Daily Office, Jesus, John, Musings, Prayer

“…and the darkness did not overcome it.” -Daily Office Reflection

February 27th 2017

Epiphany VIII (Psalm 25; Deuteronomy 6:10-15; Hebrews 1; John 1:1-18)

John 1:1-18

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a fathers only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me. ) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fathers heart, who has made him known.

Today, I am really appreciating the overlap of the Gospel and Epistle readings today. They both are paradigmatic for why I am specifically a Christian–a follower of Jesus, and simply generally spiritual or theistic. Taking these two passages together, Jesus is not simply a great teacher, prophet, or social revolutionary (though he is all of those things). Jesus most clearly reveals God by being God with us. When we want to know what God is like, we look to Jesus as “the exact imprint of God’s very being.”

But there is something more specific about this Jesus and how he reveals God: he is light shining in the darkness. A light which, itself, enlightens. A light which engenders change, the ability to become daughters and sons of God, and to actually become light to this world.

The fact that darkness has not overcome light is very good news for us: this is the story of Jesus at work. Many of us have become more and more aware of the darkness in our world, and even in ourselves. There are days for me where it feels like the darkness is crowding out the light; that darkness is winning. There are days that feel more like Good Friday or Holy Saturday, than Easter Sunday–where the reality of death and loss and the powerful winning still seem to hang in the air. But light has overcome darkness, particularly in the work of Jesus.

As people of the light, our hope is not that, hopefully….someday….light will overcome darkness. This is not Christian hope. The light shines (as in…right now) in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Our God, as seen in Jesus, is the light which still shines in the world. Darkness cannot overcome light because it tried and failed at the death and resurrection of Jesus. So today, when we feel like darkness is winning, we can remember that we are Easter people. We are people of the light. We are free to shine with confidence and hope, knowing that darkness has been defeated. And, perhaps, this is how the world will continue to see God in the world. When we, nevertheless, shine…we reveal who God is in Jesus: a light which has not and cannot be overcome.

 

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Musings

“But I still my soul and make it quiet…” Daily Office Reflection

February 23, 2017

Epiphany VII (Psalm 131, 132; Ruth 2:14-23; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18; Matthew 5:27-37)

Psalm 131

1O LORD, I am not proud; *

I have no haughty looks.

2I do not occupy myself with great matters, *

or with things that are too hard for me.

3But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child upon its mother’s breast; *

my soul is quieted within me.

4O Israel, wait upon the LORD, *

from this time forth for evermore.

My only thought this morning is simply this: could we take time to set aside our occupation with the great matters of the world and simply be still with the God of all? I know I need to. And at a deep level, I desire that sort of intimacy with God. 

For today, I resolve to quiet my soul, abandon solving the problems of the world, and simply be quiet and comforted by God. I resolve to relish my status as a child today. 

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Musings, Neighborhood, Relationships

‘Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’- Daily Office Reflection

February 22, 2017

Epiphany VII (Psalm 119:145-176; Ruth 2:1-13; 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:17; Matthew 5:21-26)

 

I was so taken with this part of Ruth’s story this morning:

Ruth 2:1-13

1 Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favour.’ She said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’ 3So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. 4Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you.’ They answered, ‘The Lord bless you.’ 5Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘To whom does this young woman belong?’ 6The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, ‘She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7She said, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.” So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.’

8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.’ 10Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’ 11But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!’ 13Then she said, ‘May I continue to find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.’

Ruth is an alien in a foreign land. She has come from Moab to Bethlehem with Naomi. They have nothing left. They have lost family and provision and are going to the only place they know to go for sustenance and refuge.

So Ruth decides to take advantage of the opportunities available. She knows of Boaz, a kinsman to her husband. She goes to the field, gleaning what is left over. This, of course, was a common practice for the poor, the widow, and the foreigner. And Ruth certainly fit the bill. And she hopes that someone may end up showing favor to her.

The example of Boaz in this passage is fascinating. He notices her and asks about her. No doubt there were plenty of people gleaning the field, so much so that they could become invisible to the owner of the field or even the other workers.

