Friday, January 8, 2021

Preamble to the US Constitution text for Sunday 10 January 2020


to the United States Constitution

Signed in convention September 17, 1787. 

Ratified June 21, 1788

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Reflection        Every week from the pulpit I issue a call to action aimed at what is right. Last week it was, “From time to time throughout each day pause and say, ‘How awesome is this place. How awesome this moment,’ then experience how that feels in your body.” Ever since my early career days as a clinical researcher I have lived and worked according to the ethic, “Never ask people to do something that I have not done or am not willing to do.”

My daily practice declaring “How awesome is this place. How awesome this moment,” proved rather satisfying until Wednesday around noon when I left my office to walk through the sanctuary heading to the kitchen to heat some wild mushroom soup for lunch. Rapt in a clamor of chaos and confusion I discover two of our Christ Ship Enterprise team members, Paul and Dale, with eyes glued to their new AV computer screen, ladders abandoned and wires for the cameras they were installing dangling from the ceiling. 

Like a moth drawn to a flame I move to see what is so captivating. The first image that assaults me is of someone with a long pole like object smashing a window and people pushing others through it, the image cuts to a man in black hanging by one hand from the side of a wall, then cut to an interior scene of men in suits crouching with guns aimed through a decorative window. “What is this?” I ask. Wide eyed and incredulous Paul replies, “It is the Capitol, the Capitol building. Rioters have invaded it. The Vice President and congress are being evacuated under armed guard.” Along with my eyes the camera lens widens to encompass a storming sea of people ramming their way into the building. Hot tears cut a river across my cheek. 

“How awesome is this place? How awesome this moment?” Looking toward the altar I shake my heart at God. “How can this be? How can this be happening? How can I say, “How awesome is this place? How awesome this moment?” Where are You God?” Heartsick and nauseated I retreat to my office. But work as usual eludes me. Even my trusted antidote to whatever ails me, walking four-legged Mojo along the Way of the Cross, fails me. 

Although I can mutter the words, “How awesome is this place. How awesome this moment,” like stale bread I have been exposed to too much heat and have become hardened. Steeped in images of smashed windows, fear and furious faces, I have no feel for the awesome; beautiful, magnificent or grand. 

Hours later listening to the radio I hear someone say, “We are better than this.” But I say, “No. What we see are the consequences of our hardened hearts and brutish behaviors. We, the people of these relatively young United States have not yet grown into our dream of “establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” In our races to win, our grabs for power, our adulation of celebrity we have  forgotten our responsibility for the commonwealth and common good. We have lost sight of the audacious dream defined in the Preamble to our Constitution, a dream that we as Christians understand to be aligned in the will of God. 

It is time for every single one of us to look into the mirror and admit we are responsible for the anger, alienation and atrocities provoked by our actions and inaction. We, the people of God, are meant to live for something greater than our personal rights and well being. We are meant to live with and for each other in a just and orderly nation aligned in the will of God.

Now, looking at footage of the Wednesday siege of the United States Capitol building we can say, “How awesome is this place. How awesome this moment,” because we remember that awesome also means alarming, dreadful and horrifying.  And we, the people of God, the people of this young country, must stand up and face the alarming, dreadful and horrifying consequences of forgetting to care for our commonwealth and common good.  Yes God, there you are clamoring up the steps of the US Capitol building, hiding behind a chair on the US Senate floor, shouting obscenities and whispering prayer. Yes God, there you are exposing all the peoples fear.

It is time to take responsibility for our missteps as well as the unintended consequences of our triumphs. It is time to move beyond blame and shame and aspire to our country’s audacious dream of “establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” 

Perhaps you will join me living according to the premise“Never ask people to do something that you have not done or are not willing to do. Never ask people to live in a way you have not lived or are not willing to live.”

      Be sure to listen to "The Prayer"  - a bit of medicine for our souls - click on upper right link. 

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Friday, January 1, 2021

Hebrew and Gospel Texts observing The Epiphany 3 January 2021


Isaiah 60:1-6        Arise, shine; for your light has come,

and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

and his glory will appear over you.

Nations shall come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;

they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from far away,

and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant;

your heart shall thrill and rejoice,

because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,

the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you,

the young camels of Midian and Ephah; 

all those from Sheba shall come.

They shall bring gold and frankincense,

and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Matthew 2:1-12        In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who is to shepherd my people Israel.’"

