SOLVING THE RIDDLE

Psalm 49:1-4 — New Revised Standard Version

Hear this, all you peoples;
give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
both low and high,
rich and poor together.
My mouth shall speak wisdom;
the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

SOLVING RIDDLES

Solving the Riddle

I like this idea of solving riddles to the
music of the harp.
It’s kind of like the Blues musician’s
claim that “the blues will get us through.”
Music,
like the sound of the harp, piano, guitar, bass,
in a 12-bar loop that should be predictable,
but is not,
and is littered with
surprising accents and riffs
and soul
— lots of soul —
and a warm sense of home.
And the music does not
have to be the blues
to do this,
it just needs to be music:
arias, country, symphonies, folk —
whatever touches the riddles
and quandaries
and entanglements of our
own hearts
with healing and comfort.
Music does this:
takes us to a place of healing,
of remembrance,
of deep knowing.
Sometimes the music we hear is
carried on the night wind
from a far-a-way radio,
sometimes it is the wind itself.
Or, the rustle of a leaf,
or, a lover’s sigh,
or, a baby’s laugh,
or, the beautiful music
of our own hearts
as they beat the rhythm of our lives
or, or, or…
sometimes, for me,
the deepest music I hear
is the silence between
two notes in the middle of a
sweeping guitar arpeggio.
What is the music you hear?
In the Guitars for Vets Program
where I have been a volunteer instructor
for four years,
the motto is:
“If we can get a guitar in the hands of a vet
it will be hard for that vet
to get a gun in their mouth.”
Solving the riddle to the
music of the harp.
What are your riddles?
What riddles do you hear voiced
in your communities
in the news you read and hear
in the voices that speak to you?

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IGNITING AN INNER POWER

Acts 2:1-21 — The Message
When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! “
They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” Others joked, They’re drunk on cheap wine.” That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy. I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous; And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”

IGNITING THE FLAME

IGNITING AN INNER POWER

I think that we can take this story of Pentecost
both literally and metaphorically.
Well
maybe not too literally…
Literally,
in the sense that God
moved in their midst
and deeply
within their own spirits,
and they were so
radically changed
they became different
thinking-acting-speaking-living
persons.
Metaphorically,
in terms of the
image of fire
as a fundamental and
profound purification
of the
heart, mind, soul, and intention
of each person in that room.
I do not for
one minute believe
that God
overcame them,
or forced
this radical change on them,
in the sense that
a bully might force
someone to do something,
but in the sense of
setting free,
turning lose,
fanning a flame already burning,
yet hidden
deep within each of them.
I wonder what
great fires burn within each of us?
What candles
have we hidden?
What tiny sparks
flicker unseen
in our dreams?
What world-changing
event would we each,
and collectively,
foment
if the Spirit of God
fanned our respective flames?
In that small room,
on that day,
fierce prophets
were forged out of
a timid and fearful people,
and an enduring church
was created.
What dreams, secret passions,
unnammed desires
do we harbor?
What tremendous
events would be unleashed
by God’s flame
burning within us?

EASTER MORNING

John 20:1-18 — The Message
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home. But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?” “They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him, Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?” She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.” Jesus said, “Mary.”Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!” Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her.

Easter Morning - 2019

Easter Morning

After death.
After several nights of pain
and inexplicable grief.
After watching a friend,
family member, mentor, leader
die,
the disciples’ expectations
were confounded.
The unspeakable,
was said —
He is risen!
The unthinkable
was thought —
The tomb is empty!
The ultimate loss
was itself defeated —
Jesus was returned.
But don’t you think,
and I do, that the
bitterness
of their grief lingered
on their palates
for the rest of their lives?
Take a second.
Think of your own losses,
the grief
you endure,
the sorrow
that sings you to sleep,
that one piece of joy
out of all the joy you feel,
that you continue to lament in your heart of hearts.
We hardly ever speak about our grief,
or allow it to show,
but it is, nonetheless,
real and present
to every one of us.
I do know that you
know this deep kind of grief.
I know you know
that I also
know this deep kind of grief.
I believe that grief
is at the heart of the idea of Resurrection
as more of a looking-back event
than the reportage of a current one.
I have come to believe
that the glory of the Easter Morning Event
was first
discovered by Jesus’
loved ones many years later
at Table
while breaking bread
and pouring cup,
and sharing
with each other,
and that they experienced the miracle of Easter
in their memories
and stories and healings and sharings
as they gathered together
in his memory.
The song says that we serve a risen Savior,
and we do.
We are told that Jesus lives,
and he does.
We gather together here to sing,
to break bread,
to pour cup,
to remember
that because Jesus rose,
and will continue to rise
for us,
and within us all,
we can make sense of our grief.
For in our memory there is life,
in our memory there is healing,
and our memory
is like a road-sign on
our road through life.
Because he lives
in our remembering
we will all live,
we will all rise again,
we will all meet again
those we love
as we share our stories and lives.
Family gatherings,
school reunions,
random moments of storytelling,
breaking bread and
sharing cup at Communion,
in memory there is life.
And, in memory
grief will not win the day!

