Thursday, November 30, 2017

“Come and see” … spend time with Jesus

Morning: Psalm 34; Isaiah 49:1-6; I Corinthians 4:1-16

Jesus attracted disciples, like Andrew and Simon. When Jesus asked them, “What are you looking for?” they responded, strangely, “Where are you staying?”  Jesus invited them to “come and see.”  In other words: Come and see how I live.  Doesn’t Jesus invite us too: “Come and see, spend time with me … through me you may see the world in a fresh and healing light”?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Valuing most the renewal of all things

Morning: Psalm 119:145-176; Obadiah 15-21; I Peter 2:1-10

When Jesus says it’s harder for a rich man to be fulfilled than for a camel to pass through a turnstile at the arena (that’s what they called the “eye of a needle”), he’s not just talking to the rich. Though never rich, I know the trouble with wealth.  It’s that when you make wealth your life goal, whether you’re rich or poor, it can end up possessing you. But when you realize that much in the world’s life is broken and your heart’s desire is for all things to be made new – not just your own things – you’re free.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Let go of things; then you will really live

Morning: Psalm 120, 121, 122, 123; Nahum 1:1-13; I Peter 1:13-25

Life belongs to children, says Jesus. Children don’t even think about life; they enjoy it.  Yet young men can become so weighed down by their need to possess things that they lose the freedom to enjoy them.  Life, which already was theirs when they were children, slips through their fingers.  They think that owning things, more than enjoying and sharing them, will make them fully alive.  We humans do this with land, with Mother Earth, with all precious things – art, nature, animals, and even other people.  We’re mistaken.  Jesus says … Let go of grasping; then you’ll really be living.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Marriage, divorce, celibacy and sex

Morning: Psalm 106:1-18; Joel 3:1-2, 9-17; I Peter 1:1-12

Jesus teaches on human sexuality.  Marriage is not to be undertaken lightly.  Jesus is angry with men using divorce for their convenience, without regard for the suffering it causes women.  He does not recommend celibacy, although some may be called to it.  When Jesus says married couples are “no longer two, but one flesh,” he treats sexual intimacy as a holy expression of our humanity.  There is no place for shame in sex, but when we ignore how life-changing marriage or sex are, trouble will not be far behind.  A casual approach to sex disrupts our natural human equilibrium.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Jesus: a different kind of king

Morning: Psalm 118; Isaiah 19:19-25; Romans 15:5-13  
Not every story Jesus tells contains a lesson in itself.  One story may be set beside another, showing the difference between its subject matter and the Way of Jesus.  Isn’t this the case with the story about the violence of a tyrannical ruler who slaughters those who oppose him (genocide)? Compare this with the humility of Jesus who, in the next story, rides into Jerusalem on a colt.  Disciples of Jesus follow a very different kind of king.  Sometimes, we have missed this comparison, but the Gospel is saying: Choose … what kind of ruler do you want?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

We need to forgive as much as to be forgiven

Morning: Psalm 107:33-43,108:1-13; Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 22:14-21
Jesus teaches us always to forgive those who offend or hurt us.  But his parable also says the ‘heavenly Father’ will torture those who do not forgive.  Ouch!  The suggestion that the forgiving Father tortures anyone feels so wrong.  Doesn’t it mean, instead, that if we don’t forgive others after we ourselves have been forgiven, it will afflict our souls and feel like torture?  That is how we are made.  Some of our inner pain may be about someone we need to forgive.  We need to forgive as much as we need to be forgiven.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Treat bad actors as Jesus did

Morning: Psalm 102; Malachi 3:1-12; Revelation 22:6-13

While depicting people as ‘sheep’ rankles with me, I do like that Jesus gives highest priority to ‘lost sheep’. Religious folk can sometimes moralize and exclude bad actors from the scope of God’s care.  But Jesus says that, even if someone treats you badly repeatedly, you should “treat them as a Gentile and a tax collector”.  Wasn’t he criticized for loving these people?  He certainly did not exclude them.  I think he means: ‘these ‘lost sheep’ are the people I care about most; treat them with the utmost care and love, as I do.  I want them back with me.’

Graham

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Blessèd innocence

Morning: Psalm 105:1-22; Malachi 2:1-16; Revelation 21:22-22:5

If we remember Mohammed Ali’s 1964 “I am the greatest” speech, our age may prevent us from becoming “the greatest” unless we become “humble like a child.”  Trouble begins when we learn to compare ourselves with others; we lose the quality of greatness … humility. It’s a ‘gotcha’.  We can never say, with honesty, “I am the humblest.” Just as we can never say, with honesty, “I am the greatest.”  We can become humble, but, like children, we won’t know it when we are.  It’s disappointing, eh? … I’ll never know whether I’m the greatest, or the humblest. Blessèd innocence.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Freedom of religion is Jesus’ Way

Morning: Psalms 101, 109:1-30; Malachi 1:1-14; Revelation 21:9-21

Most people accept that taxation ensures a healthy and just society … except perhaps those mentioned in the so-called ‘Paradise Papers’!  The Jewish people of Jesus’ day objected, however, to paying taxes for the maintenance of the temple of Jupiter in Rome.  Jesus agreed with them, thereby implying that established religion (as Constantine later made Christianity) is not part of the good society.  Jesus espouses freedom of religion, and any attempt to impose belief (or unbelief) on others is to be opposed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Hearing promises rather than threats

Morning: Psalm 97, 99, 100; Habakkuk 3:1-18; Revelation 21:1-8
Once, I saw a 20 minute play with only two lines – “Take it”, and “I don’t want it” – repeated with every imaginable inflection, tone of voice and physical expression.  Sometimes I’d like to hear Jesus saying the Gospel words out loud.  What sounds harsh in print, I re-imagine as gentle, full of compassion and promise.  Or, alternatively, maybe the Gospel writers got Jesus wrong?  Jesus is full of promises, not threats.  Like, when John of Patmos, in Revelation, has a vision of a new heaven and a new earth … now there’s a promise made in the spirit of Jesus.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Peaks and valleys, darkness and light

Morning: Psalm 89:1-18; Habakkuk 2:1-4, 9-20; Revelation 20:7-15

I love mountaintops; I climb Mt. Snowdon in Wales when I visit my mother.  It’s exhilarating up there; things seem clearer, problems small.  The humdrum and mundane are a world away.  It’s hard to come down.  The disciples are with Jesus on the mountaintop when they realize how different he is – truth radiates from him.  He could accomplish anything!  But on the way down he tells them he must suffer.  They hadn’t counted on that – in the bright light of their enthusiasm and plans, shadowy realities remained hidden to them.  Later they learned that darkness cannot overwhelm the light.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Rich or poor, whom or what do I serve?

Morning: Psalm 66, 67; Habakkuk 1:1-2:1; Acts 28:14-23
All I am and have comes from beyond myself. To be devoted to my stuff – house, car, treasures – is to serve only myself.  Wealth is such an unsatisfying Master.  Yet lamentably, our culture teaches the poor that the pursuit of wealth is the highest value.  That devalues the little they have. Even the wealthy want more.  To live well, Jesus teaches, we must address crucial questions: Whom or what do I serve?  What am I living for?  Rich or poor, when I serve wealth, I am the poorest of men.  When I serve Love, I am rich indeed.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Peace will come; let it begin with me

Morning: Psalms 87, 90; Joel 3:9-17; Revelation 20:1-6

Some good friends of Jesus are surprisingly preoccupied with “being saved.” Jesus himself said: “those who want to save their life will lose it.”  Instead, lose your self-preoccupation in service to what is life-giving.  This may not mean an easy path … in the Book of Joel some still think truth will be served by making weapons out of ploughs, whereas Isaiah’s vision is to “beat swords into ploughshares”.  We must stand firm in the cause of a deeper peace, sometimes at risk of our own.  Tom Paxton sang: “Peace will come; let it begin with me.”  Have a listen:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9tIJEywB4g

Friday, November 17, 2017

Who do you say Jesus is?

Morning: Psalm 88; Joel 2:28-3:8; Revelation 19:11-16
There is much that is edifying in Jesus’ stories and in those others tell about what he did and said. Today’s story, though, is about who Jesus is; that makes all the difference.  It took several years for Jesus himself to come to grips with his own identity.  But when his followers realized, 2000 years ago, that Jesus might be the one promised from of old to deliver his people from their troubles, there began a profound transformation in the world’s life.  And his question to the disciples is still valid and important today: Who do you say Jesus is?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Spoiler alert

Morning: Psalm 23,27; Joel 2:21-27; Revelation 19:1-10
Yeast makes bread rise; it is a leavening agent.  The Bible, though, talks about leaven as a spoiling, evil influence – in relationships, in communities, and in religious life.  There are those who seek to undermine Jesus’ influence by putting him to the test; he poses a threat to their own power.  Leaders who exercise an influence for good learn to respond wisely: both to people’s immature or destructive challenges; and also, to their own temptation to undermine others when they themselves feel threatened.  Jesus is teaching us to ask ourselves: Am I an influence for good or for ill?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Receive, Give Thanks, Break Open, Share

