Hope Advent Reflection

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By Mary Ellen Mitchell

Often when we speak of religious or churchy terms like hope, faith or joy (the kinds of words we use a lot during Advent) we need to remind ourselves that, in some mysterious way, there are two worlds that we live in at the same time.

You’re thinking “she’s crazy.” But let me use a metaphor I know my kids are familiar with. In Harry Potter Harry usually lives between the land of muggles and the land of wizards. There are muggle things like telephones that make no sense to wizards and wizard things like Quiddich that make no sense to muggles—though he can see and understand them both. Both worlds exist, sometimes right alongside each other, but only a few special people know about it. When we read about the possibility of this other wizard world and imagine that it could be just on the other side of the subway wall, our minds are captivated. Each book that Annie and I have read, and we’ve been at it on and off for about a year, have been page turners!

What if there’s another world that God created and wanted. In that world there is no death, no racism, no sexism, no hunger, no homelessness, no loneliness. This Advent season the older kids and I have put aside Harry Potter and traded it for Bible stories. It’s one way that we’ve been making room for Jesus in our lives. We’ve been reading a children’s Bible and the story we started with told us about another world. Kids, do you remember the world that Adam and Eve lived in? Can you tell us about it?

The story of Adam and Eve might be the most important story in the Bible, because it’s the story that tells us that God is really good. When we grapple with all of the bad in our world sometimes we ask  “Why did God make it this way?” But the Garden of Eden myth tells us that God didn’t—actually we, human beings make choices every day and many of those choices are bad ones. It was choice, not design, that ended paradise. This story, more than a definite happening of history, is a story that helps us understand the world at a deeper level. Versions of it exist in many cultures, and I’d go as far as to say it’s tells us something about the very heart of what it means to be a human.

So here’s where Hope comes in, and why it’s important to understand that Hope is a uniquely religious word. It’s a word that only makes sense if God is real. Our deepest hope, our one true hope, is that what’s broken about this world we live in won’t always be. After Adam and Eve made a bad choice, the word Hope came about. Prior to the bad choice, the separation from God, there was no need for hope because all things were right. Hope is a word that’s dependent on God because if there is no real possibility of a world without brokenness, than much of what we work and pray for here at Lydia’s House isn’t Hope at all, it’s just a wish dream.

Remember when I started this talk and said it’s important to know that 2 worlds co-exist. Those worlds are not muggles and wizards. Actually one of those worlds is God’s hoped for reality and the other is just normal or not so great. In God’s reality we have to talk about hope all the time. We hope that all people are housed, we hope that wars end, we hope that everyone can get good health care and healthy food. These hopes are important because they are like a map for what to do next if we want to follow God. In the other world – the just normal or not so great one- we don’t use the word hope or we shouldn’t. We have wishdreams in that world: wishdreams that we might win the lottery and just have so much money we can forget about the world’s problems, wish dreams that a better president would have fixed all the broken ness while we look at Facebook, wish dreams that people alone without God can figure this out. Hope gives us life; wishdreams can take us down paths that end in not much happening, or even in disillusionment.

So hope is a uniquely God centered word. And hope is a word that we talk about in Advent especially because in addition to hope being something that helps us wake up each day and keep on working with God to bring God’s world to the forefront, hope was embodied in Jesus. Each day that we light the candles of advent and count the days, it’s not just toward opening presents, it’s a way that we stand with all people in history who looked for a coming Messiah, a ruler who would bring us back to paradise. Jesus is the embodiment of Hope not because we’re now living in the Garden of Eden but because we saw in his life what our lives should look like if we are really co-workers and friends with God. And even without him physically present in the world, we are guided by his spirit in prayer. Prayer is like our blue print for next steps in building the world that God wants, sometimes against the normal or not so great world that often is at the forefront.

And finally we talk about Hope in advent, because like our ancestors who waited and longed for the birth of Christ, we know that the world we have now isn’t the end of the story. Loving and being in relationship with Jesus fuels our hope that, one day, we will forget completely about the not so great—the world of wars, of hunger, of sadness and death and actually the better world, God’s world, will be all that there is. Some people call this the second coming, some people call this the Kingdom or Kin’dom of God, some people call this heaven. What we know for sure is that as long as people have been around, we’ve all sensed—even if we never read the story of Adam and Eve—that there’s more out there than just a broken world. It’s not just a good thing about being a Christian, but it’s our job, to hold onto hope and to look for signs of God’s world breaking into this world, and to listen and pray for God’s blue print, so we can do our part as we wait expectantly for what God will do next.

Freedom Advent Reflection

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By Marykate Glenn

Freedom was the topic for our second week of advent reflection. On Sunday afternoon, before our advent dinner, I went downtown to a prayer circle gathering to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on unceded Native land and through locations that risk the contamination of drinking water, Lake Oahe, and the Missouri River. It was organized by the American Indian Movement chapter of Indiana/Kentucky and supported by Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati and many other groups supporting the activists at Standing Rock. I witnessed leaders and activists with different backgrounds, different issues, from different states, articulating the inter-connectedness of their struggles to the crowd gathered to pray together. I was moved to witness people sharing their stories of both soaring collective power together and the crushing brutality at the hands of law enforcement in North Dakota. I was moved to witness the solemn affirmations of solidarity made between different groups with a common commitment to stand for the rights and well-being of people over profit and over systemic racism.

The circle of over 50 people were shocked, jubilant, and tearful around 4 pm that day when the word spread that DAPL construction had been halted for the time being by the Obama administration and Army Corps of Engineers. In the same moment that tears of joy were flowing, the affirmations of commitment to one another and all affected continued in the recognition that this was indeed a victory, but not the end of the struggle by any means. This gathering struck me as different from many other rallies I’ve witnessed- in the weight of people committing themselves to support one anothers’ struggles, the recognition that none of us are free until all of us are free.

Advent Reflection on Hospitality

The word Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus”, which means “coming.” The season of Advent is the church’s way of getting ready for the birth of Jesus into this world, which we celebrate on Christmas Day. Advent just so happens to occur in this part of the world during the darkest time of the year, when the days are shortest and nights are longest. There’s a very real sense of the world getting quieter and settled before the amazing entry of Christ.

Advent at its best also provides us time to reflect on our life as Christians, and how our faith transforms the way we go through our lives. In each Advent sharing we’ll focus on a particular topic that is informed by our faith, and tonight I want to talk about the practice of hospitality.

 

Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ

At its simplest, hospitality is the act of sharing with another. You can practice hospitality at a dinner table. You can practice hospitality by sharing space with a friend or stranger. Hospitality is not limited in who can do it…as long as you have something to share, you can be hospitable. I’ve even seen hospitality practiced in the post office line, when strangers start sharing smiles and end up sharing recipes and phone numbers. Hospitality is about making people feel welcomed and at home, even if they’re not at home.

I want to use the story of what happened with Jesus’ birth as our frame of reference for this sharing. Let’s read from the gospel of Luke, chapter 2:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

My views on hospitality, and my imagining of this story, have changed over the years I have been with Lydia’s House. For the first thirty-odd years of my life I maintained a feeling of indignation toward all of those with guest rooms who didn’t welcome Mary and her family in the making. How in the world could you turn away a pregnant woman, even if you didn’t have any room available? Couldn’t you have made space for one so vulnerable, even if it meant sacrificing your own bed?

Now, having provided hospitality to many over the last few years, I have taken to imagining the barn was the best offering the property owner had. Perhaps there was sickness in the house, or every bed was filled with a pregnant woman, or he was caring for his elderly mother who was in the guest room. I don’t know why the barn was offered, but I like to imagine it was out of a place of compassion. And God accepted the offering and essentially said, “I can work with this.”

Wherever we start with our offerings, God can work with it. No matter how humble or less-than-polished, God can take it and fill it with holiness.

Just because it looks rough and it’s all we have, we don’t need to hold it back. God can work with it.

And when we offer what we have, we get the gifts that come from hospitality. Most often these gifts come to me in the form of the exclamation, “I didn’t know!” Imagine the spectacle that followed Jesus’ birth, with all sorts of stars and far off folks gathering near to celebrate this baby. The property owner had no idea any of this was doing to happen, obviously, but he got to be surprised. He got to meet God in human form, got to have his expectations completely upended. For the rest of his life he got to tell the story of baby Jesus and hear of the wonders that followed.

