7-31-17 - On That Mountain

Next Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, as it happens to fall on a Sunday this year. Since I am on vacation, and we hear that story every year at the end of Epiphany, I thought about skipping a week. Instead, I'm adapting my reflections on it from a few years ago. Enjoy!

Do your plans this summer include some time in the mountains? In the Bible, mountains are often places where people encounter God. On Mount Moriah, Abraham is spared by God from sacrificing his son Isaac. On Mount Sinai, Moses meets with God, his face so bright when he descends that people are blinded. On Mount Horeb, Elijah glimpses God. Something about the height and majesty of mountains seem to make them fertile ground for theophanies.

Maybe it's because mountain tops are “away places.” They generally take some effort to reach. We need to plan our expeditions, bring lunch and water - or, if it’s a really BIG mountain, weeks’ worth of supplies. We have to make sure we’re fit enough to make the climb, and maybe surround ourselves with people to hike with.

And we have expectations – of beauty and grandeur, of great vistas and intimate moments with the natural world. We expect hard climbs but also some flat ground and downward slopes. And we expect to see something at the top that we can see from nowhere else on earth, the big picture that puts our lives into perspective.

The life of faith can be like that, with hills and valleys en route. We know God is also to be found in the lowlands, but we hope to have a close encounter with God in the heights, one that will help us through the more challenging parts of our journey.

I don’t know what Peter, James and John expected when Jesus invited them along on his hike – certainly not what they experienced. They probably expected some rich time of conversation and contemplation with their master and friend. And so should we as we make this climb with Jesus.

What are your expectations of time with God?
What do you dread?
What provisions do you want to carry for going deeper in the Spirit? Who else do you want along?

This is a very familiar story to lifelong churchgoers, but I pray we will have a new encounter with it this week. After all, we can hike up the same hills time and again and never experience them quite the same way. May it be like that with this strange and extraordinary tale of Encounter.

7-28-17 - Something Old, Something New

Tradition. Innovation. Between these two poles runs a continuum underlying many of the controversies and conflicts in churches. And corporations. And non-profits. And healthcare and politics and the arts. Where we find ourselves on that spectrum says much how we approach life. No surprise that Jesus comes at this tension with a both/and:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I commend a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer (just to prove I am capable of bringing out of the storehouse something old… !). This is from the ordination service:

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

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

7-27-17 - One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

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

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

On the surface, this one seems pretty clear – sorting is something we can all grasp. This story, like the one about the weeds and the wheat, depicts that aspect of the Kingdom that deals with final judgment. But here we get the angels in waders (anglers!), separating the good fish from the bottom feeders. What wisdom can we find in this simple tale?

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

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

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

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

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

7-26-17 - Most Precious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7-25-17 - Yeast

On Saturday, I baked bread to be blessed, broken and consumed at my last St. Columba’s “Live@5.” I was grooving with Jesus:  He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7-24-17 - God's Microchips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7-21-17 - Shine Like the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let anyone with ears hear!

Note of Celebration: Water Daily is four years old today! I am so grateful for this far-flung community of Water people, and the conversations I get to have with many of you. I'd love to expand the circle, so feel free to invite others to subscribe here.

7-20-17 - Avenging Angels

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

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

Our culture is big on angels (the harmless, protective variety) and not so keen on the prospect of a final judgment. Even in the church, many remove the judgment from our God story, preferring to emphasize God's mercy and acceptance. I am a huge fan of God’s mercy and acceptance… and suggest that these are pretty cheap commodities without judgment. We’d have to excise a lot of what Jesus taught and lived if we’re going to take judgment out of the picture. Our claim as Christians, at least traditionally, is that we will experience God's judgment as righteous, redeemed sinners because of what Jesus did for us. We are received in grace because we are one with Christ, not only because of God's great love.

This is only one of the stories Jesus told that include an Ultimate Sorting, with unrepentant, unredeemed evildoers meeting an unhappy fate – here a furnace of fire, "where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Why there is teeth-gnashing in Jesus’ images of hell, I don’t know – aural and dental torture to go along with the fire?)

The ones doing the sorting in this tale are the angels, who serve as God’s messengers – in this image, we might even say henchmen. Is fire the fate we would wish upon the weeds sown in the field, those who despise God and seek to destroy the goodness of God’s creation and creatures? Shouldn’t the judgment be aimed at the enemy sower?

That is a matter for us to pray about. If some manner of torment awaits the completely destructive, whether it’s physical pain or separation from God, that should drive us to pray fervently for them, asking God to have mercy, and do our best to share with them our own hope. Do you suppose that’s what Jesus meant by “pray for your enemies?” Might we even spare a prayer for the enemy of human nature, as one friend refers to the evil one?

Could we do such a thing in our prayer time today? Think of the worst sort of “weeds” we can, and pray for mercy for their souls? And that somehow that mercy would become real to them, working its way into stony hearts to reawaken love and compassion and hope?

Maybe you or I are called to show God's mercy to a particularly nasty sort of weed. Mercy can catalyze conversion and healing. Just think of it as lightening some fearsome angel’s workload.

7-19-17 - Whacking Weeds

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

It’s weed season in Jesus’ parable too - an unnamed enemy has sown weeds in the wheat field in the dead of night. The servants propose to pull them up. The field’s owner has a different plan:
The servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7-18-17 - The Spoiler

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

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

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

The devil is mentioned throughout the Bible, though little discussed. He shows up in the preamble to the Book of Job – probably a later addition to the narrative. A fallen angel who aspired to a throne above God’s is discussed in Isaiah 14:12-20:
How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! 
You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!
That is how the name Lucifer, or “light-bearer,” comes into our vocabulary. Jesus and New Testament authors spoke of this enemy, this tempter, author of lies, accuser, who has considerable power but is not equal to the power of God.

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

The answer given in Jesus’ story is that trying to do so would destroy both the weeds and the wheat – and God is not in the destruction racket. Scripture suggests that is the province of the evil one, who seeks to “corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” as our baptismal liturgy puts it.

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

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

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

7-17-17 - A Careless Planter?

Jesus is on a run with agricultural metaphors. After last week’s Parable of the Sower, we go on to another tale about the Kingdom of heaven. But this time there are two sowers:

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

As we explore this story, we will see how the sower and his staff deal with this mess. Today, lets rest with the image of a nice, neat field of wheat sabotaged by choking weeds. Jesus cleverly uses this metaphor to account for the presence of evil in the goodness of a good God’s creation – and he is clear that the weeds are introduced by an enemy, not the Creator.

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

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

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

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

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

7-14-17 - The Good Soil

One of the wonderful things about Jesus’ parables is their capacity to hold multiple, layered meanings. Even the ones for which Jesus gives a “this means that, and that means this” interpretation allow room for new ways of seeing and understanding the mystery of God-Life in these deceptively simple tales.

So it is with the fourth fate Jesus lays out of the seeds the Sower scattered: 
“Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

My first question is, “What is good soil for a Good News seed to fall into?”

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

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

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

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

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

7-13-17 - Love Amid Thorns

In the parable Jesus tells about seeds taking root or withering, depending on where they fall, many of the forces that imperil them are by-products of a location, not the location itself – the birds that can pick seeds off a path, the sun that can scorch them on rocks. But now we come to a place which itself imperils a seed: “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.”

When we try to plant the seeds of sacrificial love and other-directedness amid a thicket of competing claims… look out.

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

The competing claims of wealth, family, security, recreation, status are a given. How might we embrace those goods without worshipping them?

What most chokes your desire to be connected to God?
For me, it's time and the to-do list. It can also be success – getting what you’ve always wanted. Even loved ones can choke our desire for God instead of directing us to that love.

What can we do about that? How might we invite Jesus into our time management, our to-do lists, our relationship priorities? Some people set timers to remind them to stop and pray. Others make sure to take a prayer walk each day.

