MORE FROM ALL SAINTS
Meditations From Reverend Sisk
The Rev. Heather K. Sisk
for the first Sunday after Epiphany
January 9th, 2022
"He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
- John the Baptist
We often think of the chaff as rubbish, but chaff literally is the husk or cover. It offers a protective layer for a seed to grow - but eventually, it is no longer needed. Psychologically speaking: we could make an analogy between the chaff and seed respectively, as the protective shells and egos we build for ourselves in society - and the beloved, unique spiritual selves we are inside.
The "Fire" of Baptism is sacramental and represents purification. It symbolically burns away those parts that don't serve our life in Christ. In our journey we anticipate that we will outgrow parts of the self that may no longer serve us (hardened hearts, overly competitive ambition, and destructive habits). This purification gets to the seed, the core of us; that we believe were made “good" in the beginning and are made good in the fullness of time.
When Jesus and others were coming out to meet John the Baptist in the wilderness, they were adults coming to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. This ritual was in direct opposition to the mandate that people pay the temple authorities in order to be forgiven. This term “forgiveness of sins” sounds so loaded to our contemporary ears. But “Repent!” As John cried out means: "Return!" - Or turn back to God; to your relationship to the Holy; to what is righteous, peaceful and wise. It means turn back from this state of separation from God; a state that we call sin (a place of ignorance - a place of harming ourselves and others).
Baptism is a covenant. It is the will and promise to live into the fullness of the “The Beloved” seed. We mark it once, but this covenant burns through us over a lifetime in relationship with God. Gradually the husk falls away as we grow in strength and wisdom toward the full stature of Christ.
The Rev. Heather K. Sisk
Dec. 17th 2021
Today we have these two blessed women, Elizabeth and Mary greeting one another in joyous recognition of the holy one in their lives. At All Saints we have a wonderful stained glass window depicting their reunion. As I’ve said before: You have to wonder, what were these two women up to, raising John the Baptist and Jesus?!
Mary hears a message from the Angel Gabriel that she will give birth to a child who will be great. He will be the son of the most high and be given the throne of David by God. And his Kingdom will never end. The throne of David represents the Shepherd of the people, a peaceable kingdom, which will never end.
Mary immediately travels to Elizabeth who has also been blessed with a child late in life (John the Baptist). Upon their joyous meeting, Elizabeth says to Mary:“...blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord…” And as our reading from Micah says this week: “He shall be the one of Peace.”
Now, Mary hears a very specific Word from God. She will literally be the bearer of peace. This is one of the greatest stories ever told. Not only because Peace is being born into the world as one of us, to show us the way… but because this bearer of Peace is a young woman without cultural status.
Our Christian story flips society on its head. Mary goes on to sing about her joy, but then also expands that to include the rest of the world. Mary’s “soul magnifies the Lord” but the Word she heard is that this gift is meant to "lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things." This gift will scatter the proud in their conceit. There will be peace and equity. “Every mountain shall be made low and every valley shall be raised” on this path (the way of God). And John the Baptist reminds us that we are called into this journey, to “make God’s paths straight.” This is what the women heard. This is what the women said! Talk about prophetic voice!
We hope and believe that there will be a reversal of things; that things can get better; that we can feel better; and that love will prevail over pain and suffering. This is what the women heard...
In our story the hope of Christmas, of Christ’s light coming into the World, again and again is imbued with a much deeper understanding about ourselves and our potential. We hope that the light will change us, bring us clarity, comfort and consolation. We are inspired to believe in the goodness of ourselves and community and we have faith that peace and love will prevail. We look and listen for the wisdom that will change our society. We look and listen for “The one of Peace.” And we celebrate growing into this knowledge and wisdom each week when we say, “Peace be with you.”
There is a practice called “listening” for the Word. You may be familiar with “Meditating on the word” as a phrase used to mean meditating with scripture. But there is also a “listening for the word.” This is a practice with specific intent to hear what God may be calling you to do. It is a form of prayer and discernment.
Like Mary and Elizabeth, what word might you hear? These stories are not meant to entertain, but to draw us deeper into our own participation in life. These stories are about us. If you listen, what intention, what wisdom may grow? What direction might you pave? What consolation or affirmation may you find? What prophetic voice might shine out of you?
