Tag Archives: courage

Lip service or life? Called to courageous loving

Preached today to my wonderful community that give me all the support and love and really are a family in faith to me…

As I prayed and reflected on today’s readings, it was very hard for me to separate out the escalating feelings of fear, grief and hurt I have felt over the last week from some of the homophobic comments and lies that are circulating at the moment. As a queer woman, some people would say that I am “going to hell” or am locked out of God’s community, yet I experience God as knowing me better than I know myself and loving me deeply- allowing for my slowness to learn how best to live and encouraging my good intention. I have tried to resist the temptation to make my journey with this week’s readings nothing more than an expression of the pain I feel in this time. Yet I will name the pain because it is there. And then I will try to move on…

The first reading is the last part of a longer discussion about the way that each person owns their own conscience. Within it, a person is not judged by their family, culture or community nor by how others around them choose to live but insofar as they themselves respond to God and do what is right their path will be always into life. This is both a liberating and a troubling concept in our historical context, where we are increasingly facing the reality of climate change that will take more than the actions of a handful of well-meaning individuals to reverse.

And yet this is the reality we live in, things are happening around us that we have limited control to halt or change and we must somehow keep finding hope and meaning. Perhaps what we can find here is an antidote to the sorts of thinking that see decreasing compassion and rising inequality as inevitable. God does not desire our death, the call is always into life. We must embrace hope so that seeing the fallenness, imperfection or powerlessness of ourselves or those around us we must look for the potential for liberation and healing.

In the psalm we cry out to God to be compassionate and to teach us, this echoes both the awareness that things may be wrong and the determination to hope of the first reading. In the verses, God’s nature is revealed to be goodness and kindness, love and compassion. We can and must depend upon that whatever else we are emboldened to do.

The second reading is a sort of counterpoint to the first. Just as in the first reading, each of us was asked to think for ourselves, and to do good even if we are surrounded by wrong-doing, the second reading calls us to be community, to seek harmony and connection with others and to work for the good of others, not just selfishness. Hope then, is no longer a lonely place and we do not stand and judge from a moral high-ground but seek to know and serve whatever is vulnerable in each other.

Thus we come to the gospel, and the difference between giving lip-service to faith and living it. The first son is foolish and rebellious, he does not like to be told. I relate to him a lot and I see my own children in him too. And yet, once he has given his tokenistic resistance to the authority of his “father” he realises that the vineyard is something he is involved in and responsible for and he quietly gets in and works for the harvest. The second son is all performative obedience and moral superiority but when it comes down to it does not contribute to getting the harvest in.

This is a theology that Jesus points out even the religiously impure ones, even the tax collectors and prostitutes, instinctively understand. So what of us? Are we brave and honest enough to argue with the “father” when we do not feel as committed or engaged as we are told we ought to be? Would we dare to refuse to do what we are told…and then give ourselves the chance to rethink what we are really being asked to do, and what our role may be in the vineyard of God.

Or would we opt to look “respectable”, to follow from as great a distance as possible, paying lip-service but avoiding getting our hands dirty? Do we only go along with the call to love and accept the vulnerable so far as they don’t challenge or disgust us? Is there a limit to our ability to transmit God’s grace, or is it simply that we are busy and there are higher priorities than loving? But the first son’s apparently sullen attitude masks a deep love. Sometimes things may be better than they seem at first sight.

All three of the readings seem very sure in telling us that we need to risk being authentic before God. God’s desire is to always keep the option open for us to return and return and return into the heart of the community, into the work of the harvest, into life.

If we are called today, then what is our direction? Let us become aware of God’s love and allow ourselves to be authentic before it. Let us reflect on the readings for a short time and then as is our custom you might share your thoughts with the people sitting near you.

