Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Empty Tomb as a "Thin Place" (or a Gaping Hole)

Easter Day – Year A
Acts 10.34-43; Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3.1-4; John 20.1-18
Sunday, April 24, 2011 (8:00 a.m.) –
Trinity, Redlands

In ancient Celtic tradition, there are locations known as “thin places,” where the separation between heaven and earth is tenuous, where the two nearly touch, and may even be somewhat permeable. In these “thin places,” it is said that the veil is drawn back sufficiently that one can experience the other realm, possibly seeing into the other side, maybe even sensing or feeling the presence of the holy. It is sometimes said that in such “thin places,” the ordinary becomes sacred and the sacred becomes ordinary.

The thing about “thin places” is that not everyone experiences them the same way. There is a full spectrum of awareness and experience of “thin places.” Some people are completely unaware of them. Others have some sense of their existence, having a vague feeling that there is something different, maybe even special, about a particular location. And others still have incredibly intense experiences.

I think that the tomb encountered by Mary Magdalene, the empty tomb with its stone rolled aside, was just such a “thin place.” If anything, the tomb and all that it represents is not just a “thin place” where the veil is pulled aside, but is rather a place where the fabric of existence is ripped open, creating a gaping hole between heaven and earth, between the ordinary and the holy.

Nonetheless, or perhaps because of the extraordinary nature of this thin place turned gaping hole, John’s Gospel records varying reactions to what is experienced, spanning the spectrum. On one end you have Simon Peter’s reaction. Upon hearing the news about the empty tomb, he runs to the tomb, goes in, and finds Jesus’ linen wrappings lying in a heap on the floor. The Gospel does not tell us specifically how he reacts or what he thinks. But the way I read it, he surveys the situation, sees a pile of linen, and just sort of gives up. He sees Jesus is gone but doesn’t seem to really comprehend the magnitude of what has happened. Eventually he does come to a greater understanding, but for now, he seems to need time to figure it out. He’s seen enough and so he leaves to go home, presumably to continue cogitating on the matter.

The Beloved Disciple seems a little more thought-filled or even awe-filled than is Simon Peter. When he arrives at the tomb, he sticks his head in to survey the situation, but does not go in. After Simon Peter enters, the Beloved Disciple does likewise. When he sees the full scene from the inside, we are told “he saw and believed.” The implication is that while he may not have completely understood what happened, he did understand the significance of the empty tomb, and that he trusted what Jesus had foretold about his own death and resurrection. With this, he too goes home, presumably to further ponder the situation.

And then there’s Mary Magdalene. She obviously doesn’t quite know what to make of finding the empty tomb. Her initial reaction is that someone has removed Jesus’ body. But even in her distress, she perseveres in trying to figure out what has happened to her Lord. Even after Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple have gone home, she continues to try to make sense out of what has happened. Mary is confused and certainly distraught that Jesus’ body had apparently been taken away. Even though he is dead, if at least she could find his body, it would be something to hold onto, something to help ease the grief of the previous few days, maybe even help make sense out of the situation. Unlike Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, she is not going home until she gets some answers. So she persists in her search for the truth. And her perseverance pays off. When things look hopeless, she encounters the risen Lord – the first disciple to have such an experience. The elation she must have felt when this seemingly unknown person calls her name and she recognizes that it is Jesus. “Rabbouni!”

Mary’s natural reaction is to reach out and try to embrace her master and her friend. She is undoubtedly dismayed when he stops her, saying, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Why can’t she embrace and hold onto this man whom she has been following for years, whom she loves more than life itself? This is the one thing she cannot comprehend. What she does not yet understand is that in resurrected form, Jesus cannot be physically grasped; just as what has happened to him cannot be fully grasped, fully comprehended by the human mind. In his resurrected form, Jesus is no longer confined to this realm. Jesus cannot be held here in our presence. What is happening is for a greater purpose, as he foretold to the disciples. For Christ’s ascension extends the promise of the resurrection beyond this existence, through the “thin place,” through the gaping hole, into the heavenly realm. The promise of the resurrection is taken to the heavenly realm that transcends our own, to be located in the heart of God. And there, the promise of the resurrection, the new and eternal life that is promised to all humanity through Christ’s death and resurrection, will abide forever. This resurrection is not limited in its duration as was that of Lazarus. No, this resurrection and the ensuing gift of new life for all are for ever and ever.

