Saturday, December 31, 2016

Gospel text for Sunday 1 January 2017

Luke 2:15-21        When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Reflection        Two thousand years have passed since we stood in the temple and witnessed the kvatters take the child from Mary and bring him to the mohel who executes the Law of Leviticus 12.2  “On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” it is two thousand years since we heard the infant Jesus’ cries mixed with the mohel’s prayers, “Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning circumcision.”

Our Jewish sisters and brothers understand that the act of circumcision, marking the completion of the body, is a human act. It teaches that “our spiritual, emotional, moral and ethical perfection requires human effort. G‑d cannot do it for us.” ** During our lifetimes we enter many partnerships, most of which will come to a natural end or be broken. The ritual circumcision, is a symbol of partnership with God. Etched in the body’s flesh, it represents a partnership that will never end and never be forgotten. Humanity is meant to live in partnership with God cultivating our “spiritual, emotional, moral and ethical perfection” without end.

Jesus grew up understanding the ritual of circumcision and that his name was no accident; he was responsible for living in partnership with God. He was named, called Yeshua, to be the saving revelation of God. As we reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus we see what happens when we try to put words around the amazing partnership of humanity and divinity as expressed in and of and as Jesus.

God’s indelible partnership with us is one thing we cannot adequately identify or represent so instead we describe aspects of God with us as revealed in the life of Jesus; brightness of everlasting light, King of glory, prince of peace, pattern of patience, gentle and humble of heart, model of goodness, our refuge, eternal wisdom, teacher of apostles, courage of martyrs, crown of all saints…. there is no end to this litany. 

Here is the thing,  the revelation of God with us does not end with Jesus. It continues in and of and as each of us fulfill our lives in partnership with God. By our baptism we are children of God and as children of God we are sisters and brothers of Jesus, each named to live in and of and as the revelation of God’s saving presence with all of humanity. So, remember your baptism!


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**  http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1472861/jewish/The-Circumcision-Ceremony-in-a-Nutshell.html

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Gospel Text for Christmas Eve 24 December 2016

Luke 2.1-20       In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

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

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

Reflection        Peace and glory, glory and peace, these two are handmaids that tend the birth of peasants as well as nobility.  Peace and glory, glory and peace, this holy couple is the right response of humanity to the birth of a child because peace and glory acknowledge the arrival of light in the depths of darkness, they declare the entrance of hope on the stage of suffering and despair.

And that is the reason ‘this day’ more than two billion Christians around the world are telling the humdrum tale of an impoverished couple and their newborn “child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” We never tire of retelling this story because it is full of peace and full of glory. We replay this saga because it is a story for all people and for all time. We recall this drama because we hunger to be fully alive, which is to say, we long to be full of peace and glory, right here, right now... this day. 

Many of us are exhausted. We have been living life as if we are people in exile; lost, wandering and wondering when we are going to get to some happily ever after state. Here is the thing. Life is not about what is missing. Life is not about waiting for some utopian ideal. Life is about ‘this day,” full of peace and full of glory. 

Of course you may reply, “Really? Have you not heard the news? According to the Global Peace Index of 2016 only ten countries in the entire world are not currently at war and are completely free from conflict.  Have you not heard, currently nearly 1 in 3 children, 1 in 5 Arizonans, and 1 in 7 seniors in Arizona live in poverty? Have you not heard that 40% of the people who receive emergency food assistance are working?*  Have you not heard, some of us have lost our jobs, our health, our loved ones? Where is the peace? Where is the glory?”

This is when the rest of the angel’s message is essential, “Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.” The light that pierces the heart of darkness is here, this day. We do not have to wait until we find the perfect job or place to live. We do not have to wait until our student loans are paid, our tax debt is clear and our retirement plans secure. 

This is the day that the Lord has made;   let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118.24)  Let us be glad and grateful purveyors of God's peace and glory for all of humanity, this day. After all, God IS with us and with God nothing is impossible. 

Merry Christmas!

