8-29-14 - Checkin' It Twice

I lean toward the “grace and love” aspects of God as revealed in Scripture and in the way Jesus talked about God’s Realm. Give me eight “parables of the prodigal” for any one “judgment is coming” passage. Yet, as much as Jesus described the Kingdom as a place of unexpected mercy and reordered rankings, he did not shy away from the judgment to come. So he ends this teaching about taking up your cross with the reminder that there will be a reckoning:

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done."

That "repay everyone for what has been done” bit sounds ominous to me. I tend to assume, mostly for neurotic reasons, that the Judgment will go badly for me. Maybe you share that instinct; it is what I call “original shame.” It drives “Santa Claus” theology – “He’s makin’ a list, checkin’ it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…”

Only it’s not Santa who’s coming to town, but the Son of Man with his angels in the glory of his Father. Who of us can stand before such a entourage? Saint Paul didn’t think he could. “Wretched man that I am,” he wrote in Romans, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And then he answered his own question: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

The great, audacious claim of Christianity is that the One who comes to judge is the same One who has delivered us from the power of sin and shame. United with Christ, we need fear no reckoning. As Paul goes on to say, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Wow. No condemnation. 

And as we breathe that in, and allow this union with Christ to be realized in us, we find ourselves making God-ward choices, moving with the power and love of the Holy Spirit. And then we start to be able to see where Christ is in the world around us.

Our passage ends on a cryptic note. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” No one quite knows what that means – the next event in Matthew’s Gospel is the Transfiguration, where Peter, James and John see Jesus in his divine glory for a moment. Is that what he meant? Or did he mean the spiritual vision that allows us to see the Son of Man coming all the time?

How does that sentence, “He will repay everyone for what has been done” sit with you?
Do you assume blessing? Then you are already blessed.
Do you assume condemnation or trial? Then spend some time today with Paul’s promise of grace and love, let it work in.

And let’s pray to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that we have the spiritual vision to see what the world does not: the Son of Man coming in his glorious reign, once upon a time, for all time - and right now.

8-28-14 - Life-Savers

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The first image that the word “Life-Saver” brings to mind is that little round candy you suck on as it releases its flavor. It’s there until it’s gone. Of course, those candies were so named because they resemble life-savers, the large, inflated rings affixed to the sides of ships, meant to keep you buoyant should you find yourself in the water. Their saving utility is limited by the circumstances in which they are employed – they might save you from drowning in the short-term, but not from, say, sharks, storms or starvation. A more complete rescue is still needed.

Uh oh, I am straying into the Meadow of Metaphors here! But follow me – they just might lead us to some insight.

On the face of it, Jesus’ remark that those who want to save their life will lose it, and vice versa, seems all scrambled up. If we try to save our life, don’t we usually succeed? How could the very effort to do that guarantee defeat? It depends, I suppose, on what we call life.

If we consider “life” to be mere existence, Jesus’ words seem nonsensical. If we see life in a larger sense as the sum of our interactions in time and space, our bodies, minds and spirits, in relationship and in giftedness – then Jesus’ counter-intuitive words begin to harmonize. If we put our energy into preserving our existence, we might find ourselves, like those little candies, losing flavor and shape. Oh, sure, we might be alive, but are we living? A fixation on life-preservation, on security, might deliver us from the waves, but not from the more serious spiritual adversities that challenge us. As Jesus went on to say, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”

When Jesus asks us to “lose our life for his sake,” I think he is inviting us to let go of the things we cling to, what my friend Linda used to call our “self-saving strategies” that we think will save us or get us affirmation. If we cling to things that are passing away, we’re not very secure anyway, are we? If you're at risk of drowning, struggling to stay alive only imperils you further. Calming down is key to surviving. When we invite Jesus to lead us into the Life He came to proclaim and demonstrate, we will find the Life he promises.

What do you grab onto when you feel threatened? Do you feel a pull to let go of something you’ve relied upon, that holds you back from giving yourself more fully to God? You might ask the Holy Spirit to show you what, and how.

Jesus kept circling back to this “dying to self” thing because he needed his followers free to be led by the Spirit. Our invitation is to stop trying to gain the whole world and open ourselves to the One who made it. After all, we live in a church system that symbolically drowns its initiates at the beginning of their life in Christ. Ultimately, the life-saver we need is the One who walked on water and is always here to give us a hand up.

8-27-14 - That Cross Again

The culture most of us live in is not high on self-denial, unless it’s in the service of health or beauty. Once upon a time in America, self-sacrifice and sharing one’s resources for the common good were high values.These days generosity is often sporadic, a reaction to emergency situations, and based on our perception of whether we have enough to share. (Witness the protests against helping young immigrants fleeing indescribable violence and poverty….)

The values of “Do we have enough?” are a stark contrast to Jesus’ core teachings – and one of his most hardcore teachings was this: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”

Did Jesus meant “cross” in a general, “whatever-your-calling-from-God-is” way? Or did he mean a specific willingness to endure martyrdom? For him, the cross was a literal eventuality, but not for every follower. Since I hope never to be in a position of having to choose my faith in Jesus over my physical life, I look at this teaching more figuratively. Our “cross” might be anything that represents the way we are called to participate in the mission of God to make all things whole. It may or may not involve suffering; most often it will include inconvenience and even discomfort.

Maybe before we contend with the call to self-denial and taking up of crosses, we should look at the first part of Jesus’ sentence: “If any want to become my followers.”
Why would anyone today who did not know about Jesus want to follow him?

Do we consider ourselves his followers? Do we want to be? Why? Where is he going that we want to be? Or is hanging out with him reason enough for following the One who said he was the “way.”

So I have to ask myself, “Why am I a follower of Christ?” Partly, it’s habit and custom and a lifetime of choices. But why today? I guess I’d have to say it’s because I believe he is Life and Truth as well as Way. Because following him gives meaning to what might otherwise appear a meandering path through life. Because I believe his power to heal is still real and still with us. And because he says he loves me. I don’t know what that means, fully, but I know I want to find out.

