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Acts 2: The Coming of the Spirit

Monday, February 8, 2016

Artist Unknown: Pentecost

Artist Unknown: Pentecost

The second chapter of Acts contains the description of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the joy and enthusiasm of the apostles. This bursting forth from the Upper Room, this settling into communal life . . . this might be the description of the initiation of any intimate relationship that begins with fire and energy to settle into a constant, abiding love.   Joy settling into constancy returning to joy again.  This is what we seek.  This is what God seeks.  Why do we so often forget this?

There is an image in today’s MAGNIFICAT Reflection which describes how the tiny particles of smoke fog our vision.  It continues with the thought that as we seek God through the haze, we pray for one another . . . and in so doing we exhibit our faith and longing for God.  God sees and recognizes this.  Father Men tells us that then all of us will ascend toward the Lord, as if holding onto that prayer.  This is the main thing – the rest will follow – but this is essential to our lives.  Then Jesus, seeing our faith, will say to all those for whom we have been praying: “My child, awake from your sleep and your sickness, from your palsy, your spiritual paralysis; arise, your sins are forgiven you”.

The image of the apostles who gathered in fear and spiritual paralysis in the Upper Room to pray as they consoled one another is strong as we read this chapter of Acts.  These early disciples are rewarded for their faith, for turning to God.  They receive the Holy Spirit in such a way that their ardor never flags.  We, too, receive this Spirit.  We, too, are loved.  We, too, are lifted up in joy to our God.  May our own desire and zeal for the Lord never falter.

A Favorite from March 3, 2008.

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 3.3 (2008). Print.  

 

 

 


2 Chronicles 26: Pride and Fall

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Rembrandt: The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy

Rembrandt: The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy

This chapter in 2 Chronicles tells us a great deal about Uzziah, a promising man who falls when he presumes that he can be God to himself and others in the way he chooses.  He might represent the perennial flaw in humankind.

But after he had become strong, he became proud to his own destruction and broke faith with the Lord, his God.

And how did this happen?

He entered the temple of the Lord to make an offering on the altar of incense.

Why was this incorrect?

But Azariah the priest, and with him eighty other priests of the Lord, courageous men, followed him . . . saying to him: “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests . . . who have been consecrated for this purpose”. 

Today, we each bring our offerings to the Lord.  Christian liturgies often provide a time when we can offer ourselves back to God both collectively and individually. These moments give us the opportunity to be priests ourselves. They bring us the opening to enter fully into relationship with God . . . in our personal service to God on the manner God shows us. The Old Testament Law asks us to remain in covenant with the Lord and to serve God with burnt offerings and sacrifice. The New Testament Law of Love asks us to live the Beatitudes in an intentional way. Both Testaments bring us a yardstick with which we might measure our adherence to this law . . . our fulfillment of old statutes . . . our flowering in Christ.  The presence of Christ that we bring to our troubled world.

Today’s readings in MAGNIFICAT are God’s constancy . . . and ours.  Our fidelity to God and to one another.  God’s law is not a set of arbitrary rules but the concrete shape given to the lasting covenant that God has made with human beings – broken many times by faithless people, kept from generation to generation by our God.  God’s faithful constancy is an anchor in an ever-shifting world, where love declared today is spurned tomorrow, and all other certainties are blown away by the wind.  Even when those who love us are inconstant, we must remain constant in our love of them for in this way we reflect God’s constancy to us.

Pride calls us to our false selves. Constancy in God helps us to remain faithful in God. The story of Uzziah is one in which we may see ourselves or others puffing up in self-importance, blinding our vision to the fall that inevitably follows. God’s Law of fidelity and gratitude never fails; it brings flourishing rather than destruction. God’s laws are the statutes we teach ourselves and our children. They are the laws that open us to possibility, and that bind our hearts forever to God.

On this last Sunday before Lent, let us consider the temptation to  ignore pride in our own lives. And let us determine to remain constant and faithful to God.

Adapted from a reflection written on February 27, 2008.

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 27.2 (2008). Print.


Judges 11 and 12: Shibboleth

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Crack (Shibboleth): Doris Salcedo - The Tate Modern, London

The Crack (Shibboleth): Doris Salcedo – The Tate Modern, London, UK

From WIKIPEDIA: “In numerous cases of conflict between groups speaking different languages or dialects, one side used shibboleths . . . to discover hiding members of the opposing group . . . Today, in the English language, a shibboleth also has a wider meaning, referring to any ‘in-crowd’ word or phrase that can be used to distinguish members of a group from outsiders – even when not used by a hostile other group”.

