16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wiling and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” — Matthew 2:16-18
I have been trying to make sense of the events of the last week. The deaths of two black men at the hands of the police, the Dallas Police targeted and killed, and the bombings in Iraq and Turkey. And, just today a new shooting in Michigan. My heart is filled with sadness and tears and I could only cry out to God “Where Are YOU.”
“God where were you . . .
when suicide bombers chose to end their lives and take the innocent with them?
Where were you when 29 men and woman
enjoying a night out were used as target practice?
Where are you when cops shoot people,
when people shoot people,
when cops are targeted,
When people die, the good and the bad?”
God where are you . . .
when we are filled with emptiness by shooting after shooting,
when bombings and assaults become common place?
Where are you when we turn the news on and
another child has died, another cop is killed,
another person of color, differing abilities, or characteristics is assaulted or killed?”
“Why Oh God do you not answer?”
God said “I am there . . .
Holding the bodies as they bleed,
I am there leading the survivors’ out of danger.
I am there, holding the victim’s family’s in my arms
I am there in the broken hearts of witnesses, law enforcement.”
“When the darkness is greatest
I will sit with you, and listen to your sorrows,
I will hold you in my arms when you are weary.”
All I can do is lead the dying home to my arms,
to comfort those left behind, if they let me.”
“When pain and grief grip you
I will be there to tell you everything will be alright.
When you scream into the night,
I will come and comfort you,
I will dry your tears, and wrap you in my embrace.”
“I will be there when you are weary and in pain,
I will be there to lift you up, and comfort you,
All you have to do is call”.
God said, “I cry when you do not hear my voice, and
I cannot stop you from harming each other,
that choice is yours alone.
“All I can do is encourage each of you to stand up for justice and mercy.
All I can do is hope your hearts will soften
and let the love I have for each of you awaken your love for each other.
All I can do is wait for you to choose the path of justice, mercy, love and peace
between your selves and all that is created.”
God says “I gave you the choice of right or wrong,
It is up to you to choose. I will not make that choice for you
nor will I force you to choose one path over another!”
“You asked for freedom, it is your responsibility to choose.
Choose to use that freedom wisely.”
“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.
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,
Giver of abundant gifts, on this Thanksgiving we celebrate . . . we celebrate. Ah what are we celebrating God? It seems to me that we have nothing to celebrate, nothing to be thankful for, except empty hearts and soulless comments.
Too many children are dying before our eyes on beaches, in stormy seas, in mountain passes, and refugee camps. Too many are blinded by their fears, unable to see the path to your love. I don’t know God, I can’t really think of something to be thankful for this year, you see my eyes are clouded with tears and my heart is screaming in pain for those who are being denied entry into our so called circle of love. By the way if it is a circle of love would there really be boundaries?
God I don’t know how to say this but I do believe we humans have failed you and maybe it is time to pull the plug on this experiment. We are tired, I know I am, so please just let us go and let us be thankful for the too few moments when we recognized your love and shared it with the world. Let some other species give being your priestly people a go at it. That task is very plainly to difficult for us. Dogs would be a good choice they love without condition just by being who they are, yes; Dogs would do a good job of being your treasured people.
So I guess I do have something to be thankful for. I am thankful for your love, for your compassion, your presence in the darkest of times. I am grateful for the times we danced in the sunlight, and sang at the moon. I am grateful for your faith in us when we have no faith in ourselves. I am thankful for the many blessings you have given us, sunrises and sunsets, a newborns smile, oh so many gifts. So if it’s alright with you God I will lay my gratitude down at your feet and if it pleases you Lord, I would like to come back as a Dog. AMEN
Prepared for a Sermon at Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle WA
January 18th, 2015
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Have you ever had that feeling you are being watched and you turn around and around to see who is there? I have and I must admit it often feels creepy! Someone is watching me, why, who are they, what do they want, will they hurt me? Some might say these are the questions of a paranoid mind, but, given the status of our world today, not uncommon in these days of uncertainty, fear, and, let’s be honest, at least a little hate, ok a lot of hate.
So when I read the Psalm for this week I had to really think what it means to be “watched,” “known,” by God. This Psalm is telling me that I am being watched, by God no less. Is that a good thing or should I be afraid, really afraid. As I was contemplating these verses I remembered an incident out of my childhood. It was a memory of being known by God and knowing it was keeping me safe.