He also then approaches her, bestows dignity, and welcomes here continued presence, even at his own expense. Boaz calls her daughter and invites her not only to continue to glean, but offers above and beyond from his own resources.

This is overwhelming for Ruth. She breaks down and asks, “Why have you shown me such favor? Why do you even take notice of me?” Boaz’s response is simply this: “I have heard and know your story and I want for God to bless you.” And Boaz is being used by God to bless her!

Today, whether we realize it or not, we have the opportunity to love the foreigners in our midst. This not about political positions. This is about noticing and loving our immigrant neighbors, many of whom are much like Ruth. They have experienced great loss of family and resources even before coming to our place. They have deep needs: physical needs, a need and desire to work, a need to be noticed and loved, and a need to be valued and included. In short, our immigrant neighbors need the exact same things we all need.

I often say that to love someone is to at least know them. This is what we all want, isn’t it? Have you taken the time to get to know the stories of your neighbors? Have you taken notice of the new family that has moved in down the street? Have you taken steps toward those who may be experiencing heightened fear during this time and offered your love and support?

What would it look like today for you to bless the foreigner among you?

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Baltimore, Daily Office, Mark, Musings, Prayer, Suffering

Remembering Frederick Douglass: Daily Office Reflection

February 20, 2017

Epiphany VII (Psalm 106:1-18; Ruth 1:1-14; 2 Corinthian 1:1-11; Matthew 5:1-12)
Alternative Readings (Psalm 85:7-13; Isaiah 32:11-18; Hebrews 2:10-18; John 8:30-32)

Many of the readings today seem to fit so well with the life an legacy of Frederick Douglass, whom the Episcopal Church commemorates toda. If you don’t know about his life, a quick Google search will do the trick. He is an inspiration and a figure that continues to speak to us today as a prophetic witness.

I have been reading through Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, and I was struck by this quote from Douglass:

In the darkest hours of this era, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass saw his health fade just as everything he spent his life fighting for was falling apart. He said, in his last great public lecture, delivered in Baltimore in January 1894, a year before his death, “I hope and trust all will come out right in the end, but the immediate future looks dark and troubled. I cannot shut my eyes to the ugly facts before me.”

-Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 791-795). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This quote has been haunting me over the past weeks, and I think it is because it embodies so much about what Christian hope is about. Douglass did not ever shy away from the stark realities of his day. Nor did he simply have a “sweet by and by” hope which would allow him to ignore such facts for the sake of focusing on heaven. He named reality as he saw it and proclaimed reality as he saw it could yet be. This, it seems to be, is the essence of the prophetic task. His words remind of St. Paul’s to the church in Corinth as he suffers. He is able to name what their sufferings are while also naming his hope for their to be fruit and rescue.

Over the past weeks, I have seen more darkness and trouble than I can remember being aware of in the past. And I have felt the impulse to want to shut my eyes to the brokenness and evil around me. Sometimes it just feels easier to ignore it, to self-medicate with television, or to lose myself in books. But I cannot. And, if I want to maintain truly Christian hope; I dare not close my eyes to the suffering of this world. To hope all will be made right in the end is to also come to terms with all that is not right, both within me and in the wider world.

What evils do you tend to ignore or explain away in yourself or around you? What wrongs in the world feel overwhelming and insurmountable? How can our God bring comfort to you here? How could you proclaim a good message of true Christian hope to yourself or those around you?

 

Collect for Commemoration of Frederick Douglass

Almighty God, we bless your Name for the witness of Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of people to a deeper obedience to Christ: Strengthen us also to speak on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation, continuing in the Word of Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with you and the Holy Spirit dwells in glory everlasting. Amen.

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Daily Office, Mark, Musings, Prayer

“Render unto Caesar…” is Not About Your Taxes: Daily Office Reflection

February 16, 2017

Epiphany VI (Psalm 105:1-22; Isaiah 65:1-12; 1 Timothy 4:1-16; Mark 12:13-27)

Mark 12:13-17

13Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ 16And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ 17Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.

