The Work of Christmas Begins

A Poem by Howard Thurman

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring Christ to all,
To make music in the heart.


Audio of Jim Strathdee singing I Am the Light of the World

Today, January 6th, is Epiphany, the day tradition tells us the Wise Men visited Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My mother used to call this day “little Christmas,” and she would prepare a special meal in the evening. I don’t remember gifts being exchanged but we did eat a lot, and usually finished up the Christmas cookies.  But, it was years later when the song I Am the Light of the World by Jim Strathdee, based on Howard Thurman’s poem, came out that I began to look at this day differently.

Today instead of just thinking about nameless astrologers coming from the east and giving unusual gifts to the Child I see this day as less a celebration and more of a new start to living as Jesus taught.  Thurman’s poem and Strathdee’s music remind us that Christmas isn’t just one day, 12 days, or the 34 days of Epiphany. (Yes, today only begins the season of Epiphany which will end on Ash Wednesday this year on February 10th when Lent begins.) We are called to carry the message of the love of compassion, justice and peace throughout the year.  The season of Epiphany offers us the opportunity to make caring for our fellow travelers on this planet, human or animal, a habit.  A habit that empowers the weak and the young, gives food to the hungry and compassion to our elderly, poor, lonely, homeless, and war torn neighbors in this place we call home.  Strathdee’s hymn is the theme song for our work in the world, the work of Christmas.

Every year we are given the opportunity to begin again as Jesus followers.  Every year we are reminded of who we are, and whose we are. Every year we are given another chance to live our lives in such a way as to bring change to the world.  Every year we are given the chance to accept the radical challenge of being the Christ figure for the people we see and interact with every day. It is a radical idea!  If each of our neighborhoods is changed, even a little, eventually we change the world and Jesus and God never asked us to be more than who we are, only to be the best that we can be.

To live with compassion, love justice and to travel in the company of the Divine is all we are asked to do. I don’t think that means a drastic change in our habits, rather it means we share what we have so that all have enough. Is that really so hard?

So I challenge myself, and you, to begin to change how we live in the world, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, standing up and letting your voice be heard when justice is violated and oh so many other little acts of compassion. Each of us can do something. We don’t have to do everything at once simply pick one to get started, let one act of love become a habit this year.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 6, 2016

Legacy – Prayerful Tuesday

Heed the counsel of your own heart, and above all pray to the Most High that you may be guided in the way of truth.  Ecclesiasticus 37:13, 15

DSCF0065

Caribbean Sea
December 16, 2015
Ruth Jewell

I was talking with a friend not long ago and he said his church was reevaluating its mission in the community.  One of the questions he asked them was “what do they want to leave behind when they are gone”? What do they want their legacy to be?  I thought that was an interesting question that all of us should consider in our lives.  What do you want to leave to those who remain after you have passed on to the next world?  What do I want to leave?

Contemplating our legacy is a serious question of the spiritual practice of living our lives with intention.  Because of that I have been giving this question much thought during my sacred time each day.  What is it about my life do I want to pass on to my family, my faith community, the world in general?  How will living my life make a difference in this world?  I know I don’t want to be remembered for just for doing my job or making a living, for me that is a superficial fact of surviving.  I don’t want anyone to say survived the trials of living.

I think I do want to be remembered for being able to listen to a friend in need, for loving even those who I don’t agree with, taking action to right a wrong or feed and clothe the disenfranchised.  I want to be remembered for standing and walking those who are growing spiritually and in their relationship with the Divine.  I want to be remembered as someone who saw the Great Spirit in all I have met whether they belong to my faith or not, rich and poor, the outcast, the convicted felon, any and all who have been labeled unlovable. The short version is I want to intentionally live my life so that I will be a blessing to all around me. This is what I want, this is how I want my life to be lived and remembered.

I have to admit living into this intention is not easy for me, and I fail more often than I succeed. However, I know that the Great Spirit just says “OK, that didn’t work as you wanted it to, but pick yourself up and start over again, I am still here cheering you on.”   So my prayer is for support and guidance and maybe, maybe just maybe I will do better tomorrow.

Each of our lives we are offered a choice of paths to follow. Intentionally choosing the path that leads to a life that grows your Spirit Being is never easy.  Choosing an intentional life is always fraught pit falls and road-blocks.  But living your life with the intention of being spirit filled and a blessing to those around you will be filled with joy amidst the tears of struggle and dark valleys we all go through. In living an intentional life you are never alone on your journey.

