Archive for June, 2015

The Fruit Falling out the Windows–Pastoral Reflections on the Dedication of a Banner

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Banner Dedication
in advance of the sermon
June 28, 2015

E-mail from Virginia Douglas to Mary Hammond:

I don’t remember what year it was that this image [of a large tree rooted in the middle of the sanctuary, with branches wide and fruit falling out the windows of the church] popped into my mind and I shared it with you. I’m thinking it could be 20 years ago now and quite possibly at one of our Bob Evans’ lunches! But it sure has turned out to be a “fruitful” and enduring way to think about the mission of PCC. Some churches are called to “grow big, in place,” while PCC seems to be called to “grow big, all over the place!” It’s nice to realize also that many fruit trees, and notably apple trees, are grafted in order to produce good fruit. That makes me think of the way we are grafted one into the other, as the Church is grafted into the “root of Jesse.” PCC has indeed, “packed up and shipped out” many of its prize fruits. We can all rejoice at the spiritual nourishment that has been so freely shared with the world.


Rooted in love
a poem for the Dedication of the Banner
copyright Don Parker, May 30, 2015

Rooted in love,
nourished in the rich soil of Christ’s community,
a tree grows in the place called Peace Community Church.
Its sturdy trunk has been built cell by cell, layer on layer,
with acts of caring and compassion
and works of peace and justice.
Its branches reach out and flourish,
green, verdant with life,
drawn by concerns beyond these walls
and producing fruit–
fruit that feeds those seeking a new life,
hungry to make a difference in a world gone right:
a world that respects diversity,
that values and works for justice,
that pursues peace,
that equates equality with ending poverty, sharing opportunities,
and realizing the dignity of every person–
in short, that strives for community,
that grows into community,
that does all to preserve community–
communities rooted in love.

The Fruit Falling Out the Windows
Pastoral Reflections on the Dedication of a Banner
Psalm 1, Isaiah 61:1-4, Rev. 22:1-2,5
Mary Hammond
June 28, 2015

