Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bread



In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. Mark 8:1-10


There is something about the smell of bread cooking, that stirs the imagination, and the stomach. The smell of yeast bread baking, that rich, ancient and suggestive scent, lingers in our memories, and makes us itch for a taste of a warm slice freshly out of the oven. They say if you want to sell a house, show it with bread baking in the oven. Bread is our common food across the world, the staple that we all return to, no matter what kind of flour we use, no matter our allergies or our diet, we all have some sort of bread that is our tradition, that marks our way of life. We cannot help but smile when fresh bread is introduced to a meal, whether it is a most humble snack by the side of the road or a multiple course repast prepared by renown chefs.

The crowd was hungry and Jesus found a way to feed them all. They had come from so far, were so needy, and desperate for a word of love and hope. AS he blessed them and the bread, somehow they received enough for the road ahead. Somehow they were full and satisfied, renewed and remade for the journey. So many people from so many places and cultures found sustenance and fullness for the days to come. God's activity is always to find ways to give us what we need for the journey, enough food, enough familiar, enough strength to face the challenges that will come.

Today, I ask simply for the bread I need for today, the strength and courage for the road ahead. I pray that we can all rely on a Creator who sustains us to the end, with the sweet taste of bread, the warmth of home and the energy to persevere not matter where we are going, and no matter how far we have to go.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Warrior Women

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs. But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. Mark 7:24-37

Warrior Women

Gentle is the morning gathering wood
and sweet the grass on the hill songs
and laughter from the babies, giggles from the girls
we are fierce in our loving, tender in our ways
and we live to fight for the children.

She takes on her back the weight of the world
takes to her heart the elders needs cooking
and caring, lifting and mending
praying through the day praying through the night.

We are mother bears when our child is sick
troubled or tortured, we would argue
with God, Jesus and school authorities
to relieve the demons of our child's strife.

We are not assertive and never alone
carrying our responsibilities like a daily blessing
a gift from the Creator, a sign of our belonging
our burden, our gifts one and the same.

We are fiercely faithful, constant and strong
sitting in kitchens and at desks laughing
with the little ones, stirring the stew,
airing the bedding, planting and replanting
helping God to make all things new.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tradition


Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches. And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,“‘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.’You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”(Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:1-23

One of the traditions in this part of the world is the annual fall lima bean festival. A Saturday in October is usually set aside and folks come from all over to sample lima beans dishes, buy arts and crafts and listen to music. It's a very popular festival with almost a cult following. What is strange is although people like us grow limas in their gardens, limas are no longer a cash crop in this part of the world, nor have they been for generations. When I was very small, many local farms raised limas, and I can vaguely remember being taking to watch the "shucker" machines at work. A carcass of one of the old processing places still stands, but that is about the only remnant that is visible. We are people who hang on to traditions, long after there is no tradition to hang on to. I imagine that most people who attend this festival never experienced West Cape May limas in their heyday, and have no idea that such production existed.

Jesus confronts the religious leadership with their ability to be trivial and traditional when compassion and care were required. They would judge and dismiss others by their expectations without examing their own hearts and without examining their own traditions. They lived by some rules and ignored others - as most of us try to do. Jesus, who is rarely stern and judgemental, is thoroughly annoyed with their shallow and tedious behavior. If they spent even a small percent of their time caring for others and following real tradition, the world would be a much better place.

Today, I ask God to help me examine those things I hold close and dear, to make sure that my habits and traditions do not stand in the way of compassion. May God's compassionate work flow through each of us, and may our habits perpetuate compassion and care this day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Making Headway Painfully


And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. Mark 6:47-56

The lifeguards here have to swim a great distance to qualify for the job. One young person told me that the trick to passing the swim test was to swim out far enough passed the jetties to catch the current. Then the current shoots you down along the shore, and as long as you stay afloat, you make the grade. Swimmers and sailors alike know there are times when trying to make headway is painful. Whether wind, tides, time of day or currents, what is sometimes smooth sailing can become a futile struggle. Much of life can seem very similar, a futile struggle, only to lose ground against a strong current.

The Gospel story tells us that the disciples were trying to cross a lake, making painfully slow progress, when they see Jesus walking on the water. Jesus making the impossible, possible. To them he seemed like a ghost, a fright, something that wasn't right in their world. He spoke to them gently, calming them and the winds. Their futile struggles were met, not with derision or criticism, not with judgment or condescension, but with tenderness and care for their fear and ignorance. In the face of our worst struggles, our lost ground and trying to just get across, God comes to us with words of calm and support. God gets in the boat with us, takes our journey with us and tenderly brings healing to all.

Today, I want to be open to God during all the struggles and challenges of the day. I want to remember that God's activity is to climb in the boat with us and bring us peace. I ask that we can all be open to God's presence this day, and God's peace in the world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Desolate Places


The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. Mark 6:30-46


Yesterday was a dreary, muggy day. I set out by car to go swim laps in preparation for the swim I am doing. I was feeling rather out of sorts on an out of sorts kind of day. As I was driving up the parkway I was almost driven off the road by a man who wasn't paying attention. I had to beep my horn to get his attention. As I pulled into the pool parking lot, I realized the same car was following me. And then, it turned out that the careless driver was the life guard. It seemed like the weird kind of day was just getting a little more weird. I swam my laps and as I got out of the pool, the life guard started a conversation with me, having noticed the scars on my back from surgery. He was kind and concerned, and told me how impressed he was that I kept up swimming and was doing so well. The careless, attention-less, desolate weird place, suddenly became a place of life and possibility.

The disciples had been sent out and were returning, exhausted, seeking rest and quiet. Instead the crowds came and drove them off course. At the end of the day there was nothing to eat and a hungry, desperate crowd in a desolate place. And yet, there was life and possibility, full bellies and refreshment for them all. God's gift and activity is to bring us fullness and possibility even in the most desolate of places, in the weirdest and seemingly awkward moments in life.

Today I want to live with the expectancy and faithfulness of the crowd who came to listen to Jesus and with the generosity of the little by. One shared lunch and some cooperation can change the world. May we all live so that fullness can be found for all in the most desolate places and in desolate times.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Softening Showers


Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.

You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy,
The meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy. Psalm 65


The heat finally broke yesterday with some late afternoon and evening showers - nothing dramatic, just a softening, a curve toward gentleness and soft breezes once again. When one has lived through brutal days, whether it is external heat or internal traumas, there is a great joy in the overwhelming tenderness of the Creator and Creation. We sat in church yesterday at St. Peter's by the Sea, with a small crowd of faithful people, sweating despite the fans, and wondering when things would ever be cooler. And then it happened - like a sneeze - the world changed and we can wake up to new possibilities.

The Psalm 65, one of the appointed for today, reminds me that the depth and breadth of God's love are evident in the everyday as well as in the huge mountain top experiences. Sometimes we ache for miracles and dramatic changes. Often the best gifts we receive are the small ones, the softening showers the gentle touches, the smiles and laughter that change our world.

Today, I want to be softened, gentle remolded, aware of being clay in the hands of a loving potter. We all ache for the softening necessary within us, a gentle change of heart, which opens us again to the love that is ever present around us, making all things new and restoring even the most brokenhearted.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

One Pearl



Jesus put before the crowds another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."

He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

In the past few days I have had some physical set backs. Between the heat outside and the pain within, it is natural to give in to dark thoughts. It is too easy to miss the one or two pearls of great price. I live in a home where laughter and hospitality rule. My family supports and surrounds me and encourages me when the challenges get overwhelming. These are a few among the many pearls that are priceless in my life. And they bring life and promise to every moment, even the ones that seem to have no way out.

Jesus tells the crowds, through images and picture stories about the kingdom of heaven. They need simple ways of understanding - as do we- a very complex and incomprehensible concept. God's love, and God's reign, dwell in the depths of love and in whom we treasure. God is both real in the everyday and commonplace as well as eternal. Living with God means holding tight to the love and value that is among us - the pearls with which we sustain life.

Today, I want to focus on the pearls, one pearl at a time, enjoying the luster and beauty and understanding the priceless nature of love and constancy - the signs of the indwelling of God's kingdom. I ask simply that God open my eyes to the priceless gifts today and that I have the courage to embrace them all.






O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rejected



He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. Mark 6:1-13


For any writer, there is nothing more heartbreaking than receiving the thin envelope with a rejection slip. When submitting something for publication we all have the highest hopes. And when the wonderfully crafty, beautiful piece of hard work is rejected, well, it crushes the spirit. But that is a very private thing. Hometowns are another thing entirely. To be rejected in your home town is a very public thing, by people you have grown up besides, from people who thought might respect you. Indeed, it can be very crushing also, since the very public nature of life is a small town where one is known can be devastating. And yet, it is often those who think they know us best who understand us the least. And it is the stranger who can often see the true beauty and skills rather than those close at hand. The close at hand are jaded by the past and often unwilling to grow beyond old memories.

How wonderful then to encounter this Gospel where Jesus comes home and finds he is pretty useless among his own. They don't get him because there eyes are clouded with the patina of the past, the local culture and the need to judge rather than to be open. We are reminded of the very human nature of Christ's ministry and how vulnerable it was to the place, the time and the people. Faith was offered but not always accepted. When Jesus and his disciples go to other towns, the miracles, healing and transformations are multiplied. Open arms of strangers make for joyous ministry. The close minds of locals stifled the possibilities.

Today, I ask God to open my heart and mind to see the possibilities close by, among the people I am closest to. We are all too human and can easily reject what we think we know. May we all open our hearts this day to the promises so close at hand, knowing that God's desire is to working locally as well as globally, nearby as well as far off.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Delight and Wonder



And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. Mark 5:21-43


Yesterday was warm and we sought refuge by the ocean. The breeze was strong and the water quite cool, so it was really quite pleasant despite dire forecasts. We spend a fair amount of time in the water, the waves were good and the current strong, it was good exercise and completely refreshing. We lingered a long time because it was such a splendid day by the water. On returning home, we took showers outside as we always do. I had quite a surprise when I removed my bathing suit. I had caught a little minnow, without even trying. For all the time I have spent fishing with no luck, now I nonchalantly and completely unaware caught a fish. When I showed it to my Mom she almost fell off the porch laughing. The three of us laughed, caught up in the joy of total surprise and wonder.

Our gospel today speaks of too women being healed by Jesus. One women pushed through the crowd to touch Jesus. This mother was ailing in so many ways for so many years. She had nothing to lose. She was healed and blessed by Jesus as he was on his way to another house, another healing. The little girl was presumed dead, and yet Jesus fought through the assumptions and touched the little girl and made her well. Often God has to push through our obstinance, our crowded ideas of behavior and religion, has to break through our efforts and assumptions to bring us healing and renewal. God always has delight and wonder for us and yet we are often so rigid we are unwilling to embrace it, so afraid that we are scared to accept it. And yet, surprise and wonder are the work of God. Free gifts of love and healing to delight in every day.

Today, I ask God to help me be receptive to all the healing, transformation and wonder God is preparing for me, and for all of us. We can get discouraged, I know I do from time time time, but I ask God to renew in me the delight of a child and the receptivity of youth. May we all be bold in our willingness to be transformed and delighted by God this day.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Haunted


They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.
The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. Mark 5:1-20


We are all haunted by some demons - mistakes we made, people who have hurt us, traumas that seem to never fade away - all of us have little moments when our past invades our present. We can seem unable to move forward, stuck in some shadowy hurt that lingers. When I was a child, I used to hate going in the basement. It scared me, and haunted my dreams. And yet there was nothing there that every reached out and bit me. But there are other things in life that have scarred me, hurts deep and real, that some times come back to haunt me. Was there something I could have done different? Did I cause that somehow? If I was - you name it - smarter, thinner, more savvy, less trusting - could I have prevented that from happening?

In to the darkest places of our fears and worries, our Gospel lesson speaks today. We are all haunted by demons. The man who Jesus encounters in beset with a throng of demons, and he is healed. The weight of the past, the terror of failure and depression, the deep anxiety that caused him to try to hurt himself - all of it was gone by Gods loving hand. This tormented soul was tormented no longer.

Today, I want to remind us all that there is forgiveness and healing for us all, no matter how many scars and hurts we carry, no matter how many sleepless nights we face, no matter what mistakes we have made. God is alway actively seeking to restore us, to lift the burdens, the demons of our past, so that we might reach out in love to others. May we this day, for the sake of the world, seek healing and restoration in our lives, so that we might share that freedom and healing with others.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Storm Clouds


On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:35-41

A crystal blue sky gives way to night
daylight swallowed by an angry cloud
shadows lengthen and deepened until
we are swallowed by the stormy dense
thunder rumbles until we are shaken
from the bed.

I thought we were secure a future well planned
the days routine and reliable regular
predictable and known, a map and a compass
and a well filled calendar set the limits
of our days.

Then trouble erupted like an earthquake shaking
anger and fear loose from their hiding places
they crawled out hungry and irritated desperate
for a kill and something to tear to pieces.

The horizon tilted the sea exploded our hearts shrunk
with the fear of death and destruction
our stomachs heaved and tears poured as we grasped
the gunwales of our little vessel
we muttered prayers we hardly knew.

And through the storm we found an anchor
a silent calming face, a hand on our shoulders
a sweet savior who had make friends with the wind
who lived beyond the restless sea and brought us home.

The seas still rage my friends and clouds gather
mighty anger is all around us and safety is far off
but we are snug in the bow of his boat
we are promised a land fall and a safe harbor
and all the while God goes with us
into the face of the grieving storm.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Parables



And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. Mark 4:21-34


Sometimes potential and truth get hidden. Stories and parables are one way of showing a truth with pictures created by words. I was saddened when the time came in my life when there were no more pictures in books. The visual illustrations captured my imagination, much more so than words ever did. I would pour over illustrations as a child, seeking the deep and hidden meaning in them. I know that it made me the photographer I am today. Pictures are still important. The visual input stimulates my imagination as words cannot. Music also helps me imagine when words fail. We all have multiple ways of seeking the hidden truth and potential in our lives and God has the capacity to find the ways that we can hear and receive those truths in our lives.

The people who came to Jesus were a complex group, from every walk of life and culture. There was no common language it would seem and little common experience that would hold them together. So Jesus told them stories, using illustrations from common icons - lamps, seeds, the natural world - the every day common shared experiences. How wonderful that God in earthly form sought out ways to help people find their way, constantly using the common threads of life to weave God's tale of love and invitation.

Today, I ask God to help me use all the gifts I have been given, all the language, culture and expressive means I know to reach out in love this day. Following the example of Jesus, may we all use the obvious and hidden gifts we have to touch the lives of those around us today.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Seeds of Faith


Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” Mark 4:1-20


We have a garden, actually three, in our back yard. One is full of flowers that my mother plants every year. Usually, there are a multitude of marigolds, and other flowers she finds attractive. This year there are snap dragons as well as marigolds. Every year in the spring, there are many volunteers, plants that have reseeded over the winter, and despite the fact that they are annuals, they volunteer to come up anyway in her garden. She has a way with plants and flowers, a nonchelant way, and they blossom and bloom like crazy even if she doesn't fuss. The plants respond to her, she talks to them daily and prays for their growth.

Jesus explains the parable of the seeds to the disciples. They don't get it. A majority of fishermen, they have little garden experience. But they learn from this story, that faith and God's word are something to be nurtured, to watch over and pray for growth. Sometimes our walk in faith can be hazardous - storms of life come and try to uproot us, the harsh reality of life can burn up our spirits, and isolation can starve our souls. We are invited to talk and walk with God's word everyday, expecting fruit in abundance despite the challenges and turns in the weather.

Today, I want to give thanks for the possibility of fruitfulness. In the midst of a heat wave and a dry spell, let us all remember that God's desire is for us to be productive, to weather the heat and the storms and to be strengthened daily by God's love. May we all rejoice in the constant gardener, the Creator, who wathces over us, tends us and nurtures us so that we can be fruitful and faithful always.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Family Fued


Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:20-35


Family life can be complicated. No matter how agreeable, amenable, cooprtative and positive parents and siblings are with each other, there is conflict and misunderstanding. People who live closely together are bound to spark conflicts with one another. Folks who are related can be even more contentious - we are so much alike we drive each other crazy. Families are often blessings too, finding ways to lift us up when we are down, encourage us when hard times come, and fight for us when necessary. Being part of a family no matter how small or extended can be challenging and delightful on the very same day. And yet we are so much less without a family and I wouldn't replace mine for the world.

The crowds are making the life of Jesus and the disciples impossible. It is so crazy that they send for Jesus' family. The family come running and are truly worried. The mild young man, who was always prayerful and gentle has seemingly overnight become a rock star. They think the worst, as families do when a crisis arises. When they come to collect him, Jesus claims that those who do God's will are his family. This statement is often an excuse for folks to discard family when serving God. But I believe that he was, like any adult child in a large family, just trying to assert his own self, his own calling. It is hard to make your family listen sometimes, and he had a pretty influential mother (not to mention his father, God).

Today may we rejoice in the families we have been given, for the joys and challenges and all the stuff in between. There is not one perfect family, obviously not even Jesus' family. Despite our misunderstandings may we rejoice in those who love us and find new ways to thank them for their love and support.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Naming Names


Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Mark 3:7-19


Names are really important, no matter what family or culture you are from. We spent a great deal of time deciding what to name our children, anxious not to honor one family member over another so that no ones feelings were hurt. Our youngest, Phoebe, was born on Bastille Day, July 14th. When my husband came home from the hospital after she was born he jokingly informed her two anxious older sisters that we had named her Marie Antoinette. Big mistake - tears and drama insued. Instead our youngest was named Phoebe Cordelia, after no one but herself. My Greek professor would come up to her when she was new and shout "radiance" to remind me what her name meant in Greek. Names speak to us of the hopes and dreams as well as circumstances and character. They tell us about who we are and where we have come from, and sometimes where we are going.

Jesus named his disciples - chose them one by one - and then called Zebedee's boys the "sons of thunder" or Boanerges. He must have seen something amazing in the two of them, and maybe even a challenge in their presence. James and John have always intrigued me because of their very common names turned unique and special. One can only imagine what they were like together on the road. They set themselves apart as lively and full of life. Can't imagine if the others were jealous of their special name, but it was important, this naming, and is recorded in the Gospels for us to know.

Today, when I think about the power of names I am reminded that we are all named as God's, children of a loving Creator, and blissfully unaware of what power that is to be named beloved of God. We may all struggle with our daily personal challenges, but we are all to remember that however else we call ourselves, whatever nicknames we acquire, however rude the remarks about us get, God has called us each by name and loves us each completely. May we rest assured this day of the love that is ours from inception through eternity.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sabbath Time


One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. Mark 2:23-3:6

We live in a vacation town and by the looks of it, folks who come on vacation have no idea that anyone really lives here. Some of them bring piles of things with them from home, to make their vacation experience more like home. Some carry tons of things on big carts onto the beach, as if the beach alone were not enough for them. Most are trying to get the very most out of a vacation. They need a respite and almost push themselves to the brink, trying to run, bike, surf, drink, party - you name it - every minute until it is time to go home. They have clear expectations for what a vacation should be.

In the Gospel story, there religious leaders have very clear ideas about what a sabbath is and how it should eb observed. Anyone not abiding by the rules was in big trouble. Ancient cultural norms became the strict guidelines, despite the need, the person or the place. Meting out punishment seems to give the leaders pleasure. Into this life of rules Jesus offers another way to look at the sabbath, a time to rest in the arms of God. For healing, for renewal, for compassionate care.

Today, I am reminded that we need to practice sabbath, to be watchful that we are resting and returning to the arms of God for shelter, healing and peace. Too many of us take the opportunity for sabbath as an opportunity to push ourselves, to use up all the pent up expecatations we have. And yet God's expectation is also an invitation. "Come unto me, all you that are weary and heavey-laden and I will give you rest."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Ones who Follow


He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:13-22

When you are one of a large family, you are always identified with the group. After 36 years of marriage, the folks in this small town still call me by my "maiden" name. To them I will always be a Theobald, and my children with me, one of the clan, and our home the home of the bicycle parade. We are all identified with our families and groups and our behavoir is judged from the persepctive of that family. When I was a young adult I loathed being lumped in with my whole family,and now I know it as an honor, but it is also a huge responsibility.

Jesus hung with the outcasts of society and he was constantly being berated by religious leaders for his choice of friends and family. They must have been furious with his calling of the tax collector and tried to insult Jesus by comparing him to John, his cousin, being help up as the family ideal. Jesus understood their true motivations and did not let others' judgement cloud his compassion for all or his willingness to celebrate with the lowly. His followers were made family, brought close to his heart, and he held them close. He knew his followers needed a savior.

