Peter - worthy of receiving the keys of heaven one week, Satan the next. Peter's name means "rock" and a rock can be used for good (sturdy foundation, beautiful retaining walls, drainage systems, etc.) or for bad (weapon, hinderance to plowing). We are not so unlike Peter. We can set our eyes on the Kingdom of Heaven and strive to do God's will in all things or we can be blinded by the lures of our earthly existence and do that which pleases us in the moment. Either way, we are still called by God.

What I love about the juxtaposition of the two readings from Matthew on the 14th and 15th Sundays after Pentecost is that Peter is both chosen by Jesus and capable of messing up. This is Hope! I can turn my eyes toward God at any time - start my day over at any moment - and Jesus still loves me. Sure there are consequences for actions taken blindly - this is not a "get out of jail free" card - but God's love remains steadfast - like a rock.

Just some ramblings on a Sunday evening. . . take what you like, leave the rest.


God Bless Parents

BIAS: I am not a parent.

Children are fascinating. I spent several hours today with my 8-year old niece at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. If there was something to do we could stop - however, if it was not self-explanatory (i.e., had "too many" (egad!) words to explain it or if it didn't work the way it "should" on the first try), then we were running off to the next item in the exhibit.

My own emotions fascinated me as I alternated between feeling guilty for not being an adult who has that innate talent to keep a child amused and feeling grumpy because I didn't get to spend the time I wanted to at exhibits that interested me (ah, the child still alive within me!)

For those of you who are blessed with children of your own, God bless you. As for me, I am thankful to be an aunt who gets to enjoy a few days of "parenthood" every summer when one of my nieces comes to visit. And, at the end of the day, I can only pray to God using the words of Psalm 91 (appointed Psalm for the Feast Day of Saint Bartholomew), "'You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust.' Please don't leave me!!!!! Amen."


Who Do You Say That I Am?

In the gospel lesson that will be read in many Episcopal church's next Sunday, Jesus asks the disciples, "who do you say that I am?" Last year in a class at Seabury called Gospel Mission, we were asked to answer that question. We came up with a list of adjectives, titles, etc. - the things we believe about Jesus - what we think about Jesus - what we've been taught about Jesus. Then, one of the professors (I think it was Dr. Yamada) said (my paraphrase here): "remember, evangelicals have an answer ready for this question." This discussion has been on my mind a lot since then.

A few weeks ago, I came back from an 8-day experience held in the Berkshires called The Quadrinity Process. One of the ground rules stipulated that we could not tell other retreatants our occupation (nor could we ask them about theirs). Think about this - when you meet someone for the first time, what do you usually discuss: What is your name? Where are you from? What do you do? Then, magically, we think we can answer the question, "who do you say that I am?" Interestingly, when someone asks us to tell them about ourselves, we respond with something like the following: My name is Debra. I am originally from Wausau, Wisconsin but I came to the Chicagoland area by way of Decorah, Iowa and Boston, Massachusetts. I am a full-time student at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. My 8-days in the Berkshires revealed my own inability to answer the question, "Who do I think that I am?" apart from these places and occupational attributes. The other 27 retreatants may have experienced the same. And, if we do not know who we are ourselves, how can we possibly be prepared to fully know who someone else is? or, equally important, how can we possibly be prepared to let someone else know us fully?

When Jesus asks, "Who do you say that I am?," I am amazed that one who knows me fully for who I am (not for what I do) is inviting me to know him as well - not by what he does or by where he is from, but for who he is at his essence. "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it" (Psalm 139.6). Jesus is the one who knows who I am - even when I have least known myself.

"My God calls my name on the morning dew.
The Power of the Universe knows my name.
Gave me a song to sing and sent me on my way."
- Bernice Reagon Johnson, "I Remember, I Believe," Sacred Ground


Have You Asked for Help?

Sermon Preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Park Ridge
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Year A

Jesus left Park Ridge and went away to the city of Mount Prospect near Arlington Heights. Just then a young woman from Mount Prospect came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; I have a terrible illness that may leave me blind in a few years." But Jesus did not answer her. The citizens who had gathered around Jesus urged him, saying, "Send her away, for her health problems are costing us too much money – our taxes are already too high, our insurance premiums are too costly, and she keeps shouting after us." Jesus answered the young woman, "I was sent only to those who work full-time for large businesses." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." Again, Jesus answered, "It is not fair to take the taxpayers’ money and throw it to those who are less fortunate." She said, "Yes, Lord, but all people deserve a chance to be healthy." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And the young woman’s eyes were made well and Jesus’ eyes were opened.

