1-21-19 - The Spirit is Upon You

(You can listen to this reflection here. This week's gospel reading is here.)

When Jesus began his public ministry, his reputation spread quickly as he went from synagogue to synagogue, teaching. When he came to his home in Nazareth, he showed all his cards. Reading from Isaiah, he sat back and said, “This prophecy is fulfilled in me. Today.”

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Anointed to bring good news. To those most in need of it – the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed. This, he was saying, is what God is up to, has always been up to, is doing among us even now. Today.

We who bear the name and life of Christ share in this anointing, whether or not we choose to live it out. Today we celebrate the life and ministry of one who did not shirk that anointing, but embraced it, gave himself to it even unto death, in the footsteps of his Lord Jesus. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that the Good News had not yet gotten around to everyone. There were still plenty of people mired in poverty who needed to hear it; plenty of people held captive by systems of racism and white privilege that hold resources and opportunities for the few; plenty of people blinded by greed and power and lack of insight; plenty of people oppressed by injustice and cruelty and the legacy of slavery.

And so he went with his anointing and preached Good News, not only proclaiming release but working And so he went with his anointing and preached Good News, not only proclaiming release but working tirelessly to bring it about. He worked and preached and wept and dreamed until he was silenced. His dream of racial harmony and equality is not fully realized – the last few years have made that abundantly clear. God’s dream of racial harmony and equality is not yet fully realized in our world.

Today I invite you to read that prophecy of Isaiah that Jesus claimed in the synagogue so long ago, and ask the Spirit to renew this anointing in you. Allow the Spirit to work through you to bring to visible completion the Good News Jesus proclaimed and won for us. Let's open ourselves to God’s dream of wholeness for all of creation, of blessing for every child of every race in every place.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.'
Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Join Jesus in living it out.

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1-18-19 - The Way of Love: Learn

(You can listen to this reflection here. This week's Way of Love gospel reading is here.) 

My congregations are exploring the Way of Love during the season of Epiphany, with different gospel readings. On Fridays, Water Daily will take up the Way of Love topic for the week – today that is the second practice: Learn:

What do we do after we’ve turned to Jesus? We grow our relationship with him – or rather, discover a relationship that’s always been there. From God’s side, it has been.

Think back to a time when you fell in love. Didn’t everything about the other person fascinate you? You could talk endlessly about this new love; there was no limit to the time you wanted to spend with him, finding out everything you could, what made her what she is. That passion to know, to go deeper, is at the heart of the spiritual practice of Learn. It involves study, not in a dry or dutiful way, but the way we focus on something or someone that intrigues us to the core.

How do we get to know someone who intrigues us? We talk to them, to people who know them, perhaps google or read up on them. So:
  • We talk to Jesus – This is prayer. To really know him, we have to talk to him... and listen for his reply.
  • We talk to people who know Him. I cannot overstate the importance of spiritual conversation in the Christian life. If we keep our faith to ourselves, and never find out how other people experience God, we impoverish ourselves and limit our growth. 
  • We read about him. We can’t take study and reading out of the practice of Learn – we are people of the Book. Our “book” is really two distinct collections of writings. The first, which we self-referentially call the “Old Testament,” is better termed the Hebrew Bible, as it has a full identity apart from us. This contains stories, poetry, drama, law codes, histories and prophetic writings conveying the history of God’s interaction with humanity from the beginning of time to shortly before the era of Christ. Some of it speaks to us directly, some of it reads like letters to our ancestors, but all of it is our root-stock. The shorter collection of stories, letters and treatises that we call the New Testament is the most vital for Christ-followers – the gospels telling of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; Acts and the letters in which we witness early leaders struggling to articulate the beliefs and ethics of this new community of believers in Jesus Christ, as the movement became organized, systematized, ritualized and institutionalized.A serious Christ-follower will engage the Scriptures each day. It might be in a small way –a devotionwith a verse or two, short prayer or comment; a longer reading like Water Daily, in which we chew all week on the Gospel for Sunday; systems that guide us through the Bible in a year, or our own daily office lectionary; or just reading chapter by chapter. It is good to have a guide, even just a study bible with explanatory notes (ask your clergy leader to recommend a version with reliable scholarship and theology). Weekly engagement can include a group Bible study, where insights are shared and multiplied beyond what we glean ourselves.
An ancient and beloved way to Learn is called lectio divina, divine reading, a contemplative engagement with God’s Word in which you read a verse or paragraph and sit with it in silence, reflecting on it, noticing what word or phrase snagged your attention, what questions arise, what invitations from God you hear.

The daily-ness builds the relationship. Just as you crave daily interaction with your beloved, so God seeks daily encounter with us. God’s Word is not the only way to know Jesus more deeply, but we cannot know him without it.

Above all, this practice means cultivating an adventurous orientation toward learning, to know that we have never “arrived,” will never plumb the depths of who God is. Our assumptions about God can hold us back and keep us from being open to what God wants us to see and do. The more we Learn, the more we discover what we don’t know, and the more joy we experience in exploring this One who made us, knows us and wants so deeply to be known by us.

This practice is like one who found a treasure in a field, hid it and then bought the field so she could always go back to it. I wish for you tremendous joy and depth as you Learn and grow in this love affair with God.

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1-17-19 - Transformation

(You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.)

Should it surprise us that Jesus could cause vats of water to become wine of the finest order? No more than that he could walk on water or speak palsied limbs into wholeness. As far as I’m concerned, the One who made the molecules that we know as matter can order and reorder them as She likes.

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

This was the first BIG way that Jesus revealed the Life of the Kingdom he came to invite humankind to live in. This Life of God is a grand and cosmic reality; it is also manifest on a sub-atomic, micro level. And one of its most fundamental principles is transformation. That is how God-Life becomes visible, wherever one thing is transformed into another.

In this story, we see water transformed into fine wine, the ordinary into the extraordinary. At our communion tables, we experience ordinary wine transformed into the blood of Christ. Whether or not molecules are altered in that transaction is immaterial (as it were). A spiritual transformation occurs which catalyzes an even deeper transformation: ordinary people are transformed into carriers of God’s Life. The Bread becomes the Body, and then the corporate Body becomes the bread broken again to be shared with the world.

As we allow that Life to take root in us, we experience the deep transformation of our spirits being reshaped by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the One who took water and made something delicious out of it, even more delicious than pure water, which is pretty amazing itself.

However you are feeling about yourself or your life today, remember this: This Jesus has taken us at our best and our worst, our most faithful and most self-centered, our most creative and least inspired, and has already turned us into wine of rarest vintage to bring life and joy to the people around us. Let’s not only attend this party – let’s bring the wine of life.

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1-16-19 - To the Brim

(You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.)

Sometimes I wonder if God shakes his God-head at the tiny scope of my prayers. “Please, let me be on time!” “Please, heal this cold.” “Please, tell me what to preach.” The Maker of heaven and earth invites us to pray for hurricanes to subside and wars to cease, and most of us don’t even pray about cancer and terrorism. Do we think we’re only worth the small stuff, or that God is finished doing big things?

If we based our prayers on what we read in the gospels, we’d pray about big things all the time – abundance beyond measure, even beyond need. Twelve baskets of leftovers, fishnets full to bursting, and here, Jesus’ first miracle, more excellent wine than the people of Cana could get through:

Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.

Did he use those jars because of their size? Or because of their purpose, for ritual baths? Are we to link purification with the wine that is to be manifest in these vessels? Those who take an allegorical approach to biblical interpretation would say every detail, especially in the Fourth Gospel, is fair game. Today, let’s focus on size and capacity. Jesus wasn’t making only a little bit of table wine; he was crafting vats of the finest vintage. Because that’s how God rolls.

