Sunday, December 31, 2017

A new creation; you’re invited!

Morning: Psalms 93, 96; I Sam 1:1-2,7-28; Colossians 1:9-20; Lk 2:22-40
These reflections for 2017 end with John’s vision of creation renewed, and with Simeon’s certainty that Jesus is the one renewing it.  You are invited to help fashion this new creation where you live. If you are thirsty for it, ‘living water’ is available to slake your thirst.  This new creation is not just for some future time; it’s happening already!  Now a question hangs in the air: “Will you choose to devote your energies to this new creation?”  [In 2017, we have been ‘Reawakening’ our awareness of this new creation.  In 2018, we’ll dedicate ourselves to ‘Keeping Awake’.]

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Neither faith nor unfaith depend on evidence

Morning: Psalms 20, 21; 1 Kings 17:17–24; 3 John 1–15
Some say they don’t believe in God because of what happens, or because of what doesn’t.  Others say they believe because signs and wonders convince them.  Both rely on evidence.  Jesus teaches that, when faith depends on signs and wonders, it’s not faith.  Belief seeks no evidence. The absence of signs and wonders does not disprove God’s existence any more than their presence proves it (although, as today’s story shows, signs and wonders can help!) Instead, faith means entrusting yourself to the other without conditions.  Then, see what happens.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Justice for all … and the wine will not run out!

Morning: Psalm 18:1-20; 2 Samuel 23:13–17b; 2 John 1–13
For Jesus the ‘Word’, who had been involved in the beginning of Creation, turning water into wine at a wedding sounds simple!  Soon after, Jesus challenges unjust religious and secular authorities. His mission is that all taste the new ‘wine’ of strong and just relationships – inter-personally, societally, and spiritually. The wedding feast is a symbol for God’s Kingdom, which is itself a symbol for the completion of everything. The Kingdom will see a celebration of justice, a feast worthy of the dream of the Creator, with all things in balance.  And the wine will not run out.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Love unchanged from the beginning

Morning: Psalm 26; Jeremiah 31:10–17; Galatians 4:1–7
People have always wondered how things began. Every culture has its legends about the origins of the world and of humanity.  The Christian story connects the origins of all things with the ongoing activity of the Creator in the Creation.  This is the conviction that the same life-giving purpose that was present in the beginning still gives meaning and light to life today.  It may be unclear to our limited understanding how that purpose will be realized, but the purpose itself – grace and truth, or you could call it Love – is unchanged from the beginning until now.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A mighty power is at work here

Morning: Psalms 148, 149, 150; Isaiah 41:17–20; Hebrews 2:10–18
A mighty power must be at work to convince a man who has never slept with his fiancée that her pregnancy is “from the Holy Spirit”.  If not, the story is a massive cover-up, a pack of lies … but to what end?  And how can such deceit succeed?  Launcelot, in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, says, “Murder cannot be hid long … at the length truth will out.”  Someone knows and someone tells.  Isn’t the same true of parentage?  With Mary, Joseph and Jesus, I am persuaded, a mighty power was at work.  It still is.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Trust your heart

Morning: Psalm 145; Isaiah 41:8–10Hebrews 1:1–12

Someone tells you something astounding and, like the shepherds, you want to see it.  Or, you want other witnesses. When you hear a story third- or fourth-hand, though, it feels less reliable.  With time, you need an entirely other kind of witness.  I don’t know how God speaks to us exactly, but I trust it is through movements of the heart.  Mary treasured and pondered in her heart what she had heard.  The heart is a more vitally important organ than the eyes – why trust it less?

Monday, December 25, 2017

Monday Dec 25th – Beloved, let us love one another

Morning: Psalms 2, 85; Micah 4:1–5; 5:2–4; 1 John 4:7–16

Christmas is a threshold, a doorway into a new reality that we may choose to enter or not.  Every year, the feast comes round.  We do what we do, visit family, eat, drink and celebrate.  Perhaps we pause to reflect about why it’s happening.  Christmas is indeed a lovely human tradition; it’s certainly heart-warming. When not colonized completely by materialism, it holds promise, the promise of Love abounding for everyone.  To make this a reality, each one of us must refrain from observing Love from afar, step across the threshold, and play our part.  Beloved, let us love one another.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Mysteries of Love that make all the difference

Morning: Psalms 45, 46; Baruch 4:36-5:9; Matthew 1:18-25
My wrestling with the virgin birth of Jesus used to make me forget other everyday miracles.  Yet in a universe brimming over with incredible mysteries, why balk at this one?  Why not wonder in awe that the Creator takes human flesh and comes alongside us?  In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, and with much to convince me that Love is real and powerful, I chose long ago to take this leap of faith.  It has made all the difference to me to know that Love is spreading out across the void, and not only matter.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Faith gives life, not membership in a tribe

Morning: Psalms 93, 96; Baruch 4:21–29; Galatians 3:15–22
A friend struggles with the ‘tribal’ flavour of the Scriptures and the Church.  He’s right … In the ‘Song of Zechariah’, Israel enjoys special favour.  And Anglicans (my group) are something of a ‘tribe’.  But St. Paul suggests that fullness of life is for all humanity, not just one tribe; it is found not in ethnicity or religious affiliation but in faith. Faith demonstrates that tribalism is too narrow. Even religious scepticism can involve a sort of tribal affiliation. My friend realizes he cannot comprehend everything intellectually – he says: “A step of faith is required”. He’s right. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

What then will you become?

Morning: Psalm 80; 2 Samuel 7:18–29; Galatians 3:1–14
Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore said: “Every child that is born comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of (humankind).” The momentous news of a pregnancy, or a birth, both leaves you speechless, and fills you with hope.  New life makes you ask what they asked when John the Baptist was born, “What then will this child become?”  You may think of fame, or accomplishments.  John’s story teaches you, though, that you become great when you point consistently beyond yourself to the Love that is the source of all life.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Greatness is humility

Morning: Psalm 72; 2 Samuel 7:1–17; Titus 2:11—3.8a
Mary’s song – Magnificat – is perhaps most significant for how it highlights the place of the lowly.  One strong theme in the Bible is that God’s preference, when choosing leaders, messengers, disciples or prophets, is for the lowly.  Religion often forgets this.  Once religion becomes established and institutionalized, it seems to require champions who are powerful in the eyes of the world.  Mary is a reminder, among other things, that the mighty fall.  Meanwhile, the lowly give birth to true greatness.  Mary embraces the paradox that Jesus then teaches and embodies – greatness is humility.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Let It Be …

Morning: Psalms 66, 67; 1 Samuel 2:1b–10; Titus 2:1–10
The angel Gabriel visits first Zechariah, then Mary. Mary’s probably more astounded than Zechariah – after all, she’s the one having the baby this time!  She responds, famously, “Let it be to me as you have said”.  I’ve always thought Paul McCartney’s song, “Let it be”, was about Mary, the mother of Jesus, but now I hear the words were spoken to McCartney in a dream by his own mother, Mary, who had died years before.  The point is though, whoever says “Let it be” invites you to accept the inevitable, unavoidable times of trouble, and live on.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The astounding truth

Morning: Psalms 61, 62; Zephaniah 3:14–20; Titus 1:1–16
Luke, right after saying he’s telling the truth, writes the amazing story of an angel visiting old Zechariah with news Elizabeth will have a son. He’s dumbfounded.  Sometimes, astounding things happen, and you realize later they’re true … then truth itself astounds you. Poet Mary Oliver writes: “When it’s over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement.”  Elizabeth spent the rest of her life “married to amazement” - Zechariah.  When John was born, Zechariah got his voice back, and he went and told everyone the whole amazing story.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Monday Dec 18th – Life needs light

Believing the cosmos is, fundamentally, a friendly place, makes a world of difference to the energy you bring to life.  You cannot make a place friendly by being un-friendly.  Noble ends are not achieved by evil means; when we think they are, it’s our puny imaginations talking.  There may be more light than darkness in the cosmos, but some corners of it are still pretty dark.  Jesus bids us: Love the light … Move towards it … Keep putting your faith in a ‘friendly cosmos’.  That will make all the difference in the world.  Life cannot thrive in the dark.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Step out

Morning: Psalms 63, 98; Amos 9:11–15; 2 Thessalonians 2:1–3, 13–17
I’ve started snowshoeing again. It’s beautiful out there.  The best way to endure our Canadian winters is to get out in them.  Don’t believe me?  Well, you’re probably right to doubt … just my telling you won’t convince you, about this or anything else.  You must try the real thing.  That’s especially the case with faith.  I can keep telling you about my experience of Jesus; I probably will – hopefully in a gentle and palatable way.  But if you really want to know what I mean, you’ll have to put those shoes on, open the door and step out.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Keep love warm

Morning: Psalms 30, 32; Haggai 2.1–9; Revelation 3.1–6
They ‘discovered’ another solar system with 8 planets, like ours, ‘only’ 2,500 light years away.  The mind boggles … the information we gather from there now is from 500 years before Christ!  Yet, even today, people still wonder when ‘the end’ will come.  Questions like these distract us from living in the present moment.  A lot more will happen yet, and our distant descendants may see it. But we are unwise to make this our primary concern.  Our most pressing need is not to have our love grow cold.  Here’s the thing, then … Today, keep love warm.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Love and lament for Jerusalem … for all of us

