Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Authority of Love

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.Matthew 21:23-32

The Authority of Love

The morning light filters through
old warped clouded glass
smoothing out all the rough edges
seeing love clearly as the day begins.

There are no rules but heart's call
an ache and desire to bring a smile
to fill a belly to rock a child
working in the fields despite ourselves
for love's sake alone.

Sultry afternoons heat rising in waves
we bend under responsibility standing
long hours in the burning sun
hanging worn clothes on an old line
weeding and planting the garden
tenderly nurturing seedlings
watering and waiting the shade
of night falls and we pray.

Love alone commands us we dance
to the music and breathe deep
we lift our heads once again
we are children of a loving parent
offspring of compassion and joy
we come running to offer our full
and empty baskets our open arms
the mark of love on our sweat stained faces.

Love incarnate, love renewed
we have no authority but love
love made over, transformed, reawakened
a heart desire to care and watch
to hold and to coddle, lift and bandage
a life of service, a daily walk
for love's sake alone.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cleaning Up

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?” And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Matthew 21:12-22

The pictures and videos from Black Friday shopping incidents are both comical and frightening. Folks desperate to get a deal on Christmas gifts fighting and crushing others in stampede like fashion. The competitive consumer face of the holidays is down right upsetting to me, and I wonder if Jesus wouldn't be turning other tables if he came for a visit today.

Jesus, in a rare moment of fury, topples the tables of the market place in the temple. Children came and honored him but the religious leaders wanted him gone. He healed the blind and the lame but nothing was good enough after he undid their business as usual set-up. While all of our local churches are hosting bazaars as fundraisers, I can help but imagine what challenges Jesus might have for all of us today. We are invited by God to get rid of the clutter, the anxiety, the buying and selling in order to welcome the real love of God into our lives. And yet, do we fear real love so much, and God's presence and power, that we will do everything we can to tart up our houses and our lives so we can't be found?

Today, as we journey deeper into Advent, I ask God to help me keep focused on preparation and self-examination. I want to do everything I can to welcome the blessed child of God, the incarnate love that changed everything forever. May we all be strengthened to set aside our competitive urges and seek the tenderness and quiet of the nursery, the simple stable and the extraordinarily meek places where God is found.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Riding on a Donkey

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,humble, and mounted on a donkey,on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11

I grew up in a town where everything seemed to be about image not about reality. A playmate of mine was brought to kindergarten in a limo. As we got older, kids went to France and the Alps on vacations, and got brand new cars when they got their drivers' license. It was showy and often sad, as these wealthy kids were often left with hired help, and had little interaction with their parents. We were poor, living on a pastor's salary and sometimes I was embarrassed by my hand-me-downs and our old beater cars. As I became an adult I learned that I was given a great gift. I could see right through the glitz and the show, and because I wasn't impressed (I'd seen it all before), I could find the person hiding behind all the expensive tinsel.

Jesus was a celebrity and was at the high point in his fame. He chooses to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, the humblest of animals, and to connect with the people not with the powerful or rich. He reached out to the least and even when they were celebrating him, he came humbly into their midst and ignored the negative press. He knew people's hearts and nothing showy impressed him. Tenderness and compassion were his identity and that of his followers. In this season of Advent we are invited to put our compassion and tenderness out front and forgo the glitz, tinsel and the need to impress. It is so easy to get caught up in the competitive shopping and decorating, when Jesus really wants our hearts.

Today I ask God to help me live a tender and compassionate life. Let my first thoughts today be for the care of others, my first actions be in love and tenderness. May this season be one of gentleness and humility, so that our hearts may truly be ready for the coming of the Christ child. May we be humble as we find our way to that humble stable that changed the world.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dark and Light

Jesus said to his disciples, "In those days, after that suffering,the sun will be darkened,and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven,and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see `the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake-- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake." Mark 13:24-37

This has been a long day at the end of a long week. As we begin Advent today, I am reminded how this time is set aside for preparation, for making our hearts ready anew for the coming of the Christ child. As we sat in traffic tonight, crawling along the blue route, the sun dropped lower and lower over the horizon, and the pinks and reds faded in to a blue darkness. Arriving home much later than we had hoped, the fingernail moon had disappeared and the stars were brilliant in the mild winter night sky. It was as if the sky and the natural world was turning right in front of me, turning in preparation for the changing of the world.

Jesus is preparing his disciples for the dramatic changes ahead of them. They really don't want to hear, they want the mild weather and the bright light of his presence to go on forever. But everything has its season, and change is inevitable. Winter is necessary for spring to come, and night must come before the light of day. We are invited to a time of prayer and preparation, as the world bustles to shop and spend, we are invited to quiet reflection of the love we have that is breaking forth into the world.

As this day ends, I ask God to help me cherish the darkness, and tenderly hold on to these times of preparation. May theses day be full on wonder and song, full of listening and looking. May I be ready to change and follow a morning star, the promise of new life and love, that God is bringing anew to our darkened world.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

To See Clearly

And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. Matthew 20:29-34

One of the challenges with families is that we see what we want to see and our eyesight can be clouded by the past, glorious and painful or all rolled together. Around a meal table the ancient stories and myths are brought forth and heroes are regaled. But sometimes we forget to see the wonderful human beings present around the table, the people who have become marvelous wonders despite the challenges and hurdles they have faced. And we often leave out important people, the ones who have been heroic by marrying into our crazy clans, the ones who have listened to our stupid stories, put up with our weird rituals, and who love us despite our kooky families and our tedious re-countings and re-creations. Our families often failed to realize the gifted and the blessings around the table when we get so caught up in the glorious past that never really was.

Jesus recognizes the present situation and refuses to silence the blind beggars. He could revel in the crowd and ignore the scruffy obnoxious guys, but instead he lives in the present and responds to the pressing need, helping these men reach their full potential. He knows them for their reality and not their challenges, their awkward, outcast status, their neediness not their inconvenience. They are some mother's beloved sons, children in need of redemption, not a disturbance needing to be squelched. We are all in need of being recognized and loved fully in our present and our gospel today tells us that God is with us today, embracing the fullness of who we are all through our lives. God knows, loves and cherishes everyone around the table.

Today I ask God to increase my eyesight. May I see the full wonder of those around me. May I not be clouded by past mistakes, hysterics or heroics, but rather relish my time in their wondrous presence. May we all be loved like precious children and love all we encounter today with the tender eyesight of a gracious and loving God.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Can you drink this cup?

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:17-28

We are in transit from one part of our family to the other, from western to eastern Pennsylvania. Lots of people are on the road, going shopping and returning from family gatherings everywhere. The thing about families is that when we gather, we rejoice in the love we have, quickly renewing old ties and digging up old arguments. We find ways to enter the old games and comparisons despite our best, grown-up selves. And the gift of family is that we love each other despite and because of that very humanity. We can be vulnerable and broken with one another and know (or at least hope) we will eventually be forgiven.

Mrs. Zebedee knew her sons were special and wanted them treated appropriately. She wanted them to take first place without weighing the cost of what she was really asking. Few of us measure the cost of leadership, because to truly be a leader in God's reign is to be daily humbled, daily putting others first and ourselves last. Few of us can drink that cup, let alone subsist on a diet of humble pie. But Jesus promised them, and promises us that we do not have to ever walk alone, and we are constantly enveloped in God's love and protection as we face the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

Today, I ask God to give me an extra measure of humility and patience. Help me, Lord, to swallow my pride and love unconditionally every person I encounter today, not counting the cost but offering more of myself in every moment for your glory. May love be so deep in us that we cannot be shaken from our resolve to love and forgive as we have been forgiven.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving - Enough For All

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:1-16

We are enjoying a Thanksgiving with my husband's family, feasting on a light tasty lunch and waiting on the Turkey that is cooking away. We have lots to be thankful for - a wonderful family, beautiful healthy daughters, a wonderful granddaughter and a large extended family. Many people are without today, and many are hungry, estranged from their families and alone in the world. As we celebrate and enjoy each other's company, I am reminded that there are many folks waiting all day for a small meal, many waiting to be hired for a few hours, many who have very little to celebrate. It is easy to bemoan our challenges, but in the face of so many others who are in need, how can we not feel blessed and touched by abundance.

Jesus is talking about the reign of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the expression of God's love breaking through to our broken world. In God's garden, we are invited to see that there is enough for everyone - enough work, enough food, enough love and relationship so that no one is alone. We live in a very broken world, and selfishness and hoarding keep us from seeing the beauty and abundance of God's reign. But God's desire for us is to live in the abundance and blessing of God desire.

Today, as we celebrate, may we remember the blessings and abundance from God, and share that abundance in the days to come. As the world turns dark, may we be a force for light, as the world turns cold, may we be instruments of tenderness and warmth. May God's abundance increase our compassion, so that we might carry the love of God where ever we go.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Last Are First

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. Matthew 19:23-30

Walk in my shoes awhile
this dusty, dirty road
pebbles fly as trucks pass by
we are the last to come.

My shoes are broken down
miles walking daily home to work
working in your yard, your kitchen
you do not know my name.

My clothes come from a bin
I fish them out at night
pick them at a church basement
gathering for others first
my babies and the elders.

My shoes are tattered
my heart is on fire
love has made a home with me
poor though we are
laughter surrounds us
and we sing as we walk late at night.

Walk in my shoes and see God shimmering
in the night sky whispering love
to the abandoned and aliens
my family my people
we are the end of the line.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Give to the Poor

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Matthew 19:13-22

My daughter Emily works for an organization which daily feeds the hungry an the homeless and this time of year gathers volunteers to prepare Holiday dinners. This year has been especially hard, as there are many more hungry and homeless and less people with lots of extra income. It is always astounding though how many angels appear and how often the largest gifts come from the most unlikely sources. God is always moving hearts, one by one to change the world by feeding the poorest among us.

Jesus gathered up the children and reminded his followers how important it was for all of us to be like children. Then a young man with everything came to him, going away sad when Jesus suggested he share his wealth with the poor. His riches were standing in the way of his compassion, his possessions were blocking his heart. We are reminded that when we are stuck and distraught, we are invited by God to offer our treasure to others, sharing what we have. This small activity somehow changes our world, and unblocks out hearts and minds.

Today I ask God to help me open my heart and deepen my spirit by giving of myself. May the possessions and treasures I have be small compared to the love I share today. May we all grow deeper in love with God as we open ourselves to the needs of those least among us.

Monday, November 21, 2011


When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there. Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." They said to him, "Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?" He said to them, "It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery. His disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." But he said to them, "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." Matthew 19:1-12

As I was in the check out line at the grocery store, the woman behind me pushed me out of the way so she could get one gossip rag or another. All of the tattlers had headlines about famous couples breaking up, the 72 day marriage after the world's most elaborate wedding,or the cougar couple destined for failure. We are fascinated with famous failure, and we make a big deal over things like this. What is never reported on are the people who are faithful over long periods of time, who honor their vows and love and cherish their mate. We revel in floundering and ignore the noble, who have done incredibly hard work to love and renew love over decades.

Jesus is facing Jerusalem and is assaulted with questions about the marriage laws. It seems in every generation, we refashion marriage and divorce to suit the needs of the most affluent and famous. They want him to refashion the laws to make the religious leaders happy. Jesus' reply to them is for them to do the hard work of being faithful. Faithfulness in all things. And we are reminded today that we are invited to looks at the vows we make and to take them seriously, for we make these vows with God as well as with our partner, our church, and with the people. As a bishop I try to regularly read the vows I made in order to renew and refresh the solemn commitments I made almost ten years ago. No vows are easy to uphold, and there are circumstances where we are unable to continue, in a damaging and violent relationships, but God has promised to honor and bless us in these solemn relationships.

Today I want to give thanks for all those who I have committed myself to -to Christ in baptism, to my husband in marriage, to the church as first, deacon and priest and now bishop. May we all give thanks for those who we are blessed to share our lives with, and ask God to bless us and the people we care for. May our faithfulness be a blessing to those around us and a sign of God presence with us, for we can do nothing well without God's continued guidance and blessing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

One Small Cup

Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, `Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, `You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, `Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, `Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:31-46

We live in a country where more and more people go hungry, more folks go without basic health care and physical needs every day. Our prisons are overloaded with young poor and immigrants are treated cruelly and without dignity. Yet there is great wealth in many places. Late at night, when driving through some very posh places, I often see the very poor, living in the shadows, struggling home to their tired aching family with needs that will never be filled.

Jesus lived in a time when the gap between rich and poor was huge also, when the tyrants of the age thought they deserved all they had and hoarded their wealth. It can seem sometimes as if we have learned nothing in two thousand years and we are unable to change the course of human suffering and need. Jesus reminds us that Gods love is spread, not with great miracles or heroics but with daily tenderness, and kindness to the overlooked, the avoided and those who ache to be loved and cared for. Jesus invites us to look close to home and change hearts and minds by opening up our hearts and minds to others around us.

Today I ask God to help me to see the need around me and respond by loving others, and reaching out with compassion and mercy. Help me not to be discouraged, Lord, by the problems that surround us, but rather to take one small step, one small hand, offering one small gesture, one small cup. May we all trust God to answer our prayers as we step out in faith for the healing of our world.

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well¯beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Seventy times Seven

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35

There is real joy and real challenges when we live together as family. As Thanksgiving approaches, many people have heightened anxiety as they prepare to be with their families. Many of us have had very negative holidays experiences, where one family member or another has acted out, tearing at the fabric of the family. Some of us have joyous memories which can no longer be replicated as so many of the fun family members have passed on. Some fear the expectations that have crushed them in the past, others the lack of control on some siblings' parts. Whatever we are worried about with the holidays, guaranteed there will be lots of opportunity for forgiving and asking forgiveness.