The Realm of God is not a place of "just enough." “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap,” Jesus says later, exhorting his followers to generosity. (Luke 6:38). But sometimes "just enough" is our experience – often enough, it would seem, to dampen our expectation of God’s radically abundant provision.

We need to recall those times when we’ve experienced more than enough, when the jars were filled to the brim, when the gift was completely out of proportion to our sense of deserving or ability to respond in kind. (Just looking out my windows does that for me… I’ll never know why I am so blessed to live here.) Remembering those times can help raise our expectations of God’s power and love.

Another thing that does that for me is reading books about the healing ministry. Those stories of God’s power to transform situations, sometimes against all natural hope, inspire me to greater boldness in my prayers, and bolder prayers lead to bolder participation in God’s mission.

The next time you feel the pinch of scarcity – or even just the fear of it – call to mind a large stone water jar, filled to the brim with water, a little sloshing over. And then realize it’s not water at all, but thousands of dollars worth of precious liquid, all for the taking and sharing.

And then realize God wants to fill us to the brim with Life, transformed into grace for the world. Do we have enough capacity for what God wants to give us? Do through us? There’s a prayer…

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1-15-19 - Follow Instructions

(You can listen to this reflection here.)

In addition to many other charms, this story of the wedding feast and the wine gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ relationship with his mother. He had no problem saying “no” to her when she nudged him to use his super-powers to address the wine shortage – and she had no problem ignoring his “no.”

When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

Despite his demurral, Jesus does give the servants orders, and somehow vats filled with water become vats of finest wine. His instructions to the servants are two-fold: Fill the giant jars with water, and then draw some off and take it to the chief steward. It is Jesus who “works” the miracle, but it is accomplished through ordinary servants who follow his instructions, as daft as they may seem.

When God is up to something in this world, it is generally done through ordinary servants like us. And the bigger and more transformational the “something,” often the whackier the instructions seem. Quit your job. Sell your house. Leave your country. Call that person. Join that movement. Raise thousands of dollars. Give away thousands of dollars.

I wonder, is God always asking outrageous things of us, and we just aren’t getting the message? I do know that the instructions usually come one at a time. We have to do the first thing before we find out what the next is. Fill the jars, all the jars. All the jars? With that much water? That’s crazy. But we have to do that before the next instruction: draw some off. And it’s only after the chief steward has tasted that we know just what a crazy thing Jesus has just done through us.

Can you recall a time you felt prompted by the Spirit to do something odd, bold, even controversial? Did you do it? What happened? Are you receiving such promptings in your life now? What instruction are you being given?

Sunday, we had to cancel church because of snow and ice, and I thought about sleeping in. But I felt a nudge to offer “church by phone,” using a teleconference number. And it ended up connecting a group of us to a beloved parishioner who’s in the hospital, gravely ill, as her husband dialed in to the call – she could hear us as we prayed for her. I could not have foreseen such a wondrous development; only God could have arranged that, through a holy nudge.

If, like me most of the time, you draw a blank when asked what God is prompting, try asking God straight out: “Where do you want me to serve in your plans today? What purpose can I help fulfill?”
Then pay attention and see what develops – and while you’re waiting, enjoy the party!

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1-14-19 - When the Wine Runs Out

(You can listen to this reflection here.)

An Episcopal Church, running out of wine? It could never be. Yet I’ll never forget the Easter Sunday at a New York parish that shall remain nameless, when the Altar Guild inexplicably failed to put out enough communion wine. Alerted to this crisis while distributing communion, the Curate, who lived onsite, ran up to his apartment and fetched several bottles of Rioja, and no one was the wiser. Except that those seated in the back half of the 1000-seat sanctuary thought, not unlike the steward in this week’s gospel story, “Wow – they really get out the good stuff at Easter.”

