more sinful than those who lie, or steal, dishonor their parents or worship false gods? Does it mean that people who divorce should be shunned from their faith community or from God’s table? There may be some who might argue so. But this morning (and any morning) I will go out on a limb and say that those who judge in that way are also missing the mark, and are also falling short of God’s desire for us.

So let me return to the question, why do we have to have this reading on a Sunday? Because it is on this day more than any other that we gather each week to celebrate our common life, to present to God our longings to be whole and in unity with God and with one another. It is on this morning, at this table, week after week, that we offer to and celebrate with God the best that we are and the best that we have.

Let our celebration and our unity be our answer to God’s great gift in our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life.

What kind of Anglican are YOU?

On Wednesday night we hosted an evening of conversation and discovery using material from the great John Westerhoff and tools developed by the fabulous College for Congregational Development in the Diocese of Olympia. Cookies were eaten, stories were shared, and about twenty people learned each other’s names and learned a few things about Anglicanism and how they relate the ethos of our tradition to their own faith experience. What fun!

Here is a list–probably only a partial list–of aspects of  Anglican spirituality. Which ones overlap with your own spirituality?

Liturgical
Biblical
Communal
Pastoral
Sacramental
Mystical
Incarnational

And here are some of the marks of Anglican temperament, or personality. Which of these best engage your own temperament?

Comprehensive
Ambiguous
Open-Minded
Intuitive
Aesthetic
Moderate
Naturalistic
Historical
Political

Participants were given markers and instructions to identify three aspects of Anglican spirituality and three aspects of Anglican temperament that they most identify with, and also three of each that they most associate with St. David’s. By the time we were done, we had a hallway full of posters that looked like the posters on the left.

We learned some things. We learned that no one identified St. David’s as particularly “mystical” although lots of people liked the definition of mystical when applied to themselves. (Some of us decided that we needed to work on our definition of mystical.) We learned that people love being part of a church that has “Ambiguous” in its vocabulary. We learned that open-mindedness is right up there with godliness. And that being a sacramental community is one of the things with which people who worship with us closely align.

What fun indeed!

Up next: The Anglican Story, Your Story, Part 1, on Wednesday, October 10, 7 pm in the Grace Room. 

Does St. David’s bless animals?

We love animals. People bring their dogs around to us on a regular basis and we’re always happy to see them. We’re situated in a neighborhood full of animal-lovers: dogs, cats, geckos, goats, chickens, ball pythons, corn snakes, ferrets, and more.

Many churches bless animals on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Francis. There are several reasons why we don’t do this at St. David’s:

  • St. Francis had many, many important qualities and distinctive ways of being a follower of Jesus that are too often ignored, either intentionally or unintentionally, by a unidimensional focus on his love of animals. What about his holy boldness? What about his environmental advocacy? What about his love of poverty?
  • If we always celebrate St. Francis on the first Sunday in October, we miss whatever the Sunday lectionary is on that week. (This year, I know some of my Francis-celebrating, animal-blessing colleagues are thrilled to transfer St. Francis rather than figure out a way to preach about God’s treatment of Job and Jesus’ teachings on adultery.)
  • We are proud of our Spirit-filled chaos every single Sunday and don’t need to add more.

Many churches in the metro area will be blessing animals this Sunday. You can find listings for Episcopal animal blessings on our diocesan calendar. And, if you bring your animal to St. David’s this Sunday for a blessing, we will bless him or her. Actually, we will bless your animal any Sunday!