Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St. Andrew's Day

From today's reading: . . . John watched Jesus walk by and exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" Two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. . . They said to him, "Rabbi, where are you staying?" Jesus said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him. . . One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew. . . He first found his brother Simon Peter and said to him, "We have found the Messiah." John 1:35-41

I love Saint Andrew. Maybe it's because my Dad's name was Andrew and we named our son, Andrew. But I think it's more likely that the example of Andrew in the Gospel of John is of someone who believed in Jesus and from the very first day he knew Jesus, he brought people to Jesus. In today's lesson he brings his brother Simon. Later he brought some Greeks who were wanting to meet Jesus, and finally he brought a young boy who had 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. Could we ask for a better witness and example of what it means to be Christian?

St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and our heritage in the Episcopal Church comes through Scotland as well as England. After the revolutionary war, when the Anglican church in America changed its name to Episcopal, the leaders of the new church knew that they needed bishops. Three priests were elected and sent to England to be made bishops. The Church of England refused to do this, so the three made their way to Scotland where they were ordained as bishops. It is for this reason that the Episcopal flag/shield is made up of the St. George's flag (flag of England) with an adaptation of the St. Andrew's flag (flag of Scotland) in the upper left hand corner.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We were eyewitnesses. . .

From today's reading: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." 2 Peter 1: 16-17

I love this reading. Remember that on the Mount of Transfiguration - Jesus told Peter and James and John not to tell anyone until after his death? Here Peter is, telling of the event. Now that Jesus is dead and resurrected, Peter is getting the word out. This is something he saw himself, not a story he heard. He was an eyewitness.

We, too, are eyewitnesses to the things that Jesus does in our lives and we are to share those events also. The problem is that the words, "God told me..." or "Jesus told me..." are suspect. People may think that you are crazy if you use those words, so we focus on what he does. I was in church one day - lamenting about my lack of knowledge of my heritage, and suddenly God filled my heart to overflowing as he assured me, "I am your father and this is your family. If you want to know your heritage, read the Bible. This is the legacy I give to you." It was at that point that I knew I would follow the path that led to seminary and full ministry in the church. We are the family of God and he will fulfill our most intimate needs.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent: Our king comes riding on a donkey...

From today's reading: 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey." Matthew 21:4-5

Today's reading is from the Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. I find it significant that we picture Mary, great with child, riding to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey and here, near the end of his life, Jesus is once again riding on a donkey going to Jerusalem where he will face his death. It is the life he led betweeen these to events that leads us into the knowledge and love of God. I picture a Jesus full of joy and love and hope for the world.

Advent is a season of expectation and hope and preparation. While the whole world has gotten ahead of itself and jumped into Christmas, we traditional Christians are experiencing the kind of anticipation that comes with waiting for the birth of a child. That is a great metaphor for Advent.

Take time out during this four weeks to enjoy Advent and to help you focus on the hope, love, joy and peace that should be inherent in Advent, I would direct you to a website called "Busted Halo" for their Advent Calendar.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

C. S. Lewis remembered

From today's reading: Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." Matthew 19:14

Today was my mother's birthday. She would have been 98 years old this year. She died in 1993 - 30 years after my father died.

On this date, my sophomore year in college, Mom and I had tickets to see Peter, Paul, and Mary in Houston. The concert was cancelled following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas. C. S. Lewis also died that day. He is remembered today for his many contributions to the Christian world. He may be best remembered for his children's series, The Narnia Chronicles - my favorite book of that series being The Last Battle. He also wrote a number of book, both fiction and non-fiction. Some of my favorites are Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Great Divorce.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Litany for Thanksgiving

The following is a Litany of Thanksgiving that I used last night at the Community Thanksgiving Service in La Porte, Texas. In it I have combined, adapted and expanded the prayers for thanksgiving and national life from the book of common prayer (pg 836-839). Please feel free to adapt and use for your own needs during this week of Thanksgiving.

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us saying,
For your goodness and mercy, "Lord, We give you thanks."

Creator God, giver of all good things: you have given us the natural majesty and beauty of the earth with its resources that not only sustain life, but also delight and inspire us.
For your goodness and mercy, "Lord, We give you thanks."

Almighty God, ruler of heaven and earth, you have given us a land where we are free to worship as we want without fear of repercussion and where we reside in the shadow of your love;
For your goodness and mercy, "Lord, We give you thanks."

Redeemer God, for the men and women who have made this country strong by placing their lives on the line for our sake through service in the armed forces: We give you thanks today for each of these; especially we remember Private First Class Cody Norris, the life he gave, and the family he left behind.
For your goodness and mercy, "Lord, We give you thanks."

