Friday, October 28, 2016

Reflection from Habakkuk

The first part of our lesson from Habakkuk is something of a lament.  Habakkuk is lamenting the destruction he sees coming into the land at the hands of the Babylonians, and he is bold enough to ask God why he has not taken care of the problems.  This means that we also can be bold enough to go to God when problems arise, both in our nation and the world, and when problems arise in our individual lives.  We also can cry out to God, for answers and for relief.

Habakkuk stations himself on the rampart - the watchpost to keep watch for the Lord - waiting for an answer to his complaint.  The Lord tells him, it's okay.  The Lord has heard the complaint and assures Habakkuk that the answer will come.  He is told to wait patiently for the hand of the Lord to move.  The time will come when all will be made right and our God will be seen as Lord of all.  He gives hope for the future.

I feel somewhat like Habakkuk.  I cry out to the Lord for the future of our nation.  I know that regardless of who wins this election, we are in for a rough and contentious 4 years. May God's mercy pour out on us and as followers of Jesus Christ, I ask everyone to pray for our nation and for its leaders; not telling God how to solve the problems, but asking him to work through whatever circumstances arise

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A woman brought an alabaster jar of ointment - excerpt from today's sermon

A woman brought an alabaster jar of ointment and began to weep and wash his feet with her tears and anointed him with the oil.  The Pharisee who had invited Jesus thought if Jesus was a prophet, he should have known her sins and rebuked her. . .  From Luke 7

Pharisees get something of a raw deal in the gospels.  In truth, Simon is not really a bad person.  He has spent his whole life trying to live up to the laws handed down for generations - really trying to be the best Pharisee possible.  Remember that Pharisee wasn't a dirty word...  It's simply the name of a group of religious people.  Not much different from saying you are Episcopalian, or Baptist, or Catholic.  In that day the prominent groups were Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.

But this attempt to be good has left Simon spiritually proud - unable to even imagine his need for God's forgiveness.  What Simon doesn't realize, is that God, who is perfect, sees all sin the same.  It is only on this earth, where no one is perfect, that we use comparisons to justify our actions, to elevate ourselves or to exclude certain others.

What we need to remember is that God's economy is based on mercy, not merit.  To God, we are all his children, all the same; some of us just need more forgiveness than others.  And Jesus is there for us - just like he was there for both Simon and for the woman.

How do we respond to Jesus?  Do we accept his invitation to lay our burdens at his feet?  Do we accept his forgiveness for our sins, both great and small?  Or do we take offense that he is generous with others whom we consider to be greater sinners?

Having a heart for God doesn't mean we will always get it right or do it right or be right, but it does mean we really do want to get it right, and when we figure out that we are wrong, we will acknowledge it, repent and try to turn our life around.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Making All Things New

The centerpiece for the Easter season readings is always the reading from Acts.  During this 50-day period from Easter to Pentecost, we have the opportunity to look at exactly how the disciples (now apostles) were affected by the death, resurrection, and post-resurrection encounters with Jesus.  They went from being a quivering mass of humanity hiding in the upper room, afraid of the Jews, to become bold witnesses for the risen Lord.

So let's start with our Gospel reading, which comes first time wise.  All the other gospels cover the last night of Jesus in one chapter or less, but the Gospel of John uses 4 chapters to tell everything Jesus talked about during this last night on earth.  This reading is from the first chapter in that upper room narrative.

First Jesus washed their feet, then predicted his death.  Judas left the group and now Jesus tells his disciples, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

(Reminds me of a song - And they'll know we are Christians by our love by our love, yes they'll know we are Christians by our love.)

Jesus had just given them an example of loving one another through the foot-washing.  More than anything else, it's an example of finding new ways to reach out to one another, but it doesn't end there.  We are to go on looking for ways to be Christian to one another (and as we see in the Acts lesson, to those who are not [yet] a part of us.)

So in our lesson from Acts, we have the 're-telling' of Peter's visit with Cornelius (a Gentile).  We don't necessarily have a good time line of these events - this may have been a few months after the resurrection, but (more likely) a few years.  Peter is defending his actions to a group of the apostles and believers in Jerusalem.

Let's start with Cornelius -- he is not a Jew - he is not a "Christian" (follower of 'The Way'.) -  Chapter 10 tells us that Cornelius was a Roman soldier - He was raised like other Roman citizens with the tradition of multiple gods like Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, and Mars.  But he has heard of this God of the Jews and he has been led to believe.  He was described as devout - he prayed daily and he gave generously to those in need.  And Peter, through his vision, came to understand that he was to accept Cornelius and to call no person unclean or profane.  This was a new idea (to be considered) - a new thing (to deal with.)

