March 18, 2018

Burning Bush Moment: In the Storm

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s quote, “Earth is crammed with heaven,/And every bush is aflame with God/But only those who see, take off their shoes/The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries” has been our touchstone throughout this series. It can be fairly easy to find a bush that burns in the day to day living. It just takes pausing to look around. When we are sick, like Simon’s mother-in-law, we can find a burning bush in getting well. In our times of seeking, we can, with Nicodemus find a burning bush when we get answers. Martha, in her busyness of preparing dinner had a hard time seeing the burning bush, but she was changed anyway.

As we continue our Lent search for burning bushes, we might ask where do we find a burning bush when all hope seems lost? Where do we look for a burning bush when we are adrift in a storm? Jesus and his disciples were in just that situation. We hear the story in Mark 4:35-41, also Matthew 8: 23-27, Luke 8: 22-25.

When evening had come, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’”
Jesus Stilling the Tempest, James Tissot
It must have been a terrible storm. Remember many of the disciples were fishermen, used to the wind and waves on the water. For them to be frightened, the ‘great gale’ must have been pretty bad. Yet, in the middle of this storm, Jesus is ‘asleep on a cushion’. Sometimes there are storms in our lives and we feel like God is asleep or maybe not even in the boat. We think all hope is lost and are afraid. 

Because of the storm, the disciples lost their courage and their ability to remember Who is in charge. CS Lewis reminds us, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality.”

There are scary times when we can all lose our center, our confidence, our courage. Then Jesus steps in and calms the storm and encourages “your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:17) Ann Voskamp notes, “Courage births all virtue. Courage mothers everything good in the world. Without courage, everything good, in us and in the world, stillbirths…Needing courage is another way of saying Christ is needed…When you’re between God and a hard place, it’s God’s presence that transforms every hard place…Whatever place you’re in is a place of God. And when you’re in a place of God, you cannot displace your courage. Christ is for you, with you, in you!”

When Jesus asks the frightened men, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” he was offering the lifeline of courage. As Voskamp says, “You’ve got this—because Grace has you and Courage is in you and Christ is with you, so a tender and brazen joy could be even in this place.” Even in the storms of life, when things seem desperate, the light of the burning bush points the way and offers courage.

I think that after the storm was over, the disciples would have said a prayer of thanksgiving. Perhaps similar to this one from d365, a daily meditation, adapted from a Jewish Sabbath prayer. I offer it to you for use in your times of stress when it seems that God is absent, until you turn and discover that really God is there all along ready to speak the word of peace.

“Days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill my eyes with seeing and my mind with knowing. Let there be moments when your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which I walk. Help me to see, wherever I gaze, that the bush burns, unconsumed. And I, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness and exclaim in wonder, ‘How filled with awe is this place and I did not know it.’”
Next week is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. Where might we find burning bush moments in remembering those events? 

March 11, 2018

Burning Bush Moment: Martha

This Lent we’ve been looking at Burning Bush moments. Times when someone’s heart is changed because of an encounter with a ‘burning bush’ in the form of Jesus. Burning bushes can come in different forms. For SimonPeter’s mother-in-law it was her healing. Nicodemus faced his burning bush when he talked to Jesus. Burning bush moments transform our hearts and we are born anew.

This week, we’re looking at Martha of Bethany. Her burning bush moment came when she was frazzled and frustrated. In Luke we hear her story, “Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42)

Martha often gets pointed to as someone who couldn’t take time to be holy and pay attention to Jesus. I think rather she, like many of us, was ‘distracted by her many tasks’, and didn’t see the burning bush in front of her. As we’ve noted throughout this series, Elizabeth Barrett Browning stated, “Earth is crammed with heaven,/And every bush is aflame with God/But only those who see, take off their shoes/The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.” Martha was so busy ‘plucking blackberries’, that is doing the work of preparing for the guests, that she missed the burning bush. 

It’s easy to be so focused on getting a task accomplished that you don’t see God in the work at all. Sometimes that happens when you are doing ‘church’ work, and sometimes when you are just getting things done. The end result becomes more important than pausing to look around for a burning bush in the area that might just be pointing in a different direction. That’s what seems to have happened with Martha. She’s entirely focused on being a good (or even great) hostess and doesn’t have time to see the ‘burning bush’. Very often, burning bushes require you to look up from your work to see them. Rarely do they spring up in some ‘important’ task. You have to take the time to see the ‘bush aflame with God’.

Like Martha, we get lots of second chances from God. Sometimes an encounter with a burning bush gives you a new insight. You may understand something about your relationship with God, or simply realize that you aren’t the same person you were a couple years ago. Martha was truly changed by her encounter with Jesus and later she can proclaim, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (John 11:27)  This art by Corwin Knapp Linson shows that moment when Martha confronts Jesus. 

Our encounter with a burning bush may give us the joy of seeing what was dead brought back to life. Martha’s brother, Lazarus was dead. Then Jesus called him to come out of the grave. “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” (John 11:44) Jesus comes to our dead dreams and tells us, “unbind them and let them go”.

There is always something new waiting on the other side of a burning bush moment. For Martha it was an understanding of Jesus and God’s power. Martha was changed, just as we all are when we recognize the burning bush in our path.

When have you encountered Jesus and the Spirit’s flame and been changed, renewed, even resurrected? 

March 4, 2018

Burning Bush Moment: Nicodemus

“Earth is crammed with heaven,/And every bush is aflame with God/But only those who see, take off their shoes/The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries,” said Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Every so often we are aware when a burning bush pops up in front of us. Sometimes we have to go check to see if it’s really a burning bush or just a mirage.

Nicodemus was a ‘leader of the Jews’. He was a Pharisee, which was one of the two leading religious parties in Israel. The Pharisees were strict adherents to the Law. The other group, the Sadducees, was a bit more relaxed in observance and, even worse to some minds, they were willing to cooperate with Rome in the effort to keep the peace.

Nicodemus seems to have been more open minded than some Pharisees. He thought that just maybe the rabbi from Nazareth was a burning bush, so he went to see him. However, he was careful and went at night so his visit wouldn’t be seen by his compatriots.  

The Pharisee starts the conversation by hedging a bit. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” (John 3:2) Jesus doesn’t give him a straight answer. Often God seems to demand that we make our own decisions about faith and our response to the burning bush in front of us.

Jesus’s response, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” confuses Nicodemus. He responds, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:3-4)

It seems a logical question. Perhaps that is really what happens when we confront a burning bush moment. We are reborn just a little bit. As Jesus explains, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit…The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 5-8)
Burning bushes are like the wind, we don’t know their origin, but we experience them in our lives when we are aware that “Earth is crammed with heaven” (Browning) It can be hard to recognize the bush burning, even when it’s right in front of you, though. Nicodemus is confused, and Jesus goes on to tell him, “If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:12-16)

Then Jesus continues, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him…light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil…But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:17-21)

In the light of our burning bushes, we find that our deeds are exposed. What we see in that light may cause us to realign our priorities so that what we see is holy. Perhaps it starts with looking for the burning bushes in what we do every day. Instead of seeing endless emails as a challenge, perhaps in the light of the burning bush we can see them as opportunities to reach out in love across the internet, with uplifting and friendly responses rather than terse statements. While sitting in traffic, perhaps looking for the burning bushes and considering the humanity of those around us could help us stay calm. When faced with conflict or tragedy, perhaps we look for the burning bushes of hope. Fred Rogers is quoted as saying, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

When you look, you can see burning bushes in every situation. You can find God’s presence in all things. Let’s look for them this week. 

February 25, 2018

Burning Bush Moment: Simon's Mother-in-Law

During Lent we are looking at New Testament women and men who had a ‘burning bush’ moment. A time when they realized “Earth is crammed with heaven,/And every bush is aflame with God/But only those who see, take off their shoes/The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning) Unlike Moses in the Exodus 3 story, they do not encounter a real ‘bush [that] was on fire [but] it did not burn up’. Instead, their encounter with Jesus transformed them, just like Moses was transformed by his meeting with God at the burning bush on Horeb.

