Giving God a Little Room

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, January 12, 2020

By: David May

The Church has always treasured the story of Jesus’ baptism. Since it’s very earliest days, the Church set aside the Sunday following the Day of Epiphany (always January 6th) to remember Jesus’ baptism. It is very precious for those who follow Jesus to remember that we have been baptized just like he was. Jesus plunged into the waters of baptism in solidarity with all the rest who streamed out to the wilderness who were looking for a second chance, a new beginning, a fresh start, or who were just hoping that such things were possible. Did Jesus need a second chance on life, a new beginning, a fresh start? Maybe not the way we do. But his baptism did start something brand new in his life. Immediately following his baptism, ready or not, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness out past and beyond what he had known before. We know now that he wrestled with Satan during that time, a time that refined and defined what his ministry would be. But I don’t think Jesus knew that. What did he know of what was to come? Maybe nothing, other than knowing that his heart was right beside God’s heart, come what may.

Amelia McDaniel shared a quote with me a few days ago that speaks of this going forward without knowing what’s coming next. The quote is: “God uses uncertainty to chase us out into the open where we can find him all over again.” I like this quote. A lot. I think it speaks right into our experience of our brother, Bob Hetherington, concluding his ministry here at St. Mary’s today and wondering what will come next.

Bob’s departure leaves a big, old, holy hole in our community. A hole we might be tempted to try to fill too quickly. I think we probably shouldn’t try to fill it at all, actually. I think we should just leave it there – the place our love for him made – as a reminder of how much we need one another, and how much we can belong to one another.

It’s so tempting to want to rush into the uncertainty of not knowing what comes next and make it certain – to fill empty holes. I understand why people want to do that because I want to do that sometimes. But I think it’s better to try and give God a little room to work. If we can keep an open space about what comes next, maybe we stand a chance of finding God or being found by God.

On this day when we celebrate Jesus pitching his lot with us by being baptized too; on this day when Banks Wall and Chloe Slade and Alston Mayfield join Jesus and us in the waters of baptism; on this day when the Spirit is leading Bob on to what comes next, and us; on this day, may we be led to leave space open for God to work, out past and beyond what we already know, and keep our own hearts right there beside God’s heart.

Jesus Manifested

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, January 5, 2020

By: Amelia McDaniel

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Epiphany. Twelfth Night is another designation for the day. We are celebrating Jesus being revealed to the world as the Son of God – God made manifest with us. There are three stories that are associated with the day. One of them is the story of the Kings showing up to see Jesus and his kingship being revealed to them. Another is the story of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan and Jesus being called out as the Son of God. And the third story is the Miracle of the Wedding Feast at Cana where Jesus in his abundance saves the day, turning water into wine.

In some cultures, Twelfth Night is a big celebration, as big as Christmas. Bigger for some because it is when the gifts of the season are exchanged. Probably for most of us, it will just register as a Monday or January 6. After the crush of the Christmas season and the ringing in of a new decade, it is understandable. Some of us will be happily packing lunches and sending our “friendly beasts” BACK. TO. SCHOOL. Some of us will be tucking away seasonal decorations. There may be exercise plans newly initiated. Our refrigerators may be full of better food choices. Life will be going on as usual, maybe a little bedraggled, but maybe with a renewed sense of order. Most likely  it will be a mix of all those things together.

I think I am glad for this calmer observation of the day. But I wonder what it might look like to reframe all those ordinary happenings – kids going back to school, houses being tidied up, tending to these bodies we’ve been given – remembering that in all of it, Jesus is continually present and being revealed to us. And more than remembering Jesus’s constant presence with me, what might January 6 and beyond look like if I took the time to remember that I have been given gifts to share. I have been baptized into a new life. And that there is an abundance all around me that I can share. Jesus, please manifest in the abundance.

I doubt I will have the energy to make a grand celebration of The Feast of the Epiphany. But hopefully, in what I do, what I say, what I think aloud in my mind and in the silence of my heart, I will be able to see revealed, made true through life, Jesus manifested in my very midst.

Mary had a Baby

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, December 29, 2019

By: Eleanor Wellford

Mary had a baby (O Lord), Mary had a baby (O My Lord), Mary had a baby (O Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone. (Bruce Cockburn)

These are words of a classic spiritual. Historian John Lovell, Jr. states that “the genius of those who created over 6,000 existing African American spirituals was their ability to weave together complex ideas and make them appear simple.”

The questions and responses in this spiritual are certainly simple. Mary had a baby as the focal point is followed by the practicalities of: Where did she lay him? She laid him in a manger. What did she name him? She named him King Jesus. Who came to see him? Shepherds came to see him.

