Bucking the System, Finding LIfe

BUCKING THE SYSTEM, FINDING LIFE

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

Richard Rohr says that when the phrase “the world” is used in the New Testament, it usually refers not to the planet or the universe, but to the dominant political and economic system.  We see this usage in the words from Jesus quoted above.  “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36)  In other words, what will it profit you to gain all sorts of wealth and power, if you have no friends, never sit by an ocean or a mountain stream, are not generous with your time or money, never seek God, and have lost contact with your soul?

In contrast to “the world”, Jesus talks about the kingdom or the reign of God.

In the reign of God:

  • getting up early in the morning to pray, perhaps even while it is still dark outside, is highly valued.  If you can manage to do be quiet and seek God on a daily basis, well... Moses and Elijah and the angels are probably starting to talk about you!
  • being an instrument of God’s compassion and healing, especially when it comes to those who are down and out, is pretty much expected, as a fulfillment of “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • considering the lilies and the ravens and taking care of Mother Earth is of more value than trying to extract every last resource out of the ground.
  • face-to-face time with family and friends... eating around the table and reflecting together on what is really important in life... is more important than working 80 hours a week and never getting curious about the key principles that lie behind God’s gift of Sabbath.
  • being a peace-maker leads to you being called a child of God, and might just help us avoid nuclear war.
  • you forgiving someone is another way that God becomes incarnate.
  • speaking the truth - IN LOVE - is the call that we aspire to fulfill.
  • dying to ego... to the False Self... to the idea that you are the center of the universe... to the notion that you must be right, at all costs... is the identified path that we are being invited to take, as a way of rediscovering our essence, our true identity in Christ, and the new life that is founded in us being beloved children of God.

You will notice that joining in the reign of God leads us - almost inevitably - to bucking “the system.”  What?  I don’t necessarily need to work more hours or have a nicer car or a second home?  What? Making a decision that looks risky, or even silly or stupid, or following a dream that seems crazy to many people... responding to what you hear as Gods’ voice urging you on, may be more celebrated in heaven as an act of faithfulness than you building a safe nest egg and not ruffling anyone’s feathers?  What? Pulling your children out of school on Opening Day, or sharing a wheelbarrow with your neighbor rather than buying one for yourself - these might be good things?  What?  After reading the Old and New Testaments carefully, we might actually hear God saying, “Welcome more immigrants into your country, not less!”

Yes, the reign of God often looks very different from the ways of “the world.”

As you go through the rest of your week, ask yourself these questions:

What kind of life are you trying to “save”?

For what or for whom are you willing to die?

How does “the world” have a hold of you in a way that is keeping your from embracing the reign of God?

In what area of your life is God asking you to let go, die, or surrender, so that you may more fully live?

If you weren’t scared, and you fully believed that God was with you and for you, what would you do today?

Lord, help us to embrace You, and all that you are offering us.  Help us to be instruments of your love, joy, peace, light, and healing.  Help us to die to the ways of the world, and draw us ever closer to You, to our fellow human beings, and to all creation. Amen.

 

How Will You Use Your Power Today?

"Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded...

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed." (Mark 6:45-51, 53-56)

HOW WILL YOU USE YOUR POWER TODAY?

You are a powerful person.  The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead resides in you, and you have access to that power (and wisdom), every single day!  So two questions that arise are:

Are you using that power?

How will you use that power?

In the short number of verses covered by Mark 6:30-56, Jesus 1) fed 5000 men (plus women and children) after blessing five loaves of bread and two fish and handing them to the disciples to distribute to the people, 2) walked up a mountain to pray, 3) walked on the Sea of Galilee, 4) calmed the anxieties of the disciples in the boat, and 5) healed all who came to him in village, city, or farm, as power went out from him when people touched the fringe of his cloak.

I feel like a slouch in comparison!

On the other hand, I - like you - have walked up a mountain or two and heard God speaking to me... have calmed the anxieties of others now and then... have been an instrument of healing and blessing a time or two, through listening or praying for someone or simply being present... have been part of a team that has cooked a hot meal and served it to those in need.

So... again... you and I have access to the same power that raised Jesus from the dead! And we make choices every day about how to use that power.

Will we listen to someone generously or shout someone down?

Will we seek revenge or seek to understand and even to forgive?

Will we smile at a stranger and say “hello”, or walk right by and not even see the other person?

Will we assume the best about our family members, friends, and co-workers, or assume that they are acting from the worst possible motives?

Will we seek to inspire someone today, or use our energy to attack someone and find fault with him/her?

Will we take the time to play with a child or a pet, or see that as a waste of our time?

Will we use our money as a way of being generous with others, or will we spend most of our energy just trying to acquire more money?

Jesus was very in touch and in tune with his power.  He didn’t deny that he had power.  He knew that he was powerful.  He also made choices about how he used it.

What about you?  How will you use your power today?

 

What Is New in Your Life?

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”  (Mark 2:18-22)

WHAT IS NEW IN YOUR LIFE?  WHAT RISKS HAVE YOU TAKEN LATELY?

The promise of the Spirit is new life in Christ - a dying to the old (in large part, a dying to the ego and the “power over” game), and an embracing of a life lived in faith, where Spirit is guiding us and we learn how to love and how to leap.


All this assumes that we won’t stay the same... we won’t keep doing “the same old things”... that we - as individuals and as churches - will evolve and transform.


Jesus ushers in a new covenant, where the standard is not “Love your neighbor as yourself”, but “Love one another as I have loved you.”  This is new wine, and, as Jesus says, “no one puts new wine into old wineskins...”, unless they want to lose both the wine and the skins. (Mark 2:22)


So... as I often do in these meditations, I offer some questions for your reflection:


What leap of faith - whether small or large - have you taken recently?


What “wrong people”... what “sinners and tax collectors” (see Mark 2:16)... have you eaten with lately?


