1-30-15 - Famous

Fame has a powerful effect on people, those who become famous and those who pay them inordinate amount of attention. It can undermine our priorities and cause us to do and say things that don’t reflect our best selves. Who among us, if given the chance to hang out with a celebrity we admired, wouldn’t clear our schedule and get ourselves to wherever the meeting was to take place? I would drop at lot to meet a celebrity whom I thought was cool – and I’d be pretty sure everyone knew about it! Being around famous people can make us feel more important.

People who are famous say it is very odd to receive such attention from total strangers simply because you have a talent or skill or position that gives you exposure. It can be very hard to be the object of projection from a public that doesn’t actually know you, but thinks they do. For the very famous, celebrity constricts their movements, home life, spontaneity, and even affects their families and friends.

So I wonder how Jesus handled it:  

“At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”

Without a doubt, Jesus’ fame helped him spread the Good News more widely. It was a factor in attracting followers, who helped spread the Good News more widely still. Yet we also know from the gospels that more than once the crowds kept him from something he was going to do, and he spent long hours teaching and healing all who came to him.

And, of course, we also know that fame has an underbelly. The famous can suddenly be deemed – or become – infamous, notorious, the criticism directed toward them all the more fierce because it is adulation turned inside out. It was the fame generated by Jesus’ raising of Lazarus that sealed his fate with the temple authorities, and we all know how the crowds shouting “Hosanna” as he rode into Jerusalem became mobs crying, “Crucify him” within the space of a few days. We love our heroes – and we love to watch them fall.

Should Christians seek fame? Some star athletes and artists use their celebrity to proclaim their faith, sometimes with mixed results. And we know of pastors who’ve gotten very famous on the Gospel losing their way morally and legally. We might conclude that fame is something not to be sought, but if it comes to you unbidden, it should be managed with all the humility we can muster.

What we can do is pray for people in the public eye, that they would wear their fame lightly, not taking themselves too seriously. As a boss of mine once said, “Don’t believe too much in your own press releases.” And we can pay attention to how much we seek or covet attention and affirmation from a wide range of people. Maybe the regard of a small group is more meaningful – and a safer bet.

Jesus became famous out of all proportion to his humble beginnings – his humble human beginnings, that is. From the perspective of his divine origins, his long reign at the “top of the charts” is understandable. But he never acted like a famous person, never exercised any prerogatives or favors, never let fame draw him off-mission. He went to the cross like the lowest of criminals – and emerged from the grave the Lord of heaven and earth, whose fame will never diminish, until we all come together in that Land where no one is more valued than anyone else.

1-29-15 - Amazed

Amazement seemed to follow Jesus wherever he went. The healing of the possessed man in the synagogue, combined with his style of teaching, won him rave reviews: “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’”

It’s been hard for me to avoid the subject of evangelism with this week’s passage. We see us how powerfully people reacted to Jesus when he first came on the scene. Looking back on those events through a 2,000-year telescope, we’re bound to lose some definition and immediacy. When did we last say, “Wow! What is this teaching? Who is this guy?”

A domesticated Christianity is like lukewarm dish water. It allows us to go through the motions, but doesn’t really get the dishes clean. How can we reinvigorate our faith, our excitement at what God did in Jesus Christ, and what God is doing now through the Holy Spirit working in us? To my mind, the remedy is less talking about Jesus and more talking to Jesus; less observing from the sidelines and more experience. We need to do everything we can to put ourselves in the way of experiencing God directly, and then do everything we can to help others experience God.

This Jesus may not be new news to many of us, but we live in a culture in which many people have only dimly heard of him – and their associations with the people who bear his name might well be quite negative. We have a huge opportunity to introduce this guy to people who don’t know much of anything about him.

And what should we tell them? How we experience Jesus. Why we call ourselves Christ followers. What were the moments when he became real for us. Those are incredible stories! If we tell them, they’re going to plant seeds in the people who hear them. If I heard a story about someone being rescued from despair, or empowered to work for justice, or healed, I’d want to know more about that person.

All we need to do is initiate a curiosity – and be there when questions are asked. And the only answers we’re required to give are our own stories of our own experience. We don’t need to say why God allows suffering – we can say, “I don’t know why – and here’s a time when I felt suffering was answered by God with love,” or “Here’s a time when God worked through me to alleviate someone else's suffering.”

Some time in the next few days, we might make an inventory of our “God-stories” and dust them off. I’m terrible at this – my sermons are too often declarations of belief instead of stories of transformation. So I intend to hold myself to this discipline too. Our experiences with God are our richest resource in God’s mission.

When were you last amazed by Jesus? Remember – and tell someone that story. You're just making an introduction - the next move is up to God.

1-28-15 - Deliverance

We’ve experienced them, haven't we, people who show up in our churches and don’t know how to behave. Clearly on some medication, or in desperate need of it, they mumble and shamble and can’t sit still; maybe they talk or shout during the sermon or the prayers. We know we need to welcome them as we do the “well-put-together,” but they can be disruptive, manipulative, even nasty when challenged.

Not that different in the synagogue in Jesus’ day:
“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.”

What did the people around Jesus think? “Oh my God, don’t talk to him! Don’t engage….” Or did they think Jesus was harsh with his rebuke, “Be silent!” But Jesus knew the man was not the problem. As well as the demons could recognize his presence, he could recognize theirs. He knew this was not a case of mental illness or substance abuse or social disorder – he knew this man was held captive by a spirit not his own, a spirit of evil which sought to hold him in disease and undermine every effort toward freedom.

This is only the first of many times in the gospels when we see Jesus communicate directly with evil spirits, commanding them to loose their hold on an afflicted person. I have heard of such things in our times too – there is a category of evil beyond the categorizable pathologies we’ve become so adept at naming and mapping. Jesus never confused the person oppressed by the demonic with the forces oppressing them. He spoke right to the demons, casting them out in the language of command. Jesus knew he had power greater than they did, and they feared him.

