Saturday, August 17, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 19 August 2019

Luke 12.49-56         Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Reflection        It seems we are still living in the times Jesus proclaims, end times during which division has no bounds. What if this is actually good news? What if the divisions we are experiencing are an essential ingredient of our journey with Jesus? What if the apocalyptic prophet Jesus is calling us out saying “People, this journey we are on is no cake walk. It is not about sitting on my lap like dotting toddlers. It is not about making nice with one another, professing love and worshipping me. It is not even about being enlightened by my tutelage. It is about following me. It is about exercising justice and offering amends.”

Oh dear, we know where this lands Jesus. Crosswise with everyone and nailed to a tree. Now division is driving even closer to home, drilling itself right into my heart. “Yes Jesus I want to follow you. No Jesus I do not want to follow you.” Division burgeons, within me. 

And so we join “a lawyer (confronting) Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ what must (we) do to inherit eternal life?’ (Jesus says), ‘What is written in the law? (We answer), ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And (Jesus tells us), ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ (Luke 10.25-28) This is the infallible way that insures we ‘live,’ this is the way we are meant to participate in the creation of “the kingdom come.” 

But do we really love our neighbor as much as our selves? Do we insist that all sick people are cared for even at our own expense? Do we offer refuge to the frightened and oppressed foreigner? Do we feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless regardless of how they came upon hard times? Do we protect and give preferential treatment to children and the most vulnerable even when it means paying higher taxes for education and mental health care? Do we treat people who think or vote or have lifestyles unlike ours with respect and consideration? How well do we love our neighbors as ourselves?

Jesus expected the imminent end of history as he knew it and he purposefully, even zealously, participated in the creation of a new reality. If we desire the end of history as we know it, history fraught with division; father against son, son against father, friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor, race against race, religion against religion, leader against leader, nation against nation, if we desire the end of this detonating divisiveness, it starts with us.  

We begin by admitting we could do better,  then dig into the work of living our faith. When we choose to put down our proverbial nets, walk away from our predictable lives, and act deliberately to put meat on the bones of our faith we will encounter division. People will judge and misunderstand us. Like Jesus, our families may call us crazy. Some will call us weak, others over zealous. Friends will see us as sell outs. Neighbors as outliers. When we turn our backs to the status quo and join Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, we can count on division. And, when we answer the call of the Jewish Apocalyptic prophet from Galilee we actively participate in the creation of “the kingdom come” right here, right now.

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Gospel Text for Sunday 4 August 2019

Luke 12:13-21        Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And 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." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then 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. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But 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?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.

Reflection       I doubt that Jesus heard of “Earth Overshoot Day.” Have you?  This past Monday, July 29th  was the day we humans began using up nature 1.75 times faster than our planet's ecosystems can regenerate, according to the Global Footprint Network that has been making this calculation since 1987.  For the balance of this year, our current total usage of food, timber, fibers, carbon sequestration and our natural resources is equal to using up 1.75 earths.* 

Jesus warns, “Take care. Be on your guard.   Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  Here we trip over the question buried in the mountains of stuff stacked in our garages and storage units. “What does life consist of?”

According to the voice of God that breaks into Jesus’ parable and addresses the man who is  gloating over his ample store of riches, the hoarding man is a fool. What the greedy man has accumulated is not life. In fact, he is as good as dead because life consists of being in right relationship with God (rich with God) which is born on the shoulders of being in right relationship with one another. Nothing about ‘stuff.’

You see, being in right relationship with God we are blessed so that we will be a blessing. We hear this when the Lord says to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen 12.1-2)

Abundance is pure gift, blessing.  All  that we have is gift, is blessing. This is foundational to who Jesus is and who we are. We are blessed to be a blessing not to build bigger and bigger houses in which to hoard our blessings, not to gloat over the “many retirement years we can eat, drink and be merry.”  “So beware.  Take guard.  Do not be deluded, deceived by clever words and shiny objects. One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Here, in the so called civilized western world, we are encouraged to acquire lots of stuff. Bigger houses, flashier cars, name brand everythings, expensive vacations, elite educations, mountains of must haves for the kiddos, and don’t forget insurance, even policies for life to be redeemed when dead. 

