December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve--Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men

The story of the birth of Jesus didn’t end with his birth of course. God shared the news with others. The first to come were the humble and outcasts of society. Shepherds were among the least in the society of Israel. Even though the shepherds near Bethlehem raised the lambs for temple sacrifices, they were still on the fringe of society because of their job. The smell of the sheep and the long hours in the fields didn’t help.

Luke’s interview with Mary continues.

LUKE: Was it quiet after the Baby was born?

MARY: (smiles) For a while, then we had some unexpected visitors.

LUKE: Who besides the innkeeper knew where you were?

MARY: God knew and sent men to help us understand that this seemingly normal baby was really a Child who would change the world.

LUKE: What do you mean?
MARY: Well, it was such a normal birth and in a stable. All babies are miracles but Joseph and I both expected something more, I guess. Maybe we thought there would be trumpets or another appearance of angels. (pauses) We didn’t see angels but the shepherds around Bethlehem did.

LUKE: Shepherds?

MARY: You know that the fields near Bethlehem are where many of the lambs for the Temple sacrifices are raise, don’t you? Nearly year round the shepherds are out in the fields watching to be sure that no wild animal attacks the flock and making certain the sheep have grazing. Most people don’t like shepherds because they are smelly from being around the sheep all the time. Because they aren’t in town much, there are always rumors that shepherds are thieves, or murderers. It’s sad, really, because most of them are hard working men. Our ancestor David was a shepherd, after all.

LUKE: What happened?

MARY: I was dozing after Jesus fell asleep. Joseph was resting, too, on the hard packed dirt at the entrance to the cave. The murmur of many voices wakened me. At first I thought it was part of my dream until I saw Joseph barring the entrance with his staff gripped in his hands. I saw that he was ready to defend us. ‘What do you want?’ he challenged whoever was outside. I couldn’t hear the answer but I saw his head lift as if in surprise. He turned and looked at me. ‘Mary? Mary, are you awake? There are shepherds here with an amazing story.’

LUKE: What was their story?

MARY: It was the sign we were seeking. I told Joseph, ‘I am awake.’ A moment later the cave was crowded with roughly dressed men. I had to hold my breath for a second because the wave of sheep odor was very strong. They shocked me when every single one dropped to his knees and began to say things like ‘Praise the Holy One of Israel,’ ‘Glory be to God,’ ‘Alleluia,’ and ‘Hosanna.’

LUKE: That is extraordinary.

MARY: (smiles) It was what they told us that was really astonishing. ‘What is this?’ my husband demanded. One older man, probably the chief shepherd turned to him. ‘This is how the angel told us we would find Messiah.’ Joseph and I looked at each other. ‘Messiah,’ Joseph repeated softly. The old shepherd nodded solemnly. ‘We were sitting around the fire tonight, like we always do. The sheep were bedded down and we were almost dozing, too.’ Then all the others started trying to talk at once. I couldn’t understand anything except a few scattered words. ‘Angel…’ ‘baby…’ ‘glory…’ ‘Bethlehem…’ The baby started to cry from the noise and I picked him up from his manger cradle. My simple action silenced the men. ‘Please tell us what happened,’ I begged, ‘but one at a time.’ Again the old shepherd spoke. His eyes never left my son. (closes her eyes and remembers the scene)

LUKE: What did he say?

MARY: The old man knelt there at my feet staring at Jesus. In an awestruck tone he continued the story. ‘We were almost asleep and then there was a brilliant shaft of light in the sky nearby. The sheep weren’t frightened, but we were.’ He looked at his friends and they all nodded in agreement. ‘From the light we heard words.’ Another shepherd repeated the angel’s announcement. ‘We heard, in the air or in our hearts, I don’t know how really. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” I looked around to see if I was the only one hearing the voice.’ Another man interrupted, ‘We were all staring at the light and hearing the words.’

LUKE: I can imagine that they were terrified.

MARY: I suppose so, but the men who came to the cave were no longer frightened. They were ecstatic. The old shepherd continued the saga, ‘This messenger told us, “To you is born in the city of David a Savior, Messiah has come. You will find the child wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” It was amazing news and we stared at each other in disbelief.’ A young shepherd added, ‘Then the sky seemed to burst open and there was music everywhere. I think all the stars of heaven were singing.’ His companion nudged him and insisted, ‘It was the hosts of God. They were singing…’ When his voice trailed off, several other shepherds began to recite the angels’ song, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those God favors!’

LUKE: What did you do?

MARY: I stared at these ordinary men, transformed by the vision of angels. ‘Thank you,’ I whispered. That God would send angels to these men was confirmation that the Child I held was indeed Messiah. I did not doubt again. Joseph asked the shepherds, ‘How did you know to come here, though?’ The old shepherd chuckled at the question. ‘When the angels were gone, we sat staring at each other. I think we were speechless for several minutes. Everything looked just as it had before the visitation, but we were different. Job there was the first to say what we were all thinking.’ The man indicated shrugged, ‘All I said was that we should go to Bethlehem and see what God showed us. There was a little discussion, but we were sure that if the Child was in a manger, it would be in these caves. So we came.’ All the shepherds nodded. The spokesman added, ‘It was just as we were told. Your Baby is no ordinary child. Messiah has come.’

LUKE: Did they stay there?

MARY: Yes, the men seemed to want to linger. When dawn was lightening the sky, they finally got to their feet and bowed to me and to Joseph. ‘We must tell everyone what we have seen and heard,’ the eldest shepherd told me. Then they left. Joseph and I were alone with our Son, who was really not ours, but God’s.

“Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” During this holy season, I hope you have been able to take time to sit and ponder what the coming of Christ means to you. Like the shepherds, our duty as Christians is to tell others what we have seen and heard of our Lord. They met him as a Baby in a manger, we meet him daily in prayer, in good times, and in difficult times. The story of Jesus you tell is different for each of us, because it is the story of where and when God in Christ met and meets us. What can you tell of Jesus?

Sometimes the tragedies in our lives prove the seed to greater faith. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” despite sorrows in his life and the Civil War raging across the nation (the 4th and 5th verses allude to the war and are rarely sung now). He was married twice and both wives died tragically. His second wife, Frances Appleton Longfellow, died from burns and Longfellow himself was burned trying to put out the fire. His son was badly injured in the Civil War, which he alludes to in the rarely sung 3rd and 4th stanzas of his poem:.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearthstones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

However, like us, Longfellow knew that this was not the end or answer. He was able to proclaim his faith in the final stanza:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With Peace on earth, good will to men.”

Can you affirm a faith that says “God is not dead… right [will] prevail, with Peace on earth, good will to men” despite everything? The birth of a Baby over 2000 years ago is our proof that this is true. May it be so for you this Christmas.

December 20, 2009

Advent IV--Strength for today

After her visit with Elizabeth, Mary returned to Nazareth and was a good wife to Joseph. The couple shared an amazing experience of God and an awesome secret that they couldn’t tell anyone about. Few would have believed that Messiah would be born to a carpenter and his wife from Nazareth, anyway. The cultural expectation was for a Davidic king to arise and overthrow Rome. God rarely acts in the ways we expect, but the result is always in God's will. Like the lights of the Snowman Town at the Christmas River of Lights, we only see bits of illumination instead of the entire scene.

Luke continues his interview with the events leading up to the birth of her Child.

LUKE: You must have been glad to be home in Nazareth after visiting Elizabeth.

MARY: Yes, she was so kind that I hated to leave, but I knew that Joseph and my parents waited for me. She had her own preparations to make as well.

LUKE: What happened when you got home?

MARY: Joseph had our house finished. He must have worked night and day for the three months I was gone. It was a cozy home with whitewashed walls, right next to the carpenter shop that belonged to him and used to be his father’s. Mother helped me get settled and had even finished weaving the blanket I started when I was betrothed.

LUKE: Was there any gossip about your trip so soon after your marriage?

MARY: (laughs) There certainly was! I’m afraid poor Joseph had the worst of it, though. Soon I could no longer conceal the fact that I was pregnant. Then we had to pretend to ignore the whispers and winks. Some tried to be understanding. I heard a neighbor talking to Joseph one day. ‘You aren’t the only man to have hurried the wedding along,’ he said. ‘People forget quickly, though. Very few remember that I married my Abigail only six months before Jesse was born.’

LUKE: I suppose it happens in all villages.

MARY: (nods) We had our special secret to comfort us, though. Our angelic visitors were something we discussed often. ‘How will this Child be different?’ Joseph asked me often. I had no answer.

LUKE: Tell me why you went to Bethlehem before the Baby was born.

MARY: It was a strange thing. Joseph and I often talked about the prophecy that said Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. We couldn’t figure out how that would be fulfilled since we were living in Nazareth.

LUKE: What happened?

MARY: One day a group of Roman soldiers rode into Nazareth. We all ran to our homes. The leader went to the rabbi’s house and gave him a scroll. ‘See that you obey,’ was all he said. (she paused)

LUKE: And…?

MARY: It was an order, a decree, from the Emperor. Every man had to travel to his ancestral home for a census. That meant Joseph had to go to Bethlehem. His heritage traced back to David, who was born in Bethlehem, and so did mine.

LUKE: Surely wives didn’t have to go with their husbands.

MARY: Many went anyway. Joseph and I both knew that I had to go. How else would the prophecy be fulfilled? Mother was not happy with our decision. ‘You are only a few weeks from the birth of your child,’ she scolded. I tried to assure her that we would be back in time for the birth, but it didn’t help.

LUKE: So you made the trip?

MARY: Yes, I rode a donkey part of the way. I walked some and for the trek down the Jericho valley I was able to ride with another woman in a litter. My labor started before we reached Bethlehem, but I didn’t tell Joseph until we reached the edge of the town. ‘I will find us a place to stay,’ he promised and hurried off.

LUKE: Was there any room to stay?

MARY: (shakes her head) Not at first. My poor Joseph came back with his head hanging. ‘Everyone turned me away. They all say they are full,’ he told me. ‘God will provide a place,’ I encouraged him. “I will come with you.’ ‘Please, my wife is going to have a baby,’ he begged the innkeeper. This time the man suggested that we could bed down in the straw in the caves where the ewes lambed.

LUKE: That must have been frightening.

MARY: Not really. I was sure God was in control. Joseph didn’t know what to do, so I had to direct him how to get water and the swaddling clothes ready. Before dawn my Baby was born.

LUKE: How wonderful.

MARY: (smiles tenderly) Yes, He was perfect. He had such tiny hands and feet! I stroked his black curls while he nursed. Joseph made a nest of straw for me on the floor and one in the nearby manger for Jesus. It was really quite warm and surprisingly soft when he spread the blanket from the donkey over the straw.

Sometimes it is hard to remember that God is in charge of all the details. Like Mary and Joseph we might wonder how the prophecy is going to be fulfilled. Then, a ‘miracle’ happens and all the pieces come together. The way things happen is rarely the way we would have planned, though. Mary would never have chosen a stone manger for her baby's bed, but she trusted that God was in control.

The final verse of Great is Thy Faithfulness helps me remember why Jesus was born and the truth that God is still with us and is in control of all things.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

How do you encourage yourself to remember that Christ is near at all times?
Are there special songs, readings, psalms, or other aids that help you stay connected to God?
For me, the stories of the Bible are important reminders of God’s everlasting loving kindness.

On Christmas Eve, we’ll hear what Mary tells Luke about the visit of the Shepherds.

As promised, the book special this week (Dec. 20-25) is 25% off any of my books. You can only get this special by emailing me and noting Blog Special in the memo line.

December 13, 2009

Advent III-My soul magnifies the Lord

Today we look at Mary's visit to Elizabeth. Mary's song of joy, the Magnificat is probably one of the better known Bible passages.

Elizabeth was Mary’s relative, traditionally a cousin. Her husband Zechariah was a priest in the Temple and Elizabeth was “of the daughters of Aaron”. In other words, the family was members of the priesthood since the time of Moses. However, Elizabeth was barren, so the line would end with her generation. This was no doubt a source of great sadness to both Zechariah and Elizabeth. For Elizabeth it was probably worse because barrenness was an indication that you had sinned and God was angry.

Imagine their joy when the angel told Zechariah that Elizabeth would finally be pregnant and have a son. No wonder he was skeptical. He and his wife were “advanced in years”. Elizabeth “hid herself for 5 months, saying, ‘thus the Lord has done to me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach…’” The joy of being pregnant and the hope that it was true kept her from sharing the news until she was certain.

Mary learns of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy when the angel informs her that “your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” She decides to visit her cousin. Both women had received unexpected and astonishing gifts from God.

We continue with our interviewer Luke as he talks to Mary about her trip to see Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56). Images of the meeting are popular in art and range from medieval representations that include a priest at one end to more modern line drawings of the two women greeting each other.

LUKE: I understand you almost immediately went on a trip. Wasn’t that unusual?

MARY: The angel told me that Elizabeth, my cousin, was six months pregnant. I wanted to see her and rejoice with her. I was sure she would understand my own joy and my confusion about why I was chosen to be mother of Messiah.

LUKE: Were Joseph and your parents concerned?

MARY: (nods) They were. Mother tried to talk me out of it. ‘You should not travel in your condition,’ she cautioned. ‘This is God’s child,’ I reminded her, ‘nothing can happen.’ Joseph seemed to understand, although I know he was sad to see me leave so soon after our marriage.

LUKE: How did you get from Nazareth to Elizabeth?

