-Rev Melissa Fain-
23 I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. 24 After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” 25 He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” 26 Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes.
1 Cor 11:23-26 CEB
I love communion. It is the richest symbol in the Christian tradition. I just don't think we fully understand how backwards it must of felt to the Disciples. Scripture told them Jesus was the mighty warrior Christ, come to smite all those against Israel.
Communion happened during Passover. Passover is a sacred meal. It was a reminder of the last plague in Egypt where the Spirit of God literally passed over the Israelite home while killing the first born of the Egyptian families. All they had to do was sacrifice a lamb and put it's blood by the door. That's the God these Disciples were looking for. They wanted to be excluded from the pain, while pain was being wrought on their enemies.
Then he said those words. Bread is Jesus' broken body? What does that mean? This cup is sacrificial blood? Jesus! Please no! God should be the one smiting the enemies, not becoming the blood at the doorway!
I get agitated, angry, and/or arrogant sometimes. Communion is my reset button. Communion is a reminder that I don't always get it. Maybe I get ahead of myself, or lose perspective. I forget that my forms of servitude were set free by the sacrificial blood painted on the door to my escape. Then I come to the table, not as a sinless child of God, but as a repentant one.
I still don't think the Disciples got it, even after the symbol was first enacted. They wouldn't get it until everything was said and done. That's later. Now we sit with the scandalous truth. God is Communion.
Pray with me:
Dear Lamb of God, As you break, mend me. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was making more disciples and baptizing more than John (2 although Jesus’ disciples were baptizing, not Jesus himself). 3 Therefore, he left Judea and went back to Galilee.
John 4:1-3 CEB
I buried my head in my hands as I contemplated what to write. Outside, the night continued. The dawn just around the corner, but our piece of Earth remained dark and cold. Was there room for jokes? Could I lighten this just a bit? After all, it was Wednesday. Holy week doesn't fully begin until Maundy Thursday. Right?
The seriousness of it all was taking hold. This really was the point of no return. The seat belts have been buckled. we've been given a go, and now we are headed for our first drop. The click-click-click of the roller coaster car a constant reminder of what's coming. Was that excitement or fear making my heart beat a little faster? I couldn't tell.
We all have those moments of no return, and the realization of what they mean. On the Wednesday before Easter it means God is not winning. The Pharisees had been playing a deadly game with Jesus since he rode into Jerusalem. In the middle of the week we have our pivot point. Jesus has been able to avoid falling into those traps. The Pharisees are going to get what they want.
The very people tasked with keeping God safe and secure, are the ones who are doing it. But destroying this Jesus character is for the best. He was too radical. He didn't really understand the law. He couldn't hear when told there are times and places for these things. The people will understand, eventually. It had to be done...
Careful. This is not a game we want to to win. God is not the winner.
Pray with me:
Dear God, Loss is not an easy idea for me to wrap my head around, but if you are there,.. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Looking up, Jesus saw rich people throwing their gifts into the collection box for the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow throw in two small copper coins worth a penny. 3 He said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than them all. 4 All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4 CEB
That King Herod was a great guy, wasn't he? Oh, he wasn't? Are you sure? If I remember my history, he was the one who rebuilt the temple after the Babylonians destroyed it so many years before.. Doesn't that put him in the good category?
One of the key points of our faith is the journey. Change is only meaningful if there is a path we take to get there. However, we live in an impatient culture, a culture that does not honor hard work. Immediate gratification, and those who can obtain it, are societal celebrations.
(Here's where I upset a nice large group of people. To be clear, I understand I've upset several for the last few months. I'm pretty sure this is where I'm going to upset those who haven't been upset yet.)
When we give our journey to government, we've failed. Of course there are exceptions, but please play this out with me.
Herod failed because he was an all around terrible guy. He was all about himself, to the point that he named his own children (male and female) after himself. The Israelite people failed because they gave the sacred duty of rebuilding the temple over to the Roman Government instead of doing it themselves. Herod was allowed to look like a hero while tainting the sacred space of God's home. Rome now had a foot hold in something that didn't belong to them. The symbol for their government was at the entrance to God's home.
