Friday, December 24, 2010

The Candle of Christ

Christmas Day

Advent has been a time of waiting, of dreaming, of healing, and of promise. It is finally time for our preparation to be over as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Each week we lit another candle on our Advent wreath. First we lit the candle of the Prophets, which stands for Hope. The following week, we lit the candle of the Shepherds, which stands for Peace. The third week, we lit the Mary candle, the light of Joy. At last, we lit the Joseph candle, which stands for Love.

Each week the light grows a little more, pushing the darkness farther and farther away into the quiet of the winter evening. Tonight, finally, the Light of Christ, the fifth candle, is lit. It signifies banishing the darkness forever as we enter the world illuminated as God has re-imagined it in its perfect state.

We celebrate! Here in the midst of winter we are reminded that God's love is shown in a most wonderful way-the birth of a child, the one who reminds us of the fullness of God's love for us.

Luke 2

The Birth of Jesus
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Thank you for journeying here through Advent together; as we light the Christ candle may we all be grateful for times of quiet, times of stillness, and times of preparation. I pray that we all know the blessings of love and joy, peace and hope, and healing.

May we experience the presence of Emmanuel, God with us, this day and always.

Grace and peace for your journey!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Isaiah Got it Right

Four stores and everyone is out of chocolate oranges! Whatever will we do? How can Christmas even take place if Jonathan and Sean have no chocolate oranges in their stockings? Oh, no! For years this has been a Christmas staple in our family. I suspect that Santa started giving them chocolate oranges to ease the pain of getting new socks every year, but I don't really know for sure.

Have you ever eaten a chocolate orange? They are made of either dark or milk chocolate, flavored like an orange, and about the size of a tennis ball. To eat them, you rap them sharply on a hard surface like the kitchen counter and they crack into segments just like real orange segments. They are wonderful.

I knew I should have bought the chocolate oranges last week when I saw them at Trader Joe's, but I happened to be there with Sean; in fact, he pointed them out to me. Call me silly, but I never have gotten used to buying something destined for someone's stocking while in the presence of that person, so I passed on the chocolate oranges.

Now I'm regretting it, naturally. I could have gotten it right the first time since Sean would have graciously (wink, wink) forgotten he'd ever seen me buy them. So, no chocolate oranges. Oh, well.

As I have been saying all along, Christmas doesn't happen because we are ready. It doesn't happen because we have prepared everything perfectly. It doesn't happen when we've gotten our chocolate oranges. It happens because God is ready. It happens because God has prepared everything perfectly. It happens because God knows what we need, and it isn't chocolate oranges.

Isaiah spoke eloquently in his prediction from Chapter 9 about just what it is that God says we need: a son given to us, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God. Everlasting. Prince of Peace. Read the prophet's words...

Isaiah 9

1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

I particularly notice the last line of verse 7, in which the prophet states, "The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." He doesn't say, "The zeal of Dori Almighty" or "The zeal of Robert Almighty" or "The zeal of Susan Almighty" will accomplish this. There is no mention of going to four different stores in search of chocolate oranges or any other blessed thing! There is no mention of having to have the Christmas cards in the mail!

Christmas is now, was then, and always will be courtesy of the Lord Almighty. As I worship at the Christmas Eve service I will wonder and be amazed at the grace of the Lord Almighty, and forget all about chocolate oranges. I will marvel at the coming of the Everlasting God, whose reign is forever.

May you also know wonder and delight as we step into the miracle.

Many blessings!

For further reading:

Psalm 96

Titus 2:11-14

Luke 2:1-14, and 15-20

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Eve of Christmas Eve

So excited; son Jonathan is to arrive Christmas eve and today is the eve of that wonderful event! Almost all the gifts are wrapped and under the tree; Dan is fast asleep after a challenging couple of days of medical procedures (glad to get it out of the way) and Sean is out for an evening of karaoke with other college kids from around town and those from high school days who are home for the winter break.

I spent the evening cooking ahead so I won't have to spend all my time in the kitchen while Jon's here. I learned that lesson while he was on the road with his band and used to travel through Davis with 8 or 10 other ravenous young men, eating lasagne, tacos, and anything else I could dream up to make in the millions of servings.

I spent so much time cooking I didn't get to enjoy his or the other guys' company, so I learned. Now the fridge and the freezer are full of meals I can just pull out and heat, adding a fresh salad here or there, and maybe some hot bread.

The prayer that is on my heart the most as we are only a couple of days from the Christmas celebration has to do with sharing table with one another. It's simple but I love to hear my husband offer the words after a busy day:

"Father, thanks for bringing us together. Thanks for the love and the food we share. Watch over us and our family, and keep us safe."

It's usually followed by describing what our day has been like, what our challenges have been, and what our "good news" is for the day.

King David of Israel had a prayer he shared in today's scripture. It comes from 2 Samuel, chapter 7:
David’s Prayer
18 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said:

“Who am I, Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?

23 And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, LORD, have become their God.

25 “And now, LORD God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, 26 so that your name will be great forever. Then people will say, ‘The LORD Almighty is God over Israel!’ And the house of your servant David will be established in your sight.

27 “LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. 28 Sovereign LORD, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. 29 Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, Sovereign LORD, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.”

Isn't the king eloquent in expressing how blessed he feels to be cared for by God, and how reassured he is that God has shown faithfulness to him, his family, and his nation! David's prayer comes on the heels of God establishing covenant with him, suggesting there will never be a lack of favored leadership in Israel. It's a continuation of the covenant relationship God established with his people as far back as Noah, Abraham, and Moses. The New Testament sees this covenant fulfilled in Jesus, who comes as God's son but also as a son of David.