I happen to believe that this can and does occur – people can be very vulnerable to an influx of dark spirits, especially if they have been victims of sexual violence or abuse that so thoroughly undermines their sense of self. People who have been involved in or subject to occult activities can also be at risk. But even if you don’t believe that this reality exists, you can affirm the movement toward freedom which Jesus consistently fosters. He was – and is – in the business of setting people free, from all kinds of bondage. He wasn’t about to forget the spiritual as he attended to medical, emotional, political, economic, judicial,social brokenness.

Paul reminds us in Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” We are invited to constantly seek our own freedom from anything that hinders our growth into the fullness of who God made us to be. And we are called to invest in the freedom of others, across every kind of category of person, condition and “-ism,” seeking to free the person beneath the oppression and offering our strength for their spiritual growth. Who do you know who needs to be set free? How is God calling you to help? And what freedoms are you seeking? Who might be your agent of deliverance?

Something wonderful can happen when we acknowledge the person hiding behind that “difficult” behavior. Often it is those “less presentable” people, when they are invited to speak, who articulate most clearly their experience of the love of God. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Indeed!

1-27-15 - "I Know Who You Are"

I’ve been watching a lot of Masterpiece Mystery of late, so when I think of someone saying, “I know who you are,” I automatically impute a menacing tone to those words. Though it’s a phrase that can convey a happy recognition – of a movie star, say, or an old friend – it suggests a hidden knowledge about someone’s past or true identity, something not everyone knows about them.

One of the ongoing themes in the synoptic gospels is that the only ones who seem to consistently understand Jesus’ true identity as Messiah are the demons. That makes some sense – as spiritual beings, they would recognize the spiritual authority of the Son of God. They are always afraid of him, as we see in this week’s gospel story:

“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’”

These dark forces recognize that part of Jesus’ mission is to destroy them. After all, there is no point in announcing that God’s life has come among us with power to heal and transform the universe, if you’re not also going to deal with the other side of the equation, what our baptismal rite refers to as “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” Jesus came that we might have life, and have it in abundance, and that means he also came to break the power of evil over humankind, whether that manifests as demonic oppression, economic and political injustice, disease and disability, or personal sin. One of our great claims as Christians is that Christ did break the power of evil and gave us the means to combat it, through the power of his name.

Do we know who Jesus is? The divine Son of the Living God, the savior and redeemer of the world, the One before whom the forces of evil cower? When we reduce Jesus to a nice guy, a good teacher, a moral model, an important world leader who only wants us to love one another, we leave out the power he possessed and demonstrated, power even his followers could wield in his name, power to heal and forgive and bring peace and justice that his followers can still wield in his name.

He has given us authority over the forces of evil, however we may encounter them. We make his power and presence known simply by invoking his name: Jesus, the Christ, the name which awakens faith, the name by which Peter and John healed a lame man (Acts 3).

This week, whenever you encounter darkness, whether in the depression of a friend or in the headlines of your newspaper, stop and invoke the name of Jesus, inviting his power to transform that situation. That can be a scary prayer, because it’s only one factor among many in any given situation – but if we believe it is the most significant factor, we dare to take that step of faith and make that prayer.

Whenever we do that, we are saying to Jesus, “I know who you are.”

1-26-15 - New Teaching

Whenever I go to a talk or a conference, I long to hear something I haven’t heard before, something that resonates with my mind and spirit and causes me to see in a new way. How rare it is, to hear someone put familiar ideas together in a new way! So often we just spin endless variations on the same old themes; perhaps a new understanding emerges with each iteration, but we stay within the same paradigm.

Well, Jesus broke the paradigm.

I remember when the phrase “paradigm shift” first came into currency. My reaction was, “If someone can tell me what a paradigm is, I’m happy to learn how to shift it.” I still have to look the darn word up. If you happen to share my ignorance, a paradigm is the prevailing system, model, way of understanding something. A new paradigm offers an alternative way of seeing or doing the same old thing, a vision that reveals to us new possibilities, new connections, new vistas.

Jesus proclaimed a new paradigm – and people could tell. “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority!”

The way thinking and talking about God were done in Jesus’ community was by question and argument, not declaration. Rabbis didn’t teach, “This is how it is.” Rather, they asked questions about a text in Scripture, suggested interpretations, argued against other interpretations, suggested new variations on the interpretations, and looked for truth in the searching. No one interpretation was necessarily more “authoritative” than another, though some views drew more adherents than others.

Jesus did not open the text and say, “What if….?” He opened the scroll in the synagogue and said, “Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He made declarative statements: “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near. Believe in the good news!” In modern language it might sound like, “Listen! God is on the move. God is doing a new thing. The realm of God has come near you, among you, even within you. Come and be a part of what God is up to!”

We have a challenge. For us this “new teaching” is over 2,000 years old, and has accrued the dust of hundreds of thousands of books in a thousand libraries and churches and stained glass windows. It seems irrelevant in a populace that increasingly draws its authority from its own experience or its favorite media outlet. For many of us, the Good News has become old, stale, two-dimensional – unless we hear it again with authority.

I believe we need to hear it again from Jesus, the Jesus we meet in the Gospels, the Jesus we encounter in our prayers and our ministries. We don’t need to read it in a book. We need to read it on the face of someone who wonders if anyone will ever love him, or feel it in the smoothness of a chalice as we share the wine at communion, or hear it from each other as we tell our stories of spiritual encounter.

And we need to hear ourselves tell it! There are a lot of people around us who aren’t burdened by the age of this “Good News” – because they have never heard it, and may not if we don’t tell it in our own ways.

Jesus’ teaching is still new. I pray we will continue to renew our ways of hearing, and telling, that “old, old story.”

1-23-15 - Fishing

I’m not much of a fisherman – I think I’ve tried it once or twice in my life. Didn’t have the skill, the patience or the stillness to do it well – that, and I feel too sorry for the fish. But I do believe it’s a skill Jesus would like me to learn, at least so far as the “fishing for people” part goes.

All week I’ve been assuming that in this story we’re the brothers being recruited along that seashore. But a great gift of gospel stories is that we can put ourselves into any of the characters in them and find deeper meaning. So maybe we need to try on the Jesus role as well. Because sooner or later the recruited become the recruiters, if a movement is to grow. The time came when Peter and Andrew, James and John found themselves inviting other people to come and follow Jesus.

So what can we learn from Jesus’ technique as we seek to invite people into the life of faith? Well – first of all, he showed up in their environments, at their place of work no less. He didn’t send a message from afar – he drew near, close enough to smell the fish, touch the nets, see real lives. He knew what he was asking them to walk away from, and that was a way of honoring their lives. So we need to know people before we invite them to consider Jesus as Lord.

Secondly, he gave them a clear invitation: “Follow me.” So often we are muddy in our invitations. “Join us at church sometime” is not a specific, “I’d love for you to join me at church this Sunday – we have a visiting choir/preacher/are doing a great series on…..” Or invite someone to join you at an outreach ministry you’re involved in. And might we consider going beyond invitations to church “stuff” and get closer to the heart of the matter: “Would you like to get together and talk about spiritual things sometime? It’s such a big part of my life, and I have no idea about your spirituality.” Who knows where that conversation might lead?

Third, Jesus made them a promise with his invitation: “I will show you how to fish for people.” That honored who they were and what they did, and offered continuity between their old lives and the unknown he was asking them to walk into with him. People are often excited about learning new things, and feel affirmed that you think they are worthy of being taught. That’s how leaders are made.

And what did Jesus not do? He did not wheedle, cajole, arm- twist, or try to manipulate them. He asked. They answered. They moved on. Presumably he would have moved on if they’d said no too.

Jesus wasn’t always thrilled with the way these recruits followed orders or comprehended his teachings. But having chosen them, he was committed to them, and never gave up on them. It took a long time before they really demonstrated the leadership that Jesus entrusted him with. Look at Peter – he had to succeed and fail, step out in faith and sink in doubt, get who Jesus truly was and then miss the next cue, even deny his Lord three times and then repent – but in the end, he became that fisher of men still honored by the church for over 2000 years.

With a record like that, we shouldn’t feel too inadequate, right? Jesus is still inviting you and me, “Come, follow me. We have a world to heal.” You coming?

1-22-15 - Unwilling Recruits

Unless I’m forgetting something, the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry only tell us about one person turning down Jesus’ invitation to follow him: the rich ruler who asked what he had to do to win eternal life. When Jesus said, “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor and then come, follow me,” we’re told he turned away saddened “for he had many possessions.” John’s gospel tells of quite a few followers quitting the movement when Jesus starts talking about strangely about being “the bread of life,” but most of the stories in which he calls people to follow him as disciples end with a “yes.”

It’s enough to discourage the likes of us, who often have trouble getting people to participate regularly in church, let alone take Jesus seriously. (Of course, if we emphasized the latter, we’d likely get more of the former, but that’s another story for another day…) Jesus makes it look so easy.

It’s a good thing the Hebrew Bible includes the story of Jonah, a tidbit of which is in Sunday's lectionary. Jonah is a hilariously tall tale about a man who would do just about anything to avoid the one thing God asked him to do: Go and carry a message of repentance to the famously wicked and licentious populace of Nineveh.

Jonah is so unwilling and so disobedient, he hightails it in the other direction, catches a ship to throw God off the scent, gets thrown overboard and fetches up in the belly of a big fish, only to be thrown up on the beach three days later. And who’s there to greet him? God – with the same request. This time Jonah does it, sort of, doing his best to sabotage his own mission. He succeeds despite his best efforts to fail, and ends in a bitter heap of abject rage, railing against God’s mercy. It’s a brilliant send-up of self-righteousness and a sweetly subversive hymn to forgiveness and grace.

And one message we might take from this story is that God can find a way to work through even the most unwilling heart. If we know anyone who’s taken their sweet time getting around to RSVPing Jesus' invitation to closer relationship (maybe us?); if we find ourselves putting off that nudging sense that God would like us to reach out in love to certain people, or engage in certain work for justice – we might take comfort (of a sort!) from this story. God can outwait us.

But oh, how much nicer and more fulfilling it is when stop delaying and resisting, and turn and say, “Okay. I’m listening. What is it you want from me?”

More often than not, the response we receive will be something God wants for us, not from us. 

All God really wants from us is our whole hearts.
That’s all!

1-21-15 - What You Do Best

Jesus walked by a bunch of fishermen one day and recruited them away from their nets, their boats, their fathers and co-workers. He said only two things: “Follow me” and “I will make you fish for people.” However strange that phrase might sound to our ears, to them it must have conveyed at least this much: That he saw what they do, honored it, and promised to harness that gift for a wider purpose.

The gospels don’t revisit that expression, but we can look at the kind of training the disciples received from Jesus and see how he might have put their fishing experience to good use:

  • They learned to proclaim the Good News in all kinds of “weather,” to accepting crowds and skeptics alike;
  • They learned to bait the hook with miracles that demonstrated the power they were proclaiming;
  • They learned that they might have the biggest catches in the least likely places – among the poor and marginalized, downtrodden and downright sinful;
  • They learned that they couldn’t keep everyone they hauled in – some went back.
  • They learned that Jesus kept some they would have tossed back.
  • And they learned that their instincts and techniques could help – but ultimately God controlled the catch.
Jesus didn’t ask them to stop being fishermen, only to transfer those skills to sharing the Good News. What do you do in your work, or in the pastimes by which you describe yourself, that Jesus might invite you to use in a broader missional context? Are you skilled with people? Good at listening? Discerning patterns? Organizing? Making people comfortable?

Think for a moment in prayer:
What in yourself do you most want to offer today for God to take and transform? Why not offer that today?

This passage reminds us that when Jesus invites us to follow him, he expects we’ll bring along all of who we are and have been. Some of that will fall away as we get closer to him; more of it will be turned and honed and polished, maybe even fired and made beautiful and strong for God’s purpose, as carbon becomes diamonds. That's how precious you are.

1-20-15 - Just Passing By

Last week we looked at the way the “disciple call stories” unfolded in John’s Gospel. This week we’re back to Mark, who is often short on details. On the face of it, this encounter appears absurd:

“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

A guy comes by, promises to make you good at, what? Fishing for people? Sounds vaguely like human trafficking… And you drop your livelihood and follow him? We must be missing something.

Well, if the stories in John’s gospel fill in this account, what we’re missing is that Jesus had already met Peter and Andrew. Andrew had already proclaimed him the “Real Thing,” and Jesus had already given Andrew’s brother Simon the nickname Petros, or Peter. All that had taken place by the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.

Now we’re in Galilee, and Jesus is getting started in earnest on his mission of proclaiming and demonstrating the power of God’s in-breaking realm. Now he comes along and invites them to take the next step – actually becoming part of his inner circle. And they go.

If this is the way it unfolded, we can be encouraged that perhaps Jesus invited more than once – and that it might take us a few steps to commit ourselves to following him heart, mind, body and time.

When in your life do you feel you’ve been asked or challenged to commit yourself to following Jesus in a deeper way? How did the request come? How did you respond? Have you responded differently at one time than another?

What does “following Jesus” mean for you? What is God asking of you? What is exciting about going deeper? What is scary or inconvenient or otherwise causes you to hesitate?

That day Jesus was passing by the Sea of Galilee. Another day he was passing by a tax collector’s booth. Today he might be passing the halls of your office building or on the roads you travel. Might we start today with this prayer:
“Jesus, open my spirit to see you, to hear what you’re inviting me to do. Open my heart to saying ‘yes.’”

1-19-15 - Believe the Good News

"Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’"

The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near. Believe in the good news.

It can be very hard to believe in the good news, when so much bad news surrounds us. It takes a special kind of courage, a special kind of faith to continue to believe in the good news of Jesus Christ in the thick of evil.

Today we honor such a man, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who continued to proclaim the good news in the face of fire hoses and death threats, beatings and humiliations. But I don’t believe he just believed in “good news” in the abstract – he lived in relationship with the Good News himself, our Lord Jesus. He followed Jesus into those halls of battle and halls of power. He allowed Jesus to transform his life as he aligned himself with God’s mission of justice. He allowed God’s dream to claim him – and he gave voice to that dream.

Today I pray we will do more than honor the man; I pray we will align ourselves with his Lord and let him lead us to our part in God’s dream.

(Sorry this is so short and declarative – I’ve had a bad cold for several days and no energy; I appreciate your prayers!)

1-16-15 - Follow Me

In these early chapters of all four gospels, we see Jesus putting together his team, his community of trainees. These are the men (and beyond the Twelve, also women) through whom his message will be proclaimed and demonstrated. I’m always struck by how little Jesus had to say to get them to come along: “Follow me.” That’s pretty much it.

Why did they go, without plans or itineraries, curricula or policy papers, without any instructions about what they were to do, where, and with whom? I think it is because Jesus was not inviting them into a project. He was inviting them into relationship, a relationship that required a commitment and a releasing of all other activity. They didn’t need to know what they were going to be doing – chances are, more than a few would have turned back had they known. They only needed to know they were going to become friends and followers of a profoundly holy man, whom some suspected was the long-awaited Messiah, and Son of God.

Maybe in our productivity-driven culture we don’t see more people choosing to follow Jesus because there is no to-do list. I sort of live in my to-do list 24/7 – and though many of the things on that list are things I think I’m doing “for” Jesus, I have noticed that he doesn’t seem very interested in it. I think he’s much more interested in me, in spending time in conversation and contemplation, knowing and being known. And I believe he is very interested in you.

Can we enter into relationship with someone we can’t see and can only connect with spiritually in prayer? Someone whose words we “hear” as they appear in our head and don’t seem like our own? Sometimes we begin just by learning to be still and centered and open to feeling God’s presence.

Of course, there is a “doing” dimension – Jesus had his disciples healing and proclaiming and feeding and all kinds of things. But they were things they did with him, not just for him. As we allow our spirits to open to relationship with the Living Christ, we find his power and his priorities take hold in us. So we embark not on projects as much as showings, demonstrations of God’s love.

Do you feel you are a follower of Christ? It means more than following his example – it means traveling with him, discerning where the Spirit is taking you for the next adventure. And it means sitting down to dinner with him after a long day, and letting his agenda be your agenda.

Every day, Jesus comes by somewhere we are and says, “Come on. Follow me.” We don’t have to know where we’re going, only who we’re going there with.

1-15-15 - Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

One measure of maturity is learning to adjust expectations – usually downward. We learn through trial that the world does not owe us anything, and neither do the people whom we look to for attention, affection and affirmation – the Triple A team that can run my life if I let it. Spiritual masters teach us to let go of wanting, of having an agenda; to accept what comes, not try to make it happen.

And yet, here is Jesus, maybe the greatest spiritual master of them all, saying, “Expect more! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” In the face of Nathanael’s new faith, which was a response to Jesus’ knowing something about him he couldn’t have known in the natural sense, Jesus replies,

“‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’”

In response to his followers’ continued astonishment at his works of power, what we call miracles, Jesus always invited them to think bigger, to increase their estimation of what God can do as we invite the power of the Spirit into this realm. In fact, I believe that the healing and transformation that Jesus brought about were not miracles at all, but simply how things work in the Realm of God. After all, when the disciples did step out in faith and exercised authority in Jesus’ name, they too found that demons and diseases and even death yielded to their commands. So it has been throughout church history, and into our own day among churches more alive to the work of the Spirit.

How did so many Christ followers become people of such little faith? We don’t see that kind of power exercised in our midst, so we adjust our expectations downward, and consequently we expect less and hesitate to wield the authority we’ve been given as followers of Christ, and so we see fewer things we would call miracles. A sad little cycle of reduced investment leading to diminished returns.

