Above Our Heads

Jewish Yarmulke


Isaiah 6:5 And I (Isaiah) said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Psalm 138:2 “I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.”

I Corinthians 15:9 “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God.”

Luke 5:8 “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Thought for the Day

The prophet Isaiah, the Psalmist, Paul, and Peter react to God’s presence with startle, awe, reverence, an overwhelming sense of smallness, a deep awareness of the ways they offend God, and deference to God. Isaiah experiences a profound woe of despair. The Psalmist bows toward the holy temple. Paul understands he is unfit for his ministry were it not for the grace of God. And Peter can’t hide from the knowledge Jesus has of his inner life. Even though each of them experiences the presence of God in varying ways, all of them submit to the sovereignty of God over their lives and above their heads as the Holy Spirit enables them.

Isaiah urges Israel to radical trust and faithfulness to the Lord. The Psalmist thanks God for deliverance and calls upon Israel to trust in the Lord’s continuing salvation. Paul is sent to take God’s name to the Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel (Acts 9:15). Peter becomes the shepherd of the Church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (John 21:17; Acts 2:41).

While in Israel last week, I asked our tour guide why Israeli men wear skull caps or yarmulkes and why Israeli women wear head coverings. He said that Israeli men wear yarmulkes and women head covers as a reminder to themselves and as a sign to the world that God is above their heads. I do not know whether Isaiah, the Psalmist, Paul, or Peter wore a yarmulke as a sign that God was above their head. But we can observe from the witness of scripture that they lived out their mission in obedience under the sovereignty of God over their lives.

As Christians, we do not wear head coverings to express the sovereignty of God over our lives to the world. Nevertheless, we now belong to Christ Jesus who brought us close to God through the cross. Through our faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and our baptism, we now live under the sovereign Lordship of Christ. ‘In Christ,’ as Paul said to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers at the Aeropagus in Athens, ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).

We remind ourselves and bear in the world that Christ is sovereign over our lives and above our heads by daily scripture reading, study, and prayer, and by regular worship. We live out our submission to the Lordship of Christ over our lives by fostering a deep sense of connection and relationship with people, seeking ways to love and serve people in ways that bless their lives, break bread together, and share our faith to give people a glimpse of God’s goodness and unfolding love in Christ.

Activity for the week

Wear something all day this week that reminds you that Christ the Lord is “above your head” and that your life belongs to him.

Praying Psalm 138

I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth. They shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. Amen.

The Final Word

Scripture – I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. Ephesians 1:17-19(NRSV)

Reflection: The writer of Ephesians hears of the faith of the church in Ephesus. He remembers them, gives thanks for them, and prays for them.  He prays that they may know that Christ is and has the final word over all things. He prays that the church would come to know the hope to which God has called them, the riches of their eternal inheritance, and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power at work for them that has made them alive together with Christ who is seated at God’s right hand in heavenly places. 

He does not pray for healing of sickness, work for the jobless, food for the hungry, relief from threat of evictions, or a robust economy. His prayer does not deny human troubles; it assumes them. He prays that the Ephesians will focus on what God, the Father of Glory, has done for his Son Jesus Christ and all who place their faith in Christ. He desires they know that the exalted Christ is now enthroned in heaven as King over all creation. No flesh and blood, ruler, authority, cosmic power, or spiritual force of evil can ever defeat him. Christ’s power and reign is limitless, timeless, and cosmic, ultimately ruling above all kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, dictators, emperors, tyrants, and czars.

On this Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that Christ the King is and has the final word over all created things, visible and invisible. We are invited to sing, bless, thank and glorify God who has raised and made Christ sovereign over all creation. The prayer reminds us that we are not helpless victims because Christ is now in charge and we belong to Christ. The same power of God at work in Christ is at work for us. This realization grows and matures over our lifetime.

We are bound by the experiences of human life. In spite of all temptations to surrender, we can persevere through life’s daily struggles because all the world is truly under the power of God in Christ. This precious knowledge of God’s power at work in Christ and for us is enough to enlighten the eyes of our heart, enabling us to live and sing praise to God with unshakable hope, especially when we face days of clouds and thick darkness (Ezequiel 34:12).  

The two stanzas below in the hymn, “This is My Father’s World,” best capture this hope: 

This is my father’s world. Oh, let me never forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. 

This is my father’s world. Why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King. Let the heavens ring. God reigns. Let the earth be glad.

Author: Maltbie D. Babcock (1901)

Wising Up

Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to count our days so that we may gain a wise heart”

Reflection: The psalmist reminds us that life is short and precious. He writes in Psalm 90: Mortals fall asleep (die). They are like grass that flourishes and renews in the morning and fades and withers in the evening. Life is filled with toil and trouble, then it’s gone with a sigh – it flies away. 

The psalm’s message is not “deathophobic.” Rather, it reminds us to embrace and wisely use the brief life that we do have while we have it. It calls us to deepen the quality of our lives now with a wise heart centered in a full trust in God that leans toward wisdom, goodness, and love that blesses and makes a positive difference in the world.

Paul describes this kind of living this way: 

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). 

The ongoing rising U.S. death toll caused by the coronavirus pandemic – 247,000 – has us at least thinking about the possibility of death more than which we are accustomed, especially when the virus touches our lives in one way or another. It also brings us to think about the purpose and quality of our lives.

My uncle Manuel, my dad’s brother, prematurely died of COVID-19 complications this past August. My three cousins and their children still ache over his physical absence from their lives. They are sustained by their hope in God’s unfailing love and by the quality and beautiful memories of my uncle’s love, goodness, and care for my aunt Anna Maria, for them, and their children. 

As I read and reflect on Psalm 90 within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the coming Thanksgiving Holidays, I solemnly think about and pray for all the families that will have loved ones physically missing from their lives and their tables this year because of COVID-19. May the blessed memory of lives wisely-lived by our absent loved ones and the quality of goodness, kindness, and love we received from them gladden our spirits and give us peace in knowing that our everlasting God is our dwelling place from generation to generation. And may God’s Spirit rest upon us, enabling us to live our brief lives with a wise heart and joy – before we fly away.

Listen to the Eyes

Scripture: Psalm 123 To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. 

Reflection: Mask wearing has made us listen more to people’s eyes. We can gather a lot of information about a person’s emotional state from looking at their eyes. Eyes can convey love, affection, cheerfulness, joy, and confidence. They can convey surprise, understanding, wonder, hope, trust, compassion, and mercy. Fear, anger, pain, sadness, judgment, worry, panic, and depression can also be detected when looking into someone’s eyes.  

Proverbs 30:17 listens and observes how a look of the eyes can convey mockery and scorn. Jesus said that the eyes are like lamps that are either lit or dimmed by the condition of our souls. If goodness is in one’s soul, the eyes are lit and bright. Darkness and evil in the soul, on the other hand, dims the light of the eyes. 

The prayerful eyes of the psalmist reveal the pain and darkness in his soul caused by the ugly and dehumanizing experience of scorn and contempt. The psalmist’s eyes also prayerfully communicate the light of trust and a confident expectation that God will respond to alleviate the dehumanizing effects of scorn and contempt on him and his community. 

While the eyes of the psalmist look to God, God also looks into the eyes of the supplicant and all who suffer scorn and contempt. God is moved by faithfulness and steadfast love to respond with mercy through the means of spiritual comfort and hope available through prayer and through the goodness, skills, means, and power of people committed to the common good of humanity. 

The prayerful plea of the psalmist resonates with many in our world that experience more than their fill of the ugliness of scorn and contempt. Like the psalmist, their eyes prayerfully lift up to God and to all people of good will entrusted with the stewardship of life-saving resources, policies, goods, and services that can restore and make whole their dignity and humanity. 

We have learned how to rely on and listen to the eyes, the windows of the soul, over the past eight months for communication because of the use of masks. We have listened to eyes that show scorn and hold others in contempt, and we have listened to eyes that have experienced scorn and contempt. We have also listened to eyes that show care, compassion, and mercy. When I reflect on the passages of Scripture where Jesus “saw” the people who came to him, I believe he saw into their souls by listening to their eyes then responded with acts of healing and mercy that brought wholeness. Jesus commands his disciples to do the same for others. May those held in scorn and contempt experience the listening eyes and healing acts of Christ and God’s goodness through us. 

The Example, Church!

1 Thessalonians 6-7: And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 

How we example to the world our way of living as Christians matters. Our lived example is on public display as individuals, congregations, denominations, and as a local and global ecumenical body of Christ whether we like it or not, are intentional about it, or unintentional. 

