Give Us this Bread Always: a midweek Eucharist reflection

Every Wednesday lunchtime this year we have been gathering in the sanctuary to celebrate the Eucharist. There are just two more – today and next Wednesday (04/12/2017), so if you haven’t been to one yet do think about coming! 12.15pm – 12.50pm in the Sanctuary. Meanwhile, here is Amy’s homily from last week ….

images

John 6:25-35

Today’s gospel reading is a conversation between Jesus and a crowd beside a lake. But to really enter into all that is happening here, we actually need to first back up a little bit to get some context.

If we rewind to the day before, we learn that Jesus started out right where he is now – on the other side of the Sea in Capernaum. We learn from Matthew’s gospel that while in Capernaum yesterday, he received the horrible news that Herod had beheaded John the Baptist. Imagine how Jesus must have felt – lonely in his work of proclaiming the kingdom. Vulnerable to the whims of a violent ruler. And just really, really sad. And so Jesus decides he’s got to get out of here and find some solitude with God. He decides to cross the Sea of Galilee with his disciples, to go up a mountain that Matthew calls a “desolate place” – a landscape that matches his own emotional state.

So he does. He crosses the sea, he climbs the mountain, and he sits down rest in his Father’s presence. But as soon as he does, he looks down. And there below him are swarms of people, following him up, because they have heard that this man has the power to heal.

And of course Jesus knows that the people rapidly approaching them are hungry and that his disciples have no money to feed them and are getting nervous. And so he takes the bread and fish offered by a little boy and blesses it and breaks it and distributes it to every last person – thousands of them – and they sit in this desolate place and feast together. And the people are so amazed and satisfied that they want to make him king right then and there – but remember what Herod’s been up to? Clearly, that’s a bad idea. And so Jesus retreats even further up the mountain for a few moments of solitude.

That night, his disciples set out their boats to head back across the Sea of Galilee. (And oh, by the way, Jesus also walks out to them on the water in the midst of a storm. But that’s a story for another day.)

The next morning, Jesus and his disciples wake up on one side of the lake, back in Capernaum, while that crowd of thousands wakes up on the other. And they quickly realize that Jesus isn’t there, and neither is his boat. And they put two and two together and jump in their boats and row across the lake to find him. And that’s where our story picks up.

This context is important, because we need to know what kind of people are asking Jesus questions in today’s passage. These are people who have climbed a mountain and crossed the sea just to be with Jesus. And these are people who have already feasted on his miraculous provision of bread. Everything about these people’s actions suggests that they are hungry in their souls. But for what?

Well, leave it to Jesus to find out, and not in a terribly gentle way. He chastises them for following him. He’s suspicious. He says, “I know what you’re after. You just want some more of that free bread. Well free bread’s never going to satisfy you. You’re wasting your effort working for something that’s just going to leave you empty.” But they don’t just shrug their shoulders and disperse. They persist. They press in. They show that maybe they’re not just looking for a free lunch after all. They say, “Okay, Jesus; if we’re working for the wrong thing, then tell us what to work for instead. What is the work of God and how can we do it?”

And then Jesus tells them that the work of God isn’t really work at all: it’s believing. It’s trusting him with our hunger. What is the work of God? It’s showing up hungry, and believing he alone can feed us.

But the crowd doesn’t really get it yet. They press in again. They ask: “Okay. But if that’s our ‘work’, then who’s going to, you know, actually do the work? What’s your work, Jesus? How are you going to prove to us that you’re really working for us? That we can trust you with our hunger? Are you going to give us manna, like Moses did?”

And Jesus patiently corrects them. He reminds them that it was never Moses who gave their ancestors manna, it was God himself. He reminds them that for 40 years God fed their ancestors every day, while they didn’t plant or water or harvest, while their only work was to show up hungry every morning and receive from the hand of God. And Jesus goes on to tell them that this bread of heaven, this manna, is in their midst again. It’s him!

And then the crowd says one of my favorite sentences in the bible: “Give us this bread always.” We actually prayed this recently in the collect on the 4th Sunday in Lent: “Evermore give us this bread.” It’s a request that feels so demanding, so desperate, so hungry; it feels like something a child would say.

Remember that these are people who have already eaten miracle bread from his hands. And these are people who have climbed a mountain and crossed a sea because they are hungry and hope Jesus can feed them. So when Jesus tells them he is the bread of life, they know what it’s like to be hungry, and to they know how good it feels to be fed. They can say to one another, “Remember those barley loaves that we ate together yesterday? When we were hungry and penniless and so desperate for healing that we climbed a mountain to be with a stranger? Remember that mysterious bread that was more than enough, that tasted so good when we needed it most?”

Jesus is like that bread. Except that Jesus will satisfy them not just for an afternoon, but forever.

And just like this crowd, we are also people who have already feasted on this miraculous bread. The bread of life has already come down from heaven, blessed by God in the person of Jesus. It has already been broken on the cross and given to us to feed our deepest hunger and give us life forever. We have already feasted on God’s provision for us in the desolate place of our own sin and brokenness.

And so what is the work of God for us today? It’s showing up hungry. It’s trusting this bread with our deepest hunger. It’s saying no to all the empty filler calories that tempt us – stuff like financial security and control and affirmation – that temporarily takes the edge off our appetite but ultimately leaves us empty. Instead, we can show up hungry and receive this bread of life: blessed, broken, and given for us, again and again, forever.

