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Showing posts from 2018

The Cross turns power on its head

Morning: Psalm 95, 22;Exodus 9:13-35; 2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Evening: Psalms 141; 143:1-11; Mark 10:32-45
I write these reflections, in part, to help me understand Jesus. Jesus’s followers sometimes think that following him will give them prestige and power of the same kind they suffer under.  But, in fact, the Cross subverts all human systems that claim to set the world to rights by putting a different set of people into the same positions of power. Jesus changes the meaning of power, because the Cross calls into question all pride and self-glorifying behaviour. Service not servitude will ultimately put the world to rights.

What must I do?

Morning: Psalms 131, 132; Exodus 7:25-8:19; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Evening: Psalms 140, 142; Mark 10:17-31

Jesus is uncompromising in demanding discipleship: “Come, follow me”.  He declares a new reality, which the Gospel calls the Age to come.  This is not some otherworldly ‘heaven’, but a new Age on the earth.  Jesus’s call brooks no compromises … you cannot be a part of the Age to come if you hang onto the empty idols that possess you, especially wealth.  Down through time, some have thought they could buy the new Age.  ‘What must I do to get it?’ the rich young man asks … Jesus says, simply, “Sell what you have and ... follow me”.

Jesus and Divorce … it’s simply complicated

Morning: Psalm 119:145-176; Exodus 7:8-24; 2 Corinthians 14:3-6
Evening: Psalms 128, 129, 130; Mark 10:1-16
You might expect someone who has experienced divorce to be defensive about Jesus’s hard-line stance on it.  People test Jesus’s view on divorce because John the Baptist has been beheaded after challenging the circumstances of King Herod’s wife’s divorce.  Jesus responds by appealing to our created natures, and to the fact that human marriage changes us on a profound level.  It creates a bond that cannot be broken without serious and often painful consequences, both for the partners and for the children involved.  Divorce is complicated, yes, but I will not argue with Jesus on this simple point.

Salted with fire

Morning: Psalms 121, 122, 123;Exodus 5:1-6:1; I Corinthians 14:20-40
Evening: Psalms 124, 125, 126; Mark 9:42-50
Jesus highlights, using violent images, the struggle in which he is engaged.  It is the language of hyperbole … a millstone around the neck if you lead children astray; eyes or hands that cause offence cut out or cut off.  In this struggle of good with evil, standing for the good is costly.  So, says Jesus, be like purifying salt, or refining fire; do not lose your character and become tasteless.  Also, do not squabble about special privileges. The struggle for the good leads more often, not to status but, to suffering ... as Jesus’s experience shows.

True greatness

Morning: Psalm 132; Isaiah 63:7-16; Matthew 1:18-25
Evening: Psalm 34;Ephesians 3:14-21: Mark 9:30-41
You have to feel sorry for Jesus’s disciples – they struggle so hard to catch the drift of his teaching.  In Mark’s Gospel today, though, it’s not complicated.  The disciples expect and argue about who will get exalted status for being a disciple of the Messiah.  Jesus responds to that by saying that the highest place goes to the one who is the servant of all.  He adds that one who welcomes a child has everything, even though in their society children are the lowest of the low.  Jesus turns everything upside down …  True greatness is shown in humility.

Jesus’s “I am” challenges people to decide

Morning: Psalm 118; Exodus 3:16-4:12; Romans 12:1-21
Evening: Psalm 145; John 8:46-59
You cannot secularise John’s Gospel.  Its readers must make up their minds about God, and about who Jesus is.  “I am” on the lips of Jesus is code for: ‘What I say is from God’.  “Before Abraham was I am” identifies Jesus as the creative Word of God mentioned in the opening verses of John.  Jesus’s hearers want to stone him for this blasphemy, making himself equal with God; they call him possessed and motivated by evil.  Against such odds, John still tells Jesus’s story, convinced that Jesus is neither evil nor possessed, but God in human flesh.

Are you on a spiritual journey? Prayer may help

Morning: Psalms 107:33-43, 108:1-6; Exodus 2:23 – 3:15; I Corinthians 13:1-13
Evening: Psalm 33;Mark 9:14-29
It’s often the young who accomplish great things.  But such accomplishments are usually of Body and Mind.  The Way of the Spirit is different.  The disciples find that following in the Way of Jesus, which is a spiritual journey, becomes more challenging the further you go.  You need deeper spiritual resources with every step.  But there is no guarantee that spiritual wisdom will come automatically, or that ‘older means wiser’ or more mature.  Prayer – waiting at God’s door not banging on it – may help.

An extraordinary glimpse into a new reality

Morning: Psalm 102;Exodus 2:1-22; I Corinthians 12:27-13:3
Evening: Psalm 107:1-32; Mark 9:2-13
Sometimes ordinary moments turn into extraordinary ones.  If sceptical bullies do not overwhelm us, we may accept events like the transfiguration of Jesus as inexplicable glimpses into the way things are. Now, nobody inventing this story could have invented the bumbling and comic response of Peter … it rings true.  And here, on the mountain, Jesus offers his closest followers a glimpse of the new cosmos that is coming; they now see Jesus as the one who will usher it in.  And they hear the voice from the cloud that says: “Listen to him!” – this extraordinary man.  Wouldn’t you listen?

