Matthew 22:1-14The Wedding Garment

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Written on June 1 and posted today as FavoriteSunday’s Gospel reading was the story of the wedding guest who appeared without a wedding garment . . .

The Parable of the Wedding Garment

This story frightened me as a child.  So much violence, so much anger.  Weddings were enormous family celebrations for us; just inviting aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents was automatically a guest list of at least two hundred.  My parents were from large families, and these families valued and celebrated life, and they accepted all – even the various black sheep.  On the Sunday this parable was read we five had lots of questions for Mother and Dad: Why did this guy invite people who did not want to come?  Who would miss a wedding and a chance to gather the clan in the first place?  Why did this guy kill people who made him mad?  Why did he invite people and not tell them there was a dress code?  When we were young Mother and Dad would patiently explain that those who were invited should have gone, that the images here are dire because Jesus is making a point, that in those days everyone had “a wedding garment” that was worn when one was invited to a wedding.  When we were older it was explained that this story was more about the presence of the kingdom here and now, and about the “wedding garment” being our own conversion of heart.  Our “wedding garment,” they explained, cannot be bought or borrowed from another.  It cannot be feigned or imagined.  God has a specific measure and infinite mercy.  He calls each of us.  He has a plan in mind which Jesus shows us and the Spirit nurtures in us.  Our proper response to this invitation is to follow Jesus’ model, and to allow the Spirit to live within in order that we discover true repentance, so that we cultivate an honest softening of the heart and a willing obedience to do as God asks.  When we receive the invitation to the feast, which happens frequently – in case we hadn’t noticed – we are to go . . . and we will need to be prepared.  We understood this since the traditions of scouting and the military life were woven through everything we did as a family: One needs to always be prepared for any eventuality, we learned.  This was only prudent.  This was wise.  This was wearing how one wore the “wedding garment”.

I am amazed at the haphazard way in which so many people live, bouncing from one problem to another like a pin ball – or from one thrill to another, from one addiction to another – without much investment in discovering how to stop any insanity in their lives.  I understand when I read this story today that the ejected guest is the colleague I work with who complains but does not want to solve the problem, or the family member who persists in unhealthy behavior and refuses to move down a path that brings clarity and resolution to a worrying problem.  Mother and Dad were right.  This story is not about the nit-picking God who invites all to come to the banquet of life . . . it is really about the stubborn creatures who have heard a message and refuse to believe it.  Once seen in this light, the parable makes sense . . . and it is something to be taken seriously.

For today we might pause to reflect and ask ourselves . . . Do we have a wedding garment prepared to wear when we receive invitations to wedding feasts – are we ready to do God’s work when called in the Spirit and as Jesus does?  Do we know where our garment is, does it need mending, does it need cleaning up – when was the last time we examined it carefully?  Do we know what this wedding garment signifies – are we ready to say to the God who created us . . . “We have worked hard on ourselves to soften our hearts and bend our stiff necks.  We have discarded our wide phylacteries and long tassels to put on the simple garment of Christ.  We have come to labor in the vineyard to do the work you need rather than the work we want”.

In the Christian Baptismal Rite, a white garment is often bestowed on the baptized child.  Many infants wear a special white baptismal dress.  We later see white fabrics used in First Communion dresses and suits, in confirmation and graduation robes and dresses, and even in wedding gowns.  With all of this imagery to remind us, let us dig out our own wedding garment from the closet or chest where we have stored it for a special day.  Let us clean it, repair it, refurbish it . . . for every day is Banquet Day in the Kingdom and we have need of it often . . . Do we act as if this is this something we know?

A re-post from October 12, 2011.

Image from: http://edharewood.fatcow.com/Life_of_Jesus_Christ/parable-of-the-wedding-garment/

Matthew 23:1-12Condemnation or Love

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Any time I begin to become a little full of myself, I try to remember Jesus’ words about wide phylacteries and long tassels.   In Jesus’ day, a Jewish man’s status might be shown by the width of the small leather boxes worn on the forehead and left arm containing scripture verses, and by the length of the tassels on his outer garments.  The word rabbi was reserved for honored teachers.

Jesus cautions his followers – and he cautions us – to be wary of flamboyant leaders who do little or nothing to be certain that their own actions match their words.  Jesus calls us to integrity away from hypocrisy.  He calls us to sincerity, constancy, and honesty.  He reminds us of the inversion that governs his kingdom . . . those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.   

We condemn ourselves . . . or save ourselves . . . by the choices we make.  Today Jesus condemns false leaders who burden the little people.  Today Jesus calls us to love.

A re-post from October 11, 2011.

Images from: http://devotionalonjesus.blogspot.com/2010_02_01_archive.html

Matthew 27:1-2Standing before Pilate

Monday, November 12, 2018

Antonio Ciseri: Ecce homo

Today’s Gospel (Luke 24:35-48) is the second half of the Emmaus story.  The disciples who fled Jerusalem in order to escape chaos return to share their story of the Risen Christ.  They want to tell their beleaguered friends that the one who stood accused before Pilate had returned anew.  The plot of Judas and the church leaders that had once looked so successful now seemed a failure.  The world had turned upside down – just as Jesus had predicted – and the grief they had felt had now turned to joy.  As they tell their story, Jesus enters their midst as if to verify their incredible words: The one who stood before Pilate not only lives but he eats and breathes and wants to calm their fears.  His first words to them are: Peace be with you.  And then the story continues: But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.  Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?  And why do questions arise in your hearts?  Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”  And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.

This was no ghost.  Jesus was not conjured up from their hysteria or imagination.  This was real.  The one who appeared to fail had overcome.  He still bore the marks of his terrible death; yet this death had no effect upon him.  The builder’s stone that had been rejected was now a strong foundation.  And this same conversion and redemption are offered to each of us . . . Jesus’ sisters and brothers.

I am thinking of how difficult it must have been to stand before Pilate as Jesus did to suffer and die for someone else’s sake.  I am thinking of how joyful it must have been a few short days later to enter into a room of dear friends to assure them that all was well.

When we are faced with difficult decisions we do not want to make, we must remember Jesus standing before Pilate.

When we are the lone witness to injustice and violence, we must remember Jesus standing before Pilate.

When we feel abandoned by family and friends, we must remember Jesus standing before Pilate.

When everything in us wants to run, wants to defend, wants to go to any means to survive, we must remember Jesus standing before Pilate.

On this Easter Thursday if we ask: Are we willing to stand before Pilate as Jesus does?  What will be our response?

A favorite from Easter Thursday, April 28, 2011, re-posted on October 10, 2011.

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecce_homo 

Exodus 34The Richness of God

Sunday, November 11, 2018

When Moses sees the people worshiping a golden calf they have fashioned for themselves (Exodus 32:19) he smashes the tablets containing the Ten Commandments in a fit of wrath.  In today’s Noontime we read of the renewal of these tablets.  Even in the face of a willful turning away, God shows his chosen people kindness and mercy.  And God shows us this same gentleness and compassion today.

Murillo: The Good Shepherd

Today’s readings are centered on God as the Good Shepherd, the patient night-watcher, the constant day-herder, the wise and loving one who knows us from the womb until our last breath.

Paul writes to the Colossians (3:12-14) and to us: Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.  And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. 

Moses describes God as merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin.  Moses also speaks of how God chastises us – all the while loving us as a loving parent wishing the best for his child.

The Psalm in the Morning Prayer today is Psalm 36:6-10 and it reminds us of the depth and breadth of God’s love.  It also reminds us that God will be painfully truthful with us in order that we also grow in mercy and goodness and truth and justice and light: Your love, Lord, reaches to heaven; your truth to the skies.  Your justice is like God’s mountain, your judgments like the deep. To both man and beast you give protection, O Lord, how precious is your love.  My God, the sons of men find refuge in the shelter of your wings.  They feast on the riches of your house; they drink from the stream of your delight.  In you is the source of life and in your light we see light.

The MAGNIFICAT mini-reflection (Cameron 132-133) helps us to understand why we gather to celebrate Eucharist as often as possible: Through the mystery of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, God has destroyed death forever by transforming it from the end of our story to a passageway into eternal life.  In the Eucharistic feast, we taste the promise of the fulfilled.  It is in and with and through Christ that come we come to know the fullness of God’s love, that he gives his own child so that we might live.  Such is the richness of God.  Such is his gift of light and life to us.