Each of the disciples, Mary, Simon Peter, and the Beloved Disciple, had their own way of approaching the empty tomb and coming to understand the resurrection. But this was not something that happened in an instant. For with the death and resurrection of their Lord and Master, the disciples were moving from pre-resurrection life in the presence of Jesus the man, to a post-resurrection life in the presence of the Risen Christ. In the days and years that follow, they would struggle to find how to express the experience of Jesus Christ, as living man and as Risen Lord. They would need the rest of Eastertide, with its various post-resurrection encounters, to more fully understand what has happened to Jesus, and what this means for them, his followers.

Our other lessons, from the Acts of the Apostles, and from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, show this continuing attempt on the part of Jesus’ followers to more fully understand the meaning of post-resurrection life in the presence of the Risen Christ and the implications to those who are and will become his followers. That’s what the entire New Testament is about. That’s what the entire Christian faith is about – making sense of Jesus’ life on earth, of his death and resurrection, and of our part in the continuing story.

We talk about Easter being the culmination of Holy Week, which it certainly is. You cannot have Easter without first having Palm Sunday, with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. You cannot have Easter without first having Maundy Thursday, with the institution of the Last Supper, followed by Jesus’ being betrayed and arrested in the Garden. You certainly cannot have Easter without first having Good Friday, with Jesus being tried, convicted, and sentenced to death; without Jesus being crucified on a cross, and then buried in a tomb. So yes, in Christ’s resurrection at Easter, we have the end of a tumultuous journey. But Easter is not the end of the story. It is merely the beginning. That story is being played out through the rest of the New Testament. It is being played out through two thousand years of Christian history. And it is being played out in our own lives, here and now, and will continue to play out for the rest of our lives.

That’s why we’re here today, in our continuing efforts to try to make sense of what happened two thousand years ago at a tomb in the countryside outside Jerusalem. Because just like the disciples, we each have our own unique way that we approach the empty tomb and come to understand the resurrection. We would do well to take our cue from Mary Magdalene – to not give up so easily, but to persevere, to continue searching for the Risen Lord.

Of course, this side of existence, this side of the gaping hole that is the empty tomb, we cannot, nor will we ever fully understand all the whys and wherefores of the resurrection. All we really need to know is that in that empty tomb, in that gaping hole, heaven burst forth into the earthly realm. All we really need to know is that God’s love broke through in a new way, destroying the bonds of sin and death that had a hold on humanity. All we really need to know is that Christ is risen, thereby providing each and every one of us with the gift of new and eternal life in him. Everything else flows from that promise and from that assurance.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

“Do You Know What I Have Done To You?”

Maundy Thursday – Year A
Exodus 12.1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17, 31b-35

Thursday, April 21, 2011 – Trinity, Redlands

“Do you know what I have done to you?” (Jn 13.12)

In John’s telling of the events of Maundy Thursday, what Jesus has done has nothing to do with the Last Supper. While the Synoptic Gospels all tell of Jesus’ final Passover feast with his disciples and document the institution of what will become one of the two major sacraments of the Christian faith – the Eucharist – John says nothing of this event. There is nothing about breaking of bread. There is no command to “take, eat; this is my body” (Mt 26.26). There is nothing about taking the cup and giving thanks. There is nothing said about “drink of it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26.27-27).

Yes, today’s Gospel lesson is set in the context of a meal. In John’s telling, we hear of the events of the day of preparation, the day before the Passover feast is celebrated. But this is just an ordinary meal among friends. For John, it is not the meal that is important. In fact, he never really tells us about it. For John, what is important is the rather unusual event that occurs in the midst of this ordinary meal. Jesus “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him” (Jn 13.4-5).

This act is significant in a number of ways. In the simple act of washing the disciples’ feet, he is giving them the secret to what it means to be his followers. This act is one of service, of giving of self for the benefit of others. But even more so, is the manner in which the service is carried out. Jesus is the master to these disciples. He is the host of the dinner gathering. But rather than exalt himself, rather than demand that his disciples serve him, Jesus humbles himself, taking on the role of servant. In this, he is modeling the quality of humble service – of putting the needs of others before self – that all who follow this servant king are called to undertake.

