Containing God

A Sunday Reflection for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Lectionary readings for today are here.


Today is the last Sunday before the season of Lent and in the Gospel lesson for today we read of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The writer of Luke tells us that Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to come with him the mountain to pray. We don’t have the words Jesus prayed but while praying he is transformed physically, his face changes and his clothes become “dazzling white.” And two men, Moses and Elijah, appear with Jesus. We can only imagine what was going through the disciples’ heads and hearts as they witnessed this awesome revelation from God.

What we do know is Peter’s reaction. He says “it is good for us to be here” and offers to build them each a dwelling so they can stay. The narrator then gives us the curious statement of “not knowing what he said” just in case we missed how inappropriate, although I’m sure good intentioned, Peter’s words are.

When we experience the awesomeness of God, we want to remain in the experience. We want to abide on the mountain top, to feel God’s presence coursing through us. But that is not how God intends for us to be.

God interrupts Peter’s planning and sets Peter and the others back on course: “this is my beloved son, listen to him.” And Jesus leads them back down the mountain, continuing on the journey toward his death and resurrection so that we can all live in God’s presence every moment of everyday.

God abides with us as we interact with the world around us in the everyday ordinary moments of our lives. We don’t have to be on a mountaintop to experience God’s presence. We can see God’s presence in the face of every person we meet, those we live with and work with and play with. And in ourselves. We experience the beauty of God’s creation in our backyard gardens, the amazing God-given abilities of human engineering in our homes and shops and office buildings, the power of God’s healing through the hands of medical professionals, the provision of God as we use the skills God gave us to provide for our families, the joy of God in the laughter of our loved ones, the peace of God in our stress and anxiety, the compassion of God in our personal struggles and conflicts.

God’s presence and power and work is all around us and in us and through us. As we follow Jesus in prayer we become more and more aware of God’s abiding presence in all that we do and in all that we are. It’s a lifelong journey. We can’t contain God’s awesomeness so that we can come and view it when it’s convenient. We are to live it each and every day as God’s beloved children.

May your day and your week be filled with the awareness of the Presence of God with you where you are.

Our Heart’s Desire

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany are here.


Do you remember where we are from last week? In Luke’s telling of the Good News story, Jesus has just called the twelve and his fame was increasing, drawing great crowds wherever he went. And in light of this apparent ministry success, Jesus speaks to the disciples, which in Luke’s telling describes all of his followers not just the 12 he gave the title ‘apostle’, Jesus looks at everyone in the crowd and says you are blessed if you are poor, hungry, sad, and hated. And woe to you if you are rich, and filled, and praised.

And then he follows this reversal of blessing and woe with: LOVE. YOUR. ENEMY.

How many in the crowd, do you think, were willing to hear this teaching? How many of the crowd do you think stuck around? If I had my flannel graph, I’d be taking the people in the crowd off one by one as I’ve been talking.

Love your enemies. Ten folks in the very back start inching away.
Do good to those who hate you. Another fifteen turn and leave.
Bless those who curse you. There goes another 20.
Pray for those who mistreat you. This one is’t so bad, at least I can pray that God will smite them, so only five more hit the exit.

How about you? Are you still listening?

Success in God’s Kingdom is quite different from how the world views success.

Regardless of what our culture and our society may teach, ‘turn the other cheek’ IS the way to success in God’s Kingdom. But let’s be very clear, Jesus isn’t telling us to let others get away with harming us or abusing us, there is accountability for all, but he is telling us not to let revenge and retaliation be our guide in how we respond to another’s bad behavior.

With these words:
Love
Do good
Bless
Pray
Jesus is teaching us that life in God’s Kingdom isn’t transactional, we don’t live tit-for-tat. When others mistreat us, it isn’t permission or justification to mistreat them. In all things and in all ways, we are to treat each other with love as Jesus loves. Life in God’s Kingdom is relational.

To help everyone understand this and to keep us from looking for loopholes with the definitions of “enemy” and “neighbor,” a little while later on in Luke’s telling of the story, Jesus answers the question of “who’s my neighbor” with a story about someone helping their culturally defined enemy, the story we know as the Good Samaritan. When our worldview is a Kingdom View, we see both our neighbors and our enemies through the lens of love.

