Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Jeremiah 31:15-20
Psalm 124
Revelation 21:1-7
Matthew 2:13-23

REFLECTION: "Children Are Such an Inconvenience"

It must be pretty bad when you’re the nominal leader of a conquered land, subject to a foreign power, and you feel that the only way to solidify your position is to kill some kids.

And yet, our Gospel today presents us with just that scenario. The small town of Bethlehem, estimated population 1,000, sees the arrival the nominal soldiers of Herod, tasked with the extermination of any potential rival to the throne. 

Now, let’s first reign in some degree of drama. The Byzantine version of the story features 14,000 little boys killed. The East Syrian version claims 64,000, whilst the Copts cite the figure as being 144,000. These numbers are highly inflated, and there is very little chance that they are true. First, a massacre on that order of even 14,000 would have definitely caused a widespread outcry, and would have been recorded in history outside of Scripture. Herod was a particularly brutal tyrant; the man stooped to murdering some of his own children… so it is definitely in keeping with his style of administration. The real number of Holy Innocents, however, is much more properly estimated in the range between six and twenty in town, and an addition dozen or so in the surrounding countryside. Now, this number sounds a lot lower than 14,000. By nature, some of the horror begins to ebb… but should it?

Children have too long been cheap, easy targets for people in power. Sometimes, they are targeted through their education, that they might walk lock-step in line with the teachings of the local nation-state. In other places, they are turned into almost literal toy soldiers, parading around with weapons, and no real understanding of the politics or the cost of war. In ancient times, infants became the target of individual greed or desire – often being abandoned on the roadside to die when unwanted by their parents.

At the risk of turning a cliché, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, in every part of this world, children are abused, neglected, and abandoned. They are transformed into agents of the state, and, as we have heard in our own local news this week, they are still abandoned to die when unwanted. 

But what do we, as a society, do to stand up to the continued slaughter of innocents in our day? Many Bible-believing Christians decry abortion, but scream so loudly about social welfare programs that it makes their outrage over abortion look pathetic. Government leaders continue their own indifference towards children in many instances as well – using them as pawns for elections by proposing programs and ‘solutions’ to issues like systematic poverty, hunger, and lack of opportunity which have no chance of doing anything but scoring political points on the way to a new office.

We’d never admit it, but as a society, we are quite OK with having plenty of Holy Innocents dying in our communities every day… all because to many of us, as to Herod, some children are simply an inconvenience; thus their lives become inconsequential.

People think our attitudes towards children and their disposability are rooted in the legalization of abortion. People would be wrong. Our attitudes towards children are rooted in a selfishness… which itself is rooted in our fall from grace in Eden. I suppose we could pat ourselves on the back and say, “At least we come by it honestly.”

But that would be a lie. We continue to come by it because many of those who bear authority in this world care more about their own power and personal gain than they do about the children in our world. Heck, forget people in authority… many parents feel the same way.

How is it that a family has money for cigarettes, but not enough money to feed their kids?

How is it that a nation has enough money to maintain a nuclear arsenal that could irradiate the earth, but not enough money to provide proper food, housing, and clothing for its children?

How is it that an insurgency walking under the banner of religion can convince even the fathers and mothers of children under its influence that the systematic rape, torture, and enslavement of their own children is right and just?

How can our own faith tradition continue to seek ways to run from its own history with children, attempting – in some instances – to find legal loopholes to protect its cash instead of taking ownership of its past failings and making sustained efforts to change?

The answer to all these questions is rooted in the same answer we’d give concerning Herod. The selfish king cared more about himself, his power, and his reputation than he did about those under his banner who were most vulnerable… and so, when they became in inconvenience, he had no trouble exterminating them.

Are children, to us, an annoyance? Well, ask any parent who is being honest and yes, their kids annoy them. They probably annoy them multiple times a day. But when we love our children, when we care for them, when we cherish them, the annoyances are a drop in the bucket compared to the love that would see us fiercely protect and contend for them.

And so, my brothers and sisters, let us pray… pray for children who are marginalized and unwanted; for parents who are so frustrated or so self-absorbed that their children have become perpetual nuisances; for civil leaders who view children as political pawns, disposable tissue, or as cannon fodder. And, friends, let us pray for ourselves… even if we don’t fit into one of these categories. Let us pray that we, for our part, will follow the leading of the Spirit to ensure that we do all that we can, and advocate wherever possible, to ensure that no child becomes an innocent victim ever again.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fourth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Leviticus 12:1-8
Psalm 84
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

REFLECTION: “Incomparable Tenderness”

In our Gospel today, it’s been forty days since the birth of Jesus. He is brought by Mary and Joseph into Jerusalem. There, he is to be presented in the Temple, together with offerings so that Mary might be considered ceremonially clean.

In the midst of this special moment, sacrifice is being offered, and prophecy of pain and sorrow echo from the walls of the temple. Simeon, an elderly man who had been waiting all his life to behold salvation incarnate, both praises God for what he has been privileged to behold with his own eyes, and also points out the destiny of Jesus… and the pain that his destiny will inflict on Mary.

And yet, in spite of Simeon’s prophecy, Mary remains at Jesus’ side; just as Jesus remains at our side day by day. She remains a quiet, steadfast presence in his life and ministry, right to the day of his death… and beyond. There is a tenderness expressed through Mary’s presence with her Son… but even her love, her devotion, her determination to remain in the company of Jesus is paled, utterly paled, by the Eternal Father’s tenderness towards us.

In his incomparable tenderness, the Father sends his Son into the world that we may be renewed by the power of the Spirit. The same Spirit that made Mary’s womb fruitful makes fruitful the Church’s womb, the baptismal font, bringing to birth generation after generation of faithful sons and daughters.  That means we are given an unparalleled opportunity to draw close to the One who fashioned the cosmos, and call to him softly and tenderly, with the most loving of words: “Abba”… “Daddy”.
I don’t know about you, but my heart melts when I hear my children come to me saying “Daddy”. There is something simple, genuine, and infinitely tender about being addressed so. And, my friends, God gives us the privilege to coming to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit… with such a simple and loving word. This privilege is ours because Jesus came in the flesh. He was obedient to the Law. He lived a life free of sin, reaching out to others even to his death.

