Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God,
serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
–1 Peter 4:10
Jesus Washing Peters Feet
Ford Madox Brown, 1821-1893
My morning’s meditation topic was “service” and it started a train of thought (ok it was actually a brain worm but let’s not quibble) about how I “serve” others. I must admit there are times when I am not very nice and I do it only because I have too or to prevent an argument. I am quite good at rolling the old eyeballs in those instances.
But that is not what Jesus taught; the Gospel of Mark records Jesus saying “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35b) In fact all through scripture we are called to be God’s servants and, from my perspective, if we are all, humanity and creation, images, the manifestation of God in the world then it makes perfect sense that we are also servants of all we encounter, human or otherwise. To be a true witness of the resurrection is to serve, with joy, our fellow travelers on this planet. That means caring for the earth and all that lives on it. It means caring for those who cannot care for themselves, speaking up for those who have no voice and doing all with grace and with every ounce of our God given gifts. One of my favorite rituals is foot or hand washing. To personally hold someone’s hand or foot in your hands, pouring the water over them, wrapping them in a towel and then look them in their eyes and tell them they are beloved by God gives me chills.
But rituals aside service means anything that places you in the position of servant. Cleaning the home of an elderly friend or family member, mowing the lawn and weeding the garden when you know the owner can’t bend over anymore, creating a garden and sharing the harvest with neighbors or a shelter all are ways we may offer our service. But there are even simpler ones that often get overlooked; such as picking someone up for an event, calling on the ill, taking out the garbage or keeping a room clean. These are services that make life easier for others and, when done with joy, happiness in our own lives.
So this week I am challenging you to 1) notice when you do a simple act of service, and 2) if the opportunity comes up to offer your special gifts to others to give it a try. When you do you are witnessing the resurrection in action and love blossoms.
“And of His Signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you might find peace of mind in them, and He put between you love and compassion al-Qur’an 30.21
With one silent laugh
You tilted the night
And the garden ran with stars. – Jalal-ud-Din Rumi
To love someone, especially someone who doesn’t expect you to love them, may be the most important of the spiritual practices. Love is a grace of God given freely to all and as Oscar Hammerstein wrote “Love in your heart isn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love till you give it away.” God put love in our hearts to be shared with all creation, not just humanity but animals, flowers, and yes, even rocks. To truly love is as close as we get to being the image of God.
This week share your love with a family member, a friend, an adversary, an enemy. Let the love in your heart out and be God’s image in the world.
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20
On Monday this week I volunteered at Common Ground, a Hospitality Space in Everett, WA. From Monday through Thursday, from 8 AM to 12 Noon, the homeless or those who live on the edge of homelessness come in for coffee, tea, and whatever snacks the Space receives by donation. While the makeup of the guests varies from day to day many come every morning and have discovered they will be received with a cheerful smile and an invitation to eat and talk. This is true communion for four mornings a week. The Pastors Rebecca and Luke Sumner have created a space where everyone feels safe and welcome. This is a place where food, warm drink, and an available ear for listening are always present. This is also hospitality at its finest.
For this Easter Season I am offering spiritual practices that reflect how we are witnesses of and express the light of the resurrection. When I volunteer at Common Ground I am witnessing firsthand the light of Christ’s resurrection in two young pastors and with their volunteers. When a person comes in to Common Ground they are not turned away, rather, Luke and his volunteers make sure each one is fed and offered a warm drink. When they have socks, hats, gloves or scarves they hand those out, making sure those who need them the most are the first ones to receive them. Volunteers sit down with the guests and get to know them as people not just as that unkempt person on the corner. As a volunteer I have found that the most important thing I can do is begin a conversation and then simply listen to often amazing stories of life that I normally only read about. I discover just how much alike we all are.
Yes there are those who drink too much, who abuse drugs, those whose mental illness has dropped them through the cracks of society and those who are just down on their luck. But at Common Ground none of that matters, all are fellow humans trying to make it in this life, all are beloved Children of God who only want to be seen and accepted for who they are. I am always tired when I leave Common Ground but I am also filled with an different kind of energy that keeps me coming back to visit with those I have met before and those I have yet to meet.
Common Ground may not look like a sacred space but it is. Here are the people Jesus of Nazareth spoke to first, ate with, joked with, and made the ultimate sacrifice for. Here I see the resurrection light shining in the Pastors, the volunteers, and the community that is forming out of street people and the discarded people of society. This is a spiritual practice that offers the concrete results of love in the form of food, drink and conversation and hands on spiritual practice where progress is heard in the proffered “thank you, I really appreciate what you do here.”
