Pondering for Saturday, July 25, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Saturday of Proper 11: Year 2

Psalms 55 138, 139:1-17(18-23);  Joshua 23:1-16Romans15:25-33Matthew 27:11-23

“While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.’” (Matthew 27:19)

We don’t have the name of the wife of Pontius Pilot but she was definitely spiritually connected with God.  Many people, prophets and leaders of Israel were contacted by God via a divine dream.  Jacob, Daniel, and even Joseph the earthly father of our Lord Jesus are just three.  Pilot’s wife is in good company but she is not listened to. I ponder dreams.  Scripture has shown that dreams are often used as conduits of communication by God for the purpose of doing God’s work. Dreams are places of revelation.  Pilot did not listen to his wife, perhaps it was destined to be that way, who knows?  For this Matthew Gospel it may be surprising that we today, even get to hear her voice.  But we do, and so I ponder that all of us should look deeper into our dreams of revelation.

Dreams are very slippery.  If we wait too long we forget the details of our dreams.  It could be an important message lost.  I have personally witnessed one person share a dream and another person at the table interpret what the dream could have meant. It made so much sense.  I think to prepare to download dreams we have to prepare in advance of sleep.  We could have paper and pen at the ready near the bed, or perhaps a phone or recording device with which we could quickly capture the experience.  And there should be some caution in doing this.  As we read from the experience of Pilot’s wife, “I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”  However, for the most part, I believe God’s message for us will move us closer to the will of God in good ways.  I believe the Spirit of God connects with us in some of our dreams (not all) because we stay too busy with worldly things to hear God during our waking hours.

Today we also remember St. James the apostle:

“James, the brother of John, is often known as James the Greater, to distinguish him from the other Apostle of the same name, commemorated in the calendar with Philip, and also from James “the brother of our Lord.” He was the son of a Galilean fisherman, Zebedee, and with his brother John left his home and his trade in obedience to the call of Christ. With Peter and John, he seems to have belonged to an especially privileged group, whom Jesus chose to be witnesses to the Transfiguration, to the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and to his agony in the garden. (From Lesser Feast and Fasts at https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/21034)

I often think that while we like to hold up twelve apostles, Jesus specifically chose about seven, as recorded in the Gospels.  Of the seven, three were particularly invited to witness very special events like those mentioned from the Lesser Feast and Fast above.  Yes, James was special.

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 24, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Friday of Proper 11: Year 2

Psalms 40, 54 51; Joshua 9:22-10:15Romans 15:14-24Matthew 27:1-10

He said, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent* blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’  (Matthew 27: 4)

Judas has betrayed our Lord Jesus.  He is sorry he did this.  He goes to the religious and spiritual leaders of his community for repentance.  There is no compassion to be found, no consolation.  He goes off and hangs himself.  Poor Judas.

What’s going on here?  First of all, the chief priests and the elders were, sadly, co-conspirators in the plan to arrest and kill Jesus. They were co-conspirators with Judas.  I ponder what made him think he could then go back to them for any kind of understanding.  However, what really stuns me is their response to Judas.  “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”  See WHAT to yourself?  They are in a hard place.  If they acknowledge that Judas was a bad actor, they must own blame themselves. But what they have done is to forsake one of their own people by not helping him find a way to repent.  Too bad that John the Baptist is already dead, Judas could have used him.  Clergy today have the same responsibility.  Often we clergy are called to reflect on any part we may play in the guilt of those we are called to help. The typical problematic areas today seem to be misconduct regarding money and/or sex. Like the chief priests and elders, Christian clergy today must remember, as someone once told me, “it takes sheep to make a shepherd, otherwise, you are just a man with a funny looking stick.”  The sheep are the most important part of ministry, no sheep; no ministry.

Ironically, we remember Thomas a Kempis today who had much to say that is so fitting for our theme today.  Thomas wrote: “When God bestows Spiritual comfort, receive it with a grateful heart; but remember that it comes of God’s free gift, and not of your own merit. Do not be proud, nor over joyful, nor foolishly presumptuous; rather, be the more humble for this gift, more cautious, and more prudent in all your doings, for this hour will pass, and temptation will follow it. When comfort is withdrawn, do not immediately despair, but humbly and patiently await the will of Heaven; for God is able to restore you to a consolation even richer than before. This is nothing new or strange to those who know the ways of God, for the great Saints and Prophets of old often experienced these changes. …Indeed, the temptation that precedes is often a sign of comfort to follow. For heavenly comfort is promised to those who have been tried and tempted.”To him who overcomes,” says God, “I will give to eat of the Tree of Life.”  (Contributed by James Kiefer at  http://www.satucket.com/lectionary/Thomas_a_Kempis.htm)

