Thursday, October 29, 2015

Our continuing love story

As the month of October draws to a close, we prepare our hearts for the double celebration of All Saints Day (Nov 1) followed the next day by All Souls Day (Nov 2). On All Saints day, which is this Sunday, we honor the whole communion of saints: those who went before us and we who are saints in the world today. We also pray for those who are yet to come. On All Souls Day we remember the faithful departed who have gone before and now rest in the “land of our ancestors.” (Gen 15:15) The juxtaposition of these two feast days helps us remember that ours is a continuing story of the love of God for us, and that death, which Jesus defeated, does not interfere or interrupt that story.

Part of the abundance of gifts available to us can be found in the communion of saints who have gone before. For example, when a
parent seeks prayer support for their wayward child, they can call upon St. Monnica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, who was a rogue in his youth. Monnica knew that God had a plan for her son and despite evidence to the contrary, she prayed for him continually for 19 years. Augustine eventually became one of the greatest theologians in Christian history. Monnica’s perseverant prayers are available to support us now. When we pray for racial and cultural peace in our world today we can call upon the prayerful support of Chief Seattle and Black Elk, 19th century Native American converts whose faith led them to seek and establish peace with the white settlers descending upon them. When we need the strength to speak the truth as we stand against oppression in our world, we can call upon our friends in heaven who did so before us: Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman.

On All Saints Sunday we “dress up” as a favorite saint (or carry a placard available in the narthex) and walk in solemn procession calling out the names of those who have gone before. Knowing we embody the same gifts and graces that moved them in their time, we call upon them, our friends in the heavenly realm, to pray and walk with us now as we serve God and God’s people in our time.
One of our responsibilities as part of this continuing love story is preparing those who will come after us to carry the message of salvation in Jesus Christ to the generations that will follow. It’s why life-long Christian formation is so important to The Episcopal Church. We are always learning, always growing, always maturing in our faith. As St. Paul said in his epistle to the Philippians: “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (3:12)

As Episcopalians we are devoted to the traditions we have inherited from our forebears in faith. We are also constantly opening ourselves to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit to the new thing God is doing as the plan of salvation continues to unfold in our time. It’s a balance about which we are intentional.

We believe in a living God who is at work in the world about us. We believe that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, bearers of the love of Jesus into the world today. We believe that God will equip us to serve because the work is hard. Thankfully, we don’t do it alone. We do it held in the love and prayers of the whole communion of saints.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pentecost 22: An invitation to draw near

Lectionary: Job 42; 1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22; Hebrews 7:23-29; Mark 10:46-52
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

This is one of those Sundays when the wisdom of our 3-year common lectionary truly shines in this group of readings.

The Old Testament story from Job is about HUMILITY. Even the most faithful, such as Job, fall into the sin of Adam & Eve – deciding we think we know how anything ought to be or go. Such arrogance (hubris) puts us outside a right relationship with God. When we return to humility, as Job did, we return to righteousness.

The Psalm is about FAITH. Praising God, even in the midst of terror Hardship is part of life. Righteousness, that is, a right relationship with God, calls us to pray and praise God even in times of trouble, especially in times of trouble, knowing that God loves us, will keep us safe, and set us free from whatever enslaves us.

The letter to the Hebrews is about HOPE. Our deliverance, our salvation is in the person of Jesus the Christ who “is able for all time to save those who approach God through him.” Jesus saves. When we, who are baptized into the death and resurrection life of Jesus, approach God, our hope is in Jesus who said, “whatever you ask in my name, I will give you.” But it’s what we ask that is important, as we see in our Gospel story.

The story of Bartimaeus (son of honor) -Bartimaeus may or may not have been a real person. This gospel is a story Jesus is telling about CHARITY.

To be blind is to be unable to see. Even we who can (physically) see know the terror of blindness - spiritual blindness. Everyone knows this at some point. Every church, every part of the body of Christ, confronts this at some point. Blindness is the frailty of our humanity. Trouble arises and we feel lost and alone. How do we move safely ahead? The road is unfamiliar and frightening. What is God’s will for us? How do we know our decisions/actions are in keeping with the will of God?