How do you answer that question? Why are you a follower of Christ? Or if you’re not, do you want to be? However you answer those questions, you can talk to Jesus about it. If that feels impossible, talk to a person whose spiritual life you trust. (You’re welcome to talk to me…)

I believe that, when we decide that we want to be Christ’s followers, we’re more ready to lay down our privileges and prerogatives and take up our crosses. And, as we allow ourselves to be transformed in that relationship, we may also discover a stronger desire to introduce others to this way of Jesus, cross, self-denial and all.

8-26-14 - Safety Second

Teacher’s pet one minute, Satan’s mouthpiece the next?
“And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

Peter probably thought, “What just happened here? What did I say? Look, Master, I left my family and my business to follow you. I jumped out of a boat and walked on water for you. I’ve recognized the truth about who you are – one minute I'm your Rock and the next I’m your stumbling block? How can you call me Satan? I just don’t want anything bad to happen to you. This is me, Peter. Why are you being so harsh?”

How could Jesus be so harsh to such a devoted and beloved disciple and friend? For one thing, that’s how close a relationship he had with Peter – he didn’t have to be polite. And he really wanted his followers to find a new, more God-like way of thinking. “For my ways are not your ways, nor my thoughts your thoughts, says the Lord,” we hear from Isaiah, and from Jesus, “You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.”

Maybe Jesus this speaks fiercely because that’s how important it is that Peter get this right. If Peter is the “rock” on which Jesus hopes to build his community of Kingdom believers, then Peter of all people has to understand. He has to stop thinking in the world’s terms and start thinking in Kingdom terms. And in Kingdom terms, safety does not come first – faithfulness does.

I am very wired toward safety and security. Sometimes I wonder if and how that compromises my faithfulness to God’s call. Does it keep me from discerning God’s invitations? There’s nothing wrong with safety – God does not ask us to take risks for the heck of it. Sometimes, though, God wants to work through us in circumstances that are less than safe - after all, much of our world is less than safe.

When we know it’s God’s call, we might step into some risk, and that is a matter of discernment and of testing the call with others. The medical mission which Tom Furrer and his group just carried out in northern Nigeria (see Water Daily, 8-12-14) meant going to a part of the world with high levels of Muslim-Christian violence. But they felt God calling them to go, to be a witness to love; they surrounded themselves with prayer; and they went. They came back in one piece.

That doesn’t always happen. The mission to which Jesus was called was not going to be compatible with staying out of harm. We can see from the nightly news, watching religious persecution on the rise around the world, that such tests still come. Today in prayer we might ask the Spirit if she is inviting us to participate in her transforming work in some way that involves risk. Risk doesn’t have to mean bodily harm – it might mean risking relationships or financial security, or working with difficult people or in areas that aren’t so safe. Where are you being nudged to open yourself to God’s Spirit in ministry? How does that feel? Talk to Jesus about it.

In the end, our criterion should not be, “Will I be safe,” but “Is this God’s work that I’m being invited to participate in?” If it is, and we are, then we walk in faith, trusting in the God we cannot see, trusting in the future we have staked our lives on. God’s thoughts… how can we go wrong with those?

8-25-14 - Dark Words

If Jesus were walking around in our day, saying the things he’s quoted with in this week’s gospel, would someone have gotten him a prescription for Wellbutrin? Suggested he take a little time off, see somebody for that paranoid streak?

“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Peter certainly thought ill of this dark turn. “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”’ 

It’s hard, when things seem to be on a roll – which they did for Jesus’ disciples – to envision it all going bad. Jesus is drawing huge crowds, performing amazing miracles, and Peter has just correctly ID’d him as the long-awaited Messiah. This is no time to talk of suffering and death, is it?

As I reflect on the contrast between the conversation Jesus has just been having with his closest followers about his messianic identity, and this dark prediction of his death, my mind is drawn to the recent suicide of actor Robin Williams and the seeming disparity between his high-octane brilliance and worldly success, on the one hand, and the chronic depression and deep psychic pain he reportedly suffered, held in check but never diminished. We live in a world of contrasts and sudden reversals of fortune, and it can be hard to navigate these turns with any kind of equilibrium.

The hindsight of faith tells us that Jesus was not being neurotically morose – he was telling truth to the people to whom he was closest in this world, truth he was going to have to tell them more than once and finally live through before they actually perceived it. But those listening to him that day didn’t know that – how could they tell a mood swing from a prediction? How can we?

I don’t think we can. We are called to live in hopeful balance, no matter what the circumstances. That means using the benefit of hindsight, which invites us to trust in the God who brings Life out of death, while we look forward to the gifts of God coming to us from our future. The dire events Jesus predicted came to pass – as did the one about his resurrection. We live because of all those events. Can that perspective help us with the feelings of foreboding that world events and our own lives can generate?

Are you anxious today about painful things that might be ahead? Can you invite God into conversation about them, seeking holy perspective? Might you reflect on what happened through Jesus’ suffering and rehearse God’s faithfulness to you in your life thus far? Does that help?

Having just completed an 11-hour car journey, I am in mind of the need to keep my eyes on the road ahead while frequently checking the rear view mirror. Somehow, that's the balance we are invited to live in faith.

8-22-14 - Shhhh...

I don’t know about you – I hate secrets. I don’t mind knowing them… that’s always a rush, to know something everyone else does not. But that feeling is short-lived, quickly replaced by the desire that everyone be on the same page, everyone committed to the same level of transparency. In families and in communities, secrets are toxic.

And if it’s good news, I especially hate having to keep it in! Only the awareness that everyone should get to tell their own good news holds me back and keeps me mum. Unless it’s my own good news, and then I can “spill” with abandon.

So I wonder how Jesus’ disciples felt when, after Peter has stated that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus followed up with this: “Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” 

Was he concerned that the coming clash with the religious authorities would develop too quickly if everyone began using that kind of language about him? Did he want people to work it out for themselves? Were there other reasons at which I cannot guess? No doubt.

I wonder if they were able to keep quiet. How could they? If your whole community is yearning and waiting for the Anointed One of God who will deliver them from evil, and you’ve discovered that person, you pretty much want everyone to know. It’s not only Good News, it’s news!