Are we willing to come God, today and every day, with such dependence, utter trust, and deep love?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Second Day in the Octave of Christmas

Isaiah 62:11-12
Psalm 97
Hebrews 1:1-6 [7-9]
Luke 2:8-16

REFLECTION: “Simplicity Bears Fruit”

Take a moment and clear your minds of all your preconceived notions of our Lord's birth. We know very little of the minute details concerning the event. We know it took place in Bethlehem, since Joseph was a descendant of King David. We know there was no room for the Holy Family in one of the many guest-houses available in the area. Likely, this was because Jesus birth took place around the time of one of the pilgrimage feast; probably the Feast of Tabernacles. The pilgrimage feasts were principal reasons for a lack of lodging. They were like the Super Bowl, World Series, and World Cup of the Jewish religious calendar. Everyone packed Jerusalem and its environs, and there would literally be no room in the inn for a last minute arrival for something as obnoxiously inconvenient as a census. Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem. Even I could walk six miles for something as important as Passover, Pentecost, or Sukkot! Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Hanukkah, though not one of the Feasts of the Torah, was also popular... so it is possible that Jesus birth fell during this time of year; though it is questionable as to how busy Bethlehem would have been for the festival. Ultimately, we have no idea when in the year Jesus was born... but this is the time of year the Church has chosen to celebrate the mysteries of the incarnation so, until we get a postmarked card that has the details of his first birthday party, we'll just have to be content with that. 

Moving on... Regardless of when the blessed event occurred, Scripture presents us with a group of shepherds in the hills outside of the town. It doesn't tell us where, or how many, or what they were wearing. We don't know the size of their flocks, or what breed of sheep... or goats... they were tending. It simply doesn't matter. They were wise in the ways of animal husbandry, having learned from their fathers and the experience of other shepherds. But they probably had a simple faith and understanding of prophecy. 

And so it was that, at some point after Christ's birth (within a day, we can suppose - depending on what 'nearby' meant to Luke), the shepherds arrive. And they do something simple, yet profound. They come and stare. 

In fairness, they probably did a lot more than that. I am sure they spoke with Mary and Joseph. I am sure they smiled in the direction of the infant Jesus. I am sure they reached out - with permission from mom, of course! - to stroke a lock of hair or, perhaps, to touch his cheek. After all, we have no idea if Jesus was born bald or with hair. But most importantly, they came because the fulfillment of prophecy, the Savior spoken of so boldly by Isaiah and the prophets, had come; and it was their privilege to behold him face to face.

They may not have fully understood things like the hypostatic union, the indissolubility of the human and divine natures in Christ, the divine mode of the Messiah's conception, or the reasons for Jesus' humble entrance into our world. But they understood that when God's messengers speak, it is vitally important to listen, for just over the next hill, redemption, joy, and hope may lay.

The simplicity of faith exhibited by the shepherds in our Gospel reading today gives us hope. For all our wisdom, we're still highly ignorant of much of what is true about our faith, mainly because human language and concepts are not sufficient to explain the Mystery. And that's OK. We don't need to have a highly developed and sophisticated understanding. We need faith. Simple faith.

God will take care of the rest.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord

Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-7

REFLECTION: “Never Be the Same Again”

Have you ever seen a Church who emphasized that you were welcome, no matter what? That made a point to say that ‘God loves you just the way you are”? I think that, if we are honest, we are at least aware of such Churches… and you know what; they’re right. God does love us, just as we are, and yes, just as we were on the darkest, most difficult day of our life. He loves us when we are near to him, and he loves us when we are far away. He loves us so much that, in the words of Saint John’s gospel, “He sent his only-begotten Son” that we might be saved. Talk about Good News!

Sadly, sometimes, we tune out the rest of the message. The Gospel becomes a simple affirmation of life, and we forget that there is something after “God loves you just the way you are”. For you see, while God does love us just as we are right now, he is always seeking that our encounters with Christ would change us, profoundly.
This deep passion of the Father’s is laid out for us in our reading this morning from the second chapter of Titus. “The grace of God has been revealed, brining salvation to all people” does not just stop there. The Father seeks a change in our lives: “And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures.” God wants to see change in our lives… change that draws us closer to him, which makes us ever more dependent upon him, and which liberates us from the standards, the ways, the wisdom of the world, and calls us to cling to him in each and every circumstance.
Brothers and sisters, Christ’s coming in the flesh is the ultimate manifestation of this message. In order that we might draw closer to God, God drew closer to us… in a way that profoundly changed the world. If, beloved, if we are walking in the Spirit of God, we will rarely know an encounter with Christ that will not leave us changed, bettered, strengthened, and uplifted.
Today, we encounter our Lord in the manger. He is tiny, fragile, delicate. He is completely dependent on his mother and his foster-father for everything. He who created the very atoms that make up the cosmos was unable to fend for himself. For a point in time, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, the Creator Word and God of Majesty, was vulnerable… and his vulnerability led him to the cross, the grave, and, ultimately, the sky.

And so it is right, today, that we lift the Lord’s name on high, giving him thanks like never before for what he has done for us. But let our worship today not be limited to song, prayers, and sacrament… instead, let song, prayer, and sacrament play a transforming role in this Christmas day, so that you will leave this place utterly changed, strengthened, encouraged, and uplifted…

And then, come back some time soon, and do it again!

When our hearts are open to the Incarnate Word, we will never, NEVER, enter his presence – in our worship, in our prayers, in our Scripture reading, or even in our quiet cries – and not be changed… because the Christ has come to set us free from slavery to the world, its sinfulness, and its hopelessness… and has brought us to fullness of life and light in the Spirit.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Vigil of the Nativity of our Lord

Exodus 33:12-23, 34:5-7
Psalm 48

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 19

Micah 5:2-5a
Psalm 45

1 John 1:1-9
Psalm 2

John 1:1-18

REFLECTION: “Divine Light”

Brothers and sisters, tonight we hear in our readings of the light that enlightens the world, the light of hope, peace, joy, and renewal. We hear of the Light of Jesus Christ.

Light is a central element in the story of creation, being the first 'vocalization' God utters towards his creation. From that moment forth, God calls his people to walk in his pure light. Of course, we know all to well of the darkness into which the human race was plunged through the choice of Adam and Eve, a choice to walk in the pathway of darkness and not in the bright light of God's presence. Just as a plant withers and dies when plunged into utter darkness, so the souls of the people withered... and all those things that Christ's light bears, hope, peace, joy, and renewal, became scare upon the earth.

And yet, from the moment of the fall, new life, new light, was promised. Tonight, in the words of Isaiah and John, the light is realized. The light which is our life enters into the world, pitching a tent among us, in fulfillment of that promise.

I could go on and on tonight on this theme, but sometimes, being succinct is best. Equally good, at times, is recognizing that someone else can say better than you what you want to say, so I want to leave you with these words, from a sermon preached by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, the Bishop of Constantinople, who died in the year 389. I think they are some of the most moving words concerning the Word Incarnate that I have ever heard. They certainly shed light, pun moderately intended, on the great mystery we acclaim tonight:

Light from light, the Word of the Father comes to his own image, in the human race. For the sake of my flesh he takes flesh; for the sake of my soul he is united to a rational soul, purifying like by like. In every way he becomes human, except for sin. O strange conjunction! The Self-existent comes into being; the Uncreated is created. He shares in the poverty of my flesh, that I may share in the riches of his Godhead.

Indeed, Christ is born, taking our flesh that we might be united with him. This is the Christmas mystery, a mystery we gather tonight to celebrate in Word and in Sacrament. May Christ's light enlighten your soul this night, and kindle within you the hope, peace, joy, and renewal that God promised in the Garden, so very long ago.

O Virgo Virginum

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
There has never been a woman like you, nor shall there ever be again.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel at these words?
What you behold is a divine mystery.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Advent Weekday: December 23

Genesis 49:2,8-10
Psalm 72
Matthew 1:1-17

REFLECTION: “O Emmanuel”

It's rare to find a New Testament passage as boring as our Gospel reading today. In good old King James-ish English, you'd be overwhelmed with 'begats'... there's 39 of them; and yes, I went to count just to make sure I got that little factoid right.

Does it matter? I mean, as long as the Savior is born of a Virgin, who gives a great begat about who begat whom... right?

Well, if we care about redemption, it sorta does matter.

Very little in Scripture is inconsequential. The genealogy of of Jesus appears in Scripture. Twice. So it's important. But, the two genealogies of Jesus... Matthew's version and Luke's... are irreconcilable. They have to be. An op-ed piece on CNN this morning insisted this was so, so it must be true!

Now, for those of you who have heard me preach on a regular basis, you know what I am about to say, so please feel free to take a moment to check your mobile devices while I beat my favorite dead horse... when you don't take Scripture in context, you're left with a mess and contradictions you can't understand.

As Christians, we accept Scripture as the revealed Word of God, transcribed through the work of human authors. But it's still God's Word, and so it is vital that we understand the context in which the inspired writers were composing their texts. 

Dead horse beaten... now, let's break down the 'contradiction':

Matthew is writing to the Jews. He is showing forth the King of the Jews, the descendant of his ancestor, David. And so, contextually, Matthew's genealogy reflects the royal line of David. Luke, on the other hand, is writing to a broader audience, mostly Gentiles. They have no strong connection to the Hebrew lineage, theirs having departed from Israel's somewhere between the time of Babel and the rise of Abraham. Luke traces Jesus' ancestory records back to Adam, through the direct line of blood, as opposed to the Royal Line that Matthew was striving to emphasize. 

Additionally, in the ancient Near East, it is important to recall that breaking up genealogies into male and female representations was acceptable since it was often impolite to speak of women without proper conditions being met - specifically, a male being immediately associated with the woman. Therefore, it is a strong possibility that Luke's genealogy is Mary's line, tracing biological connections back to the first man, while Matthew's is Joseph's, since Joseph stood in the royal line and Mary did not. Thus understood, there is no contradiction.

"But wait," you may say, "both genealogies mention Joseph!" Right you would be; but remember, Joseph is the head of Mary through marriage in Jewish culture of the time, and sons-in-law were accounted as sons of the bride's house. Thus, Luke's genealogy is quiet probably Mary's, and Matthew's is quite probably Joseph's. 

Now, a disclaimer - these theories are the best supported by context, cultural research, and the witness of Scripture itself. They're the best we have. There may be another explanation we haven't thought of yet. And, if there is, that's OK. Why? Because in both instances, the genealogies are emphasizing the heart of today's "O Antiphon".

O Emmanuel,
our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Yahweh Elohim!

Do you remember what Emmanuel means? "Our God is with us." The exact details of reconciling the two genealogies are not as important as what they show. Jew or Gentile, slave or free, sinner or saint, king or peasant - the Incarnate Word did not simply hijack some flesh for thirty-some years. He immersed himself in our life, our condition, and became sin that we might be rescued from sin and liberated for eternity from its grasp. Our God truly came to be one with us in every way, that we might be restored to unity with him.

So, the next time the 'begats' get you down... remember, regardless of your family tree, we are all connected to one another through Adam... and one of his own descendants, Jesus, has become one with us for all eternity. Through him we are reunited with God in eternity. And that, my friends, is the greatest Christmas gift of all.

For Further Study:
CARM: Why are there different genealogies for Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3?

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, 

our king and our lawgiver,

the hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Yahweh Elohim!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Advent Weekday: December 22

2 Samuel 7:1-16
Psalm 89
Luke 1:67-79

REFLECTION: “O Rex Gentium”

Yet another O antiphon greets us today, this one known as "O Rex Gentium":

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from the dust.

In our Gospel reading today, we hear the words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, in which he gives praise to God and speaks of John's destiny... to pave the way for the Messiah.

