March 26, 2017

Salome, Wife of Zebedee

Salome, the wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John is another Woman of Lent & Princess of the Kingdom who gives us Hope. She offers us the reminder that we can come to Jesus with any request. I think of her as a woman who likes to be in control, and full of logic.
This woman named Salome is no relation of the daughter of Herodius, wife of Herod, whose dancing caused John the Baptist to lose his head. This is Salome, wife of the fisherman Zebedee. Some scholars think she may have been a cousin of Mary of Nazareth. The family of Zebedee lived on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, probably near Bethsaida or Capernaum, which are fairly close together. We learn from the Gospel of Mark that when Jesus came, he called her sons James and John from their work and ‘they left Zebedee in the boat with the hired men’. From this we can infer that Zebedee was a well-to-do fisherman.
We do not know if Salome immediately became a follower, but we know that she became a staunch disciple, and perhaps the epitome of a good Jewish mother trying to ensure that her sons ‘chose the good life’ as urged in Deuteronomy. She wanted her sons to be the best disciples they could be.
Salome is most famous or infamous for her request to Jesus “Declare that in Your kingdom one of these two sons of mine will sit at Your right hand, and the other at Your left.” (Matthew 20:21) The timing of her request comes immediately after Jesus has told his 12 disciples that he will be ‘mocked and flogged and crucified. And on the third day raised to life.’ Since Matthew specifically notes that Jesus only spoke to the 12, she can be excused for her ignorance.
Even so, it seems a rash and brash request. Jesus responds, “You do not know what you are asking.” And then asks James and John “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ Even after having just heard him predict his death, the young men respond, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’” (Matthew 20:22-23)
Her bold request gives us hope that we can come to the ‘throne of glory’ with any request we might have. God will answer all our prayers, although it may not be in the way or in the time we expect. We may look at the problems in the world and ask why God doesn’t do anything about them. Perhaps that is when we need to be reminded as Teresa of Avila says, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which
he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Salome was called to be the hands and feet of God and TO God at the Cross and Grave. Mark 15:40 tells us that at the Crucifixion, “There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome". The parallel passage of Matthew 27:56 says, "Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children."
Salome was a confident mother who wanted the best for her sons. Whether she initially followed Jesus to ensure that her ‘boys’ were well cared for, or because she also saw something holy and important in the rabbi we do not know. Remember her sons were nicknamed ‘Sons of Thunder’ by Jesus, so maybe she went along to keep them out of trouble.
We do know that following Jesus even to the cross and grave transformed her life. Mark’s Gospel tells us, "And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him." We know, they discovered the stone rolled away and a young man in white who told them that Jesus is risen, and that he would meet them in Galilee.
The story of the women at the grave reminds me of the scene in Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe where Susan and Lucy witness the White Witch killing Aslan, then the fall asleep from grief. In the early morning they hear an awful sound, which is the stone table on which Aslan died cracking. And there is the great Lion alive and well. He tells them "If a willing Victim that has committed no treachery is killed in a traitor's stead, the Stone Table will crack; and even death itself would turn backwards."
The stones in our lives, the old ways of thinking and acting, can take away our hope. Then Jesus comes along and breaks all those expectations and stereotypes. Joanna and Salome found hope in stepping outside their established norm and following Jesus. Bound to the role of ‘wife of Herod’s steward’ and lost in her dis-ease, Joanna gave it all up and went further than she ever would have anticipated in following the rabbi from Nazareth. Salome, good Jewish mother that she was, found herself tested as well. She ended up having her expectations redefined and broadened.
Charles LaFond says, “There are times in our lives when a part of us has already left for the next thing and so we are pulled forward to follow it – to rejoin a part of ourselves that has already left while we did not yet notice.” I’d suggest you think about times in your life when your hopes were dashed and your expectations challenged, along with the suggested questions. What stone tables in your life might need to break?
Can you put yourself in the shoes of Joanna and Salome when they come to the empty tomb?
Next time we'll travel with some women who we might think we know very well-the sisters Mary and Martha.