Even more than humble service, the act of washing of feet demonstrates some of the qualities that are needed to live the Christian life. These are not adequately conveyed in the Gospel narrative, but are only evident through experiencing the act of foot-washing – not just having your feet washed, but also in the act of washing the feet of another. In this I am reminded of my first experience with foot-washing. I shared this story a couple of years ago, but as I have been reflecting on Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet, I have gained increased insight though reflecting on my own experience with that sacred act.

My first experience with foot washing was when I was in high school. Our entire youth group went to a camp in the San Bernardino Mountains over Presidents Day weekend. There were hundreds of youth there from all over Southern California. On the first night, as part of the opening worship experience, we were told to sit down in small groups, in circles. The room was dimly lit. There was soft contemplative music playing in the background. Someone brought basins of water and placed them in the center of each circle. We were instructed to pair up, and to wash each other’s feet. There was a great deal of reluctance on the part of most present, myself included. Finally, my foot-washing partner took the initiative. He took my bare feet and gently, tenderly washed them in the basin of warm water. Almost as soon as he started, I began to cry. Having someone wash my feet was such a humbling experience. I felt so vulnerable, having someone care for me in such a way, to completely give up any control over the situation and what was being done to me, to drop my guard enough to allow another to care for me.

And then, when he was done washing my feet, I washed his. I continued to cry, but for a different reason. I was crying because I had to be vulnerable in a different way. Once again, I had to let my guard down, but this time it was to set aside my ego, to allow myself to be open and vulnerable to serving another in an intimate way. This act required that I tear down any barriers I had between me and this other person, to allow myself to enter into an intimate connection with another. Even in the midst of the tears, I felt the joy of being able to care for another. The tears of humility and vulnerability turned to tears of joy. I felt the joy of being able to connect in a very deep way, in a non-verbal way, with another of God’s children, to share a moment of mutual vulnerability, where we were able to connect on a spiritual level, knowing who we are, and more importantly, whose we are.

I think that is what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples as he washed their feet – that they need to be able to humble themselves to serve others; that they need to be willing to open themselves to be vulnerable to others, to be vulnerable in the presence of others, particularly those whom they are serving; and that they must allow an intimate connection to develop with those they are ministering to.

We are called to live those same qualities in our life as Christians:

Humility – putting the needs of others before our own, even when – especially when – it may be a little uncomfortable;

Vulnerability – allowing ourselves to be open to the movement of the Spirit and to the ways another human being can touch deep within our being – a place where very few see, let alone are allowed to touch; and

Intimacy – allowing the ability to be close with others, in their vulnerability and in ours; to be with others, sharing their deepest hurts and their deepest hopes.

These are all key hallmarks of what it means to truly be a Christian, to live a Christian life.

The calling to exhibit these qualities is beautifully illustrated by Quaker elders in England, several centuries ago. They used the term “tendered” to describe their experience of coming to the faith. “Tendered” in this context meant having been shown tenderness by another. For them, it was the experience of tenderness, through humility and vulnerability; tenderness leading to a sacred intimacy with another person – an intimacy that conveyed something of Christ’s love, of God’s grace and mercy, that led them to becoming followers of Christ. While the specifics are not documented, I cannot help but think that such experiences as having one’s feet washed might have led to the sense of being “tendered.” I cannot help but think that is what our Lord had in mind as he washed the feet of his disciples – giving an example of what it means to be his followers and how to spread that message to others, not in words, but in tender action and presence.

As we commemorate Maundy Thursday, we of course remember the institution of the Last Supper, as commanded by St. Paul in our lesson from 1 Corinthians. After all, the Eucharist based on this event is central to our weekly worship experience as a community. That’s what it means to live as Christians in community. But the message behind the washing of feet – the call to humble service, to openness to vulnerability, to intimate connections with others, sharing God’s love, grace, and mercy to a broken world; that’s what it means to live as Christians out in the world. That is why Jesus came into this world. That is why Jesus shared this last experience with his disciples. That is why Jesus willingly went to his death on the cross the following day – the ultimate act of humility, vulnerability, and intimacy.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Things Will Work Out; They Always Do"

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday – Year A
Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 31.9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; Matthew 26.14-27.54
Sunday, April 17, 2011 – Trinity, Redlands

When I was growing up, and even now as an adult, whenever I have found myself in a difficult situation – one where there just seemed no way out, when you feel like there is no hope – my mother would always say to me, “things will work out; they always do.” I never told her, but that always annoyed me. It always struck me as being trite, merely a platitude to try to make me feel better. She was right, things did always work out, but it still annoyed me.

