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Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2020

Jeremiah 14:20-27: Jerusalem’s Disgrace

The remains of the southern wall of Jerusalem's Temple

The remains of the southern wall of Jerusalem’s Temple

Jerusalem, a city of promise, the holy city of God.  She has so much potential.  And she has so far to fall.  Today Jeremiah reminds us that deceit and envy will always snuggle into comfort and ease.  When we find ourselves with no problems to solve, my parents often said, we know that we do not have long to wait . . . trouble has a way of finding good fortune.

Some of the imagery in today’s reading is difficult to read and even more difficult to envision.  The image of Israel’s skirts being torn away when she is violated is such a strong one.  The idea that a flock has been entrusted to a shepherd who then abuses that trust is so insidious yet these actions play out more often than we like to think.  The realization that nothing we do is done in private is stark in these verses.  We cannot run.  We cannot hide.  As Mother and Dad always said: The truth always comes out in the end.

Yet we continue to delude ourselves and just when we are offered so much promise.  Easter with all its possibilities, draws near.  We have spent nearly forty days examining and prodding ourselves into admitting what we must change and yet we ramble forward, hoping that no one will notice that we haven’t.  How do we moderate our poor behavior?

By gently but firmly rebuking that which is secretive, that which dissembles, hides, colludes, becomes submissive because we fear someone’s anger, rejection, ridicule or abandonment.  In my extended family we have tried to live by doing not what others expect of us but rather by doing what God expects.  It is not always easy.  We need not fight, nor do we need go along with the crowd but what we must do, to the best of our abilities, is “the right thing”.

We pause over the last lines:

Your adulteries, your neighing, your shameless prostitutions: 

On the hills in the highlands I see these horrible crimes of yours.

Woe to you, Jerusalem, how long will it yet be before you come clean!

Jerusalem has so much potential and in Jeremiah today we hear a prediction of woe to come.  We only need read ancient history to know that the destruction predicted will indeed arrive.   If only Jerusalem might repair and reform.  If only Jerusalem might stand and declare what she knows to be right and good and true.

When things got a bit turbulent my Dad would always say: “Sometimes it is stand up time!”  He would elaborate: “The right thing sometimes is the lonely thing.  You might find that you are the only person in an ocean of people who has the courage to stand and be counted.  If you talk with your Creator and have heard his advice . . . and if the advice is to ‘stand up and be counted’, then you best not be found sitting down”.

Sometimes it is stand-up time.  Oh Jerusalem!  If only you might stand!


Image from: http://www.jabberwocky.com/photo/israel/jerusalem.html

First written on December 10, 2007.  Edited and posted today as a Favorite.

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

Acts 21A Prayer as We Go Up to Jerusalem

Walls of Jerusalem

Walls of Jerusalem

For the last few days we have explored the journey we make individually and collectively as we ascend to God’s holy place.  We have examined ourselves to see how and if and why we might want to go up to Jerusalem.  We have determined that the journey is arduous and requires much of us.  And we have decided to join others in this pilgrim march.

And so we pray . . .

Good and gracious God,

We know that we must all go up to Jerusalem to meet you despite and even through the conflict – because there is something in Jerusalem which is far better than anything we can imagine.  Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what you have ready for those who love you, St Paul tells the Corinthians and he tells us this today; he gathers himself and the other disciples to go to meet you despite the strife which lies ahead.

We know that we must all go up to Jerusalem because we can do nothing else, we can take no other action, we can join no other cause that will bring us as much as you want to bring to us.  We must stay and stand . . . and shirk away from no cross.

We know that we must all go up to Jerusalem for that is where we meet you, God.  There are many directions from which to travel, many roads on which to journey, many people with whom to travel, but travel we must because it is the only destination worth seeking and the only road worth traveling.

We know that we must all up to Jerusalem in joy and anticipation for there is no greater delight, no greater happiness than the gladness that you have in mind for us.

As we move through Lent toward Palm Sunday to begin Holy Week when we celebrate your entrance into Jerusalem, we want to go up to Jerusalem for there is no other place to go, no other place we want to be.

Call us to you. Take us with you. Hold us close despite the trials of the journey . . . for we know that we must all go up to Jerusalem.  Amen.


