Tag Archives: Path to Restoration

Offering the Serpent

Lent 2012
Path of Restoration

by the Rev. Andy Lobban            

The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent this year include two of my favorites.  From Numbers: “So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live” (21:8-9).  From the Gospel of John: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (3:14).

Our restoration as the people God intends us to be is a complex business, and for good reason.  God exceeds all that our minds can fathom, so there is no limit to what we can say and imagine about God.  Yet sometimes we must forget all this complexity and simply contemplate the earthy simplicity of our circumstances.  We are in a wilderness, and there are poisonous serpents all around.  Danger bites us from the outside, and sin bites from within.  If something, or someone, does not appear quickly to save us, we are mortally wounded.  This is the human condition, and no one is exempt.

This is a serious problem, in fact a lethal one, both physically and spiritually.  Scripture tells us, however, that the cure is actually remarkably simple.  All we need to do is look at the bronze serpent and live!  The only challenge is for us to recognize the serpent when it is held up in front of our faces and then to hold it up for others.

Jesus is the ultimate serpent of bronze.  It’s no accident that it was a serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness.  That serpent, the ancient serpent, is sin incarnate.  And he who knew no sin became sin for us.  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the Son of Man, the sinless one made sin for our sake, was lifted high upon the cross so that we might look at Him and live.  Yes, it really is that simple.  In this wilderness we call the world, where poisonous serpents attack day and night, all we must do is look at Jesus and live.  All anyone must do is look at Jesus and live.

Our Episcopal tradition is a rich one with a colorful history.  We claim Apostolic succession for our bishops; liturgy is central to our Christian life and practice; and our understandings of Word and Sacrament are both Catholic and reformed.  For many of us, this rich heritage helps us look at Jesus and live, and that is precisely why we are Episcopalians. 

The world around us, however, may struggle with this.  It is a hurting, groaning world full of poverty, addiction, and violence.  And when this world looks at us, if it ever even gets around to doing so, I’m not entirely certain that it sees Jesus.  This isn’t because we are unfaithful or because Christ isn’t in us; it is simply because, as Episcopalians, the way we see Jesus lifted up may not match what much of the world around us needs to see.

Good Samaritan Community Services, the social service ministry operated by our diocese, is a place where our Church has been willing to stretch itself in the name of showing Jesus lifted up to people who see Him differently.  It is a place where restoration is available to all, where the basic question asked is: “How do the people in this community receive the Good News?” Even if the answer to that question is difficult and frightening, the people of Good Samaritan respond to it.

The answers come in a variety of forms.  Some who visit Good Samaritan centers receive the Good News of Christ through worship, prayer, and study.  Others receive it through table fellowship, still others through education and character development, and yet others through recreation and much-needed fun and relaxation.  There are inevitably some who come and go, seeming to have experienced no Good News whatsoever.  The beauty of a ministry like Good Samaritan’s, however, is that since our only agenda is to show Jesus lifted up in the communities we serve, we can move forward undaunted even when that happens, knowing that God may give growth to planted seeds long after the initial encounter occurrs.

As we live out our Christianity as the Episcopal Church, looking to Jesus and living, we must also ask ourselves: What would help our neighbors see the Son of Man lifted up, so that they can believe in him and have eternal life, so that they too can be restored to being the persons God intends for them to be?  What does this hurting world need to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch so that it can live?  We all, in our simple daily lives, can lift high the cross in such a way that our neighbors, all of our neighbors, can look at Jesus and live.

The Rev. Andy Lobban is chaplain at Good Samaritan Community Services in San Antonio TX. Reach him at lobban_a@goodsamcenter.com or leave a comment below.

To participate in or learn more about the work of Good Samaritan Community Services, visit their website at www.goodsamaritancommunityservices.org

What Now?

Lent 2012
Path of Restoration

by Terry Pierce

Terry Pierce is a student in the bivocational-priest program of Iona School for Ministry in the Diocese of Texas. She is also a student in the Masters in Spiritual Formation program at the Seminary of the Southwest. This sermon was preached for the Iona School for Ministry program on March 10, 2012. Terry lives in Austin. 

“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you”  (Mark 5:19).

Two thousand swine rush into the lake and drown.  Thundering noise.  Waves of dust like a Panhandle dust storm.  I come from generations of farmers and cattlemen, but my mom tells about my grandfather deciding to raise sheep high up in the Panhandle.  A norther came in the night — freezing rain and wind whipped across the plains.  The next morning my grandfather found the sheep huddled in a circle, dead.  They had suffocated.  Sheep are the kind of animal that might follow each other into a lake and drown. 

