Praise the Lord!

“Hallelujah! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.”

- Psalm 146:1 (The Book of Common Prayer)

PRAISE THE LORD!

I have never been a Christian that shouts “Praise the Lord!” ten times a day,  but “hallelujah”, which means “praise the Lord”, has to be one of the more prominent words in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially in the Psalms.

As I come to the last few days of my tenure as your rector at St. Ambrose, there is much for which I want to praise the Lord.

Praise God for my wife, Julia, who has loved and supported me through all the highs and lows of parish ministry, listened generously, shared her wisdom, and often helped me to see things from a different perspective, which is always helpful.

Praise the Lord for this faith community, and for the other two churches I have been privileged to serve over the past 27+ years in the Diocese of Colorado. You all have listened attentively to my sermons, read my weekly meditations, allowed me to come alongside of you during times of challenge, crisis, and celebration. We have broken bread together, both at potlucks and more regularly at the Lord’s table, and the Lord has been present among us. We have prayed together, worked together, made plans and gone on retreats together, played together, sometimes gotten angry at each other, forgiven each other, and - so important! - sung God’s praises together. And, as I said last Saturday night at my farewell party - which was delightful and all I could have ever hoped for in a party - you have helped to form me, not just as a priest but also as a human being. Thank you!

Praise God for my health, and for this body that has helped me run and hike and climb and backpack and walk and play softball and keep up with our children when they were young.

Praise the Lord for my mentors in the faith, the people I have experienced as instruments of Christ’s love, light, healing, and transformation. They are too many in number to mention here, but I am very aware that without their wisdom, love, and feedback, I would not be the person that I am today.

Praise God for my clergy colleagues, especially the ones who have met with me in a wellness group for these last 27 years. What a treasure!

Praise the Lord for the friends I have had - from the time that I was a little boy until now. Some of them were part of my life for just a few years, while others have been friends for 30 or 40 years. Each one has been a precious gift from God!

Praise the Lord for the dreams and the promptings that He has given me - from joining the Peace Corps to marrying Julia to the call to the priesthood to parenting Zach and Hannah to the more recent calling to walk across America and raise money for organizations that serve children. These dreams and callings bring transformation and new life, and help me learn to trust in God’s provision…more and more and more. Thank you, Lord!

Praise the Lord for all the inspiring and renewing times I have had in God’s creation. Praise God for coyotes and cutthroat trout and sunrises and sunsets, for eclipses and dippers and fireweed and columbines and chiming bells and moose and aspen trees and snow and wind and rain and sunshine, for mountain streams and alpine lake reflections and forget-me-nots and summits shared with friends and family.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Hallelujah! May I praise the Lord as long as I live.



Dying and Being Transformed

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Galatians 2:19b-20)

DYING AND BEING TRANSFORMED

Paul says some things here that are at the heart of his understanding of how radically his life has been changed, as a disciple of Christ. Additionally, these verses say something important about the new life in Christ for anyone.

Before we encounter Christ, there is mostly ego - my life, my wisdom, my will, my money, my family, my friends, my job, my choices, my belief in myself, my opinions, my perspective, my power. Think of just about any aspect of life and put a “my” in front of it, and that pretty much sums up life without Christ, or life before we have encountered Christ. We act like we are the center of the universe. Perhaps, without admitting it or saying it out loud to anyone, we act as if we are God. “I am the one in control here!”

Paul is a good example for us to look at. As Saul, he was “blameless”, and quite full of himself. Listen to what he says to the Philippians:

“If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” 

Then he continues, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” (Philippians 4b-9)

Through his encounter with Christ, Paul learned that he had to die - to himself, to his ego, to his “false self”, so that his “small I” could be inhabited by the “GREAT I”, the great “I AM.” In the process of dying, of being “crucified with Christ”, then he could really soar and be that all God called him to be.

When you and I say yes to Christ, we are saying yes to this dying to self/ego, so that we can “live by faith in the Son of God.”

This is not my old life with me allowing Christ to influence a few things when I say it’s okay. No. When we say yes to Christ, we die, and begin A… WHOLE… NEW… LIFE - a life in which Christ lives in me and calls the shots, and (remembering Paul’s words in Philippians), we suffer the loss of all “things” - the non-essentials - and regard them as rubbish.

