Can You Drink the Cup?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

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Mt20_22 cup

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel tells the story of Mrs. Zebedee, who sought a prejudiced advantage for her two disciple sons.

Jesus said to her, “What do you wish?”
She answered him,
“Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

Sounds a little like something ripped from today’s headlines, doesn’t it.

headline

There is a natural inclination to advantage those we love. But when we do so to the unjust disadvantage of others, that’s a problem.

We know from experience that people use various points of leverage to gain advantage in life. We see people use money, power, political connections, and other influences to get a job, choose a school, land an important invitation, get a traffic ticket written off, etc., etc. Maybe, on occasion, we are one of those people.

Today’s Gospel teaches us a lesson. In gaining such advantage, we may, as Jesus says, “not know what we are asking for”. Can we actually DO the job, succeed in the school, … become a better person by what we have maniputively gained?

The Gospel also brings before us the “other people” who lost the right to what we unjustly claimed. How do they begin to see us? What do we lose in respect and mutuality within our community? How do we begin to see ourselves in relationship to justice, honesty, sincerity and truth?

Jesus hopes that we will love every person to the extent that we want her/his just advantage as much as we want our own? That is the “cup” He drinks through his Passion and Death.

Let us ponder Jesus’s question to us: Can you drink the cup that I will drink?

Music:  The More I Seek You ~ Gateway Worship

This One’s Pretty Difficult!

Monday, March 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus tells us to be merciful, as God is merciful.

I think that’s really hard.

Lk6_36 be merciful

Being merciful is not too hard with poor, unfortunate souls for whom life is one tragedy after another.

It’s not too hard when someone innocent is suffering unjustly.

But, gosh, it’s difficult to be merciful in the face of meanness, stupidity, selfishness and arrogance.

Yet God is merciful to me when I’m like that.

The Gospel’s message is painfully straightforward. It calls me to examine all my judgmental thoughts and actions and to reverse them.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be busy for a while working on this one.

Music: The Mercy Song – Paul Alexander

Take It Up a Notch

Friday, March 15, 2019

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Mt5_24 brother
Today, in Mercy, Jesus tells us to take it up a notch. It’s not good enough, he says, not to kill people.

You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you …

When we first read this, we might think we’re pretty safe. After all, how many of us actually kill people?!?! 

But let’s check that, Jesus says:

  • Don’t remain angry with your sister/brother
  • Don’t call them  “empty head” (raqa)
  • Don’t call them fools 

Jesus seems to be telling us that there are many ways to kill!

  • We can kill the possibility of relationship by our unresolved angers, grudges, sustained hatred of people.
  • We can kill hope in someone by labeling them stupid or foolish.
  • We can easily kill someone’s reputation by a false or injudicious word.
  • We can kill joy by our indifference.
  • We can kill love with ingratitude.
  • We can kill innocence with any of the seven deadly sins

It takes vigorous spiritual attention to live at the level Jesus is asking of us. Let’s give our souls that particular attention, especially during our Lenten journey.

Music: The Servant Song – Maranatha

God, please …

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings talk about prayer – a particular kind: the prayer of supplication. 

As children, many of us learned this acronym for the types of prayer: ACTS
Ollie_pray

Adoration – Contrition – Thanksgiving – Supplication

The mnemonic has been helpful to me as an adult too. It reminds me to communicate with God only many levels, not just to ask for something. I know how I feel about someone who never talks to me unless they need something. I don’t want to be that way with God.

In our first reading, Esther prays a prayer of supplication for the deliverance of her people from death. Her prayer is not a simple, passing, “Please”. The passage tells us:

She lay prostrate upon the ground,
together with her handmaids,
from morning until evening, (praying)

In our Gospel, Jesus describes the prayer of supplication :

Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.

My prayers of supplication haven’t always seemed to get the results Esther got or that Jesus describes. Ever feel that way … that your prayer really hasn’t been answered?

Faith assures us that all our needs are met … even before we present them to God. God is acting in our lives whether or not we speak with God about it.

Our prayer, as it becomes deeper and truer, allows us to enter God’s action with faith, hope, love and courage. This is the perfect prayer of supplication – it allows us to float, content, in the water of God’s will always flowing around our lives.

ask-Receive

David Foster Wallace created a parable you may have heard:

Two young fish are swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, “What is water?”

Foster explains, “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

Our reality is that we exist in the “water” of God’s life and presence. May our “asking” of God lead us to understand that our life in God is already the answer.

Music: Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire – James Montgomery (1771–1854)

Montgomery wrote the lyrics at the request of Edward Bickersteth, who wanted them for his book Treatise on Prayer. Montgomery called this “the most attractive hymn I ever wrote.”

( I have included all the Lyrics below. Quite beautiful, I think.)

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear
The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains
That reach the Majesty on high.

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air,
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters Heav’n with prayer.

Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice,
Returning from his ways,
While angels in their songs rejoice
And cry, “Behold, he prays!”

The saints in prayer appear as one
In word, in deed, and mind,
While with the Father and the Son
Sweet fellowship they find.

Nor prayer is made on earth alone;
The Holy Spirit pleads,
And Jesus, on th’eternal throne,
For sinners intercedes.

O Thou by whom we come to God,
The life, the truth, the way,
The path of prayer Thyself hast trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray.

Want a Sign? Wake Up!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  our readings talk about the “sign of Jonah”? What is that really, and how does it speak to me?

The passage from the Book of Jonah describes a remarkable event. Jonah, finally coughed up from the belly of a whale, marches part way through Nineveh announcing its impending destruction.

What if somebody did that in your neighborhood ? Would you ignore them, call the police, or maybe move? Not the Ninevites. They LISTENED! They recognized Jonah’s message as a last ditch chance to get their act together! Talk about conversion! Even the king ripped his robes and sat in ashes!

Ps51_miserere

When those questioning Jesus ask for a sign that they should repent and change, Jesus has had it with them. He basically says “No sign; learn a lesson from Jonah.“ In so many words, he tells them “I am your Jonah. I am your last ditch chance at conversion.”

Is there a message for us? Are we as bad off as the Ninevites or the dense crowds missing Jesus’s point? Are there realities in our lives that need conversion of heart?

Often, when asking ourselves such a question, we look to the sins we commit through our weakness and selfishness. We confess, own up, seek forgiveness for the things we have done.

But sometimes we are blind to our sins of omission – the things we haven’t done that we should have – the forgiveness withheld, the support never offered, the gratitude unexpressed, the half-hearted work for which we claim full payment, the family and community where we take but seldom give, the times we let ourselves and others be less than their best selves.

I don’t think Jesus wants us to sit in the ashes over these things, but rather to be honest with ourselves and shape up. Through prayer and reflection, we need to ask for the grace to hear Jonah’s voice in our lives.

Music: I Repent – Steve Green

The Word is Near You

Sunday, March 10, 2019

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Mt4_4 Word

Today, in Mercy,  our reading from Romans tells us:

The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart.

How is the Word of God near us, with us? 

Certainly, our sincere study and prayer with scripture is one way. Sitting quietly with scriptural passages, letting them speak to us, inviting them to inform our lives is a life-giving discipline.

Sometimes, we might choose just one word or phrase from a beloved reading, turning it over and over, gently in our prayer. How has this precious word informed our lives, inspired us, called us, comforted us? How is it speaking to us in this moment?

As we move more deeply into the “words” of scripture, we move closer to the Word – the Incarnate God. John writes: 

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.

Perhaps today in our prayer, we can commit ourselves to a deepening love of scripture, of the Word given to us there.

In his book, “ The Bible Makes Sense”, Walter Bruggemann says this:

The Bible is not an “object” for us to study but a partner with whom we may dialogue. It is usual in our modern world to regard any “thing” as an object that will yield its secrets to us if we are diligent and discerning. And certainly this is true of a book that is finished, printed, bound, and that we can buy, sell, shelve, and carry in a briefcase or place on a coffee table…[But] reading the Bible requires that we abandon the subject-object way of perceiving things… [If we do,] the text will continue to contain surprises for us, and conversely we discover that not only do we interpret the text but we in turn are interpreted by the text… We may analyze, but we must also listen and expect to be addressed.

Music: Word of God Speak – Mercy Me

Let the Light In

Saturday, March 9, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Isaiah tells us how to spiritually balance our lives.

Reading the passage, I thought of my Dad. He was a magnificent, though largely uncredentialed, handyman. One of many important lessons he taught me was how to “true up” a panel of wet wallpaper before pressing it into place. This was particularly necessary if the wallpaper had a vertical pattern or stripe. Failure here led to visitors sitting askew on the living room couch, trying to balance themselves out! 😂

Isaiah says we have to be as careful in our spiritual lives. He says we have to take certain measures to “true up” our souls with the heritage of grace God plans for us. He tells us to remove these imbalances:

oppression
false accusation
malicious speech

Wow! Can’t our world really use that advice?!

Isaiah further says to: 

bestow your bread on the hungry
satisfy the afflicted; THEN …. and ONLY THEN…

Is58_8 light rise

In our Gospel, Jesus calls a man whose career was about all about “balances” – Matthew, the tax collector. Jesus takes Matthew from a world of impersonalized requirements to a world of eternal abundance, calling him to align with the divine scale of mercy.

3_9mirror

Are there places in our lives where we are measuring with the wrong scale; failing to true up the lines with God’s meridian? Lent is about checking it out and making the adjustments we need to make in order to let the Light in.

 

Music:  There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy – Frederick Faber

Turn To Me

Monday, March 4, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are steeped with the scent of Lent, coming this week.

Sirach 17 turn

Sirach appeals to us to be penitent, to turn around and look at the Lord with new eyes. Mark describes the entrance to God’s Kingdom as smaller than a needle’s eye!

The word “penitent” comes from a Latin root paenitere which carries a sense of being filled with regret at what is missing or lacking in our lives.

In Mark, Jesus meets a good young man longing for something more in his life.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,

“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

These readings set us up perfectly for the coming Lenten season. It is a good day to think about what is lacking in our spiritual life, what it will take for us to follow Jesus more wholeheartedly.

Let us turn our hearts to look at Jesus who loves us as much as he loved that young man. Let us ask Jesus to accompany us on the coming journey, giving us the courage to change whatever in us needs change in order to pass through the needle’s eye.

Music: Turn Around – The Vogues

Wait on the Lord

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  we find so many singular, profound words in Sirach. Each word is like a deep pool that can be prayed into, like a diver becoming one with the water.

Sirach2_2

Sirach is instructing his “son” on relationship with God. As we pray with the reading, we can focus on these words. We can ask for the grace to enrich our friendship with God by deepening in these virtues:

Justice —- Sincerity—- Steadfastness—-
Peacefulness —- Patience —- Trust —-
Mercy —- Hope —- Spiritual Insight—-
Compassion —- Forgiveness

In our Gospel, the disciples need a reminder about which virtues lead to true greatness. Like them, we all get off track sometimes about our own self-importance.

Jesus brings their focus back to truth by placing a little child in their midst. Let’s pray today for a graceful re-focusing of our hearts.

“If anyone wishes to be first,   
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, Jesus placed her in their midst,   

and putting his arms around her, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Music: Be Still – Mary McDonald – Sunday 7pm Choir

By Faith …Listen!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have a flash back to Hebrews from a few weeks ago, and we have the account of the Transfiguration. How might these readings be related?

Hebrews seems to be a perfect summary and complement to the Genesis readings of the last few weeks. Paul ties together the faithful testimonies of the ancestors:

  • By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice greater than Cain’s.
  • By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death.
  • By faith Noah, warned about what was not yet seen, with reverence built an ark.

Heb11_1_7

In Mark’s Gospel of the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John become the new “faithful ancestors”. Jesus relies on their faith for the foundation of the Church. Therefore, God allows them to experience the Glorified Christ so that their faith can sustain them through the coming Passion and Death.

All these witnesses encourage us to examine our faith. It has already carried us through many challenges in life. Remembering God’s past fidelity to us can strengthen us and help us focus on what is most important for a joyful life.

God’s voice from the cloud offered perfect advice to the three astounded disciples.

This is my beloved Son.
Listen to him.

Let’s open our hearts to listen to Jesus in prayer, scripture and the always deeply graced circumstances of our lives.

Music: I Will Listen ~ Twila Paris