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Apr 3 20

All this talk

by davesandel

Thursday, April 2, 2020   (today’s lectionary)

God said to Abram, “Your name is now Abraham, for I am making you the father of a host of nations.” (Gen 17) … and unlike the likes of us, “God remembers his covenant forever. Look to the Lord in his strength.” (Psalm 105) … Jesus called out the Pharisees and Scribes and compared himself to them: “I do know him and I KEEP HIS WORD. Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.”

This is important, David. Doing the right thing just because it’s the right thing is really the most important ethical principle in your life.

So I don’t, even SHOULDN’T worry about results. Especially results that are favorable somehow to me. What matters is doing the Right Thing. That’s what Spike Lee thought too, and so many others.

Not say the right thing, or think the right thing, but DO the right thing.


Friday, April 3, 2020   (today’s lectionary)

Hear those whispers, “Denounce!” My friends are on the watch for my missteps. But the Lord knows those miscreants will stumble at last in unforgettable confusion. Just let me watch, Lord, just let me witness your vengeance.” (Jeremiah 20) In my distress I called out and cried out and you heard me even from your temple. (Psalm 18) … and Jesus in his silence says to his Father, “Are you listening? These men hate me, these men hate you.” But still, many began to believe in Jesus.

Jesus’ constant conversation with his Father was paying off. It was saving him from death, day after day. It was leaking out to the people, and they began to believe in him. What is this man? How can he do this things?

It was Richard Rohr who pointed out the different responses of Jeremiah and Jesus to his persecution. Jeremiah entertained bitterness and desired revenge. Oh, how he wanted to witness the comeuppance and killing (perhaps) of his former friends now turned enemies. Jesus, on the other hand, continued until the end to do two things: heal everyone who asked and insist that his listeners turn toward their Father, in repentance and freedom.

Of course I was listening. The Father speaks out even now.

And of course I knew you were. Still, Father, in this place of confusion and conflict I felt alone. And talking to you was the only way I could rise above that loneliness.

Jesus talking to his Father, even now. Always since the creation of the world, that very sweet conversation goes on and on and on. Even as I foolishly imagine the Holy Spirit as something like Tinker Bell, sprinkling Holy Spirit Dust on everything, Jesus continues to talk with his Father. How the Holy Spirit gets involved I’m not sure. I love to imagine it though.

Come on now, She says. We all have work to do. Enough of this talk, let’s spread out and do some healing here.

The Holy Spirit swings up in sweet heavenly flight over the heads of those nurses, those doctors, those technicians in the operating rooms, those careful helpers in intensive care. Thousands die, but many more thousands live, and they are sprinkled upon, every one. Holy Spirit Dust is not meant for any race or gender. It does not distinguish even between the quick and the dead, because our “dead” is not God’s dead. That dust dries on my skin and makes me whole. And it dries on the skin of the man who just died, and makes him whole. We are not as far apart as we think we are.


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Apr 1 20


by davesandel

Wednesday, April 1, 2020  (today’s lectionary)

Aren’t you Abraham’s children? Don’t you remember with wistful, distant joy the hot fires of Nebuchadnezzar scorching your beards, the sounds of singing far across the Red Sea, music of trumpet, flute, lyre, harp, bagpipe and song, the hot dust of the desert sunset, manna falling from the sky? Don’t you remember the One who is praiseworthy and exalted above all the ages?!

Jesus stands strong against the hot, heavy wind of these men, who argue with him and want him dead. He wants them to remember, fall down on their face. We might fall on our faces too. Toward the east, toward the west, toward the sun, toward the moon … just remember! Instead, this waffling and this self-doubt, and this sin.

This cowardice.

“Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. You are descendants of Abraham, but you are trying to kill me.”

So easy to just … give up. Sit, and sin. Sit in shame in the noonday sun, perched on the dock of the bay, wasting time. Those white birds fly in the surf, they live without thought for tomorrow. But they have not given up, they don’t think like that. They think with their bird brains, with their instinct, and on most days that thinking serves them well.

