February 22, 2015

Lent 1-Dust

This Lent I invite you to come along as we explore some symbols of the season. The idea is adapted from Lent in a Bag. I have expanded and adapted the idea for this blog. You can use these meditations as a starting point for your own contemplation during the week, or for discussion with family or prayer group. I hope the ideas will spark some new insights along your Lenten journey.
For this first week in Lent, we’ll consider sand, dust, dirt…the building blocks of the world. On Ash Wednesday you may have heard a priest say “Dust you are and to dust you shall return” as s/he made the sign of the cross on your forehead. We start Lent being reminded “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7-8)
The Rev. Jim Trainor recently blogged, The famed astronomer Carl Sagan said, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” (from the TV program Cosmos). Maybe that sounds amazing to you. But the psalmist said essentially the same thing millennia ago: “For he himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14)… So, yes we are made of starstuff. Pretty cool. But even more astounding—and in fact life-giving and life-changing—is that we are actually made in the image of and loved deeply by the One who created the stars.”
What else does the Bible say about dust? A surprising amount… A quick concordance search on a website like Blue Letter Bible produces 109 mentions of ‘dust’ in 100 verses throughout the Bible (that’s the NIV translation). From Genesis through Revelation, dust is important. Men like Abraham and Job admit that they are ‘dust and ashes’.
God, on the other hand uses dust as a metaphor for the success of the people of God. God promises Abraham “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” (Genesis 28:14) God further promises, “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 65:25)  
Sometimes God’s people get a glimpse of the totality of these promises. In 1 Samuel 2:8, Hannah exalts, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's; on them he has set the world.” The Psalmist states, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.” (Psalm 113:7) St. Paul reminds the people of Corinth “The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:47)
In ancient times, the soil of a place was thought to contain the essence of the god of the land. After Naaman the Syrian is healed by the Jewish prophet Elisha he requests, “Please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord”. (2 Kings 5: 17) He desired the actual earth of Israel so he could have a piece of the sacred soil with him. Some scholars believe that the Jews in exile in Babylon took soil from Israel with them for the same purpose. Tourists still bring back bottles of sand from Israel to remind them of their trip.
Jesus uses dust to warn of the rejection of those who do not believe the Good News. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark & Luke, he tells the disciples, “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” This was much more meaningful to the Jews of the first century than for us. Jews returning from “Gentile” areas would shake off their sandals when entering Israel to get rid of any taint of the non-Jewish land and people. For the disciples to shake the dust of a town off their feet when leaving a town that wouldn’t receive the message was an insult and a rejection of those people for their unbelief.
This week
  • Meditate on some of the ‘dust’ citations here (or elsewhere in the Bible) OR
  • Fill a plastic bag with a handful or 2 of sand or soil from wherever you live. Depending on where you are, the dirt may be brown or red or even black. It may be hard or grainy or sticky. Perhaps it is covered in snow and you have to dig down to find any sort of dirt at all. Consider the question ‘What kind of dust are you?’ OR
  • Think about how we figuratively or actually keep dusty things around to remind us of past experiences-good and bad. Are there some that need to be cleaned out of your life?
Next week we’ll look at the role of ‘rock’ in Lent.

February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

Have you ever wondered WHY we do Ash Wednesday and WHAT Lent is about. Here's a video that might help.

For your personal devotions, here's the Litany for Ash Wednesday from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Old Testament: Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17
Epistle: II Corinthians 5: 20b—6: 10
Gospel: Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided  a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful  were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the  earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return

Psalm 51
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;  in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
Wash me through and through from my wickedness  and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you only have I sinned  and done what is evil in your sight.
And so you are justified when you speak  and upright in your judgment
Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,  a sinner from my mother's womb.
For behold, you look for truth deep within me,  and will make me understand wisdom secretly.
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;  wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.
Make me hear of joy and gladness,  that the body you have broken may rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins  and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,  and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence  and take not your holy Spirit from me.
Give me the joy of your saving help again  and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
I shall teach your ways to the wicked,  and sinners shall return to you.
Deliver me from death, O God, and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness, O God of my salvation.
Open my lips, O Lord,  and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice;  but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;  a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Litany of Penitence

Most holy and merciful Father: We confess to you and to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desires not the death of sinners, but rather that they may turn from their wickedness and live, has given power and commandment to his ministers to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins. He pardons and absolves all those who truly repent, and with sincere hearts believe his holy Gospel.

Therefore we beseech him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do on this day, and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy, so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Join me for a series of Lent meditations, loosely based on Lent in a Bag, starting on Sunday.

