Thursday, July 29, 2021

How to Live with-and without- Anger: The Words of Jesus

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:21-26

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. James 3:6

Don't believe the tired old line that Jesus lays impossible teachings on us so that we would turn to God. God is God and is always there to help us, but that does not free or excuse us from Jesus' wisdom and direction on the matter before us.

Apparently Jesus called his disciples to exhibit a high level of self-examination. Much of Jesus' teaching (and above is the perfect example) requires that I be at least reflective enough to know how my angry words and actions affect others. How does anyone claim the faith and yet, become less thoughtful. Self-examination is parent to integrity and peace.

Following Jesus also requires honesty and courage. When wrong, promptly admit it. For Jesus, once it dawns on us that what we said or did was injurious, making things right between us and another person could cause us to exit worship- in the middle of the offering! 

Top priority is righting the wrong. And let's be clear, there's nothing here about telling someone their fault or waiting for an apology. No no and no. It's about going to the other party and making our apology- asking for forgiveness- for something we did or said- or perhaps something we neglected.

Here are some ideas:

1. Take Jesus at his word. It is in our power to make things right, to be reconciled. Realize that the process Jesus lays out will lead you to greater harmony in your relationships and movement to personal integrity and a less angry world.

2. In our attempt to right the wrong, we are not responsible for the responses of others. They are not required to forgive us, etc.

3. Do not use your apology as an excuse to manipulate or minimize or judge the other person.

4. In reflection and prayer:
  • Ask God for the wisdom to recognize one person you have wronged. What was done, what was said?
  • This may be for another time: ask God for the wisdom to know the best way to simply and honestly, admit your fault.

How to Live with -and without- Anger: Why It Matters (1)

Don't confuse feeling angry with words spoken and actions taken in anger. We are not bad or sinful because we get angry. It comes with our being human. However, our bodies are not meant to maintain a perpetual fight or flight response. Anger may feel good for a short time as it floods our bodies with adrenaline. However, it’s not by accident that the Scripture gives this important distinction between feeling- and feeding on- anger. “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” Ephesians 4: 22-25

When is anger no longer "fun?" For me, it's when I'm tired of being angry. There's depletion, exhaustion, depression, and fatigue.  

A family, marriage, or friendship is often damaged and sometimes destroyed by people acting or speaking in anger. Road rage between complete strangers seriously endangers freeways. Vehicles are used as weapons and bullets fly because of a real or perceived aggression. 

Too,  The Big Book of AA mentions  "resentment" or "being burned up" as not only very destructive to spiritual health, but the number one offender in drinking again. 

The physical costs of anger are well documented in the classic, Anger Kills by Redford and Virginia Williams.  In most cases, when our anger has been triggered, we have already told ourselves one of two things (or maybe both):  1) the situation is not fair and 2) it's out of our control. 

What can I do with anger?

1. Recognize anger’s danger and destructiveness- for you and others.

2. Admit and identify a trigger—only when you are not angry.

3. Instead of venting it out, walk it out. Venting often makes me angrier. Walking can help me release the toxic overload of stress hormones and come to my senses.

4. Is my anger justified? If yes, is there any way I can work to improve the situation? If not, how can I diffuse anger- with wisdom, and even laughter?

5. Own your anger. I can’t expect others to deal with something I want to avoid. If I have hurt someone in anger, it is mine- not theirs- to go to them and make it right- simply, honestly and quickly. 

6. Don’t lose sleep! Each evening, I can tell God my thanksgivings for the day, confess when I was ungrateful and dedicate my rest to God.

7. I can continue to choose what my spiritual legacy will be. What role will gratitude play in marking my life and character? What memories and words will describe my life?

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Sacrament of Ministry

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father." John 10:18

I wonder if anyone can really claim to be a servant without the element of sacrifice. Caregivers have their "bill of rights" and if you Google "compassion fatigue," you'll find training programs dedicated to its symptoms and remedies.

I'm afraid that we've used the word sacrifice when it's convenient for us- and usually on others. We pull it out to manipulate others to give more, be more, and do more. 

For example, in focusing on the sacrificial death of Jesus, we often overlook the New Testament teaching that Jesus willingly and freely chose it as his way out. Take that away and Jesus is sub-human.  And so are we when our battles are not freely chosen. 

True sacrifice is not coerced but results from willing and love. It is in Philippians 2:7 where Paul teaches that Jesus "emptied" himself. What Jesus emptied himself of was "being in the form of God," not his humanity. 

