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The Elephant in the Room

February 18, 2019

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6: 27-28. 37-38).

The “elephant in the room” is a phrase used to refer to an obvious problem that no one wants to talk about.  In churches and faith circles around the world, sin is the elephant in the room.  It is a subject to be skirted around—quickly mentioned in passing, if at all.  But sin is front and center in the Scripture texts for next Sunday.

Sin was the underlying cause of Joseph’s brothers’ jealousy of him.  They were so jealous of him and of their father’s love for him that they got together to find a way to exclude him from the family.  After attacking Joseph and throwing him into a well, they decided to sell him as a slave.  They sold him for 20 shekels of silver to merchants who took him to Egypt (Genesis 37: 28).

Slaves didn’t live long, and Joseph’s brothers never expected to see him again.  They betrayed and abandoned him for their own selfish reasons. God had other plans for Joseph—which weren’t immediately apparent.  After he was sold into slavery and brought to Egypt, he was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned. Because of his great faith, he not only survived the attempt on his life, slavery, slander, false accusations, and imprisonment– but he thrived.  He remained faithful to the God of his father.  His integrity, abilities, and talents shone through, and he became a rising star in Egypt, second in power only to the Pharaoh.

The Scripture texts for next Sunday emphasize that God is in control, despite man’s evil and sinful plans to leave God in the dust. Like Joseph, we may go through many trying and difficult times.  We may be slandered, attacked, falsely accused, and ostracized through no fault of our own, but the God that we worship is faithful and just—and we must follow his forgiving and merciful example.[1] This is a theme running throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

It is unhealthy to carry the baggage of resentment for past injustices and resultant anger against people, situations, or institutions. Yet, we find ourselves hanging onto anger and becoming more and more bitter.  Sometimes, we can’t let it go; we play the same broken “poor me” record over and over, and just dig ourselves into a hole.

Joseph had every excuse to hold onto resentment and anger for the injustices that he experienced at the hands of his brothers and others.  But if he had, he would not have achieved what he did.  He would have become an embittered man caught in a cycle of anger; he would have suffered even more.  Instead, he turned to God for faith to see him through and he was ultimately vindicated.  When Joseph’s brothers realized who he was, they “were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.”  The elephant in the room was the brothers’ sin.  It weighed heavily on them.

 Unlike his brothers, Joseph turned the difficulties and hurts he suffered at their hands and at the hands of others over to God:“Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you . . . it was not you who sent me here, but God’” (Genesis 45: 3-5; 8 a). Joseph told them that it was God’s will that he be sold into slavery.  He took the blame that they were due, and explained that it was God’s will for him to go through all that he had, so that God could put him at that place at that time.

Joseph later told his brothers “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .” (Genesis 50: 20).   David had many “Joseph moments,” but he lived to sing God’s praises: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being praise his holy name. . . who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103: 1, 4-5).

God is in control and nothing is wasted in his economy.  He works everything that happens to us—every negative and every positive thing—into his plan for those who believe.  Joseph truly believed what Paul would later write to the church in Rome: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”(Romans 8:28).  It isn’t just the happy, good things that God uses to bring about his purposes—it is everything.

Jesus preached “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6: 27-28. 37-38).  Jesus has your best interests at heart; he knows that you will not prosper when you hold onto old resentments.  He cannot use you when you are consumed by anger. You cannot reach the full potential that God has planned for you until you stop judging and condemning others.  You need to forgive just as you want to be forgiven.  Jesus will use you when your heart is open to him and forgiving of others.

If you are consumed with bitterness and animosity against family members or others, let it go.  It is weighing you down.  Fall on your knees to ask for God’s help in removing these burdens.  Follow Joseph’s example, and Paul’s advice in letting go and realizing that God will use everything that has happened to you for good—nothing will go to waste.  He will use it all.  Jesus doesn’t expect you to be a doormat.  He doesn’t expect you to keep exposing yourself to abuse. You can remove yourself from an abusive situation while still forgiving the abuser.  You can set an example of forgiveness as Joseph did.

