Pondering for Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Wednesday of Proper 21: Year 2

Psalms 101, 109,  119:121-144; Hosea 4:11 to 19Acts 21:15 to 26Luke 5:27 to 39

“After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.” (Acts 21: 19)

Sometimes, in the English language, we lose who we are talking about. The, “his ministry,” could very well mean God’s ministry.  Paul will claim it as his, (Paul’s),  ministry in the eyes of most scholars but I believe all ministry is God’s ministry through Christ Jesus.  When Paul was first commissioned in Chapter 9, the Risen Lord Jesus said, “But the Lord said to (Ananias), ‘Go, for Saul; (later Paul) is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9: 15).

The people to whom Paul is speaking also recognize that there is more to what Paul is doing and saying than Paul himself.  For, “When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20).  We like to be proud of what we are doing in God’s Name, but we must remember that it is God’s Holy Name that empowers us to do what we do.

I have recently had a lay person preach for the first time at his church.  We talked that night after he had time to reflect.  He tried to give me accolades for what he thought I did for him through four years of Education for Ministry.  I had to remind him that what he did in his wonderful sermon was in him all along.  He only needed to learn how to be open to God. 

God just wants to work through us, for us.  We all have a piece of God within us.  I think clergy today, even like Paul in his day, do the work of God and cause the people of the world to open themselves up to the wonders of God in order that we too might “do the things done among the Gentiles, that is, all people, through [God’s] ministry.”  Therefore  I say to you reading this blog, (clergy or not), settle down, feel God working through you, and then, by word and deed, do the ministry of God.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to, and through, the saints of God, and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do. John    

Pondering for Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Tuesday of Proper 21: Year 2

 Psalms 97, 99, [100] 94, and [95]; Hosea 4:1 to10Acts 21:1 to 14Luke 5:12 to 26

“Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” (Luke 5: 12)

Therein lies our biggest dilemma.  What does our Lord Jesus choose to do?  Many of us want to be made well.  For many of us, our emotional troubles are as obvious as the physical sores of leprosy.  When we pray, do we even think of the possibility that our Lord Jesus might not choose?

The man with leprosy expressed his humility by first bowing down to the ground.  This is an outward and visible sign of his totally giving up of himself to Jesus. He said to Jesus, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” The man held nothing back, knowing full well that it was totally up to Jesus. Jesus was so moved by the man’s surrender that he actually reached out and touched the man.  Perhaps, in more ways than one, he probably touched his heart also.  And when Jesus saw the man’s complete handing over his life to God he had compassion for him and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him.” (Luke 5: 13)

Today we don’t have to lie down prone, prostrating ourselves in such a physical way, although I know of at least one monastic order that does this as a part of taking their vows. But we are still required to give up ourselves totally to God.  And we must understand that God may not choose to cleanse us in this mortal life.  But let us not be so concerned about a mortal cleansing.  Instead, let us be more concerned about eternal salvation, that is, the immortality that is to come through faith.

Eternal salvation means being in Paradise with our Lord and savior Jesus Christ for timelessness.  This is what we really want, and it is what we really want our Lord Jesus to choose.  How welcome will be the words from our Lord Jesus when he says, “I do choose.” Thank You Lord Jesus.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to, and through, the saints of God, and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Monday, September 28, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Monday of Proper 21: Year 2

Psalm 89: Hosea 2:14 to 23Acts 20:17 to 38Luke 5:1 to 11

“You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions.”  (Acts 20:34)

I think Paul sets the example for all people in any ministry in these words, that is, to work a regular job and still study and educate people in the way of the Lord and in the teachings of the Gospel.  This message is not just for officially ordained persons, it is for those of us who feed the homeless; for those of us who weave prayer shawls; for those of us who have a ministry of driving people to pick up their meds; for those of us who teach Sunday School, and yes, for those of us who are also ordained clergy.

I am aware that in a large main line Christian denomination, parishioners as well as the clergy themselves, insist on being single minded in their vocation as pastor.  When I told my spiritual advisor, while in seminary, that I desired to be a “working priest,” he honestly told me that if he was on a search committee he would not even consider me for a clergy position.  That was 2004.