What is new in your life this year, and how is that person or that activity leading to your transformation?


How are you a different person now than you were a year ago?  Five years ago? Ten years ago?  Over that span, what have you learned about loving God, loving others, loving yourself, loving the planet, loving as Jesus loves you?  What have you learned about forgiveness?


What brings you joy?


What spiritual practice has been bringing you joy lately?  Prayer?  Worship? Reading the Bible? Serving the less fortunate? Giving away money? Being a steward of God’s creation? Being in a small group with others who are following Jesus and seeking to grow in faithfulness?  ________________?


“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new ever morning...” (Lamentations 3:22-23a)


How will you embrace the new mercies of God today?

 

Addicted to God?

Addicted to... God?

“Give ear to my words, O Lord;
    consider my meditation.
 Hearken to my cry for help, my King and my God,
    for I make my prayer to you.
 In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you.”
        (Psalm 5:1-3, The Book of Common Prayer)

I heard a report on Colorado Public Radio today that 60,000 will die from opioid overdoses in the U.S. this year, and the prediction is that 500,000 will die over the next decade.  My reaction is one of alarm and deep sadness.  Recently, Julia and I traveled through Denver’s airport as we prepared to fly to Seattle.  We noticed people sitting at airport bars drinking alcohol at 10:00 in the morning.  This is equally depressing to me.

I have never been addicted to drugs or alcohol, and I am not a trained addiction counselor, so I am probably the last person who should be commenting on all of this.  Read on with that in mind, please.

I am left to wonder:  Is life in the U.S. so bad - or so boring or unfulfilling - that 50,000+ will risk killing themselves this year for a high?

Though not a chemical addiction, we see people getting “lost” in their cell phones, “checking out” with TV or the internet, or not being able to get started in the morning without turning on the news.  We seem to have an unlimited capacity, as human beings, for escaping reality.

Meanwhile, our Parish Administrator, Kristy Weprin, told me that on Monday, July 3, a toad sat on the windowsill outside of the church office for about four hours.  By the end of her shift, it had moved about six feet away.

Maybe we can take a lesson from this toad.

Do you think we could spend the first 15-30 minutes of our day sitting in silence, with an intention of connecting with God?

Do we even believe it is possible to get “high” by connecting with God? (If we don’t, maybe we should!) More than that, what would happen if we were all seeking guidance from God - each and every day - for how we might serve?  What if we prayed each morning for God to put people in front of us.... people to love?

Perhaps we all need to risk getting “addicted” to God, in such a way that we could not stand to go one day without God... in such a way that if we hadn’t sat in God’s presence in the morning, we would be noticeably agitated, and if people came up to us later in the day and asked, “What’s wrong?”, we would say, “I’ve got to have a message from the Spirit... I need to feel Jesus with me right now.  I can’t go on without the Lord.”

I believe there is WAY more fulfillment - traveling down this path with God.  What do you think?

In the meantime, let’s all pray this prayer today:

O blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost their health and freedom.  Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from them the fears that beset them; strengthen them in the work of their recovery; and to those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love.  Amen.

(“For the Victims of Addiction” - The Book of Common Prayer, p. 831)

Good News from St. Ambrose

GOOD NEWS - Updates from St. Ambrose

“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

It is getting hot in Colorado.  Summer is in full-bloom.  Children are out of school.  People are going to the pool, taking a hike, or having a picnic.  They are going on trips or watching their favorite baseball team.  Church attendance is spotty at best (except for those churches that are in tourist towns), because people are out and about.

And I have good news to share.  Are you ready?

In June, 12 people from St. Ambrose - members and friends - went on another mission trip to the REMAR orphanage and school in La Libertad, El Salvador.  There was illness.  There were injuries.  But a lot of great work was done.  Cross-cultural friendships were strengthened.  Before we left, there was talk of returning.  Magnifico!

The Vestry (church board) of St. Ambrose, after months of parish-wide discernment, voted to offer same-sex marriage at St. Ambrose, and Bishop O’Neill has now given us permission to offer this sacrament to those in committed relationships who seek it.  And... I was recently able to have a small role in a wedding of close friends in Port Angeles, Washington - Kathy Carsey and Janet Coles.  Kat and Janet had been together for 23 years before they were married last Sunday!

Amy Lythgoe was ordained to the priesthood on June 10.  By my count, this is now the 14th Ambrosian to be called to holy orders and ordained - 12 priests and two deacons!  I believe all but one of these ordinations has happened since 1991.  Many of these folks still serve faithfully in the Diocese of Colorado.

The woman who cleans St. Ambrose recently mentioned to Kristy, our Parish Administrator, that she could use some more work cleaning houses.  Within days, a neighbor of Kristy’s who was recovering from knee surgery had found out about Eliana and hired her to clean her home!

Members of St. Ambrose have recently graduated from high school, college, and Ph.D programs, joined the Navy, been accepted into Ph.D programs, cooked at the homeless shelter, tutored children and adults, helped immigrants adjust to life in the U.S., gotten married, been baptized, and met relatives whom they had never known before.  Our members are reaching out and helping those who have had major surgeries, as well as praying for people and sending encouragement to those who live far away, who happen to be going through their own personal challenges.

This is the Body of Christ in action.

What does it mean to “fear” the Lord?  (verse 1, above)  It means to have a healthy respect - even awe - for the amazing power of God, who still brings about healing and freedom and reconciliation and all kinds of good.  

Trust in the Lord.  Fear the Lord.  And... no matter how big the challenge, no matter how big the loss, in the end... “it shall go well with you.”

Yes, it shall.

What good news do you have to share?