This week I offer the spiritual practice of hospitality. Sometime this week go out of your way to welcome someone or make someone comfortable. For example when I used to ride the bus to and from work or class I often would sit down next to a young mother; young mothers nearly always seem a bit frazzled. I would start up a conversation and then let them talk about their children and how their day is going. They mothers and the children often left the bus with a smile on their faces and I had just made a new friend. Hospitality isn’t just feeding or clothing the stranger, it’s really about being a real person to each and everyone you meet and being compassionate and honest in your speech and actions. To accept someone different from you is a magical beginning to new ways of seeing the world no matter who you are.
During this week may you discover that a full heart comes from emptying yourself by giving kindness and hospitality to others.
15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ 16Then Jesus* said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” 19Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” 20Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” 21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” 22 And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 23 Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you,* none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’
On a warm June afternoon in 2000 I was sitting at the entrance to the primary hotel in Vallejo CA. I was waiting for a bus to come and deliver John to me who was coming from the Oakland airport. I could hardly contain myself, you see in just a few short weeks I would be retiring from my consulting job and moving back to Edmonds. John was coming to help me pack-up the apartment and drive with me back to WA. We would be married in September. This was the beginning of 6 months of celebration that has extended into nearly 16 years.
I had accepted an invitation, I said yes. I knew that in that acceptance I would now be living a new life and one that would require me to make the choice to change from a life of taking care of only me to taking care of someone else. Now that’s a huge change for someone who was 53 and never married. But it was a choice that I have been grateful for ever since. You see by accepting the invitation I was transformed from a stranger into a member of a community. And, as a result I was blessed with a new life that has had its challenges and its joys. That’s what happens when you chose to transform your life. Life can be a bed of roses, but what you must remember is roses have thorns and you can be sure you will sometimes get stuck with one, or more, of those thorns.
Today’s scripture is not only about choosing between accepting and refusing an invitation to a banquet given by an upper class gentleman, it is about choosing between accepting or refusing to live a transformed life of free grace in the way we were meant to live. It is choosing to live as a member of a community rather than being a stranger, and, to decide living a transformed life means accepting all of that life of grace. It means we are to commit to live that life no matter what gets thrown at us or how many thorns we run into. Living a transformed life of grace doesn’t mean there won’t be thorns, or potholes, or great sorrows on your path. It means we are given the strength to walk through them because we aren’t traveling the road alone.
Our story this morning is about a man who has invited his friends and, probably, business associates to a banquet. In the first century preparing a large dinner was not an easy process. Different items were served depending on how many people RSVP’d the invitation. If only a small number accepted then chicken fish or duck may be the main course and a larger number would result in the host preparing anything from a one lamb or oxen to preparing many.
You have to remember there was no refrigeration so all of the food had to be prepared and eaten before it spoiled. To help prevent food wastage two invitations were sent out. The first invitation invited the guests to the dinner and they responded yes or no but the time of the dinner was not given. When all is ready the host sends out a second invitation calling the people to the prepared dinner. It was extremely rude to accept the first and not come for the second invitation because that meant a huge waste of resources for the host.
The householder has invited the guests and now sends his servants to call them to the prepared dinner. But despite accepting the first invitation all of his guests find excuses for not attending. The first guest refuses because of business issues. The second guest let’s his possessions take precedents over his social obligations, and the third puts his home and family above attending to a promise already given. I suppose to us these don’t seem like unreasonable reasons for not attending but what if we look at the story from a different direction.
First of all this isn’t a story isn’t about an ordinary householder. No, our host happens to be Jesus who is inviting his guests into a relationship that will transform their lives. How does the story and the excuses change when we see that it is Jesus who is inviting us into a banquet that will transform us from strangers into the Children of God in order to live a new life? How will that perspective change the way we hear this parable?
So here is how the story might sound if we told it as if Jesus was throwing this shindig? The guests Jesus first invites to his amazing banquet are those he expects will accept the invitation because they already understand, or he thinks they do, what it means to live the transformed life He is offering them. Jesus wants them to come and celebrate with Him, to become part of the new life that only happens when we accept the Divine invitation. An invitation of free grace to live the life we are meant to live in the presence of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit. So he sends his disciples out to bring his guests to the party; the food is ready, wine is poured, the orchestra is tuning up for an all night event. But his disciples come back and tell him all have refused, all are too busy with the details of life, the minutia of daily living. So what does he do, after all he has a hall prepared, food on the table, wine chilling, and musicians waiting? Well, Jesus did just what he told his disciples to do when he sent them out to preach and the invitations they gave were refused. He “dusted the dirt from His sandals” and turns his back on those who refused him and sends his disciples out again into the streets to bring in whomever they find to the party, the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy. These guests are the disadvantaged of the Jewish people; tax collectors, prostitutes, the homeless, and the ostracized because they are different. But still he has room so he sends out his servants again this time to the people from the roads and byways around the city. These are the people normally not considered part of the ‘Jewish family,’ these are the gentiles, the ultimate outsiders for the Jewish people.