Pigs are an animal of a different type.  Smart, clever.  I asked a Hill Country veterinarian what it would take to run 2,000 pigs into a lake.  He had a good laugh, but he was stymied. A few might run into the lake, but the rest wouldn’t follow — unless, of course, they were possessed by demons who were under the authority of an irresistible power.

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the demons recognized him as the Holy One of God and obeyed his commands. In Mark’s story, Jesus commanded them to come out a man. They did, going into a herd of swine and driving the entire herd into the sea.

The swineherds ran off to tell the people of the city and the country what had happened.  Imagine the urgency they must have felt.  How do you explain that a significant source of the community’s livelihood left in your care has just run into the lake and drowned?  The people came and begged Jesus to leave their neighborhood.  As Jesus was getting into the boat, the possessed man, now clothed and in his right mind, begged that he might stay with Jesus.  Jesus refused.   

Now What?   What do you do with life renewed?

My step-sister is mentally ill.  She is also smart, diligent and kind.  We were very close as youngsters.  She was incapacitated by mental illness as a young adult.  Over the years, I have been a helpless bystander as her illness shackled sanity and reason and left her among the tombs.  The demons she has encountered are overwhelming and fierce. They have convinced her that evil spirits lurk in her closets, that her medication is poison, and that family members are conspiring to take her life.   I’ve encountered lesser demons in my own life – Demons that left me bruised and howling.  The man in this story, broken and living in the tombs, bowed down before Jesus and was given the gift of his life.  He was healed.  He was clothed.  He was put in his right mind. 

Now What?  What do you do when your life is restored?

Here I am.  Healed.   Clothed.  In my right mind.  And my demons have just taken 2,000 pigs that don’t belong to me into the lake.  The people of my community are afraid.  Maybe they’re a little angry too.  Maybe they’re hoping that I’ll get in the boat with Jesus and be on my way.   Jesus does not offer that choice.  He says, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”  And Jesus departs.

 Now what?  What do you do when Jesus leaves?  

Tony Baker, a theologian at Seminary of the Southwest, recently published this on his blog:  “The truth is the movement of God away from where we are is part of the everyday rhythm of Christian faith.”  Tony continues, “The question for us, I suppose: What are we going to do with the emptiness he leaves behind?  Fill it with something else, something more easily attainable, something that won’t walk away?  Or drop our nets and follow?”  Mark’s story tells us that the man began to proclaim in this Greek and Roman area how much Jesus had done for him, and the people were amazed. 

I suspect it wasn’t quite that easy.  There are times when my step-sister has respite from her demons.  I am grateful when that happens and I am holding my breath against the return of the demons.  I imagine this man’s friends were holding their breath, waiting to see what was going to happen next.  I wonder if some people might have wanted restitution for the lost pigs.  Perhaps people avoided him or ridiculed him. How much easier it would have been to start anew by getting in the boat and going off with Jesus.  But Jesus said,   “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you!” 

What now?  How will they know how much Jesus has done for me?

Our story as God’s chosen people begins with the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the story of how God shepherded a whole people from slavery to freedom so that he would be their God and they his people.  Moses called them to teach their children and their children’s children what God had done for them.  God’s chosen people were to observe the commandments and the ordinances so that people might see in the way they lived what it was to be God’s people and how much the Lord had done for them.  Jesus makes his way through the countryside casting out demons and healing the sick while calling us to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We  followers of Christ have many and varied stories; we are not cut of one cloth.  Baptized in Christ and called to serve, each of us is living in the Now What?  What does one do with life renewed?  All of us have made a choice to respond, some willingly and some perhaps reluctantly.  By our baptisms, we have each agreed to live visibly in Jesus’ call. 

I can imagine myself at the shore watching Jesus’ boat depart:  My mind fills with a thousand questions.  How exactly I am to live this new life?   How will I know what to say, what to do?  Can’t I just go with you, Jesus, for a little while?  As his boat draws away from the shore, here I am.

Now What?  What do I do with life renewed?   

Jesus tells us what we are to do with life renewed – Go.  Tell them how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy he has shown you!


Reach Terry Pierce at terry.pierce@ssw.edu.  Or leave a comment below.