Peter asks the obvious question of Jesus and Jesus answers that best forgive a "bazillion" times as the kids say. Really and truly, forgiveness is an essential task of our spiritual lives. We find our growth as we forgive and we deepen our relationship and dependence on our Creator as we seek to forgive and be forgiven. It is also one of the hardest tasks to fully accomplish, and comes only with a great measure of help from God. We humans stumble over each other, hurting each other, leaving scars everywhere. We can wake up in the morning still angry with someone who we had promised to forgive years ago. And we can suffer terribly when we are unforgiven or we hold on to the hate and anger that we thought we had let go of in times before. God promises mercy, overflowing mercy, if we will but offer mercy and forgiveness to one another.

Today I ask God for the strength to forgive, and the heart to always have mercy. As we prepare for the holidays I ask God to help me look forward and not back, asking, moment by moment for forgiveness and the courage to forgive those around me. May we all trust that God is pouring out an abundance of mercy and forgiveness today, and share the mercy we have received, so that others may know the face of God in their midst, even at the family table.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lost Sheep

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:10-20

The Lost Sheep's Lament

Darkness fell so suddenly
the winter cold covers me
a blanket that is no warmth
but draws my heart from my chest
gasping for breath I find
myself alone.

The quiet is so loud
wolf cries and hawks above
signal friends a coming meal
and I am the main course
the goal of their singing.

No one to protects me no shelter
to be found no arms longing for me
no beating heart next to mine.

In the stillness of the night
a thunder of footsteps awaken me
I cringe into the deeper shadows
awaiting punishment and death.

No one to protects me no shelter
to be found no arms longing for me
no beating heart next to mine.

The first touch was tender
but I could not look I would not
gaze on my murderer would not
give into the pain that was to be offered
nor the slaughter's knife that
haunted all my dreams.

The hands wrapped around me
pulled me from the thorns
tearing at the brush that held me
pouring warm water on my wounds
my rescuer carried me to safety
carried me across the frozen landscape
and brought me back home.

My shepherd is my to protector my shelter
the arms always longing for me
the warm beating heart next to mine
the voice that whispered back to me
as I prayed in the darkness damp night
"it is not the will of my Father in heaven
that one of these little ones should perish".

Thursday, November 17, 2011


At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire." Matthew 18:1-9

I cannot pass a playground or a park that has swings without being tempted to take time out and swing. When I was a child, I could swing for hours, losing myself to the motion, letting go of any troubles or cares. Head tilted back, watching clouds and sky, one can be free and centered, as you let go of the ground and gravity. As we get older we are burdened with cares and anxieties and find it hard to let go and be childlike. A few minutes on a swing will still bring back that magic for me, the gift of childhood, when one is totally lost in the sensation and wonder, the joy of the immediate moment.

The disciples struggle at every turn to understand Jesus' teachings and expectations, just as we do at times. He invites them to become childlike and humble, trusting completely in the generosity of God and caught up in the gifts of the present moment. It is hard for us as it was for them, because life's burdens can be heavy and we feel inadequate to carry the load. Children never expect themselves to be adequate and complete. Children expect to learn and grow. Asking for help at every turn, being humble and vulnerable, curious and caught up in the moment - this is how Jesus invites us to be in order to draw close to God. Not perfect, complete or in charge, but rather humble and open, turning to our Creator in everything.

Today I ask God to help me be more childlike, honest with my need, and open to God's invitation and response. Today, I want to practice the discipline of being a child, dependent and curious, expectant and open to growth and learning. May we all be more childlike today so that we can witness the wonder and joy that God has in store for us. May we offer our inadequacies up today so that we might marvel at God's gifts of beauty and delight.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Death and Taxes

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” Matthew 17:22-27

A few years ago, many of us would not have imagined the challenges we face with the economy, employment and in our personal and professional circumstances. The world has changed and many of us are in dire straits now. There is lots of anxiety and nothing seems to be certain. The only thing certain for some of us these days are death and taxes.

Jesus talks with his disciples to prepare them for what is to come although they don't want to hear it. None of us like to have the frank discussions abut our own end, let alone the death of a loved one. On top of that they are in trouble over paying taxes. They are facing pretty uneasy and unsettling times. Jesus sends them to the water to catch fish, a most unlikely way to deal with both death and taxes. But the solution lies right there, in the waiting and the trust. God does and will provide. We are invited to live with renewed trust, as the disciples did. We are invited to see that the most unlikely places, the most unlikely people are most likely to provide us enough to get through the troubles we face.

