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Aug 6 20

This bowl is in a thousand pieces

by davesandel

Thursday, August 6, 2020      Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord     (today’s lectionary)

This bowl is in a thousand pieces

Those visions in Daniel 7 are something else. Here we are with the King of Kings, the Ancient One.

The hair on his head was white as wool.

So far no big deal, That’s me. That’s Margaret.

His throne was flames of fire with burning wheels,

And a surging stream of fire flowed out from where he sat.

Ok, that’s not us. Then

The court was convened and the books were opened.

Things seem very much in order!

Daniel’s vision continued with the Son of Man, which of course is what Jesus called himself any time he could.

He received dominion, glory and kingship.

His everlasting dominion shall not be taken away.

I personally want to be standing in Daniel’s fiery court of thrones. Our lives right now could use a dose of ORDER. Too many disorganized feelings, CO-VID dread rising out of the dawn’s miasma, dreams roiling, sparking remembrance, uncertainty, fear.

Marc’s out of the hospital, though. A bit of order there. Margaret is sleeping better, a bit of order. But the last few days have recoiled on us, and little things got big.

Just now I finished my counseling and came upon a sign Margaret made before she went to sleep. Today she indeed bore the brunt of the uncertainty and chaos in our lives, while I just did my work. I was the lucky one. The sign read (see the link), “Stop, Help! Bowl in 100 pieces.”

The sign said “bowl,” not life. And it was in many more than a hundred pieces, one of those white melamite fruit bowls that don’t break until they do, and then it’s in a thousand shattered shards and crumbs.

But really, that’s not true of life even when it feels that way.

Sometimes it’s just right to ask for help, and Margaret did get out the broom for me. I imagine she kind of crumbled like the bowl when it fell, and this time finally shattered. In the quiet of our kitchen, the broken bowl cleaned up pretty well.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord

And the heavens proclaim his justice

See his glory, how he is exalted above anything else we call a god!

These stories, and of course the transfiguration story, remind me how great God’s motivation is to give me (all of us) life and teach and carry me (all of us) into eternity. I ask myself what my purpose is, what I shcould be doing with my one wild and precious life, and get pointed back to God’s purpose rather than mine.

Turn away from the mirror, David, and look more closely at me. Can you see what Daniel saw? Or Peter even?

Peter was thrown out of step when he saw Elijah and Moses. What what what?


I thought I was living a simple life with Jesus, learning stuff and watching miracles every day, but now! This is more like God just comes down and pours fire out around Jesus, and here I am looking for any kind of idiotic words. Can I make a tent for you guys?

By the time he wrote the verses in his second letter he had pretty much figured it out.

We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

We ourselves heard the voice from heaven say, “This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Peter acknowledged others’ skepticism and challenged it head on.

We did not follow cleverly devised myths.

Our prophetic message is altogether reliable.

Jesus did his business with Moses and Elijah, of course, and his Father. But he protected his friends from in their blind panic attack. In a moment he came and touched them. He said what God always tells us:

Do not be afraid.

And the best thing is when the disciples opened their eyes again, they were alone with Jesus. Those ghosts were gone. Although climbing down Jesus confused them again when he said he would be raised from the dead. Like Moses. Like Elijah. The ghosts. In the courts of the Ancient One, are we all intended for resurrection?

Peter was sure of it. He insists we believe his words. Under the tough shining skin of the fisherman, this poet-prophet speaks with authority.

You will do well to be attentive

As to a lamp shining in a dark place

Until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Never and not ever. Do NOT be afraid.

(Daniel 7, Psalm 97, 2 Peter 1, Matthew 17)


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Aug 5 20


by davesandel

Wednesday, August 5, 2020               (today’s lectionary)


For the first time in his 37 year old life, our son Marc is in the hospital, at least for today, to get an emergency EEG after a so-far unexplained seizure. When I left him at 9 pm he was his normal self, except for some very sore body parts that were injured when he fell. Netflix and very bad hospital food beckoned. The nurses obviously like him, especially his hair, which is longer, and healthier, than theirs.

Earlier in the emergency room he was less calm, in more pain, and sometimes very impatient. I put my hand on his back, on his head, on his arm, and prayed silently, with fear and trembling, joy and peace. How do you pray for one of your kids?

Well, mostly without words, at least that’s how it was for me. Just visioning him in the lap of Jesus, in the arms of our Father, cooled by the breezes of the Holy Spirit, as my friend Susan taught me to do. These prayers don’t hesitate, they don’t search for right words or words at all. They don’t feel as much like Paul’s “groans” as they do soft winds that blow through the room.

