What We Appreciate Appreciates

“To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” (Luke 7:31-35)

WHAT WE APPRECIATE APPRECIATES

One of the easiest things to do in life is to stand on the sidelines and criticize others. It doesn’t take very much energy or even thoughtfulness to have an opinion and judge someone else, especially to point out their shortcomings.

Jesus gives a very concise summary of how much people enjoy criticizing when he talks about how the people of his day viewed John the Baptist and himself. “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” This is what my parents used to describe as “You’re damned if you do; you’re damned if you don’t!” The deeper point is this: In all of their criticizing, these folks missed the opportunity to hang out with and be transformed by the one who prepared the way for the Messiah and the One who was the Messiah.

There is a better way, and it is called the path of appreciation. Appreciation is a form of love, and love for God, others, ourselves, our enemies, and all of creation is what Jesus calls us to be about.

It takes a little more time, effort, and thoughtfulness to appreciate someone. You might have to pause for a few seconds and ask yourself, what does this person do really well? What do they bring to the world when they show up, which makes the world a little better?

I notice that many wise teachers in our world today have a version of this proclamation: “What you appreciate, appreciates.”

When you appreciate the earth, you take care of it more, and the earth appreciates in value. It becomes healthier, if you will.

When you appreciate something about your spouse or a child or a parent or a friend or a co-worker or a fellow church member or a stranger, that person appreciates in value - in your eyes, perhaps in the eyes of others, and maybe in that person’s own sense of self-worth.

Not only that, if you practice the art of appreciating, you will not only get better at this spiritual practice, but you will find more and more things to appreciate - from bees to beekeepers, from trees to park rangers and biologists, from technology to scientists, from children to parents, from students to teachers, from foster parents to social workers, from people who are honest enough to be vulnerable to the folks who reach out to offer them help. And on and on it goes. Your practice of appreciation will appreciate!

Here are my two concluding questions for today’s reflection.

What value can you add to the world today by appreciating God, appreciating another person, appreciating some part of nature, or appreciating yourself?

How would your life and your relationships be different if you spent way more time appreciating others and way less time criticizing or judging them?

The Testing of Our Commitments

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” (Luke 4:1-2)

THE TESTING OF OUR COMMITMENTS

Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. This is generally seen as the act which begins his active ministry. The Holy Spirit descended on him and a voice was heard from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)

But before the ministry of healing and proclaiming the good news of God begins, Jesus is sent out into the wilderness. “Led” by the Holy Spirit, according to Luke (see above). Driven out by the Spirit into the wilderness, according to Mark (Mark 1:12). In whatever way that the Spirit sent him, Jesus was sent into the wilderness. It was a time of contemplation, a time of fasting, a time of testing and temptation.

I believe this pattern is present in our lives, too.

Whenever you or I hear some kind of call from God, and we make a firm commitment to move forward in response to that call, that commitment will be tested. And the test usually comes sooner rather than later!

You hear a call from God to get married. It won’t be long before some challenge arises in your marriage. God is testing whether or not you are fully committed to those vows you made on your wedding day.

You and your spouse hear a call to become parents. That commitment will be tested, usually right away. What does it look like to act with love and patience, when you have not slept well for a number of weeks in a row? Did you realize how much and how often you would be putting this tiny little child’s needs ahead of your own?

You take on a new job, perhaps even your dream job. In the first year there is a steep learning curve (maybe even in the first five years). Oh yeah, you realize. I still have a lot to learn!

You hear a calling to do something new with your life, and you fully commit in that new direction. You had a certain picture in your mind of how it was all going to unfold. A few weeks or a few months or a few years down the road, you hear yourself saying to someone, ‘Wow! I never realized that I would be getting into all of this!”

When you make any kind of significant commitment in your life, one that involves taking vows and taking action, your commitment will be tested. Your commitment may be tested by God. Your commitment may be tested by Satan. (see Luke 4:1-13) So be prepared! And when the time of testing (or temptation) comes, you can think to yourself, “Oh, right. I am being tested right now. God wants to know if I am really committed to this path, if I am fully “in”.”

There is another piece of this pattern. When we are being tested, God is available to us - in one form or another. I think that is a huge part of what the testing is all about. When you encounter the test, when you encounter the days or months of struggle, to whom will you turn? Will you rely only on your own strength and wits? Or will you reach out to God, and to others - for people are often God’s ambassadors - even more?

In Mark’s story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, we read this: “He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” (Mark 1:13)

Are you in a wilderness time right now? If so, does that relate to a commitment that you have made? How might Satan be trying to pull you away from your path, from your calling? What are your “wild beasts”? Who are your angels? And how are you experiencing God’s presence with you - in the midst of the wilderness?

Dying to Live

“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (John 12:25-26)

DYING TO LIVE

These words of Jesus follow his words about dying - and bearing much fruit.

These are related concepts, Jesus says. Following him... dying to self... serving Jesus... bearing fruit... eternal life... being honored by the Father.

What does your following of Jesus look like these days? How are you walking in his steps?

How are you serving Jesus? Another way to ask this, perhaps: What do you hear God asking you to do, and are you doing it?

How is God using you to bear fruit? What lives are being touched by you; who is being visited in their time of need? How are children or your friends or the elderly or the oppressed or the voiceless or Mother Earth being seen and served - by you?

What are you dying to? What have you given up? How have you released your ego or your need to be right or your desire to be seen as a “winner”, so that you can submit more fully to God? What “old treasure” have you released so that you can find “the pearl of great price”?