I encourage you to take this joyful and intimate leap with Mary and Elizabeth.“...blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
The Rev. Heather K. Sisk
In our Gospel this week Jesus speaks of the destruction of the temple and the signs to come. This teaching has been referred to as the "little apocalypse." Jesus says,
“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
In the Episcopal Church we tend to steer away from apocalyptic language. It isn't comfortable. Who wants to seriously entertain earthquakes and famines as part of God’s loving relationship with us? Yet ironically this passage is about hope.
Even in biblical times our ancestors knew to put famines and earthquakes in the same sentence. They knew human and climate systems were interwoven. That literally was life. We lived closer to the land and closer to the elements. We must have hope in God’s system: an ecosystem that manages to support thriving human life within a web of other species and elements. We must take care of it. It is our first calling after all. If you reread Genesis, you may say it is why we were made.
What would the world look like if we believed that we were literally made to save our planet? In our passage Jesus tells the disciples not to be alarmed even while he prophesies the destruction of the temple, war and famine, kingdoms rising against kingdoms. How does this story strike you as we face the climate crisis?
Navigating the distress and the problems of our time requires a form of hope: Jesus says, "This is but the beginning of the birthpangs." The domination system of the time; the unjust human systems will be overturned. The system of corruption and injustice, the Roman oppression of the Jewish people seemed too big to fail. Yet Jesus guarantees that God’s home will not be forever usurped for human power. Don't believe the domination system of this day is too big to fail. As then - it is now: difficult things are happening and will happen, but new life comes through "birthpangs.” Jesus reminds us to live into that resurrected future where hope rather than injustice prevails: Where our lives that have died with Christ to superficial things are put into service for God's principal work in, and for the World.
The Rev. Heather K. Sisk
Hope is an Action
From the gospel this week we have the story of Jesus healing the blind man, Bartimeaus, who is begging alongside the road. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.
Bartimeaus shouts out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me” yet the crowd sternly orders him to be quiet. Apparently the shouting he is doing is loud enough to irritate a crowd. Why do they want to silence him? I wonder what this is about because when Jesus hears him, in fact, he calls for him. And at that point the crowd actually encourages Bartimeaus to go to Jesus by saying, “Be brave, take heart!” “Rise up” they say.
When Jesus asks Bartimeaus what he wants, Bartimeaus casts aside his cloak springs up and responds that he wants "to see again.” Jesus heals him and tells him “Go, your faith has made you well.” Bartimeaus then follows Jesus “on the way."
There are some wonderful nuggets of spiritual wisdom woven into the narrative if we consider the symbolic nature of the story. On the surface Jesus has cured a blind man who then follows him on the road to Jerusalem. But we also see a man spiritually healed who bravely asks to be united with God on the spiritual road or hodos (Greek for “way”).
This brave move on Bartimeaus’ part is not just in asking for his right to the healing hand of God, but involves dropping his cloak and leaving behind everything to follow Jesus. His cloak was not only his warmth and protection from the elements, but his means for gathering alms. Everything from the day would be gathered up in this spread of cloth. So this story stands in strong contrast to the earlier story of the wealthy man who left grieving when Jesus asked that he sell his belongings to enter into everlasting life. It is a fearless move.
We also see the foretelling of Palm Sunday with Bartimeaus’ cloak and his claims that Jesus is the son of David. In just a few more passages Jesus will enter into Jerusalem on a colt, the crowd will lay down their cloaks and palm branches as his “red carpet,” shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the coming Kingdom of our Ancestor David.” We often don’t stop and think about the incredible significance for the peasant class placing their cloaks (for some their only cloak) on the road to be trod upon, offered up as a self-emptying practice in the name of hope.
These efforts illumine hope in the form of fearlessness.
So how do we reflect on these activities in our own lives?
Hope and fearlessness go together. Hope is not a passive stance. It is an engaged and embodied activity with righteousness at its core; with truth as its lens; and “belief” (in the form of trust and commitment) as its engine.
And it isn’t a one time event. Hope takes practice.
We are faced with the decision to have faith and hope frequently, to be brave on a regular basis (more frequently than we probably admit, even to ourselves). And there are forces, crowds at work, telling us to be quiet, not to draw attention to ourselves - or to the truth.