Not so the Israelites, not so the Jews, not so the early Christians or the Romans or the Greeks. We who have inherited their mantle, their multi-colored coat soaked in blood, we think differently with our muddle brains. And standing cowering in my inheritance I wonder, after all, is Jesus the Christ, and does he deserve my allegiance? Still, I expect eternal life, life after death in God’s glorious  kingdom. Jewels and Cadillacs all around.

I could be caught out any time in personal revelation, like the blessed white girl Ruby Turpin, but in the mean time it’s too disappointedly simple to settle into my own middle-brain muddle, such endless, complacent confidence in my images, my thoughts, my ideas, my plans, my future, my life … eternal. In this ego-fried-up mush mess, faith in Jesus the Christ does not always flow so smooth. Not so, not like a spring-flood river straight down through the greenwood.

But Jesus isn’t going anywhere. My doubts are sending him away to greener pastures. If anyone has eternal life, he does. If anyone knows how to communicate with me (or you or any of us), he does. Jesus is the smartest man who ever lived. Dallas Willard lived long enough to know that and say that. And Dallas Willard was mighty smart himself.

David, you are troubling yourself this morning, and caught in your thoughts. Again. How is your breathing right now? Are you even looking at your watch when it tells you to … breathe?

I like getting caught up in my thoughts, and my words (your words?) that flood the page. It’s fun for me. I feel a-flight. I feel the wax melting in my wings, and my breath catches, and I hope you’re here!

Great! Don’t worry about flying too high. Don’t take the conclusions that rise up in your flowing fountains, too much to heart. The questions you ask, keep asking them and listen for my answers, not so much your own.

My brain is not “middling.” Nor “bird.” My brain is where you came from, Davey-Boy.

Shh, Jesus! Listen to the murmurs of the crowd coming up the walk. We’re kind of vulnerable here, what if they walk right over us, through us, or drown us in their muttering and mush? Maybe we could wander over here under the tree, away from the nightclub mob.

What, and get lynched? I think we’ll stay away from trees, thank you very much. No, they are just looking for an honest man. Want to stand out and present yourself that way? Their lanterns sway, their voices whisper threats, but just look inside their eyes. They are desperate, Davey, looking for once and for all just to see an honest man.

Last night on TV I heard a teenage girl call herself a coward, because she would not stand up and be killed to save her father. She lived, of course, while her father did not. And she would not forgive herself. I don’t really think that shame will be helping her be more courageous in the future. Words just don’t get to the heart of the matter. So I won’t call myself a coward. I’ll just stand here, Jesus, and let you take the lead. Onward! Into the fiery furnace.

April Fool’s Day today, by the way. And on this strange first day of the “cruelest month,” I love you. Stick with me, and we’ll be nobody’s fool.


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Mar 31 20

Red Sea Road

by davesandel

March 31, 2020 (lectionary for today)

Setting out on the Red Sea Road, patience worn out by the journey, the snakes bit them and they were disgusted with the wretched food. Moses prayed for them anyway, out there on the Red Sea Road. “Let my cry come to you!” (Numbers 21, Psalm 102)

Jesus frightened the Pharisees when he said he would go away and they would not be able to find him. Not only that, they would die in their sin. He would go up and they would go down. God was with him, and they were blind. “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone.” (John 8)

And that’s the way it was, just as John told the story. I walked on down the Red Sea Road, and they looked as I passed, and they raised their noses. That was all of them that would be raised.

Didn’t you take pity on them, Jesus, as you did so many others? Why did they get the sharp end of your stick?

Because they knew better, because they taught their students and the village elders and especially the village people not to look up but to look down. Not to look at their insides but their outsides. And most of all, to impress others, all the while thinking they were impressing God. God does not impress. He loves. She loves.

I think your anger is righteous. But still, it’s anger. And the anger does not become you, at least not in my mind. It makes you seem petty and defended.

Well, of course that’s what Moses thought too, and told me so. But he pulled a few more punches, and was nice to me. You are angry yourself, angry at my anger, and not sure what to do.

That’s true. But my anger is my problem, and those Pharisees were Jesus’ problem then, and it sounds like they are Jesus’ problem now. I know what it says in Ezekiel about false teachers and punishment for sleeping watchmen (ch 13 and 33). But I remember what you said on the cross. “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Doesn’t that apply too to the Pharisees, the Scribes, the Sadducees, the dictators, the killers, the edge of it all? The awful carping legalists and secularists and armies of the dead?