As I got older, I realized that “things will work out; they always do” was so much more than a mere platitude. That one simple and seemingly simplistic phrase was shorthand for a much greater message. In it, Mom was saying that she thought I had the skills and talents to get myself out of, or work through, whatever situation happened to be plaguing me. In it, Mom was saying that she had faith in me and knew that no matter what I might be feeling at the moment, I would be able to work things out. In it, Mom was saying that no matter how dark things might seem, I needed to trust that things would get better, and not let the darkness give way to despair. And most importantly, in it, Mom was saying don’t give up hope.

Truth be told, even though hearing those words sometimes annoyed me, it really was, and still is, comforting to have Mom say them. I have even found that when there are times where I am struggling with some sort of seemingly hopeless problem, and when Mom isn’t around, there’s that little voice in the back of my head that sounds just like Mom, and it says, “things will work out; they always do.” Because I still need to hear those words. And because they are true.

On this, the Sunday of the Passion, we watch the events of Jesus’ final days unfold, starting off great guns with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” But then things go downhill from there. Within a few days, Jesus turns his attention to celebrating the Passover meal with his dearest friends – knowing this would be the last Passover meal with them, that it would be his last meal period. The meal is not as pleasant as one would hope, for this is where the tatters begin to show, where things start to unravel. Later that evening, while Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas betrays his Master, bringing the Temple authorities to arrest him. Despite protestations of faithfulness, all the disciples desert Jesus in his time of trouble. Shortly thereafter, Peter, Jesus’ right-hand man, denies even knowing Jesus.

Jesus is brought to trial before the high priest, on trumped up charges, and found guilty of blasphemy. He is then spat on, struck, and mocked. Not able to exact the punishment they want, the Temple authorities send Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the civil authority. Here he is brought up on what amount to charges of treason against the Roman Empire. Found guilty according to the letter of the law, Pilate is not comfortable with the outcome, so attempts to free Jesus using a local Passover custom. But the crowd will have no part of it. They turn against Jesus, issuing cries of “Let him be crucified!” Pilate has no choice but to condemn Jesus to death, the punishment the Temple authorities were seeking. Before exacting the final punishment, he is flogged and mocked – “Hail King of the Jews.” And finally, he is sent to his death, nailed to a cross. As he hangs dying, he is further mocked by soldiers, passers-by, and fellow prisoners alike, while the soldiers gamble for the few pieces of clothing he had been wearing.

Jesus’ life is spiraling out of control. Yet there are commentators who write about how every step of the way, the Matthian Jesus is in control of the situation, that he knew what he was doing, making it sound like he was calm, cool, and collected under the pressure of his final days and hours. But this denies the very humanity of Jesus. Even thought he knew what had to be done, that doesn’t mean he didn’t feel a sense of darkness, a sense of hopelessness. After all, in the Garden, he prays not once, not twice, but three times, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” And on the cross, as he hung there dying, he cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If that isn’t despair and hopelessness I don’t know what is. In this final week of his life, Jesus knew what it feels like to have life slip away, spiraling out of control, as shouts of “Hosanna” turn to calls of “Let him be crucified!”; as a ticker tape parade ends on death row.

How many of us, when confronted with a difficult situation, have not ourselves prayed “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me?” How many of us in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation, have not cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In our own human experience, we at times travel the path from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. But what this week shows us, what the culmination of this week in the Easter event shows us is that we do not travel this path alone. Our faith is founded on a God who has traveled the same path with us. Our Savior has walked this path before us, suffering and enduring far worse than we ever will. Jesus walked this path before us, suffering and enduring far worse so that we never have to.