As God’s words through Jeremiah roll gently through my mind:

With age-old love I have loved you

So I have kept my mercy toward you.

I will restore you

And you shall go forth dancing,

Drink the wine you have made

From the vines you have planted,

Shout with joy!

For now, our prayers for Marc are more muted, when they find words.

Lord, guide us as a shepherd guards his flock.

Redeem our son from the hands of his enemies

So we can rise up together into the Lord’s blessings.

But we don’t hesitate to approach Jesus and ask for healing. The Canaanite’s daughter, our son, there are demons all around, and we, like her, plead for mercy.

Have pity, have pity on us, O Son of David!

Even the dogs eat scraps that fall from their master’s table.

Jesus heart opened in the presence of that woman, and her daughter was healed.

O Lord, us too, us too, Jesus. Have mercy on our brokenness and salve our wounds, have pity. Heal our son, O Lord.

            (Jeremiah 31, Luke 7, Matthew 15)


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Aug 4 20

There be beauty

by davesandel

Tuesday, August 4, 2020        Memorial of Saint John Vianney     (today’s lectionary)

There be joy

Jean Baptiste-Marie Vianney, born in 1786, grew up in post-Revolutionary France. At 13 he made his first communion and prepared for confirmation in secrecy. Then after the Catholic Church was reestablished he was drafted into Napoleon’s army. Like Dr. Zhivago, he became sick and walked away, hid with other alienated soldiers, and started a school in the mountains.

He realized how the Revolution had prevented many young people from becoming Christians. After becoming a priest, he became well-known for the endless hours he spent hearing confessions and giving direction to those who came to him. A hundred years before the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 and the resulting explosion afterward that we call the Roaring Twenties, John’s people also danced and were indifferent to religion. He told them to stop dancing and take their religion seriously.

What a character! He ran from the army, then he ran four times from the parish where he was priest, wanting instead to be a monk. But always he returned to his dancing people, drawn by the spiritual and physical needs. He loved them.

This Jean Vianney sounds so much like Jeremiah. Unhappy with whatever was given him, and then at last as God finally relieved him of his dirge, he relaxed into the autumn of his life with poetry from God about the blessings. Not however, without one final reminder of the sin.

Why cry over your wound?

Your pain is without relief.

Because of your great guilt and your numerous sins

I have done this to you.

On Sunday our teacher Rick Williams, spoke about his “life verse,” Psalm 78.

“The Lord awoke as if from sleep … and beat back his enemies, put them to everlasting shame.”

We have listened, along with Jeremiah, to the Lord’s description of sin and suffering in the lives of the Israelites. We know how caught we are in the same unwariness and arrogance, and wonder how we too will be brought to task and made to pay.

But then the Lord awoke as if from sleep!

Suddenly we are rescued, without merit,  by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. We are surprised by joy. As was Jeremiah:

See! I will restore …

City shall be rebuilt upon hill and palace made whole as it was.

Happy men will laugh and sing songs of praise

Many men, not few, and his sons shall be as of old.

You shall be my people

And I will be your God.

Rick, who teaches history and is a Tolkien scholar, told us the author of Lord of the Rings coined a word for this experience. Add eu (Latin for “good”) to catastrophe, and you get “eucatastrophe,” which then means a “sudden joyous turn” encountered without cause or merit in a story of disaster and dismay. Tim Willard further explains that this unexpected joy is not the result of anything the characters do for themselves:

This sudden turn does not deny a sudden failure by the protagonist. Rather it denies universal final defeat and in so far is “evangelium”, or in Old English “godspel,” giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, as poignant as grief.”

In 1931 soon after a midnight walk with Tolkien, C.S. Lewis gave himself up to Christianity. The  friends rejoiced together in God’s plan with the Christ Story to “smuggle Joy past the watchful dragons” of the world, thereby extending the narrative of hope into a hopeless world. Eucatastrophe is at the center of salvation, unexpected, unearned, and providing us a sudden joyous turn.

Those of us who continue to experience the fruit of this turn in our own lives know exactly what the two Oxford dons discussed on their midnight walk down the rainy streets. And how they might have leapt for joy at the end of the walk, and clicked their heels.

