Thursday, January 14, 2021

True Lies

1 John 4:20-21. CEB

Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

When I read this today I sat back in surprise when I saw the bald statement that these people are liars.  That is really pretty strong language.  I would be more likely to say they are mistaken, or that they need to examine their hearts for a different/better interpretation of what love is. But liars?  Is it a lie if you really believe it?  Is it a lie if you are telling the truth so far as you know it? 

Well, yes.  Belief in an untrue statement or position does not make it true.  

There are those who claim they “hate the sin, love the sinner.”  This often leads them to seek ways to deal with the sin which are not loving by any stretch of the imagination.  Some refuse to allow persons they consider sinners to be part of their congregation unless they stop practicing whatever the sin is.  Addicts, known criminals, gang members, members of the LGBTQ+ community and others who are metaphorical “prostitutes and tax collectors” are excluded from the congregation.  I know of a couple being kicked out of a church where they had been faithful members for decades because someone looking in their window saw them dancing in their living room to celebrate a wedding anniversary. That congregation believed that dancing is a sin, therefore  . . . Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater!  

The thing is, these folks truly believe that what they are doing in the name of hating the sin is loving.  It is not.

A woman I knew was welcomed into a congregation with open arms when she became sober, but after a relapse the pastor called her to the front and chastised her publicly.  This was hateful.  The loving thing would have been to offer her support or counseling, to seek ways to help her overcome her alcoholism - to help her heal physically and spiritually.

It seems to me that the primary test of what the loving response should be is to treat others as you would have them treat you. You know, that whole “love your neighbor as you love yourself” thing.   If the way we seek to deal with sin is to heal the sinner instead of hurting them, we are probably doing the loving thing.  

Please note: Everyone is a sinner.  God loves and forgives us. We must endeavor to do the same.

Gracious God, I love you.  Help me to seek the path of love always.  Grant that I might speak words of  truth that heal division.  Grant that I might truly love all of my siblings, as you love me.  Amen

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Feathery things

Romans 5:5. NIV

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

The first Sunday of Advent was Hope Sunday, and ever since then I have been running across writings on hope - in Scripture, in poetry, in friends’ sermons.  Today, “hope does not put us to shame . .”  My immediate thought was that this was about other people thinking there is something wrong with us if we look for the best in other humans or look toward the future with hope, as if there is something shameful about being hopeful. 

Yet, hope is what sustains us in troubling times.  

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me.

Emily Dickinson

Right now we are living in troubling times.  Hope is what allows us to see a path to a good outcome.  Hope is what allows us to see a path toward reconciliation between all of the varying  and opposing parties to our current state of national division.  Faith is what tells us that God will make a way where there is no way.  Because . . . 

Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Daily (ish)


Matthew 6:11 NRSV

Give us this day our daily bread. 

Among all the other daily meditations I get is one titled Daily Zen.  It used to offer short very Zen sounding statements or poems about such things as sitting on a mountain near a tree with a breeze blowing or something equally calming.  They were the kind of statement you can focus on during meditation, which I’m pretty sure was the point.  Then a new person started providing the content.   I noticed the different name on the email, but I would have known it was a new person even if there was no name attached.  The poems and writings kept getting longer, too long to use as a meditation focus, so that was a problem.  But worse, my Daily Zen started showing up maybe a couple of times a week. 

At first I would simply skip the day’s offering if it looked “too long” which was anything more than about two sentences.  Eventually I noticed that the really long ones tended to be poetry, so I started reading them.  They were still too long to serve as a meditation focus on their own, but they often took me to a place where my mind could jump off into new places.  Even so, taking my cue from my dislike of long quotes, I try to only use one or two verses as a place to focus for my daily own meditation posts.

About those Daily Meditation posts.   I tell you about Daily Zen because I know that the Daily part of Daily Meditation isn’t happening quite as it could and that could be disappointing or even annoying.  Right this minute I can blame all the busy-ness around all Christmas services we are doing, but that’s not always the case.  Sometimes I’m just too tired to write another word.  Sometimes I get busy with stuff and remember late at night that I hadn’t written a meditation yet that day. And for the two weeks after Christmas I will be hibernating to gather strength for the coming Lenten Season, so there will be no Daily Meditations during that time.

