Sunday, December 21, 2014

Homily at Holy Spirit Catholic Community, Christmas Day, Dec. 25th by Beverly Bingle, RCWP

Many families are traveling—
one by one they let me know,
by phone or e-mail or in person—
that they couldn’t make it to this Christmas Mass in Toledo
because they’ll be in Seattle or Tampa or Nashville or Atlanta,
where they’ll go with their parents or children or cousins
to a Catholic or Episcopalian or Lutheran or Presbyterian
or nondenominational service
where their grandchild or sister or brother or lifelong friend
is serving the Mass or reading the scriptures
or giving the sermon or distributing communion.
Remember last Christmas—
we had as we do tonight/today guests from far and wide
celebrating here with their families—
the biggest turnout of the year for our little community!
So we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth,
the baby who grew in age and wisdom and grace
to speak truth to power
and who calls us to follow his Way.
We know that the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke
were written to show truths about the Way that Jesus taught,
not to reflect historic occurrences.
So we watch the young couple travel
from their isolated village to the big city,
where they can’t find a room to stay in,
and we know the need to reach out
to the homeless, the refugees, and the immigrants in our day.
We see the baby in the manger
and know the potential of ordinary people
and the strength and wisdom of people
who lack material goods.
We see Mary and Joseph in the stable
and know the age-old love of parents for their children
and the reflection in them of God’s love for us.
We see the joy of shepherds and angels
and know that the highest and the lowest
are called to the same truth—
the truth that God is with us and in us.
Last year we heard Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth,
and next year we’ll hear Luke’s.
This year, though, we hear the beginning of John’s Gospel,
not an infancy story
but a story of God creating all that we know in a “big bang,”
a cosmic hatch of universes and all that is in them.
When John wrote his Gospel, he would not have known
of the cosmic hatch 13.8 billion years ago,
or the stardust of our expanding universe
that comes forth as us humans on this great green planet.
Yet his mystical awareness of the power of God from all eternity
gives us the true story that still works
in light of all the scientific discoveries of our time.
In the beginning was the word—God’s word—
and that word spoken by God lives in everything and everyone,
becoming alive in plants and animals and human beings,
in Jesus of Nazareth
and all of us.
All is of God.
All is holy.
And so we celebrate!
John will go on
to tell the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection,
the story of God’s loving care for all,
the story of God’s special concern for the poor and oppressed.
The story is not over.
Each time we reach out to help someone;
each time we gather with family and friends,
each time we tend the poor and downtrodden among us,
we write another chapter of John’s story of God-with-us.
So let us celebrate with great joy
that perfectly wonderful expression of God-with-us—
the one who reveals God to us,
who shows us the Way.
Knit into the rhythm of our lives from all eternity,
Christ is born again in us.

Holy Spirit Catholic Community
at 3535 Executive Parkway (Unity of Toledo)
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m.
Sundays at 5:30 p.m.

Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor

Barbara Beadles, RCWP: Similarities and Differences between Deborah- Prophet and Judge and Rosa Parks- Civil Rights Leader

Publication of Paper by Barbara Beadles, RCWP
For Global Ministries University Course: DM640 Women of the Bible
Compare a woman of the Bible with a contemporary heroine.  What are the similarities?  What are the differences?

            Stories have helped people throughout history understand the past.  Good stories help us understand ourselves. Great stories do both and help point to the future as well.
In cultures where male dominance and male superiority (or notions of superiority) exist, women’s stories remain silent. However, through modern scholarship and research some stories of the past have been revealed.  Hopefully, as the scholarship continues, many more stories will come to light. Women of the past may have been queens, prophets, government leaders, movers and shakers of culture, religion or even commerce. Their stories, once brought to our attention can serve as inspiration and guides for the women yet to be born.
            This essay will focus on two women: Deborah and Rosa Parks. Deborah was a prophet and judge chosen by YHWEH to lead the Israelites. Rosa Parks was a twentieth century American woman and descendant of former slaves who was caught up in the injustice of the Jim Crow segregation of the South in the mid-1950’s.  I briefly will examine their early lives.  Then, establish some common threads in their missions and lives. Next I will recount their differences.  Finally, I will suggest ways these two women can speak to people of the 21st century.
            Deborah was a faith-filled woman whom YHWH called to be a judge to the people of Israel.  A brief word about judges is necessary for us to understand Deborah’s powerful leadership role.  After exile from Egypt, Israel went for periods of time not following the commands of YHWH.  Each of those time periods is known as an apostasy.  There were seven apostasies.  Deborah was a judge during the third apostasy.1 Deborah was a married woman, and her husband Lappidoth, was her best supporter. 2 As judge, Deborah would hold court outside under a palm tree in the hill country called Ephraim.3
            At this time, the Israelites were in exile in the land of Canaan. The Canaanites engaged in guerrilla warfare for twenty years, giving the Israelites no peace.  Deborah devised a plan for going to war against King Jabin of Canaan and his cruel commander, Sisera.  Debora called up ten thousand soldiers of Israel from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulon.4 Israel’s leader in battle was a man named Barak.  He had a reputation for bravery, but was not at all enthusiastic about following the orders of a woman. He promised he would obey only if she went to battle with him.5 Deborah accompanied him.  The hand of YHWH sent an over-whelming storm to flood the 900 chariots of Canaan and the Israelites were victorious. Deborah had prophesied to Barak that he would not be the victor over his enemy Sisera because of his doubt in obeying YHWH.  Sisera was killed by a woman named Jael rather than by the hand of Barak. She killed Sisera using a hammer and tent peg. Barak was robbed of the victory for his doubt. Deborah, like King David, was also a poet and song-writer.  Her song and dance giving praise to YHWH, who delivered his people, was a way for the women of Israel to worship together.  Because of Deborah’s bravery and faithfulness, Israel enjoyed forty years of peace.6
            Rosa McCauley Parks was born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama.  Her mother, Leona Edwards (McCauley) was a teacher who had attended school at Payne University.7 Her father, James McCauley was a skilled carpenter and stonemason.  He abandoned the family when Mrs. Parks was a young girl in search of work.  Leona McCauley lived first with her in-laws and later moved back to the home of her parents.
            Mrs. Parks learned early in life that “white” and “colored” were worlds apart.  In her town of Pine Level, Alabama, a new school was built for the white children.  The colored children attended “a one room shack with wooden shutters and no windows.”8 Her education was supplemented by reading.  Her mother had taught Rosa to read well before she started school.  Rosa was a voracious reader9
            Mrs. Parks and her family were faithful members of their church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), known as the “Freedom church.”10 She was baptized into that faith community at the age of two.11 Her strong faith guided her throughout her adult life.  She learned from her mother and grandparents the importance of relying on God and standing up for what was right and just.12  The segregation of the South was a constant reminder that “right and just” were not for people of color.
            As a young adult, Mrs. Parks became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and served as secretary of her local chapter.  One of her most important tasks was to get people registered to vote.  Poll taxes and intimidation were two successful methods used to keep black voters from exercising their right to vote guaranteed by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Mrs. Parks also worked with the youth group of the NAACP.
            Montgomery, Alabama, where she lived with her husband, Raymond Parks, was a segregated city.  The law was “separate but equal.”13 In reality that meant if you were white, things were fine; if you were not white, things were either poor quality or non-existent.
            Mrs. Parks was a well-respected leader in the black community and her community work was her primary focus.  Her employment as a seamstress in a large department store took second place.14