 (Jeremiah 30, Psalm 102, John 1, Matthew 14)


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Aug 3 20

Haiku for July

by davesandel

Haiku for July 2020


Wednesday, July 1

Mea maxima culpa

My most grievous fault

O please pray for me!


July 2

I can’t believe it

Mom’s hip replacement

98, one day


July 3

Great conversation!

Talked with mom and Mike Stebbins

Joy deep in my veins


July 4

Susan and Sandels

Corn on the cob, fireworks

Colors in the sky


July 5

Love for all his works

Faithful to those falling, to

Those of us bowed down


July 6

Marc fell, sleepwalking?

Struggling to receive God’s joy

Can’t do it alone


July 7

The hottest week yet

Will our A/C stay the course?

O God I hope so


July 8

Not a thing to do!

Sabbath, middle of the week

Read, write, listen pray


July 9

See our garden grow?

Green, green, we’re growing away

Far side of the hill


July 10

Date with Marg, Logos

Training back to back, can we

Just relax and learn?


July 11

Three hours of sales

Meet new friends, buy old cool stuff

Driving here and there


Sunday, July 12

Scriptures for farmers

I think and write of my dad

Seeds for the sower


50 mile winds, big hail

Last night’s storm was a doozy

Everything still stands


July 13

trip to Evansville

covid kept heath-fam away

still, it’s a road trip!


July 14

White packages, meat

Half black angus, butcher cut

Frozen, brought it home


July 15

Outside with Laura

sit under red umbrella

praying in the sun


July 16

never know what’s next

marc came back to work today

great to work outside


July 17

Ran computer wire, crawl space

Moved food, straighten studio

Never know what’s next


July 18

No hurry today

Rest, TV, errands, more rest

It is about time


Sunday, July 19

Marc and Myranda

Boulevardier, Martini (Boulevardier is Negroni with Bourbon instead of Gin)

Cocktails, T-Bone steaks


July 20

Before/after doc

Mom, Mary Kay, me and John

Break isolation (Mom, 98, recovering from hip surgery at St. Clara’s Manor)


July 21

so much stuff undone

darkness edging into light

work till Sabbath ­– rest


July 22

Kitchen faucet fear

With marc we just pushed on through

And there are no leaks!


July 23

Heat, humidity

July, hotter than August

It just is! That’s all


July 24

Could I be more sick?

Diarrhea every hour

Stiff, sore, exhausted


July 25

I am still sick today

I’ve lost six pounds in two days

Twelve hours of sleep


Sunday, July 26

Steaks, hot charcoal, rum

Marc’s magic with mint, limes, ice,

Play, laugh, eat, drink, rest


July 27

Medical tests week

Bone density, ultrasound

Blood sugar quotients


July 28

Still tired too soon

OK. Just take longer nap

I’m still waking up


July 29

Mom discharged Friday

Mary Kay will take her home

A week, then Elim


July 30

Water filter works

Margaret will drink it now!

All new cartridges


Friday, July 31

Jasper’s first birthday!

Zoom, tomorrow party time

Plus a sugar cake

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Aug 3 20

I run in the path of your commands

by davesandel

Monday, August 3, 2020                    (today’s lectionary)

I run in the path of your commands

Green bushes pour over the fence from our neighbor’s hardy, wild yard. Leaves, branches, insects, and remnants of yesterday’s falling rain live and breathe this morning as I sit quietly, primly almost, in my silence. Over my head those plants are shouting and singing with joy.

By the rivers of Babylon, draped with huge green trees, the captors rest in the shade and command their captives to sing. But how can they sing in this strange land?

Jeremiah didn’t think it was so strange. For years he knew Nebuchadnezzar would cast his iron net around Israel and drag the people to Babylon. Jeremiah put wooden yokes on anyone who allowed it, and one on himself, to symbolize this coming slavery. Other prophets, including Hananiah, disagreed. In a true community process, first Hananiah broke the yoke off Jeremiah’s neck and spoke out with what he had heard from the Lord, or thought he heard from the Lord.

Within two years our God will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar

From off the neck of all the nations.

Jeremiah was taken aback. He left the gathering and went to pray alone.

Returning later, Jeremiah spoke what he heard from the Lord.

By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke.

You shall all serve Nebuchadnezzer, even unto the beasts of the field.

Hananiah, you have raised false confidence in this people.

And this very year you will die.

Hananiah did die, in the seventh month.

