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Showing posts from March, 2018

Suffering really can make things right

Morning: Psalm 95, 88; Lamentations 3:37-58; Hebrews 4:1-16
Evening: Psalm 27;Romans 8:1-11

How can Jesus’s suffering make things right?  Only if Jesus is God.  And even then, it is not because Jesus “pays the price” for trouble we cause.  What could that possibly mean? He pays himself!?  No … But suffering endured for Love does help, because it’s a powerful way of saying, “I love you”.  Believing that the cosmos is fundamentally friendly changes things.  For, when weighed down by my failings, knowing that the only record of them is in my own mind may help me find new life, and even make me ready to endure suffering for someone else’s sake.

A burial fit for the king of a new creation

Morning: Psalms 95, 22;Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-33; I Peter 1:10-20
Evening: Psalms 40:1-14, Psalm 54; John 19:38-42

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, secret disciples, spare no expense for Jesus’s burial.  100 pounds of spices is 100 times the amount people grumble that Mary so extravagantly uses on Jesus’s feet at Bethany.  Now, in death, this is a quantity of myrrh and aloes fit for a king.  In other words, John is saying, if ever Israel had a king, it is Jesus.  Furthermore, now he will lie through the 7th day (the Sabbath).  Creation took 6 days, followed by the Sabbath rest. But Jesus will rise to be king of the 8th day … a new creation.

Last Supper: A Meal to Remember

Morning: Psalm 102; Lamentations 2:10-18; I Cor 10:14-17; 11:27-32
Evening: Psalms 142, 143;Mark 14:12-25

We once took all 5 of our kids to dinner in Quebec City, a city renowned for excellent cuisine.  When the meals arrived, an awed silence settled over the table.  Both to our chagrin (we thought we weren’t bad cooks!) and to our delight (we were glad they liked it), the kids agreed this was the best food they had ever tasted.  We will always remember that meal – we are now rarely all in the same place together.  We remember Jesus in bread and wine, because being at table together is the best way to remember life’s most significant moments.

Keep killing the truth, and there’ll be trouble

Morning: Psalm 55; Lamentations 2:1-9; 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11
Evening: Psalm 74; Mark 12:1-11

In many Biblical stories, human beings consistently oppose the truth that the earth and life itself are gifts to steward and care for, not ours to do with just as we want.  Indigenous wisdom knows this well. We must account for our stewardship, good or bad.  The stories say more … We humans know the earth’s sacred purpose, but we still choose to live outside of Love.  Consistently – this time through Jesus – the stories warn that if human beings continue to turn aside from Love, we will be forced to give the earth back, so it can be restored.

The truth told slant

Morning: Psalms 6, 12;Lamentations 1:17-22; 2 Corinthians 1:8-22
Evening: Psalm 94; Mark 11:27-33
The powers that be who challenge Jesus cannot match the authority of his teaching.  Predictably, their reaction is: “Who do you think you are!?”  What’s more, Jesus speaks the truth in riddles and confounds their arguments, keeping them guessing and making them work things out for themselves.  Emily Dickinson has a wonderful poem that suggests she may have learned this method from Jesus: “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”  If you speak the truth bluntly, people may not hear it.  You invite people into the bigger picture; they come to the truth by themselves.

If you want to change things, learn to forgive

Morning: Psalm 51:1-18;Lamentations 1:1-2,6-12; 2 Corinthians 1:1-7
Evening: Psalm 69:1-23; Mark 11:12-25
When Jesus throws the money-changers out of the Temple, he is not condemning the commercialization of religion in particular.  He is acting to oppose any human system that loses sight of its original just purpose and instead becomes devoted to reaping benefits for those in power ... it may be religious institutions, or justice systems or governments. When you denounce evil, though, Jesus warns, be ready to forgive.  We all get things wrong, don’t we?  It could be that only those of us who learn forgiveness are able to act against injustice with Jesus-like authority.

