God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Marriage and Discipleship

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 56

    Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.’
       Jesus said to them, ‘Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.’  Mark 12:18-27
       A new group of religious leaders are introduced at this point in the gospel. The Sadducees represented the preservation of tradition, the conservative section of the faith that benefits from the status quo and traditional practices. Their constituency is made up of those of wealth and power who benefit from the status quo. So they come forward with their challenge to Jesus, they want to know about resurrection and marriage. They create a scenario that describes leverite marriage where a man marries a woman dies and his brother marries the woman and dies. Through seven brothers each husband dies with no offspring present. And they ask whose wife is she after the resurrection?  
       Schussler-Fiorenza has argued that the Sadduccees can be seen as preserving patriarchal forms of marriage and property. They want to know that after the resurrection their structures of power and ownership will remain in effect. Jesus wants to change the conversation. He tells them, 'Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?'  In the kingdom, there is not marriage as property ownership. The relationship between men and women is a relationship between Angels. They are equally imbued with the divine. And God is not the God you think God is. God is a God of the living not the dead. What God will dream for the coming kingdom is radically different from what has gone before.  
       This challenge raises questions for us on our discipleship journey of what relationships are like when we are living according to God's dream. In all the debates occurring now about who can marry - gay men, lesbians, transgendered, polygomous families, into this debate what do we do with he words: they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. Jesus is challenging the very idea of marriage.  What does this say to us about these debates and traditions? Does this require that we take God out of whatever box we have placed God in regards to traditional or nontraditional forms of marriage. This statement could through out the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman. For the conclusion would be that marriage as an institution is flawed and needs to be changed. Families in all their various forms need to be judge by a different criteria, how are they like the angels.

Prayer Practice:
A prayer for the family
     God of all birthing, God of all living, God of all dying, hear our prayers this day.
     We pray for our families, in all their complex and wondrous forms, for families of our origin and for those of our choosing.
     We give thanks for those who have given us birth, for those who have nurtured us, and for those whose lives were invested in our care. Your love for us has been steadfast and sure, and lived out in those who have cultivated our abilities, enriched our minds, strengthened our bodies, and challenged our spirits.
     We mourn those times when our families have not provided for us and for our children the safety, well-being, and love we needed. We recognize and confess those times when we have failed to be agents of your reconciling and renewing love and ask your forgiveness, as well as the forgiveness of those whose trust we have violated.
     We celebrate the ever-present possibilities for your Church to be a Family of Blessing for your beloved children. We pray that as Church we might always be attentive to the ways in which we can be a community which is ever more inclusive, ever more nurturing, ever more stimulating, ever more relevant, and ever more healing for all your children. May we recommit ourselves daily to your Gospel call to serve those in need in our world as if they were our very own sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, and to advocate for them and their well-being in the halls of power as well as in our own sanctuaries. In the name of the One who came to us, loved us as his own, and gave to us new life, we pray.
                                                   Contributed by Reverend Allen V. Harris

Monday, May 12, 2014

Taxes and Discipleship

 The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark a prayer journey, Day 55

Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.                                                                                                                                           Mark 12:13-17
       What is our relationship toward the government and taxation supposed to be? Does it make a difference that we are followers of Jesus? Should it make a difference that we are to be kingdom inhabitants?  
       Today's question to challenge Jesus is about whether we should pay taxes to Caesar. So the religious folk accompanied by political folk have come to set Jesus up with a hypothetical question. They begin by saying we know what you say is true and that you don't care about status. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? So in essence they are asking Jesus to incite insurrection, so they can then arrest him as a political revolutionary. They are asking him to say that the colonizer (Rome) does not have the right to collect taxes for they are not legitimate. Notice they didn't ask him about local government taxes.
       So Jesus first challenges their asking the question to trap them in an arrestable offense. Jesus asks them to bring him a coin. He takes the coin and asks, "whose likeness and inscription is this?" They answer, "Caesar's." Jesus then tells them, "render unto Caesar, what is Caesars and to God the things that are God's. So by his words, Jesus could mean the coin is Rome's. But if the "Earth is the Lord's and all that's in it." Then everything is God's. So all we have, all we do belongs to God. This could be a challenge to the colonizers oppressive taxes and government.
      So how are we to apply this to our lives. I would not recommend, not paying taxes because you end up with garnished wages and/or in jail. Because Jesus is presenting us with a larger critique of society, a different way to live; we are to challenge those points in our common life where people are being hurt or unable to thrive. So would God look at our tax system and ask what is fair and just? Does the money you pay to the government prevent you from having enough to eat,having healthcare, a roof over your head, heat, electricity? Who benefits from the tax code, who gets the most breaks? If it is not fair or just then we should work to make it fair and just. Does the money collected by the government reflect God's priorities? Is the budget used to feed the hungry? Cloth the naked? Heal the sick? Does the budget take care of the widows and orphans?  Does the budget fight evil (evil as God sees it, not humanity)? Does the budget work to set prisoners free? (This has a lot of implications for mandatory sentencing, 3 strikes your out, harsh drug laws, death penalty, Guantanamo Bay)? So in your political life, do you put God and God's dream for the world at the center or do bow to Caesar?  