The answer is: we look at our questions. What are we asking God for in the moment of our trouble?

Bartimaeus asked for mercy. He had enough FAITH to know that Jesus COULD provide him freedom from his affliction. He had enough HOPE to believe that Jesus WOULD save him in his time of trouble.

Bartimaeus asked for mercy – which got Jesus’ attention, so he stood still and told his followers to call Bartimaeus to him. The followers went to Bartimaeus and said, “…get up, he is calling you.”

Bartimaeus immediately got up, throwing off his cloak, and came to Jesus. Why this detail? Why does the gospel writer say he threw off his cloak?

Like all the other “calling” stories when Jesus calling the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, or the tax collector Matthew, etc., Bartimaeus left his livelihood to follow Jesus. The cloak was what caught the coins that people threw. So he threw that off – he threw off his job and all the money he had gathered for the day and he followed Jesus. He walked away from everything on earth that gave him security and safety and ran to Jesus for salvation.

Then, when Bartimaeus and Jesus were face to face, and Jesus asked him what he wanted and Bartimaeus said, “…let me see again.” He didn’t asked to be delivered from his poverty or his exile or his shame. Bartimaeus asked to “see again,” to perceive and know the will of God. Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you, therefore I despise (I unhook from my loyalty to myself) and repent in dust and ashes.” Bartimaeus asked to see.

As we listen to this story, we tend to identify with Bartimaeus. But we aren’t Bartimaeus – we are the followers sent to bring him to Jesus. We have already chosen to follow Jesus. We are already baptized into this body of Christ. Now we are the ones called to bring those others in.

To do that we must examine our questions to God. What are we asking God for? Deliverance from our poverty? Our shame? Or are we asking, as we prayed in our Collect, for an …increase in… the gifts of FAITH, HOPE, and CHARITY?

Because if we are asking for those things, we are asking not for ourselves but for those to whom God is sending us. We’re asking so that we might be faithful followers of Jesus who hear the cries of those whom others judge as unworthy, and choose to go TO them and bring them to Jesus. And we do this while the establishment continues to try to silence them and push them to the side.

How do we bring people to Jesus? I can practically feel Deacon Pam cringe from the experiences of her denominational background when I say that. But it’s important – how do we bring people to Jesus? The “establishment” of much of modern Christianity in our time has it wrong. We don’t do this by bashing folks with a Bible, holding up signs in protest, or by judging them as ‘sinners,’ or by ‘fixing’ their behavior.

We don’t bring people to Christ, we invite them. We do this as followers of Jesus the Christ, the kind of follwers described in our Gospel story.

We hear those who cries and instead of shushing them, we go TO them with FAITH that Jesus can free them from their affliction (whether it’s poverty, addiction, fear, self or other hatred, whatever wounded-ness they bear). We go TO them with HOPE that they will choose to answer the invitation to come near to Jesus who will make them whole.

Many people learn over time that they aren’t worthy of anything good, and they come to believe that. But the Good News that we bring is that none of us is worthy, yet as the Psalmist says, “The Lord ransoms (i.e. sets free) the life of his servants and none will be punished who trust in him.”

They may or may not choose to come. That isn’t our concern or our goal. Our role is to GO and invite them to come near to Jesus.

It’s that third grace we prayed for, however, that trips us up as a church: CHARITY. We have prayed to God to increase in us the grace of charity. Charity is the voluntary giving of help. It’s often money, but not always, and we give it to those in need. The key word, of course, is voluntary.

Charity involves kindness and tolerance in judging others. In the Gospel story, Jesus’ followers failed to be charitable at first – sternly ordering Bartimaeus to be quiet. It’s a pattern repeated often – the disciples try to protect Jesus from those they deem unworthy – the children, the beggars, the women, the foreigners… yet Jesus keeps calling them close to him, and showing his followers that it is his desire to draw all people to himself.

