That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Travel (page 1 of 8)

Hiraeth Like Wild Mint

A Facebook friend posted a meme recently featuring the word hiraeth. That’s not a word one hears or sees very often. It’s Welsh and has no direct English equivalent. Pronounced “hear-eye’th,” it refers to a sense of nostalgia for a lost home, the sort of home you can’t ever go back to, an unquenchable homesickness.

As I pondered my friend’s meme and that peculiar sense to which the word refers, what came to mind was my grandfather’s garden in Winfield, Kansas, in which I worked alongside my cousins every spring and summer of the late 1950s.

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Living Water: Sermon for Lent 3, RCL Year A (19 March 2017)

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A homily offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the Third Sunday in Lent, March 19, 2017, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; and St. John 4:5-42. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)

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overflowingwellToday the lectionary gives us two stories about water. The first set in the Sinai desert where the Hebrews found themselves exhausted, thirsty, and more than a little bit feisty and quarrelsome demanding water from Moses and from God; the second set at a well in a Samaritan village where Jesus, “tired out by his journey” (Jn 4:6, NRSV), encountered a lone woman and asked her for a drink.

I sometimes think that we take the biblical metaphor water way too lightly. We live in a world which is water-abundant. Here in NE Ohio we are surrounded by the stuff! There’s that big lake up to the north of us; there are rivers and streams running nearby; and I’ll bet most of us live in neighborhoods where some of our neighbors have ponds in their back yards. There’s water everywhere.

Even in the sorts of desert places I lived as a young adult along the Southern California coast there is an abundance of water. There’s all that salt water in the ocean, of course, but that won’t sustain human life. What there is is water brought in by aqueduct from the Sacramento River or piped in from the Colorado River; without that Los Angeles and Orange and San Diego Counties could not sustain the populations that presently live there.

Get out of those artificial oases, however, and life in southern California is pretty precarious. When I was in college in San Diego, my friends and I used to hike either the Anzo-Borrego Desert or the Agua Tibia Wilderness Area on over-night excursions pretty frequently. We would have to carry our water because there are no rivers or ponds or springs in either area; with desert back-packing, you have to figure on at least one gallon per day per person on the trail. Water weighs about 8-1/2 pounds per gallon, so that single item takes up a good deal of your backpack capacity and your weight limit for a hike! (Of course, as you use it, your pack gets lighter quite fast, so there is that to be thankful for.) You really learn to appreciate just how important and how precious water is doing desert back-packing.

These days, on my days away from the office, I don’t do any back-packing. On my typical day off, what I do is laundry. I usually do three and sometimes four loads of laundry …

We have an old-fashioned, fairly standard top loading clothes washer, the kind with a vertical-axis drum and a central agitator. I looked this up, so I know that design hasn’t changed much since General Electric introduced such washers in 1947. A typical vertical-axis washer consumes about 45 gallons of water per load, although newer models of the sort have reduced the water usage to less than 40 gallons per load. (See Home Water Works) That means that every day off, when I do my three or four loads of laundry, I use somewhere between 120 to 180 gallons of water. That might be enough water for one person to live in the desert on our back-packing ration for 17 to 26 weeks, between a third and a half of a year. But, in fact, it’s not enough! The World Health Organization estimates that the minimum basic water requirement for a human being is 20 liters (that’s about five gallons) of water every day to maintain basic health and hygiene. (See World Health Organization)

When I think about our Old Testament story this morning and Moses striking the rock at God’s command, providing water for the Hebrews. There must have been a lot of water . . . Earlier in the Book of Exodus we are told that the number of people who left Egypt was “about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” (Ex 12:37, NIV) That must mean there were nearly 2,000,000 people wandering around the Sinai desert; they would have need 10,000,000 gallons of water just to let each of them have the minimum WHO amount of five gallons for one day! And I use 180 gallons in one day doing laundry. We take water so much for granted that, as a biblical metaphor for the loving grace of God, it becomes (pardon the pun) rather diluted!

We also treat water differently than did the people of the Bible. Jesus is out walking the countryside, traveling through Samaritan territory where, frankly, he is a foreigner. He comes to the community well at Shechem, a well given to following generations of both Jews and Samaritans by their claimed common ancestor Jacob, a well from which anyone may draw water. Water was necessary for life and when it was present it was available to all who needed it. That’s the way it was in the Nevada desert where I grew up.

Las Vegas in those days drew no water from the Colorado River; all of its water came from artesian springs in the Las Vegas valley. Everyone in town got their water piped into their homes from those springs, at almost no cost. You paid for the pipes, but water usage was unmetered; you used as much as you wanted. Until just two years ago that’s the way it was in Reno, Nevada, where water is drawn from the Tahoe-Truckee watershed. Pretty surprising that in the desert water would be unlimited and practically free of charge: “Use as much as you need!”

Unfortunately, that’s no longer our attitude. You may recall a few years ago when Peter Brabeck of Nestlé got into some political hot water (another pun, forgive me) for suggesting that there no human right to water, that water is simply another foodstuff to be commodified and monetized. His comments kicked off quite a debate, but let’s be honest: Mr. Brabeck was doing nothing more than giving voice to the attitudes of a society were millions, if not billions, of consumers purchase and consume water in little plastic bottles even when they have free-flowing water from the taps in their own homes (water which, frankly, they also pay for).

