"God Intended It for Good"

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.  (Genesis 50:19-21)

“God Intended It for Good”

The story of Joseph and his brothers - chapters 37 and 39-50 in the book of Genesis - is so good that they made a musical out of it... a very good musical, at that!  It has so many things - sibling rivalry, throwing the annoying little brother into a pit and then selling him to traders on their way to Egypt, lying to one’s father, Joseph being falsely accused and spending time in prison, his rise to becoming Pharaoh’s right-hand man, years of plenty and years of famine (as Joseph predicted), Jacob sending his sons to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph withholding his identity from his brothers for awhile, and the final reunion of Jacob with Joseph, as well as Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers. [Men, take note:  Real men shed tears!]

After Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers are basically thinking, “”Okay, now that dad is gone, Joseph is going to let us have it for what we did to him all those years ago!” (See Genesis 50:15)  But Joseph has matured.  He is no longer the stupid, annoying “baby brother.”  He has learned to trust himself, but mostly he has forged a relationship with Yahweh - the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of Isaac and Rebekah, the God of Jacob and Leah and Rachel.  And what he has learned, more than anything else, is that God is good... God is wise... God is powerful... God is loving and merciful... and God can be trusted.

And so he replies to his brothers, “Do not be afraid!  Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.  So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” (see above)  

Joseph is way beyond grudges or resentment or payback.  He has forgiven his brothers - a long time ago, in fact.  Now that he has been reunited with his family of origin, there is nothing to do but love.  And he has perspective - the kind of perspective that comes with years spent growing up... with God’s help.

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good...”

God has a way of bringing good out of evil, life out of death, reconciliation out of brokenness - because that is how God works.

What about you?  How have you witnessed - or been the direct beneficiary - of God’s grace, compassion, and wisdom?  Do you want to offer up a prayer of thanks to God today?  Yeah.  Me, too.


Knowledge vs. Agape

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.” (1 Corinthians 8:1b-3)


In the quote above, Paul is addressing the topic within the Corinthian church about food that has been sacrificed to idols, and whether it should be eaten.  But as he discusses this (in all of chapter 8), it is clear that the issue is not about certain foods, and whether to eat them or not.  The issue comes down to love and concern for other people of faith, especially those for whom eating such food goes against their conscience.  It’s as if Paul is answering the question:  What is the most loving thing to do in this situation?

The word that Paul uses here for love is agape, the Greek word for selfless, unconditional love... and a word to which he devotes a whole section of this letter in what we refer to as 1 Corinthians 13.

I am intrigued with how we can use any kind of knowledge - even spiritual knowledge - to “puff ourselves up”... to act like we are better than others... to look down on others - who are, in our minds - less knowledgeable and... therefore, ahem... inferior.  I was sharing with someone the other day that when I was in my 20’s, I had some interactions with Christians who had “been baptized in the Spirit”, which - in their case - meant that they had received the gift of speaking in tongues.  Some of these folks were incredibly condescending when speaking about this gift.  You weren’t REALLY  a Christian if you had not received the gift of tongues! (Interestingly enough, this was one of the issues that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians.)  I wasn’t especially interested in receiving the gift of tongues anyway, but after encountering these folks, I really wasn’t interested!

I suppose we can do this with any “special knowledge” that we have received.  Perhaps you have met medical doctors or college professors who never introduce themselves without saying “I’m Dr. so-and-so.”  I, for one, find it much more interesting to discover how wise or spiritual people are from our interactions, rather from them telling me what their credentials are.  I like how Eugene H. Peterson translates this in The Message:  “... sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds.” (1 Corinthians 8:1b-2)

I guess what I am saying is that if we have to choose between being really smart and really loving - and maybe we don’t! - go for the agape!  The world doesn’t need more really smart people who are arrogant, unkind, and wanting to be right - at all costs.  What we need is more people who are like our Lord - truly humble, as in “down to earth”, and not flaunting your stuff just to be noticed or recognized or celebrated... AND who are loving, kind, compassionate, and quick to serve.

Smart or loving?  If you were to force me to choose one, I’d choose loving... every single time.

What Is God Sowing in You?

He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow...” (Mark 4:2-3)


“The Sower” is one of Jesus’ more famous parables.  You can read the entire thing (Mark 4:3-9 ) and Jesus’ interpretation of it for the disciples (Mark 4:13-20) as you choose.  Today I would like to reflect on the question:  What is God sowing in you, at this point in your life?

God is sowing in me a deeper sense of trust.  As I prepare for a walk across the country next year... as I prepare to relinquish the work that I have been doing for over 26 years... as I prepare for that time next year when I will be apart from Julia - except for brief reunions - for nine months... as I start looking into the logistics of where I might stay and where I might speak during those nine months... as Julia and I wonder how my income is going to be replaced, or mostly replaced, during that time... I hear God saying, “Okay, Peter.  This is a time to go deeper.  Do you really trust me?”

God is sowing in me me a deeper confidence - a word that means “with faith.”  I hear God saying, “Be confident in your preaching, and in your ability to inspire, challenge, and comfort.  Be confident that you can form a 501(c)(3) and have it approved by the IRS.  Be confident that you can give feedback to others as well as you receive it. Be confident in Me - that I will continue to lead you, protect you, and guide you. Be confident in the overall goodness and generosity of human beings.”

God is sowing in me an awareness of the areas where I still need to grow.  For example, how can I - as an introvert - develop my outgoing side?  How can I learn - this year and next year - to ask for money without apology, and even see that asking as giving people the opportunity to be generous?  And how can I expand my ability to receive?

These are a few of the things that I see God sowing in me right now.

What is God sowing in you?


What We Need Is the Wisdom and Power of God

My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God... Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5, 12)

What We Need Is the Wisdom and Power of God

In addressing any of the significant issues of our time - racism, mass shootings, violence against women and children, immigration, the growing disparity between rich and poor, climate change, etc. - we don’t need more opinions or more human wisdom that is divorced from the wisdom of God.  No.  What we need is the wisdom and power of God.

Paul writes to a rather new Christian community in Corinth - one that he helped found.  In a short amount of time, the people there had already divided into factions based on who they liked the best.  Paul? Apollos?  Cephas?  Christ?  They were also full of themselves after they have received supernatural gifts of the Spirit from God.  They were more focused on their particular gifts than on the common good of the community.  (Read 1 Corinthians and you will get the background on all of this.)  So, rather early in the letter, Paul starts contrasting the “foolishness of God” with human wisdom and the ultimate “wisdom from God”, which is Christ Jesus. (See 1 Corinthians 1:18-31)  Paul goes on to say that he did not come to them “proclaiming the mystery of God... in lofty words of wisdom.”  No. He came proclaiming Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2), and - of course, Christ resurrected.

It is the Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism... the Spirit that drove Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan before he began his ministry... the Spirit that sustained Jesus through his Passion... and the same Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead.  And the message of Jesus and the Gospel writers is this: God freely gives that same Spirit to us.

This is the wisdom and the power that we in the world need to be tapping into - the Spirit of God (or the Spirit of Christ).

If we rely on our own wisdom, we are going to quickly fall into sin - either the sin of arrogance or the sin of thinking that we are inadequate or the sin of ego, which revolves around the sin of wanting to be right and thinking that we alone have the truth.

God gives different gifts to the people, partly to remind us that we need each other.  We are members of a body, Paul says - the body of Christ - and members of one another.  We either get to the Promised Land together - or not at all.  If we get there, we are going to discover that Buddhists are there, and Jews, too, as well as Sikhs, Muslims, Baha’is, Mormons, environmentalists, and probably a whole bunch of people who don’t know what they are or whose they are, but recognize the truth that all of us are in this together.

All I know is that right now we need a revival - a revival based in people seeking the wisdom and power of God, a revival based in people living in the Spirit.  According to Christian tradition, that Spirit has already been given, and continues to be given.

Whatever issue we are tackling, let’s approach it by seeking the wisdom and power of God.  That requires a stance of humility, and an openness to learning that includes a willingness to not only be taught but also corrected by God.

If we try to solve the problems of the world without God’s wisdom, we won’t get there.  If we seek God’s help, then all things are possible.


One Choice for Love This Lent

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:6-9a)


Kathy Reed said at the noonday Ash Wednesday service today that the last time Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fell on the same day was in 1956.  (Then she emailed me later and said it was actually in 1945.)  Either way, it seems appropriate that this should happen once in a while - at least every 60-70 years... at least once in the average lifespan.  On a date when the focus is all about love, isn’t that a great way reminder for the first day of Lent?

In the various readings for the Ash Wednesday liturgy, we are invited to a time of self-examination, and we are reminded to be people of love and compassion... people that work for justice. (See, for example, the portion of the Isaiah 58 reading, above)

If you are anything like me, you can be tempted to try to amend your life in all sorts of ways - simultaneously!  Instead of trying that, and not succeeding, perhaps we can focus on one thing this Lent.  Let’s listen for the nudges of the Holy Spirit and see what one thing God might be calling us to address this Lent.  It might be:

- spending more time hanging out with God, and falling in love with God again!
- working to be reconciled with a family member or a former friend.
- taking a courageous look at yourself, seeing one thing that you would like to improve, and striving to address that one thing, with God’s help (and maybe with the help of someone that you really trust, too).
- trying one thing that pulls you out of your comfort zone, but which you hear God asking you to try.

How might you love God?  Or... how might you love another person?  Or... how might you love and be gracious to yourself?  Yes, what one choice could you make this Lent - something that may indeed require 40 days of prayer and/or 40 days of beginning a new habit - so that, come April 1 (Easter Sunday), both you and God will have another thing to celebrate?



From God to You to Others

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:4-8)


How is your gift-giving going?  

Paul says that those of us in the body of Christ have been given different gifts by God.  (see above)  In another letter, he says that we have each been given “... the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7)  Some have been given the gift of prophecy... some the gift of ministry (service)... some the gift of music or writing or visual art... some the gift of teaching... some the gift of exhortation... some the gift of generosity... some the gift of leadership... some the gift of compassion... some the gift of hospitality... some the gift of accounting... some the gift of encouragement... some the gift of counseling... some the gift of building or fixing things, etc.  Any of these gifts, and many not named here, can be used for the good of the body of Christ and for the good of the world.

It’s a giving chain, if you will.  God blesses us with gifts, so that we can use those gifts to benefit others.  And - in the process of our giving - we are blessed, too.  We receive something, especially with respect to the connections that we make with others.  We become what Paul calls “members one of another.”

So... how is it going with your gift giving? Are you using the gifts that God has given you?  Do you ever get sidetracked with trying to do things that aren’t really your gifts?  (Me and plumbing, for example.)  Sometimes we do those other things because we want to help out or because we want to learn a new skill.  That’s fine.  But we are most effective when we are offering the gifts that God has given to us.  When we do those things, there is flow... there is a certain “humming along”... there is a certain ease.  And there is apt to be joy in the midst of the offering, too.  And when we are all offering those gifts - simultaneously - then the body is well, and the community really hums!

Thank you for your particular gifts that you offer for the common good.  This community is blessed because you offer them!


How Do You React When You Don't Understand?

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)


Some in the larger group that had been following Jesus decided to stop following him.  (See above)  This happened after Jesus described himself as “the bread of life” (John 6:48) and “the living bread that came down from heaven”... after he said that “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51b)  He went on to say, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)  This is the parallel passage to the story of the Last Supper in the Synoptic gospels - Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

From this and similar passages in scripture, all sorts of theology - eucharistic and sacramental theology - has developed in the Church.  It was part of the controversy and disagreement during the time of the Reformation in the 1500’s.  How is Christ present in the eucharist?  How does the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ?  People were declared “unorthodox” and even killed if they were thought to have heretical views.

Notice that even during the time of Jesus, people were having a hard time understanding.  They said things like, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52) and “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (John 6:60)  (It is best to read all of chapter 6 in John to get the broader context.)  For some, the teaching was so difficult that they stopped following Jesus.

