Come drink the water of quiet repose Let it fill you with cool peace, quiet it your mind, and strengthen your heart. May the sounds of bird, wind and stream follow as you travel the path of life. May they give you courage to stand among life’s joys and sorrows. Blessings of the Earth to you. Blessings of the Sky to you. Blessings of the Sea to you. Blessings of the Sacred Three to you.
I stayed home from church today. I stayed to make soup with the Holy Spirit. Not
just any soup mind you, but my own Vegetable Soup. You know the kind, soup
filled with chopped fresh potatoes, celery, carrots, turnips, garlic and
shallot and fresh herbs. All of them carefully
chopped up into bit sized pieces.
There is something comforting about chopping vegetables, watching the pile grow. Each vegetable adding their own special color, fragrance, and appeal to the pile. Shallots and garlic add their pungent scents, while potatoes add earthiness and carrots and tomatoes add a bit of sweetness. I did notice that the carrot coins kept rolling around the counter as if they wanted to escape. Celery’s spiciness is always appealing to me. I love the color contrast between the red pepper and the parsley it always makes me smile and HS, that’s Holy Spirit for those of you not on speaking terms, said, “my favorite is the hot banana pepper you add in just the right amount to give a bit of heat to the soup. Please don’t tell Jesus that he thinks I’m weird.”
HS, and I discussed the value of each vegetable and whether
or not it was suitable for such a wonderful soup. We pared and peeled when
needed and over-all we decided I had picked good vegetables from the market. HS
also reminded me that I had some fresh tomatoes that would add a nice bit of
freshness. These were the last from my garden, so I offered a prayer and HS
blessed them. I mean you can’t have too many prayers or too many blessings, can
I then went out into my garden and HS and I picked rosemary,
sage and fennel. Thanking each one for their contribution to the soup. We only took a little of the thyme because it
needs to grow a bit more, it’s a bit over picked, and HS said the basil was
just too tired and needs to go live with her now.
HS asked if I had any frozen or canned vegetables available
and looking through the freezer, I found a packet of squash and peas adding
them to my growing pile of vegetables. In the pantry, I found corn, beans, and
garbanzo beans which when rinsed to remove excess salt (who wants that in their
soup) added them to the bowl.
After browning the shallot and garlic, adding chopped fresh turmeric
and a couple strands of saffron (yes. I use saffron) I dumped all of the chopped,
frozen, and canned veg’s into the pot along with vegetable broth, water, and
all of the chopped herbs. HS asked me “will
you be adding the secret ingredient” and I said “Shhh, If I tell it wouldn’t be
a secret.” HS blessed our efforts and
our soup is now simmering to wonderful goodness. We are currently considering baking a loaf of
I suppose you think I am weird, imagining I am cooking
alongside the Holy Spirit. Well one, I don’t care what you think, and two, how
do you know I wasn’t. You see I often
feel I am not alone, that someone walks beside me, or sits with me as I read. I
guess I could be insane, but I rather think that it doesn’t matter. I sit and meditate, I offer prayers, and they
must go somewhere don’t they. So why couldn’t the Holy Spirit come and spend
time with me as I cook?
I’m not one to run around and brag or tell people “Jesus
saves” (he doesn’t by the way, but I’ll save that thought for later). I rather
let what I do and say inform people. I will share this soup with others,
guests, (Luke hint, hint) and of course my husband will enjoy our efforts. I have been known to take soup to those who
need it because feeding others always brings a smile to their faces, and mine,
besides it is a mandate of the Holy Spirit.
To create something that will nourishes others is such a
wonderful feeling. To feel the vegetable
in your hand, pick it from the ground or vine gives me a connection with all
creation. I know where my food comes from, how it was grown I watched the sun shine
on the baby plants and the rain water it. I watched as the bees pollinated my
tomato blossoms and herb blossoms and we shook the dirt off of potatoes,
carrots, and onions, so yes, I know where my food comes from and who to thank.
