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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/

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Judges 7: Following God’s Lead

Thursday, July 12, 2018

There is a value in reading scripture slowly while allowing time for reflection and meditation for in this way small themes are given time to blossom into guidelines for living.  Today we find a significant idea hidden in the story of the defeat of Midian and it is this.  God knows us so well that God forestalls human pride by asking us to rely on only God.  In today’s story God asks Gideon to whittle his troops from thirty-two thousand to three hundred.  And Gideon does this without questioning; he knows how reliable his God is.

The culling process here is an unusual method for an army.  On God’s instruction, Gideon first reminds his troops of the dangers of battle; later he watches how they drink water from the river.  He does not appear to question God’s wisdom and he shows no anxiety; he knows how reliable his God is.

Once the three hundred come together, Gideon gives them no more instruction than this: Watch me and follow my lead.  After the winnowing process, these loyal soldiers follow Gideon just as he follows the Lord; they know how reliable their God is.

Lying in wait outside the camp, Gideon and the third of the men who are with him overhear the telling of a dream by one of the Midian soldiers.  The ominous conclusion is that although the Midianites, Amalekites and Kedemites are numerous as locusts, and although their camels number more than the grains of sand in the desert, the Israelites will be victorious.  The Israelites show no angst about having reduced their number to three hundred; they know how reliable their God is . . . and the enemy flees.

The Lord pronounces to Gideon: You have too many with you for me to pronounce you successful lest you vaunt yourself against me and believe that your own power brought you victory.  This is the theme we see repeated often in Judges.  The people cry out for help, Yahweh hears their cry and rescues them, once the people feel comfortable in their own skill and power they turn back to the pagan Baals . . . and the cycle repeats again.  In Gideon’s story, we see the faith-filled soldiers put their trust in this God who has saved them countless times because . . . they know how reliable their God is.

So often I have sat in meetings and watched someone defend their right to make unilateral decisions, forgetting that all comes from God, even the gift of leadership.  I have watched these leaders struggle to bring others together behind their decisions not understanding that people follow best when decisions come from God rather than from human ego.  They have forgotten – or perhaps have never known – how reliable their God is.

We can rebel against these leaders or we can witness our own confidence in God to them.  The choice is always ours.  Rather than react in fear, we can act in reliance – just as Gideon does in today’s story, and just as his soldiers do – we can demonstrate to others through our lack of arrogance just how reliable is our God.

And so we pray . . . Powerful and loving God, you know us so well that you understand our tendency to take credit for your gifts.  You know that we are inclined to strut with pride when we are successful and complain in fear when we fail.  You know that we often believe in ourselves more than we believe in you.  Strip us of all hubris and arrogance; bring us humility and modesty.  Wipe away our anxiety and fill us with your love.  Remind us to follow your lead just as Gideon and his soldiers do.  Remind us that when we rely on ourselves alone . . . we forsake the gift of your wisdom and authority that you so freely give to those who follow you.  Tell us again what you have already shown us but that we have so quickly forgotten . . . that we need not fear anyone or anything . . . for we know how reliable our God is.  Amen. 


We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on July 21, 2011.

Image from: https://dwellingintheword.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/1818-psalm-3/ 

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Proverbs 6:12-35 and 7: Something Nasty

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

God is perfectly aware that not all creatures understand the goodness and generosity of creation’s gift. Having that in mind, the writer of Proverbs reminds us that the riffraff and rascals who plot and scheme will always – in God’s time and in God’s economy – wind up suffering the consequences of the chaos they plot against others. In a literary context, we refer to this as irony, the end of the twisting plot twisting back on the antagonist. We often believe that in reality the outcome is different: he who plots and schemes becomes rich and powerful; she who plots against the innocent escapes destiny’s karma.

Riffraff and rascals
    talk out of both sides of their mouths.
They wink at each other, they shuffle their feet,
    they cross their fingers behind their backs.

If we live in a timeline of the physical world, we might see ourselves as correct in thinking that the spiritual world holds out false hope. When we live in God’s eternal time, we find that we have misunderstood God’s plan for the kingdom. When we ignore God’s time and plan, we find that we have become like the riffraff and rascals we deplore. We have given in to something nasty. We will have rejected the advice of Proverbs that the final total smashup will arrive at our door, and we will become the hypocrites who cross our fingers behind our backs.

