Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Week After Easter Sunday....Easter Continues!

"It was all over! The Lord was dead! It he had been sick, they would have cared for him.  If he had been imprisoned, they could have waited for his release and started over.  It they had been persecuted, they could have gone underground and kept the course alive.  But he was dead--finally, unchangeably dead."  From Living Witnesses, musical of the 1970s.

Easter Day...for many of us that is the entirety of Easter.  One day to celebrate, to hide and hunt eggs, to have a big dinner and sit and visit and talk and then go home wishing we had more time to unwind before going back to work on Monday.  On the Christian calendar, though, Easter is not just one day.  It is actually an entire season and it lasts seven weeks until the day we call Pentecost is celebrated.

On Easter Day we read the traditional resurrection story of Jesus from one of the Gospels and we proclaim:"He is risen! He is risen, indeed!" The story does not end there, though.  For the next six weeks we will hear more stories of Jesus' resurrection appearances to his disciples.  We will see Jesus walk through walls to rooms with locked doors.  We will hear Jesus teaching disciples as they walk sadly toward Emmaus.  We will witness Jesus appearing in the fog on the beach as the disciples have gone back to a life of fishing and preparing breakfast for them as they gather on the shore.  We will give Jesus a proper send-off as he gathers his followers together once more and tells them that they are in charge of his mission to the world and they see him go upward into the heavens.  Jesus returns to be with God the Father and leaves the mission of making the world a better place in the hands of those who he taught and all who would follow them on the Christian journey.

This second Sunday of Easter we have to get out of the locked room where the disciples are hiding for fear of their lives so we can begin to spread the good news.  Jesus had been murdered and they had been witnesses to his violent death and they figured they would be next.  After all, if the Jewish authorities hated Jesus so much that they would insist on his death to silence his message, then perhaps they would push the Roman authorities to also kill Jesus' followers just to be sure that none of them would continue to teach what they could not agree with.

So, they found a hiding place and decided to lay low.  They waited quietly and tried to console one another as they recounted again and again the terrible events that surrounded Jesus' trial and execution.  For some reason, Thomas left the group and went out into society.  Perhaps he went to find food for everyone or he started getting cabin fever and had to get some fresh air.  Whatever the reason for his absence, it was during the time he was gone that the resurrection Christ appeared to the others locked away and revealed his wounds to them so they would believe that he was indeed alive.

Many of us need to see and experience things for ourselves.  We may hear of the experiences of others but do not truly understand what they are until they happen to us.  I have heard of many people who have been struck by lightning and survived.  A cousin and a friend of ours both have had this experience.  I have never been struck by lightning, thank God, and cannot truly relate to what they must be like but these two men I know who say they have been struck by lightning can truly testify to what it feels like to have that experience.

When Thomas returned to the disciples in the locked room, they immediately shouted to him, "We have seen the Lord!"  As they told him of the visit of the resurrected Jesus, he could only say that he would not believe until he had the same experience they had had.  Thomas was not being so much of a doubter, as he is often called, as a realist.  He could not believe in resurrection because he had never seen a resurrected person (except Lazarus, and that must not have made a huge impression on him) but he needed the same experience the others disciples had if he was to believe that his friend Jesus was truly alive.

So, a week later, as the disciples continued to be in their secret hideout, Jesus again walked among them without opening the door and showed his hand and side to Thomas to which Thomas exclaimed his confession of faith--"My Lord and my God!"  Not only did Thomas believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead but he also believed that Jesus was truly the Son of God, who could not be truly killed.

Jesus' reaction to Thomas' confession of faith was not to belittle him or scold him for not believing what the other disciples had told him about their experience.  It was simply to say that those who can believe in things without having to have rock solid evidence are often happier than those who demand proof.  Such people are often happier because they are not tormented with having to have explanations for everything in life.  They often just benefit or enjoy what life provides without having to know how everything works.

I am always amazing at air travel.  I know if I board a plane and it successfully takes off and then lands without incident that I will be in a new place when I step off the plane.  I have had people describe aerodynamics to me and why such a heavy thing as a multi-ton piece of metal can be lifted into the air but I still cannot truly understand it.  It just does not make sense to me.  I benefit from air travel and plan to continue to do so as long as I can but I do not have to understand how it works in order to enjoy it.

Resurrection is a bit like air travel.  I do not have to understand how it works to believe in it.  I just believe that Jesus died and came back to life three days later.  It is just something I choose to believe.  If others must have proof in order to understand, then I congratulate them on their curiosity and inquiring mind.  It is enough to me that just believe that Jesus rose from the dead and has granted me and all eternal life because of the miracle of his resurrection.  I choose to proclaim--"He is risen! He is risen, indeed!"