Today I want to rejoice in being a follower, one of the clan, a member of a motley and confusing family, all in need of the Savior. I am so grateful for God's willingness to sit with the outcasts, to love the unlovely, and to rejoice with the poor. May we not judge those who would follow, but rather give thanks for their faithfulness and our membership in such a family to which none are excluded.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Through the Roof



And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” Mark 2:1-12


Through the Roof

Some days life's skies are blue
a breeze blows gently and traffic flows
everyone greets even strangers and there
is room for every one at the table.

Some days are darker struggling wiping sleep away
tottering through a rushed breakfast and hurried goodbyes
jamming breaks and pounding wheels the grind of life
wears us all down.

And yet other days we are paralyzed hurt and fear
injury and prejudice the scars of living keep us bound
tied to a soiled pallet on the ground
dust and filth rolling over us pain completely
in control.

We are locked out, a shadow on the edge
pounding to be let in aching for healing
dying for love.

In our deepest darkness, despair our only friend
the hands reach down, other rip the roof away
we are suspended for a time flying above the target
strong arms blistering on the ropes a steady guide
a gentle descent into the arms of love.

Love's healing is not an single pleasure
a community, everyone sharing the effort
sharing the possibility that sees no barriers
between us and God.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Aching for a cure



And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. Mark 1:29-45


I have been under the weather for the past three or four days, with a slight fever, sore throat and a horrible cough. The doctor gave me an antibiotic and wants to see me later today. The antibiotic is messing up my stomach a bit. I picked this up from Mark who caught something while we were traveling to Hawaii. I have spent a good deal of time resting and reading, wishing I was better outside in the sunshine, playing in the garden or swimming at the beach. I am not patient with illness. Few of us are. In this modern age we are learning that ancient cures are sometimes more effective than our expensive drugs. And yet, whatever we have we ache to be whole. We all want to get back to our lives and not be dependent on anyone.

Peter's mother got up and served them when she was made well. She ached to get back to her life. When people heard about her cure, they came in droves, seeking to return to wholeness. A leper seeks to return to his community, his life, to hold his wife and children. He has been shut away, abandoned by society which feared contracting his disease. Whether mental or physical, the people came because Jesus was willing to touch them, to make them whole to give them their lives transformed and renewed. He became so sought after that travel was impeded. It seemed everyone was aching to be cured. And so it is in our day, there are so many aching to be cured, despite science breakthroughs and wonderful research and care. Our gospel today reminds us that we can still seek Jesus for the cure and that we will be treated as gently and tenderly as those who came so long ago.

Today I want to give thanks for God's willingness to walk among the sick and needy, to tenderly care for those who are outcasts and abandoned. I ask God to give me patience with healing and a new appreciation for the health and wholeness I enjoy. May we all rejoice in a Creator who has our welfare in hand and who reaches out to the whole world, going to all our villages and desolate places, touching the least among us.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Teaching by the sea


Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!"

"Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." Matthew 13:1-9,18-23


Good soil is not always easy to come by. We have planted gardens before, but this is the best soil we have had for a garden in many years. And yet this soil too has many challenges. The soil is very sandy here at sea level and we had to add some nutrients and manure before we could plant. Now we have to watch for pests and there are pest a plenty. Rain water can run right off of sandy soil and so we have to make sure the small growing plants are watered well. Yielding healthy vegetables is a challenge where ever one is. Even here in the garden state there are challenges which keep abundance from happening. A tender gardener is needed always, one who care for the plants and soil in all sorts of weather.

Jesus tells the people about the love and activity of Gos. So many people come to him by the sea, he has to get out on a boat and talk to them. I sometimes wonder how they heard him. Getting out on a boat in this part of the world would make hearing impossible. The surf can drown out most other sounds. On a quiet sea, he made the hidden wonders of God real to them and he used the images they would understand. He drew pictures with his words so that they might see themselves in the story.

Today I give thanks for all of the many ways God is made known to us. In the telling of a story, in the pounding surf, in the abundance and challenges of the garden. God is not willing to be far off but will speak to us over the oceans and chasms in words and pictures we can understand. May we all listen today for the still small voice of God which thunders over the loudest seas - loudly whispering love to all.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Leaving Boats and Nets



Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. Mark 1:14-28


I live surrounded by water. Many people I know have fished these waters, for fun and for a livelihood. Those who fish for a living now go out on massive vessels that are often gone for weeks at a time. The work is backbreaking and lonely. Those who fish for fun can spend hours on a jetty with a pole in hand, usually losing bait and tackle several times and rarely coming up with a sizable catch. Some times the blues or weakies are running and sometimes it's a good time for flounder. All of the time the challenges often outweigh the rewards.

