Pondering for Sunday, August 9, 2020

New Testament Eucharistic Readings for Sunday of Proper 14: Year A

Romans 10:5-15;  Matthew 14:22-33

“Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.  But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”   (Matthew 14: 28 – 30)

There are several places in the Gospel accounts when people take their eyes off Jesus, and when they do, they fall from faith or lose grace.  When Martha stares at Mary her sister sitting at Jesus’ feet, she complains about having to do all the work herself (Luke 10: 38 – 42).   In that same house from another perspective (and another Gospel), Judas complains about an expensive perfume used to anoint Jesus’ feet (John 12: 1 – 8). Again, Judas was not looking at Jesus himself but rather at Mary anointing the feet of Jesus, – a distraction.  Folks, we must maintain our focus on the Lord.

Distractions abound.  We must focus on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, everyday.  If not, we get lost. We lose faith. We fall from grace. We can remind ourselves of our daily focus on Jesus through scripture readings, gazing upon the cross, through prayer beads, through pictures, paintings and icons.  We can use our daily office as found in the Book of Common Prayer. There are so many ways to keep our Lord Jesus at the center of our being.  But the first thing we must do is “Want To!”  If we go to bed with a prayer on our lips, we wake with Christ on our minds.  Dreams work this way.

Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and sank into the water.  He then prayed, “Lord Save Me! And of course, our Lord did but reminded him, and us, of his/our lackluster faith.  We must stay focused.  Even when the winds hurl and toss the storms of our lives to and fro, we must still stay focused. Let us never take our eyes off the Prize.

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, August 8, 2020

Daily Office Readings of Saturday of Proper 13: Year 2

Psalms 87, 90, 136Judges 9:22-25,50-57Acts 4:32-5:11John 2:13-25

“But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.” (John 2: 24 – 25)

This Gospel says that our Lord Jesus knows what is in everyone.  This reminds me of Jesus’ remark about Nathanael when he saw Nathanael approaching him. “When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1: 47).  Yes, we perhaps can fool one another, but we can’t fool Jesus.  Jesus knows what is in you.

Sometimes, I think we try to even fool ourselves.  If we tell ourselves the same lie often enough we will start to believe it.  At some point in our lives we need to be honest with ourselves, even if not honest with others. Perhaps if we start with ourselves, in time, we will expand out to others as well.  We have no choice with Jesus; He already knows what is in us.

I am no Nathanael.  But I am a work in progress.  I am in the crowd prepared to throw a stone at someone guilty when I hear my Lord Jesus say “let those who have not sinned cast the first stone.”   And that makes the stone fall from my hand. (John 8:7).  Once again he knew that each person who wanted to stone the woman carried their own sin. And the truth is, they each knew of their own sin also.

My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, we all fall short.  We are probably not Nathanael. But most of us are works in progress.  We must persevere.  More than just being aware of our sin, Jesus wants to cure us of our sins. We must ponder, persevere and pray, “Help Me 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 Friday, August 7, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Friday of Proper 13: Year 2

 Psalms 88 91, 92;  Judges 9:1-16,19-21Acts 4:13-31John 2:2-12

“His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2: 5)

I confess, I am a Mary fan.  I even get the words for my blog from her lips.  Twice in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, she says that she “ponders” in her heart, according to the Gospel of Luke. When the angel Gabriel informs her that God wants her to be the God-bearer of God Incarnate, she “Pondered” what kind of greeting this might be. Luke 1: 29.   And when the shepherds told her about what the angels told them regarding the baby she just gave birth to, she “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19 NRSV)

Mary was a thinking person, a pondering person. Perhaps it was this pondering quality that impressed God and why God chose her to be the Mother of our Lord Jesus. Mary gave birth to her Lord who in turn gave her eternal salvation, along with us.

We will learn as we read the Gospels that Jesus can multiply fishes and loaves.  Therefore, Mary never ran out of food during the thirty or so years that she shared a house with her Son.  All she had to do was ask, and it was done.  We can see then that when the wedding hosts ran out of wine, it was natural for Mary to let Jesus know about the situation with full expectation that he would respond.  This too is true for us today.  We must ask with full expectation that our Lord Jesus will respond, but the response requires our obedience.

While Jesus sort of rebuffs her requests, she has already turned away from him and looking intently into the eyes of the “servants”, into our eyes, and she says to us, “Do whatever he tells you.”  For me, this is the most powerful, albeit short, sermon in the Bible.  All we need to do is make our needs known and then do whatever he tells us.  From Mary we learn that as Christians, we ponder, we pray and we obey.

