Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday, 02/29/12

Gospel: Mark 1:29-45
Old Testament: Genesis 37:25-36
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 2:1-13

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  Mark 12:35

A couple days after I read this verse, I attended the St. Matthew’s Annual Leadership Retreat at Meadowkirk.  In case you have not been there, it is a lovely place in the countryside outside of Middleburg, Virginia.  Serene is the word that comes to mind to describe Meadowkirk.   At night you can see an unbelievable number of stars.  Fields of tall grass dance in the wind, a nearby stream actually burbles, deer wander about, and most importantly, no sights or sounds of the city.

So there I was in the morning, outside, by myself; and all the clutter that normally runs around in my mind just disappeared.  This verse came to mind, and it struck me that in this environment, praying is easy.  Only the important things were in my mind that morning, my family, friends, and people in need.  I took that opportunity to pray for each of them and to give thanks that they are in my life.

All too often, I find it difficult to pray because I let the clutter, job, politics, money, etc., get in the way of what is important.  That morning, it hit home.  I realized the importance, whenever possible, of finding a place where  I am relaxed, a place that is devoid of all the trappings of the world that take my mind away from everything, especially the people, that is truly important in my life.

I will not be in such a serene location as often as I would like, but perhaps if I am open and listening, God will show me other such places in my life where I am able to focus on what is important.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday, 02/28/12

Gospel: Mark 1:14-28
Old Testament: Genesis 37:12-24 
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 1:20-31
Psalms: 45, 47, 48
“Jesus called out to them, ‘Come follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!’ And they left their nets at once and followed him.”
Mark 1:17-18  

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never fished for people before.  In fact, I’m not so keen on regular fishing either.  Our family went on a fishing trip with the church once, and I still cringe at the memory.  I got the lines all tangled up, and I’m terrified of fish.  They’re okay when they’re in the water, or on a plate without skin, tails, and heads, but I’m not a fan of the in-between stuff.  (Sorry Father Rob.)

This passage has always struck me as odd because it’s a really strange thing to say to someone.  I could just imagine Jesus walking up and saying, “Let’s go catch some people.”  Honestly, I’d probably look at Him like he was out of His mind, especially considering I don’t like fishing for fish, let alone people.  So I have to give major props to Simon and Andrew here because up walks this stranger proclaiming that instead of fishing for trout they’re all going to catch people, and they just get up and follow him.  It seems like a tiny gesture, but for Simon and Andrew, it was huge.  They got up and left their entire lives behind them, their families, their jobs, their lifestyles.  I’m no biblical scholar, but I think that fishermen back then probably made a fair amount of money; people had to eat.  They left behind the safety and security of their daily lives to pursue a life with Jesus.  That’s terrifying. 

But that’s what Jesus wants us to do:  get up and follow him.  There’s stuff we have to leave behind, and frankly that scares us.  We have to be brave.  That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, what it means to be brave.  Mark Twain says, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is acting in spite of it.”  In other words, God gets that we’re scared, but he still needs us to get up and follow him.  The part about casting lines for people comes eventually, but first we have to be brave.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday, 02/27/12

Gospel: Mark 1:1-13
Old Testament: Gen 37:1-11
New Testament: 1 Cor 1:1-19
Psalms: 41, 52, 44
John the Baptist is one of those Bible Characters that always intrigues me.  I am convinced that if today we saw a man standing in the Potomac River, dressed in camel’s hair, eating locusts and honey, and shouting, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” that man would be institutionalized.  It’s difficult to imagine how and why his methods of proclaiming the coming of Christ worked… but they did. 

For me, every time I read any account of the life and ministry of John the Baptist, I feel THAT call, THAT pull to “Prepare the way of the Lord!”  I feel a sense of urgency to engage the world in a way that allows the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of the people around me.  Often, it is so easy to think only about myself – my own relationship with God, my own needs… but John the Baptist has an astonishing way of waking me up, so to speak.  Whenever I read, whenever I hear, “Prepare the way,” I realize that what I do is bigger than myself – not because I am a priest, but because I am a Christian. 

