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Showing posts from February, 2018

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?