Every month, Connections offers stories, images, reflections and meditations relating to the themes of each Sunday’s readings.  Material comes from the evening news and the every day, from the stage and screen, from the music world and the marketplace – all designed to help homilists “connect” the world of Monday through Saturday with the Gospel proclaimed on Sunday.

To give you an idea of what Connections is all about, we’ve assembled the following sampling of stories, meditations and 'connecting' reflections from recent issues of Connections:

Sunday 32 / Pentecost 24 [November 7, 2021]
Sunday 33 / Pentecost 25 [November 14, 2021]
Christ the King / Reign of Christ / Last Sunday after Pentecost [November 21, 2021]

First Sunday of Advent  [November 28, 2021]
Second Sunday of Advent [December 5, 2021]
Third Sunday of Advent [December 12, 2021]
Fourth Sunday of Advent [December 19, 2021]

The Holy Family [December 26, 2021]
Epiphany [January 2, 2022]
Baptism of the Lord [January 9, 2022]

Please note that, in every issue of Connections, we offer TWO stories/meditations for each Sunday’s Gospel.

After reviewing this “electronic sampler,” if you’d like information on subscribing – or receiving the next complete issue of ConnectionsCLICK HERE for subscription information and an order form.

Enjoy!  
 


32nd Sunday of the Year B / 24th Sunday after Pentecost B [Proper 27]

“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets . . .
“This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.  For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty . . .”
Mark 12: 38-44

The ‘honor roll of donors’

It comes every year, just before taxes must be filed: the annual issue of your college’s alumni magazine with the list of donors to the institution’s annual fund.  Arts groups, social service agencies and foundations also publish such lists under various titles, such as “annual donor report” or “honor roll of donors.” 

The donors are broken down by class year and level of giving.   And you look.  The fundraisers and development officers know you look.  That’s why they compile the list and send it to everyone.  You look to see how your gift measures up to those of your classmates.  You look to see who’s doing well — and who’s not — and where you place among them.  You look out of curiosity, pride and self-satisfaction.

Such donor lists are about numbers.  They tell us nothing about dedication, commitment and values.  The alum who writes the $5,000-check may not give his gift a second thought until he or she itemizes the donation on their tax return — but the alum struggling with the tuition payments for his or her three children manages to give $100 because they feel a deep sense of gratitude for the education they received.

The symphony’s largest donors are the movers and shakers in town, and supporting the arts is just good business — but the retired school teacher’s gift of $50 is her way of being part of something good and important in her community.

The real “honor” in giving is not the amount but what compels us to give in the first place.

In exalting the gift of the poor widow, Jesus wants us to realize that, in the economy of God, numbers are not the true value of giving.  It is what we give from our want, not from our extra, that speaks of what we truly value, what good we truly want to accomplish, what we want our lives and world to be.  In the Gospel scheme of things, it is not the measure of the gift but the measure of the love, selflessness and commitment that directs the gift that is great before God.  For Christ calls us not to seek greater things or talents to astound the world but for greater love and selflessness with which to enrich the world.   


33rd Sunday of the Year B / 25th Sunday after Pentecost B [Proper 28]

“And then they will see the ‘Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”
ROMAN LECTIONARY:  Mark 13: 24-32

“Do you not see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
COMMON LECTIONARY:  Mark 13: 1-8

Attached or committed

While on a skiing holiday, a young man became separated from his party and spent three days in below-zero weather.  He managed to survive, but he suffered extensive damage to his feet.  So severe was the frostbite and gangrene that doctors wanted to amputate his right foot.  The young man flatly refused.

Gradually he became sicker and sicker as the toxins from his injured foot began to flood his body.  His family and friends were desperate, but he would not be moved.  He would keep his foot. 

The situation came to a head one evening when a team of surgeons reviewed his most recent lab studies and assessed his worsening condition.  Finally, his fiancée, overwhelmed by the possibility of her beloved’s death, could take it no more.  Weeping, she tore his engagement ring off her finger and thrust it onto the swollen black toe of his right foot.

