Giving Thanks

by Neva Rae Fox

Read
O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Psalm 96

Reflect
Psalm 96 is my favorite psalm. Its words are uplifting and filled with hope and praise.

The Psalms, the hymns and poems of Israel, express the breadth and depth of human experience, from sheer glee to the oppressive despair. While many of us have a great affinity for the 23rd with its lovely, comforting imagery and recognizable phrases, the 96th Psalm remains my favorite.

To me, the psalmist is providing the words and the means for us to offer pure praise, thanks and happiness to the Lord.  The words for us to discover salvation in the works of our Lord.

It is also an invitation to join with others – all others – in offering praise to God.  And what can be better than singing praises to God, in thanksgiving for all we have been given, for the salvation that is offered to us from our Maker, for the great things at are to come

Even in my moments of difficulties or problems, I take a moment and sing to the Lord.  I bless his name, and am thankful for the salvation and hope has given to me.

Respond
Be thankful for all you have been given.  Several times this day, reflect on what in your life for which you give thanks. Write them down and offer prayers to God for them. For the people on your list, email, call, or share your thanksgiving for them in your life.

Anxiety…my friend?

by Martha Spong

Read
Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.

              -1 Peter 5:8-9a, as found in The Order for Compline, Book of Common Prayer

Reflect
I like to say we run a little anxious in my family. I also have to point out that two anxious parents will likely produce anxious children, although I’ve seen no studies to prove it scientifically. It’s my hypothesis that the combination of whatever brain chemistry makes people prone to anxiety being passed down from both parents mashed up with the experience of living with those mildly anxious adults leaves children little choice but to join Team Anxiety.

Therefore, I have been giving my children ideas for to cope since they were old enough to have anything about which to worry. My oldest son carried a smooth stone in his pocket in 2nd grade, to rub between his fingers instead of chewing on them. My second son would call from boarding school, not even able to articulate what upset him, and I would talk him through square breathing. Their younger sister, now a college sophomore, sends me Facebook messages when a paper is due, occasionally in all caps, but more often like this one: “Mom I’m freaking ooooouuuuuut”

I understand it all.

Sometimes the worries that threaten to devour us are manufactured. We have let something go by, a work deadline or a birthday we ought to have acknowledged or a call we should have returned or even, God help us, the due date for all the financial aid paperwork needed to keep the freaking out child in college. Other times our fears are genuine and even mortal. If we run anxious, we tend to make both kinds worse for ourselves.

I am speaking from experience.

Sometimes the lion only growls, whispering to me in a low grumble, telling me no one cares, or my work doesn’t matter, that even my friends and family don’t really love me. When I get myself into a state, I’m not so sure the devil prowling around is anything definably external, but I am quite certain that I cannot overcome that adversary without the help of the One I trust does exist outside my normal reality. When I can hold firm in that faith, the lion recedes, and I rest secure.

Respond
How are you anxious? Have you found a particularly helpful way to respond to your anxiety that you could share with others? How do you invite God into anxious moment.

I offer this prayer:
Holy One, when we raise our fingers to our mouths, when we cannot catch a deep breath, when we are freaking oooooouuuuuut, be with us, we pray. Amen.

Feel What You Feel

by Gretchen Rehberg

Read
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

-Psalm 13:1

Reflect
It might seem odd to have the words of Psalm 13 to read this day, when we are still in Eastertide. Yet this week finds us in waiting. Jesus has ascended into heaven; the Holy Spirit has not yet come with Pentecost. So it might appear that we are alone, that God has forgotten us. This is sometimes a familiar lament – that God is gone, that God has left us, that God has forgotten us. How many times a pastor hears (or says!) the words “where was God in this [tragedy].”

I love the raw honesty of our psalms. The psalms don’t let us “clean up” our language in our prayers, they remind us that every single emotion I could ever have someone else already has, and that the proper place for that emotion is before God. When we are feeling abandoned and alone, it is a right and proper thing to express that feeing in our prayer, crying out to God: “how long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” Our fear, our depression, our grief and anger, no emotion is too great for God to handle.

The good news of course is that while we live this week between the Ascension and Pentecost in our liturgical calendar, Pentecost has happened. The Spirit has come. With the coming of the Holy Spirit God reminds us, once again, that nothing can ever separate us from God. We have the Holy Spirit within us. Within us! A profound truth that we are never forgotten, never abandoned, never alone. How do you understand this truth in your own life – that God dwells within you and you are always and forever with God?

Respond
Pray this day that you may know the presence of the Holy Spirit within you. Pray this day whatever emotions you feel, pray the strong emotions and the milder ones alike. Give thanks that God is always with us, and spend a period of time in contemplation on the reality that God dwells within you and you are never alone.

And Suddenly!

Read
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

-Luke 2:13-14

Reflect
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This is Noah. When I tacked up my horse to ride a few weeks ago, he had not arrived into the world. So I rode, then untacked and brushed my horse, then wandered into the paddock to offer my help…and lo, an hour later, Noah was in the world.

A new life suddenly appeared.

Sort of.

Like much of what suddenly seems to appear in our lives, Noah had been gestating for some time. New things born into our lives usually gestate. They are nurtured and grow in a deeply safe place until God deems them time to be born.

And suddenly we are presented with this new thing.

The Gospels love the use of the word “suddenly.” Mary was minding her own business and suddenly the Angel Gabriel shares news with her of who will be gestating within her, waiting to be born. The shepherds are minding their own business, and suddenly the angels appear to them, sharing the news of who has just been born into the world. And the angel again shares with the women at the tomb who as been suddenly resurrected. “He is not here. He is risen, just as he said.”

And suddenly something new is born, and life is forever changed.