 

Our Perspective, Our Vision

[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

OUR PERSPECTIVE, OUR VISION

Jesus was a great observer of humanity, of birds and bushes and sheep and clouds.  He was a great observer of life, and noticed what many people undoubtedly missed.  On this particular occasion, he was noticing the offerings the people were making outside of the temple.  He noticed the offerings that the rich people made.  He noticed the offering of two small copper coins made by “a poor widow.”  In Mark’s version of this story, Jesus saw many rich people “put in large sums.”

To a person who did not observe deeply, it would look like the rich people were the super-generous ones, because they gave large sums of money.  But Jesus did not see it that way. He noticed the value of the gift when compared to the person’s overall wealth.  And that leads to the key observation that Jesus makes:  “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:4)

So it becomes a story about way more than how much people money people put in the treasury.  It a story about incredible generosity and incredible faithfulness in God.  You don’t put in all you have to live on unless you have an incredible trust in the One who provides everything... on a daily basis.

I am also suggesting that this is a story about how we see, or at least how Jesus sees in comparison to how I see.

I can miss a deeper truth if I only look at someone or something in a very superficial way.  

“Oh, that person grew up in ____________.  She/he must not be very educated.”

“He runs with a funny style.  He can’t be fast!”  (I remember thinking this one of the first times I saw my eventual Peace Corps roommate Alan run.  Later on, when we ran in some long distant races in Dominica, he beat everyone in the entire country!  Oh, but his feet flail out to the side when he runs!  Yeah, so?)

“We’ve tried that before. That won’t work!”

“You’re going to make the one who is slow of speech confront Pharaoh and bring the people out of Egypt?  Please! Not him!” (cf. Exodus 4:10)

“No way!  Are you really going to anoint the eighth and youngest son of Jesse as the King of Israel? Why would you do that?” (cf. 1 Samuel 16)

You can probably think of a number of times when you made a big assumption, based on what you saw - or thought you saw.  And from this assumption, you decided what someone had done, or what someone could do.  I certainly know that I have this tendency to prejudge someone or assume something is happening, and I end up being totally wrong.  (Who can see and who is blind - and why - is pretty much the theme of the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel, and is always worth another reading.)

Give us your vision, O Lord.  Help us to see, for we are often very blind!

 

Our Weakness, God's Strength

Relying On God in Our Weakness
2 Corinthians 11:24-27; 12:9-10

“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.”

“... but [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Our church’s recent mission trip to the REMAR orphanage and school in La Libertad, El Salvador - our second - led me to several observations.  Some of these weren’t new observations, but reminders (and I need those reminders!).

First, I am reminded that many of us have won what might be called the “birth lottery.”  We have been born in the United States, or a similar wealthy country, to educated and comparatively wealthy parents, where we had great opportunities for education, good jobs, exposure to the arts and even travel and other occasions of leisure.  We have been raised in mostly stable countries with many freedoms.

Many people in other parts of the world - including the children of REMAR - have not been nearly so blessed.

Second, there are people of incredible faith, offering love, support, prayers, and teaching to others in great need.  I see this in the staff at REMAR, and I am inspired.  Maria Gonzales, the director of REMAR in La Libertad, said to me, “Vivimos que fe” - “We live by faith!” - and even if she had never said these words, I witnessed it with my own eyes.  From day to day, the leaders of REMAR aren’t sure how many new children will show up at their doorstep, whether the government sends them or they show up at the gate because someone has told them about REMAR.

I’m also reminded, when I serve with my fellow missionaries, that there are plenty of people in our own country who want to serve in the way that Jesus commanded us to serve - seeing and responding to the needs of others by offering a class, a hug, a strong back to move building materials, a listening ear, or by simply being willing to enter into a game of soccer.... finding unity through play and laughter.

When I read about Paul’s missionary service in today’s passage from 2 Corinthians, I am reminded of two things:  1) Paul went through way more hardships than I have ever encountered, and 2) Paul, like our friends in REMAR, recognized his deep need for God.  His weaknesses, his hardships, his challenges in daily life, were all an avenue for God’s strength, God’s power, and God’s faithfulness to shine through.

What feels overwhelming to you today?  Do you feel woefully unprepared or even inadequate to meet the tasks and challenges of this day?  God has you right where God wants you!  Will you use these circumstances as a reminder that each of us is ultimately fully dependent on God... for everything that we need?  Will you use your weaknesses, your lack, your spiritual poverty as reminders to call out to God in prayer?  “Almighty, all-knowing and all-vulnerable God, be my strength and power, and provide for everything that I need this day.  I pray in the Name of the One who emptied himself and took on our humanity, in obedience and faithfulness... I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Let us walk in the footsteps of Jesus, Paul, and our brothers and sisters at REMAR.  The Lord’s grace is sufficient for us, too.  When we are weak, the Lord is revealed as strong.  The only thing we have to boast about is Christ - the faithfulness, love, and generosity of Christ.

 

Don't Worry, Trust in the Lord

“Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom...” (Luke 12:27-32)

Don’t Worry, Trust in the Lord

I think I used to have a bias against ravens.  Big black birds... bigger than a crow... kind of loud... not as impressive as a hawk or an eagle... not as beautiful a call as a meadowlark or an owl or even a red-winged blackbird... not nearly as cute as a dipper, diving down under the surface of a mountain stream looking for food and them bobbing up and down on a rock, as if they are dancing to a beat that only they can hear.  But ravens, well... what’s so special about them?

Here’s the thing:  I seem to run into ravens almost as often as I see robins.  It’s as if they are following me around, or I’m following them.  There’s one on a lamp post.  There’s one soaring above the park and then landing on a picnic table.  There’s one on the roof right above the steps to my front door.  Here a raven, there a raven... everywhere a raven.  Sometimes I wonder if these birds are the presence of my father (who loved birds), saying to me (along with Jesus), “Pete, it really is going to be okay.  Just enjoy watching this raven for a while.”

