Who doesn’t love getting gifts?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” ~Ephesians 2: 8-9
Anytime I receive a gift, it is not my doing.
If I earned it, it’s called a wage.
If I deserved it, it’s called an honorarium.
Being Grandma’s favorite means getting stuff the others don’t. It’s those secret conversations that leave you holding an heirloom, an extra batch of cookies, or a crisp hundred dollar bill.
What’s incredible about Grandma’s favor is that you didn’t do anything to get it.
Well, nothing you know about. Face it.
Grandma’s grace has more to do with who you are than what you are doing.
Sure, you thought it was because you are the first one in the family to go to college…or the only grand-kid who ever goes to church… but Grandmas are far more intuitive than that. The discernment of that denizen of older age sees more with her aging eyes than your pitifully acute, young eyes ever possibly could.
Grandma sees the person you are, the one you are becoming, and who you may yet be.
So, there is this gift given. It is a sign of relationship; an expression that is both parts knowing and loving you.
A gift has nothing to do with justice. Juries deliver verdicts. Judges hand out sentences. Grandmas give gifts.
Grace is a gift. It is the favor of God bestowed for no other reason than your actually being known and loved by God.
Grandma gives you an heirloom; you treasure the legacy; preserve it and pass along its story to others.
Grandma favors you with a handmade sweater; you wear it proudly.
Grandma grants you a special batch of homemade cookies; you gobble them with yummy noises and grunts of appreciation between mouthfuls.
Grace is a gift from God. The gift says everything about the gift giver, but it is also saying something about the one receiving the gift.
It says you are loved.
And we say “I love you back” by what we do with the gift.
Gifts, after all, aren’t meant to be left in packages with pretty bows.
Gifts are given to be opened; put to use; acted on; employed.
Grace is a gift.
The question was never what did you do to deserve that?
The question has always been, what are you going to do with that?
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. ~1 Peter 4:10
Irritable Jesus isn’t someone we recognize. At least, we don’t readily envision Jesus as the short-tempered, fed-up, tired-of-people type.
The Gospels take us behind the scenes. Jesus, having a literal mountain top experience, is back home for a time.
The presence of the Divine, familiar souls..Jesus glows with exhilaration. Even the conversation sounds like party planning: his departure. This is homecoming, right?
But once the lights are turned out and the old friends are headed home, Jesus sounds anything but thrilled. His tone is scolding; His words scalding.
If the Gospels were mere hagiography, the epic hero would remain unchanged. But in a real life, like the one we read about in Scripture, real people react to bad news.
Like the news that your best friend will betray you. That your closest friends will desert you. That your enemies will shame you: mock you, spit on you , beat you. They’ll hang you naked, stuck to a post by nails, where you’ll be suffocated to death while suffering from anemia and dehydration due to blood loss, in front of loved ones, racial haters, and curious creepy types who enjoy watching people tortured.
That’s the news. That’s how you’re going out. That’s the send off from the public you loved with healing, and forgiveness, and restorative wisdom given at times you were completely exhausted or grieving the death of a close cousin.
Someone should tell God to get out of this abusive relationship.
But they’ll say they’re sorry. Sure they will. Don’t all abusers? They don’t know why they did it. They love you so much.
Here are some gifts. Will that make it better?
Take some money for missionaries.
I’ll be at church 3 times next month instead of just 1.
See, I’m over here at the service project, on a Saturday.
But then it happens again.
The cheating on God with other obsessions . The lying about it. Covering up. The rage fights. The screaming.
It’s God’s fault and God knows it!
Just stay in your place, God!
Do what you’re told!
Stay outta my business!
I’ll do what I want!
You really need to get out of this relationship, God. Humans are not good to you. Have some self respect, Most High. You need to affirm the Divine You. You deserve better…
Jesus feels it. Deeply. The anger. The confusion.
Just before the Cross moment, it’s decision time.
Are you breaking up with us, God?
Are you giving up on the marriage? Is the long, ugly separation finally going to end in divorce?
Let this cup pass from me
Only natural that God, in flesh, wants out. Who needs co-dependent, destructive, hurting relationships?
But God, divine, knows something.
Your will be done
The difference between God in an abusive relationship and you and I in abusive relationships…
We can’t change the abusive broken deceiver-hurters into new, whole, healed selves.
God says, from Calvary, “…but I can.”
9:37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.
9:38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.
9:39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.
9:40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”
9:41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”
9:42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
9:43a And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
In my tradition
wrong or right
we teach one another to
invite Jesus into your heart
into your life.
(Though it might be better said
that Jesus invites us all into His life
is a blog post for another time.)
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. ~Luke 10:38
Hospitality was the first virtue of Christendom.
It is really quite simple.
Make the stranger feel at home in your home. Put the tired traveler at ease.
But today we are terrified. Paranoid. Worried over many things.
All the doors are bolted; even the ones to our heart.
Convinced that the stranger is only after what is ours we build motels and hotels for our peers
and with our imagination play “pretend like -” to create fairy tale make believe shelters big enough for all the homeless people where taxes and charities and 1 per centers dig deep to provide food, clothes, showers. Then sleep easy in our dreamland.
The art and practice of hospitality has been lost.
the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. ~Luke 10:41
The service of hospitality.
All that was needed was for one to welcome Jesus into their home: this is heart and life.
Welcomed into the vault where we lock up all our treasures.
A beautiful sentiment lost on a generation far away from all things hospitable.
Because, how do we tell ourselves: our friends and children
Invite Jesus into your heart! Welcome Jesus into your life!
when we no longer know how to entertain a guest? what to do with the stranger?
They have no idea what inviting anyone into their life should look like.
Would Jesus even feel comfortable in your life?
