Saturday, December 28, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 29 December 2019

John 1:1-18        In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

Reflection        Having just enjoyed Christmas with my family, including loquacious 11 year old Alec and 18 month old Wesley, I cannot count the number of times I heard Wesley invited to, “Use your Words.” Each time he complied, expressions of glee and encouragement resounded. The evocative power of words is compelling. 

Perhaps that is why the writer of the Gospel according to John begins, “In the beginning was the Word” and “all things come into being” with the Word. The Greek for “Word” is “logos.” It refers to the wisdom, reason and order of God incarnate through Jesus, the human revelation of creative Divine Presence. Jesus reveals the expressive capacity for taking all things into account, considering them and using his words to instruct the physical and ethical grounds for right relationships, human with human and human with Divinity. 

The “Word” may be said to represent the convergence of Divine and human genius. It conveys the gift of intellect present through the receptivity of humanity to Divinity. And here is the astonishing news. The “Word” is not the exclusive purview of Jesus. The ‘Word” represents “the true light, which enlightens everyone…” With the exception of those born silent, the spoken “Word” reveals the capacity of each of us to receive and express the wisdom, reason and order of God right here, right now, on earth.

It used to be that we heard the “Word” of God breaking through to us from some distant and surreal region beyond the beyond. It was the Word of remote God spoken through angels or a motley crew of snarky and sometimes cranky prophets. But today we have the feet on the ground revelation that ever since the very “beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And this Word that has come into being... is life itself that is the light of all people.” This changes everything.

The “Word” of God is not distant or remote. The “Word” of God is the light and life at the very center of each one of us. The “Word” of God is with us... with all people. We have never been separated from God, not for an instant, not since the beginning because the creating Word of God is our very light... the radiance of our life. And with it we are meant to represent God’s wisdom, reason and order on earth. 

Here is the invitation for 2020. Use all your words to express the compelling power of God’s wisdom, reason and order on earth and every thing will be changed for the good. 

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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Gospel text for Christmas Eve 24 December 2019

Luke 2:1-14        In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

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

Have you ever seen a newborn or very young infant? There is something unspeakably fragile about them, something that breaks through the accumulated layers of our composure, lifts our eyebrows and the pitch of our voice and renders us rather ditzy dolts. Even three hundred pound men in grey flannel suits cannot resist a quick “koo chee koo chee koo.” And then, there is that other moment, when the weight of responsibility for this utterly vulnerable being dawns upon us. 
I will never forget that experience with my daughter Leela. She was ten days old and it was the first time I was alone in the house with her. I put her on her change table and then remembered I needed something on the other side of the room. As I turned to walk away I was overwhelmed with the realization, “If I walk away she could fall and die. Her very life depends on me. Oh no. What have I done?”
Before the nativity of Jesus we expect God to arrive with an army and break the ranks of our oppressors. We expect God to burst onto the scene and execute an apocalyptic event that destroys all that is evil and rescues all that is good. But God enters our human story as a vulnerable infant born into seriously compromised circumstances, evoking our wonder, compassion and love. 
Is that not apocalyptic? Awakening the wonder, compassion and love of humanity?  It certainly was for me. As a grievously self absorbed grad student, bent on completing my dissertation and playing hard ball with the boys in academia, Leela was born into seriously compromised circumstances. The realization that I was directly responsible for the life of this vulnerable being was like ten years worth of forth of July fireworks going off in my mind at one time. I was awestruck. I wept. I picked her up and looked at the light in her eyes and finally saw beyond my own self interest. I held her close to feel her breathing on my cheek, a breath I cherish more than my own. In hindsight I believe this is how compassion and love were born in me, and it was apocalyptic. It changed everything. This weak and dependent newborn broke through the accumulated layers of my composure, uprooted my evil (self absorption) and rescued my good.
I am not saying that Leela is God, not any more or any less than any other child. I am saying, the nativity of Jesus changes our minds and our hearts about every single child that is born, which of course comes to be every living being. Every one of the more than seven and a half billion people on our planet today enters our human story as a vulnerable infant born into seriously compromised circumstances. Our lives depend on one another. Make no mistake, we are meant to respond to each and every human being with wonder, compassion and love. Thanks to the nativity of Jesus, God enters our human story and makes this possible. Emmanuel. God is with us! Merry Christmas!!

