When The Blues Try To Play Us

As the mid-August birdsong around us begins to thin with the first wings of migration south for the coming winter, it’s worth noting that the Bible is full of music that never flies away. The book of Lamentations, for example, plays the blues. And I’ve been hearing the blues, feeling the blues, since my favorite summer sound—the fluted notes of the wood thrush—flew away.

“How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become …
She weeps bitterly in the night
with tears on her cheeks …
Her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress …
All her gates are desolate …”

“Lamentation” is defined as “the passionate expression of grief or sorrow.”
To lament something is to fall into the deep end of sadness and sink toward the bottom. Lamentation knows no shallow end. We are in over our heads.
There are times in our lives when we feel grief and sorrow with such passion that it nearly tears us apart inside. At such times it is wise to remember that it is not an act of faithlessness to feel and express such sorrow. The passionate expression of grief is not contrary to having faith in God.
Indeed, the act of lamentation may be considered an act of great faith.
The Bible is full of lamentations. The Book of Lamentations is far from the only chapter of pages where we will find them. There are as many psalms that cry out to God in despair as there are those which shout Hallelujah.
Playing the blues in our lives helps us feel and express our sorrow and, therefore, find a way to transcend the sadness.
Nor must we do so alone.
Another verse from Lamentations illustrates the point:

“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me ….”

But that soul—like our own—has not been abandoned by God.
The very next verse declares:

“But this I call to mind,
and therefore have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they grow every morning;
great is their faithfulness.”

And then the soul itself speaks:

“‘The Lord is my portion,’” says my soul,
“‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

The speaker then ends the lamentation with this consoling wisdom:

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.”

Embracing our moments of sorrow is an act of faithfulness because we may do so with the full knowledge that the love of God will get us through any journey of lamentation. That love is by our side.
The bottom line is that when we play our blues our blues cannot play us and God will keep us in tune. The melody will give us wings.

God Drops The Mic

One of my favorite pages in any bible or prayer book is the one that contains Psalm 91. I read that psalm just about every day because it is included in The Book of Common Prayer’s Compline service, which is part of my nightly bedtime prayers.
The psalm is one of those through which God’s love for us just cannot be contained, bursting like brilliantly shimmering fireworks in the night sky, drenching us like this week’s rain.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

“He shall say to the Lord,
‘You are my refuge and my stronghold,
my God in whom I put my trust.

“He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter
and from the deadly pestilence.

“He shall cover you with his pinions,
and you shall find refuge under his wings;
his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler,” the psalm declares in its first four verses.

In those beginning verses, a third-person voice is stating what God will do for us. And this “third party” continues speaking through, and including, verse 13 which reads:

“You shall tread upon the lion and adder;
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent
under your feet.”

Then, however, it’s as if God can no longer be content listening to someone else declare how much love is there for us in God’s heart and what God is hoping to do for us if given the chance.
Suddenly, the third-person voice telling the psalm’s story vanishes and, in the 14th verse, God picks up the spiritual microphone and speaks directly to us, emphatically, holding nothing back.
And anyone doubting Jesus’ testimony that God is love should pay close attention to what God chooses to say first:

“Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him….”

Bound in love. Not fear.
There is no demand, no conditions.
Just love.
We are bound to God in love and God is bound to us in love.
God could not wait to see if the third-person voice in Psalm 91 would make that clear. So God said it directly, stepping out of the wings onto center stage.

“Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.

“He shall call upon me, and I will deliver him;
I am with him in trouble;
I will satisfy him,
and show him my salvation.”

God is not content to wait in the wings of our lives, either. God is stepping out onto our life’s center stage with us—whatever and wherever that may be.
Because we are bound to God in love.
And that is all we need to take the next step forward today and tomorrow. In Psalm 91, God drops the microphone and opens that love up wider than the widest sea.

Crossing The Road Toward Jesus

The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most beloved parables in the New Testament. A classic short-story with a marvelous, poignant and stereotype-shattering lesson.
In a single paragraph, Jesus probes and then reveals what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself, and, explicitly shows us who our neighbors are: everyone. No exceptions.
The journey down from Jerusalem to Jericho is not an easy one. The 18-mile journey descends 3,200 feet. A man walking down that road is set upon by robbers, stripped and beaten and left for dead after being robbed.
Luckily for this unfortunate soul, a priest comes down the road. Perfect. Surely the priest will provide the loving and compassionate response the law requires. He is, after all, a priest. But the priest doesn’t go near the robber victim. He keeps on walking. Probably doesn’t even look back.
Fortunately, however, a Levite comes around the bend in the road a little later. A Levite is what’s known as a temple functionary, and so-named because he is from the priestly tribe of Levi.
Surely he knows the law about loving one’s neighbor as oneself just as well as the priest. Of course he does and that’s why he takes compassion on the robbery victim and…..Oh, wait a minute, the Levite walks on by just as quickly as the priest did.
If a priest and a Levite won’t help the man, who will?
Certainly not that Samaritan coming down the road now. Samaritans were regarded as rank outsiders. Bad eggs. Unworthy and looked down upon by the holier-than-thou priests and Levites.
But, what’s this? The Samaritan takes pity upon the poor man. He crosses the road, bandages the man’s wounds after pouring oil and wine upon them, which were deemed to have medicinal value.
The Samaritan puts the man on his own animal and takes him to an inn, stays there and cares for him, and then provides the innkeeper with enough money to continue caring for the battered man until the Samaritan returns, promising to reimburse the innkeeper for any additional expense.
“Okay,” Jesus asks the lawyer when the story is finished, “which one of those three guys was a neighbor to the man who’d been set upon by thieves and left for dead?”
The lawyer, who cannot even manage to use the word Samaritan when answering the question, simply replies “The one who showed him mercy.”
“Go,” Jesus tells him, “and do likewise.”
Easier said, in the real world, than done, of course.
I mean, suppose it was Jesus?
Jesus there, lying stripped and beaten and half-dead on the other side of the road.
What if we were walking down that same road and came around a bend in that road from Jerusalem to Jericho and saw him lying there? Or traveling down any road in our own communities.
We don’t know it’s Jesus.
We just know it’s a man
Stripped, naked.
Beaten and apparently dead.
A long-haired man, scraggly and bearded.
A homeless person, undoubtedly.
Unemployed, apparently.
Perhaps dangerous.
A criminal, maybe.
Or mentally unbalanced.
Would we be the Good Samaritan, despised by most of polite and powerful society, and cross the road, caring for his wounds with expensive medicine and then driving him to a place of refuge and safety, paying for his care from our own wallet or pocketbook?
I cannot honestly offer an assurance that I would choose to do what Jesus wanted me to. Fear and self-interest can keep us on our own side of the road and we’re pretty good at making what we regard as a strong case for not getting involved in something that could be pretty messy.
Few of us will ever walk or drive down a road and see a fellow human being beaten, stripped and laying half-dead on the other side of the road, of course. That literal circumstance is one we’re not likely to encounter.
But, in a way, we actually do encounter Jesus in just that devastated condition every day.
Not Jesus, literally.
But what Jesus hoped and prayed for. The kind of world that Jesus gave his life for.
The Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God, takes a beating every day.
The Kingdom of heaven is lying stripped and half-dead on the sides of roads all over the world.
Headlines, soundbites and tweets declare this tragic truth every day.
The world seems hardly more civilized now than when Jesus left the shores of Galilee and began his journey toward Jerusalem and a hill known as Golgotha.
There, on that place of a skull, the homeless and unemployed Jesus—he was employed only by God and without a salary—would be stripped half naked and executed on a cross as a criminal along that hilltop road..
But he died believing the kingdom of heaven was near.
Drew his last breath knowing the kingdom of heave is near.
Today, the Holy Spirit, along with Jesus’ words in the New Testament, continue to preach that Good News.
The kingdom of heaven truly is near. As close or as far away as the world allows it to be.
As close or as far away as we permit it.
The one prayer Jesus taught us contains the words “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
If only that would happen all more often and in more places.
And it would happen, and it does, when we hear the Holy Spirit of God calling out to us through those words, when we feel the Holy Spirit of God praying these words in our hearts: “My kingdom will come, and my will will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, when you cross the road where it’s waiting for you. It’s that close. Right across the figurative and literal streets.”
The road we humans must always cross first is the one within our own heart. Only after we cross that road can we cross the literal roads we travel down during our lifetime.
Sometimes, all it takes is a little encouragement, someone showing us the way, being an example. That’s why Jesus told parables—they show the way, they provide examples of how we human beings can cross the roads deep down inside our hearts, cross those roads toward one another, toward the kingdom of heaven lying half-naked, beaten and robbed.
Sometimes we find ourselves given the chance to offer that encouragement, a moment when we can choose to be an example and point the way, taking action that crosses the road and brings the kingdom of heaven just that much nearer.
Let’s take our corner of the world by the hand—wherever we live in our global neighborhood—and travel a few steps closer to each other.
The kingdom of heaven that Jesus prayed and died for needs another “good Samaritan.”
Why not us?

When I’m Feeling Sheepish

Virtually every day I’m reminded that without my Good Shepherd I would have gotten lost in life’s brambles and briars, or some pasture that seemed to have greener grass—greener grass that turned out to be poison ivy.
One of my favorite “Good Shepherd” stories is the parable Jesus tells about the shepherd who had 100 sheep and lost just one of them. We don’t know how the sheep came to be lost. Jesus doesn’t say. There are many possible explanations.
Despite having 99 sheep all flocked around him, the shepherd is not content, however.
Most people would be.
Ninety-nine percent? That’s nearly perfect. Just a single percentage point below 100 percent. One percent would be an easily acceptable loss on Wall Street, or Main Street.
But Jesus doesn’t view the world through a corporate lens. He has the eyes and heart of a shepherd.
“Which one of you,” Jesus asks, “having a 100 sheep and losing one of them does not not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices…
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” Jesus tells the group, which includes grumbling Pharisees and scribes who are upset that Jesus welcomes people they describe as “sinners.”
The parable would have gotten their attention. They are no better than any other sheep, Jesus is telling them. And no worse. They are not better sheep than the one sheep—or, the one human soul—who was lost.
And, again, we are not told how the sheep came to be lost. Perhaps it was afraid of wolves, had anxiety about when the next green pasture might be seen over the horizon.
Maybe this sheep was too busy enjoying a cooling stream on a hot day to notice that the shepherd believed it was time to move on to the next pasture.
So many things can get between us and God. Everyday concerns, fixations, habits, thoughts, the absence of thoughts—you name it.
Anything that, when we feel our Good Shepherd calling us, keeps us rooted to the spot, absorbed in whatever it might be that distracts us.
There are times when I obsess about this or that and so keep myself from feeling the full measure of God’s love and grace. And there are other times when I ignore that little voice of the Holy Spirit inside me urging me to stop doing one thing and start doing another. Oftentimes, I don’t even realize that I’ve wandered off the path because I don’t feel “lost.”
It’s only when I turn around my thoughts and wonder, “How in the world did I get so deep into this anxiety?” that I realize how much I’ve separated myself from the loving presence of God.
The wonderfully beautiful joyful truth is that our Good Shepherd is out there, looking for us, coming toward us, and can’t wait to lay us across His shoulders and bring us home to the still waters and green pastures our soul so needs.
And when we look up—mentally or physically—from where we are “lost” and see our Good Shepherd approaching, a loving smile on His face, heaven’s rejoicing has company because our own happiness becomes complete.

The Least Of Seats Is Just Right For Me

If we’re being honest with ourselves, I think we’d all admit to wanting a place of honor.
We want to be valued and seen to be valued. That’s human nature.
But perhaps sitting at the head of the table isn’t really the place of honor that it’s cracked up to be. And maybe we misunderstand what true “honor” really means.
Remember the story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is having a meal at the house of a leader of the Pharisees. He notices all the guests trying to slip into a place of honor and so he tells a parable to rearrange their perspective. When you go to a wedding, he says, don’t take a place of honor. Somebody more deserving than you might come in next and the host would have to ask you, in front of everyone, to move.
That would ruin the occasion for you. No matter how tasty the food, you’d be sitting there feeling humiliated, rather than like a “big shot.”
Take the lowest seat in the pecking order, Jesus continues, and then your host might ask you to move up to a place of honor.
Those who exalt themselves, he points out, will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
That theme continues the melody of The Beatitudes from The Sermon on the Mount. The meek shall inherit the earth. A humble spirit is important to Jesus. The first shall be last and the last shall be first, he tells us elsewhere in the Gospels.
And with good reason.
For one thing, those worried about getting the place of honor are thinking only of themselves and their own prestige. There isn’t room in their mind, and so their heart, for anyone else.
They would collect all the loaves and fishes and keep them for themselves, believing their hunger is greater than any of the other 5,000 people. And so they would miss their moment with Jesus and a chance to help bring a miracle into the world.
The kingdom of heaven is not near to such people. It’s miles and miles and lives away from them, a tiny speck on the horizon that they convince themselves is just a distant crow against a cloud.
They wouldn’t recognize the kingdom of heaven if it were to be served to them in a bun with mustard and catsup.
The happiness they feel, therefore, when they grab a place of honor is counterfeit. They exile themselves from the true currency of God’s love and grace and bankrupt the world around them rather than enriching it.
They miss the chance to change the life of the person standing right beside them. They miss, therefore, the greatest gift and honor of all.
But, if I am being truly honest, there have been moments when I have missed out, as well. There have been times in my life when I desperately wanted a place of honor, something to help me feel good about myself, an affirmation to fill places of emptiness that sometimes felt like holes.
And sometimes still do.
At those times, I lose sight of that greatest gift of all, like a child turning his back on the Christmas tree.
Only when I consciously step away from such thoughts and reach out for the hand of Jesus do I feel filled.
Filled to the brim.
And to overflowing.
Happily sitting in the very last seat of all, furthest away from the head of the table but closest to the love of God, and those who really need me.

