Sunday, February 3, 2019

Storing your treasure


Read Matthew 6:7-21

Back 2001, Dan and I led a mission trip into the mountains of Nicaragua to help with hurricane recovery.  We could only take what we could carry for one week.  So we filled our hiker’s backpacks with clothes, an extra pair of shoes, snacks and our bibles.  We arrived in Managua after sun set, found our guide, and road in a van to our temporary home.

It was a compound surrounded by fence and barbed wire.  We could smell the diesel exhaust, burning trash, hear the bark of dogs
and in the early morning the crows of roosters. 

After breakfast we piled into the back of a truck
and road into the mountains,
leaving behind running water and electricity,
and cell coverage. 
We traveled through the mountains with guides that carried machine guns and machetes.  
Over large holes in bridges left behind from the war between the Sandinistas and Contras.

For the most part,
all preconceived notions about safety and normalcy
were left behind. 
Our accommodations were the top level of a barn, above the space where the pigs lived. 
With full walls on three sides
and a half wall on the forth
allowing in fresh air and a view of the country side. 
The family had built a kitchen
on the first floor of the structure
but had not installed a chimney for the stove. 
So as daily meals were cooked,
the smoke, from the fire rose to the barn’s ceiling and created a layer of black smoot. 
We were in a cold climate rain forest,
so that meant humidity. 
Each morning the excess of dew would drop,
mixed with the black smoot
that had accumulated onto the ceiling.
It only took one morning of not sleeping fully inside of sleeping bag to realize
that an uncovered face
was a prime target for the falling substance. 
It was a rather humbling experience.

Out away from all that can possess us,
that we might seek to gain and acquire,
we were pulled into community and into the presence of God. 
It caused us to pause and wonder
“where do we store our treasure?”

Can moth and rust consume it or does it reside where thieves can break in and steal it?

Where do we store our treasure?

While in Nica, I pondered and still do to this day,
how might experiences so far from our normal,
daily living change us? 
How might it help us see our lives,
our priorities, in a new light?

Being taken so far out of my comfort zone, I was struck by the lack of material baggage the people of Nica had.    

While this passage is often reserved for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  The Narrative Lectionary offers it in the season of Epiphany.   It is a season of being surprised by the presence of God, of having "ah ha" moments of revelation.

Perhaps in pondering where we store our treasure, we will come to a new understanding of how it is we are to be stewards of all that we possess.  Maybe we will be able to see more clearly if our possession possess us.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Temptation


Matthew 4:1-17

Back in the early years of my ministry,
I led a group of senior high youth through a 30 hour fast.
It was a trend among youth groups at the time,
we got people to support our fasting
by donating money to the cause
which sent resources to a community
in the developing world that faced starvation.

We ate a generous lunch on our own on a Friday afternoon and then gathered at the church that evening for a lock-in.  We filled our time with conversation,
bible study, service and
education on the multifaceted structures that led to extreme poverty.

In the afternoon around hour 27
we went to a local park,
it was in February, during a rare thaw. 
The temperature soared to the mid 60s,
in a time when the average was around 30,
so everyone and I mean absolutely everyone,
was outside enjoying a brief break
from the blistering cold grey days of winter. 
The sun was shining,
the birds were chirping,
dogs were happily playing fetch
and every single family gathering there was grilling.
And there were a lot of people in the park.

We laid in the grass,
watching the clouds pass by,
stomachs growling,
hunger pains ensuing,
as the delicious aroma of food filled our nostrils.
A veritable temptation indeed.
We could taste the cooking delicacies.

Peer pressure worked in a positive way,
we had committed to our donors not to eat and we only had a few hours left. We could make it.
Yet we wallowed in the irony of it all.
It seemed as if we could not escape food.

If you have ever fasted before,
you may know that it is ridiculous how much you think about food.

We broke our fast with the associate pastor of the church at the end of hour 30.
She joined us with large loaves of freshly baked French bread and jugs of grape juice.

We were each given sizeable hunks of bread
and generous glasses of grape juice to wash it down
as she blessed the bread, juice and our community.
The familiar liturgy of blessing and breaking took on new significance.
An abundant feast of bread and cup. 
Communion had never tasted so good before.

