Grace Church in New York
Cathy Minuse, April 5, 2020
John 12: 1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them wth her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Mary’s extravagant devotion is the usual focus of commentary on this passage. But I am struck by Judas’s observation and the writer’s aside about it. Judas makes a valid point. Wouldn’t giving to the poor be a better use for money than buying expensive perfume? Once we’ve covered our necessities, how do we apportion our spending between charity and our own comfort and pleasure? Few of us enjoy depriving ourselves. Another question: do the poor care about our motives? Judas was evidently the disciples’ treasurer. If Judas were a hypocrite but some of the “common purse” went to charity would the recipients mind Judas’s hard heart?
No matter his unworthiness, Judas’s observation can make us think about our own priorities and choices, our own personal responsibility. How much do we want to give and how? If money, what portion of our income should we give? If time, how will we fit in volunteering and for what project? Should we hammer nails with Habitat for Humanity or serve lunch with Hope for our Neighbors in Need? If things, what will help us remember to bring cans to put in the food drive basket?
And what about Jesus’ remark? Certainly true: as we walk the streets of NYC we cannot doubt that the poor are with us. Years ago my brother visited from the other side of the country. We took a cab from the airport to Manhattan and had scarcely stepped out on the sidewalk on Broadway when a ragged man approached palm outspread. I remarked to my brother, here’s the Mayor’s welcoming committee. Mayors have come and gone. Still we have a homeless woman living on our block and there’s an encampment up Broadway from the church.
As Jesus’ death loomed (and he must have understood it was coming) he appreciated Mary’s generous spirit. His statement may sound a bit callous. In a sermon he was invited to preach, Kurt Vonnegut posited that Jesus was making a joke, “a Christian joke, which allows Jesus to remain civil to Judas, but to chide him about his hypocrisy all the same.” Vonnegut paraphrases Jesus’ words as “Judas, don’t worry about it. There will still be plenty of poor people left long after I’m gone.” I can’t imagine Jesus was counseling complacency or urging us to despair and give up. After all, even if a condition can’t be eliminated, it can be fought. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of the words from Deuteronomy 15:11: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you – open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” This Lent I wonder how I can better open my hand, while knowing that the poor are always with us.
Ashleigh Madureira, March 29, 2020
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley;[a] it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath[b] to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
I have two brown thumbs, but I still love to garden. Putting a tiny seed into dirt, watching it sprout, grow and flower (hopefully) is amazing to me every time. However, for that process to occur the plants must have space and nourishment. People are really no different. We need to nourish our bodies and souls to live and grow. Neglect can wither us and leave us as ‘dry bones’.
For me, Grace has been a place to reset; a chance to put my problems in perspective and be reminded of what’s important. You can’t help but feel slightly transformed when you walk through those doors. You know you’re in a special place. As an Open Door volunteer, I enjoy welcoming others to Grace to be transported from the busy streets of Manhattan into a true sanctuary. Some come in just to admire its beauty and satisfy curiosity, others come to sit and speak with God. Whatever the reason, I like to think His presence is felt just by being within those walls uplifting and comforting those who seek it. Many leave and thank you for those moments – the opportunity to pray, to ogle, to grieve, to hope, to do what they needed to do.
But how do we provide that space to be and grow with God when we aren’t in church? When it’s not all around us? When we get sucked back into those busy streets and get on with our busy lives? I know I can easily get caught up in the minutiae of the day, the petty grievances, and the careless actions. I get wrapped up in myself and it’s often hard to disengage and focus on the greater picture, to just stop and reset. I think that’s why I appreciate all of the opportunities Grace provides to pull us to center again, especially with outreach. It’s a very deliberate break from ourselves to make some space to serve God. And it requires no prerequisite skill set! I don’t have to be a carpenter to work in community with other volunteers to help build a home with Habitat for Humanity. I don’t have be a social worker to walk the streets with Don’t Walk By volunteers to let people know they are loved and have resources. It’s these moments that help us breathe life into ourselves and each other. It’s what helps us live and grow.
If we are to see the bounty of God’s gifts, the garden needs to be tended. This Lenten season I hope to practice being mindful of the ways I can bring God into my life and serve others even in my day-to-day bustle.
Karen G. Krueger, March 22, 2020
Children of Light
From this Sunday’s Epistle: “Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is in all that is good and right and true.”
As an Open Door Ministry volunteer, I have the privilege of spending time in Grace Church during the hours when it it open to the public. I greet visitors as they arrive, and answer their questions (if I can!).
Light is very much a part of this experience. The narthex is dimly lit, so when someone pulls open the heavy church doors, the daylight streaming through the doors can dazzle me. The visitor steps in, peers into the nave, and exclaims at the sight of the brightly illuminated Te Deum window and the soft colors shining through the other stained glass windows. I see visitors’ faces light up — there’s that metaphor — at the beauty of our church.
Our visitors are a diverse lot in every way. Some are neighbors, some come from across the world. Some are in need of help, others merely curious. Some spend only minutes, some hours. Some speak to me, some ignore me.
I believe all who visit us find something in Grace Church that their souls were craving: perhaps a moment of peace, or bodily rest, or reconnection with God. When I welcome visitors, I try to practice opening my heart and seeing each one as a child of God. Welcoming visitors as they receive the fruit of the light makes me more mindful of “all that is right and good and true.”
The Rev. Megan E. Sanders, Chaplain, Canterbury Downtown, March 15, 2020
This week in Lent we hear from the Gospel according to John about Jesus’ interaction with a person often referred to as “the Woman at the Well.”
