On Saturday afternoon 9/15/18 twenty members of the Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers joyfully gathered to worship and also to celebrate our September and October Birthdays. They came by car and foot,bus and bike to Pastor Marina Sanchez’s home located in a central Fort Myers area. They ranged in age from 5-87 and everywhere in between, black, white, Hispanic, female and male, poor and well off, gay and straight, sick and well, heart broken and yet full of love, they came. After the passing of our beloved co-Pastor Judy Beaumont out of her suffering to wholeness and life forever with God, Pastor Judy Lee is slowly offering regular worship to the community once again. She continues to serve the Community on a daily basis but our worship will now possibly be every two months. We are especially thankful to Co-Pastor Marina Sanchez for offering her home for our gathering and for serving with us.
Celebrating Birthdays today were Brenda Jean Cummings, (and this was her birthdate!),Kathy Roddy (who also prepared today’s meal) and Quayschaun Crews and Jolinda Terrell. Quay was unable to stay for the whole celebration after bringing his Grandma Jolinda Harmon, and Jolinda Terrell and all of the Harmon grandchildren were unable to come as they had already planned their First Annual Kickball Game in the park in honor of their dear mother Linda Maybin who in the midst of life’s many struggles always gathered the whole family for a good kickball game. Linda had her “first birthday in heaven” after making her transition home to God last year on 9/14, a day after her 41st birthday. We lit a candle for our faithful member Linda today as well.
Our lessons for the day were for the 23rd Sunday in Ordianry time: Isaiah 50:5-9a read by our Deacon Hank Tessandori-In this reading Christ’s patient suffering and non-violent responses are foretold; Psalm 116 led by our elder Harry Lee Peter Gary- Response: I walk before you, Adonai, in the land of the living-our response to God who gives us life and protects the little ones is love; The Epistle-James 2-14-18 read by Maya Rismay- Faith without works is dead- work for justice, love beyond what is easy, serve one another. The Gospel Mark 8:27-35-“You are the Christ…” Deny yourself and take up your cross”-accept Christ’s suffering and if need be, your own. Peter misses the mark and insists on no suffering for Jesus. The Gospel was read in English by Pastor Judy Lee and in Spanish by Pastor Marina Sanchez who also summarized the readings and Pastor Judy’s homily in Spanish.
Our readings in Isaiah, James and Mark reflect on how we are to live our faith. With the suffering servant of Isaiah we are to respond to violence with non-violence-to give our backs to those who beat us(yet without having the message beaten out of us)-this speaks to our legacy of non-violent resistance in pursuit of peace and justice. Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and all here and everywhere who followed them, the Plowshares Movement including our Judy Beaumont in Plowshares Nein, showed us how to do this. And clearly those who use non-violent resistance and civil disobedience may also suffer before their ultimate victory. And there are places in the world today , like Syria, where Christians die for being Christians. And those of us who do not suffer bodily harm for following Christ still may suffer rebuke and retribution for living our call to serve- like our women RC priests, and those imprisoned for civil disobedience, and those of the LGBTQ community who suffer at the hands of some of organized religion just for being who we are and claiming Christ.
It is a disservice to God’s people who know better to be like Peter was in the Gospel, trying to convince Christ not to suffer, saying in effect, “you are God’s own , you will not suffer and die”. Peter tried to convince Christ of this out of love. He was not a bad guy just off the mark. Who wants a loved one to suffer? Instead we say, “no , it will not happen”. Yet often it does. In our church community we have lost many loved ones in the past two years. Several of us have suffered with cancer and other painful illnesses had to undergo chemo , radiation and other forms of treatment that also brought suffering. Fortunately this worked for some of us who sit with us today, but not for all. So, disciple Peter, when Jesus tells you “satanas”, (‘you missed the mark’ in Aramaic) or, in our English “you were bad minded”- suffering does exist and does touch us, sometimes even for good as in the death and resurrection of Christ. So friends, let us not deny suffering or think that it will miss God’s beloved children. It doesn’t,those sitting here and reading this know this too well, but when we do what James is asking us to do-live our faith, do works of mercy and love, and what Jesus tells us, “take up that cross”, let us do it with all the love we can muster for one another. Let us bear one another’s crosses. There are so many examples in this one community of the ways we do serve one another and all of God’s sometimes broken children. Ellen and Jack and Kathy ,Pearl and Judy A., Hank and Claire, provide food and wheels, guidance and love for the poorest among us. Grandma Harmon, even as she goes through chemo, cares for all of her grandchildren and family without complaint. Debbie and Mary and our younger members Maya and Joelle, prime examples, take time to visit and to care for their elders, including me. Pastor Marina cares for very sick people every day. What a serving community we are, and we are blessed to be together today. Pain and suffering can not be avoided, but God is there with us, and through us,and through it all and we are there for one another, making someone else’s cross a little bit lighter. That is the kind of faith we have. So let us not deny or minimize suffering, especially suffering for the kin-dom of God here and now and to come-let us instead live our faith and lean on God and lean on and love one another. And before we conclude let’s sing some verses of Lean on Me by Bill Withers. Maya plays the song on her i-phone and everyone sings along. I conclude with “we have a new sacred song’, continue to carry one another’s cross, and all respond a resounding AMEN!
Members pray for the sick,( laying hands on those who request prayer for illness),for the departed, for the world and the church in moving and specific terms. We sing “It’s me standin’ in the need of prayer” and we claim the ground as Holy Ground, including touching our own hearts and our neighbors’s hand as holy ground. As we celebrate the Holy Eucharist and share in Holy Communion, Pearl and Hank lead us in “Peace is flowing like a river..Love is flowing like a river…”. One of our newer guests, Jean, shared that this is the first time she received Holy Communion in more years than she can count. We are thankful. We sing “I’m so glad Jesus lifted me-when troubles got me bound, Jesus lifted me…”. And Deacon Hank sends us forth to serve. We conclude with “I have decided to follow Jesus” perhaps grasping together a bit more of what this means having come together as a community today.
Afterward we have our meal and Brenda cuts the first piece of the big birthday cake, bringing a piece to Kathy. Brenda, enjoys our after-party sharing “this is the first birthday party I ever had”. We applaud and begin reluctantly to part.
Our next Sunday worship and community gathering will be on November 17th.
With love and blessings,
Pastor Judy Lee
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP