Archive | September 2014

Pastor Becky’s Sermon on Matthew 16: 21-27:Pill Bugs and Crosses

On Sunday 8/31 after our day and evening in Tampa with Miriam who needed her Pastors and friends, we were able to visit the Church of the Good Shepherd in Dunedin, Florida and once again experience Dean and Rector Becky Robbins Penniman’s wonderful ability to deliver a sermon. As I noted in an earlier blog,Pastor Becky, then an Episcopal Priest and Associate Pastor in the Lamb of God Lutheran-Episcopal Church  was my local priest mentor when I studied to be a Roman Catholic Woman Priest in 2007 and 2008. How blessed I was to reflect, share, experience and learn from this wonderful priest. I share this sermon with you as it is well worth reading, but seeing Pastor Becky curl up like the “pill bugs” she noticed when sweeping her porch, little black hard-backed bugs that curl up into a ball when in trouble, and stretch her arms out like a cross with the vertical lines (her long arms) able to embrace others, dramatized the meanings and was a real and rare treat for us. (I am only deleting the texts of the first two readings here).

August 31, 2014
Becky Robbins-Penniman
Church of the Good Shepherd, Dunedin, Florida
Collect of the Day:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of
your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of
good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Matthew 16:21–28
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the
hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to
you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you
are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and
take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose
their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their
life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay
everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death
before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Why on earth did you come to church today?
When you think about it, there are lots of reasons not to go.
In some countries, it’s illegal to be a Christian,
and there aren’t any churches.
So folks can’t go.
In some communities, it’s dangerous to be outside your house.
Going to go to church is a major safety risk.
So folks are afraid to go.
In some cultures, it’s weird to go to church.
Going to church means others will think you are a clueless wonder,
which could affect your standing among your peers.
So folks are embarrassed to go.
In some contexts, it’s complicated to go to church.
Going to church means you can’t do other things,
from getting much-needed rest to being with friends
to working a second or third job to support your family.
So folks are too conflicted to go.
In some congregations, it’s the church that’s the problem.
Going to church is boring, or annoying, or depressing.
So folks simply choose not to go.
BUT – You are none of those, because, at least today, you are here.
The implications are enormous:
you are free, you are safe, you are accepted, you have free time,
and, I hope, it means you find Good Shepherd to be an OK place.
But, WHY are you here? To what purpose?
As you ponder that, I’d like turn the question in inside out,
because I think that’s the heart of the Peter was making with Jesus.
In Matthew 16:17, which we heard last week,
Peter says Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,
then Jesus tells Peter he’s the rock of the church.
Today, in Matthew 16: 21, Jesus tells Peter and the others
he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering.
Just 6 short verses after Peter says Jesus is the Son of God,
Peter basically asks Jesus what the heck he thinks he’s doing?
I’ve asked you why on earth you think you came to church today.
Peter wants to be clear about why Jesus thinks he came to earth.
Everyone knows: a Messiah doesn’t come from heaven to earth to suffer!
A Messiah comes from heaven to earth to fix things,
kick some serious tail and git ’r done.
But Jesus tells Peter he’s looking at things from a human angle,
while he, the Son of God, literally has a different mindset.
Jesus’ divine mindset is not to git ’r done, but to free captives,
to show people that no matter who we are, great or ordinary,
we have the almost unbearable freedom to choose
what mindset to use as we approach our lives, the human one or the divine one.
The human one is, it seems, to get things for ourselves and hold on tight,
rolling up like a pill bug to protect ourselves.
The divine one is to focus on God, then throw our arms open wide.
The divine mindset shapes our life like a cross.
Now, I’m hardly the first preacher to point this out, but a cross goes in two directions at once.
The first direction is vertical –
grounded on the earth, it stretches to the infinity of the heavens.
The second direction is horizontal,
and if you paid any attention at all in sophomore geometry class,
you know that a horizontal line is also infinite.
To take up the cross is to practice, as our collect puts it,true religion.
“Religion” does not mean rites and ceremonies and doctrines;
the word “religion” comes from the Latin word “ligare”
which means to bind together, to connect together;
the word “ligament” has the same root as the word “religion.”
To practice true religion is to have the cross shape our lives.
What is left out of a life shaped like a cross?
Who is the person left out of a life shaped like a cross?
Where is the place left out of a life shaped like a cross?
A cross-shaped life connects everything on earth with the will of God,
and the will of God is peace for all people and the earth, Shalom;
the will of God is the healing of the universe, Tikkun Olam. 4
Moses had true religion; he started out as a prince, became a murderer,
then, in exile beyond the wilderness, a humble shepherd.
Shepherds definitely have their feet on the ground.
One day, he lifted his head and noticed the living God in the world.
From a burning bush, God gave Moses a pretty daunting mission,
and at first Moses rolled up like a pill bug.
But God worked with him, encouraged him,
and Moses stretched himself out to both God and his people.
He marched right into Pharaoh’s throne room
and led thousands of slaves out of oppression.
Moses lived a cross-shaped life.
