Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hebrew Testament text for Christmas Eve, 24 December 2015

Christians faced outward and joined hands in a circle to protect a Muslim group of protesters as they prayed in Egypt.**

Isaiah 9:2-7 
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.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest, 
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders, 
the rod of their oppressor, 
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood 
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Reflection  Thursday, December 24th is a doubly feasted day this year. It is the day appointed to celebrate the birth of two venerable men who are responsible for giving rise to two of the worlds great religions. This day is doubly different because without Jesus of Nazareth’s birth there is no Christianity and without the Prophet Muhammad’s birth there is no Islam.

For both Jesus and Muhammad the celebration of their birth is more than commemorating or remembering an historical event that happened two thousand or fifteen hundred years ago, respectively. The celebration of both of their births is also about participating in the divine realization of Emmanuel, God with us. The Qur'an, the Holy Book of Islam, the words of which were given to the prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel, puts it this way. "And know that among you/within you is the Messenger of God" (49:7) 

Both Christianity and Islam locate God with humanity. This is the gift of the births of Jesus and Muhammad. Both persons are the embodiment of God’s hidden and mysterious Word. And, in both cases, the Word God did not stop with them. The Word, God, is always being reborn in the hearts of believers. As Christians we understand the Spirit of the risen Christ enables us to participate in the eternally living Word, God with us. Which is why at Christmas we not only remember and celebrate the birth of the child Jesus in Bethlehem but we also receive the mysterious gift of new light and life reborn in our hearts.  Muslims, especially Sufis who carry the mystical tradition of Islam, understand Muhammad as the eternally living soul of the faith. Faithful Muslim believers carry the divine spark, the living soul of Muhammad, which is eternally reborn in their hearts. 

Both Muhammad and Jesus are the revelation of God’s embodied Word breathed into creation. Both Muhammad and Jesus bring us the good news of Emmanuel, God with us. That which we are seeking we already are, which means, it is up to us, all of us, to continue to embody the Word, God with us.

But the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah ring all too true today. We are people walking in darkness. Our burden is heavy. Many of our sisters and brothers are oppressed. The boots of warriors are trampling the lands and people are rolling in blood. We have forgotten the mystery of “this holy night.” We have forgotten “the brightness of the true light.” We need desperately to sing a new song, “a new song for all the whole earth.” God is with us. God is with ALL of us. 

The question is, how are we going to sing a new song of God with us to the sixty million people across the globe (that is one in every one hundred and twenty two people in the world today) who have been forced from their homes by violence and are either internally displaced or refugees in a foreign country? How are we going to sing a new song of God with us to the 2.75 million Muslim adults and children* who live in the United States and increasingly are subjected to hate crimes, hateful violence that have tripled since the tragedies in Paris and San Bernadino  fueled by posters spread by the Klu Klux Klan that read, “Help us finish the spread of Islam in our country”?  How are we going to sing a new song of God with us that puts flesh on the bones of our faith and dignifies all people? How are we going to sing a new song of God with us that wraps our Muslim sisters and brothers in the light of Christ and the message of Muhammad that we, God’s people, all of us, are the messengers of God? What message do we want to put into our world? Peace, justice and righteousness or hatred, corruption and fear?

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may be beacons of that light for all of your children, young and old of every race, religion and nation and especially our Muslim sisters and brothers whose prophet Muhammad shares his birthday with our Christ, Jesus, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, always and everywhere. One God. Amen.


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Friday, December 18, 2015

Gospel Text for 4th Sunday of Advent, 20 December 2015

Luke 1:39-55        In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Reflection  When you hear the words, Mary, Mother of God, what image comes to your mind? For the first part of my life my image of Mary, Mother of God was the tall, slender, blond girl in my Sunday School class wrapped in a pale blue sheet with a sparkling gold tinsel wreath in her hair. She was the chosen one. I, was not. Fortunately I didn’t have to spend too many therapy hours on Mary because in my iconoclastic Presbyterian church Mary made a singular cameo appearance -  once each year on Christmas Eve. The question is, what does the fleeting glimpse of blue eyed Mary have to do with the woman passionately singing The Magnificat, the Song of Mary?
Who is this Mary chanting a rousing love song to God?  Who is this Mary whose fervent words are stirred with fire?  She seems to be more like a robust woman in full possession of herself than an adorable cherubic preteen. Who is this first century Judean peasant woman who dares to sing a subversive  verse for social justice? How is it  mere Mary sees God turning the world upside down? This Mary is not fragile or ineffectual, neither is she submissive or impotent. No, this Mary is competent and vulnerable, full-bodied and fruitful. This Mary knows who she is and knows who God is.

