Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Loving our neighbors

An excerpt from our vicar's sermon, on Sunday August 21st (10th Sunday after Pentecost).

What does it look like for us to love our neighbors as ourselves?

These questions are difficult for any Christian community.

One of our callings at St. Joseph’s seems to be engaging the needs and lives of our homeless brothers and sisters in this neighborhood.

We share breakfast now Monday through Saturday with those who are hungry. This past week we averaged over 30 people at breakfast daily.

Two weeks ago one of our homeless neighbors who sleeps on our property because he feels safe being on the church grounds was hit in the head while he slept, and due to the care of another homeless man, he made it to the hospital in time to save his life.

How do we, as a community of faith –

a ragged bunch of rocks held together by God’s grace –

provide a welcoming place for all,

where people of all walks of life are honored as God’s children and not abused?

How do we create and promote a community in which all present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, not marred by drugs and violence?

The answers to these questions are difficult.

Living in community is challenging as we try to honor one another.

Next Sunday, August 28th, following fellowship time after church, whoever wishes will gather in the parish hall to have a conversation about what I have no other name for than “rules for behavior” for all who gather at St. Joseph’s in any capacity.

Your vestry has been having conversations with local social service agencies, our homeless neighbors, the Durham police department, local businesses and members of the congregation to try to come to understand ways we might be able to curb illegal and violent activities on our property. Next week we invite your insights, thoughts and conversation. Our discussions will be ongoing.

As rocks as jagged as Peter – one moment boldly proclaiming Jesus as Lord and the next denying him utterly – we will make mistakes but I hope that we will also hold each other accountable to the Kingdom, living into forgiveness and grace.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Breakfast News

Fellowship at Saint Joseph's has always been an important part of our ministry. None more so than the Monday through Saturday breakfast fellowship following Morning Prayer.

Numbers have been steadily increasing, which in the current economic climate is not surprising. In addition, with the new academic year fast approaching, more Divinity School students are returning from internships and are joining and helping us on a daily basis. We have had to add to the size of our breakfast table. Some mornings, the chatter around the breakfast table is so intense that it's hard to focus on your personal conversation.

Gail is never happier than when she sees more joining us to share eggs 'n' cheese, cereals, toast, juice and coffee. "Miss Gail" has one rule and one rule only - no one is allowed to leave without a hug!

We certainly reap what we sow. Sowing the seed of community and friendship around a simple breakfast meal fills us all with a gift. We give and we receive - each and every one of us.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hauerwas' Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46

"In a wonderful essay entitled "The Scandal of the Works of Mercy," Dorothy Day lists the works of mercy, codified by Thomas Aquinas, based on Matt. 25:

The spiritual works of mercy are to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to council the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead. The corporeal works of mercy are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbor the harborless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.

Her colleague, Peter Maurin, whom Day identifies as the founder of The Catholic Worker, was, according to Day, as much an apostle to the world as he was to the poor. He did not believe that works of mercy were a strategy to care for the poor until another and more effective social policy could be found. He believed that works of mercy were the social policy that Jesus had given people for the renewal of the world. According to Day, Maurin thought that in order to convince people [of this]

it was necessary to embrace voluntary poverty, to strip yourself, which would give you the means to practice the works of mercy. To reach the man in the street you must go to the street. To reach the workers, you begin to study the philosophy of labor, and to take up manual labor, useful labor, instead of white collar work. To be the least, to be the worker, to be poor, to take the lowest place and thus be the spark which would set afire the love of men towards each other and to God (and we can only show our love for God by our love for our fellows). These were Peter's ideas, and they are indispensable for the performing of the works of mercy.

Day calls this understanding of the works of mercy a scandal because it challenges the assumption that Christians are to do something for the poor by trying to create alternatives to capitalism or socialism. The problem with trying to create such alternatives is that we seduce ourselves into believing that we are working to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and those in prison without knowing anyone who is hungry, naked, thirsty, a stranger, sick or in prison. Day and Maurin knew that attempts to create a "better world" without being a people capable of the works of mercy could not help but betray Jesus' response to his disciples' question what sign will there be of Jesus' coming and the end of the age [Matt 24:3]. The sign is that they have the time to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and those in prison.

Moreover, such work will be offensive to those in power who claim to rule as benefactors of the poor and hungry. A people shaped by the practice of the works of mercy will be a people capable of seeing through those who claim to need power to do good, but in fact just need power. Great injustice is perpetuated in the name of justice. Great evil is done because it is said that time is short and there needs to be a response to this or that crisis. Christians live after the only crisis that matters, which means that Jesus has given us all the time in the world to visit him in the prisons of this world."

Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, 211-12

[Submitted by Colin Miller]

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A gloriously busy breakfast

It seems some time since we have seen such a busy breakfast. In fact we have rarely reached double figures in the past few weeks.

