Saturday, November 30, 2019

Christian Testament text for 1st Advent 1 December 2019

Romans 13:11-14        You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Reflection        What an invitation for the first Sunday in Advent, the first day of our liturgical year!  “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day… put on the Lord Jesus the Christ.”  Yes. It is time for us to take responsibility for our divine inheritance, Christ within us.”

If you are wondering,“How?” I have an invitation for each one of us. Let us begin this liturgical year by saying “Yes, I choose to actively participate in the revelation of God’s presence every single day.”  This year I invite you to consciously and conscientiously hold yourselves accountable to be the Holy Women and Holy Men we are intended to be because God has always depended on us humans to do God’s bidding. 

Our world is crying out to be changed and God depends on each of us to act decisively to turn things around for the good of all. This is the same message the illegitimate peasant son of Mary, Jesus brings to life in the world of the ancient mideast. The kingdom of God is meant to be right here in the dust and dirt we stand on. The kingdom of God is meant to heal the sick, feed the hungry and release the oppressed. The kingdom of God depends on each of us to act decisively for the good of all.

It is that simple and really hard. Surely it was hard for teenage Mary to say Yes to God and accept her unplanned pregnancy as a supreme blessing. It had to be hard for Joseph to say Yes to God and receive rather than reject his pregnant fiancee Mary and then respond to God’s dream message to escape with Mary and her baby to Egypt to avoid Herod’s scheme to kill all male infants. It must have been hard for Jesus whose own mother and siblings thought he was crazy and whose best friends abandoned him when things got really heated to carry on alone. 

But standing up, saying “Yes” and stepping out to reveal God’s presence is not the sole purview of famous Biblical characters. In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy we witnessed the best of our humanity. Then President Bush reported,  "We have seen our national character in eloquent acts of sacrifice. Inside the World Trade Center, one man who could have saved himself stayed until the end at the side of his quadriplegic friend. A beloved priest died giving the last rites to a firefighter. Two office workers, finding a disabled stranger, carried her down sixty-eight floors to safety.”

Dr. Paul Farmer says Yes and steps out to reveal God’s presence in the world.  “He works about two months a year in Boston, MA where he heads the Infectious Disease program at Harvard Medical School but the rest of the year he spends most of his time in Haiti, a poverty ridden country with no affordable health care, treating the "disposable people" of the world. Why? His faith compels him to help those less fortunate than himself.”

Our world is crying out to be changed and God depends on each of us to act decisively to turn things around for the good of all. And so, this liturgical year I invite you to join me saying Yes and stepping out every single day and doing one small thing to change our world. To make this very easy, throughout the month of December you can sign up to receive a short email blast  first thing every morning. The one for today reads like this:

"A year of revealing God’s love every day.

The next time you receive a text, email or call today, tell the person who sent it something you appreciate about them." If you are not already on Apostles' email list please send a request to admin@ovapostles with “Revealing God’s Love Every Day” on the subject line. Let's step out and change our world. 

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 24 November 2019

Mark 12:41-44        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        There is nothing comfortable about being people of faith because it means standing up, saying “Yes,” and stepping out having absolutely no idea where we are going, never mind how we will get there. This in not merely uncomfortable, it feels fraught with danger. Ah, but we are people of faith. We hale from a long line of foolishly faithful risk takers. This is our story.

Consider our twelve times twelve great grandfather Abram who was later named Abraham which means “the Father of many nations.” An ordinary married man, at the ripe young age of 75, Abram stands up, says yes answering God’s call to leave his country to go to he had no idea where and be the father of many nations even though he and his wife Sarai had no children. For twenty five years he and Sarai wander somewhere between Syria and Egypt receiving repeated promises from God that his “seed will inherit the land.” What kind of faith does it require for Abraham to wait until he is 100 years old for his son Isaac to be born and then without hesitation obey God’s command to sacrifice him?  Which ultimately he is not required to do because God substitutes a ram. This is a story about faith.  There is nothing comfortable about being people of faith because we are asked to say yes and get moving and do what seems impossible. 