The simple statement of the event masks the complexity of how the baby was conceived, of Joseph’s shame over Mary’s pregnancy, and of the danger surrounding Jesus’ birth in a barn and later by Herod’s threat to exterminate newborn baby boys causing Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt.

The most complex issue of all has to be how this baby represented any hope among an impoverished and oppressed people during the 1800s. But it did. It can be heard in each refrain of “O My Lord” which represented a deep spiritual understanding of God with them in the midst of challenge and misery. It’s a response of gratitude, reverence, and awe not only for the miracle of birth and for the eventual freedom for all people that this birth represented.

And what about that train that’s mentioned so many times in the spiritual. What did that represent? During the 1800s, trains were emerging as a new method of transportation. For many people, trains represented a new way of connecting to people and places. For African Americans, they represented an eventual way out – to freedom. The train may have gone as the spiritual says, but what’s understood is that because of the nature of trains, there’ll be another one comin’.

Mary had a baby. The simplicity of the event was that it was like any other birth in changing the lives of Mary and Joseph. The complexity of it was that it was like no other birth in changing the lives of us all.


Mary’s Faith

Advent Reflection, Sunday, December 22, 2019

By: Elizabeth Starling

Our Gospel reading this morning tells the Christmas story from Joseph’s perspective; but, this year, I can’t help but see it from the perspective of Mary. This Christmas is a little different for me. My husband and I are expecting our first child and being pregnant over the holiday has given me a newfound respect for young Mary. At 13 or 14 years old, Mary is engaged to an older man she barely knows, and on top of that, finds out that she’s pregnant with Jesus—Emmanuel—“God with us.” What?! I can’t even imagine her reaction.

My wonderful coworkers probably won’t tell you this, but I have not been the most graceful expectant mother. I’m 27 weeks along now, and this week I, without any remorse whatsoever, stole a foot massager from another coworker during our staff Christmas “white elephant” game. I think I said something like, “Sorry but not really because my feet hurt ALL THE TIME,” and then swiped it from him. If my feet or back hurt, they hear about it; if I’m hungry, they know; if my daughter is kicking me, I’m likely making weird faces; and to say my temper is short is an understatement. Pregnancy is beautiful and exciting, but also really tough, and I haven’t been the best at hiding that.

So, when I think of Mary, I just want to give her a hug. By the time she and Joseph set out for Bethlehem, she’s nearing the end of her pregnancy. She has gained 35 or more pounds, her feet hurt, her back aches, and she is riding a donkey. A DONKEY. The last time I rode a donkey, I was five years old, and was excited about the “pony ride” at a carnival. For some reason I still don’t understand, I ended up on a donkey instead of a pony, and it tried to kick me off its back just so that it could stop and eat some grass. You could not pay me to get on a donkey again, especially at 40 weeks pregnant. No thank you.

Yet we don’t read about Mary complaining. We hear only about a humble young woman tasked with something that probably felt impossible—bearing a son, in an unfamiliar place, as a young teen, with a new husband, who just happens not to be the baby’s actual father. There were probably tears and anxiety that we don’t read much about, but despite that, Mary’s faith carries her through. Her trust that God is in control is something that I struggle with daily, and I can only hope to be just a little more like Mary in the months and years to come.

Being an Instrument for God

Advent Reflection, Sunday, December 15, 2019

By: Bob Hetherington

We have arrived at the Third Sunday of Advent. Advent is a separate season, not just the build up for Christmas. Keeping Advent is what makes the Church’s approach to Christmas very different from how the larger culture approaches Christmas. In the shopping malls, the Christmas music began long before Thanksgiving.

Advent is a challenge for each of us because we live in multiple worlds. There is so much to do this time of year – shopping, partying, organizing, and traveling. It is so easy to be distracted and lose sight of things that matter. We try so hard to get Christmas right. It is also true that the more the season is hyped, the more many people feel out of sync with the Christmas build up.

One of the sharpest contrasts between “Church Christmas” and “World Christmas” is John the Baptist. (You will never find a mall display highlighting John the Baptist this time of year.)

What can we say about John the Baptist?
• He was connected to Jesus. He was a cousin. He baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.
• He was from the wilderness – an outsider.
• He had a stern message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
• He pointed beyond himself in a spirit of deep humility: “There is one coming after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

The challenge this season is to prepare a place in our hearts for John the Baptist. It begins by creating quiet space in the hustle and bustle of the season.
• Who are God’s messengers who come to us from the margins of life?
• In repenting our sins, what do we turn away from? What do we turn toward?
• How can we be instruments of God’s love and blessing?

John the Baptist was an instrument for God. He looked beyond himself to the One who was to come. In this holy season, how can we be instruments to bring peace and blessing to others?