Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Rejected Stone

Again Jesus and the disciples came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?”—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?”
When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away. Mark 11:27—12:12 
When I studied curriculum development, many years ago, the professor asked a critical question. "What are we intentionally leaving out and why?" That question has always stayed with me, always wondering what I was choosing to leave out, what I was ignoring and my motivation for it. Too often the answers were motivated by discomfort and fear. I often leave out what I don't want to face.
Jesus, teaching by parable, tells the story of the vineyard tenants, who think they own the place. They leave out what they don't want to face. They don't own the vineyard. This story makes the religious leaders uncomfortable because they didn't own the temple or the faith, but they ran it as if they did. An important parable for all of us in church leadership. Whatever we do, we can never behave as if this ministry, the buildings, or the church, is ours. We, the ministry and everything we do belong to God. We are invited to live like respectful tenants today, grateful for our livelihoods and the role we have to play.
Today, I ask God to help me remember to face the discomfort and fear, knowing I am not in charge. May we daily turn over the work and ministry to God, so that we, and those we serve, can be truly blessed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Prayers and Curses

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:12-26
Prayers and Curses - A Morning Song

Twisted inside with fear and rage
we wrap tight the small hurts
we cling to the ancient betrayals
inflicting our pain on yet others.

Let us unbind the weary sorrowing
let us untie ourselves from our pain
burning the remnants with sage
lifting our faces to forgiveness.

A long ago childhood memory
becomes the seeds of savage revenge
our losses so unresolved and deep
become the beds where we find no rest.

Let us unbind the weary sorrowing
let us untie ourselves from our pain
burning the remnants with sage
lifting our faces to forgiveness.

When blinded by this kind of ache
we can snare the wretched unsuspecting
we can recapture the tortured souls
and tear up their gentle eternity.

Let us unbind the weary sorrowing
let us untie ourselves from our pain
burning the remnants with sage
lifting our faces to forgiveness.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Looking Around

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. Mark 11:1-11 
Too often, I can miss what is most important when I get distracted by what other people are doing or saying. I can be swept up by the excitement or anxiety of the day and not notice was what really going on. I often reflect after the fact and wish I had said or done something completely different. There is often a small opportunity that can change everything.
Mark's Gospel is very sparse compared with the other Gospels, and it was written first. The writer thinks it is very important that Jesus surveyed everything in the temple after this fantastic, almost riotous tribute to him. We are reminded of the critical need to really see and understand our surroundings, to take an honest look around and not be swayed by a public moment. God invites us to do the deep work of seeing what is truly around us and to respond the hidden truth and needs we uncover.
Today, I ask God to help me reflect on the quiet movements of the spirit, the subtle changes that can be hidden by all the noise. May we open our hearts to God's movement in our lives and respond to the real world needs around us.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Blessed Are You

                        February 17, 2019 Sixth Sunday After Epiphany

Jesus came down with the twelve apostles and stood on a level place, with a great 
crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, 
and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of
 their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.
 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and
 healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you,
 and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for 
joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors 
did to the prophets."
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors 
did to the false prophets." Luke 6:17-26

Hope can get lost in hard times, and when we are hurting, we often don't see the
blessings around us. We live in a world of winning and wealth, where those who
are greedy and bloodthirsty are treated as heroes. So many believe they will be 
happy when they get rich, when they win the title, or when they have total 
control over their lives. Yet, we all know that letting go sets love free, and 
sharing what little we have makes our sad hearts joyful.

Jesus speaks to a crowd of people who have been treated as less than human. They
lived in an occupied land and were of no stature or wealth. They were the outcasts
of society. He told them that they were the beloved of God, even in their present
state. Even in the midst of great poverty and lack, they were considered blessed,
beloved and sacred to God. And we, too, need to hear this today. Even if the whole
world sees losers, God sees kin and knows us each by names.

Today, I ask God to help me be cognizant and grateful for all the blessings around
me. May we know are selves as blessed and beloved of God, and use what we have
to bless and love others.

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our
 prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you,
 give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may
 please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
 and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Take Heart

They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:46-52 
Take Heart

The winter's long an grueling days
we work from darkened morning
to the early night's falling time
the whole world shivers and hides.

We are haunted by loss and shadows
torn and worn by what we lack
broken and diminished in this age
daily on the verge of angry tears.

Take heart that even in our darkness
when we are blind and stumbling
when we are discouraged and broken
love incarnate comes walking by.

The dust of the road may obscure
what is just within our frightened reach
coming towards us and calling our names
the embodiment of all our hope is here.

Friday, February 15, 2019

To Serve

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”
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.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 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 as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:32-45 
I learned very early in life how to shine shoes and to iron clothes. In a large family, everyone had to pitch in and help. We needed to learn to clean house, do laundry and wash dishes as well as cook and serve company. I grew up in a clergy household, of limited means, who opened our home and lives to others. I still remember the smell of the shoe shine box, that held the brushes and pastes, and the wooden foot on top to hold the shoe. The memory makes me smile with the small tasks that brought great joy.
The disciples are anxious about their future, since Jesus is telling them that things will change soon. They want the promise of secure footing and permanence. His answer to them is to live life as servants. It is not something they wanted to hear, nor is it something we like to hear. We want guaranteed comfort and rewarded for our hard work. Yet God invites us today to deeply embrace the role of servant so that we can find deep love and permanence.
Today, I ask God to help me serve fearlessly and without expectations. May we trust that we never walk this road alone and that abundant love will accompany us as we serve.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

All Things Are Possible

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and
 knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what
 must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘
Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; 
You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You 
shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; 
Honor your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, 
‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, 
looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; 
go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,
 and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow
 me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went
 away grieving, for he had many possessions.
 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How
 hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the
 kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at 
these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, 
how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.’ They
 were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then
 who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, 
‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God
 all things are possible.’ Mark 10:17-27

All Things Are Possible

It is in that very moment 
when we recognize our limits
that we find ourselves held
in the Holy broad imagination.

When every door slams shut
we find ourselves abandoned
when there is not a penny left
we are encircled by a loving God.

So many bobbles and fads
lead us blindly astray for love
we might try to buy love back
but we never can purchase love.

Love falls like rain and snow
yet we think we don't have need
until we do and they we cry out
and find our rest in the Divine.

We try to squeeze and tug
insufficient yet truly stubborn
all the world is broken open
so the love of God can shine in.