How do you react when you don’t understand something?  Do you get frustrated?  Do you throw up your hands and say, “This doesn’t make sense, so it must not be true?”  Are you someone who “digs in” and studies harder?  Are you someone who understands that some things are quite mystical, and are not meant to be understood on a purely rational level?  Are you led is such instances to pray, “Lord, I don’t really get this.  Help me understand this in time.  Lead me into your truth... in your time.”  

I have probably adopted all of these attitudes at one point or another in my life, and in my life of faith.  Not everything in life - or in a life of faith - is easily explained.  We cannot tie up everything into neat little bows and come up with a perfect “systematic theology.”  Perhaps this is simply because we are finite and God is infinite.

One of the ways that I totally resonate with Simon Peter is when he says “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

I may not always understand Jesus’ teachings.  But I have found him to be the Bread of Life... the One who loves me, watches over me, guides me, and leads me to a life of meaning and purpose, to an abundant and eternal life that began the moment that I said, “I believe, Lord.  I believe you are Lord and Messiah, and I want to follow you.”

Not everything can be explained with logic - with an analytical mind.  My friend Julie says, “Your mind is not always your friend! Don’t always believe your thoughts!” (Here’s an example:  You make up a story about someone when you have almost no information about that person or their motives.)

What do you KNOW to be true - in your heart, in your gut, and in your soul?  Who is God for you - based on your experience of God?  How has your life been transformed over the years, because you have stepped out in faith, trusting that Jesus is the Holy One of God?

These are the kinds of questions that really interest me!


Thanking and Glorifying the God Who Delivers Us

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
(Psalm 50:14-15)

Thanking and Glorifying the God Who Delivers Us

When I read these two verses from Psalm 50, I am reminded of Anne Lamott’s lovely little book, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.  These verses cover all three prayers.  “Call on me in the day of trouble” equals “Help!”  “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving” equals “Thanks!”  And, “I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” equals “Wow!”

These are three prayers that should become part of our regular repertoire.  As Lamott says, they are essential!

Are you someone who tends to not ask for help?  If so, toss that notion aside - in general, and especially when it comes to God.  God is waiting for you to cry out!

Have you ever forgotten to say “thank you”?  (If you grew up with even one attentive parent, I would think that would be almost impossible.  But sometimes we still forget!)  God enjoys our appreciation and gratitude, too, for it is an acknowledgment of the truth that God has been there faithfully... on every occasion of our need.

And when you have something amazing happen in your life, make a deep connection with another human being, see a spectacular sight in nature, or experience God delivering you in some way, what is there to do but give glory the God?  So we say “Wow!” or “Hallelujah!” or “Look how beautiful that is!” or “God is good!” or “I don’t have words to capture how amazing I feel right now.”  (Or maybe we start dancing around.)

Is there some help that you need from God today?

Has something happened that leads you to say “Thanks be to God!”

Or, is there a “wow” or a “hallelujah” ready to bust out of you?

Share with God whatever is true for you on this day.


Do You Need to Increase or Decrease?

John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”  (John 3:27-30)

Do You Need to Increase or Decrease?

John the Baptist, who understood his role as the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah, was asked a question, once Jesus began his ministry and many people started following him.  His response is quoted above.  It is another example of John understanding who he was and who he was not... what his calling was and what it was not.  Now that Jesus was stepping out onto the world’s stage, John says that “... my joy has been fulfilled.  He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:29b-30)

This leads me to ask this question:  Where in your life do you need to increase, and where do you need to decrease?

Here are some thoughts to give that question some context:

When you are a part of a group, are you mostly talking or mostly listening?  Which of these practices - in you - needs to increase, and which practice needs to decrease... for the good of the group, and for the good of your own development as a human being?

If our Christian life includes equal parts contemplation and action, which of these - in you - needs to increase and which needs to decrease?  Or, are you satisfied with the balance?

If our Christian life includes both giving and receiving, both loving and being loved... take stock for a moment.   Are you content with this balance, or does something need to be adjusted?

In the realm of giving and receiving feedback - speaking the truth in love and receiving the truth in love - take a moment to reflect upon your life.  Is one of these more developed than the other?  In which area is God urging you to increase or decrease?

If our health and wholeness includes attention to our body, mind, spirit, and relationships, which of these is crying out for more attention?  Is one of them getting almost all the attention - even too much attention?

In the love God with your heart, mind, soul, and strength... love your neighbor... love yourself trifecta - which one needs more attention right now?

Where do you need to increase in 2018?  Where do you need to decrease?

Let us take some time this week to ask these questions, and - with the help of Spirit’s guidance -  let us make the changes that we are being asked to make.  And... if all is going well, let us rejoice and give thanks to the Lord!


What Are You Looking For?

“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.” (John 1:35-39a)


“What are you looking for?”  This was Jesus’ question to the two disciples of John the Baptist, who took off after Jesus after John said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  The disciples of John didn’t seem to be quite sure how to respond to Jesus in the moment, asking, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  But they were looking for something, and Jesus knew it.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t have followed after Jesus.

What are you looking for?  Jesus asked a great question here!  (And apparently didn’t even care that he ended a sentence with a preposition...)

It makes a big difference - what you and I are looking for.  Why?  Because, in my experience, we very often find what we are looking for!

If you are looking for someone to mess up or say the wrong thing, you will usually find evidence, so that you can say, “See!  This person can’t be trusted!”

If you looking for the good in someone, you will undoubtedly find it.

If you are looking for rejection, you will find that.

If you are looking for a mentor, you will find one.

If you are looking for things to complain about, you will find them, and if you are looking for things to be grateful for, you will find those.

If you are hiking and looking for the trail after you have lost it - think of late spring conditions in Colorado when the trail is covered with snow - in my experience, if you keep looking, you will eventually find it.

If you are looking for God to give you a new task and a new purpose, and you keep listening, God will give you your next assignment.