“Give us this bread always.”

Father, thank you that you are our bread of life. You are barley loaves in a desolate place, and you are manna in the wilderness. Show us where we have been numbing our hunger with food that does not satisfy. Help us to show up hungry and to feast on your life-giving provision. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Father, we pray for our world, that your wisdom would guide all our leaders, and that your Spirit would move powerfully to bring peace and healing in places of poverty, conflict, disaster, and pain. We pray particularly for refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, and other places of great suffering – people who are quite literally hungry in desolate places and wandering in the desert. Strengthen and uphold and protect them on their journey. Generously provide for their hunger and thirst. Settle them in places of safety and abundance. And stir our hearts to see and care and pray and act on their behalf. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

~Amy Rowe

Pausing to pray in lent

Week by week we have been hearing some wonderful reflections during our Lenten services. Here Eric reflects on the discipline of prayer.imgres

The older I get– the more I find myself a creature of habit. I wake up, I work, I spend time with my family, and I go to sleep. Each year passes more swiftly than the last. My body ages more quickly than my spirit matures. All too often it feels like I am on autopilot, going through my days with reaction not intention.

In the same way, the older I get– the more “past” and the more “future” I carry with me. The “past” has many names: memory, home, regret, missed, forgotten, I did, I didn’t, did I? Didn’t I?. The “future’s” names I know almost as well: wish, dream, danger, promise, anxiety, fear, should, I will, I won’t, I must, I must not, maybe. Unexpectedly, the past and the future have become my friends. I know them, I’ve nourished them, I’ve courted them. And these constant companions crowd out my present.

Each day, I am faced with choices about how to live, how to love, how to parent, how to work, how to succeed, how to fail, how to forgive, how to be forgiven. In those many moments, I am tempted to let my habits, or my perspectives of the past and the future speak for me. They whisper in my ear, “let us decide for you, we’ll take good care of you.” During those moments, I may think that I’m in my living room with my kids, or at a meeting with my boss, or unable to sleep in the dead of night…

I may think I am, but I’m not.

I’m actually standing in a garden with a man, and a woman, and a snake, and a tree. The sky is a cloudless blue, and the sun is radiant, the fruit is there before me, and it looks just about perfect and The Father’s voice moves the leaves of that Sacred Tree like a breeze, and He says to me, simply, “Will you trust me?”

One of the great joys of having kids is praying together. Before nap-time, we pray the At Noon Daily Devotional for Families and Individuals from the Book of Common Prayer. The Devotional’s reading from Isaiah articulates best the freedom God gives me in prayer:

O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are fixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be our strength.

Prayer makes me pause. Prayer gives that moment for God to nudge me to come to myself.

When I am a man who prays, I have clarity. In prayer, God pulls me from yesterday and tomorrow into the present. In prayer, God frees me from the easy to choose the good. I can say no to the fruit, and trust that the food The Father provides thereafter will not only nourish and satisfy but will give the real life for which I hope.

~Eric Lessels

Women Unscripted: Ways to play

Mature_Children_ImageTwo weeks ago, Resto women gathered in the fellowship hall to eat junk food, laugh hysterically, and discuss the topic of play. Why? This was the latest in our series of Women Unscripted events, which have been working through the book of Ephesians all year to explore the theme “Growing Up in Christ” (Eph 4.15). As we’ve walked through this series – through our monthly Women Unscripted events and our February retreat – we’ve discovered that growing up in Christ means, paradoxically, becoming little children. As we mature, we learn to trust more and more in our true identity as God’s securely loved children. We are not orphans, left alone to make life work in a broken world. No, we are God’s children: safe, loved, supported, nurtured.

So throughout the spring, we’ll be looking at what it means to be God’s children. Our retreat speaker, Kristen Terry, identified for us four things that children do: They play. They rest. They work. And they celebrate.  These four traits will guide our Women Unscripted events throughout the spring, and correspond with the remaining passages of Ephesians.

And that’s why several weeks ago we explored the seemingly strange topic of play. We discarded our adult sensibilities for one night to snack on gummy bears, Doritos, and cookies. We heard from three wonderful panelists (including our first teenager!) who embodied a mature playfulness and helped us to think and laugh deeply. Through their stories, they invited us to shed pretense, to embrace delight, and to invest “structured unstructured time” into friendships that are safe and intimate and joy-filled.

We also studied Ephesians 5.1-20 together, noticing the kind of exuberant freedom God invites us to as we delight in our identity as “children of light.” At first glance, the passage feels like a long list of “don’t”s: don’t get drunk. Don’t covet. Don’t indulge sexual immorality. But amidst those, we catch little glimpses of a kind of bright, exuberant lightness and freedom.  We see that we are beloved children; we are a fragrant offering; we are to walk in love and light; we are to wake up and shake off our dull sleepiness; we are to bask in Christ’s light shining on us; and we are to sing – a lot! together! – from the heart. All of these images give us clues to how simple, free, and holy our play can feel as securely loved children.

