Scripture Readings for June 24, 2020
Today’s readings in particular always remind me of a direction from my first retreat director, “read Scripture as if God is speaking directly to you.” That approach has formed me over the years. I think it is a key way of understanding the Bible in prayer.
That viewpoint, of hearing God speak directly to us in Scripture is key for all believers. No more so than in today’s readings when it allows us to see that John the Baptist stands in for all of us. I think this because I believe we are all called to point the way to Jesus with our lives. Each of us must recognize we are not the savior but we have been given the ability to recognize Jesus in our midst. Each of us is a gateway to God’s presence because although God acts in our lives, we need each other to confirm our inner most suspicions and intuitions. We need each other to lean on and explore who we are and can be; a process that is sacred activity.
This feast of John the Baptist describes how God works with every person who is seeking meaning and purpose in his or her life, a role in the world. Isaiah says, “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.” We have received a sacred call from the beginning which only we can discover over time and bring to life.
Even when we are discouraged and lose sight of our goals, God continues to call us to make a difference and recognize the part we can play. Again from Isaiah, “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God.”
Today’s Psalm makes the point that God knows us inside and out. We will not be lost to God’s care … “you understand my thoughts from afar. My journeys and my rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar.”
The question from Luke’s Gospel is the question for all of us, “What, then, will this child be?”
We are also given the answer. “For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” We are here to grow and become strong in Spirit, even with struggles in desert times as we come to recognize God’s presence in the concrete work of love. Then, like John, we can acknowledge a presence beyond our own, creating something new, making the world a better place.
Scripture Readings for June 17, 2020
I think these readings are about relationships. Specifically, our relationship with God. The first problem for us is, of course, to accept that it’s possible to have a relationship with God. Too often I suspect we think of God as distant and unresponsive. Unresponsive in that how often do we actually get what we pray for? But then a real relationship is more than asking a sugar daddy for another sweet thing. The challenge is the same one Elisha had, will we see what’s right in front of us. Elisha asks to receive twice the spiritual gifts that Elijah had. Elijah’s response is that if Elisha can see Elijah taken to heaven his prayer will be answered. In other words, if Elisha can see God’s actions here in this life then he will have the spiritual gifts to do what he seeks. Elisha who has stubbornly persisted in accompanying Elijah to this moment sees the flaming horses and chariot that take Elijah to heaven. He literally takes on mantle/cloak of Elijah and performs the same Jordan splitting miracle to cross back to the other side.
Jesus is trying to give us a similar message in Matthew. What we do in our life is primarily between us and God and not the society or friends we may think are more important. Jesus repeatedly says, “do not be like the hypocrites.” He wants us to be people of integrity. That is, people who act on and honor their own deepest selves, their own feelings, values and beliefs in their everyday lives. In Matthew, this is expressed in terms of alms, prayer, and fasting. But the sweep of the sentiment explicitly includes all “righteous deeds.” I would suggest Jesus wants us to understand that integrity is at the heart of our relationship with God. When we live according to our deepest feelings and values we are connected to God and all of God’s creation. We are fulfilling God’s creation of us as we are.
Today’s Psalm identifies the rewards of a life lived with integrity. I was struck by two of those rewards, God will hide us in the shelter of God’s presence, and “keep those who are constant.” Yes the Psalm also promises, “How great is the goodness, O Lord, you have in store for those who fear (i.e. respect) you.” But I have to say that sometimes I’d rather just have a safe place to hide now rather than look for a special reward later. Also having someone stay with me when times are tough is a really important. That’s what friends do and that is what these readings suggest that God does. Maybe we can recognize the wonder of that behavior in our own lives and on reflection give thanks for the distinct scent of a flaming chariot and flaming horses.