I know the frustration. If a group of people are not going to help the least of these willingly. It's far too easy to then find the next steps to force them to help. It completely destroys the journey to get straight to the outcome.
I'm far more radical than I often let on. I believe Church, and other religious and social organizations, are the best givers of social assistance. (When they are actually doing such things.) These groups know the needs of their community, and can meet them faster than any government program.
Now- would I suggest we cut all social government programs tomorrow and give it to the community? No. We're lazy. We've given the temple to Herod, and now there's a red white and blue flag waving in front of our missions. We have to step up, and step out. In other words, we need to take back our purpose towards service to the world, and get out of our sanctuaries, and into the world to do it. Like I said at the beginning. That's a journey. That's a relationship. God is not theirs.
Pray with me:
Dear God, help us take back our service to you. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. 41 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!
Matthew 12:38-42 CEB
Here is my go-to on Biblical interpretation: We should read scriptures for action. What should we, the reader and listener, be doing? If the action falls on someone else, we've done it wrong.
This is why many Pharisee centered sermons get it wrong. Many take them as opportunities to pat their own congregation on the back. The Cliff Notes version being: "Ain't it great we're not them! Look at what those silly Pharisees did? Yep. Jesus is good. Go enjoy your lunch.,"
Anyone within the church should see themselves as the Pharisees. We are prone to fall into habit, and to avoid accepting wrongdoing. That's all of us. None of us want to believe we could be doing something wrong, but at some point all of us find failure. That's the nature of the imperfect human.
In the scripture above, Jesus is in a verbal battle. The Pharisee's not only want to crucify Jesus, they want a reason to do it. They were not happy because Jesus was, almost bluntly, saying "God is not yours." This is not to say God excludes. That's not what those words mean. The above scripture puts the Pharisee's on the outside, and the Gentiles (the outsiders) as those from Nineveh. The "Queen of the South" are the Gentiles. Jesus is basically telling the Pharisee's that the power is going to shift, and those who were hurt by their power grabs, will be vocal about their pain.
Ain't it great we're not them?
Well... we have a choice. We are the Pharisee's: Insiders who are clueless to the needs outside our own context. We are also Nineveh: Someone's enemy who God is calling to be part of the flock. In both cases, God is calling not for our own benefit, but for the sake of those we might be unknowingly (or sadly knowingly) hurting.
Here's my other part of Biblical interpretation- it hits upon the universal story. I believe that story is about God's love for the creation, and the redemption of that order. God calls us to that choice because God loves us. God wants us to see beyond ourselves. God doesn't belong solely to one group of people. God belongs to everyone. God is not yours.
Let Us Pray:
Dear God, help me see you through someone else's eyes. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
8 Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. 11 The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 21: 8-11 CEB
I used to love Palm Sunday. It was my third favorite day of the Christian year. It was a chance for me, a lowly child, to be part of the worship. With fanfare, I'd get to wave my palm frond to the congregation and place it at the Communion table. I loved seeing Jesus as a celebration. I loved seeing everyone smile.
Then I grew up and learned a few things about the Bible. Palm Sunday is less like a birthday party, and more like a death march. Yes, everyone is celebrating, but that celebration is a farce.
Palm Sunday is a day we joyfully throw palms and coats down for our Lord and Savior just to march him to his death. We yell out "Hosanna," not realizing that while we think it means "Praise him," we are also yelling, "Save us!" (The link will take you to the meaning behind the word Hosanna, and why it's important to keep it in Hebrew rather than translate it.)
As an adult, this scripture is scary. It shakes me to my core. It is a realization that society will go into war with joy and singing. We will seek murder with a smile on our face. We are being told to stay out of the marsh, but we are going into that marsh! (That last one is a Monster Mansion reference btw.)