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, July 23, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Thursday of Proper 11: Year 2

Psalms 50;  [59, 60] or 66, 67 Joshua 9:3-21Romans 15:1-13Matthew 26:69-75

“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15: 5 – 6)

These words of Paul about who God is, is worth some deep pondering.  Paul says the God of “steadfastness and encouragement.”  Steadfastness, to me, means discipline.  It means to keep on keeping on.  This is the discipline of my blogging, every day.  However, we must look at content.  The discipline of steadfastness is negative if the content of what we are being steadfast about is negative.  The content of steadfastness must be both good and uplifting for our family and friends.  This then is the encouragement part.

We all should lift up the good traits and habits we see in others.  Such lifting up is encouragement and it promotes harmony.  Even the most introverted person likes to hear words of encouragement. Such words really do bring about harmony in the community. This is how the God of love is revealed in the community.  I think this is why Paul says that God is the God of steadfastness and encouragement.  God is made manifest in how we embrace one another in steadfastness and encouragement. In this way, when people see you coming, they will say to themselves, “here comes “Good News!”

This blog is an example of my steadfast discipline and encouragement to all who read this blog so that readers may, with one voice, glorify God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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, July 22, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Wednesday of Proper 11: Year 2

 Psalms 119:49-72 49, [53] Joshua 8:30-35Romans14:13-23Matthew 26:57-68

“The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God.” (Romans 14:22)

I am a mentor of Education for Ministry (EfM) administered from School of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.  As such, I have learned through many sessions to develop my own theology and I have  framed it with a personal creed; a creed to live by; a faith that I have, that I have as my own conviction before God.  I have put together words that I believe really capture my belief. Here it is: “I Trust in the Creating Word through the Holy Spirit of the Incarnate Word, in whom we live and move and love and have our being, and to whom, we must give an account.”

I think it is the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus that was promised to us when He went back to where He was before he came to us more than 2000 years ago.  We read in the Gospel of St. John, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (14:26).  Jesus prayed to Creator God that those of us who continue to believe (long after His initial visit) that those of us who follow, will also believe their words. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20 – 21)  This handed down lesson is my conviction before God.  I am very aware of the “account” part of my creed.  I will do the best that I can to be a good person and to love all people.  This too is my conviction before God.

We also remember Mary Magdalene today.  My heart always goes out to Mary Magdalene.  Again from the Gospel of John: “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to lookinto the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.’ (John 20: 11 – 18)  First Resurrection sermon ever preached. Enough said.  Praise 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 Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Tuesday of Proper 11: Year 2

 Psalms 45, 47, and 48: Joshua 8:1-22Romans14:1-12Matthew 26:47-56

“Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.”  (Romans 14: 5)

Paul is teaching Jews and Gentiles alike that all should accept the way the other understands and worships God in their own way.  This is still a valuable lesson for us today.  This applies not only in the wide world of religions, but also within our Christian religion itself.  Whether we are Baptist or Episcopalian, or Roman Catholic, or Presbyterian, or Lutheran, or United Methodist, or Non Denominational, or Amish, we all worship our Lord Jesus in our own way. There is one Jesus but more than one way of having a loving interpretation of, and relationship with, him.

I have dear relatives and close friends who are not Christians.  Some are Jews, some are Muslims and some are of faith-walks I don’t fully understand.  But they believe in a Higher Power in some way. I also know a few so-called, self proclaimed atheist.  I fully believe the latter will come to believe on the other side of this life.  While our walk in faith helps us to navigate this current life, our faith is our preparation for eternal life, at least that’s my Christian understanding.

Paul will go on to say that, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”  (Romans 14: 7 – 8) These words are part of the opening words used at funerals in the Episcopal Church. Pretty much all funeral services are for the assembled living. The deceased have already moved on. So it is while we are living to the Lord, that is, living in the “dash,” (date born “dash” date died) that we should not shape our faith, but rather, let our faith shape us.  Being convinced in our own minds does not mean never changing our minds. Rather, it means being open minded to the other’s way as well as the possibilities for one’s own way.  

