Friday, April 21, 2017

Daily Lesson for April 21, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from John 16 verses  1 through 7 and 12 through 15:

16‘I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. 4But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?”6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate* will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you . . . 12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

We each have our own lonesome valley to walk, a journey not revealed until its own time comes.  

We wonder if we have the courage to walk the path which leads into the valley of shadows. We do not. Not yet, anyway. Courage is a grace and like our daily bread  it comes only just when we need and not before, lest we should learn to trust in our own strength and not God's. 

Our time is not yet here; but our time is coming. And then the Spirit  of truth shall come to be our guide through falsehood and shadow and the way of death and into the meadow of the Everlasting. Then and only then.

Tomorrow will have its own worries and there is no need to borrow from them. As for today, we wait, and we trust, and we delight in the singing of birds and the smell of honeysuckle blooming and we trust that tomorrow will have its own worries and there is no need to borrow from them. For God will take care of us also. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Daily Lesson for April 20, 2017

 Today's Daily Lesson comes from Ezekiel 37 verses 1 through 4 and 7 through 10:

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ 4Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. . .7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

A body without breath is only a corpse. It is without vigor or substance. It's life force is neither present nor active. Bones and sinews are not enough to bring the body alive. 

This is true not only for the human being but also for all manner of organized bodies. It is not enough to have the structure, bylaws, constitution, order of service, and building. You must also have the spirit, the breath, and animating life force. You have to have soul.

In other words, you have to know not only that you are alive but also why you are. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Daily Lesson for April 19, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verses 35 through 37:

35 But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ 36Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed . . .

There is no Resurrection without there first being a death. Something must die before it is reborn again. There must be an end before there is a new beginning. Holy Week has to first conclude with Holy Saturday and all its grief and solemnity before the Resurrection rides the wings of dawn early in the morning on the first day of the week. 

The journey to new creation requires us to accept the death of the old. What is to come can only arrive with the end of what is. The end of what is is the beginning of what is to come. The burial of the old man must take place before a new man can walk freely out of the tomb.

We have an anthem in the Church called "Hymn of Promise" the last line of which says:

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

The end of our now is not the end of everything.  We may lament that the end has come; but we should remember that it is, as we say, the end "for good".  It is the end of what is and also the seed of what is to be.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Daily Lesson for April 18, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verses 8 through 10:

8Last of all, as to someone untimely born, He appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain.

I watched an old video clip the other day of the comedian Dick Gregory giving a fiery denunciation of the hymn "Amazing Grace" and its author, one-time slave ship captain turned clergyman John Newton. Gregory said it was abhorrently offensive that black people should so willingly sing a song written by someone so actively involved in slavery.

Gregory had a point. 

And I'm sure that very same point was made about Paul after he repented also.

God's grace is amazing. But it's also challenging. It's challenging every time a wretch gets saved. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Special from Jerusalem 

A tumultuous week in the Judean city of Jerusalem came to an end today when Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish religious leader who many Jews claimed to be the Messiah but who Sanhedrin and some Roman officials saw as a threat to Pax Romana, was crucified on grounds of treason against the Empire.

Tensions mounted on Sunday when Jesus and his disciples marched into the capital and blocked the entryway to the Jewish Temple where thousands of pilgrims came to celebrate the Jewish Passover Festival.  This was the second time in three years Jesus' protest actions put a temporary stop to Temple transactions.  On Sunday it was reported he disrupted religious ritual by turning over the tables of the Temple Court money changers and chasing those selling sacrificial animals out of the courtyard.  Later Jesus purportedly threatened to take his protests even further.  Witnesses say he threatened to destroy the Temple altogether and to then raise it up after three days.

Jesus' actions jeopardized an already tenuous truce existing between Jewish religious and political authorities and Roman peacekeeping forces during the Passover Festival.  As Passover is a holiday celebrating the ancient Hebrews escape from slavery in Egypt, it has in recent years been a week fraught with clashes between Roman soldiers and pro-liberation extremists.  The actions of Jesus and other zealot-minded Jews necessitated Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, to move the bulk of his force from the Judean capital of Caesarea Maritima to Jerusalem for the festival to ensure order.  There was speculation Pilate might even go so far as to decide to shut the city down altogether if peace could not be assured.

