Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pentecost Sunday - The Descent of the Holy Spirit - Roman Catholic


Today's Readings:

First Reading:      Acts 2:1-11

Psalm:                Ps 104: 1ab, 24ac, 29bc-30, 31, 34

Second Reading: 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Gal 5:16-25

Gospel Reading:  Jn 20:19-23 or Jn 15:26-27; 16:12-15

Sunday, May 27, 2012

May 27 - Pentecost Sunday

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 118, 145

Deuteronomy 16:9-12

Acts 4:18-33

John 4:19-26

Today’s Question:

How can we worship and serve with the zeal of the early apostles?

Today’s Reflection:

Pentecost Sunday gives us the opportunity to break a bit out of the normal, stoic worship experience and worship with zeal. We cannot talk about Pentecost without excitement – and that makes me wonder why we do not still worship and live with the forceful exuberance of the early apostles. If they can do it, why can’t I?

Like many of our Holy Days, Christian Pentecost coincides with the Jewish Pentecost or Festival of Weeks that occurred fifty days after Passover (hence the name derived from the word meaning fifty). For the Hebrews, it was a harvest festival celebrating the bringing in of the harvest. While the harvest for the Christian faith does not come in heads of grain, Pentecost does represent a harvest of souls through the opening of the Church to all people.

The Deuteronomy passage describes the festival of weeks as a time for everyone to celebrate – family, slaves, Levites, strangers, orphans, widows. The community presented the grain tithes from the harvest as well as free will offerings above and beyond the required tithe. The festival served as an opportunity to celebrate the harvest and to remember the days enslaved in Egypt despite now being safely in the land the Lord provided.

Acts describes an event much like the one Jesus described in last Sunday’s passage from Matthew 10. The apostles had been threatened by leaders, yet they continued to speak boldly with the power given to them by the Holy Spirit. They came out of the experience and continued to tell the works of Jesus with such fervor that the Holy Spirit shook the building where they worshipped. They experienced all these things first hand and courageously followed Christ’s commission to them

We have their first-hand accounts.

We have the Holy Spirit with us even today.

How often do we act with this much boldness even with the same tools? The apostles preached boldly when their lives were on the line for every statement they made. Very few of us today live in a place where our lives are jeopardized for belief in Christ or the proclamation of that belief. Certainly we sometimes face mockery and disdain from people who do not believe, but rarely is life or livelihood put at risk. Following the examples of the apostles, we learn that absolute reliance on God, and God’s presence with us in the Holy Spirit, allow us to do everything he desires. In the John passage, Jesus tells the woman at the well to worship God in spirit and in truth. Psalm 145 promises all who call on God in truth will be heard. The same promises continue for us today – and we will see the same results when we take courage and fully believe in the assurances from God and listen to the message of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us be as emboldened by the Holy Spirit as the early church to worship with zeal, preach with confidence, and believe completely.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

May 20 - Seventh Sunday of Easter - Protestant

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 66, 67, 19, 46

Exodus 3:1-12

Hebrews 12:18-29

Matthew 10:17-24

Today’s Question:

How do we know the voice of God?

Today’s Reflection:

A few years ago one of my coworkers’ voices was so distinctive it could be picked out across a noisy room. It was not odd. It was not loud. It was essentially distinctive. There was no other way to describe it. Everyone who knew her knew she was present simply by hearing her speak. In the passages today, we hear God’s voice.

The Exodus passage present’s Moses’s encounter with the burning bush through which God presents his mission. These passages in which God directly encounters a person are some of my favorite in the Bible because they show the humanity of the people in the story. Moses has the typical response as others when God tells them what they are going to do: “You want me to do what?” And God comes back with the typical Godly response: “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got this.” Similar exchanges take place throughout the Bible when God calls prophets and when Jesus talks to people. We in our humanity cannot grasp the magnitude of the situation and have no idea what to do to see it through.

The Hebrews passage remembers the encounter of the Israelites at the mountain when they heard the thundering voice of God and feared they would die of it. As I read the passage, I can also read it as all peoples standing before God in the coming judgment. Both readings provide an opportunity for the people of God to embrace the encounter with great joy and celebration. Instead, the encounter is both frightening and eye-opening. We see that most of the people cower from the experience. The passage reminds us to listen to the voice of God for it is our guide – no matter how overwhelming it seems in the moment. Despite the people’s fear, the scripture offers reassurances: “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got this.”

In Matthew, Jesus is giving directions and encouragement to his followers as he prepares them for challenges to come. He tells of the Holy Spirit which will be the voice of God with the people when he leaves. The Holy Spirit will bring the answers we humanly cannot know. God never abandons his people in a time of need. By providing the Holy Spirit, Jesus reminds us: “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got this.”

One of the keys to survival for young in the wild is that they recognize their parent’s call – and that the parent recognized the call of their young. As Christians, we are given the Holy Spirit, God’s voice, to know God’s voice. He still speaks to us. Maybe not in thundering tones from the top of a mountain. And maybe not in the still small voice. He speaks to us in his voice. In order for us to grow and thrive as Christians, we must know God’s voice.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us open ourselves to the power of God’s voice – in whatever form it takes – that we may grow and do as he commands us to. And let us remember his assurance,  “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got this.”


Saturday, May 12, 2012

May 13 - Sixth Sunday in Easter Protestant

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 93, 96, 34

Leviticus 25:1-17

James 1:1-11

Luke 12:13-21

Today’s Question:

How do Old Testament laws guide our New Covenant Faith?

Today’s Reflection:

Challenging rules has been part of human nature since God created us with free will. If a rule does not make obvious sense, we challenge it immediately: perhaps it was poorly worded. As a Christian, not bound by the law, I instantly challenge much of the Levitical law. Why would anyone make such trivial laws?

The idea of sabbath and jubilee years presented in Leviticus 25 is so foreign to us today that it is hard to imagine a culture that did such things in the name of religion. In a time when many of the people were agrarian, the idea of not being a steward of the land for an entire year seems anathema to the basic purpose of being a farmer. In a time when famine and death were one dry season away, failing to plant crops for a year seems a sure death sentence. Why would a loving god command such a thing of his people? Nevertheless, God did just that – and that it happen on a regular basis.

I think we can find the answers to such questions in the epistle and Gospel passages.

The author of James demands absolute faith in a God who will provide everything we NEED to do his works. The passage is so often misinterpreted by people who take the admonition against “doubt” to apply to every part of our spiritual walk.

Without doubt, we would never reach the point of accepting salvation through Christ.

Without doubt, we would never grow to the point that we function as mature Christians, doing God’s will.

Without doubt, faith becomes an empty expression of blind belief.

The author remains adamant. God will provide IF we believe without questioning.

In the Gospel, a bystander asks Jesus to direct his brother to share the inheritance. Jesus responded by doing what Jesus did: he told a story. The story actually gives us several layers to consider, but in it, one thing Jesus does is provide a distinction between wealth and greed that I find enlightening. I had not considered the difference between wealth and greed as being having abundance versus having abundance, wanting more, and keeping it to oneself.

Jesus does not condemn the wealthy.

He condemns the greedy.

This is the point at which the Old Testament and New Testament passages converge. God provides what we need and when we become too self-reliant, we move away from God. Having a Sabbath Year. Asking without doubt. Accepting sufficiency. All are steps of faith we make in trusting our God. By demanding the Sabbath year, God showed, through the natural productivity of the land, that he continued to provide for his people. In the jubilee year, when all property reverted to the owners by tribe, God showed that all things come from him and no sale (or as we would call it now, a lease) would change that. The commands also helped preserve a social order – the wealthy only controlled for a time and the poor were only slaves for a time. And at the appointed time, everything reverted to its appointed order: the land to its owners and people to their families (tribes). The Old Testament law provided for economic and social equity. The New Testament faith leads to the same thing.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us complete our faith by completely trusting that everything we need for our faith will be provided.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

May 6 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer

Psalm 24, 29, 8, 84

Leviticus 8:1-13, 30-36

Hebrews 12:1-14

Luke 4:16-30

Today’s Question:

Who do others see when they see you?

Today’s Reflection:

As a person who works with teenagers, I have the opportunity to observe the development of persons. During these formative years, they try various identities and peer groups in the process of becoming the person and personality that fits them. The passages today contemplate the identity – and identity crisis - of God’s followers. The passages help us consider who we are and how we become the person we are in relationship to God.

In the Psalms, the author(s) relate to the status in rank of humanity.  The Psalms 24 and 29 establish God as the highest power and authority over all creation with the ability to make all do his will despite otherwise seeming to be inanimate creation. Psalms 8 and 84 describe humankind’s position in creation using some of the verses I find most comforting in the Bible. Psalm 8:4 asks in wonder, “who are we that you even acknowledge us?” You, God, are so great and we are so minute. Nevertheless, you have allowed us a position of rank over the rest of your creation.

The Leviticus passage describes the ordination of the priestly order in Hebrew history.  The elaborate process with specific steps demonstrated the dedication of the priests to the lifestyle demanded of the religious leaders of God’s people. Following the process showed that they could keep up with the law and be faithful leaders for the people. In the time of the law, fidelity to the law provided stability and order in the society and a faithful connection to God.

The Hebrew’s passage reminds us of the change from the law to the New Covenant through Christ as it refers to him as the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” indicating a change in the way we come in relationship with God. The passage continues with a description of discipline and the purpose behind it. Discipline on the people individually is a part of that new relationship and new identity. God deals with us individually as his children rather than through a priest, for God’s love falls directly on each of us. Being called a child of God gives us a particular identity that matters in the world with a set of expectations motivating our behavior.

In Luke, Jesus’s own identity gets questioned by the residents of his home town. The people of Nazareth cannot see beyond the familiar. They have known this man from childhood and have watched him grow up in his father’s carpentry shop. Despite the wise teaching and the news of his remarkable actions, the local people cannot how this humble man could be anything but a carpenter.

If even Jesus could have such an identity crisis, what kind of identity do we have? When people see me, do they see a person who embodies the love of Christ and lives a life that models his teachings? Our witness to the people we see on a regular basis requires us to be a prophet in our home. Being identified as a child of God demands that we follow the Father’s rules and become the people he calls us to be.

Today’s Prayer:

Let us find the identity as children of God and give us the strength to live up to those expectations.