            In 1954, a traveling Federal exhibition came to Montgomery.  The train car, part of the Freedom Train, carried documents from Washington, DC.  Included were the Emancipation Proclamation and a copy of the U.S. Constitution.  Since this was a Federal project, segregation laws of the state could not be enforced.  Mrs. Parks led a group of students into the exhibit using the same entrance as the white people.  Moreover, the black students were in the exhibit at the same time as the white people. 
            Before Mrs. Parks’ arrest December 1, 1955 for not moving from the seat she had taken aboard a city bus, at least three other people had been arrested for the same offense.  Their arrests had no affect on the larger community.  Rosa Parks, a respected woman of her community, known for her good works and kindness, became the spark which ignited the beginning of what came to be known as the Civil Rights Movement.16 The bus driver first yelled for her and three other passengers to get out of their seats because a white man had boarded the bus and there was nowhere for him to sit.  The other three moved, but Mrs. Parks stayed where she sat. The frustrated driver called the police.  Mrs. Parks didn’t move or speak.  The police carted her off the bus and to jail.  She was in jail for two hours. 17
             By the time she had been released from jail, the beginning of the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott of 1955 was taking shape. The strike lasted 381 days. People walked or car-pooled to work every day.  This caused a direct financial impact to the bus company.  By December 20, 1956, anyone who boarded a city bus could sit anywhere they chose.  Mrs. Parks had effected that change.  A young charismatic minister named Martin Luther King had taken over leadership of the movement and the local NAACP.  Mrs. Parks was no longer the focus of the press, but she   continued her work in the Civil Rights Movement until her death on October 24, 2005.18 President Clinton presented Mrs. Parks with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor before her death.19
            There are several common threads revealed in the study of Deborah, judge of the Old Testament, and twentieth century Rosa Parks. Both are women, who have earned the respect of their communities.  Each of them had a leadership role. They both inspired others by their actions and their actions led others to create social change. 
            After years of oppression, Deborah leads soldiers in a plan to overcome the enemies of the Israelites.  Rosa Parks also suffers the oppression of unjust laws of segregation.  Each woman relies on her unwavering faith in God.  Deborah seeks justice for her people by acting as a judge who makes fair decisions.  Rosa Parks seeks justice for her people by joining the NAACP, by educating young people and by registering people to vote.
            While there are many similarities in their lives, there are significant elements of difference. Perhaps the most obvious is the time in which each woman lived.  Several centuries have passed between the time Deborah sat under her palm tree and when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus.
            Deborah’s missions involved overcoming an enemy of Israel through warfare and bloodshed, and were unlike traditional roles for women.  She exercised leadership, master-minded the battle strategy and lead soldiers into battle.20 Rosa Parks, on the other hand, overcame the injustice of racism and segregation by using non-violent methods.  She used passive actions and education as weapons.
            Not much of Deborah’s early life is known.  Her story begins with her appointment as a judge in Israel.  Her reign is during the third apostasy after Israel fled Egypt.  Twentieth Century archaeologist William F. Albright proposes 1250-1200 BCE as the time of the Exodus event.21 Deborah would have been a judge sometime after that.
            More is known of Rosa Parks’ early life.  She was born in 1913, refused to give up her place on the city bus December 1, 1955, and died in 2005.  Historian Douglas Brinkley states “no reliable documentation exists on the early years of Rosa Louise Parks.”22
            And so, looking back over the lives of these two amazing women, we may ask, “What do their lives have to say to people of the 21st century?”
            In some ways the same problems that existed in Deborah’s time exist today.  Wars, political oppression of people and injustice are in evidence all over our globe.  Religious fundamentalism inspires fanatics to genocide and the murder of innocent people in the name of religion.  Countries trying to control the natural resources of others are at war.  People and nations who have military might want power and control and take over those less powerful nations.
            Racial relations in the United States still need improvement.  The Ku Klux Klan of the 1950’s and 1960’s causing terror and death has gone underground.  There is still evidence of inequality, particularly in poor cities, towns and rural America.  Economics and lack of education continue to be ways of segregation.
            The example of the lives of Deborah and Rosa Parks can still speak to women and men today.  Their courage and bravery stand as witness.  We are called to work for justice, to judge justly, to educate and to work for peace.  Deborah and Rosa Parks gave witness to the building of the Kingdom of God.  It is our turn, in this time and place to continue to bring the Kingdom to fulfillment.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community: Fourth Sunday of Advent with Alicia Bartol-Thomas and Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP Co-Presiders