Or think about Jesus rising up from the baptismal waters of the Jordan river, hearing a voice from heaven, “You are my son, with you I am well pleased,” stepping out of the river and immediately being driven onto the desert where he fasts for forty days and then is tempted to create bread out of stones to relieve his own hunger, leap from a pinnacle and rely on angels to catch him and kneel before Satan in return for all the kingdoms of the world. All three temptations represent the use of power for personal gain, and how does Jesus respond? He puts his faith in God rather than himself. Jesus turns to the words of scripture rather than succumb to temptation. There is nothing comfortable about being people of faith because we are asked to resist temptations to hedonism, egoism and materialism.

Which brings us to the widow in Luke’s text. In the presence of a crowd of people putting large sums of money into the temple treasury a poor widow rubs two small coins together before putting “everything she has to live on” in the treasury. Immediately we protest, “How could she do that? This is neither reasonable nor far-sighted. Surely God does not want her to give up everything and starve.” But wait. The poor widow only gave up two coins. Surely she knows she has something more to live on, in fact something she no doubt is very much aware she depends on. Her faith, her faith in God with her. There is nothing comfortable about being people of faith because we are asked to rely on God for our lives.

Abraham, Jesus and the poor widow have no idea how they are going to do it but they definitely know what they intended to do. Each one choses to live by faith, not by fear. Each one of them is prepared to be surprised by God.

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Texts for Stewardship 17 November 2019

Acts 2.43-47        Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Luke 6.46-49        ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’ 

Reflection      Paul writes to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for (people)…”(Col 3.23) In other words, be enthusiastic.

The word enthusiasm derives from two Greek words, en meaning ‘within’ and theos meaning ‘God.’ So, enthusiasm means, ‘God within.’ When we show enthusiasm we are   expressing divine wonder and awe for the world and all of its content; Latin, Science, Theology or the full moon rising.

Our world and each of us is infused with the Spirit of God, with enthusiasm. This is both the essence and the expression of the resurrected Christ.  We are in it and of it, the living body of Christ. It is the eagerness of our energy, the fullness of our feeling, the intensity of our interest and the assurance of our action. It is through the efficacious expression of our enthusiasm that we participate in bringing the kingdom of God to light. I want to share with you a poignant example that has arise right here amidst us.

One year ago on the first Wednesday evening following First Advent Sunday a new member of apostles, Gale Hall, came to the Advent supper bursting, literally bouncing with enthusiasm. Gale said something to the effect of, “On Sunday you invited us to a year of finding God in all things. Wow.  You won’t believe what just happened.” And she poured out her story. Gail and a group of quilter friends decided to make quilts to give to the asylum children. Being a retired educator, Gale thought each child should also receive a book about being strong, making new friends, having a new home. The perfect source for such books is Scholastic books. The problem is, only employed teachers have access to Scholastic books. After following a few dead ends Gale found herself at a preshcool in Oracle where she told a woman her story. And the woman said, “My son works for Scholastic Books and I just received one hundred books from him.”  Gale nearly jumped out of her skin. Her  next stop was our Advent Supper.  
Everyone of us present was fed with the joy of Gale’s presence. As she told her story Gale awoke our “glad and generous heart, ”collectively we praised God and felt an enormous sense of good will. And, much as we see in our Ac.ts text, “Day by day the Lord added to their number of those” effected by Gales’ enthusiasm.  Since that transfiguring moment last December one hundred and thirty one asylum children have been welcomed to their new home with a beautiful quilt and encouraging book. Thirty more children will receive their God inspired welcome next month. 

Gale’s enthusiasm and her efficacious action has brought life to more than these children. She has inspired an advocacy project, using quilts that incorporate images the asylum children have drawn, that has evolved into an Art event. Hope & Healing: The Art of Asylum has already been shown in three venues and will open right here on December 15th. Gale has found her way back to a classroom in Oracle and enlisted the support of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders who are excited to share their bonus “Scholastic points”  to help Gale acquire more books for the Asylum children.   

Gale’s enthusiasm, her energy, earnestness and passion have awakened the interest and imagination of countless people because, heart speaks to heart. This is the rock upon which community is built.

Which brings us to today’s gospel text according to Luke. Jesus teaches the disciples and us, “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.”  Jesus is talking about digging deeply inside ourselves until we touch our ‘with God’ place, our enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the bedrock of our being. Once we have tapped into it, we are compelled to act with good will, and, guess what? It is contagious. It transforms us and the people around us. Enthusiasm is the stuff of which we build our lives, our homes our church.