Paul had a true religion: He was a Pharisee grounded in the Torah,
and thought this meant he should kill Christians to honor God.
He heard a voice from the heavens and at first rolled up like a pill bug,
but soon he opened his mind to Jesus.
Paul stretched himself toward God and perfect strangers,
marching all over the Roman Empire to tell people Good News:
God had come to earth as Jesus the Christ,
who conquered evil with divine, agape love, a tireless, rugged love
that does what is best for the other, even if it costs us dearly,
or, as in the case of Jesus and so many others who live cross-shaped lives,
even if it costs them everything.
Paul says the only way to overcome evil is to love like Christ did,
to stretch out and embody goodness, harmony, rejoicing,
inclusion, and hospitality to everyone – even enemies.
Paul practiced what he preached, and lived a cross-shaped life.
Jesus, of course, had the truest religion of all.
The cross is Christ’s commitment to his Father and to us;
the price he was willing to pay to do the Father’s will on earth,
to bring hope and healing to his sisters and brothers,
to assure each of us that we are more than our sins,
and tell us that the only way we would ever find
real peace, real joy, real meaning on this side of the grave
was to make exactly the same kind of commitment.
Most of us, of course, won’t be executed, like Jesus and Paul,
because we choose to practice true religion – but some of us will.
People like James Foley, who was beheaded by ISIL,
was a committed Roman Catholic who talked openly of praying,
and who reached out to the world to expose
the suffering of the Syrian people and the horrors of war1
When he was captured, he didn’t roll up like a pill bug to protect himself,
he kept praying and encouraging other captives,
and even in his last words refused to denigrate his captors.
His was a cross-shaped life.; 1
see also
A life of divine love is not kittens and lollipops and rainbows,
nor is it pie in the sky after you die.
It is not easy, but a cross-shaped life is the only way –
according to Jesus and Paul – to live a life of meaning and purpose.
God will repay us for this work, according to both Paul and Jesus.
Those who live with their minds set on divine things, on shalom and tikkun and grace,
will be repaid by getting their heart’s desire: more of all that. Cool.
God will also repay those who set their minds on human things,
who grabbed whatever they could for themselves,
clutched it close and rolled up like a pill bug,
closing their eyes to the suffering of others.
What will that repayment look like?
A lot of people in the church say that God will repay evil
by heaping hot coals on them, torturing them in fire forever and ever.
But the verse Paul quotes about God’s vengeance is Proverbs 25:21-22, which says
“If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,
and the Lord will reward you.”
It goes full circle: if you are compassionate to your enemies, this will please God.
Now, if it pleases God when you are compassionate to your enemies,
how does it make any sense for God to turn around and torture them for ever and ever?
Those burning coals are not the coals of hellfire and brimstone,
but the burning face of shame when our ugliness and evil.
are met with grace and beauty and forgiveness.
Setting our minds on divine things changes the world.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Corrie ten Boom
a young woman who, with her family, hid Jews in their home
when Germany occupied the Netherlands during WWII.
A Dutch collaborator – someone who cooperated with the Nazis –
ratted them out to the Gestapo, and the family was imprisoned.
Corrie was sent to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp.
She suffered immensely there until she was liberated.
A few years after the war ended, she was approached by one of the camp guards
who had been one of the cruelest. He asked for forgiveness.
Appalled, Corrie prayed that she would be able to. She wrote:
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands,
the former guard and the former prisoner.
I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
Later, she ran a shelter for both Holocaust survivors
AND Dutch collaborators, who could not get jobs after the war.
Remember, it was a collaborator who turned her family into the Gestapo.
She watched them, and noted that, among victims of Nazi brutality,
those who were able to forgive were best able to rebuild their lives.
Corrie practiced true religion and lived a cross-shaped life.
Corrie ten Boom is famous, great woman; how about someone ordinary?
How about Tim Lee, a veteran from Texas
who lost both legs to a land mine while was in the Army in Viet Nam.
From the wheelchair he has been in for 37 years, Lee leads other veterans
back to the hills and rice paddies of Southeast Asia
to heal and be healed, to forgive and be forgiven.
Lee is a man connected with God, and he said that
if he found the Viet Cong soldier who set the land mine,
he would tell him he loves him.3
Lee practices true religion and lives a cross-shaped life.
Why on earth do you come to church?
I come because I’ve seen what happens when people set their minds on human things.
We shoot our young men, and our young men,
having learned how things work, shoot others.
We hate first and refuse to hear the cries of the poor.
We swallow the message that we are primarily consumers,
that our value is measured by what’s in our wallets.
We trade our God-given freedom for the captivity of fear.
We roll up like pill bugs.
But here in church, in the presence of the cross, I’ve seen what happens
when people sets their minds on divine things.
I’ve seen you practice true religion, embodying divine love,
sharing your God-given gifts with strangers and even enemies.
I’ve seen you listen carefully to each other,
even though you have very different beliefs and opinions.
I’ve seen you give your last dollar to those with even less.
I’ve seen you banish your fear and burst out of prison.
When I’ve seen you do these things, practicing true religion, living cross-shaped lives,
I know what I’ve actually witnessed, right here and right now,
is the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
And that is why I come to church. 3
See also – though it’s not a specifically Christian piece. 

