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Morning Prayer- Easter Monday at St E’s

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Call to Worship

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
– 1 Peter 1:3

Opening Prayer

Christ,
We are your Easter people,
Stunned, confused, overwhelmed,
Together.
We gather at tables to pray,
To study,
To celebrate,
To share your meal.
Easter us always,
Keep us in the uncertainty of that night,
The joy of that morning,
Bind us in community,
As we Easter one another,
Rejoicing,
The Body of Christ,
Together.
Amen.

Responsive Reading

The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The LORD is good to all,
and the LORD’s compassion is over all that the LORD has made.

All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

-Psalm 145:8-13

Scripture– Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians 3:2-3

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all;
and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Reflection

This summer, in Disciples of Christ churches throughout the country, pastors and lay leaders will enter their sacristies, remove their chalices, and carefully wrap them. They will deal with airport security, bumpy roads, and shipping companies, as they and their chalices travel to Fort Worth, where they will hold their General Assembly. And after an act of communal worship, they will pack up a chalice and take it home with them. But it won’t be the chalice with which they arrived!

From this summer on, every Sunday morning as Disciples of Christ ministers raise the chalice and speak the words of institution, they will be holding the chalice from another community of Christ, and another community of Christ will be celebrating communion with their chalice, a denominational act of communion transcending geographical boundaries, theological divisions, a communion with the Body of Christ.

We don’t know exactly how long the original apostles were together. Tradition suggests a period of around three years. But some were called early, some late. The Sons of Thunder. Judas Didymus Thomas. Mary Magdalene. Simon the Rock. They came together, ate, prayed, learned. Then came Jerusalem, the tree, the empty tomb.

And then they changed the world. They took Christ and they took one another, and they went their separate ways, making disciples of all nations, as their savior had instructed them. Thomas in Syria, James in Jerusalem, Simon Peter in Antioch. They carried the good news of Christ. And in all of the places they preached, they celebrated the communal meal of remembrance, they transformed one another, and they moved on.

We all move on. We come together and move apart. Like chalice swapping, we swap bits of ourselves. We write ourselves into the hearts of others, as Christ has written himself into our hearts. As Paul tells the Corinthians, we are living letters, love letters, we are word to one another, communion and reunion. We are love.

And move we must, from our first moment of life, to that last goodbye. Are you ready to say goodbye? To say hello? To change one life? To change hundreds? Thousands?

As chaplain interns at Saint Elizabeth’s, it is our season of goodbyes. Some will pass this way again, others will find new ministries, new chances to write and to be written on, to love and to serve. We will be letters from each other to new communities. What a grand adventure! Amen.

Prayers of the People

God, you are our joy, you are our author, you are communion and goodbye. Fill us with the grace to say goodbye, with the strength to carry one another, to carry Easter with us in all that we do! Let us be love letters from one another, poems of Christ. We join your saints, your church, your people, as we pray:

Blessed are you eternal God,
Your creation is filled with blessing.
We thank you for your church universal and its ministries of love,
Fill us with your Spirit that we might love one another.
We thank you for your Son, for that miraculous morning,
May we always stand amazed before the mystery of the empty tomb.
We pray for those who are sick, who are tired, who are broken,
Help us to comfort them and to comfort one another.
We celebrate the lives of those who have departed even as we mourn our own losses,
May they join the saints in your presence.
We bring you our concerns, personal and global, spoken and in the quiet of our hearts,
(Please add your own petitions).

God, this is the day you have made for us, even in the midst of our pain and brokenness, the new day dawns, babies are born, love happens. We praise you and thank you always.
Amen

Blessing

May you always walk in this certain knowledge: Nothing can separate you from the love of God, nothing you do, nothing others can do. Go in peace and love one another as God loves you. Amen.

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Just Jake

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During the summer, I have the amazing privilege of working with several hundred children who spent time at a camp in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Now, before you add me to the roster of saints, you should know that this was a camp for rich kids and I am well paid. But it is a chance to be out in God’s creation, to contribute to the moral formation of the next generation of business people, lawyers, teachers… Last summer, I was a senior staff member, what is called a division director. As such, I had day-to-day responsibilities for about 70 little boys between the ages of six and eleven, along with twenty-four college and high-school students who worked as cabin counselors and instructors. In addition to our role as in loco parentis, substitute parents for the children in our care, we also played the role of disciplinarian. Now summer camp isn’t about discipline, its about fun, so we tried to be careful, to use an easy touch. No one wants to be the assistant principle! Anybody who wants that job probably shouldn’t have it. The story I’d like to tell you comes from one of those encounters, one of those moments when I was the bad guy.

