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Matthew 9:35-38Epiphany – A Reprise

Saturday, January 6, 2018

James Tissot: The Magi Journeying

Today’s post is a reprise from January 6, 2012.

E-piph-an-y: A Christian festival, the manifestation of a deity, a sudden intuitive perception or insight, a piece of literature presenting a revelation.  These definitions define the holiday or the emotion, the state of being surprised by something we already know but have not yet acknowledged.  This word may also define our relationship with Christ.  Today we encounter Jesus in the midst of his work and this is what we find.

Jesus teaches.  Jesus proclaims the Good News that we are free to choose life over death.  Jesus heals. Jesus is moved with compassion at the sight of the crowds.  All of this goodness is what God has in mind for us.  All of this kindness is what God has in store for us.  All of this love is what God intends for us.  And this is what the Magi come to honor and worship.

In our Western tradition we have come to know these three men as Melchior, a scholar from Babylon, the place of Israel’s exile about six centuries before Christ’s birth, Caspar, another scholar from Persia, the civilization that overran the Babylonians, and Balthazar, an Arab scholar.  These learned men bring gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold that serve as symbols for our own worship of the Son of Man.  Frankincense, aromatic incense, is brought to purify the Lord; myrrh, perfumed oil often used in embalming, is offered to anoint the Lord; and gold, the symbol of power, is presented to honor the Lord.  Some commentary suggests that the Magi bring forward these gifts for medicinal purposes; others propose that they are meant as tribute to this new kind of high priest, savior and king.  Still others say that these gifts stand in stark contrast to the sacrificial gifts of birds, lambs and oxen that the Jewish people proffered to God.  In any interpretation the story holds importance for us for these men have spent their lifetime studying the heavens and their search leads them to a small place in a small town where this small Jewish family shelters for a time.  Who is more surprised?  The Magi themselves?  Mary and Joseph?  The shepherds who tend their flocks and follow the Magi who follow the star?  Or are we perhaps the most surprised?

All of this is tradition as we have said earlier but we hold and cherish this belief in the story of the Magi for a purpose.  We love to hear the names read out rhythmically.  We want to listen to the details of this story again.  We want the mystery and surprise of this holy night to roll over us and wrap us in the warm and holy mystery of the Christ.  We want to be children for a little time again.

When I was small my Eastern European grandmother made doughnuts and inside them she had hidden shiny, bright coins.  Who would find the pennies, the dimes?  Who would be lucky enough to encounter the rare quarter?  Children understand how important it was to nibble the edges of the pastry carefully.  Children know the importance of joyful anticipation.  Children understand wonder and surprise. As adults we want the confirmation from these intelligent students of the heavens and stars.  As adults we want to be affirmed that the Good News we have heard is true.  As adults we want someone to stun us with a vivid and beautiful truth.  We want the verification that wonderful surprises lie ahead of us.  We want to see and hear and touch the reality of the Christ Child.

Velázquez: The Adoration of the Magi

On this Epiphany let us resolve to believe more and doubt less.  Let us decide to act on our beliefs and turn away from a cynical view of the world.  Let us announce to the world that we will love our enemies into goodness.  Let us bow in homage to the Christ child.  Let us lay at his feet the incense of our own suffering and the joy of our hearts.  Let us come and worship the Lord.  And let us allow ourselves to experience the surprise and enchantment of the Epiphany . . . just as God has intended.

For more on the identity of three Magi, visit: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+9%3A35-38&version=GNT;NRSV;CJB;MSG

For more on the gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, visit: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-magi-bring-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/ 

For another reflection on the Epiphany, go to the post for January 2, 2012: Reminders

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John 6:22-24: Seeking Jesus

Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 24, 2016ps_34_10

We must always be prepared for the surprise of God’s goodness when tragedy encircles us. We must always be open to God’s gift of healing when trauma haunts us. We must always be willing to accept God’s gift of mercy when anxiety overtakes us. We must always be seeking a more intimate relationship with God, for this is what God seeks in us.

Yesterday we reflected On John 6 with Henry Tanner’s painting The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water. Today we reflect on the verses that follow that story, and we watch as those who seek Jesus use any available means to pursue the healing, prophetic presence of God among them. We explore the depth of our relationship with God, the breadth of our love for God, and the infinity of peace that comes with our seeking.

18cloudcult091010A Krista Tippet interview with Craig Minowa and the band Cloud Cult explores how we seek, what we seek, and how this seeking affects us. To listen to the podcast, visit the On Being site: http://www.onbeing.org/program/craig-minowa-music-and-the-ritual-of-performance/8584

For an NPR story on Minowa and Cloud Cult, visit: http://www.npr.org/2013/03/06/173518074/cloud-cults-love-channels-a-life-tested-by-loss

Tomorrow, Eucharist.

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Joshua 2God’s Yardstick – Rahabweek3-large

Promise Found in Surprise

Sunday, January 10, 2016

In these opening days of a new year, we look for ways to better see God’s yardstick in our lives, and for ways to leave the world’s yardstick behind.

When we rely on others to tell us about the stories the Bible holds we might miss this gem: the great-grandmother of Jesse, father of David, is a prostitute in Jericho. We might ask how we have missed this woman who welcomes spies and barters with them in order to save her family – a family that will later save the faithful. In God’s plan, the promise so often hangs on slender threads.

We too often set humans apart in tidy groups characterized by facile, overt characteristics while we ignore the hidden treasure that God has promised us. We too frequently listen to the opinions of others rather than the quiet song of the heart. We repeatedly miss humble gifts that give life while searching for the truth that lies in our own openness to others.

Elspeth Young: Waiting for the Promise (Rahab)

Elspeth Young: Waiting for the Promise (Rahab)

We find Rahab’s story in Joshua 1-6 and Matthew (1:5) includes her in Jesus’ family tree. James reminds us of her actions when he tells us: You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. (James 2:24-26)

This is God’s yardstick that is presented to us today through the life of the harlot, Rahab. Might we not have passed her by in our rush to live as the world asks of us? Might we not pause to take a closer look at her life today to see how our own lives might measure up to hers?

Use the scripture link, enter the name Rahab into the blog search bar, or click on the images in this post to learn more about this woman who agreed to enter into God’s plan as an unexpected and surprising measuring stick.

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Matthew 14:22-33Stepping out of the Boat

Tuesday, December 1, 2015jesus_walks_on_water3

Yesterday we spent time with John 6:16-21 in which the Beloved Apostle describes the appearance of Jesus on the water; we focused on how our lives pull us into so much activity that we easily forget to ponder the mystery through and by which we live.  At that time we spent some moments meditating on a painting by Henry Tanner and with the words: It is I, do not be afraid.   We thought again about how time is not truly linear, about how we miss so much by not being open to possibility . . . by thinking that all the work that lies before must be done quickly and well.  And we also thought about the fear through which we operate rather than love: fear that work may not be accomplished, children may not be fed, laundry and lunches will go undone, papers will not be tended to . . . God not tended to. Today we reflect on the surprise Jesus invites us to enjoy, just when we least expect it. And we reflect on how we spend our time: time in kindness offering hospitality, time in joy believing in hope, time with self and others pondering the goodness of God, time in thanksgiving for gifts already given and yet to give.

Advent is a time of waiting, hoping, renewing. Let us gather in Advent hope.

Advent is a time to put aside our cares in order to tend to the truly important. Let us gather in Advent love.

Advent is a time to have the courage to step out of the predictable order of our lives. Let us gather in Advent fidelity and prepare for Christ’s Advent of surprise.

Tomorrow, stepping into surprise . . . 

Adapted from a reflection written on December 6, 2008.

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John 21: Glory, Part XIV – Epilogue

Mike Moyers: Breakfast At Dawn

Mike Moyers: Breakfast At Dawn

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Disappointment, fear, hatred, trouble, emptiness, and doubt – these are the valleys we traverse on our road with God’s glory. Jesus washes our feet, gives us life on his great vine of love, tells us of the Advocate and asks us to hand ourselves over for the gift healing unity. And Jesus asks that we hand ourselves over in humility as true followers rather than passing fans. These are the gifts we have discovered on our road with God’s glory. Today’s we look at our final lesson on Glory: The epilogue of the Jesus story is the prologue of our own. How do we wish to tell it?

When we spend time with the last chapter of John’s Gospel, we will find many parallels between the lives of the apostles and our own. We can look at this brief list and add examples of our own discipleship.

  • The apostles go back to their old way of earning a living when Jesus leaves; and this is what we often do when we discover something about the kingdom but do not quite own it. We revert to what is familiar, even if it is not good.
  • Jesus calls his followers “children”. If these fishermen and the women who tend to this group are children then certainly so are we.
  • It is the beloved apostle, John, who recognizes Jesus while the others do not. We can imagine how many times a day Jesus walks past us without our noticing.
  • Peter is so excited when he sees Jesus on the shoreline that he leaps from the boat to walk on water, doubts and falters, but rises when Jesus encourages him. We also do this when we respond to God’s call, flounder, yet are raised up by the Creator.
  • When Jesus tells the tired apostles where to fish there are too many to haul on board in the same body of water where there were none. Too often we are tempted to cease just fishing when we need to continue.
  • Jesus cooks and eats with his tired followers. The Resurrected Jesus is just as real as the Human Jesus, they are one and the same. And this man who loves us so much and so well calls us to be nourished in him. He calls us to this same resurrection that he experiences.

Footnotes and commentary tell us that the character of this last chapter of John has non-Johannine “peculiarities” that suggest it was written by Luke.  Others say that it was definitely written by John.  Whoever the writer, it is clear that he is impelled to depict with clarity the surprise and happiness of these disciples Jesus knows so well. The writer is also eager for his readers to experience this same surprise and happiness in their own lives. And so it is with the last verse that he invites us to add our own stories of glory in and with God to this incredible story of goodness, mercy and light in a world that is too often dark . . . There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.

Jesus is as big as all of us.  Jesus is as small and intimate as each of us. Separately and together we are Christ. How do we take him into the world every day?  Is this epilogue the end of the story . . . or is it the beginning of another encounter between us and our God? Is this the beginning or the end of God’s glory?

Adapted from a reflection written on February 26, 2008.

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joyThursday, November 6, 2014

Leviticus 9

Joy and Ministry

From time to time we will visit scripture to look for stories about joy that will surprise us in a number of ways. If you wish to explore other stories in which joy astonishes us, click on the word Joy in the categories cloud in the blog’s right hand sidebar and choose a reflection, or enter the word Joy in the blog search bar. You may also want to visit the Joy for the Journey blog at www.joyforthee.blogspot.com to see how joy surprises you there. Today our story is from the Book of Leviticus.

Whenever we practice formal religious rites, experience God in nature, or find God among family and friends, we will always find ministers of joy. In today’s story we read about joy experienced by God’s people who wander in the desert looking for the promise of safety and security. We watch as Moses designates priests who will act as intermediaries for the faithful, and we wonder if we ourselves might be priests to one another. We examine our willingness in being conduits of joy to the world. And we reflect on our own capacity for joy.

Reubens; Sacrifice of the Old Covenant

Reubens; Sacrifice of the Old Covenant

Wherever we find the God of joy, we will also find those willing to tell how they have been redeemed by God’s love. In today’s story from this book of laws and restrictions, we ponder on the freeing power of joy and its ability to overcome all obstacles. We consider how we find joy in other places, times and people and how joy is always present – although often hidden – in times of deepest sorrow; and we reflect on how we might reveal the healing presence of joy to ourselves and one another.

desert tentHowever we find joy like that described in today’s story about these ancient people in the celebration of life and thanksgiving, we will be moved to open the windows and doors of surprise for ourselves and one another. We remember how we long for joy in times of sadness or exile. We recall how the burning presence of joy can heal and save. And we determine to bring the loving salve of God’s joy into the narrowest places of our lives each day.

And so we pray . . .

Let us call on God’s living presence in any hour of despair or pain.

Let us offer up to God any arid landscape we experience today.

Let us minister to one another with shouts of great celebration as we recognize God’s desire to bring joy to even the tiniest moments of our lives. 

And let us revel in the loving surprise of God’s joy and presence and like the faithful we read about today, let us cheer loudly as we fall down in great bows of delighted reverence for God. 

Amen.

For more about anxiety and joy, click on the image above or visit: http://riselikeair.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/anxiety-joy-a-journey/ 

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Moretto: King David

Moretto: King David

1 Chronicles 16

Ministry

If we remain constant and in constant dialog with God we are continually surprised by God’s goodness.  When God’s is the first advice we seek, we cannot go wrong; our daily battles will be upheld, and we will stand in awe of God’s generosity.

The Levite hymn of praise that appears in this chapter is thought, by some scholars, to have been added later; other experts believe that it so reflects The Chronicler’s style that it must have always been included in this part of David’s story.  That discussion aside, we can see that David, at this point in his life, makes no decisions without God’s input.  The years he spent on the run avoiding Saul’s troops and making his little guerilla strikes, have prepared him well for this.  We see here someone who understands that even those close to us, those to whom we have pledged our loyalty and love, can and will betray us, someone who understands the importance of fidelity, perseverance and thanksgiving.  The David we see today has come through fire and understands his place in God’s plan, and he understands and accepts his ministry as his vocation.

When we read David’s entire story, we also see that David slips into separation from God.  He is never, nor are we, a finished product.  He is in process with God and his faith journey will take him many places before it ends in old age.  Even at his death, David is embroiled in the argument of which son will rule after him and the death of his beloved Absalom will bring him deep sadness in his final days; yet David continues to commune with God, to listen and to daily dialog, and to live out his ministry as a faithful servant.

Each of us has a ministry we hope to fulfill.  I admit to struggling with my own vocation.  It would be so much easier, I say to God regularly, if I did not have to do all that he asks, if I might pick and choose my own works as I see them suiting my talents.  The reply always returns with an accompanying chuckle: God knows that the path is full of obstacles, and he knows how we tire.  It is for this reason that he abides constantly, never leaving our side.  God knows well the plans he has in mind for us, as the prophet Jeremiah tells us (29:11), and he desires to surprise us at every turn with an encouraging smile, a loving caress, a kiss that does not betray.  God’s constancy and goodness and wisdom are the tools he lends to us in order that we perform our ministry.  God also provides us with little respites at oases that suddenly and surprisingly appear.  Those are the moments in which we might raise our own hymns of praise just as the Levites do in today’s reading.

As we remain constant, we remain close to God.  As we remain close, we commune with God.  As we commune, we worship.  Let us lift our voices together in a paean of praise.

Tomorrow, the constancy of dialog with God . . .

Written on June 20, 2009. Revised and posted today as a Favorite. 

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Sunday, January 6, 2013 – Matthew 9:35-38 – The Compassion of Jesus

sheep-with-shepherd[1]A year ago we looked at these verses and today they pop up again. When familiar scripture returns we have the opportunity to look a bit deeper – and today is no exception.  A year ago we looked at the meaning of Epiphany, the state of being surprised by something we already know but have not yet acknowledged.  Today we fast forward to watch Jesus at work among the crowds who throng to him now that the word has spread about his healing goodness.  When we look more closely at these few short verses, where is the epiphany for us?  Where is the surprise?

What is it that moves Jesus to grow into one who heals the blind, deaf, mute and diseased? At the sight of the crowds . . .

When is it that we see Jesus in our own lives?  When is he beside us on the bus or train? When does he ride in the back seat of the car?  When does he work in the cubicle down the row?  When does he stand in the grocery line with us?   At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them . . .

Why is it that Jesus continually forgives, consistently shows mercy and always delivers justice?  Why do we shrink from his offer of relationship when we are rejected by others?  Why do we turn away from the source of all goodness when we are distressed? At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned . . .

How is it that God walks among us healing constantly, consoling always and touching our lives with many small miracles and we do not see?  At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. 

Jesus comes to us to mend and console.  This is not surprising when we read his story.  This is no Epiphany.

God gives us the choice to follow or reject Christ.  This is not surprising when we consider how much God loves us.  Neither is this is an Epiphany.

The Spirit accompanies and protects us at all times.  This is not surprising when we remember the promise of the cross.  Not even this is an Epiphany when we know the Gospel story.

At the sight of the crowds . . . We are only one in a crowd of billions and yet God knows our smallest needs and greatest hopes.  Perhaps this is our Epiphany.  God so loves us that he sends his only child into the world to retrieve and shepherd us.  Christ so loves us that he is willing to redeem us.  Christ’s compassion knows no bounds . . . so let us then respond to God’s call with our own Epiphany.  Let us surprise ourselves . . . and follow willingly.

To read an interesting blog post on what it means to be Sheep, click on the image above or go to: http://tndickersondiaries.blogspot.com/2011/02/and-we-think-were-so-smart.html

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Sunday, June 10, 2012 – Zechariah 10 – The New Order

When surprise springs upon us we stagger a bit in wonderment . . . and then we too often we move forward quickly, passing by the opportunity to reflect with God about how the surprise he has given us will continue to change our lives.  It is these changes and surprises that tell us we can trust God.  It is these changes and surprises that reveal God’s fidelity and care for us.  It is these changes and surprises that bring us evidence of God’s deep and abiding love.

Today we spend time thinking about the new order.  Zechariah predicts the newness that accompanies the Messiah.  The Pharisees do not want to hear this news.  From today’s Gospel reading from Luke: Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you”.  He replied, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose’”.

God brings order out of the chaotic universe.  Jesus brings order out of the corrupt hierarchy when he tells us that we are priests in our own right, the adopted daughters and sons of the creator, no longer needing the intercession of priests in the temple.  We are our own temple, Christ having destroyed the old and having become the new.  We enter into that temple when we humble ourselves, take up our assignments, and follow.

To have a deep understand of the meaning in the Book of Zechariah it is best to read notes and commentary; but even at a quick glance we can feel the newness of these words.  The Word is rain in the spring season.  The Word brings about the falling away of deceitful dreams and empty comfort.  The Word gathers up the sheep who wander searching for meaning and feeling in their lives that lasts and does not flicker and vanish with the slightest whisper of struggle.  The Word strengthens us so that we might walk in his name. 

Whoever strives to be made God’s dwelling place, should strive to make himself humble and peaceable, that he may be known to be God’s servant, not by his greed for talk and pliability of mien, but by the reality of his lowliness; for goodness of heart requires no false unction of talk.  (Saint Columban, d. 615- MAGNIFICAT, Oct 30, 2008)

When I suddenly find myself swimming upstream against tremendous odds, I know that it is time to halt, to humble myself, to take stock and to listen . . . so that I might hear The Word that never fails.  When I find that I do not comprehend what is before me, I know that I have entered into a new time – an exciting time – when I am accompanied closely by Christ.  Zechariah predicts his coming to the people, his coming to each of us.  In all of our struggle and anticipation . . . we might overlook the fact that he already walks among us. 

The True Word is not false.  It does not flatter.  It dies not waver.  It does not manipulate.  It frees.  It speaks truth always.  It produces good fruit in due season.  The Word is the New Order.  We have heard this story many times.  Let us act as if we believe. 

Let us not forget the surprising good news that the prophet Zechariah brings us.

Cameron, Peter John, Rev., ed. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 30 October 200. Print.

Written on October 30, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite.

For more on surprises in our lives, go to the Ruth – Surprise page on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/the-book-of-our-life/ruth-surprise/

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