Prayer Practice:
Litany for the Federal Budget
By Rev. Mari Castellanos, federal budget

Holy One, we thank you for gathering us this day as your people, women and men committed to loving you in one another. We thank you for entrusting us with the care of your precious creation and for calling us to be doers of justice and makers of peace. We seek your grace to be the church you call us to be, even as we acknowledge our frequent failure to live into that call.

Your people suffer dear God. In a world you created with abundant food sources, people go hungry. The waters you called into being are diverted for uses you never intended and the poor of the earth go thirsty. Your people suffer and call out to you. Hear the cry of the poor Oh God!

In this land of plenty many live in scarcity. Countless have no work and many of those who do, still live with anxiety and need. We lay before you their concerns as we pray for those who are able to address them. Hear the cry of the poor Oh God!

We pray for those who have power; may they have compassion as well.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor; blessed be the Lord.

We lift up to you our lawmakers; may they hold your law in their hearts.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor; blessed be the Lord.

We commend to you those who have influence; may they use it on behalf of those who feel forsaken.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor; blessed be the Lord.

 For our sisters and brothers who hunger for bread and justice, we ask the fullness of your mercy and pledge our best efforts to obtain the fullness of justice.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor; blessed be the Lord.

For the poor of the earth who sustain our extravagance with their labor and whose environment we devastate with extractive industries and with our waste, may they be lifted out of poverty as we repent and make amends.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor; blessed be the Lord.

We surrender all of these concerns to you, Holy One, mindful of your mercy and of our responsibility. Amen.

Ball of Confusion by the Temptations

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Who Owns the Earth?

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 54

Then he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is amazing in our eyes”?’
 When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.  Mark 12:1-12
       Who owns the commons? It is possible to own the earth? When I was in graduate school in political science, I took this course on political economy. The only book I remember was about England and the transition to an industrial economy. This book struck a chord with me, because of the way that people used and owned the land changed. Ordinary people, poor people, had been allowed to use common land to graze animals and grow food. Then fences started to be put up and the land started to be owned and kept from people who had lived and worked there for generations but became the Lord's to do with as he pleased. People were being pushed from the land or forced to pay more to the owners of the land. I think this struck home for me, because I noticed a difference between how you could visit the land in Connecticut. I had spent may vacations on an Island off of Texas at my grandparents where you could run around the whole island with no barriers or fences to stop you. When I got to Connecticut, beaches were owned. If you didn't have the right sticker you couldn't go to them, if you did go to paid public beaches you were limited in how far you could walk. I still don't understand how you can own a beach or ocean. When we allow the ownership commons those who suffer are the poor.
       So in our parable today, Jesus again speaks about people killing, beating the messengers who bring the word of God. One issued pointed to in this parable is the idea of the commons. "The Earth is the Lord's and all that's in it." Psalm 24. God is the vineyard owner, God is the one who owns the earth. We are just tenants and sojourners. God has given access to this amazing abundant land. In this glorious creation. God is the one who owns and we humans are just tenants. Read Leviticus 25 to see how The Law shares this understanding of land ownership. We humans are just sojourners, we will pass away, but the land will still be there. So the land returns always to the Lord. So when God sends messengers to seek compensation for its use, those messengers are sent packing or killed. So how do we deal with the land and resources. In a world where we are letting coke and pepsi conglomerates buy up water rights, so that what runs free is now bought and sold, God sends messengers about who owns the water. When there are amazing resources below the land and in the fruit of the land, who benefits from these resources. We have allowed major corporations to benefit from these commons, to the detriment of the people who live on or near the land or of the nations in which the resource is located. How are we to look at the resources that are God's? Would we change how the profits are shared from the resources and what the communities whose resources are stripped from the land receive as compensation? 
      But at another level this parable is about how messengers of God are treated. When God sends the prophets to share the abundant, fruitful word. The people reject, beat, and kill the prophets. God keeps trying to share the word with the people and keeps meeting rejection. So finally, God sends the beloved, the messiah, hoping the people will finally hear and accept the word. But the people kill the beloved. Jesus shares that at that point God will reject those tenants and build on the new work of the beloved. The religious authorities who hear this fear the crowds and seek Jesus' arrest.  
       In what ways, have you rejected God's word and God's messengers? Have you set aside those passages in the Gospel that require a change in your behavior? Have you heard the word preached and then before you were out the door done the exact thing the preacher had just preached about changing?  

Prayer Practice:
Take a walk this week in a public park. Experience the abundance of God's creation. Let the beauty of the earth sooth your soul.  

Sing Alleluia by Third Day and Jennifer Knapp


Sunday, May 4, 2014

How to Answer a Question?

