Theme – Holy Conversations – God and the Creative Word
Scripture – Genesis 4:1-3 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.
Moses is not only shocked that a bush is burning, or that it is speaking to him, but that when it speaks, it is the voice of God calling. Holy Conversations whether with the Divine or with one another hold the potential to shock and surprise. Moses cannot, will not, believe what he is hearing in this conversation. And so most of his side of the conversation is resistance. Much like some of the Easter morning stories there is some hesitancy to the new that the new that the word of God calls into being and calls us to respond to. Think of Thomas. He will not believe.
Because Moses cannot and will not believe what the divine conversation is revealing, God ups the ante and uses words to be creative. The staff in Moses' hand is suddenly a snake and then, not a snake. It is a fanciful story and one that may seem of little relevance to our lives and experience. But I would suggest first that it is a playful and entertaining way of reminding us of something that the Bible proclaims from the very beginning. The word of God creates. Light, land, sea, sky, all created by God's conversation. God's word calls things into being that were not previously possible. And God calls that creation Good. God's creative conversation is an on-going blessing.
Our words are not as powerful as God's creative word, but they are powerful. A word of loving encouragement or welcome can create a whole new world for one whose life experience has been rejection or demoralization. An impassioned speaker can inspire us to personal growth and risky action for the communal good as Dr. King's 'I Have a Dream,' speech or Lincoln's Gettysburg address illustrated.
We live in a culture in which the sacred nature of conversation seems lost. Too often conversation falls too far into tension, becoming confrontational and divisive. And it is too easy to stop listening and simply formulate argument for debate. The story of Moses and the Burning Bush reminds us of the sacredness of conversing and the vital importance of remaining open to surprise. Surprising conversation lead, eventually to liberation and the discovery of new life when that conversation is carried out in the spirit of God's creative word that calls the new into being.
Prayer - Remind me Lord, at the beginning of a new week, of the sacred possibilities that lay before me in the conversations I will have with family, friends, co-workers, even strangers. Help me not to rush past the chances to allow someone to be listened to and heard, to share an encouraging word, to share a story so that someone knows that they are not alone in the world. Be present with me and through me in every conversation, I pray.
Theme – Holy Conversations – The God Who Listens & Responds
Scripture – Genesis 18:17-19 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
I have to admit, this is one of my favorite conversation stories. God has been observing the cruel and violent nature of society in Sodom and Gomorrah and has decided to act with righteous anger. But then it seems to occur to God, as Abraham hosts three visitors (or God) that Abraham should know about these plans. In essence God realizes that if there is to be a close and intimate relationship with Abraham, there needs to be open, honest sharing between them. There needs to be an ongoing transparency and process of sharing.
I wonder if God was surprised by the give and take that resulted. Because Abraham not only receives the information, but then responds with his own creative ideas. It is a humble and respectful, but no less shocking critique of God's plan. Abraham is suggesting that God is being too harsh and not aware enough of the innocent lives that may be lost as a result of his anger. And God is not offended by this. God enters into this conversational give-and-take willingly. That alone is a shocking theological statement. I confess I'm no expert on ancient religions, but I suspect that a god that takes constructive criticism and carefully weighs the suggestions of the created, is rare, if not singularly unique. Abraham eventually persuades the God of Israel to have mercy on the cities if 10 righteous people can be found.
Theologically this story reveals a great deal about how Israel connected the creation story in which Adam and Eve are invited to care for creation along with God, to everyday life. This God had truly invited creation to be a cooperative partner and so the thoughts and ideas of the created would be honored by God. They would be full participants, not simply obedient slaves to God's will. Which meant that God would take their perspective into account in God's ongoing plan of redemption, liberation and salvation.
And as for our own conversations, this story reveals that they are holy events only when we are open to receiving new information, hearing different perspectives and so, persuaded to grow and change. Instead of conversations being shots fired from entrenched positions, conversations are the exciting adventure of exploring new and unmapped territory. This is an adventure we can risk, because it is an adventure that God accompanies us on, encourages us to take and leads us in.
Prayer - Sustain me this day, adventurous God, with hopeful anticipation of some new discovery. As others share with me a bit of their lives, or I am invited to share a piece of my own story, keep me watchful and aware of some new perspective or realization by which I can grow closer to you, closer to others and more into the person you have called me to be.
Theme – Sacred Conversations – Asking Questions
Scripture – Matthew 16:15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Many of the stories about the conversations of Jesus involve questions. Indeed, many of them involve opponents who ask questions designed to publicly shame Jesus. The questioner believes they already know the correct answer, or that they have formulated a question impossible to answer correctly at all. So the question isn't designed to provide further insight for the one asking or to lead both questioner and questioned into a holy conversation in which each can learn and grow.
But most often, when Jesus asks questions, they are designed to do one of, if not both of those things, provide further insight and inspire reflection and growth. In today's example the disciples are faced with an overwhelming glut of information. So many people are suggesting their own opinions about who Jesus is. Jesus, first and foremost, wants the disciples to think for themselves. But I would also suggest that he wants to learn about how they are processing what they are witnessing and to encourage them to reflect on the new and surprising thing that God is doing in the world through him. It isn't necessarily that Jesus has a specific answer he is looking for. It is that he wants to learn where the disciples are in their own thought process. Surely he will use this information to shape the lessons and experiences they he will lead them in going forward. But for right now, this isn't a quiz, it is an invitation to open up and share.
It seems to me that the church in America would be more faithful to the life of Christ if, instead of proclaiming all the answers, we instead boldly proclaimed that we asked questions. Promising answers claims an authority that only God can claim. Promising answers doesn't invite others into the discerning and discovering process of holy conversations with God or others. Answers turn us into passive receivers. But as we have already learned this week, God apparently doesn't want passive receivers. God wants active participants, who share their own creative vision with the God who calls new things into being. This is what healthy questions do in holy conversations, draw participants into cooperative discovery and mutual listening for the creative word of God.