David's lyrical prayer, uttered hundreds of years in advance of the climactic fulfillment of God's promise, might be one of those that is so poetic and lovely that we ourselves feel inadequate when called upon to pray. Yet God doesn't grade prayers, nor are we required to imitate David's eloquence. It is enough for us to use the simplest of words spoken sincerely.

This week we have been reflecting on the fourth candle, the candle of Love, which offers Promise. A thing to hold dear is that God's promise was not only to David and the other leaders of our faith, but to us as well. We live in that promise of God's love today.

Prayer: "God, you established your throne in every heart which welcomes Jesus as king. We are grateful for your promise to be with us and to hold us forever in your love. Let each one build a house for you in our hearts. Amen."

Happy Christmas Eve Eve!

For further reading:

Luke 1:46b-55

Galatians 3:6-14

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It Was the End of Times, It Was the Beginning of Times...

Welcome, Jesus! The time of celebrating the incarnation is nearly upon us here at the full of the moon and the winter solstice. How I wish I could have actually seen the lunar eclipse in the sky last night, but alas, it was too cloudy. I have it on good authority that it really did happen. The pictures were all over the internet and the papers. Son Sean even got to see a sliver of it in between the clouds.

Please forgive my continuing with the abbreviated format but I continue to be keyboard-challenged by my broken wrist. All three scriptures today are eschatological, meaning that they pertain to the end times. We witness the intersection of the end and the beginning during Advent, and since I do not have it in my power to launch on a dissertation of any quality, I offer up to you an essay by Debra Dean Murphy of West Virginia Wesleyan College that muses on the subject. You can find it on the Sojourners' web site here:

Today's readings are:

Luke 1: 46-55 (Sound familiar? We talked about Mary's Magnificat: Now think of it as prophesy)

Isaiah 33: 17-22

Revelation 22: 6-7 and 18-20 (Although you may be interested in Ch. 21 as well)

Blessings as we rest and wait. Come, Lord Jesus!

Illustration Credit: "Tree of Life", Gustav Klimt

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Promise

I genuinely enjoy hearing kids tell wonderful tales and stories, then , to assert the truthfulness of their yarns, they can say, "I promise!" It's as if by tacking those two words on the end, whatever implausible creation preceded, suddenly it is a historical fact, indisputable forever.

"Mom, it's the best movie ever and you're gonna love taking me to it, I promise!" or "You really have to let me go to so-and-so's sleepover this weekend I already have my term paper done I promise!" or the always-popular "Jennifer's mom is gonna be there the whole time so it'll be fine I promise!" Not that I would demean the promises of children, but on the other hand...

Promises tend to mean more from the parents' point of view, in my opinion. Example: a baby is born and immediately seeks to nurse. The new mother cuddles the child to her breast and fulfills the first promise a human can understand-the meeting of the need to be fed.

God has kept promises in so many similar ways throughout God's ongoing narrative.

Abraham and Sarah lived through an incredibly dry spell, during which their promise from God seemed likely to have vanished into the desert dust where they pitched their tents. But finally, miraculously, God came through. Consider our scripture for today:

Genesis 21

The Birth of Isaac
1 Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

6 Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” 7 And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Some of the most intimate moments in human experience revolve around the moments of promise. Making, keeping, sharing of promises, these are the times of such richness that we rejoice at being human. The moment of sharing the birth of a new baby into a welcoming family, or the moment of saying farewell as a beloved elder slips from the family's grasp and breathes their last breath on this earth-and everything in between. We cherish and hold dear every second of these times.

It is every one of these moments that promises us the shared experience of the divine, of the times which transcend the space and times shared on earth.

It seems that Sarah may have understood the limitless nature of our birthing and our dying-she who was on the dying end of her years, welcoming little Isaac, on the beginning end of his years. None can say exactly where we are on the dying end of the continuum of human existence, so we can't tell how close we might be to ending. But one thing that is apparent, and that is that Jesus coming once more at the beginning of his span of years should fill all our hearts with laughter and joy as we share the experience of the divine once again!

May all our hearts burst with Sarah's laughter!

Further readings:

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Genesis 21:1-21

Galatians 4:21-5:1

Sunday, December 19, 2010

December 20, 2010

The fourth candle in the Advent wreath is the candle of Love. It is the Joseph candle. For purposes of this study, it is the candle of Promise. A hard thing to do is to wait out the end result of a promise, even a promise made by God.

Fulfillment of any kind of a promise is predicated on the trust engendered in our hearts by that person who makes the promise. If it is a promise set forth by an unassailable source, that's one thing. If it is a promise made by one whose antecedents are questionable, we have room for doubt.

Joseph gets little attention in the story of the Nativity, but he is an important player in this drama. He is the linchpin male character, the Gary Cooper role, the one who moves the action forward on stage. He gets Mary to Bethlehem, he finds the place for her birthing, he stands stalwart beside her and defends her from all ill.

How great a love do we observe in this humble, blue-collar, godly man? Those who wish to see, are permitted to do so. Consider:

Genesis 17:15-22 (New International Version, ©2010)

15 God also said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her."

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" 18 And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"

19 Then God said, "Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.[a] I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year." 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

We know that Abraham waited decades for the promise of God to be realized for him and Sarah, and can't you just imagine how hilarious their private moments were! Not to mention their times of tears as decades passed and Isaac, their promised one, failed to make his debut?

Yet centuries later Joseph and Mary waited faithfully as Mary's pregnancy passed through its weeks and months, finally culminating as, far away from both of their homes, she and her husband shared in the joy of Jesus' birth. Such love and trust they shared, and how he protected her as she faced the rigors of their journey to Bethlehem!

Night divine, when Christ is born! Thanks be to God. Thanks that we can celebrate together, what a divine gift to open together, in families made possible by God's amazing love. What a promise!

