Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lenten Gospel Reflections: 13 April 2014 ~ Passion/Palm Sunday

Behold, the hour is at hand...” ~Matthew 26:45

During the last 24 hours of his physical life on earth Jesus had many experiences and he encountered many different people. Likewise we too will meet a lot of people and do a lot of things this coming week.

As we enter Holy Week ask yourself, “Where will I meet Christ this week? Will I encounter Christ at a quiet reflective dinner with friends, or will I meet him when a close friend or coworker betrays my trust? Perhaps I will meet Christ while praying in a quiet garden, or some other contemplative place; or perhaps when I am confronted by angry, judgmental people. 

Will I encounter Christ when I am judged by others; because of my race, nationality, religion, age, sexual orientation, opinions, physical appearance or even the way I dress. Will I realize Christ’s presence whether people are cheering me or jeering me. Will I meet Christ in the friend who tells me what I don’t want to hear, but need to hear? Or, will I hope to find Christ in the person who only tells me what I want to hear for their own personal benefit.

Will I find him when I am with my family and friends or when I am abandoned by all of them?

At the end of the week will I drag my cross laden with problems, resentments, disappointments, failures,        personal tragedies, shame and unhappiness to the top of a hill finding the only person there willing to help is Christ? In that encounter, he will smile and say, “Let me take that from you. I can handle it”.

Blessed Holy Week.

© 2011 James E. Carper.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lenten Gospel Reflections ~ 6 April 2014: The Raising of Lazarus ~ John 11: 1-45

Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” ~John 11:21

How often in our lives do we ask, “God, where were you? Why weren’t you here for me? Why did you let this happen?” Mary’s statement contains this question, “Where were you; if you had only been here this would not have happened?”

Like it or not most of us think we can “manage” our lives. We convince ourselves that everything will be OK provided we organize everything and control the outcome. Technology has provided us with a plethora of gadgets to help us along the way. We are wired in and electronically organized against any and all possible scenarios. Somehow it all gives us a false sense of security.

And yet, the unexpected, like death, still comes. As a hospice nurse once said to me, “only in America do we think death is an option.” It is only when things go wrong that we turn to God and ask: Why? Or perhaps why me?

As stewards of the 24 hours God gave us today we realize “time management” is an oxymoron. We can’t manage time.  We can only make decisions about what we will do with the time we are given. Regardless of how we choose to spend it, Jesus is always with us.

After he is raised from the dead Lazarus is released from his “burial bands”. We too are bound with the bands of worry, frustration and fear. Worry, frustration and fear from which our electronic calendars and organizers can’t protect us. During this Lenten season we have the opportunity to die to ourselves and rise to Christ. In so doing, we too will be released from our bands of worry, frustration and fear.

In this story of the resurrection of Lazarus Jesus, who himself suffers physical death shortly thereafter, seems to say, “Don’t worry, I am always here, even when it seems I’m not; even in the face of death.”

© 2011 James E. Carper.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lenten Gospel Reflections ~ 30 March 2014: The Man Born Blind ~ John 9: 1-41

If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” ~ John 9:25

We live in a society which wants to know everything about everything. Our airwaves and print media are jammed with a great many opinions, but very little truth. The story of the man born blind is about three groups who encounter truth in very different ways.

The Pharisees’ stated purpose is to get to the bottom of this situation. They seem to want a factual accounting of what happened. But in point of fact their version of truth has already been predetermined. Anything which does not align with their world view must be wrong or untrue. There are many people today who, when information seems counter to there beliefs they simply ignore or discard it.

The parents are noncommittal. They just don’t take a stand and defer to their son. The man who was blind is a truth seeker. He shares the truths which he understands, and admits what he doesn’t know or understand.

So who is truly blind in this story? The man who was born blind recognizes Jesus as being “from God.” The Pharisees who were born sighted can not see (recognize) Jesus, the Son of God. They choose to be blinded by their beliefs.

As stewards of our faith we must come to realize our faith is not a destination, but a journey. Life is a series of encounters with truths and falsehoods. If we are biased we will only accept those things which support our world view. If we are noncommittal, life will simply wash over us. Like the man born blind we are called to be seekers of truth; people of God who find Jesus everywhere, everyday.

© 2011 James E. Carper.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lenten Gospel Reflections: Third Sunday of Lent Woman at the Well ~ John 4: 5-42

The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, ‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?’” John 4: 28,29

Water jars were valuable commodities in the Holy Lands of the first century. Making them required long hours of work; not only forming them, but finding and excavating the clay by hand. No one would intentionally leave their water jar behind let alone amongst a group of strangers from a rival faith tradition. This detail often goes unnoticed and is omitted from the shorter version of the Sunday reading. It is however, a detail worth noting.

