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Zechariah 10The New Order

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Written on February 17 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

The Golden Calf – Exodus

The teraphim are household idols, used for divination but incapable of true healing, redemption, comfort or transformation.  Those who have relied on wealth and influence will no longer hold power; change is in the wind.  Those who have been led by false shepherds will be visited by the true king; a rout by a new king’s soldiers is predicted.  Those who have wandered aimlessly, searching for the true shepherd will be brought back; the exiled will return home; the faithful will be rewarded.

In the Old Testament readings at Mass this week we hear again the story of Noah.  God sees how wicked man has become and he regrets having created him.  Later he promises to never destroy his creatures again.  In the New Testament readings we have seen the supreme patience of Jesus as he continually instructs his followers in the ways of the New Kingdom, the New Covenant, and the New Promise.  There is a New Order . . . yet they struggle to understand.  He even rebukes Peter (Mark 8:27-33) and scolds the others for not understanding his feeding of thousands from a few fish and loaves (Mark 8:14-21).  These humans God has created seem to believe more in their teraphim than in their God.  And we are so like all of these people.

So we pray . . .

Lord God in heaven, Lord God on earth, Lord God within us, Lord God among us, open our eyes that we might see your new order as you opened the eyes of the blind beggar in yesterday’s Gospel (Mark 8:22-26).  Open our minds and hearts so that we might better hear your call to newness.  Open our lives to you so that we might better understand the new order of your world.  Teach us to cease lusting after money and goods.  Instruct us in your new way.  School us in the ways of the gentle heart and eager mind.  Remind us to throw out our tiny household gods and rely firmly and only on you.  Visit us with your Spirit.  Continue to walk with us as Christ.  And harbor us who wander as wretched sheep in the safety of your enormous arms.  We ask this each day and every day . . . as we strive to remember who you are . . . and how much you love us.  Amen. 


A re-post from September 6, 2011.

Image from: http://www.perplexicon.net/2009/12/false-gods-and-theologians/


Isaiah 24 – 27Elusive Antagonists

Monday, October 8, 2018

Written on February 25 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

Scripture persistently warns us about how to live, whom to follow, and what traps lie ahead to ensnare us.  All we have to do is to pay a bit of attention.

Each of us has our personal impediments to the progress of the soul.  All of us must come face to face with ourselves and the lives we have lived.  Our antagonists are sometimes in our faces, but more frequently they slip in among our friends and loved ones to betray us in our inmost heart.  Those who oppose us openly are easily identifiable; the more dangerous enemies, Isaiah warns, are those who come in the guise of goodness – and for this reason the Lord turns the world upside down . . . to see who shakes out, and who has learned the skills needed by the faithful.

If we have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, given shelter to the homeless and taken in the lost, we have been putting ourselves through our lessons well.

If we have mourned the dead, tended to the sick, ministered to the imprisoned and entered into the vineyard to do God’s work, we have becomes accustomed to living in mercy and compassion.

If we have witnessed to evil, rebuked our companions, atoned for our sins and made changes in our lives, we know how to live in God’s vineyard . . . and we will put our heads down, go indoors, and await the passing of the dreadful singing of the harvesting sword.

We ought not fear the obstacles we constantly stumble against for they are lesson plans that refine us.  If we have answered God’s call and accepted our work as remnant toiling in God’s vineyard, then we need not fear the coming of the day as we see it here . . . for with God all things are possible.  God will turn all that is evil to an end that is goodness, and we will know peace out of chaos, justice out of ruin, humility out of pride, love out of envy, and joy out of sorrow.  Our elusive antagonists who have hounded our heels and sent chills of fear through our bones will have honed our skills at kingdom building and as remnant . . . and we will find to our amazement, that we will have readied ourselves for the work of God’s eternal city.


A re-post from September 5, 2011. 