When Bartimeaus rises up to greet Jesus, the word used for rise means also to “wake up, arise, waken.” And this form is used in many of the healing stories. Bartimeaus has his eyes opened from blindness, but he is also awakened to new life, to the “way.”
Having hope requires waking up. In our own daily efforts to work for justice, peace and love, we need practices to help us keep awake. Prayer, centering prayer, and meditation can help us practice being awake, so we can continue to be brave in our efforts to bring hope to ourselves and for our world.
What activities help you cultivate awareness, this sense of being awake to what's true?
Take a fearless leap and discover what helps you on “the way.”
The Rev. Heather K. Sisk
Your Worth in Salt, 2021
For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?
Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.
Jesus concludes Sunday’s Gospel with this great phrase. It is a play on words, which is why it sounds practically nonsensical in the English. “Seasoning" and “salting” can mean the same thing. But salt in itself is also an elemental seasoning. It is used to maintain freshness and purity. And fire is also associated with purity in scripture.
Jesus is reassuring the disciples:
Everyone is seasoned with pure essence, goodness. If you lose your inner essence (your saltiness, your purity, your fire), how will you recover it from anything outside of yourself?
In ancient times salt was highly valued. Jesus is reminding us to know our own self-worth. “Everyone is salted with fire.” Hold that integrity. Hold your shape and you will not feel threatened by others. “Have salt in yourselves.” When we encounter one another with a sense of self-worth we will “be at peace with one another.”
Holding our integrity is easier said than done. This is spiritual work. As Steve preached last week, it is human nature to want what others have. In this week's gospel, Jesus is talking about that inclination and more. The disciples are wary of some others not following their group who are healing in the name of Jesus. The disciples want to reject the intentions and abilities of these outsiders because they somehow feel threatened by either their gifts, or devise that the healings are false. (“Who do the think they are?!”) Beyond being jealous or judgmental about what others have, we also may feel threatened by what others bring (even when they are bringing gifts for the good of the community).
It may take concerted effort and prayer to integrate our worthiness especially in the midst of life struggle: perhaps years of setbacks, disappointments, painful encounters or grief. We feel alone in our suffering and forget that others carry their own self doubts and struggles with worthiness. But the Christian community is designed to help us live into our identity as beloved children. Self-worth is our birthright. If we begin to open to that relationship with the divine and with ourselves we will be at peace with others. We will not feel threatened by the gifts of others; we will understand as Jesus says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Perhaps it is easier to understand this part of the teaching through Matthew’s version of the story (5:13-16) in which Jesus pairs the salt with the light:
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? …
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Remember: You are the SALT of the earth and You are the LIGHT of the world. Our spiritual work is also to give glory when we see that light in others too!
The Rev. Deacon Heather K. Sisk
Healing of the Syrophoenician Woman's Daughter, 2021
7.25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his [Jesus's] feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
We say that God comes to us through one another. It is through finding the holiness in our encounters that we come to know ourselves and God better (often through what challenges us and teaches us). When we surrender to the power of forgiveness and empathy for others we will come to know the power of Love that leads to greater wholeness for ourselves and society.
And so, our story of Jesus' healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter is controversial because he initially responds to her in a very ugly way. He scandalizes us with a phrase that equates this woman, her people, and her precious child to a mangy dog.
Whenever something challenges us or pushes our boundaries we have an opportunity to live into the moment, rather than resist: we grow. In fact any ecologist will tell you that it is on the boundaries where we often find the most biodiversity, the most competition, and the most growth.
We also know that Jesus teaches us in ways that strike us as paradoxical, contradictory and confrontational. It is part of his teaching style.
What is lost in translation for the modern reader, is that equating this woman to a dog is a reference to the rabbinic phrase of Jesus’ time that, “to eat with an idolater is to eat with a dog”. He is using the pharisees’ argument against her. This is not his argument. In fact at the time of her healing he has been in constant debate with the pharisees about the rules of idolatry specifically in the context of food.
Food (and ways of eating) is the main vehicle used to convey these messages about the boundaries between people, and the reign of God. The story is offered within the context of food; where food is used as a point of issue; where the pharisees continually attack Jesus and the disciples for how they handle food. It happens in the context of feeding the multitudes; and Jesus’ metaphor of “the bread of life.”
