7-31-14 - God's "Enough"

No host wants to carry full platters back to the kitchen after a meal – that would suggest that the food was not so good. At the same time, empty serving dishes hint that we did not make enough; leftovers are evidence there was enough and to spare. Abundance. So it was that day of Jesus’ Big Picnic: “And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.”

How often do we find ourselves wanting to give the bare minimum, when God has blessed us with abundance? Vats and vats of water turned to finest wine, thousands fed on what seemed much too little, and yet yielding baskets of leftovers. I can just hear Jesus saying to his followers, “Get it? Do you understand how things work in the Life of God?”

I do believe abundance is a principle of God-Life, one we are invited to get used to, even expect. And I have also found that sometimes God’s “enough” is just enough, with not a lot to spare. Church budgets with projected deficits come out close to even, but there are no windfall bequests. Just enough people show up to do a work project to get it done. So often, things just work, and there is enough, more than expected, but just enough, not what we'd call abundance.

It is always risky to try to extrapolate the plans of God from our small experiences, but perhaps In these situations, the provision of way too much would invite us to complacency, where just “enough” keeps us faithful and alert. Or maybe we expect way more than God thinks we need. Whether enough or more than enough, the one thing I’m pretty sure of is that God is not in the business of scarcity.

What do you fear you will not have enough of? What do you have just enough of? Where do you see abundance? Exploring these questions can be a good spiritual diagnostic exercise, giving us clues as to where our trust in God is weak and where it is stronger. Then we can invite the Spirit to build us up where we need it, and pray for the grace to let go where we’re clutching.

A similar examination of how and when and to whom we find ourselves giving abundantly, and where we give with a tight fist, or not at all, could provide a helpful inventory of our relationships and anxiety levels. What circumstances prompt you to give generously?

Whether we have leftovers for a week or we had just enough to cover our needs, it is all provision from the One who made us. As we grow in recognizing and appreciating God's gifts, we can live and love with the kind of abundance that is God's hallmark. As we receive, so let us give. As Jesus said, "A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

7-30-14 - How to Feed a Crowd

I’ve been known to put together pretty good feasts for very little money – church dinners, reunions, even a wedding reception or two. I can organize food, giving out the same recipe to enough people to ensure the right amount of meatballs, appetizers, dessert, etc. But I’ve got nothin’ on Jesus, who managed to feed a crowd of well over 5,000 people with very little food, and no planning to speak of:

“Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled.”

Sure, he had the power of God working through him. He also had a savvy grasp of logistics and crowd control. He had people sit on the grass… we’re often much more receptive when seated. Other accounts tell us that he had people sit in groups of 50 and 100 – now we’re talking manageable group sizes. We can imagine feeding 50 or 100.

Then Jesus took what was on hand, the five loaves and two fish, looked up to heaven – presumably in prayer, a prayer for blessing, a prayer of thanksgiving for what was about to happen – and blessed the food and broke it up.

And here’s how it got to the people: he gave it to the disciples, and they gave it to the crowds. Jesus didn’t personally feed anyone that day – the disciples did. And as they did, they kept having enough. It doesn’t say that Jesus caused a mountain of bread and fish to appear, from which they refilled their baskets. It just says they gave it out, and kept not running out. “And all ate and were filled.”

So often we think something is impossible, insurmountable. Well, if God says it is possible, and if we sense God inviting us to bear God’s power into, say, famine, disease, peace in the Middle East, we don’t have to know how it will work; we don’t need to see the whole picture from the start. We can step out in faith, doing the next manageable task, and keep trusting the provision of the One who sent us. God already has the whole thing worked out – and for some reason is waiting for us to carry the baskets, hand out the food, bind up the wounds, help to transform structures of injustice.

Is that a lot of pressure for us? Yes and no. Yes – I do believe that if every true Christ-follower in the world helped to feed others, no one would go hungry. And if more of us stood up to violence and injustice, more people would live in safety. The challenges are only insurmountable because so few do take action. That being said, it’s NOT a lot of pressure, because it isn’t our work – it’s God’s work. We simply make ourselves available. We don’t have to engineer it.

Given what’s going on the world this month, this week, I can hear how ridiculous and “pie in the sky” I sound. I also believe it’s true. So my response is to ask each day, “Lord, who do you want me to feed? What do you want me to be doing about Gaza?” I think I’m supposed to organize a prayer service in my community. Will that make a difference? If there were 10,000 prayer services around the world? Maybe.

What challenge do you sense, which you feel is way beyond your capacity? Is God asking you to do it? Then God will show you what resources you already have, and provide what’s lacking. Let’s spend some prayer time on that one today. Then take it, bless it, break it, and give it away.

Who is God going to feed with our loaves and fish today?

7-29-14 - Nothing But....

Today is the feast day of Mary and Martha of Bethany, who were among Jesus’ closest friends. It is a sweet irony to celebrate these sisters, one a paragon of spiritual devotion, the other a champion of the dinner party, the same day that we see Jesus and his disciples challenged with feeding a crowd numbering in the thousands.

Of course, it didn’t actually occur to the disciples to feed them. Why would it? But they were aware that the people had been there all day, and that crowds and hunger can be a risky combination. They sensibly suggested Jesus suspend the healing and teaching, and send people off to eat:

“When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’”

In other gospel versions of this story – and it is one of the few that appear in all four gospels – Jesus tells the disciples to assess their resources before concluding that they don’t have enough. In Matthew’s account, they must already have done that, for they are quick with the answer, and give it in the negative: “We have nothing here but…” Nothing but. The “but” belies the “nothing,” but obviously they consider the assets so inadequate to the need as to count for nought.

What is your “default setting” – that there is not enough, or that plenty is possible? Are there areas in your life where you are so sure you don’t have enough, that you don’t even consider the possibility of God providing? I’m pretty trusting about finances, not so much when it comes to relationships.

Where have you known scarcity? Where have you known abundance? If we assume scarcity, that’s very often what we experience. And when we assume plenty, even if we can’t imagine from where it might come, we more often find that.

Today in prayer let’s bring before God those places in our life where we experience “not-enough-ness” and those where we experience plenty. These might include relationships we’re in, work we do, gifts we want or have, use or don’t use. Maybe envision a bunch of baskets, some empty, some full. Put labels on them in your imagination. Give thanks for the full ones. Invite God to transform your relationship to the empty ones – maybe they got empty at one point in your life, and you’re afraid to imagine them filled. Or maybe all your baskets are full. What does the Spirit say about these things/feelings/people?

What if instead of “we have nothing but...,” the disciples had said, “Well, we have five loaves and two fish…” It still might not seem like enough, but putting it that way gives room for hope. “Nothing but...” closes the conversation.

Unless, of course, you’re talking to Jesus, who said, “With God all things are possible.” 

And then demonstrated the truth of that crazy statement in the most amazing way.

7-28-14 - Godly Interruptions

Jesus needed a little time off, a little time for retreat and prayer, and for grief. He had just learned of the brutal death of John the Baptist, beheaded at the whim of a party girl and her vengeful mother. So he planned a spiritual getaway. He was modeling excellent self-care, as we say in clergy circles. But even Jesus’ plans can be interrupted:

“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”  (The whole passage for Sunday is here.)

I wonder if his heart sank as his boat approached his “deserted place” and he saw it teeming with people, people who had walked the long way around the lake to get to where he was going to be, because they wanted to be healed. If he thought, “Darn, there goes my quiet time…” or, “Sorry, it’s my day off, and I really need one this week,” or “I’m grieving and I need a time out…” the Gospel writers don’t tell us. He saw the crowd, he had compassion, and began an impromptu healing service that lasted all day.

Are we to be always ready to give ourselves away when people need us? That’s a good recipe for burn-out – but I wonder if burn-out is even an operative principle in the Realm of God. Good personal boundaries are important, of course – and perhaps we're best off when we allow the Holy Spirit to set those boundaries for us. Jesus had an impeccable (literally...) sense of self, and did not allow himself to be manipulated by the needs of others. But he did respond to needs as led by the Spirit.

And when he gave, he did not give out of his own human resources. He allowed himself to be a conduit for the power and love of the Spirit. Yes, he felt tired at times, and there was an occasion when he said he felt power go out of him when someone touched him for healing. But for the most part, he demonstrated extraordinary stamina, preaching, teaching, healing, on the move all the time.

That is his gift to us, his followers united with him in baptism. When we are running on Holy Spirit power, we know when to stop and talk, when to keep moving, when to offer healing, when to act on our dreams. And when we’re on Spirit power, our energies are renewed and replenished. I can always tell when I’ve gone back to Kate-Power – it runs down, and I get discouraged and testy. Holy Spirit Power jazzes me up, energizes me, even if my to-do list has been disrupted.

How about you? Can you think of a time when your plans were interrupted by something that turned out to be ministry? Did you make the decision to go with the interruption rather than fighting it, or did you ignore the ministry opportunity in order to stay focused on your plans? How did you decide? How did it feel?

Today let’s sit quietly in prayer, coming into God’s presence with thanksgiving, and asking the Spirit to lead us to godly interruptions. And let’s ask the Spirit to fill us, to increase our capacity to carry God’s power and insight and love and peace and strength – other people need it.

We might say it is our mission as agents of healing and restoration in the name of Jesus to bring people to where he is going to be. We don’t always know where that is, but he did give us a few clues: in the Word, in the bread and wine at worship, in the poor and those in need – and, indeed, everywhere two or three of us gather in his name. Bring your friends – Jesus will be sailing up any minute now.

7-25-14 - The New and the Old

Tradition. Innovation.
Between these two poles runs a continuum which informs many of the controversies and conflicts in churches. And corporations. And non-profits. And healthcare and politics and the arts. Where we find ourselves on that spectrum says much how we go about life. It should not surprise us that Jesus approaches this tension with a both/and:

"And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’”

Being trained for the kingdom of heaven means ongoing learning. The phrase suggests that understanding the ways of the kingdom, the ways of God-Life, requires training; it does not come naturally to us. This is why churches stress “faith formation” programs in addition to inviting regular attendance at worship. It’s nearly impossible to imbibe the values and ways of the Kingdom in one or two hours a week at worship. Are you in a “training program?"

It also appears that living the kingdom life, the “God-Life” the way Jesus revealed it, involves exercising generosity, like the master of a household sharing of his treasure. It’s what he is to share that is interesting, “what is new and what is old.” A complete orientation toward innovation can be as toxic as leaning entirely on the tradition. Yes, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) AND “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) In the truth of these two statements we find our life.

What are some of the “old” gifts that you carry and offer? Things from your tradition, from your own history and upbringing, things that will never go out of style? Who wants the old and lovely treasures you bring?

And what is in your store of new treasure? New insights, patterns, relationships, gifts, ministries, life? Are you as generous sharing the new as the old?

As Christ followers, we are called to live, even thrive in this tension between the old and the new. God is rarely in the last place we encountered him. The Spirit is always moving around the neighborhood, activating the servants of God who are open to participating in what God is up to. And what God is up to is bringing new life to tired things and people – even to tired churches.

Today for our prayer let’s take one from the Book of Common Prayer (just to prove I am capable of bringing out of the storehouse something old… !). This is from the ordination service:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

‘Have you understood all this?’ he asked. They answered, ‘Yes.’

7-24-14 - One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Jesus uses a diverse set of characters and settings in these short parables of the Kingdom… agriculture, baking, real estate, commerce. And now we enter the realm of the fisherman, a category he must have come to know well. (I wonder why the carpenter never told a recorded parable about woodworking…).Let’s examine this one, which brings us back to those lovely Last Judgment themes:

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

On the surface, this one seems pretty clear – we can all understand sorting. This story, like the one about the weeds and the wheat, depicts that aspect of the Kingdom that deals with final judgment. But here we get the angels in waders (anglers!), picking the good fish from the bottom feeders.

What can we see in this simple tale when we sit with it?
Well – there’s a randomness to the catching process, isn’t there? The kingdom of heaven doesn’t seem to have very discerning technique – that net is thrown into the sea, the sea perhaps representing the entire creation, and any old fish can swim in. What constitutes a fish worthy of keeping and those to be tossed is not articulated in this story – once again, it is not for us to judge our fellow fish, but to love.

I also notice that the net is not drawn onto land until it is full. New Testament writings offer several hints that God is in no hurry to ring down the curtain on this age, preferring to wait until all have received and responded to the invitation to new life. It’s up to us to extend that invitation. That is called evangelism.

Some people to evangelism to save people from the fires of hell. I prefer to stress the joys of heaven, and the experience of God-Life we can begin to enjoy in this world. Offering other fish a swim in the Water of Life is a gift we can share. (I’m seeing the net as a good thing in this context…)

Are you feeling fishy today? Willing to pray as a fish - which can breathe under the water, undisturbed by turbulence on the surface? Are you willing to be caught? Is there anyone whom you’d like to invite into the net with you?

Some fish, as we know, will hop right into the frying pan, no matter what invitations we extend. Many others, I pray, will choose to join us in the life-giving waters of baptism.

7-23-14 - Treasure

Sharing is one of the first social principles children are taught. It must be taught, for it is not a natural human inclination. I would have thought that Jesus was all about sharing – but there is a possessive twist in the next two short parables he offers:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

The hidden treasure is puzzling – it is rare to find treasure in a field. And who hid it? It is obviously a treasure of great value, for the one who finds it, hides it again, then quickly goes out to secure its possession by buying the whole field. Indeed, she gives up everything she has to buy that field.

In the story about the pearl, there is no hiding, but the merchant is certainly seeking. Amid all the pearls he encounters and examines, he finds one of great value and gives up everything else he has to own it.

Is it we who are to find the treasure, seek the pearl, and upon finding, sell everything we have in order to secure that precious thing? Is the kingdom of heaven, the life of God, that precious to us? What would that look like to you? What would you need to sell, figuratively or literally?

And are we to keep the life of God for ourselves? Of course not – Jesus is always telling his followers to go out and proclaim the Good News. But understanding the intimacy and love of God revealed in relationship through Christ is a gift of such value, once we truly “find it,” we want to hold it close, and not dilute it. I think of the parable of the wise maidens with their extra store of oil – if they were to share it with the foolish ones, no one would have any light. I believe Jesus is suggesting we go “all in” and put our relationship with God first – that way, everyone will have light and to spare.

Of course, there’s a whole other way to interpret the parable, turning it over and looking at it from another side: is Jesus is saying that we are the hidden treasure found by God, who went and sold all that he had to buy the field (the world) that contains us? Is Jesus the merchant in search of the finest pearls – and seeing us as having infinite value, gave up everything he had in this world to secure us, redeem us. Are we willing to acknowledge that we are that precious?

How might we think or speak or move differently today, thinking of ourselves as pearls of great price?
How might we engage in unearthing the hidden treasurers in other people, perhaps obscured under layers of soil – wounds, disappointments, discouragement, shame?

I invite you in prayer to imagine yourself as treasure in a field or a pearl in a velvet box – highly prized, sought after, sacrificed for. Let your spirit offer praise to the God who delights in you, who has deemed you worthy of love, who has given all to secure your love. Bask in God’s love and pleasure. Luxuriate in it. Soak it in. Believe it.

And share it with someone else who needs to know how precious he is, who needs to know she is a treasure found by the God who made her and has gone to hell and back for her.

7-22-14 - Yeast

“He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’”

How could the kingdom of heaven be like yeast? Yes, we all appreciate the homey metaphor, and props to Jesus for getting a woman into the picture, but what might yeast have to do with the realm of God? Well, let’s do some wondering about yeast – and some pondering between paragraphs.

Yeast, like the mustard seed, is a tiny thing that generates a large outcome.

Yeast needs to be activated by liquid and a sweetening agent of some sort, sugar or honey. So there is interdependence, as there is in the community of God. Once yeast is added to those other agents, it soon begins to bubble and move – we call that proofing. If the yeast is worn out, it won’t come to life, but if there is any life there, a little sweetness and water will bring it out. Sound like anyone you know?

Yeast is a catalyst. Just as it cannot achieve its “yeastiness” by itself, it does not work alone, but helps other ingredients to become a whole new creation, a loaf. The woman in the story adds it to three measures of flour. Hmmm – I see some parallels to community in Christ, the way different elements combine to achieve a greater result. What do you see?

Yeast works from the inside out. You can’t just sprinkle it on top and hope it “takes.” You must knead it all through, working it into every part of the dough – just as our formation as Christ followers needs to become internal and organic, not just surface, one-hour-a-week-on-Sundays.

And the dough goes though some turmoil in the kneading process, as the baker smooths out air pockets and gets all the ingredients evenly distributed for a nice, fine grain. Sometimes, turmoil is how the leaven of the Holy Spirit gets worked all through us. Has that happened in your life?

And then there’s the result – the bread. At the point at which the loaf is baked, the yeast has ceased to be. It has become one with the dough, one with the loaf. Didn’t Jesus say, “whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it?” And the loaf itself cannot live out its destiny unless it is broken and given away. That’s what we enact as the Body of Christ each week – a making whole, a re-membering, and then a breaking apart again to feed the world.

Yeast as the Life of God works as a metaphor in several ways. We can see it as the Spirit’s presence in us, a seemingly indiscernible force that heals and transforms and empowers us from within, making us finest bread. AND, turning the parable another way, we can see ourselves as the yeast Jesus is talking about, the leaven that works through the dough of the various communities in which we find ourselves, sacred and secular, to bring life and air, to work transformation and healing.

How are you experiencing the Spirit of God as yeast in your heart, mind, spirit? In your life?
How do you find yourself serving as leaven in the world around you? Are you willing to offer yourself in a particular context? That’s a good prayer for today.

Without yeast, we would have no risen bread, a tragedy to those of us who love bread. Without the Yeast of Christ, we could not become Risen Bread – a tragedy for a world in need of resurrection life.

7-21-14 - Smallest Seeds

The parables Jesus told come in all shapes and sizes, long, short, complex , simple. Some cover decades, with multiple characters and dialogue, and others are extended examples. All are meant to convey in words and images the invisible reality he called the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Next Sunday we get a series of one and two-line parables. Yet, as we explore these small gems, turning them this way and that, seeing how the light shines through them, we may find as many layers as in the longer ones.

We start with the Kingdom being compared to a tiny seed.
“He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’”

How is the realm of God like a tiny seed? Hmmm. Let’s wonder together.

What is a seed? A nugget of life, a whole life hidden from view, disguised as something small, seemingly innocuous, yet containing the future. All that is to be, all the fruitfulness and loss, is right there, waiting to burst forth. Are we the seeds in which the kingdom of God, the Life of God, is contained? Is the church?

Seeds must be sown in order to bring forth life. Where has God planted you? Do you like the field you’re in? Do you wish to be moved to soil more to your liking, or are you to, as the old poster read, “Bloom where you are planted?” (We moved so much in my childhood, my mother added “trans-“ to that.)

A seed must die if its future life is to be released. That breaking open is pretty traumatic to the seed. What in us needs to be broken open so the God-Life inside can be made visible? What in us that is broken has yet to be healed, so that we might through that wound bring healing to others?

Small things can wield a large impact. Witness the power of a baby or a kitten to garner the attention of whole households. Witness a rudder on a large boat. Witness the impact one tired woman like Rosa Parks can have on a nation. What examples have you lived of small things with big influence? What comes to mind?

The tiny mustard seed in Jesus’ parable gives way to a bush, a shrub that becomes a tree – its blessings are multiple. It bears fruit and gives shade and provides dwelling places for the birds. Name some of the multiple blessings that the world sees from your life.

Today, let’s pray as seeds –
giving thanks for where we are planted, or asking to be planted elsewhere;
taking note of where we are being broken open and giving thanks for the new life to emerge;
taking note of our fruitfulness and who is being blessed by our being the fullest “me” we can be;
asking God where in the world the Spirit is inviting us to carry the seeds of more new life.

The growth cycle of God’s planting is never done. The fruit of each seed brings forth more seeds, which contain in themselves more life, and more life, and more life. We are a part of God’s great harvest, and as we bear fruit we are invited to carry seeds to the whole wide world, that the fruit of the Good News in the love of God will be made known to all God’s children. Amen!

Note of Celebration: Water Daily is one years old today! I’m so happy it proves useful to many on any given day. Have some cake, light a candle and sing us Happy Birthday. Better yet, share with another any blessing you receive.

7-18-14 - Shine Like the Sun

Every story needs a happy ending. Many of Jesus’ parables have ambiguous ones, but this one ends on a high note: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

I love the idea of shining like the sun - assuming I'm among the “righteous,” of course. Could such idyllic joy really come at the end of our story, after all the trouble caused by the enemy and the weeds and the difficulty of telling plants apart, and the sorting and bundling and tossing into fiery furnaces? Is there cause for joy in the destruction of evil?

I looked more closely at the description Jesus gives of the “weeds” whom the angel reapers would be culling from the field. “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers…” I realized it's s not about removing “sinners” from the “righteous” – for one of the gifts of Christian belief is that we are all sinful and righteous, all the same time.

No, the angels will be collecting out of God’s kingdom all causes of sin and doers of evil. I see a difference between sinner and evil-doer – an evil-doer is one who has given him or herself over to promoting destruction, like a cancer spreading throughout a body, where a sinner is manifesting the disease, not causing it. Jesus says his angels will gather up and remove all evil-doers, all causes of sin. All.

Think about that for a moment. No more greed. No more envy. No more racism. No more terrorizing. No more humiliating. No more violence. No more environmental devastation. No more… what causes of sin can you think of? Think of a world without that in it. Can you imagine it? Shine like the sun? We’d be so bright, we’d outshine the sun!

Today in prayer, let’s imagine the world with the causes of sin taken out. Let’s imagine freedom and peace and unfettered joy. Let’s imagine everyone under his or her own fig tree, enjoying economic and physical security, taking care of neighbors in need with mutual regard. Let’s imagine that prayer into being. What does yours look like?

Jesus’ parables are subversive little narratives, with big themes disguised in every-day items. Like wheat. Like weeds. Like the end of the world, and the dawning of the new age. Like us, shining like the sun.

Let anyone with ears listen!

7-17-14 - Angels of Judgment

Jesus didn’t talk much about angels, but in his stories they’re anything but cuddly and comforting. They’re fierce and on a mission – and in the story he tells of the wheat and the weeds, that mission is executing God’s final judgment.

