Archive | December, 2012

Epiphany – Yr C (1/6/2013)

29 Dec

Isaiah 60:1-6

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

 

Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14

“Give the King your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the King’s son”

Opening Questions

  1. When you think of the word light, what emotions come to mind?
  2. Do you have the power to create and share light?  Does that include a power to reduce it?
  3. What does it produce in the people who are illuminated by it?

Appointed Passages[1]

Isaiah 60:1 – 6

1Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

4 Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from far away,

and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,*
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

  • What does the idea of “your light” (v.3) mean?
  • Who is the “you” described in this passage?
  • How is the light of the Lord related to the light of your personal life?

Ephesians 3:1-12

3This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—2for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you,3and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words,4a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.5In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:6that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power.8Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,9and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;10so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.11This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,12in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

  • How would you define grace?  Is it related to faith?  If so, how?  Can either be measured?
  • Is it something that can be passed from one person to another, or only infused by divine action?
  • What is the meaning of the phrase that we are all “members of the same body” (v.6)?
  • What responsibilities come to you as a member of the same body for other members?
  • How does faith impact your relationships with other people?

Matthew 2:1-12

1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

  • What impact does faith (in the power of Christ) have on your personal “light”?
  • Is there value in comparing your personal faith to that of others; and how would you do so?
  • Why is it important to pay homage; and what impact does doing so have on our faith?

Comment

The season of Christmas transitions from one of welcoming the savior to one of what do we do with his ideas – certainly a more challenging task.  I read a great sermon for today (and recommend you take a peek by clicking on the link attached) from the Rev. Ken Kesselus entitled “Us and Them”.  One of the timeless observations it makes is that human beings have a tribal nature.  We instinctively form our groups based on ideology and, at least attempt, to impose our beliefs on others.

In a sense, that is a good thing.  However, the risk is that we overreach in the grey zone by imposing our ideology on others.  Specifically, instead of helping them grasp the value of our perspective, we undermine their identity by “surgical replacement” rather than a more healthy ”mental digestion”.  This “surgical replacement” or perhaps brainwashing has historically not worked and perhaps is the source of major conflict and even war.  It seems to describe the political process these days as well.

There is value in diversity of opinion.  Growth emerges from trying ideas that ultimately don’t work.  The process by which we remain open to ideas from others and give them an honest chance to work themselves through our mental machinery is fundamental to our ability to grow as human beings[2].

My prayer for today is that we spend more time thinking about our we share our faith (and light) more collaboratively by looking for the inherent light in others as a way to build more effective community.

Quotes for Today:

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson

 

Faith is not belief. Belief is passive. Faith is active.

Edith Hamilton


Grace must find expression in life, otherwise it is not grace.

Karl Barth


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

[2] I am just starting a book by Bruce Hood entitled The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity that is an interesting read.

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1st Sunday After Christmas – Yr C (12/30/12)

20 Dec

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

John 1:1-18

 

Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

Great is our LORD and mighty in power;
there is no limit to his wisdom
.

Opening Question

  • Are you living a meaningful life?
  • Would others who are most important to you agree?

Appointed Passages[1]

Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3

10  I   will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11 For as the earth brings forth   its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause   righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

1   For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.

2   The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.

3   You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand   of your God.

  • How do you become “clothed with the garments of salvation” (v. 10)?  Is it the result of an externally imposed force, or an internal personal decision, or perhaps both?
  • What are the implications of having a “new name” (v.2) and why would you want to have one?

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

  • How do personal limits that are set by law differ from personal limits that are set by our faith?
  • What do you think is the key distinction in this passage between being a slave and a child/heir?

John 1:1-18

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

  • How is light a good visual image to describe life?  If light describes life, what do shadows represent?  Can (should) we avoid them?
  • Does faith bring power?  If so, how would you describe what the power acquired by faith enables you to do?
  • If the Word becomes flesh through us, as believers, what does it empower us to do?

Comment

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  These sentences in the opening paragraph of today’s Gospel trigger a visceral sense of the eternal triumph of faith and hope over doubt and despair.

At the core of our celebration of Christmas is the refreshing belief in the availability of a new era.  A path that brings the exhilaration of empowerment by personal choice.  We are no longer slaves to a life of service without options, but enlightened to the benefits of embracing our spiritual freedom.

It is indeed refreshing to think about the life and works of Jesus.  He lived a demonstrative human relationship with God that provides examples (and lessons) to guide our choices in life.  As you would expect however, with authority comes responsibility.