I was perusing an old scrapbook given to the church by the family of Mae Chesbro. Her family ties go all the way back to the beginnings of this congregation in 1866. Mae’s uncle, a founding member, hand-crafted the couch in the back of the sanctuary.
A headline of a newspaper article from the 1960’s stopped me in my tracks. First Baptist Church: Small but Significant. The article chronicled two outreach ministries of the church during the years when Bill Sheeley was pastor. Mary Caroniti and Enid Buckland were active members at the time.
Steve and I had the privilege this week of talking to Mary at the Nursing home about those days. Her eyes instantly lit up. “Oh, that was wonderful!” she exclaimed, as she shared about the two-week summer day camp held one year at Finley State Park. Pastor Sheeley had a big van. The church ladies joined him in gathering up the neighborhood kids for a summer adventure. The leaders organized activities and games. The group cooked outside. The kids played, swam, explored, and everyone had a great time.
Mary also shared about the Golden Agers Club. Members of the church picked up nursing home residents once a week and brought them to church for games and snacks. Anyone who knew Enid, knew she loved games! And that Mary Caroniti—she sure loved to cook!
“How did you ever get the visitors downstairs,” I asked, “without handicapped access?”
“I don’t know,” Mary replied, “We just did.”
As we talked, Mary commented, “You know, you couldn’t do either of those things today, with all the rules and regulations. It’s a different time.”
I agreed.
“Small but Significant,” the headline read. That described First Baptist Church very well. There weren’t many folks there in the 1960’s, but those who were there dreamed big, saw needs, got their hands dirty, and met them. The same was true in the 1970’s, the 1980’s, and the 1990’s.
In the year 2000, change was in the air. The name “First Baptist Church” no longer adequately described the congregation’s makeup and ministry to either itself or outsiders. So, the church changed its name to “Peace Community Church” by a remarkable six-month consensus process.
By the time Steve and I had been here fifteen years, 250 people had come and gone through the doors of this building–students who graduated or moved on, townies who discovered a way-station to sort out religious convictions and then return to former traditions, dechurched people who had lost their faith or left the church for years or decades, new residents seeking a friendly welcome, working folks who lost jobs and had to leave Lorain County to find employment, core members who became shut-ins and passed away.
One day, Virginia Douglas and I were having lunch, talking about the constant ebb and flow of hellos and goodbyes, the continuing congregational reality of “small but significant.” She suggested this amazing image: “It’s like a big tree, rooted deep in the sanctuary, branches extending far beyond the open windows, with the fruit falling outside.”
This image bears witness to the truth of who this church is, how this church does ministry, and what God makes of the people in this place.
This past January, the congregation spent a month reflecting again on the vision that comes with the church’s name. I mentioned this image made plain to me long ago. Joyce Parker was captivated by it and recreated it for us so beautifully in a banner. Don Parker added his poetic embodiment of the image.
Our culture prizes numerical growth–more money, more possessions, more success, more of everything. Church culture too easily mirrors popular culture–more members, more baptisms, more programs, more financial security.
Ask any pastor who has been to a denominational meeting. After the initial question, “Where do you serve?” comes the follow-up, “And how big is your congregation?” Then, comes the ‘upward mobility’ question: “How long have you been there?” After 20 years, especially in a small church, that answer usually takes some explaining!
Numerical growth is not bad–some of it is necessary to survive. Steve has often told those around here who prize smallness, “Don’t worry, folks–I’ll tell you when and if this church gets ‘too big!’”
Yet, another kind of growth also exists. It is qualitatively different. The tree provides a good metaphor for this deep, wide fruitful growth, nourished by streams of living water. Roots extend far down into the rich, moist earth. The tree bears fruit in due season, seeding itself and producing more fruit.
The tree of life is an early symbol in many different religious traditions and diverse faiths. Rita Nakashima Brock, in her landmark book, “Saving Paradise,” chronicles her years of deep archaeological research on early Christian art. Images of paradise in its abundance and lushness defined Christianity throughout its first 1000 years. Grapes hanging, trees blossoming, rivers coursing–all of these images were predominant. The focus on the violent death of Jesus and the cross as the primary symbol of Christianity was not prominent until the Crusades when “sacralized violence” overtook images of paradise. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is introduced early in the biblical narrative in Genesis 2. The Tree of Life for the healing of the nations concludes the biblical vision in Revelations 22.
What does it mean, in 2015, for us to see ourselves in this image of the tree planted deep in the soil of this place, bearing fruit that falls out the windows? What does it mean to connect ourselves to this biblical image of paradise restored, the Tree of Life bearing fruit for the healing of the nations?
A final insight about this newspaper headline from the 1960’s came to me recently at the gym, reading through my Prayer Journal. I always bring something to read, meditate on, or pray about when I do elliptical, to make the hour pass quickly. Otherwise, I could never do it!
As I prayed for the church, I stopped on the phrase, “small but significant,” written in my journal. The ‘but’ shouted out to me. Such language insinuates that ‘small’ is bad or defective, but size is compensated for by significance.
When I got home, I crossed out the ‘but’ and changed it to ‘and.’ Small and significant. How does that sound? No judgment on ‘small.’ No elevation of ‘significant.’ Just a pairing that speaks of what is true and has been true for many more decades than the 36 year Hammond tenure at the church.
As we ponder the future of this church, our country, and world, I invite us into continued conversation—and continued revelation—of the meaning of this image now beautifully rendered on this remarkable banner.
Enid Buckland has passed away. Mary Caroniti is in a nursing home, celebrating in 2015 her 50 years as a member of the church. Today, there is a Neighborhood Center on East College Street where Seniors gather. Welcome Nursing Home hosts activities for residents. Visitors come and share their talents. The Boys & Girls Club and the City Department of Recreation offer many summer programs for kids. Yet, there is always more to be done, and unique gifts of grace and welcome for the church to offer.
In every day and age, the church must respond anew to the call of God. Through it all, the Holy One continues to richly bless the small and significant ministry of this church, year after year, decade after decade. May we rejoice in the fact that we are part of this ongoing story. Amen.

