5/31/2013

Palimpsest "And All the People Saw It"

And All the People Saw It
1 Kings 18:20-39

Readings
What is there about the Land of Israel in particular for it to be made the homeland of the chosen people? The Bible sings the praises of the land's abundance and its beauty, but there is nothing religious in that. A theological dimension appears in Deuteronomy, where a point is made about the difference between Egypt, which drinks river water, and the land of Israel, which drinks rainwater. 

Rainfall is a symbol of divine providence. Furthermore, according to the biblical stories, in the great riverine countries a nation's sense of ownership of its land and mastery of its destiny is reinforced, leading to the development of tyrannical regimes and slavery. In land that drink rainwater, on the other hand, man constantly senses his dependence on God and for that reason such a land will sustain a regime of justice, free of subjugation. 

Rainfall is perceived in the Bible as a means for the edification of the people. This is most pronounced in the early prophets, and above all in the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. We learn from that story that the dependence on rain is a form of trial. There is a great temptation to use pagan magic to ensure that rain falls, but that defiles the land and it then vomits up its inhabitants; it was, in fact, the source of the Canaanites' sin. The people of Israel must learn that only by observing God's commandments can they dwell in their land and enjoy its bounty.
– Jewish Heritage Online Magazine

When Elijah began his part of the contest, everything was taking longer than he expected – building the altar, stacking the wood, and so on. In order to complete the contest the same day it began, he asked God to make the sun stand still as it had for Joshua. It did, and the contest went on as planned. – Ginzberg IV

In front of the main chapel on the campus of Seattle University, there is a large pool and in the pool, a large rock. On that rock, pieces of wood that will serve for the “new fire” for the Easter Vigil are placed and lit. In the dark, the water and rock blend as the fire soars, ever brighter. To the eyes of those who come to celebrate this liturgical “night of nights” for many Christians, the fire is a miraculous sight, its brilliant light duplicated on the water below. The people gathered in the night have long waited for this fire, which kindles their delight: the long dark winter will give way to the dawn of a new day.
Fire from out the water. Or so it seems.
– Glaucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, Feasting on the Word


Questions:

  • What do these miracle stories in the Old Testament say to you today?
  • What great things have you witnessed God doing? 
  • Is anything different after seeing something amazing? Or do you go back to the way things were before? Why?

5/23/2013

Trinity: Heresy/Hearsay

(Trinity by Father John Giuliani)

John 16:12-15

Readings
Heresies and errors about the Trinity can be classified in the following way: 1) the unity of the divine nature is denied so that you have some form of tritheism, that is, three gods joined together as some kind of moral unity. 2) Or, a real trinity of persons is denied. This comes in two forms: a) Monarchianism or Modalism: those holding these positions deny a real personal distinction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They say that there is only a "rational distinction" between them, or they call them "modes." b) Subordinationism: those holding this position deny implicitly or explicitly the true divinity of the Second and Third Persons, who are creatures and are subordinated to the first person who alone is really God. – http://icucourses.com/pages/025-01-the-trinity-and-the-major-heresies

The root of the word trinity is unity. As I continue to explore what it means to worship and relate to our triune God, I find myself thinking about God as one, manifest in all three roles, without contradiction. I think of God the Father as the divine parent, beyond human gender, who birthed and nurtured all of creation. I think of God the Son, the historical Jesus, as the human portrait of God. I think of the Holy Spirit as the personality of God, both Father and Son, present and interactive in the world today. Within this mystery, I continue to discover that the love of God, the grace of God and the joy of God are synchronized in the Trinity. The notion is more than I can swallow all at once. But it is a concept that I comprehend more deeply as God's story intersects with my life and my world. – Barry Howard, in Christian Century, 5.15.13

