2017, A NEW YEAR?

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A new year has begun and I am not sure what it will bring. Usually I have a sense of new beginnings, or I have excited expectations and hope as I pick up from where I left off and start over again. Not this year though. There has been too much acrimony, too much hate, too many lies, too much racism, and too little justice, mercy, kindness, and peace for me to look forward to the coming year. Sad really, because it seems 2017 is already defeated before it is a week old. I am afraid 2017 will just be a year of more hateful speech, more injustice, more discrimination, and more violence.

There is no one person to blame, we all are responsible for the atmosphere of distrust and hate we see every day, in the news, from our politicians, from our neighbors. Let me make this clear, you and I are to blame from the people who fear the changes created in the last 30 years. We forgot that people might not understand, might not be willing to accept those changes. We assumed they would go along “when the discovered how much better they had it.” But they didn’t. No, they felt left out of the process, unasked, and left behind, and they felt their concerns and issues weren’t being addressed.

Yes, they could have become involved and worked with those of us who believed we were working to better the lives of everyone, and the environment. But somehow, they didn’t feel as if they could. Maybe they didn’t believe as we did, maybe they needed to be given more information, maybe they just needed more time to assimilate all the information being thrown at them. Whatever the reason some people became alienated and open to manipulation by those whose agenda is to turn back the clock to a time when only the few profited from the bounty of this country.

Maybe the reason for the divide is that those of us who want to see us progress broke into interest groups who fought over what issue was most important when, in reality, all of it is. No one has ever bothered to look at the larger picture. To try developing a program that would have given equal emphasis to each issue. To bring together the disparate interest groups formulate a policy that would have benefited each area of interest. The modernization of each issue, environment, inclusivity, racism, woman’s rights, children’s right, poverty, immigration, all of them, each is dependent on the other.

What do we do now that we have a president whose only interest is his own personal gain, a congress dominated by old white men bent on preserving white privilege, and the hate and racism propagated during the last eight years by has let loose violence and terror in our communities. Well, to start we work together, all interest groups working together to keep what has been achieved from being lost. Our job now is to stand up when we see abuse or harassment and protect the victims, stopping hate speech when we hear it, and working to prevent injustice wherever we see it. None of this is easy. It isn’t easy to do and it isn’t easy to work up the courage to take a stand. But that is what we are called to do.

I am a person of faith, and 2016 sorely tested that faith. Yet I still believe in what I was taught that we are to act justly and to love kindness, mercy, and compassion. We as a people of many faiths and beliefs are called to care for the disinherited, the lost, the incarcerated, elderly, young, and the stranger. That doesn’t change even though it has become much more difficult at the moment. History moves in many ways and we repeat our mistakes over and over again. We have the possibility to achieve great heights or astounding lows. The choice is ours. Do we repeat history or do we show that we can change history.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 3, 2017

“And the Lord Grieved”

“And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth,
and it grieved him to his heart.”  – Genesis 6:6, NRSV)

fire rainbow b
Fire Rainbow Taken Spring 2015

This past weekend I was asked by a Facebook friend to comment on the following meme from the Celtic Christian Tradition.

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” (www.facebook.com/CelticChristianTradition, April 30, 2016)

My friend is not a believer in Christianity but he and I have had many an interesting online discussion on faith and beliefs.  I have always found him to be an open minded and intelligent person and so I gladly responded to his request to comment.

“Well I don’t know if saying you believe in Jesus but don’t actually follow his teachings is a cause of atheism or not, but it certainly is the cause of so many to question the values of Christianity.  Just saying you believe in Jesus is like saying the ‘Sun rises in the East,’ it’s a statement. Being faithful to the teachings of Jesus however means you are loyal to those teachings and practice them, or at least do you your best to try, every day.  If you only use the words to carry a message of hate, domination and greed then you have become separated from God and are not longer the blessing you are meant to be.

