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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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Psalm 145: Trust in God Alone

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Open%20gate%20at%20Bayou%20Bend[1]Grace us this week with your presence, O Lord, that we may focus our hopes and our work in you.  Amen.

We sometimes wander aimlessly in search of happiness or peace . . . when all the while we do not notice that God has gifted us with a beautiful Eden in which to live.

We sometimes are so intent on completing tasks and chores that we miss the beauty surrounding us . . . when all the while we rush past opportunities to build relationships that will bring us joy.

We sometimes see all windows and doors as closed or obstructed pathways . . . when all the while Christ waits on the other side for us to knock and seek.

Let us spend some time with Psalm 145 today . . . and let us learn to trust in God alone.

The Lord sets captives free . . . let us ask for our own freedom from fear.

The Lord gives sight to the blind . . . let us ask to be healed of our own blindness.

The Lord is good to all . . . let us put away our childish envy and see that God has enough for all.

The Lord is just in all his ways . . . let us strive to act in justice each day.

The Lord is gracious and merciful . . . let us forgive all those who have harmed us.

The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in love . . . let us put aside all anger and anxiety.

The Lord is trustworthy in every word . . . let us treat all whom we meet with openness and honesty.

The Lord is worthy of high praise . . . let us praise God joyfully and without ceasing.

The Lord is near to all those who call upon him in truth . . . Come Lord Jesus, come!

When we trust in God we find new strength to open old doors. When we trust in God we find transformation. When we trust in God we are restored in newness.


A re-post from December 3, 2019.

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James 3:13-18: Authentic Wisdom

Friday, December 6, 2019

I love this letter.  We do not visit it often enough.  Today’s reading is particularly interesting to me as I notice that in my Spanish Biblia verse 16 the Spanish is envidia (envy) rather than celos (jealousy).  Thus in the Spanish version of James, we are called to put aside our envy – our wanting others to suffer loss – rather than mere jealousy – our wanting what others have.  James is the patron saint of Spain – I wonder if they know him better than we English speakers do.

The reason I enjoy reading James is that he is so plain.  There is no wondering about his words.  He goes to the root causes of division and he makes strong suggestions for a positive change.  He sees our obstacles as: pride, presumption, loose tongues, ambition, material goods.  He recommends patience, forbearance, firmness of heart, perseverance, humility, confession, union with God.

From yesterday’s MAGNIFICAT Meditation by Jean Vanier: Many of us live in delusion about ourselves, unable to see ourselves as we really are.  The veil [that prevents our encounter with Jesus] has to be broken somewhere in our deep inner being . . . Jesus is the healer, the One who comes to bring me life and liberate me from myself.  He comes to heal me from my egoism, from aggressiveness.  He comes to heal me from my anguish . . . It is a beautiful thing to meet people in deep anguish, who are able to say . . . that they are beginning to find peace . . . They know what it is to find pass from death to life.  They know the quiet experience of the healing power of the Spirit. 

James brings us the opportunity to take a long, hard look at ourselves.  James lays out the parameters for living of life of Christ rather than a life outside of  Christ.  It is not difficult to discern our path once we take off our blinders.

It is the removal of the blinders that is difficult.

It is the taking down of the illusion that we resist.

It is the deconstructing all the ramparts of our fear that we have built up so earnestly that we reject.  It is the disassembling of our false god that we have woven so meticulously that we fear.

What brings us healing?  What brings us peace?

It is the coming to Christ with nothing but our actions.

It is the rising to the true challenge and purpose of our lives.

It is the revelation of ourselves unashamedly to our God.

It is the humbling of ourselves.

It is the asking of God for the strength to do his will.

This is what brings healing.  This is what brings peace.

This baring of naked self leads to authenticity . . . This authenticity invites wisdom.

This wisdom engenders a life into which Christ easily steps.


For more on Authenticity, click on the image above or go to: http://elementsofyourlife.blogspot.com/2012/05/live-your-life-with-authenticity.html

Cameron, Peter John, Rev., ed. “Meditation for the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 4 November 2008. Print.

LA BIBLIA DE LA AMÉRICA. 8th. Madrid: La Casa de la Biblia, 1994. Print.

Written on November 4, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite.

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1 Kings 21: Naboth’s Vineyard

Thursday, September 19, 2019

This is a powerful story about how King Ahab and his wife Jezebel collude with scoundrels to trump up charges against the good man Naboth in order to take a vineyard which they coveted.  It is dreadful in its deep deception; it is horrendous in its horrible depiction of the violent frenzy of a plotting, conniving perseverance of evil.  It is human interaction in its basest form.

