All God’s Chosen Ones

Bless the Lord. You are God’s chosen ones…
From Tobit 13:8

During our stay-in-place days, I reread a favorite book which always lifts my spirits. THE SIMPLE FAITH OF FRED ROGERS by Amy Hollingsworth ushered me back several decades to when I watched Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood with our sons. The author met Fred Rogers when she interviewed him for a story. The result was a lifelong friendship and this book. She captured the essence of Mr. Rogers which captivated our sons for the duration of his shows and me for my lifetime since.

The hallmark of Fred Rogers’ work was his ability to make his audience feel special and important, wanted and cherished. When current events threatened to instill fear in children, Fred Rogers created a script which addressed these things. He spoke to his youth-filled audience about divorce and death, serious illnesses and the things which make us seem different from one another. He also addressed 9/11. As I reread page after page, I wondered how Mr. Rogers might have explained the pandemic to children. Though I’m not certain of the words he would have used, I know Mr. Rogers would have assured every child who heard him that he and she truly are loved, cared for and safe.

You know, as was the case with 9/11, the trauma of this pandemic has touched us adults as deeply as it has our children, perhaps even more so. It seems to me that we adults can also use a reminder that we are loved and cared for and safe. The good news is that this reminder comes on an ongoing basis from the one who inspired Mr. Rogers. You and I are are loved and cared for and we’ll always be safe in God’s company. For me, this will make all of the difference today and every day which lies ahead.

Loving God, it’s not always easy to feel loved. Thank you for loving us, especially when doubt and fear threaten.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Examples of Love

Set an example…
in speech, conduct, love, faith, and honesty.

From 1 Timothy 4:12

While walking outdoors the other day, fellow walkers and I carefully navigated around each other to maintain social distancing. Though some of us had masks dangling below our chins, none were needed as we allowed one another our space. Actually, this was the case until a family of four approached in the distance. We were nearing a narrow stretch which made social distancing difficult. When I realized the predicament, I pulled up my mask and then retraced my steps until I found a spot wide enough to allow us all to pass safely.

As that family walked by, the dad thanked me for the extra effort. He added, “I didn’t think we’d run into anyone so we left our masks at home. So sorry!” As we parted ways, one of the children commented, “So stupid, Dad. I hate wearing a mask.” I admit that I stopped to tie my shoe because I wanted to hear how Dad responded. How sweet it was to hear his reply. ” I don’t like wearing a mask either,” he said, “but I don’t like seeing anyone get sick, especially you guys. I wear my mask for you and Mom.”

I smiled as I stood to continue that walk. It occurred to me that parents everywhere are offering their children lessons which none of us ever imagined would be necessary. You know, the weeks and months ahead are going to be tough as we adjust to some type of normalcy. As for me, I’m going to try not to worry about this too much because of selfless people like that dad who are in this with me. When we care about one another, we have a chance.

Loving God, you are goodness and you are love. Be with us as we bring both to our efforts to heal this world by caring for one another.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home Again

Now it happened that, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s home, many tax collectors
and those known as sinners came to join Jesus and his disciples at dinner.

Matthew 9:10

When I saw Capernaum on our Israel itinerary, I smiled. “This will be familiar territory,” I told myself. After leaving Nazareth to begin his work among us, Jesus settled in Capernaum. This fishing and farming town was the home of Peter, James, Andrew, John and Matthew who eventually became his disciples. Much to the Jewish people’s dismay, Capernaum was also home to many who were in service to the Romans including tax collectors. Those who did such work were ostracized. Their countrymen and the temple leaders believed that doing the work of pagans made these people pagans as well.

One evening while Jesus ate dinner with Matthew, several of his fellow tax collectors came to join them. This infuriated the Pharisees who demanded to know why Jesus would associate with such sinners. As for Jesus, he responded in the way which would become his hallmark. After explaining that the healthy and self-righteous had no need of him, Jesus told the Pharisees to learn the meaning of a line from their scripture: It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice.

Though Capernaum has a rich history dating back three millenniums before Jesus, it is Jesus’ openness to even the most despised of humanity which endears this small town to me. As I looked over the remains of the second century synagogue there, I imagined Jesus’ earliest followers telling tales of the man who loved every single one of them.

Loving God, help me to follow Jesus’ example and to reach out to everyone who comes my way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Reach Out As Jesus Did

I couldn’t help laughing. A fellow parishioner had just read my reflection which referenced our recent trip to Israel. Though this person was touched by what I’d written, he quickly asked, “But was it safe there?” After assuring him that the good deacon and I always felt secure in Jesus’ homeland, I shared our older son’s response to our first trip to Israel. When Mike and I announced our plans for that venture, our son turned to me with something between a grimace and a smile. He looked me in the eyes and declared, “Well, Mom, it’s been a good run.” Though I assured our firstborn that I’d never travel to an unsafe destination, I sensed that he was more than a little worried about his dad and me. The image of his half-hearted smile stayed with me until we returned home safely. Though we remained completely outside of harm’s way throughout our visits to the Holy Land, I do understand our son’s concerns beforehand. I wondered if Jesus’ mother shared our son’s worry when Jesus left home for the streets of Cana and Capernaum. The truth is that, in many ways, Jesus’ homeland hasn’t changed much since Jesus lived there.