“I hate this damn foot,” she sobbed.  “If you want this foot so much, why don’t you marry it?  You’re going to have to choose, you can’t have us both.”

The small bright diamond, surrounded by the black and rotting tissues of his foot, sparkled with life.

The young man said nothing and closed his weary eyes.

The next day, he scheduled the surgery.

[From Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.]

The young man later said his fiancée’s dramatic gesture had helped him see that he was more attached to keeping his foot than he was committed to life.  He had been married to his foot.  The unsettling images Jesus articulates in today's Gospel confront us with the reality that the things we are “married” to – our careers, our portfolios, our bodies, our celebrity – will one day be no more and that our separation from them will be bitter indeed.  Christ calls us to embrace, not the things of the body but of the soul, not the things of the world but the things of God: the lasting, eternal treasures of love and mercy, the joy that comes only from selfless giving, the satisfaction that comes from lifting up the hopes and dreams of others.


Christ the King B / Reign of Christ B / Last Sunday after Pentecost B [Proper 29]

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
John 18: 33-37

Welcome to Jesus’ place . . .

Every evening you and your family gather around the table in your kitchen for supper.  The entree might be some epicurean delight from the pages of Bon Appétit – but more often than not it’s Chinese takeout or pizza from Domino’s.  As everyone digs in, the table buzzes with talk of tomorrow’s soccer game, a crabby teacher, the current fix-up project, the latest office crises, and a new knock-knock joke.  Here at the kitchen table, parent and child give and receive encouragement, consolation, forgiveness and love.  Especially love.  If there is one safe harbor on earth, one secure, sheltered place where you are always welcome no matter how badly you mess up, the kitchen table is it.  Your kitchen – the place where Christ rules.

A storm devastates a town; a fire reduces a neighborhood to burnt timber and ashes; an act of terrorism cuts a wide and bloody swath through a community.  That’s when they go to work: skilled medical professionals, tireless construction workers, patient and gifted counselors, compassionate volunteers.  These dedicated souls work around the clock to care for the hurt and injured, rescue those in danger, help the traumatized cope, and begin the hard work of rebuilding.  By their very presence, these good people transform the debris and ashes into the kingdom of Jesus.

The tired old downtown building has seen better days but no better use.  The city’s churches have worked together to turn the brick structure into a community center, a safe place where children can come to play basketball, receive tutoring, or just hang out after school.  The well-stocked pantry provides for dozens of hungry families every week; a free clinic offers basic on-site medical care and referral services to the poor and uninsured.  Its meeting rooms are always busy: the elderly have a place to go for companionship and immigrants are taught how to master the language of their new homeland.  In this austere brick building, Jesus reigns.

The kingdom of Jesus is not found in the world’s centers of power but within human hearts; it is built not by deals among the power elite but by compassionate hands; Christ reigns neither by influence nor wealth but by generosity and justice.  A politician and influential figure like Pilate cannot grasp the “kingship” of Jesus – but we who have been baptized in the life, death and resurrection of Christ are called to build and maintain that kingdom in our own time and place.  Christ’s reign is realized only in our embracing a vision of humankind as a family made in the image of God, a vision of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, a vision of the world centered in the spirit of hope and compassion taught by Christ.


First Sunday of Advent [C]

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars . . . ”
Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36

Signs

Signs:  Meteorologists watch a storm form in the middle of the Southern Atlantic.  They begin plotting the storm’s course, feeding data into their computers.  The computers then develop possible paths the storm may take and the impact it could have in communities along the Eastern Seaboard.  Warnings are issued — and people begin to get ready for dangerous storms with disarmingly charming names like Sandy.

Signs:  Your son or daughter’s mood has changed.  Your usually happy child is quiet, sullen, impatient, angry.  Typical teenage angst — or is something deeper, more dangerous going on? 

Signs:  At your annual check-up, the doctor sits you down.  He’s concerned about the numbers on your chart.  He doesn’t mince his words:  You’re over forty; you can’t eat like a teenager anymore.