Let’s meet Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She has 3 verses in Mark and 2 in Matthew that tell the same story:

“As soon as Jesus and His companions had left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever, and they promptly told Jesus about her. So He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to serve them.” (Mark 1:29-31)

“When Jesus arrived at Peter’s house, He saw Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve them.” (Matthew 8:14-15)

She is sick, Jesus touches, or takes, her hand and she is healed. She starts making dinner. Seems very straightforward and simple. How can this be a burning bush moment?

Simon’s mother-in-law is ill and then she is well. Her life is transformed. Rather than being an invalid, she is able to rise immediately and be a good hostess. We don’t know how long she had been ill, but she must have been very sick to remain in her bed when guests arrive. Nearly every woman I know would drag herself out of bed to welcome company, unless she was deathly ill. For a First Century Jewish woman this would be even more important. It was part of the code of hospitality handed down for generations from the time the Hebrew people were nomadic shepherds. The first responsibility of any household is to welcome the stranger and the guest. 
In the painting of Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter's Wife by John Bridges, we see Jesus reaching out to the sick woman. By taking her hand, Jesus crosses a ritual boundary. She is a woman, she is a stranger to him, she is sick (and therefore ‘unclean’), yet he touches her. In that touch she experiences the ‘burning bush moment’. Jesus acknowledges her humanity and in his touch; she receives healing as well as affirmation. Jesus offers her love and she has a new heart for service.

‘She began to serve them’, or ‘minister to them’ says the Gospel record. The Greek word is diakoneó, meaning to serve or minister. There are many other places where the same word is used. One is Matthew 4:11 where we hear, after Jesus temptation in the wilderness, the ‘angels came and ministered to him’. It is also the word in Mark 10:45 when Jesus says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Simon’s mother-in-law didn’t just get up and make supper, she offered ministry. In her healing, her burning bush encounter with God, she received empowerment to minister to Jesus and his disciples. In joyful offering, she gives of herself as she provides a meal. Unlike Martha of Bethany’s initial response, she did not find the task onerous because she was serving the Lord.

Sometimes work or serving or ‘doing one more thing’ can seem like just too much. We want to crawl into bed and pull up the covers. If and when we are able to change our perspective and see the ‘burning bush’ of Christ in those we are working with and for, the task becomes ministry. We are no longer the slave to our job description, we are diakoneó, ministering and serving God in our work or conversation. We can look for God in everything we do.
As Browning states, "only those who see [the burning bush], take off their shoes/The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries." What might help you see the face of Jesus in something that is difficult and doesn't feel like ministry? Look for the burning bush moments every day. 
When have you felt that you were offering ministry to God when serving someone else, or just doing your job?

February 18, 2018

Burning Bush Moment: New Heart

Elizabeth Barrett Browning says, “Earth is crammed with heaven,/And every bush is aflame with God/But only those who see, take off their shoes/The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.” I’ve always thought that is a beautiful quote. I think that as Browning says, we encounter burning bushes a whole lot more than we know. Sometimes, of course, the sun creates real burning bushes or blazing skies (like the one below from my backyard) to remind us of that truth. At other times, the burning bush may not be as obvious. It could be something we read or see. Perhaps it is found in nature or in listening to someone’s heart cry. Burning bushes can be found as we search for answers and when we find them, and lots of other places.
When we think of burning bushes, we think of Moses, yet each of us probably comes across a burning bush, or two, every day. In Exodus 3 we hear the familiar story. “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:1-5, NIV)

Moses saw something unusual and he ‘turned aside’ as the King James Version says. It can be easy to be too busy to take the time to stop, or we may not even notice the ‘bush is aflame with God’ so we simply ‘sit around it and pluck blackberries’. When we do pause, we encounter the One who creates all things, who tells us that we are on holy ground and invites us to be part of the work of transforming the world.