Further reading-

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Galatians 4:8-20

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pictures vs. Words

Today is the 4th Sunday in Advent and we light the candle of Love, or the Joseph candle. As we light this this and think about the Holy Family coming to the climax of their Bethlehem journey, you are invited to consider this week's theme, "Promise".

I ask your forbearance as I examine once again the intent of this devotion; the original concept sprang into being because I thought busy people with many holiday stress points could use a focused time and place to rest in God's promise as outlined in scripture. God spoke to our hopes through the prophets as the Messiah was promised. In Joseph and Mary's courage, the promise of the prince of peace came to Bethlehem. Hope and healing are at hand.

Relight the candles of Hope, Peace, and Joy. Then light the candle of Love as well, for we are on the threshold of promise.

We must ever expect the unexpected in our relationship with God, and God does not disappoint. My unexpected blessing is a right hand that doesn't work right now, and it forces me into the very rest I hesitated taking through this season, despite urging it upon others. I invite you to enter into prayer, and into scripture with the sure knowledge that resting in God as we wait for Emmanuel puts us in good company: with the prophets, with May, and with Joseph.

The world is re-imagined.

Matthew 1:18-25 (New International Version, ©2010)

Joseph Accepts Jesus as His Son
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Our illustration today is a watercolor I painted with my non-dominant hand at the suggestion of a couple of artist friends. I feel it captured as much as I could write under the circumstances; maybe it comes more from the heart, who knows?

Leaving the keyboard, I also leave it to you to reflect upon today's further readings as I put my brace back on and give my hand some time off. See you tomorrow, and enjoy the Sabbath!

Many blessings!

Isaiah 7:10-16

Psalm 80:1-7,17-19

Romans 1:1-7

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Arm Bone’s Connected to the Wrist Bone…

December 18, 2010

One week until Christmas! Deck the halls, damn the torpedoes, and full steam ahead! Oh, that is, if we're not in a cast from fingers to armpits like one of my Davis friends, or recovering from surgery like another one, or sitting with her leg sprained from falling on the ice like a Utah woman I know. Or like yours truly, figuring out how to do Christmas with a bone fragment floating around in my wrist and being told to change everything in my life from the way I keyboard to the way I bicycle and the way I sleep at night!

And yet, this last week has been about healing. And joy. Freedom and grace, and miracles a-borning.

The gospel of John gives us the scripture for today, and tells us nothing of the natal story of Jesus; there are no shepherds, no angels, no embellishment. John starts by telling us that Jesus was first a part of Creation, the thought and action of God. Then he came to earth not by happenstance, not falling from the sky, but as the Word of God spoken for us to hear and believe. With that in mind, let's enter into God's Word.

Prayer: "Lord, the time grows short and the labor pangs remind us that the time of birthing is upon us. Draw close to us, Jesus, to be Emmanuel, God with us. Amen."

John 3:31-36 (New International Version, ©2010)

31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them.

When I went to the physical therapist this morning I was awed by his depth of understanding of the world within the few cubic inches of my wrist and hand. The diplomas on his wall from Duke and from Cal bespoke his credentials. His examination and discourse proved his diagnostic skill. His advice showed wisdom. But it was his ability to communicate with me the causes and intricacies of the perfect storm in my hand that convinced me that I needed to follow the regimen he prescribed for my recovery.

Put another way, even though my doctor had told me the results of my xray, the physical therapist communicated my condition in terms I could understand. He sat with me, demonstrated how the arm, wrist, and hand were distressed and malfunctioning, and offered a clear path to rehabilitation.

God chose to send his only son so that Jesus could communicate in ways we could understand. Christ demonstrated how we suffered, how we lived in distress, and gave us a clear path for healing. He didn't accidentally fall from heaven; he was God's final word to heal the people God loved so much.

Mary gave birth to a baby, who came to give birth to our new lives.

Healing comes in many forms. The people I mentioned earlier are all faithful Christians, which does not prevent them from trusting medical care providers to provide the treatments necessary to help broken bones knit, intricate connections in ligaments and tendons being repaired, and inflamed nerve channels being calmed. Muscles and tendons need specific care if they are to regain full function and complete health.

Human beings need God's spiritual care to function fully in complete health. We should all follow his advice as regards or perfect spiritual rehabilitation.

Prayer: "Mighty God of all healing, provide me with opportunities to come to full health this season as Christ enters into the world, Emmanuel, God with us. Let the awe of new life amaze and astonish me. Amen."

To your good health!

For further reading:

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

2 Samuel 7:23-29

Thursday, December 16, 2010

All in the Family

December 17, 2010

Finals are over! Thanks be to God, I can pay attention to the holiday preparations I've been putting off as I gave priority to drawing and studying. I am also very grateful for prayers and good thoughts shared as I have tried to open up my old brain to new, exciting ideas. I'm finding a more humorous approach to my art and enjoying the lighter quality it brings. A happy semester and a happy time to launch into the Christmas bustle doing only those things (hopefully) which result in greater appreciation of faith, family, and friends.

So, on to our devotion and keeping in mind this week's theme, Healing, and thinking of yesterday's reading from Galatians…here's the theological question of the day.

Given: Roman citizens looked down on Greeks. Greeks despised Romans, and Jews with their highly-developed religion felt superior to both. Therefore, the Christian who also claimed Jewish heritage in those days often felt religious superiority to both Roman and Greek Christians. The situation was complicated by the fact that slavery was commonplace, with the Romans clearly occupying the master's position. So today as we continue in Paul's letter to them, you are invited to consider the question:

What did it mean to be enslaved then? What does it mean to be enslaved today? How do we arrive at healing from today's slavery and claim our inheritance?

Prayer: "Heavenly One, we are on the brink of that time when we celebrate the birth of your Son, who was born into the tradition of law, and adopts us into the family. May our hearts open to his Spirit. Amen."

