Saturday, September 30, 2017

Give your heart to what you value most

Morning: Psalm 87, 90; 2 Kings 11:1-20a; I Corinthians 7:10-24
Evening: Psalm 136; Matthew 6:19-24

As a hospital chaplain in Critical and Palliative Care, I was privileged to be at the bedside with many dying people and their families. None of them talked, at the end, about the importance of their wealth.  The people they loved were their precious treasure. What is it to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven”?  When everything and everyone fulfills their purpose … isn’t that what “heaven” is?  Aren’t loving relationships the greatest “treasure”? Jesus may simply be saying: “Give your heart to loving relationships and play your own unique part in this amazing Creation.”

Graham

Friday, September 29, 2017

Rumours of Angels

Morning: Psalm 8, 148; Job 38:1-7; Hebrews 1:1-14
Evening: Psalm 34, 150; Mark 13:21-27

Today is Michaelmas, St. Michael and All Angels’ Day. Michael was a warrior, but “angel” means, literally, “messenger”. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, angels are sometimes ‘heavenly beings’ who act as messengers of truth, revealing uncommon knowledge.  They are often pictured as ethereal and awesome.  I have never met one of these. Much more real for me is how the Letter to the Hebrews says that to extend hospitality to strangers is like “entertaining angels unawares”. We all know lots of these angels … they are the people who carry good messages that help us understand the world and ourselves.

Graham

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Be yourselves – give, pray, fast – but quietly

Morning: Psalm 116, 117; 2 Kings 9:1-16; I Corinthians 6:12-20
Evening: Psalm 85, 86; Matthew 6:1-18

Jesus assumes all human beings who want to live well – which is most – will be generous, pray and make sacrifices. (He says “whenever” you do these things, not “if”.) But these are best done secretly. Your ego can get so pleased with your efforts that it gives you a proud pat on the back. The trouble with that is: you may begin to think giving, praying, or fasting make you good, or prove you’re good. Secrecy, though, allows you to receive the grace that comes from quietly being yourself. Because generosity, devotion and sacrifice are just normal human qualities, right?

Graham

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Practise non-violent resistance to evil

Morning: Psalm 119:97-120; 2 Kings 6:1-23; I Corinthians 5:9-6:8
Evening: Psalm 81, 82; Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus teaches to not resist; but he is recommending non-violence, not subservience.  “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek,” it’s a demeaning backhand slap; experiment with it. When you “turn the other cheek,” you are saying, “I will not use violence, but I will not be demeaned by you.”  If someone sued you for your coat and you gave your cloak too, you brought shame on him for leaving you naked.  Any Roman soldier could force you to carry his pack one mile; but two miles, and he would be punished. Resist, but non-violently, and with your dignity intact.

Graham

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

‘Sin’ is the trouble that breaks relationships

Morning: Psalm 78:1-39; 2 Kings 5:19-27; I Corinthians 5:1-8
Evening: Psalm 78:40-72; Matthew 5:27-37

The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is full of wisdom; challenges too! Jesus’ hyperbole – “cut away an eye or hand that causes you to sin” – shows how important right relationships are for him.  ‘Sin’ is anything that breaks down right relationships. In Jesus’ day, men used divorce to escape their responsibility to women, treating women like chattels, and leaving women very vulnerable. So, for Jesus, adultery was a serious disordering of human relationships.  Swearing oaths in God’s name puts people’s relationships with God in jeopardy too. Why? Because people forget their oaths, and, when they do, other people stop trusting God.

Graham

Monday, September 25, 2017

Make peace with your opponent, soon

Morning: Psalm 80; 2 Kings 5:1-19; I Corinthians 4:8-21
Evening: Psalm 77; Matthew 5:21-26

In university, I had two posters that summed up Jesus’ teaching on reconciliation.  Two ugly, toothless dragons with eye patches fought, with the caption: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth … that way the whole world will be blind and toothless” (a quote attributed to Goethe, Gandhi, King, and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof!).  And two angry dragons, each standing on his own tiny island, threw mud at the other … the caption: “Mud slung, is ground lost” (words of Adlai Stevenson, US ambassador to the UN, 1961-63). Make peace with your opponent, soon.