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

Lent gives us a chance to allow God to work on creating new hearts that are aware of the burning bushes we pass and willing to transform the world. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:7) God is working all the time. Each day is a day of salvation, a day of new beginnings. Every day is a chance to encounter a burning bush and take the time to ‘see this strange sight’.

This Lent I invite you to meet some New Testament women and men who encountered a burning bush in the form of the Living Lord and were changed. Simon’s Mother-in-Law, Nicodemus, Martha of Bethany, and the Samaritan woman each recognized the Flame of God and were changed. They had a ‘burning bush moment’ and emerged with a new heart.

Have you ever been changed, even briefly, when you met God in a burning bush moment? 

February 11, 2018

Go Tell It: Watchman

We are coming to the end of our Epiphany exploration of the Christmas carol Go Tell it on the Mountain. We’ve seen how mountains are the perfect location for proclaiming news, and that God very often breaks into our day to day lives. It doesn’t matter if we are shepherds or CEO’s if we are aware we could feel the brush of angels’ wings and hear their song. And we’ve been reminded that just as the lowly manger held God, so our human bodies also have that image imprinted on us. Our lives are meant to seek and serve the God of Love.

The final verse of the carol Go Tell it on the Mountain says, “He made me a watchman/Upon the city wall,/And if I am a Christian,/I am the least of all.” This recalls several citations in the Bible. Ezekiel 3:17-19 says, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel…hear the word of my mount and give them warning.” Isaiah also notes, “I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem. Who shall never hold their peace day or night.” (Isaiah 62:6)

Jesus also states, “keep watch, because you do not know the day on which your Lord will come…If the owner of the house had known in which watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.” (Matthew 24:42-43)

The word ‘watch’ is derived from Old English and pertains to ‘remaining awake’. So in order to be a watch-man (or woman) you have to stay awake and alert.

It is, as Caela Wood notes in too easy to be distracted, “I have a difficult time staying present in each moment of my day. Maybe you know what I’m talking about? I wait in line to buy lunch but instead of paying attention to the room I’m in, I scroll through Facebook or respond to a text. I chop vegetables for dinner but I’m actually miles away thinking about what I need to get done tomorrow.”

She goes on to note, “those moments when I’m actually really truly there — those moments feel special. Holy. When I look at the face of someone I love and notice their smile. When I set aside my worries at bedtime and just breathe for a few moments before falling asleep. When I push my body to complete a new task that requires my full concentration. In those moments, I am Peter on the mountain with Jesus. I want to stay in the moment. It is good to be here — wherever “here” is.”

What sort of things distract you from being truly aware of what’s happening around you? Do you ever find yourself on auto-pilot during the day and wonder what happened when you were zoned out? How can you make yourself more aware of God acting in your day-to-day activities?
The Old Testament citations from Isaiah and Ezekiel insist that we should not only be awake and aware, we must also proclaim what we hear from God. We need to tell out the Good News of God. The song says, “Go, Tell It On The Mountain,/Over the hills and everywhere;/That Jesus Christ is born.”

As we head into Lent, we need to tell not just about the Birth, but also the Life and Death and Resurrection of the One we call Lord. We need to tell what God does in our lives each and every day. We can only do that when we are awake and aware of God’s actions in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

And so we come full circle and return to the proclamation in Isaiah 40:9 “You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!

How can you ‘tell the good news’? Who will you tell it to?
Next week, we’ll start a new Lent series.

February 4, 2018

Go Tell it: Seeker

For the past 3 weeks we’ve been following the shepherds as they watch their flocks, experience the touch of angel wings, and visit the ‘lowly manger’. Now, the carol Go Tell it on the Mountain invites us to personally come close and look for God in our lives.

The song says, “When I was a seeker,/I sought both night and day;/I asked the Lord to help me,/And He showed me the way.” What do we seek? How do we know when we find it?

The word ‘seek’ has been around a long time, and traces back to a Latin word sāgīre, which is to perceive by scent. We, in fact, ‘sniff out’ the answer to our quest or quandary.