Merciful God, who watches over his creation and those made in his image; you have given a heart of protection to the men and women who serve our community as police officers, fire fighters and emergency medical technicians. We remember all those who care for us in our hour of need.
For your goodness and mercy, "Lord, We give you thanks."

Loving God, You have surrounded us with family and friends to journey with us throughout this life. Lord, give us a heart to remember and hands to serve those who have no one to reach out to them.
For your goodness and mercy, "Lord, We give you thanks."

Bountiful God, You have given us homes and an abundance of food and drink. Keep us every mindful of those who have no place to sleep and those who have nothing to eat.
For your goodness and mercy, "Lord, We give you thanks."

Gracious God, You have given us minds to think, hearts to love and hands to serve; you have given us health and strength to work and leisure time to rest and play;
For your goodness and mercy, "Lord, We give you thanks."

Faithful Lord, we thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich variety; especially for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For your goodness and mercy, "Lord, We give you thanks."

Help us, O Lord, to continue the good work begun here on earth and in this country. Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice, and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will glorify your holy Name. Amen.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Like a tax collector

From today's reading: "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. . . But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed. . . If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. " Matthew 18:15-17

This is a slippery scripture - totally misunderstood by some people. My feeling is first that this provides a good model for dealing with people who have hurt you; NOT for judging people for the way they live their life. (That is the job of the Holy Spirit - not us.) When someone has done something to hurt you, go talk to them about it. Chances are really good that you can work things out.

The second thing is that this has been used to badger people you don't agree with or who are believed to be 'sinful,' and to "unfriend" them in life - an even kick them out of the church. For those who use this in that way, my question is, "How did Jesus treat tax collectors?" He did not snub them or avoid them or ignore them. He befriended them. He visited them in their homes. He ate with them.

That doesn't mean that you have to go along with a friend who is doing something illegal or self-destructive. I don't think that Paul's proclamation to become all things to all people means we have to put ourselves in jeopardy. We have to strike a balance in life between being available to those may need us and allowing ourselves to become sucked into the midst of their problems. May God keep us all open to those in need of his love. Amen.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Child-like faith

From today's reading: Jesus called a child, whom he put among them, and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:2-4

I like the way this is stated and translated because it makes it clear that we don't have to be children, but to be like children. My friend, Diane Andrew, stated it very well when she wrote, "I want to see the world through five year old eyes. . . To walk with my Lord, wherever he may be. . . To put my trust in him." It is that childlike trust that the Lord desires from us; that childlike faith that is never self-centered, nor demanding nor manipulative. The Lord wants to see our desire for him, delighting to be in his presence with no hidden agendas, no impatience, no speculation, just the joy and peace that comes in the presence of Jesus..

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Paying the temple tax

From today's reading: . . .the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?" He said, "Yes, he does." And when he came home, Jesus asked, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?" When Peter said, "From others," Jesus said to him, "Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me." Matthew 17:24-27

Today I did some research on the temple tax and verified that it was a head tax on males (age 20-50), collected in Moses' time after a census, but during the time of Jesus it was collected yearly. In our lesson, only Jesus and Peter were shown to pay the tax, resulting in an assumption that the other disciples may have been less than 20 years old. (Something I had not previously considered. I'm not sure it would make a difference one way or another - except it might explain why they sometimes seemed so slow to understand.) The tax was collected ultimately for God, so Jesus is saying that as sons of God, he and Peter are not subject to the tax. But he tells Peter to pay the tax from what is received for catching the fish so they might not give offense. Jesus is saying that even though he does not owe the tax, he will pay it as an example to others. I believe that the witness we are to others is so very important. What is it that we are proclaiming to others? Our actions speak much louder than words and as we walk through this world, people are watching us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

God with us.

From today's reading: "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes." Rev. 21:3-4

What a wonderful promise we have from our Lord. His home is with us. He dwells in our midst and we don't have to go off somewhere looking for him. This is one of the lessons that is often read at funerals. It is comforting to know that He will be with us through everything - ready to wipe away our tears and holding on to us regardless of our circumstances. For me it is a very calming reminder when things get crazy in my life - to know that I can just reach out and God is there - never intrusive, but always available.

Monday, November 14, 2011

On the Mountain Top

From today's reading: "And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white." Matthew 17:2 Many of us have been up to the mountaintop. The problem is that when you have experienced that kind of high, it is tempting to try to go back - to regain that feeling that fills the mind and body and soul with awesome wonder. This experience that Peter and James and John had on the mountain was never repeated, but it remained burned into the very fabric of their being for the rest of their life. They came back down the mountain and they ministered in the highways and byways of the valley below. If they hadn't done that, we might never have heard of Jesus or God and the awesome love he has for us. I like the way Amy Grant said it in her song Mountaintop -

And I'd love to live on a mountain top
Fellowshipping with the Lord
I'd love to stand on a mountain top
'Cause I love to feel my spirit soar
But I've got to come down from that mountain top
To the people in the valley below
Or they'll never know that they can go
To the mountain of the Lord.

