what really matters?

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11; NRSVue

I wonder if Mary and Joseph would have done what they blessedly did if they would have been caught up in secondary matters. Maybe being caught up in details that would make no difference in fulfilling the task at hand, to get to Bethlehem to be registered in the required census. I’m sure they took care to help Mary be as safe as possible, along with the baby she was carrying near the end of her pregnancy.

And then came the time for birth. No place in the guest room, so a manger would have to do. Nothing fancy, and certainly not ideal, but what people were used to. But that opens up an entirely different conversation which we won’t go into here. I’ve not even investigated well enough myself. What is apparent might turn our understanding of the nativity largely on its head. But that doesn’t matter for this post.

Paul’s prayer for the believers in Philippi was certainly something God was helping Mary and Joseph with at this sensitive, crucial juncture. What really matters is something we need to be sensitive to, day after day. We can get so easily get sidetracked on nonessentials. I’m supposing that Mary and Joseph were not the kind of people who were easily distracted.

For us this will require God’s help. Yes, prayer, as the scripture passage indicates here. So that we don’t get lost in the weeds over secondary matters. The end result being that God is less encumbered by us to do God’s good work in us, and also so that the good works God has for us to do might be done always in love. The main point the focus while we let go of what really doesn’t matter. In and through Jesus.

don’t be distracted: Anna

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38; NRSVue

It seems like there’s nothing easier than being distracted. My spiritual mentor and director and good friend has told me that in his experience there can be a thousand screaming monkeys. All the more true for me as well. I can count on something distracting me from meditation on scripture, from listening and hearing God’s voice, receiving God’s word.

Anna was not one who lived with distractions. Oh, I’m sure that she had to deal with possible distractions. But interestingly we’re told that “she never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” She had been married but devoted herself exclusively to God after her husband died. Maybe she never had children. We’re not told. But it reminds me of what developed later, the monastic orders.

But as followers of Jesus, it seems to me that we’re called to be entirely devoted to Christ in normal life, just as Jesus did in his thirty-three or so years on earth. Yes, 1 Corinthians 7 tells us that one can be more totally devoted to God when unmarried and Jesus wasn’t married. But he did work in his “legal” father’s trade, and perhaps as the oldest son looked after his mother Mary after Joseph passed. There are responsibilities and concerns that come with marriage and family, to be sure. Anna knew all about that. What is needed is total devotion to God, something we can always give, even while we’re busy fulfilling family along with other responsibilities. In fact we show devotion to God in part by giving ourselves fully to the responsibilities at hand. But at the same time, when and where we can, we regularly want to be attentive to God by being in scripture and prayer. In Anna’s case, fasting as well.

Because of this, Anna was ready when Christ appeared. She was primed and afterwards pumped, telling all about this child. Something for us as well, in our time and place, yes, even today in the midst of all the distraction of the season. This should be what we’re all about, our very heart.

In and through Jesus.

the humdrum and Advent

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Luke 2:8

We disregard the humdrum and what is boring at our peril. When we think we have to fill our lives with this or that, we can miss what God wants to give us. Only to the empty does God come with God’s filling, with God’s abundant, more than enough plenty. But to the full, God cannot. They are already full of something else, no room for God’s gift.

Let’s neither underrate nor despise the necessities life presses on us. And let’s remember that God in love works with us, with all our idiosyncrasies and conundrums. We simply need to press on which includes plodding on. God will help us as we seek in God’s will to do that. In and through Jesus.

taking your eyes off the Lord, off the promise

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

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!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33

What was happening when Peter took his eyes off the Lord? As the passage tells us, and this was immediately after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, by the way, Jesus is walking, yes walking on the water. And the disciples had just witnessed the great miracle, so their imaginations were continuing to be changed. And after getting over the shock and fear of seeing Jesus walking on the water, Peter has the boldness to ask if he could do that too, at Jesus’ command. After all, Jesus is their Apprentice, and they’re to end up doing what he does, even while it’s only through Jesus that they can do it.

It begins wonderfully well. Peter is walking, yes miraculously walking on the water. One might ask what good walking on water is. Probably, unless you can’t swim worth much like me, probably of little to no value, and maybe even counterproductive in a world given over to sensation. Note that Jesus did not do this in front of the crowds, but only before his disciples. Maybe and maybe not people caught wind of it later. As we’re told in Jesus Christ Superstar when Herod asks Jesus to walk on the water of his pool, since Scripture does tell us that Herod wanted him to perform some miracle when he at long last had Jesus in his presence shortly before Jesus’s crucifixion. But this event was meant to be like a parable to us. So that no matter what we’re facing, our eyes so to speak spiritually are on the Lord, on God’s promise in him, and off the troubles we face.

This is difficult to say the least. The wind whipping up the waves was real. And there are situations and problems we face which we need to address in one way or another. I think what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples here, and by extension wants to teach us as well is that we’re to do what Jesus did. That we live in complete trust in God, boldly doing the unimaginable in the face of circumstances or reality as we might call it, which seems to make such a venture impossible. No, we’re not to literally walk on water, but in a sense we’re to live above the circumstances of life, and that includes in how we address such circumstances. Something I don’t have much of any handle on yet, although I probably and advanced compared to years past.

What happens when we take our eyes off the Lord and God’s promise in him? Like Peter we begin to sink so that our faith is not only failing us, but becoming weak and for all practical purposes, nonexistent. But when that happens, at least like Peter we should have the faith to cry out to the Lord to save us. And that’s what Peter did. But again, what happens? We no longer are thinking and acting like followers of Christ. That’s what was happening to Peter, and all too often happens to us, to me over and over again. I’m pretty strong in crying out to God when such happens, who isn’t? Unless one is not holding on to faith. Instead of being changed through looking to Christ and God’s promise in him, we are seized into the swirling, threatening trouble as if God didn’t exist, and as if we’re left to fate, left to ourselves.

Jesus wants to train us for something much better. Something Jesus wanted to get through to Peter and the other disciples, and to us as well.

Advent is looking to Jesus and God’s promise in him in spite of circumstances not only in our world, but in the world at large. We long for Christ’s return to clean up this mess, all the while trying to get his help to clean up our own messes along the way.

In and through Jesus.

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.

Micah 5:2-5a

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:46b-55

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:5-10

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Luke 1:39-45

Revised Common Lectionary

hold on to the promise

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 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 11:13-16

It is amazing in how almost every US presidential election, there’s a huge groundswell of hope, or has been up to this point, for something like a deliverer, who will bring about desired change. And almost inevitably a huge disappointment sets in, usually sooner than later, even if much later. It’s not like people shouldn’t have any desires to see better policies set in place. But expectations indeed have to be tempered.

But for us in Christ, we have sure promises which we know we’ll be fulfilled in time. It is a large part actually of what keeps us going. People who depend solely on the politics of the world will sooner or later become disillusioned, may give up hope entirely and look for something completely different. But for us in Jesus, by faith we anticipate something much better, and certain. Let’s clarify here, that this hope should have an impact on what we want to see come to pass now, and the good works we do to that end. Though admittedly we can get frayed in waiting for the full realization of this hope which though present already, is not yet, that is far from complete, life taking its toll; this is in significant part what keeps us going. This hope, along with the faith and love that is in and through Jesus.

awaiting justice and mercy

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Advent involves the anticipation of God’s justice at long last coming to earth, but a justice that is full of mercy. As we’re told elsewhere in Scripture:

…mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:13b

God in the Person of Christ will return and set things right. And that will be a judgment that is ultimately saving. Yes, to purge the earth of the wicked, of wickedness. To do what only God can do, whatever that is, along with how God will do that. We see this worked out in our lives now. God doesn’t just correct us, sometimes when necessary with loving discipline, which to us can be painful. God also sets us in a new path, one full of justice, righteousness, peace, and joy.

What God has done and is doing in our own lives, we can anticipate God wants to do and will do for all, at Christ’s return and perhaps beyond. Now we get into waters which are over our heads in that there is no completely clear word, though theologians vary in this within Christian orthodoxy (note Gregory of Nyssa).

We wish for all what we have received and are receiving from God. In the meantime we seek to do what is just, loving kindness, as we walk in full humility before God, not imagining for a second that we are in less need of God’s grace and help than anyone else. In and through Jesus.

when beset with disappointment

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Luke 1:5-7

God’s people had already waited so long, living at home like exiles since they were ruled by a foreign power. Not only did they not really have their own king regardless of whatever pretending Herod did and more to fill that position. Though God was supposedly their King, the promises of Scripture had not been worked out. And Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were old and childless, which for couples in those days was a blight, commonly thought to be a sign of a lack of God’s blessing in their lives.

I wonder if disappointments that we’re experiencing help prepare us for what God wants to bring in, that God maybe wouldn’t be able to do otherwise apart from such disappointments. Or at least we can say that God chooses to use such emptiness to fill it with the promise of God’s goodness. But fulfillment in this life is only partial, and comes with plenty of trouble. I’m thinking now of the birth of John and what follows. They did not live to see the ministry of their son, who adapts to living in the wilderness, perhaps having contact with the Qumran community (Dead Sea Scrolls), but with a message all his own from God. And we know all that follows. Certainly God’s work in moving hearts, but also in John’s death at the hands of Herod.

We live with disappointment at times, unfulfilled dreams, perhaps even promises in our minds. It seems like all is not what it was cracked up to be. But that’s when we look to God anew to fulfill what only God can bring about. That is what Advent is all about. We anticipate, preferably together God bringing to pass what God would do, and whatever part we might have in that. Certainly in the case of Elizabeth and Zechariah, they played an important role, which all considered, certainly had some formative affect in their son, John the Baptizer’s life. We can anticipate something that though not groundbreaking like that was, follows from it, of course through Jesus’s life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. God has something in the works for us as well, even if it is hidden from human eyes. God is at work, and our longings will be purified and fulfilled. In and through Jesus.

doing what is right

Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

James 4:17

It is Advent season, and while I’m thinking of writing some posts related to that, in a sense we’re always in the attitude of Advent in that we await the return of Christ. Advent involves a longing anticipation. We long for Christ to return and set the world right. Even while we await now the celebration of Christ’s first coming as nothing less than a baby boy born into the world, albeit a miraculous conception and fully human birth.

In the meantime we carry on, yes, as the passage tells us above, always seeking to do what we know is right to do. In the above context (click link) it’s about being humble about one’s plans, acknowledging that all depends on God’s will. Not supposing that we are in control of our lives and their outcome. And this attitude of knowing what is right and then doing it covers just about anything and everything imaginable.

It’s not like we can do this in our own strength and resolve. We can’t. But by God’s grace and the help that comes with that, we indeed can, however faltering and weak it may be. And God can help us gain strength so that regardless of internal and external pressures opposing us, we set ourselves to do what we understand to be right, so that this becomes a part of what we do, who we are. And so that when we deviate from that, we quickly repent, make things right as necessary, and go on in the correct practice and attitude which follows.

Something that is to mark us, mark our lives, even in our lives together as well. In and through Jesus.

Third Sunday of Advent: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 12:2-6

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Luke 3:7-18

Revised Common Lectionary