Blindness, the War on Cancer, and the Seven Dwarves – Thinking about Sin

John 9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

In 1971 President Richard Nixon signed into law the National Cancer Act authorizing the spending of $1.5 billion of research funds over the next three years to wage a war on cancer. The initiative for the Act had been funded, in part, by medical philanthropist, Mary Lasker, once quoted as saying, “I am opposed to heart attacks and cancer the way one is opposed to sin.”

The scientific community was not ready for this war – they did not know the enemy – the cancer cell – how it operated or from whence it came.  As researcher, physician and author Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote in his book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer:

In scientific terms…the war was disastrously premature… in the early 1970s, there really wasn’t a science of cancer. Researchers still did not understand what makes cells turn malignant. Now that they were so much in the spotlight, and in the money, they fell into bickering, demoralized, warring factions.

Science has learned much since this time recovering from the ill-suited framework of  ‘waging a war’ because of the work of researchers focused on understanding the enemy. In the past few decades lab scientists worked out the genetics of cancer, and traced the molecular sequence of jammed accelerators and missing brakes that release those first rebel cells. “Beating cancer now is a realistic ambition because, at long last, we largely know its true genetic and chemical characteristics.

How akin is Sin to cancer?  The gospel gives us a peek at how mis-understood Sin was (and in some places, still is ) to God’s people.  Like Cancer, we have so often been wrong about its origins, how it manifests – whether or not it is a condition within or is it some external thing – discrete – that visits us, can be excised?  And if there are no outwardly signs of Sin, are we without?  And what does Sin actually look like – how is it outwardly manifested?

Certainly not in blindness.  Blindness was  – is – no sin, but a condition, a broken part some are born with.  The broken part not caused by someone else and not a bad moral choice. No one chooses broken parts.  We are all born with broken parts.  (In my sometimes sort of twisted mind’s eye I thought of this panel from Dan Piraro’s Bizarro comic that illustrates the difference between broken physical condition and Sin). 

Scientists now know cancer cells reside within all of our bodies and that we don’t ‘get’ cancer, we provoke cancer, as Dr. Oz and others will say.

I think the same is true of Sin.  Sin resides within each of us and it is called the Flesh.  Part of how we are wired as human beings that seeks not God, but self.  And we are all vulnerable to Satan’s relentless invitation to Sin (as a cancer cells unchecked relentlessly reproduce) – to step away from God and towards self.

Being opposed to cancer and heart attacks  – as Mary Lasker equates with her aversion to sin  – fueled her and research partner Dr. Sidney Farber to incite a frenzied ill-fated ‘war on cancer’ with the sponsorship of the National Cancer Act.  It set too many doctors and researchers against one another and treated patients more as ‘specimens’ and bodies that harbored the enemy, than as people with cancer.

We are all opposed to Sin – our Father in Heaven, most of all.  But we have no more capacity for eradicating it from the ourselves – our own bodies – than the war-on-cancer researchers did by thinking of it as something outside, some discrete thing that can be attacked by human-made weapons.  Only with God’s help, with grace, forgiveness are we enabled to wage any kind of war against the sin within.

Understanding Sin for what it is and what it is not – understanding the enemy, its origins, how it attacks, how to combat – is pretty important to get right, to think about, to pray it – and to preach about, it seems to me. How many of God’s people have been judged by fellow Christians as unworthy because of a wrongly held belief about Sin and its origins?

Praise God.

Monday Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 31; PM Psalm 35
Jer. 24:1-10; Rom. 9:19-33; John 9:1-17

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John 11:1-45: Locating Jesus in a ‘Where’s-Waldo-like’ story


John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Fifth Sunday of Lent Readings:

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

Psalm 130

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Be pleased o God, to deliver…baby, today?

Psalm 70: 1 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me; *
O Lord, make haste to help me.

2 Let those who seek my life be ashamed
and altogether dismayed; *
let those who take pleasure in my misfortune
draw back and be disgraced.

3 Let those who say to me “Aha!” and gloat over me turn back, *
because they are ashamed.

4 Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; *
let those who love your salvation say for ever,
“Great is the Lord!”

5 But as for me, I am poor and needy; *
come to me speedily, O God.

6 You are my helper and my deliverer; *
O Lord, do not tarry.

I had to smile at the opening verses of today’s morning psalm as I could almost hear it on the lips of a family member who is expecting – expecting her first baby.  We – all the family and my church community have been praying in earnest that things get underway soon.

This psalm, of course, is anything but about labor and delivery of a blessing – a child.  This is a petition to be saved – delivered – from enemies. Not my favorite of topics or biblical themes because of the dichotomy such psalms and much of the Hebrew scriptures often sets up – the us-them narrative that leaves little room for Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies.  Perhaps this is why I have recorded no reflections on Psalm 70 in the scriptural journal I began to keep in earnest in 2009.  Though I was surprised to find not one pause recorded through the years, I was grateful for the reminder – the reminder of how important the discipline of recording “whispers”, thoughts, questions has been to me – to keep me on track, to dwell in God’s Word and allow the Word to read me.

So, though finding no reflection specifically on Psalm 70, I was made aware that I haven’t avoided altogether the sentiment and petition expressed (also found nearly word for word in Psalm 40 (11-17) ), having often reflected on its application in my personal life and the life of God’s church. Sentiments and themes like Deliver me, Lord. You are my only helper. Don’t tarry – God’s time. 

Yep.  True that.  Though my loved one has been open to trying all sorts of things to trigger delivery – acupuncture, long walks a couple of times a day, some distinct foods – she has left the praying to me (and my fellow prayer warriors).  We talked last night at the news that another friend due at the same time, had delivered in the morning.  As happy as she was for Laura, she felt discouraged.  Trying to dissuade her from being discouraged and to cheer her up, I offered that many of our friends and family had predicted a Friday delivery – St Pat’s Day – because, well…her favorite color is green, her great-grandfather’s bday is March 17, the date corresponds with her wedding date…yada yada yada.  She’d have none of it.  “Ugh!  Please pray for this baby to come now – not Friday – that’s two days away!”

So that was my prayer last night.  But by midnight, baby was still snug as a bug in utero.  So, my first thought this morning was to pray baby comes, today, March 16.  Which brings me full circle to this psalm and the opening couplet.

I am once again just awed at God’s Word at how it speaks to us in our own particularities over and over and through time.  A living word – day in day out.  Any other time, any other day, I would have skipped over this reading to get past another “us-them” psalm.  But today I was paused by the Holy Spirit and blessed to receive the exact words I need for the prayers and petitions I am offering for my loved one this day.  A prayer for “deliverance.”

Will you join your prayers to mine for my expecting loved one?  Here’s what I’m praying,

Be pleased, O God, to deliver her baby; *
O Lord, make haste to help her.
“Great is the Lord!”
…as for her, she is poor and needy; *
come to her speedily, O God.
You are her helper and her deliverer; *
O Lord, do not tarry.

In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

In “due” time I’ll let you know when this new child of God’s makes his or her way home.

Until then,

Praise God.

Thursday Daily Office Readings: M Psalm [70], 71; PM Psalm 74
Jer. 4:9-10,19-28; Rom. 2:12-24; John 5:19-29

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Lent as Eton, not Waterloo

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It’s all good: identifying the clutter of ‘shoulds’

164 Seven times a day do I praise you, *

because of your righteous judgments.

The image that came to mind at this verse from this morning’s psalm, (Psalm 119 in praise of the Law), was a scene from a reality TV show featuring agents selling real estate in different American cities. This particular episode featured an agent who was a young husband and father and a Muslim. Throughout his day, whether at home with his baby or meeting clients for showings or in the office for paper work, and at specific times, he stopped to pray. He traveled and worked with a prayer rug.  During an interview for the show he was asked if he were in the middle of a deal, would he forsake the deal to stop at the right time to pray?  He said yes.  He had to pray at certain times every day of his life. In his tradition, the praying is mandated.

Hmm. Ok. But, I wondered, by whom is this mandated?  To my way of thinking, the agent had simply adopted a discipline he had been taught or decided was essential for life, but not one ordained by God. This is ‘added’ law.  In church language, adiaphora, loosely defined here as something that is not a bad thing, but the action is also not an ordained thing and there are no consequences to him or his life from God should he not stop at certain times and pray. This is personal piety.  This is not a must do thing  – but a should do thing or a choice thing.