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Reflection        When I came to the phrase in today’s gospel text describing the wise men as being, “overwhelmed with joy,” everything in me screeched to a halt. What happens in those moments when we are “overwhelmed with joy?” We stop, draw in our breath, and can almost hear the prophecy of Third Isaiah, 

“Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, (nothing is left out) the wealth of the nations shall come to you. (there is no more to seek)”

A special kind of knowing accompanies being “overwhelmed with joy,” knowing that surpasses rational understanding. Knowing that is rich and ripe and radiant. When we let this radiant knowing enlighten us, like the wise men who are not duped by Herod’s plot to extinguish the light, we can turn our lives around to go a different way, a way illumined by the radiance of joy.  

I believe joy is the Real Presence of God with us. In those moments when we are moved to pause, draw in our breath and taste the sublime perfection of joy, like the wise men we naturally open the treasure chests of our hearts to be and to give the very best of who we are. Here is the thing. We are the wise ones. We know the child of light and hope for all people has been born. We have seen the star and it has enlightened our minds. Now the question is, will we open the treasure chests of our hearts to be the radiant beings bearing gifts of joy for all humankind?

On December 21st low in the southwestern sky Saturn and Jupiter crossed paths, and for a moment they appeared as if one brilliant celestial body. Many wondered, “Could this be the second coming of the Star of Bethlehem?”

Contemporary theologians agree the two thousand year old story of the Star of Bethlehem is unlikely to have been an astronomical event because stars do not move from the east, turn left, drop to the south and stop over a particular dwelling. It is more likely the writer of Matthew’s gospel uses star as a metaphor (the only gospel in which it appears) to accentuate the importance of the birth of Jesus. Nonetheless, the celestial event on December 21st, 2020 was very exciting.

At the conclusion of a year fraught with every order of disease, disappointment and disaster the “Star of Bethlehem” beamed above us as a beacon of hope. This celestial event led us to stop whatever we were doing, go outside, be still, gaze into the night sky and allow our hearts and imaginations to soar. Again, as our prophet professes, 

“Then you shall see and be radiant;

your heart shall thrill and rejoice,

We “see” and we “be” radiant when like the wise men we stop our preoccupation with the myriad details of daily life, take the risk of walking into the uncertainty of darkness and make ourselves available to be “overwhelmed with joy.” Joy comes, not when we strive to contrive it, but when we show up and allow it to arise through us.

 I have been reading a leadership book called “Flying Lead Change” that gleans its wisdom from the nature of horses and humans. Quoting one of her teachers the author, Kelly Wendorf writes, “Don’t let your dreams obscure the joy that is already here.” I love that counsel and pray we will all take it to heart. “Don’t let your dreams obscure the joy that is already here.”

We are meant not only to see but also to be the radiant star. Sometimes our dreams of what we think we want or need or must have are the very things that obscure the radiance of joy that is already here. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, 

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

That which we seek has already been born and is with us right now.  

“because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, (nothing is missing)

the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” (we are already more than enough)

The call to action for 2021 is to be radiant, allowing joy to shine through us and enlighten the world. We are the radiance of the star. We are the vision of the wise ones. And we are the hope of the poor peasant child. 

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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

 Luke 2:1-20        In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Reflection  Have you ever wondered why we must celebrate Christmas every year? Perhaps it is because we have not yet fully given birth to the living, breathing, human Christ. In truth everyone of us is pregnant with the extraordinary Christ life potential but rarely do we allow it to manifest fully through us. Until all that we say and all that we do is an expression of the Christ present with us, the Incarnation of humanity will be incomplete and so, we need Christmas.

The revelation of the Christ on earth did not come with flashing neon lights and snappy slogans, did not burst through space on a rocket or float to earth on a stairway of clouds. The revelation of Divine Presence came in the flesh and bloody birth of the peasant Mary’s child arriving just like our wet and wrinkly newborns. 

Reflecting on the Christmas blessing the twentieth century theologian Carl Rahner puts it this way. “(It) is not the deepest blessing of Christmas … that (Jesus) was born as the infant child of Mary but rather that he was born to become fully human, and with the promise that we too might be so.” In other words, Divinity is realized in the fullness of humanity and the blessing of Christmas depends on all of us becoming fully human.

What does it mean to be fully human? I believe it means to be precious and vulnerable, humble and unique, and blessed to be a blessing, just like Jesus; the infant, the itinerant teacher, friend, rabbi and rebel, loved and hated, feared and revered, delighted, frustrated and aggrieved. In our preciousness, our vulnerability and all of our broken places we are blessed and meant to be a blessing, laboring to make Divinity manifest by becoming fully human. 

As Rahner attests, the historical event of the birth of Jesus points to something more, to ‘the promise that we too might be so.” This is the blessing of Christmas.  Do we dare to receive and allow it to manifest through us?

