Friday, April 30, 2010

Sweet to the taste

Ezekiel 2.8-3.11

Revelation 10.1-11

These two passages are from my suggested scripture readings for yesterday, 29 April, but I find them interesting nonetheless. Both of these selections from Ezekiel and Revelation speak of being presented with a scroll, being commanded by God to eat the scroll, with the scroll first tasting sweet. Yet, Revelation speaks of the scroll turning the author's stomach sour.

To me, the image of eating the scroll from God is akin to keeping God's word posted on our doorways and in our hearts. Both statements are essentially a call to meditate on the word of God both day and night. To my ear, though, devouring the scroll is an extension of Jesus' prayer "give us this day our daily bread" as we are called to feed on God's word daily.

When I think of the Revelation 10 passage, I see some semblance of my own life. Yes, I do know the word of God is sweet to the taste, but sometimes the challenge of following it can turn my stomach sour by either anger or fear. I look back on these experiences as moments of God's grace, mercy, and a call for growth.

I must say that I see this happening now. The United States has many residents who are Christian, who feed on the sweet words of God, and yet the challenge to follow them seems to have soured many stomachs.

1. God calls us to care for the aliens among us (Lev. 19.33-34), and yet we wrestle and call each other names in striving for a humane and compassionate policy on immigration.

2. Though it may be easy to demonize the supporters of Arizona's "Papers, please" law, Christ asks us to love one another, especially our enemies and those who disagree with us. I am waiting to see this.

This is what I mean when I say I believe the tenor of contemporary political discourse to be unbiblical. We find the words of God's mercy, compassion, patience, and forgiveness to be sweet, but yet the challenge to share these gifts with our enemies seems to sour our stomachs.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The kingdom of God is within you, seeking to be freed from bonds of fear, anger, mistrust, competition, and greed.

God is a continuous thread, stitching together the seemingly dissparate parts of our lives. Once we become aware of how the needle that is the Holy Spirit pierces our conscience in the different parts of our lives, we can begin to see what God is making us to be.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Work of Christmas

[This is a reconstruction of the message I preached at Tenderloin Open Cathedral this past Sunday, 20 Dec 09. At Tenderloin Open Cathedral I preach from the outline in my head.]

The sermon was based on Psalm 80:1-7, focusing on verse 80:3,"Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved," (NLT).

In one of my favorite Christmas carols we sing the chorus, "Star of wonder, star of night. Star with royal beauty bright. Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect light." It is a prayer some utter this time of year, paying homage to the wanting to slow down, to want to meditate on what the star is guiding us to. A verse from Psalm 80 points to this as well: "Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved."

This verse imagines God's face shining down upon us, guiding us like a star in the night.

God wants to turn our sight towards him as we walk in the shadows during the shortest days of the year. In the cold, God's face shines down, like a star, over Emmanuel -- "God with us" -- Jesus. Not Jesus who is the mature adult teaching the Beatitudes, but as a baby shivering in the cold, lying in a manger.

God's hope to us, Jesus, comes to us each year as a fragile baby, shivering in the cold. I sense some people are uncomfortable with this image as they rush to plant the cross next to the manger, reminding us of the salvific work of the cross as Jesus is barely in diapers. This rush, however, ignores the work of Christmas

I myself am finally beginning to make sense of the image of baby Jesus in the manger. Jesus who is our hope, comes to us as a tiny baby to be nurtured by us and to instruct us.

When someone holds a baby, there can be the reaction of discomfort. You know the person I am talking about-- the person who holds the baby awkwardly and as soon as the baby dirties her diaper hands her back to her mom or dad. Figuratively, these are the types who barely slow down at Christmas.

However, there is another reaction one could have towards Christmas -- to pick up to cradle and nurture the Christ child. When you pick up a baby, your heart can melt at the sight of a baby's smile or giggle. When you hold a baby, you're reminded to be gentle and not rough. Lastly, when you look into the eyes of a baby, you want to make the world a better place so babies can grow up free of fear, hunger, and violence.

This is the work of Christmas, to pick up the Christ child: to let our hearts be melted so God can work in us and through us; to hold and treat each other with gentleness; and to try to make a world a better place for all of God's children.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Job 17:2 reads, "Scoffers are my only companions, their harshness haunts my nights."

This may seem like a harsh sentiment, but it is a verse that gets close to how I feel some mornings when I get home from work.

Though I feel good about my work the last few nights, there are times I feel like this verse from Job. Perhaps it was because I felt useless as my gaze was met the guilt ridden eyes of those who self medicate; perhaps it could be that someone seeing my collar may have his or her paranoid delusions involving religious figures is triggered; even still, maybe I was the target of some body's issue of how the church seems to have damaged more lives than helped.

I am often asked if it is hard to see such chronic suffering night after night. I will not lie, some nights, my hope seems to be extinguished. Yet, Christ looked out on the people with a heavy heart, because they were like a flock without a shepherd.

Christ beckons to me on such nights to have patience, both with myself and the work of the Spirit; seeds that are sown now may bear fruit tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, or maybe even next decade. Recently, I was speaking at a church. Afterwords a retired juvenile cop walked up to me and told me a story of how a former teen he worked with called him up and thanked him for caring all those years ago. I too am now cultivating such stories of how somebody appreciated me taking the time to talk under a street light or in a coffee shop.

Patience is not just a virtue, but a fruit of the Spirit, especially in regards to the work of the Spirit.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hello, Gracie

Psalm 41.7, "All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me."

This particular verse from Psalm 41 spoke to me this morning. Often times, we think our worst enemies come from outside us; but there are many whose worst enemy comes from within.

I am reminded of this because of my own ongoing struggles of not being good enough in the eyes of Christ. The truth is, I still wrestle with this sometimes. When I am busy crucifying on my own cross, I listen to the tapes in my head from my past. The troubling part is, though I replay these tapes/scripts in my head of not being good enough, I choose to bolster my own negative self-image, thus limiting what I can learn, but I also limit how much use I can be to the Holy Spirit.

Without going into much detail, there were incidents that I partook in my early to mid-teen years that caused me to learn to see myself as dirty, even, or especially, in the eyes of God.

These internal, self produced scripts unfortunately short changed my learning and effectiveness during my chaplain residency just a few years ago, sometimes in some dramatic ways.

Thankfully, I know God loves me; I have undergone therapy, and have a wonderful spiritual director. These folks have been resilient, and stood between me, myself and I when I have tried to either sabatoge or flog myself. I have developed tools and practices to know what to do when Satan tries to nurture seeds of doubt in myself. I have learned to accept and practice the grace of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, many of my sisters and brothers with mental illness don't have the tools and medicine to fight even more pernicious internal enemies. For some, issues of self-doubt are wrapped tightly up with a mental health diagnisis, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or clinical depression. For them, my job is to touch my own pain, and speak to them the grace and love of Jesus Christ. To practice God's grace with others, one first has to practice it with oneself. Through grace, comes patience, and patience is what one needs in walking with and ministering to others.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Reflections on Song of Solomon 2.1-7

God is the rose of immense beauty we behold -- we glimpse, then turn away because we feel ashamed. Yet, the rose of beauty that is God's love is for us.

Because we may feel unworthy of God's love, we run, hiding amongst the thorns and stones.

Yet, God follows after us in love, peering through the holes in the shack where we may hide. God is there, ever calling out to -- to love and be loved.

Dear God, you wait for me to return home to your love like a wayward son. You celebrate, picking up my tired body. You carry me through the gate, and your banner over me is love.

In love, you strengthen and nourish me with the raisins and apples that are the fruits of your Spirit.

Lord, protect me as I rest in your arms so I may rise and say I love you too.