If you are looking for a God who is vindictive or absent or petty, you will find that God.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a God who is actively bringing about blessing and healing and positive transformation in the world, guess what?  You will find that God.

Someone has said, “What you focus on expands.”  Start focusing on the weather or on sports, and see how much you can focus on these things! Your perspective makes a HUGE difference in how you live your life.

 Pay attention to what you are looking for.  And if life seems sour or depressing, start looking for different things... or different people... or a different God!



How to Be a Better Human Being

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:25-32)

How to Be a Better Human Being

The challenge of “love your neighbor as yourself” always comes down to the how question:  HOW do I love my neighbor?  What does that love look like?  Jesus made it quite clear that his example was the standard. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34b)  Paul also weighs in on what that love should look like, in various parts of his letters.  From this section of Ephesians, we are advised:

- to speak the truth to our neighbors (see also Ephesians 4:16, about “speaking the truth in love”)
- to be angry but to not sin.  This implies that there are times when it is very appropriate to be angry, but it is what we do with our anger - how we express it - that counts.  Anger has an energy associated with it, and that energy can be mobilized to do productive things, like running for office, working to right injustices, etc.  On the other hand, we can just go around being angry... and that is of no use to anyone, especially the person holding on to anger.  So we also hear, “... do not let the sun go down on your anger...”
- that our honest work should lead to us sharing with the needy
- that our talk should build up - i.e., not tear down - so that our “words give grace to those who hear.”  In other words... our words matter!
- to not “grieve the Holy Spirit of God”.  We will not grieve the Holy Spirit if we are regularly listening for God’s guidance, and responding to that guidance in a spirit of love and faithfulness.
- to put away certain attitudes and perspectives that destroy us and others:  bitterness... wrath (extreme anger/rage)... anger (presumably the destructive form of anger, contrasted with what is said about anger earlier)... wrangling (long, drawn-out disputes that are not productive)... slander (spoken lies about others that damage their reputation) ... and malice (the intention to do evil)
- to develop certain positive character traits, by practicing them: being kind, tenderhearted, forgiving (which all mirror traits of God/Jesus/Spirit)

Do you want to be transformed by God and be a better person in 2018?  Strive to grow in your ability to love - unconditionally.  And practice the good habits that Paul mentions above, while letting go of the destructive ones.

The world doesn’t need more people who are ridiculously “successful” financially, but who are of low character.  The world needs more people who practice love, who know how to use their anger in productive ways, who take time each day to listen for God’s guidance, who know how to build up others with their words, who have compassion and tender hearts for any and all people, plants, animals, minerals, and all of creation.  

The world needs more people who are really good at being followers of Christ.



“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.”” (Revelation 2:1-7)

Comfort and Affliction

We are nearing the time in the Episcopal Church when we sing Christmas hymns.  Though you have been undoubtedly hearing them in many other venues, our church tries to observe Advent before we observe Christmas.  I know it can be challenging to start singing Christmas hymns when everyone else is about to stop singing them!  One of those Christmas hymns, God Rest You Merry Gentlemen, has a familiar refrain:  “O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy!"

In the revelation of Jesus Christ that John received through an angel (Revelation 1:1), the second and third chapters deal with messages for the seven churches that are in Asia.  The first message - to the church in Ephesus - is quoted above.  Notice that while a message of “comfort and joy” is quite appropriate to celebrate our Savior’s birth, the churches in Asia - who were awaiting our Lord’s Second Coming (Second Advent) - received what we might call messages of comfort and challenge.  

The first part of the message to the church in Ephesus, for example, was an appreciation - referencing the work, toil, patient endurance, lack of toleration for evildoers, and the community’s “bearing up” for the sake of Christ.  The second part of the message begins “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love that you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4) This was a reference to the community’s initial love for Christ.  They are challenged to repent - to turn around, to come back to their deep love of Christ - or face removal of their lampstand.  One thinks of Jesus’ reference in the Sermon on the Mount to the disciples being the light of the world, and letting their light shine before others in such a way that those others would give glory to the Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

I heard it said one time that the job of the preacher is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.  I confess that I am more comfortable preaching a message of comfort!  But there are times when we need to hear the challenging and even afflicting word of God - when we are indifferent to injustice, for example.  This raises two other questions:

First, how open are we to hearing feedback, whether it is positive or admonishing?  Second, how good are we at giving feedback in a loving manner - both in sharing our appreciations and in sharing our feedback that is more challenging to our brother or sister?  Both of these spiritual practices - giving and receiving feedback - are visible in the life and teachings of Jesus.

In the prophetic tradition, it was the poor, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners - the weak and the marginalized - who tended to hear “good news” preached to them.  And it was the powerful, the favored, the wealthy, and the  most outwardly religious people who were most often called to repent.

And, as we see in the Revelation to John, sometimes people of faith heard both appreciation and admonition - at the same time.

As we work our way through Advent and move toward Christmas, what sort of word do you hear God speaking to you today?  A comforting word?  A challenging word?  Both?

Today, perhaps we can rejoice together in the fact that God loves us enough to both comfort and challenge us... depending on what is most needed for our ongoing transformation as disciples of Jesus.



“Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,
    who walks in his ways.
 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
    you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.”   (Psalm 128:1-2)

God and Happiness

I don’t believe a person can find happiness - any kind of real happiness - apart from God.

We tend to think that a lot of different scenarios will make us happy.  If I land the perfect job... if I have a certain income or a certain amount of money in the bank... if I obtain a certain amount of power and influence... if I find the perfect person to spend my life with... if I have great friends... I will be happy.  Interesting enough, with respect to the last two things that I just named, research shows that there is a very high correlation between satisfying personal relationships and happiness.  (Read The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, by Meik Wiking.)  These other things - our desire for wealth, fame, power - tend to leave us wanting when it comes to happiness.

