If we are honest with ourselves then being right pales in comparison to doing right.
Jesus once told a group of religious leaders, “It’s not what goes into a person’s mouth that defiles but what comes out.”
What he will go on to describe that our words and actions begin in the heart where God resides.
Just as Jesus was ‘righting’ the actions of the people who thought they were doing life correctly, we too must think about what we do too.
And as such we must ask ourselves the question, “Do my actions come from my ego? Or do they come from a heart centered on God’s own heart?”
Sometimes we want to be right and often we will do anything to ensure that position. This is exactly the place where people get hurt; ignored, pushed aside and even killed.
Being right and doing right will always be our greatest challenge. Which is why it is imperative we look at Jesus, who puts actions above all else.
And this is how the math adds up:
Human Hurt + Jesus’ Actions = God’s Love
Jesus has a good idea about agriculture. It’s a central theme to nearly every story he tells. The people as well are familiar with this image of God as the vine grower. It’s been a part of their scriptures and psalms for thousands of years. For example in Psalm 80 we read, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.”
We don’t have to know much about vineyards to understand the point Jesus is making, or to see ourselves in the lesson. It’s pretty obvious what Jesus means when he says “I’m the true vine. You are the branches.”
Other than loving the taste of grapes and enjoying a glass of wine every now and then, I learned a few things about vineyards and vines from a winery I did advertising for. I had the pleasure of spending a beautiful day in Sonoma Valley learning about the soil, the climate, and even the stress they put grapes through – each one adding to the unique character of the fruit that is ultimately reflected in the wine.
I also learned the best tasting grapes are the ones produced closest to the central vine where the nutrients are the most concentrated. The lateral branches, which are naturally inclined to ramble all over the place, are watched carefully...and guided patiently so they don’t lose their nutrients or become sour.
This had me thinking. If the best fruit comes from being closer to the vine, then it should go without saying that we too would do better by being the closer to Jesus, the true vine who said, “Abide in me and I will abide in you. For a branch cannot bear fruit by itself.”
Just as the life of a branch is sustained by being connected with the vine, our lives are sustained through a close relationship with Christ. When Jesus says to abide in him, he’s giving us a personal invitation to be with him; to learn from him and to produce fruit like him.
When we are connected to Jesus we are able to draw from his spiritual abundance. And bear the fruit of his love. This is an important for us because Jesus is the perfection of God’s love manifested in the world.
To abide in Christ frees us to express and share God’s love in the way we live our lives. From our inward emotions to our outward actions, this is how we bear good fruit. Loving and forgiving one another as God has loved and forgiven us.
Yet it’s nearly impossible to bear fruit if our branches are not being nourished by a healthy source. Let’s face it, we cannot feed ourselves or even prune ourselves without the help of the vine grower.
We need to be close to the source of God’s love and grace so we can become stronger, not weaker; more faithful and not less. The further we are from being in a relationship with Jesus, the more vulnerable we are to the elements in the world that seek to draw us away from loving God; rendering whatever fruit we might be able to grow sour and useless.
“Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:11)
John the Evangelist emphatically repeats this idea that God loves us, no matter what. And that God wants us to be a part of the redemptive story. But John also raises a very interesting question: What are willing to do to show God’s love to one another?
To love God and be loved by God is one thing. To be faithful to that love is another.
You see, our goal is not to remain a scrawny, twisted branch. But to become one with the true vine so that others can sprout their faith and grow in their love. I like to believe heaven happens once the world is tangled up in the vines of God’s love.
Our proximity to this love depends not only on our willingness to build a close relationship with God through Christ, but also in our willingness to be faithful, and to share that love with others. The two go hand in hand.
As Henry Nouwen wrote, “Giving away our lives for others is the greatest of all human arts. This will gain us our lives.”
It seems to me that the more we allow God to snip and prune away our useless branches, the more we grow closer to Christ and to one another. The more creation becomes unified.
So it is we all must ask of ourselves, “What is going on in my life, inside my heart and outside in my world, that I need God to prune so that I can abide and flourish in Christ’s love?”
Is it an attitude? An addiction? Certain wounds, or pains, or fears? Is it a bad relationship? Or perhaps an unforgiving heart? Maybe you’ve just wandered along the trellis of life but haven’t really gotten anywhere or done anything?
Those things no longer matter once you accept the invitation to abide in Christ. Your past is snipped away, allowing your future to bloom and blossom the good fruit. God is here, in the garden, ready to reshape your heart and transform your life with the grace and love that has been given to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
With great patience and perseverance, God is snipping and pruning us for something greater than we can produce on our own: a greater sense of peace; an enlightened path to discern and navigate our way around the vineyard; and a reason to embrace all the seasons of life, from the pruning to the flourishing.
God does this for you and me, so all of creation can bear the fruit of love and receive the joy of a blessed life, now and forever, Amen.
From Ron Rolhheiser’s blog
There is wisdom in Hugo of St. Victor, in his advice: love is the eye. Love sorts things out; it makes for the higher synthesis. It was this insight that also prompted St. Augustine to write: Love and do as you like.
But the last word on this should go to Jesus. He also taught a class on hermeneutics, the Beatitudes. Among other things, he said this: Happy are the pure of heart; they shall see God.
For him, purity of heart and poverty of spirit are what clear the eyesight and enable us to see straight. Conversely, all sin, selfishness, and greed weaken our eyesight because, through that prism, we see a world that is as self-centered, cynical, untrustworthy, and hardened as we are.
You can read the whole post here: http://ronrolheiser.com/love-is-the-eye/#.Wt6kkFBlCEc
Did you know that ministers go to church? Seems like the obvious but notice I said go to church and not lead church, as in go to work.
The joy of this hybrid home/Internet church is that I can pretty much have “church” anywhere. And because I work with other Internet churches, like my friends at The Phoenix Congregational Fellowship, I can do church without leaving my house. And so can you.
I have a friend who likes to go to our church and is finding great peace in it because his life is anything but peaceful. Yet he isn’t a regular because he says he needs “a bigger group of people to worship with.” He later confessed that he sometimes just likes to go where no one knows his name, problems, or woes.
Like so many of us, he finds his peace in being invisible in a crowd of brokenness.
I also like to just be spiritually fed in someone else’s circus and be entertained by other people’s monkeys. And every now and then, I will slip inside a church where no one knows my name or asks me questions that I should have the right answer for.
This past Sunday I went to the grand opening of a new church in my community. And a series of smiling faces people ready to greet me at every turn. One hands me a tote bag, another a clipboard to fill out my email,and another slapping a “Hello my name is” sticker on my shirt, and finally someone at the door shaking my hand and calling me by name. (Yes, all that before going inside) So much for blending in.
I sat in the middle row seats, off to the far left side. And tried hard to blend in. But something just didn’t feel right. People kept coming up to me to introduce themselves. I pretended to pray, but that too would be interrupted with a greeting, but a concerned look on their face in place of a smile.
As a minister I understand the amount of hospitality needed to launch a new church and to make people feel welcomed. So I can honestly say it wasn’t the lack of connection that felt odd as much as it was this idea of being invisible in a crowd of brokenness. What was I thinking? I can’t blend in. Impostor! Judas! Monkey!
It felt like was hiding my light under a basket when all it wanted to do was shine.
This is what ministry is all about, shining brightly so the world can see and be drawn to the light of Christ. I am a minister, not a spectator. A teacher also and not just a student. I have a calling, and a purpose. Denying it is not an option. Neither is being invisible.
I believe we all are ministers in one form or another. And each one of us has a mission to fulfill.
Henry Nouwen wrote, “We seldom realise fully that we are sent to fulfill God-given tasks. We act as if we have to choose how, where, and with whom to live. We act as if we were simply plopped down in creation and have to decide how to entertain ourselves until we die. But we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do.”
In John’s Gospel,Jesus prays to his Father for his followers, saying: "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (John 17:18).
Big church, home church, church online, we are called to be in community with each other...and our mission or ministry is to proclaim the gospel everywhere we go. Our goal is to show the world God’s perfect love for them by being God’s love in the world for them.
Perfect love does not blend in and can’t be camouflage or hidden or remain invisible. In fact, it does the opposite. It awakens a new found joy, spirit, and light that is impossible to contain.
Just as Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to share God’s love and grace, so too are we sent. And we can’t fulfill this gospel of love if we hide within ourselves...or in a crowded, public place like church.
excerpt from an email I sent to the congregation at New Church Sherman Oaks,
After filling my car with day-old bread and bagels from Panera (for Bagel Brigade - the group I volunteer with to help feed the hungry and homeless), I went to start the engine. But nothing happened. Nada with the first try. Nada with second or third try. And a prayer and a few more cranks of the key to nothing but silence, I knocked on the window of a man who had been too hungry to wait to eat his dinner at home. Shoveling the last bite of his sandwich, he agreed to help.
His name was Solomon. I asked him for a jump, which he kindly did. After charging the battery for a few minutes, I turned the key again. And again, nothing. We hit a few things with an adjustable wrench that I had in my car, but that didn’t produce anything more than frustration.
So I called AAA, and in less than 15 minutes, Raphael shows up and gives my battery a good charge. When I go to turn over the engine I notice the radio will turn on! Progress. But when I turn the key all the way, we are back to where we began. Dead battery. Dead starter. I need a tow truck. So I call AAA again to get a tow truck, and spend the next hour waiting in a car filled with bread when all I want is a drink of water.
To pass the time I listen to the Daily Prayer and Meditation from my Pray As You Go app on my phone. Ironically the passage is from John’s gospel…”I am the bread of life!” I got a little chuckle. God has a funny way of getting my attention. Me stuck in a dark parking lot with a vehicle filled with bread. I was dying of thirst as I hear the words of Jesus who says, “anyone who comes to me will not hunger or thirst.”
That should have been a sign for me, don’t you think!? But instead of sitting in this predicament I opened up my Bible app and listened to the daily devotional that I had skipped over earlier. It began, “Navigating the storms of life…!” I couldn’t have made this up. God was obviously trying to say something to me.
I powered down my phone and began to talk to God in the passenger seat. We had a lovely heart-to-heart talk about all the stuff that I had been stewing over, and worrying about. When I looked at the clock on my phone, I noticed an hour had gone by and the tow truck never came.
So, instead of asking God for another sign, I called AAA again. Apparently the last dispatcher never processed my order. (hummm….Did God have something to do with that?) They put in a “rush” order. And another hour later, Jorge shows up in big flatbed tow truck.
When I explain to him all that had happened over the last two and half hours, he went to his truck to retrieve a hammer. He then crawled under my truck and began to bang on something…and yelling “Turn the key! Turn the key!” And wouldn’t you know it, it started right up as if nothing was wrong. I drove my Xterra to my mechanics and hit the sack around 1:30 am.
Was God messing with me? I don’t know. Was God stopping me to have a talk? Perhaps. What I know is this, it took a few angels to wake me from the headspace I was in so I could not only talk to God, but to also listen to God speak softly to me in the silence of the night.
First came Solomon whose wisdom helped me understand what was going on. Then came Raphael, the Archangel of AAA delivered the news that my car was needing something greater than he could offer. And finally, Jorge…who God sent to save me. It makes me think my blog should be renamed: Jesus Not Jorge! In all seriousness, God makes himself known in many different ways.
I am reading a book by Greg Boyle (author of Tattoos on the Heart) called Barking at the Choir in where he is talking about losing faith and addressing God’s presence or absence in our lives. He said, “I don’t need God in control of my life, I need God at the center of my life.” I hope you take a moment to ask yourself. "How has God been at the center of my life today?” And I pray the answer will come in a very adventurous way.
As I breathed in the fresh smell of bread, as my tongue sought to be quenched, and as I sat in total darkness…I can honestly say God was, and still is, at the center of my life.
Now, if God will help me find $1,100 to pay the mechanic!
It’s funny how God always seems to show up in the most unusual places. And how reassuring it as to hear God’s voice through the tiny speaker say, “In 200 feet turn right.” It was as if the trees had parted and the cellular light shone upon us. Lo and behold a small mountain road appeared. And we faithfully turned right, following it blindly all the way to the airport.
The rest of my family would not be so lucky. Apparently there was a bad accident on the interstate that caused a huge traffic jam. They all missed their flights home.
Over 6,000 years before cellular technology, a poet wrote these words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I have often read the 23rd Psalm at funerals and at the bedside of the sick and dying because it speaks so well to the peace and joy that God provides. The psalmist paints a symbolic and tender picture of a God comes to us, and gives us comfort and hope in our time of need.
I think that poet were to write this today, he might describe God as our GPS who leads us to out of the way places so our souls can find peace and rest, and our thirst can be quenched without fear or worry. No matter how dark or scary the journey might seem, God leads the way home where a hot meal and comfortable bed awaits.
In John’s gospel, Jesus builds on this theme too. And I think it’s safe to say Jesus is our G.P.S. as in he is the Good People Shepherd; the one God sent to gather the sheep, to care for them and keep them safe.
Many years ago, Pope John Paul II said, “God has thought of us from eternity and has loved us as unique individuals. He has called every one of us by name, as the Good Shepherd calls His sheep by name.”
We are God’s sheep who looked after by a Good People Shepherd.
Thanks to my smart phone, I now know a few things about sheep. First, they’re smart and very perceptive. They know their shepherd by the sound of his voice, and even his scent. Second, they do not just blindly follow as the old maxim suggests. Sheep follow their shepherd willingly because he has spent his life living with them, looking out for them, building a relationship of trust with them.
The Good Shepherd knows which ones are cranky in the morning and which ones lag behind or wander off. He knows this because he’s chased after them; fallen in the mud with them; picked thorns from their hoofs; and chased off wolves. He has learned to love them in spite of all their noisy bleating and baaing.
We are God’s sheep, and we are called to follow, not blindly but willingly, because we know what God is willing to do for us no matter the cost. The Bible tells us that when we follow the Good Shepherd, we are less likely to wander of the righteous path where the mental wolves of the world want to steal and scatter us.
But we all wander off from time-to-time. And eventually each one of us will get lost. How blessed are we to know that we have God’s GPS, the Good People Shepherd, to get us back to where we ought to be.
Today there’s a standard feature that comes on all iPhone called, “Find my phone.” It’s there for the off chance that my phone should get lost or stolen. Humans also come equipped with similar technology. Being made in the image of God is like having a divine chip implanted in us so we are always on God’s radar. God always knows where we are, because God is always with us – whether we know it or not.
Jesus, our Good People Shepherd, comes and retrieves us when we are lost. When the world steals us away, Jesus finds us and guides us back to the right path. Sometimes our life will take us through the darkest valleys and the desolate mountain roads, but God is always with us, to navigate the way.
As we move through the Easter season, may we come to know Jesus not just as the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep, but also as the divine GPS who implanted our lives into his. Just as he has laid down for his life for us, so too will Jesus lift us back up again. Jesus not only brings us with him, but sits us down with us at God’s table so we can receive grace-upon-grace until our cup overflows. Through him, we are invited to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life.”
No matter how advanced technology will become, I don't think it will ever be able to do for you what God has already done for all through Jesus.
Just before communion, the Catholic (and Anglo-Catholic) say this prayer: "Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed."
For some reason this always rubbed me the wrong way. On one hand, I am worthy to receive God's grace and the eucharist meal for that matter. God made me worthy when God made me in the Divine image. And if that's not enough, Jesus made me worthy by the sacrifice he made on my behalf.
On the other hand, perhaps I am not worthy without Divine help and intervention. And this prayer is a reminder of that gift of grace that God alone can dispense. As a priest, I do not feel worthy to offer absolution, but instead give the assurance that no matter where you are, or how far you have moved away from God, you are never beyond the boundaries of God's love.
It’s amazing just how quickly time moves when you’re comfortable. And just the opposite when you’re not.
The years the months the weeks the hours the minutes the seconds don’t make a damn difference to a snooze button.
The moral of this is simply embrace the moment with awe, love, and peace. It’s the best way I can think to slow down time.
I like the Message version of this passage. It seems fitting for today’s world. (see below)
My 10 yr old made an announcement. “I think Monday’s are the worst day of the week,” he exclaimed from the backseat. Did you laugh reading this last sentence? I did.
To say Monday’s are a struggle is an understatement as much as it is a cliche. Unless you’re a minister (who often take Monday off) getting up to start the weekly grind again is not something a ten year old or anyone looks forward to. Waking from a restful slumber. Climbing out of a warm bed. Coffee. Commuting. Co-workers all sensing your pain but showing no mercy. We’re all in the same boat.
When I asked my son what it was about Monday’s that would make it the worst day of the week I was surprised by one of the reasons. Mass. Not gathering with the masses in a unified misery on route to someplace other than a couch in from of the TV. No, he meant ‘Mass’ as in the Catholic sense. At his school, Monday begins with “a long, boring mass,” he always laments. How sadly he misses the blessings awaiting him in that freezing cold, marble framed sanctuary.
For many, morning mass might be just the thing we need to squeeze out a little extra peace and stillness before the chaos and demands of employment kick into full gear. Or dare I say, this weekly ritual is the perfect place get an extra hour of sleep. It’s quiet, repetitive, just boring enough to lull one off with the sheeps. Don’t get all upset, God does promote rest. It’s a commandment I recall. My son doesn’t see it this way. Mass (and school for that matter) is just more proof that God doesn’t seem to listen to kids prayers.
The problem of living with a minister of a home church is it might seem like you are always in church, because technically you are. And that’s an honest struggle for my kids, not to mention their parents. Sometimes we need to leave the church to find rest. Even though we know better, there are times that we struggle to find it out there...in the “real world” with commuters and coffee addicts.
Deep down in my heart I know it’s wrong to want to always escape from the stuff in my life, and I know there will always be days when I’d rather stay in my pj’s, literally and figuratively.
Some days it’s easier to just face my struggles by staying in bed. Covers over my face. Pillow over covers that are over my face. Someday I don’t want to get dress. But something typically comes up where I have to go outside my place of comfort and just deal with it. Just for the record, those days are usually Mondays. Eventually I have to get up if only to eat or go potty. Eventually I have to face the “I don’t want to’s” and just get on with it knowing that the weekend is a few long days and nights away.
Today I learned that some wise person saw this problem and decided to do something about it. Cancel Monday’s? I wish. No, he or she did the next best thing. Declared every April 16th would be a day where every employee across the country would wear their pajamas to work. It’s the next best thing to staying in bed!
Beyond television personalities and perhaps employees of some tech start-up, I’m not sure everyone takes full advantage of this brilliant idea. For example I can’t imagine police chasing criminals in their long-johns and night shirts, or firefighters knocking out blazes in their adult footsies. But maybe they should. Because this one simple, albeit odd, observance does sort of speak to the way we ought to deal with our struggles and troubles in the world. That is to say we should approach them: causally.
Staying in bed and ignoring the things in life we don’t want to deal with never solves the problem. But what if we could approach our problems in the casual comfort of lounging around on a lazy Saturday morning?
The Bible states, in some form or another, “Do not worry” 365 times. That’s one time a day. Perhaps it’s because God knows we need to be reminded every day to allow God to be the center of your life no matter what you’re dealing with. It’s not to say struggles or problems will not exist, they will. The difference is, God will be there to help you navigate through these dark waters so you can be at peace (or rest).
Let’s face it, if anyone knows struggles it’s God. If anyone knows rest it’s God. And if anyone truly knows God...it’s Jesus who said, “Give me your struggles and I will give you rest.” These words fit me like a well worn pair of flannel jammies. Soft and comforting.
Next time you feel stress, or burnout, anxiety, or worry think of God in a cotton robe and fluffy slippers, or try to picture Jesus in a bright yellow happy-face onesie. And remember not only his words of invitation but also the examples he set by giving over the burdens he carried for us over to God who will give them rest.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” ~ Matthew 11:28
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”