We simply do not have the same appreciation of and attitude toward water that the people of the Bible had. We wastefully regard it as something to be taken for granted, and yet we charge people for it. They recognized it as scarce but absolutely necessary for life, and so they made it freely available to any who needed it. If we are to understand its importance as a biblical metaphor for the grace of God, we must abandon our attitudes and adopt theirs. We need to relearn the lesson my back-packing buddies and I learned by carrying water with us on those hikes into the desert; we need to know what the biblical peoples knew, that water is precious!

Of course, we do know that! We know that we can’t survive without water . . . waste it as we may, sell it in supermarkets as we do . . . we know at some gut level that this plain, clear liquid is essential to life. So when Moses strikes the rock at Horeb and through the grace of God water gushes out to quench the thirst of those 600,000 men and their wives and their children, when Jesus quenches his thirst and then offers the woman living water that will assuage her thirst for eternity, we get it.

We get it when we sing that great old revival hymn and envision the water mingled with blood flowing from the side of the Rock of Ages, the double cure of sin, cleansing us from sins guilt and power. (Rock of Ages, Episcopal Church Hymnal 1980, #685) We get it when we sing that wonderful Welsh anthem beseeching great Jehovah to guide us through the barren land and “open . . . the crystal fountain from whence the healing stream doth flow.” (Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, Episcopal Church Hymnal 1980, #690) We get it; we know that that is precisely what Paul is talking about when he writes to the Romans about “God’s love . . . poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” so that we may “boast in our sufferings [whatever they may be], knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us” (Rom 5:4-5, NRSV). We get it!

So, let us pray for the courage and wherewithal to also share it. Even as we get it, let us pray that it will, indeed, “become in [us] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14, NRSV); let us pray that it will be for us as Jesus cried out in the streets of Jerusalem on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” (Jn 7:37-38, NRSV) We get it; let us pray for the endurance and character and hope to share it.

Let us pray:

Around the well of your grace, O God,
are those who thirst for friendship and love;
Help us to offer them
the living water of community and connectedness;
Around the well of your life, O God,
are those who thirst for joy and safety;
Help us to offer them
the living water of playfulness and protection;
Around the well of your mercy, O God,
are those who thirst for wholeness and peace;
Help us to offer them
the living water of comfort, healing and welcome;
Around the well of your presence, O God,
are those who thirst for meaning and connection;
Help us to offer them
the living water of service and worship;
May the life we have found in you,
be the gift we share
with all who hunger and thirst,
with all who are outcast and rejected,
with all who have too little or too much,
with all who are wounded or ashamed,
and, through us, may this corner of the world overflow
with your living water.
In Jesus’ Name,
Amen.
(From Sacerdise)

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Our Immigrant Lord: For the Parish Newsletter, December 2016

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A “Rector’s Reflection” offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston in the December 2016 issue of The Epistle, the newsletter of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

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thirstednot-jesusindesert2A few years ago I read an essay about the trials and tribulations of relocation, particularly from region to region within our country. In it the author made the comment that when relocating to the South, there were two invariably asked questions of the newcomer: “Who are your people?” and “Where do you go to church?” These, he said, are quintessentially Southern inquiries which serve to position the interrogated in a place’s social network and milieu. The assumptions, of course, are that no one would relocate to a town where they did not have “people” (i.e., family members) and that everyone goes to church somewhere.

I’m not sure, after making several regional locations myself, that those are only Southern questions. They seem to be universally asked, in one form or another, of newcomers to every American community. In fact, they may be quintessentially human questions asked around the world!

In 2005, when Evelyn and I made our first trip to Ireland, one of my goals was to find distant relatives, members of the Funston clan whose ancestors had stayed there when my great-great-grandfather had come to America. So we visited the places I believed he might have come from, the Funston township lands of Counties Donegal, Tyrone, and Fermanagh. During our stay in the city of Donegal we happened to visit a woolen goods store run by a delightful man named Sean McGinty. We entered the shop just as Sean was closing up for the day and he graciously stayed open so we could peruse his sweaters, tweeds, and other goods. Of course, that meant he was going to be late to dinner . . . and, as a result, his wife Mary came looking for him.

We’d been in conversation with Sean before Mary arrived and told him of my search for Funstons. He said he thought there might be some living in Pettigo, a small village on the border of County Donegal and County Fermanagh. When Mary came into the shop, he drew her into our conversation and asked her, “Mary, you’re from Pettigo. Were there any Funstons living there?” She thought for a moment and then replied, “Aye! But they weren’t our people.” I knew immediately what she meant: they weren’t members of the Catholic Church. And that would have been right! My ancestor was a member of the Anglican Church of Ireland and his descendants are still Anglicans!

So there were those same two concerns: “Who are your people?” and “Where do you go to church?” They are the questions still being asked of newcomers to our communities wherever we may be, whether we are in the South of the United States, in Ohio, or somewhere in Europe. As so many people are on the move because of war, political unrest, and economic necessity, as so many are labeled “immigrant” and “refugee,” they are increasingly divisive and exclusive questions.

“Who are your people?” . . . “Where do you worship?” . . . What is your ethnic background? . . . What is your religion? . . . Instead of being asked to position the newcomer within the social milieu of his or her new home, the questions and their answers too often lead to the erection of social barriers, sometimes even physical walls. Instead of being welcoming questions of inclusion, they are the defensive or belligerent interrogations of exclusion.