I am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with the HS to offer my thanks
for food that feeds my body as her presence feeds my spirit. So, if I think the Holy Spirit is right there
with me in the kitchen it means I know who to thank for all I have
“Why not share your recipe and a prayer, now that you have
made everyone hungry?”
“What a wonderful idea.”
“Ok, here is my Basic Vegetable soup recipe for you to
change up and make your own.”
My prayer for you is:
Holy Spirit, we ask you to bless the ground that nourished our
vegetables, the sun that shone upon them, and the rain that watered them. Bless
the hands that harvested and carried them to us and bless the hands that
prepared them. May this soup bless our
bodies as you bless our souls. AMEN
Ruth’s Vegetable Soup (This recipe freezes well)
4 cups vegetable broth or 2 cups broth and 2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Vegetables: (all vegetables are optional, add meat if you wish)
Carrots (diced), Peas, Corn either Fresh, frozen, or canned
½ of a small to medium shallot, diced
1-3 garlic cloves, minced,
1 15oz. Can diced tomatoes
1 or 2 medium fresh tomatoes, diced
½ to 1 red pepper, diced
Either 1-3 small hot banana Peppers, or 2 chipotle peppers, (+1 to 2 tsps.
adobe sauce), Diced
and Herbs: (change up the herbs to your taste)
1 teaspoon dry Turmeric or 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh
few threads of saffron
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
½ teaspoon Herbs de Provence
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
2 fresh bay leaves
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Melt the oil and butter in a large soup pot, add the onions
and garlic. Add the turmeric and saffron, cook until the onions are soft and
golden. Add the celery and peppers to
the pot stir until covered in the turmeric liquid. Add the rest of the vegetables, broth (or
broth/water), herbs and spices. Simmer
for 1 to 2 hours until all vegetables are “al dente.” Serve hot with fresh bread. If you wish top
with sharp cheddar cheese and chives.
Note: This is an
easily modified recipe. You can add
squash, or other vegetables, or change herbs or spices (I use Turmeric because
of its anti-cancer properties). Fresh Parsley is lovely. You can add meat to this but I am a
vegetarian so that is problematic for me.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments,
show kindness and mercy each to his brother.”
“You have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Thursday I am taking part in the Face book event 24 Hours of Random Acts of Kindness. I don’t have to DO anything specific, or travel anywhere. The only thing I am asked to do is perform some act of kindness for someone who doesn’t expect it. Sounds simple, I guess I will see.
I have been trying to decide what I would do, help a little old lady across the street, well I am a little old lady so I will leave that for someone else to do. Maybe take cookies and give them a way, Now that I could do. Wait a minute; I do believe I am trying to plan for something for a random event now that can’t’ be right.
My favorite Biblical verse comes is 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?” Nowhere in this small verse does it say we are to plan to do any of that. Rather when we see injustice we do something to correct it. When we see the embodiment of God we are to walk together. When we see someone, be it human or otherwise, in need of kindness we are to offer it freely with no expectation of being acknowledged or of a being paid back. We are to show kindness where it is least expected, recognizing the blessedness of the recipient. Even if the freely given gift is refused or unacknowledged we have done what is right in the eyes, heart and mind of the Spirit.
Oscar Hammerstein wrote: “A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it – A song’s not a song ’til you sing it – Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay – Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!” To give the gift of kindness is to put your love into action. What a better way to express God’s great gift of love, the Teachings of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, than by giving it away.
So this week I am going to challenge you to practice the spiritual practice of a “Random Act of Kindness.” Sometime this week do kind act for someone or some creature when they least expect it. If you want to up this challenge a notch, try doing it anonymously and let your heart warm with the thought of the gift being received.
May your week be filled with kindness; kindness received and kindness gifted.
“And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” – Genesis 6:6, NRSV)
Fire Rainbow Taken Spring 2015
This past weekend I was asked by a Facebook friend to comment on the following meme from the Celtic Christian Tradition.
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” (www.facebook.com/CelticChristianTradition, April 30, 2016)
My friend is not a believer in Christianity but he and I have had many an interesting online discussion on faith and beliefs. I have always found him to be an open minded and intelligent person and so I gladly responded to his request to comment.
“Well I don’t know if saying you believe in Jesus but don’t actually follow his teachings is a cause of atheism or not, but it certainly is the cause of so many to question the values of Christianity. Just saying you believe in Jesus is like saying the ‘Sun rises in the East,’ it’s a statement. Being faithful to the teachings of Jesus however means you are loyal to those teachings and practice them, or at least do you your best to try, every day. If you only use the words to carry a message of hate, domination and greed then you have become separated from God and are not longer the blessing you are meant to be.
There is Good in everything, human, animal, plant, all creation and it doesn’t matter how you see the Good. It only matters that you do. The Good is what keeps each of us rising up every morning, keeps us loving our neighbors regardless of who they are and keeps us part of the human family. To deny the Good in anyone, any creature, any part of creation is to be cut off from what makes each of us human. I listen to the hatful rhetoric spouted each day in the news and I don’t see people of faith, I see lost souls, people cut off from what is good and right in our world, and that makes me very sad.
You know I call the Good God, but that is how I see the good in the world. You see the Good in a different way, a way that gives you peace and a path to follow that is good in the world. Others see the Good in other ways, but, no matter how we explain the Good to ourselves it is all the same Good. The name may be different but it is still what is Good and Right in the world. We all have the capacity to find and see the Good, whether we are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Atheist. The Good is still there in the world, universe, all creation and as long as some of us are able to find, see, and honor the Good in each other and creation gives me hope that we will have a world to live in.
I look for the Good in those that hat that is what my tradition tells me to do. But even if that wasn’t part of my tradition I would still look because to otherwise brings me down to the level of those who hat and I don’t want to go there. If those of us who believed in what is Good were a little more vocal we would drown out the voices of hate and all would know there are still people in this world who believe in doing good rather than speaking hate.”
After I wrote this I recognized how sad it is that there are so many who cannot, or will not see what is Good and Right in this world. Everything in creation was created good, there was nothing evil or bad about anything brought into being. Genesis 1:31a reads “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Every morning I see just how good creation is when I feel the warmth of the rising sun and hear the morning songs of birds. So in my eyes the God is still active in the world I live in. Every creature in all creation is meant to be a blessing to all of creation and to be otherwise is to separate from God and all that is good. To live outside of the love and light of God hurts God as much as it hurts those living in hate and darkness. When God’s beloved creatures did first did evil God’s heart was broken (Genesis 6:6). When we who are human do evil and practice hate instead of love and pretend it is what God wants, when we are not the blessing we are meant to be God calls out to us in pain in sorrow, “not in my Name.”
Every day the news media is filled with the words and images of people professing to be people of faith whose actions do not reflect a faith of any tradition. So many people who call themselves people of faith in one breath prove they are not in the next breath when they deny the teachings of love, compassion and justice by spouting words of hate and denying justice to those in need. Yet we who try to be followers of God, or the Good in the world, are enabling these lost souls by not speaking out against the injustice or not standing with those in need. So we are not innocent by any means.
What do we do then? We who stand for justice, mercy and compassion need to be the Isaiah’s, Micah’s, and Jeremiah’s of our day. Like the Apostles we need to be the ones who speak with love and compassion, letting those who speak hate that we know them for what they are, lost, wounded, souls and that we are sad for them and will stand with their victims. None of that is easy, and we cannot expect to change everyone overnight, but, being who we are, blessings to the world, changes the world a little bit at a time. Kindness and compassion never goes unrewarded and even in the darkest moment the single candle we light shines brighter than then darkness around it.
“for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me”. – Matthew 25:35
I apologize for being late today, but, just returned from the Westar Institute Spring Meeting held in Santa Rosa CA. I returned a day late because I adopted the cute little fellow above. I ended up staying an extra day to bond with my new little friend before we made the long drive home.
You may be wondering how adopting a dog from shelter is related to a theological meeting but it does fit in quite well actually. A major theme of the meeting was hospitality, the welcoming of the other into our midst. That other may be someone from a different culture, race, faith tradition, age, or gender. It also means welcoming the non-human other. God intends us to express our welcome to all creatures, mammal, bird, fish, reptile, and (here’s the hard part for me) insects. God intended us to care for all nature, human, non-human, plant, and stone for all are children of God.
As I listened to the lectures and discussions I wondered when we lost the ability to care for others, human or non-human. When did we forget to practice loving the other and caring for the sick, the homeless, and the incarcerated? It doesn’t matter if the other in need is a man, woman, child, dog, cat, horse, or any other child of God, all deserve to live a good life and to be welcomed into our arms.
Ever since my beloved Suzie died in January from a stroke I have been considering adopting another Chihuahua and while I was in Santa Rosa I visited a Sonoma County Animal Shelter and was introduced to Louie. I thought about what it means to care for someone other than myself and while a small dog wouldn’t be everyone’s choice it is mine. So we are welcoming into our small home and family a new member. Louie was abandoned on the streets of Santa Rosa; he is between 3 and 5 years and was discarded like trash. A shy little fellow who is way smarter than you’d think. After all he has lived for some time on the streets, and survived. He is loving, gentle and wants only to be loved. Just like anyone who has been discarded and forgotten.
So this week, for our spiritual practice, I am asking you to practice hospitality. I’m not suggesting you go out and adopt a dog or any other animal, although I wouldn’t stop you. Rather I am suggesting that you see the homeless on the street for the people of God that they are. You might volunteer to spend a couple of hours helping out at a homeless shelter, food bank, or animal shelter. If you see a homeless person on the street, offer them a sandwich or granola bar. When you offer your gift, shake their hand look them in the face and see the Holy Spirit looking back. Talk to Terri Stewart about volunteering at the King County Juvenile Center and learn to see children of the streets as angels in disguise. If you are interested attend a service of a different faith tradition and listen with open heart and mind. At the end of the week reflect on what you have experienced and learned of the other. Offer a prayer for all who are forgotten and pushed aside.
Loving, welcoming Spirit may we see your face in the eyes all we meet, human and non-human. Help us to open our hearts to the stranger in our midst, and welcome them with open arms.
23He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. – Mark 8:23-25
In January I had Cataract surgery and I must admit I never knew how much I was missing or how dark my world had become. One of the first things I noticed was that our light bulbs were a lot brighter and we didn’t need to change them after all. I also noticed evergreen trees, grass and the leaf buds on our Lilacs were so much greener than they were. The colors of the crocus and daffodils seemed to pop out like neon lights and I was amazed at how blue the sky was (that is when we had blue sky). The funniest thing was my IPad mini. I have a screen saver of stars and low and behold I just discovered there were also clouds in the picture. I couldn’t see them before.
I thought about the scriptures where Jesus healed those who were blind, especially the one where it took two tries before the man could see clearly. In many ways we are all like that one man. We see but we don’t really ‘see.’
My sudden clarity in sight has also made me think of all the things we miss because we don’t “see” them, really see them. We see the homeless man standing on the corner but we don’t really see him. We don’t see his pain, or his embarrassment, or his fear. What we see is a figure, as the blind man said as a walking tree, but we don’t see the human, the child of God who is before us. How many of you have taken the hand of a homeless person and looked into their eyes and saw the person for who they are, our brother or sister in God.
How many of you have gone to a jail and comforted the mother of a victim, or taken the hand of a felon and said you are loved by God, don’t be afraid. How many of you have seen children arrested for stealing drugs at their parent’s request or for stealing to provide for their family’s who are held in Juvenile Detention for a year or more because there parent or guardian can’t get clean from drugs or alcohol and there is no responsible adult to care for them. How many of you have held someone suffering from mental illness or PTSD and said ‘I’m here, you aren’t alone.’
