Monday, December 17, 2018

Two Cloaks

"The crowds asked John the Baptist, 'What should we do?' He said to them in reply, 'Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.' Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, 'Teacher, what should we do?' He answered them 'Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.' " -[Luke 3: 10-18].

John the Baptist came before Jesus, and he was a prophet who foretold Jesus' coming. John the Baptist said, "I am baptizing you with water, but One mightier that I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." -[ Luke 3:16].

The constant presence of fire signaling the presence of God began in the Old Testament, with the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments, writ upon a stone tablet and handed down to Moses, were the embodiment of God and His Word.

It was God who commanded Moses in Sinai regarding how to construct the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was a box of acacia wood, plated with gold. It had rings at the four corners, which encircled the poles used to carry the Ark on four men's shoulders.

The tablet was stored in the Ark of the Covenant. The sacred tablet traveled with Moses and his Chosen People wherever they went. Exodus 13:20-22 reports, "The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light. . . The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people."

Even in Exodus 6: 7, God tells His people, "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God." In other words, in Covenant and in actual presence, God never leaves our side.

In this Scripture in Luke, Joh the Baptist explains that by dousing followers in water, he is washing away their sins. But, when Jesus comes, He will baptize you with fire.

This fire is the Holy Spirit, the Being and presence of Jesus after His crucifixion, death and Ascension. Jesus Himself explained that the Holy Spirit is the Advocate, by reassuring His disciples, "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever- the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans. . . . If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching." -[John 14: 15-23].

Of course, John the Baptist spoke indirectly, and the people were confused. They had not witnessed the whole of Jesus' life; in fact, Jesus had not even appeared yet. And so the people asked, "Now, what should we do?"

It seems that John's advice was so utterly simple. But I have been around people my whole life who had no understanding of "What To Do."

When I was growing upas a small girl, I was cold, and I asked my mother for a sweater. But she told me, "You are not cold!" And she did not allow me the key to go inside and fetch a sweater. And when I was fed 4-day old food, I was told, "Eat this, we will give you nothing else."

Jesus' teachings are to love one another. Simple as that. We had sweaters in our house, but I was not allowed a sweater, and so I shivered. We had fresh food in our house, but I was forced to eat stale food, and so I went hungry because my father said, "Do NOT feed her."

The Spirit of Truth is not a mystical, unapproachable doctrine. The Truth is God's Word, and the basis of God's Word is to "Love one's neighbor as oneself."

The Truth is no farther than one's own lips and hands and daily activities. It is told in Deuteronomy 30:14, "But the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may obey it."

The Truth is NOT the greed in our modern, industrialized society, in how we show off, and count up,  how many cashmere sweaters we own, how many designer boots, or pieces of jewelry. The Truth IS when we have two cloaks and we give one away.

The Truth is when we have food, and we share with our neighbors, who don't have enough means to make it through the end of the month, and so, they go hungry.

The Truth is NOT using our greater power to extort or intimidate or crush those who have less. People who do this are not "winners" or more "successful".  They do not speak the Truth, they egregiously lie with the falsity of greed, abuse of power, and temporal worldly gain.

And Love is the surest path to Joy! St. Paul, in Ephesians, says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: Rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all."

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

[Related Postings: "The Voice of One", 12/5/16;  "The Relevance of Baptism", 1/12/15; "Baptized With the Holy Spirit", 1/11/13; "Prepare the Way", 12/10/12 ].


Monday, December 10, 2018

Off Script

"Brothers and sisters: I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. . . And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value. . ." -[Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11].

My son wonders why I worry so much about him?  I tell him that, "Worry is the province of motherhood (and fatherhood)."  I don't fret over him because I want to script his life or control his every waking moment.

I want him to have a good life, not one fraught with recklessness or poor judgment. A life of Joy, and of discovering his gifts, to be employed for the sheer delight in it. . . but also a life of exercising those gifts for the benefit of others.

Just when I feel slightly guilty or foolish about all these motherly concerns, I remember that these are the things that God wants for my son, for me, and for all of US.

I am all too capable of becoming too anxious over my son's progress. I think this stems from the lack of Faith in my family growing up. I was taught that there is no God, that we are solely responsible for ourselves. If something negative happens in life, it is all our own fault. And the only person who will dig us out of that hole is . . ourselves.

The presumptions in this world view are inspiring, yes. We can strive and work and progress, and each person is limited by only their own individual efforts and talents.

But, the hidden message in these presumptions is that if you find yourself in serious trouble, it is your own fault for landing there. And no one will help you dig yourself out.

I cannot live in a world where everything is humanly possible but where you "deserve exactly what you get." I want a world where there IS a God, and where He wants the best for us. I want a world where all things are possible, not just because of my human effort, but also because of God's Divine guidance.

I say "guidance" because God expects us to be active and to use our God-given efforts and talents. People misperceive Christians as helpless folks who sit around waiting for God to make all things happen.

