Friday, June 23, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 25 June 2017

Matthew 10:24-39        Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father,  and a daughter against her mother, 
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Reflection       Surely there is part of each of us that does not like Jesus’ words, “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” We want Jesus to come like a 1960s peacenik, to love us and assure us that “it is all good.” But, it is not all good. Martin Luther King, Jr. puts it this way, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” It does not serve to put our heads in the sand and be silent. It is up to us to speak out against cruelty and oppression.

The sword that Jesus offers is the instrument for discernment, for separating what is of God from that which is not of God. As people of God, presumably good people, we are to pick up the sword and cut the fat away from the bone. We are to ask the difficult questions. What desires for security, esteem, power and control lead me to act at the expense of others? What customs, traditions or proclivities prevent my generosity? How do my habits, attitudes or humor ignite suspicion, dread or terror? Before we point our finger to villains outside ourselves, we must first examine and admit our own selfish and harmful inclinations. 

And then we get on our knees and pray, “O Lord, come quickly. Guide your sword to cut away all that keeps me afraid; afraid of being the revelation of your love in my thoughts, my words and my actions. Cut away my inordinate desires for security, esteem, power and control. Cut away my attachment to attitudes, moods and mindsets that elevate me at the expense of others. Cut away all that separates me from you and the compassionate care of all people.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. avers,  “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” This week Arizona’s Episcopal Bishop Smith was unequivocal “about the importance of the church taking a stand on moral and ethic(al) issues that affect our country.” He elaborates, “The pending vote on healthcare is now such a time” and invites us to join him adding our names to those opposed to the Senate plan.*

Like Jesus and MLK, Ghandi and Desmond Tutu, we are people of God growing up in a territory preoccupied with the acquisition of security, esteem, power and control regardless of the cost to humanity. Like Jesus and other nonviolent revolutionaries we, the people of God, are intended to be exemplars of life lived with God, facing the inevitable challenges of life in faith not fear, wielding the sword of care and compassion, defending the poor, healing the sick and caring for the vulnerable among us. Act now. 

“Do not be afraid.”
Call, email or fax our senators and thank them for their courage taking the moral stand to maintain healthcare coverage for children, the poor, the disabled, the sick, the aging and the middle class. 

* Senator McCain    
Phone: DC Office (202)224-2235 or Arizona (602)952-2410
Email:    www.mccain.senate.gov; Click on “contact”
Fax:    (855)952-8702
* Senator Flake    
Phone:  DC Office (202)224-4521 or (602)840-1891
Email:    www.flake.senate.gov; Click on “contact"
Fax:    (602)840-4092

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Hebrew Testament Text for 18 June 2017

 

Genesis 18:1-15      The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

Reflection       A long time ago sitting on the back pew I shook my head and laughed anxiously when I caught the first glimpse of myself as an Episcopal priest.This was not the last time I would emulate my ancestor Sarah with the nervous laugh of incredulity fluttering through my shoulders. The fact that a disproportionate number of my friends were Episcopal priests with whom I found a great deal in common made me jittery. When folks put me and the word priest in the same sentence I snorted, looked anxiously away and lied, ”Oh, it’s nothing.”

My defenses began to unravel during an intensive retreat while being trained to be a spiritual director (one of my ploys to avoid the priesthood thing). I was sitting alone in a beautiful chapel, sent there with the assignment to allow my senses to take in the present moment. “See and hear, smell and touch whatever is around you.” From where I sat I could see two words carved on the stone wall behind the altar, “with God.” After staring at them for awhile I stood up and walked behind the altar to see what words proceeded “with God.” and read, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

My human mentality leapt to attention, “Well, there are some things even God could not do with yours truly.” The  nervous laugh returned. I protested, “The words are completely out of context. Who said them? To whom? What was their point?” Wracking my brain for where I had heard them I noticed the citation,  Luke 1.37. Since I was standing near the altar Bible I turned the pages to Lukes’ gospel and found, “The Birth of Jesus Foretold.”  I knew the story. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a woman named Mary….. and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’” With you.  

