Monday, February 29, 2016

Colossian Challenge: let the peace of Christ rule in your heart

some bloggy thoughts on this week's challenge:
LET--allow, permit, welcome, open up to
PEACE--not just the absence of conflict, inner warfare, but the active presence of calm, rest and nonviolence
CHRIST--both the practical human Jesus, who practiced nonviolence and the interior life so he could live the exterior life in face of violence, and the Christ, whose intimacy with God was so close as to seem indistinguishable, allowing for harmony that is cosmic
RULE--take first place, inform all the rest of life
YOUR--don't worry about anyone else, get right yourself first
HEART--not just the seat of emotions, where peace is often disrupted, but also in the mind/thoughts, where unpeaceful thoughts often distract

Sunday, February 28, 2016

warning and grace

Warning and Grace 022816
Most of you know I’ve been on vacation….in warmer climes than here!  The hotel we go to has lovely tropical gardens, rich in palms and bright coloured flowers.  But 2 years ago, the gardener died, and with cost-cutting measures, has not been replaced.   So subtle signs of neglect have begun to show. It’s still lovely, but bushes are not pruned, so flowers are fewer, the back garden that once gave tomatoes and lettuce is a mess of weeds, and coconuts are not picked, so they and the dead leaves around them can be dangerous in a windstorm!
Today’s scripture readings came alive to me this week in that environment. 
Isaiah paints a picture of abundant life as God wants it, and Jesus a picture of untended life as we want it.
Isaiah shares a vision of abundant lush life, where everyone has what they need and a generous God tends to us, inviting us back into relationship,   broken by human politics and self-sufficiency.  It’s an invitation of great grace, the amazing grace of the Divine.
This may be the vision that hunkers in the back of Jesus’ mind when confronted by the eternal question: why do bad things happen to good people?  Notice he doesn’t resort to all the things we do to answer that unanswerable question…no theology that blames God, no facile explanations, no cynical turning away from God.
He points to a dying fig tree, and issues a warning.   A fig tree’s job is to produce figs, and this one has stopped, and its no use to anyone (picture of pomegranate tree at hotel).  Any fruit just drops and rots; it may seem to still have purpose, an occasional piece of fruit does grow….but it has no meaning—it feeds no one, brings no joy, is not part of the co-creation of the world…all because someone thinks the tree can do it all by itself.
Now there’s a metaphor.   It might be one that speaks to us as a congregation, or as individuals (it certainly speaks to us as a nation)…..our culture, and maybe even some of our members, may be right, like the owner of the fig tree, in asking what use is the church, why should we pour resources into it?  how well tended and pruned and cared for by the divine Gardener are we, what nurture and sustenance do we offer a hungry world?  Or are we so self dependent we grow a little fruit here and there but are not much use to the rest of creation?   Where is there something that is dying of neglect?
Jesus is pointing out what Isaiah pointed out: we don’t need self-dependence, we need self-criticism: some rational honesty about how our life is, how our relationship with the Gardener has been broken or neglected, about what needs some TLC from God…then we need to allow God to work with us.
Otherwise, the warning comes, we will wither and die in our own mess.  
In terms of the suffering question, Jesus doesn’t go there except to point out the stupidity of our facile answers….obviously people die when poor building maintenance causes accidents, and people die when evil leaders hold on hard to power in the face of faithful practice of others.
No, Jesus turns the question right back on to the disciples with this fig tree non sequitor:  what is your RESPONSE when bad stuff happens? that’s the key.
This week in a reflection on the psalm, Sr Joan Chittister comments on suffering: “what matters is what we do with it, AND what it does to us.”   That’s the warning and the grace in our texts.  What do we do with trouble, with suffering, with anything we can’t control?  And what does it do to us?   Lead us into withering fruitlessness, or hand it over to the gospel grace of the divine gardener?
As Fr Richard Rohr says, “Jesus builds on what his Jewish tradition already knew—how to hold, make use of, and transform suffering into a new kind of life instead of the old kind of death”
As gospel people, resurrection is our core.  We are in Lent but Easter is coming, and death doesn’t have the last word.  Life does.  Grace happens, that’s the promise we stand on (as we will sing later)…but we have to open ourselves to new life that comes from hard pruning, careful digging, and lots of fertilizing.  I pray we may be trusting enough to let it happen.

Monday, February 22, 2016

above all, clothe yourselves with love

and it doesn't stop there, this Colossian Challenge of ours:  the writer goes on, 'which binds everything together in harmony'.  The love bit of course should come as no surprise to Christians, or to those of any faith or none who know the cosmic energy that is Love.  But, harmony, seriously?   what are the signs of harmony in your life, really?  That's what makes it a challenge.