Now's the time to shift the focus. Now's the time to know why we are here. We are not singing "Praise Him." We are headed down a dangerous road. Yes, there is a celebration, but first their's torture and death. A hanging boy. We need to start next week knowing we used Hosanna to say, "Save us." Save us all. God is a Hosanna.
Let us Pray:
Dear Lord, give me the first step, so I have the courage to walk the rest of the way. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
6 When Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease, 7 a woman came to him with a vase made of alabaster containing very expensive perfume. She poured it on Jesus’ head while he was sitting at dinner. 8 Now when the disciples saw it they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9 This perfume could have been sold for a lot of money and given to the poor.”
10 But Jesus knew what they were thinking. He said, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She’s done a good thing for me. 11 You always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me. 12 By pouring this perfume over my body she’s prepared me to be buried. 13 I tell you the truth that wherever in the whole world this good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”
Matthew 26:6-13 CEB
I don't know, maybe between two to four years ago I had this conversation about boundaries in the church, and our sacred duty to keep them. I suggested that even if your specific congregation claims to have no boundaries, they still exist. I have this go-to example I use. There was a church I visited that claimed the overused phrase: "Come as your are." The minister announced, "Anyone can come here! We are welcoming to all." The church dressed in nice casual attire, and they were called to register for the upcoming series on their smartphone. Do you see the boundary that exists in this church? I could.
Churches don't meet the need of the poor well at all. We talk a big game, and set aside space for those who struggle. We set up systems to take their already depleted funds through prayer oil and surprise offerings. Our problem is we don't get it, like really don't get it.
When we read "the poor will always be with you," we assume that means the poor, in some form, will always exist. If that were the case, why is Jesus comparing this to him not being there? We have one of two scenarios, and both of them would shake the foundations of Chrstiandom. Perhaps Jesus is truly dead and gone, but the poor will always exist. That seems like an understandable reading if we are to take Jesus' words to say poverty is an incurable disease. The reading I like better is, Jesus is no longer with the Disciples/Apostles of the world, but we are with the poor. We should treat all people like part of the the Body of Christ, not as a tool to accomplish our service project for the week/month/year.
Walking with the poor is hard work for those who have never been poor, and for most ministers, they have absolutely no context. I had a taste of poverty, but I'm still clueless of it's terrible power to demean and destroy. Over the past month I've paid over a hundred dollars to various organizations so my children can have enriching activities. I remember the time that was no even possible. I will always remember needing to count down to the pennies in my hand for groceries. See, I get the value of $100. I get how much can be done with it, but I don't get it at the same time because I now have it for purposes outside direct needs.
"The poor will always be with you," is not a statement of failure (because if the poor always exist, then we are failures as Christians). It is a statement of mission and presence. We are always called to walk beside, not lord over. The poor are with us, not in the next room, or only on every other Tuesday of the month.That' how we meet God in the world. God is in poverty.
Let us pray:
Oh God, Meet us in our need as we meet the needs of others. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
10 When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. 12 This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.
Mark 4:10-12 CEB
Oh how I loathed the phrase "God is a mystery." I banished it to the far reaches of my vocabulary, promising to never utter it out loud, and shun those who utter it themselves. I believed it was a cop-out; the mystery flavor of the theological world. In my circles of influence it was used when someone was afraid to search for the answer, knowing their belief system would crash around them if they questioned the wrong way. I knew when someone threw that statement my way, they were setting up a defense of sorts.
See, I love to ask those really difficult questions. I simply want to know the answers. It’s who I am. I am is a truth seeker, and I live into that. I know what it’s like to live into the lie. It’s like Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House where everything just looks beautiful, but really there’s a black death slowly killing everyone within it. When everything looks beautiful, we are more compelled to live in the lie. That phrase was a way to shut the door on the conversation and continue the facade.
So near the end of my my seminary career I took a class in Eastern Christianity. It was led by a former Eastern Orthodox Priest, someone who really knew his stuff. We looked at icons, and worship. We also delved into theology. In Eastern Christianity, “God is a mystery,” are the keys to the kingdom.