From the moment of the fall, salvation was promised. Our fallen race, formed from the elements which make up the earth - carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, etc..., may have lost its initial innocence, but even on that day of darkness, a future Savior was promised to us. You see, the root of the Gospel is found even in Genesis!

Throughout Scripture, prophets and sages speak of the coming of the Messiah. Sometimes they speak through direct prophecy, at other times the Law, handed down by God and applied by the leaders of the Israelites, paints shadow-pictures of redemption for us. Sacrifices, manners of living, holiness, purity... all of them are spoken of in the Old Testament; and all foreshadow the coming Christ just as much as they speak to the needs of the Israelites in their own time.

Today, with John born, the final prophet of the Old Covenant has appeared... and Zechariah, while praising God, is giving - essentially - marching orders to him.

These beautiful words should also give us pause to consider how we interface with the world. Do we seek the salvation of others? Do we seek to reflect the glory, truth, peace, and hope of the Gospel day by day as we encounter others? Are we concerned with the eternal salvation of all, and not just a lessening of earthly burdens?

As Christians, we can run the risk of being 'so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good', but the converse is true. We must remain faithful to the message of salvation... the very challenging message of salvation... while, at the same time, being concerned with the situation of our world today.

Over the first few weeks of Advent, we heard much about showing concern for others, which is good, and right, and just. Some of it has been driven by the Scriptures in our readings day by day. Some of it has been driven by world events. Social justice and a concern for the needs of others is vitally important to our faith... it is a central tenant of it. But it is not the end-all-be-all of Christianity. There is still a need for self-discipline, conformity to God's expectations, and fidelity to revealed truth that is equally vital as we express our faith.

If we abandon a balanced approach to our faith, we are no longer fulfilling or ambassadorial responsibilities to our Sovereign, the King of the Nations. We will no longer effectively serve as agents of his will - to bring people together under the mantle of Christ for salvation. We must never abandon our faithfulness to the wholeness of the Gospel... we must constantly strive to live lives of robust faith.

O Rex Gentium

O King of the nations, and their desire,

the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from the dust.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

2 Samuel 7:1-17
Psalm 89
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

REFLECTION: “Who’s Doing What for Who?”

King David is described in Scripture as a man after God’s own heart. In our reading today from Second Samuel, David laments the fact that the Ark of the Covenant is sitting in a tent while he lives in a significantly nicer home.
But David’s desire to build a house for God’s glorious presence takes a bit of a detour, as God instead shares with David, through the prophet Nathan, that he desires to make of him, of David, a strong house from which salvation would come.
And, while Solomon later built a splendid temple, it is the Tent that best represents the way God seeks to manifest his presence in the world.
A few months back, we celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles… remembering the impermanent dwellings – including the Tent that housed the Ark – that had their origins in Israel’s wilderness trek. God uses temporary, earthly, and even human ‘tents’ for his glory… tents like Mary.
Did the Temple of Solomon in all its glory ever, EVER, host the glory of God in the intimate, personal, and redemptive way that Mary did within her womb? Did all the gold and silver, incense and lamps of that magnificent temple, or its successor, erected after the Maccabee triumph over the Greeks, ever shine forth in the life of this world as clearly as Jesus did, even from Mary’s womb? Not even remotely.
Brothers and sisters, God took flesh in the womb of the Virgin. Through her the Eternal Word united itself with our nature, and began the process of redeeming it through his life, his death, and his resurrection. Mary’s role is not prophesied simply in Genesis 3. It is prophesied in the Tent, we hear about in our first reading today. God works in Mary and raises up her humble estate.
And, my dear friends, God still works today on earth in the lives of his people… though our lives may be short and temporary in the earthly sense, he works in, with, and through us today… and thus become bearers of God’s glory when we embrace and walk in fellowship with Christ.

O Oriens

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness 

and in the shadow of death.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

O Clavis David

O Key of David and scepter of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead us prisoners from our bondage.

Friday, December 19, 2014

O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent Weekday: December 18

Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 24
Luke 1:26-38

Today is the second day in which the "O Antiphons" are used at Morning and Evening Prayer. The text of today's antiphon is:

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with your outstretched arm.

I want to focus on the final line of the antiphon in a moment, but first, a little history on the word 'Adonai'.

Adonai, simply put, is the common Hebrew word that we define as 'Lord'. In Hebrew, there are many names used to describe God: Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, El, Yah, and others - not to mention conjunctive phrases like El Shaddai, Yahweh Sabaoth, and El Elyon. Of all these phrases, Adonai is among the most common we use today, partially because it is the common substitute for Yahweh - which late Jewish tradition considered too sacred to be spoken, and partially because Adonai itself appears in the Hebrew Scriptures often enough on its own.

(Just as a side note, Jehovah is a latinized version of Yahweh, which came down to us in the King James Bible and in many hymns... but the Hebrew has no corresponding hard "J" sound... so the use of the title Jehovah, while common, is questionable.)

As the Scriptures were translated into Latin, Greek, and eventually our own English tongue, the late Jewish tradition was maintained, and the word Yahweh was changed to Lord in small capitals, while genuine occurrences of the word Adonai, meaning Lord, remained in regular type. Ever wonder why you see Lord and Lord in your Bible? There's your answer.

Okay, history lesson over... moving on...

The final verse of today's antiphon calls on Adonai to come and redeem us with outstretched arm. What a wonderful vision that brings, but I must ask a question for each of us to consider. Is that something we are truly praying for?

In our reading from Isaiah today, King Ahaz refuses to ask a sign of Yahweh "No," he responds to God's request, "I will not test Yahweh like that." God has graciously invited him to pray for anything... ANYTHING... and he refuses. In steps the prophet Isaiah, who tells Ahaz that he is exhausting God's patience. But why?