Most of us, on the other hand, know this too well and for far too long to think of it as news, let alone particularly good. Few of us are oppressed by others; maybe by feelings or addictions, but we do not live in occupied lands. What is it that keeps us quiet, if we are? Do we keep our faith a secret from people around us? Or do we feel too unsure about our faith to go around discussing it openly?

I don’t think Jesus wants us to keep quiet about who he is. I believe he wants us to rediscover his love and feel the amazement that God would love us so much as to send his Son into the world to show us what that love looks like. This leads us back to familiar territory – relationship with God in Christ. There’s nothing all that new or all that good about our religious life, for the most part. But we are invited into a a relationship that delivers new gifts, new promises, new hopes every morning. That’s pretty amazing.

When we truly engage that relationship with Jesus in prayer, we find ourselves talking about it, as we talk about other relationships in our lives, as we say, “You know what my friend Susie is doing this summer? You know what my co-worker Joel was saying the other day?”

If you’re connected, talk about it. If you feel disconnected, tell Jesus you’re open to a deeper connection with him. If you feel funny talking to him, go talk to someone whom you think knows him and hang out with that person. Sooner or later, the Good News will dawn for us – and then we'll never stop sharing it.

8-21-14 - Keys to the Kingdom

Talk about pressure: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’”

That’s what Jesus says to Simon Peter, after calling him the “rock on which I will build my church.” The keys to the Kingdom. I’ve always thought of this sort of like giving someone the honorary Key to the City. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind.

Of course, we can only guess at what he did mean. This is how theologians and biblical scholars make a living, after all. But we might get a hint of what he intended when we think about what keys do. They lock things, and they open them. They make them inaccessible and accessible.

The Kingdom of God is a reality that Jesus described through image and metaphor, and demonstrated through healing, teaching, and transformative actions that look to us like miracles. It is the realm of God, the reality of God, the Life of God as it unfolds in our own plane of reality. It is power and energy and boundless grace. To be given the “keys” to this reality is to be given power to unlock, release the energy of heaven – or to withhold it. Hence, “…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’”

We are the heirs of this gift, this promise, this frightening spiritual authority. We can keep the realm of God, with all its power and promise and peace, locked up simply by not talking about it, or not exercising the power we’ve been given. Or we can use these keys to open it to everyone who is thirsty for God. 

We can keep people bound by withholding forgiveness, and loosed by exercising grace. Jesus gave us these gifts not to be locked away in a safe deposit box, but to be spent, drawn down, exhausted… only so does the store get replenished.

In prayer today, you might imagine sitting with Jesus and having him hand you a set of keys. What do they look like? What do they open? What do you want to ask him about them? What does he answer?

There are some things that need to remain bound, I suppose. And so many more that need to be released, set free. I want us to be in the “loosing” business, one lock at a time. That's what the keys to the kingdom are for.

8-20-14 - Built on Rock

I don’t think this is the time Jesus gives Simon his nickname “Petros,” meaning “rock.” In other gospels he does that when they first meet, possibly teasing him about his hard-headedness. But in this scene, when he is commending him for the spiritual insight he has just confessed, he uses his given name, “Simon bar Jonah,” perhaps underscoring the gravity of this moment.

“And Jesus answered Peter, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

Then he brings in the nickname and alludes to other qualities of rock: as a sure foundation for building. Jesus once told a story about a person who built a house on sand and another who built on rock; the house built on sand washed away, while the one on rock stood firm. Now he takes that image to describe a spiritual edifice, the community of those who call him Lord, a community that will endure in the face of all that Hell can throw its way.

Does it change our view of “church” when we look at it as a mystical institution ordained by Jesus himself, meant to last for all time, not just our little communities struggling to sustain themselves?

How might it alter our critique of its failings when we remember that this community represents a threat against the forces of evil, and it is the object of spiritual opposition? Might that remind us to be more faithful in praying for the church itself, that it be protected and true to its mission to make the transforming love of God known in the world?

How might it strengthen our commitment to mission when we remember that we are meant to be a threat to the forces of evil – we should be stirring up trouble!

Calling Peter the rock on which the church will be built means, in part, that we stand on the foundation of the apostles, those who walked and worked with Jesus in his earthly life, and witnessed to his resurrection life. That’s why we read the teachings and stories and letters they left behind, and give these more weight than later ideas.

Today I invite you to pray for the church in specific ways.

  • Pray for your own community/ies of faith – pray for its ministry and its clarity about where it fits into the larger scheme of God’s mission.
  • Pray for the churches in your community, especially how they might work together more effectively.
  • Pray for the church in the world, where it is persecuted, and where it is lukewarm and complacent (in many ways the latter is a far greater danger). Right now we are seeing particularly virulent anti-Christian activity in Iraq – pray for those who face torture and pressure to convert.
  • And pray for Christians who perpetrate violence against other religions; unfortunately there are many of those instances in our world too.
And pray for yourself as a part of the worldwide body of Christ. Don’t hold yourself apart, no matter how corrupt or irrelevant it may seem at times. If you do that, you withhold gifts that the church needs to be the agent of transformation and healing Jesus intends it to be.

8-19-14 - The Messiah

Jesus asks his closest followers, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter gets the gold star:
 “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’”

It would take more time and space than we have here to unpack the layers of meanings and interpretations in these two titles that Peter uses. Messiah was, and is, a mystical figure anticipated by the Jewish people, one who would save them from oppression and persecution. Many prophetic writings held that the Messiah would be of King David's line, whose kingdom was never to end. Not all strands of thought equate the Messiah with a divine person, and many assumed the Messiah would be a military savior, not a spiritual one.

And what does “son of the living God” mean? It could mean a divine person, which is what Christians understand the incarnate Jesus to have been. It could have meant a person anointed by God to carry forth his redemptive plan. It reveals God as “living,” not a dead idol but a living entity interacting with her creation. And the phrase clearly indicates Jesus as one specially chosen as God’s instrument.