If you haven’t volunteered at a shelter or soup kitchen yet find the time to do so. Volunteering there is a lesson in compassion and humility, of seeing people society throws away as our brothers, sisters, and friends who are in pain and afraid.
I am grateful that I am now able to see creation more clearly, the colors in sunrises and sunsets, and to rediscover the beauty of spring flowers. I love it that I can now see the faces of my friends and family, each and every one of them, more clearly. I love it that much that had been hidden by my own dark glass has been made clear. But today there is so much darkness, so much fear, so much hatred that clarity of sight is difficult for us all. Jesus said “I Am the Light of the world.” (John 9:5b) and in the words of the Prophet Mohammad “God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.” (Quran 23.35a) As people of faith we are to be the light that brings sight to the blind. We are called to bring the light of love, compassion, justice, and peace to a wounded world.
My recommended Spiritual Practice for this week is to open your eyes and SEE the world around you. Take the time to gaze at the beauty of a flower, and marvel at the rebirth of delicate green leaves on a tree. Let the beauty of creation refresh your heart and cleanse your eyes. Then take the time to see the people around you, offer a sandwich to the homeless man, woman, or teenager on the corner and take the time to look into their eyes and see your brother or sister, your son or daughter. Let them know they are known for whom they are a child of God.
Gracious Lord, you gave us eyes to see you in the face of all who surround us, to see you in a smiling baby’s face, the wrinkled face of an elderly, in the broken lives of the homeless and the hungry. In our rush of our daily living we become blind to all the love you have given us and we forget to pass on the love we are given to those in need. Help us in our blindness Lord. Amen
15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ 16Then Jesus* said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” 19Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” 20Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” 21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” 22 And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 23 Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you,* none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’
On a warm June afternoon in 2000 I was sitting at the entrance to the primary hotel in Vallejo CA. I was waiting for a bus to come and deliver John to me who was coming from the Oakland airport. I could hardly contain myself, you see in just a few short weeks I would be retiring from my consulting job and moving back to Edmonds. John was coming to help me pack-up the apartment and drive with me back to WA. We would be married in September. This was the beginning of 6 months of celebration that has extended into nearly 16 years.
I had accepted an invitation, I said yes. I knew that in that acceptance I would now be living a new life and one that would require me to make the choice to change from a life of taking care of only me to taking care of someone else. Now that’s a huge change for someone who was 53 and never married. But it was a choice that I have been grateful for ever since. You see by accepting the invitation I was transformed from a stranger into a member of a community. And, as a result I was blessed with a new life that has had its challenges and its joys. That’s what happens when you chose to transform your life. Life can be a bed of roses, but what you must remember is roses have thorns and you can be sure you will sometimes get stuck with one, or more, of those thorns.
Today’s scripture is not only about choosing between accepting and refusing an invitation to a banquet given by an upper class gentleman, it is about choosing between accepting or refusing to live a transformed life of free grace in the way we were meant to live. It is choosing to live as a member of a community rather than being a stranger, and, to decide living a transformed life means accepting all of that life of grace. It means we are to commit to live that life no matter what gets thrown at us or how many thorns we run into. Living a transformed life of grace doesn’t mean there won’t be thorns, or potholes, or great sorrows on your path. It means we are given the strength to walk through them because we aren’t traveling the road alone.
Our story this morning is about a man who has invited his friends and, probably, business associates to a banquet. In the first century preparing a large dinner was not an easy process. Different items were served depending on how many people RSVP’d the invitation. If only a small number accepted then chicken fish or duck may be the main course and a larger number would result in the host preparing anything from a one lamb or oxen to preparing many.
You have to remember there was no refrigeration so all of the food had to be prepared and eaten before it spoiled. To help prevent food wastage two invitations were sent out. The first invitation invited the guests to the dinner and they responded yes or no but the time of the dinner was not given. When all is ready the host sends out a second invitation calling the people to the prepared dinner. It was extremely rude to accept the first and not come for the second invitation because that meant a huge waste of resources for the host.
