Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sustenance

 “Rabbi, eat something.” But Jesus said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”   John 4: 31-34





The last thing this volunteer is thinking about is where his next meal is coming from or why he isn’t home watching the latest episode of Dancing with the Stars. His food, his sustenance, is the pure contentment we find when we follow the way of Jesus: helping others, doing unto others what we would have them do unto us.

We all know the feeling: the satisfaction, the warm in your belly contentment that comes from doing the right thing. Whether it is teaching English as a second language or picking up litter, we know the feeling that comes from altruism. Whether it is serving hot lunches at Trinity Soup Kitchen or reaching out to a lonely senior, the Kingdom of God is found in those exchanges.  

When we murmur and moan (as the Israelites did while wandering in the desert), it is a sign to us that we need a fresh infusion of the Kingdom of God. We find it not in complaining, but when we get out of ourselves and connect with others.  Our sustenance comes from service; joy and happiness come from jumping into the Kingdom of God wherever we encounter it.

Seek ye first the Kingdom – and JUMP!   

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Born Again

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  John 3:5-7

The Providence Journal  1903


In this complicated conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee, we come face to face with the phrase “Born again.”  This phrase has become a sort of fundamentalist litmus test – where people ask each other “have you been born again” in order to assess another’s faith.  It is time re-claim this phrase and understand it as the scripture intended it.

So what is “to be born again?”  As Jesus explains it, we must be born twice. The first time, through water, speaks to human birth – that moment when a baby emerges from the womb and draws one’s first breath. Being born again, being born in the Spirit, is another thing all together.  Some say it is a decision we make as adults, independent of others, to decide to follow Jesus – but many others believe that it is that moment in Holy Baptism when the Spirit binds us to a community of faith entrusted to teach us in the ways of following Jesus.    

What do you think?  Is it one or the other? Or is it both? To argue these divergent viewpoints is to risk missing the Truth that God is bound to us inextricably; that there is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  And when we recognize that, then life becomes anything but rigid and stiff; life becomes flexible and increasingly comfortable with living in the paradox that is life. 





Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Return. Rend. Re-Orient.



Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.    Joel 2: 12 

Yad Hasmona Biblical Garden    Israel


"Rend your heart and not your clothing"  seems to get at the very heart of what in means to keep a "Holy Lent."  Lent should never devolve into just "giving something up."  For what is the good of that? Losing a few pounds? Feeling triumphant that you can temporarily overcome some addiction?  Pleasing a spouse or a parent?

Neither is Lent about focusing on our fallen nature, as many of us have heard it preached before. Lent is about returning to the Lord.  It needn't be a public show apologizing for our misbehavior; God already knows all that.

Lent is about our hearts.  It is about returning to God and remembering whose we are. When we return our focus to God, there may well be some repentance and fasting, but not always. Sometimes, just the returning is enough.  In simply returning, in rending our hearts, we may just find ourselves deeply thankful for God's forgiveness and grace and mercy. And isn't that the point?

Return. Rend your hearts, Re-orient.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Transfiguration

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Matthew 17: 1-2


Transiguration                      John Armstrong


The Transfiguration of Jesus occurs in the three synoptic Gospels, and is glancingly referenced in John’s Gospel. How utterly jaw-dropping for those disciples who took an ordinary walk  – we’d call it a “day hike” today – and suddenly, right there on a mountain their good friend Jesus turned blindingly brilliant. Right there in front of them! His face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.

This is one of those stories (it happened to Moses on a mountain once too) that offers us a glimpse into the power of God. We may go on with our daily lives, giving a nod to God every now and them, but we in the western world have pretty much tamed God. We don’t think very often about God’s utter GOD-NESS:  God’s ability to hang the planets on their courses or to populate and stock this fragile earth, our island home.