Love takes away the separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. When we love as Jesus loves, there are no dividers between us and those who look differently than we do, between us and those who vote differently than we do, between us and those who dress differently, live in a different neighborhood, drive a different kind of car, speak a different language, or for any possible reason you can think of to separate yourself from “them”.

This past Wednesday night after the potluck, we had an excellent conversation about what it looks like to invite others to church. We may think of it as an invitation to a place and an event, but the true root of the invitation is an invitation to the life we are all created for. We are inviting them to experience the same life changing Good News we have in this place and with these people with whom we experience and learn about the God of Love.

When Jesus says others will know we are his followers, his disciples, by our love, it isn’t just about how I love you but how you witness me loving others, especially my enemies.

If I’m speaking derogatorily about someone else for any reason at all, I am not being loving. And Jesus says plainly, “Love your enemy.” And, if we are to love our enemies that means I should not speak ill of them. In God’s kingdom our neighbors and those we might label as an ‘enemy’ are both in need of God’s love, just as we are. WE ALL need God’s compassion and kindness and understanding and because God offers these beautiful gifts to us, we offer compassion and kindness and understanding to every one.

We are to treat everyone as our heart desires to be treated. This is the key to a successful life in God’s Kingdom. And to live this ‘well-lived’ life, we have to come to grips with who we are and who we are living for.

And to make this point, let’s look at the Psalm appointed for today:
1 Do not fret yourself because of evil doers; do not be jealous of those who do wrong.

4 Take delight in the Lord and he shall give you your heart’s desire.

What is the deepest desire of our hearts? Is it the best house or job or car we can imagine? We may try to fill our deepest desire with these things but I think we all know things don’t really satisfy our deepest desire or else we wouldn’t need to keep buying or trading up for better and better things.

Our hearts’ deepest desire is love because that is what we are created from and for.

Back to last Wednesday, as I was driving home from the potluck and conversation, feeling deep in my bones the power of love in this church family, my podcast queue automatically rolled over to the next download and it just happened to be a talk given by Henri Nouwen back in 1994 and I’d like to read you a short part of it because Henri says what I wanted to say so much better than I ever could (you’ll have to imagine the Dutch accent):

“See, I have a heart that is created by God that wants perfect love. You know, right? I have a heart that yearns for perfect love and every human person I bump into is disappointing me. Every human being somewhere is not able to give me all my heart’s desire. And I’m constantly disappointed. I’m constantly disillusioned. And not because the other person is that bad or wrong. But because somewhere, my desire for love is much greater than the other person can offer me. And you know what happens when I force people to love me perfectly? …. I want something from you that you cannot give.
And when I force you to love me perfectly, you say, please hold off. You know, I can’t do that for you. I can’t be that for you. I can’t be all for you. I can give you a little bit, but I cannot give you unconditional love because I have needs too. I am broken too. I have my own weaknesses too. And somewhere I’m not able to be for you all that your heart desires. And please forgive me for not being God, for not being the solution of all your struggles and pains.”

To live the life God intends for us, we have to seek the true source of our desire and when we start living from that place of God’s image within us, our heart’s center of love, we will be able to, with God’s help, to love more and more like Jesus.

We can’t expect others to love us as we want to be loved, we can only work at loving others better. We have to remember that Jesus’ command to “Do unto others” begins with our behavior not the other person.

Love your enemies.
Do good to those who hate you.
Bless those who curse you.
Pray for those who mistreat you.

We can’t look for loopholes as to who we can love and who we don’t need to. We can’t measure the success of our life with the same measuring sticks our culture and society use. These statements may not draw in the crowds to grow us into a mega church but they will change the lives of those who are willing to listen because they’ve witnessed us not only saying them but doing them.

Without love, whatever we do is worth nothing. In the economy of God’s Kingdom, the more we give, the more we have. Love grows and bears fruit only when we give it away. And in the abundance of God’s Kingdom, we have a never ending supply so offer it to everyone. Amen.