When Mary encountered the Angel Gabriel, she didn’t run away, she didn’t become speechless and she didn’t get inflated. When the angel addressed Mary as “Favored one,” and announced, “The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1.28) Mary paused and pondered the angel’s words. Her quiet acceptance of the angel’s blessing suggests that Mary had a  sense of worthiness.  When the Angel proclaimed that even though she was unmarried Mary would become pregnant and give birth to a son who would receive the throne of King David and his kingdom would reign forever,” Mary was not paralyzed by the paradox of her poverty giving rise to such greatness. Instead she stood her ground and engaged the angel asking, “How can this be?”(Luke 1.38) When the angel explained that she would give birth to the Son of God,” Mary was both bold and vulnerable saying, “Here I am... let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1.38) 
I much prefer the stand up, engage God and let her life be changed Mary to the once a year adolescent Mary wrapped in a blue sheet. If it was up to me I would keep hail and hearty Mary at the center of our lives all year long because she shows us how to be in relationship with God, how to show up in our lives, how to live in the tension of paradox, how to be vulnerable and take risks all year long. Mary is the unequivocal revelation of what it means to be courageous; to show up, be vulnerable and take the risk of saying yes to “with God” life and in so doing be fully alive, blessed, transformed and fruitful.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Hebrew Testament Text for Sunday 12 December 2015

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the LORD.

Reflection        What will it take for us to believe and live into the promise of the prophets, “Do not fear?” Moses, Muhammad, Amos, Samuel, Deborah, Elijah, Huldah, John the son of Zechariah, Leo Tolstoy, St. Mary Magdalene, Brigid, Agnes, Martin Luther, Perpetua & Felicity, Martin Luther King, Jr, Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wilberforce, Lao Tzu, George Orwell, Desmond Tutu, Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry…. the list goes on and on. At the root of their messages is the admonition, “Do not be afraid.” Do not allow fear to subjugate you to wrong thinking and wrong acting. 

But peek into the window of any human’s life from 13 centuries before the common era to today, and what do we see? Natural disasters, disease, human oppression and exclusion. Not much has changed in the category of human suffering in the past 31 centuries. So why do we keep expecting things that we see in the world to change? Why do we expect some singular apocalyptic event to erase disasters, disease and every form of human suffering from the earth? 

What the prophets then and now promise is, “the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more… Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst…” Whatever the trial or challenge we face, God is with us. That is what we hear in the First Song of Isaiah; “Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior.” (Is 12. 2-3) And if for some reason we still can’t hear the voice of the prophets speaking into our heart, and we don’t remember Jesus’ promise to the disciples and us, “I am with you always to the end of the age, (Matt 28.20) we can turn to Pau’s letter to the Philippians,  “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4.5-7)

What if we believed Gandhi’s words, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate’ but, it is fear?” What if we understood that fear respects no borders, religions, ethnicities, political parties or states? Could we admit how vulnerable we feel in the face of the unspeakable tragedies and suffering in the world? Might we recognize that the people we call enemies are just like us, afraid? What if instead of debating who is to blame for our inevitable suffering we listened to each others fear? What if we admitted we are one in our vulnerability  and inability to escape suffering? What if we changed our minds and our hearts and instead of seeing one another as enemies we saw each other as the sensitive and defenseless creatures that we are? Might we extend our hands in compassion instead of raising our arms in fear?

Sports psychologist Dr. Rob Bell suggests simple, but not easy, steps to aid our journey to live without fear having “confidence and trust in yourself and your team…” and, I would add, faith that our team includes all people and God with us. Click on Dr. Bell’s link above to hear his story. 

