Rescued From Death

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series based on the weekly Psalm and associated readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. 

Guest Writer: Mimi Otani @ crazy4jazz.com

Read

Exodus 1:8-2:10

Reflect

Women played significant roles in the birth and growth of Moses. Were it not for the courage and compassion of these women, the story of Exodus would not be. First, the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah: they feared God and disobeyed Pharaoh’s decree to kill the newborn Israelite boys. The Lord later rewarded them with their own families. Second, Moses’ mother: she also defied Pharaoh’s order. Not only did she save Moses’ life, she also had the consolation of being able to care for him until he was weaned. Third, Moses’ sister, Miriam: she watched over Moses from afar and arranged to have him nursed by his own mother. Last but not least, Pharaoh’s daughter: she, too, defied her own father’s order. She knew Moses was an Israelite baby, but she still saved him and adopted him as her son.

Pharaoh thought he could eliminate his enemies by targeting their sons. But God thwarted his plan through the fidelity, courage, and intelligence of women.

Respond

Psalm 124 is a song about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, but it also refers to Moses. He could have drowned as an infant in the Nile, but instead, he was drawn out of the water as one comes out of baptism. In baptism, we symbolically die to our old selves and are reborn as new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). When Christ rescues us from sin and death, it is as though “we have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!” (Psalm 124:7 ). With each new day, God gives us life and freedom.

Thank God for the new life and freedom you have in Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you one or two ways you can follow the example of the women in this story. Even though they were under Pharoah’s rule, they lived as though they were free; they chose to follow God and his promptings regardless of what Pharoah did or what risks they faced.

How can you live today in the freedom Christ has given you, regardless of your external circumstances?

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Jesus Sees Your Heart

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series from the weekly Psalm and associated readings in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Guest Writer: Mercy Perez

Read

Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Reflect

In this passage, Jesus responds to the religious leaders who criticize Jesus and his disciples for not washing their hands before eating, in violation of religious law. He tells them that it is not what goes into the mouth that’s the problem; rather “it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person” (11).

Through that statement and through the parable that follows, Jesus explains that what comes out of your mouth – what you say –  reflects your internal attitude: “And that’s what contaminates a person in God’s sight. Out of the heart come evil thoughts” (v. 18-19, CEB). Jesus reads the evil intentions of the religious leaders in their words. That’s why he calls them “blind.”

Soon after Jesus travels to another region. A woman who heard about his healings found him there. She may have had some trepidation in approaching Jesus because she was a Canaanite and was not sure how she might be received. Canaanites were the people the Israelites fought against when they entered into the Promised Land; they were also known as worshipers of the Sun God. However, the woman did not let her differences or her fear stop her from seeking Jesus. Her daughter was suffering from demon possession and she desperately longed for her to be healed.

When this woman saw Jesus she called out to him. She acknowledged him as the descendant of David, the promised Messiah. Jesus at first did not answer. Perhaps he was testing her, or perhaps he was testing his disciples, who were urging him to send her away. When Jesus did answer, it was to call out her difference: “I have been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel” (v. 26 CEB). Jesus’ words probably confirmed the woman’s fears of being excluded, yet she was not deterred. She knelt before Jesus and asked again for his help.

Jesus looked into the woman’s heart and saw the opposite of what he saw in the religious leaders. He saw the love, desperation, courage, and humility that motivated her words and actions. He saw that she truly believed who he was, and in his ability to heal. His differences from the woman did not stop him from meeting her need and healing her daughter.

Jesus’ purpose on earth was to bring all who believed in him close to God, regardless of their background. Psalm 67 also shows God’s inclusive love for all of us.

Let God grant us grace and bless us;

   let God make his face shine on us,

Let all the people thank you and celebrate.

He judges the nations fairly

God blesses us—our God blesses us!

Respond

Ask Jesus to look into your heart to see your greatest need – perhaps one you aren’t even aware of – and to meet it as only he can.