The call to “Prepare the way” is, indeed, a call to prepare to receive Jesus into my life; but perhaps more importantly, it is also a call to be a witness, just as John the Baptist was a witness.  I am reminded that how I act, what I say, and how I respond to those around me matters…all the time.  The more I can reflect God’s love in my life, maybe, just maybe the more others will be open to receiving God into theirs. 

Prepare the way… what a great call… what a great reminder.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday, 02/26/12

Gospel: John 12:44-50
Old Testament: Dan 9:3-10
New Testament: Heb 2:10-18
Psalms: 63, 98, 103
In today’s readings, there is one word that I found in every passage.  That word is “TRUST.” Have you ever thought about what that word really means?  To me, trust means believing things I cannot see or verify.  Have you ever thought about how many people and processes you trust every day? I’m not talking about the larger and grander forms of trust, like trusting a spouse or trusting that a friend will keep a secret.  I’m talking about things as simple as, “I trust that the water coming out of my faucet is clean and drinkable,” or “I trust that the heat will kick on when it gets cold outside,” or “I trust that my phone will work when I pick it up.”  We’ve come to trust at this level because we’ve had a history of success in trusting these things. 

I think about trust constantly.  As many of you know, I have special dietary needs which require me to trust a whole lot of people that I don’t even know.  So for me, the running commentary in my brain is,  “I trust that the food I eat won’t make me sick.”   I’ve gotten better at asking the right questions and doing my research, yet I always wonder… what if my research is flawed?  What if the source isn’t reputable?  The “what if” then leads to a fear that I’ll end up not feeling good for a while.  The result may be that I’ll adjust my approach and probably not eat that food or at that certain restaurant again.  But, eventually, I do adjust; and then I have to trust all over again at the next meal.  I have to re-start, I have to re-build that history of success.

With as many things as I have to trust and rely upon every day, why do I continue to struggle to trust God?  Shouldn’t it be easier than trusting that my food is safe and my water is clean?  Hasn’t He shown a significant amount of history of proving He is worthy of my trust?  Why is the success in trusting God so much harder for me to see? 

Maybe it is not my research.  Not the yardstick I use to measure.  Not the history of success.  Maybe it is simply I who am flawed. 


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday, 02/25/12

Gospel: John 17:20-26
Old Testament: Eze 39:21-29

Psalms: 30, 32, 42, 43
New Testament: Phil 4:10-20

Jesus in Father. Father in Jesus. Them in Me. Me in Them. You in Them. Perfected in Unity.

In the swimming pool I settle my eyes level with the surface. I poke my fingertips up through the skin of the water and wiggle them. Are they “five”? Sort of. But invisible from this angle; under the surface, they are all part of one hand. Their separateness is real, but only a part of the bigger story, and all it takes is a change of angle to see that.

It seems to me that Jesus said it again and again, every way he could think of until he was blue in the face. I am the Vine, you are the branches. (I am the hand, you are the fingers?) Change the angle of your gaze and realize that you are One – one with me, one with the Father, one with each other. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I wiggle my fingers and think, (it’s not ‘love your neighbor the way you love yourself.) He is saying your neighbor is your actual Self.”

Jesus taught this over and over using parable and metaphor. Apparently people weren’t catching on. Finally, here in the farewell lesson, he comes right out and says it plain as day. "I am one with the Father. Wake up and realize that you are too. I am one with you. Wake up and realize that you are also one with each other."

I think of the rare fleeting moments I have felt that unity, and felt that we are not alone, never isolated except in imagining our lack of wholeness.