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Gospel text for the 2nd Sunday of Advent 6 December 2015

Luke 3:1-6        In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’"

Reflection       John stood outside of Roman culture as a critic of injustice and exploitation. Though he was a descendant of the priesthood of Aaron, John foreswore his rights to the temple as a comment against corruption. Aligned with his time John expected the Messiah to come in one sweeping apocalyptic event and set the world right, which is why he quotes Isaiah saying, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low...." in other words, the Messiah will come, it will be the end of ordinary reality and the beginning of happily ever after life in the reign of the all powerful Messiah King. I wonder if it was because of this belief that John had to die? You see, this is where he and Jesus part ways. 

Somewhere I read the contemporary Christian Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan’s description of a fundamental difference between John the Baptist and Jesus. According to Crossan both of them are interested in how the world would be transformed into the Kingdom of God. John believed the solution depended on divine intervention which means the role of the people is to wait for a God engineered catastrophic event that will result in instantaneous peace and righteousness provoked from the outside. By contrast, Jesus came to reveal that God depends on faithful people to deal with the misuse of power, position and privilege in the world. Following the way of Jesus the role of people is to take responsibility for restoring peace and righteousness from the inside out. 

I believe it is up to us to stand with the boldness of John and speak truth to power calling for dignity for all people so that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” And, I believe we must act humbly as the hands and feet and heart of Jesus to end evil in the world by living and acting and voting to insure dignity and care for all people, beginning right where we are. This is the Kingdom of God on earth. No singular catastrophic event will bring it about. But a million, a billion, countless trillion decisions made by each of us every moment of our lives to turn toward God rather than capitulate to position, power and privilege will make a difference in peoples’ lives. The Kingdom of God is here. It is up to us to choose it.

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Gospel text for the First Sunday of Advent, 29 November 2015

Luke 21:25-36        Jesus said, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

Reflection   Having celebrated Thanksgiving we now change our decorations to get ready for Christmas. But something is amiss when we look around our churches. Instead of the green, red and sparkle of Christmas the color we see is blue. Why blue?

This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, the start of a new liturgical year. In just four weeks Christmas, The Nativity of Our Lord, will be here. The thing is, Christmas is so important that we need four weeks to prepare to receive its mystery.  We prepare by remembering how our ancient Jewish ancestors longed for the Messiah and by finding that same longing deep in our hearts. That is why the primary color for Advent is blue because blue represents seriousness and repentance, turning toward God. We look forward to the Christ child being born again in our hearts even as we prepare to celebrate his first coming at Christmas in Bethlehem. 

This is the paradox of our Christian story; it has happened already and not yet, which explains why one of the four candles in our Advent wreath is pink instead of blue. The joyful color of pink  in the midst of all the blues reminds us that even as we wait and long for the coming of the Christ, we know that he already came in the person of Jesus. Christ is already, and not yet. 

Fortunately we have the four weeks of Advent to ponder this inscrutable mystery of the birth of the Christ child, already and not yet.  Here are a few questions that may help. What does it mean to us to remember the utterly human baby Jesus born to an unwed mother two thousand years ago? What does it mean for us to long for the rebirth of the Light of Christ in our hearts? What thoughts, habits, addictions, preferences or fears stand in the way of wholly receiving the Christ, nurturing the Light and letting it spread through us to the world?  Are we ready to pray for the grace to have these stumbling blocks removed from us? Are we ready to give birth to Christ’s light in the world? We have four weeks to wonder and choose our response. 

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Gospel text for 22 November 2015

John 18:33-37        Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Reflection        Pontius Pilate is a government guy concerned with the black and white of bureaucratic  matters. He needs to know, “Is Jesus a king and therefore a threat to the political kingdom of which Pilate is a part? or not?” But Jesus is not interested in political position. He is interested in truth. Presupposing Pilate's question, "What is truth?" I turn to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words definition of truth; “objectively, signifying "the reality lying at the basis of an appearance; the manifested, veritable essence of a matter" … ”even as truth is in Jesus," … meaning is not merely ethical "truth," but "truth" in all its fullness and scope, as embodied in Him; He was the perfect expression of the truth; this is virtually equivalent to His statement in John 14.6; “I am the way and the truth and the life.””