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, August 6, 2020

Part 1

Daily Office Readings for Thursday of Proper 13: Year 2

Psalms[83] or 14585, 86Judges 8:22-35Acts 4:1-12John 1:43-51

“Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’  Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ (John 1: 48 – 49)

I would surely like to know what Nathanael was experiencing under the fig tree such that it made him realize that Jesus was truly the Son of God! We don’t get to know what was going on with Nathanael, I ponder if he was praying, or having a nervous breakdown, or some mystical experience where in God gave him some kind of revelation. Nathanael follows Jesus as a result of his friend Philip coming to get him. 

Jesus calls 7 of the Apostles:  Simon and Andrew  (Matthew 4:18 – 20),   John and James – (Matthew 4: 21 – 22) Matthew himself (AKA Levi)  (Matthew 9:9),   Philip ( John 1:43)  Nathaniel, from above (John 1: 50 – 51) Then there is one who Jesus called but who rejected Jesus’ call: the Rich young man: (Mark 10:21 -22)  However, of all whom he called,  Simon Peter, John and James seem to be the chosen three who went with him in the deepest sense of his work: the healing of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration (which I will say more about in part 2 of today’s blog) and his passion prayer on the night he was arrested in which these three could not stay awake.

Part 2

Today is the Day of the Transfiguration: Eucharistic Readings for the Transfiguration

Exodus 34:29-35;  Psalm 99:   2 Peter 1:13-21;  Luke 9:28-36

“Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.” (Luke 9:28)

As mentioned in part one, it was Peter, John and James who Jesus selected to be in his inner circle when serious holiness was to take place.  Twelve might be too big a number, especially given that one (Judas) betrayed him.  I know it makes a twelve-tribes kind of sense, but perhaps that’s just us trying to balance things in light of the Hebrew testament. In any case, it seems to be that where two or three of us are joined together in His Name, our Lord Jesus is with us. That’s serious holiness for us today.

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, August 5, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Wednesday of Proper 13: Year 2

Psalms 119:97-120; and  81, and 82; Judges 7:19-8:12Acts 3:12-26John 1:29-42

“And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”  And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”  (John 1: 32 – 34)

We have to go to the Gospel of Matthew to witness the baptism of Jesus by John.  There was some back-and-forth about who should baptize who. But in the end, John baptized Jesus.  (Matthew 3: 13 – 17)

I love the Spirituality of the Gospel of John.  Perhaps the Spirit has descended on others before but it was temporary. However, on this man, Jesus, the Spirit remained.  John the Baptist is not about building his own reputation, he is about letting the world know that the Savior of the world has come near.

John speaks the truth as best he knows it.  He gives great detail explaining that the One who sent him to baptize with water, is the same One who informed him about how to identify the Messiah, the Anointed One, Jesus. He was told that the Spirit would descend on Him, and remain on Him.

We will learn that Jesus and John are cousins but apparently they did not know each other. Well, at least John did not know Jesus except for what God revealed to him.  It is quite possible however that Jesus knew in fact who John was.  We have no record of Jesus actually baptizing anyone.  Yet He baptizes with the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps his invitation to follow him, is indeed, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

In the Service of Holy Baptism, the candidate is asked, “do you desire to be baptized?”  Those too young to answer for themselves are presented, and answered for, by their parents and/or sponsors individually.  New Christians are baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  After which, they are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own FOREVER: The Spirit descends on them and remains, forever. (BCP 303 – 308)

Baptism is one of the many channels on our Christian cable network. Perhaps we don’t visit this channel enough. Our baptism contains a covenant that regulates our Christian life. As the Baptized, we are servants of Jesus, the Jesus we see in all persons, baptized or not.  We are servants of the next person we face, in our homes, or on the street.  Regardless of who baptized us, we are baptized into the household of God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Baptism is responsibility, Baptism is enough, and Baptism is Salvation. What does your Baptism mean to 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 Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Tuesday of Proper 13: Year 2

Psalm  78Judges 7:1-18Acts 3:1-11John 1:19-28

“John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know.” (John1: 26)

John the Baptist explains that among them stands one whom they do not know.  I personally don’t think they even know John the Baptist; they have thought him to be the Messiah, Elijah and a prophet, all of whom John denies being.  So they don’t even know John.  But John tells them that among them stands one whom they have not even noticed. And he’s right there, in their midst. I often ponder that when John uttered these words if he was making eye contact with our Lord Jesus as he said it.  I think if I were there and heard him say such words, I would follow his eyes to see if I could see who he was talking about.