Riders on the Storm

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

Mark 4
June 21, 2015
Steve Hammond

Here is something that I don’t get about this story we just read. I’m not quite sure why Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. They did after all wake him up because they were expecting he could do something about their predicament. That sounds like faith to me. And didn’t Jesus once say that if you had just a tiny bit of faith, no bigger than the smallest seed, that that was enough? It seems like waking Jesus up so he could do something about it, even if they didn’t know exactly what, gets them over that faith threshold.

So what was wrong here? Why did Jesus have such a strong response to the disciples after he calmed the waters? Any ideas? They may have had a little bit of faith, or even more faith than we realize, but perhaps the problem was that it was rooted in fear. And that fear, I think, was there before the storm because of where they were going. If you keep reading into chapter 5, you discover that Jesus was headed for the land of the Gerasines, Gentile territory. That was a huge step for Jesus and the disciples. And the disciples had to wonder if he had lost his mind.

Did you notice in the story that it just wasn’t Jesus and the disciples who went through that storm? Jesus had spent the whole day in that boat using it as a platform because so many people had come out to hear him. He had to get away from the shore because of the crowd. And when Jesus decided it was time to leave, people got in their boats and came with him. What was going to happen, the disciples had to wonder, when the folk in the other boats figured out where Jesus was going? He had them eating out of his hands. But now, not only would they turn back, but they would let everyone know what Jesus was doing. Jesus and the crew were having a hard enough time with the religious authorities and others who portrayed them as heretics. What would happen when they found out that Jesus was cavorting with and even healing Gentiles, so blatantly committing this outrage against piety?

Jesus kept going, though. He was figuring out that the good news wasn’t limited to just his own folk, even though such a thought had not ever occurred to even the disciples, much less all the people of Israel. Their faith was all about their exceptionalism. They believed not only that they were number one in God’s eyes, but no nation or culture or religion was number two.

Jesus wasn’t just taking the disciples on a journey across the lake to where the Gentiles lived, but he was taking them to a whole new way to view God, themselves, and the world. As Kate Huey puts it, “this night, the disciples find themselves on the risky way to encountering ‘otherness,’ and it’s no wonder they feel threatened. We are all afraid of those who are ‘other,’ but Jesus calls us to get out of our comfort zones and move out into unfamiliar territory, confident that he will be with us all the way.” And this is before the storm.

Do you remember the story of Jonah who made his own miraculous nautical journey? And he didn’t like his destination to the land of the Gentiles of his day any more than the disciples wanted to go with Jesus. In fact, the thing that upset Jonah the most about that whole experience was not the ship wreck or the three days in the belly of the whale. Instead, what really got him mad was that the folk in Nineveh avoided the wrath of God by responding to Jonah’s message. The thing that he feared most happened. God’s favor was poured out on them. Jonah’s response was to go off and pout. What kind of world was it where God blessed the Ninevites? It was scary because it undermined everything Jonah understood about this world.

These stories are as current as today’s headlines. Nine folk shot and killed in a Black church simply because they were Black. They were killed by a young white man who couldn’t imagine a world where Black and White folk were regarded as equals. He was afraid of that world. How many times and in how many places do we continue to treat others with suspicion and fear simply because we’ve been told we are supposed to be suspicious and afraid because they are different than us?

So all of this is going on and then the storm comes. That boat in the storm becomes such an obvious metaphor for the fear that must have gripped the disciples as they were beginning to realize that Jesus was turning everything upside down and they were there on ground zero with him. They were sailing into dangerous waters with him.