Does He feel “in the way”? A bother? “Asking too much?”
How often is this guest attended to, and what is not provided or offered because of the silent politeness of the visitor?
What would a heart and life look like if we actually tried to make Jesus “feel at home”.
I think we’ve left Jesus on the front porch.
“Don’t worry. It’s screened-in. The mosquitos won’t get him.”
“We’ll bring him some iced tea and a few magazines.”
“Make yourself at home” isn’t hospitable. It’s neglect with a polite smile.
She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying…”there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” ~ Luke 10:39,42
Mary arrived early at the tomb to clean up the broken body;
wrap it with soft cloth and spice.
Jesus forbad it.
Hands off. Don’t touch.
Broken punctured twisted bloodied naked shredded skin
A glorified body
presented to God in all its brokenness
visible to friends: see my hands, my feet, my side
Don’t hold on to me, Mary.
The world must see me just like this.
You cannot clean him up, Mary.
Let’s all stop trying to wash away the blood
and spice up the body broken.
Lest we all start believing the lie that people are basically good…
That the arc of human nature bends toward justice…
It is the disfigured figure of innocence savagedly razed to life
that testifies against the human race: a depraved race.
Holy Love embodied walks on calloused heels searching out the concentration camps of the soul:
unblinded eyes see the self-haters forgiven who embrace the leprosy-free as they dance with the lame-no-more.
Only one punishment to fit this crime against humanity:
No, Mary, you cannot clean him up.
We must see Him as he is
as we made him
or we will never believe it is true –
that we are the darkness we fear
disguised as angels of light.
Creator of the universe,
you made the world in beauty,
and restore all things in glory
through the victory of Jesus Christ.
We pray that, wherever your image is still disfigured
by poverty, sickness, selfishness, war and greed,
the new creation in Jesus Christ may appear in justice, love, and peace,
to the glory of your name. Amen.*
*Revised Common Lectionary, Vanderbilt Divinity Library (online)
It isn’t as if the world had slipped out of God’s hands.
Sometimes what we react to is the sense that our hands have slipped off the wheel.
But we believe in history.
The world is not a roll of the dice
On its way toward chaos.
A new world is always emerging
Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter to Spring again.
A God who knows sorrow and pain
A God who knows what it is to have enemies and soul bonded friends
Hate failed when
You become the definitive smile for humankind.
We accept the struggles and challenges.
We march on in the moment mindful that we are exploring the future with every passing minute. And that we do not go on this journey alone.
You are with us. You are eternal.
Beyond the crushing of the day’s gravity,
There is the shout of victory when the sun goes down and we are still standing up!
So teach us to give voice
To our new life always emerging
Because the tears of stress
And the fear of the unknown will disappear
Like seasons that pass.
Like we are in the changing seasons,
You are in our changing lives
by Mark Jarman
It must be easy to preach a sermon nowadays — A friend
Sermons are easy, Turgid or breezy,
When everything goes wrong
Every scripture Leads on to rapture,
When doom has struck its gong.
When towers are falling
And muezzins are calling,
It’s simple to kneel and pray.
A message will come
To the deaf and the dumb
In an easygoing way
When nothing is certain,
Up goes the curtain
Where the inner sanctum lurks
And everyone sees
The forest and trees,
The treason and the clerks.
And so every creature
Turns to the preacher
For the meaning of it all.
And a couple of cents
Can be sheer eloquence
When the highest powers fall.
God of Hope and Peace:
Be near us.
Guard our hearts. Guard our minds. Guide our deeds.
a morning prayer
Come near, Spirit of God, and listen. Listen closely.
Listen to my whispered words, my angry rants, my quiet conversations.
Consider all the ways my mind searches for reason.
Give thought to every way my heart reaches out for purpose and meaning.
Let every thought and uttered syllable come to you, as a cry for hope, peace, mercy and help.
Let every impulsive word be my prayer. Let my careful words be a psalm.
This is how I make my prayer, in busy mornings on hectic days.
Just like this: my voice, with every inflection, however it is heard, will come to you.
In the morning, you hear me.
Stay tuned. There will be a lot more to come.
Thanks for listening.
It’s good to know someone is.
“Give ear to my words, O Lord; give thought to my heart-searchings. Let the voice of my cry come to you, my King and my God; for to you will I make my prayer. My voice will come to you in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I send my prayer to you, and keep watch.” Psalm 5:3
It is a beautiful Thursday on this 17th day of July.
Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 44. A few days ago I was 43.
Funny, I don’t feel any different. The calendar tells me something significant happened but if I didn’t have a calendar I wouldn’t have known there was anything special about that day. It just felt like another day.
Something life shaping slowly introducing changes to your life and body happens. You may not feel the difference. You might not immediately feel the change.
In prayer, a movement from this moment to that moment happens. We expect something significant is going to happen. But maybe, after the prayer has left our lips, it still just feels like another day.
When I started this week I was 43. Today I am 44. Whether I feel the change or not, something important is happening. At the very least I must introduce myself differently when asked: how old are you? In the tiniest way I am not the man I was. I am becoming someone new: new experiences and new challenges with each passing day and every passing year.
Prayer, though sacramental, is significant for us in incremental ways too.
Please receive this morning prayer for you
God who inspires change,
You know my weakness and failings, and that without Your help I can accomplish nothing for the good of souls, my own and others’. Grant me, therefore, the help of Your grace. Grant it according to my particular needs this day. Enable me to see the task You will set before me in the daily routine of my life, and help me work hard at my appointed tasks. Teach me to bear patiently all the trials of suffering or failure that may come to me today. And when I hear your voice, may I know it, listen closely to it and love it with all my heart.
In Your sacred name may it be so.
A Prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow (Eastern Orthodox)