Saturday, April 4, 2020

Palm Sunday

Zechariah 9:9-12
Phil  2:5-11
Mt 21:1-11

Some five hundred years before Christ, the  prophet Zechariah was one of the prophets sent by God to exhort the returning exiles. The call to repentance and to rebuild the temple are part of deliverance and salvation. Zechariah's apocalyptic symbolism was seen as Messianic, and it is quoted often in the Gospels.

We need the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to see this revelation of God. Our nous, the spiritual sight, and heart must be purified and enlightened. Unbelief and false belief veil our  eyes. We see Jesus but do not recognize Messiah. Seeing is not believing, believing, however, is seeing!

As Jesus enters the city, Matthew uses the  word for earthquake to describe the tumult. The city is shaken, something which will  happen  again at the crucifixion and at the resurrection. We are invited to  let our hearts be shaken as well, to be freed of our long held false beliefs and false attachments.

During the last three weeks, we  have  endured a type of exile, though ironically it has been in our  own  homes. We are, most of us, enclosed in a pleasant place, with our daily needs provided, but we are enclosed none the less. Our freedom has been curtailed and their have been losses, not the least of which, the loss of our common worship in this physical place. Cut off from the altar and sanctuary, we live in a time where the future is less secure. We know that the words "poor and needy" describe a larger portion of the society today than they did when Lent began. We know that many more will suffer and die (do not forget the locust plague in Africa and the Middle East).  The world cries out for help and they want someone to save them from sickness and financial woe. The world needs a savior, but will they recognize Jesus? Or will they fail to see the truth?

Things have changed fast for us, but it has always been so. One day we wake to find that all is new. Isn't that what the disciples experienced? On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem, the people singing "Hosanna!" The psalm they were singing was a celebration, the apostles were no doubt swept up in the excitement.

Jesus, however, knew what lay ahead: His ultimate battle with the flesh, the world and the devil. Thursday night He will wrestle with Satan's temptation and His own human desires, sorrow and distress. He will emerge triumphant and go willingly to death. The church and state, priest and procurator, will collude and have Him killed. It is always so, the human institutions are reluctant to bend the knee. Satan will work through those human institutions to kill Jesus. The crowds, which He freed, healed and fed, will suddenly turn against Him, too. The bewildering speed is a reminder that "things can change fast."

For the disciples, at the end of the week, today's celebration will feel like a terrible deceit. On Saturday (the day of rest) Jesus lies silent in the tomb, while they hide in fear. But things change fast, and the gloom and doom of Holy Saturday will not be the last word.

We are living in difficult times. The sufferings increase, the worries and concerns expand. The solutions to the problems we face, as is always the case, create new problems.  Yet, do not be deceived. Jesus is Lord. Keep your eyes on Him, whatever the circumstance. Keep your eye on Him, in good time or bad. Keep your eye on Him, Who came to die for you.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Mark 2 A Tool for meditation

I will be doing a guided meditation on Mark 2:1-12 which can be found on St. Andrews' website. If you have the St. Andrew's app, simply press the "sermons" tag on the bottom and you can find it.

Mark 2:1-12 (//Mt 9:1-8; Lk 5:17-26)

Mark begins the Gospel with Jesus proclaimng the Gospel and healing. Chapter two is a longer story which goes into greater detail. We begin to see a growing (negative) reaction to Jesus and His ministry, which will culminate in the crucifixion. However, I invite you to see the story in terms of your own journey to Jesus for forgiveness and healing. 

Jesus has returned to Capernaum, His home town. Biblically, the "home" can be symbolic of what must be left behind--it is "the fallen world" in which we are comfortably cut off from God. (The "world" is a theological idea here, like the "flesh." It is meant in terms of sin or separatin from God. In other places, home, world and flesh have the more typical, even positive meaning).

Jesus' teaching and healing ministry are a sensation. If the local rulers (church and state) are keeping a suspicious eye on Jesus, the people, the "lost sheep" are drawn to this "Good Shepherd" who is in the house. Needy people gather around the house, surrounding it with their desire for help. It would have been somewhat scary, crowds can get unruly and needy people can be demanding. There was, no doubt, some jostling and pushing going on....