“The veritable essence of matter” is truth. This is the real heart of the matter. Truth is Jesus. Jesus is truth, the “veritable essence of matter,” Divine Presence. Truth (Jesus) is hidden from the eyes of those whose interests are defined by worldly position, power and politic. No doubt that is why Pilate goes on to ask Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18.38) Jesus never answers Pilate. If Pilate cannot see it standing in front of him, nothing Jesus can say will open his ears to hear it. By contrast Jesus sees beyond the things of this world to another reality, a spiritual realm. This alternate reality, the spiritual realm, is that for which he came into the world; to reveal the truth of something more than the political maneuvers of people bound to the kingdom of earth. For those who have eyes to see Jesus reveals the “veritable essence of matter” also understood to be the “uncreated light of God,” the “grace” of God, or the manifestation of living God in numberless shades of grey. 

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Gospel text for Sunday 15 November 2015

Mark 13:1-8
As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

Reflection      Many of us have experienced the crumbling of our “temples;” loss of a job, death of a loved one, financial crisis, terminal diagnosis, or any social or emotional situation that leaves us standing or lying knee deep in the rubble of our lives and wondering, “Can anything good come of this?” And Jesus answers, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” 

Anyone who has given birth or known someone who has given birth knows that the vagaries of pregnancy and even the earth quaking pangs of labor pale in comparison to the whole life changing relationship that is born. Rules that described or governed life before the birth are upended. Returning to Jesus’ imagery, the large stones upon which pre-birth life seemed to be built are thrown down and life as before the birth is dismantled.

This is what Jesus is telling the disciples and us. When everything that is comfortable, stable and predictable on the outside is stripped away (in other words, when our temple walls are thrown down), we are invited to turn around and look inside for comfort and stability that does not depend on external circumstance. We can do this because we are more than what is happening to us. We are participants in the unborn, undying, eternally unchanged Divinity that unites us to one another in God.

Does this mean there is no place for temples in our lives? Absolutely not. Temples protect our truths and mysteries and sustain our wisdom traditions. They are the rock upon which we build our faith and our refuge among friends and ancestors who accompany us along the way. Still, temples must point beyond themselves to the entirety of creation steeped in God because temples will always crumble but the Word God, that was and is and is to come is always and everywhere present, beyond the confines of any temple walls.

Image  Dali's "The Tower"

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Gospel text for Sunday 8 November 2015

Mark 12:38-44        Teaching in the temple, Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Reflection             Please imagine with me; we are looking through a wide angle lens at a rolling French countryside. It is 1959. Winter grey is melting as the camera zooms in to view a sluggish French village, then wisks us along a cobbled rue, across the plaza and into a stained stone church. Inside drowsy congregants nod as the young preacher utters with no note of conviction, “The season of Lent is upon us. It is a time of abstinence, reflection and penitence…”  It will be awhile before we discover the hard-hearted historian and mayor of the village actually writes the preacher’s sermons to insure the village culture of torpor and tranquilite’ is maintained to his benefit. 

Meanwhile, a strong north wind is blowing. Clad in brilliant red capes the winsome Vienne and her young daughter are literally blown into town where they rent the Patisserie and open a Chocolat shop.  The charismatic Vienne offers extravagant hospitality to the outcasts, sweets to the bitter, comfort to the disconsolate and bountiful food to the hungry. This of course puts her cross-ways with the preening mayor who insists the people keep a strict Lenten fast. But the comfort of chocolat and the promise of delight attracts the people to Vienne. In the end, even the major is overcome by his desire for comfort and chocolat.

Much as the scribes in today’s gospel text, “…who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces…” and  “devour widows' houses…” the mayor in Chocolat exercised power over the people and “devoured their houses” by oppressing them and stripping them of joy. Like Jesus, Vienne blows into town and turns the status quo upside down by offering the people an alternate reality; the gratuitous experience of hospitality, healing and joy given to any and everyone, unconditionally.