Recently in the Christian press, particularly those journals which cater to a more conservative audience, there has been a lot of discussion about the assertion that Jesus was an immigrant and refugee. It is a common enough hermeneutic drawn from the story of the Holy Innocents and the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt as related in Matthew’s Gospel: “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matt 23:13 NRSV) It occurred to me that it may be a useful reminder that the Son of God was an immigrant from the very start, that he was not and is not a native resident of our world; he is from elsewhere, from heaven, from the very Throne of God.

As Dr. John Marshall, a Southern Baptist minister in Missouri, recently wrote: “Our Savior was an immigrant. He left His home in Heaven to become a stranger in the very world He created. There was no room for Him in the Bethlehem inn (Lk 2:7). He came to His own people, but they received Him not (Jn 1:11).” (Marshall) As we prepare once again to welcome him in the annual celebration of his Incarnation, we do well to remember that and to remember that he remained an immigrant and a refugee throughout his life.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, a land dominated by the Roman empire through a client ruler named Herod the Great. Apparently Mary, Joseph, and Jesus remained there for a couple of years before fleeing to Egypt where they lived until Herod died about four to six years after that. When they left Egypt, they returned not to Bethlehem but to Nazareth in Galilee, which was under the rule of Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee. Jesus grew up, then, as a resident of Galilee; when he undertook his ministry to Jerusalem (which is in Judea), although he was returning to the country of his birth, he was an immigrant into Judea.

Judea, by the way, during Jesus’ life and ministry was ruled not by a local king but directly by the Romans. Herod the Great was succeeded by his son Archelaus, who had the title of “Ethnarch of Judea.” Archelaus died less than ten years after succeeding his father. After his death, a series of Roman governors or “Prefects” ruled, the last of whom during Jesus’ life was Pontius Pilate.

In truth, Jesus spent most of his time on the move. Both Matthew and Luke report him saying to a potential follower, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt 8:20; Lk 9:58) Jesus was not a settled person and, interestingly enough, neither are his followers (us) supposed to be. This goes back to the Jewish roots of our faith, a reminder of which is found in the Torah’s instructions for eating the Passover feast: “You shall eat it [with] your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly.” (Ex 12:11) We are always to be ready to be on the move.

Our parish patron, St. Paul, takes up this theme in his letters. He reminded the Philippians that we are not to set our mind on earthly things because “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philip 3:19-20) And he promised the Ephesians that we are “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Eph 2:19) Theologians Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon expanded on this notion in their book Resident Aliens (Abingdon, 1989), arguing that today the church is not “a service club within a generally Christian culture,” but rather “a colony within an alien society.” (pg. 115)

How might this inform and shape our Advent preparations and our Christmas celebrations? What if we understood that we are not getting ready to welcome Jesus into our settled existence, our cozy homes and our warm hearths, our abundant feasts and our lovely dining rooms? Rather, we should be preparing for our immigrant Lord Jesus to invite us to join him on the road, to eat with him hastily consumed meals wearing our sandals and holding our walking sticks, to sleep with him in places where we have no place to put our heads. What might we do differently to get ready for the anniversary of his Incarnation and for his promised return? What might we do differently for all who, like him, are refugees and immigrants?

Who are our people? The people of God whoever they are and wherever they may be, temporarily settled in “a colony within an alien society” or on the road. Where do we worship? Wherever we find our Lord, in church, in a refugee camp, in places we cannot even imagine. Every year Advent and Christmas challenge us with what Hauerwas and Willimon call “the greatest challenge facing the church in any age” which is to be “a living, breathing, witnessing colony of truth.”

May that challenge be our blessing in 2016! May each of us, and all of us together, be living, breathing witnesses to the Truth!

(Note: The image is a digital painting by an internet blogger calling himself Horseman. I could find no further information about it or him.)
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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Crossing Borders: A New Passport – Sermon for Christmas Eve, 24 December 2015

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A sermon offered on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; and Luke 2:1-20. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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identitycards

Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes
And the heart consumes itself, if it would live,
Where little children age before their time,
And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold
While bones and sinew, blood and cell,
go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day’s life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed,
Christmas is waiting to be born
In you, in me, in all mankind.
(Howard Thurman, Christmas is Waiting to be Born in The Mood of Christmas, Friends United Press, Richmond, IN:1985, p 21)

As many of you know, I have a tradition of keeping my eye open, while doing my Christmas shopping, for something on a store shelf to use as a physical illustration for this annual event, this sermon on the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Over the years, these illustrative objects have included a pair of Christmas stockings, a Christmas banner with the greeting misspelled, a stuffed frog wearing a Santa hat, and last year’s mechanical dancing dachshund. Finding and using the annual “focus object” has become a source of great fun for me and I hope for the congregations who’ve been subjected to my preaching. This year, however, nothing on the shelves spoke to me.

Maybe that’s because I really didn’t do much in the way of Christmas shopping; I did a lot of driving around but not much buying. And while I drove, I listened (as I usually do in my car) to what’s called “talk radio.” This year, the talk was all about refugees, with some commentators claiming it’s too easy to get into this country and some claiming it’s too hard, and all of them describing the process of “vetting” or doing background checks on immigrants. It made me think of my great-great-grandfather, who came to this country a refugee from the township lands of Donegal in the northern part of Ireland during “an Gorta Mor,” the Great Hunger, the so-called Irish potato famine. He came without a single document, with no proof of identity; he got off a ship in the port of New Orleans, made his way up the Mississippi River, settled in sourthern Indiana, married a German girl, and started the family from whence I came, but left no documentary evidence of any of that. He couldn’t have been “vetted” at all.

