Somewhere in my house, there is a button I got a few years ago that says, “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.” I thought of that button when I read today’s Gospel lesson. As a young girl, I longed to be unique, to be noticed for who I was, and to know that I had God’s blessing. Whenever I heard the account of the Baptism of Our Lord, I could not help but wonder what it would be like for a ray of light to come from the heavens and for a voice to say, “This is my child, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” What would it take, I thought, to be the kind of person that God would think was an exceptional being? (more…)
They brought him gifts, these magi; these wise men, mages, learned ones from the East. They came to find a king, and the one who was already king was not amused. He sent them on to Bethlehem, Herod, that fox, that sly wielder of power, plying them with smooth words even as his soldiers sharpened their swords for what was to come.
They brought him gifts, these sages, these Iranian seers, these Zoroastrian seekers of God. They followed a light from heaven, and they came to a humble house. And they opened their chests and brought forth their treasures, rich gifts laden with hope and expectation: Gold. Incense. Myrrh. (more…)
When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (Luke 21:28 KJV)
I got a kite for my birthday. I love kites, the way they ascend into the heavens transcending the force of gravity, up, up and away. We took my new kite to Bodega Head where there was a fresh breeze from the sea and it flew up into the air. What exhilaration! So the song that concludes Mary Poppins speaks to me. It’s a song of joy or redemption, a song of resurrection. The Banks family had been going down hill, while George Banks devoted his full attention to the bank where he worked and neglected his family. But when he lost his job it was a blessing in disguise; he had time to fix the kite which was broken and to take his family out to the park as he sang:
Oh, oh, oh! Let’s go fly a kite up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear. Oh, let’s go fly a kite!(more…)
There’s something very human about buyer’s remorse.
In a few weeks we’ll be seeing that up close as the return lines get long after Christmas. Although less and less in retail stores and more and more in post offices and UPS Stores. A few months ago I made an Amazon return and discovered for the first time that I didn’t even have to box up my item—just to bring it to the UPS Store and they would box it up for me. Companies are realizing that making their return policies easier actually makes them more money, as customers get more likely to buy in the first place. Buyer’s remorse is all part of the business plan. (more…)
It was about fifteen minutes before the end of my shift as hospital chaplain on call when I was paged to the cardiac catheterization lab.
I’d never been to the cath lab before. It’s not a place chaplains usually have a reason to visit. Patients usually go there for a procedure, then go home, or back to their inpatient beds. As I answered the page I could hear the shock in the nurse’s voice as she told me what had happened. A man in his fifties—let’s call him James—had come in for a test. Things seemed to be going routinely, until they weren’t. Without any warning, his heart stopped. The team performed CPR, but despite their frantic efforts, James died there on the table. (more…)
That’s what Jesus hears over and over as he hangs there. “If you are the King of the Jews, come down!” “If you are the chosen one, save yourself!” “If you are the Messiah, save yourself and us!”
And it’s as if his story has come full circle, back to the beginning, after his baptism when he went out into the desert and faced his first test, when Satan tempted him with almost the very same words. “If you are the Son of God. . . .” Turn these stones into bread, to feed your hunger. Bow down to me, and become king of the world. Leap from the temple, and test the Lord your God.
In the beginning just as in the end, the temptation is the same. To misuse his power. To turn his divine authority to his own ends. (more…)
There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. Luke 21:11
We live in apocalyptic times. Let me explain what “apocalyptic” means. It is the opposite of the words of the song: “Don’t worry; be happy.”
Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note.
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy
But we do worry because we are threatened by the coming of “the Four horsemen of the apocalypse,” which are disease and war, famine and death. the gospels list the signs of tribulation as “great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”(more…)
It’s very human to want to escape mortality. To cheat the Reaper and live forever.
Sometimes quite literally. Maybe you’re familiar with the movement called cryonics in which people have their bodies frozen in hopes future technology will be able to bring them back to life one day. On the other end of the timeline, there are some biotech folks in Silicon Valley who are hoping to extend human lifespans to the point of never dying in the first place, at least not from old age. Now as Christians we might say that there’s a difference between endless life and eternal life. A life that’s just chronologically endless, and where you’re continually afraid of dying in an accident, might turn out to be a nightmare instead of a dream. (more…)
This past Thursday I was unpacking my car when I found myself drawn into the stories of the saints.
What my car was full of was, essentially, Incarnation’s go-bag. In the midst of the evacuations, several of us packed up sacred items, vestments, chalices, and historic records into our cars for safekeeping. For four days my car was filled to the top with boxes of service registers and parish archives, along with our jeweled brass processional cross, removed from its staff, safely cushioned in Abigail’s car seat.
We packed those items up in a hurry. But on Thursday, during the unloading, I couldn’t help but leaf through some of the old records. And there they were: names and narratives of the great cloud of witnesses whose prayers have soaked into these wooden walls around us for nearly a century and a half. (more…)
When I was a teenager I had a number of friends who were conservative Christians with a pretty literalist understanding of the Bible. They would often quote this verse, sometimes using the translation “God-breathed” where the translation we heard today uses “inspired by God.” Now the word in Greek can mean either one. But of course there’s a difference between believing scripture has been inspired by God, or perhaps breathed into by God’s spirit, and believing that it is breathed directly out of the mouth of God. And as a bit of a contrarian, I would sometimes point that out. I would also point out that it’s a circular argument to quote scripture to support your argument about the inerrancy of scripture. (more…)
“He makes his marvelous works to be remembered, the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.” Psalm 111:4
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The Leper’s Thank You
When I was a young girl my mother used to make me write thank you notes whenever I was given a gift. This was one of her “home training” rules (home training rules were designed to ensure that you had good manners). My mother wanted me to understand how important it was to be grateful that someone took the time to find something I would like, buy it, wrap it and give it to me. Thank you notes were to be written and mailed within the week. And, it took time to write those notes because it required thinking about what the gift meant to me and which words would best show my appreciation. I kept up this tradition for many years and I still hear my mother’s voice in my head if I do not send a thank you note when I should. (more…)
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.”
I’m sure I’m not the only person in this room that has tried this a couple of times. So far without success. I remember hearing this passage as a child, or maybe one of its parallel passages in Matthew and Mark’s gospels where it’s not a tree but a mountain that’s thrown into the sea. And the impression I got was that getting a prayer answered was a matter of believing hard enough. Driving every possible iota of doubt or uncertainty out of one’s mind and holding it that way long enough to get the words out. (more…)
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria. Amos 6:1
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Back in 1972 when we were married, my aunt gave us £30 which we spent on a Vango “Force 10” tent from Blacks of Greenock. I was glad to see that in a photo of one of the Everest expeditions they were using our tent. We spent our days off camping in different parts of Britain; we still have it, though we do not use it often. It protected us from hurricane winds and torrential downpours. On various occasions we hosted friends whose tents leaked, soaking their clothes and sleeping bags.
On a number of occasions I have been backpacking in the Sierra. I enjoy the sensation that I am carrying everything I need on my back far from civilization. Life becomes very simple. There’s nothing to do except hike to our next campsite. At night I hear the sound of the wind in the trees and I look up to see the stars and in August the Perseids (shooting stars). There are no shops to buy things–so there’s no point in having a credit card; and there’s no cell-phone coverage. Up above 10,000 feet the air is thin, the sky is blue, the lake water is clear and stocked with golden trout. (more…)
According to the Oxford Dictionary, wealth is defined as, “an abundance of valuable possessions or money.” Its synonyms include affluence, prosperity, riches, substance, and well-being. A person’s understanding of how much wealth they have can be based on a comparison to what someone else has, otherwise known as keeping up with the Joneses. A sense of wealth can also be a measure of what possessions and money represent: status, having “made it,” “living large,” “buying what I want when I want it even if I don’t really need it cause I just want to have it syndrome.” (more…)
It’s a little silver Celtic cross I wear on a chain around my neck. My parents gave it to me when I was in the first grade. So the three years I’d been wearing it by then pale in comparison to the thirty-three years I’ve been wearing it now. But even then, it had been almost a third of my life.
My friends and I had taken to doing some wrestling at recess, in a wooded area of the schoolyard somewhat screened from interfering adult eyes. And mid-wrestle, I heard the jingle of a snapped chain and felt it slip from around my neck. I cried out, and my friends must have sensed my genuine distress, because the roughhousing stopped and we spent the rest of recess searching the leaf-strewn ground. To no avail. (more…)
It was 1862. It was wartime. But despite the Civil War, the new dome was still in progress on the U.S. Capitol building. The last piece was the great statue of Freedom for the top. It had been shipped from Italy in five sections and temporarily plastered together. But there was a problem. It was time to separate it again for the final casting, and no one knew how to get it apart. The seams were hidden by the plaster. One skilled laborer saved the day. He attached a pulley to the top and pulled up just enough until the seams began to show. The casting could proceed, and the statue stands atop the Capitol to this day.
That man’s name was Philip Reid. He was a black man. And he was a slave. Or rather, he was one of many, many enslaved people who provided the labor for the Capitol Building, most of whose names we don’t know.(more…)