December 25, 2016

When God Interrupts

On this Christmas Day, or Christmas week, take some time to consider the ways in which the roads and dance of Creation Spirituality were visible in the interaction of the Shepherds and Angels of the Christmas saga. 
The Gospel of Luke says, “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:8-20)
I would suggest that the Via Positiva was part of the Shepherds daily lives. Living in the fields, watching their sheep and tending to them in order to make a living was simply 'life'. Like us, the Shepherds had a job to do. Like us, most of the time it can seem pretty hum-drum and even repetitive. Like us, they were not expecting God to interrupt their lives. “Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…”
It is not surprising that “they were terrified.” (Certainly fear is a manifestation of the separation of the Via Negativa.) Fortunately, the angels did not leave the Shepherds in suspense for long. “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
By announcing the Good News of the birth of Messiah, the Angels changed the fear of their appearance into a proclamation of something amazing. I suspect that I would still have been a bit afraid and if not for the witness of the other shepherds, I might have thought I was going a bit crazy.
As it is, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.” These humble men of the field, who were the first to hear the good news, were also the first to take action and become part of the Via Creativa of God’s work. Instead of huddling in the fields in fear, or dismissing the angels’ visitation as too much to drink, they discussed what they had experienced. In the community of the 'new creation', they experienced solidarity. Then they ‘went in haste and found…the child.’

Not only that, when they had seen that there was a baby truly born in a manger, “they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them…The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” The shepherds were the first to spread the news of Messiah. They were the first to announce the birth of the total Via Transformativa. They were not afraid to tell the story.
Stop and Think: Put yourself in the shepherds’ story. Hear the angels’ announcement and song. Pause to think about the conversation after the angels departed. Imagine the joy at finding the Child.
Let us go, like the Shepherds, to tell others of the real meaning of Christmas. Let those in darkness and fear know that the Light of the Via Transformativa of justice and reconciliation is here!

December 18, 2016

When God comes Knocking

In the past 3 weeks, we have entered the lives and emotions of four of the main characters in the Christmas story. We considered the responses of Elizabeth and Zechariah to God’s ‘yes’. We have walked with Mary and with Joseph as they encounter a God that comes too close and changes human plans.
This week, we’ll stop by the Inn in Bethlehem and explore how the life of a businessman was impacted by God. We’ll ask how his response might inform our own actions along the path of Creation spirituality. There is not a lot to go by in the Gospel record. Most of what we might think about the innkeeper comes from tradition and other stories. In fact, all the Bible says is “there was no place for them in the inn.” This implies an innkeeper, but no person is mentioned. The word translated in the KVJ and other translations as ‘inn’ is kataluma which may also be translated as ‘guest chamber’. (The NIV translation says, “there was no guest room available”.) A ‘guest room’ would imply that Mary and Joseph came to stay with family or friends and were turned away.
In my book, Mary, My Love, the couple does indeed come to a relative’s home. Because of the census, the house is full to overflowing with other descendants of David and so there is no place except the barn (cave) for the late arrivers.
So, let’s explore the response of the innkeeper, be they a family member or stranger, on their journey along the paths of Creation Spirituality.
The Via Positiva of Creation Spirituality is related to holy hospitality. The rich, cosmic, eternal hospitality of God who both creates and is within all of creation. Matthew Fox states, “the Creator God is a gracious, an abundant, and a generous host/hostess. She has spread out for our delight a banquet that was 20 billion years in the making. A banquet of rivers and lakes, of rain and of sunshine, of rich earth and of amazing flowers, of handsome trees and of dancing fishes, of contemplative animals and of whistling winds, of dry and wet season, of cold and hot climates…God has declared that this banquet is ‘very good’ and so are we, blessings ourselves, invited to the banquet.”
Born from the values of desert nomads, where hospitality can mean life or death to the traveler, hospitality was deeply ingrained in Jewish life. Remember the story of Abraham greeting his three visitors by preparing a feast for them. (Genesis 18:1-8). The widow of Zarapheth who cared for Elisha (I Kings 17:8-16) was also honoring that long tradition, even though she was not Hebrew.
When “a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered…All went to their own towns to be registered.” (Luke 2:2-3) Because many families traced their lineage to King David, many would travel to Bethlehem for this census. This was both an opportunity for hospitality by those in Bethlehem and a burden. I am sure that most residents opened their homes to other relatives and even strangers, as they were able.
Stop and Think: Are you someone who goes overboard for company, or are you more laid back? How does that fit with the extravagant, generous hospitality of God’s creation?
If hospitality is the Via Creativa in the story of Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem, surely the inability to find lodging is the Via Negativa. I like to give the innkeeper/relative the benefit of the doubt. It is extremely possible that every spare room in Bethlehem WAS filled with travelers when Mary and Joseph arrived.
Some commentators hint that it was because Mary was an ‘unwed’ mother, they were turned away by their family. In fact, she was married to Joseph, at least according to Luke. Matthew simply says, “Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.” As we saw last week, the betrothal was just as binding as the official ceremony.
For the innkeeper/relative telling the young couple that ‘there is no room’ must have been difficult. He had to admit that he had nothing to give in the way of hospitality. He had to admit to being ‘empty’. No one likes to admit that they didn’t plan well enough or ran out of supplies. I think that is why all the traditions and stories have the innkeeper offering the stable as an alternative. As something poor but at least out of the weather. This was one way to offer some form of hospitality.
Stop and Think: Are there ways you provide ‘just enough’ hospitality in some cases? Does hospitality extend to those who are different or in need?

Providing the stable or cave was a way for the innkeeper to save face. It also made him/her part of the new Via Creativa that was happening. The Gospel tells us, “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger.” Mary gave birth to the Son of God in a humble place. God comes down to our level. In the dust of a stable and the sweat and struggle of a woman giving birth, God becomes Immanuel.
Meister Eckhart asks, “What does God do all day long? God gives birth. From eternity God lies on a maternity bed giving birth.” He goes on to say “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God 1400 years ago and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture.” That is our call to action along the Via Creativa.
As we walk the Via Creativa ‘birthing’ God into the hurting and broken world, we become part of the eternal Via Transformativa. We give life, through our lives, to God with and within us. The good news of God made man changes the dynamic of the world.
CS Lewis explains how the Via Negativa can become the Via Transformativa in The Great Divorce, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” Lewis uses the same imagery in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Aslan (the great Lion and Christ figure in the book) tells Susan and Lucy, “though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little farther back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”
Stop and Think: In what ways are you active in the Via Creativa of birthing God into the world?

Consider the words of CS Lewis. What does it imply for your life that ‘agony [will turn into] glory’ and ‘Death itself will start working backward’?
Next week, we'll take a quick look at the Shepherds

December 11, 2016

When God Changes your Plans

This Advent, we are meeting some of the main actors in the Christmas drama in the light of the spiral dance of Creation Spirituality. We’ve seen how Elizabeth and Zechariah encountered God in an amazing ‘yes’ to their years of prayer for a child. That encounter left Zechariah, at least, fumbling in his faith along the darkness of the Via Negativa until he affirmed God’s work by praising and prophesying about his son’s life.
Last week we saw that Mary’s ‘yes’ to God came with consequences when she had to tell her family and her betrothed husband of the words of Gabriel. Mary accepted God’s Spirit into her heart and soul and womb, thereby becoming the bearer of the total Via Transformativa for the world. This week we’ll enter the world of Joseph of Nazareth, Mary’s ‘espoused husband’, as the KJV puts it.
God’s Via Positiva comes crashing into Joseph’s neatly laid plans for a wife and family when Mary tells him of Gabriel’s visit and promise. In the Gospel of Matthew we hear, “the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” God’s creative force can prove that our carefully thought out plans are worth nothing. In my book, Mary, My Love, poor Joseph is stunned and unable to believe Mary’s words. She leaves him alone in his shop where “Reeling and devastated, I smashed a fist against the tabletop. The perfection of the smooth finish mocked me with a reminder of my love and her betrayal.”
Stop and Think: When have you encountered God’s plans at odds with your own? What happened?
Joseph was plunged into the Via Negativa, where we can feel like we are far from God. This can happen through our own actions, or through circumstances. In Matthew 1:19 it says simply, “Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” Because the betrothal is just as binding as the wedding, Joseph was within his rights to divorce Mary or even to have her stoned for adultery. His first response was to doubt her story of an angel visitation and look for ways to get out of the betrothal.
When we are confronted with God’s plan and it seems too incredible or too difficult to comprehend, we can be like Joseph. In my book, he rushes to the hills outside of Nazareth to try and come to terms with what to do. Eventually, “Worn out from the day’s passion, I sank to my knees. The Name of the Most High was all I could say. Over and over I repeated the word. Eventually, I resolved to divorce Mary and send her away to preserve her life.”
The Via Negativa often involves letting go of our deepest desires to accept God’s even better gifts. Joseph decided to divorce Mary, to give up his dreams of life with her, so he could save her life. God sometimes seems to ask us to give up the very thing we most passionately want to hold onto. Many of those ‘tested’ by God are in the genealogy in the first seventeen verses of the Gospel of Matthew. Think of what Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Rachel, Rahab, David, Solomon gave up to be part of God’s work of salvation. In my own life, I was devastated when I had to quit being the “Director of Religious Education” many years ago.
Stop and Think: How does it feel when God seems to take away something special in your life? Is God asking (or has God asked) you to give up something you hold dear?

God does not leave us alone in the Via Negativa. When we turn back to God, we can discover that in fact what we thought was terrible is part of the gracious hand of God as we are involved in the working out of the Via Creativa. For me, leaving the position turned out to be the thing that unlocked other parts of my creativity, like writing. As part of the Via Creativa, we act as part of the divine energy that is the same energy that created and is creating the universe. I recently learned that there is no past tense in Hebrew, so “in the beginning, God creates (not created)”, therefore creation is ongoing and continuous and we are part of it.
Eventually, in the midst of his agonizing struggle with God, and his decision to give up Mary, Joseph finds the path of Via Creativa. The Gospel tells us, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘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.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us. (Matthew 1:20-23)
Joseph is assured that his role in the drama is important. ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife’ says the angel. Mary will need a husband. The infant will need the protection and nurture of both mother and father. Joseph will be part of the Via Creativa in the child’s life that will help him grow into a good, strong man.
Throughout our lives we circle and ‘dance’ through the four parts of the journey of Creation Spirituality. Matthew Fox quotes Mechtild of Magdeburg who explains, “the Creator has given us two wines to drink from: the white wine of bliss and harmony and ecstasy and the red wine of pain and suffering and loss. To fully live, to live spiritually, therefore is to drink of both wines in our lifetimes.” In the space of time between hearing Mary’s news and coming to accept it as God’s will, Joseph drank of both wines.
Stop and Think: Can you name times when you drank of the white wine of bliss, and of the red wine of pain?

The Gospel of Matthew says, “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1: 24-25) In his acceptance of the will of God, Joseph aligns himself with the Via Transformativa. He becomes part of working with God to bring redemptive change to the world.
In my book, when Joseph comes to acceptance, he acts.
The words of Isaiah came to me, ‘A young woman shall be with child, and you shall call his name Emmanuel.’
“Emmanuel.” I said the name aloud. “God is with us.”
The meaning had never seemed so real and possible. Suddenly, God was not a distant figure from the past who only spoke to Abraham and Moses. The One whose true Name was too holy to be spoken had come to a fourteen year-old girl in Nazareth.
“Mary is pregnant by the will of God,” I whispered in awe.
My words were absorbed by the night breeze and my heart thudded at the audacity of such a thought. The memory of my dream reassured me. The touch of the soil in my fist convinced me that I was awake. I watched the moon set. The pre-dawn darkness on the hillside was not frightening. Angels still seemed to hover nearby. A red glow in the eastern sky foretold the dawn.
“I must go to Mary.”
Like Joseph, when we understand that we are, as Madeline L’Engle says “co-creators with God”, we can step onto the Via Transformativa and start working with the Creator of all to change the world for good. That may be just helping a child with homework, posting a positive saying on Facebook, writing a blog, or it could be starting a movement for some social justice issue.
Joseph knew that the path he accepted would not be easy. His part was to be an earthly father and faithful husband. MC Richards notes “Let no one think that the birth of humanity is to be felt without terror. The transformations that await us cost everything in the way of courage and sacrifice. Let no one be deluded that a knowledge of the path can substitute for putting one foot in front of the other.” Joseph had no way of knowing that the journey would take the Holy Family to Egypt and back, or that they would face danger from Herod. He did know that he would need courage. All he knew was that he had accepted God’s will for his life and he must move forward. In fact, all we can each do is step onto the path we think we are called to follow and trust God.
Stop and Think: Do you spend time thinking ABOUT the path, rather than walking the path stretching out in front of you? Are you stuck on the sidelines because you don’t think you have the courage to step out in faith?

Next week, we will see what happens when God comes knocking. 

December 4, 2016

When God is Too Close

This Advent season we are looking at some of the main characters in the Christmas drama through the lens of Creation Spirituality as defined by Matthew Fox. (see last week).
According to Fox there our lives are a four-fold journey that involves the Via Positivia, Via Negativa, Via Creativa, and the Via Transformativa. Throughout our lives we ‘weave through these paths like a spiral danced.’
Mary of Nazareth is a key player in the Christmas story because she agrees to be the one to ‘bear a son and…call his name Emmanuel’ in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy to Israel given to King Ahaz centuries earlier. (Isaiah 7:14).

The Via Positiva is defined by Matthew Fox as the part of our life path where we experience awe, delight, amazement in the work of God in the world and in our lives. Mary, a teenage girl in the small town of Nazareth, was not expecting God to interact in her life in any amazing way. She was engaged to the carpenter of Nazareth, a man named Joseph, who she probably didn’t know very well. As was the custom of the time, her parents and his would have made the arrangements for the betrothal. This was much more than a promise to get married. In fact, except for the actual consummation, the Hebrew 1st Century betrothal was equivalent to the wedding. If the man died, the woman inherited just as if she had been his wife.
Mary, as a betrothed girl, would have been busy with preparations for her wedding. She would have been getting blankets and baskets and bowls ready to move to Joseph’s home. He would have been busy renovating or building a home for his bride. Into this everyday world, God comes. Again, it is the angel Gabriel who arrives with an unexpected message. Six months earlier Gabriel visited Zechariah in the Temple. Now, “the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” It must have been an astonishing thing. “He came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” Mary appears to be more concerned about why Gabriel calls her favored than by the fact that an angel is talking to her! Perhaps it is easier when confronted with the astonishingly Holy, to cling to the mundane.
Then he continues, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb 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.’
After this astonishing announcement, Mary is understandably confused. “Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon 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.’ And as proof of his veracity, Gabriel adds, ‘And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Convinced and faithful, “Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:26-38)
Stop and Think: Consider the difference in response between Mary and Zechariah. Are you more like Mary or Zechariah when you perceive God speaking? Has God ever ‘stepped’ into your everyday world and changed things?

You might wonder what part the Via Negative could play in Mary’s part in the drama. This is the part of our path where things can get rocky. Fox says the Via Negativa is characterized by uncertainty, darkness, suffering, and even letting go. Certainly, Mary had to relinquish her plans for her immediate future. She had to tell her parents and her betrothed husband the news. She had to accept that they were not happy about the situation and maybe even doubted her story.
When she said, “‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”, Mary opened herself to the scorn and ridicule of family and friends. Only God could put things right. By trusting God, Mary showed a wisdom above her years. She did not try to convince Joseph or explain things to anyone. She simply waited on God and let go of her own plans. The simple married life she envisioned would never be. God had changed all that when God stepped into her life. Saying ‘yes’ to God’s call isn’t always easy and often means we have to let go of our carefully laid out plans.
Stop and Think: Put yourself in Mary’s sandals. What feelings might you have when you must you’re your parents and Joseph that you are pregnant, by God? What feelings would you have experienced when those who love you, doubt your story?

The Via Creativa is a time for returning to relationship with God which has been broken by the sin, doubt, or suffering of the Via Negativa. With the Via Creativa comes compassion for others. With nowhere else to turn, we can guess that Mary turned to God. There is nothing in scripture that gives any hint. We do know that she acted in a surprising way, for a teenage girl of her time.
She “set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:39-40) Perhaps reminded of the angel’s comment about Elizabeth being 6 months pregnant, the girl joined a caravan and went to visit her cousin. This was probably a week-long trek over dirt roads that could be beset by bandits. Mary was very brave both in her ‘yes’ to God, and her journey to see Elizabeth.
Upon reaching their home, she said hello to Elizabeth, who prophesied. ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ (Luke 1:41-45)
Elizabeth’s words were a balm to Mary’s confused and troubled heart. Seeing that the angel had spoke truthfully about Elizabeth’s pregnancy must have given Mary assurance that she had not imagined the whole incident with Gabriel. She could embrace the promise of God with joy.
 Stop and Think: How often do we try to fix things ourselves instead of turning to God when times get rough? What happened when you let go and let God take care of some difficult situation?

Mary responds to Elizabeth with the famous Magnificat, announcing a change in world order, the arrival of the Via Transformativa, where our lives join with God’s social justice and re-creation. When we come full circle back to union with God’s creativity, we are made more whole than before.
Mary sings, ‘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 1:46-55)
In Original Blessing Matthew Fox states, “Justice moves us first because injustice moves us. An erotic justice means first of all getting in touch with our feelings about injustice.” Mary’s Magnificat also calls us to consider the response of God to injustice and our call to work for justice.
Stop and Think: Matthew Fox asks “Do we have such feelings [about injustice]? Do we allow them to be? Do we have feelings toward unemployed…prisoners…small business swallowed by a multicorporate monster?” Do you need to join God in ‘erotic justice’?

The Gospel account in Luke tells us “Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.” The young woman leaves and returns to Nazareth where she will really have to face difficult questions because soon it will be glaringly obvious that she is ‘with child’. She and Joseph will need to face down the gossip. We’ll consider Joseph’s response to Mary and her announcement next week.

For thoughts from another blogger about Mary, her response and ours to God's call to action is on Life for Leaders on December 4.

November 27, 2016

When God Suddenly Says 'Yes'

This Advent we’ll explore aspects of Creation Spirituality in the lives of some of the main actors in the Christmas drama. First a brief overview of Matthew Fox’s definition of Creation Spirituality from his website
Fox explains “Creation Spirituality derives from the oldest tradition in the Bible (the J source) and it is the Wisdom Tradition in the Hebrew Bible–the tradition that scholars agree was the tradition of the historical Jesus...Honoring all of creation as Original Blessing, Creation Spirituality integrates the wisdom of Eastern and Western spirituality and global indigenous cultures, with the emerging scientific understanding of the universe, and the passion of creativity. It is both a tradition and a movement, celebrated by mystics and agents of social change from every age and culture. It is also the tradition of the historical Jesus himself since it is the wisdom tradition of Israel.”
Fox says, “Our inner work can be understood as a four-fold journey involving:
– awe, delight, amazement (known as the Via Positiva
– uncertainty, darkness, suffering, letting go (Via Negativa)
– birthing, creativity, passion (Via Creativa)
– justice, healing, celebration (Via Transformativa)
We weave through these paths like a spiral danced, not a ladder climbed.”

Now, on to the fun and meat of this series.
This week we’ll consider how the lives of Elizabeth and Zechariah were impacted along the ‘four-fold journey’ when God suddenly said ‘Yes’ to their prayers. The story is found in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Zechariah was of the tribe of Levi, as was his wife Elizabeth. The tribe of Levi was designated during the Exodus, to be the priests of Israel through the lineage of Aaron, Moses’ brother. (See Exodus 28:1) Zechariah is “chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood“ for the, once in a lifetime, opportunity to “enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense.” He was selected to go past the curtain of the Temple into the Holy of Holies. This was an awesome honor and great responsibility.
From the Gospel account we learn a little about Zechariah and his wife. “Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.” (Luke 1:6) In a society where childlessness was considered a mark of God’s disfavor, it must have been difficult to maintain their faith in the goodness of God. Yet somehow, the couple remained ‘righteous’. They clung to the belief that God is good and that God can bring something good out of seeming sorrow or disaster.
Then came the day when Zechariah was in the Temple and God said a surprising and resounding ‘yes’ to their prayers. “There appeared to [Zechariah] an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth…He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God…to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’” (Luke 1:11-17)

The Via Positiva tells us that God wants to give us good things and has created everything ‘good’. We may insist that we believe God is good, seeing God at work in vague ways, such as in nature. Then something happens, like an answer to years of prayer. Then the distant God becomes almost too close.
Sometimes when God acts it is hard to believe at first. Zechariah, despite being a priest with years of experience in worshiping God, was unable to comprehend the action of God in his own life. “Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’” I don’t know if I’d have had the courage to argue with an angel. On the other hand, there probably are times when God is trying to give me a wonderful surprise and I am blind to it.
Stop and Think: From the beginning God has said ‘it is good’ about all creation. God continues to want to gift his creation with good things.
Has there ever been a time when you may have rejected something God wanted to give you? Have you clung to your old belief in how God acts and remained blind to something new that was happening in your life?

The Via Negativa is the place where we may feel uncertainty about whether God really means what God says. It is the time when we feel separate from God, or even turn our back on God.
Zechariah was unable to comprehend and accept the gift that God wanted to give him. He argued with the angel, who replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” (Luke 1:19-20)
I suspect that any doubt Zechariah had was erased when he realized that Gabriel wasn’t joking. He lingered in the Holy Place perhaps trying to talk until everyone ‘wondered at his delay’. When he finally emerged from the sanctuary, “he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak.” (Luke 1:22)
Zechariah was probably embarrassed by being unable to talk. He probably wanted to explain to the High Priest why he took so long. He likely also would have liked to share the news from his angelic vision. After all, the angel had told him, “He will…make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 16-17) Gabriel had spoken words prophesying the imminent coming of Messiah and Zechariah was unable to tell anyone. The long anticipated Promised One was near, and Zechariah was silenced.
Stop and Think: Zechariah doubted God and could not speak. The Via Negativa often makes us stop and reevaluate our faith. His silence gave him time to think about God’s creative and re-creative work.
Has there been a time when your doubt about God’s action in your life gave you time to pause and consider your faith or ministry or life journey?