MARY: There was a caravan from Sepphoris. Joseph knew one of the traders and entrusted me to his care. I walked most of the way. Sometimes I rode on a donkey the trader owned. It took nearly two weeks to make the trip. The traders stopped at several cities along the way. I was amazed by the different clothing and hair styles in some of the places, like Sebaste. I knew I shouldn’t, but I stared at the women of Samaria. They didn’t look debauched like people claimed because they don’t worship God like the Jews. They were friendly and kind to me.

LUKE: Was Elizabeth surprised to see you?

MARY: There was no way to let her know I was coming. When we arrived at Zechariah’s house, a servant ran to find his mistress. She came hurrying out of the house and I saw immediately that the angel had not lied. My cousin was heavy with child. I was a little ashamed of how relieved I was. Even though my own body was changing, I sometimes wondered if I dreamed the conversation with the angel.

LUKE: Then what happened?

MARY: (smiles at the memory) Elizabeth came toward me with her hands outstretched to welcome me. ‘Mary, how sweet of you…’ Then she stopped, stared at me, and crossed her hands over her belly. I thought something was wrong and ran toward her. A smile burst across her face and she caught my hands,

‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why has the mother of my Lord come to me?’ It was my turn to stare at her. She continued to exalt, ‘As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

LUKE: You must have been relieved that she knew your news.

MARY: It was more than that. I felt almost as if God was drawing me close again. My own song broke out. The words just came flowing from my heart.

‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

LUKE: That is beautiful.

MARY: Elizabeth and I had so much to talk about. She told me how an angel came to Zechariah when he was burning incense before the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. ‘He isn’t able to talk because he couldn’t believe I would have a child,’ she explained. ‘The angel told him, ‘you will be silent and unable to speak until the day these things come to pass because you did not believe my words.’ I am glad you are here because I haven’t had anyone to discuss the miracle with.’

LUKE: How long did you stay with Elizabeth?

MARY: I remained about 3 months. When it was almost time for her to be delivered, she sent me home. ‘You should not be present at the birth,’ she told me. ‘You must return to your husband and family and prepare for your own baby.’ Zechariah arranged for me to travel with some fellow priests who were returning to Galilee after their service at the Temple was done. We returned by a different route because they would not go through Samaria and the Roman escort preferred to stop at the Roman outposts. I was surprised that the priests were willing to travel with the conquerors, but then I realized they wanted to be safe.

LUKE: I can understand that traveling with Roman troops would have been safer than traveling alone.

MARY: The soldiers were kind to me. I was never afraid of them. Most of them were just young men. Joseph was glad to see me. He had finished our home while I was gone. Of course he built it adjacent to his father’s house. It was nice to return to my family.

Elizabeth and Mary are both women of great faith. Like Sarah in the Old Testament, Elizabeth was blessed with a child when she was ‘too old’. Jesus tells his disciples, “…all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27) When faced with something that seems impossible or improbable, it might be good to stop and remember the many times throughout history that God has accomplished the “impossible”. Often it is the women who are beneficiaries of this grace. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Hannah are just a few of the women who, like Elizabeth, conceived when it seemed impossible. Hebrews 11 lists a summary of the acts of grace that patriarchs and matriarchs received by faith. Their example can teach us to live our faith vibrantly.

Does the song of Mary resonate with you as a glorious revelation of the ways God acts to ‘lift up the lowly’?
Are there ways you can be part of God’s plan to show love by ‘filling the hungry’ or otherwise making a difference in your corner of the world?

The second verse of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” summarizes some of the ways we know, through nature, that God is with us. The miraculous birth of Elizabeth’s son, John (the Baptist), was the confirmation Mary needed to reassure her heart that God was indeed with her.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love

As promised, the book special this week (Dec. 13-19) is free shipping on any of my books. You can only get this special by emailing me and noting Blog Special in the memo line.

See you next week for the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

December 6, 2009

Advent II-I will not forsake you

Last week we looked at the Annunciation to Mary. An angel, a heavenly messenger, comes to this young girl of Nazareth with the amazing news that she will be mother of Messiah. Her courage was tested when she had to tell her husband-to-be, Joseph, that she was going to have a child. Joseph was likely 10-20 years older than Mary. Men were expected to be established in life before they married. Some traditions say he was much older than Mary, perhaps in his 50’s or 60’s. His age doesn’t matter as much as his faith and courage in accepting Mary and her Child.

We continue with our fictitious interview between the Evangelist Luke and Mary (based on Matt. 1:18-25). This image of Joseph entitled the Anxiety of Jesus is by James Tissot.

LUKE: How did you tell your family about your visit from the angel?

MARY: It wasn’t easy. Mother started to cry and threw her veil over her head. My father just looked stern and disappointed. I know they thought I was lying.

LUKE: What about Joseph?

MARY: (closes her eyes for a moment) I was almost afraid to tell him after my parents’ reaction. He had to be told, though. I hoped that God had prepared him.

LUKE: What happened?

MARY: I walked to his carpenter shop. He was busy and I watched him work from the doorway for a little while. He smiled when he saw me. When he asked, ‘Mary, why are you here?’, I knew that he had not been visited by an angel.

LUKE: Were you afraid?

MARY: For a moment I wanted to run away, but then I remembered that God was with me. ‘I have something to tell you,” I told the man. I think he expected me to say I couldn’t marry him because I saw a sadness come into his eyes.

LUKE: What did he say?

MARY: Nothing, he just stared at me with that sad expression. ‘Don’t be afraid, it is good news,’ I tried to reassure him. ‘I have seen an angel.’ (pauses and stares away, remembering the scene)

LUKE: Then?

MARY: Joseph still didn’t say anything, so I told him what the angel said to me. I watched his expression change from worry to disbelief to anger. ‘How can you blaspheme?’ he snarled when I finished my story. ‘It is true,’ I insisted. When he turned away, I felt like crying. Inside I said a quick prayer. ‘God, please, I can’t do this alone.’

LUKE: It must have been hard for Joseph to understand what happened to you.

MARY: Yes, he didn’t say anything more to me even when I said, ‘I have not betrayed our betrothal. God has acted. I hoped you would rejoice with me.’ Joseph just stood there with his head bowed. I felt like my heart was breaking. Instead of going home, I walked out to the hills when I left the carpenter shop.

LUKE: I know he did come to believe you.

MARY: (smiles) He came to our house the next day. It was barely dawn, but he roused Father by pounding on the door. Mother and I stood in the shadows while the two men talked. ‘I want to wed Mary,’ Joseph stated. My father nodded. ‘Now, today!’ our visitor insisted. ‘Her child is mine.’ When I heard him claim the child, I was sure God had visited Joseph and softened his heart.

LUKE: Did he ever explain his change of mind?