The prophet Elijah responds to God’s call but fears for his life when Ahab and Jezebel conduct a campaign with the goal of annihilating all prophets who speak with God’s voice; and in Chapter 19 Elijah even tries to run from the whispering voice of Yahweh.  In Chapter 20 we see how Yahweh brings success to the Israelites and favors them in battle.  Then Ahab wants something which Naboth has, a lovely beautiful vineyard.  Jezebel and Ahab conspire to attain it . . . so the innocent Naboth must die.

Yahweh steps in and we watch as he vindicates the faithful. We also watch as he delivers punishing blows to the wicked ones.  Ahab repents, and Yahweh softens the sentence he is about to deliver.  Jezebel does not . . . and if we read a bit further we discover Jezebel’s evil end.

Dear God, protect me from family and friends who would lead me to destruction as Jezebel did.  Remind me that repentance heals the mind and soul.  Bring me contentment rather than envy, humility rather than pride, love rather than hatred, restoration rather than destruction, and reaping of blessings rather than an arid life of self-gratification.  Surround me with holy people, God-fearing people, people who do not hide the light of the lampstand, people who honor, as Naboth did, their ancestral heritage.

Keep us from pride which inverts to shame.  Keep us from anger which turns inward to become melancholy.  Keep us from deception which leads to delusion.  Keep us from coveting Naboth’s Vineyard. 

Bring us peace, bring us joy, bring us hope, bring us your Spirit.  Amen.


First written on September 7, 2007 , re-writtten and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://thedailychapter.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/1-kings-21-%E2%80%9Cnaboths-vineyard%E2%80%9D/

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Esther 6: Reward

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Rembrandt: Ahauserus and Haman at Esther’s Feast

We cannot determine God’s timeline and when we watch how his plans unfold in our space and time we see that God has refined the shepherding of billions of souls to a mysterious art.  And it is something that he practices well.  Life is complicated.  God knows that rewarding one creature stirs envy in another.  This is the story of Satan and the fallen angels who succumb to their jealousy.  God knows that giving his creatures the choice to opt for darkness or light means that some of them will fall; but God also knows that his loving compassion leaves many opportunities for reform and changes in outlooks, and so he leaves his plans open . . . in order to work with the creations he so loves.

God is fully aware that his show of mercy stirs jealousy in the hearts of others, and so he prepares plans for these contingences.  We have seen and we have been told and we have experienced the fact that God will always turn harm to good.  The extremity or numbers or layers in any given situation are never too much for God to handle.  He is more than up to the challenge . . . for he is the creator of all we see and experience.

Today’s reading – another of my favorites – takes us to the beginning of another story of how a woman saves a nation.  It takes us to the place in the narrative where we see how the seed of envy blooms into a fully-blown narcissistic tantrum which in the end brings down the initiator rather than the intended victim.  Mordecai, a Jewish man living in the Persian court of King Xerxes (or Ahauserus), and his niece Esther, who is married to this King, have submitted their plea for justice.  The King has responded and now we await the sentence he will deliver.  As the king struggles with the plots that surround him and the information which has been brought to him, he goes back to a former event – a time when Mordecai saved his life by warning him of an assassination plot.  When we read today, we see how the evil plotted against goodness has a way – in God’s plan and in God’s timeline – of returning to visit itself upon the perpetrator.  What happens next to Haman is the very consequence he had wished to deliver to Mordecai and Esther – it is a punishment born out of the darkness of envy, and it goes home to exterminate its originator.

If you have time today, read this story through.  Different Bibles have different methods of presenting the material that was later inserted to flesh out the story but it is worth the trouble of sorting through all of this.  The story of Esther who would rather hide than confront evil with goodness and truth is its own reward.  Today’s lesson that we cannot understand how things will unravel around us is a story to carry in our hearts.  It both cautions us against entertaining ideas of revenge and it bolsters us in our hope that ultimately the light will overcome the darkness.  All is revealed.  All accounts are paid.  In full.  And this is what we have the opportunity to ponder today.

Reward often carries with it the fact that some human beings will covet the good fortune of others.  Some human beings will wish destruction for those who receive gifts from the king.  It remains with us to wait patiently for the ultimate outcome which the just king always delivers.  Those who plot in the darkness are done in by the very mechanism they set into motion.  This is divine justice at its best.  It is for the follower of Christ to discern his or her place in God’s plan, to be patient as events unfold, and to pray for the redemption of those who delight in the darkness.


Written on June 4, 2009 and re-posted today.

