5-7-21 - Chosen

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.

Most people like to be chosen. Whether it’s for a team in grade school, a dance in high school, a job, an award, a date, it makes us feel good to be seen and selected, as long as the attention is positive. But being chosen is passive – we can’t ensure we’ll be picked, as hard as we might try to be the best candidate.

That makes some people more comfortable being the chooser. Choosing puts us in control. Freedom of choice is a huge value in American life. (So don’t say “we only serve Pepsi” when I want a Diet Coke!) We champion the right to choose our jobs, spouses, healthcare and reproduction, even gender. Freedom to choose is a core value for all human life and interaction.

Jesus’ disciples thought they chose to follow him. He didn’t compel them – he came along and said, “Follow me.” They made that choice, often at great cost to their families. So imagine their surprise to hear Jesus say that’s not the way it happened:
“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”

Did Jesus really choose this motley crew of hard-headed, occasionally thick-headed men and women? Maybe Jesus has different criteria for leadership than we do. Maybe this mixed up group was just exactly who he wanted to graduate as his first team of apostles. And maybe he has chosen us for the same reason, because he believes that we too are gifted and lovable, capable of bearing fruit, abundant fruit that will endure.

Do you feel chosen by God to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Or did it feel like something you chose, or someone else chose for you? There has to be an element of response on our part; we’re not puppets. Often it is the realization of being chosen that elicits a response in us. That’s how it works when two people are courting. And this relationship with Jesus is more love story than hiring process.

How do you respond to being chosen by God? Does it affect the way you live your faith?
How does knowing God’s desire for us is fruitfulness affect the way you live your faith?

The fruitfulness and the chosen-ness go together. We cannot make ourselves fruitful any more than we can get ourselves chosen. When we let in the mystery of how precious we are to God, the wonder that God would choose us to participate in God’s great mission of reclaiming, restoring and renewing all of creation to wholeness in Christ – that knowledge of our chosen-ness generates a desire in us to bear fruit in that mission, the fruit of lives transformed and hearts opened.

Our hearts become opened by the awareness of Love, and then we bear the fruit of Love into the lives around us, as God's transforming power works through us. That's what Jesus promised. That is how we see fruit that will last.

To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereNext Sunday’s readings arehere.  Water Daily is now a podcast! Look for it wherever you get your podcasts, and please subscribe.

5-6-21 - No Longer Servants

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.

There are promotions – and then there are status upgrades. Jesus' followers got one of those his last evening among them. He told them what it means to abide in his love, live by his rules, love one another with the kind of love they received from him. He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

In a culture in which people attached themselves to a spiritual master whom they served and revered, followed and learned from, this language of friendship might have sounded jarring. So Jesus explained, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

Being someone’s servant and being their friend are very different. Servanthood can be easier – you have no responsibility to strategize, plan, or achieve the grand vision. You need only fulfill the tasks assigned you with all the skill and commitment you can muster, anticipating needs as appropriate. And then collect your paycheck and take your assigned time off. There is a simplicity to contractual, hierarchical relationships.

Friendship, with its mutuality and intimacy, is much messier; covenantal, not contractual, with commitment to nurturing and growing the friendship. Friends are responsible for one another in a way that a supervisor and servant are not. Friends are recipients of each other’s joys and worries and confidences. This is what Jesus highlights; he says he has entrusted his followers with everything he has heard from God the Father. That must have been daunting to hear.

Yet it must also have been exhilarating to be told they were no longer servants, but friends. If we work for someone we respect and admire, it’s a rush to be elevated from employee to friend. There is more freedom and collegiality, along with more responsibility.

Sometimes in the church we can act more like polite admirers, or pack mules struggling up a hill than as independent, respected, friends of the Living God. Is it easier to think we work for Jesus rather than with him? Jesus didn't ask us to work for him. He wants us working with him, filled with his Spirit, not checking off tasks and having him sign off on our time-sheets. He has entrusted us with the honor and responsibility - and joy - of being his friends.

Have we accepted? Do we hang out in prayer with him as a friend? Do we go out, healing and transforming people with him, sitting with sinners, challenging oppressors, loving the loveless?

How do we move and talk, sit and listen as friends of the Risen and Anointed One? Figuring that out - that's the work of ministry.

To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereNext Sunday’s readings are here.  Water Daily is now a podcast! Look for it wherever you get your podcasts, and please subscribe.

5-5-21 - Love One Another

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.

Jesus set a pretty high bar for friendship. On his last night in human life, he told his followers, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I don’t know many people likely to be asked to lay down their lives for friends, though some under persecution or threat of war are faced with such choices. The highest sacrifice asked of most of us is that we lay aside our prerogatives, preferences, convenience for our friends.

But Jesus knew what was ahead – for him, and for his friends. The persecution unleashed after Jesus' arrest, crucifixion and resurrection would eventually claim the lives of most of those with him at that momentous Last Supper. Before they could offer that kind of sacrifice, though, they would have to be willing to truly love each other. Jesus had said that keeping his commandments would enable them to abide in his love. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Now he spells out the heart of that mandatum novum. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

"But we do love each other," they may have thought. They had spent three years in close quarters and sometimes no quarters at all. But the gospels tell us how much squabbling and jockeying went on among these disciples. And no matter what affection they may have felt, Jesus was now upping the stakes: they were to love each other as he loved them. His was a love that laid down everything to draw near them, that bore their misjudgments and inability to grasp the ways of the Kingdom he was trying to inculcate in them. His was a love that would ultimately lead to sacrificial death, and then an empty grave and new life eternally.

These men and women were to be the agents of sharing that new life with the world. They couldn’t do that if they didn’t love each other as Jesus had loved them. And so he commanded them to love, even unto death.

We are the beneficiaries of their love. The legacy they left, the Church, even with all the strains and dysfunction common to human institutions, became an incubator from which sacrificial love can pour out in God’s mission. That kind of love is asked of us if we are to be part of God’s mission to reclaim, restore, and renew all things to wholeness.

How do we love like that? We begin by allowing Jesus to love us like that, truly taking in the depth and breadth of his love, not only “back then” but now, forever and always. Those moments in which we grasp the extent of God’s love for us, deserved or not, help form us as vessels of that love for others. We can also ask Jesus to show us his love for people we find it a challenge to love. His vision can help us love people when it’s difficult to get past what we see and hear in them.

The church of Jesus Christ is increasingly divided among factions and peoples who find it nearly impossible to "love one another as he has loved us." This saps the power of our proclamation. So we have ample opportunity to practice loving those who interpret the Good News in ways that radically diverge from our ways of seeing, who seem to us to miss the whole point of Jesus’ grace and love. That's who we are commanded to love. Yikes!

Yet if we can find a way to love one another across the barriers that separate us… I do believe the world might finally know that Love of which we are stewards.

To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereNext Sunday’s readings are here.  Water Daily is now a podcast! Look for it wherever you get your podcasts, and please subscribe.

5-4-21 - Joy

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.

Joy is an elusive state of being. We cannot achieve it, we can only receive it. We can't acquire joy by striving, or by talking about it. I’ve tried. Yet joy is something Jesus wants his followers to possess: "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Joy defies easy definition. It is not the same as happiness or contentment, though it shares attributes with those conditions. It goes deeper, a way of being and seeing that comes from our core and gives us a sense of “alrightness” no matter what our circumstances. It takes deep faith, decisive faith to believe that “all things shall be well” in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. The evidence God provides, of resurrection life triumphing over evil and degradation, disease and death, can seem flimsy in the face of what our natural senses tell us. Those who possess joy are able to proclaim life in the face of death, not denying the reality of pain and evil, yet living in the "already" of Christ’s victory over these ills.

Joy cannot be acquired or fabricated, but it can be cultivated. We can expand our capacity to receive Christ's joy. We can take the kernel that is there in us, which we are promised as a gift of the Spirit, and help it to grow. How do we cultivate and increase our capacity for joy?

We start with the spiritual practice of gratitude. Gratitude waters the seeds of joy in us. Calling to mind God’s gifts to us, unexpected blessings, all the times things do work out against the odds, or in spite of them, creates an atmosphere in us in which joy can grow and flourish. Similarly, compassion for ourselves and others nurtures a climate in which joy can thrive.