MARY: (laughs softly) He told me when we walked to his home after our hasty wedding. I barely noticed the stares and whispers of the neighbors as he explained how he struggled to decide what to do. ‘I could have had you stoned,’ he reminded me. ‘You would not do that,’ I answered. He sighed and agreed, ‘I thought I would send you away until the child was born or divorce you. The mental struggle was exhausting and I finally fell into a troubled sleep. In my dream I felt warmth and heard a comforting voice saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ When I woke up, I had to see you and marry you right away.’

LUKE: It takes a brave man to do what he did.

MARY: Few men would accept another man’s child as their own, much less a Child so miraculously conceived. God chose Joseph just like he chose me. I was blessed by his love and support. The gossip did not last long when everyone in Nazareth saw how happy we were together.

The law of Israel considered a betrothal as binding as the actual marriage. A ketubot, a parchment outlining the contract and the duties of husband and wife was signed at the betrothal. If the woman was unfaithful during that time, the punishment was the same as for adultery after marriage. She could be stoned. It was up to the man to decide what to do. When Joseph agreed to wed Mary, he announced to the world that child was his. He was admitting, tacitly, that he and Mary had engaged in premarital relations. Only a few people knew the real truth of the conception of the Child. Joseph’s faith in saying ‘yes’ to God’s call is often overlooked.

Mary’s courage in going to Joseph, her fiancĂ© and telling him she was pregnant, shows us how God can empower us to do things that are hard. Mary and Joseph may have been reminded of Moses’ words of blessing to Joshua and the people of Israel, before they entered the Promised Land. “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be in dread of them: for it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6 & 8) The Hebrew word “forsake” (azab) in this case means relinquish. Moses promises God will not relinquish (surrender, abandon, let go) the people. Mary and Joseph found this to be true as well.

Can you relate to the faith of Mary who trusts in God, even in the face of doubt by her parents and Joseph?
God promises that he will not forsake you or me. Does that give you comfort?

The first verse of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” captures the essence of God who does not forsake us, no matter how the circumstances look. Meditate on the words this week as you take time with God.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Next week Mary will tell us of her visit to her cousin Elizabeth.

As promised, the book special this week (Dec. 6-12) is buy one get one of any of my books. You can only get this special by emailing me and noting Blog Special in the memo line. Check back next week for another special offer.

November 29, 2009

Advent I--Here am I, November 29

As an author, it sometimes helps me understand the men and women of the Bible when I write about them. Throughout these Advent meditations, I will be sharing my ‘version’ of Mary’s thoughts about her Journey to Bethlehem, in the form of an interview between Mary and Luke. Scholars think that he probably did interview Mary as the source for the woman’s view in his Gospel. There are many insights in the Gospel of Luke that could only have come from a first person recollection. One of them is the Annunciation scene. (Luke 1:26-38) Mary lived in Nazareth, in the northern part of Israel. Below is a photo of the town.

LUKE: Mary, can you tell me what happened when you first learned that you would be mother of Messiah?

MARY: The day started out like any other. I remember going to the well in the morning. I walked with my friends Rachel and Tamar. They wanted to ask me about my upcoming wedding. They were amazed, as was most of Nazareth, when Joseph bar Heli asked my father if we could be betrothed. I don’t think anyone in Nazareth thought he would ever get married. (giggles)

LUKE: Did you know Joseph well?

MARY: (shakes her head) Not very well. He was older, of course. Nearly every girl marries a man older than she is. We talked about the wedding, even though it wasn’t going to happen for almost a year. Rachel asked me if I would be embroidering a new headdress. Tamar was more interested in the food preparation. She was already a good baker like her mother.

LUKE: Then what happened?

MARY: We went back to our homes. I finished my chores. (pauses and stares off toward the hills near Nazareth) The paths in those hills are my friends. I walked there whenever I could be spared from cooking or weaving.

LUKE: You went for a walk in the hills?

MARY: In the silence and the whisper of the leaves God feels very close to me. I never really feel that I am alone. It may sound strange, but I feel like God holds my hand when I am walking there. That day…(sighs and smiles dreamily) It was spring and the leaves were just budding. Everything seemed to shimmer in the light of the setting sun. I did think that it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had seen. A few clouds on the horizon made the sky turn to rose. Have you ever seen the sunlight radiating up from behind clouds?

LUKE: Yes.

MARY: It was like that. Only the light from the clouds didn’t just go up into the sky it seemed to reach out and embrace me. I stood still and breathed in the beauty. Then, oh then, the light grew even brighter. I knew God was very near and I fell to my knees.

LUKE: How did you know God was there?

MARY: (with a smile) I just knew. I felt warm, like the sunset was hugging me. In my heart I heard a tender greeting. “Favored one! The Lord is with you!” I think I nodded because there was no doubt that God was right there.

LUKE: What did you think?

MARY: (shakes her head) There was nothing to think about. I was lost in the wonder of the nearness of God. Then I heard, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will conceive and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

LUKE: You heard a prophecy of Messiah.

MARY: It is what every girl in Israel dreams of, without ever thinking that it will happen to her. We all want to be the mother of Messiah who will usher in God’s new reign. Even though my house and Joseph’s are of the line of David, we had never talked about the prophecy being fulfilled by our children. Really, we hardly talked to each other after the betrothal ceremony. He was busy building a house for us.

LUKE: What did you think when you heard the promise?

MARY: I said the first words that came to my mind. They were a whisper of confusion, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Joseph and I were not to be married for months.

LUKE: Did you think the angel was foretelling what would happen after you were married?

MARY: No, I knew that God’s word was immediate and the next thing I heard confirmed it. (pauses) It was almost too much to believe. “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” I think I held up a hand in denial and fear, because a moment later I felt a comforting warmth and the declaration of something almost more astonishing. “Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has conceived a son. This is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

LUKE: Why did it matter that Elizabeth was having a son?

MARY: (smiles) It was proof from God that what I heard was true and real. The Holy One gave me something tangible to confirm the Promise. My mind was spinning and my heart was pounding.

LUKE: Did you doubt the angel?

MARY: Hearing of Elizabeth’s pregnancy made me realize that what I heard in my heart was true and from God. It was not something I imagined. I knew that I had to go visit Elizabeth. I knew she was pregnant just as I knew that the Message was true. I would bear Messiah.

LUKE: It must have been hard to grasp.

MARY: In a way it was strange, but I had no fear. I heard myself say, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be as you have said.” Later I thought about all the reasons that my response was rash, but even then I was not afraid. God’s love held me secure. It was dark when I returned home. Mother asked me what happened. “You are late,” she scolded me. I was surprised she didn’t see anything different about me. I knew I would never be the same and that my life was changed forever.

There are many artistic representations of this scene. From ancient icons to modern interpretations, we most often see Mary confronted by an angel, who usually looms over her. In some art the holds up a hand as if to say, “please stop.” However, Mary was simply a young girl, like any other in Nazareth and Israel.