Wow, what a list! Yes. It applies to them. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. My anger at the Pharisees does not exempt them from forgiveness. I ask my Father to forgive them too.

Well, thanks for sharing that, Jesus. I am still confused, but I appreciate that you act out of what seems like a paradox to me. Contradictions on top of contradictions, and out of all that thinking, you act in love.

Is it OK with you that suffering accompanies human life? Can you settle into that truth even when the suffering is not upon you, not bearing down on you like a two-ton truck? Because, David, you know, as your daughter-in-law said, the suffering comes, but in it you will never be alone.

There’s more to that, though. I will be with you, but my presence isn’t always comfortable. I’m like that lion in Narnia. I may not be nice, but I’m always good.

What does that mean, anyway? Your presence might not be comforting – that surprises me. But then I remember the metaphor in Hebrews, that with each other you want us to SPUR one another on to love and good deeds. Spurring is more painful than comforting.

But YOU are comforting to the ones you touch with your love and good deeds. As they come out of their own funk and pain and grief they will turn back, spurred on by others, and comfort you. I just stay out of the way.

You made us to be a family. We were made that way, in our pain we discover it again when we are loved and good deeded. Our sin, is to put up our borders, think of our scarcity, protect instead of give, push in instead of out. Limit our family. Define our family according to our own deserts, our own wisdom, our own desire to live forever. You don’t need us to do any of that. All of us belong to you, and all of us belong to each other.

I get that. But for me, my trouble is even as I think of all people as my family, I sit alone at my keyboard writing this instead of raking their leaves.

Yes. That is a problem.  There is more much more and the More requires that you move your feet and face and smile and help and encourage. But still, your words might be encouraging, and are sometimes, when people hear them.

This is hard for you to figure out. Are you doing enough? Well, don’t forget, what you do is not for me. I love you no matter. And as too many skeptics say, you can’t save the world on your own. So what do you do, and what don’t you do? What do you give, and what don’t you give? Can you follow your gut, even while you’re thinking up a storm?

Margaret has said she’s felt for her whole life that she must save the environment, if necessary on her own. She says she knows she can’t, but she still feels that way. She saves everything, and that means too much doesn’t get thrown away, piles up. It’s a puzzle.

But she listens to her gut (made by me, of course), she gets closer that way to being the woman she was made to be. That’s a good thing. A very good thing. How can you spur her on to love and good deeds, especially when you are not comfortable yourself? Or can you just comfort her, listen to Paul … love keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil. Love trusts and hopes. Love is patient and love is kind.

Ok, thank you Jesus for attending me. And for prodding me with the blunt end of your stick instead of the other one. Quiet my soul, quiet my words, clean out my listening ear, send me out.


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Mar 30 20

Won’t you cry for me

by davesandel

March 30, 2020 (lectionary texts for today)

Susanna o won’t you cry for me … in the unused-by-Protestants passages of Daniel her story is told. She was lusted after, refused the advances of the old men and then finally was absolved. In that absolution the old men were condemned and killed. “Innocent blood was spared that day,” the story goes.

And in Psalm 23, read of Susanna’s night of dread, after SHE had been convicted, before she was touched with the forgiveness of the court. “Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.”

“You, O Lord, you alone are with me. For thou art with me. Your rod and staff comfort me, they give me courage.”

I think Susanna’s prayers were heard, then messenger angels whispered of her innocence into the ears of the young boy Daniel. His youth, his sincerity, his skein to catch the elders in their lies quickly drew Susanna from their web and entrapped the elders themselves.

But innocent blood? Who, on earth my Lord, is innocent?

Jesus cries out above the lifted faces, “Let him among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.””

Jesus sits on the hill, seems to be waiting for the world to come to him. And it does. A crowd of growling, crabbing creatures, mostly old, mostly men, pushing a young beautiful unwashed woman in front of them. They are righteous, she is not. They are unaccused, she is not. They are privileged, she is not. She chose to have sex with men for money, they did not.

Now in righteous chronos time, she is condemned by their courts. The kangaroos have cornered her, they have met and called her unto death.

