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Romans 9: Children of the Promise – Part II

Monday, March 27, 2017

Adapted from a reflection written on June 3, 2010.

Controversy, rumors, secrecy. In our public and private lives, gossip and partisanship divide us to stir up chaos and confusion. Paul examines the story of Exodus to open our hearts to the divisions of our age.

Conspiracy, collusion, deceit. In our public and private lives, complicity and trickery fog our vision and obstruct our hearing. Paul presents a view of Jesus’ world so that we might draw parallels with our own times.

Paul reminds us of how God uses the harshness of Pharaoh to show his power and compassion for the people he has selected to be his own.  He tells us that we must engage God in conversation, even to the point of argument: You will say to me then . . . “who indeed are you, a human being, to talk back to God?” (19-20) Paul tells us that God has infinite patience and mercy to use as he shepherds humans toward the truth; and he can choose his followers from among the Jews as well as the Gentile nations.  Citing the prophet Hosea, Paul repeats that God has the power, and the prerogative, to do as God likes.  He gives thanks that God is a good and gracious being who loves creation dearly; and he reminds us that we best find our true selves and we best fulfill God’s hope in us when we stumble over the obstacles in our way.  Our troubles and sorrows bring us closer to God. Each time we hurdle over an obstacle, we open ourselves to divinity. Each time we admit that our views might be less narrow, we offer our hearts to God for conversion.

Paul tells us today that it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendents (9:8).  Our birth and heritage do not guarantee us a place with God, nor do our traditions and customs make us holy; rather it is those who respond to God’s call and act according to God’s plan who find themselves in union with God . . . and this can be anyone, even the least expected.

Hosea tells us and Paul re-states: Those who were not my people I will call my people, and her who was not beloved I will call beloved (9:25) This is the promise we are given, and God will always fulfill his promises for he is faithful.

We can take this lesson and apply it to the relationships in which we find ourselves.  When a loved one knows a truth but still turns to darkness, we ask God to intervene with patience.  When one we hold dear refuses to see what everyone else sees, we ask God to act in kindness.  And when our world is out of focus and upside down, we ask God to transform evil into goodness for this is God’s promise, this is God’s assurance, this is God’s guarantee . . . that the faithful are rewarded . . . the repentant are transformed . . . and the rejected cornerstones will form strong foundations for the promised new life.

Let us give thanks that we are the children of this promise.

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1 Kings 21: Deception – Part II

Thursday, June 9, 2016tota_vineyard-rows-russel

Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive!

My mother’s quoting of Walter Scott’s words peppered our growing-up years. Her use of Scott’s poetic words was her method of teaching the lesson of Ahab and his temper tantrum.

Ahab wants something which someone else cherishes and does not wish to give up.  Ahab goes home, puts his face to the wall and refuses to eat.  His unfortunate wife, Jezebel, colludes with him to get the coveted vineyard from their neighbor, and if we read the entire story, we see what kind of an end these two come to.  They both pay a heavy price for their egregious crimes of trumping up false charges, conniving, lying, stealing, inciting a crowd to stone to death an innocent man. Naboth’s mistake or error is merely the cherishing of something that someone else wants.

We hear Yahweh’s words through the prophet Elijah in verse 20: You have given up yourself to do evil in the Lord’s sight.

Frederick Leighton: Jezebel and Ahab met by Elijah

Frederick Leighton: Jezebel and Ahab met by Elijah

Since my childhood, and because of the wisdom of my mother, my family has not worried about belonging to a particular group.  When my family opens our home party, all are welcome. Universal hospitality, bridge building to fringe groups, invitations to include all at the table have grown out of my mother’s teaching about Naboth, Ahab and Jezebel.

In this year of presidential politics in the U.S., we have become aware of many Naboths, many Ahabs and many Jezebels in the public eye. As we take in the daily news, we recall more words Mother and Dad recited from scripture: The measure that you measure with is measured out to you.  Ostracizing others says more about you than it does about the others.  There is really nothing that can be kept secret.  The truth always comes out in the end. I hope you can stand it when it hits you in the face.