Peter seems to have hit the nail on the head: “And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’”

Jesus suggests this awareness is not one that he could have arrived at through reason, but only through revelation. Maybe that should help us to be less concerned when we perceive that faith and reason clash. Reason is a God-given gift for us to use; it is also a human faculty and can only take us so far. It is our spiritual intelligence, if you will, that we are to cultivate – and we can’t do that by working harder or thinking harder. We do that by learning to receive the Holy Spirit, who brings all the gifts and understanding we need.

What does “Son of the Living God?” mean to you?
Is God alive for you? In what ways?
How would you assess your “spiritual intelligence quotient?”

If we want to expand our “spiritual intelligence,” we don’t need to study harder, though study is an important part of a full spiritual life. We will do it by cultivating an attitude of praise of the Living God, and inviting that God to fill us with his life through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Then we will find our perceptions sharpened to see what God is up to around us. We will find our faith emboldened to believe in the power of God poured out in blessing. We will grow in peace and joy and love, and all those gifts promised to Christ-followers.

And we will grow better at articulating the hope we have within us, what – or who – it is that we wait for with eager anticipation. We live now; in the fullness of time we will Live in fullness.

8-18-14 - Who Do You Say?

It’s a mid-course check-in. Jesus had collected a community of followers. He had healed hundreds, fed thousands, forgiven, blessed, released and taught. But did anyone know who he really was?

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’”  (This week's gospel passage here.)

He used this title “Son of Man” to refer to himself, a mystery that has given biblical scholars plenty to chew on through the millennia. It is a title that appears often in the Hebrew Bible, mostly in the book of the prophet Ezekiel, where it does not suggest divine identity. It might be a title of humility, as well as humanity. In effect he was asking his closest associates, “Who do people say that I am?”

Their answers reflected the recent or distant past. Jesus was regarded as a prophet in the mold of, or even as a personification of the great Elijah or Jeremiah or another. Some thought he had taken on the mantle of John the Baptist. Then Jesus probes a bit deeper. “Never mind what other people think – who do you say that I am, you who have lived with me and walked with me trained with me and prayed with me. Do you recognize the fullness of who I am?”

Peter gives an answer that pleases Jesus. We’ll leave that for tomorrow. Today let’s take the question as directed at us: Who do you say that Jesus is? 

A role model? A great teacher? A healer? Savior? Prophet? God incarnate?
Try to separate your answer from what you’ve been taught all your life.

We might go deeper, asking the question another way.
How have you experienced Jesus? Who is he to you?

If he’s just a character in a book, a figure from a painting or stained glass window with a bubble around his head, I invite you to explore his “living-ness.” It’s a big claim we make as Christians, that our Lord who died over 2000 years ago rose again and is accessible to us through His Spirit. We can know him in prayer and in action and in worship and in sacraments. How do you know him? How would you like to?

Talk to him. What does he say?

8-15-14 - A Turn of Mind?

One of the words I learned in my first year of divinity school was “Immutable.” In the traditional Christian understanding of who God is, this is one characteristic. It means “unchangeable” or “cannot be acted upon.” This is puzzling, because there are stories in both Old and New Testaments in which God seems to be swayed from an announced course of action by some human input. (Abraham’s dickering with God over the fate of Sodom is prime example.)

In this week’s story about the Canaanite woman who implored Jesus to heal her daughter, Jesus seems change his mind. Let’s review the conversation: “She came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

The notion that Jesus – God – could change his mind is troublesome for those on the “predestination/ everything-is-preordained” end of the theological spectrum. For them, Jesus must have planned all along to accede to the woman’s pleas, and was somehow testing his followers or setting up a miracle. That scenario does not work for me. Not only does it clash with the story as both Matthew and Mark present it, it makes Jesus look manipulative and cruel in addition to rude and uncaring. That does not square with the way he is portrayed in most Gospel scenes.

I go for the plainer sense of the words as we have them – which appear to show Jesus making a transition. While no one knows why he at first rebuffed this woman, after she likens herself to a dog eating crumbs under a table, he is moved by her faith and pronounces the healing of her daughter. Perhaps he recalled his own teaching that even a mustard seed of true faith Is sufficient to move mountains. Perhaps he was moved by her calling him “Lord.” Perhaps he truly looked at her for the first time. We don’t know. We only know he arrived at a different place than he started from.

Perhaps this should not surprise us. Exercising free will is intrinsic to what it means to be a human being made in the image of God. That, according to our Genesis story, is what got us into trouble in the first place. But it is our also our will which allows us to accept God’s grace and forgiveness. If it is both human and divine to exercise free will, then we should rejoice that Jesus displayed this quality from time to time. It gives us yet another point for connecting with him, and enlivens our relationship with Him as we interact with him in prayer through the Holy Spirit.

Though it is comforting to know that Jesus was capable of a turn of mind, I dare say it is more often our minds that will be changed as we seek God’s wisdom. The invitation to life in Christ is to come to share the mind of Christ. (“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” – Phil 2:5), to allow our wills to be united with the will of God.

Are there issues in your life in which you feel you and Jesus want different things? 

Have you brought that up in prayer? 
Are you willing to be shown God’s view on that matter?
Can you tell God yours? No time like the present...

If we leave this story with nothing else, I hope it has given us a renewed awareness of how lively our relationship with God in Christ can be. It’s not a stiff, stale historical drama – it’s up-to-the-minute eyewitness news. So let’s keep our eyes open, and our minds as well, and bear witness to the healing love of God, which is never too late.

8-14-14 - Even the Dogs

Is there a greater example of humility in our scriptures than this unnamed woman, persistently asking Jesus to heal her daughter? In the face of his rejection, in the face of his insinuation that giving her the gifts of the kingdom of God would be like throwing food to dogs, she does not flinch, she does not protest, she does not argue. She simply comes back with a statement that shows she is not about to put her pride before getting what she needs from Jesus: “But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’”

“Even the dogs get fed. If you’re going to compare me to dogs, fine – let me tell you about dogs. They eat too, maybe on crumbs and scraps, but they get fed on what falls from the table. Surely your power is so great that even a crumb of it can heal my poor little girl?” Is there a greater example of faith in our scriptures than this? Clearly Jesus was impressed, for with this comment she finally got his attention.
“Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’”

In her gentle refusal to be thwarted, this woman models faith for us. How often do we think Jesus isn’t paying attention to our prayers? How quickly do we turn away – and sometimes walk away, for years – because we don’t sense a response? How frequently do we conclude that “God must not really care about me," when we don’t perceive an answer?

This mother held nothing back. She was willing to beg, to cross religious and ethnic lines, to compare herself to a dog cadging crumbs under a table, to get the help her daughter needed. And how did she know Jesus had the power to help? Without knowing him, she believed wholeheartedly in what was said of him – that he was the Holy One, the Messiah, the Son of David. She knew no one else could help. She gave it her all, not only her best shot, but every shot she had.

I don’t want us to respond to this story by thinking, “Oh, I didn’t plead enough, I didn’t pray hard enough.” We don’t always get what we pray for; there is still mystery. I do want us to know that we can approach Jesus the way she did, no holds barred, and to keep arguing our case until we are satisfied we have been heard, or we have received the grace to release it into God’s will. I want us to go back and forth with Jesus in prayer, not walk away empty-handed and disheartened. As Wayne Gretzky famously said, "You miss 100% of the shots you never take."

What do you want Jesus to do for you? Don’t dredge up all the things you’ve wanted before; what do you want now? Tell him – in as personal way as you can. Either imagine talking with him, or speak aloud in a private space, or write him – but listen to what he says. Talk back if you need to. Jesus never gave us a “no talk-back” rule.

It is a delicate balance – to pray boldly, because we know God is generous and powerful beyond our imagining, and yet to pray humbly, without feeling entitled. Let’s try to match the Canaanite woman in both the passion of her asking and the depth of her willingness to humble herself before God.

Maybe we should think of ourselves as many dogs we know – loved and pampered, and willing to feast under the table as well as at it.

8-13-14 - Mean Jesus?

A read through the Gospels makes it plain that Jesus held the full range of human emotions; he was not above sorrow or sarcasm, anguish or anger. In the event we explore this week, though, he appears rude, even mean. His dismissive response to this woman and her plea is unlike any other recorded encounter. Where usually he went out of his way to connect with the needy, lepers, blind people, tax collectors and prostitutes, here he seems to push someone away.

“Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’”

Is this Jesus “staying on mission,” as we might say nowadays, wary of getting off schedule again? Was he having a mood swing? Why would he define his boundaries so narrowly here, when he engaged with and offered healing to Gentiles elsewhere? When the woman presses the issue, he gets even more tactless:  

“But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’’

Whoa. This goes beyond, “I’m tired, I’m busy, leave me alone.” Jesus seems to say that this women and her demon-enslaved daughter are unworthy of his Father’s love, power, healing. I have often noted that the promise written into our Baptismal Covenant in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer – “Will you respect the dignity of every human being?” - is not explicitly biblical. But it seems consonant with the overall arc of God’s redemptive action, declaring the likes of you and me, the poor, unclean, and lame, the leaders as well as the dregs of society worthy of extravagant, sacrificial love. Why not this poor mother, so desperate and full of faith?

Is he frustrated at the lack of response to his ministry among so many of his own people? Is giving these gifts outside his community a reminder that they are not more fully received by his own? Whatever his motivation, the resulting words and attitude seem to clash with the Jesus we see at work elsewhere.

I don’t think we can explain it. We just need to sit with it, to receive it as part of the record. This odd and troubling vignette invites us to allow our picture of Jesus to become more fully rounded, more layered and shaded, more flesh and blood. It is oddly comforting to know that Jesus shared our humanity so fully that he too could be stressed and snappish (yet, without sin!).

Perhaps today we might sit quietly in prayer for a time, reflecting on the last time we said or did something unkind or inconsiderate, found ourselves acting out of a bad mood instead of our best self. (For me, that’s too often when I’m behind the wheel…) Might we call that moment up in our mind, and rather than beating ourselves up for it, invite Jesus to sit with us in it? Might we draw near to him in that “bad mood moment,” if that’s what it was, and so make space for him to draw near to us in ours?

The rest of the story makes it clear that the seeming put-down was not the last word, that the fullness of Jesus included an ability to let another person in and adjust his settings according to new input. But at every moment, God loved him – and so it is for us. As we accept that love, I think we’ll find our “snappish” moments become fewer and our moments of regarding the Other with love increase.

8-12-14 - The Outlier

She had no business bothering Jesus. She was a Gentile, and a woman. She was loud – and pushy: “Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’”

As Mark tells this story, he says the woman is Syro-Phoenician – from the nearby coastal region called Phoenicia, part of the province of Syria. But Matthew uses an archaic term, “Canaanite.” There was no Canaan in Jesus’ time, and hadn’t been for centuries. Canaan was the name of the Promised Land that God promised to give the Israelites, the Promised Land Moses led them toward and Joshua led them into - amid much slaughter of local populations and suppression of their religions and customs, as our Hebrew Bible tells the tale. Some Canaanites may have gone north into Phoenicia when the Hebrews came into their territory. This is the history Matthew stirs up, linking her with those long-ago enemies of Israel. She has no status with the Jews, no connection. So what is she doing calling Jesus by the Messianic title, “Son of David,” and asking for his help?

Once again we find in the Gospels the story of an outlier naming Jesus’ true identity as the Messiah, while the people around him don’t seem to get it. This unnamed mother stands with the Roman centurion and the Samaritan woman at the well and blind Bartimaeus. She gets who Jesus is, and knows he can help her little girl.

But Jesus does not seem to “get” her. He dismisses her brusquely, refusing to hear her request (more on that tomorrow...). Though in this story he is the foreigner – he is in her territory, after all – he notes the ethnic and religious difference and seems disinclined to cross that line. Given that he has just declared that we should be judged by what comes from within us, not the external, he seems quick to categorize her and her daughter as “not his problem.”