Be yourself, especially with your kids

Morning: Psalm 69:1-38;Exodus 1:6-22; I Corinthians 12:12-26
Evening: Psalm 73; Mark 8:27-9:1
Last night at church, I wondered whether I had spoken too strongly about sharing faith with our kids.  Maybe I did?  But it was worth the risk.  Many of us lament our kids’ lack of interest in faith; but when they visit, we say, “I can’t make it Sunday – family’s coming.”  Does that make sense? … If we want our kids to embrace faith, why not risk practising it while they are with us?  Jesus’s Way is risky, for sure.  And our kids are worth the risk of being ourselves as people of faith.  Our authenticity may pique their interest.

Jesus’s vision of compassion for all humanity

Morning: Psalms 101, 109:1-30; Genesis 50:15-26; I Corinthians 12:1-11
Evening: Psalm 119:121-144; Mark 8:11-26
Religious leaders seek a further sign from Jesus. They don’t like it that his feeding miracles show compassion for everyone, not just their little group.  Jesus’s vision for the world clashes with their narrow national vision.  So, inevitably, there will be a reckoning.  He says beware the ‘leaven’ of the Pharisees … not their bread, but their vision of the world. His vision of compassion for all humanity clashes with this narrow, tribal vision. Understanding that this confrontation of values must occur, if the world is to heal, is like a man once blind finally being able to see.  Aha!

What little we bring will be enough

Morning: Psalms 97, 99;Genesis 49:29-50:14; I Corinthians 11:17-34
Evening: Psalm 94; Mark 8:1-10

What do we make of the two stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes?  First it’s 5000 people, now 4000.  Jesus’s earthiness gives him a natural concern to provide, when necessary, for people’s everyday earthly needs – like bread.  But he expects that others (it may be, you and I) will share that concern.  We are not to worry about our limited resources.  We need to bring only the gifts we have … the rest of what is necessary will be provided.  However small we may consider our gifts, they are enough for our part.  Maybe others’ gifts provide the rest?

An earthy and earthly Jesus

Morning: Psalm 89:1-18;Genesis 49:1-28; I Corinthians 10:14-11:1
Evening: Psalm 89:19-52; Mark 7:24-37
Do you have a gift you are shy about using because you want to refine it more and become more proficient, so you hide your light? Sometimes Jesus seems like a reluctant healer, not wanting to be seen, not wanting his work to be known.  He seems to be working things out … should he share his gifts with everyone or just a limited group. These very human qualities of Jesus bring him out of the realm of mythology and into the realm of the real.  Jesus is much more earth(l)y than we have sometimes thought him to be.

Bread that satisfies your soul

Morning: Psalm 66, 67;Genesis 48:8–22; Romans 8:11-25
Evening: Psalms 19, 46; John 6:27-40
I hear quite often that people feel adrift, purposeless, struggling to find meaning and direction for their lives. They feel a hunger that ordinary bread does not satisfy, and they lament feeling so discontented.  It’s not that they lack the ‘good things’ in life; it’s just that those ‘good things’ are not enough.  Jesus calls himself Bread of Life, and says those who trust his Way will never be hungry or thirsty again.  First, of course, you have to get to know what his Way is; being sure it’s not the clichéd version that will not satisfy you either.

Get to the heart of your traditions … ask Why?

Morning: Psalms 87, 90;Genesis 47:27 – 48:7; I Corinthians 10:1-13
Evening: Psalm 136; Mark 7:1-23
Jesus answers legalists and traditionalists who criticise his disciples for not washing their hands, saying basically, ‘What you eat does not harm you; it only goes into the stomach.  Evil, though, comes from the heart ... that will destroy you’ … Like traditions that become distractions from the purposes they were meant to serve.  Traditions do not possess power to change the heart, only to hold it captive.  But traditions begin in heartfelt ways, and they must evolve.  Truly to honour tradition is to discover the movement of the human heart that made the tradition in the first place.

Your calling is not a job, but what you need to live

Morning: Psalm 88;Genesis 47:1-26; I Corinthians 9:16-27
Evening: Psalms 91, 92; Mark 6:47-56
When you are doing what you are called to do with your life, you will not really care if or whether you get paid for it.  You may even work at another job to support your vocation.  Amateur athletes do this.  St. Paul speaks about his own sacred calling - sharing the Good News of Love - as something he actually believes is so valuable he wants to make it free of charge.  So, think of the thing you want to do for others, for Love and for nothing … there’s your calling!

The Spirit of Generosity multiplies

Morning: Psalms 42, 43;Genesis 46:1-7, 28-34; I Corinthians 9:1-15
Evening: Psalms 85, 86; Mark 6:30-46
I call Jesus’s feeding of the 5000 a miracle of generosity; one act of sharing multiplies throughout the whole crowd, until all are fed.  Have you experienced this miracle?  For instance, you go through a drive-through and arrive at the window to discover the stranger in the car ahead has paid for your coffee?  What do you do then … do you want to meet this generous stranger, or do you simply want to do something similar?  The Spirit of Generosity multiplies naturally.

Truth keeps a story alive; falsehood cannot

Morning: Psalm 119:97-120;Genesis 45:16-28; I Corinthians 8:1-13 Evening: Psalms 81, 82; Mark 6:13-29
Some architects and engineers think they have evidence that the truth about the 9/11 attacks is other than the official version. Likely, if there’s nothing to this evidence, this story will disappear … but if it’s true, we will hear more.  After Herod killed John the Baptist, Jesus appeared publicly; Herod worried this was John, returned from the dead, because Jesus was speaking the same truth as John.  It is hard, maybe impossible, to keep fake news going for long, because someone will come along to debunk it.  But Jesus’s story is still alive.