The time of expectation and waiting is over. For us who have prepared our hearts Jesus is born again this and every moment.  Our present moment is full of Jesus, the Christ child, God with us. It is of this that the prophet Isaiah sings to God; “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.”

The time of searching and waiting for God is ended. We are no longer in the dark, no longer seekers. We are believers, receivers and manifesters. All that remains for us to do is put aside our complaints, our multitasks and distractions, to cradle  the blessing that makes each one of us fully human.

This is the heart and the height of Christmas. Being full of Jesus we are fully human. Amen.

                        Merry Christmas!

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Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Collect and Gospel text for 4th Sunday of Advent, 20 December 2020

 The Collect        Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 1:26-38         In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Reflection        “Purify our conscience.” This is the work of Advent. This is also the work of Lent. In fact, this is the work of our lifetime; to prepare a room in the mansion of ourselves and welcome the light of Christ to be born again and reign through us. If that sounds like a tall order, it is. That is why we need a daily visitation with Almighty God. That is why today’s opening collect is worth praying every single day.

But what does it mean to purify our conscience? I believe it means cleaning out our proverbial attics and downsizing;  discarding our disappointments, annihilating our affronts, casting out complaints, releasing our losses, banishing blame,  shutting the door on shame,.  A daunting undertaking. No wonder we need a daily visitation with God to purify our conscience. 

Now let me be clear. Not everything we experience and store in our attic belongs in the incinerator. The process of purifying our conscience is meant to reform whatever prevents the innocence of our open, empty, receptivity. I hear you protest, “I am an adult. I have a long and patchy past. My innocence was lost when dad took the training wheels off my bike. As a matter of fact, it is probably a bad idea to be open, empty and receptive. Seems like a sure recipe to be exploited or abused.”

Let me clarify. I believe you are speaking of naive innocence. In the context of the purification of our conscience I refer to what I call “wizened innocence.” Please ponder with me the possibility of the open, empty, receptivity of wizened innocence one word at a time.  What does it mean to be open? It means to be honest, transparent and accessible. What does it mean to be empty? Humble, not full of our self. Being empty we are content, not envious or grasping for more. What does it mean to be receptive? It means being sensitive and open-minded, responsive to others and hospitable. To purify our conscience means to abolish whatever prevents us from being honest and transparent, humble and content, sensitive, open-minded and hospitable. It means purging whatever inhibits our wizened innocence. Why does this matter? Why should we bother?

We welcome this process of purification because the work of Advent, Lent and our entire lifetime is to prepare ourselves to be the hospitable mansion in which the Christ incarnates and through which the Christ Light reigns on earth. Here is the wrinkle.  The single greatest stumbling stone in our attic is fear. Fear of being open. “If I am honest and transparent people will see who I really am. I will not measure up and I will be rejected.” Fear of being empty. “ If I am empty I will have no sure footing, no safety net. I may be lacking and suffer.” Fear of being receptive. “If I am receptive I will be vulnerable,  influenced or deceived. People will take advantage of me.” 

Thanks be to God there is an antidote to fear. Every time Almighty God breaks through our conscience to prepare a human mansion in which to incarnate and through which to reign, an angel or prophet appears and proclaims, “Do not be afraid, Mary (Diann, John, Linda, Dave, Susan, Ron, Ken…)  do not be afraid.” 

Then God said (to Jacob), "I am God, the God of your father;  do not be afraid to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation. (Gen 46.3)

And the LORD said to Joshua, Do not be afraid.”(Jos 11:6)

Then the angel of the LORD said to Eli'jah, "Go down with him; do not be afraid.” (2Ki 1:15)

But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid: Zechari'ah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (Luk 1:13)

And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid: Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luk 1:30)

But the angel said to the women (at the tomb), "Do not be afraid: for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. (Mat 28:5)

Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid: go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Mat 28:10)

God knows we are afraid AND we know that every time one of God’s people steps over fear to say “Yes, here I am… “ their fear is replaced with light that incarnates through them and reigns on the earth.  

Here is the punchline. We are all virgins until we abolish every obstacle, step over our fear and say, “Yes. Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then, with our consent in a baptism by fire, fear is incinerated as the Light of Christ finds in us a mansion in which to live and from which to reign. 

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Gospel Test for 3rd Sunday of Advent 13 December 2020

                                                        MLK Kneels & Stands

John 1:6-8,19-28        There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Reflection        This week I heard the voice of a woman crying out from her wilderness, “I do not feel brave enough to speak up. I slip into silence rather than take the risk of calling out lies, confronting hypocrisy, or condemning the keepers of the status quo for failing to care for so many suffering people. My lips refuse to move because I do not have courage.”