Once this picture of play emerges, we see all those “don’t”s for what they truly are, a sort of sham play that masks as freedom, but actually just temporarily numbs, distracts, or soothes us as we attempt to make life work on our own, apart from the care and provision of our Father.

And so we discussed at our tables ways that we play, or wished we could play. We shared our favorite places, books, and habits. We laughed a lot! And now we’ve compiled the content of those discussions into a “Ways to Play” document, for any among us who need some ideas. Notice that nearly all of these involve movement, senses, and being outdoors. Why not grab a friend or a bag of gummy bears and head outside for a playdate with God this month?

Ways to Play:

Playing with kids and their toys

Baking

Sprinting (rather than walking) between destinations, the way kids run to the water fountain

Watching sports

Dipping toes in the water

Being read to aloud

Walking in the sunshine

Drinking coffee by the window

Riding roller coasters

Swings

Rocking chairs

Hiking the Billy Goat trail

Walking in grass

Coloring

Water games

Playgrounds

Toes in the sand

Exchanging a genuine smile with a stranger

Caroling

Paddleboarding

Books: Madeleine L’Engle, Brothers Karamazov

Gardening

Running

Barre

Yoga

Playing music

Dropping leaves/petals into water

Throwing/skipping rocks in water

Walking through Lubber Run Park

Concerts at Wolf Trap

Visiting local gardens

Painting

Throwing a ball with a dog

Laughing with dear friends

Hula hooping

Jumping across rocks in a creek

Picnicking

Fresh air

Dancing in the kitchen

Drinking coffee/wine with a friend

Knitting

Sewing

Travel

Digging in dirt

Walking in the woods

Writing letters

Quiet

Dressing up

Sitting in the sun

Looking for little signs of God’s love in ordinary things/places; e.g. heart-shaped things

Spending time with horses

Getting away from DC

Grilling

Bike rides

Games with family/friends

Coming up:

Women Unscripted Tuesdays, 7.30pm in the Fellowship Hall:

April 25: Mature children work

May 16: Mature children rest

June 20: Mature children celebrate!

Do come – and bring a friend…

~ Amy Rowe

(and Liz Gray)

Incarnation Anglican

unspecifiedAbout 10 days ago we had our first ‘Interested in South Arlington’ evening. It was a lovely time. 35 people came and we talked about South Arlington, Restoration and the strategic plan; the what and why and some of the how of a church plant.  We announced that this new worshipping community is going to be called ‘Incarnation Anglican’.

So let’s start there – why ‘Incarnation’? Well, to be honest, it’s how God finally wooed me to saying ‘yes’ to leading this whole crazy adventure! I was praying one day and he dropped the idea into my brain – and my excitement level rose perceptibly! Why? One of my favorite Bible accounts is Luke 8:43–48 where Jesus heals a hemorrhaging woman with his ’contagious holiness’. She reaches out and touches the hem of his garment and is instantly healed. He then turns around and ensures that her healing is not just physical but social and relational and emotional as well. God in flesh ‘incarnate’ bringing wholeness.

Touching Jesus brings healing. And hope. And fullness. And an encounter with the Holy Spirit. And forgiveness. And life. And as we are called to be the people of God, we are called to be ones who help others to encounter Jesus and his amazing contagious holiness. Jesus touched people who were ‘unclean’ in that culture, and yet they became ‘clean’ rather than him being contaminated. This is our dream – to head into a part of town where people are perhaps not aware that they are looking for Jesus, but are aware of their own brokenness.bus stop

We will go and pray and talk to people at bus stops and in coffee shops. We will look for opportunities to chat and drink tea. We will search out corners of South Arlington where there are people who have struggled with ‘internal bleeding for 12 years’and who know they need answers. We will keep our eyes open for men and women ‘of peace’ (Luke 10.6) who are ready to hear about Jesus. We want to help people see that the incarnate Christ is in their midst and all they need to do is reach out and touch him.

We are glad to be Anglican. There is much to be delighted about: our liturgy brings a sense of history, permanence, and tradition; the delight in beauty brings a sense of the transcendence of God; being Anglican brings a reminder that we are part of an historic, global church, reaching all nations; and so much more…20170222_112820 (1)

Do you live in South Arlington? Or might you move there? Do you have a heart for the nations (108 languages are spoken along Columbia Pike!)?

The Incarnation core team comprises Liz Gray, Morgan Reed and Amy Rowe. If you want to learn more, do reach out to one of us, we’d love to tell you more. After Easter there will be an ‘Interested in Incarnation’ small group – sign up, come and help us pray as we refine our vision and begin to plan our next steps. Come even if you are just curious! We will also be arranging prayer walks, ‘compline in the park’, and other events over the next months… all are invited!

Whether or not you are interested in joining Incarnation, please pray for the team, and for this tiny seedling plant: for ideas, inspiration and most of all for God’s favor (and a place to worship!). Send us an e-mail if you’d like to be kept in the loop.

Rev. Liz Gray, liz@incarnationanglican.org

Rev. Morgan Reed, morgan@incarnationanglican.org

Amy Rowe, amy@incarnationanglican.org

A story about a ring… and God

unnamed-2

Over 120 RestoWomen gathered last weekend in Middleburg to consider what it means to be mature and secure children of God.  Kristen Terry led us through scripture, brain science and attachment theories to help us better understand how we view God as our parent and how we can rest secure as His children.  On Friday night, Kristen guided us through an exercise recalling a memory involving a happy child.  In small groups, we shared how those memories led us to consider what God might be saying to us.  There were over 120 different stories, different memories, and different revelations about what it means to be a child of God over the weekend.