Surely Jesus knew all too well what hunger felt like after 40 days of fasting in the wilderness.
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”
A nuanced challenge grounded
in an ancient story of hungry sojourners in the wilderness, longing for the former days of slavery
and the provisions of Pharaoh …
IF you are the Son of God,
IF you are the beloved,
worthy of doves descending and God proclaiming,
then prove it,
why don’t you just feed yourself?

Jesus sustains three temptations at the end of 40 days of fasting, to teach us many things …
the one I want to reflect on is that he is present in our temptations,
our temptations to be self-reliant (not in a “good job you made your own bed way”, but in a “I don’t need the help of anyone to make it in the world way.”) In other words self-reliant at the cost of community. 

He is present in our temptation to place ourselves
above others and use that place to exploit
those with lesser means;

and he is present in the temptation
to be bigger than the world, to seek
someone other than God first and foremost.

These temptations literally remove us from the beloved community that we are kneaded into. 

He is present because he has been there. 
This is what it means that God-is-with-us, Emmanuel.
The struggle then isn’t to avoid temptation but
To change our perspective and to see it as an opportunity to seek out God’s presence in the midst of our wilderness moments.


Monday, January 14, 2019

The baptism of Jesus


Matthew 3

The church tells the story of Jesus’ baptism
every year during the season of Epiphany.

In the early church, baptismal candidates
would be in prayer all night with the community
at the end of their catechism,
so that at dawn they could stand on the edge of the water
and boldly renounce anything and everything
in our world that claims us as something less
than a beloved child of God,
before immersing themselves in baptismal water. 
Dying to their old self and rising a new.

In baptism we claim what we know to be true, that God claims us as beloved.

I grew up in a church that baptized babies and confirmed teenagers.  When I was a young child,
my mother volunteered at the church. 
I have this vivid memory of my mom filling up a golden pitcher
with water from a water fountain in the basement of the church opposite the old serving counter
of the first kitchen in the church. 
Too short to see over the counter and peer into its darkness,
the location was lost on me.
The kitchen had long been abandoned
to the newer updated one in the larger expansive fellowship hall.  Since she was using a water fountain
tucked away and no longer used,
in an unfamiliar part of the expansive building,
in my younger self I imagined
none of the practicalities that I have mentioned
but believed that the fountain was reserved for filling this golden pitcher for baptism because it held within holy water. 
In my young mind, baptismal water had to be holy and special.

It wasn’t until I was an intern at my home church during seminary that I stumbled across the old water fountain
and my childhood memory returned.
Eyes now able to see the bigger picture.
Old abandoned kitchen.
It all became clear.
The fountain and its proximity to the chapel.
 How silly I was to think that the water was holy. 
Clearly it is just good old city water,
treated with some chemicals and cooled inside the fountain. 
But is it just good old water?

Isn’t the scandal of the Good News finding God in the ordinary elements of our world, in broken bread and poured out wine, in water offered to mark new life?
Of finding God
in the valleys,
on the mountain tops, and
in hidden away spaces no longer used or useful to the masses.
Of hearing the invitation to be part of a beloved community, led by the incarnate God who is willing to stand in line along with us, as we wait our turn, to feel the muddy bottom of the river bottom, with river current upsetting our balance.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Day


Daily reading: Luke 2:1-20
Tuesday December 25, 2018

Focus passage: She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guesthouse. Luke 2:7

On this holy day, let us remember that God found a way to us!  Even when there was no room in the guesthouse, God found a way.  Nestled into what was probably the bottom floor of a family home, among the oxen and donkeys, this humble family brought God into our world.  Incarnation doesn’t get more real, than a long hard journey, overcrowded family gatherings, labor pains, blood, birth, and arrival.

Let us share in the fear and excitement of the shepherds who journeyed as soon as they heard the good news.  Together let us hear this word of liberation and join with God in God’s good work about redeeming our world, by bringing us peace and love. 

Emmanuel, God-is-with-us because there is no place or situation we can find ourselves in where God isn’t present.  For that we offer to God praise! 

