Readings and reflection from Sunshine Cathedral in Second Life on Sunday, October 27, 2013.
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Call to Worship
(based on Psalm 65)
Leader: You are to be praised, O God, in Zion; to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.
ALL: Happy are they whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there!
Leader: O Hope of all the ends of the earth and of the seas that are far away.
ALL: You visit the earth and water it abundantly;
Leader: You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges;
ALL: You crown the year with your goodness, and your paths overflow with plenty.
Loving Creator we give you thanks for your goodness. We give you thanks for giving us this beautiful world within which we live. We give you thanks for your grace that finds us, a grace that often surprises us, a grace that follows us through our lives.
The Wisdom of Anne Lamott
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
2 Timothy 4.16-18
16At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for [the] heavenly kingdom. To [Christ] be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Luke 18.9-14 (NRSV)
9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, [one others call]a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Reflection by Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher
"The Ham of God"
Click on the audio bar below to hear the recording. Text follows.
The Ham of God
Our first reading today is from one of my all time s/heros Anne Lamott. She and I have a lot in common, a lot of flaws I mean. She is candid about her recovery from addiction and her spiritual journey in a real way that speaks to me. It’s often brash, seldom sappy, and takes the term “keeping it real” to a new level.
Our first reading today reminded me of my most favorite story from all of her books. It’s called the Ham of God. For those of you who have not read it I’ll give you just a little set up… It’s her birthday and she’s feeling down, blue. The portion begins as a bit of a stream of consciousness piece that is funny all on its own. She talks with her friend Tom, eats chocolates, lays on the floor… And then… she asks God to help her be helpful. She invites the grace of God into her life.
And just as our reading today says, God meets her where she is but doesn’t leave her where she is found. She goes off to the grocery store to buy her birthday dinner carrying on with the everyday things of life. Let me read just a short portion here if you will indulge me…
“I prayed: help me.
I flirted with everyone in the store, especially the old people, and I lightened up. When the checker finished ringing up my items, she looked at my receipt and cried, “Hey! Youve won a ham!”
I felt blind sided by the news. I had asked for help, not a ham. It was very disturbing. What on earth was I going to do with ten pounds of salty pink eraser? I rarely eat it. It makes you bloat.
“Wow,” I said. The checker was so excited about giving it to me that I pretended I was, too .
Wow! How great! Henny Penny! Henny Penny!
A bagger was dispatched to back of the store to get my ham. I stood waiting anxiously. I wanted to get home, so I could start caring for suffering people, or turn on CNN. I almost suggested that the checker award it to the next family who paid with food stamps. But for some reason, I waited. If God was giving me a ham, Id be crazy not to receive it. Maybe it was the ham of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
I waited ten minutes for what I began to think of as “that fucking ham.” Finally the bag boy handed me a parcel the size of a cat. I put it with feigned cheer into my grocery cart, and walked to the car, trying to figure out who might need it. I thought about chucking it out the window near a field. I was so distracted that I crashed my cart smack into a slow-moving car in the parking lot.
I started to apologize, when I noticed that the car was a rusty wreck, and that an old friend was at the wheel. We got sober together a long time ago, and each had a son at the same time. She has dark black skin and processed hair the color of cooled tar.
She opened her window. “Hey,” I said, “How are you — it’s my birthday!”
“Happy birthday,” she said, and started crying. She looked drained and pinched, and after a moment, she pointed to the gas gauge of her car. ”I don’t have money for gas, or food. I’ve never asked for help from a friend since I got sober, but I’m asking you to help me.”
“I’ve got money you can have,” I said.
“No, no, I just need gas,” she said. “I’ve never asked someone for a handout.”
“It’s not a handout,” I told her. ”It’s my birthday present.” I thrust a bunch of money into her hand, all the money I had. Then I reached into my shopping cart and held out the ham to her like a clown doffing flowers. “Hey!” I said. “Do you and your kids like ham?”
“We love it,” she said. “We love it for every meal.”
She put it in the seat beside her, firmly, lovingly, as if she was about to strap it in. And she cried some more.”
This is my perfect image of grace. And I hope you will remember the Ham of God as fondly as I do when you think of grace meeting us where we are at every moment.
Our second reading from Timothy begins with what I would call a little bit of a “poor me” tone but quickly shifts to the fruits of plugging into God’s goodness. For me this reading speaks to us of the choices we have in what thoughts we will entertain in our heads. I’ve heard it said that 100 people can tell me I’m wonderful and I discard it but if 1 tells me I’m awful I believe the one. Today I’m going to try to listen to the 100.
The gospel lesson for today is a story. It’s a parable. The two people praying the temple represent two part of each of us. It’s easy to assume that the one that is refered to as humble is the good one and that the one who is arrogant is the bad one. But let’s look a little more closely.
The Pharisee was, in fact, a pious man. He followes 613 laws that he believed were important. This practice of piety, no doubt, enhanced his spiritual discipline. Where he went over the edge is when he decided that his spiritual discipline was what everyone should be doing. The Pharisee was right to know and acknowledge the good things about himself. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating and feeling gratitude for our hard work and for our commitment. But when we look at others and judge them setting ourselves above them that is wrong.
The tax collector did not understand his own worth. He made his living off oppressing others in service of Rome. To make his living he collected taxes from his neighbors, no doubt sometimes ruthlessly. He had lost confidence in himself and could only see his faults. He is the other side of the coin with the Pharisee.
The truth is we need some of both the Pharisee and the tax collector. It’s good to work on our spiritual practice. It’s good to take care of ourselves. And it’s good to keep our humility and understand that we have no right to judge others. We don’t need to feel superior over others to create our self worth. We can have confidence in ourselves because we are a child of God, beloved, valued, important, and good enough.
When we remember who we are at our core we can have confidence in ourselves. When we really know that we are children of the living God, we can begin to understand our own belovedness. When we know who we are, we don’t have to put other people down to make ourselves seem more important.
The Pharisee is not all bad, the tax collector is not perfect. The writer of 2nd Timothy takes solice in the fact that even when our friends forsake us we are not alone. Even when things don’t go perfectly we are not a failure. Even on our darkest day we are still a beloved child of the creator of the universe.
May we all come to know our own value and value the image of God in everyone we see. What we do for a living does not define us. How we live is what creates our character and leaves us feeling at peace. May it be so for all of us this week.