Now, Jake wasn’t one of mine. He was an intermediate boy, a twelve year old with whom I had little interaction, and here it was, the night before a changeover. Changeovers happened every two weeks, when some several hundred of the campers would leave and new batch would join those who remained. Jake was one of those leaving. Now, I have to tell you, camp friendships are intense. You can spend more time with a friend in camp than you will another friend in school. This is especially true of your cabin mates. There are often a dozen boys sleeping in one room smaller than the bedrooms each of these boys have back home in their McMansions. So changeover is emotional. One custom the kids have developed over the years is to sign shirts for one another. But kids don’t just sign…

So there I am at flagpole, the glorious end of the day, and there is this boy with his signed white shirt. And boy is it signed. I don’t know who started it, whether it was Jake or a bunkmate, but this shirt was covered in profane, sexualized words and drawing. And he had it on in front of the whole camp, in front of the whole senior staff! I had to act. I pulled Jake out of the group, asked him to remove the shirt (he did have another underneath lest you think I ordered the child to strip!) and marched him up to the Cooler. The very name was ominous. The Cooler was the office of the camp owner/director. It was where serious issues went. And if you’d read this shirt, you’d have thought it pretty serious. Violent sexual images don’t belong on a twelve year old.

We never made it. Walkie-talkie traffic was jumping, things were busy. Jake’s shirt was not going to make it onto the radar of the camp director that night. So I turned the shirt in, and turned Jake loose. He was terrified. Was he going to be DNR’ed? At camp DNR means “Do Not Re-admit.” Even worse, was I going to tell his Mom when she picked him up the next day?

Now, this kid was bright, personable, good looking, but he didn’t know the ways of the world… he certainly should never have told me he didn’t want me to tell his Mom, because that became the very thing I planned to do. A mother who could inspire that sort of fear could certainly teach her son about appropriate language, especially given the attitude toward women seen on Jake’s shirt. But somehow, that’s not what happened. God happened instead, or the Holy Spirit to be exact, because I am convinced that I could never have done what came next.

I turned to Jake before he left and ask him one question. “Jake, is this the man you want to be?” His eyes filled with tears, he looked up at me, and quietly answered. “No.” And the words were put into my mouth again. “Jake, the man you want to be is already there. I know you don’t really know him yet, but he’s there. Let him out. Pretend like you are already him and you will be.”

The next morning at breakfast Jake approached me. “Do you know what is going to happen to me?” I didn’t. I told Jake that he might get a free pass, that things were busy, that the shirt was gone and the lesson learned. He thanked me, and we spoke once again about the man he wanted to be.

Several hours later as kids rolled out of camp, this boy who I barely knew came running up, threw himself around my waist, thanking me, telling me goodbye, promising to be the man he knew he could be, that he wanted to be.

My question for you is, are you the saint you want to be? That God calls you to be. See, that saint is in there. God is calling it out. The church is calling it out. I am calling it out. Like Lazarus called out from the tomb, new life and health from stink and decay. Like Samuel called out in the Tabernacle. Fear not. She is not really dead. The saint, buried though she may be, though he may be, is vital and alive, and waiting for you to call it by name. Saint Jake won’t be perfect, but he might just be. And may it ever be so. Amen.

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Messages and Angels

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Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
– Genesis 28:10-14

You may have seen the trucks barreling down the highway with the company’s initials in bold capital letters. G.O.D. Guaranteed Overnight Delivery. The first time I encountered one of these trucks I was offended. I’m not usually sensitive about these things, but somehow the clash between crass commercialism and faith was just a bit much. But as time wore on I found my attitude changing. And it was all because of angels.

Now, I didn’t have a dream. There was no ascending and descending from heaven. And certainly no wrestling and no dislocated hips. But there was a beautiful collision between the idea of the Guarantee of God/G.O.D. and the certainty that God’s messengers, the angels, really do show up on time. I can’t really say if G.O.D.’s messengers have a good track record, but they can’t match the all-time eternal delivery service.

Today everything is fair game. We’ve had a cigar-smoking God played by George Burns and an beer-swilling angel played by John Travolta. We won’t even go near “Life of Brian”! All of this irreverence comes to a halt, however, a two times of the year. God’s delivery service gives the two messages on which our faith pivots. You will bear a child. He is not here, he is risen.

What messages does God have for us today? Where do we find angels in today’s world?

Prayer: Father, you send us your Son, you send us the Spirit, you send us angels. Make our ears keen and our eyes sharp! Help us to always attend to the messengers in our midst, those bearing God-ness to us, in message and in deed. Awaken us to your call. Amen.

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A confession

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We’ve been using the traditional communal confession at church in recent weeks. You know the one… “things I have done and things I have failed to do.” And I realized this week that it doesn’t really do it for me. It doesn’t express my understanding of covenant breach, of broken relationship, of sin. So here is a first try at a new communal confession.

God,
We have participated in evil,
Woven into the fabric of our lives,
The fabric of ourselves,
We have been disordered.
We have placed ourselves before loving you,
Before loving others.
At times we have even failed to love ourselves.
We create systems of selfishness,
Convince ourselves that we are better,
More deserving than others.
We anesthetize our fear with goods,
Goods bought through unjust systems,
Goods coated in blood.
Please forgive us.
We confess our sins, our selfishness.
We rely on your mercy
And the love of your utterly selfless son,
Trusting in infinite love,
To lift us,
For short moments,
For eternity,
From the misery of our sins.
Amen.

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Changing Christianity

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Christianity has always changed. It is a dynamic faith in a dynamic world. Even before it was called Christianity it was shaped by the Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. When the faith was co-opted by empire with the conversion of Constantine, the religion changed. And it wasn’t just politics and power that produced change. The invention of the printing press and the availability of the Bible to greater numbers was certainly critical in the development of Protestantism. I cannot imagine the doctrine of sola scriptura without Gutenberg!

Is change bad? Some make that claim. Selective Literalists claim that there is an unchanging moral code stretching back to Moses, though as the name I use for them suggests, they select which passages to apply literally and which to ignore. I refuse to use the word “fundamentalists” for this group, as it suggests that they have something fundamentally right!

Our understanding of what it is to be human changes. The idea that we could completely destroy life on earth would have never occurred to the Christians of prior centuries. They viewed the world as eternal, expecting a divine act to bring it all to a halt. Today we know that we can destroy the world without God’s help. And the hyper-individualized Christianity that has been created to justify greed and nationalism is to blame in large part for the coming collapse of life on Earth.

It is time for Christians to change the faith with intention, to examine and to challenge constructs like prosperity theology and human dominion over the planet. I only pray we can do so quickly enough to re-order our world and to save it. Christ would expect no less of us.

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Dude, wow! A reflection on scripture

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Genesis 28:15-17

And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Reflection:

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God.” Jacob’s exclamation is a declaration of the holiness of what is nothing more than a spot in the wilderness, a place to lay his head on some stones and sleep. He opens his heart and mouth to praise God.

Many of us can rattle off the lines in Psalm 118 that begin “this is the day the Lord has made.” Have we ever tried to apply it to a holy place? “This is the place the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

Jacob declares the awesomeness of God. Dude! Radical praise calls for radical language, but sometimes even that fails us. We can barely pull up the deep sighs Paul talks about in the face of the incredible beauty that is life in Christ

Friends laugh when I tell them my two favorite prayers. They are short, and so worked into my being that they allow me to often fill Paul’s instruction to “pray without ceasing.” The prayers are “Wow!” and “Thy will, not mine, be done.” They express my awareness of God’s love for me, and my declaration of my love for God.. Like Jacob, I see this place, this time, this life as awesome. This is the place of God, the time of God, the love of God. Wow!

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Ash Wednesday Morning Prayer

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Call to Worship

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana. ~ Groucho Marx

Opening Prayer

Amazing creative God,
You shock us constantly,
You pour grace through the cracks in our lives,
Even in the winter cold it leaks in,
And warms our hearts.
Saint Groucho Marx?
Who knew?
But the wisdom is there
Shining through the humor,
Time does fly
And when the time has flown
And it is the banana’s time
Fruit flies like the banana,
Death and birth,
All on your time,
God’s time.
Open us to the truth of God’s time.
Amen.

Responsive Reading

O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the LORD, O you God’s faithful ones, and give thanks to God’s holy name.
For God’s anger is but for a moment;
God’s favor is for a lifetime.
weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,

so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

-from Psalm 30

Scripture- Matthew 1:1-16

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
and Isaac the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar,
and Perez the father of Hezron,
and Hezron the father of Aram,
and Aram the father of Aminadab,
and Aminadab the father of Nahshon,
and Nahshon the father of Salmon,
and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab,
and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth,
and Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David.

Reflection

Okay, so I stopped a little early. We didn’t get all the way to Jesus. And you must think I’m truly off my rocker opening an Ash Wednesday service by quoting Groucho Marx. And while we’re at it, if we’re going to read the genealogy of Jesus, shouldn’t we read it at Christmas? Don’t worry, this train isn’t off the tracks yet. This morning, we are invited to reflect on time, specifically God’s time. You might not have noticed as I sped through the list, but three mothers appear in this partial list of male lineage. Any of the three would justify a sermon, but for the moment, let’s stick with Rahab. You see, to most Jews in the centuries after Ezra, Rahab is a problem.

Rahab’s story begins when Moses leads the people of YHWH across the Reed Sea. God’s instructions as recorded in the Bible are clear, the Israelites are to conduct an ethnic cleansing, wiping the Canaanites from the land in one genocidal campaign. But they don’t! Several groups survived and became part of the people of Israel. The Gibeonites survive. And so does Rahab and her family in Jericho.

We all know the Jericho story. March around, blow horns, walls come down. But we must also remember that those behind the door with the red cord were spared, the red cord, not unlike the lamb’s blood of Passover, allowed death to pass by Rahab’s door. The reason? When the Israelite spies had earlier been cornered in Jericho, they hid in the house of a prostitute, and that prostitute was Rahab. Rahab confessed that YHWH was God and helped the spies escape. In return, they promised that she and her family would be saved.

Now let’s rewind. Our text is the genealogy of Jesus. These are the great and noble ancestors from the house of David who are covenanted to YHWH, this is the stump of Jesse that will produce the Messiah, this is the lineage that will outnumber the stars in the sky. A prostitute? And the story of one of the other women in the portion we read, Tamar, is no less troubling.
And then there was God, God who redeems and heals, God who turns a Canaanite prostitute into a worshipful Israelite, who chooses that very house to save the world. God takes what the world would reject, a woman the Israelites believed they were ordered to murder, and from her delivers the redeemer of all mankind.

This didn’t happen over night. There were good times: the glorious kingdom of David, the construction of the Temple under Solomon, the reforms of Josiah and Hezekiah. There were bad times: the fall of the northern kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile, the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes. There were long dark times, let’s be honest. Night comes, but so does the morning, joy comes in the morning! For every Good Friday there is an Easter. Our amazing and wonderful God works on God’s time, not ours. We wait for redemption, humble of heart, repenting of our sins, and God meets us with miracle! The Holy Spirit breaks out in a million places. Rahab, O Rahab, how we envy the joy of your house, the house of the Redeemer!

During this Lent let us consider God’s time, God’s redemption. Let us confess that God alone is worthy of our worship, tie red cords to our door, and wait for joy to break forth. It is there, in the cold and dark days of winter, as we sit in the grey and wait, as we ponder the coldness that sometimes enters our hearts, joy is there, alive, energy and potential waiting to burst forth, to bulb and bloom and bud and beauty! Ah, our amazing God! Find a red cord, remember Rahab, and wait for God’s time. I promise you, joy will come in the morning.

Prayers of the People

Eternal God, we are an expectant people, huddled in the cold and dark, waiting in a concrete and carbon monoxide winter, waiting through Lent, trusting in your love, today, tomorrow, in the morning, always! During the next forty days we ask the blessing to live outside of our own time, to be enfolded in your time, in the power of redemption always ready to break forth. God be patient with us as we bring our praise and petition to you, trusting that your will is the way of miracle, the way of red cords and Rahab!

Blessed are you eternal God,
Your creation is filled with blessing.
We thank you for your church universal and its ministries of love,
Fill us with your Spirit that we might love one another.
We thank you for your saints, those who have walked in the cold and dark,
who woke up to joy and miracle,
May they walk with us in all that we do.
We pray for those who are sick, who are tired, who are broken,
Help us to comfort them and to comfort one another.
We celebrate the lives of those who have departed from us even as we mourn our own losses,
May they join the saints in your presence.
We bring you our concerns, personal and global, spoken and in the quiet of our hearts,
(Please add your own petitions).

God, this is the day you have made for us, even in the midst of our pain and brokenness, the new day dawns, babies are born, love happens. We praise you and thank you always.
Amen

Blessing

May you always walk in this certain knowledge: Nothing can separate you from the love of God, nothing you do, nothing others can do. Go in peace and love one another as God loves you. Amen.

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Time, a prayer and Ash Wednesday warm-up

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This Sunday evening I am just back from the Carlson Leadership Academy of Sigma Phi Epsilon here in the Northeast region, and am busy banging out my sermon for Ash Wednesday morning worship at the hospital (Sick people don’t take federal holidays, so tomorrow I’m at the hospital, and Tuesday back in class…). My theme is time, the time of 40 days, the time of waiting, God’s time. My call to worship comes from Groucho Marx and my scripture from the genealogy of Jesus, with a focus on Rahab. I’ll post it later in the week. As weird as it sounds, it might just work. But then again, I’ve been known to say “dude” in the pulpit, so what do I know?

Since I was offline all weekend and the stuff up here is more stale than usual, I thought I’d post a prayer I wrote a couple of months ago on the subject of time:

God
You have time
Eternity to be exact
Oceans of space
Galaxies of love
And we are your people
Restless
Moving
An Exodus people
We still gird up our loins
Grab our staffs
And move.

Still us for a few moments
Let us stop in the now
Celebrating all that you are
All that we are
All that your saints have been.

And in a few minutes
When we are back in the thick
The urgency and rush
May we find time to pause
Moments filled
With the eternal peace
Of your love.

Amen

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Eschatology and the Household

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My coursework this term includes a seminar with Helmut Koester on Thessalonians and a course on Buddhist Meditation Techniques. The combination of the former’s eschatology and the latter’s emphasis on practice has prompted some reflection on Jesus as an image of the Buddhist monk. Specifically, I am thinking about the model of the renouncer, one who leaves the household in pursuit of a spiritual life. Jesus fits this model, as do his disciples as they are portrayed in the Gospels. Think of his instructions: let the dead bury the dead, love your enemies for even the wicked love their own. With an eschatological focus and the lifestyle of a wandering band of monks… well you can see where I am going.

This is not to say that I am conflating the two categories. Jesus was no Buddhist. But the pattern of renouncing the household life fits. And it points to a difficulty in the Christian life. So many of Christ’s teachings point to a lifestyle we can’t all copy. Not everyone can drop everything in selfless service to the Kingdom. Society would fall apart! We create structures to maintain the church and stray away from the model of Jesus’ own ministry.

Some would have us ask “what would Jesus do?” The answer, dependent upon your Christology, is that Jesus would do as God would do, and not as we can do. And the Gospels just don’t give us anything to go on, despite the claims of the selective literalists (I refuse to use the term Fundamentalists, which implies that they have it right in some fundamental way).

So how then is the church ever to get it right? How can we as Christians live out of the boundless love of God? I imagine that prayer and sacrament are our only real hope. Not that I want to sound pessimistic. Scripture, tradition, sacrament and community. These are more than enough to get us through.

I’ve always wondered how we managed to turn the lifestyle of one who renounced the household for God’s work into mega-churches and prosperity theology. But then again, it doesn’t seem surprising after all. The life of most Christian in America seems to have little to do with the values of Jesus. They’ve turned the flesh and blood Jesus, the table-turning radical, the man of action, into abstraction… It started with Paul and his abstract Crucified Christ, and never looked back.

If I had a prayer for this entry, it would be that we always be aware that we are constructing an ill-fitting theology from an ineffable encounter with God in Christ.

And for the few that read this blog, especially those here in New England where the weather is fierce, a safe and God-filled night.

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On the Edge

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What do we expect from our God? The Judeans expected a Messiah, a warrior-king that would restore the political independence and military might of Davidic Israel. Some Christians seem to expect a vengeful judge, or maybe a small-minded bookkeeper, tallying the sum total of each life and delivering a judgment, rewarding or punishing. Others look for miracles and signs in an age of skepticism. Then there are those who have given up all expectation for God in this world, for Emmanuel. They see a bleak and empty world and just hope that something better will follow this life. What do you expect?

Paul asks us to discern the pouring out of Divine Love in the improbability of the Christian message. Jesus ministry shatters all of our expectations, turns our sense of rights and privileges, of justice and of order on its head. The last shall be first, He tells us. Die for your fellows. Give it all away. Embrace your pain. Even death is shattered in His resurrection. To believe what Christ asks us to believe is to go against the logic of this world. To take a daring leap in loving holy foolishness.

Switchfoot, a rock band of Christian surfers, sings of “standing on the edge of everything I’ve never been before.” What are you standing on the edge of? And will you know when to leap?

Prayer: Holy Spirit, you pour out your gifts whether we want them or not. You open the door to growth and to change, to a relationship with all that is God through the foolishness of the Cross. Remind us as we celebrate Christ’s earthly ministry that not everything is as it appears. That sometimes it is the right time to fall into Divine Love. Amen.

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