“…the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Our culture is big on angels (the harmless, protective variety) and not so keen on the prospect of a final judgment. Even many in the Church remove the judgment from our God story, preferring to emphasize God's mercy and acceptance. I would submit, though, that mercy and acceptance are pretty cheap commodities without judgment. And we’d have to excise a lot of what Jesus taught and lived if we’re going to take judgment out of the picture. Our claim as Christians, at least traditionally, is that we will survive God's judgment as righteous, redeemed sinners because of what Jesus did for us. We are accepted because we are one with Christ, not only because we are creatures of a loving God.

This is only one of the stories Jesus told that include an Ultimate Sorting, with unrepentant, unredeemed evildoers meeting an unhappy fate – here a furnace of fire, "where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Why there is always teeth-gnashing in Jesus’ images of hell, I don’t know – aural and dental torture to go along with the fire?) The ones doing the sorting in this tale are the angels, who serve as God’s messengers – in this image, we might even say henchmen.

Is fire the fate we would wish upon the weeds sown in the field? Shouldn’t the judgment be aimed at the enemy sower?

That is a matter for us to pray about. If we believe a terrible fate awaits those who despise God and seek to destroy the goodness of God’s creation and creatures, we should find ourselves praying fervently for their souls and spirits, asking God to have mercy, and doing our best to share with them our own hope. Do you suppose that’s what Jesus meant by “pray for your enemies?”

Might we dare to do such a thing in our prayer time today? Think of the worst sort of “weeds” we can, and pray for mercy for their souls? And that somehow that mercy would become real to them, working its way into stony hearts to reawaken love and compassion and hope? Maybe you or I are called to show God's mercy to a particularly nasty sort of weed. Mercy can be the beginning of conversion.

Just think of it as lightening some fearsome angel’s workload.

7-16-14 - Whacking Weeds

We are in the weed season in North America – hot, humid weather, storm-fed downpours. Everywhere we look, in our yards, on city streets, there are weeds to be pulled.

The servants in Jesus’ parable propose to do just that to the weeds an unnamed enemy has sown in the wheat field in the dead of night. The field’s owner has a different plan: 

"The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

I had a friend who used to say, “Weeds are a social category.” Meaning, there is nothing innately wrong with many of the plants we deem weeds – except that they are not what we planted, not what we envisioned in our beautiful gardens. Perhaps she glossed over the fact that the undesired plants can take nourishment and water and sunlight from plants with more fruitfulness – but she has a point. Who are we to decide what’s in and what’s out… or, more importantly, who’s in and who’s out, who’s wheat and who’s a weed? Jesus’ story implies that it is not our call.

If we are to co-exist, then, what are we to do with people who manifest themselves as quite obviously weed-like – net takers, abusers, manipulators, terrorizers? The parable isn’t of much help - parables are limited. In this one, the weeds and wheat are inanimate, rooted, fixed. There is no provision for their choices or for them to interact with one another. No parable was meant to tell the whole story.

So then, what is to be our position toward weeds? How might we be called to help transform weeds - or accept them? We might start by remembering that we share a common nature with all people, and that even the worst possess an innate humanity which is worthy of honor even if all their behavior and presentation to the world is not. Somewhere in there is a child of a mother and a father, a hurt and broken child worthy of our prayers, worthy of asking God to bless and heal and forgive. Sometimes it’s up to us to ask God to forgive someone before they are ready to do so for themselves.

And we can ask the Spirit to tell us if we’re being called to more interaction with a given “weed” than just praying for God to bless and heal her. Are we invited to be in relationship with him? To listen, to help?

Today, let’s bring to mind some people we’ve deemed “weeds” in our gardens. As we pray for each of them, bringing them to mind and envisioning them bathed in God-light, we might also imagine them transformed from weed to glorious bloom, from pinched of face to relaxed and smiling, from mean to nurturing. It is a way of giving specificity to our prayers.

Above all, we remember Paul’s word that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)

The weeds are not the enemy, and the wheat is not in charge. Thanks be to God!

7-15-14 - The Spoiler

Who is this enemy in Jesus’ parable, this spoiler who came by night, “while everyone was asleep” and sowed weeds among the wheat? We don’t have to look very far for an answer – Jesus provides it in his “key” to the parable:
“…the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.”

Many modern Christians profess not to believe in the devil, though Episcopalians continue to renounce him at every baptism. Such people allow for the concept of evil, but balk at the idea of evil personified, an entity we can name.

Jesus had no such hang-ups. He regularly did battle with the devil – directly, in his temptations in the wilderness; indirectly, releasing people from the power of demons; and cosmically, in his own mission of redemption and resurrection. He referred to the devil by names such as Satan (“accuser”) and Beelzebub, and depicted him as the source of evil that seeks to thwart the good designs of God.

The devil is mentioned throughout the Bible, though little discussed. He shows up in the preamble to the Book of Job – probably a later addition to the narrative.
A fallen angel who aspired a throne above God’s is discussed in Isaiah 14:12-20:
How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! 

You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!
That is how the name Lucifer, or “light-bearer,” comes into our vocabulary. Jesus and New Testament authors spoke of this enemy, this tempter, author of lies, accuser, who has considerable power but is not equal to the power of God.

So, why does God allow him any power at all? Was the sower in the parable also asleep? Why does he not accept the servants' offer to root out the weeds among the wheat?

The answer given in the story is that trying to do so would destroy both the weeds and the wheat – and God is not in the destruction racket (some Old Testament stories notwithstanding…).Biblical evidence suggests that is the province of the evil one, who seeks to “corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” as our baptismal liturgy puts it.

Is Jesus suggesting that we just have to live with evil as a part of life? I believe he is saying something much more complex than that. He suggests that the fight is not ours, but God’s, and God will take care of it in the final judgment. We don’t have to fight the devil or combat evil. We need to invite the power of heaven to fight on our behalf, to stand with the Spirit against the wiles of the evil one. James tells us, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) Resist, not fight.

The spiritual exercise I suggest today is to pray through Ephesians 6:10-20, mentally putting on the armor of light as Paul lays it out. This is a good spiritual tool to be practiced in. Our best strategy against the devil is not fear or fighting, but becoming ever more firmly rooted in God.

Our goal is to be the healthiest wheat we can be, and to strengthen our defensive weapons and armor of light. Lucifer is not the bearer of light – we are, we who carry the Light of the World within us. Let it shine, and the power of darkness doesn’t have a chance.

7-14-14 - A Careless Planter?

Jesus is on a run with agricultural metaphors – in our next passage, he tells another parable of the Kingdom of heaven. But this time there are two sowers:

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.'

As we explore this story, we will see how the sower and his servants deal with this mess. Today, lets rest with the image of a nice, neat field of wheat sabotaged by choking weeds. This is a clever way Jesus accounts for evil in the goodness of a good God’s creation – and he is clear that the weeds are the work of an enemy, not intended by the Creator.

In this tale, the evil is inseparable from the good, and until it's time for the plants to bear fruit, no one can tell the weeds from the wheat. It’s all just one big mess growing up in the field we call this world. This parable reminds us not to presume to judge others prematurely – it generally becomes apparent after awhile who is making life-giving choices and who is out for their own gain. And even then, it may not be so cut and dried. This story does not have the wheat taking matters into their own hands and eliminating the weeds from among them – a certain co-existence seems to be called for, at least in the short-term we call life in this world.

Jesus’ parables, like all good metaphors, can fail us if we push them too hard toward the literal. Jesus likens the weeds to the “children of evil” and the wheat to the “children of the kingdom,” but no one is born one or the other. Theoretically, we all have the chance to be fruit-bearing wheat. it's s a question of where we put our allegiance, and from where we draw our power.

Who do you consider “wheat” in the part of God’s field in which you dwell? Who helps you be fruitful?
And are there some whom you deem to be weeds? What happens when you pray for those people? Try it for a few weeks... ask for God to bless them beyond measure.

Today in prayer we might see ourselves as planted in a field, planted by a loving Sower, nurtured by One who tends his beloved creation. We can invite the rain and sun and give thanks as we experience them.

We are creatures of a loving Sower – who allowed an enemy to exercise free will, even at the cost of compromising his crop. Was this Planter careless? Or is his love so expansive, it makes room for people to find their way to good harvest?

7-11-14 - Good Soil

One of the wonderful things about Jesus’ parables, is that they can have multiple, layered meanings. Yes, in this one Jesus says, “this means that, and that means this,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t still find new ways of seeing and understanding the mystery of God-Life in these deceptively simple tales.

So it is with the fourth fate Jesus lays out of the seeds the Sower scattered: 

“Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 
Let anyone with ears listen!”

What is good soil for a Good News seed to fall into?

I would say it is soil with a certain depth so that roots have room to expand and take hold. Soil that is not too dry, nor too wet – meaning rational, but with some capacity for mystery and wonder. Soil that has been turned and aerated, always learning and wondering, alone and with others.
(I’m sure there’s a place for worms and grubs in this metaphor, but let's skip that….)

In the spirit of multiple and multi-layered meanings, I would also say we are not only in the good soil, we are called to be the good soil in which other seeds can grow into fruitfulness. Let’s take a look at our congregations from the perspective of being good soil… what might we change or develop in order to be better soil?

How might we help transplant people we know into better spiritual soil so they can grow and thrive and bear good fruit in abundance?

So often Jesus talks about how we are made for fruitfulness, as he does again here. Seed that falls into good soil will bring forth fruit and multiply. Notice some multiply more than others – there is no competition. The point is to be a fruit-bearing seed, rooted in the good soil of God’s love, watered with the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s a pretty good image to rest with in the summertime. Happy growing!

7-10-14 - Thorns

The thorns are the only location in Jesus’ parable that provides its own peril:
 “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.”

The path had birds to snatch away the seeds; the rocks had the hot sun to wither and scorch them. But when we try to plant the seeds of sacrificial love and other-directedness amid a thicket of competing claims… look out.

We sow love in a very thorny landscape. The cares of the world and the lure of wealth, which is what Jesus likened the thorns in his story to, are as strong as ever in our western culture, while traditional moral and religious norms have become weakened. Some churches respond to diminishing fruitfulness by trying to place the benefits they offer among those other lures – “Look at the return you can get for your investment!” or they offer their own version of the competition, church-based banks, health clubs and the like.

The competing claims of wealth, family, security, recreation, status are a given. How do we embrace those goods without worshipping them? How do we navigate around them, or help move seeds to healthier soil – especially when those seeds are us?

What most chokes your desire to be connected to God?
For me, it's time and the to-do list. Maybe for you as well?

What can we do about that? How might we invite Jesus into our time management, or lack thereof, and our to-do lists? Some people put alerts on their devices to remind them to stop and pray. Others make sure they stop and take a prayer walk each day.

If it’s our relationships or our work that loom larger than our God-connection, maybe we can invite God to be more fully a part of those areas in our lives, and figure out how.

Today, let’s contemplate the thorns in which we occasionally find ourselves, and pray for them to be transformed into roses. God has an amazing way of taking what we offer, and not removing it from our lives, but consecrating it for us, making it holy, as God is ever making us holy.

We need not fear the choking thorns when we turn daily to the source of our breath.

7-9-14 - Rocks and Sun

Rocks and sun are a perfect combo for lizards.
For plants? Not so much…

We’ve probably all encountered the fervor of the newly converted – people hot on a new thing they’ve learned or experienced. A new love, a new job, maybe a new diet; I couldn’t shut up about Weight Watchers when I found it working for me. We may even have met a few born again Christians in the first throes of excitement about the love of God they’ve come to know in Christ.

