Monday, March 27
The Power of God
God is upset with the Israelites earlier in the Book of Ezekiel. They have angered Him by worshiping false idols and ignoring His laws; in effect they have become culturally similar to others in the region and have frustrated God's plans to reveal Himself through His chosen people. We know God detests the actions of the Israelites but surprisingly, he wants to raise them up again as a nation to show the world his power.
If I placed myself in the Israelite's situation I would think God had abandoned Israel. Jerusalem had been destroyed and the remaining Israelites had been forced into exile. Life as I knew it was over and I probably had little hope for the future. God certainly could have showed his power to the world by destroying Israel completely but instead he kept a remnant of Israel alive and promised to restore them. I find it comforting that God chooses to show his power through restoration rather than destruction and I am confident that He continues to do so.
In the prophetic vision in Chapter 37 of Ezekiel, we see spectacular imagery and symbolism on display. A desolate valley is described, filled with the bones of Israelites presumably killed in war. The bones are transformed into human bodies and filled with breath, becoming alive again. God says this is a symbol of what he will do for Israel and a sign of hope. I think it is also a sign of hope for us today - we could be the Israelites.
It seems that we are living amidst a culture which is deficient in hope. Some of us are frustrated with governments and our societal direction. Some of us fear that future generations will struggle to deal with environmental problems we have caused or ignored. Some of us battle illnesses which we know or fear will not heal. I'm sure all of us know others who struggle with these and many other things but I am confident that God is at work to breathe new life into those of us who feel hopeless.
God, we know you are powerfully at work amongst us today. We are thankful for the hope you have given us in Jesus. Help us to remember daily that we are the instruments of your work and that we are restorers of hope.
Tuesday, March 28
Flesh and Spirit
“To set the mind on the flesh is death…” This opening phrase seems to get us started with this passage in a negative tone. Next we hear that “to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” which is starting to sound a bit better, but still leaves me feeling that it could be hard to control my mindset. The following verse states that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Thankfully things get better. Verse 9 tells us that “you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” This confident declaration sets the mind more at ease, and is consistent with the start of the chapter where Paul writes that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But the verse ends with “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
The contrast of flesh and Spirit is echoed for me in the back and forth nature of this chapter. For believers, it is a strong explanation of freedom from the law and death, but could be uncomfortable for those in doubt, or when considering the less faithful. But perhaps I just need to climb out of my grumpy mood. This chapter describes the amazing privilege we have to be alive in the Spirit. It reminds us to set our minds on God and to accept His peace.
God, help us to keep our thoughts on you. Grant us your peace to make it easier!
Wednesday, March 29
Thursday, March 30
To be a priest is to be a bridge
Remember the priests of Israel standing in the Jordan river, holding back the waters, so that all the people (elders and infants, abled and dis-abled) can safely make the crossing to the other side. Remember that the Pope is known as “pontiff” from the Latin “pont” or bridge.
Here, in Hebrews, we learn that Jesus is our great High Priest. Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth. Jesus is the bridge because he knows human suffering and has “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” Jesus is our High Priest because he knows the path of grief and has bridged the chasm to new life on the other side.
I remember being very uncomfortable with being called a priest when I was ordained. I would rather be called “minister” or “pastor” or “reverend”. Priests were in other denominations, not in the United Church. Yet there was always that verse in I Peter that named all the baptised a “priesthood of believers”. What would it mean to accept my, and our, calling to be priests?
I remember the opening worship of the 6th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver in August 1983. The Pacific Coliseum was full. It felt more like spectacle than worship. The lower bowl was reserved for participants in the meeting. There we witnessed all manner of clerical attire—collars and robes and vestments of a world of priests and pastors. In the midst of the pageantry the preacher stepped forward. A tall, lone lay person dressed simply in jeans and a sweater. He stood in the middle of the huge crowd and spoke slowly, gently, powerfully of our call to ministry among those who suffer. It was Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche. Among the many ordained priests that day this this humble man was the high priest among us, inviting us to share in the priestly work of Jesus. It was the day I said yes to the call to the priesthood.
"Jesus, be our bridge through death to life that we may take our share in your priestly work.”
Friday, March 31
Sharing the Glad Tidings
David found himself in a difficult situation; he was trapped in a pit, a bog, a mire: He was in deep trouble. He cried out and prayed. God heard his cry and heard his prayer: And David was set on solid ground.
Psalm 40 is an expression of trust: And trust is the foundation of our relationship with God, and with all other relationships.
Those who trust in God will be blessed, happy & content. In Hebrew one says "Shalom".
The singer is amazed at the wonderful works that God has done. And she chants:
“The law is within my heart, My duty is a delight.”
We are called to preach the Good News freely and openly,
Rejoice and be glad,
Blessed are those who start praising and keep praising.
“Wait patiently,” says the hymns inspired by this Psalm. Patience is one of the cardinal virtues of the Christian warrior. The Psalmist tells us not to conceal these wonderful revelations from the entire community.
Let us now sing a new song, beyond our silence and words comes a new song of joy and glory.
This faith and love must be passed from one generation to another.
We need community, God’s presence, and personal experience.
Sharing is at the heart of our Mission; and the core of our personality must be wisdom.
We are people who wait patiently, people who have faith, people who share stories and participate in our unfolding exodus, an exodus which is unfolding in each of our own lives.
A good example of telling our story and sharing our faith is the late Laurenda Daniells (1923 – 2017) who recently published Royal Blood: A Memoir.
Here Laurenda celebrates her Métis history, telling us about her Okanagan Indian Chief great grand-father.
Let us pray:
Bless the word and the song and the chant in this Psalm,
May we share the gospel truths of God’s
love and faithfulness through our own
poetry, music, song, dance, art, and story telling.
“Lo, the spirit comes again and again.”
Lord, come to our gathering.
God is with us . . .
Saturday, April 1
Many years ago when I taught at a highly-entrepreneurial, private university in southern California, the business school invited me to speak to their honours undergraduates at an off-campus retreat on the fundamentals of leadership. They knew that in some of my courses I teach about East Asian philosophies and religions, and so I gave them what I believe they wanted—a Confucian perspective on leadership.
Confucianism posits that leaders contribute to an orderly world and universe by acting in an essentially parental capacity to those under their authority—caring for them and providing them with an environment conducive to their growth in the direction of goodness. The students who attended my presentation in southern California rated my presentation the best of the entire weekend, but curiously I was never invited back, perhaps because this Confucian model of leadership is so at odds with what one was taught in management courses in business schools.
The passage for today is about servant leadership, and it heralds the Lord Jesus by seven centuries. We have indeed been given the Lord Jesus as a light to the nations, that God’s salvation might reach to the very end of the earth. In a curious way, we are also part of that light, and we do both ourselves and Jesus a disservice when we fail to recognize this. But we shouldn’t expect the world to celebrate the light we shine—no, probably just the opposite.
The last words of today’s passage touch me deeply: “because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” You and I, are we special because we chose God in Jesus? Not exactly, though it’s pleasant to think so. The fact seems to be that God, the Holy One of Israel, chose us long before there even was an “us”, and that’s what makes us special. Thanks be to God!
O Holy One of Israel, thank you for choosing me and for your steadfast love and faithfulness to me. Amen.
Sunday, April 2
From Lament to Hope
Every year I struggle to write my Lenten Reflection. Writing has always been a difficult and laboured process for me. I usually procrastinate in offering to do a reflection and then, of course, I procrastinate writing it. I suppose I am not alone with this, but I often feel ill-equipped to live up to the caliber of responses that are written by Uhillians in our Annual Lenten Devotional. I ask myself why I continue to put myself through this time-consuming and onerous exercise each year. And yet there is that quiet nudge of the Spirit compelling me to add my voice to that of our community.
This year I have sat with Psalm 130, A Song of Ascents, for many weeks. I have read and re-read the psalm many times, consulted a number of commentaries, made my own notes but I have not been able to settle on what to write, to find my own words. And so instead I will leave you with the thoughts of two others.
"For the person who suffers, has suffered or will suffer, Psalm 130 is essential equipment for it convinces us that the big difference is not in what people suffer but in the way they suffer. The psalm does not exhort us to put up with suffering; it does not explain it or explain it away. It is rather, a powerful demonstration that our place in the depths is not out of bounds from God. We see that whatever or whoever got us in trouble cannot separate us from God, for "there is forgiveness with you so that you may be revered". We are persuaded that God's way with us is redemption and that the redemption, not the suffering, is ultimate."
"This Psalm of Ascents takes us from the depths of guilt and despair to the heights of joyous hope in the Lord. It says, No matter how deep you are in guilt and despair, you can cry out to God for forgiveness, knowing that He delights in abundant redemption."
Gracious God in our humanness we stumble, we do those things which we ought not to have done and do not do those which we ought to have done. We err in our ways separating ourselves from you and from each other. In our humbleness we seek you and cry for your forgiveness. With reverence and thankfulness we praise you for your loving kindness, for your tender mercy and abundant redemption. We are saved by your grace. In this time when there is much trouble in the world, let us encourage each other to wait on you Lord, with patient expectation. You are our hope and our redeemer. Amen
Marjorie Morrison Ross