How do these things stand us in right relationship with God and one another? Do we see that all we have and all that we are is blessing bequeathed to us, not because we earn or deserve it? not for us to collect and accrue? Rather, to enable us to be a blessing? I believe it  is time for us to take God’s counsel to Abram to heart, “I will bless you, and make your name great, (in other words, provide you with many blessings) so that you will be a blessing.”

As people who claim to follow the way of Jesus we are meant to be especially sympathetic to the needs of the poor, the vulnerable, the widow, the orphan, the suffering and the stranger. What if instead of continuing to accumulate stuff, instead of using up nature 1.75 times faster than our planet's ecosystems can regenerate, what if we took an honest inventory of all of our blessings and decided to keep what we actually need for a decent life and distribute the balance as blessing for those without?   What if we chose to ‘be rich toward God’ rather than stuffing our storehouses? I suppose that would mean putting our faith in God and God’s blessing, rather than our selves.

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 28 July 2019

2019 07 28  Luke 11:1-13        Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."
And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Reflection       Tuesday morning as the sun was rising amidst clouds blooming with the hope of rain Mojo, my wee furry friend,  and I embarked on our typical dawn adventure. My role is to listen and chant morning prayer with Mission St. Clare tuned in on my phone. Mojo’s duty is to clear the way of anything that walks, slithers, hops or flies between his pit stops at every vertical edifice. Last Tuesday, however, was distinctive.

A mere two blocks away from home, at the same moment both Mojo and I noticed two mourning doves standing in the middle of the street. Uncharacteristically, rather than leap ahead to chase the feathered creatures, Mojo stopped and silently stared. Which led me to pause morning prayer and join his vigil. It turns out one of the birds was injured and the other spread its wings while seemingly shielding and shuttling the crippled flyer across the street.  Not a single muscle moved between us as Mojo and I witnessed the able feathered friend direct the hurt bird to safety among the low branches of a Texas Ranger bush. It struck me that throughout this safeguarding mission the uninjured bird allowed itself to be vulnerable to the us, potential predators, who were standing just a few yards away.  

Once the birds were safely hidden Mojo resumed walking in the opposite direction. It was quite awhile before I resumed morning prayer because I was absorbed in a reflective reverie. Everything about this moment broadcast holiness. Had I just witnessed empathy among two birds and a dog? Empathy is the awareness of, sensitivity to and ability to share the feelings of another. Is that why Mojo stopped in silence rather than his routine bark and chase response? And, empathy is the root of compassion, or concern for the suffering of others. Is that why the intact bird sheltered the injured bird with its wings and urged it into hiding?

There I was “in a certain place” on an ordinary Tuesday morning, on a run of the mill suburban street when Jesus’ prayer broke in, “Father…  Your kingdom come.” For surely this is it, the kingdom wherein all creatures pause, aware of, sensitive to and sharing the feelings of one another. Surely this is the kingdom come wherein all creatures pause with concern for the suffering of others, even a different species.  

Oh Jesus, teach us how to pray and connect to the sure and certain empathy that is at the root of our very being, a root that we share with all creatures in creation. Jesus, please teach us to pray and stay in relationship with the holy, the holy that we find in a “certain place,” not necessarily a temple or church, not at a particular hour or appointed occasion, just a certain “anyplace,” that will follow us all the days of our life and like an open window allow us a glimpse of holiness in the midst of now. 

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Hebrew Testament text for Sunday 21 July 2019

Amos 8:1-12
This is what the Lord God showed me-- a basket of summer fruit. He said, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A basket of summer fruit." Then the Lord said to me,
"The end has come upon my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,"
says the Lord God;
"the dead bodies shall be many,
cast out in every place. Be silent!"
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals, 
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
On that day, says the Lord God,
I will make the sun go down at noon, 
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.

Reflection         We are not a single story. We are complex people living in a world drawn in ten thousand shades of grey. There are as many stories as there are people to tell them. When we reduce ourselves and one another to a single story, “Americans are… Republicans are…. Democrats are… Mexicans are… Jews are…Christians are… Moslems are… millennials are… women are… conservatives are… progressives are… we undermine the dignity of every person. 