What a wonderful gift we are given in the friends and neighbors God sends to us.  What a wonderful treasure is the vocation of building community to which we are called.  What a blessing to work, play and live beside people with whom we hold things in common, and people with whom we hold little in common. We learn more from our enemies than we do from the people with whom we feel most comfortable.  We are all God’s creatures, made in God’s image.  What do our daily actions say about the relationship we have with our Creator?  Do we turn away in anger when we covet something someone else has? When we open our hearts and homes, are all welcome?  Do we extend invitations with ulterior motives?  Do we interact with only a select few and bully others to bow to our wants? And when God asks us to invite the faithful to the table, whom are we willing to invite?

From a reflection written on June 1, 2008.

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1 Kings 21: Deception – Part I

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Vineyard in Wadi Biyar

Vineyard in Wadi Biyar

Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive!

These words, often mistaken attributed to William Shakespeare, are found in the epic poem, Marmion, by Walter Scott about the Battle of Flodden that took place in 1513. The poem was published in 1808 but my mother repeated the words of this poem she had read in high school any time she found any of her brood even thinking of doing something that was not above board, open, honest and fair.  The story of Naboth is one that haunted me as a child; the envy, lies and deceit go beyond anything I experienced among family and friends. But as I grew older, I began to see Naboths everywhere; and from time to time I have been Naboth myself.

Verse 4 sends a chill down our collective spine when we realize what is about to happen: Lying down on his bed, [Ahab] turned away from food and would not eat.

We were raised by parents who kept secrets on topics they did not know how to discuss or that brought pain to those already suffering too greatly; otherwise, my elders modeled honesty in every-day life whenever they could. Mother would often say, “If you are keeping something secret in order to have friends, this should tell you that there is something wrong with the people or the event you are thinking about joining”.  Of course, she was correct.  Secrets have a way of surfacing and when they do, their result is always irony.  “You better think twice about what you are thinking of doing”.  She would continue with more axioms.  “Birds of a feather flock together.  There is no honor among thieves”.  Once when I was in the sixth grade, I told my Mother that I could not invite a particular girl in my class to my birthday slumber party.  “Why not”?  Mother asked.  “Because’’, I answered with confidence, knowing that she would agree with me once she heard the terrible consequence that would follow, “If I do, the rest of my friends won’t come to the party.  And besides, she is a little weird and gets on our nerves”.  My mother turned from the stove where she was always standing, and said.  “Here is what you are going to do, or else there is no party.  You will invite all of these girls and when you do, you will all find something nice to say to this one you say gets on your nerves.  If you were paying attention as you should be, you would realize that she is worried that you don’t like her and she doesn’t know what to do about it”.  She turned back to the stove, saying over her shoulder, “And if the rest of the girls don’t come because you have invited her, they are no friends at all.  They are just people who are rude and inconsiderate.  They must have really had their own feelings hurt at some time, or they wouldn’t be acting this way.  You would think they would know better”.  And that was that.  I imagined a slumber party with me and the “weird” girl, but then I knew better than to try to outmaneuver my mother.  And she was right.  All the girls were invited.  All the girls came.  We sat crossed-legged eating popcorn until small hours, making certain that this one friend felt cared for.  We all survived the experience having learning something, and being better for it.  As for the weird girl, my mother was right.  Once she realized that we were not ostracizing her, she stopped being weird.  But really, I think it was the rest of us who stopped being weird.

That was most likely the most important lesson I learned about social interaction.  Mother did not name this bullying. She knew nothing of Mean Girls, or Queen Bees, or give it any other name than what it was: rudeness, a lack of consideration, the mean ostracizing of individuals or groups from a community.  And my mother, growing up in a family of six sisters and one brother, would not tolerate this lack in her own children.  I thank God for the careful shepherding Mother gave us as she handed us tools to handle the meanness of the world.

Tomorrow, Deception-Part II, Ahab gets his way.

For more on girls and bullying, visit: http://culturesofdignity.com/portfolio/queen-bees-and-wannabes/  

For more about Naboths, vineyard, click on on the image above or visit: http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/main-articles/naboths-vineyard-1-kgs-21.aspx 

Adapted from a reflection written on June 1, 2008.

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1 & 2 Chronicles: Our Sacred History – Part I

Friday, May 20, 2016family-tree-blue-hearts

Hiding or revealing our shared and individual past . . . 

The two books of Chronicles have four major portions: a genealogy of our leaders beginning with Abraham (1 Chronicles 1-9), a description of the monarchy under David and Solomon (1 Chronicles 9 – 2 Chronicles 9), the divided kingdom (2 Chronicles 10-18), and the period from Hezekiah to the Babylonian exile (2 Chronicles 19-36). This story of divine promise interwoven with human commitment and infidelity tell a story that we might see reflected in our own personal sacred history. This story is worthy of our time over the next few days.

What is that we prize? What stories are we happy to share from our own family tree? What do we want to hide in secret storerooms that others might not discover as the dark roots of our closeted past? What facts have we withheld from friends and colleagues? Do we really believe that God has no power – or no desire –  to pierce the shell we have carefully constructed around all that we want to keep hidden? And why do we feel compelled to dent segments of our story? Perhaps because we know that modern society both praises and criticizes those who step out of a norm; we ourselves may even participate in this two-edged response to others with both scorn and tribute. We may praise those who stand up and stand out at the same time as we disapprove of them for moving outside of the norms we create.

Today we take time to scan local, national or international news to find stories of our shared human story . . . and then to consider what we hide and what we reveal about ourselves in the opinions we hold and the stances we take.

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1 Kings 15: Delight – Part IIisaiah62-4

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The significance of the name Tirzah in Hebrew is “favorable” or “she is my delight”; yet we have the picture in today’s reading of something once valued being left behind for richer fields and stronger walls.  If we were to name our own capital, what would it be?  Would there be sacred places within the limits of this city along with places of commerce?  Would these places welcome all and be a gathering place where new ideas are as important as tradition, and old wisdom as important as new growth?  When later generations excavated, would they find a site with remnants of a life well lived, open in hospitality to weary strangers who harbored there awhile before moving on?

Tirzah . . . a place of favor and delight . . . but abandoned.  What happens with us that we tire so quickly of a place and her people that we move on without taking much time to think?

Consulting a concordance, we find a great number of times that writers of the sacred text use the word delight.  God delights in Jesus.  The crowds listened to Jesus with delight.  We delight in God, God’s Law, and God’s holy ones.  We delight in our salvation and vindication by God, God’s justice, mercy, righteousness and kindness.  With St. Paul in his letters to Corinthians, we even delight in the weakness, hardships, persecutions and difficulties suffered for Christ’s sake. (2 Corinthians 12) We find delight in our family, friends and work. We may delight in the obstacles, hardships and rejections. And we must certainly delight in all gifts we receive from God.

We can spend hours with this word and still not plumb its depths, but let us linger a bit longer over the words of the prophet Zephaniah (3:17) who tells us: The Lord your God is with you, God is mighty to save.  God will take delight in you, God will quiet you with love, God will rejoice over you with singing. 

So we may want to return to the places of Tirzah that we have abandoned.  We may want to excavate the secrets that lie hidden there, the secrets that we ourselves have left behind.  And in these hidden places, we may once again realize . . . just how much God takes delight in us.

For a quick analysis of how the population in the USA sees God, click on the image below. As a Christmas gift to ourselves, we might want to reflect on our own view of God and the world we inhabit. Touching Earth

Tomorrow, as we end another year and prepare to celebrate newness, a prayer for a fuller understanding of God’s delight in us.

Adapted from a favorite written on December 22, 2009.