Scholars postulate that Mary was likely just a young teen, probably 13 or 14 years old when she had this encounter. It takes a special person, of any age, to respond to such a vibrant call from God, esp. one that will change her life dramatically. Mary had a deep faith that would allow her to hear the angelic messenger and to respond with submission to God.

The Bible has many instances of others who encountered God and argued much more volubly against their call. Moses, for one, begs God to “send someone else.” Jonah tries to run away from God’s call. Elijah has to be reassured by the “still small voice” that he is not alone. Mary, on the other hand, expresses astonishment that she could conceive, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (vs. 34), but does not argue or present all the reasons that she cannot be mother to the One “called the Son of God.”

Mary of the Annunciation is a woman of strong faith, despite her age. She knows that the refrain of the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness is correct. “Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!" Without hesitation she believes when the angel says, “nothing will be impossible with God,” and responds, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (vs. 38)

What does her submission to the call of God have to teach us as we begin our Advent journey this year?
Is Mary’s strength and faith an inspiration for you?
Can we be as trusting as Mary, so that we can say, “Great is Thy faithfulness” no matter what we are called to do?

We can respond to any challenge or opportunity when we understand that God provides all we need, no matter what we are called to do or where we are in our journey. Let the refrain to the hymn be your prayer this week as you listen to what God is saying to your heart and mind.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Next week we will hear Mary tell how she informed Joseph of her news.

As promised, the book special this week (Nov. 29-Dec. 5) is get 20% off any of my books. You can only get this special by emailing me and noting Blog Special in the memo line. Check back next week for another special offer.  

November 22, 2009

Commitment to Christ

Today 5 young people will be confirmed into the church. Their action has me thinking about how we commit ourselves to our Lord and Savior.

Confirmation is a service whereby young people and adults accept their full responsibility as members of the Body of Christ. Many, if not most people in the Episcopal Church are baptized as infants or at least as young children. Baptism is initiation into the Body, when the child is “sealed as Christ’s own forever.” Confirmation is the sacrament that affirms that commitment as an adult member of the church.

I know that many denominations do not have a sacrament of confirmation, many wait until the person makes their own decision for Christ as a young adult or later. Baptism, then, is the one rite that both affirms their choice to serve Christ as Lord and Savior and testifies that they are an adult part of the community of faith.

However and whenever it happens, the act of taking the step of commitment to God is an important milestone in our Christian journey. What does it mean to say “yes” to Christ? In the confirmation service, both those being confirmed and the congregation reaffirm their baptismal promised that include: “Continuing in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; repenting for sins; proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; serving Christ in all persons including working for justice and peace.”

Each of those promises is part of our total ministry and can only be lived out with God’s help. How each young person today lives out their ministry as adult members of the church remains to be seen. They can be assured, and so can we, that as the hymn says,

“New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.”

I know my response to that love can be affected by outside influences. I can easily forget that each morning I am “Restored to life and power and thought,” in order to re-commit my life each morning to God. Fortunately my forgetfulness and distraction doesn’t change God’s love for me or for you.

I have modified the confirmation prayer to make it a little more personal and offer it to you as an aid and a reminder of the One we serve and Who we have committed our life to.

Almighty God, I thank you that by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ you have overcome sin and brought me to yourself, and that by the sealing of your Holy Spirit you have bound me to your service. Renew in me the covenant you made with me at my Baptism. Send me forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before me; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I invite you to join the Advent meditations here in an exploration of Mary’s story and the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness.

You can also be part of the Yahoo group study “Dancing in the Footsteps of God (with Miriam)” starting the beginning of December. (Go to: to join--you do need a Yahoo account.)

November 15, 2009


Ministry has been the topic recently. The word ‘ministry’ itself is from the Latin ministerium meaning servant. I think too often we forget that ministry is all about service. Recently I attended a breakfast honoring ‘servant leaders’ in the community. Many of the men and women have dedicated their lives to making a difference simply by the way they live their lives.

According to the organization Servant Leadership: “may grow out of a calling to help those in need, to live out one's faith in day-to-day work, or to mentor and influence others to a life of leadership focused on outcomes that are above and beyond one's own self-interest.” Doesn’t that sound like the Golden Rule that we looked at earlier this fall? — “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Taking these two thoughts together, I think we can say that Christian Ministry is being a servant to one another out of love that comes first from God and then flows through us as we live in obedience to God’s call on our life and hearts. It is living what Christ modeled to his disciples at the Last Supper. “After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (Jn. 13:12-17)

Many people think of Advent as the ‘church’s new year.’ It’s when we start the cycle of church seasons again by focusing on Jesus birth and on the Second Coming. As we move toward Advent, how can we more fully live into the ministry we are called to? I hope you have found insight in these mediations that will encourage you to “let go and let God” be in control of your life.

Next Sunday we will be almost to Thanksgiving. I've taken on a Facebook challenge to post one thing I am grateful or thankful for from now until Thanksgiving. It's always good to find something to be thankful for because no matter how dark the day, there will be some glimmer of grace to be found.

After Thanksgiving we enter Advent on December 29. I invite you to join the Advent meditations here in an exploration of Mary’s story and the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness. You can also be part of the Yahoo group study “Dancing in the Footsteps of God (with Miriam)” starting the beginning of December. (Go to: to join--you do need a Yahoo account.)

November 8, 2009

Me? Do what? Now?

Are you feeling that God is urging you to do something new? Are there opportunities for new ministry opening up? Do you feel like Moses, asking “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?” (Ex. 4:11) or like Jonah who “rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3)?
This week I came across a series of questions (thanks to Called Magazine) that help focus us on whether it is me or God doing the calling. Their questions made me stop and ponder and I would invite you to do the same.

Do I feel a gentle, but persistent, tugging at my heart? A burning desire? Does it refuse to go away, even when I ignore it?

God loves us so much that He urges us toward our best efforts and the perfect ministry, even when we try to do something else or ignore the “still small voice” that says “this is the way, walk in it.” (Is. 30:21) The Bible has many stories of people who tried to ignore God. Jonah is the most famous, but there are others. Amos believed his life work was to be a “herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees,” (Amos 7:14) until God called him to be a prophet. Paul was an avid Pharisee, until God turned his life around and made him the so called “apostle to the Gentiles.”

The most comforting thing for me to remember is that when God calls, he also gives the gifts and talents and strengths needed. (Not that I don’t hesitate and say, like Moses, ‘who me?’ or ‘send someone else’.)

When other people say I should go into ministry, does it feel right? Does hearing it satisfy my soul or my ego?

This is a very important question. It can be very easy to allow our ego to get in the way of the real, humble, self-effacing ministry God is calling us to. Paul had to abandon all the things that made him important in society to become God’s evangelist. “In Philippians 3:4-7, he brags, “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” In the next sentence though, he say, that this is all worth nothing compared to “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

When you are hearing God’s call, through prayer and patient waiting, it won’t matter if any fame or fortune comes with it. All that matters in true ministry is that we “love God and love our neighbor.”

Do I associate status and power with ministry? Is this my desire, fueled by ambition? Am I wanting to serve or to be served?

The third question ties to the last one because it makes you really look at the motivation for ministry. We have all seen and read about men and women who started out with the best intentions and let the fame and status and power go to their heads until their ministry was compromised.

It isn’t a new problem. In the Bible, we find David, “a man after God’s own heart” who slipped when he started thinking he was in charge instead of God. He let his desire for what he wanted get in the way of being a true servant to his people and God. When he saw Bathsheba, he took her and had her husband killed. (See 2 Samuel 11)

When we do find our ministry becoming a power trip, we can repent and turn back to God, like David did. Then we can reevaluate our ministry and the direction so that once again we are servants of the Living God. Jesus tells his disciples, “You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servantsare not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.” (John 13:13-16). Our ministry needs to be humble enough to wash each other’s feet.

Am I listening for the calling with an open heart? Or does “selective hearing” keep me from seeing either my gifts or my own limitations?

An open heart is a key asset for anyone who will be a leader in ministry. This is a heart that listens to God and waits for God’s guidance. An open heart looks for open windows when the door appears to be closed. A heart open to God sees opportunity where some see a dead end. Respond to God with an open heart. As Psalm 37 says, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act…Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him.”

False humility, or alternatively hubris, can keep us from knowing if a ministry is right for us. “Oh I couldn’t do that” is a cop out. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) is a true statement. We have to remember the important part of that citation is not ‘I can do all’ but that anything we do is ‘through Christ who strengthens’!

What strengths will help me in my calling? What weaknesses will need special attention?

The final question to consider when looking at a ministry is an honest look at your personal strengths and weaknesses. None of us are perfect but each of us has gifts that can be used to “build up the body.” Paul’s analogy is one that we all need to keep in mind as we discern ministry. “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body…that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (I Cor. 22-27)

It may see nice to be the eye or the ear, but it is the “members of the body that seem to be weaker [who] are indispensable.” Even if your ministry is being the tiniest cell inside the entire organism that is the “Body of Christ”, you are important and necessary.

Jesus promises, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples…lo, I am with you always.” (Mt. 28:19) We each do this in our own way and all our ministries work together for the glory of God. In I Cor. 12:8, we are reminded that God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” It doesn’t matter if we think we are weak or unprepared, if God is in your ministry, if will not fail.

See you next week for more fall thoughts on ministry.

November 1, 2009

In Control

Through October we’ve looked at ministry. We considered how to start to identify our ministry, and ways to live out our ministry, and what it means to be involved in ministry. Undergirding all this is God. It is the Living God who invites us to participate in sharing His love, His story, His grace with others. It is our Father God who gives us the gifts and talents we need to accomplish our service.

Jesus reminds us that we are like the servants of a household. In Matthew 25:14-29, we read the Parable of the Talents. The householder gives three servants talents/money (a talent is worth about 15 years wages) to use wisely until he returns. When he does return the householder finds that two of the servants have used their talents and earned more. One however says, “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” (Matt. 25:25)

Like the householder, God expects us to use the gifts—our natural talents—to the Glory of God. Our lives are to be lived so that everyone we meet knows that we are stewards or ambassadors of God. An ambassador or a steward is someone who acts on behalf of someone else. As God’s ambassadors we act as God’s representatives—an awesome responsibility.

Lest we begin to think that we are important because we are God’s ambassadors, we are to remember that God is in control. It is God who gives us responsibility (ministry) and it is God who gives us the gifts, strengths, talents to accomplish our ministry. We are like this child, in God's eyes. The planting of a seedling by this child is what our greatest ministry is in comparison to God's glory and power. Yet, planting of the seedling of Love that we are called to do.

The Epistle to the Philippians is filled with exhortation to minister on behalf of our Lord. Paul reminds us that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6) We are all given many opportunities to do ministry. And each is an opportunity to glorify God--like Christ, to step aside and "take the form of a servant" (Phil. 2:8)

When we feel that we cannot go on, encouragement can be found in Phil. 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Like the first disciples, Jesus calls us to follow. Below is a poem I wrote several years ago. Maybe you will find yourself in the words.

Follow Me

(c) Cynthia Davis

“Follow me,” the man said.
Do I want to be led?
Who does he think he is
To ask for change in lives?
But still, there he stands
Holding out his hands.

“Follow me, for lives you’ll fish.”
Is this the pathway I wish?
I do want to do God’s will
But to stay as I am still.
To follow will mean a turn
And at his hand new ways learn.

“Follow me,” I wonder why
He asks me to give a try
At new ways of faith and trust.
Leave behind the old, I must.
The way is hard, I can tell
Yet his hand & eye compel.

“Follow me,” where will we go?
There is so much I want to know.
But it’s one step at a time
Not knowing what hill we’ll climb.
And he will lead the way
Yes, is all I have to say.

“Follow me,” this, of life the word
Of calling by the Lord I heard.
And the life of this Love is ever new
I will live and follow what is true.
In trust, not fear I will freely stand
Choosing to be guided at His hand.

See you next week. If you are interested in participating in the upcoming Dancing in the Footprints of God study check out more info on my website
(Those in Albuquerque are invited to the ReadWest Book & Craft fair on Nov.7 at the Rio Rancho Inn--lots of books and crafts by NM Authors and crafts-persons--do your Christmas shopping early!)

October 25, 2009

Call or Ministry or Strength?

Recently I've been thinking about the differences between our Call (as Christians), our Ministry, and our Strengths. Sometimes the words “calling” and “ministry” are used interchangeably and sometimes we think our “strengths” ARE our Calling. A quick look at the definitions might help to clarify what each of these words means to us, as Christians.

“Calling” is God’s invitation by which we respond to the salvation offered in Christ. It is God requesting our response to become disciples because of the Good News of the Cross and Resurrection. This ceramic cross my husband made symbolizes the invitation of the Cross, which embodies the Love of God in Christ. Our response to the invitation is our ministry.

“Ministry” can be defined as what we do as Christians to share our faith. It is the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” We do that by using our Strengths as we feel Called by God to Ministry.

“Strength” has several definitions, including: physical power to carry out demanding tasks; the emotional quality necessary to deal with stressful situations, or stress, or an attack; it is a source of support; an intensity of belief; and a valuable, useful asset or quality. For Christians the word strength means those abilities, assets, qualities, etc. that can be used to preach the Gospel to the world.

