A New Day Awaits

Sunday, March 31, 2019

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1 Cor new creation

Today, in Mercy,  halfway through Lent, we see in our readings glimpses of new life.

The captivity in Egypt had been TOUGH on Israel. During those many decades, they had appeared to be abandoned and forgotten by God.  It was a harsh reckoning for them … hard to be forgotten. Even then, when they thought they had found freedom, they still wandered for forty years in the desert.

But now Israel stands at a new horizon.  Moses has died and Joshua has become Israel’s leader.  God tells him that it is a new day:

“Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”

In our second reading, Paul tells us:

Whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.

And in our revered Gospel story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells us:

This beloved child of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
was lost, and has been found.

All of these passages speak to us in our Lenten journey, and in our Life journey.  We have experienced our own “Egypts”, times when we felt disconnected, even abandoned, by God.  We have sometimes felt we were journeying aimlessly toward an unknown goal. We have at times wandered, like the prodigal son, from the path of God’s love. We have darknesses in our memories that still long for Light.

This poem from Mary Oliver might capture the feeling for us:

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
~ Mary Oliver ~

In today’s readings, God is reminding us that the Light awaits us. Forgiveness, reconciliation, new energy and grace are the gifts of Easter – the gifts where we must keep our eyes focused as we journey.

So let us do as e.e.cummings encourages us in this poem:

Let It Go – e.e. cummings

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
go

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
dear

so comes love


Music: Remember Not the Things of the Past – Bob Hurd
(Lyrics below)

Remember not the things of the past;
now I do something new,
do you not see it?
Now I do something new, says the Lord.

In our distress God has grasped us by the hand,
opened a path in the sea, and we shall pass over,
we shall pass over, free at last.

In our parched land of hypocrisy and hate,
God makes a river spring forth,
a river of mercy, truth and compassion; come and drink.

And who among us is sinless in God’s sight?
Then who will cast the first stone, when he who was sinless
carried our failings to the cross?

Pressing ahead, letting go what lies behind,
may we be found in the Lord, and sharing his dying,
share in his rising from the dead.

Mercy, like spring rain…

Saturday, March 30, 2019

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Hosea6_3 rainJPG

Today, in Mercy, our two readings encourage us to be humble and repentant.

In the reading from Hosea, God is very clear:

For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice,
and knowledge of God
rather than burnt offerings.

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us the parable of the proud Pharisee and the humble tax collector. The Pharisee’s prayer shows his judgmental self-satisfaction with all the sacrifices he’s made:

O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.

I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

On the other hand, we have the scorned tax collector ( a status we can understand this time of year:-)  who admits his weakness and need for God’s mercy.

Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

The readings are really about seeing ourselves in the light of God’s truth, while knowing that our merciful God loves us infinitely, even in our weakness. They are about being open to that mercy so that we can know the fullness of God’s grace.

Music: Humble – Audrey Assad

God’s Loving Promises

Friday, March 29, 2019

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Hosea14

Today, in Mercy, Hosea, the composer of passionate love songs, tells us this:

I will heal your weaknesses, says the LORD,
I will love you freely;
for my wrath is turned away.
I will be like the dew for you:
you shall blossom like the lily;
You shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth your shoots.
Your splendor shall be like the olive tree
and your fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.
Again you shall dwell in the shade
and raise grain;
You shall blossom like the vine,
and your fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

The passage sings of new life, strength, vigor – the hope of Easter! Today as we pray, what withering branches in our lives do we wish to place in the warmth of this promise?

Mc 12,28-34 e
You are not far from the kingdom of God

In our Gospel, the good scribe asks for Jesus’s confirmation that he is on the right track to holiness. Jesus blesses him by saying:

You are not far from the kingdom of God

God is so good to us. Let us ask God’s generous help as we seek to grow in holiness, goodness and peace this Lent, so that we may be blessed by the same promises.

Music: Good to Me – Audrey Assad 

Heart-Burn?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have powerful readings – they get really serious about repentance!

Ex3_2 bush

In our first reading, Moses has been on a kind of decades-long sabbatical on his father-in-law’s homestead. After the young glory days of Egypt, and the ensuing drama that exiled him, Moses had settled into being a humble shepherd in Midian. He probably wasn’t expecting a fiery, direct telegram from God.

But God never gives up on his plan for us. So God, divinely expert at getting our attention, conflagrates a bush right in front of Moses.  Supposedly, it was not that unusual for this type of bush to spontaneously combust in the desert heat. What was unusual was for it not to be consumed by the fire.

God then delivers a message of overwhelming fidelity to Moses:

Thus shall you say to the Israelites:
The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,
has sent me to you.
This is my name forever;
thus am I to be remembered through all generations.

Because of God’s mercy and fidelity, the Israelites – and Moses – are getting another chance to live in covenant with God.

In our Gospel, Jesus tells his followers not to ignore such chances. He reminds his listeners that life is fragile and transitory. If we haven’t acted on God’s invitation to grace, we might lose the opportunity.

If we look back over our lives, we might realize that there have been burning bushes all over the place – times and events where life offered us a choice between grace and sin, smallness of heart, selfishness. When we chose grace, the bush kept burning and was not consumed. It lit our way to deeper covenant with God.

These final weeks of Lent offer us countless encouragements to look for God’s Fire in our hearts and to go deeper toward the Light. Let’s not ignore them.

Music: Fire of God – Craig Musseau

None like You, Merciful God

Saturday, March 23, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings pour out the lavish mercy of God. Our prayer invites us bask in that warmth and understanding.

Prodigal son

The prophet Micah asks,

“Who is there like You … the God who delights in clemency?”

Our Psalm reminds us that “the Lord is kind and merciful”:

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.

(Two musical selections today.)

Then Jesus tells us the tender parable of the Prodigal Son, which is really more about the Merciful Father. He receives his contrite child in the same way that God receives us in our repentance.

Sometimes we become so content with ourselves that we fail to realize our need for contrition. Sometimes our failures are buried so deep and so long in us that we become blind to them. Repentance is the grace to break through that blindness.

We were created to be an image of the merciful God we meet in today’s scripture. Where we are short of that in our actions, words, choices and attitudes – that’s where we have need of repentance.

Rembrandt’s magnificent painting captures a sacred feeling that might help our prayer. Sometimes we are the gracious Father – loving, forgiving, hoping and working for life in others. Sometimes we are the son, returning from our own destructive selfishness to seek a new beginning. Sometimes we are a little bit of each.

Music: Father, I Have Sinned – Eugene O’Reilly

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

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

Choose Life

Thursday, March 7, 2019

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Dt30_19 Life

Today, in Mercy, our first reading gives us Moses’ compelling speech to the newly covenanted Israelites: 

3_7mirror
Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom…
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live.

We might ask ourselves, “Who wouldn’t choose life over death, for Heaven’s sake?”

Really? Well then ask yourself these questions:

Do I ever ignore health warnings, cancel doctor’s appointments, eat unhealthy food, smoke, drink and drive, drive and text, skip daily medicine, fail to exercise and get enough sleep … Should I go on?🧐

But even deeper than these external choices are the choices we make for the life of our souls. 

  • Do we pray daily, take quiet time to hear God in our lives?
  • Do we recognize any toxic relationships or habits in our lives and work to remove them?
  • Do we challenge our negative attitudes and try to grow beyond them?
  • Do we call ourselves to generosity, forgiveness, gratitude, hope and other life-giving attitudes?

God has given us the gift of life. But it is up to us to LIVE our lives in the fullness of their possibility.

Music: Choose Life ~ Big Tent Revival (Lyrics below)

A choice is set before you now
living or dying, blessing or cursing
You know, the time has come around
to turn from your fighting
and rest in his mercy

Choose life, that you might live
the life that He gives
He gives you forever
Choose life, the way that is true
from the one who chose you
your father in Heaven
Choose life
Trust the Lord with all your heart
all of your soul and all of your being

Hold on, listen and obey
surrender your life into His keeping
And the weight you’re under
will be lifted away
And the world will wonder
what happened here today
then you’ll stand right here and say

Power of the Keys

Friday, February 22, 2019

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Peter_keys

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate  the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle. It seems both fitting and painfully ironic that this feast should coincide with the Pope’s Summit on Protection of Minors in the Church. When He handed the “keys” to Peter, could Christ ever have foreseen that his beloved church would descend to this shame?

Factions in the Catholic Church argue over where to place the blame for this horror. Some point to the entitlements of clericalism. Some point to more liberal stances on sexuality. The most vocal factions use their voices to blame others rather than look to their own faults. 

But today’s Gospel suggests that none of these explanations goes to the root of the crisis.

What Christ handed Peter was POWER. Our Gospel says that this power was to be used to map the journey to heaven for the rest of us – appropriately “binding” and “loosening” the guidelines of that journey.

That’s a lot of power!

Unfortunately, the famous quote of John Dalberg-Acton, a 19th century Catholic writer, too often proves true. He said:

Power tends to corrupt.
And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

What was it that Jesus saw in Peter to give him hope for Peter’s incorruptibility?

  • Peter, who abandoned his livelihood in full devotion to the call. 
  • Peter, who tried to protect his beloved Lord from the wrath of the Pharisees
  • Peter who, defending Jesus in the Garden, cut off the ear of Malchus
  • Peter, who recognized and begged forgiveness for his weakness
  • Peter, who chose an inverted crucifixion because he deemed himself unworthy to die as his master did.

Power fueled by this kind of single-hearted devotion and humility is the true “Power of the Keys”. It suffers no shadow of greed, self-importance, domination, or lust. It is always “power for” not “power over” others.

Until our church structures foster this kind of mutual, non-exclusionary power in our leaders AND members, we have little hope of transformation.

Let us pray for true insight and courage for those gathered in Rome.

Music: (Maybe the Cardinals could sing this song in their hearts on the way to their meetings? Maybe we could sing it too sometimes?)

Lay It Down – Moxie Gibson

The Ark of Your Hearts

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021919.cfm

duck
Sent to me this morning by my beautiful niece in Atlanta where they are having rain

Today, in Mercy, and for the next few days we have the story of Noah. It’s both a terrifying and delightful story. 

It is frightening to think of the earth inundated by flood, all Creation wiped out because of the Creator’s disappointment! 

But it is delightful to think of these thousands of animal couples, holding hands, paws, fins or tentacles and skipping into Noah’s big boat.

In this passage, the writer imbues God with the same emotions and responses we have when our project fails mightily. We crumple it up, press delete, throw it in the garbage disposal, or smash it on the ground. In Genesis, God decides to “erase by flood”.

Despite the woeful drama, the story is filled with hope. God has not completely given up. He just wants to start over again.

Throughout the voluminous rest of scripture, God starts over with us innumerable times. Think of the Prodigal Son, the Adulterous Woman, Joseph and his Brothers.  Forgiveness and new beginnings are the story of our relationship with a God Who loves us too much to let us fail.

So, if your faith life is a little stormy just now, take refuge in the “ark of your heart” – your trust, hope and faith in God. Pray for fairer weather and believe that God will send it. Ask for the eyes to recognize it when it comes.

Music: Eye of the Storm ~ Ryan Stevenson (a little bit country, but the message works)