Increasingly we find ourselves in situations where we are cast in a single story. If you mention something about healthcare, you are one of ‘those people.’ If you say something about abortion, you are one of ‘those people.’ If you utter the word border, ‘you are one of ‘those people.’ And conversation stops. The moment we experience our dignity being despoiled by being cast into a singular group story, we become defensive and either put up a fight or dig into silence. 

How many of you have been with a group of neighbors, parents or coworkers when the subject of immigration comes up and immediately the air is thick with tension as the group divides beneath two banners - are you one of us or are you one of them? In that instant the dignity of every person present is lost. We are not a single story but we have stopped listening to one another’s stories. We have lost the civil ground that enables us to listen and learn from one another.

Today we find ourselves embroiled in a social, political and religious context that is stealing our dignity and undermining our humanity. We feel angry and inclined to either attack or slip into silent retreat, neither of which sets the stage for us to restore dignity to ourselves and one another. Should we continue this pattern there is only one outcome and the prophet Amos says it well.

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.

Like the National Forest on red alert for fire danger it is as if we are waiting for the merest spark to insult and ignite us. Our minds close and our hearts harden as we anticipate affront and assume opposition. How dare we claim to be people who believe all beings are created in the image and likeness of God, who affirm God’s presence and action among us and intend to do mercy for our neighbors and strangers if we cannot open our minds and hearts to listen to one another’s complex personal stories?

On Sunday I will invite members and friends of Church of the Apostles into a structured process that I am calling,”For God’s Sake, Listen.” Borrowing a program from Facing History, Facing Ourselves we will create a safe environment in which to strengthen our listening and discussion skills and help us engage controversial topics.  We all have complex stories and all of our stories matter. 

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Friday, July 12, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 14 July 2019

Luke 10,25-37        Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 

Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise.”

Reflection        A lawyer who is interested in protecting the conventions of  Hebrew law, not to mention his personal elite status,  stands up to test Jesus asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, being a wise rabbi, responds to the lawyer with another question, “Well, you are a lawyer, what does the law say?” 

Without missing a beat the lawyer quotes two texts from the Torah. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus replies, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." Ten points for the lawyer. He knows the letter of the law. 

But Jesus does not reply, “Congratulations you have rightly quoted the summary of the law and the prophets as written in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Jesus says, “DO this and you will live.” It seems the pharisaic lawyer is deaf to Jesus’ message and decides to argue a fine point, “Who is my neighbor?” No one would blame Jesus for shaking his head and walking away muttering, “What’s the use?” But, Jesus is merciful, does not give up on the self-satisfied lawyer and offers  him a teaching tale.

A man is destitute, on the verge of death, desperately in need of help on a lonely stretch of desert. The situation seems utterly hopeless until a priest comes by and for a moment we breath a sigh of hope. But wait. The priest, who protects the orthodoxy of the Hebrew scripture crosses to the other side of the road and shows no mercy. At this very moment we take a collective breath and proclaim, “Isn’t that awful? Surely we would never do that.” Let us not be so quick to judge. There are Hebrew prohibitions against touching a corpse, the priest was merely being cautious. If  the destitute man dies and the priest touches his corpse, the priest would be unclean.

Once again our hope for the destitute man rises when a Levite whose job is to assist the priests in worship in the temple but alas and alack, this presumptive holy Levite also crosses to the other side of the road and shows no mercy to the destitute man. Now our ire is really piqued. “How heartless? No doubt this pious Levite considers himself a righteous man. How could he be so callous?”

Are we beginning to sound a bit smug and sanctimonious? Is it time for us to pause and be honest with ourselves lest we don the mantle of self righteousness displayed by the lawyer, the priest and the Levite? How often do we cross the road, look the other way, drive by, change the channel, turn the page, silence the radio or ignore the opportunity to DO mercy?  Let’s be honest. The way to live rightly is to "do mercy" which puts us in right relationship with God and with our neighbors. Whom have we passed by?