Remembering & Reflecting

A Sunday Reflection for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Lectionary readings are here.


The Gospel reading for today is the writer of Luke’s telling of what is more commonly known by the label we give to the writer of Matthew’s version: the Beatitudes. Luke’s version is shorter, a series of Blessings and Woes a part of a longer teaching to his disciples.

If you have been reading this blog for very long you’ll (hopefully) remember that in June and July of 2021, I wrote a series on the Beatitudes from the Gospel according to Matthew. And even before then, I wrote a few times about how the Beatitudes help us see and respond to the world around us more compassionately. They are the emotionally and spiritually mature transition from a list of specific rules to wise discernment of any situation in order to be more like Jesus and live from the image of God in each of us.

God gave us the 10 commandments through Moses to teach us how to love God and each other and how to live in community on earth, for the greater good of all. They are the basics, given to a restored people of God who needed to (re)learn what it is to love as God’s people. And then God came to us as Jesus and said “I’ve come to fulfill the law” and taught the Beatitudes. Jesus shows and teaches us how to live in communion with each other on earth as it is in heaven for the greater good of God’s Kingdom in the time and place we are.

Both the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes were given to help us build relationships, to live within an economy of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Jesus gives us the way to move from knowledge to wisdom, to be able to discern God’s path and plan in all situations as the world around us changes at an ever increasing rate.

The word ‘beatitude’ means ultimate bliss or a state of great joy, a state of being that can come only from living authentically as God created us, knowing that we are beloved children created in love, for love, and to love. When we choose to live in the economy of God’s Kingdom in the here and now, we are freed from the struggle of finding happiness outside of ourself.

We don’t always get it right and we often forget who and Whose we are and the Good News is that God is always waiting for us to return and help us remember so that we can reflect God’s love, compassion, grace, and mercy to the hurting world.

If You Say So …

A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The Lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany are here.


Do y’all remember ‘back in the day’ when Sunday School teachers used flannel graphs to tell Bible stories? I love flannel graphs, and often I’ve wished I had one when I preach. This is one of those moments, so you’ll just have to picture it in your heads.

I want us to start today looking at the main characters in both our Old Testament and our New Testament readings: The prophet Isaiah and the fisherman Simon (as we start the story he’s not yet a disciple and he’s not yet called Peter).

Imagine the felt cutout of Isaiah and a throne bigger than the flannel graph board as we hear Isaiah describe his grand vision of the glory of God on the throne. God’s robe fills the entire temple and these six-winged creatures are flying around singing praises to God with voices so strong, the building shakes. And just so no one misses the concrete reality of this vision, Isaiah grounds it in history: In the year that King Usiah died. This isn’t just some wishful imagining but the reality of God seeking a relationship with God’s people.

As you imagine Isaiah’s vision, can you feel the presence of God in this place? Can you hear the heavenly voice harmonizing with ours? What is your reaction when you feel surrounded by God’s presence?

Isaiah’s first response it to proclaim himself unworthy. Isaiah is fearful that all of his sins will bring about his death in the presence of God. Yet, far from condemning Isaiah, God purifies that which Isaiah says is unclean and asks him to go and proclaim healing to the people of Isreal. Isaiah learns that God is a God of redemption and restoration.

OK, quick change of scene – let me switch out the temple flannel graph with the one of the Sea of Galilee. Can you see the boats and the empty nets? Can you see and feel how tired the fishermen are?

Simon has been out with his crew fishing all night and has caught nothing. He has nothing to sell, nothing to feed his family. And instead of letting him go home in defeat or despair, Jesus asks Simon if he can use his boat to speak from. Jesus steps into Simon’s workspace, fills it with his Presence and when he has finished speaking, asks Simon to try again.

I love Simon’s response: “well, ok, we tried all night but IF YOU SAY SO, I’ll do it again. Do you think that Simon really expected things to be different or is his tone more like “I’ll show you, you’ll see I’m right. You may be the master teacher but I’m the master fisherman.” If you were in Simon’s sandals, what would your tone be?

And when Simon sees the haul of fish, sees the glory of God revealed, he responds in the same way as Isaiah, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.” Just as Isaiah did, Simon believes himself to be unworthy of God’s presence.

Jesus doesn’t walk away as Simon asks but instead invites Simon, and those with him, to join him in ‘fishing for people.’ Simon declared himself unclean and Jesus heals his self-doubt with the words, “don’t be afraid.”

And here’s a helpful side explanation: in the ancient Hebrew world, catching people like fish was used to describe the vengeful actions of an enemy out to get you. Jesus takes this old way of thinking and transforms it. ‘Learn from me,’ he offers, ‘how to gather all of God’s people together in liberating, life-giving love. Let go of the ideas of a vengeful, condemning God and live in the abundance of God’s Love.’

The Story continues to reveal to us that God is a God of redemption and restoration and relationship.

In both of these in incredible scenes, the one who says ‘I am unworthy’ is offered an invitation to participate with God in the same restorative and redemptive actions they themselves receive.

“Who should I send, and who will go for us?”
“Follow me and I will show you how to fish for people.”

These men were afraid of being condemned because they condemned themselves with their own feelings of guilt. God created us and declared us ‘good’ knowing we’d make bad choices in life. Throughout our holy scriptures, from the very beginning, we have story after story of God’s tender mercy. When the first humans ate from the forbidden tree, he dressed them warmly as he sent them to face the consequences of their behavior.

God worked with the actions of Abraham and Sarah to bring about God’s plan even as they, over and over again, took matters into their own hands.

After his brothers sold him into slavery, God used Joseph to save Jacob’s entire family from famine.

Throughout the history of ancient Isreal, God sends prophets to remind the people of his mercy and yet they chose the path God said would lead to his wrath. And still, whenever they returned, God welcomed and cared for them even as they faced the consequences of their choices.

As we dive deeper into God’s story through our BibleProject groups, my prayer for all of us is that we find a deeper relationship with the God of mercy and grace. Some of us may expect condemnation because we don’t feel worthy of God’s love, but God says ‘you are my beloved.”

Henri Nouwen, a twentieth century Dutch priest and theologian, focuses so much of his writing on feeling worthy of God’s love because for much of his life he felt unworthy. He himself suffered from depression and self condemnation and the effects that has on all of our relationships.

Henri says this about self-rejection:
“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

Henri goes on to say “Often we are made to believe that self-deprecation is a virtue, called humility. But humility is in reality the opposite of self-deprecation. [Humility] is the grateful recognition that we are precious in God’s eyes and that all we are is pure gift. To grow beyond self-rejection we must have the courage to listen to the voice calling us God’s beloved sons and daughters, and the determination always to live our lives according to this truth.”

God is a god of mercy, The One who created each of us in love, to love and be loved. God’s greatest desire is to restore and to redeem that which we have broken. How can we condemn ourselves or others when God calls us good?

Before we pack away our flannel graph, let’s go back for a minute to Simon’s abundance of fish. Do you see it? Think about it – this would have been a great windfall for his business. And yet he walks away from it. He leaves the haul for the other fishermen who hadn’t caught anything either, sharing this abundant bounty with those who need it, demonstrating that yes, Jesus has come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Perhaps there were those who were one bad night away from losing their boats or their homes or their families. Their night of nothing has been redeemed, their livelihood has been restored. Peter, even before he makes the choice to follow Jesus, has participated with God in healing the world, at least his little shore-line of it.

In our collect for today we ask God to give us the “liberty of the abundant life made known to us in Jesus”. The liberty of abundant life. The liberty granted us in our relationship with God is the freedom from having to solve the world’s issues ourselves; it is the liberty of knowing that God is God and we are not; the freedom that comes from knowing we are loved and that God deems us worthy to participate in the restoring of all things to goodness, knowing the abundance of the ever flowing mercy and grace of God, flowing through us into the world.

When we respond to God’s question of “whom shall I send,” when we answer Jesus’ invitation of “follow me” we are doing so to participate with God in the healing of this world, or at least our little shore-line of it.

Being God’s Beloved is the core of our identity. Living in the fullness of God’s Presence, trusting and knowing we are worthy of God’s love, can we give any other answer but ‘here I am send me?” Amen.