Throughout our lives, we encounter “signs”: indicators of realities we do not readily see or understand or appreciate — or would rather ignore altogether.  These “signs” urge us to look deeper, to see beyond our selves, to confront issues before they become disasters.  On this First Sunday of Advent, Jesus calls us to pay attention to the many “signs” of God’s love in the midst of every trial and challenge we encounter.  God’s Spirit of humility and wisdom enables us to realize God’s saving work in the Advent of our lives.  These four weeks are a microcosm of the Advent that is the very entirety of our lives as Christians: to make ourselves ready to “stand before the Son of Man” through lives of love, mercy and justice.


Second Sunday of Advent [C]

John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins . . .
Luke 3: 1-6

“Repent” this Advent

This Advent, Christmas may seem like just another headache on your already packed schedule.  Another layer of places to go and things to do and expectations to meet.  The schedules posted on your refrigerator door are already a nightmare.  When will it all get done: the shopping and the decorating and the cards?  Who needs to be where and when?  Who’s house are we going to and who’s coming here?  If the stress is getting the better of you, maybe it’s time to repent.

This Advent, there’s a sadness hanging over the coming holiday.  You’re feeling badly about your relationship with a friend.  For whatever reason, things are awkward or strained.  Or there were words between you and a relative that continue to be the source of bitterness.  The chasm between the two of you has only widened.  So consider repenting.

This Advent, you’re feeling a certain emptiness.  You’re tired of simply going through the motions of the holiday.  You‘d really like to make this Christmas different, something special and meaningful.  You’d like to bring joy where there is sadness, hope where there is despair and cynicism.  Repentance maybe a good place to start.

Repentance?  Repentance.

Repentance is not about feeling sorry or badly; it’s not about guilt or regret.  The word repentance, as used in the original Greek text of today’s Gospel, means change — not just feeling sad about a given situation or set of circumstances but resolving to do something about it.  Change can’t happen, of course, if we believe there is no reason to change; change is not part of anyone’s perfect image of Christmas.  Repentance begins with the acknowledgement that everything isn’t fine, that we’ve been blown off course and need to make a correction, that the geography of our lives is filled with crooked roads and steep mountains.  So make this a season of real repentance: recapture the serenity of Christmas, repair the broken relationship, restore the meaning of Christ’s birth in works of generosity and peace.  In the spirit of John the Baptizer, make a new, straight path for God to enter your home and heart this Advent.  


Third Sunday of Advent [C]

Exhorting them in many other ways, John preached the good news to the people.
Luke 3: 10-18 

“Just do it . . . ”

God’s Hotel is Dr. Victoria Sweet’s memoir of caring for patients at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital, the last “almshouse” hospital of its kind in the country, a facility serving the city’s poorest and most destitute. Her touching, often hilarious stories reveal how these extraordinary souls transformed Dr. Sweet’s understanding of her work as a physician.

Dr. Sweet writes about one of her colleagues, Dr. Curtis, who was cared for stroke patients. One day during rounds, Dr. Curtis saw that a patient who had been ready for discharge months before was still at the hospital, still in a wheelchair, still in therapy. Dr. Curtis asked why the patient, who was able to walk, was still in a wheelchair.

“No shoes, doc,” the man said. “They ordered me special shoes, but they’re waiting for Medicaid to approve them.”

“How long have they been waiting?” Dr. Curtis asked.

“Three months.”

The doctor thought a moment. “What size shoe do you wear?”

“Size nine.”

Then Dr. Curtis, despite the rounds he still had to finish and the charts he had to dictate, left the ward, got in his car, and drove to Walmart, where he bought a pair of size-nine running shoes of $16.99. He returned to the hospital, put them on the patient’s feet and wrote the discharge orders.

Dr. Sweet ran into Dr. Curtis as he returned with the shoes. Was he planning to submit his receipt for reimbursement? she asked. 

He laughed.