Images from: http://www.annerobertson.com/2009/04/naboths-vineyard.html


Jeremiah 42: False Solutions

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A number of years ago a friend of mine pointed out the tactic that many of us use to go around an obstacle in our path.  She called it the geographic solution: When the going gets tough . . . our instinct is to get out of town.  We want to avoid the problem at all costs so rather than sort through the tangled threads of the dilemma, we avoid it . . . and hope that the conflict will magically disappear.  This is, of course, false logic.  If no one addresses difficulty, we know it will not be overcome.  Another friend adds: When you run, you take your problems with you.  This is the same warning we hear today from God who speaks to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah: If you remain quietly in this land I will build you up, and not tear you down; I will plant you, not uproot you . .

We enter Jeremiah’s story at the time that the people living in the southern portion of David’s kingdom are frightened.  They have witnessed the deportation of those living in the north and, hoping to have bought themselves a bit of safety, they have made unholy alliances with the pagan nations that surround them.  To their disappointment, not only do they find themselves threatened by these warring neighbors, they also find that their willingness to accept and even participate in pagan rites and ceremonies has cut them off from Yahweh who had so many times saved them.  They have distanced themselves spiritually, mentally and physically from God and rather than take a hard look at an effective reform of their own beliefs and behaviors, they seek the geographic solution.  They have begun to believe the myth that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  We remind ourselves, as my friend frequently intones, that: We can run, but we take our problems with us.  The people in today’s story do not believe or understand this.  Having the benefit of historical perspective, we see that the people of Judah have abandoned their belief that God can and will save them.  They do not see what we see – that running from their problems will not improve their predicament.

Jeremiah conveys God’s word: If you disobey the voice of the Lord, your God, and decide not to remain in this land, saying, “No, we will go to Egypt, where we will see no more of war, hear the trumpet alarm no longer, nor hunger for bread; there we will live” . . . the sword you fear shall reach you in the land of Egypt, the hunger you dread shall cling to you no less in Egypt, and there you shall die. 

They have forgotten Yahweh’s promise . . . For I am with you to save you, to rescue you . . .

Perhaps they believe they are beyond redemption.  If so, they have forgotten another one of Yahweh’s promises . . . For I regret the evil I have done you . . . I will grant you mercy . . .

As we hear the dialog between the Creator and his creatures, we may want to take this opportunity to reflect on our own strategies for problem solving.  When a disturbance erupts we do not have to run away or even hide; there are options.  We can turn away in embarrassment.  We can deflect the cause or culpability to someone else.  We can become defensive or passive aggressive. We can remove ourselves forever from the people and situation.  But none of these actions will solve anything.  None of this will bring us true peace for there is only one road to true harmony.

We must rely on God . . . and step forward to both forgive and be forgiven.  We must ask for God’s intervention . . . and begin the process of healing.  We must be willing to begin anew with God at the center of the storm . . . and we must remember this: There is no geographic solution that works . . . and we take our problems with us. 


A re-post from September 4, 2011. 

Image from: http://tomorrowsreflection.com/grass-greener/

Proverbs 19: Advice


Proverbs 19Advice

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Better a poor man who walks in his integrity than he who is crooked in his ways and rich. 

Yesterday we reflected on the paradox present in Jesus’ life and words; today we hear solid advice on the inversion we find between wealth and poverty.  We cannot change our heredity and life’s circumstances are sometimes difficult to accept and navigate; yet somewhere inside us we look and hope for better outcomes than the ones we see looming before us.  We want to change attitudes and behaviors yet all we can change is ourselves . . . and these changes come after much self-examination and brutal honesty.  Life-altering transformation is usually painful, and always worth the struggle when we keep God at the center of all things.

He who gains intelligence is his own best friend; he who keeps understanding will be successful. 

Intelligence and folly are qualities we constantly evaluate in ourselves and others.  We judge; we are judged by others.  Sometimes we are too critical and at other times we discern too little.  We dance between the surface and the depths of our emotions looking for pat answers to complicated questions.  True balance coming from wisdom is rarely found, and always worth nurturing when we stumble upon it.