Clearly ravens go back a number of centuries, and clearly Jesus observed them in the region of Israel called the Galilee.

“Consider the ravens:  they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds!”  (Is my life more valuable than that of a bird?  I’m not always sure that is true.  But Jesus seemed to think so.)

Jesus took time to consider the ravens, and consider the lilies.  And even though both of these were on the earth for a very short while, Jesus came to these conclusions:  God creates and provides for them, and they don’t worry about how or if they are going to provided for, or what they will wear.

Can’t we trust in God’s provision in the same way that a raven or a lily does?  Probably our brain is our biggest obstacle in this whole enterprise called life.  I have a mentor who says, “Your brain is not always your best friend”, or something like that.  And let’s not even mention our egos...

Seek first God’s kingdom, Jesus says, and “... these things [food, drink, clothing, etc.] will be given to you as well.”  (Luke 12:31) And immediately after this he says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (verse 32)

That has to be in the group of my favorite sayings of Jesus.  It is God the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom!  God wants to give us all the good and important stuff, and in fact can’t wait to give it to us!

This means that the moment we begin seeking after it, God is already showering us with the blessings that come with the kingdom - people who love us and people we can love, guidance, joy, healing, forgiveness, gracious provision, opportunities to create, learn, and serve, beauty, hope, music - and, of course... birds and flowers... and mountains and streams and oceans and fish and stars and dogs and cats and moose and everything else!

“Do not be afraid..”  Richard Rohr or someone like that says this phrase appears in Scripture around 365 times - once for each day of the year.

Try not to worry so much.  Try not to resist God’s help, God’s daily offer of generosity.  Take some time to consider those ravens and smell the lilac trees.  Maybe even plant a flower or two.  (Perhaps the spring snowstorms have come to an end!)

Trust in the Lord.  Seek the kingdom of God.  Believe in Jesus’ promise, that - when you do - everything else will be given to you by a God who delights in giving.

 

RECEIVING WHAT GOD IS OFFERING

3 May 2017

“After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them. As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah. At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.” (Luke 4:38-44)

Receiving Whatever God Wants to Give Us

Perhaps out biggest assignment, when it comes to God, is to receive what God is regularly offering us.  That might be healing (see above), that might be guidance, it is very often love and affirmation, it is now and then an admonition or a rebuke (see above), it might be the peace that God wants to offer (see John 20:21, 26), it might be a call (go to the land that I will show you... go to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt... allow the Holy Spirit to come upon you, conceive and bear a son, and name him Jesus... be the one to make the first move with the relative that you haven’t spoken to in 10 years...), it might be a the gift of seeing a sunrise or a sunset or a goldfinch or a bighorn sheep.

God is nothing if not loving and giving and generous.  God is always operating in these ways.  God is reaching out and giving of God’s self.  Jesus demonstrated this while he was on this earth, and again during his resurrection appearances.

The issue for us is to receive what God is offering.  And many times, we put obstacles in the way.  See if any of these resonate for you:

  • “I don’t have time to pray.”
  • Someone presents a new idea that could involve us, and we say (in one form or another), “That idea is not good!”  Or “That will never work!”
  • “I just need to buckle down and do this by myself!”
  • “It’s not in my nature to ask for help.”
  • “God doesn’t really speak to people today.”
  • “There’s no way that THIS PERSON could be the voice of God to me!”
  • “Who am I that I should do that, Lord?  You have the wrong person!”
  • “I already know that I am right on this issue.  Why seek out God’s voice, or anyone else’s?”
  • On some level, I want God to be here for me, but not for everyone else.
  • I look down, or straight ahead, or at my phone or my computer, and I don’t see the sky filled with stars or hear the meadowlark or taste how amazing the food is.

God is always sending messages of love, hope, beauty, and guidance.  God is always working through other people.  God is always calling us to notice someone, to love someone, to forgive someone, or to pray for someone.  But we can block the message.  We can ignore God’s love.  We can be so distracted that we miss the call.

So often, I am like a wide receiver who doesn’t even turn around to see if the quarterback is throwing the ball to me.  I am like the 7-year-old outfielder who is lost in his own world, not even noticing that the ball is coming my way.

We can make life with God so complicated, when much of the time God is simply waiting to see if we will receive what is being offered.

How could you shift your schedule, your perspective, your sight, or your hearing, so that today you can receive what God is offering you?

The risen Christ keeps showing up.  May we do the same.

 

 

THE CHALLENGE OF BALANCING THE "I" AND THE "WE"

26 April 2017

“‘How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
    I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”   (Psalm 13:1, 4)

THE LIFELONG CHALLENGE OF BALANCING "I" AND "WE"

In marriage... in any close relationship... there is the issue of differentiation, which we might call “The Challenge of I and We.”  You can be poorly differentiated on one end of the continuum, where you are fused with your partner and no one knows where one of you stops and the other one starts.  You can be poorly differentiated on the other end of the continuum, where you vehemently demand more and more time for yourself, and you don’t really know how to come together with your spouse/partner/friend in any kind of real, authentic way.

Perhaps this is one of the key challenges of human life, because it is how God designed us!  We are unique human beings.  And... we were made for relationship... made for connection.  Holding the two in tension... holding onto myself while I stay connected to you - and ultimately, all of the “you’s” on the planet - is what is modeled for us by Jesus Christ, and the path to which He is beckons us. “Come, follow me.”

The Psalmist feels all alone (see the beginning of the quote above) most likely because he/she has done something to isolate himself/herself, probably under the guise of “I need to hold onto me!”  Jesus reminds us that it is in dying to self that we find life.  It is the ego - the False Self - to which we are called to die.  Jesus isn’t saying, “Die to the real you.  Your True Self - the essence of who you are in God - must die.”  No.  He’s saying that the part of us that thinks that everything is about us... the part of us that has to be right... the part of us that thinks we are better than everyone else... the part of us that believes that for us to live, others must die or be excluded... the part of us that believes there is no God, or that I am God - that particular False Self needs to die.