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Friday, November 8, 2019

Gospel for Stewardship Sunday 10 November 2019

Luke 12.13-21        Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’


The land of the rich man “produced abundantly.” If he was an honorable man, he would realize his abundance was pure gift and  he would harvest and liberally distribute this abundance to his community.  The notion of “pulling down his barns and building a larger one” to stockpile his grains for the future was anathema to the community spirit, the social consciousness of the time. No doubt this is why  “God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?””

Now let me be perfectly clear. Jesus is telling this story to folks who are considered rich. He is not preaching to peasants whose sincere concern is acquiring adequate food or shelter. Jesus is chastising the people who have prospered for failing to give generously from their abundance.  He chides them for being rich in their relationship with possessions at the expense of being rich in relationship with God. 

Which brings us face to face with the question, What does it mean to be “rich toward God”? I believe in our time it means counting our riches as being the depth and breath of our relationship with God rather than the size of our of our salaries, pensions or portfolios. I believe being rich toward God means affirming, “All that I am and all that I have is pure gift of God. If I have a reasonable intellect, it is of God. If I have am able-bodied and unimpaired, it is of God. If I am successful in my social, personal or  business endeavors, it is of God. Being rich does not consist of a bulging house, a storage unit, and a many figured bank account. Being rich is knowing God in and of, with and for all that I am and all that I have.

In the Second Letter to the Corinthians Paul is trying to inspire the people of the church in Corinth to be generous and so he writes, “…the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Cor 7.6-8)

When we apprehend that God is our riches, our true wealth and treasure, then we realize life is not a zero sum game. The more freely we give, the more bountifully we reap. 

Recall Jesus’ instructions to the disciples and us, “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9.23-24) We are meant to give ourselves away in gratitude to God for the good of one another. In so doing we encounter the enigma, in our emptiness we are full, but in our fullness we are empty. 

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Friday, November 1, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 3 November 2019

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 life that most of us live looks nothing like the life that Jesus lives. Not just the fact that we have internet and drones, refrigeration and indoor plumbing. But much as some seventy four percent of the world population today lives in multidimensional poverty,* Jesus has no pillow on which to lay his head, depends on the generosity of others for supper, is scorned and roundly reviled by religious as well as political folks in high places. 

Today we find ourselves immersed in a culture obcessed with pleasure, power and privilege yet Jesus tells the disciples and us that the poor, the powerless and the underprivileged are blessed. How can this be? I believe the answer is hidden in plain sight. All we have to do is look at Jesus, the exemplar that stands at the center of our faith.

Rather than follow the road map provided for Jews in ancient Judea by their Roman occupiers, for example, taking a job as a tax collector which would involve fleecing his Jewish relatives but would stand him in good stead with the Romans, or just keeping his opinions to himself regarding the religious officials’ concern with purity laws at the expense of human suffering, Jesus chooses to be vulnerable, to follow God’s plan, act with integrity and be merciful to others even at his own expense. 

And Jesus is blessed. Blessed to do amazing things; healing, teaching and fearlessly facing the most dire circumstance. Blessed to be a prophet whose voice rings through the ages. Did you know there are more books written about Jesus than any other person in history? William Shakespeare comes in second.  Jesus is blessed to be a blessing and we can be too. 

When, like Jesus, our hearts are open, and we take the risk to step out of our comfort zone, get over our fear of change and submit ourselves to God’s plan rather than kow- tow to the status quo, we can expect to be surprised by God. 

My greatest “surprised by God” moment occurred when within  ten days of admitting I felt called to the priesthood three doors burst open and invited me in. I was living in Santa Fe, NM and the bishop of that diocese would not ordain women. Among other things, for about a decade I used that as an excuse not to acknowledge my call to holy orders. Frankly, the whole thing terrified me and seemed impossible. But literally the very moment I decided to walk through my fear of such a radical change, submit to God’s plan and admit to Catherine, my Episcopal priest friend, “I believe I am called to be a priest,” she laughed and said, “Well, it is about time. I can offer you a position here in San Gabriel, CA while you go through the process.” That was a Saturday. The following weekend I was in Ojai, California leading a Centering Prayer workshop. On Sunday morning following services the rector said to me, “Why don’t you come to St. Andrews?  I can give you a three quarter time job while you go through the process.” 

Upon returning to Santa Fe, back in the days of the relic “answering machine,” the little red light was blinking. I pressed listen and heard, “Hi Debra. The word is out that you have finally admitted your call to the priesthood. I think you should come to Arizona. It would be a great place for you to go through the process.” A little more than a week and three church doors were thrown wide open.  Was I ever surprised by God!