Humility, fidelity, integrity and understanding . . . pride, anger, deceit and laziness.  Life presents us with lesson plans to identify and sort these qualities, and to cultivate in ourselves and others or to avoid them altogether.

Punishment, instruction, children revering parents, parents respecting children, generations passing along practical advice and warnings so that humanity might improve its lot and learn from our shared experiences.  Some of us are able to learn vicariously; others cannot.

Jesus teaches in parables while the writers of proverbs give us plain, personal, honest views of their lives.  This advice and these warnings come to us not from a sense of superiority or egotism but from a genuine desire to see people progress, and from an authentic love for humanity.

The advice we read in scripture is meant to serve as more than an instrument we might use to avoid the repetition of errors; and it may be difficult to take in and even more difficult to use, but it is something we are free to accept or to decline.  The words we read today – once we make them part of our thinking – have the power to convert our bitterness into joy and our anger into love.  These words – once we use them to construct personal lessons for change – may liberate us from negative thinking; they may forestall unhelpful reactions.  These words may be more important than we know . . . and more significant than we imagine.  We have only to take them in and make them our own.

And so we pray . . .

Dear and good Lord, help us to discern the lesson you have in mind for us today.  Guide us in examining ourselves without creating overwhelming guilt.  Help us to serve as good sounding boards for friends who accompany us on our journey.  Steer me away from arrogance, false witness and rash judgment.  Preserve us from the harmful qualities we read about today: sloth, arrogance, anger, envy, greed, pride, and the temptation to lie. Nurture in us the qualities Jesus shows us always: compassion, constancy, empathy, generosity, humility, and steadfastness.  May we understand that to stand in awe of you and your works is a privilege.  Grant that we understand your mercy and in turn bestow it on others.  May we come to live in your spirit, always taking in the ample advice you give us in our journey home to you.  Amen.


A re-post from September 3, 2011.

Image from: http://covenantofthecross.info/listening-for-god/


Luke 18:15-17Inversion

Friday, October 5, 2018

This portion of Luke’s Gospel is full of inversion; Jesus continues to confound his followers with the simple idea that what appears to be strong and powerful and pious may actually be weak and humble and deceptive – and what appears to be powerless and impotent and simple is actually loyal and trusting and confident.  We are told that whoever does not accept God’s kingdom in child-like dependence on God cannot expect to enter it.  This is an outrageous statement in a society that did not believe that children had the power to reason; these are hard words for a people who consider that children are expendable and of little importance.  Jesus tells his listeners – and us – something that seems to stand all reasoning on its head: that if we are innocent and accepting as children we will have no problems navigating the byways of the kingdom, that if we are self-centered and prideful like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 or the rich official in Luke 18:18-23, we will not recognize the gates to the kingdom even if they open before us.

These famous verses about the preeminence of children in God’s Kingdom are familiar ones and we might be tempted to skim through them quickly; perhaps we remember a homily we heard that pointed out that Jesus’ words tell us that it is the child-like who enter into the kingdom willingly and eagerly.  Maybe we remember a reflection we read reminding us that Jesus does not say that we are to be child-ish.  We may have spent time meditating on how to allow ourselves to be governed by empathy and compassion for others rather than concern for our own survival.  We may already have spent ample time coming to grips with these difficult words that form a bridge between parables: the rich and influential grope in the darkness for the kingdom while the poor earn immediate entry into Gods presence and the humble move to the front of the line.

We are called to give of ourselves in child-like innocence; we are to love one another – even those who hate us.  We are not called to put ourselves first or to demand unmitigated leniency from God and our neighbors; we are not to be the center of all decisions.

Let the children come to me and do not prevent them . . .

When I am worried about a major car or house repair, I must allow the child in me to give the problem to God.

When I am anxious about a colleague or friend at work, I must allow the child in me to listen for the wisdom of God.