Most fables and fantasy stories have at their core the idea of someone seeking. The hero or heroine is looking for a solution, or the way home, or just the answer to a quest. Those who sought the Holy Grail were seekers wanting to find the Grail and enlightenment. Dorothy in Oz is seeking a way home. Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings are seeking the way to destroy the Ring and thereby destroy the evil Sauron.

There are religious ‘seekers’ too. In the 1960’s and ‘70’s many young men and women sought ‘enlightenment’ in Eastern religious practices. Throughout the centuries, people have gone into the desert, or joined monasteries, or made pilgrimages as they seek to be more holy and to find union with God.

As Christians, we may be seeking a closer relationship with God. It may be that we are seeking the answer to what we are called to do with our life. Perhaps we seek to ‘understand all mysteries and all knowledge’ (I Corinthians 13:2) Maybe we are seeking in the wrong direction. Knowledge is not what we really should be seeking. First Corinthians 13 reminds us, “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.” (I Corinthians 13:8-13)

The song says, “I asked the Lord to help me,/And He showed me the way.” What we need to seek is Love. The way is shown by Jesus. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself,” (Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:37). Jesus was quoting, and expanding, the Deuteronomy 6:4-5 law “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” He was reminding his listeners that God is sovereign. From our loving service to God flows the ability to love and serve one another.

It is too easy for me to get caught up in words, and trying to find the knowledge and truth in them rather than the spirit of these statements. As Paul reminds us in I Corinthians “prophecies…will…end…tongues…will cease…knowledge…will come to an end.” All the ways we try to define and outline God are going to stop, leaving only us face to face with God.

George Studdard Kennedy’s poem Well tells of a soldier who dreams of coming to the ‘great white throne’. He looks into the eyes of God, which are the eyes of everyone he has known. He sees the eyes of “My wife's and a million more. And once I thought as those two eyes were the eyes of the London whore.” He is self-convicted at his callous actions and God says, “Ye did 'em all to me…For all their souls were mine.” The soldier has seen the eyes of Love and through the eyes of Love sees his life and how he has fallen short of loving his neighbor.

That’s not the end of the story. In despair, the soldier asks to go to Hell, and is told that instead he is to “Follow me on by the paths o' pain, Seeking what you 'ave seen, Until at last you can build the "Is," Wi' the bricks o' the "Might 'ave been.”

The song says, “When I was a seeker,/I sought both night and day;/I asked the Lord to help me,/And He showed me the way.” We are each called to build Now with ‘bricks of the might have been’. We are called to see the world through the eyes of Love. We are to seek to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

January 28, 2018

Go Tell It: Image

We are looking at the Christmas Carol Go Tell it on the Mountain, an old song collected and saved through the efforts of John Wesley Work, Jr. (see Jan. 7). Today we return to the manger. A place we visited just over a month ago (where has the time gone?). The song says, “Down in a lowly manger/Our humble Christ was born/And God sent us salvation,/That blessed Christmas morn.”

Have we lost our awe at the Babe in the manger? We paused briefly in our day-to-day lives to acknowledge the Word made flesh as the Infant in the manger, then it was on to the next thing. The shepherds, as we’ve seen, had a vision of angels who spoke of the wonder and sent them to Bethlehem to see the Baby.
Jesus seemed like any other baby, iconographers and Renaissance painters may have added halos to their art, but the infant in the straw was just that, an infant who cried and suckled, who slept and fussed, who needed bathed and cared for.

The writers of the Epistles remind us that the Infant was more than that, though, “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law…that we might receive our adoption as sons and daughters.” (Galatians 4:4-5). We are told that Christ “existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to cling to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7)

The lowly manger the shepherds visited held a human baby, but also held God. We should remember that when we visit the manger. We should also remember that each of us is made in the image of God. In Genesis, God says, “let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness”. (Genesis 1:26) Like the lowly manger, we hold a piece of God within our humanity. Each and every human being has the hint of God within them. Sometimes it is hard to see, and with others it shines through dramatically.

How does that image of God shine through you? Andrew Kellner, writing the January 23, 2018 meditation for says, “The fact of the matter is, if someone knows you are a person of faith, they will look at how you live and what you have to say. They will draw conclusions about your faith, your faith community, and even about God based on what they observe. We each act as prophets, people who share in speaking the message of God into the world. So what are your life, your actions, your words and language saying?”

Do you need to revisit the manger and greet anew the Infant there? Can you rediscover the awe of a child and of the shepherds who first came to the manger? Does it make you think differently about who, and Whose, you are?

Next time we consider what it means to be a Seeker. What do we seek? How do we know when we find it?

January 21, 2018

Go Tell It: Angel Wings

Last week we discovered that we are called to be on watch for God’s action in our lives and in the world. We are then to Go Tell it on the Mountain like the Christmas song says. Today, we continue with the shepherds’ experience with the announcement of Jesus’ birth.

The carol says, “The shepherds feared and trembled/When lo! above the earth/Rang out the angel chorus/That hailed our Savior's birth.” Sometimes when we are just doing what we do every day, God breaks in. We may not always hear angel choruses, but we can sense the touch of their wings.

There is another song that talks about angels among us. Surely the Presence by Lanny Wolfe  reminds us that we can see God’s glory “on each face”. There are times when we feel that “I've touched the hem of God's garment,/I can almost see God's face.
The words allude to the Gospel story (Mark 5: 25-34) of the woman who had been ill with hemorrhages for years. “If I can but touch the hem of his robe, I will be healed,” she thinks. Indeed when she touches Jesus’ clothing and is healed. Jesus knows that someone has touched him and been made whole even though, as the disciples say, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ Then the woman comes forward in fear and trembling. She is face to face with Jesus who assures her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

The shepherds were confronted by the power and love of God announcing Christ’s birth. The woman was face to face with the One who makes whole. Both were changed. The shepherds left their flocks to see what the angels were talking about and the woman returned to her community, healed and no longer unclean and rejected. When we hear the angels and see God's face, we are transformed and are again part of the community. 

As the Lanny Wolfe song notes, “In the midst of His children/The Lord said He would be./It doesn't take very many/It can be just two or three./And I feel that same sweet spirit/That I felt oft times before./Surely I can say/I've been with My Lord.” Jesus promised “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” In the group of shepherds, in the crowd of people around Jesus, and in the community that the woman was reunited with, God was present.

In our own gatherings God is there. In the Beloved Community spoken of by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., God is present. With our friends and companions and strangers we can experience the ‘touch of angel wings’ and hear the ‘angel chorus’ proclaiming ‘peace on earth’. Then we can together ‘go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere’.

When have you felt the touch of angel’s wings or heard the whisper of an angelic chorus?

January 14, 2018

Go Tell It: Watching

This Epiphany we are looking at the carol Go Tell it on the Mountain, an old Spiritual. Last week we looked at the refrain and how mountains are important in our interaction with God and in spreading the Good News.

This week, we find the shepherds who “kept their watching/Over Wandering flocks by night/Behold throughout the heavens/There shone a holy light.”

The shepherds were going about their daily work of tending their flocks. They were not expecting anything unusual to happen. We can imagine them around their fires after the sheep have been herded safely into the night enclosure. Probably they were eating and talking about family. Perhaps they were sharing a concern about some sheep who was limping or had been caught in a bush during the day.

There are lots of things we might watch for. If company is coming, we watch for their arrival. Like the shepherds, we can watch over our children or families. We may watch over our co-workers or our own work to be sure it is done correctly. Perhaps we need to watch what we say or how we do something so we don’t make a mistake.

In the Book of Habakkuk in the Bible, he says, “I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved.” (Habakkuk 2:1) Proverbs 16:17 notes, “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; he who watches his way preserves his life.

In Hebrews, we are told, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17) Jesus warns "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” (Matthew 24:42-44)  

It seems then, that one very important thing to watch for is the will of God. We should keep watch over our own and one another’s souls, and be alert for the coming of the Son of Man. We are admonished to keep watch for what God will say and be watchful on the highway of life. Sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? Luckily, we don’t have to do it alone. God is right there beside us, via the Holy Spirit, to help us keep watch.

Jesus himself promises that he will be there to guide and protect. “I am the gate for the sheep…I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture…I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me." (John 10:7, 9, 14)
Like the cat in the image (by John Henley) sometimes we have a very limited scope of vision. That is when we need to be most alert, and also the time when we can most fully depend on God’s guidance and protection.

The Shepherds in the carol, while going about their nightly duty of watching their flocks saw “throughout the heavens there shone a holy light”. We don’t know what we might see as we keep watch for God’s action in our lives and in the world. That is part of the adventure. Let’s keep watching! Then when we see what God is doing we can ‘Go tell it on the mountain”!

January 7, 2018

Go Tell It-On the Mountains

One of my favorite Christmas carols is Go Tell it on the Mountain. It was first published by John Wesley Work, Jr. in 1907. Work, born in 1871 in Nashville, TN attended Fisk University where he developed an interest in collecting Negro spirituals while studying Latin and history as well as singing in the Mozart society. Fisk University was founded in 1866 by the American Missionary Association to provide schooling for Black freedmen. Music was an important part of the curriculum from the beginning including the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Work later studied for a year at Harvard and received his Masters from Fisk University in 1898. He then began teaching Latin and Greek at Fisk University. With his brother he collected, harmonized, and published collections of slave songs and spirituals. He continued his work gathering the old songs even after leaving Fisk University in 1923. He served as president of Roger Williams University until his death in 1925.

Throughout Epiphany we’ll be looking at a verse of this song each week. The theme of the carol is to Go, Tell, which is the message of Epiphany. The refrain inspires us to

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

Mountains can be intimidating to climb and awe-inspiring to look at. Some people spend great amounts of time, and money, getting to the top of Mt. Everest or being the first to summit some other high peak. In Colorado there are a series of peaks that are over 14,000 feet high known as Fourteeners. Many hikers strive to climb one or more of these mountains. (Others of us prefer to take the road to the top for the view, like this one from Cottonwood Pass, CO, which is only a little over 12,000 feet in elevation.)

When you are on the top of a mountain, you can see for long distances. From the top of Sandia Crest in Albuquerque, you can see to Mount Taylor (over 100 miles to the west) and sometimes even further. It is no wonder that in all cultures, mountains have been regarded as the home of the gods.

There are lots of verses about Mountains in the Bible. God often meets someone on a mountain. Think of Noah, who landed on Mt. Ararat and Moses who met with God on Sinai and Horeb. Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain until restrained by God. There was Elijah who fled to the mountain of God and was there consoled and encouraged by the ‘still small voice’.

Mountains are also compared to God’s steadfast love.For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, But My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, And My covenant of peace will not be shaken," Says the LORD who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10) Psalm 95 reminds us “In [God’s] hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also.”

Jesus is tempted on a ‘high place’ to worship Satan (Luke 4:5-7). Jesus preaches on mountainsides and is transfigured on a mountain while talking to Elijah and Moses. Later, he compares mountains to faith. In Matthew 17:20 he says, “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

The refrain of our song says we should ‘go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born’. This is an echo of Isaiah 40:9 “You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’” This verse may remind you of Handel’s Messiah in which the solo uses these same words.  

We are encouraged to get out of the day-to-day valleys of life to proclaim this good news. From the heights we can see further and be heard for greater distances. We are invited to meet God in the hills, like the ancient prophets did. The song says that the Good News is to be told over the hills and everywhere.’ Sometimes it is necessary to get away from the distractions of the everyday life in order to be found by God.

How can you escape from the day-to-day valleys to find a mountain and tell the Good News?

Are there mountains you need to surmount to tell the Good News?

What does the Good News that “Jesus Christ is born” mean for you in this New Year?
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look at the Shepherds response to the announcement.