Graham

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hope is the opposite of yearning

Morning: Psalm 93, 96; 2 Kings 4:8-37; Acts 9:10-31
Evening: Psalm 34; Luke 3:7-18

Hope is, I think, the opposite of yearning.  It is confidence … confidence that life springs from and depends on a power greater than our own. Life flourishes independently of me.  John Baptist taught that Jesus had the power to help me sort out my priorities. When I do, I am generous, not hoarding stuff, but confidently sharing and satisfied. When I hang onto stuff, it’s a sign that I trust things more than I trust Love, and I am probably afraid of something.  When I live in the confidence that all will be well, I need only the essentials.

Graham

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Being loved makes us good

Morning: Psalm 75, 76; 2 Kings 2:1-18; I Corinthians 4:1-7
Evening: Psalm 23, 27; Matthew 5:17-20

Many people think Christianity is about being good to earn love – like, keeping the 10 Commandments or something. But trying to be good just makes us ashamed … we can’t do it. Laws are like a prison.  Jesus shows, shockingly, that we must come to the realization that trying to be good is soul-destroying; we so often fail.  We need outside help.  That help is the unconditional Love that gave birth to the Creation. John Lennon was right: Love is all we need. Being good does not make us loveable. Being loved makes us good.

Graham

Friday, September 22, 2017

Salt and Light

Morning: Psalm 69:1-38; 2 Kings 1:2-17; I Corinthians 3:16-23
Evening: Psalm 73; Matthew 5:11-16

Using earthy metaphors, Jesus promotes living well: “You are salt,” so … bring out all the exquisite flavour of the creation.  “You are light,” so … let truth shine in you; do not to block out the light. Light shines in our good actions when they do not draw attention to us, but instead they point to the marvelous integrity of the creation.  It’s easy to forget we are not alone, to think we must scramble to generate our own power … to keep ‘the light’ turned on.  But a power greater than our own power helps us to shine.

Graham

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Extra grace required and given

Morning: Psalm 119:41-64; Isaiah 8:11-20; Romans 10:1-15
Evening: Psalm 19, 112; Job 28:12-28; Matthew 13:44-52

In Matthew, Jesus says the angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous. I imagine Jesus means that the evil (including me) will be singled out for extra grace, because we need it.  That sounds right, eh?  Jesus has just said the Kingdom is like finding buried treasure or hidden pearls.  Imagine the joy of that! Greater still is the joy of the Kingdom … knowing, in spite of shame or failure, that you are loved, and your shadowy side is no obstacle at all to grace.  You cannot be unloveable to Love. Love is always unearned.

Graham

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

And so, become yourself

Morning: Psalm 72; I Kings 22:1-28; I Corinthians 2:1-13
Evening: Psalm 119:73-96; Matthew 4:18-25

I don’t like fishing metaphors applied to people any more than I like sheep metaphors – I don’t want to be caught and corralled, nor to catch and corral you!  But there is power in Jesus that captures my heart and imagination. Paul relied on this more than wisdom or persuasion. Jesus calls me into a life of spiritual vitality, integrity, and authenticity.  A voice deep within me, a voice I trust, says, “Come and I will make you real, and your very being will invite others to be real too.” Become yourself … My heart and mind respond, “Yes!”

Graham

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Foolishness that is really wisdom

Morning: Psalm 61, 62; I Kings 21:17-29; I Corinthians 1:20-31
Evening: Psalm 68:1-36; Matthew 4:12-17

You give yourself to what’s really important; you may even give your life for it.  John the Baptist did. Then Jesus took up the same work, calling people to change direction and invest in a better world.  It led to Jesus’ death too.  This better world Jesus proclaimed is won by sacrificial love, which may seem more foolish to us than wise.  This better world will be won by humble strength that we may now take for weakness.  Ask yourself, though … Is there much about the values of our present world that should not be turned upside down?