My heart nods with her prophetic words. “Me too. I prefer to settle in comfortable silence rather than brave confrontation.”  How about you? Do you have the courage to join John and be a voice “crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord?’” or do you prefer to be silent?

Were he with us today John might say, “It is time for a course adjustment. The people of God have chosen countless detours, diversions and distractions, making crooked the way of the Lord. It is time to get on track, return to basics, reclaim the straight way of love; love God, love our neighbors. No exceptions.“ John’s instruction is simple. It is the execution that we trip over.

Here is the thing. The “straight way of the Lord” is not easy because instead of seeing people who think, believe, vote, worship or live differently than us as beautiful revelations of Divine creativity, we experience them as wrong or even threatening.  We cannot wrap our minds around God’s pronouncement that all of humanity is good, very good, when so many of “those people” seem to be our adversaries or assailants.

There have been and always will be lots of people with whom we disagree, and many who have hurtful things to say to or about us,  but that does not make them enemies. Therefore, it is right that we should ask, "How are we to love people who disagree, disrespect or devalue us?" I believe the answer is hidden in plain sight in the  text describing John the Baptist’s encounter with the priests and Levites who confront him, “Tell us who you are.” 

Looking carefully we see that John responds with the utmost humility. “I am not the Messiah nor anything special. Just a lone voice pointing to something greater than I am.” He kneels before his challengers and at the same time acts with integrity to advance the way of the Lord, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” The lesson we take from watching John is this; let our lives speak with humility, integrity and conviction.

This week I also heard the voices of two religious luminaries, individuals with distinct and widely divergent views. During a joint interview of the Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Dr. Russel Moore, the chief ethicist of the Southern Baptist Convention addressing the question of how to be in relationship with people with whom we completely disagree, Dr. Moore avers, “I see other people as those created in the image of God, and not ultimately my opponents.” The conservative evangelical continues, “Scripture calls us to both conviction (of our beliefs) not an evaporating of our differences, but also to kindness and active love for even those people who disagree with us completely.” *

Magnifying the wisdom of our gospel text the progressive Christian Curry asks,“How do I stand and kneel at the same time in my relationship with others especially with those who disagree with me?” He then reflects, “so I’ve got to kneel before them as someone created in the image of God, just like me.. and, at the same time I must stand with integrity.” Coming from vastly different perspectives both religious scholars affirm the instruction to let our lives speak with humility, integrity and conviction. The key is, beginning in humility.

When the priests and Levites ask John, “Who are you?” he knows they are asking the wrong question. John knows he is not defined by the tribe he belongs to or the ideology he affirms. John experiences the meaning and value of his life in humbly pointing toward something greater than his conservative or progressive self.  Rather than defending his personal perspective, John ranks himself below the Messiah, Elijah and the prophet. In humility he receives the God given courage to stand with integrity and speak with conviction. The key is, beginning in humility.

Returning to the woman crying out in her wilderness, “I do not feel brave enough to speak up,” I pray she hears John’s message. “Do not be afraid of people who disagree with you completely. Remember, God is God and you are not. So, humbly kneel before the people who disagree with you, receive the God given courage to stand with integrity and speak your truth with conviction. Let your life speak.”

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 * Faith, Compassion & Healing Our National Divide

Saturday, December 5, 2020

 Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way;

the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Reflection        Can you hear yourself crying in the wilderness? “What is going on here? I have worked hard to be safe and secure still I am under siege by a shape shifting virus. I have cared for my family and established my social standing but the sources of my affection and esteem are in quarantine.  I have made my mark in the bureaucracy yet I have neither power nor control in the current Covid climate. Surely there is a better way of living.”

Could it be that we, like the bug eating baptizer John, are standing in the wilderness between worlds, between the way life has been and the way life could be? Could it be that we are ready to  change our lives and bravely join the people of the Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem to begin something new? Are we ready to join ALL the people looking for a better way of living?

Here I believe the operant word is ALL. The transition from the way life has been to the way life could be occurs in the company of ALL the people. And so the question before us is, “Are we ALL ready to walk into the wilderness, step into the Jordan river, die to the way life has been (life that is all about me) and begin a new way of living (that is all about we)?

By every measure the way life has been is not good enough. It is not good enough because too many people do not have access to dignity and a decent life and as a result, they have lost hope. When hope is lost, fear and anger conquer humanity and we all suffer, we ALL suffer.

Let’s be honest. We are creatures of habit. We prefer predictability and frequently choose a negative outcome rather than risk uncertainty, a sure and certain way to lose hope. But every chapter in life’s book has an ending that offers the possibility of a new beginning. It is up to us to turn the page. When the way life has been is not good enough it is time to choose to begin again because our lives are not the artifact of our circumstance. They are the result of our choices.  