One Woman’s Lessons From Living on the Street and Other NPR Links and Reflections on Homeless Women

In the NPR Article below by Gabrielle Emanuel we learn about how very difficult it is to be a homeless woman living on the streets. This and the links throughout the article are important to reflect on as we consider how we can be there for homeless women, men, youth and families.  In my experience in working with homeless women since 1982 in three cities, reaching out does matter  and more often than not makes a big difference. It is when we turn away and say “they want to live this way” that the tragedy of homelessness continues. This link was sent to me by Rev.Debbie Little, founder of Ecclesia Street Ministries and mentor to many street ministers. Ecclesia  and Street Ministries make a difference and we at Good Shepherd Ministries of Southwest Florida are honored to be associated with them. You know from former blogs that we were able to house five women who have been homeless this summer. This was a major blessing and the culmination of lots of groundwork, relationship building and prayer. Now some of these women are ministering to others who face homelessness and that is the greatest blessing.  100_4122 This is Rose getting the key to her new apartment. It does help to be able to intervene before chronic homelessness spans years as in the NPR article.

But even when women experience chronic homelessness, loving, accepting, patient relationships and skills in leaving no stone leading to health and housing unturned pays off. IMG_0083

On the right is Lauretta who had been chronically homeless over many years,disruptive and not welcome in any church or service agency in Fort Myers until she responded to the love and acceptance of our Good Shepherd ministry. Her story under her “pen name” Marietta for she wrote a part of the story herself is in my book Come By Here: Church with the Poor, 2010,Publish America now America Star  But the best part of the story is that it continues to be a story of a woman who is housed since 2009, happy and reaching out to family and others who are homeless to offer hope and help.  Today we had our Tuesday Ministry and Lauretta shared with us how she is helping a relative who has cancer and is homeless with a child. She knew that we would help her to help this woman.  One of the women,Diane, whom we housed this summer was  brought to us by Lauretta who found her  in the same park where we offered meals on Friday nights in 2007-2009 and where we met Lauretta. We also celebrated her birthday today, along with Betty’s and Louie’s both of whom we housed this summer. What a joyful celebration we had! But at the same time we had two men with us who were still homeless and whom we promised to continue to help toward housing. Yet they are hopeful because they know that if Lauretta and Louie who were chronically homeless can be housed, they can too.  For us, it is not fast enough and the road is hard for all who live outside, but when we walk it together as a church community, with Jesus who brought good news to the poor and asked us to follow, it is easier.   

This is Daine on the left and her new friend and neighbor, Bev in front of Diane’s door. Lauretta, once chronically homeless, was the one who brought Diane to us . Diane loves her new home. We pray for outreach to “Susan” and to all who are homeless and for the multiplication of housing resources. No One should have to live outside.100_4017


One Woman’s Lessons From Living On The Street

August 30, 2014 5:19 PM ET
Susan sits on a park bench in Washington, D.C. She has struggled with homelessness for nearly two decades.

Susan sits on a park bench in Washington, D.C. She has struggled with homelessness for nearly two decades.

Gabrielle Emanuel/NPR

The grass is fraying around the edges in Washington, D.C.’s Franklin Square Park, but the trees are more important. They offer much-appreciated shade to the homeless people who sit below.

Many of the park benches are occupied by homeless men — but there are a few women too. Susan, sitting amid her bags in the park’s northwest corner, is one of them. She’s been on and off the streets of Washington since 1995 and asked that her last name not be used because she was in an abusive relationship and doesn’t want her whereabouts known.