Graham

Monday, September 18, 2017

Temptations and the way to true freedom

Morning: Psalm 56, 57; I Kings 21:1-16; I Corinthians 1:1-19
Evening: Psalm 64, 65; Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus overcame three temptations; they are ours to wrestle with as well – 1. living only for my own satisfaction; 2. serving the illusion that I am more important than anyone else; and 3. spending my life in pursuit of material things, thinking they will make me happy.  Most of our quarrels with others spring from these three temptations.  Seeking to calm these inner passions is one of the great spiritual quests on the way to inner freedom and fullness of life.  It might make us nicer to be around, too.

Graham

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The truer stories of Jesus’ own people

Morning: Psalm 24, 29; I Kings 19:8-21; Acts 5:34-42
Evening: Psalm 8, 84; John 11:45-57

Both Jesus’ death and early Christianity are shrouded in mystery. But there are hints of a story different from the familiar one … The Jewish high priest sought Jesus’ death to re-unite his divided nation. The religious leaders freed Jesus’ disciples, Peter and John, so as not to oppose God’s purposes. Jesus’ own people struggled hard to figure out just who he and his disciples were. They sought to do the right thing. These truer stories must be told to counter those that demonize Jesus’ own people for his death, and that have brought such tragedy upon the Jews.

Graham

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Let your gentleness be known to everyone

Morning: Psalm 55; I Kings 18:41-19:8; Philippians 3:17-4:7
Evening: Psalm 138, 139:1-17; Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus’ whole life and ministry was marked by humility … that he, the anointed one, should ask John to baptize him is a case in point.  It is hard to understand how what Jesus stands for can so often be twisted by those who seek power over others to serve their own needs – employing violence “in God’s name”, or using people’s faith to selfish political ends.  Paul has it right – the way of Jesus’ is about a different kind of power … firm, courageous and relentless gentleness in the service of the needs of others.  “Let your gentleness be known.”

Graham

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hold fast to what you know is true

Morning: Psalm 40, 54; I Kings 18:20-40; Philippians 3:1-16;
Evening: Psalm 51; Matthew 3:1-12

Prophecy is misunderstood – people think it’s predicting the future.  Prophecy may refer to the future – as in, “If this continues, that is going to happen.”  Yet prophecy is not about the future, it’s about the here and now. Prophets speak truthfully about what is.  That can be costly and lead to their suffering or even death.  For when you know something to be true, you will not betray it to save your life. Paul encourages his hearers, “Hold fast to what you have attained.”  In other words: be faithful to what you know is true.

Graham

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Grasping the nettle

Morning: Psalm 66; Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:11-17
Evening: Psalm 118; Genesis 3:1-15; I Peter 3:17-22

Today is Holy Cross Day. Some Bronze Age burial objects carried a cross, so the cross was connected with death before Christianity. In Christianity, the cross was so horrific it was not quickly adopted.  How could it possibly be holy?  Later, the cross became associated with ‘salvation’, a much-misused word, meaning ‘healing’.  The cross points to a human paradox: the path to healing goes through suffering.  They taught us as children that nettles sting less when you grasp them firmly. By confronting our pain, we humans can find healing power. Only its healing significance makes the cross holy.

Graham

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Humble Mind

Morning: Psalm 119:49-72; I Kings 17:1-24; Phil 2:1-11; Matt 2:1-12
Evening: Psalm 46, 87; I Kings 8:22-30; Ephesians 2:11-22

Paul invites us to imitate the humble mind and ways of Jesus.  I heard author John LeCarré yesterday saying he hates institutional religion because they treated him harshly in an authoritarian church-run school.  Religion can easily forget its founding ethos. It’s hard to imagine how Paul’s teaching could give rise to abuse: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit … in humility regard others as better than yourselves … look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” But when institutional values take over, so does ambition, and then, ‘O Lord, it’s hard to be humble’!