Turning Point

Lent 2012

Path of Resoration

by Marjorie George

The crowd in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel wanted something. They thought they wanted Jesus, but it turns out they wanted their version of Jesus. They wanted what Jesus could do for them.

The crowd had been following Jesus, John tells us, because of the “signs” he had been doing: clearing out the temple, defying authority, healing people. It was better than a circus — even a Roman circus — and this was a crowd of spectators come for the prizes.

Jesus did not disappoint. Were they hungry? He fed five thousand of them from a boy’s five loaves and two fish. Did they want miracles? He defied a storm and walked on the water. Their hands were out, their eyes were open. “Come, let us make you our king,” they cried. “Teach us to do what you do,” they begged. “Feed us always,” they insisted. They reminded Jesus that, after all, their ancestors had been fed manna in the wilderness by God; what could he put up against that display? But when Jesus turned from the superficial to the profound, from bread for today to the bread of life, the crowd lost interest. When the teaching became “too difficult” (6:60), John says, “many turned back and no longer went about with him” (6:66).

The narrative of John’s sixth chapter is an exquisite leading by Jesus away from the life of the world, the external life, to the offer of a greater life, an internal and eternal life with God. The conversation moves from tangible bread to manna bread, to Jesus as the bread of life, to the body-of-Christ bread and blood-of-Christ drink. It is the progression we have to make if we are to grow into life in Christ. Not because Christ is self-centered and demanding, asking us to commit to irrationality. But because Christ knows that the surface life, the life of external things, offers no lasting satisfaction.

But note that in John’s story, not all of the followers left. Turning to the 12 disciples, Jesus asked, “Do you also wish to go away?” Whereupon Peter responded with that incredible statement that all who call themselves Christ-followers must one day claim: “Where else would we go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life” (6:68).

That is the way of the journey of restoration with our God. Sooner or later, those who follow Christ are asked to do things, to live in ways, that sound “difficult” – if not downright crazy — to the world. Ways that we may not understand. Sooner or later we have to stop seeking answers from the world, for the world can never provide them. A life lived in Christ will never be satiated by power, possessions, recognition, or false-security. “Not as the world gives, give I to you,” (Jn 14:27) Christ said.

Pray God that when you and I are offered those opportunities – and we are offered them repeatedly — to move forward with Christ or turn back, we will recognize with Peter from whence comes the life abundant and lay claim to it.

Marjorie George

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org or leave a comment below.



In the Image and Likeness

Lent 2012

Path to Restoration

by the Rev. Philip Cunningham

Like many people, I make lists of things to do.  The motivation for this is generally practical — without a list I might forget all of the tasks to be completed.  There is, however, another reason I like to do it and that is for the satisfaction of being able to cross something off my list.  Crossing something off demonstrates finality, knowing that whatever it was I was supposed to do is done; it is no more. 

Sometimes, on my more unproductive days, I might even add things to my list that have already been completed, just to get the pleasure of crossing them off – washed my hands, check; ate lunch, check. Unfortunately, not all our tasks in life lend themselves to the neat arrangement of a check list, and this can often lead to frustration.  For example, it would be nice if, in becoming a Christian, we could check off a little box that said I am now wise, placid, and joyful; but alas it does not work that way. Christians still get angry; they can be petty, pessimistic, and quite often a general nuisance.  Which of course begs the question: why, if we have given our life to Christ, have we not been made perfect? 

The second century Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon approached this problem by dividing our Christian lives into two distinct realities.  His belief was that while we are born in the image of God we are, throughout our lives, to grow into the likeness of God.  And if you will excuse a rather trite example, it is something like the character Pinocchio. 

When he first comes to “life,” Pinocchio is very much the image of a human.  He can move around, walk on two legs and even sing “I got no Strings.”  And if we look at him as an animate puppet, we are likely to think he was made in the image of a man.  However, there would still be something rather incomplete about him, what the movie called “not being real.”  It is not until the end that Pinocchio moves from being the image of a human to being in the likeness a human.

Like Pinocchio, we humans must make the journey from knowing that we are made in the image of God to acting in ways that God would act.  That is the struggle and, of course, some days are better than others; our progress may be glacial at times.  C.S. Lewis once talked of a rather nasty man who was a Christian.  When another person commented about this particular man’s nastiness, the reply was, “Yes, but you should have seen him before he became a Christian.” 