The recurring thread in my own story was challenging me to examine my constrained view of God and the way I constrain myself in approaching Him.  How do I limit what I believe God can do, or what He cares about, or even how He cares for me?  In my notes on Friday evening I reflected, “God is not contained within the box I have created for Him.  He is surprising.”  The words I associated with my memory were free, unleashed, or unchained.

On Saturday, as Kristen encouraged us to think about our relationships to others and our ability to develop trust, I really struggled with the word distrust.  Distrust can imply a sense of suspicion and that didn’t seem fitting for the way I approach God.  There have been big moments in my life when I have felt fully and completely trusting of my heavenly Father.  And yet, day-to-day, am I a child of God that is fully trusting?  Am I a child that climbs into the lap of my Father to tell him what I need?  Am I “letting God love me?” as Kristen asked us on Sunday. 

No sooner had Kristen finished her final talk when I looked down and fiddled with the ring on my right hand.  It is antique ring that belonged to my husband’s grandmother, gifted to me by my mother-in-law.  I have cherished this gift and have loved wearing a reminder of the generations before me.  As I looked down I noticed a dark hole where the antique diamond had sat just days earlier.  My heart dropped and I quickly tried to remember the last time I had seen the ring intact.  I mentally began to rewind my movements.  I had sat in a least 5 different chairs, I had walked to and from my room, I had scraped my plate into the trash in the dining hall after dinner, I had walked along the river and skipped rocks Saturday afternoon.  There was no way I could retrace my steps of the previous two days.  I leaned to the friend sitting next me and pointed to my ring.  “Dear Jesus,” she said as grabbed my hand “help us find the diamond.”  I snickered.  Really?  I am not asking God to help me find a diamond.  Surely we could pray for bigger things.  Just moments earlier as we prayed together, I had prayed BIG prayers.  I had prayed for emotional healing and wholeness for the women in the room.  Surely God has better things to do.  I showed Liz the ring and she too stopped to pray, but again the skeptic in me stopped her, “we have already prayed Liz, but thanks!” I quipped.

I scurried back to my room during the break to check under the bed and in the bathroom.  Nothing.  I headed back in time for eucharist and scanned the gravel path as I walked.  Nothing.  After eucharist ended we started to say our goodbyes.  As we filed out of the Stone Barn, I scooted down one of the rows of chairs and something caught my eye—the size of a crumb. There it was.  Tiny and sparkling and right in front of a chair I had been sitting in on Saturday morning.  The relief as I scooped up the little diamond and clutched it in my palm was not in finding what I had lost, but it was in confirmation of the truth I had been seeking all weekend— that sometimes God truly is surprising.  That sometimes He loves us in ways that are small and seemingly insignificant.  Those questions I had jotted in my booklet all weekend— Can I trust Him?  Can I let Him love me?  Yes. yes.

As we were leaving, I shared the story with Kristen.  She grabbed her folder and began to read something that she hadn’t had time to share during the session.  This is what she read:

Praying for Abundance

A slave feels reluctant to pray; they feel they have no right to ask, and so their prayers are modest and respectful. They spend more time asking forgiveness than they do praying for abundance.

An orphan is not reluctant to pray; they feel desperate. But their prayers feel more like begging than anything else.

But not sons; sons know who they are.

Mine were just home for Christmas; all three of them. They are young men now, out making their way in the world. And as is fitting to their stage in life, they are living on limited means. But when they come home, they get to feast. The refrigerator and pantry is theirs to pillage and they don’t have to ask permission. When we go out to dinner, there is no question that dad will take care of the bill. For they are sons—they get to live under their father’s blessing; they get to drink from the abundance of my house (Ps. 36:8).

And when the holidays were over and they packed up and left, they took with them my best shoes, my best sunglasses, some of my favorite books, climbing gear, and cigars—with my absolute pleasure and blessing. Luke was the last to go; he was hoping to pillage some of my travel gear for an upcoming trip. I said, “You are my son—everything I have is yours. Plunder as you will.”

This is how sons get to live; this is how a father feels toward his sons.  – John Eldridge

The truth is I was praying like a slave, reluctantly, trying to be modest and respectful.  How appropriate that one of the words I associated with my memory was unchained. 

When I got home I recounted the story to my family about the lost diamond, the prayer of a few friends, and the way God answered that prayer.  My child looked me in the eyes and, as children do, exclaimed, “God probably really loves you.”  Indeed He does. unnamed

~Hannah Royal

Exiles, Come Home: a midweek homily

Two weeks ago David Griffin spoke on Isaiah 54:1-10 at our mid-week eucharist

3e0df650cae2e3e43e827b925f578a0a

It is not for nothing that book of Isaiah has earned the nickname “The Fifth Gospel.” Although it begins with warnings of judgment, the book concludes with some of the most encouraging promises of redemption that we find in the Old Testament. Indeed, our passage today is the Servant Song that comes right after the famous suffering servant of chapter 53; chapter 54 is the message of hope after the servant’s great suffering in the last chapter. That message is: God remembers his promises, so he wants you who are exiles and strangers to him to come home and dwell with him.