How are you experiencing a new kind of life - a more complete, more joyful life - thanks to God’s guidance and grace?

How do you feel honored by God?

Perhaps on this day we can meditate on just one of these questions.

Perhaps on this day we can pause and give thanks for God’s presence in our lives, and for all the opportunities we have to love and to follow in Jesus’ steps.

God's Power to Give New Life

“If mortals die, will they live again?” (Job 14:14a)

GOD'S POWER TO GIVE NEW LIFE

The quote above is one of the questions that Job has, when he is in the midst of his misery. You’ll recall that Job lost just about everything - his property, his sons and daughters, his health. (See Chapters 1 and 2 of Job.)

On the one hand, Job is hoping that he can be hidden in Sheol (Job 14:13) and be left alone by God for a while. On the other hand, he believes that once humans die, they “do not rise again.” (Job 14:12)

I know people who have had close calls with death and it has been a kind of wake-up call. Once restored to health, they become resolute on living life to the fullest, including the pursuit of the things that they believe they are supposed to do before they die. (I have also known a few people who have gotten the wake-up call and not changed anything about they way they lived, prior to the accident or health scare. You might say that they didn’t wake up.)

For us as Christians, we can be both/and people. But that I mean this. We can strive to make the very most of the life we have been given on the earth, to love and serve others as we worship and glorify God. AND, we do not believe, with Job, that this life is the only one we will live.  We believe that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will raise us after we die, too, and that we will have some kind of body - some kind of recognizable body that reflects the uniqueness of who we are - in the next life.

We die, and - you might say - we are deader than dead. And then God, because of who God is, gives us life… all over again. There is new life, resurrected life, in a similar way to the way that God gave us life the first time around, when we were born on this earth.

Perhaps you have heard these words from the poem The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver:

“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it that you plan to do

 With your one wild and precious life?”

What DO you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Are you doing it? Does what you are doing have something to do with what you hear God calling you to do?

And… are you open to the possibility that God has a second wild and precious life waiting for you, one that will never end, one that will be lived in the nearer presence of the Lord - once this life is over?

 

 

Are you in "prep time" or "go time"?

“Jesus said to them, “... Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.” (John 7:8-9)

Are You in “Prep Time” or “Go Time”?

Jesus’ brothers ask him if he is going to the Festival of Booths in Jerusalem, an annual harvest festival observed in October. He says, “I am not..., for my time has not yet fully come.” Jesus’ time or Jesus’ “hour”, in John’s Gospel, is a reference to his crucifixion. In fact, Jesus does end up going - a little after his brothers do - to the Festival of Booths. (See John 7:10) So his response to his brothers did not have anything to do with the Festival of Booths. (This also occurs frequently in John. The person he is talking with is speaking on one level, and Jesus is speaking about something seemingly related, but on a very different level. See, for example, Jesus and his mother in John 2, Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3, or Jesus and the Samaritan women in John 4.)

In any event, Jesus had a sense of timing, specifically with regard to when his crucifixion (“my hour”) was approaching. My sense is that he understood both when the level of opposition to his work was reaching a level where people were going to respond violently, and, more importantly, when God, his Father, was saying, in effect, “Now is the time.”  For Jesus, his connection to the Father was incredibly close, and being obedient to his Father’s will was his primary concern. This led, I believe, to him being very clear about the difference between a time of preparation and a time of action, when it came to fulfilling his mission.

As always, I am interested in what you and I can learn, as followers of Jesus. When is it the time to do the preparatory part of a task, and when it is time to do the main task itself?

I notice that quite a bit of life is preparation, both in the short run and the long run. I have the time of preparing a sermon, but way before giving the sermon, there was the preparation of my general education, the preparation of going to seminary, the preparation of studying the Bible over time, the preparation of developing the spiritual practice of prayer, the preparation of paying attention to life - my life and the lives of others.  There has been a similar amount of preparation for you in your chosen field. For most people, there is a lot of preparation before they run in their first race or run for political office or become a top athlete, musician, or writer. There is the preparation for marriage (some do more than others!), the preparation for having a baby, etc.  What I notice, too, is that these preparatory steps involve a lot of action, a lot of “doing”. Jesus hung out in a lot of synagogues, observed the Sabbath and Holy Days, observed nature, observed people, and even engaged in a lot of praying and teaching and healing and debating before it was time for him to go to the cross.

Maybe this is why you and I are most frustrated when we are engaged in some form of waiting. We don’t think we are doing anything “productive”, unless there is some kind of active work that we can do... while we are waiting.

Like Jesus, we can be listening for guidance from the Father - through the Spirit that has been given to us - as to when the time is ripe for stepping into a bigger task.  Think about marriage, think about advanced education, think about saying “yes” to parenting or “yes” to a particular job, a particular leadership role, or a particular calling. Most likely, it was when you had a sense of the Spirit whispering (or shouting) in your ear, “Now is the time!”, that you knew it was time to act.

Up until those moments, you were likely in a time of preparation, and could have said to another person, “No, I am not going to do that right now, for my time has not yet fully come.”

Today - August 29, 2018 - has your hour come? Has the time come for you to say “yes” to something that God is calling you to do? Or, are you still in a time of preparation?  If you are still preparing, how will you know when it is time to leave the preparation behind, and “go to Jerusalem”?

 

The Gift of God

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

THE GIFT OF GOD

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-42) is one of the great stories in the New Testament. It is a story about the power of real conversation... a story about moving past initial misunderstandings... a story about what can happen when we are willing to break the current “rules” of society... a story about faith... a story about transformation... a story about sharing good news with others. I urge you to read and contemplate the entire story.