BE NICE

Luke 6:27-38 — The Message
“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

Lessons

Lessons

Be Nice

Be nice, be kind,
don’t hurt others,
you don’t get to have revenge
and you have to, yes,
have to,
forgive.
Many confuse piety
and self-righteousness
with what Jesus asks of us.
To my thinking
that is wrongheaded,
because this text is the
central theme
in Jesus’ ministry and teaching.
Some think they
can pretend Jesus
expects certain
holy poses
from us.
They construct rules about
what is non-Christian
behavior,
telling us how they think
Christians
should look
and act
and exist
and all the ways
they have
defined correct “Christian” comportment.
I think this text is clear —
be kind!
That’s it.
That’s all.
We are challenged to let
the cup of our hearts
be so full of God
that we will overflow
the joy of
forgiveness and kindness,
over all the
meanness and cynicism
of the world.
We are urged
to give back joy for anger,
light for the dark,
forgiveness for harm,
love for hate,
peace for dissension,
hope for despair.
I believe we
are asked
to listen to
and hear in
all of the negativity
with which we are confronted,
not a perceived
attack upon us,
but the cries of the
broken heart of the world,
the wounded cry
in all broken, frightened,
hearts we meet,
for a chance
to offer healing.

CLAIMING THE FUTURE

Luke 3:15-17— Christian Standard Bible

Now the people were waiting expectantly, and all of them were questioning in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I am is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing shovel is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with fire that never goes out.” When all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized. As he was praying, heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in a physical appearance like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.”

waters of baptism

Luke 3:15-17
Claiming the Future

One step at a time
into a stream,
a lake, a tank,
feeling the wet of the water
as it soaks your clothing
drenches your skin,
lapping first at your ankles
and calves and hips and waist
— chest —
(sometimes not as an adult
and not remembered,
sometimes poured,
sometimes sprinkled),
but when remembered,
that fluttering
in your breast
as you realized the importance,
then flooding
your soul
with sacred wonder.
Baptism:
A Sacrament.
A choice.
A statement of hope.
A claim on membership.
A claim on God.
A claim by God.
A promise.
A last resort.
But a claim on your future
by you,
by God,
by the Church.
Water is just water
that we use,
until we remember
how holy and sacred it is,
and we walk in it
to be baptized.
And,
in the eyes of those around him,
Jesus walked into
the waters of the Jorden
just another young man
among others,
but he stepped out of those waters,
as do we,
called,
claimed,
affirmed as much, much more.
And what is it
you believe about your baptism?
And what is it
that you claim,
what changes have
those waters
of Baptism made in you?
Do they strengthen and nourish you?
Do they quench your thirst?
Do they affirm your life?
And what future
did your baptism claim for you?

Advent & Christmas Reflections

Advent Candles #1

ADVENT 1 — DO NOT BE AFRAID

It is what the angel said, you know?
“Do not be afraid…”
I Wonder if this angel knows what it is to fear,
knows what it means to try to not be afraid
when the fear is sufficating you?
I wonder? Depending on your version,
in some form or another
the phrase, “Do not be aftaid,”
appears over 360 times in scripture.
That’s a lot of distress.
It is almost as if the future
of the whole world depended on the answer.
and so it does.
God keeps scaring us and
angels keep telling us
to not be scared.
From God’s perspective,
God needs us for God’s work
because we are the only ones who can do it.
On the human’s (our) side,
that work is always life-altering, scary, hard,
and, as finite beings, really beyond our
skill-set and pay grade.
Still God keeps asking, we keep being afraid.
and God keeps sending angels
to tell us not to have anxiety attacks,
and, still, we keep saying, “Yes.”
But without us saying, “Yes,” there would be
no BIG stories, no myths, no great sagas,
no heros, no successes-writ-large, and
by extension, no hope, no salvation,
no joy, and certainly no Jesus
The Advent stories, the Christmas stories:
these are our stories.
These stories are about who we are, not so much about God.
I like that, but it does put some weight on my answer
when I am the one called.
A “Yes” or a “No” does indeed mean
the future of the whole world.

# # #

ADVENT 2 — PRAYING WITH MARY

Praying with Mary is a strange concept for many
Free Church Protestants. We say things like,
it sounds really Catholic,
we pray on our own, we don’t pray like that,
and I wonder, Why not?
The answer probably lies
somewhere between
“I have no clue what you’re talking about,”
and
“Asking a dead person to pray with me
seems really yucky, so why should I?”
Well, we, as Christians,
do believe that we are not alone in the cosmos,
and that there is life after death,
and many of us have had experiences
of Presence in one way or another
that many times we pretend we haven’t had,
but nonetheless know full well ocurred.
My point here is that
there is something that makes us bigger
when we pray with others.
So praying with Mary as she
prays a prayer that engages the Power of God
within the human condition,
the God which has raised up
and delivered and made whole
the least of the least,
is a powerful and life-changing way to pray.
So I ask can we pray with Mary,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”?
Can our souls do that? Can our spirits rejoice?
And then can we recognize
God’s power to change the conditions within the world?
This was Mary’s prayer of acceptance
to a world that would be forever changed by her Yes.
I think that it took an innordinate amount of courage for
her to pray that prayer. Can we find that courage
as well and pray with her, and how will our world be changed if we do?