From chapter 40 on, Isaiah is addressing the exiled people of Judah. Because of Judah’s chasing after other gods and failure to do justice to the oppressed, God allowed the Babylonian armies to conquer his chosen people. As a result, the enemy deported a large chunk of Judah’s population to live in Babylon. All that to say, the nation of Judah finds itself trapped in a foreign land, longing for the land that God had promised to his people. They’re wondering: has God forgotten us? Can we really worship God outside of Jerusalem, the holy city where his Temple was destroyed?

Then, after the Persians take over, King Cyrus announces that all exiles can return to their foreign lands. From Chapter 40 onward, Isaiah exclaims: don’t despair! This is really happening! Don’t feel defeated and helpless, for the Lord is restoring your fortunes! Come home, all you exiles, strangers in a foreign land, displaced by war!

The imagery used here is stunning. The people of Judah in exile are compared to a barren woman, for God’s people has been reduced to a remnant of what they once were. But in just a little while the barren woman (Judah) will soon have children in abundance. You’re going to need a much bigger tent for all the kids you’ll be having!

Don’t be afraid, says Isaiah, who then compares Judah to a divorced woman, covered in shame and feeling abandoned. My absence was only temporary, says the Lord God. I am your husband, and I will always keep my vows. My momentary anger is nothing compared to my everlasting love for you! And I swear from this day forth that it will never happen again. Come home to me!

Our reading from Galatians today quotes this passage, but Paul creatively applies it now to Jesus. In the New Testament, of course, Jesus is the Suffering Servant, Israel in exile. So Paul connects the barren one to Sarah to suggest that the church fulfills the many children promised in Isaiah and, spiritually speaking, the children of the promise God made to Sarah. And because God’s people are his children by promise, they are not his children by virtue of doing the works of the law. No, they inherit the promise by faith in Jesus, in whom all God’s promises are made good. So now God’s family can encompass all the nations of the earth, and not just ethnic Israel.

And so, Isaiah speaks to us here by way of Jesus. And the overall message is: you who are far off, estranged from God and his family, the door is wide open! Come home from your exile away from the Lord Jesus, your husband, redeemer, and friend.

And for those of us already a part of God’s church, God always commands those who used to be strangers, foreigners, aliens, to welcome those who are currently displaced and estranged from their homeland—and not just spiritually, but concretely. We have a warning from Isaiah, for Israel was originally sent into exile for failing to do justice to foreigners, the homeless, the oppressed. So let us open our arms wide to displaced people from among the nations, as visible testimony to what Jesus has done for us.

Let us now lift up our prayers to God after a moment of silence.

O God and Father of all, who sent your Son to preach good news to those who are far off and those who are near:

Seek us out in those moments of loneliness and despair. When we are feeling alienated from you or from other people, let the prophet’s words dwell in us richly, to remind us that our apparent exile has come to an end, though we may not see how that may be now. We thank you and praise you for being our faithful husband, our holy redeemer, and our friend who has sworn everlasting love toward us.

Lord, in your mercy…. Hear our prayer

Let us stretch out the tent of our church, so that people from all over North Arlington, and from the world over, my find their home. Bless our missions in West Asia, Bolivia, and Cambodia; refresh the workers there, give justice to the poor there, and may your saving Gospel be preached to all in those places who haven’t heard it. We pray you also bless our upcoming church plants, so that the stranger doesn’t need to come, but home may to go to the stranger.

Lord, in your mercy…. Hear our prayer.

Finally, Lord, open our hears to those who are exiles and refugees in the most concrete sense of those words. Remind us of your great love for us, so that we may be moved to great compassion for the suffering stranger. Guide your church in all wisdom and mercy so that she may speak up for the outsider with the words of comfort like those you speak to your people through your prophets and apostles.

Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayer

~ David Griffin

54 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.

“This is like the days of Noah[a] to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.
10 For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

 

Surprises in Cambodia: team reflections #4

20170126_165127

Several days ago, as I was preparing for a workshop session that I would be facilitating on the Khmer Pastors’ retreat, Liz reminded me to leave room to be surprised. She was right. The Holy Spirit so often surprises me in the midst of the mundane, and I operate best when I assume a posture of openness and flexibility to those surprises.

And so, on my final day in Phnom Penh, I sat in Brown’s Coffee (basically the Cambodian Northside Social) and reflected on my time, making special note of the ways God had surprised me. I wanted to share a few of these surprises with the Resto community that has so faithfully prayed for us. And as you read, who knows? Perhaps God will surprise you too – with a gentle nudge to pray for Cambodia, with a desire for greater involvement in outreach, or with a word or image that particularly speaks to your life here in Arlington.

Surprise 1: Loving Cambodia. I have traveled widely, and I am always interested in experiencing new places and cultures. I expected the same from Cambodia: interest, novelty, enjoyment. But instead, I fell in love. Before I even stepped on the plane, as I sifted through the English-Khmer Bible to prepare materials for the trip, the beautiful script resonated deeply with me. With Google Translate as my linguistic assistant, I began decoding numerals, days of the week, and punctuation. Did you know that Khmer is not a tonal language? That it’s derived from Sanscrit and Pali (the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism)? That the main row of characters are the consonants, and the little notations above and below are the vowel sounds? That there are no spaces between words? Like this:

ការអធិស្ឋានល្ងាច

That’s Khmer for evening prayer. Beautiful, right?

