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Archive for the ‘Lectionary’ Category

It was quite political back then as well. Governments were corrupt and so was the religious establishment.

Everyone thought they knew how things would go. For the disciples, they had a miracle worker as their teacher/leader. He could stop a storm and raise people from the dead. Surely he would prevail.

The Sanhedrin and Pharisees had a prophecy and traditions to uphold. They were “all in” and were confident that they would know and recognize the foretold Messiah. But this young upstart, this Jesus, was just another rebel, using tricks and magic to sway the masses.

And the Romans, well, they had their law and order and strength to rule the whole world. Their gods had blessed their Caesar and they were loyal to a fault. Why would they even question that authority? God help the man who tried.

Just One More Death

He was just one more punishment, one more lesson for the masses, one more death. That one they called Jesus, he could have talked his way out of it; the evidence was sketchy at best. The crowd could yelled louder to release him. Even the disciples wondered why he didn’t stop the proceedings.

None of it made sense to the human mind or to the naked eye. sometimes it’s the worst of times that must happen to shed light on the truth.

” By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
   Who could have imagined his future?” Isaiah 53:8 [RSV,CV]

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It’s Holy Week and devotions abound as believers recount and remember the passion story. Despite what our culture promotes, bunnies and colorful eggs, this is our high holiday, the most important part of the Christ story. Without Good Friday and Easter, the Christmas story is meaningless. But what stands out today?

I was caught off guard by these two verses (John 13:18 & 21): “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me [from Psalm 41:9].’” . . . After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

Jesus knew. But here’s the point: they all knew. He told his disciples plainly. It’s not like the truth was hidden inside a parable or a mystery. Scripture goes on to say they didn’t understand, but ultimately, I believe they simply chose not to draw a conclusion. They didn’t want to know.

We see this all the time even today. The narcissist says, “are you gonna believe me or your lyin’ eyes?” The perpetrator says, “I couldn’t help it, my childhood was bad.” The victim says, “I thought he would change.” The voter says, “He’s just exaggerating, he doesn’t really mean it that way.” The cheater says, “It was just that one time.” Lots of excuses for not knowing or not seeing or not believing.

The worshiper cries out in song, “Open my eyes, I want to see Jesus,” even though God is actually present already, all around. The prayerful one asks for guidance, instruction, and counsel while God is speaking all the while within. We are not listening. We are not looking. We are not believing what is already there.

Jesus was betrayed by more than just Judas Iscariot. He was betrayed by all of the disciples by one degree or another. Even the beloved John could have acted at the disclosure Jesus gave him. Maybe he tried to stand up to stop Judas and Jesus stayed his hand. Maybe. After all, the ultimate betrayal had to happen one way or another.

And then there’s the rest of us, who waved our palm branches as Jesus entered the city only to cry out “crucify him” a few days later. Not you? Then tell me you have not required grace for the lie you told yesterday or the company copier you used for your tax forms or the joke you made about the lady in WalMart. We know. And we betray.

Each day has challenges and just like Peter, we will commit many misdeeds before the rooster crows even once. Betrayers abound, see them for who they are and forgive, respond righteously, and move on. And why must we forgive? Because we have done no less.

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This morning, while contemplating the phrase, “my times are in your hands,” from Psalm 31:15a, I considered how I would respond. Am I willing to give my time to God? Am I willing to surrender my time? So much of me is a planner: gotta be productive. Got so much to do. Busy, busy, busy. For years, this has been my unspoken mantra, drumming away in the background.

On St. Patrick’s Day, while still in Zambia, I slipped on wet concrete, my feet going up behind me and I landed full frontal on top of my wrist. Subsequent journeys to Lusaka to get it set and cast has nearly immobilized me. Wasn’t I already going slow enough on Zambia time? Apparently not. At first, I simply assumed there was a reason I needed to extend my stay by two weeks. But my return to the States has continued to see me moving at a different speed. The dang thing hurts. It’s uncomfortable to rest the hand/arm in any position. I can’t lift or push or grab with my left hand. I have to ask for help, even pouring oatmeal in a bowl or cutting a bagel in half. I have to stand around as others set the table or clean up after a meal.

But here’s the real message for me. It takes time to heal and it’s not always easy, comfortable, or painless. I am on a journey of spiritual formation: becoming more Christ-like and revealing my “true self.” Any believer is ultimately on this critical journey, but the path is different for each one. So, while I kvetch about my wrist, I see I am also bellyaching about my journey inward. Shouldn’t I be farther along by now? Shouldn’t I this or that? Wouldn’t I be/feel/know more? Is my wrist falling out of alignment? Is that why it hurts?

The wrist is on schedule. I just don’t like the speed of the progress. I don’t like the adjustments or the discomfort. It simply takes time. My body is fearfully and wonderfully made. My wrist will heal.

My soul and spirit are no less resilient and beloved. My false self will fall away, bit by bit, and I will know the healing grace of God more and more. My times are in God’s hands.

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“May He send you help from the sanctuary (His dwelling place)
And support and strengthen you from Zion!” [Psalm 20:2, AMP]

What is the sanctuary? Initially, of course, my first thought went to the Temple or the Church. After all, it’s the word we have used through the ages to signify God’s dwelling place.

But there is so much more, that place of indwelling within us: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” [I Corinthians 6:19, NIV] Oh, how God wants us to search for our help from within! We have an opportunity to experience the support and strength of a Holy God. If we invited God into our lives, then why do we keep trying to operate on our own strength? I do this all the time. Help me, I cry, and then go about figuring my own solution.

