Tag Archives: lectionary

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!

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Threat of the King

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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.

Take the First Step

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Matthew 3:1-12

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Proclamation of John the Baptist

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

We’ve been stuck in the ice since Thursday night, victims of “Icemageddon 2013” in North Texas.  We have come together to laugh and watch movies, gone to our separate corners to have time alone and have skated across the driveway to use a hairdryer in an effort to free the teenager’s car encased in an ice tomb.  Our part of the world can get ice without snow and there is really no way to save the trees that have snapped and the cars that have collided when everything is covered in ice.  So we are pretty much just hunkered down, waiting until we can peek above the freezing mark which will hopefully come soon so life can get back to normal.

I generally prefer NOT to have a day off from school – a day that will have to made up on a beautiful spring Friday where the weather is perfect, I’m sure!  But I can’t even tell you how much this gift of time has been appreciated.  All the hectic holiday schedules were cancelled and the tempo of time has slowed down considerably. As I have reflected and studied this week’s Gospel reading from Mark, I am struck by the image created in my mind of John the Baptist.

I picture this really crazy looking guy showing up when least expected.  The Pharisees and Sadduccees are up to speed on the prophets’ stories and John seems pretty darn far fetched as the one who prepares the people for the coming of the Lord!  Dressed as an outsider and maybe even smelling a little ripe, John comes on the scene shouting of repentance and that the Lord is coming, taking people to the Jordan river to experience baptism, a completely new concept in the traditions of the faith at the time.

As John is calling out the religious leaders for their hypocrisy, I can only imagine their confusion.  That same confusion still exists today in those who proclaim their faith with television ratings and prosperity gospels, with our own hypocrisy in what we say we believe and the story our actions and words tell that conflict with those beliefs – the self-righteous were hustling to get baptized by John for sure.  But John throws cold water on this party as he tells about Jesus who will separate the wheat from the chaff (or the righteous from the lowly) and bring those who need mercy into the fold while banishing the rest of them (or us!) from the Kingdom of God.

So here are a few observations about this story and what we can learn from it in today’s world:

  • God doesn’t seem to select the high and mighty to tell of his kingdom.  He chooses the lowly, the ones who look and sound different from the usual leaders.  So listen to everyone with a discerning ear and a loving heart.
  • Get ready y’all!  Advent gives us the time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the future coming of Christ into the world.  Don’t squander the time we need to get ready for all God has prepared for us.
  • Don’t be the chaff.  Don’t be a wasted part of the world.  Add value to all you meet, love with reckless abandon, even when it is uncomfortable and don’t be afraid to listen to God’s message in your life.
  • If you aren’t living the life you know that God is intending for you, take a step toward that today.  One step forward brings you closer to God.  Don’t assume that just showing up at church will ever be enough to meet God in his desired relationship with you.  He wants to be known to us and makes himself available whenever we take the time to notice.

So, prepare the way of the Lord.  Make it easy to find you on the threshing room floor when the time comes, or the ice thaws once and for all.

Giver of life, you have given us all we need to love you and follow you. Thank you for your goodness and mercy.  Draw us nearer to you so that we may do the work you have called us to do in your kingdom.  Give us strength and courage to love and serve you, preparing ourselves for your coming into the world.  AMEN.

More than I Need

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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.

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.

What, Me Worry?

The Mission of the Seventy

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy[a] others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’[b]

As long as I have known my Mother-in-Law, she has been a worrier.  We have a joke in our house that we can just tell her our worries and she’ll free us up to live without the worry anymore, because she is doing all the worrying FOR us! But in reality, worrying just gets in the way of our close relationship with Christ, because worrying is the very thing Jesus tells these early evangelists NOT to do as he sends them to unknown destinations to spread the word of God to unbelievers in a time where it was inherently dangerous to do so.  Sending them out “like lambs in the midst of wolves” speaks of Jesus knowing full well the dangers that each of us face as we carry our torch of faith into the broken and misguided world in which we live.  Yet he asks us to press on, just as he directed these seventy chosen faithful when he told them to stay put, no matter the welcome.

But let’s be real.  If I am in an uncomfortable setting, the last thing I want to do is to stay there!  And who likes to be rejected when we try to form new relationships and step out of our comfort zones?  But if we stand firm in our beliefs and listen to God as He calls us into the world to do the work of the Holy Spirit, even when we we are sincerely uncomfortable, He reminds us that we are sharing the Kingdom and our works may not produce the fruit we want, but rather what HE wants.  And when you think about it, growth is uncomfortable!

