MORE FROM ALL SAINTS
Meditations From All Saints
The Rev. Deacon Heather K. Sisk
Meditation for Sunday, July 25th, 2021
One Person at a Time
Before returning to New York to attend seminary, I had an artist studio. I was a sculptor in residence in a city center in Florida where I worked almost everyday. However, while in seminary, life became so busy that I didn’t have much opportunity to make art. But one day I carved out time to sit down with a sketch pad and draw. I had become fascinated with the story of "The Feeding of The 5000."
I drew a fairly large picture of a young boy holding up a basket with five barley loaves and two fishes. I did some quick google research and found my “model,” an image of a Palestinian boy smiling up at the camera. The viewer of course (you and me) then becomes Jesus. In the complexity of this scene, we find a small boy; someone whom we might have missed. There is something special about staring into this child’s smiling face. It is an invitation to see through the eyes of Christ, to live into our full humanity as the image of God: God who we define as Love (see our catechism p. 849 of the Book of Common Prayer).
My original fascination with the feeding of the 5000 was a very intellectual investigation. I’m glad the artist side of my brain (and I suggest the praying side of my brain) was more embodied; less head and more heart. We learn from this small boy that there is joy in the abundance offered in a gift. Even a small gift can be abundantly received. The basket of fish and little cakes being lifted to Christ is a reminder of faith, of trust, of joy, of the importance of community and of course the Christian tenet that we remain “ever mindful of the needs of others.”
While this story is found in all four gospels, this passage is unique to John’s Gospel in several important ways: First, Jesus anticipates that the crowd will need to eat and to rest. Love is mindful of their needs. It also specifies that the bread being offered is made of barley. Bread made from barley was specific to the bread of the poor. Third: in this passage it is Jesus (rather than the disciples) who distributes the food personally. This gospel's interpretation offers us a very intimate encounter with Jesus. Because the Gospel of John does not include a last supper narrative (as in Mark, Matthew and Luke) this scene can be interpreted as a last supper: Jesus personally feeding the multitudes of poor one person at a time.
The Gospel of John and this story focuses on the identity of Christ: the nature of God as Love revealed to us. The feeding of the 5000 helps us to see clearly what is possible in one small offering and through one small person when it is viewed through the abundant lens of Love.
The Rev. Deacon Heather K. Sisk
Meditation for Sunday, July 11, 2021
The Power of Words
This week we are handed the awful story of the beheading of John the Baptist. And we can ask where is God in this passage?
John, the messenger who helps pave the way for the Messiah has been mercilessly executed; an act of revenge. The account is doubly vile, in that a child, the daughter of Herodias is used as a pawn in the scheme. While in the very public company of guests, Herod promises the child anything she requests. She runs to her mother to seek what she should ask for. And now the vengeful intentions of her mother overpower the words of Herod’s promise. The request is for John’s head. Herod is constrained by his own words, his own pride. A prophet has been lost. And a child has lost her innocence. She has not become aware of her subjugation… and may not for some time (lest she realize the power of her words when hefting John’s heavy head on a platter for her mother).
The power of words.
I keep thinking of this girl, the power of her words, and the regret. Regret is apparent in the very first lines of the passage in the voice of Herod who believes that this Jesus (he is hearing about) must be John now “raised.” It is an odd way to consider resurrection or reincarnation because Jesus is a full grown man. But what begins to become clear - and what Herod may have meant, is that John’s POWER has been raised. From here on out, Jesus’ ministry begins to take shape. John the Baptist was the one who has prepared the way. If you remember: the beginning of the Gospel of Mark (our earliest Gospel) begins by Jesus being baptized by John:
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.
This is Mark 1-5. Powerful Words.
John is preaching about repentance. Yesterday I was listening to author Jason Reynolds and Krista Tippet in a discussion about the power of words. Krista brings up the word repentance, reminding us that it is about turning: changing our ways, and turning. She reminds us that in the Greek and the Hebrew, “the word is kinetic. The word actually is about stopping in your tracks and walking another way…”
In our story, the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to John the Baptist. They are seeking a new way: a new way of forgiveness and turning to God.
Krista and Jason Reynolds bring this conversation forward into our own time while we look to find repentance, reparation, and forgiveness in our country. Reynolds encourages us to seek a new way. He acknowledges we all get caught up in our insular busy worlds; moving from work, to school, to home, to store, to church….but then he asks us: "What if you were to explore - to speak to your neighbor...
…what if you were to walk the other way? What if you were to explore the places around you? What if you were to speak to your neighbor and to figure out how to strike a conversation with a person you’ve never met? What if you were to try to walk into a situation, free of preconceived notion, just once? Once a day, just walk in and say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, and let’s see. Let me give this person the benefit of the doubt — to be a human.”
As Krista says: this makes repentance sound “manageable.”
While the figures in the Gospel are consumed and constrained by their own words and the power of their words, so too we should consider our own forms of narrative, history, story and the power of words that have moved us to make meaning, false meanings and constraints, and now perhaps remake understanding as we work on repentance.
The Power of Words.
