Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sharing our burden

From today's reading:  As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.  Matthew 27:32   

Sometimes, when we run out of steam, when we have a burden to bear that is too heavy, it is good to know that God will provide a Simon for us to help share our burden, who will help us carry the load.  Give us the courage to acknowledge those times when we can't do it outselves and be willing to allow others to help.

Other times we are called to help someone else to carry their load.  Give us a cheerful spirit, a giving spirit when we are called to share.  Give us a willingness to serve with humility, even when we are called to step outside our comfort zone.  For that is the way in which you stretch us, to shape and mold us into the person you want us to be.   During out lifetime we will be called to do both - to give and to receive.  Help us to do both with the grace and humility that we see in both Jesus and in Simon.

Monday, July 30, 2012

In the shadow of His wings

From today's reading:  Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful, for I have taken refuge in you;  in the shadow of your wings will I take refuge until this time of trouble has gone by.  Psalm 57:1

We all face times of trouble on occasion.  Sometimes they are horrendous or overwhelming, and other times they might be more like minor irritations.  One response to these times of trouble is to worry.  But worry doesn't really get us anywhere.  It wastes our time, erodes our health and does nothing change the situation.  

These are times when we need to remember that we have a merciful God who deeply cares for us.  We can find refuge in the shadow of his wings.  It is in his presence that we can let go of our struggles and allow him the opportunity to work in our life and in the particular situlation.  By resting the Lord, trusting him and praying within his grace, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to gain rest, and strength, and healing; healing of spirit, and mind and body.   

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sing a new song

From today's reading:  8 Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required,  and so I said, "Behold, I come."    3 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: 8 & 3

It might seem strange that I have written the two verses in the wrong order, but that is the way that they make sense to me.  God does not desire burnt and sin offerings - what he desires is our presence.  He wants us to be present to him and open so that he can work in our lives to heal those things that need to be healed.  He wants us to be present to love and to be loved.  He wants us to be present so that we can become witnesses to God's goodness and love and power in the world to change the world.

The second part of this is the result of the first.  When we are present to the Lord, our hearts soar and burn with a new song - a song of joy and praise to God that cannot be stilled. We hear that song on the morning and the evening breeze as the birds sing and crickets chirp as they raise their voices to the Lord thanking him for another day.  We, too, raise our voices to praise God for his goodness and his love. It is a song to share, to draw others to the Lord so they, too, may know his great love.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Rooster Crows

From today's reading:  After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you." Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know the man!" At that moment the cock crowed.  Matthew 26:73-74

What an awakening.  Jesus had predicted this andPeter denied that it could happen.  So the rooster crowing was a powerful reminder of just what Peteer had done.  There is a song that was written for the Cursillo movement, but is rarely sung and known only by a few.  It was written by Yohann Anderson and it contains some powerful words:

     The rooster crows reminding me, who I am and what I believe.
     Hello rooster you know me inside, faces I wear and love that I hide.

          Peter like me had to find out himself, 
          Grace from our Lord is free. . .

That is the rooster's job - to remind us, to bring us back to reality - so that we may be drawn back inio the circle of love that is God.  When we sin, when we deny our heritage - it is up to us, at the rooster's crow, to turn around, ask forgiveness, and begin the journey back home.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

St. James the Apostle

From today's reading:  As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.  Mark 1:19-20

Today is the day we remember St. James the Apostle.  According to Mark, James with his brother John were two of the original disciples.  Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee at the time of day when fishermen had come in from their night's work and took care of the little details that were necessary to maintain their equipment.  So Jesus sees these diligent workers and called out to them - "Come, follow me."  And Mark tells us that they left their nets and followed without hesitation. 

James was one of Jesus' inner circle along with Peter and John.  He witnessed the raising of Jarius' daughter, Jesus transfigured on the mountain and was with Jesus at Gethsemane. We don't know as much about James as we do his brother John, but his death was reported in book of Acts (12).  He was beheaded about 10 years later by Herod Agrippa I.  James is reported to have traveled to Spain as a missionary and after his death, tradition says his body was taken to Spain and buried at Compostela which has long been a pilgrimage destination.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Accountable to God alone

From today's reading:  Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. . .  Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? . . For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. . .  So then, each of us will be accountable to God.  Romans 14:1, 10-12

This lesson from Romans is mostly about acceptance of others - whether they are Christians who believe differently from us or non-Christians.  Paul goes on to expound on some of the differences of his day.  Down through the years those differences have changed with the cultures that were prominent at the time.   I'm not sure why we think it is our job to change others to meet our own criteria for life.  

One example is people who get married thinking they are going to change their spouse once the knot is tied.  Not gonna happen.  We can only change ourselves - not someone else.  The Holy Spirit is the 'change agent' that God has placed in the world.  Rather than trying to change others, we need to allow the Holy Spirit the time and room to work - in us as much as in others.

What Paul is saying here is that it's not our place to judge or condemn or change people who are different.  God will not hold us accountable for another's life or sin.  We each have to stand before God in the end, and God alone will judge.  Each of us will be judged on our sin only and not that of another.  At some point, each of us will stand before God and will be held accountable for the way we receive and treat our brothers and sisters here on earth.  We are accountable to God alone.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Salvation draws near

From today's reading:  Love does no wrong to a neighbor. . .  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers. . .  the night is far gone, the day is near.  Romans 13:10a, 11b, 12a

I'm not sure where I'm going with this - but these were the things that spoke to me this morning.  I am reminded of the lawyer who asked Jesus, "who is my neighbor?"  And I remember that he wasn't entirely satisfied with the answer Jesus gave him.  The lawyer wanted to restrict this neighborliness to only those people he liked.  Jesus' answer was much broader than was comfortable for the man; very inclusive as we would say today.  

It is in stretching out, past the bounds where we feel comfortable that salvation really does begin to draw near.  As we live more and more into that love that God wants us to share, we do draw nearer to the salvation that God has for us.  As we follow our Lord Jesus Christ more closely, the day does draw near.  And that reminds me of one of my favorite hymns -       

     God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year;      
     God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near;      
     Nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be      
     When the earth shall be filled with the glory of God           
          as the waters cover the sea.       (#534, The Hymnal 1982)

God is working his purpose out and that purpose is to cover the earth with his glory.  Each time we accept someone new, each time we extend out 'neighborhood' by accepting others as they are, God comes closer to accomplishing his purpose through our faithfulness and that eternal daylight does indeed draw near.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Rejoice in hope.

From today's reading:   Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Romans 12:12

Romans chapter 12 says a lot more than just this, but this is what stood out to me.  One of the things that so many people need in today's world is hope.  Those who are without jobs, who are ill, those who love people who are suffering - these are the ones who need hope above all things; who need to be patient and to persevere in prayer. We all know someone who is suffering and sometimes they need help in prayer.

I have a friend who acknowledges that sometimes its hard to pray in the way you need to pray.  So we have an agreement - when we can't pray for the things that we know we need to pray for, we call on each other to carry that prayer for us.  A prayer partner who can be called on when we can't do it, can steady us and remind us of the hope of God's love and promise for us.  That prayer partner can bring us back down to earth and steady us when we are spiraling out of control.  

Rejoice in hope for God is with us.   Be patient in suffering for God is in the midst of it.  Persevere in prayer for God is faithful to answer. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Transforming Minds

From today's reading:  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:2

This tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds - and we renew our minds by the study and reading and hearing of God's word.  Elsewhere Paul tells us that he becomes "all things to all people so that he might win some for Christ."  1 Cor. 9:22   

I think that we should not be afraid to be in the world, but we must maintain our connection with God through our transformed minds.  Because it is only through being in the world that we will find those people who are in desperate need of God.  And it is only through our knowledge of God that we are able to find the words necessary to make a difference in their world and bring them before God.  That is what is good and acceptable and perfect in God's eyes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sanctify yourself

From today's reading:  Then Joshua said to the people, "Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you."  Joshua 3:5

This admonition was given to the people of Israel at a specific time for a specific reason.  They were preparing to cross the Jordan river to enter into the Promised Land.  Once again the Lord was going to part the water so that they might walk over on dry land.  

Sanctify means to set apart or to make holy.  If you were to sanctify some object, you would be setting it apart for use by the Lord or in worship of the Lord.  Some of the things that might be sanctified would be the vessels used to hold the bread and wine of Holy Communion, or a building that will be dedicated as a worship space. 

We say a blessing over the water for baptism sanctifying it to be the bond used to bind us to the Lord as children of his grace.  We say a blessing over the bread and wine asking that it be the body and blood of Jesus, that we might partake of his spirit, his oneness with God.  And then the priest says, "Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy sacrament..."  a holy food for a holy people.  

During the week, we sometimes fall far from his grace, and so each week, we renew this covenant;  we re-sanctify ourselves - to keep reminding ourselves of who we are and who we belong to. God continually draws us to himself.  

It is the yearning within us that calls us to be part of something bigger than just our meager self.  It is that which gives us hope that death is not the end.  As we sanctify ourselves, we are joining with hundreds, thousands, millions of others who look to God for more - for salvation - for love - for hope - for a sure foundation - for a belonging that can be found in no other place.  Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Herod's Dilemma

Today's reading:  Mark 6:14-29 and Ephesians 1:3-14

A couple of years before I went to seminary, it was summer and our daughter, Cyndy, had graduated from high school – she was 18 and her brother Andy was 21. Andy and his friends were planning to go in to Houston to hear some group play at a bar and they wanted Cyndy and her friend Carrie to go with them. So they had asked me for permission. The guys thought that the girls could get in as long as they didn’t drink. I decided that this wasn’t a good idea since Cyndy’s friend was only 17 and I just didn't feel comfortable with it, so I told them, “No.”

 Everybody accepted that and there wasn’t any real argument. The boys all left and Cyndy and Carrie stayed there. Cyndy came up and hugged me and said, “Thanks, Mom. We didn’t really feel comfortable going, but I didn’t want to disappoint my brother.” That was Cyndy’s dilemma – to be supportive and cool in her brother’s eyes versus feeling comfortable about what they wanted to do.

Herod had a dilemma, too. Herod’s dilemma was that it was his birthday and the festivities were just beginning to peak. Everyone was either drunk or getting there pretty quick and so they probably weren't using their best judgment. The king was in a really good mood – a magnanimous mood and was very pleased by the dance of the young woman, Salome, Herodias' daughhter.    

Herod was of Jewish descent and ruled only at the pleasure of Rome. But for a Jew he was a very important man, a powerful man, and he wanted to look good in the eyes of those who were with him. Having been pleased by the dance, he made this astounding offer—anything you want – even half my kingdom. It was foolish of Herod by any stretch of the imagination, but it supported his self-image of who he was and who he wanted others to think he was.

The girl had no idea what to ask for, so she went out and consulted with her mother. She came back and asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Chances are really good that she didn’t really know what she was asking for – she just did what her mother asked without really understanding. Scripture doesn’t tell us how old she was, but I would imagine she would be about 13 to 15.  Her mother, Herodias, had wanted to get rid of John the Baptizer. He had been very vocal in condemning her and Herod for marrying. He represented a thorn in her side by drawing attention to her sin.

As I said before, Herod is of Jewish descent and he had a certain respect (and probably fear) for the Jewish religious tradition. John was a prophet and was speaking out as a prophet calling people to own up to their sinful ways.

Our scripture says that Herod liked to listen to John and he probably spent time down in the dungeon with John.  Herod knew John to be a righteous and holy man and he protected John. So, when the daughter asked for John’s head, Herod had a dilemma. Here he had made this sweeping promise to give Salome whatever she wanted, never dreaming that she would ask for something so – so bizarre.

And now he’s trapped. He didn’t want to give her this request – but he didn’t want to look bad in the eyes of the court officials and military officers there. He didn’t want to look like someone who does not hold up his promises. They all knew what John had been preaching, and Herod didn’t want to appear weak in their eyes. In the Middle East political arena, any sign of weakness is a death knell. That is as true today as it was in Jesus’ time. That’s a large part of the problem between Israel and Palestinian authorities today – they know that neither can afford to show any weakness.

What is interesting is that this need for power and face is actually a weakness. It drove him and forced him to do something he didn’t want to do, all for the sake of saving face. It’s a kind of peer pressure at an extreme level. For Herod, his word was more important than a human life.

In our lives we face dilemmas all the time. I remember once when my son quit a good paying job because of a dilemma between his own sense of right and wrong and what his company was doing. I quit a summer job up on Lake Travis for the same reason – I didn’t like the ethics of the owner of the business. There are times you just have to do that. You have to step back and decide if you are going to be a part of whatever it is you don’t agree with, for the sake of what? A paycheck? What others might think of you? To remain in power – be it small or large?

When faced with these dilemmas, we need to decide where we stand, how we respond to these times of trial. This is what separates us from the animals – that we can make moral or ethical choices when faced with certain (or even uncertain) situations. We use – or should use – our understanding of God, and all that God means, to make those decisions. We should never allow ourselves to become so ingrained in a situation that we have to act against our conscience in order to please or satisfy someone else.

If we look at our lesson from Ephesians we find what should be our guiding light. I took apart the lesson yesterday – taking out all the qualifying, quantifying and descriptive phrases and here was what I had left. Blessed be God . . . who blessed us . . . and chose us . . . before the foundation of the world . . .   He destined us for adoption . . . through Jesus Christ . . . In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins . . .  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance . . .so that we . . . might live for the praise of his glory.   In him you also . . .were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.

Paul is often hard to follow because he has a tendency to insert phrases that are commentary, but not essential to the true meaning of his discussion.  And in this particular piece, he keeps reiterating that it is not our decision but God’s will that draws us.

 Such as: ‘according to the good pleasure of his will…’
         and ‘according to the riches of his grace. . .’
         and ‘according to his good pleasure. . .’
         and ‘according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things. . .’

And this is our inheritance when we set our hope on Christ – when we’ve heard the word of truth and we believe in him – we belong to God. We don’t have to do things to please the people around us. We have God who has chosen us before the foundations of the world – who is faithful to us in all circumstances, and who will never desert us. This is the one we should please.

Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Who can separate us

From today's reading: 31 If God is for us, who is against us?  33 It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8

Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  That's what this passage says.  But it is wrong.  We and we alone can separate ourselves from God's love.  We can choose to step away, to ignore God's presence.  If you feel like God is not there - if you feel like he is far away - then it is you yourself who has stepped out of his presence.  God is there.  He is always there.  

As God, as creator of all, he is present in all and there is nowhere you can go where God is not.  And as part of God's creation, God loves us dearly; even when we make mistakes, even when we make bad decisions, even when we step outside his plan for us and for our life.  Yes, even then God loves us, and he cries out to us to repent and to return to his path, to his love.