a blog of writing and wandering

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“If you have Faith, nothing shall be impossible for you.” This was the sign hanging on the wall of the shop where I went to begin writing this sermon. “If you have Faith, nothing shall be impossible for you.” I kind of laughed to myself, because my first thought was “great, excellent. I just need to have more faith and then this sermon will be a lot easier to write. Thanks, God!”.

But then I started thinking about faith, and then realized that it is the Feast of Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus often extolled for her faithfulness. Huh. Interesting.

Not just that. The old testament reading is from the book of Judith, which is the story of a woman whose faith in God’s goodness and power was so great that she walked into the army camp of 150k Assyrians, and cut off the commander’s head in order to save Israel from destruction. “If you have Faith, nothing shall be impossible for you.” If Judith isn’t an example of this, I don’t know who or what is.

I still don’t know if that’s really helpful though.

We often hear that we are supposed to have faith in God. And after a while, for me at least, it becomes a cliché. What are we supposed to do with ‘faith’, especially when the world seems to be crumbling around us. And we’re commanded to have faith? What can that do other than make us sit around and do… nothing? Sometimes faith can feel like such an empty word.

What do we mean by “faithfulness”?

This is where I think Judith is really helpful. The background to today’s reading is that the Assyrians have laid siege to the city of Bethulia, and the people in the city are running out of food and water. The Israelites are terrified—but a widow named Judith walks up to their leaders and says no, we don’t have to be afraid as long as we are faithful to God.

She says “I’m going to do something that will be remembered for generations to come.” And then she goes and prays this prayer. “Your strength does not depend on numbers, nor your might on the powerful. But you are the God of the lowly… the savior of those without hope.”

She uses much of this prayer, only a part of which is in our reading today, to list who God has been and continues to be to the people of Israel. He is “helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, and protector of the forsaken”. She says “here’s who You are, and because of this, I know that you will ‘let your who nation and every tribe know and understand that you are God’”.

Judith doesn’t have faith in an ambiguous God, who exists somewhere out there, who maybe does something… NO. She can identify the ways in which God has worked in the past, and because she knows these things about God, she has faith that God can continue to work miracles for his people.

It is because of this knowledge about God’s character and relationship with Israel that Judith is able to promise the elders of the city that “I’m going to do something that will be remembered for generations to come”. She expects that God will act because of who God is, and knows that all she has to do is TRUST and then DO.

So with this knowledge, she walks into the camp of the most powerful army in the world, beheads their commander, and enables the Israelite army to chase the terrified Assyrians out of the country.

Trusting in God’s goodness and power, and using that faith to take action. Which brings us back to Mary Magdalene, whose actions, like Judith’s, we have remembered for generations.

I think there’s a reason why Judith and Mary Magdalene appear in the same set of lectionary readings. You see, like Judith, Mary Magdalene also demonstrates what it means to be a faithful disciple.

When Jesus appears to Mary, she doesn’t see who he is at first, but as soon as she recognizes our risen Lord, she doesn’t do the logical thing. You see, logically, I think our first reaction to encountering Jesus might be more like Thomas, another disciple, who doubts whether the man he hears about from the others is really Jesus at all.

But Mary doesn’t. She says Teacher!, and when Jesus tells her to say to them that “I am ascending to my Father”, she doesn’t ask what that means, or if it can be possible. She just goes to the other disciples and says “I have seen the Lord!”, as she was asked to do.

Mary simply trusts that Jesus has in fact risen from the dead, because she knows that God will do the things that he has said he will do.

Like Mary and Judith, we do not have faith in an ambiguous God. The incarnation of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who died, and rose from the dead in order that we might have new life, shows us who God is, and how he works miracles for his people.

On this feast day, we remember Mary Magdalene, who had faith in God’s goodness and power through Jesus Christ, and used that knowledge to go and do as Jesus asked of her.

“If you have faith, nothing shall be impossible for you.” May we, like Judith and Mary Magdalene, be secure in our knowledge of God’s goodness, power, and grace, so that we can go forth and proclaim this faith throughout the world and do something that will be remembered for generations to come.

(Preached on 7/20/16)

It is now that time of year that we may affectionately (or not so) call the dog days of summer. Virginia has been hot, humid, and generally sweat-inducing. I’ve decided that I have never been more grateful to have an indoor job. Seriously. Best way to experience this kind of summer is from the other side of a window, looking out upon the heat.

For this update, I thought I would blog about what I’ve been reading lately–both online and in print.

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What I’m reading (in print): (want to keep up with my reading journey this year? Follow me on Goodreads!)

Murder Must Advertise (Dorthy Sayers) Yet another fun Peter Whimsy novel. Although, like Have His Carcase, it does seem to drag on for a little while. I do prefer the quicker pace of Christie’s mysteries to Sayers’, but I do love Whimsy.

The Fall of Five (Pittacus Lore) I suspect that the series (I Am Number Four) goes downward from here. I wasn’t terribly impressed, and I think it’s being stretched for too long. I think there’s another one coming out soon, but I haven’t decided if I’ll keep up with the series.

Hotel Bertram (Agatha Christie) Delightful, as always. This one is a Miss Marple, and it is a fabulous summer read.

Dragon Rider (Cornelia Funke) This one is a reread, since I devoured it many times as a child. However, I am SO EXCITED to find out that Funke is releasing a sequel to this book! Unfortunately, it was only after I searched the bookstore that I found out that said sequel is out in German this year, and won’t be out in English until next year. Should I start learning German, or can I wait that long for the translation?

A Red Herring without Mustard (Alan Bradley) It is so hard to find these books in order, but I’m absolutely addicted to the Flavia De Luce series. If you like delightful, whimsical murder mysteries and great plots, do yourself a favor and pick up this series.

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What I’m reading (on the internet):

10 Lady Podcasts You Should Be Listening To Right Now (Bustle) I want to listen to all of these fabulous podcasts ASAP–it’s a well-curated list! Although I do wish that Baker Street Babes had made it on there.

6 Books We Should Have Read In High School English Class (The Lala) Love this idea, but definitely have my own opinions about what these books should be! I will concur about Bronte and Wollstonecraft, though I’m pretty sure we should add Room of One’s Own (Woolf) and Persepolis (Satrapi) to this list. Regardless of my particular opinions, I do think it is so, so, so important for education and culture for us to revise our current literary canon.

Rio Olympics 2016: how the US women’s gymnastics team is going to obliterate the competition (Vox.com) This is a cool analysis of the strengths of our newly-announced Olympics women’s gymnastics team!

Young, gifted and held back (The Economist) Interesting editorial (?) about millennials around the world and their futures if the older generations continue to regulate the economy for their own interests. Food for thought.

Understanding Hillary (Vox.com) I’m really impressed by this piece from Ezra Klein about why Hillary on the campaign trail and Hillary as talked about by former colleagues don’t seem to be the same person (initially). Give it a read. I think I became a bit more excited about her as the Democratic nominee because of this article. (Spoiler: she listens.)