Hospitality gives us the gift of having our own expectations upended. Before life at Lydia’s House there were many things I thought I understood: how babies come into the world, how children grow, the experience of young women living in Cincinnati, and so forth. How many times through the years have I had the joy of exclaiming, “I had no idea!” I have had good, patient teachers, community members willing to have me along for the ride in my unknowing. I didn’t know by positioning myself to do the work of hospitality I would have my expectations defied so frequently, but for the rest of my life I get to tell the stories about how the things I believed did not match the ways of God at work in the world.

I feel it only right, however, to warn that the work of hospitality is frequently met with hostility. The gospel story goes on to say in the time following Jesus’ birth the ruler of that area is alarmed to hear about Christ. He does not want his place in the world threatened by this little baby, so he arranges to see to it that no boy babies of this age are left in his territory. The thought of losing control is so great to this ruler that many families suffered great loss to prevent it from happening.

If you are doing hospitality work, and doing it in a big way, people in charge will feel threatened by it. If you are one of the people in power, there’s a good chance that you like things just the way they are. The work of hospitality, of making strangers friends, has real power to it. If too many strangers become friends they may decide to work together to make big changes, to make sure, for example, that there are guest rooms enough for every pregnant woman, or that government decisions that dramatically worsen the lives of families are not good ones. This feels very threatening to people who do not want our world to change, who fear that which they do not know.

So know, when you are doing the work of hospitality, that powerful people opposing you does not mean your work is not of God. There may be repercussions that you did not foresee, and you and those you love may face hardship as a result of welcoming the stranger. But let us take heart knowing that a much greater risk of persecution awaited those who welcomed Christ, and yet the hope and joy He introduced to the world far outweighed the cost. So let us boldly continue our work of making strangers into friends, of having our worlds upended, of meeting Christ in human form. Thanks be to God.

After The Election

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From the Lydia’s House Community, co-authored by Marykate Glenn and Mary Ellen Mitchell
Leading up to and following the election, we’ve been unsettled by the story of Zacchaeus from the Bible; unsettled recognizing in the character of Zacchaeus his modern day equivalents around us. As a tax collector Zacchaeus was notorious for extorting money from the poor on behalf of the Roman Empire. In Zacchaeus we see those who today believe they can profit from ever growing militarization, mass incarceration, destruction of natural resources, and on and on. Zacchaeus was also a Jewish man who turned against his own people for a taste of Roman power and influence.  Today, we see those who would turn against their own neighbors for the sake of hoped for personal gain or inclusion in our modern empire. While we’re troubled by Zacchaeus as tax collector, admittedly we’re even more unsettled by how quickly and completely his conversion happens, from self-serving greed to joyful self-giving. Like those grumbling in the crowd around Jesus and Zacchaeus, we question – do we believe this kind of change can happen?

When Jesus walks by and notices Zacchaues, a short man who has climbed a tree for a glimpse of this mysterious prophet and healer,  Jesus says “Zacchaeus, come down and have me over for dinner tonight.” And right there beneath the tree, Zacchaeus starts giving away his money and says to Jesus “Look lord, I’m repaying back four times the amount I’ve taken from others.”

Dinner seems like an appropriate follow up for a life turnaround. At Lydia’s House it is the center of community. Indeed, it’s at dinner where small and large conversion and conversation happen. In the wake of our nation’s uprising of anti-woman, anti-immigrant and white nationalist sentiment, we’ve wondered together over beans and rice or meatballs, “Can we be a table of conversion for not only poor women in need of a better path, but also for ourselves and those around us who resemble Zacchaeus?” In effect, do we at Lydia’s House believe in change, even as we’ve preached it to women in crisis for almost 3 years now?

 

The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19 immediately follows the stories of the rich young ruler and of the blind beggar who receives his sight. In the first story, the rich young ruler is clearly drawn to what he sees in Jesus, but goes away sad. To follow Jesus and enter the kingdom of God he would have to give away his wealth, and he is not willing. In the next story, the man who is blind and begging on the road to Jericho is the one who “sees” Jesus for what he is, and is persistent in asking for healing. Jesus tells the man his faith has healed him, restoring his physical sight. The man immediately and joyfully follows and enters the kingdom.