Jesus still weeps over ‘Jerusalem’

Morning: Psalms 24, 29;Zechariah 9:9-12; I Timothy 6:12-16
Evening: Psalm 103; Zechariah 12:9-11 & 13:1, 7-9; Luke 19:41-48
In the UK, Luke’s phrase “Jesus wept” is repeated irreverently as an exclamation of shocked surprise.  Maybe it was once used as a prayer for situations that cry out for Jesus’s spirit and presence, but now it’s almost a kind of swearing.  Jesus longs to see Jerusalem at peace, and shows a fiery, righteous anger about the ways we humans miss the point.  Nowadays, Jerusalem is a metaphor for the ideal world we all long for. Jesus still weeps over ‘Jerusalem’ – suffers for it – and longs that our prayers will turn our hearts towards the way of peace.

Not just seeing things, but seeing into things

Morning: Psalms 137:1-9, 144; Exodus 10:21-11:8; 2 Corinthians 4:13-18Evening: Psalms 42, 43;Mark 10:46-52
What do we make of the things we see?  I visited Jericho once, and was astounded to be in the place where Jesus healed the blind man.  But I remember looking at a beautiful fruitstand laden with multiple varieties of oranges, just as 3 warplanes flashed overhead … it was shocking and strange. Jesus restored the man’s sight. But isn’t the story also about our capacity to see beneath the surface of things, to see into things and to understand?  If I ask Jesus for anything, it’s for insight into all that I find shocking and strange in the world.

The Cross turns power on its head

Morning: Psalm 95, 22;Exodus 9:13-35; 2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Evening: Psalms 141; 143:1-11; Mark 10:32-45
I write these reflections, in part, to help me understand Jesus. Jesus’s followers sometimes think that following him will give them prestige and power of the same kind they suffer under.  But, in fact, the Cross subverts all human systems that claim to set the world to rights by putting a different set of people into the same positions of power. Jesus changes the meaning of power, because the Cross calls into question all pride and self-glorifying behaviour. Service not servitude will ultimately put the world to rights.

What must I do?

Morning: Psalms 131, 132; Exodus 7:25-8:19; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Evening: Psalms 140, 142; Mark 10:17-31

Jesus is uncompromising in demanding discipleship: “Come, follow me”.  He declares a new reality, which the Gospel calls the Age to come.  This is not some otherworldly ‘heaven’, but a new Age on the earth.  Jesus’s call brooks no compromises … you cannot be a part of the Age to come if you hang onto the empty idols that possess you, especially wealth.  Down through time, some have thought they could buy the new Age.  ‘What must I do to get it?’ the rich young man asks … Jesus says, simply, “Sell what you have and ... follow me”.

Jesus and Divorce … it’s simply complicated

Morning: Psalm 119:145-176; Exodus 7:8-24; 2 Corinthians 14:3-6
Evening: Psalms 128, 129, 130; Mark 10:1-16
You might expect someone who has experienced divorce to be defensive about Jesus’s hard-line stance on it.  People test Jesus’s view on divorce because John the Baptist has been beheaded after challenging the circumstances of King Herod’s wife’s divorce.  Jesus responds by appealing to our created natures, and to the fact that human marriage changes us on a profound level.  It creates a bond that cannot be broken without serious and often painful consequences, both for the partners and for the children involved.  Divorce is complicated, yes, but I will not argue with Jesus on this simple point.

Salted with fire

Morning: Psalms 121, 122, 123;Exodus 5:1-6:1; I Corinthians 14:20-40
Evening: Psalms 124, 125, 126; Mark 9:42-50
Jesus highlights, using violent images, the struggle in which he is engaged.  It is the language of hyperbole … a millstone around the neck if you lead children astray; eyes or hands that cause offence cut out or cut off.  In this struggle of good with evil, standing for the good is costly.  So, says Jesus, be like purifying salt, or refining fire; do not lose your character and become tasteless.  Also, do not squabble about special privileges. The struggle for the good leads more often, not to status but, to suffering ... as Jesus’s experience shows.