Let’s be Practical

I am a little later than usual getting this post out today, but I pray you find it beneficial. I had decided to use this passage from Corinthians for today’s post late last week but I got waylaid a bit.

Please take a moment to go here and read it before we proceed.

We read/hear this particular passage mostly at weddings, but Paul isn’t talking about romantic love.  Paul is describing the love God has for us, the love that Jesus shows us in flesh and blood how to live; committed love, other-focused, self-giving love.  

One of my favorite writers and podcasters is Diana Butler Bass*.  She wrote about this passage in her blog this past Sunday and I found her words so very beautiful.  And then I started down the “I wish I could write like she does” path.  Before I could take too many steps on that path, however and thankfully, I heard God saying to me, ‘you write the words I gave you the talent to write” and I was able to hear Diana’s words with my soul-ears and not my ego-ears. I could give thanks to God for her words and her ability.  Then I could get back to living within my own god-given ability.  

I write practically. I think practically. This blog of mine started because I wanted a practical way to respond to the violence in this world and yet the solution is seemingly so very impractical.  Compassion doesn’t turn the whole world upside down in an instant the way violence does, but it does impact the lives of those in our immediate circles.  Compassion is a life-long journey into the relationships that build God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

And much of the time, I have to intentionally remind myself to inhabit the present, to experience the poetry of every day life, to look into the eyes of the person in front of me at any given moment and see the reflection of God in them.  

Sitting in the quiet of my morning, a time I’ve carefully crafted, it often feels ‘frivolous” to just sit with God in the silence.  And when it does, I admit it and God draws me deeper into The Presence.  I’ve learned that this seemingly impractical time is the most practical thing I do each day.  All of my relationships, with God, with others, and with myself greatly benefit from it and I cannot fully be who God created and calls me to be without it.  Our faith is grounded in these relationships.  Who and Whose we are is grounded in these relationships. 

So, back to Paul’s words about Love … 

Love is patient, love is kind, 
it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, 
it doesn’t seek its own advantage, 
it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, 
but it is happy with the truth.
Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7 CEB)

Very practical wisdom, don’t you think!  Patience and kindness reflect the image of God in which we are all created. Jealousy (better translated as envy), arrogance, rudeness, self-centeredness do not reflect the image of God. Love doesn’t seek retaliation or revenge.  Love endures.

Love IS whether or not it is reciprocated because love isn’t a transaction. 

And the good news, y’all, is that when we get love wrong, we can trust that God is love and welcomes us back into The Presence as we continue to love and learn and grow.  Our life in relationship with God is a journey not a destination.  

Love as God loves and as Jesus shows us how to live in love is the most powerful force against the violence in this world.  Love enables us to be moved with compassion as Jesus was.

May your day be filled with the awareness of the Presence of God.

God’s peace,
Mtr. Nancy

*I highly recommend discovering Diana Butler Bass through her website The Cottage. I’m certain you will be very glad you did.  

A Do-Over

A Sunday reflection for the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Lectionary readings are here.


We begin this week where we left off last week: with Jesus, having just read from the prophet Isaiah, boldly proclaiming that the prophet’s words have been fulfilled. He is claiming that he’s the one whom God has sent to “preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And, at first, they are impressed at the words he spoke. But then they got to thinking and asked themselves how could a simple carpenter’s son, someone they had watched grow up, boldly claim such things? These are God’s promises to God’s people, yes, but to actually have them fulfilled will change everything. Do we want things to change? Life may not be easy, but we like our status quo. How dare this young whippersnapper come in and try to change things!

The regulations concerning the Year of the Lord’s Favor or the Jubilee Year have to do with land and property. Every 50 years, debts were forgiven, land sold to avoid debt would be returned to the original family, and indentured servants were released. It was to be as if someone called out “Do-Over!” and set everyone back on a level playing field.

So why do you suppose that Jesus proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor makes the crowd so very angry? I mean, these are good things, right – the poor getting good news, prisoners set free, the blind seeing, oppressed people liberated? Well, they are good things if you are the poor, the prisoner, or the oppressed. If you are the one benefiting from the poor remaining poor, or the one with the power to oppress, the ones who truly need their sight restored, the news isn’t very good.