Which left Dr. Sweet wondering: Why had Dr. Curtis done this? And why hadn’t anyone else? She writes:

“It was a simple thing to do, but it never would have occurred to me to do it. I would have been frustrated with the shoe delay, of course, and would have filled out a second or even a third Medicaid request. I might have even written Medicaid or braved its phone tree to complain about the time the pair of shoes was taking. But it would have never occurred to me to go to Walmart and buy the patient’s shoes. I had too much to do, too many forms to fill out, too many other patents to see. It would have meant crossing a kind of inefficiency boundary. And yet Dr. Curtis got in his car without much questioning . . . hurrying back to the ward with the shoes to put them on the patient — himself. He reminded me of an aphorism I loved but never understood: The secret in the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”

Dr. Curtis shares the vision of the kingdom of God articulated by John the Baptist in today’s Gospel: seeing individuals in need and not names on forms, willing to be the solution to a problem rather than a bystander, seeking justice and mercy before efficiency. In the spirit of John the Baptizer, we are all called to be witnesses of God’s love by the love we extend to others; we are called to precursors of his justice by our unfailing commitment to what is right and good for others; we are called to be reflections of the light of God’s Christ in our taking up Jesus’ work of forgiveness, mercy and compassion.  


Fourth Sunday of Advent [C]

“Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . . ”
Luke 1: 39-45

After the battle

The Rev. Mark Oakley is the chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. He tells the story of going to the German city of Dresden as part of his sabbatical a few years ago. Dresden is a beautiful city, but he had other reasons for wanting to go there.

As a boy, Mark knew his grandfather had flown in the Royal Air Force in World War II. His grandfather never spoke of his experiences, except one day mentioning “Dresden” and weeping. Mark didn’t understand then, but he does now. 

Two years after his grandfather’s death, Mark was asked to preach in the reconstructed Frauenkirche in Dresden. On the way to the train station at the end of his visit, the taxi driver asked Mark what brought him to Dresden. Mark said he had always wanted to come to Dresden. “Why?” the taxi driver asked. 

Mark took a deep breath. “Because my grandfather was a navigator of a Lancaster bomber and on February 14, 1945, I know he flew here as part of the bombing raid and he could never talk about it.”

The driver was quiet and then said, “That was the night my mother was killed.”

The driver then pulled over the car and turned the engine off. He turned around to face Mark. He extended his arm to Mark, and said, “And now we shake hands.”

No further words were said. No further words needed to be said. Both knew the horror of that night; both knew that history weighed heavily on each of their souls, in different ways. And, realizing that in the other’s life, the seemingly impossible took place: healing, restoration, forgiveness. 

In Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting and in our own similar “visitations,” the Spirit of God is present in the healing, comfort and support we can extend to one another in such moments. In the light and hope of this holy season, may we “make haste” to bring such reconciling peace and healing justice in our own “visitations” to others, in our own encounters in which the grace of God enables us to see one another in God’s eyes.  


The Holy Family [C]

After three days his parents found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers . . .
Luke 2: 41-52

Losing Jesus

Imagine losing Jesus.

You work hard to provide for your family, but your work takes you away too many days and nights, and you lose Jesus.

You become distracted by all the demands placed on you; when you are finally able to look up, you lose Jesus.

You try to walk Jesus’ path, you want to live his Gospel — but you cut too many corners, you go along to get along one too many times, you take too many moral and ethical shortcuts, and you lose Jesus.

You assume that your position is the right one — because it works for you.  But by the time you realize that your position is not right but convenient, safe but not just, good for you but bad for the common good, you lose Jesus.

You experience a separation too great, a betrayal too painful, a grief too dark.   You lose Jesus.

God does not seem to hear you, so you stop praying.

Church becomes an empty cavern, so you disengage.

The darkness and cold of winter has gripped your spirit, so you fill the void in your soul any way you can — if only to forget for the moment.

You lose Jesus.

We know the anxiety and terror Mary and Joseph felt.

Where is Jesus?

But the reality is that while we may lose Jesus, Jesus is not lost to us.

He is there in our temples, traveling in our caravans, dwelling with our families.

All we have to do is look and we will find him.

[Suggested by Lauren F. Winner in Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.]

In the promise of Emmanuel — “God with us” — God comes to make his dwelling in our midst in the person of Jesus.  Jesus remains with us even when he seems most distant and farthest away, when he is nowhere to be found.  He is with us in the love and compassion of family and friends, in the forgiveness we receive and give, in the generosity and healing we make happen even in the simplest and most hidden ways.   With the blessed assurance of his constant presence, let us seek out Jesus in every moment and experience and relationship of the New Year.  


