8-31-17 - Life-Savers

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (This Sunday's gospel reading is here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

8-30-17 - Are We Following?

The culture most of us live in is not high on self-denial, unless it’s in the service of health or beauty. Once upon a time in America, self-sacrifice and sharing one’s resources for the common good were high values. These days generosity is often sporadic, a reaction to emergencies and based on our perception of whether we have enough to share. (I just made impulsive donations to organizations working with people and animals in flood-ravaged Houston.)

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

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

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

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

How do you answer that question? Why are you a follower of Christ? If you're not, do you want to be? However you answer those questions, you can talk to Jesus about it. If that feels impossible, talk to a person whose spiritual life you trust.

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

8-29-17 - Safety Second

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

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

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

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

I am wired toward safety and security. That can get in the way of faithfulness to God’s call, impede discerning God’s invitations. There’s nothing wrong with safety – God does not ask us to take risks for the heck of it. Sometimes, though, God wants to work through us in circumstances that are less than safe - after all, much of our world is less than safe.

When we know it’s God’s call, we might step into some risk; that is a matter of discernment and testing the call with others. Many people who feel called to mission or relief work are drawn inevitably to places of conflict and violence and trauama. But they feel God calling them to go, to be a witness to love; they surround themselves with prayer; and they go. Usually they came back in one piece.

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

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

8-28-17 - Foreboding

If Jesus were around in our day, saying the things attributed to him in next Sunday's gospel, would someone have gotten him a prescription for Wellbutrin? Suggested he take a little time off, see somebody for that paranoid streak?

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

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

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

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

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

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

When driving, I recognize the need to keep my eyes on the road ahead while frequently checking the rear view mirror. Somehow, that's the balance we are invited to live in faith.

8-25-17 - Don't Tell...

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

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

So I wonder how Jesus’ disciples felt when, after Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus followed up with this: "Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” 
Was he concerned that the coming clash with religious authorities would develop too quickly if everyone began using that kind of language about him? Did he want people to work it out for themselves? Were there other reasons at which I cannot guess?

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

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

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

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

If you’re connected, talk about it. If you feel disconnected, tell Jesus you’re open to a deeper connection with him. If you feel funny talking to him, go talk to someone whom you think knows him and hang out with that person. Sooner or later, the Good News will dawn for us – and then we can't keep it to ourselves.

8-24-17 - Keys to the Kingdom

I’ve always pictured an oversized key, like an honorary Key to the City. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said to Simon Peter,
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 

He has just called Peter the “rock on which I will build my church.” And now the keys to the Kingdom? Of course, we can only guess at what he meant. This is how theologians and biblical scholars make a living, after all. But we can get a hint of what he intended when we think about what keys do. They lock things, and they open them. They make them inaccessible and accessible.

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

We are the heirs of this gift, this promise, this frightening spiritual authority. We can keep the realm of God, with all its power and promise and peace, locked up simply by not talking about it, or not exercising the power we’ve been given. Or we can use these keys to open it to everyone who is thirsty for God. We can keep people bound by withholding forgiveness, and loosed by exercising grace. Jesus gave us these gifts not to be locked away in a safe deposit box, but to be spent, drawn down, exhausted… only so does the store get replenished.

In prayer today, you might imagine sitting with Jesus and having him hand you a set of keys. What do they look like? What do they open? Who has the keys to your heart?

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

8-23-17 - God's Rock

At their first encounter, Jesus gave Simon, son of Jonah, a nickname: “Petros,” meaning “rock.” He may have been teasing him about hard-headedness. But here, when he is commending Peter for the spiritual insight he has just confessed, he uses his given name, “Simon bar Jonah,” perhaps underscoring the gravity of this moment.

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

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

Does it change our view of “The Church” to view it as a mystical community ordained by Jesus himself, meant to last for all time, not just our little communities struggling to sustain themselves?

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

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

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

Today I invite you to pray for the church in specific ways:
  • Pray for your own community of faith – pray for its ministry and its clarity about where it fits into the larger scheme of God’s mission.
  • Pray for the churches in your community, especially how they might work together more effectively.
  • Pray for the church in the world, where it is persecuted, and where it is lukewarm and complacent (the latter is a greater danger). Pray for those who face torture and pressure to renounce their faith.
  • And pray for transformation for Christians who perpetrate violence against other religions; there are many of those instances in our world too.

And pray for yourself as a part of the worldwide body of Christ. Don’t hold yourself apart, no matter how corrupt or irrelevant church may seem at times. If you do that, you withhold gifts that the church needs to be the agent of transformation and healing Jesus intends it to be.

8-22-17 - Spiritual Intelligence

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

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

And what does “son of the living God” mean? It could refer to a divine person, which is how the Christian tradition understands the incarnate Jesus. It could mean a human anointed by God to carry forth his redemptive plan, as some early theologians held before that interpretation was judged as heresy (which simply means outside of orthodoxy). The phrase reveals God as “living,” not a dead idol but a living entity interacting with her creation. And the phrase clearly indicates Jesus as one specially chosen as God’s instrument.

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

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

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

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

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

8-21-17 - Identity Check

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

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

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

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

Peter gives an answer that pleases Jesus, which we'll explore tomorrow. Today let’s take the question as directed at us: Who do you say that Jesus is? A role model? A great teacher? A healer? Savior? Prophet? God incarnate? Try to separate your answer from what you’ve been taught all your life.

We could go deeper, ask the question another way:
How have you experienced Jesus? Who is he to you?

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

Talk to him. Who does he say he is when you ask him?

8-18-17 - A Turn of Mind?

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

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

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

I go for the plainer sense of the words as we have them. They appear to show Jesus making a transition. While we cannot know why he at first rebuffed this woman, he is clearly moved by her persistence and faith and pronounces the healing of her daughter. Perhaps he recalled his own teaching that even a mustard seed of true faith Is sufficient to move mountains. Perhaps he was moved by her calling him “Lord.” Perhaps he truly looked at her for the first time. We don’t know. We only know he arrived at a different place than where he started.

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

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

Are there issues in your life in which you feel you and Jesus want different things? Have you brought that up in prayer? Are you willing to be shown God’s view on that matter? Can you tell God yours? That’s a rich prayer conversation.

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

8-17-17 - Even the Dogs

Is there a greater example of humility in our scriptures than this unnamed woman, persistently asking Jesus to heal her daughter? In the face of his rejection, his insinuation that giving her the gifts of the kingdom of God would be like throwing food to dogs, she does not flinch, she does not protest, she does not argue. She simply comes back with a statement that shows she is not about to put her pride before getting what she needs from Jesus:

But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8-16-17 - Bad Mood Jesus

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

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

Is this Jesus “staying on mission,” as we might say nowadays, wary of getting off schedule again? Was he having a mood swing? Why would he define his boundaries so narrowly here, when he engaged with and offered healing to Gentiles elsewhere? When the woman presses the issue, he gets even more tactless:  
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

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

Is Jesus frustrated at the lack of response to his ministry among so many of his own people, who don’t seem to receive the power this outsider recognizes and craves? Whatever his motivation, the resulting words and attitude seem to clash with the Jesus we see at work elsewhere.

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

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

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

8-15-17 - Pushy Women

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

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

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

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

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

But some go out to where the Other lives and bring food, education, medical care and friendship. My friend Tom Furrer, an Episcopal priest in Connecticut, is back from his 18th medical mission in northern Nigeria, where his parish and other partners have built clinics. Each year for two weeks they see thousands of patients, including many Muslims in a region where Christian-Muslim violence is horrific (this is the area where Boko Haran operates.) Tom has written that one of their goals is to show love and respect to Muslims “and so to demonstrate an alternative narrative to the one of the terrorists now plaguing this country.” More than one Muslim treated at the FaithCare mission said, “I had heard that Christians hate us. Now I see that is not true.”

Who is calling your name from the margins, asking for help? Maybe someone you don’t want to see? What if you engage?

This outlier woman had something to give Jesus – and eventually he became open to what she offered. The most amazing things can happen when we turn and see what it is those loud, pushy people want.

8-14-17 - Inside Out

This coming Sunday’s gospel reading has two sections. Most of this week’s Water Daily will focus on the second section. But today let’s look at the first part. It appears to be a technical discussion of religious law, but in it we see Jesus radically reinterpret the religious understanding of his people, and dismiss the leadership of the teachers and leaders. No wonder they wanted him gone.

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

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

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

This is key to his message of Good News, that the realm of God is not about rules and rituals, but is an invitation to dwell in the reality of God, in relationship with our heavenly Father. The human heart is a complicated place – capable of great love and generosity and grace, and also the source of such pain and petty, mean-spirited behavior toward ourselves and others. It’s our hearts that matter in the long run, more than bodies or behavior – and if we align our hearts with God, our behavior and bodies will reflect that alignment at our core. The movement is inside out, not outside in.

What does this ancient debate have to do with us? Perhaps it’s not so ancient, as our ongoing “morality wars” remind us. It is human nature to privilege rules and rituals that make us feel ordered, when what God asks is a reformed heart and a renewed spirit.

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

This teaching also reminds us as a society to treat the whole person with honor and dignity, even if he or she is a “problem,” rather than treating symptoms and trying to impose regulation from without. Then each one can function out of their wholeness and we get a more whole community.

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

8-11-17 - Sink or Swim

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

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

“Why did you doubt?” I told a story yesterday about an indigenous community that took Jesus’ stories at face value and did what he did in the gospels, not considering it miraculous. I don't know if that story is true. But I do remember reading in one of Madeleine L’Engle’s autobiographies that, as a small child at her family’s country place, she made a game of going down the stairs without touching them. She clearly remembered doing that, and she did it until she learned that was impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

8-10-17 - Stepping Out

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

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

Matthew, however, adds a detail that brings the story closer to us. When the disciples see Jesus walking on the sea and are terrified, he says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter responds in a particularly fearless way: 
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.

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

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

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

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

The answers will vary according to the person and the community. The one constant is this: 
No one is asked to step out of the boat onto a stormy sea by himself.
"So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.” 
And Jesus stayed right there with him. If we step out, we step out with Jesus. What more do we need, than courage, our shaky faith, and all the power in the universe? “Jesus said, ‘Come.’”

8-9-17 - Take Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8-8-17 - Missing the Boat

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

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

Easy for him, eh? Sure, if we could teleport ourselves through space, or skip across bodies of water, we’d make up for lost time too. It seems we can’t do either of those things, being more constrained by the limits of space and time and elements than Jesus appeared to have been.

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

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

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

Does your spirit yearn for some restorative time now? Are your obligations obstacles to slaking that thirst? What would it look like if you just took the time and watched to see how the Spirit gets you across the water to where you’re needed?

In these summer days, I want to be outside, and am not always as focused on work as I “should.” But it’s what my spirit craves, and 'tis the season for outside. I do work out there…and listen to the birds and watch the squirrels leap from branch to branch and pet the cats and admire the growing tomatoes and herbs. I don’t know what boats I might be missing but I choose to believe I’ll be where I’m supposed to be when. Certainly I’ll be less stressed.

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

8-7-17 - Time Apart

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

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

Solitude is hard to find in our multiply-connected, always “on” world. But there’s more to it than finding alone space; I believe there is a deeper malaise that makes it hard for many to seek it. Our constant input, 24-7 connectivity provides ample distraction to avoid darker feelings, disappointments, mistakes, hurts we have inflicted or received, emptiness and pain.

We all know about distracted driving; do we also wrestle with distracted living, moving too fast to notice what and who is around us, rushing to the next thing that will make us feel connected, filling every moment and part of our lives so we don’t have to face the emptiness and loss inside?

