Friday, January 18, 2019

Christian Testament Text for Sunday 20 January 2019

1 Corinthians 12:1-11        Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Reflection        The other day one of our parishioners was in my office because she noticed a need that exists in our church and she wanted to fill it. Elaine gave me permission to tell this story. You see a couple of hours prior to a memorial service Elaine, a member of our flower guild, arrived at church with Sunday morning altar flowers. The thing is, she arrived at the same time as the florist who was delivering altar flowers for the memorial service, flowers which the deceased’s family wanted to remain at the altar for the Sunday service. Now Elaine goes quite a bit our of her way to prepare our altar flowers and so she was a bit confounded and reasonably asked, “Why was the flower guild not notified that flowers were not needed this Sunday?” 

Having no excuse I averred, “I dropped the ball. I am very sorry.” At which point Elaine could have bristled and walked away in a huff. Instead she noted, “Looks like you need help.” “That is for sure.”

Days later Elaine was in my office reviewing a checklist she created for making sure every eye is crossed and T is dotted for Memorial Services. Elaine recognized the need for a ministry at Apostles and now she is our Memorial Services Coordinator. But, that is not the whole story. As our meeting drew to a close Mojo saw the opportunity to steal a few strokes from Elaine who mentioned as she left my office, “I think it is about time I get myself a small dog.” Exit Elaine.

Almost immediately the phone rang. Claudia Tate, a bit out of breath blurts out, “Do you know anyone who wants a very sweet small dog?” It is a good thing Claudia kept talking about how her daughter Kendra  found the dog because I was speechless and already in route to catch up to Elaine and hand the phone to her. Before the day was over Elaine adopted and bathed her new four-legged friend, Angel.

Why do I tell this story today? Because our text from 1 Corinthians is about Gifts of the Spirit.

Gifts of the Spirit are understood as charisms, grace that is freely given for a purpose. We tend to think that we have to figure out, “What is my gift? my charism?” And maybe to some extent that is so. However,  the real question is, “What need exists in my church, my family, my community that I may serve?” You see, the gifts of the Spirit are given as needed, PRN. Identify and decide to serve a need and we will have the gifts required. Whenever we choose to align our will in the will of God by recognizing a real and worthy need we will be given whatever gift or grace is needed to accomplish the aim; wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, giving, discernment, administration, doing works of mercy. All of these are actions that make the Spirit of God visible in the the world through our cooperation.

Elaine recognized a need exists in her church and offered to serve. There is no doubt she will be given whatever gifts she needs to accomplish that aim. And not only that, she is given more than she asked or expected. Elaine received her Angel!

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Baptized into generous desire... hOlybytes: Gospel text for the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday 13 ...

hOlybytes: Gospel text for the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday 13 ...: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22         As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether...

Gospel text for the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday 13 January 2019

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22        As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Reflection      If you are willing, please close your eyes, or leave them open and imagine it is a warm afternoon, you can feel the sun on your back as you stand a bit apart from a crowd of folks gathered near the prophet John, who is knee deep in the Jordan river. You can see sunlight sparkling on the droplets of water dripping from John’s wiry beard. You can not quite hear what John is saying, so slip a bit closer. Intrigued by what is going on you venture to the river’s edge and watch as one at a time people step into the river, approach John who ever so gently holds them as they lean back and are submerged in the cool water. Something stirs inside you. Before you know what you are doing, you find yourself stepping into the river and feel the cool water rising from your ankles to your knees. Now, kneeling in front of the prophet you draw in your breath at the same time you feel his strong hands supporting you as you lean back into the water. All goes silent as the water envelops your entire body. Almost out of breath, you break through the water and rise into the glittering sky. From the depths of your heart you hear, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

How might we respond? “Wow! Am I hearing things?” Or possibly we would be paralyzed in silence thinking, “Surely this is not really happening. I cannot speak of this or others will think I have lost my mind. “ Or maybe we attribute it to “something I ate.” Or perhaps we let the vision go straight to our head and we sizzle,  “Aren’t I special! I heard God tell me I am the beloved. I must really be something great.!”

Perhaps that’s why the prophet John speaks of baptism by the Spirit and fire. Maybe the fire John the baptizer mentions has to do with tempering the Spirit? Maybe baptism by fire has to do with separating the wheat from the chaff, breaking the shell and getting rid of the hard edges of our human minds and personalities. You know, that of our human condition which is tempted to think of our selves as special, as equal to God and to interpret our experiences with the motive of increasing our personal gain or net worth?

With that in mind it makes sense that  almost immediately following his baptism while “full of the Holy Spirit” (4.1) Jesus was “led into the wilderness and tempted by the devil.” (4.2) Three times Jesus was tempted to identify with or test God. He was tempted to use power for personal gain or to exert it over people to enhance his position. All three times Jesus chose instead to be humble, to rely on words he learned from the Hebrew scriptures to respond to temptation rather than be seduced by promises of personal position, power or privilege.

This is baptism with fire... the fire of temptation that refines away our creatureliness, the fire that transforms our avaricious appetite for power, privilege and personal gain into generous desire to be in right relationship with God and one another.

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Gospel text for Feast of the Epiphany 6 January 2019

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        This is the Feast of the Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas during which we receive the sum of all the possible gifts.
12 drummers drumming
11 pipers piping
10 lords a leaping
9 ladies dancing
8 maids a milking
7 swans a swimming
6 geese a laying
5 golden rings 
4 calling birds 
3 french hens
2 turtle doves and 
a partridge in a pear tree.

When  we add up all the gifts during the twelve days of Christmas we discover 364 gifts are given - one for each day of the year, except Christmas. Why? Let me suggest that Christmas is the day we receive the gift that surpasses all gifts. The gift of return to innocence, innocence as represented by the newborn child wrapped in rags and tucked into a feeding trough.