But Jerusalem religious officials moved quickly Monday to keep crowds in order during the festival.  "The Feast of Passover is a religious event - not a political one.  The great masses of Jews are peace-loving people who are glad for the peace and prosperity Rome has brought to the region," Zacharias of Bethany, a member of the Sanhedrin said in a public statement endorsed by the body.  The statement went on to denounce Jesus.  "We reject the kind of opportunism exhibited in people like Jesus of Nazareth.  He is an extremist, an outside agitator whom the prefect is justified in apprehending."

Rival separatist leaders were quick to release their own statement in turn.  "The so-called peace Rome has brought is no peace at all," the separatist statement said.  God's promise for our people and our land is a promise for freedom.  It is a promise given to our Father Abraham and verified in the blood of the Passover lamb.  Moses did not lead our people across the Red Sea only to in turn now be slaves in our own land."

It was notable, however, that the separatist statement did not mention Jesus by name.  Jewish political observers suggest a leader like Jesus is unlikely to garner the support of pro-liberation Jews because of his apparent openness toward Gentiles, including a highly publicized meeting between Jesus and a Roman centurion in the Galilean town of Capernaum.  As one religious expert put it: "Jesus may wear Moses' sandals, but he does not carry his staff."

But it wasn't Moses who came to mind when Jesus made his way into town Sunday.  Instead it was David, the greatest of Israel's past kings.  As Jesus entered the city, sitting proudly astride a small colt - a gesture intended to reenact an ancient Jewish royal tradition - crowds lined the path shouting, "Hosanna," - a Hebrew word meaning "save" - "to the Son of David."  The crowd's message was clear.  They wanted their king - and they did not mean the Emperor Tiberius.

By Friday, however, it was evident to all in Jerusalem that Jesus was not the king they were looking for.  Late Thursday night he was arrested by Temple police and found guilty by the Sanhedrin in a hastily organized emergency trial.  Early Friday morning the Sanhedrin turned Jesus over to Pilate requesting the execution of the man known as "the Nazorean" on grounds of treason.  By 3pm that afternoon Jesus' body hung bloody and lifeless from a tree atop a high ridge just outside of the city.  At Pilate's order a sign was placed over his body written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews".

The pointedness of the sign was characteristic of Pilate's strong-armed reputation as prefect, but conflicted with what sources close to Pilate say actually happened inside the governor's courtyard.  Those sources reveal the case against Jesus was not as cut and dry as Jesus' accusers, and later the sign, suggested.  The sources said Pilate saw the conflict over Jesus as primarily a struggle for control among the ranks of Jewish leaders; as such, Pilate was inclined to have Jesus simply flogged and released.  In the end, however, political expedience won out, sources say, as Pilate became convinced that Jesus' execution was in the best interest of the Sanhedrin and the region as a whole.  "It is better that one man should die than the whole nation perish," said a Sanhedrin member speaking on condition of anonymity.

Whether that man was innocent or guilty was apparently beside the point for Pilate.  This is Judea - one of the most lawless places in the Roman Empire and insiders within Praetorium say law and order will only be regained if the Jewish people learn not only to avoid treason but also even the appearance of treason.

On Friday afternoon a dark cloud settled over the city as the Nazorean struggled in his final hours of crucifixion.  It was a short time as these things go, but agonizing for those who kept watch.  A commiserate spirit among the onlookers accompanied the man's last gasps.  A woman was heard gently weeping in the distance.  "We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel," she said through her tears.  "We had hoped."  That was when Jesus, "King of the Jews" hung his head and died.

Pilate ordered the body be pulled down from the cross and given to some of Jesus' followers.  As the soldiers lowered the cross to its parallel position those around could see the body more clearly in its gruesome and mangled state.  One of the soldiers, who stood guard throughout the execution, looked up from the body and toward Jesus' followers and then spoke.  The language was Aramaic, but the words were spoken with the tongue of someone who grew up in perhaps the Palermo region.  "This," he said, "was a son of God."  

It was not altogether obvious what the soldier meant.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Daily Lesson for Maundy Thursday 2017:

Today's Daily Lesson is a reflection on Mark chapter 15 verses 12 through 16. This was first posted last year on Maundy Thursday. I am reposting it in light of the terrible events in Egypt earlier this week:

12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13 And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day the church commemorating Christ's last supper with his disciples.  This is the meal at which he gave his disciples a new commandment (in Latin "mandatum" -- hence "Maundy Thursday) that we are to love one another just as he loved.

Jesus' last meal was a Passover meal -- a meal remembering that fateful night when the Angel of Death struck down all the first born of Egypt but "passed over" the houses of the Israelites, thus sparing their children and enabling them to escape to freedom.  It was a meal of Unleavened Bread, a reminder that when the Israelites left Egypt they did so in a hurry, without even time to wait for their bread to rise.

This was an inherently political festival with it celebration of freedom from oppressors.  And Jesus and his disciples, suspected of fomenting unrest in the Roman-controlled city of Jerusalem, are forced to eat their Passover in a secret safe house which a man -- carrying a jar of water as a hidden-in-plain-sight sign-- leads them to.

Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Weisel has written of the last Passover he shared with his family in Romania before their internment by the Nazi's. It was a time hauntingly similar to Jesus' last Passover:

"The authorities had forbidden communal prayer in the synagogues, so we arranged to hold services in our house.  Normally, on Passover eve, we would chant the melodies with great fervor.  Not this time. This time we only murmured the words."

On this night we remember all those past and present who have lived under oppression and without freedom, all those made to murmur and not chant their prayers aloud. We remember the Israelites in Egypt.  We remember the Jews of Romania and all other countries made to suffer the fate of the holocaust. We remember Christians living in places like Iraq and Iran where they will meet in secret to eat together tonight. We remember Baptists in the Ukraine and Republic of Georgia, where surveillance by the Russian Bear apparatus is a constant harassment and implicit threat. We remember also the Syrian refugees who left their homeland in haste, without having time to bring anything more than the Israelites before them. We remember them and we pray.

During the Passover meal service called the Haggadah which faithful Jews have observed for generations there is a reading from Psalm 114 which commemorates the Israelites escape from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land:

When Israel left Egypt, when the house of Jacob abandoned an alien tongue,
Judah became his sanctuary, and Israel His reign.
The sea saw them and fled, the Jordan flowed backward.
Mountains skipped like rams, and hills like lambs.
What frightened you, sea, that you fled, Jordan that you flowed backward . . . The earth trembles at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of Jacob's God.

The God of Israel, Jacob's God, is still alive.  This is His world. And He is still at work in it. And tonight we remember that this God still has the power to deliver His people from forces of darkness and to set them at liberty in a land of promise and hope.

Tonight we will proclaim this; and whether in great chant or in feint murmur -- it shall be proclaimed.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Daily Lesson for April 12, 2017

Today's Daily Office comes from Psalm 55 verses 4 through 8:

4 My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7 yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
8 I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”

For everyone there comes the existential moment when we realize we cannot run out of the the room through its walls. This is the moment of truth and acceptance or deep alienation. Often it is the moment of truth and acceptance after deep alienation.

We are not prepared. We have neither the tools nor the coping skills to survive the wilderness we find ourselves in. We would so wish to escape, to take on wings and fly away, but we cannot. The fate of circumstance and genes and the roll of dice have found us. Too many bad hands have finally caught up with us. This is our Reality.

"Give fifty dollars and we'll pray over and anoint this bracelet and send it to you."  "Go see one more specialist in Houston."  "Let's hope for a miracle."  And the stores goes under. And the band plays on. 

No. This is our Reality. We are at the end of our rope. 

And there is nothing in the world that we can do except hope in grace -- the grace which does not rescue but will redeem.