Thank You, Jesus!

Once Jesus… asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”…
Then he said to them, “Who do you say that I am?”

From Luke 9:18-20

Like you, I’ve worn many hats throughout my life: Child, sibling, cousin, student, friend, adversary, teen, aunt, teacher, spouse, in-law, parent, colleague, author, grandma, administrator, volunteer, retiree, encourage-er, listener, annoying one. The list goes on and on. Some who know me might encourage me to add a few more complimentary titles. Others might encourage me to add a role or an adjective of which I’m not particularly proud. I’m painfully honest when I also say that, in spite of this list, I sometimes don’t know who I am at all.

It’s during this life’s most confusing and difficult times that I jump at the chance to answer the question Jesus posed to his followers so long ago: “Who do you say that I am?” This answer has made all of the difference in the world to me. You see, Jesus is the one who convinced me of God’s love for me. It is Jesus who taught me to love my enemies as well as my friends. Jesus is the one who told story after story to convince me that I can never do anything which God will not forgive. Jesus is the one who assured me that, miserable as I am, he would lay down his life for me alone. It is through the life and lessons of Jesus that I’ve learned to live as best I can, not in spite of, but because of who I am.

It is Jesus who answers whenever I ask, “Who am I?” It is Jesus who assures me, “You are God’s beloved!”

Generous God, you have gifted us with Jesus -his words, his works, his life and his love. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Pray… God Is Listening!

I’ve shared this often, I know… Throughout his time among us, Jesus offered countless revealing glimpses of our generously loving God. As amazing as each of these renderings is, my favorite is Jesus’ portrayal in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The image of that ever-patient and forgiving father who opened his arms to his terribly wayward child is something I’ve held dear all of my life. It is this image of God as my loving parent which encourages me to open my heart to God without reservation or fear. It is this image which encourages me to seek true intimacy in every utterance I send God’s way. I admit that this is a lifelong process which will likely continue well into my venture into the hereafter!

If you’ve been blessed with a close relationship, you understand the implications of intimacy. When we open our hearts to someone special, we hide nothing from him or her. We don’t allow pretenses or formalities or social norms to get in the way of the reality of who we are. When we share ourselves at this level, we put every flaw and every virtue in full view. When God is our partner in such a relationship, even the things we don’t know about ourselves are known to God. Far too frequently, I face the reality that I’m not perfect. When this occurs, I remind myself that God has been well aware of my glaring flaws all along. I know that, in spite of the pettiness or grandeur of my imperfections, God looks upon me with persistent and consistent love. Because God loves me and all of us so completely, I find the courage to approach God with the confidence Abraham exhibited in today’s passage from Genesis (18:20-32).

Did you notice that each time Abraham spoke he found God to be both approachable and compassionate? The author of Genesis carefully portrayed this encounter as a conversation during which God and Abraham walked side-by-side. In spite of being very much aware that he was in God’s presence, Abraham bargained with his Maker. He pleaded for the lives of the innocent inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s apparent anger was in response to the outcries of many righteous people regarding the evil that festered in the two cities. Still, God listened to Abraham. Initially, Abraham asked that the cities be spared if there were just fifty innocent inhabitants. Then, Abraham begged God to preserve forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty or even ten innocent lives. Each time, God responded sympathetically. The chapter which follows tells us that God answered Abraham’s plea as the lives of the innocents in those otherwise wretched cities were spared. At the same time, we must remember that God also knew the hearts of the evildoers in Sodom and Gomorrah better than they knew themselves. God knew the reasons they did what they did and God loved them as well. I write this with great confidence because Jesus assured us that God’s mercy is never lost on anyone!

In today’s gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Luke shares another occasion on which Jesus revealed to his disciples the God with whom Abraham was so familiar. Jesus had just finished praying himself when his followers asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus responded with this advice: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” Afterward, Jesus went on to make this instruction regarding prayer perfectly clear. In the event that the disciples had forgotten the persistence of Abraham and God’s generous response to him, Jesus reminded them in no uncertain terms. Jesus spoke of a man who responded to his neighbor’s need in the middle of the night, not so much out of love as out of weariness at the neighbor’s persistence. Jesus added, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus went on to point out the disciples’ concern for their own children: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” I assure you that the God of Abraham continues to listen and to provide us all that we need as we journey through this life!