March 19, 2017

JoAnna, Wife of Chuza

Throughout Lent, we are looking at women who can help us live more deeply into lives of Faith, Hope, and Love. We saw over the past couple weeks that Mary of Magdala and Mary of Nazareth had great faith, although it was expressed differently in their lives. Now we turn to Joanna and Salome who show us that lives of Hope can take us outside our comfort zones. 
Joanna is listed by Luke as one of the … women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities…[including] Joanna the wife of Herod’s household manager Chuza... (Luke 8:3) It seems interesting and intriguing at first glance that the wife of Herod Antipas’ steward/manager would be a follower of Jesus, esp. to the extent of travelling with him. This Herod is not Herod the Great, who was ruler when Jesus was born. This is one of his sons: Antipater or Antipas as he is better known. Antipas was appointed by Caesar Augustus as tetrarch of Galilee and Perea after the death of his father.  
We do not know which palace Chuza was steward of. Or he may have been a household steward who traveled with the Tetrarch. After all Antipas had several residences in Judah and Galilee. In fact, I was surprised to learn that he had 7 that you can see on the map, plus 3 ‘winter palaces’.
Historians believe that it was Machaerus near the Dead Sea where John the Baptist was imprisoned and killed. One might imagine how Joanna was impacted by the death of John the Baptist at Herod’s behest. Perhaps it was that event that led her to have dis-ease of some sort. One might postulate that she developed some sort of psychological break that made her sick physically or mentally. She probably heard of Jesus power to heal and sought him out. (We don’t really know.)
Clearly her healing changed her priorities. Joanna found hope for her life. Jesus healed her. Even so, it must have taken great courage to leave her husband to follow the itinerant rabbi. In following Jesus, she discovered who she was-a beloved daughter of God. She no longer had to be crippled by the dis-ease that troubled her, whether it was a result of John the Baptist’s death or something else. Joanna was able to stand up against the ‘norms’ of her life because she had Hope in something better. I imagine her as rather like the women described by David Whyte in his 2007 poem Arrivals. 
Imagine the confines of a long grey corridor
just before immigration at Washington Dulles
airport. Imagine two Ethiopian women amid
a sea of familiar international plastic blandness,
entering America for the first time. Think of
their undulating multi-colored turbans raised
atop graceful heads, transforming us,
a grey line of travelers behind them, into followers
and mendicants, mere drab, impatient, moneyed
and perplexed attendants to their bright,
excited, chattered arrival.

Imagine a sharp plexi-gass turn left and suddenly
before them, in biblical astonishment, like a vertical
red sea churning, like the waters barring Moses from
The Promised Land, like Jacob standing before the ladder,
a moving escalator, a mode of rising, a form of ascension,
a way to go up they'd never seen before, its steel grey
interlocking invitation on and up to who knows what,
bringing them and everyone behind them, to a bemused,
complete, and utter standstill.

So that you saw it for the first time as they saw it
and for what it was, a grated river of lifting steel,
an involuntary, moving ascension into who knows what.
An incredible surprise. And you knew, even through
your tiredness, why it made them raise their hands
to their mouths, why it made them give low breathy
screams of surprise and delighted terror. You saw it
as they saw it, a staircase of invisible interlocking
beckoning hands asking them to rise up
independent of their history, their legs or their wills.
And we stopped as we knew we had to now
and watched the first delighted be-turbaned
woman put a sandaled foot on the flat grey
plain at the foot of the moving stair and sure
enough quickly withdraw it with a strangled scream,
leaving her sandal to ascend strangely without her
into heaven, into America, into her new life.

Then, holding her friend away, who tried to grab
her, to save her, to hold her back, who pointed
and shouted, telling her not to risk herself,
not to be foolish, she silently watched her shoe,
that willful child, running ahead, its sole intent
to enter the country oblivious to visas and immigration,
above the need for a job, uncaring of healthcare,
pointing toward some horizon she had never dreamt,
intent on leaving only its winged footprint
for her to follow, like a comet's tail, like an omen
of necessity, like a signaled courage, like an uncaring
invitation, to make her entrance with sould and style.