Jason Reynolds goes on to tell us that it is narrative that brought us racism. In the 1400s Gomes Eanes de Zurara helped proliferate the notion of just slavery through his writings. Although he was not the first racist, he was able through his writings to justify slavery in Europe as a way of civilizing and Christianizing Africans. This is a negative example of the power of words. It is imagination gone haywire, and ruthless, and vengeful, and subjugating. It is false story that becomes internalized and lived for centuries. Yet, as Reynolds so faithfully suggests, “Imagination can set off 400 years of something wrong… but imagination can also set of 400 years of something right.”
Jesus is for us an icon of our greatest imaginings; of what is possible in God: the path of peace. The Messiah, our salvation, is when as the psalmist says this week, “Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”
Although we cannot change the past, we “innocents” of today can be raised out of our subjugation, raised into the power of our full life in Christ if we stop in our tracks, turn to our neighbor as Jesus commissioned, and discover that here is where God is.
The Rev. Deacon Heather K. Sisk
Meditation for Sunday, June 20, 2021
Now is an acceptable time.
In our passage from 2 Corinthians Paul is consoling the community at Corinth. And he begins by quoting
Isaiah 49:8-13 “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” He is harkening back to Isaiah’s prophecy of the renewal of Israel after the exile, a time when prisoners are set free and God comforts the people.
Paul is drawing on this passage to help those suffering in Corinth feel consoled and connected to the revelation of God, which is not ancient but is also present in his own time.
In the Gospel of Mark we find another story of revelation: Jesus calms the storms for the boats at sea. With one reproach to the wind the disciples are saved and the identity of their teacher is revealed. God’s kingdom is now. And now is an acceptable time.
This Saturday we are celebrating Juneteenth when the last of the slaves in the USA were emancipated in Texas in 1865 enforced by the US army. Yesterday President Biden of the United States signed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday. It passed in the House and Senate with bipartisan support. The acknowledgment and reparations for individuals, families and communities is late coming. Even with all of our anti-racist training we cannot make up for the slave trade, for the racist policies that were set into motion following emancipation and their destructive flow into the present. These policies have destroyed individuals and families; and have denied the United States from actualizing its true genius by disenfranchising and squashing the genius, artistry, and gifts of our very own people.
This anti-racist work is imperative now. Being a non-racist simply enforces a status quo of racism. Being a non-racist and doing nothing simply allows for the continuation of a racist culture. Anti-racism work is not about guilt. Anti-racism work guides us toward the truth; toward the work of repairing broken systems and making things new for a new and loving world for our children.
In every generation the church has an impact to make and a prophetic voice to be heard because God’s revelation is not simply in the past with Isaiah; it is not solely in the past with Jesus; and it is not only in the past with Paul. God’s revelation is then and it is now. It is always an acceptable time.
The Rev. Deacon Heather K. Sisk
Meditation for Sunday, May 23rd, 2021
This week is Pentecost, recalling our tradition of the Holy Spirit descending on the gathering in Jerusalem. The same Holy Spirit is in the beginning hovering over the waters at Genesis, and appears as a holy wind and breath of life - not only the breath of life, but the breath of truth.
The last year has been a year all about the sacred breath of life; a year of ventilators and masks, and the death cry of “I can’t breath.” It has become a protest cry; a prophetic cry; a wake up call to the racism and injustice in our midst.
All of this…and what of Israel and Palestine (the home of the Holy One)? As President Nelson Mandela said in a 1997 speech, "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."
We Christians, along with Islamic Palestinians, and Jewish Israelis worship the same God, believe the same God breathed the Holy Spirit into this creation. In the Koran, the Torah, and the New Testament we find the Holy Spirit’s divine action and communication. The Holy Spirt is the gift who brings us peace, discernment, wisdom, fortitude.
According to Christian tradition on Pentecost, there is a moment in Jerusalem when the Spirit descends. There is a wild wind and at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard the disciples speaking in their own native language. They were amazed and asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”
What would it mean for all of us to hear our own language and to be understood? Truly? I mean that individually too. How do we meet one another? Our universal language is called love - and our tradition tells us God is love. Each of us are made to carry that sacred breath of life filled with the DNA of God, filled with the Holy Spirit who was in the beginning.
We are stardust.
Our bodies are vessels for the Spirit. We were made for one another.
In the Gospel of Thomas (in which are gathered the sayings of Jesus) Jesus says, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, it is a wonder. But if spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders. Indeed, I am amazed at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty.”
The poverty of our lives is our physical frailty as well as those places of loss we carry individually, yet we choose to follow Jesus in the way of the Spirit, in the wealth of God’s creative, generative, restorative DNA.
Our commission to become fully human is to recognize these bodies of ours as the temples they are designed to be. Our task of becoming fully human is to breath in the holiness of one other. This is the truth the Holy Spirit shares with us.