# # #

ADVENT 3 — IMMIGRANTS AND SOJOURNERS

Long drives.
Destinations we know of,
but have never seen,
and to which we journey
with trepidation.
Feeling like strangers in places
where we should be welcomed
and embraced.
Stories of hope
morphing into dread.
Always leaving the known
for the unknown.
Pilgrims, caravans of the helpless,
praying for a welcoming that does
not happen but is turned
into hate and affliction.
Pregnant and turned away in a border town.
Pregnant and turned away in a Capital city.
Living lives at the whims of uncaring politicians
and hearts hardened to their plight.
Defying death by living in spite of threats,
aggression, Roman soldiers, border guards,
inhuman laws, shut doors, and hatred.
Settling into the filth and wreckage of living conditions
designed to stultify, beat down, smother the dream out of even
the greatest dreamer the world has ever known.
But stultifiers and dream-crushers lose in the end,
because the dream will not be silenced.
Whether asylem-seekers from Central and South America,
Africa, or the Middle-east,
be they Greek, Roman, Jew, Christian, or Galilean,
their salvation is at hand,
and they will be delivered—set free.
God has made promisses God’s people are commissioned to keep.
Set the captives free, lead the those in need to their salvation,
open the doors of a stable so the weary
sojourner can find rest, and
make a way for Jesus to find a safe haven.

# # #

ADVENT 4 — MESSENGERS

Who is that who comes to me?
What is this fearsome creature
who pauses before me?
What is it that this otherly being
is trying to tell me?
It/He/She, the apparation is gone now.
But I wonder what is it I have missed? What?
God sent angels, messengers,
joined by huge angelic choirs
to announce the coming of Jesus.
I have been on a tear this past week —
getting things ready for Christmas,
buying stuff, fixing stuff, getting stuff — stuff, stuff, stuff…
It comes to me that while I might think
I am ready for Christmas,
am I really? Is my heart ready? Is my soul ready?
Are my relationships road-worthy
for a four-week trip by donkey to Bethlehem?
And then, after all is said and done on Christmas morning,
have all my Advent preparations been worthless or worthy?
Have I seen and paid attention to the angels
standing by my busy path, and who call out to me:
“Here, right here is Jesus! This one, that one, those over there,
they will lead you to Bethlehem, if you will but let them.
They have an open room for you
if you will only have an open room your heart…”
And I pray this morning that I will meet and greet
the angels who come to show
me the way to Bethlehem
with grace and love.

# # #

CHRISTMAS EVE — LOVE

The child is birthed
and is held
and lives
and dies
and is raised
and is carried
and is re-birthed
as long as our hearts
are willing
to carry out
the cycle of
Hope
and Peace
and Joy
and Love
and Passion
and Glory.
And you know this already:
it is all God asks,
or expects,
you to do.
It is a nativity
of love
a claim upon
our hearts
and an eternal
statement that
love will always win.

“CHRISTMAS PRAISES”

Luke 1:13, 31; Luke 2:10
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard.” “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” “Do not be afraid shepherds; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy for all the people.”

FEAR -- DN #32

When We are Afraid

Do Not Be Afraid
It is what the angel said, you know?
“Do not be afraid…”
I Wonder if this angel
knows what it is to fear,
knows what it means
to try to not be afraid
when the fear
is sufficating you?
I wonder?
Depending on your version,
in some form or another
the phrase,
“Do not be aftaid,”
appears over 360 times in scripture.
That’s a lot of distress
to be assuaged.
It is almost as if the future
of the whole world
depended on an answer
by the one being reassured,
and so it does.
God keeps scaring us
with sacred presence
and hard questions,
and
angels keep telling us
to not be frightened.
From God’s perspective,
God needs us for God’s work
because we are
the only ones
who can do it.
On the human’s (our) side,
that work is always
life-altering,
scary,
hard,
and, as finite beings,
really beyond our
skill-set and pay grade.
Still God keeps asking,
we keep being afraid.
and God keeps sending
angels to tell
us not to have anxiety attacks,
and, still,
we keep saying,
“Yes.”
But without
us saying, “Yes,”
there would be
no BIG stories,
no myths,
no great sagas,
no heros,
no successes-writ-large,
and
by extension,
no hope,
no salvation,
no joy,
and certainly no Jesus
The Advent stories,
the Christmas stories:
these are our stories.
These stories
are about who we are,
not so much about God.
I like that,
but it does put some weight
on my answer
when I am the one asked to help.
There are times when a
“Yes” or a “No”
does indeed mean
the future of
the whole world.