There is Good in everything, human, animal, plant, all creation and it doesn’t matter how you see the Good.  It only matters that you do.  The Good is what keeps each of us rising up every morning, keeps us loving our neighbors regardless of who they are and keeps us part of the human family.  To deny the Good in anyone, any creature, any part of creation is to be cut off from what makes each of us human. I listen to the hatful rhetoric spouted each day in the news and I don’t see people of faith, I see lost souls, people cut off from what is good and right in our world, and that makes me very sad.

You know I call the Good God, but that is how I see the good in the world.  You see the Good in a different way, a way that gives you peace and a path to follow that is good in the world.  Others see the Good in other ways, but, no matter how we explain the Good to ourselves it is all the same Good. The name may be different but it is still what is Good and Right in the world. We all have the capacity to find and see the Good, whether we are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Atheist.  The Good is still there in the world, universe, all creation and as long as some of us are able to find, see, and honor the Good in each other and creation gives me hope that we will have a world to live in.

I look for the Good in those that hat that is what my tradition tells me to do. But even if that wasn’t part of my tradition I would still look because to otherwise brings me down to the level of those who hat and I don’t want to go there.  If those of us who believed in what is Good were a little more vocal we would drown out the voices of hate and all would know there are still people in this world who believe in doing good rather than speaking hate.”

After I wrote this I recognized how sad it is that there are so many who cannot, or will not see what is Good and Right in this world.  Everything in creation was created good, there was nothing evil or bad about anything brought into being.  Genesis 1:31a reads “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Every morning I see just how good creation is when I feel the warmth of the rising sun and hear the morning songs of birds.  So in my eyes the God is still active in the world I live in. Every creature in all creation is meant to be a blessing to all of creation and to be otherwise is to separate from God and all that is good.  To live outside of the love and light of God hurts God as much as it hurts those living in hate and darkness.  When God’s beloved creatures did first did evil God’s heart was broken (Genesis 6:6).  When we who are human do evil and practice hate instead of love and pretend it is what God wants, when we are not the blessing we are meant to be God calls out to us in pain in sorrow, “not in my Name.”

Every day the news media is filled with the words and images of people professing to be people of faith whose actions do not reflect a faith of any tradition.  So many people who call themselves people of faith in one breath prove they are not in the next breath when they deny the teachings of love, compassion and justice by spouting words of hate and denying justice to those in need.  Yet we who try to be followers of God, or the Good in the world, are enabling these lost souls by not speaking out against the injustice or not standing with those in need.  So we are not innocent by any means.

What do we do then?  We who stand for justice, mercy and compassion need to be the Isaiah’s, Micah’s, and Jeremiah’s of our day. Like the Apostles we need to be the ones who speak with love and compassion, letting those who speak hate that we know them for what they are, lost, wounded, souls and that we are sad for them and will stand with their victims.  None of that is easy, and we cannot expect to change everyone overnight, but, being who we are, blessings to the world, changes the world a little bit at a time.  Kindness and compassion never goes unrewarded and even in the darkest moment the single candle we light shines brighter than then darkness around it.

Ruth Jewell, ©May 2, 2016

God in a Box? – Prayerful Tuesday

1 Kings 8:10-13  10And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

12Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”

The Plan for King Solomon’s Temple (Wikimedia Commons)
The Plan for King Solomon’s Temple
(Wikimedia Commons)

King Solomon’s Temple was a wonder to behold.  It was made with the finest of materials: the best stone, lumber from the Cedars of Lebanon, gold, silver, and precious jewels.  Yet it still was a case of humans trying to control God, confine God in a place of their making.  A place where God could be forgotten like many other things people put in boxes and placed on a shelf.  Even though the temple was a marvelous box it was still a box.

History has shown that God doesn’t stay in boxes very well and you can’t put God on a shelf and walk away without God noticing.  Even though we continue to build fancy structures for God where some of us go to sit like good children. Where we listen to the pastor preach (hoping it won’t be too boring or too long because the game starts soon), sing a couple of songs and bug out as soon as possible forgetting everything we’ve heard until the following week.