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Friday, December 20, 2019

Gospel text for Quiet Christmas 20 December 2019

Luke 1.26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured 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 favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Reflection       A teenage peasant girl of unremarkable lineage living among some one hundred and fifty people in a tiny farming village far away from any well traveled trade routes is visited by an angel.*  When the angel arrives this girl whom we know as Mary is not in a temple and as far as we know she is not even praying. So it is no wonder Mary is “much perplexed” when the angel says, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”
Think about that moment. How would you feel if on an ordinary day you are standing in your kitchen, maybe you have just spread some almond butter on toast or ate some ice cream right out of the carton, when from the depths of your being you “hear,” “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”
Would you be like Zachariah who also had an angelic encounter? You may recall the story. Zachariah, a priest, is serving at the incense altar inside the Holiest part of the temple when the angel Gabriel appears. “When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” (Luke 1.12-15) Would you be so terrified and overwhelmed that you would be dumbstruck and speechless as Zachariah? The story continues and Zachariah is mute until the day the child is born, thereby proving the angel’s promise. Then Zachariah finally speaks the child’s name “John.” (Luke 1.20)
Or, would you be more like Mary, standing and startled in her humble home? Perplexed by the angelic promise, Mary pauses and ponders, she goes deep inside her soul and asks, “How can this be?” Then apprehending angelic assurance in the depths of her being, “For nothing will be impossible with God,” Mary consents with uncommon faith. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” 
Here is the thing. The incarnation we celebrate at Christmas requires not only the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, but also the consent of the ordinary peasant girl Mary. Mary could have said, “I must have had too much wine and now  it is making me hear an angel’s voice and have crazy thoughts. Surely my imagination is running away with me. I am just an ordinary girl. Great things are not meant for me.”
Mary could have reacted as did Zachariah and been silenced by  terror and disbelief. Or, Mary could have simply said, “No. There is no way I can consent to be being unwed and pregnant. Do you not understand, I could be stoned to death?”
But Mary rises to the occasion and accepts the angel’s staggering annunciation. “Let it be with me according to your word.” And so begins the intimate dance of humanity and divinity. Mary consents to the seed of divinity planted in her womb and from that moment on it is clear, nothing, no calamity, humiliation or mishap, no sickness, struggle, sacrifice not even death can separate humanity from divinity, because God is with us and we affirm the angel’s promise, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
In the dark mid winter we listen to the angel of God saying, “Do not be afraid. The Lord is with you. And now, in the center of your being you will conceive the Christ child, the light that transforms the darkness. And your light will be the light of the world and you will help to bring about the kingdom of God on earth by revealing God’s love in your light every day.” 

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Friday, December 13, 2019

Gospel text for 3rd Sunday of Advent 15 December 2019

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       According to Maimonides, the Jewish scholar, rabbi and physician who is to Judaism what St. Thomas Aquinas is to Christianity, belief in the eventual coming of a Messiah is a fundamental part of Judaism. Maimonides describes the “one who is to come,” the messiah,  this way. “A king shall arise from among the House of David, studying Torah and occupied with commandments like his father David...  and he will impel all of Israel to follow it and to strengthen breaches in its observance, and will fight God's wars, this one is to be treated as if he were the anointed one. If he succeeded and built the Holy Temple in its proper place and gathered the dispersed ones of Israel together, this is indeed the anointed one for certain, and he will mend the entire world to worship the Lord together…”  

This being the job description of the messiah for whom John is looking, it is no wonder John sent his disciples to question Jesus, “Are you the one who is coming or are we to wait for another?” Surely 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 and raising the dead.  If he has not seen, surely he has heard about  the great crowds from Syria, Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem and Judea streaming to follow Jesus.

Rumors must have been rampant about Jesus’ mind-bending mountaintop sermon 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)  John had to be scratching his beard and wondering how Jesus' lengthy list of accomplishments coupled with his catalog of blessings could possibly align with the expected Messiah’s job description. 