Sometimes it lasts, sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on the depth of soil that allows roots to grow.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.”

What conditions make for rocky soil? Sometimes familiarity can make for complacency – same old, same old… that’s a kind of rockiness. Preoccupation with other concerns can keep us from growing spiritual roots.

What is the hot sun that causes the newly rooted plants to wither? Fear, ambition, sorrow, overwork, stress – some of the same enemies we named yesterday.
What are yours?

I remember once being deep in prayer on a retreat (hmm… been a really long time since I’ve been on retreat, speaking of letting roots become exposed…). In the prayer time, I sensed Jesus say to me, “I want you to come be with me every morning, to water your roots.” That’s partly why I named this Water Daily (though, yes, I do have some plants I can only water once a week…)

Are you feeling robust or withered as a spiritual person today? Might you walk that path with Jesus in your imagination and let him show you where you are today – on the path, on the rocks, in the deep soil? What does he suggest you do?

And what are we to do for those whom we see withering spiritually – including ourselves at times?

Help transplant them into deeper soil, provide shade in the form of spiritual friendship - and sprinkle liberally with the Living Water gushing inside you, the Holy Spirit who renews all things in Christ.

7-8-14 - Path and Birds

“Listen! A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up."

Paths can be beautiful, but they’re not places for growing, are they? We call a path full of greenery an “overgrown path.” Paths are places for journeying, the arteries that carry us from one place for growing to another, if you will.

When the Good News is announced to people on the path, on the move, they may not receive it fully – it remains on the surface, easy pickings for other messages and other priorities that conflict with it.

What are the birds, do you suppose, these entities that gobble up the newly scattered seed so it has no time to take root? Distractions, competing claims, yes – and also something deeper: lies the Enemy tells us to undermine our ability to trust in the goodness of God and the goodness of God in us. Those lies can take many forms, and are often disguised in Advertising. Competitiveness. 60-80 hour workweeks. Stress. Anxiety.

What’s on your list?

Name some paths in your life, in between spaces.
(Work can be a field, or a path; relationships can be a field or a path…)
What are the growing places in your life that you can name and celebrate?

Do you know some people for whom the Word of God has fallen onto the path and been picked off?
How might you help them become rooted in good soil? There’s a topic for prayer today…

The birds are a given. They even have their place.
We just need to shoo them off when they threaten our spiritual health, or someone else’s.

Maybe being active and intentional in the Life of God is like the netting people put over their growing berries and vegetables – the sun and water get through, but the birds have to do their munching somewhere else.

7-7-14 - Sower and Seeds

Ah – we’ve arrived at a stretch of parables in our Sunday Gospel selections. Parables were stories Jesus told to show what the Kingdom of God, or the Life of God, looks like, how it operates in ways that are often very different from the ways of this world. Parables invite us to play, to turn them this way and that and see how our interpretation shifts according to our angle. Some are short, some long; some are challenging to figure out; some are explained – which can take some fun out of it…

This week is one of those stories, which Jesus told and then explained to his disciples in private. Let’s pretend we don’t have that explanation and wonder about the images he offers.

“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow.’”

What do sowers sow? They sow seeds.
Where do they sow it? Ideally, in good soil.
This sower seems to have been a little careless – or maybe carefree. He, or she, just seems to have tossed the seeds randomly rather than laying them down in carefully plowed rows. We know this because some land in places where seeds have trouble rooting and growing.

Who do you think this sower is?
Is it God in creation?
Is it Jesus, the one who came to reveal and redeem?
Is it the Holy Spirit showing up wherever he is invited?
Is it us when we share our faith with another, or when we show love in the name of Christ?


Why the randomness? Are all seeds meant to take root, and some just don’t? Are we meant to seek those and help replant them?

What are the seeds – the Word of God, the Good News of freedom in Christ? 

Are we the seeds? Hmmm….  How does the story look when it we turn it that way?

Today in prayer let’s put ourselves into this parable – where do you find yourself?
Are you a sower or a seed or soil?
Ask God to show you where God might have you sow love and spirit in your life at this time.

There is something frustrating and wonderful about the scattered seeds – it means that the Life of God can spring up anywhere at any time. Be ready for it!

7-4-14 - Independence - and Freedom

Today is America’s Independence Day, which many will celebrate by being freed from a day at work.

Independence means something different in the Christian life than it often does politically – the kind of liberty Jesus invites us into is strongly inter-dependent. We are invited to be tethered to God, to one another and to serving the world, not because we are being forced, but freely choosing to be.

Paul writes in Romans that we have been set free from sin so as to be enslaved to God, the reward for which is sanctification, being made holy. Would we voluntary enslave ourselves to anything? Well, yes… Our lives are full of ways in which we yield our freedom – on a limited basis – to achieve a goal. We become employees working under the policies and procedures of our employers; we pay personal trainers large sums to make us perform painful and arduous exercises; we follow certain diets.

And we voluntarily take on the yoke Jesus offers, which he says is easy – and when we truly trust him, it is. It is only when we pull away that we find it chafes.

I believe that God’s greatest desire for us is freedom, to be free from all that holds us back and makes us less than who we were intended to be, less than who God already knows us to be. That freedom does not make us independent, however – it makes us interdependent.

We are invited to be more dependent on God, to throw all our weight and trust on this One we cannot see but discern in our lives and around us. As we grow in that relationship, we find that God also has ways God is depending upon us, to be the vessels by which God’s transforming love and healing power are enacted in the world. As I’ve been saying lately, “We cannot do it without God; God will not do it without us.” (Listen to Matthew West’s Do Something…)

We are invited to be interdependent with others in our communities of faith, and even with those whom we would serve. We will see peace and justice reign when we truly understand that to seek the good for our neighbor will create good and security and plenty for us. Even better will be the day when we don’t think in “us” and “them” terms at all – as U2 sings in Invisible, “There is no them; there’s only you, there’s only me.”