It’s a start.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday, 02/24/12

Psalms: 95, 31, 35
Old Testament: Eze 18:1-4, 25-32
New Testament: Phil 4:1-9
Gospel: John 17:9-19

When I think of the book of Psalms, I think of praise, worship, and prayers for deliverance. When David wrote the Psalms, he wrote so many of them in praise and thanksgiving for answered prayers that had been lifted up to God. The Psalms for today are 3 different ones, yet all of them follow along with David's continuing praise to the Lord and his thanksgiving for protection from his enemies.

Isn't it amazing how we have enemies when as Christians we are to love our neighbors as ourselves? We are to go about the Lord's work in His name and to be kind to all, yet Satan would like nothing more than to see that believers in the Lord have enemies and experience adversity. That's why the Psalms are special to me. On days when nothing seems to be going right, I let my thoughts go to words from the Psalms, words that provide a respite to my angst or my frustration. Once the words from a Psalm permeate into my thoughts, there is a calm that settles into my spirit, and I am able to see that the day's struggles are just temporary. I can find refuge in knowing that the spirit of the Lord dwells within me, and there isn't anything too big for Him.

Hope, refuge, strength, trust, and courage are all words that we can take from the Psalms. I encourage you to read one of today's Psalms… you'll be blessed by the words that David so eloquently wrote in his praises to God, often while he was tending his flock. Memorize passages from the Psalms, and let those words guide you through difficult times. Chances are you know more passages in the book of Psalms than you realize, as many wonderful worship songs come from the book of Psalms. Can you think of one that is special to you? Sing the ones you know, and you'll be amazed at the lift your spirit will have throughout the day.


Thursday, 02/23/12

Psalms: 37:1-18, 37:19-42
Old Testament: Hab 3:1-18
Testament: Phil 3:12-21
Gospel: John 17:1-8

One of the reasons I am a Christian is because Christians have hope. We can have hope because Christ’s sacrifice allows us to. I cannot imagine being without hope. I have travelled in some very poor places, including Africa and Haiti, where I have seen people in seemingly hopeless situations. And yet, I think I see more hopelessness in the faces of the people right in my neighborhood and workplace, people who seem to have no belief that there is something better than this. Talk about depressing!

Psalm 37 speaks of this hope so clearly. “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: he will make your righteousness shine like the dawn…” Those who believe are entitled to delight in the Lord; but they (we) still have a job to do. We also have to commit ourselves to the Lord. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he goes on to describe the prize that waits for those who continue to do the work of Christ. That prize: everlasting life.

Hope is one of the major lessons of Lent and Easter. While the crucifixion is a horrific event, it was necessary for Christ to endure such horror to set us free from our sin. It is the sole reason we have hope. What we have in the here and now has nothing to do with what we will have in the hereafter – only because Christ died for our sins and opened the door to everlasting life.

Do you look for hope in your everyday life? It can be in the smallest of places -- in someone’s kindness, or perhaps in your child’s story of success with a school assignment or test. Where have you seen or heard or spoken about hope? How can you express hope to those around you?


Wednesday, 02/22/12

Gospel: Luke 18:9-14
Old Testament: Amos 5:6-15
New Testament: Heb 12:1-14
Psalms: 95, 32, 143, 102, 130

A Butler, a Baker, a Hebrew Dream-Cracker
(from Genesis 40)

A year, two years, have come, are gone. I wait
For Someone's light to pierce this dungeon wall.
I had two friends here; dreams foretold their fate,
Summoned to show their worth at Pharaoh's ball.
The baker's loaves and luscious honey cake
Ought to have sweetened that festival day
Save for his critical, fatal mistake
Of leaving them to cool where ravens prey.
The butler bore the cup of his salvation
With rightful sureness to his master's place
Just as his dream (through my interpretation)
Three days before, saw him restored to grace.
I asked if he could speak a word for me
Before the king; seems he forgot to do
This for me. I had a dream too, when I was young and free
Naively thinking all good dreams come true;
Losing my name, my home, my family
Hope fades to black. Lord, any dream will do!
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right
spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your
holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a
willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12