It was after he calmed the storm, the story says, that Jesus asked the disciples about their faith, or lack thereof. But, as Mary and I keep mentioning, the word that’s usually translated as faith in the Bible is probably usually more appropriately translated as trust. So maybe they were waking up Jesus out of their fear rather than their trust. And being in a crisis situation, it became quickly clear that the disciples weren’t at that point where they could trust Jesus. Then there’s that question, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we are going to drown?” I know that this was early in the time that Jesus was with the disciples. And I know it was a pretty tense and frightening situation. But did they really think that Jesus didn’t care if they all drowned? Hadn’t they had enough time with Jesus to see that he was willing to put a lot on the line for them? And so he asked them, ‘don’t you have any trust at all?’

There is plenty to fear in this ocean that sometimes rages around us. Illness, job loss, broken relationships with family and others, worries over children and parents, to mention a few. Sometimes it feels like Jesus is asleep in the boat. And like the disciples, we can even begin to imagine that he doesn’t even care about what happens to us, those we love, or anybody else. How do we find the trust? That trust is, I think, found out of remembering, out of the prayer that undergirds our lives, in that community of Jesus followers who surround us, and realizing that Jesus is either going to calm the storm or ride it out with us.

We keep talking about the transitions the church in this country, including us, is experiencing. Numbers of people in church and levels of commitment are dropping. There seems less and less interest in the experience that means so much to us. There are numerous competing commitments. The church used to be at the center of society and so many lives, now it is largely irrelevant for so many. At best it seems like the church is adrift. At worst, it feels like we are in the midst of a raging storm that is going to swamp us. But Jesus seems plenty calm because he knows, I think, that the church is going to make it to that shore that is still such a mystery to us. And there will, most likely, be choppy waters and calm seas as we make our way there.

Jesus knew that the future of the God movement, as it is with the future of the church, meant going to places we never imagined we would go. Jesus took the disciples to that other shore, risking that storm, because the people who lived there needed to hear the story. And the reaction was decidedly mixed. He healed this guy who had a legion of demons in him. That’s the story where Jesus sends the demons into the pigs. The man was so grateful that he wanted to go back with Jesus. Others, though, told Jesus to leave and never come back. The story says after they saw the man who was now healed, they were afraid. They weren’t any more pleased to have a Jew in their midst than the Jews were for Jesus to be there. The man didn’t go back with Jesus, but the story concludes, “He went away and began to proclaim how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.”

As the church follows Jesus to its future, I think we are going to have to trust Jesus enough to go to some very scary places with him. Some people are going to hear our story and come with us, others will send us away. But we can’t get to the other side without climbing into the boat.

Kate Huey writes that “Frederick Buechner preached a beautiful sermon on this text that points us outward and onward, as Jesus commanded his followers long ago: ‘Go….Go for God’s sake, and for your own sake, too, and for the world’s sake. Climb into your little tub of a boat and keep going.’ Buechner reassures us that Jesus will be with us: “Christ sleeps in the deepest selves of all of us, and…in whatever way we can call on him as the fishermen did in their boat to come awake within us and to give us courage, to give us hope, to show us, each one, our way. May he be with us especially when the winds go mad and the waves run wild, as they will for all of us before we’re done, so that even in their midst we may find peace, find him” (Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons). (Huey)

Remember how this story on the troubled sea ends. The waters are calmed. And this time the question doesn’t come from their fear, ‘Don’t you care Jesus,’ but out of their awe. ‘Who is this man?’ Maybe you have heard that prayer ‘Be with me, God, for my boat is so small and the ocean is so big.’ Maybe we could just change it a little bit an offer this prayer that moves us from fear to awe. ‘Be with us, God, for our boat is so small and your ocean is so big.’

Where Grace Rules

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

1 Samuel 16
June 14, 2015
Steve Hammond

Samuel tried to tell them. This need to have a king just like all the other nations did was, he believed, an insult to God. They had managed well enough with God raising up a Judge, like Samuel, when the need arose. And Samuel was sure God would do the same thing once Samuel either died, or the need wasn’t there. But the people insisted. So God told Samuel to let them have their king. Before finding that new king for them, though, Samuel said this is what they should expect.