And we are interdependent in service to the world, willing to be served as well as serve.

I wish you a day of perfect freedom and fun today – with the prayer that, as we celebrate our unfathomable liberties as a nation, we find a pattern of “tethered freedom” in Christ that allows us to be truly free.

7-3-14 - Come Unto Me

Were sweeter words ever found in Scripture for a harried people? 
“‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

To be a disciple implies taking on the discipline of a master, doing whatever he or she tells you to do. The Pharisees and teachers of the law demanded much of their followers, to keep the Law of Moses perfectly in every particular. Along the way, nuances of love, mercy and relationship often fell by the wayside. The burdens of these demands were heavy indeed, and never satisfactorily met - except by the Teachers, of course.

The same can be said of the demands our culture places upon us these days – to be more productive, more successful, more financially secure, more fashionable, attractive, sweet-smelling, popular… you name it. The new law is no less onerous than the old. And so Jesus’ invitation is alive for us as well.

We too take on a yoke when we take on Christ’s life – yokes being the apparatus placed on oxen so they can pull a cart. We offer our obedience to him and take on the ministry of being his apostles, his witnesses – proclaiming the Good News, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, freeing the captives. Like his original disciples, we are sometimes called to give up things or people that we find precious for rewards only known later.

But Jesus says his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Unlike the burden of the Law-bound, his is the yoke of freedom in God. Unlike the arrogant Teachers, he is gentle and humble in heart; he was never ashamed to eat with obvious sinners and people on the margins.

Do you want to find rest for your soul? For many of us, our soul is the most restless part of us, especially in a culture that does not privilege space for the spiritual.
Have you experienced knowing Jesus as restful or stressful? If it’s stressful, we might want to take a look at what part of his message we’re focusing on.

What can you do today to find rest for your soul? You might be in a traffic jam getting away for the holiday weekend, which would be pretty much the opposite of finding rest for your soul, right? If that should happen – and I pray it will not – you might ask Jesus to refresh you in the midst of that stress. Pray for other drivers, especially those who get in your way.

And if you’re already where you’re going and easing into a long weekend, may I suggest you start with some “soul rest” time in Jesus’ presence? Hand off your burdens and take on his promise of peace, and spread it around.

7-2-14 - Access

Who the heck did this guy think he was?
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus probably infuriated a lot of people when he said that, claiming to be the one to whom God had entrusted all things, and the only one who could make God known. Some believed him, some did not, some wondered. Pretty much covers the gamut for us too, I imagine.

It feels great when we know something other people don’t yet know. And when we know someone important and get to introduce other people to that person, don’t we feel some power, a little glee, a moment of superiority? If I can have a VIP at a party, I feel like hot stuff. Well, my friends, we know a guy who can introduce us to the God who made the universes, who can not only introduce us but get us an audience, where we can ask anything, confess anything, say anything.

Those who believe that Jesus is who he said he was, and that he is risen and ascended, who count themselves as his brothers and sisters, are ones to whom he has chosen to reveal the Father. Maybe he also chooses to reveal God to others. I don’t know; we've just been told he has made God known to us.

Are we taking him up on that invitation? If you got an invitation to the White House, or to meet with Pope Francis, would you go? I’d move my schedule around to get there. Do we want to know God? We’re told Jesus is the perfect image of the invisible God… and he said elsewhere that those who have seen him have seen the Father… so Jesus is a good place to start.

Today in prayer we might take another imaginary exploration. Our imaginations can be wonderful vehicles for prayer, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Imagine walking with Jesus do wherever it is you imagine the Father to be… a throne room? A corner office? A beautiful field? Play it out in your mind – what do you see? What do you hear? What is said? How do you feel?

In an age when access to power is everything, we might hold as precious how much access to ultimate power and eternal love we have been given in Christ. “For through him we have access to the Father by one Spirit.”  You’ve got the “in.” Use your connections!

7-1-14 - Infants

How do you feel about being likened to an infant?
“At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Some might take it as an insult. We might rather receive it as an invitation to total trust in God. Infants are receiving machines - they do not feed, clothe or even move themselves. The only thing they can “do” is ask for help by using their voices – and reward their helpers with big smiles, which they quickly learn will get them far. The most challenging part of faith-life for many is our dependence upon the grace and mercy and power of God for what matters most in the long-term. Learning to receive God’s goodness and not worry so much about repaying – for we cannot – is a mark of maturity in faith.

Infants are clear about their needs and quick to ask. They are fully in relationship with their care-givers. We can learn from them to go first to God when we need something instead of making it our last resort. And, like those babies who reward us with gurgles and smiles, we can hone our praise response so that it becomes automatic when we’ve received a gift.

Of course, infants are anything but simple. In their tiny minds and bodies are contained all the systems and equipment that adults have, just waiting to mature. I believe that, whether we are young or mature in faith, we have everything we need to live a God-reliant, praise-filled life – it is all given to us by the Holy Spirit in baptism, maybe even in birth, waiting to be developed.

What are some attributes of infants that you would like to borrow and try on as you approach God?
What are the things you cannot do for yourself that you are afraid to trust God with? Or eager to?
Today in prayer we might try an imagination exercise – imagine yourself as an infant being held or watched over by Jesus… how does he interact with you in that imaginary prayer space? Does he say anything? Do you? What do you feel?

Infants have a huge learning curve, because they have everything about life to learn. As Christ followers, we are in a similar position – we have everything about Life to learn. Let’s open our spiritual senses and breathe it in.