Toward the end of exodus 34 we read about how Moses’ face is so transformed into light that he puts a veil over his face.  God’s radiance is reflected in Moses’ face . . . all of this goodness is nearly too much to bear.

The MAGNIFICAT Morning Intercessions help us to make the connection between God’s feeding of the Hebrews in the desert with God’s abiding love for us in the 21st century.  They let us know that God’s eternal message of peace that made Moses’ face radiant in joy is the same message God has for us today.  When we cry out in sorrow . . . God nourishes us.  When we wander in the darkness . . . God brings us the gift of eternal life.

God feeds us with the finest wheat: our Lord Jesus Christ, source of our life.  And so we pray . . .

You feed us at the table of your word: nourish the thoughts of our heart.

You feed us with the bread of life: grant that we may live in the spirit of self-giving love.

You feed us with the pledge of eternal life: grant that we may receive our daily bread with gratitude.

God of life, you invite all peoples to the feast of life in your kingdom.  Forgive us when, in our foolishness, we refuse your invitation to pursue other interests, and bring us back to your table that we may continue to grow in the life of Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord for ever.  Amen.

God is the Good Shepherd of all creation; he is the patient night-watcher and the constant day-herder.  God is the wise and loving one who knows us from the womb until our last breath.  God nourishes and feeds; he rescues and saves.  God calls us always to himself.  For God is rich in kindness and mercy, quick to forgive, slow to anger . . . always calling us home.

A re-post from October 9, 2011.

Cameron, Peter John, Rev., ed. “Mini-Reflection and Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 9 October 2011: 251. Print.

Images from: https://thenoontimes.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/river-200×15011.jpg and https://fineartamerica.com/featured/sunset-over-wears-valley-tennessee-mountain-art-reid-callaway.html

Ezra 3:3: Despite Fear

Ezra 3:3Despite Fear

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Several years ago we looked at the third chapter of Ezra to explore the options we have when we return from exile or a place of great sadness.  We read about how these chastened people return to a place that had once been special to them.  We see how they gather themselves after tragedy to find joy once more.  We understand that they come together in celebration to restore what was lost . . . despite their great fear.

Fear is clearly an obstacle but it also a strong motivator.  It can paralyze us and keep us from moving forward; it can also propel us into action without our knowing precisely where we are going or how we will get there.  We each know the sensation that stops us in our tracks when fear grips the heart and churns the stomach.  We also know the feeling of wild horror that urges us to escape and even run away when fear sends us into the blindness of panic.  Today we watch a people full of fear gather themselves to return to something they know to be sacred.  These people can show us how to return to what we once loved . . . even when we believe it to be lost forever.

They return from exile; they examine how and what they need to change; they thank God for their deliverance; they move forward with and in God.

They gather themselves; they take a head count; they take inventory together; they agree to a plan; they move forward with and in God.

They follow through with their plan; they rely on one another; they leave no one behind; they celebrate success; they move forward with and in God.

They who had been taken into exile now return cautiously; and they move forward with and in God.

They who had known only mourning are weighed down by pain; still they move forward with and in God.

They who wept for their loss yearn for new hope and restoration . . . and so they move forward with and in God.

They who know nothing but darkness look for peace and reunion . . . and so they move forward with and in God.

When we are bereft of all that once was familiar, when we have been carried away to a place that is alien, when we tremble with the coldness of a fear that strangles us, we – like the people we read about today – turn to God and the sureness of his mercy.  We call on this compassionate God to remove the bitter panic that grips us.  We ask this kind and gentle God to restore our confidence and joy.  And we follow this God – no matter where he leads – through the chill of the dark night to the warmth of a new presence and serenity . . . and we ask this despite all our fear.

A re-post from October 8, 2011.