The Via Creativa is a time when we begin to see how God is acting and what is being ‘birthed’. In the Gospel we learn, “When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion.” (Luke 1:23-24)
Imagine for a moment what Elizabeth felt and thought when Zechariah came home mute. Fear for his health must have been uppermost until he reassured her that he was healthy. There was certainly talk among the neighbors about ‘poor Zechariah’. If it was me, I would be angry about that. Luke does not give us any indication that Zechariah was able to communicate with Elizabeth about the promise from Gabriel. Maybe, being the wife of a learned priest, she knew how to read and he wrote her a note. Perhaps he just made signs to her like he did to the other priests and the congregation.
When Elizabeth discovers that, like Sarah of old, she is pregnant even though she is elderly it was a pleasant and almost unbelievable surprise. We get a glimpse of the scorn she endured from other women for her childless years by her comment, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” After five months, when she is completely certain that she is truly pregnant, with baby bump is showing, Elizabeth dares to venture out into public again.
I can imagine that her pregnancy was the cause for even more gossip. Through it all, Elizabeth could walk proudly, serene in the knowledge that she was finally going to have a child. Then at about 6 months along, she gets an unexpected visit from her cousin from Nazareth. Luke tells us, “In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’” (Luke 39-45)
Mary’s arrival is further affirmation of God working actively in the lives of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Elizabeth recognizes that Mary is the chosen Theotokis (God-bearer). In fact, John in utero recognizes it as well. The two women share a time of mutual praise to God.
Stop and Think: The Via Creativa brings us back toward God and understanding that God is present and active.
When have you experienced God’s presence so clearly that you knew everything was going to be alright, even if the way forward wasn’t yet clear?

The Via Transformativa is the part of the path where we begin to become partners in God’s creativity and work of Redemption. For Elizabeth this started when she became pregnant. Mary’s visit affirmed to both women that miraculous things were happening in their lives and in the world. “Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.” (Luke 1:56-57)
For Zechariah, it was not until “the eighth day they came to circumcise the child” that he came to the Via Transformativa. When “they were going to name him Zechariah after his father...his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’…they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.” (Luke 1:59-66)
Zechariah is given back his voice, lost to the Via Negativa of doubt. He then is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and begins to prophecy about the transformation of the cosmos through social justice and re-creation. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:68-79)
Stop and Think: The Via Transformativa brings us back to relationship with God and with God we begin to work for the good of the world.
What is on your heart to ‘prepare the way’ for the Lord or to ‘give light to those who sit in darkness’?

Next week, we’ll look at another main character in the Christmas drama: Mary of Nazareth. 

November 20, 2016

The Gifts of the Spirit

This fall we have been looking at some of the various aspects of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit is the promised Advocate or Helper that Jesus promised to his disciples at the Last Supper (John 14). God has given us the Spirit to live in us. This Spirit is still acting in our lives. We may not be aware and call something a coincidence or synchronicity. In reality, it is God working in our lives through the living Spirit to renew, empower, sanctify, comfort, and help us discern things. This results is the fruits of the Spirit that we looked at last week. The same Spirit also gives us ‘gifts’ that help us encourage and strengthen one another in our life work and play. (Fruits of the Spirit are attributes of our personality and Gifts of the Spirit are things that we do because of the Spirit working in us.)
In the First Letter to the Corinthians, we are told, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
The Holy Spirit of God ‘activates’ the gifts as is individually and corporately needed. As the graphic says, a spiritual gift is “an ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in love to build up the church.” Using our gifts in Love is the key
I Corinthians 13 goes on to expound the best gift of the Spirit, which is indeed love. If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13)
As we’ve seen in our fall meditations, the Spirit is a gift from God, promised by Jesus. The Spirit of the Living God is active in our lives to help us live out the Great Commandment to “love one another”. The Spirit gives us courage and strength to live into our ministry and life in community and in love.
Think about how each of the gifts of the Spirit is a manifestation of love. How can we allow the Spirit to help us more fully live out the mandate to Love one another?
Is there something you can do today or this week to make I Corinthians 13 visible in your life?

Next week we’ll enter Advent and do an interesting contemplation of what Matthew Fox calls Original Blessing. He calls this the way of the Via Positiva, Via Negativa, Via  Creativa, and Via Transformativa. We’ll look at how some familiar Christmas story participants experienced these 4 parts of God’s love.