It is the role of the followers of Jesus to help with that desire, not interfere with it. Every day we who are followers of Jesus hear the cries of those who need to be made whole. Every day Jesus sends us to them and asks us to invited them to come near to him.

As a church, we do this in our ministry to the poor and hungry in the Shepherd’s Table. We also do it in our worship.

Many of you know that we did a funeral this week. I got a call on Tuesday at 11 am, telling me that it had bee published in the newspaper that I was doing a funeral the next day at 3 pm at the funeral home. This isn’t the first time that’s happened…

That blew open my week because, since it was at the funeral home (which is not what Episcopalians do – we bury out of the church), I had a choice. I could carry 50-75 Prayer Books to the funeral home or I could make a service booklet. So I made a booklet – which took some time. I also had to meet with the family. I had never met this person. They hadn’t been here in a decade, but still counted themselves as Episcopalian, so they assumed that I would come do the funeral. Thank God, I could clear my schedule to do it.

I was miffed, frustrated, by the presumption that they would say you’re going to be here tomorrow to do this funeral for somebody you don’t know. But I surrendered because they needed it. It seemed to matter to them. I would have felt awful saying no to them. I could have but I chose not to.

I met with them an hour later – and I fell in love with them. I connected deeply to their pain and their hope. I counseled them in their grief, and I watched them light back up. They were so distressed because of the details of his life. They were so alone because they felt like God had deserted them and him.

So I shared the Good News that I know and they came away feeling hope, and we came away with a very deep, beautiful, meaningful relationship.

Will they come to Redeemer? Who knows? God only knows. That isn’t my goal or my business. My goal - our goal as followers of Jesus isn’t to fill our pews but to invite anyone to whom God sends us, even those who frustrate us and miff us in the process, but to invite them into the presence of Jesus, which we carry in ourselves. It’s what we do when we do when we come here each Sunday: restore and renew the presence of Christ who lives in us. The rest is up to God.

In the Gospel story, Bartimeus did follow Jesus on the way, he could see, which means he could know the Christ, and so he followed Jesus. But Jesus didn’t have a church he was filling, did he? Really, neither do we. What we have to share is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, & THE LIFE, who is Jesus.

We have Jesus and if we meant it when we prayed it, we will allow God to increase in us FAITH, HOPE, and CHARITY that we might be willing to go out and bring the Good News, and invite others to come near to Jesus where they (and we) will be made whole.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

A terminus moment

In the realm of God there is always hope. Our hope is in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom we have eternal life, that is, life in the eternal presence of God.

By our Baptism, we are also a resurrection people. We believe that new life always follows death, and so, we don’t fear death. In fact, we don’t fear anything because we know that God Almighty, who created us and redeemed us also sustains us, providing all we need (though maybe not all we want) to continue faithfully forward.

As followers of Christ we move through the cycles of our lives with the confidence borne of this faith, knowing that each step is taking us where God’s purpose for us will be fulfilled. Each hardship we face not only builds our spiritual character and endurance but also give us opportunity to watch the redeeming love of God in action. These experiences, together with our celebrations, give us stories to share about how good the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ really is.

Since our reality is that we live in the eternal life given to us by our Savior, there is no end for us – no death - only places of new beginnings. The Latin word for this is “terminus” which David Adam describes beautifully in this poem:

The terminus
is not where we stay,
it is the beginning
of a new journey
It is where we
reach out beyond,
where we experience
new adventures.
It is where we get off
to enter new territory,
to explore new horizons,
to extend our whole being.
It is a place
touching the future.
It opens up new vistas.
It is the gateway
to eternity.

Redeemer is in a moment of terminus. We are marking the end of what was and opening ourselves to the new thing God is doing in us. In the way that only God can manage this new thing is an act of loving fulfillment.

I don’t say that lightly, and it isn’t an overstatement. We are a people united in the love of God. We are one. It’s a bit like a choir: all of our voices singing together make a sound that none can make alone. But it isn’t just us singing. We believe that our voices join with the heavenly chorus and together we make a sound only God can orchestrate.