This week ask yourself what legacy do you want to leave? Does the life you live now match up with what you want?  What will you do to live a more intentional life?

Blessings on your path.

Ruth Jewell, ©October 20, 2015

Ruth’s Health Care Team

Matthew 25:36-40 (selected verses):  “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me . . . Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? . . . “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the one of the least of these by brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

My Health Care Team Group Photo
My Health Care Team
Group Photo

I would like to introduce my home health care team.  In the last they 5 days since I returned home from the hospital following back surgery they have been an awesome team and they deserve recognition.

John,  Mobility and General Care Specialist
John,
Mobility and General Care Specialist

First is John, by beloved husband. He has been amazing helping me get out of bed, up from the couch, and fixing for meals more than just macaroni and cheese, or peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.  I couldn’t ask for a better person to be my Mobility and General Care Specialist.

Freddie Discomfort Observer
Freddie
Discomfort Observer

Next up is Freddie, by sweet Zen natured Schipperke.  His job is to sit and watch me constantly every day, every hour, every minute.  To never leave my side, no matter where I am or what I am doing (get the picture). I must admit he seems to know when I am going to be in a lot of pain a beat before I do and he alerts John, the head of the team.  He is a very special fellow with very special talent.

Suzie Pain Control Specialist
Suzie
Pain Control Specialist

Suzie is my Pain Control Specialist.  My l little blind Chihuahua is the best comforter when I am struck by a lot of pain.  She snuggles up tighter and makes small sounds that fill me with calm.  She may be small and she may be blind but she is the love of my life and companion that never wants to leave me.  (Even visiting me in the hospital).

George and Cuddles Moral Booster Team
George and Cuddles
Moral Booster Team

And then there are these two guys, George on the left is a Green Cheeked Amazon, and Cuddles (Aka Carlos the South American Terrorist) on the right is a Cherry Head Conure.  They manage to keep me laughing by their silliness and funny calls.  Without them our house would a lot quieter but a lot less fun.

Well there they are my Health Care Team.  You might not want to hire them but to me they are priceless.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 17, 2015

An Elder’s Meditation: Accepting and Giving Thanks

Mark 4:26-29  He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

Walking though the  Huon Valley & Tahune Forest Hobart, Tasmania, Australia April 15, 2015, ©Ruth Jewell
Walking though the
Huon Valley & Tahune Forest
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
April 15, 2015, ©Ruth Jewell

This past spring John and I were on a 6½ week pilgrimage of sorts.   Unfortunately 2 hours before we were to be picked up by Shuttle Express I fell in my office and tore or badly bruised the calf muscle of my left leg and also  I refused to go to the emergency room because we would have missed our flight. Well, along with back issues, that fall meant I spent our holiday with a cane and walking as if I was 250 years old.

The fall and my, seemingly forever back problems, meant modifying some of our activities and learning to depend on the graciousness of people in New Zealand and on board our cruise ship..  I was helped by strangers I would never see again to walk up hills, across sand dunes, into cars, buses, and boats.  All they asked for was a simple thank you and a smile.  I cannot begin to express my gratitude to these angels in disguise.  They made our visit to NZ and back to the states a trip of a life time.

Now many of you may also have noticed that I often have a motor mouth (in the case of blogging, motor writing) and when I offer thanks to someone I will chatter on nervously for 10 minutes.  It took 6½ weeks for me to figure out that saying ‘thank you’ or ‘you are a blessing’ was all that was needed.

Learning to stop talking and listen has always been hard for me but what I have discovered this late in my life is when I stop with a smile and thank you I SEE the face of the angel who helped me.  It doesn’t matter what nationality, or skin color, or language they speak, the light shines through.  It isn’t just their job anymore it’s that they have been recognized for who they are.  If I am not speaking or thinking of more to say, I see them for who they are.

You have also probably noticed I have just as much trouble, maybe more, in receiving gratitude.  I am self-deprecating to the extreme.  Probably because I was taught that nothing I did was to be done for any expectation of thanks. But on this trip I was more aware of not just offering thanks but of receiving the gift of graciousness and help.  You see to offer thanks you have to have received something and that gift is hard one for me to accept.  But I learned to stop explaining that I fell, or have a back giving out on me.  I learned to simply take someone’s hand and lean on them for help without explaining how independent I normally am.