Our culture is so fear-engulfed, that we are in danger of compromising our hearts of love....not love as in erotic or sensual love, nor love as familial love, but agape, cosmic divine love....the kind of ludicrous, gracious, abundant love that God has for us!  i suspect that my efforts at creating harmony will only be possible in direct proportion to my belief in Love, both sharing it and receiving it, knowing myself as Beloved.

and like love, harmony will pervade all of life.  My relationships, my daily ordinary conversations, my use of social media even, will lead towards, or away from, harmony.  a challenge indeed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

forgiveness as gift

Forgiveness is for giving, not for withholding.  Like all giving, including our financial gifts, if given from the heart, forgiveness given does as much for the giver as the recipient, often even more; it frees the giver from a heavy burden.
One of our parishioners said of her financial giving, "don't give till it hurts, give till it feels good".  I can attest to the truth of that for forgiveness as well.  Not that it doesn't involve hurt, because that's part of the problem, and there is pain in looking at oneself and seeing where one is holding on to something.  But phew, the relief can be palpable.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


The Colossians challenge continues to be practical: forgive as you have been forgiven by God. Oh dear. If God forgives me the way I forgive other people, what a dry, graceless life I live. But the good news is that God forgives abundantly, gracefully, and only when I grasp that incredible fact will I be able to even reflect on how I forgive others. This little phrase assumes I fully understand myself to be forgiven (and to need forgiveness); otherwise that little word "as" is as powerfully scary here as it is in the Lor's Prayer.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

bear with one another

"Bear with one another" brings to mind the 'for better or worse' of the traditional wedding vows....hanging in there through the bad times as well as sailing through the good times.  then it's more than simply patience, it's carrying one another with a patient heart.   But the author wasn't writing to  newly weds, but to people newly Christian, trying to figure out how to live together in a community of faith.  As we face the turmoil of change ahead, with our various reactions, responses and anxieties, sometimes we will try one another's patience (and all the other challenge words so far), so 'bear with one another' seems especially important.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Colossians Challenge: bear with one another

Up to now, our challenges have been internal attitudes or states of being, although obviously they have external implications.   Now we get to the PRACTICE.   Bear with one another is the external manifestation of patience perhaps, and takes us to the nitty gritty of living in community, whether its a church, a monastery or a family.  Bear with one another, when the load is already great; bear with one another when your patience is worn thin and kindness went out the window a while ago; bear with one another because you are both beloved partners in this community thing called the kin-dom of God.....

Sunday, February 07, 2016

it shows

It shows 020716
Today we have two mountaintop experience stories—one about Moses and one about Jesus; both would stretch the imagination, especially of the literalists among us…..
When Moses has been conversing with God, it showed—face glowing so bright he has to cover it
When Jesus has been praying, conversing with God, it showed—first his face then his whole self glowing bright in this case
It all seems a bit like something from the Twilight Zone….do do do do
and yet there is truth to be found for our lives in both stories:
we might first realize that we need to be intentional about setting aside a time and a place for prayer, for being in conversation, or even just silence, with God.
That’s primarily what Sunday morning worship is….a mountaintop experience.  It may not be a doo doo doo doo experience, but it is a time to put ourselves in the Presence, the Mystery, of the divine. It's a mountaintop not because of external qualities like great music or a good sermon, but because of what happens to you in the experience of it. And as we've heard before: you get out of worship what you put into it.....It is a time to learn, seek insight, listen for an experience of God.  Jesus that day came with that intention, and brought disciples with him for that intention.    Do we come here with that intention?  
And where and when else do go with that intention?  For some it’s early morning quiet time, for others its midday prayer, for others its our centering prayer groups or other spiritual practices.   But for a healthy spiritual life, we need to practice placing ourselves open to the Divine.

We tend to think of our spiritual lives as private, a bit like those disciples who “kept quiet and told no one” , or Moses who draws the veil over his spiritual life when he's out in public...and because we say nothing about our "private" spirituality, attendance in churches drops, spirits falter, and lives get distracted from what realy matters.    But Christianity isn’t a private faith, something not to be spoken about,  tho it is personal.   It’s public, and communal.  And it shows.  Or it doesn’t.  it may not show with glowing faces or shining clothes, but our individual and communal practice of being with God does show.
It shows in a cancer patient who realizes that his experience of love in the midst of pain and anxiety is transformative: it changes him.   And it shows.
It shows on a woman’s face before she has heart surgery, as her expression changes from fear to calm as she is encircled by prayer
It shows in an elderly nursing home resident who confronts her visitors with their un-faithful desire to gossip
It shows when two of our high school seniors, basically very shy young women, stand up in front of a hundred people to call us to go where Jesus wants us
It shows in a Muslim woman who has just arrived in the US, whose face lights up with the gift of a bottle of conditioner and a pair of gloves from a church member who had been with Jesus enough to know how to share God’s love without preaching
It shows in the commitments we make of time and talent and treasure that tell people we’re disciples, not churchgoers
It shows in our attitude to the first person we see after church, especially if that person has blocked our car in.
It shows in your reaction when your husband calls and says he’s bringing an Iraqi couple home for dinner in half an hour.   If you’ve been with Jesus, there’s a better chance of a Jesus response.
People know where we’ve been and who we’ve been with, by our words, our attitudes, our actions and our reactions.
This holy place of prayer, this sea level ‘mountain top’, is where we encounter the divine which leads us to lives that are changed, transformed, transfigured even
Thanks be to God.

Monday, February 01, 2016

colossians challenge: patience

Colossians Challenge week 5: clothe yourself with patience. This is the last "clothe yourself with" part of the text, which calls me to wonder if these first 5 are things we can 'put on' at least util they become part of us. Our basic personalities may not include these attributes, but I do believe we can practice them till they become more natural. I remember learning to play the piano as a child; not a happy memory, but the principle was true, life, like playing an instrument, takes practice. Today, home with a lousy cold and fortunately little human contact, won't offer much opportunity for practicing patience....but I bet if I watch my thoughts today there will be all sorts of impatient thinking!