Alicia Bartol-Thomas sings Ave Maria in preparation for our Advent Liturgy
Linda Lee Miska on piano

Meditation for Fourth Sunday of Advent: Homily Starter
"Birthing Christ Today"
Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP
Let us begin our meditation today by relaxing our bodies and breathing slowly and deeply…
Be aware of any tension in your body… breathe relaxation into this area…
As you breathe in and out be conscious of our Mothering God’s liberating, healing  presence within you ….
With St. Julian of Norwich, be aware that God is as really our Mother as God is our father...our tender Mother Jesus …gives us a glimpse of the Godhead and heavenly joy---the inner certainty of eternal bliss…

As you exhale, allow the freeing power of God’s nurturing love to flow out of you … St. Clare of Assisi, who was called the “Footprint of the Mother of God”, understood that her vocation was to be the mother of Jesus Christ, following the example of Mary.
The mystical teaching of spiritual motherhood invites us, women and men,  like Mary, to bring forth Christ in the world…
Every disciple, like Mary, is called to do the will of God…to say yes to being a Living Word of God in our world… By doing so each of us becomes a mother of Christ each day…
 In Galations 4:19 St. Paul affirms: “My little children with whom I am again in labor until Christ has become incarnate in you…

In a world where many people are frustrated and in spiritual crisis, where there is hatred, abuse and violence, get in touch with the life giving forces and loving power within you to heal,  bless and give life…
Reflect on the anxiety that Mary faced as a young, pregnant and unmarried woman…
Be aware that today US teenagers become pregnant at the rate of about one a minute 82% of teenage births are unplanned…

Imagine Mary, a poor person, a symbol of comfort, power and strength for the disinherited, coming back to earth today. What do you think she would say to you? to young pregnant women?  What would she say to us about poverty, birth control,  injustice, racism, sexism?

The medieval mystic Meister Eckhardt once said that we are all called to be mothers of God… We are called to be Mary… Be aware of ways that you called to birth the Christ Presence in our world…

Remember always that God is with you. Blessed are you…
Nothing is impossible with God…

(Recommended Reading “Bringing Forth Christ, “Feasts of the Child Jesus” St. Bonaventure translated by Eric Doyle.)

Let us close our meditation with an Advent Prayer
by Jay Murnane

Living One, you are continually creating the universe,
continually giving birth to all of us.
We sense the need to do the same,
to set ourselves free from a sense of emptiness and barren hopelessness.

The signs of our times are frightening
and often we hear only the confusing sounds of Babel -
all the lies and the anguished cries
of a wounded earth and its wounded creatures.

Your wisdom invites us to draw on our tradition,
as old as the stars,
shining through Sarah and Abraham,
shining through your prophets in every age and every culture,,
shining through
Miriam of Nazareth.
If we can blend that enlightening, enlivening tradition
with what we are,
we can risk fidelity to a dream:

Filled with your spirit, we can give birth in our day
to your living word,
for the sake of hope
enfleshed in
creativity and confrontation,
healing and reconciliation,
universal and unconditional love.

Let it be!

Dialogue Homily Questions:

1.     How can we give birth to God in the world today?
2.     What would Mary say about family planning, poverty, and the oppression of women today?
MMOJ Community Offertory Procession

MMOJ Community gathers around table to celebrate inclusive Eucharist with presiders
Alicia Bartol-Thomas and Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP
Liturgy for Advent/Christmas


Opening Song
Advent: Carol At The Manger,
Marty Haugen
Christmas: "O Come All Ye Faithful"

PresiderNurturing God, you became human in Jesus and showed us how to live life fully. You know what it means to laugh and cry, to walk and talk, to love and be loved. We know that your mothering presence is always with us. May we, like Mary, rejoice as we give birth to God within us, and may we give birth to God in everything we say and do.  ALL:  Amen.

ALL:  Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth.  O loving God, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.  O Jesus Christ, holy Child of our loving God; You fill us with joy in your presence. You who are with our God, receive our prayer.  For you alone are the Holy One; you alone are Messiah.  You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ; with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God.  Amen.