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

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

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

7-12-17 - Of Rocks and Sun

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

We’ve probably all encountered the fervor of a convert – someone hot on a new thing they’ve learned or experienced. A new love, a new job, maybe a new diet. We may even have met a few Christians in the first throes of excitement about the love of God they’ve come to know in Christ.

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

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

What conditions make for rocky soil? Sometimes familiarity can foster complacency – same old, same old… that’s a kind of rockiness. Preoccupation with other concerns can keep us from growing spiritual roots. An emotional climate of anger or anxiety or stress can keep our soil rocky.

What would you identify as the hot sun that causes the newly rooted plants to wither? Fear, anger, hatred… Also some of the enemies we named yesterday, like ambition, sorrow, overwork, stress. What are the “hot suns” in your life that cause your spirit to become scorched and withered?

I remember once being deep in prayer on a retreat. In the prayer time, I sensed Jesus say to me, “I want you to come be with me every morning, to water your roots.” That’s partly why I named this Water Daily.

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

And what shall we do for those whom we see withering spiritually? Help transplant them into deeper soil, provide shade in the form of spiritual friendship - and sprinkle liberally with the Living Water gushing inside you, the Holy Spirit who renews all things in Christ.

7-11-17 - Of Paths and Birds

"Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up."  (This week's gospel parable is here.)

Paths can be beautiful, but they’re not places for growing, are they? We call a path full of greenery “overgrown.” One of the first things I do when I get to our cottage in Michigan each summer is take a broom and reclaim the path down to the lake (laid by my great-grandmother…) from the weeds and sod encroaching upon its surfaces.

Paths are for journeying, arteries that carry us from one place for growing to another. When the Good News is told to people who are on the path, on the move, they may not receive it fully – it remains on the surface, easy pickings for other messages and other priorities that conflict with it.

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

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

Do you know some people for whom the Word of God has fallen onto the path and been picked off?
How might you help them become rooted in good soil?

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

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

7-10-17 - Story Seeds

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

This week’s story is one of those, which Jesus explained to his disciples in private. But let’s pretend we don’t have that interpretation and wonder about the images he offers.

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

What do sowers sow? Generally, seeds. But we can sow doubt, or anger, or fear, or joy, or hope, or faith... Where do sowers sow it? Ideally, in good soil.

This sower seems to have been a little careless – or maybe carefree. He, or she, just seems to have tossed the seeds randomly rather than laying them down in carefully plowed rows. We know this because some land in places where seeds have trouble rooting and growing.

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


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

What are the seeds – the Word of God, the Good News of freedom in Christ?
Are we the seeds? Hmmm…. How does the story look when it we turn it that way?

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

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

7-7-17 - Cure for Inner Conflict

Let’s switch over to Romans for the end of the week. The reading appointed for Sunday is convoluted in language but deeply important in message, as Paul expresses a basic human conundrum: 
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

This plight will be familiar to anyone who’s ever found himself unable to put down the ice cream container, or stick to one cocktail, or stop herself from telling someone else’s secret… we know what “right” is in most circumstances, and sometimes we just watch ourselves walk right over to the “wrong” side of town. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

Paul sees two forces at work in himself, two competing laws – the law of God, or spirit, and the law of the mind, or “flesh.” Describing the turmoil wrought by the effort to navigate these skirmishes, he ends up with a cry from the heart we’ve all felt at some point or other: 
“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

His answer is close at hand: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” 
The way to stop the cycle of self-destructiveness when we’re in its grip is not by trying harder, but by surrendering more to the one force in the universe more powerful than our own desires: the God who made us, who sent his Son among us to draw us into a relationship in which our internal battles are overwhelmed by Love.

God’s power is right here – power to resist evil, turn away from temptation, turn to life instead of death. The only thing we need do is invoke the power of God: "Jesus, be here now!” That was my prayer once when I’d fallen down a flight of stairs; it should be my prayer every time I struggle with choosing the best course. As any recovering addict will tell you, will power doesn't get us very far; surrender to help allows us to go the distance.

