Saved

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

-Luke 6:17-20 (NRSV)

“Welcome to Cherokee” the sign read as our bus of more than sixty college students and sponsors descended upon the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains. Before beginning the eight-hour drive west, we had been primed on the challenges facing this community: above-average rates of obesity, diabetes, and alcoholism and a lack of economic and educational opportunities and resources. We had studied in detail the atrocities the U.S. government had carried out in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries vis à vis boarding schools, assimilation, slaughter, and forced relocation. This wasn’t our first confrontation with society’s economic and social disparities; some in our group had grown up in systems of inequality and marginalization  You’d you’d think that would have stopped us from donning self-made superhero capes. Or, something like that.

It didn’t.

Our first night in Cherokee we listened as three tribal elders introduced us to their community: “We’re honored you have come here,” one said. “But, we don’t need you to save us or fix us. Just listen to our story and do not forget us when you leave. We need people to know our story. You will all be working in different groups: some of you will be painting, some of you will be working with one of our schools, others will be at a group home for teens. But that’s not why you’re really here. You’re here to be a part of us this week.”

Jesus’ beatitude: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” calls us to confront our preconceived notions of what it means to help bring God’s kingdom come today. People are not problems to solve. Indeed, we are called to relationships, not assignments. Living in community is not an either/or, us vs. them. The satisfied do not always have the answer, nor are they superheroes in disguise. Fifteen years later, I vaguely remember the work we did, but my memories of lavish meals, hugs, stories, worship, and discovery have yet to fade. The dreamcatcher one teen made me still hangs on my bedpost.

As many of us learned that week, sometimes those who come to save end up being saved.

This week’s author is The Rev. Maria Kane. She is an Episcopal priest, historian of American religion, and native Texan. She currently lives outside Washington, D.C., where she serves as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waldorf, Maryland (and remains unabashed in her love for Washington’s archrival, the Dallas Cowboys). In her free time, Maria loves reading, cooking, kayaking, and spoiling her godchildren. She can be found on Twitter @mariaconchia.

Maybe it’s the Rest of Us…

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

-Luke 6:17-20 (NRSV)

“You’d be surprised to know who my most reliable clients are,” my friend Adam explained to me over lunch one day. As a public defender and longtime friend, he was catching me up on a handful of upcoming trials, including one involving a fifty-something man whose most recent home address was under an overpasses one mile from the White House. During the day, the man shuffled through the city’s libraries and rode the subway until the train’s operator kicked him off. On Tuesdays, he showered at a local church. Having heard stories of clients failing to appear at trial, I casually replied to his update: “Well, good luck with that one. Do you think he’ll actually show up?”

“Absolutely,” my friend said. “I never have to worry about my clients who are homeless. They’re always there and they’re always on time.” After pausing a moment, he continued, “Being in court is the only time they actually hear someone call them by their name.”

Speechless, my cheeks burned. How many of us keep track of the people who look us in the eye and call us by our name? Few of us who call ourselves Christians would deny that those without homes are children of God. Still, we often regard them as one among many—a statistic or social issue—not a person, not a child, not a lover, not a friend. It’s easier to blame them for their circumstances instead of looking at our own privilege and systems that have fostered such deep inequality.

 

 

Homeless man in Los Angeles, CA (1 August 2009) by Terabass. Wikicommons

When Jesus declared, Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” he wasn’t romanticizing poverty or glossing over its harsh realities. He was shattering the authority of one’s economic and social status to defines one’s worth.  In essence, Jesus was saying to them: “Your poverty is not the essence of your being. I see you. I know you. You matter. You belong.”

Maybe it’s the rest of us—those of us feeling confident in our ability, our circumstance, and our financial future, who finally need to show up, look people in the eye, and see what God has always seen: immeasurable worth.

 

 

This week’s author is The Rev. Maria Kane. She is an Episcopal priest, historian of American religion, and native Texan. She currently lives outside Washington, D.C., where she serves as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waldorf, Maryland (and remains unabashed in her love for Washington’s archrival, the Dallas Cowboys). In her free time, Maria loves reading, cooking, kayaking, and spoiling her godchildren. She can be found on Twitter @mariaconchia.