God has designed us for relationship, for collaboration, for co-creativity... for union.  And the relationship and union that trumps all other relationships and unions is our relationship and union with God.  When that is in place... when that is “right” and good and flowing... then everything else tends to fall into place.  When we fear God - and understand this to mean a healthy honoring of God and a sense of awe when we are in the presence of God - then we also tend to learn of and walk in God’s ways.  In this relationship with God, we find out rather early on that God’s ways are about love, transformative connection, kindness, compassion, deep listening, forgiveness, non-violence, letting go of the False Self (ego), detaching from our perceived need to be right, and giving up our allegiance to the false kind of power that wants to dominate and/or harm others. This is what Jesus - God-in-the-flesh - models for us.  And, when we walk in the ways of God/Christ/Spirit, we “eat the fruit” of the labor of our hands (verse 1, above), and - voila! - things go well with us!  Oh, we will have trials, challenges, setbacks, illnesses, conflicts, and even - in the end - death.  But none of these have the last word.  None of these can take away from the joy and happiness that we experience from the reality of Emmanuel - God-with-us.

Not only are we never abandoned by God, but we are also beloved by God and deeply valued by God.  Our lives are given purpose as God gives us things to do - all under the banner of loving and serving others and all creation, in Jesus’ name.

The sure and certain thing you and I can do to cut ourselves off from happiness is to cut ourselves off from God - the One who made us and who calls us into love.  God will not cut God’s Triune self off from us, because God is always faithful and always loving.  But you and I can cut ourselves off from God, and go down many rabbit holes - none of which will lead us to any real or lasting happiness.

So... do you want to be happy?  Then start and end your quest with God - the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  Seek God, walk in God’s ways, and you will be happy.  It shall go well with you.

That is the wisdom of the Psalmist today.  And that has also been my own experience.


A Thanksgiving Sermon

Touchstones of Thanksgiving and Gratitude

INTRODUCTION - God’s Blessings; Jo Jacobson

When I listen to the opening words of our first reading tonight - “The Lord your God is brining you into a good land, a land with flowing streams... of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing...” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9) - I come to a reality and a question.  The reality:  God is blessing us all the time! The question:  What it the good land that you’ve been brought into by the Lord, where you lack nothing?

As I think back on blessings in 2017 in my own life, I could point to many things.  But I want to give you one example.   About two years ago, a long-term member of St. Ambrose suffered a debilitating stroke.  This woman was a teacher and principal in Boulder Valley schools for many years, then retired and led various choirs around Boulder.  She played the piano in the lobby of Boulder Community Hospital and was one of our main pianists at St. Ambrose for many years.  I believe she knows thousands of hymns and songs from memory, and she plays beautifully.  Over the months that Jo was going through recovery at the Balfour Memory facility, I would visit Jo and ask her if she was playing the piano at all.  Once in a while, she would say, “I played for 20 minutes or so yesterday.”  Eventually she got well enough to return home, and the weekly meetings with Jo and her husband, Charlie, occurred at St. Ambrose.  One day during the summer I invited her to play the piano in the sanctuary, and she seemed eager to do so.  I kept opening our hymnbook to various familiar hymns and saying, “Can you play this?”  Jo was having trouble reading some of the notes.  Then I thought to myself, “What am I doing?  She can probably play most of the hymns in this hymnal from memory!”  So Charlie and I just started suggesting old hymns and classic American tunes, and Jo started playing them - just like that.  The song “The Rose” has gained a special place among those who worship at our early service.  This happened long before I came to St. Ambrose.  I suddenly thought of “The Rose”, the words of which are glued inside the back cover of our hymnals.  “What about ‘The Rose’,” I asked?  Jo started playing it, and Charlie and I began singing along.  “Jo,” I asked, “would you be willing to come up at the end of worship this Sunday, and play this?”  Her reply, “Yes, I would!”  And that is what happened.  I told the congregation during the announcements that we had a special treat in store.  Would they remain after the closing hymn?  We never got to the scheduled closing hymn that day.  Jo was so excited to play that she came up to the piano bench a bit early.  She played another song from memory while we finished up Communion.  I went over and talked to Jo and the scheduled pianist that day.  Would Jo allow Rosi to play the closing hymn?  Rosi said, “Peter, why doesn’t Jo just play ‘The Rose” right now?”  I knew Rosi was right.  So Jo played “The Rose”, we sang all the verses, and there were not very many dry eyes among us.  In my slow-mindedness, I said, “We will now have the closing hymn.”  And Rosi said, “I think we just had the closing hymn,” and I said, “Your’e right!  We did!”  The service ended with all sorts of people greeting Jo around the piano.  

God brought every one of us into a good land that day - a land where we lacked nothing.

Tonight we share in our annual Thanksgiving celebration, and I want to say a few things to you about thanksgiving and gratitude.

GRATITUDE - We must pause...

When I think of the practice of gratitude, there is clearly an element of pausing long enough to acknowledge the blessing that has happened.  We don’t always see it right in the moment, but if we are paying attention, God will bring it to mind - in the very same way that Samaritan leper did when he was on his way to show himself to the priests, an examination that the Levitical law required to determine if he was clean.  Jesus said to those ten lepers, in effect, “Go comply with the law.  God and show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they were heading there, they were made clean.  One of them, when he saw what had happened - when he saw that he was healed - paused, and then turned back, praised God with a loud voice, laid down at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him.

To be a person of gratitude, you must pause long enough to look back on your life and see what God has done, whether it was three hours ago or a week ago or over the past year, and acknowledge what has happened.  Yes, a huge part of prayer is to try to be present in the moment.  But the practice of gratitude involves giving thanks for things that have already happened.  This kind of prayer impacts our very health.  (More on that in a moment.)  And it is an expression of our faith in God.  Jesus says to the man, after he returns to give thanks, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”  (Luke 7:19)


If giving thanks for the good things that happen to you is the middle school or high school work of faith, then giving thanks for everything that happens to you is perhaps the undergraduate or graduate level work.  I believe Paul means what he says when he writes to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (! Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Give thanks for the family member or co-worker who regularly pushes your buttons?  Yes.  Give thanks for the opportunity that God is giving you to learn new things about yourself.  