The best sermon is the sermon preached not with words, but by a welcoming, forgiving, and loving spirit. Some people mistake a forgiving spirit for weakness.  But it is only the strong who have the strength to forgive and to go on. When you let God take over in your life, you will be amazed at how he uses all circumstances to bless you as you move on.  God will bless you with “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over . . . ” (Luke 6: 38).

Paul explains that we fight the good fight—we continue to forgive others and to work for good because we know that Christ Jesus died for our sins, and that we will one day be resurrected with him: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive   (1 Corinthians 15: 20-22).

Imagine that you are in the wilderness and have been carrying around a heavy backpack that has been weighing you down; it feels like you are carrying an elephant.  You have walked many miles with this backpack, and you have many more miles to go before you can take it off.  Your supplies and energy have diminished. You are becoming weaker and weaker.  You fall to the ground and into an exhausted sleep.

Imagine that you awaken the next morning and that your backpack with your meager supplies has disappeared.  But you are next to a stream of clean water to drink and abundant berries to eat.  You don’t need the backpack!  You eat and drink until you are satisfied. Your strength returns and you follow the stream to civilization.  That is what it is like when you leave your burden at the cross of Jesus Christ.  Imagine freedom from the hunger gnawing at your heart.  Imagine freedom from a need to fill the hole in your heart.  Imagine freedom from fear.  Imagine freedom from guilt. Imagine freedom from anger and anxiety.  Your freedom lies in Jesus Christ, your savior. Imagine it. Then live it.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer: “Lord, I rejoice that nothing can come between me and your love, even when I feel alone or in difficulty, when in sickness or am troubled. Even if attacked or afraid, no abyss of mine is so deep that your love is not deeper still.  Lord, you have experienced many hells of this world but descended so that you can lift us up.  Be always near.”–Corrie Ten Boom

[1]The Scripture texts for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany are Genesis 45: 3-15; Psalm 103: 1-13; 1 Corinthians 15: 21-26, 30-42; Luke 6: 27-38.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

February 11, 2019

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” (1Corinthians 15: 9-10a).

A blessing is a prayer asking for God’s favor and protection.  When I married a man of Irish descent almost four decades ago, I learned a bit about Irish blessings.  One of Bob’s favorites, and perhaps the best-known Irish blessing is this one:

May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields and, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Blessings are second nature to the Irish, but the truth is that we all seek God’s blessing. We all want to be loved, cherished, protected, at peace. We ask God to bless our food, our families, our church, our friends.  We ask God to bless us with love, peace, happiness, work, children, good health, and a happy home.  The theme running through all four Scripture texts for next Sunday is how God blesses his children.[1]

Jeremiah preached that blessings flow from an abiding trust in the Lord.  When you trust in the Lord, you connect to a deep well of living water that never goes dry: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17: 7-8).  Jeremiah’s ministry spanned about 41 years from about 627 to 586 B.C.

The first chapter of the book of Psalms is estimated to have been written about 444 B.C.—over a hundred years after the end of Jeremiah’s ministry—but the author echoes Jeremiah’s words: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord, . . . That person is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers . . . For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction” (Excerpts, Psalms 1: 1-3, 6).   The psalmist confirms that those who trust in the Lord will continue to be refreshed and renewed throughout their lives—in sad as well as in happy times.  The well of God’s love and the source of his strength never runs dry—it continues to renew and strengthen us as long as we dip our buckets into the well of living water.

Jesus confronted the problem of suffering head-on when he preached to “a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases” (Luke 6: 17-18).   He told them that they may be poor, hungry, weeping, hated, and insulted during their lives on earth, but God will bless them in heaven where they will be filled with love and laughter: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Luke 6: 20-23).

And Paul summed up the greatest blessing that we have received from God: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . ..” and that he appeared to Peter, to the disciples, to more than 500 people, to James, to all the apostles, and finally to Paul (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8).  None of us have done anything to deserve God’s blessings in this life or the blessing of salvation.  It is by God’s great love for us and by his grace that he extends his blessings to us.  Paul, the most learned apostle, who wrote 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament, wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect” (1 Corinthians 15: 9-10).

Like Paul, we have all sinned.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God.  We are all in need of his redemptive grace and love.  And we are all assured of his abundant blessings when we put our trust in God.  And God expects us to pass the blessings we have received onto others.  Father Tim, the Episcopalian priest-protagonist in the Mitford novels by Jan Karon, prays every morning when he arrives at the office: “Father, make me a blessing to someone today, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”  We read in Proverbs 11:25b: “He that watereth shall be watered also himself” (King James Version).  You are blessed to be a blessing when you give of yourself to others for the joy of giving.  You don’t need to find the cure for cancer or write the great American novel to be a blessing to others.  You can experience the joy of being a blessing by doing little things with love, grace, and good humor.

God’s well of living water never runs dry.  He is always there for us.  He will continue to love and strengthen us as long as we continue to drink from the well.  His blessings will continue to flow to us throughout our lives on earth and through eternity.  That is the promise of his blessing to all believers—not just to the Irish:  “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6: 24-26).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer: God to enfold me, God to surround me, God in my speaking, God in my thinking.  God in my sleeping, God in my waking, God in my watching, God in my hoping.  God in my life, God in my lips, God in my soul, God in my heart. –Gaelic Grace

[1]The Scripture texts for the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany are Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:1-20; Luke 6: 17-26.

A Job Offer You Can’t Refuse

February 4, 2019

Here am I. Send me.” (Isaiah 6: 8b). “Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12).

When you are offered a job, you have two choices:  accept or decline.  You may negotiate before you accept or decline, but in the end, you either take the job or don’t take the job.  A lot of considerations go into a decision to accept a job.  As we saw last week with Jeremiah, you might have second thoughts about whether you can do the job.  Or you might be concerned about who you will be working with, or if you will have to re-locate.  You may also wonder if you will be able to work well with the boss.  Will he or she shepherd you along, or leave you without support and guidance?  Do you respect and trust the boss?  Will you be able to depend on him or her? We see many people wrestling with job offers in sacred Scripture.  This week’s Scripture texts describe two job offers and the reactions to those offers.[1]

About 740 B.C., Isaiah had an incredible vision: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne, and the rain of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim . . . and they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory’” (Excerpts Isaiah 6: 1-3). Overcome by the presence of the Almighty God, his all consuming majesty and holiness, Isaiah was struck with his own unworthiness.  But as soon as he confessed that he was unworthy, something astounding happened: “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’” (Isaiah 6: 6-7).  Whoosh! The slate was wiped clean in a flash!

Having dealt with Isaiah’s guilt and insecurities, Isaiah heard God asking, “Now, who should I send to tell the people the truth about me?” Isaiah, overcome by the moment, and unburdened by his guilt, accepted the challenge and said: “Here am I.  Send me!” (Isaiah 6: 8b).  That whole series of events was undoubtedly the most over-the-top prelude to a job offer in the history of the world.  Can you imagine how pumped up Isaiah was at that moment?

Then the Lord described his duties.  He was to go out and tell the people the truth about him, but he should be prepared for no one to understand or believe him because he would be preaching to people with hardened hearts.  The job description brought Isaiah back down from the mountaintop.  Still, he kept his word and was imbued by God with great spiritual gifts. It is believed that he stayed in the same job for over 60 years.

Centuries later, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, approached Peter with a job offer.  He didn’t approach him out of the blue.  Jesus had been living in Peter’s home and he had known Jesus for at least a year.  But it was at that time that Peter, a fisherman, realized that Jesus was divine after he miraculously filled their fishing nets with fish following a night of having caught nothing.  Peter had the same reaction that Isaiah had when he was face-to-face with the divine—he confessed his unworthiness to be in his presence: “He fell at Jesus knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5: 8).  But instead of leaving him, Jesus made Peter an offer he couldn’t refuse—to join him in his quest to win the hearts and minds of God’s beloved people—to become a fisherman of men.

In his letters to the new churches, Paul explains that when we accept the gift of redemption–of salvation–we are given spiritual gifts that help us follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Traditionally, there are seven spiritual gifts: wisdom that opens our minds and attracts us to the holy; an understanding of Scripture and God’s will; counsel or a type of spiritual intuition about the things of God; fortitude or endurance to run the race, to stay the course; knowledge to see things from God’s perspective; piety or reverence and reliance on God; and fear or awe of God, and his holiness and glory.    These are the tools with which God equips us to do the jobs that he offers to us.  In next Sunday’s epistle, Paul tells the church in Corinth (and us): “Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church” (1 Corinthians 14: 12). Paul is talking here about building up the community of believers–the church.

As a believer you have been gifted by the Holy Spirit with spiritual gifts.  These are the tools at your disposal to use in your service to God.  You have been given a job offer: to help build up the body of believers.   Use the spiritual gifts that you have received through God’s grace and abundant love for you.

Will you accept? Will you say “yes” to God’s offer? How is the boss, you ask?  He is the best boss ever . . . and ever . . . and ever. . .

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

Prayer: “Grant me, O Lord, to know what is worth knowing, to love what is worth loving, to praise what delights you most, to value what is precious in your sight, to hate what is offensive to you.  Do not let me judge by what I see, nor pass sentence according to what I hear, but to judge rightly between things that differ, and above all to search out and do what pleases you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” –Thomas a Kempis

[1]The Scripture texts for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany are Isaiah 6: 1-13; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 14: 12-20; Luke 5:1-11.

The Big Reveal

January 28, 2019

Love never fails . . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  1 Corinthians 13: 8a,13

In a couple of weeks, on Valentine’s Day, we will be expressing our love for our loved ones and friends in many ways—through cards, flowers, gifts, notes, special meals and treats. While we would like to think that we express our love for those we cherish throughout the year, Valentine’s Day is the day specifically set aside to remind them of our love.  Our Scripture texts this week show us some of the ways that God has revealed his love for us through the millennia.[1]

God revealed his love for us through the prophets, who he chose and groomed to bring the Word to his people—to call his people to faith.  Jeremiah received one such call.  He was chosen by God before his birth: “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations’” (Jeremiah 1: 4-5).  What an astonishing concept—that God knew the person you would become before your birth!  Jeremiah argued that he wasn’t the right person for the job—he told God that he was too young and inarticulate.  God responded by overcoming his objections: “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘I have put my words in your mouth . . . Get yourself ready!  Stand up and say to them whatever I command you” (Jeremiah 1: 9, 17a).

In the words of the psalmist, God was Jeremiah’s refuge, as he is yours and mine:  “You have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.  From birth I have relied on you . . . I will ever praise you . . . l have become a sign to many; you are my strong refuge” (Excerpts, Psalm 71: 5-7).  God chose and used the prophets and others to reveal himself to us because he loves us.

The Big Reveal was Jesus.  God sent his Son to reveal his truth to us because he loves us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 16).  He loved you before you were born. He loves you every second of every day of your life, and his love for you will never die.  Even as you take your dying breath, his love for you will shine brightly.  Remember that when life gets tough—when you are getting beaten up by others or by your own self-recriminations.  Remember that God loves you and that he will never desert you.

One of the more obvious ways that Jesus revealed himself to the people of his day was through the many miracles of love, mercy, and compassion that he performed.  In next Sunday’s Gospel text, Luke describes three such miracles: the driving out of a man’s demons (Luke 4: 33-35); the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4: 38-39); and the healing of many people (Luke 4: 40-41). Jesus did not allow the demons to reveal him as the Son of God, “Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah” (Luke 4:41).  The people clamored for Jesus—they did not want him to leave them.  But he told them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4: 43).

Jesus knew that he was sent by God to redeem man and to reveal God’s truth and love to them.  Actions speak louder than words.  Jesus’ miracles confirmed that he was the Son of God—even the demons could see that!  Nicodemus knew that Jesus was the Son of God [2]: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). We see in Jesus The Big Reveal—the revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ:  his power, his compassion, his truth, and his love.

Another person through whom God chose to reveal his love for us was none other than his once worst enemy: Saul.  God had to literally knock him down to get his attention.  But once God revealed himself to Saul, aka Paul, he became an apostle on fire, spreading the gospel message of God’s love throughout the ancient world. The most commonly quoted Scripture verses at weddings, and on anniversary and Valentine cards, were written by Paul on the subject of love:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,] but do not have love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails . . . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love“ (1 Corinthians 13: 1-8a, 13).

God loved us before we were born. Over the millennia he has chosen many ordinary people like you and like me to be his messengers—people who thought that they didn’t have the skills, the time, the resources, the courage, or the interest to help reveal God’s love to others through their words and actions.  Yet many have answered the call.  And because God’s Word was revealed to the prophets and to others, and through the sacrifices of his Son on our behalf, we have been blessed with the knowledge of his love for us.

Will you answer the call to reveal the truths that God has revealed to you?  God calls his people to show others the power of his truth and the comfort of his love for them.  What is he calling you to do?

Prayer: Father, thank you for revealing your truth to us and your love for us, by sending your Son who took the fall for us.  Help us in our struggles to love others.  Close our mouths before we spew envious, arrogant, boastful, angry, demeaning, or self-serving words.  Help us to be patient and kind.  Help us to protect and to help others so that we might lead them to your never-failing, always-embracing, and loving light.  Reveal yourself to each of us today, Lord, and guide our steps as we seek to reveal your truth and love to others. Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany are Jeremiah 1:4-10, 17-19; Psalm 71: 1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 31-44.

[2]  See “Nick at Night,” (March 6, 2017), https://dianereagan.com/2017/03/06/nick-at-night/

The Water Gate

January 21, 2019

He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” (Nehemiah 8:3)

The term watergate has come to refer to illegal and clandestine activities, based on the scandal during the Nixon presidency when five men were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters located in the Watergate office complex in Washington D. C.  It was a painful time in our nation’s history.

But the Water Gate referred to in Sunday’s Old Testament text has a much different  meaning.[1] The Water Gate in Jerusalem where Ezra read from Scripture was the distribution point for the water for the city.  It was a life-giving and sustaining place.

Reading Scripture at the Water Gate was in itself a metaphor for giving life-sustaining substance to the people: “He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law”  (Nehemiah 8:3).  Nehemiah records that Ezra read from sacred Scripture all morning, and “the people listened attentively.”  They realized that they were hearing the life-sustaining word of God.  It was a time of spiritual revival in Jerusalem.  A remnant of God’s people had returned from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem.  After enduring a period of oppression, they were hungry for God’s Word.

Scripture, like water, is life-sustaining and life-giving.  It refreshes us, it cleanses us, it comforts us, it heals us. The use of water in our baptism symbolized the washing away of our sin, and the beginning of our new life with Christ.  We are cleansed by the Holy Spirit at our baptism.  When a person’s heart and soul are open to receiving the Word, hearing the spoken Word is balm to our open wounds.   But a person who is not open to the truth of Scripture does not react in the same way.

When Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue in Nazareth, the people were not ready to hear what he had to say: “Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed meto proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  . . . ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4: 16-21). The people in his hometown were not ready to hear that he was the one Isaiah prophesized would be sent by God to set them free.  They were not ready to be nourished by the Son of God.  They were not ready to receive the life-giving force  from Jesus as a person through whom the Scripture was fulfilled.  And can we blame them?  Even two thousand years later, with all of the non-Biblical history, archeology, and other proofs of Jesus’ authenticity as the Son of God, many people still have not opened their eyes and ears to God’s life-giving sustenance.

Paul explained that “we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1  Corinthians 12: 13).  Paul is explaining here the cleansing effect of baptism when the Spirit fills us and stays with us throughout our lives.  We were baptized with life-sustaining water when the Holy Spirit entered our beings and took up residence.

Are you ready to be nourished by the life-giving sustenance of God’s Word?  As water sustains, nourishes, heals, comforts us, so Scripture sustains, nourishes, heals, and comforts us.  Through Scripture, the Spirit guides, protects, instructs, and keeps us.  David sings “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19: 14).  All of Scripture is a Water Gate. It is a place to come and be refreshed.  A place to quench your thirst for the things of God. A place to fill the empty holes in your heart.  A place to be cleansed.  A place to be comforted.  A place to be healed.  Scripture is the balm you need to heal your wounded and hurting soul.

Come to the Water Gate and receive the life-renewing force of sacred Scripture.

Prayer: Father, give us the desire to sit at the Water Gate to drink from the life-giving waterfall of your Word.  Saturate us with the cleansing, refreshing, healing, comforting, and thirst-quenching truth of your Word.  Help us lead others to the Water Gate so that the God-shaped holes in their hearts and souls can be filled with your life-sustaining Word. Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday after Epiphany are Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6; 8-10; Psalm 19: 1-14; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Luke 4: 16-30.

The Hound of Heaven

January 14, 2019

This isn’t my time.  Don’t push me.” (John 2:4, The Message).

The “Hound of Heaven” is a poem written by Francis Thompson, first published in 1887 in a Catholic literary magazine called Merry England.  The poem begins with the narrative of a pursuit: “I fled Him down the nights and down the days; I fled Him down the arches of the years; I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the midst of tears I hid from Him . . . “  The poem describes Thompson’s flight from God and God’s plan for his life.  He finally surrenders to God’s love and to his plan.

Many Biblical heroes fled from the plan that God had for them—notably Jonah and Moses—and were pursued by the “hound of heaven.” They either couldn’t be bothered or felt that they weren’t up to the task.  In Moses’ case, he thought he was ill-equipped to do the kind of public ministry that God was pushing him toward.  But God doesn’t make mistakes.  And when he gives you a gift, he expects you to use it, not squander it.

Even Jesus needed a push to get off the dime.  He was reluctant to use his gifts.  When his mother suggested that he do something about the empty wine glasses at the wedding, he first protested: “This isn’t my time.  Don’t push me.” (John 2:4, The Message).[1]  But then he thought better of it, and performed the first miracle of his ministry.

God often uses people in unexpected places.  Because next Sunday is Sanctity of Life Sunday,[2] the example that came to mind involved a 19 year-old college student grappling with an unintended pregnancy.  She was told at a local women’s clinic that she had her whole life ahead of her, and that they could make “it go away.” Feeling trapped, and presented with no other choices, she had an abortion.  Still haunted by it two years later, she happened upon a post-abortion support group, and was overwhelmed by the love she received from the members of the group.  The group was one of the non-judgmental, caring outreach programs facilitated by Claris Health.  That young woman began volunteering with Claris, and has been the CEO of Claris for the last 16 years.  God used a woman who had an abortion to care for and nurture other young women in crisis pregnancy situations in a caring and non-judgmental way.  Talitha Phillips describes it as her “calling.”  Regardless of the choice made by a woman in a crisis pregnancy, Talitha and her amazing team use their gifts to counsel and care for these women as she was cared for many years earlier after her own abortion.

Paul explains that it is the Holy Spirit who doles out spiritual gifts: “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful. . . (1 Corinthians 12: 4-11, The Message). The gifts given by the Spirit include counseling, understanding, healing, and many others.  It is the Spirit who decides who gets what.

Has the hound of heaven pursued you?  Have you been given a gift that you put on the shelf because you felt you didn’t have the time, energy, or ability to pursue it?  Has the hound of heaven pursued you for weeks, months, or years to begin a ministry or perform a service for which you are uniquely gifted?  Do you have a passion for the lost and the least?  Do you want to help people who are confused, exhausted, hurt, needy, ill, anxious, hungry, or lonely?  Do you love to work with children?  Look around to see where you can be of service.  Like Talitha, you may have been gifted by the Holy Spirit with skills that are needed by a ministry or organization, or you may be moved to begin your own endeavor.

After you have identified a ministry or service, ask yourself another question: is it something from which you will not personally benefit financially or otherwise? These are a few questions to ask before you begin any endeavor, to ensure that it is where God is leading you, and not your ego or personal ambition spurring your undertaking.  If the action to be taken is truly of God, then you will be blessed by your obedience: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.  You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours” (Psalm 128).

You may have to give up some activities that you enjoy in order to pursue the ministry or service, but the blessings you will receive by using your God-given gifts will far outweigh anything lost.  Stop running, and give God’s way a try.  Let the hound of heaven catch you and lead you to a place where your gifts can be put to good use.

Prayer:  Father, guide our thoughts and steps as we seek to do your will.  Send your Spirit to open our eyes to the needs of others around us, and open our hearts so that we are willing to use the gifts you have given us to teach, heal, counsel, care for, and love others. Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday after Epiphany are Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 128; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11.

[2]See Life Matters, https://dianereagan.com/2018/01/15/life-matters-2/

Leave the Old Country Behind

January 7, 2019

That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!” (Romans 6:3-4, The Message)

Like me, you may have grandparents or great-grandparents who came from “the old country.”  In my case, the “old country” was Poland, and all four of my grandparents came to the United States around the beginning of the twentieth century.  Some, if not all of them, arrived in this country through the Port of Baltimore.  Most of the people who came from the old country around that time were anxious to be done with their country of origin.  They were ready to move on.  Our relatives rarely spoke of the old country.

Leaving the old country behind is a theme of the Scripture texts for next Sunday,[1]  when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, and our own baptisms.  Luke records “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3: 21-22).  The Holy Spirit in this passage descends on Jesus in the form of a dove. As Jesus received the Holy Spirit at his baptism, we also received the Holy Spirit at our baptism and became God’s adopted sons and daughters.

In the early church, full immersion was the common form of baptism.  The lowering of the person into the water symbolized the burial of the person’s sins. Coming out of the water symbolized resurrection—a new life with Christ, with the old left behind.  That is what Paul is referencing when he wrote, “That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!. . . When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.” (Romans 6:3-4, 8-11, The Message).  We leave our old selves, the old country, behind in baptism and start a new life in our new country—a place of grace where Christ is our leader.

As baptized Christians, when we left the old country we learned to speak a new language–the language of love.  Our sins were nailed to the cross with Jesus.  The message of the cross is to forget the language of sin and start speaking the language of love.  Our job as baptized Christians is to live a life of active love.  As Paul says, “our old self was crucified with him [Jesus]” (Romans 6: 6).   We left the old country and we’re not going back.   In the Nicene Creed we “acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”  While we will continue to sin throughout our lives, we do not do so with intention.  Sin is a by-product of being a human being.  But our conscious goal and fervent prayer as citizens of our new country is to follow Jesus’ example, and to live as “little Christs.”  We throw off the chains of guilt and move toward the light of Christ.  Guilt is to the soul what pain is to the body—it tells us that something is wrong.  Remember what the Holy Spirit did at your baptism, and leave the old country behind.  Welcome to the new country of grace.

 Prayer:   Father, help us remember that you filled us with your light at our baptism and that your Spirit is with us every moment of our lives.  Open us to the guidance and comfort of your Spirit as we struggle with the challenges we face in our everyday lives.  Help us to walk as children of light knowing that by Jesus’ sacrifice, our sins were left at the cross.  Thank you for welcoming us into the new country of grace.  Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for the Baptism of our Lord are Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Romans 6: 1-11; Luke 3: 15-22.