Lisa is the owner of a small business in Mount Prospect. When I spoke with her to get permission to share her story with you, she asked that her name and her business name not be used. So, I’ll call her Lisa. At one time Lisa had full coverage health insurance. Today, because of a serious eye disease that requires ongoing medical attention, her insurance policy contains a rider that excludes coverage for her eyes. For Lisa this means that in addition to her monthly premiums she is paying about $300 per month for prescription medication and continues to pay the out-of-pocket costs for an eye surgery that was performed over a year ago. Despite making small, but consistent, payments for this surgery, the hospital has turned her account over to a collections agency.

Lisa was one of a handful of individuals who shared their stories last Wednesday at the Healthy Illinois Community Meeting in Des Plaines. Some of the testimonies were of small business owners like Lisa; others were of parents who work two and three jobs in order to make ends meet, but who still do not have access to healthcare. What these people shared in common, besides their concern about healthcare, was their willingness to ask for help, their faith that by joining together, by asking one another for help, they could accomplish what they could not do alone.

I don’t like to ask for help. When we moved into our house in Mount Prospect a few years ago, we needed to replace a ceiling fan in one of the bedrooms. We had removed the old fan some months earlier to apply a fresh coat of paint to the ceiling and were finally getting around to buying a new fan. New fan in hand and easy-to-follow instructions in the box, we managed to install the new ceiling fan. In the process of turning the power on and off to determine if our installation was a success, we each received a small electrical shock once – believe me, once was enough! And today the fan and light still don’t turn on at the switch on the wall – I even tried switching the wires back and forth a couple of times. But, no matter, the chain pulls work fine. And, most importantly, I didn’t have to ask for help. I don’t like to ask for help.

Do you know someone like this in your life? Maybe you are like this? I suspect that most of us find it easier to help someone else than to admit we need help ourselves. Perhaps asking for help seems like an admission of weakness – an admission of failure. And yet, in today’s gospel lesson and at the Des Plaines Community Meeting, women and men found the courage and strength to ask for help. Because they believed that what they could only dream about alone, could become a reality by asking for help from others.

But – yes, there is a caveat here – when we ask for help, we must be prepared for challenges and obstacles which may alter our dream – might open our eyes to new possibilities. Because we can never assume that our dreams - our vision for how the world should be - are in line with God’s vision for the world. We see how this came about in today’s reading by watching the change in Jesus. The Jesus portrayed in this story seems far from God-like as he rebukes the Canaanite woman who is pleading for her daughter’s life. He does this not once, but twice, and even stoops to calling her a dog. It is only the woman’s persistence that opens Jesus’ eyes to a new possibility and he has mercy on the woman and heals her daughter.

In this encounter, both the Canaanite woman and Jesus are transformed. This is the power of asking for help. In asking for help you are not only giving yourself a gift – an opportunity for your dream to become a reality – but you are giving others a gift. You are giving others an opportunity to see your dream, to learn more about who you are and what is important to you. And you are giving yourself the gift of seeing new possibilities, new ways forward. In this mutuality of asking and receiving, we begin walking together to create a common vision for the future.

When Lisa shared her story with those of us gathered in Des Plaines, she opened all of our eyes to a vision. A vision which because of so many people with stories like hers and because of the work of organizations like United Power for Action and Justice, like Citizen Action/Illinois, like Illinois for Health Care – because of these individuals and groups coming together, asking one another for help – because of all this –Lisa’s dream is moving forward, creating a new reality – a reality that will lead to increased access to more affordable and quality health care for small businesses, for the self-employed, and for other individuals.

What is your vision? Are you ready to be transformed? Have you asked for help? “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish!”


. . . What We Have Left Undone

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) took (at least) two important votes today. First, delegates at their national convention voted 851-127 to keep the church together despite great disagreements over homosexuality. Later, delegates voted 503-490 to reject a plan that would have allowed synods to ordain homosexuals who might certain criterion (e.g., being in a long-term, monogamous relationship). More details on the voting can be found in this news article or at the ELCA's website.

