1 Samuel 20:30 Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? (1 Sam. 20:30 NRS)

A father, a very powerful father, attempts to shame his son. Here shame is used as a tool of compliance or instrument of correction. Saul intends for his words to find their mark. Saul intended to inflict an emotional wound upon his son. Saul insults Jonathan’s mother and at the same time shames Jonathan.

The object of shame David. Saul seeks to use the friendship between David, son of Jesse, anointed of God, and the King’s son, His son, Jonathan, the son of Saul, the current King of Israel. Saul wants to kill David. Jonathan does not budge. Jonathan stays true to his friend but tries still to honor his father. For Saul it is an either/or while Jonathan is seeking a both/sand.

Jonathan does not deserve this load of pain. Pain, not just because of his friendship with David, but because Jonathan loves his father dearly. Family pain, well, sometimes it is a thorn in the flesh. Seldom, in fact, no one ever in any situation deserves to manipulated with shame.

I believe some of the worst emotional suffering that one can bear is when that shame is connected to family. We know how dangerous domestic violence can be. We know, or should know, that no one can hurt us more than someone we love. When shame is allowed to poison a relationship, it is very difficult to recover.

And then there is that shame that only we ourselves know about. That shame we hold secret. It is painful but we cannot let it go out of fear or because we believe the pain is partial punishment for what we have done. This hidden shame can actually produce physical events in our lives.

I am sure those who read this blog have an experiential experience with shame to some degree and still often have physical reactions when any memory connect to the shame comes to mind.

One of the most challenging potential obstacles to our spiritual health, growth, and strength is an entity (entity being defined as something that has separate and distinct existence and objective or conceptual reality) called shame.

Shame as an entity can be a shadow always floating in the depths of our unattended thoughts. It works to belittle, to minimize, emotionally bully us as it works in our lives, in our thoughts, our dreams, our conscious and subconscious minds.

I am indebted to the spiritual direction offered by Catherine Skurja, in her book Paradox Lost (Whitaker House. Kindle Edition.) This book reminded me of the spiritual struggle for our hearts and minds. Shame seeks to tear us down and never builds us up. What is worse, shame is hard to overcome.

Skurja provides a good practical theology of shame.  She writes, “• an inner sense of being completely diminished or insufficient as a person. • the self-judging the self. • a moment of humiliation so painful or an indignity so profound, one feels one has been robbed of her or his dignity, or exposed as basically inadequate, bad, or worthy of rejection. • …the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, unworthy, or not fully valid as a human being.[1]

She then gives us a method for facing these issues when they come up. They are prayers of paradox. You answer shame with truth and love. Shame says, you have failed miserably. I for one would have to answer, “Yes, I failed miserably, and I am called by God.” Thank you for this blessing, Lord.

Her ultimate advice and (which I believe underlines her whole understanding of the dangers on the spiritual quest) “When in doubt of what God is like, we can look to Jesus. If we want to know what it means to be fully alive, we can look to Jesus. If we desire deeper intimacy so we can live the truth of the first commandment, we can look to Jesus.

Skurja, Catherine. Paradox Lost . Whitaker House. Kindle Edition

I highly recommend this book for all who follow the path lest trod.

[1] Skurja, Catherine. Paradox Lost . Whitaker House. Kindle Edition.

Imagination in Check

I am reading a book published by Spiritual Directors International© on using the arts in spiritual direction. I believe using art in spiritual direction is a very positive tool that benefits both the director and directee. I am enjoying the book very much. However, I do have some concerns. I cannot justify using misleading (bad) theology in artistic expression unless there is a very compelling reason. The following is taken directly from the book I am reading.

“And God stepped out on space,” The dancer enters with long slow steps, her form, voice, and breath becoming an image of God at the foundation of the universe. Now stretching her arms into the emptiness of infinity she pronounces: “And [God] looked around and said, ‘I’m lonely—I’ll make me a world.’”[1]

Imagination, especially spiritually directed imagination, must always, always be based on sound, orthodox theology. For me that would include the Apostle’s creed and the theology I have gained from studying the Anglican approach to faithfulness (discipleship) in Christ. The Triune God I know, love, and worship is never lonely.

