Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cain and Abel - Moving From God's Rejection to God's Forgiveness, Provision and Compassion - Part 1

Last fall, I was chosen to participate in the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Seminar sponsored by Butler University's Center for Faith and Vocation in partnership with Christian Theological Seminary. Rabbi Sandy Sasso, retired from Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis, directed the six-week seminar that included three other faculty who presented the following perspectives on the story of Cain and Abel: Cain and Abel in literature and poetry, in the visual arts and in music.

The story of Cain and Abel is recorded in the fourth chapter of Genesis, verses 1-16. God judged Cain's harvest less than Abel's offering of a lamb. Cain was jealous, and killed his brother. Using
the Jewish practice of Midrash to interpret the story,  (, we examined the central question, "Why did God reject Cain's offering?" Was it because of the content of the offering or did it have to do with the character of the brothers.? Both Christian and Jewish scholars have wrestled with this question for centuries with no definite answer.

Four Words to Understand Cain and Abel

My time with this story led me to these words - forgiveness, compassion, protection and provision. I believe God forgave Cain and from that forgiveness flowed God's compassion, protection and provision. God's compassion was clear for Cain, for God gave Cain a purpose and direction following the murder. God told Cain that he was banished from the place where he lived and would forever be a wanderer (verse 12). God's provision and protection for Cain continues in verse 15 where God places a mark on Cain so that no harm will come to him. Some interpret the "mark" as a letter that God engraved on Cain's forehead. Others believe Cain was given a dog to protect him.

There is great hope in the story of Cain and Abel, for the nature of God is revealed. We may not commit murder, but we do sin. When sin happens, we can come to God with a contrite heart, with the assurance God will grant forgiveness, wrap us in love and compassion, and guide us along paths of right living.

Study the Story

Take a moment and read the story of Cain and Abel. Read different translations if possible to see how different language can change meaning or perspective.

Here are a few questions to guide you:

       1. What type of work did Cain and Abel do?
       2. What did each bring to God as an offering?
       3. God predicted that Cain would sin in response to God's rejection (verse 7). How did Cain respond to God's rejection?
        4. How do you react to God's rejection of Cain's offering?
        5. What do we learn about the nature of God from the story?
        6. Have you ever been jealous of a sibling or friend? How do you react to these feelings? In what ways have you worked through the situation in which you felt jealous?
        7. How would you explain this story to a child?

Prayer: God, there are times when we experience injustice from another or from life circumstances. Jealousy can rob us of life, blocking or limiting our connection to you. Guide us through these difficult emotions that come, helping us see your light and companionship as we work through and explore the causes. Forgiveness helps us come to a place of peace in you. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Communion at the Episcopal Chapel in Chauauqua, New York - "Receive what you are: The Body of Christ."

The pews were full when I arrived so I took a seat in the last row. Growing up in the Episcopal church, I appreciated the opportunity to hear the familiar liturgy that sustained and nurtured me.

Every summer Mike and I spend a week at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York. Last year I decided to begin the week by attending the 8:15 am Monday morning communion service in the small Episcopal chapel on the grounds.

When it was time to receive communion, I joined the line that progressed to the front. I opened my hands and heard the priest say as he placed the bread, "Receive what you are ------- the body of Christ."

I carried these words in my heart back to the pew as the liturgy continued, ending with a benediction and blessing. After the service, I walked quickly along the cobblestone way, back to my room to collect materials I needed to teach my morning class still reflecting on words I'd never heard before receiving communion.

I am accustomed to hearing the pastor say, "The body of Christ, broken for you." These new words from the priest became a charge for my day, a focus for each moment, energized by beginning the day with communion.

Prayer: God, we are your body and our mission is to love and serve you wherever our day takes us. Open our hearts and sharpen our vision to become your body to those around us and to those we hold in our hearts, so we can bless others as you have blessed us. Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"What Is Your Life's Theme?"

(Guest writer this week is my husband, Mike Reed, a retired United Methodist pastor.)

I have chosen the word "theme" in the title, but would agree that "mission," "purpose," or perhaps "goal," would also work as well. I suggest that everyone's life has a theme of some sort and that as we live out our lives, we live out that theme in various ways.

This idea came to me a number of years ago when I reflected on the words of my good friend, Greg McGarvey, a fellow pastor who maintains that all preachers have a theme that they come back to in different ways through their sermons. One parishioner, upon hearing Greg say that responded, "Yours is 'Get off your seat and do something.'" Greg said that he laughed and told the man he was right, not only about his preaching, but in how he lived.

That experience set me to thinking about the themes of my life and preaching and it did not take me long to identify. My theme comes from Genesis 12:1-3: "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you shall all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'"

I summarize my theme by saying that we are blessed to be a blessing as God blesses us, so we can bless others. Our whole reason for being here, both as individuals and as communities of faith involves blessing others. Some may put this a bit differently, but with the same intent. "We should leave the earth and its people in better shape than we found them during our time here."