When speaking the truth, bring a friend

Morning: Psalm 78:1-39;Genesis 45:1-15; I Corinthians 7:32-40
Evening: Psalm 78:40-72; Mark 6:1-13

When I was studying theology, we invited a famous English bishop to address a conference.  He began by commenting that the further away you’re from, the more people trust you!  Jesus spoke similar words … those who speak the plain truth (‘prophets’, Jesus included) are respected everywhere but their hometown.  Right after that, Jesus sent his disciples out to share in his work.  After all, someone had to speak the truth in his hometown.  Why?  Well sometimes the truth is unpopular, so even when what you’re sharing seems like good news to you, it’s best not to go alone.

Do you ever think God is angry with you?

Morning: Psalm 80;Genesis 44:18-34; I Corinthians 7:25-31
Evening: Psalm 77; Mark 5:21-43
The Bible does not describe consistent beliefs over time.  People’s thinking evolves. Thus in today’s Psalms, the writer wrestles with God’s anger, which he believes is the reason for his misfortunes. Now, the Psalms are from 2500-3500 years ago … and people still think God gets angry with them; they project their own anger onto God.  But nowhere in the Christian Scriptures is God called ‘angry’.  The experience the New Testament writers have of Jesus shapes their understanding of God.  So they see the cosmos as understanding and compassionate; because, while Jesus can be stern, his love is unconditional.

No one is all good; it’s enough that God is

Morning: Psalms 93, 96;Genesis 44:1-17; Romans 8:1-10
Evening: Psalm 34; John 5:25-29
It may be true that the dead who hear Jesus’s voice will live. Your heart may beat, but you may not be fully alive. ‘Hearing’ Jesus can help you live.  But no one has done only evil things; we have all done good, too.  And Jesus’s message is life-giving for everyone, without exception. The Bible does not always record exactly Jesus’s words … Fallible people wrote the Bible, and sometimes they inserted their own point of view.  For instance, the idea that only some people do evil is a lie.  No one is all good; it’s enough that God is.

Political and individual healing go together

Morning: Psalms 75, 76;Genesis 43:16-34; I Corinthians 7:10-24
Evening: Psalms 23, 27; Mark 5:1-20
Jesus heals a man possessed by demons called ‘Legion’.  Decapolis is not a Jewish region – there are pigs – but Roman legions possess it too.  The people long to drive the invading legions into the sea, like pigs!  But Jesus, one who shares their human plight, paradoxically brings the unjust powers of the world to heel, by allowing those very powers to crucify, strip, and tear him apart.  Jesus’s solidarity gently heals all those wounded by unjust power.  And afterwards, Jesus will not let the demoniac become dependent on him, but instead restores him to the bosom of his own community.

Evil is no match for the power of goodness

Morning: Psalm 69:1-38;Genesis 43:1-15; I Corinthians 7:1-9
Evening: Psalm 73; Mark 4:35-41
A violent storm, for which Galilee is famous, represents chaos and evil, which so easily strike our hearts with fear.  Yet, in the unfolding of Creation itself, order emerges from chaos.  Jesus himself possesses a creative and constructive power for good.  Of course, we may point to instances in which evil seems to defeat goodness – Jesus on a Cross, for instance.  But today we still look to Jesus and wonder (as he does with his disciples after calming a storm on Galilee): Why are you afraid?  What prevents you from trusting a goodness that evil cannot defeat?

The Kingdom is the Way

Morning: Psalms 70, 71;Genesis 42:29-38; I Corinthians 6:12-20

Evening: Psalm 74; Mark 4:21-34
The meaning in Jesus’s parables is not always immediately clear. Reluctant to spell out a detailed vision, he makes parables about a Way rather than a destination.  The Kingdom itself is a Way … a seed growing secretly; a tiny seed that yields a large bush; the mysterious ‘measure for measure’, on which Shakespeare builds his play.  This is enormously respectful of our contribution to life.  The Way may be certain, but the final outcome is yet to unfold.  As e.e. cummings writes: “seeker of truth, follow no path; all paths lead where truth is here”.

Steady perseverance through failure

Morning: Psalm 72;Genesis 42:18-28; I Corinthians 5:9 – 6:8
Evening: Psalm 119:73-96; Mark 4:1-20
Not everyone hears the deeper meaning in Jesus’s stories.  I think he prefers it that way … If you want one thing, it’s shocking and difficult when things go differently.  The people expect a Messiah to quickly restore their nation to freedom.  Any talk of slow, painful transformation is too disappointing.  Do we also, and perhaps too often, want rapid-fire solutions for our problems? – We just need to find the correct answer, right?  But, in reality, it’s failure that may help us most.  When truth does not take root and bear fruit in one place, ‘sow’ somewhere else.

Why people discredit the truth

Morning: Psalms 61, 62; Genesis 42:1-17; I Corinthians 5:1-8
Evening: Psalm 68:1-36; Mark 3:19b-35
As Jesus becomes an increasingly formidable opponent for those in power, his family says he is mentally ill.  They think they will protect him by saying he is mad … ‘not guilty by reason of insanity.’ Religious leaders, though, say Jesus is demon-possessed; they want to discredit his work by ‘demonizing’ him, because he undermines their power.  Our own society discredits Jesus by treating him as just a mildly interesting historical figure.  But the stakes are much higher than that – Jesus is either a dangerous madman or he really does introduce the world to a profound spiritual renewal.