“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle[b] and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

So after that warning Samuel went in search for Israel’s new king, and he found the one God had anointed to be Israel’s first king. His name was Saul. And it didn’t work out. The story even says that God regretted ever allowing Saul to be a king. That’s where we pick up in today’s story. God told Samuel to get over his regrets about Saul and to find a new king for Israel. The people wanted a king and now there was no turning back, even if Saul, the one originally anointed by God, had been a big mistake. And there were plenty of more bad kings to come. But God already had someone in mind to replace Saul, though Saul still considered himself to be the King. That, of course, does make it a bit tricky when you are the newly anointed one.

David was chosen as the new king. It’s a very typical Biblical story. When Jesse’s sons were all lined up before Samuel, no one even thought to include David. But here we are, the last becoming first. It’s a great motif. The most unexpected of people can become the ones that are used by God. It’s not the outside appearance that count but what God sees on the inside of us. It is interesting to note the narrator of the story did just happen to mention, as the Revised Standard Version that David ‘was ruddy, had beautiful eyes, and was quite handsome.’

That thing about the last becoming first only works, though, when the person who is now first doesn’t forget about what it was like to be the last. David seems to kind of have forgotten that. Does anyone else see this whole story about David being a man after God’s own heart a bit problematic? Sure he started out as the runt of the family. He was so unnoticed by his family that when Samuel came around it didn’t even occur to any of them to include David among the brothers. That is pretty humble beginnings for a king.

It seems, though, that David pretty quickly left the humble part behind. Power, money, and sex seemed to have a lot more to offer. Most of us are pretty familiar with the story of Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite who was an officer in King David’s Army. They lived next to the palace. David was up on the roof one night looking into their window and saw Bathsheba taking a bath. He started asking around about her and decided he just couldn’t live without her. So he sent for her.

She got pregnant. And the fact that Uriah was fulfilling the soldierly vow of those days to abstain from sex while at battle was a big problem for David. After trying some less lethal approaches to resolving this, the only way David figured he wouldn’t get caught was to make sure Uriah was killed in battle. That happened and David very quickly married Bathsheba. Nevertheless, he was found out. But that’s another story.

Some things never change. Ever since this story of David’s adultery and related homicide made it into the Bible, people have been trying to put the blame on Bathsheba. It seems to me though that when the king’s soldiers deliver you to his bed chamber, that ‘no means no’ doesn’t have a chance.

I’ve got a Bible quiz for you. Who can tell me who Paltiel was? David’s first wife was Michel, Saul’s daughter. By the time they were married, Saul was figuring out that David was wanting his Job. So one night when Michel herd that Saul had arranged to have David killed by his soldiers, she helped David escape. She waited, but David didn’t come back. He did marry several other women, though, and began collecting several concubines. So after several years Michel was married to Paltiel, and that marriage worked out. When David finally defeated Saul, he decided he wanted Michel back. He did remind his staff that he had, after all, paid the now dead Saul, 100 hundred Philistine foreskins for her. So he told one of his generals to get her back. Even though Michel begged to stay with her husband, we read that Ishbaal[f] sent and took her from her husband Paltiel the son of Laish. 16 But her husband went with her, weeping as he walked behind her all the way to Bahurim. Not only were Michel and Paltiel heartbroken by what David did, David never got what he was hoping would happen once he was reunited with Michel. It all culminated with this dispute about David doing cartwheels in the streets while wearing a tunic. After that we never hear about Michel again except that she lived out days in the Harem and never had children. That probably means she was never again summoned to the royal bedroom. And Paltiel, of course, never got to see her again either.