Who Me?

“Who, me?”
The young Jeremiah’s reaction is completely understandable. He’s not even old for his prophetic learner’s permit, much less a prophets license.
God, after all, had told him this:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Those words from God are enough to make anyone’s head spin fast enough to dizzy them. Jeremiah is incredulous, as we’d all be.
“Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy,” Jeremiah replies, unaware that God doesn’t mind at all if a little child shall lead them.
God’s not-so-fast reply leaves nothing to the imagination. And it refuses, as God often does, to take “No” for an answer.

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you.”

Moreover, God also lets Jeremiah know what to say when he does speak truth to power.

“Now I have put my words in your mouth,” God tells the youthful prophet.

The real truth is that God sees far more potential in each of us than we see in ourselves. He saw more in the young Jeremiah than the boy could ever imagine. And God sees more in you and me than we could ever dream of.
God gives us clues to how much potential waits within us as we pray. Our prayer time opens up the channel of communication. Or sometimes it’s just a sudden inspiration or an idea God drops into the mailbox of our mind.
But just as often, God speaks to us through other people who seemingly come up to us out of the blue and give us opportunities to do things we never saw ourselves doing.
God wants all of us to feel loved and valued. God wants us to have a sense of our own self-worth and as having a meaningful place in God’s world and its redemption through love and grace.
Not in a grandiose egotistical way. But in a way that is simultaneously incredibly uplifting and beautifully humbling.
We can also have faith—whenever God tells us “I want you to do this” and we move beyond “Who, me?” to “Okay, Lord, I’ll try”—that God will give us exactly what we need precisely when we need it.
Who, me?
“Yes,” God replies, “definitely.”

Another Kind Of “Memorial” Day

With God and with Jesus, it is never too late (and that kind of love never takes a holiday, either, on Memorial Day or any other calendar date).
Never too late for love to triumph over hate.
Never too late for light to rise above darkness.
Never too late for that which is torn to be mended.
Never too late for goodness to make evil cry “Uncle!”
Never too late to find passage through the narrow gate that leads to the wide, open, green pasture that our Good Shepherd has waiting for us.
That is one of several messages in a story made famous in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus has appointed seventy of his followers to travel ahead, in pairs, to every town where he intends to go.
And his instructions to those emissaries are quite specific. Carry no purse, he tells them, carry no bag, no sandals.
Furthermore, whenever you enter a town and the townspeople welcome you, Jesus instructs them, cure the sick who are there and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near you.”
But, Jesus adds—after letting them know he is sending them out like lambs into the midst of wolves—whenever you enter a town and its people do not welcome you, go out into the streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.”
Wow, pretty dramatic stuff right there. Wiping even the dust of such a town off their feet sends quite a messages to the townspeople. But a message to his disciples, too, who suffered what would have been an aggressive lack of hospitality.
“Don’t let it get you down, don’t let that experience burden you,” Jesus is telling them without saying it. “Wipe it off your feet.” He knows the physical act of wiping the dust from their feet will make its point in a powerful way to any disciples who find themselves leaving indifference, or outright hostility, behind.
But even such towns and the people who live in them are left with one last perpetual chance. Not simply one last chance. One last perpetual chance. Because that is what God and Jesus offer us—one last perpetual chance, a last chance that is going nowhere. A last chance that will follow us around, perhaps even tapping us on the shoulder from time to time, as if to say, “Hey, remember me? I’m still here.”
Even after all of that dust-wiping, Jesus informs the seventy disciples, there is one last thing they must do before they leave such towns and their people behind. Words they plant. Words that might still one day grow.
“Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
Those are the last words and while they might seem to be part of a final rebuke they can equally, and perhaps even certainly, be regarded as a marker Jesus has his disciples lay down. Because, going back to the beginning of Luke’s lesson, sharing the news that the kingdom of God has come near you is the precise message Jesus told them to share with townspeople in towns that welcomed them.
So the blessing is the same, no matter what.
A perpetual signpost.
The open hand of Jesus left behind, offering the kingdom of God to any who wish to receive it.
A mustard seed that one day might sprout in the hearts and souls of at least some of those townspeople who think, and re-think, about what Jesus’ disciples had meant when they had told them “the Kingdom of God has come near to you.”
That is the message Jesus sent the seventy off to deliver and he has them share it even in the towns that are callously indifferent to them.
Not a final threat, not a final curse, not a final “this is what you missed.”
Instead, it is a final offer of God’s love. Or, “this is what you can still have.”
A final offer that will live forever somewhere in the memory of those who heard it, no matter how the town welcomed, or did not welcome, the disciples.
There each day, there every day, simply waiting for acceptance.
Because, with God and with Jesus, it is never too late.
And when such love is finally accepted, that day becomes one to truly “memorialize.”