We live in a world full of children who are not our problem – unless we open our eyes and claim them. Anti-immigration protesters, even some wearing crosses, carry signs saying, “Not our children. Not our problem.” Some people condemn “those Muslim terrorists” or “that bully Israel” or “those corrupt African politicians,” as though they are then free to wipe their hands of the world’s problems. Some say, “We have hunger right here. We should feed our own.”

But some go out to where the Other lives and bring food, education, medical care and friendship. My friend Tom Furrer, an Episcopal priest in Connecticut, is just returning from his sixth medical mission in northern Nigeria, where his parish and other partners have built a clinic. In two weeks they saw 6,561 patients – including many Muslims in a region where Christian-Muslim violence is horrific (this is the area where Boko Haran operates.) Tom wrote that one of their goals was to show love and respect to Muslims “and so to demonstrate an alternative narrative to the one of the terrorists now plaguing this country.” More than one Muslim treated at the FaithCare mission said, “I had heard that Christians hate us. Now I see that is not true.”

Do you hear someone calling your name, asking for help? Maybe someone you don’t want to see? What if you engage? This outlier woman had something to give Jesus – and eventually he came to be open to what she offered. The most amazing things can happen when we turn and see what it is those loud, pushy people want.

8-11-14 - Inside Out

This coming Sunday’s gospel reading has two sections, the first optional. At my church we will only read at the second half, and the rest of this week Water Daily will focus on that. But today let’s look at the first passage (printed at right). It seems like a technical discussion of religious law. But in it we see Jesus radically reinterpret the religious understanding of his people, and dismiss the leadership of the religious teachers and leaders. No wonder they wanted him removed.

It begins with a seemingly harmless statement: “Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’” What’s the trouble with that?

Well, his disciples tell him, the Pharisees, chief upholders of the Law, took offense at that, presumably because it undermined laws about food and ritual cleansing. Jesus responds to by further insulting them. “He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’”

Now he’s in deep – he says that not only are these leaders not authorized by God, they are the blind leading the blind. When the disciples ask for further clarification, Jesus explains that the impurity that should concern us is not whether our food is kosher or our hands ritually clean. Rather, he says, the negative and destructive thoughts, words and actions that come from inside our hearts defile us. He is not dispensing with the Law of Moses, but he is reinterpreting it and, if you will, spiritualizing it.

This is key to his message of Good News, that the Kingdom of God is not about rules and rituals, but is an invitation to dwell in the reality of God, in relationship with God, our heavenly Father. It’s our hearts that matter in the long run, more than bodies or behavior – and if we align our hearts with God, our behavior and bodies will reflect that core relationship. The movement is inside out, not outside in.

What does this ancient debate have to do with us? Perhaps it’s not so ancient – it is human nature to look for rules and rituals to make us feel ordered, when what God asks is a reformed heart and a renewed spirit. And the human heart is a complicated place – capable of great love and generosity and grace, and also the source of such pain and petty, mean-spirited behavior toward ourselves and others.

What this passage says to me is that I should look at my own heart to discern my motivations before I adopt “behavior modification” techniques to help me better regulate my life. It invites me to connect with God early in the day so that what I do flows out of that renewed relationship. It reminds me to notice when I seek external “fixes” instead of internal renewal. What does it say to you?

This teaching also reminds us as a society that treating the whole person with honor and dignity, even if he or she is a “problem,” instead of treating symptoms and trying to impose regulation from without, will help each one to function out of their wholeness and make for a more whole community.

It’s not what we eat that’ll hurt us – it’s the distaste we harbor for our neighbor and the disrespect with which we sometimes treat ourselves. And Jesus can help us with that.

8-8-14 - Sink or Swim

Peter got out of the boat. He took a few steps, actually walking on water. He was doing fine, focused on Jesus… until he felt the wind and remembered he couldn’t actually do this. Then he started to sink.

“So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’”

“Why did you doubt?” I told a story yesterday about an indigenous community that took Jesus’ stories at face value and did what he did in the gospels, not considering it miraculous. I have no idea whether that story is true. But I do remember reading in Madeleine L’Engle’s autobiography that, as a small child at her family’s country place, she made a game of going down the stairs without touching them. She clearly remembered doing that, and she did it until she learned that was impossible.

What makes us doubt, aside from “knowledge,” is the strong winds. It’s adversity, and the times we’ve been wrong before, and the voices of people who say you’re crazy to believe you can do this or say that, that it’s nuts to be a person of faith. This does not mean that we should do everything we think of – but we should respond to the Spirit’s promptings. Peter stepped out onto the water at Jesus’ command, and because Jesus was out there waiting for him. 

The risks I suggest we consider are ones we take as steps of faith, in relationship with the One who has told us all things are possible. That One is also at hand to save us when we start to sink. Most activities of faith involve some stepping out and some sinking… at those times, like Peter, we cry out for Jesus’ hand, and it is there. The crying out and trusting that God will be with us are also acts of faith, by the way. Our whole faith life “out of the boat” is one we live in relationship to God, not as solo operators.

Name a time in your life when you really stepped out, felt called to something, and went forward, not sure if you would be supported. Did you ever falter? What was it that caused you to doubt? Did you start to sink? What was your response? What was the activity of God in you at that time? We need those memories to strengthen us for action now.

What faith activity do you feel called to walk out into at this time in your life? What would you need to feel or know in order to take that first step onto the water? Do you need a stronger sense that Jesus is with you, waiting for you, ready to help you if you falter? That's a good prayer for today...

The message our culture gives is often, “You’re on your own, sink or swim.” Jesus’ message is, “Walk or sink… and even if you feel yourself sinking, I will be with you.” Whatever risks of faith we feel called to take, we can step out, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, even as the winds and the waves try to claim our attention. One step after another, fixed on his power and love, and we can cross oceans.

8-7-14 - Out of the Boat

I was told once of an indigenous people somewhere in the developing world who were evangelized by missionaries. These people told them key stories about Jesus, but they soon took sick and died. The people of the tribe were open to the power of God as the missionaries described it, and took the stories at face value. For years, they routinely crossed rivers and streams by walking on the water – until other missionaries came years later, and explained that it was just a story. Then they couldn’t do it anymore.