How would we identify these people with those from today, the 21st century? Well think of who are our people of the streets and you might first of all think of “Nicholsville,” or the man or woman standing on the corner with a sign that says “Homeless vet, needs food and job,” and think of the shop keepers in the poorest parts of Seattle, or any town for that matter. It was people like these who were the ones who were welcomed into Jesus’ party. They were the nobodies of the town and here they were going to a big shindig given by the most important person in town. Now think of those people outside the Christian circle of community, Muslims, Buddhists, Jewish, atheist, and agnostic. Those might be our version “gentile.”
Can you imagine how they all felt? Can’t you just hear them as they walk to the mansion, “Jesus invited me, me, to his party,” “You too, I can’t believe it,” “I was invited too, and get this, the woman said come as I am, and it didn’t matter if I’m not part of the Christian faith. He just wants me to celebrate the Divines presence in my life as you celebrate it in yours, how cool is that.”
Unlike Jesus’ first guests these guests weren’t concerned about who they would be sitting next to at the table or who might make a big splash in the news media. It didn’t matter to them that the person next to them was a drug addict, a thief, a prostitute, a shop keeper, a prosperous business person or followed a different faith, they were all children of the one God. They didn’t care if Jesus was failing or succeeding in life. They were excited about being invited. They understood the importance of being invited to this banquet, this table. They wanted to have new lives. Unlike those first invited they knew their old lives weren’t working for them and they were willing to change and live new lives, transformed lives of grace that had meaning and where all people are recognized as family and community despite who they were or how they walked their way to God.
What Jesus was offering wasn’t a new idea for his banquet. For centuries the Prophets of Israel were telling the people the same thing. Moses says in Deuteronomy (30:19b) “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” In Proverbs 9 Wisdom calls to the people:
4“You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
And through Isaiah God tells the Jewish people:
6 “ theLordof hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”
In the New Testament James writes:
6 “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
God has been inviting us to the table of grace since the beginning. She spoke through the fathers of the Jewish people, through the prophets, sent her Son and spoke through the disciples. But we have let greed and self-centeredness takes precedence over the original message of grace.
But what does it mean to choose life? Well “When you say ‘Yes’ to life you say ‘Amen’ to all of life as a package deal. Thereafter the so-called problems you have with personal injustice do not arise. You renounce your concept of victimhood and the old impulse to complain about being unfairly treated.” A “commitment to life . . . refuses to make any distinction between your outer life and your inner life, or between secular and sacred spheres of life, or between loving God, loving all of life, or loving one’s neighbor, no matter who they are. Nor does it distinguish between your current life concerns or your eternal concerns. On the contrary, it simply calls for an unhesitating and unreserved ethical response to the call of life, the call of Jesus, God, and Holy Spirit – right where you are at this moment in time, at this point in your life,” to live a life where you defend justice for all and refuse to accept injustice for anyone as an expedient to living. That is what Jesus taught, that’s grace. It’s not new information, its old stuff we haven’t listened to, at least not for long time.
No matter how you tell today’s story it’s about Divine invitations, the acceptance of grace, and how you live once you’ve accepted God’s grace. When John asked me to marry him, I had a number of options. Like the first invited guests I could have refused and that would have been that. I don’t know where I would have been 16 years later but I am quite certain it wouldn’t have been here. But I did say yes and again to that yes I had options as to how I was going to live within this new relationship. One way was I could continue to behave as I have always behaved, just as the first guests invited to the banquet. Taking care of me, making sure I had what I wanted and what I needed. Yes John would be there but our relationship would not have been very deep because I wouldn’t have let him into the deeper part of me, the part of me that would have built the relationship where both of us would have lived a transformed life. But I chose to say yes and I chose to attend my life banquet. I let John into my heart and said we are partners and what I do and what you do will affect and change who we both are. We looked at the covenant of our marriage and said we do this together as one, not as two people living their own lives in one house. When I accepted John’s invitation to marry, when I accepted that covenant, I had no clue as to what that might look like, but I knew I was going to have to change if I was going to make my life with John. And yes it hasn’t always been sunshine and flowers. Sometimes we have had our thorny moments. But it was because we chose to live a life together as one that we had the strength to overcome all thorns and rocks in our path. While my wedding story wasn’t about God’s grace specifically, by accepting my invitation I discovered grace in a way I did not expect, and that is how it sometimes work.