Susan says life on the streets is a constant battle for all homeless people, but for women it’s particularly hard. On top of the everyday challenges of finding food and a safe place to sleep, she says, women face the threat of sexual violence and cruelty.

In nearly two decades on the streets, Susan, with graying hair and bright eyes, has learned some tough lessons.

Lesson One: Don’t Look Like A Woman

“It’s not easy to be a woman on the streets, OK?” Susan says. “We tend to hide our features. In other words, we will wear more than one sweatshirt to look more like a man than a woman.”

When darkness falls, Susan pulls out her dark and bulky clothes.

A slight Boston accent betrays her childhood origins, and it’s particularly strong when she speaks of her children and grandchildren. But Susan says those relationships are complicated.

Susan is what experts call a rough sleeper; it’s a small and hard-core subset of the homeless population. Research suggests this group often struggles with mental health issues and substance abuse, but their defining feature is that they choose not to go into shelters.

Susan sometimes stays in shelters but she doesn’t like them. There is no place for her bags and she finds them rigid, with strict curfews and rules.

She says she prefers the freedom of the outdoors, where “I can go and I can come.”

After decades as a rough sleeper coming and going, Susan’s confident about her strategies.

Lesson Two: ‘Act Crazy’

“On the street we tend to carry a real nasty personality,” Susan says. “If you act crazy, they’ll leave you alone.”

That means screaming, cursing and acting wild.

She says the reaction she’s looking for is, ” ‘Oh, she’s crazy, leave her alone. We don’t want to be bothered with her.’ And walk away. OK? You can only act kind and sweet to so many people.”

Dr. Jim O’Connell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program and a physician who has been caring for the homeless population for almost three decades, confirms that Susan’s hard-learned lessons hold up more broadly.

O’Connell says that on the streets of Boston, homeless men outnumber women 3 to 1. And those women are “among the most vulnerable” members of the homeless population. Thus, he says, disguising yourself as a man can be a good strategy.

“Many of the women like to get clothes that are much bigger than usual,” O’Connell says. “They like to get clothes that have dark colors and no colors. They like to dress essentially as the men on the street would dress.”

But O’Connell points out that while most female rough sleepers “masculinize” themselves, “they will be quick to say that’s not who they are or how they feel. It’s a protective mechanism.”

How about what Susan calls acting crazy?

“It’s a strategy we have seen many, many times,” O’Connell says. “We will frequently see, as anyone goes near any of those women, they will start screaming at the top of their lungs.”

Both strategies, O’Connell says, are safety strategies.

“Where they are probably going to be the victim of some kind of violence, they don’t want it to be sexual violence,” he says.

Lesson Three: Pick Your Spot Carefully

For a rough sleeper, much of the day can be spent planning where to sleep.

One of Susan’s caseworkers, Paula Dyan, works the night shift for the Salvation Army. She says “the normal standard operating procedure [is] you don’t bed down until 10 p.m., up by 5 a.m.”

The most important factor, Dyan says, is to avoid anyone who is “really psychotic or really drunk.”

Susan explains that the worry is they’ll “try to do something to a female.”

So, Susan spends time planning in the hopes of ensuring safety. “You walk around and you scope the area out, OK? To find out what’s going on.”

She checks out who is in the area, but she also takes a look at the nearby buildings.

That way when dusk starts to wipe away the trees’ shadows, Susan knows where to go. She gravitates toward big public buildings. They represent one thing to her: safety.

“[If] somebody [is] chasing me and trying to cause me problem, then I look at the closest place that I can go and what its affiliation is — the United States Capitol, the White House, the Senate Buildings, an embassy,” Susan says.

Crossing onto their property is like calling 911, for someone who doesn’t have a cellphone.

Lesson Four: Partner With A Man

More than dressing like a man or seeing the protection of public buildings, Susan says she’s learned the importance of being associated with a man — ideally he’s ex-military, trained in survival.

“If you befriend a veteran, then you won’t die on the street,” Susan says, “because they will treat you as part of their unit and part of their family. OK? You just have to learn their little ticks, their little moments when — they kinda just have their moments.”

Jim O’Connell, the expert on homelessness, has seen this dynamic many times.

“The underbelly of that protection, though, is it’s frequently someone who has a streak of violence,” he says.

This can be physical and sexual. “And then the issue of domestic violence becomes a really paramount issue,” O’Connell explains.

He says it’s nearly impossible to pull homeless women away from abusive relationships. The women prefer the predictability of one man’s violence to the unpredictability of street violence.

Susan says protection and the never-ending need for money require sacrifices. In her experience, “the main thing is sexual favors.”

And over the years she’s had to make some tough choices. But she is adamant that “everybody walking down the street is not a prostitute.”