The attractiveness of simplicity

Morning: Psalms 56, 57;Genesis 41:46-57; I Corinthians 4:8-20
Evening: Psalms 64, 65; Mark 3:7-19a
The stories of Jesus’s early followers are attractive in their simplicity … he calls his disciples, appoints them to proclaim his message and to cast out demons; then he goes home! Paul writes about the rigours of his life: “We are fools for the sake of Christ … when reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. Maybe we’re just hearing the bare bones of the actual events … but the stories’ simple messages are compelling … Invite commitment; live in Love; overcome evil with good; bless those who mistreat you; persevere; and, be kind.

Sunday February 25th – By Grace we come to goodness, not by Law

Morning: Psalms 24, 29;Genesis 41:14-45; Romans 6:3-14
Evening: Psalms 8, 84; John 5:19-24

“You do not have to be good,” writes poet Mary Oliver.  That is the Christian view; goodness comes by the grace of God and not by our own efforts.  Law requires goodness; Grace makes goodness possible. You could say that the whole Jesus event was to invite humanity into Grace.  But we still think faith is about being good. St. Paul laments: “The good I want to do is not what I do.” Everyone feels like Paul.  Yet, we can find goodness … by practising spiritual awareness, staying awake to the Spirit at work in the world.  So, keep awake!

The Spirit of the Sabbath Law … who it’s for

Morning: Psalm 55;Genesis 41:1-13; I Corinthians 4:1-7
Evening: Psalms 138, 139:1-17; Mark 2:23-3:6
Because laws cannot govern every eventuality, Jesus stresses the Spirit of the Law. In Dickens’s Oliver Twist, Bumble’s wife is accused of theft; the law says he is responsible for her behaviour. ‘"If the law supposes that," (says) Mr. Bumble … "the law is a ass — a idiot.”’ Not to permit healing on the Sabbath makes the Law appear foolish.  Our Sabbath laws came to be about compulsory observance of Sunday, forgetting that Sabbath is any time that restores body and spirit … it’s for us, not God.  Today, the practice of Sabbath has mostly disappeared; it is our loss.Graham

New wine, new wineskins

Morning: Psalms 40, 54;Genesis 40:1-23; I Corinthians 3:16-23
Evening: Psalm 51; Mark 2:13-22
Jesus’s followers are often assumed to be moralists.  People project this assumption onto me – a priest – and try to protect me from bad behaviour, even their own.  Do they imagine it will offend me?  Think about it … Jesus always keeps company with ‘bad actors’.  How does the idea get about that only righteous folk can be his followers?  In his new order of things, all are welcome, no exceptions.  To use Jesus’s own metaphor, his new order blows open your mind the way new wine bursts old wineskins … if you quit misunderstanding and really listen to him.

Forgiveness is the mark of true humanity

Morning: Psalm 50;Genesis 39:1-23; I Corinthians 2:14 – 3:15
Evening: Psalms 19, 46; Mark 2:1-12
When Jesus says, “I forgive you” to the man whose paralysis he heals, it is probably because they have made a hole in the roof of his own house!  But the religious leaders perceive that his forgiveness is on a much larger scale.  In a culture that prizes revenge more than forgiveness – and forgiveness may even be perceived as weakness – Jesus opens up a tear in the fabric of their whole society much bigger than the hole in his roof! He teaches a new way … that forgiveness, not revenge, is the mark of true humanity.

Jesus: a wisdom never seen before

Morning: Psalm 119:49-72;Genesis 37:25-36; I Corinthians 2:1-13
Evening: Psalm 49; Mark 1:29-45
Paul’s language is rough, with few persuasive words and limited eloquence.  He wants people to depend on more than human wisdom.  Paul distinguishes between the wisdom of the rulers of this age and wisdom that comes from the Spirit.  He claims there is a mysterious wisdom in Jesus that previously has been hidden, that human eyes have never seen, that human ears have never heard about, and that has never arisen in the human heart before.  Jesus’s hearers are astonished at his teaching and wisdom.  Me too!  I keep going back to it, and finding more.

Make sure your ‘wisdom’ is not foolishness

Morning: Psalm 45;Genesis 37:12-24; I Corinthians 1:20-31
Evening: Psalms 47, 48; Mark 1:14-28
St. Paul knows the Cross is foolishness, but there is power in it too.  And often, what passes for wisdom proves foolish.  So faith does not try to prove anything.  That the Messiah dies is a stumbling-block for Jews and foolishness for everyone else. But Paul affirms, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom; God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Those whom the world thinks foolish may humble the wise; the weak in the world often embarrass the strong; the low and despised in the world are the very ones who will finally put the world to rights.

Wilderness ... to bring us to ourselves

Morning: Psalms 41, 52;Genesis 37:1-11; I Corinthians 1:1-19
Evening: Psalm 44; Mark 1:1–13

 The story says the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.  ‘Wilderness’ is often a metaphor for a place or time of proving.  It’s impossible to live and avoid wilderness experiences of one kind or another. In one version of Jesus’s story, in the wilderness he faced his ‘demons’.  Wilderness is the potential threshold of a new reality.  But first it may be a frightening encounter with part of ourselves that we do not want to face.  When we come to ourselves, though, as the Prodigal Son did in another story, the wilderness will have done its work.

