Seeing into the Heart

by Miriam McKenney

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But the Lord Said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

Reflect

Samuel is searching for a new king – a king that God has already provided from the sons of Jesse. Samuel goes through all of the rituals to get him to the place where he would see one of these sons and anoint him king of Israel Samuel sees one of Jesse’s sons and makes the mistake of assuming that he was the one. God then reveals that God looks at the heart of a person, unlike mortals do. Sound familiar?

So as I continue to live into the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, remaining mindful of the gift of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, I consider God’s message about seeing as mortals see; seeing from the outside instead of looking inside into people’s hearts. We must believe that we can do this. If we are children of God, and God lives in us, then we can see into each other’s heart. Even if it’s just a glimmer.

Jesus preached, taught, and lived a life of love. Samuel taught us that God has something in store for each of us that we may not understand or comprehend in ourselves, or in each other. How do we do what we can to bring out God’s gifts in ourselves, in our loved ones, or in strangers?

Let’s start by listening to God’s advice to Samuel. Be open to showing what’s in your heart, so that others can see it. Look into the hearts of those around you. What do you see? What do you want to see?

Let’s also try to live into the great commandment – love God, love my neighbor as I love myself. Not just the beautiful ones.

Respond

How can you shine a light into the hearts of others, and let them see yours? How do you keep yourself from judging a book by its cover? Or is it okay to do so? When?

 

 

T-H-I-S Much

by Maria Kane

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Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  John 17:20-26

Reflect

When my godson Cal was much younger he and I used to play a game of sorts at bedtime. With my hands a few inches apart, I’d say to him: “How much do you think Ea loves you? Do I love you this much?”

Smiling, Cal would shake his head and say, “Nooo.”

I’d then stick my hands a bit further apart and ask, “this much?”

“Noooo. More!” he’d say.

We would keep going until my arms were stretched so far apart that my back began to arch.

“This much?”

“Yes,” he’d laugh.

“Yep. I love you so much I can’t even stretch my arms wide enough.” I’d reply.

There was nothing terribly unique about this nighttime routine, but it was ours, and it was special.

In the midst life’s busyness, I fear it’s easy to forget that our existence is rooted in God’s adoration and longing for us. Today’s reading, however, reminds us of the breadth of Jesus’ love. I will be the first to admit, though, that what Jesus does in this moment is not terribly original or complex. In fact it’s so simple we might overlook it as the generous act of love that it is.

Y’all, Jesus prays for us.

Although it is the night before his execution, and his betrayer is at hand, Jesus does not pray for his own rescue or comfort. He prays for his friends and all who would follow. He prays for you and me. All the teaching, all the healing, all the traveling—they all point to this overarching truth: Jesus wants us to experience perfect union with God’s glory and one another. Jesus believes this is our destiny, and he prays that it will be so.

We often talk about the importance of believing in God, but did you ever stop to consider that while we are trying to shore up our faith and belief, Jesus has been believing in us since the dawn of time? He trusts that with God’s Spirit we can carry on his work. What if you claimed that truth today? No matter what you are going through, no matter what looms ahead, Jesus is with you in the meantime. He has prayed for you because he believes in you and who you are becoming.

How much does our Lord love you?

He loves you THIS much.

Response

Share a time you experienced or encountered the love of God in a new way. If you are struggling to feel love right now, offer your weary soul to God in prayer and trust that you don’t need to say a word. Just be. Know that the Spirit is with you.

Complicit in Mothering

-by Mary Wright Baylor

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West Rose Window, Washington National Cathedral

 

Reflect

Today marks the secular celebration of Mother’s Day. It is also the Holy Day commemorating the mystic Dame Julian of Norwich. In addition to her well known writings about her “showings,” she is probably best known for her very popular expression, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  But on this Mother’s Day, it is most relevant that Dame Julian is one of the first to describe the feminine identity in God and spoke of God as our Mother and Father.

At the risk of thoroughly dating myself, I grew up in a progressive Episcopal church, St. Alban’s, Annandale, Virginia. Although we frequently provided housing for those involved in protests against the Vietnam War or supporting the civil rights movement, as a young girl, I was not allowed to be an acolyte, however. That movement was yet to come. Therefore, I looked on in delighted awe as one of the very active members of our parish, Alison Cheek, went on to break convention as part of the Philadelphia Eleven and became ordained as one of the first female priests in the Episcopal Church, the family of God and the Body of Christ.

Since then, the role of women as leaders in the church has slowly expanded as they have been consecrated as bishops and finally, as presiding bishop. Never able to light a service candle as a young girl, I stood utterly overwhelmed and weeping with joy at the magnificent service installing the Most Rev. Dr. Katherine Jefferts Schori at the Washington National Cathedral. What resulted were some painful schisms within the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion; but slowly, healing and resurrection are taking place throughout the world and we are making progress toward understanding God as Mother and Father, feminine and masculine, and the vital role of women in ordained ministry.

Many of my best friends are women priests. Funny, creative, thoughtful, irreverent, faithful, and other-centered, I connect very easily with them. Whether or not they use the title “Mother,” my friends and other women priests may daily encounter bias or at worst, misogyny, but they rise above such prejudice and are diligent in their priestly vows.

One of my best friends, a retired Episcopal priest, visited Norwich many years ago. She brought me a beautiful calligraphy of Dame Julian’s famous expression that now hangs by my bedside. Every morning upon rising and every night as I close my eyes, no matter what personal or worldly crises are swirling, I give thanks for all the mothers before and around me who have assured each of us that All Shall Be Well. I believe this pleases God the Mother and the Father.

Respond

  • Think about this. Do you see lingering gender bias against women? Are you complicit in perpetuating it? If so, what are you doing to change that?
  • Go out and make that change so that All SHALL Be Well.