Paul to the people of Corinth at: 1 Corinthians 2:9 

To learn more about Jerusalem, visit Victor’s Place blog and read the Up to Jerusalem post at: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/up-to-jerusalem-november-10/

For more Jerusalem photos, click on the image above or go to: http://www.jabberwocky.com/photo/israel/jerusalem.html

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Acts 21:27-36: Going Up to Jerusalem – Part III

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

To give James and the Jerusalem Jewish Christians their due, they are able to come to an agreement with Paul; but as we follow this story we see that Paul is meant to run into a huge struggle.  He is finally arrested and taken to Rome for his trial and with this single action, the Roman Empire catapults this young religion onto the world stage.  The little-known Jewish sect of the followers of The Way spreads Christ’s message through the Empire.  Jesus becomes a household word and the Way of Peace and Peace-Making suddenly has a universal audience because of Paul’s strife.  There is irony in this story . . . and inversion.

The controlling Jewish leaders meant to stop this movement at its inception, but if we remember the words of Gamaliel in Acts 5:34-42 we will understand that God always works through irony and inversion.  Gamaliel was the most respected scholar and leader of the times.  Paul himself studied with this rabbi.  The writer of Acts records these words of Gamaliel, and they are words we might try to live by daily: In the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone!  Let them go!  For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.

Many times in scripture we encounter this theme:  The faithful need not fight, they only need to maintain their relationship with God and refuse to do anything which causes them to abandon God . . . and it is always the struggle that brings strength, it is always the conflict that teaches patience, it is always the skirmish that draws others to God’s loving providence.  There will be difficulty when we go up to Jerusalem but still we must go.

We must all go up to Jerusalem.  We must stand for something.  We must witness, watch and wait.  We must allow the Holy Spirit to put the words we need into our mouths when we fear speaking.  We must cease worrying about the anxieties and cares of this world.  We must remain committed to the relationships we make.  We must seek and form unity rather than separation.  We must think of self last and neighbor first.  We must pray and intercede for those who harm us.  We are to commit daily acts of hope when we see the impossibilities of this life swirl around us trying to pull us into a vortex of depression and hopelessness.  We are to act with justice rather than leniency.  We are to rebuke Godlessness.  We are to be merciful to all – especially those who seek our destruction.  We are to forgive endlessly, to love infinitely and to hope outrageously.  For this we are created.  To this we are called.  Our God seeks nothing but intimacy with all of us.

God perseveres.  God endures.  God is patient.  God is love.  And this God of Love calls us all to go up to Jerusalem.

Jesus lived.  Jesus died.   Jesus rose.  Jesus returned.  Jesus lives.  And Jesus calls us all to go up to Jerusalem.

Tomorrow: A Prayer as we go up to Jerusalem.


Image from: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/jerusalem-garden-tomb

To learn more about Jerusalem, visit Victor’s Place blog and read the Tomb of Jesus post at: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/at-the-tomb-of-jesus-november-14/

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Acts 21:17-26Going Up to Jerusalem – Part II

Rembrandt: Two Old Men Disputing (Saints Peter and Paul)

Rembrandt: Two Old Men Disputing (Saints Peter and Paul)

In the Book of Acts we see the Jerusalem Jewish Christians struggle with the established, powerful Old Guard structure.  The upstart religious sect condemns the established organization for its corruption, its desire to control, and its refusal to hear the word of God as expressed in the person of Jesus.  Ironically, Paul comes to these same early Christians to tell them that he has spoken with the risen Christ and the young church nearly rejects Paul’s message.  They become just like the Pharisees and Sadducees before them and initially they put aside the Jesus message which Paul brings.  Providentially they realize that Paul is genuine and they agree on a solution to their conflict.  A good study Bible with reliable commentary will walk you through the twists and circles of those disagreements but today we look at this point: unity is achieved in the early church because of the conflict through which they struggle; this early conflict in which they find common ground does not weaken them but rather it strengthens their tiny movement.

How many times does this happen to us?  How many times do we do precisely what we condemn others for doing?  How many times does a revolution take place only to be followed by a punitive system set up by the rebels who fought in the name of freedom?  How many times do we miss one screaming arrow only to run into another?  And how many times do we classify conflict as a struggle to be won, rather than an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and others?

We have begun our annual ascent to Jerusalem and we have heard grumblings among the various pilgrim groups with which we journey.  We have embarked on a journey of forty days saying that we want to strip away all that distracts us from communing with God.  We have fasted, prayed, given alms, and sought answers to piercing questions . . . and we have avoided conflict whenever it presents itself.