Give thanks for how our culture is so enamored with violence and greed and destructive forms of power?  Yes, for it gives us opportunities to share the counter-cultural gospel of Jesus Christ, as we learn to get up and speak out for the values that we believe in.  Give thanks for some scary health news or the loss of a loved one?  Well, we might have to dig a little deeper here.  Am I being given a wake-up call from God to think about how to live each day with intention and purpose?  Am I getting another opportunity to be thankful for the role this person had in my life, and for the precious gift of being loved and having had the opportunity to love?


Next, in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us that there is a connection between opportunities for giving and opportunities for giving thanks.  Paul says that as the Corinthians give generously to support the faithful who are in need in Jerusalem, their giving “will produce thanksgiving to God through us.” (2 Corinthians 9:11)  In other words, the giver gives and the recipient gives thanks, and a whole cycle of giving and gratitude is put in motion.  Sometimes we are the giver.  Sometimes we are the recipient.  And through it all, God is being given the glory and praise and thanksgiving, as we remember that it is God through whom all blessings flow.


Here’s another thought for you on gratitude.  I have recently finished reading The Little Book of Hygge - spelled hygge and pronounced hooga.  It is a Danish word meaning something like the feeling that is created when there is coziness, connection between family members or friends, good food and drink, warmth, and good conversation.  Think about the feeling you get when you are sitting around the fireplace with the people who are most important to you, playing a board game or talking easily, drinking good coffee or tea or hot chocolate, and no one is rushed... and all is right with the world.  The author of this book, Meik Wiking, is the CEO of something called the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, and he writes this:

“... evidence-based studies show that practicing gratitude has an impact on happiness.  According to Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at University of California, Davis, and one of the world’s leading experts on gratitude, people who feel grateful are not only happier than those who do not but [are] also more helpful and forgiving and less materialistic... People who wrote the gratitude journals reported feeling more positive emotions like alertness and enthusiasm, reported better sleep and fewer symptoms of disease, and were more mindful of situations where they could be helpful.” (The Little Book of Hygge, pp. 215-216)

So... whenever you pause to give thanks... you being here tonight, in fact, and giving thanks... these things are good for your health!  But probably you already knew that.


So, are you ready to continue the life-giving, health-improving, living-from-faith practice of gratitude?  If so, I have a suggested homework assignment for you for 2018.  Here it is:  Once a week, write a personal card or letter of appreciation/thanks/gratitude to someone.  Not an email, not a text - a card or a letter.  In this card, take time to pause and thank someone for a specific thing that they did or words of encouragement that they offered you, and tell them what it meant to you.

Do this once a week - every week next year.  Or you can start now and continue for a year, as part of your faith practice.  See what happens.  My hunch is this:  A year from now you will have grown in faith.  A year from now you will feel closer to God.  You will be a happier person.  You will have found a way to be resilient and a positive force of light and love and healing, even when all kinds of terrible and awful things keep happening in the world.


Thank you so much for being here tonight.  Let us now continue our worship of God, as we offer thanks and praise for all the ways that God has blessed us.  Yes, indeed - the Lord our God has brought us into a good land... a land where we lack nothing.



From Whom Do You Take Counsel?

“But my people did not listen to my voice;
    Israel would not submit to me.
 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
    to follow their own counsels.
 O that my people would listen to me,
    that Israel would walk in my ways!
 Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
    and turn my hand against their foes.”
         (Psalm 81:11-14)

From Whom Do You Take Counsel?

One of the consistent themes in the Old Testament is God’s frustration with the people of Israel for going after other gods - golden calves, even! - and not following the commandments that Yahweh gave them.  This is found in many places but summed up quite well in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way...”  We have ignored the Good Shepherd, and the implication is clear:  “Our own way” is not God’s way.  “Our own way”, when we mean a way that excludes God,  leads to us getting quite lost - physically, morally, spiritually, and in our relationships.  The fruit of this “own way” is usually exclusion of others, injustice toward others, violence, and destruction.  And the result for Israel when they forget about Yahweh and strike out on their own is predictable: some sort of exile.  Exile does not only mean a foreign power coming in, conquering Israel, and the people of God being separated from the Promised Land.  It does mean that, but it means more than that.  It also means the internal exile that occurs when individuals are separated from God and from one another.  This is what we might call the isolation of hell on earth.

Another message from Scripture is just as common:  God longs for the people of Israel to return to Yahweh.  Repent!  Come back!  Return home!  Listen to my Word - my counsel, my commandments - once again!

We hear this in the portion of Psalm 81, quoted above.  The verses reference Yahweh’s relationship with Israel, but they apply just as much to us today.  We don’t listen to God’s voice; we are unwilling to submit to God.  God gives us over to our “stubborn hearts” and lets us follow our own counsel, even when this counsel is woefully deficient and life-destroying.  And, all the while, God keeps calling, “O that my people would listen to me, that Israel [St. Ambrose or Peter or _________] would walk in my ways!” (Psalm 81:13)  God, like a loving parent, yet even more so - multiply by 1,000? - keeps calling us to listen... and to walk in God’s ways of love, gratitude, generosity, and justice.

From whom do you take counsel?  Are the people that you seek out for advice well-versed in the ways of God?  Are they seeking God’s guidance and direction for their own life?  Are they some of the most loving people that you have ever met? Are they striving to bring light, love, and healing to the world?  Are they seeking to do God’s will?  Are they merciful and pure in heart?  Are they folks who make peace and who hunger and thirst for righteousness? (see Matthew 5:6-9)  Are they folks who pray regularly, listen well, give thanks to God daily, and read Holy Scripture on a regular basis, so that they can know and practice the ways of Jesus?

God says through the Psalmist that if we listen to God’s voice and walk in God’s ways, then our enemies will be quickly subdued - by God!  So... what is your biggest enemy today?  Fear?  Contempt for others?  Contempt for yourself?  Anger?  Lack of confidence?  Lack of faith?  Seek God’s voice!  Walk in God’s ways, through the power of the Spirit.  And be on the lookout for God to subdue every enemy - quickly!