Let’s not forget the loving invitation we’ve been looking at from our Gospel reading this week:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Turning toward Jesus, calling on the power of the Holy Spirit to fill and transform our desires gets easier the more we do it. It takes awhile for anything to become habitual, but with practice, this can become our first response. Just as oxen that are yoked to a cart have to travel together, spirits that are yoked to Christ no longer try to go their separate ways.

7-6-17 - Come Unto Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can you do today to find rest for your soul?
Whether you are in the midst of work stress, or easing into a summer vacation, I suggest you start with some “soul rest” time in Jesus’ presence. Hand off your burdens and take on his promise of peace, and then spread it around.

7-5-17 - You're Such a Baby!

How do you feel about being called a baby? 
At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” 
(This week's gospel reading is here.)

Some might take it as an insult. We might rather receive it as an invitation to total trust in God. Infants are receiving machines - they do not feed, clothe or even move themselves. The only thing they can “do” is ask for help by using their voices – and reward their helpers with big smiles, which they quickly learn will get them far. If it were true that “God helps those who help themselves,” a deeply destructive maxim which is nowhere to be found in Christian scripture, none of us would see our second birthdays.

The most challenging part of faith-life for many is having to depend upon the grace and mercy and power of God for what matters most in the long-term. Learning to receive God’s goodness and not worry so much about repaying – for we cannot – is a mark of maturity in faith.

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

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

What are some attributes of infants that you would like to borrow and try on as you approach God?
What are the things you cannot do for yourself that you are afraid to trust God with? Or eager to?

Today in prayer we might try an imagination exercise – imagine yourself as an infant being held or watched over by Jesus… how does he interact with you in that prayer space? Does he say anything? Do you? What do you feel?

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

7-4-17 - Land of the Free

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

Independence means something different in the Christian life than it might politically. The kind of liberty Jesus invites us into is strongly inter-dependent. He invites us to be tethered to God, to one another and to serving the world, not because we are being forced, but by our free choice.

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

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

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

We are asked to become more dependent on God, to throw all our weight and trust on this One we cannot see but discern in our lives and around us. As we grow in that relationship, we learn the ways that God is depending upon us to be the vessels by which God’s transforming love and healing power are enacted in the world. We cannot do it without God; God will not do it without us.

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

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

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

7-3-17 - Hidden From the Wise

Summertime – and the living is easy… or should be. I'll try to make Water Daily a little shorter and hopefully sweeter. I’ve even shortened the chunk of Gospel we are going to consider this week. There are two sections, the first of which requires a lot of unpacking. So let’s just go with the second, especially as it contains Jesus’ beautiful invitation to “come to me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Perfect for a holiday week, right?

In the section we're skipping, Jesus inveighs against the faithlessness of his critics, chiefly the Pharisees and their ilk. He is also angered by the fickleness and lack of faith he finds among his own people relative to what the Gentiles show. Forget the scholars – give me the simple-hearted:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Sometimes knowledge can get in the way of our understanding, expectations cloud our ability to see the surprising, familiarity obscure the fullness of revelation. People envy those who have a “simple faith,” an ability to say “yes” to the story of God’s revelation in Christ, and to participate in that. Blessed are the simple-hearted – for they are often better able to get on with living by the Spirit.

And yet the Gospel is also given for those of us who think too much. Sometimes we just make it harder for ourselves. In the final analysis, analysis is not going to yield full understanding, any more than playing with the food on our plate is going to get us fed. The Good News is a gift to be taken and received, ingested, allowed to play in our minds, hearts and spirits.

Is the life of faith simple or complex for you?
How do you most fully connect with God – through your mind or your emotions or both?
If your analytical self gets in your way spiritually, you might try on a prayer practice of inviting Jesus to make his presence known, and just be with him, letting your feelings become known.
And if you tend to shy away from theological thinking, you might try a bible study and let your mind play.

Thanks be to God, even the most “wise and intelligent” among us are also invited to be “infants” in Christ, to put all our weight on the One who made us, loves us and renews us.