God does that.  And it’s a good thing for us to remember from time to time. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Being Holy

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
Leviticus 19: 1-2




Nuns on a Beach                              Carlo Canevari 

The readings for next Sunday take a “blinders off” look at what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Some dictionaries define “holy” as consecrated or set apart for God. Nuns, for example.  When I was growing up, they were objects of mystery. They dressed differently. They closed themselves into convents. My friends and I didn’t know what they actually did, but we knew they embodied holiness.  So, as a culture, we came to accept that definition; that things holy were things set apart – segregated form the rest of us. 

Over time, I have begun to dislike that definition. Being “holy” doesn’t mean that we should shut ourselves off from the world in order to avoid being tainted by its toxicity.  To the contrary, when God invites us to “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy” it is an invitation into the world; into a world that is often unclean, unfair, and unruly. God is not asking us to be set apart; God is asking us to jump in.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Holding Onto The Candle


If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.   Sirach 15:15




"Reaction"     Emily Van Engel   c. 2012
In times of stress, division, or polarity, we each respond differently. Some cry, some get angry, some ruminate, and others participate in large group actions. Fortunately, we are free to respond however we wish. We need not be bullied into protesting if it does not suit us.  

What is essential is that we continue to hold love out as the candle of our faith: Loving each other and respecting the dignity of every human being.

In times of national disunity and stress, we are Christians first. Some may be inclined to march, while others prefer to visit someone who is lonely or sick.  Any response, done in the name of Christ, is good and holy.  Let us not permit the polarity which infects our nation to break the bonds of affection we enjoy as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The question set before us is this:  When was the last time you connected what you said and what you did with who God is for you?

Our actions and our words reveal our theology.



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Mystery

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him.”  1 Corinthians 2:9



“Into the Eye of God”                Jimmy Canali 2012          






There is so much that we do not know. Essentially, God is a mystery. Sure, we can ascribe words and phrases to God like: “God is Love” but the mystery of this force, this Creator of the Universe, this power that can redeem all things and restore all things and bring new life into all things is beyond the finiteness of our human brains.  And yet we seek to know and love and believe in this “Everything” that we cannot ever really understand.


Even at the middle of this mystery, we testify to what we know to be true. And I know this: that God’s promises are true; I have never been let down by God. So when our government seems to be in chaos, and when fear threatens to overwhelm us, and when divisiveness threatens to besmirch our most precious relationships, remember that God's promises are eternal and true.  Here are some of God's promises that I know to be true: That God is with us, That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That God will never leave us or forsake us. That we are each God's beloved. These are Truths. These are God's promises to us.

So in the frenzy of these distressing times, when we aren't sure who or what to believe, pause and listen for that still, small voice, and pray without ceasing. Cling to God and grasp at God's Truths, for that is what will sustain us as we move into the unknown. God's promises are true and eternal and they are what will sustain us. That’s a promise.




Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Doing Justice

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?             Micah 6:8

Mississippi Burning        Normal Rockwell

This line from the prophet Micah always brings me home. Micah calls us to clean up our relationships with God and with each other. To do this does not mean increased piety, increased numbers of circuits around a rosary or increased hours meditating on scripture. 

What does the Lord require of you – 
YOU who already been declared as God’s beloved child?

Micah prophetically reminds us that God requires relationships; relationships with our neighbors and particularly with those who are being denied justice and those who are being ignored or treated unkindly. To be in relationship with these IS to walk humbly with God; to do what God requires of us.

God has already told us what is good. Now comes the time to do justice and to love kindness – for THAT is God’s call to action, and that is what develops a deeper relationship with God.    

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Light

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness -- on them light has shined.  

Isaiah 9:1-2




                                                               Church of the Holy Nativity Bethlehem




In the beginning……

With these three words, what we know as The Bible begins. The writer describes the world (in the beginning) as formless, empty, and dark. Formless, empty and dark until God decided to speak – and God’s first words were, “Let there be light.”