Once the Samaritan Woman finds the “water of eternal life” in Christ she no longer needs the heavy burden of the jar to retrieve water from the well. In a sense her earthly burdens have been lifted and thus left behind. We too can relinquish our earthly burdens to Christ.

The water jar can also be seen as symbolic of the woman’s work life. One of her daily chores would have been to haul water from the well back to her home, a laborious and difficult task.  When she recognizes Jesus as the Messiah she leaves her water jar at the well and goes to “evangelize” to the rest of the town. Likewise when  Peter, James and John were called by Jesus they too put down the symbols of their work life (their fishing nets) and followed him.

Many of us define ourselves by what we do, rather than what we believe. It is surprising how many people, when asked about themselves, respond with their job title. It is only when we recognize Christ as the source of our lives, our living water, things begin to change. It is when we realize we not only worship him in church, but that we worship him everywhere; we can finally set aside our water jars and drop our nets.

We can do this because we have finally found meaning in our life…in Christ.

© 2011 James E. Carper.  All rights reserved.

Lenten Gospel Reflections: Second Sunday of Lent The Transfiguration ~ Matthew 17: 1-9

Listen to him!” ~ Matthew 17:6

Peter, James and John journey to the mountain top with Christ. Christ meets Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) representing how Christ is the fulfillment of both. His clothing becomes radiant and God instructs the disciples to “listen to Him”. This miracle is unique in that it happens “to Jesus” rather than Jesus performing it on someone else or something else. St. Thomas Aquinas called it the greatest miracle.

Peter wants to memorialize this great moment by erecting tents or tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Most of us would want to do the same. We want to capture those great moments of our lives and hold them in suspension. We want to relive the success over and over. Such events are memorialized by plaques, statues or special days set aside for their celebration and remembrance.

Later in the Gospel Peter, James and John will again be Jesus’ sole companions. They accompany him to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. This time they can’t even stay awake for an hour nor do they want to remember this horrific night.

Life is not comprised of a few brief special moments. It is comprised of all our moments. Jesus is always with us. He is with us whether we are on top of the world or have been kicked to the curb.

All moments are special in their own way provided we are “present” to the moment and acknowledge Christ is there with us. “Even a setback can be a setup for a comeback” (Jonathon Sprinkles). Stewards acknowledge all moments as precious and treat them with the respect which is due secure in the knowledge Christ is there as well.

© 2011 James E. Carper.  All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lenten Gospel Reflections: First Sunday of Lent Tempted by Satan ~ Matthew 4: 1-11

The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” ~Matthew 4:10

The “Spirit” leads Jesus into the desert for 40 days in preparation for his ministry. It is a period not unlike the Lenten preparation we are about to experience. It is no mere coincidence Jesus encounters the same temptations we face in our daily lives.

The “Tempter” encourages Jesus to change the stones to loaves of bread. Note that he doesn’t simply suggest a few slices. Jesus is tempted to satiate himself, to eat his fill, to have more than he needs. We live a country of obesity and excess, where “enough” is never enough. As stewards we know there is enough food to feed everyone in the world, if it were only distributed equally.

The devil then offers Jesus his “15 minutes of fame.” In one spectacular gesture he can have everyone’s attention. “Like moths to a flame” we too want our moment in the sun. We want to be noticed, acknowledged, given credit for what we do. Why do people spend $700 a month on a car so they can impress someone at a stop light that they don’t even know? Why do people jeopardize their reputations and even their lives just to get media attention?

Finally, Jesus is offered a position of power. Many of us want to be defined by our station in life. We crave the corner office, the great job title, the white linen business card, or the reserved parking place with our name on it. At the very least we want credit for what we do. Sadly for those of us who rely on these things to define our lives: “All glory is fleeting.” None of it lasts. Economic downturns will come and the job or title which defines us will be no more.

Matthew’s message is clear: the faith you experience during Lent can be easily lost when you return from the desert. Our time in the desert is not something to be survived, rather it is a preparation to survive the world to which we return.

© 2011 James E. Carper.  All rights reserved.
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Thursday, March 6, 2014


“Curiosity endows the people who have it with …a serenity…which springs from their cheerful willingness to let life take the form it will.” ~Alistair Cook, British/American journalist, television personality and broadcaster (1908-2004)

Sharon found herself tossing and turning. She hadn’t been sleeping well since her Dad had gotten sick. Sometimes she would fall asleep immediately only to come wide awake an hour later. Other times she slept in fits and starts, but never really lapsing into a sound sleep. This had been one of those nights.