As many diverse faith community’s we are given a Divine invitation to free grace every time we choose to come invite to our tables all people no matter who they are. We have heard this invitation before and we accepted it with our desire to be who we, as individuals and as communities, were meant to live. We are invited to a banquet of grace, welcoming every single one of us to the head table, and No questions asked about our past or how many times we haven’t understood, if we believe a certain way, or look a certain way. No the Divine wants us to come and join Her. To laugh and sing and eat together, to tell jokes, and play games. To dance to the music that life brings us, and cry together when life brings us sorrows. We are asked to change who we are at our deepest level and live grace filled lives that do not see differences between us, whether they are gender, racial, religious beliefs, cultural, social, or political. He asks us to live a life where we see only brothers and sisters and not people of different abilities, colors, faiths, or cultures.
We can change the world we live in, we can change the world by being the people we are meant to be, a people of grace, by being a people who refuse to accept evil, greed, and self-centeredness as the status quo. We can change the world by refusing to accept war as the only solution, or that homelessness and hunger is just part of life. We can change the world by seeing each other as the Children of God, living the life God meant us to live.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. . . . Jesus goes to town, stands on the street corner, and invites everyone within the sound of his voice: Come, rich and poor alike, come the worthy and the unworthy, come with me, oh come, and celebrate the joining of our spirits! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, carefully selected wines. Leave your lives of self-centeredness, loneliness, fear, poverty, greed, and come, celebrate with me! Come celebrate a life with meaning, a life of grace. Come change your lives, remember to live transformed, not only your inner selves, but also your outer selves. Put on your cloak of joy and celebration and come, walk up the street to a life with meaning.”
 Cupitt, Don: Life, Life, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA, 2003, pg 6-7.
16But Ruth said,
‘Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God. 17Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well, if even death parts me from you!’ — Ruth 1:16-17
I have been blessed in the last 16 years to have had some lovely people in my life. Most of them are not related to be by blood. I seem to make ‘family’ from the people I meet rather than from people I am related to. You see most of my closest blood relatives have passed but regardless of that I was never close to them. They didn’t understand who I was or what I was. In my eyes they were often quarrelsome and petty, easily offended and really only wanted me around if I could do something for them. The very idea of simply enjoying each other’s company just for the fun of it never entered their minds. At least that is how I perceived fit. It is always possible that I was just overly picky.
So I created my own family groups from people I enjoyed being around and who enjoyed being around me. Most of the time it was a small group but over the last 16 years my ability to create family has reached new heights. Now I have a very large extended ‘family’ made up of a few cousins I’ve reconnected with, my husband’s family, and those who I have been adopted, and those who have adopted me. It is a rather happy group of people who enjoy each other’s company, even if we don’t always agree on politics or religion or liking chocolate (actually our disagreements are what is the most fun). As a result I am blessed by friendships that go much deeper than being just a friend. These are people who when I need them they are there, and when they need me I am there for them.
I have never believed the people we meet and interact with in our lives are the result of a coincidence. No, I believe we are drawn to those who the Spirit knows we need, or who need us, at just the right time. The people who are the most important to us, whether they are relatives or not, are often the ones the Spirit uses to speak to us or provide us with that essential ingredient of life, love.
The lovely people in the above photo are my husband John 2 of his sons, 4 grandchildren and a daughter-in-law what are closer to me as family than most, not all because I do love my newly discovered cousins, of the group I was born into. They have been there when I am ill, at the celebration of life’s grand markers, and when I just need someone to talk to. God blessed me with their presence and I am grateful for each of them, they bring joy into my heart. As Ruth says to Naomi “where [they] go, I will go.”
Your prayer this week is to offer prayers of gratitude for those in your life who have blessed you with their presence. They may be a relative, or they may be good friends but all are blessing in your life.
My prayer, God I am grateful for the people in my life who I call family. You, Great Spirit, have blessed my life with compassionate, joyful, generous of heart people, I thank you for each and every one of them. Amen
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to thee forever.
— Psalm 30:12b
It used to be that every year I would make out a list of New Year’s resolutions just like everyone else. The reality of those resolutions was I put the list in safe place and promptly forgot all about them, just like everyone else I know. A couple of years back I changed practice for New Year’s, instead of resolutions I started listing what I was grateful for from the Old Year.
