A Record Keeping God

Praying with the scripture as it is assigned in the lectionary can be an exercise in humility and may serve to strengthen our curiosity. The images of God which we hold, shapes how we approach the scripture and hear what it says to us. Sometimes we need to listen long and deep to hear the Good News in a passage. Texts like this one in Amos used to frighten me; even paralyze me. Meeting with a spiritual director over the years has helped me wrestle through how God can be a God of love, mercy, and justice. I’ve come to trust the goodness and faithfulness of God. I offer this poem which came out of my own prayerful reflection on this text.

A Record Keeping God
Ledger spread wide
at a Scrouge like desk
hovering, scourering
keeping meticulous count
wrongs, one by one
scrutinized, recorded, tallied
kept in an all knowing vault
to be used to accuse.
This is the God I am afraid to trust
unsure of grace - wide enough for my list.
But, what if this is a list
of wrongs made right?
Restitution, remembered, repaid to
the weak, the helpless, the oppressed.
Will I trust this God of restorative justice -
who makes all things new?
Mud. dirt. dust.
Readied for seeds of new life to take root
and come to life.
What might my God do with mud?

-kim isaak

Amos 8:4-7 (MSG)
Listen to this, you who walk all over the weak,
you who treat poor people as less than nothing,
Who say, “When’s my next paycheck coming
so I can go out and live it up?
How long till the weekend
when I can go out and have a good time?”
Who give little and take much,
and never do an honest day’s work.
You exploit the poor, using them—
and then, when they’re used up, you discard them.
7-8 God swears against the arrogance of Jacob:
“I’m keeping track of their every last sin.”
God’s oath will shake earth’s foundations,
dissolve the whole world into tears.
God’s oath will sweep in like a river that rises,
flooding houses and lands,
And then recedes,
leaving behind a sea of mud.

For Reflection and Prayer:
Listening with the “ear of your heart”, was there a word, phrase or image which caught your attention you as you listened to or slowly read the text? Gently repeat the word or phrase, giving it room to settle deeply in your heart.

Reflect on what you heard. Relish the words. Notice how the word or words affected you. You might choose to journal about what you heard.

Respond to what you heard and reflected on in your prayer with God. Is there a prayer which rises within you?

Rest in God as you simply be and entrust yourself to God in the quiet.

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Practicing Resurrection

On the tide of Easter morning, those who went to look for Jesus found an empty tomb. Some discovered him along the way, others went to look again, others were surprised that Jesus was the one to seek them out and find them. These companions of Jesus, women and men, inspire us to keep looking for the risen Christ. Where are you seeing signs of new life in your everyday life? Which practices help train you to keep looking?

Isaiah 43:16-21 NIV
This is what the LORD says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.

For Reflection and Prayer:
Was there a word or phrase that stood out for you – that spoke just to you? Note it here, and then write 2-3 sentences about it.

What did you notice was your inner response as you listened? (longing, agitated, curious, confused, peaceful, joy-filled, hopeful, frustrated, anger nothing, etc.?)

Would you be willing to speak to God (Father, Son, or Holy Spirit) about these feelings? Allow God to see you as you are. Ask for what you need. Linger in God’s presence.

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Signs & Evidence of New Life

One of the most significant shifts in my faith has been the inclination to look and keep watch for signs of new life. Evidence of God’s continual work of renewal is oftentimes very difficult to see. Today’s text points to specific observations and details in an empty tomb.

May we keep turning to wonder in empty, dead places. Jesus how are you renewing life here and now?

John 20:1-10 (NLT)
Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— 9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

For Reflection and Prayer:
What did you hear as you listened or read the text? Did something particular catch your attention? Bring it into conversation with Jesus.

Give yourself room for the word to affect you. What are you feeling or sensing? Gently bring this awareness into your prayer with Jesus.

Savor any consoling words or pictures as you quietly rest in God.

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The Way of Trust and Surrender

Repeatedly through the Gospels, Jesus has candid conversations with those in relationship with him. He allows them not only to hear his words but also to actually live in the experience of them.   Some of what Jesus seems to be saying in this passage is...
 