Being Blessed

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

-Luke 6:17-20 (NRSV)

It’s called the humblebrag my friend tells me. I’ve never been hip to pop culture, so I rely upon her to inform of the latest phrases, buzzes, and trends.   The humblebrag she explains, is when you want to show off something without looking like you actually are. One of the popular ways to do so on social media is to caption your posts and photos with: #blessed.

Whether cradling your first-born child on your chest, holding an umbrella-topped mojito on the balcony of an exclusive Caribbean resort, “I’m blessed” renders holy or spiritual all that seems providential and nonchalant. Lest I be accused of judging someone’s motives, I, too, have raised my fist in the sky and shouted, “I’m blessed” when walking the beach with my godchildren. It’s not the use of the phrase that scares me but the ease with which we toss out that phrase, rendering God a divine gumball machine or wish factory. It scares me because I get it. I get the desire to create a sense of order and meaning to the grace that befalls. I understand the lure of wanting to justify why good things happen to some and not others. I understand the sheer gratitude and awe of standing face to face with grace. I understand the desire for my prayers for healing and mercy to be answered as I want. I understand the subtle ease with which we—with which, I—so easily form God in my image.

In the face of Jesus’ words: Blessed are the poor, for there is the kingdom of heaven confronts our limited understanding of God’s blessing and invites us to push beyond our  limited imaginations, privilege, and experience to see the goodness in that which has been cast down.

In a kingdom that calls us to let go of our thirst and reliance on what we have and do, we can finally make space for all of us to gather ‘round the table. No humblebrag needed.

 

This week’s author is The Rev. Maria Kane. She is an Episcopal priest, historian of American religion, and native Texan. She currently lives outside Washington, D.C., where she serves as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waldorf, Maryland (and remains unabashed in her love for Washington’s archrival, the Dallas Cowboys). In her free time, Maria loves reading, cooking, kayaking, and spoiling her godchildren. She can be found on Twitter @mariaconchia.

 

Slow down. Pay attention. Be astonished.

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

-Luke 6:17-20 (NRSV)

The beginning of the Gospel of Luke from the Codex Petropolitanus, 9th century

I opened my email and skimmed the email: Would you like to write on your favorite beatitude? Without a second thought, I replied: AbsolutelyMy favorites are blessed are the poor and blessed are those who mourn.

Days later, I receive the prompt: Write on your favorite beatitude…from the Gospel of Luke.

I hesitate: “The Gospel of Luke?” I thought. “Wait. I was thinking about the Gospel of Matthew.” I’m humbled by the quickness and surety with which I read the invitation. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve misread directions either. Slow down, I thought. Pay attention.

It’s not that I don’t like Luke’s account of Jesus’ sermon, but there’s a tangibility and frankness in Luke’s interpretation (Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven) that is less obvious in Matthew’s (Blessed are the poor in spirit).   Matthew’s Gospel is what I want to hear right now. The season of Lent has laid bare a yearning for God that busyness can’t satisfy. Joy is in short supply, reminding me of the danger we all have in interpreting Scripture through our circumstances alone.

Luke, however, makes it very clear throughout his entire Gospel: Jesus is on the side of the marginalized, the oppressed, and the forgotten.

Blessed are you deemed unworthy.

Blessed are you whose offerings are judged as inferior.

Blessed are you who’ve been excluded for what they have or don’t have, who they are or are not.

You are entitled to all the riches of God’s kingdom.

What you have does not matter. You belong here.

The truth of the matter is, far too often I’m culpable of trying to control the boundaries of God’s kingdom, of who’s in and out. Who’s got enough and who should try again.  The irony is not lost on me. As a black woman I have stood on the outside looking or tried to explain the importance of my belonging: from graduate school to church to the jewelry counter in suburbs. I have bemoaned and protested against the fear of the other that has become the de facto lens through which policies are being made. Borders aren’t only at rivers and self-preservation is not limited to just a few. Blessed are the poor for theirs in the kingdom.