 

This is a passage that is often used to talk about taxes and civic duty. The argument generally goes something like this: “Be sure to give the government it’s fair share and give God his fair share.” It argues for and reinforces a view of the world in which their are two spheres: the civil and the religious, the church and the state, or the city of man and the city of God.

There may be some value to viewing the world in this way, and indeed, many have and do. But I contend that this is not what Jesus is arguing for in this passage.  This is another classic example of Jesus being asked a binary question (do we pay taxes or not) and providing a paradigm shifting answer.

This was no simple question. To answer ‘yes’ would be to grant legitimacy to the oppressive and occupying government of Rome. To answer ‘no’ would be to effectively be seen as a religious zealot and a blatant act of treason.

Jesus chooses a third way. He asks the questioners for a coin, a denarius. This is a significant act. The imperial denarius of Tiberius includes not only the likeness of the Emperor but also an inscription which read “Tiberius, Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” The image on one side of the coin represented Tiberius sitting on his throne as one who ruled over the known world. The inscription reads “PONTIF(ex) MAXIM(us) or “High Priest.” Tiberius Caesar claims to rule the whole world–both politically and religiously.

No good, faithful Jew would be caught dead carrying this coin. It was idolatrous! They actually minted other coins to use for day to day expenses so they wouldn’t break any commandments. On top of that, it was unlikely that the average Jew would have that much on them. Most Jewish people were quite poor, living day to day. And Jesus was popular with the poor.

So Jesus asks them for a denarius and, uh-oh, they have one! Mark says that Jesus knew the hypocrisy of the accusers. This is not really in reference to their disposition in asking the question. It was in reference to the question itself. The emphasis could read, “why are you trying to trap ME?” You are the one with the coin! And inside the temple courts! With all of these poor/oppressed people around you! Why are you asking ME if I buy into this system or not. You are the religious and political leaders and YOU obviously do!

The denarius bore the “image” of Caesar. In the world of currency, this was a statement as to whose authority gave the coin value and to whom it ultimately belonged. Jesus uses the word “image” to allude to something else that bears the image of its maker: you and me. Genesis 1:26-27 says that we are made in and bear the image of God.

So Jesus looks at this coin with the image of Caesar’s and says, “That’s cute. It has his face on it so give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; i.e. the coin. But there is a greater at work here. Are you giving to God what has God’s image? I can imagine Jesus lifting up his hands to all the people gathered there in the Temple courts and gesturing to all that was around him as he spoke: these people are God’s. (put perhaps you are giving them to Caesar instead for political power…after all, he had just maligned them for abdicating the responsibility of caring for God’s vineyard)

So Jesus makes the question not about a division of loyalties, but of a primacy of loyalties. The Jews had a saying during this time, “No King but the LORD.” To which we would give a hearty “amen” because it is true and sounds true and feels good to say. Because it is easy for us to look back two millennium and point our fingers at these religious/political leaders and judge them for their shortsightedness.

Jesus exposed the fact that the men who asked the very question about participating in the system were, in fact, participating within it themselves (and benefitting!) This is not about taxes, it is about loyalty and about thoughtful participation in the world around us. It is about recognizing our own role in the “system” before asking others about their own. And it is about the responsibility that we have as followers of Jesus to proclaim and embody the deeply political and cultural statement that “Jesus is Lord (and Caesar is not).”

This does beg the question: “When laws or acts of the modern day Caesars effectively disregard the image of God in others, what then is the responsibility of those who bear God’s image in the world?”

Collect of the Day: The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Musings

Daily Office Reflection: “By what authority?”

February 15, 2017

Epiphany VI (Psalm 101, 109; Isaiah 63:15-64:9; 1 Timothy 3:1-16; Mark 11:27-12:12)

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’-Mark 11:27-28

 

We struggle today with the idea of authority in a variety of ways, and the texts today deal with authority in a variety of ways. We see across these texts people who abuse authority, an appeal to God’s authority, a discussion about those who hold authority in the church, and a questioning of Jesus’ authority by those who felt their authority questioned!