But if these folks had the eyes to see the world through the economy of God’s Kingdom, they would come to understand the purpose of the Jubilee Year: to return to God’s intended plan for all people. It is a reminder that all that we are and all that we have comes from God and an opportunity to set right all that we have done outside of God’s intention. God’s people have always been given the purpose of taking care of the poor, seeking justice for everyone, tending the sick, and raising each other up.

Jesus, God incarnate, God with us, reminds us and demonstrates for us what living in God’s purpose for all of creation looks like. From the very beginning, God set us in the midst of God’s creation to tend and care for the earth, the animals, and each other. And it didn’t take us long to decide that we could do better ourselves. This choice didn’t work out so well for the first humans nor for the tribes of Isreal and somehow in our own collective and individual imaginations, we keep thinking we’ll make it on our own outside of God’s intention.

At the end of this cliff-hanging story, we are left to ask ourselves the very challenging question: where in our lives and ways of thinking do we attempt to ‘run Jesus out of town’ because we don’t want to change, because we are afraid that we will either lose what we have or not get what we want? Where are our blind spots? How can we, with God’s help, better arrange our lives to live in all ways within the economy of God’s Kingdom, following Jesus on his Way, the Way of Love?

God is always ready to offer us a ‘do-over,’ a reset, another chance to step back into the path, following Jesus, freed from the burden of building our own kingdom. God’s will for each and every human being is goodness, life-giving, liberating, loving goodness on earth as it is in heaven. God, give us the eyes to see and ears to hear you. Amen.

Words

In last week’s post, I spoke of remembering the beginnings of this blog because of where I was. This week I’m remembering because of another succession of violence. Not shootings or actual physical violence but verbal violence and the threat of physical violence. In a news broadcast late last week, there were two stories: one in which a mother, in a public meeting, says that if the school leadership requires her children to wear masks that she would show up at school with all of her guns; and another one in which a man, in an official court document, says that those who don’t support greater voting restrictions should be ‘exterminated.’

We come together in grief and pain when there is an act of physical violence in shooting incidents, cars ramming through parades, attacks on business owners and public transportation riders, but are we outraged at violent words? Are we shocked by them? Do we even notice them anymore. Words matter. God spoke all of creation into being. Words have the power to create, and to destroy.

Physical acts of violence begin with words. When we use words and statements that devalue the life of another, we cause damage to our own soul. Jesus says even if we think of hurting someone we have caused harm because it affects how we see that person.

From the beginning of my public writing I’ve said the answer to the violence in this world is compassion and that we all need to continuously work on our compassion ‘muscles’. Just as we are intentional with our physical wellbeing, we need to be intentional with our spiritual wellbeing. We are told by the writers of the Good News story that Jesus was often moved with compassion when he encountered crowds of hungry folks. Compassion is what takes us beyond sympathy or empathy to working together to alleviate the suffering and pain of others. Jesus didn’t just acknowledge their hunger, he worked to alleviate it. Jesus gave both physical and spiritual nourishment. And he calls us to do the same.

Human life is the most valuable thing in all of creation. Human beings all have the image of God at their very core. This is how Jesus teaches us to see the world (those who have eyes to see). I do believe that the reason some people place so little value on other’s lives is that deep down they see no value in their own. It was no accident that Jesus says we are to love our neighbor AS OURSELVES. When we truly accept God’s love for us we cannot help but love others in the same way. So, to the two individuals I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, please know that God loves you. And to each of you reading this, know you are God’s beloved child. Sit with that thought for a few minutes. Feel it. Let it nourish your compassion muscles.

The antidote to the lack of love in this world is more love, active love that sees the image of God in everyone and treats others with the dignity and honor due God’s beloved children. When we hear others voicing violence, let’s counter it with loving words. Voicing violence isn’t just making threats, it is also calling others names that make them less human, it is belittling their actions instead of seeing with eyes of compassion. Voicing violence is any thought our words that diminish another’s worth as a human being. When we hear ourselves voicing violence, let’s stop and remind ourselves that the person we are speaking against is also a beloved child of God, created in God’s own image, just as we are. It will heal our souls and help alleviate the suffering and pain of violence in this world.