Their perverse minds are always cooking up something nasty,
    always stirring up trouble.
Catastrophe is just around the corner for them,
    a total smashup, their lives ruined beyond repair.

In the following verses, we hear about human actions that induce God’s ire; these items are laid out clearly. Various translations present differing translations but this interesting list is always the same, a litany of easy signs that we might look for in our own daily actions.

  • A proud look.
  • A lying tongue.
  • Hands that kill innocent people,
  • A mind that thinks up wicked plans.
  • Feet that hurry off to do evil.
  • A witness who tells one lie after another.
  • And someone who stirs up trouble among friends.

As Easter People, we share the Good News Jesus brings to creation that God’s merciful patience and generosity are always waiting in hope to redeem us. God’s persistence and wisdom are always presenting in faith new lessons for us to learn. God’s justice and consolation are always bringing us new opportunities to love as God loves.

The final verses of this chapter reprise the hazards of adultery and we might wonder why the writer brings this theme to us again. Besides the obvious danger of wanton men and women, might we also need be wary of addiction to lusting after power, wealth and fame? Might we need another practical warning to steer clear of riffraff and rascals lest we becomes one of those who ignore God’s call away from something nasty?

Even so, when the dust settles, we find that despite our recalcitrance, despite our rejection of truth, despite our haughtiness and ego-driven behavior, God’s compassion is awaiting us with Christ’s open and holy love. We are invited today to become one with that sacred heart.

When we use the scripture link and drop-down menus to find different versions of these verses, we explore God’s transparent plan for our good, and the good of all creation.  

The original definition of hypocrite is “actor”. (See Merriam-Webster at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/hypocrite-meaning-origin) For interesting thoughts on hypocrisy, click the image of masks above. 

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1 Samuel 25: The Inverted Kingdom – Part VI

Monday, January 16, 2017

Ernst Josephson: David and Saul

Ernst Josephson: David and Saul

Today and tomorrow we remember this Favorite from October of 2007 as we explore how the story of David, Saul, Nabal and Abigail presage the coming of Christ’s inverted kingdom.

Reading closely, we see that Saul fears David because he sees how closely David follows God. This obedience threatens King Saul and even stirs envy. He knows that despite the favor God has shown him, he struggles to obey.

For his part, David refuses to kill Saul, even when he has been presented with opportunities to do so. David understands that God has anointed both men as present and future king. He also understands that God’s plan is the ultimate plan and, unlike Saul, David does not succumb to the sin of “pride of self”. David understands that his authority comes from God, not from his own cleverness, good works or talent.

This interplay infuriates Saul who attacks David and then ostracizes him.  In the ensuing battles, David repeatedly spares Saul’s life – which angers Saul even further.  We might see these same dynamics playing out in our own lives. If so, let us see where we stand and who we are. The loyal and vulnerable David or the troubled, envious Saul?

Joseph Schonmann: David and Abigail

Joseph Schonmann: David and Abigail

In today’s story, we read about Abigail, an intelligent, reverent, patient woman, married to an alcoholic. She does not succumb to the twisted world of co-dependence and she understands that she is powerless in the face of certain “givens” of ancient times. She has little influence in the affairs of her husband; yet she lives her invisible life in a visible way. She must take sustenance from her confidence in God, act in a way that does not enrage an already angry master, and she must address injustice as best she can. Throughout this ordeal, we see that she continues to rely on God.

We also see the loyalty of Abigail’s servants.  Knowing of the struggle between Saul and David, they realize that their entire household is naked against the band of David’s rebels. They are also keenly aware that their master is wealthy but a drunkard; and that his churlishness has placed them in a dangerous situation.  They go to Abigail who takes action in a calm, quiet and respectful manner.  She wins their safety, and then waits until the morning when her husband is sober to let him know what she has done . . . that she has saved them.  The hand of God acts to seal their safety as we see the results of Nabal’s courage.

As we reflect on these ancient tales and see the lessons of inversion – where the strong are weak and the weak are strong – and we anticipate their unfolding in the New Testament story of Jesus of Nazareth.

Tomorrow, the inversion that Jesus teaches.

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Ezra 6:18-22: Marvels – Part II

Friday, November 11, 2016

Positive reinforcement word Miracles engraved in a rock

A Favorite from October 27, 2009.

We have recently lived through another cycle in which a few believe that not only are they beyond any human measure, they are also beyond the need of divine marvels.  We might look at these modern-day versions of corruption and believe ourselves removed.  We may look at the Israelites of Ezra’s day who return to their burned out city to work for its restoration and think that we would not have erred as they did.  We watch as they promise that never again will they forget the gift of Passover which they have received, and we will also watch as we read the New Testament story in yesterday’s Gospel in Luke 13:10-17 as we see the leader of the synagogue complain because Jesus cures a woman on the Sabbath.  On that day the whole crowd rejoiced at the splendid deeds done by him.

As humans, we easily forget our pattern of looking out for self rather than the group.  We place ourselves beyond the norm and sometimes attribute gifts to ourselves which rightly belong to God.  When we read about these exiles, we know that these Levites will centuries later have fallen into the same corruption for which this tribe now repents.  Reflecting on all of this we see that the best safety and surety we can seek is not the amount of money or power we can amass.  Our comfort and our state of mind cannot be assured by anything we ourselves command or control.  Our cleanliness and lack of corruption do not stem from any rituals we perform or any friends we might have; but rather . . . we sleep peacefully, we work willingly, we play joyfully and we love openly when we remember well the marvels the Lord has done for us. 

For more reflections on the marvels God has worked for us, explore posts in the Miracles category or on the Miracles page in this blog.   

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Ezra 6:18-22Marvels – Part I

2ndtemple

Depiction of the Second Temple

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Favorite from October 27, 2009.

It must have seemed unreal to the Israelites – after praying for years – to not only return to Jerusalem but also to receive safe passage and assistance from the dynasty which had first overtaken them and then carried them into exile.  The people who had been in darkness were finally seeing a light; the tears they had sown in mourning were about to be harvested in joy.  The dream expressed in Psalm 126 – the response in today’s liturgy – was finally arriving in full force: The Lord has done marvels for us . . . Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the torrents in the southern desert.  Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing . . . The Lord has done marvels for us . . . Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves . . . The Lord has done marvels for us.

I recently saw a documentary about the men of Wall Street who in the 1920’s first initiated revenue pools with which they manipulated the markets to make exorbitant profits at the expense of small investors.  These wild and risky patterns once unleashed and initially controlled became – as these things always do – beyond all human control.  Ruin and devastation were the result.  What struck me about the information presented was the outcome for two men: one – the original founder of GM – was one who of those really thought that they were in control of the markets.  When he came into NY from his home, the police made certain that all the traffic lights stayed green so that his car would not have to pause on his way to the Exchange.  Everyone was poised to do his bidding and it was perhaps this fawning and deference that deceived him rather than his own pride.  This man ended in complete ruin, still trying to begin a number of small businesses, hoping to “get his game back”.  This man had not seen that his initial success was not his own.  He did not understand that The Lord has done marvels for us. 

A second man was featured who was able to avoid the bursting of the bubble by not only conserving his crookedly gotten treasure but by becoming even wealthier as the world around him collapsed.  But this did not assure his comfort or safety.  Rules were put into place to prevent the gaming of the market and this man became so despondent at the lack of risk and danger in his daily routine that although he died with a mass of money stored up . . . he died at his own hands in a bathroom.  He did not realize that The Lord has done marvels for us.

Tomorrow, the crowd rejoices.

For more about Ezra and the second Temple, click on the image above or visit: http://www.foundationsforfreedom.net/References/OT/Historical/Ezra/Ezra00Intro.html

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1 Maccabees 5:11-27: The Holy Place

Wednesday, November 9, 2016antiochus_original

 A Favorite from November 4, 2009.

Puffed up in spirit, Antiochus did not realize that it was because of the sins of the city’s inhabitants that the Lord was angry for a little while and hence disregarded the holy Place.

Today’s reading is a frightening one and yet in verse 17 we find the key to all that baffles us when we suffer.   We become puffed up when things go well, thinking that we have achieved all on our own, forgetting that God is the source of every goodness that comes to us.  We, like Antiochus the hated pagan invader, pay no heed to holy places or holy people when we tumble head long in our belief that we have created our own good.  We, like Antiochus may succeed for a while and may even feel a certain pride in what we believe we have accomplished alone.  And we, like Antiochus will live a troubled and violent life.