As the story in Acts tells us today, we will encounter obstacles even on pilgrimage when we have put all of our best intentions forward and brought all of our best efforts to bear.  And rather than ignore, fear, or skirt around these barriers we need to examine them closely, seek wider commentary, ask God for wisdom, and then come to an agreement about how we might remove the hurdle from our common path.  We know that Jesus’ family traveled up to Jerusalem with other families so that they might be safe from bandits and marauders along the way.  Surely they did not all agree on where to stop for the night, which river crossing was best, or who ought to choose which turning to take at the crossroad; yet somehow they arrived.  And so must we.

We are travelling up to Jerusalem today.  Let us embrace the conflicts we encounter.  Let us listen to one another.  And let us remember that unity born of conflict can strengthen a tiny bad of sisters and brothers when we seek the common good and rely on God.

Tomorrow: A world-wide church is born out of an arrest.


For more on the conflict between Paul and Peter, click on the image above or go to: http://timgombis.com/2011/07/24/was-paul-a-doctrinal-watchdog/

To learn more about Jerusalem, visit Victor’s Place blog and read the November 13 post on exploring the city at: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/exploring-jerusalem-november-13/

Today’s post is part of the December 16, 2007 Noontime reflection.

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

John 19:25-27: Vulnerable Women

station_ix[1]From THE FOUR LOVES by C. S. Lewis: To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully around the hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.  The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell”. 

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/3058-to-love-at-all-is-to-be-vulnerable-love-anything

These words give us something to ponder as we watch the women wait for the hour of death at the foot of the cross.  With them we can examine ourselves to see how and if and why we do or do not allow ourselves to be open or closed to love, open or closed to heaven, open or closed to a place of dark tragedy.

Matthew, Mark and Luke record that the women accompanying Christ and his friends stood at a distance as the hour of Jesus’ death drew near.  It is John who brings this group closer to the cross, closer to the agony, closer to the pain.  It is John who records how Jesus was certain to see to his mother’s welfare.  A woman alone in this society lived a dangerous life without provision and without protection.  Jesus does not allow this mother, who has offered her love unconditionally to him and to his followers, to be left to the mercy of the crowd.  This is one of his final acts as he exits this world to enter into the next.

From early on in all four Gospels we see women as important to Jesus. In Luke 8:1-3 we find women, many of them nameless, following Christ, cooking and washing for him and his disciples.  These women make themselves open to The Word.  They offer themselves as vulnerable vessels for The Word.  They became sowers and reapers, caretakers and nurturers.  They become builders of the Kingdom of God.  They allow themselves to be committed to something that many disbelieve.  They love.

Thinking about these women and considering where we might be standing in this crucifixion story, we pause to pray . . .

May we be faithful followers of Christ as were these Galilean women whom the Gospels describe.  May we be willing vessels, vulnerable to the love to which Jesus calls us.  May we dare to make ourselves open to the work God has in mind for us.  May we be willing temples wherein the Holy Spirit dwells. May we rejoice in the wisdom of the Creator, in the miracle of God’s hope, in the healing and restoration of God’s hand.  May we be present to everyone we meet today and all days . . . for we never know what miracles may be wrought, what hopes fulfilled, what love harvested . . . . if only we might be open and vulnerable.

Amen.


For a prayer At the Foot of the Cross, click on the image above or go to: http://lu10-38.blogspot.com/2007/02/station-ix-at-foot-of-cross.html

Written on Valentine’s Day 2008, re-written and posted today.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Matthew 26:6-13: The Anointing

An alabaster jar

An alabaster jar

A woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table.

I am noticing something for the first time about chapter 26 of Matthew as we read the story of the conspiracy against Jesus.  Amid the howling, the deceit, the betrayal and the preparation for the last meal followed by the passion . . . there are 7 brief verses . . . an eye in the storm of the hurricane.  Jesus is anointed . . . and even at this moment of respite, his apostles complain.  He tells us what we have heard so often: The poor are with us always, but now the King is among you.  Rejoice!  My death in this life and Resurrection into the next are upon us!  We know that where Jesus goes, we are invited to follow.

Amidst the jangle and turmoil of a terribly difficult passage in his journey, Jesus relies on God and trusts God’s providence.  He fully understands that we are all – including himself – a part of the whole.  He knows that God’s economy will provide redemption for all . . . and that this redemption rests in him.  His love for his sisters and brothers is so authentic and so intense that he sacrifices himself of his own volition. Why do we worry?  Why are we angry?  We have someone who is willing to do all that it takes to redeem us.  We must find and bring our own alabaster jar for the anointing.

From today’s reflection in MAGNIFICAT (Simon Tugwell, O.P.):  God’s providence does not mean that he has got it [life] all planned out in advance, so that our part is simply to follow.  That is the thought that might well drive us to despair: once we had left the right way, who would help us then?  We may think of God’s providence rather in terms of the way in which he integrates all our free choices, mistakes and sins and all, into his plan.  He is that expert dancer who can make dance even out of the stumblings of the most atrocious partner!  Our hatred, our fear, become the occasion of our redemption, as we see so clearly on Calvary.  (Cameron)

This is what Jesus tells his companions in today’s Noontime reading. Rejoice, salvation is at and, the God who made you in his image, the God who walks among you now, the God who watches over you is showing you a Way for you to come together in him.  And you may bring your mistakes with you!  For God is so good and so whole and so just and loving . . . that there is a seat for everyone at the table.

As we prepare for our own Passover and as we enter into the last weeks of Lent, we can rest in the knowledge and the peace that even our stumbling is made holy by God’s love.  God will integrate all of our free choices – be they sensible or insensible, just or unjust.  God will enter into our Easter dance – be it clumsy or elegant, hurried or slow-paced.  God will lead us into Easter rejoicing . . . if only we might follow.

We celebrate this un-named woman who saw salvation before her eyes . . . and honored it.

We trust that we, too, honor this amazing gift of life eternal.

We hope in the Christ, believe in the Creator, and love in the Holy Spirit.

Let us pause for a moment in the whirlwind of our days . . . give thanks . . . anoint one another . . . and follow Christ.  Let us rejoice!


Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 1.3 (2008). Print.  

First written on March 12, 2008. Revised and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://www.reddirtchronicles.com/2011/01/the-gospel-in-an-alabaster-jar/

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Second Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2020

Hosea 10: False Heart, True Heart

heart-nature-mark-kazav[1]False oaths, fake alliances, evil intrigues, any means to achieve an end: this is what Hosea sees in his community.  The kingdom of David has been divided in two.  Elijah, Elisha, and Amos have warned the people; Isaiah and Micah will add their prophetic words of warning.  Hosea finds himself seeing clearly the devastation that awaits this false-hearted people.   He is ignored.

Yet . . . Hosea persists, telling us that we are people meant to worship God, meant to take the yoke upon fair neck, to thresh, to be harnessed by the plow of the true God with a true heart.  We are created to be workers in the vineyard, to sow justice and reap piety, we are meant to break new fields so that the rain of God’s justice might bring forth new fruit.

Hosea warns that those who have sown discord and wickedness will reap perversity and eat of the fruit of falsehood.  Turmoil will break out among those who have trusted their warriors and chariots rather than trusting God.  The fortresses carefully built against the needs of the world will be tumbled and ravaged; the false hearts who take advantage of the poor will be lost in the utter destruction.  Hosea predicts all of this and does not succumb to the darkness of the world.  He does not surrender to the pressures around him, he endures.

Like Hosea, we might want God’s justice to be clearly visible in the present; we may want all of Hosea’s predictions about false hearts to materialize in an instant.  Those who seek a settling of scores may wish God’s integrity to rain down on those who sit on comfortable couches to contrive wicked plots.  They will want to see a world of integrity replace the world of falsehood they experience.  Yet this is the message of Christ: God has sent one of true heart and true words, one of promises kept and miracles revealed.  God has sent Jesus to live among us.  Lent tells us that the possibility of living a genuine life is here – now – this day.   We need only turn to God and to open our eyes to see.

If we are dissatisfied with the speed of God’s coming or if we doubt that God is even here among us, we must look first to ourselves to begin kingdom-building.  We must examine our own hearts to see if we remain in truth no matter the social consequence.  We must cease the gossip, cease the controlling, and cease the lusting after outcomes, fame, possessions, power and people.  We must amend our ability – and our willingness – to ignore reality.  We must change our hearts so that we do not succumb to the social pressure to acquire goods, dominance or a sense of superiority.  We must nurture our desire to share, our yearning to heal, and our aspiration for peace.  We must ask God to transform the falsehood in our own hearts so that we might receive goodness from God.  We must be open to the reality of the Lenten message that all are welcome.  Welcome into Christ’s own, open heart.

With endurance, with fidelity, and with honesty the prophecy of Hosea will fully arrive.  And thus the false hearts of the world will become the true heart of Christ.

Let us ask for the coming of this kingdom.


Image from: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/heart-nature-mark-kazav.html

First written on Wednesday, December 22, 2010.  Revised and posted today as a Favorite.

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Friday, March 6, 2020

Hosea 10:11-15: Time to Seek the Lord

morning-dew-fresh-christ-manna-1024x768[1]Ephraim . . . Judah . . . sons of Jacob . . . tribes of Israel . . . northern and southern kingdoms.  Paganism . . . a Covenant relationship with the one true God . . . Infidelity . . . Constancy . . . Pleasure . . . Joy.  Exile . . . Return . . . Repentance . . . Restoration . . . Turmoil . . . Order . . . Chaos . . . Light.

We have seen these words . . . heard these themes . . . so many times . . . yet eye has not seen . . . ear has not heard . . . what God has in mind for us. (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Hosea follows the will of God and marries the harlot Gomer.  His hope is that she will reform.  She does not.  He calls her to love . . . she turns away.  He persists . . . she will return . . . one day . . .

The offenses of Israel are grave and great, almost too much to bear.  And so we look to the end of the story to peek at the outcome.  Looking at the last lines of Hosea’s prophecy:  I will heal their defection; I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them.  I will be like the dew of Israel: he shall blossom like the lily; He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth his shoots.  His splendor shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.  Again they shall dwell in the shade and raise grain; they shall blossom like the vine, and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.  Ephraim!  What more has he to do with idols?  I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.  “I am like a verdant cypress tree” – Because of me you bear fruit!  Let him who is wise understand these things; let him who is prudent know them.  Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them.  (14:5-10)

Lily Five[1]Dear Jesus,

We stumble so frequently yet we turn and return.

We seek your path,

We call on your wisdom, we ask for prudence, courage, fortitude, patience.

We know your ways and your statutes.  We know that you await us.

We see these things, we hear these words, we rely on your constancy and your promise.

We look for the harvest, we look for the shade in the noonday sun.

We seek conversion and transformation.

We seek the Lord.

 Amen.


1 Corinthians 2:9: Eye has not seen, ear has not heard by Marty Haugen video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRyOS0nZr7s

For more thoughts on seeking, go to the God Time page on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/god-time/

Images from: http://www.agodman.com/blog/enjoying-the-dew-and-the-manna-from-the-lord-to-be-revived-every-morning/ and http://theverticall.blogspot.com/2010/06/dew-to-israel.html

Written on January 31, 2008  and posted today as a Favorite.

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Thursday, March 5, 2020

Hosea 10:1-10: Captivity Endured

4handcuffs_Sergey_Venyavsky[1]We are a captive people . . . longing to be free.

We are a searching people . . . longing to be fulfilled.

We are a hopeful people . . . longing to be restored.

False altars will crumble.  Safe harbors will silt in.  Wooden idols will disintegrate into dust.  Sacred pillars will fall.

Since they do not fear the Lord, what can the king do for them?  Nothing but make promises, swear false oaths, and make alliances, while justice grows wild like wormwood in a plowed field! 

If we are able to take the time today to read these verses slowly we might be able to see our own lives through the prism Hosea hands to us.  God loves God’s creatures so dearly that God prunes their wild vines and disciplines them in their way of walking the path. God also promises restoration, and God always keeps promises made.

We know what we seek; yet we sometimes are our own false prophets.

We know that there is the choice of light and dark always before us; yet we sometimes we linger in the shadows.

We know how to transform pain; yet we sometimes act as though we have not heard or seen the message.

God prunes in order to produce fruit in abundance.

God endures through evil and invites us to participate in turning it to good.

God restores in order that we learn to live in outrageous hope.

God loves in order that we turn and return to God’s call of The Way.

God is.  And we are God’s captive people . . . we are a seeking people . . . we are a hopeful people . . . longing to be free . . . longing to be fulfilled . . . longing to be restored. 

In this Lenten time we know that God accompanies us in our Jerusalem journey.  We know that God abides with us.  We know that God calls each one of us by name from eons before our birth.  We know that God is.  Come, let us follow The Way.   


First written during the Christmas octave in December 2008. revised and posted today as  a Favorite

Image from: http://voicerussia.com/radio_broadcast/61124198/91577572/

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