April 26, 2009

Love the Lord your God with all your Heart

In the last post, we looked at our soul’s response to God’s loving call. When we listen, God reminds us day by day that we are beloved. Our response is to love God with all our soul. Today we look at “loving God with all your Heart.”

What is the difference between Heart and Soul? According to ancient traditions the heart is the seat of life. The soul, as we already learned, is the source of personality. God says “I will write my words on their heart” and “I will give them a new heart.” If our heart is where God writes his dreams for us, then it follows that our lives would be devoted to God.

This is the very opposite of what culture says. We hear messages from the world around us saying ‘put yourself first’ or ‘watch out for number one.’ Commercials promote ways to be first the first to get a new product, to be number one in your investments or in your vacation destination. Children are tested to find out which school is performing best and which child has the best grades, because that is the way to be number one! A recent Newsweek article (April 27, 2009) highlights a new book about the fact that we too often think we are the most important thing on the planet.

That isn’t to say that we should quit striving to take care of ourselves through good habits, but rather to take a second or even third look at what we are choosing to give our hearts to. In Christ, we find God’s heart offered to us, made incarnate when “the Word [was] made flesh and lived among us…We beheld his glory as of the only begotten Son.”
Children know instinctively how to put their whole heart into whatever they are doing. You can see from this picture, that my granddaughter is putting all her heart and energy into shaking glitter onto an Easter egg. That is the zeal with which we ought to respond to God who creates us instead of putting ourselves in the center of the universe.

Paul reminds us “With what love the Father lavishes on us…while we were sinners Christ died for us.” To God we are number one, always. This isn’t because we are important or top of our game. “God chose what is foolish in the eyes of the world to shame the wise…” We may not think we are important because we aren’t famous or smart or rich. Sometimes we complain that others have it better than we do. None of that lessens God’s love for us or the dreams God has for us.

It is pretty awesome that the Almighty God would stoop to live in human flesh. If you really stop to think about that, you will find your heart ‘strangely warmed’ as Charles Wesley said, and want to offer your heart and life back to God.

Miriam’s Healing tells the story of how Miriam learns to listen to her heart. Only then can she fulfill God’s call on her life. It ultimately takes being literally separated from the rest of the congregation, with leprosy, for her to understand that she is loved and that God was writing on her heart.
"[She says,] Miserable and repentant I waited for death. Instead, I felt peace envelope me as it had in my dream. It was like being enfolded in my mother’s arms long ago when I feared Pharaoh’s swordsmen. Overwhelmed, I knew I was loved and that God had forgiven me. Seamlessly I slid into a doze. When I awoke, I was not surprised to see the leprosy gone from my hands and body.
“Living and True God, forgive me. My pride has led me to doubt your power and forget your loving care. I am nothing without you, Almighty One. It was not my tears or Moses’ words that freed the children of Israel from Pharaoh. Only you, I AM that I AM from before time, could have brought us from bondage and led us to your holy mountain.””

Love God first and then all the rest falls in order. We often find ourselves offering our hearts to worldly goals. It is easy to give your heart to any number of good causes. There are needy children around the world who tug at our heartstrings. Ending war and poverty and oppression are all necessary things. Perhaps what we need to do is get our priorities in order. As God told Moses, “you will do great things.” First however, he had to be separated from all the trappings of the world. Forty years in the desert may sound a bit extreme, but many times we do need to be faced with difficulty before we can really love and trust the Lord with all our heart.
Is God seeking to warm your heart so that you can accomplish great things?

With God first in our heart, we can find out what path we are to follow. As we Love the Lord with all our heart, we do find ourselves doing what God wants us to do. And we will find the joy of a child in doing it!

April 19, 2009

Love the Lord your God with all your Soul

According to one definition, soul is the “immaterial part of a person”—the thoughts and personality. We talk about ‘soul mates’ and ‘soul music’ as that which speaks to the deepest parts of our identity.

Our society and culture says that your personality is determined by your environment and that you can (and should) improve yourself in any number of ways. You can “never be thin enough or rich enough”, as the Bessie Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, once said. Talk shows, magazines, book shelves, and videos offer diets, exercise, beauty, and other self improvement ideas. We are told we need to be thin, beautiful, smart, rich, and perfect in order to have good self-esteem—a good soul. This makes us search and search for just the right combination of money, looks, and success so that we can 'be the best you can be.'

Our Loving Father says something entirely different, however. “I have carved you in the palm of my hand” and “your times are in my hand” are just two of innumberable citations that assure us of our worth in the eyes and heart of God. We do not have to be the perfect size or brilliant successes to be important to God. Our soul is much more than a dress size or hair color. Even intelligence or wealth are not really part of our soul. The soul is our deepest identity and that is “hidden with God in Christ.”
God says, “I have called you by name and you are mine.” The name our parents gave each of us is important to who we see ourself as. There are various resources where you can learn the meaning of your name. That can be interesting, but it is the name that only God knows, which truly determines who we are. In Revelation, we are told God “will give you a new name.” When God calls us by our real name, we respond with our soul’s deepest longing—relationship with God’s love.
God loves us unconditionally because our soul is created in God’s image and that is enough. Since we are so important to the Living God we can respond to the cultural insistence on self-improvement by saying, truthfully, “My Father says I am perfect just the way I am.”
Several times in the Gospels we hear the Father say that Jesus is “my beloved son.” We, too, are beloved sons and daughters of the One who has from the beginning of creation said you “are very good.”
Is that enough for you?
Throughout the Bible we find men and women who struggle with this same question. Jacob’s wife, Leah doesn’t think she is loved and is so sure that her only importance is in her child bearing. “When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb…she called his name Reuben; for she said, ‘Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.’” (Gen. 29:31-32)
In my book, Beloved Leah, she finally realizes that she is loved. She says, “For too long, I raged against Rachel and against Jacob for not loving me. I wanted them to love me for being beautiful. Too late I have learned and understand that they loved me for who I am.”
This week think about the truth that God ‘calls you by name’ and loves you so much you are engraved ‘in the palm of [His] hand’. What difference does that make to how you see yourself?
God loves you and me for who we are today. Let your soul respond to that Love and rejoice.

