SPIRIT versus spirit

In our Sunday (1/25) reading from Mark 1:21-28 we are on the move with Jesus.  Mark uncovers the story of Jesus quickly, beginning with Jesus’ baptism, then into the wilderness tempted by the devil; moving on to teach, heal and cast out demons.  In these few verses Jesus enters a synagogue to teach and is immediately recognized for who he is by an “unclean spirit.”  Why is it that an “unclean spirit” recognizes Jesus as the Holy One of God when others throughout the rest of Mark are so slow to catch on?

Today, demons and unclean spirits occupy very little of our attention compared to illness, injuries or other maladies that Jesus addressed in his ministry.  Do “unclean spirits” no longer haunt us while physical pain and illness continue to persist?  Or do we do we simply miss the point about “unclean spirits?”  Could “unclean spirits” simply be a spirit other than a holy one?  Here are some contrasting spirits:

  a spirit that blesses <> a spirit that curses

  a spirit that builds up <> a spirit that tears down

  a spirit that encourages <> a spirit that discourages

  a spirit speaking positively <> a spirit speaking negatively

  a spirit that promotes love <> a spirit that sows hate

  a spirit that brings together <> a spirit that splits apart

Do you recognize these differing spirits?  Do you think faith and the love of God could cast out some of these?  Do our non-holy spirits recognize the Holy Spirit coming to help us?

The Bus Incident

One day I was standing with 100 other people at a crosswalk in New York City waiting for a light to change.  When it did, I stepped out.  Luckily, my traveling partner noticed an errant bus driver to our left who was going to “beat” the light and make a quick right–right in front of me.  The bus sailed by, about 4 inches from my nose.

If it hadn’t been for my companion’s arm jutting out to stop of my forward-lurching shoulders, I might not be here today.  Whew!  I felt an overwhelming relief like I have never experienced, before or since.

I tell this story because the word repentance has gotten some undeserved connotations heaped on it that aren’t really there–as an onerous, even excruciating process, which *must* include feelings of deep regret and shame.  Further, some believe there must be proof of one’s repentance with certain acts or attitudes before the grace of forgiveness is offered.

But that is simply not the case for the repentance that takes place in Jonah’s story for this Sunday, January 22nd.  Jonah gives a quick, simple message of impending doom to the people of a large city, and they turn around. That’s it.  Period.  And God’s mercy is as immediate as their turning around.  We don’t know what the people of Nineveh felt after this moment.  But I can imagine there was some overwhelming relief like they have never experienced, before or since.

What matters are over and done with between you and God?  Is there any real reason to keep holding on to those things?  What is keeping you from experiencing the deep relief of a life turned in the proper direction?

In other words: what is your bus incident?

Holy God, your prophets, and your Son, invite us to turn in your direction.  What a relief!  Amen.

Shepherding, is it Leading or Following?

In our Sunday (January 15th) readings from 1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51 we hear of callings from the Lord to young Samuel and from Jesus to Philip and Nathaniel.  Samuel later becomes known for his prophetic words of truth telling, and as a leading (the first) prophet of ancient Israel in the period of the monarchy.  Philip and Nathaniel become disciples of Jesus but soon are looked up to as leaders of this new movement.  But in their development as leaders they first had to learn how to humble themselves by listening and hearing the call to be followers.

It has been said that to be an effective leader one needs followers who are willing to take risks.   Samuel, Philip, and Nathaniel were willing to take risks by listening and following God’s call and their risks helped the world know the love, grace and mercy of God through his Son.

God’s Son is often called the “Good Shepherd” and a good shepherd is a leader who leads by walking with or perhaps following the flock – a unique kind of leader.

During this week ask yourself, “In what ways am I a good leader?”  “In what ways am I a good follower?”  “How am I willing to take risks for my Lord, the good shepherd?”

Watercolors

I have one card I look forward to receiving every Christmas from my aunt, who is a watercolor artist.  Each year, she sends a piece of art on the front of the card.  Often it’s a photograph of a holiday or winter-themed work she did on commission in her area, but this year I received something else.

An original watercolor in minature!  Here it is.  Of course, my photo does not do it justice.  It is much more beautiful in-person.

One thing I so admire about watercolor artists is their capacity to use nuanced changes in color and intensity, and blend them into one, cohesive image.  In this watercolor, my aunt appears to have used the absence of color in some places, just painting with water itself.

Painting with water itself.

Showing something new against what is colored in a different way.

This is exactly what God is doing in our Gospel story for Baptism of our Lord Sunday.

Holy God, you are always more beautiful in person.  Perhaps that’s what Jesus is all about.  Amen.

Our Close Encounters

The weeks following Christmas and New Year’s day often feel less than exciting, perhaps even a bit depressing.  The First Sunday of Christmas has even received the alias “Low Sunday”– reflecting the lower voices, tempos, and attendance at worship services.

Some folks feel a kind of lowness after Christmas guests, our family and friends, have gone home.  We miss their presence.  It has been said that our “knowing” each other is greatest when we are with them in person and that even with our great methods of being in contact with loved ones by cell phone, texting or twitter, nothing can replace the feeling of being together in person.

Christmas is like that too, through our close encounters with the angels, shepherds, Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child we come to know God very well.  The Nativity story, the Christmas carols, Holy Communion with family around us, all inspire our faith and closeness to God.   It is no wonder that as the days past Christmas come and go our sense of knowing God with us might feel a bit distant.   But dear friends, from the gospel of Matthew Jesus promises, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (28:20)