But Mary was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be… 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.” (Luke 126-29, 35-37)

My nervous laughter morphed into deep intestinal distress. Hoping to lay to rest the words screaming in my heart I closed the Bible, left the chapel and walked to the adjacent cemetery. Reading names of the dead did not shut out the echo of the word tethered to my heart, “impossible.” I do not know how many months passed with me shackled to, “impossible,” until l I realized, “This is not about what is or is not possible for me. This is about what is possible with God. With God. This is an entirely different story.

The first book of Debra read something like, “Look at Debra. Nothing will be impossible for her. See all the ways she has proven herself? See all the things she has accomplished? What you do not see is how utterly and completely terrified she has been, terrified to fail, terrified to be found out that she really is not up snuff. Anyway, she is too old to start a new vocation. Woe to Debra.  Book one is done.”

So began book two. It was as if the Spirit came and spoke into my heart, “Remember the first two words you saw carved in stone behind the altar, ‘with God?’ God  is with you. You do not have to be afraid. You see, when you choose with God life, nothing is impossible because nothing is impossible with God.” Remember Abraham? Sarah? Elizabeth? Mary? Jesus? the disciples? 

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

2017 06 11 Gospel Text for Trinity Sunday, 11 June 2017

Matthew 28:16-20        The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Reflection      A Gift of  Love poured out, love received. This is the dance, perichoresis, the eternal movement or aliveness of the Three Persons of the Trinity. God pours God’s self out to be incarnate in the Son revealing to us that God is both transcendent and immanent, which is to say, God is both beyond all things and within all things.  By this same interpenetrating love, Jesus pours himself out, gives himself away to everyone he encounters. And then, to insure the continuation of the dance, the Holy Spirit breathes in each of us so that we too can pour ourselves out for the good of others and take our place in the divine dance of the Trinity.

Last week eleven members of Church of the Apostles accepted an invitation to join our Muslim sisters and brothers breaking their Ramadan fast with an iftar meal. I believe our Muslim sisters' and brothers' hospitality and our apostles' experiences exemplify what it means to pour ourselves out and take our place in the divine dance of the Trinity.

Our Muslim sisters and brothers warmly welcomed us to a carefully planned and lovingly prepared meal, shared their call to prayer and explained the blessings of the Ramadan fast. In other words, they poured out love to us. Each one of us was moved by our new friends' grace and generosity. Later one of the apostles meekly admitted, “I have been afraid of Muslims and never would have attended an iftar in the past. It has taken a lot of work to see my way clear of it,  so I told myself I should accept this invitation and face my fear. And then I sat at a table and met Muslim people who have the same cares, interests and desires as me. This has changed me. It has made me see everyone differently.” This is perichoresis, participating in the divine dance. 

Another wrote to me following the iftar meal,  “Now when I pray for my Muslim neighbors, they are more than a group; they are individuals with faces and stories and dreams.” And another, “ I got to know a family of five. We exchanged phone numbers and they are going to come to my home. I have to admit I had a fleeting thought “is this safe”?  The news has been so horrible lately.  The thought seems ridiculous when I remember the evening and the kind people.”” This is perichoresis, participating in the divine dance.

In the words of Jürgen Moltmann, “True human fellowship is to correspond to the triune God and be (God’s) image on earth…” (Holy Spirit, 60). We are meant to be the outward and visible sign of life shared in mutuality of love as exemplified by the Trinity. As we accepted the invitation to taste and see and be part of the iftar meal with our Muslim sisters and brothers, we participated in the aliveness and abundance of the Trinity.  A Gift of Love poured out. Love received. This is the norm for human relationships and beautifully revealed in the mystery of the Trinity. As God is so are we fundamentally relational. We are meant to taste and see and be in loving relationship with all people - no exceptions. 