April 17, 2009

Eastertide Blog

"Love the Lord your God with all your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength and your Neighbor as Yourself" Mark 12:30-31

During Eastertide (the time between Easter Day and Pentecost) let’s look together at becoming more fully the people of God we were created to be.

In Genesis, God is delighted in everything created. “God saw that it was good” is the refrain that runs through chapter 1. After creating everything else, God said, “Let us make humankind in our own image…male and female God created them….behold, it was very good.” If we take seriously the truth that we are imago dei, in God’s image, then we should listen for God’s voice rather than the noisy and insidious voice of the culture around us. What does God, through scripture, say to us in contradiction to the noises of the world?

Jesus sums up all the Law by giving us the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength and your Neighbor as Yourself.” We’ll look at what culture/society says about each of these attributes and at the truth Christ offers.

April 13, 2009

Easter season

Check back for further posts or keep up with upcoming studies at my website (http://www.cynthiadavisauthor.com/).

My plan is to post something each weekend to encourage us all to think about how to "love the Lord your God with all your Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength, and your Neighbor as your Self" each week until Pentecost.
Learning to Love God (and our neighbor and our selves) more deeply is like finding the special egg in the Easter egg hunt. We can be so busy looking on the ground that we miss it just above us in the fork of the branch!

April 12, 2009

Easter Day, April 12, John 20:1-18

Today 'Alleluias' ring out because we know the end of the story. For Mary, Martha, and Lazarus things weren't so simple.
(By Cynthia Davis)

It was almost light by the time the trio from Bethany arrived at Jacob’s home.
“Welcome, my friend,” the man hugged Lazarus. “I thought you would come.”
Lazarus looked around the room. There was no sign of the eleven disciples.
“Where are the others?” he asked.
Jacob chuckled without mirth. “Hiding upstairs, where they have been since…the….”
The man glanced at Mary and Martha afraid to complete the sentence.
“Since Jesus died,” Martha finished the sentence. “What cowards.”
“We have come to anoint his body,” Mary said softly.
“Some of the other women just left on that errand,” Jacob told her.
Mary did not even look at her brother and sister before whirling and racing from the room.
Martha ran to the door. Already her sister was too far away to call back. The slowly moving group of black garbed women only a couple of blocks from the house turned, startled by the sound of Mary’s pounding feet.
Lazarus joined his sister. Together they watched Mary and the women move away.
“They will be fine,” Jacob assured the pair. “Let me offer you water for your hands and face.”
Belatedly the man assumed his role as host.
Martha remained at the door, watching until the group was out of sight. She swallowed a lump of sadness at not being with them.
“Have the others eaten yet?” finally she turned to Jacob and her brother. “I will take them food if they haven’t.”
“How thoughtful of you, Martha,” Jacob smiled at her. “I am sure they would be glad of something to eat. My servants have not returned from spending the Sabbath with their families.”
The man watched Martha hurry away to prepare food.
“You are fortunate to have two sisters to care for your needs,” he told Lazarus. “I am dependent on the servants ever since Tabitha died two years ago.”
“They have never wanted to marry,” Lazarus responded as if the idea had never before occurred to him. “Mary could have, but she did not want to shame her sister by marrying first. Martha has never desired anything except taking care of my needs.”
It was not long before Martha returned with a platter of fruit, flat bread, and cheese balanced on one arm. A jar of barley beer rested on her hip.
“I will bring you something in a moment. Your guests deserve theirs first,” she told the men on her way up the stairs.
They heard her knock on the door.
“It is Martha, sister of Lazarus,” she replied in response to a muffled question. “I have your morning meal.”
The door opened just wide enough for a pair of hands to accept her offering before closing tightly again.
“They are afraid,” Jacob stated. “Some think the Romans will come and arrest them as well.”
“I think that is unlikely,” Lazarus responded with shake of his head. “With Jesus dead, what good would it do to arrest his followers?”
“That is what I said,” nodded his host.
Martha entered the room with a smaller platter of food for the two men. Carefully she poured the beer into wooden mugs.
“Thank you, Martha,” Jacob smiled at the woman.
She nodded absently but frowned. “I heard what you said. If there is even a chance that the officials will arrest those associated with Jesus, Lazarus is in danger.”
Lazarus repeated, “It is unlikely that anyone is interested in those who followed the Master. With his death, the dream died.”
Martha opened her mouth to argue. She never got to say anything because the door burst open. The woman screamed before she realized it was Mary of Magdala who had entered.
“Peter, John! They have taken my Lord away! I do not know where they laid him!”
After a few minutes, the upstairs door opened. Peter and John came part way down the steps.
“What do you mean, woman?” John’s voice was harsh.
“The tomb is empty,” Mary sobbed.
Peter and John looked at each other in consternation. A moment later they ran out the door. The woman from Magdala followed. Martha stood in the center of the room. Lazarus and Jacob stared after the two men.
“Could it be?” Martha wasn’t sure if she spoke aloud until Lazarus spun around.
“What do you mean?” he demanded.
“He said he would rise,” she whispered.
Jacob frowned, “It is impossible. It is a trick by the authorities to cause more trouble.”
“What if it is true?” the woman persisted.
The men shook their heads and looked away. She heard Jacob mumble, “John and Peter will find the body in the tomb. Mary’s grief has made her confused.”
It seemed hours, but most people were still in their homes when Peter and John returned.
“The body is gone,” Peter stated.
John added, “I went inside the tomb. All that was there were the grave cloths and head wrapping.”
“Where are the women? Where is my sister?” Martha asked urgently.
John shrugged, “They refused to return with us.”
“I must go and find her,” Martha stated. “She will be devastated that she could not offer the final service to Jesus.”
There was no need to seek out the women. Before Martha could leave, they rushed in.
“Mary, tell them what you saw!” Salome pulled Mary of Magdala forward.
The woman faced the skeptical men. She lifted her chin proudly and announced, “I saw him. I saw my Lord.”
“Your grief has made you see a vision,” Peter patted her arm.
“No,” Lazarus’ sister took a stand beside her friend. “If Mary said she saw Jesus, I believe her.”
“Did you see him?” demanded John.
“No,” Mary lowered her head sadly. “We had already started to return. Mary was behind us. We stopped when we heard her talking to someone. By the time we got back to her, he was gone.”
“Tell them what Jesus said,” urged Salome.
Mary looked at the 4 men. She lifted her chin. “Jesus told me to tell you, so I will.”
Martha stepped closer to the women around Mary. “I believe you did see him,” she said. “It is what he told us would happen.”
The woman of Magdala smiled. “It is true. But we forgot it in our grief. When I looked into the tomb, there were two angels who asked me why I was crying. Then I saw a man nearby. At first I thought he was the gardener and asked him where he put the body.”
Mary paused. An exalted look changed her face. It seemed to glow from within from joy and peace.
“He spoke my name. ‘Martha,’ he said. I would know his voice anywhere. When he said my name, I knew it was the Lord!”
Peter took a step closer. Wistfully he asked, “Is that all he said? Just your name?”
“No, Peter, when I called him Rabbi and tried to touch him, he drew back. That’s when he told me. “Go to my brothers and say to them ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Then he was gone.”
“Did he walk away?” Jacob asked.
“He was just gone and the other women were there. We came to tell you what happened.” Mary smiled dreamily.
“Could it be?” John looked around at the gathering. “Is it possible that the Master really did rise from the dead?”
“It would not be the first time such a thing happened,” Lazarus inserted. “If Jesus can call me back from the grave, then certainly he could defeat his own death. I believe we will all see him again.”
“I hope so,” John replied.
Peter nodded although his expression was troubled. “I wonder if he will speak to me after I denied knowing him,” he mumbled on his way up the stairs.
“There is no need to be afraid,” Mary of Magdala called after the men.
A closing door was the only response.
“I wish I could have seen him,” whispered Martha to her sister.
Mary smiled, “I think we will all see the Master again. He said he would rise and he has!”
Thanks for joining me during Lent and Holy Week. Check back for further posts or keep up with upcoming studies at my website (http://www.cynthiadavisauthor.com/).

April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday, April 11

We continue with our journey to Easter with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, in the desolation of their mourning.
(By Cynthia Davis)

The home of Lazarus of Bethany was quiet through the Sabbath day. Even the servants were silent as they went about their tasks. Mary held the jar of nard tightly as if afraid she would lose it if she set it down.
“This is the same way I felt when Lazarus died,” Mary wept to her sister.
Lazarus stroked her hair in an attempt at comfort.
“Jesus brought our brother back to life,” Martha reminded her siblings. “Why couldn’t he save himself? He told me then ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will never die.’ I don’t understand.”
“I do not understand how this could be the will of God,” agreed the man. He moved to stare out the doorway. “After the Sabbath we will join the disciples in Jerusalem. They are at Jacob’s home.”
“Let us go now,” Mary suggested. “As soon as the sun sets it will not be breaking the commandment. I want to be able to go to the grave tomorrow. Jesus told me to use this for…his…his….”
She could not finish the sentence. Instead, the woman held out the jar of perfumed oil as a reminder of her duty.
“Yes,” urged Martha, “let us go as soon as we are able. There will be few on the road to the city.” “Very well,” Lazarus nodded. “I too want to be with friends. The Gentile gate will be open for it never closes.”
Despite his optimism, it was almost dawn by the time Lazarus and his sisters reached the home of Jacob in Jerusalem. They had to wait outside the city in a cue of eager traders while especially careful Roman guards examined the loads and questioned each person entering the city.
“What is happening?” One Syrian merchant grumbled. “I have never seen such thorough work by the Romans.”
“It is because of the crucifixion a couple of days ago,” explained a nearby Nubian. “Pilate sentenced two thieves to death and also the one everyone believed was the Messiah.”
“I heard of him,” chimed in a third trader. “He was the young rabbi from up north, wasn’t he?”
“That’s the one,” nodded the informant. “In fact, I heard that some say he will rise from the dead.”
“No one does that!” scoffed the Syrian.
“Don’t know about that, but the Romans posted a guard at the tomb and are checking everyone to be sure they aren’t smuggling a body into the city to claim he did rise.”
“I heard he raised some man in Bethany who was dead four days,” argued a heavily accented voice nearby.
Everyone looked around for the speaker.
Mary and Martha drew close to Lazarus when the Syrian faced them.
“You are a Jew. What do you think?”
Lazarus lifted his chin. The women held their breath. Martha gripped her brother’s hand tightly. “I heard that story,” he said slowly.
“Hurry up! We are moving!” Someone called from behind the group.
Gratefully the trio let the Syrian hurry away to gain entrance to Jerusalem.
“Would you have told him it was you?” Mary asked softly.“I don’t know,” the man answered. “I don’t know.”

April 10, 2009

Good Friday, April 10, John 19:38-42

We continue with our journey to Easter with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at the foot of the cross.
(By Cynthia Davis)

Lazarus did not return until late the next evening. He was exhausted when he stumbled through the door.
“Brother,” Martha rushed to his side. “Where have you been?”
“What happened?” Mary solicitously removed his cloak and handed the man a bowl of water to wash his hands and face.
Absently he performed the traditional ablutions.
“It is over,” he groaned, sinking onto the nearby cushion. His head fell into his hands.
Mary gripped Martha’s hands tightly. The women stared at their brother. Neither could voice the question because they feared the answer.
In a monotone, Lazarus began his report. “Jacob and I reached the garden just as the Temple officers arrested Jesus. We followed them to Caiphas’ house. In a little while he was dragged to the governor and then even to Herod.”
The man looked up. A wry smile crossed his lips, “It seemed that no one wanted the responsibility for pronouncing sentence.”
His smile faded and Lazarus stared past his sisters when he resumed the saga. “When Jesus was brought back to Pilate, the governor offered the crowd a choice. They could free one prisoner in honor of the Passover. Even the power of Rome didn’t want to judge the Master. He offered the choice of Barabbas or Jesus.”
“Barabbas!” exclaimed Martha. “Wasn’t he the one found guilty of murder?”
“The same man,” nodded Lazarus.
Mary sniffed and wiped at the tears streaming down her face. “No one chose Jesus?”
“Some did, Sister, some did. But the crowd shouted them down. I think the priests had paid some people to shout for Jesus to be crucified.”
“Crucified!” Both women gasped the word in horror.
“That is for the worst criminals,” argued Martha.
“It was the final sentence,” sighed Lazarus.
For a long time there was no sound in the room. Mary and Martha both wept openly. Lazarus again lowered his head into his hands.
“He said nothing. Jesus said nothing in his defense. I could not understand it,” finally he spoke again. “They took him and whipped him until his back looked like raw meat. The soldiers forced a crown made of thorns onto his head and the blood ran down his face. Still Jesus didn’t say a word. It was barbarous. I wanted to do something, but he was surrounded by soldiers with swords and spears. He had to carry the cross bar through Jerusalem, but he never made a moan, even when he fell.”
“He fell?” Mary whispered through her tears.
“More than once,” her brother looked up. “Finally the soldiers forced a man in the crowd to carry the cross.”
“Why didn’t anyone help him?” Martha sobbed.
“No one could get close because of the soldiers,” Lazarus explained and fell silent.
“I have seen the crosses outside of Jerusalem,” Martha shuddered. “I cannot believe that Jesus was nailed there. Why didn’t God help him?”
Lazarus looked at her and shook his head. “I don’t understand either. Even while he was dying, Jesus asked God to forgive...” The man choked and repeated, “’Father forgive, for they don’t know what they are doing.’”
“It is wrong,” stated the woman. “If he could raise you to life, how could he let himself die.”
“I think that is what he did. Jesus allowed all this to happen. I don’t understand why,” her brother shook his head again. “At the end, he raised himself for one last breath and proclaimed, ‘It is accomplished.’ Jesus sounded…exalted and the words could have been a prayer the way he said them. It was not resignation or despair, but triumphant. It was strange.”
“Where is Jesus now?” Mary choked out her question.
“My friend Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate after Jesus died,” Lazarus turned to his sister. “He asked if he could bury Jesus in his own tomb. That is where we laid him.”
“I must take the ointment for his body,” suddenly energized Mary turned to leave the room.
“You will have to wait until after the Sabbath,” Martha told her, pointing to the setting sun. “You cannot go all the way to Jerusalem now.”
“Martha is right,” her brother nodded. “There is nothing more we can do tonight.”
Mary buried her face in her brother’s shoulder. Great sobs wrenched her body.
Martha stood in the middle of the room with her fists clenched and tears streaming down her face. “I don’t understand. This should not have happened.”
Lazarus wept with the women. Exhausted from their emotions, the siblings sat together in the dark room throughout the night.

April 9, 2009

Thursday, April 9, John 17:1-26

We continue with our journey to Easter with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
(By Cynthia Davis)

“I must speak to Lazarus!” a man’s urgent voice roused the household.
Mary sat up, her heart pounding with fear of the unknown. She saw Martha hurry past her doorway and listened to Lazarus’ heavy footsteps on the stairs.
“What is it Jacob?” her brother asked the visitor.
“Something is going to happen tonight,” was the reply.
Martha interrupted sharply, “What do you mean?”
Mary leaned forward. She clasped her hands tightly together, not sure if she was praying or keeping them from shaking.
“You know I let Jesus and his disciples use my upper room tonight for the Passover.” Jacob explained.
“Yes,” Lazarus replied. “He thought that he might make it more dangerous for me if he came here.”
“Even though I was not in the room, I could hear the conversation,” slowly the guest began. “Jesus acted the Passover host and said the prayers and blessings. They weren’t the same as usual, though.”
“Not the same?” Martha sounded shocked.
Mary smiled slightly. “Sister, sister,” she whispered into the darkness of her room.
“Let Jacob explain,” Lazarus ordered.
“I heard him say something about the bread being his body and the wine his blood of a new covenant,” Jacob continued.
“Jesus often speaks mysteriously,” agreed his host.
“It was his final prayer that I came to talk to you about, though. He sounded as if he were giving a farewell blessing.”
“No,” Mary whispered. She shook her head and a chill rippled through her. Slowly tears began to flow down her cheeks when Jacob began to repeat the words of the Master.
“He said, ‘I finished the work you gave me to do. Father, glorify me with the glory I had before the world existed. I have made you known to those you gave me. They have kept your word and know that I came from you.’”
“That is beautiful,” Martha sounded awed when the man paused for breath.
Lazarus mumbled, “That is almost like what he said a few days ago when the Greeks came to speak to him.”
“There is more,” Jacob continued. “Jesus sounded not sad, but exalted when he started praying for the disciples. He said, ‘I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world. I am coming to you. Father protect them, that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them. I gave them your word and the world hates them. I don’t ask you to take them out of the world, but to protect them because they don’t belong to the world. Sanctify them with the truth, which is your word. I send them into the world and for their sake I sanctify myself.’ It was like he was giving a final blessing.”
“He was,” Lazarus said heavily. “Our Master was saying goodbye.
Martha burst out almost angrily, “But why? Where is he going?”
“Sister, Jesus knew his work was coming to an end. He knew that his teaching made the Levites jealous. By chasing the merchants out of the Temple he made the High Priest angry. He knew that when he raised me to life, it would put him at odds with the Temple leadership. I think Jesus knew that he would not be among us much longer. Remember how he told Mary to keep the ointment for his burial.”
“No! He has friends! Can’t you do anything?” the woman started sobbing.
“Martha, I don’t think Jesus is afraid to face whatever comes,” Jacob tried to comfort her. “He prayed that those who he loved might see his glory. He said the Father loved him before the beginning of the world.”
“All of his teaching has been about love,” Lazarus agreed softly. “Sister, whatever happens, Jesus will face it will love.”
“You must try and stop him from throwing his life away,” the woman did not seem to hear her brother.
Mary softly entered the room. “Come, Martha, we must let our brother decide what is best to do.”
“Where did they go after the meal?” Lazarus turned to Jacob.
“They went to the Garden beyond the wall where they have often stayed,” he replied.
Lazarus shook his head and sighed, “It is the first place the authorities will look. Come, though, let us see if we can intervene.”
Quickly the man threw on his outer cloak and sandals. He and Jacob hurried from the house and up the hill toward Jerusalem.
“You see,” Mary held her older sister and rocked back and forth. “They are going to see what can be done.”
“It will not be enough,” sobbed Martha.
Mary did not reply. Tears ran down her cheeks. She knew her sister was right.

April 8, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, John 12:27-36

We continue with our journey to Easter with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
(By Cynthia Davis)

After sitting quietly for several minutes, Lazarus looked at his sisters.
“Jesus himself seemed sad after his conversation about the wheat. After a couple of minutes he said, ‘My soul is troubled. Shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ Then he answered his own question. He looked up to heaven and his face changed. It became peaceful and he said, ‘No, for this is the reason I came. Father, glorify your name.’ Then something really strange happened.” The man paused.
“What?” Martha asked.
Mary leaned close to her brother, “Tell us.”
“You may not believe me,” the man warned. “I heard a voice coming from above. It said, ‘I have glorified it and will glorify it again.’ Some said it thundered, but I heard the words clearly.”
“I wish I had been there,” Mary sighed ecstatically. “It would have been wonderful to hear a voice from heaven!”
“It was amazing,” Lazarus nodded. “Jesus told the crowd, ‘This voice came for you, not me. When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.’ That started an argument.”
Martha interrupted, “He really said, ‘when I am lifted up’?”
When her brother nodded, she whispered, “Could that mean he will be crucified?”
“No!” Mary was quick to cry out.
“What else could it be?” Lazarus looked at the two shocked women. He reached out to take Mary’s hand. “He told you to keep the perfume for his burial.”
“I don’t want that to happen,” the younger woman sobbed and shook her head wildly.
“It will be as it must be,” the man stroked her hair. “Jesus seems so calm and confident, that I don’t believe it myself. He ended the conversation with a comforting image, though. He told us, ‘walk in the light, so darkness doesn’t overtake you. In the dark, you don’t know where you are going. While you have light, believe in the light, so you can be children of light.’ I think he meant that if we trust in him and in the Father, then we will always be able to see with faith.”
“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Martha asked. She brushed tears from her cheeks with one end of her veil.
“If I could, I would keep Jesus safe,” Lazarus told her. “I would have brought him here, but He left us all. After he told us to walk in the light, we couldn’t find him. He must have known that his presence would cause arguments.”
“Where do you think he went?” Martha looked concerned. “I hope it is someplace where the authorities cannot find him.”
“I don’t think that he can be arrested unless he allows it,” mused Lazarus.
His sisters looked at him in confusion, but the man did not explain. Instead he stood up and went outside to say his evening prayers. Silently the women cleared the nearly untouched food. Each member of the family had much to ponder.