Here is the thing. Jesus does not commend us to go, study the law and the prophets like the lawyer. He does not charge us to enforce the orthodoxy of the faith like the priest nor does he direct us to master the traditions of worship like the Levite. No. Jesus commands us to “do mercy” by caring for whomever shows up along our way. “Do mercy” here and now because the Kingdom of Heaven is here, now, and we are intended to be the purveyors of God’s mercy.

Jesus teaches that it is more important to pay attention to this life than be concerned about an afterlife. When Jesus says to the lawyer, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live,” he does not say, do this and you will have a happily ever afterlife. Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live…”  in right relationship with God, right here, right now, on earth.

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Thursday, July 4, 2019

Gospel text for Independence Day observed 7 July 2019

Matthew 5:43-48        Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Reflection        In his book evocatively titled book, If the Church Were Christian, the quaker pastor Philip Gulley writes, “A primary concern for Jesus was helping others become mature - spiritually, ethically, emotionally and relationally. The church has typically understood salvation as being rescued from our sin and going to heaven when we die. But what if we believed salvation was a lifelong journey toward maturity, love and wholeness? …. (and Jesus exemplifies) what it looks like to be fully human?” 

What if we took responsibility for evolving human consciousness by imitating Jesus’ mercy and love rather than worship Jesus as an ideal out of reach for ourselves? What if we laid down the gauntlet of dualistic arguments; good v bad, right v wrong, conservative v progressive, red v blue and took up the challenge to claim our divine/human potential, creatures who from the beginning are good? What if we took responsibility to live into the words approved by the Second Continental Congress on 4 July 1776?

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” 

When we claim to be “free and independent states” much as when we claim to be free and independent  people it is incumbent upon us to assume responsibility for such freedom. In imitation of Jesus, we must act deliberately  to “maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace” by offering mercy and love “not only to our neighbors but also to those who persecute us.”  Of course that is easier written than done.

To this end one practice I have found helpful is a modification of the Buddhist Metta or Loving Kindness meditation. 
Sit or lie down comfortably.
Take a few deep breaths, placing your hand over your heart. Feel your breath entering and exiting from your heart.
Inhale saying each of the following phrases to yourself, exhale between each phrase. 
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be safe from all dangers inside and out.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease in the world. 
Repeat the sequence of 4 phrases 3 more times, replacing 
“I” with
May (name of someone you care deeply about) be…
May (name of someone you find difficult) be…
May all beings and creation be…

The invitation to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” is an opportunity for us to evolve spiritually, ethically, emotionally and relationally, it is our opportunity to participate in the transformation of our world. 

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Friday, June 28, 2019

Gospel test for 30 June 2019

Luke 9:51-62        When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Reflection       Two thousand years ago and today the cost of discipleship means putting Jesus  front and center of our lives, truly living in imitation of Jesus. This is down right daunting. No wonder we construe endless lists of things to do, distractions, diversions, anything but discipleship. This is why we say to Jesus, “Not right now. First I must say “farewell to those at home… bury my dead relative.”  Discipleship is costly. 

Several weeks ago I told  the story of taking my grandson Alec to the Federal Court trial of Dr. Scott Warren. Warren is a member of the nonprofit group No More Deaths that provides water, food and shelter intending to prevent migrants who are crossing Arizona’s  Sonoran desert from dying. In January of 2018 Warren was arrested for offering water, food and shelter to two unauthorized migrants.

Warren was arrested for doing what he says his “conscience demands of him,” providing humanitarian aid to people who are suffering. In so doing Warren faces three felony charges that could land him in prison for up to twenty years. Faith leaders, atheists and agnostics gathered, a chorus of voices calling this situation, “Compassion on Trial.” On June 11th a hung jury failed to convict him. A hearing on July 2nd will determine whether or not Warren’s case will continue in Federal court.  The questions eleven year old Alec raised with me continue to be relevant, “Can we be punished for helping someone? Can we go to prison for doing what we believe is right?” The disconcerting answer is, “Yes. Discipleship is costly.”

Jesus’ message that the kingdom of God is greater than the political empire is not well received, not in his time, not now. The demoralizing aftermath of Jesus’ ministry to the sick, the scorned, the suffering is not resounding affirmation that compassion is a high order humanitarian value. Quite the contrary. Jesus is charged with treason, his compassion is criminalized and he is brutally murdered as a common criminal. 