The householder has invited the guests and now sends his servants to call them to the prepared dinner. But despite accepting the first invitation all of his guests find excuses for not attending. The first guest refuses because of business issues. The second guest let’s his possessions take precedents over his social obligations, and the third puts his home and family above attending to a promise already given. I suppose to us these don’t seem like unreasonable reasons for not attending but what if we look at the story from a different direction.
First of all this isn’t a story isn’t about an ordinary householder. No, our host happens to be Jesus who is inviting his guests into a relationship that will transform their lives. How does the story and the excuses change when we see that it is Jesus who is inviting us into a banquet that will transform us from strangers into the Children of God in order to live a new life? How will that perspective change the way we hear this parable?
So here is how the story might sound if we told it as if Jesus was throwing this shindig? The guests Jesus first invites to his amazing banquet are those he expects will accept the invitation because they already understand, or he thinks they do, what it means to live the transformed life He is offering them. Jesus wants them to come and celebrate with Him, to become part of the new life that only happens when we accept the Divine invitation. An invitation of free grace to live the life we are meant to live in the presence of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit. So he sends his disciples out to bring his guests to the party; the food is ready, wine is poured, the orchestra is tuning up for an all night event. But his disciples come back and tell him all have refused, all are too busy with the details of life, the minutia of daily living. So what does he do, after all he has a hall prepared, food on the table, wine chilling, and musicians waiting? Well, Jesus did just what he told his disciples to do when he sent them out to preach and the invitations they gave were refused. He “dusted the dirt from His sandals” and turns his back on those who refused him and sends his disciples out again into the streets to bring in whomever they find to the party, the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy. These guests are the disadvantaged of the Jewish people; tax collectors, prostitutes, the homeless, and the ostracized because they are different. But still he has room so he sends out his servants again this time to the people from the roads and byways around the city. These are the people normally not considered part of the ‘Jewish family,’ these are the gentiles, the ultimate outsiders for the Jewish people.
How would we identify these people with those from today, the 21st century? Well think of who are our people of the streets and you might first of all think of “Nicholsville,” or the man or woman standing on the corner with a sign that says “Homeless vet, needs food and job,” and think of the shop keepers in the poorest parts of Seattle, or any town for that matter. It was people like these who were the ones who were welcomed into Jesus’ party. They were the nobodies of the town and here they were going to a big shindig given by the most important person in town. Now think of those people outside the Christian circle of community, Muslims, Buddhists, Jewish, atheist, and agnostic. Those might be our version “gentile.”
Can you imagine how they all felt? Can’t you just hear them as they walk to the mansion, “Jesus invited me, me, to his party,” “You too, I can’t believe it,” “I was invited too, and get this, the woman said come as I am, and it didn’t matter if I’m not part of the Christian faith. He just wants me to celebrate the Divines presence in my life as you celebrate it in yours, how cool is that.”
Unlike Jesus’ first guests these guests weren’t concerned about who they would be sitting next to at the table or who might make a big splash in the news media. It didn’t matter to them that the person next to them was a drug addict, a thief, a prostitute, a shop keeper, a prosperous business person or followed a different faith, they were all children of the one God. They didn’t care if Jesus was failing or succeeding in life. They were excited about being invited. They understood the importance of being invited to this banquet, this table. They wanted to have new lives. Unlike those first invited they knew their old lives weren’t working for them and they were willing to change and live new lives, transformed lives of grace that had meaning and where all people are recognized as family and community despite who they were or how they walked their way to God.
What Jesus was offering wasn’t a new idea for his banquet. For centuries the Prophets of Israel were telling the people the same thing. Moses says in Deuteronomy (30:19b) “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” In Proverbs 9 Wisdom calls to the people:
4“You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
And through Isaiah God tells the Jewish people:
6 “ theLordof hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”
In the New Testament James writes:
6 “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
God has been inviting us to the table of grace since the beginning. She spoke through the fathers of the Jewish people, through the prophets, sent her Son and spoke through the disciples. But we have let greed and self-centeredness takes precedence over the original message of grace.