Some ask whether we are called to servanthood- or friendship- with Jesus. Why not have the best of both without losing either one? No one is more concerned about your well- being than the Paraclete who stands beside us, with us, and for us. And being a true friend of Jesus will prompt us to act in ways so that the well- being of another doesn't have to be sacrificed.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

With friends like these...

There are plenty of impediments to faith within the community of believers, the church. Chief among these is toxic theology. Shame-based theology usually begins with our unworthiness of God's love and acceptance, instead of the first biblical witness  that all humankind is: (1) created in God's own image and likeness, (2) crowned us with glory and honor, (3) wondrously made (Genesis 1:26-27, Psalm 8:5, Psalm 139: 14).

One of the most ancient stories from the Bible is about Job. Remember the frequent references to "the patience of Job" in our popular speech. To see the story through contemporary Jewish eyes, A Serious Man is a film worth your time, for both its comic relief and catharsis.

The book by his name is as much about Job's friends and Job's God as it is about Job himself. Job's infamous friends speak outrageous and blasphemous words about God. Elaine Heath's retelling of Job's story in her book, The Healing Practice of Celebration, calls this practice of Job's friends theological malfeasance:
Job's friends had to repent. They were guilty of theological malfeasance. In their haste to explain away Job's suffering, they had presented a damning vision of God. So then they had to bring costly sacrifices and ask Job to preside over the ritual... Job, who like his friends, had many ignorant words about God, now knew God, now had seen the mystery of God that is too deep for words. He offered the sacrifice for his friends. He prayed for their forgiveness. It is at this point that his life was restored. (p. 77)

We are quick to jump to Job's restoration of material prosperity and new family, etc. Job's soul-- his community with both friends and the Holy One- was restored first, through repentance and forgiveness. The work of restoration is, in large part, rethinking what kind of God, God is. It's understandable that words spoken by unthinking Christians are not erased easily- especially because they are spoken in the name of Jesus. 

For me, repentance and restoration is choosing to begin and end each day with the One who created me and everyone out- of love- not out of need, with no hidden agendas. This One gives all living things breath and creates humankind in God's own image and likeness. 

There will always be voices that insist that the God of all the creative processes of the universe also has a hair trigger temper, a vengeful, violent, and abusive figure whose rage is justified. The petulant child who can never be pleased. 

Job's story challenges us to reflect on our own malfeasance in the name of God, to repent of the harm our words have caused, and to pray for forgiveness and restoration.


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Well Being According to Gallup

In Well Being: The Five Essential Elements, authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter coalesce the data on what makes for a good life. From myriad studies and surveys polling populations in the U.S. and in many other nations, their best work is in summarizing how people are finding happiness in the areas of career, social, physical, financial, and community well-being.

Published by Gallup, it's typical self-help in that the focus is limited to whatever changes the individual can muster in order to move toward greater well-being. You would expect this when we are taking about health, job, money, and social life. Thus, I was a little surprised, when the book takes up the topic of community well being, even then it was all about my involvement in it, not justice or common wealth or harmony or shalom. It was more about how my altruism in civic, even church affairs, can raise my own sense of feeling good. But isn't altruism a little more than my feeling good about myself?

There is some drop off from other books in this vein, such as Now, Discover Your Strengths, and How Full Is Your Bucket? ; Rath has co-authored the later as well. Like these, Well Being provides a helpful online instrument called a "Wellbeing Finder," which can be used multiple times to note your progress in well being through time. There is also a daily resource to journal how the small changes you're choosing are improving your well being. Because so much in this book we have either heard before, or just makes good sense, it may be easy to miss the research that is truly helpful. In career well-being, I appreciated the emphasis on using a personal strength every day and finding a person at work who encourages your growth. In matters of health, I learned that even 20 minutes of exercise can boost your mood for up to 12 hours. In the area of finances, the theme is not about buying goods and services, but rather, providing experiences-lasting memories- for yourself and others. 

The social aspect of well being was interesting. Researchers have found that, not only our friend's happiness boosts our own, but a friend's friend's happiness does too. Even your friend's friend's friend's level of happiness has an improved positive effect (+6%) on our happiness, compared with an increase of $10,000 in income (+2%)! The authors advise to get six hours of social time per day (including online and emails), and spend more time with friends, people you enjoy. 