Overcoming the power of death

Morning: Psalms 63:1-11, 98;Daniel 9:3-10; Hebrews 2:10-18
Evening: Psalm 103; John 12:44-50
People think Christianity is about life after death.  But it’s about living today free from the power of death, which is anything that keeps us from enjoying full lives.  Many institutions live in the thrall of the power of death … churches so devoted to tradition that they forget what it means; businesses more concerned with profit than with lives ruined by the environmental damage they cause; or governments more concerned with re-election than with serving the lives of citizens.  All these are instances of the power of death.  The Way of Jesus seeks to liberate us from death’s power.

Giving matters more than the gift

Morning: Psalm 30, 32; Ezekiel 39:21-29; Philippians 4:10-20 Evening: Psalm 42, 43; John 17:20-26
What do you give to ‘someone who has everything’?  He may actually have everything, or maybe he simply has enough.  Paul thanks the community in Philippi for their kindness in sending him gifts.  Then he goes on to say that he doesn’t really need anything, because he has learned to be content with what he has, whether it’s a lot or a little … but he’s glad they sent gifts anyway because it’s good for them to give!  In other words, we may need to give more than the recipient needs our gift.

Think on these things

Morning: Psalms 95, 31; Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Philippians 4:1-9

Evening: Psalm 35; John 17:9-19
In my youth, few words of Scripture affected me as profoundly as these words of St. Paul: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” I’ve taken my eye off the ball many times since, but Paul’s words are still a touchstone I rely on.

Will what I’m after really satisfy my heart?

Morning: Psalm 37:1-18; Habbakuk 3:1-18; Philippians 3:12-21
Evening: Psalm 37:19-42; John 17:1-8

Jesus and Paul both bid us to pursue what is life-giving – “where your treasure is, there will your heart be”; don’t set your hearts on earthly treasure … or Keep Your Eyes on the Prize!  Paul’s phrase became a popular Civil Rights song.  Jesus’ call to ‘repent’ is about the same thing … one writer says it means, “Change the direction in which you look for happiness.” In other words, you won’t find happiness or fulfilment in things.  What prize (or ‘treasure’) am I after?  Will it satisfy my heart?

The proud will be humbled, the humble lifted up

Morning: Psalms 95, 32, 143;Amos 5:6-15; Hebrews 12:1-14
Evening: Psalms 102, 130; Luke 18:9-14

It may be no coincidence that the name of the Charles Dickens character, Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, rhymes with ‘creep’.  He makes your skin crawl with his “yer ’umble servant” routine that has nothing to do with humility or service.  He reeks of falsehood.  A proud person may tend to hide his true self for shame.  ‘Pride’ rhymes with ‘hide’.  But the humble man is not ashamed to be himself.  The humble woman speaks the truth about herself.  There is nothing to hide when you know you’re lovable just as you are, warts ‘n’ all.

40 days on the trail of Truth

Morning: Psalms 26, 28;Proverbs 30:1-4, 24-33; Philippians 3:1-11Evening: Psalms 36, 39; John 18:28-38
This evening, Christians around the world begin a season of special devotion, prayer and reflection – Lent – as the days ‘lengthen’ into Spring.  Light is growing, perhaps understanding too.  The Gospel links Jesus’ death with his “testifying to the Truth”.  Pilate asks, tantalizingly, “What is Truth?” implying Truth is unattainable.  There are mysteries here, the tale of the profound shared experience of a small group of Jesus’ followers … Their experience of the life and death of their master transformed their understanding, their lives, and the world.  Lent invites us to enter and, for 40 days, attend to their world-changing experience.

Goodness all the way down

Morning: Psalm 25;Proverbs 27:1-12; Philippians 2:1-13
Evening: Psalms 9, 15; John 18:15-18, 25-27

An old woman challenges a philosopher, saying we live on a crust of earth on the back of a turtle.  The philosopher wonders, “What’s the turtle standing on?”  To which she replies, “It’s no good professor … it’s turtles all the way down.” St. Paul claims goodness comes from beyond us yet goodness is at work in us.  He says Jesus is goodness and humility itself, in human form.  Paul would be overjoyed if we humans could find that same humility, our essential earthy goodness.  And from there? … Well, it’s goodness all the way down don’t you know?

What profit if you gain the world but lose yourself?

Morning: Psalms 148, 149, 150; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Evening: Psalms 114, 115; Luke 9:18-27
How complex we humans are.  Sometimes, the face we show to the world is not really our own, but a mask that hides our true self.  Perhaps we are ashamed of who we are, or we do not really know who we are?  We may have spent our lives presenting an image that meets others’ expectations; religion can sometimes cause this.  Jesus says you may have to lose yourself to find yourself – that is, lose the mask and let the ‘real you’ be known.  Be yourself, the one you were made to be.

To whom does ‘my’ life belong?

Morning: Psalms 87, 90; Genesis 29:1-20; Romans 14:1-23
Evening: Psalm 136;John 8:47-59

Paul writes, “We do not live to ourselves and we do not die to ourselves.” Isn’t this true?  We are autonomous, but we are communal creatures. Canadian culture supports and values my right to decide when I will die.  Some disagree about this.  Yet Paul upholds another important value – we do well not judge one another, though we disagree.  Taking these values together … It may help if I am aware of the impact on you of what I decide to do with my life.  My life may be an important part of your life too, and you may disagree.

Debt free, except for love

Morning: Psalm 88;Genesis 27:46-28:4; Romans 13:1-14
Evening: Psalms 91, 92; John 8: 33-47

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”  Paul’s statement is intriguing.  Before this, he says: Pay people their due – taxes, respect, and honour.  If we say, “I owe no one anything,” it can be true of those kinds of debts.  But, we will always owe Love.  Love is the cost of living.  Just as Love creates Life, Love sustains it ... Love sustains every tender, fragile, beautiful and strong element of Life on this Earth.  Wherever that Life is wounded, threatened or diminished, a debt of Love is owed. I can never say the debt is not mine.