This is also the time of year, Christmas always is, when the religious press is filled with articles either claiming that the historical existence of Jesus can’t be proved, or answering claims that the historical existence of Jesus can’t be proved. And everyone agrees that there are very few mentions of Jesus outside of the bible; maybe one in a Roman criminal record and one that amounts to little more than a dismissive footnote in a work by the historian Flavius Josephus. Again, I was reminded of my great-great-grandfather. I know quite a bit about John Henry Funston, but I can’t document any of it. Believe me, I’ve tried! If I were asked to prove his existence from public records, I couldn’t do it. Nonetheless, I know he existed; I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t. I know that Jesus existed; we wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t.

So as I was doing what little shopping I did, listening to talk about “vetting” refugees and contemplating the historical evidence of Jesus (or the lack of thereof), I did finally identify a focus object for tonight . . . or I should say a “focus category” . . . these – my identity papers. My driver’s license, my passport, my bank card, my membership cards for the Bar and various fraternal organizations. You, I’m sure, have a wallet (and perhaps a file or a strong box at home) full of similar papers. Vetting us, proving our existence, moving from place to place, gaining admission to special places, crossing borders from state to state or country to country . . . all these things are easy for us. We have these identity papers.

These papers, especially our driver’s licenses and passports, allow us to do what the refugees cannot, what my great-great-grandfather who had no papers could not do today, what Mary and Joseph could not do today . . . to cross borders and move freely from place to place. And these papers give us a lens through which to appreciate, in a new way, the meaning of Christmas which, once again in our time, “is waiting to be born in you, in me, in all [humankind].”

We heard this evening only a part of the Christmas story – we all know that there is a larger context, more to tell. This is a story that began nine months earlier when the Angel Gabriel surprised a young, teenage girl in the town of Nazareth with the invitation to be the bearer of God’s Child; this is a story that will not end, ever. The angel crossed the border between heaven and earth to make his announcement to Mary, and that set in motion a series of border crossings that is still going on:

  • between the divine and the human when Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she conceived
  • between law and grace when Joseph, who could have canceled their engagement and even had her killed, accepted her pregnancy and his fostering of the Child
  • between the tetrarchy of Samaria and Galilee and that of Judea as the Holy Couple made their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem
  • between the Holy Land and countries to the East (and possibly the North and South) when the Magi came to pay homage
  • between Judea and Egypt when the Holy Family became refugees escaping Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents, and then back again when they returned
  • between Gentile and Jew when Jesus healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter in the region of Tyre, when he spoke with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, and when he healed the Roman Centurion’s servant
  • between life and death when Christ was crucified and died, when he was buried, and when rose again
  • between earth and heaven again, between human and divine again when he ascended in the sight of his disciples
  • between the bondage of sin and the freedom of risen life in the Redeemer when you and I were baptized

Borders crossed, barriers removed, reconciliation accomplished.

A couple of years ago a rabbi named Irwin Kula wrote an essay entitled Crossing Borders: Jews and Christmas in America. In it he commented

The majority of Americans, including more than 80 percent of those less than 30 years of age, accept marriage across all types of boundaries, including ethnic and racial. We are creating identities and webs of relationships that do not fit our inherited boxes and labels. And so the fixed ways of dividing “us” and “them” are breaking down and not surprisingly people deeply committed to their own groups and creeds are worried.

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At their best, our ancient religious traditions know this, which is why they all teach we are one global family . . . .

There are no roadmaps, which, paradoxically is the hallmark of a genuine spiritual journey. But the more people love each other, the more people with different inheritances and traditions form intimate relationships, and the more we learn the best of each others insights and wisdom, the more discerning we will be about what we need to bring along with us from our traditions to help create a better world in this next era. (The Wisdom Daily)

Rabbi Kula hits the nail squarely on the head when he speaks of “creating identities and webs of relationship that do not fit inherited boxes.” In the Birth of Jesus, in the life of Jesus, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and in our baptism into his never-ending story, the Holy Spirit creates in us new identities and new webs of relationship. We are no longer defined by our driver’s licenses, our credit cards, our passports, and all the rest. Christmas gives us new papers, a new passport!

Christmas is, for those who wish to follow the way of Jesus, an invitation to accept a new identity. For us who live comfortable and safe lives, it is an invitation to become the inn-keeper in the story; to open the way for those who, like Mary and Joseph, come from far away, who seem ragged, marginal, or in transition. They may come from the desert wilderness of Syria or from the rain forests of Central America, but they may also come from the streets of Detroit or Cleveland, or from the wasteland of addiction, the outback of unemployment, the deep darkness of depression and mental illness. They may even be members of our own families:

This is how God finds us, at this very dark time of the year, the winter solstice, when the daylight hours have shrunk to their minimal light. He comes knocking at the door, looking for a haven, for a place to rest and recover. (CNN editorial by Jay Parini)

He comes again, as he comes every Christmas, as he comes every day, seeking to cross the borders, the boundaries, the barriers of our lives, asking us to “strive for justice and peace,” to respect the dignity of every human being,” to welcome again the Babe of Bethlehem who is born in all persons and all times. “Every year at Christmas, he comes to us as a child on the run with his impoverished and terrified parents. He knocks at the door of our house and our hearts. And we let him in – or we turn him away.” (Jay Parini)

Christmas is also an invitation to remember that, as St. Paul put it in his letter to the church in Ephesus, we were all once “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” But through the Incarnation of Christ, “in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall” and “created in himself one new humanity,” so that none of us are any “longer strangers and aliens, but . . . citizens with the saints and . . . members of the household of God.” (Eph. 2: 12-19) In the birth of Jesus, in the life of Jesus, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and in our baptism into his story, we have a new identity, a new passport.