Image from: http://www.artbible.info/art/large/94.html

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Esther: On the Fringes

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The survival of a minority is central to the story we have explored over the last two weeks; and the threats and schemes we see in Esther’s story speak to many among us today. The reality of vulnerability rises as power corrupts. Those who live in the shadows of affluence live without the security taken for granted by the privileged. We excuse discrimination. We nurse prejudices. Rather than find root causes for the demons that stalk us, we build protective walls around our comfort zone and describe “the other” as someone to fear. Esther tells us of the danger we invite when we nurture our contentment to overlook the powerful effects of envy. None of this is limited to ancient times. Indeed, too often we live this way today.

Haman was furious when he realized that Mordecai was not going to kneel and bow to him, and when he learned that Mordecai was a Jew, he decided to do more than punish Mordecai alone. He made plans to kill every Jew in the whole Persian Empire. (3:5-6)

When we re-read these verses and insert the names we see in our headlines, we bring this story into focus. Dislike for “the other” we do not know – or whom we do not understand – plants seeds of hatred. In contemporary society, a torrent of news loops waters nascent loathing, while social media filter bubbles create hothouses that spur growth of hatred. Those along the fringes of society find themselves far from any possible avenue of inclusion.

Haman hurried home, covering his face in embarrassment. He told his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Then she and those wise friends of his told him, “You are beginning to lose power to Mordecai. He is a Jew, and you cannot overcome him. He will certainly defeat you.” (6:12-13)

If we hope to build the bridges God asks us to build, we must open ourselves to the fear of others to offer assurance. Only then will we find the tools to create unity.

If we hope to inspire the compassion Christ asks us to nurture, we must ask gentle questions with patience and understanding. Only then will we find the courage to respond to God’s call.

If we hope to build peace in a world longing for harmony, we must act in the Spirit to include, to heal, to love. Only then will we begin to erase the lines that create the margins on which too many live.

Tomorrow, a final word from Esther as e move through our Lenten journey.

When we compare other translations of these verses, we begin to find our way through the fog of hatred. 

To learn more about filter bubbles, visit: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2113246-how-can-facebook-and-its-users-burst-the-filter-bubble/ 

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Esther 7: The Persecutor

Giovanni Andrea Sirani: Esther Before Ahasuerus

Saturday, February 17, 2018 

Yesterday we assessed the narcissism we might discover in ourselves and how unilateral listening governs our world circumstances. Today we reflect on how Esther and Mordecai operate in their world – and what we might learn from them.

It is clear that Haman is consumed by envy of Mordecai and while we cannot analyze this character from a Biblical story, we can certainly learn from his actions. It is also clear that Esther – as a woman but especially as a Jewish woman in a non-Jewish court – fears for her life, and the life of her nation. The kingdom of Xerxes is an ancient one in which individual rights are denied to most. We might believe that we as a species have evolved and it is true that in general, we have. However, many peoples in our modern society have no benefit of personal rights. When this happens, we might speculate, it is often the result of someone, or some group, behaving in a narcissistic manner. Navigating these troubling conditions is difficult at best. What does the story of Esther have to tell us?

Queen Esther answered, “If it please Your Majesty to grant my humble request, my wish is that I may live and that my people may live”.

Humility is usually an ineffective tool against brutality; it seems to encourage even more violence. Yet, here we see that despite her humble behavior and words, Esther acts in order to save a people.

“If you keep quiet at a time like this, help will come from heaven to the Jews, and they will be saved, but you will die and your father’s family will come to an end. Yet who knows—maybe it was for a time like this that you were made queen!” (Esther 4:14)

On Ash Wednesday when we explored Chapter 4, we considered Martin Neimöller’s advice that if we do not speak against evil and injustice, we guarantee not our safety, but our sure demise. Despite their fear, Esther and Mordecai form a solidarity of two as they begin a quiet, patient assertion of justice and truth.

An article from Psychology Today gives us guidelines to manage the effects of narcissism. These experts advise that we evaluate both our surroundings and the narcissist to look for context, that we maintain a firm sense of purpose along with a sense of humor, and that we remain realistic about how much we can accomplish when working with the self-centered. If we are in dangerous surroundings, controlled by a persecutor as Esther and Mordecai are, we begin by turning to God and finding others with whom to form solidarity. We move forward with patience, reliance on the Creator, persisting in hope, and acting in mercy.

Tomorrow, fighting back.

When we read varying translations of this story by using the scripture link and the drop-down menus, we find an opportunity to transform a world beset by narcissism.