Images from: http://www.greatjewishmusic.com/Moods/Serenity.htm

Isaiah 26Lament and Divine Response

Friday, November 9, 2018

Paraphrasing from the HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY: An extensive song of lamentation is followed by an assurance that judgment of the nations will be complete, and that the answers to prayers of Israel’s past will be answered.  It expresses hope for a time of peace and for restoration.  “Within this portrayal is a remarkable affirmation that ‘your dead will rise’ and that divine light will fall on the darkness of the realm of the shades of Sheol . . . The language is a hyperbolic expression of confidence that God will restore the nation of Israel [and] . . . leaves open the other possibilities for later readers who contemplate a more explicit conception of the restoration of the dead with the religious beliefs of Judaism and Christianity”.  (Mays 509)

These words are particularly poignant as yesterday our family and friends formally marked the arrival and death of a little one.  As individuals and as a community we raised our lament to the heavens; and just as surely we received our response.  The words from Isaiah today bring us what we yearn to hear.

He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down . . .

No amount of wealth or power can protect us from the natural course of life which is to die in order that we rise again in full and eternal life.

The way of the just is smooth; the path of the just you make level . . .

Those who seek refuge in God alone when the storm of life descends on them will always find a secure sanctuary against the darkness; and they will rise again to join others in full and eternal life.

My soul yearns for you in the night, yes, my spirit within me keeps vigil for you . . .

Sinking into our loss, we cry out in our pain as the darkness descends; yet within us the Spirit kindles fresh hope and we know that we will rise again in full and eternal life.

O Lord, you mete out peace to us, for it is you who have accomplished all we have done . . .

Turning to the source of our being and looking to the goal of our journey we keep our eyes and hearts fixed on the One who alone calls us forward into full and eternal life.

Salvation we have not achieved for the earth, the inhabitants of the world cannot bring it forth . . .

Recognizing that we are powerless, we turn to God, the source of goodness and mercy and light, knowing that we will rise again in full and eternal life.

But your dead shall live, their bodies shall rise; awake and sing you who lie in the dust . . .

We call out to our loved ones to join us, knowing that we will rise again in full and eternal life.

For your dew is a dew of light, and the land of shades gives birth . . .

God answers our wail of lament.  With swift and unswerving fidelity our God reaches down to pull us up out of the darkness . . . to bring us into the light of his full and eternal life.

Let us leave the darkness behind, let us drink in the newness of God’s morning dew . . . and let us abide in the light that fulfills in us the promises of God’s full and eternal life.  Amen.

A re-post from October 7, 2011.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 509. Print. 

Images from: http://luminousinspiration.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/nothing-else/

Ezekiel 45Sacred Ways

Thursday, November 8, 2018

When we read this chapter of Ezekiel we might pause to remember that in each of our days we must set aside a place for God, an attitude for God, and gifts for God.  When we do this, we have a wonderful attitude shift, we have an attitude for God.

Verses 1 through 8 describe how we might create a physical space in which we pause from our work to reflect and to listen for God’s word to come to us.  Verses 9 through 12 remind us that when we parse out our resources we are to use a just and merciful measure rather than a set of standards that exacts punishment and looks for revenge.  Verses 13 to 17 remind us that when we return the best portion of our goods to God we also return all that is good about ourselves and all that we wish to change.  Verses 18 through 25 remind us to set aside specific and certain times to celebrate the goodness of God.  All of this is about the temple Ezekiel describes in previous chapters . . . but it is also about each of us.  It is about the temple within, that place where the Spirit of God dwells.

We can become caught up in the busy-ness of the details of our lives and when this happens we must take time to return to God often and regularly – – – that he might instruct us on how we are to go and what we are to do.

We can become caught up in the many places we must go in our lives and when this happens we must – wherever we are – create a space to visit with God often and regularly – – – that we might remove our sandals and dwell on this holy ground for a while.

We can become caught up in the cultivation of the gifts we recognize as ours rather than the giving of these gifts as we move through our lives and when this happens we must remember to return these gifts to their proper place, to God, often and regularly – – – that he might use them for good. 

We can become caught up in the mercurial and ever-changing attitudes of ourselves and others as we number the days of our lives and when this happens we must remember that God never changes his attitude of loving forgiveness and that God has saved us from ourselves and others often and regularly – – – that we might dwell with him forever in peace. 

Maes: Old Woman Praying

When we make the effort to create sacred space, to return sacred gifts and to preserve sacred time no matter where we are, we become holy ground, holy gift, holy and eternal moments.  Our human, punitive and self-centered attitude morphs into the attitude of God; and we become one with the divine as our new and sacred way of being transforms us into temples for holy dwelling.