Morning: Psalm 119:97-120; Nehemiah 7:73-8:3, 5-18; Revelations 18:21-24
People know about Jesus’ feeding the 5,000, but not the 4,000, this time with “seven loaves and a few small fish.” These stories could be about the same event but the details changed as it was passed on orally.  Most important, though, is what is common to both stories – Jesus’ FOUR ACTIONS: he took bread, gave thanks, broke and shared it.  Jesus “had compassion” on the crowd … Compassion is literally “suffering with”. Compassion responds to human suffering by receiving all we have with thanks, breaking it open and sharing it with our companions. Companions are “together in bread”.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

You may be different, but you’re more alike than you think

Morning: Psalm 78:1-39; Nehemiah 9:26-38; Revelation 18:9-20
Jesus’ teaches in parables; and his life embodies the truths his stories tell … A non-Israelite woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter. Shockingly, but I believe deliberately and ironically, Jesus says he cannot give to ‘dogs’ – like this woman – what belongs to his own people, the Israelites.  (The Israelites may have used ethnic slurs like the term ‘dogs’ to describe the Canaanites.)  Those watching see Jesus first honouring the woman’s faith and then healing her daughter … in spite of her ethnicity.  Here, he teaches his own people: I am here for everyone; stop calling your neighbours ‘dogs’.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Kindness does not flow from a bitter heart

Morning: Psalm 80; Nehemiah 9:1-25; Revelation 18:1-8
Religious leaders can so easily fall into the trap of making rules that have no vital connection with the faith itself.  When Jesus points this out to some of them, they are displeased.  (Religious leaders may be prone to self-righteousness, too.)  The danger Jesus addresses is that rules sound as if they matter, when they may not matter at all.  For Jesus, the heart is what needs refinement, not the rules.  When truth shapes the heart, right actions follow.  The man whose heart is bitter cannot act kindly, no matter how much you insist that he should.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Generosity: no strings attached

Morning: Psalm 93, 96; Ezra 10:1-17; Acts 24:10-21
Jesus seems to be saying this … when you do something kind for someone, check that your generosity is not marred by ulterior motives.  If you wonder what the benefits will be for you, for example, when you care for a person, or give to a cause, something is off.  Generosity lets go of gifts as soon as they are given … no further expectations, no wishes for ‘thank yous’ or anything in return.   Generosity is an expression of complete freedom – no strings attached.  Anonymity helps, too.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Prayer is what strengthens us for life’s trials

Morning: Psalm 75, 76; Ezra 9:1-15; Revelation 17:1-14
Jesus’ disciples have weathered storms before.  But Jesus walking on water is something new.  Why would he do this?  Something in me doesn’t care.  It’s odd to read it on Remembrance Day, when we recall the sacrifices others have made for us.  I’m grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice too, but, for me, he didn’t need to walk on water, that’s all.  Perhaps the Gospel tells this story, though, to teach me that Jesus prepared himself for great trials by prayer.  Prayer will prepare me, too, and strengthen my faith so that I’m ready to confront even death itself if I must.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Generosity - the real miracle

Morning: Psalm 69:1-23, 31-38; Ezra 7:27-28; 8:21-36; Revelation 15:1-8

The story of the feeding of “5,000 men, besides women and children” –better make it 10,000 – is famous … and intriguing.  Like, would 10,000 people take their children to a deserted place without bringing lunch?  Likely some forgot; the disciples were worried about them.  But, without a doubt, some would have come prepared.  I think what really happened, when Jesus blessed and broke the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, is that the ones who had brought lunch realized they needed to share.  So all were fed.  They learned generosity that day; perhaps that was the real miracle.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Be true to yourself now … it gets harder later

Morning: Psalm 70, 71; Ezra 7:1-26; Revelation 14:1-13
Herod had John the Baptist beheaded, to fulfil a rash promise to his step-daughter, but he still grieved over John’s death. Herod liked to listen to John’s truth-telling.  He was obviously conflicted, though, since he did not take John’s critiques to heart.  It’s hard enough to admit quietly to yourself when you are wrong.  It’s another thing entirely, when you wield public power, to confess your errors to others and to the world.  But every time you deny responsibility for your own mistakes, it becomes easier to make them again … and harder and harder to turn back.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Truth is more common than humility

Morning: Psalm 72; Nehemiah 13:4-22; Revelation 12:1-12
A famous speaker whom we brought over from England joked that ‘experts’ from abroad are more highly respected than locals.  Jesus said this about ‘prophets’.  Prophets are truth-tellers.  It’s hard to hear the truth from someone you know.  When your sister shares something amazing she has discovered, you think, “I’ve been trying to tell you that for years!”  Truth, like everything else, is available locally.  But pride can stop my ears when I hear truth from my brother, or my neighbour, especially if it’s the truth about me.  I mean, how could he be smarter or wiser than I am!?