Three of our four gospels record Jesus’ walking on the water. Whatever we make of the story, it seems to have been foundational to the earliest Christians, one of many stories that reveal the Kingdom life of God displayed in Jesus the Christ. Okay, sure, but he was Jesus. If you buy Jesus being the Christ, it’s not so surprising that he walked on water.

Matthew, however, adds a detail that brings the story closer to where we live. When the disciples see Jesus walking on the sea and are terrified, he says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter responds in a particularly fearless way: 

“Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.”

Now the pressure is on. If Peter can walk on the water at Jesus’ invitation, what is to prevent the rest of us? Why don’t we try it? Is it because we “know” we cannot, and that knowledge provided by our physical senses so overrides any spiritual conviction we might have? If we didn't know that this is "just a story," would our faith be less inhibited?

Just a story? This is quite a story. And it’s one of those that we can run with, whether we take it as reported fact or spiritual metaphor. Even as metaphor, it can bear our weight. Because stepping out in faith, taking risks we believe we’ve been called by God to take, these are intrinsic to the Christian life. I don’t believe any follower of Christ is called to just stay in her boat, come hell or high water. There are times when we’re all called to get out of our boat and take a step on the water toward Jesus. And then another.

Yesterday we asked ourselves what some of the challenges facing our “boats” are. Those challenges may or may not be related to the areas in which we’re sensing a nudge to take a risk in faith. So today let's ask: What seas do you feel called to step out onto? A different job? Retirement? New relationship? Ending an old relationship? Greater ministry responsibility? Living on less? Living healthier? Less dependency on someone or something? More dependency?

This is also a question that churches must constantly ask: where is Jesus calling us to step out of the boat of our comfort or complacency and walk with him on the water? Might that mean giving up some ministries? Taking on new ones? Worshipping differently? Joining in community with people who are different from us?

The answers will vary depending on the person and the community. The one constant is this:
No one is asked to step out of the boat onto a stormy sea by himself. “So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.” And Jesus stayed right there with him. If we step out, we step out with Jesus.

What more do we need, than courage, our shaky faith, and all the power in the universe? 

“Jesus said, ‘Come.’”

8-6-14 - Take Heart

I am not particularly “open” to the spirit world, thankfully. I prefer the company of the living. But once I experienced what seemed to me to be the strong presence of God in a room where I was praying, and I confess I was terrified. Intrusions of the spiritual Other, even when holy, often inspire fear. Most angelic encounters recorded in the bible start with the angel saying, “Do not be afraid…”

And so it is here: "And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.'"

What was more frightening, I wonder – the sight of Jesus strolling on the surface of the water, or the thought he might be a ghost? Neither notion is exactly comforting. Apparitions from the beyond are no more unsettling than seeing the seemingly immutable laws of nature overturned. We expect reality to behave in the ways we have observed; the supernatural messes with our filing system.

And yet, an intrusion of the Other into our neatly categorized world is exactly what we celebrate as Christians: the cataclysmic intrusion of God into human form and life in Christ, and in these days after Pentecost, the constant intrusion of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and selves. Sometimes those encounters are powerful enough to inspire awe in us – and occasionally even fear. And so these words of Jesus are for us, too: “Take heart. Take heart, I am here.”

In our story, the disciples have also been coping with high waves and a nasty headwind pushing them further and further from shore. “Take heart” was Jesus’ invitation to trust and allow his peace to flow into them, even if he did speak these words from outside the boat, standing on the stormy sea.

What winds are you sailing into in your life at present, keeping you from getting to shore, to any kind of stability and peace? Any waves threatening to swamp your boat? Today in prayer I invite you to imagine yourself in a storm-tossed boat, bringing to mind specifically those things that are causing the wind and the waves. And then let’s see Jesus outside the boat, walking on the water toward us, peaceful, calm, in control. Does knowing he’s right there change how we feel about these challenges? Invite him into each one.

I pray that today we might enjoy a holy intrusion into our quotidian routines. I hope the Holy Spirit shows up, bidden or not, and lets us know he’s there. I hope she stills the storms in us, and gives the assurance we need that God does not stay out of our lives, but comes as close as we will allow, unbound by the limits we live with. As we allow God to come closer still, we might find ourselves less bound by those limits too.

8-5-14 - Missing the Boat

Yesterday I confessed my addiction to my to-do list; it might be considered a source of abundance in my life, since it truly never runs out. It also provides my best excuses for not taking time away from the workload to relax, refresh, and simply “be.” What if I don’t get the next thing done, or I miss a deadline or an appointment?

In this week’s gospel story, we see Jesus make that choice, to miss the boat, sending the disciples on with out him. Yet somehow he arrives when needed. “When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake.”

Oh, is that all? Sure, if we could teleport ourselves through space, or skip across bodies of water, we’d make up for lost time too, wouldn’t we? And it seems we can’t do either of those things, being more bound by the limits of space and time and elements than Jesus appeared to have been.

But I’ve often found the principle works just the same. When we take the time we need for prayer and self-care, somehow deadlines get met, or they shift due to some other, unforeseen factor – or we miss them and find out it’s okay. At my best, when I feel the wind of the Spirit in my sails, I feel that God has the timing under control and I just have to walk in the “good works God has prepared beforehand for me.” Things that I thought I should have done ages ago work out in a way that they could not possibly have before this moment, or they prove not to have been as necessary as I thought.

But we only know that after the fact, don’t we? Somehow we have to keep navigating the fine line between our agency as servants of God, and the power of God to accomplish what God wills. Some say “Work as though it’s all up to you; pray as though it’s all up to God.” That’s too separate for me. I prefer, “Pray, because it’s all up to God, and work as the Spirit guides you.” And if you don’t feel any guidance, go forward as you want – if we are faithful, God will make sure the pieces line up in the end. Somehow.

Think of when you have taken time for yourself, and haven't done something you were supposed to do, or missed being somewhere you were supposed to be. Did the thing get done anyway? Did you connect with the right people later? Was there any “coincidence” in it coming out right?

