Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 18, 2021

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 68 which captures a solemn yet glorious theme running through today’s readings: in God’s time, things end and new things emerge.

A bountiful rain you showered down, O God, upon your inheritance;
    you restored the land when it languished;
Your flock settled in it;
    in your goodness, O God, you provided it for the needy.

Psalm 68: 10-11

This eternal dynamism of life-death-life is wrapped in multi-colored spools around the emotions of our lives. We can hear Paul negotiating his ebbing joys and sorrows in our first reading.

In Acts, Paul is facing his physical diminishment and impending death. Like others throughout all of time, he is retelling his life story, motivations, and achievements so that their significance may be stamped on the hearts of those he will leave behind. In all things, Paul gives the glory to God:

Yet I consider life of no importance to me,
if only I may finish my course
and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus,
to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.

Acts 20:24

In our Gospel, Jesus is giving a similar summary and farewell. He prays aloud to the Father so that his disciples may be instructed by hearing his final prayer:

I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world.
They belonged to you, and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
because the words you gave to me I have given to them,
and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you,
and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.

John 17: 6-9

Both Paul and Jesus have brought the “abundant rain” of Psalm 68 to their ministries. But now it is time for others to carry on the work:

God is a saving God for us;
    the LORD, my Lord, controls 
the passageways of life and death. 

Psalm 68:21

As the tides of God’s eternity rise and ebb through our lives, we too at times must hand over and/or receive that eternal heritage of grace. May we exercise these rituals with the greatest of reverence and awareness.

Blessed be the Lord day by day,
God, our salvation, who carries us.
Our God is a God who saves;
deliverance from death to life 
belongs to God.

Psalm 68: 20-21

Like Jesus and Paul, may we open our stories in faith and love to the community that surrounds us. Especially as we mature both in years and experience, may we share our truth with grace and the gift of encouragement to others. And may those younger ministers take up new responsibilities with reverence, joy, and trust.


Poetry: When Someone Goes Away – Nikola Madzirov

In the embrace on the corner you will recognize 
someone’s going away somewhere. It’s always so. 
I live between two truths 
like a neon light trembling in 
an empty hall. My heart collects 
more and more people, since they’re not here anymore. 
It’s always so. One fourth of our waking hours 
is spent in blinking. We forget 
things even before we lose them – 
the calligraphy notebook, for instance.
Nothing’s ever new. The bus 
seat is always warm. 
Last words are carried over 
like oblique buckets to an ordinary summer fire. 
The same will happen all over again tomorrow— 
the face, before it vanishes from the photo, 
will lose the wrinkles. When someone goes away 
everything that’s been done comes back.

Music: Music by Giovanni Marradi – several hours of beautiful music. You may wish to listen for awhile.

Psalm 117: As We Pray with Paul

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

January 25, 2021


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 117, a psalm used for the feast of an Apostle, reflecting his/her role to: 

Luke tells us how Jesus summarized the “Good News”:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Luke 4:18-19


from the Palatine Chapel in Sicily

As we celebrate St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, Psalm 117 gives voice to the indescribable gratitude we feel for the call we share with the Apostles to live and witness to the “Good News”.

Praise the LORD, all you nations;
    glorify him, all you peoples!
For steadfast is God’s Mercy toward us,
   and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever.

Psalm 117: 1

Praying with Psalm 117, and with Saint Paul today, we may find inspiration in Paul’s self-description as an Apostle – a “servant”:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 1: 1-4

Poetry: A Thanksgiving -John Henry Newman (1801-1890)
I think this poem by Newman expresses sentiments similar to some of Paul’s thoughts on his life and vocation as found in his letters and in Acts.

LORD , in this dust Thy sovereign voice
First quicken’d love divine;
I am all Thine,–Thy care and choice,
My very praise is Thine.

I praise Thee, while Thy providence
In childhood frail I trace,
For blessings given, ere dawning sense
Could seek or scan Thy grace;

Blessings in boyhood’s marvelling hour,
Bright dreams, and fancyings strange;
Blessings, when reason’s awful power
Gave thought a bolder range;

Blessings of friends, which to my door
Unask’d, unhoped, have come;
And, choicer still, a countless store
Of eager smiles at home.

Yet, LORD , in memory’s fondest place
I shrine those seasons sad,
When, looking up, I saw Thy face
In kind austereness clad.

I would not miss one sigh or tear,
Heart-pang, or throbbing brow;
Sweet was the chastisement severe,
And sweet its memory now.

Yes! let the fragrant scars abide,
Love-tokens in Thy stead,
Faint shadows of the spear-pierced side
And thorn-encompass’d head.

And such Thy tender force be still,
When self would swerve or stray,
Shaping to truth the froward will
Along Thy narrow way.

Deny me wealth; far, far remove
The lure of power or name;
Hope thrives in straits, in weakness love,
And faith in this world’s shame

Music: Saul’s Transformation – one of many lovely pieces from the film, Paul Apostle of Christ by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek

Psalm 33:Love’s Design

Memorial of Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

August 28, 2020


Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 33, a song of praise calling the people to rejoice in God’s justice and kindness.

In its attitude of trust and freedom, the Psalm might remind us of Robert Browning’s verse:

God’s in his heaven. All’s right with the world.

But neither in the psalmist’s time, nor in Browning’s, was everything really “all right” with the world. Things are never really “all right” with the world. There is always war, crime, hunger, disease, natural disasters, and a slew of other troubles brewing somewhere.

So how can the psalmist or any other preacher invite us to trust, believe, and rejoice like this?

Exult, you just, in the LORD;
praise from the upright is fitting.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.


Keywords in this verse give us a clue: those who are just and upright will see the pattern of God’s mercy which lies deeper than the troubles of this world. They will trust and be comforted by God’s transcendent faithfulness to us in all things. Their faith and joy in the face of suffering will confound the faithless.


Calling us to the full meaning of Christ’s sacrificial love, Paul reiterates this mysteriously contradictory truth in our first reading :

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

For Christians, the Cross is the ultimate symbol of this profound wisdom and strength. It is a mystery too deep for our understanding, but by faith we may slowly become immersed in its Truth.


The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, 
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 18

As we pray with Psalm 33 today, let us be aware of the cause of our joy – a holy joy deeply rooted in God, trusting God’s Will for our salvation in the pattern of Jesus Christ.


For upright is the word of the LORD,
and all God’s works are trustworthy.
The LORD loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the Lord the earth is full.


Poetry: Primary Wonder – Denise Levertov

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
                                                        And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

Music: Your Cross Changes Everything – Matt Redman

Psalm 34: Praying with Angels

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

June 29, 2020

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this special feast, we pray with Psalm 34.  

David sings. Sheep listens.

This psalm has the most delightful introduction:

Of David, when he feigned madness before the King, who drove him out and he went away.

The Psalm refers to a time when young David was fleeing from Saul who was jealous of David’s impending takeover as king. David seeks harbor with King Achish, but later realizes that was a mistake. Fearing the King, David pretends for be insane in order to be dismissed as harmless.


Serious as the situation is, picturing it makes me smile. Have you ever wanted to get away from someone who had hijacked you into a one-sided conversation? You might pretend you had an appointment, or medical necessity, or anything just to get away.


Liberation of Saint Peter from Prison by Pieter de Hooch

Peter, in our first reading, doesn’t need pretense to escape the wrathful imprisonment of King Herod. All he needs is the angel which God has sent him.

Thus, Psalm 34 is a most appropriate choice for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It is the first psalm in which an angel is mentioned and here, as in Acts, she is a rescuer.

The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear the LORD, and delivers them.

Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the one who takes refuge in God.


I’ll be honest, I neglect my angels. I believe in them. I trust them. But basically I forget about them unless I’m scared out of my mind about something. In those situations, I call out loudly to them to make sure their “encampment” around me is still intact!

I think it would be a lot better to get to know our angels, and let them get to know us. Inviting them to accompany us in prayer might be a good way to start. And, of course, remember that prayer so many of our parents taught us. We never grow too “mature” to whisper it at night. Maybe even Peter said something like it in that dark prison long ago.

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here,
Ever this night be at my side
to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.
Amen


St. Peter And The Angel
 - Denise Levertov

Delivered out of raw continual pain,
smell of darkness, groans of those others
to whom he was chained--

unchained, and led
past the sleepers,
door after door silently opening--
out!
     And along a long street's
majestic emptiness under the moon:

one hand on the angel's shoulder, one
feeling the air before him,
eyes open but fixed...