True greatness

Morning: Psalm 132; Isaiah 63:7-16; Matthew 1:18-25
Evening: Psalm 34;Ephesians 3:14-21: Mark 9:30-41
You have to feel sorry for Jesus’s disciples – they struggle so hard to catch the drift of his teaching.  In Mark’s Gospel today, though, it’s not complicated.  The disciples expect and argue about who will get exalted status for being a disciple of the Messiah.  Jesus responds to that by saying that the highest place goes to the one who is the servant of all.  He adds that one who welcomes a child has everything, even though in their society children are the lowest of the low.  Jesus turns everything upside down …  True greatness is shown in humility.

Jesus’s “I am” challenges people to decide

Morning: Psalm 118; Exodus 3:16-4:12; Romans 12:1-21
Evening: Psalm 145; John 8:46-59
You cannot secularise John’s Gospel.  Its readers must make up their minds about God, and about who Jesus is.  “I am” on the lips of Jesus is code for: ‘What I say is from God’.  “Before Abraham was I am” identifies Jesus as the creative Word of God mentioned in the opening verses of John.  Jesus’s hearers want to stone him for this blasphemy, making himself equal with God; they call him possessed and motivated by evil.  Against such odds, John still tells Jesus’s story, convinced that Jesus is neither evil nor possessed, but God in human flesh.

Are you on a spiritual journey? Prayer may help

Morning: Psalms 107:33-43, 108:1-6; Exodus 2:23 – 3:15; I Corinthians 13:1-13
Evening: Psalm 33;Mark 9:14-29
It’s often the young who accomplish great things.  But such accomplishments are usually of Body and Mind.  The Way of the Spirit is different.  The disciples find that following in the Way of Jesus, which is a spiritual journey, becomes more challenging the further you go.  You need deeper spiritual resources with every step.  But there is no guarantee that spiritual wisdom will come automatically, or that ‘older means wiser’ or more mature.  Prayer – waiting at God’s door not banging on it – may help.

An extraordinary glimpse into a new reality

Morning: Psalm 102;Exodus 2:1-22; I Corinthians 12:27-13:3
Evening: Psalm 107:1-32; Mark 9:2-13
Sometimes ordinary moments turn into extraordinary ones.  If sceptical bullies do not overwhelm us, we may accept events like the transfiguration of Jesus as inexplicable glimpses into the way things are. Now, nobody inventing this story could have invented the bumbling and comic response of Peter … it rings true.  And here, on the mountain, Jesus offers his closest followers a glimpse of the new cosmos that is coming; they now see Jesus as the one who will usher it in.  And they hear the voice from the cloud that says: “Listen to him!” – this extraordinary man.  Wouldn’t you listen?

Be yourself, especially with your kids

Morning: Psalm 69:1-38;Exodus 1:6-22; I Corinthians 12:12-26
Evening: Psalm 73; Mark 8:27-9:1
Last night at church, I wondered whether I had spoken too strongly about sharing faith with our kids.  Maybe I did?  But it was worth the risk.  Many of us lament our kids’ lack of interest in faith; but when they visit, we say, “I can’t make it Sunday – family’s coming.”  Does that make sense? … If we want our kids to embrace faith, why not risk practising it while they are with us?  Jesus’s Way is risky, for sure.  And our kids are worth the risk of being ourselves as people of faith.  Our authenticity may pique their interest.

Jesus’s vision of compassion for all humanity

Morning: Psalms 101, 109:1-30; Genesis 50:15-26; I Corinthians 12:1-11
Evening: Psalm 119:121-144; Mark 8:11-26
Religious leaders seek a further sign from Jesus. They don’t like it that his feeding miracles show compassion for everyone, not just their little group.  Jesus’s vision for the world clashes with their narrow national vision.  So, inevitably, there will be a reckoning.  He says beware the ‘leaven’ of the Pharisees … not their bread, but their vision of the world. His vision of compassion for all humanity clashes with this narrow, tribal vision. Understanding that this confrontation of values must occur, if the world is to heal, is like a man once blind finally being able to see.  Aha!

What little we bring will be enough

Morning: Psalms 97, 99;Genesis 49:29-50:14; I Corinthians 11:17-34
Evening: Psalm 94; Mark 8:1-10

What do we make of the two stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes?  First it’s 5000 people, now 4000.  Jesus’s earthiness gives him a natural concern to provide, when necessary, for people’s everyday earthly needs – like bread.  But he expects that others (it may be, you and I) will share that concern.  We are not to worry about our limited resources.  We need to bring only the gifts we have … the rest of what is necessary will be provided.  However small we may consider our gifts, they are enough for our part.  Maybe others’ gifts provide the rest?

An earthy and earthly Jesus

Morning: Psalm 89:1-18;Genesis 49:1-28; I Corinthians 10:14-11:1
Evening: Psalm 89:19-52; Mark 7:24-37
Do you have a gift you are shy about using because you want to refine it more and become more proficient, so you hide your light? Sometimes Jesus seems like a reluctant healer, not wanting to be seen, not wanting his work to be known.  He seems to be working things out … should he share his gifts with everyone or just a limited group. These very human qualities of Jesus bring him out of the realm of mythology and into the realm of the real.  Jesus is much more earth(l)y than we have sometimes thought him to be.

Bread that satisfies your soul

Morning: Psalm 66, 67;Genesis 48:8–22; Romans 8:11-25
Evening: Psalms 19, 46; John 6:27-40
I hear quite often that people feel adrift, purposeless, struggling to find meaning and direction for their lives. They feel a hunger that ordinary bread does not satisfy, and they lament feeling so discontented.  It’s not that they lack the ‘good things’ in life; it’s just that those ‘good things’ are not enough.  Jesus calls himself Bread of Life, and says those who trust his Way will never be hungry or thirsty again.  First, of course, you have to get to know what his Way is; being sure it’s not the clichéd version that will not satisfy you either.

Get to the heart of your traditions … ask Why?

Morning: Psalms 87, 90;Genesis 47:27 – 48:7; I Corinthians 10:1-13
Evening: Psalm 136; Mark 7:1-23
Jesus answers legalists and traditionalists who criticise his disciples for not washing their hands, saying basically, ‘What you eat does not harm you; it only goes into the stomach.  Evil, though, comes from the heart ... that will destroy you’ … Like traditions that become distractions from the purposes they were meant to serve.  Traditions do not possess power to change the heart, only to hold it captive.  But traditions begin in heartfelt ways, and they must evolve.  Truly to honour tradition is to discover the movement of the human heart that made the tradition in the first place.

Your calling is not a job, but what you need to live

Morning: Psalm 88;Genesis 47:1-26; I Corinthians 9:16-27
Evening: Psalms 91, 92; Mark 6:47-56
When you are doing what you are called to do with your life, you will not really care if or whether you get paid for it.  You may even work at another job to support your vocation.  Amateur athletes do this.  St. Paul speaks about his own sacred calling - sharing the Good News of Love - as something he actually believes is so valuable he wants to make it free of charge.  So, think of the thing you want to do for others, for Love and for nothing … there’s your calling!

The Spirit of Generosity multiplies

Morning: Psalms 42, 43;Genesis 46:1-7, 28-34; I Corinthians 9:1-15
Evening: Psalms 85, 86; Mark 6:30-46
I call Jesus’s feeding of the 5000 a miracle of generosity; one act of sharing multiplies throughout the whole crowd, until all are fed.  Have you experienced this miracle?  For instance, you go through a drive-through and arrive at the window to discover the stranger in the car ahead has paid for your coffee?  What do you do then … do you want to meet this generous stranger, or do you simply want to do something similar?  The Spirit of Generosity multiplies naturally.

Truth keeps a story alive; falsehood cannot

Morning: Psalm 119:97-120;Genesis 45:16-28; I Corinthians 8:1-13 Evening: Psalms 81, 82; Mark 6:13-29
Some architects and engineers think they have evidence that the truth about the 9/11 attacks is other than the official version. Likely, if there’s nothing to this evidence, this story will disappear … but if it’s true, we will hear more.  After Herod killed John the Baptist, Jesus appeared publicly; Herod worried this was John, returned from the dead, because Jesus was speaking the same truth as John.  It is hard, maybe impossible, to keep fake news going for long, because someone will come along to debunk it.  But Jesus’s story is still alive.

