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Friday, October 23, 2020

cc_jer29_11plant[1]Jeremiah 18:13-17

An Unnatural Apostasy

Therefore, thus says the Lord, “Ask among the nations – who has heard the like?”

God speaks to us of a behavior that has gone far away from the norm.

Truly horrible things has virgin Israel done!

We know this story – Israel has rejected her close relationship with God and has chosen to align herself with pagan gods.

Does the snow of Lebanon desert the rocky heights? Do the gushing waters dry up that flow fresh down the mountains? 

Israel’s actions are as unnatural as snow melting in freezing weather or rivers ceasing their journey through mountain valleys.

Yet my people have forgotten me: they burn incense to a thing that does not exist.

Israel abandons the covenant that has brought her out of Egypt and established her in fertile lands.

They stumble out of their ways, the paths of old, to travel on bypaths, not the beaten track. 

Israel goes against all advice and convention to insist on her own journey that is full of danger.

Their land shall be turned into a desert, an object of lasting ridicule: all passers-by will be amazed, will shake their heads. 

Those who do not remain faithful will find their lives arid; they will be embarrassed by their own actions once they have the opportunity to look back on what they have done.

Like the east wind, I will scatter them before their enemies; I will show them my back, not my face, in their day of disaster.

Old Testament thinking sees God as an angry, vengeful creator. New Testament experiences God through a messianic lens that perceives God as merciful and forgiving, beckoning and tending, guarding and guiding. New Testament thinking teaches us that we can trust the creator to care for us when we look for wisdom and peace. Messianic thinking places hope in the presence of the creator among us in human form. Messianic hope teaches us that no one is too lost, nothing is too disastrous and no obstacle is too impossible for our God who loves us dearly and well.

Jeremiah also brings us these words: For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

When we reflect on Israel’s unnatural turning away from so great a love, let us also consider our own relationship with God. Do we scatter before the east wind . . . or do we cleave to the source of all good and all hope? Do we bow to an unnatural apostasy . . . or do we remain as steady as the snows upon the high mountain tops . . . and rush down mountainsides with joy as we fall into God’s own hands?


Image from: http://www.crosscards.com/cards/scripture-cards/jeremiah-29-11-5.html

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Sunday, October 18, 2020

120578004.0sKwzibJ[1]Psalm 32:6-7

Songs of Deliverance

Each of your servants prays to you in time of trouble; even if floods come rushing down, they will never reach him. You are a hiding place for me, you guard me when in trouble, you surround me with songs of deliverance.

The dry wadis flood when sudden rains come upon the unsuspecting traveler.  The psalmist uses an apt metaphor for the troubles that spring on us when we are living ordinary lives in ordinary ways. During these times God becomes a hiding place, a sanctuary, a refuge from sudden, overwhelming storms. God guards and protects, encourages and saves. God calls to us out of the storm, intoning the words of hymns of liberation. What are these words that are meant to calm crushed spirits, to sooth distraught minds and bring weary bones to new life?

God says: I hear you when you pray to me out of the maelstrom that strikes you – as the storms of life always do – and I long to save you from all that threatens you. Call out to me as the flood waters rise.  Sing out my name when you feel that you are lost. Ask me for help and I will make a way for you. When I rebuke the rushing waters that threaten to pull you down into darkness, they will settle at once into a refreshing oasis where you can rest and renew yourself. Do not fear the swirling waters of life, for I am with you always.  When you call, I will answer.

Jewish_National_Fund_trees_in_The_Negev[1]From Matthew 8:23-27: When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.  And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to him and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, oh you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

When we are surprised by the sudden changes that spring on us, let us call on one whom even the winds and sea obey. And let us listen for the songs of deliverance that overcome the storm.

Enter the word maelstrom or storm into the blog search bar and reflect on how God saves and liberates us when we ask for help.


For more images of the Hatta Wadi Floods, click on the image above, or go to: http://www.pbase.com/bigrig/image/120578004

Oasis image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oasis

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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

GIMP_Arrogance_Grunge_II_by_Project_GimpBC[1]2 Peter 2:10-13

Bold and Arrogant

Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to revile glorious beings, whereas angels, despite their superior strength and power, do not bring a reviling judgment against them from the Lord. But these people, like irrational animals . . . revile things they do not understand, and in their destruction they will also be destroyed, suffering wrong as payment for wrongdoing.

As we hear so often in the Peter’s words: We reap what we sow. False teachers are always among us but Jesus is clear in his many parables that wheat is separated from chaff and sheep from goats. The marvelous quality about God’s love is that God is always willing to forgive us. The story of the Prodigal Son might also be named the story of the Forgiving Father and we are grateful for this parable of abundantly generous love.

Today, let us spend some time reflecting on who we follow and why. Let us decipher the words we take as true and why. What campaigns do we believe? What newscasts or papers do we follow? Which of our family, neighbors or friends do we believe over others and why? Do we pursue comfort or growth? Do we look for unity or create division? Do we question to learn or question to make a point? Are we bold and arrogant and irrational? Or are we humble and modest and rational? And why?


Image from: http://project-gimpbc.deviantart.com/art/GIMP-Arrogance-Grunge-II-63786001

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Monday, October 5, 2020

SCR038-G-02[1]2 Peter 1:2

Grace and Peace

May grace and peace be yours in abundance through knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

This is so very simple. God makes a gift of grace and peace. Rather than strive to add cash to our accounts, square footage to our homes and friends to our social media, we will do well to focus on gaining knowledge of God. We increase this knowledge through the study of God’s word, through prayer and worship, and through conversations with others who are like seekers.

This is so complicated. We do not want to leave behind our old agendas, our old goals and our old norms. We are comfortable with the world as we have arranged it and we do not want to shift perspective or viewpoint. We are content . . . for a time. And when life presents its catastrophes as it always will . . . then we will yearn for peace and grace.

We understand the peace is an uplifting serenity that calms and focuses our shattered thoughts. Peace is a state of tranquility and harmony with self and with our surrounding world. This is something to yearn for.  t is a quality worth struggling for. And what is grace?

bible-image[1]Grace is a freely offered gift from God that brings us full participation in the life of God. It is through Grace that we are pulled into intimacy with the Creator.  Grace is intended for the common good and so it frees us to collaborate with others as we grow in the Body of Christ. Grace is brought to us by the Spirit so that we might be healed and sanctified. And so, because Grace is a gift given freely by God the Creator, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, we understand that it surpasses the power of human intellect and will. We can see that it perfects the soul itself to live with God and to act by God’s love. It is this Grace in which we hope to be rooted. It is this Grace from which we hope to draw strength. It is through this Grace that we reach our full potential both individually and collectively. It is this Grace that shows itself in the many small miracles that mark our days. It is the gift of grace that brings us peace. It is this gift of grace that is God’s love for us.

This is complicated. This is simple. Let us add to our knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord so that the gift of grace and peace may be ours in abundance. In these troubles days, we will want to seek these gifts. We will want to hold these miracles.  


For a commentary on grace and peace as described by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians 1:2, click on the Bible image above or go to: http://vicsmediaroom.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/bible-commentary-grace-and-peace/

Citation image from: http://www.christianstatements.com/proddetail.php?prod=SCR038

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Sunday, October 4, 2020hope mugSirach 39:16-35

A Reason for Your Hope

We pause in our study of 1 Peter and turn to the wisdom of Sirach. In verses 21, 25, 33 and 34 we begin to find clarity to a question that occurs to each of us throughout our lives: why is it that the wicked do not suffer? The answer always is: God has a plan, God has infinite time, God is infinitely good, God calls us to intimacy in the Spirit, and we must go to God in the proper way, in God’s way, and in God’s time.

It occurs to me that many people who appear to “have it made” are suffering in a way that they do not express. They likely view suffering as a sign of failure, just as those living in the days of the Old Testament believed. Unlike Peter in his letters to us, they do not understand that suffering is The Way.  Suffering shows our willingness to undergo the necessary discipline which we all must experience in order to reach the next place. Suffering brings us to a place – if we allow it – where we finally and fully meet God.

A friend recently pointed out to me that bullies are often grieving and likely do not know that they are suffering. Or if they know why they suffer they do not understand that they are experiencing an undergoing or that they are constantly accompanied by God. The angry, jealous, divisive life they set up for themselves as they isolate themselves from the rest of the world is a perpetuation of their dreadful pain rather than a healing, unifying, enduring, loving expression of God made visible among us.

So if we believe that God exists and if can manage to remain faithful to God, if we hope that all of us – even our enemies – attain holiness before and with God, if we remain reverent despite the apparent ability of the wicked to escape consequences, if we strive to love our enemies into goodness and purity . . . then we are true expressions of God here on earth. These are difficult tasks, but as Jesus ben Sirach tells us, there is no wiser path in life. And as Peter writes to us, Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.

Reflecting on the wisdom of Sirach and Peter we pray . . .

Gentle and loving God, keep us prudent but joyful. Let us wear our hope upon our sleeves as we open my arms to all. We  know that you are with us and that we need not fear for you are always walking with us. Keep us persistent, keep us loving, keep us always close to you as we do your will. Keep our ears sharp, our eyes keen, our actions pure, our thoughts holy. Keep our hands and feet and mouth in accord with your will. Let our patience endure, our hope be joy-filled, and our love be infinite. Trusting in your wisdom, prudence, and love, we pledge ourselves to you this day and in this way. Amen. 


Adapted from a reflection written on September 1, 2007.

Image from: http://pbcvoice.blogspot.com/2012/06/sharing-from-my-heart.html

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Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sirach 24:7-8

Seeking Our Inheritance

When we reflect on Scripture we find stories and themes of irony. The last shall be first while the first are last. The chosen people squander their advantage. The son who cheats his brother becomes founder of a nation. The faithless wife has a faithful husband. The one who denies knowing the Messiah becomes the Rock on which a religion stands. The chief persecutor of the fledgling Jesus community becomes a source of strength. We must die in order to live. Examples seem endless. Every chapter brings us a new example of how our human existence pulls us in opposite directions. We may consider this as confusing, or we may use this fog of contradiction to teach us. As always with Scripture and in life, our stumbling blocks become our lesson plans, our hurdles become our stepping stones when we open our hearts, minds, ears and eyes to the wisdom that suffering and chaos offer. Today we reflect on the inheritance we already hold and yet seek. Perhaps the richness of this inheritance is too much for us to take in.

Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose inheritance should I abide? In Genesis we see the devil tempt Adam and Eve with the promise of something they already hold. You can become like gods, Satan tells us just as he told the couple living in the perfection of Eden; yet clearly, they already have this inheritance. What was it they sought? And what do we seek?

Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose inheritance should I abide? Satan tempts Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, again offering him gifts he already holds: the awesome and infinite powers of God. As sisters and brothers of Christ, we too share this same inheritance. Are we able to put aside the false siren song of power and fame to take up our inheritance of humility, patience, perseverance, and love of our enemies? It is difficult to follow Jesus’ example, yet we know that The Way he shows us is the way of our inheritance of peace.

In Jacob make your dwelling, in Israel your inheritance. What is the dwelling of Jacob? What is this inheritance of Israel? The story of Jacob is one of deceit and redemption. This is a tent that shelters our own story. The Twelve Tribes of Israel show us the diversity of God’s family. This is a family in which we can find membership. The gifts we seek we already possess. The promise we pursue we already own. When we give ourselves over to the Creator, we hold the same promise given to Abraham of security and protection. We hold the same miracle of impossibility given to Sarah. When we become one with Jesus to best of our talents, we enjoy the peace of this union that only Christ can give. When we live in the Spirit that binds each of us to all, we rejoice in the inheritance we seek. The inheritance that is already given. Let us celebrate this inheritance today and all days by living the gift of immortal life we already have, that despite our infidelity and deceit, we find a home in salvation. Amid the chaos and fear, we find peace and salvation.


For a reflection on the Temptations experienced by Jesus, visit The Temptations page on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/the-temptations/

Image from: https://smartasset.com/investing/how-does-inheritance-work

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Los Angeles Times: 2019 Fire at Carquinez Bridge

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Wrath and Anger

Last Sunday was the twenty-fourth in Ordinary time and the themes from those readings continue to resonate within. Arriving in a time when we experience great medical, social, political, and ecological stress, we must be grateful for their teaching.

Sirach 27:30 to 28:7: We are accustomed to the advice that continues to serve us millennia after Jesus ben Sirach captures God’s inspired message. Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. This Old Testament admonition leads us to dualistic thinking that we are justified in exacting an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; but the New Testament readings balance the urge to seek revenge.

Romans 14:7-9: None of us lives for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. With New Testament thinking, we remember that each word we speak is our representation of God’s breath in creation. Each action we take is Christ’s hand among us. Each prayer we raise is a prayer of the Holy Spirit. How then can we foster hate and division? How can we seek revenge in anger? How can we hope and pray for another’s destruction?

Matthew 18:21-35 offers a way forward, a way to transform our human, childish wants into childlike trust in God. How often must we forgive? The parable of the unforgiving servant is a stark reminder that when we extend mercy, understanding, and forgiveness, we extend the hand of God. When we trust that God has a plan for all that seems incomprehensible, we think with the mind of Christ. And when we love with unending love, we love in the Spirit.

Psalm 103 offers us this final thought: The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion. Not according to our sins does God deal with us, nor does God requite us according to our crimes. God pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills, redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion.

In a time when a best seller work of non-fiction bears the single-word title Rage, we need these readings. In a time when a pandemic continues to turn lives upside down, we need one another. In a time when forests burn and tempests rage, we must help one another. In a time when weapons speak before words, we must listen to one another. In a time when so many ask, “Where is your God”, we must live in faith and hope. In a time when words of wrath and anger are normalized in a world called to love, we must heal one another. For it is in our steadfast response to God’s call for patience and compassion that we are transformed.

Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. How often must we forgive? Not seven times, but seven times seventy-seven times. Jesus reminds us that we must interact with our enemies as our neighbors, for in so doing we help to save the world.


For more reflections on wrath, enter the word in the blog search bar and explore. 

The image of compassionate hands is from: https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/04/14/calm-amid-covid-compassion/

Click on the image to find videos in which “UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner discusses the benefits of compassion for others and ourselves.

The image and story of the fire at Carquinez Bridge are from a 2019 article in the Los Angeles Times. 

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-10-27/major-fire-breaks-out-at-carquinez-bridge-in-vallejo-interstate-80-closed

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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Luke 18:31-34

Comprehension

“Luke understands the events of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, but, as is usually the case in Luke-Acts, the author does not specify which Old Testament prophets he has in mind”.   (Senior 133 cf.)

Many of us live much of our lives in this way: we do as God asks with the understanding that that we are fulfilling some needed action . . . without fully comprehending how our small part fits in with God’s great plan. Discipleship is characteristically vague in this way, asking us to rely in faith on God, asking us to rest in hope with God, asking us to act in love for God.

Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem . . .

Each time we feel God’s desire move through us we know that we are going up to Jerusalem.

The Son of Man will be handed over . . .

Each time we follow Christ we understand that we run the risk of being handed over to the scoffers, the naysayers, the plotters and the complacent.

He will be mocked and insulted and spat upon . . .

Each time we lament that disciple work is difficult we put aside the memory of Jesus’s last days.

After they have scourged him they will kill him . . .

Each time we die another small death we believe we have no more energy to move forward.

But on the third day he will rise . . .

Each time we think we are extinguished forever we rise in restoration and healing.

But they understood nothing of this . . .

Each time we try to explain the reasons for our outrageous hope we meet expressionless faces.

And the word remained hidden from them . . .

Each time we come up against the wall of incomprehension we must remember that even those who followed Jesus day to day did not fully understand . . . until Christ returned to them following the events of his Passion and death.

And they failed to comprehend what he said . . .

Each time we believe that we are lost we must remember that God always acts through inversion and so the lost will be found.

Each time we fall Christ is there – even though we do not comprehend.

Each time we suffer Christ is there – even though we do not understand.

Each time we die one of those many small deaths that mark our passing, Christ is there – even though we do not fully see.


Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.133. Print.   

Enter the words Going Up to Jerusalem – A Prayer into the blog search bar and explore another reflection. To better understand the expression, enter the words Going Up to Jerusalem and visit the three-part post.

To read about Jerusalem Day and the crowds who pray at the southern wall of the Temple, click on the image above or go to: http://blog.friendlyplanet.com/2013/03/the-top-10-places-and-sites-to-visit-in-israel.html

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Monday, September 7, 2020

soft-heart[1]Baruch 2:27-35

Warm Hearts and Heedful Ears

Baruch, secretary to the prophet Jeremiah, sets down his thoughts in poetry and prose. Today we reflect with him on God’s promises recalled.

God says: For I know they will not heed me, because they are a stiff-necked people. But in the land of their captivity they shall have a change of heart; they shall know that I, the Lord, am their God. I will give them hearts and heedful ears; and they shall praise me in the land of their captivity, and shall invoke my name. Then they shall turn back from their stiff-necked stubbornness, and from their evil deeds . . .

listening-ear1[1]Not much has changed about the human race since ancient days; we are still a stubborn and stiff-necked people who are reluctant to heed God’s word. We harden our hearts so that we do not feel another’s pain. We hold hard opinions to cover our fear. We exclude those on the margin with the easy argument that our own hard work has brought us prosperity. Our stubbornness brings us to the captivity of our fears where we perhaps finally have a change of heart and listen for God’s word.

We so often complain about what is wrong with the world when we spread rumors, stir up rancor, and add to the negativity that we so heavily criticize. So let us recall God’s promises and look to improve ourselves rather than others. Let us praise God even though we may be held captive by our fears. Let us open our own ears and soften our own hearts.L et us invoke God’s name and let us turn back from our stiff-necked stubbornness and our own dark deeds.

And let us re-discover God’s gift to us of open, warm hearts and eager, heedful ears.


To learn more about softening hard hearts, click on the heart image above or go to: http://mindsightcoaching.com/softening-the-heart/

For some practical hints on how to listen well, click on the image of the ear or go to: http://christopherwitt.com/how-to-improve-your-listening-skills/

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