Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thomas a Becket

From today's reading: And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it. 2 John 1:6

I have talked about the commandments on any number of occasions. Some people like to harp on particular commandments, but I prefer to understand them as a whole before looking at the individual commandments. Looked at as a whole, they are the sum of everything that we need in order to live a life in harmony with God, with nature and with our fellow man; in other words what we need to live a life of love. The first four teach us what we need to live in relation to God; and the last six teach us what we need to live in relation to each other. They are about treating each other with respect and when we respect other people, regardless of who they are, then we are indeed showing them the love of God.

The following is the beginning of an interesting article concerning today's saint by James Kiefer; "On December 29, we remember Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, slain in his own cathedral in 1170, for his defiance of King Henry II. The death of Thomas reminds us that a Christian, even when safe from pagans, can be in danger from his fellow-Christians. It also reminds us that one can be martyred in a cause where the merits of the particular issue at hand are not obvious to all men of good will."

To read the whole article please go to:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holy Innocents

From today's reading: At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Today is the day we remember the "holy innocents." In the gospel of Matthew we hear the story about Herod, who was fearful of losing his power to an infant king. He sent soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all male children under the age of 2 years old. On this occasion we remember all chilldren who died in their infancy, or who were stillborn or who never reached birth.

Lord, we know you receive into your heavenly presence all those who have died before their time. Please comfort their parents who sorrow at their loss and especially those who never had the opportunity hold their baby. Amen.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Stephen, the first Martyr

From today's reading: Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. . . The authorities set up false witnesses against Stephen. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Acts 6:8, 7:59

Stephen was one of the first seven ordained as deacons to help continue the work of the new church. He was called to assist the apostles in ministering to the poor and the hungry. He showed the kind of pure love that Jesus himself had for all people, and he died for that unswerving devotion to Jesus. If we could only have a part of the devotion of Stephen, imagine what we could do for the Lord and for the world.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Word made flesh

From today's reading: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:1, 14

Bruce Marchiano after playing the part of Jesus in a Bible production, wrote a book called Jesus, Yesterday, Today, Forever in which he asks the following questions:

"What kind of God would choose to be born in a stable - a small stable in one of the tiniest little towns in the ancient world? What kind of God would choose a peasant girl for His mother and a no-name blue-collar worker for His father? What kind of God would choose a feed trough as His first resting-place, and farm animals for His first companions?"

The answer is: This is a God who sets an example instead of demanding service. This is a God who comes among us as a little child, willing to touch and to hold the world in his hands. This is a God who understands human love and human suffering, the joys and sorrows of life.

He didn't pick a rich palace for his place of birth. No fancy trappings that turn the eye and tarnish the soul. But a humble stable where no ornament detracts from the baby whose soul purpose is to redeem a broken and hurting world.

He didn't pick an earthly queen to bear the holy babe. He picked a simple peasant girl - one who knew how to love - who would love and cherish the child to be born.

And he didn't pick a rich king to give the child all the material wealth his heart could desire. No, he picked a common laborer, a craftsman who was proud of his work; who would protect the boy with his very life, and teach him honor, and respect.

He is real. He laughed and he cried, he got angry and he forgave. This is the God who walks with us in love, not just today, but every day of our life. This is God incarnate - God made flesh. This is the God who dares to become one of us - the one we call Jesus.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A very merry Christmas to all.

From today's reading: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (NRSV)

A very merry Christmas to each and every one of our friends this season!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Prophet of the Most High

From today's reading: Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High. Luke 1:67-68, 76

We're still headed toward Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Zechariah speaks the prophecy, both about Jesus and about John. It is all part of God's plan to redeem his people from their own sin - to redeem us from our own sin. Blessed is the Lord God of Israel for he cares for us all - as a hen broods over her chicks, as a father looks on at the birth of his child, so God looks at us and cares for us.

John's role was as the chosen prophet of the Lord, whether he wanted to accept that title or not. Each of us has our own role to play in this life. It is a role chosen for us before we were born and it has meaning in the grand scheme of things. And part of that role is to make sure the message does not die. That message is that Jesus Christ is alive even today and is looking for a home in your heart.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Restore us, O Lord

From today's reading: Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. Psalm 80:3

The people that were called Jews had been looking for years for the restoration of Israel. "Show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved." God had a plan - it involved a woman of faith and a little baby, small and helpless. It involved a strong man of faith to watch over the baby until he could take care of himself. The Lord planned to restore Israel through this child born 2000 years ago. A baby whose birth was noted by a few shepherds and some astronomers from the east. Thirty years would pass before the world would begin to take notice of this single life, and when it did, he was eventually killed. But this little baby, whose birth we will celebrate in a few days, was the hope of Israel and the hope of the world. Blessed is he who was born, blessed is he who will save us - even from ourselves. Let us look with joyful anticipation to the birth of the Christ child.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thomas the Doubter

From today's reading: Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. . . If you know me, you will know my Father also.' John 14:5-7

Today is the day that we remember the disciple Thomas who was known for doubting the appearance of Jesus after his death. I have always felt like Thomas got a raw deal there - he was only asking for what the other disciples had already received - to see the risen Lord. In today's lesson he just wants to know the way so he can follow. In John 11, Jesus is headed for Jerusalem where he knows there are people seeking to kill him. Thomas tells the others, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." His loyalty is phenomenal - he is willing to go with Jesus even to death.

Tradition holds that Thomas went to an area in India to preach the gospel and built a church with his own hands. There is a Christian community in the Kerala district who claim to be descended from those converted by Thomas. (Thanks to James Kiefer for his research.)

Dear Lord, once we are sure of who we are following, give us the kind of loyalty expressed by Thomas that we too may be willing to follow Jesus even unto the end. Amen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mary said, "Yes."

The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. . . Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Luke 1:30-31, 38

I almost envy Mary's certainty in saying "yes" to God. There is one tradition that says every Jewish girl was asked to bear the son of God and that Mary was the only one to say "yes". The words of the following song were written by my friend, Vincent Uher III. I have reprinted his song here with permission. The tune is Tempus Adest Floridum (Good King Wenceslas).

Sing of Mary, blest is she, Mother of the Saviour.
"Yes!" said she to Gabriel's plea. "Yes!" to God forever.
"Yes!" for every woman born. "Yes!" for every nation.
"Yes!" for children yet unborn. "Yes!" for all creation.

Sing of Joseph, vexed was he, troubled and perplexed.
Till an angel in a dream, Peace to him directed.
"Take the virgin as your wife. Love her baby wholly.
Love the infant as your life. he's God's Son most holy."

Sing of Jesus, blest is he, In the Lord's Name coming.
Born in great humility, Every person loving.
Prince of Peace and Counsellor, Wonderful the telling!
Came to earth to save us all, And to share his blessing.

Mary, Joseph join us now. And all saints in glory.
As we tell his love for all. In the sacred story.
Angels, shepherds, and the kings, to Christ's side are running.
Let all people ready now for his second coming.

Glory be to God on high! Glory in the highest!
Peace on earth, goodwill to all, from the Lord Most Highest.
Blessings come for everyone, Graces to God's credit.
From the Father with the son, through the Holy Spirit.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Preparation in this Holy Season

From today's reading: But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. Luke 1:13-15

Advent means the arrival of an important person or thing. Our readings this week really reflect this season of Advent as they lead up to the birth of the Christ child. In today's reading, Zechariah has gone into the holy of holies to offer incense and is confronted by the archangel Gabriel who bears a message of good news - Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are to have a child and his name is to be John. John will be the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord.

Sometimes we, like Zechariah, doubt the ability of God to really answer all our deepest desires. But God has a plan and we are all part of that plan. When we live our lives in faith, regardless of the doubts, God will bless us in unexpected way.