For today, though, I want to focus on one of the ways that Jesus describes himself to the woman - “gift of God.”

Jesus was and is God’s gift to the world.  

In sending his Son, God gave himself - for us. (It is mid-August, but the Christmas readings are ringing in my ears right now. “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us... and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” - Isaiah 9:6; “... I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” - Luke 2:10b-11)

Jesus was sent for us; Jesus is God’s gift - for us!

Jesus is the gift of God who shows us how to love.

Jesus is the gift of God who saves us from our foolish, death-causing ways, and leads us into abundant, never-ending life.

Jesus is the gift of God who calls us out of our egocentric ways, to serve others and God’s creation, in ways that we could not have imagined.

Jesus is the gift of God who sees us as we are, loves us continually, and calls us beyond our fears and self-imposed limitations. (“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” - John 4:29)

The woman left the well, went back to her city, and began telling others of this man she had encountered, this gift of God. And he offered himself to those folks, too.

How has Jesus been the gift of God in your life? How have you been rescued, guided, and transformed by Him? How has your life been enhanced and even radically changed, because you encountered and then latched on to the gift of God?

And - perhaps you thought I was going to stop right there - how has God worked through you, so that YOU have been the gift of God to someone else, or the gift of God to another part of God’s creation? How have you become a “little Christ”?

 

We Have Found the Messiah

“One of the two who heard John speak and followed [Jesus] was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).” (John 1:40-41)

WE HAVE FOUND THE MESSIAH

Some disciples of John the Baptist hear John say, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”, as Jesus walks by. They follow Jesus and Jesus asks them what they are looking for. One thing leads to another, and they end up spending most of the day with Jesus. One of those who followed Jesus was Andrew. He went and found his brother Simon, and exclaimed, “We have found the Messiah.” (I imagine that there should have been an exclamation point at the end of that proclamation - “We have found the Messiah!”)

If you have become a follower of Jesus, then you have found the Messiah, too.  “Messiah” - the anointed one of God… the Son of God… God-in-the-flesh… God-with-us. And, if we have found the Messiah, then we ought to be telling others the good news. 

We have found the Messiah, the One who…

  • Forgives sins, or “takes away the sins of the world.”
  • Heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, makes the mute speak, unstops the ears of the deaf, sets the prisoners free, brings good news to the poor and oppressed.
  • Is worthy of our ultimate allegiance, praise, and worship.
  • Guides and leads us into all truth.
  • Teaches us how to love, not just by his words, but especially by his actions.
  • Conquered death forever, and promises us eternal life.
  • Lays down his life for others.
  • Came - not to be served, but to serve.
  • Came - that we may have life in abundance.

Many people in our world are hurting, “missing something”, but often are not sure what they are missing. Many people in our world are making gods out of money or power or being busy or being famous. Many people in our world are addicted to food or drugs or alcohol or adrenaline or drama. Many people in our world are deeply lonely, even though they are “plugged in” and can “friend” someone on Facebook or follow people on Instagram or Twitter.

And all the while, there is a Messiah among us, offering to lead us into a life of deep connection to God, others, self, and all of creation.

We, like Andrew, need to tell some of these folks that we have found the Messiah. Or, perhaps more accurately, we can tell them how the Messiah found us!

Who can you tell today, in one way or another, “Hey! We have found the Messiah! Come and see for yourself!”

 

Proceeding From Faith in God

“... for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23b)

Proceeding From Faith in God

Paul writes the words quoted above to the Christians in Rome. The context involves him advising believers to not cause other believers to stumble in their faith by eating foods that others consider to be unclean, even if those foods are clean.  “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat...” (Romans 14:20) The broader context is one of love (see Romans 13:8-10) and of living in a way that builds up the community (see Romans 14:19).  Love, by definition, takes others - and their well-being - into account.

I am also interested in the impact of Paul’s words, standing alone. “... for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

If my actions are not proceeding from faith in God, and what I hear God guiding me to do - which, by the way, will always be grounded in love - then I am doing something sinful, i.e., my actions are “missing the mark”. Another way to discern if something I am doing is sinful is to ask if it is having the effect of separating me from God, another person, or creation.

So... if my actions proceed from greed, that is sin.

If my actions proceed primarily from fear, and not faith, that is sin.

If my actions proceed from resentment or bitterness or wanting revenge, that is sin.

If my actions proceed from a desire to be right, and I am putting that ahead of the health of the relationship, that is sin.

If I hear God calling me to do something, and I ignore that call or I am lazy or apathetic or make excuses for why I cannot do the thing that God is calling me to do, then that is sin.

There is an implication in Paul’s words, and the implication is that we will be listening for God’s direction, God’s guidance, God’s words to us. There is also an implication that we will be familiar with the commandments of God and the actions and teachings of Christ. For being faithful to God/Christ/Spirit means doing the same type of things that God/Christ/Spirit does.

This faithfulness business can get down to the little things, the day-to-day “basics” of our lives.  On any given day, I may hear the Spirit say “You should call so-and-so right now.”  I might hear Jesus say, “The person who is standing in front of you right now: Listen to her! Encourage him! Don’t be rushed or preoccupied. Spend some time with him.” I might hear God say, “It’s time to pay attention to your finances again - to your spending, to your saving, to your giving.  This is part of the spiritual life.”  I meet hear the Spirit say, “No technology or TV tonight. I don’t even want you to read. It’s time to connect with your spouse (or child or sibling or parent or friend).” Or, maybe I’ll hear Jesus say to me, as he said to the disciples now and then, “Come away to a deserted place and rest a while.”