In her book, “The Great Emergence” Phyllis Tickle, a leading voice in the emergence church movement, describes 500 year cycles of life, death, and resurrection in the life of the church. These cycles are separated by moments of terminus – moments wherein the established systems and institutional structures of the church move toward their death so that a new thing can begin. Tickle says Christianity in the midst of one of these cycles now. Christianity itself is in a terminus moment.

Our faith in Jesus Christ assures us that we can run without fear into the new territory God is placing before us. We can explore the new horizons before us with confidence that God who created us recreates us every day; that we have been redeemed by Jesus the Christ and made a resurrection people.; and that God’s own Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and sustains us every moment of our lives, now leads us into our new life with Good News to share for the healing of souls.

If we will go… and I pray we will go, all of us, as one body, one spirit in Christ.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pentecost 21: Purified and unafraid to live

Lectionary: Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

The following are simply sermon notes. As such they are not the full text. Please listen to the audio file. Peace! V+

Clergy conference – Rev Dr Elaine Heath, author and founder of the Missional Wisdom Foundation. (Hold up her book: “Missional. Monastic. Mainline: A Guide to Starting Missional Micro-Communities in Historically Mainline Traditions.” Also mention her book: “The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach.”)

Life cycle of the church: decline leads to anxiety – and soon desperation. The system becomes focused on attracting – more people, more money, more programs to bring more people, more money… so the church doesn’t die.

Elaine talked about the need for movement from an “attractional” church to a “missional church” with the building and local church community being an anchor, a place of foundation, feeding, empowering – for mission OUT THERE in the world.

She used the metaphor of a tornado (sucks everything into itself) vs hurricane (spins out from the center).

This brings to mind our Post-communion prayer, BCP, 365, 366. Also Nicene Creed.

Elaine: “If we’re going to be apostolic – a people sent out – we can’t be trapped in a building – in an old paradigm.” The movement from an attractional to a missional church takes a pioneer, whom Elaine describes as someone who sees hope in the dying system.

Be aware, however, that the system will resist the pioneer and, as it moves from anxiety to desperation, will attempt to “crush” the pioneer and destroy them.

Thankfully, our hope is in Jesus, the icon of the unseen God, who created us, loves us, sustains us, and redeems us – always. Amen.

Elaine asked two questions of us:

1) What if all of us were free to fail our way forward?
2) What would we do if we weren’t so weighted down with institutional anxiety?

I would add this question: what if we trusted the love of Jesus enough to die?

Hebrews: Jesus learned obedience (hear the will of God and act) through what he suffered. He showed us the way to understand suffering: EVERYTHING IS GIFT – even suffering, if we trust in the redeeming love of God in Christ.

1996: Read recurring dream/vision (from 1996 prayer journal): purification through death for new life

Gospel: Context ahead of this story…

Chap 9: Jesus caught the apostles arguing over greatness, which embarrassed them. They didn’t know he had overheard them. Jesus’ response: be like this child.

Chap 10: Just before this story: Jesus has foretold of his passion for the 3rd time.

Immediately after that, James and John ask Jesus to give them whatever they want. Jesus asks them what that is, and they ask to sit at his right and left hand –the two places traditionally associated with power and glory.

Jesus replies: “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized?

James and John answer: We are able. Most commentaries talk about the blindness of these two disciples, assuming they’re speaking/acting from the old paradigm.

But I wonder if they did get it. Having just heard Jesus talk about his suffering and death, maybe J and J understood exactly what they were asking and asked it anyway. Maybe these two loved Jesus enough to trust and obey him, desiring to become servant of all, and following Jesus to the death he had just described.

Maybe these two were the pioneers who saw beyond the old paradigm to the hope embodied in Jesus, their savior.

The other disciples got angry at them. Maybe they’re the ones hearing this conversation from the old paradigm. Then their anger makes sense… there go the sons of Zebedee seeking their own glory again.

But that dismisses the possibility that transformation may have happened in them, and could happen in us.

What if we understood our suffering and death as we understand Jesus’ – as the way to the truth, and to life.