I know that everyone isn’t like this, there are many who find worship to be just that worship and praise to God.  But I have been in way too many communities where this is true and I’ve been in churches that have given in to society’s demands to be entertained and make what is supposed to be the worship of God into a Los Vegas production just to keep people in the pews. What is saddest to me is that all too often works, at least for a while.

You can’t put God in a box and hope that God will stay there, no, God is going to know when you ‘walk away’ and when you ‘walk with.’  I’m sorry to disappoint you but God can never be placed in a box and brought out only at Christmas and Easter, if then.

I am reminded of the closing scene of the Indiana Jones Movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”  You know the one where the U.S. Government has boxed up the Ark of the Covenant in an anonymous box and places it in a warehouse.

That scene summarizes the problems we have with putting God in a box and then forgetting where you put the box. (By the way God was never IN the Ark of the Covenant, it was only a conduit for God’s power through the stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments.) We always want a convenient God one that doesn’t give us too much trouble or bother our ‘well laid’ plans with details like kindness, or justice. I have discovered trying to keep God in the big stone or concrete boxes we call church doesn’t work. Those boxes don’t keep God from pressuring us to do what is right. God is always waiting for each and every one of us to realize we need God to remind us of who we are and who our neighbors are, our brothers and sisters in creation. God is good at waiting for us, and doesn’t turn us away when we come running or crawling, the way we have to God. When we return to walk with God, to collaborate with God, and to participate with God in creating the world we are meant to live in God accepts us without reservations.

 

My prayer practice for you this week is to notice when God makes the presence known to you in the small ways of daily living.  Notice the sunrise or your baby’s first smile of the morning. Notice when you see someone doing something kind for someone else, or better yet do an act of kindness for stranger.  What do you see in the persons face? God is all around us, God is never in a box, and God doesn’t visit us only on certain days of the week. No God is there in all the little joys, sorrows, disappointments, and celebrations of everyday living.  This week take  God out of the mental box and practice seeing God in life itself.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 12, 2016

I Choose . . .

Microsoft ClipArt
Microsoft ClipArt

 

For the past two years I have been wrestling with how my ministry would be expressed in the world.  This discernment journey has taken me “around the block” and back again many times and during this past summer I had finally made my decision, I choose not to be ordained in my denomination of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I choose not to be a pastor, or a chaplain, or even a spiritual director. I choose to be something else, what that something is has only just begun to take shape.

This may seem inconsequential to most of you but for me it has been a difficult decision.  I graduated in 2013 with my Masters of Divinity (MDiv.) degree and it was with the intention of being ordained, primarily because I believed that is what one did when one received an MDiv. But you see it wasn’t my intention when I entered the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) at Seattle University in 2007.  At that time I just wanted to be better informed in order to conduct Labyrinth retreats with more meaning.  What happened as I progressed through my degree programs of Spiritual Transformation and MDiv I discovered I had talent and passion for learning and I wanted to share what I learned with others. And the truth of the matter is as an ordained pastor I would not be able to share all that I learned simply by the constraints of the job.  I actually would have a greater voice if I wasn’t ordained.

So I chose to be a scholar, a learner of faith with the purpose of spreading what I learn back in to the world.  This is important because we aren’t 1st century people; we live in the 21st century. That means we have a perspective on our faith that those living in the 1st and 2nd and 3rd centuries did not have. We have a history of being, or not being, people of God, just as the Jewish people of the 1st century had a history of being, or not being, a people of God.  We have had our moments of living as God asked and we have had our moments when we have forgotten God, just as the Jewish people had and have. It is the task of the scholar to educate the people of God of their past and how can we do that if no one studies it?