Galatians 4:1-7 (New International Version, ©2010)

Galatians 4

1 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

The question I asked yesterday was "What will you do with your freedom?" The answer that came almost immediately to my own mind was: "Not surrender it." By this rather confrontational response I believe that on some deep, gut level I recognize that slavery exists in very subtle ways. It can be slavery to substance abuse, to depression, to eating disorders, to indolence or procrastination. It can be overt and tangible such as the slavery which exists today in the awful world of human trafficking. Sadly, it can exist by means of domestic violence, homelessness, or economic injustice.

If we learn nothing else from Paul's letter to the Galatians, we should embrace the fact that God intends us to be healed from forces which prevent us from being anything less than his children, redeemed from oppressors external or internal, situational or sinful.

So reflect on the healing power of the Spirit who wants to enter our hearts, and make us part of the family. May this season truly become a time of joyful liberation for you, your family, friends and neighbors.

Prayer: "Holy Love, through the amazing intention and power of Jesus Christ, we call you 'Abba'! Father! Thank you for redeeming me and claiming me as your child. Amen."

Blessings to all my brothers and sisters!

For further reading:

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

2 Samuel 7:18-22

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Law or Faith?

December 16, 2010

Today's post will be short and sweet because we are in the middle of finals week at school and I have to study. The scripture for today is especially poignant for me because of this. As usual, the lectionary gives us a passage from the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, a Psalm, and a passage from the New Testament.

I've chosen the one from Galatians as it is part of what scholars call the "Magna Charta of Christian Liberty." Martin Luther held Galatians so dear as to be equal in his heart to his wife, Katie von Bora.

Formerly a strict Pharisitic legalist, the apostle Paul was converted to Christianity and turned his not inconsiderable rhetorical talents to speaking and writing in support of his newly discovered faith. His letter to the Galatians makes strong arguments that there is nothing we could possibly do to make God love us more. God loves us because, well, that's what God does.

Prayer: "God of old and new, sometimes we believe that the only way to be loved in the world is to complete a checklist of requirements to deserve being loved. Thank you for loving us without deserving it and without sometimes even recognizing it. Amen."

Paul writes: Galatians 3:23-29 (New International Version, ©2010)

Children of God

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Each of us is at liberty to respond to this extending of God's hand in whatever manner seems best to us.

Theological question for the day: What do we do with our freedom?

The ancient Christians went in two directions. Some, like the people in Galatia, became obsessed with legalism. Others took their Christian freedom too and refused to follow anyone's rules. Which is the greater danger today?

Prayer: "Heavenly One, thank you for grace, which we have by faith. Thanks as well for the freedom you give us to live outside of any artificial cages. May our response always honor you. Amen."

Grace and Peace!

For further reading:

Psalm 80 1-7, 17-19

2 Samuel 7:18-22

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Out of that Sickbed!

December 15, 2010

As we consider God's theme of healing this week, there are two stories in the lectionary for today, both in the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 8, and both told in the synoptic gospels as well (more on synoptic gospels in older posts in this series) They are both accounts of Jesus healing and they come in the chapters woven in between Jesus' most famous teachings – the Sermon on the Mount, the Narrow Gate, and the Golden Rule, for example-and Jesus acting on those teachings. More than 20 of the miracles of Jesus in the Bible are healing miracles.

Now, if you haven't sent out your Christmas cards yet, Jesus probably doesn't have a miracle that will take care of them for you. You may as well take some deep breaths and enjoy some time spent in his word. Rest in him, and allow his peace to come upon you for a few minutes. What burden or infirmity do you carry with you today that keeps you from being refreshed in his presence? Prepare to release it in prayer.

Prayer: "Thank you, God, for inviting me always into your company. Today I want to let go of-----(feel free to name what you are allowing yourself to release)-------and heal the anxiety it causes in me. Let me be fully present with you in this moment and this place. Amen."

Jesus Heals Many

14 When Jesus came into Peter's house, he saw Peter's mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

"He took up our infirmities
and bore our diseases."

Jesus Restores Two Demon-Possessed Men

28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?"

30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs."

32 He said to them, "Go!" So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Jesus spent a long time talking to the crowds earlier in his sermon, but he never stopped at talking. He went further, to action. Jesus had only three short adult years to our knowledge to minister to the nation of Israel and establish his agenda of turning the world on its ear, so he didn't sit around. He noticed the opportunities in his path and met them on the spot.

I wish I could see the opportunities in my path and act upon them immediately. There are many of us who are, I imagine, like me. It's only after we get home from the market that we think, "Wait a minute. I could have called that friend of mine whose car is on the fritz to see if she would've liked a lift to do her shopping." Most of us have the presence of mind to think about the big stuff. I always flunk the really little things, things that might actually mean a difference to someone I care about. It's not that I'm thoughtless. It's just that I'm clueless.

Failing to act in compassionate, even healing ways has very little to do with lack of good intentions. Most people are just so bound up in worry or preoccupation with their own business or trouble that intentional acts of healing don't surface to the conscious mind.

I for one am grateful that Jesus acted consciously and intentionally to model spontaneous healing. I am grateful that Peter and the others inherited the consciousness and intention to reach out and heal in God's name. While no one expects us today to sit in Solomon's Colonnade and drive out demons, I think maybe Jesus hopes we'd develop the consciousness and intention to lay down the things that keep us from committing intentional acts of compassion when they lie in our path.

That we don't speaks to a deeper worry. If we are made in God's image, and we are the delight of a loving God who claims us as God's own, why would we cling to whatever it is that interferes with us behaving as much as possible like Jesus? When given the opportunity to be made whole, Peter's mother immediately arose and (you guessed it) began serving, the very thing Jesus' teaching is all about.

I'm ready for a little restoration here myself. How enjoyable it would be to envision shoving my preoccupations down the river bank with those pigs.