But what does it mean to choose life? Well “When you say ‘Yes’ to life you say ‘Amen’ to all of life as a package deal. Thereafter the so-called problems you have with personal injustice do not arise. You renounce your concept of victimhood and the old impulse to complain about being unfairly treated.” A “commitment to life . . . refuses to make any distinction between your outer life and your inner life, or between secular and sacred spheres of life, or between loving God, loving all of life, or loving one’s neighbor, no matter who they are. Nor does it distinguish between your current life concerns or your eternal concerns. On the contrary, it simply calls for an unhesitating and unreserved ethical response to the call of life, the call of Jesus, God, and Holy Spirit – right where you are at this moment in time, at this point in your life,” to live a life where you defend justice for all and refuse to accept injustice for anyone as an expedient to living. That is what Jesus taught, that’s grace. It’s not new information, its old stuff we haven’t listened to, at least not for long time.
No matter how you tell today’s story it’s about Divine invitations, the acceptance of grace, and how you live once you’ve accepted God’s grace. When John asked me to marry him, I had a number of options. Like the first invited guests I could have refused and that would have been that. I don’t know where I would have been 16 years later but I am quite certain it wouldn’t have been here. But I did say yes and again to that yes I had options as to how I was going to live within this new relationship. One way was I could continue to behave as I have always behaved, just as the first guests invited to the banquet. Taking care of me, making sure I had what I wanted and what I needed. Yes John would be there but our relationship would not have been very deep because I wouldn’t have let him into the deeper part of me, the part of me that would have built the relationship where both of us would have lived a transformed life. But I chose to say yes and I chose to attend my life banquet. I let John into my heart and said we are partners and what I do and what you do will affect and change who we both are. We looked at the covenant of our marriage and said we do this together as one, not as two people living their own lives in one house. When I accepted John’s invitation to marry, when I accepted that covenant, I had no clue as to what that might look like, but I knew I was going to have to change if I was going to make my life with John. And yes it hasn’t always been sunshine and flowers. Sometimes we have had our thorny moments. But it was because we chose to live a life together as one that we had the strength to overcome all thorns and rocks in our path. While my wedding story wasn’t about God’s grace specifically, by accepting my invitation I discovered grace in a way I did not expect, and that is how it sometimes work.
As many diverse faith community’s we are given a Divine invitation to free grace every time we choose to come invite to our tables all people no matter who they are. We have heard this invitation before and we accepted it with our desire to be who we, as individuals and as communities, were meant to live. We are invited to a banquet of grace, welcoming every single one of us to the head table, and No questions asked about our past or how many times we haven’t understood, if we believe a certain way, or look a certain way. No the Divine wants us to come and join Her. To laugh and sing and eat together, to tell jokes, and play games. To dance to the music that life brings us, and cry together when life brings us sorrows. We are asked to change who we are at our deepest level and live grace filled lives that do not see differences between us, whether they are gender, racial, religious beliefs, cultural, social, or political. He asks us to live a life where we see only brothers and sisters and not people of different abilities, colors, faiths, or cultures.
We can change the world we live in, we can change the world by being the people we are meant to be, a people of grace, by being a people who refuse to accept evil, greed, and self-centeredness as the status quo. We can change the world by refusing to accept war as the only solution, or that homelessness and hunger is just part of life. We can change the world by seeing each other as the Children of God, living the life God meant us to live.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. . . . Jesus goes to town, stands on the street corner, and invites everyone within the sound of his voice: Come, rich and poor alike, come the worthy and the unworthy, come with me, oh come, and celebrate the joining of our spirits! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, carefully selected wines. Leave your lives of self-centeredness, loneliness, fear, poverty, greed, and come, celebrate with me! Come celebrate a life with meaning, a life of grace. Come change your lives, remember to live transformed, not only your inner selves, but also your outer selves. Put on your cloak of joy and celebration and come, walk up the street to a life with meaning.”
 Cupitt, Don: Life, Life, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA, 2003, pg 6-7.
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.