The vision still has its time

Ok I guess I am addicted/afflicted/called to this because I am missing it horrifically and need to come back to it. Every week at church I get strong words echoing through my mind about what I could have or should have said in the analysis I did not do, and actually i do waste a lot of time feeling helpless and not getting anywhere on the job seeking or the academic writing so I may as well continue to do my blog because at least that is something, even if it is not everything.
And today at feminist theology group I heard from braver more persistent women than me who have been silenced, mocked and reproved by the church for decades now and yet live to give life and wisdom to others. This made me realise that small as my voice may be I mustn’t let it be silenced, even by my own weakness.
So I google the lectionary and as soon as I see the first reading I think, I have made the right decision because it expresses my mood perfectly. I am puzzled as to why the bishops in their dubious wisdom chose to leave out verse 4 because I think it really well sums up the modern world, the refugee “crisis” and the attempts to prevent gay families from simply living and being.
And then God’s answer is actually sort of reassuring (if only we can believe this is God speaking and not just God’s publicity team via the bible):
” the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.”
“The vision” for me is of finding meaning in life, of finding my own dignity as the person I am and a place and way to help others be themselves in their own dignity too. The vision is the chance to really teach, not just hold a place for others and of being published. The vision is also bigger than me of course, the reign of God bringing justice and joy everywhere and including all creation in radical liberation. Eco-feminism and then some. And I would like to think that my own lack of energy and ability notwithstanding the vision is still pressing forward. Older people than me began it in my lifetime and before then there were foundations laid even further back. I do not have to finish it either.
“The just one because of her faith shall live” reminds me to be just, not to “sell out” to any of the seemingly easier paths. Of course this is easily talked about and more difficult to live out in every day decisions and courage. But the call is there. Let’s go to the psalm.
If today you hear Her voice harden not your hearts. Am I hearing the voice of God in my world? Who do I harden my heart to, because that may be a clue to where the voice of God is for me. Am I hardened against those who are suffering? Those who call me to put to one side my privilege and relate more authentically? Those who wish to give me the good news that I am loved and lovable? Those whose vision is greater than mine or those who lag behind in their fear? Where is the voice of Wisdom in my day?
The verses speak of joy, praise and thanksgiving; then of acknowledgement of God and of our belonging to God’s reign and community (I am deliberately overlooking the kyriearchal framing here); “oh that today we would listen” weeps the final verse, showing us the history of the “fathers” whose faith failed and who sought to control not receive God. How do we set ourselves apart from the failure in faith of our father and the reluctance to justice that they bequeathed to us too? What transformation is needed so that we would accept God’s offer and take her hand and walk to the somewhere of liberation and love?
The second reading reminds us that, that flame of God is already within us waiting to be stirred into life. I don’t agree that we have it from the imposition of hands of some patriarch, but we have it even before that (my capable child philosophy) through the womb walls that were our first ever touch and the midwifely hands that caught us and in a sense confirmed life. And yes then the patriarchal church has to make a ritual of the obvious that God is already in our everyday we are seeded with the flame, better we are small anam cara, twin flames of God herself (though imperfectly nurtured by our fears and our situation).
God is waiting for us to be true to our spirit of power and love and self-control not our spirit of privileged first-world and patriarchal cowardice. Our true nature is the flame, not the dying of light…and here I weep at myself and my inadequacy, even job seeking is too hard for me let alone the real work of salvation. And I scream to God a yearning need of help, tinder to keep the tiny flame alive, for God to stand between me and the winds of the world to keep the flame safe until it can grow to something. And that i suppose is one of the reasons why church communities are needed. None of us alone can keep the flame bright in such darkness of our own limits.
Paul (or whoever is claiming Paul’s identity to stir us) here offers us the solidarity. Yes there is hardship in the journey but so it has been for all the great ones of the faith. For Paul. For our flawed and silence mothers, our flawed and privileged fathers. Paul offers for this, not an easy answer but a reminder of “the strength that comes form God” and the “Holy Spirit” within, helping.
Reading this I think of a small child I saw yesterday, a two year old with “global delay” and yet so determined to communicate, so determined to walk. She held my hands tightly and refused to let go and walked many steps that looked painful, leaning heavily and almost falling and then smiled at me and said what I think must have been “Thank you” repeating it many times and only smiling when I finally realised what she meant and said “you’re welcome”. That flame to walk and talk, I need to kindle it within myself as a globally delayed child of God. I need to follow God around with the same determination and the same grasp and the same grateful persistence.
In the gospel Jesus is using hyperbole to remind us that faith is powerful and transformative. Reading his metaphor from the perspective of earth however jars. Should my faith be like a mustard seed (a weed) and should it uproot a fruitful mulberry tree into the sea? I’ve always been taught to try to rehabilitate this metaphor but as an eco-feminist I have to make a face and admit that it jars!
And then being told to simply consider myself a servant before God, I am too marxist and critical to be prepared to do that. I don’t see that there is an “obligation” to do God’s work, I appreciate that there is no great riches and status in it, but we are not just “servants” we are also members of families and communities and may be tired and hungry and expect to be paid fairly for our labour. Servants in a kyriearchy, wives in a patriarchy- I don;t see a need to accept being ordered around by some privileged individual even if that privileged individual were the almighty God. Jesus here is referred to as “the Lord” is that a clue of the caution needed with this gospel? I am not sure how to make sense of it, after such good readings this gospel seems kind of anti-climactic and less than useful. I will look forward to seeing how my church community makes sense of it (or perhaps remain uneasy).
But this is a week of St Vincent de Paul’s day (think of the poor) and of St Therese of the child Jesus (one of the very few female doctors of the church, think of women’s ministry and teaching) and I will seek to use my faith to make progress toward better life, not in the vanity of my admitted desire for security and success, but remembering that God’s vision of transformation serves all our interests as flames of that flame.
My heart sings to attempt this wrestling match again. Alleluia.