As Susan gathers her things and prepares to head into the night’s darkness, she says, “the men have it a little easier most of the time.”

She says decades of rough sleeping have taught her that women on the streets can be as tough as men — but they have to be smarter.



Rev. Chava’s Labor Day Reflections and Rev. Judy’s Commentary

We join Rev. Chava Redonnet in affirming all those who labor with little reward for their labors so that we all may live. 

We also affirm the life all around us that keeps pushing forward despite tragedy and death.

On Saturday Pastor Judy Beaumont and I  traveled to Tampa to visit a woman in her late eighties who survived her only daughter over three years ago. Miriam continues to grieve Nancy,a wonderful Christian preacher, teacher,social worker, mother and daughter who died suddenly of advanced diabetes. Nancy and her family became friends with us when she studied Master’s level social work with me at the University of Connecticut starting in 1985. Over the years we became extended family for one another. Miriam is still reeling from the loss of Nancy although she finds the good in life and holds on to it. She is looking forward to the birth of a second great grandchild. Yet, she is praying to get into an Assisted Living residence where she would not have to be alone and have the assistance she needs given her aging and physical illnesses and forgetting. Her days are lonely and she finds it hard to cook or eat alone. But her nights are full of fears. Miriam is bilingual but lapses into her mother tongue Spanish as she tells us about her nights of horrors.  Her low income means a complicated and long wait. We are praying and working to find a speedy respite for this frail but hopeful woman.  

It is significant that the Scriptures for this day include Jesus’ call to bring good tidings to the poor (Luke 4:16-30). As we follow Jesus is this not our call as well? Here is a woman who worked hard her whole life as a sewing factory worker and tailor while a single Mom yet she does not have enough income to easily access the level of care that she needs.  On this Labor Day I recognize her labor and that of all those who barely survive yet work hard. I struggle with how we can find ways to support the changes that would guarantee this woman and those like her an old age that is free of fear and replete with adequate resources and supports.

IMG_0222This is Miriam with Rev. Judy Lee and Rvda. Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia, who serves the poor in Cali,Colombia

A prayer for this Labor Day is that Jesus’ call to bring glad tidings to the poor throughout the world will be answered by dedicated servants like Rev. Chava Redonnet who serves the migrant workers in New York and Rvda. Sanchez-Mejia who serves the community of Afro-descendents in Colombia and all of the Street Ministers in  Ecclesia Street Ministries who serve the homeless and at risk in the USA including our Good Shepherd Ministries, and all who make efforts in various ways to bring glad tidings to the poor and who stand with them as they seek justice.

Rev. Chava’s Labor Day Reflections

Oscar Romero Inclusive Catholic Church Bulletin for Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dear friends,
Last night as I was driving out to the casita for the Migrant Mass, I took
a shortcut that Librada showed me once. It led through onion fields – all
around, everywhere but on the road itself, were onions, onions, onions.
Those fields were pregnant with onions ready to harvest.

Across the street from Santiago’s house is a huge field of cabbage – the
field is about as big as my whole city neighborhood. He and his companions
planted that cabbage, and all summer we have watched them grow. Now there
are thousands and thousands of gorgeous, enormous cabbages.

The corn is ripe, too. This week Santiago showed me how to tell the
difference between a field of corn that’s for human consumption (elote) and
a field of corn for cows (maize). There’s a difference in the tassels that
you can’t miss once you know what to look for.

My yard is also full of abundance. I can’t keep up with the tomatoes this
year! – and have shared more than a few with some passing animals. There’s
more than enough to go around.

In our part of the world it feels like an explosion of life. Carl Sandburg
said once that “a baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” In
the midst of all the sad news, the worrisome news, the sometimes scary news
– look at the harvest. Look at the life, teeming around us. I think that’s
an expression of God’s opinion, as well. Life, holy life, is all around us.

And as we prepare to celebrate Labor Day, think of the hands that planted
and tended that harvest, that are picking and packing it now. At dinner
each night I pray that God will bless “all the hands that brought this food
to our table.” Last week Santiago said he wanted to say grace. He had an
addition to my prayer. He said, “Bless all the hands that brought this food
to our table, most of them illegal.”

May we have a Harvest of Justice: abundant and overflowing with life, for

This weekend we will celebrate the first wedding in our migrant community.
Please join me in wishing Constantino and Cassandra well. Another sign of
life and God’s great goodness!!

Love to all

Oscar Romero Church
An Inclusive Community of Liberation, Justice and Joy
Worshiping in the Catholic Tradition
Mass: Sundays, 11 am
St Joseph’s House of Hospitality, 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14620
A member community of the Federation of Christian Ministries