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


Thursday, December 10, 2020

What God hath wrought . . .

 Isaiah 41:17-20. NIV

The poor and needy search for water,

    but there is none;

    their tongues are parched with thirst.

But I the Lord will answer them;

    I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights,

    and springs within the valleys.

I will turn the desert into pools of water,

    and the parched ground into springs.

19 I will put in the desert

    the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.

I will set junipers in the wasteland,

    the fir and the cypress together,

20 so that people may see and know,

    may consider and understand,

that the hand of the Lord has done this,

    that the Holy One of Israel has created


I have a secret guilty pleasure.  No, not chocolate.  Not coffee.  Not even peppermint mocha latte.  Those are totally yummy.  Even guilty pleasures.  But not really secret.  No, my secret guilty pleasure is . . . . bag pipe flash mobs.  


I do love me some bagpipes and am happy to watch scheduled public performances, but somehow a pipe and drum flash mob thrills my heart like nothing else does.  When I am feeling anxious or overwhelmed, the sound of massed bag pipes soothes my soul.   Once I get my fill of bagpipes - and that does take a while - I move on to flash mobs singing the Hallelujah Chorus in a mall or playing the Ode to Joy in a public square.  After an hour or so I can return to whatever I was doing before.  


What does my obsession with bagpipes have to do with Isaiah?  It’s kind of the way the Lord satisfies my thirst on those anxious days.  Music in general moves my soul.  Watching the expressions on the faces of a choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus in a mall food court I am transported with them to a place of worship.  When a single bass violin begins to play Ode to Joy in public square and instrument by instrument an orchestra gathers, and then a choir comes and fills the air with the Ode to Joy I weep for joy, sometimes with great wrenching sobs.  But I can’t start there . . . this is the culmination of a brief spiritual interlude that always starts with bagpipes.


Creator God, I know you have done this.  You created music.  Your hand made us to be creatures to whom music speaks in any and all circumstances. And for these things I am grateful.  Amen




Wednesday, December 9, 2020

What are you looking for?


 Psalm 27:13 NIV

13 I remain confident of this:

    I will see the goodness of the Lord

    in the land of the living


For the longest time when anyone mentioned the Kingdom of God I thought they were talking about heaven.  It took a much closer reading of the Bible to realize that those words we tend to just breeze past every Sunday when we say the Lord’s Prayer are what we are supposed to strive for - “Thy will be done, thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Making the Kingdom come on earth is what God wants us to do, so that all will see God’s goodness in the land of the living.


It’s not always easy to see the goodness of the Lord in our daily lives.  Media tends to do its best to focus our attention on the things that are wrong with the world.  For example, I used to get headlines sent to my phone from the local ABC affiliate.  I recently unsubscribed because every single one of those headlines was about a shooting or stabbing or terrible accident in which people died or at least backed up traffic for ages.  And yes, I do know that the First Commandment of the news industry is “If it bleeds, it leads.”. But still . . . 


Whenever a few people do something bad, the news we hear is that “5% of these people did this terrible thing,” not “95% of these people did these good things.”  We have to work hard to find the good news...and by good news I do not mean that a bad thing happened to someone we think deserves to have bad things happen to them.  There is a vast difference between, “Yay, my team won.” and “Yay, your team lost.” Both statements describe the same event, but one celebrates goodness and the other does not.


In order to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living I have to look for the goodness in other humans.  (Admittedly, some people make it hard to find goodness in them, but that doesn’t excuse me from trying to find it.)  Focusing on the good in the world around me makes it easier to approach others with loving kindness and a peaceful heart.  That, in turn, makes is easier to see the goodness of the Lord in everything and everyone around me.


Loving God, we know that it is easier to see the good when we seek the good.  May we focus our vision first on what is good, loving, and kind in your world in order that we might bring your kingdom to existence on the earth as it is in heaven.  Amen


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Peace is . . .


Romans 14:19. NIV

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification


I have wondered now and again why it is that only one Sunday each year is specifically focused on peace.  It would seem to me that peace should be a constant focus for Christians.  After all, one of the titles we give to the Christ is Prince of Peace.  


Peace is not an easy thing.  Even if all peace meant was “the absence of war,” there has rarely, if ever, been peace everywhere in the world at the same time.  Even during the Pax Romana, the only reason the world was at “peace” was that the Legions were always deployed on active duty.  