In I Cor. 7:20 we are urged to remember that we don’t have to change who we are to respond to God’s call and be effective in our ministry. In the Letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called (KJV)." Other translations say, “Every one should remain in the state in which you were called (RSV)” and “Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called. (NRSV)” We are able to serve God no matter what our vocation is.

Paul’s advice continues in verse 21-24 and encourages us to remember we can serve God no matter what our physical circumstances: “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ.” We can expand this to say..."were you a housewife, a student, an executive, a secretary, a welder, a ... (you fill in the blank) when called, do not seek to change."

The bottom line is, as vs. 23 says, “You were bought with a price [Christ’s Cross]…In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.” No matter what you do, your life can (and should) show Christ by using the abilities (strengths) you have.

St. Francis is attributed with saying “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.” This means that we need to use our abilities or our strengths to show everyone we meet what it means to be someone ‘Called’ and chosen by Christ. I Cor. 7:17 urges us to “lead the live which the Lord has assigned to him, an in which God has called him. (RSV)” The NRSV version says, “let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” We don’t have to change who we are or what we are doing, just do it to the Glory of God, knowing that “the joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Take time this week to think about your Strengths: those abilities and gifts you have that make you a unique and necessary part of Christ’s kingdom.

Consider your response to God’s invitation—God’s hand held out to you in love. Scott Peck wrote a book entitled “What Return Can I Make?” Ask yourself that question in relation to God’s Call to you.

Does your Ministry use your Strengths in active response to God’s Call?

October 18, 2009

Fall Meditations--In the Right Place

Last Sunday, I suggested you look at your life or work in terms of what your feel your ministry and/or calling is. Did you find that difficult or easy?

Identifying ministry can be an interesting challenge. Some find it easy. Perhaps you have always wanted to be a doctor or teacher or cake decorator. You put all your energy into achieving that goal. All the gifts and talents you have help you become the best in your chosen field.

More of us, I would guess based on the number of books on the subject, have a harder time figuring out what we should be doing. From “What Color is Your Parachute” to Bible studies focusing on finding your gifts, there are shelves and shelves of resources (secular and spiritual) to help us figure out just what we should be doing. And there is nothing wrong with that. We each need direction in our lives and want to know we are doing our best and using our gifts in the best possible way.

However, every so often God steps in and changes the direction of our life. There are many examples of this in the Bible. One is Esther. She had her life planned out as the nice Jewish wife of a religious Jewish man chosen for her by her uncle. ‘Good wife and mother’ was her idea of her ministry and calling. Then she was gathered up with other virgins to satisfy a foreign king’s desires.

She came to terms with her new life and as queen and favorite wife. No doubt she decided that her life would consist of being the sweetest and most gentle queen she could be in order to please him. Then she faced a test…Haman’s plot to have all the Jews in the kingdom massacred.

“Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this,” Mordecai tells Esther. He says she is in the right place to act and save her people. God has positioned her perfectly to be an instrument for God’s saving action. She has to accept her calling and act on it. So do you and I.

How we do this is not as important as accepting that we are the only one who can do exactly what we need to do in “such a time as this”. God has put each one of us in exactly the right place and this is exactly the right time to serve God. We may be the person to ‘give a cup of water’ for the sake of Christ or we may be the one who starts an orphanage. It might be that you are supposed to invite your neighbor to church or perhaps you have been asked to lead a Bible study and don’t think you can.

Your ministry and calling may change over time. I know mine have. Max Lucado reminds us, “All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and his story further down the road.” (I wish I could tell you which of his books this is in, but I haven’t been able to find the citation.)

What you have to remember is: you are in exactly the right place to “move Jesus and his story further down the road.” Like Esther, God has positioned you perfectly “for such a time as this”.

Ministry is simply “Building up the Body of Christ to the Glory of God.” It is living out the Golden Rule and Great Commandment to the best of my ability and yours. How are you moving the kingdom down the road? Remember, your gifts are just exactly the ones needed to accomplish the ministry you find in your life today.

Next week we’ll have another Fall Meditation. See you then.

October 11, 2009

Fall Meditations-Ember Day Letter

Four times a year, the Church sets aside three days to focus on God. These are "Ember Days," or Quatuor Tempora, in Latin. These dates fall close to the changes of the seasons and are meant to help us focus on God in our lives and in all creation. Ember Days are traditionally observed on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the First Sunday in Lent (February or March), the Day of Pentecost (May or June), Holy Cross Day (September 14) and December 13. 

In the Episcopal Church (and probably some other denominations), Postulants and Candidates for the diaconate or priesthood are required by canon law to report to their Bishop in writing at each of these seasons. Guidelines for these letters say, “It is not enough to say that you read a book or took a course, but how did it affect you? Did you learn something that you didn’t know before? Was it helpful or challenging? Are you struggling with long held beliefs that no longer seem tenable? If you are like most of us, your spiritual journey has ups and downs. Where are you today? What works? What is hard and why?”

During the sermon on Holy Cross Day, everyone at St. John's was challenged to write an Ember Day letter outlining our ministry or calling and how well we feel we are following it. We were encouraged to look at our lives in terms of that ministry or calling to see what works and what is not so joyful about it. (You can hear the sermon itself here:, scroll down to Sept. 13)

So, why is it important to look at our lives in terms of our ministry or calling? Putting your Rule of Life down on paper is a time honored discipline of monastic and lay orders. Most of us don’t live in monasteries and the majority are not members of lay orders, either. As the Ember Day guidelines point out, “It is important for you to know and to explain your own spiritual journey for it is in that way we begin to understand and empathetically respond to another’s journey.”

In taking up the challenge to write an Ember Day letter, I discovered that my own life is rather like a braided rope with three interconnected strands of ministry that use my gifts in different ways. There are at least 3 ways I use the gifts from God to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

One is in my work-a-day world as an administrative assistant, using gifts of organization and administration to keep the behind the scenes tasks of the Cathedral running smoothly.

Then there are the various named ministries I am involved in, such as Daughters of the King. Being chapter president involves similar gifts of administration and teaching as well as a servant’s heart to carry out the Rule of Life of the Order: Prayer and Service and Evangelism to women and girls.
My writing is another strand of the rope of ministry. The process involves being open to the ‘whispers of the Eternal’ and discovering the link between the lives of our spiritual ancestors and our faith journeys today. The gift of teaching is also involved, not only in my books, but in the studies, retreats, and even these blog postings I write.

It was an interesting process to undertake an Ember Day Letter and actually take time to look at the ministry I am involved in and how I feel about each part of that ministry. I would encourage you to take some time over the next week to evaluate your life and ministry in terms of your gifts and calling. A place to start is with the three questions used weekly by men and women who have attended Cursillo. These questions help you look at the important parts of your Christian Walk.
With what spiritual aids have you nourished your vital union with Christ? (piety)

What have you done to understand the gift of God and form your mind after the mind of Christ? (study)

What apostolic success did the Lord accomplish through you? (evangelism/action)

If you are like me, you will probably find it easiest to write these down and look at while mulling over your answers. However, some may find it more beneficial to think 'outside the box' and make a collage or draw your feelings about these topics. Maybe it will involve making something like the braided rug above. It is for your benefit, so you can do it any way that fits you.
See you next week for another Fall Meditation.

