Saturday, December 16, 2017

Keep love warm

Morning: Psalms 30, 32; Haggai 2.1–9; Revelation 3.1–6
They ‘discovered’ another solar system with 8 planets, like ours, ‘only’ 2,500 light years away.  The mind boggles … the information we gather from there now is from 500 years before Christ!  Yet, even today, people still wonder when ‘the end’ will come.  Questions like these distract us from living in the present moment.  A lot more will happen yet, and our distant descendants may see it. But we are unwise to make this our primary concern.  Our most pressing need is not to have our love grow cold.  Here’s the thing, then … Today, keep love warm.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Love and lament for Jerusalem … for all of us

Morning: Psalm 31; Haggai 1.1–15; Revelation 2.18–29

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often have I desired to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing.” Jesus loves Jerusalem and her children and also laments the way she mistreats those sent to her aid.  Jesus’ lament extends far beyond Israel and Judah, because Jerusalem is really a proxy for every city and human community in which people destroy what is good rather than pursue the ways that make for peace.  Jesus’ love and lament are for all of us – for our healing – if we are willing.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

True beauty: what you see is what you get

Morning: Psalm 37.1–18; Amos 9.1–10; Revelation 2.8–17

Jesus’ calls out the scholars of religion as “hopeless frauds”. They believe in their own goodness, but their self-righteousness is not real.  They create impossible standards that no one can achieve, least of all them. They dwell on the smallest things and neglect the most important: justice, mercy and faithfulness. They look holy on the outside but inside are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Outwardly they appear beautiful, but within they are ugly.  Jesus wants us to be authentic – like, what you see is what you get.  We’re made not to be hopeless frauds; we’re made to be beautiful.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Imbalances will be resolved, naturally

Morning: Psalm 38: Amos 8.1–14; Revelation 1.17—2.7
I’m listening to Handel’s Messiah and the famous aria, “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low.”  What the Old Testament prophet Isaiah says resonates with Jesus’ teaching about religious hypocrisy: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  How? … by direct divine intervention?  No, but it seems there’s a tendency towards equilibrium in the creation - in the natural world in general and particularly in human life.  When people advocate for one thing yet do the opposite, a jarring imbalance results.  Such imbalances will be resolved, naturally.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Choose: Competition or Loving relationships?

Morning: Psalms 26, 28; Amos 7.10–17; Revelation 1.9–16
Our society moulds us for competition … academic grades; winning at sports; superior intelligence; beauty. Simple conversation is difficult for us without argument, discussion, or debate.  They peppered Jesus with questions to test him, maybe to prove how smart they were. Why we evolved this way is a mystery to me, but Jesus teaches what St. Paul calls a “more excellent way” – perhaps its excellence will appeal to our competitive natures!?  When badgered about the most important values, Jesus responded: Love what is Holy (“God”) and Love your neighbour as yourself.  He’s saying, Choose – competition or relationships grounded in Love.

Monday, December 11, 2017

If you must ask questions, ask the right ones

Morning: Psalm 25; Amos 7.1–9; Revelation 1.1–8

When the Sadducees ask Jesus what will happen in the Resurrection if someone’s been married more than once, you can almost feel him rolling his eyes and saying:  “Guys, guys!  Wrong question!”  Instead, Jesus wants us to discover how to live now, rather than pandering to our speculations about what happens after we die.  This life is the one that matters … this moment in fact.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in their moment.  While we live, we must inhabit ours, and leave speculation aside. This life is the one Jesus comes to renew.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

What then will you become?

Morning: Psalms 148, 149, 150; Amos 6.1–14; 2 Thessalonians 1.5–12
This second Sunday in Advent is traditionally devoted to one wild and woolly prophet, John the Baptist.  Apart from his being reassuring for people like me – who have never liked to dress up! – John stands like a signpost in history pointing away from himself.  It’s as if he is saying: “If you want to accomplish anything of value in this world, it cannot be about you.”  What ultimately will redeem the world, if anything will, is humility.  And, in case you think he’s just talking to other people, you hear John’s life asking you: “What then will you become?”

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Faith and taxes

Morning: Psalms 20, 21.1–7(8–14); Amos 5.18–27; Jude 17–25
Jesus said, “Give the emperor what is the emperor’s and give God what is God’s.”  Conclusion? … Perhaps people owe the emperor very little compared with what they owe God?  They must decide what they value most. Does this inform our approach to faith and taxes today?  Some people wonder whether the Church should give up its charitable status.  In the spirit of Jesus, it’s a fair question: is it ‘generosity’ if it depends on receiving a tax-break?  More importantly, to receive tax-breaks for my faith is inconvenient if ever, like Jesus, I must challenge governments because of my faith.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tired of darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Morning: Psalms 16, 17; Amos 5.1–17; Jude 1–16
Too many parables in our readings lately end with someone in outer darkness, weeping and gnashing their teeth!  My heart wants relief, something better and brighter.  But isn’t that the point? … the parables are addressed to me: ‘Graham, quit refusing great opportunities on the pretext you have something better to do.’  Our son’s wedding banquet recently really was a taste of something better and brighter; no wonder Jesus compares the kingdom to a wedding banquet ... Isn’t he really saying: ‘Life’s a banquet. Come, enjoy its wonders, and quit choosing lesser options; you’ll only end up regretting it’?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

