Tag Archives: Bible

Getting Ready for Pentecost

Pentecost-frontJohn 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”

On the first day of school in kindergarten classes all around the country, teachers read the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. This picture book tells of a young raccoon who is apprehensive about leaving his mother for the first day of school. He would rather stay in the comfort of his mother’s presence forever. She kisses his hand and explains she will always be with him, and that kiss acts to remind the raccoon of the gift of his mother, helping him feel her presence even when he is physically away from her. This book is read by teachers to their students on the first day of school to help encourage and give them strength as they go out in the world to begin their formal learning journey.

The readings for Pentecost remind all Christians that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit with us forever. In the Gospel reading from John, the disciple named Philip tells Jesus that he wants to see the Father because he doesn’t fully grasp the divinity of Christ himself. Jesus goes on to explain that he will be leaving to be with the Father, and that God will provide an Advocate to be with us forever. Jesus reminds them to keep the commandments and do even greater works for the glorification of God and with the Holy Spirit abiding within them and therefore in us all.

What does it mean to have an advocate in the Holy Spirit? Another way to translate the word advocate is as a companion or helper, making the Holy Spirit an ever present guide in our lives. As followers of Christ, this means that we are not alone as we go about our daily lives. Philip didn’t really understand God when he asked Jesus to show him the Father, and the same is true for us today. How can we fully comprehend that which is divine when we are only humans? Although our revelation may be limited by our humanity, we can see the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. As we face the challenges that come our way, our faith in God can give us strength that can only be understood as divine, since we would never be able to overcome those challenges on our own. That evidence points to God’s promise to be with us as Jesus said to the disciples that day.

This text also speaks of the great works we will do, with Jesus using his own works as a model for us and as a way to show his divinity with God. Imagine if our own works showed our creaturely relationship with God as well! With the companionship and help from the indwelling Holy Spirit, our helping actions toward our neighbors, the poor, the marginalized, the neediest among us, will point directly to our God. The restoration of the Kingdom of God demands these works from us, and the Holy Spirit is in our midst to make it happen. We just have to seize the opportunity.

The words of the first verse of Hymn 516 in our Hymnal say it best:

Come down, O love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

May we know God’s presence in our lives as more than just a kiss on the hand, and may we call upon the Holy Spirit to work in us to serve God in the world. Kindle in us the fire of your love!

Threat of the King

epiphany_4420c

Matthew 2:1-12

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Visit of the Wise Men

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

I’m not always proud of my behavior.  I strive to live out God’s plan for me every day and fall WAYYYYY short most days.  On my best days, I work to remember that everything is not about me and that my job is to further God’s work in the world where I live.  In some of my worst moments, I get caught up in feeling sorry for myself, gossiping about others, passing judgement and being pretty selfish.  It certainly isn’t pretty and when I reflect on those memories I am not proud one little bit.

But some of my worst behavior has happened when I feel threatened.  In high school, the cliques of high school girls didn’t bring out the best in me. I may or may not have behaved like a spoiled child in the face of the girl drama. As a parent, the threat of something terrible happening to my family has kept me from being rational in decision making and too protective when I needed to let go.  In my job as a school principal, parents sometimes come to my office to scream, yell and make threats toward me and our staff.  My default when threatened typically isn’t to respond with love and understanding.  King Herod most certainly felt threatened by strangers coming to Bethlehem to pay homage to a new king; sounds like it was news to him and not welcome news at that.

Herod’s response makes him seem pretty insecure (somewhat understandably in the face of the loss of his power, status and livelihood) and then he gets a bit sneaky. Go find this king so that I can worship him too, he says.  Yeah, right. That’s a bunch of malarkey in light of a few verses down the page in Matthew 2:16-18 when Herod’s insecurities leads him to make a pretty nasty decision to kill ALL the kids who meet the age criteria of this suspected king.  Talk about acting irrationally in the face of a perceived threat!

