June 26, 2016

Blessed to Forgive

Even with PRAYER, it can be difficult to CHOOSE to LEAD, LISTEN, and BE loving toward our neighbors and ourselves when things go wrong or it seems the world has gone crazy. It can be especially hard to FORGIVE! When things go wrong we must turn and ask for forgiveness. The deeper our relationship and the deeper the feeling of being a Blessed Child of God, the more we may realize that we aren’t always doing the ‘right’ thing. God knows we are not perfect and doesn’t expect it. Like a loving parent, God is always willing to forgive when we come and say ‘I’m sorry’.
In our relationships with other flawed humans, we may also come to the point where we need to FORGIVE someone. Purposely or not, people will hurt us. Harboring and nurturing the feelings of anger and resentment harm us much more than those we direct them toward.
Jesus talks about forgiveness many times:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, I tell you, not just seven time, but seventy times seven…” (Matthew 18:21-22)
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) And then goes on to say, “For with the same judgment you pronounce, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2)
In Mark 11:25, Jesus reminds us, “when you stand to pray, if you hold anything against another, forgive it, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your trespasses as well." The Gospel of Luke says something similar, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)
On the cross, Jesus said, “Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34) Many times we do not realize what our words or actions are doing to another person. Conversely someone may hurt us without realizing it. Always we are called to offer and ask for forgiveness to start the healing. 
Even in the Epistles, the need for forgiveness and understanding is emphasized. “Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32). In Colossians 3:13, we are told to “Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
There are times when we have to forgive a grave wrong. There will be no ‘I’m sorry’ coming from the perpetrator. Yet for our own spiritual health we have to find a way to forgive, even while not excusing the action. The action was evil. The person however hard it may be to see it-is a child of God. He/she is a child of the Living God who chose to make a wrong turn, to follow the wrong path, to believe a corrupt leader, or to follow a twisted ideology. We cannot excuse the action that destroyed lives (physically or spiritually), but we must recognize, incomprehensible as it may be, that God does love each and every flawed one of us.
That is true even, perhaps esp. at times like 9/11 or the Orlando massacre or school shootings. As hard as it is, we must forgive or we become part of the negative energy that perpetrates such acts. Harboring un-forgiveness hardens our hearts and leads to anger and reaction. I quoted Fr. Daniel Gutierrez last week. You may recall he said, [we have to work for] “A world where forgiveness is stronger than revenge, where empathy abounds over hate, acceptance mightier than exclusion and that the light of love and life is shining brighter than the darkness of hate and death.”
South African freedom hero Nelson Mandela said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Forgiving ourselves and one another helps create that freedom. Katie Barrett Todd , the author of the June 22 daily meditation, stated, “Freedom requires us to live so that all may be free. Christ’s freedom is not for one person, but for every person. Go today into the world and fight for the freedom of another. Go today to let the world taste the unending love of Christ through loving your neighbor. And go today letting the Spirit change your motivations. Live free, and fight for freedom.”
We can offer that freedom by offering forgiveness. You and I may never commit a mass murder or abuse someone or destroy a life’s work. Our sins may seem much less, but a word spoken in anger can leave a scar. A moment’s frustration can ruin someone’s day, who then takes it out on someone else, and the damage can snowball and multiply. The little ripples of anger and negativity we may drop into the ocean of life can have long lasting effects. Strive for the straight way, and the way of hope and peace. Turn and ask for forgiveness when you do lash out. Maybe we can start positive, healing ripples in our environment.

Next week is the Fourth of July, a perfect time to consider our freedoms. Then we will continue to look at ways to live into “Loving one another as Christ loved us”.