Graham

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Mixed motives

Morning: Psalm 45; I Kings 16:23-34; Philippians 1:12-30
Evening: Psalm 47, 48; Mark 16:1-20

We may assume religious people have pure motives. But they fail as often as the rest … religion does not guarantee purity, nor should we expect it to.  Are all policemen suspect because one let you down once?  So don’t be surprised that someone other than Mark invented a new ending to Mark’s Gospel, or that some speak of faith out of envy or ambition.  Not that the ‘good apples’ are without blemish, either!  But it’s still wise to assume the best about people, don’t you think?  And Paul suggests that, often, good things happen in spite of people’s motives.

Graham

Monday, September 11, 2017

Other disciples

Morning: Psalm 41, 52; I Kings 13:1-10; Philippians 1:1-11
Evening: Psalm 44; Mark 15:40-47

Many human beings follow the Way of Jesus without knowing him. Some know him but may feel they need to distance themselves from his more enthusiastic disciples.  I am drawn to these other disciples who don’t make it into the main story … people like the “many other women” who went up to Jerusalem with Jesus, or Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the ruling council, who buried Jesus quietly.  There’s something deeply attractive to me about the faithful, humble obscurity of these other disciples.  I think I want to be like them.

Graham

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The compassion at the heart of things

Morning: Psalm 63:1-8; 98; I Kings 12:21-33; Acts 4:18-31
Evening: Psalm 103; John 10:31-42

If you hadn’t noticed, Jesus is central to these musings.  The figure of Jesus towers over recent human history, down to the date on this reflection.  What captivates me about him is how faithfully Jesus embodies what he teaches; his actions are consistent with his words.  Naturally and compassionately, Jesus weeps when he hears of his friend Lazarus’ death. The compassionate heart suffers with those who suffer. Jesus’ compassion convinces me – because I accept he is who he says he is – that compassion is at the heart, and is the way to the heart of reality. 

Graham

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Be patient, beloved

Morning: Psalm 30, 32; I Kings 12:1-20; James 5:7-12, 19-20
Evening: Psalm 42, 43; Mark 15:33-39

Early Christians reached two conclusions about Jesus. A centurion gave voice to the first – “Truly this man was God’s son.”  Secondly, they came to believe that Jesus would return soon to bring the promised Kingdom into being.  The debate continues about what both conclusions mean. Jesus has not yet returned, although many believe his Spirit is with us.  This is the context of James’ exhortation, “Be patient, therefore, beloved.” Patient endurance, kindness and hospitality are good ways to live in the time between where we find ourselves now and what we hope for, whatever that may be.

Graham

Friday, September 8, 2017

Jesus’ way of non-violence

Morning: Psalm 31; I Kings 11:26-43; James 4:13-5:6
Evening: Psalm 35; Mark 15:22-32

Jesus did not argue or struggle when they taunted and crucified him.  He was innocent, but did not strike back. Why?  Because violence contradicts love.  Some expected Jesus to be a rebel leader, but violence cannot serve love, even “in the cause of justice”.  To me, Jesus’ story says: Take heart, hold firm … non-violence is the way out of the vicious cycle of injustice and revenge … and if you are ever caught in that vicious cycle, remember, in the end, love wins.