If I hear something like that, and I act on what I am hearing, then I am being faithful.  If I hear a message from God, and act from some other motivation, especially one that is not based in love, then I am being sinful.

“Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”  What do you think?  Do you agree with Paul?

If you do, then it makes sense that you and I would pay close attention to the motivation for our actions.

May you find us faithful, O Lord.

 

Welcome/Connect/Restore/Serve

"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ "(Matthew 25:37-40)

Welcome/Connect/Restore/Serve

The Vestry (board of directors) and staff of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in Boulder, where I serve as priest, have spent a good chunk of 2018 discussing these questions: What is the “why” of St. Ambrose? Who are we and why has God called us together? What difference do we make in the world?

The words we landed on back in February, and which we are now using to guide us as we move forward, are these:  Be welcomed. Connect. Be restored. Serve. These are all done “in Christ”. That is, Christ has called us together, Christ is the one we are following, and Christ is the one who empowers us to do the work of welcoming, connecting, restoring, and serving.

And it seems that these four words tie in quite nicely with Jesus’ little story about the judgment of the nations, “when the Son of Man comes in his glory...” (Matthew 25:31) We want to feed the hungry - whether those folks are physically or spiritually or relationally hungry. We want to give the thirsty a drink, in the same way. We want to welcome the stranger AND the long-term friend, and we want to welcome all, no matter what our differences might be. We want to connect with and help restore those who are sick or in prison, no matter what the sickness (body, mind, or spirit) or what the prison might be. We want to clothe the naked, and offer comfort to anyone who feels vulnerable, isolated, or alone. We especially want to be on the lookout for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40), for we know that God has a special fondness for the least, the last, and the lost, and we know that we could be among the least with any sudden turn of events.

We know that when we “lose ourselves” by connecting with others, that is when we tend  to find ourselves. We know that when we allow ourselves to be instruments of God’s light, love, and healing, we experience our own healing. And we experience God’s deep love for us.

I know of a children’s home and school in La Libertad, El Salvador. It is called REMAR. The staff of REMAR live with the children in various dorms that have been built.  They have welcomed in children who have been abused or neglected, or who have been living on the street. They feed these children, love them, laugh with them, cry with them, counsel them. A school has been built on these grounds, and the students - from both the children’s home and the surrounding community - have found a place where they can learn in a safe, respectful, loving environment.

When I joined some of the members of St. Ambrose on our first trip to REMAR in 2015, we met the Director or REMAR, Mary Gonzalez, the very small staff at the home, and many of the children.  We worked with them on a building project, taught a few classes, played with the children, went to church with them on Sunday morning, and were treated to a paella feast on the last night that we were there.  I bought a REMAR mug before I left, and when I got home, below the REMAR logo, I noticed a scripture citation on the mug.  It read “Matthew 25:31-46.”

The staff and teachers of REMAR are living out the parable that Jesus told. We, the staff and members of St. Ambrose, aspire to do the same thing.

How will you welcome Christ into your life today? How will you welcome others, whomever they might be? What will you do to make a connection with someone, to love and listen to him or her? How might God be using you to restore someone else and bring them to wholeness? Whom can you serve on this day?

When you serve one of the least of these in any of these ways... for that matter, when another person serves you... then Christ is being served. Ponder that for a few minutes!

Yes, God gets very excited over such deeds of love! (See what Jesus says in Matthew 25:34)

U.S. Independence Day and the Church

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-21)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:43-46a)

INDEPENDENCE DAY AND THE CHURCH

According to "Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints", proper Psalms, lessons, and prayers were first appointed for the national observance of Independence Day in the Proposed Prayer Book of 1786.  But they were deleted by the General Convention of 1789, primarily because Bishop William White felt that the required observance would be inappropriate, since the majority of the Church’s clergy had been loyal to the British crown. (We see evidence of early tension between Church and State!) It was not until the Prayer Book of 1928 that the liturgical observance of Independence Day returned. ("Holy Women, Holy Men", p. 452)

What I find intriguing is the scriptures that have been selected as part of the propers for Independence Day.  The Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy is above, and focuses on worshiping God alone and loving the stranger - “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” I have also quoted most of the Matthew reading (Matthew 5:43-48) from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which focuses on loving and praying for our enemies. (The other scriptures for the day are Psalm 145 and Hebrews 11:8-16.)  There is an acknowledgment in these passages of God’s love for us, God leading us into freedom, God caring for the orphan, widow, and stranger, and our calling to love in the same way that God loves us. It is God “who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.” (Deuteronomy10:21)

In other words, in the Church on Independence Day we still pause to give all the credit and praise to God - for our freedom, for loving us, and for God giving us the example of loving all people.

This is one of the reasons that I love being part of a church community. Where else are you likely to hear a word of Scripture and a reminder of where our true freedom comes from - on Independence Day? The Church and Holy Scripture continue to call us back to worshiping and praising God, for only God is God - “God of gods and Lord of lords.”

 

Joyful, Serving, Singing People

“Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.”    (Psalm 100:1, from The Book of Common Prayer)

Joyful, Serving, Singing People

Be joyful - in the Lord.  The circumstances of your life may be up or down.  For me personally, I seem to be going through a lot of goodbyes right now - adult children moving away, friends and acquaintances moving away or making affiliations with other churches.  It is bringing lots of tears.  And… God is good.  The Lord is loving, merciful, a reliable guide and protector, amazingly generous and the Author of Life.  My joy, your joy comes by being connected to this Lord; our joy is rooted in God.  Joy transcends the circumstances of our lives, because God is present in all circumstances and transcends the circumstances of our lives.

