Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Rich Toward God

A tree I pass on my morning walk, with some clouds reaching toward God.
In Luke 12:13-21 Jesus warns us that greed can keep us from God.  He says, "Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."  It is easy to see greed in others, both in real life and in movies.  It is hard to recognize greed in ourselves.  That's why we need to be cautious, on our guard.  What makes greed difficult to spot is that there are all kinds.  We can be greedy about many different things.  We may never be able to get enough money, property, possessions, travel.  We always want more because things are not completely satisfying.
I  think of an old song by Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is?  Is that all there is? If that's all there is, my friend, then let's keep dancing.  Let's live it up and have a ball?"  She recounts various unsatisfying experiences and then laments with that refrain.  It's a painful expression of how empty life can be if it has no God-dimension.
The very last words in Gospel selection are "rich toward God."  Some translations try to make it sound smoother in English, but many are faithful to the Greek which uses the awkward expression "toward God."  The expression helps me to think of moving toward God instead of moving toward things.  In our relationship with God we never have enough. That's the kind of riches Jesus wants us to strive for.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Pestering God

Indian paint brush (bergamot) growing among the weeds close to a nearby ditch.  It used to grow in a large section of a field but was regularly mowed down by the owner, so it jumped the road went over the hill and now begins to flourish.  The leaves are used to make Earl Grey tea.
Jesus encourages us to pester God for whatever we want.  He tells a little story about a man who keeps after his neighbor to lend him some bread until the neighbor gets out of bed to give it to him.  God will give us what we need because of our persistence in asking.  When we keep asking God for something we are expressing our total dependence on God, so a prayer of petition is also a prayer of adoration. 
Jesus says, "Ask and you will receive."  Most of us have asked God for favors that we have not received.  A genuine prayer of petition includes our admitting that God knows what is best for us.  We do not want God to give us something that would be bad for us.  I have lived long enough to thank God for not answering all of my prayers.  At the time some of them looked like the perfect thing for me, but looking back from the vantage point of age I see that they would have been bad, some even disastrous, for me.  I find it helpful when I ask God for something to say explicitly, "if it is Your will."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Holy Haggling

No, I have not been away; my computer has.
This is an icon of the three strangers to whom Abraham showed such wonderful and impossible (so quickly bread baked? steer killed and prepared?) hospitality in last Sunday's first reading, Genesis 18:1-10.  Even though the story speaks of three men, the Lord is the stranger whom Abraham encounters and cares for so extravagantly.
In next Sunday's first reading, Genesis 18:20-32, we find Abraham on apparently close terms with the Lord.  The verses immediately before show God considering what to do about the evil that he hears is happening in Sodom.  Abraham tries to intervene on behalf of Sodom.
He asks God if he would spare the city if he could find fifty just men.  God says he will.  Then Abraham keeps lowering the figure until he has talked God into sparing the city even if can find only  ten just men.  I find his haggling with God amusing and encouraging.  Our graciously loving God is always on the lookout for even the slightest hint of response from us.  God even helps us to say yes to his reaching out to us in love.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Compassionate Samaritan

I took this bleak picture on the way down from Jerusalem to Jericho during our pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Jericho is 700 feet below sea level; Jerusalem is 2500 feet above sea level.  A traveler truly went "down" and we can imagine how much more bleak and dangerous the trip would have been for someone in the time of Jesus.
In Luke 10:25-37 Jesus tells the parable about a certain man making that journey who was attacked by bandits, stripped, beaten, and left half dead.  Certain respectable religious people each "pass by on the other side." 
The Samaritans were despised both socially and religiously.  Jesus makes one of them the hero of his story.  When the Samaritan sees the injured man he is moved with compassion and takes very good care of him, way beyond what might be expected of anybody.  Jesus concludes, "You go and do the same."
No human being is to be beyond the reach of our love.  Those of us who follow Jesus are often motivated by our faith to care for those who need us.   But there are times when human compassion moves us to action.  Someone who has no obvious faith may also be moved with compassion and take action. 
Anytime any person goes beyond self-interest to help another they are being moved by the Divine within them.  The Spirit is present and alive in people who never think about God, or darken the doors of churches.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

God's Wisdom Within

The Book of Deuteronomy is almost as hard to read as to pronounce, but it does have some strong passages.  Chapter 30:10-14, the first reading for this Sunday, is one of them.
The whole book is presented as a kind of sermon that Moses preaches to the people before they enter the Promised Land after being delivered from Egypt.  In this passage Moses urges the people to obey the Law and to "turn back to the Lord your God with all your heart and with your whole being."
Divine wisdom is not esoteric.  It is not something hidden.  It is accessible to every man and woman in Israel.  They don't have to wait for some hero to bring it to them from high in the heavens or from far across the sea.  "But the word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it."
I have a strong conviction that God's wisdom is within me, guiding me, prompting me to do some things and not do others.  When we surrender to that Wisdom within, we can go about our lives in blessed freedom.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Free Fourth

A neighbor's flag o the morning of the Fourth of July.Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Declaring Freedom

Sunset over some farmland on my way home last night from dinner with some friends.
This morning I read the Declaration of Independence and spent some time in prayer thinking about what it means to me. 
Each year I am surprised and deeply grateful that such a select group of men came together to do this kind of moral reasoning.  It is sometimes called "social contract" moral reasoning.  "Consent of the governed" are the words they used in the Declaration.  Most people were convinced that kings ruled by divine right, not by the consent of the governed.  Our founders accepted the value of law, but realized that in this oppressive situation they had, not only a right, but a duty to disobey the law and break our relationship with England.  Disobedience was the right thing to do.
Most Americans even now do what might be called "law and order" moral reasoning.  They think that the only way to do the right thing is to obey the law.  If those thoughtful men gathered in Philadelphia in 1776 had insisted on doing their moral reasoning the "law and order" way, they could never have separated from England.
Their brave and enlightened action is a challenge to all of us to learn to do our moral reasoning the "social contract" way rather than the "law and order" way.  That means that we accept the value of law, but that at times to do the right thing we must disobey the law.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Psalms with Jesus

The cold surf in which I walked in early morning during my retreat in early June.
For several months now as I pray the psalms morning and evening I ask Jesus to help me to pray them with him back when he walked the earth and I ask him to pray them now in me and through me and with me and with all those who have ever prayed them through thousands of years and all around the world.  It has helped me to pray psalms whose thoughts seem foreign to me.
This praying has also been helped by Gerhard Lohfink's excellent book, Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was.  In the chapter on Jesus and the Old Testament he says that Jesus probably knew all the psalms by heart. 
Those psalms that are harsh and cruel have always been a problem for me.  Lohfink says, "How liberating it can be if we are permitted, for once, to express all our wrath and misery in words....Many texts of the Bible, by calling violence what it is, function precisely to reveal the violence in society that is normally covered up, and to disclose its reality as merciless injustice."