Today I ask God to help me trust in these uncertain times and to provide me the calm to wait by the water until the solutions are caught up in the net. May we all "trust and obey" as the old hymn reminds us, so that the unlikely places might yield enough for today and courage and hope for tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Little Faith

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’ Matthew 17:14-21

It is the season where the garden is coming to an end, when we harvest the remaining herbs and bring them in to dry. There are still a few small tomatoes and eggplants hanging on to withering vines, but their time is short. Some of the garden was planted with seeds, other parts with small seedlings. From both we got robust plants. Marveling at how much can come from so little, I tuck away the images from mid-summer and pray we can grow an abundant garden again.

The disciples are failing miserably. They ask Jesus for help and he heals the little boy. Their failure, he tells them, is from their lack of faith and if they had but faith the size of mustard seeds they could move mountains. Well, I would've been hurt by that, even though we have no idea how the disciples felt. They were doing their best but this was all new to them. We all have times when, despite our best efforts, everything goes terribly wrong and everything we do seems destined for failure. Jesus invites us to not give up, but to take the little seed of faith that we have and let it germinate, let it go and trust God to yield amazing fruit from our little faithful efforts.

Today I ask God to help me avoid giving up but rather help me to let go and trust God to bring the increase and the healing. We are often trusting our own gifts rather than trusting God - having real faith. May we all receive this day an extra measure of faith, and in response to that gift of faith may we freely share God's love with a tormented and hurting world.

Monday, November 14, 2011

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.Matthew 17:1-13

Last evening we attended a lovely Taize service at the Church of the Advent. It was reflective and quiet after what was a fairly restless day.Promised by the weather report of a sunny day, we found ourselves with a stormy day, chilly and threatening. The music brought me to a quiet and restful place, to moments of peace and tranquility. As we stepped outside the world had been transformed. What were once gloomy sky scapes were now brilliant with pinks and oranges. In a quiet moment I said to my husband that it looked like a Maxfield Parrish sky. Other folks came pouring out of the church and looked up to see what we were seeing. Then everyone was transfixed with the beauty and the change of scene.

Jesus and his disciples have a brief moment before he turns to face Jerusalem. It would be his last trip there. High up on a mountain, the disciples glimpsed, if but for a moment, their world transformed in beauty, their leader and friend reflecting his true nature and a vision of God's true reign on earth. They had stepped out of the turmoil for a moment and God found a way to show them the promise of new life, the promise of the in-breaking of God's reign. Some days we just need a little insight and hope to keep on keeping on.

Today, I ask God to help me hold that picture in mind, so that I can continue to move forward, one step at a time, following where God leads. May I remember that the challenges of the day are no match for God's love and faithfulness. And may we all, no matter how dark the road, remember God is walking with us and providing us with new vision and new insight all along the way.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Talent Search

Jesus said, "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, `Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' His master said to him, `Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, `Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' His master said to him, `Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, `Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master replied, `You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' "Matthew 25:14-30

We seem to be overrun with talent, if television is any judge of things. Shows like the Voice, America's Got Talent, American Idol are among a sea of talent shows that people follow with great commitment. They revel in the missteps and missteps of the performers, delight in the judges antics and weep when some poor, pitiful underprivileged child shows amazing skill and talent. Most of these shows also have three judges, stars in their own right, who often steal the show from the auditioning performers. We watch as people put their life on the line and call it entertainment. And most of us are burying our talent every day, hiding the blessings God has given us rather than risk embarrassment and humiliation when we publicly come up short.

Jesus tells this parable about our gifts, and uses a unit of money which is symbolic of so much more. He invites us to understand that God has blessed every one of us abundantly and yet we are prone to hide our gifts for fear of ridicule and punishment, whether from those who oversee us or from our peers. God wants us to use our talents, share our gifts and multiply the hope, mercy and love we have been given. Most of us are terrified of being put to shame. God doesn't care about the human audience but about the human heart.

Today, I ask God to help me be strong enough to share what I have been given, fearless enough to refrain from burying those gifts and hopeful enough to trust God to bring the increase. We live in times when people really need to witness hope and mercy, and to know that God's love and abundance is for every one, every where. May we all be witnesses to God's promise of abundance and blessing, even when there is shortage and want everywhere.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Keeping it Simple

And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.Mark 16:20

Some days, the only thing one can do is to put one foot in front of the other and gain confidence as you move forward. It can be a slow task. I have been going to physical therapy, and every day I watch as people who are in pain take small steps toward recovery. They are working in small increment to strengthen and develop, one little exercise at a time, increasing mobility, agility and confirming their capacity to be strong after many challenges. It is like that in ministry and much of our life in faith. As we practice, we grow stronger, one step at a time, God firming what we are doing with glimpses of growth and strength. It doesn't come all at once usually, but in small doses and simple measures.