These days, as I get ready to quit my job and set out on this cross-country walk on behalf of children - a walk that I believe Christ put upon my heart - I am being reminded (in spades!) that I am betting everything on Christ’s love, guidance, grace, and provision… that he does in fact reside in me, and that He is the only one I can trust with my life, with Julia’s life, with Zach and Hannah’s lives… with anyone’s life!

This is what made Paul’s ministry so powerful - even from prison! This is what made Dr.  King’s ministry so powerful - even from prison! They trusted in Christ, and in Christ alone, for everything that they needed.

Many people are supporting me in my walk. I am so aware of this that one of the things that I keep saying to people is that I am not doing this alone. I am being supported and sometimes carried by all of the people who are praying for me, encouraging me, making phone calls on my behalf, giving money before the walk even begins, etc. And, as I see it, those people are all acting as vessels of Christ. Christ is working through them, because Christ lives in them, too!

One of the biggest things for me to keep learning on this walk will be to trust, more and more deeply, in Christ. I am not going to make it 100,000 steps, much less 6 or 7 million steps, by trusting in my own devices. So I must keep dying, keep letting go, keep surrendering my will or any false notions that I am in charge or that I know what is going to happen - because I don’t!

I am holding onto this: Christ lives in me; the Spirit lives in me. Christ lives in Julia, in all of you, and in all the people that I will be meeting along the way. That is the only assurance that I have. That is the only assurance I am going to get. And that is the only assurance that I need.

Questions for Reflection

“Because the needy are oppressed, and the poor cry out in misery, I will rise up,” says the Lord, “and give them the help they long for.”

The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined from ore and purified seven times in the fire. 

- Psalm 12:5-6 (from The Book of Common Prayer)


A FEW QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

I have a few questions for your reflection, based on this portion of Psalm 12.

According to verse 5, the needy and the poor get our Lord’s attention, and He responds to their needs.  Which people in need are getting your attention today, and how are you choosing to respond?

Also, in what way are YOU needy right now? In what way are YOU poor? Are you crying out to the Lord, making your need known to Him? Or are you doing something else?

The implication of verse 6 is that we should be seeking the Lord’s “pure words.” They are qualitatively different from most of the other words that you and I hear. What practices of quiet… what practices of meditation or contemplative prayer… what practices related to the reading of Scripture… what practices are you developing around listening attentively and deeply to others who are faithful and wise… so that you can hear a transforming word from the Lord?


Asking for Help

“I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where is my help to come?

My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

(Psalm 127:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer)

ASKING FOR HELP

The Psalmist voices what some of us do not - our need for help and support. There is the old joke about men refusing to stop and ask for directions when they are lost. (I’ve been guilty of that a few times.) But sometimes - man or woman, boy or girl - we can be reluctant to ask for help of any kind. It goes against our American “do it yourself” persona. Part of us wants to say, “I did this all by myself! I am a self-made man! I am a self-made woman.” Let’s face it: that’s a pride thing. If we think about this for even a moment, we know that none of us is self-made. We have had parents, coaches, aunts and uncles, teachers, mentors, bosses, grandparents, and friends helping us along the way! And then there’s God, wondering if we will call out… utter a prayer… admit our need.

I think trying to be fiercely independent is very overrated and rather stupid. Be responsible? Yes, definitely. A good steward of all you have been given? Yes! Proactive in pursuing your passions, your dreams, what you hear God calling you to do? Most certainly.  I am reminded of some words from the Episcopal burial liturgy:

“For none of us has life in himself [herself], and none becomes his [her] own master when he [she] dies. For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord. So, then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 491)

“Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession.”

When we try to do everything on our own, we not only deny this truth, but we also cut ourselves off from the life-changing and life-guiding power of God.

As I prepare for this little walk-about across the United States, it is really clear to me that I am going to need a lot of help and support! I am grateful for the  amazing amount of support that has already been extended through family members, friends, and friends of friends. And… I am also aware that I am going to need to get really good at asking for help - for directions, for a place to stay, for places to speak, for people to spread the word about what I am doing, for people to reach out and support Julia, and for financial support as I try to raise $6 million for children.  Each morning, when I set out for that day’s walk or that day’s talk, I am going to be stepping into a huge unknown. And I am going to need LOTS of help.

I am excited to see how God shows up, how others show up, how I show up. I am wanting to strengthen my “trust muscles.” And I want to strengthen my “asking” and my “willing to receive” muscles, too.