When speaking the truth, bring a friend

Morning: Psalm 78:1-39;Genesis 45:1-15; I Corinthians 7:32-40
Evening: Psalm 78:40-72; Mark 6:1-13

When I was studying theology, we invited a famous English bishop to address a conference.  He began by commenting that the further away you’re from, the more people trust you!  Jesus spoke similar words … those who speak the plain truth (‘prophets’, Jesus included) are respected everywhere but their hometown.  Right after that, Jesus sent his disciples out to share in his work.  After all, someone had to speak the truth in his hometown.  Why?  Well sometimes the truth is unpopular, so even when what you’re sharing seems like good news to you, it’s best not to go alone.

Do you ever think God is angry with you?

Morning: Psalm 80;Genesis 44:18-34; I Corinthians 7:25-31
Evening: Psalm 77; Mark 5:21-43
The Bible does not describe consistent beliefs over time.  People’s thinking evolves. Thus in today’s Psalms, the writer wrestles with God’s anger, which he believes is the reason for his misfortunes. Now, the Psalms are from 2500-3500 years ago … and people still think God gets angry with them; they project their own anger onto God.  But nowhere in the Christian Scriptures is God called ‘angry’.  The experience the New Testament writers have of Jesus shapes their understanding of God.  So they see the cosmos as understanding and compassionate; because, while Jesus can be stern, his love is unconditional.

No one is all good; it’s enough that God is

Morning: Psalms 93, 96;Genesis 44:1-17; Romans 8:1-10
Evening: Psalm 34; John 5:25-29
It may be true that the dead who hear Jesus’s voice will live. Your heart may beat, but you may not be fully alive. ‘Hearing’ Jesus can help you live.  But no one has done only evil things; we have all done good, too.  And Jesus’s message is life-giving for everyone, without exception. The Bible does not always record exactly Jesus’s words … Fallible people wrote the Bible, and sometimes they inserted their own point of view.  For instance, the idea that only some people do evil is a lie.  No one is all good; it’s enough that God is.

Political and individual healing go together

Morning: Psalms 75, 76;Genesis 43:16-34; I Corinthians 7:10-24
Evening: Psalms 23, 27; Mark 5:1-20
Jesus heals a man possessed by demons called ‘Legion’.  Decapolis is not a Jewish region – there are pigs – but Roman legions possess it too.  The people long to drive the invading legions into the sea, like pigs!  But Jesus, one who shares their human plight, paradoxically brings the unjust powers of the world to heel, by allowing those very powers to crucify, strip, and tear him apart.  Jesus’s solidarity gently heals all those wounded by unjust power.  And afterwards, Jesus will not let the demoniac become dependent on him, but instead restores him to the bosom of his own community.

Evil is no match for the power of goodness

Morning: Psalm 69:1-38;Genesis 43:1-15; I Corinthians 7:1-9
Evening: Psalm 73; Mark 4:35-41
A violent storm, for which Galilee is famous, represents chaos and evil, which so easily strike our hearts with fear.  Yet, in the unfolding of Creation itself, order emerges from chaos.  Jesus himself possesses a creative and constructive power for good.  Of course, we may point to instances in which evil seems to defeat goodness – Jesus on a Cross, for instance.  But today we still look to Jesus and wonder (as he does with his disciples after calming a storm on Galilee): Why are you afraid?  What prevents you from trusting a goodness that evil cannot defeat?

The Kingdom is the Way

Morning: Psalms 70, 71;Genesis 42:29-38; I Corinthians 6:12-20

Evening: Psalm 74; Mark 4:21-34
The meaning in Jesus’s parables is not always immediately clear. Reluctant to spell out a detailed vision, he makes parables about a Way rather than a destination.  The Kingdom itself is a Way … a seed growing secretly; a tiny seed that yields a large bush; the mysterious ‘measure for measure’, on which Shakespeare builds his play.  This is enormously respectful of our contribution to life.  The Way may be certain, but the final outcome is yet to unfold.  As e.e. cummings writes: “seeker of truth, follow no path; all paths lead where truth is here”.