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Day 36 of Lent: God's Love Embraces This World and the Next

This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  John 17:3

"This is my father's world, and to my listening ears, all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres."  (words by Maltbie D. Babcock)  God's presence is proclaimed in this world and the next.  Every place can be a "thin place" where God is revealed in the tasks of ordinary life.  Every landscape reminds us that God is everywhere we are, even when we are most oblivious of God's presence.

All life is interconnected--that includes the relationship between heaven and earth.  Our image of heaven expresses our hope that God will transform our lives within an environment where grace and growth are constant companions in an adventure toward wholeness for all things.

We are created to live this lifetime in our spiritual journeys and we are creating eternity by what we do today.  We seek justice in this lifetime because it promotes well being for others.  As we live and work to love God and neighbor we find God's presence in the world around us and in the people around us whom we serve.

God loves the world, both the world we live in and the worlds we cannot even imagine.  In this lifetime, we are fellow adventurers together in bringing beauty to this good earth.  God entrusts this planet and its inhabitants to us and guides us as we work together to bring about good.

Affirm for yourself:
God loves this world and all that is in it.
My life is an eternal gift from God.
My loving actions bring joy to others in this life and the next.
I rejoice with God in the beauty of the earth.

Loving Creator, artist of galaxies and planets, and world to come, help us to trust your love for this world and this life.  Help us to create beauty that endures as we celebrate the passing moments. Help us to see holiness in all things and glimpse your everlasting life in this world's most unlikely places.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Day 35 of Lent: We May Forget Ourselves, but God Will Never Forget Us

Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.
 Isaiah 49: 15-16

Our longevity has led to the growing challenges of maintaining quality of life amid the many chronic illnesses we have such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.  Many persons fear becoming victims of the technology intended to sustain and support life.  Words that were unknown to our grandparents strike terror in our hearts as we imagine our helplessness, vulnerability, and forgetfulness.

In many ways, Alzheimer's disease embodies many of our deepest fears--the loss of memory, reason, speech, and self-awareness.  Tragically, the progression of Alzheimer's disease eventually robs us of our self-awareness and the ability to remember our own personal stories.  We may forget who we are and who we have been in the course of our unique personal adventure.

God never forgets us, nor does God quit working in our lives.  All things are treasured in the divine memory.  As the one to whom all hearts are open and all desires are known, God experiences each moment from the inside as well as from the prospective of its external relationships.  If God is truly omnipresent and active, then God is also present within the experience of persons with Alzheimer's disease.

We often experience God in our sighs too deep for words.  God is loving and faithful, even when we can no longer remember who we are.  God's enduring love and unfailing memory remind us that we can believe on behalf of others, and others can believe on behalf of us.  We can heal them with our healing words and touch and by singing hymns of faith with them.  With awareness that God never forgets, we can accept our fears of the future and experience God's healing touch when we are most fearful of what tomorrow may bring.

Affirm for yourself:
Regardless of state of mind, God loves me.
I am God's beloved child in every season of life.
Regardless of health conditions, God loves me.

Holy companion, help me to experience your unfailing love in health and illness, in success and failure.  Help me to listen for your presence in my inner voice, through unexpected moments of inspiration, and through the care of others.  Help me to know that you are always with me and that  nothing can separate me from your love in Christ Jesus, our Savior and Healer.  Amen.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Day 34 of Lent: We Experience God's Strength in Our Weakness

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. II Cor. 12: 9

 Life is often difficult.  In the intricate interdependence of life, much of what happens to us is beyond our control.  The apostle Paul spoke of a life filled not only with persecution and pain but also with grace and wonder.  The same is true of our lives.  God's aim for wholeness in our lives embraces our vulnerability and pain as well as our success and joy.  Growing in wisdom and stature involves accepting the totality of your life, both what you can change and what you must endure.

Our pain is often personal as we attend to our own quest for relational, psychological, and spiritual wholeness.  We cannot hide from our pain and the pain of others if we seek to be God's partners in healing the world.  If we live long enough, we will have our own personal struggles with aging, sickness, and dying.  While we praise independence, we will also learn the gift of vulnerability and interdependence.

When we claim our place in God's dynamic and interdependent universe, we continually discover resources and inspiration beyond our own powers.  This is a matter of trust in God and in others when we least are able to care for ourselves.  When we open ourselves up to God's continuing care for our lives, God and those whom we love will supply our deepest needs in living and dying.  Though we may wish to remain independent, we will become stronger in faith and life as we claim life's radical interdependence as a gift and grace.

Think about these things:
God's grace is sufficient for me.
I rejoice in the graceful interdependence of life.
God strengthens me in my vulnerability.
God strengthens me in specific situations.

God of all seasons, we bring you our health and illness, our joy and our pain.  Work with our vulnerability so that we might find your grace always sufficient for our need.  Bless us with the spirit of interdependence, receiving and giving your grace in every encounter.  Amen.