When our hearts are open, and we take the risk to step out of our comfort zone, walk through our fear of change and submit ourselves to God’s plan, we can expect to be surprised by God. We can even seek to do the impossible, because nothing is impossible with God.

Are you open to God’s surprises? Are you willing to walk through your fear of change and submit to God’s plan?

  • United Nations Development Program

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Friday, October 25, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 27 October 2019

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        Here Jesus goes again, picking on us righteous religious folk. Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ teaching tale, we feel pretty good about ourselves. We go to church (the synagogue) for all of the appointed prayers (special services), we read blogs about scripture, we steer clear of contact with undesirable people and fulfill our biblical obligation to give ten percent of our income to the temple or church (well, maybe not quite). Surely we deserve God’s good graces. But Jesus turns our presumption upside down when he commends our unassuming neighbor, the sinful tax collector, for humbling himself  and then stealthily puts us in our place, quite a few pegs down the ladder. Oh dear. 

This teaching tale requires we find our face in the nearest mirror. “Yes, there I am.  No, I am not a thief, a scoundrel, two-faced or a rat. I have a respected job (or have retired from one) and give sensibly to my church (in truth I could do better). Just look at me Lord. Unlike all of those reprehensible people, I am law abiding and above reproach.”  But our flourishes holds no sway with Jesus who exalts our neighbor who does not even presume to “look up to heaven.” And we are humbled.

In the parable that immediately precedes the tale of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus uses the story of a widow and an unjust judge to underscore his point about where we stand in relationship with God, “praying always.” Our proper place is humbly turning toward God and persistently asking for justice because, “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?”(Luke 18.1-8) We are meant to humbly depend on God.

Which brings us to Jesus’ third admonition, given as he blesses the little children. “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18.17) Jesus’ commends the unaffected sincerity of children. Unspoiled and unembellished we  turn toward the One from whom we receive all blessings and respond spontaneously as does a child, naturally delighted, knowing our place is safe in the heart of God. We are meant to humbly depend on God rather than ourselves. Now, that is spiritual freedom. 

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Hebrew Testament Text for Sunday 20 October 2019

Jeremiah 31:27-34        The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say: "The parents have eaten sour grapes,and the children's teeth are set on edge."But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-- a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Reflection       Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah we hear what is arguably the most amazing promise (or covenant) of all time; God’s promise to humanity  “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord.”  

This is the new covenant, the new promise. God’ law is written on our hearts - on everyone’s heart, from the least to the greatest. 

What does it mean that God’s law is written on our hearts? I believe it means if we listen, really listen to our conscience we know when we are thinking or doing rightly and when we are not. Here is the thing, when we are tuned in or listening to God’s law even when circumstances are less than perfect ( which is most of the time), we feel peace, we are at ease, neither second guessing ourselves nor pointing our fingers at others. 

God’s law is the Christ written large within us. Paul puts it this way, “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2.20) Christ is the incarnate revelation of God’s love, once in the flesh of Jesus now in the flesh of all people, “from the least of them to the greatest.” This is the great equalizer. It does not matter our position, our power, our wealth. Our race, religion or politics are irrelevant because God’s law of love revealed in Jesus and meant for all people comes with no conditions (no hidden small print).

The first covenant God made with the people consists of a set of rules intending to direct the peoples’ obedience to external authority. This is essentially how we begin to teach our children, using simple rules, the ten commandments. But, to grow into their full humanity we must also provide for the transformation of  their consciousness. I believe that is what it means to cultivate "the seeds of humans."  Through the process of spiritual formation, we nurture the seed of God's love that is planted in our hearts.  All we have to do is turn around and listen.  

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Friday, October 11, 2019

Luke 17:11-19        On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Reflection        Today we find ourselves walking with Jesus along the border between Samaria and Galilee. Walking between the land of the Jews and the land of the Gentiles and in his proverbial back pack Jesus carries a message, “God is with and for all people, regardless on which side of the border they live.” For Jesus, people are not identified by their geography, ethnicity, or religion. For Jesus, all people are identified as people of God. 