Four men approach with a paralytic. Four is the symbolci number of the world. The four corners of the earth or the four points on the compass are images of that. In the Book of Revelation, chapter 4, there are four living creatures--a lion, a calf, a man, an eagle--which symbolize all living creatures. The four are the earthly realm. The "world" in the good sense of creation (which God called good and blessed) and the place where God encounters us. So I invite you to see the four men as people in your life, or institutions, or events, or places which have brought you to Jesus. They are the ones who carry us where we can not go on our own. The paralytic is someone who is physically diminished, so he is a symbol of all types of infirmity. The Greek word literally means someone who has a side not working. Maybe like a stroke victim, but it also meant those who were damaged and weak in any way. The paralytic is our "dependent, broken self." This includes mental, emotional and spiritual factors; whatever makes us unholy and unwhole is a "paralytic." 

The 'church' carries us to Christ--the believers bring us to him. The people of faith intercede for us. Jesus responds to their faith (in most stories it is the faith of the supplicant!). It is good to know we are not on our own, especially in times when we cannot trust enough on our own. We can bring the unconscious (figuratively or literally) to Jesus, and we can be brought to Jesus. Faith has a communal aspect and we share in one faith. Modern individualism might be offended by such an idea, but it is biblical that the faith of one can be a venue for the salvation of another.

Jesus responds to the paralytic declaring forgiveness of his sins. When some of the crowd  are offended and question this He asks a question. Is it easier to say you are forgiven or get up and walk. It is obviously the former. No one can prove a sin is not forgiven, but anyone can see if the man can walk. Jesus than says, "I will prove it...stand up."

The lovely story in Mark 2 gives us insight into Jesus, but also invites us to be healed and forgiven. I have done a meditation on this reading for those who have a hard time meditating on their own. It is in the sermon section of our website. If you have the app it is quick to find. If you are comfortable to meditate on your home, then imagine being the man. Who carried you to Jesus? What takes away your vitality? What sin, doubt, fear, wound, injury, physical malady makes you a "paralytic"? If you can honestly face the brokenness--physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual--and you allow yourself to come to Jesus see what He says to you.
"You are forgiven." For so many believing this is too hard. We see ourselves as outcast, we fear judgement. Jesus did not respond to anything the man said, He declared forgiveness. This is because Jesus forgives us first. Jesus forgives because He came to save sinners! When we respond, then we are reconciled, but His forgiveness always comes first. Jesus wants loving union with us. Trust Him. The deepest healing is union with the Holy Three in love. The life of God within us makes us whole. It begins now and can manifest aleady. At the New Creation we will be fully healed, but in the meantime let us receive all the healing which Christ offers in this time of our earthly sojourn.

After the meditation, I invite you to pray in response to His healing and forgiveness. God provides a psalm for those who have been healed (Psalm 30) or forgiven (Psalm 32). I highly recommend frequent use of both. I highly recommend frequent meditation on stories of healing and forgiveness, especially when praying for yourself or others. 

Jesus said the Kingdom is near at hand. Through our trust in Him, that kingdom can break through and enter us and impact us now, already. Let us pray "Father, your kingdom come!" Let us receive, now, the foretaste of all to come. 

Morning Prayer: Monday March 30 (Lent 5)

note, this material is for Monday Morning Prayer.
We have a recording for Sunday Morning, Lent 5 which will be available at the website and Facebook page.
I am unable to publish this from home. sorry if it is out of sequence.
Psalm 31 
Exodus 4:10-31    
1 Corinthians 14:1-19     
Mark 9:30-41
Some thoughts on Psalm 31. [A verbal commentary on the daily readings is available through the St Andrew's website and St Andrew's Facebook page]

"in you I seek shelter/refuge"
This is a very popular image in psalms. It is a relational term, understanding God as the place of refuge from the dangers of the world. This is a foundational insight into the nature of God. He is the God who "inclines His ear" and we are invited to meditate on that.

The prayer is composed by someone in dire straights, and it borrows from other psalms as well as Jeremiah. It is one of several hymns of supplication in times of great need. As we pray it, we may think of the people in different times and places who also found that these words echoed their own hard times. We might open our hearts to pray with them, living and dead, who  looked to the Lord and cried out, "Save me!"

Ps 31:5 is quoted by Jesus as He dies, in Luke 23:46, "Into your hand I commend my spirit." The spirit (ruah in Hebrew) is the life force in each person, breathed into the 'adam (human) at creation. It generally means "life." The psalmist declares that God "buys back/sets free" (redeems) his life. We can see how that has  special meaning in Jesus, but, by extension, every human being.

Idols are called "vain" or empty. Humans must choose, the real God or the false deities, and this  has always been  true. The Psalmist recognizes that God has spared him, God has kept him from the hand of the enemy. It is easy to see the problems which assail us. It is not so easy to discern the things which God has kept from happening to us. The sick person knows when they get better, but what of those sheltered from the illness, who are likewise spared?

As is often the case, the supplicant prays for the judgment on his persecutors. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for them. Why do we see the opposite here? Perhaps, it is because the psalms are meant to confront us with our true thoughts and feelings? Perhaps it allows us to hear the desire for revenge, uttered in the presence of the loving, merciful God. It is a mirror to our souls. Perhaps, it is a reminder that God will confront us with the truth, and we must each face Him with the  choices we made. The times we perscuted others, we did evil to one of His children. When we were mistreated, evil is done to us, His children. Some day God will make all things right.

Verse 22 also offers insight into our struggles. Our doubt and fear--God can't see me or hear me--are here on the page of Scripture. There is nothing new or modern about such unbelief. In every age, humans have had to struggle to believe that God  loves them and to trust God. The final exhortation is a wonderful verse to remember: Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.
Courage. Strength. Hope/Patience (waiting) The life of believers is a challenge, it always has been. If you find it is not easy, then you are truly on the right path!

You may want to find a verse which was especially resonant. Repeat is slowly, several times, and allow it to sit in your heart. I found 31:14 to be such a verse. It is a strong affirmation and declaration: "But as for me, I have trusted in You, Lord. I have said, "You are my God."   The Ancient Covenant declares that we are 'saved by faith' over and over. Whatever your fear, whatever your worry, whatever your situation--you can turn to the Lord, as so many have done before you. He wants to be your God. Trust Him!  

Monday, March 23, 2020

Triple Praying a Psalm

Salvation is the soul-healing process which transforms our disordered thoughts, feelings and desires. It is a process of being united with the Trinity and becoming like Jesus. Prayer is an important component of the process.

Arguably, the ancient prayer book  is the Bible, with a focus on the psalms. On the St. Andrew's parish Facebook account we are providing meditations on some of the psalms and readings assigned for Morning Prayer in the  Daily Office. The church assigns particular scriptures to each day of the year, which provides a daily worship experience. This practice goes back to the Jewish worship before Christ and is much influenced by the monastic prayer practices of the early and medievel church. St Benedict is a fundamental influence on the Anglican and Roman traditions.

Would you like to go deeper and encounter God? I offer the "triple prayer" approach to psalms.

Reading 1
Simply pray the psalm. Consciously pray to God, but also listen to the revelation from God. Take your time to hear. This connects you to the psalm.

Reading 2
Pray the psalm with Israel in mind. How would  the experience of the Jews shape the meaning of the words? Think also of the church in mind. How does our corporate (sinners and saints, evil and good) experience interact with the words? This connects you to the people of God.

Reading 3
Pray the psalm with and in Jesus. Hear the words in His mouth as He prays it (He actually did pray psalms, including during the crucifixion). What do the words mean in the context of His life? This connects you to God Incarnate.

This is obviously easier with some psalms than others. Sometimes you might just want to prayerfully read the psalm. Then read it again looking for repeated words or themes, analyzing the structure and hearing its meaning. The third time you simply, ask what God is revealing to your mind and heart?

But by way of example, hear these words from Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd."

For a Jew in the exile of Babylon, or in the courts of the Temple in Solomon's reign.
A Jew persecuted by Christians or dying in the Nazi concentration camps.
A desert monk in quiet or a parishioner in a bustling parish.
In peace time abundance or the struggles of war and famine.
Jesus on the mountain teaching, or Jesus on the cross dying.

I think you get it. The psalms  have been prayed for thousands of years by millions and millions of people in a wide variety of contexts. One person, Jesus, prayed them perfectly, the rest of us do our best. It is good to pray with all believers and best to pray in and through Him. Open your heart to receive the psalms and ask the Holy Spirit to bless you as you pray the psalms. You will find a great depth and beauty there!

A reminder to check out our sermon section for more material at or on the app.
St Andrews Facebook will have videos of teaching as well.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

On Seeing and Being Blind.

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ps 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

The early Church Fathers speak often of nepsis (to keep watch). This was what God told Adam and Eve to do in the Garden--KEEP WATCH. Since the Fall, the nous, which is the eye of the soul (or heart), is darkened. We may keep watch, but our eye-sight is impaired. 

Hear the revelation of God to Samuel: "Do not look on his appearance...; for the Lord does not see as mortals see, they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

Humans are seduced by the world of appearances. Remember Eve "perceived that the tree was good for food and a delight to the eye," when the heart is disobedient the eye does not see clearly! Since them we have compounded the first sin with our own. There is no doubt that  "what delights our eyes," is the result of nature and nurture, two things over which we have no control. 

While self-improvement is a noble venture, and in a sense, we are called to attempt it, it is also a relative term. In reality, we are eye surgeons operating on our own eyes. The task is ultimately beyond us, our success will be limited. We can address the symptoms, but our soul's illness remains deep within our hearts. 

The Gospel contrasts two types of blindness. The man born blind is a symbol of every human being. He is us! We are born broken and impaired in an world environment which is broken and impaired. His physical blindness is not his fault. Jesus makes clear, God does not punish people with sickness. There is not a direct correlation between our moral states and maladies. We might want to blame others for their condition, but all of us know that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and sometimes the evil prosper.

Physical blindness, however, is obvious. What of the nous? What of the eye of the soul? That is not so easy to discern. The religious foes of Jesus probably thought that they were right. The would think that their scholarship and righteousness allowed them to see clearly. I wonder if I would have sided with them. I was raised to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. I cannot assume that everything I think or believe, even if I pray and study the question, is accurate. When we are engaged in arguments over church teaching, we can stand firm in faith, but also with humility. We cannot claim perfect vision to discern the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the question we must wrestle with: is Jesus doing a new thing or are others offering the forbidden fruit which delights the eyes or appeals to the fallen heart? Remember the opponents of Jesus felt totally sure that He was a dangerous fellow.

Stories which pit Jesus against the  religious authorities always give me pause, I am, after all, a church leader. But the same is true for any church leader, or any person for that matter. Our hearts are wounded, our souls are damaged, our mental understanding impaired,  our spiritual eyes are darkened. Even if we sincerely believe that we are right, even if we have a Scripture quote to back us up, we may be blindly standing against Messiah and His Kingdom. 

Let us take to heart God's revelation to Samuel: "God does not judge as men do, God sees the heart." We must humbly admit our limitations, even as we steadfastly stand for what we believe to be the truth. And we must take to heart what Jesus says, " If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say,  'we see,' your sin remains.

I think Jesus makes it clear. The biggest problem isn't that we are impaired in our perceiving, it is that we fail to confess our need for His forgiveness and healing. Telling God, "I know I am right," is probably not a great prayer. Instead, we pray, "Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Loving Savior, thank you for healing me and make me whole, please give me eyes to see as You see, a mind to perceive as you perceive, a heart of trusting, faithful love  like your heart. Amen!" 

Monday, March 9, 2020

2 lent

genesis 12:1-4    romans 4:1-5, 13-17     John 3:1-17     psalm 121

Last week we read that Adam and Eve ate the fruit and then hid from God. Because they sin, disobey and cut themselves off from the Father, it results in their exile. Since then, humans live under the curse of suffering, sin and death. Paul writes about the spread of sin in Romans. Like a deadly virus, sin is easily transmitted from person to person. God's remedy is Jesus.

In Genesis 12 God works against the curse. He tells Abram, "I will bless you. You will be a blessing to all the families in the earth." Being blessed is not a passive process, Abram must cooperate. When God tells Abram, "You go" Abram has to leave everything--his home and family. It is a spiritual law: only an empty container can be filled. Abram's heart stripped of the security of home, can receive God's promise of a new family in a new land. It is painful, but it is necessary. Jesus will make the same demands of His disciples.

God does not give details about the process, He gives Abram a promise, "I will show you where." Abram has to give up control; he must trust. Like us, he wants clarity, he wants concrete details, but he gets none. Real faith is often lived in darkness. In the spiritual classic, Dark Night of the Soul, John of the Cross explains how union with  God entails a long purification which he calls the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the soul. These dark nights are painful processes which prepare us for theosis (union).

With that in mind, let's look at the Nicodemus story. He is a Pharisee and a powerful leader who comes to Jesus at night. Reading the text symbolically, Nicodemus is you or I in search of the Truth. Sadly, few of us can grasp the depth of meaning in Jesus' words.  

Nicodemus has a set of assumptions and he is distracted by worldly concerns. When Jesus says that he must be born from above--meaning an act of God's healing power--Nicodemus is confused and thinks that he must be born again. Jesus says we are begotten by water and the Spirit, a reference to baptism, but also His death on the cross. When He died, Jesus handed over His Spirit. When He was pierced by a lance water (and blood) flowed out.

In our union with Jesus we are begotten as children of God sharing in His divine life. Only those in Christ and filled with Christ enter the Kingdom of God. 

Unfortunately, we still find ourselves in the dark; we will remain, to some extent, creatures of the night until Jesus returns. John of the Cross says we must strip ourselves of the sinful desires of the ego. The truth is we do not love God enough and we are ruled by false attachments too much.  Our Father knows that we can not do it alone. He gives us His Spirit and washes us clean of sin. God offers us freedom, but like Abram we must leave behind our doubts and sins. We must also, in a sense, leave the false security of home and family, all that we hold dear. For mortals this is not an option. Everyone will die and we will leave behind family, home, everything. For Christians, this is an active life choice before we die.

The purpose of Lent is to make a practice run at dying. "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." It is only in the emptiness of death that we can be filled with resurrection life. 

In the meantime, life will often be a struggle in the night. If you're feeling like you are in the dark, know that Jesus is there with you. Take heart, darkness and confusion can be the path to union. 

Remember, we must be emptied of everything else before we can be filled with Him. He desires us more than we can imagine, let us desire Him as well.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

End of the Age

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17         Psalm 103         2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10          Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

"Blow the trumpet in Zion!" declares the prophet Joel. "Sound the alarm, let the people tremble as God approaches in judgement of His people." The prophecy of Joel speaks of an invasion of locusts which will consume the land, of drought and fire that destroys the crops and even kills the wild animals. He speaks of wars. Interspersed in these calamities are the call to repentance and the promise of salvation. 

The short book of Joel is one of the reasons that secular news has been referencing the bible and the *apocalypse in their reporting of current events. Today a locust plague wreaks havoc from Africa into Asia. Hundreds of  billions of locusts may grow to over one hundred trillion by June. 

Australia's drought condition resulted in the deaths of millions of animals in devastating wildfires.  Australia exported 9 million tons of wheat a year ago, now they will need to import it for the foreseeable future.

Joel does not speak of disease, but Jesus does (Mt 24). China has lost 2/3rds of their herds to African swine fever (a quarter of the pigs on earth). In addition the coronavirus has the country on lockdown. In recent days Venice canceled Carnevale (their version of Mardi Gras) and the Catholic Church has closed its churches. Public health officials expect a global pandemic and economic impact is being felt, most intensely by the poor and weak.

Joel did not declare the end of the world, nor are our problems unique. A century ago, one third of the world had the Spanish flu and between 50 and 100 million died of it. Another **50 million people died in WW2, but since the birth of Christ, there have been nine other wars with over ten million fatalities and another fifteen with over three million. Jesus said that natural disasters and wars would come, but they are the birth pangs.

Lent confronts us with the truth: "You are dust and to dust you shall return." It is the prophetic message of judgement days, but God is with us even in the bad days. Lent leads us to Jerusalem where Jesus is crucified, standing with all the others who suffered at the hands of Rome and the other Empires of history. Jesus redeems the victims of locust and fire, sickness and starvation. 

Yes we are dust. 
Yes we will die. 
Yes the world is a hard place. 

But no.
No, we are not alone. He is with us.
No. Sin, suffering and death are not the last word.
Mercy, healing, life and love are.

Yes, we can repent, here and now. 
Repent in hope, repent in joy.
And we know: all will be well. And all will be well. (***Julian of Norwich)