The God I love had a desire to create. The word desire is not adequate. What God wanted and did is that well beyond our comprehension this side of heaven. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in perfect unity, perfect love, never lonely and created us for a purpose much to wonderful for us to yet comprehend. And, if we accept what Augustine said for himself, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” This is what we seek as well.

If there is one thing I have found in current practice of spiritual direction is that there is a limited emphasis on doctrinal correctness. I am not talking about being a fundamentalist. I am talking about the place of the Triune God in our spiritual direction practice and purpose.

Obviously, I am not a universalist. I do believe there is a path to God and there are false paths that can deceive (I have found plenty of those). I am seeking to build my faith through experiential trust, past education, and active prayer to be on the right path. I can only judge what I believe is the right path. I cannot judge the path of another.

When I am “holding space” for another, I do so as a guide who is willing to listen intensely and compassionately to what another is saying and to share the routes, rituals, and readings in the journey I have found useful. I seek to ask questions of those I direct which may stimulate their spirit or invoke the Holy as we both seek discernment from the actions and acts of our lives. The language of art can be very helpful in seeking discernment and in expressing personal emotion. I am thankful for the boundaries that I submit to in faith so that truth and trust are primary values.

[1] Beckman, Betsey. Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction (Spiritual Directors International Books) (p. 11). Church Publishing Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Lectionary Sermon for September 19, 2021

Mark 9:32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. (Mk. 9:32 NRS)

The Way of the Servant

Jump forward to after Jesus had gathered the disciples together for the Last Supper. Judas went to betray Jesus. The disciples fail to stay awake in the Garden and when the time comes for Jesus to be arrested there is chaos. Why, why were the disciples not prepared? Why did this surprise them? Listen again to verses, “for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again. But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” (Mk. 9:32 NRS)

Jesus had tried to get them ready. He avoided the crowds so he could prepare his disciples for what was to come. Jesus wanted them to understand. But they would not. We are told they were afraid to ask. What does this mean? Why would the disciples be afraid of Jesus unless they were afraid of learn and accepting what Jesus was saying?

We human beings have an amazing ability to be selective in our hearing and understanding. A person smokes and is warned that they may get cancer. They get cancer and say why me? A person is told that they need to get a Covid-19 vaccination, or they will eventually get Covid. They don’t get the vaccine and get Covid. Why, likely because they did not get the vaccine. Selective listening and understanding.

The disciples did not want to hear Jesus was going to die. They especially had difficulty with the rising again part. If Jesus were dead, how would he rise from the dead? No, the disciples are not really wanting to understand Jesus. Besides, why talk about death when they had something more important in their minds to figure out. They are maneuvering for positions, for places in a pecking order, a hierarchy so to speak.

Jesus asks them what was so seemingly important to them. “But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.” (Mk. 9:34 NRS) Isn’t that is what is important? Your position? How many of us have been asked pecking order questions? Questions like, “What do you do for a living?” Or where did you go to school, where do you go to church, where do you vacation in the summer, what are your pronouns, etc… These questions help place you in an order of importance, relevance, or whatever another’s mind creates. We all do this. We do it subconsciously. We can learn to limit this activity but not escape it. It is likely one of the aspects of deciding for ourselves what is good and evil.