The voice of the angels to shepherds on the first Christmas Eve proclaimed God’s promise of peace, of borders crossed and barriers breached, not only in First Century Judea, and not only in the future nor only in heaven, but right here on earth today, if we will but live into the Christmas invitation, into our new identity. Last week, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, offered a meditation in which he said that Christmas invites us to take the risk of reaching out to the other and “see[ing] what happens. As Christians we are called to be people who take that first step, who take the risk of kindness because we believe the other person is a gift to us from God, just as we can be a gift to them.” (Facebook Status, 4th Sunday of Advent)

Striking a similar note, the Quaker philosopher Parker Palmer just yesterday offered a reflection reminding us that we are

called to share in the risk of incarnation. Amid the world’s dangers, [we are] asked to embody [our] values and beliefs, [our] identity and integrity, asked to allow good words to take flesh in [us]. Constrained by fear, [we] often fall short. And yet [we] still aspire to walk [our] heart-and-soul talk, however imperfectly. – Christmas is a reminder that [we are] invited to be born time and again in the shape of [our] God-given self – which means embracing the vulnerability of the Christmas story. (On Being)

Christmas is a reminder and an invitation. Christmas is the passport we receive at our baptism empowering us to cross the borders.

I began this sermon with a meditation entitled Christmas Is Waiting to Be Born by the great African-American theologian Howard Thurman from his book The Mood of Christmas. I’d like to close with another from the same book:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
(The Mood of Christmas, p 32)

May Christmas be born in us, and may the Birth of Jesus empower us to cross the borders, to breach the barriers, to overcome the boundaries, and to do the work of Christmas: to “see and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbors as [ourselves].” Amen.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Don’t Carry All That Baggage – From the Daily Office Lectionary

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Saturday in the week of Proper 11, Daily Office Year 1 (Pentecost 8, 2015)

Mark 6:7-9 ~ He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

A few years ago I took a sabbatical. It was my first (and, so far, only) sabbatical in 40 years of professional life, 25 of them in ordained ministry. I went to England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland for a total of three months. The first two weeks I visited pre-Christian and early Christian sites in southern Scotland, northern and western England, and Wales. Then I flew from Edinburgh to Dublin. Checking in for the flight, I learned that I had misunderstood an airline website and my baggage was overweight. Substantially overweight! The fees and penalties amounted to nearly £300! (I paid more for my baggage to go one way than for myself to fly round-trip.) I’d brought books for a course of study I was undertaking in Ireland; I’d brought a summer’s worth of clothing; I was carrying a heavy CPAP machine I use while sleeping; I was way, way overweight. I could have carried nothing, ” no bread, no bag, no money in [me] belt,” and purchased everything in Ireland for less than those airline penalties. I guess I would have needed the money, but the bread, the bag, and everything else I didn’t need.

We carry so much that we don’t need. That’s what this story always says to me. We carry so much that we don’t need, that gets in our way more than it helps, that weighs us down and impedes us, that distracts us from what we are supposed to be doing. Jesus is clearly telling his disciples, originally the Twelve and, through them, us, that we don’t need all that stuff. We need some good footwear and something to lean on when we’re weary, and that’s about it. Anything else we may need we can acquire along the way; in fact, the promise of the story is that we will acquire it – it will be provided when it is needed.

When my two-month sojourn in Ireland was ended and I flew back to Scotland to join my wife for a two-week end-of-sabbatical vacation, I left behind most of what I had paid £300 to ship there. Books I could purchase again in the US, I gave to a school library. Clothing I wouldn’t need for those last two weeks, I gave to church to pass on to the needy. A second bag no longer needed, I gave to my landlady who had admired it. Things I was keeping but didn’t need to travel with, I shipped home. The CPAP machine I took back to Scotland, but for that I had pared my possessions down to one backpack; I was carrying again the same spare load I had carried on my first three-month trip to Europe when I was 16 years old. Following Jesus’ lightweight travel advice, I received the promise of the Psalmist: “He satisfies you with good things, and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.” (Ps 103:5)

Take Jesus’ advice: don’t carry all that baggage!

Roots of Wisdom – From the Daily Office – October 28, 2012

From Ecclesiasticus:

Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her people. * * * “I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Sirach 24:1 & 12 (NRSV) – October 28, 2014)

TaprootAccording to Ben Sira, personified Wisdom is rooted in Jerusalem; at the command of the Creator, she has take up residence in Zion among the Chosen People. These days I have a hard time seeing anything which can be counted as “wisdom” coming out of the modern government of that land, and I could write hundreds, even thousands, of words about what I believe to be the foolishness of the criminal injustice being perpetrated on the Palestinian people by that government. But I won’t. Not today. Today, my thoughts run to the question of rootedness, to the metaphor of sustenance drawn from a particular place, to the spatial and cultural peculiarity of wisdom, and to what happens when one leaves a particular place and takes up residence in another.