And when that dying happens, we will be able to fully connect with the great I AM.  Some describe this as the small “I” (me or you) connecting with the GREAT I (God).  What’s true, according to the teaching of Paul, is that we live “in Christ” - we live inside this GREAT I! (The Psalmist was expressing this reality in verse 4, above.)  We just don’t recognize the truth of this, or act this way - much of the time.

A few questions for this day:

Are you a person who tends to get more lost in the “we” of relationship?

Are you someone who must so hold on to your “I” that you have trouble connecting with others?

Would you be willing to pray - with me! - that God would help us hold on to our essence... our “small” I... while we stay connected to the other “I’s” around us... as well as the great I AM?

I - without you and without God - am a lost soul.

If I try to define myself only in terms of others and their reactions, I am a lost soul, because the “I” that God made me to be gets lost.

I believe it is in holding on to my true I and the We (God/you/all others) - simultaneously - that salvation is found.

It is a tricky dance.  (When I/you/we get it wrong, all sorts of “hell” can happen.)

It is also a lifelong enterprise.  This I-we balance is totally worth pursuing, for this is the abundant life that Jesus talked about.

 

BREAKING BREAD, BURNING HEARTS

BREAKING BREAD, BURNING HEARTS
Wednesday in Easter Week - 19 April 2017

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:30-35)

In the resurrection appearances of Jesus - as he appears to his friends and disciples here and there over a 40-day period - there is a rather common theme of the others not recognizing him at first.  Perhaps his resurrection body was somewhat different from his pre-crucifixion body.  He died as Jesus; he was raised as the Christ. (See 1 Corinthians 15:35-49.)  In any event, the courageous women and the disciples often recognized Jesus when he said their name... when he asked them to throw the net out on the other side of the boat, and it was suddenly filled with fish... or, as in this case with the two disciples that he joined as they were walking to Emmaus, when he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.

There was something about the way he took the bread... something about the blessing he said... something about the way that he broke it... something about the way that he gave it to them.  And - voila! - their eyes were opened!  “Hey!  This is Jesus with us once again!  It’s him!”  And Luke writes that as soon as they recognized him, he vanished from their sight.

The other thing they point to - after Jesus vanished - was the way their hearts were “burning” when he was opening the scriptures to them.  Imagine being in a 3-person Bible study, and your teacher is Jesus!  That would certainly make my heart burn!  I would be asking so many questions.  Knowing me, I would be writing down notes as quickly as I could.  (Some of you would be recording video on your iPhone.)  A 1:2 Bible study with Jesus, but not knowing it was Jesus!

This is still how the life of faith works.  We often don’t recognize that God is present - in what we are reading, in a meal we are sharing, in a check that unexpectedly arrives in the mail, in words that are being said to us by a family member, a friend, or a stranger.  And then... something happens, and we suddenly realize that our hearts are burning, and that God is with us!

How has God shown up in your life recently - perhaps uninvited and unannounced?  What made your heart burn?  When was the moment that you realized it was God?  What happened?  What was it that made you suddenly recognize that it was God with you?  And... who did you tell?

Be on the lookout during these 50 days of Easter.  You never know when the Creator/the Christ/the Spirit will show up - with a message just for you.

 

LAYING ASIDE AND CONSIDERING JESUS

WEDNESDAY IN HOLY WEEK
12 April 2017

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

WHAT WEIGHT DO YOU NEED TO LAY ASIDE?

After reminding his readers of the “Hall of Fame / Hall of Faith” members of Israel’s history in Chapter 11, the writer of Hebrews turns to the example of Jesus in the beginning of Chapter 12.  We are surrounded by this great “cloud of witnesses” - Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David, Samuel and the prophets among them - and now we have the example of the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith”... Jesus.

We are encouraged to “...lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely”, and run with perseverance the race that is set before us.  When I was in my early 20’s, I ran the Peak to Peak Marathon, from Allenspark to Estes Park.  Did I “hit the wall” the first time I ran it in 1979?  You bet I did!  And I am sure glad that I was not trying to run that day with a full pack on my back!

The journey/race of following Jesus into love is much longer race than a marathon.  It is a lifelong race, in fact.  There will be some challenges, some suffering, some dying, and some unbelievable joy along the way.  (See Exhibit A: Jesus.)  According to this passage from Hebrews, at least two things will be very helpful to us in this race:

- “laying aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.”  This is dying to ego and the old life - life without God at the center - that both Jesus and Paul talk so much about.
- “looking to Jesus...” and considering “... him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”  While we are letting go of dead weight, we must also keep our eyes on Jesus, always considering - and emulating - his example.

This little passage invites us to consider a number of questions:

What weight or sin do you need to lay aside, so that you can complete the race/journey of following Jesus?
How has God been present and redeemed the suffering that you have experienced in your life?
Which witnesses - whether dead or still alive - have been instrumental in supporting you in your journey of faith?  Could you say a prayer of thanks for them today?
As you keep your eyes on Jesus, where is he calling you to go this day... this week... this year?  Are you willing to follow him.... wherever he is leading you?
How have you shared in the joy of Christ, as you have followed our Lord?

Remember, there are a number of opportunities to consider Jesus’ example over the next several days.

April 13, Maundy Thursday - 7 pm - Foot Washing and Holy Communion / Stripping of the Altar / All-night Vigil

April 14, Good Friday
12 pm - Reserved Sacrament Communion
1 pm - Stations of the Cross
7 pm - Ecumenical Good Friday service at Mountain View United Methodist Church, Boulder

April 16, Easter Sunday
5:45 am - Great Vigil / Easter Sunrise service
8:00 am. - Holy Communion (traditional)
10:30 am - Holy Communion (contemporary)

May we all remember that this “race” that is set before us is leading us to love, reconciliation, and joy.