The book drives home the idea of setting certain "defaults" for ourselves that will equip us to make healthy choices. In the area of nutrition, researchers found that in order to eat a healthy meal while dining out, go to an eatery that has many, many healthy choices. Why? Because when fast -food drive-ins offer their one healthy choice, people almost never choose them but opt for the burger and fries. When you go to the grocery store, stock up on all healthy choices. Automated deductions from your pay check for savings and tax payments are financial defaults we can make to live under our means. When choosing an exercise or diet regimen, the chances of success are multiplied when "positive peer pressure" is the default. 

The book's appeal? To those who find the subject of well-being itself interesting, you will learn from how the good, solid data is presented. However, the well-being for the sake of well-being theme is tiring and tedious. Human wholeness and healing does not exist in the vacuum of facts and statistics from Harvard studies, and is not founded on entirely individualistic categories. In a world of so much social upheaval and suffering, this book falls short. It just doesn't help me with what I need most: transcending my own world to see, and even embrace, with healthy and holy compassion, the pain of others.

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Art of Pentecost: A Reflection

The descending Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles

Simon Haider, Descent of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descends on Mary and the Apostles

This wood relief sculpture, courtesy of Vanderbilt University, portrays Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, the Sunday that celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. The story of Acts 1-2 describes what it means when the power from on high rests on the followers of Jesus. Mere disciples become apostles. They are sent out, to Jerusalem and beyond, to proclaim the good news of repentance and forgiveness.

The sculpture of the gathered disciples is a lesson that Pentecost is continuing. It is a picture of the church at prayer. To pray is to wait on God the Holy Spirit. God, who renews the face of the earth, is also the One who refreshes, remakes, and redirects God's people.

Pentecost cannot be a one time event heard once a year, like a textbook on ancient Egypt. That kind of reading can lead churches to reenactments of Pentecost, complete with readings in many languages, or dressing in red, the liturgical color signaling the Holy Spirit. Interesting, however, not much use when I'm too tired, bored, sick, depressed or disillusioned to pray.  To be sustained in a long and searching journey, I don't need more spectacle. I need to renew my strength from a Pentecost that shatters the walls I have constructed and the limits I have imposed on God, myself, and others. One that is over-abundantly supplied by the Lord, the Giver of Life. 

What remains for us because of Pentecost? How can it be that redirection comes as I wait on the Spirit in prayer. For me, waiting is listening, remembering the words of Jesus, quieting my mind, noticing small insights, blessing others as they come to mind. Continuing to forgive myself and others. I find endurance by asking God for it.  God, lead me to what is enduring and sustainable. What is a waste of time? What are things I need to wait out? Or act on? 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Reflection: The Ascension of Christ

Like the Easter accounts in the Synoptics, the Ascension narratives provide good soil for reflection. The larger part of reflection is asking questions of the various texts before us. An important question is: what do we find the disciples doing and what does that mean for us? It is not, which one do we like or prefer, but, how does each teach us about discipleship after the Ascension. 

Luke- Acts
Luke 24:52-53
And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Acts 1: 10-11
While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

What I find in Acts is an elaboration of Luke. The disciples find themselves "continually in the temple blessing God." It forms a symmetry with the Luke 1-2, where the temple is prominent in the stories of Zechariah, Simeon, Anna and the Circumcision-Dedication. The disciples are filled with wonder and praise. They are staying inside the temple in one case, and in the other, caught gazing into heaven.  In what ways does hanging out in church (the temple) provide an examination of my preference for safety, insulation?  The deliverance (exodus) from slavery to sin and death challenges my preoccupation with the familiarities and comforts of church worship. 

Gazing in wonderment at the ascending Christ can hinder my communion with the living Christ. Wondering where Jesus is can prove as fruitless as seeking the living among the dead. (Luke 24). This is at least a comment on a sign-driven spirituality, one that quickly germinates in shallow soil but cannot be sustained for long without better soil and deeper roots.

Matthew 28:16-20:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

The disciples gather on the mountain to be commissioned as apostles, "sent out." Matthew is a missionary Gospel.  The distinction from Luke-Acts is the promise of a continuing presence of Jesus- forever. Maybe that's the reason Matthew omits the departure of Jesus, the Ascension. There is no waiting on the Spirit in a temple, or, wondering-gaze to find the whereabouts of Jesus. We are told to go and do, knowing we are doing it with Jesus. 