God is calling out to all of us - as beloved, sanctified children.  “Seek after me.  Listen to my voice.  Submit to me.  Step out in faith and do the things that I ask you to do.  Love me with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.  Forgive your enemies.  Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with me, the Lord.  Be thankful in all circumstances.”

Let us forsake the path called “our own way”, and instead pursue God and God’s ways.  And then let us see what God has in store for us.  I know - because God is loving and faithful - that what God has in store for us will be good!


What Deeds of Power Are We Missing?

“When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place. He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:53-58)


It turns out that some of the people who were most skeptical of and offended by Jesus were the people with whom he had grown up - the people who knew him, his parents, his brothers, and his sisters.

“Hey, I was with Jesus in Hebrew School from first grade and all the way through high school, and now he is preaching in all the synagogues?  I don’t remember being that impressed with him or his family.  What gives?”  Or, as they put it, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?”  (see above)

It makes me wonder what healing, amazing teaching, or other “deeds of power” we miss because our hearts and minds and ears are not open, because we have assessed another person and found him or her to be not worthy of our time.  They are from the wrong part of the country or from the wrong country.  They are too soft-spoken, too loud, too pushy, not pushy enough, of the wrong race, of the wrong religion, dressed too poorly, dressed too richly, their hair is too long, their hair is too short, they went to the wrong school, they didn’t have enough schooling, they have a funny accent, their first language is not English, they are too young, they are too old, etc., etc., etc.

What opportunities for transformation and healing... what opportunities to be on the receiving end of deeds of power are we missing because the teacher/healer/sage does not meet our pre-established list of what traits they should have?  More than that, from what people do we tend to take offense, even when they are not giving offense?

After reading the story of Jesus and the people of Nazareth, I wonder about these kinds of things.

I leave you with three quotes which I believe are related to this reading:

“Suspicion will always find evidence for what it suspects.” (Richard Rohr)

“We cause as much pain by taking offense, as by giving it.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

“Sin happens whenever we refuse to keep growing.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa - 4th century)


Seeing, Hearing, and Feeling the Presence of God

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:16)

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)


Our senses and our intuition are key when it comes to perceiving the presence of God.  It doesn’t work to think your way into an encounter with God; it happens.  One experiences God, and the knowing that happens when God is present is a deep, intuitive knowing.  One might describe it as being overcome by God.

Jesus said to his disciples, after they asked why he taught in parables, “... blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (see above) It is also true that there were plenty of people around Jesus who did not recognize him as the long-awaited Messiah... as the Son of God.  He pointed to Isaiah 6 as a prophecy of those who would not perceive the presence of God.  “With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn - and I would heal them.’” (Matthew 10:14-15)

There is such things as eyes of faith and ears of faith.  Those who are on the lookout for God are the ones who encounter God.  Those who have an open heart, who are praying, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well” (Matthew 9:21).... those who turn aside to see why a bush is burning but not consumed (Exodus 3)... those who are willing to entertain a visit from an angel and say ‘yes” to the most preposterous plans for God to take on human form (Luke 1:26-38)... those who are willing to remove someone else’s roof on behalf of a paralyzed friend (Matthew 2:1-12)... those who are willing to respond, when told to put out into deeper water and let down their nets for a catch, even though they have fished all night and caught nothing. (Luke 5:1-11)  These are the ones who encounter the living God.

If you want to know if God is real, then you have to be willing to experience God.  And this may involve seeing in ways that you haven’t seen before, listening in ways that you have never listened before, and allowing your heart and your gut to feel things that you have not allowed them to feel before.

 And... if you open your heart in this way, God will reveal to you that you are God’s child - God’s beloved child.  And if you allow the truth of being a beloved child of God to sink in, then you will orient your life in an entirely new way.  And you will never be the same again.

You will be healed... transformed... saved... become more aware... no longer be the center of your own life. You will be one with God, one with others, one with the universe. (These are all different ways of saying the same thing.)

So, yes - the way you see, the way you hear, the way you feel, and whether or not you allow yourself to trust your intuition... these make a huge difference in whether or not you have an encounter with the living God... the risen Christ... the life-giving Spirit.

Open our eyes and our ears and our hearts, O Lord, that we might encounter your transforming love.


The Resurrection of the Dead Changes Eveything

“For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:53-58)

The Resurrection of the Dead Changes Everything

The resurrection of the dead changes everything.  For Paul’s reasoning on this, read all of 1 Corinthians 15.  Paul also addresses those who did not believe in the resurrection:  “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14) In other words, the resurrection is at the very heart of the Christian gospel.  Not just the life and teachings of Jesus.  Not just the crucifixion of Jesus.  These AND the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ... Messiah... Lord of all.

If you ever wonder if your proclamation of Christ and work on behalf of the kingdom of God is worth anything, don’t!  (That’s part of what Paul is saying here.)  “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Be steadfast.  Be resolute and unwavering in your faith in God, and in the Spirit - the power of God - which gives life and also gives new life to those who have died.

Be immovable.  Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)  God has eternal life in mind for you.  So be immovable in your trust in God.

Excel in the “work of the Lord.”  That includes loving, forgiving, and serving.  It includes seeing and inviting in those who are on the margins of society.  That work includes healing.  It includes praying for all, including your enemies.  That includes proclaiming Christ and pointing to Christ, and giving glory and worship to God.  That includes listening for God’s words to you, and acting on what you hear.  The work includes resisting evil, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.  It includes being a faithful steward of all that you have been given.

Whenever you do this work, Paul says, your labor cannot be in vain.  For you are doing it “in the Lord”... by the power of the Spirit... “in Christ”.  And no matter what happens to you, at the end of your life... God is going to give you back your life again.  Your mortal body must put on immortality.  You will exchange your physical body for a resurrected body - thanks be to God, “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

So do not grow weary in your labors done on behalf of the Lord.  The victory has been won already, so keep on going!  And remember, too, that Jesus is always just a breath away, ready to offer you rest - whenever you need it.  (See Matthew 11:28-30)  If you are weary not just in body and mind, but down to your very soul, too, then come to Jesus. For in him you will find rest for your soul.  (His words, not mine!)


