December 24, 2009 Spirits of Christmas

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Spirits of Christmas

Ebenezer Scrooge.  A timeless character.  He is the greedy, joyless, uncaring, isolated Brit we follow in Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol.  Over the decades, he has been portrayed by

Ernest Borgnine
James Earl Jones
George C Scott
Venessa Williams
Henry Winkler
Kelsey Grammer
Marcel Marceau
Tori Spelling
Patrick Stewart
Tim Curry
Jack Palance
Mike Judge
Micheal Caine
Bill Murray
Rich Little
Walter Matthau
Albert Finney
Jim Backus
John Carradine

and most recently by Jim Carrey in the 2009 cartoon version currently playing.

The fact that there have been so many versions of this story suggests that it addresses a vital part of our Christmas experience.  It is as popular now as it was when first published for the Christmas of 1843.  The name of Ebenezer Scrooge is probably better known to most than the traditional names of the Magi. (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar)  Charles Dickens’s blast against greed and inhumanity seems as relevant today as it ever did.  But it's more than the theme.  It's the vehicle that I find captivating.  You remember.  Rotten old Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited and transformed by four spirits on Christmas Eve.  The first visitor is his long dead collegue Jacob Marley who is a case study in the effects of greed.  He warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three other spirits.

1.    In Dicken's story, the spirit of Christmas past reviewed Ebeneezer's early joys and later disappointments.
2.    Christmas present is Falstaff of merriment and extravagance that was an antidote to the stark puritan version of Christmas then common in England.
3.    Christmas to be was a dark fear of the extrapolation of Scrooge's rotten character that looked much like we now portray the grim reaper.

The turning point in the whole drama is when Scrooge understands the grand sweep of events shown him. "Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!"  Can we change?

These spirits are still powerful and still hover about our Christmas experience.  Let's review the spirits of our Christmas.

We are also visited by the spirit of Christmases past this night.
•    Fond memories of unbridled joy and innocence may judge our present.
•    The spirit of Christmas past was often the spirits of people now gone from us.  I know you have thought of them already.
•    We grasp at maintaining traditions as a way of bringing the goodness of the spirit of Christmases past with us.
•    The spirit of Christmas past is with us.

The spirit of Christmas present is complicated for us today.
•    There are so many things that need to be done and so many expectations to satisfy that the spirit of Christmas present may be one of anxiety and obligation.
•    Changes in the world have made us negotiate new ways that may unsettle us. 
•    You are gathered in this holy place to find a different spirit in the now.  A holiness.  A peace that is so often missing in a busy season.
•    The spirit of Christmas present is with us.

The spirit of Christmas yet to be is a challenge we usually avoid.  But for Christmas to be more than nostalgia, there are spirits to be faced.
•    How do we want our future Christmases to look? 
•    What shall we do for the Tiny Tims who are chronically ill? 
•    What shall we do for the refugees who land in Bethlehem?
•    How will your personal life bring a different Christmas next year or ten years from now?

The larger message of the arrival of God is that things can be different.  A little child can change everything, even stubborn old men.  No matter how old, or set in our ways, or stuck by circumstance, there is a hope born this night that the world has had the seeds of greatness sown.  God is with us in the stirring enterprise of peace on earth and goodwill to all people.

Tonight I challenge you to work with a new vision of the spirit of Christmas yet to be.  Not a threatening hooded creature that Dickens portrayed, but a beckoning God who invites us to great joy with angels and songs and visions.  The spirit of Christmas yet to be is the God of the unwrapped present, the God of the benevolent mystery, the God of Christmas morning, the God of bright challenge and expansive grace.

There is a hope born this night that transcends whatever is ‘stuck’ in your life.  This hope comes not by threats and fears, but with a small child’s gaze.  “God bless us, every one.”

A Christmas Carol (sub-titled "In Prose. Being A Ghost Story of Christmas") is a novella by English author Charles Dickens about miserly, cold, unfeeling, old and curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge and his holiday conversion and redemption after being visited by four ghosts on Christmas Eve. The book was first published on 19 December 1843 with illustrations by John Leech, and quickly met with commercial success and critical acclaim. The tale has been viewed as an indictment of nineteenth century industrial capitalism and has been credited with returning the holiday to one of merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and sombreness. A Christmas Carol remains popular, has never been out of print,[1] and has been adapted to film, opera, and other media. (wiki)

(c) William H. Levering 2009

December 20, 2009 Discerning Our Role

Luke 1: 46-55
Not all of us can get pregnant.

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

  1. What different roles do you have in life?
  2. Do your roles change?
  3. How is a set of tasks different from a role?
  4. Do we have roles we are unaware of?
  5. How can our roles in life hurt us?  Help us?
  6. What is Mary's role in God's reign?
  7. What is yours?

Sermon - “Discerning Our Roles”

Have you ever tried out for a play or a musical?  Have you ever waited anxiously for the posting to see what part you got?  Would you be the spearholder or the king?  Would the role suit you or would you have to ‘put on’ the character?  Of course the most important roles in our life are handed out often without our involvement.

We have clusters of expectations and scripts that are called roles that play a large part in determining who we are. We negotiate our roles within the pressures of expectations and stereotypes, but we undeniably have roles in life. Artists and psychologists agree that in many ways, 'all the world's a stage' and that we take on certain patterns of talk and behavior that give structure to our personalities.

Often situations force these roles on us, however we modify them.  When we are born into a family, we have a birth order that weighs upon us.  Perhaps we are the oldest, perhaps the baby.  Right from the very beginning of our lives, there are situations that call forth from us a particular set of responses that become a role.  How we discern and embrace these roles is the question of the morning.

The roles that come from the situations of our lives may or may not be accepted.  As Paul wrote, “when I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” But we all know people who refuse to grow up, who decide not to take on the role of an adult.  Later in life a woman may leap at the role of mother, or not.  Some people may deny that they are grandparents in the way they act because they just can't see themselves as old enough to be a grandparent.

Our family position is just one of the undeniable role positions in which we are placed.  At some point, we live someplace and take up a role in relation to the people around us.  Whether we like it or not, we are neighbors to someone.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells a parable that broadens our understanding of the role a neighbor takes because he knows we all have the role of the neighbor.

At some point we get jobs and become employees or bosses and have role relationships with clients and co-workers.  We take on occupations that have role expectations attached.  Physicians are supposed to act a particular way, pastors another.  In any profession, when you reach a certain level, fame forces another role.  A famous figure once said "If you are given a chance to be a role model, I think you should always take it because you can influence a person's life in a positive light, and that's what I want to do. That's what it's all about."  Unfortunately, the person who said this was Tiger Woods.

Others respond to situations in ways that give us hope.  Neil Armstrong didn’t set out to be the first person on the moon.  He simply embraced what came to him.   He said once in an interview, “Yeah, I wasn't chosen to be first. . . .Circumstance put me in that particular role. That wasn't planned by anyone.”

Today we observe the response of Mary who was in a very strange situation. She was about to become a mother in a situation that could have gone quite sour.  In Luke's version, Mary's embracing of her role in the divine drama takes place before Joseph enters the scene at all.  She had every reason to disbelieve that her role could be anything but social outcast and mother of trouble.  Her position of humility, however, made her the perfect vehicle for the demonstration of God's grace.  She allowed her role to become holy.  She brought God into her situation and transformed the role of unwed mother into the role of handmaiden of God.  The world has never been the same.

There are two points I would like to make about all this.

1. God calls us all to particular roles.
2. We need to discern and embrace the role situation we are in.

In church we teach that all have been chosen by God for particular parts of the job of redemption.  In First Corinthians, Paul wrote a passage we used in our stewardship campaign this year: "to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines."

But there is a broader context than the roles we have in church.  John Calvin understood our whole life to be a vocation called by God.  He wrote "It will also be no small alleviation of his cares, labours, troubles, and other burdens, when a person knows that in all these things  he has God for his guide. The magistrate will execute his office with greater pleasure, the father of a family will confine himself to his duty with more satisfaction, and all, in their respective spheres of life, will bear and surmount the inconveniences, cares, disappointments, and anxieties which befall them, when they shall be persuaded that every individual has his burden laid upon him by God. Hence also will arise peculiar consolation, since there will be no employment so mean and sordid (provided we follow our vocation) as not to appear truly respectable, and be deemed h'ghly important in the sight of God"

Being the baby of the family can be an excuse for irresponsibility or a springboard to creativity.  Being a baker can be a daily drudge or can be a vehicle for God.  This means investing a holiness in our situations that often transcends the stereotypes of our roles.

God and Mary conspired together to transform use her role as mother and handmaiden of God for the salvation of the world.  What role of yours shall be transformed?

We may have romantic notions of some future world in which we are superheroes, but the future is closer than we think, and is apparent that God chooses to arrive in the vessel of what already is.  Each of the roles that you now have can be the vehicle for the coming transformations of God . . . or not.  As Glinda, the good witch of the south asked Dorothy, “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”

The discernment we are called to is how our roles can also be roles in the kingdom of God.  In his inaugural address John Kennedy talked about embracing a role.  He said "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility - I welcome it."

My father often told me he didn't mind if I became a ditch digger as long I was a good ditch digger.  God tells us something similar:  You are a ditch digger for a particular holy reason.  You have a role in God’s realm.  There are no small parts in the grand scheme of things.  We may need to transform the role of being a child to our parents as time goes on.  We may need to mold the role of teacher around our particular skills, but the casting list has been posted, we have been cast in a holy and wonderful production.  Break a leg.


My role in society, or any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.  John Lennon

I'm not a role model... Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids.  Charles Barkley

December 13, 2009 Discerning Particular Actions

"What then should we do?"

Hymns: Lift Up Your Heads, Comfort, Comfort You My People, Christ of the Upward Way
Music: The Voice of God is Calling;    HS Girls:What is this Light?
Liturgist: S Midge    Reader:  Gerorge Trimarco     Candles:  Bachorick family

John Preaching to the Crowds (stylized)

Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Opening Questions:

  1. When do you know that you've done the right thing?
  2. Should the church be specific in telling people what to do?
  3. Should God be specific in telling people what to do?
  4. Should my wife be specific in telling me what to do?
  5. How would you know if a direct order came from God?
  6. What is the first thing you think of when someone gives you a specific order?
  7. Is it possible for people to work together without a leader?
  8. When have you really really enjoyed being told what to do?

Jesus describes God in various analogies in parables: 
·       God as Father to prodigal son
·       God as king giving banquet
·       God as judge dealing with nagging supplicant
·       God as landowner collecting rent
·       God as employer leaving talents, paying workers similar wages, dealing with unforgiving servant, cautioning to keep watch.  Mark 13:33  Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.  Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.

Today:  God as Boss.

God as boss is problematic because bosses are often not seen in such a positive light as God.

One day a man was having a conversation with God when his whole life flashed before his eyes as a series of footsteps on the sands of time. He saw that there were two pairs of footprints, but during the most difficult periods of his life there were only one set of footprints. He asked God “You said you will be with me throughout this journey, but why have you deserted me during the most critical times of my life??” to which God answered “Son, I did not desert you, I was always with you…you see only one set of footprints because during those difficult times in your life, I was carrying you in my hands”

Another day I was having a similar conversation with my Project Manager when my whole project flashed before my eyes as a series of footsteps on the sands of time. I saw that there were two pairs of footprints, but during the most difficult times in the project there were only one set of footprints. I asked my PM “You said you will be with me throughout the project, but why have you deserted me during the most critical times of the project??” to which the PM answered “Son, I did not desert you, I was always with you…you see only one set of footprints because during those difficult times, I was sitting on your head!!”

·       "Land of Oz" metaphor suggests that bad bosses fall into three groups: the boss with no brains; the boss with no courage; and the boss with no heart: the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man.
·       Dilbert suggests that there are 2 kinds too much and too little
o   micromanaging   worst macromanaging - distant
o   macromanaging   worst micromanaging - cant keep hands off

Micromanaging in Wikipedia  “In contrast to giving general instructions on smaller tasks while supervising larger concerns, the micromanager monitors and assesses every step and avoids delegation of decisions. Micromanagement is often easily recognized by employees, but micromanagers rarely view themselves as such. Micromanagers will also refute such claims by citing their management style as structured or organizational; this is part of the denial process.
The notion of micromanagement can be extended to any social context where one person takes an inappropriate level of control and influence over the members of a group.

1. God as boss
   sometimes you give employees (us) broad values to act on:  love one another
   sometimes you give them (us) very particular directions : don’t marry your father’s widow
   john does both  - coats and satisfaction

2. Sometimes we can to work it out ourselves
If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it you almost don't have to manage them. - Jack Welch

3. Sometimes we need micromanaging, specific rules:  What then shall we do?
  * early in our faith
  * when lost
  * when exhausted
  *coming home asking about what to eat
  * when uncertain
  *driving: coming to a crossroads

Discernment about when we need which
 talking to boss about needs


Unused  --------------------------

“Now that I look back, I realize that a life predicated on being obedient and taking orders is a very comfortable life indeed. Living in such a way reduces to a minimum one's need to think.”   Adolf Eichmann

Is God (or at least John) a micromanager?

December 6, 2009 Discerning Paths

How can we make God's path to us straight?

Hymns:  Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, Gather Us In, Prepare the Way
Music:  Prepare Ye the Way; Klokken Ringers: O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Liturgist:  D. Carlson     Reader:  Rae Forster     Candles: Evans Family    

Bible Study Openers
  1. What memories do you have of paths?  Are they straight?
  2. How would you straighten a path anyway?
  3. What happens on a bumpy road?
  4. Are people too cagey or politic or polite when they speak normally?
  5. If God were to change us, how would that happen?
  6. Have you changed any habit in your life?  How?
  7. Does your life have a direction?
  8. In what way could we change to make it easier for God to get to us?

Luke 3:1-6
3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"


The Appalachian trail is traveled by thousands of hikers every year. Over 9600 people traveled it's entire length which represents about 10% of those who attempted to complete its 2178 mile length. It is one of the best known footpaths in America, yet it requires a great deal of upkeep. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, as it is known, or the AT, takes massive efforts. This year over $650,000 was spent on trail upkeep including basic repairs to washed out sections, refurbishing shelters and some relocation in Virginia. Over thirty different clubs maintain the path, with thousands of volunteer hours logged each spring to clear trails.

Trails and footpaths and roads of any type really don't just take care of themselves. We all know the joys of a freshly paved stretch of highway. We all curse the same old potholes and patches we live with all the time. Paths connect us to the people and projects that are important to us and as a means to an end, we want them to do their jobs.

Helping God Get to Us

It's a funny idea that God would need us to take care of the divine turnpikes, but it is apparently the case. Some part of the freewill business suggests that at some point in the divine journey to our hearts, we can encourage the enterprise or resist it. Whether God is a commuter or an occasional visitor to us, we can make the path to our lives a smooth sailing or a tortuous route of frustration for both God and us.

There are some easy ways to keep God at bay for awhile. Like trying to keep the owls away from Harry Potter, eventually God will out, but we can decide not to shovel the walks.

Anger is good to keep God's paths rocky. Being angry and generally critical will certainly make it hard for beauty and gracefulness to fight their way in. Thoreau talks about the paths of the mind when we wrote, “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

Self pity, greed, and jealousy all can do their part to fortress us against God.

The sixth chapter of Proverbs has a list of things God would not be happy about, that would keep the hound of heaven from your door for a bit. They are described mostly in terms of body parts.
  • Proud eyes
  • A lying tongue
  • Hands that shed innocent blood
  • A heart that plans wicked plots
  • Feet that are swift to run into mischief
  • A deceitful witness that speaks lies
  • The one who sows discord
    But so much for the negative. If we build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to our door, but what should we do to invite God?

    John the Baptist and Humility
    John the baptist has an answer to that question. Humility. John's life and ministry is about being humble. I mean here is a guy who dresses in cheap, uncomfortable clothes and who eats bugs. His baptism is for the remission of sins and he is always yelling at the posers of the world. We may think of baptism in the Christian sense as a mark and sign of our community, but for Judaism, the mikvah was and is a mark of moral and spiritual purification.
    So when John cries “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” He has something rather specific in mind. This is no philosophical musing about how God might travel, this is the commandment to stop thinking so highly of ourselves that God is having trouble making it up the hill of our egos. .

    Humble Suggestions for Humility

    At the risk of being like Roman Catholics priests discussing the finer points of marriage, I wish to enter certain disclaimers about my own humility and lack thereof. We are about to enter a dangerous realm where I am going to make some recommendation that I have often not been able to achieve. But the fact that I sometimes speed does not mean I don't know the speed limit.

    This morning I have three suggestions that are cerainly not exhaustive of the possibilities to remove the speedbumps for God to get to us. Listen, open, and work. For those of you keeping track of this week's acronym, that would be LOW.

    Listen. Interpersonal humility often has to do admitting that another person could be more right about something than we are. In driver's ed in high school I remember an old black and white film called 'Dead Right' in which a driver was stubborn and it ended badly. We all know of people who would rather be right than happy in their relationships and it may be the same for God. Listening to anyone, including God requires us to abandon the project of being constantly right and requires us to listen for new ideas. When we truly listen to another, the walls of our own pride no longer separate. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not to your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

    Open. Since God may arrive in an unexpected way no matter how much notice we have been given, it appears that we need to keep on open mind and heart about the particular way God gets to us. God may arrive on a donkey, or in a minivan with a bunch of kids in the back. A true humility of spirit lets the world and all its overwhelming holiness in. Sometimes God arrives by the narrow gate, but perhaps also by the four lane highway. We keep the roads open. We plow away the debris.

    Work. We don't all have to wear hair shirts and eat bugs, but sharing our resources and engaging in the world, will probably require a little effort. The journey of truth is rarely the path of least resistance. We all love to mock the road crews where there are five people standing around leaning on shovels, but that may be just the situation on the road to our hearts. Rick Warren once wrote “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.” If we are engaged in the work of the kingdom, our own dramas and limited horizons may fall away.

    This listening and openness and work that God calls us to is a joy for all. John did not take application forms while standing in the river helping people change their lives. This joyful humility is for you. We celebrate a God child that entered the world listening to everything, open to everything, with much work to do.

    Prepare the paths of the Lord, make God's way clear.


    Thomas Moore called humility “that low, sweet root, from which all heavenly virtues shoot.”


    Even as the needle, that directs the hour,
    Touched with the loadstone, by secret power
    Of hidden nature, points unto the Pole;
    Even so the wavering powers of my soul,
    Touched by the virtue of Thy Spirit, flee
    From what is earth and point to Thee.

    When I have faith to hold Thee by the hand,
    I walk securely, and methinks I stand
    More firm than Atlas; but when I forsake
    The safe protection of Thine arm, I quake
    Like wind-shaked reeds, and have no strength at all,
    But like a vine, the prop cut down, I fall.

                                               - Francis Quarles

    “Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.”  Mark Twain

    “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”  Thoreau

    On (mere!) clarity:  Transcendence of mere clarity and order is necessary for dealing with the unforeseen, for progress, for excitement.  Life degenerates when enclosed with the shackles of mere conformation.  A power of incorporating vague and disorderly elements of experience is essential for the advance into novelty.  - A.N. Whitehead (Modes, p. 79)   (too complex to use, but I needed to share it)

    By confronting us with irreducible mysteries that stretch our daily vision to include infinity, nature opens an inviting and guiding path toward a spiritual life.  Thomas More

    “The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.” Norman Vincent Peale quotes

    “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.” Saint Augustine

    “Humility is the only true wisdom by which we prepare our minds for all the possible changes of life.”  George Arliss

    “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real”   Thomas Merton

    “Humility, that low, sweet root, From which all heavenly virtues shoot”   Thomas More

    “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.”  Rick Warren 

    Down the garden path.
    Shining path.
    Path ology.

    Path of least existence.  (me)

    November 29, 2009 Discerning God's Signs

    "There will be signs . . ."