It is interesting to pause and think about the disciplines we choose to adopt as doctrine – as should things.  The ‘shoulds’ of my life – do they bring me peace or do they keep me agitated – as expectations, do.  And not just in how I live day to day with intention, what practices and disciplines do I need to keep myself healthy mentally and physically and spiritually?  And I’m thinking about shoulds in relationships, too. How I love.  How many ‘shoulds‘  invade the way I think of relationship with others and with God?  ‘Shoulds‘ distance us from the intent – miring us in the small print and details, as Dan Piraror’s strip, Bizarro, illustrates here.  intent-of-gods-law

The verse that prompted these thoughts this morning comes from the longest psalm in the Psalter and one I for too long strongly disliked. I used to skim over sometimes in the morning if it were part of the day’s readings.  It lauded the law too much for my own taste, bordering on idolization.  It was jam-packed with ‘shoulds‘ and black and white thinking.

But gratefully the Lord gave me some time to think differently on the psalm and his law – and the mandate to keep it. It has begun to not just sink in but also become ingrained in the way intended. I see more clearly that all the things God ordains for us , including the law, are for our own good.

That he hasn’t ordained a specific prayer discipline is also clear.

I am thankful for the word the Lord brought to me – to you? –  this morning to take inventory of the ‘shoulds‘ I have allowed to dictate some of my daily routines and my interactions with others.

Praise God.

Wednesday Daily Office Readings:AM Psalm 119:145-176; PM Psalm 128, 129, 130
Ruth 2:1-13; 2 Cor. 1:23-2:17; Matt. 5:21-26

 

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Chin to Nose: Hints to help me see the whole picture and to hear what the Spirit is saying

You will probably have come across examples of pictographic ambiguity before, where a single drawing has more than one ‘image’ contained within it, depending on how you look at it. This picture, My wife and my mother-in-law is a particularly good optical-illusion-lady-old-ladyexample, and was published in 1915 by the cartoonist W.E. Hill. Even experienced psychologists can sometimes find this hard. One clue – the chin of the young woman becomes the nose of the old lady.

So it is with scripture sometimes, in my experience.  I need clues – Cliff Notes, if you will, to hear what the Spirit is saying. Though no professional theologian, I’m so often blind or deaf to some messages contained within scripture without the help of a clue. I see the mother-in-law in the illustration only after the tip to look at the chin as the nose.

Today’s first psalm was the tip, the clue, the hint that allowed me to see what the Spirit was saying in all of the readings of today – in the big picture. Once I saw the chin – the psalm – as the nose – I delighted to recognize Jesus in the healing of a loved one and a prayer answered.

Here’s how it went down today with the readings – the long story.

This verse from Psalm 40…

5 Great things are they that you have done, O Lord my God!

how great your wonders and your plans for us! *

there is none who can be compared with you.

…functioned as the chin – switching the lens through which I received God’s word in the other readings of the day.

This verse is frequently found in social media messages and sermons to encourage others to persist in a life trusting the Lord. God has good plans for us – for you, for me, for the world.

But what about those who don’t share the same worldview, who don’t believe God has plans for them – great or otherwise?

I got to thinking about a dear loved one of mine who recently experienced a personal challenge when an unexpected and far from great thing interrupted his plans. He consulted me at the crisis point, quite fearful. Though I believed to be true that whatever was unfolding differently than expected by my loved one was part of God’s plan for him, the encouraging words I find in scripture to tell me so, I couldn’t offer him. This verse, as frequently used and well known as it is, would have absolutely no agency with him. He would have not only not heard, but also would have been more than offended that I might suggest that this really bad thing was part of some plan for good for him.

Praise the Lord that my loved one was touched by someone else with the comforting message. A messenger – an angel in the most literal of terms – reached out to my loved one and reassured him that all would be well – that this crisis was in God’s hands, that the intention for him was good and great. My loved one heard this, his fears abated – albeit temporarily – and he was comforted.

Days later he shared the moment with me opening the door to speak to him of prayer and Jesus’ healing power. I told him I was going to offer his crisis up to prayer – to petition the Lord for healing, to call upon other prayer warriors to do the same. My loved one didn’t object, as he might have before the angel touched him. He allowed that I believed and that it was okay to pray for healing on his behalf and expressed appreciation.

And the Lord did hear and heal. The plan for my loved one that at one point appeared to be totally derailed, was put back on track, according to the Lord’s good favor.

Though my loved one is more than relieved that healing took place, he does not yet understand it to be the Lord’s doing. But the experience did open up in him a space to address his worst fears. He was dug into – made vulnerable – had to face the reality that he had no capacity to cure, make better, heal on his own. And further, if he didn’t heal, he had to think about how he would live with the condition – a condition he had never ever considered and that frightened him. Eventually, he became reconciled to both: that he couldn’t make himself better; and that he would find a way to live on – differently than planned – even if he was not made well.