Jeremiah encourages the people of Israel to submit to Nebuchadnezzar as if to the Lord, but many disagree. Shouldn’t we resist? A guy named Theopolus at Fuller Seminary says, “The problem of determining the true from the false is not more radically presented in Scripture, except in the case of Jesus’ condemnation and execution.”

When I preached a guest sermon at Monticello Christian Church thirty or so years ago, I gathered up the courage to sing my text rather than recite it. I sorted out some chords and made this song from Psalm 119:30-32:

I have chosen the way of truth, I have set my heart on your laws.

I hold fast to your statutes, O my Lord, do not let me be put to shame.

I run in the path of your commands

I run in the path of your commands

I run in the path of your commands

For you have set my heart free, you have set my heart free!

Thomas Merton said simply, “You can’t have faith without doubt.” Jeremiah was no different from me. He heard Hananiah and in that moment he did not know what to believe. In my less political, less public moments of doubt, I too do not know. Sometimes when I sing my song, I transcend this doubt with the famous “leap” of faith, and my emotions often rebound as well.

Emotional as he was, Peter too longed for consistent, straight-up faith in his leader, in his savior, in the Great Fisherman, who once again was off on his own praying. The storm that blew up in his absence should have been no surprise. What did surprise Peter was seeing a ghost walking on the water.

Lord if that is you, command me to come to you on the water.

Come, Peter.

And Peter did.

But he faltered on the angry surface of the sea in storm, and Peter began to sink.

Yahweh did not leave Jeremiah to stew, nor did Jesus leave his friend to drown. And he does not leave me, either, or you, in the messes of our own making.

At Genneserat, the people brought all those who were sick.

Can we just touch the tassel on your cloak, and we will be healed?

And they did. And they were.

And we do. And we are.

            (Jeremiah 28, Psalm 119, John 1, Matthew 14)


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Aug 2 20

Following Jesus in days of pandemic

by davesandel

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time          (today’s lectionary)

Following Jesus in days of pandemic

The first thing is to decide what to do about church. Sunday services every week have been part of both our lives since childhood. We moved from Lincoln to Waynesville to Urbana, we changed churches several times, but always on Sunday morning we went somewhere.

All you who are thirsty, come and drink!

Come receive grain and eat.

Heed me and you shall eat well,

Come to me and listen, that you may have life.

For awhile I visited several churches every Sunday. Margaret has done that too. Online, she does it now. We couldn’t get enough. We have heard thousands of sermons, sung countless worship songs, made our way across the country to evening revivals, eaten fabulous potlucks, been on church boards and committees, taught Sunday School, attended small groups of every kind, and traveled on mission trips.

The Lord is gracious and merciful

The Lord is good to all and compassionate.

You give us our food in due season

And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

We have hugged friends and strangers and looked into the eyes of So Many People. They have prayed for us, and we have prayed for them – for their healing, in their grief, for their well-being, for their spiritual breakthroughs, for their families and their friends.

The Lord is near to all who call upon him

To all who call upon him in truth.

And now?

Not so much.

What will separate us from the love of Christ?

If God is for us, what can be against us?

Over 70 years, we have grown to the rhythm of church on Sunday.

One does not live by bread alone

But on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

Our own small church has begun gathering again in our meeting place. With masks, without personal singing, without hugs or touches, and at least six feet apart.

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.

We still attend online, without masks, with personal singing, touching each other. Our Eucharist is not frequent, but it is intimate. Margaret attends parts of several services online, all over the country. But …

Jesus returned, saw the vast crowd and cured their sick.

Jesus was glad to see them. He wanted to be with them. And we want to be with our family of friends. Break bread together on our knees, so to speak.

Taking only five loaves and two fish, Jesus said the blessing and broke the loaves. The disciples gave the bread and fish to all of the crowd, those five thousand plus women and children, and there were twelve baskets left over. Everyone was satisfied.

This feeding of the multitudes has happened to us countless times. We’ve gone to church empty and left full. And many others too have also been filled. Not because of the sermon or the singing, conversation, coffee, or the architecture. None of these satisfies on its own.

We were reading a devotion together, and Margaret thought out loud about why we go to church. What really do we miss, now that services are changed beyond recognition?

For us church has been a weekly reminder of life with others and life with God deep below the surface of hours and days that pass and fly away.

We go to honor Sabbath and keep it holy. We go to celebrate the Presence that pours through us every day.

We practice Eucharist with others, and know the body of Christ between us and within us.

We go to place our BE-ing alongside the BE-ing of our brothers and sisters, in the presence of God’s BE-ing.