This Easter season let’s embody Mary Oliver’s wise instructions for living life: Slow down. Pay attention. Be astonished. God’s kingdom knows no bounds.

 

This week’s author is The Rev. Maria Kane. She is an Episcopal priest, historian of American religion, and native Texan. She currently lives outside Washington, D.C., where she serves as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waldorf, Maryland (and remains unabashed in her love for Washington’s archrival, the Dallas Cowboys). In her free time, Maria loves reading, cooking, kayaking, and spoiling her godchildren. She can be found on Twitter @mariaconchia.

Rejoice Now!

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,
and let your trumpets shout Salvation
for the victory of our mighty King.
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,
bright with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.
Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,
and let your holy courts, in radiant light,
resound with the praises of your people.

Those words begin the song of Christ’s victory, the Exsultet, announcing the movement from death to resurrection.

I chanted it as a deacon. I remember my intense practice with my voice teacher Miss Dottie. I made notes on the score. I rehearsed. I wanted to sing it as perfectly as I could. After all, it’s a huge moment in the liturgy for a deacon.

It wasn’t perfect. I missed a few notes. I was so focused on each note I didn’t give as much focus to the whole message of the ancient hymn.

I’ve continued to chant it through the years. I don’t serve a congregation with a vocational deacon, so I chant the Exsultet at almost every Easter Vigil. My notes written 15 years ago still adorn the pages I use.

I still miss a few notes, now more so due to the task of chanting the entirety of Holy Week. The words and notes combine for me now in a way they didn’t 15 years ago. Certain phrases catch me, so I pause just a bit when I chant the words, for to redeem a slave, he gave a son. My heart begins to waken to the joy of Easter when we hear on this night, God restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn.

I sing it with a confidence now. My voice has matured, yes. But I’ve also chanted the words over and over. They are no longer new. The notes aren’t unexpected. They wed themselves to my bones and heart. They root deeply within my soul. I can chant some parts from memory. This experience, chanting from memory, from repetition, and from my soul make the song come alive for me (and, I hope, for the congregation who is hearing).

Easter gives us an opportunity to practice the song Jesus gives us…again. We know the words. We’ve heard the parables and the teachings through the years. And yet, hearing them, reflecting on them, singing them again gives us a chance to become more familiar with our song of discipleship.

This year, 50 Days of Fabulous will offer reflections on one of the great teachings of Jesus, his Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke. Each week, one of our writers will offer daily reflections on a section of the sermon. We’ll journey for 50 days through the blessed and the woes. We’ll explore deeply the teachings of Jesus in this well-known but perhaps not as well-understood passage. We hope you will join us, asking your questions, adding your insights.

We hope you will join us as we celebrate 50 Days of Fabulous as we sing with our selves and souls, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”

Let Evening Come…

Let Evening Come
by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Sarah had been working, doing, being busy. Calling friends, checking on her brother. Talking to the doctor. Checking on her brother. Cleaning the house that was already spotless. Checking on her brother.

He was dying. Dying after a very long illness. And here she was, back in the family home, filled with more memories than space, and filling her hours and minutes with the things we all fill our hours and minutes with to avoid facing that which we know is coming, but realizing what we know is actually so unknown we will do almost anything to avoid it.

She sat at the family table, long, scratched, worn in places from years of elbows and forks and conversations and meals. The phone rang, and her friend Jane asked on the other end, “How are you doing?”

Sarah answered the way many of us answer when we don’t want to say the truth. And her friend replied, in deep love, “Let evening come.”

Matthew, Peter, James, John…have been working, doing, being busy. They have been teaching, preaching, healing, questioning, following for months and years. They gathered with Jesus of Nazareth on this night that would be different from all other nights.

The remnants of the meal rested on the table before them all, the disciples. Maybe 12, maybe 20, maybe more. Women and men. Some children. Most faces were familiar, but a few new ones, perhaps friends of friends. Jesus never turned away someone who wanted to join in.