We can also flex our “joy muscles.” We must decide to be people of joy, apart from how we feel on a given day or hour. If we accept that joy is a gift of the Spirit, and we accept that Jesus names it as a mark of Christ-followers, we can commit ourselves to letting it grow in us. So often we let anxiety or grief take root in us, sometimes so deeply we can’t imagine life without them. What if we allow God to plant the seed of joy that deep in us, to gradually uproot and replace those life-squashing states of being?

What is your relationship to joy? Is it familiar to you, or rare? Some of us didn’t learn joy growing up, or have had it suppressed by circumstances. We need to make space for it now, as a choice and a decision.

If we accept that God has already planted the seed of joy in us, then we water it and weed around it and make sure it gets plenty of sunlight. We water it with gratitude and compassion and generosity. We weed away the cares and preoccupations that threaten to choke our joy – worry, envy, competitiveness, greed, gluttony – the usual suspects. And we give it plenty of exposure to the light of the Son in prayer and worship and mission.

Jesus told his followers he wanted their joy to be complete. Not just a little – the whole deal. We can feel and show forth joy in times of trial and sadness, stress and adversity. The world has had year of unimaginable loss. We can invite joy to spring up in the midst of our grief. Sometimes, like the light cast by a beacon on a stormy night, joy is most visible in the dark.

To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereNext Sunday’s readings are here.  Water Daily is now a podcast! Look for it wherever you get your podcasts, and please subscribe.

5-3-21 - Love and Commandments

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.

Here are two things I don’t like to mix: love and commandments. Since when is keeping commandments a sign of love? What happened to flowers and chocolate? Oh, it starts out okay; Jesus tells his followers, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

That I get - the love which we have received is what we give to others; love is something we can abide in, hang out with. That sounds beautiful and comforting and profound and unconditional. But Jesus isn’t finished: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

I know the psalms talk about how “the law of the Lord" is sweet like honey, but I think of commandments as “should” and love as “want to” and never the twain shall meet. This verse makes it sound as if God’s love is not unconditional, but highly contingent upon our ability to obey. Since I prize unconditional love above all theological concepts, and think obedience usually ends in failure, disappointment and self-condemnation, I react negatively to this word.

What if we change the “if” to an “as?” Jesus is not saying, “If you keep my commandments, I will keep loving you.” He says, “As you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” There is no change to the love in which we are invited to abide, only to our capacity for experiencing that love. Keeping Jesus’ commandments, he is saying, makes us better able to swim in the love of God flowing to, through and around us at all times. It puts us in the “head space” and “heart space” to receive – and give – the love of God.

Jesus made visible God’s love for humanity. He lived it, taught it, demonstrated it, and finally died and rose again to complete it here on earth. He says it was his fidelity to God’s commandments that made him able to manifest God’s love. Similarly, our fidelity to his commandments enables us to show forth his love in this world. We need only recall times when we’ve been in the grip of attitudes or behaviors that were outside of God’s will to know how easily our ability to love can become compromised.

Could it be that God’s commandments are not about our ability to “be good,” but intended rather to enable us to be Love? Perhaps I think of commandments as more guilt-inducing than loving because trying to live into God’s commands without the power of God’s love at work in us is an uphill climb. With God’s love flowing through us, it becomes more like riding a bike with plenty of gears, so we can keep a steady pace no matter what the terrain.

Where are you experiencing a lot of love in your life, from God or other people, or from yourself toward others? Where is it a little choked off? Are there adjustments you can make to the way you are thinking, acting, loving, to become more Christ-like?

It’s a chicken-and-egg thing. We can’t fully live into God’s commands without God’s love in us, and we can’t fully abide in God’s love without living the way God commands us. As we increase in each area, the other increases too – the more we abide in God’s love, the easier it is to live God’s way, until we discover that living God’s way opens us to more love than we could ever imagine. Now that's Good News!

To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereNext Sunday’s readings are here.  Water Daily is now a podcast! Look for it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, and please subscribe.

4-30-21 - Connected

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.

“Apart from me, you can do nothing.”  
Context is everything. In some instances, these words could sound insufferably egomaniacal, pompous, even abusive. Spoken by Jesus, to his closest followers, shortly before he takes leave of them forever? They sound like loving truth about where the power for ministry comes from.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

If we’re talking vines and branches, it’s clear: the branch cannot generate fruit if it is cut off from the vine. And a branch cut off from the vine, whether by pruning shears or by withering, is good for nothing. But what about when we’re talking people? Disciples? Can there be no good done in the world without its doers being connected to Jesus?