Freedom, just to be yourself

Morning: Psalm 146, 147; Genesis 27:30-45; Romans 12:9-21
Evening: Psalm 85, 86; John 8:21-32

The more you listen to Jesus the clearer it becomes … he does not teach truths as facts about the world; he invites us into ‘truth’, or wisdom.  Truth, for Jesus, is found in relationship. Untruth leads to disconnection from others, the world, and ourselves.  Living a lie – trying to be somebody we’re not – causes breakdowns in relationships.  Jesus represents the truth that is the foundation of this world of ours.  Who does not want truth?  Who does not want the freedom that truth brings … just to be yourself, and to be pleased with who you are?

The darkness of judgement or the joy of mercy?

Morning: Psalm 119:97-120;Genesis 27:1-29; Romans 12:1-8
Evening: Psalm 81, 82; John 8:12-20

Mercy and Compassion run through the story of Jesus; they are his Way. He refuses to judge a woman accused of adultery.  Now Jesus makes it a general rule: “I pass judgement on no-one.” Judgement deepens the darkness.  But Jesus, the merciful one, calls himself ‘the light of the cosmos’.  Interestingly, Muslims acknowledge God (Allah) as ‘the most compassionate, the most merciful,’ (‘Bismillah’) and Mohammed as the ‘mercy of the worlds’.  Paul adds to the wisdom of mercy, saying that those who ‘engage in acts of mercy’ should do so ‘in joyousness.’  Mercy!

Compassion reserves judgement

Morning: Psalm 78:1-39;Genesis 26:1-33; Hebrews 13:17-25
Evening: Psalm 78:40-72; John 7:53-8:11

Jesus’ gracious response to the woman caught in adultery shows his compassion with human brokenness and betrayal.  Sadly, even today, some of God’s most pious friends think they know better; they fail to reflect the compassion of their Master, responding with judgement and shunning.  Jesus’ words still echo down the ages: “Let whosoever among you is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her.” So, Jesus seems to say to us, ‘Judge no-one, whoever they are.’  Our judging says more about us than it does about others.  We do not walk in their shoes.

Deciding about Jesus

Morning: Psalm 80;Genesis 25:19-34; Hebrews 13:1-16
Evening: Psalm 77; John 7:37-52

“So a division arose in the crowd on account of Jesus,” says John’s Gospel. We are still divided about who Jesus is and what he represents. Now it’s a question the world over, not just in Jerusalem.  Some offer reasons why Jesus might not be trustworthy.  Others marvel at his unique wisdom and his world-transforming story.  When you encounter Jesus honestly and openly, like those who first crossed paths with him in Israel, it’s hard to sit on the fence.

Getting to the heart of things, to what we really need

Morning: Psalms 93, 96; Genesis 24:50-67; 2 Timothy 2:14-21
Evening: Psalm 34; Mark 10:13-22

Jesus has a way of consistently getting to the heart of things and pointing people to their real need, which they may not see.  When the disciples hold back the children, Jesus says the secret to life is accepting it like a child.  A rich young man wants to know how to really live ... after keeping the commandments, he is still unsatisfied.  Jesus tells him he must give up his possessions. The heart of the matter may be different for each person, and hard for us to hear.  Do I know mine?  Or you yours?

Truth speaks for itself … doing it is the next thing

Morning: Psalms 75, 76; Genesis 24:28-38, 49-51; Hebrews 12:12-29
Evening: Psalm 23, 27;John 7:14-36

Jesus insists his teaching is not his: “Whoever speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but whoever seeks the glory of the one who sent him, this man is true - there is nothing false in him.”  We humans have effective antennae for deception in high places.  But we can easily deceive ourselves, too. Jesus is so attractive to us because he’s authentic. We know truth when we hear it; truth speaks for itself.  So follow the truth you already know, right? ... Yes, only, to save self-deception, head and heart must collaborate, and we must listen to one another.

Caring for the Temple (the ‘Holy House’) of the World

Morning: Psalms 42, 43;I Samuel 2:1-10; John 8:31-46
Evening: Psalms 48, 87; Haggai 2:1-9; John 3:1-8

Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple, the ‘Holy House’, in 957BCE.  In 520 BCE, it was in ruins, and Haggai called the people to rebuild it.  Herod rebuilt it again in the time of Jesus. The Temple was where you encountered God; Jesus’ parents took him there.  But the Romans destroyed it finally in 70AD; it was never rebuilt.  Does it help to think of the world now as the ‘Holy House’?  Economics (oikonomia in Greek) means caring for the house (oikos).  Human economics is ruining the ‘holy house’ of the world. Haggai would call us to quit and start rebuilding.

What’s the dream worth? What will I give for it?

Morning: Psalms 70, 71; Genesis 23:1-20; Hebrews 11:32-12:2
Evening: Psalms 113, 122;I Samuel 1:20-28a; Romans 8:14-21

“What’s it worth?” is a question people ask about things – houses, cars, land.   Now, apply it to your dreams.  Most of us carry visions in our hearts – dreams of something better and brighter for our children, grandchildren and their companions.  What’s that worth?  Paul suggests the visions demand self-sacrifice, and they’re worth giving it your all.  So, if my particular dream for the world will require someone to give themselves wholeheartedly to it, Paul’s letter to the Romans seems to ask: Will it be me? What’s the dream worth to me?  What will I give to make it come true?