 

Beauty in the Broken

by David Creech

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And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
John 1:14-18

Reflect
The strong affirmations about who Jesus is and what Jesus has done in the Gospel of John is often perplexing to me. In the Gospel of John we have the highest explicit christological affirmations—Jesus is the Word made flesh, the preexistent I Am, the only begotten of the Father. This Word made flesh is “lifted up” on the cross and in his death gives the Spirit who leads us in truth. How is such a tragedy seen with such hope?

The insistent hope of John’s Gospel is even more astounding when you look at what is going on behind the Gospel. John’s community is one in turmoil. This fledgling group of believers has been recently expelled from their parent community. The hurt of this break echoes throughout the Gospel. Even worse, there is growing factionalism in the community. Fellow believers in Jesus are now refusing hospitality to one another (apparently some problems in the church are very old). In spite of this hurt and strife, John’s Jesus still gives us some of the most beautiful exhortations to love one another.

As this Easter season draws to a close (hello 7th Sunday of Easter!) and our calendar drifts into the “ordinary” may we, like John’s Gospel, find the Word in broken and and fleshy places.

Respond
images-4Look for beautiful broken things today. When you find something broken pause to reflect on the history and the beauty of it. Share the beauty you find with a friend.

Return to Faith

-by Jason Merritt 

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The Maine Coast by LMBrock

“In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith”

Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson,

 

Reflect

For the past seven years I have lived, worked, prayed, and played in the mountains of Western North Carolina. This week I completed my move to Cincinnati, Ohio, to join Forward Movement’s outstanding staff, an inspiring team of writers, editors, and creative people. After weeks of planning and packing, the journey afforded me a beautiful departure from my adopted mountain home, one last winding trip through the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains on my way north.

As the mountains faded into the mirror, I began to think of the many memories I made in their midst, and of the deeply spiritual moments of sitting atop an overlook looking out upon what Emerson calls the “plantations of God.” I wondered where I’d find those moments in my next home—wondered how hard I would have to look to find God’s masterpiece in the city.

I have always been drawn to nature. Drawn to the ineffable healing that a deep breath of fresh air can have on lungs weary from the difficult conversations of life. Drawn to the cathartic rhythm of flowing water–whether it be the salty waves of my Florida youth, or the rushing mountain creeks where I discovered my obsessive desire to quietly cast a fly for hours in the hopes of bothering a brook trout for a spell.

Clarity can be found there. Perhaps you too have experienced the moments of peace and prayer that nature effortlessly provides. Perhaps you too have wondered if you can find those same moments once you’ve returned to the concrete and steel.

This week I was waiting to cross a street in downtown Cincinnati on my way to the office, focused on everything but nature. Spring is bounding through the city however, and a breeze moved through a nearby tree, the leaves casting a familiar tone my direction. I looked up from reading emails on my phone and allowed my eyes to drift up to the clouds passing between the buildings, on their way to greet another city—and perhaps another soul in need of clarity on a hectic day.

It was a short, but successful moment of prayer and peace. Even better, it was a reminder I greatly needed.

Respond

We often spend our lives seeking reason and faith among the complex worlds we have built around ourselves—and we may find it on occasion—however, my hope is that today you will take 5 minutes to seek them in the wondrous creation that had been gifted to us each day. It may be a little harder to find in the city or office, but I assure you it’s there if you seek it.

Look up. Look around. Look down, even. See the beauty of creation. And breathe.

Already Not Yet

by David Sibley

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Ascension of Christ by Dali

Ascension of Christ by Dali

When they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (John 1:6-11)

 Reflect

 In seminary, a phrase that often gets thrown about is to talk about God’ work as a paradoxical “already/not yet.” In the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the kingdom of God is already present in our midst, already transforming our hearts and the world around us, already a realization of God’s purposes for our world. But we know the kingdom of God is not yet visible in its fullness among us. War, hatred, violence, fear, hunger – all these things are visible in the world, and yet we believe that they are not of God’s design for abundant life – the kingdom is not yet fully realized in this time and place.

 That moment in Acts when Jesus ascends into heaven – the feast the church celebrates today -illustrates the already/not yet quite vividly. Jesus gives the disciples work to do – “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem… and to the ends of the earth.” After his Ascension, the angels address the disciples somewhat incredulously – as if to say, “Didn’t you hear him? Why are you still standing here? Go! Do something!” Yet Jesus has given his disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit in the days to come. The Spirit itself, as the Acts tells us, comes at Pentecost. And in the days between… as to that power that the Holy Spirit will pour upon them… well… not yet.

 To be a disciple in those days must have been harrowing. They know they’ve already been given marching orders. They know they have important work to do. They even choose another disciple to fill out the twelve after Judas’ death. But they still find themselves waiting for the Holy Spirit to descend upon them. They wait with bated breath for the coming of the Spirit. Already… not yet.

 In this moment, the disciples are reminded that Jesus’ work has been placed in their hands; they are also reminded that they cannot and will not do that work alone. And in the time between, I suspect, they made space. Space to dwell in the mystery of what they already know to be true and what they have not yet seen. Space to reflect on the wonders they had seen since Jesus arose from the dead. Space in themselves to prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

 Today, Jesus ascends to heaven with a shout. Today we see where he calls us to go. And today we wait and make room – wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit to direct and rule our hearts and lives, and make room in our lives for that Spirit to bring to completion the work that God has already begun in us.

 Respond

 What do you wait for this Ascension Day? Do you hear Jesus’ command that the gospel, that pearl of great price, has been left in your hands – given for you to witness to to the very ends of the earth? Do you wait with eager longing for the coming of the Spirit that has been promised? How do you live in the space between already and not yet?