 

IS ANYTHING STEALING YOUR LIFE AWAY?

IS ANYTHING STEALING YOUR LIFE AWAY?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:10-16)

Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd and says that he is so invested in caring for the sheep that he lays down his life for the sheep.  And yes, we are the sheep he is offering to guide, protect, lead to green pastures and still waters, anoint, prepare a table for (even in the presence of our enemies), and guard and comfort as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (see Psalm 23).  The Good Shepherd’s work is all designed to bring us life... abundant life!

Jesus says there are also thieves and hired hands (and wolves) who are not nearly as invested in the lives of the sheep.  In fact, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10a)

This led to me reflecting on the things that can “steal” away our abundant life with God.  Is there anything right now that is stealing your life away?

Is being so busy that you don’t have time to pray or sit by still waters stealing your life away?

Is blaming others - and not taking responsibility for your own life - stealing your life away?

Is the obsession with acquiring material things stealing your life away?

Is wanting to be right... at all costs... stealing your life away?

Is your concern with being safe and/or comfortable stealing your life away?

Is concern for your image - physically or professionally - stealing your life away?

Is being hard on yourself... not loving yourself as God loves you... stealing your life away?

Is something else stealing your life away?

If so, there is a balm in Gilead... there is a Good Shepherd to whom you can turn, who wants to lead you to an abundant life of loving relationships, gracious provision, and deep presence in the midst of fear, challenges, and even dying.

Rejoice, and be glad!  There is a Good Shepherd who lays down his life for you.  All that is necessary is for you to listen for and respond to His voice.

 

ALLOWING THE POTTER TO WORK ON YOU

ALLOWING THE POTTER TO WORK ON YOU

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18:1-6)

When I was in law school, one of my housemates was “Pete the Potter.”  Pete Pinnell was getting his MFA from CU and made beautiful stoneware pottery.  Our kitchen cupboards were supplied with many of his beautiful plates, bowls, mugs, and pitchers.  It was fascinating to go by his studio on campus and watch him “working at his wheel.”

The prophet Jeremiah - at the Lord’s request - went down to the local potter’s house, where he was to “hear [the Lord’s] words.” (verse 2, above)  As the potter was making a vessel that “was spoiled” and then reworked into another vessel, “as seemed good to him”, Jeremiah heard the Lord say:  “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord.  Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

I wonder how the Lord is working on you right now.  How is the Lord working on us as a church?  How moldable are we?  Can we let go and trust that the Potter knows what is best for us?

Are we willing to allow God to fashion us into people who are really good listeners... people who act faithfully on the impulses we hear to reach out to someone in need?  Are we willing to let God reveal and smooth out our rough edges? Are we allowing God to fashion us into people who - as mothers, fathers, sales people, teachers, health care professionals, administrators, engineers, business entrepreneurs, IT specialists, clergy, scientists, accountants, managers, bookkeepers, lawyers, consultants, web designers, laborers and volunteers - bring love, light, and healing to the world?

How willing are we to be the clay?  How will we allow God to fashion us this day, and this year?

 

WORDS TO CONTEMPLATE FROM SAINT PAUL

WORDS TO CONTEMPLATE FROM SAINT PAUL

"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." (Romans 5:1-5)

Much of our long-standing Christian theology comes from the book of Romans, as Paul interprets what has been done for us in Christ.  Now that we are about halfway through our Lenten journey, we would do well to spend even 15 minutes today in silence, reflecting on any of the following phrases from the beginning of chapter 5:

- justified by faith
- peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ
- access to grace through Christ
- our hope of sharing the glory of God
- boast in our sufferings
- suffering produces endurance
- endurance produces character
- character produces hope
- hope does not disappoint us, because...
- God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us

Faith... peace... grace... hope... suffering... God’s love poured into us... our Lord Jesus Christ... the Holy Spirit... God’s amazing gifts.  These words, phrases, and images are at the very heart of Christianity.

How will you embrace these truths - or even one of these truths - today?

 

PARTICIPATING IN OUR OWN HEALING

PARTICIPATING IN OUR OWN HEALING

“Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.” (John 5:2-9a)

The man who had been ill for 38 years evidently had a story that there was only enough power in the stirred-up pool to heal one person and one only, and - since he never got there first - there was no healing for him!  Then Jesus came along and healed him by commanding him to stand up, take his mat with him, and walk - without the pool being involved at all.

It is easy to relate to this man, because we often have our own stories that hold us back from participating in the healing that God wants to offer us, whether that be a physical, emotional, or spiritual healing, the healing of a relationship, or making a change that could dramatically improve our lives.

“I don’t need help from anyone else.  I’m fine.”
“I don’t have the money.”
“Counseling is for people who are really messed up, not me!”
“The Church is full of hypocrites, and they just want your money.”
“I’m too old to change at this point in my life.”
“This is my cross to carry.  I must grin and bear it.”
“Jesus could never forgive me.  I am not worthy of God’s love.”
“I’ve always been this way.”
“This is as good as it gets, I’m afraid.”
“This is the only kind of work I know how to do.”
(Add your favorite story that you tell yourself here:  ___________________)

Meanwhile, God shows up and says, in one way or another, “Do you want to be made well?”  And then the Spirit invites us to take some kind of action, so that we will participate in the healing process.  I don’t know too many people who get “zapped” and healed by God.  There are occurrences that may seem to be 100% God and 0% us, but usually, if you look closer, someone has embraced some form of “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  Or, in the alternative, friends of that person have been praying and stepping into action.  (See Mark 2:1-12 for a great story of this, though presumably the paralytic on the mat consented to his four friends bringing him to Jesus.)