Nearly 62 years ago I was severely burnt and spent 6 months in hospital healing and having reconstructive surgery. In reality I am blessed to be here, because I should have died that summer, but didn’t. However, I did spend a great deal of time on a children’s ward of a Cleveland Hospital. There were number of other children there as well, just as injured and ill as me and one little boy and I became good friends. I do not remember his name; I do remember he was dying. He was a little older than I was but could not walk; I could get up and walk a little but couldn’t read as well as he could. I would get books and games to play with and he would read the harder books.
Children will often tell another child something important when they aren’t sure their parents would understand or listen. So one day he told me that he knew he didn’t have long to live and he wanted me to tell his parents he was ok with it. You see he had a guardian angel who stayed by his side and the angel had told him he would be going soon and no longer in pain, his parents would be sad for awhile but they would remember him forever.
One night I awoke to a great deal of crying and saw the mother holding the little boy. I remembered what he had asked me to do so I crawled out of my bed and tried to tell them that the boy was OK, and that he was with his angel now. However, before I got very far with that a nurse scooped me up and put me back in my bed saying something patronizing. I never really talked about that incident again; I understood what I had to say was pretty unimportant to adults and not worth listening to. It was the thought of the time that children didn’t understand death or God and it was, and is, a wrong thought.
Being known by God, being watched by God, children understand that, after all they are always being watched. By parents, teachers, friends, family members who want to keep them safe. So knowing God is watching them is no big deal, just one more person on the list to keep them safe. Besides isn’t there something comforting knowing you have a guardian angel nearby, how cool is that.
From the time they are formed in the dark, cavern of their mother’s womb they are cradled and whispered to by angels. By 18 weeks of pregnancy the embryo begins to hear his first sounds, Mom’s heart beat, the movement of her blood, and bowel sounds. He also hears His Mom’s and Dad’s voice, music, laughter, and tears. To him it’s, Angels voices coming from, everywhere. Children know they are being watched, searched out as they are being formed in the dark.
After birth we are still connected to those angels, only now they have blurry faces, but they can see the angels smile at them and hear their whispers and while breast feeding they still hear the comforting sound of Mom’s heartbeat.
It is a sad fact that as we grow we forget those connections to the mystery of our beginnings. We let other sounds carry us away from the angel’s voices, the whispers that we are beloved and we are watched over. We, who were made so carefully, struggle to be free of the binders, free of being hemmed in from behind and before. We, who in secret were made so wonderfully and woven of star dust and love, want to run free of the restrictions of God, angels, or anyone else.
Yet there is a part of us that yearns to be known. Oh we may fight it, rebel and run away because we want to “do it our way.” But really, at some level, isn’t it comforting to know just how beloved we are? The Psalmist said “My days are all inscribed in Your Ledger; Days not yet shaped—each one of them is counted.” Those counted days are from the moment we are conceived in flesh to the moment we let go of this body and return to God. Yes we still have days that God has counted that we know nothing about, yet. But God is still watching and still planning, or more likely, revising our life plan based on our latest actions.
You see I’ve never been a big proponent of predestination, were God has planned our lives out before we are born. No I am a firm believer in free will and our obligation to choose life over death. We, you and I, must choose to follow one path over another and depending on our choices our life is rewritten again and again. I know that because I have had my life rewritten all because I’ve made some rather dumb choices in my life. My guess is we all have, because we are human, we are embodied; we are separated from that light of God and God deliberately put us on our own resources for a purpose we do not know. (My first question for God when I return is “what were you thinking.”)
What the Psalmist tells us is even in our bad choices we are watched, cared for, beloved, held safe, and not alone. God keeps us in God’s thoughts; we are never far from the Divine mind. “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.” “I am still with You,” God is with me. Matthew writes that Jesus’ last words to his disciples were, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We have that promise. God has not left us alone, Jesus has not left us alone, the angels are still whispering, if, only we listen.
Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi translated verse 14 as follows, “I am overcome with thanks at Your awesome wonders, Your astonishing works, of which my soul is aware.” Our souls know what God does, what Jesus does, even when we are unconscious to those actions. Our souls know even when we reject God’s call that we are not alone. That we are watched over and having our lives rewritten again and again based on whether we chose life or death.