And that is exactly what it was – a perceived threat.  Not a real threat.  Jesus was born to save the world, not to rule over a small group of people.  But in the face of the threat to his identity, Herod did what seems unthinkable –  certainly a drastic response to the situation.  He acts out of fear of the unknown – and we are guilty of the same over reactions in our perceived threats today.

For me, I am fortunate to be able to live a life free of too many real threats to my safety and security.  So when I feel threatened, it is typically to my reputation, my beliefs, my lifestyle or my ability to be the winner is some competition.  But in most cases, the threat isn’t really about me.  Jesus coming into the world as a baby was no more a threat to Herod than one of the cool high school girls was to my happiness back in the day.  The threat wasn’t real, but based on a misplaced sense of self importance and our need to hold on to those things which we deem important to ourselves, rather than on the real threat of loss, pain and suffering.

This story tells of Epiphany, a feast day in the church where the manifestation of Christ is celebrated along with his baptism.  The symbolism of light in the form of a star leading the way to three strangers coming to honor a king beyond the scope of their understanding, the fulfilling of prophecy (Micah 5:2) from ancient teachings and the fact that the revelation of God sending his Son to live among the people as one of them – they certainly qualify as an epiphany where we come to understand something in a new and different way. The Feast of Epiphany is celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas – January 6, 2014 this year, to be exact.  We are still singing Christmas carols in church (give us a break – we focused on Advent every week since Thanksgiving!) and now we find ourselves with the first of a long line of threats to the life of Jesus Christ, even as he is still a very young child living with his parents in a small town in relative obscurity.  The threat to the life of Jesus was real – yet he didn’t respond in anger, defensiveness or with malice.  He offered his other cheek, his love to the persecuted and downtrodden and his heart and salvation to all who follow him – personal status being irrelevant.  Striving to live with that unconditional love for others is what we are called to do and fall short of as humans.  But we must keep trying every day to keep perspective and discern the real threats: the very real threat of a life without Christ at the center of all we do, in all we meet and in our every day work, actions and relationships.

I haven’t killed anyone when I have felt threatened (whew!!!), but I have made others feel things other than love from me.  That’s on me, and my lesson from this reading is to stop, listen and react with love, even when it feels unnatural and contrived at first.  I know I’ll get better at it the more I do it.

Light of the world, help me to view others through the eyes of your love. When I am confronted with fear, help me to see that in you, my life is secure.  Show me the way to live every day with you as the center.  To you are the power and the glory.  AMEN.

How Much is Enough?

mustard-seed-faith2

Luke 17:5-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

Have you ever looked around you and seen people who clearly have more faith than you? You know, those people who just radiate peace and that all knowing look of “No worries, God’s got this!”  We have all been a witness to our friends or family who have handled a significant health crisis who made it seem easy and reported all the miracles God had worked in their lives along with the way?  Their faith waves in my face as if to mock me and make me sometimes say, “If only my faith was as big as hers!”  If only….

So reading this passage not only brings me back to the question of how much faith is enough faith, but also makes me feel a bit bad about the obvious jealousy which can be my default.  The last line of this passage really spoke to me today, and I read it as faith enough is all the faith I need to do what I know to do as a follower of Christ. This was a good wrap up to this reading, as the first line was a hook that made me want to read more….as if there is a recipe to follow or a heavenly flowchart of “if this, then that” steps to get me to enough.  It’s also a pretty passive statement, as if Jesus’ job was to do faith TO us.

So first, I say that it is no one’s job to deepen my faith….no one but me.  I can’t complain that the sermon isn’t reaching me, the Bible was too far from my reach, the poor live too far away for me to really reach out to them or that it’s inconvenient to spend time in study, piety and action as a Christian.  I have been a passive person of faith for too long – and I have no one to blame it on.  All I can do now is re-commit every day to living a life of faith, a deep commitment to following God’s will.  I think of it like a carrot growing in the garden vs a bush with a crazy root ball; the carrot doesn’t spread out and get all tangled up as it grows.  It is singularly focused in its genetic make up.  I want my faith to be my genetic makeup too, keeping me from all distractions that put a roadblock between me and God’s plan for me.