Friday, November 11, 2011

On this foundation

From today's reading: Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus said, "Blessed are you. . . you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Matthew 16:16-18

Jesus and his disciples are in the region of Caesarea Philippi, a city full of pagan shrines. The city had a river fed by an underground spring coming from the area of the shrines that was believed to be the opening to Hades, the underworld, and the river Styx. That prompts his comment about the gates of Hades in a proclamation that his community will never die out. The other significant thing here is the use of "rock." Peter as we know means "rock", but the term used for "on this rock" means a shelf or ledge of rocks. Jesus seems to be indicating that the church will be built not only on Peter's faith, but also on those who, like Peter, have a faith that is God revealed. As God reveals more and more of his love and purpose to us, we each become part of that foundation for his church in the world today. (Notes are from "The Life With God Bible" formerly published as "The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible".)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A sign for our times.

From today's reading: "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." and "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!" Then they understood that he (was not talking about) bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Matthew 16:3b, 11b-12 The powers-that-be are still trying to trip up Jesus and now they have asked for a sign from him. I think back to when John sent word from prison asking if Jesus is the expected one, and Jesus' reply is 'look around, the blind see, the lame walk, the mute speak, what more do you need?' Everywhere Jesus goes. he leaves signs of his presence there. Even today, God leaves signs of his presence everywhere. It is simply opening our eyes to see his work in the world around us.

I am often asked, when faced with a decision, how can you tell what God wants you to do. My answer is always the same - ask God for a sign - but not just any sign - ask for a specific sign - one that you will recognize when it comes. As Sam and I were driving to Huntsville to interview for the assistant rector/campus ministry position, I had another firm offer that was attractive, so I asked for a sign. I said, "God, if I walk in the nave and I cannot see outside, it will be a sign that I do not belong there." When I walked in the nave of St. Stephen's, there were six large clear-glass windows - three on each side of the congregation - and a seventh large clear-glass window behind the cross above the altar. Because I asked for a specific sign, I recognized it when it came. I spent 6 wonderful years in Huntsville as assistant rector and campus minister. It was the perfect place that God had prepared for me, and because I asked for a specific sign, the answer were there waiting for me. God has an answer for you also.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Filling the need

The disciples said, "Where are we to get enough bread. . .?" Jesus asked, "How many. . .?" They said, "Seven, and a few small fish." Then ordering the crowd to sit down. . .he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them. . .and all of them ate and were filled; Matthew 15:33-37

This was the most popular story in the gospels - it is told 6 times in the four gospels. And I think it says much more to us than just feeding a multitude of people. Thanksgiving is coming up and a lot of churches will feed a multitude of people around our country, and that's a good thing. But I think it also speaks to us about the graciousness of God to take the meager things we offer up to him, and to multiply it to satisfy the need. I remember that my son was working for a local contractor one summer. He and his friend had been left to paint a front porch with one bucket of paint. They had used it quite liberally and realized that they still had half a porch to paint and only a quarter of a bucket of paint. Andy remembered this story and these two 20 year old boys, in faith, stuck out their hands over the bucket and prayed for God to multiply it to be enough - and it was. God can and will do that in any area of our life when we offer it up to him in faith. Whether it's paint, or chicken salad, or our own skills and abilities, when we offer it up to God, it will always fill the need and be more than we could have imagined.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Faith is trusting God

From today's reading: "In spite of all this, they went on sinning and had no faith in his wonderful works." Psalm 78:32 The first 31 verses of this psalm talk about all the good things that God did bringing the people up out of Egypt; setting them free from slavery, saving them from the Egyptian army, providing water and bread and meat when they hungered and thirsted. And regardless of what the Lord did for them, it was never enough. They always wanted more. That pairs with the reading from Nehemiah 9:26, "Nevertheless they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their backs. . ." The Israelites strayed from their faith in God and couldn't figure out why things went wrong for them. What happens in life and how you approach what happens in life has everything to do with faith; and faith begins with the first 4 commandments (the ones that are abhorrent to so many people in this day and age.) 1) love God with all your heart; 2) don't worship anything else in place of Him; 3) trust God rather than blame him; and 4) spend time with Him. If our relationship with God is straight and true, then everything else in our life will flow naturally out of that relationship. But when we allow outside influences (or even our own attitudes) to impinge and alter our relationship with God, then it will ultimately alter our relationship with the world around us.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Spiritual Hygiene