Easter is a suddenly event. We suddenly have a completely new understanding of life and death. Death is not the end. Life, love, and God have the more to say. Always.

Our temptation is to stop at the suddenly moment. Yay! Easter has been born! Christ is risen. Now, time to make the doughnuts.

Except in doing that, we ignore the new life that has been born into our lives. The suddenly moment of Easter has born into creation a new understanding of life. This new life, this new truth will grow, will change our lives, and will shift us from old ways and habits into new experiences. God, it seems, is suddenly present and expects to stay around in our lives.

Noah, the suddenly present colt, is growing. A colt who could barely stand (the picture is of his first steps, which were awkward and unsure at best) is now a colt who races around the meadow with his mother chasing him because, well, that’s what moms do. He will continue to grow and become.

Easter is an event. We celebrate the gestation of it through Lent, shout “Alleluia!” on Easter Sunday, and recognize the truth of the power of the continuing truth that changes us with its presence for 50 days and beyond.

The birth of Jesus in in our lives calls us into change, just as it did to Mary, Joseph,the shepherds, and all creation thousands of years ago. The birth of the Resurrected Jesus asks if we will nurture this new thing suddenly appearing as it grows and changes us each day, each moment as its present in our lives.

Will we?

Respond
What has been unexpectedly (or maybe not so unexpectedly) born into your life recently? How has it changed you? How has it deepened your relationship with God, challenged you into more profound experiences of love, reconciliation, forgiveness, and faith?

 

 

 

 

Every Single Time

by Mary Wright Baylor

Read

 

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Reflect

After a long brutal winter, everyone is eager to see signs of spring. As a gardener, I can hardly wait for enough warmth to pull on my gloves, shove lingering snow aside, and uncover my garden beds and plantings. This year, I am DELIGHTED that this camellia bush, “Pink Perfection” is blooming vigorously for the first time.

After I left home, I treasured a favorite ritual when I visited my parents. As soon as weather permitted, we ALWAYS walked around their yard and carefully studied all their garden beds. Every Single Time. We cherished every sign of life and growth. With the warming of the season, we made our ritualized pilgrimages and we’d chatter about plants and life and being together. And at the end of Every Single Visit, they’d clip whatever was blooming in their yard for me to take home. Early in the spring, it would be camellia blossoms and they’d send me away bearing overflowing shoeboxes filled with these gorgeous “Pink Perfection” flowers. As the weather warmed, they generously shared huge boughs of azaleas or enormous bouquets of hydrangeas in intense shades of purple, pink, and blue blossoms. As the years passed and their health failed, we knew that these garden pilgrimages were nearing an end. We were able to talk about this eventuality and so, my dad helped me take cuttings of many of their camellias and my mom assisted me as I dug up and transplanted some of her hydrangea “volunteers” to take home to plant in my garden.

My parents and my beloved childhood home are now gone but I have vivid and tangible memories of those special times. In my garden, filled with their gifts given knowing that their time on earth was short, I can feel my parents’ presence. I am reminded of their love and generosity. Don’t you think that they would be delighted that their “Pink Perfection” is covered with blossoms this year? I am tickled that I have been able to share them with others.

As people of faith, Every Single Time we go to the communion table, we take bread, eat it, and we remember. Every Single Time we drink the cup, we feel the vivid and tangible presence of Christ and we give thanks. These are the Gifts of God for the People of God.

As a Eucharistic Visitor, it is an incredible privilege to take the Body and Blood to those hospitalized or shut-in. These People of God are connected by the visit and comforted by this sacred ritual. Some are visibly transformed by the vivid and tangible presence of the Most Generous Giver. It is a tremendous honor to share this generous, excessive gift of love and sacred ritual with others. Every Single Time.

Reflect: 

What are sacred rituals in your life that connect you to vivid and tangible memories? What gives you a sense of presence of those important to you?

Changing Your Mind

by Adam Thomas

Read
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days. (Acts 10:44-48)

St. Peter

Reflect
The most extraordinary event in the history of the early days of the church happens in the verses above, which come from last Sunday’s readings in many churches. You might think this extraordinary event would be an epic conversion story or great speech or harrowing adventure across the sea, but no. The most extraordinary event in the history of the early days of the church is simply one person realizing he is wrong and then changing his mind.

That person is Peter. And we might expect Peter to be a hardliner, sticking to all of his positions and presuppositions just because he had been with Jesus from the beginning. After all, Jesus did give Peter the figurative keys to the kingdom. What could be more human of a reaction than for Peter to lock out any change that threatened the integrity of the in-crowd?

But Peter, thankfully, listens to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He has recently had his vision of the newly clean animals and been invited to meet Cornelius the Centurion. And while Peter is preaching to this Roman’s household, the Holy Spirit encounters all who hear him. Peter’s companions are astounded that the Holy Spirit of God would deign to manifest itself through unclean Gentiles. “But what about our in crowd,” they seem to protest. “We thought we were the special ones. We thought we were the ones that had the Holy Spirit.”

Then Peter remembers his vision of the now clean animals. And he finds himself standing at the precipice of a decision. His society, his upbringing, and everything he has ever known pulls him to reconfirm that Jews and Gentiles can never be united, that the good news of Jesus Christ is for Peter’s people alone. But that same Holy Spirit, which is even now dancing around Cornelius and his Gentile family, pulls Peter in a new direction toward unity and acceptance and radical welcome of the estranged other.

And this time Peter doesn’t balk. He asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And then he baptizes them. With these words, Peter admits that he has been wrong about who’s in and who’s out. He changes his mind, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the good news of Jesus Christ spreads like wildfire to new peoples who simply would have been written off before.

Respond
Think of times the church has courageously changed its mind due to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. What is going on in our own day that may lead us toward further change? How are you helping or hindering that newness?