Because she looked up at this orphaned, onward
messenger with her eyes ablaze, threw off the panicked
clamboring arms of her friend, raised her chin
in noble profile, and with all that other hurrying
clamor of the world behind her, with a busy,
unknowing, corporate crowd at her back and questions
beginning to be asked out loud, she lifted her arms,
clapped her hands, threw back her head and with
a queenly unbidden grace, strode on to the ascending
heaven bound steel like a newly struck film star,
singing the old, high pitched song her children
would hear when she told the story again.

And as her friend below sang,
applauded, danced on the spot
and ululated her companion's arrival,
we stood there behind her,
transfixed, travel weary,
and crammed into the corridor
like extras from some
miraculous scene in the Bible.

While she ascended,
her arms straight out,
wide eyed and singing.
Into America.

JoAnna was entering a new way of life, just like the Ethiopian women. Following Jesus gives us the Hope that we can find our real selves. As Whyte suggests, we, the Princesses of the Kingdom, can like the Ethiopian woman “lift our arms, clap our hands, throw back our heads and …sing the song her children would hear when we tell the story again…”
It can be easy to allow what we ‘think’ others expect of us to dictate what we do or do not do. We can allow society or family or friends to put us in a box. Joanna was able to step out in Hope and follow Jesus, even to the cross and grave. She made the decision to follow God’s whisper in her life-she stepped onto the escalator and rose to new hope.
While it is true that she is not listed by name in the Gospels as being at the Cross and Grave, in Eastern Orthodox tradition she is venerated as one of the 8 Myrrhbearers-the women who came to the grave on Sunday morning to complete the burial rites for Jesus. We might even infer, as some scholars do, that she could have been present in the upper room at Pentecost. Or possibly she returned home to Chuza, a changed woman, to proclaim the Good News of the Resurrection in the court of Herod.
As the Children of Israel are preparing to enter the Promised Land, God, through Moses says, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” Deut. 30:19. Joanna chose life, in defiance of the societal ‘norms’. Next time, we’ll see that Salome (wife of Zebedee) did too.
How would you define ‘hope’?
Do you find yourself conforming to what is ‘expected’ of you? 