One of the concerns expressed by members of the ELCA (and, for that matter, by many in the Anglican Communion) is that a convincing theological argument on why homosexuals should be eligible for ordination has not been offerred. Instead, what are offerred are testimonials as to how ordination of gays and lesbians - or the exclusion from ordination - has hurt gays, lesbians, their friends and families, etc.

As a lesbian who is a candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church, I concede. I have not seen - nor have I contributed to or prepared - a theological argument for why "people like me" should be ordained or ordainable. And yet, I am not sure that I have seen a convincing theological argument for why heterosexuals - married or single - should be ordained or ordainable. Theological treatises on the reasons for ordained ministries certainly exist but how much of the detail is devoted to the potential ordinand's sexuality? What in these treatises explicitly exclude an homosexual? I'm not trying to be difficult - I really don't know the answer. What resources can I look to for this? [note: this is not a rhetorical question].

I am grateful for the ELCA's vote to remain united as they continue on their journey. I don't recall the ECUSA having such a resolution on the table 2 years ago and will watch, with interest, the manner in which the discussions in both denominations continue. Will the unified vote taken by the ELCA today make a difference in the nature of their dialogue?

A good discussion on this topic as it pertains to the ECUSA has already been ongoing on AKMA's blog (unfortunately, it is late and despite my best efforts at coming up with a search term that will land me in the midst of said discussion, the best I can do is say, here's the blog - I hope you can find the discussion - and, I'm sorry).


God and Change

I'm in a quandry and am looking for help. I am preaching on Sunday --- the gospel lesson is from Matthew: Canaanite woman comes to Jesus seeking healing for her daugher --- twice Jesus pushes her aside --- calls her a dog, no less! --- and then, she changes Jesus' mind! Woah!

Is it too "edgy" to say, "Jesus' eyes were opened in this encounter" --- just how much trouble will I wander into? So much emphasis is placed on the woman's action - on the "greatness of her faith" and so many seem to simply ignore the Jesus that is portrayed here. This is not a nice guy!

If God desires our prayer and invites us into the ongoing dialogue of the triune God (a la Moltmann) AND if God's nature is not duplicitous (which Brunner says is a big NO-NO), then God is, in fact, willing to change - i.e., to truly respond to our pleas. Is that a reasonable conclusion? that God can be compelled? Without this, I feel stuck with a reading of the text that says, "ah, this is the VERY human side of Jesus. . . stay tuned, next week, the God-side will show up again." Clearly, a reading I must - and do - reject. And, if God is not compellable (not sure the adjective works in this direction), then why do we pray? (o.k., let's save that question because I'm not really going down that path on Sunday).


Divine Mathematics

I used to manually complete long division problems on the back of my Hebrew quizzes when I finished early. So, it should come as no surprise that I am delighted by the following facts concerning God (according to Francis J. Hall in Theological Outlines, Volume 1: The Doctrine of God, Cf. Q. 66., ¶5, p. 143):

1 Divine Nature
2 Processionsu
3 Propertiesv
4 Relationsw
5 Notionsx

This, of course, leads to the following:

5 Notions - 4 Relations = 1 Divine Nature
3 Properties - 2 Processions = 1 Divine Nature
Therefore, 5 Notions - 4 Relations = 3 Properties - 2 Processions


1 Divine Nature + 3 Properties = 4 Relations
5 Notions - 1 Divine Nature = 4 Relations
Therefore, 1 Divine Nature + 3 Properties = 5 Notions - 1 Divine Nature

OR, impressively deduced from the latter:

2 Divine Natures = 5 Notions - 3 Properties

E-gad! I've just increased God by 1. . . Who knew it could be done!? - and without cloning, no less! And yet, I confess, there may be more merriment, than fact in all that has preceded.

u"the Son proceeds from the Father by generation, and the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son by spiration" (Cf. Hall, Q. 65, ¶1, pp.139-40.)
v paternity, filiation, and procession
w paternity, filiation, spiration, and procession
x Innascibility, paternity, filiation, spiration, and procession