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Gospel text for Pentecost 4 June 2017


John 20:19-23        When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Reflection      How can we possibly respond to Jesus’ challenging commission, “Peace I leave with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you?… Forgive the sins of any and they are forgive…” I do not know about you but I want to say, “Jesus, are you kidding me? You are sending me to bring peace and reconciliation to all people? to forgive the sins of anyone, really? Have you not been paying attention to the news? Have you any idea what is going on in our world? The very thought of me bringing peace and forgiveness makes my stomach leap into my throat. This is hard to swallow.” 

Then I remember. This is not about us individual persons making righteous judgments, fixing people or the world. It is about us remembering that everything that is, is already part of God. This is reality. God is reality. In the words of Philip K. Dick, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away."* All we need to do is sit still in reality, in  the middle of our storm tossed minds and emotionally fraught bodies and wait, wait for the peace that is evidence of God with us. Wait until we hear our hearts beating and the weighty, dependable peace rooted deep inside will rise to guide us to be the peace we desire for our world. 

When we stop struggling against reality as it is, we find ourselves steeped in the Reality of God, claim our place in the Mystery of the Holy Trinity and proclaim with our brother Jesus, “ I am in the Father, and you in me and I in you.” (John 14.20) We are One, all people and all of creation. Nothing is not part of God. God is Reality. This is spiritual freedom, freedom from identification with our thoughts, feelings and desires about God or Reality. This is freedom to be the peace we are sent to make known in all the world.   

For an interesting conversation about the relationship of Science, Religion and Reality please listen to Michael Dowd's Ted Talk by clicking on the top right of this page. 

* How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later, 1978
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Friday, May 26, 2017

Christian Testament Text for Sunday 28 April 2017

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11        Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Reflection   “…do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you…” Could any words be more à propos for the incendiary social political milieu in which we find ourselves today? Regardless of our political persuasion our minds, bodies and spirits are continually subjected to the public airing of vitriol, malevolence and contempt, “like roaring lions our perceived adversaries prowl around looking to devour us.” 

I believe the true enemy of human consciousness, the dispassionate “devil that prowls around looking for someone to devour,” in not interested in which party, politic or program we support. It’s unwonted intention is to turn up the heat, provoke malice and mistrust, and reduce humanity to its base and brute lowest common denominator. When we stone one another with rocks, words or state-of-the-art weapons we, like “roaring lions” are essentially crucifying the Christ that lives and breathes and finds its Being in our “sisters and brothers in all the world.” 

Like the people living in exile in the Roman provinces of Asia Minor for whom the First Letter of Peter was written, we feel maligned and reviled. We believe our particular position on health care, taxes, foreign policy, role of government, and countless other propositions is right and the position of other people is wrong. Not only are “those other people” wrong, they are the source of our suffering.  So we dig in our heels, defend our position and seek persecution of the other - and in so doing the prowling devil devours our humanity. We pick up sharp sticks and stones, and “like roaring lions” strike with hostility and hatefulness. 

All this because we have failed to “discipline ourselves,” we have failed to “keep alert” and resist the enemy of human consciousness. We, the people of God have not been “steadfast in (our) faith;”  we have forgotten “that (our) brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.”  We have put ourselves in the place of God rather than humbling ourselves “under the mighty hand of God.” We have forgotten that the essence of our humanity depends on our recognition that the Spirit of God is resting on us, resting on all of us without exception. 

What if we refused to be bedeviled. What if we humbly admitted that the “fiery ordeal” in which we find ourselves is beyond our comprehension but it will not devour our humanity; that no matter what befalls us we will not be reduced to our base and brute creatureliness? What if we decided to be “steadfast in our faith,” to put down our rocks and words and state-of-the-art weapons and express the Spirit of God’s love for all people? What if we refused to crucify our humanity?


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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Gospel text for Sunday 21 May 2017

                                      

John 14.15-21        Jesus said, ”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Reflection        At twelve years old I attended the funeral of the person I loved the most in the world. When I looked into the coffin and touched his cold hand there was one thing I absolutely knew, “Grampa is not here” in this strange waxy body and shiny mahogany box… “but somehow he is still here.” That’s what I told my mother. She shook her head and said, “Your grandfather is dead.” 