November 13, 2016

The Spirit Who Bears Fruit

For the past couple weeks we took a break from thinking about “The Spirit Who…” We considered the masks we wear and the idea that we are all saints of God. Even if our name never makes it to the calendar of Saints, we are part of those, who as the song says: “lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still. the world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus' will. You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, in church, by the sea, in the house next door; they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too.” (I Sing a Song of the Saints of God)
As we work on being a saint of God, it is reassuring to know that we are not alone. The Holy Spirit of God bears fruit in our hearts. In the Letter to the Galatians, we are told, “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control...If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:16, 22-26)
Jesus warns his disciples several times in the Gospel that they should not compete or compare their fruits or results of ministry to each other. One such instance is in Mark 9:33-37 where when “they came to Capernaum...he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” Jesus “sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, 'if anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’”
It can be very easy to compare the success, or failure, of our work to each other and say ‘mine is better or more important’. Alternatively we might sadly admit that ‘I don’t seem to be able to be as generous as others.’ Galatians warns "Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” In God’s eyes all the fruits of the Spirit are equal. 
The way of living out the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives is different for each of us. Jesus’ words to his disciples, and the warning in the Letter to the Galatians, can remind us that even the smallest and weakest among us is important to God. The homeless man on the street may have more compassion than the man in the corner office. The poor widow may offer more of herself than her wealthy neighbor.
But it isn’t a competition. In God’s eyes, we are equal. 
Let’s start looking at each other as equals not as competitors. 
Let’s see each other as family, beloved by one Father instead of insisting that ‘you have to be just like me’. 
Let’s be humble enough to say ‘I don’t have all the answers’ and listen to each other. 
Let’s support each other to build up the fruits of the Spirit so that we are all strengthened.
Have you ever compared your ministry or gifts to someone else and felt you were better, or that you fell short?
What can you do this week to encourage someone who may feel that the Fruit of their lives doesn't matter?

November 6, 2016

All saints of God

Long ago in Sunday School I learned a hymn: I Sing a Song of the Saints of God*. It remains one of my favorites because of the emphasis on the fact that we are all saints of God. We may never be recognized with our own 'day' in the church calendar, but we each live our lives in sincere hope that we are doing God's will. The songs say, "I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. 
This past weekend I heard 2 sermons. Each was presented by a dedicated pastor/priest-a saint of God. Both were offered for the upbuilding of the hearers. One spoke about Christ’s ‘new commandment…[to] love one another’, noting that as we live this commandment we become more like Jesus and change the world. The other based his sermon on Romans 16:17-20, urging his hearers to beware of those who might destroy the community of faith, and stating that such people should be removed until they change their ways.
I could not help but be struck by the contrast. Yet both these preachers were sincere in their words and spoke to build up and encourage their audience. Each felt the Spirit working in their life. In fact, each is a saint of God.
One speaker referenced John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” noting that the “way of love is the way of life”. This was most fully shown at the Cross. Listeners were reminded that ‘we are not the center of the universe-God is’. Therefore, our life needs to look like Love so that the world may know Christ through us. This preacher took the broad view that our Christian lives lived in Love will change the world.
The other was speaking from concern for the good of the whole when urging that divisive entities must be rooted out. The congregation had previously experienced great distress from similar attacks and for love of the whole, the pastor stated that the evil must go. While admitting that from the outside, this might look un-Christian, he pointed to Paul’s words to the church in Rome “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offences, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good, and guileless in what is evil. The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
The pastor’s concern for keeping deceivers out of the ‘flock’ relates to the other speaker’s comment that ‘religion’ can be hijacked when the “golden calf of self [is] raised”. (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Not in God’s Name, Confronting Religious Violence). Because it is not rooted in Love, the same self-centeredness that caused the Israelites to form the golden calf in the wilderness, can destroy churches, families, countries, even the world. The pastor was, in fact working to protect the congregation from destruction by keeping trouble-makers out. The sermon was a declaration of love for the people of the congregation. With the hymn this pastor was proclaiming "They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong; and they followed the right for Jesus' sake the whole of their good lives long."
Without knowing all the details, I dare not judge whether the one pastor might have tried loving those who were a negative influence. Perhaps the love and reconciliation was offered and rejected. Perhaps the dissension was too deep rooted to be allowed to linger and grow and destroy. The pastor felt led by the Spirit to speak out against this division and to work to bring about healing in the congregation so people could find their way to living the commandment to Love one Another.
We are called, as followers of the One who gave the new commandment of Love, to live a life that looks like Love. The other preacher stated that the ‘way of Love is a game changer. It changes us, it changes the church, it changes the world. We should not be ashamed of the way of Love.’
It is not easy to live under the new Order that says, ‘give up self to live in love for one another’. Yet there is the promise that ‘if you love me, you will follow me’ in the path of Love that makes room for all. The way of Love liberates and is life-giving, while the way of self is destructive. With one another we ARE called to be saints of God who "lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus' will. You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, in church, by the sea, in the house next door; they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too." 
As we look at the saints of God in our lives, I hope we can see where they, and we, are living out the new movement that will indeed turn the world around. The way of Love breaks down dividing walls-of race, culture, religion, fear, anger and unites us. As the image says, "It will be OK" because God is with and in each of us. No matter how difficult it is to live the Way of Love-God is there. 

Consider who you know who might show you more fully how to live the Way of Love.
Take time to think about how you might give up some of self, in order to more fully show the Love of God.

Next time we’ll return to our series about the work of the Spirit by thinking about how the Spirit bears fruit in a life given over to following God. 

*1. I sing a song of the saints of God, 
patient and brave and true, 
who toiled and fought and lived and died 
for the Lord they loved and knew. 
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, 
and one was a shepherdess on the green; 
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, 
God helping, to be one too. 

2. They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, 
and his love made them strong; 
and they followed the right for Jesus' sake 
the whole of their good lives long. 
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest, 
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast; 
and there's not any reason, no, not the least, 
why I shouldn't be one too. 

3. They lived not only in ages past; 
there are hundreds of thousands still. 
The world is bright with the joyous saints 
who love to do Jesus' will. 
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, 
in church, by the sea, in the house next door; 
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, 
and I mean to be one too. 
 (I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, by Lesbia Scott)

October 30, 2016

Wearing a Mask

Once again the circle of seasons brings us to All Hallows Eve or Halloween. Honestly this is not one of my favorite holidays. Too much craziness in the name of ‘fun’ can happen. Plus, I really don’t like people in masks because I cannot see their face. (I also have trouble with people wearing mirrored sunglasses for the same reason-I cannot see their expression or eyes.)
Don’t we all wear masks, though? We put on a persona based on what we think are the expectations of the people we are interacting with. I might put on the mask of educated author when presenting a talk about my books. In my family, I present myself as the ‘good mom’, ever ready to help with homework. At work, the mask might be ‘efficient worker’ and at school I might be the ‘diligent student’. Those are all parts of us, and they help us comfortably hide the parts of our personality we don’t want the public to see.
Even with God we sometimes try to wear a mask, forgetting conveniently that God sees right through and past any mask we might attempt. For God we can be the ‘faithful church worker’ or the ‘daily pray-er’ or the ‘efficient pastor’. Those may all be correct and parts of us. However, what God sees is “beloved child”.
In the First Letter to the church in Corinth, Paul says that all attributes of the church (and of each of us) is important. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians: 12: 15-26)
All of our personality parts are important and valid, and need to be affirmed. It is easy to try to hide the things about ourselves that we don’t like by constructing a mask that is ‘acceptable’. All Hallows Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day and All Souls Day (October 31, November 1 and 2, respectively) is a time to remember the ‘saints’ of the church. ALL the women and men who have gone before us in the faith, not just those who happen to have the title ‘Saint’ attached to their name. You are a saint of God, and I am a saint of God. Let’s celebrate the image of God in one another and try to put down our masks sometimes.

What is your favorite mask? Can you develop a mask that shows you as a beloved child, a saint, of God?

This week try to look beyond the masks others have constructed to see and love the real saint of God. 

October 23, 2016

The Spirit Who Gifts Us

Last time we considered how the Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, of God helps us to discern our path by guiding us when we ask. When we are directed by God’s Spirit, we will be given gifts to help us do the work of God and bring about the Kingdom. Jesus tells his disciples that “I do not call you servants…I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. So whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give you.” (John 15: 15-16)
As descendants of the disciples, we are inheritors of that same promise. You see lots of commercials on TV about getting your DNA tested to find out what ethnic background you are from. Our spiritual ethnic background is clear. We have the same DNA as our Father and Brother. That means we are royalty, and we have spiritual gifts. In fairy tales, often the hero or heroine is given something special which they must not lose. We also have been given something extra special, and we cannot lose it because it is an eternal gift from our loving God.
We are gifted by the Spirit in precisely the right way for our situation. The Holy Spirit gives us exactly the right gifts to do the service and act in the way that God created us for. As the 1 Corinthians citation notes, “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” Furthermore, the gifts we have right now are the ones we need right now! That’s a helpful thing to remember when it seems like we are in over our head or asked to do something we don’t think we can do.
In 1 Corinthians 12, we are told, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (I Corinthians 12:3-11)
Matthew Fox in his book Original Blessing reminds us that we are queens and kings in the Kingdom of God. We are direct heirs of the King of kings. Therefore, as Madeline L’Engle says, we are ‘co-creators with God’. It is the Spirit that works in us so that we are aware and so we can participate in the work of God. Recently I read Believing God by Beth Moore. She suggests that we remember 5 important things about God’s work in our lives:
God is who He says He is. 
God can do what He says He can do.
I am who God says I am.
I can do all things through Christ.
God’s Word is alive and active in me.

When we remember that we are daughters and sons of God, and that we are meant to work with God to bring about the Kingdom, it can change our attitude. If we are prophets, priests, royalty (and we are) then we ought to act in that way. We need not fear because God is in charge. The words of Jesus in Luke 12, “But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father’s is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourself with purses that will not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven” (Luke 12:31-33) take on a deeper meaning. Our Father is pleased to give us the kingdom. Therefore, we can work for the good of the Kingdom without worrying about what ‘people might think’, or that we could fail. We are assured that we have the Gifts necessary for doing the work right now!
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by what you feel God is asking you to do? Is it reassuring to know that the Holy Spirit has given you just the right gifts for the job?
How does the idea of being a co-creator with God to bring about the Kingdom make you feel?

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll take a brief break to look at the way culture and the church honor the saints, those who live and use their gifts, before concluding this series by considering some of the specific spiritual gifts and why they are needed in the church. 

October 16, 2016

The Spirit Who Gives Discernment

Over these past several weeks, we’ve looked at ways the Holy Spirit works in and through our lives. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity and is often rather brushed over in our western culture. In eastern tradition, the Spirit is related to Sophia, the Wisdom of God, which is from the beginning and infuses all life. That Wisdom helps us to make decisions and to discern what to do and say and be.
Discern is a word not used in every day talk. Yet it is something that we practice every day. The word comes from discernere, formed from two Latin words dis (apart) and cernere (to separate). Discernment happens when we look at all the pieces of a decision or an idea or plan in order to see if it will work. Mostly we do this unconsciously, without specifically listing all the pros and cons of something. I might discern that I want the red dress and brown shoes because I’ve decided/discerned in the synapsis of my brain that they would look better together than the orange dress and red shoes. Sometimes we do make lists of pros and cons to help us decide what to do about a major life change. In all decisions the Spirit of God is present, even if we don’t think about that.
In I Corinthians, we are reminded, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are discerned spiritually. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 2:10-16)
In this letter, Paul is telling the Corinthians that all things are revealed by the Spirit, “so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God”. How often do we really stop and think about our day to day actions as being inspired by God? We tend to think that we are autonomous and in control of what we do and where we go. With God’s free will that is true. On the other hand, when we offer our life to God in prayer we may discern that there is a different plan.
Have you ever looked back over your life and marveled at the way God has worked? I am constantly amazed at how just the right job came along at the right time, or how the exact amount needed to pay a bill arrived, or how a friend ‘happened’ to call or write and say just the right words.
Through the Spirit of God we “have the mind of Christ”, Paul says. That mindset helps us discern and see the hand of God in our life and to discern what we should do to further the Kingdom. We have “received…the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God”. The gifts given us by God may or may not be grand, and may not bring fame, but they are exactly the gifts needed by you and me, where we are on our faith journey.