God has chosen us to bear the light of Christ into the darkness of our world. What if we trusted in God’s love for us, in God’s choice of us?

What if we let go the old life we have cherished and open ourselves - with gratitude and expectation - to the new life awaiting us?

We don’t need a strategic plan. We need only believe.

In his reflection last week, +Porter, our bishop, said this: “Therefore, our faith is not in ourselves to figure out a new management chart but to be faithful to God who is always leading us out of mess and hardship and pain to the land of promise. The key to that faithfulness is our reliance on God and not ourselves; this allows us to relax because we are not in charge. ‘Play, love and fail your way forward.’” (quoting Elaine Heath)

I commend his entire reflection to you. It’s on the diocesan website.

We are being purified and it feels chaotic, painful at times, and scary all the time. But we are God’s chosen ones and God is always faithful.

If we keep our eyes prayerfully focused on Jesus whose arms eternally reach out for us, we will be overwhelmed by his love and we will become unafraid to die knowing that this death we enter willingly is the gateway to the new life, the resurrection life, awaiting us.


Thursday, October 8, 2015


I’ve been contemplating the concept of detachment this week. It’s something I contemplate often. I have to because I find myself having to let go of my attachments again and again in many aspects of my life.

Detachment is hard. It’s also spiritually important which may be why so many of the great spiritual traditions recommend practicing
it. Christian medieval mystic Meister Eckhart is probably most well-known for his teachings on detachment. Eckhart said, “He who would be serene and pure needs but one thing, detachment” and “To be full of things is to be empty of God. To be empty of things is to be full of God.” These ‘things’ to which Eckhart refers include thoughts, beliefs, ideas, possessions, goals, and descriptors of all kinds (male, female, rich, poor, beautiful, ignorant, capable, straight, gay, etc.), control, and outcomes.

The Greek word for this is kenosis and it means self-emptying. Jesus modeled and taught this saying, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Mt 16:25

It seems apparent, then, why detachment isn’t a comfortable concept in 21st century America. Our globally connected modern culture continually motivates (tempts) us to attach: to information via 24-hour news cycles, online shopping sites, and interest boards; to a variety of products, and the need for those products like smart phones and watches, the newest and best shoes, cars, jeans, tools; to ideas about beauty, success, importance, etc.

I’ve found, though, that as much as I enjoy my attachments (aware that I’m typing this on my touch-screen lap-top), I know that the only way I can serve God well is to continually practice detachment. It’s how I make space in my thoughts, goals, and life for God’s will.

Detachment means letting go of the self and self-interest. It is the “self” that attaches, e.g., this is my title, my job, my car, my church…. The self that attaches is, according to theologian Richard Rohr, the false self. The true self is found only when the false self is denied. As Jesus said, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Lk 9:23)

One of the hardest practices of detachment is letting go of outcomes. Walking faithfully in the will of God inevitably leads us to difficult moments. Using our God-given gifts of intellect and experience, we can see where things are heading. Judging the forthcoming outcome as bad or undesirable, we’re often tempted to influence a change of course.

Sometimes, however, the outcome we foresee isn’t the final outcome in God’s plan for us. God sees beyond what our limited minds can conceive and sometimes we’re called to wait and trust until redemption is accomplished by God. Think of the crucifixion. It looked to everyone like Jesus’ death was the end, but it wasn’t. No one could have foreseen the resurrection as the true outcome. Only God.

Finally, detachment is life-giving because letting go of self and self-interest frees us to enter into right relationship (righteousness) with God, neighbor, and creation. In what ways might we, as the body of Christ, and individually as members of it, practice detachment as we journey toward the Jordan River together? What beliefs, ideas, possessions, and outcomes tempt us to attach? In what tangible ways can we detach from those and move into righteousness together?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Modeling St. Francis of Assisi

(Note: This article was written last week anticipating the feast day of this fascinating saint. Sorry for the delay in posting!)

This coming Sunday afternoon we will honor the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi with a traditional blessing of the animals at 4:00 p.m. in the churchyard. The blessing is always fun and amazingly peaceful given the number of animals unfamiliar with one another gathered together.