Those angel whispers, messages of comfort from the Holy, still hold for each and every one of us. That first sound we heard in our mothers’ wombs, the first whisper of life from the sacred, was a heartbeat. It still is the whisper of life for all of us. Without our hearts beating strong and level life will fade. But it is not just the heart of our flesh that we need. We also need the voice of the heart of our souls, our spirit, to truly live life as God intended. Remember Moses’ last words “choose life.” The messengers of God, the angels voices all whisper, “choose life.”
As I am personally preparing for Christmas I have been disturbed by the amount of violence and death around the world. Peace on earth does not seem near. So as part of my morning ritual I have been doing Lectio Divina with the Psalms. They have brought me some comfort but this Psalm struck a chord within me and I wanted to share that with you. So this is a little different from most of my postings, as it is part of my journaling during my meditation. I am letting you in on a small part of my conversations I held with the Psalmist and God. They are my insights of the moment, so if I say something you disagree with please be gentle, it is after all a private conversation you are overhearing. At the end of my journaling you will find the steps for Lectio Divina. For your own Lectio Divina meditation you may use the whole Psalm, as I did, or only a verse or two.
Psalm 10, The Message (MSG)
1-2 God, are you avoiding me? Where are you when I need you?
Full of hot air, the wicked are hot on the trail of the poor.
Trip them up, tangle them up in their fine-tuned plots.
I am in the process of preparing for a Longest Night worship service and in reading this Psalm I was struck by how it matched my gut feelings this Advent. Every day the news is filled with stories from around the world of someone killing someone one else, often many someone’s. Just last night news came of a hostage situation in Sidney, Australia, just one more story to add to the Ferguson, New Town, Cleveland, Seattle, Portland, Houston, Afghanistan, and Iraq stories of the last number of years. The list is too long, too many people have died, and too many children have died. Like the Psalmist I am left wondering “where are you God.”
3-4 The wicked are windbags, the swindlers have foul breath.
The wicked snub God, their noses stuck high in the air.
Their graffiti are scrawled on the walls: “Catch us if you can!” “God is dead.”
This is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration but I do not feel like celebrating. Our elected leader’s mouth words from the Bible I read every day, yet, their actions tell me they do not believe what they speak. Are they wicked? Are they windbags? Well the wicked part can only be determined by God but the windbag part . . .. Yes they are windbags, hoping that we who at least try to live a life of compassion will not notice their plans to take the last ounce of God’s abundance all for themselves. They write bills and say “try and stop me, from denying the basic necessities to those who cannot help being poor, sick, elderly, or a child.
5-6 They care nothing for what you think; if you get in their way, they blow you off.
They live (they think) a charmed life: “We can’t go wrong. This is our lucky year!”
These insufferable, so called leaders lie and twist the truth until even the best of us are confused and dazed by the avalanche of untruths they let loose on the public. Whether they are religious fundamentalist, political leaders, in the United States, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, British Isles or anywhere they claim the spotlight and they believe no one can stop them. They are on a role and the rest of us “be damned.”
7-8 They carry a mouthful of hexes, their tongues spit venom like adders.
They hide behind ordinary people, then pounce on their victims.
9 They mark the luckless, then wait like a hunter in a blind;
When the poor wretch wanders too close, they stab him in the back.
10-11 The hapless fool is kicked to the ground, the unlucky victim is brutally axed.
He thinks God has dumped him, he’s sure that God is indifferent to his plight.
The words they spit from their mouths cause fear in those who have minds that are weak and malleable. Letting these poor souls do the violence they pretend to abhor only to turn on them when they caught in their snares.
12-13 Time to get up, God—get moving.
The luckless think they’re Godforsaken.
They wonder why the wicked scorn God
and get away with it,
Why the wicked are so cocksure
they’ll never come up for audit.
We wait for you O God to respond, to let us know you haven’t forgotten us. We wait and we wait.
14 But you know all about it— the contempt, the abuse.
I dare to believe that the luckless will get lucky someday in you.
You won’t let them down: orphans won’t be orphans forever.
The Psalmist sings of your knowledge of the violence we see every day. But do you really hear the cries of the children who have lost limbs to bombs, to parents who have watched as their children are killed in front of them, as ISIS hangs those with different beliefs, as children shoot children? Have we not sent enough children, parents, loved ones to you to serve as a sacrifice? Do you care?
15-16 Break the wicked right arms, break all the evil left arms.
Search and destroy every sign of crime.
God’s grace and order wins; godlessness loses.