When did you last ask God to reveal something big, bold, scary? Did you see an answer to that prayer? Sometimes we’re afraid to pray big because we’re afraid of what it will do to our faith if we are disappointed. Well, guess what? Your faith is more robust than you think – and like the muscles in your body, can only get stronger when it's exercised. What do you want to exercise faith for today? 

Try this: "Okay, God - release your power and love and healing in me, in so-and-so, in this situation or that country." You can add, like the father whose son Jesus healed in the Gospels, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." You do not have to add,"If it be your will." It is God's will that the power and life of the Kingdom be revealed.

The “bigger things” Jesus talked about aren’t only answers to prayer. He was also telling Nathanael – and, by extension, us – that he would come into the very presence of God through closeness to Jesus. If we start to spend more time opening our hearts to the power and love of Christ, I believe we will find ourselves encouraged to believe in those greater things. And to open the eyes of our hearts to see.

1-14-15 - Known

To be fully known and fully accepted: is there any richer human experience? That is a gift God offers to us. Sometimes it is the way God gets our attention. That’s certainly how it happened when Nathanael met Jesus.

“When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’

Just before this, Nathanael’s friend Philip had told him about Jesus, and he had responded with a big dose of skepticism. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But when he meets Jesus, Jesus speaks as though he already knows him, complimenting him for his lack of deceit. Who knows, maybe Jesus is also getting in a gentle dig, knowing what Nathanael had said about his home town, backhandedly commending him for holding nothing back, even sarcasm.

He surely gets Nathanael’s attention: “Where did you come to know me?” Jesus replies, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Now, Nathanael had been alone and Jesus nowhere close by. He could not have known this by natural means. As miracles go, it’s a mild one – but it captures Nathanael and opens his heart to seeing who Jesus is. And boy, does he see – he sees the whole truth! “‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’”

It takes months and years for Jesus’ followers to comprehend his Messianic identity, and here, Nathanael gets it in the first five minutes. Jesus opened Nathanael’s heart by showing that he knew him, and then he made himself known to that open heart.

Who would you say knows you best in the world? And how fully does that person know you? Do they accept you for all of who you are, the good, the bad and the ugly? Have you been able to receive that gift? And have you given it to another?

Have you experienced being known by God? I will sometimes receive a word in prayer that reveals a deep truth about myself, something I may dimly know but haven’t fully recognized. And often I sense a kind of acceptance of who I am, much more profound than I am able to offer myself. Sometimes allowing ourselves to be known by God helps us with the endless journey of coming to know ourselves.

In Jesus, God made the unknowable knowable, so that we might know God, at least to the extent our limited human perceptions allow. And in coming into human life, human time, human experience, Jesus also made a way for us to feel what it’s like to be known by God. My prayer today, for you and for me, is that we will let that knowing love take root deep inside, so that we too will be without guile, without shadow, transparent as glass.

1-13-15 - Prejudice

In our story this week, Nathanael has a snarky reaction when Philip tells him the big news about meeting Jesus: “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’”

Nazareth was evidently considered a low-rent town in a backwater county – think, say, Seacaucus, New Jersey. Whether its reputation was deserved or not, it was there. Later, some religious leaders will question whether Jesus could possibly be a holy man, using similar reasoning, “Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (John 7:52) Nathanael was so sure he could discern who a man was by where he came from, he dismissed his friend’s claim out of hand.

I don’t think it’s possible to be human and be free of prejudice. Part of how we get through life is by sorting and categorizing the input we receive. And if we’ve been taught that a certain kind of person is one way, or if most of our experiences have been that a certain kind of person is that way, or if most of what we see in the media depicts a certain kind of person that way – our default position will be to assume that that’s how “those people” are.

Sometimes we sort by race and ethnicity and nationality; sometimes by class and education; sometimes by temperament. I have a prejudice against people whom I perceive to be angry. I shut down, and I judge. I have prejudices about weight, loud chewing, hunters, extremists… if I ever really stopped to think about it, I’d be astonished at how many biases, many of them unconscious, I hold.

Prejudice may be part of the human condition, but acting on it does not have to be. With the gift of awareness, we can surface our gut reactions and examine whether they are based on something intrinsic to that actual person, or on a category they represent. Either way, if we’re conscious, we can take steps to remedy our bias.

For instance, take my negative reaction to people who often appear angry or combative. What I want to do is walk away from people like that, not engage. And what does that do? Further isolates them. What I might choose to do instead (oh Lord, this is work!) is:

  • Remember that person is created and beloved by God;
  • Pray for them to be blessed, and ask God to show me how God sees them;
  • Remember there’s a reason they got to be the way they are, and let my compassion kick in;
  • Actually engage them in conversation, with kindness and respect, even if I don’t feel it.
  • Open my heart and spirit to seeing something new in them.

All reconciliation begins with actually seeing another human being. We are in the midst of a renewed conversation about race and racism in our country; now is a very good time to look within and learn to look out, beyond our assumptions, to the real people in front of us.

What Philip said to Nathanael was simply, “Come and see.”
If we all did that with every person of whom we are suspicious or think negatively, I imagine world peace would be in our grasp within seconds. Imagine.

1-12-15 - The Next Day

Third Sunday in January – never fails, whatever the reading, Jesus is telling somebody, “Follow me!”

That’s how you start a movement – invite people to follow you, start a social network. And there was indeed something “viral” about the way Jesus’ network of followers accumulated. It wasn’t just a linear process, Jesus asking one after another. It was also radial, people telling their friends and family, who then came to check out what they’d heard, and stuck around, becoming followers themselves.

Three paragraphs in a row in the first chapter of John start with “The next day…” So this would be the third day since John the Baptist first saw Jesus approaching and identified him as the Son of God. On the second day, Andrew follows Jesus, spends the day with him and by nightfall has gone to fetch his brother Simon Peter, saying “We’ve found the Messiah!” And by this third day, it seems that Andrew and Peter have introduced their friend and neighbor Philip to Jesus, for Jesus invites Philip to follow him to Galilee.