Prayer: "Heavenly Father and Mother, you create in your image. Is it any wonder that it is in our nature to wish to help other people's suffering and discomfort when we can? Help us to forgive ourselves our missed opportunities, and release the worries and preoccupations that interfere with our ability to serve each other in your name. Amen."

Blessings on your way!

For further reading today:

Psalm 42

Zechariah 8:1-17

Matthew 8

River from the Temple

December 14, 2010

Despite the fact that winter is still officially four days away, the weather here in the Sacramento Valley has been gray, overcast, and cold. A friend of mine says it's perfect for fishing for steelheads. I say it's far too cold to go out in 40-degree water for fish I could find at the supermarket.

Those in the Midwest and East, however, might well scoff at us out here on the Left Coast with our thin blood and mild temps, given the pounding they've taken over the past week. I mean really? The collapse of the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome calls up an image of End Times without even trying. In case you haven't watched it more than 100 times by now, it's here (plus about a million other places you can find)

Armageddon, the sports writer called it. Nonsense. It's only heavy snowfall, pure and simple, just the kind of thing that reveals us Californians to be climatically wimpy compared to places that get four actual seasons of weather. It's just a call for engineers to think about a better dome.

If we think at all about End Times, one thing we have to realize is that they're not all about destruction. The prophet Ezekiel writes about End Times related to the river of life in the Hebrew Bible. A selected portion of this poetic book follows. Imagine if you encountered a river teeming with every kind of life-would it be how you imagine Armageddon?

Prayer: "Heavenly One, keep me open to the healing only you can bring, while remaining compassionate to those who only see you as a judgmental God. Amen."

Ezekiel 47:6-12 (The Message)

6-7 He said, "Son of man, have you had a good look?"

Then he took me back to the riverbank. While sitting on the bank, I noticed a lot of trees on both sides of the river.

8-10 He told me, "This water flows east, descends to the Arabah and then into the sea, the sea of stagnant waters. When it empties into those waters, the sea will become fresh. Wherever the river flows, life will flourish—great schools of fish—because the river is turning the salt sea into fresh water. Where the river flows, life abounds. Fishermen will stand shoulder to shoulder along the shore from En-gedi all the way north to En-eglaim, casting their nets. The sea will teem with fish of all kinds, like the fish of the Great Mediterranean.

11 "The swamps and marshes won't become fresh. They'll stay salty.

12 "But the river itself, on both banks, will grow fruit trees of all kinds. Their leaves won't wither, the fruit won't fail. Every month they'll bear fresh fruit because the river from the Sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing."

How unexpected it would be if a local river joined the sea and turned the sea into fresh water. Yet that is exactly what the river flowing out of the Temple to the Dead Sea was capable of doing. It reversed the deadly saltiness of the sea and produced healing fruit on its banks. The early Christians had similar symbolism; the river of life flowed from the throne of God.

Not everyone can get the message. My friend looks out at this weather and thinks it's time to go fishing. I look out and think it's a great season to remain warm and dry indoors. A football stadium roof fails, and one person says it's like doomsday. Many others just think it's time to re-engineer the roof. Likewise, some people read the Bible and see clear signs of destruction at every turn, in every prediction. Many others understand the blessed omens floating like leaves on the river of life's current.

There are hundreds of ways in which we experience healing in this human existence, only a very few of which are visible or tangible. Some will find it hanging out on Solomon's Porch with friends(see older posts) while others will find it in solitary Bible study. But Ezekiel tips us off that the river of life is there for all of us.

Prayer: "Great and loving God, your word is miraculous in its healing for those who truly trust you. For those who are skeptical, for those who laugh at believers, we ask that we may be emboldened to share the narrative of our own healing that they may experience the same joy. Amen."

Blessings as we dance in the river!

Further readings:

Psalm 42

Ezekiel 47:1-12

Jude 17-25

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hanging out at Solomon’s

December 13, 2010

Entering into Advent's third week, many of us are hitting one of the dreaded seasonal deadlines: shipping gifts in time for Christmas without paying premium rates! Personally, I'm too stressed about finals to worry about it so Dan is pretty much taking on all the out-of-town packing and shipping chores. I figure all of us could use some deep breathing and chair yoga right about now or it would be very easy to overload. OK, I'm speaking for myself. I need some deep breathing and chair yoga in order to prevent overload. Would you like to join me?

First, remember how we let our hands hang comfortably down at our sides, feet flat on the floor. Inhaling, lift hands above our heads, palms together. Exhale, bringing arms down again to your side. Sit tall at each exhale, as if a string fastened to the top of your head is gently lifting you up toward the ceiling. Repeat 6 times, always breathing slowly and steadily through the nose.

Prayer: "God, when the world and so many within it are in need of your healing touch, remind us through your word that you are always there, actively engaged wherever true healing occurs. Amen."

Acts 5:12-16 (New International Version, ©2010)

The Apostles Heal Many

" 12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. "

At church as I've listened to our Advent services for these past three weeks, I've appreciated our pastor's sermon series on the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, after the book of the same name by UMC Bishop Robert Schnase. The book outlines and discusses such issues as radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission, and service. Bishop Schnase opines that these concepts, when put into practice by a community of faith, result in a truly transformative congregation. In other words, real lives are changed. People encounter God, develop their spiritual lives, grow meaningful friendships and mutually supportive relationships, and change the communities in which they live. Others outside the church come to know God. Good fruit comes of such engagement.

If you look at the young Christian church, the church which is described in the book of Acts, it isn't difficult to see that the ideas my pastor has been talking about and Bishop Schnase has been writing about are essentially the same ideas that Peter and the apostles practiced. In fact, they were so engaged and passionate that the Holy Spirit filled their little community, and lives were transformed in ways that could only be called miraculous. People so believed that they were God's people doing God's work that they thought they would be healed just by lying under Peter's passing shadow! That is pretty strong faith.