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

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

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

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

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

8-4-17 - Power and Light

I am intrigued by the physics of the Transfiguration. Did Jesus become filled with blinding light, did he reflect the light of God – or did he become light? My pet theory is that in that moment Jesus let slip the veil of human flesh that contained him during his incarnate life in this world, and manifest the light of which he was fashioned. “I am the light of the world,” he said. Physics tells us that light is one form of energy. God, the essential energy of the cosmos, can manifest anywhere along the spectrum – perhaps in that moment the Son of God became pure, blinding light.

The idea of God as pure energy, the source of all energy, helps to make sense of the miraculous, and aligns with much scientific thinking (not that I understand the scientific thinking well enough to talk about how it aligns… I only know many physicists think so). If I had my druthers, I would refer to what Jesus called “the kingdom of God” as “the energy field of God” – that seems a more descriptive label.

If all matter is really energy, it makes sense that Jesus invites us to tap into the Energy that launched the universe, in which all things are restored to wholeness. That is what we are doing when we pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We are praying ourselves into the energy field of God, and as we become comfortable channeling that energy, we become better conductors of it into the realm of this world.

Of course, energy can be harnessed to destruction as well as growth. The same Sunday when we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6th, is the day that marks the atomic bombings of Hiroshima in 1945. In that blinding light was unleashed enough energy to flatten a city, turn many of its citizens into walking torches, and poison the survivors with radiation that affected generations. Without arguing the factors that brought about that event, I think we can agree on the tragedy of death and destruction of ordinary people on such a scale. God’s gifts to us can be used to build or to tear down, to give life or to bring death.

God has made us stewards of the power that generated worlds. Even now, God invites us to dwell in his energy field, to become conductors of Holy Spirit power into broken people and systems, governments and communities. Perhaps this power of God, wielded in faith, can even heal the damage we have done to this earth we call home.

Where are you being called to be a conduit of light and energy? God’s Power and light?

Come Sunday, let us grieve the lives lost 72 years ago, and the human ways of dealing with conflict that brought about such an event. And let us celebrate the power Jesus showed for just a moment on that mountain, so his followers would have a visual image of the Life of God that he demonstrated in every word and miracle, even in his death, and certainly in his resurrection. That power is given to us. It is made perfect In our weakness. Let God wield it through you.

8-3-17 - In a Cloud

Have you ever found yourself in a cloud? Just somewhere when a fog rolls in and you find yourself complexly enveloped in white, your visibility of anything beyond your own form completely obscured? It is a deeply disorienting experience. And what if that cloud began to speak?

…a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

Of course, on the mount of Transfiguration, it wasn’t the cloud speaking, it was God. But why in a cloud? Maybe the blocking of other senses allowed the disciples to focus more on the aural experience, the voice of God, and its message. And what about that message, so similar to what some heard at Jesus’ baptism, but with the added command, “Listen to him.” It was aural confirmation of what they had seen with their eyes. When they were tempted to doubt, they had another form of authority on which to rest. And when they were ready to talk – perhaps after Jesus’ resurrection? – they had quite a story to tell, supported by three witnesses.

How does God get our attention? We are so enveloped in activities and media and dashing here and there, responding to so many messages, it can be hard for the voice of God to get through. Perhaps we should choose to put ourselves in a cloud periodically, to dramatically reduce the stimuli, simplify the order of the day. One might say that is what the practice of centering prayer achieves – entering a cloud of soft quiet, where we see little and hear only silence.

That is also what happens on retreat, whether for a few hours or a few days: we slip into a simpler rhythm of meals, rest, walks, study, prayer, with few choices to make. And as we give ourselves to the simplicity and the silence, eventually God’s voice begins to get through.

One of the great classics of Christian spirituality is a 14th century book called The Cloud of Unknowing (the link is to an edition I like very much), whose author suggests that God is to be found not in knowledge and evidence so much as in absence and mystery. It’s not the way we usually think of seeking God in our take-charge, work-for-what-you-want culture. But that medieval mystic was on to something.

Perhaps that’s what God was doing with that cloud, reminding us that the deepest knowledge comes from what we cannot see or figure out for ourselves. The deepest Truth can only come from God, who speaks in a sound of sheer silence.