Mark 16: 9-20 Mark's longer ending includes, like Matthew's, a command to go and do, with the presence of the Lord: "So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it." 

Mark 16:19-20  As the earliest manuscripts do not contain verses 9-20, the writer must have had the benefit of early Mark as well as Luke-Acts, and Matthew. The disciples follow- through in Mark. Not only do they go and proclaim, but also, the Lord "works with them" and provides, with their proclamation, accompanying signs. 

Out of the these comparisons, more questions can be considered: 
1. What are the promises and pitfalls of the disciples' various responses?
2. What is the value of each account in telling the story of Jesus' departure (exodus)? The value in reading them together?
3. In what ways is my practice of Christian spirituality redirected as a result of the Ascension of Jesus Christ?
4. In what ways is the Lord absent? Present?

Friday, April 30, 2021

Reflection for Easter 5 (Acts 8:26-40)

Acts 8:26-40
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
   and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
     so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
   Who can describe his generation?
     For his life is taken away from the earth.’

The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Kittridge Cherry writes that Biblical eunuchs "can stand for all sexual minorities." Cherry maintains that "eunuchs served and guarded the women in royal palaces and wealthy households. Their employers wanted to be certain that the eunuchs would not get sexually involved with the women they were supposed to protect, so many eunuchs were castrated men, homosexual men, and intersex folk. Many, but not all, were both castrated and homosexual. Eunuchs were trusted officials who often rose to senior posts in government."

Philip is one of the seven Gentile deacons listed in Acts 6:5. In Acts 8, the encounter between Philip the Evangelist and the Ethiopian Eunuch is a comment on our common practice of baptism, entrance, and initiation into the church. And, further, this story is a sharp critique on drawing theological and ecclesiastical lines in, at best, shifting sand.

Our story is part of the larger movement of the church traversing geographical, nation-state, religious, ethnic, racial, language, dietary, and cultural boundaries. Luke, who writes Luke-Acts, adds an additional boundary shattered by the movement of God's Spirit among the Gentiles: gender identity. Why does Luke include this amazing story in his account if not to expose the lines we create, that separate us from each other. 

The Ethiopian Eunuch is non-gendered, a non-Jew, and a foreigner. Believers who were not Jewish by ancestry were admitted entrance to pray at the Court of the Gentiles, but were denied entrance into the Temple.  Was the eunuch on the way out of Jerusalem rejected at the place of prayer? Consider the background in Deut. 23:1 "No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord."  

The story hinges on the eunuch's questions of Philip. Questions tend to access power and also challenge accepted, unexamined practices and policies. There can be no greater equalizer than to ask a simple question. Questions can open the door to doing justice. Like the Easter narratives where the disciples need teaching to understand the meaning of the passion, death, and resurrection, the eunuch, reading from the scroll of Isaiah,  asks, "How can I understand, unless someone guides me?"  

The question, "What is to prevent me from being baptized," probably reflects the question Luke's church must have asked. The implicit answer is: absolutely nothing. There is nothing that prevents one from being baptized. The test case is, of course, one who was kept from the assembly for being non-gendered.  If we let that sink in, what does Philip's welcome mean for our accepted and acceptable practices of  baptism? 

"The whole church needs to be present." I've never presided at a baptism when the "whole church" was present.  Is this a magic number, or only certain public gatherings? The one whose few close friends and family become the body of Christ? The one whose public faith profession is not possible in a coma or ICU. Or the one whose public baptism alienates family and may bring shame to the family and/or recipient?  

"You cannot belong without believing." What about those who, in practical terms, do belong before they believe? Who can be baptized? Only people we deem ready?  What about the one who wants to believe and belong, love and serve? Are others excluded because their intention and desire isn't enough to satisfy the gatekeepers?

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in a fresco of the Apocalypse by Herbert Boecki

"You cannot be blessed by God." Acts 8 is descriptive of how baptism was practiced in the earliest church; however, its reading in the Easter season questions our common practice of limiting access to God's blessing to times and places and people that we determine. The text authorizes all of us, like the Spirit did Philip, to hear- and act on- the implication of the story: there is nothing that can prevent God in Jesus Christ from adopting all people as loved and beloved. We. All. Finally. Belong.   