Serve the Lord - with gladness.  When we serve anyone - family members, a neighbor who needs help, a visitor to St. Ambrose, a stranger who walks up to us and asks for help - we are doing more than serving that person.  We are serving the Lord.  Jesus said as much.  Truth be told, I am happiest when I am serving someone.  This is what we were put on earth to do.  It is a privilege that God gives us… this serving. Let’s do it with gladness!

Come before his presence with a song. I always pay attention when someone is whistling a tune or singing while they work or walk - partly because it is not that common, and also because it lifts my spirits. Sometimes I catch myself whistling or humming or singing a tune. I think it has something to do with the first part of this verse - joy in the Lord. And… how many people come before the Lord’s presence with a song anymore? Answer: Well, people who are part of a worshiping community get to do it on a regular basis!  How cool is that? Singing with other people, while we are all raising our voices in praise to God. Corporate singing is designed to raise our spirits, too.

The Psalmist was on to something.

Be joyful in the Lord.  Serve the Lord with gladness.  Come before his presence with a song.

Let’s be joyful, serving, singing people.  When we demonstrate all three of these traits, I’m guessing that some other people will notice.  They might even ask you, “What’s going on? What are you doing? Why are you so joyful?”  

And then you can tell them.

 

Welcoming Children, Becoming Like Children

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5)

Welcoming the Children, Becoming Like Children

Last weekend our family was in Grand Lake, Colorado to celebrate our son, Zach, marrying the love of his life, Jordan Anderson.  There were many moving moments. One of them was having our good friend and Zach and Hannah’s godfather, Roger Cauthon, serve as the officiant for the ceremony.  Another was seeing Hannah serve as one of Jordan’s bridesmaids. Still another special part of the ceremony was seeing my niece’s and nephew’s son, Linden, be one of the ring bearers.  Linden, you see, is 14 months old.  He was being helped by Jake, another ring bearer, who is 6 years old.  There were also two flower girls, Kylie and Katie, who are older sisters of Jake.  As attractive and joyful as Jordan and Zach were as a couple on their wedding day - and I have never seen them more joyful! - there was something special added to the wedding festivities because these young children were included.

When the disciples asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus put a child among them and told them they must change and become like children if they wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Then he added, “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Become like children.  Welcome children.  That’s what Jesus said to do.

As I write this, I have just heard that President Trump has signed an executive order that ends the administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the Mexico-U.S. border. Evidently the public’s outcry moved the President to do something.  But why did over 2,000 children get separated from their parents in the first place?  I can’t imagine anyone who has children of their own being so callous.  I certainly can’t imagine any follower of Jesus believing that this is something that Jesus would do - whether touting security reasons, the desire to discourage border crossings, or for any other reason.

The Jesus I know was always seeing and welcoming the outsider, the poor, the oppressed, the shunned, and yes - the children.  The Jesus I know made a point to say that we not only need to welcome children, but to change and become like them.  And the Jesus I know said that when we welcome children, we welcome him!

Children are trusting, playful, loving, vulnerable, curious, open to learning and - as Jesus said - humble.  These are all traits to be cultivated, if we want to respond to God’s invitation to embrace a whole new way of living, and enter into something called the kingdom of God, where we love God and love others at least as much as we love ourselves.

Whether we are conscious of why we are doing it, there is a reason that we often include little children in wedding ceremonies.  We give them a role to remind ourselves that we are called to welcome children - a symbol of welcoming some of the most vulnerable people in our world.  We give them a role to remind ourselves that we are to become not super-independent, blowing-our-own-horn adults, but children - children who need God and one another, too.

 

Seeking and Doing the Will of God

30 May 2018

“While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50)

Seeking and Doing the Will of God

Jesus certainly extended his family circle when he said, “… whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (see above) It also reminds me of that portion of the Sermon on the Mountain when he said to his disciples: “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9-10)

Someone has said that the perfect prayer, the always-answered prayer is “Thy will be done.”

“Thy will be done” is the prayer I am most likely to pray when I am willing to get out of the way - my own way - and be God’s vessel, God’s agent, God’s servant.  There is a certain letting go of ego… a certain recommitment to Jesus being Lord of my life… a certain kind of remembering that God knows best and that my “wisdom” isn’t in the same ballpark as God’s wisdom.  Perhaps another way to say that is that if I can be down to earth - i.e., humble - then I can allow myself to entertain the question, “Lord, what is your will for me today?” (Or this week, month, or year) And if I shut up long enough to wait for an answer, God’s will will be revealed to me.  And then the question becomes, “Am I ready to do what I hear God asking me to do?”  

I may be asked to initiate a difficult - but important - conversation.  I may be asked to share something about my faith in Christ with another person.  More often that not, I will be asked to serve someone in need or love someone.  Perhaps God will ask me to pray for an “enemy”, or work on something in myself that needs to be changed.

Whatever it is, when you and I step forward to do the will of our Father in heaven, we become full brothers and sisters of Jesus.  Maybe that is all the reward that we need. 

Help Us, Lord

“Help us, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind.” (Psalm 12:1)

Help Us, O Lord

Do you ever feel like the Psalmist - that “there is no longer anyone who is godly”, that “the faithful have disappeared”?