I arise today: in the might of Heaven; brightness of Sun;
whiteness of Snow; splendor of Fire; speed of Lightning;
swiftness of Wind; depth of Sea; stability of Earth; firmness of Rock.
I arise today: in the might of God for my piloting;
Power of God for my upholding; Wisdom of God for my guidance;
Eye of God for my foresight; Ear of God for my hearing
Word of God for my utterance; Hand of God for my guardianship;
Path of God for my precedence; Shield of God for my protection;
Host of God for my salvation...
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ under me, Christ over me, Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me, Christ in lying down, Christ in sitting, Christ in rising up,
Christ in the heart of every person who may think of me!
Christ in the mouth of everyone who may speak to me!
Christ in every eye which may look on me!
Christ in every ear which may hear me!
I arise today: in vast might, invocation of the Trinity
belief in a Threeness; confession of Oneness; meeting in the Creator.
– St. Patrick, The Lorica Prayer, (ca. 377)

Questions:

Is there one part of the Trinity that you feel most connected to? Which one is it? Why? What are the benefits of a Trinitarian theology? What are the difficulties? Is this issue still relevant to the church?

5/15/2013

Palimpsest: A New Spirit


A New Spirit

Acts 2:1-21

Readings
Recognizing that we are all children of God and individuals of sacred worth, we welcome all God's people. We are called to practice unconditional love, and therefore we accept all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identities. By declaring ourselves to be a Reconciling Congregation, Fairmount Avenue United Methodist Church joins many other United Methodist churches in working to eliminate prejudice and discriminatory practices in ourselves and our communities. – Fairmount Avenue United Methodist Church Reconciling Statement

God, you are the God of Huldah, 
of Miriam and Deborah.
You are speaking still 
through prophets in our midst.
You whisper an idea in our ear: 
we say, “What’s she up to?”
You rise in our joy or outrage offering a vision: we say, “Whoa, she is out of control!”
We should cover our mouths with our hands,
amazed that You still love us.
You are our God. Forgive us.
– Dumbarton UMC, Shaping Sanctuary


The story of Pentecost, a pivotal part of the biblical narrative, marks the inauguration of the church and launches the globalization of the Christian faith. We cannot recreate the phenomena of Pentecost; our God is not the god of repeat performances but a God who is always seeking to do a new thing, and the Holy Spirit is pressing us to creativity and innovation and persistence. In his book Thinking about God, Fisher Humphreys describes the Spirit as One who “brings life and vitality into the experience of the Christian and the church...He makes Christian living dynamic as well as decent.” I understand the activity of the Spirit to be fostering unity, not division; inspiring creativity, not repressing it; and revisioning the future, not preserving the status quo. – Barry Howard, The Christian Century 5.15.13

In a historic moment tonight on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol, Governor Mark Dayton officially signed the freedom to marry into law... Minnesotans United, the campaign that successfully defeated the hurtful marriage amendment in 2012 and led the effort at the Capitol to secure the freedom to marry in 2013, released the following statement following tonight’s event: “Today would never have been possible without the dedication and commitment of the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who believe that freedom means freedom for everyone. Just two years ago, today was nearly unimaginable – but over the last 24 months, Minnesotans proved that we don’t turn our backs on family...Across all political backgrounds and religious beliefs, Minnesotans spoke up and affirmed what we already knew to be true: Marriage matters, and it is a basic freedom that should not be denied to some simply because of who are they. Governor Dayton’s signature today makes the dreams of so many families a reality, and makes Minnesota a more free and fair place for all who call it home.” – www.mnunited.org

Questions:
  • Do you believe the Holy Spirit is still at work? Where do you see signs of it?

5/08/2013

Palimpsest for Mother's Day


A Mother’s Heart

I Kings 17:8-24

Readings
It is true that the widow needed Elijah, but the prophet first needed her. Desperately thirsty, he asked her for water. Hungry, he asked her for bread. Her generous response was rewarded with an undiminished supply....These are common folkloric themes and may represent some legendary embellishment of the facts. Some commentators suggest that the boy did not die but was unconscious or in a coma. Whatever the specifics, the widow and the prophet were mutually dependent on each other to the point of maintaining life. That a widow was chosen to provide for the prophet is a particularly poignant point, for she herself had no provisions and no one to provide for her. A childless widow was a family responsibility in terms of securing an heir, but a widowed mother was on her own and had to struggle to survive. Nevertheless God sent the prophet to the woman so that he might be nourished by her. This relationship between the religious figure and the woman should not be overlooked. – Miriam Therese Winter, WomanWisdom