My oldest son Aaron shared that his 15-year-old daughter, Karina my granddaughter, calls him out when his actions stray from Christ-like behavior. All she says to him when she observes or hears his actions and words misaligned with the ideals of Christian faith, hope, and love is, “The example, dad! The example.” Meaning, is that the Christ-like example you really want for me to follow? 

Paul’s opening greeting in his letter to the Thessalonians beautifully commends and affirms them for their joy in Christ in spite of persecution and for the Christ-like example they exhibit to all believers in the region. Their example positively influenced and strengthened the faith, love, and hope of other believers. Their life-changing influence made Paul’s pastoral work easier because the foundation of faith and what it meant to live a life of faith was firmly established in the lives of the Macedonian and Achaian Christians because of the joyous, faithful, loving, and hope-filled life exampled by the Thessalonians. 

My granddaughter watches her dad’s actions and hears his words at all times. I do not think she looks to “catch” him. Instead, she expectantly looks to her dad to learn how to live a life that is more joyful, more faithful, more loving, and more hopeful. My son says that he is aware that he does not live in a bubble and that what he does and says affects others, especially his own children. 

Christians do not live in a socially insular bubble; our baptism does not allow for it. To claim we are Christians is to live a private and public life worthy of God who has called us. Such a life carries with it a set of expectations by a watching world that we are a people of joy, of faith, hope, abounding in love, mercy, and justice. The message of the gospel that has come to us, not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction enables us to hold fast to what is good and abstain from harming ourselves and others with our words and actions. 

We are examples to a watching world whether we like it or not, whether or not we are intentional or unintentional about it. Our missional commitment to seek the spiritual and temporal wellbeing of our communities, our nation and our world examples our faith, hope, Christ’s abounding love, mercy and truth. Our call to break down social barriers and see people as people, accepting others who are different than us, is needed today more than ever as a divided and hostile world looks to those that follow Christ and cry out, “The example, church! The example.” 

God’s Abiding Peace – Priceless!

“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, New Revised Standard Version)

Inner peace eludes so many today. Billions of dollars are spent every year in efforts to acquire inner peace, and peace of mind. For example, mobile phone users spent $195 million in 2019 on meditation apps. Other ways we try to buy inner peace and peace of mind is through the purchase and use of natural supplements, prescription drugs, security systems, insurance policies, and other risk preventative and safety enhancing goods and services.

A Psychology Today article identifies four types of peace; ease, tranquility, awareness, and the peace of what’s unchanging.[i] Inner peace as a state of ease is achieved when a pressing task is completed, or a problem is resolved, and we don’t have to worry about it any longer. The peace of inner tranquility is a body and mind state of non-reactivity and inner stillness.  Peace of awareness is described as noticing or being aware of trouble all around but not getting inwardly troubled by outward troubles. The fourth type of inner peace, unchanging peace, is a peace that is based on what is reliable, transcendent, and eternal.

The church at Philippi is experiencing the absence of inner peace, calm, and safety. Paul directs the church at Philippi to seek an unchanging peace that is based on God’s unchanging nature of love, mercy, and reliability. He shares how to mature into living in a state of unchanging peace in God even when everything around them was volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous, and ever changing. He calls upon the church to rejoice in the Lord always, to practice gentleness, humility, prayer, supplication with thanksgiving, and to practice focusing their thoughts on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable. He invites them to learn from his example of life and the inner peace with God he has attained even though he was under house arrest awaiting trial to defend the gospel.

Inner and abiding peace with God is important for our total well-being. God’s inner and abiding peace with us enhances our hope, joy, resiliency, creativity, and outlook on life in the now, for tomorrow, and for eternity. Peace is a gift from God that comes to be “with us” even when the world around us is intimidating. The good news is that God’s unchanging peace is a gift that is accessible and attainable by gaining Christ through faith, knowing Christ, being found in Christ, and becoming like Christ through imitation and the sustaining practices of faith. God’s gift of peace with us is priceless.

Do you have the gift of peace with God with you today? 

Can others clearly notice the peace of God with you as shown forth in your actions, thoughts, and words?  


[i] Hanson, R. (2016, November 09). What Is Your Sense of Peace? Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-wise-brain/201611/what-is-your-sense-peace

Declaration of Dogged and Deliberate Hope in The Lord

We look around us and become painfully aware that we are a frail and wearied humanity. We see that we are weary from the countless struggles and threats brought about by an infectious microscopic virus and the havoc it has wreaked all over the world. We see that we are weary from wrestling with unresolved racial tensions and hatred. We see that we are sick of arguing with opposing ideas on how to care for ourselves and others, for whom to care, and why we should or should not care. We see how weary we are from grappling with uncertainties. We see the effects of the growing disorder of our individual lives and the social structures that dehumanize, hurt people, distort relationships, and estrange us from each other. Our world seems dark.

Our chronic – now turned severely acute – awareness of our disordered human condition leads us as people of Christian faith to seek The Lord’s light and healing for our souls and the soul of our world.

As Christians, we are stubbornly and deliberately hopeful, not helpless, because we know by faith that The Lord never gives up on humanity. N.T Wright says that “hope” as conceived within the Jewish and then early Christian world, is a virtue not a feeling. It is a “dogged and deliberate choice when the world seems dark.” [i]  Dogged hope depends on faith in the One God, Creator of heaven and earth. Dogged hope is certain that God can be trusted, is true to his promises and will sort things out even if it is on the other side of terrible suffering. This certain and dogged hope, this assurance of things not yet seen, is a call to worship, bless, and praise The Lord as we anticipate and participate in God’s saving work in the world.  

The world is a dark place for many people today. By faith in our One Creator God, I am declaring this morning with the writer of Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21, my dogged and deliberate dependence and hope in The Lord for myself and invite you to do the same for yourself and our world.  

By faith, I doggedly and deliberately declare: 

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (145:8)

The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. (145:9) 

The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. (Psalm 145:14)

The Lord gives food to all the eyes who look to him in due season. (145:15)

The Lord opens his hand and satisfies the desires of all living things for wholeness – shalom. (Psalm 145:16)

The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. (Psalm 145:17)

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)

The Lord fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. (Psalm 145:19)

The Lord watches over all who love him. (Psalm 145:20a)

My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever. (Psalm 145:21)


[i] N.T. Wright. Paul: A Biography. (San Francisco: Harper One, 2018) p. 45.

Kingdom-Oriented Life and Activity

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 


“I gave a little blood on that bridge,” said the late US Rep. John Lewis from Georgia years later after reflecting on what happened to him in Selma, Alabama on “Bloody Sunday” when at age 25, he helped lead a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge for voting rights in 1965. Lewis’ skull was fractured that Sunday when he was struck by an officer with a club during the march across the bridge. Lewis went on to say, “I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death.” Today, a military honor guard will escort Lewis’ body across the bridge for the last time as part of a six-day memorial ceremony honoring his life.

Jesus explains in today’s gospel reading what a kingdom-oriented life and its activity in the world is like through the use of symbolic speech. The promise and vision of the kingdom of heaven to come orients his disciples to care about public living conditions and safety. It orients activity that kneads hope and potential into whatever sustains and nourishes life in our world. It orients one to a seriousness and unswerving loyalty to the kingdom values that have both present and generational implications. It orients a disciple to a perseverant search of the depths of beauty and goodness in the world no matter how tumultuous life around can be. And a kingdom of heaven-oriented life never tires of casting an invitation to others to join in the gracious and life-giving activity of God in the world. 

The kingdom of heaven is here and it is to come even when it appears to be invisible. Like a seed planted deep in the ground, yeast mixed in with dough, a hidden treasure in a field, a pearl of great value at the bottom of an ocean floor, or fish swimming underwater, the kingdom of heaven is not visible to the naked eye. But those awakened and oriented toward its reality and Christ-promised fulfillment know by faith it exists. They commit their loyalty to its promised fulfillment. They trust that God is actively growing it. They see signs that it is fermenting stale life with flavor. They desire to discover more and more of its infinite value. They search out the unfathomable limits of its greatness. And they never tire of casting and believing with conviction in an assured hope of its ultimate actualization, as they remain anchored by faith in God’s faithfulness rather than human hope alone.

John Lewis attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis bridge 55 years ago because he and so many others with him that day and across our country saw a better day ahead for all people, even when not all people could see it. On that Bloody Sunday in 1965, his kingdom-oriented actions sowed a tiny seed of promise, they added yeast that would flavor life for people with staled lives, and they showed forth the treasure of a new humanity made possible by Christ on the cross. His courageous actions were committed to a kingdom vision of racial reconciliation and justice and his actions openly proclaimed what he believed and hoped for in the depths of his soul. 