Jesus looks at them all with little obvious interest. But his eyes belie that calm on his face, and I can see his muscles tense beneath his shirt. The creatures shout their accusations at him, asking for his agreement. He looks away, he looks down, he begins to write words in the dirt beneath all their feet. Oh yes, to dust they will return. There is no one worthy, not even one. The sins of fathers are visited upon generation after generation.

But we are not alone here. As Melissa said Sunday at West Side during their online church, “God does not promise us that we will not suffer. He does promise that we will never suffer alone!”

We are not alone, young lady on the hill. You are accompanied, you are kept covered, you are held close, you are loved. Let me just say a few words, Jesus says to himself. And he lets those old accusers have it!

Such a simple thing. “Let the one among you who is without sin stand up. Stand out. Let that one cast the first stone.”

Innocent blood was spared that day.

But still, who among us is innocent? Should we throw stones at each other? No. Should we release each other from guilt? No. Should we drown each other’s fault in faulty praise? No.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. James Agee’s book title, penned in horror and sadness and sarcasm, comes from Ecclesiasticus 44:1. The passage is subtitled “A Hymn in Honor of Our Ancestors.”

But perhaps only some of them.

Verses 8 and 9: Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never exited; they have become as they had never been born, they and their children after them.

This passage might have been written by a member of the Southern Gentry, perhaps a decade or so after the Civil War in the midst of radical Reconstruction. Or not. Of course it was written long before, by others in earth’s long line of disenfranchised peoples.

But Agee took his cue from those around the gentry, and wrote only of the broken, often angry, poor white sharecroppers, in what Paul Theroux (quoting a Greensboro historian) calls an “incantatory” almost poetic voice. They too were rarely remembered, they and their children after them.

Agee’s book, by the way, was unrecognized in his lifetime and he died of a heart attack at age 45, thinking himself a failure. Later others came and took up their pens, writing a book about the same families in the same county of the same state of Alabama. Their title? And Their Children After Them. Their book, though perhaps undeserving according to Theroux’s historian, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990.

I just have to say again, who among us is innocent? My spiritual director might sometimes tire of hearing me say again and again that I don’t do enough, that I … don’t do enough. My sins are rampant, mostly of omission, and they rear up their crowing calculating condemning heads and cry their … scream their … curses. You are NOT innocent. Don’t think you are.

Still, in effect it seems to me, I do nothing. Nothing about me smells sweet, nothing tastes umami, nothing looks pure. It is not pure, the “me” I think of often but do nothing about.

Jesus frees me, lets me know on the hillside with the woman that I can step up and join her. I have long ago left the crowd of accusers, but now I can come from hiding, descend from my secret tree and join her. We both are sinners, and we both are free. In a moment, at last, I stop accusing myself.

Cover me, Jesus. Your cover will be easy, your cover will be light, and you only you Jesus can carry me out of my fear and into the lives of people who like me also are allowed to be free. This is your gift to us all.

The trick, David, is to let this moment of freedom carry you. It fades quickly, into your old ways of holding yourself back, holding yourself together. You are NOT holding yourself together when you hold yourself back. You are just, really, holding ME back. You have let me come to you. Not let me stay.

God, I am afraid of being one of those ancestors, those unpraised famous men. Certainly of being one of their children after them. All these generations that have gone on for so many centuries, sinners in the hands of an angry God. Sinners, OK, in the hands of a loving God. But sinners still. And unremembered still.

You want to be remembered, do you? By whom? By more of the men and women you have so little trouble separating yourself from? No. You’re right. You are my children, you are separate and unique, and you have all sinned and fallen short of my glory. You will continue to do that. Why do you need to be different? Just let yourself be who you were made to be, and relax into my rest, my arms, my touch, my forgiveness, my sweet love.

Thank you for these conversations, God. These prayers. Read, listen, write. Read, listen, write, pray.

Along all these quiet roads, showing me the way home.


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Mar 29 20

Lazarus comes out now

by davesandel

March 29, 2020

And on this strangest fifth Sunday of Lent in my lifetime, we continue to sit in our homes, or wherever we are, avoiding contact with other people … even as Ezekiel cries out in chapter 37, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them. And I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” And continuing in Psalm 130, “Out of the depths (from the grave?) I cry to you, O Lord, hear my voice! Paul sounds like he is admonishing, but I think he is simply grateful in Romans 8, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God, but you are not in the flesh. On the contrary, you are in the spirit.”