When I am disappointed by ugliness or betrayal of a loved one, I must allow the child in me to trust that God has everything in hand.

When I am saddened by the way we treat one another and God’s beautiful creation, I must allow the child in me to be open to the possibility of a change for the better.

Let the children come to me and do not prevent them . . .

The door to God’s great wisdom is never closed to us when we present our child-selves to the Creator.

The arms of Jesus are never folded in rebuke against us when we present our innocent selves to the Redeemer.

The comfort of the Spirit is never withheld from us when we present our trusting selves to the Counselor.

I am thinking that all of the big and small worries we have wrestled with during sleepless nights have been perfect bundles of woe to place at God’s feet; and I am wondering why we are so stubborn in clinging to our childish, self-centered demands.  I am considering how easily God can handle all of our big and small problems; and I am knowing that what is required of us is our full and total trust that God can and will resolve the conflicts that overwhelm us.  And I am also knowing that all that is required of us is that we put aside our bravado and our fear . . . to become the eager and willing Children of God that we are meant to be.  This is an inversion that is almost too difficult to take in or believe . . . but it is the amazing inversion that will bring us safely home.


A re-post from September 2, 2011.

Images from: http://pregnancyandbaby.sheknows.com/pregnancy/baby/How-to-get-baby-to-sleep-through-the-night-6475.htm 

Luke 23:50-56: Burial


Luke 23:50-56Burial

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Yesterday we reflected on the two words Jesus says frequently to us: Follow me . . .

Today we take a look at what we are invited to do as a first step in the resurrection process.  We are invited to our own burial.

Van der Weyden: Descent from the Cross

Scripture – and in particular the New Testament story of Jesus – is full of inversion.  We see many paradoxes in Jesus’ words and actions: We must give up all we have in order to gain the world, those who are broken are strong, leaders are those who serve, we must be willing to die if we want to live.  What appears to be incongruous results in a reality we had not anticipated.

What looks like death is life itself.

I tell you the truth, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John (12:24), unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 

What looks like burial is life itself.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark (4:30-32)It is the smallest you plant in the ground; yet when planted it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches the birds of the air can perch in its shade. 

What looks like the end is really the beginning. 

The wallpaper image on my computer is the painting Descent from the Cross by Rogier Van der Weyden; I keep it there to remind me of Jesus’ words to us about life, death, and resurrection.  Each time I log on and see the image, I am reminded that we are always in the process of a necessary burial – the first step toward resurrection.  With that image in my mind, it is easier to remember that anything I do in the material world is a reflection of my belief in the spiritual world. As I travel about my digital universe, I carry with me the constant reminder that it is the spiritual world we seek rather than the material.

I am the resurrection and the life, Jesus says to Martha (John 11:25-27).  He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this? he asks.

Martha replies: Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world.

As we reflect on the verses in today’s Noontime and as we look at the expressions on the faces painted on the Van der Weyden canvas, let us take in what we have been told.  It is what those who loved Jesus well are about to fully understand as they lower his body from the cross.  It is the elemental truth that . . . Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

What looks like sorrow will soon be joy.  

The first step toward that joy is our eagerness to unfold the paradox Jesus has given us.  It is our willingness to submit to burial in the life of this world.  It is the full knowing that, like the kernel of wheat, we cannot live until we go into the soil . . . to burst forth again in the new life of Christ.


A re-post from September 1, 2011.

Image from: http://eastofthemoonwestofthesun.blogspot.com/2011/04/day-95-holy-saturday-preparation-for.html 

Further information about the Van der Weyden painting can be found at the following sites or sites of your choosing.  You may want to share some with us.  A good description of the symbolism represented in the characters we see. http://www.andrewgrahamdixon.com/archive/readArticle/197

A beautiful slide show through which the viewer can zoom in to see the detail in the cloth, even the tears glistening on cheeks.  http://www.slidingtime.be/ The show is a link from this blog.  http://writingwithoutpaper.blogspot.com/2010/04/rogier-van-der-weydens-descent-from.html

This link gives us more insight into the painting.  http://blogs.artinfo.com/secrethistoryofart/2011/05/06/inside-the-masterpiece-van-der-weydens-descent-from-the-cross/


Matthew 8:18-22Would-Be Followers

Wednesday October 3, 2018

We read these verses and a question immediately springs to mind: Are we would-be followers of Christ or are we true disciples?  Only an honest examination of our daily actions coupled with an open conversation with God will tell us.  Only a humble attitude knitted with the frank assessment of our integrity will steer us.  Only love of ourselves and our fellow human beings – including those who do us harm – will bring us to a complete understanding of Jesus’ words in today’s Noontime. 

I would volunteer to help at the outreach office but I don’t like the way they run it.

I would love to go to daily Mass but I would have to get up so early.

I would love to help out with the food pantry and make a casserole dish once in a while but I have too much to do.

These are the words of the would-be follower.  How often have I used these words?

Jesus is telling us that nothing takes precedence over work we do for and with him.  These words worried the temple and civil leaders of us day; and they worry us.  What can he mean?  Is he saying that we do not need to follow the code laid out by society that keeps all of us in line and moves us forward?  Is he recommending narcissism or anarchy?   

I would follow you wherever you go, the scribe says to Jesus and he replies: Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.  Follow me . . .

Let me go first and bury my father, one of Jesus’ disciples requests and Jesus relies: Let the dead bury the dead . . .  Follow me . . .

Jesus tells us that nothing of this world ought to separate us from our proper life – the life we life in him.  Follow me . . .

Jesus tells us that nothing of this world may take precedence over the work we are called to do – the work we do for him.  Follow me . . .

Jesus tells us that no one, no idea, no cause, no plan belongs before our love of God – the same love he shows to us.  Follow me . . .

Would-be followers show the same fervor as genuine servants; but they place this fervor on God’s hands.  Follow me . . .

Would-be disciples ask the same questions as authentic disciples; and then they listen well to the answers they receive.   Follow me . . .

The difference between false and true followers is that those who truly follow do so in spite of their fears.  Follow me . . .

Those who honestly follow have put aside their ego.  Follow me . . .

Those who really follow wait for Christ’s light to pierce the darkness and they witness to that light.  Follow me . . .

Those who follow Christ know how important it is to burrow their dens under the shelter of God’s altar.  Follow me . . .

They know to build their nests in the safety of God’s vineyard.  Follow me . . .   

True followers know that in the kingdom there are no narcissists and there is no chaos . . . there is only God and the permeating presence of his true and ardent love.  Follow me . . .

Would-be followers are not willing to set the world and self aside.  True followers know that living in God is the only existence that matters.

Follow me . . .


A re-post from August 31, 2011.

Images from: http://my.englishclub.com/profiles/blogs/sweet-home-poetic-story


Psalm 114A Celebration of Escape

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

I am thinking that each of us has a memory of an escape we have made.  Perhaps we avoided a relationship that would have injured us badly.  Maybe we realized with hindsight that a job or assignment we wanted so terribly would have been a dreadful and pain-filled experience.  I continue to marvel at the number of times I have escaped disaster – purely at God’s hands and not from my own wisdom or foresight – to survive well to tell the story of my new freedom.  Perhaps I ought to celebrate these escapes from calamity more.

From commentary: “The hymn in Psalm 114 possesses high literary and liturgical qualities involving parallelism, brevity, imagination, and surprise . . . The psalm may have been composed for the sanctuary at Gilgal near the river Jordan (Josh. 5; 1 Sam. 10:8) and was later transferred to the Jerusalem Temple with its symbolism of water flowing from the rock of sacrifice (Ps. 46:4; Ezek. 47).  (Mays 437-438)

In today’s Gospel (John 8:31-42) Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free – a phrase we may often hear and pass by without giving it much thought.  In the Old Testament reading today we hear again the story we know so well of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3) and we marvel not only at God’s power but also his generosity.  How much we are loved that God creates these many little and big exoduses for us so that we might come to him!

In our current society we celebrate prowess, glamour, power and fame.  In the kingdom it is the broken-hearted, the meek, and the humble who are raised up.  God gives us constant bridges to cross from the world of glitz to the real world – the kingdom.  We are gifted daily with opportunities for exodus from that which pulls us down to that which lifts us up.

If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. 

Jesus says these words to his Apostles; he says these words to us.  Jesus offers us an escape from catastrophe and a deliverance from ruin.  How do we respond?

And so we pray . . .

When we come forth from the fiery furnace, we sing in praise to God who delivers us.  The sea beheld and fled.  The mountains skipped like rams.  The earth trembled before the Lord.  The rock was turned into a pool of water.  This is the truth we have been shown.  It is the truth we see.  It is the truth that sets us free from all that would chain us in.  Let us rejoice and be glad.  Amen. 

Written on April 13, 2011 and posted today as a Favorite.


A re-post from August 30, 2011.

Images from: http://www.seekeronline.org/journals/y2005/nov05.html 

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 437-438. Print.


Tobit 14Knowing and Believing

Monday, October 1, 2018

Tobit

Written on March 21 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

For I know and believe that whatever God has said will be fulfilled and will come true; not a single word of the prophecies will fail.

As I read this verse I wonder again why it is that we refuse to believe the prophets among us.  It is a sign of faith to believe that for which we have no absolute evidence but I am interested in the wording of this verse.  Tobit says that he not only believes in the word of God through these prophecies but he knows them to be true.  Perhaps this is because of the wonders God has worked in his life . . . the wonders that arrive after much suffering.

Paul tells the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1) that faith rests not in man’s wisdom but in God’s power We know that this means we cannot earn faith in any way.  It is given freely by God as a gift and in fact God uses the foolish of the world to instruct the wise – if the wise will listen.  God chooses the lowly to inform the exalted – if the strong have time for the lowly.  The weak instruct the strong and the fearful speak to the fearless – if the strong and fearless do not steam roller those who hesitate.  Our ears must be open and willing to receive the message from God when it arrives.  And God’s message is always about inversion so it makes sense – in God’s time and way – that the joy of faith will come through suffering.  This is significant.  It is the answer to the continual questions we say we cannot answer.  The answers are right before us . . . they are swirling about our ears . . . we must choose to examine them and heed them.

Tobit has met and overcome huge obstacles in his life not by patiently waiting out his suffering in blind obedience as we said yesterday.  Rather, Tobit actively waits for the revelation God will ultimately provide.  Tobit trusts and knows that this information will arrive.  Which it does . . . along with a great reward.

In this last chapter of Tobit we find verses useful to us but only after we have read the entire story of healing and blessing.  Only after we have waded through the pain will we be able to fully comprehend and feel the joy Tobit feels.  Only then will we know, as Tobit knows, the power of God.

God will again have mercy on them, and God will bring them back . . . and they will rebuild in splendor . . . they will return from exile . . . and the whole world will be converted and worship God in truth.  We may read these verses and think that Tobit has allowed his imagination to get the best of him when he makes such a positive projection into the future based on such a bleak past, and we would be wrong.  If we believe that Tobit is too hopeful, we must read the story for as many times as it takes for us to see our own lives through the paradigm we are presented here.  And then we will have one more task . . .

So now, my children, I command you, serve God faithfully and do what is pleasing in his sight.  Your children are also to be commanded to do what is right and to give alms, and to be mindful of God and to bless his name at all times with sincerity and with all their strength. 

Only in this way will we too, know and believe that what God promises God will complete.  Only then will we know and believe that God’s prophecies will not fail.


A re-post from August 29, 2011.

Image from: http://www.devinrose.heroicvirtuecreations.com/blog/2009/06/21/calvin-on-the-self-authentication-of-scripture/ 

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