The disciples dropped nets and climbed out of boats to follow Jesus. They left the hard life they knew intimately to follow someone who they didn't know on an adventure that they could not have foreseen or imagined. And yet they followed, dropping the familiar for a sacred promise. They gave it their all and in so doing taught us all a bit about being disciples. The work is hard, and often the rewards a small. And yet, walking with Jesus brought miracle and transformation, in themselves and in others all along the way. And following Jesus, no matter what we give up and leave behind, brings us miracle after miracle and transformations all along the way.

Today, I want to remember that whatever has been left behind is something left in order for ministry, healing and transformation to occur. God's activity is never to leave us without a way to go, or a full sense of promise and renewal. May we all follow, not worrying about what is left behind but clinging to the promise of miracle and transformation on the way.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Starting Over



The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness:‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’” John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Mark 1:1-13


I sometimes wish I had a big etch-a-sketch for life. The big do-over. Hold the mess of the week or the year over your head and shake it away. Start over. Several years ago, I had a little etch-a-sketch that was pocket size. One night I sat in our family room and drew on it. Eventually, I recreated the last supper. It was simple in outline with no real details, but recognizable none the less. I left it as it was and told those present not to erase it. It stayed there for a long time. And then one day it was accidentally knocked out of place and the great work of art disappeared into oblivion. Much like our lives, we struggle to create something wonderful, try to hold onto it for as long as possible and then by accident or intention it is over. We have to start over, redefine the goals and create new art work and a new life for ourselves.

We are in the part of the daily cycle when we start over. The flowing, artful words of the former Gospel are retold in stark simplicity in Mark's Gospel. The story is the same but different. There is a new audience, and a different perspective. The story telling looks different although the characters are the same. John comes, telling his story and Jesus comes to be baptized and goes directly to the desert and is tempted. A "just the facts ma'am" approach to telling this amazing story. And in so doing, the gospeler allows room for us to start over, to re-imagine, to bring different colors and perspectives to what we see and hear in the Gospel. The starkness becomes an invitation to creativity and new insight.

Today I want to live as though every challenge I face is an opportunity to re-imagine and create (with the Creator) wonderful possibilities and creative solutions. I want to remember that each of us is part of the Gospel story as we add our color, design and perspective to the world. As we share ourselves, and share our creative efforts, may the world know God's love and capacity through us and be invited to start over again.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

All about the feet


As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:36-53

For some reason all of our family went home from the beach with massive amounts of mosquito bites on their feet. Feet are very strong and tender at the same time. We are presently with our granddaughter and we marvel at her feet - her perfect, tiny feet, cute toes and so expressive in the soft vulnerability. Two of my girls have small tattoos on their feet and I still cringe at the thought of the hurt to have them applied. Our feet tell so many stories. We know we belong to a certain family by our feet, we see familial traits, and decide to be swimmers and dancers because of them. Feet are often hidden, but among family and friends our bare feet bare our souls to one another.

In ancient renderings of the ascension, Jesus is often depicted as feet alone, from the perspective of the disciples who watched him go. I remember marveling at Chartres Cathedral, as the ascension was depicted as feet alone captured in the clouds. Jesus showed his disciples his feet as an intimate sign of his suffering and pain. They understood immediately who he was by his feet. They knew his scars and had walked the road with him. He had washed their feet in a gesture of love and service.

Today, I want to live fully trusting that Jesus is always bringing strength and renewal, comfort and peace, despite my fear and anxiety, despite everything that seems overwhelming today. Jesus promises to come and be with us at our most humble, at our simple breakfast tables and in the midst of our daily struggles. May we all live with the strength and courage this gives us.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On the Road Again


But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. Luke 24:12-35

We are on the road again, here in Allentown, here to help out as our daughter returns to work. Her world has changed dramatically. When Lillian came into the world in May, Adam and Ariel started being full time parents. All the other things they used to do have had to take a back seat to her needs. Life is fuller with Lilly in our lives, and here close to Emmaus (PA), on the road that leads right there, it is startling to realize how challenging wonderful transitions can be, and how we all can't take all the information and changes in at first.