Graham

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Wisdom’s bar is set high

Morning: Psalm 37:1-18; I Kings 11:1-13; James 3:13-4:12
Evening: Psalm 37:19-42; Mark 15:12-21

Pilate made decisions about Jesus’ fate solely on the basis of political expediency and populist concerns, rather than on what he knew was right. Does this sound familiar?  How utterly bankrupt and corrupt power becomes when it serves only its own needs.  James says it well: “Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” Wisdom’s bar is set high. It has to be.
Graham

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Wisdom holds her tongue

Morning: Psalm 38; I Kings 9:24-10:13; James 3:1-12
Evening: Psalm 119:25-48; Mark 15:1-11

James says, “Not many of you should become teachers,” and then speaks about all the evils ignited by the tongue.  Better for me, then, to adopt the stance of a learner. I learn a lot from Jesus, who responds to his accusers with just three words, and then is silent. James teaches using words – which is odd, given what he says about the tongue. Jesus embodies his teaching in silence … Wisdom holds her tongue.  Maybe I’ve said too much?

Graham

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Good disagreement

Morning: Psalm 26, 28; I Kings 8:65-9:9; James 2:14-26
Evening: Psalm 36, 39; Mark 14:66-72

Have you ever suffered for your convictions – or for your unbelief? What, do you think, inclines humans to persecute others who believe differently, or who doubt?  Do beliefs that contradict ours frighten us so much that we need to eliminate them? – If not from the earth, then from our awareness?  Being persecuted for your beliefs may teach you that you must not persecute others for theirs.  Belief in love shows itself in love, not hatred. Now, to disagree respectfully … that’s sometimes just honest and necessary.  Or sometimes, for the sake of love and respect, you should hold your tongue.

Graham

Monday, September 4, 2017

Is your God too small?

Morning: Psalm 25; 2 Chronicles 6:32-7:7; James 2:1-13
Evening: Psalm 9, 15; Mark 14:53-65

They asked Jesus if he was the Messiah. When he replied, “I am”, they were scandalized – he was not the Messiah they had imagined.  Similarly, when we “lose faith”, maybe it’s that we no longer believe in the God we had imagined.  “Loss of faith” may be a crucial step on the journey of faith.  It may be that letting go of mistaken ideas about God opens us up to a larger faith, much different than before, but truer than we could ever have imagined.

Graham

The lying kiss

Morning: Psalm 20, 21; I Kings 7:51-8:21; Acts 28:17-31
Evening: Psalm 110:1-5; 116; 117; Mark 14:43-52

Hatred, fear and betrayal are human responses to perceived threats … Jesus, crucified for challenging the abuses of the religious and civil authorities; Liu Xiaobo, confined and called a danger to the Chinese people for demanding basic human rights; Muslims in North America, persecuted by hate groups for their faith.  Jesus was betrayed with a kiss; the rationale of hatred often appeals to some higher ideal, and hatred or fear masquerade as love.  When any other human being makes you feel insecure, there is never a loving reason to hate them.  Love cannot show itself as fear or betrayal.

Graham

Good or Evil? You have to choose

Morning: Psalm 107:33-43; 108:1-6; Hebrews 9:1-14; Luke 11:14-23
Evening: Psalm 33; Exodus 19:3-8a, 16-20; I Peter 2:4-10

Some accused Jesus of using evil to combat evil.  They said he was an agent of evil.  But, Jesus pointed out, if he were evil’s agent, evil would be divided against itself, and a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.  Evil cannot defeat evil. When evil is defeated – and we all know instances of that – it is by the power of goodness. God is at work everywhere in the world.  And this much is clear … you cannot be both for God and against God. You have to choose.

Graham

Friday, September 1, 2017

The movement I must make

Morning: Psalm 16, 17: I Kings 5:1-6:1; Acts 28:1-16
Evening: Psalm 22; Mark 14:27-42

Greetings fellow-travellers!  As fall begins, I invite you back into reflection and spiritual reawakening with this traditional prayer song from Ghana … It echoes Mark’s reminder that faithfulness in life depends on letting go of things: “Journeying god, pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.  Show me the movement I must make toward a wealth not dependent on possessions, toward a wisdom not based on books, toward a strength not bolstered by might, toward a god not confined to heaven. Help me to find myself as I walk in other's shoes.”

Graham