Light is God’s plan for us; God’s plan for the world. Darkness just “is” until light enters in and then… everything changes! The world’s religions have formed around this idea: that we are people of the darkness until light enters in. It is the very bedrock of our faith.  

God called it into being and God invites us into it; beckons us.  The prophet Isaiah proclaims, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” Where in your life is there darkness? Where does God need to shine that light? Is it in our relationships? Or on our physical or mental health? On our sins? On our blessings.  

God’s first words were, “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Do We Mean It?

Almighty God: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth;  from the Book of Common Prayer, p215.


The Blue Hole          Jenny Huang   c.2007
                                                                             

On Sunday, we will pray this prayer. Do we mean it?


In it, we ask God to allow us to shine the radiance of Christ’s glory to the whole world. In it, we pray that we will be given the responsibility to tell others about Christ. In It we pray that we will be allowed to lead others to worship and obedience. Do we mean it?

Evangelize for Jesus? Shine his Glory on the whole world? Not me, you might say. But, if not us, who? This is our task: to shine the light of Christ’s Glory not on ourselves, but on Him for all the world to see.  It is a bold prayer. Humbling, scary, and perhaps overwhelming. But, if not us, then who? This is the task we pray for.

Perhaps the best way to start is not by quoting scripture on street corners or threatening others with an eternity in hell. Perhaps the way to start is by using the very words of our Savior himself: Come and see. 

Come and see.  


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized by John and the River Jordan. But John tried to deter him, saying,  “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”   Matthew 3:13-14



Why did Jesus need to be baptized by John?
Jesus was without sin, yet he came to where John was baptizing sinners and asked his cousin John to baptize him. John was thunderstruck! “My cousin, You are without sin, why do you need the cleansing or repentance that I offer to this brood of vipers?” It’s a logical question.  Jesus did not need to repent; he did not need the ritual washing that John offered those out there in the wilderness.
So why?

Jesus came to that rocky, muddy bank of the Jordan for three simple reasons.  First, to show the world his Jewishness; his willingness to submit to  the traditions of Judaism.  Second, to bear witness to his Messiahship; to let the world know that He was the One about whom John had been preaching.  And finally, his baptism was a message to us. In entering those waters, Jesus demonstrated that he not only acknowledges our sinfulness, but that he is willing to immerse himself in the murky miasma of our sins. Talk about a metaphor!  He takes our sins upon himself in order to neutralize them. He did it symbolically in the waters of the Jordan, then did it again on the cross at Calvary.

Billy Graham summarized this way:
“Jesus — who was the sinless Son of God — took upon himself your sins and my sins, and the sins of the whole human race. Just as he didn’t have to die, so he didn’t have to be baptized — until he became the bearer of all our sins.”
And that is Good News. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Being Tamed




The Reading:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions………  Titus 2: 11


"The Scream"   Alwy Fadhel    (coffee on paper)


Every Christmas Eve, we hear a passage from a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus.  It’s a strange story to be paired with the lovely Gospel of Luke because it had nothing to do with Bethlehem or the Holy Land, or Jesus’ birth. Titus had been left on the Mediterranean island of Crete to establish a Church there and Crete was a place of wild and rebellious people.  Titus was facing a nearly impossible job, and Paul's short letter was simply one of instruction and encouragement to a lonely missionary.

How is this passage relevant on Christmas Eve? Why include it here? Perhaps it's to remind us that the world is full of wild and rebellious people and life will be full of nearly impossible tasks. Or maybe it's to remind us that with the Grace of God, we can and will accomplish amazing things. Or that, whenever we face the impossible or find ourselves on the brink of failure, God will be right there with us. In other words, this passage is a gentle reminder that God became man; that God is an Incarnate God.

So, as you attend Christmas Eve services this weekend, listen not only to Luke’s lovely story about the birth of the baby Jesus, listen, too, for the still small voice of Paul, encouraging Titus, and reminding him that God is right there with him, as he is with each one of us.

Merry Christmas.