20170128_171533My love for Cambodia started with its script and continued through Phnom Penh and Kep. Walking the vibrant, friendly streets; riding tuk-tuks (moto taxis) around town; watching people grill squid and chip ice and boil cockles in the market; eating glutinous sesame rice cooked over coals in banana peels;  women waist-deep in the ocean pulling in their crab traps; monkeys crossing the streets; strangely translated restaurant names (“The Slimming Foods and Puppies House”); I loved it all. I was surprised. God gave me joy where I expected mere interest.

Surprise 2: God speaks loudly in silence. For the first part of our trip, we supported a team from Christ Church Austin as they conducted a silent retreat for members of the international congregation of the Anglican church in Phnom Penh (Church of Christ Our Peace).  It is a strange thing to facilitate a silent retreat; there is no verbal feedback mechanism by which you can evaluate people’s level of engagement with the material. As we moved quietly behind the scenes – arranging meals, setting up tables, preparing the liturgy – the participants silently disappeared to who knows where, doing who knows what.

On the final morning, the retreatants broke their silence with a 1-2 minute reflection on what they had experienced. Each person had received a helpful image, word, scripture, or answer from God. One man, an IT consultant, had composed a stunning poem about the strength of God’s goodness. One woman, a burned-out aid worker, had been reassured of God’s fatherly care by the sight of a baby monkey on its father’s back. Another woman described lying on the roof of our hotel under the stars one night, singing praises to the heavens. Others described powerful moments of healing and hope and comfort.

God speaks in silence. He fills whatever empty spaces we create for him. He comes to us in our rest and our surrender.

Surprise 3: Long-term, gradual, incremental work does add up!  So often, I am hardened and skeptical about good work being done in the world. I know how complex global problems are and how fraught with setbacks and unintended consequences their solutions can be. I begin to doubt that sustainable transformation is really possible. And yet that is precisely the story of International Justice Mission (IJM) in Cambodia, where they have combatted sex trafficking for over a decade. Again and again, I heard people talk about the remarkable transformation that IJM has brought to Cambodia. Though sex trafficking still exists, it’s now an acknowledged societal problem, one that the Cambodian government, police, and courts are increasingly well equipped to tackle on their own. And some communities have been completely transformed. We visited one village that used to be a center of child prostitution and walked down an infamous street once lined with child brothels, where children as young as 5 could be bought and sold. Now, thanks to tireless work by IJM and by Agape International Mission (AIM) over many years, children in that town are being protected, rehabilitated, educated, and equipped for a productive life outside the sex trade. Those brothels are now schools, training centers, churches – places of healing and flourishing. Change is possible. God’s light can penetrate even the darkest corners of humanity.

Surprise 4: Immigrants are immigrants. In that same community where we witnessed such incredible transformation of the child sex trade, we also witnessed the sad reality of immigrant communities everywhere: marginalization and disdain. This community was home to many Vietnamese immigrants, widely mistrusted and disliked by ethnic Khmer. These Vietnamese are highly vulnerable to sex trafficking and exploitative labor practices. They are linguistically isolated from Khmer schools and society. They are poor. They are different.

It was a surreal moment to witness the difficulties facing this immigrant community while hearing news about the increased vulnerability of immigrant communities back home. Immigrants everywhere are vulnerable, and I’m thankful for the protective and healing work that AIM is doing in this particular community. May we all be so courageous, standing with the most vulnerable among us and working tirelessly for their protection.

Surprise 5: Worship and prayer are universal languages. My moments of deepest joy came in worship and prayer. As Liz Gray wrote in our final email update, “God gave us a ‘thin space’ to intercede,” and he truly did. Whether praying blessing in English over rural Khmer pastors; praying for healing with individuals we’d never spoken to on the silent retreat; or praying the words of the liturgy simultaneously in multiple languages; God’s presence in our prayers was palpable and transcended language barriers. Similarly, we were gifted with momentary glimpses of heaven as we sang 1990s praise songs simultaneously, exuberantly, in Khmer and English.

Surprise 6: There is only one Jesus. This should seem obvious. But because I’m interested in other religions and cultures, and because I firmly believe “all truth is God’s truth,” and because I can find redemptive threads in almost any cultural narrative, sometimes I lose sight of the absolute uniqueness of Jesus. I wrote an earlier blog post on one of my many moments realizing this in Cambodia.

Another such moment came during a painful visit to the Killing Fields on our final day. The Killing Fields are one of many designated places of remembrance of the tragedy of Pol Pot’s regime. There, inmates from Tuol Sleng prison (a place of horrific torture which we visited earlier in our trip) were brought to be killed and dumped in mass graves. Bits of bone and fragments of clothing still litter the ground, brought to the surface with every rain.  The earth still takes the shape of what were once mass graves, rising and falling in unnatural mounds. Several massive trees of significance are marked: the tree against which children were killed, and the tree from which loudspeakers were hung to blare revolutionary music to cover the screams.

