Pondering for Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Daily Office Readings for Wednesday of Proper 9: Year 2

Morning, Psalm 119:1-24; Evening, Psalms 12, 13 and 14;

Deuteronomy 1:1-18; Romans 9:1-18; Matthew 23:27-39:

“Because the needy are oppressed, and the poor cry out in misery,”  I will rise up,” says the Lord, “and give them the help they long for.” (Psalm 12: 5)

It seems that most of our readings for today talk about the cruelty of human kind. Perhaps even the Psalms do as well.  But this verse of Psalm 12, verse 5 caused me to stand back and try to take a look at us from God’s point of view.  God sees the oppressed, the poor, and the disenfranchised.

How do you think God does the heavenly work of restoration?  My beloved of the Lord, God helps the oppressed and the poor who cry out in misery through us who believe in God.  God works through us, for us. I pray God works through us for the peace and benefit of Ukraine.

God works through people who sometimes don’t even realize that their own souls believe in God.  I have met them.  They have good hearts and are full of loving kindness.  These people give children from broken homes hope and love.  They are friends to those who are alienated from so called “normal” people.  Many agnostics are open to the movement of God and provide apostolic success for God in people by providing “them the help they longed for.”  While God will sometimes work through people with little or no faith, God prefers to work through those of us with acknowledged faith.

In part, because of some bad preaching and dogmatic church doctrine, many have been turned away from what God wants them to do – that is to make a positive and loving difference in the world.  God’s plan was revealed in the readings we have for today. Leaders picked for Moses tells the Israelites to brace themselves for what lies ahead in the reading from Deuteronomy; Paul reminds his listeners about their ancestry and that the blessings they have comes from the mercy of God.  And our Lord Jesus continually rebukes religious leaders in our Matthew reading with the words, “woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.”  Spiritual leaders must truly believe and walk the example of faith no matter what.

Too few us are doing the loving will of God. Beyond all this, our own Church History is filled with wars and murders as it proclaimed a loving leader who even forgave the man who nailed him to the cross.  What happened?  Where is God today?  God is watching the poor and oppressed, and God is watching you and me.  Are we going to rise up with God and give the oppressed the help they long for?  I pray that we turn and really listen to the Holy Spirit and do the work of the Lord.

As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Daily Office Readings for Tuesday of Proper 9: Year 2

Morning, Psalms 5 and 6; Evening, Psalms 10 and 11;

Numbers 35:1-3,9-15 and 30-34; Romans 8:31-39; Matthew 23:13-26

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8: 38 and 39)

This is such a powerful statement from Paul.  And, while some of Paul’s rhetoric comes from his own somewhat vague personal understanding, there are moments like Corinthians 13: 1 – 13, and this one for today, that I believe come straight from God as made manifest in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s break it down.  First of all, Paul is “convinced.”  This means that his mind has been set, it is a revelation from God.  This kind of revelation is from God and not only to Paul but to us today as well.  And for all of us, once we know, we can’t “un-know.” We too are convinced.

Second, the love that God has for us overcomes all obstacles outside of ourselves.  I say outside of ourselves because it will be our deliberate and stubborn refusal to listen and learn from our Lord Jesus that hinders us from following our life path, and eternal path, God has placed before each person.

I read once from a Russian priest that as we transition from this life to the next, as we all will, we begin our ascent to the divine.  As we approach the purity of heaven whatever is amiss in us begins to diminish us. Whatever hate, or jealousy, or any unloving way we have about us will hinder us from our approach to God.  God will not stop us. According to the priest, the toxic baggage we attempt to bring with us will reduce us and may completely eliminate us. So it is nothing outside of ourselves that will hinder us from the love of God.  But any continued sinfulness within us will.

So where is the proof of such teachings shown in the faith and practices of those Russians today who wreak havoc on innocent Ukrainians today? Do they not know that the hate they hold today will be a stumbling block on their path to eternal life?  This kind of evil is true for all of us.

It is therefore of the utmost importance then, that we work on ridding ourselves of all such maliciousness now, so that we will be unimpeded as we approach the throne.  Nothing outside of ourselves in all creation will impede our journey to God.  And nothing outside of us will separate us (whatever is left of us), from the love of God.