April 7, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, John 12:20-26

We continue with our journey to Easter with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
(By Cynthia Davis)

It was dark when Lazarus returned.
“Tell us what happened today!” Mary did not even wait for her brother to remove his cloak.
The man slowly took off his turban and smiled at the woman.
“Mary, let Lazarus wash his hands and sit down,” Martha intervened. Solicitously she studied the man’s face. “Are you tired?”
“Sister, I could never be tired from a day with Jesus,” he smiled in reply.
“I am sure you are hungry,” she responded. “You men never think to eat when listening to the Master.”
“Yes, come sit down and tell us what happened today!” Mary bounced up and down on her toes with impatience.
Obediently Lazarus followed his sisters into the spacious room where the family dined. If he closed his eyes he could see Jesus and the twelve closest disciples sprawled around the table. An impatient sigh from Mary recalled him to the present. With a smile at her excitement, he washed his hands in the bronze basin.
“Blessed are you Lord God, Ruler of the Universe. We thank you for your bounty,” the man offered the ritual blessing then took his place at the end of the low table.
Soft cushions on all four sides of the polished wood as well as thick rugs on the stone floor spoke of the wealth of this household. A serving girl poured thinned wine from a bronze ewer into 3 carved cups. Lazarus turned his cup slowly in his hands.
“This craftsmanship is wonderful,” he stated. “Jesus honored me with this gift.”
Mary opened her mouth to speak, but closed it as her brother continued.
“Today we were near the Temple when something unusual happened,” he said with a slightly troubled look on his face.
“Tell us,” urged Martha when the man paused.
He picked up a piece of bread from the platter and stared at it before continuing. Both sisters were silent and puzzled by his action.
“Some Greeks were in Jerusalem. They singled out Philip. I guess it was because they knew him from his home town of Bethsaida. I heard them ask to speak to Jesus. Philip didn’t know what to say, so he asked Andrew. Together they went to Jesus.” He smiled slightly. “It was almost funny to see how confused the disciples were.”
Lazarus stopped speaking. Mechanically he took a bite of the bread and chewed slowly. It was obvious his thoughts were far away.
“Then what happened?” Mary could not contain herself when Lazarus didn’t resume the story.
“I didn’t hear what Andrew and Philip said. Jesus looked at them with that tender smile he has,” the man continued. “Then he stood up and moved toward the visitors. They bowed low at his approach.”
“He went to talk to the Gentiles!” Martha gasped in horror.
“You shouldn’t be surprised,” her brother shook his head. “Jesus never does the expected thing.”
“That’s true,” Mary nodded. “He welcomed me, a woman, to hear his teaching.”
Martha nodded. The two women sat quietly while Lazarus frowned at his food.
“What he said was confusing though. Jesus said, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain. If it dies, it bears more fruit.’ I’m not sure what he meant.” He didn’t look at his sisters but continued to stare at his plate.
“When a grain of wheat is planted, it grows a whole stalk of wheat,” Mary said softly.
“I know,” her brother replied. “It’s what Jesus said next that was more troubling. ‘Those who love their life lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there my servant is. Those who serve me, the Father will honor.’ It sounds like he was comparing himself to the wheat. It was almost like he was expecting to die like a grain of wheat in order for greater growth to come.”
Mary moved to sit close to her brother. She took his hand between her palms.
“He raised you from the dead. Surely Jesus cannot die,” she whispered.
Lazarus shook his head and repeated. “I don’t understand it.”
Martha felt a chill like the one she experienced outside of Jerusalem watching the triumphal entry.
“He cannot die,” she repeated her sister’s words.

April 6, 2009

Monday, April 6--John 12:1-7

We continue with our journey to Easter with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Most of the crowd had entered Jerusalem. Mary and Martha met only a few people on their walk back to their home. They had plenty of time to think about their brother and his friend.
“Remember how sad we were when Lazarus got sick?” Martha broke the silence.
Mary nodded, “And how angry you were that Jesus didn’t come right away.”
“Well, you would think he would come to help his friend,” a hint of the remembered rage could be heard in the woman’s tone.
“But then Jesus did come,” Mary’s face was radiant.
“After our brother was dead,” her sister stopped for a moment and stared across the valley. “I met him in the road and accused him.”
“Yes,” nodded the younger woman.
“I felt awful when Jesus cried,” Martha looked downcast. “Then he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ That was the beginning.”
Mary smiled broadly. “He raised our brother from the dead! Everyone was amazed!”
“I was afraid at first,” Martha admitted more to herself than her sister. “When Jesus said to roll away the stone, I warned ‘he will stink after 4 days.’”
“You are always practical,” her sister smiled.
Martha looked at her companion. She shook her head sadly.
“It’s not always enough. Somehow you always know what to do to make Jesus feel welcomed. All I manage is to be organized and prepare food.” A deep sigh came from the woman’s lips. She frowned at her hands as if they betrayed her.
“That’s important,” insisted Mary, laying a hand over her sister’s.
“When you brought out the jar of nard, I knew he would be pleased with your offering of the anointing,” Martha continued. “It wasn’t something I would have even thought of doing.”
The woman started walking again. Mary stared after her with a confused look on her face.
“It was just a gesture of adoration,” she argued and hurried to catch up.
“I know,” with a slow nod, Martha continued. “Your gift was given freely and I could only watch and marvel at your love.”
“Not everyone understood,” Mary whispered and a tear ran down her cheek.
Martha hugged her close. “Don’t worry about what Judas said. Jesus told him to leave you alone.”
“I know. ‘She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ I don’t know what that means,” like a small child Mary grabbed tightly onto her sister’s hand.
“You have a special gift,” was all Martha could say to reassure her sister. “When it is needed, you will have the perfume ready.”
The two women hugged and arm in arm walked the rest of the way to their home lost in their own thoughts. For the rest of the day they kept busy cleaning the house and preparing food for the upcoming Passover feast.
(by Cynthia Davis, 2009)

April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday--John 12:9-19

This week we’ll be looking at the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter through the eyes of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. (See Jn. 11 for their story)
(By Cynthia Davis, 2009)

“Hurry up,” Mary tugged on her sister’s arm. “He will be going to Jerusalem again today.”
“You are acting like a 5 year old,” admonished the older woman, with a half smile. “I don’t know why you think we need to be there. Our brother will tell us everything that happens.”
“That’s why I want to be there. Lazarus leaves out the important details.”
“There are a lot of pilgrims for Passover this year,” Martha looked at the many campsites beside the road between Bethany and the capital.
“They have come to see Jesus,” her sister stated. “Come on, we won’t be able to see anything.”
She pushed her way forward through the crowds streaming toward the city. The two women were panting by the time they reached the top of the hill.
“Lazarus said the men were sleeping in the garden with the winepress,” Mary remarked as the women paused for a moment.
“That means he’ll be entering Jerusalem through the East Gate,” mused Martha.
“Come on! Something is happening,” Mary interrupted. She linked her arm with her sister.
“There He is,” several voices cried at once.
Together the two hurried to join a crowd shouting a confused cacophony of welcome.
“Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”
Men tossed their cloaks into the road to provide a pathway for a man on a small donkey. They shouted a joyful welcome.
“Glory to God in the Highest!”
Several of the men in the crowd pulled palm branches from the nearby trees.
“Hail to the King!” They shouted.
“Do you see Lazarus? I see Peter and John,” remarked Martha staring at the group close to the man and beast. “There is Nathaniel and James, too.”
Mary didn’t answer. She couldn’t suppress a giggle. “Jesus is riding a donkey. His feet almost touch the ground.”
“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” An old man nearby intoned the passage from Zechariah.
Martha drew in a quick breath.
“The prophecies are falling into place,” mumbled the older woman. “He is entering Jerusalem on a donkey, through the eastern gate where Messiah is to come.”
Mary looked at her with surprise. “Why are you surprised? We already know that Jesus is Messiah!”
“We know that, but will the Pharisees believe? What will the Romans do?” The woman felt a slight chill. “You remember what he said the night when you brought out the perfume.”
The smile faded from Mary’s face. Slowly she nodded.
“I remember,” her reply was subdued. “He said, ‘Save this for my burial.’ I’ll always remember his look of love.”
The woman gripped her sister’s hand tightly.
“I am sure everything will be find,” Martha tried to smile. Even to her ears the words sounded unconvincing.
Around them the crowd continued to shout jubilantly. Some people gathered up their garments after Jesus and his disciples passed. Mary and Martha stared after the joyful parade.
“Come, we need to return to Bethany and prepare a meal for Lazarus,” Martha turned around. “We cannot follow the men into the Temple anyway.”
“Maybe Jesus will come home with him and we can ask what happened,” Mary sighed. “I wish I could see it myself.”

April 4, 2009

April 4

137:1-6(7-9), 144, 42, 43
Jer. 31:27-34
Rom. 11:25-36
John 11:28-44, or 12:37-50

Rom. 11:25-36
25So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.
26And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.” 27“And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” 28As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; 29for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. 33O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34“For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35“Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?” 36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.

In the midst of explaining why Gentiles are now accepted in God’s family, Paul says something interesting. “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” In a more modern rendering, The Message says, “God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded.” And the New Living Translations says, “For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn.”

God is generous and loves us so much that we are each given a present as big (or even bigger) than the one this little girl has—it is God’s Love that will never be revoked, cancelled or withdrawn!

Isn’t that a wonderful reminder as we come to Holy Week? God calls us into relationship and all God’s love and the gifts given to us are ours forever. No matter what we do or do not do—we are God’s chosen and beloved children!

All we need to do, as Edwina Gately says, is
Let Your God Love You
Be silent.
Be still.
Before your God
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent
Be still.
Let your God
Look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you with
An enormous love.
And only wants to
Look upon you
With His Love

Let your God—
Love you.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and I invite you to join me on a special Holy Week journey to the cross and grave and to Easter.