This establishes a precedent for condemning compassion. But here is the thing. Criminalizing Jesus backfires on the Romans.  Instead of being a quickly forgotten criminal, for the next two thousand years Jesus’ status is  elevated to that of martyr, son of God. His message that the kingdom of God is here, now, with and for all people has taken root in the evolution of human consciousness, raising us human beings up from creaturely brutality to claim our divinely inspired humanity. 

We, the self proclaimed followers of Jesus, are not meant to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume…” people who do not think, feel, look like or act as we wish that they would. We are meant to put Jesus at the center of our lives. We are meant to live in imitation of Jesus which means, proclaiming with our words and actions that the kingdom of God is here, now, with and for all people.  We are meant to be defenders of God’s care and compassion for everyone, even when it means coming out of hiding, putting aside our endless ‘to do’ lists, standing up for what we believe is right and “facing the time of trial.”

The cost of discipleship is great but the cost of failing to act on our values is even greater.  If we allow compassion to be criminalized  we will destroy ourselves from the inside out. The kingdom of God is right here, right now and it depends on us to deliver God’s care and compassion to everyone. 

Click on user right corner box for a 13 minute guided Loving Kindness Meditation - a practice to help cultivate compassion.

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Gospel text for Sunday 23 June 2019

Luke 8:26-39        Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Reflection        Who do you consider possessed by demons? Who, for you, looks and thinks, speaks and behaves in ways that confront the way you look and think, speak and behave? Whom do you find as unnerving or disturbing as the unclean Gerasene?  What do you think about the fact that Jesus goes out of his way, “crossing over to the other side,” just to let us know that no one, not even an out of control, irrationally raging man is out of reach of Jesus’ transforming compassion?

It is actually quite significant that Jesus goes into Gentile (foreign) territory. In so doing he violates all manner of religious prohibitions intended to protect his purity. But Jesus is willing to lose his 'clean' status if it means he has the opportunity to offer freedom and healing to a suffering stranger. 

So, Jesus dignifies the possessed Gerasene by asking him his name. And the strangest thing is, the demons that possess the man answer, “Legion.” Legion is a military term. In this context it refers to 5000 Roman soldiers who are occupying the Ancient Middle East where this teaching tale takes place. The demons are the Roman Empire’s occupying forces that oppress the people, undermine their culture, push them into poverty and drive them crazy with the overbearing threat of violence. 

Two thousand years ago and today Jesus stands in dramatic counterpoint to the misuse of power and militarism by governments that rule by stoking fear and degrading the value of human beings. Standing on the ground of  peace and compassion Jesus demonstrates how embodying these values elevates, liberates and heals humankind. But when we capitulate to the misuse of power and the execution of violence we are driven crazy, like the possessed Gerasene.

Which begs us to ask ourselves a few questions. How are we possessed by the demons that underwrite war and fail to feed and shelter the homeless, the helpless, the refugee? How are we possessed by demons that put military weapons into the hands of haters? How are we denying our complicity? When will be break the chains that bind us to the military industrial complex and truly follow Jesus? What will it take for us to act decisively for peace and extend compassionate care for all people, even when it means giving up life as we know it? 

Is it not interesting that the Legion of occupying political/military authorities of his time experience Jesus as a threat, so much so that they execute him as a criminal? I believe the compassionate, nonviolent, peace offered by Jesus was considered a threat because the militaristic powers that be somehow understood that love is stronger than hate and compassion more powerful than violence. Can you imagine the power to heal and transform our world that would be released if all of us who claim to follow Jesus cast out the Legion of demons and stood firmly on Jesus’ ground extending compassion and peace to all people?

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Christian Testament text for 16 June 2019

Romans 5.1-5        Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Reflection            Some 30 years ago I was lying on my Rolfer’s table, wincing with excruciating pain.   For those of you who may have missed out on the alternative medicine that was available in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the late 1980s, Rolfing was a ten session program intending to realign the body structure and functioning through manipulation of connective tissues. Rolfing is not to be confused with massage.  In other words, it is not intended to produce relaxation. It systematically works on the connective tissues throughout the body, driving hard into the heart of physical pain and erupting emotional trauma along the way. 