Christ is born, alleluia, amen!

Prayer: Most Holy One, thank you for dwelling in and among us.  May we seek you out today as we celebrate and worship Your activity in the Christ child!  Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve


Daily reading: Luke 1:5-13, 57-80
Monday December 24, 2018

Focus passage: John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied. Luke 1:67

The active agent in Luke’s gospel is the Holy Spirit.  It is on the scene moving and shaking up the chaotic world of first century Israel.
And it’s not just Zechariah and Mary that are filled with the Spirit and speaking about it, so is Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth. 
They all echo what the prophet Joel says,

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh,
your sons and your daughters shall prophecy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit. (Joel 2:28-29)

The Holy Spirit helps Zechariah to paint the promised future.  He paints an image of the Kingdom of God. He like Mary sings in the past tense reminding us that God has been at work in our world and God continues to work in our world: Bringing to light the tension that we hold in Advent of the past, present and not yet future work of God in our world.

Let us join in God’s good work of bringing life and light to the darkest corners of our world.  Tonight light a candle in defiance against the darkness that lurks in our world and within.  Light a candle in hope that a new day will dawn bathing us in light and love.  Light a candle for those who are grieving.  Light a candle for the refugees and asylum seekers, away from home and familiarity.  Light a candle for the 1,000s of children who are in detention apart from their parents.  Light a candle for the dying.  Light a candle for the homeless poor finding shelter on our cold streets.  Light a candle for the hungry.  Light a candle for your neighbors, friends, and family.  Light a candle for the Christ child.


Prayer: Christ may your coming bring light and life.  May I be courageous enough to be transformed by it.  Amen.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Love


Daily reading: Luke 1:5-13, 57-80
Sunday December 23, 2018

Focus passage: When the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a boy. Luke 1:57

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent.  So far we have explored the Advent themes of hope, peace and joy and today we explore love.
Today we finally get to a story about a baby.   I love babies.  I love holding them and smelling their new baby smell.  I love the sounds they make, even the sound of their cry.  

There is something about babies and the hope we have for their lives. I love the baby dedications we have in worship when we along with the parents promise to love and raise the child in the faith and we remember God’s blessing on their life.   There is such hopeful expectation and love in those moments.  Babies change our lives, we grow along side them as we pour ourselves into their development.

Knowing that God comes to us in ways that hold promise and expectations is amazing.  That God’s presence is something to behold, to handle with care, and allow it to change you is profound.

Brushing aside the familiarity we have with these infancy narratives, let us allow the words to bring us comfort and challenge for God’s love came down to a marginalized couple, in a remote sector of the empire, away from the spot light, apart from political, social and economic power.  Where might be God’s presence emerging in your community?  Where might you have to travel to encounter it?  How might you need to change your perspective in order to see it?

Prayer: Come Lord Jesus, be born anew in my life today.  Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Rejoice!


Daily reading: Philippians 4:4-9
Saturday December 22, 2018

Focus passage: Don’t be anxious about anything; rather bring up all your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.  Philippians 4:6

In Paul’s letters to the church in Philippi he writes in chapter four, “Rejoice in the Lord always!  Again I say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near.”  
These words were written while he was in a prison in Rome.  It’s not the message you might expect to hear from someone in prison, in fact it is his most joyous letter that we have of his.  The joy most likely comes from the hope he has in the community in Philippi and the working of the Holy Spirit despite the efforts of the government to silence him and the followers of Jesus. His rejoicing comes from a deep spiritual place that holds the promise of Advent that Christ is near and that Christ will return.  Joy to Paul was even present in the darkness of a Roman prison.
Prayer: Gracious God thank you.  Thank you for this day of life, thank that you have allowed us to wake up and draw a breath today.  We pray that you will grant us the wisdom and the boldness to live this day with courage and with commitment to the new world that you are at work bringing about in our very midst.  Give us Advent hearts; give us Advent hope, peace and joy.  Amen

Storing your treasure

Read Matthew 6:7-21 Back 2001, Dan and I led a mission trip into the mountains of Nicaragua to help with hurricane recovery.   We coul...