Oh how my eyes involuntarily rolled when I heard him say that phrase. I couldn’t see God as a mystery. Within my context, it was used as a cop out. In my context it was a conversation ender. Yet, he fleshed out the words in a way that made me sit up.
He told us Western Christianity, specifically seminary, was all mind and little Spirit. Theology is analytical in nature in the Western world. Eastern Christianity, conversely, is all Spirit and little mind. It was his belief when the two Churches split, they each took a vital part of the theological journey. They were both right, and the correct answer was to bring the two theologies back together.
I took it to prayer. I journelled it’s truth. “God is a mystery” is both an unanswered question, and beyond our understanding. God is bigger than any of us can comprehend. More majestic than majesty, more epic than we can fathom. At the same time, God is Truth. Truth is something that has an answer. We can find it and see it. In some cases, God is a mystery because we just haven’t yet discovered that specific Truth.
Our God journey is full of duality. If we push too deeply on one aspect, we break it’s tension with another. I’m grateful for a former Eastern Orthodox Priest giving me tension. God is a mystery.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, from the depths of the cosmos, let me sit in your wonder. From the edge of my pen, let me find your Truth. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Sin desert, which is located between Elim and Sinai. They set out on the fifteenth day of the second month[a] after they had left the land of Egypt.2 The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. 3 The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.”
Exodus 15:1-3 CEB
I had this story churning in my brain for a good part of my life. Mentally, I'd been editing it and revising it for years. Then, about three to four years ago, I bought a journal and began writing it out. Four journals later, I began typing it out, doing basic revisions as I did. Then, I went back to make major revisions. Now, I have a fully written, three book trilogy. It's never been copy edited. It has not been published, but I did it! (My first projects for anything tend to be huge. My first real crochet project was a queen size blanket.)
I physically chose to write out my first draft because typing it was an epic failure. I kept finding myself going back and editing. Before I knew it, I had only written one page, and nothing was accomplished. Handwriting it out meant I could go back and re-read, make notes in the margins, but I couldn't do anything substantial to the story except keep going.
Many of us tend to freeze when God calls us. We imagine the failures as we makes plans and imagine how it will play out. Then we realize what a mess it all is, and give up before it actually begins. Well of course it's a mess. When we first get started that plan of action is just a rough draft. Just like a seed doesn't instantly become a finished tree, fruit and all, a call requires substantial planning.
If I really had to get to why no one supports a plan of action, it would all come down to the amount of work the journey to the finished plan would take. I have never read a bible story, or heard about a church start that began with the finished product. The struggle, the tears, the tiredness and ache- that's all part of the call. So go and do God's work! Go and join someone else who is the process of doing God's work! Get it out on paper, and struggle as you revise and correct what didn't work. God is a rough draft.
Let us pray:
Dear God, Help me understand your plan, and give me courage to keep going as it goes through the revision process. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted.
1 Cor 12:12-18 CEB
Three quarters of the way there, and things are playing out pretty much how I imagined they would. I had to truly dig deep to look into some of these topics. Hopefully you did too, seeing beyond yourself into someone else. In other areas, I'm surprised by my hesitancy. I thought once I did some of those difficult subjects I'd be able to jump in to other topics easier. In reality, it has been far more difficult, and pretty much impossible.
I struggled whether I wanted to seek out one of my clergy brothers or sisters who walk this path, or if it should be me writing this. In the end, I knew the answer. I had to give voice to this because I'm not this. This is what the entire Lenten season is about, looking beyond ourselves to see God. In the same breath, I know what's at stake even beginning to bridge that gap. I know building some bridges burn others down. I have spent a decade contemplating how to walk this path with both chasms crossed. Believe me, I've lost sleep over it. Maybe this is it. Maybe not.
There are a few things I've grown into since beginning this Christian journey. A big one is grace. I had already mentioned off hand that I learn from everyone and everything. Some of those lessons come in what not to do. One of the most formative moments in my youth was a non-moment. One of the best Elders (lay leadership in my faith tradition) in the church was gay. His sexuality was never a topic, nor should it have been. He was faithful. He was dedicated. His partner went to the church too. They both sang in the choir.