In any case, in the midst my third or fourth Rolfing session when tightening my shoulder muscles in resistance to the intrusion of  Margaret the Rolfer’s elbow piercing my scapula,  Margaret counseled, “If you would just relax around the pain rather than resisting it, this will not hurt.” Without missing a beat Margaret waxed on, “One day you will be grateful for all of the pains you have endured.” 

It was a good thing I paid for all ten sessions in advance, insurance I would stick it out, because I seriously considered leaping off Margaret’s table to limp away and lick my wounds.  I tell you this story because it is the first experience that erupts on my thought horizon when I hear Paul’s counsel to the Romans, “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Paul, Margaret, what are you saying? I believe the key to the meaning of this scripture as well as Margaret’s counsel lies in where it lands, “God’s love poured into our hearts…” You see, regardless of our situation, regardless of our suffering and the challenges we endure, “the Holy Spirit of God has been given to us.” When life is flowing along smoothly and we are enjoying pink sunsets and the freshness of brand new baby breath, it is easy to proclaim, “I found God in the extraordinary sunset. I found God in promise of new life revealed in this infant.” Lovely as they are, these experiences do not stretch or grow our faith.

The questions that actually grow and align (justify) our faith are, “How do we find God in the not so beautiful places? How do we welcome our uneasy places, our disappointments or challenges? How do we relax around the edges of our pain and endure?” For me the only way to do so is by remembering, “God is with me, especially in my suffering.” This is the substance of our faith, faith that holds us in right relationship with God, faith that God is faithfully with us, enabling us to endure no matter what.

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** The image represents the structure and function of a protein molecule.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Gospel Text for Pentecost 9 June 2019

John 14:8-17, 25-27        Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

Reflection        Jesus leaves his peace with us, peace intended to replace our fear of the dark and murky places, our fear of what we do not know and cannot control, our fear of people who look and think and believe differently than us.  When we say  “yes” to Jesus’ peace the Spirit of Truth blooms from the inside out, illumining  our minds, inflaming our hearts and inciting our courage to act in spite of the complexity and uncertainty of our time. I believe the Spirit of Truth is with Warren Scott.

Warren Scott is a thirty six year old humanitarian aid worker  who provided water, food and shelter to two suffering undocumented migrants . Scott is a volunteer with No More Deaths, a Tucson-based aid group that leaves supplies for migrants crossing the Southern border. The provisions left in the desert are considered lifesaving, as at least 3,000 migrants are believed to have died walking through the desolate expanse. This week Scott faces charges in Federal Court; one count of conspiring to transport and two counts of harboring two Central American men who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico.

In light of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, what was Warren Scott to do? You recall the story Jesus told to a lawyer who wanted to test him and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ The lawyer countered, “who is my neighbor?” Whereupon Jesus tells the story of a Jewish man who is robbed, beaten and left half dead at the side of a road. A priest and a Levite, both Jews, pass him by but a foreigner, a Samaritan, moved with pity (the Spirit of Truth within him), breaks the law prohibiting Samaritans from touching Jews, stops and gives humanitarian aid to the dying stranger. The question Jesus poses to the lawyer and us is, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man …” suffering at the side of the road?”  Clearly our answer must be, “the one who showed …mercy.” How then can we ignore Jesus’ instruction, ‘Go and do likewise?” (Luke 10.29-36)

There are Good Samaritan laws in this country, laws intended to protect people who give assistance to those who are or who they believe may be injured, ill or in peril. The laws are intended to reduce bystanders fear of being sued or prosecuted for helping, to mitigate our fear of uncertain outcomes. 

Yes, it can make us anxious to do what we know is the Truth in our hearts because we cannot control the consequence. Even Good Samaritan laws cannot insure a favorable result when we are moved to loving action by the Spirit of Truth within us. Nonetheless we are assured, “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.’ Now go, in the Spirt of Truth, and be merciful to those in need. 

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