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From Common to Extraordinary

“Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons.”
John 2:6

Father Secora’s homily pointed out something I had never noticed before: these stone water jars were for ceremonial washings.

The jars were not “fine china” by any means, and the water wasn’t “Perrier,” as Father mentioned. They were available for people to wash their hands, common vessels filled with common water for washing, not for drinking.

But at the word of God, the contents of the common stone vessels were transformed to instead hold the best of wines.

Just so, at the word of God, we common vessels – sometimes with hearts of stone – can be transformed into something extraordinary, something holy.

Mary instructed the servants to “Do whatever he tells you.”

His servants of every age should heed that advice. Do whatever He tells you; be transformed, allow Him to make us holy!

 

 

 

 

 

It is Better to Receive

Throughout the Christmas season there is a focus on giving … we search and shop and purchase with great care and thoughtfulness; stories like A Christmas Carol tell us that when we’re stingy we’re bad, when we give we are good; we hear “it is better to give than to receive.”

None of that is bad, nor particularly wrong. Giving is a good thing! Sharing our bounty, being generous, thoughtfulness in how we give – these are all kindness and charity and I don’t know if the world can ever have too much of that.

However, if we are asking the question, “What’s it all about?” the answer is not giving, generosity, nor sharing.

What it’s all about – the point of the Christmas season, the point of Jesus’ birth and death and resurrection, the point of our earthly lives – is receiving.

It’s not about what we do … it’s about what He did.

Do we receive Him? Do we receive the child, the Messiah? Do we receive the gift of His sacrifice? Do we receive the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Comforter sent to us by Jesus after His ascension?  Do we seek Him, rush to Him, welcome Him, receive Him fully into our lives in an active and daily way?

Knowing about God and even believing He exists is not enough. When the Magi were in Jerusalem the Jewish priests were able to tell Herod where the Messiah would be born; we presume as priests they believed in God and gave their service to Him daily in the temple. But they did not accompany the Magi to see the Messiah for whom they had long waited – they stayed in Jerusalem!

How about us? Do we believe? Do we try to do good and be good citizens and make this world a better place?

Or do we receive Him … really, deeply seek and receive the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings?

 

 

 

Comfort in unknowing

It’s always so cool when the Holy Spirit reveals something new as I read scripture. In a few cases He has built on something He showed me long ago; the revealing is in stages and that really “wows” me!

I was reminded of one of those lessons this week when we read Matthew’s account of the genealogy of Jesus at mass … but it started long before that.

During a study of Ruth, I was touched by how kind Boaz was to Ruth from the first time he met her. She noticed it too and asked him how she had come to find favor with him and he simply said he had heard of the good things she had done for Naomi.

My original lesson from this was how our words can affect other peoples’ opinions. We are repeatedly cautioned in the Bible to guard our words and that they can be destructive – they can hurt or they can heal. Even one of the commandments is about bearing false witness.

So the Holy Spirit helped me appreciate the unknown person who had given Boaz such a positive report and good first impression of Ruth. Think about it – Naomi left the community with her husband and sons only to return years later with a foreign woman and a story about how the men had all died. Wouldn’t THAT be the topic of hot gossip and uncharitable speculation in any community!

I took that lesson to heart and thought of it once in a while when the Holy Spirit stirred it up within me again – usually when I caught myself about to gossip or say something unkind!

Years later I was starting a study of Matthew and it begins with that genealogy. I was paying attention to it more than usual, trying to associate any of the familiar names with their stories in the Old Testament.

And that’s when I noticed: “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.”

Holy cow! That partly explained Boaz’s reaction to Ruth! Rahab was a foreigner who joined the tribe of Israel, too! Boaz would have been a mixed-race child, half Israelite from his father and half Canaanite from his mother. He would have been painfully familiar with the trials a “foreigner” faced within a community. I imagine he suffered certain attitudes toward his mother and toward himself growing up; perhaps he wondered why they had to be “different.”

We can see how God prepared him for the moment he met Ruth, how he shaped Boaz to treat her with kindness and to receive her as his wife. Perhaps as a mixed-race man, he had not been found “acceptable” as a husband to any of the Israelite women.

God brought Boaz and Ruth together in a surprising way and they were blessed to be the parents of Obed, the grandparents of Jesse, and the great-grandparents of King David.

Wow! All ancestors of Joseph, the husband of Mary.

I have never heard a sermon tying all of this together; I have never read a commentary that notes it. I guess it’s just one of those little lessons given to me in a personal way, and I think about it when I find myself suffering a trial and wondering what it means.

Sometimes we eventually see a lesson we were supposed to learn in it or can look back and see how it shaped us in a certain way.

But other times I think we may never know in this life the work that God is doing within us and the ways He uses it for others, maybe even far into the future.

When I am struggling, I find that very comforting.

 

 

Contentment TODAY!

As I’ve been reflecting on making a good confession this Advent season, the Holy Spirit has made known to me a subtle lack of humility in my desire to serve.

It starts with good intentions (as many things do). I really want to know God more, to draw closer, to learn more, hear better, to reach greater heights.

I want to be a good steward, a good and faithful servant! I’m looking forward, straining to see what He may be preparing me for.

But am I looking at what is before me today? Am I content in my station in life today? Am I tending to the tasks at hand, serving now, here, to the best of my abilities?

Am I humble enough to accept that maybe “this” is the biggest and most important service I will render to Him, or do I have expectations of doing “great things” … someday?

As with most things, it is a balance. Certainly I should strive to seek Him more and to know Him more. But it’s about Him and surrendering to His design and His will.

Thank you, LORD, for the reminder.

This is the day which the Lord hath made;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
(Psalm 118:24)

Pharisees and Atheists

My Advent reflection today included the story from Luke 5 about the friends who brought a paralytic to Jesus to be healed. Because of the crowd, they lowered him through the roof before Jesus who then healed the man.

This morning  my attention was drawn to the first and last paragraphs of that story: the “bookends” that together tell a surprising story of their own.

It begins with:

17 One day as Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there
who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem,
and the power of the Lord was with him for healing.

We know who the Pharisees and the teachers of the law are, right? They are self-righteous; they aren’t really there to listen to Jesus, but rather to find ways of tripping Him up, discrediting Him before the people, and eventually seeking a way to take His life. Jesus said the world will hate us because it first hated Him and I guess these were some of the first people in the world who hated Him. They didn’t like His message, they didn’t like Him, and they didn’t like His followers.

In today’s world, I think an equivalent may be the “angry atheists” who openly mock Christians, watching for us to make mistakes and then pouncing upon them. They try to discredit Christianity and they certainly seek to kill Jesus once and for all.

The Holy Spirit often leads me to pray for some of the most public of them and sometimes I do so reluctantly. It’s not easy to pray for Bill Maher, Dan Savage, Madonna or Rosie O’Donnell when they are so cruel and ugly in their mockery of Christians and of Christ.

But I also realize that their celebrity status would make them wonderful witnesses for God in this dark world. A true conversion … can you imagine how beautiful that would be, how the angels would rejoice and how many people might take notice?

That’s why the last paragraph of today’s reading struck me so:

26 Then astonishment seized them all
and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said,
“We have seen incredible things today.”

ALL were seized and glorified God! It’s happened before … it can happen again. Nothing is impossible with God and I’m so grateful for this reminder and encouragement to persevere in prayer to Him, for them, for their sake and for His glory. Amen!

 

 

 

 

Taking a leader for the fight

As soon as dawn broke, the armies joined battle,
the one having as pledge of success and victory not only their valor but also their reliance on the Lord,
and the other taking fury as their leader in the fight.
(2 Maccabees 10:28)

I found this passage striking. One army was led by their reliance on the Lord.

The other took “fury as their leader” in the fight. Some translations say “rage” instead of fury.

Who chooses to be led by rage or fury? Who would want to live that way?

And yet when I think about it, I do see people who live their lives approaching everything with fury. They strike and struggle and rage against others, against “the system,” against God.

Others take regret as their leader: “if only … my life would be better.” Some take a variance of “self” – self-pity, self-reliance, self-centeredness, self-fulfillment – as their leader. Their focus is either on what they don’t have, or on seeking to fulfill their own dreams at any cost.

But there are others who seem to focus more on gratitude. Even if they have little or if their struggles are great, they focus on something beyond themselves. They are as if “having a pledge of success and victory.”

They are lead by their reliance on the Lord, whatever is given to them they receive.

That is the leader I want to take in the fight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrestling Angels

As I wrote yesterday about walking with God, I was reminded of Jacob wrestling with an angel. The story is found in Genesis chapter 32, from verse 23 to the end of the chapter.

I re-read the story this morning and am smiling as I take a few notes:

  • “In the course of the night …” My biggest struggles with God have certainly been “in the night,” in the dark times.
  • “Jacob was left there alone.” Again, these struggles come when I feel most alone.
  • “Then some man wrestled with him …” You know, it often feels like my struggle is against “a man” or a person or a situation in my life. But eventually I come to realize that the REAL struggle is spiritual, and with God. He is asking something of me and I wrestle with it, with Him.
  • “But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me.'” Perseverance. Seeking blessing. Refusing to give up until you receive what only God can give, even though the pain at the moment is great.
  • “… you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed …” and “Jacob limped along because of his hip.” Jacob wrestled with an angel! This is explicitly stated in Hosea 12:5. The angel told Jacob he had prevailed, but the victory wasn’t without cost. Jacob was left with a limp, a reminder of the struggle.

I am reflecting on all of this. I realized yesterday that I really am willing in my mind and my heart to do anything God asks, but sometimes it takes a while to figure out what … or with Whom … I am struggling. This time it isn’t the “dream” I’m giving up that is difficult. The difficulty is my feelings about the unfairness of this situation and wanting to make a point or “win the argument.”

I suspect that moving forward, I’ll continue to struggle with resentment as I watch things happen I didn’t want. But those “things” are just a limp I’m left with. God has blessed me, and has told me, “Walk with me.”

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