Our life is a journey towards God, one that sometimes may be filled with disappointments and setbacks, but at the same time we must never give up.  Through God’s grace and love we can start to reflect God’s likeness back to the world.  Lent is a perfect time to recommit ourselves to this journey; affirming that we are traveling and trusting in God’s perfect will so that we may move from the image to the likeness of the almighty God. 

The Rev. Philip Cunningham is rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio, Texas. Reach him at pcunningham@stmargarets.us or leave a comment below.

Finding Joy and Wonder

Lent 2012
Path of Restoration

by the Rev. Mary Earle           

 Some years ago, when I began work as an associate rector at the Church of Reconciliation in San Antonio, I inherited a prayer desk that had seen better days.  The pad on the kneeler was ragged, and the stuffing was gone.  The wood had been painted over many times.  I was on the verge of relegating it to the youth room when the sexton, a feisty redhead named Linda, offered to take the prayer desk home and see what her husband could do with it.  He loved working with old wood, she  said, and had a heart for this kind of restoration.

            Weeks later, she knocked on the door of my office.  She’d brought back the prayer desk.  Her husband had carefully removed all of the layers of old paint.  He’d discovered that underneath all of that grime and grit was sturdy oak.  He had stripped off the last layer of old varnish and then lovingly sanded the wood.  Clear varnish, applied with care and attention, now allowed the natural beauty of the oak to shine through.

            Linda had made a new pad for the kneeler; it was a beautiful cotton print, simple in design and evocative of altar hangings.  She’d made sure there was sufficient padding for my sore knee.

            When she handed it to me, she said, “It’s been fully restored, and made beautiful all over again.”

            As I write these words, my forehead is adorned with a cross of ashes.  Every Ash Wednesday, I recall the prayer desk.  I remember all those layers that obscured the inherent beauty of the oak.  I remember the painstaking effort involved to remove the gunk so I could see the beauty of the wood, shining through again.

            This Lenten journey, in the words of one traditional Gaelic prayer, reminds us that we are “fashioned for joy.”  For all sorts of reasons, we discover that we, too, are covered over with layers of gunk and grime.  Our innate beauty, the beauty bestowed when the living God brought us forth in God’s own image, gets obscured and hidden.  Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and self-denial are intended to allow the Holy Spirit, through this sacramental life, to return us to that first beauty, and to begin transforming us into the divine likeness. 

            We cannot do this by ourselves.  And we cannot allow it to happen merely by being grim, earnest and zealous.  The Celtic Christian tradition has bequeathed to us a living sense of robust confidence in Jesus’ willingness to heal us and make us whole.  From those prayers, both ancient and contemporary, we remember to sing, “Be Thou my vision,” and to enter these 40 days trusting in the abounding mercy of the God who keeps us in being at every moment.

            I am drawn to the Celtic Christian tradition because of its willingness to look sin and evil straight in the face, name them, and forsake them.  John Philip Newell hands on a story from his mentor, Noel Dermot O’Donoghue, an Irish scholar and Roman Catholic priest.  O’Donoghue was presiding at a baptism in the west of Ireland.  When he asked the gathered faithful if they were willing to renounce the devil and all his works, they responded with joy, “We do, the dirty bastard!” 

            Their exuberance overflowed.  The congregation was not mumbling their response, wondering when the service would be over.  They took the vow to heart, knowing that they and the baby being baptized were fashioned for the “gift of joy and wonder” in all of God’s works.

            The living God and the God of the living desires deep restoration for each person, and for the entire created order.  This Lenten season offers us space and time to remember, to give up our habitual busyness that leads to forgetting and addictive self-importance.   As we let go of those habits and behaviors that lead us away from our deep identity in Christ, we will need to encourage one another along the way.  We will need to name the good, as Archbishop Tutu as pointed out.  We need to remember and invite the restoration God so desires to work in us through Jesus.

            In the words of one of Newell’s prayers,

            “In the morning light, O God,
            may I glimpse again your image deep within me
            the threads of eternal glory
            woven into the fabric of every man and woman.

            Again may I catch sight of the mystery of the human soul
            fashioned in your likeness
            deeper than knowing
            more enduring than time.

            And in glimpsing these threads of light
            amidst the weakness and distortions of my life
            let me be recalled to the strength and beauty deep in my soul

            Let me be recalled
            to the strength and beauty of your image in every living thing.”