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.”

Philip, in turn, goes and finds his friend Nathanael, telling him “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote!” And even though Nathanael is sarcastic at first, Jesus finds a way to get through to him.

It’s not up to us to make the people in our lives fall in love with Jesus, only to make the introduction. And in our day and age we have the ability to do “radial” faster and more effectively than ever before. If you’ve ever had a post on Facebook or Twitter garner attention from people well beyond your own network, you know how quickly that can happen. Even your own circles include not only people close to you, but friends of friends, and people who hear about you. Just today Twitter informed me that an author in North Carolina is now following me. How did that come about? I have not a clue. It’s a wide open world out there – with a lot of people hungry for connection to the holy.

Of course, the call to introduce others to Jesus presupposes that we’ve “caught” the connection ourselves, that we’ve experienced undeserved love and transformation through coming to know Jesus better. The language of “falling in love” can be a bit much for Episcopalians – but truly, that is our invitation. I do my share of resisting intimacy with God, but I do know it’s where my life’s deepest meaning and purpose will be found. And when I allow myself to get close to that fire, I’m much more apt to tell somebody about it.

Who has been an “Andrew” or a “Philip” for you? Who has drawn you closer to a relationship with God in Jesus Christ by the way they speak or live their lives, or the stories they’ve told you? What was it about the way their faith sparkled or their love ran deep that got your attention?

Who are the “Nathanaels” around you, whom you might invite to join your faith journey? These days we can spread the word by posting something about church or asking for prayer - that'll let people know that your spiritual life is important and vital, and maybe they'll ask you about it. (Need I add, you can always forward Water Daily or invite friends to subscribe!)

“The next day” is today – and the ones featured in the story are you and me. Who are we going to introduce Jesus to?

1-9-15 - Voice of Belovedness

“And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

We’ve been looking this week at the story of Jesus’ baptism, and how each element has become incorporated into our own baptismal services. We use the water, we invoke the Holy Spirit’s anointing in the application of oil to the baptized person’s forehead. Where, though, does this piece of divine affirmation come in?

We might say, “It goes without saying.” The whole act of baptism is a response to the Love of God. We see it as incorporation into the family of God. Do we need to hear God’s “I love you?” when we’re bathed in it?

Well… yes. We’re human beings, and we need to hear it. Jesus heard it, and it’s not like HE needed to be reminded of his Father’s love. Or did he? Was the mission he was just beginning going to be so hard and lonely and dangerous, that he very much needed to be reminded?

Maybe God is always telling us how pleased God is with us, reminding us how beloved we are, but we aren’t tuned to that frequency. This world and its messages throw off a lot of static. (Casting Crowns has a good song about that, Voice of Truth – the images on this particular video are fairly awful; just listen to it.) Our own inner sense of inadequacy or insecurity, however we came by that, often overrides that message of love. How are we to hear it for ourselves?

One way is to try to tune in every day – whether it’s a quiet time of prayer in the morning, or a step off the treadmill sometime mid-day, or in reflection in the evening. If we can cultivate the daily reminder of our baptismal life and the promises God has made to us, we might find ourselves more often living in our belovedness. Being about the mission of God is often hard, sometimes dangerous and occasionally lonely; we need to hear God's voice calling us into love.

And we also need to remind each other. No one is called into Christian life in a vacuum. The “noise” around us will always overwhelm us if we don’t encourage and support each other. Who has been good at reminding you that you are beloved of God, delightful and pleasing to God? Who in your life might need a reminder this week? What if we made a practice of reminding one person each week?

At one point in the Episcopal baptismal service, the congregation is asked, “Will you support this person in her life in Christ?” And the answer is to be a resounding “We will!” That’s one of the times we hear the voice of the beloved, God speaking through us.

God has not stopped speaking through us – let’s be that voice of love for one another, and for the world.

1-8-15 - Chrism

We use two sacramental materials when we baptize someone, at least, in the so-called “sacramental” traditions, Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican. The most obvious is water. No less important is oil.

We don’t tend to use it in the same quantities as we do water – but in some early church communities, a candidate’s whole body might be anointed with oil, and in others oil was poured into the font along with water. In some places, the baptizand’s hands, feet, face and head were anointed as part of the baptismal rite.

It seems likely that this was a part of baptism as St. Paul knew it in the earliest days of the Church. In Ephesians, he says, “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…” That’s just what we say when we make the sign of the cross in oil on the forehead of someone being baptized: “You are sealed with the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Paul likened that anointing with the Holy Spirit to a down- payment of sorts: “…the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.”

It is the oil, chrism, that gives us the word “christening.” That’s how fundamental the chrismation part of the baptismal ritual is. For the oil is the Sign or symbol for the Holy Spirit. As I said Monday, it was the anointing with the Spirit that revealed Jesus as the Anointed One, or the “Christ” (same root word as chrism).

We might even deem the oil more important than the water. The water serves to symbolize the cleansing, forgiving, dying and rebirth realities of baptism. But it is the gift of the Holy Spirit uniting us with Christ that makes us Christians. That’s where our new identity comes from, the birth of a new person, you + Jesus, or the Spirit of Christ. Without the Holy Spirit we are just strivers; with the Spirit of Christ in us we are carried along on the Mission of God – and that cannot fail.

One of the readings appointed for next Sunday is from the book of Acts, about a time when Paul came upon a group of elders from Ephesus who had been baptized by disciples of John the Baptist. “He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’" Paul baptizes them into the name of Jesus and lays hands upon them in prayer – and they are filled with the Spirit.