Sometimes, we like to pat ourselves on the back with the conservativeness of our prayers. And yet, the Letter to James clearly teaches us that we "have not because we ask not". God himself, in his very own voice, and in the presence of his prophet, is giving Ahaz license to ask for anything at all, no matter how unreachable it may seem. This is, after all, the one whom we acclaim in our Psalm today as having laid the earth's foundations, who is sovereign over the world and its creatures. He can grant whatever he wants. He can do the impossible. He can make a childless old woman to be fruitful, just as he can grace a virgin womb with child. Even though the stories of Elizabeth and Mary are centuries after Ahaz, he need only to look in his own people's past to recognize the provision of God to the Israelites in the Exodus, in their conquest of the promised land, and in the fruitfulness of Hannah, who bore Samuel around half a millennium before his own reign commenced.

We could stop and examine why Ahaz declined to offer a prayer rooted in his own heart... his own needs... we could argue about it being a setup for Yahweh to speak the prophecy of the Virgin Birth, or deride Ahaz for his lack of confidence or faith. But that's not where we are going today. Today, we are called to look at ourselves and examine ourselves in the light of Ahaz's declination.

Here's your question of the day: Do I shy away from asking of God boldly in prayer?

Now, I want to be cautious here... because taken in conjunction with several of Jesus' own statements, and totally out of context, you might be tempted to walk away from the Sanctuary today saying, "God will give me whatever I want." I mean, with phrases like we have in our first reading, the one we discussed from the fourth chapter of James, and Jesus' own words "Whatever you ask in my name, I will grant"... I mean somewhere on this planet, there should be a bunch of dead Christian persecutors stacked like firewood; children should have flooded Harvard and Yale until it burst at the seams; and mother-in-laws throughout the civilized world should be in Hawaii at this time of the year, far away from the homes, particularly, of the newlywed! Seriously, if we thought we could get whatever we asked for in prayer, we'd start praying for some silly, some useless, and indeed for some very dark things. Thus, we rightly point out that going to God in prayer must be done in harmony with his nature, character, and word.

And so, as a result, we often balance out the call to pray boldly with a recognition that God doesn't give us *everything* we want... and our boldness in prayer is undercut. We are reduced to praying for a good night of rest, recovery from illness soon, and all kinds of other things which often come across as 'hedging' on God's promise to hear and answer our prayers.

Friends, we are discussing a God who formed the cosmos with a simple thought. He shaped us from the earth's primal elements. He protected Noah. He guided a chosen people from bondage to freedom, and gave them a Law to promote justice and renewal among them. He took on our flesh that we might find our human nature restored to what had been marred through the fall of our first parents... just as we are called to be bold in our witness, bold in what we believe, we are called to be bold in trusting what God can do for us; and that includes bringing his mighty arm to bear to save us and deliver us from our trials.

I'm not trying to go all TV preacher on you; and don't worry, there won't be a tithe request coming your way in a few minutes... I simply want to excite, encourage, implore you - pray boldly! God will come to answer you with his redeeming arm wielding power!

Beloved, you have been nourished here today in Word and Sacrament... GO FORTH PRAYING BOLDLY, trusting in the power of Adonai to guide your heart in prayer, and to answer even the boldest prayer in the way that is right, best, and holy for you and those you lift before him. 

O Adonai

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with your outstretched arm.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent Weekday: December 17

Judges 13:2-7,24-25
Psalm 71
Luke 1:5-25

REFLECTION: “O Sapientia”
Today is a very busy day, liturgically speaking. We move into the final days of Advent, and so our readings shift to anticipating the celebration of our Lord's birth at Christmas. Today is also the memorial of St. Olympias, a deaconess who served the Church in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.  A widow, she dedicated her substantial inheritance to the service of the poor, and ultimately was consecrated as a deaconess by the bishop of Constantinople. She quickly formed in her home a hospital and an orphanage, and welcomed other widows and consecrated women to share in her ministry to the sick and the abandoned. Ultimately, though, when political fortunes changed, she found herself on the outs with the civil government. Her house was padlocked, but her ministry continued until her death in the year 408.

In her life, Olympias used spiritual discernment and God's gift of wisdom to pursue ministry to those on the margins. But wisdom goes far beyond that. On this day, when the first of the ancient "O Antiphons" rings out before and after the Gospel Canticles at Morning and Evening Prayer, we celebrate the gift of wisdom... and we pray for the grace to bring it more deeply into our lives.

Those of you who may not be familiar with the "O Antiphons" would probably recognize today's when set within the following context:

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

This text, as you probably recognize, is from the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel, which is based on these ancient antiphons, some of which are mentioned as early as the 5th century.

Wisdom is a vital gift that God seeks to pour out upon each of us; and, while worldly wisdom - which may fail us at times - has many sources, the faultless wisdom that should empower the lives of Christian believers has but a single source - the Spirit of God.

As Samson grew, the Spirit of God moved within him. He found wisdom there. Elizabeth and Zechariah were filled with the wisdom to follow the commandments of God with purity and passion. Indeed, in our psalm today, the author of Psalm 71 shows us that God is teaching each of us from our earliest days. He seeks to fill us with wisdom, and, through wisdom, with peace.

The wisdom that we, today, as Christians are called to bear, is not simply a wrote understanding of biblical command, nor is it a dutiful sense of obligation about worship, prayer, or divine studies. We are called, as followers of Christ, to live a balanced life of service, compassion, and fidelity to the truth. Doctrine is important, but so is action. Wisdom helps us to strike that balance. Wisdom leads us prudently in trusting God, in serving God, and touching others, and in sustaining ourselves. Wisdom is vital to a life of wholeness, and it is a gift that we should earnestly seek day by day.

And so, today, we pray for wisdom. Wisdom to grow in the Spirit like Samson; wisdom to grow in trust like Zechariah; wisdom to grow in joy like Elizabeth; wisdom to grow in service like Olympias; wisdom to grow into the full stature of Christ, who lives and reigns forever and ever.

Today, after communing with God, give earnest consideration to how the Spirit generates divine wisdom within your life, and pray for the courage to walk in those ways of wisdom as you encounter the challenges of daily life. 

O Sapientia

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching forth infinitely throughout all creation,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.


Today the Primitive Catholic Community commemorates Olympias, a widow who served as a Deaconess in the Church.