We hear this come out in different ways today. “What gives you the right to tell me what to do?” “Tell me your qualifications/credentials again…” and even statements like “Not my president…” There is a not-so-subtle indication that authority is not assumed, it must be earned. And if someone seems to be exercising authority toward something I disagree with or which threatens me, I immediately question them.

These religious leaders do the same thing. But notice Jesus’ question. It is genius! Amongst other things, it exposes something  of which we are all guilty: we question authority in order to disparage or discount others, not in an effort to discover real authority.

And it helps to distract from the ways in which we have failed to properly exercise authority in our own lives. This is the point of Jesus’ parable. People who were given authority over the vineyard abused it and the people they were meant to “protect and serve” (to borrow a contemporary phrase).

For those of us who follow Jesus, we have authority that is to be exercised in service to the world. We also are free to submit ourselves to others, as people all under Christ’s authority. What could it look like for us to seek to use our influence for the flourishing of others?

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Proclaiming and Embodying Good News to Our Neighbors (Why Extreme Vetting and Deportation is NOT the Gospel)

There were two situations which have prompted reflection for me and this post. The first is seeing Franklin Graham’s use of “extreme vetting” as a way of trying to talk about the gospel. He posted the following on his Facebook (I decided to place the whole quote here for context):

I’m on my way to Puerto Rico—to warn people that God uses extreme vetting. What do I mean by that? I want the people of Puerto Rico to know that God loves them and that there is only one way to enter the gates of heaven—and that is through faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Good works can’t get you into heaven. Religion can’t either—being a Baptist, a Catholic, or a Methodist, can’t save you. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Thousands of Christians have been praying across the island for this weekend. I’ll be preaching the Good News that God loves sinners and sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die for their sins. My purpose for going is to help Puerto Ricans “immigrate” from earth to heaven one day. I want Puerto Ricans by the thousands—and people everywhere—to have their immigration status in Heaven stamped and sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ for all eternity.

It prompted many to respond, both in affirmation and disavowal. One meme stood out to me, posted by a supporter:

16473849_715644895271869_5698116421289523950_n

While I’m tempted to run in a lot of different directions with this, there was a second, even more infuriating reason for me to write here: a beloved community member in our neighborhood was pulled over by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers over the weekend, who were allegedly impersonating Baltimore City police officers. They arrested him and sent him to a detainment facility in Frederick. You can read more here and see that this is a trend nationwide in increased enforcement. This follows multiple affirmations by city police and officials that people will not be stopped or questioned out of suspicion of their immigration status. In a neighborhood where trust of police is already low and crimes committed against immigrants are largely unreported, this is a huge blow (not to mention the loss we are feeling a community member who did so much to heal racial/ethnic divides amongst youth). To be clear, this young man was not a violent criminal. He was a valued community member.

As a result, neighbors organized in about 12 hours to rally together in our neighborhood to march in solidarity for our immigrant neighbors. Kara and I eagerly joined the hundreds of people from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and statuses to say collectively that immigrants are welcome here, that they matter, and that we are with them. We want our neighbors to be able to work and go to school and to the store without increased fear, and we want them to see their neighbors love them.

For us, this was a way to embody the good news of Jesus, that has nothing to do with “vetting” or fear and everything to do with welcome and dignity. The claim by Graham (and this meme) is that “God uses extreme vetting” is categorically false, not to mention tone deaf and hurtful (as one of my Latina friends noted). A vetting process is, by definition, a background check on someone based on their life up until that point. So how does vetting align with God’s work in the world? Graham says that the facts that God “vets” people is a part of the good news. I strongly disagree. God is about reconciliation, not a stringent vetting process. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 says this:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Our responsibility as ambassadors of the kingdom of God is not to talk about a stringent vetting process (and baptize it with spiritual language), it is to urge others to receive the free gift of reconciliation from God. Restored relationship with God is available to all because of the work of Jesus. The results of a background check do not deny us entry into the kingdom of God! They pre-qualify us for the demonstrated need for reconciliation in the first place!