The second lesson for me from this reading is that the faith I have is enough faith for me.  If I follow my walk with Christ and believe his word, then I have enough faith. It’s what I am supposed to do. I have found in the trials and tribulations of life that the faith I have is enough when I need it and under whatever circumstances.  And here is another note about that…we must (ok, I must!) stop comparing our faith to others.  When we see those giants of faith cross our paths, remember that each of those “giants” has the same insecurities that we all do.  And who knows what doubts they wrestle with too? My faith must be my very own.  I must cultivate my relationship with Christ and my faith will be enough.

God of grace, I draw near to you. May my faith in you and your love and mercy be a comfort to me in time of trouble and a gift in abundance as you bless me. I pray my faith will continue to be enough.  In your name I pray.  AMEN.

Involvement vs. Commitment

pig-and-chicken-alone

Luke 14:25-33

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Cost of Discipleship

25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?

Answer: In The Chicken and the Pig riddle… The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed!

– See more at: http://michaelhamburger.com/the-chicken-and-the-pig/#sthash.ej6C61vt.dpuf

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great Idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”

– See more at: http://www.jackizehner.com/2012/10/26/the-pig-and-the-chicken-a-cute-story/#sthash.6NQ8bWZv.dpuf

This passage starts off with some tough to read language.  Jesus is speaking to his followers and is quoted in this reading from Luke as saying,Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  When I read this the first few times it came across my devotionals or in my Bible in One Year program, I just skimmed over it because it was just too hard to process.  Maybe you feel the same way – there are passages and verses in the Bible that make me so uncomfortable or are just too contradictory to process!  But if I plan to blog about the weekly Lectionary and the Gospel reading in particular, then I can’t ignore this one.  So I’ve been thinking about the Chicken and the Pig comparison:

Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?

Answer: The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed

The commentaries I read are all over the place in interpreting Jesus’ words, but for me, this passage speaks to the heart of commitment.  How many times have we served on a committee with other committed folks, only to have them drop out along the way?  What about all those New Year’s resolutions we promise to follow and then February rolls around and….done.  Jesus’ message seems to call us out as believers.  I read in this passage that he is basically saying that following me is not for the faint of heart or for those who just want to be involved.  It’s all or nothing according to Jesus, and that means there will be hardship in our commitment to follow him.
I’ve been blessed to be brought up in a family of believers.  Our marriage is based on being God-centered and we have worked hard to raise our daughter this way as well.  We haven’t had family members turn away from us because of our beliefs; we haven’t lost jobs because of our faith.  We can live where we want and experience the freedom that comes from living in the United States as a Christian.  I haven’t had to face the ugly side of following Jesus (read about Christians in Syria today here: http://supportsyrianchristians.wordpress.com/) but Jesus’ words hit home for me in my safe community, for now.
Jesus then goes on to talk about weighing out the consequences of being unprepared to make the full commitment to being his follower.  He uses the planning of a construction project and the planning of the King before battle as his scaffold for comparison to choosing to believe and follow him.  It’s not just a decision to be involved in our faith; it’s a decision to play the role of the pig at breakfast and be all in with nothing left behind, considering the planning as well as the consequences.
It’s a great goal. I strive for it every day and many times during the day.  And I fail.  A lot.  But I then have to decide again to run back onto the field with all the right equipment and knowledge of the game plan (can you tell we’ve been watching some College football today?).  I can’t go into this unprepared.  I have to pray, study, and commit to Christian action (also known as “regular” action but putting Jesus at the center of it all) to be more than just involved.
And when I find myself practicing my commitment to Christ, I love my family more deeply, I laugh with my friends with reckless abandon, I have more energy and time somehow in my job and my personal life, and I feel the love of Christ very closely.  When I dabble at the involvement level…well, I bet you can guess how that turns out for me as I rely on myself for my strength.  To quote a random teenager, it’s “epic fail.”
Forgiving Lord, your grace is enough for me to give you my full commitment.  When I fail, thank you for loving me enough to welcome me back.  Give me strength in adversity to stand faithfully with you in all I think, say and do.  For in you, I am fulfilled.  AMEN.