Epiphany is a dramatic and unmistakable realization that something that really, really, really matters is going on.  It dawns on us that something more, something worth seeking that reason fails to satisfy, initiates our journey. And so we join the wise men seeking the meaning, value and benefit represented by the innocent newborn.

What do we find along the way? Potentates who strive to use the wise men, or us, for their personal gain (think Herod calling the wise men to his court), manipulating people with their invitations to positions of privilege and promises of worldly gain. We find rulers who are willing to misuse their power to exterminate anyone who threatens their command (think Herod ordering all boy children in Bethlehem under the age of two to be killed).

Throughout history wise men (and women) have traveled vast distances to seek something more than worldly powers can offer. I believe the wise ones are seeking the true gift of Christmas, innocence. Innocence like that revealed to us in the newborn wrapped in rags in Bethlehem, the gift of Christmas that surpasses all others is the meaning, value and benefit of innocence.

Something deep inside us stirs when we watch our children’s Christmas pageant and sing “O little town of Bethlehem.” That sweet nostalgic sense is our yearning to return to the empty, open, receptivity of innocence. This is the unsurpassed gift of Christmas, a gift born on the breathe of an infant, drenched in the love of God and unsullied by the travesties of time. Innocence.  And because we are innocent as the newborn wrapped in rags and tucked into a feeding trough we are open and available to receive all of the gifts of the Spirit.

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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Gospel text for 1st Sunday after Christmas 30 December 2018

John 1:1-18        In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

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. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

Reflection           “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This prophetic sentence means more than God is with us. It even means more than God is within us. It also means that every one of us participates in the creating power of God - the Word. The power of the word is real and the power is delivered as we choose to use our words. 

More than once I have longed to edit - delete the words that leaped out of my mouth. More than once I have intended to “Say something nice,” only to hear myself deliver daggers. Words are a powerful force uniquely available to humankind. When we choose to use our words like daggers or darts they deliver harm, humiliation, killing energy. When we choose to use our words as blessing and absolution they deliver benefit, mercy and life. Words can kill and words can create.

As people of God imbued with the power of words we must ask ourselves, “How will we use our words to add light to a world full of broken hearts and crushed dreams? How will we use our words to offer comfort, encouragement, support and healing to a world full of disease and violence, fear and marginalization? Will we allow the Word God to inspire us to penetrate the darkness? to articulate God’s delight in creation? to give voice to the promise of peace and new life to friends and neighbors and strangers? How will we use our words to continue God’s life-giving power in our world today?

As we face the travail of volatile stock markets, wars, rumors of war, blue explosions, shuttered government, uncivil unrest, elusive ethics with the accompanying anguish, gloom and despondency, the questions is, “Do we have the courage to use our words to create rather than destroy?  Do we have the audacity to use our words to promote God’s promise of light and life and love for all people?

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Monday, December 24, 2018

Good news for all the people! hOlybytes: Gospel text for Christmas Eve & Christmas Day 24 D...

hOlybytes: Gospel text for Christmas Eve & Christmas Day 24 D...: Join us for Christmas Services   Dec 24th 5pm and 9pm  Dec 25th 9:30am Luke 2:1-14        In those days a decree went out from E...

Gospel text for Christmas Eve & Christmas Day 24 December 2018

Join us for Christmas Services  
Dec 24th 5pm and 9pm 
Dec 25th 9:30am

Luke 2:1-14        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!”

Reflection        Mary and Joseph are living in Roman occupied territory and the Emperor Augustus is exercising his power over “the whole world” in order to enhance his wealth by requiring all people to register in their ancestral homes and be taxed accordingly. Here we see a picture of worldly power exercised without regard to the suffering and hardship it causes vast swaths of ordinary folks, people like pregnant Mary and her fianceé Joseph whom we meet tonight trekking across the dangerous desert skirting vipers, tigers, scorpions and bandits, giving birth to their son in conditions barely fit for barn yard animals, wrapping him in rags and tucking him into a feeding trough. 

At the same time we witness another story unfolding. An angel of the Lord, a messenger of God, breaks into this fear riddled night with a promise of light to poor shepherds who are ‘living in the field,’  poor men who stay awake all night to protect their sheep from predator wolves.  Surely we are as startled as the shepherds to hear the angels decree, ”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. And this will be a sign for you, you will find the child (wrapped in rags and lying in a feeding trough.)”

Two dramatically different ways to imagine the identical situation. Seen through Emperor Augustus’ eyes, the child born in the City of David, wrapped in rags and tucked into a feeding trough is of no consequence beyond adding a mite to the his tax revenue. From the angel’s angle, the child born in the City of David, wrapped in rags and tucked into a feeding trough is of unspeakable consequence, “a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord,” and this is “good news of great joy for all the people.”

Angels, angelus, are messengers from God, and, if you have ever encountered an angel you know, angels bring with them the glory of God. We sang it in our Christmas Carol, “Angels we have heard on high singing sweetly through the night…. gloria in excelsis deo.” And again just before the reading of Luke’s gospel, “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King!” Glorious exclamations of praise and joy. Christ is born. Our waiting is over. The promise of peace is fulfilled this night. This is the good news of great joy for all the people. 

The questions before us this Christmas are several. “Through whose eyes do we choose to see the whole world? Through the self-serving eyes of the autocrat or the all-inclusive vision of the angels? In which story do we choose to participate? In Augustus’ me first, “power over” parable of selfishness or in the angel’s all inclusive narrative of generosity? How do we choose to imagine our world? As a resource from which to extract as much as possible or as a resource given to be revered and protected for the good of all? Which voice do we choose to embody? The  disapproving shout of condemnation or the sanctifying voice singing praise to God?

Merry Christmas!

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