I haven’t gotten to this point, and I am grateful for that.  I have been spared such an outlook because I know plenty of people who are faithful to God and to their calling. I also read about other people - people I will never meet - who are faithful.  Today in the newspaper I read about the Merriweather family of Pennsylvania.  Five years ago, 3-year-old Chase Merriweather got sick while visiting Disney World with his parents and older brother C.J.  After Chase was airlifted to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, doctors discovered E. Coli bacteria in his arms and legs.  His parents, Chad and Chisa, made the decision to allow the doctors to amputate Chase’s arms and legs.   Fast-forward to today, where 8-year-old Chase, with prosthetic limbs, plays all kinds of sports and generally doesn’t let anything stop him.  Along with his mother, the two give readings at schools and libraries of two children’s books that Chisa wrote, based on Chase’s superhero persona, called “Chaseman.” And the family has started a non-profit, Chase Ur Dream, to give grants to needy families with children who are amputees. (chaseurdream.com)

So… are there faithful, inspiring people in the world?  You bet!

And… I can totally relate to the Psalmist crying out to God for help.

There is a Source we can call on in our time of need, whether we are feeling that need as an individual, as a family, as a community, or as a nation.

There are plenty of faithful people around, but we also need God’s help - in the form of God’s wisdom, God’s strength, God’s protection, God’s love, God’s provision, and God’s grace.

Do you need some help, today - some super-powerful help?  Then cry out to the Lord!  And then listen and pay attention for how God will respond.

Help us, Lord.  Help us as we seek to be your faithful people, doing the work you have given us to do.

 

Thoughts on Unity

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6)

THOUGHTS ON UNITY

In these opening verses of Chapter 4 in Ephesians, there is an emphasis on unity - unity within the body of Christ.  There are references to “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, “one body and one Spirit”, “the one hope of your calling”, “one Lord”, “one faith”, “one baptism”, “one God and Father of all”.  I am reminded of the beginning of the liturgy of Holy Baptism in the Episcopal Church, when the celebrant and people do a sort of call and response, using these words from Ephesians:

Celebrant:    There is one Body and one Spirit;
People:    There is one hope in God’s call to us;
Celebrant:    One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
People:    One God and Father of all.      (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 299)

In other words, from the very beginning of the baptismal liturgy, we are being reminded that we are all in this together - we are all one in the Spirit, one in Christ, one in God. We are one body.  We are diverse individuals, but in this diversity, there is unity.

Another way to say this might be that we have way more in common than we do things that divide us.

And yet, we are a nation... perhaps we are a world... that likes to focus on the differences, and likes to put things in dualistic, either/or terms: I-you, we-they, Democrat-Republican, American-_________ (put every other nationality in the blank), black-white, rich-poor, white collar-blue collar, boomer-millennial, Jew-Gentile, Christian-Muslim, Catholic-Protestant, southern-northern, citizen-immigrant, East Coast-West Coast, dog person-cat person.... and on and on it goes.

Also in Ephesians we read: “For he [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jew and Gentile] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:14)

Again, the emphasis is on unity.  Christ came to break down any and every wall that has been built between you and any other individual or group.  And guess what?  We are the ones who have erected those walls!  And, we so much want to keep them there, or to build them back after Christ tears them down.

The author of Ephesians is saying that the key to claiming and living into this unity is to hang on to our common bond in Christ, first and foremost.  And then, we must practice humility... gentleness... patience... bearing with one another in love... maintaining every effort to live in the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace.

I wonder: Whenever we are tempted to start thinking (or ranting and raving), “You ____ ! They _____! I don’t see it that way!  We see it differently!” - perhaps we do see it differently, AND... are we willing to step back long enough to entertain the truth that we are one Body and one Spirit, sharing the one hope in God’s call to us, with one Lord, one Faith (wonder about that for a while!), one Baptism (muse on that, too!), worshiping and serving one God, who is God... of.... ALL.

Wouldn’t the world be a very different place if we could shift our “preset” button to “How are we one?”, as opposed to “How are we different?” or “How are you wrong?”

Let’s try moving in that direction.

 

Experiencing the Grace of God

Experiencing the Grace of God

“He [God] destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:5-10)

The beginning of the letter to the Ephesians gushes with grace - God’s grace poured out for the benefit of humanity, as we are “destined for adoption as God’s children.”  Paul writes of the “glorious grace that he [God] freely bestowed on us in the Beloved”, speaks of redemption and forgiveness “according to the riches of his grace lavished upon us”, and God revealing the mystery of his will - “according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ... to gather up all things in him....”

Glorious grace... the riches of grace... lavished upon us... according to his good pleasure.

This is not a wrathful God.  This is a loving, generous, lavish, God who thoroughly enjoys blessing all of creation!

Grace is hard to define.  It has to do with blessings that are unearned and even undeserved. It has something to do with being overwhelmed and healed by love.  For me, I know it when I feel it; I know when God has lavished grace upon me or upon us.

Today is the 10th anniversary of Julia’s successful colon cancer surgery.  Her healing is grace.  The past 10 years together and the 31+ years that I have known Julia has been glorious grace.

I baptized two siblings this past Sunday - Charlotte (age 6) and Julio (age 4).  They both laughed while they were being baptized.  That was grace.  Every infant, child, teen, and adult I have been privileged to baptized into Christ - that has all been grace.

We said goodbye to a long-time member of St. Ambrose last Sunday.  Holly has lived all of her life in Boulder and spent 28 years of her life being formed, serving, singing, and being transformed in the St. A community.  She recently moved with her husband to another part of Colorado.  As most of the church came up to lay hands on her as we prayed for the next part of her journey, I felt the grace of God among us.