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great Idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”

– See more at: http://www.jackizehner.com/2012/10/26/the-pig-and-the-chicken-a-cute-story/#sthash.6NQ8bWZv.dpuf

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great Idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

“Not so fast.” said the pig. “For you, that’s just a contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment.”

– See more at: http://www.jackizehner.com/2012/10/26/the-pig-and-the-chicken-a-cute-story/#sthash.6NQ8bWZv.dpuf

More than I Need

Luke12v13to21_2007

Luke 12:13-21

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Rich Fool

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 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.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 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?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

We moved into our home in 2001.  It was the third move in our then 9 year marriage, so I didn’t look much beyond a few years.  So now as we start our thirteenth year in the same home, I am struck by how much stuff we have.  When you move frequently, and if you are like me and just detest the chores of packing and unpacking, you tend to purge.  When you can tuck stuff in a closet for 13 years and forget about it, you realize at some point that you are one cool whip container short of being invited to film an episode of “Hoarders!’

So how do we find ourselves with too much stuff? I think our American society is rife with messages of excess and enticements of the next best thing.  My drawer full of awesome hair products is evidence of that (and I’m not even having a good hair day as I type this).  In addition to our visual and audio bombardment of reminders of how incomplete our life is now without (fill in the blank here), we measure our life’s successes through the eyes of currency.  As our daughter is ending her high school career, everyone has advice about what she should choose as her college major so she can graduate and make $xx,xxx salary right away.  We look with envy on those who have “more” than we have – more money, more square footage in their home, more vacations, more fun = better life!  Heck, we are even envious about people’s faith!

Greed is not a nice word – it just doesn’t invoke a warm and fuzzy feeling when we think about the concept.  But Jesus is pretty clear in his parable in this passage of Luke’s Gospel.  What are we doing with all this stuff in our lives????  If we spent a third of the energy/money/time on our relationship with and service to our Lord, we would have lives that were richer in ways that “things” cannot make us.  Oh, and don’t we already know that, yet still fall in the stuff trap anyway?

And we always seem to feel like what we have is just never enough.  Americans in particular have terms like “rainy day fund” and “back up plan” in our everyday vocabulary, making us feel like we need more than we have, even though we may have all that we need.  Last week’s post discussed the Lord’s Prayer as our format for communicating with God (https://paigehanks.wordpress.com/2013/07/) and Jesus teaches us specifically to say, “Give us this day, our daily bread,” as if we should live for what God provides us today, knowing that he will provide for us again tomorrow and the next day after that.  Since we are such control freaks (ok, maybe it’s just me here) we think we better have a contingency plan just in case.

Although I am not a collector of any one thing, I do find that my stuff can pile up around me.  It can interfere with my ability to think clearly and focus on the task at hand when I am at work and my desk is cluttered with papers.  When things are organized and every item is in its place, I find a sense of calm and ability to focus.  Having what we need and not more than we can ever want or use is not what God calls us to do.  As Christians, we are commanded to serve others, feed the hungry, take care of the sick and meek among us, and our stuff usually prevents us from doing that in any systematic way.

I find that I can give when I see a need, but mostly just up to the point where I think that giving more may hurt me.  That is hard to say outloud and type in this space, as I am ashamed and embarassed to think that at all.  I am sure I could give away my time, talent and treasure far more than I do today and I wouldn’t even notice a difference in my own needs – that is my insecurity talking, not my reality. So this week’s Gospel from Luke is just what I needed.  I am reminded that I have really greedy tendencies and I want what is mine – I want my fair share.  In my mind, my actual fair share is far smaller than the piles and piles of my fair share that I actually have, whether it’s money, space or stuff.  And all that excess interferes with my true calling as a child of God.  If I am to love and serve God with all my heart, mind, body, soul and will, then I need to get down to the nitty gritty with my stuff.  It will be a process with ups and downs I’m sure, but I don’t want my time left in life to be spent hoarding more than I need of anything.  If today were the day for perfect healing through death and eternal life, I wouldn’t need a thing I have now besides my uncluttered faith in my Lord and Savior.