God’s biggest fans sometimes lose the thread

Morning: Psalm 18.1–20; Amos 4.6–13; 2 Peter 3.11–18
Jesus tells a story … tenants kill a landowner’s son. Because they want to manage the land themselves, without the landowner’s direction, they lose everything. Ironically, when religious people lose the thread of their own foundational story, they also lose their purpose, and then they end up sacrificing what they really want to guard. Even those who look and sound like God’s biggest fans can lose touch with who God is and what God intends.  So to people of faith, Jesus poses these searching questions: ‘What do you think this faith is all about?’ and ‘Are you with me?’

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

True authority comes from within

Morning: Psalms 119:1-24; Amos 3:12 – 4:5; 2 Peter 3:1-10
Religious leaders confronted Jesus: “By what authority do you do these things; who gave you this authority?”  Today they might ask: “Do you have a licence?” But no-one can confer the authority Jesus possessed – marked by integrity, strength, wisdom, humility, and servanthood.  The religious leaders’ had only formal authority, which alone is insufficient.  True authority has inner qualities … authenticity, the capacity to author life, to support and cherish life, guided by the Spirit within.  Religious leaders may be called “reverend”; but everyone knows it takes much more than a title to be truly “revered” … That was Jesus’ point.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The power of prayer and the house of prayer

Morning: Psalms 5, 6; Amos 3.1–11; 2 Peter 1.12–21
When Jesus overturned the tables of moneychangers in the temple – who exchanged currency so that foreigners could buy sacrificial animals – he made a powerful statement about the significance of holy places, places set apart and used often for prayer.  He also spoke of the power of prayer itself.  Our culture is abandoning holy places and the practice of prayer.  Part of what churches are for is to honour the sacred in all life (hope, faith, love, beauty, goodness, truth); to create and guard sacred places; and to proclaim the power of the Spirit to ‘move mountains’ for goodness’ sake.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Who is this? Your answer makes all the difference

Morning: Psalms 1,2,3; Amos 2.6–16; 2 Peter 1.1–11
In Matthew’s story, Jesus enters humbly into Jerusalem. This echoes Zechariah’s prophecy (9:9) about a king on a donkey.  The crowd knows the prophecy and welcomes its new king.  Then people start to ask, “Who is this?”  If Jesus really is the promised king, something world-changing is happening.  The last 2000 years of history has largely agreed with Matthew’s story.  It’s controversial but who can be indifferent about this?  You have to decide who this man Jesus is.  And your answer may make as much difference to you as history’s answer has made to the world.  Who is this Jesus?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Do not fear … it may take time, but all shall be well

Morning: Psalms 146, 147; Amos 1.1–5, 13—2.8; 1 Thessalonians 5.1–11
This season is about Hope. It’s natural that human beings imagine better times beyond our present challenges, troubles, and sorrows.  We say, “Just let me get through this,” even though, last time, a new crisis followed the old one and left us still expecting something brighter.  Hope is more than wishful thinking; it is a conviction about what is coming, but not yet seen.  Hope acknowledges, with Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  Meanwhile, we work for that expected future without worrying about when or how it will come to pass.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Fear can blind you

Morning: Psalm 137:1-6, 144; Micah 7:1-11; I Peter 4:7-19

A crowd tries to silence two blind men who call to Jesus for mercy.  Jesus ignores the crowd and, out of compassion, heals the blind men.  Isn’t it the crowd that’s really blind?  Compassion sees suffering and responds with mercy.  Some in the crowd probably do see.  But compassionate action takes courage … you may have to go against the crowd.  Fear can blind you.  Is there some fear that keeps you from seeing where you need to act with mercy?  Is there some crowd mentality – fitting in, being accepted, being liked – from which you need to break free?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Learning to serve takes a lifetime … start now!

Morning: Psalm 140, 142; Isaiah 24:14-23; I Peter 3:13-4:6 
Evening: Psalm 141, 143; Zechariah 14:1-11; Matthew 20:17-28

Some reject Christianity because Jesus’ friends misbehave.  But Jesus deliberately befriends miscreants; they need the most help.  Jesus’ followers want to be great. He teaches them that greatness is service.  St. Francis prays: “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love …” Francis could have continued, “… to be served as to serve.” Following Jesus never guarantees you will serve others well, but it can help if you want it to.  Becoming a servant may take a lifetime … start now!