    We are all interested in signs of the future.  They are variously called portents or omens or harbingers.  At points in human history, people have tried to find signs of the future in the movements of stars, by reading palms, by gazing into crystal balls, by examining the entrails of animals, by swinging a pendulum, by casting runes, by dealing cards, by examining tea leaves or coffee grounds, by gazing into a fire, by observing the movements of birds, by looking at patterns in dripping wax, by watching a rooster pecking at grain.  It takes great willpower to not open and read a fortune cookie.

    In a scientific age, we look for signs of the future just as much, but in a different way, most of us check the weather regularly even though the forecast is often a bit off.  We look for statistical trends to help us get a handle on the future of all sorts of numbers.  We take personality tests to seek some sign of who we are.

    Not all signs are helpful, however true they might be.  Literature and fairy tales are full of people who got accurate signs of the future, but it did them little good.  Macbeth and Oedipus made large mistakes trying to flee from their fate.  People desparate desire to control the future can be manipulated.  Because of this, In New York State, individual fortune telling is a class B misdemeanor.

    Signs can just make us nervous.  The movie 2012 that came out this week is a disaster movie that takes an ancient Mayan prophesy about the year 2012 and turns it into a special effects showpiece of destruction.  The signs of the ends of time turn out not to be so helpful if there is nothing we can do about it.  For many people, considering an approaching cataclysm would only produce anxiety.

    Recently, some medical tests have come under scrutiny because false positives may produce more anxiety and expense than the test is worth at all.

    The Bible talks about signs of the future a great deal, of course.  Joseph foretell the future using Pharaohs dreams.  Remember the seven fat cows and the seven skinny cows?  The three wise men and the Holy family are warned about the future of Herod's plans in a dream.  The book of revelations is a vision about the distant future, but who knows what to do about it?  John Calvin wrote commentaries about every other book of the bible, but even he was uncertain about how to interpret those particular signs of the future.

    Some signs in the bible are clearly figurative, some more particular.  Jesus says here in Luke that the cataclysm will come in the current generation.  The early church took this literally and had to do some fancy dancing when the next generation has to figure out how to interpret this.

    How do we figure out what to do with all these signs?  Which hints of what is to come are from God?

    There are a few points to remember about what a good sign of the future does for us from this passage.  Godly signs of the future bring Peace, Courage, and show Benevolence:  PCB.

    P  God's signs give peace.  Not anxiety.

    “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life"

    If the world as we know it is ending and another order coming, we might easily get depressed or manic or anxious.  This is not what God has in mind.  If someone is trying to make you feel anxious, this is clearly not what God has in mind.  Some changes will be necessary, but these changes are not about our suffering, they are about our joy.  It is a small but critical distinction.

    C   God's signs give us courage.

    "Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

    As Isaiah wrote, "Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,  they will walk and not be faint."

    Courage is important when facing the future because we do not approach the world with rose colored glasses.  There will be tough times.  Evil does not go gently into oblivion.  Transitions take work.  The end of lives or relationships or destructive habits takes sweat and tears.  Chin up, God literally says.  Your victory is near.

    B   God's signs are about the ultimate triumph of goodness.  Benevolence.

    Jesus tells many parables of the signs of the kingdom.  Signs that God's peace is on its way.  These aren't stories to scare us into submission but to invite us to a coming banquet.  We put on the wedding garments, we keep our lamps full, we watch for the right time not out of fear, but out of joyous exuberance.  We are invited to a party, not driven to an execution.

     1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
           from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

     2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
           the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
           the Spirit of counsel and of power,
           the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -

     3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
           He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
           or decide by what he hears with his ears;

     4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
           with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
           He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
           with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

     5 Righteousness will be his belt
           and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

     6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
           the leopard will lie down with the goat,
           the calf and the lion and the yearling [a] together;
           and a little child will lead them.

     7 The cow will feed with the bear,
           their young will lie down together,
           and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

     8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
           and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.

     9 They will neither harm nor destroy
           on all my holy mountain,
           for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
           as the waters cover the sea.

    So the next time you open a fortune cookie and wonder if it is a message from God, the next time you tune into the weather channel to get a hold of the future, measure the signs:  Do they bring peace, do they give you courage, do they speak of the benevolent triumph of God? 

    Luke 21:25-36

    25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
    29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”