Consider this mundane example: Recently I visited Palestine and Israel on pilgrimage to various Christian holy sites. With a group of fellow pilgrims, I traveled by motor coach. At every stop our hosts reminded us, and eventually we began to remind each other, to take hats, water bottles, and cameras. Obviously the third was because we were tourists as well as pilgrims, but the first two were matters not merely of comfort but of survival. A hat to protect oneself from the sun, a bottle of water to rehydrate in an extremely arid place, there was wisdom in these admonitions. Having grown up in the desert, I also felt myself re-rooted in a familiar past.

But now I live in Ohio, a place of much more temperate climate most of the time, a place of rivers, lakes, ponds, and (to a desert rat) high humidity, a place where trees and shade abound. Protection from the sun, hats and water bottles, are not a necessity. Here, at various times of the year, a different wisdom prevails – sometimes it’s a reminder to put on heavy coat against cold and wind and lake-effect snow; at others, it’s the need for bug repellant.

I recently read an article about long-distance hiking and the need to plan ahead and to cache supplies, to place resources of particular types in safe but accessible locations along one’s route. The word resource caught my attention: to source again, is that not what it means when used as a verb. Like wisdom and her metaphorical roots, we stop and put out our “roots” and take what is needed in each place, in each culture; we are “re-sourced,” no longer drawing sustenance from the original place where our “roots” were sunk, taking in a new sort of nourishment in this different place.

In one place, hats and water bottles are wise; in another they are completely unnecessary and expending the effort to carry them is folly. In one place, heavy coats are needed; in another, they are useless. In one place, something to keep away the mosquitoes; in another, no mosquitoes. Wisdom in one place is folly in another. We must put down our “roots” to discover which it is.

Is biblical wisdom culturally dependent? Because Lady Wisdom was “established in Zion” and rooted in Jerusalem, is she not relevant in another place? Or can she be “re-sourced,” transplanted and re-invigorated in a new land? Is there a deeper source of wisdom common to all places into which her tap-root reaches? Is that deeper source available to us regardless of culture and place? I believe there is and perhaps the folly of our time is that we transplant and re-source ourselves too often to access it; we draw only from the superficial wisdom of differing places and fail to tap into the deeper strata of common wisdom.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

A Learning Experience – From the Daily Office – October 20, 2014

From the Psalter:

Who are they who fear the Lord?
he will teach them the way that they should choose.
They shall dwell in prosperity,
and their offspring shall inherit the land.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 25:11-12 (BCP Version) – October 20, 2014)

When my wife and I decided to join a pilgrimage group and spend several days in the Holy Land this summer several people who had been there before us said, “It will change the way your read Scripture.” That’s turned out to have been true. It also changed the way we read current news.

As I pondered that, I realized that every major life event affects the way we read Scripture, the way we interpret the news. Getting married did so. The births of our children did so. Ordination and ministry as a priest has done so. Every event is a learning experience which colors our view of the world.

Early yesterday morning our daughter-in-law gave birth to our first grandchild, a little girl who has been given the name Eirnín Marjory. Her first name is Irish Gaelic (pronounced “EHR-neen”) and means “knowing” or “experienced,” and also “iron” connoting strength of character. Her middle name was my later mother-in-law’s name.

We have yet to meet Eirnín (she and her parents live nearly half-way across the continent from us), but already her being a part of this world is changing the way I read Scripture. Words like “prosperity” and “offspring” have both a broader and a more immediate meaning.

Welcome to the world, little one! You’re sure to be a learning experience over and over again.

Eirnín Marjory

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Bless [All] the People of Israel – From the Daily Office – July 23, 2014

From the Book of Joshua:

All Israel, alien as well as citizen, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark in front of the levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, that they should bless the people of Israel.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Joshua 8:33 (NRSV) – July 23, 2014)

Soldier at Mt GerizimTwo weeks ago, I stood on Mt. Gerizim with 17 friends looking over to Mt. Ebal. We read this text; we read Deuteronomy 27 in which the explicit curses to be read from Mt. Ebal are set forth. We pondered what it means for a people to live in a land divided by blessings and curses. Lost in our thoughts, we were startled when we turned around and found a young Israeli soldier standing behind us in full battle gear, an Uzi loaded and held at the ready.

Some of us found him threatening, but we were told that he was there for our protection. The lookout is a spot where Jewish pilgrims also like to come and remember their heritage; it is in full view of the Arab city of Nablus and a sniper on the city’s outskirts with a high-powered rifle could pick off someone standing at the lookout. I don’t know if that has ever happened, but the young soldier was there to make sure it didn’t or that, if it did, the gunfire would be answered.

I’m sure there might be some radical lunatic who might try such a thing, but in the three days we spent in Nablus, walking its streets, eating in its restaurants, greeting its people, I certainly never met or encountered anyone whom I thought to be such a threat.

In any event, I wonder about that young soldier now. Has he been transferred the fifty or so miles from his outpost on the ancient mountain to the modern battleground on the border with the Gaza Strip? Is he safe? Has he been wounded or killed? Is he preparing for a ground battle in Gaza? I’ll never know, of course, but I wonder.