Jesus knows if the disciples cannot get past this test, this temptation, this being tied to the way of the world they will not survive what is to come. They must grasp this truth Jesus taught and lived, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

So, he teaches them through the actions and example of a child. Who is this child Jesus picks? We are not told. We are told that Jesus took a little child and put the child among them. Was the child afraid? Was it a boy or a girl? We are not told. I don’t believe questions like this can help. What we need to focus on is what Jesus says.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mk. 9:37 NRS)

In the Gospel of Luke, we find almost the same words as in Mark, but in Luke we see how what the Lord is teaching ties in with this child. Note, “and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”” (Lk. 9:48 NRS)

We Westerners tend to romanticize this story and make it look like Jesus had a special relationship with the children when in fact the story is to show that Jesus special relationship was with all men and women as well as children. Jesus was authentic, trustworthy, and did not try to hide his private life. Allowing the children into his life was proof of that authenticity.[1]

Thus, in this simple statement Jesus sets the foundation that is required to have a relationship with him that is in line with the reality of God’s Kingdom. Our Lord’s actions and words define the requirement for leadership, serve. If we are to learn the true power in leading one needs to grasp the depth of what Jesus says about serving.

In this passage Jesus reveals that human beings need to desire to be a person who would welcome another person or persons even if that person or persons cannot help you in any way and likely will require you to help them. In this act of welcoming in Jesus’s name that sets the reality from which you operate. To accept one in Jesus’s name indicates a willingness to accept others in the same way Jesus would, in the love of and for God. In our willingness to accept this is also an implied responsibility to help.

Next Jesus states that we just do not welcome a child, a person in Jesus’s name we also welcome Jesus. This act of hospitality not only brings us into a relationship with the one we welcome we also are in fact welcoming Jesus. Now remember, Jesus is dealing with the wrong views the disciples have about position, power, authority, and purpose. He reminds them that he has called them and will empower them to be different. In a later discussion Jesus tells the disciples, “It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:26-28 NRS)

It is Jesus that defines our faith. It is Jesus who is our intercessor before God the Father. It is Jesus who is the example to follow if we wish to grow in the Kingdom of God.

And lastly, to connect with Jesus means you are connecting with God. You cannot welcome one without the other. God always has been, is, and will remain a God who reveals in truth and calls us to faith in mystery. There is no room for human ambition in the Kingdom. It is ambition that brought about the downfall of Satan. It was ambition that led to the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Instead desire to be one who welcomes the child in every person. Desire to be the one who hears the words at the end of life, “We done good and faithful servant.”

[1] Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.

Would Jesus wear a mask?

Week before last, I was at home suffering with what I felt would turn out to be Covid-19. Yes, I have had both shots. I try to always wear a mask. Still, I came down with something that made me very sick. Fever, chills, upset stomach, joint pain, loss of taste, and the list could go on. I had not felt this sick since I spent three days in the hospital in a septic state several years ago.  So, I scheduled a covid-19 test. I was thinking I was a breakthrough case. The Covid-19 test results came back negative. I got my shots last December and I will get the booster shot as soon as they are approved.

With Covid being part of our daily lives, it is easy to think you have gotten it when you get any kind of sickness during this pandemic. Covid has created a state of fear that is perceived as well as actual.

I know of many people who have gotten sick with covid. I know several of these people did not get vaccinated and do not believe in wearing masks. I have a hard time understanding these people. Why are they willing to put themselves and others in harm’s way? Do they really not understand how dangerous a virus Covid-19 is.

However, I should not be surprised. We live in the culture of me, what I want, what I believe, and I what is in it for me. It seems as if 50 percent of the people in this culture have this mind set (about as many that vote for Trump). I am sorry if it sounds like I am bringing politics into this but sadly politics has tied itself to this virus.

As a believer and follower of Jesus I believe what Jesus directs us to do, put others first. The prime directive of our Lord was for us to love God and each other. It is not an act of love to put one’s own selfish desires and personal “freedom” before the good of others. Would Jesus wear a mask? Of course, Jesus would wear a mask.

I am sure there is someone somewhere who would say, “I have faith that God will not let me get Covid.” That is not faith, that is foolishness. God has given us common sense (some of us). When Jesus was tempted by Satan to step off the top of the temple so that the angels would rescue him Jesus replied, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Lk. 4:12 NRS)

In this fallen world in which human beings die I believe we should do whatever we can to promote life. Wearing a mask and getting vaccinated promotes life. And remember what our Lord’s attitude toward our doing those things which show we care for others and care about what the Lord desires for us to do. When we do it for the least of these, we are doing it for our Lord.