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Gospel Reflection for Easter 3

Gospel for Easter 3, Year B  (
Luke 24: 36-48 CEB):
While Jesus' disciples were talking about what had happened, Jesus appeared and greeted them. They were frightened and terrified because they thought they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus said, “Why are you so frightened? Why do you doubt? Look at my hands and my feet and see who I am! Touch me and find out for yourselves. Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones as you see I have.” After Jesus said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. The disciples were so glad and amazed that they could not believe it. Jesus then asked them, “Do you have something to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish. He took it and ate it as they watched. Jesus said to them, “While I was still with you, I told you that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Books of the Prophets, and in the Psalms[a] had to happen.” Then he helped them understand the Scriptures. He told them: The Scriptures say that the Messiah must suffer, then three days later he will rise from death. They also say that all people of every nation must be told in my name to turn to God, in order to be forgiven. So beginning in Jerusalem, you must tell everything that  has happened. 

As a background to this passage, Luke 24:13-35 is helpful. Initially, the Emmaus disciples "did not know who [Jesus} was." Or, in the NRSV, "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." The link between unbelief and faith, between not knowing Jesus, and recognition, is the proclamation provided by Jesus about himself: "'Didn’t you know that the Messiah would have to suffer before he was given his glory?' Jesus then explained everything written about himself in the Scriptures, beginning with the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets." Luke 24:26-27 Eyes are not opened and Jesus is not fully recognized until Jesus breaks bread with them. However, the beginning of that faith is found in Jesus' explanation about the Christ: "They said to each other, 'When he talked with us along the road and explained the Scriptures to us, didn’t it warm our hearts?'" Luke 24:37 The Emmaus disciples return to the city, to tell the Jerusalem 11 of their encounter with the living Christ. 

Important elements of this story are repeated in the Gospel for this Sunday, Easter 3. Jesus appears to them 1) like a unrecognizable stranger or ghost 2) a person with physical characteristics- such as one who eats with them 3) a teacher who proclaims the faith.  Today's Gospel also hinges on Jesus helping them to "understand the Scriptures." 

Seeing and touching the wounds of his suffering identify Jesus Christ. Still, after all the visible signs are displayed, seeing, even touching, is not equivalent to believing. Why would the proclamation about Jesus be necessary for the disciples to understand that Christ is Messiah? By itself, an appearance of Jesus, however, physically stunning, does not bring faith. Important, if not essential, is hearing and understanding the proclamation of Jesus Christ, Messiah and Lord. Recall the dialogue between Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Luke's second volume, Acts. In Acts 8, Phillip asked "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless, someone guides me?" 

How can we make sense of this passage? By the time Luke is written, Paul's Epistles and Mark's Gospel are probably available to the writer. Christian teachers and missionaries have already been proclaiming the Gospel. Luke's proclamation relies on decades of reflection on Easter and the Scripture of Torah, Prophets and Writings. Resurrection and Scripture exist in dialogue. Without the fruit of reflection-  understanding, illumination, recognition- the appearance of the risen Christ does not remove disbelief and wondering. Eyes remain closed.

Luke ends his Gospel with Jesus' proclamation, and he invites us to be hearers too, but also, bearers of the proclamation: that the Jesus whom they followed for three years, was also the Christ who suffered and on the third day, rose from dead. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. This is the kerygma of Luke and the church.

Like the disciples, many today struggle to believe-in the material, literal sense- the account of Jesus living again in flesh and bone. But Easter is finally proclaimed as faith and trust, not certainty. Regardless of how we describe the resurrection body, whether a physical-chemical like substance, or a spiritual body, what would prevent us from exploring its deeper meaning for our present life in Christ? Being in Christ means we frame our lives, in all of the messy details, by Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. We share in Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. We are invited to "know" Christ, in his passion, death and resurrection- and in his proclamation. 

Is Christ alive in the limitations of skin and bone cells? If that is our belief, we can continue to explore the meaning of the resurrection. We don't have to try, by ascent, to believe in what we cannot. What is Easter's meaning in the long haul of discipleship? Luke invites us to discover that faith in Christ can be- must be- both sustaining and sustainable. This may lead us, by God's grace, to surrender our prejudgments about resurrection- to God. We can let God in Jesus Christ remake and refresh us, wherever we are. 

I wonder if the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 8 is informative here, in the sense that it comes in light of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. It's about how the soil can sustain or fail to sustain a seed in its continuing growth. How is proclamation of the word of Christ being received? Notice how joy can lead to believing "only for a while" while good soil sustains "patient endurance."