Living in Jesus’ Way

Morning: Psalm 72;Genesis 22:1-18; Hebrews 11:23-31Evening: Psalm 119:73-96; John 6:52-59
Today’s Gospel reading has more about Jesus himself being “real food” … those who “eat (his) flesh and drink (his) blood” will live well.  Of course, this is not about cannibalism, but about fully taking on board, in our very being, who Jesus is and what he represents. Everyone who does so, he says, will enjoy a transformed life.  Jesus is probably the greatest transformative figure in human history.  It’s not such a long stretch to suggest that if we live in his Way – more than that, if his Way lives in us – our lives will be rich beyond measure.

What God is like matters to me

Morning: Psalms 61, 62;Genesis 21:1-21; Hebrews 11:13-22Evening: Psalm 68; John 6:41-51
The Gospel story - Jesus dying in opposition to unjust power - invites me to believe that there is a God who is compassionate, alongside us in our struggles to build a world of justice and peace.  This is bread for me;  it satisfies my hunger ... this wild and wonderful thought that we are not alone, and that we are called to make sure no one else is alone either.  Compassion is not a bad guide for a life.  I’ll go with it, as best I can.

Bread of Life

Morning: Psalms 56, 57, 58; Genesis 19:1-29; Hebrews 11:1-12Evening: Psalms 64, 65; John 6:27-40
Do you know what it’s like to be with someone, or a group of people – maybe for a meal, maybe simply being together – and just their company, their presence, feeds your soul?  You savour the moments with them; you feel yourself being nourished and relaxing the way you do when you come home at the end of a stressful day?  Jesus called himself the Bread of Life, who satisfies your deep hunger and thirst, who fills you the way not even the Blue Plate Special can.  He wants us to be ‘bread’ like this for one another.

The Quiet Revolution

Morning: Psalms 24, 29;Genesis 18:16-33; Galatians 5:13-25Evening: Psalms 8, 84; Mark 8:22-30
Jesus heals a blind man - outside of town. He doesn’t want the healing to be known.  Later, walking north from Galilee to Caesarea Philippi (about 35 miles), Jesus asks his disciples if they know who he is.  Peter says, “The Anointed,” which means, the One they are waiting for to come and deliver them.  But Jesus says, “Tell no-one.”  Already, they can see that things will not go the way they imagine.  This Messiah offers a transformation of the heart, not a political coup.  Changed hearts are like a blind man seeing!  Lasting change comes from within.

The joys in my life … like winter!

Morning: Psalm 55; Genesis 18:1-16; Hebrews 10:26-39Evening: Psalms 138, 139; John 6:16-27
Where’s the joy in life?  I love it when Lake Huron freezes over because I get to walk on water!  Just after Jesus ‘feeds the 5000’, here’s another miracle – he walks on water.  Jesus says, though, that I only care about miracles when they provide something tangible, like bread.  Instead, Jesus invites me to look for intangible soul-food that is truly life-giving.  Wanting miracles keeps me searching for ‘magic bullet solutions’ to my problems … so I become unprepared for the effort that my challenges demand of me, and I’m unsurprised by the joys that life already offers.  Like winter!

The generosity miracle that satisfies your own soul

Morning: Psalms 40, 54; Genesis 17:15-27; Hebrews 10:11-25
Evening: Psalm 51; John 6:1-15
Someone has suggested that, when Jesus fed the 5000, the miracle was that a young boy’s generosity inspired a tsunami of generosity.  Others shared their food too, so all were fed.  We need not insist on some greater miracle.  Can you imagine a greater miracle than the 1% who ‘own’ 82% of the world’s wealth, or the 42 individuals who hold more wealth than the world’s poorest 50% … sharing it!?  In response to a miracle like that, we would just marvel and give thanks.  Giving generously out of your abundance helps others, but it also satisfies your own soul.

Not the right person for the job … are you sure?

Morning: Psalm 19;Isaiah 45:18-25; Philippians 3:4b-11
Evening: Psalm 119:89-112; Acts 9:1-22

How do you know who’s the right person for the job?  St. Paul’s Damascus Road ‘interview with Jesus’ was like recruiting a dictator to lead a human rights campaign … or a Tar Sands executive to fight climate change!  Interviewers look for prior success in the skills they’re recruiting for.  Paul had successfully persecuted Christians, but he became as passionate promoting the Way of Jesus as he had been persecuting it.  You may think someone’s not cut out for a task; you may think you’re not.  But expect transformation – in yourself and others.  Miracles do happen!  The ‘blind’ see!

You do not have to be good to be loved

Morning: Psalm 119:49-72;Genesis 16:1-14; Hebrews 9:15-28Evening: Psalm 9; John 5:19-29
Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese poem begins, “You do not have to be good.”  She urges us not to moralize, with ourselves or others. You don’t gain fullness of life by good behaviour, but by being open to Love.  So … you do not have to be good … to be loved.  When Love moves in us, life flourishes in us too; we do good things.  And real love (which gives birth to the Cosmos) is free.  When evil finds a way in us, our lives shrink and we ourselves judge them incomplete and small.  Goodness springs from Love, not Law.