Discernment, Discernment, Discernment

It is frightening how often we human beings face a situation in which we must make a decision that will affect the lives of others. Will the choice we make be one that promotes good, or will our choice empower evil? All too often many of us make decisions without thinking only later to regret what we have done. While there are individuals who have been given the spiritual gift of discernment most of us have to work at the practice of spiritual discernment.

As a spiritual director I have no doubt that the level of usage of the tools of discernment is influenced by our motivation, values, and priorities. The more our motivation is centered in our desire to be influence by the Holy Spirit and a humble commitment to spiritually advance the stronger our faith will be. However, even our motivations should be examined, and the principles of discernment applied.

It is the motivation, or the spirit behind the action, that determines whether the action is part of the solution or part of an ongoing problem.[1]

When examining our motivations, it is important to be totally honest with oneself. This is not always easy. We human beings are very good at self-deception. If you are not sure of why you do something, write down all the reasons why you think you might be doing something (i.e., for payment, position, pleasure, power, etc.). Which of your motives are based on serving the Lord and others? After you have done this make a list of benefits of what you are doing. Then make a list of the consequences of doing what you are doing.

Finally, look over the material and ask God to help you truly understand your motive.

If your motive is pure and fits within the motives our Lord, we should then continue in confidence. If a person is not such of their choice, perhaps they should re-evaluate what we are doing or why we are making the decision we are making.

Never has the need for discernment been so great. There are so many things that can tempt, distract, deceive, confuse, and damage us spiritually. Thankfully we have a Lord that understands what we face and is willing to walk with us and guide us if we will but be open to direction.

[1] Skurja, Catherine. Paradox Lost. Whitaker House. Kindle Edition.

Lectionary Sermon for September 14

Mark 8:27-38   Who IS this Guy

An egotist pastor was travelling with a younger friend when the pastor asked his friend, “How many great preachers do you think there are in the world right now?” He friend replied, “One less than you do sir, one less.”

As human beings, we like to be affirmed by others about our identity and worth. Most of us do care what other people think of us.

Jesus asks his disciples a serious question, “Who do people say that I am?”

Why does Jesus ask his disciples this question? Is there any evidence of what motivated Jesus to ask such a question?

Well, we are told that Jesus wanted to avoid any kind of seeming political motive.

John 6:15 Therefore, when Jesus knew that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king,1 He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. (Jn. 6:15 CSB)

If we read ahead know what is to come when Jesus travels to Jerusalem. There, again, the crowds try to make him King. First there is the record in Mark, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!” Mark 11:10 Next, a parallel passage, John 12:13 “took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, even the King of Israel”

Jesus did not want to be identified with a social, political revolution. This was not Jesus’s intent. Jesus made this clear when tempted in the wilderness. Jesus is shown all the kingdoms in the world. Satan offers them to him as a temptation. We are then told, “Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'”

Jesus had one agenda and it was the will of the Father. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth. Jesus, God incarnate, has no interest in the kingdoms human being build. They will all pass away. Jesus is interested in us and hopefully we are or hope to be interested in him.

When Jesus asks this question, he knows the disciples are struggling with what is being said and what they themselves will or will not believe or accept. Some of the followers had left Jesus because of what he was saying. The populous, the ever-possible mob, had all kinds of ideas about Jesus.

No one was ready for the suffering servant. The concept of a spiritual leader who must die for the sake of others is not the kind of Messiah the people were wanting. We know the disciples were not ready. We find that out when Jesus tells the disciples the suffering he is about to go through, Peter tries to confront Jesus about this. Peter cannot accept this. Jesus rebukes Peter and tells him he is being like Satan. Peter just does not understand, yet!

It is hard to understand how seeming weakness is strength. It is his hard to understand how the first will be last, how surrender is victory, and how death become life? Paradoxes every one of them. Not either-or choices but both-and choices.