(from Celtic Benediction, by John Philip Newell, Eerdmans, 2000)

The Rev. Mary Earle is author of several books and is writer-in-residence at The Work+Shop in San Antonio TX.

Reach her at mcearle48@gmail.com or leave a comment  below. For a list of Mary’s books, visit http://marycearle.org/

Art: “Puddle in the Park” by Terry Gay Puckett.  Puckett is one of several artists from around the Diocese of West Texas whose work is part of a special exhibit, “Lent through the Eyes of the Artist,” that will hang at Cathedral House Gallery at the Bishop Jones Center in San Antonio until mid-April. The opening wine-and-cheese reception is Sunday, Feb 26, 4 to 6 p.m. The public is invited free of charge.

The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The address is 111 Torcido, San Antonio TX 78209. For more information, contact Marjorie George at marjorie.george@dwtx.org or 210-857-5387.



Down the Garden Path

Lent 2012
Path of  Restoration

by Marjorie George

Is it going to freeze again (or maybe, ever again)? I ask myself that question while surveying my backyard and planning for the annual spring makeover, 2012 edition. Is it safe to start putting plants into the ground? The TV weathermen are hedging.

Even as I implore Mother Spring – who continues to toy with us — to reveal her plans, I know that this year is different. This year there will be no hydrangeas; no orchids; no delicate, frilly, does-well-in-zone-5 (that would be Connecticut) plants. I am throwing in the trowel. After the decimating drought of the last several summers, my backyard is going native Texan – columbine, Turk’s cap, and Mexican bush sage will own the day.

This idea is not original to me: on the air and in magazines and newspapers, I am hearing and reading that it’s becoming smart to go back to our roots, so to speak. “Plant Native” is the rallying cry.  Needs continual watering? Gotta go. Can’t stand 106 degrees for three weeks straight? Outta here. Doesn’t embrace the searing afternoon sun, facing west? Nope.

I see now that my backyard was not happy being forced into something it was never intended to be. No amount of pushing that round root ball into a square hole in the ground worked. I actually broke laws trying, sneaking water when no one was looking. Still the plants shriveled.

And just so, our souls are shriveling as we force them to accept what is so anathema to them. I’ve learned that plants that are not native to an area are called “exotics.” Such an alluring word; we mean it as “attractively out of the ordinary.” Its first meaning, however, is “originating in or characteristic of a foreign country.”  In how many ways do I push my soul to live a tortured existence apart from its place of origin?

I don’t even have to hire geologists and archeologists to find my birthplace; it’s there in Genesis 1, right up front: “So God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them” (1:27). And then he said, “Wow, that’s really good!”

And we, because we think ourselves so very wise and clever, sought to improve on the basic model. But here’s the thing: in our bumbling and stumbling and climbing over each other and renaming our needs, we moved away from God’s desires for us. And I don’t much like it here in this foreign land. I’ve been trying to live in places and in ways God never intended, and it’s not so good any longer.

Our ReflectionsOnline series for Lent 2012 will explore the path of restoration – how do we get back to that “good” in which God created us? How can we once again become those who were created in the image of God? What obstacles must we overcome, and what gifts has God provided us with to make the journey? How do we look at the soil of our lives and rid ourselves of those exotics that have crept in and are masquerading as native?

Several writers from across the diocese will contribute to our Lenten online reflections and provide us with some guidance — some sunshine and some rain, perhaps a little compost – for the journey. We hope you will add your thoughts and comments as more fodder for all of us. Our reflections begin on Ash Wednesday, February 22.

You can receive our online reflections in your e-mail inbox by subscribing in the box on the right. And please invite others to join us.

Marjorie George

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine, published by the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. Reach Marjorie at marjorie.george@dwx.org or comment below.

Art: “Pensive” by E. Gordon West.  West is one of several artists from around the Diocese of West Texas whose work is part of a special exhibit, “Lent through the Eyes of the Artist,” that will hang at Cathedral House Gallery at the Bishop Jones Center in San Antonio until mid-April. The opening wine-and-cheese reception is Sunday, Feb 26, 4 to 6 p.m. The public is invited free of charge.

Of this piece, West says, “Lent is a time of reflection. This piece depicts a single individual in a relaxed position gazing out to a glorious sunset.  He has to be filled with the wonderment of God’s creations.”

The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The address is 111 Torcido, San Antonio TX 78209. For more information, contact Marjorie George at marjorie.george@dwtx.org or 210-857-5387.