And so we begin again by letting go of the story of how good things used to be. We stop complaining about the things we have lost or miss. Instead of thinking of change in terms of cost and fear of failure, we embrace it like a personal operating system upgrade that corrects errors and enhances our lived experience. 

When we choose to join John the baptizer in the wilderness standing between the way life has been and the way life could be, we have an opportunity to manifest the one thing that makes a real difference. Hope.

Hope is what gives people the energy to act. In the absence of hope we either sink into despair or erupt into anger, neither of which foster new or renewed life.  

Please consider just a few of the insidious idioms for the way life has been. “Every man or woman for herself.” “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” “Better look out for number one.” There is no ignoring the tragic consequences of these invocations. Suddenly John the baptizer’s call to repentance makes sense. Repentance is not about blame or shame. It is about making a conscious and conscientious choice to turn away from the way life has been and adopt new words for living, words that foster hope. 

Perhaps Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.” Or Mother Teresa, “Love is not patronizing and charity isn't about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same - with charity you give love, so don't just give money but reach out your hand instead.” Finally, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson.**  Words that foster hope. 

Poised  between the way life has been and the way life could be we tremble when we hear John call, “Prepare the way of the Lord” because we know we must choose one way or the other. Will we cling to life as it has been, all about me procuring my private security, safety, esteem, power and control? Or will we step out of our comfortable ruts? Join ALL of  the people, step  bravely into the river of life and be the new beginning of “Good news of Jesus the Christ for ALL people?” 

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Monday, November 23, 2020

 Mark 13:24-37        Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Reflection        “The sun will no more give its light by day, nor the moon its light by night,” because we,  the People of God, have refused to succumb to the subterfuge of darkness. We have decided to “Keep Awake” and be the revelation of God’s new light which is nothing less than a new way of being human. It is not about right belief. It is about right living. And right living is the fulfillment of our hope for Advent; extending peace, love and joy to all humanity. 

This Sunday begins the season of Advent. It is the beginning of the Christian liturgical year during which we wait expectantly for the promise of new light to manifest. The temptation is to look outside ourselves and point our fingers at the untold myriad signs of darkness. We screw up our eyes and wrinkle our foreheads straining to see a new sun or moon or star rise outside of us (will there be a miracle cure for COVID?). But all we see is darkness (the COVID numbers keep rising; physical, social, emotional and financial loss abound). The result, we shudder, shrink and close our eyes. And darkness grows ever darker as we are lured into torpidity (turning to drink, drugs or mindless distraction) until Jesus’ bidding, “Stay awake!”penetrates the night and turns our world inside out. 

It is the end of time as we have known it, but only if we “Keep Awake!” “For behold darkness covers the land; deep gloom enshrouds the people.”(Isaiah 60.2) Interesting how little has really changed during the past 2760 or so years since the prophet Isaiah spoke these words. Life continues to challenge us at every turn. We grow weary, worn down and desolate, turning against each other and ourselves. Until Jesus breaks into the scene and counsels, ‘When darkness sweeps over the earth and all that you have counted on to be reliable and true seems to be falling from the sky into the abyss, “Keep Awake,” for it is out of the midst of darkness that new light rises.’ 

‘Awakeness’ is the light that pierces the darkness. Which is why when dark is at its darkest and things seem beyond repair, we must keep awake to wield the sword of hope against agents of despair. When darkness surrounds us and lures us into sleep, there is every chance we will miss the experience of something new and good and true. And if we miss it, how will we share it? How will we pass on the revelation of God’s renewed light?

Unlike the secular New Year that arrives amidst gyrating crowds and explosive light displays, our New Year, our Advent season of hope is born on the quiet wings of peace, love and joy because the season of hope is born in our hearts. As the prophet Isaiah asserted, The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9.2) In other words, there is hope no matter how dark the times may seem.

The season of Advent, our new Church year, leads to the fulfillment of our ancient ancestors’ hope, hope that we know comes as God’s light born again each year in the incarnation of Jesus.  And, the season of Advent depends on us to “Keep Awake” because we can only be the continuing revelation of God’s light in the world if we “Keep Awake.” 

So, “Keep Awake.”  Rather than forward, delete the nasty social or political cartoon. Rather than judge the person who seeks refuge or assistance, offer food, drink and a place to sleep. Rather than talk about “those people,” ask someone who does not think or pray or vote like you to tell you their story, then listen. Rather than lament the way things are, talk about a blessing you experienced this week (if you are reading this you still have eyes to see!). VoilĂ  - there you have it. The end of time as we have known it because you have  refused to succumb to the subterfuge of darkness. 

Happy New Year! 

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