We each have our own bridges to cross on our march toward the promised kingdom of heaven on earth as it is in heaven that includes and seeks the well-being of all of God’s children; especially the most vulnerable.  We are grateful for all that have gone before us and have “given a little bit of blood” along their walk toward a vision of a world where all people live in harmony. In the meantime, we orient our lives and actions toward the kingdom of heaven, believing for those that do not believe, loving for those that will not, dreaming for those that cannot, until God – in cooperation with our actions – makes what we hope for a reality. 

Prayer: God of all creation and hope of all nations, orient our wills and actions in the power of the Spirit toward your vision of your kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Suffering and God’s Rest

Scripture: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. 

Reflection: Peter sees the whole global Christian community suffering through unjust mistreatment, violence, lack of access to food, health care, housing, and the basic human freedoms and necessities of life. He sees his community restless, on the verge of despair and hopelessness, tempted to abandon their faith. 

Peter tells the Christian community that they, like all other Christians throughout the world, are all simultaneously experiencing suffering of one sort or another. Their experience of suffering is not unique to their particular community, although they may believe that it is. He says, “for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering (1 Peter 5:9).” 

Peter does not minimize or romanticize suffering or the pathema (Gk) that the community is experiencing. Peter understands that suffering is real, brutal, and deadly because he has seen his Lord Jesus Christ suffer from rejection and ridicule and he has seen his Lord suffer and die on a torturous cross. Suffering for Peter is not an abstraction or a topic of detached conversation. Suffering is visceral. It takes a toll on the body, mind, and soul. Peter knows suffering firsthand (Acts 5:17-42). 

He encourages his community by reminding them that in their suffering, they are blessed because the Spirit of God rests on them. It is the spirit of God that leads them to seek the grace of God with humility so they can be strong in God’s strength to endure. The Spirit generates their trust in God with their troubles and cares. The Spirit sustains them through the discipline of prayer, fasting, study, worship and gathering as a community of faith. The Spirit keeps them alert to new possibilities God opens. And, the Spirit uses the pain of shared suffering to unite the community, producing the collective resolve to resist the pressures to abandon their hope. Finally, the Spirit and power of God restores, supports, strengthens, and establishes them in their nowness and temporality of their suffering and forever. 

Peter’s words of encouragement to his suffering community are timely for us now, not only as a Christian community experiencing the devastating impacts of the coronavirus at local levels, but for all of the suffering and quarantined human community throughout the world. As a global community, we are all in this together as we collectively face this coronavirus pandemic that has caused human suffering of various kinds. The whole human race is all in need of God’s Spirit of rest and blessings for strength to endure, care for our anxious souls, nearness, unity, resolve to resist despair, and confidence in a future with hope and faith.

Prayer: Shelter Me by Michael Joncas 

1. Shepherd and sheep, my God and I:
          to fresh green fields you led my steps in days gone by.
          You gave me rest by quiet springs
          And filled my soul with peace your loving presence brings.
Refrain:  O shelter me, O shelter me: the way ahead is dark and difficult to see.
               O shelter me, O shelter me: all will be well if only you will shelter me.
     2. Yet now I tread a different way:
         Death dogs my path with stealthy steps from day to day.
         I cannot find your peaceful place,
         but dwell in dreary darkness longing for your face.  (Refrain)
    3.  I will look back in days to come,
         and realize your faithfulness has led me home.
         Within your house I’ll find my peace,
         trusting that in your mercy you have sheltered me.  (Refrain)

Stay on the Way

ScriptureJohn 14:1-6 (NRSV) “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Reflection: With our belongings tightly packed into a 17′ U-Haul and our car hitched to the back of the truck, I followed dad, mom, and Maye as they drove ahead of me in the lead car. We were heading from Nacogdoches in northeast Texas southward toward the Rio Grande Valley after my graduation from college. The plan was simple. I was to keep dad’s car within my sight for ten long hours until we arrived at our destination. Nine of the ten hours would be relatively easy following. It was the hour following dad through Houston that caused the most concern. 