Generous Father, you are worthy of all the glory and honor.  Help me clear my heart, mind, body and soul and let my will be your will in all I do and say.  I commit to loving and serving you through generosity of spirit and with a heart to serve, sharing your many gifts with all I meet.  Thank you for loving me enough to give me enough, even though I never deserve it at all.  To you be praised.  AMEN.

The Fire of God’s Love

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Acts 2:1-21

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

The image of fire invokes strong responses from people.  Being warmed by a fire on a cold winter’s night is a comforting feeling; seeing a fire burn through a hillside during fire season strikes fear in our hearts. The heat of a fire can keep you alive and it can take away your life in a flash.  Vivid images, both positive and negative, come from just hearing about the word fire.

The Bible is full of stories about fire and the way God uses it to get our attention.  Moses and the burning bush, where God makes a very clear point about what he wants Moses to go and do for the people of Israel.  The story in Daniel of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego coming out of a furnace completely unscathed after Nebuchadnezzar attempts to get all to worship him, only to find himself declaring to the people that all should worship God alone.  And the story above from Luke’s writings in Acts, describing a confusing and maybe quite terrifying day when the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to live among the people, with each person present receiving tongues of fire on them.

We can’t begin to understand the power of God and when we try, we always will fall short because our human minds just can’t comprehend the power and glory of our Father.  But I would venture to say that he uses fire in those three examples to get our attention.  Quite successfully, don’t you think?  I’m sure that God can create any sort of imagery possible, but these three examples were transformative to those who witnessed them.

On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks (about 50 days) after Jesus’ resurrection, over 100 of his disciples were gathered together to pray.  Jesus was already gone to be with the Father and a loud rush of wind entered the place where they were.  Were they scared?  I bet they were!  Wind…then fire?  Then everyone speaking in different languages and onlookers (who were those folks, I wonder???) thinking they were drunk at 9 in the morning!  Then Peter addressed the crowd, reminding everyone of the prophet Joel’s words about God sending his Spirit to help spread the knowledge of God to all. I am pretty sure that quieted down the doubters!

All the different languages, the rush of wind and the fire – pretty hefty imagery.  And for good reason – those 120 folks were to go out and evangelize to the world and that legacy continues today to Christians everywhere.  It does little good in furthering God’s kingdom to rest on our faith while others wander through life without knowing the love of God.  Evangelism is a pretty scary word for many Christians (especially us Episcopalians), but it really is pretty simple.  Live God’s word in your life.  Love your neighbor.  Tell how Jesus has changed your life.  Pray for others.  No need to yell and scream, to judge or condemn; just love.

I may not have a visible tongue of flame visible around me, but I am called to do the same things as those folks on the day of Pentecost over 2000 years ago.  Go out in the world and share the Good News.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Jesus Christ Our Lord.  AMEN

Forgiveness Within Reach

John 20:19-31

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Jesus and Thomas

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

The Purpose of This Book

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believethat Jesus is the Messiah,the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Maybe it’s just me, but forgiveness is a tough one.  I have to work really hard on forgiving those who I perceive have wronged me.  Now, I’m not talking about forgiving someone for taking my parking place at the mall or for drinking the last diet coke…I’m really thinking about those biggies.  One of the ways to really “get” to me is to misrepresent me.  When someone says, “I heard you said blah blah blah,” or “I heard you did blah blah blah,” and those things not only didn’t happen but are contrary to what I WOULD have said or done, it doesn’t bring out the best in me.