The good news does not compel us to build walls, but rather proclaims that the walls which have divided us are destroyed in Jesus.We see this in Paul’s discussion of the Dividing Wall of Hostility in Ephesians 2. We catch a vision in Revelation of embodied difference in the Kingdom, yet unity in Spirit as we will gather around God’s throne from every nation, tribe, and tongue to worship. In a new heavens and a new earth where the gates will never be shut, by the way!

What is lost in this analogy of vetting and gates and such is that Scripture refers to followers of Jesus as immigrants, as people in exile. We have our citizenship in heaven (Phil 3:20) and are described as exiles and foreigners (1 Peter 2:11) Not only are we to practice love and hospitality for others (and hospitality literally means a “love of the foreigner”), we are ourselves foreigners, strangers, and exiles. God’s Kingdom is our home.

When we talk about heaven (or, more biblically, the new heavens and new earth) as a place with extreme vetting, walls, and gates and when we cheer the building of walls and the deportation of “those people” and it gets likes and shares on social media by other Christians, we must admit that there is a reason why this is good news for many of those who support such measures. Extreme vetting is good news for those who fear the other. Walls are good news for those who want to be safe. Gates are good news for those who want a strong selection process for their eternal neighbors. This is good news for white, privileged Christians because it starts to make heaven look a lot like the American idyllic life. This is how someone like Graham can make the statements he makes: he truly believes them.

But how is this good news for the refugee family? How is this good news for Lazarus at the rich man’s gate? How is it good news for the majority of the world’s population? How is it good news for our immigrant neighbors who are wondering if they can even take their kids to school anymore?

Quite simply, I don’t think it is.

The good news for all of us, is that God loves us all so much that God has made a path of return, reconciling everything and all of us. The vetting process is overturned, because the wages of sin is death. Vetting is BAD NEWS not good news!! It is all about gift. And the gate has been flung open wide and the invitation extended to all regardless of country of origin, background, orientation, identity, or ideology. Should anyone desire to enter, they are welcome to do so. This is good news for all of us.

And this is why we march in solidarity. This is why we sing “You’ll Have to Go Through Me” (a wonderful song written by one of our community members). Our neighbors see what sort of good news we believe and embody. Kara commented on how many of our Latino neighbors stepped out of their workplaces along the street as we marched by, smiling and waving. They knew we were there to support them and their families. They knew they were loved and valued. I want to make every effort to show that the good news I believe and proclaim is, in fact, good news for all my neighbors–not just the ones who share my privilege, who look like me, or who agree with me.

Yesterday, proclaiming the good news meant chanting: “No Hate. No Fear. Immigrants are welcome here.” and “Aqui estamos y no nos vamos” (We are here and we aren’t leaving).

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Daily Office Reflection: “Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies…”

February 9, 2017

Epiphany V (Psalm 146, 147; Isaiah 50:1-17 2 Timothy 2:14-26; Mark 10:17-31)

2 Timothy 2:14-26

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.” In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work. Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

If I’m honest, my motivations behind social media posts, blog comments, and conversations are often mixed and convoluted (at best) and even more often coming from darker places. Have you ever stopped to consider why you are saying or typing this or that? Sometimes it is reactive for me; I see someone who post something wrong or I hear what I think is an ignorant statement, and I believe it is my job to respond. It’s a reflex. Othertimes, I feel the overwhelming need to share what is in my mind or heart; the goal being simply to get it out, for better or for worse. And, in the last few weeks, there has been much in my mind and heart!

I don’t have to convince you that we inhabit an increasingly polarized world full of binary logic and little room for moderation. (and if you vehemently disagree with me here, perhaps you help to support my case!) This makes real dialogue incredibly challenging. How can we engage with people in a way that is gentle and loving and kindly?