Today, as the Episcopal Church is reinventing itself, the idea of the working priest, or “bi-vocational” priest, is definitely on the table for consideration, especially for our smaller parishes.  There are more benefits to this idea than one might think.  How nice it is to stand before people on Sunday morning conducting the service and your congregants are well aware that you too have worked the whole week just as they have.  And, that working priest then demonstrates pledging and giving to the poor as well.  Paul also says in our reading for today, “In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:36)

I think that people who work in needed secular occupations have an opportunity to compliment their own lives by also participating in various Christian ministries.  It should not be one in place of the other.  This should be both/and, not, either/or.  Perhaps the only exception should be a bishop who is the chief pastor of a diocese, which by is size and nature, becomes his or her primary vocation.  But even to this occupation they might be inclined to teach a Christian Education class as a side contribution.

We all should work in community for the maintenance of that community.  A smart person once told me that “everybody can’t be in the cart, somebody is going to have to get out and help push.” Paul says, “You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions.”  I think these two messages are the same.  Proclaiming the Word should be in addition to work, not instead of work.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to, and through, the saints of God, and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Sunday, September 27, 2020

Part 1 of 2

Daily Office Readings for Sunday of Proper 21: Year 2

 Psalms 66, 67; and 19, 46 Hosea 2:2 to14James 3:1 to13Matthew. 13:44 to 52

“But no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”  (James 3:8 to 10

As wild as the tongue is, it rarely says anything that was not first born in the heart or mind. The tongue, like the hands, can only follow the management of the heart and mind.  What is key here, is, what do we want? Do we want to be fair and loving or not?  We, without God, are not able to change our hearts no matter how much we want to do or say the right things.  This saying and doing will be examined further in part 2 of today’s Ponder.  For now I remember our Sunday opening Collect where we read, “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP 355)

Part 2 of 2

Eucharistic New Testament Readings for Sunday of Proper 21: Year A

Philippians 2:1-13 and Matthew 21:23-32

“Which of the two did the will of the father? (Matthew 21:31).

As I ponder these two sons I try to be as objective as I can, even in spite of the heavy influence by the evangelist.  Matthew says the first son, changed his mind and did the work he said he would not do.  For the second son the evangelist implies that he just lied about his intentions and never intended to do the work in the first place.  So I give the benefit of doubt to both.  Perhaps the second son changed his mind also.  Maybe he truly intended to do the work but later he too, changed his mind. 

The bottom line here, no matter which way we look at it, is, “Which of the two actually did the will of the father?”  The key word here is “did” the will of the father, not just said they would or would not do it.  I have a quote from Mark Twain where he says “Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.”  I really do believe we speak more accurately with our actions.  But is such accuracy a good thing?  Ponder this please and ask our Lord Jesus for help.  He is waiting.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to, and through, the saints of God, and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Saturday, September 26, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Saturday of Proper 20, 2020:Year 2

Psalms 87, 90; and 136; Hosea 1:1-2:1Acts 20:1-16Luke 4:38-44

“After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia.  When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece” (Acts 20:1 and 2).

To encourage a person is to build their self esteem.  It is to make them confident in their vocation, occupation, faith, and civic duty. In this reading Paul encourages his disciples and others as he travels. First, he encourages his disciples, and then he encourages the people of Macedonia.  He is full of the “lifting up” language.

We have so many people around us everywhere today that need encouragement.  This encouragement does not mean only saying nice things to people who agree with you.  It means giving hopeless people hope.  I am again reminded of a poor woman who came to our parish while I was leading a meeting.  I excused myself to let the woman know that I couldn’t see her at the moment but shortly I would be able to attend to her.  In her urgency, she asked “has this church ever “hoped” anyone.”  I was confused at first.  I then realized that she was using an improper past tense of the word “help.”  She wanted to know if we had ever helped anyone before. Apparently she didn’t want to wait for me if we didn’t tend to help, particularly financially.  As it turned out she did not stay.  But her word did stay with me.

We Christians are to “hope” the hopeless.  Hope is not a verb, at least in its normal use.  But I would like to change that.  Can we not hope people?  By this I mean encourage people; give people hope.  Remember, we should not look for like-minded people.  Let’s restrict our encouragement to only those who are human and created in the universal and internationally diverse Image of God. Let’s lift them up, encourage them, and give them hope. Amen.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to, and through, the saints of God, and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Friday, September 25, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Friday of Proper 20: Year 2

Psalms 88 91, and 92:  Esther 8:1 to  8, and 15 to 17; or Judith 13:1 to 20Acts 19:21to 41; and  Luke 4:31 to 37

“If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another. If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’ When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.”  (Acts 19: 38 to 41)

The unnamed “town clerk” calls for order and rational conduct in accordance with established protocols. Perhaps he is concerned for property and people on both sides of the argument. 

Currently, in the United States of America, we are struggling with a Covid 19 pandemic, our West Coast that is on fire,  our Gulf Coast hit with the most hurricanes in recorded history; a very divisive political polarization,  and on top of all this, we are struggling with issues of racial disparities between police and people of color.  Where is our “town clerk?”

The better question should be, where are our clergy?  Ouw!, that’s me.  Like the town clerk, clergy are called to be outside of the political fray and seek order and peaceful resolutions. Clergy must also remember, and be an advocate for all sides of human oppression or discrimination.  Sure, let us be there for minorities and women, but we must also advocate for white men and police persons too.  Too often in our zeal for corrective action we allow the pendulum to swing too far to the other side. 

Maybe more attention should also be given scientific evidence regarding climate change.  This subject should not be considered a political agenda, but rather, and earth agenda. The town clerk in our Acts reading is one of their own but takes a stand in order to calm things down.  Today, in America, people are protesting which too often morphs into rioting that destroys family businesses.  The town clerk tells his own people that “we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.”  Maybe I should be doing more of this kind of work.  Town clerk or town clergy, more of us need to step up and take a stand against rioting and vandalism. As I write these words I will ponder more deeply what the Holy Spirit of God is saying to me about these matters. I invite you to do the same.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to, and through, the saints of God, and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Thursday, September 24, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Thursday of Proper 20: Year 2

Psalms [83] or 146, 147, 85, and 86: Esther 7:1 to 10 or Judith 12:1 to 20Acts 19:11 to 20Luke 4:14 to 30

“Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, ‘Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.’ And the king said, ‘Hang him on that” (Esther 7:9), and:

 “She [Judith] came close to his bed, took hold of the hair of his head, and said, ‘Give me strength today, O Lord God of Israel!’ Then she struck his neck twice with all her might, and cut off his head” (Judith 13: 7 and 8).

I have deliberately skipped over the Esther and Judith readings these past days for two reasons.  The first, is that I am so fascinated with what was happening in the Acts of the apostles.  The second, is that I wanted to wait until the climatic parts of these two Hebrew women’s stories came into view; the parts where they cause the destruction of evil men. I did skip ahead with Judith.  The part that I share from Judith today is actually from tomorrow’s reading of Judith.  But I wanted to bring these two stories together to show these two faithful and powerful women.

Sometimes we overlook how God works through us in sometimes wrathful ways.  Haman (Esther) and Holofernes (Judith) were self-serving men of position.  Interestingly, there are other-serving  eunuchs (considered less than men due to their mutilation), in both stories.  These eunuchs play important roles in the fulfillment of God’s wrath.

We tend to play to our strengths, sometimes as if we had no weaknesses. But we do indeed.  And God is aware of our weaknesses.  Arrogance blinds us to our weaknesses.  Often God uses those, thought to be weak by our calculations, to illumine for us our short comings; our weaknesses. I don’t think such illumination is always to our death, but it is often emotionally painful. We should use such occasions as growth moments.

Esther, Judith and their respective eunuchs are examples of God using the weak to overcome the strong.  These stories are similar to the David and Goliath story of 1 Samuel 17.  God is never concerned about human strength, position or power.  God loves us and God wins every time.   

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to, and through, the saints of God, and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  John

Pondering for Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Wednesday of Proper 20: Year 2

Psalm 119:97 to 120;and  Psalms 81and 82; Esther 6:1 to 14 or Judith 10:1 to 23Acts 19:1 to 10;and  Luke 4:1 to 13

“He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.” (Acts 19: 8 and 9)

Paul shows that there are some people that just won’t believe. And we know that this is still true today.   The only thing we can do in such a situation is leave.  I would add that we should still keep them in prayer.  But is serves no good purpose to stay and argue for the sake of arguing.

This type of arguing brings up another important problem to deal with.  And that is, the “speaking evil of,” about the Way.  I think is okay to “not agree,” but why do people then have to demean those whom they don’t agree with?  I think it was Patrick Henry or Evelyn Beatrice Hall,  who said, “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Regardless of who first said it, the greater point is the respect of the speaker without a sense of contempt for the speaker.  I often tell my listeners that whatever they believe, it is what it is for right now.  In an hour, or a year, it could change or evolve.  It has, and continues to do so for me.  We are all a work in progress. We must be patient and respectful of one another.  We are all created in the Image of God. 

Like Paul and his disciples, we can take our arguments elsewhere and continue.  I really like being a citizen of these United States.  Sometimes I forget that we are a country of united STATES. That means that different states have different values and priorities.  And even those priorities and values change over time.  We can stay where we are and strive for incremental change and improvement, or we can move to where likeminded people already live.  We are a free country under one federal system where our vote rules.  We elect our state governors, representatives and senators based on the majority of our values and then continue to argue for an even better life.  We don’t all agree on any particular issue but hopefully, we don’t, (or will stop), lowering ourselves to demeaning, or speaking evil of, those who differ from us.  We must be open to God appearing in them, and in their words also.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to, and through, the saints of God, and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  John

Pondering for Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Tuesday of Proper 20, Year 2

 Psalm 78;  Esther 5:1 to14 or Judith 8:9 to17, 9:1, 9 to7-10Acts 18:12 to 28Luke 3:15to 22

“He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.  And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.” (Acts 18: 26 to 28)

Apollos spoke boldly in the synagogue but with limited and incorrect understanding.  However, he was smart enough to listen to good counsel.  We all could benefit from the example of Apollos.  If we think we know it all and are opposed to listening to others, we could err in our speaking and in some cases, do more harm than good.

Perhaps the best way to practice our faith is to live a life of life-long learning.  I know that for me, seminary showed me how much I did not know. Since seminary I have continued in my theological studies.  Education for Ministry (EfM), a program of study from the School of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, continues to be a good source of Christian education for me. While EfM is a four year program, I am an EfM mentor and therefore I continue to learn every year as I mentor participants in the program.  Also, clergy conferences, and Bible studies as well as one on one dialogue with people who God puts in my path, helps me to learn more and more. 

All of this informs my understanding of what God is doing in the world, and in my own life.  I just have to follow Apollos’ example and listen to the people God sends to me.  How about you?

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to and through the saints of God, and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Monday, September 21, 2020

Part 1 of 2

Daily Office Readings for Monday of Proper 20:Year 2

 Psalms 80 77, [79]: Esther 4:4 to 17 or Judith 7:1 to 7 and 19 to 32Acts 18:1 to 11; and Luke (1:1-4),3:1-14

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”  (Acts 3: 1 and 2)

 Wow!, Really? Look at all the prestigious titles of human achievement exhibited here.  We have the Emperor of Rome, Tiberius by name.  We have Pontius Pilate as Governor of all Judea. We have the puppet king Herod figure head, called the king of Galilee, and his brother Philip who lost his wife to his brother Herod as witnessed by John The Baptist.  Philip was the ruler of two small sections of the occupied Palestinian area of Judea; and we have Lysaniaas, ruler of Abilene.  In addition to these, self absorbed government rulers, we have the self absorbed clergy also, Annas and Caiaphas as high priests.  Now, here is the striking part; The Word of God by-passes all of these self absorbed men and goes to the selfless John hanging out in the wilderness sustaining himself on whatever the earth can provide.  He is the empty cup that God can fill because he has room to be filled.  The lesson here is that if we are full of ourselves, there is no room for God.

Part 2 of 2:

Eucharistic Gospel Reading for St Matthew Day

“ Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9)

Today is Saint Matthew’s Day.  Matthew is one of possibly seven (if you count Philip and Nathaniel) that we actually have written evidence of a call by Jesus to “follow him,” who accepted the invitation.  At least one was called but refused, such as the rich ruler in Luke (Luke 18:18 to 25). Again, he was a ruler who refused to be ruled. His cup was full of himself. We can read where John, and James, and Peter and Andrew, were fishermen but when called, they left everything and followed Jesus.  So too we have Matthew, also called Levi, who, upon being invited to follow Jesus, left his appointed task of collecting the Roman tax to follow Jesus.  So Matthew emptied his cup that was filled with a vile substance in order to fill it with the sweetness of our Lord Jesus.  How many of us are filled with ourselves, or with stuff we don’t like, and wish we could just empty ourselves and follow our Lord?  Well, we can.  Just open your eyes and ears and mind and heart.  We are still asked to “Come and follow Him!”

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to and through the saints of God and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  John