From where is your daily help coming? Who are you asking for help? Who is showing up to offer support in your life, out of the blue? Are you remembering to ask God for help? Are you willing to share your concerns and your needs with the One to whom you belong?

These are a few questions to ponder as we begin another year on our journey with God.

The Light That Breaks Through

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined… For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2,6)

THE LIGHT THAT BREAKS THROUGH

I love Christmas lights.

Sometimes I go by a yard covered with lit-up figures and I think, “Wow, that person really went overboard!” What speaks to me most is the lights - white lights, colored lights, icicle lights, tiny lights, larger lights… lights outlining trees or houses or doorways or staircases. I love to turn on our Christmas lights inside the house, early in the morning; I love turning on the outside ones in the evening. It makes me feel warm inside to come into a dark St. Ambrose and turn on the Christmas lights. Especially on these nights when the sun sets around 4:30 pm, and I think it should be 9 pm when it is only 7 pm, I love seeing all the lights - lights that shatter the darkness.

I came home from the Vestry meeting last night around 10 pm, and when I drove up our street, the lights on all the houses and trees were beautiful.

There are other types of darkness in our world, of course - the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of poverty, the darkness of loneliness and isolation, the darkness of war and violence, the darkness of hatred, the darkness of grief, the darkness of injustice, the darkness of sin. Into all of this darkness the Son of God consented to be born - in great humility. At a certain time in history, and for all of us now… into this world of darkness, the Light has shined. 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.

He is the only one who can cut through the darkness in a way that liberates us, and leads us back home - so that we are once again at home with God, with each other, and in our own skin.

How has God’s Son… Mary and Joseph’s boy… the vulnerable baby who grew up, taught, healed, died, rose, ascended and became the risen Christ… how has this Prince of Peace shattered your darkness, and brought you back home?

Take a few minutes today to reflect on all the ways that He has shattered and scattered your darkness, and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude.

The Light of God is the greatest of all gifts. O Come, let us adore him… Christ, the Lord.

Healed, Called, and Sent

And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:5-8)

HEALED, CALLED, AND SENT

The five-senses vision that Isaiah had of the Lord in the temple, right before he said “yes” to being a prophet, is absolutely spectacular, and - as far as I am aware - rather rare. But there are aspects of Isaiah’s calling that are quite relevant for our own lives.

First of all, to experience the utter holiness of God can be overwhelming. Like Isaiah, we often come face-to-face with our sin, our smallness, and our sense of inadequacy when we get even a glimpse of the majesty and glory of God. We can cry out with Isaiah, “Woe is me!” When we get a taste of God, we can certainly see how we as human beings have sinned and fallen way short of the glory of God - to paraphrase Paul.

Second, we can also experience the healing touch of God. And when we do, we experience a healing like none other, because it involves the kind of forgiveness that makes our guilt depart. We know that “our sin is blotted out.” We are made right in our bodies, right in our minds, right in our souls, and - yes - right in our relationship with God. And this all happens because of who God is and what God does.

Third, after we have been healed in this way, we often hear - in rather short order - some sort of call from God. And if you keep listening and keep striving to follow Christ, the call from God will persist, and you will hear God calling you to the next thing, and then the next thing.

Isaiah’s call was to be a prophet, and the first words that the Lord told him to speak to the people of Israel were challenging words, but words which also invited the people to “turn and be healed.” (see Isaiah 6:9-11)

You may or may not be called to be God’s prophet, but I am quite confident that God is calling you into something. If nothing else, God is calling you to be an instrument of light, love, and healing for others, or an instrument of light, love, and healing for the planet.

The first time that God calls you, or when you hear the next part of your call, there is always a moment of choice. Will we say yes to the call, or say no, or say “I’m not ready, Lord. This is not a good time!” Isaiah said, “Here am I; send me!” That exclamation point implies that he was enthusiastic about the call, that he was eager to get started.

My leaving St. Ambrose in February has everything to do with hearing and responding to the next part of my call. I will still be a priest, but in a new way. Some people refer to this as “the call within the calling”. I believe that, for us as Christians, we are always to be listening for God’s guidance, we are always in discernment, we are always asking “Is this the Lord asking me to do this?” As we stay in relationship with God, we have another kind of relationship with call - with what we hear God calling us to do. This next part of my call has been ten years in the making. (Evidently I had some more learning to do before I could answer God with an unequivocal “Yes!”)