God comes to BE with his Created Ones, those he made to be creative alongside him. That’s all of us. He invites us to show up when He comes, and when we do, we know joy.

I am convinced that neither death, nor life,

Nor angels nor principalities,

Nor present things nor future things

Nor powers, nor height, nor depth,

Nor any other creature

Will be able to separate us from the love of God

Which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That’s why we come empty and leave full.

How we do this beyond these days of distancing is uncertain, undetermined.

But that is why we go to church. And what we miss so much.

(Isaiah 55, Psalm 145, Romans 8, Matthew 4, Matthew 14)


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Aug 1 20

The summer day

by davesandel

Saturday, August 1, 2020 Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Liguori               (today’s lectionary)

The summer day

With a fine juxtaposition of circumstance, our friend Jan Conrady brought a basket of summer musings yesterday to a deck beside a moving lake, below a bluish cloudy sky, where a few spiritual directors who care very much for each other had our first in-person meeting in months.

Jan gave us time to sit or walk and listen to the warm world around us, watch the flowers, hear the birds, feel the cool water on our feet, taste and smell the morning air … and she gave us a poem, posing the particular against the cosmic. Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day.”

A hungry grasshopper eats sugar out of Mary’s hand. When the grasshopper floats away something uncertain awakens in Mary. How shcould she be spending the Rest of her day?

What exactly is Mary getting done? Isn’t there more to do than sit and walk and listen and watch? Martha would be sweeping her dirt floors right now.

Will she make a case, this wandering poet? Jeremiah, speaking up for God before the judges and the jury, does not defend himself.

It was the Lord who sent me, listen to his voice.

I am in your hands, do with me what you think and want.

There is nothing more important to Jeremiah than the words he hears from God. And now his humble, obedient focus on this One Thing carries him through his trial and convinces his captors.

Jeremiah’s words return to me, sitting beside the lake. Perhaps the poet hears them too:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention

How to be idle and blessed

How to stroll through the fields

Which is what I have been doing all day

How easy it is for me to be carried off by anxiety and dread. These are not mere bio-chemical malfunctions, they are marks of a failure to pray, a failure to stroll at ease through the fields of the Lord.

Let not the flood-waters overwhelm me,

Nor the abyss swallow me up

Nor the pit close its mouth over me.

Thanks, Ms. Psalmist, hit me three times over my aching head!

I think of Alphonsus Liguori, an Amazing Italian who suffered great physical pain when he was 71.

I will be 71 this year.

At 71, Alphonsus was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left an incurable bending of his neck. Until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent.

Well, yes, I would welcome the ecstasies! But at what price?

Still, after all, what do I have to say about it? We all suffer. I choose only how to respond. But Jesus cuts out a deeper furrow when he says to his disciples:

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness

For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

In his own poorly made kingdom, Herod’s daughter Herodias calls for the head of John the Baptist, and he grants her wish. John, in an instant, is dead, his suffering concluded, his voice silenced. Jesus must have been overwhelmed with grief.

John’s disciples came and took away the corpse

They buried him, and then they went and told Jesus.

What shcould Jesus do? Well, I don’t exactly know, but I can imagine Mary Oliver following in his footsteps as she continues her meadow reverie, even echoing his words:

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

            (Jeremiah 26, Psalm 69, Matthew 5, Matthew 14)


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Jul 31 20

Happy birthday, Jasper!

by davesandel

Friday, July 31, 2020               Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest           (today’s lectionary)

Happy birthday, Jasper!

Happy birthday, little buddy! Your words and steps are coming soon. And tomorrow you will get to plunge your hands into a sugar cake. We’ll blow balloons and bubbles from a distance and laugh and laugh. Your brother will laugh and laugh, and we’ll laugh with both of you. Your mom and dad will have their hands full.

While we are partying in 2020, in 609 BC the prophet Jeremiah was being attacked by all the bad guys. The new king’s court was full of sycophants who thought they should run Jeremiah out on a rail because he did not glorify the new king.

God had long ago cornered Jeremiah. And Jeremiah let himself be cornered. God seduced him, and he was seduced. So he was going to speak the words he heard.

Whatever I command you, tell them, and omit nothing.

Jeremiah knew God loved his people, but he loved them these days with the toughest love imaginable. And Jeremiah was the messenger. Oh boy, here we go again.

I will make this the city to which all nations of the earth shall refer

When cursing another.

Oh, Lord, why did you make me say that! Look, they run at me, they surround me, they whack me with their fists, they spit on my face and stomp their feet. Their eyes bulge in their red faces. Here am I, send me? Oh, Lord, save my body and my soul.

Now that God’s words have been shouted out, Jeremiah’s own frightened, angry words rumble panicked through his mind. This was not going to end well.

In rage the priests and prophets laid hold of Jeremiah.

“You must be put to death!”

Hear the piercing wails of the broken-hearted, pity the poor starving children of the desert, hated and forlorn. Self-pity racks the frame of the wandering prophet, the wandering minstrel who waits for God. He flinches before the blows of the prosperous, protected temple priests.

Must I restore what I did not steal?

I bear insult for your sake, Lord.

I am outcast even to my brothers.

They curse you, and I do not. They curse me, and I do not curse them.

Oh, Jeremiah. Look in the mirror once in awhile. Sometimes I grow so weary of your complaints.

Yes, I know that, Lord. I’m sorry. But then I wake again, and fire fills my belly.

Zeal for your house consumes me

Even when insults intended for you, fall on me.

You are my constant source, my companion,

My salvation and my help.

Jeremiah could have been paving the way for Jesus. Jesus preached in his hometown synagogue, where he was known as the carpenter’s son. Surely he could not be a prophet to tell them their own sins. They turned against him, and Jesus spoke harshly of his people.

A prophet is not without honor


In his native place and in his own house.

I hope Jeremiah was listening from his heavenly perch. He smiled and rubbed his hands. He recognized the path that Jesus chose. And he knew that every step was worth it. God is good, not bad. God is loving, hateful.

But God is never safe. And that’s OK. Step up.

Over and over we, the people of God, do not step up and followed our prophets. Over and over we miss the blessing. We fail to catch the wave.

And he did not work many mighty deeds there

Because of their lack of faith.

And there was weeping in the morning, and weeping in the evening, and weeping at suppertime. Lost, lost, all lost.

God does not say these things, however. He tears us away from our self-pity and condemnation. His tough love lasts forever.

But we forget, Lord. Please stand me up and remind me that you are here.

That’s what birthdays are for, right? And New Year Eve’s. And graduations. And mornings.

God is GOOD.

Happy Birthday!

(Jeremiah 26, Psalm 69, 1 Peter 1, Matthew 13)


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Jul 30 20

You can’t have faith without doubt

by davesandel

Thursday, July 30, 2020                     (today’s lectionary)

You can’t have faith without doubt

I’m neither a philosopher nor mathematician, but Pascal’s Wager holds a certain fascination for me. As I understand it, Monsieur Pascal didn’t want to take an illogical risk with his afterlife, so he chose to believe in the Christian God and his heaven, rather than risk spending eternity in hell.

My definitions of afterlife, heaven, hell, faith and belief need a bit of sprucing up. It’s easy for me, having grown up with the Lutheran version of hell and brimstone, to see hell as clearly in my mind as if I’d been there. And heaven too, but forsooth, I have been to neither’s door, let alone walked in.

But the wager did not begin with Pascal. I don’t wonder that Jeremiah followed God right out his father’s door, young as he was. Nor that he took the path to the potter’s factory, listening to God’s GPS give him directions.

Rise up, be off to the potter’s house

And there he was, working at his wheel.

When his work went bad, he began again with the same clay.

Can I not do the same with you, Jeremiah?

Yes, you can! Please do it, Lord. But Jeremiah had a hard time with God. In his writing Jeremiah reversed his course over and over. His doubts overwhelmed his faith, time after time. He became so angry!

But no matter. He struggled back to the path and kept on walking toward the potter’s field every time. He wasn’t taking any chances either. On his better days he might have been singing one of my favorite songs. “Change my heart, O God.”

But those days were few.

Give me a break here! You have seduced me, let me see a little of your love! Jeremiah always seemed to end up at the bottom of a well, angry at his betrayers and God and always, of course, angry at himself most of all.

There just was nowhere else for him to go.

Put not your trust in princes or the sons of men

There is no salvation for you with them

God made heaven and earth

And he made me,

I will choose to sing praise to Yahweh all the days of my life.

What if you’re wrong? The voice in my left ear hisses its discouragement.

What if I am? So what? The voice in my left ear tells the other voice to shut up.

Won’t you look like a fool? St. Paul said you would. This left ear voice grates on me. It won’t stop.

St. Paul was a really smart Christian guy.

What do you know about St. Paul? He’s been dead all these many years!

