Monday, September 3, 2018

Long Time, No Sea

After a very long hiatus, the blog is back. First I managed to lock myself out. Then I got distracted by the hundred other urgent know how that goes.
And November 2016 dropped a curtain of hopelessness and depression, especially about the environment.
That's the Long Time.
The No Sea...just check out the news.
4Ocean has both shocked me and given me energy to carry on.
You, too, I hope.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

First Sunday in Lent, February 14, 2016

Collect for the Day

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Reflections: This prayer poses a strong contrast to the prosperity gospel, which promises worldly status, goods, and comfort! The gospel as we understand it means not only being baptized into Christ, but following him into the desert. How else can we face the sin that vies for our loyalties?
          Lent gives us a whole season to take stock, become aware of the temptations that plague us and to admit our weaknesses. But more, it is a season to take comfort and strength in the knowledge that we are supported through this painful process by a community that understands rather than one that blames, and a God who woos and loves and forgives.

First Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”
When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.”
You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. 

Reflections: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.” This sacred story, recited each year at the Passover Seder, reminds the Jewish people who they are. It affirms the continuity of their past into their present, and their present into their future. It stands against division and isolation that threaten to destroy the best in humanity.
The wandering Aramean is the ancestor of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. We all look to Abraham, and we all honor Jesus—though his significance differs in each tradition.
For us, the story includes the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. The story reminds us of who we are, as well, and affirms our continuity with the past and the future. Through Christ we are members of the Abrahamic family, cousins of both Jews and Muslims. 

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 Qui habitat

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, * abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
He shall say to the Lord, "You are my refuge and my stronghold, * my God in whom I put my trust."
Because you have made the Lord your refuge, * and the Most High your habitation,
There shall no evil happen to you, * neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over you, * to keep you in all your ways.
They shall bear you in their hands, * lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and adder; * you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.
Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him; * I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; * I am with him in trouble; I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

With long life will I satisfy him,* and show him my salvation.  

Reflections: Yes, Christianity is diverse enough that there are brothers and sisters in the faith who handle snakes in church. But I suspect you are no more moved than I am to “test God” by treading on serpents.
          As I read it, the psalmist’s assurance that God will rescue us and be with us in trouble does not mean an end to trouble. After all, Jesus was crucified. . . But remarkably, he did not seize on God’s protection by jumping from the temple—even though Satan tempted him with sacred scripture itself.
          There is always trouble (whether we believe in Christ or not)—from mere nuisances to the bona fide perils of illness, want, violence, and death. We want liberation from all of it. But God’s companionship and deliverance serves the Divine Purpose—not our own. 

Epistle: Romans 10:8b-13 

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 
Reflections: St. Paul cites Deuteronomy 30:14, one of my favorite passages from the Hebrew Bible. The context is Moses’ address to the people at Moab, to renew their covenant with God:
Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?”  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.
God has written it in the heart of each of us, however substantial the divisions between us or the misfortunes that beset us.  

Gospel: Luke 4:1-13 

After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Reflections: Until today, I have remembered the temptations of Jesus as occurring over his 40-day sojourn in the desert. But I’ve been wrong. The story takes place at the end of his long period privation in the wilderness.
          We cannot know what temptations plagued him over those 40 days. But we do know that he has successfully navigated them. Curiously, the devil enters the story as Jesus’ fast ends. He can eat freely—so the nature of the temptation isn’t to eat, but to use his power for his own comfort and advantage.
          We can also imagine that Jesus is also at his weakest psychologically. He has triumphed over extended trial. Who wouldn’t be proud of that? Who would begrudge him just the slightest sense entitlement?
          And what about spiritual vulnerability? Jesus exercised impressive spiritual strength over his 40 days. The theophany at his baptism revealed his special relationship with the Father. Moreover, it was the Spirit of God herself that drove him into the wilderness experience that ended in triumph. Surely, a miraculous demonstration of Jesus’ specialness could only make his mission easier.
          Yes, the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, but perhaps the 40 days were not the important part (Luke skips over them completely). Maybe the aftermath mattered most. Jesus’ experience in the desert may have been the preparation for the real temptations, not the temptations he was prepared for, but the ones that came when he had let his guard down: the temptation to be concerned with his own will, instead of the will of the Father. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians helps us out. Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be exploited.”
          Temptations come to us in much the same way: when we are not looking, when we would be justified to cut ourselves some slack. In short, those moments when we have forgotten the need for God to be “mighty to save.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