While we don't have the same kind of expectations of the church today, the church still is a body in which God's spirit runs wild, just waiting for the opportunity to change peoples' lives in miraculous ways. Healing takes many forms, and God is willing to act today to bring God's best to all who long for transformation. Prayer still has the power to bring us into ever deeper relationship with God and with one another!

Lives can be changed. Sometimes it can be radical, as subtle and quick as a shadow passing over us. Sometimes it takes more time and persistence. But God's longing to heal our lives is authentic. We can believe it when we look upon the manger and the child who arrives there.

By the way, if you're curious, Solomon's Portico was one of the two important colonnades of the Jerusalem Temple. It became common knowledge that Peter and the gang hung out there every day, something which the growing group of Jesus-followers came to depend on. Wouldn't it be great to know there was a place to go where you could find welcoming like-minded people who would offer you radical hospitality, you could worship God, be transformed spiritually, and stand up for social justice today?

Actually, there is. I go there every Sunday. You can too!

Many blessings!

Further reading for today:

Psalm 42

Isaiah 29:17-24

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mary’s Magnificat

December 12, 2010

This is an important Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent, the day when we light the third candle, that of "Joy". It is also called the "Mary candle" in many traditions and in an Advent wreath comprised of purple and rose (pink) candles it is the pink one. Its color sets it apart from the more somber purple associated with penitence. I don't know who first came up with this ritual in the early centuries of Christianity, but for some reason they thought penitence and joy couldn't coexist in the same candle.

Since I decided to use all blue candles in our wreath this year, it's a non-issue around here. Anyway, the joy is overwhelmingly present, coinciding as it does with the half-year anniversary of the day my husband and I made our wedding vows. It doesn't matter what color the candles are; we're still pretty sappy around here.

In entering in to the scripture, I invite you to imagine you are sitting in the room with Mary and Elizabeth, her cousin. When you are ready and centered, invite the Holy Spirit to help you listen.

Prayer: "God my Savior, fill me with a spirit willing to hear you and praise you as Mary did, anticipating the joy that is ours through her willingness to serve you. Amen."

Luke 1:47-55

47"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

As noted in the Student Bible, NRSV c. 1996, "Saying yes to God usually involves sacrifice. It did for Mary, who endured the doubts of her fiancé and the scorn of neighbors who saw her pregnant before marriage. Saying yes meant bearing the pain of childbirth. It meant fleeing to far-off Egypt to protect the baby from Herod's soldiers. It meant raising a child she did not entirely understand. Most of all, it meant watching her son die on the cross."

She said yes to all of this perhaps little realizing that the difficult end of Jesus' life would mean allowing him, her Savior, to hold her as she had once held him, a helpless infant. I imagine she hardly thought of the long-term consequences; isn't it grand to trust God as much as that young woman did on the day she prayed and sang the words we read today?

When teaching my confirmation classes, I ask students to write a poem of praise like Mary's in their own words. You might want to do that as well, or instead you might want to read Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Mary's hymn, called "The Magnificat", from Peterson's work, the Message Bible:

Luke 1:46-55 (The Message)

And Mary said,

I'm bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Jesus pulls us out of the mud! He sets us, starving, down at fine tables filled with a banquet. It is definitely the time to anticipate God's healing, our theme for the coming week!

To celebrate, spend some time as you enjoy your Sabbath rest thinking of all the ways you can open your life to God's healing, and give thanks.

Prayer: "With our hearts we praise the Lord. Help us to start this week with a commitment to continue Christ's compassion and caring. Amen."

The following links for further reading today are from the PC(USA), Office of Theology and Worship.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, December 12, 2010, the Third Sunday of Advent (Year A)

First Reading Isaiah 35:1-10

Psalm Psalm 146:5-10

Gospel Luke 1:47-55

Second Reading James 5:7-10

Gospel Matthew 11:2-11

Not Forgotten

December 11, 2010

Today is the last day of the 2nd week of Advent, the last day marked by the "Shepherd's" candle in the Advent wreath. We've considered the idea of Dreaming this week-what the nation of Israel might have been dreaming the Messiah would bring, what we might be dreaming today, and how we might be a part of making dreams come true.

Before we leave the theme, I want to consider shepherds one last time. The shepherds are the ones who work for the common good, who do the heavy lifting when it needs doing, and are often in the background, unremarked and unthanked. On the hillsides outside a small town long ago, they waited in the darkness, but God did not forget them.

Many unremarkable people have been important to the unfolding of God's story. We would not even know of their existence but for the fact that God did not forget them.

Prayer: "God of Shepherds, as I consider the hastening of Christ's birth, let me be open to see the shepherds around me. Amen."

1 Samuel 2

Hannah's Prayer

 1 Then Hannah prayed and said:

   "My heart rejoices in the LORD;
   in the LORD my horn[a] is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
   for I delight in your deliverance.

 2 "There is no one holy like the LORD;
   there is no one besides you;
   there is no Rock like our God.

 3 "Do not keep talking so proudly
   or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the LORD is a God who knows,
   and by him deeds are weighed.

 4 "The bows of the warriors are broken,
   but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
5 Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
   but those who were hungry are hungry no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
   but she who has had many sons pines away.

 6 "The LORD brings death and makes alive;
   he brings down to the grave and raises up.
7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth;
   he humbles and he exalts.
8 He raises the poor from the dust
   and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
   and has them inherit a throne of honor.

   "For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's;
   on them he has set the world.


Hannah was one of many unremarkable people whom God did not forget. She was a barren woman who ended up the mother of Samuel, one of the most remarkable characters in God's story. Her hymn of praise and thanks foreshadows that of another unremarkable person, Mary, mother of Jesus. But that can wait. We were talking about shepherds.