In the last two years I have become interested in how our Christian faith is connected to our Jewish roots and to our younger sibling in the faith Islam and that interest has led me into the differences in how we read Holy Scripture as compared to our 1st to 3rd century faith ancestors, and the differences are striking. Those differences in perspective has shown me it is important for people to understand what the writings of Paul, Gospel Writers, Jewish Prophets, and Muslim Writers actually wanted their listeners to know, what was the message they were transmitting and how does that message resonate with us today.  All those authors wrote and spoke was revolutionary in their time and I want to recover, at least for myself, that revolutionary message.  I want to know what they wrote that was specific to their time and not relevant in the 21st century and what part of their message guides us forward into our own future. And, I want to share that news, that revolutionary news. I have no illusions that I am going to be another Marcus Borg, or a John Caputo, or anyone else who is way more learned in theology than I will ever be.  But I can read what they have learned and pass it on to those who will listen.

You see scholars are often, well nearly always, not thought of as being relevant to world.  When anyone envisions a scholar it is as a stuffy old man or woman who is a bit rumpled and surrounded by books and papers.  It is someone who is absent minded and lost in the past, with no idea about what is going on in the world today.  But that is not who learners/scholars are.

Scholars are connected to the world by stories, and threads of the past that live in the present and the future.  The old quotation “if we don’t remember the past we are doomed to repeat it,” has never had more meaning than in today’s world.  We are currently reliving a past history where the disadvantaged and those who are different from us are forgotten and made the objects of hate and fear.  It is the role of the scholar to remind the people of who they are, and whose they are.  It was the role of the prophets in Jewish History, it was the role of John the Baptist, and it was the role of Jesus of Nazareth and Muhammad.  All of them called to their people to see each other, everyone, as themselves.  Today we have and had  people like President Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King who have called to us to remember and just like those who went before us too many are not listening.

I will never be an exalted a scholar like Desmond Tutu, or Elisabeth Johnson, Sallie McFague or Elisabeth Schüssler Florenza.  But in my small part maybe I can pass on their learning’s to someone who will become exalted. That is enough for me. As the saying goes I am a very small fish in a very large pond and I am happy with that. To give back what I have been blessed to receive is more than enough.

There are many others like me out there, people who read, and study waiting for the opportunity to pass on what they have discovered beyond academics or a very small circle of friends. What each has is a nugget of truth and bit wisdom that needs to be heard. This choice is not prestigious, very few scholars make it to super star status and I am grateful for that.  But the time has come for the telling of the past mistakes and success’. To help everyone remember that the eyes of the other are your eyes and to harm or denigrate the other is to harm and denigrate yourself. Scholars have a role to play in the world that is greater than writing dusty tomes that will be read by only a few.  The past is relevant to the present and the future and it is important that we remember that.  I would like to add my very small part to that story. To offer a tiny bit of knowledge that just might help someone else see the world differently.

My choice, my decision, my path not the easiest of routes to take, and it wasn’t an easy choice but I choose to be a learner, a scholar, a passer on of knowledge.

My prayer for all of you to listen with open mind and heart to what the teaching says, it just might change your life.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 15, 2015

let there be light

Genesis 1:1-5: 1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Sunrise, Edmonds WA, July 5, 2013 Ruth Jewell
Sunrise, Edmonds WA, July 5, 2013
Ruth Jewell

Genesis 1:1-5 is one of my favorite scriptures and I have read, and reread it many times. I can imagine the pleasure God had at that first light because light always gives me pleasure.  To see the sun rise in the morning gives me great pleasure.  The sky goes from velvety black to a dark blue and the birds begin their morning song.  Then the first threads of sunlight break free of the horizon and begin to paint pinks, violets, and rose in the sky.  The color increase to oranges, and yellows until the Earth turns just ever so slightly and the first sliver of the bright sun is visible.  Now there is a grand chorus of bird song to add to the majesty of the morning. For me that is pure magic.

I grew up on a farm in Ohio and before dawn I went out to feed, cattle and horses. In the dark I would stop and watch for the incredible start to the day.  I simply love morning!  I love the return of light!  At those moments I can understand how ancient peoples came to worship the sun. To them it was magic; they didn’t know about the earth’s rotation, they weren’t even sure that the sun would return. For them the welcome sight of the light of day meant they had survived the time of dark and fear and now there was light and hope.