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, July 20, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Monday of Proper 11: Year 2

Psalm 41, 52Psalm 44; Joshua 7:1-13Rom. 13:8-14Matt. 26:36-4

“And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?” (Matthew 26: 39 – 40)

I often write about how regularly Jesus prays.  In this case he prays for one hour.  The selected three, Peter, John and James, whom he handpicked could not hang on, they fell asleep. Peter John and James were picked on other occasions to accompany Jesus as well, like the Transfiguration and to heal a twelve year old sick girl.  So they were special.  They were fishermen.  They were followers, believers, disciples, and in their end, they were martyrs, except for maybe John. But they were also mortals.

We too are mortals like Peter, John and James.  We fall short.  We often don’t have the endurance required to stay awake while Jesus prays.  I have been on weekend retreats where some of us are supposed to be praying for a colleague while that colleague is giving a talk.  Sometimes, when we returned to the praying person and open the door to the chapel we hear him or her say, “Amen.”  I heard one bishop explain using doubtful language, indicating he thought the person who was supposed to be praying was really asleep.

It happens. We are frail creatures. Praying, like any other intentional habit, is a discipline. It requires regular intentionality. Even when we don’t “feel” like it, we must keep the regular expectation of prayer.  God gets used to our patterns. And, Jesus expects to hear us with daily regularity to at least attempt to pray at the times we’ve selected, even if we fall asleep.  Our Lord Jesus still kept his three amigos as appointed Saints of the Church even though they fell asleep.  The same goes for you and me.  This prayer cup responsibility does not pass from us.  God’s will, not ours, be done.

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, July 19, 2020

New Testament Eucharistic Readings for Sunday of Proper 11: Year A

Romans 8:12-25  Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

“Jesus put before the crowd another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.” (Matthew 13: 24 – 26)

We are not able to tell the weeds from the wheat until we see the grain.  How do we know the weeds? By the waste or sin produced. We can see such acts as identity theft and robbery as sinful but it is sinful with a self-serving purpose. This doesn’t make it acceptable or in any way tolerable.

But there is also a senseless, and even more shameful kind of weed that is just evil for evil’s sake.  There is the mild sort of evil like computer hacking without a buyback, where no one profits from the frustration encountered.  I have heard of acts like taping razor blades to gas pump handles just to cause random injury to unknown victims. Acts like poisoning produce at a store or market so unknown persons fall victim to this evil. These are weeds sown within the wheat.  These are purely evil acts against our neighbors for the sole purpose of harming just for the purpose of harming.  There may be some psychological psychosis at work. By psychosis I mean fixation, neurosis, phobia or obsession particularly aimed at antisocial behavior.

So why does evil exist?  Some say evil is the work of the devil; perhaps. Personally, I think it is more the product of a psychosis focused on hurtful, and often, hateful outcomes that lack any sense of love.  I might even suggest that evil happens in the absence of love.  But love doesn’t just happen, my beloved of the Lord, it is taught.

People, who are loved, tend to love others.  People, who are resented, sadly, tend to resent others. This does not happen all the time, but it happens enough to cause senseless harm.  Maybe the psychosis of evil will show some chemical imbalance as a probable cause. In such cases, a medicinal approach may help resolve the antisocial behavior. Whatever the cause, evil acts are among us. So when the plants came up and bore grain, “then the weeds appeared as well.”  We can’t deny it. Nor should we want to.   Our response to such acts, when we see them, is to not let them cause a retaliatory, evil for evil.  But rather, use the abundance of love that we have been taught, to overcome such acts. Augustine of Hippo once said, (and I’m paraphrasing), “Do not think that God makes no use of evil.  Evil has one of two purposes. One, that it might lure you to itself.  The second is that you might bring an evil person into the light of love and goodness.”  Be steadfast therefore my beloved, in doing good, and resist evil in any of its manifestations.

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, July 18, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Saturday of Proper 10: Year 2

 Psalm 30, 32Psalm 42, 43 Joshua 6:1-14Rom. 13:1-7Matt. 26:26-35

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. ” (Romans 13: 1 – 5)

Poor Paul, while I am in agreement with Paul on many of his insights that I believe are from God, this part of the letter to the Church in Rome gives me pause.  This exception is especially true as I look at the history of our Washington   D.C. government. In our past, our Government has condoned slavery until a civil war ensued.  And after the war the re-united government still allowed some citizens to be unjustly treated having to ride in the back of public transportation, no voting rights; little to no education and the list goes on even to include community genocides . We imprisoned innocent Japanese Americans out of fear of the possible connection to Japan.  No Paul, resisting such a government is not resisting God, but resisting an ungodly government.

Perhaps the best way to make a government the ideal that God wants it to be is not to abandon it, but to participate in the corrective action that will make the government more godly.  As a writer of contemporary America I can’t ignore the racial unrest being made manifest today.  There is a huge Black Lives Matter movement underway.  People are pulling down statues of Civil War veterans and others believed to have condoned slavery or racial bias.  We have banned the Confederate Battle flag at all public events and Mississippi is removing the Confederate battle emblem from their state flag, the last Southern State to do so.  Sticking with our national government is truly the way to make us “a more perfect union.”  Truly, All Lives Matter.

There are actions that people are doing that I don’t approve of.  I don’t approve of rioting and vandalizing done to businesses.  Protesting is ok but evil is wrong be it the government or mobs.  I don’t like kneeling for the National Anthem. I am a thirty year U.S. Marine and proud of it. And, I am a so-called black man, (I really don’t believe in race), who really enjoys having a beer while watching John Wayne westerns.  I pondered about this a lot before sharing it but I needed to get this off my chest.  I pray there is a godly message in this and that we all strive  to make our government the government Paul speaks of.

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 17, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Friday of Proper 10: Year 2

Psalm 31; Psalm 35 Joshua 4:19-5:1,10-15Rom. 12:9-21Matt. 26:17-25

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 21)

As I write this blog for today, Friday, July 17, I am preparing a sermon for Sunday, July 19.  The sermon will be about evil and comes from the Gospel of Matthew about weeds planted among the wheat.  Evil does exist, sadly.  I will probably use some of the material here as part of my sermon as it deals with evil as it comes among us.

So why does evil exist?  Some say evil is the work of the devil; perhaps. Personally, I think it is more the product of psychosis focused on hurtful and often hateful outcomes that lack any sense of love.  I might even suggest that evil happens in the absence of love.  But love doesn’t just happen, it is taught.

People who are loved, love others.  People who are resented, resent others. Maybe the psychosis of evil will show some chemical imbalance as a probable cause. Whatever the cause, evil is among us.  Our response to it, when we see it, is to not let it cause a like retaliation in us, but rather, use the abundance of love that we have been taught to overcome it. As Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 21)

Today we also remember William White, First Presiding Bishop of the newly formed Episcopal Church.

Bishop White was the chief architect of the Constitution of the American Episcopal Church and the wise overseer of its life during the first generation of its history. He was the Presiding Bishop at its organizing General Convention in 1789 and again from 1795 until his death in Philadelphia, on July 17, 1836. (Great Cloud of Witnesses July 17)

White showed courage when he set out to England to be consecrated a Bishop by a nation that our new nation just defeated. “No good thing will the Lord withhold from those who walk with integrity.” (Psalm 84:11)

One other point I would like to share about Bishop White is his ordaining Absalom Jones to the priesthood.  Jones was a former slave and the first African American Priest of the Episcopal Church.  While Jones was ordained by White to serve an African American parish, he was nonetheless officially ordained using the same words and Bishop (and hands) as any other priest of this Church. 

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, July 16, 2020

Daily Office Readings for Thursday of Proper 10: Year 2

 Psalm 37:1-18; Psalm 37:19-42  Joshua 3:14-4:7Rom. 12:1-8Matt. 26:1-16

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

I think being conformed to this world means discerning what is the mind of our peers.  With the various platforms of social media we are encouraged to be tribal.  The ethos is, “either you are with me or you are against me.”  There is no gray area or middle way.

God, I believe speaking through Paul, appeals to us to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that [we] may discern what is the will of God.” I believe this requires a prayer that asks the question, “Dear God, what would you have me do today?”

As a Christian, I am so thankful that we had our Lord Jesus to model for us how we should live together.  Jesus could often be seen praying and often said that he is doing the will of the Father.  This does not mean that he did not know what the will of people were. In our Matthew reading for today we hear Jesus say exactly what the religious authorities want to do to him.  Jesus also knew those who loved him like the woman who poured costly of ointment on him. His disciples didn’t like it and complained that the money could have been given to the poor.  They were either jealous or just plain tribal.

“But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”  (Matthew 26: 10 – 11)  Jesus set his mind on the mind of God.  He showed his disciples that there was a way to accept the woman’s deed and not be against her.  He further tells them, and us, that we will always have the poor among us.  We can honor Jesus and remember the poor. 

Every day we should ask God to show us the better way. We will always hear the way of people.  But the way of people may not be pleasing to God.  We still have Jesus with us in spirit. It doesn’t take much to ponder “Lord Jesus lead me and guide me this day that my thoughts, words and actions, may be pleasing in your sight. 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