To paraphrase a friend of mine (Fr. David Price), There is pressure in our culture to try to make Christmas perfect which as we know is all but impossible. Jesus was born into our world as a gift of light shining into the darkness. Regardless of our limitations, we must be prepared to welcome this holy child into our hearts. He is the perfect one who will bring peace, hope, love and joy into our lives, making perfect, that which we cannot.

During this busy week of preparation, take out a little time to focus on why we prepare, on why we wait. We wait on the one who will take away our sin, who will fill our life, and who will meet us right where we are and who will bring us to where he is. All praise to him who loves so deeply.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sing a Song of Praise

From today's reading: He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the LORD. Psalm 40:3

Being the music lover I am, I love any verse in the psalms that talk about new songs and singing to the Lord, because that is what I really like to do. So many songs speak to my heart and it really doesn't matter if it is an old favorite, or something new that reaches in and grabs me. All down through the years, poets have said it with style and class and each one reaches a new generation. Some favorites that make my heart soar are:

#9 from the hymnal - "Not here for high and holy things we render thanks to thee, but for the common things of earth, the purple pageantry, the dawning and the dying days, the splendor of the sea...". (I see that every Sunday morning as I drive to La Porte for worship) . . . and on to the last verse that says, "To give and give and give again, what God has given thee, to spend thyself nor count the cost, to serve right gloriously..."

From the renewal period, Diane Andrew wrote, "I want to be a child again, 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..."

And from the contemporary era, the 2008 Desert Song bridge from Hillsong, "All of my life, in every season, You are still God, I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship."

Anytime we lift up our voices and sing (or listen) with purpose, God blesses us with overpowering love and a closeness to him that creates a bond that can never be broken.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Sacrifice of Heart

From today's reading: Psalm 50
1 The LORD, the God of gods, has spoken;*
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:
11 I know every bird in the sky,*
and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving*
and make good your vows to the Most High.
15 Call upon me in the day of trouble;*
I will deliver you, and you shall honor me."
24 Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me;*
but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God."

In this psalm, God is saying that sacrifices and burnt offerings are not necessary. He says that everything in the earth belongs to him, and implies that he has no need of food sacrificed from the earth. We no longer offer actual burnt offerings, but some people are proud of their sacrifices - remember the Pharisee boasting in the temple while the tax collector prayed humbly. Some people wear sacrifices to God like clothing - "Oh, I fast and I tithe and I do this for God, and I do that..." I'm not saying that God doesn't care about these things - they are nice - but what God is looking for is how we live our lives in relation to other people.

Sacrifices can't really make up for mistreating others or even ignoring their existence. Any sacrifice we can make is worth less than keeping the word of God and walking in his ways. What God really wants is a sacrifice of heart. So today be sure to share the joy of Christ and of Christmas with someone who needs a little sunshine in their life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


From today's reading: The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes." And to him he said, "See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel." . . . If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts. Zechariah 3:4, 7

These lines concern the priest Joshua. His guilt is taken away and he is being set up for a position of authority, but there is a requirement to walk in the way of the Lord - to be holy and upright. The Lord will take away our guilt and give us authority, but with the authority comes responsibility.

Now, we may not think we have much authority - maybe only over your own household or your children, or a pet. If we do not handle whatever authority we are given in a responsible manner, then we will have to answer to God. And if we do handle that authority well, then God will bless us and give us more.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I stand at the door and knock. . .

From today's reading: Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20

This is part of the reading from Revelation concerning the church at Laodicea. You may remember that the Lord takes this church to task for being luke warm - that's what most people remember when they read Revelation - "I will spew you out of my mouth..." He takes them to task because they have grown rich and prospered and they have forgotten their need of God. I think this is a temptation for all of us when things are going well in our life. When we are in need and things are not going well, there are two choices - worry yourself to death, or cry out to God - keeping alive that praying without ceasing. But when things are going our way, we are much less likely to keep that running conversation with God.