Wealthy Zacchaeus, like the beggar, wanted to see. He wanted to get a look at Jesus- the One proclaiming good news to the poor, sight for the blind, freedom for the captives and oppressed. And Jesus meets Zacchaeus’ desire to see with an invitation to relationship in the kingdom- to sit and eat together. At this, all the people who know this wealthy man and can’t stand him are scandalized that Jesus would eat with such a sinner. Perhaps they can’t fathom that Zacchaeus would ever truly change. But he does- Jesus hasn’t even come under his roof yet and Zacchaeus is ready to follow the One who came to be with the poor and the outcast. He intuitively knows that it’s his money accumulated at the expense of others keeping him from relationship with others in the kingdom. Therefore, giving it away and making restitution allows him to enter into Jesus’ kingdom where the first are last and last are first.

Somehow, this narrative of conversion is more scandalous to our ears than the story of a blind man’s sight restored. Especially in this time following the election of Donald Trump, hearing of the appointment of Steve Bannon and others to power. We are inundated with messages from these bombastic figures with political power- messages so counter to the kingdom message Jesus preached and lived. These messages tell us

“Blessed are the rich, for they can do whatever they want to others and the earth”.

But the Kingdom of God that Jesus brings to life in the world says “Blessed are the poor, theirs is the kingdom of God.”

A culture of war and violence says “Blessed are the powerful who show no mercy and use torture against their brothers. No mercy to the poor, to women and children, the homeless, victims, outcasts, enemies, refugees, the hungry, the undocumented, those on death row, those who are different, those we don’t like.”

But we are called to let the Kingdom of God become incarnate in our lives together. We believe blessed are the lowly and the merciful, they will inherit the earth, they will be shown God’s mercy.

The first Sunday after the election Marykate was blessed to hear this message at a Norwood neighborhood church: (paraphrased) We will not see the Kingdom of God brought about or imposed through our governments, rather we as Christians are to collectively display the kingdom as God’s people, so that we testify to the way of Christ.

Especially right now, we all must be the incarnate kingdom of God in the world that “Zacchaeus” will want to get a better view of. And so we live in expectation knowing that despite the worst efforts of Trumps and Bannons, God’s reign is among us. And we live in active expectation, knowing that our calling here at Lydia’s House is to pray, work for the betterment of poor women and children, get on the phone and on the streets, showing the Zacchaeus’ in our midst that’s there’s a Kingdom down here and it’s a beautiful place to be.

 

 

 

The Woman at the Well

Each month we worship together in order to share life in a deeper way, share the core community’s  faith in Jesus, and give guests and former guests an opportunity to learn about the Bible in a setting that’s familiar to them. In July, Meridith offered the sermon, reflecting on the Samaritan woman at the well, and the surprising encounter she had with Jesus. The full text of the scripture is below, followed by her sermon.

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Jesus and the Woman of Samaria

Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Today we’re going to talk about Jesus as a stranger who was thirsty. The Gospels, or the books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible, have lots of stories about Jesus wandering around and striking up conversations with strangers. This particular conversation is one of my favorites, not just because of what is said, but also because of who the conversation is with. It’s so startling that the scripture goes on to say when the disciples came back with the food they were “astonished” by what they saw, so let’s talk about what made this meeting at the well so surprising.

Imagine, if you will, the hottest part of a 95 degree day, maybe about noon. This was the day Jesus was traveling in, and it was lunchtime. His friends left him at a well while they went to get lunch, and Jesus was hot, tired, and thirsty.

Now imagine that a woman comes along to get water from the well where Jesus is waiting. It seems a strange thing to come and get heavy water during the hottest part of the day, doesn’t it? She’s going out at that time because she doesn’t want to run into anyone, for reasons we’ll discuss. She’s heading out to the well when she’s pretty certain no one will be there, and who does she find but this strange man hanging out by himself. He doesn’t have anything to get water with and he looks dusty and tired.