 St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance  www.firstfoodbank.org/learn-more/hunger-statistice-in-arizona. accessed 22 December 2016.

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Gospel text for Sunday 18 December 2016







Matthew 1:18-25        Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Reflection Mary considered drinking an extract of the herb silphium but after praying about it, she had a change of heart. Joseph planned to send Mary away to give birth to the illegitimate child in obscurity but after a dream in which he experienced the presence of God with him, he had a change of heart.  Although we have no evidence for the historicity of the first statement, it is not beyond the realm of possibility. The question is, what does it take to have a change of heart?

What does it take to change our opinion? What does it take to change a decision that we no longer think is right or true? What does it take to change our behavior and consequently the course of history?

Since the Twelve Step program was published in 1939 by Alcoholics Anonymous countless people have made significant lifestyle changes in all areas of their lives.  I believe one of the keys to their success is the second step; recognizing a “Higher Power” that Christians call God is present and actively giving us strength and the capacity to accept and grow through the challenges of life. 

And the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, “‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”  (Luke 1. 28-31) 

In little more than a week, in the midst of our darkest season, we will be welcoming the birth of the Christ child, the return of new light and life and hope in our lives. Are we ready to examine and change our opinions or feelings on matters that impede or inhibit the message of dignity and hope for all people? Are we prepared to reverse decisions we have made that in the new light of God present with us fall short of expressing compassion, inclusion, freedom and justice for refugees and immigrants, people with disabilities or varied gender preferences, for foreigners and strangers and all of creation? Are we willing to have a change of heart and amend our lives to allow the Presence of God in us and of us and through us to be Good News for all people on earth? 

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Gospel text for Sunday 11 December 2016

Matthew 11:2-11        When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Reflection     In lock-step with the law and the prophets of his Jewish tradition, John is looking for a king in the line of David to exercise power over all people, to enforce the Jewish law and establish a consolidated political-religious state. It is no wonder he sent his disciples to question Jesus, “Are you the one who is coming or are we to wait for another?” There is every chance that John heard about “all the things” that Jesus was doing; giving sight to the blind, restoring the lame to walk, cleansing the lepers, healing the deaf, raising the dead, and bringing good news to the poor… (Matt 4.25) Not the expected list of skills and accomplishments for a messiah king.

John must have heard about the mind-bending sermon Jesus preached to large crowds on the Mountain proclaiming the poor and the hungry are blessed, the meek who understand their place in God’s kingdom are happy and those who are just and sincere are satisfied. (Matt 5.1-11)  And surely John heard what  Jesus said about the Jewish law, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill…” (Matt 5.17) But (and this is a large ‘but’), “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (that would be the religious folk) you will never enter” God’s kingdom. (Matt 5.20) What? Are not the religious leaders guaranteed a fast pass to the kingdom? 

The Messiah of what became the Christian tradition did not come to fulfill the letter of Jewish law. The Christian Messiah Jesus came to reform the Jewish tradition by fulfilling the Spirit of the law. “You have heard it said, you shall not murder…but I say to you if you are angry with a brother or sister you will be liable to judgement…” (Matt5.21-22) “You have heard it said, an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say… give to anyone who begs from you…” (Matt 5. 38,42) “You have heard it said that you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your father in heaven.” (Matt 5.43-44)

From the point of view of John and the religious Jews of his time, Jesus does not fit the messiah’s job description.  Where he should be paying attention to giving a proper “tithe of mint, dill and cumin,” Jesus is concerned with matters of “justice, mercy and faith.” (Matt 23) He even dares to turn the finger of judgment toward the religious leaders, calling them  hypocrites, “For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside (you) are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matt 23. 25)

Clearly John is perplexed by the antithetical position pronounced by Jesus. The one whom John baptized in the river Jordan, the one whose sandals John was not worthy to tie, the one upon whom the Spirit of God descended, the “one who is to come” and bring the “kingdom of heaven near” turns out to be the unorthodox dissident, Jesus. How could this be the one John is looking for?