February 15, 2015


As we come to the end of our Epiphany journey we can look back at all the ‘epiphanies’ that happened in the Gospel stories we read.

We saw how John the Baptist was able to open his life and ministry so that his words were, as the Rev. Laurie Brock says, became the “Gospel preached from our own wounds, our own deaths and resurrection, from our mind and heart, from the Word that has become flesh in our bodies and souls and given us life.” (Jan. 11) Nathaniel learned that God looks beyond our appearances and our doubts and calls us by name-and invites us to do the same. The fishermen, Andrew, Peter, James, and John discovered that Jesus, the charismatic leader, doesn’t demand superior education or exact following of laws in order to become followers. When we Follow, we will be lead in an amazing Dance.
The past couple of weeks we’ve looked at two healing miracles. The casting out of the ‘unclean’ spirit gave the man new life and the people of Capernaum insight into the Scriptures come to life. Last week, we saw that Jesus himself paused in his ministry to take time to go to a deserted place. It can be in those desolate and seemingly forsake places that God can really meet us. That’s an inspiring thought as we head into Lent.
Today we look at a third healing miracle. It is the story of a leper who Jesus touches and heals. In the Old Testament story for this Sunday, we hear about another leper. Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria comes to the prophet Elisha in Israel because he has leprosy. He makes this journey on the suggestion of the young Hebrew slave girl who serves his wife. After Elisha tells Naaman to wash in the Jordan, he gets angry saying “I thought that he would surely come out…and call on the name of the Lord his God.” However, when he does bathe in the Jordan, he is healed.

In the 2 stories we see two different responses to a leper. Elisha doesn’t even come out to greet his distinguished visitor. He “sent a messenger to him…” (2 Kings 5:10). Jesus on the other hand is confronted by a leper who kneels and begs, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40) Jesus is “moved with pity” and TOUCHES the man. “I do choose. Be made clean.”
To us it may not seem like such a big deal that Jesus touches someone. However, in the first century, no one touched a leper. They were exiled to ghettos beyond the city walls or left to roam the countryside fending for themself as best they could until they died. Anyone who remembers the movie Ben Hur will remember Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston) seeking out his mother and sister in the Valley of the Lepers and carrying his sister out of the depths of the caves to go in search of Christ so she can be healed. The response of people in Jerusalem when they throw stones at the trio was the norm where lepers, and anyone connected to them, were concerned.

Jesus, however, “stretched out his hand and touched [the leper]”. The human contact itself can be healing to someone who feels ‘beyond the pale’ or outside the accepted societal norms. When Ben Hur tries to pick up his sister she cringes away from him, but he scoops her up anyway. Sometimes we feel bad about ourselves and may even consider ourselves ‘untouchable’ because of something we have done. God doesn’t hesitate, he draws us close and calls us “Beloved”, no matter what.
Jesus tells the healed man to “say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 1:44) In the Book of Leviticus there were procedures to be followed when one was healed of leprosy. This is what Jesus was ordering the newly healed man to do. Instead, “he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.” Mark 1:45

I wonder if I would have done the ‘lawful’ thing and gone to the priests or if I would have been so filled with joy and astonishment that I would have run around telling everyone in sight about the wonderful thing that had been done to me.
What about you? Has God done something dramatic and marvelous in your life? Has God met you in the places where you feel ‘outcast’ and called you “Beloved”?Do you take every opportunity to talk about it, or do you just go about your daily tasks as if it was nothing spectacular?

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, when we remember the we ‘are but dust and to dust’ we shall return. Next week we’ll start a new series exploring some of the symbols of Lent and Easter in this series that will take us beyond “Lent in a Bag”, a Lent discipline first on the web in 2013.

February 8, 2015

Epiphany V: Sexagesima-Wilderness Time

We are now just 50 days away from Easter. Already there are Easter eggs and baskets on the store shelves! We are so anxious to get on to the next ‘big thing’ that we don’t take time to savor the time at hand. Valentine’s Day is next Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day comes in a month, in the church calendar Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and all the days of Lent are still to come. It’s time to pause and look at the blessings that are right in front of us.