I have shown and will keep showing you how I trust my Father's life in me, surrender to his initiatives and take action. It may look senseless, crazy or too hard to you at times but this is where life is so big that it can hold truth, reality and pain together while my Father continually works to bring renewal. Evil will not prevail. Vulnerable love is powerful. Are you willing to join me in what I am doing?

John 14:5-14 (NLT)
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

For Reflection and Prayer:
If something captured your attention - a word, a phrase, an image - let this simmer in you and allow the Spirit to expand its meaning for you. Journal what you hear and your response.

Meditate on one of the names of Jesus which has been particularly meaningful for you. What about that characteristic deepens your attachment to Jesus?

Quietly rest with God and any consoling words or images given to you in this time of prayer.

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When Our Soul is Deeply Troubled

It can be excruciatingly difficult to trust or see God's love and continual action of renewal in our lives when our soul is deeply troubled. Life. Death. Renewal. This is God's glory story. Day after day after day. We long to meet Jesus on our terms. Yet it takes love, hope and vulnerable courage to trust that God will make something new and beautiful out of the most troubling and anguishing aspects of our lives. What and who helps you let go and deepen in trust of God's loving, restorative care for you and your life?
                                              He restores my soul...Psalm 23

John 12:20-28 (NLT)
Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration 21 paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. 25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. 26 Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! 28 Father, bring glory to your name.”
Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.”

For Reflection and Prayer:
Was there a word, phrase or image which caught your attention you as you listened to or slowly read the text? Quietly reflect on it in your prayer with Jesus. Journal your conversation.

Was there any particular emotion which emerged as you listened to the scripture? Talk it over with Jesus in your prayer.

Where are you currently being asked to let go? To allow something to die so that new life might emerge? What do you need from God to help you let go?

Savor any consoling words or pictures as you quietly rest in God.

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Living Fully Alive in Community

Finally we are at the point of Lazurus' resurrection! Here Jesus pulls back the veil of this world to give us a glimpse of what is coming. There is so much more. The possibility to live fully alive is available to each of us. What keeps us from living fully alive in Christ today? What needs to be loosed? Unbound in us? How are those around us already participating in helping to remove our own grave clothes? You are encouraged to share a part of your story with a safe, compassionate listener. The process of telling and retelling our stories is part of how we become unbound, real and more fully alive.

John 11:38-44 (NLT)
 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

For your reflection and prayer:
As you listened, was there a word, a phrase, an image, or something else that stood out to you? Notice what it stirs in you. Have a conversation with Jesus about this.

Place yourself in the story and enter into it as it unfolds. Who are you? Who is interacting with you and around you? What are you seeing, smelling, sensing, hearing, touching? Write about your experience in the story and allow it to be your prayer.

Slowly savor any consoling words or images which God gives you in this time of prayer. Simply rest in God’s presence with them.

Ask God to provide a safe place for you to share your story.

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How to Really See Your Brother (or Sister)

When I come to a complicated passage of Scripture which seems to challenge my beliefs about a compassionate, just and merciful God, I have learned to pause and turn to wonder. I prayerfully enter the swirl of the story and ask God for help to see the overarching story line. I look for life. Where do I see God's work of renewal in the story? I choose life. As I prayed with this passage, these are the words which came as I wrote in my journal. I share them that they might encourage you to journal with Scripture for yourself. These words are not meant to be a complete exegesis on the text.

Come, let us go see him. Come, we go together. I [Jesus] will truly teach you how to see your brother - how to see to the shalom of your brother. Watch me. Watch my response. Watch my grief. Watch what I will do. You are right. This will feel like going to the death with me. You are about to learn to die: to your own way of seeing what is really happening; to your fear of persecution because of being with me. You will come to know faith in a whole new way. Come, we go together. I'll hold your hand. I'll have your back.

Jesus, I want to be continually looking to the shalom of my brothers and sisters. Give me your heart for my brothers and sisters, in each person I meet. Help me not hurry past them. Help me to see the person in my every interaction. Show me what to pray, when to speak or act, and how to do it.