The scripture of Mark is one of giving and receiving.  It is giving your time to sow and the harvest is the receiving of God’s blessing (didn’t think I’d work that in did you).  What has finally sunk into my rather thick brain is giving and receiving God’s blessings comes in many forms and I am grateful for the giving and receiving of all the blessings from God’s hands I have received not just on our trip but in my whole lifetime.  It may seem like a small thing but graciously accepting the assistance from a stranger gives me a gift of love and the giver a gift of grace.  The Importance of keeping the ‘thank you’ short and sweet is that it focuses on the gift and the giver rather than my own ego.  It works the other way as well.  Keeping assistance I give to someone else also focuses on the gift I give and the receiver of the gift instead of me.  The giver and the receiver receive the gift of grace and love.  That is a beautifully thing and passing that gift on grows the grace between me and you and opens wider the door of the Kingdom of God.

To all of you, Thank you for being who you are, and many blessing on your many journeys.

Ruth Jewell, ©June 15, 2015

Blind Bartimaeus, Questions. Answers? – Prayerful Tuesday

Mark 10:46-52 46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Jesus Healing Blind Bartimaeus El-Greco, 1578
Jesus Healing Blind Bartimaeus
El-Greco, 1578

We are rapidly approaching Holy Week and all of the exciting and heartbreaking moments the weeks brings.  In Mark the last story before the Triumphal Entry is of the Healing of Blind Bartimaeus that takes place as Jesus is traveling through Jericho to Jerusalem and his appointed fate.  I am offering the above painting by El-Greco for you to contemplate with the prayer practice of Visio Divina.  I have always found this story from the Gospel of Mark one of the most moving story of courage and faith in scripture.  Bartimaeus doesn’t know how close he is to Jesus; he simply calls out and has faith Jesus will answer him.  The questions Jesus asks of Bartimaeus also draw me into a deeper understanding of sight and I hope you will consider those questions and the responses as well.

May your sight be deepened in preparation for the coming week as your contemplate El‑Greco’s painting and the scripture lesson.

VISO DIVINA

  1. Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance and noting the colors, people, places and things.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
  2. Read the Scripture lesson slowly and in meditation. Return to the painting does the scripture alter your perspective of the painting in anyway?  Do the questions and responses open new doors as you gaze at the painting?
  3. Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
  4. Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Place yourself in the place of Bartimaeus, and then in the place of a spectator, or one of the Disciples. Does your perspective Change?  What do you feel when you become Bartimaeus or a spectator?  Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
  5. Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

May the Peace of God be with you as you travel the Holy Week Journey.

Ruth Jewell, ©March 24, 2015

Hope

Sermon Given at Lake Washington Christian Church
February 22, 2015


rainbow-landskape

Genesis 9:12-17  12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Psalm 25:5-6 5Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. 6Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

1 Peter 3:21  21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Mathew 1:15-15 14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Awhile back a friend asked me what was my favorite scripture and without hesitation I said Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Then she asked the question … Why? I had to think about that for awhile.  I could have said that it was how my Father ended all of our dinner prayers and hearing it always brings back wonderful memories.  Or, I might have told her my Disciples tradition has based its mission and vision statement on it and those statements have opened the door to a witness in social justice and peace in the greater world.  But while each of those reasons are truth the real reason is this one verse from Hebrew scripture gives me Hope.

It is the hope of the rainbow that symbolizes the covenant between God, one-another and all creation.  It is the cry of the Psalmist who says “O, Lord, Teach me your paths, Lead me in your truth and teach me,” and the voice of the Gospel writer of Mark who writes “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.”

In our world today hope seems to be too little and too late.  We watch the news and it’s filled with killing, greed, anger, hate, and very little that would give us hope for a better world.  Killing, whether of the body or spirit, disrupts God’s purpose for our lives. To kill a human being  made in the divine image is to subvert our lives which were purposely created to be lived in mutuality, support and respect, to live in right relationship with each other, God, and creation.  Killing for greed, hate, and anger is to kill a little of ourselves and build a wall, brick by terrible brick, between us and God.

So what does the word “Hope” mean for us then? Those who define words say it is to expect with confidence.  For others it means to expect things will get better, not only to get us through the difficult times in our lives, but also for our world, we will have a place of peace and justice for all creation, not tomorrow, or sometime in the far future but NOW, today.  We in all of our faith communities across the globe are called to seek justice, offer kindness, and be examples of living in peace to the world, to be a living hope.

God promised the descendants of Noah, and all creation that God would no longer destroy the world.  As a covenantal symbol of God’s own self-limiting, God’s disarmament, God placed a rainbow in the sky. In Noah’s time bows were symbols of violence just as guns are for us today.  So God laid down his weapon of mass destruction and placed it in the sky and said ‘I will no longer destroy what I have created.’  I wonder what God would place in the sky today, a nuclear bomb maybe?