Sometime in the middle of the night Sharon had nodded off. Now she found herself skirting the edges of consciousness. Was she dreaming or was she awake? An odor assaulted her nostrils. Was something burning? No, not burning; cooking! Her eyes popped open. She distinctly smelled roasted turkey.

Sharon rolled over and stared at the alarm clock. 5:55 glowed red. Why was she smelling turkey at 6:00 in the morning, she wondered? She rolled onto her shoulder, swung her feet out over the side of the bed and sat up. Slipping on her favorite fuzzy slippers, Sharon wrapped her robe tightly around her. She crossed her arms and headed for the bedroom door.

In the hallway, the smell of turkey was even stronger. She heard someone in the kitchen downstairs. Assuring herself that no self respecting intruder would be cooking; she descended the stairs and made her way to the kitchen door. Light spilled from the open doorway.

Taking a deep breath, Sharon stepped into the kitchen. To her surprise she found her mother at the kitchen table; a cup of steaming coffee and a magazine in front of her. “What are you doing here, Mum?” she asked. Her mother looked up with start. “I’m cooking turkey,” she replied, so glibly it was almost humorous.  “Yes, but its 6:00 am,” Sharon replied. “And it smells like it’s almost done.” 

“It won’t be done for another hour,” her mother responded, taking a slurp of her coffee. Silence reasserted itself. Finally, Sharon’s mother put her coffee down, closed the magazine and looked up at her daughter. The question, “What’s going on,” was written in worry on Sharon’s face.

“Sit down,” Sharon’s mom said finally. After Sharon was seated, her mother took her by the hand. “I’ve been worried sick about your father,” she began. “We have this big family dinner planned for today and I got it in my head I needed to start the turkey early so it would be done in time.” “What time did you put it in the oven?” Sharon asked. “3 am,” her mom answered. 

“3 am!?” Sharon exclaimed. Her mother raised her palm outward to signify STOP. “What are we going to do?” she asked anyway. “Well, I imagine we’re going to invite everyone over for breakfast,” her mother responded with a half smile. “How are we going to do that?” Sharon stood. “Well, first you need to get on the phone and call everyone to let them know meal time has changed to 8:00 am.” While you’re doing that I need to see how many eggs I have.” “We may need to ask folks to bring some things with them… Bread for toast, for starters.” With that her mother rose and headed for the ’fridge.

Sharon spent the next hour calling family members, trying to explain why they were having a turkey breakfast at 8:00 am. Most of the family arrived on time except her younger brother who was always late for everything anyway. Everybody contributed to the impromptu buffet which turned out surprisingly well.

The table was regularly replenished as people added items or ordered out. Even a pepperoni pizza appeared at the table. The family supped and visited well into the afternoon, returning to the table at their leisure.

Later, Sharon and her mom found themselves once again at the kitchen table, each with a mug of coffee; this time with a bit of Irish whiskey in it for fortification. “This worked out really, really well,” Sharon remarked.

Her mother smiled for a moment. “If your Dad’s illness has taught me anything, it has taught me that we don’t have control over most things in our life. I’ve always been a control freak, but lately I’ve learned that I’m better off to let things unfold. It is there that I find peace.”
We live in a world where “managing” our lives has become a primary goal for many of us. Phones, cars, computers, consumer services, and a variety of other tools promise us a more convenient life. Seminars and self-help programs promise to help us manage our time, manage our lives, and get what we want out of it.

But try as we might, life is pretty much unmanageable. “Life happens,” regardless of our attempted, well-intended interventions. People, bosses, friends, enemies, spouses, and strangers are unpredictable. The unexpected seems to occur as often as the expected. 

Some would say this is a very pessimistic view of the world. Perhaps instead it is a key to peace of mind. Stewardship reminds us that we are to use what we are given, wisely and well. The unspoken factor in all of this is that God does not give us everything at once, like a stack of poker chips to be won or lost on the roll of the dice or a hand of cards.

Life unfolds, constantly providing us with new vistas and viewpoints. Sharon’s mom, in the midst of her husband’s serious illness, found joy in letting a happy accident run to its logical course.

Let life unfold as it will. You might be surprised what God has in store for you!

Dear God, remind me I am called to experience life, not manage it.

“When life gets too hard to stand, kneel, and let go, and let God take over.” ~Nishan Panwar, Facebook philosopher.

©2014 James E. Carper. All rights reserved.