I am slowly attuning my heart to questions, particularly the ones I have no ready answers for. This is my response to this scripture: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Matthew 7:7-8, NIV] Not ask for things but answers to the questions of my heart.

And one last thought: I bless you with the same. This is a prayer for you, for my loved ones, and for the strangers who cross my path. Look to the Sanctuary of God for help.

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humilityDo I really want to know? Or, more likely, don’t I already know it? And yet, in the course of troubles, how often have I said, “What do you want from me God? How much more must I endure?” And in the still small voice, the answer comes again and again:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. [Micah 6:8, NIV]

These words come down to us before Christ. These are ancient words by the prophet Micah and much like the two great commands from Jesus (also based on the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:5) to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself” [Luke 10:27]

These words of Micah are another way of walking out the two great commands because acting justly is God’s foundation to true humanity. Those who are unjust break all of the commands in one swift blow since no love can live within the sphere of injustice.

Other translations of this verse write “loving mercy” as being compassionate and loyal in love or to embrace faithful love. In any case, acting out of mercy is other oriented, leaving both the heart and the hands open.

And finally, “walking humbly” requires a certain self-knowledge: a knowledge that recognizes that God is God and sovereign. If God is sovereign, then I should be able to rest in that understanding. All circumstances can be held in the hands of God and transformed accordingly (much like the potter and the clay). To walk humbly implies explicit trust in God’s ultimate desire for my good.

higher powerEven for those who shun the language of God or Christ, they too can benefit from the words of Micah if they acknowledge some “higher power” or “Spirit” or “consciousness,” as long as humanity is in this 3-D world, in human form, constrained by time, we can choose to walk humbly in that knowledge, doing what we can for others in the name of justice and unconditional love.

All of these things I know, what God requires of me. Today, as with every day, I must choose to enter the activities of this day with intent, to act justly, to extend mercy, and to humbly accept those things I cannot change, those things I give over to God who promises to carry them for me and when the time is right, to transform them.

Surrender to God is the first step in a humble life.

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FranzeseThis past weekend, our church had a guest speaker, Michael Franzese, a former Mob Captain (just below an UnderBoss) with the Colombo Crime Family. His testimony included many memorable moments but among them this was the most memorable for me, “Don’t ever let your past be a deterrent for what God will use it for in the future.” There was nothing in Michael’s former life that would make him a candidate for ministry, he was a thug and a criminal, a truth to which he confesses. And yet, he is now even more passionate about the things of God.

A person’s steps are made secure by the Lord
    when they delight in his way.
Though they trip up, they won’t be thrown down,
    because the Lord holds their hand. [Psalm 37:1, CEB]

In another part of Michael’s story, he shared how gradual the shift was from one life to another. He did not hear an audible voice of God or experience a single epiphany that turned him by 180 degrees, not in a minute or an hour or a day, but over years, many of which he spent incarcerated. His other strength came from his wife who endured his years of vacillation and uncertainty, not to mention the pressures of both the government for his cooperation and his former mob family who had put a contract out on him. This was the atmosphere in which he engaged a pursuit of God, challenging God the whole way to prove Himself worthy.

What message does this story amplify within me? Steadfastness. Patience. Grace. Forgiveness.

Photo by Chris VenHaus

Photo by Chris VenHaus

I was not a criminal, but I walked a dark line and toyed with a downward spiral back in my twenties. Sure, that’s a long time ago and although I had a more lightning conversion that Michael, the way has not been straight. A passionate believer, I have missed the mark many times all the same. I have been less than loving, judgmental, assumptive, and intolerant. I have been narrow-minded, inconsistent, and untruthful. I have manipulated the faith for my own desires and put on a veneer of holiness.

But I am still here. And God is still God and sovereign. And there is still a way I am to go.

If me, then you. If Michael Franzese, then me. Today, we can choose to walk worthy of the life God lays before us. We can respond to the circumstances in a confidence of faith that God never forsakes a heart intent on growing in Spirit.

Today and now. Let tomorrow be what it will. For “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” [Jeremiah 29:11-13, CEB]

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rainbow in havTeach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. [Psalm 90:12, NIV]
Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12, Living Translation]

Get it? Pay attention. That’s the beginning of wisdom. Our lives are flying by and most of the time, we are missing it. I know I have allowed time to flee without marking its passing. The reason I know this? Because I remember so little. The days fly and the memories with them.

I cannot tell you the number of times, while hanging out with old friends, one of them will say, “Remember when we–” and he or she tells the story. I play along, but sadly, I really don’t remember. A part of me even thinks, was that me in the story? It’s a loss for the event might have been a source of growing and learning. Instead, it drifted into the ether of time.

Yesterday, I was blessed with a coincidental moment of witnessing a most amazing rainbow. The weather gave no warning of its appearance, but I just happened to be outside with the dogs for their morning duties in the back yard. I ran back into the house and got a shot or two off and I was glad I managed to capture it. If only my mind with use more due diligence for other moments.

It’s a rather futile sorrow, that which has been lost to memory. I know that. But I cannot help but think that God has brought this verse to me today for a specific reason. Count the time. Mark it. Live fully. Embrace the moment and take a picture with the mind. Be in it.

Today is my birthday. And like all birthdays that come to us as we move into our senior years, I am reminded of the brevity of life but encouraged by what can still happen. It has been a year of losses but also a year of renewal and re-invention.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life. [Psalm 143:8, NIV]

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