I knew that driving a slow 17′ moving truck with a car hitched to the back of it would not be easy to maneuver in fast-moving five-lane Houston traffic filled with anxious and impatient drivers. Just as I had anticipated, I quickly began to lose sight of dad’s car when we reached the north side of Houston as faster and more nimble vehicles merged into my lane. Within a few minutes, I had completely lost sight of dad’s car. Cell phones were nonexistent, so communication was not possible. Although I lost sight of the lead car, I was not lost. I stayed and kept following south Highway 59 until I drove past the south side of Houston and, seven hours later, to my destination. 

Jesus promises his disciples that he is going ahead of them to prepare a place for them so they can be with him where he is. Thomas quickly reacts with concern. He wonders how he can continue to follow Jesus and get to the place Jesus promises if he does not know where Jesus is going. He says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus promises Thomas that those who acknowledge his claim upon their lives as Lord, stay on and walk in his ways will find their way to God, their ultimate destination. He reminds Thomas that to know him is to know and see God. 

It’s easy to lose sight of God and where we are ultimately headed when life gets chaotic and crowded with concerns, when it slows down to a crawl, and when we’re pulling heavy loads that weigh us down. We tend to get so focused on all that is going on around us that we lose vison of where we are ultimately going. It is in times of disorientation and distraction that the promises of Christ are like signposts along our journey, keeping us stayed on the road of faith, continuously leading us to know and see God, our ultimate destination.   

This Mother’s Day, we remember and are grateful for all the ways our mothers and mother figures in our lives cared for, guided, and encouraged us to stay on the good way and keep moving forward in life when we lost sight of where we were heading. We realize when we get to our destination and look back, that our mothers and mother figures have accompanied us along life’s journey through their teachings, prayers for us, and love. 

Take some time today and give thanks to God for all the mothers and mother figures that have helped you stay on the way, and that have guided and blessed your life with their teachings, their prayers, and their love. 

Prayer: Christ our way, our truth, our life, and our faithful keeper of ultimate promises, we thank you that you never lose sight of us, even when we lose sight of you. Amen.

The Voice of Life

Scripture: John 10:3-4The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Reflection: I saw young Beaudoin shepherds tending their flocks on the hillsides of the Judean wilderness during my two trips to Israel. The shepherds were present with the sheep, sometimes walking with the sheep, and sometimes riding a donkey alongside the sheep as the sheep grazed on the stumps of hillside grass. The shepherd and the sheep were together in tranquility, each aware of and comfortable in the other’s presence. A relationship of trust and care between the two was evident. 

Sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd.  The shepherd uses his voice to call the sheep out of their holding pen in the morning, direct them throughout the day to pasture, and to call them back into a safe place for the evening. Whenever a shepherd calls out to his sheep, the sheep that belong to the shepherd know their shepherd’s unique sound and follow wherever the shepherd leads them throughout the day.

The sound of a shepherd’s voice to the sheep is like the sound of a mother’s voice to her child. A Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences research study found that a variety of brain circuits are engaged when children hear their mother’s voice. Whenever a child hears a mother’s voice, brain regions involving emotion and reward processing, social functions, detection of what is personally relevant, and face recognition are powerfully activated.  Researches verified that the echo of a mother’s voice has quick access to a child’s many brain systems that bring them emotional comfort.

Jesus says in today’s passage that he is in a life-giving relationship with us and knows us by name.  We are able, through spiritual birth, to hear his unique voice and follow him out to wherever he leads. The voice of Jesus has quick access to our thinking, our sensing, and our will. His voice calls us from chaos to order, from darkness to light, from death to life, from fear to faith, for ourselves and whosoever comes to him. His voice calls us to abundant joy and abundant hope.

It takes a mindful intentionality and spiritual sensitivity to hear our Good Shepherd’s voice amid so many competing voices in our world. God has provided us with the means to hear Christ’s voice through worship, prayer, acts of compassionate generosity, mercy, justice, and witness.

We do not always know where Christ our good shepherd will lead us through the promptings and proddings of his life-giving voice, but we know we can trust him, and so we follow with assurance in the comfort of his love and care for us and all.

Prayer – Christ our good shepherd, we pray for a discerning spirit to hear your voice and a will to do what we listen to you say to us amid so many competing voices that seek to have access to our minds, hearts, and will. Enable us with your Spirit to hear your voice and do your will in whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, and in whatever is excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Amen.