Faith does bring great power.  As we pursue the riches of our faith, we embrace our relationship with God by acknowledging we have a significant responsibility to maintain it.  This responsibility is realized by living the decisions we make daily – particularly those that shape our relationships with other people and our community.  Our character is revealed in assessing our relationships with others and our various communities.

Are you a contributor or a freeloader?  Do you support God’s guidance for people of the light, or wait in the shadows for the tap on the shoulder to get moving?

My prayer for all of us is that we join with Jesus by allowing the word to become flesh through our actions.  Our relationship with God is enhanced when we live a life of alignment that includes His presence.
 

Quote for Today:

 

George Gray[2]

I have studied many times

The marble which was chiseled for me –

A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.

In truth it pictures not my destination

But my life.

For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;

Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;

Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.

Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.

And now I know that we must lift the sail

And catch the winds of destiny

Wherever they drive the boat.

To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,

But life without meaning is the torture

Of restlessness and vague desire—

It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

[2] From “Spoon River Anthology”, Edgar Lee Masters

Advent 4 Yr C (12/23/12)

11 Dec

Micah 5:2-5a

Hebrews 10:5-10

Luke 1:39-45(46-56)

 

Canticle 3 or 15, or Psalm 80:1-7

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on generations will call me blessed.”  (The Magnificat – from Luke)

 

Opening Questions

  • How can we enhance empathy (which seems to have catalytical power to build relationships)?
  • Where (and from whom) do you find hope in our world today?
  • How can children be catalysts for change in their parents?

 

Appointed Passages[1]

Micah 5: 2-5a

2But you, O Bethlehem of Eph’rathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; 5and he shall be the one of peace.

  • In what ways does the description of “ruler” apply to Jesus (v. 2)?
  • What characteristics qualify someone to bear the title “the one of peace” (v.5)?

Hebrews 10: 5-10

5Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; 6in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” 8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

  • What changes does the phrase “a body you have prepared for me” (v.5) require?
  • If “the Law” (v.8) is  to be replaced by a new era of something, how would you describe it? (i.e., “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired….in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure”)

Luke 1: 39-45 (46-56)

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechari’ah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

  • In what way do the special feelings from a mother towards her children convey a spiritual quality?
  • How does the concept of a virgin birth impact your perspective of the humanity of Jesus?
  • What, if any, actions did Mary’s role require beyond routine motherhood?

Comment

I am always in awe of the Magnificat, beginning with the phrase “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  It is an extremely compact way of capturing not only the sense of spiritual connection with God, but also the genuine hope that mothers feel in their role of creating and nurturing a new life.

There is a timeless sense of humble spirituality that accompanies the idea of a child on the way.  Mothers have a remarkable opportunity to live the value of giving of themselves to some one and some thing in an unabashed and unselfish way.  Humanity evolves, can be enhanced, and looks forward to creation of new people with new capacities for life.  Motherhood defines hope and a positive vision of the future.

Of course that positive vision of hope is tempered with the reality of raising a child – beginning with changing diapers, comforting a crying baby, teaching children values, and the grind of helping shape children’s perspectives as they grow.  This is the reality of the task of building character (intended for the child, but simply having children is a character building experience for parents).

Exemplary parenthood is difficult, but seems to depend on the ability to embrace a belief of positive joy and expectations for good.  This positive emotional energy would seem to reflect the sense of Mary in saying her “soul magnifies the Lord” .   I think it is the positive spiritual energy of hope emerging from our faith that transforms and enhances all of us when we embrace it in our hearts.  It can be a catalyst for the fundamental good in our actions.

There is another trait that I think, when combined with hope. makes for a dynamite combination.  It is what “good” mothers in particular (but all of us should develop) in order to improve how we relate with others.  The trait is empathy (the capacity to recognize and perhaps actually feel the emotions being experienced by someone else).  While Jesus (obviously) had spiritual connections beyond ordinary humans, we might describe him as having an unusual capacity for empathy.  It provided him the ability to reach into the core (soul?) of others and construct his actions with them appropriately – usually intended to help them.

This Christmas season, we can (and should) reclaim the fundamental value of giving to others.  That value is not determined by the gift itself, but it’s origin in coming from our heart.  The quote below by Oren Arnold is an excellent shorthand way of crystallizing the idea.  I pray for this Christmas season that all of our souls magnify the Lord, by considering the transformative power of hope and empathy both in our lives and those around us.

 

Quotes for Today:

Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.

Elizabeth Stone

When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments; tenderness for what he is, and respect for what he may become.

Louis Pasteur

Christmas gift suggestions:

To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.

Oren Arnold


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

Advent 3 Yr C (12/16/12)

11 Dec

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-18

 

Canticle 9

Surely, it is God who saves me;
I will trust in him and not be afraid
.              