One thing that this COVID 19 Pandemic has done is reduced us to social distancing to the point where, in our small groups, there would be no mysterious person among us.  We would know everyone in our group.  No room for God Incarnate to ease up next to us.  I am convinced that from time to time in my life, mysterious strangers have come to my aid, even when I didn’t know I needed them. But this doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit of Jesus couldn’t use those who are with us, no matter how small our group, even down to where two or three are joined together, He is with us.

We still need Jesus standing among us.  Regardless of how Jesus might appear in our midst, his presence is always a blessing.  Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to be with us, in our midst.  And I believe the Advocate is with us.  So John’s words are still true.  There is one among us whom we do not know.  Sometimes our Lord Jesus speaks through others because we need to hear His actual words.  Often, the speaker whom Jesus uses is unaware of what he or she is saying.  The message is for us, not them.  When this happens, we must learn to receive and accept the message as it comes, not from the person speaking, but from our Lord Jesus who uses who he chooses to ensure we are wholly, and holy, informed.  Yes, often there is One among us whom we do not know.  Jesus speaks to us, through us.

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, August 3, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Monday of Proper 13: Year 2

Psalms 8077, [79]; Judges 6:25-40Acts 2:37-47John 1:1-18

“That night the Lord said to him, ‘Take your father’s bull, the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father, and cut down the sacred pole that is beside it; and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, in proper order; then take the second bull, and offer it as a burnt-offering with the wood of the sacred pole that you shall cut down.’ So Gideon took ten of his servants, and did as the Lord had told him; but because he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople to do it by day, he did it by night. When the townspeople rose early in the morning, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the sacred pole beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built.”  (Judges 6: 25 – 28)

While all of the Daily Office Readings are wonderful, my pondering gravitated towards the lesson I gleaned in Judges.  Gideon has been called by God to let go, let go of the beliefs of his parents to ponder anew what the Almighty is doing.  This is not new.  Abram too was called from his father’s house to a place that God would show him. We read in Genesis twelve, “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your countryand your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)  So God calls us from darkness to light and to more light, and to further light.

I think this resonated with me so much because I too had to let go of old and false beliefs in order to behold the real truth about God.  My parents would have me believe in the man constructed system of racism even though they themselves were considered on the bottom rung of the racial divide.  It has taken time, but God has called me away from believing such nonsense.

What I have also pondered about the Gideon story is that there is often the requirement to give up something in order to obtain something. And it may not be an action that we are bold enough to do openly.  Gideon did his deed at night so as to avoid notice.  I chose to give up any special so-called black cultural expectations in order to be accepted among my dark skinned peers. I chose to be me based only on what I felt comfortable with, secretly at first.  As I followed God’s call on my life, rather than that of my peers, my God-dependent path became more and more clear and more and more open.

There should never be any such thing as white or black privilege or expectation based on skin shade.  Such baseless ideologies stand in the place that should be reserved for God’s call on your soul. Racism and discrimination are  altars of Baal and the non-sacred poles of our parents outdated superstition.  We must remove them in order to make room for the real Truth: the Truth that is God. Stepping out of our expected behavior into true belief territory is not easy, but it is very necessary.  The truth will make us free.

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, August 2, 2020

Track 2, Eucharistic Readings for Sunday of Proper 13: Year A

Isaiah 55:1-5;  Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22;  Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

“Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.” (Matthew 14: 19)

Jesus was moved with compassion to teach the people how to live with each other and to live in an occupied land.  He healed the sick.  And lastly, feeling their hunger, he was moved to feed them with whatever provision was available, in this case, five loaves and two fish.

Jesus took the food, blessed the food, divided the food into manageable portions and then distributed the food.  This process is repeated in our Church at every Sunday Eucharist.  We take, bless, brake and give.  Our Lord Jesus will repeat these four steps at his last supper.  He will take, bread, bless both bread and wine, divide up the meal and pass it around to those at the table.

Having a meal together is perhaps the most intimate practice we can do together.  At meal time, anguish must leave.  I once shared a meal with a fellow Marine in Memphis, Tennessee. He, Scotty, prepared the meal.  It was chicken and rice.   I wanted whole pieces of chicken with rice on the side.  Scotty insisted on cutup pieces of chicken mixed in the rice.  I was angry that he ignored my preference.  When we sat at table, and placed the chicken and rice mixture on the table before us and said the grace, and then filled our plates, we began talking about people at work and our beloved Marine Corps.  I let go of my unfulfilled want of having whole pieces of chicken.  It may have been some greed at work in me, I don’t know, but I’m glad I let that go. Moreover, we were able to eat a second night from the same pot.  Scotty was smart, but it was God who took care of us, even in my displeasure. We took the food, blessed it, divvied it up, and partook of the food.  It was communion.

Notice that because of this COVID crisis that we are going through, we, the followers of our Lord Jesus, are again seated in the grass, here at St Paul’s in the Pines, and in many churches across the country.  We are practicing our faith like those of two thousand years ago. Sometimes God will take unfortunate circumstances and bring about good works from them. God takes us from the towns we live in, blesses us in our gathered worship, and then sends us back into the town, renewed and blessed.  And this blessing is not for us to lavish in for our own sake.  No, no; we are blessed and we are to be a blessing to all who could not, or, for whatever reason, did not, come and worship with us. God is blessing us to pass it on. You are the carriers of God’s blessings to others. This is what Jesus did with his first disciples, he gave to the disciples, and the disciples gave to the crowds. You are now called 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 Saturday, August 1, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Saturday of Proper 12: Year 2

 Psalms 75, 76 23, 27 Judges 5:19-31Acts 2:22-36Matthew 28:11-20

“‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know, this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”  (Acts 2: 22 – 24)

Peter painfully reminds the Israelites of both who Jesus was and is, and, their part in going against the goodness of God in handing him over to be killed.  Even though those who actually crucified were outside their faith, they indeed were responsible. 

The important thing to remember for us today, who call ourselves Christians, is that our Lord Jesus was and is, the living will of God. Today we can only read of “the deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through” our Lord Jesus among the people. We must read and believe.

Today, as Christians, we must believe in the living Jesus.  Our belief then is made manifest in how we conduct ourselves in everyday life.  We do not return evil for evil.  We seek fairness and justice for all people.  But first and foremost, we must love God.  For some of us, without regular church services during the restrictions of this pandemic, it is difficult.  But church was never intended to be first.  First faith starts at home and in the heart of the individual. The story of Jesus is shared so that the hearer might grab on and believe.  And in believing, the faithful might come together in church community.  But even without the gathered church, we are still held accountable to the precepts of our Baptismal Covenant, our allegiance to the teachings of Christ.   

Peter reminds us, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.” (Acts 2: 32 – 33)  Peter’s words are not limited to his time and day: they are meant for us today as well.

Peter continues, “Therefore let the entire house of Israel [and indeed the world] know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2: 36)  Being a Christian can be painful when we remember that we have something to also be ashamed of, that is, the participation in the death of the Son of God. We might also ponder about any acts we do today that are inconsistent with the faithful covenant we have made to be a Christian and amend our lives accordingly, Church notwithstanding.

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, July 31, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Friday of Proper 12: Year 2

Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 73;  Judges 5:1-18Acts 2:1-21Matthew 28:1 – 10

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  (Matthew 28: 10)

Encounters with the Resurrected Jesus differ according to the Gospel we read.  In Matthew, the disciples are instructed to return to Galilee and there, Jesus will meet them.  Luke and John have Jesus meeting them in Jerusalem of Judea.  Mark is unclear about location in his extended version.  I like the Galilee meeting.  Galilee is where Jesus began his ministry and walked throughout Galilee preaching the Good news, and healing many, and casting out demons, for three years.  This place moved me as I sat in a boat in Lake Galilee in February of 2018 with a full view of the land that Jesus walked.  I took a picture of it and it is the scene at the top of each new One Who Ponders blog.

So Jesus says return to your beginnings and you will see me.  They were Galileans, for the most part, fishermen by trade.  Galilee is where they were grounded in their faith.  How about you?  Where were you when you were first told about our Lord Jesus?  Where is your Galilee?

Your Galilee may be more than a single, physical location.  Jesus’ instruction to return to Galilee may be an invitation to go back to the time (and place) when you first decided to follow him.  As Galilee is a vast area with several notable towns where our Lord Jesus taught and performed signs and wonders; like the Sermon on the Mount at Mount Tabor; the raising of a woman’s son in Nain; where he was raised by Mary in Nazareth; the feeding of the multitudes near Capernaum where he chose to live and other places as well.  

Your Galilee may be a vast area or collections of life-altars also.  Going back may be a serious meditation on your own Galilee experience.  My own Galilee includes St Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Nashville, Tennessee; Paris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot in South Carolina; St Anne’s Episcopal Church in Memphis Tennessee; Virginia The Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia; and St Paul’s in the Pines Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. All of these are the building blocks of my spirituality.

What and where are your life-altar places that make up your Galilee experiences?  These are the places that Jesus is asking you to return to in order to meet him again. Meditate on these places.

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