The lectionary for today is one single verse. Startling at first, I am reminded that small things are often the most powerful. We can be lost in a whole chapter, but one verse can serve as a priceless gem, with many facets radiating light as we turn the stone around and look more deeply. Jesus sends the disciples out and they find that, bit by bit, they grow in strength and capacity as they move out in faith. We are invited to see this as our invitation to step out in faith, one foot in front of the other, trusting God to provide the abundance and the increase and to affirm and deepen our ability to serve others.

Today, I ask God to help me take small steps, trusting that even the smallest of movement, the tiniest offering will move faith and love forward. May we all trust that no matter how fast or slow we move, no matter how small or great our gifts, God is deepening our resolve, strengthening and blessing us each step on our way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Built on the Rock

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. Matthew 16:13-20

Built on the Rock

The moon is full a round shimmering
ball of reflected light the tides
ache to overrun the streets these nights
their waters pouring over every living thing
high tide throwing huge waves at us
we scrambled to the rocks and pray.

The cold water grabbed at our feet
rising up to swallow us whole
the night is dark and our cries
silenced by the roaring seas
the usual screaming seagulls silenced
their alarms asleep in the troubled night.

We are on the rocks the world turns
change is surrounding us and we fear
we are being as to learn to swim
to jump into the turbulent waters
fighting current and riptides
we tremble as we know we must dive
taking the water rather than death.

We float and roll in the sea
we are tossed but found panting
on the shore surrounded by angels
smiling as the sunrise greets us
and this new day, we are naked
vulnerable but alive.

The gates of hell nor the angry tides
nor storms injury and pain
will prevail against love.

We are swaddled in the arms
dried in the light and freed
from the darkness today.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Matthew 16:1-12 ESV

People see what they want to see. We all make decisions about how we look at the world, how near or far we will focus, and what we will chose to ignore. Today we are encased in fog and the sound of the foghorns echoing across the water is constant and profound. The visibility is very low today and so people cannot even see what they normally do. Some people act oblivious, but we all know that our vision and understanding can be limited and compromised by where we stand, who we are and what's going on around us.

Jesus is challenged by the religious leaders for a sign. He has fed thousands, healed many, and uncountable numbers of people have been transformed and given a new life. But they want more. Because of who they are, where they stand, and what's going on around them they fail to see so great a cloud of signs, wonders and witnesses. They are so concerned about control and power that they cannot see what is right in front of their eyes. They are so anxious to be right that they fail to acknowledge what they truly have seen. God's love was right in their faces and they turned away, looking elsewhere for the incarnation. We can chose this day to see the abundance of blessings and miracles in our midst, or we too, can turn away.

I pray today for vision that is not corrupted by my own jealousies, fear and worries. I ask God to help me see all the wonders and signs of love around me. May I be ever ready to embrace those living signs of God's presence in my life. May we all live with eyes open for the presence of God's love, new every morning.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Walking by the Sea

Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan. Matthew 15:29-39

I find things begin with walking by the sea. Interesting conversations emerge when folks take a walk by the ocean. I know when I walk by myself, even though there is much silence, there is also much noise. The wind and the surf beat upon the sand in a rhythmic music and beat all their own. The sights and the sounds stir dreams and ideas loose in my head. When I am writing and get stuck, there is nothing like walking by the water to set free my imagination. A walk by the sea has a calming effect, an invitation to deep reflection and a new breath of inspiration. Though I walk by familiar waters most often, I still find new ideas, new vistas and new way to begin again.

Jesus took himself away for a while to walk by the sea and then sat on a sea side ridge. He turned to the crowd of people that came to him and gave them all they asked for - healing, forgiveness and food. That moment in time of walking by the sea, renewed his compassion and love, restored his strength and solidified his commitment. Even Jesus needed to take that walk, listening deeply inward, so that he could summon God's love from within for the sake of others. It reminds me that Jesus was human, and to do his best work needed regular moments to be recharged and re-inspired. We are challenged to do the same, since, like Jesus, we are very human. Unlike Jesus, we are not the son of God, meaning we might need even more regular walks by the sea to restore our strength and vision. Rest and self care was important, even for Jesus.

Today I ask God to help me honor sabbath time, the times of restoration and renewal, and know that all self care is for the welfare our others. We cannot serve if we are broken and weak, we struggle to love if we are turned inward in pain. Help me to walk by the sea, seeking God's healing and inspiration. And give me the strength, when renewed, to share God's blessings with all people. May we all take the time we need, so that the world might know there is love and abundance for all.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Canaanite Women

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.Matthew 15:21-28

A Native American theologian, Robert Warrior, has suggested that Native people are the Canaanites of this continent. He suggests we are the people who were forcibly removed from the land so that the chosen people could live in a land "flowing with milk and honey." He makes the point that the first settlers took their direction from scripture, and saw themselves as the new generation of faithful, crossing the waters in to a new land promised by God. On the East Coast, many of the first towns were named with biblical references. I am always amazed when faithful folks read the totality of scripture and believe it is okay to displace and dislodge others.