June 14, 2016

Blessed to Pray

As we CHOOSE to BE, and to LISTEN we are called to LEAD. This must be done with PRAYER.
The events in Orlando over the past weekend have shaken most of us to the core. That such hatred and violence can be unleashed in an American city makes us stagger in disbelief. How do we combat intolerance of such magnitude? (It doesn't matter if it is based on prejudice or malice or terrorism-the root is intolerance.) 
Our initial reaction may be to respond in anger, fear, hatred. We cannot, we dare not, go there. In a Facebook post the day after the Orlando massacre, the Rev. Canon Daniel Gutierrez, Bishop Elect of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, said, “We cannot keep silent. We cannot accept this as normal. We must not give life to the darkness of hate, marginalization, violence, political rhetoric and discrimination. We cannot be enraged for the moment, today, or the next week. We cannot sit silently until the next mass murder…Brothers and sisters [are] brutalized daily, and we deliberate whether hate and discrimination exists.”
Fr. Daniel points to a different response, “Through our tears, pain, bewilderment and sadness we must envision something new. It has to begin today, and it must start with us. I believe in the goodness of humanity. We have seen it time and time again. Hopeful people whose lives express a deep and abiding love for all creation. A world where forgiveness is stronger than revenge, where empathy abounds over hate, acceptance mightier than exclusion and that the light of love and life is shining brighter than the darkness of hate and death.”
We must pray, we must act, we must work for love, hope, peace in a world gone mad. Think about how we say ‘I am mad’ when we mean we are angry. To be ‘mad’ is to be insane and unable to think in a clear way. This goes beyond anger and is very dangerous. However, madness is what seems to be happening in many parts of the world. Not just anger, but real insane madness focusing on those deemed ‘different’ or ‘wrong’.
Thomas Merton said, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business, and in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.”
It is a hard road we are called to when we must confront the ‘madness’ of the world that focuses on hatred and separation and fostering fear. Fr. Daniel points out, “We must find our voice. It must begin in our churches and we must take it to the powerful. We can make a difference. It is the only path we have in a world that has a tendency to slip into the darkness.”
Our action must begin with knowing that we, and EVERY other person, is Beloved of God. We have to CHOOSE to LISTEN to each other. Then we must LEAD the way with PRAYER and action so that there may once again be Hope and Faith and Love in individuals and communities and the world.

Only when we each look at our actions and reactions can we hope for any change. We will need to stop judging based on any criteria other than seeing the other person as a child of God. We will need to offer peace and love even when we feel irritated or wronged. We will need to hold out a hand of reconciliation or comfort or healing rather than a fist of retribution or rage. As the Christmas song says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” 
Fr. Daniel Gutierrez concludes his post with a prayer for change, “May we all believe in the transformative power of hope, peace, goodness and love. May we bring the healing and love of Jesus Christ to this world. This is the world we envision. May it be so, may it be so. I pray for those affected by today. May the Lord hold us close. Amen.”
Prayer and action start by turning to God, because we cannot change the world alone. Turning to God requires repentance and Forgiveness. Next week we'll explore that difficult path. 

June 12, 2016

Blessed to Lead

As we explore being Blessed in this Pentecost season series, we may be discovering that as we more deeply become who we are meant to BE, and open space by CHOOSING to LISTEN that something else is happening. Just maybe we are developing some confidence that is helping us to LEAD others to similar explorations of their relationship with God and others.
What is leadership? Different people have different definitions.
  • ·         To lead people, walk beside them ... As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence…When the best leader's work is done the people say, 'We did it ourselves!' — Lao-tsu
  • ·         It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.-- Nelson Mandela
  • ·         Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.--Colin Powell
  • ·         Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.--Steve Jobs

Is a Christian leader different?
  • ·         The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.”– John Stott
  • ·         Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.– Acts 20:28
  • ·         A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way--John C. Maxwell
  • ·         Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”– Mark 10:45

Perhaps the way the world sees leadership and the way God sees leadership are slightly different. Secular leaders may focus on solving problems or put others needs first. In many ways they are similar, though. Godly leadership stresses humility and ‘shepherding’, and ‘serving’. Leading involves, as John Maxwell says, knowing the way, going the way, and most importantly showing the way. It is in the way we live our lives that most clearly shows the way.
Jesus lead by example. He walked with his disciples, teaching them before sending them out. In Luke we learn “Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal...They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.” (Luke 9:1-6)
The core 12 were the first wave of new leaders. In chapter 10 we hear “the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:1-2). The 70 were now leaders themselves, going out to work. They were instructed to “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid…eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you... Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’” (Luke 10:7-9, 16-17)
The 12 apostles and the 70 that followed found that their work prospered because they did as they were instructed. Like these first appointed leaders, we are sent out to lead by our lives and witness to the 'kingdom of God' come near. We are given the example of humility and the instruction to “not be served but to serve others”. 
As we learn to BE the Beloved Child of God we are created as, we can CHOOSE to LISTEN to one another and to God. And in living more fully who we truly are, we may just find that we are servant LEADERS.
How can you and I follow the first church leaders and witness with our lives? Could it be that it is as simple as the advice from St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel, if necessary use words”? Is it our actions that are the best leadership? What can I do today to walk with someone as the Christ-like servant leader we can be?

Next time we’ll look at one important component of Christian leadership that we must not overlook (prayer).

June 5, 2016

Blessed to Listen

As we are exploring ways we are Blessed to witness to God’s love, we have realized that we need to BE who we were created as: God’s Beloved Child. That may mean we learn to say ‘no’ to some things we thought we had to do, in order to CHOOSE relationship with God.
When we open up some time and space, we might just find we have time to be Blessed to Listen. Time to Listen to God. Time to Listen to one another!
How often do we really listen? Confession time…I can be on the phone and on email at the same time. That means I am not really listening to the person on the phone. When was the last time you sat down and really heard what someone was saying-without the distraction of a TV in the background, or a video game on your cell phone, or without thinking about what you were going to say in response, or even what you planned to do after the conversation?
Recently a post made the rounds on Facebook saying “The problem today is that no one sits and shells peas with grandma anymore.” Perhaps there is a kernel of truth in that. If we are doing a mindless occupation with our hands, we can really listen to the stories and heart of another person.
Jesus was completely present to those around him. We hear more than once in the Gospels that ‘he knew what was in their hearts’. The only way you can know a person’s heart is to really hear what they are saying, both verbally and non-verbally. We might even speculate that on those occasions when Jesus asked someone “What do you want me to do for you?” it was because the person was not really aware or paying attention to what he was asking. In the case of healing blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) and the pair of blind men (Matthew 20:29-34), those in need are sitting by the road calling out to any and all for alms. Jesus calls Bartimaeus to come and then asks “What do you want me to do for you?” It is then that Bartimaeus asks clearly for his sight, rather than the ‘mercy’ of money as he had been begging for previously.
Think about Bartimaeus’ life. He was stuck being among the ignored of society. He had to shout and beg in order to get attention and any small coins passersby might toss to him. His immediate response to a large crowd was to shout louder the rote words of the beggars, “Have mercy!” It was a reminder to those in the area that it was mitzvah, a blessing, to give to the poor.
When Jesus came he immediately began his pleading shout, adding “Jesus, Son of David” to the cry in the hopes that the personal touch would inspire generosity. Jesus hears a different need under the cry and asks “what do you want me to do for you?” Perhaps Bartimaeus was surprised himself when the said “My teacher, let me see again.” Sometimes we blurt out things without really thinking them through.
In reading this citation I was struck with the fact that Bartimaeus asks to ‘see AGAIN’, implying that he was not blind from birth. Either way, Jesus responds to the heart cry and tells him “Your faith has made you well.” And Bartimaeus follows Jesus. 

This statue by Johann Stover from 1861 found at St John's Church, Erbach, Rheingau, Hesse, Germany, shows Bartimaeus as a young man. Of course it is not the man’s age that matters, but the reality that Jesus listened to more than the beggar’s cry and responded to the real need. 

I wonder how often we do not really LISTEN to what others are saying because we are too wrapped up in our own thoughts and getting things done. Like Jesus we need to learn to listen to the heart. The lips may ask for a handout or the answer to a question or directions, but the heart is begging to be heard. The heart is seeking recognition of humanity, an ear to pause and hear grief or joy, or simply a moment of undivided attention.
Maybe this week I’ll practice looking away from my computer when answering the phone so I’m not tempted to also check email or Facebook.