The final part of this journey around call is that we don’t know what awaits us once we say “yes” to God. We know we are to keep praying. We know we are to keep listening. And what we know, more than anything else, is that God will be faithful… that God will be with us as we step into the call. But as we take the first steps, we don’t know much more than that. God gives us enough guidance, enough light for the first step, and then the next step. God doesn’t give us all of the instructions at once, in my experience.

So… a few questions for you:

When have you experienced the glory and holiness of God?

How has God touched you and healed you?

What do you hear God calling you to do in 2019?

What is your response to God’s call upon your life?

Whatever you are hearing, and however you are responding, may you go, trusting in God’s gracious provision.

My testimony is that God provides for us in ALL the ways that we need it. Thanks be to God!

How can you welcome Jesus today?

“He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.” (Luke 19:1-6)

HOW CAN YOU WELCOME JESUS TODAY?

We aren’t in identical circumstances to those of Zacchaeus. Jesus isn’t walking around in the flesh, calling us down from the sycamore trees that we have just climbed. On the other hand, the risen Christ is around. How can you welcome the Christ in the same way that Zacchaeus did? I have some thoughts on that question.

You can seek out and welcome Jesus’ voice in the midst of the thousands of other voices that are clamoring for your attention. In my experience, hearing Jesus’ voice happens most often when we set aside some time for quiet, and we have an intention of hearing a word from God. That is, we are doing more listening than talking. Another great way to hear Jesus’ voice is to immerse yourself in even a short section of one of the Gospels each day. Read a section of Matthew or Mark or Luke or John, where we hear of Jesus’ actions and Jesus’ words. What I notice is that Jesus’ words are still relevant and powerful, 2,000 years after he first said them. What I notice is that - when I seek out Jesus’ voice - I hear something very different from 90% of the voices that I hear each day.

Since Jesus said one time that when you and I attend to the hungry or thirsty, when we welcome the stranger or clothe the naked, when we care for the sick or visit those in prison - when we serve “one of the least of these” (Matthew 25:40), we are serving him - then that means we can welcome Jesus anytime, by serving someone who has a need, someone who is easily overlooked. What stranger can you welcome today? When can you go serve a meal at the homeless shelter? Do you have a friend who is sick? Can you take him or her a meal, or pray with them prior to surgery? These are great ways to welcome Jesus.

Jesus also talked about taking note of the birds of the air and considering the lilies of the field. He also got up while it was still dark and hiked up mountains to pray. Don’t you suppose that he saw quite a few amazing sunrises during those times? You can also welcome Jesus by giving glory to God for the beauty of creation, and by thanking God for the various ways that you have been blessed.

Zacchaeus was changed by his encounter with Jesus. (Read the rest of Luke 19:1-10.) He did not get any taller, but he was changed spiritually, and he was reconciled to his brothers and sisters through his repentant actions. Jesus talked about all of this in the context of a lost person being saved.

These are just three ways to welcome Jesus. There are many others. What I know to be true is that when we welcome Jesus, our lives are transformed, too. And in the process of our welcoming him, God… or another person… or some other part of God’s creation… is loved.

Exalt the Lord As Much As You Can

“We could say more but could never say enough; let the final word be: “He is the all.”

Where can we find the strength to praise him?

For he is greater than all his works.

Awesome is the Lord and very great, and marvelous is his power.

Glorify the Lord and exalt him as much as you can, for he surpasses even that.

When you exalt him, summon all your strength, and do not grow weary,

for you cannot praise him enough.”


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus 43:27-30)

EXALT THE LORD AS MUCH AS YOU CAN

Our words are inadequate. The way we move our bodies in praise will be inadequate. The music we write and sing, the paintings we paint and the sculptures we sculpt, the churches and cathedrals that we design and build to honor and praise the Lord will always be inadequate.

But speak and move and write and sing and create and build we must, for when we contemplate the greatness of our God and the great works of our God, we feel a call inside our hearts and souls… to praise the Lord.

So when a prayer is answered… when you see a raptor soaring on a current of air… when you smile and think about a family member or a friend who has changed your life, dramatically and for the better… when you get away from the city lights and try to take in all the stars in the night sky… when you are singing with the faithful on Sunday morning and the words and the music move you… when you don’t know how you are going to pay the bills and somehow, in a way that you cannot explain, it all works out… when a dog approaches you and is wagging its tail like crazy, and you have never met him before, or you have petted her daily for 14 years… when you witness someone forgiving another person, or you find yourself doing something courageous, and know that those acts are only happening because of God’s grace… then give the Lord his due, and exalt him as much as you can!