This was the age of don't ask/don't tell., the amazing 90's. Everyone knew, but as long as he didn't openly proclaim it, we would all look the other way.
As I've mentioned before, setting up systems to accept through back door understandings are lines cemented into our foundations, just waiting to be tripped over and really hurt people. That's what happened in this church. This Elder felt we were beyond the lines, and he decided to be open about what we already knew.
How dare us. We were the bad guys that day. Apparently giving voice to what was already known, was the real sin. The Elder was asked to step down. They left the church, and I do not know if they found a home after what we did.
Worship is beyond sexuality. It's a moment where we are not there for our desires to be highlighted. We are there to thank God. Our nature is laid bare. We are sinners. All of us. It's God's job to decide and judge that sinfulness.
Community is within sexuality, but sexuality is not the line for admittance. Guess what? That Elder was part of the Body of Christ. We, the church, cut that foot off and threw it away. Now the church is hobbled, and we are ignoring the reason why, because we did it to ourselves. We need to realize a piece of God is lost with our actions. We need to come to Jesus with the truth, like a guilty child with her hand still in the cookie jar. We amputated part of the Body of Christ. We hobbled ourselves. God is gay.
.Pray with me:
God, help me keep the front door open for your children. Amen
-Rev Melissa Fain-
22 Then God became angry because he went. So while he was riding on his donkey accompanied by his two servants, the Lord’s messenger stood in the road as his adversary. 23 The donkey saw the Lord’s messenger standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand, so the donkey turned from the road and went into the field. Balaam struck the donkey in order to turn him back onto the road. 24 Then the Lord’s messenger stood in the narrow path between vineyards with a stone wall on each side. 25 When the donkey saw the Lord’s messenger, it leaned against the wall and squeezed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he continued to beat it. 26 The Lord’s messenger persisted and crossed over and stood in a narrow place, where it wasn’t possible to turn either right or left. 27 The donkey saw the Lord’s messenger and lay down underneath Balaam. Balaam became angry and beat the donkey with the rod. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you’ve beaten me these three times?” 29 Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you’ve tormented me. If I had a sword in my hand, I’d kill you now.” 30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on whom you’ve often ridden to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
Balaam said, “No.” 31 Then the Lord uncovered Balaam’s eyes, and Balaam saw the Lord’s messenger standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand. Then he bowed low and worshipped.
Numbers 22:22-31 CEB
I hate everything sometimes. Specifically, I hate when theologies break down a potentially good relationship. People can just be donkeys. (Yes, switch out words, because I'm not thinking "donkey.") You know, I can be a donkey every now again. It's not easy for me to engage those who are openly hostile to my calling. I've learned this hostility happens on both sides of the Spiritual spectrum, and happen for different reasons. Either way, it can, to put it nicely, irk me.
I just want to turn if off, shut it down, and walk away. To no one in particular I think, "Dude, I get what your problem really is, and it's not what you're saying it is." There are bigger issues, and I'm not going to unpack someone else's emotional baggage. I'm not going to engage. I'm not going to respond. I've mentally blown it up. Imagine me slow mo walking away from the epic explosion.
Sometimes, very rarely, the donkey is the voice of God. I never truly disconnect, not fully. Even my closest donkey could be a conduit to the Divine. As much as I feel broken and bent by those who are just hardheaded mules, I don't buy into the "unfollow" culture. Please know, I'm not going to seek or engage, but I'm not going to completely cut off either. I actually pray for God to speak through these people. Speaking through mules is a re-connection of community. We should all want that. So, until my burrow of a self speaks to someone who sees me as such, I'll be open to the same. God is a donkey.
Pray with me:
Holy God, If I'm the mule, help me transform to be a sufficient voice for you. Also, make me aware when you are speaking through my own burrows. Amen.