Walk in Mercy and Hope

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 25, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our first reading gives us the conclusion of the magnificent Book of Isaiah. Most biblical scholars today attribute this book to at least three different authors writing over the period of two centuries. The book is thus divided into three sections: First, Second, and Third Isaiah – each reflecting a particular time and circumstance in the history of the Jewish people.

Despite its multi-authorship, the Book holds an essential integrity throughout. As a whole, it is the story of the displacement and restoration of Israel. That dynamic is poetically articulated through the themes of loss, grief, hope, and responsiveness to hope. These themes are so fundamentally human and universal that Isaiah stands as one of the most influential scriptures, both spiritually and culturally.

Today’s passage from Isaiah, combined with the Lukan symbol of the narrow gate, strike a powerful message for us – as individuals, as Church, as global citizens. 

There is one Kingdom in God and we ALL are invited to it.

I come to gather nations of every language;
they shall come and see my glory.

But we will find our way to this Kingdom by the twists of suffering and compassion, living on one side or the other of that reciprocal throughout our lives. 

faith reciprocal

How we support, include, love and minister with one another in our “displacement” determines our “restoration”:

And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last

We know the works of mercy and our call to live them. Let’s pray for the strength to do so fully and joyfully.

Let’s pray for all nations, especially our own, to respond in mercy and hope to the displaced people of our time, knowing that it is only with them that we shall find the narrow gate.

Music: The People That Walked in Darkness (Is. 9:2) from Handel’s Messiah

Sung by James Milligan with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Joy

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings are knit together by the theme of joy – a quality whose description and possession are elusive.

Lk10_20 joy

As I sought a way to write about joy, I thought immediately of the author C.S. Lewis. If you don’t know him, I suggest it would be worth your while to discover him.

C.S. Lewis was a British writer, academic and theologian. He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy. Among my favorite of his non-fiction works are Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed.

Lewis clearly understood and lived a spirituality like the one offered in today’s readings. He came to understand the amazing difference between joy and happiness. He experienced joy as a longing for the Infinite which is suggested by life’s beauty, but never fully accessed by our human sensibility.

Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus preach this kind of joy in our readings. It is a joy that, even in the midst of trial, gives us peace and hope. It is rooted in our immutable trust in God’s abiding love for us. As today’s Psalm says:

Hear now, all you who fear God,
while I declare
what he has done for me.
Blessed be God who refused me not
my prayer or his kindness!

You might enjoy these quotes about joy from C.S.Lewis. Movie lovers among you might like the wonderful 1993 film about the relationship between Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman, her death from cancer, and how this challenged Lewis’s Christian faith.


All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

“Joy—that sharp, wonderful Stab of Longing—has a lithe, muscular lightness to it. It’s deft. It produces longing that weighs heavy on the heart, but it does so with precision and coordination…It dashes in with the agility of a hummingbird claiming its nectar from the flower, and then zips away. It pricks, then vanishes, leaving a wake of mystery and longing behind it.”
(from Shadowlands and Song of Light by Kevin Ott – a journey into the thoughts of C.S.Lewis)

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Music: Shadowlands – Rebecca St.James

God Remembers Us

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have, from Isaiah, one of most beloved and comforting passages in Scripture:

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.

Isaiah49_15 Mother

Not to forget is to remember. And to “re-member” is to put back together all the pieces that have fallen apart.

Because God “remembers” us at every moment in our lives, we are held together in that Divine Memory through all the exigencies of time. We are held together in the wholeness of our Creation, in the fullness of grace that God imagines for us. Even when we cannot feel or believe it, God continues to dream us into Eternal Life.

Whenever we feel in our hearts a lament like Zion’s

“The Lord has forsaken me…” 

let us place ourselves in the heart of our Mother God Who cradles us with infinite, unconditional affection and tenderness, Who is alway re-membering us.

Music: God Our Mother – The Litugists

This song, though short, is a good one to repeat as a mantra as we pray. Lyrics below

God our Father
Giver of daily bread
Blessing our hands and covering our heads

God our Mother
Leading us into peace
Drawing and comforting all those in need

Hallowed, hallowed be thy name
Hallowed, hallowed be thy name
Hallowed, hallowed be thy name in all the earth

Jesus, brother, guiding our very step
Deliver us and grant places of rest
Jesus, savior, grabbing us from the grave
Cheating the fall and bringing the light of day

Don’t You Love Something New?

Monday, April 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings speak to our innate desire to have another chance, to start fresh.

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Don’t you love to get something new? A new outfit that refashions not only your appearance but your attitude? A fresh coat of paint on a room that has grown commonplace? A few new plantings in your winter-dried flower boxes?

Even as a kid, didn’t you treasure that new box of crayons? That unscuffed baseball when the season started? That second piece of construction paper when your first effort flopped?

Isaiah knows how we feel. He is speaking, in today’s passage, to a people bereft by their circumstances and recent history. They have suffered invasion, exile, tribal strife, and the destruction of the Temple. The faith of the masses had been weakened almost beyond repair.

But Isaiah challenges his listeners to renew their hearts. God is greater than all they have suffered. And God is offering them that second chance, that fresh sheet of paper, that  box of whole crayons:

Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness
in what I create;
For I create Jerusalem to be a joy
and its people to be a delight;
I will rejoice in Jerusalem
and exult in my people.

What we have to understand from this passage is that God is talking to us! We are Jerusalem! Any suffering in our lives, the pain, disappointment, brokenness, heartache and sin that might burden us is going to be transformed. In the Eternal Creation, all will be joy and fullness of life.

And we don’t have to wait until we die to experience that new creation. Our faith, ever deepened by God’s grace, lets us live in that joy even in the midst of our everyday challenges.

This is the profound lesson Jesus is about to teach us by his Passion, Death and Resurrection. This week’s readings, in a dynamic mix of joy and sorrow, lead us more deeply into that understanding.

Music:  O Day of Peace That Dimly Shines –  Carl P. Daw

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.

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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

Mercy Not Sacrifice

Friday, March 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy,  Isaiah “cries out, full throated and unsparingly”, to call the Israelites’ attention to their sins. He delivers God’s message that, despite all their showy religious efforts, they have missed the whole point.

Both Isaiah and Jesus, in today’s passages, challenge their listeners about the purpose of fasting. They call us  to use fasting as a tool to focus our hearts and minds on the presence of God in our daily lives.

Isaiah indicates that we will encounter God’s presence in our exercise of the works of mercy:

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This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

I was told a story once about an older Sister whom I never knew. She had died before I entered the community. But her beloved memory lived on because of her vibrant personality and deep spirituality. One day, greatly at peace with her declining health, she left her friends with this question:

What would it be like
to get to the end of your life
and realize you had missed the whole point?

Our readings today want to save us from any such realization. They want us to get the point right now that God desires mercy and goodness not empty ritual and pretensive sacrifice.

Only then, God says, “shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed.”

Music:  No Sacrifice ~ Jason Upton

Hope for Incredible Things

Monday, December 10, 2018

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Today, in Mercy, our Advent readings increase in joyously expectant tone: 

  • Isaiah’s exultant description of the Peaceful Kingdom
  • the Psamist’s confidence in God’s intervention
  • Jesus’s miracle, and probable delight, for the paralyzed man lowered through the roof! 
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We have seen incredible things.. Luke 5:26

These passages are filled with an exuberant expectation, much like children feel as they discover an amazing gift. May we open our hearts with innocent hope toward God’s promise.

If you can, take the time today to read these passages slowly, listening for the particular word that will fall upon your heart like a blossom of hope.

Music: O Come, Divine Messiah – Jennie Lee Riddle and Robbie Seay

Swords to Plowshares

Monday, December 3, 2018

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Is 2_4 plow

Today, in Mercy, we pray with the hope of Isaiah for a world without war. We pray for a human family whose only weapons are compassion, justice, and a sacred responsibility for one another and our Common Home. It will take great courage to build such a world, but the power of Christ is available to us. Advent is a time to reach for that power through prayer and action for global social justice.

Music: Isaiah’s Song – Tommy’s Window