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 53 

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.’ They argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’                                                                                                                    Mark 11:27-33
       When I took a course in graduate school for Political Science on Rights, it was one of my first courses in one of my field political theory.  Because of the subject their were a lot of non political theorists in the class, a normal class of 6 was over 20.  The debates were crazy.  People would come up with hypotheticals, one I remember from animal rights week was "you driving along the road and your choice is to kill the dolphin on the right or your child on the left."  They really wanted an answer, because they couldn't understand how I could justify saving animals and giving them rights. Me the vegetarian had to choose.  I of course being a good political theorist rewrote the question and the whole premise, arguing that it isn't black and white there are always other choices and decisions that can change the outcome.  There are always other options.  I don't know how any times I have had to have this conversation on hypotheticals/ questions/challenges, over being a vegetarian.  "Would you eat road kill?  If the animal washed up dead in front of you?  Oysters don't have faces?"  Behind all of the hypothetical situations was a challenge to the very idea of being vegetarian.  The normative is to eat meat, so to choose to refrain from eating meat is see n as deviant and subject to challenge.  Some people are attempting to get me to change my deviance and return me to normality.  But there especially when I became a vegetarian 27 years ago there was a desire to get me to change.  Sometimes we had debates about the treatment of animals and the cruelty of factory farming.  But there was also this sense that my choice was against their choice, when I really gave up trying to convert people within the first year of becoming a vegetarian.
       Well Jesus, in this section of Mark, faces hypothetical questions from the religious leaders and local political party members.  These questions aren't really mean as a means to learn more about following God, what kingdom living looks like or what God's dream for the world is?  These questions are instead intended to challenge Jesus' understanding of God and his authority as a teacher.  This series of hypothetical questions is meant to set Jesus up for a fall.  
        Today's hypothetical is about authority, leadership.  "By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?" Jesus changes the terms of the debate.  Instead of answering their question, he asks a question that turns the challenge back on them.  Jesus asks did John's baptism come from God or man.  The religious folk huddle up and debated how to answer.  They weighed the pros and cons of each answer.  They see that there is no answer that produces the desired outcome they want. They want Jesus to claim authority from God so they can arrest him for blasphemy. If they say man, then John's followers will revolt.  So they don't answer.  Then they refuse to answer his question, Jesus says he too will refuse to answer.  During this section of the Gospel, Jesus is teaching us how to face verbal challenges to our faith.

Prayer Practice:
Jesus, today I have faced so many challenges and questions.  Please be with me in the face of these confrontations.  Help me to see a way when there is no way.  Help me to find the answer when the answer is a challenge to my own hope and the people I am in conflict with.  Be with me in the face of the challenges and confrontations and help me to move through them with your presence being with me, in me, and surrounding me.  Amen.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Prayer & Money

The Call to Discipleship in The Gospel of Mark, Day 52 

     On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.                   Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written,“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”?   But you have made it a den of robbers.’ And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.       
       In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.                                                                                                                     Mark 11:12-26
       Jesus had been in the temple the day before and had seen what happened there. He is on his way back to the temple the next day and meets a fig tree. So what does a fig tree producing fruit and withering have to do with prayer and discipleship? Mark is very sparse in details and extraneous information, so there must be a purpose behind sharing the story of the fig tree.  
      Jesus is hungry, he sees a fig tree in leaf and went to search for fruit but couldn't find any. So he cursed the fig tree, saying "may no one ever eat fruit from you again." Jesus then enters the temple. He starts to drive our those who sold and bought in the temple. He dumps the money changers money on the ground. And overturned those who sold doves for sacrifices. He blocked the door not allowing anyone to carry anything in. Then he taught. He spoke of the temple being a house of prayer for all nations. He spoke of the turning of the temple into a den of robbers. For a day, Jesus stopped commerce. The religious authorities were not pleased and set out to destroy him. The multitudes were astonished by his teaching. Jesus then left the city that night.  
       In the morning on the way back into the city, hey saw the fig tree withered. Jesus then says to the disciples, "Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to the mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand and pray, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses."
      So the fig tree is withered. The temple that is supposed to produce fruit for God, will also wither. The temple is not supposed to be about money, but about prayer, about forgiveness. So why is one of the main complaints about churches it that they are always asking for money. They are always sending a letter asking for money. A church needs money to function, but would the money problem disappear if we became people of prayer, a people who forgive? Would our reputation change if prayer and not money became or focus? What if the business meetings of the church spent less time talking about money, worrying about money, and more time praying? What if the meeting were bathed in prayer rather than the short obligatory nod at the pastor to start the meeting? Jesus desires a church of faith and forgiveness. Would the fig tree blossom and bear fruit if we become communities of faith and forgiveness?  

Prayer Practice:
Treasure, too, you have entrusted,
gain through powers your grace conferred,
ours to use for home and kindred,
and to spread the gospel word.
Open wide our hands in sharing,
as we heed Christ's ageless call,
healing, teaching, and reclaiming,
serving you by loving all. Amen.
God's Whose Giving Know No Ending