In exalting the Lord, we are both reminding ourselves and acknowledging to others that there is One far greater than us, who is “the all” - the One who made it all and who makes being alive a wonderful adventure. We are finite and this One is infinite, and therefore anything we say or do, any movement we make, will fall short of what we are trying to express, will fall short of what we are hoping to offer.

Offer it anyway. Exalt the Lord as much as you can!

“When you exalt him, summon all your strength, and do not grow weary, for you cannot praise him enough.”

Forsaking the Lord, and False Speech

“The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones.

Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not as many as have fallen because of the tongue…

It has no power over the godly; they will not be burned in its flame.

Those who forsake the Lord will fall into its power; it will burn among them and will not be put out.

It will be sent out against them like a lion; like a leopard it will mangle them.”

(Sirach 28:17-18, 22-23)

FORSAKING THE LORD, AND FALSE SPEECH

I begin with a few words of commentary from Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann about this passage.

“Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) is powerfully aware of false speech and its destructive power… One falls into the power of such speech if one forsakes God. Thus he draws the practicality of speech into the orbit of God’s rule… Attentiveness to God situates us in a context of abundance that invites gratitude. Conversely, false speech gives us a context of scarcity that breeds resentment. Ben Sira [Sirach] makes clear that speech is different because of the reality of God.” (Gift and Task: A Year of Daily Readings and Reflections, p. 347)

“… speech is different because of the reality of God.”

In other words, if one has a relationship with the loving, guiding God, that relationship affects our outlook and also the way we speak, the way we use words. If we forsake God… turn our backs on a relationship with God, we can rather quickly fall into the habit of destructive speech - the kind of speech that attacks and hurts others, including lying or speaking in such a way that our words incite others to violence.

Given the recent events that have happened in our country leading up to the mid-term elections, including the killing of 11 members of the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh on Saturday, we see that words matter. Our words have power to either build up or to destroy.

People who use words to demean or attack people because of their race, faith, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation are not - in those moments - acting from a place of connection to God. Anyone who claims to speak such words in the name of God is deluding themselves, and does not know God.

If we want to work for the common good, if we want a more unified nation, one of the lessons then, for all of us, is to seek out this God who is loving, merciful, and wise, who is about the work of reconciliation - bringing people back into unity with God and with one another. Seeking and finding and coming to know this God will transform our relationships, transform our speech, and transform us!

Conversely, if our speech is about attacking others, if we speak in a way that is designed to mislead or to sow discord, then that is a really good indicator that we have forsaken the Lord.

May God send loud noises and warning lights to go off in our brains when our speech is false and/or destructive. May we hear God say, “Hello, (insert your name here). God to ________! You have turned away from Me, you have forsaken Me, you are very far from Me right now. My followers do not speak like that! You have not been taught to speak that way by Me. Repent and return to Me, and learn My ways anew. Return, and help me bring about the reign of God.”

Wisdom, Intentions, and Following Through

“Do not grow weary when you pray; do not neglect to give alms.

Do not ridicule a person who is embittered in spirit, for there is One who humbles and exalts.

Do not devise a lie against your brother, or do the same to a friend.

Refuse to utter any lie, for it a habit that results in no good.

Do not babble in the assembly of the elders, and do not repeat yourself when you pray.”

Sirach 7:10-14

WISDOM, INTENTIONS, AND FOLLOWING THROUGH

The quote above is from the book of Sirach (sometimes called Ecclesiasticus), a book of wisdom found in the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament. This book has similarities to other wisdom literature in the Old Testament, books like Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. This scripture is a portion of the first lesson for today’s Daily Office.

When I read a passage of scripture like this, I think of the wisdom of the elders being passed down through the generations. I hear something like this: “Do you want to be wise? Do you want your life to go well? Then do these kinds of things, and don’t do these kinds of things.”

More specifically, when I contemplate the above verses, I hear:

Keep praying, each day… every day. It is a practice that will bear fruit. It will bring you closer to God; praying on a consistent basis will change your life, will change you. (I also think of Jesus’ “Never give up” parable about prayer, the one about the widow and the unjust judge - Luke 18:1-18.)

“Do not neglect to give alms” says to me that we are all in this ride on planet earth together. The haves are supposed to help the have-nots, not because there may be a tax deduction, but because it is an act of love and connection and solidarity, a recognition that we are all in this together. It is also a way of dethroning money and warding off the waiting-at-the-door sins of greed and blame.

“Do not ridicule a person who is embittered in spirit” says to me that I haven’t walked in that person’s shoes and I don’t know their whole story. “… there is One who humbles and exalts” is a reminder that God is the one who is to be the Judge, not me. My judgment will never be as wise, loving, or merciful as God’s, because of my owns sinfulness and limitations. I am to be wise and discerning, yes. But I am not to condemn anyone. It simply is not my job, because I don’t have that authority. Jesus said that only God is good! My job is to love, listen, forgive, and be an agent of God’s healing.

Don’t lie, “for it is a habit that results in no good.” I think “don’t lie” means a number of things. It means don’t stretch the truth, don’t “fudge the story” so that I put myself in a more favorable light. There is the corollary of not lying, which is to not withhold the truth. (I heard a powerful teaching about this one day from Katie Hendricks, where she basically said that withholding the truth has the same impact on a relationship as lying.) If someone says something that is inappropriate or damaging or racist or sexist or __________, and I sit there in silence, it is as if I am condoning what is being said. And if I withhold some of what is going on inside of me from my spouse or a close friend or a co-worker, I am throwing a monkey wrench into things. I must pray and find my courage in such moments, and speak up - speaking the truth in love.

“Do not babble in the assembly of the elders, and do not repeat yourself when you pray.” This reminds me of that whole section of the Sermon on the Mount that we hear on Ash Wednesday, which begins with Jesus saying, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them…” (Matthew 6:1) He then goes on to talk about how we should give alms, how we should pray, how we should fast. (Matthew 6:1-17) And babbling, well, that is just talking to hear myself talk. There is a neediness and a narcissism in that. It doesn’t serve others; it doesn’t serve the reign of God. It is much better to be discerning when we speak, to bring a spirit of prayer into our speaking. Then our words might actually build up the body and elevate the community or national dialogue.

Seek wisdom. Another way to say that: Seek God. Set an intention to pray and give and be with others and speak of others in ways that imitate Jesus’ love. Then do your best to follow through with those intentions.

That is what I hear in this reading for today.

God's Part, Your Part, My Part

“Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal... The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place.” But he said to them, You give them something to eat.”” (Luke 9:1-2, 12-13a)

GOD’S PART, YOUR PART, MY PART

Jesus sends out his twelve disciples on a ministry of proclamation and healing. First he gave them power - a point not to be missed. And they went out and proclaimed the good news of God being among the people (cf. Luke 4:16-21), and healed folks! When they came back, Jesus tried to take them away for awhile, but the crowd found them, and then Jesus did the same ministry of proclamation and healing. (Luke 9:11) As it grew later, the disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowd away. To be fair to the disciples, they seemed to be concerned about the welfare of all of the people in the crowd. Jesus simply reminded them that they could address the needs of the crowd - with his help. And somehow, with the disciples being guided by Jesus into how they could participate, and with Jesus’ power, five loaves and two fish were enough to feed five thousand!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is my part to do, what is God’s part to do, and what is someone else’s part to do. Perhaps that is what happens when you set out to do something quite big, like walking across the country. I may be planning to do the walking and some speaking and some writing, but I am VERY aware that I cannot do everything. And I am even more aware that without a ton of help from God - orchestrating meetings and people and details in ways that I cannot begin to imagine - there is no way that this walk is going to be successful.

Jesus is sending all of us out into the mission field. Our mission is the same as that of those first twelve disciples: to proclaim the good news of Gods’ presence and God’s love among us, and to be willing agents of God’s healing power. A similar mission does not mean we all have the very same job to do. I don’t help lead the music on Sunday morning, as some of you do. I don’t bake the communion bread, as some of you do. I don’t tell stories to the children during Godly Play, as some of you do. I do not make the coffee and offer yummy treats after worship, as some of you do.

I play a part in God’s healing work of love. You play a part in God’s healing work of love. And God - Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit - plays a HUGE part in bringing healing to our world. God, in fact, is the Author of all healing. With all of us doing our part, transformation happens. People are healed, the earth is cared for, enemies are reconciled, and the poor have good news brought to them.

We’re all in this healing enterprise together - with God and with one another. Thank you for the part that you play!

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)