And that is what is important about the Gospel reading (Mark 1: 29-39) this Sunday. As we saw last week, Jesus has just healed the man with ‘an unclean spirit’. He goes to the home of Simon and Andrew. Perhaps he was expecting some quiet time with his disciples; or at least a nice dinner with friends. Instead, “Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” (Mark 1:30-31) Rather than having the chance to rest, the family asks Jesus to heal this woman. He does, and then “at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” (Mark 1:32-34)
Is it any wonder that “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed”? (Mark 1:35). Even then Jesus isn’t left in peace, “Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’” (Mark 1: 36-38)

Jesus knew that he needed to take time for the important things. Healing Simon’s mother-in-law, and the others who came to the door was important. However, note that he took time to go ‘to a deserted place…and pray’ before saying ‘let us go on to the neighboring towns’.
Speaking for myself, I tend to get way too busy ‘doing’ things and neglect the wilderness prayer time. Bonnie Gray in her book Finding Spiritual White Space states “desolate places…are the last places on earth you’d look to find soulful rest… [but] desolation is where Jesus went to meet God…where Jesus chose to retreat.” She goes on to say “The wilderness. Where I’m exposed, unsure, undecided…is where Jesus found me.” Maybe that’s why we avoid taking time to go to the wilderness. We want to avoid facing the wild-ness-of our untamed hearts. We don’t like being ‘exposed, unsure, undecided’. We are afraid of what we might find in the wilderness. In truth, we will find and be found by Jesus in the desolate places of our lives. We will experience our own ‘epiphanies’ of God breaking into our lives.

As we approach the beginning of Lent, we may want to consider some intentional ‘wilderness time’ to allow God to speak to our hearts, perhaps heal something long hidden. God wants to open our hearts so we can savor and rejoice in ALL of life (not just the easy parts).
What can you do in your life to make some space for God to speak to you, now and in Lent and beyond? How can you savor more of life, both the joys and pains, more fully?

Next week we will come to the last Sunday in Epiphany and look at the story of Jesus healing a leper.

February 1, 2015

Septuagesima and an Unclean Spirit

After looking at the epiphanies in the lives of nearly half the disciples, we turn to 3 of Jesus’ healing miracles in these last 3 weeks leading up to Lent. Some churches follow the ancient tradition of calling this Sunday Septuagesima. That simply means we are about 70 days before Easter. Next Sunday will be Sexagesima (60 days pre-Easter) and the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany is Quinquagesima (you guessed it, 50 days before Easter)

The Old Testament lesson (Deuteronomy 18:15-20) finds Moses telling the people of Israel that “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet….” Psalm 111 is one of the songs that praise the Lord for God’s works and mercy, God’s laws and redemption, ending with the familiar line “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In 1 Corinthians 8:1b-13 we hear Paul telling the people in Corinth that there is “one God, the Father” in direct opposition to the multiple gods of the majority of the people in the Roman Empire. In all the lessons, we are called to recognize that God is active among us at all times.
We are going to look most deeply at what happened in Capernaum as found in Mark 1:21-28. “They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”

Note that Jesus teaches as ‘one having authority’. In this we hear fulfillment of Moses’ promise of a prophet and ‘I will put my words in his mouth.’ (Deuteronomy 18:18) The unclean spirit recognizes the authority and acknowledges “I know who you are, the Holy One of God”. Just as Paul reminds the Corinthians that there is One God, the unclean spirit also understands this truth.
The people in Capernaum are amazed when Jesus commands the spirit to ‘come out of him’ They turn to each other and exclaim ‘He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ First hand and unexpectedly, they are seeing the mighty works of the Lord who was previously known more through the old stories and the words of Psalms than in their experience! This was an astonishing epiphany for the men and women in this fishing village. How could this rabbi heal a man who was ill and unclean? Surely this must be the work of God. It is the Bible come to life in front of them.
In fact, the Bible comes to life for us every day. We are not always aware of it, though, because we aren't paying attention.

On January 27, the High Calling meditation noted, “In Jesus’ day everybody knew that the scribes and Pharisees took the scripture more seriously than anyone else. The problem was that many of them saw the Bible as just a book. They didn’t know it was the Living Word of God. And Jesus is the Living Word made flesh… Every element of human life is transformed for the better by the Bible—if we will but read it! But will we read the Bible? We intend to. We make our vows; we turn pages on the calendar and say “Tomorrow is the day I begin.” And then life interrupts. If you want to hear Jesus’ voice, experience his presence, witness his miracles, know his love, and take part in his life-transforming life and ministry, open the Bible—and begin to read.”

Where are we hesitant to see the works of God around us? Is the Bible more like a series of good old stories than the living Word of God? Has there been an epiphany in your life where you say the work of God clearly? Like the healed man and the men and women in Capernaum, we can meet and experience the presence of God in the words of the Bible, and in our daily lives.
Next week we'll see Jesus at work again, healing Simon's mother-in-law.