I believe this is the kind of “turning the world upside down” about which our new Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (PB) preached at his installation on November 1st.  Curry bellows from the pulpit, “The Way of Jesus turns the world upside down, which is actually right side up.” He continues; and the way to turn the world upside down is for each of us to live the world shaking Way of Jesus, which means, love God and love our neighbors. No fluff. No doctrine. No equivocation, Curry underscores his point. “If it is not about love it is not about God.”  Which makes me think that our new PB and the heroine of Chocolat are two flavors of a single slice of Chocolat.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Gospel text for All Souls & All Saints Celebration 1 November 2015

John 11:32-44        When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go.”

Reflection        How are we to experience God’s presence and compassion in the face of inevitable weeping, mourning, breaking down, killing and dying that inform our human experience? I believe the answer is hidden in plain sight at the beginning of John’s text. Jesus wept.” Dä-krü’-ō (Greek). Mary was weeping. Dä-krü’-ō. The Jewish friends and neighbors of Lazarus’ family were weeping. Jesus came among them, was so profoundly touched by their grieving that he was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” And, “Jesus wept.”  Dä-krü’-ō.

Jesus wept as we all weep when someone we love dies because weeping is the flesh and bones response to losing the physical, social and emotional experience of someone we love. Jesus wept for the personal loss of his friend Lazarus. He also wept in solidarity or oneness with the grieving of his friend Mary and all the Jews who were weeping. Dä-krü’-ō.

Weeping, dä-krü’-ō arises from the depths of our true selves, affirming our choice to love at the risk of experiencing loss. Weeping, dä-krü’-ō, is a common meeting place where the interdependent bond of humanity is experienced. Weeping, dä-krü’-ō, is a place where we know God with us, with all of us.

But what are we to do with the voices, the ones inside and out, that plague and bedevil us alleging God’s absence? Concerning Lazarus’ death some of the bystanders said, ”Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept (Lazarus) from dying?” In other words, “OK Jesus, if you are for real why did you let your friend Lazarus die?” The lack of faith betrayed by the bystanders’ haughty complaint “greatly disturbed” Jesus  who immediately turned toward God and called for a miracle so that the faithless might believe. 

Many of us must encounter something we cannot explain (a miracle) before we apprehend  faith that God is with us.  As Christians we do not put our faith in a magician god that pulls rabbits out of a hat or resuscitates dead bodies. We put our faith in God weeping with us, full of mercy, tenderness and compassion. In the exquisite  words found in the Revelation to John.
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
God will dwell with them as their God;
they will be God’s peoples,
and God  will be with them;
and will wipe every tear from their eyes. (Rev 21.3-4a)

Twenty centuries after John penned those words while in exile on the Island of Patmos, it is time for us to reclaim the image of God he describes in the Revelations; God with us, no matter what. 

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Gospel text for Sunday 25 October 2015

Mark 10:46-52        Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Reflection      What if Jesus stood still in front of you, looked you in the eye and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” What would you say? What would you do?

I will never forget the first time I heard those words spoken to me through human lips. A wise Episcopal priest whom I had been pestering for months to be my spiritual director kept flatly saying, “No.” After 4 or 5 asks I pretty much gave up. Several more months passed and I decided to call one more time. He answered the phone and after a bit of small talk he asked, “What do you want me to do for your?” His beneficent words cut to my core. All of the oppressive voices that stood between me and God were exposed. “How can I admit the deepest desire of my heart? I don’t deserve such a generous invitation. I am not good enough. I can’t do this. I am not holy enough. How dare I say what I really want out loud?”

After a very long pause I stuttered something like, “I want you to help me see how God is working in my life and I want you to help me discern what I am to do.” Even as I choked out those words fear and trembling gripped my soul. I knew my life was changed forever and I was terrified. Like the cloak that Bartimaeus’ threw off when he sprung up to go to Jesus, I felt all the old images of who I thought I was along with the choir of voices declaring my proper place in the world were shattered. I could barely breath. Those words, those unspeakably generous words, “What do you want me to do for you?” cut through my social, emotional and spiritual limitations and opened the eyes of my heart.