Let’s follow Jesus in the Revolution.

Filled with the Spirit

A Sunday reflection for the third Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Lectionary readings for today are here.


In his telling of the good news story, Luke tells us that after Jesus’ baptism he is ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ and that being led by the Spirit, Jesus goes into the wilderness to face the temptation of choosing the easy way rather than working within the economy of God’s Kingdom. This isn’t a part of what we are scheduled to read today but it sets the stage for it.

The bit we read today begins with Jesus returning to Galilee ‘in the power of the Spirit.” And Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah’s words, ‘“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Full of the Holy Spirit. In the power of the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Do you see these statements as being specific to Jesus alone? Or do you believe that at our own baptisms that we too are full of the Holy Spirit, in the power of the Spirit, and that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us? Jesus tells us that we, too, have the gift of the Spirit. In the stories told for us by the writers of the Good News Story, Jesus shows us what it looks like to live in the power of the Spirit.

And just to make sure we get the point, Luke follows this bit about Jesus reading in the synagogue with a story of a man who is filled with an unclean spirit (again, not part of our reading today but important for framing what we read; always pay attention to the repetitions and contrasts of the surrounding stories as you read). This man is angry and yelling, and fearful of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is revealing.

In a world that tells us we deserve the easy way, Jesus shows us, in flesh and blood, in the here and now, what it looks like to live within the economy of God’s Kingdom, to live as we are created to live. It isn’t often easy. It takes intentionality. It means we put the greater good of all over and above our own personal liberties. Notice that the verbs in the words of Isaiah that Jesus uses are all actions for the benefit of others: preach, proclaim, liberate. Jesus did these for us so that we can learn to do them for others.

In God’s economy, human beings are more valuable than anything, our relationships matter more than monetary wealth or possessions. In God’s economy, abundance means we all have what we need, no more or no less. To live in the power of the Spirit is to live as God created us to live, our true selves, reflecting the image of God and seeing the image of God in every other person we encounter.

I cannot fully be the person God intends me to be without you. And together, we are all ‘sent’ to proclaim the freedom of being God’s beloved children, no longer restrained by the expectations of the world’s economy of living. We don’t have to go anywhere to do what we are sent to do. We preach and proclaim the Good News by living as Jesus shows us how to live in our work places, homes, shops, and recreation places.

Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor by the way we interact with others.

Remembering

I am remembering the day I decided to use my voice and writing skills through this blog to speak of growing compassionately. It was a rapid succession of mass shootings that stirred my heart into action. I am remembering that day not because of a new series of events but because I am once again in a hotel room with my husband and our grown daughter, awake early trying not to disturb anyone. There continues to be violence in our world and this country still has an unhealthy obsession with using guns and violence to solve our problems. I don’t know if my words have made much of a dent in any of it but the reason I started making my words public was to help change the lens through which we see others, to help us all see our fellow humans as beloved children of God. Even if I shift the view of only a few, even if only I improve the focus my own view, I will continue to write.

This past week I read a post from an acquaintance on social media that spoke of the rude and inconsiderate behavior of folks in a restaurant. She spoke of individuals who refused to accommodate others walking in the same aisle, folks who could not patiently wait for the waitstaff to finish with one table before calling them to theirs, and people who demanded immediate gratification in a crowded restaurant short on staff. She was lamenting the fact that as a society it seems we have forgotten how to be kind to one another.

On a recent trip to H‑E‑B, I witnessed two grown men yelling at each other in the middle of the aisle and then I realized that a significant number of people had surrounded them and instead of intervening or trying to de-escalate the situation, they all had their cells phones out and were recording the interaction. This shocked me far more than two men yelling at each other. Now, granted, I didn’t try to intervene either but as I was contemplating using my cell phone to call 911, two store managers walked up and asked the crowd to let them through. This distracted the men enough that they could begin a conversation with them about the situation. I don’t know how it all resolved, I just continued my shopping still stunned at the number of people filming this. It was entertainment for them to watch a public display of anger and hostility. We have forgotten how to be kind to one another.

