Two edged sword

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12

There are many times when, out of fear or stinginess, the desire to belong or some other selfish motive, I don't behave in a loving way. I have a chance to be welcoming or supportive or to give real help in a situation where someone is in need, and I blow it. I can rationalize my behavior in countless ways. But the word of God whispering in my heart will not let me dodge the reality.

By the same token, it is often hard for me to confront others when I am unhappy with something they have done. What if it causes them to dislike me? And it makes me feel so vulnerable! I want to put up a facade of false well being and call that a magnanimous acceptance of their shortcomings. But once again, God is there demanding of me my truth.

In both cases, my failure to act is a failure to love. Avoiding difficult exchanges, whether I am giving something or asking for something, might be comfortable and non-threatening, but it is not honest and it is not helpful. It does not allow me to really meet those around me, to open the way for the alchemy of compassion to flow between us. Giving, receiving, giving again – in that commerce God is an inevitable part.

God's word whispers in our hearts. “You know what to do,” it tells us. But that is not a happy clappy kind of thing. It tosses us into the lion's pit, bounces us off the shiny defenses of systems of injustice, causes us to touch the sweating sick, the disconsolate dying, the dangerous other. And it moves us to make a place of truth between us where all grievances are heard and all wrongs are addressed and forgiven. It is not easy. It is not remotely easy. But it is how God would have us love.

Loving God, judge of my heart's intentions, speak your razor sharp word and give me the grace to receive it. Amen.

Unmarked Graves

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 – Proper 25, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) // 49, [53] (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 28:14-26
Revelation 21:1-6
Luke 11:37-52

With Halloween right around the corner, I'm particularly attuned to the haunting images from today's gospel. Jesus makes an unnerving analogy for the Pharisees: "you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it." The fear of treading on unmarked graves is the premise of many a horror film! If we came across, or walked right over, any unmarked graves today, how would we know?

I don't quite think that Jesus meant for us to walk around in fear or judgment on the internal state of everyone else. However, as the cultural observance of Halloween reminds us, there may be some use for heightening our fears of graveyards, ghosts, and zombies from time to time. At any moment, we could be in the presence of someone, or something, who walks and talks on the outside, but who is dead . . . and deadly! . . . on the inside.

The fear of unmarked graves, or of the walking dead, reminds us that the forces of death aren't always clearly labeled. Something that appears clean, pious, or respectable might, on the inside, be "full of greed and wickedness," or might "neglect justice and the love of God," or might simply "love to have the seat of honor . . . and to be greeted with respect." Without realizing it, we might be treading on deadly ground.

In fact, Jesus goes on to criticize the deadly tendencies of a religion led by people who are unmarked graves. That religion's leaders "load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them." For example, these leaders might impose moral demands on others without taking on obligations themselves, or without addressing the social contexts that could make fulfilling those demands a little bit easier.

Not only are such a religion's leaders unmarked graves, but the religion itself is nothing but an elaborate tomb for prophets who are safely dead. As Jesus says, "Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed." Such a religion wants to honor the people who spoke and acted boldly for God's vision of justice, as long as they've been dead for a few generations.

Jesus warns us all about a religion led by unmarked graves, burdensome to the living, and focused on building tombs rather than enacting a living, breathing vision of God's kingdom. The prospect of living our lives among unmarked graves and the walking dead should give us chills. Tread carefully today.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

A Servant's Heart

Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus sure takes all the fun out of being a sanctimonious hypocrite. The priests and scribes were living the high life: strutting and preening, soaking up honors, decked out in splendor. The servants of the Lord had become the masters of the people.Chorazin_Seat_of_Moses.jpg

Sure they were scriptural whiz-kids. But where was the love? They were star performers of ritual. But their praise was hollow. They were arbiters of right and wrong. But their real job was extortion and self-aggrandizement. They had the brains, but not the heart. They used their offices to coerce, not to serve.

Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph and finds the seat of Moses has become the epicenter of sacrilege. The gentle Jesus, who loved the lowly and sought out sinners, despises corruption with a wrath God reserves for grotesque abuse of priestly privilege. Calling them: fools...hypocrites...blind guides...vipers...whited sepulchers, Jesus rips into the filth that fouls God's house.

But Jesus did not come to carp and to scold. He came to save. So he clearly points out the path to healing repentance, instructing all who have the will to hear that: ...he that is the greatest among you shall be your servant...whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Matthew's gospel is known as a gospel of instruction. And repetition is the essence of instruction. From the Sermon on the Mount all the way to Calvary, Jesus repeats the lesson of this Sunday's gospel, sometimes in beatitudes, sometimes in parables and finally in blunt straight talk: Whoever wants to be first, must first become a servant...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.

In all the coverage of the current Ebola outbreak, a major piece of the story is missing. Why? What compels our fellow Americans to travel half-way round the world to put their lives in danger working in hellish conditions? How do we explain this behavior by folks who are supposed to be part of the “Me-Generation?” It’s certainly not for the pay. And it’s not to pad their resumes. This week’s gospel offers the answer. The first two US cases were medical missionaries serving in the Samaritan’s Purse ministry. The love of Christ called them to where they were needed most. Subsequent cases have been among other medical professionals who accepted the risk of contagion to serve strangers suffering in deadly peril. Whether they are professing Christians or not, their conduct is clearly Christ-like.

In defining greatness as servant-hood, Jesus turns the whole social order on its head. The first become last. The last are suddenly first. Reflecting on this revolution at the heart of Christianity, Henri Nouwen writes: "Our God is a servant God...we are liberated by someone who became powerless...we are strengthened by someone who became weak...we find a leader in someone who became a servant."

It's that simple. To follow Jesus, to become a Christian, is to become a servant. Unlike the proud priests and scribes in this gospel, becoming a true servant means purging ourselves of vanity, resentments, jealousies...all the self-centered junk that crowds out peace and excludes serenity. God will send no one away empty, except those who remain so full of themselves that they leave no room for grace. To have a servant’s heart is to have a heart rich to overflowing… rich in grace… rich in hope… rich in the love of Jesus Christ. A servant’s heart… a happy heart… that’s what I pray for… for you… for me… for all of God’s beloved. It’s the closest thing to heaven on earth.

The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.

Have You Heard?

Monday, October 27, 2014 – Proper 25, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 41, 52 (morning) // 44 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 19:4-17
Revelation 11:1-14
Luke 11:14-26

Yesterday I drove past a political billboard that I'm dying to talk about. The slogan on it pretty much sums up everything that I think is wrong with America. I also heard this week about a truly hateful campaign in a nearby community where I'd dared to hope for better things.

But today's first reading asks me to keep a lid on these topics. The passage asks, "Have you heard something? Let it die with you. Be brave, it will not make you burst!" In the Scriptures, this advice has more to do with repeating conversations or passing along rumors, but political gossip is more dangerous to me. When something makes me really angry, I think I'll explode trying to hold it in.

If I let it out, though, I know that I'll only give free publicity or extra fuel to some very real forces of cruelty and destruction.

At least the analogy in today's reading gave me a laugh to diffuse some of my anger: "Having heard something, the fool suffers birth pangs like a woman in labor with a child." (I laughed because I highly doubt that the writer has experienced childbirth. I get the point, but I don't find labor and trying to contain gossip very similar at all!)

The Psalms today have some more apt comparisons. One Psalm calls out the one whose "tongue is like a sharpened razor." The other Psalm warns us about those whose "heart collects false rumors" that they then run out and spread. How often are our hearts and minds the receptacles of information, gossip, or anger that we use as whetstones to sharpen our witty tongues?

Fortunately for my line of work, I'm a steel trap . . . or more like a black hole . . . when it comes to personal information. I have no desire to tell or sometimes even to remember the deeply sensitive aspects and stories of people's lives (unless someone wants me to "hold" something personal for them).

When it comes to political gossip and negativity, though, I must work hard to check my tongue. In fact, if you ask me about the billboard slogan in person, I might not be able to contain myself! But honestly, I'd better sign off now. I have to trust that I'm not going to explode if I treat these matters of political intrigue to the silence and oblivion they deserve.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Is it beneficial?

Psalm 63:1-8(9-11), 98 (Morning)
Psalm 103 (Evening)
Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 18:19-33
1 Corinthians 10:15-24
Matthew 18:15-20

"‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up."

Paul had an interesting bunch of folks under his guidance in Corinth. Most of them were Gentiles, and they all were living in a fairly cosmopolitan city under the auspices of the Roman Empire, with at least a dozen temples, shrines, and other assorted whatnot devoted to the Roman gods. The folks at Corinth would have had many festivals and events related to those gods going on during any given calendar year. It was a common belief among the ruling class of the Roman Empire that when the populace in a territory participated in these festivals and/or worship, it helped bring stability to the region. For the average Joe and Jane in Corinth, it would have been considered perfectly normal and sensible to participate in these activities--in fact, it was very likely encouraged by the governing class.

82px-Moloch_the_god.gifSomething that gets a little lost on us and our 21st century minds is that sensible citizens of Corinth would have been engaging in worship to the Roman gods as a matter of course, simply because of the enmeshed cultural and social ramifications of it, and, if one did not, the risk of drawing unwanted attention by their refusal. Our minds don't always grasp that idol worship really wasn't abnormal in that culture.

Yet, Paul tells them something rather uncomfortable, and possibly even dangerous: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Obviously, there was nothing unlawful about worshiping the Roman gods. Obviously, there were theological reasons as to why Paul thought it was a bad idea to participate much in what would have been considered a normal part of society in Corinth. He goes on to qualify a few situations regarding food--buy what's sold to you in the meat market, eat what your non-Christian hosts offer you when there's been no discussion as to its origin, but if someone tells you that the food had been offered to idols, refuse it--not because it will do something horrible to your eternal soul, but for the sake of the conscience of the person who informed you.

In short, he's asking the Corinthians to think about this in terms of the shared cup and the shared bread--whether an action builds up this shared community or not.

Paul's words can still create discomfort in us, all these centuries later, as there are plenty of things that are lawful in our society, and even innocuous when we engage in them in moderation, that, for certain people, or in certain circumstances, just might not be a good idea, simply because they don't build up the community of believers. It's certainly lawful to do things like use disposable paper plates, attend a $200 a plate fundraiser dinner, drink alcohol, or buy a Powerball ticket--but are there times these things don't build up our community of believers? (I only pick those because I've done them all recently and they came to mind.)

We're not likely to encounter any idol-worshipers in the sense Paul meant when speaking to the Corinthians--but with a little reflection, we can probably come up with the idols each of us is prone to worship now and then. The answers vary for each of us, but we probably all share the commonality that worshiping them seems to plug a hole in our self-esteem (at least temporarily.) Paul's words, however, remind us that we need to think about these things in terms of community more than in terms of our perceived wants, needs, and longings.

What perfectly lawful behavior in your life might be worth considering modulating in light of your faith community? What is an idol in your life worth setting aside for the sake of that community?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.

"Moloch the god" by Unknown - the Bible. Via Wikipedia.

Making choices

Sirach 15:9-20

I really like the book of Sirach. I haven't read it enough times to have it memorized and there's no plot with the need to keep characters and their stories straight. Instead, it is a collection of teachings on various topics more or less categorized and presented for consideration, meditation and emulation.

This passage begins with a brief statement on praise. Praise, to Sirach, is a bad thing if God didn't send it and if the person offers some kind of praise in order to gain something for themselves. We've seen people butter up the rich and powerful in the hopes that there would be some sort of reward for stroking their egos. Kids try to butter up Mom or Dad when they want money over and above their earned allowance or they try to flatter a teacher into giving them a better grade than they deserved. But what if the person did something really good? Would offering a few words of praise be out of line? Not necessarily, if the praise is honestly given and doesn't try to curry favor because of it. It's all about intent.

The gyri of the thinker's brain as a maze of choices in biom Wellcome L0027293And then the reading turns to choices. People were given free will and the ability to make choices, whether good or bad. It's more than a child's choosing chocolate ice cream over strawberry, or a teen choosing this college over that one. It's about the little choices we make every day, how we make those choices and why. Each choice has a consequence, whether a positive one or a negative, depending on the choice that is made and the situation that demands the choice. Choosing to drive drunk is probably a very poor choice with the high possibility of very negative consequences both for the driver and for anyone else on the road or in the vehicle. Choosing to enter a profession that helps others rather than is based solely on what salary one can earn is a potentially good choice. Not all wealth is measured in the size of a bank account.

"Before each person are life and death." Even that is a choice -- sometimes. Suicide is a very real choice for some people. Teenagers can't necessarily see that what is seems so earth-shattering to them now is, most likely, temporary and will get better with time, or someone whose palliative medications just cannot control the pain of an injury or illness that could be fatal. Sometimes it is hard for others to understand someone making a choice to end their own life, and often it is condemned as selfish or a usurping of God's purpose. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is all about the person, not the family, friends, co-workers and the world in general. When a teen commits suicide, we condemn it as a waste of a good life, but to the teen, it is an escape from something like bullying or messages of condemnation for something they know they are but can't reveal for fear of rejection or bullying. A terminally ill patient is considered a bit more leniently; after all, they have pain to endure, but to some, it is selfish and circumventing God's will as to when they are appointed to die. I don't think it is ever an easy choice, no matter which stage of life a person is in, yet the consequences of the choice are clear.

Most religions have sets of rules that are designed to create order and some uniformity in the group that comprise that religion. Most teach that their adherents are to honor their deity or deities, care for others whether in the group or outside it, to respect the land they live on and to live their lives in an honest and upright way. When one group decides that another is wrong and seeks to change, take over or even eliminate another group for its beliefs, then there is conflict, war, death and destruction. If the choice is made to live as peaceably as possible (and it has been done in a number of diverse places with diverse groups for hundreds if not thousands of years), then everybody benefits. It only takes a few fanatics, however, to impose chaos and begin a conflict that can shatter a culture, a religion or a way of life forever. It all comes down to choice.

We choose our candidates in an election with the hope that they will do their best to represent all the people of their district, not merely pander to their own wants and ideas. There was a political flyer in the mail this past week from a candidate who accused the opponent of abandoning their Roman Catholic teachings because they, the opponent, favored letting women choose to use birth control or even abortion. Which would be better, an elected official who enforces their own beliefs on others or one who seeks to represent all the people, not just those of his or her own religious affiliation? The voters will have to make a choice between the two and the fate of many lives may rest on which one is chosen.

In the book of Joshua, he calls out to the wayward to make a choice: "...[C]hoose this day whom you will serve" (24:15b). It is a call to us in our generation as well. Will we have the wisdom Sirach tries to impart to us or will we ignore it and go on our merry way? Will we choose to serve God or will the idol of the world, it's pleasures and riches, get our loyalty and fealty?

What will our choice be?

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

Just One Thing

Friday, October 24, 2014 – Proper 24, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 11:2-20
Revelation 9:13-21
Luke 10:38-42

It's hard to imagine a gospel story more perfectly crafted for one of today's most widespread ailments: distraction. In today's gospel, a woman named Martha graciously welcomes Jesus into her home. However, she is "distracted by her many tasks," and Jesus scolds her for being "worried and distracted by many things." Martha's multi-tasking and her many distractions prevent her from having a relationship with Jesus.

But Jesus constantly invites us to radically simplify our lives. While Martha has many things to do, Jesus tells her, "there is need of only one thing," which her sister Mary has chosen. Martha's sister Mary doesn't keep herself busy when Jesus comes to their home. Instead, she sits at Jesus' feet and listens to him.

Almost every day, I read or hear about some new study that describes the destructive or even deadly consequences of being distracted. I, for one, know that my "many tasks" often threaten to compromise the quality of my relationships with my children, my husband, my friends, and my Lord.

What type of busy work is distracting you from what is most important? What keeps you from giving others the attention and companionship that they desire? What petty details distract you from the goals that need your focus?

Perhaps a better question is, what one thing do you need? Jesus says, "Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." Whatever that "one thing" is, it can never be stolen or lost. So today, let's examine how Jesus calls us from the world of many tasks and distractions that make our days fly by, and into the kingdom of deep attentiveness that time can never steal from us.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Shadows and woundedness

“Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.” – Hebrews 12:14-15

I've often thought that church communities are just like secular ones when it comes to supporting and caring for their members – both fail in equally painful and dramatic ways. But at least in the Christian communities people know they ought to be trying for more compassion and inclusion.

The_Wounded_Angel_-_Hugo_Simberg-1008x811.jpgWhile that is true, it is also true that Christian communities often have very huge, very dark shadows. Church members carry an unspoken set of assumptions about right behavior which have their roots in the unconscious, in the attitudes formed through participation in less than perfect families. Just like we unconsciously find intimate partners who are like our parents and then try to change them, we try to find churches that reflect the dysfunction with which we grew up and then we try to fix it. But since it's all subterranean longings and woundedness, this rarely works very well.

Clergy are the recipients of a lot of the projections of their parishioners – but clergy also do their own fair share of projecting. Like psychologists, they try to fix their families by fixing their church family surrogates. “Now they'll listen to me,” their inner little kids say. “I have the authority.”

When parishioners and priests collude in this unconscious attempt to fix things, a dark morass of co-dependency can form. Everybody takes care of everybody else, and this generally means supporting bad habits, failing to challenge one another, and insisting on keeping things comfortable. New people coming into the situation learn quickly where the hot buttons are, and they either fit right in with the unconscious ethos or they leave.

When one of the members of my church is bitterly angry, dissatisfied and resentful, I try to remember to attempt to learn what is going on in the unconscious. How can the deeper issues that person is suffering be brought up into the light and languaged? We tend to blame the complainer, our natural tendency being to locate the problem in some psychological material of theirs. But sometimes that is not the case. Sometimes it's the hidden pacts the whole community has made that are the problem. In that case, the whiner is actually a prophet come to name the brokenness, pull the morass into consciousness where it can be worked on, and lead us back to God.

Holy One who is with us in all our gatherings, give us the courage and stamina to listen to one another deeply, generously, and honestly so that we can be communities in which true holiness and grace can take root and grow. Amen.

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.

The Wounded Angel - Hugo Simberg - public domain

The Way They Pray in Heaven

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 – Proper 24, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 7:4-14
Revelation 8:1-13
Luke 10:17-24

One highlight of my week is officiating a service of compline (night prayer) or evening prayer for our local campus ministry. We light candles, burn incense, and chant. We lay down our unfinished work and frenetic lives and put our trust in God to defend and sustain us.

Recently, our campus minister suggested that we sit in silence before beginning our prayer. So now, we begin by sitting in quiet darkness, watching a white cloud of incense hover just over our heads.

This prayer service preceded by silence looks a lot like the heavenly vision from today's second reading. John of Patmos begins his report by saying, "there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." Then, he saw an "angel with a golden censer," who "was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints."

And then, "the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel." What an exquisite offering of prayer.

I have to admit that the vision takes a dramatic turn after this stunning scene of heavenly prayer. The angels start blowing their trumpets, hail and fire fall from the sky, water turns bitter, the moon and stars go dark, and an eagle cries out a warning about further destruction to come. The vision comes crashing down from heaven to a devastated earth.

But this jarring return to earth reminds us that silence, incense, and angels are not forms of spiritual escapism. When we pray the way they pray in heaven, we don't get to leave the earth behind. Instead, we get to enter the kingdom of heaven that is with us, and within us. We get to entrust our very selves, our bodily needs, our loved ones, our fragile earth, our whole universe to God's vision of justice, peace, and abundance. This prayer gives us perseverance in a world that is falling apart.

It's an extraordinary way to pray, and you're welcome to join us at 8pm on Thursday nights at St. Martin's, if you're local. Otherwise, try letting silence, incense, saints, and angels do your praying for you sometime. That's the way they pray in heaven, and it might be the only prayer with the power to change the face of the earth.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Tough Questions

Matthew 22:34-46

This is the third straight week that we are working our way through the revelation rich 22nd Chapter of Matthew. Once again Jesus is head to head with the leadership of the temple. They are trying to take him down. He is trying to lift them up.

Jesus has been fielding tough questions aimed at tripping him, discrediting him… finding grounds to condemn him. This time it's the Pharisees turn to give it their best shot. They know that the Sadducees had just struck out trying to nail Jesus on a fine point of Mosaic Law. So they brought in their heavy hitter, a scholar specializing in all the intricacies of law and tradition, prophecy and religious practice. They are confident that his brilliance will destroy this Nazarene bumpkin.

You can hear the sarcasm dripping as the legal lion addresses Jesus as "Master." He wants to draw this carpenter into an elevated discussion of law so he can expose Jesus as a presumptuous hick who’s way out of his depth daring to banter with the big boys. Pity the proud lawyer. He came to shoot fish in a barrel and found he was up against, quite literally, the original, original thinker. Rather than get drawn into verbal jousting over old covenant law, Jesus lays out the basis for an entirely new covenant. And he does it in just two sentences:

Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.

Two thousand years later, the brilliance and the brevity of these essential concepts of Christianity are still breathtaking. The Ten Commandments and twenty-seven chapters of Leviticus were dominated by a laundry list of “shall not’s." The Old Testament is an encyclopedia of transgressions and punishments. And then in two sentences the entire dynamic of our relationship with God is redefined. The entire purpose of life is laid out clearly and succinctly. The guidelines for all human behavior are summarized in two easily understand instructions.

Gone is the endless recitation of "shall not's." And in its stead, the imperative to love is the new paradigm. Avoiding evil now becomes the natural byproduct of doing good. We are commanded to live bold lives of action, not timid lives of avoidance. More recently that basic Christian concept has been boiled down still further, into only four letters...WWJD... What Would Jesus Do? And from his life, death and Resurrection, we know the answer. Like Jesus, we humbly, gratefully praise God and serve our neighbor. We witness the love of Christ to all we meet.

Jesus easily answers the scholars’ toughest questions. They are confounded by his wisdom. Then they are thunderstruck by the follow-up questions he puts to them: What do they think of the Messiah? Whose son is he? When they answer that the Messiah is the son of David, Jesus asks them: How can that be if David calls the Messiah Lord? His implication is clear. The Christ, the Messiah is the Son of God, not the Son of David. The answer is suddenly evident and yet it had escaped their studies and endless debate. How can this be? They are the powerful and the privileged. They have all the answers. And here is this nobody, comfortably quoting scripture, effortlessly swatting their questions back at them. Hey, maybe there’s something to those reports about miracles? Maybe he’s more than a carpenter’s son?

As Matthew records: After that day no one was brave enough to ask him any more questions. They had found that the trouble with tough questions is that they elicit tough answers. And ready or not… the answer is that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. It’s not what they expected. It’s not what they wanted. But clearly, it was and is the truth. Embrace him. Rejoice in him. Jesus not only knows the answers to the tough questions… he is the answer to life’s toughest questions: Why are we here? Where are we going? He is the love of God incarnate. In him our lives have meaning and direction. In him we are saved. And, in the end, that’s the only answer that really counts.

The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.

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