All this lectionary preparation to lead up to the great story in John 11 when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, and this, make no mistake about it, was a physical thing, although as Rick Faber says, “When Lazarus is brought  back to his former life (resuscitation) rather than brought forward into new and eternal life (resurrection), he has his focus right. It is on the Lord alone.”

After all those few days had come and gone, after Mary and Martha and a host of others had gathered around the tomb, after the stone had been pushed aside and the smell of Lazarus’ dead body been assimilated, Jesus called out in prayer, “Father, thank you for hearing me!” And then turning into the awful void, the blackness in the side of the mountain he called out, a muted, throaty scream, “Lazarus, come forth!” Lazarus, come forth. Lazarus, come forth.

Jesus, confident in his Father, said it only once, shouted it only once, screamed it only once. Let US make man in our image. Let US prevent them from eating the Tree of Life, lest they live forever in their sin. Let US join with our children at the tomb, and let US cry out “Lazarus, come forth!”

And Lazarus, God bless his soul, did come forth.

Rumi wrote, and Rick Faber records, this poem of the 13th century …

“Quietness” by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)

Inside this new love, die
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You are covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you have died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.

The speechless full moon
comes out now.

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Jan 5 20

Desert gifts

by davesandel

Today’s is the last of this year’s Advent, Christmas and Epiphany devotions.  Thank you for sharing them with me.  God bless the coming weeks of what the Catholic Church calls “ordinary time.”

I think, too, this may be the last of the devotions I will be writing. After twenty years perhaps the time has come for me to make a change. I keep praying about that.

Just in case I don’t write during this coming Lent and Easter, I want to thank you again for your silent companionship on this journey. Blessings to you!




Desert gifts

Epiphany Sunday, January 5, 2020

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem. Behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They laid flat on the ground and honored him. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

– From Matthew 2

In monasteries around the world postulants, like doctors, spend years preparing for their solemn profession. And then (unlike doctors) they lie flat upon the floor, prostrate to receive the blessing of their brothers or sisters.

Can’t you see the magi lying flat on the floor in front of Jesus? They have followed the star, they have brought gifts, but what they seek must come from the child’s lifted hand, from God’s blessing.

What are they listening for, as they lie there, eyes closed, praying? Not for Jesus to speak, exactly. But they are listening. All their senses are acutely tuned to whatever happens in the presence of this baby Jesus.

Mary watches them, her child with these colorfully clothed Asian kings, and listens too. The silence is sudden and sweet, deafening and delightful. The air gleams with gold and is filled with frankincense.

These wise men long ago chose to give up their certainties to make this quest. Perhaps they sought answers at first, but now they see their questions are unimportant. G. K. Chesterton knew that, and wrote:

Their gold is brought to a stable; the kings go seeking a carpenter. The wise men are on the march, not to find wisdom, but rather a strong and sacred ignorance.

What they found might be called, and was called by the angels, “goodwill to all men.” Chesterton knew that too:

The idea of embodying goodwill – that is, of putting it into a body – is the huge and primal idea of the Incarnation. A gift of God that can be seen and touched is the whole point of the epigram of the creed. Christ Himself was a Christmas present.

 The wise men’s methods were measured by Eastern rules, not western. They came in glorious, colored robes, purple and pink and crimson and green.  Chesterton detects another gift:

The Church took all the labyrinthine gold and crawling colours which in the Orient had adorned so many erotic poems and cruel romances, and she lit those motley flames to illuminate gigantic humility and the greater intensities of innocence.

 Watch the Vatican Christmas Eve service. Notice the sculpture, the architecture, the gold and silver. Notice the robes of priests and cardinals and pope, in all the colors of the rainbow. Magi brought the beginnings of all of this, the dust of Judea replaced in an instant by the silver and gold of kings.

Such a long trip they made to see the Child, but they couldn’t stay long. Warned in a dream, the magi “left for their own country by another way.” Herod’s rage rocked Judea anyway, and on a dark night as the holy family escaped to Egypt, soldiers slaughtered countless innocents in their cribs.