The Holy Spirit, God's Wisdom can help us discern what the next step is on the the path. All we need to do is ask. As the graphic from Jude 1:20 advises, we should Pray in the Spirit in order to build up our faith. 
Consider asking God to help you understand and discern the work of the Spirit in your life.

Take time to look back over your life and see where God has acted. One way is via ‘stepping stones’. Break your life timeline into 5 or 10 year segments and note the God highlights of each period. You will find that God has been providing discernment for you all along. 

October 9, 2016

The Spirit Who Comforts

For the past month we’ve been talking about ways the Holy Spirit of God works in our lives. It is the Spirit that Regenerates our souls, Acts in our lives to Empower and Sanctify our work. The Holy Spirit also comforts and gives us joy as we go about our day-to-day lives, which sometimes seem to be filled with troubles.
It can be easy to get trapped in the cycle of looking at everything from a negative viewpoint. “Government is corrupt”, “School is too hard”, “The world has gone crazy with violence”…the list goes on and on. It can get longer each time we watch the news, too. We can start to believe “Nobody cares about me or my problems”. This is not the attitude Jesus promised to his followers.

If we are able to look at life through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, we might discover that there is a silver lining to all those clouds. Jesus says “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:16-21)
Notice that Jesus repeats that we are not ‘orphaned’, not left alone in this world to fend for ourselves. He goes on to say that “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them This raises the question with Judas (not Iscariot), and with us “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14: 21-26)
It is the Holy Spirit that will be with and within us to teach us, comfort us, and bring us joy as we live our lives in relationship with God. In fact Paul’s Letter to the Romans tells us that For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
Since we have these promises from the Lord of Life we can be free from the fears and sins that try to drag us down. In Hebrews 12:1-2, we are encouraged by the promise that we are not alone. Not only do we have the Holy Spirit, we also “are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
With the Holy Spirit and other witnesses of the work of God, we can allow the comfort and joy of the Holy Spirit to live in us and overflow in our interactions with each other. God’s promise is that the Spirit of God will live in us and that can offer comfort in troubling times.
Sometimes there are pieces of music or special verses that help remind you of the promises of God. The coloring panel is one of my favorite ones. It would make a nice bookmark for your Bible or devotional. One of my favorite songs is I Will NeverForget You My People, which repeats the promise to ‘not leave you orphans’.   
What is your favorite Bible verse or song that reminds you of the promises of God?
Is there something you can do today to remind yourself of the presence of God’s joy and comfort in your life?

October 2, 2016

The Spirit Who Sanctifies

Last time we looked at how the Holy Spirit Empowers us to live free of fear through discipline and through the advocacy of the Spirit in us. As we are gradually transformed into a deeper relationship with God, we are sanctified for God’s service.
Paul tells the Roman church that he was empowered “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God.” (Romans 15:16-17) He says his work is ‘priestly service..sanctified by the Holy Spirit’. Only in Jesus can he ‘boast of my work for God’.
We also are sanctified. To be sanctified is to be made holy and consecrated and set apart for the work of God. It is awesome that God takes each of us frail bits of dust and is willing to sanctify us by God’s Spirit so that we can do the work of God in the world.
To live a sanctified life, we need a strategy. In the 2015 movie The War Room, Miss Clara explains that she has a special closet dedicated to praying, which she calls her "War Room". She says, "In order to stand up and fight the enemy, you need to get on your knees and pray."

Probably we could all do with a bit more prayer in our lives. Whether we can dedicate a completely separate place, or simply a corner of a room, it is important to have a place and time to meet with God so that we can be sanctified to the priestly service of the Living God. The graphic gives an example of a checklist for connecting with God. You might want to come up with your own (this is sometimes called a Rule of Life).
God takes the moments we give him and sanctifies them. God makes holy the time we spend in conversation with God. As we spend time we learn to more fully live into our ‘priestly service of the gospel of God’.
The 12 apostles spent a lot of time with Jesus and in that relationship learned to carry the Good News into all the world. Certainly they weren’t perfect, and obviously they didn’t know that they could do the work of sharing the Gospel. (All you need to do is look at the first chapter of Acts to see how unsure of themselves they were!) Then the sweeping wind of the Holy Spirit came and sanctified their work. That wind of God’s Spirit gave them courage and strength to go out into the streets and beyond to tell about Jesus and about God’s redeeming work.
As we spend time with God in prayer conversation, we will discover that we are also sanctified to do our work in the world. Your job may be bagging groceries or it may be overseeing a financial empire, but either way, you are ‘minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God’. We come in contact with lots of people each day, and we are charged and sanctified to serve as our ‘work for God’.
The ‘Gentiles’ you minister to are the people you come in contact with each day. How might you change the way you interact with people if you see yourself as in the priestly service of God?

Do you ever think that what you do doesn’t make a difference? Does thinking of your work as part of priestly service to God change that idea?