First Reading
Second Reading
Gospel Acclamation:  ALLELUIA!  (sung)
Reader: A reading from the Gospel according to ...   ALL:  Glory to you O God.
Reader:  The good news of Jesus, the Christ!
ALL:  Glory and praise to you, Jesus the Christ!
Dialogue HOMILY

Profession of Faith:  ALL:  We believe in God who is creator and nurturer of all. We believe in Jesus, the Christ, who is our love, our hope, and our light. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the breath of Wisdom Sophia, who energizes and guides us to build caring communities and to challenge injustices.  We believe in the communion of saints our heavenly friends, who support us on life’s journey.  We believe in the partnership and equality of women and men in our church and world.  We believe that all are one in the community of creation. We believe that God who calls us to live fully, love tenderly, and serve generously.  Amen.

Presider:  For a deeper coming of Christ in our world, let us pray.  
Response: Nurturing God, hear us.
Presider:  That we may experience the coming of God anew in our lives, we pray.  R.  Presider:  That people who suffer from destitution and despair may experience the mothering comfort of God we pray.  R.
Presider:  That the sick and suffering may receive the nurturing, healing love of God, we pray.  R.  Presider:  That those who have died may rest in God's eternal embrace, we pray.  R.
(Other Intentions)

Presider:  Blessed are you, God of all life, through your goodness we have bread, wine, all creation, and our own lives to offer. Through this sacred meal may we become your new creation. 
ALL:  Blessed be God forever.
Presider:  God is with you.  ALL: And also with you.  Presider:  Lift up your hearts.  ALL:  We lift them up to God.  Presider:  Let us give thanks to our God.

Voice One:  Mothering God, you brought forth all creation from your Life-Giving Womb. O Love of the Ages, we praise you and leap for joy in your presence.

Voice Two: Holy One of ancient Israel, you revealed yourself in Mary's womb, in a shining star, in humble shepherds, in a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. You embrace us with infinite love in every situation and relationship. You dwell in the depths of our hearts.

Voice Three: We invite you this day to deepen our awareness of your boundless love as we gather around the table of abundant life. With grateful hearts, we proclaim your praise:

ALL:  Holy, Holy, Holy, Creator of heaven and earth.  All beings are pregnant with your glory. Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed are you who  dwell in all things. Hosanna in the Highest.

Voice FourPraise to you, all-giving God, born of Mary. You are the body and blood of woman. We glorify you, nurturing God for the dawning of the sacred promise of God's Anointed, fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ.

Voice Five: We celebrate the birth of Jesus, our newborn Emmanuel , who came to give us the fullness of life. During this holy season we share the bread of freedom and lift the cup of salvation.  

(raise hands toward bread and wine for Invocation of the Holy Spirit)
All:  Come Holy Spirit deepen your Presence within us and in these gifts of bread and wine, that they may become the Body of Christ.
Presider:  As Jesus gave birth to the New Covenant, he took bread, gave thanks, broke the bread, and shared it with all those present saying:
ALL: Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body.
PresiderThen Jesus took a cup of wine, blessed you, Loving God,  shared the cup with all those present saying:
ALL: Take this all of you and drink from the covenant, poured out for you and for everyone. Do this in memory of me.
Presider:  Let us proclaim the sacred presence of our nurturing God:
ALL: Christ, by your life, death and rising, you have blessed us with abundance that will never end.

Second Invocation of the Holy Spirit: (Place hands on each other's shoulder)
All: God of all people, You call us "beloved." Give us courage to accept your faith in us and to live your compassion in the world. You infuse us with Sophia, Holy Wisdom, to serve you in the last and the least.

Voice Six:  As we wait with joyful hearts for the fulfillment of your loving presence in our lives, we remember the prophet,martyrs and saints who have gone before us: Deborah, Isaiah, Mary of Magdala, Peter, Martha, Bishop Oscar Romero, Ita Ford, Maura Clark, Jean Donovan and all those we remember as heros and heroines in our church who inspire us today. (Community names mentors whom they want to remember, living and dead. This list is only partial. Each community needs to create their own according to custom and culture.)
Voice Seven:  God of our dreams, may we give birth to the Word Made Flesh in us everyday. May we give birth to the church of our dreams and hopes. May we give birth to a deep reverence for earth and live in harmony with all creatures on the earth.

