Category Archives: Biblical Reflection

A Disturbed Perspective

[I’ll move on to humor, the third pillar, in a few days. Today calls for perspective and humility. With heavily armed people patrolling the streets, peaceful protesters willing to risk gathering in large groups in this time of Covid-19, and opportunists taking advantage of it all to rob and destroy, it’s time for a wider, Biblical perspective. ]

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” John 11:49-53, NRSV

Taking a wider view, a longer look, can be a very good thing. It helps us put the troubles of today into a larger context, and it can move us from knee-jerk reacting to measured response. But that’s only if we are willing to see our own shortcomings in the process. Otherwise, taking a wider view is really just seeking wider justification for whatever it is we want to do.

Caiaphas is a good example. He spoke the truth: The love Jesus gave to the world, and the death he received in return, had powerful, holy consequences. But Caiaphas wasn’t really looking at that: he was a practical man, doing his best to maintain some freedom of worship during Roman occupation. Killing Jesus would keep the peace, and keep his world in its current state. The point wasn’t spiritual growth or sacrificial love for the world. He was willing to kill to maintain what he had.

I’m not comparing anyone today to Jesus. But in the willingness of this country to deny or try to explain away the toxic and deadly presence of racism in order to keep things as they are, I see the face of Caiaphas. The question isn’t whether the death of someone can bring about a better world – or it shouldn’t be. The question is whether it’s at someone else’s expense, or my own willing sacrifice. The means do not justify the ends.

There are so many words on this in our holy scriptures, and so many people who have done their best to point out this truth. They even have a special name: prophets. May we listen to them with open hearts and minds – and be willing to speak and act accordingly.

Disturbed, The Sound of Silence, Immortalized, 2015, Reprise Records (original version, Simon and Garfunkel)

Breathing Room

I Can’t Breathe.

These aren’t words spoken in jest, they are a cry for help. They were the last words of George Floyd, but weren’t lost when his life was taken. I CAN’T BREATHE speaks to more than loss of oxygen: it is just as true when someone’s intrinsic worth is denied because of the shade of their skin, their gender, sexuality, abilities, or any number of other reasons. I can’t breathe too often is a communal truth,  still true a hundred plus years beyond emancipation, sixty some-odd years after Civil Rights legislation. Potential is smothered, talents choked, and the whole world is the lesser for it. This isn’t a problem for a specific group of people, it’s an infection that destroys the humanity of those who are held down and the ones hate-filled enough to do the holding.

There’s nothing in these words that is new, but perhaps there’s something new in the air we all breathe. It cost a man his life, it cost the world his gifts and his love. But just maybe such a loss opened up the space for real change. I hope so. After all, the Spirit is the Breath of God. When we asphyxiate those we consider outsiders, we close our lungs and souls to the Spirit.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:21-22, NRSV

Kyrie, Mr Mister; RCA; December 21, 1985; Richard Page, Steve George, John Lang (writers)

How I Pray

in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

One of my favorite quotes about hope is from Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners magazine, who defined it as …believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change. This prayer of Brooks’, while full of requests, is full of hope. How I pray may be more important than the words. If I pray with little expectation, that will be granted; with little hope, I probably won’t be disappointed in the results. If I pray, hopeful of its coming into the reality of my life, I won’t be disappointed, either. Let me pray it and watch the evidence change, believing what the strong Deliverer said several times in several ways in the Gospels – ask for it in my name and it will be given.

Offered by Bill Albritton, teacher, writer, speaker, and seeker.

Some New Vision

Monotony. It’s waking up at the same time every day to do the same tasks in the same places in the company of the same people. Same old, same old; familiarity breeds contempt; blah, blah, blah. Even the Bible gives a nod to this truth – there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9b)

All of those things are true, but true in a very specific way. It isn’t the world that offers nothing new: it’s my perspective. If I look upon the world with jaundiced eye and paltry imagination, wonders and signs will be invisible. Phillips Brooks knew this. He didn’t ask God to produce new wonders: he asked God for corrective lenses for his myopia.

May I be as wise in my prayer requests.

O God: Give me strength to live another day; Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties; Let me not lose faith in other people; Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness; Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them; Help me keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity; Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things; Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth; Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness; and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls; in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

For Today, found on the back inside cover of Forward Day by Day (Forward Movement, Cincinnati, OH; www.forwardmovement.org)

 

Clean Hearted

Help me to keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity.

Being honest isn’t the same thing as living honestly; the first is a matter of telling the truth, the second is living the truth of who we are when who we are may not seem like such a grand truth. It takes courage to attempt, and stamina to sustain because judgement and rejection are coming our way. It’s tempting to hide behind a false self – at least then, the inevitable judgement and rejection may not be quite as devastating.

But if we want to live a joyful life, or any kind of life at all worthwhile, we have to fess up to who we truly are. When we do, we just might find that falling short and failing aren’t as devastating as we thought…

God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Ps. 51:10 The Message

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Ps. 51:10, NRSV

 

 

Like a Child

At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 

If I’m asking where I am in the running for heaven’s #1, I reveal my willingness to consign others to a lesser eternity. What a terrible and terribly childish view of heaven to hold. As if any of us is loved less by God.

He called a child, who he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

This isn’t a statement of divine punishment or exclusion. The kingdom of heaven is wherever we fall into the limitless love God offers us. We consign ourselves to a self-constructed and self-chosen hell whenever we try to make heaven a prize to win or a goal to achieve.

Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 18:1-4 NRSV

Heaven is the home where we are always welcome. Like any child, we just have to know enough to go home.

[Eric Clapton, My Father’s EyesPilgrim, Ocean Way and Olympic Studios, February 9,1998. ]

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.

Is my word good?

And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, “I’ll pray for you,” and never doing it, or saying, “God be with you,” and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong. [The Message, Eugene Peterson, trans., Matthew 5:34-37]

Fidelity to every trust

Am I as good as my word? Not always.

If I commit to something, do I follow through? Not without exception, and sometimes begrudgingly.

Today, I will do my best to honor God’s gift of the people I meet, speak to, and think of. I’ll do my best to love the world and put in the work to leave it a better place. I won’t kid myself or others by shifting the blame to God or covering up the my shortcomings with church words or theatrics.

[For the complete prayer, click A Morning Resolve above.]

Anxiety

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking.

Anxiety is trusting that something horrible is waiting just around the next corner. It doesn’t rely on current circumstances, and is deaf to the voices of hope and reason. It requires no particular hardship, and is the constant companion of an amazingly diverse group of people. It steals life’s laughter and joy. It is the pandemic that disturbs sleep, churns the stomach, and constricts both heart and lungs. It may not bring death, but it certainly diminishes life.

I think anxiety is a symptom of something much deeper, like the fever and chills that come with the flu. It grows from my deep fear that I might end up someplace where even God cannot find me. I wonder: can I ever be so lost and alone in the universe, that no one can bring me home?

Until I am ready to ask God this question, I’m unable to hear the answer, and anxiety invades my life. Once I give voice to my deep fear, I can hand my anxiety over to God. It will be returned to me, transformed into something just as immune to current circumstances: peace.

The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:5b-7, NRSV)

[For the complete prayer, click A Morning Resolve above.]

 

 

 

Without Darkness

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
[Isaiah 9:2-7]

Darkness. Deep darkness. Yoke of burden. Rod of oppressor. Boots of tramping warriors. Garments rolled in blood. These are not the words we want to hear on Christmas Eve. So often, they are edited out of this passage, so it jumps from a cursory acknowledgement of darkness becoming light to the wonder of a child given to us. We’d prefer it that way, I think. It is easier to avoid all that other stuff. We want to focus on the good stuff, especially on Christmas Eve.

And yet. How can we yearn for light if there is no darkness? How would we even know what light is? Even more, how can we know that we need a savior if we are not burdened, oppressed, trampled upon and bloodied. How would we even know what a savior is?

The key to the preparation we need during Advent is coming to grips with those things we wish were not a part of our living. We need four weeks to overcome our natural resistance to this task because it is something we would rather not do. Christmas Eve is an important time, perhaps the most important time to be in touch with these difficult realities. This, of course, does not mean that we do not experience hope, peace, love and joy throughout our lives. We do. And it is a great blessing. But that is only part of the story. There is darkness in the world. There is also darkness in our own spirits. If we don’t acknowledge that truth, we cannot truly appreciate our need for a savior. If we cannot acknowledge that truth, we can never truly experience that fullness of the wonder that comes to us on Christmas Day.

On this last day of Advent let us acknowledge the darkness in our living. When we are able to do that, we are at last ready to welcome the birth of the one who truly is a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Prince of Peace. When we are able to do that, we are ready to receive that Savior whose gracious, loving, redeeming presence with us we celebrate on Christmas Day.

Offered by Jeff Jones, pastor, author, walking home to Bethlehem.

[Four Rowhouses, 2018-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

ADVENT 2019

Readings: Luke1:46b-55; 2 Samuel 7:18, 23-29; Galatians 3:6-14

Ages reaching down to present.

All knowing seeking innocence.

Awaiting fulfillment of the Word,

generations to come and kingdoms

teeter on the brink of the response.

The complex mystery of the Alpha and the Omega

bending to purity and simplicity.

Combined breath of universe

and totality of holiness,

in stillness and silent reverence

listen for her answer……

and in a moment for all time,

in complete surrender to love,

She replies, “Yes……

Be it done to me according to Your Word.”

And we are forever changed….Peace has arrived.

Offered by Debbie Hill, artist, poet, musician, walking home to Bethlehem. 11/04/2019

[Four Rowhouses, (2018-2019) Colin Fredrickson, artist]