Jesus is the God of paradox. Jesus, God incarnate who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended in Hell. On the third day he arose from the grave, ascended into heaven and sits by the right hand of the Father from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. Jesus who is completely God and completely human, the grandest paradox. This is our statement of faith. Our embrace this faith opens up for us the opportunity to

The disciples tell Jesus what they are hearing. Some think he is John the Baptist come back from the dead. The big problem with this is that Jesus was alive at the same time John was. In the Gospel account of John (not the same John) we are told, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”

 (Jn. 1:29-30 NRS)

John the Baptist is clear the Jesus is greater than he. Jesus does not fit the place of Elijah. John the Baptist did and claimed to carry that torch,

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, “John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with1 the Holy Spirit and fire. (Lk. 3:15-16 NRS) We are told of John, “He (John) went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” (Lk. 3:3-6 NRS)

Jesus himself deals with this idea concerning Elijah, And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” (Matt. 17:10-12 NRS)

OK, what about the idea of Jesus being a prophet? Even Islam says Jesus is a prophet.

A prophet is someone who speaks for God. Jesus did not have to speak for God. Jesus was God. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.

The Father and I are one.” (Jn. 10:28-30 NRS)

Peter gets it right even if he does not yet fully understand. Jesus is the Messiah. Messiah in Latin is translated Christ which in turn translates to Anointed. Jesus is God’s choice as the one who can bring us back into the Divine Community. Jesus is the one who shows us what real love means. Jesus is the one who can forgive us, restore us, renew us, revive us, and call us to life as it was intended.

I know we were not there the day Jesus spoke these words. Yet, these words are not confined to written pages. These words can speak to our hearts. The question is still, “Who do you say that I am and what does this mean for you tomorrow, today, or even right now?”

What is your answer?

Embracing Paradox

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them, every day begin the task anew.”

— St. Francis de Sales

It is hard to be a disciple of Jesus. This is why so many fail miserably in seeking to follow our Lord. It is a struggle we fight against our own natural nature, the powers and principalities that seek our failure, and all the temptations this world brings our way. This is even more true for one who seeks to go the disciple’s way to find the mystic way.

Not an excuse. We live by grace.

Outside of our Imago Dei, our basic emotional states are variations of fear and anger. We fear being vulnerable, powerless, unacceptable, not good enough, useless, nothing, unlovable, or a failure. Unredeemed anger may manifest as resentment, frustration, criticism, or rage, yet it is a secondary emotion that arises from our fears and shame. Lost in our spiritual crap, we wallow in states of fear, shame, and anger.[1]

Those of us who have had do wallow due to our own ignorance and arrogance psychically toxic shame, fear, and anger are well aware of the suffering one experiences in such a state. The despair and pain can be overwhelming. The blackness of blindness to any hope take one down a very dark path indeed.

In spiritual direction I always ask the pilgrims I am helping to be aware of the FLAG they own. What FLAG is that? Fears, Longings, aching wounds, and gifts unappreciated make up the FLAG we need to be concerned about. Any one of these four areas of our lives can have a radical negative effect on our spiritual lives. (FLAG is not a creation of my own but one I have adapted to my life from the book, Practicing Compassion -Upper Room).

Fears may be real or imagined. Fears are those things that seem to be out of our control. Fears are things we perceive can hurt us. Fears reveal our weakness, our frailty, our finiteness, and fears can reveal our limitations. Because of this we need to be aware of our fears and strive to limit the damage they can do in our lives.

There are some rather passages like the one listed next that deserve deep meditation and even deeper contemplation.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.: (Matt. 10:28 NRS) This verse may give strength and courage for the physical threats to our wellbeing but does very little for the fears we face in our spiritual lives. God could destroy us at any time. God will not do this.

Did you ever wonder who is the one who would like to destroy our body and soul in hell?

Fear is not a bad thing if it is managed by love. Perfect love, perfect trust, perfect faith has no need to fear or to ever be feared. Here is a powerful paradox. As we grow in our love of God we will grow in our fear of God. As we grow in our fear of God we will also grow in our love for God.

So, if there is a way to move beyond our own FLAG, our shame, our guilt to be more at home and more intimate with the love God offers we should seek out this way and make it a practical part of our lives.

I have found several aids. I would love to here what may have helped you.

[1] Skurja, Catherine. Paradox Lost . Whitaker House. Kindle Edition.


A Question

I never understood why people felt the need to defend God. God is God and does not need finite, ignorant, arrogant me to defend God. How would I defend God? (I have a hard enough time just desiring not to offend my Lord who loves me).

If you feel you need to defend God, then how could the god you are defending truly be a god at all? Not intending to insult but asking one to think.

I want to write about a view I have of David and Goliath. Very popular story and oft used analogy of courage. However, I have a question. Did God want David to fight Goliath?

Let me set the context. It starts with this; “Jesse said to his son David, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers; also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See how your brothers fare and bring some token from them.” (1 Sam. 17:17-18 NRS) Note, “and bring so token” was a directive to bring back good news a sign that things were ok. David disobeyed his father. And this was after,

“The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.” (1 Sam. 16:12-13 NRS)

Now back a little further, “The word of the LORD came to Samuel: “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the LORD all night.” (1 Sam. 15:10-11 NRS) God was going to remove Saul as king. Likely God was using the Philistines to bring this about. God has Samuel anoint David is King. Saul is tormented by an evil spirit. The stage is set for abdication. Saul will either resign or have an nervous breakdown and be removed. Then in comes this young arrogant shepherd boy who feels he must defend God and country and sets himself on course for a suicide mission.

Malcomb Gladwell does not see it this way. He sees David having the advantage due to weaponry and tactics. I do not believe it matters. David’s actions back God into a corner (not), but David does change the direction of the scenario and because of his victory Saul is kept in power and will make David suffer. Saul will come to hate David and become driven to try and kill him. Many people suffer because of this. And David, a man with blood on his hands, cannot build a temple for God in spite of being a man after God’s own heart.

Again, I ask, “Did David do what God wanted?

Can this mistake of David, a man after God’s own heart, show us what God is willing to do in order to bring about the best out of the worst and love whose limits exceed our unbounding ability to be non-discerning and impulsive.

I ask this for the following reason.

When your heart is open, you are willing to be convinced of the opposite of what you believe to be true, knowing you are seeking Truth, not trying to defend it. Anything true will stand in the Light of Truth.[1]

This is what good spiritual direction offers.

I am open for new pilgrims.     Email or Zoom contact at this time.

The importance of being an image bearer.

[1] Skurja, Catherine. Paradox Lost . Whitaker House. Kindle Edition.

Lectionary Sermon September 7, 2021 Mark 7:24-37

Resources for the Fall

Mark 7:24-37

We all have watched the bad news on TV. It is sad. The Good News of God is that God’s Kingdom is with us. This is wonderful. It is found within our hearts. This is found in Luke 17:21. The older King James Version translates the passage, “the Kingdom of God is within,” ἐντὸς – entos the word KJV translates within can be translated within or among. Most modern translation translate the word among, in the midst, or some other form of among.

I think this is a good paradox of faith. What do I mean by paradox? The Kingdom of God is both with and without. We find the Kingdom of God within us, that is through the process of soul, heart, and mind. While at the same time we are surrounded by the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ without.

Because the Kingdom of God has come to us in and through Jesus, we can discover God’s love for us and learn how we can become the greatest we human beings can become, a person who loves God and neighbor with all they are.

Also, it is through the power bestowed on us by God’s Kingdom’s presence that we have the strength to pursue this love in the midst of a curse world, demonic activity, and death’s continual presence.

In this passage selection Jesus confronts both demonic suffering and the suffering of an imperfect world in which people can be deaf and dumb. A world that is unfair and constantly judging us.

First, in the passage selection, a mother comes looking for Jesus. This is more than a wishful dream that she has. She is committed to getting to Jesus on behalf of her daughter. I am not going to argue what kind of unclean spirit or virus or illness or what the daughter was suffering from. I trust the Scripture to believe it was an evil that was causing this suffering. I will tell you that if you do not believe in spiritual forces that are against humanity I honestly feel sorry for you. You do not even realize the spiritual danger you are in. And, you will experience this danger whether you accept it or not.

This woman who comes to Jesus is an outsider. She is not of his people, his tribe, his faith yet she seeks because of what she has heard. And when, after all her effort, she gets to him Jesus insults her.

I have heard several sermons in which the preacher tried to make light of this or attempted to explain it away. Why, why do that? Just because we judge things through our limited finite perspective does not mean we judge correctly. Jesus does not need defending.

Jesus knows the heart of everyone he encounters. Jesus knows what every person needs and what everyone faces. Jesus knows his disciples are watching. The way Jesus responds is the way any good Jew should respond to this kind of situation. First a gentile, second a Canaanite, and third a woman.

Jesus says to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Mk. 7:27 NRS) Jesus basically calls her a dog one of the worst insults you could call a person then. We say how horrible yet, this would have been a common practice in Jesus’s day. In fact, it is likely the woman was prepared for this type of reception. She likely even rehearsed her reply.

“Sir, Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

I wonder if she knew Jesus loved her and if she were the only sinner Jesus would have come for her. She pleads, “Sir, Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

She has faith. She is committed to having Jesus help her. And Jesus responds, “For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter.”

I am thankful Matthew give us more information is his Gospel. Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.”

Faith, she placed faith in the person and power of Jesus. She was rewarded. Even at a distance the power of the Lord ruled over the evil power that oppressed the child and the child was healed. Does she know Jesus is the Promised One, the Messiah, the Savior? Likely not, but her faith is confirmed.

I have a few questions. Do you see bad things in our world? Do you see more selfish things than selfless? As you view this world and know what you know can you honestly not say that evil, selfishness, hatred is growing, and love is shrinking? Where are we to turn? Where can we find the strength to be the source of love we need to be?  Only in the one whose power does exceed time and distance. Jesus. The account of this woman should let us know Jesus is open to all.

The next account we find in the selected passage is an account of a healing. A man who is deaf and has a speech impediment is brought to Jesus. Jesus follows a seemingly personal ritual that is ripe with opportunity for symbolism and heals the man of deafness and cures his speech impediment.

We are not told why the man was in the condition he was in. We are not given any insight into his future. All we know is that Jesus had compassion on an individual who was trying to live his life with a horrible disability. Jesus changed his life at that moment.

Jesus does have the power to change lives. Anyone believe this is true and/or happened to you raise your hands.

We need to understand, God is very much aware of the unfairness of this world. God is very much aware of how hate seems to be growing. God is well aware humanities’ unwillingness to see how we are destroying this planet. God knows very well how and where we live.

Does God still have compassion? Yes. Can God still cure deafness even if it is the deafness of ignorance and arrogance? Yes.

Here is the Good News. Jesus has died, Jesus has risen, and Jesus will come again. God incarnate who has compassion on all people will come again. This is what we believe even if it is just crumbs from the table.

In fact, through the gift of the Holy Spirit Jesus is with us now. The Kingdom of God is with us as we face evil and suffering in this world. God incarnate who will never leave us or forsake us and will surprise us with his power and glory if we are but willing to encounter him.

Lectionary Sermon Mark 7 1-8 14-15 21-23

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Confrontation, for most of us confrontation is not an enjoyable experience. A confrontation may be verbal, physical, solo or social. A confrontation may be meant to

accuse, abuse, humiliate, intimidate, curse or worse. A confrontation may also serve as an attempt an interdiction to the benefit of the one confronted.

I believe that every confrontation Jesus was involved in, he deeply cared for the individuals he encountered. When Jesus was seemingly harsh it stresses the importance of the choices he was offering to all humanity.

For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Lk. 19:10 NRS) This includes the Pharisees and Sadducees, and any other person seduced by arrogance and ignorance in the realm of religion. Jesus came to try and reach the whole world with the good news of the Kingdom of God.

The argument was over handwashing. It was a confrontation of tradition. The confrontation is over the place of traditions in the spiritual life. Why did Jesus not follow tradition? Is Jesus anti-tradition? No, Jesus honored many traditions, but Jesus was not a legalist. When traditions were treated as law and used to judge other people, Jesus pointed these out for what they were, potential evil human creations.

In verse 21 Jesus makes a sobering, convicting proclamation that should awaken us to a significant truth many believers today have forgotten. Listen again to what Jesus says,

“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:” (Mk. 7:21 NRS)

The human heart, we know it is the organ of the body that pumps blood. It keeps us living. Yet we all know and probably use the word heart in other ways. The use of the word heart can be a means of representing our loves, passions, desires, will, choices, and many other non-material aspects of who we are.

The word for heart, Kardia, in the New Testament refers to the inner self viewed as the seat of physical vitality; viewed as the innermost self, the source and seat of functions of soul and spirit in the emotional life, the volitional life, and the rational life. Our heart defines who we are in relationship to ourselves, others, and God.

God has constantly revealed to humanity that the heart is where the battle for our souls takes place. And we are at a disadvantage. God tells us, “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it? I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” (Jer. 17:9-10 NRS)

In this confrontation with the religious people Jesus is confronting the heart of those who refused to be open to the Spirit of God. He is striving to correct their thinking. Jesus knows that they are spiritually in trouble. Jesus is confronting their hearts and the potential evil they were ignorant of.  Jesus, God incarnate, warns them in the strongest means possible that they may think they are worshipping God, but they are not.

He (Jesus) said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” (Mk. 7:6-7 NRS)

I found this definition of tradition and the example it offers as perfect example of how traditions operate. It defines traditions as: “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way: “every shade of color is fixed by tradition and governed by religious laws””

Now where does the Bible say you need to use the color red for Pentecost and Christmas, White for Easter and purple for advent. Yet if you were to use a different color you would like by considered a heretic or a least a closet pagan.

Traditions are helpful when they help us in our faith by creating in us a sense of the holy but are harmful when they move from tradition to legalism. This is what the Pharisees and Sadducees had done with hand washing.

Those arguing with Jesus believed Jesus’s disciples were polluting themselves within by not keep the traditions. Jesus states, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” (Mk. 7:14-15 NRS)

Jesus was letting them know that their traditions, their human innovations, do not determine a person’s spiritual state.

Scripture tells us, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” (Lk. 6:45 NRS)

But if our heart is so deceitful and is so open to evil, what can we do? We cannot do anything, but God, Jesus, offers us this, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezek. 36:26 NRS)

I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. (Jer. 24:7 NRS)

Our Lord, our creator, can create for us a heart of flesh that holds the Spirit. This is the beginning of the relationship. All we have to do is to be open to God’s desire to reveal God’s love for us and to us.

Jesus is also teaching his children (those of us who call him Lord and seek to follow him) how to protect our heart from deception. This is a constant challenge to us all. God have given us the Scripture not as the law, but of love. Every believer should be a student of, a person seeking, a person praying the Scripture.

Can we trust what the Scripture says about itself? With my whole heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments. I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you. (Ps. 119:10-11 NRS)

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12 NRS)

However, primarily, God has sent his Holy Spirit to be with us. The Spirit never forces but will guide. The Spirit will teach us to test traditions. The Spirit will teach us to discern what God’s will (as best we can know) is for us. With the Spirit and the Word, we can then seek to be a people who are more interested in relationships than religious orientations.

Final word to the Apostle Peter, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” (1 Pet. 1:22 NRS)