His rebuke of the woman strikes at the heart of his previous reprimands to the pharisees. He is making the point again this time by scandalizing us with such an ugly dismissal. It smacks us:
"...Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir,[h] even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Her response in the form of faith, and in speaking the plain truth back to this twisted metaphor doubly smacks us. By doing so we are asked to consider what is really going on here. Perhaps we feel empathy. “Anyone with ears to hear listen!” Perhaps it really is our human rules that create boundaries and create outcasts. This is a moment in which an underserved person with no voice in the community speaks up, startles us with her claim to the healing power of God.
7.29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”
30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
This is a moment in which the person of need, the person stuck on the opposite side of the border in scarcity, competition, and oppression is afforded a voice to proclaim the truth. Those in authority are not the ones to teach us most clearly about the reality of the Kingdom of God. The voices of the oppressed are needed to help shed light on the rules that have been set in place to confine, restrict and hinder growth. It is a human pattern that continues to today. Can we look hard and fast at some of the human laws that have set boundaries, hinder love of neighbor, hinder flourishing? Here in the U.S. and around the world?
Human rules create othering, "outcasts" and "idolaters."
God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit open us up: terrify us with the truth, scandalize us with our own failings, and heal us though forgiveness and love.
The Rev. Deacon Heather K. Sisk
The Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin, 2021
The very title of our Feast Day is a stumbling block for many.
The Nicene Creed is a stumbling block for many. In it, as the community's witness, we state our belief that Jesus was made incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made "human."
Nearly every time I have an honest and open conversation with someone who attends church or has stopped attending, there is a reference to their struggle with the virgin Mary: the idea that anyone could become pregnant by the Holy Spirit without a man being involved. People don’t bring up the verses of descending to hell or rising from the dead. Those concepts seem to have been absorbed and integrated into a framework that is consistent with metaphors for brokenness, death and grief, healing, new birth, transformation.
The Virgin Mary however is a sticking point. So I want to break it open a bit. The Virgin Mary is a designation that only two of our Gospel writers use: Matthew and Luke.
Paul’s letters to the early church which predate the Gospels make no mention of this idea. And Mark our earliest Gospel and the Gospel of John do not use it - nor convey that it is a necessary part of the good news.
Jesus is the miracle (not necessarily because he came out of a virgin).
We have been reading the Gospel of John, and for weeks we have been talking about Jesus as the bread of heaven. We know this is a metaphor. Scripture says Jesus is a shepherd, the light, the vine, the gate. The Kingdom is like a woman making bread. The Kingdom is a tiny seed. God is a potter, a rock, a sun, a shield. God is the Father.
These ideas are designed to convey meaning. The literary device of virgin in this narrative ensures that we get the point that Jesus is a gift of the divine spark of creation. And that's a miracle!
So much of what is trying to be conveyed by making God “the father” is that we have a relationship initiated through a mystery that is pregnant with affection, with intimacy, with a creator that we can feel bound to - and love. And we are made in that image.
The message is that we are here to mirror God the Creator, the mysterious force and Spirit that calls us into existence.
As humans we strive to find some reconciliation between our fragile human lives and this immense mystery of existence; of the creation and creator of all things.
And the response to this query in the form of Jesus is a miracle. We believe to become fully human, to grow in wisdom into this wild predicament and gift called life, is to grow in love, to heal others, to embrace others, to identify with the suffering; to work to repair the world.
That is the miracle.
Jesus is the miracle; In Greek: the anthropos. He is the fully human being who shows us the way: a “whole” being; Wholly integrated, and that is holy.
We, then, trying to strive to be fully alive and integrated to grow into the full stature of Christ, to know that we carry the divine spark within us...this is also the miracle.
So this great story (I think the greatest story ever told) is not about whether Mary was a virgin.
Mary’s song begins with "My Soul Magnifies the Lord."
She does not say my body - or my womb magnifies the Lord.
"My soul magnifies the Lord." The story is about Mary's choice to help bring God into the World which is Love incarnate as embodied in healing, forgiveness and welcome.
Mary, the God Bearer chooses to be the nurturing container for that love even knowing that her heart will break in that agreement, as it does with any of us; any person who attempts to hold a container of love for others. But being broken open is what allows us to learn to heal and to become fully integrated, fully human to do the work that we have been given to do: to repair the world.
There is a God Bearer in all of us.
As Meister Eckhart said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God for God is always needing to be born.”
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.