From the point of view of John and the religious Jews of his time, Jesus does not fit the Messiah’s job description. This remains true today. Although many Jews understand Jesus to be an exemplary prophet, he fails to gather the “dispersed ones of Israel together.” Jesus cannot be the anointed one because he fails  to enforce the letter of the law and “to mend the entire world to worship the Lord together.”  

John the Baptist is more than perplexed 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? How could Jesus  be the Messiah John is hoping for?  John’s expectations about what the messiah should look like prevent him from recognizing the Messiah as he is.

Which begs the question;  What are we hoping against hope will arise in the wilderness of our lives? What expectations, beliefs or preconceived notions make us deaf and blind and unreceptive to the”one who is to come?” Whom are we looking for this Advent season? An autocratic king wielding power from an imperious precipice, bursting onto the scene for a grand rescue intervention? Or a humble servant born to birth the Spirit of the living God in the heart of every one of us? 

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Friday, December 6, 2019

Gospel text for 8 December 2019

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      John the Baptist seems especially interested in confronting us religious folk who, like the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew’s text, have a tendency to feel entitled and presume upon tradition or inheritance to claim our status as the People of God. After all, “We are good, well bred, educated, faithful churchgoers. We follow the rules, we have worked hard and earned our privilege. We give to charities, we volunteer and even pledge to support our church.” But the snarly prophet John cajoles, “Don’t kid yourselves you religious folk. God is not interested in your six-hundred and thirteen rules, the order in which you light your candles, if the priest washes her hands before celebrating communion or how many Sundays per month you show up for church. Anything that interferes with you being in right relationship with God and acting decisively to fulfill God’s desire for peace and good will for all people on earth needs to be exposed and washed away. So, repent! Turn around, change your behavior.” This is the work of Advent.

As a first step to assist us with turning around and changing our behavior John offers a baptism by water. You may wonder, where did John learn this practice of baptism? John stands like a bridge between Hebrew and Christian Testament times repurposing the Jewish tradition of baptizing Gentile converts to Judaism when they were circumcised. But, in today’s gospel text we meet John at the River Jordan doing what would have been unheard of, baptizing Jews. 

We understand this to be a spiritual baptism intended to change the behavior of the coldhearted Jews to turn back to God and extend God’s peace and good will to all people. Turning Jews back to God is a dramatic change from converting Gentiles into Jews. But John counsels, “My baptism of repentance is not the end of the the game. ‘One more powerful than I is coming after me. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’” John’s baptism by water is completed with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Christ that is given for all, the Fire that refines and changes our behavior to restore us to right relationship with God and one another. 

Now we know who this “more powerful one” is. In the sentence immediately following Matthew’s gospel pericope Jesus arrives at the Jordan river and is baptized by John. What happens immediately following Jesus’ baptism? “…Jesus is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted to misuse power for his personal gain. He fasts for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he is famished.” (Matt 4.1-2)  There the devil, the enemy of human consciousness, three times tempts Jesus to put his faith in his self rather than depend on his relationship with God. But Jesus keeps his mind turned toward God. The next thing we know Jesus leaves the wilderness and begins his ministry in Galilee. Jesus’ faith is fulfilled in action, his mind and his behavior are aligned in God’s desire for peace and good will for all people.

I believe it is reasonable to compare our Advent season to Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Advent is a season to step out of our comfort zone and into the wilderness. This is a time for us to acknowledge that the world of cities wrapped in tinsel and  steeped in Hallmark card sentiment does not have the last word.  

In Advent, the season of self examination, we confess the ways we turn away from God, we take responsibility for our merciless actions, we experience remorse, express regret and by the grace of God change our behavior by looking for opportunities to extend peace and good will to all people. As Jesus teaches us 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.” (Matt 7.21) Actions speak louder than words. 

During the wilderness time of Advent we are invited to examine our selves and confess the ways in which we have turned away from God by being less than honest, civil and merciful. And we do not to stop there. Admitting our offenses, we step out of the river and turn around, fasten the belt of righteousness around our waist and take the words from our Hallmark Christmas cards and make them real in the world by extending peace and good will to every person we meet every single day, no exceptions. You see, as soon as we express regret by grace we are able to change our ways and reveal God’s love every day.

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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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