“You’re a demanding fellow, Elijah,” the Voice said. “You call me demanding,” was the prophet’s rejoinder. “Just look at all that you have asked of me.”
“Well, at least I never asked for your last grains of flour and last drops of oil to make me a pancake.” The Voice came back again, dripping with irony. “If I hadn’t kept slipping more provisions into that widow’s house, you all would have starved.”
“I had faith that you would come through for the widow and semi-orphan, even if you wouldn’t think of helping me. You see I know you have a soft spot for wounded types, even if they are foreigners. I knew you wouldn’t let them down.” Now there was a touch of incredulity in the Voice. “Well, who wouldn’t be moved to mercy when you see your own prophet taking the last morsel of food out of the mouths of a widow and her hcild, even if they are foreigners?” The last phrase mimicked Elijah’s own intonation. “Show some mercy now, O Mericful One. I am sure it’s no news to you that the child is dead. Is that what passes for mercy these days?” Elijah was irritable now, and his voice revealed it.
– The Storyteller’s Companion, Judges-Kings, Michael Williams, editor

Ain’t I a woman? Look at me
Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted
and gathered into barns and no man could head me...
And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man -–
When I could get it – and bear the lash as well and ain’t I a woman?
I have born thirteen children and seen most all sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother’s grief none but Jesus hear me...
and ain’t I a woman?...
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world
upside down, all alone, 
together women ought to be able to turn it rightside up again.
– Sojourner Truth

Questions:
  • How does the widow of Zarepath advocate for her own child? What does she use?
  • How do we move from advocating for the children we know to the world’s children?

5/02/2013

Palimpsest - No Fear


No Fear
John 14:23-29

Readings
Under certain conditions, the R-brain (reptilian brain - brainstem and cerebellum) wreaks havoc on our thinking and learning. This phenomenon is called downshifting. Our R-brain immediately takes charge when we feel threatened or fearful. It wants only to survive at any cost. We downshift into our R-brain in settings that are unpredictable, disorderly, or threatening. We downshift in situations that lack boundaries and borders, where too many choices are present...In many cases, our downshifting deprives us of joy. It drains us of our aliveness. It prevents us from playing full out with all God’s gifts. It holds us back from the ministries to which God calls us. The shadow of the cross often falls across our choices.Following Jesus usually involves stepping out in faith, taking risks, stretching beyond our comfort zone. If we let our R-brain’s fears hold us back, we never experience the joy of using our spiritual gifts at their full capacity. We never have the deep satisfaction of doing what God created us to do. We deprive ourselves of the transformative learning that sets us free from the past and makes us truly new creations in Christ. – Thomas R. Hawkins, Loving God with All Your Mind


The deed of Gift for the interim is centered on “peace,” the total wellbeing that underlies this Hebrew word of greeting and farewell. It has a meaning specific to Jesus in this Gospel, namely, the overcoming of fear and perturbation with which the chapter opens. Only he can give the gift of peace which is envisioned. Like love, it is a Johannine hallmark of being a disciple of Jesus. – Gerard Sloyan, John

I love the way in which all the angels of scripture, and Jesus himself on occasion, say to people whom they encounter, “Fear not.” At least that is what they say in the King James Version, two simple words that act to obliterate fear, giving the listener the hope that fear’s domination of the human heart is subject to God, after all, and its power can be extinguished. – Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

Your mother told you to play nice. That’s easy when she was your opponent. No fear.
The sky is not the limit, the ground is. So shut up and jump. No fear.
Whoever has the most toys, wins. But dies anyway. No fear.
Fear– the thief of dreams. No fear.
Don’t let your fears stand in the way of your dreams. No fear.
It’s not life that scares me. It’s the sudden stop at the end. No fear.
It’s not who you know. It’s who knows you. No fear.
Fearless by choice, not by chance. No fear.
Absoutely, positively, most definitely, without a doubt. No fear.
Know it. Learn it. Live it. No fear.
– “No Fear” slogans on t-shirts, 1995

Questions:
  • When do you experience fear that keeps you from thinking clearly? What do you do to clear your mind? What helps you calm down?
  • How can Jesus tell us not to be afraid? How does Jesus help us when we are afraid?

5/01/2013