Even in the midst of very human feelings of darkness, despair, and hopelessness that the human Jesus would have undoubtedly experienced, the divine Christ would have known the truth. On this side of the resurrection, we who travel this path laid out before us this coming week see and know the truth. Even as we approach the darkness of Maundy Thursday night, stripped bare of the presence of our Lord, we know the truth. Even as we approach Good Friday, kneeling at the foot of the cross on which our Lord and Master was crucified, we know the truth. Things will work out; they always do.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Responding to Evil

Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A)
1 Samuel 16.1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-41
Sunday, April 3, 2011 – Trinity, Redlands

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9.2)

This question by the disciples gets to the heart of what may be one of the thorniest issues in Christianity: theodicy. Theodicy deals with the question of how can an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God allow evil and suffering in the world? In our attempts to reconcile our image and felt experience of God with the reality of evil and suffering, we struggle with explanations that seek to make sense out of this apparent dichotomy. And while we Christians struggle on one side of the equation, there are those who are not believers who claim that the existence of a loving God and evil are logically incompatible, and conclude that since evil and suffering obviously do exist in our world, God could not possible exist. Sadly, it is the experience of evil and suffering that is probably the main reason many people reject Christianity - a faith that can help them deal with evil and suffering.

When it comes to evil, there is a classification system, of sorts, that helps us in our thinking about the subject, and plays a part in our view toward evil. The two classifications of evil are moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is the result of an event that is caused by the intentional action or inaction of a person or entity. Moral evil has both a perpetrator and victims. Examples of moral evil include murder, violence, adultery, dishonesty, and slavery, to name a few. Why does God allow such moral evil to occur and to persist in the world? While it may not always be a satisfactory answer, we recognize that such moral evil exists because of freewill that has been given to us by God – freewill that is misused for selfish purposes and against other human beings. God has given humanity the gift of freewill and self-determination, and for reasons we cannot completely fathom, God chooses not to interfere. Influence, yes. Interfere, no.

Natural evil, on the other hand, is a bad event that occurs without the intervention of an agent. Natural evil only has victims, and is generally the result of natural processes. Examples of natural evil include disease, birth defects, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and anything that in legal terms would be designated as “an act of God.” Why does God allow such natural evil to occur and to persist in the world? That is a little harder to understand, and for some, a little harder to stomach than the acceptance of moral evil. Natural evil does not involve freewill, so why doesn’t God use a little of that omnipotence and prevent such things as Hurricane Katrina or earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand, and Japan? And while that is one of the mysteries of our God, many people are not content to settle for the unknown, to the appeal to mystery, and struggle to make sense out of natural evil.

Who of us has not occasionally asked “why me” or “why is God doing this to me” when bad things happen to us? Now I speak in the broadest of terms, but what tends to happen when we try to make sense out of natural evil is that we sometimes seek to introduce other variables into the equation. We introduce variables that add a human dimension to the moral neutrality of natural evil –blame or responsibility. “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Generally, the only way we can make sense of an all-powerful God allowing evil and suffering in the world is by presuming divine punishment for some wrongdoings or sinful behavior. Even if we cannot see the specific reason, the sinfulness being punished, we are readily able to accept that God must know what he’s doing. To explain the apparent inconsistency between our all-powerful God and the existence of evil and suffering, we provide a connection, justified by finding someone to blame. In so doing, we attempt to turn a natural evil into a moral evil.

Now on a certain level we know that God doesn’t cause bad things to happen – at least I hope we know. But it is certainly rampant in our society. So we need to be able to name it and put it in proper theological perspective.

After all, we see examples of this every time there is a major natural disaster, a sizeable incident of natural evil. Think back to Hurricane Katrina. At the time, many people asked why this happened. Most likely a rhetorical question, but there were those who immediately leaped in and tried to explain the natural evil by turning the incident into one of moral evil. One nationally recognized televangelist said that “Katrina was God's punishment for sinful behavior in New Orleans.” Another prominent Christian figure attempted to link Hurricane Katrina with an act of judgment against legalized abortion. Human sinfulness was brought into the equation as a way of explaining a natural phenomenon, attempting to make natural evil into moral evil, with the incident itself being divine retribution.

And most recently, with the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, many people naturally asked why this happened. And again, there were those who had answers that involved attempts to place blame. On the Monday after the earthquake, the Governor of Tokyo said “The Japanese people must take advantage of this tsunami to wash away their selfish greed. I really do think this is divine punishment.” He did later apologize for the insensitive comment. But a prominent American figure kept the notion alive by maintaining that the earthquake and tsunami were a message from God as a punishment for sinfulness. Here again, mislaid allegations of human sinfulness was brought into the equation in an attempt to make natural evil into moral evil, with the incident itself being divine retribution.