March 12, 2017

Miryam of Magdala

Last time we looked at Mary of Nazareth and her faith in saying 'yes' to God's call. Consider how difficult it would have been for Miryam of Magdala to find the faith and courage to approach Jesus to be healed of the ‘7 demons’ that afflicted her. In Luke 8:3 we learn that she is one of the women who accompanied Jesus “Mary called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.”
Over the centuries ‘the Magdalene’ has gotten a bad rap. Too often she has been associated with the ‘sinful woman’ who wipes Jesus feet with her hair. In fact, there is nothing in the Gospels to link the 2 women. Miryam of Magdala was more than likely a well-to-do woman because, we are told, she was able to “minister to [Jesus and the other disciples] out of [her] means.”
Magdala, in the time of Christ was a thriving, populous town about three miles from Capernaum on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. You can see it on the map in your handouts. The town catered to fishermen on the Sea. Dye works and textiles were also important. It is very possible that personally or through family connections, Miryam of Magdala was wealthy.
Because of the proximity to Capernum, it is certain that residents of Magdala heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Whether in Magdala or elsewhere, Mary sought him out and Jesus healed her dis-ease. After that she went with him and the other disciples. Her reputation as a harlot can be seen as the reaction of a male hierarchy to discount women, or it could be prudishness that looked at women accompanying the disciples and found fault in that action.
Christine Caine, author of the book Unashamed, was a guest author on Ann Voskamp’s blog in January. Her words echo what I think Miryam of Magdala’s ‘demons’ were. Rather than foaming at the mouth or writhing on the floor, Miryam was haunted by her sense of shame. I wonder how many of us have things in our lives that haunt us as well. Caine states:
“I didn’t only feel guilty about what I had done or the things that were being done to me, I felt fundamentally ashamed of the very person that I was. I cannot remember one time in my life where I didn’t feel this way. Shame was a constant companion for me. Maybe you felt like I did, that something you’ve done or something that has been done or said to you has made you fundamentally wrong. Maybe you still feel like you’re flawed, the very foundation of who you are is broken.”
She continues, “If so, let me share some really good news with you. God loves you! God does not reject you! God sees you as having infinite value and infinite worth…Jesus wants to heal you and not to shame you.”
That is the good news that set Miryam of Magdala free and that is the good news that we each have and can share. It is not always easy, though. Even though we may think we are too broken to be worth healing, Caine assures us, “Each of us bears a wound, a blemish, a secret, or some kind of scar from shame…You are not a shock to God. He knew what He was getting into when He chose you and me. You are the apple of His eye, the object of His affection…”
Miryam of Magdala came to Jesus with a great burden of shame and fear that made her feel like she had demons living in or with her. Miryam’s life was transformed when she said yes to Jesus’ healing. She remained faithfully in his company throughout his travels. Both Matthew and John name her as faithful, and a companion of Mary of Nazareth at the Cross.
Miryam of Magdala was persistent before it was ‘cool’. Faith is being persistent, even in the face of doubt and resistance. Of course, thanks to Elizabeth Warren the phrase became what Linda Ryan on Episcopal CafĂ© calls “a new watchword for the year. It’s become a slogan that brings a number of groups together for common good which is giving people a voice and a measure of control over their own lives, without interference from the government, or maybe even the church, or maybe a single person. We need to be persistent. Following Christ takes persistence. It’s not easy; never has been, never will be. But it’s the job we have been given. It’s an evangelical method message that we are to bring to the world and is how we are to live our lives, with persistence, with joy, and with less concern about sound doctrine than the lessons that Jesus taught us.” She says, “Time to get going on this folks. God loves the persistent, because so many of the people of the Bible exhibited persistence. Even though they didn’t get their way immediately, or have their wishes and hopes fulfilled immediately, eventually things worked out. So now it’s our turn.”  
Miryam of Magdala had faith to stand by her beloved teacher at the cross. She was even willing to take away the body if someone wanted it out of the tomb. She was blessed to see the Risen Lord. Then she had the faith to proclaim the Good news. There is a tradition/legend of Mary of Magdala that says she witnessed in Rome to Caesar, too. Because of her wealth and connections, she is invited to dinner with Tiberius Caesar. She starts to tell those present about Jesus and the Resurrection. Tiberius scoffs and says, ‘that has as much chance of being true as of this egg turning red.’ Lo and behold the hard boiled egg does turn red. This is related to another tradition that says that Mary took a basket of hard boiled eggs to the tomb so that she and the other women could have a snack. In the light of the Resurrection, the eggs turned red. This is why in iconography, Mary is often shown with a red egg, as in the handout.
Mary of Nazareth had the faith and courage to say ‘yes’ to God. Miryam of Magdala overcame ‘demons’ and distrust to faithfully witness about Jesus. Both women can encourage us to have fearless faith no matter whether we have an angelic visitor, or are in need of healing, or are just living the ‘hum-drum day-to-day life’ where nothing exciting seems to happen. It is the requirement of our Faith that we be willing to ‘be persistent’ and to take a stand for God’s Kingdom.
It would be helpful, we might think, to have the constant reassurance of a road map for our life journey so we know where to stand…Which choice to make, which path to take… A friend of mine often joked that God wasn’t sending her any neon signs pointing in the right direction. 
I think that is true for most of us. Rarely do we have angelic visitors, or neon signs. What we do have is Faith. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” says the New International Translation of the Bible. The International Standard Version expands this a little, “Now faith is the assurance that what we hope for will come about and the certainty that what we cannot see exists.” The good old KJV says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
We may not have a visible daily neon arrow saying ‘this way’. However, as Princesses of the Kingdom, when we are living the Great Commandment in faith, hope, and love, we are on the right path, even if, and when, we stumble.
What are the demons, or shame, that might keep you from stepping out in faith?
Can we tell the good news like Magdalene-unafraid of rebuke?
What faith response can we make to acts of evil in the world today?