Though Israel’s politics sometimes suggests otherwise, the variety of people who make up that nation’s diverse population interact on many levels every day. Our Jewish Israeli guide Yossi and our Palestinian bus driver worked very well together. Day after day, they join their fellow citizens in doing their best to secure peaceful and productive lives for themselves and for their families. Yossi observed often, “All they want is to work and provide a home and food and a life for their children. This is what we all want.” Yossi certainly supported this effort as he guided us to a Muslim monastery, an Italian Catholic mission, an Orthodox Jewish home, a tourist stop in Jericho, the West Bank, Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places, Arab shops, Palestinian restaurants and so much more. Each of these encounters spoke to the people’s successful efforts to co-exist on the job, in their neighborhoods and as friends. How could my thoughts not turn to Jesus’ similar efforts in the midst of all of this?

On this third Sunday of Lent, the scriptures address all of our efforts to build community in our little corners of the world. The first reading (Exodus 17:3-7) tells us how Moses dealt with the grumbling Israelites who seemed to have forgotten that they’d been led from the grips of slavery and were on their way to the Promised Land. They complained incessantly throughout their journey. They went so far as to threaten Moses when they deemed the available drinking water too bitter to drink. Filled with disgust and fear, Moses pleaded with God for help. In spite of the people’s lack of faith, God provided the water they craved. In his letter to the Romans (5:1-2,5-8), Paul invited his readers to seize the blessings which their ancestors in the desert had overlooked. Those blessings flowed like water from Jesus and from themselves when they sustained one another. Above all, Paul insisted that God remained with them.

It is the passage from John’s gospel (4:5-42) which gets to the heart of what I discovered while among the people of Israel. John shared the details of Jesus’ encounter with a woman of Samaria. As he rested at Jacob’s well, Jesus surprised the woman by asking her for a drink of water. At the time, Jewish people avoided association with Samaritan people at all costs. Jesus’ request for water crossed a line better left undisturbed. Still, Jesus persisted in the exchange, offering the woman far more in return than a sip of water merited. When this woman ignored societal barriers and acknowledged Jesus, her life changed forever. Jesus extended the woman a second chance, or perhaps her sixth or twelfth chance, for happiness. Jesus offered no lecture regarding her failed marriages or anything else. Jesus simply accepted her as she was and asked that she open her heart to something more. In the end, that encounter touched the woman so deeply that she couldn’t help spreading Jesus’ good news throughout her town. As it happened, many turned to Jesus that day because the woman from Samaria indiscriminately shared her good fortune with them all.

I never expected our treks to Israel to reveal so much of Jesus’ life and lessons to me. I would never have guessed that the efforts of Palestinians and Jews, Muslims and Arabs, Christians and agnostics of every sort to live and to work together would so clearly mirror Jesus’ work among his contemporaries. Though national politics sometimes gets in the way, the majority of Israel’s people diligently invest themselves in building community. It seems that Jesus invited the woman from Samaria to do the same. When she shared the Jewish rabbi’s message of love and mercy, the woman inspired others to do the same. This Lent, as I try to open my heart more completely to Jesus, that wise and brave Samaritan woman nudges me along. Her eagerness to share all that Jesus had done for her inspires me to find ways to do the same.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home Again!

When he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

Every morning while we toured Israel, I checked our itinerary before we set out for the day. This helped me to retrieve what I knew about each site. In addition to historical and geographical tidbits regarding these places, events related to Jesus of Nazareth came to mind. As a result, I arrived at each destination with a heart open to the gifts of the new day.

I clearly recall the day we were headed toward the Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and Magdala. A sense of homecoming quickly enveloped me as I considered scripture passages related to these places. The events I recalled made me feel as though I was returning to revive ancient memories. Oddly, I felt expectantly anxious to get to the heart of what had occurred at each one.

Though I’ll supply details later, today, it is enough to say that I was never disappointed. I may not have stood on the precise patch of ground where Jesus spoke the beatitudes or multiplied loaves and fishes. I may not have stepped in Mary Magdalene’s footprints. I may not have sailed Jesus’ course on the Sea of Galilee. Still, I felt that I walked where I was meant to walk in order to rekindle important relationships from long ago. I wouldn’t have felt more at home if I had been the prodigal son whose father kissed him and embraced him to welcome him home after a far too long absence.

Loving God, thank you for being present to me and for welcoming me into every moment.
With you, the time is always right.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always At Home

May you be glad on the
same score and rejoice with me.

Philippians 2:18

The first leg of trip to Israel (pardon the pun) “flew” by without incident. Our layover provided another opportunity to get to know our fellow travelers. The security staff who oversaw our international boarding were kind and reassuring, perhaps in response to our cooperative adherence to the necessary protocol. In the midst of locating our seats and stowing our carry-on bag, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for the good people around me. After a quick meal, I nuzzled into my seat with another prayer, this time for a nap.

Sleep never came. Some excited passengers chatted the entire time. I wrote “excited” because their pitch and their comments indicated that they were especially happy about their impending return to their home in Tel Aviv. Because I knew what awaited our group there, I began to feel excited, too. Tired as I was, I pulled out our itinerary to scan the list of the special places we’d visit. Each one was now familiar to me. This trip would truly be a homecoming for me as well.

You and I experience homecomings more often that we are aware. We belong to families and neighborhoods, faith communities, social clubs, service organizations and sports teams. We have workplaces and favorite gathering places where we feel very much at home. As I consider them all, I see their common thread. Each one reminds me that I don’t live alone on this earth. Every place where I encounter my fellow humans gives me reason to feel at home. Over the coming days, the Holy Land would be home to me once again.

As I continue my journey through Lent, perhaps I can find ways to make those around me to feel at home as well, especially those who are lonely.

Loving God, thank you for our capacities to be at home with one another and with you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved