Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve


"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." John 8:12


Today is a day for making resolutions for the coming year. Many people will resolve to lose weight, exercise more.....the lists go on and on. I prefer to ponder the past year and pray for help in giving up the things I cannot change. I am always ready to start a new chapter, a new year and find it much easier to start when the slate is clean. I loved playing with an etch-a-sketch when I was a kid. I loved the fact that you could make a mistake and hold the thing over your head and shake away the mistakes. Rather than making resolutions, I want to let go of the plans I had, the mistakes I made - all the things I cannot change now - put them over my head and shake until the screen is clear again. Now I don't have an etch-a-sketch for life but I do know I can wipe the slate clean by turning them over to God in prayer.

This is a time of year when there is so much darkness and little light, Jesus comes to us in the darkness of our season, when we are overburdened with the plans and mistakes that have plagues the recent past. He comes into our midst and asks us to give our burdens to him. What is done is done and it is God's. What will happen this year is in God's hands also. In the swirl of confusion and anticipation we can daily turn our troubles, our burdens to Jesus and walk in the light. The other night, arriving at my mother's house, I was overburdened with luggage and packages from Christmas. I almost didn't look up. In my mother's small town by the ocean the heavens were exploding with stars. Light surrounded me and my burden almost prohibited me from seeing, from looking up. May this New Year's Eve be a time for us all to resolve to let Jesus in to our lives. To let the light of Christ into our darkened hearts. To let go of our burdens and give them to God in prayer. May we together make a resolution to pray and unburden our hearts so that we might walk in the light. So that we might truly know in 2009 that God is constantly acting on our behalf, strengthening our faith and giving us light to walk in. May we all let go of the burdens to Jesus. He has carried them for others, and will carry them for us, until the burden and the anxiety fade away in the light of Christ.

A Prayer for the New Year

Dear God,
My life is so full but I want to make room for more love;
Help me to let go of my burdens and entrust them to you.
My heart is broken and I can't seem to put the pieces together;
Take my broken pieces and form me again in Your image.
My hands are holding so many hopes I cannot cling to you;
Enfold my hands in Your hands so that I might offer myself to You.

Give me enough for each day, and a measure more so I can share.
Fill me with faith enough to let go of control and to follow You.
Make me a vessel of Your love in the world so I might sing Your praises all year long.
Help me when I stumble and fall to remember Your arms await me.

I ask this all in the name of Jesus, Your son, who with the Holy Spirit has come into the world
so that everyone is part of the immediate family of God. Amen.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Where are they?

"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" John 8:10

I took a short trip with my oldest daughter last evening to return my mother to her home after a Christmas visit with us. She lives in a very small ocean side town at the very end of New Jersey. It is about a three hour drive, so we stayed the night and returned today. We wanted to be well rested for the trip home and were both some what reluctant to leave the one place we truly love, the one place that is truly home. We lingered this morning with my mother and then stopped at a few local shops which are run by family friends. We overheard a woman in front of us complain that she had recently bought a house in Cape May but had no idea how isolated it was during the winter. "There are no restaurants open" she complained. And her partner replied, "no, it sure isn't Camden County!" People are always quick to judge a person or a place by what they see on the outside, or what they know in high season, but they rarely take the time to know and love a place or a person for what or whom they truly are. The glorious beaches of summer are challenging, stormy oceans of winter and both are ravishingly beautiful. Most of the people I know who are ravishingly beautiful, show little of that on the outside.

Jesus meets a group of people in the temple who are passing judgment on a woman. They have not taken time to know her, nor have they taken time to examine themselves. They compare her virtue to theirs - the outside, visitors virtues. Hers are more hidden then their, although their are made of paste. We all could be judged and come up short. But for those who take the time to love and forgive us, we are many ravishingly beautiful people, made in the image of God, and fiercely loved by our Creator.

Although this day is nearing an end, I want to remember that I need not judge another for they are loved by God and somehow beautiful, even if my eyesight and sensitivity fail. I want to live acknowledging the beloved hidden places and people in my life, who are ravishingly beautiful, out of season, away from the hubbub, and who have been love for me in my darkest hours. May we all remember those people today and give thanks for the shy and homely, the sinners and the overlooked locals who have made a place for us when no one else will. It is in them that we have truly known Jesus. May we be instruments of Jesus' love this day.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Holy Innocents

"And there was a voice heard, Rachel weeping for her children.."Matthew 2:18

There are lots of things that puzzle me in scripture but nothing more than this story from the birth of Jesus. Was Herod's anger so great that he would slaughter all the young children in the area under the age of two? And would people really abide with this kind of ruler? I shutter to think what it must have been like for those mothers and fathers who were rejoicing in their newborn one day, and looking with terror as a selfish, threatened king took the child away. It must be the worst agony any parent could suffer - the death of a child. One minute vibrant and alive, the next minute gone.

I often wonder why so quickly after the magnificent celebration of Christmas we have this horror and tragedy to deal with. I am reminded though, that all life is really this - the horror and happiness co-mingling, living side by side. For every joyful family this Christmas there was another living with tragedy.

So today,I want to remember all those who are suffering in this season of Joy. The holy innocents - those who truly don't deserve the trauma they are living. They are all around us. May we have the strength this day to pray for them and reach out in love to all those who are living with the losses of life, right in the middle of this season of light. Mary and Joseph, fleeing to Egypt are in our midst, as are all the Rachels weeping for their lost children. May we be agents of comfort in this hurting world.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Word


"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a parent's only child, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

When we were children, and there were five of us all together, my parents had to keep the unruly mob in check and so had to discipline us on some regular basis. They used two phrases that struck terror in our hearts. We would either be getting the "look" or "the word". My mother distributed the look and my day dealt the word. When either was mentioned,we knew that we were in trouble and punishment was pending, if we didn't clean up our act. My mother would threaten that our father would give us the word when he got home. It usually only took a threat for us to return to towing the line. This look and word are mortal means of control, while the Word of God is the fullness made complete in power and humility.

When John talks about the Word, he talks about the utterance of the Creator of all life, who is with God from the beginning. John talks about some manifestation of God being understood as word. Word with power and promise, word with the complete truth and glory made accessible to us broken human beings. God in the Creator's completeness made completely approachable.

May we know this day that no matter how broken, mistaken and foolish we feel, God comes to us in completeness, offering us healing and relationship. That is God's Word, the fullness and power of God, brought to us in the flesh so that we might know God's desire and love for us. May we know that God has spoken it, and means to see it through, that all people will be enfolded in the loving arms of the loving and living Savior. There is no one beyond the love and relationships with Gos. No child is unworthy and in God's reign, no child nor adult is left behind. May we all rejoice in the Word of God, expecting the fullness of God in our lives, deeply and completely and especially in the dark and broken places of our beings.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Participating


"Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!" John 5:8

Some days when I read the Gospel lesson for the day, I am very encouraged. Some days it seems to have been written just for my situation. Other days, it blind sides me and brings me up short. On those days, I just don't want to deal with what the gospel reading is saying to me. And other times, on some rare occasion, the gospel can irritate me, like the lesson today. What comes to mind on those days is, "why healing for them and not for my loved one (insert name) right here right now?" I believe that God does heal and I pray for healing for many people. But there are days when I feel like hiding or giving up. Some days we all have a hard time believing, a hard time continuing to participate when life becomes overwhelming.

So today, I am going to pray for all of us who might feel like have come to the end of our ropes and feel like quitting. We might be overwhelmed by the challenges of the holidays for many reasons. We might be undone by things our families have said and done. We might just be tired out from living. For all of the weary, hurting world, Jesus has come. Jesus has come for all the broken and battered, the exhausted and the frustrated. He has come for all of us and promises healing and transformation even when we no longer have the strength to pray or believe it. May we all have the courage to participate today even though we might not feel like anything good can come out of it. For Christ is in the midst of us, standing by the pool, reaching out to those who can no longer participate and inviting them to be healed.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Feast fo Stephen


"Lord Jesus, do not hold this sin against them." Acts 7:60

I can only write briefly because the house is full of family and there is much to do. Our second oldest daughter, Ariel, arrived yesterday with the wonderful news that she and Adam are engaged! Joy and excitement filled our Christmas. It was a wonderful day for us. And yet, Christmases are often very stressful times, not without pain and hurts that are inflicted by careless family members. Some people are overlooked or teased or misunderstood. Some times others are neglected and nobody seems to noticed their needs. In all of us are those times when a wonderful day like Christmas became a horrible personal tragedy. We might even have been scared for life by some cruelty or indifference at a very sacred and holy time. Whatever it is we have today - the Feast of Stephen. Stephen asked, as people were stoning him for loving God - for forgiveness and understanding for those who were killing him. The gift of Stephen is that we can be hurt and still ask God to forgive others and ourselves. In our shortsighted humanity, which we all share, any of us can perpetrate cruelty and thoughtlessness on those we love dearly.

May today be for all of us more than a day to clean up and recover. May today be devoted to forgiving - ourselves and one another. We have fallen short, but the Christ who came carries our guilt and shame and also our misinformation and healing. May we rejoice in God with us Emmanuel, who have come to forgive and heal us and our world.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Manger Wide




" While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in bands of cloth and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Luke 2:6-7


Many Christmases ago, in the early 1980s, we were living in suburban New York with my parents. Our oldest daughter was three and a half and we had moved there after living for several years in Colorado. It was both wonderful and challenging to live once again with parents as parents ourselves. My Dad was a Presbyterian minister, so, as was always the case, everyone in the family had several roles during the Christmas services. Emily had been part of the family service, singing with the other "cherubs" and Mark and I had been pressed into service at the late service, as was my mother. Although we tried hard, we found no babysitter. Emily was so familiar and comfortable in the church that we, with her permission, put her to sleep in the nearby library room, just off the sanctuary. She was happy there and drifted off to sleep. We could hear her where we sat in the sanctuary and she knew she could come get us if she woke. The service when off without a hitch, and when we were all done, these two young and anxious parents hurried in to collect our precious sleeping bundle.

She was a sleep indeed but what we saw when we got there was surprising and wonderful. She had one hand extended out of her little bed and was holding the hand of the doll in the manger. All of the props from the earlier pageant had been brought to the library to be stored but had not yet been put away. There she was, sound asleep, holding hands with the baby Jesus. The baby Jesus was reaching out to her and she was holding tight to him. When we woke her to take her home, that early Christmas morning, we asked her what had happened. She told us that she had awoken and was scared. Then she saw Jesus and she knew that he would keep her safe. She took his hand and told him all about her Mom and Dad and what she wanted for Christmas. She told us she never got scared, or alone, or afraid after that.

May this Christmas be a time when we all reach out for that tiny hand. May we, like Emily, tell Jesus everything, knowing that the God of love is listening to the needs of our hearts. May we be fearless in the face of troubling times assured that God is nearby. Reach out a hand to the manger. There may be no room anywhere else for you, but there is room by the manger. The Christ child, the incarnate God, is present and with us. Our fears, the rejections we have suffered, our aches, losses and our needs are known in that sacred place. May we this Christmas day rejoice for Emmanuel, God with Us, is come and we need but to reach out a hand.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas -May Christ's love set you free to love this day and always!

Birth Narratives




"By which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." Luke 1:78-79

My mother loves to tell me the story of my birth. I was born on Christmas Eve in the Naval hospital on base at San Diego. Because of the holiday there were no nurses except for the enlisted and no anesthesiologist. In the 50s most women were put completely out for the birth so this was the first time she witnessed the whole thing alert and as a participant. My siblings opened a few presents on Christmas but waited until Mom and I got home to have a big celebration. And my Navy Chaplain Dad had ten church services across the base between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. She recalls it as a powerful spiritual time. I think that is common for many women, I know it was for me. The pain of labor vanished in the awesome reality of brand new life. My niece who is four now asks her mother to tell her about when she was born. There is something mystical, powerful and important about the moment when mother and child are closest to death, when the vulnerability and frailty of one life becomes the joy and completion of another.

And so it is with Zechariah. His silence has led to singing. This child, named John, is to be the herald of the inbreaking of God's redemption and healing. His child will have an active part in saving the world. He cant' t help but sing. He can't help but tell the story of God's presence and promise revealed in his life. It hasn't been an easy gestation period for him, but when he realizes it has come to an end and his life will never be the same - all by God's grace - he can't help but sing and share the good news with all he encounters.

Today, I want to be like Zechariah and be silent no longer. I want to not keep from singing for all the love that is in my life this day. I am showered with friends and family. My 85 year old mother will be with us today and I am sure she will recount her Christmas Eve 1955 story again for all of us. But why not? When we are touched by love, how can we keep from singing? May we all have the strength to sing to today, to tell others the great stories of God's love in our lives. The presence under the tree are no match for the love we have been given by God. May we all raise our voices today and be silent no longer. For the God of love is coming. The God of love is here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Turning Hearts

"And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit of power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Luke 1:17

I remember the story a friend of mine told me years ago. He said that when he was young and learning to ride a bike, his father had insisted he ride right on their small block and not go anywhere else in the neighborhood. Feeling adventurous and momentarily out from underneath his parents eyes, he took off into a neighboring street, only to crash into a metal mailbox stand. A piece of the metal pierced his cheek, and he pushed his bike home crying. His parents cleaned him up and took him to the doctor without any angry words or punishment. Much later in life the father confessed to his son that he didn't like it when his son smiled because that scar showed and he remembered that terrible day when he couldn't keep his child safe. Why do parents turn from children? Possibly from their own shame or frustration and inadequacy - sometimes we aren't able to keep our young safe, especially from the harsh criticism of peers, the daily struggle to grow up and the seduction of material wealth. Maybe because we see too much of ourselves in our children, or perhaps, we have broken their trust in some way. Whatever happens to make us turn away, it is God's desire that parents turn back to their children. It is the road that opens the way of God. It is a fearsome thought to think that we parents could welcome or inhibit the presence of God.

The Gospel story today from Luke tells of Zechariah's encounter with the angel Gabriel. He foretells the birth of John (the Baptist) and shocks Zechariah by telling him that his wife Elizabeth will become pregnant in her later years. Zechariah answers in disbelief and shock, as would any of us, and consequently he is silenced until his son is born. Zechariah is a faithful and honest man living with his own frustration and inadequacy and God blesses him despite his humanity and momentary, understandable lack of faith. And so it with us. God promises to be with us, despite our momentary lapses, our weakness, humanity and our failure, and our inability to protect our young at all times. God loves us in our brokenness as well as our faithfulness. All that God requires of us is to turn our hearts back to the love in our lives, to our families and children, to embrace the wisdom of forgiveness and so to make a road for the coming of the Christ child, the incarnation, the birth of God in our midst - Emmanuel, God with us.

This time of year, with the anxiety that the holidays and family gatherings bring, I am reminded that it is also time to turn my heart again towards my children. Not by showering them with material goods, but by giving the best gift, which is my complete and utter support of them as unique human beings. For who they are right now, in this very season. God's simple requirement of me is for me to turn my heart to the young, to repent of the words and behavior that keeps me from the wisdom of love, and so to make a place for God in my life today. I pray that I can turn my heart again to the gifts of love in my life, and that I can celebrate them completely in this season. May we all have the courage this day to make straight the path of the living God by turning again to the relationships that we have been blessed with by God. Although we may have seasons of turning away, may this be the season where we return to love and usher in the presence of the God of love.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Comfort


"Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust also in me." John 14:1

We had a meal the other night after the big snow fall that was based on the our notion of comfort food. Now, not everyone has the same idea of what comfort food is, but in our house, a meal of comfort food has to include macaroni and cheese, or it's not a real comfort food meal. Some find comfort in a big family gathered around a table. Others find comfort in quiet solitude or the company of a good book. Some find comfort deep under the covers and others in walks deep in the woods. Some take the notion of comfort too far and what they used for comfort has became their addiction. Comfort is both personal and cultural -how we were raised often determines where we find comfort. That means that what can comfort us may be what our family provided or the polar opposite of what our family provided. Each of us understands comfort though, and our need for it at particular times. Although our timing and what defines comfort varies widely, the regular need for comfort is universal.

The title of the opening of chapter 14 in John's gospel is 'Jesus comforts His Disciples'. These words are often read at funerals, chosen to reassure the bereaved that their loved one will find room in God's presence after death. Jesus promises his disciples that there are many rooms in God's house and a place is prepared for each of us there. The disciples will recall these words after Jesus has left them, although the words may have been puzzling when said. Thomas even asks to understand where Jesus is going. But for us humans, now is not the time or the place to understand and that can be very vexing. Particularly at holiday times, when traditions of all sorts are foisted upon friends and families, many often wonder why we go to all the trouble only to be so frustrated and undone. Many people run from gatherings because they find little comfort there. Not enough comfort and too much pain and anxiety. We need comfort, now more than ever. Jesus' words reassure us about the end of our lives, but what about right now?

I take comfort in the words "in my father's house are many rooms." There are many ways to be a faithful person, many ways to celebrate, many ways to witness to God's love in our lives. Right now, God's reign is in diversity, not in similarity. God household is built for the quirky, the artistic, the silent and the loud -and everyone in between all the extremes. God's place is big enough for us to find comfort and reassurance today, in our very own ways. Today, I want to be an agent of God's comfort. I want open my heart to the diversity of God's household. May we all open our hearts to God's diversity around us, within us, and for us. For God's arms reach wider than we can imagine. No tradition can constrain them, and we are invited to settle into the loving arms of God and be comforted this day.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mission Impossible


" For nothing is impossible with God." Luke 1:37

We had spent hours yesterday cleaning out around the car parked on the street only to find it plowed in during the night by some helpful town employee who was only doing their job. Before leaving, our youngest daughter's friends help with some of the massive effort. They had to be on their way but they were a great help. Snow is one of those odd natural phenomenons. As children, we ache for it so that we can stay out of school and play in it. My girls had several rituals they did the night before an impending snow. The one I remember most clearly is that they would wear the pajamas inside out. Somehow that always brought them good luck. Another tradition I heard about is the flushing of an ice cube down the toilet. This is suppose to bring on the snow and assure the day off from school.The college students who were staying with us all go to schools in the south and so have little chance to play in the snow. And yet, there is also the massive effort it can take to free a car. And then there are the cleared spaced wars - someone obliviously stealing a parking space that another person has spent hours clearing. Some people resort to putting lawn chairs in the spaces they have cleared. How quickly the beautiful and much anticipated becomes a challenge, a competition, or even worse, a nightmare.

Mary was a young teenager. She had hopes and dreams for her life as any young woman does. She was engaged, so she had some future stability and her family was supportive. She was careful and devout, full of life and ignited with the love and hopefulness that the very young have in abundance. In one moment everything changed. All that she had hoped for and anticipated had changed in a flash. She had dreamed of being a mother and a wife. But now God's angel was telling her that mother was going to happen immediately and that she was going to be responsible for no less than the son of God. A great honor. A terrifying challenge. She knew motherhood was challenging and caring for children was a great responsibility. But how do you prepare yourself to care for the Savior of the world? And how to explain it to her parents, to Joseph, let alone to herself? She knew people would think she was crazy. She had no idea how hard the challenges ahead would be. And in accepting God's will for her, she could not know how impossible some of the days ahead were going to be. Her beautiful gift from God, this overwhelming challenge that she alone would bear, also brought with it some treacherous and nightmarish times. She was not to return home, after Bethlehem, for years. How often, one wonders, did she rehearse the words of the angel that night? " For nothing is impossible with God."

In the midst of huge challenges -weather, economic, personal, familial, and so forth - we hear the words of the angel on this last Sunday of Advent. " Nothing is impossible with God." Even when we are challenged beyond our capacity, at wit's end, God promises the impossible - to see us through just as the angel promised Mary. She faced incredibly hard times but she was never alone. Her heart broke over and over, yet she was never without comfort and assurance. And she was put in impossible circumstances and yet God found her a way through. So today, I want to be like Mary, who in the face of impossible circumstances, says to the angel, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me as you have said." I want to be God's servant by accepting the circumstances I find myself in and rejoicing in God's presence and direction in my life. I want to, like Mary, take on the role God has given me, and trust that God goes with me. God goes with all of us. I invite us today, to accept God's offer, no matter how impossible it seems right now. We are promised that the impossible will become possible with God.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Arriving in the Snow


"The one with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." Luke 3:11

Yesterday I had planned to go pick up our daughter Phoebe at college, but with the impending snow we made alternative plans. The train stops in Saratoga Springs twice a day going to New York, so we booked her on the morning train. It was early evening by the time she got home, getting a local train out of Penn Station. As I waited for her at our local station, I could only think about getting her home and into the warmth - out of the storm. She arrived safe and our brief drive home was treacherous because nothing had been cleared. But safe home she was, finally. And I thought about all of the people who have no safe home, no shelter from the storm, no place to rest their head that is dry, warm and safe.

John the Baptist, when asked what should be done to prepare for the coming of Jesus, suggests that we who have, share. Simple. Share the food and the warmth. This is Advent preparation that should last all year. Mary and Joseph had no room, they were travelers without a safe home. They lived, not only on the trip to Bethlehem, but also the sojourn in Egypt, as the homeless, wanderers, who have to struggle to eat and be clothed. Share with others in need John says. Simple and yet we have such need around us which daily goes unseen, and which never gets any response. And yet, in sharing with the homeless wanderers we share with the family of God.

Today, I want to be grateful for a warm and safe home. And I want to share what I have with those who do not. For indeed, like Joseph, Mary and Jesus, they are homeless wanderers, refugees seeking asylum for a time, laborers who left home to keep the child safe. For the needs of others are the needs of Christ Jesus and his family. May we all today see the need in our midst and respond to it. May we welcome those who are without as family and friends. And may we know together, we all belong to the family of Jesus as we share our food and clothing with others.

Friday, December 19, 2008

What You Hear and See

"Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." Matthew 11:4-6

It was a frenzy. Snow is being predicted and so the grocery store was overrun. People in a general panic. Hardly any milk left on the shelves. The kids were out of school wandering the aisles, still in their pjs. There is not a flake coming down, yet people are preparing for the storm of the century. I stopped there after dropping Mark at the train, in order to get some more dog food - we were out. It was an innocent adventure with an innocent intention. Never did I expect that I was facing the war of the worlds panic in the grocery store. But there I was, with people pushing, shoving and grabbing. They haven't seen a drop of snow and yet they are preparing for the end times.

I wish we all could take a measure of that kind of effort as we prepare for the coming encounter with the risen Christ. Most people think Advent is a time to get the house in order and the shopping done, rather than a time to turn inward and repent of a hardened heart, and offer our bruised and broken pieces to Jesus. To the Jesus who is coming into the world as a precious, vulnerable child. Incarnate as we are, fully embodied, with the aches and agony of living, Jesus is coming into the world for us. And the blind will see, the lame will walk, the prisoners set free, the deaf will hear, the diseased will be healed, the dead will rise and life will be restored in him. This year, this Christmas, whether we have snow or not, I want to be ready for the renewed presence of the Incarnate Word of God. I want my heart ready for the one who stills the storms to come.

May we all take time, in the frenzy of our preparations, to look and listen to the small voice of the Christ child on the horizon. May we open our hearts and minds to the possibility that what is under the tree is only a token and the true gift is the living God coming into the world for you and me. The One who comes, to live as we do, to tell us that God is in our midst and we are not alone.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stone Children



"I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham." Matthew 3:9

On the edge of the ocean, right at the high tide line, one can always find small stones and shells that have been tossed about by the waves only to be deposited and left behind in the sand as the water recedes. The powerful ocean can capture and move just about anything and everyone when it is riled up. And when it calms and draws back, the small and large alike are stranded in the sun. No matter how careful people are, they can get caught up in a rip tide and carried far from home, sometimes never to return.

People came to John, confessing their sins to be baptized by John, in preparation for Jesus. They were caught up in a high tide of anticipation. Some were anxious to be righteous. But some were not anxious to be righteous, as much as they were to be right and in charge. They were not willing to be humble. They were anxious to go through the motions so that everyone knew they were important, the chosen few who knew how to govern the life of faith for everyone. They were not willing to be the pebbles and broken shells aching for God's love on the edge of the river Jordan. And so John reminded the haughty religious leaders who were crushing others under their righteous feet, that God could raise up these pitiful stones and make them children of the living God. It is the time of year to move beyond our haughty religious security and examine our hearts. Do we love truly love God by demonstrating compassion to those thrown and tossed aside by life? Do we truly act like a family or do we see others only as stepping stones to greater glory?

A vulnerable little child is coming. The Son of God is coming and will see the truth of our welcome or dismissal of others. Going home this Christmas requires that we become stone children, the children raised up from the smallest and least among the broken stones left behind. Jesus reaches over the edge of a crude cradle, drags his tiny hand in the sand and dust, inviting us to live. To live for God and one another. I want to answer that invitation today - to live with compassion for the miserable other stone children right next to me. And I invite you to do the same. "Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Prepare the Way

"I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; a voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make the paths straight for him.' " Mark 1:2-3

We are just a week and a day from Christmas. Our daily readings have shifted from the Passion to the Gospel openings. Everything has shifted towards a new kind of waiting. Not the prayerful, introspective waiting, but the active, engaged waiting. Time to get everything ready.

Some people are wrapped and ready for Christmas day, and others are in a full pitched panic. Some are feeling terrible about having nothing to offer and others are feeling anxious that they will be given nothing. The ads on television are suggesting we have time to buy all sorts of expensive things - and if we do, then everything will be all right. The truth is, Christmas is coming. And the Gospel of Mark's first act is to introduce John who is setting the stage for the one who is to come, who John is "not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals."

No matter who you are and how prepared
(or unprepared) you might be for this Christmas, God makes a promise to be present, no matter what. None of us can be truly ready for the full reality of love in our life. There is no gift big enough or expensive enough. Yet, a stable was completely adequate. A small gathering of animals, several shepherds and some magnificent stars were all the trimmings that greeted the Savior of the world. And it was plenty adequate. For the love incarnate to come is not something we can control - the love of God in Christ is the gift given for us, to us.

I want to spend today giving thanks for the love of God made manifest in my life. For my husband, our daughters and our families, who ask nothing more than our presence in their lives. For communities of faith around the world, who pray for peace and the in-breaking of God's reign of love. I want to give thanks for the inexhaustible presence of Christ's love incarnate, which, despite my lack is always more than adequate for my need and the needs of the world. May we all take time today to let go of our busyness and embrace the love that is demonstrated in our lives. The incarnate, embodied love of God is coming into our lives. Feeble Bethlehems though we may be, God is promised in our midst, promised to be born in our small stables, promised to be light in the midst of our darkness. May we all give thanks for what is and what is to come.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Betrayal and Denial


"The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.' And he went out and wept bitterly." Luke 22:61-62

I remember a time in my life that I did not want to be associated with my own family. I was a young teenager and several times tried to deny that I was related to my siblings or my parents. People would come up to me on the street and I would tell them they were mistaken as to who I was. It's funny now, because we look so much alike and we have similar mannerisms, and characteristics. But there is a time in every person's life that we need to pretend that we are not with the folks we came with, we are not part of the clan and people that have shaped us. Some of us have come from difficult situations and it makes the denial easier and the return harder, if not impossible. For some of us, we have grown beyond our denial, but not to a place of integration and appreciation. We sometimes betray the good we have received and the people who have loved us well, by insisting fiercely on our independence and lack of need for others. In our isolation we often try to justify our past betrayals and denials. To grow in faith, we still must take the step of accepting our need of God and one another, and recognizing the fractures that our denials and betrayals have caused.

What can we say about Peter? In his bumbling humanity he is all of us. In his honesty and transparency, he becomes the one whom Christ chooses to lead the church. Peter is broken, and human, ruled too often by fear. Like all of us. But Peter also knows Christ's love to be bigger than his own foolishness, his own need to push others away, and the political games he so enjoys. Peter has witnessed love braking barriers and breaking through cold, cruel hearts -including his own.

I know there are plenty of places and relationships in my life that still need Christ's healing. When "the Lord turns and looks straight" at us, we can't help but be reminded of all the broken places, all the denials and betrayals in our lives. But the promise of the Incarnation, the birth of Christ in the world, is the promise of a love which can break through our isolation and denial, our pride and our shame - a love which knows our need to deny and embraces us beyond our brokenness. May we all live today, aware of the broken shards of our hearts, firmly expecting a Savior who can bear it all, and who will transform our shallow independence into a deep river of love for the world.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Praying in Anguish



And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Luke 22:44

It is, on the surface, a remarkable and a true thing, that in the midst of this most joyful season of the year, many, many folks are full of anguish. Getting through this season, when they are expected to be happy, is excruciatingly painful. When we look slightly deeper, we know of many people who have lost loved ones in this season. We know many others for whom this season brings about terror - they remember all too well the abuse they took at the hands of broken parents, or they remember failure and inadequacy, being unable to provide for others. For many, the holidays are best avoided because the pain is too great. Some churches even offer a service called "A Blue Christmas", in order to provide some comfort for those whose experience of the season is anything but positive. Even in the most joyful and abundant of times, there are many who are feeling ground down and at their end. They may hide it well. They may be sitting right next to us and you and I might never know. But deep anguish is there in the midst of every celebration.

Jesus understands the enormity of what he is facing and in prayer asks for the burden to be lifted, taken away. He is no coward, but he is fully human, fully incarnate, and like us, overwhelmed by what we sometimes have to face. In this Advent Season, our readings are set dead center in the midst of Christ's passion. There is no Christmas season without the Passion. There is no living that does not encompass anguish. And there is no wondrous birth that does not inflict tremendous pain. So here we are, caught with Jesus on our knees, praying for relief and praying for strength for the mission of God.

May we all remember today that all of us carry deep pain every day. Even those who seem constantly joyful are not without tremendous challenges. May we hold each other tenderly in the coming days. May we hold each other in prayer as we await the celebration of Christ's birth in Bethlehem. May we be granted the strength to wade through the anguish until Christ is born anew in our hearts this season.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Keeping Joy

For Sunday December 14th, 2008

" Be joyful always, pray continually; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Some days, when challenges mount up, it is hard to be joyful. I would love to be able to say that despite all the things that challenge me, I am always joyful. I try, and often I can find something to be joyful about even in the most challenging and hurtful of circumstances. I am not always joyful but I am consistently and constantly human. And things do break my heart and take away my joy from time to time. We are all human and life can sideswipe us all. We might even get angry with God in these times, pondering out loud and in prayer about our circumstances.

I used to think that this passage was directive and impossible. At least for me. How can I be joyful and pray continually? I am too human and too easily frustrated. It took me years, but I finally realized that I had to read the whole passage, and had to hang on to the final verse. "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it." (verse 24)Finally, I realized that I can't be joyful and continuously in prayer. Or at least not alone. It is Christ Jesus who calls me, and it is he who supplies the capacity when mine is spent. When I rely on myself much of what needs to be done is impossible. When I think that I am alone in the work, then it all seems more than I can bear. But the good news for me this day, is that Jesus is faithful, active and restoring, joyful and thankful, even when I fail. And when I fail, I can rely on him, lean in, setting free God's activity in my own life. O how I long to be perfect (or at least better) at so many things. How often does it happen that God uses my humanity for the greater good? I don't know, but I hope that through me at least, joy break through in some small measure into the world.

So this third Sunday in Advent, I want to offer God my humanity. No longer to take it away, but rather, to allow God's grace to shine through my need and my brokenness. I pray that we can all offer who we are to God, completely and fully, this day. May we be the instruments on which the joy and thankfulness of Christ plays out loud across our fragile world.

Turning Back


"But I have prayed for you, that you faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." Luke 22:32

In the daily bible readings for this Advent season, we are now very deep into the passion. The drama is building and Jesus is predicting Peter's denial. Our hearts break as we read this knowing indeed, Peter will deny the one he loves completely. The pain of denial is tempered with the reality that Peter's heart is turned back, his faith and love grow and he becomes strong in faith again - he indeed becomes one who strengthens others. But he has to live with his humanity today. We have to live with our humnaity and brokenness today. We have to know today that we are very human, and being human, we will fail at times in our faith. Christ's doesn't shame or punish us. Rather, he prays for our return, our protection, and asks that we care for and strengthen others.

I want to share a story which I heard from Michale Battle several years ago. It seems to fit with this time of year, and also with the reality of our broken humanity. For survival, we will sometimes do the thing we know is wrong. For our own end, we will deny others, and we will sometimes hurt the ones we love for very dumb reasons. In the midst of all our humanity, Christ Jesus prays for us and asks us, when we come around, to care for others. So here is this Advent tale of human desire and greed.

A little boy comes to his mother and asks for a new red bike for Christmas. They are faithful Christians, taking part in their church community and they are also quite poor. The mother has always told her bright eight-year old son to pray when he has a problem. To talk to Jesus. So, she suggests he write a letter to Jesus, since most kids are writing to Santa anyway. He grabs onto the idea and runs to his room. Sitting on his bed he gets a pencil and starts, "Dear Jesus, I have been a very, very, very good boy this year." He stops, knowing he is not being completely truthful and crumples up the paper. He starts again. And again he stops. He knows, despite all his trying he hasn't been great. He had a few fights, a few arguments and was selfish and mad pretty often. He sits on his bed, sad and dejected. Then he gets an idea. He grabs his coat and runs out of the house. He goes to his neighborhood Catholic Church and dashes into the sanctuary. He finds a small Virgin Mary sitting in a niche, grabs it, and hides it under his coat. He runs home, and straight up to his room. With the door closed and Mary laying on the bed, he begins again, "Dear Jesus, I've got your mother. Let's talk."

All of us, young or old, have known times when our desires and hurts have overshadowed our faith and we have turned away. We may have turned away in anger or in fear, but we can turn away and lose our way. May this be a day for turning back again. May we turn back to Jesus and trust that his love is finding us in our broken, aching places. May our desires, needs and even our greed lead us back to Jesus, and may we take the hand of a brother or sister and strengthen them as we go.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Leading with Love

"Instead the greatest among you should be like the youngest and the one who rules like the one who serves." Luke 22:26


Leaders in organizations are often rewarded for their control of others and their ability to win at all costs. In this day and age, we often confuse winning muscle with courageous leadership. And, in this day, we are suffering because of that confusion. No one wants to be a loser or a servant. No one wants to share and sit at the kids table. All of us want to be the final survivor who has beat out everyone else and won the game by
conning an conniving and coercion. We are so steeped in a culture of winners and losers that we often think God is blessing our lives when we have beat out someone else. I am convinced that Gods blessing is seen most clearly in community. Gods blessings are those which raise everyone up.

I am convinced that one of the hardest things for humans to do is to remain humble when given some authority. A little bit of authority goes a long way. I was observing the crossing guards in our community this morning as I was returning from the train station. My first reaction was to be impatient and angry about them delaying me. They love to stand in the middle of our street and tie up traffic. They seem to revel in holding up fifty cars to cross one child at a time. While I waited, I then remembered that they have responsibility to keep the children safe for that small amount of time in the morning. I was the one who didn't want to let go of control and authority. I might have wanted to win at any cost, even in my small drive from the train station.Today, instead of my automatic reaction to the world around me, I want to try to follow Jesus. I want to be willing to serve. I want to share the blessings God has given me and not abuse the power and role God has called me to. In the dead center of Advent, I want to prepare my heart in a new way by accessing humility and the life of a servant. I want to be happy in the smallest of things, from laundry, to vacuuming, to waiting until all the children cross, to doing the dishes. May we all take time this Advent to invite the Savior of the world who washed the disciples feet into our hearts. May Christ's love leads us all in the coming days.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Back Stage Guy

"He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there." Luke 22:12

In most of the famous paintings of the last supper, all of the disciples are leaning in, and we can recognize each, we remember their role, even the betrayer. We know them by name. The great passion, the vibrant last words of Christ, all of those, we rehearse, week in and week out. We rarely, if ever, remember the ones who furnished the room, led the way in to a safe place, keeping the food coming and cleaning up after it was all over. We never knew their names to begin with. But we all know people who never make it into the picture, never step into the center of the stage for the spotlight, but without whom nothing valuable would ever happen. My husband is one of those people and today is his birthday.

For most of our married life Mark has worked in theater and arts administration. He has made sure that all the actors, artists and teachers in his charge got paid, he has cleaned green rooms, ordered special food for temperamental actors, provided educational experience for at risk children and even provided baby sitting for parents who needed to be on stage. One acrobatic group refers to this role as "the man with the tie." The guy behind everything that makes the show go on, provides the room and the place for amazing things to happen. So here's to Mark on his birthday. And here's to all the other back stage guys (men and women alike), without whom the good things of life would never happen. They never demand the spotlight, and do all of it with kindness and a smile.

I invite us all today to seek out and thank those folks who have set the stage, led the way to a furnished place, found us a room for the night, and set the table so that God could move in our lives. These folks, quietly, without attention, help usher in the incarnation. They are evangelists by their actions. They "make straight the highway for our God." They quietly offer their skills and hearts for the transformation of others. They act the still, soft words of the living God. Thank you, Mark and all the other evangelists who quietly bring God's love into the world.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Casting Stones


"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again." John 8:10-11

She had gotten caught and they were trying to kill her - a killing that was legal and sanctioned. From this story comes the incredible image of Jesus bending down. Jesus bending down and writing with his finger in the dirt. Bending down and touching the earth for a convicted adulteress. The images from this story have always been rich and powerful, and mysterious. Added to the mystery today is why this passage from John is here during Advent amidst the Gospel of Luke. Today seems to be the day for us to come to grips with our own judgments -of others and ourselves. The day to face the fact that we are not called to be the judge, rather God is, and the Son of God is about the business of setting sinners free.

When my sister Betsy and I were young, (the last two of five children) my mother had corrected her for some small behavior. I don't remember the correction as being severe, but Betsy was very upset. She was probably three at the oldest. Our mothers mother was living with us at the time. My sister marched right up to our "Nanny" and demanded that she give her daughter a good spanking. She told our Grandmother that her daughter had been very naughty and very unkind and that she should be punished. As I remember it, both my mother and grandmother got into the act of pantomiming the required punishment - my mother letting out gales of painful cries. My sister seemed satisfied that justice had been served. We all want others to be punished for how they have hurt us, or how they have broken the law. We want others to suffer for what they have done. And yet we plea, on our knees, for forgiveness and understanding when we have ourselves been selfish and wrong. Into the midst of this Jesus bends down. He suggests to all of us, "neither do I condemn you, go your way and sin no more." He invites us to not tally others sins but rejoice in the abundant and boundless forgiveness we have received.

Today as a spiritual discipline, I want to be aware of when I am judging others, and be reminded that Jesus is not. Jesus has been given the authority to judge, and I have not. So, as I go through the day, I want to see others as forgiven and beloved rather than as the condemned. Easier said then done. The gift, here in the midst of Advent of letting go of judgment, is the opening up of my heart to forgiveness. Jesus' forgiveness of me, and my letting go and forgiving of others. This is truly an Advent spiritual discipline, so that our hearts might be prepared for the coming of Christ. The Christ that is bringing equity and justice to the world. The Christ who brings the power of love through the vulnerability of the manger.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Fig Tree

"Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourself that summer is near." Luke 21:29-30

When I was growing up, my parents had a fig tree in the back yard. It was a tree that was strong and vibrant, and was also close to the ground and easy to climb. It was a place of cool and refuge from the summer heat with its enormous rounded leaves. I loved to sit in the branches and marvel at the small buds of fruit as they grew. I was always tempted to pick them too early, but my father, the ultimate fig lover, kept a close watch on the figs. "Everything in good time " he would say and " patience, or if you eat them now they will make you sick." He was right, but I also knew he was not the most patient person in the world and he had made himself sick several times by eating too many figs. The fig tree had lots of lessons to teach, including that my Dad and I are more alike in adulthood than I want to admit. And, in truth, the ripe fruit was worth waiting for. Advent is that time of waiting, where we renew our hope in Christ and await his coming in glory. We read these passages from the Gospel that anticipate Christ's passion. And yet, I am not always sure what signs mean. I get the fig tree and summer, but I find some other signs more vexing.

The end of the Gospel reading for today is most helpful to me. It simply reports that "every day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each night he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple." (verses 37-38) This coming every day, early in the morning, is the only way I know to have some inkling of what the signs might mean and what is appropriate in the present season. Engaging Christ in the Gospel and prayer is the only way I know to have a sense of direction in the coming days.

For today, I want to give thanks for the opportunity to study the scriptures and for the time and space to pray. I ask God to give me pateince and a calm heart, so that I might see the signs of God's love all around me. I ask for the strength to hold fast in faith, knowing that even in the midst of trouble, God is in the midst of us, acting on our behalf and redeeming the world through Christ. May we all have the strength to rise up early to hear Jesus. May we together, "early let us do thy favor, early let us do thy will " and early, every morning, seek his face.

I share the complete text of this old Sunday School hymn that keeps running through my head. Words are written by Dorothy Thrupp (1836) and music by William B. Bradbury (1839).

keep running through my head -

Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need Thy tender care;
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us, for our use Thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.

We are Thine, Thou dost befriend us, be the guardian of our way;
Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Hear, O hear us when we pray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Hear, O hear us when we pray.

Thou hast promised to receive us, poor and sinful though we be;
Thou hast mercy to relieve us, grace to cleanse and power to free.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! We will early turn to Thee.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! We will early turn to Thee.

Early let us seek Thy favor, early let us do Thy will;
Blessed Lord and only Savior, with Thy love our bosoms fill.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast loved us, love us still.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast loved us, love us still.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Signs and Wonders


"When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near." Luke 21:28

One of the real delights of living in this town is that most everyone here takes decorating their house very seriously. Particularly at Christmas, but at other holiday times as well, the houses will be lit up and yards full of bright seasonal decorations. One man, who lives a few blocks up on our street, decorates every inch of lawn and roof for Christmas, and dresses up as Santa, greeting the children and waving at the cars that drive by. This goes on every night, the two weeks before Christmas, and he has candy canes for children and biscuits for dogs who look in awe and wonder, along with their owners. Something happens to people in this season, especially when encountering a display such as this. They are somehow transfixed and for a brief moment become like a child.

The lawn decorations which I don't understand at all are the ones which are basically inflated large balloons. They have motors that keep them constantly inflated. But at night, around here, because most people turn off the motors at bedtime, lawns are then littered with deflated santas, creche scenes, floppy snowmen and reindeer. I am glad I am not a child in this age, for the image would have terrified me when I was young. Right now, it still creeps me out quite a bit. The signs and wonders are all about us, and even those signs which are positive in nature, can be misunderstood by the beholder.

Jesus warns the disciples about all the signs that will signal the end of the age. But what he wants them to know is that, even if they read the signs correctly at all times, their job is to look up and expect their redemption. He does not instruct us to draw a sword or design a winning political campaign. Jesus asks us to stand up and lift up our heads - the signs of a confident and secure person. He asks us to be confident in our salvation. My mother has often remarked to me, "You know you are getting close to God when the devil is working over time." Now whether I agree with her theology or not, the statement is eerily true in the life of faith. Often, when we are truly following God, our popularity in the church decreases and challenges in our lives are on the increase. And even then, we cannot know for sure what all the signs and circumstances mean. Yet we can stand up still, look up and know that God is in the midst of it all, acting for us at all times.

For today, I want to be humble enough to rejoice in the challenges set before me, as well as the blessings I have received. I want to spent today looking up, counting on my salvation, and not letting small challenges diminish my faith. We all lose heart from time to time. But God is still in the midst of us. God is great even when we feel small. May we all have the strength this day to stand and look up. God is coming, God is here. Emmanuel, God with us, has arrived, and is arriving and will arrive again for the salvation and healing of the world.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

How Can I keep From Singing?

My sister Pegi passed away eighteen years ago today - hard to believe that much time has passed. I was a brand new priest, our girls were very young and it was so hard for all of us, but hardest on my parents. They had been with her in her final days, and yet the heartache nearly broke them. I had visited her in hospital in Florida the week she died, but had to return home for services. She had always been so good to me, taught me to play guitar, taught me all sorts of tricks and jokes - was the kind of older sister every child should be blessed to have. I had two, and now just one. All day long today, I have thought of her, and it always brings a smile. Over the years, the pain has diminished and in its place is that quirky trouble-making smile she had that promised mischief and that everything would be all right. And indeed it is. God has handled and remade me more times then I can count - all for the better. She was always laughing and singing, so I know she's continuing in heaven. And today, all that I have been able to do is sing. Sing for Pegi, and for all the sisters and brothers who have gone before who left a hole, but filled our hearts with loving memories. Her old songs pour through my mind and off my lips. I share this favorite hymn of mine that has been going through my head, knowing that she and the choir celestial are singing along. She had a knack for harmony -she always brought a sparkling depth and range to everything she did. So here's a Sunday song for all those moments when there is nothing else to do but sing.

How Can I Keep from Singing?

My life flows on in endless song above earth's lamentation,
I hear the real, tho' far off hymn, that hails the new creation.
Above the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing.
It sounds and echo in my soul, how can I keep from singing?

What tho' the tempest loudly roars I hear the truth, it liveth.
What tho' darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to the Rock I'm clinging.
Since love is Lord of heav'n and earth, how can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear, and hear the death knell ringing.
When friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile, our thoughts to them are winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Feast of St Nicholas

"Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Mark 10:14

They say he was shy, and did not want to embarrass a dear, faithful man, so Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, found a way to provide for the man's children. The man had three daughters and the eldest of them was to be married, but the father was so poor, they had so little that he not only could not give his daughter a wedding, he was contemplating what he thought his only choice, which was to sell his daughters, possibly into prostitution. This was a broken man. Nicholas is said to have tossed a bag of gold through the window in the dead of night, and done the same thing on two successive nights (or when the other girls were older, some stories say). When the stories of Nicholas were told in colder climates, the gold was tossed down a chimney. And in some the gold appeared in the shoes that the family set out at night. All of these customs have become part of our inherited customs at Christmas. Nicholas, in his faithfulness, becomes the symbol of the anonymous, completely selfless gift, and the caretaker of vulnerable children and families.
His generosity and protection, transparently demonstrates Christ's love for the world, poured out for the most vulnerable among us. There are many stories and legends about Nicholas, and the miracles he performed in his life time, but his witness to self giving love has remained a singular gift to the spiritual imagination of the whole world.

Parents and their children continue to be vulnerable across our world today. Fathers and mothers contemplate hard choices with hearts broken, their spirits on the ground. I know only too well what it is like to want to provide for a child and to be challenged and helpless with the need. Love and protection are challenged in the best of times, but when the world is faced with a broken economic system, the poor and vulnerable suffer the worst. Today, on the feast day of St. Nicholas, I want to find ways to quietly broadcast the love of Christ to the people I encounter today. I want to be a transparent vessel, so that God's generosity might pour through me. I don't have bags of gold to throw in windows in the night (or down chimneys), but there are many other ways I can share what I have been given. Today, I want to untie all the binds that keep me from seeing the needs of others. I want to be an agent of "letting the children come" rather than a barrier to innocence and hope. May God grant me a small measure of another bishop's compassion this day. And may we all, like Nicholas, listen to the stories of the broken in our midst and respond from the heart of God.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Poverty of Wealth

"I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." Luke 21:4

I have been attending a meeting all day of the Standing Commission in the Episcopal Church. Today, we talked about many topics in preparation for our general convention next summer in Anaheim. Our focus is on Peace and Justice Concerns in the International Arena. We have a wealth of things to say about the human rights violations across the world. Some situations give rise to great discussion, others not so much. I notice, among a group of church people, who are for the most part very well off, we are rich with words of condemnation of others' atrocities and completely complacent about our own constant individual and corporate blindness to the needs inside and outside our borders. We love to mess in others' business, but we don't want anyone messing in ours. We have an avalanche of advice, but compartmentalize the truth that sits next to us, daily, aching to be honored and fed. How little we connect our great abundance with the needs of the world. We happily smile at the severed lines that we have cut. And yet, we complain mightily about the cuts in the budget, but no one offers to give part of their wealth to this all important work. No one wants to offer their mite to the crying need. I don't want to sound harsh, but the truth of church politics is no different the the temple politics in Jesus' time. The disciples didn't notice the act of the widow nor the act of the wealthy. To them it was the normal life of a temple community.They didn't make the connection. But Jesus noticed. Jesus notices the poverty of wealth, the poverty of heart which demands that one is constantly hedging and protecting their assets when they had an abundance. The widow has little to loose, so she gave her all. The uncommon hero is a normal temple scene. The one who God watches with eyes that see the heart. The who we will always remember. She went to bed with an empty stomach but a rich and full heart.

Today, I want to live, this first Friday of Advent, as if the eyes of God are upon my heart. Am I giving only in safety, am I impoverished by my self-protection and rich with sentimentality but short on compassion? Or am I sacrificial, acting and living like God is the giver? Am I living as if it isn't mine to hold on to, but rather a seed to plant for the whole world? Can I trust God today to provide? None of us likes the discomfort of not knowing where the next gift will come from and instead we storehouse God's generosity thinking it is for us alone. I want to fling open the doors of the store house. I want to share it all so that God can replenish my life and my heart. Will I have to wait? Yes. Is it scary? Yes. But for today, I want to live like only God is watching and there is no one to impress. I pray that we can all have the courage, if but for a little while, to live as if the Prince of Peace, the Babe of Bethlehem, the Savior of the World is grateful for our poverty, grateful for our empty hands, smiling at our ability to freely give away the gifts that love alone has made.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Among the Living

Some days it is easy to feel peppy and alive. Not so much atother times. On Wednesday I had a procedure that was simple, but brought me great anxiety. It was simple, to help relieve back pain after an accident, but I had been dreading it completely. Dreading it so much so that I lost sleep the night before. I felt like I was more among the dead than the living, and at some point later in the day, after the procedure was done, I fell asleep, sitting up with a cup of coffee in my hand - which fell out of my hand dousing me completely, as well as the floor and surrounding area. Sometimes we feel like we are barely alive, and each day for many can be a great struggle. But God, despite all of our struggles and exhaustion, is right here in the midst of the living, sharing the joy and sorrow, animating love among the living, no matter how well or poorly we feel.
"He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." Luke 20:39

Today I want to live with a sense of God in the midst of the living, a Creator who sees us alive and full of potential, even when we are dead on our feet, trapped in a rut, stuck without a map or a paddle. God promises to be with us, paddle, map and light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes I forget that when I get anxious. Sometimes, I think the past was better, that others have it easier, or God seems far off from this weary world. But for today, I want to live, alive to the electric sense of God, shimmering and moving in our midst, God who sees not our failure but our potential, not our mistakes but our brilliance reflected in the sun. Today, let's all try to be alive, with a measure of God's spirit - a world waits for the touch of love.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Fever



My Grandfather WalkingStick was an oil scout for Philips Petroleum in the 1930s. My mother tells vivid stories of her childhood, moving with the oil camps, watching the derricks go up. It was a life of dramatic contrasts, of exotic wealth in the midst of a fierce depression, constantly on the move, constantly surrounded by violence and drama. As children we heard these stories and thought how wonderfully romantic it all seemed. I was also secretly grateful for my comparatively sedate and secure life. It was a time when the earth was ripped open, lives were shattered, the dust swirled and children walked a very fine line between survival and peril. Greed in desperate times can be the cruelest emperor.

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Luke 20:25

Those times echo in our own. There was abundance then, even when the country was impoverished, when bread lines were long, and when children went begging on the street. The black crude shooting out of the red clay gave everyone near it a fever, an ache to be overwhelmed with money. Ultimately no one wins when that kind of frenzy occurs, when broken people aching to be whole chase after what is the obvious but wrong, answer. Jesus knew that ache in his last days. He saw people desperate to restore the right order of things, while the occupying government bled them dry. It gives people a fever. Jesus knew they belonged to God, those feverish people. He knew that their coin belongs to whomever was in charge. Things like that never change. What can change then and now, is our hearts. We can know the reality of our need, the desperation of our circumstances without taking down our neighbors or climbing over innocents. We can know we are cradled in the arms of a loving Creator, one who came for us and continues to seek us until found.

May we recognise today the creeping anxiety around us, the fever within us and know that God already has a way through it. We are God's, not shiny stamped impressions of a dead king. We are precious, more precious than child to a parent. God is feverish to find us, to hold us and to restore all that we have lost. " Fear not, we belong to God" will be the phrase I repeat all day today. There is always much to fear. And God is always faithful.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Killing the Messenger

"What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him." Luke 20:13

I was listening to the news in the car last evening as I was waiting at the train station. The economic news was bleak, yet another day of market down turns. Fear and panic seem to be the overwhelming emotion of the day. I couldn't help but think that when times were good, gratitude was not then the over whelming emotion - greed took the day. It never belonged to us in the first place. And yet how easily we congratulate ourselves when things are going well and how quickly we want to find someone to blame when things don't go well. How quickly we take ownership of the abundance and the luxury. Personal and private ownership is seen as the ultimate goal, and amassing great fortunes a sign of success. How reluctant we are to admit to our selfishness, and instead want bailouts? No one is willing to let go of control, even when what they control does not belong to them. Little of the money in stocks belongs to those who control it, likewise with banks, other financial institutions and even the church. The cure for our woes, whether personal or corporate might just be found in admitting that we are tenant farmers, that we owe an enormous gratitude for the abundance, and we are bound by the owner of the vineyard to share the bounty in good times and in bad. We await the coming of the Son this Advent, but what will we do when he comes?

Jesus tells the parable of the tenants as the religious leadership of the day listened in. The owner has rented out the land to tenants who do not want to pay their due and finally figure that if they kill the son, as they have killed all the other messengers, then the land will be theirs. They instead, lose their lives and their stake in the land. It is easy to hear this story and judge the tenants as foolish - although all of us have the desire to control what is not ours, reap abundance where we haven't labored and be tenants no more. And yet, letting go to being a tenant invites us to be caretakers and partners in the abundance and generosity of God. The God whose vineyards and storehouses are full at all times, no matter how fickle humans or their markets behave. We tenants have a part in the work of God, whose love is constant and continuous, who does not judge us by what we have but by how we love.

Today, I want to be a happy tenant. I want to live awaiting the arrival of the Son. Awaiting the messenger from God, I want to be ready to welcome and share all that I have been given. I want to look on others today as equal partners in this field, equal laborers who chief labor is love. I want to share what I have knowing it is not mine but God's and knowing that God's abundance and generosity is given for me to share. May we all have the courage, in these times when fear presides to welcome the message and the messenger, and to share the bounty we have been given.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Feast of St. Andrew


"Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19

This morning I awoke to dark skies and a more temperate air temperature. This morning, I was to drive my eldest to Penn Station in Newark so she could return to work in Baltimore. Her Dad went along and took his train to work from Newark rather than our local station. As I went out to warm up the car, the light was just beginning. It was a Maxfield Parrish sky, pink clouds with the that blue hinting of cobalt that he favored so much. Daybreak always amazes me, the muted colors giving way to an explosion of light. Yesterday had been so rainy and dreary. It felt good to welcome the sun. And yet, there was a sinking in my heart because the start of today meant the house would again be empty, our holiday feasting had come to an end, and I would have to let go, for a season, of the real joy of having us all together as a family. Being in separate places doesn't change a thing, make us any less family, take away one ounce of love -but it is still hard to let the boisterous fullness go to a season a fasting, another time of going without. Advent is in full swing.

The official feast day for St. Andrew is November 30th, but since the church calendar had to choose between Advent 1 and St. Andrew, it chose Advent 1 for Sunday and placed St. Andrew, this year, on December 1st. So here were are, reflecting on Andrew the fishermen, the brother of Peter and among those first called to follow Jesus. Andrew is the quieter brother, the steady, level-headed sibling to the mercurial Andrew. He probably had to intervene on Peter's behalf, holding him back from fights and patching up things when a tussle broke out. They were family, and together, they gave up the family business, dropping nets and responsibilities, to follow Jesus. Their lives changed forever in that moment, and the family they left behind must have ached to see their sons, husbands, and fathers again. The family they left behind might have understood their sense of call but they probably missed them none the less. Distance is still an ache among families. Their families might have shed tears, knowing this season of distance would be long and challenging to the familial bonds. This was all new to their extended family. This Jesus was new, and challenged them to reconsider everything they had known with certainty.

In this season of Advent, I want to be like Andrew, solid and quiet, responding with joy to the call of my Savior. I want to be conscious of the strains and challenges my call puts on my family, want to be aware of how loving and supportive they are despite the necessary distances and changes. I want to live with a tender compassion that comes with knowing that transitions are difficult, that growing up is difficult, that being a family together is difficult - with all that knowledge - and still full of a tender love. Advent is a season of turning and waiting. A season of preparing, a season of change. Help me, God, to embrace the change that is coming. Help me God, to let go of the nets and follow Jesus. Help us all to run to your loving embrace. Your loving embrace, which makes us all family together, and reminds us of our need for you and for one another.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Watch Out

"What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!" Mark 13:37

I have missed several days writing here because I was surrounded by family and wanted most of all to be with them. Yesterday, when I woke up I had a terrible headache and my stomach was volatile. I tried to get up and be with the gang but for all my effort, it was nearly impossible to lift my head or move without pain. The last thing I wanted to be was sick while my daughters were home and we were able to be together as a family. No one had to go to work or be occupied elsewhere. And yet, there I was felled by a stomach bug, stuck in the house, feeling frustrated and guilty when I wasn't sleeping. Today, feeling much better, I still feel the loss of a day that I cannot get back. Wishing and hoping won't make it come back. So, I only hope I can find another day, another way for all of us to be together, enjoying each other, since being with them is of singular importance in my life. I don't want to wait for another time for us to be together, but I will cherish and make the most of today.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the season where we watch and wait and prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ as a child in Bethlehem and in a new way in our lives. This is a season where things we don't expect change our lives completely. This is the season where the earth shifts, where the cold bears down, when the sun struggles to rise and we wait with expectation for a new beginning. I hate to be told to wait. I don't like being told to be patient and I personally would rather know what is coming than be surprised.

In this season, we are challenged to wait as God works to bring new life and promise into our world. We are asked to be patient when we are so used to having information in an instant. And yet, there is also something incredibly holy about the process of waiting. When I was carrying each of our three daughters, I remember being so impatient at first, and then enjoying each day as I woke to find new growth, new movement, new signs of life. They were worth every minute of the waiting, whether I liked the waiting or not. And that gave it a holy sense, this waiting which was beyond my control and my limitations. What God created was nothing short of a miracle in each one, and nothing I could have made with my own hands and my own impatient self.

Today, I want to begin this season of Advent by offering my impatience and this season to God. I want to watch and wait, to watch out for signs of new life and declare them when I see them. I want to open my heart as I wait, I want to break loose of control and open to God's spirit. It is hard and scary for me to wait, but everything in my life that is holy and miraculous came in its own time, in God's time and completely more wonderful than I could have imagined. May we all live courageously open to God in this season. May we wait for love to knock us over, fill us to the brim and make holy and new that which has laid broken and shattered. May this Advent begin with us offering the days to God, letting go of control, and waiting for love to break through all the dark places.