John 11:11-16 (NLT)
Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”
12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.
14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”
16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

For Reflection and Prayer:
Was there a word, phrase or image which “stood out” for you as you listened to or slowly read the text? Quietly reflect on it in your prayer with Jesus. Journal your conversation.

Was there any particular emotion which emerged as you listened to the scripture? Talk it over with Jesus in your prayer.

Using all of your senses, place yourself in the story. Who are you and what are you witnessing or experiencing? Write out the story in your own words, allowing the story and conversation to be your prayer.

Savor any consoling words or pictures as you quietly rest in God.

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Where Are You Seeing God At Work?

The beloved John continues to bear witness to the complex, crazy-making, critical culture created by scrupulous rule following. He contrasts these Jewish leaders with Jesus who is focused on watching for his Father's initiative and action. His words invite us to consider where we see life and renewal happening in and around us. His ways invite us to participate in God's life giving work through observation, contemplation, prayer, discernment and action. Begin with stopping to see. Where are you seeing God at work around you?

John 5:16-23 (NLT)
So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. 17 But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” 18 So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.
19 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. 21 For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. 22 In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, 23 so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.

For Reflection and Prayer:
What did you hear or see as you listened to the text? Did something particular catch your attention? Bring it into conversation with Jesus.

Give yourself room for the word to affect you. What are you feeling or sensing? Without judgement, gently bring this awareness into your prayer with Jesus. What does Jesus say to you?

What are you seeing the Father doing? Where are you seeing God working?

Savor any consoling words or pictures as you quietly rest in God.

God's Loyal Love

God’s Loyal Love

        God
        Of all,
        Divine
        Spirit of our
        Lives,
        Only
        You
        Are
        Loyal
        Love.
        Only You
forgiVe our guilt as far as the
        East is from the West.

© Brenda Henry

Psalm 103:1-12 (NET)
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
With all that is within me, praise his holy name!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
Do not forget all his kind deeds!
He is the one who forgives all your sins,
who heals all your diseases,
who delivers your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with his loyal love and compassion,
who satisfies your life with good things,
so your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
The Lord does what is fair,
and executes justice for all the oppressed.
The Lord revealed his faithful acts to Moses,
his deeds to the Israelites.
The Lord is compassionate and merciful;
He is patient and demonstrates great loyal love.
He does not always accuse,
and does not stay angry.
He does not deal with us as our sins deserve;
He does not repay us as our misdeeds deserve.
For as the skies are high above the earth,
so his loyal love towers over his faithful followers.
As far as the eastern horizon is from the west,
so He removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us.


For Prayer and Reflection:
Is there a word, a phrase, or an image that stands out to you? What else do you notice as you and Jesus stay with that?

What kind deeds of Jesus come to your mind as you listen? Or, what is it about God’s loyal love that captivates you?

What comes to mind when you consider God’s justice?

Creating Space to See the Holy

One eats in holiness and the table becomes an altar.
Martin Buber, Israeli (1878-1965)

Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. Rules about Sabbath and what one could do and not do, identified in minute detail, filled the Pharisee's minds and ways of being. What might we be invited to consider in the following words about the intention of the law?  What is Jesus fulfilling instead of abolishing?

Sabbath rest is more than setting aside time and space for intentional nourishment and feeding of the soul. It certainly does include this, because this kind of space and time shifts our attention from our own self-referenced efforts and work towards God, which fosters greater gratitude and thankfulness within us. The intention of Sabbath, stopping to let go for rest and renewal in God, changes us. We begin to see that all of life is holy space filled with God's presence and provision.

Consider "walking through the fields" with Jesus as a way of growing in deeper trust and joyful freedom. Imagine yourself in the following story as you read it.  Where are you?

Mark 2:23-28 NRSV
One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath? And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions." Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."

For Reflection and Prayer:
What did you hear as you listened/read?
Was there a word or phrase that stood out to you? Write about what you heard.
If you choose, refer to 1 Samuel 21:1-7 for David's story.
What is Jesus teaching about Sabbath in these words?
How is it you come into Sabbath? What is the intention of Sabbath for you?
What distracts you from experiencing Sabbath?