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Nehemiah 2: Finding Our Way

Friday, May 18, 2018

Yesterday we explored the idea of Jesus as The Way. Today we reflect on the difficulties we encounter as we move through our own passage of life.

We frequently explore the idea of restoration in our Noontimes, and today we re-visit the story of Ezra and Nehemiah who secured permission for the people of Israel to return to Jerusalem to rebuild all they had lost. Nehemiah enters into the story with us.

One day four months later, when Emperor Artaxerxes was dining, I took the wine to him. He had never seen me look sad before, so he asked, “Why are you looking so sad? You aren’t sick, so it must be that you’re unhappy.” I was startled and answered, “May Your Majesty live forever! How can I keep from looking sad when the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

Later, after obtaining letters of safe travel, Nehemiah and the Israelite journey to their homeland with a military escort as a safeguard. We can imagine the level of anxiety as this faithful remnant wondered what conditions they would actually find.

I went on to Jerusalem, and for three days I did not tell anyone what God had inspired me to do for Jerusalem. Then in the middle of the night I got up and went out, taking a few of my companions with me. The only animal we took was the donkey that I rode on. It was still night as I left the city through the Valley Gate on the west and went south past Dragon’s Fountain to the Rubbish Gate. As I went, I inspected the broken walls of the city and the gates that had been destroyed by fire. Then on the east side of the city I went north to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool. The donkey I was riding could not find any path through the rubble, so I went down into Kidron Valley and rode along, looking at the wall. Then I returned the way I had come and went back into the city through the Valley Gate.

A century and a half after his people left their city in sorrow, Nehemiah returns with the faithful to begin anew. As we read this story, the details prompt memories of our own times of calamity, distress, evaluation, renewal and restoration. We recall the emotional journey as grief gives way to release, and our tears of pain become tears of joy. Nehemiah’s conversion becomes our own as he scouts out possibilities while reckoning with reality.

Later the priest Ezra takes the faithful through a similar process. While Nehemiah rebuilds the city, walls and Temple, Ezra renews the soul of this people. Some of the actions he takes exclude others from the promise of God’s covenant, but despite this exclusion, we see this Old Testament leader as steadfast, and in full understanding of the power and importance of the Spirit. In the transformative leadership of these two men, we see the possibility of redemption, and a foreshadowing of the savior to come.

We may want to shrink from the challenges of life, but we must then recognize that our passage is not about safe harbors and static circumstances; rather, it is about change, process, and promise. The skills we learn as we traverse this lifespan are essential if we hope to walk in The Way of our lives to come. We cannot know the twists and turns of our journey, nor can we predict its hills and valleys; but what we can envisage is the ever-present guidance of God, the steady wisdom of Christ, and the constant, healing love of the Spirit.


Tomorrow, vine and branches.

Explore more reflections on Nehemiah, Ezra, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem on this blog by using the search bar.  

Images from: https://spiritualityhealth.com/blogs/real-love-with-eve/2014/09/24/eve-hogan-winding-path-relationships and http://iwallpapers.free.fr/picture.php?/12653/category/Californie

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John 14: Jesus is The Way

Thursday, May 17, 2018

This week we continue our exploration of the manner in which Jesus describes himself, helping us to find our beyond the obstacles on our path, to accompany one another in both sorrow and joy, to give thanks for God’s always present power.

We ask which way to go, how to speak, what to do with what we hear and see; and Jesus speaks constantly in our ear. When we question, we receive. When we knock on the door, it opens. When we seek, we find.

Jesus answered [Thomas], “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me. Now that you have known me,” he said to them, “you will know my Father also, and from now on you do know him and you have seen him.” Jesus answered [Philip], “For a long time I have been with you all; yet you do not know me?”

We are astounded by Jesus’ confidence and long for his compassion. We are eager for Jesus’ friendship and rely on his wisdom. We are hopeful in Jesus’ message and give thanks for his understanding.

Jesus told them, “Do not be worried and upset. Believe in God and believe also in me”. 

These words are so well known. They are straightforward and astounding. They promise the unthinkable and spell out the profound.

We constantly look for the Spirit’s presence and miracles; yet we too often give up on following The Way that lies before us. Yesterday we remembered the guidance we receive from Jesus, The Good Shepherd. Today we step boldly onto Christ’s Way.


Tomorrow, finding our Way.

Image from: http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2011/05/how-jesus-is-way-and-how-he-is-truth.html

 

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Exodus 3: “I AM”

Sébastien Bourdon: Burning Bush

Ascension Sunday, May 13, 2018

In order to make the traditional feast of Ascension Thursday accessible to more of the faithful, some dioceses observe its celebration on the Sunday following the customary date. Today we reflect on the message God gives to Moses through the medium of the burning bush that never burns; and over the next days, we will spend time reflecting on how God communicates with us the enormity and the mystery that is God’s love for us.