Having A “Jesus Moment”?

We never know when a “Jesus moment” might happen. We may not even realize that it’s underway.
That certainly happened to a Pharisee, according to the Gospel of Luke. The Pharisee invited Jesus to eat with him, and some others. Hearing that Jesus would be dining at that house, a woman, described as a “sinner,” slipped inside. She brought an alabaster jar of ointment and stood behind Jesus throughout the meal, weeping and bathing his feet with her tears, then drying them with her hair.
The Pharisee—as might some day happen with us—has no idea who is really eating with him. “If this man were a prophet,” he said to himself, “he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus reads his mind, which must have unsettled the Pharisee, and tells him, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”
Jesus describes the woman’s actions with perfect clarity. Great love is exactly what she showed him.
Importantly, Jesus never once tried to stop her. The tears, the kisses, the hair, the ointment—he accepted them all with tremendous grace, with an open heart, with, in fact, love. He accepted them in the same spirit with which they had been given. The woman knocked, so to speak, and the door to Christ’s love was opened for her.
One might surmise that the Pharisee was so taken aback at what he was seeing that he was speechless and did not have the woman thrown out. He wasn’t saying any such thing but he was certainly thinking that Jesus should not have engaged in such behavior.
Several things are going on in this lesson—forgiveness is certainly a theme, as is, of course, the role of faith in healing and salvation, and also the prominent role of women in the ministry of Jesus. But what also declares itself is the deep intimacy of what Jesus and the woman shared together and what it tells us about the kind of relationship Jesus and God, through the Holy Spirit, wish to have with the us—a loving relationship. Or, in the words of Jesus, himself, a relationship of “great love.”
God wants to do more than go out with people on Sunday mornings. God wants it all, the whole enchilada, to go steady, a full-on relationship of great love and deep commitment.
But, with all the static the world throws at humanity, it can sometimes be hard for people to know that they would be on the receiving end of a “Jesus moment” if they’d only stop and free themselves to receive the Holy Spirit’s “hug.” The learned and well-respected Pharisee let his sense of self-importance, self-righteousness, and the great store of “religious wisdom” that filled his head blind him to what his eyes saw but his heart did not understand.
There is no evidence that the Pharisee, and the others sharing the meal, had any idea at all about the true significance of the “Jesus moment” that was happening right under their noses.
They were too busy being judgmental, about the woman and Jesus, who tells the woman her sins are forgiven, stirring the indignation of those around the table.
Jesus is not dissuaded from showing the woman that God loves her, however. “Your faith has saved you,” he says. “Go in peace.”
We have no idea how the remainder of this woman’s life story goes. She is one of many people who come and go, in and out of profound scenes with Jesus, never to be heard from again within the Bible.
It’s probably safe to say, however, that the seed of God’s love that Jesus undoubtedly planted in her heart that day blossomed into full bloom.
And what of the Pharisee? We don’t know about him, either. It’s nice to imagine that the dramatic scene between Jesus and the woman, and how Jesus explained his message of “great love” to the Pharisee, eventually worked its way through the intellectual wall that so often keeps people from receiving the kingdom of God like a little child.
Or, like a woman who knew a “Jesus moment” when she was having one.