"‘Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance." Luke 8:11-15 NRSV



Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Gospel Reflection: Easter 2

Gospel for Easter 2, Year B John 20:19-31 (CEB)
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.” Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.
There is absolutely no shame or deficiency in asking questions and searching for the way to peace of heart and mind and spirit. In our reading, Jesus stays true as the one who offers the gift of peace to his disciples. Recall his promise of peace in the present hour, in John 14: 27: "My peace I give to you." In praying the Fourteen Stations of Light, there are three Stations in this reading: Jesus' appearing before the disciples, the disciples receiving the power to forgive sin, and Jesus' strengthening the faith of Thomas. It encourages us to explore the whole passage, not just Thomas' story.
The Holy Spirit that Jesus breathes out on his disciples is the life-breath of God. It is also the power of forgiveness, given freely to, and without it, following Jesus is impossible. We move from "I should forgive," to "I can forgive." The power to forgive is here for us, given by Jesus Christ- if only we see it and use it. Without forgiveness, apostleship has nothing to offer except fear and shame. Don't pin failure to forgive on God or any church authority. The following quote from Holy Longing can serve as a powerful footnote to the power of forgiveness in the Body of Christ:
If a child or a brother or a sister or a loved one of yours strays from the church in terms of faith practice and morality, as long as you continue to love that person, and hold him or her in union and forgiveness, he or she is touching the hem of the garment, is held to the Body of Christ, and is forgiven by God, irrespective of his or her official external relationship to the church and Christian morality. Your touch is Christ’s touch. When you love someone, unless that someone actively rejects your love and forgiveness, she or he is sustained in salvation. And this is true even beyond death. If someone close to you dies in a state which, externally at least, has her or him at odds ecclesially and morally with the visible church, your love and forgiveness will continue to bind that person to the Body of Christ and continue to forgive that individual, even after death.
There are few better checks of my spiritual life than honestly exploring where I am in the journey to forgive those who have harmed me, even without knowing their intentions. My forgiveness is married to my forgiveness of others. I am also given the power to know my wrongs and pray God's love, healing and blessing over those whom I have harmed, to explore making amends for the benefit of a different future.

Thomas' absence from Jesus first appearance to the disciples prompts him to question the disciples' witness. Who appeared, was it was the Christ who suffered and died? The most important marks of the risen Lord are not his hair style, beard length, but rather, his suffering and death, the wounds of execution and the pierced side.  As a result of seeing and touching these marks of Christ, Thomas recognizes Jesus for who he is and thus becomes the first one to worship Jesus. He kneels down, an act of worship, and proclaims the faith of the earliest church, "My Lord and my God."

Jesus does not come down in judgement on Thomas' lack of lack of faith or believing. The CEV offers this wording of John 20:29-31: "Jesus said, “Thomas, do you have faith because you have seen me? The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!” Jesus worked many other miracles[a] for his disciples, and not all of them are written in this book. But these are written so that you will put your faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. If you have faith in[b] him, you will have true life." Far from guilting or shaming of Thomas, these words may be seen as a direct encouragement to the Christians hearing John's Gospel for the first time. In their continuing faith journey, these believers hear words of blessing, not condemnation. They are words of the risen Christ. And, we are included in that church.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

God Reaches Me through Reading

Long before the internet and used bookstores, there were Brandeis Book sales. A friend took me to my first book sale during our college years at Trinity University. Thousands of used books were stacked on tables sprawled in a shopping mall. At these mobile sales, you could purchase books for a penny on the dollar, and less! But the shopping bag full of books were perfect for a growing library.

A typical Brandeis Book spread

Reading and study is my preferred spiritual discipline. When I am not reading, I'm thinking about it. Finding what to read can be an engaging and enjoyable, process. Set goals by updating your reading list. Though I rarely read an entire book in one sitting, when I do, the words fly off the page directly into my heart. Through the same words, I can be strengthened and encouraged with the very presence and love of God. Some books call for me to read and reflect and to listen more intently. 

If a book is boring or disappointing, I either skip ahead, set it down for awhile, or assess its arguments, assigning different grades at the conclusion. Giving away books (not just weeding) can be an interesting undertaking too. Which books are to go away- and to whom? Note that more and more time is used on social media, a positive hindrance to reading as a spiritual practice, at least for me. That's regrettable; however, a post for another time.

Isadore of Seville, the monastic and archbishop of the 5th-6th Century, AD, wrote: “When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us. All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection, we retain what we have learned.’

Oldies but Goodies