Stay strong, dear followers of Jesus.  For as we go out into the world,  Jesus reminds us that in doing so, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  How can we want more for our world if we worry about going out into that world?  We are armed with faith and love and that really is all we need to make a difference.

Father, send us out into your Kingdom to do your good works.  We give our worries up to you.  Guide us and protect us in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Anyone Can Relate to the story of the Prodigal Son, Right? Let’s Talk Reconciliation

I mean really, the story of the prodigal son returning home to his father as his somewhat bitter and older brother looks on in disbelief from Luke is a story that can resonate with just about all of us.  But what about the reading from 2 Corinthians?

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;[a] even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,[b] we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,[c] not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Remember that saying from the 90s, “WWJD?”  What Would Jesus Do?  This started in Michigan in the Youth Ministry arena, as a way to help make clear for teenagers that our actions are reflections of our relationship with our Lord.  The saying WWJD went viral back when a virus wasn’t contracted through the internet – pretty amazing when you think about it!  This form of reminder, just like the verse 20 above, “So we are ambassadors for Christ…” is a look at the intimacy of our intended relationship with Christ.  My parents used to tell me, and I in turn have said the same words to my teenager, “You are who your friends are.”  The intent of these words was to serve as a reminder when surrounding yourself with buddies who may or may not make the kind of choices that positively influence you as you are maturing.  But that is really what Paul is telling the folks of Corinth.  God is making his appeal through us, he says, and that means we lay folks are the way to Christ for the people we meet.  In a talk I heard recently, an informal show of hands was asked for, as to how each of us came into our relationship with Christ – either through the lay of the church or through the clergy of the church.  Not one hand went up in answer to the clergy portion, with the group having a very LOUD “aha” moment that our role as the body of Christ is indeed as God intended it, “…so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Paul tells the Corinthians that we are all given a new chance at reconciliation through Christ – a big “do-over” for our lives because Jesus gave his life for our sins.

How many times have you thought that you didn’t deserve the grace that you received because of the terrible sins and mistakes that have plagued your life?  That is the greatest mystery in reconciliation; that we don’t get what we deserve by our actions (Thank you God for MERCY!!) and we do get God’s grace even when we don’t deserve it?  It is a mystery to me because it runs contrary to our human nature.  We look at those who experience some radical success after they have shown themselves to be undeserving in some way and likewise, we are stunned when bad things happen to good people we know.  We are confused and devastated in both cases, because we are viewing all this through our human lens.  When we step back and really examine God’s decision to send Jesus to live among us and die specifically for us, then grace and mercy seem more than enough for us to use to live out the righteousness God intended.  Reconciliation is new life in Christ and through our relationship with him, with those in our lives.  It’s an action word, not a passive feeling.

What relationship in your life needs reconciliation?  What will your action be?

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.

What a shock it must have been

Luke 4:14-21

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

So let me get this straight. Jesus walks into his hometown synagogue, a place where he grew up as a center of his childhood, picks up a scroll that has unbelievable meaning to the folks that were there and starts reading. But he doesn’t just read words that everyone has heard a thousand times before. He reads words that state that He is the one sent to save them, just as promised by the prophet Isaiah. And I love how it says that the eyes of all in the synagogue where fixed on him. They were hanging on his every word, but were probably doing what I would have been doing, asking myself, “Did that just happen? Is that who I think it is?” And to think we have known him his whole life? And who does this Jesus think he is; telling us that he is fulfilling scripture? I think the word to describe the people behind those “fixed eyes” is INCREDULOUS.

As I get older, I like to think that I’ve seen a lot. Not much surprises me anymore, and I am only in my mid-forties. I’m guessing there were much wiser folks than me sitting in that holy place, hearing the most sacred of texts being read aloud by a hot-shot teacher who was gaining in popularity across the region by shaking some trees and setting the record straight with the most religious among us. But every now and then, something shakes us to our core and we feel a strange little voice inside us telling us, “Pay Attention. This is something big.” How many times have we read from our Bible and missed the “something big?” I hope I have my wits about me enough that when the time comes for me to get the message I need to get, that I can put aside my synicism and hear the message in it’s purest form – directly from the mouth of our Lord.

Dear Father, I thank you for your glorious gift of your Word to me, showing me the way to a life filled with serving you. I ask that you take away my judgment and give me the opportunity to hear your Word and to believe it. I love you and long to be filled with your presence. Amen.