Walking in the Jesus Way: A Lenten Journey — Day Five, First Sunday in Lent

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1 Peter 3:18-22, The Message

That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.

He went and proclaimed God’s salvation to earlier generations who ended up in the prison of judgment because they wouldn’t listen. You know, even though God waited patiently all the days that Noah built his ship, only a few were saved then, eight to be exact—saved from the water by the water. The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection before God with a clear conscience.

Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes.

Here’s a powerful word:
baptism.
No, I’m not a Baptist,

but I am a big believer in
baptism.
For any age, stage, situation.

It is a picture for me,
a powerful,
tactile,
incarnational
picture.

When the babe is doused,
or the youth immersed,
or the old man sprinkled,
we are offering our
own bodies
to the story-telling
we do.

We tell our story with our bodies,
you see.
We eat and drink,
and we get wet.
We celebrate Truth
with all of who we are.
There is a dying,
and there is a rising.
There is darkness,
and there is light.
Thus, we keep
the story going;
we tell it in our way,
in our time,
in ourselves.

 

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Undone: SheLoves — February 2018

Well. The theme this month is “hidden,’ and what came out of my fingertips surprised me. True confessions time, friends, that’s what this one is. Start here and then click over to SheLoves to finish reading and to tell me about how you choose to come out of hiding . . .

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In my therapy session this week (yes, I talk to a therapist every week, have done so for 25 years), the word that emerged was this one: ‘undone.’

Exactly right.

The entire session had felt like a chaotic purge of some sort, one story after another, tumbling out, seemingly unconnected. And yet, as she so often does, at the end of it all, my therapist said to me, “Diana, you are talking today about things that are undone, starting with yourself.”

Ouch.

SO on target, and exactly what I needed to hear. Over the course of my L O N G years of living, I have learned that it often takes this kind of unfettered babbling for the underlying truths of my life to emerge. Why? I think it’s because much of the time, we are hidden people, tucked away, even from ourselves, and turning the spigot of story-sharing to ‘on’ loosens the fences we have built. This is especially true when we are feeling under siege, which has been my default mental setting for many months now. Hard thing, after hard thing, after hard thing — and as I have struggled to make sense of it all, I retreat behind this huge, self-protective bunker.

Sometimes that kind of hidden is a good and necessary thing. When life goes crazy, we need to marshal our resources and hunker down. Pulling in every excess emotion and lining them up in a safe place enables us to more forward, offer help, stand next to others who are fighting similar battles.

But in the long haul, remaining hidden becomes a liability, not an asset. We need to come out from behind the barricade and take a good, long look at everything that is happening — outside of us and inside of us. And for me, this week, that meant admitting that way too many things in my life are in a state of undone-ness.

There are at least two ways to define that word, seems to me. Undone in the sense of incomplete, and undone in the sense of unraveled. Both are true for me — and my guess is, for most people — at multiple points along this journey called life. There are projects to complete, relationships to tend, ideas to make real. And then, there are people in terrible trouble, decisions that cause chaos, and situations that appear hopeless.

Incomplete and unraveled, yea and amen. That is me right now. . . 

Follow this link to continue reading and to join the conversation . . .

Journey’s End! Christmas Day

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Luke 1:46b-55, NRSV

And Mary said,

“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 forever.”

Yesterday’s reading is the more common one for Christmas morning, but this year, we have the Magnificat. And it is so appropriate! This beautiful song/prayer, sung/offered by that young mother-to-be — it’s remarkable on so many levels. She sings of things turned upside-down — and that is exactly what her baby boy came to do, isn’t it? To turn this world around, to make us think and act and live differently, to help us look out for one another and to praise God for his goodness and mercy. May it be so!

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!!

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Twenty-Five — Fourth Sunday of Advent

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Luke 1:26-38, NRSV

In the sixth month 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. And 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. The angel said to her, “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.” 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 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.” Then 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.

This is it, friends. The beautiful story we celebrate every year. Take some time this morning to read it through — to mark down your own favorite phrases, the ones that catch your heart or make you wonder. Then ask God to give you some small shaft of new insight and understanding sbout the miracle that is the incarnation. What a crazy idea! God become human, entering into our messy world, becoming small, small, small. 

Oh, thank you, Jesus, for cramming your magnificence into the size of a zygote, for entering the womb of young Mary, for being born into poverty and exile, for living an itinerant yet richly-layered life, for dying in misery and for rising in glory. Hallelujah, hallelujah!

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Twenty-Four

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Judges 13:2-24, NRSV

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean,for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” Then the woman came and told her husband,“A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; but he said to me, ‘You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.’”

Then Manoah entreated the Lord, and said, “O Lord, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born.” God listened to Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “The man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” Manoah got up and followed his wife, and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.”  Then Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the boy’s rule of life; what is he to do?” The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her.She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine. She is not to drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. She is to observe everything that I commanded her.”

Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “Allow us to detain you, and prepare a kid for you.” The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat your food; but if you want to prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the Lord.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of theLord.) Then Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?” But the angel of theLord said to him, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful.”

So Manoah took the kid with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to him who works wonders. When the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground.The angel of the Lord did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Then Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” But his wife said to him, “If theLord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.

Many years ago, before I ever entered seminary, before I became a pastor, I wrote a series of small, one-act, readers’-theater versions of several OT stories. This was one of my favorites. I mean, just read it! This woman is the hero of the entire drama, and she is never even named. NEVER EVEN NAMED.

For all of history, she remains, “Manoah’s wife.”

And Manoah? What a dunce! She tells him what’s happened to her and his feathers are ruffled. “Why didn’t that man come to ME? I’m the man of the house!” And then he doesn’t believe what she tells him.

So the angel comes again and decides to depart in a particularly dramatic way. FINALLY, Manoah understands that his wife was right all the time. She did have a visit from a messenger of God. SHE, not he.

Seems to me that the messengers of God have a partiality for women during this Advent season. 

Thank you, Lord God, for all the nameless women who have gone before us, who have been faithful, who have seen you, active in their lives. Thank you for their witness, even without being named. And help us, with the increased power and recognition that has been gained over time, help us women of today to be as faithful and true as this one was. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Twenty-Three

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2 Samuel 6:12-19, NRSV

It was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

So . . . why is this passage among our readings for Advent? I’m not entirely sure! But I’ll tell you what percolates in my mind as I read it: dancing for joy. What does that look like? What does that feel like?

Michal, Saul’s daughter and one of David’s wives, didn’t like the look of it at all. And there is something very important about her inclusion in this story, I think. She didn’t approve of her husband’s semi-nakedness, nor of his exuberance. Approval  . . . such a strange idea. If God approves — and clearly God does — then what right does Michal have to do otherwise? 

We can fall into her trap so easily! Someone gets a little too agitated, too noisy, too revelatory in some way — and we pull into ourselves, noses in the air, and decide that kind of behavior is somehow beneath us.

Well . . . maybe not.

How differently this story might have unfolded if Michal had gone out and joined her husband in praising God for the safe arrival of the Ark of the Covenant! How might the troubled family dynamics that were yet to come have been ameliorated if Michal had entered into her marriage relationship with her whole self? We will never know  . . . but, I wonder. I wonder.

Lord, keep me from becoming Michal in any way! Help me to let go of my need to offer either approval or disapproval for anyone else’s behavior/decisions/actions. Keep my eyes and my heart focused on you, always looking for reasons to dance for joy, to lift my hands in praise. Keep me limber, open, and in tune with joy.

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Twenty-Two

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Hebrews 1:1-4, NRSV

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Somehow, this photo seemed appropriate for the reading today. It was taken on the first day of the Thomas fire and has a slightly apocalyptic feel to it. And there is a very real way in which the first coming of Jesus into this world was its own kind of apocalypse!

Before Jesus, we had the prophets to speak of God to us. Now, we have Jesus, who IS God. “The exact imprint of God’s very being,” the author of Hebrews tells us. Could it be any more clearly stated? If we want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. If we want to know how we should live, look at Jesus.

Look at Jesus.

That’s what Christmas, Advent, LIFE is all about.

Lord God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit — teach us to look to Jesus. Always and only. Amen.

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Twenty-One

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Mark 9:9-13, The Message

Coming down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. “Don’t tell a soul what you saw. After the Son of Man rises from the dead, you’re free to talk.” They puzzled over that, wondering what on earth “rising from the dead” meant.

Meanwhile they were asking, “Why do the religion scholars say that Elijah has to come first?”

Jesus replied, “Elijah does come first and get everything ready for the coming of the Son of Man. They treated this Elijah like dirt, much like they will treat the Son of Man, who will, according to Scripture, suffer terribly and be kicked around contemptibly.”

Peterson, once again, nails it. The scene for this small interchange is the Mount of Transfiguration and those three close disciples have just seen something that made the eyes bug out of their heads. And then . . . Jesus orders them to shut up about it. Say what? We just saw you shining like lightening and Elijah and Moses coming alongside, having a little sidebar with you, and now we cannot talk about it?? Exactly.

Mark has Jesus tell his disciples to keep quiet frequently. Scholars call it “the Messianic secret,” and it’s an interesting part of Mark’s viewpoint. Clearly, they don’t keep all those secrets terribly well, do they? And they don’t understand Jesus’s logic for this particular secret-keeping at all. Rising from the dead? What the heck does that mean?

But they found out, didn’t they? And then all those other warnings came flooding back, all those secrets — the ones they kept and the ones they didn’t — and they began talking about them and writing them down. So now, we have them. Isn’t that wonderful? 

Personally, I think Jesus still shows up secretly. A lot. In the midst of ugliness, suddenly there is a spot of beauty. In the midst of despair, there is a shaft of hope. Just glimpses, that’s usually all we get. But eventually, those glimpses will grow and grow and grow, until the time is here when ALL will be revealed. That’s what Advent is about, you know. Yes, we wait for the baby. But we wait for the Risen Savior, too. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Help us to wait well, Lord. Help us to look for you in the secret places  you show up between now and then. And open our hearts and our arms to those small moments of grace, goodness, beauty and love that make life worth living. Help us to bring them as well as to see them, Lord God. Make us hope-bringers and love-givers.

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Twenty

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Acts 3:17—4:4

 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’ And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

I gotta admit — it’s not feeling like we’ve lived up to this promise in Acts very well. Are ‘all nations of the earth’ blessed because of us, the church, those who follow after Jesus? That’s what’s supposed to happen, but . . . does it?

Sometimes, yes, sometimes, not so much. And sometimes, not at all.

We are called, we are designed, to be bringers of blessing, not curse — harbingers of hope, not despair. So, let’s be who we’re supposed to be, whaddya say? Wherever you go this day, see if you can keep that idea at the front of your heart and mind: I’m meant to be a bringer of blessing. So, the checker at the grocery store, the clerk at the coffee shop, the guy in the cubicle next to you, the students you teach, or the teachers from whom you learn — are they blessed by your presence with them, even if it’s momentary?

Are others blessed by my presence? 

Good questions to ask as we draw ever nearer to Christmas.

Good questions to ask all through the year, too.

Lord, help me to be a person who blesses others. Keep my lips from criticism — and even my face, Lord. Keep me from scowling, eyebrow-raising, lip-pursing. May my presence be benign and welcoming, wherever I find myself throughout each day, Lord. Thank you!

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Nineteen


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Psalm 125, The Message

Those who trust in God
are like Zion Mountain:
Nothing can move it, a rock-solid mountain
you can always depend on.
Mountains encircle Jerusalem,
and God encircles his people—
    always has and always will.
The fist of the wicked
will never violate
What is due the righteous,
provoking wrongful violence.
Be good to your good people, God,
    to those whose hearts are right!
God will round up the backsliders,
corral them with the incorrigibles.
Peace over Israel!

Oh, I hope I’m like a mountain! That’s a great word picture for faithfulness, isn’t it? Immovable, dependable, sturdy. Yet even mountains are not impervious to harm. We’ve watched our beloved Santa Ynez mountains come under attack these last days, fire racing in every direction, leaving scars that will last for decades.

But they still stand. YES. They still stand.

Beaten, but not bowed. Wounded, but not dissolved.

Soon, I hope, I will see them again from my perch by the window where I write. I’m not sure I realized how much I depend on that view to anchor me as I work. They are there — but I can no longer see them. At all.

I trust they remain, and that someday soon, the fresh sea breeze will blow all this smoke and ash away and my view will be restored. Yet, even when I cannot see their outline . . those mountains are there, standing tall. So, I pray that I’ll stand tall, too. And you, wherever  God has placed you — that  you will stand tall, no matter what. 

Help us, O God of Zion, help us to be mountains for you. Unshakeable, immovable, faithful, dependable. Thank you for these words, for this picture of commitment, and for the psalmist’s reminder that YOU encircle us, even as mountains encircle cities. Thank you!