Morning: Psalm 31; Haggai 1.1–15; Revelation 2.18–29

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often have I desired to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing.” Jesus loves Jerusalem and her children and also laments the way she mistreats those sent to her aid.  Jesus’ lament extends far beyond Israel and Judah, because Jerusalem is really a proxy for every city and human community in which people destroy what is good rather than pursue the ways that make for peace.  Jesus’ love and lament are for all of us – for our healing – if we are willing.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

True beauty: what you see is what you get

Morning: Psalm 37.1–18; Amos 9.1–10; Revelation 2.8–17

Jesus’ calls out the scholars of religion as “hopeless frauds”. They believe in their own goodness, but their self-righteousness is not real.  They create impossible standards that no one can achieve, least of all them. They dwell on the smallest things and neglect the most important: justice, mercy and faithfulness. They look holy on the outside but inside are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Outwardly they appear beautiful, but within they are ugly.  Jesus wants us to be authentic – like, what you see is what you get.  We’re made not to be hopeless frauds; we’re made to be beautiful.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Imbalances will be resolved, naturally

Morning: Psalm 38: Amos 8.1–14; Revelation 1.17—2.7
I’m listening to Handel’s Messiah and the famous aria, “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low.”  What the Old Testament prophet Isaiah says resonates with Jesus’ teaching about religious hypocrisy: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  How? … by direct divine intervention?  No, but it seems there’s a tendency towards equilibrium in the creation - in the natural world in general and particularly in human life.  When people advocate for one thing yet do the opposite, a jarring imbalance results.  Such imbalances will be resolved, naturally.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Choose: Competition or Loving relationships?

Morning: Psalms 26, 28; Amos 7.10–17; Revelation 1.9–16
Our society moulds us for competition … academic grades; winning at sports; superior intelligence; beauty. Simple conversation is difficult for us without argument, discussion, or debate.  They peppered Jesus with questions to test him, maybe to prove how smart they were. Why we evolved this way is a mystery to me, but Jesus teaches what St. Paul calls a “more excellent way” – perhaps its excellence will appeal to our competitive natures!?  When badgered about the most important values, Jesus responded: Love what is Holy (“God”) and Love your neighbour as yourself.  He’s saying, Choose – competition or relationships grounded in Love.

Monday, December 11, 2017

If you must ask questions, ask the right ones

Morning: Psalm 25; Amos 7.1–9; Revelation 1.1–8

When the Sadducees ask Jesus what will happen in the Resurrection if someone’s been married more than once, you can almost feel him rolling his eyes and saying:  “Guys, guys!  Wrong question!”  Instead, Jesus wants us to discover how to live now, rather than pandering to our speculations about what happens after we die.  This life is the one that matters … this moment in fact.  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in their moment.  While we live, we must inhabit ours, and leave speculation aside. This life is the one Jesus comes to renew.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

What then will you become?

Morning: Psalms 148, 149, 150; Amos 6.1–14; 2 Thessalonians 1.5–12
This second Sunday in Advent is traditionally devoted to one wild and woolly prophet, John the Baptist.  Apart from his being reassuring for people like me – who have never liked to dress up! – John stands like a signpost in history pointing away from himself.  It’s as if he is saying: “If you want to accomplish anything of value in this world, it cannot be about you.”  What ultimately will redeem the world, if anything will, is humility.  And, in case you think he’s just talking to other people, you hear John’s life asking you: “What then will you become?”

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Faith and taxes

Morning: Psalms 20, 21.1–7(8–14); Amos 5.18–27; Jude 17–25
Jesus said, “Give the emperor what is the emperor’s and give God what is God’s.”  Conclusion? … Perhaps people owe the emperor very little compared with what they owe God?  They must decide what they value most. Does this inform our approach to faith and taxes today?  Some people wonder whether the Church should give up its charitable status.  In the spirit of Jesus, it’s a fair question: is it ‘generosity’ if it depends on receiving a tax-break?  More importantly, to receive tax-breaks for my faith is inconvenient if ever, like Jesus, I must challenge governments because of my faith.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tired of darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Morning: Psalms 16, 17; Amos 5.1–17; Jude 1–16
Too many parables in our readings lately end with someone in outer darkness, weeping and gnashing their teeth!  My heart wants relief, something better and brighter.  But isn’t that the point? … the parables are addressed to me: ‘Graham, quit refusing great opportunities on the pretext you have something better to do.’  Our son’s wedding banquet recently really was a taste of something better and brighter; no wonder Jesus compares the kingdom to a wedding banquet ... Isn’t he really saying: ‘Life’s a banquet. Come, enjoy its wonders, and quit choosing lesser options; you’ll only end up regretting it’?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

God’s biggest fans sometimes lose the thread

Morning: Psalm 18.1–20; Amos 4.6–13; 2 Peter 3.11–18
Jesus tells a story … tenants kill a landowner’s son. Because they want to manage the land themselves, without the landowner’s direction, they lose everything. Ironically, when religious people lose the thread of their own foundational story, they also lose their purpose, and then they end up sacrificing what they really want to guard. Even those who look and sound like God’s biggest fans can lose touch with who God is and what God intends.  So to people of faith, Jesus poses these searching questions: ‘What do you think this faith is all about?’ and ‘Are you with me?’

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

True authority comes from within

Morning: Psalms 119:1-24; Amos 3:12 – 4:5; 2 Peter 3:1-10
Religious leaders confronted Jesus: “By what authority do you do these things; who gave you this authority?”  Today they might ask: “Do you have a licence?” But no-one can confer the authority Jesus possessed – marked by integrity, strength, wisdom, humility, and servanthood.  The religious leaders’ had only formal authority, which alone is insufficient.  True authority has inner qualities … authenticity, the capacity to author life, to support and cherish life, guided by the Spirit within.  Religious leaders may be called “reverend”; but everyone knows it takes much more than a title to be truly “revered” … That was Jesus’ point.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The power of prayer and the house of prayer

Morning: Psalms 5, 6; Amos 3.1–11; 2 Peter 1.12–21
When Jesus overturned the tables of moneychangers in the temple – who exchanged currency so that foreigners could buy sacrificial animals – he made a powerful statement about the significance of holy places, places set apart and used often for prayer.  He also spoke of the power of prayer itself.  Our culture is abandoning holy places and the practice of prayer.  Part of what churches are for is to honour the sacred in all life (hope, faith, love, beauty, goodness, truth); to create and guard sacred places; and to proclaim the power of the Spirit to ‘move mountains’ for goodness’ sake.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Who is this? Your answer makes all the difference

Morning: Psalms 1,2,3; Amos 2.6–16; 2 Peter 1.1–11
In Matthew’s story, Jesus enters humbly into Jerusalem. This echoes Zechariah’s prophecy (9:9) about a king on a donkey.  The crowd knows the prophecy and welcomes its new king.  Then people start to ask, “Who is this?”  If Jesus really is the promised king, something world-changing is happening.  The last 2000 years of history has largely agreed with Matthew’s story.  It’s controversial but who can be indifferent about this?  You have to decide who this man Jesus is.  And your answer may make as much difference to you as history’s answer has made to the world.  Who is this Jesus?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Do not fear … it may take time, but all shall be well

Morning: Psalms 146, 147; Amos 1.1–5, 13—2.8; 1 Thessalonians 5.1–11
This season is about Hope. It’s natural that human beings imagine better times beyond our present challenges, troubles, and sorrows.  We say, “Just let me get through this,” even though, last time, a new crisis followed the old one and left us still expecting something brighter.  Hope is more than wishful thinking; it is a conviction about what is coming, but not yet seen.  Hope acknowledges, with Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  Meanwhile, we work for that expected future without worrying about when or how it will come to pass.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Fear can blind you

Morning: Psalm 137:1-6, 144; Micah 7:1-11; I Peter 4:7-19

A crowd tries to silence two blind men who call to Jesus for mercy.  Jesus ignores the crowd and, out of compassion, heals the blind men.  Isn’t it the crowd that’s really blind?  Compassion sees suffering and responds with mercy.  Some in the crowd probably do see.  But compassionate action takes courage … you may have to go against the crowd.  Fear can blind you.  Is there some fear that keeps you from seeing where you need to act with mercy?  Is there some crowd mentality – fitting in, being accepted, being liked – from which you need to break free?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Learning to serve takes a lifetime … start now!

Morning: Psalm 140, 142; Isaiah 24:14-23; I Peter 3:13-4:6 
Evening: Psalm 141, 143; Zechariah 14:1-11; Matthew 20:17-28

Some reject Christianity because Jesus’ friends misbehave.  But Jesus deliberately befriends miscreants; they need the most help.  Jesus’ followers want to be great. He teaches them that greatness is service.  St. Francis prays: “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love …” Francis could have continued, “… to be served as to serve.” Following Jesus never guarantees you will serve others well, but it can help if you want it to.  Becoming a servant may take a lifetime … start now!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

“Come and see” … spend time with Jesus

Morning: Psalm 34; Isaiah 49:1-6; I Corinthians 4:1-16

Jesus attracted disciples, like Andrew and Simon. When Jesus asked them, “What are you looking for?” they responded, strangely, “Where are you staying?”  Jesus invited them to “come and see.”  In other words: Come and see how I live.  Doesn’t Jesus invite us too: “Come and see, spend time with me … through me you may see the world in a fresh and healing light”?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Valuing most the renewal of all things

Morning: Psalm 119:145-176; Obadiah 15-21; I Peter 2:1-10

When Jesus says it’s harder for a rich man to be fulfilled than for a camel to pass through a turnstile at the arena (that’s what they called the “eye of a needle”), he’s not just talking to the rich. Though never rich, I know the trouble with wealth.  It’s that when you make wealth your life goal, whether you’re rich or poor, it can end up possessing you. But when you realize that much in the world’s life is broken and your heart’s desire is for all things to be made new – not just your own things – you’re free.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Let go of things; then you will really live

Morning: Psalm 120, 121, 122, 123; Nahum 1:1-13; I Peter 1:13-25

Life belongs to children, says Jesus. Children don’t even think about life; they enjoy it.  Yet young men can become so weighed down by their need to possess things that they lose the freedom to enjoy them.  Life, which already was theirs when they were children, slips through their fingers.  They think that owning things, more than enjoying and sharing them, will make them fully alive.  We humans do this with land, with Mother Earth, with all precious things – art, nature, animals, and even other people.  We’re mistaken.  Jesus says … Let go of grasping; then you’ll really be living.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Marriage, divorce, celibacy and sex

Morning: Psalm 106:1-18; Joel 3:1-2, 9-17; I Peter 1:1-12

Jesus teaches on human sexuality.  Marriage is not to be undertaken lightly.  Jesus is angry with men using divorce for their convenience, without regard for the suffering it causes women.  He does not recommend celibacy, although some may be called to it.  When Jesus says married couples are “no longer two, but one flesh,” he treats sexual intimacy as a holy expression of our humanity.  There is no place for shame in sex, but when we ignore how life-changing marriage or sex are, trouble will not be far behind.  A casual approach to sex disrupts our natural human equilibrium.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Jesus: a different kind of king

Morning: Psalm 118; Isaiah 19:19-25; Romans 15:5-13  
Not every story Jesus tells contains a lesson in itself.  One story may be set beside another, showing the difference between its subject matter and the Way of Jesus.  Isn’t this the case with the story about the violence of a tyrannical ruler who slaughters those who oppose him (genocide)? Compare this with the humility of Jesus who, in the next story, rides into Jerusalem on a colt.  Disciples of Jesus follow a very different kind of king.  Sometimes, we have missed this comparison, but the Gospel is saying: Choose … what kind of ruler do you want?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

We need to forgive as much as to be forgiven

Morning: Psalm 107:33-43,108:1-13; Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 22:14-21
Jesus teaches us always to forgive those who offend or hurt us.  But his parable also says the ‘heavenly Father’ will torture those who do not forgive.  Ouch!  The suggestion that the forgiving Father tortures anyone feels so wrong.  Doesn’t it mean, instead, that if we don’t forgive others after we ourselves have been forgiven, it will afflict our souls and feel like torture?  That is how we are made.  Some of our inner pain may be about someone we need to forgive.  We need to forgive as much as we need to be forgiven.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Treat bad actors as Jesus did

Morning: Psalm 102; Malachi 3:1-12; Revelation 22:6-13

While depicting people as ‘sheep’ rankles with me, I do like that Jesus gives highest priority to ‘lost sheep’. Religious folk can sometimes moralize and exclude bad actors from the scope of God’s care.  But Jesus says that, even if someone treats you badly repeatedly, you should “treat them as a Gentile and a tax collector”.  Wasn’t he criticized for loving these people?  He certainly did not exclude them.  I think he means: ‘these ‘lost sheep’ are the people I care about most; treat them with the utmost care and love, as I do.  I want them back with me.’


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Blessèd innocence

Morning: Psalm 105:1-22; Malachi 2:1-16; Revelation 21:22-22:5

If we remember Mohammed Ali’s 1964 “I am the greatest” speech, our age may prevent us from becoming “the greatest” unless we become “humble like a child.”  Trouble begins when we learn to compare ourselves with others; we lose the quality of greatness … humility. It’s a ‘gotcha’.  We can never say, with honesty, “I am the humblest.” Just as we can never say, with honesty, “I am the greatest.”  We can become humble, but, like children, we won’t know it when we are.  It’s disappointing, eh? … I’ll never know whether I’m the greatest, or the humblest. Blessèd innocence.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Freedom of religion is Jesus’ Way

Morning: Psalms 101, 109:1-30; Malachi 1:1-14; Revelation 21:9-21

Most people accept that taxation ensures a healthy and just society … except perhaps those mentioned in the so-called ‘Paradise Papers’!  The Jewish people of Jesus’ day objected, however, to paying taxes for the maintenance of the temple of Jupiter in Rome.  Jesus agreed with them, thereby implying that established religion (as Constantine later made Christianity) is not part of the good society.  Jesus espouses freedom of religion, and any attempt to impose belief (or unbelief) on others is to be opposed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Hearing promises rather than threats

Morning: Psalm 97, 99, 100; Habakkuk 3:1-18; Revelation 21:1-8
Once, I saw a 20 minute play with only two lines – “Take it”, and “I don’t want it” – repeated with every imaginable inflection, tone of voice and physical expression.  Sometimes I’d like to hear Jesus saying the Gospel words out loud.  What sounds harsh in print, I re-imagine as gentle, full of compassion and promise.  Or, alternatively, maybe the Gospel writers got Jesus wrong?  Jesus is full of promises, not threats.  Like, when John of Patmos, in Revelation, has a vision of a new heaven and a new earth … now there’s a promise made in the spirit of Jesus.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Peaks and valleys, darkness and light

Morning: Psalm 89:1-18; Habakkuk 2:1-4, 9-20; Revelation 20:7-15

I love mountaintops; I climb Mt. Snowdon in Wales when I visit my mother.  It’s exhilarating up there; things seem clearer, problems small.  The humdrum and mundane are a world away.  It’s hard to come down.  The disciples are with Jesus on the mountaintop when they realize how different he is – truth radiates from him.  He could accomplish anything!  But on the way down he tells them he must suffer.  They hadn’t counted on that – in the bright light of their enthusiasm and plans, shadowy realities remained hidden to them.  Later they learned that darkness cannot overwhelm the light.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Rich or poor, whom or what do I serve?

Morning: Psalm 66, 67; Habakkuk 1:1-2:1; Acts 28:14-23
All I am and have comes from beyond myself. To be devoted to my stuff – house, car, treasures – is to serve only myself.  Wealth is such an unsatisfying Master.  Yet lamentably, our culture teaches the poor that the pursuit of wealth is the highest value.  That devalues the little they have. Even the wealthy want more.  To live well, Jesus teaches, we must address crucial questions: Whom or what do I serve?  What am I living for?  Rich or poor, when I serve wealth, I am the poorest of men.  When I serve Love, I am rich indeed.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Peace will come; let it begin with me

Morning: Psalms 87, 90; Joel 3:9-17; Revelation 20:1-6

Some good friends of Jesus are surprisingly preoccupied with “being saved.” Jesus himself said: “those who want to save their life will lose it.”  Instead, lose your self-preoccupation in service to what is life-giving.  This may not mean an easy path … in the Book of Joel some still think truth will be served by making weapons out of ploughs, whereas Isaiah’s vision is to “beat swords into ploughshares”.  We must stand firm in the cause of a deeper peace, sometimes at risk of our own.  Tom Paxton sang: “Peace will come; let it begin with me.”  Have a listen:

Friday, November 17, 2017

Who do you say Jesus is?

Morning: Psalm 88; Joel 2:28-3:8; Revelation 19:11-16
There is much that is edifying in Jesus’ stories and in those others tell about what he did and said. Today’s story, though, is about who Jesus is; that makes all the difference.  It took several years for Jesus himself to come to grips with his own identity.  But when his followers realized, 2000 years ago, that Jesus might be the one promised from of old to deliver his people from their troubles, there began a profound transformation in the world’s life.  And his question to the disciples is still valid and important today: Who do you say Jesus is?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Spoiler alert

Morning: Psalm 23,27; Joel 2:21-27; Revelation 19:1-10
Yeast makes bread rise; it is a leavening agent.  The Bible, though, talks about leaven as a spoiling, evil influence – in relationships, in communities, and in religious life.  There are those who seek to undermine Jesus’ influence by putting him to the test; he poses a threat to their own power.  Leaders who exercise an influence for good learn to respond wisely: both to people’s immature or destructive challenges; and also, to their own temptation to undermine others when they themselves feel threatened.  Jesus is teaching us to ask ourselves: Am I an influence for good or for ill?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Receive, Give Thanks, Break Open, Share

Morning: Psalm 119:97-120; Nehemiah 7:73-8:3, 5-18; Revelations 18:21-24
People know about Jesus’ feeding the 5,000, but not the 4,000, this time with “seven loaves and a few small fish.” These stories could be about the same event but the details changed as it was passed on orally.  Most important, though, is what is common to both stories – Jesus’ FOUR ACTIONS: he took bread, gave thanks, broke and shared it.  Jesus “had compassion” on the crowd … Compassion is literally “suffering with”. Compassion responds to human suffering by receiving all we have with thanks, breaking it open and sharing it with our companions. Companions are “together in bread”.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

You may be different, but you’re more alike than you think

Morning: Psalm 78:1-39; Nehemiah 9:26-38; Revelation 18:9-20
Jesus’ teaches in parables; and his life embodies the truths his stories tell … A non-Israelite woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter. Shockingly, but I believe deliberately and ironically, Jesus says he cannot give to ‘dogs’ – like this woman – what belongs to his own people, the Israelites.  (The Israelites may have used ethnic slurs like the term ‘dogs’ to describe the Canaanites.)  Those watching see Jesus first honouring the woman’s faith and then healing her daughter … in spite of her ethnicity.  Here, he teaches his own people: I am here for everyone; stop calling your neighbours ‘dogs’.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Kindness does not flow from a bitter heart

Morning: Psalm 80; Nehemiah 9:1-25; Revelation 18:1-8
Religious leaders can so easily fall into the trap of making rules that have no vital connection with the faith itself.  When Jesus points this out to some of them, they are displeased.  (Religious leaders may be prone to self-righteousness, too.)  The danger Jesus addresses is that rules sound as if they matter, when they may not matter at all.  For Jesus, the heart is what needs refinement, not the rules.  When truth shapes the heart, right actions follow.  The man whose heart is bitter cannot act kindly, no matter how much you insist that he should.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Generosity: no strings attached

Morning: Psalm 93, 96; Ezra 10:1-17; Acts 24:10-21
Jesus seems to be saying this … when you do something kind for someone, check that your generosity is not marred by ulterior motives.  If you wonder what the benefits will be for you, for example, when you care for a person, or give to a cause, something is off.  Generosity lets go of gifts as soon as they are given … no further expectations, no wishes for ‘thank yous’ or anything in return.   Generosity is an expression of complete freedom – no strings attached.  Anonymity helps, too.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Prayer is what strengthens us for life’s trials

Morning: Psalm 75, 76; Ezra 9:1-15; Revelation 17:1-14
Jesus’ disciples have weathered storms before.  But Jesus walking on water is something new.  Why would he do this?  Something in me doesn’t care.  It’s odd to read it on Remembrance Day, when we recall the sacrifices others have made for us.  I’m grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice too, but, for me, he didn’t need to walk on water, that’s all.  Perhaps the Gospel tells this story, though, to teach me that Jesus prepared himself for great trials by prayer.  Prayer will prepare me, too, and strengthen my faith so that I’m ready to confront even death itself if I must.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Generosity - the real miracle

Morning: Psalm 69:1-23, 31-38; Ezra 7:27-28; 8:21-36; Revelation 15:1-8

The story of the feeding of “5,000 men, besides women and children” –better make it 10,000 – is famous … and intriguing.  Like, would 10,000 people take their children to a deserted place without bringing lunch?  Likely some forgot; the disciples were worried about them.  But, without a doubt, some would have come prepared.  I think what really happened, when Jesus blessed and broke the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, is that the ones who had brought lunch realized they needed to share.  So all were fed.  They learned generosity that day; perhaps that was the real miracle.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Be true to yourself now … it gets harder later

Morning: Psalm 70, 71; Ezra 7:1-26; Revelation 14:1-13
Herod had John the Baptist beheaded, to fulfil a rash promise to his step-daughter, but he still grieved over John’s death. Herod liked to listen to John’s truth-telling.  He was obviously conflicted, though, since he did not take John’s critiques to heart.  It’s hard enough to admit quietly to yourself when you are wrong.  It’s another thing entirely, when you wield public power, to confess your errors to others and to the world.  But every time you deny responsibility for your own mistakes, it becomes easier to make them again … and harder and harder to turn back.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Truth is more common than humility

Morning: Psalm 72; Nehemiah 13:4-22; Revelation 12:1-12
A famous speaker whom we brought over from England joked that ‘experts’ from abroad are more highly respected than locals.  Jesus said this about ‘prophets’.  Prophets are truth-tellers.  It’s hard to hear the truth from someone you know.  When your sister shares something amazing she has discovered, you think, “I’ve been trying to tell you that for years!”  Truth, like everything else, is available locally.  But pride can stop my ears when I hear truth from my brother, or my neighbour, especially if it’s the truth about me.  I mean, how could he be smarter or wiser than I am!?


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What we need is near at hand

Morning: Psalm 61, 62; Nehemiah 12:27-31, 42-47; Revelation 11:1-19
The story is told of a poor Polish rabbi from a rural village who dreams of treasure buried under a bridge in Warsaw, the capital; so he journeys there in search of the treasure.  A soldier sees him under the bridge and asks what he’s doing.  When the rabbi tells him, the soldier laughs and says that he dreamed of treasure hidden behind the chimney of a poor rabbi’s house in a country village.  The rabbi rushes home and finds the treasure. Could it be that what we need is here already?


Monday, November 6, 2017

Not to understand, but to be understood

Morning: Psalm 56, 57; Nehemiah 6:1-19; Revelation 10:1-11
Matthew is presumptuous; he puts his own explanation of good and evil on Jesus’ lips.  But I won’t try to fathom the unfathomable.  Good and evil, life and death … these are mysteries; explanations don’t help.  Certainly, a reckoning with evil is required, but the reckoning must occur in the human heart. In the face of mysteries about which I haven’t the foggiest idea, I need an understanding heart.  When you dig deeper in the Gospel, you find that Jesus explains very little, but he understands people.  That’s it really; I don’t need to understand, but to be understood.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Patience … First things first

Morning: Psalm 24, 29; Nehemiah 5:1-19; Acts 20:7-12
November 5, 1976. A new immigrant sits on his luggage in Toronto airport, wondering, “What now?”  I’m already drawn to Jesus’ words: Do not worry about your life.  (i.e. Make my priorities your own.)  To be honest, I do worry, not chronically.  I am discontented with the world.  To my chagrin, things don’t change quickly enough.  And yet: I do rely on Jesus’ priorities; I trust his promise of a world made new, though it’s going so slowly I won’t see it!  “What now?” Patience, young man!  First things first; then you’ll see.  Now, may I help with your luggage?


Saturday, November 4, 2017

To hurt, or to heal?

Morning: Psalm 55; Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 13:31-35

Each kindness, or meanness, multiplies, so that our actions come to have more significance than we imagine.  Small actions – our own or those of others’ – change things dramatically. Parables invite us to choose the kind of world we want. They pose more or less the same question, using different metaphors: “What kind of seed will you plant – weed or mustard?  What type of ‘leaven’ will you be in the life of the community – malicious, or sincere and true?  Will your spark kindle a fire that warms or one that destroys?”  Always a choice … To hurt, or to heal?


Friday, November 3, 2017

A legacy of loving-kindness

Morning: Psalm 40,54; Nehemiah 2:1-20; Revelation 6:12-7:4

Yesterday, All Souls’ Day, Penny, my dear sister-in-law died, too young, too soon.  I took Sophie to the kennel and drove home, weeping, profoundly sad, but not angry.  Above all, I am grateful …  I realize how deeply this good and authentic soul has touched my life, almost without my realizing it, by welcoming me, accepting me. Kindness is a powerful good.  Evil can try to overwhelm you – for cancer is like an evil ‘weed’ in life’s garden.  But nothing will ever overwhelm this woman’s legacy of simple loving-kindness; that is more powerful than death.  Penny is very much alive.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Jesus: the human face of God

Morning: Psalm 42, 46; Romans 8:14-19, 31-39
These daily reflections, though inspired by daily Scripture readings, aim to be fairly non-religious. Jesus himself is not warm towards religion’s self-serving tendencies.  Jesus just wants his disciples to know that his is the human face of the divine; know him, and you know God.  The trouble is, religious folk sometimes think, mistakenly, that God plays favourites based on good behavior or who knows what?  They try to make Jesus’ teachings into a set of passwords, a sort of firewall, to keep out riff-raff.  The Jesus of the Scriptures is, instead, an open gate.  God welcomes all; no passwords required.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wednesday November 1st – Imagine … A New Heaven and a New Earth

Morning: Psalm 111, 112; Hebrews 11:32-12:2

In 1971, I loved John Lennon’s: “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today … You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one; maybe some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”  Why do millions still love this? Perhaps it’s because religion does not reflect faithfully our deeply held dream of a world living as one?  If the old ideas of ‘heaven’ have become disagreeable to you, despair not; a new heaven is in view.

Heaven is harmony not obedience

Morning: Psalm 119:41-64; Isaiah 8:11-20; Romans 10:1-15 Evening: Psalms 23, 27; Matthew 5:17-20 When, at 18, I left England for America...