But, then and now borders are troublesome places. They mark the edge of this and that, they are the sites of controversy and  roiling conflict. I suspect this is because when we arrive at our edges, our borders, we rub shoulder to shoulder with people and customs, languages and beliefs different than our own. When confronted with the stranger or the unknown, we feel vulnerable. Not wanting to feel vulnerable we build barriers to protect ourselves. The problem is, no matter how massive the barriers, we still feel vulnerable. 

Therein lies the conundrum. For as long as we look around us, identify people as Samaritans or Jews, the in crowd, the out crowd, good or bad, brown or white, us or them, for as long as we insist on discriminating between “us and them” we will always feel vulnerable.  Which brings us to Luke’s text.

Passing through the borderland place of outcasts, Jesus does not ask the lepers, “Are you a Jew or a Gentile?”  He does not try to figure out who has leprosy and who has a minor skin rash. Jesus looks at them (and here I believe “looks” means more than seeing the condition of their skin with his physical eyes), Jesus looks at them and sees their shared humanity. Jesus sees people of God who have been separated from their communities and their God. (It is helpful to remember that, unlike today,  two thousand years ago people did not have personal, private relationships with God. God was present with people in community which means, if you are cast out of your community you are separated from God.) 

Following accepted religious practice Jesus sends the lepers to the priests who will examine the disease on their skin and determine whether or not they may be received back into the community. (Lev 13,2-3) But, something more is going on in this parable. As soon as the ten lepers accept Jesus’ instruction to “Go and show (themselves) to the priests,” they are “made clean,” fit to return to their community.  I believe what we are meant to understand here is, as soon as the ten lepers turn toward God and ask for mercy, as soon as they acknowledge their dependence on something more than themselves, they are restored to relationship with their community and God. Nine of the ten lepers run off to the temple to receive the priest’s stamp of approval and return to life as they know it.

But the tenth leper, a Samaritan who was an outsider even before he was cast out for having a skin disease, is transformed by receiving the grace of Jesus’ mercy. Praising God the Samaritan claims his true identity in relationship with God, the relationship that transcends all borders, inside and out.

Today we are invited to ask ourselves,”Like the nine lepers, is it sufficient for us to follow the rules, know our place, get our passports stamped and continue life as we know it? Or, is it time for us to see the people we treat as lepers through Jesus’ merciful eyes? Is it time for us to join Jesus and the Samaritan praising God and proclaiming, “God is with and for all people, regardless on which side of the border they live?”

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Friday, October 4, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 6 October 2019

Luke 17.5-10        The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’"

Reflection  Episcopalians never miss a beat with this familiar dialogue. “God is with you.” “And also with you.” But, what are we actually saying? I believe we are consenting to “with God” life. What that means is, we are consciously choosing to subordinate our personal self interest in order to advance Christ’s mission and ministry in the world. Essentially we are saying, “We are male or female servants, or slaves of Christ.” 

As “slaves” of Christ we are aligned in the will of God. This means, we are sincere when we pray, “Not my will, Your will be done.”  In this act of giving ourselves, our self interest away we are acknowledging that we are people who serve another. It does not matter if we are called disciples, apostles or pupils, attendants, devotees or servants, we are giving our selves over to God. We are essentially, the slaves of God.

Like our young sister Mary, we are asked to conceive of the utterly impossible; “uprooting and planting a mulberry tree in the sea,” lavishly give shelter to the homeless, food to the hungry, healing to the sick, wholeheartedly offer welcome to the stranger, freedom to the prisoner, love to the enemy, which all together add up to; unequivocally give birth to the presence of God with us. When we are asked to subordinate our personal self interest in order to advance Christ’s mission and ministry in the world, what is the first thing that comes to mind? “How can this be, since we are only human? The problems in our world are far beyond anything we can manage. This is too hard. There are too many homeless and hungry and sick, scores of strangers and prisoners and frightful enemies.” It is time to put down our protests and hear the words the Angel of God spoke to young Mary echoing in every cell and every space of our being, “For with God nothing will be impossible.”(Luke 1.37) With God. 

The little word “with” is rich with meaning in Biblical Greek. “Para” refers to something that proceeds from one's sphere of power, or from one's wealth. When we accept the Angel’s annunciation, “For with God nothing will be impossible,” we are affirming that with our will aligned in the will of God, all that proceeds through us is impregnated with the power and the wealth of God’s presence. With God, all things are possible. 