From today's reading: "Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles." Matthew 15:17-18 The scribes and Pharisees had complained to Jesus about his disciples eating the wheat in the field without washing their hands. The cleanliness laws of Israel were designed to keep people healthy. They included things like washing your hands before you eat and washing your dishes and pots and pans after using them. We think of these things as health factors but they had been passed down as law to the Israelites. What Jesus is saying here is that the authorities were placing too much importance on something that was designed to keep the population healthy, and they were totally ignoring the relational aspects of the law. It went so far that they were even using the law to their own personal benefit, such as refusing to support their parents (Commandment to honor your mother and father) essentially claiming what would have been used as their tithe to the church. That was only symptomatic of the kinds of things that the scribes and Pharisees were doing. They placed undue burdens on the people while verbally sidestepping their own responsibilities. What is it that comes out of your mouth? Does it defile or honor God?

Friday, November 4, 2011

My ways are not your ways.

A little different approach today. . . I slept in and so the TV was on when I got up. I goofed off for a while before coming in to start my study. I saw a snippet of one talk show in which the hostess couldn't seem to wrap her mind around the guest's stipulation that a particular friend as exactly that - a friend, not a backstabber. But the hostess just wasn't buying it and I got to thinking about all the people you hear (especially on TV or radio) who simply yell over whoever they are talking to, who can't possibly imagine that someone might be motivated differently, who project their own fears and anxiety and pettiness on to the person with whom they are talking.

Then I came in to start my study and the two things that spoke to me were: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord." Isaiah 55:8 (from Canticle 10) And "Just and true are your ways. . . For you alone are holy." Rev. 15:3-4

I wondered how often we might be guilty of projecting our own desires and prejudices on to God. Our ways are not His ways. . . For God alone is holy! I think in essence, we don't really have any idea what that means. My mantra today will be, "My ways are not your ways, O Lord, for you alone are holy."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Praise God through the Psalms

From today's reading: "I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother's womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you." Psalm 71:6 I was struck by the personal impact this verse has on me as an adopted person. It is important for me to know and feel that God has been with me from conception. I know that other verses have impact on other people. I want to share with you from my devotional book:

The book of Psalms begins: "Happy are those who. . . love the Lord's teachings" (1:1-2) and ends with "Praise the Lord!" (150:6). In between is every situation you might experience on the journey of life - trials, losses, betrayals, joys, hopes, promises, and desires. The Psalms represent the whole spectrum of human experience and the faithfulness of God to walk with you through each one. . . When you begin with faith in God - reading the Bible and trusting his love - you end with praise for him. . . So express your love for him from the depths of your soul! Because he will never let you down. . . From Moments of Peace in the Presence of God (Bethany House)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Souls Day

From today's reading: "He will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces..." Isaiah 25:8a This is one of the readings for the burial office that offers hope and promise for all people. For Christians it is comforting to know that this life is not all there is; that there is more to come after our bodies die. More and more I see life as a preparation, a time of growth until we are ready to meet the Lord and move on past these earthly bonds. I don't think anyone knows what the next life will look like; all the people who have written about it and painted pictures of what their hearts have imagined, have projected out of their earthly existance. The only thing I feel sure about is that the presence of Almighty God will gather us up and draw us in to be part of that eternal life not bound by this earth, and the souls of all the faithful believers who have gone before will rejoice at our coming.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Saints Day

From today's collect: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you. (Book of Common Prayer) This is the collect for All Saints Day. Although this day is about celebrating the lives of the Saints specifically, many of us use it as a day to remember those who have died, who were close to us and who impacted our lives in special ways. I had to look up the word "ineffable." It means "too great to be described in words." It can also mean "too sacred to be uttered" such as the Hebrew name for God. It implies that if we love the Lord and try to live our lives for him, when we die, we will also come into his presence and find the kinds of joy that are so great that no words can describe or express them.

Wheat and Tares

From today's reading: his disciples approached him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field. . . The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers." Matthew 13:36, 41 Each one of us is like that field where the weeds grow among the wheat. We, as human beings, are a collection of both good and bad. I, for one, would hate to think that the sin that crops up from time to time is going to bring me down. But thank goodness, 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that "The Lord. . . is patient with you, not wanting any to perish. . ." So he allows the bad to grow up with the good in each of us so that one day when the harvest comes, the angels will purge that which is not of God (the evil, the sin, the bad decisions) from our lives and we will be made ready to stand before the Most Holy God.