Jesus did not come to bring peace, as he said, “but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). But surely he was not approving rampage and murder driven by self-righteousness and religious fear. Chesterton sees another side to the gunpowder foretold by Jesus:

Now Christianity, whatever else it is, is an explosion. Whether or not it consists of the Fall, the Incarnation, The Resurrection, it does certainly consist of thunder, of prodigy, and of fire. Unless it is sensational there is simply no sense in it.

Unless the Gospel sounds like a gun going off it has not been uttered at all. And if the new theologies sound like steam slowly escaping from a leaky kettle, then even the untrained ear of the ordinary layman (who knows neither chemistry nor theology) can detect the difference between that sound and an explosion.

 *           *           *

O Lord, I lift my eyes up to the mountains and lift my ears to the heavens, I raise my hands and open my mouth in praise. All our senses seek the presence of God’s baby king. Jesus is Lord. The magi praise him, the rocks cry out, we are all your children now.

G. K. Chesterton, “The Theology of Christmas Presents,” in The Contemporary Review, January 1910

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Jan 4 20

Desert drama

by davesandel

Desert drama

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” John’s disciples turned and followed Jesus. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asked. They asked him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And he said to them, “Come and you will see.”

– From John 1

So much story between two days. John’s public words of welcome to Jesus, Jesus’ baptism and blessing from heaven, the congregation held in awe as the two embrace, the crowd disperses and then … what? Jesus goes his way and John goes his? John’s disciples follow him and Jesus is alone?

There was evening and there was morning – first day of the whole new world.

And the next day, as if standing on a street corner as Jesus passes by alone, John says to his friends, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Will John stop preaching now that he has baptized Jesus? Does he encourage his disciples to leave and follow Jesus? Will John himself follow Jesus? If not, why not?

Sun Myung Moon, my former teacher, thought that John and Jesus failed to work together, and that this was the crucial breakdown in what Rev. Moon saw as God’s plan to bring physical salvation to humanity through Jesus. That’s interesting, to say the least. But it’s not how most of us read the New Testament.

I have questions, not answers. When I read the Bible, when I read this story, I prefer to spend my time imagining myself into the story. I could have been one of those two disciples of John. One of them was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. The other …


I scuffled my feet for a moment in the dust when John looked at Jesus. Then John looked at me. “Well, Davey, go and see what you can see. Jesus is right here. Get going.” And I did. Andrew and I walked right up to Jesus, the man whom John as much as said was our Messiah. We looked each other in the eye and I had no idea what to say, so I just asked him, “Where are you staying?” I felt foolish. Who cares where he was staying?

But he said something wonderful. “Come and see.” You can decide what you think about all this for yourself. When he spoke I felt more free than I had since childhood. Just being here with Jesus, breathing the same air and sweating the same sweat gave me a new sense of my own goodness. God made everything glorious, and he made me.

I began to realize how unnecessary it was for me to understand these things. And when I let God break down the “cubicles of reasoning” in the office of my mind, I found myself following Jesus into light and into darkness, into joy and into sorrow, far beyond my understanding into peace.

In his New Testament called The Remedy, Timothy Jennings paraphrases 1 Peter 1:23: “You have been recreated in mind, heart and character: not from a defective self-centered template but from the perfect, eternal, immortal original – the living and everlasting character of God himself!”

He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree

Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.

When all of a sudden, I am unaware

Of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,

And I realize just how beautiful You are,

And how great Your affections are for me.

 This re-creation was happening to me right now, as I watched Jesus and followed him. I no longer scuffled my feet. My back straightened up. Everything I saw and everything I heard lent themselves to the certainty that I had been re-made from a new (as old as creation itself, but new to me) model, from “the perfect, eternal, immortal original.”

And we are His portion and He is our prize,

Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,

If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.

And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,

And my heart turns violently inside of my chest

I don’t have time to maintain these regrets

When I think about the way that he loves us

Right there with Jesus, standing in the sand, I knew how much I had always been God’s child.