 

Opening Questions

  • Does being a Christian require you to be accountable?  To whom, how often, and for what?
  • What are your aspirations for life….and are you living them?

 

Appointed Passages[1]

Zephaniah 3:14-20

14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!

15The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.

16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.

17The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you* in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing

18 as on a day of festival.*
I will remove disaster from you,*
so that you will not bear reproach for it.

19I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

20At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.

  • How does God’s love renew people (v. 17)?
  • What does the phrase “I will bring you home” mean to you (v. 20)?

Philippians 4:4-7

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

  • When and how can “exposing your gentleness” to others sometimes be a bad thing (v. 5)?
  • When we make our requests be known to God (v. 6), what should we expect?
  • How would you describe the “peace of God” (v.7) and how does it guard your heart and mind?

Luke 3: 7-18

7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

10And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ 11In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ 12Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ 13He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ 14Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

  • Verses 7 to 9 (the first paragraph above) imply that the decendants of Abraham may be baptized, but had no intention of leading a different life.  What catalyst can trigger your use of religion to lead a better life?
  • One of the definitions of baptize includes the concept of purging a bad experience or ordeal.  Is the feeling of remorse for a bad experience a catalyst that can generate personal change?  Are there others?

 

Comment

Evolution in human beings occurs.  We change and adapt to circumstances and events.  Religion can (and I daresay should) be the source of a process by which we measure our personal evolution against a set of values or ideals that define whether we are improving or becoming extinct.  Ideals thus provide critical benchmarks – even if we cannot fully achieve them in our lifetimes.  Assessing the state of our souls might then be considered not only in terms of what we achieve, but by our aspirations.[2]

The truth of living life involves the bad experiences that bring the potential of a teachable moment which, if used astutely, can grow our character.  Such experiences typically come with pain and some suffering.  People seek to live privileged lives in order to acquire “cushions” to avoid the pain and suffering of life events.  On the one hand, seeking to avoid pain is an appropriate objective for all of us, but the downside is that too many cushions may keep us from developing into people who are the richness of experience that polishes and seasons the woodwork of our character in order to develop into who we were intended to be.

In a sense, salvation is not something we should wait to experience until after our death, but a process to embrace daily as a tool to live better lives; to give voice to those aspirations by which we may ultimately be judged.

In this season of Advent, we look to the future with hope.  We anticipate someone coming to be among us who can show us the essence of God in human form.  You can find such a person like this to be near…..are you open to looking?

 

Quotes for Today:

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow them.

Louisa May Alcott

Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be.

Don Quixote

All the great spiritual leaders in history were people of hope. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, Jesus, Rumi, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day all lived with a promise in their hearts that guided them toward the future without the need to know exactly what it would look like. Let’s live with hope.

Henri J. M. Nouwen


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

[2] Some phrasing and concepts are drawn from The Unbounded Mind, by Ian Mitroff and Harold Linstone

Advent 2 – Yr C (12/9/12)

8 Dec

Baruch 5:1-9 or Malachi 3:1-4

Philippians 1:3-11

Luke 3:1-6

 

Canticle 4 or 16

To give light to them that sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

 

Opening Questions

  • What gets in the way of allowing the light in your heart to shine for others?

Appointed Passages

Baruch 5: 1-9

1Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God.
2Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
3for God will show your splendour everywhere under heaven.
4For God will give you evermore the name,
‘Righteous Peace, Godly Glory’.

5Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look towards the east,
and see your children gathered from west and east
at the word of the Holy One,

   rejoicing that God has remembered them.

6For they went out from you on foot,
led away by their enemies;
but God will bring them back to you,
carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
7For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
8The woods and every fragrant tree
have shaded Israel at God’s command.
9For God will lead Israel with joy,
in the light of his glory,
with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

  • Assuming God has the power to change your sorrows and afflictions to beauty, who decides when and how?
  • What is a robe of righteousness (v. 2) and how do you put it on?
  • What is a “Righteous Peace” (v.4)?  Do we have it today?  If not, how do we get it?

Philippians 1: 3-11

3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

  • Can righteousness exist in an individual without a community supporting it?
  • How would you characterize a relationship defined by “holding someone in your heart” (v. 7)?
  • What actions on our part are necessary to produce a “harvest of righteousness” (v.11)?

Luke 3: 1-6

1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

  • How does repentance relate to baptism (v. 3)?
  • If repentence is a step in the process of self-forgiveness, what additionally is required?
  • Does forgiving others require evidence of their repentance?
  • Is salvation an event or a process?  (i.e., are we granted it once and for all; or do we continue to earn it gradually by periodically making mistakes, repenting and seeking forgiveness?)

Comment

In the season of Advent, we think of new beginnings as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior.  It is both realistic and necessary to acknowledge our humanity and the mistakes we make that shape our view of ourselves.  But an important part of the message John proclaims are the huge benefits that emerge by taking a new direction.

Think about the fresh start available to each of us in simply living the truth of our faith.  The mental boundaries that we impose on ourselves based on life experiences are brought down.  We have a new freedom to enhance the quality of our relationships by infusing a new freshness emerging from the renewed spiritual presence in our hearts.

The phrasing from the gospel of John (chapter 1: 3-5) comes to mind, “What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  Each of us can enable that same light to beam from our hearts as a beacon to those around us.

So what’s stopping you?  What gets in the way of a simple decision to embrace light?  Our humanity and all the distractions that come with it.  In some sense, we become so preoccupied with our day to day existence that we somehow become blinded to the light available even within ourselves.

My prayer for all of us this season is that we take some time to step away from the frenetic pace of the holidays to contemplate what’s important – our family, friends, community, and most importantly our relationships with all of them.  That we embrace the truth of the Holy presence in our hearts with renewed energy, and that we allow the light of that presence to shine more fully to all those around us.

 

Quotes for Today:

We say we exchange words when we meet. What we exchange is souls.

Minot J. Savage

 

The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness, and in human responsibility.

Vaclav Havel

 

The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.

G. K. Chesterton

 

Advent 1 – Yr C (12/2/12)

8 Dec

Jeremiah 33:14-16

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Luke 21:25-36

 

Psalm 25:1-9;

All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Opening Questions

  1. How might fear (of something) be a valuable catalyst in the development of your personal belief system?
  2. Natural disasters (earthquakes, Hurricane Sandy, sunamis, etc.) evoke apocalyptic thoughts.  How might those sort of events shape the way you think about moral issues?
  3. Is love more important to personal change than fear – or are both necessary?

Appointed Passages

Jeremiah 33: 14-16

14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

{Righteous – “acting in accord with divine or moral law.”}

  • Do you know someone (living or historically) that you woul describe as righteous?  What characteristics drive that conclusion?
  • Does righteousness arise only internally, or can it be imposed on others?

1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13

9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

  • By what standard do you measure your own faith?  Is faith a constant or does it need periodic restoration?
  • How do you play a role in restoring faith in others?
  • What specifically can we do to invite the action to “strengthen your hearts in holiness” (v. 13)?
  • What would an earthly leader have to provide to you for your heart to be strengthened?

Luke 21: 25-36

25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

  • How does faith provide strength in the face of natural disasters?
  • What is redemption (v.28)?  Do you need it?  How much and how often?
  • How can you bring the kingdom of God nearer to you in order to receive redemption?
  • Can too much worry be sinful?  When and how much?

 

Comment

I remember being surprised to learn in a discussion with one of my former priests that the beginning of Advent was a time that confession was encouraged.  It seemed odd to me that in a season marked by celebrations of joy in anticipation of the birth of Christ, we should take time to contemplate the worthiness of our faith and perhaps examine our moral framework for weak spots.  But when I thought about it, the concept of entering into a new era always provides an opportunity for a moment of reflection about who we are and what our roles should be.

The old testament lesson today reminds us the timelessness of a people who have become somewhat lax and worldly – forgetting the need to maintain touch with “righteous” actions.  As well, today’s Gospel passage from Luke also alerts us to the need to unburden our hearts from the worries of this life.  Sound familiar?  Need a reminder?  I daresay that most of us do – we’re only human.

I can certainly say that I need a refresher on redemption – periodically.  One of the definitions of the word is to “free from captivity by payment of ransom”.  In a sense, when we acknowledge our human mistakes, forgive ourselves and seek forgiveness and reconciliation from others whom we may have hurt, we are conceptually paying a ransom to free ourselves from the clutches of the past and become open to new possibilities and attitudes.  We have a fresh start, an empty bowl, a new beginning.  One that invites the presence of God and divine love to shape our human perspective – how refreshing!

My prayer for all of us today is that we look to the season of Advent as an opportunity for a new beginning.  The birth of a newborn child who will change the world.  The opportunity to shed the mental burdens of our human mistakes and move forward with a renewed but seasoned sense of values and appreciation for the change that is possible when triggered from within.


Quotes for Today:

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
Therefore, we are saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.
Therefore, we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite a virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own;
Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

Reinhold Niebuhr

 

Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive — the risk to be alive and express what we really are.

Don Miguel Ruiz

 

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.

Anais Nin