She is a person Jesus’ disciples are surprised to see Jesus sitting and talking with when they get back to him at the well after going grocery shopping in the city. The disciples do not consider this woman a person with value. The powerful in the world as it was ordered then did not assign value to her. Much of the world as it is ordered now would also see her as worthless.
So, the disciples come back from food shopping to find Jesus with this woman at the well.
No one says anything out loud to Jesus about whatever they may have been thinking to themselves, and the woman leaves, and the disciples change the subject.
Eat something, they say to Jesus. We went shopping – we got your favorite snacks!
Jesus does not let the discomfort or confusion of his disciples throw him off – he can and will teach and preach. He can and will model the life he is calling them (and us) to live.
Jesus uses the subject of eating and nourishment to teach his followers about what really satisfies his hunger. From the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John:
“Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.’”
What fills Jesus up and gives him the energy to keep taking action and doing his work day in and day out? Doing the will of God for the sake of God’s work. That’s the food he says he needs. The work is the food. Acts of service to God reignite his energy to continue to offer acts of service to God. It’s genius.
And yet – I have not yet been able to figure out how to do the will of God for God’s purposes without struggle, resistance or complaint. I am not alone in my imperfection; and if you can identify with this, you are also not alone. When I feel hungry, it’s hard for me to think about anything other than getting something to eat. The hungrier I feel, the more energy I put into only myself and my own hunger. When I am working to serve my own will, there’s no room for anything (or anyone) except for what I want. Even when I have good intentions, I need God’s help to take actions for the sake of God’s will and not my own.
So what does it look like to do the will of God?
Jesus teaches us to see each other and to care about each other with the same level of hunger that drives our bodies to eat food to stay alive. He uses an ordinary and familiar point of connection – the human need to eat – the human feeling of hunger. Using our lives to do God’s work can be very, very difficult. The way Jesus goes about doing God’s work looks amazing and satisfying and sacred. What if I’m not up to the job?
Fear not! Jesus says that God’s work has been done way before them, it’s for them to do now, and it will be done by those who come after them: “For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Jesus loves his disciples with his whole heart while he was with them in those early days of ministry together. If the disciples could see and believe in their own value, they could have the honest and generous ability to see the value of everyone else, too. And once we see everyone with value, love takes over and we are propelled with God’s help to see our call to work always for God’s purpose.
If the disciples can learn to love themselves, they can see that the Woman at the Well is not someone to be ignored, overlooked, disregarded, or thrown away. This woman is also a disciple and part of the ministry team. John’s gospel continues and tells us, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…”
Spending time with Jesus outside in the sweltering heat of the noonday, the Woman at the Well experienced what sounds to me like a transformation into a new understanding of herself. She was transformed into a person who believed in her own value. She didn’t have to change anything about herself to achieve this value she felt about herself when she was with Jesus. And as soon as the disciples showed up and her value was no longer universally recognized, she left the scene with her sense of value firmly knit in to her being. She even forgot her water jar – most likely an object of value to her – as she hurried off to the city to tell everyone to come and to see Jesus. She knew she was somebody, and that made her want to share her bursting joy about Jesus with everyone she could.
With God’s help, we, too, are propelled to take our place among those who work to do the will of God for God’s purposes. Jesus shows us is best done together. And – since humans make mistakes – it is unavoidably messy. But being on this discipleship team can also be fun/exhilarating/inspiring/fulfilling. I’m pretty sure I’m telling you things you already know!
My prayer for us this week in Lent is that we can hear this gospel text with new ears. That we can see ourselves in the people we hear about in scripture. That we can believe Jesus about how important it is to him that we see and know the sacred and unchangeable value of every human being. Me and you. People we know and people we’ve never met. Everyone. Everywhere. Valued exactly the same. All of us priceless.
Jesus models for his followers that no one person is more valuable than another. As humans we do order ourselves for the purpose of, well, order. Our work together is ordered, but the order is not about value. The order is about how we are set apart (the definition of holy) in the kind of work that we do toward the same purpose: to restore all people to unity with God and each other.
Much of the Episcopal Church’s interpretations of Jesus’ teachings about how to go about doing God’s work together is in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (the red book). I read through the Catechism (especially pg. 855) while writing this reflection
Wait – so how does this reflection connect with the ministry of Canterbury Downtown?
In the very same way that every teaching from Jesus connects every person who seeks to be a disciple. Students have the same value as people of any age or vocation. A big part of my call to work for God with students is to share Jesus’ message of their value in a world that often says they aren’t worth as much as they will be once they get older/wiser/more experienced. I get to do the work of journeying alongside them on God’s behalf to honor their lives just as they are now. Since I’ve been transformed into a person who believes in my own value, I can do my part to work for God with students in the same way that the Woman at the Well did her work for God with the people who lived in her city and neighborhood. You all – the people of Grace Church – make possible so much of God’s work with students through your faithful belonging to this community of Christian Episcopalians. You welcome the students and see them not as strangers or novices of humanity, but as whole people of equal value. You invite them, semester after semester, to join with you in calling Grace Church a spiritual home.
With gratitude to Grace Episcopal Church as host for this ministry through giving students:
- Shared worship with the community at Grace
- Office space and awesome colleagues for the chaplain
- A sacred place that serves as an anchor and spiritual home for the countless students that have found rest, refreshment, joy, comfort, nourishment, renewal, community, a call to see and feel the value of one’s self and of all people, a call to mission, ministry, action
- Gifts of the Spirit known to God alone.