As we read today’s Noontime, we see how the early tribes of Israel struggled to retain autonomy; we also see that they lived in a world which required people to evaluate loyalty . . . their daily survival depended on this.

In our own world, we will use our own shibboleths ­ – either consciously or unconsciously – and when we do, what are the results?  Do we find ourselves closer to God or more distant?  Are we moving toward serenity and union with God, or away from the eternal peace brought by Jesus?  Do our shibboleths introduce us to the freedom bought by Christ or do they sell us out to an imprisonment which stifles us?

The story of the chieftain Jephthah reads like the script of a television drama – full of twists, promises, ironies and secret shibboleths.  Loyalties are tested, wars are waged, outcomes are weighed; yet in the end it is the spirit of the Lord that prevails.  Jephthah makes a vow to the Lord and loses his beloved daughter Mizpah; he also conquers nations in the name of his God.  Much of this is difficult to understand; most of it is hard to take; all of it is – in some way or other – the way we live today.

Children peering into the shibboleth at the Tate Modern in London

Children peering into the shibboleth at the Tate Modern in London

As we move through our own cycle of coming and going, let us examine the vows we swear, the skirmishes in which we engage, and our manner of waiting on the spirit of the Lord.  And when we begin to winnow the valid from the false in order to survive, let us examine the shibboleths we choose.

A Favorite from Friday, February 12, 2010.

 As we approach Ash Wednesday, a time of inner reflection, we have another opportunity to explore God’s yardstick in our lives, and to put aside the false shibboleths that mislead us.


Luke 17:20-37: Making Ready

Friday, February 5, 2016Kingdom_of_God

The coming of the kingdom cannot be observed, and no one will announce, “Look, here it is,” or “There it is”.  For behold, the kingdom of God is among you . . . But first [the Son of Man] must suffer greatly and be rejected by his generation.

The days of Noah – the days of Lot – the days of Christ – today.   Floods – brimstone – the crucifixion – the perils of today’s world.

We are told that the kingdom is not announced to us in the way we might expect.  We are told of coming consequences.  It is explained that we must use senses other than those we use for eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.  It is explained that the kingdom is already among us.  We are told that the one who saves us will first suffer and be rejected.

The message is clear: One who wishes to gain the soul must forfeit life.  When we hear the call, we must not think of gathering anything up to take with us.  God will provide all that we will need on the journey; therefore, our only preparation need be to keep vigilant watch.

We must be alert . . . but how?  If we are not to hear announcement or see a warning, how do we know when to respond?  If we are not to pack any bags or prepare any food, then what are we to organize? What and how are we to make ready?

Suffering and rejection will be a part of our lives just as it is in the Messiah’s.  We live through these experiences of hurt, and we learn from them about God’s presence in our lives.  These experiences and what we have learned from them are what we pack for our journey.  This wisdom that is born of pain and that is used to refine our way of being in the world; this is something we will want to take with us to present to the Lord at his coming.

In Psalm 40 we are told that God does not really want our burnt offerings and sacrifices; rather, we are to use the suffering and rejection we experience to convert our human hearts to hearts that are open to God’s love.  Psalm 51 reminds us that God heals the offering of our broken spirit, and God delights in our offering of all that is out of order about us.  This is what we take to the Lord.

We cannot change the events of the past or the future . . . we can only effect the present moment in which we live.  We cannot go back to change something that happened, but we can make amends where possible and correct our own behavior.  We cannot foretell the coming circumstances of our lives, but we can prepare ourselves to be open to the amazing possibilities God presents to us in even the darkest of moments.

For behold, the kingdom of God is among us . . . what and how do we make ready today? 

A Favorite from January 26, 2010.

When we spend time with these verses from Luke and these two psalms, we begin to understand what it means to make ourselves ready for the Lord. We begin to understand how we might use God’s Yardstick of love.


Romans 16:17-20: Warning to Troublemakers

Thursday, February 4, 2016f8a252c28d8359617d691b379d2404e5

In this political season in the U.S., Paul’s words are worthy of our reflection time.

Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching that you learned and then use them to make trouble. Give these people a wide berth. They have no intention of living for our Master Christ. They’re only in this for what they can get out of it, and aren’t above using pious sweet talk to dupe unsuspecting innocents.

Paul’s letter to the Romans holds this little paragraph: a warning to the brethren who cause dissention and scandal contrary to the doctrine they have learned. Commentary suggests that Paul’s intent is to inoculate the growing community against the formation of factions that might lead to the fragmentation of the church.  In 1 Chronicles 28:20 David says to his son Solomon: Take charge! Take heart! Don’t be anxious or get discouraged. God, my God, is with you in this; God won’t walk off and leave you in the lurch. God’s at your side until every last detail is completed for conducting the worship of God. 

And how do we worship the Lord? When do we gather to give thanks to God?

We hear that we must go about our work without fear of any kind.

We understand that our kingdom work is more important than any other.

We demonstrate our belief that God is with us always when we put aside the fear-mongering and scandal-peddling of troublemakers.

TakeHeartHandsLogoJohn shares Jesus’ words with us: These things I have spoken to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

When we set ourselves to doing God’s work, we have no reason for apprehension or anxiety.

In both the Old and New Testaments, we see God’s yardstick in our world. Paul, David and Jesus offer us a clear image and method of measuring God’s presence and love in our lives.

Adapted from a reflection written on April 27, 2008.


Psalm 42: Longing for God’s Presence

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Bodleian: Hebrew Psalter

The Bodleian: Hebrew Psalter

As we have explored God’s yardstick in the measure of our lives, we have discovered that God’s love and mercy are infinite, healing and present to each of us. Today we respond to Christ’s loving call to join him in this Spirit of love. We ask to live in God’s presence.

As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.

Like the doe seeking water to sustain her young, we move through our days in search of God’s presence.

Wait for God, whom I shall praise again, my savior and my God.

We are pilgrim people, wandering the deserts of our lives on our way to the land promised us by God.  We are a people in exile, waiting to return to the temple, living out our hope in Babylon.

Send your light and fidelity, that they may be my guide.

There is no other source of light or life worth pursuing.

And bring me to your holy mountain, the place of your dwelling.

There is no other place worth seeking except God’s holy presence.  As adopted sisters and brothers of Christ, we now hold that temple within our hearts and God has written the great promise of love on our hearts. Touched with the mark of Tau as God’s faithful, we are called back to God’s holy place.

Then I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.

There is no other song worth singing except the song which praises God’s bounty to us.  There is no other grace so blessed.  No other gift worth receiving.

Wait for God, whom I shall praise again, my savior and my God.

We wait, we watch, we witness.  We are a people of hope.  We are a people of justice.  We are a faithful and faith-filled people.  We are a people of love.

As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.

Amen.

psalms

The Revised Grail Psalter

Many of the Psalms were written during the forty years that Israel wandered in the desert.  Many more were written by David when he spent years evading King Saul when he sought David’s death.  Still other Psalms were written during the Babylonian captivity.  Today, the Hebrew Psalter (differing slightly in numbering from the Greek translation) contains 150 beautiful hymns of lament, praise, thanksgiving and petition.  These songs describe our own journey of life. Psalm 42 is the cry of one longing to be in God’s presence.

For more on the Grail Psalter, click on the image above or visit: http://communio.stblogs.org/index.php/2008/12/the-revised-grail-psalter-conc/

For more information on Psalms, visit: http://biblehub.com/dictionary/p/psalms.htm 

For more reflections on The Mark of Tau, use the blog search bar and explore. 

Adapted from a reflection written on October 21, 2007.


1 John 1: God’s Yardstick – The Gospel Writers

The Infinite Life of Christ

Duccio di Buoninsegna: Christ at the Sea of Galilee (detail from Episodes of Passion and Resurrection)

Duccio di Buoninsegna: Christ at the Sea of Galilee (detail from Episodes of Passion and Resurrection)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

We hear eye-witness accounts from those who were there, from those who walked and talked, ate and lived with Jesus. Scholars believe that Mark most likely writes his Gospel for early followers, gentiles who faced persecution after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He explains a number of Jewish customs to his audience and only once refers to the Old Testament. Matthew, on the other hand, writes to Jews who believed in Jesus as Messiah. Luke directly addresses Theophilus, someone of high position and wealth, and his message bolsters the story the early Christians told. John writes to non-Jewish believers, those who struggle with the conflict between philosophy and faith. And it is John who opens his first letter with words that ought to convince any who doubt the veracity of the Jesus story. (Zondervan 1356, 1620, 1663, 1718)

From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us. (1 John 1:1-2)

Not only do the Gospel writers give testimony to the truth they have lived, they ask that we pass this story along. They ask that we keep the Spirit in our hearts. They ask that we keep the Creator forever in our minds.