And not till he saw the angel had left him,
alone and free to resume
the ecstatic, dangerous, wearisome roads of
what he had still to do,
not till then did he recognize
this was no dream. More frightening
than arrest, than being chained to his warders:
he could hear his own footsteps suddenly.
Had the angel's feet
made any sound? He could not recall.
No one had missed him, no one was in pursuit.
He himself must be
the key, now, to the next door,
the next terrors of freedom and joy. 

Music:  Gloria in Excelcis Deo – J.S. Bach
(I thought one of the angels’ greatest hits, first recorded over the hills of Bethlehem, might be appropriate today)

Take My Hand

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 29, 2020

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festus
Window in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne – Paul Pleads His Case (Festus in yellow)

Today, in Mercy, Paul’s case goes before Festus and King Herod Agrippa. Just in case you are confused, like I was, about just who this particular Herod is, this family tree from Wikipedia helped:

chart

This King Agrippa was Marcus Julius Agrippa II (A.D. 27-100), son of Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-25) and great-grandson of Herod the Great (Mt 2:1-23). 

I offer these facts for no real spiritual reason, but they remind me that these biblical characters were real people, like us, engaging (or not) a real life of faith. (Also, I thought it was fun to see how uncreative they were in naming their babies 🙂


In our Gospel, Jesus once again prepares Peter for his tremendous responsibility in the building of that faith. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?”. By the third interrogation, Peter’s answer sounds a little intense:

“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Hearing this response, Jesus lays the full burden of Peter’s life upon his shoulders. Not only must Peter “feed” the faith of Jesus’s followers, he must do so by giving over all control to God:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”

hand

Like Peter,
we too are given the gift and responsibility
of living a faithful life.
Like Peter, we all learn through the years,
that life comes to us in unexpected ways.
In reality, life often chooses us
rather than the other way around.

As we pray with these passages, we might want to look back over our lives for those points where life challenged or unbalanced us. What unexpected blessings came from those surprises/shocks? When God’s plan contradicted our own, how were we eventually blessed with courage, hope and insight?

We are the person we are today because of how we responded to God’s mysterious plan for our lives. Did we reach out our hand and let God lead us? Do we still need to do some letting go in order to enjoy that kind of freedom?

Music:  Precious Lord, Take My Hand – written by Thomas A. Dorsey, sung here by the Great Mahalia Jackson

When my way groweth drear

Precious Lord, linger near-ear

When my li-ight is almost gone

Hear my cry, hear my call

Hold my ha-and lest I fa-all

Take my hand, precious Lor-ord

Lead me on

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me sta-and

I am tired, I’m weak, I am worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the li-ight

Take my ha-and, precious Lor-ord

Lead me home

When my work is all done

And my race here is are you-un

Let me see-ee by the light

Thou hast shown

That fair city so bright

Where the lantern is the li-ight

Take my ha-and, precious Lor-ord

Lead me on

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me sta-and

I am tired, I’m weak, I am worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the li-ight

Take my ha-and, precious Lor-ord

Lead me home

Weepers

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

May 27, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Jesus and Paul continue their heart-wrenching farewell addresses.

We’ve become accustomed to the passages and may read them without much emotional investment, but honestly they are real “weepers” – like movies where you have to bite the edge of your popcorn cup to keep from sobbing out loud.


paul-s-farewell-to-ephesian-elders-sacred-biblical-history-old-new-testament-two-hundred-forty-images-ed-st-69560609
St. Paul Bids Farewell to the Ephesians

Look at Acts, for example, and put yourself in the scene:

When Paul had finished speaking
he knelt down and prayed with them all.
They were all weeping loudly
as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him,
for they were deeply distressed that he had said
that they would never see his face again.
Then they escorted him to the ship.


blessing

 

The verses from John are not quite so emotional, but picture yourself being prayed over like this. You sense that this is really a final blessing. You know these may be some of Christ’s last words you will ever hear.

Holy Father, keep them in your name
that you have given me,
so that they may be one just as we are one.


As we pray with today’s scriptures, we are reminded that goodbyes are awfully hard. We need to mourn them within a community of faith lest our hearts break from their weight. 

 


So many of us, in these sorrowful times, feel that deep longing. We need to tell one another the stories of our loved ones, to sing together our belief in eternal life, to prove that we can still laugh with old memories, to cry at the sight of one another’s tears.

But in an atmosphere of overwhelming loss, the pandemic has denied us this kind of faith-supported mourning.

Jn17_11 keep

Someday, we will gather as we once did. Together, we will pick up the fabric of our common life and finger the places where it has thinned with the passings of our beloveds.

Until then, let us take great hope in the core of Jesus’s message today:

Father, now I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world

so that those you have given me
may share my joy completely.

All that we love, and may seem to have lost, is preserved and transformed – complete and joyful – in the infinite love of God. 

We too can be there in our prayer. We may be shaken by loss, but we are confident in faith. We know and believe that we are all kept in God’s Name.

Music: Aaronic Benediction – Misha and Marty Goetz

Our Beloved Communities

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest

May 26, 2020

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given me

Today, in Mercy, Paul gives the first part of his Ephesian farewell address which he will complete in tomorrow’s reading.

Paul really loved the Ephesian community. He lived with them for three years and poured his heart and soul into teaching them. He doesn’t say it outright, but like all ministers, he must have learned from them as well – from their faith, compassion, and openness to his teaching.

Now Paul begins the last journey back to Jerusalem, a passage which will mirror Christ’s own journey to that sacred city. But before he departs, Paul tells the Ephesians how much he loves and expects from them. And he blesses them.

In tomorrow’s continuation, Paul will say:

And now I commend you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

In our Gospel today, as Jesus commences his own final journey, he blesses his listeners as well:

Father, I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours


Today as we pray, whether we are at the beginning or late parts of our journey, we might take time to pray for the ones God “has given” us in our lives. Like Paul who shared life with the Ephesians, and like Jesus and his beloved disciples, God has given us communities to love and form us on our journey.

These extraordinary pandemic days have reminded us all of what’s most cherished in our lives. It’s such a perfect time to show our own beloved communities how much they mean to us. It doesn’t have to be a long address or a profound speech. My young nephew and his dear wife did it yesterday with a simple and delightfully surprising phone call just before they journeyed on a small vacation.

Just little phrases between us, passed over a thousand mile telephone signal, carried a much bigger message of love and gratitude:

  • just wanted to check on you
  • are you feeling well
  • do you have what you need
  • enjoy your time away
  • travel safely
  • thanks for thinking of me
  • I love you
  • God bless you

Today, as we read the orations of Jesus and Paul, we may not see the same exact phrases, but the message is the same. Jesus and Paul knew it was important to their communities to put that loving message into words. It’s important for our communities too.

familyThanks Jimmy and Kristin. Thank you all my dear family and friends. I am so blessed to have these kinds of conversations with all of you. I don’t ever want to take that for granted.

Like Paul,
I commend each one of you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

On this, and all your life journeys, travel safely and know you are deeply loved.

Music: The Lord Bless You and Keep You – John Rutter

Paul’s Great Sermon

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Paul gives a magnificent oration at the Areopagus in Athens. It was a big deal billing!

V&A_-_Raphael,_St_Paul_Preaching_in_Athens_(1515)
St. Paul at the Areopagus by Raphael (c.1515)

Areopagus, earliest aristocratic council of ancient Athens. The name was taken from the Areopagus (“Ares’ Hill”), a low hill northwest of the Acropolis, which was its meeting place.

In pre-classical times (before the 5th century BC), the Areopagus was the council of elders of the city, similar to the Roman Senate. Like the Senate, its membership was restricted to those who had held high public office.

The Areopagus, like most city-state institutions, continued to function in Roman times, and it was from this location, drawing from the potential significance of the Athenian altar to the Unknown God that Paul is said to have delivered the famous speech, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” (Wikipedia)


diamonds
The sermon has so many beautiful lines, like glorious diamonds that can be turned over and over in prayer. Here are a few that glistened for me:


God … does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands
(Instead, God dwells within us)


God is not served by human hands because God needs nothing.
(Instead, our everything comes from God)


God made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth.
(We are all connected in the One Creation)


God fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions,
so that people might seek God,
even perhaps grope for him and find him,
though indeed he is not far from any one of us.
(We do grope, sometimes in darkness.)


God has overlooked the times of ignorance,
but now he demands that all people everywhere repent…
(Without Christ, we were in shadows of unknowing. With Christ, we are in Light.)


And my favorite:

Acts17_24 everything

What is the “everything” that God is giving you today? What is the abundance of grace, or hope, or longing in your heart as you pray today? Let God’s fullness embrace any emptiness as you offer God your silence and waiting.

Music: Everything – Lauren Daigle

Lydia, Shaded in Purple

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

May 18, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Paul ventures for the first time into the area which is now modern Europe. He settles for a while in Philippi, the city which gives its name to my favorite epistle.

Pauls journeys

One morning, Paul, Silas and Timothy went down by the river to pray. There they met Lydia, one of the most influential yet mysterious women of the New Testament.

Lydia

Today’s verses are the only time she is mentioned in the scriptures, and there is no historical documentation about her. Yet, by her support and hospitality, she is likely responsible for the establishment of the Church in Europe and is considered its first convert.


Despite the parcity of information about Lydia, Richard Ascough was able to write a book about her: Lydia: Paul’s Cosmopolitan Hostess

excerpt


Lydia, like many of our foremothers in faith, is hidden in the shadows of a patriarchal history. Sunlight briefly falls on Lydia in this engaging reading from Acts today.

I like to pray with this reading by imagining myself as one of Lydia’s companions, listening to her conversation with Paul, imagining her life as it unfolds into Christian leadership.

As we pray with Lydia today, let’s ask God to lead the Church to a clearer and more committed use of women’s gifts in Church life. Even Pope John Paul II made some small attempts in this direction:

“In this vast domain of service, the Church’s two-thousand-year history, for all its historical conditioning, has truly experienced the ‘genius of woman’; from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history.” 
John Paul II – “Letter to Women”

But our Church and its women need more than what has been. Let’s ask for women to be welcomed out of the shadows of ecclesial life into an appropriate equity in ministry.

Music: Patterns of Sun and Shade – Kathryn Kaye

Everything!

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 11, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Acts recounts some of the challenges Paul and Barnabas met as they continued spreading the Gospel. With such a reading, we see the beginnings of theological arguments in the unfolding teaching of the Church.

One might wonder what turned yesterday’s Jewish and Gentile listeners into a stone-throwing mob. One wonders it today regarding some of the acrimonious factions within the Church.

It is one thing to receive the Gospel with one’s heart and spirit. It is another thing to receive it with one’s mind. As human beings, we resist mystery; we long for logic. We are more comfortable with a problem we can solve than with a Truth beyond our comprehension. Rather than Infinite Surprise, I think most of us prefer predictability and control.


 

Jn14_26 Everything

The Gospel can be fearsome. It asks that we let go of our limited human “geometry”; that we entrust everything to the Inclusive Love who is Jesus Christ. It asks us to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit who, ultimately, will “teach us EVERYTHING”.


question

In our recent readings, we’ve seen Thomas, Philip, and today, Jude trying to reach this level of spiritual trust. It’s hard because such trust is more than human. It is a trust bred of the Holy Spirit within us. It is a trust born of living fully in Peace with that Presence.

 


It is a trust described like this in tomorrow’s Gospel reading:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

Let us pray for trust and peace in ourselves, our Church, and world.


Music:  Wonderful Peace – an old Gospel song by Warren Cornell and William Cooper (1899), sung here by Don Moen 

Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight
Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm;
In celestial strains it unceasingly falls
O’er my soul like an infinite calm.

Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!

Ah, soul! are you here without comfort and rest,
Marching down the rough pathway of time?
Make Jesus your Friend ere the shadows grow dark;
O accept of this peace so sublime!

What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace,
Buried deep in the heart of my soul,
So secure that no power can mine it away,
While the years of eternity roll!

I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace,
Resting sweetly in Jesus’ control;
For I’m kept from all danger by night and by day,
And His glory is flooding my soul!

And I think when I rise to that city of peace,
Where the Anchor of peace I shall see,
That one strain of the song which the ransomed will sing
In that heavenly kingdom will be:

Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!