I am quite sure that you all read some daily meditation(s) besides this one, and I encourage you to continue with that practice.  I’ll still be writing Daily (ish) for the rest of this week until Christmas Day.  I will return from my post-Christmas hibernation on January 9th.  

May the blessings of God fall richly upon you. Amen

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A COVID covered Advent

 Psalm 34:18 NRSV

18  The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,

    and saves the crushed in spirit.

This morning I was pondering what to say in my Longest Night message when this verse showed up in my inbox.   The quote that went with it was, 

“It’s easy to feel closer to the cross than the manger during this Advent covered in COVID.” (Russell L. Meek) 

And I thought Yes! This is just how I am feeling right now.  My Spiritual Director asked a couple of times in our hour together yesterday, “How are you feeling?”  Frustrated.  Disappointed.  Hungry for human touch.  Christmas is hard enough for me without the extra turmoil a pandemic brings to my soul.  For the last decade or so I have found much more comfort and joy in the Longest Night service than the Christmas Eve service.

So then I thought Yes!  God is to near the brokenhearted.  Always there to uplift and uphold us.  Keeping us from feeling entirely alone. My hope is in the Lord, always, who will never leave or forsake me.

And then I thought about being near the cross.  I realized in that moment that when I think about the cross it is always empty.  I don’t see a broken and bleeding Christ as depicted on crucifixes.  I see the empty cross - the resurrected Christ, the one who defeated death.  That is where my hope lies.  That is the image that saves my crushed spirit.

So I think maybe being near the cross in Advent is not an altogether bad thing.  In Advent we wait both for the birth of the Christ Child and the return of our resurrected Lord - we look toward both the manger and the cross, finding hope in each.  

God of Hope, be with us this season as we look toward the manger and the cross.  Be with us as we deal with the ups and downs that go hand in hand with the uncertainties of this time.  Lift us, hold us, heal us.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus, our Lord.  Amen

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Forgive and forget


1 John 1:9. NRSV

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Confession.  Growing up that word meant going to the church, waiting in line until it was my turn to kneel in a tiny dark closet while a priest on the other side of a small window in the closet listened while I rattled off the things that I figured I probably did that week.  Things like, disrespecting my mother, lying about something or other, being mean to my sister.  When I finished my list the priest would tell me to go say some prayers to atone, and asked me to pray a sincere Act of Contrition.  I would do as I was told, but I don’t ever remember feeling really repentant about any of those things.  I would promise not to do them again, but I would be back there the next week with the same list of sins.  I didn’t believe forgiveness was real, you see, because even though the priest always said I was absolved of my sin, I would also be reminded that I would still have to pay for my sins by spending hundreds or thousands of years in Purgatory.  So, yeah.  Didn’t feel really forgiven, or cleansed of unrighteousness, even though I had confessed.

Years later I would be told by my 12 Step Sponsor that I would have to make a list of all the things I had done that are wrong, and all people I had harmed (including myself), and then share those lists with God and with another person.  Been there, done that.  The whole confessional thing didn’t really work for me.  Anyway, I didn’t really believe God was in the business of forgiving.  But, because I would do just about anything to make the spiritual pain I was living with go away, I did as I was told.  I learned about myself making those lists.  I still didn’t want to share them out loud.  “God already knows everything I have done,” I said.  “Yes, but now you have to take responsibility for them, and become ready to make amends for them.    If you share them with another you might just find out you are neither as wonderful as you think you are nor as terrible as you fear you might be.”  Hmmm. Ookayy. 

I’ve gone through these Steps a number of times over the years.  The most valuable thing to me is the confession part. It is the process of becoming vulnerable with another person whom I trust not to judge or blab.  Doing those things invariably takes a huge weight from my shoulders, weight I didn’t even know I was carrying.  Confessing honestly and sincerely, I feel truly forgiven, as I never had before.   The amends part - well, that’s much more complicated than saying five Hail Mary’s. That can take years to accomplish.  

Forgiving God, you are faithful and just.  You are willing to forgive and forget, letting us start fresh, whenever we confess our sins and take responsibility for our words, actions and inactions.  For your grace we give you thanks.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Joyful, Joyful

 Psalm 126:4-5. NRSV

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,

    like the watercourses in the Negeb.