But Jesus is pretty clear about the concept of forgiveness.  He appears to his disciples following his resurrection, breathing on them the Holy Spirit (wondering about the awesomeness of that!!!!) and explained about forgiveness.  He said, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Talk about empowerment!  Jesus uses the Holy Spirit to gift the disciples with the ultimate power of forgiveness, while chiding them at the same time about what happens if they don’t fully utilize this incredible gift.  Through the building of the wider body of Christ, we all have the same responsibility as Christians.  Forgive others.  Jesus didn’t put any qualifiers on this method of forgiveness.  He gives them the power and through the gift of love we all have the same power.  And when we don’t forgive others?  That’s pretty clear too…the sins are still there. 

That’s pretty discouraging if you think about it terms of just humans.  But the best news of all is that we are forgiven in totality when we ask God.  He will NEVER “retain our sins,” and gives us forgiveness no matter the grievance.  And I can assure you I have some pretty egregious sins, I tell you!  I ask…he forgives.  So why can’t I do that too?

I want to forgive, I really do.  I often have to forgive over and over again until it is gone, because one time forgiveness can still leave me with retention of the hurt and pain that came with the wrong.  That’s why this one is such a tough issue – our humanity stands in the way of forgiveness at times.  But holding on to resentment, pain and the feeling of being wronged gets right between us and God, which no one really wants, especially God!

This joyous Easter season of new life brings new opportunities to grow in our faith.  Let’s commit to work on forgiveness…of ourselves and others, without exception.  It’s the purest form of love – Agape love.

Lord, we ask you to guide our hearts and minds to forgive.  Help us to know and love you and show that love to our brothers and sisters.  When we struggle with this, show us the way to reach out and heal our wounds and those of others.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

 

Peter’s Redemption

Luke 24:1-12

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Resurrection of Jesus

24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

You know those days – we all have them.  We have the best of intentions and set out to do our part to make the world a better place through our small niche of interactions, actions and reactions.  Then it all goes horribly wrong.  We make mistake after mistake and even begin to marvel at how absolutely screwed up things have gotten over a relatively short period of time.  Those days it may seem even hard to put words together to fully state the crazy events of the day, because it is just THAT BAD.  Then we go to bed, glad to have the day behind us, only to awaken with a fresh start and a renewed spirit (hopefully we were able to put the bad day behind us!).

Let’s face it – Thursday and Friday before Easter were some really bad days for Jesus’ friend and follower, Peter.  Up until that point, things had really been rocking along with the disciples.  They were witness to powerful miracles and developing an intensely personal relationship with Jesus.  He was dropping hints about leaving them but I’m sure those subtle statements just rolled away like water off a duck’s back.  There was simply no way for mere humans to understand the power of Jesus’ words about leaving – things were just too great to stop it all now.  Peter was one of those closest to Jesus, so it must have been quite a surprise to hear – right from Jesus’ mouth – that Peter would deny knowing him not once, but three times.  But deny him is exactly what we read that Peter did following Jesus’ arrest.  Did he set out to do that – of course not.  In fact, I am sure he couldn’t believe he had done it either when he heard that rooster crow the last time.  But none of us knows what we will do in a scary conflict until we are there.  Peter must have felt incredibly disappointed in himself.  Then the events of the crucifixion unfolded and Peter had to have known he played a key role in the process.  My bad days haven’t ever really been THAT bad, but Peter’s feelings of devastation must have been so very overwhelming as he watched his friend die that Friday afternoon.

But the opportunity for redemption came much sooner than any of them expected!  Peter was the first to hop up and take off running for the tomb when he heard the news that his friend was risen again, just as he said he would.  Peter felt “amazed at what had happened.”  The word amazed is probably the best English word choice based on translation, but seems to be very much an understatement.  When Jesus rose from the dead after the dark and confusing weekend following his death, thinking of it today as amazing seems also to fall short of how mysterious this would have been for Jesus’ friends and followers, especially for Peter.