From what do you want to be healed today?  Something physical?  Something emotional?  Something spiritual?  Are you in a relationship that needs to be healed?  Are you stuck in some way that is deadening your life, and you need to make a move?

What would “standing up” look like for you?  What one step can you take today that would be the equivalent of you rising up to embrace the healing power of God?

Jesus says to you and to me, “Do you want to be healed?”

 

Learning, Growth, and Humility

LEARNING, GROWTH, AND HUMILITY

"Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” " (John 3:1-2)

I have heard a number of people say over the years that Nicodemus was scared to meet with Jesus during the daytime, that he didn’t really understand what Jesus shared with him about the spiritual life, and that he took things that Jesus said too literally. (Read the rest of the interaction between them in John 3:1-15)  These statements are probably all valid.  But Nicodemus did come and seek Jesus out, and that is no small thing.

Yes, he probably came at night because he was scared and perhaps didn’t want others to see him with Jesus.  So what?  He was experiencing a feeling; he was scared.  You and I get scared about different things, too.  He still sought Jesus out, because he saw the presence of God in him.  (See the quote above.)

Yes, he was way too literal when he said to Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)  Okay.  You and I can be pretty dense at times and take things too literally, too.  Nicodemus still sought Jesus out.

There seems to be a moment when Nicodemus threw his hands in the air in utter confusion when he asked, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9)  Have you never been utterly confused and lost when it comes to trying to understand the ways of God or the deeper things in life?  Let me say it again:  He still sought Jesus out.

I believe one of the greatest traits any leader can have is the desire to keep growing... to keep learning... to keep being transformed by God.  This trait encompasses a certain amount of vulnerability and a certain amount of humility.  Wouldn’t you rather hear from a leader, “I don’t know the answer to that.  I still have a lot of questions about that.  I’m still searching, still seeking, still wondering” - rather than “This is the way it is.  Just believe this.  I know I’m right!”

Of course part of being a leader is knowing when to be decisive, and making the difficult decisions in times of challenge or crisis.  But we’re not going to grow as leaders if we think that we’ve got everything figured out... if we never question... if we never look at our own actions or our own beliefs and say, “Hmmm... I wonder why I think or believe the way that I do.” Or, “Wow!  I realize I don’t really know what I’m talking about (or doing) right now!” Or, “God is infinite and quite unsearchable and I realize that anything I say about God is really my best guess, based on my experiences of God.”

By the way - what else do we know about Nicodemus?

We know that Nicodemus spoke up on behalf of Jesus in front of the chief priests and Pharisees at a later time, when the group was advocating for Jesus’ arrest, saying, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” (John 7:51)

And, according to John, it was Nicodemus, along with Joseph of Arimathea, who took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in spices with linen cloths, and placed it in a new tomb. (John 19:38-42)

Apparently Nicodemus was transformed by that first encounter with Jesus, when he seemed so dense and confused.

Good things happen to us when we seek out God... when we truly want to learn... when we have a spirit of humility.

 

Return to the Lord With All Your Heart

ASH WEDNESDAY - Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 103; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 - 1 March 2017 - A sermon given by The Rev. Peter A. Munson for the people of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, Boulder, Colorado

Return to the Lord with All Your Heart

For those of you who follow the world of sports, you know that there is something out there called “March Madness.”  It has to do with this time of year in college basketball, where there are league tournaments and then the various NCAA national tournaments for women and men.  It now spills over into April, truth be told.  But along the way, as teams are eliminated, there is the “Sweet Sixteen” and then the “Elite Eight” and then the “Final Four”... the “Terrific Two” - I just made that up - and then the national champion.  The pressure increases along the way, and the champion is a team that handles all that pressure, maybe wins a game or two with the help of good fortune, and sometimes, well... a little-known role player does something spectacular, and Cinderella teams pull off an amazing upset.  It’s pretty exciting stuff.

During this March Madness, we in the church are going through the season of Lent.  And, if we were to use our own alliteration, we might call it March Mindfulness.

As you know, the themes of Lent are repentance and self-examination and returning to the Lord, and the traditional practices advocated in this season revolve around prayer and fasting and reading the Bible and confessing our sins and giving alms to the poor.

What’s true is that we are given a gift this time of year.  We are given 40 days... a little over a tenth of the year... to put a renewed emphasis on God and how we might grow in love and faithfulness.  We start on this day - Ash Wednesday - and make our progression... one day at a time... to our Lord’s death on the cross and his time in the tomb, prior to his being raised from the dead.

Here is another thing that is true:  When we mindfully observe these forty days together, we are changed.  God works on us and teaches us and molds us, and we are different people at the end of this time.  We don’t just stay the same; we are changed.

We hear God say through the prophet Joel, “Return to me with all your heart...” (Joel 2:12)  When it comes to following our Lord, should our discipline and practice be any less than the time and effort that young men and women are putting in when they are trying to win a basketball championship?

Here are some reminders of how we can return to the Lord:

•  Spend some quiet time in prayer each day.  I am convinced, more and more, that if we want to be people who show up to others in love, we must keep hearing the message - on a daily basis - of how much God loves us!  Do you know what I think? We tend to hear that message in the silence.

•  Read your Bible on a daily basis.  There are all sorts of devotional tools in the narthex that can help you spend a few minutes each day with Scripture.  Hear this:  There are so many people speaking to us and at us through the internet and through books and music and various kinds of media.  A fair amount of that stuff is not good for us.  Some of it is simply vile and does not build up the people of God.  You and I need to be hearing what God is saying to us, underneath all the other voices.  And one of the ways we hear God’s voice is by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.

•  Be mindful of your listening.  Are you listening as least as much as you are speaking?

•  Be mindful of your words.  Remember that our words are powerful.  They have the power to heal and the power to harm, and God is calling us to be healers.