Jesus, enjoying a festive wedding reception with his crew, had no intention of coming to the rescue when the hosts ran out of wine: On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 

I love the way it says, “When the wine ran out,” as though it were a given that the wine would run out. It is often our experience in life that the good things don’t last, romance fades into the ordinary, abundance dwindles to “just enough,” and sometimes not enough at all. Yet the record of the New Testament – and much of the Hebrew Bible too – is that “running out” is never the end of the story. Things run out, and somehow more is found, oil and flour, wine and water, bread and fish, time and energy - even life.

Our invitation, in those moments when it seems the wine has run out, is to widen the lens and see where in the picture abundance might be found. Instead of getting paralyzed with fear or forlorn with despair, we can ask God to show us where provision is. We can pray for an infusion of hope, which fuels our creativity and openness to new ways of thinking. And we can share our concerns with people around us, and see what their perspective on the matter is.

One message of this funny story about Jesus at the wedding is that nothing is impossible where God is concerned. We don’t always know how things will be transformed, but the effect is that there is enough and more than enough. In my experience, the more we trust in that, the more often we see it manifest.

Wine may run out, but God’s grace never does. And more often than not, it turns out that someone has a stash of a good Spanish red nearby…

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1-11-19 - The Way of Love: Turn

(You can listen to this reflection here.)

My congregations are exploring the Way of Love during the season of Epiphany. Most weeks the gospel readings will differ from the Revised Common Lectionary. So on Fridays this season, Water Daily will focus on the Way of Love topic for the week – today that is the first practice: Turn.

In the gospel my congregations will read on Sunday, John the Baptist points to Jesus and calls him the “Lamb of God,” saying, "The one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”

Two of John’s disciples go after Jesus to see what he’s about. And Jesus turns. "Jesus turned and saw them following, and said, 'What are you looking for?'” They confess their curiosity, and he says, “Come and see.” By the end of that day they have made the choice to follow him and Andrew has fetched his brother Simon to meet Jesus. And the next day Jesus meets Philip and says to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus says that to us each day, and each day we can choose again, to turn and follow Jesus, turning both toward him, and away from sin.

The heart of this practice is to turn toward Jesus, as we turn when someone calls our name, or when something catches our attention. Some of us have known a definable moment of turning to Jesus; others have always walked with him, with moments of more intense awareness. All of us are invited, each day, to pray, “Where will I see you today, Jesus?,” to actively watch and listen and turn when we sense him near.

Turning toward Jesus, toward the Life of God, also means turning away from things, patterns, even people who draw us away from God's love. One Hebrew word for repentance means literally to “turn again.” In some early Christian baptismal rites, the candidates for baptism faced toward the west when renouncing Satan and sin, and then turned to face east (toward the rising Son…) to accept Jesus as their savior and Lord. So we are invited daily to turn away from things that distract us from God-Life and diminish our full humanity, or that of others. (I did it in the car yesterday!)

Turn can become a daily spiritual practice that helps us focus on Jesus. In the morning, before you get too busy with activities, design a movement or ritual that enacts turning toward Jesus. Say good morning to him. Give thanks for all that is blessed. Talk about the day ahead – invite his help with the things that are worrying you. (You’ll find you're doing the third practice, Pray.)

And each day think about what you’d like to turn away from. Offer those things up, in the forgiving love that flows from God’s throne. Because, as we turn toward Jesus, we find him turning toward us. Remember what happened to Peter after he denied knowing Jesus? “At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (Luke 22:54-62) I feel sure it was a look of love, for Peter felt immediately repentant. To paraphrase John, we turn because God first turned to us.

Many years ago I wrote a poem, when I felt the need to turn again to Jesus, which I share below. I am so blessed that I did turn to him, and can do so all through the day. You too!

My heart is but a quarter-moon, three-quarters turned away;
A harp too badly out of tune for even You to play.
But you, unceasing, ever pull me back from darkest night
Until I shine, all silver, full, another’s path to light.
And you, Creator, who can wring from cold, damp earth a song:
So tighten, Lord, I pray, each string, that I might sing along.