Day 33 of Lent: Finding God in the Darkness

Where can I go from your spirit? Psalm 139: 7

God's holy adventure embraces darkness as well as light.  Personal healing and wholeness must include both prevention and response to health challenges if it is truly to respond to the well-being of the whole person.  Darkness has a light of its own.  Within the darkness, the seedling grows.  Within the womb, new life takes form.  Within the chrysalis, the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.  We often fear the dark and flee from the unfix-able aspects of life that will eventually be our companions on this adventure of life.

The theologian Howard Thurman reminds us that when we attend to the divine light within our own lives and the world, we can find our way through the deepest darkness.  Psalm 139 describes the reality that if God is truly with us wherever we go, we are always at home even when we don't know it.  Despite our apparent distance from God, God never leaves us.

"If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me becomes night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you." (v. 11)

Anxiety, depression, and fear may dim our experience of God, but even when our struggles threaten us, a divine light can still illumine our path.  This light may come through the love of a listening friend, the help of a sensitive therapist, the support of a faithful community, or the intervention of one who may care.

Affirm for yourself:
Wherever I go, I am in God's hand.
Regardless of how I feel, God supports me.
Regardless of my thoughts and actions, God works to heal and guide me.
I am always at home, because God is always with me.

In darkness, O God, we experience your light shining upon us.  Help me embrace light and dark, action and rest, birth and death.  Help me accept my shadow side as a womb of possibility rather than shame.  Help me take my whole life to you--joy and sorrow, friendship and anger, intimacy and alienation--knowing that you bless and heal all things by your love.  Amen.

Day 32 of Lent: The Gift of Peace amid the Stresses of Life

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!"  Mark 4: 39

Stress is one of the greatest threats to personal and spiritual well-being.  It is both destructive and addictive in nature.  Physicians report that more than 75 percent of patient visits are related to the negative impact of stress on persons' overall health.

Jesus the Healer calls persons to abundant life.  For Jesus, fullness of life involved the integration of challenge, risk taking, and hard work.  Jesus spent long days teaching, preaching, and healing.  He also regularly sought peace in quiet places.  As a model for persons today, Jesus' ministry balanced work with sabbath rest.

Stress and distress are often a matter of perspective and faith.  The biblical tradition challenges us to find sabbath rest amid the demands of our busy and challenging lives.  Psalm 46 describes a time of personal and national tumult and then counsels the faithful community to "Be still, and know that I am God!" (v. 10)  We can find a quiet center even in the most distressing times.

Think about these things:
God is with me in all the storms of life.
I experience peace in every situation.
Peace is only a moment away.
I experience peace in particular situations.

Loving God, amid the storms of life, calm my soul.  Remind me that you are always with me, and that in your presence, I cannot fail.  With your grace, I will remain calm amid stress and conflict.  In the stillness, let me hear your voice and know that I am safe.  In my safety, let me bring your calm to others.  Amen.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Day 31 of Lent: We Share in God's Healing

"If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well..." (Mark 5:28)

Jesus the Healer transformed persons' lives by touching and by being touched.  Jesus touched the outcasts, the lepers, those who were maligned by society of his day.  Jesus transformed their lives by his healing touch.

Today, at a time when we are highly conscious of the importance of safe touch, we are also discovering the power of appropriate and welcome touch to heal body, mind, and spirit.  Jesus' healing touch is being rediscovered in light of the growing influence of complementary medicine in the Western World.  It is no coincidence that Christians and non-Christians alike experience greater spiritual and physical wholeness through practices such as healing touch, therapeutic touch, and massage therapy.

In our high tech times, we must balance the necessary separateness of the modern world with the intimate touch of appropriate healing through interaction with others.  Our hands as well as our hearts and minds are God's intention to promote the well being of others.  Healing energy flowed from Jesus' hands and it also flows from our lives when we commit ourselves to be God's instruments of healing and wholeness.

Think about these things:
I mediate God's healing touch in every encounter.
I touch only when appropriate and helpful to others.
I touch with love and healing.
I protect others from unhealthy touch.

Healing God, we are open to your touch.  Awaken us to places where we have chosen disease rather than health, distress rather than peace, busyness rather than calm.  Inspire us to live fully, healthfully, and lovingly.  Let every touch bring life and hope and healing as as we journey with your son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Day 30 of Lent: We Can Glorify God in Our Bodies

Glorify God in your body. I Corinthians 6:20

What we do with our bodies really matters.  As temples of God, our bodies reveal God's creativity and wisdom.  Our thoughts and emotions radiate throughout our body, and our physical well-being and chemical balance shape our thinking and feeling as well.  While we may inherit certain characteristics and tendencies, we are not victims of our genetic and biological inheritance.  We can, with God's help, be artists of our embodiment by intentionally loving and caring for our bodies.

While we cannot guarantee good health of body, mind, and spirit, we can commit ourselves to healing practices that promote wellness at every level of our being.  The pathway to wholeness is spiritual as well as ethical and behavioral.  We are stewards of our own embodiment and the way we use our bodies reflects our self-awareness and personal values.

We can:
get exercise to strengthen our bodies
practice spiritual practices such as bible study and prayer
practice holy eating with gratitude for those who have supplied it
keep the sabbath, taking time to trust God for a day for study and worship weekly
have loving relationships
reach out in service to others
be part of a healing community of faith
give and receive healing touch as we are able

We glorify God by loving ourselves as we truly are and, out of that healthy self-affirmation, reaching out in service to others.

God of change and glory, let me glorify you with each breath.  Let me praise you with each footstep.  Let each meal be a prayer and each touch bring healing.  Nourished by your gifts, I joyously nourish others, sharing the grace I have received through the Healer of Nazareth.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Day 29 of Lent: Loving God in the World of the Flesh

God saw everything that He had made, and indeed, it was very good.  Genesis 1:31

"and it was very good" proclaims the Genesis creation story.  Divine creativity permeates every dimension of reality.  The heavens declare the glory of God, and so do we.

Paul's affirmation that the body is a "temple of the Holy Spirit" is a call to see our bodies as media of divine revelation, worthy of love and care.  (I Cor. 6:19).  We love God in the world of the flesh by treating our bodies and others' bodies in ways that promote healing and wholeness.

We can rejoice in divine inspiration embodied within every heartbeat and thought, and we can recognize that as God's beloved children, our faith embraces our bodies as well as our minds, spirits, and relationships.

Affirm for yourself:
My body is the temple of God.
My body is beautiful.
Aging brings greater beauty to my mind, body, and spirit.
I love God by caring for my body in a healthy way.

Living God, inspire me with each breath.  When I reflect on the body that is your temple, I confess that I have often turned from health to disease by my diet, lifestyle, and attitudes.  I have forgotten the basic needs of others and the interdependence of our bodies.  Help me to live well and simply, to eat with gratitude, and to share my bounty with others so we might simply live and then live well and better by your grace.  Amen.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Day 28 of Lent: Praise God with All Creation

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Psalm 150:6

According to the biblical tradition, the nonhuman world groans, but it also teaches, praises, and plays.  Read Psalms 148-150 and you will experience an eternal hymn welling up from all creation and from your own inner life.  Every created thing rejoices in the wonder of life, and so do you.

Authentic praise is experienced in fullness in our lives in concert with all creation.  God does not need our praise, but we need to praise God in order to attune ourselves with the rhythm of universal love and creativity and to experience God's own joyful song in our lives.

When we rejoice in our lives and share our joy through acts of generosity, kindness, and hospitality, we praise the Creator by become creators ourselves and appreciating the wonder of God's creativity in ourselves and in our world.  We praise God by being fully alive to the beauty and wonder of our unique and precious life and the wonder of all things.

The glory of God is reflected in the flowers of the fields, the twinkling starts, and flowing rivers.  St. Francis of Assisi wrote a poem that we sing in church now and then that commands all the parts of creation to praise God.  It is called "All Creatures of Our God and King."  As it names each various part of creation, the phrases "Alleluia" or "O Praise God" are interjected into the stanzas.  Alleluia means "Praise God" in Hebrew so we are praising God throughout the hymn as we sing it.

We find joy and our place in the universe as we become lively and creative participants in the world around us.  As God's beloved children in a world of beloved creatures, we can rejoice in our partnership with God in all things.

Include in your prayers today:
I thank you, God, for the wonder of all being.
I thank you, God, for the wonder of those close to me.
I thank you, God, for the creatures that share life with me.
I breathe joy with all creation.

In silence, O God, we breathe.  In silence, we pray.  In silence, we open to your breath in our breath, enlivening, inspiring, awakening, creating, and healing.  Breathe in and through us that we might breathe out your joy, healing, and love as partners with you in creation.  Amen.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Day 27 of Lent: We Serve God by "Considering the Lillies"

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  Matthew 6: 28-29

The world of nature fills our lives with beauty.  Each morning we can see the sunrise, the birds and flowers, the pastures full of new life.  Martin Luther asserted that the lilies of the field and the birds of the air are God's teachers to anxious human beings.  Utterly dependent on forces beyond their control, the birds of the air trust God to supply their needs.

God reveals beauty and care in all things.  Divine care will provide for our deepest needs for today and tomorrow.  The simple wonders of creation are gifts of God that we can neither control nor enhance.  They simply invite us to wonder and appreciation and reverence for them.

The faithful day by day rising and setting of the sun do not require our planning.  The ever present fidelity of God invites us to nurture ourselves in the glories of creation even as we bring healing and justice to the earth.

Our native American brothers and sisters prayed this prayer:

I walk with beauty before me.
I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty below me.
I walk with beauty all around me.
Your world is so beautiful, O God.

May that prayer be our affirmation that we too see God's beauty all around us.

O God, the great Artist of all, whose beauty bathes our senses, let our days be filled with wonder and gratitude, and let all the beauty we experience inspire us to acts of loving beauty to all creation.  Amen.