Healthy communities, healthy people

Morning: Psalm 45;Genesis 15:1-11, 17-21; Hebrews 9:1-14
Evening: Psalms 47, 48; John 5:1-18
Astonishingly, in 38 years no one helped the lame man into the Siloam pool at the right time for him to be healed. Then, when Jesus healed him on the Sabbath, they berated Jesus for doing it on the wrong day!  Oh, how we humans get our priorities mixed up!  The lame man’s most serious ailment is belonging to a sick community.  Many health problems arise because of unhealthy communities. And Jesus healings often include restoring people to community.  Jesus’ priority is the ‘Kingdom of God’, which is not some ethereal future reality, but real and healthy community, right here.

Signs and wonders won’t help you believe

Morning: Psalms 41, 52; Genesis 14:1-24; Hebrews 8:1-13Evening: Psalm 44; John 4:43-54
Is there a power in the universe greater than human power?  The people want Jesus to prove he has such power.  He resists: “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”  Even natural wonders - the beauty of nature, the Love in your own heart, the immensity of the universe … they cannot say what created them. There are a million wonders that are beyond our understanding. Faith does not try to prove them; if it could, it would cease being faith … Faith is content to trust that an unprovable mystery lies at the heart of Creation.

When we listen, the deaf hear and the mute speak

Morning: Psalms 63, 98;Genesis 13:2-18; Galatians 2:1-10Evening: Psalm 103; Mark 7:31-37
One notable quality of Jesus is his listening to people. Tomorrow, some of us will gather for supper and to learn about listening. Jesus heals a deaf mute, and the Gospel says: “He makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”  Think about that this way perhaps … When we really listen to people, we may hear what they are saying for the first time … the deaf hear.  And for them, when we listen well, their muteness may be healed so that they find their voice … the mute speak.

Jesus: unlike anyone else … You could follow him

Morning: Psalms 30, 32; Genesis 12:9-13:1; Hebrews 7:18-28Evening: Psalms 42, 43;John 4:27-42
Do you know the experience of something slowing dawning on you?  You keep getting little indications of it, and it gets stronger and stronger until … you just know it.  Like the realization that the person you don’t like is actually more like you than you were willing to admit!  All through the Gospel stories there is an unfolding realization, too … that Jesus is actually unlike anyone you’ve ever met or heard of before.  He has “food to eat that you do not know about” and his wisdom is extraordinary.  You could follow him.

A Universal Longing … for Truth

Morning: Psalm 31;Genesis 11:27-12:8; Hebrews 7:1-17Evening: Psalm 35; John 4:16-26
When Jesus speaks to the woman at the well, he is responding to a universal longing in human beings, a thirst that needs to be quenched.  She talks to him about her ancestors’ religious traditions, about where people practice their religion.  Jesus is less concerned with her religion than with her finding spiritual authenticity and truth.  She admits she expects the Messiah will explain everything.  Jesus says: “I am he.”  The Messiah does not promote religion but authenticity of spirit … truth.  Isn’t authentic living the thing we long for really, the thirst we want to satisfy?

You can’t argue when you’re praying for one another

Morning: Psalms 66, 67; Ezekiel 3:4-11; Acts 10:34-44Evening: Psalm 118; Ezekiel 34:11-16; John 21:15-22
Today begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  But the sad divisions among Christians make it hard for them to be agents of peace in a broken world. Christians, like the rest of humanity, are prone to inconsistency and failure. Peter denies Jesus 3 times when his life is at risk.  Later, Jesus asks him 3 times, “Do you love me?” and Peter is reconciled to his Master. Christians will find peace, too, when their conversation turns to Love instead of doctrine.  You can’t argue when you’re praying for one another, because prayer is about Love

The story may confound me, yet I will follow

Morning: Psalm 38; Genesis 9:18-29; Hebrews 6:1-12Evening: Psalm 119:25-48; John 3:22-36
I remember seeing a painting of John the Baptist, standing like a signpost, pointing beyond himself, as if to say, “Look to Jesus, not me.”  John believes the Spirit is at work in Jesus, who is the Way to Life.  So it’s hard to hear in the same Gospel passage that God is angry when I stray from the truth. I need mercy when I mess up, not wrath; I’m usually angry enough at myself!  Yet I will still follow the signpost and look to Jesus, even if his story sometimes confounds me.
Tuesday Jan 16th – Come to the light … see and be seen Morning: Psalms 26, 28; Genesis 9:1-17; Hebrews 5:7-14 Evening: Psalms 36, 39; John 3:16-21
“Come into the light,” we say, either when we can’t see someone or when we want them to see something.  Sometimes, perhaps for shame or fear, we don’t want to be seen.  Yet, when we feel good about ourselves, we are not to be afraid to step into the light.  I learned that when Jesus talked about “fishing for people” he meant bringing them out of the depths of darkness and into the light.  When you step into light, you can see and be seen.  Similarly, when you let go of shame and fear, you see life with greater clarity.

Born of the Spirit … a new way of seeing

Morning: Psalm 25;Genesis 8:6-22; Hebrews 4:14 – 5:6Evening: Psalms 9, 15; John 2:23-3:15
In some religious circles, being “born again” is a yardstick for measuring people’s eternal fate; you’re ‘in’, or you’re ‘out’.  Jesus would cringe at such misunderstanding.  He invites, instead, spiritual re-birth, by which you see that Love is for everyone (you “see the Kingdom”).  Concern about your own eternal future blinds you to the inclusive and loving purpose of creation.  Paradoxically, if you’re preoccupied with whether you are ‘born again’, you’re probably not!  What Jesus calls being born “from above” helps you see beyond your own life to what poet Mary Oliver calls, “your place in the family of things”.