Light warms our home, Earth and produces the chlorophyll for plants to grow and provide the food for all of us animals, humans included. Light, warm light, life giving life.   The very air we breathe is dependent on light and the process of photosynthesis. Our very lives depend on the light that comes from our medium sized star we call the Sun. Without the warmth of the light our planet would be a cold and barren hunk of rock without life.  God breathed the breath of life over the waters and that breath was preceded by light.

Now our planet, in its journey around our sun, is tilting it’s northern face once again away from that life giving, warming light and that means shorter days and longer, colder, dark filled nights.  Oh I know the darkness has its place.  It is a time of rest and renewal for plant and animal alike. And as a person who has lived with the land I know plants and animals need that time of rest, whether it is one short night or the long winter nights.  But I am a creature of the day and already I yearn for the warmth of the spring morning when the sun rises with the trumpet of bird song.

On December 21st I will rejoice and offer a prayer of gratitude as the earth once again tilts the northern hemisphere back to the sun.  Spring will come again, just as it has every other year.  I will watch with growing anticipation the shortening of the night and lengthening of the days. And when that warm spring morning comes the birds and I will be there to welcome the return of the light.

May the light of God and the Universe give you joy this day.

Ruth Jewell, ©October 24, 2015

You Are Invited . . .

Matthew 22:1-14 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The above text is about how we are invited into God’s grace. However, what we do with that grace is entirely up to us.  We can ignore it, accept it but only on our terms, or completely live into the gift of grace.  What we do will be our choice and that choice will determine how we live our lives.  The following is the text of the sermon I preached on August 23, 2015, at my home church, Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle, WA.

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 taking the bus 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 15 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.  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.

The scripture from Matthew is not only about choosing between accepting and refusing an invitation to a wedding banquet given by a King, it is about choosing between accepting or refusing to live a transformed life of free grace in the way we were meant to live. And, to deciding to live 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 have the strength to walk through them.

Matthew’s version of this story, which is also found in the Gospel of Luke, is actually two parables about invitations. It’s a story about a king, who wants to invite people to celebrate the wedding of his son with a banquet.  Matthew adds two additional details to the story; the first is when some of the king’s friends’ killed his slaves and he attacks and wipes out the kingdoms of those who committed those atrocities.[1] It is accepted by most interpreters that this part of the parable, Verses 6 and 7, are an interpretation of Matthew’s who is reading back into this parable the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Matthew adds it because within his community he has people who are struggling with the loss of their ancestral home.  It is not believed to be part of the original parable from the time of Jesus, the oldest version of which is found in the Sayings of Q. Actually these verses are much more characteristic of an interpretation of God from the Hebrew Text rather than the life and teachings of Jesus.[2],[3] Matthew’s second addition are the last 4 verses, verses 11-14,  of the story where Jesus tells one more story of the banquet[4] and this addition is very important in the way Matthew wants us to understand and respond to the divine invitation to a new life.  Together these two parables are stories about the life choices we make and what we do with those choices.

So here we have a story of a King, who traditionally is identified with God, and throws a wedding party for his son, Jesus. Those are the traditional interpretations of Matthew’s King and Son.  But I want to you think about a what if.  What if we look at this story from a different perspective? What if we turn it upside down? What if instead of the King being God the King is Jesus who’s throwing a wedding banquet for the Children of God who he invites to live a new life?  How will that perspective change the way we hear and see these parables?

Now even though the Matthew’s setting of the parable is Jesus defending himself before the religious authorities Matthew wasn’t referring to “the Jewish authorities” as the ones who refused to attend, or that the ones who came were only “Gentiles.” Rather, most interpreters now believe Matthew was addressing his own conflicted community who he wanted to live a transformed life.[5]  The Jewish Jesus followers of Matthew’s community were struggling with the loss of the temple and his Gentile Jesus followers were struggling with whether they should or should not become Jewish. All this would have made for many conflicts between the different factions and Matthew is trying to bridge the gap between them.  I too am not suggesting that there are specific groups being discussed in these parables. So depending on which version you like the best, think of the players in the 1st century as Matthew’s neighbors or in our very own community as our neighbors right now in the 21st century.