Lord, in your mercy, in your love for me, doves erupt from the field and surround me, flying. No fear, Father, only awe as I too am lifted up and sing with your white birds of heaven. All new, all made new. In your mercy, hear our prayers.

“cubicles of reasoning,” from “The Unanswered Question in Thomas Merton’s ‘Fire Watch,’” by Ross Labrie in Christianity and Literature, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Summer 2003), p. 562

David Crowder Band, “How He Loves”, from Church Music album, 2009




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Jan 3 20

Revelation in the desert

by davesandel

Revelation in the desert

Friday, January 3, 2020

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.”

– From John 1

What white dove is that flying above his head? In his fasting and visions John might have seen the dove, now he is certain of its significance. This cousin of his, Jesus, his occasional companion in the desert, is the Lamb of God. He is the Messiah. In Greek, they will say he is the Christ.

In John’s struck silence the crowd’s murmering grows almost to applause, almost to praise as Jesus walks through the people. John still does not speak. He climbs down from the rock. Jesus comes to him, touches his cheek, and smiles.

The spell is broken, and John cries out, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

And now forevermore we sing his praise, the “Agnus Dei,” Lamb of God. “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us thy peace.”

Perhaps you’ve sung that chant, perhaps not. I sang it every Sunday in Zion Lutheran Church. Sometime too we sang Martin Luther’s Easter song, “Christ Jesus Lays in Death’s Strong Hands:”

See, His blood now marks our door

Faith points to it, death passes o’er

And Satan cannot harm us, Alleluia!

Lamb’s blood painted above their doors protected the Hebrews from God’s wrath when Ramses reneged on his word to Moses. The pharaoh couldn’t spare those workmen. His pride stood high and stopped him listening to his kid brother Moses.

“Let my people go,” God cried!

Soon, in the dead of night, Ramses’ weeping rang out beside his wife’s. Their son was gone, struck down by God’s angel of death with every firstborn son in Egypt. All but those in houses with lamb’s blood above the door.

Behold the Lamb of God.

Jesus’ blood now too? Will it be shed to save the children, save us all, in all our houses, all our tents, in all our shelters and our caves?

From these stories rise the promises of God to all of us. We are free to be free from sin and death forever.

Christ Jesus, God’s own son came down

His people to deliver

Destroy sin, he took the crown

From death’s pale brow forever

*           *           *

You have made us to be free, Lord, and we are free indeed. What are we waiting for? We already have the gift. Turn my eyes away from myself, from what I think I need, so I can see all that you have given me. Freely I have received, and I can freely give.

 Martin Luther, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands,” Lutheran Service Book #458. Listen on Youtube:

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Jan 2 20

Desert preacher

by davesandel

Desert preacher

Thursday, January 2, 2020

There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.

– From John 1

John is preaching? But John was just born! Our lectionary can confuse things, when I forget that lots of time passes in between the words. Year by year, John like Jesus becomes a man. Like many deep thinkers, they both begin to spend more and more time alone in the desert.

John was born under the call of his father’s words: “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Was this Lord the baby Jesus, about to be born? Elizabeth certainly thought so. Whether or not Zechariah had the same idea, he knew what the Lord would do: “He will give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”

So that is what John preached from atop a rock – first to the few, then to more and finally to multitudes of men and women and children, families who sometimes walked for days to hear John’s voice, fall down in tears and repentance, and experience John’s water baptism.

John had no idealistic thoughts about the leaders of those to whom he preached. Later Jesus called them “blind guides” and now John’s words were no less biting. “You brood of vipers!” he cried out at them. He left no doubt who he was talking about when he foretold God “burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

These angry righteous words kindled fires of revival, through which Jesus strode quietly.  He listened with the others, but did not go back like them into the towns and cities. He spent his time alone, like John, away in the desert, praying.

What were Jesus’ prayers before his baptism? Did his Father shape his thoughts? Margaret is grateful for her silent retreat time, when thoughts that come to her can germinate and mature. When she is living fully in each moment like this, she has all the time in the world. Is that how it was for Jesus?

Did Jesus know he was the one that John talked about? He found no difficulty in tying his own sandals, and never expected help from John or anyone else. But of course John just sought word pictures to describe the gulf between Messiah and the rest.