Do you feel you’ve received the Holy Spirit? If you’ve been baptized in the Episcopal Church, you have. But our churches can be awfully quiet about the Spirit, so that we become almost like those Ephesians, barely aware of this Life Force by which we are renewed to be most fully who we are and empowered to do more than we can “ask or imagine.” If you don’t feel very well acquainted with the Holy Spirit, there’s some spiritual work for us. We can begin with the simplest of prayers: “Come, Spirit of Christ, fill me. Come, Spirit of the Father, renew me. Come, Holy Spirit, empower me.” And then see what happens.

We have been sealed. The deposit has been made. It’s time to start collecting our inheritance.

1-7-15 - Water

Today we continue our examination of the sacrament of baptism. There’s a fancy name for teaching about sacraments: mystagogy, the study of the sacred mysteries. Mystagogy flourished in the fourth century, when Constantine’s declaring Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire caused a flood of would-be converts seeking baptism. A few bishops – Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem and Theodore of Mopsuestia (say that three times fast!) offered instruction about the sacraments to catechumens before they were baptized.

They attempted to explain what the rites were all about. I’d like to focus on the elements involved – and begin with water, the most fundamental of fluids for life, and for baptism. Sometimes I think we belong in the water – we begin life and we end it in a sealed, watery place. We spend our first nine months of life floating in a sack of amniotic fluid, with embryonic arms like flippers. And then we’re born – which looks like freedom, but it also means we’re fish out of water. Some people spend their whole life trying to get back to that warm enclosed place – to live in the water.

Do you like a nice, hot bath after a hard day? Easing yourself into slowly because it’s just a little too hot, letting the water close over your tired feet, your aching muscles, letting your back settle in, enclosed in warm water.... Or are you a shower person, standing for minutes on end in the flow, letting it wash over your face, your shoulders and neck….Or let’s go bigger: walking into a cool lake on a hot day, the smooth, gentle water enveloping you… When I swim in the ocean I feel the most freedom of all. It’s bracing, it’s huge, you can dive down and float on the waves, it’s vast and refreshing. Sometimes I think we belong in the water.

The Bible is full of water, from Creation to the Ark to the Red Sea to the Jordan River. And there, symbolically, is where we all begin our life in Christ, going with him down into the water, letting the merely human person in us die and be reborn as the new creation that emerges with Christ from the depths. That’s why water, lots of it, is so important in the sacrament of baptism – it is symbolically enough water to drown in, and enough to birth us into new life. The baptismal water is where our eternal life truly begins. Once with water and the three-fold name of God, it’s accomplished. It’s done.

And whether you were sprinkled, toe-dipped, dunked or half-drowned, you got the whole thing. You went down and were laid in the watery tomb with Christ. You got up and were raised to life eternal with Christ. You were baptized in the waters of life for ever and ever! Amen!

If we want to feel more alive as Christ followers, we might practice remembering our baptism every day. We are surrounded with reminders – the water we drink, bathe in, wash dishes with. What if we cultivate the habit of remembering our baptism every time we feel water on our skin? Remind ourselves that we were washed and cleansed and reclaimed and reborn in water? Maybe we’d remember how beloved we are, which might make us more loving.

We begin Life in the water. And according to the book of Revelation, there’s water of life waiting for us at the end of days too, in that heavenly city, the new Jerusalem. And guess what? A river runs through it.

My one lake baptism!

1-6-15 - Sacramental Epiphanies

Happy Feast of the Epiphany! Christmas ended last evening with Twelfth Night, and today, like clockwork, the light dawns, insight floods us and we see it all clearly, right?

There are a number of bible passages associated with Epiphany – Jesus’ birth, his first miracle at Cana, the wise men and their star – and the story we are examining this week, Jesus’ baptism, which gave rise to the premiere rite of initiation into the Christian church. Holy Baptism is one of two main sacraments accepted by most Christian traditions (two points to the person who can name the other…). The Feast of the Epiphany seems like a good day to talk about sacraments – for they are Signs which reveal the hidden realm of God and make it discernible in our day-to-day world. They allow for multiple epiphanies.

The Prayer Book catechism defines a sacrament as “an outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible grace.” Something is enacted on the outside – what liturgical scholars call a “Sign Event,” and we believe by faith that the Holy Spirit accomplishes transforming work within us as we move through that rite. The material “signs” in baptism are water and oil, as well as the baptismal candidate and the gathered Body of Christ. The “signs” in Holy Communion are water and wine and the gathered Body. And the Holy Spirit is the one doing the work. We just show up with our faith.

The major sacraments of the Church are those rites which we believe Jesus himself instituted – the Eucharistic meal at the Last Supper (“Do this in remembrance of me…”), and Baptism in the Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28 (“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”). Personally, I’m pretty sure he also commanded his followers to wash each others feet regularly as a mark of servanthood and union with himself (John 13), but only the Moravians do that more than once a year, more’s the pity…

The ancients referred to sacraments as “the Holy Mysteries,” because in them the unseen reality of God is made known in human flesh, as it was more fully in Jesus’ incarnate life. They are ways for us to touch and taste and feel God, to draw as near as possible to the presence of the divine. We believe they are effective for us whether or not we’re conscious – but how much more powerful for us when we open ourselves to experiencing God in them!

How do you experience sacraments? In addition to the two major ones, some churches include confirmation, marriage, anointing the sick, confession and rites at the time of death. Can you recall a time when you had a transcendent experience during baptism or communion or another rite? What were the circumstances?

If your experience is not earth-shaking (mine rarely is), what is the dominant feeling you associate with these holy rituals? We might pray before we participate, “Jesus – make yourself known to me.” Or “Holy Spirit, fill me.” Or “God of heaven and earth, draw near to me.” And trust that God showed up, whether or not we felt it.

Martin Luther had a slightly different definition of a sacrament – “rites which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added.” Grace is God's unconditional promise to us! Sacraments are an invitation into an encounter with the grace of God. Our epiphanies dawn as we become aware of just how powerfully that grace has made us whole.

1-5-15 - Down to the River

We’ve been here before, this river. I don’t just mean every year at this time when we revisit Jesus’ baptism. I mean a few short weeks ago, with John the baptizer doing his thing, “…and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

We heard his prediction about the one coming after him, “more powerful than I.” 

“I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Soon enough, some thirty years after the birth we just celebrated, Jesus showed up at that river.
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”

As Matthew tells the story, John protests that he is unworthy to baptize Jesus, and Jesus indicates that he must “fulfill all righteousness.” Mark doesn’t add such details. But all four evangelists agree on what happened next:

“And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

The water, the Spirit’s descent, the heavenly voice of acclamation. This pattern of Jesus’ baptism becomes the pattern for Christian baptism to our own day. This week will explore the rite and rituals of baptism; today let’s try to immerse ourselves in this story of Jesus’ baptism. Let’s put ourselves at that river, among the crowds, imagine the stir when John reacts to Jesus’ presence, the hush that may have fallen as they enacted this ritual of repentance for one who had no need of it.

Close your eyes and see Jesus lower himself into the water until it closes over his head, and then, as he emerges, a dramatic play of clouds and light, and what looks like a dove coming upon him. It is the Spirit's desaction is what makes Jesus from this time on “The Anointed One,” the Greek for which is “The Christ.” Until this moment, Jesus is Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee. From here on, he is Jesus the Christ.

Maybe you hear a sound from the skies, like thunder or a loud wind, perhaps a sound like words that you can just make out… “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

How would you feel if you were an eyewitness to Jesus’ baptism? I’m sure some thought they were seeing things, hearing things. Others knew they’d witnessed a divine intervention into the human sphere, and they told the story and told the story and told the story, until it became one of the foundations of the Christian movement.

How has baptism changed your life? Many would answer, “little or not at all,” which is a shame, for baptism is one of God’s great gifts to us. This week we will explore this rite of initiation which seems so simple and carries so much power. Perhaps we will get in touch with the Spirit’s anointing of us, even if the sacrament that enacted this happened decades ago, or when we were barely conscious.

Faith and even ministry may not always begin with baptism, but each Christian traces our membership in the Body of Christ back to that river Jordan, back to that water of life. Let’s go down to the river again this week.

1-3-15 - Another Road

I wonder what became of these travelers who went to such trouble to find Jesus and worship him. Did they hear of his activities, his healings, teachings, miracles, and say, “Ah yes, I remember when he was just a baby….” Did they know about his crucifixion, and wonder at his being saved from death as an infant only to face it now? Did they hear about his Resurrection, even meet early missionaries?

As I was writing this, I received an email from Diane Jones, a Water Daily reader, with questions along the same lines - “Were they around when Jesus was growing up? Did they follow him throughout his youth? Did they tell their children about the King they brought gifts to? Could any one of the apostles be the son of any one of those wise men?” Diane closed her note observing how little we know about these magi, and yet… “over 2000 years later we still reflect on that Star and three men and their gifts and what it would lead to - for me it's from the Cradle to the Cross, from a baby to our Savior and what He offered for our salvation.”

The last we hear of the magi in the Gospel is that their route home diverged from their route there:
“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”

Another road. So often God invites us to take a road other than the one we came on, or other than we can imagine. We spend so much of our time planning our lives, mapping out how we’re going to get to where we think we need to be – from careers, relationships, children, status to what we're going to do next week. Yet one of the gifts of this story of the magi is that they didn’t plan their route going or coming. They were led by the star going, and instructed by the Spirit to go a different way home. They were ready, prepared, supplied – and flexible enough to trust that the road they’d come by wasn’t the only way home.

Have you sometimes found yourself directed to another road to where you thought you were supposed to be? Maybe there is one before you now, beckoning, unknown. Where might you be called to a change of route? Maybe even a different spiritual road?

These mysterious travelers had more gifts in their packs, some that have come to us over the centuries: Be on the lookout for the movements of God; plan your trip well, ready for the journey – and be ready to change your route at the Spirit’s prompting. The ultimate way Home for all of us will most definitely be by another road, one we cannot fully imagine; we can only live ready for it.

1-2-15 - A Life of Offering

“What can I give him, poor as I am,” asks Christina Rossetti in the poem we sing as “In the bleak midwinter." If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part…

Those wise men, astrologers, magi from the East (the direction of the dawning sun, growing enlightenment…) were obviously men of means. They were educated and had the resources to mount a lengthy journey. They had the faith to commit those resources, trusting in their interpretation of a star in the heavens. And they had the wealth to bring rich gifts, suitable for a king: “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

It seemed not to have fazed them in the slightest that this king they sought was a mere child in his mother’s arms. They didn't think, “Well, what are these people going to do with gold, frankincense and myrrh? Such gifts belong in palaces. We’ll just give him a gift certificate…”

No, they gave what they came to give, gifts of great value, gifts that cost them something. They sought nothing in return, overjoyed simply that the star they had trusted had led them to their destination, grateful to have the chance to offer worship to this child, whoever he might turn out to be. These men excelled at the art of oblation, offering.

How are we when it comes to living a life of offering? A life of oblation is a little different than just being a good giver. A life of offering is one in which we are oriented to joy, to what might bless people around us. It means more than giving what people need – that’s a basic human imperative. These magi didn’t bring gifts that Jesus and Mary needed (as the old joke goes, if the wise men had been women, they’d have brought diapers, teething rings and a casserole…). They brought gifts that honored and blessed the household, gifts that conveyed value and esteem.

To live a life of offering means being more oriented toward others than to ourselves - and not being so concerned with what we are receiving back. Self-care is important, but it doesn’t always come first. A life of offering involves giving of ourselves, even when it is inconvenient and costly.

And even more than being oriented toward others, a life of offering means being oriented toward God, being guided by the Holy Spirit to where we are to bring our offerings, where we will find blessing as we bless others.

And why would we choose to live like this? Because we receive so much joy from seeing the blessing God brings through us. That’s what I notice most in this week’s passage

“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.”

That hymn ends, “…yet what I can I give him, give my heart.” As we give our heart to Jesus, to God, we find ourselves awash in blessing, overwhelmed with joy.