King David seems to have pretty much fulfilled the warning Samuel initially issued when the people of Israel were determined to have a king. He did amass great wealth and property, either through military means or the simple theft kings are allowed. Though he was able to spend lavish amounts on a palace, he never got to build the Temple because, as God told David’s son and successor Solomon, David was a man of war. This mighty nation that David had built didn’t last past his son and successor Solomon’s reign.

Still, by the time of Jesus 1,000 years later, David was revered as a man after God’s own heart, and the one whose throne the messiah would reestablish. Jesus, it turns out, wasn’t looking to replicate those glory days. There is a story in John 6 where Jesus fed the crowd and they wanted to make him king. When he refused to become the new king, they walked away. And at the beginning of the book of Acts we read of the hopes of the disciples that the kingdom of Israel would shortly be restored. After all, hadn’t Jesus shown his kingly chops. They killed him, but here he was alive again. And that thing he had about being able to walk through walls. What would happen when he just suddenly appeared in Herod’s court? How did Jesus respond to all of that? He left. I mean he really left. He ascended, never even considering the option of reestablishing the kingdom of Israel, just like it was in David’s day, the kingdome that people had been longing for and imagining for a millennium.

Even though Jesus rejected the idea, till this day we insist that he be a king, like David. Really? It kind of feels like it was back with Samuel. We don’t know how to live without a strong man in charge, someone who will take care of us and take care of our enemies and the forces of godlessness.

At that kangaroo court Pilate held that condemned Jesus, Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews. Jesus response was ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’ I don’t think that meant Jesus was saying he was going to set up a realm that was in that different world of heaven, where he gets to sit on a heavenly throne. Instead, he was saying that in this realm things were going to be way different than what is currently done in this world. “In this God movement, in the commonwealth of God, we don’t run things the way you are used to Pilate. We’re not so concerned about kings and who is in charge. It’s not of this world. It’s not anything this world has ever experienced. We are going to create something very different. When you get the chance, Pilate, read the beatitudes. That’s what my realm is about. It has nothing to do with your understanding of the world.”

Despite our efforts to coronate him, Jesus had no more appreciation for kings than Samuel did. But we still have King David as one of the heroes of the Bible, in spite of his very significant flaws. But that’s another theme you see running through the Bible. Some of the great figures of the Bible that the church looks to are actually NSFC, not suitable for church. Yet they are good enough for God in spite of their violence, corruption, sexual indiscretions, and spiritual cluelessness. The accusations often hurled against Jesus by his opponents included that he was a friend to drunks and whores, and that his followers weren’t very religious. Yet Jesus let people know these were his kind of folk.

It wasn’t just those folk, though, that Jesus loved and honored. He was open to everybody. Rich and poor, men and women, the devout and the irreligious. But he knew something happens to us. We can call it sin. We can call it structures, but something happens. David the marginalized shepherd seems like a better guy than David the king. He was a man after God’s own heart, but something got hold of him when he became king.

None of us will ever get the chance to have the kind of power that David had and see how we would do with it. Quite likely, not much better than he did. But you don’t have to be a king to have your intentions, your desire to be a person after God’s own heart, corrupted. Sin does not have to be original to find itself into our lives. Nobody knew that more than the Apostle Paul who was among the elite when it came to devotion to God. He realized that what he wanted to be, though, was always out of reach. But he was able to articulate something that King David, or Moses, or the disciples experienced in spite of all their flaws. He called it grace. The band U-2 sings about grace. “Grace, she takes the blame, she covers the shame, she removes the stain, it could be her name. Grace, it’s the name for a girl, it’s also a thought that changed the world. And when she walks on the street, you can hear the strings, Grace finds beauty in everything… What once was hurt, what once was friction, what left a mark no longer stings because grace makes beauty out of ugly things.”

The realms of this world can get ugly, including those many realms that are trying to rule our lives. But the realm of Jesus is not of this world. It’s the world of grace that calls things like goodness, compassion, kindness, love, peace, joy and mercy out of us; all those things that David found it so hard to come by when he became king. The commonwealth of God is not looking to put anybody on a throne, just to help folk walk together in the way of Jesus as equals in God’s and our own eyes.