A re-post from October 6, 2011.

Images from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:An_Old_Woman_Praying_-_Nicolaes_Maes.png

Matthew 25-26: Jesus Heals

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

We are reminded by these simple verses that just as Jesus touches the people in this reading he also touches us . . . daily.  He knows our sorrows and pain . . . and so when we are open to his touch . . . he heals the greatest and smallest ache.  When we suffer too deeply to even call on him for help . . . he abides to await our awakening to him.  And when we are yet too anxious about the difficulties of life to even formulate our petitions to God . . . Jesus soothes us and eases our way.

The MAGNIFICAT Monday Morning and Evening Prayers are centered on Psalms 84 and 94 and they are apt for today’s NoontimeThey speak to the human need to know that God acts in our lives and that God’s promises are real.  They assure us that we are best healed when we travel lightly . . . and when we seek God persistently.

Prayer before Psalm 84: Jesus instructed the disciples to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts. (Mark 6:8)  We are a pilgrim people, journeying through the varied landscapes of life, on our way to the heavenly Jerusalem.  Let us travel light, unburdened by useless baggage – material or spiritual – and sing this pilgrim psalm to the God who has given us such a glorious goal in life. 

Prayer before Psalm 94: God does not withdraw his mercy, nor permit even one of his promises to fail.  (Sirach 47:22)  Uncertainty is an ever-present reality to the Christian believer. Is God really there?  Is he really interested?  Can he really hear prayers? Does he really act in today’s world?  Does he still keep his promises even now?  The Psalmist faced the same questions with a courageous, “Yes”!

God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

The promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.  (Acts 2:39)

With faith in God who keeps all promises, let us pray. We place our trust in you!

For those who do not believe in God: grant them the gift of faith.  We place our trust in you!

For those who do not believe in Jesus Christ: grant them the gift of faith. We place our trust in you!

For those who do not trust in your love or your promises: grant them the gift of faith. We place our trust in you!


A re-post from October 5, 2011. 

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” “Prayer for the Evening.” MAGNIFICAT. 3.10 (2011): 57-68. Print.

Image from: http://revphil2011.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/

Ezekiel 44Access and Worship

Monday, November 6, 2018

This chapter of Ezekiel’s prophecy goes into meticulous detail about who is admitted into the Temple and how.  There is no doubt that entering into God’s presence is special.  Nor is there any doubt that the Jewish people will see to it that this strict code is obeyed.  The closed gate is reserved for God himself; only the prince may sit down in it to eat his meal in the presence of the Lord.  He must enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and leave by the same way.  How fortunate we are – as New Testament people – to have the freedom to enter the Temple at all times.  How blessed we are to be temples that the Lord God loves to visit.  How wonderful the gift of God’s Spirit that settles into us to take up residence in the temple of self that we prepare.

Paul has much to tell us about our temple union with Christ.  From his first letter to the Corinthians (3:16-17; 6:19): Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;you were bought at a price. 

Paul also writes to the Ephesians (2:21-22) that in Christ the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. 

There is no doubt that once Christ has entered the Temple Ezekiel so carefully describes, we are admitted with him.  As Christ’s adopted sisters and brothers, we have been bought at a great price, we are pearls of immense value, and we are welcomed in the sanctuary of the Lord . . . the arms of Christ.

Let us remember this as we pray . . .

Holy and sacred God, you want us to be with you fully in eternity; give us the patience to persevere in our journey with you.

Good and generous God, you forgive us endlessly for our many faults and errors; give us the love to forgive all those who have done us harm.

Constant and abiding God, you accompany us now in our sorrows and our joy; give us the faith to follow you wherever you ask us to go.

We welcome you into the humble temple of self that we have prepared for you.  Take up residence there and guide us in our passage to you.  Grant us eternal access to your wisdom and grace; keep us close to you and call us to worship you in thanksgiving.  For your goodness and compassion are abundant.  Your presence and kindness are healing.  Your love and counsel are comforting.  Be with us now and always.  Amen.

Images from: http://www.theimpactpodcast.com/tip033-resting-in-the-arms-of-god/ 

A re-post from October 4, 2011.

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