The birds nesting underneath the deck, just outside of our basement door, singing beautifully each morning and evening - that is grace.

The music I get to hear and participate in each Sunday, led by faithful, dedicated volunteers - that is grace.

The views I see as I walk, hike, drive around Colorado, or even as I sit in my living room - wow! - that is grace.

Friends who generously help me stay healthy, listen attentively when I preach, offer insights on Bible passages that we read together, love our children lavishly as they serve as godparents, give of their time and talents as they help me plan this crazy walk across the country - grace, grace, and more grace.

God giving me the dream of the walk in the first place - grace!

All the teachers, mentors, counselors, and coaches I have had over the years - grace.

My parents taking us hiking and camping, and also passing on their values, and taking us to church every Sunday - more grace.

Most of all - God claiming us as beloved daughters and sons, and coming in the flesh to show us how to live, how to love, and how to know joy - amazing grace!

Grace - I know it when I feel it!

What is your experience of God’s lavish, glorious grace?

 

How Are You Proclaiming the Good News of Christ?

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

HOW ARE YOU PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS OF CHRIST?

I am glad “the longer ending” of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:9-20) made it into the Bible.  (Look this up if you want to know more.)  I suppose the leaders of Virginia Theological Seminary are glad it did, too.  For three years at VTS - for four mornings a week and on other occasions, too - I attended chapel and read these big bold letters on the back wall above the altar:  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”  People in my seminary class were from all over the United States, from Hong Kong and Kenya and Uganda.  We were women and men, younger and older, low church and Anglo Catholic, Episcopalians and from other denominations, too.  We were former lawyers and teachers and librarians and pig farmers and geologists and Peace Corps Volunteers, and some of my classmates were barely out of college, and when we graduated, we scattered far and wide.  (For my three years at VTS, I was the only student from Colorado.)  We were called to different places and began proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ - the Son of God - all over the world.  Graduates of VTS have been doing this since the 1820’s.  And that is just one seminary!

The “gospel” is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  So says Mark, at the very beginning of his gospel. (Mark 1:1)  And today, on the 25th of April, we remember St. Mark the Evangelist.  There is a prominent church dedicated to him in Venice, and the Church of Alexandria in Egypt claimed Mark as its first bishop.  (See Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, from Church Publishing Incorporated, pp. 345-345)

By the way, you are not off the hook if: a) you are not one of the four Gospel writers, or b) you have not been trained as a preacher. If you have been baptized, you promised to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305)  When asked if we will do this when we renew our vows in the Baptismal Covenant, we say, individually, “I will, with God’s help.”

How are you proclaiming - by word and example - the good news of God in Christ?  How have you experienced that good news?  How have you experiencing Christ’s reconciling love?  How do you experience living “in Christ?”  How is God helping you to proclaim this good news?

We are reminded - on this day - that all of us who claim Jesus as Lord and follow in his ways, are also following in the footsteps of all the saints who have proclaimed him over the centuries.  I’m guessing that you became a Christian because the Spirit of God worked through someone - or a group of someones - who proclaimed Christ to you.  And now the Spirit of God works though you and me to bring the gospel of Christ to others.

Thank you for being an evangelist... for bringing the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to others.

 

YOU CAN'T DO ANYTHING APART FROM CHRIST

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

You Can’t Do Anything Apart From Jesus

I have written reflections on these words from Jesus before.  They keep calling me back, pulling me in.  (And one or the other of the Church’s lectionaries keeps putting them in front of me.)

Part of me wants to argue with Jesus.  I can do nothing apart from you?  Really?  Can’t I comb my hair or fix myself a sandwich or go for a run without you, Jesus?  Can’t I serve somebody or be rude to somebody or be hard on myself without you?

And then I pause, and reflect some more.  I think about the prologue to this same Gospel of John.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people… And the Word became flesh and lived among us… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:1-4, 14a, 16)

Through Jesus Christ, the Word of God, all things came into being.  You, me, and all of creation… your goals and dreams, my goals and dreams, your family, my family, your job, my job, your next breath, my next breath, your abilities to think and walk and talk and give thanks, my abilities to think and walk and talk and give thanks.  You get the idea.

Jesus isn’t just making a suggestion here.  He is posing a truth.

Can you find your next job without abiding in Jesus? No.

Can I walk across the country without abiding in Jesus? No. 

Can you find and marry the love of your life without abiding in Jesus? No.

Can the earth keep spinning on its axis and revolving around the sun without abiding in Jesus? No.

Can you make it through the loss and grief that you have recently experienced without abiding in Jesus? No.

Can you learn how to really celebrate and dance through life without abiding in Jesus? No.

He is the vine.  We are the branches.  Without abiding in Him, we can bear no fruit.  Even more than that, apart from Him you and I can do nothing.

Think about that.  Really ponder it!  Put the words of Jesus alongside of your own life experience, and see if what he says is not profoundly true.

We live in God… we abide in Christ… we love in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  We think in God… we play in the Spirit … we weep in Christ… we are sustained in God… we create masterpieces in Christ… we are guided in the Spirit.

We live in God.  Nothing happens in your life outside of Christ or Spirit.

How would our lives be different if we acknowledged this every morning, gave thanks, and pursued the work that God has given us to do?  What kind of fruit would we bear?

I don’t know the details of the answer to that question, but Jesus said we would bear much fruit, and you and I both know that - because of God’s grace - it would be sweet, beautiful, nourishing fruit!

Abide in Christ as Christ abides in you.  And then go crazy - living your life and bearing fruit.