Jesus knocks on my forehead. When I open up to him, Jesus rescues me from these jarring cymbal sounds, screams of stupid battle in my brain.

Open your heart, my friend

Listen to the words of the Son:

See that fishing net? It’s full of everything, good and bad

Some of the fish are already dead!

But so what?

The angels haul it ashore for us and sort everything into buckets

There’s a bad bucket, a sin bin,

And a good bucket, which is where we want to be!

So I don’t need to sort out my thoughts, and get it right somehow?

Oh for Pete’s sake! Of course not. You can’t do that!

One of my monk buddies, Father Louis nee Thomas Merton said,

“You can’t have faith without doubt.”

That’s exactly right. So don’t sweat the small stuff, David.

Keep waking up in the morning and gettin’ on the road.

Let me take care of the rest.

(Jeremiah 18, Psalm 146, Acts 16, Matthew 13)


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Jul 29 20

Roll away the stone

by davesandel

Wednesday, July 29, 2020 (Memorial of Saint Martha)       (today’s lectionary)

Roll away the stone

The Memorial for Martha … I knew I could be reading about a woman in Civil War times. Martha Grimes, homemaker in Virginia, holding the house together while Wheeler and the boys are away, dying. It’s been awhile since many girl babies were named Martha. I think of gathered skirts and apple pies, and sewing socks, and needlepoint. Still, in Aramaic the name means “Lady.”

Anyway, this is not just a century and a half ago. The Martha story begins and ends in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem, Jesus’ vacation home where the welcome mat was always out. Martha worked hard, made bread, swept up. She lived there with her sister Mary and brother Lazarus. Sometimes irritated with each other, their deeper love knew no bounds. And now, Lazarus was sick.

I wonder how they got word to Jesus. Don’t know, but when he got it Jesus did not come at once, and Martha watched her brother die. What did she think?

I did not sit merrymaking, I bore your name, neither borrowing nor lending.

Under the weight of your hand I sat alone, I worked myself to the bone,

And now, Lord! What????

YOU have become for me a treacherous brook

And I cannot trust your waters.

So Martha wept. Then at last, far too late, she heard Jesus coming and ran to meet him.

Oh, Oh, Lord! IF you had been here

My brother would still be alive

He would not have died.

My heart would not be broken.

She raised her eyes from the ground. She felt sudden hope in her chest. “But … even now?”

Martha hesitated. How could she not? Even as she hears the words inside her, “Ask  Jesus for the resurrection,” she doubts her motives.

Is this only for her, to comfort her sister, to comfort herself, or does she see far into the future and know this resurrection is for us all?

Bring forth the precious, Martha, without the vile

And then it shall be they who turn to you.

I am with you now to deliver and rescue you,

You are about to be freed from the hand of the wicked.

You look into my eyes, and love me, Lord. But I have to look away. I cannot love myself the way you love me. I know my sin. I am ashamed of my sin. Not just Lazarus, but all of us, Lord, we all have sinned and fallen short of your expectations. Of course we die. Do I even deserve to live? The gift of life you pour into us at birth is suddenly stolen. One day we are breathing, but then the next our breath becomes mere air, and we fly away.

Martha, my Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.

Now there is need for just the one thing, and it will not be taken from you.

Martha looked up again. A deep wave rose in her heart as Jesus touched her cheek.

Let me love you, Martha. You are a child of God.

Do you believe this?

Not for the first or the last time, but this time this was for her, she saw tears flow down Jesus’ face. And as so often happens, her own compassion overcame her pain. She put her arms around him, and he put his arms around her.

I will sing of your strength and revel at dawn in your mercy

O my strength! You are my stronghold, my merciful God.

Neither Jesus nor Martha nor Mary were done yet. Their great breaths calmed them as they clung to each other, and Jesus called out to his Father, to their Father too:

I am the resurrection and the life

Whoever believes in me, even if she dies, she will live. In fact she will never die.

On that day in that moment Jesus called for strong disciples to push the stone away from the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus called out to the creative power of the God of Life.

O my father, you are here. Now show your children the strength of your love. Let your light shine in their darkness, awaken us, and we will follow you together out of this funeral cave.  Lead us into the dawning day.

No one could breathe now, watching, listening, waiting. But Jesus breathed. In his lungs he gathered strength for a mighty shout.

Lazarus, come forth!

(Jeremiah 15, Psalm 59, John 8, John 11, Luke 10)


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