how can you keep this a secret?

Mark 1:40-45 – A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

“If you choose, you can make me clean.”   The leper stand before Jesus with a humble petition.  Covered in open sores, an outcast from society, the leper makes his approach.  He can’t demand, only desire.  He makes a bold statement.  The ball is in your court, Jesus.  Will you heal me?  Will you choose me?  Jesus is touched by the will of this man to be clean.

But when Jesus heals him, he tells him to keep it a secret.

What’s up with that? Most of us would want the credit.  We would want everyone to know that we had the power to heal, to do something extraordinary.  In fact, we might want them to “like” us on Facebook, or “endorse” us on Linked In, or do a testimonial advertisement.  We want the credit.  And like the leper, we can’t keep a secret.  We want to tell the world, “Hey, I got a great deal!  Look what happened to me!”

Jesus was in the beginning of his ministry in this story.  Word was just starting to get out of his healing powers.  Maybe he knew that this would be the beginning of the end of his annonymity or that this would raise flags with the religious elite around him.  Regardless, it would be hard to fly under the radar now.  He was on a path to Jerusalem, even if it meant spending time in the country, honing his message and making his messengers.  His ministry was about feeding that hunger for connection with God with Us and inviting us to come with humility for healing.

 

make me know your ways

Psalm 25:4-7 — Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.  Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.  Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

We have a new dog named Trixie that we rescued from our local shelter.  She is a beautiful shepherd-chow mix the color of a golden retriever and a very sweet and well-behaved dog – except when she sees another dog.  As soon as she spies a fellow canine, she starts yanking and barking and is hard to control.  I yell and pull her along, but she is very strong willed.  She is trying to establish that she is the top dog on the street and I’m trying to be a good pet owner by not threatening my neighbors.  It’s a battle, and some days I’m not sure who will win.  We are working with her to teach her “our path” to better street manners, but it’s a challenge for both of us right now.

Too often, we are like Trixie.  We do what is right and expected of us most of the time, but put us in a certain situation, and we just can’t contain ourselves.  Maybe it’s our sullen and rude teenager who sets us off.  Or a co-worker who rubs us the wrong way. Maybe we didn’t get enough sleep or are hungry.  Maybe we are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and it changes our outlook.  We can stay on the path most of the time without a problem, until we are faced with something that challenges us.  And then, all bets are off.  We pull away from God’s path, we resist what we know is right, and we forge a path on our own to prove that we are strong enough to resist God’s guiding hand.

Thankfully,God never seems to let go of that that invisible tether.  We may test the length of the rope and we may pull and twist and growl.  We may go off exploring new places and get into some trouble along the way.  We may willfully disobey.  But God is patient, full of a steadfast love that we only wish we could have for others.  Teach me your paths, O God.  Make me know your ways.  Lead me in truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.  May it be so.

mary’s song of strength

Luke 1:46b-54 – My soul magnifies the Lord,  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

The Mary we sing about in Christmas Carols is meek and mild, calmly accepting her fate as the vessel for God’s Son.  She doesn’t fight back and refuse her fate when the angel calls on her.  In fact, earlier in the story, when the angel tells her her fate, she says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord;  let it be with me according to your word.”

A few verses later, Mary is with her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John, talking about how blessed they are to be pregnant and then Mary shares the prayer above, known as the Magnificat.   This is not the prayer of an innocent, accepting young girl, but that of a confident woman who fully understands what she is being called to do.  She was the lowly servant, but now generations will call her blessed.  Through her, God will break into the world, bring down the powerful from their thrones, lift up the lowly, fill up the hungry and send the rich away empty.   She is part of history in the making and she is claiming her spot.

Mary can see the life ahead of her, tied to a child who will grow up to challenge the fabric of society.   She will be revered by some who see her role in birthing the Messiah and setting the captives free, but there is also impending tragedy.  Knowing that the baby you are carrying is destined to greatness is one thing, but knowing that your child will overthrow the status quo and upset the powerful, well, that’s quite a burden to bear.

As a pregnant mother, you are filled with hope and promise for your child.  You dream that they will do great things and change the world.   And Mary had those same hopes.  But she also knew the cost of greatness for her son.  He was not an ordinary child who would be met with praise and adoration.  He was here to blaze a new trail and show us the path to God’s Kingdom.   Getting there would not be easy, but the journey would be well worth it.  And she would be there with her son every step of the way.

a little child shall lead them

Isaiah 11:6-9 –  The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.   The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

A little child will lead them?  During the season of Advent, we prepare for the birth of Jesus, but we also are preparing for the time when God’s vision of loving harmony is fulfilled.  The birth of Jesus marked the physical manifestation of God with Us, but God is with us still through the Holy Spirit, working through us to make the world a better place.

This vision of the Peaceable Kingdom, where predator and prey come together without fear, points us to a place that God desires for us.   This is a place where there are no bullies or warlords, a place where even the most vulnerable feel safe and secure.  This is a place where new thinking emerges because we are not bound by what’s always been done before.  A child shall lead us.  New ways of looking at the same old problems emerge.  Innocence and innovation trump rules and conventions.  In this world, all bets are off on how things are supposed to be.  Something new is breaking forth.

Now we are waiting, sitting amidst the darkness and evil around us.  War and civil unrest are the norm, not the exception around the world.  Natural disasters seem more common and severe.  The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” gets bigger, and we never feel like we have enough.   Scarcity rules the day today.

But God has a different vision.  It’s a world of sharing and abundance, where the meek and mild feel safe and secure.  It’s a place where the old rules are tossed out.  God With Us is coming as a baby in a manger.  Soon he will lead us to the place God intends for us.   It will take us all the way to the cross and into resurrection.   New life, new leadership, new possibilities.  That is what Advent is all about.

 

 

 

lighten the load

Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yolk is easy, and my burden is light”

 

The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi is on October 4 but celebrated in the beginning of October.  Often we associate blessing the animals with St. Francis, and churches will invite people to bring their pets to be blessed.   I used to have a statue of St. Francis in my garden with a sparrow in his hand, his calming presence there to remind me to be gentle with the earth and receive its abundant blessings.  But we feast with St Francis for more than his love of nature and animals.

St. Francis of Assisi was the son of a prosperous merchant, but had encounter with Christ that led him to a life in poverty.  He renounced his wealth, and began doing menial labor and begging for food.  Others saw this simple life and joined what has become the Order of St Francis.  His life exemplified letting go of the stuff that can weigh us down, the clutter that trips us up, so we can be present in the moment and enjoy life fully.

We all carry heavy burdens, mostly of our own choosing.  We think we need to hold on to stuff in case we need it later or because we just can’t let go.  But often, it just weighs us down and keeps us from moving to where we need to go.  We trudge along, shoulders aching from all the stress we carry too.  Jesus calls us to lighten up materially and spiritually, and learn from those who travel light.  We don’t need fancy gadgets.  We don’t need to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.  We need a gentle and humble heart.  We need a community of travelers.  We need to our hands to be free to do God’s work and accept the goodness that surrounds us.  And when we do, the burden is light and we are filled with joy.

don’t worry, be happy

Psalm 37:1-5 – Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.  Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.  Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.

Don’t worry, be happy.  Easier said than done.  Too often we fret over the wicked bullies.  Why do they do the things they do? How do they get away with such evil things?  What did we do to deserve this?  How do we stop their wave of destruction?  Sometimes it feels like there is a cosmic game of wack-a-mole at play in our world.  One source of evil pops up, and we try to wack it down, but another one pops up.  The more we wack, the more they pop.  It’s exhausting and unending.  And wickedness don’t seem to fade like grass, but take over like kudzu.  It’s everywhere, and almost impossible to uproot.

The psalmist points us another way.  Trust God and do good.  Take delight, and God will give you the desires of your heart.  This isn’t to say that evil doesn’t exist, but that we don’t need to be part of it and give it our energy.  Fretting over why someone is so mean and destructive does not make them less mean.  It just saps our energy for goodness and light.  When we become God’s light in the world, and shine in the midst of darkness, the light overcomes the darkness.  And as we shine, we light a path for others to escape the darkness and add to the light.

So make your own little corner of the world the best it can be.  Be kind to everyone you meet, and treat them as you would want to be treated.  Live this day with joy, embracing the abundance of life!  Be the change you desire in the world.  Evil will always be around you, and there are times you have to confront evil.  But worrying about evil is wasted energy and detracts us from our mission.  Trust in God, commit to the holy path.  Skip and be joyful as you go!  Evil will wither and run out of energy if we don’t feed it.  Take delight and gain the desires of your heart.

an A for effort

Ephesians 2:8-10  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Amazing grace, how sweet it sounds, because no matter how many good works I do (or bad works, for that matter), it’s about faith and the state of my heart.  I can’t rack up enough brownie points.  I can’t get a perfect score.  I don’t get extra credit for going above and beyond what is expected.  In fact, the more I keep score of all the good things I do, the farther I get from God.  Grace is like an A for effort, when you probably deserve a B- in life.

That doesn’t mean that what we do doesn’t matter though.  Good works count.  Good works help us understand God’s mission in the world.  They create a little heaven on Earth.  But good works are a means to understand and come closer to God, not an end.

We are created to do good in the world.   We are called to serve, to fight for justice, and to love even the unloveable.  When we are on the path that leads to God, we seek out good works, but not because we want to score another point, but because we want to be part of God’s kingdom on earth.

It’s all about the motivation and intention of our actions.  We can say all the right things, do what seems right, but if our heart is in it for the wrong reasons, we are not going to win.  God’s favor is a gift, not a prize.  As with a gift, we can receive it even if we are not worthy or perfect.  We receive the gift because we are special and loved.