There was a report recently that in Sderot, an Israeli community less than three miles from the Gaza community of Beit Hanoun, the Jewish residents sat in their lawn chairs watching the bombing of their Palestinian neighbors, laughing and cheering as the bombs exploded. An Australian CNN reporter filmed them doing so.

I couldn’t help but think about that when I read today’s story of Joshua. I couldn’t help but remember standing on Mt. Gerizim and wondering what it must have been like to hear from the mountain across the valley the voices of Joshua and others yelling out the curses. Ancient Jews on a hillside pronouncing curses on the land a couple of miles away; modern Jews on a hillside laughing derision and cheering destruction on the land a couple of miles away. Ancient history come to life in modern Palestine; an ancient ritual now played out as if in some obscene parody with modern weapons of terrible vengeance. Would the residents of Sderot have laughed and cheered if they knew that young soldier might be in danger where those bombs were exploding? Did it matter to them that other young soldiers, not to mention women, children, elderly people, disabled people, and other civilians, were dying where those bombs were exploding?

I don’t ask to imply or suggest any condemnation of them. God knows Americans have no high moral ground to stand on in this regard! It’s a well-known fact of American history that the residents of Washington DC took picnic baskets out to the hillside overlooking Bull Run to watch what became the first Civil War battle at that site. And, more recently, many of us cheered and partied in the streets when we learned of the death of Osama bin Laden. Laughing derision and cheering the destruction of those we consider our enemies is a universal human behavior. We just don’t consider them to be quite like us.

But they are like us. They have lives like ours. As Shakespeare’s Shylock pointed out when contemplating the differences (or lack of differences) between Jew and Gentile:

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute — and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. (Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1)

Is that what is happening now? In unknowingly acting out that bizarre caricature of the curses from Mt. Ebal, in carrying out their “containment” of the Palestinians behind a “security barricade,” in bombing the herded-together densely-packed residents of Gaza (1.8 million people on a piece of land only 139 square miles in size; 13,000 people per square mile) is that what Israel is doing? Bettering the instruction that Gentile society, Christian Europe specifically, has taught the Jews? Is that what is happening? The abused become the abuser and doing it “better”? The accursed become the curser and doing it “better”?

I am commended by Scripture to “bless the people of Israel.” I am commended by Scripture to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I can only do so if I include in my blessing all the people of Israel, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, secular Jew and Orthodox, Amenians and Greeks, all the people of the land. I can only do so if my prayer is for a peace which is just to all and in which all are secure, “alien as well as citizen.”

Bless the people of Israel and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Following Our Own Devices Doesn’t Work – From the Daily Office – July 12, 2014

From the Letter to the Romans:

Of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Romans 10:21 (NRSV) – July 12, 2014)

Israeli Security Barricade in BethlehemPaul quotes Isaiah here. His translation was obviously rather different from the rendering in the New Revised Standard Version, but the meaning is the same: “I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices.” (Isa 65:2)

The point cannot be made strongly enough nor forcefully enough nor clearly enough that the modern nation-state of Israel is not the biblical people of Israel, and yet these words of condemnation can be fully understood to apply to the modern country.

Having spent two weeks in the Holy Land, I’ve seen what the nation of Israel is doing to the Palestinian people, and I can fully understand (if not entirely sympathize with) the anger and frustration that have overflowed into violence. I understand the intifadas.

I have walked beside the tall, concrete, barbed-wire-topped, machine-gun-equipped, guard-tower-punctuated, grafitti-defaced wall that Israel has built through the Palestinian homeland. Israel calls it a “security barricade,” and its defenders like to point out that many stretches of it are “simply a fence” (a barbed-wire and chain-link fence, one notes). Whatever one calls it, it has ghettoized Palestinians (both Muslims and Christians), created what are essentially “reservations” of Arabs (not unlike the reservations the United States created for Native Americans), and separated people from their loved ones and their livelihoods (many farmers, herd and flock owners, and orchard owners have been cut off from and denied access to their fields, their pastures, and their orchards). Those who build such things “walk in a way that is not good” and “follow their own devices.”

The barricade is just one part of a much larger social program of oppression being practiced by the Israelis against the original inhabitants of the land they moved onto in 1948 and the lands they have occupied since 1967: poor schools, inadequate social services, intermittent (or non-existent) provision of utilities, segregation, creation of high quality roads on which it is illegal for Palestinians to travel through their own country, denial of import and export rights to Palestinian business, and the list could go on.

Why? As I listened to Israeli Jews defend this state of affairs, the bottom-line justification always seems to come back to the Holocaust. “Never again,” they say. And what they seem to mean is, “Never again to us . . . so we do it to someone else.” That’s what it is, a paying forward of bad stuff, really truly awful stuff!, done to them. When it was done to them, it was the paying forward of bad stuff done to Germany in the aftermath of the First World War. When it was done to Germany, it was a paying forward of bad stuff done to other Europeans. And one could probably trace it all back and back and back to first bad stuff done by someone to someone.

Will it stop here? If (as an Israeli commander is recently quoted as saying) the Israelis “wipe out” people seen as “enemies of God” (they aren’t, by the way) will it end? No, obviously not. Genocide has been tried before and it doesn’t work. No people can “wipe out” another, and in the current context that is painfully obvious. The Palestinian diaspora will still be there and eventually they would pay it back to Israel or pay it forward to someone else.