This morning Gail was in her element (the more guys she has "to mother", the happier she is). Helped by Mimi, who kept the toaster working overtime, a dozen hungry friends shared our meal of cereals, eggs 'n' cheese, toast and jam. It was great to hear so much chatter around the breakfast table. We actually ran out of milk and bread, but a brisk walk to the grocery store remedied that.

"Word of mouth", was the reply I received on asking how some of those present stumbled on Saint Joseph's. Word of our ministry certainly spreads and we are grateful for that. It seemed so obvious to me that we were graced by the presence of the Holy Spirit sharing our fellowship.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Life in Easter

As odd as it may sound, Lent was a refreshing season for me this year. I adopted Lenten disciplines that forced me to face the finitude of my life as a creature—my limited energy, time, and strength. And though there were moments of frustration in my disciplines, I also grew to accept and appreciate them. The message of Ash Wednesday (“Dust you are, and to dust you will return”) became a source of gratitude to me. I found rest in being a creature, in resting on God.

This Easter season, however, has been anything but restful to me. The joyful celebrations of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Eucharist have been crowded out by to-do lists and errands. I have felt like Peter, returning to pick up his nets to go back to fishing after Jesus was killed and buried. Some of that is simply because I live the life of a student, and the busiest weeks of the semester coincided with the beginning of the Easter season (yeah, terrible timing!). But I think I also let go of my Lenten lessons too quickly. Easter may bring Lent to an end, but it does so like the birth of a baby. Lent prepares those following Jesus to Jerusalem for the wonderfully abundant resurrection life of Easter. The rest that I found in Lent was not supposed to be something I throw off along with the Lenten disciplines; that rest enters into full bloom in Easter as the Lord of the Sabbath is raised to new life.

So instead of rushing full speed back to my “nets,” I want to spend the rest of the Easter season sitting at the empty tomb, listening for the voice of the risen Lord calling my name, and then spreading the joyous news that I have seen the Lord. I pray that the joy and peace of Easter may overflow in all our lives, at St. Joseph’s and beyond, as the risen Christ walks and abides with us all 50 days. And I pray that, amid the stresses that continue in our lives no matter the season, we will all find Sabbath rest in dwelling with the God of resurrection life.

—Jodi Belcher

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Holy Saturday Meditation

Job 14:1-14

Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16

I Peter 4:1-8

John 19:38-42

Death can be violent, horrific, dreadful. It cuts off life, empties the body of breath and movement, and severs relationships. It is a fearful power before which all of us are defenseless and vulnerable. It turns the strongest among us into victims. When death is near, we may wonder where God is, if God will rescue, if God will deprive death of its power and “let [God’s] face shine on [us],” as Psalm 31 says. The psalmist sees God as a refuge from enemies, from the horror of death, and trusts that every breath of life is “in [the Lord’s] hands.” And so the psalmist cries out to God, believing that God can triumph over the psalmist’s enemies and deliver the psalmist to new life.

Death can also be viewed as rest. It brings an end to suffering, brokenness, and unspeakable pain. This is the portrait of death that Job paints. He says to God, “If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed!” The continued presence of God in Job’s life—now scarred by affliction, the deaths of loved ones, and the loss of his future—only continues Job’s torment. He believes it would be better for God to leave human beings alone to live out their brief, fleeting lives, rather than sustain human life in suffering.

Job and the psalmist give us two very different pictures of death with two different visions of God. In Psalm 31, God is the one who remembers and saves the psalmist from imminent death, and the psalmist places all hope and trust in God, who is faithful. But for Job, God is the one whose presence staves off death and enables suffering to continue, and Job laments God’s involvement in his life. The psalmist clings to God in the face of suffering and death, while Job begs God to stop clinging to him in the face of Job’s suffering.

What are we to do with these different pictures? Is one true and the other false? Which God is the real God—the psalmist’s or Job’s?

I wonder if Holy Saturday makes both pictures true. I wonder if the body of Jesus lying in the tomb, bearing the unhealed wounds of execution, shows us the violence and horror of death, but also shows us God’s stubborn refusal to let go of a body even in the worst suffering. I wonder if this day affirms both the trust of the psalmist and the protest of Job because both were on Jesus’ lips just moments before he died and both went with him to the grave (“Into your hands I commit my spirit” and “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). The dead body of Jesus is a sign of God’s faithfulness in life and in death—a faithfulness that may not make sense to us when suffering persists, but a faithfulness of incomprehensible love deep enough to embrace our protest and our hope. In Jesus’ death, God journeys into suffering and death with us—not to relish in our pain—no!—but to show us that nothing—no violence, evil, or deadly power—can “separate us from the love of God,” as Paul says in Romans.

Today, on Holy Saturday, in the psalm and in Job, we see one picture: the broken body of Jesus held in the hands of a faithful God. We see the power of death being destroyed in Jesus’ dead body. And we see the picture of our hope and our protest transformed in his tomb, as his very body, wounded and lifeless, displays the incomprehensible depths of God’s love for us. “[Our] times are in [God’s] hands,” and God has refused to let us go. Ever. Amen.

----Jodi Belcher

April 23rd, 2011