Only Speak The Word

Jesus has just finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people and he enters Capernaum. A Roman centurion with a very ill slave sends emissaries to Jesus, pleading for the healing of his servant.
Jesus, of course, responds immediately, walking toward the centurion’s home. Before he arrives, however, the centurion sends friends who deliver this message on his behalf: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”
That is deep faith.
Only speak the word.
Jesus is amazed by the depth of the centurion’s faith. “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith,” he declares. And the centurion’s slave is immediately healed.
That faith seems superhuman. If Jesus were on his way to our house, who among us would tell him to stop and simply “speak the word?” I’m really not sure I could do that. If someone I loved were ill I’d want Jesus to lay healing hands upon them.
My favorite version of this story is in the eighth chapter of Matthew. In this telling, the centurion comes up to Jesus himself and seeks healing for a servant who is paralyzed and, the centurion tells Jesus, “in terrible suffering.”
Jesus replies, “I will go and heal him” but the centurion says, no, don’t do that because “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word and my servant will be healed.”
Just say the word.
The centurion has complete and utter faith and it is grounded in the everyday mundane details of life. “For I myself am a man under authority,” he tells Jesus, “with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’”
When Jesus hears this, Matthew tells us, “he was astonished” and he tells the centurion, “‘Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that very hour.”
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus clearly emphasizes the role that faith plays in healing. Jesus repeatedly tells us that faith is the key that opens many doors.
There are times when life knocks our faith off balance and we stumble. But those stumbles—after we regain our spiritual footing and continue on our journey—make our faith real.
Each of us, however much we may doubt it at times, has the faith of the centurion. Think about it. Jesus is not going to walk through Appomattox today or tomorrow. We’re not going to find him on Main Street or in tending to some clean-up in aisle five at the grocery store. All we have are Jesus’ words. Our faith, just like the centurion’s, is based completely on what Jesus said. He’s not going to knock on our door and come inside our homes, is he?
Or isn’t he?
When we take Jesus at his word, when we have faith in what he has spoken, that faith has the effect of bringing Jesus into our homes, opening our doors and windows to the Holy Spirit, and then anything is possible.
Sometimes it can be a good thing, when we pray, to remember the centurion and to simply tell Jesus, “You just said the word, you just spoke the word. I read those words you spoke in The Gospel and that Good News is real.”
When we do that, Jesus is not only in our homes. Jesus is in our hearts, too. Within us, truly, just as he promised.

Our Inner Floods And Droughts

Into everyone’s life, philosophers and meteorologists have told us, some rain must fall.
Floods and droughts.
The past year has been a series of recurring flash floods. That’s the weather report for today. Now we move on to floods and droughts of another kind.
Each of us knows through our own experiences about life’s non-meteorological floods and about its droughts. “Some rain must fall” hardly tells the story, despite its figurative truth that life is not without its challenging difficulties and difficult challenges.
There are times of suffering. We’ve all of us been there and done that. We’ve all of felt about to drown or die of thirst. “Some rain” sure fell but we needed a lot less or we were desperate for so much more.
Throughout human existence, “meteorologists” have sought to see the sunshine through the rain that falls. No, I am not talking about weather forecasters but, rather, philosophers who delve deeply into the human condition.
Suffering they say breeds character. And, yes, it does—if we endure. If we do not succumb. If we do not give up or give in.
What doesn’t kill us, they tell us, makes us stronger. Surely this is true—if we do not allow the wounds, whatever they might be, to swallow us.
Resisting the temptation to give up or give in or allow life’s physical and mental aches and pains to dictate the rest of the day, the remainder of the week, or the duration of our lives is not always easy.
In fact, it is frequently quite hard.
None of us has the power to control what happens to us in life and so feeling helpless is often our first response, and a response that seems quite reasonable and logical given the circumstances of our powerlessness over life’s hardships.
However, each of us can control how we respond to those hardships. That is something we very much have the ability to direct.
As the Roman emperor, and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius wrote:
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
But how do we harness this power and use it to “revoke” that distress?
In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul gives his Roman audience what amounts to a lesson in Judo. That is, using your opponent’s momentum against them. Don’t push back against their onslaught. Instead, take advantage of their onrush to flip them head over heels and then pin them to the mat.
“…But we also boast of our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Instead of complaining, Paul advises, rejoice. That is classic “mental Judo” strategy. And very good advice, if we can wrap our head around the reverse psychology of it all.
In many ways, taking control of how we respond to life’s pain and hardship is very much like climbing a difficult mountain. It takes great endurance to reach the summit. Real character is required. But the further we climb the more hope we kindle inside us that one day we will reach the top.
And, with God’s love as our Sherpa guide, even life’s Mount Everests are within our power to scale. Shadows, by their very nature, are not real. Walking out of them into the light is what’s real.
And the view from the top of that mountain is a glory to behold.