Day 26 of Lent: We Respond to the Cries of Creation

Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.  Romans 8:19

Salvation is not just about humankind and its relationship to God but encompasses the whole planet.  Sin is not just turning from God and our human neighbors but also the destruction of animal species, the water and soil, and now the fragile atmosphere that supports and protects life.  Today Christian ethics, salvation, and spirituality must embrace the planet as well as our human neighbors.

Paul's vision of the planet in Romans 8 speaks of God moving within our hearts and souls and whispering to all of creation.  The universe is the divine birthing room for all creation and all creation lives in hope of finding its role in a community that embraces God and all creatures.

Wholeness and brokenness characterize the nonhuman as well as the human world.  Created for relationship, creation cries out in pain.  It is clear that humankind is responsible for much of the pain and destruction in the world.  Creation cries out for wholeness, but do humans listen?

God is present in all things, in humans and nonhumans alike.  The creation groans for peace and harmony to reign.  Humans cannot seem to visualize the prophecy of Isaiah in which the lamb and the lion will reside together and all of creation will be in peace.

Can you see yourself in this?
I experience God in the voices of the earth.
I listen for the cries of creation.
I listen for God in the pain and beauty of the nonhuman world.

Holy God, whose Spirit breathes through all life and enlivens the cells of our bodies and the birds of the air, open us to your life in all things.  Help us to experience the deep cries of creation.  Help us feel the pain of vanishing species, dying forests, melting icecaps, of threatened generations of unborn creatures.  Help us to be your partners in healing the earth, in restoring life where we have been agents of destruction.  Let us speak words of hope to generations beyond us who will dwell with all creatures on the good earth.  Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Day 25 of Lent: In Christ We ARE One

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  John 17:11

The idea that Christians have a spirit of unity that unites them into one family is found in many places in the Bible but one of the places where it is most prominent is found in Jesus' priestly prayer that is given in John's Gospel.  The prayer is several chapters long and shares a theology that as God and Jesus are united in spirit then so much Jesus' followers be united.  Jesus was preparing his disciples for the day when he would no longer be with them in human flesh.  He would be with them through the gift of the Holy Spirit that would come on the Day of Pentecost but they would no longer see him with their human eyes, only through the eyes of faith.

The United Church of Christ chose for its motto when it was formed in 1957 the words found in this priestly prayer: That They May All Be One.  That motto can be found on a stained glass window in our church sanctuary.  It was important to the founders of the United Church of Christ because it was being formed through the merger of two denominations--the Congregational Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.  After the two merged, neither would have their separate identities because they would be part of one organism.  Both of these denominations continue to have their uniqueness and qualities all their own having to do with church architecture (such as those beautiful white steeple Congregational churches in New England) or church culture (such as the German writing you see here and there in the former Evangelical and Reformed church buildings).  When the UCC meets as one united denomination at its biennial meetings, those distinctions are merged into one body that makes decisions and suggestions that concern the entire church in every part.

God is our deepest reality, guiding and inspiring us to join our personal fulfillment with that which is healing for the planet and its inhabitants.  Our awareness of our spiritual unity with others is not the result of any outside influence, even that which is positive and affirming, but it comes from an enlivened awareness of the fact that God is in us and we are in God.

The Prayer of St. Patrick proclaims:
Christ behind me and before me,
Christ beneath me and above me,
Christ with me and in me,
Christ around and about me,
Christ on my life and my right.

This holy nature of this relationship we have with God will always be mysterious but it points to the awareness that we are dependent on God as the source of our strength and that we are joined in interdependence with others on the planet.  Jesus first-century prayer makes a difference in our lives.  Jesus' prayer shapes our own sense of God's presence in our lives and inspires us to see God in all things and all things in God.

Affirm for yourself:
In Christ, I am joined with all Creation.
My well being and the well being of others is joined.
I am one with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I am one in the Spirit with others.

Holy God, give me vision to see you in all things, and all things in your love.  Let me see Christ in all things and all things in Christ.  Let me love Christ in all things and receive Christ's love through all things.  Let your vision abound in all things, transforming the world and transforming my heart.  Amen.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Day 24 of Lent: In Serving Others, We Serve God

Jesus asked, "Which of these three, do  you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?"  The lawyer replied, "The one who showed mercy."  Luke 10: 36-37

Jesus taught that God is ever present, as close as your next breath.  God is as close as the next person that you meet on the street.  All moments reveal God, and all actions live within God's experience of the world.  God is in all tings, and all things are in God.

God is in the wind that blows the trees from side to side.  God is in your breath as you inhale and exhale regularly.  The ideas of God being present in every thing finds its embodiment in the person of Jesus Christ who exhibited the nature of God in all that he did.  Jesus recognized God's healing and transforming presence as the life-giving force in all things.

Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan revealed the true nature of God that lies at the heart of the understanding of God's presence surrounding humans.  The boundary between neighbor and stranger is often defined by cultural and social norms, as it was in Jesus' day.  Samaritan and Jew were part of the care of God but human structures required that they remain separate and apart from one another.  We are one in the Spirit, regardless of differences in age, race, gender, or sexual orientation.

While some passed by the wounded man on the road, refusing to even acknowledge his situation, the Samaritan cared for a person who in other circumstances might have been seen as an enemy.  We also live out our vocation in the present moment.  Our world is transformed one person and one encounter at a time.  The wounded Jew had to accept the love he received from a potential enemy in order to complete the circle of love.  When we discover that we need others, the barriers between "us" and "them" are overcome.

Who is your neighbor?  Her of she may not be the one you expect your neighbor to be.  Where there are no absolute rules for neighborliness, God awakens us to the holiness in each moment.

All persons are my neighbors.
I see God in every encounter.
I reach out in love both to strangers and enemies.

O God of creation, hold all things in your circle of love.  Hold me in your circle of love, also, that I may be bold in my loving and creative in caring.  Help me to love myself as you love me, and let me love without fear.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Day 23 of Lent: Our Lives Can Heal the Body of Christ

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.  I Corinthians 12:26

Every part of the body of Christ is connected.  In the body of Christ, no part is unnecessary.  Like the human body, every part is needed, even those whom we doubt their worth (such as the appendix) or even know their value (such as the appendix).  What appears obvious and attractive to the eye may be less important for survival than what is hidden and overlooked.

We are cosmic as well as individual beings.  We belong to the universe and to all its inhabitants.  We are not ultimately defined by our ethnicity, nationality, or abilities but we are connected to the planet and the universe.  Our spirits are meant to embrace the entire family of life on earth.

We are to live in community, not in solitude forever.  Our lives embrace human and nonhuman companions.  Unity and diversity reflect the abundance of divine creativity that gives life to all on the planet.

You are essential to the well being of the body of Christ, but so are every minute living species that inhabits the globe.  Plankton, the residents of the rain forests, and our companion pets are all important and valuable to God's family.  Our calling is to find our place within the interconnected universal body of Christ and to fulfill the calling that has been placed upon us.

I claim my vocation as God's partner in ministry to the body of Christ.
My gifts bring healing to my human and nonhuman companions.
My gifts bring healing in a specific way.

Healing hands of Jesus, touch our lives and touch our world.  Move within every cell and soul. Transform us that we might radiate your wholeness and healing as your companions in healing the world.  Let healing abound; let very act and every word bring joy and wholeness to all creation.  We pray in the name of the Healer Jesus.  Amen.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Day 22 of Lent: We are Part of the Body of Christ

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  I Corinthians 12: 27

Today, our image of the body of Christ embraces the entire planet with all of its human communities.  To confine the body of Christ just to the Christian church would be to perpetuate an unhelpful dualism of sacred and spiritual, spirit and world, human and nature, Christian and non-Christian.  While we may still identify Paul's message to Christian congregations as a whole, we recognize that our vocations call us to pursue healing of the earth as well as of humankind.  The church as the body of Christ exists to join seamlessly the inner journey of contemplation and the outer journey of action in its vocation as God's partner in bringing healing and wholeness to all creation.

In these times we must imagine the body of Christ in terms of a holistic vision of the divine-human community in which there is a continuum between body, mind, and spirit.  Each part of the human body has a unique gift and function that arises from and contributes to its relationships with all the other parts of the body.  Seen from a wider perspective, we can imagine the mind of Christ permeating each and every cell and soul, and consecrating each moment of life within that intricately connected whole that joins humankind and the planet.

Our personal vocation is to support the well being of the planetary body of Christ as well as the church and the human community.  Paul describes the creation as waiting expectantly for the fulfillment of spiritual vocation.  How would you live if you recognized that your well being is intimately connected with the well being of the complex and fragile ecology of life?  God calls us to be in ministry to others throughout our world, both in the Christian community and in all places regardless of race, creed, or religion.

To Ponder:
I belong to the planetary body of Christ.
My calling is to be God's partner in healing the world.
I honor God's spirit in nonhumans as well as the human community.
My calling is to be God's partner in healing my part of the world.

Living Spirit, we rejoice in the world you are creating.  We rejoice in our bodies and in the body of Christ, which nurtures our lives in their entirety.  Live through us so that we may embrace the gifts of the whole earth and the congregation of which we are a part.  Awaken us to our gifts for the whole as we receive the gifts of each part.  In Christ's name.  Amen.

Day 21 of Lent: God Wants Us to Love Ourselves as Well as Our Neighbors

Love yourself as you love your neighbor.  Mark 12: 31

Caregivers often forget that they need to care for themselves if they are going to care for others.  When someone cares for an elderly or ill person, they are constantly giving of themselves in so many ways.  They often forget to take the time to nurture their own spiritual and personal well being.  They often experience burnout, cynicism, illness, anger, and alienation.  They often feel guilty for taking time off from work and family responsibilities for spiritual renewal.  They fail to see the connection between healthy self-love and caring for others.  What does it mean to love our neighbors as ourselves?

Jesus was expressing the profound truth that our love for others is ultimately connected to our ecology of life.  We cannot wisely love others until we know how to love ourselves.  Our wholeness and well being and the well being of others are indivisible.  We cannot achieve our vocation in life apart from one another.

Peace is the gift of an expansive vision in which individual self-interests expand to include the well being of others. In so doing, we reflect the divine passion for wholeness.  God's passionate love for each unique moment of live always includes not only the well being of our immediate companions but also the whole earth.

The practices of loving God, loving the world, and loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves form an inseparable unity.  We find God's presence not only in the natural world but also in the face of our neighbor and in our own personal life.  If we dedicate ourselves to helping each creature experience God's deep love for themselves, we are finding our own peace and joy in our actions.

Think on these things:
I love myself just as I am.
I treat myself with love, taking time for rest and refreshment.
My love for myself embraces everyone I meet.

God, whose love centers on each creation and embraces all things, help me wake up to your loving embrace.  Help me understand that I am your beloved child, fully encompassed by your care.  Help me love myself through acts of self-acceptance and self care.  Let the love I feel from you flow to everyone I meet as I claim my role as your partner in mending the world.  Amen.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Day 20 of Lent: God Calls Me to Live by Forgiveness

Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive a brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?"  Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."  Matthew 18: 21-22

It is important to recognize that forgiveness is a metaphysical as well as personal virtue.  Each moment of our lives involves forgiveness.  It is essential to being born and to dying.  It comes into being and then allows us to grasp the new moment in its immediacy.  Although we cannot hold on to the past in its immediacy, we can choose to allow it to bring us joy or unhappiness.  Past failures can keep us from pursuing future adventures.  They can also teach us how to pursue the future with greater wisdom.

Forgiveness is based on the ability to transform the meaning of the past in our lives today.  God does not place painful events in our lives to test our faith, but God allows us to experience the circumstances and consequences of our actions and the actions of others to deepen our awareness of the brokenness in the world and to claim our vocation as a partner in God's healing for the world.

Forgiving is not forgetting but it is transforming the meaning of the past in the present moment.  Medical studies have shown that persons who let go of negative events experience a greater sense of well being than those who continue to hold grudges because of past injustices.  In authentic forgiveness, the past event is not forgotten but experienced as an opportunity for greater freedom, love, and creativity.

Forgiveness is a gentle process.  It cannot be rushed.  To find wholeness, we must fully experience our anger, hatred, depression, and despair and then move on to healing in our lives through our interaction with others and perhaps the counsel we may receive from trained and wise persons in the our lives and in the mental health field.

In the end, forgiveness is a form of divine healing.  As we embrace divine forgiveness in our lives, our memories and actions are transformed and made whole.  To forgive is not only to affirm our value as God's beloved children but also to recognize that same holiness in those whose actions temporarily disguise God's presence.

Think about these things:
I forgive myself and claim God's love for me.
By God's forgiveness, I am free from past pain and injustice.
I claim God's forgiveness of myself and others.
God is with me as I seek to forgive particular persons.

Holy One, who is open completely to our joy and pain, you know our hearts and intentions.  You know where we have missed the mark, chosen evil over good, and comfort over justice.  You know where we have hurt others as well as ourselves.  We confess our alienation and brokenness and ask that your forgiving love give us a new start.  Show us where we have gone astray, and give us the courage and insight to begin again and again.  In the name of the Healer Jesus.  Amen.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Day 19 of Lent: God is Present in the Lives of Our Enemies

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5: 44-45

One of the hardest theological facts to put into practice is the insight that if God is present and active everywhere, then God is present in your enemies as well as your loved ones.  Many of us polarize the world's population in terms of doers of good and evil.  We may even project our own personal or national views on other persons and nations, feeling that they can do no good, while we and our country can do no evil.

In a world of freedom and creativity, God is constantly seeking wholeness in every situation and for every person.  The impact of environment, genetics, and personal choice can limit the experience of God in our lives and in the lives of others.  Despite God's desire for shalom for all creation, some persons consistently choose violence, self-interest, and destruction.

We can see the tragic impact of destructive decision making in the lives of past leaders who brought about tragic consequences for masses of people because of their own skewed ways of viewing individuals and entire groups of people.  Although God's voice was trying to speak to them, they chose hatred and violence over God's call to them to repentance, transformation, and new life.

At times, our own anger and self-preoccupation can cloud our experience of God's vision for our lives.  But God is still speaking and working within our personal conflicts and tendencies to be isolated from others.  When we encounter violence and injustice, God may inspire us not only to love the evildoer but also to restrain future evil through protection, confrontation,and political involvement.

Jesus loved outsiders as God's beloved children---prisoners, prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors were all loved by Jesus and treated with respect.  He taught that God causes the light to shine on the righteous as well as the unrighteous.  The light of God shines in and on our enemies as well as our friends.

When we see the light of God within ourselves and others, we cultivate a holy self-affirmation that embraces the other as God's beloved child, despite our differences.  Grounded in the vision of God's presence in every person, we challenge injustice and treat others with reverence and respect.

Think about this:
God loves my enemies as well as me.
I experience God's presence in difficult persons at times.
I experience God's presence in persons who are not like me.

God, whose love embraces all things, awaken us to your love for those whom we call enemies.  Give us wisdom to see your presence in those who challenge or threaten us.  Let us work for justice and peace and reconciliation, trusting your love when our love reaches its limits.  In partnership with your all-embracing love, let us bring shalom to this good earth.  Amen.

Day 18 of Lent: We Can Experience God in the Least of These

Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
 Matthew 25:40

Christian compassion is grounded in the vision of divine-human partnership that radiates across the universe.  Our relationship to one another is manifested in thoughts, feelings, and actions and shapes the lives of other beings.  As we ponder the power of prayer, we can visualize our prayers as a force that enables others to be more attentive to the dream God has for their lives.  In many ways, prayer is a healing force that transforms others in new and creative ways.

The words of chapter 25 of Matthew shows the responsibility that humans have for each other.  Jesus tells the parable of the great judgment where people stand before the judge and are assigned their eternal fates based upon how they treated others during their lifetimes.  To those who are going to eternal joy, he tells them, "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was a stranger and you welcome me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."  Those addressed asked when they had ever done that for the one speaking and the reply was our introductory verse above--"Just as you did it to one of the least of these...you did it to me."

Do our actions really contribute something of value to God's own plan?  Do we offer something important when we reach out to others who are in need?  When we care enough to visit the sick, to write to those who are incarcerated in prison, to work at the food pantry or the soup kitchen, to send a card to those who are ill, to donate clothing to the place where the poor often shop, does it really make a difference in the world?

According to Jesus' teachings, it certainly does.  God understands us from inside out and knows the feelings we have.  Our feelings of empathy for others strike at the very center of the heart of God.  Our interdependence of life is felt by God as well as our neighbors when we work on their behalf.  We are called to contribute beauty, creativity, goodness, and compassion to God's world and all who live in it.

Think about these things:
I see God in the least of these.
I see God in particular people.
I do something beautiful for God as I live with others.

O God, whose heart beats in all hearts, who hears our prayers, delight in our joy, and may we truly give our lives to you.  May we do something beautiful for you and we care for one another.  Amen.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Day 17 of Lent: We Give and Receive God's Love

The identity of the woman in the Gospels who anointed Jesus' feet with oil is unknown in that each Gospel that tells the story gives the woman a different name.  One says it is Mary, the sister of Martha.  Another says it is Mary Magdalene.  Another just says a woman did it.  Regardless of whether or not we can know the true identity of the one who performed the act, it is the act itself that is the main idea of the story.  As the woman anointed Jesus with the oil and used her hair and tears to wash Jesus' feet, she was performing an act of love to express how she felt about the one she loved and adored.

Jesus expressed love for those around him who needed to hear his message of love so much.  The poor, the oppressed, the outcasts...all were people in society that felt worthless.  Jesus expressed love to them in the way he treated them.  As he touched the leper, ate meals with those called sinners by the religious authorities, and included those in society who were thought to be unclean he was expressing an inclusion that brought them into his circle in an age that lived for and practiced exclusion as a sign of being part of God's family.

Jesus' encounters demonstrated the interdependence of life in which our lives emerge from countless factors and add something to the world around us.  We are all part of the intricately connected "body of Christ" that embraces our faith community and our world.  Giving and receiving are part of the cosmic existence of which we are all a part.  As we welcome others to be part of our lives and express love to them in so many ways, we are uniting in spirit with the God who enables us to love and be loved freely.  We are all partners in the inter-relatedness of all creation. Those who give today may be vulnerable tomorrow, and in need of loving touch and gentle care.  This is the foundation of Christian generosity.

We grow in spirit when we let the poor give to us out of their apparent material scarcity and when we share our abundance not out of our superiority to the poor but in recognition of our common humanity.  God's bounty flows through our lives to others and returns to us in unexpected ways and from unexpected sources when we awaken to the essential interdependence of life.

Affirm for yourself today:
I give and receive God's love in every encounter.
I am constantly giving and receiving grace and love throughout the day.
I give and receive God's love in specific encounters each day.

Abundant God, we open our hands to receive your blessings as we share your blessings with others.  We open our hands to receive from those to whom we give.  Bless our gifts and inspire us to holy receptivity as we live each day by your abundant grace.  Amen.