Epiphany [ABC]

Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Matthew 2: 1-12

Pray for me — and tell God this . . .

In her book Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul, Rabbi Naomi Levy shares this encounter with a congregant:

“’Pray for me, Rabbi,’ is probably the most common request people have made of me over my years in the rabbinate.  I am always honored to pray for people.  But of course I worry when people ask me to pray for them.  Are they asking because they don’t think God will listen to them?  Do they think prayer requires a correct formula and if they don’t know the magical incantation that their cries won’t be heard?

“Once, about twenty years ago, I went to visit a man in the hospital.  He said, ‘Pray for me, Rabbi.  I don’t know how to pray.’  I said, ‘Of course I will pray for you.  But first, tell me, what is it you want me to say to God?’  He thought for a moment and then began trembling as he spoke:  ‘God, I am Yours, I know that.  But I belong here with my family.  My heart is aching.  I’ve never let myself love like this before.  Give me time.  I pray to You, God, give me time.’

“These words flowed from the soul of a man who felt he didn’t know how to pray.  When he was done he sighed deeply, and I could see the worry and tension depart from his face.  A calm overtook him, a light, a grace.  I witnessed with my own eyes how prayer heals.

“From that moment on, any time someone asks me to pray for them I always ask the same question, What do you want me to say to God?  And it never fails.  People astound themselves with words they didn’t know existed inside of them.  The soul speaks of its own accord.”

Rabbi Levy’s question and the thoughtful answer it elicits is an experience of “epiphany”: the manifestation of God’s light and presence in our midst.  As the magi undertake a long and arduous journey searching for the newborn king by the light of the mysterious star (encountering, among other things, a murderous tyrant along the way), a congregant in pain and despair finds the peace of God within himself, thanks to the sensitivity and wisdom of a wise rabbi.  We all experience such “epiphanies” in our lives: moments of revelation and understanding, discoveries of possibility and potential, new appreciations of the love of God in our homes and hearts.  In times of great joy and accomplishment and in times of turmoil and disappointment, the love of God is manifested to us in the most hidden kindnesses, in the barely visible light of everyday compassion.  May we follow the star of God’s reconciliation and justice, enabling us to behold Emmanuel — “God in our midst” — in every experience of charity, consolation and forgiveness, whether given or received.    


Baptism of the Lord [C]

When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

“The Color of Water”

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother is author James McBride’s best-selling memoir of growing up in a family of twelve brothers and sisters, raised by a white Jewish mother who was evasive about her Jewish ethnicity but steadfast in her love for her children. 

As a boy in Brooklyn’s Red Hook projects, James knew his “light skinned” mother Ruth was different — and wondered if he was black or white.  When he asked her mother one day if he was black or white, she snapped “You’re a human being.  Educate yourself or you’ll be a nobody!”  For Ruth, education, not race or culture, was the realization of one’s full identity.

But young James wasn’t satisfied.  So he asked his mother, a very religious woman, whether God is black or white.

Mother Ruth sighed, “Oh boy . . . God’s not black.  He’s not white.  He’s a spirit.”

“Does he like black or white people better?’

“He loves all people.  He’s a spirit.”

“What’s a spirit?”

“A spirit’s a spirit.”

“What color is God’s spirit?”

“It doesn’t have a color,” his mother said.  “God is the color of water.  Water doesn’t have a color.”

James writes that he “could buy that” and, as he got older, continued to appreciate more deeply and profoundly the many dimensions of his racial and cultural identity.  On this feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we see in the clear, life-sustaining waters of our own baptisms the “color” of our identity as the “beloved” of God, the God who loves us, who cries with us and for us, who knows the pain and despair and anger we experience because he has experienced it all himself by becoming one of us.  In the waters of baptism, we embrace the Spirit of God and that Spirit embraces us, as well:  God the Creator and Father is present to us in all our tears and laughter, in all our struggles and triumphs, in our every grief and joy.