For your journal: Sit quietly with the thought that God will never withdraw his gifts or call or love from you. Simply “let your God, love you.”

April 3, 2009

April 3

22, 141, 143:1-11(12)
Jer. 29:1, 4-13
Rom. 11:13-24
John 11:1-27. or 12:1-10

Jer. 29:1, 4-13
1These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
4Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the LORD. 10For thus says the LORD: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

What an awesome God who loves us so much that even in the midst of exile we hear God’s promise “I will hear you…you will find me”!

Jeremiah starts out this letter to the Jews in Babylon with a warning that they will be there for 70 years. Then the prophet goes on to say that, even though they are far from their homeland, the people have not been forgotten by God.

It is easy to think God is far away or doesn’t care when things don’t go the way we want them. Job loss, illness, stock market crashes, injury, the list of things that remind us we are not in control goes on and on. Surely the Jews who had been dragged away to Babylon felt that their lives were over and God had turned away. Surrounded by pagan worship and strange things like the “Hanging Gardens”, they no longer felt like the ‘chosen people’ with a land of their own and a Temple in which to worship the One God who was ‘theirs alone’.

Through Jeremiah, God offers hope to the Jews and to us now. All we need to do is “call upon me…search for me…with all your heart.” We simply need to seek to be in relationship with our God.

Is there something that is making you feel far from God today? Can you remember that God offers hope even when things seem dark? Maybe it will help to remember that our Lord walked the same road of feeling forsaken.

As Edward Shillito says in his poem Jesus of the Scars, “we know the countersign.” Born in 1872, Shillito was a minister in the trenches of World War I. He saw the horrors of war first hand and could easily have felt that God was absent. Instead, he knew that God was close.

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us, where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy scars we claim Thy grace.

If when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know today what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God's wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

For your Journal: Read Shilleto’s poem and the Jeremiah passage. Can you relate to Shillito or to the Jews in exile? Write a prayer or poem to express your feelings of hope in the midst of the fear-filled things of life.

April 2, 2009

April 2

131, 132, 140, 142
Jer. 26:1-16
Rom. 11:1-12
John 10:19-42

Psalm 131
1O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
2But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
3O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time on and forevermore

Isn’t this a lovely image of being at peace with God? The metaphor of resting like a toddler with her mother is beautiful. Too often we don't think about God as have maternal characteristics, but as the psalmist and Julian of Norwich tell us, God is both Father and Mother.

As truly as God is our Father
So just as truly is God our Mother.
In our Father, God Almighty, we have our being:
In our merciful Mother we are remade and restored.
Our fragmented lives are knit together
And by giving and yielding ourselves, through grace, to the Holy Spirit, we are made whole.
It is I, the strength and goodness of the Fatherhood.
It is I, the wisdom of Motherhood.
It is I, the light and grace of holy love.
It is I, the Trinity, it is I, the unity.
I am the sovereign goodness in all things.
It is I who teach you to love.
It is I who teach you to desire.
It is I who am the reward of all true desiring.
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

How does the idea of God as Mother make you feel? Are you comfortable or uncomfortable with the image?
The psalmist says “my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.” This picture illustrates the joy of that completeness. This picture shows a family joyfully and peacefully enjoying one another’s love in a circle of completeness.

Have you ever felt a similar restful peace in God’s presence? Has there been a time when you felt like a “weaned child with its mother”?

For your journal: Think about times when you have felt at peace with God. Can you write a poem or prayer expressing those feelings?

April 1, 2009

April 1

119:145-176, 128, 129, 130
Jer. 25:30-38
Rom. 10:14-21
John 10:1-18

John 10:1-18
1“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.
2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
“I know my own and my own know me,” says Jesus. For anyone who has never raised a sheep, this parable contains alien images that we don’t relate to very well. A shepherd of ancient Israel and even of not so long ago spent nearly all his time with the flock. He knew each sheep by name and mannerism. He could spot his own sheep among the mixed flocks at sheering time and in the fields. I’m sure there are still shepherds who still work closely enough with their animals that they can recognize them, even if some of that has been lost to the larger sheep raising farms.

Those of us with children know the feeling of recognizing your own son or daughter by walk or by voice or by shape even on a crowded playground or across a busy mall. All parents know the terrifying panic that strikes when you look up to find your child has wandered away. You start scanning the area in ever widening circles until you see, with thrilled relief, his head across the park or hear her giggle on the other side of the tree.

I find it rather amazing that God feels the same way about me. He knows me intimately and recognizes me no matter what I am doing or how far I may have wandered away from His side. Not only that, He is willing to lay down His life to keep me safe.

Elizabeth Cheney has a short poem (Overheard in an Orchard) that for me illustrates the way we forget about the love of God.

Said the robin to the sparrow,
“I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”

Said the sparrow to the robin,
“Friend I think that it must be,
That they have no Heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”

Have you ever known a shepherd who cared for his flock in the ‘old fashioned way’? Can you relate to the fear and then relief of a child gone missing? How do you feel when you think that God cares even more deeply for you and your welfare?

For your journal: Read this passage in another translation or two. Imagine yourself as part of a flock of sheep with Jesus as the shepherd.

Put your name into verse 14. Can you hear Jesus say, “I am the good shepherd. I know XX and XX knows me”? How does that make you feel?