As I wrote today, it occurred to me that I’ve found a second image of God which I must treasure at least as much as that of the father who embraced his prodigal son. In today’s passage from Genesis, the author illustrated the possibilities when we open ourselves to God’s embrace just as that regretful son did. In this account, God and Abraham walk side-by-side. There is no question that Abraham is conversing with God as he would with a dear friend. Apparently, Abraham found this to be perfectly natural. It seems to me that God’s close proximity to Abraham was no accident. God’s close proximity to you and me is no accident either. Though that prodigal son was separated from his father for a while, we are never separated from God. God walks side-by-side with each one of us every step of the way. In our goodness and in our wrong-doing, God is with us. In our joy and in our sorrow, God is with us. So it is that we must take Jesus’ lesson regarding prayer to heart. We must ask and seek and knock because, even today, the God of Abraham listens and responds… Always!

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

My Little Faith

Jesus said to them,
“Why are you terrified,
O you of little faith?”

Matthew 8:24

I admit it. I become terrified, too.

When I was a little girl, I envied the disciples. I was convinced that if I’d had the opportunity to walk with Jesus every day, I would have made much better use of the time than Jesus’ contemporaries did. I would have had no doubt that God could and would take care of everything I needed.

Well, it seems to me that I have asserted again and again in my writing that this is precisely the case. God has generously revealed Divine Love to me and for me throughout my life. I know that God loves us and cares for us. I know that God knows us better than we know ourselves and that God knows our every need. Though I believe that I truly know these things, when the chips are down, I sometimes join the disciples in being terrified.

The good news in all of this is that, in spite of their shaky faith, the disciples never forgot where to turn. They always cried out to Jesus when they were in trouble. I’m happy to say that in spite of my sometimes shaky faith, I also never forget where to turn -and neither should you. Though we cannot see God as tangibly as the disciples saw Jesus, God is always with us!

Loving God, I know I’m repeating myself here, but thank you for listening and for remaining with me in everything!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Still Celebrating Easter?

“My God, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me…”

From John 17:24

Last Wednesday was the first warm and sunny day we’d had in a while. Early on, my husband headed to the garage to begin his planting. Mike worked on his pots and planters while I trimmed a few boxwood bushes which had done serious battle with the frost. I swept the patio and arranged the furniture there while Mike ran to the garden shop for a few more plants. After lunch, my favorite gardener returned to his flowers and I reluctantly headed upstairs to begin this writing.

Since Memorial Day was only five days away, I had a difficult time returning my thoughts to Easter. After all, we’d sung our alleluias and enjoyed that wonderful lamb dinner almost five weeks earlier. Even those pesky remnants of Easter grass (Which continue to linger!) didn’t help much. It was the sunshine pouring through the study window which finally drew my thoughts to Easter’s joy. “How can I have lost sight of that?” I asked myself aloud…

At church, we actually celebrate Easter for eight weeks. On paper, the Easter Season closes on Pentecost Sunday. Still, the warm rays which caused the window and study floor to glow said otherwise. Regardless of the calendar’s date, the sun persisted in doing its job. Even through clouds and the worst of storms, the sun’s warmth makes its way to us. The sun is always there. It occurred to me that the same is true regarding Easter Joy. It’s always there, too.

Those who walked with Jesus celebrated Easter for what remained of their earthly lives. Their faith in the things to come inspired them to share what they knew with everyone they met along the way. The sun lingering overhead reminded me that you and I are invited to do the same.

Generous God, thank you for the gentle nudges which remind us to celebrate Easter Joy always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Making Things Right Again and Again…

I find it very difficult to be at odds with just about anyone. The truth is that I’m happiest when the people around me not only get along, but also enjoy one another. This propensity to be at peace with my fellow humans is likely a remnant from lessons offered by my parents, extended family and teachers far too long ago. In spite of the passage of time, their insistence that I love everyone remains etched in my memory. My parents taught me through their words and their example. They were sweetly affectionate toward one another and each let us know in his and her own way that we were loved as well. They also made it clear that we were to love one another accordingly. As a result, my sisters, brother and I were expected not to fight. When we did, our mom brought the error of our ways to our immediate attention. She reminded whichever of us were the culprits that we needed to have “charity” in our hearts. Eventually, I accepted that there was something to this “getting along” business. Ever since, I’ve tried to live accordingly. At times, I’ve experienced great success. At times, I’ve failed miserably. My successful attempts resulted in the relationships I’ve enjoyed throughout the years. My failures resulted in lost intimacy, lost trust, lost understanding, lost companionship, lost friendship, lost… You get the idea.

Though I’ve stored these losses in the recesses of my memory, the most minimal prompts return them to the forefront of my psyche. In an instant, the pain is back in full force. I find myself reviewing my mistakes. Over and over again, I ask myself what else I would have, could have or should have done to make things end differently. Sometimes, I truthfully answer that I did my best. I found it necessary to shake the dust from my sandals and to move on because I could do no more. Jesus himself offered this alternative when nothing else was possible. Sometimes, I shamefully answer that I was too fearful, too proud, too stubborn or too shallow to see the alternatives, much less to respond accordingly. On these occasions, the guilt sets in and I ask myself once again how I can make things right. My failures in this regard make today’s gospel (John 21:1-19) a most welcome reminder of Jesus’ position regarding such quandaries.

John tells us that the disciples had set out to fish for the day. Perhaps this was their attempt to regroup and to come to some understanding regarding all that had happened to Jesus before and after his death. Perhaps they hoped that this excursion into familiar waters would clear their heads. Perhaps they hoped to revisit the time when life was simpler and a torn net was their greatest worry. So it was that the disciples embraced their former trade. They were fishers-of-people turned fishers-of-fish once again. As it happened, after hours at sea, their nets remained empty. Their hearts remained empty of the peace they sought as well. The good news is that this wasn’t the case for long. In the midst of their disappointment, a voice called from the shore. The man who spoke invited the disciples to throw their nets to the other side of the boat. This familiar suggestion revealed immediately that the man on the shore was no stranger. Do you remember? Jesus told his friends to do the same thing on a less-than-productive day when he first met them. Unable to contain himself, Peter dove into the water and swam to Jesus. The others made their way in the boat with their net full of fish. When they arrived, they found that Jesus had prepared a small fire so they could share a meal with him. During this third appearance after his death, Jesus offered each of the disciples the bread and fish he had ready for them. Through this shared meal, Jesus assured his friends that they were one family again. Jesus also invited each one to get on with God’s work by serving others just as he had served them.

Though all had gone quite well during this happy reunion between Jesus and his friends, a bit of unfinished business remained between Jesus and Peter. If my own experience has taught me anything, it assures me that guilt is a pesky reminder of our misdeeds and that Peter hadn’t quite gotten over his guilt regarding his denial of Jesus. Perceptive and loving friend that he was, Jesus didn’t allow Peter to carry this burden with him. Rather, he gave Peter the opportunity to make things right again. Jesus asked The Rock in whom he’d placed so much faith, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter embraced the opportunity when he responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Still, Jesus repeated, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter responded again, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Finally, Jesus asked a third time, “Do you love me?” Poor Peter responded, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Peter’s heart had filled with remorse the moment he realized that he’d denied Jesus three times. So it was that Jesus offered Peter the opportunity to express his love three times. To seal their friendship, Jesus charged Peter with his greatest work: “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep.” Jesus’ unconditional love allowed Peter to put his failures behind him and to get on with simply doing the best he could. How grateful I am to acknowledge that his same love allows you and me to do the same!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Beloved Servants

He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet and
dry them with the towel around his waist.

John 13:4-5

Amazing, isn’t it? Jesus knew all that was in store for him, yet he persisted. The rumblings among the people weren’t muffled enough to shield him from the probabilities which would begin to unfold within hours. Still, Jesus set aside his worry to serve those he had been given to love. I was gifted with a mom who followed Jesus’ lead precisely…

When my sisters and I gathered with heavy hearts to tell our mom the results of her surgery. The doctor had removed her eighty-two year old gall bladder with great success. Unfortunately, the disease which resulted in this procedure had spread to other organs. Nothing more could be done except to keep our mom as comfortable as possible.

When we shared this news with her, our mom immediately declared, “I’ve had a good long life. I wanted to leave a family that contributed and I have. I hope I can do what I want to do for as long as I can.” With that, our mom went on to say that she would no longer need the bedrooms she used at my sister’s and my homes. She would become a permanent resident of the facility we’d selected for her recovery. When she settled into her new home, our mom continued to do everything she could to make her eventual passing as easy as possible for us. This was her custom, you know. Our mom always put others before herself.

Tonight, as we wait with Jesus, let’s pick up our own basins and towels. Someone nearby needs his or her feet to be washed as only we can.

Dear God, we will wait through this night with Jesus just as you always wait with us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved