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Showing posts from December, 2017

A new creation; you’re invited!

Morning: Psalms 93, 96; I Sam 1:1-2,7-28; Colossians 1:9-20; Lk 2:22-40Evening: Psalm 90; Isaiah 65:15-25; Revelation 21:1-6
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’.]

Neither faith nor unfaith depend on evidence

Morning: Psalms 20, 21;1 Kings 17:17–24; 3 John 1–15Evening: Psalms 23, 27: John 4:46–54
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.

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

Morning: Psalm 18:1-20; 2 Samuel 23:13–17b; 2 John 1–13Evening: Psalm 18:21-50; John 2:1–11
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.

Love unchanged from the beginning

Morning: Psalm 26;Jeremiah 31:10–17; Galatians 4:1–7Evening: Psalms 2, 8; John 1:1–18
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.

A mighty power is at work here

Morning: Psalms 148, 149, 150; Isaiah 41:17–20; Hebrews 2:10–18Evening: Psalms 125, 126; Matthew 1:18–25
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.

Trust your heart

Morning: Psalm 145;Isaiah 41:8–10Hebrews 1:1–12
Evening: Psalms 146, 147Luke 2:15–21
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 Dec 25th – Beloved, let us love one another

Morning: Psalms 2, 85; Micah 4:1–5; 5:2–4; 1 John 4:7–16
Evening: Psalms 110, 132; John 3:31–36
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.

Mysteries of Love that make all the difference

Morning: Psalms 45, 46; Baruch 4:36-5:9; Matthew 1:18-25Evening: Psalm 89:1-29;Isaiah 59.15b–21Philippians 2.5–11
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.

Faith gives life, not membership in a tribe

Morning: Psalms 93, 96; Baruch 4:21–29; Galatians 3:15–22Evening: Psalms 148, 150: Isaiah 33:17-22; Luke 1.67–80
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.

What then will you become?

Morning: Psalm 80; 2 Samuel 7:18–29; Galatians 3:1–14Evening: Psalm 146, 147; Isaiah 29:13-24; Luke 1:57–66
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.

Greatness is humility

Morning: Psalm 72; 2 Samuel 7:1–17; Titus 2:11—3.8aEvening: Psalms 111, 113; Isaiah 28:9-22; Luke 1:39–56
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.

Let It Be …

Morning: Psalms 66, 67; 1 Samuel 2:1b–10; Titus 2:1–10Evening: Psalms 116, 117; Isaiah 11:10-16; Luke 1:26–38
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.

The astounding truth

Morning: Psalms 61, 62; Zephaniah 3:14–20; Titus 1:1–16Evening; Psalms 112, 115; Isaiah 11:1-9; Luke 1:1–25
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 Dec 18th – Life needs light Morning: Psalm 24, 29; Genesis 3:8–15; Revelation 12:1–10 Evening: Psalms 8, 84; Isaiah 42:1-12; John 3:16–21
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.

Step out

Morning: Psalms 63, 98; Amos 9:11–15; 2 Thessalonians 2:1–3, 13–17Evening: Psalm 103;Isaiah 32:1-18; John 5:30–47
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.

Keep love warm

Morning: Psalms 30, 32; Haggai 2.1–9; Revelation 3.1–6Evening: Psalms 42, 43; Matthew 24.1-14
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.

Love and lament for Jerusalem … for all of us

Morning: Psalm 31; Haggai 1.1–15; Revelation 2.18–29
Evening: Psalm 35; Mt 23.27–39
“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.

True beauty: what you see is what you get

Morning: Psalm 37.1–18; Amos 9.1–10; Revelation 2.8–17
Evening: Psalm 37.19-42; Matthew 23.13–26
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.

Imbalances will be resolved, naturally

Morning: Psalm 38: Amos 8.1–14; Revelation 1.17—2.7Evening: Psalm 119.25-48; Matthew 23.1–12
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.

Choose: Competition or Loving relationships?

Morning: Psalms 26, 28; Amos 7.10–17; Revelation 1.9–16Evening: Psalms 36, 39; Matthew 22.34–46
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.

If you must ask questions, ask the right ones

Morning: Psalm 25; Amos 7.1–9; Revelation 1.1–8
Evening: Psalms 9, 15; Matthew 22.23–33
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.

What then will you become?

Morning: Psalms 148, 149, 150; Amos 6.1–14; 2 Thessalonians 1.5–12 Evening: Psalms 114, 115; Luke 1.57–68
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?”

Faith and taxes

Morning: Psalms20, 21.1–7(8–14); Amos 5.18–27; Jude 17–25Evening: Psalms 110.1-5(6-7), 116, 117; Matthew 22.15–22
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.

Tired of darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Morning: Psalms16, 17; Amos 5.1–17; Jude 1–16Evening: Psalm 22; Matthew 22.1–14
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’?

God’s biggest fans sometimes lose the thread

Morning: Psalm 18.1–20; Amos 4.6–13; 2 Peter 3.11–18Evening: Psalm 18:21-50; Matthew 21.33–46
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?’

True authority comes from within

Morning: Psalms 119:1-24; Amos 3:12 – 4:5; 2 Peter 3:1-10Evening: Psalm 12, 13, 14; Matthew 21:23-32
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.

The power of prayer and the house of prayer

Morning: Psalms 5, 6; Amos 3.1–11; 2 Peter 1.12–21Evening: Psalms 10, 11; Matthew 21.12–22
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.

Who is this? Your answer makes all the difference

Morning: Psalms 1,2,3; Amos 2.6–16; 2 Peter 1.1–11Evening: Psalm 4, 7; Matthew 21.1–11
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?

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 5.1–11Evening: Psalms 111, 112, 113; Luke 21.5–9
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.

Fear can blind you

Morning: Psalm 137:1-6, 144; Micah 7:1-11; I Peter 4:7-19Evening: Psalm 104; Zechariah 14:12-21; Matthew 20:29-34
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?

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!