In our Christian faith, Easter is the big one!  It’s the day in the church that represents our foundational belief that Jesus Christ came to save us from ourselves.  I’ve made some sacrifices in my life for those I love, but none can even scratch the surface of the sacrifice that God made to share this gift of his son with us, even when we obviously weren’t deserving of it.  Jesus Christ is risen today, as we celebrate every Easter morning, with the promise of new life in him.  I’m sure his friends were all grateful once they realized who he was (another blog post about how confusing that must have been to not even recognize him when they saw him!), but I’m sure that Peter’s feelings were just indescribable.

Our lives intersect with Peter’s in so many ways.  We have denied our Lord many more than three times.  We have turned away as things are going badly and we make sure to protect ourselves when confronted with challenges to our beliefs.  But Peter and all the rest of us children of God get both grace and mercy on this beautiful Easter morning.  Peter spent the rest of his life doing what God called him to do, spreading the word of God to all who would listen and dedicating his work to fulfilling the promise of the Holy Spirit.  It seems to me to be the very least we can do as we are renewed and redeemed through the death and resurrection of Christ.

Gracious God, lover of all souls, bring us closer to you through the gift of your Son to the world. We are redeemed through the resurrection and we know what you ask of us as we walk with you in our daily lives.  We commit to you that we will love one another and spread the Good News.  Jesus Christ is Risen Today – Alleluia!  Thanks be to God.  AMEN.

Coveting the Burning Bush

Exodus 3:1-15

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Moses at the Burning Bush

3 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

The Divine Name Revealed

13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[b] the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:

This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.

I’ve always wanted to hear God speak to me.  I would prefer just a booming, deep voice, preferably starting with my name so I don’t mistake the voice as speaking to someone else instead of me (as if I have a choice!).  I happen to be a pretty literal person, with very pale shades of gray mixed in to the contrast of my black and white world.  Being literal means that I sometimes feel like I don’t hear back from God when I pray (I could write another entire entry about how much I am sure God doesn’t hear me talk to Him much either….).  It is only from the 20,000 ft. aerial view that I can easily discern God’s hand and works in my life.  In the moment, a “burning bush” type of message would certainly be appreciated.

But what would I do if that actually happened?  Here is Moses, finding a way to be fulfilled by tending the flock for his father-in-law, as a dutiful son-in-law should.  Then, when least expected, a VERY OBVIOUS message from God is literally on fire in front of him, full of the sound effects of the booming voice of God and a message that would have been very difficult to hear, not to mention to abide.  God isn’t just talking to Moses as an answer to prayer; but rather God is asserting His will in a most “in your face” type of way.  Ignore that?  Luckily Moses didn’t.  I hope that the writer of Exodus neglected to give us the whole story, the part where Moses was completed freaked out and asking a zillion questions about the bush itself, how in the world he would be able to go back to Pharoah after his somewhat memorable last departure, and that whole bit about freeing the Israelites?  How in the world was Moses going to be able to get that done?  And why the burning bush?  Was He trying to speak to Moses in the quiet times during his prayers and Moses couldn’t/wouldn’t hear or heed the message, so the burning bush became necessary?

So maybe a burning bush message sounds like God’s way of getting Moses to do a 180 degree turn, sending him on a life path that he never dreamed of, wanted for himself or his family and that seemed unbelievably daunting.  Maybe that is why God chooses a more subtle way to get my attention, because His plan for me doesn’t require a burning bush type of message.  I need to tranquilize those monkeys in my brain (thank you to Fr. Will Brown) and listen to His call to me, before He feels the need to send me a burning bush.

Jumping off the Cliff

In October of 2011, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer.  It spread very quickly and she died in January of 2012.  I spent the time trying to feel useful and get some control over the speeding train that was going a place I didn’t want to go, and started blogging about the experience to let folks know about Mom’s situation and to ask for prayers.  This writing turned into a ministry for me and I was fed in a way I never expected by those who read my raw and emotional words.  My walk with Christ was forever deepened through the experience.

Now, a year after her death, I want to write again.  I am hungry for spiritual growth and a Bible novice.  I’ve read it from front to back, but now need to live IN it.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow closer and follow the path with Jesus.