•  Take time to bless God and bless others.  This overlaps with the practices of gratitude and sharing appreciation.  If you do nothing else this Lent, practice being grateful every morning and before you go to bed at night; your life will be transformed for the better.  I guarantee it.

•  Be thankful for the patience and the mercy and the graciousness and the lovingkindness of God.  Be thankful that God is a forgiving God.  Make that part of your March Mindfulness.

•  Be mindful of your eating and your giving and the way that you spend your money.  This all ties into our Gospel reading for today.  Think about if and when you want to fast during this Lenten season.  Jesus seems to have assumed that we would fast now and then, in the same way that we pray or give to others in need.

•  In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, we are reminded to think about reconciliation.  Do we need to be reconciled with God?  Do we need to be reconciled with another person?  If so, let us go to God in prayer, and seek guidance on what steps we are being called to take.

•  Jesus is also advising us to be more mindful of God’s will, and what pleases God, as opposed to worrying so much about how other human beings see us or respond to us.

•  Finally, reflect on these questions:

•  What do you treasure?

•  Do you treasure those people or things or activities which enhance life?

•  Do you treasure some things that are actually harming you in some way?  If so, would you be willing to ask God to help you let go of those?

Jesus makes it very clear that our hearts follow the things that we treasure.  So pay attention to what you treasure.

This is a season for mindfulness.  We are being invited to be players in March Mindfulness and April Awareness.  And here’s the thing:  Every single one of us can be a champion - in God’s eyes.  All that is needed is a commitment to return to the Lord.

 

RUTH, BOAZ, AND STREET FRATERNITY

RUTH, BOAZ, AND STREET FRATERNITY

Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” Then she said, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.” (Ruth 2:10-13)

Yesterday I drove into Denver and spent a few hours talking to one of the founders and some of the volunteers and young men (ages 14-25) served by Street Fraternity, a non-profit on East Colfax that has been around for almost four years, offering a safe place for high school-aged boys and young adults to do their homework, hang out, and be supported and encouraged by caring adults - mostly men.  I helped prepare dinner for a little while, played a little ping pong, talked to a few of the boys, and found out more about the program from the Executive Director, Yoal.  Yoal graduated from South HIgh School in Denver and has a B.A. in International Studies from the University of Denver.  The international studies emphasis seems really appropriate, since some of the boys I met have come to this country from Nepal, Congo, various other countries in Africa, and I believe Central and South America.  I met one upbeat young man who was born in Congo, grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda, came to the U.S. when he was 12, and now works and is attending Arapahoe Community College.  Many being served at Street Fraternity have “... left... [their] native land and [come] to a people that [they] did not know before.” (Ruth 2:11) Clearly, on four afternoons and evenings a week, some really good work is being done here, a place with a shoestring budget but a place with an abundance of love and hope. Connections are made, friendships are nurtured, boys and young men are growing up as they are mentored and encouraged.

I got up this morning and the Old Testament reading was about Naomi, Ruth (Naomi’s Moabite daughter-in-law), and Boaz (a male relative of Naomi).  It’s a story of faithfulness and loyalty and love and welcoming the foreigner.  It’s a story of connection.  It’s a story of loving your neighbor - even your foreign-born neighbor - as yourself, and respecting the dignify of every human being.  (“The Baptismal Covenant,”, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305)

This is our work as Christians - to love God... to love others in an all-embracing, non-discriminating kind of way... to love ourselves... and to love the planet.  Yes, it’s good to worship on a weekly basis.  That falls under the love of God commandment.  But our main work... our main action... is to be out there loving people and loving creation.  Jesus’ teaching and his own actions were clear:  This love we are called to offer is not limited to people “like us” - people of our nation, people with the correct documents, people of our faith, people of our socioeconomic status. No.  It is love for all, because that is how God loves us.  (See Matthew 5:43-48)

As Christians, we need to surrender any notion of “who is in and who is out” and be more like Street Fraternity, more like Ruth, more like Boaz.

Who will you love today?  Thanks for bearing the light and love of Christ in the world!

 

HOW MOLDABLE ARE WE?

HOW MOLDABLE ARE WE?

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

It is not Lent yet, but I have a confession today:  I often want to be the potter.  I want to fashion my life without any help from God, which means that I have a certain amount of willfulness.  This is what I want to do... this is how it should happen... this is what it will look like.  And I think that the Lord, when he is not frustrated with me, just laughs.  Or perhaps he shakes his head.  “Oh, Peter, you are going to do this the hard way, huh?  Are you sure that is the way you want to go... with you being the potter?”

There is another way, and it is all about willingness - a willingness to have God teach us and mold us in the way that would be most beneficial for us and for the world.  And that means letting go.  That means a certain amount of surrender.  That means listening for God’s still, small voice.  That means letting God be God, and being absolutely fine with claiming my identity as one who has been lovingly created by God - just as you have been, just as the mountains and the mountains lions and the flowers and fungi have been... just as planets and stars and moons and galaxies have been.  God fashioned all of us, and here’s the thing:  once we are born, God is not done fashioning us!  God still wants to mold us and shape us, so that we get even better at bringing love and peace and light to the world.

So... how moldable am I?  How moldable are you?  How moldable are we?  If God is the potter and we are the clay, then that is the question I hear today.  How moldable am I?

Being moldable doesn’t mean that we sit around on a comfortable chair, waiting for God to “zap” us.  No.  This life involves stepping out into the world, having an impact for good - through the way we treat others and the way we treat the planet.  We take responsibility for our own actions.  Another way to think about responsibility is to look at the word more closely:  we have the ability to respond. We can choose to bring appreciation and peace and love and joy to the world, rather than blaming or criticism or hate or violence.

Yes, there is a stance that we take when we are most available and useful to God.  It is a stance of being willing to orient our lives toward God, a stance where we open our eyes and ears and hearts and say to God, as Mary did, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Let us be like Mary, and be moldable.