Monday, May 10, 2021

Older than the hills, newer than tomorrow

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore (Psalm 121:8)

 We don’t know what awaits us on any given day, let alone what the next month or year may bring. Nor do we know how long this life will last or what sorrows or joys will awaken our tears.

 But we do know there is a Love who comes to us in the great and small things of our lives, a Love who promises to be with us amid the uncertainties that surround our existence.

 And we are not alone in this knowing, which is good to know. Others have left a witness to this Mystery who haunts our days and warms our souls in odd moments when we are looking for nothing in particular.

 “I look to the hills,” writes an ancient poet who failed to share his name. The greatness of the hills awakened his awareness of a benevolent Presence who inhabited the heights as well as the valleys and anywhere else he found himself.

Most significantly, he discovered that Presence his own soul, so that he knew something ... Someone ... he could not begin to describe.

There is One who watches over you, he said, sees your going out and your return home, holding all your journeys in safekeeping because your life is more precious than you know. So breathe, the poet counsels, and know.

Know that in every moment of grace and every ounce of love, you meet this Mystery, who is free as the wind, lighter than air, stronger than death and closer than your breath.

Watching, yes, but this One also comes, silent as the dawn, slipping past our guarded hearts, whispering a Love older than the hills ... and newer than tomorrow.

 Pr. David L. Miller


Thursday, May 06, 2021

Joy

For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17).

We can pretty much predict when happiness comes. It is right there at the beginning of the word—hap, which refers to chance or luck or a favorable event that pleases us. Winning the game, success at work, a kind word or smile, these all bring happiness.

But joy is more elusive ... and deeper. It flows from the heart’s inner room when our soul is satisfied, one with the Love who is our home.

Joy releases silent tears that wash away everything else but its presence. It floods the heart with a wave of warmth and gratitude, sometimes for no reason we can see.

You never know when it might appear. It's free, like the wind. Joy can come in the midst of grief, like when we savor the smile of a soul no longer with us, or for the gift of simply being alive on a fresh April morning. 

Joy can never be reduced to words, and when it washes over you it is best not to try. It’s like trying to snatch morning light in your hand as it filers through the blinds. The most and best you can ever say is, "Thank you," to the wondrous mystery from whom it comes. 

Ultimately, joy is the fulfillment of our humanity, as the Love in whose image we are made awakens at our core, filling us whole until it pours from our pores and leaks through our eyes. 

And every time it comes, you know: This is my home, the One from whom I came and the One to whom I will go. 

Pr. David L. Miller

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The place of peace

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ (John 20:26)


The morning news has nothing to commend, violence and unresolvable conflict wherever one turns, everything well-seasoned by long injustice and inevitable mistrust. If ever this ends, my lifetime won’t be long enough to see it.

The unsettled heart wants nothing more than peace, as if that were a small thing and not … everything.

And the mind knows what the heart doesn’t want to admit. There is no peace, even when there is justice. Opposition and the clamor of egos to get their way are ever there. It’s the nature of things, or better to say … it’s our nature. Stress and tension remain, inevitable elements of human existence.

We have lost the way or the key or whatever is needed to arrive at the place where the mind grows quiet and the heart rests, no longer insisting that the world serve us, catering to our whims and wills.

Of course, we never knew the way or held the key to the place of peace. For that place is a heart larger than our own.

Peace is a gift to be received, not a state we create. It is the wonder of love filling the temple of the heart’s inner room, leaving room for nothing else, so that we become, if even for a moment, the love who rushes in to fill the ache of human emptiness.

And this love, this Love, stands before those who failed and fled and denied him, breathing a single word, Peace. Peace be with you.

He gives what we cannot give ourselves, the peace that welcomes us whole regardless of the state of our lives. He offers a kind of knowing, love’s knowing, that washes over the heart and carries us into a heart that is immeasurably greater than we can know.

So do nothing. Just stand or sit or be wherever you are and hear this one word spoken to the world by the Wounded One to whom the world did everything possible to reject and kill.

He offers a single word that washes the soul and frees the heart to love and be the peace we so greatly need. Just listen … then listen again.

Peace.

Pr. David L. Miller

 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

It’s enough

 

Maundy Thursday 2021


 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. (John 13:1-5)

This is enough. If I had no other reason to love Jesus than this one moment, this is enough. This is beauty beyond compare, love beyond speaking.

Jesus gets up from the table, casts off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself and pours water in a bowel. Then he kneels ... and washes his disciples’ feet, an act of crystal purity flowing from his heart, giving himself to his friends who could never comprehend the depth of the love who chose ... them.

Watch him as he takes a foot in one hand and washes it with the other. These are the hands that held and blessed children. His hands welcomed lepers who had given up hope of ever knowing the grace of human touch again.

He had bent low to lay his hands on the despairing who fell at his feet, daring to hope that maybe the mystery in him could and would heal them.

He had held the hand of a little girl pronounced dead, lifting her by the hand and delivering her into the arms of astonished parents.

And now, in an act of exquisite love for the uncomprehending and undeserving, he washes his disciples’ feet, loving them completely and loving them to the end.

I see his hands and in them I see the hands of my Sunday school teacher, Grant, red and chapped from working outdoors all his life, strong from milking cows, making hay and building fence. His hands welcomed us every Sunday to his class with a strength born of a love none of us could begin to understand at 10 and 11.

I see Magdalena’s hands, arthritic, a network of blue veins across the back, weathered and worn from chores indoors and out, hands that gently cared for her orchids, bringing them to blossom, beautiful, but none so much as her. I remember her hands laying atop mine as she prayed for me and for hundreds of others, struggling for words to express a fraction of what was in her heart that we might be warmed by the enduring flame of love she felt within.

I also see my hands picking up Hana, a little Ethiopian girl, who long ago insistently tugged at my pant leg until I picked her up and sat her in the crook of my arm. She patted my face and kissed my cheeks, aching to touch and be touched with a love denied her because of the disease that ravaged her family and made her an outcast. I held her, praying that she might live and grow and one day hold her own child as I held her.

In their hands, I see Jesus’ hands, and in Jesus’ hands I see their hands.

And in all of them, I see the hands of the Love who pours from Jesus’ heart as he kneels at the feet of his disciples and washes their feet. In the touch of his hands, the gentleness of grace, the beauty of blessing, we know the Love who labors in the depth of human souls and works in the great tides of history to love us into truest humanity and create a community joined in the heart of God’s invincible love for all creation.

So it is: If all we ever know about Jesus is this one moment as he washes feet, this is enough for us, enough to know that wherever we are in life’s journey, whether it be dark or light, we rest in very good hands.

We adore you, O Christ, and bless you.

By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Pr. David L, Miller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, March 29, 2021

Strange power

 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

A wooden triptych sits on my desk at home. Four or five inches tall, it was carved from a single piece of wood. Human figures rise in relief from the walnut background.

On the left, a robed figure stands erect, hands together in prayer. A soldier holds a sword directly in front of him, point down, on the right. The middle panel is Jesus, arms wide on the cross.

Each time I return to my desk, I pick up the tryptic, kiss the relief of Jesus and pray, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

This sounds like nonsense, of course. How does a crucified man, suffering excruciating pain and degradation redeem anything? It is the very opposite of success, power, status, wealth or any of the other things we are told we should want.

It makes no sense, until you see ... really see ... a mother holding and caressing her infant, or a teacher going that extra mile for a troubled child or any of a thousand other instances where love goes out of its way expecting no reward ... other than the sheer grace of loving.

Then it becomes clear that if anything is going to save this world it is the willingness to give yourself away, loving beyond any and every expectation.

Jesus dies on the cross, rejected, tortured, humiliated by purveyors of merciless power, eager to demonstrate that they owned him and could do what they like.

But they didn’t own him. He refuses to surrender to the hate that kills him, breaking history’s ugly cycle of paying back insult with injury, hate with more hate. He lives the Love who lives in him right to the end, blessing those who curse him, showing mercy to the merciless, grace in the face of evil.

There’s nothing about the cross that suggests power, yet only this has the power to save us from ourselves.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.

By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Pr. David L. Miller

Friday, March 26, 2021

Love comes

So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:59-61)


Lovingly, they’d wrapped his body. Now, there is nothing more to do, so they sit in the silence, the two Marys, staring at the stone that seals Jesus’ tomb, then at their feet, waiting for ... nothing, for what good can come now? But still, unable to pull themselves away.

Their eyes blank, their hearts hollow, their minds lost in thought that is no thought, only the longing for what they cannot have—him, Jesus, his smile, the sound of his voice, his laugh, the way his eyes caught sunlight glistening on Galilee’s sea.

They want to feel the way they felt when he was with them. They want to know this, this ... indescribable love flooding their hearts one more time, this love that made them more alive with joy and gratitude than ever before. They ache for the Love who filled and loved them beyond any expectation.

But now all they can do is stare at the gray stone that holds him in, its dead weight drawing their hearts into depths from which they might never rise.

Maybe, they just need to wait. Maybe time will heal their wounds. But does it ever?

No, time doesn’t heal. Love does, the Love they knew in themselves when they were with him.

But that is gone, so they wait ... for nothing, staring at the dust into which his life is cast, not knowing there is another chapter in the story of what love does.

They do not yet know the Love in Jesus can pass through locked doors and enter closed hearts. They do not know that it has the power to penetrate their darkness with a light that is the glow of eternity.

They do not know that the One who is Love, the One who came to them, will come and engulf their hearts with a warmth sweeter than a spring day. They do not know tears will glisten in their eyes again, not with sadness but laughter, as they discover God is greater and better ... and life more graced and beautiful ... than they ever imagined.

So they sit and wait, not knowing Love will come. He always comes. He always will.

So we wait ... in every darkness knowing, Love will come ... for us.

 We adore, O Christ, and we bless you.

By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Pr. David L. Miller

 

 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

We know

 So Joseph [of Arimathea] took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. (Matthew 27:59-60)


We know this moment. We’ve lived it.

I remember friends at the open graves of their children, and my mother on the hillside of Elmwood Cemetery, their feet fixed, not wanting to move at the close of the service, while a voice within me or from outside spoke words that still echo in the crashing silence of the heart.  “We can’t just leave him here.”

But we had to, and we did, as all of us have too many times and in too many places, each time standing there trying to remember ... everything ... lest we forget the sound of their voice and how we felt when we were with them, trying to hold it all in our minds lest the love we had given and received be lost in the wash of time.

So we know the hearts of those who surrounded Jesus’ body. They know ... this is the last time they will touch him, look into his face, stroke his arm, brush hair from his brow, hold his ruined hands and kiss his cheek.

They do not hurry as they wash his body, lifting and turning him from one side to the other, reaching beneath and above his dead weight to wrap him in clean, white cloths, folding in spices as they go. Not speaking or wanting it to end, they know ... they will see him no more.

The glint in his eyes is gone, the light in their hearts extinguished. Hope lies dead on the slab, so they lay it to rest not knowing when laughter will come again, if ever.

 Maybe time will heal their wounds, but it doesn’t, not really. Only love does. The Love Jesus is ... and always will be.

We adore, O Christ, and we bless you.

By your holy cross you have redeemed the world

Pr. David L. Miller