God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Darkness Inside

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 65 

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” ’ But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ Jesus said, ‘I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power”, and “coming with the clouds of heaven.” ’ 
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?’ All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him.
While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I do not know or understand what you are talking about.’ And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.  Mark 14:53-72
       The person you trust the most. The person you have looked up to as a mentor, a friend. The person who has taught you so much about the world. This person who knows the worst about you. Learns the worst thing you have ever done. You are standing there with nothing hidden anymore, the worst thing anyone could find out about you is now out in the open.  And you break down. You loose it and fall apart. The tears just will not stop.  
       This is the moment for Peter his soul is bared before God. He has done the worst thing imaginable. He has rejected Jesus. Jesus has been captured and brought before the religious council. They have accused him a blasphemy and Peter followed along and watched. He watched as people spoke against Jesus as they told untruth after untruth. He sat warming himself at the fire with the guards who had arrested. As these false witnesses spoke, they contradicted each other until after hearing it all you knew that what was spoken was not true. This trial seemed a joke because what was being said just did not create the picture of fairness and honesty. It is clear, there will be no truth spoken by those conducting this trial. And the one witness who could speak the truth is hanging out getting warm.
       So after the witnesses have spoken the prosecutor asks how do you respond to what they have to say. Jesus doesn't speak. He has a choice, will he let this false witness stand or will he speak. Jesus doesn't speak. He doesn't have anything to say on a question of combating the lies and untruths about him. But as that question is being asked was he thinking about where his integrity lies. Will he speak his own truth? Will he speak about his mission and ministry? Will he speak about who he is in God's dawning kingdom? So another question comes at him. 'Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ and Jesus says, "I am."  Jesus owns his identity as messiah, as a Holy One of God, as a beloved of God. This sends the prosecutor over the edge, tearing his garments. He urges them having heard the blasphemy to vote. They vote to condemn him to death, they spit on him and hit him.  
       Peter is watching this there by the fire. He sees the ill treatment, the disrespect shown Jesus. And then he does it. The worst part of himself is laid bare. When he is outed as a follower of Jesus at the fire. He says I don't know what you are talking about and gets up and moves into a different part of the courtyard. But that servant girl tells those around him that he is one of Jesus' followers. Peter denied it. But after a while those around him speak of it again. Peter denies even knowing him. And at that moment, Peter notices the cock crowing and realizes what he has done.  
       Peter the last of the disciples present has denied and now deserted Jesus. He has done the worst thing he could imagine. He has forgotten who he is and who he follows. This is the worst moment of his life. His soul is all its pain and ugliness is laid open before God. God and Jesus knows the worst there is in him and he breaks down and cries.  
      If this was the end of the story, for Peter all looks lost. For he is at his lowest point. When we are there in the darkest point, when we have to face the worst there is to know about ourselves. That part of our being, the dark side that we don't want to acknowledge or face about ourselves. Well Peter is there, it is right before him. He breaks down and the tears flow. Part of our discipleship journey is to recognize those dark parts of ourselves. The parts that we need to work on and change. We have to come face to face with the parts of ourselves that fail, that fall short of who we want to be, who we hope to be, who we are called to be. And when we come face to face with those parts of ourselves we have a choice. We can continue to downward spiral and stay trapped in the sorrow. We can then choose to bury that side of ourselves, put it back in the hidden recesses where we don't acknowledge it and move forward ignoring that part of us. Or we can choose to acknowledge our weakness and move forward. We can learn to recognize its presence and choose to act differently when we want to fall back on out worst characteristics.  
       For Peter this is not the end of the story. He does get lost in the darkness for a while, but Jesus knows he will turn around, will repent, and turn back to God. For at the end of the Gospel, the women are told to find Peter and tell him what happened. Peter is given a second chance. He is invited gain to Galilee and begin the journey again.  

Prayer Practice:  
As you sit quietly with God, think about that place inside you that you fear sharing with God. Bring it out into the open and acknowledge your failing. As you think about this part of yourself, hear the whisper. Repent. Here the call, turn around. Hear the voice calling, turn back to me. The voice looks at your failing and invites you to believe the Good News and help build the dawning kingdom. Amen.

Change by Tracy Chapman

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Naked and Afraid

      The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 64

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.’ All of them deserted him and fled.
      A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.                                                                                                                  Mark 14:43-52
        Have you seen those commercials for Naked and Afraid, they do survivor but without clothes. The end of our passage today leaves us naked and afraid and worried about survival. But how did we get there? 
       The time Jesus has been telling us about has arrived. The Betrayal is at hand. While Jesus had been speaking about the fate of prophets and what will happen to him because of the actions of others. For here it is the worst betrayal you could imagine. Under the cover of darkness a member of your inner circle comes calling you teacher, kisses you and puts you in the hands of those who mean you harm.   
      So why did he betray Jesus. We know he got money, but is that the reason. Was he unhappy with the way Jesus was preaching the word? Was he wanting a messiah who encouraged people to take up arms and fight against the oppressors in order bring back a time of glory? Did he just always get rubbed wrong by everything Jesus did? He would hear him speak and think that this isn't what we should do or where we should go? So why instead of speaking with Jesus did he offer to bring him totally and completely down? Why did he turn to those who wouldn't just rejects Jesus' work but intended him harm? I don't buy the God intended this and someone had to do it. I don't buy the Satan made me do it argument. So there was a part of Judas that just did not like the vision Jesus was casting? And so he looked for a way to stop it and turned to the people opposed to Jesus' ministry.  
       There in the dark of the night, away from the crowds. These religious folk who have been plotting his downfall, come in the dark of night, away from those who would protest this action. They come up laying hands on Jesus. Those words to me bring up images of a rough arrest, not a gentle cuffing of hands, but an extra push, a little shove, a slap or choke hold. And when they do this, one of Jesus' followers who carried a weapon strikes back. This follower of Jesus reacts with violence to violence. Everything Jesus has taught, everything he stands for is falling apart. The disciples are losing the vision, they are losing their way and forgetting the call to turn toward God and the coming kingdom. The followers of Jesus flee. The run away. They desert Jesus and flee this confrontation. They leave Jesus alone in the custody of the police. The final one to stay and unnamed young man who when they lay hands on him flees leaving behind even his clothes. The last follower flees naked and afraid. 
      The disciples are gone they have left even their clothes behind. As followers of Jesus what will you choose at this moment? Will you too at the first sign of trouble, tragedy, death, sorrow, turn away from God. Will you leave Jesus behind? Will you turn your back on God? When you are ready will you hear Jesus' words: "Repent, The Kingdom of God is at Hand, Believe." Will you choose to turn back, to turn around to face toward God?

Prayer Practice:
   God when we are in a dark place, where we feel we are surrounded by enemies, when we feel as if there is no hope, remind us again of your presence. Remind us of your everlasting love. Give us the hope necessary to take the next step forward. Show us how to return to you. Amen.  

Jesus Was an Only Son by Bruce Springsteen


Friday, July 11, 2014

Prayer of Distress

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 63

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’   Mark 14:32-42
       Where do you go when it seems the world is crumbling around you? Where do you turn when your family and friends have left you on your own in the face of a situation that is overwhelming? Where do you turn when you feel alone and misunderstood? Where do you turn on the dark night of the soul, when you are questioning what is to come and feel as if hope is lost? Where do you turn in your anguish?
        Jesus' heart is breaking. He is tormented, troubled, anguished, grieving to the depths of his soul. In this distress and agitation, Jesus heads to the olive press, Gethsemane. He instructs Peter, James an John to sit and pray while he says he is grieving. He asks them to keep awake. Jesus went a little farther and threw himself down and prayed. He cries out to God, "Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want." This very human Jesus, this troubled and distressed messiah, speaks to God and asks for things to change. Don't let me be betrayed, let Judas see the light. Don't let me be denied, let Peter claim me. Don't let the rest of the twelve, run from me. He asks for the heartache that is to come to be taken away. After pouring out his trouble he says, not what I want, but what you want.  
       He then returns and find the 3 disciples sleeping. The hour is at hand, the hour he spoke of and yet instead of remaining awake, they sleep. He says, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Instead of Peter the Rock, he calls him Simon, the fisherman, the name before he followed. This man who said I will never betray you or deny you, does not even have the strength to stay awake with a friend in anguish, praying for him as asked. And while Peter speaks the right words, his actions do not follow his words. Jesus prays again saying the same words, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ Jesus faces up to this anguish with prayer. He stays awake and seeks God, while Peter and the other two sleep. The disciples eyes were heavy and they did not know what to say to Jesus. They didn't know how to face this agony and distress and so they slept.  
     He comes to them this third time, 'Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’  Jesus' exasperated cry "Still asleep? Still Resting? The End is far away? The Hour has Struck! Behold, the Son of Man is being delivered into the hands of sinners! Arise, let us be going. Behold, he who delivers me up is near." (Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to Mark, New York, St Martin's, 1963, p. 557). The discipleship is collapsing around Jesus. Jesus turns to face the trouble.  
      As I was contemplating this passage, Yahweh by U2 came on my phone and these last works stuck with me.
Yahweh, Yahweh Always pain before a child is born Yahweh, tell me now Still I'm waiting for the dawn? 
Take this city A city should be shining on a hill Take this city If it be your will What no man can own, no man can take Take this heart Take this heart Take this heart And make it break
This is the moment of heartbreak.  This is the time of darkness before... Jesus is heartbroken, the disciples are lost and the end is at hand.  There is always pain, before a child is born.  Yahweh, Yahweh.  Stay Awake.  Still waiting for the dawn. 

Prayer Practice:

I invite you to stop and watch this version of Yahweh and 40. As 40 is sung. Each of the members of U2 begins to leave. First Bono leaving a crucifix on his mike stand.  Bono stops singing but the crowd takes up the refrain. "How long to sing this song".Then Adam stops playing the bass and the crowd continues to sing, "How long to sing this song." Then The Edge stops playing, and the crowd sings "How long to sing this song." Larry and the crowd are left. He starts ups the drums and the crowd sings. "How long to sing this song." This song of lament ends with the crowd.  In this hour of anguish, in the place of this breaking heart, the crowd sings "How long."  


Yahweh and 40 by U2
Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, tell me now
Still I'm waiting for the dawn?

Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart 
And make it break

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Deserters

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 62 

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd,
   and the sheep will be scattered.”
But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.                                                                                                                                                  Mark 14:26-31
 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever.  Psalm 118
       After they sang, have you ever been struck by words in the Gospels that just stick with you. The twelve and Jesus had just celebrated Passover and as it ended they sang. What did they sing? The text doesn't say. Some sites suggests that they would have been singing the Hallel Psalms 113-118 and psalm 135. One of the themes running through these psalms is "O Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good, for God's steadfast love endures for ever." So as they are heading to the Mount of Olives did they continue to have that phrase running through their heads. But was Jesus thinking of what was to come. In this songs that remember God's redeeming work and that God's love is forever.  
       But as they arrive, Jesus speaks a tough word to these disciples. You will all desert me. Granted he quotes scripture, saying when the shepherd is struck the sheep will scatter. But he says this will not be the end of the story. I will go before you to Galilee. Galilee the place where ministry began, where we are invited to repent and turn back around to God, where we experience healing and hope, welcome, and feeding, invitation and release. But we are not there yet. We are just learning of the desertion. Peter proclaims loudly that he won't desert. Yet Jesus tells him, even you, you will deny me three time before this day ends. Peter promises that even if he had to die with him he will never deny Jesus, they all promise this.  
      Yet they do deny and desert him. I wonder about those times when we have done the same. When are those moments when you have denied your faith. Maybe not overtly, but when you are experiencing someone ranting against Christians or the church do you speak about your continuing faith. When faced with an environment where faith is not discussed and is not accepted, do you just go with the flow and leave your faith at the door? When you have doubts and questions, do you all those doubts to push you away from God? Jesus reminds us in this scripture that even when you desert, deny, doubt he will be there ahead of you waiting for you to catch up in those places where we encounter God, those places he showed us in Galilee - church, boats, water, dinner, healing, hurting, welcoming, when we encounter the lost, the last, and the least.   

Prayer Practice:
Let those doubts you have surface.  But as they surface say:  O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,  for his steadfast love endures for ever.  Psalm 118

Forever by Chris Tomlin

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Take and Eat

            The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 61 

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
        When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’
       While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’                                                                                                                          Mark 14:12-25
       I was 18 years old  and away at college in Chicago and needed church so I decided to go to worship at the chapel at Loyola. I had never been to mass, a word I wouldn't use and didn't know what to expect or how you were to act. But I needed to be fed and this was easy and close. So I entered this space, a beautiful space, a space filled with the music of a guitar and flute. The worship service flowed and I mostly could follow along. Then we came to communion. It's funny now that I am older and know the rules. But I didn't know there were rules then. These words stuck with me as I got up to walk. Words that I had never heard before: "I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Words that resonated deep within me as I walked up the aisle to receive communion. Words that stayed with me as I ate the bread and drank the wine. Words that I took back with me to my seat. Communion changed for me that day. I experienced something I never had felt before when the bread was passed down the row in its neatly cut squares of wonder bread and its dainty little cup of juice. I felt part of something more. And they sang throughout the time, songs that I heard differently. I didn't know yet that I didn't belong and wasn't welcome. At that moment, I just knew that communion would never be the same for me.  
        In our passage from Mark, Jesus is asked by his disciples how they will celebrate Passover. He provides them with instructions to find the place where they will gather. Jesus takes this day of remembering when God saved his people from slavery. He takes two of the symbols the bread and the wine and speaks about the bread that sustained the hungry as his body. The cup is the new covenant of blood shed for the many. Jesus takes this symbol of a past memory of liberation into a our new practice. So that we will continually remember the struggle for liberation, for freedom. Communion, the Lord's Supper is not meant to be a memorial, looking backward, but as a  way to participate in the messianic practice of life and death. We are to take and eat, take and drink. We are to give thanks and bless and be reminded of our call to take up our cross and follow. We are reminded of Jesus' journey to the cross and are to follow the same path journey of building the kingdom here on earth.  
       So when you next are present for the joyful feast of the Lord, how will you experience the sacrament? Will this be a solemn remembrance of something past? Or will you see this as a time to renew your commitment to follow Jesus? Take and Eat. Take and Drink. Give Thanks and Bless.  

Prayer Practice:
Take time to let the words of this invitation to communion wash over you.  
     In the midst of the sudden death of loved ones, friends, lovers, children, you said, “Come and eat. This is the body of Christ broken for you and the blood of Christ shed for you.”                                                                                                                                      In the joy of new births and baptisms you said, “Come and eat.  This is the body of Christ broken for you and the blood of Christ shed for you.”                                                      In the hidden uncertainty of our self-worth, when we've wondered if there really could be a place for us at God’s Table, you said, “Come and eat. This is the body of Christ broken for you and the blood of Christ shed for you.”
     In the crucible of transformation when life as we’d known it had fallen apart. When we had questioned our identity you said, “Come and eat. This is the body of Christ broken for you and the blood of Christ shed for you.”                                                                In the heat of conflict between friends and lovers, in the dying embers of once impassioned relationships, you said, “Come and eat. This is the body of Christ broken for you and the blood of Christ shed for you.”                                                                                  In the center of our fears and longings for new life, different life, sometimes even the old life we've known, you said, “Come and eat. This is the body of Christ broken for you and the blood of Christ shed for you.”
     In sickness, in body-shattering and mind-numbing sickness, when treatment left us bereft of desire, you said, “Come and eat. This is the body of Christ broken for you and the blood of Christ shed for you.”                                                                                                And now you have us dreaming of a hungry church and a tangible God, of people we have come to know and perhaps love, coming to you, laying down our burdens for just a moment, daring ourselves to dream of healing and reconciliation, daring to think of opening our hearts a little more. Daring to be nourished for another leg of our journey, these are our bodies, given to you. Amen.
                                                                                                      Enuma Okoro, Reluctant Pilgrim 

Waiting For You by Christopher Grundy