But peace means so much more than “absence of war.” Peace is a state of mind and heart which is not all that easy to accomplish, much like serenity.  Even those saints with a reputation for being calm and serene at all times have their moments.  Consider Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Every image of her we have ever seen portrays a woman radiating peace and humility.  We almost never think of the Mary who, upon finally finding her missing son hanging out in the Temple said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” I suspect her demeanor was something other than calm at that moment.  It is impossible to imagine her heart being at peace while she and Joseph searched for her beloved son.  


It isn’t too hard to feel peaceful when everything is going well.   If I am sitting at my desk reading Christian Century magazine, enjoying my rosemary scented candles, and all the cats are asleep where I can see them peace is easy.  But when I am up against a deadline or doing the last minute prep for any event or waiting for an answer to an important question, peace is a bit harder.  Sometimes I find myself in a situation that reminds me of previous situations that did not go well for me.  In those cases peace of mind is pretty nearly impossible.  


Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace.”  Sometimes I simply have to stop whatever it is I am doing for a moment, take myself out of the moment, and breathe.   Sometimes that is all it takes. Sometimes the Serenity Prayer helps.  I have been in meetings that are getting contentious and just before the feelings get out of hand I hear someone say, “Let us pray.”  Taking that moment to pray and allow a moment of calm to enter the room brings a bit of peace to those present.  


Let us make every effort to do what leads to. . . . mutual edification.”  Sometimes we just need more information to end a disagreement.  Making the effort to listen to one another with a desire to find points of mutual agreement creates peace.  


Gracious God, it isn’t easy to find peace in our world today.  May we work at willingness to listen to one another for points of likeness.  May we also take a moment to breathe and pray, putting aside anxieties and worries so that we might find peace of heart and mind.  Amen.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

About sheep . . .

 

John 10:14-15.  CEB

I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I give up my life for the sheep.


Whenever I read this passage I tend to get stuck thinking about shepherds and sheep.  Jesus uses shepherd metaphors a lot, but knowing what I do about sheep and about the role of shepherds in his time . . .


Sheep are not too bright.  We had sheep when I was growing up in Pennsylvania and I can attest to that.  Unlike cows or horses, they can’t just be turned out into the fields to graze with the assurance  that they will wander back to the barn at dinner time.  They will simply keep wandering until someone - often the shepherd and the sheep dog - manages to get them all heading in the same direction.  In our case, as we only ever had a couple of sheep at a time and did not have a sheep dog, we attached one end of a chain to a tractor tire and the other end around the neck of the sheep, which allowed them to move and graze, but not get too far away.  We started out using cinder blocks, but one day Baby the Sheep decided to swim across the pond to get to Flower the Sheep, so we had to add more weight to the end of the chain.  I mean, who knew sheep could swim?  And - why did she swim across the pond instead of walking around it?  Anyway, sheep easily go astray, and need someone to pay attention to them all the time so they don’t get themselves in trouble.   I’m really not sure I want to be compared to a sheep. 


Don’t get me wrong. I love sheep.  When I go to a County Fair the first thing I want to do is visit the sheep barn. I love the way they smell, although most people don’t.  It’s kind of an acquired thing.  But still, adorable as they are, sheep are silly creatures, and not too bright.


Shepherds in Jesus’ time were really close to the very bottom of the social scale - right down there with tax collectors.  They had a terrible reputation and very few rights in their social structure - they could not serve as witnesses in court, for example, and to buy wool, milk or a kid from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property.  Shepherds had a lonely life, living with the sheep more than with people.  They were despised by pretty much everyone.  Their job required them to stand between the sheep and danger.  So why would Jesus want to be known as a shepherd?  I mean, he does use the qualifier “good” but still . . . 


Maybe it’s the whole “last shall be first” thing Jesus preached.  Certainly it fits with Jesus spending his time with tax collectors and others who society despised instead of with the educated and elite.  It fits with him knowingly putting himself in danger so he could keep carrying the message of salvation.   It fits with the knowledge that he cares for each and every one of us, especially the lost ones.  Keeping these things in mind, the image of Jesus as shepherd does work.   


Lord God, just as it says in the Psalm, you are my shepherd.  You watch over me, and guide me in the right paths.  May I always pay attention and go in the way you lead, and not be led astray.  Amen.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Helping Hand


 Psalm 124:8 (NIV)  Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. 

Quite a few churches, even megachurches, are holding worship as usual regardless of the restrictions in place to help curb the pandemic.  The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the State of New York cannot enforce restrictions on public religious services.  That does not mean we should all immediately start in person worship.  It only means that the State cannot enforce its directives.  Our Sheriff has already stated she will not enforce such restrictions in Fresno County, so for us nothing really changes.  