Once, when I was at a low point in my life, I asked God why a particular holy place had been breached and the holy people routed.  My answer came immediately: All earthly temples are violated eventually.  All the faithful will suffer in God’s name.

When we feel squeezed.  When we feel oppressed.  When we feel unjustly condemned.  When our holy places are violated and holy people broken, we can be assured that the Lord has not chosen the people for the sake of the Place, but the Place for the sake of the people (verse 19).  We can rest in the knowledge that with or without the place, with or without the rest of the faithful . . . we can be holy, we can be constant, we can find within ourselves the Holy Place in where dwells the Spirit.  We can rest in God . . . for God alone is holy.

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Sirach 3:17-29: An Attentive Ear

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Woman whispering and woman listening on a white background

These words are so simple. These words ask so little. These words bring us so much.

Be humble in everything you do, and people will appreciate it more than gifts.

God says: Listen to the words of my servant Sirach. Watch the actions of my incarnate self. Ease into the hands of my always-present Spirit. Be humble, as I am humble. You will receive more than you can imagine.

Don’t try to understand things that are too hard for you, or investigate matters that are beyond your power to know. Concentrate on the Law, which has been given to you. You do not need to know about things which the Lord has not revealed, so don’t concern yourself with them. 

God says: When I ask you to focus on the Law, I am speaking of the Law of Love that I show you in the life of Christ. Love your enemies. Gather those on the margins and tend to them. Your reward in this life and in the next is waiting for you.

Many people have been misled by their own opinions; their wrong ideas have warped their judgment.

God says: It is tempting to listen to yourself alone. While it is true that you need to test the teachers, prophets and spirits to see if they come from me, remember that listening to yourself alone is dangerous for it narrows your world. Open your ears to my voice and attend my wisdom.

Stubbornness will get you into trouble at the end. If you live dangerously, it will kill you. A stubborn person will be burdened down with troubles. 

God says: The attentive ear is always open and discerning because it spends more time listening to me than any other voice that clamors for your attention. When you listen to me, your hear good news that overwhelms the chaos of the world.

There is no cure for the troubles that arrogant people have; wickedness has taken deep root in them. Intelligent people will learn from proverbs and parables. They listen well because they want to learn.

God says: When you think more of yourself than you do of others, you cannot hear my voice. Your ear cannot attend. Your eye no longer sees the beauty that surrounds you. Put your pride behind you and follow me. Open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your heart. The peace and joy I have already planted in you will begin to grow and flourish. Hope and fidelity and love will mark you as my own.

 

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Job 8: Taking the Dare – Part II

Vladimir Borovikovsky: Job and his Friends

Vladimir Borovikovsky: Job and his Friends

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Satan believes that he can tempt Job into doubting God’s abiding friendship. Job’s friends make conditions worse. Today we read a speech from Bildad who believes that Job has brought ruin upon himself; but this friend is not privy to Satan’s challenge and dare as we are.  Bildad operates from his own experience and from the information he has at hand; he believes that Job has sinned and that he suffers as a result.  There is no calculus in his mind for innocent suffering, and so here and in his second speech (Chapter 18) he encourages Job to confess and repent of his wrongdoing.  This is something Job cannot do, of course, for he has not sinned.  There is nothing to confess.  He suffers innocently.

Teresa of Ávila is correct.  Our intimate relationship with God is a challenging and arduous journey.  Rather than being a state of mind or condition, it is a process in which our hubris, fear, suspicion and independence are winnowed away until we are left with humility, obedience, trust and love.  When we meditate on the entire story of Job we are given the opportunity to examine our own journey with God and the quality of our faithfulness.  Do we cling to God because of favors that might be granted us?  Do we count God as a friend because we hope to receive certain blessings?  Is this a relationship in which we do for God only because God is the best bet, carries the greatest weight, wields the greatest force and is the generally accepted deity?  Or do we claim God as our own because God claims us?  Do we humble ourselves before God because we understand that we are creatures created from God’s love?  Do we hand ourselves over as objects of the dare – as Job does – because ultimately we trust God more than we trust ourselves?

If a friend approaches us in our misery and encourages us to fess up about something we have done when we have, in fact, done nothing to merit our pain: what is our response?  Do we enter into the dare?  Do we count on ourselves and our own resources?  Or do we count on God?

Adapted from a favorite written on May 5, 2010.

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