Something I noticed when Dan and I stayed with friends up in Mendocino and attended the sheepdog championship was how contrary the sheep could be. The dog and shepherd are timed as they attempt to herd three sheep from one end of the stadium to the other and back, through a number of obstacles. Most of the sheep seem uncooperative at best and just damned wrong-headed at worst.

This all makes shepherding seem like a tough job. But really, don't we encounter people every day in our lives who get the sheep through the gates, patiently keep them all within the flock where they belong, and make sure they're bedded down at night? Don't we know people who get up at the same time every morning, catch their bus or fight the traffic to the office, or pad out to the kitchen in bare feet to make breakfast? Don't we often see the same toll booth operator at the same mundane job, or the barista who knows what kind of latte we want before we even ask? The unremarkable people who make our world run right are those shepherds.

They're in my family, and yours. The father who goes off to work every day to provide for his family. The older sister who babysits the younger kids while mom's at work. The uncle who stops by every time it snows, to shovel the walk. The son who helps with the housework.

Most of the time the deeds of these shepherds go unremarked, but as Hannah said,

"for the LORD is a God who knows,
    and by him deeds are weighed. "

As you pray, think of the shepherds in your life, knowing that they are not forgotten by God and lift them up. I think God might be pleased to know that you haven't forgotten them either.

Prayer: "For those you have sent into my life, God, I give thanks for the blessings brought, and as you brought a son to Hannah, you are bringing a Son to the world. Amen."


Further readings for today:

Psalm 146: 5-10

Luke 3:1-18

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Déjà vu All Over Again

December 10, 2010

Some who read this will remember a time during the Cold War when, convinced of the planet's impending annihilation, protesters carried signs and street preachers warned, "The End is Near". Like Roy Delgado's cartoon: Bedraggled long hair and beard, sackcloth robes, bare feet, either carrying a picket sign or wearing a sandwich board.

Political cartoons have so much to say. They encapsulate the essence of a position, a message, or an argument for or against. They comment, sometimes bitingly, sometimes gently, from the pages of our newspapers or, now, on countless websites. Many have suffered at the heavy hands of their governments over the centuries. Goya, Daumier, and Picasso are but three who come to mind that could not publish or show some of their political art for fear of retribution.

Peter, Paul, and others who lived and worked in the Christian community in the first century were apostles; first -generation people who had had a personal experience of Jesus in their lifetime. Their belief in a reordered new world disturbed the Roman authorities. Their message was concise, and alarming.

Let's center with some deep breathing, and allow ourselves to come to prayer and stillness.

Prayer: "Divine Love, You are the bringer of peace. Show me how to wait for your coming. Amen."

2 Peter 3:11-18 (New International Version, ©2010)

" 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.[a] That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. "

In addition to the funny little cartoon character, you can probably imagine the bumper sticker that was prevalent around Y2K (remember *that* fiasco?) which read: "Jesus is coming! Look busy!"

Peter isn't urging people to do that. Notice how he says "strive to be found by him at peace". He is asking Christians to set aside the anxiety they may have at the radical change Christ brings to Creation, and be at peace with God and with one another. Counting on God is the only way to achieve this peace, knowing surely that God is in charge of the when, the how, and wherefores. To borrow yet another piece of popular imagery, think about the "I love logistics" ad on TV right now.

It's safe to give thanks, to be in right relationship and at peace with God. We can have the patience Peter encouraged. He may have been a fanatic street preacher with a scraggly beard, but he got this part right.

Sweet dreams!

Prayer: "O holy God, I dream of being at peace with you. Help me to lay down everything I am carrying with me that keeps me from a righteous relationship today. I want to be free to know you. Amen."

For further reading:

Psalm 146:5-10

Ruth 4:13-17

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dream a Little Dream

December 9, 2010

As we continue thinking about our theme, Dreaming, you are invited to consider what the people of the time might have been dreaming about in connection with the coming of the Messiah. This time, to help bring a different part of the brain into the reflection, a suggestion is to take a piece of scratch paper and pencil. Just have it handy beside you. Try reading through the scripture three separate times. Each time, see if a particular word or phrase stands out more than any other, almost as if it rises, shimmering, in your mind. Jot it down if you like. Take a moment to breathe deeply, and come into prayer when you are relaxed and centered.

Prayer: "Praise the Lord! You are the Lord whose realm was in Israel's dreams when the Psalms were written, and who we worship today. Let me dream alongside your people of all generations, Lord. Amen."

Praise for God's Help, Psalm 146

" 1 Praise the LORD.

Praise the LORD, my soul.

2 I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God.

6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The LORD reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the LORD. "

This is one of those Psalms written as an extravagant hymn of praise to be used in community, sung at temple worship. Its message exalting God's reign differs from many of the other praise psalms, though, in that it contrasts God not with false deities but with human leaders. In it, the people dream of a time and a fulfillment far beyond the promises of any earthly king.

Thinking of the word or phrase that surfaced and stayed with you while reading this psalm, try this for a closing prayer: go back and pray Psalm 146 as if it were a personal prayer original to you. Emphasize or linger on your word or phrase if you like.

Finally, share with God what your own dreams are.

I give thanks for every one of you!

Further reading for today:

Ruth 1:6-18

2 Peter 3:11-18

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Well, All Things Considered…

December 8, 2010

Every day when we get home Dan and I exchange news over the dinner table and take time to evaluate the day's happenings. This day I had to say, "Well, all things considered, it was a pretty good day." And it was pretty good, actually. I got to go to my classes, learn more about my pop art hero, Wayne Thibeaud in my art history class, discovered that I don't have to sit for half the final exam*, do an impromptu pen-and-ink portrait in drawing class, and as if that wasn't good enough I got to ring the bell for the Salvation Army! (Thanks, Toni!)