Jesus encounters the Canaanite woman, and at first completely ignores her. He is a product of his own culture, where her people we the outcasts, the shunned, the least among them. His first response is what he has been taught - to turn away. She's insistent, a panicked and fearful mother and knows God would not want a child to suffer, Canaanite or not. Jesus hears her plea, is moved with compassion and reaches out in love and healing. He declares her faith marvelous to all gathered round. We are invited to see that even though we may at first react negatively to those who are strangers among us, God cares for everyone as a good mother for her child.

Today I ask God to help me open my eyes to the world around me. Help me to not turn away from difference but to embrace the stranger. May my faith be increased this day to know that we are all brothers and sisters, children of a living God who seeks to mend our broken hearts and bind us together as one.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Poisoned from Within

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” Matthew 15:1-20

We have all grown up hearing that words can never hurt us. But they do. Children who grow up in a household where they are constantly berated absorb the cruelty as physical blows.and it opened their heart to all the negative images and insults the world can hurl. And it makes each of diminished when we turn our harsh words on others. We must be careful with what we put in our bodies. And we must also be even more careful with what comes out of our mouths, for wars and violence begin with a single spark, often ugly words long forgotten after the conflict continues to rage.

Jesus is being challenged by the religious leadership. His crew does not follow the letter of the law. He is teaching them to live by faith and compassion, but the powers that be would rather that conform rather than love others. In this day and age we are still challenged to conform, to worry about the exterior and forgo the interior, where all wars truly begin. Jesus tells them stories and then translates them hoping we will all understand that we can either be agents of love and compassion or agents of poison and destruction. We have a daily choice. There is no law to govern that choice, there is no dress code, style critic, church leader or others who can tell us how to live. We have to find it in our hearts to love when we hurt, forgive when we are broken and to ask for healing when we want revenge.

Today I ask God to help me examine my heart. Lord help me to root out the hurt and poison that can so easily spread. Breathe new hope and expectation into my heart, root out all bitterness and envy and make me a vessel for your compassion and care. May we all take the time to examine and cleanse our hearts so each of our corners of the world may be rid of violence and war this day.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lighting the Lamps

Jesus said, "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, `Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, `No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, `Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, `Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." Matthew 25:1-13

Daylight savings has ended and the sun was up early this morning. My mother thought she overslept, but indeed was up plenty early to go to church. Tonight, sunset will come early and the nearness of winter will become more real, as the sun lingers less and less each afternoon. I become aware of getting ready for the winter, putting the last vestiges of summer away, and pulling out the sweaters, hats and gloves. It's another season of preparation.

Jesus continues explaining God's reign, and how we must be ready for the arrival of God with us at all times. He tells a story of lighting lamps, of waiting through the darkness knowing God is coming at all times to be with us. We are to always be prepare, body, mind and soul, for the presence of God made real in our lives. We are invited to live expectantly, knowing every moment is potentially holy, every moment is sacred and pregnant with God's love.

Today, I ask God to help me live with an open and ready heart, and a readiness for God moving in my life, in new and dynamic ways. Help me to not be complacent but rather expectant and joyous. May we all prepare our hearts, expecting every day to be holy and every encounter the face of the living God.

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Walking on the Water

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. Matthew 14:22-36

Walking On Water

We are so often afraid
the night winds stir up
the terrors of the day life
embittered with loss and pain
tangled in the dark dreams
the failure missteps and bitter
words screamed in hurt and anger.

He comes walking on the water
hand outstretched reaching
for you and me calming
the winds and the waves
tenderly holding us as we weep.

We are so often shadowed
our indiscretions our shame
we hide away the broken shards
the debris of our failures
from the light of day.

He comes walking on the water
hand outstretched reaching
for you and me calming
the winds and the waves
tenderly holding us as we pray.

We often kneel in the darkness
sinking deep in despair nothing
left to anchor our dreams
nothing left to cover our need
nothing left to shelter our hearts.

He comes walking on the water
hand outstretched reaching
for you and me calming
the winds and the waves
tenderly holding us as we beg.

Often with the sunrise we find
a glimpse of hope a ray
of possibility a song
on the wind accompanying the leaves
dancing in the wind.

He comes walking on the water
hand outstretched reaching
for you and me calming
the winds and the waves
tenderly holding us as we crawl.