Notice the encouragements above. We are not to simply bemoan “culture” and rail against it (a culture that we are often more a part of than we would prefer to admit). We are invited to see that we play a role as well. We are often pulled into the fray far too easily, arguing over words and inviting more quarrels. And we do this in the name of truth.

But in the process, we ruin the listener. And we may even be blocking the way for repentance (including our own, by the way).

But the answer is not just try harder to be nice. It’s not simply stop doing this and start doing this. Our propensity to our argue and be triggered into debate comes from someplace. It operates from a story we are telling ourselves. If we are truly honest with ourselves, that story may sound something like:

“I like to be seen as the right and smart one, so I better respond to this tweet.”
or
“If I don’t convince this person of my position, then I’m not being faithful.”
or
“My self worth is tied to how many ‘likes’ or re-tweets I get.”

Today, the good news is that God’s approval is the only approval which matters for us. We are to work as those who are approved by him. 

How might your interactions with others (virtually or IRL) look different if they were informed my this incredible news! I am wondering today what would happen if, before any comment or post or conversation, I just rehearse this declaration from God: “Derek, I am already pleased with you. You do not have to work for my approval, you can operate from my approval and with my approval as my son and servant.”

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Daily Office Reflection: “So that they might put their trust in God, and not forget the deeds of God”

February 6, 2017Epiphany V (Psalm 78:1-39; Isaiah 59:1-15a 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Mark 9:42-50)

Psalm 78:1-39

1Hear my teaching, O my people;*

incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

2I will open my mouth in a parable;*

I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.

3That which we have heard and known,

and what our forefathers have told us,*

we will not hide from their children.

4We will recount to generations to come

the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD,*

and the wonderful works he has done.

5He gave his decrees to Jacob

and established a law for Israel,*

which he commanded them to teach their children;

6That the generations to come might know,

and the children yet unborn;*

that they in their turn might tell it to their children;

7So that they might put their trust in God, *

and not forget the deeds of God,

but keep his commandments;

8And not be like their forefathers,

a stubborn and rebellious generation,*

a generation whose heart was not steadfast,

and whose spirit was not faithful to God.

9The people of Ephraim, armed with the bow, *

turned back in the day of battle;

10They did not keep the covenant of God,*

and refused to walk in his law;

11They forgot what he had done,*

and the wonders he had shown them.

12He worked marvels in the sight of their forefathers, *

in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.

13He split open the sea and let them pass through; *

he made the waters stand up like walls.

14He led them with a cloud by day,*

and all the night through with a glow of fire.

15He split the hard rocks in the wilderness *

and gave them drink as from the great deep.

16He brought streams out of the cliff,*

and the waters gushed out like rivers.

17But they went on sinning against him,*

rebelling in the desert against the Most High.

18They tested God in their hearts,*

demanding food for their craving.

19They railed against God and said,*

“Can God set a table in the wilderness?

20True, he struck the rock, the waters gushed out, and the gullies overflowed;*

but is he able to give bread

or to provide meat for his people?”

21When the LORD heard this, he was full of wrath;*

a fire was kindled against Jacob,

and his anger mounted against Israel;

22For they had no faith in God,*

nor did they put their trust in his saving power.

23So he commanded the clouds above *

and opened the doors of heaven.

24He rained down manna upon them to eat *

and gave them grain from heaven.

25So mortals ate the bread of angels;*

he provided for them food enough.

26He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens *

and led out the south wind by his might.

27He rained down flesh upon them like dust *

and winge!d birds like the sand of the sea.

28He let it fall in the midst of their camp *

and round about their dwellings.

29So they ate and were well filled,*

for he gave them what they craved. 

30But they did not stop their craving,*

though the food was still in their mouths.

31So God’s anger mounted against them;*

he slew their strongest men

and laid low the youth of Israel.

32In spite of all this, they went on sinning *

and had no faith in his wonderful works.

33So he brought their days to an end like a breath *

and their years in sudden terror.