Olympias is described as the ‘beloved daughter’ born to Seleucus and Alexandra. In her adult years, Olympias would later go to marry a nobleman called Nebridius who served as Prefect of Constantinople. After her husband died and refusing many offers of marriage, she dedicated her life to the church, serving as a deaconess. Her good works included building a hospital, an orphanage and even looking after Monks who had been led in exile from Nitria. All of this even led to John Chrysostom telling her that she had done almost too much. Her support for John Chrysostom led her work being shut down and her personally being exiled in the year 404. She spent the rest of her life in exile at Nicomedia, where she would die on July 25, 408, after a long illness.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

Zephaniah 3:1-13
Psalm 34
Matthew 21:28-32

REFLECTION: “Pastoral Problems”

Our Gospel reading today follows on the heels of what we heard proclaimed yesterday, so let me take a moment to backtrack. The religious leaders had gathered around Jesus... this is at the end of his public ministry, just before his death. They start asking about the authority under which he operates. They refuse to answer the question he poses about John's authority, that he might make the point that both he and John are operating under the same authority, that of the Father in heaven.

In our Gospel today, Jesus offers the first in a series of parables that illustrate his underlying attitude towards the religious leaders of his day. In the parable, we encounter a son who does what he is told after refusing... in other words, a repentant son... and a son who claims he'll do as he is told, but fails to do so.

To fully understand this parable, it is vital to recognize how sons, even adult sons, were expected to behave in the cultural context of ancient Palestine. The prevailing culture of the region demanded honor and obedience to the parents, and that demand was especially heightened when they still lived on the father's estate. To refuse to serve your father while you still lived on his land was an outrage that required repentance. Yet, saying you'd serve and then never following through... that was even worse. 

Both were sinners, both needed to repent and have their father/son relationship restored, and both are examples of what was happening in the time of Jesus.

The people of Israel were living on their Father's land. Thus, honor and obedience was required. John, as he preaches, converts from among the people those willing to repent and renew their relationship with the Father, as does Jesus. These people, formerly in rebellion against God, now find a new hope in the way of righteousness, as set forth for them in the preaching they hear and the living that is modeled for them. They become the remnant spoken of in our first reading.

The religious leaders, on the other hand, claim to be doing the will and work of the Father, but are, in fact, not doing so. They are represented in the parable by the son who claimed he'd work for the father, but who then failed to do so. He, instead, enjoyed the father's estate, presumably until he was discovered for his falsehood. And punishment, even of adult children, was harsh for such falsehood.

Today, Jesus teaches us that the mantle of religiosity has nothing to do with redemption and renewal. It has no bearing on our kingdom relationship with the Father. An ongoing recognition of our shortcomings, an honest appreciation of our failures, a sincere desire to repent, and actions that manifest that repentance are what count as we seek to grow in holiness and grace on the journey that leads to Yahweh's side in eternity.

Such growth in holiness and grace does not come in a spiritual vacuum. Though we are poor in Spirit, we are promised, in the words of the Psalmist today, that 'those who look to [Yahweh] for help will be radiant with joy' and that 'He will redeem those who serve him'. 

Preparations for that growth of holiness, grace, peace, and reliance on God are not always easy. We must become lowly and humble... indeed, this is what God will work in us. Don't mistake this for becoming doormats. Lowliness and humility do not require that. But we must become glad and willing subjects of the Father, nurtured and strengthened by the Spirit, and led in the pathway of renewal by the preaching and example of the Son.

This isn't a worldly virtue... and frankly, as we hear today, it isn't always a religious virtue either. It is a virtue that comes through a living relationship the one who is the Source of all created things... Yahweh Sabaoth. To him be glory forever!

Consider today: "Where do I fail to yield my mind, my spirit, and my body to God's commands?" and pray that the Spirit of God would conform your life to Christ's lived example, so that your communion with the Father would grow deeper day by day.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

ALF's final episode, an event of the Distant Past?
Numbers 24:2-7,15b-17
Psalm 25
Matthew 21:23-27

REFLECTION: “Perspective Matters”
In our reading today from the Book of Numbers, Balaam - perhaps more famous for his talking donkey than anything else in many circles - delivers a message to King Balak, the king of the Moabites. Balak called on Balaam to curse the Israelites, but what we hear today is hardly a curse. Jacob's tents are beautious. Israel's camp is lovely. Not cursing material at all. Likewise, Balaam shares with Balak what the Israelites would one day do to the Moabites: Balak sees this as an occurrence in the 'distant future'...

Today, when we speak of 'distant futures' we often think tens of thousands of years ahead. Our minds are filled with all kinds of thoughts, such as what happens to the earth when the sun begins to expand, or if meteorites will impact our planet leaving it a waste. What you think of as a 'distant future' is really a matter of perspective.

Depending on the timeline used - meaning when you date the events of Exodus (either around 1450 BC or 1230 BC) - Israel's defeat of Moab (around 1030 BC) occurred between two and four hundred years following the prophecy we hear in our reading today. For people living in that day, two to four hundred years was indeed a distant future, one they and their children would never live to see. Compare that with how we account time today.

Did you know that there are children alive today who are the sons and daughters of civil war soldiers? The last surviving veteran of World War I, Florence Green of the Women's Royal Air Force, died less than three years ago. The last surviving vet of the Civil War survived eighty nine years after the conclusion of the Civil War. For some, these events are 'ancient history'. I suppose, for that matter, the end of "ALF" is probably ancient history to others. But, in the grand scheme of things, a few hundred years, today, isn't really all that ancient.

We think of the events of the past 600 years - sailing around the world with Magellan, discovering the moons of Jupiter with Galileo, harnessing the atom, discovering magnetic fields, understanding the complex interactions of space and time... nobody would call any of these events 'ancient past'... though certainly Magellan would look on in awe to know that today, twelve human beings have set foot on our own moon, and people permanently live in orbit around our planet, circling the globe in ninety minutes... a globe it took him and his successor (remember, Magellan died in the Philippines) three years to circumnavigate.

What today is the 'distant future' to us? Certainly the prophetic portions of the Book of Revelation seem like they are 'distant future' at moments, and, at other times, seem immanent. We don't know what God's timeline is for the renewal of the universe he has created. What we do know is that by our senses and standards, we can't begin to imagine God's timeline and the way he will move forward to accomplish it, any more then we could have imagined a ruddy little boy becoming the mighty King David, slaying Goliath and triumphing over Moab while walking through the desert with manna to eat and forty years to kill.

You and I, living today, have no idea what details the future holds, at least with respect to how God's redemptive plan will be fully manifest. The certainties we have are birth, life with all its challenges, and death should the day of the Lord's fullness not be manifest before the day when our bodies cease to function according to their design. For some, that day is perceived as a day of the 'distant future'. For others, it's an immanent occurrence. But regardless, your personal perspective on life, on God, on his word, and on what he does for you and others on a day to day basis will help form you to take deeper stock of what he seeks to do in your life, and what he seeks to have passed on from generation to generation.

As you depart today, think on the authority of God in Christ Jesus, and how it helps you to form your perspective on living, the mystery of redemption, and the future hope of glory... and then make a concentrated effort to form your life, though the guidance of the Spirit, to the vision you feel the Lord has given you.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11
Psalm 71
1 Thessalonians 5:16b-24
John 1:6-9,15 [19-27]

REFLECTION: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon... who?”

Today, in our reading from Isaiah’s prophecy, we hear the deeply moving words that Jesus quoted early in his ministry in the Synagogue at Nazareth. We often think of these words in conjunction with Jesus’ mission and ministry. So why are we reading them today, on a day that, on the surface of things, is all about John the Baptist?

John, the forerunner of the Messiah in all things, clearly had a God-given mission, and, if we carefully recall the story of John’s conception, birth, and youth, we recognize that the Spirit was active in him – even before his birth!
Recognizing the voice of the Savior, even in the womb? Spirit of the Lord, right there. Proclaiming repentance and renewal? Pure Spirit. Baptizing in the Jordan to manifest the reconciliation that Messiah would bring. Yep. Spirit. Again.
 So. The Spirit of the Lord was upon John, just as the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus. That’s great. Mary probably got in on a dose of that Spiritual outpouring too. I mean, conceiving the Savior by the work of the Spirit, being highly favored among all women. That’s some 100% Grade A Holy Ghost right there.
But that’s probably where it ends.

Brothers and sisters, the Spirit of the Lord is upon you. It is through the Spirit’s power that we are made one with the Father in Christ. It is through the Spirit’s power that we acclaim Jesus as Lord. It is through the Spirit’s power that we accomplish every good and perfect work. It is through the Spirit’s movement that we are led in the pathways of righteousness, joy, and peace.
It’s time to stop thinking of the Spirit of the Lord as a gift for the privileged, and time to start thinking of it as your personal inheritance, the gift of your baptism, the cherished companion along the way. 

Do not neglect it. 

Revel in it! 

Rejoice in it!

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Today the Primitive Catholic Community commemorates Lucy, a young Sicilian who gave her life after giving away everything else she possessed.

Lucy was a native of Syracuse in Sicily. She lived at the beginning of the fourth century, when the Roman authorities were attempting to re-establish the worship of gods they approved. The emperor himself was the focus of one of the cults. Tradition has it that Lucy, as a young Christian, gave away her goods to the poor and was betrayed to the authorities by her angry betrothed, who felt that they should have become his property. She was put to death for her faith in the year 304. Her name in Latin means Light and, as her feast-day fell in December, she became associated with the one true Light who was coming as the redeemer of the world, the Light that would lighten the nations, the Light that would banish darkness and let the eyes of all behold Truth incarnate.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 48:17-19
Psalm 1
Matthew 11:16-19

REFLECTION: “What is Truth?”
Most of us might recognize the phrase "What is truth?" as having come from the lips of Pilate in John's account of our Lord's passion. Usually, when spoken in dramatization, it comes across with a bit of a sneering tone, which generally serves to underlie the accepted perception of Pilate as a Roman functionary who finds himself embroiled in a minor local concern that he really could care less about.

And yet, today, we live in an era where the concept of truth, specifically of 'absolute truth' is widely held in scorn. One basic tenant of Postmodern philosophy is that we all experience the world with our own biases, our own worldviews; therefore we never see an object, but only the representation of that object which is appropriate to our biased worldview. What postmodernists often forget is that whether or not we actually see the object, the object is still there. It objectively exists.

Sometimes, outside forces - beyond worldview - can impact objects. Think about, for example, gravity, and its effects. If you took this candle, and tossed it into a sufficiently powerful gravitational field... a black hole, lets say... it would undergo a process which physicists call spaghettification. The atoms which make up the candle would be stretched, pulled, distorted... and ultimately, they would be hyper-compressed somewhere, before who knows what happens at the 'bottom' of the hole... if a bottom exists. The moment the candle crosses the singularity's event horizion, though, it would begin to become unrecognizable. An outside observer with no previous knowledge of what you were doing would look at the object, and perhaps identify it as something other than a candle. That perception would be based on their experience and worldview, one that would tell them that the spaghettified candle didn't resemble a candle at all, and so must not be a candle.

While gravity has a way of distorting objects, even the very fabric of space-time itself, it cannot effect truth. Absolute truth is knowable, but knowing it here, in this universe, on our plane of existence, is essentially impossible. All we know... yes, even we who follow God with great passion and determination... is a feeble echo of the truth God calls us to embrace eternally.

And so, when we hear in our first reading today of Yahweh's desire to teach us right from wrong; when our Psalm speaks to us of finding joy in following his commands; when our Gospel boldly states that wisdom is shown to be truthful based on its results... God is powerfully reaffirming his determination to show us the fullest breadth of absolute truth that we can perceive in this world, and exhorting us to avoid those things which, in spite of our human, warped perceptions, are harmful, painful, and death-bearing for us.

Does the fact that the truth we have received in Scripture is a 'feeble echo' of absolute truth overturn its veracity as a guide for life? NOT AT ALL! When I use the phrase 'feeble echo', I mean to state this: God's truth is so rich, deep, abundant, and lifegiving, that our limited cognitive and spiritual abilities in this fallen cosmos are utterly incapable of understanding them, verbalizing them, or fully communicating them.

How often do we find ourselves coming short in our attempts to explain the Trinity, the dual nature of Christ, Jesus' Eucharistic presence, atonement, the problem of sin, and any of a multitude of other questions that confront us in this world? Our worldly perceptions influence how we understand them... just as our worldly perceptions influence how we view God's commandments about living life. And yet, our God is holy, merciful, and just. He gives us our commands, which do not jive with our fallen human thought processes, in order that we might be conformed more deeply to what he wants. We will falter. We will fall short. And that's OK. God seeks for us mercy, peace, and renewal when we repent and seek renewal. And yet, in this world, the renewal is finite. In the eternity to come, where absolute truth will reign without gravity, or postmodern theology to lense our view of it, our renewal will be complete, and we will behold Yahweh as he desires to be seen - for we shall behold him face to face.

How does my perception of what is true, right, and good mar my ability to understand God's revelation of what is true, right, and good? 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 41:13-20
Psalm 145
Matthew 11:11-15

REFLECTION: “Don't forget your place...”
Status in society is something that, unfortunately, persists today. In parts of India, caste systems still prevail. In our own community, castes also exist, though we don't dare call them by such polarizing terms. We still segregate and congregate based on obvious things like skin color and gender... and on less obvious things, like wealth, housing situations, and employment status. Sometimes we come by it on the basis of our fear of differences, and at other times, its subtle persuasion that makes it happen. I'll never forget growing up in Anderson, where crossing the railroad tracks behind Anderson High School at John Street was always accompanied by reaching to the door and pushing down on the plunger for the lock. My grandmother did it the moment we approached the tracks, and everyone else in the car was to follow suit. Same thing coming from Noblesville or Lapel back into Anderson... you pass through Edgewood but, before you get up to the K-Mart, and certainly before you hit Raible Avenue, the doors were to be locked.

My grandmother never used foul language to describe people who lived in that part of town; she never spoke disrespectfully about people of any ethnic background. But that quiet snap of the lock made a lasting impact. 'This area, this run down part of town, filled with blacks and Hispanics, is dangerous.' For years afterwards, it was just one of those Pavlovian responses - cross the tracks, lock the doors.

I don't live in Anderson anymore, and even if I did, the matter would be immaterial... my car automatically locks the doors when it hits 15 MPH these days. But when I recall those days, it teaches me a valuable lesson, one that is touched on in our reading today from the prophecy of Isaiah.

As human beings, living in the shadow of Adam's fall, our entire planet is 'run down' in comparison with what it was intended to be; and we, by nature, are all 'have nots', when measured against the holiness of God. Yet, God does not care about our definition of 'haves' and 'have nots'. His own chosen people he refers to as a 'lowly worm', but he passionately declares in the very same verse, "don't be afraid, for I will help you!"

Does that make an impact on you? It should. It should ensure that you never forget your place in the sight of a perfectly holy God. You are fallen, a sinner, in need of bridging the gap that exists between you and Yahweh. And yet, at the same time, you are called as his chosen ones. In baptism you identify with Christ. At table you are nourished with Christ. In life you are called to bear Christ. In death your hope is Christ. This is true no matter who you are. No matter what your place or station in life. No matter your ethnicity, your sins, your failures, or your successes.

So don't forget your place, my brothers and sisters... you live in a 'have not' world... and without Christ Jesus' powerful atonement, you are a 'have not'... but that's no reason to lock the doors, to marginalize others, to ignore their needs, to be blinded to the truth, any more than it is a reason for God to ignore you.

If, as our Gospel reading today proclaims, God's Kingdom is coming with forceful advancement, then we must overcome, by the power of the Spirit, all that would keep us from opening our lives to all those who need Christ Jesus' love. Weather that love needs to be expressed in preaching or provision, personal conversation, or a cup of warm soup, we must stop locking the doors of our hearts and minds, for God would never do such a thing to us. We must open ourselves up to others, touching their lives, just as God, in Christ, reaches out to us.

What part of my life can I 'unlock' to serve Yahweh more faithfully in the midst of this fallen world? 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 40:25-31
Psalm 103
Matthew 11:28-30

REFLECTION: “Can I believe it?”
Our Gospel reading today gives us simple words: 'you will find rest for your souls'. It is often hard, however, to accept these words, or, to be more precise... to live them.

It is hard to live them because, at times, it is hard for us to believe them. We live in a world filled with violence, inequality, suffering, and pain. Sometimes we imagine this is a unique feature of modern society... but it is only today's manifestation of that fact. The multitude of news networks and their endless news cycle leaves us with images of terror, hurt, and brutality day by day... but the same images were imprinted on the minds of people hundreds of years, yes, even thousands of years ago.

The prophet Isaiah writes to a people who have witnessed foreign oppression, whose faith is teetering, whose spirits in many instances have been crushed... to say nothing of the situation within Judah itself. He passionately refutes the notion that God doesn't care about their plight, and illustrates in the beautiful words that follow how Yahweh's commitment to his people is manifest.

In our own day, we are called to embrace Isaiah's words as a means of reinforcing our faith and trust in Jesus' own promise of rest. If we recognize and embrace who God is, if we are able to understand the immensity of his majesty and the tender personal-ness of his care, then Jesus' promise of an easy yoke, a lightened burden, and rest for the soul become accessible and real to us. But this can only take root in our souls if we can accept God for who he is... and often, that can be a challenge.

But it's a challenge I invite you to accept. Allow God to be sovereign in your life, as he is sovereign over creation. Allow him to rule your heart and mind. Allow him to speak words of comfort to you when even your senses tell you otherwise... and believe them! For Yahweh, the creator of all, is always present to his people... to those who seek him with sincerity and with truth.

Is something causing me to hold back today? I something keeping me from embracing God as I should?