Graham

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What we need is near at hand

Morning: Psalm 61, 62; Nehemiah 12:27-31, 42-47; Revelation 11:1-19
The story is told of a poor Polish rabbi from a rural village who dreams of treasure buried under a bridge in Warsaw, the capital; so he journeys there in search of the treasure.  A soldier sees him under the bridge and asks what he’s doing.  When the rabbi tells him, the soldier laughs and says that he dreamed of treasure hidden behind the chimney of a poor rabbi’s house in a country village.  The rabbi rushes home and finds the treasure. Could it be that what we need is here already?

Graham

Monday, November 6, 2017

Not to understand, but to be understood

Morning: Psalm 56, 57; Nehemiah 6:1-19; Revelation 10:1-11
Matthew is presumptuous; he puts his own explanation of good and evil on Jesus’ lips.  But I won’t try to fathom the unfathomable.  Good and evil, life and death … these are mysteries; explanations don’t help.  Certainly, a reckoning with evil is required, but the reckoning must occur in the human heart. In the face of mysteries about which I haven’t the foggiest idea, I need an understanding heart.  When you dig deeper in the Gospel, you find that Jesus explains very little, but he understands people.  That’s it really; I don’t need to understand, but to be understood.

Graham

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Patience … First things first

Morning: Psalm 24, 29; Nehemiah 5:1-19; Acts 20:7-12
November 5, 1976. A new immigrant sits on his luggage in Toronto airport, wondering, “What now?”  I’m already drawn to Jesus’ words: Do not worry about your life.  (i.e. Make my priorities your own.)  To be honest, I do worry, not chronically.  I am discontented with the world.  To my chagrin, things don’t change quickly enough.  And yet: I do rely on Jesus’ priorities; I trust his promise of a world made new, though it’s going so slowly I won’t see it!  “What now?” Patience, young man!  First things first; then you’ll see.  Now, may I help with your luggage?

Graham

Saturday, November 4, 2017

To hurt, or to heal?

Morning: Psalm 55; Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 13:31-35

Each kindness, or meanness, multiplies, so that our actions come to have more significance than we imagine.  Small actions – our own or those of others’ – change things dramatically. Parables invite us to choose the kind of world we want. They pose more or less the same question, using different metaphors: “What kind of seed will you plant – weed or mustard?  What type of ‘leaven’ will you be in the life of the community – malicious, or sincere and true?  Will your spark kindle a fire that warms or one that destroys?”  Always a choice … To hurt, or to heal?

Graham

Friday, November 3, 2017

A legacy of loving-kindness

Morning: Psalm 40,54; Nehemiah 2:1-20; Revelation 6:12-7:4


Yesterday, All Souls’ Day, Penny, my dear sister-in-law died, too young, too soon.  I took Sophie to the kennel and drove home, weeping, profoundly sad, but not angry.  Above all, I am grateful …  I realize how deeply this good and authentic soul has touched my life, almost without my realizing it, by welcoming me, accepting me. Kindness is a powerful good.  Evil can try to overwhelm you – for cancer is like an evil ‘weed’ in life’s garden.  But nothing will ever overwhelm this woman’s legacy of simple loving-kindness; that is more powerful than death.  Penny is very much alive.

Graham

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Jesus: the human face of God

Morning: Psalm 42, 46; Romans 8:14-19, 31-39
These daily reflections, though inspired by daily Scripture readings, aim to be fairly non-religious. Jesus himself is not warm towards religion’s self-serving tendencies.  Jesus just wants his disciples to know that his is the human face of the divine; know him, and you know God.  The trouble is, religious folk sometimes think, mistakenly, that God plays favourites based on good behavior or who knows what?  They try to make Jesus’ teachings into a set of passwords, a sort of firewall, to keep out riff-raff.  The Jesus of the Scriptures is, instead, an open gate.  God welcomes all; no passwords required.

Graham

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wednesday November 1st – Imagine … A New Heaven and a New Earth

Morning: Psalm 111, 112; Hebrews 11:32-12:2

In 1971, I loved John Lennon’s: “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today … You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one; maybe some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”  Why do millions still love this? Perhaps it’s because religion does not reflect faithfully our deeply held dream of a world living as one?  If the old ideas of ‘heaven’ have become disagreeable to you, despair not; a new heaven is in view.
Graham