Friday, June 24, 2016

Here I Am Lord

Here I Am Lord

There are many rooms within me, but one room, is more fruitful than all the rest as a place of prayer.  ‘My Brokenness’ is carved into the wood of its door. The lock has long been disabled, and its brass knob is rubbed bright on one side.  This door opens not into a four sided room, but into a long, narrow, vaulted, corridor.
There are no windows or lamps.  The two walls and arched vault are a mural of my life, dimly lit with a light, as from an emerging consciousness, as from the presence of Another.  At the farthest point of the corridor, where the Present Light ceases and the darkness of the Future begins, are two empty chairs, facing the Receding Light of my Past.
The walls and ceiling display images from my life …all, calling out to God.  Their titles are as titles to the soundtrack ‘Songs of  A Broken Heart’: Sinful I Stand; Alone With Guilt; Too Proud to Die; Conflicted by Truth; Awakened by Weakness; Contrite Tears; Heal Me Lord; Dreams Not Dreamt; Lost in Hope; Desperate for God.  …All, crying out, “Here I am Lord, so small to do your Will.”
           And there in the Present Light, next to the one chair with coffee stains and breakfast crumbs, hangs a plaque, made from the wood of a Cross, inked with Blood from a Lamb, echoing an Ancient Word
           'If Yahweh set his heart on you and chose you, it was not because you out-numbered other peoples: you were the least of all peoples.   It was for love of you and to keep the oath he swore to your fathers that Yahweh brought you out with his mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  Know then that Yahweh your God is God indeed, the faithful God who is true to his covenant and his graciousness for a thousand generations towards those who love him and keep his commandments’. (Deuteronomy 7:7-9)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Anyone Who Is Angry

Anyone Who Is Angry (Matthew 5:20+)

         For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.  You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court.  But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court;”
         The scribes and Pharisees seem to have confused virtue with religious piety.  If righteousness urges a soul towards piety, then that act of piety is a reflection of virtue.  But if one does a good thing for a wrong reason -like pride, fear or self gain- then that same act of piety is a reflection of depravity.  In both cases, an act of piety has taken place; but in the end, the deed can only be judged by the intentions of the heart from which it came.  Fortunately for us, judging those appearances belongs only to God.
         This rebuke from Jesus calls us to seriously examine the matters of our heart.  Jesus goes on to say, that before we approach his altar, before we offer him our heart, he first wants us to resolve the broken relationships which divide and corrupt the heart we are offering him.  Just as we are judged guilty in the court of God if we harbor anger in our hearts, this same Unforgiveness, he then warns, will surely imprison us.  It is the inner thoughts of our heart which give birth to our actions –both good and bad.  And it is for this reason, that Jesus’ absolute intolerance of Unforgiveness exposes it for the insidious cancer it is.  
I know a gentle and kind person who is held in high esteem by his faith community.  He was provoked, over a period of time by a mean-spirited neighbor, with many acts of hostility.  At some point, my friend gave in to retaliation.   It began with small annoying actions.  Today, this successful man, loving husband and father, is facing a jail term.  His impending imprisonment began when he allowed his heart to become imprisoned by Unforgiveness.  He had the good fortune of getting caught, of having his Unforgiveness exposed in a manner, which very publicly, is demanding him to repent.  But we, who successfully hide our Unforgiveness, are in a m0st grave danger.
         In the eyes of the world, Jesus’ radical call to Mercy, of ‘turning our cheek’ and ‘loving our enemy’ is both foolish and impossible.  Yet Jesus double downs with his Word, “And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.”  Using the harshest imagery possible, Jesus is pleading with us to consider the eternal consequences for those secret machinations in our heart, for our obstinacy in demanding our justice over God’s Mercy.  
It is impossible to love someone who has wronged us -if we cling to Unforgiveness.  But Jesus has shown us another way –the Way of Mercy, of Loving Unjustly, as we would have him Unjustly Love us.  To demand our justice over God’s Mercy is always a choice made in Darkness, for, “God's righteousness is never served by man's anger;(James 1:20).   Anger begets anger.  Love begets love.  God’s ways are as high above our ways as the stars above the earth.  So too, are the sweet fruits of his Mercy above the bitter fruits of our Unforgiveness.
         Lord Jesus, your dying prayer was for us to be one -as you and your Father are one.  Yet, I wretchedly stand before you, as one quick to judge and slow to show Mercy.  Unforgiveness is still seductive to my eyes.  I am easily offended -another, need only to think differently than I to earn my disdain.  How can I ever be one with you –you who cherish those whom I disdain?  Save me Lord!  Deliver me from my pride. My heart is disfigured by self righteousness.  Heal my soul.  Your Mercy is my only Hope.  Convert my heart.  Open my eyes.  Fill me with the Love I do not possess.  Whatever the cost Lord, you have my permission to make me so.  I would rather lose a hand or an eye, than to lose an eternity in love with you.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Withered Fig Tree

The Withered Fig Tree (Mark 11:12)

         Next day as they were leaving Bethany, he felt hungry.  Seeing a fig tree in leaf some distance away, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it, but when he came up to it he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs.  And he addressed the fig tree. 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again' he said. And his disciples heard him say this.’
         Now this is a most extraordinary account from St. Mark.  Jesus no more expected to find the tree laden with figs, than would a Floridian expect to find oranges in spring.  So, why did he curse the fig tree?  If he wanted to perform a symbolic action to address Israel’s fruitlessness, he would have done so when figs were in season.   It seems like Jesus is just having a bad day, throwing a Messiah temper tantrum.
         Mark continues: Next morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered to the roots.  Peter remembered. 'Look, Rabbi,' he said to Jesus 'the fig tree you cursed has withered away.'  Jesus answered, 'Have faith in God.  I tell you solemnly, if anyone says to this mountain, "Get up and throw yourself into the sea", with no hesitation in his heart but believing that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.
         Cursing a tree, when it is not in season, because it fails to satisfy your hunger, is irrational.  Making it whither to its roots, is impossible.  So what is the meaning of this Irrational Miracle?  If Jesus did it, then it must have something to do with his Father’s Love.  As such, his initial response was to call his disciples to Unconditional Faith in his Father.
         He concludes, saying, “I tell you therefore: everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours.”  For me, these words of Jesus are among his most challenging to believe.  They are devoid of all the usual qualifiers we have come to embrace in effort align our lived experience of prayer with his Promise of God -qualifiers like, ‘in God’s time’ or, ‘in God’s way, not mine’.   Every fiber within me wants to decry, “Yes Lord, but…”  -Yes Lord, but surely you were exaggerating; Yes Lord, but I don’t have that kind of faith; Yes Lord, but I tried and it did not work; Yes Lord, but nobody I know believes like that.
In spite of this all, I am driven to admit to the possibility, that in the context of Faith, everything is possible.   Whether something is insignificantly impossible, like withering a fig tree; or momentously impossible, like casting a mountain into the sea -the degree of impossibility is irrelevant to the prayer of faith, for it is God who is doing the work.  If all things are possible for God, then the impossible is possible for all who have Faith in his Love.
         This I know, Jesus said: ‘Be it done unto you according to your faith.’ and, when you pray - ‘…believe that you have it already.’  If these Words come from Jesus, there must be truth attached to them.  For whatever qualifiers that do exist in this Mystery of Faith, I must not stop believing with all my heart in God’s Providential Love.  For this reason I say I am driven to Believe.
         In my own life, I have prayed and seen an old hobbling nun, bent over and gnarled by arthritis, instantly healed and begin dancing, hopping and waving with joy.  I have seen deaf ears instantly opened, and a short leg grow while I held it in prayer.  In these, and in countless “less spectacular” miracles, have I been privileged to be a conduit of God’s Love -to witness Faith unleash the Power of God.
Less than one percent of the prayers I prayed in my life have had miraculous results.  But what would have happened to that One Percent if I did not risk being a Fool for Christ?  Would another Fool have stepped up to the plate, or would those lives have remained unchanged?
         And what about the Ninety Nine percent that failed to see miraculous results?  None were devastated by the lack of a miracle.  Virtually all were touched by an act of Love.  Many experienced some degree of what was Hoped for, and even more came away with something good but unexpectedly different.
Statistically, I am a dismal failure when it comes to praying for miracles, and it is this Fear of Failure which Satan relentlessly uses to thwart my prayers of Faith.  Of this I am ashamed: of the number of prayers I have not prayed; of all what could have been, but is not -if I were but more faithfully obedient to Love.
         Oh blessed be God, for not remembering my failures, for calling to mind only my obedience.  He does not demand of my soul to be successful -only obedient.  And my only failed prayers were those not prayed.  The Finger of God does what it pleases.  How, and why, is not for me to know. But certain it is that he is calling me to Faith.
         Romans 4:17+ could be titled ‘Abraham, Father of Fig Tree Faith’:  “Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist.  Though it seemed Abraham's hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing so he did become the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised… Even the thought that his body was past fatherhood … and Sarah too old to become a mother, did not shake his belief.  Since God had promised it, Abraham refused either to deny it or even to doubt it, but drew strength from faith and gave glory to God, convinced that God had power to do what he had promised.  …Scripture however does not refer only to him but to us as well… our faith too will be 'considered' if we believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead”.
         Father, it is inexplicable why you have chosen us, weakened with sin, to possess so precious a key to unlock your Floodgates of Love.  But such is your Will for us to exercise the Gift of Faith.  Jesus, by the Blood of your Cross, may I too become Obedient to Love.  Holy Spirit, you are the Power of Love made manifest.  Seize now my soul, that I may Hope, and Believe, and in so Doing, become a Wellspring of your Love.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Baseball According To God

Baseball According To God

    “By his divine power, he has given us all the things that we need for life and for true devotion, bringing us to know God himself, … In making these gifts, he has given us the guarantee of something very great and wonderful to come: through them you will be able to share the divine nature and to escape corruption in a world that is sunk in vice.  
But to attain this, you will have to do your utmost yourselves, adding goodness to the faith that you have… Brothers, you have been called and chosen: work all the harder to justify it.  If you do all these things there is no danger that you will ever fall away.  In this way you will be granted admittance into the eternal kingdom…” (2Peter 1:3-5, 10-11)
Upon reading these verses, a baseball metaphor came to mind, which in turn caused me to wonder why it is so common to use sport metaphors in describing religious truths.  Perhaps, it is because at the end of a game, as in life, everybody ends up either a winner or a loser.  
This gave me an idea –what if the game of baseball was reverse engineered to better fit St. Peter’s presentation of the Good News; what would it look like?  Here’s my go at it…  Batter up!
Right off the bat (cheap pun intended), there is a winning team and a losing team.  The losing team is named Selfers, and their mascot is this guy staggering around as a giant can of beer.  The winning team is named Lovers, and their mascot is a guy waving a giant Cross.  The teams do not pick their players.  The players pick their team, and they can switch teams whenever they want.  Those who want to eat, drink and be merry choose the Selfers.  Those who want to live their life for Christ choose the Lovers.  The Selfers always have the advantage of greater numbers.
There is no score; and an undetermined number of innings.  Neither team knows when the game is over; just that it ends the next time the Lovers’ Manager shows up on the field.  The goals of each team are unrelated.  The Selfers just want to have fun by hitting the ball and running.  The Lovers have their hearts set on getting Home.  There is no best four out of seven series –just one Big Game.
Everyone is guaranteed a hit and a chance to run Home.  There are no forced outs.  A player secures each succeeding base by living for Jesus.  The Selfers of course never make it to First, but they don’t care because they are having fun.  Anyone failing to love is tagged out, but is eligible to bat again.
There are no Home Runs.  The only ones who make it Home are the players who have faithfully run the bases.  Those on First have shown they made the Choice and are running in earnest; those on Second have proven their endurance and perseverance; by Third they have found wisdom; and the final journey towards Home is not unlike the path to Calvary.
Many Selfers get tired of living for fun and are driven to taste to Joyful Sweat of the Lovers’ toil; and many Lovers, losing touch with their Manager, become withered –some rediscover his Presence and Power, and some, despair and switch to the Selfers.  One can never tell by the player’s uniform whether they will end up a winner or a loser.
To a casual observer, playing the Big Game might appear foolish.  But to one who thirsts deeply, it offers Life.  Even St. Paul, the New Testament’s greatest sports fan, enjoins us to compete: “All the runners at the stadium are trying to win, but only one of them gets the prize. You must run in the same way, meaning to win.  All the fighters at the games go into strict training; they do this just to win a wreath that will wither away, but we do it for a wreath that will never wither.  That is how I run, intent on winning; that is how I fight, not beating the air.  I treat my body hard and make it obey me,  for, having been an announcer myself, I should not want to be disqualified.” (1COR 9:24) ; and again, “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith;” (2TM 4:7).
          Loving Father, how I long to c0me Home, to rest in your Bosom.  Holy Spirit, fill me anew with your passion to Love.  Jesus, help me to keep my eyes on the Goal.  I want to live for you.  I want to love for you.  When I cross Home Base,  I want to hear you exclaim, “Father, Behold!  I have made another like unto you!”