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t forgotten all of the killing done in the name of God in Scripture.  And, I must admit I have difficulty with the genocidal practices of Joshua when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  But I also know that just because a practice is in the Bible doesn’t make it an acceptable practice for today.  And, that is the reason I so firmly believe in God’s promises of hope.

You see God’s covenant of the rainbow means that we, you and I, all humans, are in a covenantal relationship with God, each other, and creation and that means that all life matters, my life, your life, white, black, yellow and brown life, furred and feathered life and (much to my discomfort) insect and spider life.  The Psalmist makes a claim of hope and trust in God and tells us that God’s protection flows from the mouths of those who have no hope or trust in systems of violence, injustice, and oppression. Not just overt physical acts of injustice but injustice and violence and oppression brought about by attitudes, social structures, and any other “isms” that threatens the peace and justice of God’s Kingdom.

God’s rainbow of hope spoken in the Good News of the Gospels goes beyond a “me-centered” interpretation of the world. God’s hope reaches out across our selfish desires to those who need hope, justice, and mercy. Where do you find God’s hope? It is placed where there is justice and peace and there you will find Kingdom of God. Jesus preached the Good News of hope. Hopeful news that leads not only to the salvation of those who accept the gift freely given, but is also the promise of something more, a new and different life for those who are the most victimized.  All faith communities are called to be participants in our own salvation by working for justice, now, in the context of our present world, thereby helping to bring the good news to those who need it, where ever and whenever it is needed.

We as believing members of our faith communities are to point the way to the kingdom breaking into our world right now. The kingdom of God isn’t a future event it is happening right now. Every time we offer a helping hand to someone who is hungry, or cold, or afraid the door to God’s Kingdom opens just a bit more.  Every time we stand up to those who would harm one of God’s children, the kingdom shines a bit brighter.  Every time we stand between victims of injustice and the perpetrators God let’s a little more light out of the door.   Every time we speak out when we see an injustice God smiles and sends another rainbow.

You know the Irish tell us that there is gold at the end of the rainbow, and I believe that is true.  Because I believe that God’s kingdom is that golden treasure and we are to seek it just as the man who sought out the pearl of great price.  What could be more beautiful than walking across the rainbow into the Golden Kingdom?

Yes, on the first Sunday in Lent, all of the Lectionary scriptures are about hope.  Whether you read Genesis, Psalm 25, 1 Peter, or Mark each of them has an element of hope for dark times, in a dark world.  Each one offers a ray of light to bring us out of darkness. The light calls us, bright and shinning, multicolored, and golden with hope and promise.  God first gave the rainbow as a promise that She would never forget any of her children.  The Psalmist tells us that God will always be there to sustain us.  And, Jesus, rekindled the hope in the hopeless that a better life was there for them.  Jesus reminds all of us that God will sustain us as we work to be the witness’ against injustice, violence and oppression.

God said, “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  How does Micah fit into this, well Micah reminds us which path we are to take, “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  We are called to be living communities of hope, of God’s promise in every moment of our individual and communal lives.

AMEN

Ruth Jewell, ©February 23, 2015

“What If” – Prayerful Tuesday

Matthew 13:2b-9 “Listen! A sower went out to sow.4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”

Golden-Grain-Field-600x375

Every interpreter I have ever read tells us this scripture is about the ground. It’s about us being good or bad ground for the word of God.  So what if, just what if, we have it upside down.  I’m not saying we do, this is a “what if,” looking at the parable from the other side, from the Sower’s perspective.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book The Seeds of Heaven, Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew (2004) asks what if this parable isn’t about us, not about our failures or success’.  But rather about an extravagant sower who flings his seeds everywhere and “wastes it with holy abandon?” If this isn’t about us as ground for the word of God then this parable has a completely new meaning.  Taylor says what if “the focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower, who does not obsess about the conditions of fields, who is not stingy . . . but casts his seed everywhere, on good soil and bad.”  What if God, the prolific Sower, says I have a lot of seed and some will take hold right away, but who knows maybe, just maybe, some sown in not the best of places may still feed a soul. Suppose Jesus was saying we are to sow God’s word everywhere, don’t expect a harvest, or at least a big one, just speak the word, live the word, be the word, and see what happens.

So this week I challenge you to go and live the life of a prolific sower. Imitate the Great Sower, and be one of those who has ears and hears.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 3, 2015