Mature Thinking, Infused with Love

“Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.” (1 Corinthians 14:20)

Mature Thinking, Infused with Love

This quote from Paul comes in the context of him talking about how some in theCorinthian community were using the gift of speaking in tongues in ways that did not benefit the community.  As Paul says in verse 17, “For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up.”

And Paul is not talking about thinking or the intellect as the be-all or end-all.  No one could write the “love chapter” - 1 Corinthians 13 - which comes right before this, and conclude “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” and think that our thinking is the most important thing.  Paul is simply saying that we must be mature in our thinking.  We must think through our actions and discern if what we are doing and saying is contributing to the common good.

He also says that we should be “infants in evil.” (verse 20, above)  In other words, do as little harm as possible! What I extract from this for myself is this: “Peter, pay attention to your words... pay attention to your actions.  Are they loving?  Are they building up others?  Or are they violent in some way?  I.e., Are your actions and words damaging others or tearing others down?”

After his conversion to Christ, Paul spilled a good bit of ink writing about living “in Christ” and “in the Spirit”, and he reinforced this by talking about how we should honor and love each other, and how we are called to work for the common good.  Consider this line:  “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7)  These three chapters in 1 Corinthians - chapters 12-14 - are about spiritual gifts.  And the chapter about love is right in the middle of these chapters!  The Corinthians had been misusing the gifts that God had given them to exclude themselves from others, to separate themselves from others... and Paul was calling them on it!  They were not acting in love.

Our thinking, our speaking, our actions - if we are following Jesus - are to be infused with love.  I often see the effects of my speech and my actions.  Sometimes I miss the mark.  Sometime I do damage and hurt someone.  I am then called to apologize to the person I have hurt, and do whatever I need to do to be reconciled. (This includes asking God’s forgiveness, too.)  This is the way of Spirit.  This is the way of Christ.  This is part of our calling - to be mature in our thinking and in our actions.  

That maturity comes when we abide in Christ.  Sometimes I do not demonstrate Christian maturity. To quote Paul, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal... and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2b)

On the other hand, we always reclaim our something-ness... our beloved-ness in Christ... when we love.  No one who loves is a nothing or a nobody!

How's That Bible Reading Coming?

“Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.” - 2 Kings 23:1-3

How Is That Bible Reading Coming?

“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” (from “The Baptismal Covenant,” The Book of Common Prayer, p. 304)

“We call [the Holy Scriptures] the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.” (“The Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer, p. 853)

“Will you be diligent in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, and in seeking the knowledge of such things as may make you a stronger and more able minister of Christ?” (“The Examination,” The Ordination of a Priest, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 532)

We are encouraged and reminded as laity and as clergy - over and over - to read and study the Holy Scriptures.  This is one of the key spiritual practices expected of followers of Jesus.  Jesus studied and knew the Hebrew scriptures - our “Old Testament”.  We are reminded at every baptism to continue in the apostles’ teaching.  The apostles’ teaching has come to us through the Bible.  We believe that one of the best ways to encounter the LIving God - the Christ - is through the Word of God... Holy Scripture.

A young King Josiah was told that the “book of the law” had been found in the house of the Lord - the Temple - presumably after it had been missing for awhile.  When a man named Shaphan read it aloud to the king, Josiah tore his clothes - a sign of mourning and repentance. (2 Kings 22:8-11)  A little while later, King Josiah called all the inhabitants of Judah to the house of the Lord, and then read the book of the law to them, and then “made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book.  All the people joined in the covenant.” (see verses 2-3 above)

The finding of this “book” - which was probably a scroll - let to the religious reforms that King Josiah became known for during his reign.  (Continue reading 2 Kings 23)

Without access to, knowledge of, and putting into spiritual practice the Word of the Lord, we have only many, many other words, voices, and opinions - many of which may not be grounded in God.  When President Lincoln said “A house divided against itself cannot stand” - in a speech at the Illinois State Capitol on June 16, 1858, when he was campaigning for the U.S. Senate - he was quoting Jesus (either Matthew 12:25 or Mark 3:25 - take your pick).  His listeners would have known that he was quoting from scripture - from Jesus’ own words.  (I wonder - today - if some Americans might hear those words and say, “Oh! That’s Lincoln!”, but not realize that the words originated with Jesus.)

The point is that the word of God leads us to Christ and leads us to life - to what Jesus called “eternal life”, to what Paul called “life in the Spirit”.  The Bible isn’t primarily an “answer book.”  It is designed to lead us into a whole new way of living and loving - grounded in God - with “Exhibit A” being the life and teaching of Jesus, who is revealed as God-in-the-flesh.

But none of these words make any sense, and this whole new way of life isn’t often known as an option available to us... unless we turn to the Bible, and read and study what is there.  Paul wrote to the Romans:  “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in one of whom they have not heard?  And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Romans 10:14)

There are all kinds of people proclaiming the faithfulness of God, the love of Jesus, and the power of the Spirit in the Bible.  Yes, one of the main ways that we hear this proclamation is to spend time reading the Bible, on a regular basis... as a spiritual practice.

So... how is your Bible reading coming?  If it has been awhile since you opened that Bible on your headboard, on your nightstand, or on a bookshelf, pick it up!  Where to begin, you might ask?  Well, the Episcopal Church has a Daily Office Lectionary - a guide for reading the Bible on a daily basis.  Pick up a copy of “Forward Day by Day” in the narthex (or find it online), find the daily readings and a short meditation for each day of the week, and spend a little time with those readings for the day.  Even if you just read one of the lessons for the day, my hunch is that you will begin finding new life.  You may also encounter the living Christ in a way that you haven’t in a while.  Not only that, you will probably hear something very different than you are hearing all the time online, on the radio, on TV, etc.

You and I have an opportunity - every single day - to read and hear the timeless Word of God.  Let’s take advantage of that opportunity!  Perhaps our doing so will lead to a major new reformation in our own land.