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy! (1 John 1:3-4)

And Jesus says to his followers: “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” (John 20:29)

1-john-3-17-does-gods-love-abide-in-him1Those who lived the Gospel story have something to pass along to us. Those who read this story today have something to pass along to those who follow. When we spend time today with Gospel verses of our choosing or with one of John’s letters, we open the door to a deeper understanding of the yardstick of love that God hands to each of us so we might better measure the wealth of our lives, the infinite life of Christ we share with others.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 1356, 1620, 1663, 1718. Print.

Tomorrow, yearning. 

 


Acts 6 & 7: God’s Yardstick – Stephen

God’s Grace and Energy

Paolo Uccello: The Stoning of Stephen

Paolo Uccello: The Stoning of Stephen

Monday, February 1, 2016

We may or may not know the story of Stephen, the martyr stoned for acting with and speaking about the healing power of Christ. Once the full impact of this story settles on us, we might hope that the Spirit not inspire us. We might wish to shed the power of God’s wisdom rather than ask that it dwell within. It is likely that the trials are not as severe as Stephen’s; yet gossip in the home or workplace can break the spirit just as stones break bones. Severe illness, economic and natural disasters, slander, bullying and fear can bring an end to life. Stephen’s reaction to his enemies gives us a measuring stick for our own actions.

If we look only quickly at these chapters, we might at first believe that the lives of all true Christians must come to a frightening end. When we look more closely to find clues in the details, we uncover what it means to live a life brimming with God’s grace and energy. No matter our persecution, no matter the place or time of our trial, Stephen’s yardstick serves as a stark measure of God’s love in our lives.

6:7: The Word of God prospered. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased dramatically. Not least, a great many priests submitted themselves to the faith.

When we experience God’s presence, we can expect envy and anger from others. Like Stephen, we must persist in gentleness and honesty.

6:8: Stephen, brimming with God’s grace and energy, was doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them. 

When we witness God’s presence, we can expect dishonesty and deceit from others. Like Stephen, we must persist in courage and hope.

6:11: In secret [Stephen’s enemies] bribed men to lie [against him].

When we live in God’s presence, we can expect fear and anger from others. Like Stephen, we must persist in patience and love.

When we meet obstacles brought on by avarice, resentment and rage, we might consider the power we find in gentleness, honesty, patience, courage, hope and love. These traits will appear weak to the foolish, but in reality they are manifestations of God’s grace and energy, God’s enduring and healing love.

If we do not have time to spend with Chapters 6 and 7 of Acts, we might focus on Acts 6:8-10 and 7:54-59.

Tomorrow, the Gospel writers.


James 1-5: God’s Yardstick – James

The Measure of God’s Lovecrayon heart

Sunday, January 31, 2016

We continue to look for God’s yardstick in the New Testament.

We are never in doubt about James’ dedication to Christ and in a way his letter is a Gospel to Christ’s followers for it outlines a clear roadmap for The Way Christ asks us to walk.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides . . .

Do we see our hardships as sheer gift?

Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.

Do we talk more than we do? Do we lead with our anger?

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

Do we hide from ourselves or do we know who we are?

Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! 

Do we live on the margins or in the comfortable center?

Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong. The Master could arrive at any time.

Are we impatient and petulant or enduring and resilient?

Friends, don’t complain about each other. A far greater complaint could be lodged against you, you know.

Do we appreciate more than we disparage?

Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.

Are we willing to stay the course or do we look for quick fixes?

Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. 

How often and much do we pray? Are we willing to sing?

My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them.

Do we share the Good News or do we hold it to ourselves?

Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.

Are we willing to share Christ’s story? Do we take risks in Christ’s name to include more that we divide and love more than we fear? If so . . . we are following the measure of God’s love that James describes for us.

When we use the scripture link to compare THE MESSAGE version of these verses with translations that may be more familiar to us, we have the opportunity to explore the great measure of God’s love we are given to share.

Tomorrow, Stephen.

 

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