This tradition of blessing animals to honor St. Francis comes from his radical devotion to creation and his sense of relatedness to all that is created by God. Francis saw creation as sacramental, that is, an outward reflection of the grace of God. All things, therefore whether animate and inanimate, were to be treated with respect and reverence. Sitting by a river in the mountains of Western NC, is the best way I know to experience the sacramentality of creation and be filled with the wonder and joy of it. Some experience this witnessing a sunrise at the beach, or the brilliance of fall foliage.

Francis abhorred violence and war. Though he was a soldier in his young adulthood, Francis came to see all violence as an offence against Jesus’ commandment to love. He believed that to harm another person was to desecrate the image of God in them. In fact, it was his awareness of the image of God in all persons that led to Francis’ radical devotion to the poor.

So excited was Francis by the goodness of the Good News that he was compelled to share it with anyone and everyone who would listen – including animals. Some called him a fool for doing so, but Francis was no fool. As one theologian said, Francis’ “life and his relationship with the world – including animals, the elements, the poor and sick, as well as the princes and prelates, women as well as men, represented the breakthrough of a new model of human and cosmic community.”

The Church in Francis’ day was rich and powerful, as was Francis’ family. One day as he prayed, however, Francis heard Jesus speak to him, saying “Francis, repair my church which has fallen into disrepair as you can see.” Francis thought Jesus was asking him to fix the dilapidated San Damiano chapel in Assisi, which he did, but he soon realized that the “church” in disrepair was the larger Church, so Francis dedicated himself and his life to the “radical simplicity of the gospel, the spirit of poverty, and to the image of Christ in his poor.”

The wealthy and powerful people in Francis’ life, including his father, didn’t respond well to Francis’ decision. It was disruptive to their comfortable, justified way of life. The powers in the church didn’t respond well either for the same reason. Thankfully, the pope at that time, as worldly as he was, was moved by Francis and protected him.

As his life was coming to a close, Francis had his friars place him on a stone floor in his simple habit and called his community of friars and nuns to come near. As he prepared to welcome his own death, with certainty of the resurrection life that follows, Francis first blessed each of his followers saying: “I have done my part. May Christ teach you to do yours.”

Francis’ life was an embodiment of his faith. Our church and “the Church” today could use a dose of Francis’ foolishness of faith: his commitment to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, his detachment from wealth and power, and his devotion to the image of God in all persons and creation. May Christ teach us to do our part today.

Note: All quotes are taken from “All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time,” by Robert Ellsberg, Crossroads Publishing, 2002, pp 432-433.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pentecost 19: Stand like Job

Lectionary: Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1:1-4 ,2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

(Note: these are sermon notes again this week, i.e. the full text is not written out)

If I were to begin this sermon by saying, “Once upon a time…” how would you understand what comes next? (A: a tale, fable, story)

This is how the story of Job begins: Once upon a time, there was a righteous man named: Job (which means ‘persecuted,’ or ‘one who weeps’).

OT theologian Bruce Birch reminds us that OT stories disclose realities in different ways, creating a world in which the teaching can be offered. A modern day example of this is the Harry Potter series in which J. K. Rowling creates a whole world in which good and evil struggle.

The story of Job addresses the false belief that the righteous are rewarded by God while the unrighteous, the sinners against God are punished. It was a common belief in the ancient world and it is as alive today as it was then. I hear it in conversations all the time with fellow clergy. We hear it preached by televangelists and we call it the Prosperity Gospel.

But it isn’t gospel at all – and that’s the message of the story of Job.

The world of Job takes us back and forth between the earthly realm where Job lives to a heavenly realm where God and the heavenly beings gather watching what goes on on the earth.

In the earthly realm there is Job – the perfect human: blameless, wealthy and successful. Job had 7 sons and 3 daughters (the number 10 symbolizing completeness).