I no longer feel guilty about not keeping promises to myself and speaking gratitude helps me to see the past year in a positive perspective. So here are my top 10 gratitude’s for New Years day 2016:
First of all I am grateful for John my beloved husband, best friend, and all around good company.
I am grateful for the presence of my furry and feathered friends. They have helped me to laugh when I least wanted to and they are a calming presence each day of the year.
I am grateful for my family; John’s 3 sons; our beautiful grandchildren Shannon and Amelia, Alex and Liam; my cousins who have made me laugh and so grateful that we have reconnected. Each and every one of you has brought joy into my life in so many ways.
I am also grateful for the Skype calls from Mark, Laura, Liam, and Amelia, who live in Boston. Amelia and Liam I love all of your antics and learning what you are up as you are growing up. Liam practice hard on those drums so that when we come the next time you can show us your progress. Amelia send me some of your dress designs, I would love to see what you are thinking of. Each of you are talented and amazing.
I am especially grateful for the Laura’s presence in my life. You my dear daughter-in-law are a treasure.
I am grateful for the kindness of strangers from all over the world. Their help when I needed it on our South Pacific adventure last year made the trip just that much more enjoyable.
I am grateful for caring and skillful medical professionals: Dr. Alberts who operated on my back, the Nursing staff at Stevens Hospital who made a difficult time easier, Physical therapists who encouraged me to work harder so that I would successfully recover from surgery.
I am grateful for the Faith community at Queen Anne Christian Church who have show me and John so much love and friendship
I am grateful for my In-Care-Committee who encouraged me to search deep within myself and who helped me to see myself as I am instead of how everyone see me.
I am grateful for the friendship of so many people that if I were to name them I would certainly forget someone, so from the bottom of my heart I love you all.
So those are my top 10 gratitude, of course I have many more. The listing of them will take all day on New Year’s Day but these are the most important ones. If you were to list your gratitude’s for 2015 what would they be? How would remembering them change your how you view the past year and how you anticipate the next?
My prayer for each of you is a year full of grace so that next New Year’s day it takes you 2 days to recite them. Have a Happy, Grace Filled New Year!
Numbers 6:26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.
Psalms 29:11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!
Peace certainly seems in short supply this year. We are preparing for the birth of light yet darkness seems to rule in so many places. My heart is heavy with sorrow for those who have been torn from their homes and are finding their presence in other countries is unwanted. I am ashamed of so many of my fellow American for buying into a fear that leaves people, many of them children, cold, hungry and without shelter. I am glad I live in a state willing to provide safe harbor for those fleeing violence in their homelands. While the transition will be difficult for the refugees I pray that they will find a place among us where they will enrich our lives in so many ways. I will welcome each and everyone one of them and offer my help in any way I can.
My heart also breaks for those who are victims of the growing violence within our own borders. Offering prayers for peace is such a little thing and often feels inadequate, yet, when those prayers motivate us into an action that prevents violence and provides a place of safety and peace then prayer is powerful indeed. And, we can be seeds of peace by offering gratitude for what we have, by saying we love ourselves and our neighbor, by opening our hands to help someone rather than lead off with a fist, by giving everyday to those who are not as fortunate as we are, and these are only a few of the things we can do to promote a peaceful place. Prayer is only a first step it is the second step that tells others what we are made of.
Yes peace is in short supply and that is why it is so important for each of us to plant our own small seed and maybe by the New Year we will have a forest.
My prayer for you is peace. Peace of mind, peace of spirit, a peace that comes only from being peace and giving peace away.
Meditations for a Mindful Advent Queen Anne Christian Church
Slow down . . . seek hope
Buy less . . . create peace
Eat less . . . embrace joy
Worry less . . . give love
Prepare your heart for new birth.
An Advent Prayer
God who causes stars to burn and energy to flow,
may Your presence be made known to us in new ways.
When we wonder where You are, shine Your light in new ways.
When we wonder why bad things happen, help us to find all of Your goodness.
When we feel hopeless, help us to become Your hope in the world.
You have created us out of stardust, and breathed into us life.
In You, all things are possible, and all things are created new.
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, as we await the birth of the light of Christ
may we come to know You in new ways on this journey of faith. Amen.
Peace – The Second Week of Advent
Light two candles
Pray the “Advent Prayer” above.
We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives,
so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt,
that peace and abundance may manifest for all.
— Dorothy Day
An apology is the superglue of life.
It can repair just about anything.
— Lynn Johnston
Questions Morning: In anticipation of the day, what seeds of peace could you sow? Evening:Looking back on the day, where did you find peace?
Offer a prayer for those in need of peace; include yourself.