But as much as we work and strive and finagle, we humans are a faulty, weak lot, given to mistakes, failures, ego and frustrated efforts. I am not big enough, strong enough to hold up the world. I need God to fill in my blanks, to complete me.

I was talking to another mom recently and I said that my son, now 18, has completed the expected stages in life. He has rolled over, sat up, crawled, walked, learned to feed and dress himself, learned to read, to swim, to ride a bike, has learned long division and learned to fish and use a computer. All of these developmental stages are like a script for a young life. By six months, they sit up, by nine months they crawl, by 12 months they walk.

Now he is 18 and in university. And there is no script! And he is away from home much of the time! How do I know if he is still progressing? And what does "progressing" even mean? What does he study? Who is he friends with? How does he spend his free time? What will his future be?

The other mom told me, "Now is when God comes in. And Faith. God leads our children on a suggested path. It is up to your son to 'talk to God' and walk the walk."

Then a third mom chimed in. She quoted Philippians 1:6 - "God, who began a good work in you, will carry it to completion." In other words, God's intent is never to begin a good work in his children and then let it drop.

Believing in God's best intentions for us and having Faith that His Love will guide us is what has given me comfort, when I am anxious about how incomplete I feel, or how worried I feel about my shortcomings, or about the uncertainties of my son's future.

What I pray for my son is this: "I am confident of this, that the One who began a good work in you will continue to complete it. And this is my prayer: That your Love may increase more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ."

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Be Vigilant

" Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the Earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man." - [Luke 21: 34-36].

During Advent, we wait in joyful hope for the birth of the baby Jesus.

In these times of terrorism, dire predictions of the end game of climate change, roiling masses of displaced people attempting to migrate yet being turned away, lies masquerading as Truth, self-absorption, greed, and abuse or power -- Aren't we all ready to say, "Bring it ON! Let Jesus come - Sooner rather than later" ?

We know that we will be judged on our personal Final Judgment, when we die. But as Christians we also know, that Jesus is also promised to come at the End of Time.

We know that when we are judged, whether when we die, or upon the Second Coming, "Those who have done right shall rise to Life; the evildoers shall rise to be damned." -[ John 5:29].

There are those who proclaim with certainty when the End of Time will come. But that is just as foolish as claiming that we know or can foretell the day or hour of our own death! We cannot predict with any accuracy when we will die, nor when Jesus will come again at His Second Coming.

I do not believe that this uncertainty is a prescription for Fear. No, I do not believe in a God who wants us to be anxious or afraid every hour of the day and night. Every time we say the Our Father, we repeat: "We wait in JOYFUL HOPE for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ."

The "epilogue" to the Lord's Prayer says: "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ."

 Christians do believe in an ultimate Justice that will overcome all the evil in this world. So often have I despaired, like the author of Psalm 73, saying, "I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They scoff and speak with malice; in their arrogance, they threaten oppression. This is what the wicked are like - always carefree, they increase in wealth."

Yes, there are times of earthly justice, such as instances when an abuser receives 99 times 99 years in prison; or when a man who cheats people out of their life savings goes bankrupt with fines and goes to prison for the rest of his life.

Sometimes, cynically, we wait for this earthly justice and it doesn't happen. A secularist would say, "Well, that wicked man got away with it. He did evil all his life, then he died. He will never pay the price" Well, maybe in this life. . .

But at our Final Judgment, and at the Second Coming, "Our Lord will judge us accordingly. Each person will have to account for his conduct. How well each person has responded to the prompting of God's grace will be made clear. Our attitude and actions toward our neighbor will reflect how well we have loved our Lord." - [Father William Saunders]. . . because whatever we have done to the least among us, we do TO Jesus. -[Matthew 25: 41].

It is as if the evil ones have already grabbed all the riches and comfort for themselves in this life, so they will be denied those in the next life. Father Saunders says, "Those who have rejected the Lord in this life, who have no remorse for sin and do not seek forgiveness, will have condemned themselves to hell for eternity."

It can feel very overwhelming to think about how to prepare for this final test! I have told my son that the mark of a mature Christian is what he does when he thinks no one is looking.

There are no secrets on the Final Day. One's life is an open book. But I also believe in a forgiving God. We all make mistakes. I never hesitate to apologize to my young son, so he knows that everyone makes mistakes; but it's how you pick yourself up again and try to make it right that counts.

I once said to my pastor that waiting for Heaven was simply too long to wait. How about a little bit of Heaven right now? He replied that we see the in-breaking Kingdom of God every time we devote ourselves to the hard work of loving others - not proffering greeting cards or empty phrases like, 'Have a nice day!'; but, digging in and getting our hands dirty, donating a bit more than we think we can; taking initiative to call someone or offer assistance.

And so, we are active in Spiritual Warfare, and mindful of how much we love, because of the hour and the day, no one knows.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.