Then, spend a few minutes in gratitude for God’s unconditional love. Ask God to make you a receptacle of his love. As it flows from your heart into your words and actions, you too will be a source of our Father’s Love.

Wonderland in Bloom: Chihuly Sculptures at the New York Botanical Garden

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Two weekends ago, some friends took our family to the New York Botanical Garden to see the Dale Chihuly exhibition.

Chiluly’s name sounds like a portmanteau of a lily and a Chihuahua. The lily part seems appropriate for a man who sculpts flowers. I don’t know how to connect the Chihuahua part though.

Walking among his glass sculptures is like being in an enchanted world, where everything is uncannily close to what you know . . . but not. The giant lemon, chartreuse, and white bloom above, with its crazily twisting spirals and shells, looks simultaneously like an anemone dancing in the ocean currents; an ecosystem of corals, mollusks, and eels; or Medusa’s hair re-interpreted as a topiary or a joyfully vibrant dress-up party hat. In its excess of size and movement, there’s both beauty and a touch of the grotesque. As a flower, it looks just wild and untamed enough to be dangerous – the kind of bloom that might beckon an insect in before devouring it. (And that sentence sounds like Freud trying his hand at a romance novel. I already regret writing it.)

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Among the towering flora, I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland after she had shrunk to the size of a mouse. Even among the more “normal” sized sculptures, I half expected the flowers to insult me, the Mad Hatter to drag me to a tea party, and the Red Queen to stride in bellowing “Off with her head!” Maybe even a baby that turned into a pig.  (Fun fact: The word “portmanteau” was coined by Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, writer of the Alice books, and friend to the real Alice Liddell, who as far as I know did not actually babysit pigs.)

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Although we never encountered the White Rabbit and his pocket watch, we did spend many minutes observing the fuzzy honey bees, boisterous and laden with pollen.

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My kids and I were equally fascinated by super-sized koi fish, mouth agape, cruising for crumbs in the lotus pond. It reminded me of a baby plugged up with one of those see-through pacifiers.

 

My son gave the fish pieces of sandwich bread, which I am sure is not allowed. However, I am also sure someone has been feeding that monster more than just carp food. It looked one growth spurt away from starring in the next Godzilla sequel.

Someone definitely tried to feed it a cell phone. We saw groundskeepers dredging for it among the lotuses.

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Inside the greenhouse, the sculptures and their settings conjured up a paradisical jungle, with luminous white “belugas” (that looked like alien pods straight out of a horror movie), white and indigo flamingos, and perfectly constructed leaves, with the striations and variations in the glass mimicking a real leaf’s vein. Some leaves looked so like their real counterparts that only the informational placards called attention to them.

 

We left the Garden tired, content, and hungry, and our friends took us to SriPraPhai in Woodside, Queens for authentic Thai food. While everything was delicious, what I remember most is the dessert: salty, sweet, and warm sticky rice, served with a fresh cold mango in a swirl of coconut milk. It was the perfect combination of flavors, temperatures, and textures, and a fitting end to a day in Wonderland.

 

Image credit:Koi: http://www.japanshakuhachi.com

 

 

Love That Goes Beyond Justice

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Read

Psalm 67

Genesis 45:1-15

Reflect

Psalm 67 tells us that one of God’s central concerns is justice is for the whole earth. In the New Testament, Jesus’ ministry and life demonstrate that love goes further than justice, bringing reconciliation and restoration to those are far from God or in conflict with each other.

In Genesis 45:1-15, Joseph is finally reconciled to the brothers that sold him into slavery. He spent years as a slave, then in prison, before God brought him to a position of power in Egypt and used him to prepare Egypt and the surrounding countries for many years of famine.

When Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, it’s a tense and dramatic scene. Joseph cries copiously on all his brothers. The story doesn’t tell us what his brothers did, but they probably felt a combination of shock, horror, shame, relief that Joseph was alive after all these years, and abject fear at how he might take his revenge.

How does this story illustrate God’s love that goes beyond justice? Joseph, far from punishing his brothers as they deserved, chooses to see God’s hand in what happened. He forgives them and points them towards the larger purpose: God’s plan to save the people of Israel from famine. Joseph shows his brothers love they didn’t expect and certainly didn’t earn.

God also showed love to Joseph in unexpected ways. God had told Joseph in dreams, a long time ago, that he would rule over his brothers and father. But Joseph must have been afraid that his father (who had to be extremely old at this point) had already died; earlier in the story, he asks his brothers repeatedly whether their father is still alive. Joseph also had no clue that he had a younger brother. All of his other brothers were half-brothers – sons of different mothers; Benjamin was the son of both Joseph’s mother and father. God gave Joseph the incredible gift of being able to save his father and his entire family from famine and added the bonus of a brother whose existence he had never suspected.

Respond

Have you broken faith with God or with another person? Ask Jesus to forgive you and bring reconciliation to your relationships.

Remember you are a child of God, greatly loved by Him (1 John 3:1). Ask God to make you newly aware of how much He cares for you, plans for your future, and blesses you in ways you could not have earned or imagined.

How to Find God: Praise. Thank. Seek.

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series based on the weekly Psalm and associated readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. This week’s Psalm is Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b.

Guest writer: Mary Lynn Errigo

Read

Matthew 14:22-33

Reflect

Psalm 105 urges us to give thanks to the Lord and call upon His name. It tells us of the Lord’s wonderful works on behalf of Israel. It reminds us of God’s covenant with us and that He will keep His word forever. He is worthy of all our honor and praise.

The Bible tells us that God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalms 22:3). So when we give Him thanks and praise, He shows up. As we call upon His name and tell everyone around us of all the blessings He has bestowed upon us, doing these things will begin to become natural to us.

Jesus tells us that if we seek Him with all of our hearts we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). He says when we call upon Him, He will tell us great and mighty things that we would not otherwise know (Jeremiah 33:3). Imagine that! He will reveal to us great and mighty things from the mind of God, just for seeking Him and calling upon His name.

Matthew 14 tells us that Jesus often went off by Himself to spend time with His Father. Just Him and His Dad, talking and learning about God’s will. Jesus also demonstrated the Father’s love and care through His many miracles, miracles that brought safety, calmed fears, and met needs. Imagine this God, who loves to spend time with us, who keeps His promises to us, who says He will make our hearts glad. Why wouldn’t we run to this Father with such a love as this?

God is real and alive. When we take the time to sit before Him and wait on Him, we will begin to feel the joy of basking in His presence.

Respond

Are you feeling weak and worn down today? Have the worries in your life and for the people whom you love become a burden to you? Go to your Father and tell Him about it. Give Him thanks and praise today for all the blessings that He has given you.

God is already in your future, knowing where you’re going, waiting to spend time with you and to renew you. He says, “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Spend time with Him. He will tell you great things and give you strength for the day.

It was My Anniversary . . . and a Bird Pooped on My Head

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Not the guilty pigeon

There I was, minding my own business, walking with my husband to a restaurant to celebrate our 19th anniversary, and the next thing I knew, I had pigeon poop in my hair.

We were out the night before our anniversary, because, on our actual anniversary, my husband took our son, his best friend, and two other guys to Six Flags for the day.

As many of our friends and family members already know, this is not the least romantic thing my husband has done on our anniversary. That would be the year he planned to go to Mets game with 10 guys from church, found out the game was on the day of our anniversary, then bought the tickets anyway.

They got rained on though, so I feel like karma was on my side.

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Karma in action

This year, the kids jaunted off to Shake Shack with their godparents, and my husband and I drove to Jackson Heights, an area of Queens that makes understatements of the terms “urban density” and “diversity.” We parked and walked several blocks towards a small second-floor restaurant that serves Thai hotpot – all you can eat within ninety minutes (there are overage charges). It was while we were standing at a corner under the elevated 7 line tracks, waiting for a light to change, that a pigeon left me a present.

I can’t remember the last time I was pooped on. By a bird, anyway. I remember loads of times (pun intended) I was pooped on by a kid. Mostly by my own, although just last week the neighbors’ newborn leaked all over me.

I’m not really sure why, of all days, a pigeon singled me out on my 19th anniversary, but I am hopeful that was not a portent of things to come. Although, didn’t getting pooped on by birds get Diane Lane her own villa in Under the Tuscan Sun?

Please, can I have my own villa?

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No villa materialized, but we did have a great evening together, once I scraped and washed everything out of my hair and hands in the restaurant bathroom, then dolloped on some hand sanitizer for good measure.

The restaurant we chose, Jaew Hon NY, was eclectically and colorfully decorated with light fixtures made of umbrellas and colanders and a painting of the recently deceased, beloved Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

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It was a family-friendly spot, with several families with babies and young children crowded into the narrow space. (As the night progressed, the crowd shifted to adults.) Many of the babies and toddlers were vociferously not enjoying themselves, and no one seemed to mind. They were also sitting mystifyingly close to the in-table heating elements.

The heating elements turned out to be (mostly) child-safe inductive heating surfaces that stayed cool while keeping the broth inside the hotpots boiling at a consistent 390 degrees. From what my humanities-tilting brain can tell from a quick perusal of some diagrams on Google, induction heating works through magnets and, um . . . magic?

Regardless, I came away wanting an inductive cooker for our apartment, because turning on a stove during an NYC heat wave is akin to using a blowtorch in hell.

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If you’re not familiar with hotpot, it’s found in many Asian cultures. In Japan, it’s called shabu shabu, a name that Wikipedia informs me may be an onomatopoetic representation of the sounds made by cooking and stirring. It consists a variety of vegetables, meats, fish, dumplings, tofu products, and noodles that you cook in boiling broth right at your table. According to the Thai friend who recommended this restaurant, Thai hotpot is distinguished from Chinese hotpot by its dipping sauces and broths, all made with Thai spices like Thai basil (spicier than the Italian variety), lemongrass, and galangal (related to ginger).

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For our hotpot, we ordered marinated beef, thin-sliced beef, squid, and shrimp, then chose items from the fresh bar: several kinds of mushrooms, bok choy, Thai basil, squash slices, eggs, tofu, tofu skin, pork and shrimp dumplings.

The shrimp came with heads intact. I made my husband deal with them. I don’t like it when my food stares at me with its bulgy, beady, pleading eyes. Or with any eyes, for that matter.

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The face of nightmares

We finished off the evening in Astoria Park, looking out at the Manhattan skyline through the lattice of the 59th Street Bridge and eating Talenti Almond Coconut Chocolate Gelato with plastic spoons.

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For a night that started with getting pooped on, it wasn’t all that bad. I’d spend another 19 years like this.

 

 

Illustrations from Mo Willems’ Pigeon books. My family is also fond of Gerald and Piggie and Knuffle Bunny.

What Is God’s Dream for You?

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series from the weekly Psalms and associated readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Guest writer: Mimi Otani, crazy4jazz.com

Read

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Reflect

Jacob favored Joseph the most among his sons, making him the envy of his brothers. Joseph had dreams of ruling over his father and brothers, which only increased his brothers’ hatred. They nearly killed him before selling him into slavery in Egypt.

Joseph’s plight is vividly described in Psalm 105: 18: “His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron.” What would become of his dreams, now that he was a slave, helpless and far from home?

If you read the story to its end, either in Genesis or in Psalm 105, you will notice that Joseph found his vindication not when his dreams came true, when his brothers had to come to him for food to help them survive the famine in Israel. The purpose of his dreams was not for Joseph to gloat over the brothers who sold him into slavery. Rather, Joseph’s true vindication came when he was reconciled to his family, speaking words of forgiveness and understanding of how God had acted to save his people. Had Joseph not attained a position of power in Egypt, his family would have perished in the famine.

Through Joseph’s dreams, the nation of Israel was preserved, including the line of Judah, which produced first King David and ultimately Jesus. Through Jesus, God has included us all in His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph’s dream fulfilled became part of a story of redemption that continues to this day.

Respond

Whether or not you’ve ever had a dream like Joseph’s, chances are that you have dreams for your life. You may have a dream job, a dream spouse, a novel to write, a mountain to scale, a far country to travel.

In your prayer time today, lay those dreams before God. Ask God to show you to His dreams for your life. Ask for the willingness and courage to live out God’s dreams for your life, wherever they may take you. Be blessed with the certainty that God’s dreams are far beyond anything you could ever ask or imagine for yourself.

Jesus Chooses Us

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series following the weekly Psalm and linked readings from the Revised Common Lectionary

Guest writer: Mercy Perez

Read

Matthew 14:13-21

Reflect

Matthew 14 begins with Jesus receiving the news that John the Baptist, his cousin, had been killed. His initial response was to withdraw to a solitary place to mourn John’s death. The crowds followed him, but instead of dismissing them He had compassion on them. He chose to stay with them and began to heal their sick.

In spite of his grief and his desire to be alone, Jesus did not distance himself from the crowds. On the contrary, He fulfilled the message John the Baptist proclaimed: that Jesus is the Son of God, full of compassion and love.

As Jesus is pouring out his love on those who had followed him, along come the disciples. With the hour getting late, they tell Jesus to send the people away so they can buy themselves food. But Jesus is not done yet. Again, he chooses the people. Knowing that they are tired and would have to go a long way in search of food, He tells the disciples, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

How do you think Jesus’ command was perceived by the disciples? Did they interpret it as a real assignment or as sarcasm? Either way, it was a monumental request. And yet again we see Jesus’ love as He performs another miracle, multiplying the fish and loaves until everyone is fed. Jesus chooses to continue to pour out his love and compassion, this time by meeting the crowd’s need for food.

Respond

Just as Jesus chose to be with the crowd, meeting their spiritual and physical needs, He chooses to be with us. He is ready to listen, heal, strengthen, and do the impossible on our behalf.

Take a moment and choose to speak to Jesus. Tell Him about the needs you have that only He can meet. Be ready to receive his love, compassion, and his gift of the impossible.

 

Who God Designed You to Be

 

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series from my church based on Psalms and associated readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Read

Genesis 32:22-31

Reflect

Jacob had a difficult life. Often it seemed like his problems were mostly his own doing. Born the second son in a society that awarded all property and honor to the oldest, he was still determined to take everything for himself. Jacob’s name meant “Supplanter” or “Trickster” and it fit. No matter what the consequences, he never seemed to learn to stop plotting and manipulating. He schemed, fought and tricked his way into an inheritance and prosperity.

When the Lord tells Jacob, “you have striven with God and with humans, and prevailed,” He’s telling the story of Jacob’s life. But He’s also affirming that Jacob is exactly who God made him. God told Jacob’s mother ahead of his birth that he would inherit his father’s blessing, and that God’s chosen line would flow through Jacob, not his older brother. God could have simply caused Jacob to be born first. But that’s not what He did.

Instead, God designed Jacob to be a fighter and a striver, someone who never took no for an answer, someone who would wrestle God Himself to get the blessing he wanted. It’s not that God wanted or caused Jacob to do underhanded things. But Jacob was on a path to become Israel, the father of a new and mighty nation, and he needed to be persistent, shrewd, and unafraid in the face of opposition in order to be ready for everything that entailed. Through Jacob, a lowly second son with an iron will and an unrelenting drive for more, God kept His promises to His chosen people.

Wherever you are in your life right now, it’s worth asking: Who has God designed me to be? What personality and character traits has He given me, and how do they fit into God’s plan and promises for my life?

Respond

Name a personality or character trait that you like about yourself. Thank God for making you that way. Next, name a trait that you aren’t as happy with, maybe one that’s gotten you into trouble, or has seemed to be an obstacle as you pursue your goals. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how God has used that trait to move you in His direction for your life. Thank God for this trait. Then, thank God for who He has designed you to be and for the role He has called you to play in this world.