 

THE REV. DR. KING - AN AMAZING EXAMPLE FOR ALL OF US

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)

THE REV. DR. KING - AMAZING EXAMPLE FOR US

When I was 10-1/2 years old - and I believe all the way through high school - my bedroom was populated with pictures of my sports heroes.  They were mostly baseball players - Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Pete Rose (Hey, this was before he bet on baseball, and my name was Pete, too!), and Billy Williams.  There were a few football players, too.  I remember posters of Gale Sayers and Paul Warfield.  But I also was living in Charleston, South Carolina, and I remember watching the NBC nightly news on a regular basis with my parents.  I was aware - as aware as I could be as a white, privileged 10-year-old boy at the time - of the work of Martin Luther King, Jr.  I had some awareness of the sit-ins and the bus boycotts, the firehoses and the police dogs and the beatings, church bombings and unsolved murders, many people going to jail, and riots, too..  At that young age, I think I recognized that Dr. King was amazingly courageous, spellbinding as a  preacher and public speaker, and so determined to speak to all of American society as he worked for justice.  Admittedly, much of this sunk in for me at a deeper level later on, well after Dr. King was killed, when I read a biography of his life and one particular book of his sermons, Strength to Love, that had a profound influence on me when I was serving as a Peace Corp Volunteer in the 1980’s.  I didn’t have a poster of Dr. King on my wall when I was ten, and I don’t have one on my wall at home now.  But I can tell you this:  The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has had a much bigger influence on my life than Willie Mays or Hank Aaron or Pete Rose ever did!  Those three baseball legends made me want to become a professional baseball player.  Dr. King inspired me - and still inspires me - to be a man of character, a man of faith, a man of courage, a man who works for justice, a man who loves and prays for and forgives his enemies, a man who works for peace and practices non-violence, a man who sees and responds to the needs of the poor, a man who might inspire others though his preaching.  If I could demonstrate any of those traits at 25% of the level that Dr. King did, then perhaps I will have inspired someone else to be the kind of follower of Jesus that Dr. King was.

The Episcopal Church has a book for remembering our “saints”.  It used to be called Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  More recently the name of the book has been changed to Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (The Church Pension Fund, 2010).  April 4 has been set aside as the day to remember Martin Luther King, Jr., “Civll Rights Leader and Martyr.” Today is the 50th anniversary of his assassination.  One of the readings selected for us, as we remember Dr, King, is the one quoted above.  Doesn’t it seem fitting?  (In case you want to look them up, the other readings selected are Genesis 37:17b-20, Psalm 77:11-20, and Ephesians 6:10-20.). Surely Dr. King lived out Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” from Luke, the companion to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.  Love your enemies?  Check. Do good to those who hate you? Check.  Bless those who curse you? Check. Pray for those who abuse you? Check. Do to others as you would have them do to you? Check. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other one, too?  Check.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - prophet, preacher, pastor, husband, father, civil rights leader, dreamer, worker for justice, faithful servant of the Lord, friend of the poor.

“From its earliest days the Church has rejoiced to recognize and commemorate those faithful departed who were extraordinary or even heroic servants of God and of God’s people for the sake, and after the example, of their Savior Jesus Christ.  By this recognition and commemoration, their devoted service endures in the Spirit, even as their example and fellowship continue to nurture the pilgrim Church on its way to God.” (Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, p. ix)

I suggest to you that if you are looking around for a heroic servant of God to model your life after, look no further than Dr. King.

Who will you encourage or sustain today?

“The Lord has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” (Isaiah 50:4)

WHO WILL YOU SUSTAIN OR ENCOURAGE TODAY?

The quote above is from the third of the four “servant songs” in Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:1-6, 50:4-11, 52:13-53:12).  In the original writings, the servant seems to be the nation of Israel.  But after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, it didn’t take take long for those in the early church to identify the servant as Jesus - the Messiah who had come to fulfill various prophecies from the Hebrew scriptures.  As such, the servant songs are featured prominently during Holy Week, especially since the servant in these passages is often portrayed as a suffering servant.

This Suffering Servant brings healing to others - by his words, by his sacrificial love, by his passion (that is, by his willingness to be acted upon by others, for the ultimate benefit of the world.  The witness of Jesus is once again counter to the ways of the world:  it is not might and violence that redeem and reconcile, but a non-violent love that is willing to suffer and also forgive.

The Suffering Servant offers special words… words that are a balm to the body, the mind, and the soul.  This was always true of Jesus’ ministry on earth:  His words brought healing to others.  Even when he confronted people, it was done in love.  HIs confrontational words were designed to break through the defenses of men and women, so that they could be healed of their blindness and reconnect with the God who loved them.

Our words are SO important!  With our words we can urge people to do great destruction and violence; with our words we can bring peace, healing, forgiveness, encouragement, understanding, and reconciliation.  Jesus brought John and his mother together while he hung from the cross.  While there, he also offered forgiveness!  He demonstrated that - even in the worst possible circumstances - we always have a choice about how we speak… how we use our words.

We are followers of Jesus.  As we proceed through this Holy Week, pay attention to your words.  Who can you encourage?  Who can you sustain with a word?  Who can you forgive?  Who can you offer up to God in prayer?  To whom can you listen and offer your healing and peace… as you utter hardly any words?  To whom will you offer a generous appreciation, a heart-felt thank you, or words of deep gratitude?

When we use our words in ways that build up and heal, we are being teachers, too.  We are modeling something for our children and grandchildren, as well as for our peers.  We are demonstrating the truth that words can bring healing and love - any day, at any time, in any situation.