In my present position at the local Y.M.C.A., I work in the hospitality area where we welcome people and check them into the facility, as well as washing and folding towels for our guests to use while there. Often, when two of us are working and when we have both washers and dryers running with towels folded, I will take a cart to collect dirty towels from a couple of locker rooms.

A few weeks ago as I was making my rounds, the high school age custodian who usually collects the towels saw me loading the cart. He said, "You make working here easier." I thanked him while laughing to myself and saying, "You caught me - caught me trying to be a blessing in  a small way."

Being a blessing to bless others constitutes my Life Theme. I would urge you, if you have not done so, to consider the theme of your life. Begin by asking yourself what you are doing or could do to make a difference.

Evaluate what talents and gifts you have.

Pray for discernment to know what God wants you to do, as well as the kind of person God wants you to be.

Test what you observe about yourself in your words and actions.

Then, write your life theme some where you will see it on a regular basis. By living out your life theme, you will be following God's call in your life.

Sunday, March 6, 2016


(written June, 2015)

Kaleidoscope -an optical instrument in which pieces of glass held loosely at the end of a rotating tube are shown in continually changing symmetrical forms by reflection in two or more mirrors set at angles to each other.
A kaleidoscope is one of those old-fashioned toys that bring joy just by being held and turned. The inside is filled with colorful glass pieces that make designs by turning the base. There is a definite sequence to use a kaleidoscope - holding, turning, shifting glass and beautiful design.

A kaleidoscope can be a metaphor for life. Most of the time we are holding steady in our daily routine. Sometimes we even classify our lives as mundane or use an expression I've heard recently, "same old, same old." In an instant though, like the turn of a kaleidoscope our lives can tumble and shift like the glass as we absorb our pain or the pain of others for whom we love and care.

Between Patterns

Since mid-March eleven friends have experienced serious illness, challenging circumstances or the loss of a spouse or relative. Interspersed with these difficulties of health, impaired relationships and death, my family celebrated our youngest daughter, Anna's, thirtieth birthday; rejoiced with our oldest daughter, Sarah's engagement. I put together with four other mothers a quilt for one of Anna's friends who is having a baby in July; picked strawberries twice; baked numerous batches of biscuits; swam at least twenty miles cumulative; celebrated a friend's daughter's First Communion; and appreciated several months of thoughtful sermons and communion.

When I turn the base of the kaleidoscope the glass pieces hang in an incomplete design between patterns. Pieces of hanging glass are indecisive; we don't know what new pattern will appear until the direction becomes known. That's how life is when our worlds are turned upside down. We are left dangling and hanging, wondering where "normal" is, wondering when life will resume familiar ways.

Light Always Seeps Through

Then I turn the base again - the dangling glass has found another spot in a new and colorful design. No matter how complex the pattern or how deep the glass hue, I've noticed light seeping through. Light reminds me that when we feel like we are dangling and out of sync, light is always present, .just like glass waiting for a new form. When the pattern falls into place, there is seemingly less light. Is that how life is - when we are broken and in many pieces there is more space for light to come through?

In John chapter eight verse twelve we read, "Jesus spoke to the Pharisees again. 'I am the light of the world,' he said. 'Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.'" Jesus' words remind us that no matter what darkness is happening, the light of God brings love, hope, strength, and encouragement.

Seeing Light in Darkness

I am reminded of one of my favorite articles from the May/June, 1997, issue of Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life called "Baking Bread in the Dark and Other Acts of Courage," by Gerrit Scott Dawson. Three stories of courageous individuals are shared.

The one I like describes a woman who was widowed early in marriage leaving her to raise two little girls on her own. She worked in a furniture factory during the day, but baked sourdough bread at night to use as gifts to family and friends as well as to sell for extra income.

As she aged, she developed macular degeneration leaving her with only peripheral vision. Despite these limitations, she continued to bake bread as a symbol of her life. It communicated her resolve to take care of herself no matter what the circumstances as well as her desire to give a tangible sign of her love to others.

She mixes now from memory and touch. Raised bumps on the stove help her feel when the stove is on. In effect, she is baking in the dark, but she refuses to give up. Her courage to live despite extreme visual limitations comes from the light of God's presence that has sustained her through the years. The stars still shine at night outside her window and in the darkness she sees them in her mind.

Lifting the kaleidoscope that rests on my desk, I look through the narrow opening, admiring the colorful design, illuminated by light. I recall how baking and sharing biscuits for decades has helped me through my own stretches of darkness and enabled me to share compassion to those whose pain weighs heavy on my heart.

Prayer; God, there are so many ways you come to us and ways we come to you. Metaphor of our lives abound. You are in all. Let the light in us, join your light filling our hearts so we can care for others. Amen.