For more advice, read the August 14, 2014 post “Eight Ways to Handle a Narcissist”. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201408/8-ways-handle-narcissist

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Esther 6: Narcissism

Paul Alexander Leroy: Haman and Mordecai

Friday, February 16, 2018

Me, of course.

Our current national stage, with its cast of actors, asks us to explore the concept of narcissism. Unless we are professional in the field of psychoanalysis, we must consult those who have expertise and experience in discovering and handling those among us who suffer from this disorder of unilateral listening. For the layperson, an article from Psychology Today outlines six signs of narcissism, contains a quiz with which readers might assess themselves, and offers strategies to become less self-centered. Today’s reading from Esther gives us another template with which to measure ourselves.

Have royal robes brought for this man—robes that you yourself wear.

Are we able to use the criticism we receive in a positive manner? Are we willing to see that we are sometimes wrong?

Have a royal ornament put on your own horse.

Can we see that a world exists beyond our person? Do we believe that others hold truths that are, at the least, equal to our own?

Then have one of your highest noblemen dress the man in these robes and lead him, mounted on the horse, through the city square.

Are we willing to abide by the guidelines set by the group? Do we see ourselves as so special that rules do not apply to us?

Have the nobleman announce as they go: “See how the king rewards someone he wishes to honor!”

Are we willing to give others the praise we wish to have ourselves? Are we comfortable when others receive praise we seek?

Haman hurried home, covering his face in embarrassment.

Are we quick to anger? What do we do with our negative feelings? How do we manage resentment and bitterness?

Haman, his family and friends have much to teach us about ourselves; our current national and local politics ask much of us. As we move through these opening days of Lent, are we willing to explore the concept of narcissism, and how it affects us personally and collectively?

Tomorrow, dealing with the narcissists in our lives.

When we read varying translations of this story by using the scripture link and the drop-down menus, we offer ourselves an opportunity to move away from our own narcissism.

Read the article cited above posted on October 25, 2012 at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201210/are-you-narcissist-6-sure-signs-narcissism

Why does Mordecai not bow to Haman? Click on the image above or visit: http://thetorah.com/why-did-mordecai-not-bow-down-to-haman/  

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Psalm 89: A Hymn in Time of National Struggle – Part V

Saturday, January 27, 2018

John Singleton Copley: Eli and Samuel

Finding the Servant

We have taken a quick journey through the Books of Samuel to see that life in our century has much in common with life in ancient days. Some might say that as a species, we have not made much progress. Others may disagree, pointing to improved living conditions for some, though not for all. The Old Testament perspective we see in 1 and 2 Samuel gives way to the New Testament good news that God has come to live among us as a clear sign of God’s love for us. The message that Jesus brings is clear, although not always altogether comfortable. Christ calls us today to tend to those on the margins of our societies who do not benefit from the advances some of us have made, and this clearly will cause times of national struggle.

If we look at the Books of Samuel more closely, and the vivid characters who tell their stories so well, we see clear lessons for living.

How do we handle the corruption we experience? We might take a lesson from God’s message to us when we remember that the young prophet Samuel – who leads a young nation to unity – is raised by a corrupt Temple priest. If God protects and guides a faithful servant to blossom and grow in an environment that lacks authenticity, then we must trust God to protect and guide us today. (1 Samuel 3)

What do we do with our feelings of jealousy or envy?  It is possible to hear a message when we recount the story of Saul’s greed and disappointment when the women sing, Saul has killed thousands, but David tens of thousands. If God inspires David to show courage and love to his enemies, then we must trust God to inspire us today. (1 Samuel 18-19)

Matteo Roselli: The Triumph of David

How might we step out of our comfort zone? Perhaps we learn something about the story of David showing mercy to Saul during the time when Saul persecuted David. If God provides strength and hope to a faithful servant during a time of national turmoil, then we must trust God to bring us strength and hope today. (1 Samuel 24)

How might we better understand God’s plan? We might learn a lesson when we take in the story of David among the Philistines. If we find ourselves working well with our enemies – much to our surprise – then we must trust God’s wisdom and grace more than we trust our own instincts. (1 Samuel 27)

We hear this story . . . we take it in . . . and then we reply with the psalmist and King David . . . O Lord, I will always sing of your constant love; I will proclaim your faithfulness forever.

When we compare other translations of these chapters in 1 Samuel, we open ourselves to God’s fidelity, hope, love, grace and wisdom.

We can learn more about the priest Eli who raised the prophet Samuel in the Temple when we visit: https://bible.org/seriespage/4-rise-samuel-and-fall-eli-and-sons-1-samuel-31-422

Tomorrow, more lessons from Samuel.  

 

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