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4th Sunday in Lent – Yr C (3/10/2013)

9 Mar

Joshua 5:9-12

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

 

 

Psalm 32

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

 

Opening Questions

  1. Why is forgiveness such an important element of our Christian Faith?
  2. If being able to forgive is a good thing, how do we get better at it?

Appointed Passages[1]

Joshua 5:9-12

9The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’ And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

10 While the Israelites were encamped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

{From the Montreal Commentary:  Perhaps “disgrace of Egypt” refers to the abject social status the Israelites had there: they were slaves. Perhaps God is saying: my rescue of you is complete.}

  • Have you ever made an error so significant or had someone deal with you so unfairly that the event might be called a “disgrace”?  If so, what did you do to move forward from it – and how did it reshape your self image?
  • What should God’s role be to help you deal with such issues?

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

{The definition of reconcile includes – to restore to friendship or harmony, to make consistent or congruous, to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant}

  • How does faith impact a person’s ability to grow character?  Does it inspire creative thought….unburden our guilt…or act as a catalyst for change….or perhaps all of these things?
  • How are forgiveness and reconciliation related?  If they are part of the same process, should they be pursued sequentially, or simultaneously?

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

15 Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

3 So he told them this parable:

11 Then Jesus* said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

25‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 31Then the father* said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’

  • We can all certainly empathize with the elder son.  What was he missing?
  • How do we know when someone is truly contrite – and thus deserving of our forgiveness?
  • What is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?  Can one be achieved without the other?

Comment

In 1995, I led a series of weekly Lenten study group sessions that focused on forgiveness and reconciliation.  They were life changing for me.  I read extensively on the subject of forgiveness by people who had both extensive experience and deep dive research on point.  I came away convinced that this particular aspect of our Christian faith is perhaps the most fundamental and meaningful element of our religion.  The following are a summary of the key points from those sessions.

{Note:  several good references for forgiveness used in the development of the study series were – Reconciliation of a Penitant, One of the Pastoral Offices of The Book of Common Prayer, The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Doubleday, 1992, Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson, by Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., Warner Books, 1990, Forgiveness, by Dr. Sidney B. Simon and Suzanne Simon, Warner Books, 1990, Forgive & Forget: Healing the hurts we don’t deserve, by Lewis B. Smedes, HarperOne, 1996}

Forgiveness is –

  • A by product of an ongoing (internal) healing process
  • A sign of positive self esteem
  • Recognizing that we no longer need our grudges and resentments, our hatred and self pity
  • No longer wanting to punish the people who hurt us
  • Accepting that nothing we do to punish them will heal us
  • Freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds
  • Moving on…..

Forgiveness is Not

  • Forgetting

“Believe in forgiveness only if justice is maintained and guilt is confirmed.”  Quote by Paul Tillich

  • Condoning
  • Absolution
  • A form of self-sacrifice
  • A clear-cut one-time decision

Forgiveness vs Reconciliation

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing…

Forgiveness is unilateral

It is something we can do all by ourselves, something we make happen by our own decision

Reconciliation requires participation by another person

We cannot individually “make it happen” no matter how hard we try

Forgiveness and reconciliation are independent processes.  We can have one without the other

Working through the process of forgiving is essential to our personal well-being and should always be pursued

Reconciliation is immensely valuable and should be pursued whenever possible, but it isn’t always possible

I pray that this Lenten season, we recognize the value of forgiveness and seek God’s active participation in helping us recognize when it is needed and support when we embrace it.

 

Quotes for Today:

Blaming other people for our problems doesn’t solve our problems, even if we’re right.

Dr. David Stoop

 

That which we can excuse, we need not forgive; only that which we cannot excuse is in need of forgiveness.

Dan Hamilton

 

If only there were vile people…committing evil deeds, and it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

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Third Sunday in Lent – Yr C (3/3/2013)

4 Mar

Exodus 3:1-15

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Luke 13:1-9

 

Psalm 63:1-8

for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

 

Opening Questions

  1. If repentance is the means, what is the end?
  2. What are the implications of thinking about repentance as a state of mind rather than an action/decision?

Appointed Passages[1]

Exodus 3:1-15

3Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ 6He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

7 Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ 11But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ 12He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’

13 But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ 14God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ 15God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”:This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.

{According to Wikipedia, the Hebrew words for the phrase “I am who I am” are generally interpreted to mean I am that I am, though more literally translate to “I-shall-be that I-shall-be.”}

  • What do you think Moses’ intent was in asking God about his name?
  • What does the phrase I am who I am (or I am that I am, or I shall be that I shall be) mean to you?

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

10 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.’ 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

  • What is the value of assessing the moral content of how you live your life?
  • Is it good to be confident and comfortable, or should we pursue the periodic tension of temptation (i.e., is it “healthy” to do so)?

Luke 13:1-9

13 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’

6 Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” 8He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” ’

  • If the fig tree represents people, what does the fruit we can produce represent?
  • What is the value of repentance?  How does it shape the character of one who embraces it?
  • What are the catalysts that encourage us to live our lives in alignment with our faith?

Comment

We know that life sometimes brings great joys and sometimes tough times and mind numbing sorrow.  The question of value is what we do with them.  I think one of the key messages in today’s assigned scriptures is that we should be aware of how to continually improve our internal moral compasses to use these experiences as directional landmarks to guide us along the pathway toward righteousness.  It is also important that we feel a sense of urgency or somehow find a catalyst to get us moving.

One of the comments I read about the parable of the barren fig tree suggested that Jesus had been in his active ministry for three years when he told it.  If that is true, one interpretation is that Jesus could have been lamenting that the people he was aiming to inspire weren’t yet getting his message – or at least not acting on it.

I don’t know about you, but I can find a good bit of manure these days…and frankly, a lot of fig trees that could use a dose of it.  The question I suppose is how to “dig round it” in a way that enhances the digestion of the compost to distill the ingredients needed for a healthy tree to produce fruit; both for ourselves and those around us.

We might think of repentance as a method of softening the ground….becoming active in that we invite the messages that come wrapped in the manure of life.  As well, I suspect it would be helpful to spend time grappling with or exploring what fruit we are destined to produce – and, of course, given my background as a CPA, my need to suggest that you identify how to measure your success at producing it.

 

Quotes for Today:

It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.

Epictetus

 

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding about ourselves.

Carl Jung

 

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.

Elie Wiesel


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

Second Sunday in Lent – Yr C (2/24/2013)

4 Mar

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18

Philippians 3:17–4:1

Luke 13:31-35

 

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation;whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold
* of my life;of whom shall I be afraid?

 

Opening Questions

  1. Could you be described as a person who lives their convictions?
  2. Would this description be a blessing, or a curse (or perhaps both)?

Appointed Passages[1]

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Elie’zer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”  4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”  5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

7 Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chalde’ans, to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.  12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,

  • When is it appropriate for us to bargain with God in similar fashion to Abram?
  • Does the Lord’s covenant with Abram apply to you?  If so, what is your obligation to it?  (Review the “Old Covenant” portion of the catechism – http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/catechism.pdf)

Philippians 3:17-4:1

17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

  • How would you describe an “enemy of the cross of Christ” (v. 18)?
  • What actions are required for an enemy of the cross of Christ to become a citizen of heaven?

Luke 13: (22-30) 31-35

22 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

31 At that very hour some Phar’isees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Her’od wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

  • What does the use of the wording narrow door imply about how we grow as Christians?
  • How do we “strive to enter” in order to get a better reply than “I do not know where you come from”?
  • If you were Jesus and attempting to gather people, what would you do to make the narrow door more inviting?

Comment

Today’s passages strike me as lessons in faith and patience.  During this season of lent, I think it is helpful to think about experiences in life that challenge our faith and identify possible actions or impressions they provide with the intent to upgrade our convictions to do the right things.

In a world of uncertainty, it is natural to want heavenly confirmation that we are doing the right things – as Abram did.  Paul laments that people are not imitating him as “believers” should.  We all do some things that result in our gaining “earthly” pleasures with seemingly no adverse implications.  We favor ourselves over others in ways that are subtle, yet important to notice for what they say about who we are.

It might be nice to imagine a divine force that periodically smacks the back of our heads with a physical reminder when we do something wrong.  However, the truth is that we will have to build our own mental equivalent.

True faith calls us to do the right things, not because of others who might be watching, but because they are the right things.  This sort of faith is in fact eternal, and places us squarely in that community of believers who might be described as citizens of heaven.

I daresay we all know the sort of people Abram, Paul, and Jesus are describing.  I think of the way people who knew my late father, Sam, described their experiences with him.  Phrasing included “he was a straight shooter….he said what he meant, and meant what he said…if he didn’t know, he was strong enough to tell me.”  I recall him as a man of strength and humility who developed carefully his convictions – then lived them.  I pray that I have some success in following his lead – and listening to the voices of Abram, Paul, and Jesus who remind us of the value of that course of action when we do.

 

Quotes for Today:

I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

Frederick Douglass

 

The faith of a church or of a nation is an adequate faith only when it inspires and enables people to give of their time and energy to shape the various institutions — social, economic, and political — of the common life.

James Luther Adams

 

When you meet someone better than yourself, turn your thoughts to becoming his equal. When you meet someone not as good as you are, look within and examine your own self.

Confucious


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

First Sunday in Lent – Yr C (2/17/13)

10 Feb

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Romans 10:8b-13

Luke 4:1-13

 

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Those who love me, I will deliver;

I will protect those who know my name

 

Opening Questions

  1. Why might temptation be a good thing?
  2. What is challenged by temptation?

Appointed Passages[1]

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

1 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, 2 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.   3 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.” 4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, 5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Arame’an 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. 6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 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; 9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 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. 11 Then you, together with the Le’vites 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.

  • What concept does “the land” (v.1) convey in modern day terms?
  • What benefit comes from being thankful in acknowledging the hardships endured by our ancestors?
  • What does making a gift of the first fruits of our labor to God say about our relationship with Him?

Romans 10:8b-13

8 But what does it say?

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 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. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 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. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

  • Does a “confession with our lips” ( v.8) need to be open and public, or can it be quiet and private to be valid?
  • How should you measure the degree to which you achieve success at believing in the heart (v.10)?

Luke 4:1-13

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 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. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.'” 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 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. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

9 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, 10 for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

  • What was the devil attempting to accomplish in presenting Jesus with the temptations?
  • What do Jesus responses say about his values?
  • What do we achieve by “reality testing” our values?

 

Comment

Today’s lessons provide some useful instruction into actions we might take to examine and strengthen our character.

Jason Sierra in a sermon from 2010 describes the importance of seeing ourselves clearly for who we are as the essential first step in pursuing who we are intended to be.  He uses the concept of nakedness to describe forced visual reality.

In our current culture of relative plenty, many of us pursue pleasures or distractions that make it easy to avoid self-confrontation.  In fact, I believe we should welcome the opportunity to challenge ourselves more directly because such situations can provide valuable information that can help us grow.  Failure brings acute and sometimes painful self awareness.  Viewed in that light, we should perhaps seek failures.  By experiencing more of them, we enhance our self awareness and perhaps even learn to appreciate the strength of humility.

Strong self awareness also provides the opportunity to develop a set of values which become the moral compass to guide our decisions in life.  Self awareness and development of our system of values combine to forge a strong foundation on which we can build enduring relationships with God and others.

Jesus’ actions show us the point of personal strength.  It is to recognize who we are in relationship to God and others and understand how our decisions (our use of power) can enhance or degrade those relationships.

During this season of lent, may our quiet contemplations foster self examination, strengthened character, and the wisdom to enhance our relationships with God and those whom we wish to bring closer.

Quotes for Today:

It is good to be without vices, but is is not good to be without temptations.

Walter Bagehot

 

Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill

 

To care for anyone else enough to make their problems one’s own, is ever the beginning of one’s real ethical development.

Felix Adler


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

Last Sunday after Epiphany – Yr C (2/10/13)

31 Jan

Exodus 34:29-35

2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2

Luke 9:28-36,(37-43a)

 

Psalm 99

Extol the Lord our God,and worship at his holy mountain;
for the Lord our God is holy.

 

Opening Questions

  1. Think of your personal experience with a dramatic life changing event.
  2. Did it produce some benefit; and would you welcome such an experience again?

Appointed Passages[1]

Exodus 34:29-35

29Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32Afterwards all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

  • How do you think Moses relationship with God changed after he received “the word”?
  • Assuming his relationship with God was closer and improved, how might we pursue growth in our own relationship with God?

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

12Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

4:1Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practise cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

  • How might we engage hope as a catalyst for acts of “boldness” (v.12) in our religious development?
  • Assuming that the “veil that lies over our minds” describes being bound in our own comfort zone, what actions might we take to move us out of that zone in order to enhance spiritual growth?
  • What does it mean to commend yourself to the conscience of those around you (v. 4:2)?

Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

37On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ 41Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ 42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples,{ 44‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ 45But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.}

  • Peter obviously wanted to translate the experience into something meaningful by actions.  If building dwellings to commemorate the event was inappropriate, what would have been better?
  • After the resurrection, the disciples were empowered to heal (apparently in this passage, that power had not been engaged – v.46).  Do you think your religion has the power to heal?

Comment

We read of Jesus and Moses having mountaintop experiences in today’s scriptures.  God becomes present and they become prescient.  They become living pipelines of spirituality from God to humanity.  While their relationships with God were already strong, the mountain top experience infused them with Holiness in a way that both dramatically and physically changed their human existence and set them apart.  They received the word of God and were transformed into exemplary messengers.

Paul reminds us that by we also, by receiving the message of God, have hope which can empower bold acts.  We can therefore also become servants and messengers for God in ways both large and small.  I think of instances when I am leaving work at the end of a long day and encounter someone whose face reflects the anxiety of a grueling workday.  My usual tactic is to suggest “its martini time” as an icebreaker.  It is fascinating to see life return to their faces.  I’m not sure God would support my encouragement of a martini, but suspect he would appreciate the attempt at lifting their spirits.

The transformations that Moses and Jesus experienced helped them become more transparent in terms of their connections with God as fundamental to their sense of values.  We tend to trust those whom we know well enough to understand their motivations.  Such trust empowers those who earn it with an extraordinary strong connection to those who trust them.  This connection also opens unusual access to the “trustors” inner person – and thus the ability to recommend actions or helpful ideas…perhaps in a sense, healing the trustor.

When we open ourselves to receive God’s word, we can and do become transformed into agents of change.

 

Quotes for Today:

To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.

George MacDonald

 

The most successful people are those who are good at plan B.

James Yorke

 

These days people seek knowledge, not wisdom. Knowledge is of the past, wisdom is of the future.

Vernon Cooper


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages

4th Sunday after Epiphany – Yr C (2/3/13)

31 Jan

Jeremiah 1:4-10

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Luke 4:21-30

 

Psalm 71: 1-6

Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me,

for you are my rock and my fortress.

 

Opening Questions

  1. When does love lead you to be confrontational?
  2. If the power of speaking openly (about what you believe) has the capacity to change you (and others), what are the conditions that might limit when and how we use it?

Appointed Passages[1]

Jeremiah 1:4-10

4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, 5 “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.” 6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7 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, 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” 9 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. 10 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.

  • Describe circumstances under which the term prophet might be appropriately applied to you.
  • If you have you experienced an instance in which you may have spoken for God, how did you know?

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And 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. 3If 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.

4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love 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. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When 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. 12For 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. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

{In an earlier years sermon, Frank Logue reminds us that “A quick look at the Greek text of this passage shows that Paul writes using the word agape. Agape is one of the three Greek words for love used in the New Testament. There is eros or “erotic love,” and phileo or “brotherly love.” Finally there is agape, a “self-giving love,” routinely shown to be the love God has for us. It is this agape that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It is this self-giving agape love of God that never fails.”}

  • Why would love as described in this passage “rejoice in the truth” (v.6)?
  • Is love a precondition for faith and/or hope?
  • Is love something that we simply have (or not), or are there stages of love that increase as we get better at it?

Luke 4:21-30

21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 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?” 23 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 Caper’naum.” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Eli’jah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Eli’jah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zar’ephath in Si’don. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Eli’sha, and none of them was cleansed except Na’aman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 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. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

  • Why is it difficult for a prophet to be accepted in their hometown?
  • If familiarity dulls our sense of openness to new ideas, how do we counteract it?
  • It appears that Jesus was at least in this instance somewhat confrontational.  When is confrontation a good thing, and what situations call for us to use it?

Comment

Today’s passages represent an ironic combination of love and confrontation.  These are two concepts which we rarely think of as related, but perhaps we should.  There is an aspect of love, as Paul describes it, that seems not only to rejoice in the truth, but is almost a coexisting element of it.  Love cannot survive delusions, but achieves its most robust power in the clarity of truth.

By truly embracing God’s unconditional love for us, we find encouragement to confront the truth of who we are – and more importantly, who we are not.  That process can lead to stronger self awareness and strength of character – if we are astute enough to pursue it.  We can then be more open to seeing others with similar clarity and less risk to the possible erosion of our self image.

Jesus’ reference to the early prophets addressing the needs of widows and lepers who were “outsiders” to Israel suggests it is good sometimes to move outside of our comfort zone.  Love for others would seem to have a stronger foundation when it is based on the clarity of a deeper understanding and more empathy, particularly when it comes to their human weaknesses and shortcomings.  Sometimes, familiarity and comfort of a protecting community blocks our ability to get there.

Our relationships with others are enhanced when built on a foundation of honesty and truth.  We more easily live the truth of who we are in those relationships.  More importantly, we will help others feel the refreshing warmth of unconditional love – and embrace the truth of who they are – even when it requires a bit of confrontation.

 

Quotes for Today:

I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.

Chinese proverb

 

God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.  Take which you please; but you cannot have both.

Emerson

 

The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.

H.L. Mencken


[1] New Revised Standard Version

3rd Sunday after Epiphany – Year C (1/27/13)

18 Jan

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

1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a

Luke 4:14-21

Psalm 19

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,

Oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Opening Questions

  • Should a “good” Christian be biblically literate?  If so, to what degree and how is it measured?
  • What do your actions say about your faith?

Appointed Passages[1]

Nehemia 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

1all the people 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. 2Accordingly, 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. 3He 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. 5And 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. 6Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’, lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

9And 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. 10Then 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.’

  • What role does biblical literacy (i.e., the “words of the law” in v. 9) play in shaping our faith; and why would it make people weep?
  • What is “the joy of the Lord” (v. 10) and how does it provide strength?

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

12For 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. 13For 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.

14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot were to 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. 16And if the ear were to 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. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The 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.’ 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And 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. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

{Note: J. Ted Blakely, in A Lector’s Guide and Commentary, explains the context of this passage from First Corinthians. He writes, “Paul is speaking to Christians who consider certain spiritual gifts to be greater than others, with the result that those who exercise the so-called greater gifts are afforded greater honor, prestige and privilege than those who exercise the so-called lesser gifts.”  Thus, Paul needed to remind us that all gifts are equally valuable.}

  • What defines your relationship to others when you are “suffering together” (v. 26) when they experience misfortune or “all rejoicing” a benefit received?
  • How do we develop relationships with others to strengthen our sense of spiritual connection?  (i.e., being “one body in Christ” (v. 13)?

Luke 4:14-21

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16When 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, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18‘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,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

20And 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. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

  • In what way does the passage from Isaiah (v. 18 and 19) apply to each of us as members of the body of Christ?
  • Jesus both proclaimed and lived his responsibilities to this passage.  What, as Christians, are our responsibilities to do the same?

Comment

There are a couple of thoughts that emerge to me from today’s passages.  First is the reminder that scriptures are a vital element in not just maintaining, but also growing our faith.  The second is that we find meaning by exercising our gifts with and through others.  Solitude is necessary but not sufficient to the growth of our faith.  We have to share some of ourselves with others to truly become members of the spiritual body of Christ.

Life is a process of discovery of how living it defines who we are (i.e., our character).  The scriptures seed our minds with situations that stimulate questions of self discovery and examples of spiritual responses.  By seeking periodic solitude, we can reflect on what life has handed us; how we did respond versus how we perhaps should respond.  It is a time of digesting mentally the intellectual food of experience and growing our relationship muscles to add to the strength of our connection to God through others.  The process can produce a seasoned sense of values that help guide our future daily life decisions.  We become armed with clearer self awareness and strength of spirit – we have grown in character, mental strength, spiritual resilience, and ultimately our faith.

But that faith is only realized when we live it through interactions with others.  We must exercise our gifts in bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovering sight to the blind, and helping free the oppressed.  In a strange way, we receive more of the Holy Spirit by giving it away to others.

I pray we embrace the hope of the Holy Spirit by exercising our gifts with others in the active service of God.

Quotes for Today:

In general, American social life constitutes an evasion of talking to people.  Most Americans don’t, in any vital sense, get together; they only do things together.

Louis Kronenberger, Company Matters

…a dog we know is better company than a person whose language we do not understand.

Montaigne, “Of liars”, Essays

You cannot change anything in your life with intention alone, which can become a watered-down, occasional hope that you’ll get to tomorrow. Intention without action is useless.

Caroline Myss


[1] New Revised Standard Version of biblical passages