As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Monday, July 4, 2022

Eucharistic Readings for the 4th of July

Deuteronomy 10:17-21;  Psalm 145;  Hebrews 11:8-16Matthew 5:43-48

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11: 16)

I decided to use our National Hymn verses for this Fourth of July blog.  What I take from our Hebrew reading is God’s will for this planet to have, as President Reagan once said, a “City shining on a hill.” In the years to come, Winthrop’s “city upon a hill” sermon would become “the shining city on a hill” of President Reagan: a celebration of individual freedom, material prosperity, and American power—above all, a call for Americans to renew their optimism and believe in themselves again.”  “Beginning in the 1970s, Ronald Reagan placed that line, from that sermon, at the center of his political career. Tracing the story of America from John Winthrop forward, Reagan built a powerful articulation of American exceptionalism—the idea, as he explained, “that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.” (https://www.neh.gov/article/how-america-became-city-upon-hill)

So let us sing: “O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming, whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?  And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.  O say does that star spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

I never realized that 2 questions were asked in the first verse of our national anthem.  The answer to both however is “Yes.”   Did you know there is a second verse, and in my humble opinion, a more powerful verse?  It too asks a question, but it makes a declaration also.  Here it is;

“O thus be it ever, when free men shall stand between their loved homes and the war’s desolation! Blessed with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation?  Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto, “In God is our trust.”  And the star spangled banner in triumph shall wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” (Francis Scott Key: Hymn 720 of the 1982 Hymnal)

I pray Ukraine holds fast to our example of determined freedom, and that we support them.

I am a black man as racist see me, but standing proudly, I say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, One Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  

As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Sunday, July 3, 2022

New Testament Eucharistic Readings for Sunday of Proper 9: Year C

Galatians 6: 7-16 and Luke 10:1-11 and 16-20

“He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10: 2)

Where do we find people who dedicate themselves to helping others?  Too many of us today only care about “what is in it for me.”  So where are the dedicated teachers, nurses, fire and police persons?  The needs of our community are plentiful, but the true laborers, are few.

I have learned over the years that we can train ourselves to desire or enjoy anything; be it the taste of different foods or drinks; habits of health like exercise and not smoking; even learning to enjoy theological pondering.

We are so trainable, but we must let go of stubbornness and use willpower over laziness. However, we must first want to be better. If we don’t want it, it won’t happen for us.  This weekend we remember our Independence Day. The first colonist from Europe to this hemisphere wanted to be freed from the control of England. They wanted it so much they were willing to die for it.  Being free was their goal even as they protested as lambs  against the powers of the wolf monarchy of England. And, even as they themselves held other humans as slaves. Sometimes we can’t see the wolf in sheep’s clothing in ourselves. We can’t give freedom lip service.  It must be genuine, regardless of where we sit at the table.

As I say this, I remember our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. Please keep them in your prayers as well as many Russians who are not in agreement with what their government is doing.

I have always heard that the reward for hard work is more hard work.  But at some point, the thought-to-be hard work becomes a labor of love. The teacher seeks out the uninformed (children or adults), the nurse seeks out the sick; the fire, police and military service member stand ready for danger in order to become the solution to the problem. They all do this difficult work often regardless of how well they are equipped.  They take little with them except for the desire to do that work that God put them here to do.

We must learn to love the hard work of compassion and servanthood. In this way we are happiest when we are at our chosen labors – labors of dedicated service to others. It is what the Holy Spirit of God has called us to do. We then, are the God called laborers to the harvest.

As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Saturday, July 2, 2022

Daily Office Readings for Saturday of Proper 8: Year 2

Morning, Psalm 137:1-6 and Psalm 144; Evening, Psalm 104;

Numbers 24:12-25Romans 8:18-25Matthew 22:23-40:

“Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)

It was in this Gospel according to Matthew that we have Jesus re-interpreting the Scriptures, particularly in chapter 5.  Now we have Jesus telling the Sadducees (and many of us), that they have interpreted the ancient writings incorrectly. And he informs them that they also don’t really know about the power of God.  

I look at the ancient biblical writings, of mostly men, as recording their experiences with God as best they could in accordance with their very limited understanding of the planet and space and themselves.  They did not always get it correct as Jesus informs this group of theologians. As an Education for Ministry (EfM) mentor and Christian Education teacher, I always explain that with God’s help, and with prayer before and after we begin our studies, we are looking for truth, not facts.

I believe God is pure goodness and merciful love. I believe God loves this fragile earth our island home and has caused all life to be good (until it is corrupted). I also believe there is a different, and holy realm that we pass on to when we expire from this life. And, as Jesus says in our Matthew reading for today, we will then be like angels in heaven. (Matthew 22:30).

I believe we will see many angels of Ukrainian origin when we reach that holy place. Let us keep them in our daily prayers.

As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Friday, July 1, 2022

Daily Office Readings for Friday of Proper 8: Year 2

Morning, Psalms 140 and 142; Evening, Psalms 141 and 143:1 -12);

 Numbers 24:1-13; Romans 8:12-17; Matthew 22:15-22:

“Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”  (Matthew 22:21)

In trying to trick our Lord Jesus, the disciples of the Pharisees, along with the Herodians actually learn something about the real use of money and the reality of what belongs to God.

The real use of money is to purchase the necessities we need for living healthy lives.  Also, money can be used for fun and comfort. However, as money is a nonperishable trade commodity that the whole community needs to make use of, it should never be hoarded to the deprivation of others.

The emperor can be seen as the government, and money back to the emperor is the same as paying taxes.  The government, or the emperor, are the printers of the money (hopefully) as a means of enabling citizens the ability to get their needs and maintain their common good which includes paying wages for those who work for the government or the emperor.  Money is too often misused.

Our souls and hearts on the other hand belong to the One who loaned it to us, Almighty God.  While money is a human construct, our being is the design and creation of God. Loans of money can, and should, be paid in full.  What we owe God can never be paid.  But then, who we are, and how we are made, never really stops being the property of God.  And the fact that we cannot pay God back for our being, we must inevitably return  “to God the things that are God’s.”  This has always been true, even before time, since before the heavens and the earth were finished.

God loves the people of Ukraine. Let us keep them close in our prayers to God.

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done” (Genesis 2:1 and 2). So, for this evening and tomorrow day my friends, Shabbat Shalom. 

What is Shabbat? Intro to the Jewish Sabbath – YouTube

As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Thursday, June 30, 2022

Daily Office Readings for Thursday of Proper 8: Year 2

Morning, Psalms 131, 132, [133]; Evening, Psalms 134 and 135;
Numbers 23:11-26Romans 8:1-11Matthew 22:1-14:

Psalm 134

1. Behold now, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
you that stand by night in the house of the Lord.

2. Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the Lord;
the Lord who made heaven and earth bless you out of Zion.

Psalm 134 is one of the two shortest Psalms in the Bible.  The other is Psalm 117.  Both are uplifting.  Psalm117 is also all about Praising the Lord and 134 is about blessing the Lord and being blessed by the Lord, and we are.

These are not perhaps the most remembered Psalms but they indeed are short enough to be easily memorized.  Psalm 117 is two verses and Psalm 134 for today, is also 2 verses but may be three depending on the Bible translation you use, or the Book of Common Prayer. The point is, they are so short there is no time for wretchedness, or revenge for an enemy, that can be found in longer Psalms.  In two or three verses there is only enough time for praising God and being blessed by God.

Many people have committed Psalm 23 (6 verses) to memory and maybe even Psalm 121 ( 8 verses and a personal favorite of mine).  I also like Psalm 8 (9 verses).  All of these three are around six to nine verses. However, I also like Psalm 90 which has 17 verses.  Psalms 117 and 134 are 2 verses  each and they work very well as prayers of praise. Let’s pray them now, ok?

Psalm 117

Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him, all you peoples. For his loving-kindness toward us is great, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever.   Hallelujah!

Psalm 134

Behold now, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,  you that stand by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the Lord; the Lord who made heaven and earth bless you out of Zion.

Let us continue to keep Ukraine in our daily prayers.

As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Daily Office Readings for Wednesday of Proper 8: Year 2

Morning, Psalm 119:145-176; Evening, Psalms 128, 129 and 130;  

Numbers 22:41-23:12; Romans 7:13-25; Matthew 21:33-46:

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.” (Matthew 21: 3)

This starts out as a beautiful parable then quickly goes south.  It goes into evil, self-serving people (the tenants), who beat up and kill the prophets and then the Son of the owner of the vineyard. The preferential Christian understanding for many Christians is that God has sent His Son into the world, the vineyard, and he was crucified by those who thought themselves to be first in authority, and the vineyard was given to Christians. Not all Christians adhere to this idea.

But before all that, I want to focus on our human duty to care for this earth, this vineyard, regardless of a particular religion.  The Great Creator of the universe has caused to come into being this perfect life support system for all living creation upon it.  And, call it what you will, creation or evolution, humanity came into being last.  I think we are the flagship of God’s work as well as placed here to care for this earth.  This earth is perfect for our wellbeing.  But there is more to it than that.

We have a responsibility to help maintain this precious life-support system that we depend on. We have made telescopes and cameras and we have placed them in space such that we can look back and see this fragile earth, our island home as God would see it. I truly believe that God enjoys looking at this earth and sees that it is (or was) very good. This earth is a unique blue ball giving life to countless forms of life.  This blue ball is the vineyard, and we, all humans, are the tenants, given the responsibility to maintain it until the owner, either sends someone for a report, or returns personally.  So, what do you think our Earth-care grade should be on our report card to God?

What’s going on with the precious lives in Ukraine? How do we fix that, and other earth ailments?

As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Daily Office Readings for Tuesday of Proper 8: Year 2

Morning, Psalms  121, 122, and 123; Evening, Psalms 124, 125 and 126;

Numbers 22:21-38; Romans 7:1-12; Matthew 21:23-32:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went.  The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Matthew 21: 28 – 32)

Our Lord Jesus points out that those who made the wrong decision initially, but then turned their lives around and did the will of God were forgiven and accepted; while those who gave the pleasing lip response initially, did not change for the better. It seems, over time, we tend to improve.  I hope this is true for most of us anyway.

I must confess that I think that I am a much better person now than I was even 10 or 20 years ago.  How do I know this?  I evaluate this by how I now see and listen to people; I evaluate it by the friends I cherish. And finally, I evaluate it by the fewer regrets I have for things done, and left undone.

The son who said no but did the will of the Father was, I believe, happier with himself in the end.  The son who said yes, but did not do the Father’s will, lived a double life of shame, shame for not pleasing the Father, and shame for lying about it in the first place.  The first son did not follow through with his emotional resentment of not wanting to do the work, but after deeper thought, did the work anyway.  The second son told the Father what he thought the father wanted to hear, either knowing he had no intention of doing the work; or, deciding later that he would not keep his word.

The words we produce with our mouths are important, especially if they truly represent what we are thinking and believing.   But the words we produce with our actions are the most important because they validate what is really in our heart.  Jesus has cornered the chief priests and elders in a situation wherein they would not say what they truly thought about John the Baptist. Rather, they conspired to say words pleasing to each other.  And unlike the tax-collectors and the prostitutes, the chief priests and elders would not change their ways.  How about us?  Do we always say what we really mean?  And “when” we err, will we repent and change?

The Russian military continues to murder Ukrainian civilians. Please God, come to the aid of Ukraine. I don’t believe what is happening is you will for us. Help us Lord.

As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John

Pondering for Monday, June 27, 2022

Daily Office Readings for Monday of Proper 8: Year 2

Morning, Psalm 106:1-18; Evening,  Psalm 106:19-48;

Numbers 22:1-21; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 21:12-22

“In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry.  And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once.” (Matthew 21:18 – 19)

A fig tree is born of creation yet refuses to provide food for the One through whom it has its being.  We might argue that it was not the “proper” time for the fruit to come; therefore, it is not the tree’s fault.  But we don’t know the hidden relationship that the Creator had with this tree.

I have read where as Jesus was on his way back to the Temple, which was also in full leaf, insofar as its population and care was concerned, produced no fruit in terms of spiritually feeding the people who came to it for spiritual nourishment.  The Temple was there for the pleasure of the Temple authorities only. There was a similarity between the fruitless tree and the fruitless temple.

How about you and me and our Church?  What is the spiritual fruit of our labors or the labors of our worship houses?  Are we found visiting the sick, or assisting those with no transportation to the store or medical appointments?  These are especially challenging questions as we recover from the COVID pandemic.  But we must not use the pandemic as an excuse, or free pass, to not help our neighbors, less we too become the fruitless tree. Our Churches should feed our faith as we return to regular attendance so that God is not disappointed when looking for the fruits of faith.

Continue to keep Ukraine in your prayers. The fruits of our prayers are made manifest in the faith of the people of Ukraine.  Never, never, never give up. God wins, every time.

As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John