Could there be a more generous invitation than to express the deepest desire of our heart? “What do you want me to do for you?” Do we dare to pause and admit our deep longing for “with God” life? Are we willing to cast off all constraints that limit our ideas of who and whose we are? Are we ready to respond with bountiful generosity in gratitude for the unspeakable blessings of our “with God” life?

Whether Jesus bursts into the journey of our life in a singular dramatic moment or has been a constant though perhaps not recognized presence inviting us to  “with God” life through the voices of friends and strangers along the way, a decision is always required of us. Are we going to settle for the status quo? Or, are we going to take a risk? Are we going to spring up from our comfortable ruts and throw off our cloaks of limiting ideas and oppressive attachments because we choose to put our faith in God’s lavish generosity? Or... will we let fear oppress us and bury our truth?

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Hebrew Testament text for Sunday 18 October 2015

Job 38:1-7, 34-41                                                            **Stars being born & gaseous nebula                                                 
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements-- surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? "

"Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
so that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go
and say to you, `Here we are'?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
or given understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods cling together?

"Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens,
or lie in wait in their covert? 
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God,
and wander about for lack of food?”


God is God. Job is not. This message resounds through sunrise and sunset, the mystery of the ever expanding multiverse, a child laughing, waterfalls crashing, swift sips of ‘ah-hahs,’ a male lion’s bellows, grand humpback whales’ ballad; God is God, We are not.

If I was compelled to extract a singular admonition from the sublime wisdom story of Job it would be this. God is God. We are not. The sooner we get on our knees and admit our complete and utter dependence on God (not to mention unspeakable smallness in the face of all that is) the sooner we may experience the mysterious wisdom and grace of God in us and of us, with us and for us.

In all twelve step recovery programs the first and essential step toward freedom from a particular obsession, compulsion or addiction is for the individual to admit they are not in control, in other words, to get on their knees and surrender to something greater than themselves. Which is the second step in every twelve step program, recognizing there is indeed something greater than oneself. The thing is, not all of us lose our freedom to drugs, alcohol, sex, food or gambling. Some of us lose our freedom to ideas or images about ourselves; we are righteous, dutiful, smart, law abiding, altruistic, successful, philanthropic even holy… the list is endless. 

Although we are not God, we are not other than God either. As long as we get on our knees and like Job, never stop calling out to God, when we admit our complete and utter dependence on God, there is every chance we will be surprised by the lavish grace of God flowing to us and through us. 

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Gospel text for Sunday 11 October 2015

Mark 10:17-31  

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age--houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions--and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

Reflection        Can you almost hear Jesus saying to the running man, “Do you believe you have done all of these things; following the Law of Moses by your own wit and your own will? Do you see that homeless person? that leper begging? But for the grace of God, that could be you. By the grace of God with you, you have been able to follow the law and now you need something more. You need to admit your absolute and utter dependence on God as I do.” “Of my own self, I can do nothing. I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the One who has sent me. (John 5.30) 

Jesus insists that in all things he is utterly dependent on God. This is “with God life.” This is eternal life. Jesus puts his faith in his relationship with God rather than clinging to conventional, or even orthodox, programs for happiness. Our programs for happiness are all the things we do in an effort to feel safe, secure, esteemed, right, in control or powerful. Things like  amassing food, property, money, weapons or insurance policies; avoiding conflict, following rules (commandments), being dutiful or failing to speak our truth in order to be liked by everyone, demanding perfection of  ourselves or others, lording it over others or striving for position or success regardless of the cost to our integrity or to other people. 

For the most part we get away with cultivating our programs for happiness during the early years of our lives. But when the time comes that like the running man, we are looking for something more, there is every chance that Jesus will counsel us, “Go, sell all that you have…go sell every earthly thing in which you put your trust because all of your possessions, all of the people cow towing to you, all of your righteous behavior, all of the privilege and power in the world will not get you “with God life.” 

There is nothing wrong with material possessions, with being well liked, following rules or being successful. It is only when we have an inordinate attachment to these things, when we identify with these things, that they become stumbling blocks because they get between us and “with God life.” So go, sell everything you have that you cannot imagine living without to make room for “with God life.” 

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