4th Sunday after Epiphany, January 31, 2016

Collect for the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.                                                               

Reflections:  We are creatures of time, but for God, as the psalmist says, “One day is as a thousand years.” Things will work out in God’s time, we are told. Sure, we take it on faith, but that doesn’t make today seem less turbulent, exhausting, or frightening. We long to live in a peaceful time, but history tells us such peace is a rare event—and is never permanent.

What is this peace that we ask God to grant us? It isn’t peace on the outside (nice as that would be), but peace within, God’s peace. And God yearns to share that peace as ardently as we desire it. Everyone, everywhere and always, regardless of circumstances.

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

The word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

Reflections: Fear, a sense of inadequacy, laziness . . . excuses. They keep us from acting. But more, they block our knowledge of our true selves--who we really are, and how we are made to blossom. We don’t know ourselves, but God knows us intimately and he challenges us to stretch and grow.

Jeremiah has no idea what is in him, the reserves of courage and commitment that will rise up when he is following the right road, doing what his is born to do, living into who he is meant to be. God calls the prophet to a vocation that gives him pause (and rightly so): to buck the system, to stand up for a truth beside which the status quo is inconsequential.

And God doesn’t let Jeremiah languish behind half-truths and excuses. When the he becomes self-absorbed and self-pitying, God confronts him. “If you speak what is valuable instead of what is useless . . .” God pushes Jeremiah into growing up into a mature man who, even in the face of persecution and real danger, is able to set aside his preoccupations and give himself to the vision of God.

And it is precisely when he speaks out of the divine vision (rather than out of prejudice, outrage, and self-pity) that he is God’s prophet. And then even derision, abandonment, and treachery cannot quench the fire.

What is that fire?


Psalm 71:1-6 In te, Domine, speravi

In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; * let me never be ashamed.
In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; * incline your ear to me and save me.
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; * you are my crag and my stronghold.
Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, * from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
For you are my hope, O Lord God, * my confidence since I was young.
I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength; * my praise shall be always of you. 

Reflections: It is only God who knows us fully. The psalmist confirms that our refuge and the source of our strength is in God, not in ourselves, however strong, respected, prosperous, intelligent, or gifted we may be. (Too often, in fact, it is precisely these things that block us from seeking refuge in God.) 

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Reflections: It was not simply the words of a very brave and clever Jeremiah that mattered, but spirit behind those words that mattered. God’s spirit. Ultimately, the spirit not of spite, judgment, or smug triumphalism, but of love. God’s love isn’t easy—either for the prophet or for those he addresses. But it is the only viable path.

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and began to say, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.­

Reflections: Early in his ministry, Jesus has come to his hometown, to be among the people he knew from childhood. At first they are astonished and rejoice. But soon we see doubt and suspicion. They all knew he was a ‘nobody’ like them. So what right did he have to talk to them that way? He was—everyone knew—just the carpenter’s son. Their change of attitude reminds me of how quickly people morph from ardent fans of the celebrity-of-the-moment to voyeurs morbidly obsessed by that very same person’s shame plastered on magazine covers at the checkout counter. We want to worship; we want to destroy. Why? What is it about? Envy?

I wonder how much of our fickleness has to do with responding to a world that turns out to be different from what we expect. When the categories through which we understand the world just changes, and what had been familiar suddenly looks unfamiliar. That’s disconcerting. Even frightening.

We find ourselves in similarly uncomfortable situations more frequently that we would like to admit. Often we ignore them, putting our head down and plowing forward. Or seeking the comfort of distraction. Or maybe taking refuge in “the rules.” Is there another way?


Monday, January 25, 2016

3rd Sunday After Epiphany, January 24, 2016

Collect for the Day

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Reflections:  Christ calls all people to fullness of life. This sits at the core of our faith; we pray that we may live out this conviction more and more deeply, both as an institutional church and as individual members of the Body of Christ—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity or orientation, or any other differences over which we may be tempted to turn against one another.

First Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

All the people of Israel gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.  
        And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

        And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Reflections: Why did the people weep? The Law of God was read and interpreted. Perhaps they realized their guilt before God, and wept in sorrow and repentance. We Christians tend to think of God’s Law as a burden, as divine demands that are impossible to meet. That’s certainly the impression St. Paul gives us as he struggles to understand the gift of grace in Christ.

        But it’s also possible that the people wept for joy. The Law is difficult, but beautiful. For Israel, the Law of God was not simply demands placed upon them, but a gift freely given them. It was a sign that they were God’s people, and it represented a relationship of mutual faithfulness. One might say that, the Law was Israel’s epiphany, a revelation of their deepest identity: God’s own people.

        Perhaps, when we listen to the beautiful (but difficult) text of the Sermon on the Mount, we also might weep. Our Epiphany is Christ. It is Christ who reveals our deepest being. What cause for celebration!

Psalm 19 Caeli enarrant

The heavens declare the glory of God, * and the firmament shows God’s handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another, * and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language, * and their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands, * and their message to the ends of the world.

In the deep has God set a pavilion for the sun; * it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;

it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again; * 
   nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.

By them also is your servant enlightened, * and in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can tell how often he offends? * cleanse me from my secret faults.

Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, * 
   O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Reflections: As preoccupied as we humans are with ourselves, here is a corrective. The whole of creation knows and witnesses to God. And this isn’t the only psalm with that message.

        Yet my favorite part of this psalm is the end. “Who can tell how often he offends? Cleanse me from my secret faults.” From whom are our faults secret? Certainly not to God. Surely it is we who do not want to see, we who dare not see, except in the sure knowledge of God’s enduring love revealed in Christ, of forgiveness and redemption.

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

        Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

        On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

        Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.

Reflections: In this reading, St. Paul continues to explain about spiritual gifts. The members of the Corinthian community quite naturally want to identify their spiritual gifts. I can imagine the pressure to speak in tongues as a demonstration of their faith, to assure that they belong. To demonstrate their superior holiness, perhaps. At some time or other we’ve all felt the need to prove that we were good enough, that we belonged, even that we were “better.”

        But Paul is trying to teach the Corinthians that the life of the Spirit doesn’t work that way. In fact, striving for signs of our belonging or preeminence completely missed the point of spiritual gifts. The life of the Spirit, he argues, isn’t about my spiritual gifts, but about self-less service to the community. In other words, love.

        The practical implications of this ecological insight are hard to miss. The body is not just a collection of individually existing parts, but each member is intimately united with the “other” members in a whole that exceeds each part. Today we are learning to understand phenomena (ranging from as small as the human family to as large as whole societies) as systems. What formerly we considered independent parts—family members, neighborhoods, jobs, wages, education, health care, and so on—we are discovering to be deeply related. Tug on one thread, and the whole fabric quivers.

Gospel: Luke 4:14-21

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

­Reflections: This passage must have been read in the synagogue countless time, but when Jesus reads from the scroll this time, it’s different. In his mouth, the text became a proclamation. It wasn’t read; it was announced by God in the World, Emmanuel.

We read this passage as a fulfillment of Isaiah; the Messiah has come and announces liberation, healing, the Jubilee Year during which all debts were cancelled and all slaves freed. Nevertheless, even in Jesus’ time slavery continued, poverty, sickness, suffering, debt, violence and untold manner of degradation persisted—and persist to this day. What do we do with that?

What this passages suggests to me today is that wherever Christ is, freedom is. Wherever we encounter Christ, we experience compassion, healing, forgiveness, compassion, love. This is what Jesus brought to Nazareth; this is what Christ brings to and for us; this is what we ourselves bring into the world whenever we share the mind and heart of Christ.