Without reluctance we confess, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done,” because achreios, which in our text is translated ‘worthless,’ achreios is understood to be a hyperbolic reference to pious modesty. We humbly acknowledge that all the good that we do arises from the wealth and power of God’s presence with us. As slaves of Christ we call ourselves achreios, not deserving of merit, because we have done nothing more than what we ought to have done; lavishly give shelter to the homeless, food to the hungry, healing to the sick, wholeheartedly offer welcome to the stranger, freedom to the prisoner, love to the enemy, which all together add up to; unequivocally giving birth to the presence of God with us.  

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Epistle text for Sunday 29 September 2019

1 Timothy 6.6-19        There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time-- he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Reflection        A few months ago a friend asked me, “Are you happy or are you content?” Although it was not meant to be a trick question, it gave me pause. So I spent about a week wondering, “What does it mean to be happy? What does it mean to be content?” Here is what occurs to me. 

Happy describes a transient emotional state associated with a particular moment or event; being pleased, delighted or feeling lucky because of something or someone. Content is an overall or generally pervasive condition of life, conveying a sense of sufficiency. Like the deep ocean currents that are stable and predictable, contentment is more of a constant or reliable undercurrent whereas happiness arises as a surface wave that ebbs and swells in response to the changing winds and tides of circumstance. The dependability of contentment engenders balance and a sense of freedom to be and enjoy life as it is. But, contentment is discouraged by our consumerist culture that insists there is always something more we need in order to be happy. 

When we kow-tow to the voice of consumerist culture, there is no way we can be content because we are bent on acquiring more happiness. And there is the dig. Consumerism sells happiness, a transient emotion that cannot be sustained no matter how much stuff or how many exotic adventures we acquire. Socrates writes, “Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.” 

The trouble with luxury is it does not satisfy. It inevitably ebbs (or rusts, or breaks or the adventure simply ends) dissolving into a sense of loss or emptiness. Contentment, on the other hand, sustains. By focusing on the good things about our lives rather than on the next shiny thing, or what the neighbors have, or what we are told we are lacking, we can choose to be grateful. 

And there we arrive at the denouement. Choosing to be grateful for our life as it is, we are free, free to be and express our selves, free to enjoy life this moment.  Choosing to be grateful for our life regardless of how much stuff we do or do not have. Which brings us to the pastoral letter to Timothy, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” Being content we are free to affirm, we have just enough. 

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday, 22 September 2019

Luke 16:1-13        Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.

 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?' He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?' He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.' And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Reflection        As children of this age, when focused on things of this world, (reviewing our bank statement or portfolios, church finances, considering our basic survival needs), we generally switch gears and leap into action when we see the need to take care of business. But, as children of light is this also true when we assess the state of our spiritual life? When  we notice things that can turn us away from God and the love of God’s people, (an inordinate concern for our portfolios and bank statements, our power and privilege), are we as swift to take action to preserve the light?

What do we mean, preserve the light? I believe it is the light of consciousness open to receive and radiate Jesus’ Good News; “God is with and for all people and we are all meant to experience fullness of life.” But everywhere we turn we are assaulted with contrary messages; “You better protect yourself, take care of number one, sure up your resources because life is a zero sum game. There is only so much money to go around, there are limits to the amount of power and privilege available, so grab what you can and protect it.”  Fearing we will be left out or left behind, we leap into action, accumulate as much as possible and then worry about protecting our earthly assets with smart houses and corporate veils, electric fences, umbrella insurance and off shore accounts. 

Then in a twist we don’t see coming, Jesus commends the manager who rips off his rich master,  when the manager “acts shrewdly” to insure his own survival. What is going on here? Even though the unjust manager is reducing the debtors’ debt for his personal gain, he is using money to benefit his neighbors and establish friendships so they will “welcome him into their homes.“Ironically, this secures the unjust manager’s spiritual life because our spiritual life is all about relationships, not about protecting number one.

There is nothing inherently wrong with money or power or privilege. And yes, to some extent they do provide us with physical and social security. But, no amount of money, power or privilege puts us in right relationship with God. No superfund of resources can protect us from travail and ultimately, death. So, the question is, how are we using our resources? 

Are we fools who use our resources in an ill-fated effort to secure our physical and social security and consequently crash into a wall of our own making, an edifice of ‘stuff’ separating us from God and God’s people? Or, are we using our money, power and privilege to establish good will and cultivate community for the glory of God? Are we only children of the age or are we also children of the light?

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