It will only stop, it will only end if all the people of God, all the children of Abraham — Jewish, Muslim, and Christian — can come together as equals and agree to stop it. So long as we rely on our own devices, so long as we are contrary and disobedient the conflict and the killing will go on. Only by relying on the faithfulness of God can this horror be brought to an end. As the last of today’s evening Psalms says:

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
laud him, all you peoples.
For his loving-kindness toward us is great,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever.
Hallelujah!
(Ps 117, BCP Version)

Following our own devices doesn’t and won’t work. Only relying on God’s faithfulness can and will.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Who Would Be the Church? – A Holy Place in the Holy Land – From the Daily Office – July 3, 2014

From the Psalter:

Behold now, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, you that stand by night in the house of the Lord.

Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the Lord; the Lord who made heaven and earth bless you out of Zion.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 134 (BCP Version) – July 3, 2014)

Up an hour later than usual, breakfast at the Sisters of Nazareth today was the same as yesterday. Our bags were collected and we walked down past the R.C. Basilica, past the open air mosque, through the market district and to the bus. A long ride first to Mount Tabor and then to the very small town of Burkin.

Mount Tabor is the traditional location of the Transfiguration, that strange vision seen by Peter, James, and John of Jesus in conversation with Moses and Elijah. There is a lovely church here designed by (you can, by now, probably guess) Antonio Barluzzi. To get to the top of the mount, we had to get off the bus at a visitor center at the base and then ride up the mountain in minivans.

The road up is steep and has many switchbacks — now there is a physical parable or metaphor for the spiritual life! The physical reality of the place is lost in the simple description one finds in the gospels: “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.” (Mk 9:2) Mark (and Matthew who repeats the story) make it sound like they went out for a Sunday afternoon stroll. This would be a hike! This really is a high – and steep – mountain.

The church is quite beautiful with a dazzling mosaic of the Transfiguration event in the dome of the apse, two interior side chapels — one dedicated to St Francis; one for the Reserved Sacrament — and two exterior chapels — one for Elijah and one for Moses. St. Peter never got to build his three monuments (booths) but the Franciscans and Barluzzi did it for him. The Elijah chapel is interesting in that it contains a mural of the prophet’s competition with the prophets of Baal — two altars are depicted, one with a pile of meat but no fire and one with fire consuming what is on it. I’ve never seen that story depicted in art before; in this mural, the meat on the altar of Baal looks like it came straight from a really good butcher’s shop, prime cuts.

On the terrace next to the church, we encountered a cat (the most recent of many), really just a kitten, who was very vocal and very affectionate. She would have made a great souvenir, but getting her through customs would likely have been impossible. She was quite a distraction from the view, however.

One other interesting piece of art was in a gated (locked) garden — I think it shows St Francis either taking Jesus’ body from the cross, or helping Jesus’ to get down from the cross. Without being able to get closer to it and more time to study it, I can’t really be sure. In either case, it is a subject for further contemplation.

Back down the mountain we got back in our bus and took off for Burkin which turns out to be a small and very depressed village (most cities, towns, and villages in Palestine are depressed — whatever economic prosperity there is in Israel is not being shared with the Arabs). Here we visited the tiny church of St. George, which commemorates the spot on which Jesus healed ten lepers. (Luke 17:12-19) It is the fourth oldest continuously in use worship space in the world! There has been a church here since the early Fourth Century! It is under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

We were guided into town and to the church by Usama, a member of the Greek Orthodox congregation. One can tell that he and the other members of this church are very proud of their heritage. Unlike most older Orthodox buildings we have visited, this space is immaculate. The silver is polished; the cloth hangings and altar vestments are clean and bright; the icons are dusted. Pride in their place is patent in every corner.

The worship space is tiny – our group of 18 people more than half filled it. It is probably very crowded on Sundays for the Divine Liturgy and at other times of Orthodox worship. This congregation has a membership of 65 people. They are the only Christians in a town of over 7,000 population. Their witness is astounding!

Usama then guided us to his home where his wife and some other ladies in the congregation, assisted by a young boy, hosted us to lunch. The tables were filled with tomato and cucumber salad, yoghurt, pita, and chiken and lamb shwarma served on heaping platters of seasoned rice. There was enough to feed a group five times our size.

Several of us had two or three helpings of the delicious food when Usama’s wife, Neda, came around and piled one more serving on everyone’s plate: “Eat,” she said, “how do I know you liked it if you leave some behind?” It was all in good fun and the graciousness and vibrancy of their hospitality was overwhelming.

The congregation supports itself by selling the usual trinkets, but mostly by making pure olive oil soap which they sell for an amazingly low price. Evie and I will look into whether we can find a way to help sell their soap in our part of the U.S. to provide greater income for them as they maintain the Christian presence in this place.

We talked with them about the dwindling of the congregation, what it is like to be a Christian minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim community. Neda said that she and her neighbors get along just fine, that she and her family visit them to celebrate Eid al-Fitr (the major Muslim feast celebrating the end of Ramadan) and their neighbors visit them to celebrate Christmas. We asked if they had ever considered leaving. “No,” Neda replied quickly, “If we left, who would be the church?”

Who would be the church? A question for us all to ponder.

Lord, bless these servants who lift up their hands in your holy place and witness to your Name!

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

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