8-2-17 - Company You Keep

I am a name-dropper. If I have a connection with someone considered important or influential in some realm or other, and I can work it into the conversation at all naturally, it’s in. And I’m not unique; many people bask in the reflected glow of the company they keep.

Well, Jesus one-ups all the name-droppers in the world. His important friends – about as influential as they come in the history of Israel – simply materialize up on that mountain, to the astonishment of his three followers:

Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Not only can Peter, James and John see these men with Jesus, they can hear their conversation. Moses and Elijah and Jesus are speaking outside of time as we know it. They are discussing future events, Jesus' upcoming passion, death, resurrection and ascension, as fully as if they had already occurred. In God-time, eternal time, they already had.

Why would Moses and Elijah show up in this transcendent experience? In part because they represent the Law and the Prophets, the foundation of Israel’s religious tradition. In part because they were among the few who are recorded as having seen God, or had close encounters with God. And maybe they were there as a confirming sign to Jesus’ followers that the claims he made about himself and his mission in this world were true. At times when they might doubt, they had this memory to keep them on track.

When we are getting to know a friend or partner, we soon find ourselves curious about who their friends and connections are. People can rise and fall in our esteem based on who they surround themselves with, who admires and respects them, or not. So these disciples, already drawn close into a relationship with Jesus, aware of the lowliness of many of his companions, are given this glimpse into his more exalted connections. "Gosh, he even hangs out with Moses!"

As we try to get to know this Jesus better ourselves, without the benefit of his incarnate form, we too can explore who his friends and connections are. And as we seek to make him known, we might want to “out” ourselves as his friends, so others can learn more about him through knowing us.

How well does our church convey the grace and love for which Jesus is known?
What kind of representatives are we?

It’s a big responsibility. Thankfully, it gets easier the more comfortable we get knowing Jesus. There is no higher name to drop - and he told us to drop his name liberally. Indeed, heaven and earth are waiting for us to do so.

8-1-17 - Dazzling

The word “dazzling” doesn’t appear enough in the Bible, in my opinion. Nor do “marvelous,” “enchanting,” “super” or other movie poster adjectives. No wonder people think it’s a dull book, full of platitudes and proscriptions. But we do get dazzled in this week’s story – blindingly so.

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

It’s funny how you can read a story a hundred times and form one view, and on the 101st reading suddenly see it in a new way. I’ve always thought Jesus was somehow glowing, radiating light from within, as though the veil of his human body became translucent and revealed his form as pure energy. Maybe. But it’s always bothered me that his clothes became dazzling white. How would light from within do that?

Today it occurred to me that maybe he was reflecting the light of God, suddenly revealed up there on that mountain, that God was both within Jesus and without, all around. The Exodus story (our Hebrew Bible reading Sunday) tells us that “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” Maybe Jesus was reflecting light, not generating; reflecting enough light to make Jesus’ face look different, his whole being to dazzle.

What difference does it make, you may be asking, whether the light came from within or without? Not a lot. What interests me is whether and how we might reflect the light of God, since it can be dim inside us, and what it might do to our faces. I don’t mean that our faces will light up like Christmas trees in the presence of God – though that would surely get some attention. But what if others could see that we are reflecting a presence, a holiness, a power from outside us? I’ve been told that sometimes when I lead worship songs, my face glows, and sometimes when I pray for healing, I feel an exhilaration that must show on my face. Is that a tiny, tiny bit of what Jesus manifest that day?

Or perhaps you’ve known someone’s facial expressions to change when they’ve begun to center their lives on Christ. Our “default expressions,” which we sometimes catch in store windows or mirrors, often reflect care, or anxiety, or weariness, or bitterness. What if they reflected the love and grace and assurance of God?

How might that happen? I guess by spending more time intentionally in God’s presence, and letting that relationship shape us. It always seems to come back to that. Shedding our human nature and taking on God-Life doesn't come from a book or a building; it comes from relationship with Jesus.

I don’t know that we will see Jesus lit up this side of glory, but I do believe that his light reflected in us can be dazzling. So dare to dazzle!