God said, “I am who I am. You must tell them: ‘The one who is called I Am has sent me to you.’ Tell the Israelites that I, the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, have sent you to them. This is my name forever; this is what all future generations are to call me”. 

“I am who am”.  

What does this simplest of phrases mean for us? That all of creation announces God. That all of humanity comes from this source.

“I am who am”.  

What might this simplest of phrases hold for us? God’s promise that we are never alone, and never abandoned.

“I am who am”.  

What might this simplest of phrases portend for us? That we have nothing to fear and everything to expect.

“I am who am”.  

Today as we contemplate God’s gift of self to each of us, we spend time with this simplest of phases as we reflect on its meaning and promise.


Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bourdon,_S%C3%A9bastien_-_Burning_bush.jpg

For an explanation of the significance of the tetragrammaton YHWH, visit: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Yahweh

Mark’s Gospel is a lightning bolt paean describing the story of Jesus’ coming among us, this presence of God who longs to live among the faithful. For a reflection on this blog, visit: https://thenoontimes.com/the-book-of-our-life/the-new-testament-revising-our-suffering/mark-i-am/

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Matthew 25:1-13: The Duality of Mercy

Friday, April 27, 2018

Phoebe Traquair: The Parable of the Ten Virgins

Some time ago, I heard a lecture concerning the difference between mercy and leniency that piqued my interest since the point of the lecture was that God uses tough love. God is always ready to forgive; God is always abiding. But we benefit most from this gift of loving kindness when we move toward redemption. We blossom with newness when we make reparations. We acknowledge God’s overarching authority when we agree to suffer well in God’s duality of mercy.

God is all merciful and compassionate, and God wants us to recognize and then work on our flaws. If we continually run away from our mistakes rather than fixing them, we reject the reason for our existence. When we refuse to repair the damage we have done, we avoid blooming into the potential God engendered in us at our inception. When we blame family, friends, colleagues and systems for our own unrepaired flaws, we miss the opportunity God wants for us to learn about the duality of mercy, mercy laced with a justice that saves even the most lost of souls.

As a child, I puzzled over the parable of The Ten Virgins, asking my mother why the five wise girls did not share lamp oil with others as we were taught to do in our large family. With wisdom-tinged sadness, Mother told me we usually learn life’s hardest lessons with the biggest bumps, and that, ultimately, it was God who understood our suffering best. Being locked out of the feast seemed an injustice to me, and yet as I grew I better understood the intelligence of Mother’s words. We learn most when we suffer. We learn deepest when we apologize. I began to picture God the party-giver flinging open the door to the feast to right a wrong, to invite the five foolish girls to enter after all. And perhaps this is what God does. But first, I now imagine as an adult, God insists that the five who scoffed at the prudent wisdom of those who prepared well must admit to their own selfishness in going to the feast unprepared. First, I now see as an adult, God moves us to look inward to see what needs repairing rather than outward to see whom we might blame. First, God says to them gently yet firmly, you must learn to trim the wick of your lamp. You must learn to conserve the resources I lend to you. First, you must open your heart to the duality of mercy.

Our roots go deeper and our branches reach higher when we examine ourselves with God’s merciful justice. Our lives have more meaning and our sharing is more authentic when we learn the lessons taught by God’s unprejudiced compassion. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way, I still hear Mother saying. Yet the closed door at the feast feels so final and absolute, and so I continue to imagine another ending in which the door opens, the five apologize and amend their egocentric and imprudent ways, and the master invites everyone in to join in the feast.

Like the five foolish virgins, we must look to ourselves and make changes. Like the five wise virgins, we must continue in our prudence and wisdom despite the pressures of life. Like the many faithful seated at the Kingdom’s table, we must learn the language of God’s merciful justice in order to fully take part in the feast.


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

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Isaiah 26:8-12: The Duality of Justice

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Like the Old Testament psalmists, we ask God to avenge the wrongs done to us. Like the New Testament followers of Christ, we ask God to forgive our enemies who know not what they do. This dichotomy of justice reflects God’s merciful nature. It is, at the same time, a challenge we hope to meet.

On the cross that serves as the mechanism of his human death, Jesus requests that God the Creator forgive those who kill him, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:24)

In his ghastly death by stoning, Stephen uses a last breath to intercede for his attackers saying, Lord, do not hold this sin against them. (Acts 7:60)

These are challenging actions to imitate; this state of mind asks of us an incredibly high level of persistence, patience and fidelity to God’s ways. We doubt that we can rise to this demanding witness to God’s great love, and so we ask . . . How do we bridge the gap between God’s way and our own?

Carlo Crivelli: Saint Stephen

When doubt rises within, we rely on the gift of faith planted in us at our inception. When we relax into God’s plan, this gift flourishes in such a way that we receive much more than we give.

When desperation erodes the sense of peace and good will we have nurtured, we trust the gift of hope in God’s promises to us. When we rest in the memories of God’s power to move in our lives, anxiety crumbles, worry dissolves.

When our circumstances point to all that is wrong with the world, we act in the gift of God’s love as demonstrated in the many small miracles that shower our lives like the gentle rain after a dry season. When we put aside our desire for revenge, our anger subsides. When we determine to address our enemies with mercy, our hope for destruction of those who oppose us ebbs away. When we make the decision to meet our enemies with prudent love and faith-filled awe of the Lord, we find that we are suddenly open to the possibility that the duality we see in God’s justice will bring about the transformation of the world.


To learn more about Saint Stephen, click on the image above or visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Stephen and https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-stephen/

Images from: http://ocarm.org/en/content/ocarm/mercy-without-justice-mother-dissolution-justice-without-mercy-cruelty and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Stephen

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Jeremiah 20:10-13: Whispering 

Friday, March 23, 2018

On this Friday before Palm Sunday, we visit the first reading for today’s liturgy, and we reflect upon the difficulties of life when we believe our friends have betrayed us.

For I hear many whispering:
    “Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
    All my close friends
    are watching for me to stumble.

On this Friday before we re-live Christ’s deep passion for eternal life, and deep love for God’s people, we reflect upon the path that is open to us when we feel terror on every side.

But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
    therefore my persecutors will stumble,
    and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
    for they will not succeed.

On this Friday before we enter into the holiest of weeks, we reflect upon the wonders that God works in our lives . . . and we give thanks.

Sing to the Lord;
    praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
    from the hands of evildoers.

Visit the posts Desire and Terror, and Terror and Wisdom on this blog. https://thenoontimes.com/2012/05/09/desire-and-terror/ and https://thenoontimes.com/2012/03/04/terror-and-wisdom/

Image from: http://hearinghealthmatters.org/betterhearingconsumer/2013/the-hearing-loss-whisper-game/

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Genesis 17:3-9: Leaving The Comfort of Ur

Ur of the Chaldees

Thursday, March 22, 2018

On this Thursday before Palm Sunday, we remember the story of Abraham and Sarah.

In Chapter 12 of Genesis, we hear God’s call to Abram: Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s home, and go to a land that I am going to show you. I will give you many descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will bless you and make your name famous, so that you will be a blessing.

Today we ask ourselves if we are willing to leave all that we know in order to move toward an unseen promise. Do we have faith that God truly calls us as God called Abram? Do we believe in the hope of God’s covenant? Do we share God’s Spirit with open and giving hearts? In today’s Noontime reading, we move further into Abram’s story and we rest in the verses that tell us how and why Abram becomes Abraham. We hear the familiar words describing how and why Sarai becomes Sarah. And we ask . . .

Are we willing to step forward into the unknown as we follow God’s call? Do we anticipate the joy of the journey as we discover new places, times and peoples? Do we act with Christ’s mercy? Do we live in Christ’s joy? And like Sarah and Abraham, are we willing to leave the comfort of Ur?

For information on the city of Ur, visit: https://www.britannica.com/place/Ur

Click on the image of Ur, or visit Antiquity NOW at: https://antiquitynow.org/tag/ur/

Visit the Resting in the Promise post on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/2013/12/22/resting-in-the-promise/

Or enter the word Covenant into the blog search bar.

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Daniel 3:  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Joseph Mallord William Turner: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Burning Fiery Furnace – Tate Museum, UK

It is Wednesday before Palm Sunday and today we choose verses from this well-known and well-loved story.

None of us is exempt from trials in the fiery furnace. Some of us suffer greatly; some only a little. Nevertheless, pain comes to each and all of us. And so we pray that in our difficult days, we will turn – as these young men do – to the one who saves. We pray that the angel of the LORD – as God promises – accompanies us in our fiery ordeals. And we pray that – as Christ calls us to do – to muster our courage to step forward into the promise of life.

Shadrach! Meshach! Abednego! Servants of the Supreme God! Come out!

Visit the Tales from the Disapora posts on this blog for more reflections. Or enter the words Furnace or Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego into the blog search bar.

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Jeremiah 17:7-8: Weathering the Drought

Monday, March 19, 2018

On this Monday before Palm Sunday, we reflect on the morning’s first reading for liturgy. Today we look to one who trusts God as a model for our anxious minds and weary hearts. The LORD says . . .

I will bless the person
    who puts her trust in me.
She is like a tree growing near a stream
    and sending out roots to the water.
It is not afraid when hot weather comes,
    because its leaves stay green;
it has no worries when there is no rain;
    it keeps on bearing fruit.

We ask . . . do we believe that we will not succumb to the times of drought? Do we trust that we will weather barren days and dark nights? Are we willing to bear fruit when our resources are low? DO we send out roots to water and stretch limbs to the sky?

Visit the Obstinacy reflection on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/2014/08/19/obstinacy/

Image from: http://hospitesmundi.org/roots-and-branches/ 

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