The disciples were walking on the road. Their lives had changed drastically, their leader dead, then missing, and they had no idea how to go forward in their lives. They met a stranger and talked with him at length and never realized who they were talking to. Knee deep in transition and twisting with the changes they were facing, overwhelmed and trying to figure out how to go ahead. We humans can miss God's touch, and the presence of the eternal when we are struggling on the road.

As this day ends, I want to give thanks for God's love which goes down every road with us and is ever willing to commune with us even when we can't take it in. May the coming days be time of openness and welcome, knowing that God is on the road with us wherever we may go, and no matter what challenges we face.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Idle Tales



Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. Luke 23:56-24:11


I am a real fan of the Monty Python folks which probably dates me completely. Very English and thoroughly frivolous, their antics and wacky skits never fail to amuse me. They really have always been keen cultural commentators, but their style and delivery allowed them to roast others while everyone laughed together. I love to laugh and I love to be silly. The problem with constant laughter and silliness is that people use that as an excuse to not take one seriously. Good comedy is always truthful and always serious. And yet, those of us who were born women also know that sometimes our gender alone causes what we say and do to be dismissed. We are seen as those who delight in idle tales.

That early morning the women go out to the tomb to perform the ritual care of the body. It was their duty, and yet it was also a sacred responsibility to them, a holy moment of love and devotion. The scene they find is not as it should be. They are frightened and troubled. Two messengers tell them of Jesus' resurrection and remind them of his promises to them. When they go home to the others they are dismissed as hysterics, foolish women telling idle tales. And yet, it is to the silly, frivolous women that the greatest event of time was revealed. Women who were loving, serious followers of Jesus, were considered the right messengers to declare such wondrous news.

Today I want to remember that the greatest gifts in life are often in the most unlikely packages, and the best news ever is often delivered amidst confusing circumstances and complicated situations. God's activity is not along societal lines, and we are to be open to receiving gifts from all places in God's names. May we all be open to the gifts of God, whatever the packaging, and may we always be ready to laugh at ourselves for our foolish trumped up piety and pomposity. May we always be open to God's love moving in our lives.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Trees planted by Water


Blessed is the person who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but delights in the law of the Lord, and on God's law meditates day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Psalm 1 Paraphrased


Today we celebrated the Fourth of July as we always do. Up early preparing for the haords of children and adults that arrive on our front lawn at the end of the bicycle parade. For more than forty years, my parents, and now my mother alone, serve cool-aid and cookies to all that come to celebrate. Today there were at least five hundred bicycles and the families of those peddlers. It was a warm, soggy day, and every one was hot and thirsty. In this small summer town for one brief moment of time, our lives are full of welcome and community. My mother is a righteous and faithful woman, and sees herself as one who delights in giving to others and making people welcome. She is like a tree planted by living waters at the ripe age of 88.

Today, after a long day with friends and family gathered together, I can't help but rejoice in the friends, family and community where we find ourselves. We don't have a lot of excitement, but we know how to enjoy the gifts we have been given. We don't always see eye to eye, but neighbor greets neighbor, and folks watch out for the children. May we all do our part, in thanksgiving for the freedoms we enjoy, to make others welcome and share ourselves with others. In this we are following the way of God, and following the lead of some remarkable people.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Weeping, Panic and Fear


And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:26-31

It is hard not to be anxious. I don't care who you are, when the world is all out of sorts and the way ahead is not clear, it is normal to be anxious. When the skies darken and the weather changes abruptly, even my dog crawls under the bed with fear and trembling. When the thunder rumbles, a once fierce beast turns into a cowering baby. It is like that with all of us. In the face of extreme hardship, we humans tend to buckle under and regress.

Jesus is facing his final living moments and the crowd of women that come with him to the cross are in full blown panic. Anyone would be. They knew death was imminent, and their beloved friend and teacher was going away for ever. They feared the loss and the hole that would never be filled. Jesus understood their pain and ache. And yet, he also warned them that days were coming that would be worse than these even. And despite it all God was with them and with him. Easter morning came. After terrible travail, light and life returned.

Today, I want to rejoice in the days ahead, knowing that no matter how unsure and unsettling they might be, these days are in God's hands. The night's darkness will be but for time. May we all rejoice that despite the worst trials and tribulations, we need no panic and give in to fear. God has lived through our fear and will bring us all to the other side.