And often we finally let go
and trust with tender steps
hopeful and tenuous and lurching
we find a rhythm forgiveness
and undeserved abundance
with each new day.

He comes walking on the water
hand outstretched reaching
for you and me calming
the winds and the waves
tenderly holding us as we dance.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Abundance in Desolate Places

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. Matthew 14:13-21

The summer is long gone and as we move into serious winter, the look of this part of the world has changed drastically. There is no traffic, no parked cars, few pedestrians and no crowds. Except on weekends when a few hardy souls show up to browse and drive by, it is quiet and desolate, devoid of the noise and fuss the summer brings. The quiet can be tough on many, especially the elderly, as there are no visiting friends and family, no one dropping by and even few phone calls. And yet there is abundance in this desolation, a quiet deep space of breathing and contemplation, a feeding and a healing that is hidden in plain sight.

Jesus seeks out a desolate place to calm his heart and soul after a devastating loss. The folks follow him aching for his touch and his healing. He has compassion and not only heals them but finds food for them. He takes a very little and makes it more than can be consumed. Jesus takes a small pittance of an offering and fills the crowd to overflowing. Just enough for everyone would have been fine, but God goes the extra mile and makes abundance in our darkest places, overflowing generosity in the deepest despair. We are invited today to see our most desolate places as God's desire to fill the void.

Today, I ask God to help me have an open heart so that I might be still and receive the abundance of love that is offered. May my life be dedicated to sharing what I have received with others, even if what I have to offer seems inadequate and small. May we all ask for what we need and give what we have knowing God will supply the abundance.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Serving Up

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.
Matthew 14:1-12Serving

I have to admit a fascination with food shows and the people who star on the television food network. When we lived in north Jersey we knew a man who had his own show for a while and is a great guy with lots of talent. I love cooking and so getting ideas and inspiration from others is always fun. It can be dangerous viewing habit, making one hungry and thinking about food all of the time. And yet, it can also be a way of finding new recipes and restaurants when traveling. The truth is, for someone trying to get healthy these days, I have to be very careful what I serve up.

Herod was hosting a fancy birthday dinner party. The food was great, the company lively and the wine was flowing freely. Everyone was having a great time when things got even better when Salome danced and brought the house down. She also brought the executioners' axe down on John the Baptist. John was a truth teller and had to be silenced. It took simply some good food, drink and a sexy dance to seal his fate. We are invited today to understand how simple it is to bring the faithful down. We can be mindful of what we serve up and who we offend with the truth, but we cannot control the angry and jealous humans that we encounter.

Today I ask God to help me avoid temptation and to be thoughtful and compassionate in all my encounters. I ask God to help me be honest and a truth-teller, accepting the consequences the truth can bring. May we all rejoice that God is in the midst of us, straining to bring good from evil, and joy from mourning.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Going Home

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Matthew 13:53-58

Living and working in a town I consider home is always a challenge. We are remembered as children, with all of our gifts and silliness, and we are either underestimated or devalued because of familiarity. At the same time, we are formed in the culture and context of the places we call home, and we are understood more fully than in any other place. But people can often misuse familiarity and discount possibility in those they believe they know well.

Jesus finds himself in the midst of the familiar, and they are so used to him in the role of carpenter's son, that they fail to open their eyes to the real man in front of them. They cannot let go of what they have known to re-imagine and welcome the new familiar among them. Change and growth is a threat and Jesus finds himself unable to make much good happen among them. We can find ourselves frustrated in ministry and life by those who consider growth and change as evil and a threat. We can take comfort in the fact that even the living God was finding it difficult to offer himself in the face of rejection.
Today, I ask God for an extra measure of kindness and understanding when encountering refusal, rejection and misunderstanding. May I find comfort and nurture in the one who suffered as we do. May God supply the compassion so that we might all serve the ones who need the love the most, right where we are.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Saints' Day

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:1-12

All Saints' Day

We have left it all
the sorrow and the shame
the abuse and the misunderstanding
the grief of persecution
the loss of home and friends
we have left it all
at mercy's feet.

We have been bent and broken
torn from the earth too soon
slandered and beaten
poisoned and imprisoned
shackled and left for dead
and we offer it all for love.

We have left it all at
the feet of a loving savoir
who has held us and guided us
friend of the poor the wounded
he blesses us in our darkest days
bringing light and love
into this hurting world asking only
that we carry the light.

We have left it all
not harboring anger and hurt
knowing we are made for love
made for dancing and celebrating
in the darkest of hours
in the doomed shadows
among the deepest poverty
and the meanest of storms.

We have left it all
for we have been given all
to share, to live, to love
so that others might shine
in darkness for the light of the world.