Along the path through the fields is another tree, dedicated by Buddhist monks several years ago. It is just a young sapling, protected by a fence but drooping sadly nonetheless, bearing a sign: “Tree of Hope and Peace.”  It was at this tree that I had another moment of gratitude for the uniqueness of Jesus. This little sapling of hope and peace looked so flimsy and ineffective against the monstrous trees of torture nearby. But Jesus himself is our hope and peace. Not a flimsy, symbolic, wishful-thinking sort of hope and peace, but a robust, embodied one. Because he lived and suffered as a human like us, he is compassionately with us in our pain. He does not explain away the pain of existence or seek to escape it, as Buddhism teaches; he fully embraces it in his suffering, dying, human body. And because he rose again, we have a confident assurance that there is powerful healing, redemption, and restoration waiting in the wings just beyond our pain.

As I stood there, I remembered another tree of hope and peace from Revelation 22:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life . . .. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

And in the midst of a place of enormous suffering and deep darkness, with a hopelessly inept tree before me, I prayed the only thing I could think to pray, echoing some of the last words of that same chapter of Revelation: Come, Lord Jesus!

~Amy Rowe

Kept “in the midst of it” – the homily from last Wednesday’s Eucharist

Behold

Readings: Psalm 121; Isa. 49:1-7; Gal 2:15-21; Mark 6:13-29

Today* marks the 6th day of the new administration under Trump. It is the second day of the annual audit at my office.And we’re in the midst of the sometimes dreary days of midwinter; although, today offers a welcome (warm and bright) reprieve.

As we begin let’s first pause to take in the scene, a panorama of your landscape: what day is today…for you? What are you “in the midst of”? Where are your relationships feeling the squeeze? What pressures are you navigating at work or at home? Perhaps your 3 weeks into sleepless nights with a baby or 3 days into potty-training a toddler. You may need to call the plumber because of a shower leak (which just happened to me this morning). Or you’re facing a big deadline or meeting. On the other hand, maybe you’re having a day of reprieve and your face is turned toward the warmth of the sunshine.

Take a moment.  Steady.  *  Scan the landscape.  *  Click.  *  Take a snapshot in your mind’s eye.

It is “in the midst of it” –from that landscape– that the steady-ing hand of the Lord keeps us! Let’s join the Psalmist to notice God’s keeping power at work.

The writer of Psalm 121 captures these promises. We are kept people–no matter the circumstances or uncertainties; no matter what day it is. Six times the Psalmist speaks of the Lord’s keeping power.

He keeps us from being struck by the sun or the moon—by those things totally outside our control. We can’t control the power of the sun (though we might try with sunblock) or the pull of the moon on our tides. Those pressures that abound in our worlds, but cannot be managed by good habits or positive thinking or even brilliant resistance or protesting. There are so many things out of our control. Our good Father steadies not only our environment, but our hearts–our very life.

He is the Keeper. It’s the title given to the Lord in the psalm. He has the power to do it, to keep us from faltering in our faith. And God does it very well—even through the night—He hides us. In those places where our energy is spent and we have nothing left, where our best ideas have run out, where we’re sick, and at the end of the day, when we’re tired.

He also keeps us in the places where we have great hope and expectation for the future. In places of joy, we still need our good Father’s keeping power, to guard our hearts and minds. So, our appetites and attentions don’t wander. So, our orientation remains one of trust and submission to the wisdom of the Spirit and obedience to God’s good laws. He keeps us from ALL evil.

To help us understand our sense of this word “keep,” I took a peek at the etymology of the word (as any former English Major worth their salt would do). Interestingly, keep was also used as a noun in the middle ages, referring to the innermost stronghold or central tower of a castle.” This calls to mind a sense of protection, preservation, and provision for our hearts and minds–our most vulnerable places. This “inner keeping” orients us, so we can lift our eyes to the hills, that secure spot, where our help comes from…

It’s in these days here, at the beginning of 2017, “in the midst of it”, when we face very real places of chagrin and uncertainty. And yet Christ… We are kept, established, held secure through Christ. God the Father, in His great promises to Israel, foretold of his keeping of Christ, who in His resurrection, demonstrated that even with the destruction of our bodies—John’s head on a platter—our hope would not be at an end. We are kept for eternal life…Isaiah’s prophecy continues from the end of our reading to speak of Israel’s restoration:

Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land…”
Isaiah 46:8

We are in that day of salvation now. Christ has been given to us. He has given a new convent to those who fear God. He is both our strength and our song. He is our keeper.

In our liturgy, one of the blessings we receive after corporate confession, our priest says:

Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins
through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all
goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in
eternal life. Amen.

Indeed, may he strengthen and keep us by His tender mercies today and always…

Invitation to pray:

Father God, we need your safe keeping. As your children, fear of what we face can taunt our hearts. But you are our steadfast help to keep our feet firm.

As we lift our eyes, we look to you, the one who made the heaven and the earth. Help us. Keep us. Steady our stance. Turn your face towards us.  May we experience your covering and keeping power “in the midst.”

Keep those suffering and in need of your healing touch.

Keep those in need of your protection and wisdom.

Keep us from all evil. Keep our life—hidden with Christ in God.