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 and to the city gates to bring in whomever they find to the party, the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy.  With the diligence of his disciples the hall is soon filled to overflowing.

Who were the people from the streets? Well if we think of who are the people of the streets in the 21st century you might first of all think of the homeless tent encampments, or the people living under a bridge, 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 any town. 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 party given by the most important person in town. Can you imagine how they 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 man said come as I am, how cool is that.”  Unlike Jesus’ first guests these guests weren’t concerned about who would be attending.  It didn’t matter to them that the person next to them was a drug addict, a thief, a prostitute, a shop keeper, or a prosperous business person. 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.

As the guests enter the hall they see the banquet tables set up with every food imaginable, roast lamb, poached fish, pastries, bowls of fruit, cool drinks, and wine, good wine, not the cheap stuff.  In the corner an orchestra was playing, with real instruments not a wash tub and jug band. Everyone was celebrating, drinking, eating, and dancing to the wonderful music. That is, everyone except this one guy who had piled his plate up with everything it would hold and was eating it in the corner telling anyone who would listen, “well it’s about time this Jesus dude recognized just who makes this town what it is.”  “I deserved this invitation, but don’t expect me to go overboard for him; this is what we should have had all along. In fact I think I will just take everything I can. And I’m going to let this Jesus person know that I’m not going to do anything unless I really want to just because he invited me to this party.”

When Jesus comes in to join his guests he sees this guy in the corner and he says “Ah, excuse me, why aren’t you celebrating. This is a joyous occasion, you come expecting to be fed but you won’t celebrate your new life.  You come in and can’t see the joy of living a life of peace, and justice.  You blame me for your suffering but you did nothing to help those who suffered as well. I was there to help but you wouldn’t come out, is that my fault? You accepted my invitation to grace but only on your terms? It doesn’t sound to me like you understand what it means to come to one of my banquets; I don’t think you belong here, yet.  Show this guy out until he understands what it means to come celebrate a transformed life.”

Jesus knew people had options in their lives. The trouble was those options weren’t working for the majority of the people. True the religious authorities and the Roman authorities were doing ok, but if you look at the number of people who were killed in order for someone else to advance socially or politically their options weren’t working for them either.  So along comes Jesus with an alternative way of living a life that didn’t involve beating up, or tearing down someone else. But Jesus wasn’t offering a new idea.  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.”  Every Prophet since Moses, including Jesus, has said the very same thing and the people listened and accepted life, for little while, then the ‘easier’ way of greed and self-centeredness takes precedence and the original message of grace goes by the way side.

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. 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.[6] 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.

That is what happened to our disgruntled guest.  He may have accepted the Divine invitation of free grace to attend the banquet, but his acceptance had no depth to it, it never went beyond saying I’m here, thanks for the food, see you later. He was glad to accept the invitation to grace but on his terms only. He never truly transformed his whole life.  He never saw that living in the presence of Jesus meant he had to let the inner life make its way to the outer side of who he was.  It meant he had to share the love, peace and abundance of grace with everyone he met, not hoard it. He came to the banquet not because he wanted to live a life transformed but because he wanted what he could get and then live as he always had.  That’s not change, it is not celebration and it’s not joy, and it is not committing to living a transformed life. It’s keeping the old life and saying it was good enough in the past it will be good enough now.

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 15 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, I could continue to behave as I have always behaved.  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 benefited.  These two options were not the ones I chose.  Instead 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.

Jesus invites us to a banquet of grace, he welcomes every single one of us to His table, and He doesn’t ask questions about our past or how many times we haven’t understood, He wants us to come and join Him. 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. Jesus asks us to change who we are at our deepest level and live grace filled lives that don’t see differences between us, whether they are gender, racial, religious beliefs, cultural, social, or political.