Which begs the question, what are we looking for? What are we hoping against hope will arise in the wilderness of our lives? This Advent season are we preparing our hearts to receive a feudal King legislating power from the top of a pyramid? Or are we allowing our hearts to be transformed and give birth to the Spirit of the living God, full of “justice, mercy and faith?”

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Gospel text for 2nd Sunday of Advent 4 December 2016

Matthew 3.1-12        In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, 
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Reflection       People from all over Judea and Jerusalem are leaving the cities, their safe places, their comfort zones, and going into the wilderness. This is no small thing. The wilderness of Biblical time is beyond the limits of civilization and definitely inhospitable. It  is an in-between place where ordinary life is suspended and new opportunities emerge. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt into the wilderness situated between Egypt and the promise land of Canaan where for forty years the Israelites experienced danger, hunger, thirst and temptation. While in the wilderness they also experienced divine surprises, receiving  manna from heaven and water out of rocks, evidence of God’s presence with them. After his baptism Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days where he experienced hunger, thirst and a series of temptations. We remember that Jesus also went into the wilderness to pray. (Luke 5.16) 

This suggests that the wilderness is a place we go when seeking new possibilities or opportunities. It is the out of our comfort zone, in-between place in which we examine our selves and our lives to expose the ways we turn away from God. When we dare to open  our minds and hearts to acknowledge that we have short changed ourselves by failing to  live in alignment with the will of God, we have already made a half turn back toward God. To complete our return and align our selves with God we must also change our behavior. This is the second step,  “to bear fruit worthy of repentance.”  Which is to say, our words must be fulfilled by action.

I believe it is safe to compare our Advent season to time in the wilderness. This is a season to step out of our comfort zone. This is a time for us to acknowledge that the world of cities wrapped in tinsel and religious sentiment does not have the last word.  In this season of self examination we admit the ways we turn away from God, we take responsibility for our actions, we experience remorse, express regret and reform our behavior by looking for opportunities to extend peace and good will to all people. As Jesus teaches a bit later in Matthew’s gospel, “ ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matt 7.21)

Jesus comes to fulfill by his actions the words of the Hebrew Scriptures so too are we to fulfill the Word God as revealed by Jesus. Let us take the words of our Hallmark Christmas cards seriously and find every opportunity we can to extend peace and good will to all people on earth. 


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Gospel text for First Advent, Sunday 27 November 2016


Matthew 24:36-44        Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Reflection     What were the people who chose this reading for the First Sunday of Advent thinking? Why begin the New Church Year  in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew’s gospel with Jesus warning the disciples and us to keep awake and be ready for apocalyptic change, change that will be no less traumatic than the great flood in Noah’s time?  Why not let us bask in na├»ve innocence anticipating the powdery smell of a newborn infant’s birth? Why not walk us through the litany of Jesus’ genealogy, who begat whom, “Abraham was the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Issac… all fourteen generations until we arrive at another “Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.” (Matt1.1,16) 

I believe the vexing choice for this text was to insure we not get swept up in nostalgia,  not for a minute imagine we are preparing for the birth of an ordinary child. The unnerving message is, we are preparing to receive a child who will turn our world upside down. This child, this Son of Humanity, is going to shake us up and wake us up and show us the way to “beat our swords into plough shares and our spears into pruning hooks.”

There is no question. Twenty-seven hundred years after the prophet Isaiah proclaimed peace among all people,  two thousand years after Jesus walked the earth, we, the people of God, are still in dire need of teaching and guidance to become the peacemakers God is calling us to be. We must learn how to transform our weapons of destruction into tools turned for the good of all people; think  about transforming M16s into water purifiers, denaturing nerve gas into pollution control systems, converting biological agents into agricultural tools. And of course, translating our words of judgment, condemnation and hatred into words of welcome, recommendation and love. Jesus is unequivocal. In God’s economy words or weapons intended for violence will be reconfigured as the means to care for all people and institute peace on earth and it will turn our world upside down. 

How can we be proponents peace on earth when we ache over our families fractured by divisive politics? How can we extend good will to all people on earth while we squirm among friends and neighbors wondering if we dare say what we think, feel or how we voted?  Where is the vision of hope for all when so many people are suffering and worried about feeding their children, keeping their families together, holding onto their jobs or health insurance?

I believe these and many similar questions illumine our need to hear the apocalyptic story of Jesus’ intrusion into history today. Our days are rife with excess, indulgence, arrogance, irresponsibility, jealousy and greed -  nonetheless, we are preparing to welcome the birth of the Christ child. We are preparing to be made new again and remember that regardless of our situation, always we begin again shining the new light of Christ in the world. 


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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Gospel text for Sunday 20 November 2016

Luke 23:33-43        When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same  sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Reflection        Practicing what we preach can be a rather agonizing experience. When, my six year old daughter Leela planted her tiny hands on her hips, looked me square in the eye and said, “Why do I have to eat healthy food if you smoke those cigarettes,” a steel saber could not more surely have pierced me to my core. And there it was, the test of my integrity. Was I going to practice what I preached about making healthy choices and give up smoking? What was I willing to give up to live in integrity? 

Two thousand years earlier Jesus' integrity was also questioned. Throughout his ministry Jesus preached, “But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6.27-28) And then we meet Jesus at the place called The Skull, nailed to a tree between two criminals. One of the criminals, who no doubt would have planted his hands on his hips to chastise Jesus were they not nailed to a cross, questions Jesus’ integrity. “If you really are who you say you are, get yourself and us out of this mess.” 

Jesus does the unthinkable. He does not climb off the cross. He does not implore God to save him. Instead, he forgives the criminals between whom he hangs as well as the perpetrators of his crucifixion saying, “Father, forgive them…” At the end of the day, when push comes to shove, Jesus practices what he preaches. He forgives the people who hate, curse and abuse him. In fact, he gives up his life rather than giving up his integrity. 

This raises a question for all of us, “For what are we willing to die?” The only way I know to begin to respond to that question is by asking yet another question, “For what are we willing to live?” Jesus lived his life practicing what he preached. “Love God, love your neighbors,  love your enemies, and forgive them.” Jesus was willing to die for that which he was willing to live. There is no better way for us to live our lives than to live for that which we are willing to die. And yes, I did quit smoking the day Leela confronted me. 

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Gospel text for Sunday 13 November 2016

Luke 21:5-19
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them.

"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Reflection        Surely we are in no less a time of apocalyptic expectation than were the people listening to Jesus predict the decimation of the temple. Some of us are calling for a radical end of the way things have been. Others fear seismic doom and gloom borne of change. Within families, communities, cities , the Church, relationships are strained if not fatally fractured.

As people of God we are intended to be in loving relationship with God and one another. Most of us have been distracted and like our ancient Jewish ancestors forgotten our covenant with God. We are worried about “when (these terrible things) will be, and what will be the sign that it is about to take place.” Then and now we are asking the wrong questions.

The question is not “How shall we prepare ourselves for disaster;  ‘famine, plague and dreadful portents and great signs from heaven?’” The question is “How shall we live to fulfill our covenant agreement with God? How shall we repent, turn away from our selfishness, entitlement, pride and isolation to follow the way of Jesus by dignifying, caring for and giving ourselves away for the good of all people?” 

If we did live to fulfill our covenant with God there would indeed be an apocalyptic transformation of the world as we know it. And, if we choose to do this, like Jesus and his disciples, we can expect to be misunderstood and suffer along the way.

The good news is, God is with us and we do not have to prepare. We can have confidence because Jesus counseled, we need not be “terrified.” This moment in which we find ourselves is an opportunity to live and reveal the good news that God is with and for all people. “So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” We may be hated and betrayed by many folk but we are assured of God’s presence with us… always. 


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Saturday, November 5, 2016

The News as Text for Sunday 6 November 2016

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts
Reflection        Where is God today on the final stretch of the presidential campaign? Today our gospel text is the news; TV, newspaper, online, radio, blog sites and twitter feeds where a two minute story is considered long. All day and night we are bombarded with blurts of breaking news. The pundits have refined the art of igniting fires, provoking torrential waves of emotion and carrying the collective consciousness of us, the United States citizens, out of our hearts and our souls and our minds.

Individually and collectively we have become like bubbles in the froth of hurricane whipped waves, smashing and crashing into our selves and one another. We can barely keep up with the tennis match volley of “who dun-it to whom.” We have forgotten that  the preferred political fish is red herring and allowed ourselves to be distracted from issues that matter by perpetual prurient panderings. 

We, the people, are swept away in tides of emotion. We have lost our hearts and our souls and our minds in the media tumult that bombards us. We have forgotten who and whose we are and the sacred ground on which we stand.

Here is the thing. Although we are privileged to pledge our allegiance to one of the richest nations in the world, our first and foremost allegiance belongs to God. We are the people of God. We are the visible body of the Christ in the world today.

What this means is we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our minds, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Beginning with the book of Genesis the entire narrative  is punctuated with prophets, not the least of whom was Jesus, prophets who never stop warning God’s people to “love the Lord our God will all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our minds, and love our neighbors as ourselves.” 

But we turn away from God and one another. We may no longer bow down before wooden statues and golden calves as did our ancient ancestors but we are beguiled by countless junk gods that consume our lives and our time; from electronic devices to enormous TVs, expensive cars and towering buildings, lust and greed for pleasure and money, and of course our idolatry of “the way things used to be.” Because we worship them we suffer loss upon loss upon loss because we are worshipping things that cannot last. 

You may well ask, “How are we  “to love the Lord our God will all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our minds, and love our neighbors as ourselves.?” It is actually very simple. Turn off our TVs, the radio. Unplug the phone, the computer, and every media delivering device. Go into our rooms, close the door and pray to our God in secret. Pray with our whole hearts and souls and minds saying, “Not my will, Your will be done.” 

Our God is a God of love and hope for all people. As difficult as it may be for us to see or even believe, on this very day, at this very moment our God is working in the world for the good of all people. It is time for us to honestly look at all that we say, all that we do and the way that we vote asking, how do my thoughts, my words and my actions reveal to the world that God is with us? How is my vote a revelation of God’s love and hope for all people today? 


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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Feast of All Saints & All Souls 30 October 2016

Luke 6:20-31        Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Reflection The French Philosopher Louis Lavelle lived the first half of the twentieth century and wrote, “Saints are those who teach us how to live in the visible world by seeing things invisible.” He taught that we live in both the world of nature and “the world of Spirit and through our experience in the natural world we may come to realize our spiritual powers.” Through choice and diligent practice some people come to experience nature and spirit in unity rather than duality. These are the people we recognize as saints.

In his essay, “The Meaning of Holiness”* Lavelle insists that we all have the potential to be saints, which is to say, to experience the presence and action of God with us. Saints are ordinary people who live extraordinary lives because of their disciplined intention to live aligned in the will of God and in right relationship with all people. 

As Christians we are all members of the Communion of Saints. Our selves, our souls and bodies are the means by which we participate in the Communion. Much like accomplished baseball pitchers, pianists, professors, construction workers, teachers or firefighters who persist in disciplined practice and study in their respective fields, if we aspire to holiness of life we must exercise our spiritual muscles through disciplined prayer, worship, study and diligent practice of generosity and loving-kindness. 

When we make choices for something, that means we leave some things behind. That is what the teenage peasant girl Mary did when the angel Gabriel informed her that she would be pregnant and give birth to the son of God, and she responded, “Let it be with me according to Your word.” (Luke 1.38) That is what Simon, called Peter, and his brother Andrew did when they put down their nets to follow Jesus near the sea of Galilee. (Matt 4.18) That is what each of us do every time we chose to live “with God” life and pray, “Not my will, God’s will be done.” The question is, what do we need to leave behind in order to continue God's generosity and loving-kindness in our world? 

Saints are ordinary people who persist, with God’s help, in aligning their will in the will of God and in so doing their ordinary lives are transformed into extraordinary expressions of God’s generosity and loving-kindness for the good of all people.

 *Lavelle,Louis. The Meaning of Holiness., London, Burns & Oates, 1953


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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Gospel text for Sunday 23 October 2016

Luke 18:9-14        Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Reflection        Don’t we all try to be like the Pharisee… law abiding, spiritual people, who give at least our 10% tithe to God’s church, pay our share of taxes and do acts of charity? Aren’t we all a bit grateful that we are not like “those people” who do awful things we hear about in the news? How could it be that Jesus defends the tax-collector, absolving him for his sin without demanding some form of payment? How could Jesus contradict the generous, religious, law-abiding Pharisee, refusing to condone his behavior?  When we do wrong, don’t we have to pay? And when we do good, aren’t we being righteous? 

This Friday and Saturday was our annual Diocesan Convention The Very Rev. Jeffrey Johns, a Church of England priest, and dean of St. Alban’s Cathedral in England delivered the keynote address titled, “The Spirituality of Leadership.” Rev. Johns did not mince words. If we want to lead God’s people and bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, we must first pause and examine our own lives and hearts.

When we are honest with ourselves, we are all sinners. Day after day, week after week, we fail to give our first and our best to God. We check off the boxes of all the good things we do and fall to the same obsessions, compulsions, perfections, temptations, and addictions that we did yesterday. We try to be good Pharisees, but at the end of the day when we examine our hearts and our lives we see, just like the tax collector in Jesus’ story we cannot make it right.

Then Rev. Johns shared a poignant insight about the value of examining our lives  gleaned from the fourteenth century English mystic Julian of Norwich. We examine our hearts and lives in order to “turn our wounds into worship.” 

When we allow ourselves to admit and feel the depths of our violations, shortcomings and shame we are broken open to bow before God and humbly ask for mercy. And because our God is a merciful God our wounds turn into worship. In the words of our tax collector, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'

The question is not, am I righteous? Are you righteous? We are not. Our attempts at self improvement and getting it right fall short. But God is righteous, which is how we dare have the courage to admit our errors, shortcomings and violations and experience the attendant grief, shame and remorse Then, putting our faith in God’s righteousness rather than our own, our wounds turn into worship and, in Jesus’ words, we ‘will be exalted.”


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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Gospel text for Sunday 16 October 2016

Luke 18:1-8        Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Reflection        Never stop turning and returning to God, or as our Jewish friends might put it, “Cultivate your inner nudge,” which is a rough translation of, “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice.” Rather than look at this instruction as a formula to manufacture an obnoxious personality I prefer to think of it as inspiration to sustain single-minded purposefulness in pursuing what is right and good and true. 

Sometimes it is hard to hold onto what is right and good and true, especially when the deck seems stacked against us. In the story of the widow we have no idea who her opponent is nor do we know the nature of her grievance. We do know the widow seeks justice in a situation that is stacked against her, having to rely on a merciless judge to hear her complaint.  Which begs the question, what gave the widow, a person of neither value nor status and certainly no education in her first century community, the courage, the chutzpah to persevere and bother the judge? From where did the widow derive her strength of purpose to repeatedly confront the truculent judge? 

It is unlikely the persistent widow was aware of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein definition of a nudge. Here is what they have to say. “A nudge…is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people's behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.” *

Perhaps the widow heard Jesus teaching on a hillside, on the plain or in the synagogue and was moved to hope for justice in spite of her desperate situation. Perhaps the widow was inspired by the story of Job who never stopped calling out to God despite the unspeakable adversity of his situation. We will never know what kept the fire going in the widow’s heart such that she held fast to her desire for justice. Nonetheless her story gives us hope that each and every one of us may be heard as long as we never stop calling out to God for justice. In the throes of this political season it might behoove us to never stop bothering God. “O Lord make haste to help us, all of us. O Lord, come quickly and make our ways straight. Amen.”


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