March 5, 2017

Mary of Nazareth

The season of Lent is a time to reflect on God’s work in our lives and in the lives of saints of the past. I invite you to look at 6 women who can show us lives filled with Faith, Hope, and Love, over the next few weeks. These thoughts are based on a retreat I led the first weekend in Lent. We start with Mary of Nazareth, whose ‘yes’ to God set in motion the Incarnation.
As an unwed teenager, her ‘let it be according to your word’, set in motion the fulfillment of the Incarnation. I like the image of Annunciation by John Collier. It shows Mary as a modern teen, engrossed in a book/Bible (?) when Gabriel approaches her. I like it because it reminds me of her youth, and yet her openness to change, which is something we can learn again and again from the youth in our lives. In her modern dress, she brings the reality of her call into my day-to-day life. God comes to each of us with a call to some sort of ministry-perhaps not as dramatically as Gabriel showing up on the doorstep, but make no mistake, you and I are called to ministry. When we say ‘yes’ to God, to living out the Great Commandment in faith, hope, and love, we are bringing about further incarnation (small ‘I’) in the world.
In my book Mary My Love, which is about Mary & Joseph and the Nativity from Joseph’s point of view, Mary has to live with Joseph’s initial doubt and the difficulties of traveling to Bethlehem and then the flight to Egypt and later losing Jesus in the temple as a teenager. Like us, the day-to-day cooking, cleaning, and caring for her family probably made the visit of the angel seem like a distant memory. Like us she had to move forward making decisions about what to cook for dinner, how to feed and clothe a growing baby. Those daily tasks can seem unimportant in the call to move the Kingdom down the road. Her choices, and ours, in the little and big things do have great impact. When we grumble through our day at work or at home it leaves a trail of dis-ease. When we look for the good and offer faith, hope, and love, we are sharing the Kingdom whether it’s just with a grumpy store clerk or a hyper grandchild.
When bad things happen, it can be hard to see God’s presence. Mary’s faith assured her that God is greater than the circumstances of a paranoid leader slaughtering potential rivals, or a dangerous trek across the desert as refugees. We are still confronted by the choices of the powerful to destroy the weaker. Scenes like Aleppo, and so many other places haunt our news, even today. Anger and violence in our streets and around the world assault our security. Fear can steal our faith. However, our faith response matters. It can be hard to find and articulate and live a life that is witness to the One who is greater than evil. In the end, though, that is our call and our ministry.
And it’s not just the overt violence of the powerful that can try our faith. Sometimes it is the circumstances of our own lives that make it hard to find faith. One time in my life when my faith was tried was when I thought I had life all figured out. I was sure that my calling was to be a Sunday School teacher. Then, under ‘new management’, I was asked to relinquish my position as DRE. That struck at the core of who I thought I was, and what I thought I was called to do.
I fully relate to the Hillary Scott song Thy Will She sings “I’m so confused. I know I heard you loud and clear. So, I followed through Somehow I ended up here… I may never understand That my broken heart is a part of your plan.”
For Hillary and for me, it is true that “When I try to pray All I got is hurt and these four words: Thy will be done.” I had a long stretch of struggle before I could see that there was good to be found. And from that time, I started to write. Through it all I had to keep trying to as the song says, “Remember that you’re God And I am not.” Through the day-to-day living, we have to have faith that God, as Hillary Scott sings “I know you see me, I know you hear me, Lord Your plans are for me, Goodness you have in store.”
Mary had an angel…Most of us try to live lives of Faith, trusting that we are doing the right thing, like Thomas Merton most of us pray at least from time to time.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone
We have to live on our faith and act out of that faith even if we don’t quite know where we are going or what we are supposed to do. Where is God calling you to act this Lent?

Next week we’ll look at Miryam (Mary) of Magdala who did not have any angel. She had 7 demons according to the scriptures.

March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

From the Liturgy for Ash Wednesday, Episcopal Book of Common Prayer