Samuel was right in his warnings about kings. What David and all rulers need to realize is that it is not only the grace we receive that changes our lives, but also the grace we offer. And it probably is much better to serve in the world where grace rules, than rule in a graceless world. (Thanks to Don Parker for helping with that last line).

When Seeing and Being Seen is Enough

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Matthew 19:13-15, Luke 8:42b-48
June 7, 2015
Mary Hammond

[Congregational Reflection Question before the sermon: When have you felt invisible when you really needed to be seen, and how was that for you? When have you felt visible when you really needed to be seen, and how was that for you?]

Grief hung like a shroud over his life. My dad’s parents both immigrated from Finland, met in the United States, and married. A daughter was born around 1917, my Dad in 1920. His parents ran a jewelry store specializing in watches and clocks, in Willoughby, Ohio. An aunt also made the voyage across the ocean and helped care for the kids as mom and dad tended the store.

But tragedy struck early and hard. Between the ages of five and nine, my dad consecutively lost his entire family–his mother, aunt, little sister, and finally his father.

Thankfully, his father remarried before he died. In spite of all the advice she received to the contrary, step-mom Aina adopted my dad. Also a Finnish immigrant, Aina cleaned houses to support the two of them. Dad used to say he was a “latch-key kid” before the phrase was even in parlance.

During the last years of his life, my father and I got to talking about his childhood. With tears in his eyes, he recounted missing the funerals of his parents. “Children were supposed to be seen and not heard in those days,” he said. “No one thought we had feelings. We were invisible.”

One day, some people bring their children to Jesus for a blessing. Given the extended family systems of ancient society, it would not be unexpected for grandparents, aunts, or uncles to be part of the mix along with parents.

The disciples attempt to shoo these adults away. Who thinks children have needs? Less hardy adults might have slunk off after being roundly rebuked for bothering Jesus. But not these folks. Jesus ignores the naysayers, welcoming the children into his arms. They are not just noticed; they are seen. They are touched, held, and blessed. Further, Jesus lifts them up among those same naysaying disciples as messengers and signs of the Reign of God.

In another story, a woman with “an issue of blood,” or perpetual menstruation, comes to Jesus. She has been ill for years and years, traveling to doctor after doctor for an elusive cure and some kind of relief. No answers have come.

Her condition renders her continually unclean. She physically experiences a lot of discomfort. She socially faces a lot of isolation. She psychologically endures a lot of shame. We know today that any or all of these things can easily provoke depression. The text speaks of her in desperate terms.

This unnamed woman reaches through the crowd and touches the hem of Jesus’ garment. He senses power going out from him and asks who has touched him. Peter makes light of his observation, noting that the whole crowd is pressing in on him. No one comes forward to admit to that intentional touch.

But Jesus persists. Finally this isolated, shamed, chronically ill woman faces Jesus, blurting out her story in the midst of the crowd. He looks at her in love, calls her “Daughter,” and sends her forth, healed and in peace. Like the children in the other Gospel story, she is finally seen–seen by Jesus, seen by the crowd, seen by herself in a new way. Her courage to come out of the shadows and give voice to her story becomes part of her healing process.

When my dad was a young boy, what if he had been truly seen in the midst of his cumulative, devastating childhood losses? What if the children Jesus held in his arms, and those who were never brought to him by loved ones, were blessed every day by those responsible for them? What if the bleeding woman had been received by others as “daughter” throughout all her desperate years, searching for healing? As we prepare to celebrate Communion, we come together as people who long to be seen and known. We come as a community of faith, seeking to be among those who see with the heart of Jesus. May this celebration connect us deeply to God, to one another, to this earth which is our home, and to our most authentic selves. In Jesus’ name, I offer this prayer. Amen.