I believe my little girl self somehow knew the Spirit of Truth whom my mother could not receive. Later that day when the adults were drinking manhattans and telling stories of Grampa’s life I took cover in my room and found comfort in knowing my Grampa was with me even if “the world could no longer see him.”

Many years passed before I found my way to John’s gospel text, “”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me… ” With those words I understood that my Grandfather had to leave me, but he did not leave me orphaned because he opened for me the way of being in relationship with something more which in theological terms we call the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. By his death my grandfather gave to me the gift of life in and of and with the Spirit, the second Advocate.

Here is the thing. Jesus does not promise the disciples and us that when we die we will ascend to a cherub strewn utopia of mythic proportions. Rather, Jesus offers us the opportunity to participate in the eternal life of Spirit with us right here, right now, on earth. Our purpose is not to stumble through life scrupulously sidestepping as many sins as possible in order to accrue enough points to trade our way into happily ever-after life. Our purpose is to receive and make visible the Presence of the Spirit of Truth with us, right now.

Jesus is our first Advocate. He goes to the father as paraklaytos, an advocate  to plead our case to God and he says, “… I will ask the father, and (God) will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…” The  second Advocate is the Spirit of Truth given to aid, assist and counsel us “to lead us to a deeper knowledge of gospel truth and give us the divine strength needed to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the kingdom (of God right here, right now on earth).” (Strong’s G3875) The Spirit of Truth or the second Advocate is that which imbues us with the knowledge of God and the capacity to act in accord with that knowledge. But it does not stop there. 

As people of God we are the third wave of Advocates who by grace are imbued with the Spirit of Truth and the capacity to pass it on. May the Force, the Spirit of Truth, be with you!


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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Gospel text 5th Sunday of Easter 14 May 2017

John 14:1-14        Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

Reflection       Out of the context of the rest of what Jesus is explaining to Thomas, the words “I am the way and the truth and the life,” have been construed to conscript Jews, Muslims, atheists and nones  to the outer realms of darkness.  They are also used to leave behind Christians who do not subscribe to Biblical inerrancy and claim belief in Jesus as the only way to salvation.  The implications for those of us who reject the idea of certainty and uphold the value of all faith traditions are grim.

The confusion begins when Jesus tries to answer Thomas’ question, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” Thomas is asking Jesus how he, Thomas, can find the way into divine  relationship, relationship with God the Father. Thomas is not asking on behalf of all Jews or Gentiles or all people on earth. Thomas, who already knows Jesus, is personally asking Jesus, “How can I be in relationship with the Father, transcendent divinity,  after you, immanent divinity, have gone away?” 

Once we put Jesus’ response to Thomas’ question in context we can no longer construe Jesus’s words, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” as an exclusionary statement delineating the one true faith or church or way. Jesus is not making a universal truth statement. He is not  speaking in general to Gentiles or others who do not know him. He is speaking to a follower and friend. Think of it this way. Do we use the same manner of speech with close friends, parters or our children as we do with acquaintances, colleagues or strangers?

When I say to my daughter Leela, you are the best daughter in the world, I am speaking truth to her. It is deeply personal and hopefully meaningful to Leela. What if others were to argue that what I said specifically to Leela is a universal truth, Leela is the best daughter in the world? Someone might balk, “No, my daughter is the best in the world,” and down a slippery slope we slide.

A personal truth claim is not necessarily a universal truth claim. 

Jesus is telling Thomas and those of us who choose to follow him, if we recognize truth as revealed through his teaching and his actions, in other words, if we recognize the Word God spoken and embodied through Jesus’ life and ministry, then we have already known and seen transcendent Father God with us. The transcendent and immanent are known in relationship to one another. Truth is revealed in relationship, in community and in context. This is a both-and way of being.

For an interesting read on Transcendence and Immanence from a Buddhist perspective go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-loy/transcendence-or-immanence-balancing-heaven-and-earth_b_3166015.html


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