ALL:  Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ, all praise and glory are yours, Holy God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

ALL:  Our Father and Mother ...

Presider:   Let us join hands and hearts and pray for peace in our world as we sing “Peace is flowing like a River”, love, joy, alleluia…., or other suitable hymn

ALL:   Loving God, You call us to speak truth to power.  We will do so.  Loving God, You call us to live the Gospel of peace and justice.  We will do so.  Loving God, You call us to be Your presence in the world.  We will do so. 

Presider:   This is Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, loving us forever. All are invited to partake of this sacred banquet of love.  ALL: May we be who we are the Body of Christ.   
Presider:  Let us share the Body of Christ with the Body of Christ!   ALL:  Amen.

Sing a favorite Advent or Christmas song such as "Silent Night" or "Away in the Manger" etc.


Birthing a new creation.
What are we birthing?
Wisdom and justice,
Peace and compassion,
Concern for all God’s little ones,
For the homeless and the destitute,
The hungry, and all who bear the brunt
Of indifference and oppression.

What are we birthing?
A deep respect for our planet ,
Its windsong and its waters,
Its topsoil and its forests,
And a oneness with the wilderness
That is image of our soul.
What are we birthing?
An unbreakable bond in the Spirit
That binds as one - all brothers and sisters,
Transcending class, color, culture,
Religion, race and gender.

(adapted from A Psalm of Bringing to Birth by Miriam Therese Winter in WomanWord )

PresiderGod of new beginnings, thank you for nourishing us in your sacrament. May your tender presence continue to open our hearts to the daily miracles of life that surround us each day, through Emmanuel, God-with-us.
ALL: Amen.

Presider:  Our God is with you.
ALL:  and also with you. 

(everyone please extend your hands in mutual blessing)
ALL:  May our loving God fill us with radiant joy.  May our liberating God fill us with  deep peace, and may our compassionate God bless us always with strength to serve the broken and excluded.  Amen.

Presider:  Let us birth Christ anew in our world today. Go in the peace of Christ.  ALL:   Thanks be to God.

Advent: "0 Come, 0 Come Emmanuel" , Joy to the World, Go tell it on the Mountain

Bridget Mary Meehan
Association of Roman Catholic Woman Priests

Homily:" Who do you think you are?" by Deacon Annie Watson ARCWP

Who do you think you are?
John 1:6-8, 19-28; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
December 14, 2014
Annie Watson. ARCWP

