Friday, March 30, 2012

To sit at your right

From today’s reading: James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." Mark 10:35-37

I commented in a recent sermon that the disciples really weren’t hearing what Jesus was saying. The passage above takes place as Jesus has just told them again that he is going to be arrested and tortured and crucified. And then James and John come up and ask to be at his right hand and his left hand. Something tells me that either they weren’t listening, or else they didn’t understand what he was saying. They were envisioning a military victory and an earthly throne. The other disciples are not uch further along in their understanding because they get mad at James and John for wanting to be the most important. These are human feelings and worldly actions being displayed by the disciples. So Jesus goes on to tell them:

". . . and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." Mark 10:44-45

What Jesus is saying is instead of wanting to sit at his right hand or his left hand, that he wants us to serve him by serving those in need. Because it is in serving them that we find ourselves at the right or left hand of Jesus who is also serving them.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Love of Money

From today's reading: A man ran up and knelt before Jesus, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?". . . . When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. . . . It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.". . . . Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." Mark 10:17, 22, 25, 27

We all know this reading - the young man with many possessions couldn't part with them and so turned back from the opportunity to follow Jesus. We don't quite understand the metaphor about the camel and the eye of the needle, but we know that means it must be really hard. Are all people who are rich automatically condemned because they have been successful in this life? Not really. One scripture is often misquoted - people will tell you that "money is the root of all evil." Not so - but the "love of money is the root of all evil." When we understand that money is simply a tool - tool to be used to further God's work on this earth - then that is a blessing - to us, to those around us and especially to those in need.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We are letters of Christ

From today's reading: You are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:3.

What a concept! We are letters of Christ - written by the Holy Spirit onto our very hearts. That makes us very special indeed. Our heart, when we are born, is imprinted with the image of God. Each time we experience the presence of God, through music, or scripture or the spoken word, or in reaching out to someone in need - each time our heart swells with knowledge of the presence of God, we add on to that letter, that image in our heart. God reaches out to us through sight, we see the created world around us; through hearing, we hear the beautiful sounds of God in creation; through through touch, feel a baby's face or a rose petal, or any of the wonderful things God has created; through smell, or taste, through feeling that are undefinable. Where is God reaching out to touch you today? How is He writing on your heart today? Each time we share what God has done for us, we in turn are helping God to write on the hearts of others. When we pass on what God has done for us we become active members of God's writing team.

Monday, March 26, 2012

You have found favor with God.

From today's reading: ‘What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet.’ Hebrews 2:6b-8a

Today we remember the annunciation - the day when the angel of the Lord came to Mary, and chose her to be the bearer of the Son of God. From the beginning, God has interacted with human beings. He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. He spoke to Noah in the desert - establishing a covenant with the human race. He came to Abraham and established a covenant with Him and his family. It was through Abraham's lineage that Jesus was finally born many generations later.

One tradition says that every Jewish girl was asked to be the mother of the Son of God but Mary was the first to say "yes;" the first to be willing to take the risk of opening herself to God in such a way. Mary was a very special woman, strong and brave - maybe young and foolish - but willing to move ahead, to follow God - to be open and available to Him..

From the beginning, God chose humans - to interact with, to love and to care for. We are simply the extension of that interaction. We have each found favor with God. We are each crowned with glory. It is in being open as Mary was open that we begin to realize our potential as humans, as Christians, as children of God. It is in being open to God that he is able to use us and to work through us to further His Kingdom on Earth.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I will be with you.

From today's reading: So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" 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." Exodus 3:10-12

There is so much in today's readings, and although I love the idea of the burning bush and the name of God, it is this little portion of the interchange between God and Moses always catches my eye. Moses says. "Who am I to go..." and God's answer is "I will be with you." God will be his companion as he reaches out and does God's work in the world. God is always our companion when we are doing his work. It doesn't matter if you are preaching a sermon, ministering to someone in need, making a meal for someone who is hungry, visiting someone in a hospital or prison, teaching Sunday School, or comforting a neighbor in grief. Regardless of where God calls us, he promises to be with us - in pain and sorrow as well as in joy and gladness. God's presence is abiding - eternal. All we have to do is to be willing to accept it and his presence will make everything we walk through easier. It doesn't mean that we won't have trouble, or pain, but it does mean that God will be with us throughout our experience. He is our support and guide, our comforter and strengthener, he is always the one who cares, even if everyone else walks away - God is there.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Understanding what we read/hear

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Mark 8:31-32

These verses are usually used to demonstrate Peter's penchant for opening mouth, inserting foot, but as I read this today, I had a different view. Here are the disciples walking along, listening to Jesus prattle on about this that and the other and maybe not paying that much attention. We know from other places in scripture that they quite often have to ask Jesus "What did you mean by that?" So here is something new that Jesus is saying to them and Peter seems to be the only one who understands what he is saying. I think if the other disciples were really listening, they would have protested also.

I had a parishioner tell me last night that she often didn't understand what the Bible was saying and had a hard time reading it. She's not the first person to tell me that. Sometimes the things of God don't necessarily make sense to us. That's why in the book of Acts the official from Ethiopia told Philip "How can I understand unless someone explains it?" We don't always understand, and so we just sort of brush over it and pretend. But Peter didn't. He understood what he heard and reacted like most humans would react, by protesting. It's in the understanding, and yes, even in the protesting, that we are able to receive clarification and move forward in our understanding.

Today may you understand and receive clarification in what you read and not be afraid to ask when you don't understand.

Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Joseph

From today's reading: Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. . . When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife. Matthew 1:19,24

When I was in seminary, I preached my senior sermon on this day; the subject, of course, was St. Joseph. I can't think of Joseph without thinking of my own father. I was 18 when he died of a heart attack out on the job. He was a drilling supervisor for the Texas Company - the parent company of Texaco. He floated in and out because he worked all over the southeastern part of Texas. When he couldn't come home for a month or more, Mom and I would go to wherever he was working to spend the weekend with him.

My dad was a very special man - much like Joseph he adopted a child that was not his, but raised me as his own. Dad was the strong silent type - a rather large man, but very gentle. He was also a righteous man demanding justice for those who worked for him. In high school, when he came home, I would go to church with him on Sunday morning. He'd pick me up at the Episcopal Church at the end of the service (10-11) and I'd go to the Methodist Church with him (11-12).

I imagine Joseph being very much like my dad - a man of purpose, of determination. I imagine Joseph protecting this child, Jesus, even with his very life, and teaching him what it meant to be a righteous man.

Thank you, Lord, for people like Joseph and like my dad, who exemplify you in all they do, in the love they share, and the protection they provide for those who are growing in love and knowledge of you. Amen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Shepherd for the people

From today's reading: As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:34

In today's lesson, the disciples have just returned from having been sent out two by two and they have told Jesus about their experiences. He tries to take them away to a quiet place, but the crowd sees them go and follows them around the sea. It says here, they were like sheep without a shepherd. They are seeking something - they probably don't even know what they are seeking. Ultimately we are all seeking God; that which completes us and draws us back to the source of life.

These people have seen in Jesus something that fires the imagination. They have seen his signs - the healings that fill them with hope and the words that inspire and quicken the senses. This Jesus is someone who has power and authority. He makes a difference in their existence - heals their illnesses, drives out their demons, fills their hungry stomachs, and gives them reason to hope for a better future, a better life. He doesn't just talk about God, but he talks about a holy God who is like a father, willing to forgive them. He demonstrates the love of that God by addressing their needs. Jesus is that shepherd who takes care of his sheep - who can be trusted - who will lead them to safe pastures.

Much of today's world is like those sheep - looking for a shepherd who will lead them to green pastures and take care of them. Jesus can be trusted to guide us without forcing us, but by calling our name and leading us on out of the mire and muck of our daily grind. Place your life in his hands and he will bring you to that heavenly place where we will dwell in God as part of the fabric of that never ending life.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Knowledge, wisdom and love

From today's reading: Your word is a lantern to my feet, and a light upon my path. Psalm 119:105 and Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 1 Corinthians 8:1b

I want to repeat something that I said on Sunday, All the laws of God, and indeed all of scripture, is to be seen and understood through the lens that Jesus provides for us when he says, "This is the first and greatest commandment; love the Lord your God with all your heart and all you soul and all your mind and all your strength. And the second is like it; love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets."

You can have all the knowledge there is and through the knowledge be technically right at every turn, but if that knowledge is not applied with love, then all the knowledge in the world is worth nothing. Knowledge in itself is good to have, but it is wisdom that allows us to apply that knowledge with love so that God's glory is always shown through our actions.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Two by two

From today's reading: He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Mark 6:7

There is a reason that Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. There's a reason why when God created Adam he said, "It is not good for man to be alone." We were created to be in community and that is where we find and realize our greatest potential.

Introverts like myself like to have our time alone, and we need that to be able to concentrate on God for a time. But for too many people, alone is not necessarily a good thing. We need to fellowship with others to keep us grounded, to encourage us and to help us over the rough spots.

God created us to be in community, with him and with those around us. The Bible tells us that two walking together is better than one walking alone, for if either stumbles and falls, the other can pick him up and carry him home. (from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) If we walk together in life we have someone to share our joys, to help with our burdens and comfort us in sorrows. Remember your church family when things get tough - they want an opportunity to help.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fear not, only believe.

From today's reading: But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." Mark 5: 36

Do not fear, fear not, be not afraid. . . The most often spoken words by angels and by Jesus. Another is "trust in the Lord." So why is it that we are so often afraid? Fear is often the result of being out of control - of knowing that we have no control over a situation. Our imaginations can run wild in those situations. Human beings have a way of imagining the worst case scenario in any event. And we worry, and it eats us up from the inside out - causing ulcers and other stomach disorders as well as a lot of other things.

Worry really doesn't help anything because its passive. Prayer on the other hand is active. It allows you to express your fears in a place that is safe. It allows you to envision an outcome that is desirable. It allows you to place your fears, your hopes, and your future into the hands of one who mightier than you are - one who does have control - one who cares for you more than you can imagine.

You've heard it said that when God closes a door, he will open a window. Our Old Testament readings have been tracing the journey of Joseph from the coat of many colors and being sold into slavery to becoming the second in command in Egypt. Sometimes, in cases like Joseph, it may take a while, but trust that God is preparing an answer for you. Like Joseph, we must make the most of each situation until he brings us to that place he has prepared us for. Come quickly, Lord, when I am afraid, to vindicate me and to rescue me from the depths of my fears. Amen.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Take my faults and foolishness and work through them. . .

From today's reading: O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you. Psalm 69:6

Sometimes I feel so inept. I often wish I were smarter, knew more, or had better people skills. I often feel lost in a crowd, and sometimes don't have a clue what to say to someone. And I am often afraid that what I do say might seem trite or even inappropriate. It would be really easy to save myself from the possibility of failure by not doing anything risky. My foolishness is in believing that I have something to say and I sometimes get "puffed up" with my successes. My faults are in not always trusting God to speak through me and having all the fears listed above. God knows my foolishness and he knows my faults and God chooses to work through me anyway.

God knows our faults - we don't have to tell him what they are - but - he does want us to be open enough to admit our faults and to lift them up to him so that he can heal us and work through those faults. During this period of Lent, he wants to strengthen all our weaknesses. He is so faithful to minister to us and through us and just to be with us through everything.

Lord, take my foolishness and work through it to show forth insight and wisdom, Take my faults and help me to overcome them so that I may be a blessing in your name, just as you always provide a blessing to me. Amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pray first, then act.

From today's reading: 'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are beneficial. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

Here is a scripture that is right out of the Anglican handbook - where we get our idea of moderation in all things. My addictive personality shows up most often when I find a character I really like in a novel or TV series - I just want to read every book or watch every TV episode - and I hate it when it ends. . .

Paul knew that anything, even good things, if we become obsessed with them, will effectively replace God in our life. When anything (other than God) begins to dominate our life, we need to take a step back and make sure that it has not replaced God as the primary driving force of our life. We all need balance in our life. When our life gets out of balance, we risk spiraling out of control, physically, spiritually and emotionally. One way to deal with this is in all things pray first, then act.

Today we remember Edward King, priest & bishop in England. I really resonated with what I read about him. He said, "It is not necessary to be always thinking directly of God. Indeed, it is not possible. Sometimes, of course, we ought to, and can do this, but at other times we must give our minds to what we are doing, even if it is playing and amusement. . . A brief prayer is also possible during work and play, but in the main you should be satisfied with commending your work or play to God, and then yourself into it heartily."

I came to this conclusion long ago as I was headed into a family dispute situation -- on the way I prayed hard for God's guidance, and then gave myself over to handling whatever happened, trusting God to be in it.

Dear Lord, I will get busy today, and I will forget to pray, but I ask you now to be with me and to work through me in all things today. Amen.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

God gives the growth

From today's reading: 'Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path. . . Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil. . . Other seed fell among thorns. . . Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.' Mark 4:3-8

I am not struck so much by the result of each type of soil, but that the seed was sown in all types of soil. We have to remember that the result of our ministry is not up to us - and if something we do does not take root, it is not "our fault." If we are faithful to sow the word, if we are faithful to do what God calls us to do - then we have been successful. We have to remember that God will bring about the growth in his own time. We may or may not ever see the result of our planting, but it doesn't mean that it was wasted. Often times, the word is planted at exactly the right time, but it may take years for it to be remembered and to germinate.

I remember seeing a TV show once about the desert, where it may rain once every 20 or 30 years, and the seeds of the desert plants lie dormant in the desert sand, ready to grow and bloom when the rain finally comes. The other image that comes to mind is being on the lava flats in Hawaii and seeing a single plant with flowers in the midst of a black sea of lava. It is indeed amazing what God can bring forth if we are faithful to answer his call to mission and ministry - in our back yards or around the world.


For those of you who read my blog on Monday, my friend, Leah, is off of the ventilator and doing quite well. Thank you for whatever prayers you may have offered up on her behalf.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

God uses our weaknesses

From today's reading: Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Genesis 42:6

And so, Joseph's dream came true and his brothers did bow down to him although they did not know it was him. And we have to remember that this could not have happened if Joseph had not been sold into slavery in Egypt.

We all have areas of weakness in our lives. Joseph's was that he was something of a braggart. God used it to bring about his will. What I have found out is that God does use our weaknesses to bring about the things he wants to happen. I remember a time when he used my low self-esteem to keep me from going off with several friends. He used that occasion to keep me available to minister to someone who had just lost their spouse.

We can't always be the person we think we should be, but even in our weakness, God can and will use us to bring about his purpose. And God loves us and accepts us just as we are, always helping us to grow into the fullness of his plan for our life.

Monday, March 5, 2012

I will trust in you.

From today's reading: Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust and will not be afraid. . . Psalm 56:3-4b

Sometimes this is harder to do than to say. . . My friend, Leah, lies in a hospital bed, on a ventilator to help her breathe. Whenever she begins to come out from under the sedation, she just panics and she trys to do anything to get rid of the tube down her throat. I'm not sure I would be any different.

We spend so much of our life being told that we need to be self-sufficient - and part of the human condition is to feel like we need to be in control of our life, of our destiny, of all that is happening around us. When we are not in control, it's hard not to be afraid.

Rachael is a special needs child, a little over a year old. I have come to the conclusion that her primary purpose in life is to be loved, by God and by those around her. She gives us a perfect example of what it means to trust; to trust in God and to trust in those around her. She lives each moment for the moment without any concern about what comes next. When it comes to trusting, we can take an example from Rachael, living in the moment, trusting God to take care of what comes next.

Heavenly, Father, most loving God, be with Leah this morning as they wean her off the ventilator. Lord, breathe the breath of life into her and fill her, that she may be strengthened and restore to fullness of health. Amen.

Friday, March 2, 2012

We sit at table

From today's reading: And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples for there were many who followed him. Mark 2:15

One complaint I heard just the other day was a common complaint about church - "I don't go because its nothing but hypocrites there." In our lesson today, the scribes are complaining because Jesus is sitting at table with tax collectors and sinners. According to the Christian teaching, we are all sinners, so it would be a little hard not to find hypocrites among the sinners in church. The grace is that God sits with us anyway and invites us to come in and stay. First Corinthians 3:16 tells us, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" Isn't it amazing that God can use sinful people - you and me - as his temple here on earth? Created in the image of God and yet sinners in the flesh - and God invites us to come in and sit at table with him. God wants to fellowship with us regardless of who are and what we have done. And when you look at the person next to you, remember that they are just like you - sinners in the flesh, yet still loved by God.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Those who plant and water

From today's reading: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. . . For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building. . . For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:6,9,11

I thought of the phrase, "It takes a whole village to raise a child..." and we can co-opt it to say that it takes a whole church to raise a Christian. Hopefully we are not formed by one person only. Because we are so limited as human beings, it takes many people to show us the true nature of God. As I was growing up, there was Mom and Marjorie who taught us Sunday School; Fr. Kracke who ministered to me in a time of spiritual need; Fr. Fred who preached the first sermons that inspired me; Fr. Vincent who affirmed my call to ministry; and many others who have shaped and formed me over the years. Each one is special in their own way, but it has taken all of them to help me become who I am today. We are indeed the field and as we grow up, we become the workers, the servants who are growing the next field. The foundation is indeed Jesus Christ and each one of us keeps building on that foundation so that those who come after us can see more clearly the truth of who God is and what God is like. Remember those people who have planted and watered in your life and give God thanks for each one.