Of course, Dan picked up on the "Well, all things considered" part. There's usually a shadow side even to the greatest joys of life. Before we touch on that, you are invited to center, take a minute to become truly present to this moment and venture. Breathe….

Prayer: "Loving God, we dream of days that can progress perfectly from the time we awaken refreshed after a good night's sleep. Too often we awaken dreading what the coming hours may hold. Remind me of your continuous care and mercy when I am apt to forget."

Today's scripture comes to us from the seldom-opened file, "Words We Wish Jesus Had Never Said".

Matthew 12:33-37 (New International Version, ©2010)

33 "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

Sound familiar? John the Baptist liked that "brood of vipers" epithet also. (See this column for Dec. 6) Sometimes we can ignore John, and sometimes we can talk our way around Paul, but when Jesus himself holds forth on a subject, it's pretty difficult to shut him out.

You see, Jesus doesn't equivocate very much when he's teaching. You either love or you do the opposite of love: you don't give a rip. You either bear the fruit or: you're not contributing. I believe that our personal motivation either brings up good things out of the depths of the soul or it brings up garbage that gets dumped in the streets of your world. There are no statements such as, "Well, all things considered…"

December 7th was widely remembered as Pearl Harbor Day, a day which the late President Roosevelt claimed would live "in infamy forever." It was a day the world will look back upon for decades and wonder how to avoid war in the future. 2,000 Americans died on Dec. 7, 1941. People of conscience everywhere have worked steadfastly to avoid repeating the kind of conflict that led to such destruction. It was not the kind of time when anyone would have said, "Well, all things considered, it was a pretty good day."

A woman who probably won't be remembered forever died on Dec. 7, 2010. Her name was Elizabeth Edwards. She died of cancer. Under other circumstances she might have occupied the White House as First Lady. Instead, she lived a very challenging existence, by most measures. At the end, I wonder how she imagined this day would be evaluated by history. As I consider her story, I can only say sorrowfully, "Well all things considered, it was a pretty good day." Rest in peace, Elizabeth. I hope you had many good days.

We sometimes wish not to be reminded by Jesus, John, or anyone else what responsibility we have for the making of peace. Most of us certainly don't have the opportunity to affect the peace of the world on a grand scale. Yet, here we are, "Dreaming" in the light of the Peace candle. What will come out of our mouths? What will be our fruit? What opportunities might we seize for the making of peace in our own small worlds?

Prayer: "Prince of Peace, help me heed your words so that when I have the chance to engage for peace, I am not reduced to lamely saying 'Well, all things considered, I did the best I could.' Amen."

Peace be with you! (And I'm not just saying that.)

Further reading for today:

Psalm 21

Genesis 15: 1-18

*In the grand scheme of things, it may not matter much that my art history grades are good enough that I don't have to sit for the last slide quiz of the semester. But at the moment I am so grateful for my inner nerd kicking in (or maybe I'm just channeling Hermione Granger). It's all good at this point. I am so happy to have fewer hours during which I must devote attention to memorizing artists' names, titles, and dates of their works! I thank God for the good wishes and prayers from family and friends.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Roman Holiday

Dreaming is the deepest rest we get at night, or if you're like me, it's the deepest rest we get early in the morning before awakening. I was privileged to be with a unique group earlier, one of whose members was proud to have awakened at the ungodly early hour of 9:00. She usually sleeps much later, apparently. (We met at 10:30 and I was barely out of the shower and dried, so no judgments here. But that's just me.)

Depending on stage of life we're probably all pretty different when it comes to rising time and bed time. A friend of mine who has four children has had to teach them that they can stay in their beds until Mommy gets up at 6:00 when the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the 6. College age dictates another strategy altogether depending on when one's first class convenes.

It's difficult to keep from judging others for their habits of rising and lying down, especially those of us whose habits were formed in the agrarian traditions once associated with cow milking and field working. We know only dark o'clock as a rising time. So it's possible to engage in dreaming anytime, and for some of us, anywhere.

Paul was a dreamer, but also one of the toughest believers and hardest workers who ever lived. Most of us would never have heard of Jesus or seen a Bible had it not been for his indefatigable evangelism. Paul stayed up all night sometimes singing hymns, especially if he was in jail. Here's one he liked; why not pray it with him:

Prayer: " “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”

During the week of the Shepherd's candle it's great to think of those shepherds who worked hard, like Paul, to bring the light of God in Christ to us. The above scripture comes to us from Romans, Paul's letter to the church in Rome. Paul may have written it dreaming of the day when all within the Empire of Rome could be ruled by the descendant of Jesse and David.

Paul envisioned an ever-widening understanding of the gospel unlimited by tribe or territory. He wrote as one who dreamed of times when those who did not have the opportunity to see Jesus for himself would read and understand. He wrote boldly, so that we may be emboldened.

Romans 15:14-21 (New International Version, ©2010)

Paul the Minister to the Gentiles
14 I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— 19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. 21 Rather, as it is written:

“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”

Think back for a moment to those whose work provided a foundation for your present faith. Was it a grandparent? A Sunday school teacher whose name is now forgotten to all but God? Is it a friend who invited you to accompany them to church one Christmas in the distant past of your life?

Prayer: Quietly thank God for bringing this person into your life. If you were to dedicate a hymn or a Christmas song just for them, what would it be?

(This is never a competition, but just for fun, hum the hymn or carol randomly today. For extra credit, notice whether you capture any weird looks from those around you. Don't tell them how much fun this is. Just kidding, the only extra credit is what you give yourself- just for making yourself smile!)

For further reading today,

Psalm 21

Isaiah 41:14-20

Romans 15:14-21