They gathered to listen – again – to Jesus. The post-meal hey, are you going to eat that last bit of cheese; did you see the crowd a few days ago and hear them cheering; this Jesus movement is really going somewhere conversation pass over each other. Judas and Peter share an inside joke, and Judas notices the light is beginning to fade.

Let evening come.

We gather. We have been working, doing, being busy. Life is busy. We have things to do, people to see, life to live. But on this night, we sit down at the dinner party with inside jokes and laughter and hellos to hear our friend, our Lord and Savior, fill this space with something profound, something that shifts us from our narrative. And while we know what is coming, what will happen after the moment and the meal. Maybe this time, we wonder, it won’t be so hard, so raw, so hurtful. Maybe this time ‘My God My God why have you forsaken me’ won’t be spoken from him. Maybe this time…

And yet, let evening come.

Like Peter, James, John, Sarah, and all of us when we stand at the edge of what is and where we are and peer into that which is hazy and unknown, we want to stop it all, stay where we are, refuse to go forward, refuse to move.

Jesus, however, being Jesus, does move. He moves from the table. He rises and kneels, washes our feet, a symbol of that love. No one is beneath you, no act of love is menial, he shows us. Do the work that needs to be done. Love those who need to be loved, including yourself. Be willing to seek love out of comfortable spaces and place. Be willing to move beyond. Be willing to trust. Peter makes a fuss. He always does. Judas looks uncomfortable. But then, so do all of us. Slaves touch dirty feet. Not Jesus. Not us.

He moves to take the bread and the wine and shares with us. Nourish yourselves on love, and feed others with the same love. Maybe, even, he sees us looking at the ones around the table we don’t like. That Judas has always been a bit…you know, we say to ourselves, moving away from love.

Jesus gives the wine to Judas, then offers the cup to us. “Drink,” his says, “In love.”

The laugher has died down a bit. Peter is going on and on…again…about how much he loves Jesus. Judas is checking his phone, like he has somewhere to be. Sarah is looking in on her brother again. Did you know he was dying? someone whispers. We are wondering if we sent that email or returned that phone call or finished whatever remains unfinished in our days and lives.

“What did Jesus mean ‘he is only with us a little longer’? Is he going somewhere? Maybe back to Bethlehem?” Thomas asks.

We shrug our shoulders. We all have our thoughts. The temple priests have been agitated lately, not so friendly to Jesus. No one likes to be called a hypocrite – especially when it’s the truth. We’ve heard talk that the Roman authorities don’t care for Jesus, either. Who would have thought that preaching love would make so many people angry.

James and John said they heard talk about an insurrection, and that the church leaders wanted Jesus silenced. Dead, even. After all, John said, all this welcome of the outcast gave people ideas, ideas they have worth and dignity, that their lives matter. Matthew and Philip nod. We nod. If only he were just a bit…nicer, not so…but our comment is interrupted as Sarah returns.

She sits down at the table again.

The disciples sat down at the table again.

We sat down at the table again.

“Is it really that bad? Could he really be killed?” someone asks. No one speaks, and the silence says what we all know is true.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. He’s too young, too vibrant, too much life ahead of him. What if we don’t remember everything he’s told us. That whole bit about the bread and wine…what are we supposed to remember again?

“Love, he said something about love,” someone remarks.

“Love,” we repeat.

“Love isn’t supposed to feel this scary, is it?” Mary asks.

Jesus gets up and walks to the door. He opens it and walks outside. Evening is coming. We all see it. We all feel it.

Mary follows to the door. She pauses and reaches to touch his shoulder, maybe to hold him back, maybe to give him the faith to move forward.

Let evening come.

“What now?’ Matthew asks, to no one and to everyone.

Jesus looks to us, the shadows of the evening falling around him. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love.”

“Love,” he repeats once more.

Then he turns and walks out the door.

We follow, fearful, loving, lost, faithful in bits, and confused in parts. Our feet washed, our souls filled. We move into the unknown. We follow into what will come next.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us   
comfortless, so let evening come.