This passage does not address that question. Jesus is talking here to insiders, believers, disciples. He has been training them in the ways of the Kingdom of God, equipping them to participate in the mission of God to reclaim, restore and renew all of creation to wholeness. THAT fruit, he says, is not possible apart from him. There might be all kinds of holy people, makers of peace, bringers of justice who have no discernible connection to God in Jesus Christ. But ministers of the Good News? We need to be connected to the Vine.

What kind of nutrients come through a vine to its branches and ultimately the fruit they bear? I imagine there are sugars and enzymes needed for growth, for warding off diseases, for the formation of fruit. As the vine harnesses nutritients from its roots in the soil and the water it receives, and the chemicals catalyzed by the sunshine, it passes along to the branches what they need to be as whole and life-giving as possible. And the only way the branch gets what it needs to be fruitful is through staying connected to the vine.

Let’s transfer the metaphor to us. Jesus says he is the Vine, we are the branches. He is rooted in the long tradition of God's activity since before time. He is himself the source of Living Water. He is glorified in the light of God; indeed, he is the Light of the World. Through our connection to him - united with him in baptism, renewed in him in prayer and holy eucharist - we receive everything we need to exercise ministries of transformation.

And how do we stay connected? By spending time with him in prayer; by gathering with other branches regularly; through the Word, the sacraments; through the exercise of ministry in his Name – which means, letting his Spirit work amazing things through us. We can feel the difference between doing good work on our own strength, and how it feels when we're running on Holy Spirit wind. When we allow ourselves to be filled and "loved through," those nutrients come through to us from the Vine.

Branches are not responsible for the fruit they bear. We just need to be as connected as possible, and if the vine is healthy, the fruit will grow. Our Vine is Jesus – we can trust there will be wonderful fruit as we are faithful. Here endeth the metaphor!

To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereNext Sunday’s readings are here.  Water Daily is now a podcast! Look for it wherever you get your podcasts, and please subscribe.

Water Daily 4-29-21 - Fruitful

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.

In the northern hemisphere, we are coming into the season of fruit – beautiful, juicy, luscious, abundant fruit of every shape, size, color and taste. Fruit is one of God's greatest gifts. And, according to Jesus, fruitfulness is the one criterion for success as a follower of Christ: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing... My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

And later in this long teaching, he adds, “You did not choose me. I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” (John 15:16).

What does it mean to be fruitful? It goes deeper than simply being productive. Productivity involves generating outcomes and measurable results, things you can tick off a task list. Fruitfulness obviously includes a product – the fruit – but fruit develops in different ways on varying timetables. And we don’t “produce” fruit – we grow it. Or we allow it to grow; we can't make it grow. We can only create the right circumstances for it to grow. And we can't hurry it along. (Somebody tell tomato growers that...).

I love productivity – especially if I have produced things I can see: articles, songs, sermons, newsletters, gardens, a clean floor. On a day with many pastoral appointments and meetings, I sometimes have trouble feeling I’ve “done” anything, because I can’t see or measure the outcomes – but those are deeply fruitful days. Jesus invites me to value fruitfulness even more than productivity.

How can we assess fruitfulness? We look for changed lives. When we see people changing, healing, growing, turning God-ward, we are seeing good fruit. When we bring justice or peace or reconciliation to a community, we are seeing good fruit. When we experience greater joy and more love in our lives, we are seeing good fruit.

Where in your life do you feel the most fruitful? 
What branches seem barren, producing little?
What fruit do you feel is still forming in your life?  Does it have the water, sun and nutrients it needs? How might you foster greater growth?

What fruit do you see, and would like to see in your community of faith? How might you help cultivate greater fruitfulness, more changed lives?

Fruit forms well as it is attached to the plant that nourishes it. Our fruitfulness in life, and as followers of Christ, flourishes as we allow God’s Spirit to flow through us, to form and ripen us and our ideas, to bring us to the fullness of who we are intended to be. Then we bring delight to others, just like a luscious peach or a perfect strawberry.

To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereNext Sunday’s readings are here.  Water Daily is now a podcast! Look for it wherever you get your podcasts, and please subscribe.