34Whenever he slew them, they would seek him, *

and repent, and diligently search for God.

35They would remember that God was their rock, *

and the Most High God their redeemer.

36But they flattered him with their mouths *

and lied to him with their tongues.

37Their heart was not steadfast toward him, *

and they were not faithful to his covenant.

38But he was so merciful that he forgave their sins

and did not destroy them;*

many times he held back his anger

and did not permit his wrath to be roused.

39For he remembered that they were but flesh, *

a breath that goes forth and does not return.

In Strength to Love, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. says this about history:

We are not makers of history. We are made by history. 

This is a bit of a tricky quote. In its context, King is bemoaning the influence which history has in perpetuating segregation, racism, and the inaction of the church. He is speaking to the power of the “rugged collectivism” of the world. He later compares Christians more to thermometers which are influenced by the world around them. So, he is stating reality as he sees it, not as it should be. We should be history makers. “A man is either a hammer or an anvil.”

We certainly are influenced by history, for better or for worse. And we see in this psalm today that we are cut from the same cloth as our forefathers. We forget the works of God. We doubt the enduring presence of God in the wilderness, despite incredible and miraculous provision. “I mean, I know God gave us water from a rock, but can God give us a three-course meal and a table for us?”

This passage invites us to be informed by a different story; to be shaped by the work of God. And then, to respond from a place of active faith. 

How could today be different for you if you chose to trust God’s miraculous provision? What is important for you to hold onto today from your story with God–ways that God has worked mightily? What is God inviting you to remember as you continue to participate in God’s unfolding story today?

May we trust our loving and providing God today. 

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Daily Office, Musings, Neighborhood, Prayer, restored, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “The restorer of streets to live in”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day. (It looks like the site was down earlier this morning, but should be up now)

February 6, 2017

Epiphany V (Psalm 80; Isaiah 58:1-12; Galatians 6:11-18; Mark 9:30-41 )

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God.
3 Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Wow. It was hard to decide which passage to reflect upon today. And this one from Isaiah is so rich.

I had the chance to participate in a prayer vigil/information session yesterday afternoon at a church in our neighborhood. It was organized in response to some recent events of violence against our Latino brothers and sisters and the growing distrust and fear from many within immigrant communities of law enforcement. It was a beautiful and educational time for all of us as we heard from police, city agencies, and organizations who all seemed to be saying one thing: your livelihood is important to all of us–here are the tools and resources for you to navigate life here and thrive. We are fighting for you. We see you and we want you to flourish in our city. You matter.

As we walked from the church to the place where the most recent violence took place for a candlelight prayer vigil, I began to speak with one of the other clergy. We discussed the overall state of the church in their particular denomination in our area, and the word “burdened” kept coming up. But the churches were not burdened as much by the realities of their neighborhoods as they were with buildings and budgets and inactive/apathetic members. And, I would add, also burdened by political debate and theological hair-splitting and arguments. (this is true for too many churches/denominations, so I level no judgment at all against this particular tribe)

We both discussed how we are grateful for those churches and leaders who are finding themselves burdened by the plights of their neighbors, of the prevalence of injustice and its consequences, and the daily bread of every one of us. We had mutual friends who are in the trenches, doing the work of ministry in, of, and for the neighborhood.

In reading today’s texts, I am wondering what modern-day “fasting” looks like (the fasting Isaiah condemns). When Isaiah spoke against the fasting which does not please God, I wonder if today he would bemoan our aging church buildings which sit empty most of the week but have pristine sanctuaries. I wonder if he would speak up at the budget meetings or church council and ask where the money is going to feed the hungry and to work against injustice, as they vote to start yet another capital campaign. I wonder…

What if we believed that, when we care for those whom God cares, that God will rebuild and restore all of us? Is there a freedom awaiting us as we move from “institutional survival mode” into risky and radial hospitality? Is there provision for us as we shift from finger-pointing and fist clenched in anger to open hands offered in service? What could this look like?

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Finally, I think the Collect prayer for this week is apt for today:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

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