My heart wants to believe as the Psalmist did that you will intervene in the bloodletting of this world, but I know you will not. It is not up to you, O God, to set this world back on the track of compassion, justice and peace. That really is our job. We are the ones who created these people who mock everything you have wanted for all. We are the ones who must “gird up our loins” and speak out against injustice, violence, hatred, and war. Only we who believe in justice, mercy, kindness, peace, compassion will change the lives of those who are oppressed, abused, injured, and starved by those who mock the world as you, O God, planned it. We must stop cowering in our homes and our places of faith and become the prophets, the messengers, the hands, feet and voice that will bring down those who would enslave us to a life of poverty and misery. Then, and only then, will the Psalmist’s dream come true.
17-18 The victim’s faint pulse picks up; the hearts of the hopeless pump red blood as you put your ear to their lips.
Orphans get parents, the homeless get homes.
The reign of terror is over, the rule of the gang lords is ended.
Gracious Spirit I thank you for this time of blessed meditation. May the words and images I have seen transform my actions into walking with you in greater joy. AMEN
Practicing Lectio Divina
Choose the portion of the Scripture you wish to pray.
Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent, focus for a few moments on your breathing.
Read the chosen text through, slowly and gently. Listen to yourself read, let yourself to savor each word and phrase.
Read the text a second time. What words or phrases stick out for you? Remember God speaks to us in silence and in our listening. The words that pop out do so for a reason, pay attention to them.
Read the text a third time. Are there any other words that speak to you?
Sit now in silence, letting the words you have heard, speak to you and for you in your prayer, your conversation with God. What images, ideas, words spring forward? Or maybe all of them are present in mediation. Sit with those insights as you experience the presence of God. Give your insights to God. Do the insights give you new meaning or transformation of your actions, or prayer life?
Now rest in God’s arms. Let God’s presence give you comfort. Do you feel the pull to return to your meditations? Then begin again. If not close with a prayer of gratitude for the time you have spent in God’s presence and the insights you have received.
16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, (NRSV)
To pray always, without ceasing, seems like an impossible task. Seeing God in every thing, every action we do, every moment of our lives opens doors of our hearts, and the Spirit of God moves in. We don’t become Pollyanna’s seeing only the good in people. We see the suffering and trials of those around us and in seeing God in their faces we open our hearts and let God’s compassion move us to be the arms and legs, the body, of the Holy Spirit. We are motivated to give the solace, love, support to those who are in need just as Jesus did on the streets and fields of Judea.
The suffering of our communities, nation and world overwhelms, frightens us and as the troubles increase exponentially we ask does prayer really do any good. Offering a prayer for someone walking in the dark places of life, does let them know they aren’t alone, that someone, somewhere is keeping them in their hearts. But even more important is the prayer that motivates us to be the Christ on the street, to offer food, and help find shelter. To care for the sick and injured in even small ways that often are not seen in the mad rush to send massive aid. In fact many times it is the small things we do that mean the most to the recipients. Each act is an act of prayer, it is an offering, it is remembering to feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the incarcerated, and give mercy to the stranger, which all God and Jesus asked us to do.
As you listen to song and watch the pictures pass before you. Let your hearts turn to prayer, where ever you are, you don’t even have stop what you are doing and offer a prayer for what lies closest in heart. Listen; listen carefully in a moment of silence, and throughout your day, for words of encouragement from God. Look into the faces of each person you meet and see the face of God. Each of you, all of you, no matter what you do, or have done, is beloved by God. Let your eyes be opened to love that shines in the eyes of each other, and ears be opened to the voice of God in the voice of the next person you meet.
May the peace of God be with you, now and forever more.
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
I spent last week at Gwinwood Christian Retreat Center, [(Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)] as one of the Chi Rho (Jr. High) counselors. The whole week was a wonderful experience and not just for the kids. Spending time with children and young people is a prayerful time. In the voices and faces of the young G-d is evident in all that they do, even the mischief. Jesus loved children and young people, he tells his disciples they are important to the breaking out of Kingdom of God; time spent with young people is time spent with G-d.
When you are with kids’ prayer comes in many shapes and sizes, in still and playful moments, in laughter and in tears, and in soccer and in worship. The joy of seeing a young person open their eyes to a new experience of G-d, in priceless. Hearing their voices around the campfire singing “Peace Like a River” will make you’re your heart swell.
Being a Camp Counselor is an experience you should not miss and if you are offered that opportunity please consider the prayer that is our Young People.