I often think that we have forgotten that we are all in this thing called life together. We are created not to live in isolating individualism but in community with others. Every single thought and action I have impacts those around me whether I witness the consequences or not. We are created to live as companions not competitors. The abundant life God promises us comes to us by sharing our lives with each other not hoarding what we want for ourselves. Together and with God we have all we need and more.

This is the revolution that Jesus came to start: Love is what will change this world from the nightmare it often is to the dream that God intends (a big thank you to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for that amazing statement). Love, not violence. Kindness, not anger. Compassion, not hate. When we remember this, we are re-membered, made whole again as the beloved we are created to be.

When we want to respond in anger, we have the choice to be kind. When we want to respond in hate, we have the choice to be compassionate. When we want to respond violently, we have the choice to love. We can choose to see competitors or beloved children of God walking this amazing journey as our companions. We can with God’s help make it on earth as it is in heaven. Together, let’s choose wisely.

Water & Wine

A Reflection for the second Sunday after the Epiphany.
The lectionary readings for today are here.


Throughout John’s telling of the good news of God, he uses the word ‘signs’ to label the miraculous things Jesus does. A sign is not the thing itself but points us to what we are looking for. Think of road signs or directional signs in a building. All that Jesus did points us to the glory of God. In the gospel reading for today, John tells us of the first sign of Jesus at a wedding. We aren’t told who’s wedding it is but simply that Jesus and his disciples were there, as was Mary and it is Mary who comes to Jesus to tell him the party is at risk because they are running out of wine. Hospitality was so much a part of their culture that to invite the entire community to a celebration and run out of anything would have brought deep and enduring shame upon the families hosting the event.

Mary’s plea to Jesus wasn’t just a mother sticking her nose into other people’s business, this was community business and whether or not it was Mary’s place to intervene, whether or not she was trying to help in a healthy way, she was just trying to help. This would affect the relationship of the bride and groom’s families with the entire community. So why does Jesus appear to try and stop her with the question, “what does that have to do with me?” And why does Jesus tell her, “my time hasn’t come yet?”

Jesus often asks questions that, if really heard, enable those he is speaking to – and yes, us – evaluate their own motivation and to look deep inside so that the transformation, the healing, the feeding, is both internal and external, impacting not just what we do but who we are. Solving the wine shortage wouldn’t just keep the party going, it would prevent a rift in the community; it redeemed the situation. Jesus wants Mary to understand this. He also wants her to consider why she is asking him to intervene and to better understand herself. With this sign, Jesus points to God’s desire for us all to be well and whole and holy in community with each other. And he does it in a big way, a sign of God’s abundance and provision for everyone.

The water jars that Jesus uses weren’t ordinary jars. They were holy vessels used for purification before worship. The water was holy water turned into wine. Jesus would later say “I am the living water” and would tell the disciples that the wine he gives is his blood poured out for us. This sign points to the entirety of God’s plan for the world: through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we are all redeemed and brought into God’s community, God’s kingdom.

The sub-text of the wine sign is Mary and Jesus’ relationship. Mary asks Jesus to intervene, as most any mother would knowing her son could solve the issue at hand, and Jesus warns her it isn’t God’s timing yet to begin showing signs. He is asking her to trust God’s plan rather than make her own. But Mary persists and sets Jesus up by telling the servants to do as he says. If Jesus had walked away at this moment, Mary would have been shamed: people would have said she had a son who didn’t listen to the authority of his mother. Jesus redeems this situation putting Mary’s well-being in the community and the well being of their relationship above his own need to be right.

John makes a point to tell us that the wine was the best anyone had ever tasted: what God provides is so much better than what we can take for ourselves. I imagine Mary pondering in her heart all that happened that evening, realizing her own unhealthy attempt to intervene and gaining wisdom from Jesus’ response. I imagine she and Jesus having a conversation on the way home in which she shares the wisdom she gained. What does this story spark in your imagination? What are your pondering? How has Jesus’ sign pointed you toward a deeper relationship with God?

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.