We pray God breath your spirit of wisdom, of discernment of guidance and peace into the nations of this world. Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely
more than we can ask or imagine: Amen
Rev. Deacon Heather K. Sisk
Mediation for Sunday, May 9th, 2021
Jesus said to his disciples,
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. …I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
Jesus brought joy… A message that for some reason many of us did not receive growing up in the church. But joy in the presence of Jesus must’ve been intoxicating. Followers swarmed to him. Think about it. To use his metaphor: he was filling us with that new wine of life that flows from the fruit of Love.
Jesus uses the metaphor of the vine and fruit to express that mystical relationship of God as Love rooted, grounded and growing into a canopy of branches worthy of consoling all of us in the shade of our own affections.
God is the gardener, Jesus the vine, we are the branches where the fruit flows directly from the source. And it is grounded in life. He uses very earthy metaphors - not just because people understood farming and harvesting, but because we are of the earth. We are grounded. We have a very real struggle to manage “the flesh” of this life.
Jesus addresses this struggle through the vehicle of healing. If you have ever really needed physical healing, emotional healing, connection, relationship; joy is the fruit of the relief it brings: to be seen, to be known, to be loved.
Jesus brings joy through the vehicle of healing: a very specific form of love. It is not simply a momentary feeling of excitement, but rather the understanding of an everlasting sense of wellness. Jesus reminds the disciples that their joy is based in heaven. In theology we may refer to it as “soteriological joy” meaning salvation through joy. His teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is within each of us remind us that this saving joy is available to us now - and is an everlasting state. This is also why he teaches us to pray for our enemies. Our joy is complete when we are free of the obstacles that confine us in temporary forms of unhappiness, anger or fear, limiting our ability to love ourselves and one another. It is a choice we make every day to follow Jesus on this path of love: a path of everlasting joy which requires forgiveness, perspective, acceptance, humility, humor, gratitude, compassion and generosity.
The Rev. Deacon Heather K. Sisk
Meditation for Sunday, April 11, 2021
The reading from this week is the post resurrection scene in which Jesus returns to the disciples while they are still hiding out in Jerusalem.
The disciples have locked themselves into the upstairs room where they held the last supper. They are afraid. And now Jesus appears bringing with him the gift of the Holy Spirit (which is the gift of Peace). This is a profound passage about the gift of Peace. But it is most widely remembered for the phrase it has engendered: “Don’t be a Doubting Thomas.” Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus returned the first time. He reacts with disbelief or rather defensively to the story they have recounted.
Thomas invites us into the scene so that we can be there too. Thomas is our way in. Thomas means twin. And in some ways he mirrors us. Scripture refers to him as, “Thomas Didymus, also called the twin.” Both Didymus and Thomas actually mean Twin. He helps us into the story by mirroring us - and the way we may feel.
Why God, did you reveal yourself to everyone but me? Why come when I was not here? Why not me? It seems to be a real plea - a real question we may have.
God, here I am in my suffering and grief - and you have revealed yourself to my siblings… but why not me? Isn’t this our own question? We can feel that pain of rejection at different times in our lives. Each of us may feel it at different times and in different ways. Most everyone is feeling it a bit now during Covid as we have been isolated from one another, grieving, and afraid over this past year:
Why God have you given hope and Peace and faith to some of us? And right now I can’t conjur up any. This is part of our human journey. And Thomas allows us to feel it and say it openly to God.
Jesus says touch my wounds. I know your human suffering. I am with you even in your woundedness. It is so very intimate.
He says, you too - even those who can’t be with us now are blessed. We may lean on the Holy Spirit in the knowledge and understanding that each time we hold onto the gift of Peace through these trials we will come out with more wisdom and with more wholeness for offering that healing intimacy to one another.
The Rev. Deacon Heather K. Sisk
Meditation for Sunday, March 21, 2021
Your very first name is Love.
Surrender to that identity.
This surrender is what Jesus is speaking of when he says follow me and give up your worldly life. How do we start? We know it; We can quote it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This sentiment is alive and flowing in nearly every major and minor religion on Earth.
This is the ground we share.
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
When Jesus compares himself and us to the grain of wheat, he doesn’t just speak of our potential. He is speaking of our true identity. We are the Beloved. Jesus speaks of Love. We are that seed. When he speaks of the earth he speaks of the ground of love, in which we “live and move and have our being.” When he speaks of dying, he speaks of surrendering to love. When he speaks of the fruit, he speaks of the love that flows and feeds others through this dynamic and life-giving cycle.
In the Gospel this week Jesus asks God, that his life and death may be to the glory of God. And God responds, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The glorification of God in Jesus is from the beginning as the Beloved. We too are made in the image of God. Jesus as our great model, the one who draws all people to this mutuality and reconciling love of healing relationships, teaches us to surrender to that identity. “Follow me” is to be a living icon to Christ; an icon of healing and forgiveness; an icon of love for self and neighbor.
Jesus speaks to us of our earliest commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Yes, we can quote it, but can we quote it by heart as they say?
From the portion of our Hebrew scripture, God promises to us a covenant that is literally written on our hearts. God says,
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
God forgives. God surrenders to us. As our tradition teaches us God is Love, self surrendered.
Practice exploring your heart of belonging; of forgiveness.
Surrender. You are already Love.