It’s not hard for me to imagine her inner thoughts. “I’m just going to run to the well real quick, I’ll be there and back in no time. Wait, who’s that guy? Please don’t let him talk to me, please don’t le
t him talk to me. Oh, here we go.”IMG_0352

What is the first thing Jesus asks of this woman? For a drink. And how does she answer? She essentially says “You’re asking ME for a drink? You know your kind isn’t supposed to drink after my kind.”

You see, Samaritans and Jews were different types of people. The two groups hated each other so much that they couldn’t even share things without being afraid they’d get polluted by one another.

I once had a friend who had AIDS, which is a hard to live with disease that stays with you your entire life. It’s hard to give it to someone else, but people don’t always understand how you get it. My friend told me her family worried they’d get polluted by her, so whenever she visited they gave her a paper plate and a plastic fork to eat with, even though you can’t catch AIDS by sharing silverware.

So this woman at the well, she’s been told her whole life that by being born a Samaritan she’ll pollute any Jewish person who shares with her. She thinks she’d better remind Jesus of this fact, to make sure he knows the mistake he’s asking her to help him make.

Far from drawing back his request, Jesus flips it on its head. He suggests that she should ask him for water, to which she sensibly replies, “Umm, you don’t have anything to get water with.” Jesus goes on to say that the living water He’s able to give will satisfy at a deeper level than the water that comes out of the well, and the woman is interested in receiving this water.

Now, remember in the beginning of the story that the woman was out at the hottest part of the day? Why was she trying to avoid all the other Samaritans in this city? She wasn’t going to pollute them, but there’s yet another part of her story that wouldn’t immediately be known by a typical stranger.

Jesus quickly and cleanly reveals his knowledge of her background with his request. Who does Jesus ask the woman to go get? Her husband. And does she have a husband? No. What does Jesus tell the woman about her background? That she’s had five husbands, and the man she now lives with is not her husband.

It’s important for us to remember that the number of husbands the woman had was not her choice. In that day if you were a woman you didn’t get to choose your husband. You were property to be passed around, much like a car. If you’re a car that has had five owners it’s not your fault. Yet if you’re that car the story of your life has been one of transition and uncertainty.

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It is likely this woman was avoiding her neighbors at the well because they treated her unkindly. Maybe the woman couldn’t have children, so her husbands kept leaving her. We don’t know why so many of her relationships had ended, but we do know she goes on to tell her neighbors that Jesus “told her everything she had ever done.” This story of failed relationships was the story told about her, and the story she defined herself with. “That’s the woman with all those ex husbands,” said the other women when she came to the well. Better to go when it’s hot and avoid the whispers and raised eyebrows.

So that’s why it’s amazing to me (and also to that woman) how Jesus ends the conversation. This woman, who has known so much shame and scorn, who doesn’t even get named in the scriptures, she is the only one in the entire Bible to whom Jesus comes right out and says, “I am the Messiah.” He doesn’t deny it when his disciples guess later, but to this woman alone He volunteers his identity.

This story to my reading is full of so much love. Jesus sees this woman coming and understands her longing. When she reminds Him that He shouldn’t share with her he tosses that aside. He anticipates her second shame, the shame of her failed marriages, and tosses that aside too. He reassures her that eternal life is available to her, just as she is, and shares with her the Good News that the Messiah is right before her, looking her in the eye and inviting her into this new kind of love.

Jesus invites us all today too. Here’s what I imagine Jesus’ invitation to look like for many of us:

Mary Ellen: Would you like a drink?

Me: Well, I’m not sure I should. I’ve had all sorts of relationships that didn’t work out.

Mary Ellen: Would you like a drink?

Me: Ah, I don’t know. I’ve abused my body in the past with drugs and alcohol.

Mary Ellen: Would you like a drink?

Me: This may cost too much. A better person would have more in savings by now.

Mary Ellen: Would you like a drink?

Me: I haven’t done enough good in the world. I’m not sure I deserve to be thirsty.

To Jesus, the reasons we give for our reluctance to accept the love He offers are ridiculous. He knows all about us, knows everything we’ve ever done, and is still offering us living water. Friends, we don’t have to do or be anything different before accepting that water, and it is the only water that will satisfy our deepest longings. Jesus is the ladle and is welcoming each and every one of us to the well.