In response to the comment made by the Governor of Tokyo, a Buddhist monk said, “We can’t pinpoint exactly what brought this about. For Buddhists, it almost doesn’t matter what caused this situation; what’s important is the response.” And I would say not just for Buddhists. While alleged Christian figures make ludicrous claims about natural evil actually being incidents of God’s judgment and punishment, the truth of the Gospel on such matters is born out in today’s lesson. “[Jesus’] disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him’” (Jn 9.2-3).

Jesus is very clear. The man was born blind – a natural evil. When the disciples attempted to make it into an issue of moral evil, attempting to determine the cause of the sin that resulted in the man being born blind – which, by the way, was a very common view of that time – Jesus put an end to such a perspective. Sin had nothing to do with it. The man was the victim of disease or some natural defect that resulted in blindness. Now what Jesus does say by way of explanation is that “he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.” In other words, the point is not to find a cause for the natural evil that has occurred, but to view it as an occasion for doing God’s work; in this case, the work of healing. Was the man born blind so that God’s glory could be revealed through his gaining sight? Maybe, maybe not. The important thing is that the natural evil that was his plight was ultimately used to reveal God’s glory. In other words, it doesn’t matter what caused the situation; what’s important is the response.

The imagery of the man’s eyes being opened, of gaining sight, in combination with the imagery Jesus uses of light and darkness, is a clue that this is not just about Jesus showing God’s glory in the immediate event, in the healing of the man born blind. In the story, it is not only the man who gains sight, but also the disciples. And so do we as the audience. As the events unfold, we too gain sigh, or insight, into how to respond to events of evil – certainly natural evil, but moral evil as well. We are called to open our eyes to see as God sees – to look at such events of evil as God would, and to respond accordingly. With opened eyes we see that it’s not about what blame is falsely or ignorantly placed on a situation, but rather how we respond. In a broader sense, the work of God that is done through incidents of evil is the work of mercy and compassion. Just as Jesus had compassion on the man born blind and healed him, we are called to have mercy and compassion on those who suffer as a result of evil. We are called to look with eyes of faith and to see how God’s work might be revealed – what can be done to bring the light of Christ into a dark situation.

There are so many examples of how this parish looks at dark situations in our world – incidents of evil – and sees not with the eyes of judgment, but with eyes of faith, sees the suffering of evil’s victims, and seeks to reveal God’s work of mercy and compassion through those situations. We help those with behavioral issues through our support of Sierra Vista Rehabilitation Center in Highland, providing various items needed by the residents. We help low income and homeless families through our support of Family Service Association with the food collected weekly during the offertory. We help those who are homeless and hungry through our support of the Shared Ministries, in which we providing a meal one Saturday a month to the homeless population of Redlands. We help the homeless through the Cold Weather Shelter at Blessing Center, when one night a week our parishioners staff the Shelter. We help those who lack access to adequate health care through our support of the annual medical mission to Nicaragua. We help abused women and children through our support of Option House, by providing them with much needed personal and household items. We help those who are in prison or who have recently been released through our support of Step By Step in its various efforts to minister to parolees and the families of those who are incarcerated. And Trinity has also been great at stepping up to help out with special needs, such as when Episcopal Relief and Development raised money for Haiti and most recently, Japan. We have seen with the eyes of faith – not casting judgment, but seeing as God sees. And in our response, the glory of God is being revealed.

Through the example of your works of mercy and compassion, you have helped open the eyes of our youth. Several months ago our Youth Group, after hearing about the plight of homeless teens here in Redlands, have started a project to help YouthHope, the program that provides assistance to the homeless teens in Redlands. One Sunday a month, our teens come together to prepare a meal that will be served to about 100 homeless teens later in the week, providing one of the few meals these kids have each week. The eyes of our youth were opened to an incident of evil, to a need in our community. They saw with the eyes of faith, the way God sees those homeless teens, and they responded. In their actions, the glory of God is being revealed.

With eyes of faith we see that God works in, around, and through events that are counter to God’s purposes in the world, and that in the process, God’s true purposes are accomplished. God needs us to be his hands and feet in the world to do this. So as we work in, around, and through those events of evil, our eyes are opened, we work to accomplish God’s purposes – namely the showing of the glory of God through our acts of mercy and compassion. We are not judging, only loving; just as our Lord does with us.

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