In his own silence Zechariah came to know God’s joy in what he was about to do: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and the shadow of death, he will guide our feet into the path of peace” (all from Luke 1).

Now in my own darkness, Lord, in the desert you offer me, I glimpse the quiet flames of tender mercy that are always there. You are never far away, and in every time of trouble I know I’m welcome to sit with you beside the fire.

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Jan 1 20

Wonder in Waynesville

by davesandel

Wonder in Waynesville

New Year’s Day, Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they proclaimed the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed. And Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. ­

– From Luke 2

A week after Christmas, memories fly like snowflakes in my mind.

This is a story of wonder.

Once upon a time, living in a small central Illinois town not on the way to anywhere, we found ourselves included in a tightly knit fellowship of friends. We didn’t grow up here, and so we didn’t expect this. But in this town our friend who had us for dinner also drove our kids to school the next day. If Margaret didn’t make it home in time after school, the kids walked two blocks down the street to hang out at the village grocery run by the bus driver’s husband.

Sometimes Chris or Marc did something they shouldn’t. Within twenty minutes someone always seemed to call, and then we could correct them.

For awhile before moving we began driving here to be part of a trying-to-be-resurrected church. Our boys were in school, but Andrea, our last child, our first girl, had just been born, so great for Margaret, who at last could replace matchbox cars and sports teams with dolls, pink dresses and little bits of lace.

Andi was born in April, we moved in August, and now it was coming on to Christmas. We walked around town in the snow singing carols and drank hot chocolate afterward. Our church had a live nativity with real animals and real shepherds (like me). Marc and Chris practiced their songs for the Christmas Eve service.

Jesus and his mother would be the focal point for everything, for all the words and music celebrating Jesus’ sweet nativity. But several mothers with younger babies declined to be Mary and Jesus on our church stage. Margaret remembers:

Now at the last minute WE were invited, and I was so excited! Like Mary and Joseph at Bethlehem’s last inn, we felt adopted and accepted into the family. And we had an important job to do.

I got there early, while my daughter was sleeping. I wanted to take off her full, pink snowsuit before the show started, but right away I got hustled backstage to don my Mary robe. The men tied on their beards. All of us were in full, period costume. All but Andi.

Andi was a total pink, sleeping marshmallow. Pink gloves on her hands, hood wrapped around her head and tied close below her chin – no, she would not get cold! The director put her in the straw. She slept on.

Very sedately the rest of us made our pilgrimage onstage for our representation of that secret, silent night. The congregation knew the baby this year would have to be an inferior, plastic child, but really they couldn’t see inside the creche. As his mother Mary, with no beard to hide behind, I did some Holy Spirit method acting to represent the Madonna, wearing my most beatific, sacred mother smile. I looked down with pride at my “new baby boy Jesus.”

Moments into the program I heard audible gasps in the audience. A tiny arm and wrist, completely clothed in pink swaddling fabric, slowly moved skyward. One arm, one hand. Mother Mary, thrown just for a moment, took her gently and guided the pink arm back into the crib.

A moment later Andrea, still sleeping but now having taken over the show, lifted her lovely pink arm toward the sky again. My mind flashed with the scripture, “Even the rocks will cry out!” Should I push her arm down again?

Mothers, even Mary, do what they have to do.

Andrea slept through the rest of the Christmas Eve service. She did her job, she gave God the glory on this night of nights. She blessed our adopted community, as she was herself adopted and blessed by them.

 Andi’s home again this week after Christmas and on this New Year’s Day. She’s visiting us all with her husband and three year old son Miles, and of course, her five-month old son Jasper.

Jasper gets bundled up to go outside, just like she was so many years ago.

Can you see him sleeping, quiet in the crib onstage, lifting that hand of his up toward the sky, once and then again? Do the rocks cry out again this Christmas? Do we parents and grandparents and friends lose our jaded edge for just a moment?

So that now, like then, we too can call out singing, right to Jesus, “Welcome! We love you!”

Babies take some time to grow, don’t they, Lord? You took time too. There’s never any hurry. We have a few stories from your life, and we have our own experiences. We can walk beside you while you learn to walk, and then ask you to walk beside US, while we learn how to ourselves be born, and live, and die, and live again.


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