October 4, 2009

Golden Rule IV--Stretching and Sharing is a way of learning how to live into the dreams God has for each one of us. As children we have amazing imaginations and make grand plans for what we will be ‘when I grow up.’ Most of us, somewhere over the years of growing up, forget how to dream dreams and imagine grand things for ourselves. The child who said, “I’m going to be an astronaut,” settles for a 9-5 desk job. The athlete with dreams of big name stardom may become a Little League coach.

Did Henry David Thoreau have it right when he said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them”? When we give up our childish dreams and quietly despair of making a difference, we can become indifferent to the Golden Rule. “What difference does it make [to me] if I treat others well?” we may say. “They never did anything for me.”

God had a better plan. God never gives up on us. Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."

We may not, at first, see the bigger and better plan God has in store. The truth is, each of us can make a difference where we are. And in reality, we are exactly where we are supposed to be in God’s plan. That is a comforting thought, especially when the days feel like a treadmill—we’ve all had them.

Each of us is gifted and planted by God to live into the plans God has for us. We are meant to produce the good fruit that Jesus talks about in Matthew (7:17-20) and Luke (6:43-45). He says, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

Forgetting that we are in God’s plan can lead us to drift into ways that are not God’s. Then it is simple to forget that we are supposed to be treating one another as fellow beloved children of our Father. Living the Golden Rule involves stretching ourselves and reaching beyond our comfort zone. Treating others like you want to be treated means expanding your horizons and realizing that we are in relationship with everyone else. We need to ‘walk a mile’ in each other’s shoes. Elvis Presley did a song (written by Joe South) with a refrain reminding us to “Walk a mile in my shoes, just walk a mile in my shoes before you abuse, criticize and accuse, then walk a mile in my shoes.”

The rest of the song has thought provoking lyrics as well (I’m not an Elvis fan, so I didn’t know this song existed until I did a search for ‘walk a mile’. Did you know there was a Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event to combat rape?—the internet is amazingly full of surprising trivia!) Anyway--

If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour, if we could find a way
To get inside each other's mind
If you could see you through my eyes
Instead your own ego I believe you'd be
I believe you'd be surprised to see
That you've been blind


Now if we spend the day
Throwin' stones at one another
'Cause I don't think, 'cause I don't think
Or wear my hair the same way you do
Well, I may be common people
But I'm your brother
And when you strike out
You're tryin' to hurt me
It's hurtin' you, Lord HAVE mercy


Now there are people on reservations
And out in the ghetto
And brother there, but, for the grace of God
Go you and I,
If I only had wings of a little angel
Don't you know, I'd fly
To the top of a mountain
And then I'd cry, cry, cry


In the second verse the powerful lyrics say, “Well, I may be common people, But I'm your brother And when you strike out You're tryin' to hurt me It's hurtin' you, Lord HAVE mercy.” is all about seeing God in each other and knowing that we are all brothers and sisters with the same Father. It doesn’t matter who we are because “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:28. Really living the Golden Rule can make a big difference in our day-to-day relationships and in the world around us. The Golden Rule is about sharing God's goodness with one another. It's as easy as my grandson telling his cousin about the fish at the zoo. believes God is on your side. is producing good fruit. is seeing God in each other. is loving one another because we are one in Christ.” is reaching outside your comfort zone.

Thinking back over the past month, what things linger with you? Has this journey in living as changed your outlook and the way you “love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself”? Are you more aware of how you treat others? Is there a call on your heart to do more? Have you been stretched outside of your comfort zone?

You might be inspired to do something new yourself like one of these people featured by People Magazine and the Oprah Show. One of these people said that all we need to do is, “See the need, see what you can do to help, and have a go.”

Is there a need only your heart can fill?
For the next few weeks you'll find Fall Meditations here. During Advent there will be thoughts on preparing for Christmas, and book specials. Hope to see you then.

September 27, 2009

Golden Rule III...Loving past worry

Living can be difficult when we get distracted by worries in our life. The cares and concerns of our day to day living nibble away at our good intentions. We forget that we have set out to “treat others as we want to be treated” It is easy to get distracted by our needs, but Jesus assures us that God will provide.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matt. 6:27-34)

One of my favorite early morning activities is to sit on the deck and watch the hummingbirds at their feeder and the sparrows and mourning doves at theirs. I think the birds have a lot to teach us about this passage. They trust me to provide for them.

The birds have gotten so used to the morning routine that it I’m late filling up the feeder with seed, the doves and sparrows line the fence and perch in the bushes waiting for the food. Even more heart-wrenching is what happens when I take down the hummingbird feeder to refill it. There is nearly always at least one panicking little bird buzzing hysterically around where it is supposed to hang. I can almost hear him saying, “I know it was just here. Where did it go?” Sometimes they fly off to reassess the bearings and come zipping back to hover impatiently until I return the feeder.

I’m not sure that I always trust God’s providence for my needs like the birds do. Certainly, I should be, because I have seen God provide money or supplies at exactly the right time and in the right amount, but I am too easily distracted by the fact that I don’t see the solution in front of me. Like the hummingbird, I start panicking when I don’t see the feeder right there. I start flying around looking for help in all the wrong places.

Hummingbirds are surprisingly protective of their feeder as well. Rarely will two settle to eat at the same time. Usually it’s more of a contest to see who can grab a sip and then chase the other bird away. The mourning doves also try to hog all the food at the bird feeder, even from the one that they can't quite eat from. The one in the picture is trying desperately to balance and get the seed, but he's too big to fit on the perch.

We are more like the birds than we might like to admit. Our fears of not having enough keep us from sharing what we do have and trusting that God will provide. There are many who need our open hand offering help instead of our fisted hand protecting what we claim as our own. trusts that God will provide. is not afraid of what tomorrow will bring. invites others to come and be filled. has open hands. seeks the Kingdom of God by sharing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

What are you worried about that keeps you from treating others as you would like to be treated?
Is there a kindness you can do to share the Kingdom of God?

Maybe you can pick up an extra can or two of tuna for the local food pantry when shopping.
Perhaps it’s sorting your closet to see what can be donated.
It could be helping with a project like gathering school supplies.
Possibly it is getting involved with a bigger enterprise like Habitat for Humanity or Special Olympics.

Did you find some new way to do a kindness for the sake of the Golden Rule? How did you feel?
Next week is the last in this series of We will look at how we can Be Fruitful as we live the Golden Rule.