So this was the bunny trail Psalm 40 put me on this morning, and down the path I went chasing after the thought of how to speak words of encouragement to loved ones who don’t trust in the Lord.

Landing in Mark’s gospel, I was reminded once again of how much of Jesus’ ministry was about healing. His reputation as a healer preceded him everywhere he went, as Mark writes:

54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Seventy per cent of the public ministry of Jesus involved healing (physical, emotional and spiritual) and 100% of the time it produced an evangelical impact (people came to faith in Jesus). Here are some interesting facts about healing found in the four Gospels

  • 3779 total verses in the four books and 727 of those verses are on healing (19%)
  • Matthew records 25 healings
  • Mark records 15 healings
  • Luke records 24 healings
  • John records 5 healings

Healing is part of my liturgical tradition. In the Book of Common Prayer are several prayers and anointing (pages 455 and 456)available for individual use and worship. We go to Jesus, as the people of Gennesaret, laying before him our prayers for a touch.

What a contrast to the disciples who accompanied Jesus to Gennesaret and who fail to recognize Jesus even as he remarkably walks on water? The disciples with hardened hearts straining at the oars – working hard at controlling the storm – who perceive him as ghost – terrified. Yet there he is. It is I, he says, don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid the angel had said to my loved one, you are in God’s hands and you will be okay. It is I, said Jesus through the angel to my loved one.

And just as those who flocked to Jesus when he reached the other side of the lake, I went to him to pray on behalf of my loved one. Before the priest and in communion with my worship community, we prayed that his condition would be healed.

The priest who led us in prayer that day, who anointed me during the prayer for my loved one, experiences touches – whispers – from the Lord, regularly. I have accompanied him on pastoral visits to the dying and during healing prayers at worship. He has a gift for sensing the movement of energy out of the body as one is dying, as well as a sense of wellness in someone that comes to him as a piercing thought – a word, almost, that comes to him often in dreams. The best I can describe his gift is as dog’s have a honed sense of smell which can identify illness in a body, this priest has a honed sense of a body’s healthy or unhealthy energy.

At the time of the initial prayer, he had sensed that my loved one would be well, and he was right. His sense was just as that of the angel (messenger) who at the beginning had comforted my loved one with the same message – all would be good as God had intended.

Since that time my loved one and I have not talked about the crisis and the healing that took place. But on Tuesday, we talked about a related challenge that faces him in the coming weeks. I listened silently as he spoke about advice he had been given by the medical community to take control of the timeline for full resolution. He was being presented an option to nip a potential discomfort related to the previous abnormality in the bud by having surgery before letting things run its due course.

I was disheartened to hear he was considering the option. But I didn’t say so. Just like the first time out, I found myself cautious to advise to let things be and to be wary of the recommended surgery.

I was disappointed that I hadn’t encouraged him to see the Lord’s hand in this more explicitly, so far from the call I have known to be upon me to proclaim the good news to all, most especially my loved ones. I knew I had dropped the ball in the dialogue with him. I went to bed that night wrestling with how – or if – to speak to him, again.

And I prayed that another angel would touch him – to assure him that he and his well being remain in God’s hands and the best outcome is had by letting this run due course and not pre-empt with surgery.

Wednesday morning I arrived back at my church where I assist at the Eucharist and Healing Prayer service. I’ve been away from this community for several weeks and haven’t seen the priest who led joined me in the previous petitions of healing for my loved one.

After initial ‘welcome back’ greetings, he asked, “How is your loved one doing?” And before I had a chance to answer, he went on, “I have continued to pray for him and last night I had a dream that the healing that has taken place must be allowed to continue through its due course. He should not do anything to jeopardize the healing that has taken place – he needs more time – no surgery. That is the word that came to me last night.”

Unreal. What a word. For me? For my loved one?

Though I knew the word to be an answer to prayer, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It confirmed my hunch that no surgery was the better way. But how receptive would my loved one be to the ‘word’? Hmm. What was I to do with this?

I filed away the thoughts and added them to my prayers. How do I – should I – share with my loved one? And then I forgot all about it.

Until today, Friday, and the whisper – the hint – from the first psalm.

I often need such hints to see the whole picture. Just as in the illustration that I have viewed many times, remembering that the chin is the nose is the only way I can bring the old woman into view. And today, only by wondering how to encourage loved ones who don’t know the Lord and trust he has great plans for them, could I see the big picture – bringing into view the awareness that the Lord had answered my Tuesday night prayers, calling me out to call him out to my loved one.  And encouraging me to do as Isaiah says we believers must do,

4 The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,*
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.

Jesus is made known to us in many ways but perhaps to many, he is made known most often in healing.  Once I saw the chin as the nose – saw the good news in the Psalm of how great our God’s wonders and plans are for us, I could see how the Lord has made himself visible and known to my loved one whom he is healing.  My pastor received the word he received directly from the Lord – he was my angel delivering the word that Jesus wants more time to heal my loved one – a word that I must and will deliver to him.

A long, deep bunny trail today that took me away from doing about everything I had planned.  But just what I needed to go to bed tonight with thanksgiving for a prayer answered.  And a bunny trail I believe the Lord had planned for me to dive into since Tuesday.

Praise Him.

Friday Daily Office Readings:  AM Psalm 40, 54; PM Psalm 51
Isa. 50:1-11; Gal. 3:15-22; Mark 6:47-56

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President Trump: Really? How is this possible? Fret not, we are in God’s hands

9 Woe to you who strive with your Maker,
   earthen vessels with the potter!*
Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
10 Woe to anyone who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labour?’
11 Thus says the Lord,
the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
Will you question me* about my children,
   or command me concerning the work of my hands?
12 I made the earth,
and created humankind upon it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host.
13 I have aroused Cyrus* in righteousness,
and I will make all his paths straight;
he shall build my city
and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,
says the Lord of hosts.

The inauguration is tomorrow.  Many in this country – indeed more than half the country’s voting population – are ‘striving with the potter’, still stunned not as much that their candidate did not win, but incredulous that the one who did win is who he is.

And while I am hard pressed to think that our Maker selected Trump, as a Christian I am to trust that God knows – knew – that Trump would be our 45th president. That Trump is purposed by God to do xyz as Cyrus was?  Harder for me to get there.  Here’s a Wikipedia summary of who Cyrus was for those unfamiliar:

Cyrus the Great (c. 600 or 576 – 530 BC) figures in the Hebrew Bible as the patron and deliverer of the Jews. He is mentioned 23 times by name and alluded to several times more.[1] From these statements it appears that Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, was the monarch under whom the Babylonian captivity ended, for according to the Bible, in the first year of his reign he was prompted by God to make a decree that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt and that such Jews as cared to might return to their land for this purpose. Moreover, he showed his interest in the project by sending back with them the sacred vessels which had been taken from the First Temple and a considerable sum of money with which to buy building materials.

The Isaiah passage pauses those of us who voted in the presidential election for a political leader but who believe at the same time that our Maker is who he says he is, that…

…there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe;
I the Lord do all these things…

…pauses us to consider that our next president is purposed by the Lord for good.  And in pausing to consider – to allow that this might be so – the Spirit has me, at least, reviewing  what I have thought about our previous president – presidents, for that matter. Was Obama likewise purposed by God to lead the country?

When I look over our American history, I see that we have survived  – our democracy has survived – many questionably qualified, morally compromised, politically inexperienced, psychologically dysfunctional, presidents.  Not just survived, but too, made stronger and better under their leadership – or lack therefore, of.  Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind.  An imperialist for all intents and purposes, but who at the same time, established the National Park system and was known as the  ‘conservationist president.’  Or Richard Nixon whose deeply suspicious character undermined his presidency leading to his resignation, yet created the EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

I trust that we  – this country, this world – are in God’s hands, that he is the potter and we the vessels.  It is a trust that created in me a peace which passed understanding through the past election cycle.  I just didn’t get too worked up about the outcome.

But now that this country is only a day away from being lead by Mr. Trump I find myself – a mere and lowly vessel – asking the potter, say what?  What are you making? Who? Why?  

I have been unsettled by way the president-elect has chosen to go around rather than through the transition to the Oval Office.  He goes around the press to communicate, around established foreign channels for communication with allies, he traveled around the country on a thank-you tour that landed him in geographic regions where he was supported, rather than through the United States.

in-gods-handsBut the Spirit is whispering to me today – and maybe to all of us who trust the potter but are wondering what is up with this vessel – that we need not be unsettled. That we pause today and tomorrow not to praise and laud our new president, but our Maker.  Let’s remember from whose hands we all come and in whom’s hands we rest.

We have life, doctor, because of our Lord, God – our Maker.  In God, we trust.

And this is the lens through which I will watch the inauguration tomorrow, praying for our country and new president and giving thanks to God for whatever plans he has for both.

Praise Him.

Thursday Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 37:1-18; PM Psalm 37:19-42
Isa. 45:5-17; Eph. 5:15-33; Mark 4:21-34

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Never on Sunday: Rejoice, this is the day the Lord has made!

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith* our ancestors received approval.3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.* (Hebrews 11)

Growing up in Southern California meant one way or another the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena would touch my life. For many years attending the parade with my family was an annual tradition, other years, staking out a space on Colorado Blvd with friends and sleeping on the street overnight. Other years helping build a float, attaching flowers one by one in cold warehouses seasonally converted to float production plants. Still other years, as a possible participant as a cast member on a float or in a marching band and every year knowing personally more than a handful of participants and float designers and builders so that it always felt like a hometown event – albeit a very big hometown event and personal experience.

Preparation for the annual parade begins, literally, the day after the parade. Themes, designs, Grand Marshall selection, flower cultivating, marching band submissions – all plans get underway as the floats are deconstructed and Colorado Blvd returned to normal. Thousands of folks from throughout the country – the world, actually – make this parade happen.

It is old school – an old school tradition that cell phones and tablets and social media and digital broadcasting , politics, and shortened attention spans have yet to hold sway and ruin.  And old school in the sense that corporate faith undergirds the entire event – to my way of thinking.

At least that is what came to mind at the first verses of the appointed psalm for today. The Rose Parade is a celebration of life and God’s good work in the world through the hearts and hands of his people.  I share with the world watching a moment of the greatness of the Lord and a reminder of his presence in our world, in our lives, in our time.

Psalm 34: 1 I will bless the Lord at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

2 I will glory in the Lord; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.

3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; *
let us exalt his Name together.

Every year, since its inception in 1890, the parade kicks off on January 1 at 8:00 AM rain or shine. Only 10 times since has it actually rained on the day of the parade and though this year rain threatened, only cloudy skies loomed at the start. Turned out to be another beautiful day in the neighborhood.  Thank you, Jesus!

And every year since its inception in 1890, the parade runs on January 1.  Except this year (and 15 others) when January 1 fell on a Sunday. In 1893, the Valley Hunt Club of Pasadena (founders of the Tournament of Roses) made a rule that moved the parade from a Sunday January 1 to a Monday, January 2 because “they did not wish to disturb horses hitched outside Sunday church services.”  It became the ‘Never on Sunday’ rule and the phrase has entered the American cultural lexicon.  No parade on a Sunday because of church services! Love this!

Throughout the parade today broadcasters were explaining why the parades was today and not on January 1 giving air time to the phrase, ‘church services’ – a reminder to the nation of the kind of country we were – are still? A church attending people who, like the Hebrews written of in today’s epistle, understood ‘the worlds were prepared by the word of God’ – a people, a nation,  in relationship with the living God.

No matter how far to the secular side of the scale this country seems to have gone, people of faith must not lose heart or sight of where the Lord is ever present and working in the world. Here’s an assortment of scenes from this morning’s parade – moments where I saw Jesus in the mix…

From the vague suggestion found in the float theme, ‘No Call Too Small’

No Call too Small

No Call too Small

…to the discrete, absolute “Celebrate Jesus” float by the Lutherans.

Celebrate Jesus

Celebrate Jesus

Praise Him.  Praise the Lord and this day that he has made.

Monday Daily Lectionary Readings: AM Psalm 34; PM Psalm 33
Gen. 12:1-7; Heb. 11:1-12; John 6:35-42, 48-5

 

 

 

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God’s Open Place and Poetry and How to Read Revelation

20 He brought me out into an open place; *
he rescued me because he delighted in me.

I have often reflected upon this verse from Psalm 18 because it is one – of many in the psalter – that totally speaks to me. The ‘open place’ – that is God’s territory – be it land, circumstance, family, heart or breath – the open place, the broad place, the house with many rooms, the body with breathing room. You get the idea.

Years ago when I began in earnest to dig deeper – to get below the surface of scripture –  I found myself pausing most often in the psalter.  It was accessible – an open space, if you will – for getting to know our very very big God and for knowing how to see and hear God in my very little life.  I didn’t understand at first what I know now – that the poetry of the psalms functioned as a hinge opening the door to my comprehending God’s revelation in the Word and the Word made flesh.

This hinge functions throughout scripture – in the compressed figurative language of the psalter, in the Old Testament prophets use of alliteration, in Jesus’ simile packed parables, Pauls’ metaphors and John’s imagery. Poetry releases God’s Word from the bondage of law and literalism into the open place, accessible to God’s people.  Poetry, is the language of our God. He is the Poet Laureate of all, from the beginning, world without end.  Amen.

I think I always read scripture through the poet’s lens. I was raised in a Christian tradition that taught ‘both and’ and not either-or, allowing for breathing room and space, juxtaposition and context, in God’s Word.

photo-2It has been more than a blessing to dig deeper, to mine the poem, the psalm, parable or metaphor to hear what God is saying through space and time. Indeed, this blog is my response to the awareness I came to late in life to get below the surface of the open place.  I have discovered a breath and depth to God’s revelation and will for his creation I had never had the capacity to imagine and cannot ignore.

The scriptural surface and lens through which to read the Bible was entirely different for one of my favorite theologians, Eugene Peterson. Peterson, author of The Message, was raised in a tradition that valued biblical literalism.  The meaning of this parable or that was exactly what was reported with little consideration for context, translation, allegory or metaphor.

He speaks of his Montana childhood home and church lovingly. But the broad place – the open place – the place that called him to wonder, was outside the confines of either. As a lonely and friendless 10-year old boy and inspired by the natural beauty of the world outside his lakeside home, Peterson sought company with God. Regularly, Peterson would pack provision for a day’s adventure to the base of the mountains, searching for Indians, arrowheads, and a quiet space to read his bible.  He started with the psalter.

intent-of-gods-lawAnd he couldn’t make sense of any of it – it was literally too confusing and at odds with what he had thus far learned of God. The big picture –  God and God’s intent  – obscured by the literal, technical lens he brought to bear upon the words (and as illustrated here in Dan Piraro’s Bizarro strip). Here’s what Peterson himself says of this time:

And I couldn’t understand them. “God is a rock?” What does that mean? “My tears are in your bottle?” What is going on here? And I just kind of struggled with that, but people had told me it was important to read the Psalms. And about a month into that, I realized what they were. And I didn’t know the term “metaphor,” but I realized what metaphors were. And so then I was off. And the Psalms were my introduction to poetry.

No Sunday school teacher could have taught this – he had to experience the open place for himself in order to have access to our very big God. And it was by locating poetry within the psalms and later all of scripture. The door was opened as it had been blocked by a literal or journalistic lens.  Later Peterson would write:

All the prophets were poets. And if you don’t know that, you try to literalize everything and make shambles out of it. (again illustrated to my mind’s eye by Dan Piraro in this Bizarro strip).

literalism

A metaphor is really remarkable kind of formation, because it both means what it says and what it doesn’t say. And so those two things come together, and it creates an imagination which is active. You’re not trying to figure things out; you’re trying to enter into what’s there.

Not trying to figure things out – making a mess of God’s word – but entering into what is already there. Brilliant. Yes. Amen.

So all of this is background to my pause at the New Testament reading today from the Book of Revelation.  I have avoided this book like the plague – avoided studying it or entering it for reflection even when it pops up in the lectionary cycle, though I have always appreciated how much of Revelation is incorporated into the liturgy of The Episcopal Church.

So, here it is today, and my first instinct was to skip over.  But, paused as I was at the psalm and recalling the hinge of poetry to the open place, which then prompted me to think of Eugene Peterson and his wisdom about entering into what is already there as opposed to trying to make sense of scripture through literalism or rationality, I went to the passage.  But first, I stopped in at Peterson’s The Message.  Ah – breathing room.  Read here how the poet reads Revelation – this from the introduction to the Book of Revelation:

Revelation

The Bible ends with a flourish: vision and song, doom and deliverance, terror and triumph. The rush of color and sound, image and energy, leaves us reeling. But if we persist through the initial confusion and read on, we begin to pick up the rhythms, realize the connections, and find ourselves enlisted as participants in a multidimensional act of Christian worship.

John of Patmos, a pastor of the late first century, has worship on his mind, is preeminently concerned with worship. The vision, which is The Revelation, comes to him while he is at worship on a certain Sunday on the Mediterranean island of Patmos. He is responsible for a circuit of churches on the mainland whose primary task is worship. Worship shapes the human community in response to the living God. If worship is neglected or perverted, our communities fall into chaos or under tyranny.

Our times are not propitious for worship. The times never are. The world is hostile to worship. The Devil hates worship. As The Revelation makes clear, worship must be carried out under conditions decidedly uncongenial to it. Some Christians even get killed because they worship.

John’s Revelation is not easy reading. Besides being a pastor, John is a poet, fond of metaphor and symbol, image and allusion, passionate in his desire to bring us into the presence of Jesus believing and adoring. But the demands he makes on our intelligence and imagination are well rewarded, for in keeping company with John, our worship of God will almost certainly deepen in urgency and joy.

This introduction alone is enough to invite me into what God placed here in John’s Revelation. That’s the application for me today of the readings – recognizing poetry as the hinge that opens the door to all of God’s Word, up to and including Revelation.

Praise God, the Poet Laureate of all from the beginning, world without end. Amen.

Thursday Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 18:1-20; PM Psalm 18:21-50 Isa. 12:1-6; Rev. 1:1-8; John 7:37-52

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Be Still. Breathe. Know. Trust. Exalt.

Just yesterday in yoga I was put to thinking on a new thing.  After the 45 minutes of standing positions, we moved to the floor to do the ‘real’ yoga.  The position is called, Savasana, translated as Dead Body Pose.savasana dead body pose As we lay down on our backs, the instructor said,

‘Be still – don’t itch the itch, or wipe the sweat.  Only by being still can you begin to get in touch with what is happening inside. Where are your muscles tense?  What side of your body is most loose?  Be still.  Only by being still will you ever learn from your body what it needs.  You must be still to know.”

I’ve practiced yoga a long time – this wasn’t news, but I heard it differently yesterday. “Being still” has been part of my thought bubbles this past Advent for two reasons.  The first is because it is the theme, if you will, for most liturgically inclined churches – churches that embrace the 5th century designed season to prepare the people of God’s church for  – not the nativity and Jesus’ birth – but instead for the second coming of Christ.  Church goers are admonished to ‘be still’, to walk through the four weeks of December quietly. be-still-adventSermons preached about final judgment, about being still so a person would know the presence of the Lord in their daily life. Bookshelves are populated with meditations and journals that encourage the Christian to slow down, be still, not anxious and wait in order to know that he is Lord.

Until I understood that the liturgical season of Advent was more about the second coming than about baby Jesus’ birth day, I pushed back against the call to ‘be still.’  It felt like a Zumba class teacher calling out mid way through the class, ‘Stop! Be still!‘ – it just didn’t jive with how I embraced the season.  I love the festive, go, go, go excitement that celebrates Jesus’ birth in a manger over 2000 years ago. I play lively Christmas Caroles, decorate my home with lights, trees, creches and Santas. I entertain, send cards, make, buy and wrap gifts.  I am hardly ‘still.’

But I am put to thinking differently about the need to be still – and most especially on this day, the day before the world marks and celebrates the birth day of Jesus – God incarnate – emmanuel.

Yesterday, when I was instructed in yoga class to be still, my first thought was of a friend who has quoted the biblical verse that comes from today’s psalm for the past 10 weeks or so as he accompanies his wife through treatment for cancer.  They have each – patient and patient’s partner – had to ‘be still’ – to rest in God’s hands trusting the process.  Only by being still are they able to walk through this literally one day at a time – some times just one hour at a time.

11 “Be still, then, and know that I am God; *
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.”

12 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

So while lying there in ‘dead body pose’[1] where I was instructed to be still in order to know where my body was healing or still hurting, to know how even or not my breathing was, I thought of her in a similar pose being still in her hospital bed and her beloved being still to know the Lord’s presence in her body – and in his.

be-stillRemarkable to me how this verse – this psalm – greeted me this morning.  All these thought bubbles bouncing out there in the universe of this one idea of ‘being still’ – coming together in a glorious sort of soft, comfy cloud of witnesses  to speak to me – and to you, encouraging all God’s people to be still, to take time to prepare the inn within for him this night.

Saturday Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 45, 46;
Isa. 35:1-10; Rev. 22:12-17,21; Luke 1:67-80

[1] Interesting juxtaposition of death and life woven together in the name of this pose, wherein being still allows the blood and breath to move freely through the body – a juxtaposition I find in Advent wherein the death and resurrection of our Lord is held before us in Advent as reminders that we await his coming again for eternal life.

 

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