In response to those churches who have chosen to hold worship as usual, Dr. Jeff Barrows, Vice President for Bioethics and Public Policy of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations which represents 20,000 Evangelical medical professionals, begged his fellow Evangelicals not to gather for in person worship during the current surge in infections.  He noted that Christians are commanded to love their neighbors as themselves, "and one of the most tangible ways that we can do that at this moment in time is to avoid any in-person gatherings, especially as larger churches," he said.  He also said that prayers for healing work, but they don’t protect you from harm.  “If you step in front of a car you will be healed, but that healing is going to happen in heaven.” (quotes from an interview with NPR)


I believe in healing prayer.  I believe in miracles.  I also believe God gave us brains for a reason and that we should use them.  Scientists and medical professionals have spent decades gaining knowledge that enables them to give us good advice on staying healthy. If we are using our brains, we will listen to them and avoid situations that are dangerous to our health and safety.    Then, while doing those things, we seek God’s help in getting through the situation. 


It’s not easy to stay home, to give up doing all the things we are used to doing - eating in restaurants, visiting friends and family, shopping and window shopping, getting haircuts and all the other things that we have always taken for granted.   I can go for days feeling fine, but then it all crashes in and I want a hug.  I want to wander down High Street and say hello to the merchants.  I want to hang out with my monthly dinner and conversation group and solve all the problems of the world.  I am fortunate. For too many others their job and income are gone, they face hunger and even eviction and homelessness.  The only thing that really helps is knowing that God is right there with us, helping us get through.  


We have hope right now, because there are some vaccines coming out soon.  By late Spring the vaccine should be available to nearly everyone in the country.   Shortly after that, perhaps, life can get back to something approximating pre-Covid normality.  Between now and then we must rely on God, for our help is always in the name of the Lord, Creator of heaven and earth.


Creator God, our very present help in trouble, we give you thanks that you are always present in our lives.  May we remember that with you all things are possible, and all will be well.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

‘Tis the season . . .

Acts 11:29 (NIV) 

The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea.  


It is the season when my mail box, my email inbox, and my voice mail are filled with pleas for money.  Well, to be honest, because it is an election year that season began months ago.  But traditionally, the huge influx of begging letters from non-profit agencies, educational institutions, and church ministries starts right after Thanksgiving and gets more intense the closer we come to the December 31st deadline.  Mind you, that deadline has everything to do with the IRS and very little, if anything, to do with when the agency in question requires financial support.   One of the regular features of these pleas is the line, “Can you give $ (some specific amount) now?”.  Then there are a number of lines of higher amounts you might select.  Way down further on the page will be a line saying “other amount” so you can fill in the blank.  The assumption is that the first suggested amount is affordable for everyone.  


“...as each one was able...”. I used to really hate getting these letters.  I could barely get my bills paid, never mind giving money to all these charities.  I felt so guilty, because I really care about these agencies and I really want to help.  But when you are trying to decide which bill to pay this month, or going to the church food pantry for groceries it is difficult to give where my heart wants me to.   Even giving to the church was a challenge, and I wasn’t anywhere close to being able to tithe the full 10% of my income.  For the last few years I have been in a much better financial position and have been able to give much more generously, but for the longest time I could not.  And I hated that.


“...as each one was able...”  I used to feel so guilty that I could not give to the Church in any substantial way.  (The story of the widow’s mite didn’t help at all - she gave everything she had!  I couldn’t do that.)   Somehow I must have missed this particular verse from Acts that made it clear not everyone can give in the same way, and that this is perfectly ok.  


“...as each one was able...” On Sundays we are always invited to give generously as we are able in whatever manner we can.  Money is always good, but not everyone has money to give.  Talents and gifts are great, but not everyone thinks they have a talent or gift that can help the church. Time spent volunteering is excellent, but if you have a job or two and family to care for, you might very well not have any time.  Prayer . . . prayer is always good, can be done at any time, does not require any particular gifts, and costs nothing.  Anyone and everyone can pray for the Church, and for all of those other charitable organizations that we really want to help.  Prayer is much more powerful than we might believe.  Maybe my prayers will nudge a person who can afford to give money, time, or talents to make that donation instead of just thinking about it.


Generous God, I wish I could give to all of the agencies and issues that I care about.  I know that is not reality today, so I will be grateful that I can give as I am able.  Help me to remember that even a small gift is helpful, and that prayer is always a welcome gift.  Amen.







Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Morning has broken

 


Psalm 25:5.  NIV

Guide me in your truth and teach me, 

for you are God my Savior, 

and my hope is in you all day long.


The First Sunday of Advent is also known as Hope Sunday.  It seems to me that it isn’t enough to focus on Hope for just one day. I think this first week of Advent should be Hope Week. Especially now, when the pandemic is so much worse than it was in March because look - there are three different pharmaceutical companies who have found vaccines that have tested well for effectiveness in preventing the virus.   Experts tell us that the virus will most likely get much worse before a vaccine is available to most people, but there are vaccines. There is hope ahead.


We have heard it said, “It is always darkest before the dawn.”  This is not entirely true, being more metaphorical than factual and works as a metaphor just as well as, “The lost item is always in the last place you look,” works.   Just as you stop looking when you find the lost thing, so you stop worrying about the dark when you see the first hints of light in the east.  The “darkest before dawn” metaphor is typically used when trying to console someone who is going through serious difficulty.   It is just about as effective as a method of helping them feel better as does “this too shall pass.”. That is to say, no one really wants to hear it.  


It is difficult to hear anyone speak hopeful words for the future when we are fully absorbed in the troubles of right now.  It is not until we are able to look ahead from this moment that we start to realize there may, indeed, be hope for something better.  In our case, we can look ahead to the day when a vaccine will be available to all persons. 


We know the dawn is coming.  We know the night will not last forever.  No matter how difficult the journey into the future may be, when we have faith that God is with us we know that everything will be ok.  That is not to say that suddenly life will be all sunshine and (thornless) roses, but that God’s presence in our lives enables us to face whatever is ahead with confidence. 


One of my favorite things about getting up early in the morning is sitting in my kitchen watching the first fingers of light reaching into the night sky above my neighbor’s house.   Whenever I watch the day breaking I am filled with hope for the new day.  To me, those wisps of light in the darkness are what hope looks like.  


God of hope, it is hard for us to look past the troubles of now into a brighter future.  May we have faith to look ahead to the dawn of a new day, when the light of your love breaks through into the night.  Amen

Friday, November 27, 2020

How do you take your coffee?

 

Matthew 12:30

30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.


It seems to me that some folks take this particular verse out of context and use it to create division and turmoil where none needs to exist. 


A case in point.  A young man who was arrested and arraigned on homicide charges was bailed out by a group of people with particular political views.   A few days later a photo of that young man was published, in which he was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the name of a coffee company.  Immediately, the internet exploded with people either praising or chastising that coffee company for supporting the young man and his actions.  The coffee company released a statement in which they said they had no comment on an ongoing legal matter.  In effect they said, “Look folks.  We make coffee.  We support veterans.  We support law enforcement and the legal system. We advertise on conservative media outlets. That is who we are and what we do, and all we have to say.” 


The internet exploded again.   People on both ends of the political spectrum called them cowards and insisted they must take a stand.  Many threatened to stop buying their coffee.   A few said, “Hey people.  They make coffee.  That’s what they do.  They don’t have to weigh in on political issues.  All they have to do is make coffee.”


They do make good coffee.  I mean, they make REALLY GOOD coffee.  I got some for Christmas last year and immediately subscribed to get coffee from them every month.  I worried a bit for a minute because their roasts are named for weapons and have pictures of guns and grenades and such on them, but so far as I can tell - they are veterans, they do a great deal to help veterans, they like guns, and they make good coffee.  That’s it.  


But to all those others on both extremes of the political spectrum it was all about “if you are not with me, you are against me.”  None of them seem to realize that there is a whole nation of people who do not fall into either extreme, which is a very good thing.  Because Jesus was saying is



“no house divided against itself will stand.” Not “everyone who disagrees with me is my enemy.”  


Lord of unity, it is frustrating and upsetting to see people so angry over everything.  May we remember that you sent Jesus to heal the world.  May the peace of Christ prevail over the anger.  Amen

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

What’s next?


Matthew 24:36

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.


(Warning: I am going to take this verse completely out of context as it actually refers to the End of Days and I’m talking about the near future.)


This morning I am working on sermons and music responding to sermons and am being really frustrated by the whole “about that day and hour no one knows” when we will get back to in-person worship thing.  


IF we are still going to be worshipping online at the end of December THEN I can choose music we can sing as loudly and joyfully as we wish in our own homes.


BUT if we are going to be worshipping in person, then I must choose music we will not be tempted to bellow out because there will be no congregational singing or other verbal responses allowed.


I really like knowing what I am supposed to be planning for.  When we return to the sanctuary our worship service will be different in many ways than what we are used to, but that’s to be expected.  The difficulty I am running into is not knowing when that is going to happen.  We don’t know how long the current surge in coronavirus cases will last, so we don’t know when we will return to our sanctuary.  I really dislike not knowing.


And that’s kind of funny because I really don’t have any way of knowing for sure what’s going to happen tomorrow, or even later today.  The future is unknown.  I have to just deal with what I have in front of me right this minute.  Oh, I can plan for what I think might happen tomorrow, with the assumption that tomorrow will be about the same as today.  But I have to be ready to make changes if things go differently than I anticipate.  


About that day and hour, no one knows.  I certainly don’t.


Patient God, I know that the future is in your hands, not mine, but I’m really not good at not being able to plan.  Help me to be more accepting of the possibility of sudden radical change in what I expect for tomorrow, and better at trusting that when you are in charge all will be well.  Amen.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Lost and Found


James 4:8 NRSV. 

Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.


I hear people say things like, “I found God!”  My immediate response is “God is not the one who was lost.”  I do usually keep that thought to myself, as snark is not always appreciated. 

Also, I kind of know what they are talking about.


In my case, it wasn’t so much that I “found” God. Rather, I discovered that God was not who I thought God was.  I had never stopped believing in God, or God’s omnipresence or omnipotence.  I just refused to allow God into my heart.  I refused to worship that God, or even hang out with people who believed in a God who was so hateful and angry that humans would be condemned to the flames because they worshipped differently or loved differently or enjoyed sexual relations or used birth control or . . .  If God only loved people who worshipped perfectly and were perfectly obedient, and even then set tests to trap them into wrongdoing, then I wanted nothing to do with God.  


With the help of some very loving people, I began to change my understanding of God.  I began to tentatively reach out in God’s general direction.  My heart began to expand to include this God I was beginning to trust.  If I were to describe God’s role in that time in my life, I would have to liken it to the way one gently attracts a feral cat in the back yard, quietly waiting for it to try the food and come back for more, until it is willing to come sniff your fingers and eventually allow itself to be petted.  I was like that cat, wanting to trust but not being entirely certain this God person was safe.   It took time, but eventually I was willing to trust God with my life.  


Draw near to God . . . just as that feral cat in my back yard slowly came closer to me, so did I slowly draw near to God.  The closer I got the more I noticed that I could feel God’s presence around me.  I no longer understood God’s omnipresence only as an intellectual exercise.  Now I knew for sure that God is always where ever I was, always near, always watching as a shepherd watches the flock.  


Holy God, today I know that you are close to me in every situation, and I am grateful for that.  I thank you for allowing me to come to you, for your patience in waiting until I was ready, and for your loving care over my life even when I wasn’t willing to come to you.  Through Jesus Christ, Amen.





Friday, November 20, 2020

Endure Joyfully

Colossians 1:11-12. NRSV

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.


Lately we have been hearing a lot about something called “Covid Fatigue.” This is not to be confused with the fatigue that is one of the symptoms of Covid19.  Covid Fatigue is more like cabin fever.  After 8 months of lock downs and restrictions and statistics and arguments over masks and all of that, we are just tired of it all.  But . . . I live in Fresno County in California.  Our positivity rate and rate of hospitalizations has been increasing so we have just been put back in the most restrictive tier with no clue when the numbers will come back down.  They have even instituted mandatory mask wearing outdoors (if you are near humans) and a curfew from 10pm to 5am.  


The change in our tier status means among other things, there is to be no in-person, indoor worship. And we were this close to coming back to worship in our sanctuary.  We were planning to gather in person on November 29th, the First Sunday of Advent.  We had it all planned.  *sigh*   


Some people have had enough.  They have decided they are done with all that staying home stuff.  They are going to family Thanksgivings anyway. They are going to gather indoors for worship anyway.   They justify these decisions by saying things like, “You can’t hide from the virus.  Everyone is going to catch it anyway so you might as well get it over with.” And my personal favorite, “The Sheriff announced they would not be enforcing these restrictions.” 


I get being impatient, I really do.  Paul did, too.  So he suggests that we endure with patience, upheld by God’s strength.  He says that we should give thanks to God joyfully for being there to strengthen us, for being our rock when we are unsteady.