But then you get to this wonderful passage - God tells them that even though they have abandoned him, he is still there: "I stand at the door and knock, if you hear me, open the door and I will come in..." God is still there for us, through thick and through thin, through good and bad; even when we have all but forgotten him, God is still there. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, our joy is that God is there for us in all circumstances of our lives.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Filling the need

From today's reading: "I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world." Revelation 3:8b, 10

All of the readings today are apocalyptic - that is - talking about the end times. Since we do not know the time or the hour of the end, then we must find new ways of interpreting these scriptures to have meaning for us today. Today's reading from the Revelation of John is from the message to the Christian church at Philadelphia (in Asia, not the US). This is a word of favor for this church, that because of the faithfulness of its members, it will not suffer in the same way as those who have not kept the word.

I believe that it is a reminder to us that if we, as a church, are faithful to keep God's word, and to reach out in love to those around us who are in need so that they may be blessed, then we will find that our own lives are enhanced, enriched and blessed, individually as well as collectively. It is our faithfulness in the small things that matters the most to God; simple things like folding the bulletins for Sunday worship, or sitting and talk to a visitor who stops by on Sunday morning. These are the things that God notices. We don't have to be big, or strong, or rich in order to be a witness to God's power working in our lives or to make a difference in someone else's life. God will take whatever we are able to offer in his name and multiply it to fill the need in his purpose.

Friday, December 9, 2011

In the shadow of His wings

From today's reading: 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Matthew 23:37

This was Jesus' cry to the people of Jerusalem shortly before his death. It acknowledges their fault, but affirms God's desire to love them regardless of that fault. Each of us has faults that we do not want to acknowledge. Too often it is a desire to believe that we are right and everyone else is wrong. The culture around us tells us it's okay to be a victim, even desirable because then we can use that as an excuse when things don't go our way. Jesus invites us to come in out of the coldness and aloneness that we sometimes build up around us.

Once we have been gathered under his wings, then we can reach out in love. How often do we see people around us who are in deep need - who are overcome by their problems, or who are being victimized. When we reach out to those in need, it is God's own heart that reaches out through us and invites them to come in under the shelter of his wings to be loved and protected.

That is the joy of being part of God's creation. We never have to be alone for God is always willing to reach out to us with a loving desire that we allow ourselves to be surrounded by his love and his peace.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Our Heart's Desire

From today's reading: Put your trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on its riches. Take delight in the Lord, and he shall give you your heart's desire. Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him, and he will bring it to pass. Psalm 37:3-5

This passage from Psalm 37 admonishes us to do four things: put our trust in the Lord, do good, take delight in him, and commit our way to him. And there is a promise given that if we do those things, he will give us our heart's desire. This idea of our heart's desire can be a little nebulous. And this time of the year especially we find ourselves asking for things...

I told my daughter the other day that I wanted a new 10 inch skillet for Christmas. Will that make me happy? No. It will improve my cookiing experience, but it's not my heart's desire. Some people think that if they just had a new house or car, the latest electronic device, a new job, a boy friend or girl friend, or power or fame or fortune, that they will then be happy. Those things have surface value only.

I believe that down in the deepest crevices of our heart, what we want most is to know that we matter, that our life matters, that we are important to someone. God tells us over and over that we matter - that he takes delight in us. As long as we look for meaning in things outside ourselves, there will always be a hole in our life. It is in finding the inner peace of God in our heart that we find wholeness in our life. Delight in the Lord and you will find that he delights in you.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Practice what you preach

From today's reading: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach." Matthew 23:2-3

You've heard it said that actions speak louder than words. That's what this is about - living into your teaching. You can claim that you love everyone with the love of Christ, but if you do things that are hurtful to others, then your actions belie your words. Jesus is saying that those who are teaching hold the position of authority and therefore deserve respect. But he is also affirming that IF they are living their lives contrary to their teaching, then we are not to emulate them.

This week in Advent is about love, and the way we demonstrate love is by living into the teaching of Jesus Christ - following his example by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas

From today's reading: '"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22: 37-39

Today is the day set aside for the remembrance of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in the area of Turkey. Nicholas is remembered for his love of God and others and for his generosity in giving to the poor. One story told involves a poor man with three daughters who was unable to provide dowries for this daughters. To save the daughters from a life of prostitution, Nicholas walked by the house three night in a row and threw a bag of gold coins through the window - one for each daughter's dowery. (In colder regions it was said he threw them in through the chimney.) For this reason, anonymous gifts are said to be from St. Nicholas and he has therefore come to be identified with gifts given to the poor during the Christmas season.

Nicholas was one who demonstrated love of God and neighbor through his generous gifts to those in need. This Christmas season, take time to remember those in need, and to express God's love in tangible ways following the example of St. Nicholas.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I am Alpha and Omega

From today's reading: 'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Rev. 1:8

Today the Episcopal church remembers Clement of Alexandria. He was a teacher and head of the Christian school in Alexandria at the end of the second century. He considered science and philosophy to be preparation for understanding the Gospel. He was a scholar willing to meet non-Christians on their own grounds to listen, to debate and to defend the faith. (Thanks to James Kiefer for his article on Clement.)

I think it is important to remember that faith - Christianity - is a philosophy, a particular philosophy based in the belief that there is a God who is outside time and space, who created all things that are and who cares for his creation. And there is a juxtaposition between science and religion that allows us to remember that although God created all things, he has given us a mind to seek out and desire to understand his creation.

Our God, the Alpha and Omega, existed before time began and he will remain after time ends. At this time of the year, we remember that he was willing to enter into his own creation and we rejoice at this example of great love.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Come, won't you come?

From today's reading: "Then he said to his slaves, "The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' " Matthew 22:8-9

(If you follow the Mission St. Clare daily office, you will have noticed that today's gospel reading was incorrect. It should have been Matthew 22:1-14.)

I lost a friend once by saying, "I cannot come..." The truth is we have choices to make in this world, and sometimes there are things that take precedence over others. I helped celebrate a wedding two weeks ago and the bride was okay that certain family members from out of state couldn't make it, but her daughters were upset that the favored uncle didn't show up. In this age and economy, time and distances and circumstances (work, previous commitments, etc.) sometimes keep us from doing things we might really want to do.

In today's reading, the implied invitation is from God to the Jews - most of whom ignored the message. Matthew's community was kicked out of the synagogue and persecuted by the elders who refused to accept the message of Jesus. When the Jews refused to answer the call, then the young Christians turned their message to the gentile community, inviting in anyone who would listen. And the message still goes out today to anyone who is willing to listen and to come in. Christmas and Easter remain our two biggest selling points. Everyone who hears the message has the option of choosing to come in or to remain outside. Consider inviting someone to come to church on Christmas Eve to discover the blessing in the birth of the Christ child.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Peace is waiting on the Lord

From today's reading: "Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation." 2 Peter 4:14-15

This is something that a lot of us are not good at. We find it hard to wait patiently, but that is what Advent is all about - waiting. In this world of ours that is so well connected, to sit and do nothing is perceived as counterproductive. Yet Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still and know that I am God." It is really easy to ignore God in the busy-ness of our life, but it is when we get still that we really begin to understand who God is and what part he plays in our life. There are times when God wants us to be still and sit quietly with him. God has something to say to each one of us and those are the times when he finds it easiest to get our attention.

Finding peace amid the trials and tribulations of this life can be a challenge. American lawyer, Horatio Spafford, after losing his four daughters in a ship accident, penned the famous song, "It is well with my soul" while traveling by ship over the same area where his daughters were drowned. Following this tragedy he was still able to say, "Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul." He and his wife had three more children and later traveled to Jerusalem to minister to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike without proselytizing. Here, more than a hundred years later, we remember this man who found great peace in the Lord and we ask the Lord Jesus to bring peace into our lives this Advent season.