Prayer - Stir within me a sacred curiosity today Lord. Help me not so much to seek answers as to ask questions. Let me approach every conversation and every situation as an opportunity to learn more about my neighbor, myself and you. Give me a confident faith that does not need to completely understand my neighbor in order to love them. Bestow the blessed assurance of your trustworthiness and grace so that I do not require certainty of anything but your love.
Theme – Sacred Conversations – Jesus Confronted & Corrected?
Scripture – Mark 7:28 - “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Today's story is perhaps one of the most puzzling, if not troubling of the stories of Jesus. We are accustomed to the warm and affirming welcome that Jesus offers to every outsider he comes in contact with, Samaritan, Roman, diseased, leprous, differently abled, possessed. All experience a compassionate presence in Jesus. Except the woman in this story. This Syro-Phoenician woman (Greek, in other words, not Jewish) comes to Jesus pleading for him to intercede in her daughters suffering. She falls at Jesus' feet and begs we are told. Her location is important. Mark, the gospel writer repeatedly tells us that she is an outsider. But he also repeatedly tells us that she is so accustomed to being 'down,' that she readily falls at Jesus' feet. And we would expect Jesus to reverse her situation (and that of her daughter), bring them in and raising them up. But, he doesn't.
Not only does Jesus NOT bring her in or raise her up, but he appears, initially, to reinforce her status as less worthy other. He engages a metaphor for his life's mission which is to feed the children. He pressed the metaphor to say that if he were to help her, he would be wasting good bread meant for the children on a dog. Jesus calls her a dog. It's shocking! It hardly seems like the Jesus the rest of the gospels reveals to us. Perhaps it helps if we remember that Mark's Jesus is very human. What this story reveals is the process by which Jesus discovers (God reveals to Jesus) what his mission is. His mission is to welcome all humanity into the Reign of God and to create wholesome community that reflects God's kingdom. But in order for Jesus to come to this realization, he must be confronted by the blind-spot in his world-view. He has failed to consider the suffering of those not Jewish, not his own people.
As unsettling as this story is it still contains good news. Its just discomforting news. When we are confronted by the truth that we have not realized or accepted, by our unconscious dismissal or degrading of others, it hurts. Holy Conversations are not pain free. Nor are they immediately joyful. Jesus appears to immediately hear the word of God for him through this woman's confrontation. We may be less receptive and grow defensive or angry. Jesus sets for us an example. To listen to the experience unlike our own. To listen to the story that does not fit into our already firmly held opinions, beliefs and worldviews. To listen for these challenging conversations may indeed mean listening to the unsettling voice of God calling us to grow and change. But it also may reveal a meaning and purpose for our lives that we would not realize otherwise as it does for Jesus. While we should not design with malice our conversations to be shaming for the purposes of vengeance, this story also reveals that sometimes conversations must confront injustice and sin which can be painful in order to be holy.
Prayer - Help me today Lord as I reflect upon unsettling conversations of the past and anticipate them in my future, to trust in your love and grace to guide me. Teach me humility so that I can admit when I have been wrong, that I have more to learn, and have sometimes reached the wrong conclusions. Strengthen me for this soul stretching work with the knowledge that we are always growing and encourage me with the assurance that you are the one shaping me, sometimes through challenge.
Theme – Sacred Conversations – Careful Listening
Scripture – I Kings 19:11-12 So He said, "Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.
Psalm 62:1 - For God alone my soul waits in silence
In this particular story Elijah is deeply troubled. He needs an Easter morning and he feel stuck on Good Friday. Previous to today's verses he has obeyed the call of God to confront the political and religious leaders in their cruel and unjust idolatry. And he seemed initially to have won a great victory. But the political leaders come back with a threat to his own life. They conspire to have him killed. And he runs with fear.
God questions him more than once, 'What are you doing here Elijah?' God asks. And there is no doubt there is a bit of a challenge to the question. Why are you here and not there where I wanted you to be? But as we have discussed earlier this week, questions are meant to open up sharing and reflection. God, at least I believe, does care about Elijah's fear and despair and invites him to share. And God does want to lead Elijah out of fear toward hope, out of Good Friday to Easter. And these questions are meant to do just that. What are you doing here? Not such a bad question for any of us to ask ourselves upon occasion.
Then God 'speaks' to Elijah. But as our reading today reveals, it is not in a grand and unmistakable way. It is a 'gentle blowing,' sometimes translated 'whisper.' And this got me to thinking about the verse from Psalm 62, 'my soul waits in silence.' As we have been reminded, Holy Conversations move us from fear to hope, from despair to life, but they can be challenging. They challenge us to listen carefully to stories that subvert our dearly held beliefs. They challenge us to incorporate new ideas and behaviors into our lives. They challenge us to be open and vulnerable and merciful to the vulnerability of others. They challenge us to embrace questions and even uncertainty instead of clinging to answers. All of which leads me to conclude that the spiritual source of Holy Conversations is patient silence with God. It is in prayer and meditation that we learn how to engage in Holy Conversation. This takes time and devotion and patience. We all live busy lives and carving out moments to sit and listen can be difficult. But our stories all seem to reveal that when we make listening, for God and to one another, we are already on the Emmaus road to Easter Joy.
Prayer - Let all my conversations today and going forward be rooted in the conversation of my spirit with you. Teach me how to listen for your voice in my interaction with others and not just those like me, who agree with me. Teach me to listen for your voice in scripture and song, in the beauty of nature and the love of friends. Give me the courage and strength to carve out a time of silence to listen for your voice in stillness, so that every conversation I engage in is built on the foundation of this peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.