And when Peter spoke to Cornelius and his family and close friends, the Holy Spirit descended on them just as it had on the disciples at Pentecost.  And Peter tells his fellow apostles and believers, "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us, who was I that I could hinder God?"

In other words, God is still doing a new thing - he is accepting people who have no previous experience with the Jewish religion.  That was a big thing at this point - the disciples believed that in order to follow and accept Jesus, you HAD to be a Jew.  And God was branching out and bringing others into this new sheepfold.  In Chapter 10, verse 16, Jesus told the disciples, "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also.  There will be one flock, one shepherd."

And I think this has a lot to say to Christians today.  Every time we want to limit who can be a member of this church, remember that Jesus gives us a new commandment and the Holy Spirit can lead even those from other faith traditions into knowledge and those who differ from us into belief.

How often do we hinder God by deciding for ourselves who God likes and who God dislikes?  In the Revelation to John, we hear a loud voice saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his people and God himself will be with them."  God is dwelling with mortals - humans - - - not Jews and not Christians - - -  All people.

How often in the gospels do we see neighbor and family being redefined?  From the Good Samaritan, to the story of Lazarus and the rich man, from entertaining angels unaware, and to the blessing of those who reach out to the poor, the hungry, the sick and those in prison.  God readily accepts the disenfranchised, the outcast, the untouchables.

One of my favorite movies in recent years is "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."  There is a lot of interplay between characters, concerning acceptance and rejection.  If you don't know the story, a group of retirees from England decide to travel to India to live because it is cheaper and their retirement funds will carry them further.  The young hotel owner, (Sonny Kapoor) played by Dev Patel, is something of a dreamer and an optimist.  He often quotes his favorite "saying," - - "Everything will be alright in the end.  If it's not alright, then it is not yet the end."

In our reading from Revelation, we hear, "And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new.'"  God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end"  When we look around in our life and at the world around us, quite often it's not alright.  All you have to do is listen to the news on any given day to know the depth of evil that permeates this world.  God is not finished with it yet.  God is still working behind the scenes to bring about his kingdom on earth.  (Sometimes, I might wish he were a little more up-front about it.)  But God is not through - and He does promise that it will be alright in the end.

Things that are not so good happen in this world.  I have a friend who's 11 year old nephew died two weeks ago following a horrible 4-wheeler accident.  Nothing evil about it, but very poor judgement on the young boy's part.  Where is God in this?  He is holding that young man in heaven in His loving arms.  And He is working here on earth behind the scenes to bring about healing in a family torn by grief.  He is drawing them close - to one another and to God himself.

Remember, God is still working in and with all of us. - And if you look at the world around you and find that it is not alright, then remember, it is not yet the end.  God will make all things new, and when he says, "It is finished!" then it will be alright.  Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday - When we started out this morning, Jesus at the height of his ministry.  He was ushered into Jerusalem with Hosannas ringing out.  People gathered, singing and crying out to him and they spread branches and cloaks on the ground.  As foretold in scripture, Jesus - Messiah - was riding into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey.  

And in four short days, it all changes - he is hunted down and arrested, tried and convicted, and finally put to death.  I don't like my heroes to be beaten - defeated.  My heroes are supposed to go on being heroes - not hunted down like a common criminal.

So, Lord, what part do I play in this travesty of justice?

I hear the voice of Jesus - it speaks to all of us across the centuries.

"Judas, do you betray me with a kiss?"

How many people have I betrayed, Lord, as I have casually drifted through this life?  Who have I wounded as I struggled to get ahead, or have my own way?  Is that the reason you had to die - to pay the price for my sin?

"Peter, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times."

How many times have I not stood up for what I know is right?  How many times have I overlooked the opportunity to share your name, your love, or your mercy?  Where is the grace that I should have shown to others?  I also hear the rooster when I forget you.

"Father, forgive them - they don't know what they are doing."

How often do we walk through life, without a clue about what we are doing or the effect it has on someone else?  How many times do we forget to think about those who come after us?  And can we, like you, forgive those who have wronged us?  What an example to follow!  How many times have I wanted to condemn instead of forgive - in both small and large things - things affecting me?  Or self-righteously things I only see or hear from afar?  Forgive me, Father, for the pain I have caused in others.

"Today, you will be with me in paradise."

Ahhh, here is the promise.  James and John asked to be seated at Jesus' right and left in his kingdom - and although they would drink the cup Jesus drank, suffer here on earth - in paradise they would be with Jesus - just as the thief on the cross would be with Jesus - just as you and I will be with Jesus.

"Into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit."

Can we, like Jesus, put our faith in God? -- Trust that He will take care of us and receive us into that heavenly kingdom?  Can we, like Jesus, give it all to God?  Father, take this life and make it whole.

These were sound bites from the man they had grown to trust, to love even. It didn't mean much at the time - but as time went by, they began to understand and to realize the great love that God had for them -- and that Jesus exhibited as he walked that way -- the Via Dolorosa -- the way of suffering and sorrow.

This week, I invite you to meditate on this journey and ask God what He wants you to know and understand about His great love - a love that transcends pain and death - a love that transcends suffering and loss - a love that transcends time and space to be as real and present now as it was 2000 years ago.

Come, Lord Jesus, fill our hearts and our minds that we might glimpse the love that suffered and died willingly - so that we might find peace and strength in the presence of You, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

From the service for Ash Wednesday:

The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. . .  I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

What would God have you do - or not do - this Lent?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Way

Normally I write my meditations on my scriptures, however, today I watched the movie "The Way" with Martin Sheen.  I had seen a comment about it from Facebook and decided to check it out.  If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it - especially for Cursillistas since it centers around the pilgrimage to Santiago do Compostella.

The story is about Thomas Avery.  When his son, Daniel, dies when he is just beginning the journey.  Tom goes to France to identify the body and while there decides to complete the journey for Daniel and to carry his son's ashes to the end.  He ends up joining with several companions during the pilgrimage.

Just after his son dies, Tom is asked by a priest, "Would you like to pray with me?" He answers, "What for?"  The implication is "it won't change what has happened."

That brings up the question, "Why do we pray?"  Through prayer, we cannot necessarily change what is - but we might be able to change the way we perceive it and how it affects us and how we respond to it..

The second thing that occurs to me is that sometimes on this journey we call life, God chooses our companions for us: not necessarily the ones we would choose for ourselves, but the ones we need. .

Life happens - and sometimes during it we are surprised to find out who we really are and what we really want.  God's plan is always perfect, and always seeks to transform us into the person God wants us to be.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Presentation of the Lord

Feb 2,The presentation of the Lord in the temple.

Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God...  Hebrews 2:17

The author of the letter to the Hebrews points out that Jesus came down to be one of us so that he might experience what we experience, and understand human nature.  This is the kind of God we have - the one who wants to fully enter into his own creation and know what it means to be human.  Jesus did this so that he might present us to God himself, knowing us from the inside out and loving us anyway.  God above all gods, one who loves and is not afraid to enter into the mess and mire that is our life on earth.  May the name of Jesus Christ be praised, now and forever.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Telling God, "Yes, and..."

The following piece is by Gina Bridgeman.  I find the concept to be very helpful when facing some of the things God asks me to do!

A friend of mine told me about an exercise she learned in an improvisation class. It’s called “Yes . . . and,” and it works something like this: A student calls out an idea for an improv, such as “We’re kittens.” Instead of dismissing the idea as dumb, another student must respond with an additional idea, saying, “Yes . . . and we’re prehistoric!” Each student adds an idea to expand the skit and nobody knows where the whole thing is going. 
I wondered if the same idea might work for me when facing God’s challenges, especially the ones that I might be more inclined to avoid than enthusiastically embrace. So when our pastor announced that our church was planning a health fair for a low-income, inner-city neighborhood, my immediate reaction was I’m not a doctor or nurse. What can I do? But instead I said, “Yes . . . and I’ll work wherever you need help.” I was assigned to the registration table, and not only did I put my organizational skills to good use, I even used a little of my high school Spanish. I also had fun and finished the day knowing that I’d helped people get information and services that they really needed.  Now when God sends a challenge my way, I fight the urge to say “No” and instead say “Yes . . . and.” I think of it as God’s improvisation. His ideas may surprise me, but I can relax and follow His lead because He always knows where things are going. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Holy Name of Jesus

From today's reading:  When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, . . . so that we might receive adoption as children. . . . God has sent the Spirit . . . into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and . . . an heir, through God.     Galatians 4:4-7 (NRSV)

One of the things that I tie into so strongly is the idea of adoption.  Joseph took Jesus to be his son without hesitation to raise and protect and train up in the ways of Yahweh.  I envision Joseph to be like my adoptive father.  To give you an idea of my father, picture Dan Blocker from Bonanza. Just like Dan Blocker, my dad was a gentle giant, and that is the way I envision Joseph.

He did everything for Jesus that any father would do, receiving him as his own and never looking back, Joseph proudly took him to the temple saying, "This is my son, Jesus." 

This is what God does with us.  He presents each of us at the temple and says, "This is my child."  Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are all made acceptable before God.  All we have to do is accept the gift of Jesus and follow him each day as Lord and Savior.