Does your spirit yearn for some restorative time now? Are your obligations proving to be obstacles to slaking that thirst? What would it look like if you just took the time and then watched to see how the Spirit of God gets you across the water to that boat?

I worry that I spend too much time outside these days, not working in as focused a way as I “should.” But it’s what my spirit craves, and 'tis the season for being outside. I do work out there…and I listen to the birds and watch the squirrels leap from branch to branch and pet the cats and admire the growing tomatoes and herbs. I don’t know what boats I might be missing but I choose to believe I’ll be where I’m supposed to be when. Certainly I’ll be less stressed.

One of my favorite cartoons shows a person sitting contentedly at a desk, over the caption, “I love deadlines. I love to watch them fly by.” Can I get an amen?

8-4-14 - Alone Time

Sooner or later, Jesus was going to get that “alone time” he’d been wanting. It came a day later than planned, a full day of healing, teaching and miraculously feeding thousands of people – but then he took his retreat. Once the leftovers were collected, “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray."  (Full gospel passage for Sunday here.)

Even for Jesus, being a conduit of the power of God takes energy out of you. The need to rest, recharge, reconnect with the Spirit of God is as important as the visible ministry we do, maybe more so. We can do a kind of recharging in community, especially over a meal and a celebration, but for most people, our deep spirit is best renewed in solitude.

Solitude is hard to find in our multiply-connected, always “on” world. But it’s not only that it’s hard to find – I believe there is a deeper malaise that makes it hard for many to seek it. Our constant input, 24-7 connectivity provides ample cover to avoid darker feelings, disappointments, mistakes, hurts we have inflicted or received, emptiness and pain.

In my city, we’ve already had three pedestrian deaths this year, plus several in surrounding towns. That is not only a problem of distracted driving. I believe it is a problem of distracted living, of moving too fast to notice what and who is around us, of rushing to the next thing that will make us feel connected, filling every moment and part of our lives so we don’t have to face the emptiness and loss inside.

What happens when you get time alone? Are you able to sit quietly with yourself, or do you read, download, check texts, emails, Twitter and Facebook, google questions and watch funny pet videos? I’m afraid I too often do the latter; sitting quietly with myself or with Jesus can be a great challenge. I run back to my to-do list at the drop of a hat: the to-do list makes me feel filled and fulfilled, recognized, connected. Who wants to sit in silence before the vastness that is God?

Well, Jesus did… and he knew he needed that if he was to live fully into his identity. Granted, he had a relationship with the Father; he didn’t need to forge one. If he was fully human, though, he was as vulnerable as we are to the games of ego and gratification and regard. One way to live out of his true identity and not the false ones the world tried lure him into was to break away on his own sometimes for prayer and solitude. Same goes for us.

Do you do that every week? Every day? Might we covenant together today to spend about ten minutes off the grid each day this week, sitting with the silence and stillness, uncomfortable as it might be? The only way to reset our priorities is to sit before God, still and waiting and expectant. Man, that’s hard for me! If it’s easy for you, you are blessed indeed. Share your secret with someone.

Here’s a prayer we can try:
“Come, Holy Spirit, and quiet my mind, stir up my soul. Breathe your Spirit into me and let me come into stillness. Let me hear what I need to hear, discern what I need to let go of. Renew my spirit, refresh my mind, and re-center me so that, like a record on a turntable, your song plays through me truly, without distortion, for those around me to hear.”

Don't put any "shoulds" on it. Just call it “me time.” It’s really “Me and God” time, but no one needs to know that…

8-1-14 - Unexpected Feasts

When I was just out of college, my parents lived in Turkey, and I spent two months there one summer. On one driving trip to the Black Sea coast, after lots of sight-seeing, I wanted to go to the beach. We checked out several before finding one that was secluded and beautiful. No sooner had we settled on the sand and gone for a swim, though, than a group of young men trooped down the hill and set up nearby.

I was very self-conscious, and hoped they’d leave us alone. No such luck – soon one came over and began talking to my father in broken English. It turns out they were soldiers on a day off, and they were making lunch, and would we please join them. I shot my dad a look that said, “Please, no! I do not want to eat with a bunch of strange men we can’t even communicate with! In my bathing suit!” He did try a few times to decline, but Turks are known for their hospitality and they’re hard to say no to… next thing I knew we had gotten up and gone over to their little camp.

What a lot of activity there was: a couple of guys had a fire going and were preparing to grill some wonderful spiced meat köfte on skewers. Another guy was chopping cucumbers into a pan of lettuce and tomatoes. And there were several loaves of warm ekmek, wonderful Turkish bread. Though we protested that we’d just had lunch, heaping plates were presented to us anyway. We ate. And I cannot remember ever having food as good as that. It has remained in my memory as one of the great feasts of my life, social awkwardness, language gaps and all.

That unexpected feast has also stayed with me as an icon of the feasts God prepares for us to stumble onto every day of our lives. No one in that crowd of over 5000 that Jesus and his disciples fed was there for food – they had come for healing, for hope, maybe to catch a glimpse of this Jesus guy, to tell folks at home they’d been there. But God had a feast in store for them.

I believe God has feasts in store for us as well, lots of them. They might be large or small, material or spiritual or both. We have feasts of conversation and books and music, good work and hopefulness. And of course many feasts of food, one of the best ways for us to experience the goodness and abundant generosity of God. Every morning these days I cut into a plump, ripe, perfectly sweet peach, sprinkle a few luscious blueberries on top, and enjoy a feast. Whatever perceived “not-enough-ness” I may encounter later in the day, I have been reminded from the start that God is in the feasting business. As the prophet Isaiah spoke long ago:

Thus says the Lord: "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1-2; also for this Sunday)

What feasts have you experienced lately, or long ago, feasts that you did not prepare – though preparing feasts for others is also a way to enjoy God’s blessings. 

What feasts have you perhaps declined, or not recognized until later?
Do you associate God with feasting or with fasting? How might we better balance the two in our lives?

We will live differently if we expect feasts. We will give differently if we expect feasts. 

We will love differently, and perhaps even allow ourselves to be loved more deeply.
The invitation couldn’t be clearer: “O, taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)