 

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Revelation 2 & 3: Our Story – Part IV, The Knocking at the Doorjesus knocking

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

For the last few days we have reflected on the story of our lives from its inception to its end. Today we explore the thoughts and dreams and hopes revealed in the unfolding of our lives.

I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me. 

Several years ago our parish scripture study group spent a number of weeks studying this last book of the New Testament.  It is so full of symbols and allegory that even reading a commentary may not be enough to unravel all that is held within.  These opening chapters depict Christ knocking at the doors of the seven established congregations; and they also tell us how people respond to Christ’s call.  Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, each community has its personal traits that characterize and individualize them, and if we look at ourselves and examine scripture we will be able to discovery in which place we live. Then we can spend time reflecting on what we do when we hear the knock at our own door.  Do we hear it?  Do we open the door?  Are we prepared to dine with the one on the other side of the door?  Are we willing to open ourselves to newness?

Most of us, when we expect guests, will clean the house, prepare food and drink, fluff pillows and put away stray family articles.  We want to extend hospitality to those who knock at the door.  Many of us feel as though the closets must all be straight and the dishwasher cleared.  Many of us leave personal items in the rooms we will share with our guests, not thinking that they need to be cleared away, and we will leave the dishwasher as it is.  All of us are somewhere on the spectrum of wanting to prepare for the expected guests; but what do we feel and do about those who are unexpected?  Are we comfortable with the way that we live?  Do we believe that we must make special preparations before we open the door to ourselves?

Christ knows our inmost secrets, so we hide nothing from him.

The Father knows our origins and our endings, so we hide nothing from him.

The Spirit knows our deepest needs and desires, so we hide nothing from her.

Today, as we read about the different churches of God and how they live out the message they believe they have heard, let us reconsider what we do when we see a friend or a stranger approaching our door.  Let us consider that there is nothing we can hide or put away that God does not already see and know.  And let us consider that it is the open mind that receives new insight from God, it is the open heart that is made new in Christ, and it is open arms that receive the peace and serenity of the Spirit that is God’s gift to each of us.

When the knocking comes to our own door today – as it comes to us each day – do we hear the voice?  Do we open ourselves freely?  Do we dine with the Lord willingly?  And do we allow God’s transformation to take place in us happily?

A Favorite written on  July 19, 2010.

To read more about the seven churches, click on the names of the seven cities above to see where they are located and what traits they characterize in our own story. 

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four horsemen

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Friday, January 30, 2015

Daniel 12

The Appointed Time

Apocalyptic literature is defined as a “literary genre that foretells supernaturally inspired cataclysmic events that will transpire at the end of the world”. (Britannica Online) Although the genre disappeared after Europe’s Middle Ages it persists in the 20th Century in works like Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider [1939] and Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust [1939]). It is reflected in films such as Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal [1957] or Federico Fellini’s La dolce vita [1959]). The U.S. best-selling writer Hal Lindsey brings us The Late Great Planet Earth (1970); and the popular Left Behind series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, describe apocalyptic events in a violent way. (Britannica Online)

The modern world, it seems, has a fascination for cataclysm and dire circumstances and as local and global news unfolds before us we hear of violence even as we struggle to gain peace in our individual and collective lives. Perhaps the popularity of apocalyptic tales reflects our personal and public fears. Perhaps Daniel’s stories, cautions and predictions resonate with what and how we live.

If we long for our own appointed time when we might unseal the secrets of the world to find solutions to all that betrays and hounds us, we may have found a familiar echo in Daniel 12.  This week we have spent time exploring prophecies of the future and our own trials by fire. Today we take time to examine different versions of Daniel’s words . . . and to listen for the whisper of hope, the promise of peace, and the fulfillment of our own appointed time.

Use the scripture link above to compare different versions of this scripture passage . . . and listen.

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/29733/apocalyptic-literature

For more reflections on the words of this prophet, enter the words Daniel or Apocalypse into the blog search bar and explore.

Looking for something new to read? Consider the titles above, and consider how these writers may have been influenced by the Book of Daniel.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

two sparrowsMatthew 10:29-31

Every Hair

Jesus taught us, saying: Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than two sparrows”.

In this short citation of Jesus’ words, we learn all that we need to know about living life and about being watchful.

ONE: Nothing can be concealed from God. The Creator knows all that we think and do. The Creator understands our most secret motivations. Why do we try to hide anything we do or anything we think? Secrecy is futile in the kingdom.

Christ walks always with us, calling us forth in the name of the Creator. The Spirit remains in us, filling us with life eternal.

TWO: Nothing we do goes unnoted by God. The Creator marks both our pain and sorrow, our happiness and joy. Why do we persist in relying on our own small forces when we have the omnipotence and omniscience of the Creator buoying us up?  Reliance on self is meaningless in the kingdom.

Christ walks before and behind us, guiding and protecting in the name of the Creator. The Spirit hovers, abiding and consoling with love everlasting.

If God notes even the falling of a sparrow’s feather . . . how much can our anxiety and willfulness accomplish? How far will our stubbornness carry us in comparison with the power and strength of the Spirit?

If God numbers every hair on our heads . . . how much do we think we can hide what we do not like about ourselves?

How much will our separateness gain for us in comparison with the unity we have in God’s love? Secrecy and too much reliance on self will always be trumped by humility, generosity and love in the kingdom. Let us live as if we believe that God has numbered our every hair.

For another reflection on the value of two sparrows, click on the image above or visit March 24, 2007 post at: http://scripture-for-today.blogspot.com/2007_03_01_archive.html

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Friday, August 16, 2013

blender_simulating-and-rendering-fire_feature1-652x245[1]Hebrews 4:12-13

Rendering

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of God to whom we must render an account.

The writer of Hebrews gives us here an understanding of the nature of God’s word.  It is more than comforting and healing.  It ignites a fire within that renders us to God.  It gives understanding and wisdom. And it calls each of us to an accounting of our actions.

God says: I created each of you to share my happiness and goodness with me forever.  I created the world around you so that you might have resources and companions to accompany you on your pilgrimage to me.  I come to you through my creation and I instruct you through my word.  I send Jesus to you each day as my Living Word.  I know that it is difficult for you to follow his example of forgiving enemies and praying for our persecutors but still . . . I ask that you do this. For this is what I do. I pray continually for those who shut me out of their lives or worse . . . those who slander me and say that I do not exist.  I send you my Spirit to console, to heal, to encourage, to enlighten, to counsel and to teach.  These teachings are sometimes hard . . . but this is the nature of my Word.  It comes to light a fire in your soul, to soften stiff necks and to melt cold hearts.  It also comes to nurture, to restore and to rescue all from any enticement that draws you away from me.  When I ask for accounting of you this is what I ask: do you enact my Word with justice and mercy; do you love me before all others; and do you forgive those who visit calamity upon you?

“God’s speech is compared with a sword that can pierce the innermost depths of the human person (v.12).  That piercing has a discerning or judgmental function and the note of judgment is reemphasized as the imagery shifts (v. 13).  Before God’s word noting is hidden, but all is ‘naked and laid bare’.” (Mays 1153)  There is no point in keeping secrets from God as God knows and sees all.  Yesterday we reflected on how we might cleave to God – separate ourselves or unite ourselves.  Today let us spend time thinking about how and what we render to God.   Do we withhold a tiny, small and secret part of ourselves?  Or do we render our whole self – body, soul and spirit?

To render: 1) to melt down, to extract by melting, to purify; 2) to transmit to another, to deliver, to give up or yield, to hand over for consideration or hand down as a legal judgment, to agree and report on as in a verdict; 3) to give in return or retribution, to give back or restore, to do a service for another; 4) to cause or to become; 5) to administer; 6) to give recompense.

What and how do we render ourselves to God?

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 1153. Print.

Definition from Merriam-Webster Online: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/render

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