~ Erica Chapman

*Homily: 7/37 

RILA: just doing something…

07-16-hcr_children-on-the-run

RILA has been holding monthly immigration legal aid clinics since March of this year. It has been our privilege to work with immigrant families in our neighborhood, to hear their stories, and advocate on their behalf.  We have been amazed at the passion, talents and commitment of the many volunteers from our congregation.

The people of Restoration make RILA possible!

Over the past several months, we have narrowed our focus to assisting immigrant families in applying for asylum, and, specifically, families who live in our neighborhoods.  Oftentimes, families seeking asylum are not able to secure affordable legal counsel because there are not enough non-profit organizations to meet the need, and private attorneys are prohibitively expensive.

Through a connection with Arlington Public Schools, we became aware of a student at a neighborhood school who needed help to file an application for asylum.  He is a teenager, who fled his home country in Central America due to a profound amount of violence in his city.  His home country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, outside of a war zone.

By the time we were aware of the student’s situation, there were only seven days before his deadline to file his application.  Because we want to prioritize helping those who have little to no resources, are a member of a vulnerable population, and live in our neighborhoods; we chose to take his case.

We worked with one of the assistant principals at his school, and the student, to complete and file his application for asylum in time.  It was a team effort!  We completed a task that normally takes a few months, in a few days.  This is just the first step in a long and often complicated process.  However, it is a critical step in giving this student the best possible chance at being granted asylum.

Later, the assistant principal we worked with sent us a note to say “thanks.”  She also said,

As I’ve worked with this population [of immigrant families] for almost 15 years now, I constantly meet folks who say, ‘I really wish there was something I could do.’  Yesterday I saw what happens when people just start doing something, and it was amazing.

This is the heart of RILA, which is rooted in the heart of the Gospel.  This is loving God with our whole hearts and loving our (immigrant) neighbors as ourselves.

~ Natalie Foote
 rila-business-card-page001
Liz adds: Would you like to get involved with RILA? There is always room for more volunteers! Reach out to Natalie, Michelle, Jason or me and we can get you connected (firstname@restorationarlington.org). No specific skills required, though attorneys, translators and people who can make coffee and smile are all particularly welcome! 

Why do the demons try to prevent us from praying?

35qhvklmrqnoy8y6pg1c3bqvp6v9m_s4baprwliabwwThe brethren also asked Abba Agathon “Amongst all good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?” He answered “Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him. For they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.”   Abba Agathon, Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Lately I’ve noticed a shift in how Christians market the praying life. Beginning your day with a fifteen-minute quiet time, preferably a blend of devotional reading with prayer time, is said to be a game-changer for the rest of the day. You’ll be more centered, more mindful, more calm, more thankful, more attuned to God. We could call these the subjective benefits of prayer.

I certainly have experienced these subjective benefits of prayer myself. My day feels significantly “thrown off” when I fudge on my discipline of praying the Morning Office. Confession puts me in a spirit of dependence on God’s grace. The words of assurance… well, they reassure me. My openness towards whatever stuff may happen that day depends a lot on praying through the General Thanksgiving.

But is all that the reason the demons try to keep us from praying, as Father Agathon replied? I doubt it. If they want to stop a Christian dead in her tracks on her path to God, they single out prayer out of all the “virtues,” “labours,” “good works,” etc. Why not turn her from works of mercy? Or toward temptations to money, sex, or power? Or vices like drinking or gambling? To be sure, these are all battlegrounds of spiritual combat. But there’s something about prayer in particular that, if only the demons could stand in its way, then they’ve thrown the Christian off her journey entirely. So what is that “something” about the praying life?

I recently found a clue to this question while reading an excellent biography of Napoleon Bonaparte. It struck me how vital it’s been throughout military history for an army to maintain what’s known as its “lines of communication” (LOC).  Before modern telecommunications, all orders and news of the battle had to be carried on horseback or on foot along these special routes. Even today, an army has to make sure it protects a route between units in the field and its supply base, or else the field units are completely cut off from reinforcements or supplies.  Part of Napoleon’s military genius was in making sure his own lines were short and well-defended, while taking advantage of his adversaries’ more vulnerable LOC.

desert_fathers3_webAbba Agathon seems to be treating prayer with the same gravity as Napoleon treated his lines of communication in battle. Prayer requires great effort because it’s so vital to the Christian’s walk with God. If we do not maintain constant contact with our heavenly Father, we cut ourselves off from “every good and perfect gift from above” (James 1:17). We may well excel in other good works, just as a unit may be composed of very skilled soldiers. In fact, Abba Agathon implies, any given “good work” is relatively easy. Keep at it long enough and eventually it’s over.

Prayer, on the hand, is our lifeline to God. Let go for a moment, and the battle is lost.

For my part, I think Abba Agathon is getting at prayer as a fundamentally objective act, as “real” an activity as the exercise of any of the other virtues, and perhaps more so. Reading into Abba Agathon’s words a little bit, we are objectively asking a God who is really out there to materially alter the course of our day–or, indeed, our entire lives. Prayer effects change. So if prayer does make your day better, it is because a God who is there heard your praises, thanksgivings, and petitions, and He acted on your behalf. Now that makes the demons shudder.

~David Griffin

© Copyright Restoration Anglican Church