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 that war is 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 wedding of our spirits with me! 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.”[7]

Moses said: “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

Ruth Jewell, ©August 28, 2015

[1] Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, pg 251-252
[2] Miller, Robert J; Editor, The Complete Gospels, Annotated Scholars Version, Polebridge Press, Sonoma, California, 1992, pg 98
[3] Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, pg 251-252
[4] Allen, Ronald J. & Clark M. Williamson; Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2004, pg.76-78
[5] Hare, Douglas R.A.: Interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Matthew, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1993, pg 251-253
[6] Cupitt, Don: Life, Life, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA, 2003, pg 6-7.
[7] Proverbs 9:1-6

An Elder’s Meditation: Accepting and Giving Thanks

Mark 4:26-29  He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

Walking though the  Huon Valley & Tahune Forest Hobart, Tasmania, Australia April 15, 2015, ©Ruth Jewell
Walking though the
Huon Valley & Tahune Forest
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
April 15, 2015, ©Ruth Jewell

This past spring John and I were on a 6½ week pilgrimage of sorts.   Unfortunately 2 hours before we were to be picked up by Shuttle Express I fell in my office and tore or badly bruised the calf muscle of my left leg and also  I refused to go to the emergency room because we would have missed our flight. Well, along with back issues, that fall meant I spent our holiday with a cane and walking as if I was 250 years old.

The fall and my, seemingly forever back problems, meant modifying some of our activities and learning to depend on the graciousness of people in New Zealand and on board our cruise ship..  I was helped by strangers I would never see again to walk up hills, across sand dunes, into cars, buses, and boats.  All they asked for was a simple thank you and a smile.  I cannot begin to express my gratitude to these angels in disguise.  They made our visit to NZ and back to the states a trip of a life time.

Now many of you may also have noticed that I often have a motor mouth (in the case of blogging, motor writing) and when I offer thanks to someone I will chatter on nervously for 10 minutes.  It took 6½ weeks for me to figure out that saying ‘thank you’ or ‘you are a blessing’ was all that was needed.

Learning to stop talking and listen has always been hard for me but what I have discovered this late in my life is when I stop with a smile and thank you I SEE the face of the angel who helped me.  It doesn’t matter what nationality, or skin color, or language they speak, the light shines through.  It isn’t just their job anymore it’s that they have been recognized for who they are.  If I am not speaking or thinking of more to say, I see them for who they are.

You have also probably noticed I have just as much trouble, maybe more, in receiving gratitude.  I am self-deprecating to the extreme.  Probably because I was taught that nothing I did was to be done for any expectation of thanks. But on this trip I was more aware of not just offering thanks but of receiving the gift of graciousness and help.  You see to offer thanks you have to have received something and that gift is hard one for me to accept.  But I learned to stop explaining that I fell, or have a back giving out on me.  I learned to simply take someone’s hand and lean on them for help without explaining how independent I normally am.

The scripture of Mark is one of giving and receiving.  It is giving your time to sow and the harvest is the receiving of God’s blessing (didn’t think I’d work that in did you).  What has finally sunk into my rather thick brain is giving and receiving God’s blessings comes in many forms and I am grateful for the giving and receiving of all the blessings from God’s hands I have received not just on our trip but in my whole lifetime.  It may seem like a small thing but graciously accepting the assistance from a stranger gives me a gift of love and the giver a gift of grace.  The Importance of keeping the ‘thank you’ short and sweet is that it focuses on the gift and the giver rather than my own ego.  It works the other way as well.  Keeping assistance I give to someone else also focuses on the gift I give and the receiver of the gift instead of me.  The giver and the receiver receive the gift of grace and love.  That is a beautifully thing and passing that gift on grows the grace between me and you and opens wider the door of the Kingdom of God.

To all of you, Thank you for being who you are, and many blessing on your many journeys.

Ruth Jewell, ©June 15, 2015