I really would like to get a pedicure and go shopping for myself and go to church in person and hug my friends.  But it’s not time for those things yet.  So I need to do this shelter in place thing a little longer - one more day, at least.  I will be patient, and give thanks to God for that patience and the strength to endure one more day . . .until finally the restrictions are dropped, the danger is lessened, and the time is right. 


Holy God, I am so tired of being in the house.  I miss driving my cute little car, and getting my nails done, and eating in restaurants. I miss being with my church family. I miss being able to worship in our beautiful sanctuary.  Strengthen me, I pray, to endure the loss of these things for another day, and remind me that where ever I am, there you are also.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The day everything changed

 

Psalm 100:4 NRSV

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise.

    Give thanks to him, bless his name.


I have been in the practice of making a daily gratitude list for most of the last 31 years.   I started this practice when a 12 Step sponsor directed me to do this early in my recovery and have continued - with some interruptions - from then until now.  Some days it is easy to come up with 10 things that I am grateful for, and some days it is a struggle to get past “I woke up clean today.”


Today was one of the really easy days. 


Thirty one years ago today I woke up in the rehab to which I had admitted myself the day before.  Well, I say woke up, but I had actually sat on my bed most of the night reading the books they had given me.  Those two books, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text,  were my introduction to the Twelve Steps.  The Twelve Steps were my introduction to the God that the Psalmist proclaims.  That introduction (eventually) led me to return to Church, and then to college and seminary and the ordained ministry.  I have heard it said that the Twelve Steps lead to the back door of the Church, and I believe that is true.   At least, it was true for me.


Today I am grateful for so many things that I could keep naming them all day long and not reach the end of the list.  But the thing I am most grateful for is having come to believe in God the way I understand God today.  Unlike the God I was taught about growing up, this God didn’t punish me by making me go through all the bad things, but had to allow me to exercise the gift of free will and then watch as I made one bad choice after another and suffer the consequences of those choices.  This God stood ready to embrace me as soon as I was ready to turn toward the right way of living. This God stood ready to forgive the minute I asked to be forgiven.  This God loved me no matter what I did, and still does, and always will.  And I am so grateful.


Every day I give thanks to God, and praise God’s name.  Every day I am grateful for the gifts and blessings God has poured out upon me.  But today I am extra grateful, because today is the anniversary of the day I started to let God guide my life, even though I didn’t yet believe.


Loving and forgiving God, I thank you for the gift of life, the gift of recovery, and the gift of coming to believe in you, who is all good and deserving of all my thanks and praise.  In the name of Jesus, the Christ.  Amen.


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Unity, not uniformity

 


Psalm 133:1

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!


Unity.  


Sometimes I hear people speak of Unity in such a way that I am tempted to quote Inigo Montoya in Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”. Some people seem to think unity means everyone agrees on everything.  That is unanimity.  Unity is altogether different. Unity means we agree on our purpose.  


Members of 12 Step programs know that our primary purpose is to carry the message of recovery to those still suffering.  There are a lot of things we disagree on, like how meetings should run, what readings we should use and how to celebrate recovery birthdays.  But we all agree that the most important thing we do is tell others that they don’t have to suffer any more, and that there is a place where they will be welcomed and loved.


Members of Christian congregations know that our primary purpose is to carry the Good News to all the world.  We may not agree on lots of things, like what worship should look like, how baptism works, how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and whether women can be ministers.  But we all agree that Jesus told us to go out to care for everyone who needs to be cared for, tell everyone in the world about salvation through Jesus Christ, and invite them into a place where they will be welcomed and loved.  


One of the best real life examples of Christian Unity I have ever witnessed is the Bringing Neighbors Together program in Selma.  A lot of local congregations come together to plan and run Block Parties in underserved neighborhoods in cooperation with the Selma PD and various social service agencies.  We have widely different understandings of theology and practice, but none of that is important when we are working to make life better for the people who come to the Block Parties.  It is very good and pleasant to work together in Unity of purpose despite our many differences. 


Unity should be simple.  And it is. It just is not easy.  Being willing to work together even though we disagree on some issues can be really difficult.  But if we are to accomplish our purpose, then we need to put aside personal prejudices and resentments so we can come together to do the necessary work - whatever that work might be.


God of all persons, we know we are to strive for unity, but it is not easy to get past differences and disagreements.   May we receive the willingness to put aside our differences so we may work together to do the work of reconciling all the people of the earth with you and with each other.  Amen