In the heavenly realm we meet “ha’ satan,” which means The Adversary. OT theologian Elizabeth Achtemeier points out, “We must be very clear… that the translation Satan does not point to the devil or a demonic figure. There is a definite article before the word in Hebrew, indicating that it is not a name but a title.” In the world of Job, The Adversary’s job was to go about the earth accusing people before God. As Achtemeier says, he is a sort of heavenly “Attorney General sent by God to call sinners to account.” (“Preaching the Hard Texts of the Old Testament,” p 96.)

The Adversary doubts Job’s faith and asks God to test him by taking away all he had, his family, his wealth, even his identity, symbolized by his “skin,” and see if Job’s faith holds up. God allows this, which trips people up. How can God allow such awful stuff to happen to a faithful person.

But remember, this is a story, not an historical account. The metaphor won’t be perfect and is stretched to teach the lesson in the story. The story of Job addresses very common issues in faith: Why do awful things happen to faithful people? Where is God? Why doesn’t God step in to save?

But this story isn’t about God, it’s about Job, the human, the icon of faithfulness to God. In the midst of his worst suffering, Job continues to believes in the goodness of God. He continues to pray to God, inviting God to show him to make it through. How does he do that?

He performs the rituals he learned to help him grieve and cope. He trusts in God’s wisdom knowing he himself can’t understand it. And he reminds those who love him, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

The rest of the story of Job shows us the long arc of salvation at the hand of our loving God. But we’ll save that for another Sunday. For this week, we’ll remember that God loves in a way humans can’t begin to understand.

We focus on what we do, whether or not we deserve love. God just loves us, and asks us to love one another as we are loved.

In the gospel story from Mark, Jesus demonstrates how to take down the boundaries to our love. This story is about divorce and children. Two seemingly different teachings, but really they aren’t.

Notice that in both, Jesus is lifting up as important and beloved someone the culture sees as unimportant and of little value. In the ancient world, a woman could not seek a divorce as she was the property of her husband. There was disagreement between religious groups about the ground upon which a man could seek a divorce. Some said for nearly any fault the husband found with his wife, others said only in cases where the wife committed adultery. The Pharisees were hoping to make Jesus choose which side he was on on this issue, thereby alienating the other group.

Jesus, however, goes a different direction. First he explains that Moses only allowed divorce because of their hardness of heart, then he blows away that hardness in an unexpected way, saying, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.” Against HER. You can almost hear their minds blowing up…

Jesus is giving the woman has equal standing in the eyes of God in marriage. Then Mark goes immediately to the story of the children being kept from Jesus. People wanted Jesus to touch and bless their children and the disciples were stern in turning them away – dismissing them as an intrusion in Jesus’ otherwise important work. But Jesus is indignant… with the disciples. “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

Women. Children. The unimportant. Outsiders. It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs - because God loves in a way humans can’t begin to understand.

Many commentators talk about this as Jesus saying that we need to be like a child: humble, dependent, powerless and therefore ready to receive God. That’s true. Jesus refers to us often as children of God.

But this particular story isn’t about us. It’s about God and how God loves: beyond our ability to understand. Jesus makes clear that the kingdom of God includes those we are likely to exclude: those who believe differently, those who don’t believe at all, those who look like they’re being punished by God, those whom we blame for their own suffering.

In a few minutes, since this is the first Sunday of the month, we will be offering anointing with holy oil, laying on of hands, and healing prayer as part of our worship service. At some time in each of our lives we will stand before God like Job, weeping over loss, scratching and scraping at the sores on our identity.

I hope we can let go the notion that good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished. That’s a human system of justice. God’s is different – and thank God for that. There is no perfect human, except the one who perfected humanity by his own death and resurrection. There is no perfect human system either, not even the church.

Thankfully, God loves us anyway – all of us, in all of our imperfection - and is with us suffering with us when we suffer, sharing our joy when we celebrate. Like Job, we must remember that we receive good and bad in the world, but God is always good, and always there with us.

Come then. You are invited to stand or kneel before God who waits faithfully, ready to feed us with holy food, to touch us with healing love, to give us an abundance of mercy. All we need to do is show up, approach God in humble prayer, and ask.