5 May those who sow in tears

    reap with shouts of joy.

One of the meditations that is emailed to me each morning includes a passage from the Bible followed by a quote by some famous person and a prayer.  Today I absolutely loved the quote.

“Joy is the serious business of heaven”. (CS Lewis Letters to Malcolm)

This seems totally appropriate in the days following Joy Sunday, and worthy of consideration.   Especially right now.  Because let’s face it - this does not feel like a particularly joyful time.  What if we were serious about pursuing and radiating joy?  What if we didn’t simply accept the things we cannot change, but embraced them?  

I imagine we all know someone who seems to embrace even the most difficult times with a joyful spirit.  We may wonder to ourselves “How does she do that?”  In the case of one of my 12 Step sponsors, it is a conscious choice.  One of her favorite sayings is, “I didn’t get clean to be miserable.” I have seen her face incredibly difficult experiences with a joyful heart.  Maybe not happily, precisely, but she always knew that the feelings attached to the terrible thing were  temporary and that joy would be found again at the end.  She works hard to bring joy and love into the lives of others. Just being in the same room with her could bring me up even on my very worst days.  I haven’t seen her in decades, but I get a post card from her about once a week.  All it says is one word, “Love”, and it never fails to make me smile.  When I grow up, I want to be like her.  

In this time of pandemic and societal unrest, joy may seem out of reach. But perhaps we can make an effort to find and embrace the joy in every circumstance.  I suspect some of us will find that easier to do than others, but certainly there is no harm in trying.  There even might be a lot of good in seeking joy.  At the very least, we can share joy with others, especially right now.

Joyful God, we are so grateful for all the blessings you shower upon us, even when we are tired and grumpy and far from feeling joyful.  May we seek to be serious about joy, feeling it and sharing it, that all the world might know that joy is indeed the serious business of heaven.  Amen. 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The thousand year long day


2 Peter 3:8. NRSV

Remember, with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.

Right now it almost feels like one day in 2020 is like a thousand years! There are lots of jokes on the internet about how long this year has been, and how long every single day has seemed to be.  We are all trying to adjust to something we don’t want to adjust to, that we are fighting with every fiber of our being.  Oh, we may be staying inside and watching our distance from people and wearing masks, but we don’t like it. It feels unnatural and wrong.

I love science fiction.  I love space operas and steam punk and alternate time lines.  Not really a fan of dystopian plots of the Mad Max variety, but I enjoy the ones where a group of good people work and fight to make the world a better place.  (I also love fantasy - dragons and magic and elves and such, but that’s an entirely different topic.)  Much of science fiction is simply writing a normal sort of story but with one aspect of society changed.  Common themes include such things as a world where money is no longer needed, there is no poverty, all diseases have been cured, there is one world government so no more wars over territory, 

Another common theme is a world where no one goes out.  Except for some essential workers everyone lives in their small apartment, works online, does leisure activity online, shops online, goes to school on line, gets food delivered by ordering online.  Somehow this all sounds eerily familiar.  Of course, in the sci fi stories this state of affairs happens gradually as people become more and more accustomed to living on the internet.   These stories are not expected to be a celebration of what might be.  Rather they tend to be warnings of what lies ahead if we continue to immerse ourselves in our phones and online interactions instead of in person interactions.  Because this doesn’t just feel unnatural and wrong, it is unnatural and wrong.  We can do many things well in isolation like pray, meditate, and create, and some individuals are better suited to isolation, but generally speaking humans flourish best in community.  

For the time being we have little choice about staying at home, separated from one another because we love one another and wish to keep each other healthy.  This is a good thing, but it is temporary.   It will end eventually and we will be able to live in community once again.  And worship in community. And share the Lord’s Supper in community.  But for now, we practice acceptance of our present reality, and keep in mind that it only feels like the days are a thousand years long.   

Eternal God, we know for you time doesn’t really matter, because you have always been and you always will be.  Our time is finite, and right now we feel like our lives are on hold.  Help us, Lord, to accept that just for today we must exist in this strange place where time seems not to have meaning.  May we fill each of these thousand year long days with activities that are pleasing to you.  Amen