This Sunday’s Gospel lesson from John is virtually a repeat of last Sunday’s Gospel lesson from Mark. We find John the Baptizer out in the Judean wilderness baptizing people in the Jordan River. Unlike Mark’s gospel, however, John writes about an interesting conversation between John the Baptizer and some priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem to question him.
The question they have is simple and direct, “Who are you?”
Why this question? Did they simply want to know his name? Maybe, but more importantly they wanted to know why he thinks he can keep doing what he’s doing, namely, offering a ritual cleansing, a way for people to experience God’s forgiveness in a place other than the Temple in Jerusalem.
So their question is more like, “Who do you think you are?” This is not a polite question. This is an antagonistic question. As people from my previous home state of Kentucky might say, “These are fightin’ words!”
John the Baptizer understood the deeper question, which is “Do you think you are the Messiah?” Messiah wannabe’s were a dime a dozen in those days. I’m sure the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem was getting a bit tired of stamping out Messiah rumors. Unlike the vast majority of the people in that day, the religious elite in Jerusalem didn’t want a Messiah to show up and spoil their party!
John knew this was their real concern, so he says flatly, “I am not the Messiah.” Well then, who are you? Who do you think you are? What gives you the right to do what you are doing out here? Do you think you are the reincarnation of Elijah, the greatest prophet in Israel’s distant past? No, says John. Well then, who are you? We need an answer so we can tell those who sent us out here to this god-forsaken place.
Quoting Isaiah, John says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight our God’s road!’”
Okay, well, that’s a nice piece of scripture, but seriously, what gives you the right to engage in an unauthorized religious ritual out here away from the Temple. You realize the Temple authorities are getting a little upset at how you are stealing some of their flock. If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or some other super-prophet, then who the heck are you? Why are you baptizing people? Come on now, we need an answer!
John continued to be a bit coy in his response: “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” Was Jesus standing there listening to all of this?
Here’s why they are angry: John the Baptizer had started an alternative religious community, one that thumbed its nose at the recognized institutional face of religion in that time and place.
Does that sound familiar?
This raises the question for those of us in our own alternative religious communities in the 21st century: Who do we think we are? What gives us the right to do what we are doing? That’s a good question, and there’s really only one good answer, an answer written in the book of Isaiah about six centuries before John the Baptizer and Jesus appeared on the scene.
Here’s the answer: “The Spirit of Exalted YHWH is upon me, for YHWH has anointed me.” That’s what gives us the right to do what we are doing.
Religious groups all have their various ways of validating a person’s ministry. As Catholics, we are validated by apostolic succession and the laying on of hands. That is, presumably our validation goes all the way back to St. Peter. We also go through a vetting process, acquire a theological education, and undergo psychological tests to make sure we are of sound mind.
As people in an alternative Catholic community, we can have the Church’s blessing or we can excommunicate ourselves by going through an ordination process, but when it comes right down to it, the only thing that matters is whether or not the spirit rests upon us. The only thing that matters is whether or not God has anointed us to do God’s work.
This applies not just to those of us who wear robes and stoles. It applies to all of us because all of us are in ministry. My husband, a Protestant minister, informed me that some congregations in his tradition like to list “all the people” as ministers of the congregation.
In some ways, this is the dirty little secret the religious elite in such places as the Vatican and other religious institutional headquarters don’t want us to know, that we are all anointed to do God’s holy work, to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners. We have all been called to comfort those who mourn. We are all validated.
What John the Baptist encountered at the edge of the River Jordan is what we in our own contemporary alternative religious communities encounter every day: the questions and suspicions and lack of validation from the headquarters of those who are in power.
And although we know deep down in our souls that we have been anointed by God’s spirit to do what we are doing, perhaps our response to our critics should be as coy as John the Baptizer’s response: “I baptize with water. Among you stands, however, one whom you do not know.”
This begs the question: Do we recognize Jesus when he’s in a crowd of neglected faceless and nameless people? That is why people were coming out to John at the River Jordan in the first place. They had been neglected by the traditional religious institution of that day.
This is a great text for our alternative religious communities because it reveals that even as time marches on and history produces so much change, some things never change at all. There will always be those in power who are suspicious of anyone who tries to provide an alternative route to God’s peace, love, hope, and joy.
So, can we show as much or more compassion as those who enjoy traditional institutional validation? That’s our challenge and our calling. The Spirit of God is upon us because God has anointed us . . . to enlarge our circle of compassion to include those who are sometimes neglected by traditional religious institutions.
This is especially true as we now find ourselves waste deep in the waters of the holiday season. It’s very easy to lose sight of our calling to do God’s work because the jingle bells often muffle the voice of God and the decorating and gift giving frenzy often obscure the plight of those who may not have the means to enjoy the festivities.
In other words, it is very easy to be neglectful during the holidays. There are those who suffer from loneliness with much more severity than usual at this time of the year. There are those who can’t be home for Christmas, for whatever reason, maybe because they are locked up in one of our many prisons.
The neglected, the unnamed crowds of faceless people are out there, and our alternative communities have surely been called to serve them, and yet we sometimes get so wrapped up in our own Christmas joy that we forget those who do not have the option of joy. Let’s not let that happen this year.
So, who do we think we are? We are nothing more and nothing less than those on whom the Spirit of God rests, humble people who have been anointed to bring peace, love, hope, and joy to others.
It’s a simple calling, really, but like John the Baptist at the River Jordan, it is a calling to nourish the dry spirits of those who have journeyed through the wilderness.
And by the way, none of us are worthy enough to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals.